Well, Larry had lived a pretty good life and he soon found himself in heaven. Sam Clam, on the other hand, had lived a life full of indiscretions. He found himself in, well, "the other place".
Larry really liked heaven. He was a model citizen. He quickly earned his wings and took up harp as an instrument to play. He was, in fact, one of the best harpists in all of heaven.
One day, God came to Larry Lobster and said, "You know, Larry, you're a pretty good crustacean. We really like you around here. In fact, I'd like to grant you a wish. If you could have anything at all, what would it be?"
Well, Larry was pretty astounded by having God approach him like this. He thought about it for several seconds and finally said, "You know what, God ... I really miss my old friend, Sam. I know that he went to "the other place" but do you think there is any way at all that I could go visit him for a day?"
God stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Well, that is an unusual request, Larry," He said. With a twinkle in His eye, though, He continued, "But I understand the value of relationships and I think that we could arrange this. Yes, tomorrow, you can go visit your old friend, Sam. You can leave first thing in the morning but, I must warn you -- if you're not back here by midnight, the devil is going to keep you in his place."
"Oh wow, thank you, God! This will be just swell," Larry exclaimed.
Larry was so excited. He could barely sleep that night. The next morning, he got up at the crack of dawn, grabbed his harp, and ran to the elevator. Once he was on the elevator, he looked at all of the buttons and finally, down in the lower right corner, he saw it -- the bright red "Go To Hell" button. He pushed it and the elevator went down, down, down ... to the ring of fire.
Finally, it stopped and Larry got off the elevator and began wandering around hell. He couldn't find Sam anywhere. Hell was a rather busy place (unfortunately). Larry finally stopped and asked Fannie Fish -- "I used to have a really good friend named Sam Clam and I have heard he's somewhere around these parts. Do you know him by any chance?"
"Why, sure!" Fannie said. "Everyone knows Sam. He's a super guy and real popular, too!"
"Well, where might I find him?" Larry asked.
"Why, he owns the local disco. You'll find him there. Just go down this street, turn left at the fire hydrant, and his place will be on your right."
"Thanks so much," gushed Larry. "I owe you one!" And he set off down the street to find Sam.
Larry quickly found Sam at his disco. Sam was absolutely elated to see him and to show him around. They talked a lot about the old days together and just generally had a great time. Larry even played his harp for Sam. "That's some mighty fine harp playing," Sam said.
They were having such a good time together that Larry lost track of time when he suddenly realized that it was just a couple of minutes before midnight. Well, as much as he enjoyed visiting with Sam, Larry really wanted to get back home. So, he dropped everything, shouted a quick good-bye to his old chum, Sam, and ran for the elevator.
He got into the elevator just as the clock was chiming midnight. He pushed the "Go To Heaven" button and he was whisked quickly upward. Once he was in heaven, he got off the elevator, walked home, and slept very well that night.
The next morning, Larry was out for his daily walk and he ran into God who said, "Why hello there, little fellow. Did you have a nice time visiting with Sam?"
"Oh God, it's so good to see you. Why, yes, we had a great time visiting. Thank you so much for granting me that wish," Larry said.
God replied, "What did you do all day? I heard you when you came back -- it was pretty late."
"Oh, we talked a lot about old times. We enjoyed barbecue for lunch ... and dinner. And, after dinner, I even played my harp for Sam! I really lost track of time and had to drop everything and run as fast as I could to make it back to the elevator before midnight"
And, at that, Larry slapped his claw to his forehead and exclaimed, "OH NO! I Left My Harp In Sam Clam's Disco!"
As Evan's school gets rolling today for another year, I am reminded of how blessed we are to have been brought to that school. You helped us see early on that Evan had special needs and you brought us to a school where those needs have been consistently met. As parents, we have special needs, too, and there again you have answered them.
I look around his school and I see you everywhere. There are so many stories of how you have worked through your people to make seemingly impossible dreams possible there. I thank you.
I pray that, throughout the school year, your brilliance will shine on the face of everyone who enters the school's doors. When people look at us as members of the school community, may they not see us personally but instead may they see you. Throughout the year, may humility win over pride. May patience and love win out over our humanity. I pray that we will accept the challenges that inevitably will come our way not as frustrations but instead as opportunities to grow in faith, to know you better, and to see you at work in the midst of it all.
I pray that the school will make decisions according to your will. I pray for a positive impact on not only every student and family but on our community, on anyone we encounter in any way and, ultimately on the world.
Thank you God, for your blessings. May our hearts and minds be open to you throughout the year for you to do what you desire in incredible ways.
We’ve all had others upset us from time to time. Whether those others are family members, co-workers, friends, or complete strangers, we’ve all been there with feelings of anger, resentment, despair, embarrassment, etc.
In recent years, there has been increasing talk from "the experts” about “letting go of baggage,” “getting on with our lives,” and “leaving the past behind.” I think we’ll all agree that this makes a lot of sense. The past is past but the future is as wide open as we allow it to be. However, as we all know, pains can fester and simmer and still boil over, causing us to not let go, not forget the past, and to stall out in our lives.
The thing I wonder about is, if “letting go of baggage” is the answer, where should it start? Of course, for things that happened in the distant past, there is no better time than the present for freeing yourself for future successes by letting go of the pains of the past. However, for new events and times when others upset you, I believe the real answer is in starting the “letting go” process immediately when the event occurs.
Is this easy to do? No. Do I claim anywhere close to have all the answers or even be “good” at this. Absolutely not. However, I do know that not letting go of the past and not forgiving others creates a “productivity paralysis” which prevents the harmed individual from going forward even though, in most cases, the person who caused the harm goes on happily with their life, often completely unaware of the pain they caused. What sense does that make for us? Why let a mistake on someone else’s part create a life of unhappiness and paralysis for ourselves? Again – what sense does that make?
When someone causes us pain, no matter the reason, I believe there are several things to think about. First of all, we all come from different paradigms. That is, we all have different backgrounds, different things we’ve been taught, and different values. Fact is, out of those differences, we will hurt one another from time to time; there is simply no avoiding that. In all of our relationships, we must realize upfront that occasional pain, both ways, is inevitable.
Next, we must realize that, at any given moment, we all have different perspectives, both emotionally and intellectually. Emotionally, I may be having a “down” day and you may be having an “up” day. This can greatly affect how we approach situations and interact with one another that day. You might say something on one day which will not phase me at all but, if you say it on one of my “down” days, it may leave me hurt or confused. Intellectually, what we know about a situation will also affect our perspective. You may have some advanced insight that I don’t have, making you view things differently than I do.
Finally, we all make mistakes. When we realize this, it can make the forgiveness process much easier and something which can start immediately. I have no doubt that there have been countless times in my life when I have hurt others and had no idea that I’d ever hurt them. I feel bad about that and would ask for their forgiveness if I knew of the situations. However, I don’t and I surely hope that stupid moves on my part in the past are not holding them back from their own future successes.
The next time you catch yourself holding a grudge or remembering a past hurt, take the psychologists’ advice and let go of the baggage, get on with your life. However, in the future, as soon as those pains of hurt set in, start the “letting go” immediately. When you do this, you, not others, are responsible for your future success and happiness. Otherwise, you’re just allowing yourself, your happiness, your success, to be held hostage by someone else. Again, I ask -- what sense does that make?
It seems like I have been putting on my suit more often than normal in recent months and, unfortunately, it's been for the latter reason a few of those times. This time it's due to the death of the mother of a good friend of Lisa's, who has also become a good friend of mine over the years. Her mom has really struggled with health issues for several years though she has done remarkably well. She was diagnosed with bone cancer about seven years ago I guess. Her husband had died of cancer (stomach I believe) a few years prior to that.
It's hard to see our generation's parents passing away. I am preferring to remember what things were like 20 years ago when our friend's parents were both living and I visted them a couple of times on their rural farm where they were both very much in their element and quite happy. Health problems, and especially cancer, can change things so quickly.
I will be praying that God will hold hard to our friend and her family during this tough time, that they will feel His love enveloping them from all angles, and that they will know that her parents are in heaven, enjoying not only each other's company but the company and the glory of our saviour as well. That is the comfort that can come from times like this.
Just the same, though, I will also be praying that I will not have to put on my suit again in the near future.
I am praying that he has a good year at school this year. The last three years have gone well. I am a little nervous about this year though. But, rather than dwell on that thought, I will be trusting God and praying for him … always.
I pray that Evan will grow up in an ever-increasing relationship with God. I pray that he will escape the materialism and other worldly things that attract so many of us in our teens and twenties. I pray that, whenever Evan is faced with tough decisions that have long-term effects, God will place someone there with him to help guide him in the right way. I pray that he will lead a happy life because he knows that he is following God’s direction for his life. I pray that he will have a heart of compassion and love for others and that he will dream of helping the world. I pray that he will not grow up with a dependence on approval from others but instead that he will know the only One whose approval we must seek.
Lisa and I feel so blessed by our son. In many ways, he’s a unique kid with special needs and perhaps I will write more about that some other time. But, for now, I am just thanking God for the burping baby boy, quickly becoming a young man, with whom He blessed us. And I am taking pride in the fact that he is our son.
Thinking of this reminds me of something I wrote last year about my favorite Christmas memory. I will share it below.
Favorite Christmas Memory
My favorite Christmas memory is Christmas 1997. Lisa and I had been experiencing fertility problems for about seven years at that point. Numerous doctor appointments and treatments had resulted in ongoing frustration and disappointment with no solid explanation as to what was going on. We had started to make adoption plans when, a few weeks before Christmas, we turned out to be expecting – a happy surprise for us.
For Christmas that year, we decided to announce our expected arrival to our parents in a unique way. This was to be the first grandchild for my parents and, while the fourth grandchild for Lisa’s parents, this would be the first local grandchild who her parents would get to spend a lot of time with. To announce this, Lisa carefully prepared two special gifts for our moms. For her mom, she wrapped up a pair of baby booties and, for my mom, she wrapped up a “Grandma’s Brag Book” photo album.
When they unwrapped their gifts at our respective family gatherings, there was initial confusion. My mom thought maybe the photo album was for pictures of our dogs. Lisa’s mom didn’t understand the baby booties at all. But, once the explanation was in place, there were shouts and tears of joy and thanksgiving. I will never forget Lisa’s dad saying “Our prayers have been answered.” Truly, prayers were answered that Christmas of 1997 and we have thoroughly loved every second of parenthood ever since our son, Evan, arrived the following summer.
Fast forward to just recently … we were in a store with Evan when he saw a sign and read it to us: “If you ever want to make God laugh, just tell him what your plans for the future are.” Evan was chuckling a bit at this when I asked him if he knew what the sign really meant. His reply was “Sure, it means that God’s plans are always better than our plans.” Wow – our seven year old is reminding us that God’s plan is always perfect, just as we discovered during that Christmas of 1997.
1) If you're given a task that can be completed in five minutes or less, don't put it off, do it now.
2) Don't let email turn into emotional-mail.
3) In all things at all times, be present -- live and love in the moment.
4) This is the one I break continually but know I shouldn't: eat good food in proper portions, get 8 hours of sleep each night, exercise regularly.
5) This is the one I break the second most often: don't avoid conflict. Be willing to call a spade a spade.
6) Do the important things first (except for rule #1)
7) Know when your best times of day are and schedule your day accordingly.
8) Things do not have to make cents in order to make sense.
9) When you're with your family, leave work at work.
10) Get team members involved. Early participation means buy-in and ownership later.
11) Think about implications before making decisions.
12) Very few people in this world are ever truly mean-spirited. You may have differences with someone but it is usually because you come from different paradigms. Seek to discover and appreciate those differences. Harness for good the power of others which stems from having different roots.
13) Understand and identify the processes for various actions before proceeding. Make sure that all parties are on the same page.
14) Develop documented Action Plans for recurring processes. Identify the who, what, when and how.
15) Maintain a task list, keep good records of activities. Your memory will never be what you think it will be.
16) Organizationally, push all work to the "lowest level" where it can be carried out successfully.
17) Set agendas in advance for meetings, and don't ever end a meeting without complete clarity on assignments and due dates.
18) Develop the ability to understand, work with, and relate to general numbers on the fly. More things in life are numbers-driven than we like to admit sometimes.
19) Know everything you can about your customers. Build personal, not just business, relationships with them. Also, you have many more customers in your life than just the people you sell things to.
20) Even if you're not going forward, the rest of the world is.
21) Ultimately, people do business with people they like.
22) Seek and follow God's direction in all you do.
Stand In The Rain ... From the album Beauty From Pain
She never slows down
She doesn’t know why
But she knows that when she’s all alone
It feels like it’s all coming down
She won’t turn around
The shadows are long
And she fears if she cries that first tear
The tears will not stop raining down
So stand in the rain
Stand your ground
Stand up when it’s all crashing down
You stand through the pain
You won’t drown
And one day what’s lost can be found
You stand in the rain
She won’t make a sound
Alone in this fight with herself
And the fear’s whispering
If she stands, she’ll fall down
She wants to be found
The only way out is through everything
She’s running from
Wants to give up and lie down
(Chorus 2 times)
“Do not be too anxious about your advancement in the ways of prayer, because you have left the beaten track and are traveling by paths that cannot be charted and measured. Therefore leave God to take care of your degree of sanctity and of contemplation. If you yourself try to measure your own progress you will waste your time in futile introspection. Seek one thing alone: to purify your love of God more and more, to abandon yourself more and more perfectly to His will and to love Him more exclusively and more completely, but also more simply and more peacefully and with more total and uncompromising trust.”
Because it was my backside rather than my front side facing the poodle as I sat down on the chair she had already taken up residence in, I can only imagine the look of fear in her eyes as she pressed herself tighter and tighter against the back of the chair with my big butt relentlessly closing in. Surely she believed that this was the end of the line for her. She didn’t even have time to scream (or bark or growl). Fortunately, though, I felt her bony body huddled in the back of the chair and realized something was seriously awry before I put my full weight into the chair and sat back firmly on her. She would not have survived that, I fear.
Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with my pretending to be something I am not. Let me explain.
Our church had Big House Sunday this morning. That means that we had music, food, games, and frivolity (as much as Methodists are allowed to have) out on the street. Lisa, Evan, and I were helping with some of the food items. This all started at about 7:15 a.m. for me and ended five hours later. After thousands of trips up and down the stairs in our old church (including one trip during which I disturbed someone who was sleeping inside) and helping with the very hot jobs of frying hash browns and popping popcorn, I was very warm, my legs hurt, and I was ready to go out with my family for a nice relaxing lunch.
As we talked in the car about where we should go for lunch, my sole requirement was that we had to go someplace with air conditioning where it would be pretty cool. This ruled out the local Chinese buffet as it is usually quite warm and steamy there. We decided to go to Buffalo Wild Wings, one of Evan’s favorite places because of their video trivia and other games.
We only started going to Buffalo Wild Wings a year or so ago. I really had never had chicken wings before we started going there but I have since come to like their boneless wings. Buffalo Wild Wings is known for having fourteen sauces they can put on their wings, ranging from the very mild Smilin’ Sweet BBQ (which is what Lisa gets) all the way up to Blazin’. I was gradually working my way up through the sauces, convinced it was a way of displaying my manhood and proving to my family just how incredibly macho I am. He has the stomach of a 20-year-old, they'd say. In fact, maybe three or four 20-year-olds!
I had handled all of the sauces reasonably well, including the Asian Zing, Caribbean Jerk, and Screamin’ Hot BBQ. Truth be told, I guess that Screamin’ Hot was sort of pressing my limits. I should have respected that but, no, I had to try to prove that I am more than I am. At church, we talk a lot about our “journeys” as Christians. This relates to how we’re growing in our faith and commitment and in how we allow God to live through us. It’s a never-ending thing, really, as we strive to live a supernatural life and truly operate with the mind of Christ. In my mind, I was sort of likening my trip up the scale of Buffalo Wild Wing sauces to my faith journey. I was hoping that even when I made it all the way to Blazin’, I’d be screaming “Come on, bring it on! You call that hot? Why, my grandmother could handle that! Invent something new for me – Super Duper Habanero! Bring it on, baby! I’m a man and I can take it!”
Unfortunately, and in a most painful way, I hit the end of the road today for my Buffalo Wild Wings Sauce Journey when I chose Hot sauce for my boneless wings. Hot is fourth from the top on their list of sauces. For the last several sauces, at the waitress’s suggestion, I have been ordering Ranch dressing with my wings, to help soften the heat a bit. I should have known something was up today when she offered me celery sticks as well. But, being the macho guy that I am, I refused them. I swear that I heard her gasp slightly when I told her I didn't want any celery.
I also thought that I heard a small nuclear explosion come from the kitchen when they were making my order. That was confirmed when I took my first bite. There was not enough Ranch dressing nor root beer in the world to temper the potency of that stuff. I asked Evan if steam was coming out of my ears. I was convinced that it had to be. I only ate about half of my wings, certain that my lips, tongue, mouth and throat were about to swell up and choke off my respiration. I left the restaurant knowing full well that I had reached my limit. I could not go on pretending to be something I am not. I was not going to conquer the full range of Buffalo Wild Wing sauces. I would need to start working my way down the sauce scale to find my ultimate comfort level. Unless I am feeling terribly suicidal, I could never carry on to Mango Habanero, much less Wild sauce.
Just as I was fearing, though, my time at Buffalo Wind Wings did not end my experience with their Hot sauce. Throughout the day since then, things have been going on with my body which I could not possibly write about. Scary things. My stomach has been rolling and rumbling all afternoon and evening, as if Rosemary’s baby is inside of me and really wanting out.
But, being the strong man that I am, I kept going throughout the day, having fun with my family and even eating dinner. A couple of hours after dinner, though, I’d had all I could take. My stomach was a mess. My head was pounding. There was a taste in my mouth that no amount of teeth brushing could touch. I finally could go no further. I collapsed into one of our comfortable recliners. And sat on the poodle.
Maynard Ferguson was probably the greatest trumpet player to ever live. He was also one of the remaining ties to the "Big Band Era," having gotten his start with Stan Kenton.
I believe that I saw him in concert just one time but the funny thing is that I'd been watching his tour schedule for the past year or so, hoping to maybe have the opportunity to see him again sometime. That will never happen.
To truly appreciate his genius, you almost had to play trumpet yourself. The things he could do so effortlessly -- acrobatics I called them -- were pretty much impossibilities to most of us. I had one friend in high school who showed promise of being able to play like that and I was disappointed to learn a couple of years ago that he doesn't play much anymore.
Maynard was marked not only by his talent for the instrument but also for his love of people and friendliness, his commitment to music education, and his commitment to continuing the legacy of big bands but yet also pushing forward, becoming more edgy with his music all the time. Often when he toured, he would hold music clinics for students and virtually always after his concerts, often drenched in sweat, he would take plenty of time for photos and autographs with his fans. Whatever our individual area of talent and giftedness, we should all strive to give back the way that he did.
Memories of Maynard bring back a flood of memories of my high school years. I really really wanted to be able to play like him but it was never in the cards. I was occasionally able to hit a soprano high C but "The Boss" as Ferguson was known was routinely squealing around at an octave above that! Absolutely phenomenal and virtually unheard of until he hit the music scene.
This brings back memories of the kids I was in band with. Also of the really good trumpet players I knew back then -- Dan Baker, Matt Baker, Ron Brooks, David Edler, Rick aka "Pudge" Monnin (the acrobat I referenced earlier), and others. Wow. We all wanted to be able to play like Ferguson.
I also remember Don Sprague, the guy that I and some of the others took private lessons from. Don came out of the Big Band era and, though he wouldn't talk about it much, he played with a lot of the famous bands including, as I recall, Glenn Miller and Stan Kenton. Don wasn't so much an acrobat but he had incredible tone and tyechnical finesse. He taught me the importance of practice and warm-up exercises.
Wow. Maynard will be missed. An incredible trumpet player and an incredible man.
There is no real comparison between what he's doing and the memories it brought up for me but here they are anyway.
The summer of 1981 was between my junior and senior years of high school. I had taken three years of German in high school and a German exchange student stayed with my family for a couple of weeks the spring of that year. That summer, I had the opportunity to go to Germany along with other students from my school. I stayed with the boy who had stayed with us.
I think that we U.S. students were kind of brats while we were there. School was in session for the Germans at the time and we tried attending classes with them. Problem was, we really didn't speak German very well and it was pretty useless for us to go to their classes. I think we only went for one day.
Everything about their school (and, in fact, a lot of things about the trip) seemed very surrealistic. I remember the morning we were in a classroom sitting on the desks and just talking and then we all (including the German students) went outside and bought green grapes in white paper from some street vendor. I am not sure I ever saw a real "class" going on at their school. Things seemed extremely relaxed. Yet they all seemed much more scholastically advanced than we were.
I was probably one of the better German speakers among the Americans but that didn't mean much. As the result, one time when several of we American students were out together, they voted me as the one to have to try to get some information from a particularly dour looking German woman we encountered. I recall trying my best German but apparently making no sense at all when she just looked very confused at me and said "Would you please speak English?" One of my favorite German words was the word for "horse". I suspect I was using it a lot as I tried to talk to her.
I remember seeing a car accident happen one Saturday morning as we were going to a train museum. That may still be the only car accident I have ever witnessed that I wasn't involved in. Fortunately, no one was hurt. (I have a bad habit of hitting stationary things ... I have never hit a moving vehicle. Parked cars better look out though.)
I remember being on the autobahn ... and the Reeperbahn, the former being Germany's infamous "no speed limit" highway system, and the latter being Hamburg's infamous red light district. I just looked up "Reeperbahn" on Wikipedia to check my spelling and apparently now you have to be 18 to walk this rather seedy street.
One Saturday afternoon, the guy I was staying with took me on a train ride quite a ways outside of Hamburg to visit a friend of his. It was in a huge old house with very little furniture. It seemed more like an institution than a house. Once there, I quickly got bored and decided to take the train by myself back into the city. I got off the train in the city and started wandering around a bit.
I remember walking off to the edge of a park and seeing a large group of people together. Several hundred. It looked like a rally of some sort so I approached it to try to find out what it was all about. Even with my limited German, I was quickly able to figure out that it was an anti-American rally, targeted at President Reagan in the midst of our European military build-up which eventually led to the end of the cold war, the fall of the Soviet Union, and probably in part the re-unification of Germany as well. I didn't hang around the rally for long. I sort of hung my head low and slunk away.
Starting with the trans-Atlantic flight over, a lot of our trip seemed to revolve around alcohol. On the flight over, they served us all little baskets with crackers, cheese, and a small bottle of wine. I was sitting on the plane next to our teacher advisor who asked for my wine. I had never drank alcohol in my life at that point I don't believe so I gladly gave it away.
I never did quite figure out what the drinking age was in Germany at the time. It may have been 14 but, whatever it was, no one really cared nor paid attention to it. This caused some in our group to go a bit, shall I say, overboard. I rarely saw our host students imbibing. Our little group probably could have drank them under the table though.
I remember only having one small sip of something. (Of couse -- maybe that's the issue -- I don't remember much!) It was called Astel Wasser as I recall -- a mixture of lemonade and beer. It was sort of tasty.
I remember that this was the first summer after Lisa and I had met and started dating. I missed her terribly and we wrote letters back and forth. This was waaaay before email, of course.
The big souvenirs we brought home were leather coats and vests. I still have my vest though it hasn't fit me for years. And, most of the guys brought home switchblades which we hid in our luggage on the way home, unsure of how legal they were to bring into the states. (Yikes -- I am not even certain how legal it is to have one today!) I remember hiding mine inside of my umbrella. For some crazy reason, that seemed to make sense at the time.
Anyway, those are some of my memories. Like I said, my little high school exchange trip pales in comparison to what Mike will be doing. I wish him the best. He has a true and well-deserved opportunity of a lifetime. I am sure he will make the most of it. He may want to keep his head low if he runs into any anti-American rallies. And, if there's a person sitting next to him on the plane who wants his bottle of wine, Mike should just keep it for himself.
What mighty praise, O God,
belongs to you in Zion.
We will fulfill our vows to you,
for you answer our prayers,
and to you all people will come.
Though our hearts are filled with sins,
you forgive them all.
What joy for those you choose to bring near,
those who live in your holy courts.
What joys await us
inside your holy Temple.
You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds,
O God our savior.
You are the hope of everyone on earth,
even those who sail on distant seas.
You formed the mountains by your power
and armed yourself with mighty strength.
You quieted the raging oceans
with their pounding waves
and silenced the shouting of the nations.
Those who live at the ends of the earth
stand in awe of your wonders.
From where the sun rises to where it sets,
you inspire shouts of joy.
You take care of the earth and water it,
making it rich and fertile.
The rivers of God will not run dry;
they provide a bountiful harvest of grain,
for you have ordered it so.
You drench the plowed ground with rain,
melting the clods and leveling the ridges.
You soften the earth with showers
and bless its abundant crops.
You crown the year with a bountiful harvest;
even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.
The wilderness becomes a lush pasture,
and the hillsides blossom with joy.
The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep,
and the valleys are carpeted with grain.
They all shout and sing for joy!
Our curiosity grabbed us so we were looking some at his MySpace profile. I think that Lisa and I immediately had the same thought -- this nice young boy who we entrusted to babysit our young 'un has certainly changed since moving away. And then I said something like "I just think that's the way kids are today."
Wow ... that hit me like a 2 x 4.
I got to thinking ... the things on his site realistically aren't much different than the things that I and my peers were thinking about when we were that age. Having fun, the opposite sex, cars, the opposite sex, music, the opposite sex, school, the opposite sex, the drinking age, the opposite sex, sports, etc. And did I mention the opposite sex? (Those last couple of sentences may really bring some interest to my blog on the search engines!)
We sent an email to our old babysitter, just thinking we could find out how he and his family are doing. We never heard back from him. In considering all of this, I have had to face a fact. I am not quite sure when, where, or how but I have become part of the "older generation." I suppose that this nagging pain in my right knee should have given it all away but, just as my parents don't want to admit to "senior" status, I am having a problem with "older generation" status. Can you imagine if, the next time Lisa and I go out to eat, the waitress asks us if we want to take advantage of their new "older generation" discount!?!
I sort of came into leadership and management positions at a young age -- in my early to mid 20s I guess. I realize it's been a long time since I have been thought of as a "kid" but to be part of the "older generation"! Not sure I like that! But, fact is, in virtually every association or organization I am involved with, we are now working on how we raise up the next generation of leaders.
All in all, that's a positive and good thing. It happens quickly though. In your early 30s, some people can maybe still skate by as being sort of "hip and with it" but, when you hit 35, I think that others' view of you changes dramatically and when you're my age and it all begins to really sink in with you, too ... well, it can be a bit overwhelming.
I have learned a new word though! On our friend's MySpace profile, I saw the word "crunk". I thought it had to be a typo. Apparently, though, it is a combination of "crazy" and "drunk" even though it doesn't seem to mean literally "crazy" nor literally "drunk" necessarily. Apparently, what it means is "crunk". Whatever that is. I will try to work it into a conversation today. That way people will know how hip I really am. "Older generation" indeed! (Now, what did I do with that nice ace wrap for my knee?)
Matthew 18:15 tells us that, if we feel someone has sinned against us, we are to go talk to them alone. If that doesn't work, we take a buddy with us next time and beat them up ... or something like that. :-)
I think I can differentiate this reference to someone actually sinning against me from I Corinthians 3:3 which talks about how jealousy and quarreling are of the flesh and acting out of our human-ness. I can understand the need to confront someone who has sinned against me and yet avoid petty quarreling and jealousy.
My problem is in defining when someone has sinned against me. At what point do I afford them grace versus confront them?
I am by nature not a person who enjoys conflict. Some folks thrive on it. I tend to flee from it yet I know that is a fault of mine, and I want to "move forward" in that area.
What I struggle with, though, is the concept of affording grace to someone versus confronting them. Is it primarily a matter of praying over it and seeking His direction?
Can anyone help me with this?
So, do you think you had a fun afternoon? I spent mine picking bagworms off of a bunch of humongous arbor vitae we have in our yard.
This is the first time I have ever added a picture to a post and it's a picture if bagworms of all things. I'm telling you, these little coccoon things may look innocent enough. In fact, they even look like little pine cones or just little dead branches. But inside of them? Look out! Inside will be this little black worm that is so ugly it's almost cute. (Someone said something like that about me in high school once but let's not dredge that up.) At some point, the female bagworms will lay hundreds of eggs inside of the coccoon and, the next spring, those hatch into more worms which are capable of stripping a shrub entirely clean of all vegetation.
These are hard things to get rid of. There is a particular time frame before they create coccoons when you can spray for them but, after that, you pretty much have to pick them off by hand and then squish or burn them so that they don't get spread somewhere else. I have been told that transporting them to be composted will still not get rid of them. The eggs will hatch and the worms will find something alive even there to feed upon.
Go look at your shrubs. The presence of worms represents an unhealthy and dangerous situation. They may look innocent ... they may even look cute ... but that is all deception. Pluck away the worms and get rid of them.
"You don't get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It's who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds." (Luke 6:43-45 MSG)
In helping to explain our human nature in comparison to the transformed nature that God calls us to, Kinlaw focuses a lot on the book of Mark. I wasn't aware of this but he comments that a lot of scholars and others historically haven't placed a whole lot of importance on the book of Mark, instead referring more to the other synoptics and NT books as being more power.
As I read the book, I was really drawn to the end of Mark 8. In The Message, chapters 30 - 38 are as follows:
... He then began explaining things to them: "It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive." He said this simply and clearly so they couldn't miss it.
But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. "Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works."
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?
"If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels."
For me, there's a lot of power in Jesus rebuking Peter for trying to pull Him away from what He knows must be His fate here on earth. Just as the Father had a plan for His son, God has a plan for each of us. Sometimes it isn't at all what we expect. Sometimes it can seem pretty painful even. Yet our calling is to indeed focus on where God leads us in our life, and not to turn back to self-reliance and the ways of contemporary culture. We are nothing without Him -- certainly not the Kingdom-builders and Kingdom-inheritors that He wants us to be. We can therefore, even embrace the difficult times in this life, full in faith and knowledge that they will not last and that the difficult times are important parts of our journeys to eternity.
In this scripture, God calls us to self-sacrifice with a focus on Him rather than on ourselves. It reminds me of my frequent admonition to myself to lose my "self" and focus instead on my life in Christ, allowing Him to live through me rather than the old and very human "me" to live through me.
Finally, in the end of Mark 8, Jesus makes it very clear what our marching orders are if we indeed are to spend eternity with Him. To me, this sums up our calling as Christians so clearly ... giving up our "selves," seeking and following God's plan for our lives, wherever that may lead us.
During my trip to Israel, we were reminded of the mustard seed scripture when we visited the Herodian. This is a palatial fortress built by King Herod the Great sometime around 20 BCE. Out of a desire to make this fortress look like something his enemies would not want to approach, Herod built it to look like a volcano. In essence, he built (moved) a mountain and then placed a city inside of it. As with so many of the other sites we were at, visiting Herodian required a lot of climbing and walking. Getting water into the mountain was a major accomplishment for the builders, requiring tunnels and cisterns. Apparently, though, the water system worked well because Herod included a couple of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” swimming pools in his design. Josephus wrote that Herod the Great was buried at the Herodian. I suppose it is as good of a place as any to be buried but, fact is, if he’s still there, they haven’t found him … yet.
Herod moved a mountain and I think we all have to question how big his faith was. Herod’s faith, even down to proclaiming himself “The Great,” always seemed to be in himself, not in God. (Having an unlimited supply of slave labor that he probably didn’t care a fig about undoubtedly had some bearing on things as well.)
In my case, though, if mountains are to be moved, it will definitely not happen with faith in myself. I can’t even make my car move if it doesn’t want to run that day. No, if I am to have anything to do with mountain moving, it will be because I have turned the matter entirely over to God and He moves the mountain! In fact, all I do is get in the way when I try to control things myself. Proverbs 3:26 says that the Lord is my security, my confidence. God clearly calls us to put our faith in Him, one of the biggest steps we can take in our everyday lives as Christians. It’s interesting when you think about the levels of faith. Many people, the majority of Americans in fact I am told, have something at least akin to faith that takes them to the point of believing in God but the faith that goes with completely turning your life over to God, and truly realizing that He is in control and that all we have comes from and belongs to Him, is something that would probably not score as being real “common” in the latest Barna survey.
What does today’s church do to build that faith in people? The church I attend now does a great deal to encourage people to give it all to God and let their faith lie with their maker. But, frankly, the churches I grew up in, at least from a kid’s perspective, were pretty much only about “right” and “wrong” – there was no point in thinking about a faith journey; “callings” were only for those in professional ministry and they came in the form of some mysterious night dream.
The resulting picture I had was that of God as the almighty judge, doling out only two statements -- either “Good job, you kept my commandments. You’re in,” or “Sorry about your luck, Chuck. You really should have tried harder. You’re outta here!” Almost like a heavenly Donald Trump. (Okay, I confess, it made me laugh to write that sentence.) While the “black and whiteness” of God is still paramount in my mind, I do see now that God is calling us all to follow him, not just in a symbolic way but in a very real and personal way. In return for the love and grace He extends to us, how can we not pick up our cross and follow Him where He wants to lead us? God ultimately will accomplish what He wants to accomplish. Will I be a part of that or will I be in the way? Will I use His power and move mountains or just my power and shuffle stacks of paper around on my desk?
But I MISS her. It's only been a few hours and I really really miss her. I keep looking for her to tell her something or do something together or sneak a hug and a peck but she's not here.
Over the years, especially in the early years of our marriage, I had to travel a lot for my job. I feel badly about that. I was probably gone about 40% of the time. Not a nice thing to do to a new bride. (Of course, it was ME she was married to so maybe she really enjoyed the times I was gone!) I really missed her but I was very busy on those trips, driving late into the night each day and spending the next day from breakfast through dinner tracking down customers. There have only been a few times in our married life when I have been home without her. It's different than being on the road alone. This is one of those times though and it's not fun. Did I mention that I MISS her?
Evan and I played some games this evening and dug up half of our front yard in search of buried treasure. (In a moment of desperation, I got my metal detector out and used it in the yard.) Had Lisa been here, she would have been the voice of reason to stop the digging but, you get a couple of guys together with digging tools and look out. It's Boston all over again!
I'm also having problems finding things in the kitchen. Basic things. The stove, microwave, spatula, toaster, pooper scooper, fire extinguisher. I found the refrigerator. It's that big box that started making a lot of noise because I don't know to kick it like she does. I really need her. Did I mention that I MISS her?
I am not sure what Evan and I will do the next couple of days. We may do some more digging. And Evan wants to have a friend over. That will likely involve video games. I can go out front and dig while they do that. I may take Evan and head down to Panera for lunch or dinner. It won't be the same without Lisa though a visit to ColdStone Creamery afterward will make me feel a bitter. Did I mention that I MISS her?
I wonder if this is at all close to how God feels when we stray from Him? Does He feel like He's lost a friend, just like I feel that I am missing mine? "...and as a bridegroom is happy in his bride, so your God is happy with you." (Isaiah 62:5 MSG) I hope I can keep from putting Him through this pain that I am going through. I know it's only for a couple of days though.
... I also hope I can find the coffee maker in the morning ... hmmmm ... and the coffee ... and the coffee scoop. Oh, and I'd better look for the fire extinguisher some more.
Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust. This stems from individuals’ desire to not be vulnerable. Trust can start with the leader making themselves vulnerable. (See tables on book page 197)
Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict. This results in sarcasm and artificial harmony rather than honest, open, and productive debate and discussion. (See tables on book page 204)
Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment. This results in ambiguity and everyone not working toward the good of the team and its goals. (See tables on book page 209)
Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability. This results in low standards. Everyone must by into the plan and be held accountable for their role in it. (See tables on book page 214)
Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results. This is driven by a desire for personal status and ego rather than the success of the team. (See tables on book page 218)
Additional Major Points …
1) The leader must specify that all team members be fully engaged in team meetings and activities.
2) Vulnerability can start with having all team members discuss their personal histories, including a candid discussion of their strengths and weaknesses.
3) The leader must draw out and make people say what they are really thinking, especially in times of conflict.
4) The team goal must be continually stated and kept out front.
5) You must have defined matrics for success and then follow through with measurement and evaluation.
6) The entire team is responsible for overall success, not just for their individual success.
7) Consensus is not good if it leaves all team members ultimately unhappy and uncommitted.
8) Don’t “slam” other team members behind their backs. Dissatisfaction with each other must be brought to their attention.
9) Be prepared to confront and even remove team members who are not meeting expectations.
Several years ago, I started my involvement in our industry major trade association, Metal Construction Association. Getting involved in such a thing was not an easy step because I'd always been taught that such things were of little value, amounting primarily to just time-wasting politics.
And, in fact, when I first got involved, that may not have been far from the truth. Most meetings seemed to consist either of competitors sniping at one another, talking behind each others' backs, or acting as if the other didn't exist.
A few of us, though, got together and saw what potential existed if we started working with each other instead of against each other. In fact, it didn't take too long before we realized that we weren't really each others' competitors. Our real competition was from competing product groups. Those were the products we needed to take marketshare from, not each other.
It wasn't long before we had created a subsidiary group, the Metal Roofing Alliance, for the purpose of educating the public as to the benefits of residential metal roofing, especially in comparison to other types of products. That organization has outlived its projected lifespan and is still going strong, helping to grow the industry for all of us.
Since then, another group has been started, The Metal Initiative. This group promotes metal roof and wall panels.
And, to boot, we have found that when we share our resources on technical matters and research projects, we all benefit as well. No individual member is nearly as strong as we are as a group.
For our industry, this coming together under a common banner has worked extremely well. I suspect that it would for other business sectors as well. This is much like how the church can work when God's people come together under a common banner, putting aside all personal agendas and focusing solely on God's agenda.
In the middle of a glorious season of ministry, Jesus led His disciples into a time of rest and solitude; "And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples" (John 6:3). We all need times when we are quiet and can simply sit at His feet; but alas, such times seldom last long. Times of refreshing are absolutely necessary. But they are necessary because they prepare us for further ministry, and for further testing which is used to continue the process of being "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29).
John 6:5-7 "Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, 'Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?' But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, 'Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.'"
When Jesus first saw the great multitude of people, "He began to teach them many things" (Mark 6:34). Jesus demonstrated great compassion for those who were gathered and even "healed their sick" (Matthew 14:14). Phillip had directly seen the miracles of Jesus, had just returned from a successful ministry trip, and was now in the middle of a great healing and teaching service. But when Jesus tested Phillip by asking how to deal with a seemingly impossible physical problem, he looked only at the available physical solutions and determined the situation to be hopeless.
A denarius was the acceptable pay for one day of work (Matthew 20:2). The term 200 denarii is therefore sometimes translated as "Eight months' wages" (NIV). Phillip was making the point that it would take a completely unreasonable amount of money to buy enough food for each person to have even "a little." Did Phillip fail the test?
In one sense, Phillip surely failed. Phillip had walked side by side with the Creator of the Universe but, when faced with a physical difficulty, had failed to look past his physical surroundings. But in another sense, this was not a pass or fail type of test. Jesus already knew what was in the heart of Phillip, and He didn't need the answer to the question of where to buy bread. Yet He asked as a way of revealing a weakness so it could be refined and made stronger; "knowing the testing of your faith produces patience...that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:3-4).
We never stop needing to rest, minister, or learn. Neither are we ever freed from times of testing. Jesus loves us so much that He continually strengthens us by stretching us past what is comfortable and revealing our need to make His Spiritual truths a practical reality. He can be trusted in ALL things - and that means our eternal destiny as well as our daily physical circumstances. Let's embrace His truth and apply it in every area of our life. Let's trust Him more - right now - and be made complete through our times of testing.
Later, we will sit out by the lake behund our house with Lisa saying "The loons, Todd, The LOONS." And, while I am adjusting my hearing aid so I can hear her, she will say, "Oh, Todd, you old poop!"
Oh well, they are nice thoughts at least!
We went to see "Barnyard" last night. It was pretty much all bad. The graphics were great -- incredible, in fact -- but the storyline was lame. I read where someone said it was a knock-off of The Lion King. I never saw that but their argument made sense to me.
Barnyard is one of those cartoons that doesn't know whether it's for adults or children and it doesn't do a good job of reaching either audience. There was almost no audible laughter from the audience -- never a good sign.
When I saw previews for this movie, I thought it was maybe going to have Gary Larsen's involvement. That seems to be far from the fact though.
The movie is taking a lot of heat for having boy cows with udders. Ya know, odd as that is, I can live with it I guess. It is sort of funny ... I guess.
Aside from that, though, it has a lot of really bad stuff in it ... admittedly, it involves cows but things like underage drinking and drinking while driving are plentiful. It also has graphic scenes of violence that made me concerned that I would have nightmares, let alone young children. There were several really inappropriate references, too -- things that probably went over kids' heads but still were inappropriate. There was a pretty non sequiter message supporting adoption which was neat though.
Okay, I hate playing critic because who am I to criticize? I just really didn't care for the movie though.
There were a couple of Leadership 101 quotes in it, though, which I will post here just as a way to keep track of them.
"A strong man stands up for himself; a stronger man stands up for others."
"The best leader isn't the biggest leader or the strongest. The best leader is the one who cares the most."
And, there was a really cool epitaph:
"Ben A Good Cow"
Now, you have to understand, I am not a good one for long drives to begin with. Especially when feeling mentally and physically pretty exhausted from three and a half days of almost non-stop meetings including several technical meetings involving things so far over my head it isn't even funny ... but yet being in a leadership role in the organization, people are always looking to me for magical answers to which I usually reply, "Oh, did you say something?"
In the late afternoon, as I was getting closer to home, I called Lisa at work to let her know where I was and when I should be home. I asked the receptionist for Lisa and she said "Is this Mr. Miller by any chance?" Taken back a bit, I answered affirmatively. "Oh, I have been praying for you all afternoon," she said. "Lisa told me you were driving home and not feeling well. So, I have been praying that you'd feel better, stay awake on your drive, and be able to make it home safely."
"Well, thank you," I said. "That is so nice of you. I think your prayers worked because I am feeling better than I was and I will be home before too terribly long."
I really was pretty taken aback by what she told me. You see, all afternoon, my only thoughts had been of my "self" ... how I needed to suck it up and tough out this ride home. How I could do it! I may have said a quick prayer or two but by and large I was doing nothing but relying on my "self" to make it home safely.
The recepionist, though, brought me back to reality -- reminding me that God is in control. That I am nothing without Him. That He would be the one to get me home safely -- not my "self". It's a shame that I needed that reminder but it is part of the shape I am in right now ... part of where I am trying to grow from as I realize and live out total dependence upon God.
I received a call from a very official-sounding gentleman who relayed to me that he was a member of the CIA and that he was involved in recruiting young men to do special mission work in various areas across the world. I ended up meeting in person with him a couple of time, always at the local Big Boy restaurant. This was back in 1982. Closer to the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union than any of us would have ever imagined. Still in the height of those relatively silent hostilities. Living in constant fear / awareness that at any point a provication of one side by the other could cause the other to push "the button". It all seemed a bit "Maxwell Smart-ish" but it was serious stuff.
Anyway, this guy explained that I would need to be willing to give my life for my country. They knew that I had spent some time in Germany the summer before and was comfortable with international travel. They were looking for young men who could infiltrate other societies and be able to fit in as a presumed ex-pat. However, all along, I would be there for the purpose of carrying out CIA missions, being willing to set various operations into motion on almost a moment's notice. Willing to bring down others for what they would tell me was the sake of the good old USA. There was the potential for being involved in wide-scale operations to kill the leaders or civilians of enemy countires. I could end up most anyplace in the world. There was a good chance I'd even be in Canada quite a bit. If, after a five-year stint with them, I chose to return to the USA, I would enter the Witness Protection Program for at least a few years.
It sounded exciting and Agent Heap (the CIA guy) built a pretty convincing story of how this program was critical to the future of our country. I would be a part of something big. But, alas, I was deep-down about as milquetoast as they come. It seemed very wrong to be running around the world killing people simply because that was what they told me to do. So, I turned them down.
Yes, I am releasing a major national secret by even writing about this. It's been quite a few years, though, so I am hoping that I am not putting myself or my family in danger.
Okay, so, when I sat down to write this whole ridiculous story, I was trying to think about what would have made these possibly 50 young men based in Great Britain to recently hatch a plan to bring down 10 or so airliners at once. It all got pretty ridiculous though. There was no way I could even make up such a story without having it come across as ridiculous and myself sound like a complete loon.
You know, occasionally I stumble across and read things which are sympathetic to the fascist Muslim vew which leads to these terroristic plans. About how they have no other way to have their voice heard. About how other religions and other states want to suppress them. Ya know what though? That is all baloney. These guys are evil personified. Almost to the ridiculous level of the evil characters in the cartoons our son watches. There is nothing good, reasonable, or justifiable to wanting to kill 3000+ civilians all at once ... or one at a time for that matter.
I wrote a week or so ago a post I called "Enough is Enough" about how Israel needed to be careful that, in the current situation with Hezbollah, they didn't escalate things to a level where they really didn't want to go. Now that a cease-fire in the recent hostilities appears to be agreed upon, I am glad about that. I still believe that the Lebanon situation could have escalated into something unthinkable. I still grieve at the loss of any life. But, I still know the facts ... Hezbollah has a history of being one of the bloodiest extremist terrorist groups in modern times. Kidnappings, torture, killings, terrorist attacks ... you name it, for the past almost 25 years, Hezbollah has been at the center of all sorts of really nasty stuff. They have shown again and again that pure evil which has no regard for human life. If there was a way for them to have been completely disabled and eradicated, I would have been all for it.
Wait, I have to run now ... my shoe is ringing.
My, how times have changed. The cartoons of my day were so different -- so much better. Stuttering hunters blasting away at rabbits with muzzle loaders. People zipping through space and time in flying saucers and time capsules. Dogs and birds talking to each other. Roadrunners repeatedly dropping anvils on the heads of bumbling coyotes. Coyotes surviving TNT blasts.
Hmmm ... maybe times haven't changed so much afterall.
This morning, I had someone visit my site from Greece. Not all that interesting in and of itself but what was interesting is that they linked to me through one of the results after they did a Google search for "flesh video forbitten samples". Google had picked me up because one of the "mistranslations" I posted a few days ago had the word "forbitten" in it. Fortunately, I don't think I gave this Grecian what they were looking for. It's odd, though, that they did go ahead and click on my blog as the result of their search. They didn't spend much time on it though. I guess they had other places to go.
Our Tour Guide while we were there was Gershon Preiwer (www.israelguide10.com) He is an incredible man and a great tour guide.
I found a radio interview with him on the internet. It is from a couple of years ago but it is good to hear him. I would encourage anyone ever planning a trip to Israel to try to have Gershon as your guide.
Here's a link to the page with the radio interview -- the interview is from 29.10.04:
It's been well over two years but I still remember Kathy A like it was yesterday. I was in Providence, Rhode Island. I'd gotten to my hotel in the evening and walked a couple of blocks away for dinner. I was there to give a presentation the next day. It was actually a Friday evening so there were a lot of people on the street in Providence. It was not a bitterly cold evening but it was very cool and damp. The temperature was probably in the upper 40s or low 50s. Not a very pleasant evening.
As I walked back to the hotel after my dinner in a nice warm Pizzeria Uno, I heard Kathy before I saw her. I was walking down a pretty steep hill and there were quite a few people walking around me when I heard this high pitched sort of moaning -- almost a wailing. It pained me just to hear it. And then I saw Kathy. She was at the bottom of the hill, on the street corner, begging for money. As I got close, I could see tears in her eyes. People by the tens were walking by ignoring her. Normally, when you'd see someone like this, you might assume it was "their corner" and they were a regular there. I really don't know about Kathy. She seemed in no physical condition or state of mind to have even gotten herself there, let alone to find her way home, wherever "home" was going to be that cold evening.
It pains me to recall exactly what I did but I reached into my pocket, grabbed the change I had, and casually, without really making eye contact, dropped it into her cup. I really couldn't understand her but she seemed to thank me.
I kept on walking and turned another corner to head back up a hill toward my warm, comfortable hotel. My heart wouldn't let me make it up the hill, though. Not in a physical way but instead I just knew that I had to turn around and go back to her.
She was, of course, still on the corner, still moaning. People were still walking by as if she wasn't there. I kneeled next to her wheelchair and took her hand. It was inside an old, worn knit glove with the fingers cut out. I told her my name and asked her what I could do for her. It was very hard to understand her but I could tell she was asking me to pray for her. Instead of praying right then and there on the street, I told her I would pray for her, I asked for her name, gave her some additional money and went to my hotel. She said "God bless you" as I walked away.
It's easy now to say that, if I could repeat that situation, I would do more. I would pray with her then and there. I'd make sure she had a place to stay that night. I'd make sure that she got there safely. I'd make sure she had money for food.
Yes, it's easy to say that now ... but would I really follow through?
This past January, God presented me with a similar situation. It was a bitterly cold winter's morning. Temperatures were in the teens if even that. I was getting on the highway in my warm comfortable car. I had about a 60 mile drive ahead of me ... and I saw a hitchhiker. He looked cold and down on his luck. Instead of stopping, and offering him comfort and the ability to get 60 miles closer to his destination, I drove on. I knew it was wrong. I knew exactly what God wanted me to do and I resisted.
I keep praying that I will hear His voice ... but will I follow it?
Our family has quite a relationship with WalMart. If you’re raising a family today, and you’re anywhere near one of their stores (and who isn’t it?), you’re going to have a relationship with them. We pretty much buy everything there … as a matter of fact, except for a few online retailers we buy from, we pretty much could exist never going into any store except WalMart.
I guess it makes sense, then, that two of our most momentous family occasions occurred there. Let me explain …
We had fears that we’d never get our son potty trained. Even at that young age, he didn’t like to try new things. That continues today at his ripe old age of almost eight, much to Lisa and my’s chagrin. (Is “my’s” a word? I never know how to say that … pretty bad for a Communications major … but that brings up memories of my college class in English Grammar … I’d prefer to not go there right now so, moving along…) Now, where was I? Oh yeah, potty training … finally, when he was turning three, we developed a really neat and possibly patentable system (aka bribery with Hot Wheels) that worked and, actually, he trained pretty easily once our system was employed.
I think we only had one wet bed and one daytime “accident” that amounted to anything during that period … and that is where WalMart comes in. We were shopping there one evening and we had brought Evan with us. He was wearing shorts and underwear … no pull-up. Of course, as we made our way through those hallowed aisleways of falling prices, we were asking him every ten seconds “Do you have to go, do you have to go?” (Something which undoubtedly just started his kidneys pushing whenever we made him think about it.) He insisted he was fine … and everything was indeed fine … until we got to Housewares.
Lisa was looking at something and Evan and I were standing there. He never said a word, never made a face, never gave any indication but, when we started walking again, I looked down and there, left behind in the Housewares department, was a nice little puddle of pee. You know, now, that is a little bit of a predicament. What do you do? Pick up a phone and announce “Code ICUP in Housewares. Code ICUP in housewares”? Right or wrong, we justified that it was a very small puddle (which it was) and kept on walking.
Now, as I said earlier, we have had two momentous family occasions at Wal Mart. The second one actually happened at the WalMart in Honolulu. Evan was six. Now, let me preface this by saying that our family really doesn’t throw up very much. We have some friends who, as the Dad of the family tells me, throw up a lot. He has told me that there’s never a week that goes by that they don’t have at least a couple of such events. He was pretty shocked when I told him about our family’s very low ROTU (Rate of Throw Up).
But, alas, this subject must have something to do with WalMart or I would not have brought it up. We were in the shoe department when we noticed Evan looking a little, shall I say, green around the gills. We have fortunately not seen it very much over the years but we know when he has “that look” so we headed for the cash registers to hopefully get out of the store and to our hotel. Well, needless to say, we didn’t quite make it out of the store without having an incident involving one of WalMart’s floors again. This was not one we could just walk hurriedly away from unfortunately. It was much larger and more, shall I say, "gloppy" than the pee puddle.
The good folks at WalMart were amazingly nice about it and friendly though – even the bucket and mop guy. You have to love people who can be nice even in the midst of a six-year-old’s vomit.
Yep, our family has a relationship with WalMart. They've become like family. We couldn’t live without them I don’t think.
Here is Chris's sermon. I hope that it formats okay...
“Consider it all joy, when (not if) you encounter various trials, knowing…that the testing of your faith produces.”
I saw a National Geographic program recently on roller coasters, and specifically the engineering that helps make coasters so thrilling and exciting. How many people love riding them? How many not? Me neither, I’d rather watch a television special on them.
Any guesses though on what makes them so much fun?
Speed? Any takers? How many go for height?
Actually, it’s how well they keep you off balance…according to the engineers…when the ride is full of surprise.
The engineers build in twists and turns to do just that, to keep you off balance, surprised, guessing.
Have you ever noticed though, no matter how wild the ride, you always make it through to the end?
What a great metaphor for life…twists, turns, to keep us off balance, yet always on track to make it home.
Oh, if we could just live with an attitude of welcomeness, an attitude that says “Bring It On!”
“Consider it all joy, when (not if) you encounter…
The word for encounter is also the same word in the original language found in Luke 10:30, when Jesus describes someone who “fell among (faced, encountered) a group of bandits and robbers (thieves, thugs), who then stripped him of his clothes and money, beat him up, to leave him half dead along the side of the road.”
There is a group of thugs that is waiting for you every day when you leave your house.
Challenges that are waiting to test you….
Challenges that will try to strip you of your sense of protection…
Challenges that will threaten your resources…
Making you feel like they want to steal them or take them away.
To beat you up and hurt you…only to leave you half dead.
And you can’t get rid of them.
They will try to intimidate you, knock you off balance, try to knock you off your feet…
To take you out of your game as a follower of Christ.
And sorry, more often than not, they aren’t going anywhere, lurking somewhere in the vicinity, waiting for
their most opportune moment, when you and I are least expecting it.
And here we’re called to “consider it all joy.”
Now, just how are we supposed to do that????
#1, they will not hurt us because they can’t hurt us…they’re not allowed! God won’t let them. And
#2, no matter their real intent (very well could be our total annihilation), God only means them for good.
I Corinthians 3:11-15
11No one can lay any other foundation than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. 12Now anyone who builds on that foundation may use gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13But there is going to come a time of testing at the judgment day to see what kind of work each builder has done. Everyone’s work will be put through the fire to see whether or not it keeps its value. 14If the work survives the fire, that builder will receive a reward. 15But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builders themselves will be saved, but like someone escaping through a wall of flames.”
“The testing of your faith,” is actually a very good thing.
(Everyone repeat after me) Thugs have their benefits.
#1 Reason: The testing of our faith (i.e. our joy thugs) help reveal WHAT we are made of.
13But there is going to come a time of testing at the judgment day to see what kind of work each builder has done.
God sees it as part of His job to do just that.
And I don’t think He is going to give it up anytime too soon.
God will test us and allow things into our life that are specifically designed to do just that.
So He can see what we are made of?
Does He not know?
Does that mean He isn’t omniscient? All-knowing?
He doesn’t need to know. He already does.
Who needs to know?
Who is the testing of our faith really for? Us.
Trials have a way of revealing that which is not sugar and spice and everything nice.
The first words out of our mouth, the first thoughts of our mind (are they negative or positive?),
How we react on the fly…
All have a way of revealing for our benefit what work God has already done in our life and what He has yet
We might react better than we once did. And we can therefore celebrate…a little to a lot.
Work remains to be done in all of us though. It’s what Wesley and the Bible call sanctification.
Psalm 139…O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought when far away. You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
In more historic times when you would want to (quote-unquote) “test the metal of something,” you would take a bite out of it…a coin for example. The value of a coin in earlier periods of history was in direct proportion to the size of the coin and its substance. A large gold coin was more valuable than a small silver coin for instance. Sometimes coins got corroded, or coated, or were made as forgeries, and the only way of testing it, to see what it was made of was to take a bite out of it, to cut into it.
Next time something seems like it wants to take a bite out of you, stop for a moment, check yourself, realize what is really happening…i.e. the real opportunity that is before you.
The Scripture passage for today says there will one day be a great Judgment Day, where everything will be laid bare for all of the eyes of the world to see. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take care of some if not most of it beforehand? We can. Judgment Day, in other versions referred to here as “The Day of the Lord,” a day specifically set aside for the Lord, for the Lord to do His business. It can be any day we want it to be, if we approach each day with faith.
Reason #1: The testing of our faith (i.e. our joy thugs) reveal WHAT we are made of so we can seek more and more of Christ, the only TRUE FOUNDATION.
Reason #2: The testing of our faith (i.e. our thugs for joy) reveals whether or not what we’ve built our life on what will LAST…we get to see how well it holds up under stress…so we can seek more and more of Christ, the only LASTING FOUNDATION.
13bEveryone’s work will be put through the fire to see whether or not it keeps its value.
Say you wanted to build a new home, Mr. Hoying and Hoying Builders or Shreves Construction stops by and says, “Hey, we found this great new material, you can actually pick it up in the grocery store, its called “Stay-Puff,” “Stay-Puff Marshmallows.” How confident do you think you’d feel? And yet, what do oh so many people build their lives upon today?
For young families pick your favorite activity…soccer, baseball, music, dance, gymnastics. What happens when they don’t/can’t/never were meant to grow up as the next Pele, A-Rod, Pavarotti, Baryshnikov, or Comaneci? Do they know what to reach for then?
Others choose to most highly value career and hard work. What do you do when the company you’ve worked for all these years says it doesn’t want you anymore, or the world market for your product dries up, or the Chinese can make it better, or your state of health prevents you from working let alone working hard. What do you reach for then?
There is only one true foundation; only One that’s promised and proven to last. Jesus the Christ. Thee Eternal One. Thee Alpha as well as thee Omega. Almighty God is He.
The ancients used a variety of building materials… gold, silver, jewels for ancient temples, shrines, and upper class homes… wood, hay, or straw for the middle and otherwise. If the fire is hot enough, all of the aforementioned can be destroyed. Everything will perish that is less than Him. One day, on the Day of the Lord, you see, there will be a fire, that will be able to test it all.
What are the gold, silver, and jewels that we are putting our false hopes in? Things that look well-made, durable, refined, but in Thee End, will not stand the test?
If we seek the One who keeps His value, we will find the One who keeps ours.
John 16:33… These are Jesus’ words…I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."
Reason #2: The testing of our faith (i.e. our thugs for joy) reveals whether or not what we’ve built our life on what will LAST…we get to see how well it holds up under stress…so we can seek more and more of Christ, the only LASTING FOUNDATION.
Reason #3: The testing of our faith (i.e. our joy thugs) will reveal what if anything will be LEFT…in the end when our life is done…if, in the end, God will think there is anything worth holding onto…
14If the work survives the fire, that builder will receive a reward. 15But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builders themselves will be saved, but like someone escaping through a wall of flames.”
Repeat reason #3…
…so we can seek more and more of Christ, the ONLY TRUE REWARD.
Fire, in the Scriptures, is symbolic of one of two different things. God’s desire to either:
1.) Purify – when there is still enough good for Him to work with (Matthew 3:11);
2.) Consume – when there is not (Matthew 3:12).
When there is still something good for Him to work with, isn’t it your desire to be made more pure?
When there isn’t, isn’t it your desire to remove or take away altogether?
…Then what are we afraid of?
Loss can sometimes actually be liberating, can it not? “Suffering loss” isn’t always a bad thing.
The letting go can be tough, but once some things are gone, some things are gone, rejoice!
Like a bad headache…or a pain in the…
The letting go of responsibility, feeling burdened…
When we build our life on Christ, we inherit even more of Christ.
Our joy thugs help us see, help remind, help clarify, what really is worth our all… what will be our reward.
I Corinthians 13:12…For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.
Revelation 21:5-7…And the one sitting on the throne said, "Look, I am making all things new!" And then he said to me, "Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true." And he also said, "It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega--the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give the springs of the water of life without charge! All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
Go ahead, pass through fire’s test…It’s for your joy…
See what’s left...And then seek more and more of Christ.
In the book “Joy Hard Won,” a paraplegic describes the struggle of every morning…
Talking amongst some of her friends, one of them said, “You always look so together, so happy in your wheelchair. I wish that I had your joy!" Several women standing around nodded. "How do you do it?" she asked. "I don’t do it," I said. "In fact, may I tell you honestly how I woke up this morning?" "This is an average day," I breathed deeply. "After my husband, Ken, leaves for work at 6:00 A.M., I’m alone until I hear the front door open at 7:00 A.M. That’s when a friend arrives to get me up. "While I listen to her make coffee, I pray, ’Oh, Lord, my friend will soon give me a bath, get me dressed, sit me up in my chair, brush my hair and teeth, and send me out the door. I don’t have the strength to face this routine one more time. I have no resources. I don’t have a smile to take into the day. But you do. May I have yours? God, I need you desperately.’" "So, what happens when your friend comes through the bedroom door?" one of them asked. "I turn my head toward her and give her a smile sent straight from heaven. It’s not mine. It’s God’s. And so," I said, gesturing to my paralyzed legs, "whatever joy you see today was hard won this morning."
Just for a moment try to think about the group of thugs that must meet her each and every day.
And our excuse is…
Some days, joy is hard won, or not won at all.
There is no guilt here
There is no shame
No pointing fingers
There is no blame
What happened yesterday…has disappeared
The dirt has washed away
And now it's clear
There's only grace
There's only love
There's only mercy and believe me it's enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
And there's nothing left now
There's only grace
You're starting over now
Under the sun
You're stepping forward now
A new life has begun
Your new life has begun
An’ there's only grace
There's only love
There's only mercy and believe me…it's enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
And there's nothing left now
There's only grace…
And if you should fall again
Get back up, get back up
Reach out and take my hand
Get back up, get back up
Get back up again
There's only grace…
There's only love…
There's only mercy and believe me it's enough…it’s enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
And there's nothing left now
There's only…there’s only…grace…
There's only mercy and believe me it's enough…it’s enough
Your sins are gone
Without a trace
And there's nothing left now
So get back up…get back up again…
Get back up again.
Once you and I truly experience the joy of the Lord, no one can rob us of that joy!
That does not mean that we will never experience disappointment, sorrow or grief; but it does mean that deeps down underneath it all is the joy that comes as a gift from God, the fruit of the Spirit. And that is the kind of joy that no one can take away.
Underneath the tears, the heartache, lies the calm, sweet peace that God gives to those who walk in faith and obedience. And that is a part of the joy that He promises.
Jesus' promise to see His disciples again, of course, refers to after the resurrection. "You will be so firmly persuaded that I have risen," He says to them, "and that I am the Messiah, that neither the threats nor the persecutions of men will ever be able to shake your faith, or produce doubt or unbelief and thus take away your joy."
Jesus' prediction, as we know, was remarkably fulfilled, for after He revealed Himself to them following the resurrection, not one of the apostles ever doubted for a moment that He has risen from the dead. No trial or persecution was able to shake their faith - so that their joy remained.
You and I have certainties of faith that are unshakable, and thus they produce joy - joy that will remain forever and ever.
Jesus knew they were dying to ask him what he meant, so he said, "Are you trying to figure out among yourselves what I meant when I said, 'In a day or so you're not going to see me, but then in another day or so you will see me'? Then fix this firmly in your minds: You're going to be in deep mourning while the godless world throws a party. You'll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness."
"When a woman gives birth, she has a hard time, there's no getting around it. But when the baby is born, there is joy in the birth. This new life in the world wipes out memory of the pain. The sadness you have right now is similar to that pain, but the coming joy is also similar. When I see you again, you'll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you. You'll no longer be so full of questions."
"This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I've revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he'll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!" (John 16:19-24, MSG)