I will probably post about some more observations in the future but here's one that really struck me at a Starbucks I visited one morning. Starbucks has caved again, further perpetuating the confusion they seem to be going through.
Of course, many still lament their conversion to automated equipment for making their drinks. I remember further back when they started writing on cups to note what the drink was to be instead of just having the cashier yell it out to the obliging barista. Now, though, the order taker generates a little label that gets stuck on each cup to note what the drink is to be.
Starbucks created "community" for many people. That community is lessened when it becomes mechanical and rote instead of rough, gritty, and personal.
Verse 25 "If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?"
If you steal something from someone's blog and they stole it from someone else (who most likely stole it from someone else, etc., ad nauseum), do you need to give credit? Well, I'm not going to. This is hilarious. (Which contrasts with the very cold, upset cardinal that keeps crashing into my office window.)
Here is a great article on our personal call to come alongside others and, at least for a period of time, serve as their spiritual leader. This was very timely for some things we have been processing at church recently.
This is from atgodstable.com. Great words!
Going, then, disciple all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19
Disciple – So, we clarified a few things. First, evangelism happens. It is the by-product of walking the life with God, of “going” down the road. Secondly, Jesus calls us to disciple others, not recruit them. There is a big difference between pushing information into someone’s hand or head and living life together in holy community. Now let’s pay attention to one other important part of this “great” commission. No one can disciple the masses! Discipleship requires personal life involvement. It is a one-on-one long encounter. I can deliver loads of information to thousands in just a few minutes, but discipleship takes time and a lot of life together. Jesus did not call us to spread the good news in the most efficient way possible. He called us to enter into the lives of others with the deliberate intention of demonstrating the will of the Father. Not once, but continuously . . . and not anonymously. Can you imagine how ridiculous it is to think of choosing an apprentice anonymously? I can’t be an apprentice unless I know the one I am copying. You can’t be a disciple-maker unless you choose someone to follow you.
Did you get that? Jesus chose twelve. They did not volunteer or vie for the positions or stand in line or send in resumes. Jesus picked them for His own reasons. In fact, the New Testament doesn’t tell us why He picked them. It only tells us that the Father was instrumental in drawing each one to Jesus. The teacher picks the learner because it is not about passing tests and memorizing facts. It is about living as one.
What this implies is that real evangelism is never anonymous. I can’t disciple someone that I don’t know. I must confidently travel my pathway with God, allowing Him to bring into my life those whom I might choose. Then, with prayerful consideration, I invite someone to join forces with me. I commit my ways to them. I embrace them in a day-to-day experience that takes both of us to the cutting edge of God’s kingdom. And away we go, following the same road together until the Lord brings us to a parting fork. Evangelism is not efficient, but it is incredibly effective. It doesn’t happen quickly, but it lasts. It might start with a sense of deep conviction and repentance, but it will not proceed without copying life transformation.
Contemporary Christianity has been trying to sell the gospel for more than a century. We have packaged it so that we can deliver the goods in three points and twenty minutes. We have condensed it to the minimally necessary truths required to communicate information about Jesus. But we don’t disciple anymore. We’re too busy with our own lives to even think about day-to-day meshing with someone else’s life. It’s just easier to invite a friend to watch a man in a suit parade across the stage. Don’t you think Jesus will ask you whom you chose as an apprentice when you stand before Him? Then what will you say?
1977. 7th grade. I am not sure what the occasion was but, as a reward, one of our teachers ordered a movie for our class to watch. I am sure it was supposed to have been some family comedy. She threaded the movie up on the big projector and began showing it against a screen that had been brought into the room.
But, instead of the family comedy that would have probably featured a man in uniform, a stay-at-home mom, an angelic daughter, an ornery son, and an adorable dog ...
our movie was ...
"Kansas City Bomber" starring Racquel Welch.
It seemed like it took about 20 minutes for the teacher to figure out that it was wrong movie. At that point, having promised a movie and not having anything else planned for class that day, she let us go ahead and watch it.
A co-worker (who I must add is truly one of the sweetest souls I have the privilege of walking this earth with) emailed me to let me know that, if things go smoothly with Phase 1 of a project we're supplying product for, then there is a better chance that our customer will be able to get us involved with Phase 2 as well.
"If everything goes smoothly now, it will be much easier for him to firm up #2."
And what is the only thing I can think of to respond with?
You guessed it ...
"If he's having problems firming up #2, he may want to try some Imodium AD."
A pox on me and my horrible thoughts!
1) I once had to poop in the woods.
2) A few hours after I was born, I quit breathing, turned blue, and had to be put in an incubator. The doctor said I was lazy. I prefer to think it was because I read a lot of Sartre in the womb.
3) My mom thinks I was a twin and she miscarried the other one of me.
4) My favorite food growing up was steak. I liked to bury pieces of steak inside my mashed potatoes. I am still looking for treasure I guess.
5) I was runner up in the school spelling bee in sixth grade.
6) I won the school spelling bee in seventh grade but went out in the city bee on the word "balloon".
7) I refused to be in the spelling bee in eighth grade.
8) I host a television show on local public access cable.
9) The first car I owned was a Plymouth Laser. It was a horrible brown color.
10) When I was in elementary, the teacher sent us out to collect leaves and then glue them on paper and make drawings out of them. Three days later I discovered that the beautiful red leaf I had picked was poison ivy. And apparently I did not wash my hands before urinating.
11) My favorite television show when I was young was Gilligan's Island. The black and white ones.
12) Two of my favorite songs when I was young were Band on the Run and Seasons in the Sun.
13) Favorite books when I was younger were the Robert Heinlein juveniles, autobiographies of inventors, and the Hardy Boys books.
14) I played first trumpet all four years of high school. That's sort of like being a varsity starter all four years. Sort of.
15) I have a lot of odd memories of listening to scary programs on Christian radio when I was growing up.
16) My first business trip was when I was 20. I had car problems along the way. I also ran over something really big on the highway. I still don't know what it was. I do not think that white rhinos are native to Pennsylvania though.
17) I had only really dated one other girl before meeting the love of my life.
18) Before that, I did have a really popular girl kiss me on top of my head in school. I swooned. She was taller than me.
19) Another girl in high school said that I was so homely I was almost cute. I had braces and really big glasses in high school.
20) Right now I am thinking I cannot come up with 100 things about me.
21) I held something like five part time jobs in college. At the same time. An English tutor. A newspaper proofreader. A features writer. An advertising consultant. And whatever my dad had for me to do at his place.
22) I played intramural basketball in sixth grade. I was really bad. We played shirts against skins. It was pretty much humiliating. And my last experience with team sports. Unless you count bowling. That was a bad experience too.
23) I threw up in the hallway in school in second grade.
24) When my family changed towns, the first friend I made also had the name of Todd. He was my best friend for several years.
25) I graduated high school in a class of about 300. I think about 20 kids from my class have died since then. Seems like a huge number to me.
26) I am concerned that my list has turned incredibly depressing.
27) I have had four dogs in my life. All have been good dogs. The first one could be kind of mean but I always thought my dad made her that way. He did not have a lot of patience with noisy dogs.
28) Lisa and I used to have a fish aquarium. It was fun to watch but a real pain to keep clean. We had some angel fish that lived to be pretty old.
29) I used to own a Cockatiel named Broadway. It didn't live very long.
30) One of my co-workers is a friend I have had for over 30 years.
31) I didn't go on the class camping trip in sixth grade. I didn't want to stay away from home.
32) The second car I ever owned was a Dodge Daytona. It was a cool Black Cherry color.
33) I always hated coloring when I was a kid. What a waste of time!
34) I liked my Spirograph though.
35) I discovered that Lysol is a good solvent and cleaner.
36) My mom used to use a lot of Lysol.
37) I hated school until I got to college.
38) I loved college.
39) I took three classes in calculus. I always got good grades but never had a clue what it was all about.
40) I took piano lessons when I was young for a year or so. I begged my parents to let me quit. They gave in.
41) My college degree was in Communications.
42) I started college intending to be Pre-Med.
43) I discovered in college that if you made friends with the profs, you'd get good grades.
44) I only remember cheating on a test one time in school.
45) I got to sit at a table next to the hottest girl in the class for a few weeks in eighth grade. I swooned. She had a boyfriend who was already out of school at the time. She was way out of my league.
46) I have a real problem with finishing things. I get bored and then just sort of go on to something else. I prefer to leave details to others. Kind of a big picture guy.
47) I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I complain more than I should but I refuse to let them get me down.
48) I like to make people laugh.
49) I laugh when I am nervous.
50) I recently gave up watching Boston Legal. It had gotten too raunchy.
51) I refuse to live with regrets but, when really pressed, I will confess that I wish I would have gone to law school.
52) I really would love to do nothing but write someday.
53) I have something weird about books. I could never throw a book away.
54) I have a camphor bottle that belonged to my grandmother and is probably pushing 40 years old. It still has camphor in it.
55) I buy keychains in different cities and give them to Evan.
56) I am pretty sure I have been in every state. Some more than others.
57) I think I have been in twelve other countries. Australia. England. Germany. Austria. Israel. Canada. Mexico. Denmark (I think). Italy. Jamaica. Cayman Islands. Bahamas.
58) I have eaten octopus.
59) I have eaten alligator.
60) I have eaten pizza with a fried egg on it.
61) My mother-on-law, now passed away, was one of my favorite people in the world.
62) I typically send well over 100 emails each and every day.
63) I buy shoes through shoebuy.com and often return them because I don't like them.
64) I really can't swim.
65) I spend a lot of time in or on the water anyway during the summer.
66) I think that doing things like tracking frequent flyer miles is sort of silly.
67) One of my college profs was married to my kindergarten teacher.
68) I lived through the great blizzard of '78.
69) I remember when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.
70) Our only television was black and white until I was probably 6 or 7. And then we got a color one.
71) When I was in college, a tornado hit our neighborhood and destroyed several houses. Ours was pretty untouched but I spent the night helping others evacuate. It was quite the experience being right on the scene of a major disaster.
72) Two of my closest friends moved away our sophomore year of high school.
73) After that, most of my friends were older than me. I didn't have a lot of friends there my senior year.
74) I took trumpet lessons from a guy who played with a lot of the famous big bands of the 40s and 50s.
75) I am terrible at proofing my own writing.
76) The first presidential election I ever voted in was Reagan's first term.
77) I saw Ronald Reagan speak at a rally once.
78) I shook hands with Jimmy Carter on an airplane once.
79) I saw BB King in an airport once. I could have talked to him but he looked very tired.
80) Johnny Tremaine was another favorite book when I was younger.
81) I interviewed both Hugh Downs and Phyllis Diller at press conferences.
82) I traded notes with Phyllis Diller once on an airplane.
83) I was on an airplane with Richard Simmons once. He was a nutball.
84) I took the GMAT once to be accepted into business school. I scored very high but none of the colleges I had my score sent to ever contacted me.
85) I own a switchblade that I smuggled out of Germany.
86) I once tried to smoke a cigarette and got a terrible headache. I was in my 20s ... or 30s at the time.
87) I have never taken any illegal drugs. Plenty of legal ones though.
88) I don't drink alcohol. I don't have a problem with people who do. I just have never liked the taste of it.
89) I have a hunch that, if I did drink, I would develop issues with it.
90) I am really running out of things to write.
91) The first house Lisa and I bought was almost within spitting distance of the apartment we moved out of.
92) I hate moving.
93) I used to like to walk the creekbed behind our house when I was in junior high and high school.
94) Panera Bread is one of my favorite restaurants.
95) Probably the most expensive meal I have ever paid for was at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Vegas. It came to about $130 per person as I recall. There were about 20 of us there. It was a nice meal. But not that nice.
96) I graduated both high school and college with the same GPA. 3.93
97) I was third in my class at both graduations, too. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride.
98) I have only been in two weddings other than my own. One was when my father-in-law re-married and asked me to be his best man. What an honor!
99) I am an incredible introvert.
100) But I am a terrible ham if you give me a microphone. Don't ever make that mistake.
And always look for, support, and encourage truth, love, servanthood, and justice.
The time that I remember my dad getting most furious with me was when I was being a fifth grade dork and criticizing a school art project that he was helping my sister and her friend with. Really, I was trying to be funny but he was in no mood. I won't go into details but the resulting scene was pretty ugly. I am sure that it affects me still today in how I approach others and also in my fear of conflict. All in all, I think that some of the results of that in me are good. But maybe a little off the deep end in some areas.
Anyway, that's a little off track from where I was going with this.
How do you deal with it when you perceive others are being critical of you? Do you get all out of sorts and let them ruin your day? I am not sure that is such a good idea. Here are my ideas for how to deal with critics.
1) Make sure that you heard what you thought you heard. Generally, I have found that most people are kind. They do not really intend to hurt others. I so often see others getting all upset over something someone else said but, in reality, what the other person said wasn't what they thought, perhaps because of a complete misunderstanding, an exaggeration by someone else, or a contextual difference.
2) Sometimes you can chalk things up to the other person just having a bad day. Don't allow anyone to let their bad day make your day bad.
3) Don't shoot the messenger. Sometimes, in the criticism you receive, there are some nuggets which can allow you to grow. Don't immediately get all defensive and refuse to hear what they are really saying. I know I can easily make this mistake. Often, if I really step back and be introspective, though, I can find some truth and some growth points in what they have said.
4) Remember that your value as a human being comes from the love that God has for you. He is who gives you worth and provides you with opportunity for a meaningful life.
In other words, grow if you can from criticism, extend grace to the other person when ultimately that is what is necessary, and realize that none of this affects your worth or your potential.
And, I almost want to say "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Inherent to any position of leadership is that you will have critics. You need to find healthy ways to deal with that and, depending upon where you are, doing so could require you to step back a bit for a season or so or self analysis.
P.S. If you have read this, please do not confuse criticism with emotional abuse. There is a difference and your reaction to emotional abuse must be far more pro-active than that to simple criticism.
I think wiener dogs are dachshunds. We call them wieners because no one knows how to say dachshund. Oh, and because they look like wieners. My wife grew up with a wiener. Okay, that sounded really bad. Interesting though that her wiener would piddle on the floor whenever company came over. Okay, that sounded worse. My entire introduction to that dog consisted of “Don’t get the dog excited!”
And, most specially, a Happy Valentine's Day to the love of my life for the past 27 (yes, you read that correctly!) years -- Lisa. Thank you for always being, truly, the sunshine of my life. I love you with all my heart.
The late Norman Cousins was a famous magazine editor and author when, at mid-life, he came down with what doctors believed was an incurable illness.
Cousins began an exhaustive study of the illness on his own and in the process, proved to himself and others that laughter can be a major contributor to healing. This is because of the flow of endorphins from the adrenaline system every time you laugh or feel good.
To keep the endorphins flowing, Cousins watched every Marx Brothers movie he could put his hands on. He went to great lengths to maintain a positive frame of mind. It worked.
Cured miraculously, Cousins spent the last part of his life as a lecturer at the UCLA School of Medicine, working with medical students. He was fond of telling the students there that "the control center of your life is your attitude. Negative attitudes lead to illness, low self-esteem and depression. Positive attitudes lead to hope, love, caring, fun and endorphin flow from the adrenaline system."
Cousins proved that a big dose of positive thinking and laughter on a daily basis could contribute as much to your continued health and well being as a basket full of pills.
Laughter and humor are not only good for people, but they are healthy for companies. That's why February is National Laugh Friendly month. I've always thought that kidding around at work is a good thing, which is why I've encouraged it for years at our envelope manufacturing company. We don't start a sales meeting without a good, tasteful joke.
Last fall, I saw the results of a study done by a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher who examined how humor affects the working environment.
Chris Robert, assistant professor of management in MU's College of Business, said that humor—particularly joking around about things associated with the job—actually has a positive impact in the workplace. Occasional humor among colleagues, he said, enhances creativity, department cohesiveness and overall performance.
"Humor is pretty important," said Robert. "It's not just clowning around and having fun. It has meaningful impact on cohesiveness in the workplace and communication quality among workers. The ability to appreciate humor, the ability to laugh and make other people laugh actually has physiological effects on the body that cause people to become more bonded."
I remember seeing a short article in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago that confirmed a belief I've held for years. I've always felt that humor is the unrecognized indicator of any business' true condition. The magazine pointed out how humor was the great, hidden metric for measuring a company's healthiness or lack thereof. It's seldom recognized or thought of when analyzing businesses.
In life in general, jokes are used to relieve anxiety, to mask hostility, to defuse potentially incendiary situations, and to expose truths that make people uneasy. That's why political jokes are a staple of late night comedy shows and standup comic routines. That's why the powerful are often lampooned in variety-show sketches and in newspaper editorial cartoons.
Everyone knows and can recognize the difference between humor that's affectionate and humor that's a dig. Every organization, every team, every group has malcontents and naysayers who drag down esprit de corps. It's a good idea, especially in business, to eliminate such people. Their negativity ultimately infects others and hurts morale, and, as a corollary, productivity.
Good managers monitor humor. You can learn plenty about your employees through company skits, cartoons posted on bulletin boards, jokes circulated via email, caustic remarks made in meetings, and nicknames assigned to managers. You have only to look at classic movies like "Mister Roberts," or "The Caine Mutiny" to see what devastating effects a bad boss can have on morale.
Managers who are remote never learn this lesson. They ignore company humor. They fail to circulate. They never walk through the plant, factory or office. When they shun close contact with employees, even those in the most basic positions, they cut themselves off from real knowledge: how the enterprise is doing in the hearts and minds of its most important constituents—the people working for it.
When you really get right down to it, fostering positive company-wide humor should be part of management's responsibility. Good managers pay attention to what their employees are saying, doing and feeling. A good sense of humor never hurts anyone.
In the last two messages we've considered how God uses storms in our life to shape and mold us "to the likeness of His Son" (Romans 8:29). James says that storms (or trials) are used to make us "mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:4). So when will all our storms end? Not until the process is complete. Not until we're called home to be with the Lord!
But there is certainly much more to our Christian walk than storm survival. As we mature and grow closer to our Heavenly Father, we will see more clearly His purpose and learn to actually rejoice during our times of difficulty. Rather than fight the wind, we will allow it to teach us and cause us to soar! The storms will continue to be a part of our life, but we will also experience seasons of great victory.
These seasons of victorious soaring WILL come! For they are as much a part of God's plan as the storm. But they are equally a time of teaching - a time where we must be reminded to keep our eyes on Jesus and trust the guidance of His Spirit.
The Israelites had wandered forty years in the desert and were now ready to cross into the promised land of Canaan. But Moses warned never to stop praising and trusting God: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 8:10-11). Moses warned that when we fail to trust God during the peaceful times of blessing, we tend to forget and quickly become susceptible to our sinful pride.
"You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant."
We must continually "trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). We must trust as the storm approaches and as the waves threaten to sink our boat; but we must also trust as the wind and waves are calmed. In fact, we must focus on trusting Him even more when the storm ceases. In difficult times, we are continually reminded of our need for God; but times of blessing can cause us to trust our own ability...and forget.
God desires far more than to just be available during our times of great need. He desires to walk with us in an intimate relationship every moment of the day. Let's continue to trust Him while we're sailing through the storm; but as we victoriously rise up on the wings of eagles, let's also remember to praise Him and trust while we soar.
Dad had done much of the work building our new house. The rest of us had pitched in some, too. It was a much larger house than the one I had grown up in which we had rented from my grandparents for something like $50 a month. (Of course, $50 was a lot more then than it is now.) Whenever anyone came to see us at the new house, mom proudly told them the story of how dad had built it. That had been the case that evening, too -- when the preacher and his wife had come to visit.
As mom told the story, we walked through the living room and kitchen and down into the family room. It was a tri-level house and the family room was partially underground in the lower level. It was kind of odd spending a lot of time in a half-basement. It always reminded me of the notorious Treglias who had lived outside the very small town I mentioned earlier. They lived in the basement of their house for years because they never got the upstairs finished. In fact, as recently as just a few years ago, I heard that they were still living in the basement of that house.
Our family room had multi-colored green shag carpeting. (This was the 70s, remember.) Once we were in the family room, I ended up sitting on the floor. I was pretty small for my age then and the chairs were all taken by the adults, as well as by my sister who was three years older than me.
We had not been going to this particular church very long. Up in Lima, we had attended a fairly large church that seemed to be attended by "upper end" folks. That category did not fit my family but, at that church, many of the attendees were business owners and seemed to have a few bucks. In fact, they had built a very nice modern church just shortly after we moved away.
In Sidney, we had hunted for a church and eventually ended up at a church that had a bit of a gospel country twang to it, if you know what I am saying. It was considerably different than the church I had grown up in but it was full of good people, my mom always said. And, indeed, she was right. A large part of the decision to attend this church, though, was that my sister's best friend and her family went there. My sister, very musically talented, would have opportunity at this church to play piano and organ.
The pastor and his wife were good people, about the same age as my parents. They had kids about the same age as my sister and me. Ron was a soft spoken man but he would get passionate about God. His wife was a petite woman who had been born in Quebec. Her name was Jean Marie. She was petite but she was strong.
I never knew quite what to expect when a preacher visited. I can't say I expected anything bad but yet a certain nervousness seemed to fill my body and even our house in the days leading up to his visit. This was the first time that this preacher had visited us. The visit started with a lot of normal chit chat. I was sitting on the floor listening somewhat but also wishing that the television could be on.
And then it happened ...
Jean Marie asked me if I was saved. Wow. Turns out that this was precisely why I was nervous about the preacher visiting!
This was a sensitive issue for me. You see, several years earlier, my sister had accepted Jesus and it was a big thing in our family. It was a time for celebration and happiness. I was pretty young at that time and, frankly, didn't care for much of anything that celebrated my older sister's life. She picked on me a lot and pretty much took the limelight wherever we were. I didn't really have a problem with that, though, as I was naturally pretty quiet. But, on the other hand, I didn't exactly revel in the great things that happened in my sister's life either. I was ... indifferent.
So, here I was ... the question had been asked. It was out there. In front of my whole family. All eyes were on me. Was I saved? And I thought to myself, "Am I?"
Fact is, quietly and a couple of years earlier, without the fanfare that accompanied my sister's salvation, I had said my own prayer of salvation. But my family didn't know that. There had been no public proclamation. And, to an eleven-year-old mind, to now tell my family that I was indeed saved when they'de never heard me say that before, I'd be fibbing ... I'd be revealing something that no one would believe, so to their ears, it would be a lie.
So, then, I said it. One word. "No."
"Would you like to accept Jesus as your saviour now, Todd?" Jean Marie asked.
"Yes," I replied quietly.
And then she led me in a prayer. I don't remember the words I repeated after her line by line. It was pretty short and simple really.
And then, there I was. Publicly saved.
But I didn't feel any different. And there was no fanfare. Don't get me wrong, fanfare would have embarrassed me. But there was no fanfare.
And life went on. I didn't feel any different. I didn't do anything different. And no one paid attention to my newfound salvation. Life. Went. On.
Nothing changed. Well, one thing changed. Somehow I got it into my head that I was supposed to be a preacher someday. Maybe that had actually been in my head even earlier than this. I don't remember for certain. But I do know one thing -- I never told a soul. But then as I got older and in my teens, I saw several preachers leave the pulpit forcibly or in some disgrace. Including Jean Marie's husband. He was found to be speaking in tongues, something which was wrong in the eyes of his chosen denomination. I didn't understand then nor do I now why a church would consider a spiritual gift to be worthy of expulsion but they did. By the time I was in my early 20s I had also seen preachers step down due to having affairs and alcohol addiction.
Life seemed very unfair to preachers. There seemed to not be any recognition that they were human. So I stuffed down the feeling that I was supposed to be a preacher. Over the years, I have come to reconcile that God has me where He wants me today. I may not be a "preacher" but I am still in a personal ministry and I pray that I can still have an impact for Him.
I was always bothered by the way I was "saved" though. I was bugged by the way I felt under the gun and actually fibbed, leading to my being "saved again" if you will. That really should not be a youngster's introduction to grace and salvation.
And then, history repeats itself.
When Evan was about five or six, he told his grandma that he had asked Jesus into his heart. We praised him for this but we also didn't make any huge fanfare. Like his parents, Evan is easily prone to embarrassment and we try to be sensitive to that.
About a year and a half after that, we took him to a Power Team presentation. These are really big guys who break boards and blocks, bend frying pans, and destroy phone books -- all while trying to convince kids to accept their salvation. They did an altar call at the end. During a prayer, they asked everyone to put their hand up if they wanted eternal life and then they asked those who raised their hands to come forward. Evan raised his hand. I know that he faced the confusion of wanting eternal life and not knowing if he had to re-delcare that or what. It wasn't exactly the same confusion that I had faced some 30-some years earlier but it was similar.
Nervously, Evan went forward. Lisa and I accompanied him. Going forward actually made me feel like I was being saved for a third time, which was kind of odd -- bringing back a flood of October 1975 memories. But I was there for my son whom I love very much and want only the best for.
History repeats itself. I know that somewhere in his mind, Evan replays that night with the Power Team just as I for many years replayed that night in the family room with the green shag carpeting.
But time goes on. The memories are still painful. Especially when history repeated itself. But grace and salvation are there regardless. And that makes all the difference.
What we're looking at -- spiritual formation -- is a journey and, while I am now convinced there are specific stages, I do think we all end up on our own timelime. Depending upon our histories and paradigms, we all may get "hung up" at various points on the continuum. We may all hit times that require additional seeking and study to progress to the next phase.
In an attempt to name the stages of spiritual formation, though, I want to kick out the following words ... how do these resonate with you? Do they describe your pathway? What have been points when you got "hung up" or "stalled out"?
Great food for thought ...
Here are my words to describe what I see as the stages ...
Listening (to others)
Embracing (the truth)
Seeking (God's direction)
Serving (out of love)
Leading (others to Christ)
I kept trying to make a neat acronym out of these words ... couldn't quite get there ... LESSL doesn't mean a whole lot.
Here's my original draft of what I intend to talk about to the students this week. There are some parts I have stolen from Donald Miller (The Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller, not my father) and Chris Heckaman, our senior pastor. (Hey, what can I say --they have good stuff so I stole it!)
If you have any suggestions or ideas ... or comments on whether this will resonate at all with kids in grades 7 - 12, please let me know.
As I thought about what God has been leading me to talk about today, I realized that it doesn’t have a lot to do with reading. Nor does it have a lot to do with writing in the traditional sense.
Let me ask you something. How many of you have ever thought about becoming a writer some day?
You know what I think? I think we all are writers, whether we put the first word on paper or not.
Think about it … what’s a common word for one of the things that writers write? I mean, you have poems, novels, plays, haiku, technical stuff, the instruction manual for my computer – which will never be read by anybody – but what is one of the basic things that writers write? A story, correct?
And what is a story? What are some of the components of a basic story?
Main character? Conflict? Drama? Resolution?
Yep, those are all correct. Really what a great basic story boils down to is this.
You have a main character – what you have maybe been taught is called the protagonist -- and early on the author paints this main character as someone we like – someone we want to be successful – we want to see them win against all odds in the end. Right?
And what enters in then? Conflict? And what is conflict? Well, basically, the main character has a goal or a desire … something they have to accomplish. And, because we like the main character, we like their goal, too – right? We want them to be successful.
So then they have to battle through all this bad stuff – all this conflict – to reach their goal, right? And, all along, we can relate to them. We’re rooting for them. We’re saying things like “Wow – I have had that happen before” or “Man, I can relate to what’s happening to them.” Whether we realize it or not, when we read a good story, we’re taking lessons from the people in the story, especially the main character.
And then, in a good story, what happens? The protagonist accomplishes their goal, the conflict is resolved, and we all go home happy … or at least until the author decides to write a sequel, right?
Let’s look at couple of perhaps not the best known but still great stories from the Bible. Rebekah – ever hear of her? Rebekah eventually became the wife of Isaac and one of the great matriarchs of the Old Testament. But do you know how she got there? She started out as a servant girl. Just a simple servant girl. Not really likely to ever do much more than live a simple life. Certainly not someone who would become a major player in the Jewish faith. But, when one of Abraham’s servants asked her to draw some water from a well so that he could drink, she did much more than that. She said, I will gladly draw enough water from this well for you to drink and I will also draw enough for your camels. Now, Abraham’s servant had something like 10 camels with him and, if you’ve ever seen a camel, you know that they are pretty big. I don’t know if his camels had one hump or two but drawing enough water for ten hot and thirsty camels probably took Rebekah a good couple of hours. And, because of what she did, completely unasked, Abraham’s servant recognized something special in Rebekah, brought her to Abraham, and she eventually ended up marrying Isaac. That is a pretty good story … all because she went the extra mile on her own accord to do more than just draw water for the servant but to also draw it for his camels. All when she was just a young servant girl. We can get excited about a story like that. She worked against odds to do something selfless. That’s a good story. What if she would have just been working hard to buy herself a new chariot or conspiring to get a date with a cute shepherd she knew. That would not have been nearly as good, would it have been?
Let’s look at another great story … the story of Nehemiah. Nehemiah had a pretty good life. He was cupbearer to the King of Persia. That sounds like a pretty cool and sort of cushy job, doesn’t it? I mean, all he had to do was follow around the king all day through his palace and carry his cup. Apparently, back then, when you were rich and famous, you hired people to do all kinds of things including carry your cup. I wouldn’t mind having a cupbearer, would you? I mean think about it, you’re in your house doing your homework and you get thirsty. You don’t have to go to the fridge to get something because, well, right there is your cupbearer – with your cup! I need to think about getting a cupbearer. Sounds pretty cool. Seriously. If I had a cupbearer and you came over to my house to visit, you know what? I’d have him carry your cup, too.
Anyway, here’s Nehemiah living a pretty cushy life as cupbearer to the King of Persia. And then the city where Nehemiah grew up – Jerusalem – which is quite some ways away from Persia, is destroyed by marauders. It is burned and the walls around the city are broken down. Nehemiah could have felt sad but just gone on with his life carrying around the king’s favorite beverage but he didn’t. He felt called to something greater. He cared about more than just his own comfort. So, even though he knew that Jerusalem was a pretty big city and that the wall around it needed to be pretty high, he asked the king of Persia if he could go rebuild it. The king said okay so then Nehemiah went to Persia and worked harder than we can possibly imagine to rebuild the wall. Like Rebekah, Nehemiah saw a calling on his life that went far beyond his own comfort. He could have been perfectly content carrying around cups of Pepsi or lemonade for the king but he made a story that was something far more than that.
So, why am I telling you all of this? I am telling you all of this because God has already planned lots of opportunities for stories in your lives. Stories that are as good as anything you read that someone has made up and put on paper. Stories that are every bit as good as the ones of Rebekah and Nehemiah. And, my question is this – what are you going to do with the stories God has given you? Are you going to make exciting stories – stories that teach and lead and inspire others, stories that lead to a positive ending – or are you going to write stories that focus on your self … stories that ultimately are self centered or greedy or egotistical?
That’s a choice we have, you see. Whether we actually write our stories on paper or not, we are writing stories with our lives. And we can make those good stories – stories that others would read and they’d cheer for us and want us to accomplish our goal – or they can be selfish stories that, if someone read them, they really wouldn’t at all care whether we reached our goal. In fact, they might even cheer against us.
Well, let me tell you a little bit about myself. You all are too young to remember but I sort of came to age in the 80s and 90s. Now you may think of those as being times of big hair and leg warmers but let me tell you what those decades were really about. They were about greed. Pure and simple. 99% of the population was focused on chasing and gathering as much as they could. As many toys, as much prestige, as much money … you name it, we wanted it and lots of it! Today, we’re down to about 98% of the population living that way but, let me remind you, it was “the” way to live in the 80s and 90s.
And that is when I was in my late teens and 20s and early 30s … right in the midst of it … and I fell into it … I wanted all that stuff – all those material things. And I was willing to do whatever it took for me to get them. I didn’t really care much what happened to the people around me – I wanted my share of all that neat stuff I kept seeing advertised on television. I wanted the big house, the expensive vacations, the Corvette and the BMW.
But let me ask you this. What makes for a real good story? … a guy chasing a big house and a BMW? Is that a story where you will really cheer the guy on through any adversity he faces? Or, is this a better story -- a guy pursuing not his own dream but God’s dream … a guy or girl trying to make the world a better place … trying to discover and live out the real good story – the story God has planned for their life?
You may look at your life today or in the future and say, what story do I have here? My parents don’t get along. Maybe they’re divorced or maybe you’ve already lost a parent far too young. My friends bicker. I don’t know why God put me here. Let’s hope not but later on you may even find yourself really struggling … perhaps with pride or even an addiction of some sort. You may be thinking … there’s no story there. You may even be caught in that and wondering how there could possibly be a happy ending or a resolution.
Let me tell you … in all of those things, there is story … if you allow it to be the story God wants it to be … there is a huge story … a story to inspire and lead and teach.
Well, ultimately today I think they wanted me to talk about the book I have written. Really, this book is about my attempt to figure out what God is calling me to in my life. I mean, in the literal sense, this book is about a trip I took to Israel with a group of others from my church. But what it is really about is my attempt to discover the best story within myself -- the story that God wants me to write with my life. The title of the book – Trying to Lose My Self In Israel – gives you a taste of the fact that the book is about my quest to focus on the story God wants for my life – not the story the selfish part of me wants. By the end of the book, I am not sure there is a firm conclusion on that but that’s the neat part of God’s call on our lives. He is always calling us to something greater. The journey never ends.
The important thing, throughout your life, is to learn sooner than I did that we can write two types of stories with our lives. We can write selfish stories that are all about what we want. We can be content living out simple lives as servant girls or the king’s cupbearer … or we can search for more. We can focus on making our life the story God wants it to be for Him. Rebekah’s life didn’t get easier when she brought water to the camels. In fact, it got a whole lot more complex and stayed that way for many years. Nehemiah’s life also got a whole lot more complex when he responded to God’s call to be the one to rebuild Jerusalem … but their stories also became stories we want to hear … stories of God’s calling … stories that are about something much bigger than just the main character and their selfish wants.
You have lots of stories ahead of you. They can be stories where you decide to follow your own desires … to get the BMW … stories that will be all about you but really won’t capture the interest of those around you … or they can be the stories God wants for your life … stories where you do great things for Him.
And, along the way, whether it’s just in a private journal or maybe it is in stories you tell that get passed down through the generations of your family or maybe it is in a book that eventually gets published – wherever it is -- keep track of your stories. Build stories that make for great storytelling … stories where others root for you, they cry when you cry, and they cheer when you’re successful. Those are the things that make great stories.
I have shared here before about the fact how I often struggle with keeping up with my Bible reading, study, quiet, and prayer time. A combination of being too busy, having too many irons in the fire, and the resulting exhaustion often keeps me from devoting the time to spiritual disciplines the way that I need to.
But, here was my "Ah-HA" that had been there all along: One cannot be a leader for Christ unless you are actively, regularly, and consistently learning and engaging yourself with God. Unless you are seeking the Holy Spirit to fill you and guide your every word and action, you cannot be a leader for Christ. Because, unless you are doing those things, you are working and trying to lead from your own personal agenda, and not from God's agenda. You can't be a Christ-centered leader unless you have totally surrendered your own agenda in favor of His.
It is our responsibility to shine the light of Jesus into the world. God will sometimes use powerful preachers to share the gospel message with thousands; but most often, He uses common people like you and me to share His love with one individual at a time.
Sharing the gospel usually does not come naturally. We fear being offensive or rejected, and mostly we fear not having the right answers. A portion of these fears are perfectly natural. But our fears are always magnified by the enemy who seeks to keep us silent. Satan hates for us to speak the truth!
God chose Jeremiah to be a prophet forty years prior to Israel's captivity in Babylon. This was a difficult time to be God's spokesman - His message was not at all pleasant. From his first days as a prophet, Jeremiah was told to speak of approaching doom; "From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land" (Jeremiah 1:14). God was going to discipline the nation for their many years of sinful rebellion and Jeremiah was sent to warn and explain why.
Jeremiah had his share of fear about sharing God's message; "Ah, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child" (Jeremiah 1:6). His words certainly match some of ours today. But Jeremiah was obedient and placed his trust in God's promise; "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you" (Jeremiah 1:8).
After many years of proclaiming God's message, Jeremiah's life had become nearly unbearable. Nobody believed his message and, instead of repenting, the people mocked and ridiculed; "The Word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long" (Jeremiah 20:8). Jeremiah had every reason to walk away from his calling, but something wonderful had taken root in his heart.
"If I say, 'I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,' His Word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot."
For many years, Jeremiah had pressed close to God, seeking His direction and desiring to do His will. Jeremiah knew the presence of God and could not conceive of life apart from His Lord. Despite great hardship, he could no longer imagine his life void of ministering and proclaiming God's Truth!
His Word is never a burden too heavy to carry. But we will continue to struggle until we draw close and fill our lives with His presence. When we can see nothing but His majesty and glory, His Word will no longer be contained. Only then will we truly shine. Only then will we be compelled to minister.
Why do we say "God Bless You" after someone sneezes anyway? Here is one explanation.
At one point, Dr. Miller was talking about what sounded to me like he was saying "ducks in the attic". Now, deep down, I knew that what he was really talking about were "ducts in the attic". But, here's the scary part ... his talk ended shortly thereafter and I had to go to the podium.
I tried very hard to keep it from coming out. I really didn't want it to come out. But out it came anyway: a stupid joke about "attic ducks". In fact, I kept going, prolonging the agony, hoping against hope for a laugh. I even went so far as to suggest that, if we can keep attics cool enough, we can start a new promotion: "Six Free Attic Ducks With Every Metal Roof."
I thought it was very funny.
Unfortunately, the audience had a differing viewpoint.
And there I stood ... one of those people you look at and feel embarrassment for being a part of their species. (Or at least that is how I felt.)
Todd "Ducks In His Attic" Miller