Friday, June 30, 2006
In the past, the whole Israel/Palestine thing seemed pretty far away to me -- very remote and quite removed from having any impact on my life. However, the most recent flare-up over there has had significantly more meaning for me, thanks to my visit to Israel a few months ago.

The pictures I see from over there no longer seem remote. They seem very next door and they haunt me. I've seen pictures of young Israelis who have been abducted, tortured and killed. I have seen a picture of the four-year-old son of a Hamas party member -- a young boy who is growing up with no sense of safety, security, and homeland. These are people I might have eaten with, bought things from, or shared with in other ways while I was there.

Israelis and Palestinians work, live, and even play together on a regular basis. The common people, no matter which group they identify with, are just like you and me in that they want to live in peace and harmony with those around them. In fact, though we may express ourselves in less violent ways because we have not had quite the number of years of frustration out of which violence is borne, we probably have more extremists per capita here in the US than they do in Israel.

I don't know what the answer is. I wish that, when I was there, I would have had the courage and time to talk to more people and figure out where their minds are at. I am sure that I cannot imagine the thought processes of someone who doesn't know where to call home, nor of someone who has had frustration, anger, and hatred burned into their very DNA since birth.

Lasting peace is only going to occur with change on both sides. That's apparent. Change only occurs when the situation is such that leaders -- on both sides -- are broken; they see that the status quo is only going to lead to more pain. Unfortunately, though the Israelis have made some token attempts toward change and resulting peace in recent months, it appears that the feeling of hatred is still seething at the surface, ready to erupt at any point. (Palestinians are at a similar point but they don't have quite so big of an axe to wield if they wish.) For Israeli leadership, they see themselves with a constant supply of soliders due to their mandatory enlistment. Their citizens, scared for their lives at points from Palestinian-wrought violence, are not objecting to the mandatory enlistment. For the leadership, I think their army has become more of a resource than a group of human beings put here by God to live and love. Until they can see them as individuals, just as the photos and memories cause me to, there will be no impetus for change, and peace will not be had. Palestinians, willing to blow themselves up if necessary to take out a few Israelis, are in this same boat.

In the end, God's love will rule over all. In the meantime, though, it is painful to watch how this is playing out.

  posted at 10:49 PM  

Thursday, June 29, 2006
They're always cute in movies. Impish little things. Those bandit eyes and perfectly striped tails. Peeking out of trash cans, looking ornery but harmless. I know someone who even once had a pet raccoon.

I pretty much hate them right now though. One (or more) of them ate our boat. That tends to not give me a lot of warm fuzzy feelings about them.

I have been wondering a lot about why God made raccoons. I tried to get feeling better about them by doing some research to find more out about them. Their only benefit? They eat small rodents. That begs the question as to why God made small rodents. If we didn't have small rodents, all the raccoons would starve to death. At least in my current state of mind, that would be a good thing.

Our pontoon boat was on the lift, hanging over the lake. Somehow the varmint ended up getting under the cover back near the ladder off of the boat where there are some gaps in the way the cover fits. Once there, it scraped, scratched, and clawed its way through all of our seat cushions. And, if there was an area it didn't tear away at, it peed on it. You can well imagine what else it did on the boat as well.

I generally have a strong stomach but, as we worked to clean up the boat a bit before driving it across the lake to the marina (where it will probably now sit all summer waiting to be repaired), I really did get pretty queasy. That was brought on mainly by the smell of it all. I feel bad for the people who will end up trying to repair it.

You could tell that the raccoon had spent a lot of time sitting in the captain's chair on the boat. Now, if you have ever had a boat, you will understand the full sacreligious magnitude of having a destructive, disgusting, lice laden, probably rabid animal sit in your captain's chair. Those stripes and bandit eyes aren't so cute now.

Oh, and did I mention that their poop apparently often has parasites in it which are pretty nasty if they get transferred to humans? Forgot about that tasty tidbit, didn't I?

After we get the boat repaired, I am concerned about how we keep the raccoon off of it. It appeared to have had more fun on the boat than we will this summer so I am guessing it will be anxious to come aboard again. I read that you can purchase dried coyote urine and spread it around and that will keep raccons at bay. My fear is that our raccoon would have some strange coyote fetish and actually be drawn to the powdered pee.

One of my hopes is that, as it was getting off of the boat, it stumbled, fell into the lake, and drowned. I sort of doubt that happened though.

Okay, maybe I am being a bit cruel right now. I realize that the raccoon is too stupid to realize what it was doing, but just the same, when I get to heaven (I hope that isn't making too big of an assumption especially given my current state of mind), I am going to do a little checking around to find out just why God made raccoons. I'm thinking that maybe it was so that alligators would have something to eat. Now, I just need to get me a gator.

  posted at 9:50 PM  

I had my eyes checked today. "Why" I had them checked is a little embarrassing. I stumbled and fell down a few weeks ago (major face-plant style), ruining my glasses. Many people, after such a fall, would say "Well, I only hurt my pride." I admire those people. Fact is, I did indeed hurt my pride but then, as a reminder, my entire body hurt for a couple of days.

The optometrist tried to fix my glasses but they still looked pretty bad. I suppose I should have just lived with them that way but instead I tried wearing an older pair of glasses. Unfortunately, because my older glasses are not bifocals, I started getting headaches. I hate headaches.

It had only been about nine months since I last had my eyes examined, but I figured that if I had to get new glasses, I might as well see if I needed a new prescription.

This was about my fourth eye exam when, after going through all that "Which is better, number one or number two?" stuff when you just want to scream "I don't know which is better," the doctor actually told me that my eyes had gotten a little bit better for distance vision. The first time he told me that, I thought, "Wow! That's pretty neat" but then he doused my excitement with cold water by explaining that, for many of us, it is a part of the aging process for your eyes to get better as you age.

Despite it being a reminder of my increasing age, though, it's pretty cool to think about your vision getting better as you get older. There's not a whole lot else to our bodies that improves with age. It would be nice to get better with age, like a fine wine, but I think I am more resembling cheese instead by getting moldy and crusty with age.

There is another side to this though. It's my prayer that, as I get older, my vision will get better in terms of seeing the opportunities God presents me with. I pray also that I will become more mature and less impetuous, that I will care more about others, that my actions will lose my "self," and that I will show more of Jesus' love to those encounter.

I guess that, at the very least, my physical eyesight is better. I can abide in that blessing a bit, but I have to keep working on the other things.

  posted at 8:52 PM  

Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I had the opportunity today to talk with someone who worked in an Alabama hospital during the late 1960s. She was telling me absolutely horrible stories of segregation and racial discrimination from her time there. She told me a story of a time when she fought through that by helping a black patient use a "whites only" bathroom. I admired her for that.

This all got me to thinking though. Her stories were from less than 40 years ago. It is unfathomable to me that those things happened in the United States that recently. Sadly, though, I know that there are individuals still today who hold those attitudes and will go to great lengths to hold others down.

The story of equal rights for women is very similar. It makes no sense to me why people are sometimes not hired on the basis of their skills, gifts, and talents.

I have been interviewing a lot of people recently, both for a position at our company and for the local United Way Executive Director. It has made me check myself and make sure that I am not looking at any of the applicants with bias or pre-conceived notions. I believe, hope, and pray that I do not see people's race, their gender, or their disabilities. I pray that I see all individuals exactly as they are -- God's children uniquely designed by Him, each for a purpose in this world. It saddens me to think how racism or sexism has held individuals back in the past, preventing them from being the people that God have intended them to be.

I thank those who went before me to fight for equal rights. I pray that our country and the world continue to advance to where we are allowing all people to live lives that fulfill what God desires for them.

  posted at 9:12 PM  

Monday, June 26, 2006
Now, be quiet ... please don't tell my wife but today is my girlfriend's birthday. To boot, just a couple of months ago, we celebrated 25 years of my being completely in love with her!

Our first date was on Valentine's Day my junior year of high school. Lisa has always been able to make me laugh. That was probably something I noticed during our first date. She has a great sense of humor and doesn't take herself too seriously. I like that in a person.

That was just the start of things that I have tried to learn from her and things I so admire in her. Lisa has always inspired me with her optimism and naturally positive spirit. Sure, all of us can get down from time to time but it never lasts long with her and she is always driven forward by a faith in the future, a belief that we can determine our own attitude, and a constant awareness that the past is past and cannot be changed.

In her own quiet way, she has been hugely instrumental in my faith journey. And I love watching her with Evan. She has the athletic gene of our family and is able to teach him so many things that I could not begin to.

I guess I am rambling here (imagine that!) butI am so truly blessed by this wonderful woman who is my girlfriend ... my partner in and for life. I look forward to every second I can spend with her and I look forward to growing old together. There could never be anyone I'd rather spend my life with.

Happy birthday, girlfriend. I know you have a busy day lined up today but, even when we're not together, I will be loving you every minute of it. Thanks for all you do for me, your constant care for me, your support of me, your putting up with me. I love you from the tips of my toes to the top of my shiny bald head.

  posted at 4:46 AM  

Sunday, June 25, 2006
As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I have been reading Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. It's a pretty easy read though if you take the time to follow all of his footnotes and scriptural references, it would take considerably longer to read.

Now, I have to tell you something ... I have shelves full of books I've not yet read. I buy them with good intentions but then another book, perhaps a newer or shinier one, comes along and I read it instead.

Okay, now here's the other part of that story -- for every book I have that I have never read, I probably have another book that I started to read and someplace between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way through the book, my improvised bookmark (usually an airline ticket stub or a small piece of notepaper) is sticking out, indicating that I never finished the book. There again, I intended to finish the book (in most cases) but something brighter and shinier came along.

I love books, I love the written word, I love reading -- I just seem to have "Literary ADHD".

Anyway, back to Velvet Elvis ... I don't want to spoil the book for you so I won't give you a lot of details but here's my advice ... read the last chapter ("Movement 7" as Rob calls it) first and then go back and start at the front of the book.

Rob seems to go off in some sort of odd directions early on in the book. He has some great details on Jewish history and traditions but even those can leave you wondering why you care and where he's going. Wherever you're at on your spiritual journey, I think there will be reasons you will be tempted to put the book down and quit reading it. There were times when, had I not already blogged about reading the book and were it not really a pretty simple read ( without following all the footnotes), I probably would have quit reading and left it sitting on our bookshelf with a piece of notepaper mid-way through.

"Movement 7," though, is powerful and it brings the first six chapters into perspective and meaning. It is a summary of how we all know that the church ought to be. It paints a picture of love and care for others -- unconditional just like God's love for us. Knowing where Rob is going in the book will, I think, rather than spoil the book, make the other chapters more meaningful. You will see where he's leading and why. And then "Movement 7" will be a compelling conclusion to it all.

Enjoy the read. Let me know if you want to borrow my copy. At the end, though, concentrate on the question of "What next?" That's what I hope to do.

  posted at 6:54 AM  

Saturday, June 24, 2006
Our son attended Camp Invention this week. This is a nationally-organized program that is implemented on a local basis. Really, it's a "day camp" rather than an actual "camp" but it is designed for elementary students to explore, invent, and learn. They didn't have stuff like this when I was a kid. (Of course, there were those couple of summers that I was able to work with Thomas Edison in his Menlo Park laboratory ... that was cool.)

Anyway, they got to do lots of neat stuff at Camp Invention -- design a roller coaster and an amusement park ride, think about safety, take things apart, try to create their own invention -- all sorts of great opportunities to learn, practice certain skills, and have fun!

As someone who recruits, interviews, hires, trains and develops others, I saw very clearly some principles that Camp Invention tries to instill in kids which will carry them far in life. These are all things that I look for when I interview people for jobs.

1) Communication. Camp Invention encourages the students to work together to solve problems and create things. I recently interviewed someone, for a training job of all things, who never listened. He just rambled on and on and on but never stopped to listen. As you can well imagine, I will not be hiring him anytime soon for a position of training others because training involves a lot of listening to your students. Having good communication skills does not mean that you have to be a world-famous orator. It simply means that you have to be able to accurately share information back and forth with others. A prerequisite to that is that you have to be able to determine the times when information sharing is necessary.

2) Follow-through. This is critical in today's world. Many of us in our jobs have almost total control over our own productivity. Team members who keep themselves productive and focused on accomplishments are very valuable to any organization. At Camp Invention, the kids were given specific tasks and, with only minimal guidance, they had to figure out how to accomplish those tasks. The ability to finish things you start is not something everyone has but it is a quality that well-serves those who do have it.

3) Ingenuity. Today, this is often called "thinking outside the box" or being "visionary." Whatever you want to call it, my most valuable team members always have this rare quality in their repertoire. Many people don't like to color outswide the lines. They can't press their minds outside of certain boundaries. Unfortunately, growth, development and improvement do not occur unless you can break through paradigms and parameters. At Camp Invention, the kids were encouraged to think about things in new ways and without boundaries.

This is exciting stuff. I am not sure exactly how well our son took to everything but you have to start somewhere. Kids who develop these skills and carry them into adulthood will never, ever have problems finding employers who value and want them on board their teams.

  posted at 7:43 AM  

Thursday, June 22, 2006
Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don't try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
He's the one who will keep you on track.
Don't assume that you know it all.
Run to God! Run from evil!
Your body will glow with health,
your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own;
give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst,
your wine vats will brim over.
But don't, dear friend, resent God's discipline;
don't sulk under his loving correction.
It's the child he loves that God corrects;
a father's delight is behind all this.

The above is Proverbs 3:5-12 from The Message. Amazing, isn't it? Trust, Listen, Don't assume, Run to Him. He has our answers. He has a plan, a path for each of us. We can give up our egoes, our selfishness, our desires which stem from human frailty. He offers us everything if we will just follow Him. We will glow with health, our very bones will vibrate with life, all of our real needs -- not those things that society tells us we need -- will be met and exceeded.

Does He expect us to be perfect? No, but once we make that decision to follow Him, He is our best friend. He will love us. He is there to correct us when we mess up. He is compelled by His delight in us. Out of our love and appreciation for Him, we do our best to follow Him and be His disciples.

I do get held back by my humanity from time to time but I strive to show this love to our son. I strive to be unconditional with my love, to gently and firmly correct him, to provide answers and guidance, to give him the things he really needs (not the things that the commercials on Nickelodeon tell him he needs). And, in the midst of all this, I am looking at him, watching him, and I am grinning from ear to ear. Even when he messes up, at least on the inside, I am grinning from ear to ear, happy that he is advancing, he is learning, he is growing. Happy that I get to be a part of the life of someone in whom I take so much delight.

I believe that, just as I do with Evan, God is always grinning at me. Even when I mess up, I hope that he is always grinning at me -- at least on the inside -- just because He loves me so very much. My life couldn't be the same if I didn't believe that.

  posted at 9:38 PM  

As I write this post, I am really not quite sure where I am going with it. But, as I have always said, I do this for me -- a chance to review where I've been and work through where I'm at, hopefully determining if my "self" is in the way of Godly thoughts and actions. This post is a reminder of recent but major points in my history.

I have been reading the book "Velvet Elvis" by Rob Bell the last couple of days. Lisa and Evan gave it to me for Father's Day. (By the way, they made sure that I had a great Father's Day. Of course, because I am so very blessed with them in my life, every day feels like my day!) Rob's book is an interesting read. Maybe it's because of his hair and glasses or because he used to be in a punk band but I feel sort of hip reading Rob Bell. Hip by remote association I guess. He's not really as much younger than me as it seems he should be though. I think I have aged prematurely.

I enjoy books that offer a challenge to how we "do" Christianity -- books that make us think about how we live as Christians. I am only up to page 80 but, a few pages ago, there was a sentence that really made me think -- "We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the Living God." Wow. I never thought of it quite that way. Part of what Rob goes on to say is that, as God's people, we are still writing that story, learning lessons, attempting to discern what He wants us to know.

It got me to thinking about the times when chapters have been written in my own story of trying to follow God. There have been several times recently, in fact, when my soul seemed to cry as God reached me in a special way. I know that He is always there -- everywhere -- but certain events can make me feel very close to Him in an incredible way ... times when I sense that He has important things to tell and teach me.

One time was the recent and untimely death of one of my co-workers. He was only 44 and, for more than 20 years, I'd known him well. He was single and is horribly missed by his family, as well as by his friends and co-workers. My soul cried at this -- in sadness I think but also in the painful reminder that life is short, whether it's 44 years or 84. Our time on earth is such a fleeting moment yet it is a time when we are called to important work and loving devotion to our heavenly father. God reminded me of that when Jeff passed away.

My soul also cried when the mother of John, one of my best friends in junior high and high school, died. In her case, she actually was about 84 but that made her death no less significant than my co-worker's. Actually, I had not seen John in over 20 years. He moved away shortly after high school and we quickly lost touch. He was an only child and his dad had passed away about 30 years ago. I had a hunch there would not be many people at visitation or the funeral so I went to see John. He didn't recognize me, of course. But, for me, out of this came God's reminder of His fifth commandment -- a reminder of how He calls us to loving devotion to our earthly parents as well as to Himself.

Then, during Father's Day worship service, a gentleman spoke from our church who pretty much grew up without a dad. His dad passed away of cancer when he (the guy who spoke) was just six years old. He talked about how hard it was on his mom to raise three boys without a father. He talked about how he got headed on the wrong path in life. Yet, you could tell that God had been there with him all along, until he did eventually get his life turned around. For me, this story was a marker of God's unending devotion to us. Even if we stray, He is there for us, seeking us, crying over us, calling us.

And then there has been the story of a good friend of ours who has worked countless hours this spring to put in a new yard for his family to enjoy. He tore up their old grass, worked long, hot hours to even out the dirt, and then planted a new yard. Just as it was starting to come into its own and actually get close to needing mowed, somebody in a big truck turfed his yard in the middle of the night, destroying his hard work. My soul cried for a fellow Christian who had been so affected by one uncaring individual -- God's reminder of how we are to treat each other with love and care.

These are just recent chapters in my book of times when God has taught or reminded me of important things.

Back to Rob Bell ... I am really not far enough into "Velvet Elvis" to draw any firm conclusions but it has certainly been thought-provoking as it has caused me to take a look at how God is always with us, in a purposeful but loving way, always creating new chapters of His story of faithfulness and teaching to His people.

  posted at 6:52 PM  

Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Ya know, I have heard this song many times but for some reason just today I really listened to the lyrics of this Casting Crowns song for the first time. Pretty cool stuff. No matter where you are right now, praise Him and be encouraged!

I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say "Amen"
and it's still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God
Who gives and takes away

I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
Every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember whenI stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry
You raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can't find You

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God
Who gives and takes away

I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
Every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The Maker of Heaven and Earth

I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
Every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

  posted at 5:45 PM  

I really don't have a clue who this Pastor Pauley is that I have provided a link to. (The other excellent writers I have links to are fine folks I have the privilege of being friends with.) Even though I don't know him, Pastor Pauley has a great post today if you jump over to his blog.

Have a great day today. Watch for God's blessings!

  posted at 10:31 AM  

I can easily lapse into wearing my discontent on my sleeve. It's probably in my DNA. I'm sure that somewhere in my DNA strand is a PYU gene (Publicize Your Unhappiness). So, I have to always work on that. The last few days, it was probably a losing battle but I am determined to do better today. One day at a time, right?

When I think about handling discontent in our lives, I think of three ways to do that. All of these need to be bathed in prayer but those three things that can wipe away our unhappiness all involve change. Funny thing, none of us likes change but it is necessary if we're going to move forward from where we're at.

First, you can change your Attitude. I Corinthians 14:15 (MSG) says that "I should sing with my spirit, and sing with my mind." Now I realize that this is not an easy thing to do and I also may be using the scripture a tiny bit out of context but my point is that what we're thinking to ourselves has a huge bearing on our happiness or lack thereof. No one has taught me this better than my wonderful Lisa has. This is something I saw in her from the moment we met many, many (okay, add one more "many") years ago. No matter the situation she is faced with, she maintains her happiness and holds faith in the future that things will be okay. As she often verbalizes to our young son "You can choose to be happy or choose to be unhappy about the situation. That choice is yours but the situation remains." As I have watched her live, she has also taught me that same thing. What a huge testimony she speaks in her own quiet, selfless way. Just one of the many reasons I love her ... I will move on before I get too teary-eyed.

Next, you can also change your Perspective when things become a bit too much to bear. This is all pretty scriptural stuff. Remember your blessings. Look for God's blessings all around us. Strive to show God's love at all times. Work to get along with everyone around you. Approach them with love and grace rather than a bad attitude. I have found in my life that, when I get down, I need to kick myself to make this happen but it is possible change my perspective entirely by focusing on the good things in my life. For someone with the PYU gene, it is sometimes more immediately satisfying to moan and groan but, deep down, I know that long term change and growth occur by changing my Perspective.

Finally, you can change your Situation. This is a step that I have never had to take, at least not to a large degree, and I cannot imagine the difficulty in taking this step. Of course, oftentimes, this step comes out of brokenness and it is out of brokenness that God raises a renewed spirit within us that can accomplish amazing things. Certainly, changing your Situation requires a lot of prayer and seeking God's direction. Sometimes, we will be in unhappy circumstances and God will work with our Attitude and Perspective to help us to grow in Him. Sometimes that is enough. But, there are other times when I believe we just flat out land in the wrong Situation. I think that, when a life transformed by God is in the wrong Situation, He will make it very clear that change is necessary.

Discontent? Change your Attitude, Perspective, or Situation. Bathe it in prayer and seek His direction ... or you can stay where you're at and do nothing.

(Okay, I have to confess, I wanted to re-order those as Attitude, Situation, Perspective so that I could title this post "Watch Your ASP" but I thought better ... I could never actually write such a thing as that!)

  posted at 7:40 AM  

Monday, June 19, 2006
Our son claims he made this up entirely on his own. I think that I believe him.

So, a guy was driving in his car and he kept feeling like he was driving over something but, when he looked behind the car, he didn't see anything.

What was he driving over?

The speed limit.

  posted at 8:18 PM  

Sunday, June 18, 2006
This is going to be pretty long but after my last post, I wanted to re-visit something I wrote a couple of months ago after visiting the Garden of Gethsemane:

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses

And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

He speaks and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

I'd stay in the garden with Him
'Tho the night around me be falling
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

“In The Garden” was one of my maternal grandma’s favorite songs. Her garden was her backyard, which included a flower and vegetable garden. She spent a lot of time there. I could not help but think of this song when we visited one of the places I was most looking forward to seeing in Israel, the Garden of Gethsemane. He was truly walking and talking with us that day.

I believe that the Garden represents a turning point in Christianity. This is when it becomes obvious that Jesus’ ministry on earth was going to be called short, and that his ragtag band of followers would be left on their own. This is so different from what most of us think about when it comes to “leadership” … most of us think along the lines of long tenure, extensive mentoring and teaching, building up countless leaders beneath ourselves, hoping that at least a few of them will carry on in our absence. But that wasn’t going to be the way that Jesus would leave His followers. This was going to be more of a “you’re it, I’ve taught you well, now swim” proposition for them.

It was much to my pleasant surprise that we found the Garden of Gethsemane appearing much as it probably did 2000 years ago, though it is smaller now than it was then. It has not been covered over by several layers of cathedrals though the beautiful and inspiring Church of All Nations is adjacent to it. There are trees in the Garden that are estimated to be more than 2000 years old. Olive trees, I was told, can live for forever. The main trunks become very gnarled and even petrified in appearance but they will still send off fresh, live shoots of green. From the Garden, as you look out toward and over the city of Jerusalem, you can begin to picture the horrible events which would unfold in the days following Jesus’ last visit to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Gethsemane means “oil press” which would have been a large stone “press” (imagine a very overgrown mortar and pestle) used to squeeze oil out of olives. For Jesus, the Garden would have indeed been a time of the “press” … a press that would continue for several days until His resurrection. When He was in the press, He agonized over finding an easy way out but ultimately He gave way to His father’s will. That idea of being in the press and yet realizing that God is in control, I am in His hands, and I must seek and follow His will is a tough one for me. My ugly old “self” always wants to jump in feet-first and worry about doing things my own way instead of His way.

We were in the Garden early on a Sunday morning. This was about a month before Easter that year. We actually had the area pretty much to ourselves for 90 or so minutes. There was a private outdoor chapel where we held our church service that day. And then we had time to wander, sit, meditate, read, write, and pray on our own in the Garden. This is one of my best memories from the trip. I wrote the following while we were there:

Dear Jesus,

I feel so very unworthy of sitting here where you made the decision to give your life for me. You were born for greatness yet you still had a decision to make. Your father would have saved you, His “only son,” had you just asked. All Dads would do that. The agony you suffered, I cannot imagine. You knew fully that what lay ahead of you would be truly horrible. Yet you chose it, you chose to follow through with your Father’s plan – His plan for me. I thank you. I just pray, Lord, that I will be the person you want me to be. That I will do the things you want me to do. That I will show your love the way I am called to. Please forgive me for my sins, for all the years when I just did not “get it,” for all the wasted opportunities. Forgive me for the times when I complain that things are tough. Things are never truly tough for me. My problems pale in comparison with what you faced yet furthermore, regardless, you are always there with me.

As I sit here, I hear the birds chirping. Your eye is on the sparrow and the sparrows you knew are just like the ones back home. I know your eye is on me. Thank you, father, thank you.

I also hear the city sounds outside this garden, reminders of the world beyond these walls. Reminders of a world which still rejects you, tries to water down or hide away what you, the greatest teacher of all time, taught us.

Help me as I go back out into that world. Help me to remember this place. Help me to remember your love. (Help me to remember that huge fly that just landed on my journal.)

Lord, you have blessed me so richly. I thank you. You bless me continually and unquestioningly. I thank you. I re-dedicate my life to you, Jesus. I want a relationship with you that is what you want it to be. I want to walk with you at all times.

I cannot imagine your love which caused you to give your life and endure horrible agony for me. I pray that I will always show your love to others. Help me to hear your call and to be responsive to it. Mold me how you want. I want to follow you always. You gave your life for me, the least I can do is live my life for you. Thy will be done. I love you.

Here’s a part of Matthew 26 (MSG), and its telling of what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Then Jesus told them, "Before the night's over, you're going to fall to pieces because of what happens to me. There is a Scripture that says, I'll strike the shepherd; helter-skelter the sheep will be scattered. But after I am raised up, I, your Shepherd, will go ahead of you, leading the way to Galilee."

Peter broke in, "Even if everyone else falls to pieces on account of you, I won't."

"Don't be so sure," Jesus said. "This very night, before the rooster crows up the dawn, you will deny me three times."

Peter protested, "Even if I had to die with you, I would never deny you." All the others said the same thing.

Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, "Stay here while I go over there and pray." Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, "This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me."

Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, "My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?"

When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, "Can't you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don't wander into temptation without even knowing you're in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there's another part that's as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire."

He then left them a second time. Again he prayed, "My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I'm ready. Do it your way."

When he came back, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn't keep their eyes open. This time he let them sleep on, and went back a third time to pray, going over the same ground one last time.

When he came back the next time, he said, "Are you going to sleep on and make a night of it? My time is up, the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the hands of sinners. Get up! Let's get going! My betrayer is here."

The words were barely out of his mouth when Judas (the one from the Twelve) showed up, and with him a gang from the high priests and religious leaders brandishing swords and clubs. The betrayer had worked out a sign with them: "The one I kiss, that's the one--seize him." He went straight to Jesus, greeted him, "How are you, Rabbi?" and kissed him.

Jesus said, "Friend, why this charade?"

Then they came on him--grabbed him and roughed him up. One of those with Jesus pulled his sword and, taking a swing at the Chief Priest's servant, cut off his ear.

Jesus said, "Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords. Don't you realize that I am able right now to call to my Father, and twelve companies--more, if I want them--of fighting angels would be here, battle-ready? But if I did that, how would the Scriptures come true that say this is the way it has to be?"

Then Jesus addressed the mob: "What is this--coming out after me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I have been sitting in the Temple teaching, and you never so much as lifted a hand against me. You've done it this way to confirm and fulfill the prophetic writings."
Then all the disciples cut and ran.

“Cut and ran.” Wow. One of the thoughts that kept occurring to me in the Garden was that this was a point where Jesus publicly and firmly made obvious His choice of sacrifice for me. If He can do that for me, am I not betraying Him if I do not live a life of sacrifice for Him? Am I not “cutting and running” when I do not give and do my all for Him?

But what is “my all”? I must confess I do not know. I know that part of it is listening for His call in my life but sometimes I wonder if giving my all, being willing to sacrifice for His work just as He sacrificed for me, doesn’t call me to be a bit more proactive than that. We recently held a capital campaign at church and the theme focused heavily on the concept of “sacrifice”. I must admit that, in this life, I am so richly blessed that I really do not know what sacrifice is. If I give up one thing or two things or three things or four things, I still have a bajillion other blessings right behind those which bring me comfort. What is the point at which I am really truly sacrificing? I must confess that, even now, I simply do not know. Now, sometimes I know that I can take fairly easy concepts and make them way too complex. I do this at work all the time. But, fact is, I do not understand what “sacrifice” should mean to me in my life. Knowing that all I have now and in the future comes from God, the idea that I can even begin to “sacrifice” seems a bit silly. He will always meet my needs, no matter what.

I have, for the past several months, been incredibly affected by a Todd Agnew song called “My Jesus”. To me, this song starts to point out the real difference between living a life of comfort and a life of sacrifice … the difference between living in the “comfortable” life into which most of us have been born and live or really giving it all up to serve others and show God’s love to them.
Which Jesus do you follow?
Which Jesus do you serve?
If Ephesians says to imitate Christ
Then why do you look so much like the world?

Cause my Jesus bled and died
He spent His time with thieves and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the arrogant
So which one do you want to be?

Blessed are the poor in spirit
Or do we pray to be blessed with the wealth of this land
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness
Or do we ache for another taste of this world of shifting sand

Cause my Jesus bled and died for my sins
He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the rich
So which one do you want to be?

Who is this that you follow
This picture of the American dream
If Jesus was here would you walk right by on the other side or fall down and worship at His holy feet

Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
But the Word says He was battered and scarred
Or did you miss that part
Sometimes I doubt we'd recognize Him

Cause my Jesus bled and died
He spent His time with thieves and the least of these
He loved the poor and accosted the comfortable
So which one do you want to be?

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despised the proud
I think He'd prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

I want to be like my Jesus!
I want to be like my Jesus!

Not a posterchild for American prosperity, but like my Jesus
You see I'm tired of living for success and popularity
I want to be like my Jesus but I'm not sure what that means to be like You Jesus
Cause You said to live like You, love like You but then You died for me
Can I be like You Jesus?
I want to be like my Jesus

That song really gets to me. Can I really live like, love like Jesus? Do I even have any remote concept of what that really means? This jibes so well with the story of Jesus’ decision for self-sacrifice in the scripture I listed before the song lyrics, Matthew 26:36-51. I could read and think about it for forever I believe.

“Friend, why this charade?” is what Jesus speaks to Judas. First of all, His use of the word “friend” is striking. Would I ever be able to call my betrayer “friend”? Probably not … okay, definitely not. Jesus’ response shows the supernatural love He had – a love that as we know exceeded all other love. He knew what Judas’ kiss would mean … He knew the betrayal that He was caught up in the midst of yet He still called him “friend”. I wonder, too, how often in my life could Jesus say “Why this charade?” to me? How often do I give lip service to my faith and my Christian life but then still don’t stop and pick up the hitchhiker, or I give just a few spare coins to the beggar (if anything at all), shaking them off when they ask for more? How often do I pretend in my mind that I am living a life of sacrifice but yet I still drive in my comfortable gas-guzzler to my comfortable house in a nice neighborhood? How often do I go out to eat in nice restaurants when there are so many of God’s children all around me with very little to eat? Is it more than just a lack of knowledge of what sacrifice is and actually a refusal on my part to sacrifice? If that is the case, I am going to have a lot to answer for some day. Jesus sacrificed so much for me … why is it so practically inconceivable for me to do the same for Him?

“There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there's another part that's as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire." I may often have dreams of sacrifice, dreams of living a life that is all-out for the One who sacrificed for me but how often am I actually the lazy old dog sleeping by the fire? I picked up a small piece of pottery from the grounds in the Garden of Gethsemane. The only pottery I picked up in Israel in fact. Let’s hope that it reminds me to not spend my time sleeping by the fire.

  posted at 7:18 AM  

We ate at a Chinese buffet last evening. The big trend at them lately seems to be "Salt and Pepper" dishes. Salt and Pepper Chicken, Salt and Pepper Shrimp, Salt and Pepper Chicken and Shrimp, Salt and Pepper Frog Legs, etc. Anyway, we enjoyed Chinese food and we had a nice evening. I think Lisa and I lived on Chinese food our first couple of years of marriage. Chinese restaurants around here were not buffets back then but nice little "mom and pop" (not sure how to say that in Chinese but it would be really cool if I did) places where we got to know the owners and be friends with them. We even celebrated with them when they had a baby.

Anyway, the fortune in my cookie last night said "When weaving nets, all threads count." I originally thought I'd come up with a blog posting about that but, after thinking about it for awhile, I still got nothing. If you have anything for it, please blog about it -- just let me know so I can read it!

Evan's fortune was one of those more typical ones -- something like "You're a wonderful person and you're going to live a long and propserous life in which everyone will love you and you will be a blessing to all who know you." Or something like that. It's nice to see your son get a fortune like that.

Lisa's fortune, though was the one that really resonated with me: "When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out -- because that's what's inside." Ahh yes, there was my next blog posting.

When we're squeezed -- when the pressure is on, that is when we find out what is really inside. Sometimes this is a private thing and sometimes those around us find out as well. Will we hold up to the pressure with strength, love and grace? Or will we back away, deny what we have professed verbally, or become angry?

Obviously, from scripture, one of the best examples of this is Peter. In Matthew 26 (The Message), Peter says "Even if everyone else falls to pieces on account of you, I won't." Yet we know the rest of that story ...

When I was in Israel, we stood on the steps where Peter denied knowing Jesus. Next door to the steps was a house where the owners kept many chickens including a couple of roosters. The roosters crowed a lot while we were there. While we were there, the natural thing to do was to ask yourself if you would ever deny Jesus. For Peter, those upward-leading steps from Caiaphas' house toward Jerusalem were indeed a time of being squeezed. He caved under the pressure. I pray that, for me, the upward leading steps that I encounter during my fiath journey -- the times of squeezing -- are times of drawing closer to God, times not of denial but times of reaffirmation.

As I start each day, I pray that I will show God's love and grace even in stressful and difficult times. I think that in the future, I will talk about those as being times of "squeezing". Some days, I do fairly well. Other days, well, I don't do so well. But God loves me anyway, he always redeems me, and welcomes me back. I try to learn from the times when I do not "squeeze out" well -- when what I want to be inside of me doesn't come out but instead something vile comes out. But, afterward, He affirms that He loves me just the same and He wants me to be His son. Wow ... what a segue ... that's a perfect time to say it ... "Happy Father's Day, Dad. Thanks for all you do for me. Let's go out for Chinese again soon."

  posted at 6:41 AM  

Saturday, June 17, 2006
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity, at no charge, to do something rather odd. A psychologist sat me in front of a board with flashing lights. The lights kept moving back and forth, left and right. My job was to follow the lights with my eyes and think about specific things the psychologist told me to think about. The theory of all of this is that, by having your eyes continually track left and right, you open up both sides of your brain and get them working together for greater creativity and deeper processing.

I was exploring a problem I was having at work at the time. The psychologist's questions were designed to help me do that. One aspect of my job is that sometimes I have to deliver news to people that they really don't want to hear and sometimes I have to challenge them to a new way of thinking. People don't like having their camembert moved but sometimes I have to move it. My problem is that I worry about their response.

Through this process, I had a bit of a personal breakthrough. This is so obvious that it's silly that I had never figured it out before. The reason for my worrying about how others will respond is that I have spent most of my life around someone who frequently responds quite irrationally, especially when his roquefort is moved or he is challenged. As a result, my pattern has been to fear that everyone will be that way.

Rationally, I know that isn't the case. But there's still an issue, as I go forward, with getting every ounce of my psyche to break through that fear. I did have an instance this week where a customer got me on the phone and was expecting me to be on the next plane to Scranton to see her roof problem. She followed up with an email that was equally mean-spirited as her phone call. I was okay though as I explained to her that I was not doubting her roof problems but that I need to focus my energy in different ways to help her. I could fly to Scranton but that wasn't going to help her one bit because my skills with a glue gun were not what she needed to have her roof fixed.

Where I am focusing now to help me get through this fear is to really understand who I am in God. I am His. That's all I need to know in order to know my importance and to see where my focus needs to be. Fact is, when I challenge them or shift their brie, most folks are going to behave rationally. Slowly, I am convincing myself of that. But, you know what, even if they do get all crazy on me, it makes no difference. I am who I am because I am my Heavenly Father's. So long as I seek to follow Him, I have no fears and poor behavior on the part of others will not hurt me one bit.

  posted at 10:41 AM  

I finally saw our friends' baby yesterday. She was absolutely beautiful. She didn't have that red, blotchy, scrunched-up, bicycle helmet head look. She was so tiny, and so perfect.

You know what was even neater, though? Watching my friend -- the guy I have known for 30 years as pretty much the strong, quiet farmer-type -- make over his new daughter. Don't get me wrong -- Mama is quite proud, too. But there was something pretty special about watching Eric take care of the baby -- fastening her in and out of her infant carrier, holding her, gazing at her with a mixture of awe and new-parent concern. to really appreciate this, you need to picture that Eric has sort of beefy, rough hands. I don't mean that in a bad way. He's worked a lot with his hands over the years and they show it a bit. Nothing wrong with that -- it's a good attribute in fact. (To be honest, actually, I have never in my life seen anyone beat up their hands and fingers as much as Eric has over the years.) But to see his big hands handle that little baby so gently and tenderly was pretty cool.

There were several times yesterday when Eric and I caught each others' eye and I suppose it's the result of being good friends for a long time, but I knew what he was saying without him even saying it -- "Wow, this is incredible, Todd. I know now how you felt when your son was born!"

Eric and his wife, like Lisa and me, ended up waiting and going through a lot (them even more so than us) to be blessed with a baby. Eric and I talked about it off and on over the years. he and I were even off on a business tirp together when his wife had a miscarriage and I had to rush him to the airport late one evening. I remember back when Lisa and I were hoping for a baby, Eric said, "You know, it just doesn't make sense. People who don't want babies or can't give them a good home seem to have them all the time but people like you and Lisa who will be great parents, have problems having kids." I really regretted it when I had to repeat that line to him a few years later.

I've written before about how I think I am a better parent because I am an older parent. I'm more patient, less self-centered, and I try hard to be more focused on others.

Eric's wife said that, the first night they were home with the baby, he said that he was going to give himself an ulcer worrying about her. I remember those days, checking to make sure Evan was still breathing, worrying about every scratch on his face and about the color of his poop. (The first time your two-year-old eats colored fruit snacks is a real surprise!) I don't think you ever get over worrying about your kids. (Goodness knows my mom is proof of that!) But, as they age, you gain a comfort level with seeing them try new things, seeing them learn and grow and mature, seeing them hopefully develop into the person that God wants them to be. You get excited about all of those things ... and you still catch yourself gazing at them with awe and new-parent concern, no matter how old they are.

Our friends are going to make phenomenal parents. It was obvious before and certainly obvious yesterday when I saw them. Pretty awesome.

  posted at 9:30 AM  

Friday, June 16, 2006
I pitched a deal this week. By and large, my colleagues at work have put me out to pasture. "The old guy just doesn't have it in him anymore," they say. They make up excuses, make customers hide in broom closets, tell me we don't have customers anymore -- anything to keep me from getting in front of a customer or prospect.

But I fooled 'em this week! I actually got out and pitched one of our products to a prospective customer. They didn't know it was happening and it was great. Blood flowed through my veins. Feeling returned to my extremities. Words (whether they made sense or not) flowed effortlessly from my lips. I loved every second of it.

I did a lot of things right. We had a bit of an upfront contract in place. I was asking them to give our product a try and, if they said "no," that would be fine. I didn't spill my candy in the lobby. I asked some qualifying questions ... I was able to find a few points of pain that might make them interested in our product. I asked negative questions. I reversed on their comments. Flawless? No, but I was trying.

I presented ... I started getting a little desperate sounding and that was a big mistake. I realized that I hadn't spent enough time qualifying them. I got more desperate. "Just give it a try!" I begged and pleaded. I got down on my knees and shed some tears, baby!

But, alas, it was a pitch and miss. I didn't get 'em.

But I loved it. Selling a product you believe in, looking for reasons why your product will help the customer ... I love those things.

I can't wait for the opportunity to sneak out the door again without my co-workers seeing me so that I can go pitch another deal. I love it. My lips are red again. My fingers move. My toes are warm. Ahhh, yes, life is good.

  posted at 11:12 PM  

I don't know if it's because of Father's Day coming up or what but the Christian media has recently been full of stories about the topic of men and church -- specifically, why men don't go to church. The common opinion seems to be that church needs to be more "masculine" in order to attract men. I'm not buying it.

Let's think about something "manly" ... okay, there's football, car racing, heavy drinking (not serious about that one) ... but, here's one ... INSECTS! What could be more manly than INSECTS! Girls hate 'em and boys love 'em. Imagine the following scenario after church one day:

Preacher: Joe, it sure was good to see you in church today. That was the first time in 27 years I believe. Was it the title of my sermon, "Dung Beetle and Boll Weevil Find Grace" that attracted you?

Joe (in a gravelly Jack Palance voice): Well, preacher man, yep, I have to confess ... you had me at the word "dung". I just couldn't resist as soon as I heard that. Had to bring my family, too.

Or, let me paint another scenario. This occurs on Monday at work between Bob and his friend, John.

John: It was sure good to see you and your family on Sunday.

Bob: Ya know, John, we really enjoyed it. I have to thank you for inviting us to church and then out to lunch. I have to admit, for quite awhile, I have been thinking that I needed to take responsibility and get my family in church. My wife had talked about it, too, but you were the first person to ever actually invite me.

John: That's great. It was my pleasure. See you next Sunday?

Bob: You bet. The kids really enjoyed the fun things in Junior Church.

Which do you think is more likely to really play out?

  posted at 10:36 PM  

Thursday, June 15, 2006
I believe that I stooped to an all-time new low in terms of home repair last weekend. It's going to be best to not let my dad know about it. I am not sure he could survive the humility.

Dad's been slowed by a severe stroke he suffered four years ago but, up until that time, he was a real whiz at home repair and improvement projects. By himself, he built most of the house that I spent many of my growing up years in. Unfortunately, I didn't inherit any favorable DNA in that area.

My lack of home repair skills is embarrassing -- it really is. Fact is, my job is actually a part of the home improvement industry. Yes, on the manufacturing end of things, but I have hundreds of homeowners each year who seek me out specifically to answer their questions about home repair. I have been on radio talk shows and written numerous magazine articles. You'd think I'd know what I am doing. Yet I remain a blubbering idiot when it comes to home repair.

I can look at things and picture in my mind what they should look like. Sometimes, I will even know what tools are needed and, at least theoretically, I will know how to get from "Point A" to "Point Perfection" but then reality sinks in ... doing those things will require real work and real time ... and real expensive tools. I just don't care to "go there" once I get to thinking about it.

So, I either ignore, procrastinate, or blunder my way through things half-way. Things always look worse after I am done with them even if they do work better.

So, what did I do last weekend? What was the horrible home repair sin I committed? I hate to even admit it. I fixed a broken towel bar with hot melt glue. I felt a bit like Martha Stewart but it was still wrong ... very, very wrong. It was not a good thing. Fact is, I think the towel bar is going to stay in place and work for a long time. It's not pretty but it works. The biggest problem, though, is that someday someone will uncover it, see what I did, and mutter a few profanities in my memory. Oh well, it's not every day you get to make someone swear.

  posted at 10:00 PM  

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You're blessed when you're content with just who you are--no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.

You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.

You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being "care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.

You're blessed when you get your inside world--your mind and heart--put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.

You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.

Not only that--count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens--give a cheer, even!-for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble."

I really like The Message translation of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). To me, most translations make it sound like we are all in a static state and, if we “are” the things of which Jesus spoke, then we are blessed. If we don’t happen to be those things, well, sorry, but I guess we’re not blessed. The Message, though, makes it more apparent that, regardless of where we are today, we each have a calling as part of our Christian transformation to be content, cooperative, and compassionate. There’s also a strong sense in The Message translation that, if you are at a broken point in your life, God cares about you and He wants to bless you and raise you to new hope and a new life.

When it comes to the Bible, I strive to be a realist – it means what it says – and what it says is not up to interpretation. I do find, though, that The Message can often reach me in a way which allows me to more fully embrace the meaning of God’s word. It can drive me to deeper and fuller impact without changing the intent.

I suspect that, when Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, he was teaching people in many shapes and sizes. There were people caught up in petty grievances one against another. There were people who were trying to hurt others to their own benefit. There were people just trying to get by as best they could. Sounds a lot like today, huh? There were also undoubtedly people who were caught up in self-righteousness, thinking that they had all the answers by following Old Testament and rabbinical rules. They probably had no idea what the next couple of years could do to those paradigms, if they only opened their hearts. The Sermon on the Mount was a call to action to these folks, just as it is a call to action to us today rather than just an iteration of nice “comfort” statements. To me, The Message offers that call to action, that call to change, that call to hope, and that call to true transformation.

We visited the Mount of Beatitudes when I was in Israel earlier this year. It was very easy to picture the sermon taking place there. There is, of course, a beautiful church built there now. The location is the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. There really are not any “mountains” in the area but there are numerous hills. For speaking to hundreds or thousands of people at once, you need a natural amphitheatre – a place where your voice will carry a great distance.

The Mount of Beatitudes is a beautiful and tranquil spot, with lush gardens and flowers all around. There was no escaping the symbolism of looking out over the Sea of Galilee in sharp contrast to the desert environment that is most of Israel. The image of being in this holy place and looking out over the body of water which figured so prominently in Jesus’ ministry and the lives of the disciples is forever held in my heart and mind. It was easy to imagine the greatest teacher ever having been in this spot, talking to an audience full of people who wanted to know more. Wherever they came from, whatever stage in life they were in, they had come there to hear this man called Jesus. Most of them were searching for something. It is hard to imagine that they could have gone away anything but completely filled after hearing the words that He spoke that day, telling them how to be blessed for eternity.

  posted at 3:24 PM  

Following is a devotional by the late Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade. It spoke pretty deeply to me this morning when it appeared in my email. I want to keep it here for future review and reflection.

"Is there any such thing as Christians cheering each other up? Do you love me enough to want to help me? Does it mean anything to you that we are brothers in the Lord, sharing the same Spirit? Are your hearts tender and sympathetic at all? Then make me truly happy by loving each other and agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, working together with one heart and mind and purpose" (Philippians 2:1,2). "Happy are those who strive for peace - they shall be called the sons of God" (Matthew 5:9).

Few individuals are more pleasing to our Lord than those who seek to promote peace. He is our great example since He is the author of peace. He is called the Prince of Peace, and He promises, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27, KJV).

When you and I think of peacemakers today, we think perhaps of national leaders who have made great efforts toward international peace, or of negotiators who have served as intermediaries, attempting to eliminate strife between management and labor.

But more is involved in this beatitude - certainly more of a spiritual nature. You may know, or have known, as I have, members of churches whom the Lord has been able to use as peacemakers - those who calm fears and help to unruffle feathers when the inevitable quarrels arise.

Peacemaking is something that requires work. It does not come easily. Basically, man is hostile toward himself, toward his neighbor and toward God. The peacemaker is one who can build bridges of love and understanding and trust.

Friends, neighbors, men of influence, lawyers, physicians, may do much to promote peace, and certainly homemakers within families can make a great difference in the harmony of a home. Long and deadly arguments can be resolved by a simple expression of love and a kind word at the right moment.

Our strife-worn world, from the individual home to the international centers of influence, is in need of children of God who are peacemakers - committed to being ambassadors of the Prince of Peace.

Bible Reading:
II Corinthians 13:11-14

Today's Action Point:
Through the enabling of God's Holy Spirit, I will seek ways to become a peacemaker in building bridges of love, trust and understanding where there is now conflict, discord and even hate.

  posted at 6:10 AM  

Tuesday, June 13, 2006
I have only been at this blogging thing for a few weeks. I keep asking myself why I am so drawn to it. There are probably a number of reasons. There is the obvious one of course -- it gives me a chance to keep track of thoughts and ideas. I also, quite simply, love written words. But I think the deeper motivation for my blogging is that it gives me a chance to explore and "soften" my thoughts.

I think I have mentioned this before but I am the type of person who likes to process things a bit before I talk. Unfortunately, in both social and business settings, this can often mean that the conversation has advanced to an entirely different place before I am even ready to say anything at all! That is sort of bad.

I guess I like to be careful in what I say. Over the years, I have said things that I later regretted. We all have, I am sure. For me, the reason for this goes sort of deep though. I am not saying this in a mean way but, fact is, I have spent much of my life with someone who can easily and quickly explode into an irrational fit of anger if you say what he perceives at that particular moment to be the "wrong" thing. While I might try to justify my being quiet on this and justify my behavior by saying that we are all shaped by our pasts, I know that it is ridiculous to let my past, or others and things outside me, control my present. Fact is, this is some of the baggage that I carry around. Baggage that, through God's transformation in my life, I need to simply leave by the wayside and just move on.

But blogging does provide me with the opportunity for reflection. If I am writing about something personal going on in my life, blogging is a way to get my thoughts out but I can do so through a vehicle which allows me to take a close look at them and soften them a bit if God calls me to do so. Oftentimes, my initial reactions and thoughts can be too harsh. If you're reading my blog, you may not realize this but sometimes I go back and change my posts even after I have published them ... sometimes I don't give things enough thought before I click "Publish Post" and then, a few days later after a bit of processing, I see the need to make some changes, usually to soften things.

I don't really think that blogging is "therapy" for me but, rather, it is "practice" for me as I work toward improving my communication skills -- both my clarity and to make sure that my words are pleasing to God. It provides me that opportunity for self-analysis to ensure that my thoughts are in check and where they need to be if I am going to walk this walk of life full in and with God rather than keep one foot (or less) with Him and one foot (or more) with my own humanness.

  posted at 8:54 PM  

I visited Israel earlier this year with a group from our church. We had the opportunity to visit Jericho early in our trip there, just a few days in fact before the Israeli raid on the prison there. Our first stop while we were in Jericho was to see an ancient sycamore tree. Legend has it that this is the tree that a certain wee little man climbed up into as Jesus walked by. I would say that that is unlikely to be the case but, as with many things in Israel, the symbolism gives you the reminder of events that did indeed happen and, whether or not you are there in the literal sense, you feel like you are on holy ground.

What do you suppose made Zaccheus climb up into the tree? Aside from his short stature, of course. I mean, I am not a particularly tall man at 5’7” (okay, maybe a bit less than that) and I have certainly spent plenty of time in crowds, trying to make myself taller to see over the heads of others but I have never climbed a tree to accomplish that task. Why did Zaccheus seek to see Jesus that day? We have the clear indication that he had not been a Christ-follower prior to that day and, while he was Jewish, the fact that he was working for the Romans seems to indicate that he was not the most committed of all Jews. He had obviously heard of this miracle-worker and parable-teller and wanted to know more. Was it guilt that drove him to come that day? Did refuge in a tree mean that he was seeking a better view but also trying to hide from Jesus’ view? Do we ever do that? Don’t I sometimes seek to see God’s work but yet avoid being seen by God? Watching others carry out His work but then looking at the floor when He is seeking folks to be His hands and feet? Or could Zaccheus have been trying to shed his old ways and really be seen that day – “Hey, Jesus, look at me, the goofball tax collector up here in the tree! I need you!” Did Zaccheus have a premonition that God was out to get hold of him that day? Was Zaccheus seeking something more for his life than the big fancy house he owned? Did he have inherent ethics and a desire for morality? In Luke 19, Jesus calls out to Zaccheus by name even though they’d surely never met before. Obviously, some divine planning had gone into this. It wasn’t a case of just any wee little man climbing a tree. The gospels don’t tell us a lot of what happened after Zaccheus was called out of the tree and Jesus invited himself over for dinner. The implication is that Zaccheus gave it all up fairly quickly, giving away half of what he had to the poor and offering quadruple restitution to anyone he had cheated. Obviously, he was going to lose his job over this as well. So, you have to wonder what went on to happen to Zaccheus after his conversion. Did he even get out of it all alive or was he targeted by the Romans? How did Zaccheus feel about Jesus coming over to his house? How would we feel about that? Jesus already knows all the “stuff” we have and the importance we place on it but do we really want to face that moment of being seen living in the midst of all of our “stuff”? The point where we know that He knows? Isn’t brokenness about hitting that point? Was Zaccheus one of the first truly broken people to embrace Christ? And it all happened because he climbed a tree? There’s certainly no coincidence there in my mind.

I remember the only time I was in Vacation Bible School as a child. I think I was about six or seven years old. As part of our final program for our parents, we acted out the story of Zaccheus. Oh, how I wanted to be that wee little man who was allowed to climb the ladder in our play! But, I wasn’t chosen and I don’t remember now who was. It’s probably just as well that I wasn't chosen. I think I would have peed my pants if I’d have had to climb the ladder that was pretending to be a sycamore. It’s something I still sometimes do when Jesus calls my name.

  posted at 7:59 PM  

Here's an excerpt from Isaiah 43 (The Message):

Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you. I've called your name. You're mine. When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you. When you're in rough waters, you will not go down. When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end—Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you...

Okay, you guessed it, I can relate to this a bit lately. Why else would I have included it, eh?

Between some junk going on in my extended family and just a lot of "stuff" at work (though work itself really hasn't been all bad lately) I am feeling a bit in over my head.

I am not quite sure how to climb back onto dry land. I work to take solace in the knowledge that God will lead me out of this and that, from going through this time, I will be stronger and better prepared for times I will face in the future, perhaps even important times of doing His work. It is hard to grasp that solace sometimes though -- my humanness wants to pull me back down into fears and self doubts. What I need to do is grasp His hand and be pulled out. He is there alongside me all the time. I know that.

I try to maintain an even keel through all of this. Lisa and a couple of close friends are listening ears and they provide comfort and strength for me with God working through them. I am truly blessed.

As Isaiah 53 says, God paid a huge price for me. That is incredible. My actions and thoughts make me so undeserving. He will see me through the difficult times now ... I pray that I can leave my frail human thoughts behind me, that just as so many others are showing God's love to me, I can indeed grasp His hand, be pulled through this situation, hopefully showing God's love to others the best I can, even now when I am feeling in over my head.

  posted at 7:40 PM  

Monday, June 12, 2006
To the newborn daughter of some friends of ours. Actually, other than my own family members, the dad is the one person in my life whom I have known the longest. We got to know each other about 30 years ago in sixth grade and, for about the last ten years, I have had the pleasure of having him as a co-worker as well as a friend.

When I talked to Eric last evening he sounded, well, actually EXCITED! As you have maybe sensed from the way I wrote that, excitement isn't the norm for him. He usually maintains a pretty calm and even-keeled exterior. When we spoke, he had stories of almost running out of gas on the way to the hospital and also of following the baby around the hospital, even when they take her for medical checks, etc. He doesn't want to let her out of his sight!

Their new daughter is their first child and she is a bit of a miracle baby. They had several miscarriages along the way which, needless to say, were painful for them. The miracle of life is so overwhelming yet especially so when it comes after setbacks and frustrations.

I remember when our son was born ... one of the nurses, when I first held him, told me to use my hand to shield his closed eyes from the light. Sure enough, when I did that, just as she predicted, those huge bright blue eyes popped open and began looking at me, trying to figure out what I was all about, just as I was marveling at this awesome seven pounds and thirteen ounces of baby who I wanted to know everything about.

I can't wait to see our friends' new daughter. We did not make it to the hospital yesterday due to other commitments. Hopefully they will come home today. It is indeed exciting to see this blessing come into their lives after such a long wait. They are going to be incredible parents and this will be one much-loved little girl.

  posted at 5:33 AM  

Saturday, June 10, 2006
RACE CAR DRIVER?!?!?!?!!!!
Our son wants to be a NASCAR driver. This has not just been a passing phase and we're not sure how it all got started. But he's been saying this since he was two or three years old. We are not racing fans but he has gravitated to it on his own. Part of it stems from his love of racing- themed video games. If we let him, he would probably watch Speed Channel for hours on end.

A big part of me wants to say "No! Absolutely not!" and put this nonsense out of his head once and for all. I am not against racing. I respect the drivers. But, speaking as someone who simply is not the world's best driver (plus I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, which isn't good for long (or even short!) drives), racing just seems like a dangerous occupation. I suppose, though, that statistics would show me that it isn't.

Honestly, I don't know if we will still be facing this in 5, 10, or 15 years but he does seem determined. Actually, his career choice is odd for a kid who doesn't even want to ride his bike but it is also firmly entrenched.

At the root of all of this is something that all parents face though -- recognizing that God has a plan for each beautiful child He puts on this earth, and being willing to give up our plans for His. We've all seen it -- parents who try to re-live their "glory days" through their kids, and also parents who try to use their kids to live out their own unfulfilled dreams. Probably nothing leads to more messed up relationships and adults who feel like round pegs in square holes than those things.

Approaching parenthood, I always swore that I would let our child find his own path. Not that I wouldn't give some guidance or suggestions, with those things being based upon the gifts and talents that he is blessed with, but I wanted to let our child explore and discover what is right for him -- a life that will bring him joy.

It's not easy to do that in reality though. As a friend of ours recently told us, you just naturally have dreams for your kids and it is hard to give those up when you see that is not the way things are going to be.

My prayer is that, so long as he is authentic and genuine, so long as he acts with integrity, and so long as he makes an earnest attempt to know and go where God wants him to be, I will be okay with things. It won't be easy but it is what we are called to do as parents as we give our kids up to the One who loves them and has plans for them.

When I was in Israel, I bought a little wallhanging for Evan which has the words of Jeremiah 29:11 on it. It hangs in his room but I perhaps bought it more as a reminder for me than as a directive for him. Following is an excerpt of Jeremiah 29 from The Message:

"I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I'll listen. When you come looking for me, you'll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed."

My plans, my dreams, my hopes -- they can never even begin to compare to God's promise!

  posted at 8:08 AM  

Well, Cub Scout Day Camp is now over. We all survived the week. I feel badly for Lisa who had to put in her three days of penance as a volunteer; I was able to escape with only two.

Day Camp involves about eight or nine Cub Scout Packs from the area coming together to enjoy a week of activity "stations" such as field games, crafts, wall climbing, fishing, archery, and BB guns. I have to tell you, though, we're a rag-tag lot of Cubs and parents. The other Packs start and finish each day looking crisp and clean, all orderly and in neat rows at the opening and closing ceremonies. They march from station to station throughout the day, single file, following their very professional-looking Pack banner being carried by a couple of particularly crisp Cubs. A few Packs pull a specially decorated wagon stocked high with all of their gear for the day. Their boys all behave militaristically well at each station, sitting or standing quietly, listening and following instructions closely. During field sports, the other Packs all stand in line, taking turns.

At just eight boys, we were one of the smaller Packs at Day Camp this year. You would think that would make it easier to maintain control and to look sharp and crisp. Most of our boys are from the local Christian School. One might expect a little bit better behavior from them and, yes, I confess, I wanted to represent our school well. But our boys do not stay in line well. I could physically pick them up and place them in a line but, by the time I got to the end of the line, the first boy was off chasing a butterfuly, the second was scrambling up the nearby fence, the third was off following the croak of a bullfrog, the fourth was sitting down and picking at a scab on his knee, and so on. This was also a problem at Field Sports when some boys chose not to participate at all and others fought over who got to bat first. We tried to make a Pack banner but all we had to work with was what looked like half of a pillow case and a couple of colors of markers. Instead of a professional looking banner with appliqued insignias, we had some brown animal paw prints, our Pack Number, a cross, and the words "Jesus Rocks" (that was our son's contribution) on the banner in cheap marker. Oh, and the markers weren't waterproof -- we got rained on one day so our banner became just this swirly, streaky mass of running colors. (A bit like our Pack actually.)

On the BB gun shooting range, the other Packs' boys all laid down neatly on little rugs to shoot from the prone position, doing exactly as they were told, firing in perfect unison. When it was our turn, though, I spent my time hollering at our son to scoot up in line with the others so that he wouldn't shoot the boy next to him, Oliver, in the back of his head. (With our Pack, I worried a lot about getting them all home alive at the end of the day. By 2:00 in the afternoon, in fact, that was usually my sole objective, having given up all hope of anything more noble.)

The other Pack Leaders all wore official Boy Scout uniforms. I wore a ratty pair of shorts and an old t-shirt with a picture of a bulldog on the back wearing a Hawaiian lei and the words "The Big Kahuna" above him.

All of the Packs do a little chant as they leave each station, to thank the leaders who were at the station. When it was time to change stations , you could hear the cheers of various Packs erupting from all over the camp but, because our boys can't stay together, we have kids off looking in the grass, probably getting into poison ivy, and chasing birds when they're supposed to be cheering. Our cheers are then the pathetic attempts of two or three boys who stay with our Pack leaders. At one point, one of the other Pack leaders stepped in and made our Pack do it again. That was a bit of a turning point for me personally but more on that later.

Part of Day Camp is also that each Pack makes up a little song and a little skit. The songs are usually to the tune of favorite old childrens' songs and their skits become elaborate productions with the boys each knowing their lines and executing them with perfect precision. Our skit involved laughing and falling down, the point of which was that we really didn't have a skit. Our song was to the tune of "Another One Bites The Dust" (a suggestion I made which I later regretted hugely).

Yes, whereas the other Packs were precise and exact -- like units of miniature soldiers -- we were more like the Bad News Bears. But, remember that "turning point" I mentioned earlier? It was when I realized that our boys were going home each night exhausted but giddy over having a day of carefree boyhood, a day of exploration, a day of facing fears and sometimes even meeting challenges, a day of fun. Ours may have been the only Pack where I saw boys upset and crying on occasion when we did have to reign them in a bit but it was also the only Pack I ever saw where, at one point, the boys were all hugging each other, comfortable in the camraderie of friends having fun and loving each other.

You know, it's harder on the leaders when the boys are noisy and scattered all about rather than in precise lines. But to give these boys who are normally in a world that is trying to force them to grow up all too quickly the opportunity, just for a week, to be carefree and have genuine fun, I think I can put in my two days' of penance. Three might be pushing things just a bit though.

  posted at 5:22 AM  

Friday, June 09, 2006
I spent two days this week at Cub Scout Day Camp with our son and his packmates. Lisa was there the other three days. The hours were long and, overall, filled with many good moments. You know what I thought a lot about, though? Sunscreen.

When I was growing up, it was called Suntan Lotion and pretty much the only brand was Coppertone. Their logo of the little girl with her bathing suit being pulled down by the dog, revealing her tan line, seemed pretty naughty and a bit verboten to me as a seven-year-old in 1971. Coppertone was always a sponsor of game shows like What's My Line and Truth or Consequences. I don't remember using Coppertone at home though I think we had a bottle of it which seemed to last forever and may still be squirreled away someplace at my folks' house. To me, Coppertone was something which very rich people used to deepen their tans as they lay on the beaches of Waikiki or beautiful Puerto Vallarta, Mexico! Those were the two places where all of the big game show winners went back in those days ... along with a lifetime supply of Coppertone. (The not-so-big winners received the home version of the game.)

Today, Wal Mart has about 30 feet of shelf space, top to bottom, devoted to sunscreen. I worry a lot about having enough on my bald head whenever I am outside. (I am starting to get age spots on my head, by the way, reminding me of Dr Pinkerton my pediatrician when I was little. He had more hair than I do but he had a lot more age spots. And he had giant seaweed-filled fish tanks in his examination rooms.)

How did we make the change from one brand of Suntan Lotion to forty zillion brands of Sunscreen? I'm not sure. Al Gore probably says it's from global warming. I would tell our son that it's all about marketing. But, this I know, those days when a little girl's tan line seemed naughty were indeed simpler. I may have to go buy an old-fashioned bottle of Coppertone and let it sit around in our bathroom cabinet for 40 years, just so our son will see and remember it. I hope I can find a bottle with a picture of the girl on it.

  posted at 1:33 PM  

Thursday, June 08, 2006
Point your kids in the right direction— when they're old they won't be lost. (Proverbs 22:6, The Message)

I guess it just sort of happens when you have a kid of your own ... you suddenly find yourself around children quite a bit. Even if you don't feel you have any gifts or talents for working with kids, you find yourself frequently surrounded by them. In our case, things like subbing for Sunday School teachers, working with our son's Cub Scout pack, and other school activities tend to let us meet a lot of his friends and other kids he is around.

We came sort of late to parenthood. We were both around 35 when Evan was born. Though some days can be long and have me often thinking that, when they were my age, my parents' kids were out of high school rather than just barely in elementary, I am glad that I am an older parent. Evan may less appreciate having an old geezer for a dad though ... I'm not sure.

One of the things that has become very clear to me is that kids do model the behavior they see in their parents. Now, yes, there can be medical conditions and other things (including the radical transformation that God will create in His people) which override this but, to a large degree, acorns don't fall far from the tree and kids often end up being a lot like their folks. If you want a child who is kind and compassionate, then reflect those qualities in your words and actions. If you want your child to be self-centered and quick to anger, then be self-centered and quick to anger yourself. If you would like to raise an adult who is calm and collected even in stressful times, then be calm and collected even in stressful times yourself. If you want a child who is anxious or fretful, then be anxious and fretful. If you want a child who always seeks to hear God's voice and to follow Him, then let those attributes be visible priorities in your life. And so on...

Now, don't get me wrong, I make plenty of mistakes and I am far, far from perfect but I do think I am better at these things at age 42 than I would have been at, say, age 30. I think I understand better how kids do model their parents. I think that, also, because of where I am on my faith journey, I am doing a much better job of exhibiting the qualities I would like Evan to model than what I would have done 10 or 15 years earlier.

I still have plenty to learn and plenty of growing edges to expand but, still, I am glad that I am an older parent. For me personally, I know that God has and is in that and, for that, I am very thankful.

  posted at 5:27 AM  

The following is a daily devotional written by Steve Troxel of God's Daily Word Ministries. Those interested can subscribe to his daily emailed devotionals at

One day, when we stand with our Heavenly Father, we will see the awesome purpose in the path we have traveled. If we continue to trust and follow God's leading, we will see how each twist and turn in His path was designed to navigate us through the jungle and keep us moving toward a closer relationship with God. "As for God, His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord is flawless" (Psalm 18:30). His way is perfect and without flaw; but, by God's sovereign will, we are given the freedom to choose whether to follow.

Many times, we see what appears to be a shorter route, and we leave His path. These perceived shortcuts are filled with weeds that entangle us and slow our walk with Christ to a pathetic crawl; "But the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22). All our time spent away from God's path clearly hinders our relationship and diminishes our ability to produce anything of lasting value for the Lord.

Psalm 1:1-3 "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight in the law of the Lord, and on His Law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither."

To remain on God's path and continue to bear good and lasting fruit, we must be wise regarding the counsel we seek. Many people willingly give advice on following a "successful" path and yet ridicule any path directed by God. This counsel must be avoided since the very definition of success is in error! A truly successful path IS the path directed by God!!

Staying free of the weeds requires an active pursuit of God; "on His Law he meditates day and night." If we do not consume ourselves with the ways of God, we will, by default, become consumed by the ways of the world. Jesus made a similar statement to His disciples: "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit" (John 15:5). Remaining in the vine is a process by which we cling to Christ and love Him with ALL our heart. Our life then becomes defined and consumed by the life of the vine - the life of Christ.

As we allow God's Word to flow through our life and truly worship Him as Lord - as we become planted by the stream of His water - we develop deep roots. These roots become a solid anchor which will not be pulled up during the storm nor dragged along by the swift currents of temptation.

God's path is perfect and His burden is light; but remaining on His path and staying free of the weeds requires commitment, perseverance, discipline, and a strong reminder that there are NO shortcuts!

Have a Great Day!

Steve Troxel
God's Daily Word Ministries

  posted at 5:21 AM  

Wednesday, June 07, 2006
When I was in high school and college, not much was said or taught about leadership. I didn't participate much in clubs and, except for a stint on Student Council in seventh grade (which consisted mainly of sitting in Miss Weinrich's room once or so a month and talking about those awkward middle school dances and her elephant collection), I was never involved with student government. Yet, for the past 20 years, I have found myself leading, oftentimes floundering mind you, a growing manufacturing business. My saving grace has been that, for the past 10 or so years, God has blessed me to have contact with some tremendous leaders and to be a part of some tremendous organizations.

One of the best-performing boards I have been on is the local United Way. The chief reason it performs so well year after year has been our Executive Director, Lisa. Lisa actually started in that position a couple of years after I went on the board. We felt that, coming into the job, she had some very big shoes to fill because our previous Executive Director was very strong. Lisa, though, stepped into the position very strong -- hit the ground running. The organization never missed a beat and has continued to grow and do well under her leadership.

Early this year, I started my stint as President of the United Way Board. Really, it looked like it would be a pretty smooth year. A lot of that was due to Lisa. A couple of weeks ago, though, she called and told me that she had a pending opportunity to possibly become President of the local Chamber of Commerce. Those words struck me pretty hard as "Why did this have to happen on my watch?" kept running through my mind. I suppose I could have worked to fight and try to keep her in her current position (I am sure I would have been unsuccessful) but, fact was, I saw this as a huge opportunity for her and for the community. I could not imagine denying others the opportunity to learn from and serve with her. I also could not deny the community the growth that I feel certain she will bring to it.

Lisa is very creative and visionary and a real strategic thinker. She has been able to use those skills in her current position yet the United Way is, realistically, pretty repetitive year to year. While there can be bright moments, it is not really the place for a creative visionary to shine. At the Chamber, her talents and gifts will be put to much better use than they were even at the United Way.

I am thinking about what I have learned from Lisa about leadership over the years I have had the privilege of working with her. Have meetings planned in advance, set a strong agenda, and keep to it. If a "normal" board meeting ever lasts more than 90 minutes, you're trying to do commitee work in a board meeting. Show constant respect to others, let them have their say, but stay on topic. Ensure that "to do's" are assigned before the meeting is over. Set a time table for future activity and action. Communicate meeting times and places well in advance. Be willing to get your hands dirty as you serve. Watch for opportunities always and everywhere. Keep your Mission front and center at all times. Encourage and inspire others but hold them accountable. Be awrae of the need to build new leaders, and have a process for doing so. The list goes on.

One of her greatest achievements with United Way was her vision, development, and implementation of an incredible program called Teens Taking Charge. Under this program, about 20 area teens were given $5,000 to give away sort of like a mini United Fund. They had to solicit and review grant applications for programs which had a youth focus. They had to determine which ones were worthy of being granted a portion of their $5,000. The students learned about leadership. They learned about organizational structure. (Lisa and others purposefully picked many kids who had never been in student government.) The students learned about social needs. They learned about servanthood. They learned how to have productive, though sometimes very direct, conversations with one another. They learned to stand for what they believe in. They learned how to celebrate their successes. The list goes on, but what a tremendous program Lisa developed. It is absolutely huge in my mind.

So, we have started the search for a new director. Very big shoes to fill. But, you know what, there are many winners here. Lisa, the Chamber, and our community are clear winners. Whoever United Way hires will be a winner, being given a great opportunity for personal growth. And I and the other Board Members are winners, too. We get to celebrate Lisa's successes and we get to reach for the future with vigor and excitement. We need so many more leaders like Lisa.

  posted at 10:27 PM  

Who Am I?

Todd M


An ordinary guy. A wife I love very much. A great son. Wonderful friends. A metal roofing business and a sales training business. A loving church family. A few trade associations. A Christian school. And a four-pound poodle. Just trying to follow God and see where He leads.

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