Monday, October 15, 2018

Monday Miscellaneous 10-15-18

  • I am a huge fan of football.  I’m even a bigger fan of my favorite team winning!  Happy day seeing my Steelers beat the Bengals yesterday. What a game down by one point 15 seconds left the Steelers identify the Bengals blitz and hit a quick slant to Antonio Brown for a 30-yard touch down.  So satisfying.  If you want to re-live the magic, just click here.   

  • With football season well underway and the baseball NLCS and ALCS in full swing (pun intended), I was reminded of a bit by the comedian George Carlin on the differences between football and baseball. He goes through a series of differences: “Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park a baseball park.  Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.  Football is concerned with ‘downs.’  What ‘down’ is it?  Baseball is concerned with ‘ups.’  Who’s up? Are you up?  I’m not up.  He’s up.” He then wraps it all up by saying, “And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different.  In football, the object is for the QB, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting receivers with deadly accuracy, in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use the shotgun.  With short, bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing the aerial assault with a sustained ground attack which punches holes in the enemy’s defensive line.  In baseball, the object is to go home and to be safe.  I hope I’ll be safe at home.”

  • Yesterday was a beautiful fall day.  After we took our oldest to Crossfire (Sugar Grove’s youth ministry) the rest of the family went for a walk.  I took this picture 
    which was then immediately followed by this picture ... 

    This reminded me of the differences between what we often portray about our lives (especially on social media) and what real-life is often like.  I’m not sure about your family, but our family has more second pictures than first pictures.  But, if I post anything, I’m posting the first picture … and every “like” I receive can easily feed my desire for approval and create the image I want others to have of me.  The degree to which I seek to portray this image outwardly is the degree that demonstrates my lack of  belief in the Gospel. We tend to boast in what we believe will give us the greatest sense of worth. Boasting is a part of how we live and social media is often full of it my meal is better than yours my run was longer than yours me, my selfie, and I are just so happy to not be living your miserable existence.   The inward longing for acceptance and approval is a very legitimate longing.  Our outward boasting is simply an arrow pointing to the ways we seek to meet that longing in an effort to legitimize ourselves apart from the cross of Christ. I read a prayer this morning which said, “Dear Jesus, gift us to stop grandstanding and trying to get attention, to do the truth quietly without display, to let the dishonesties in our lives fade away, to accept our limitations, to cling to the gospel of grace, and to delight in Your love.  Amen.” Please let it be so, God.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What Would It Be Like Not to Want?

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” You may recognize that as the first line of Psalm 23.  I must have read this Psalm at least a hundred times in my life, but when I come at it with a slow, quiet, deep sort of reading, instead of breezing by this familiar chapter of the Bible, I find that I cannot even get past the first verse.  “I shall not want.”  Really? 

A couple of questions I begin asking myself:

1. When do I find myself wanting?  All the time! There are days when I feel like all I do is “want.”

2. What do I find myself wanting?  Some of my “wants” are noble (i.e. justice for the oppressed).  Most of my wants are cringe-worthy.  I want you to like what I’m writing.  I want you to like me.  I want to be respected.  I want the credit.  I want the latest iPhone. I want to eat right now.  I want something sweet.  I want my kids to be obedient.  I want the house to be peaceful when I walk through the door.  I want my own way.  

This internal dialogue leads me to a third question:  What would it be like not to want?  That’s a question worth a little more exploration.

Killing my “wants” is not the right way to answer that third question.  That’s where I tend to go first, though.  How can I force my will upon my wants and beat them into submission?  My track record of doing that is not so good, though. Oh, I may be able to do it for a season, but my willpower is only so strong and lasts for only so long.  In the arena of “my will” vs. “my wants,” I find that it is often my wants beating my will into submission.  This causes me to be afraid of what I want.  My wants, then, become the enemy …what I fear the most …so I try to kill them (or at the very least seek to avoid them).  Doing this, though will keep me from asking an even deeper question: What do I really want from my wants?  Until I'm willing to explore that, I'll never get to the root of my desires.

Feeding my “wants” is not the answer either, but this is a common strategy for many of us.  If I cannot beat my wants into submission, I’ll feed them into submission in order to quiet them down.  If I can just give myself what I want or take what I want or get what I want, then I can numb any pain I may be feeling, eliminate any insecurities I may have, and find the happiness for which I have been longing.  But, those of us who have tried this know that becoming a servant to our wants never frees us from them. Tim Keller put it this way: “Idolatry and slavery go hand in hand.  Idolatry leads to slavery and slavery leads to idolatry.  So God says to the person who worships money:  If you want to live for money instead of me, then money will rule your life.  It will control your heart and emotions.  If you want to live for popularity instead of for me, then popular acclaim will rule and control you.  If you want another god besides me – go ahead.  Let’s see how merciful it is to you, how effective it is in saving and guiding and enlightening you.”  Our wants can never be our Savior, but they are always willing to make us the sacrifice. We find that we can only take and sample from the world for so long before it begins to take from us.  Simply feeding our wants will not free us from them.  It will simply cause us to become controlled by them.    

The Lord is my Shepherd, but I often seek to graze in other pastures.  However, instead of feeling the rod of the Shepherd fall hard on me like it would an enemy of the flock, I discover that His rod and His staff comfort me.  He begins to move the words of Scripture from the pages of my Bible to the pages of my heart …from the outside of me to the inside of me.  And, as that is happening, He reminds me to live in response to the abundance of His love instead of the tyranny of my wants.    As I do, I find my wondering heart begin to lie down in God’s green pastures.  He restores my soul by leading me beside still waters.  One author described it like this: “When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn’t go off and leave us – He enters into our trouble and saves us.  That is good; an instance of what the Bible calls gospel.  We discover reasons and motivations for living in faith and find that God is already helping us to do it – and that is good.”  

I live daily with the tension of what I want for me and what God wants for me.  But, until my heart is transformed, my wants never will be. Psalm 86:13 reads: “For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead.” The good news for all of us wherever we are is that God doesn’t give up on us.  He keeps pursuing us.  If you’re struggling, God is still pursuing you.  If you’re hurting, God is still pursuing you.  If you are thumbing your nose at God right now, God is still pursuing you. God is not asking you to become a better version of yourself before He will come to you.  The truth is He is there, right now, wherever you are.  This is His loving kindness and He offers it to us in any and all situations. It’s always there.  It’s always stable.  It never fades.  It never gives up. It is always willing to meet me where I am and offer me exactly what I need.  It doesn’t wait for me to get my act together, to stop wanting “unwantable” things, or to become a better version of myself.  God’s loving kindness is not based on our faithfulness to Him but rather His faithfulness to us.  One of the more difficult attributes of the human condition is that we will try to work for what we could simply receive and enjoy.  This is in essence the Gospel. And, as my heart is softened to it, I slowly come to a place where I can say, “If Jesus was willing to enter this world and experience the worst life could offer, why would He not also meet the want behind my wants?”  When my wants for me and His wants for me conflict, the cross reminds me that I can trust His faithfulness and love to rise and meet my need and empower me to embrace His way of life.

“Jesus, my shepherd.  When my eyes are on you, I am truly satisfied and there are times I taste something of peace. You cause me to lie down at waters that are restful. You restore my soul. You lead me. You lead me in your righteous paths. It will bring glory to you.  Even though we walk through a valley where death seems to edge closer, we will not fear death and the evil attached to it. You are with me. You arrange a table before me. Your rod comforts me. Surely goodness and mercy will come behind us. The love of Christ will hound us and push us to the very place of God and we will be with you forever.” 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Miscellaneous

  • I was able to speak at our church’s Father/Son retreat this past Saturday.  Our 6-year-old decided that he wanted to be right up front with me while I was talking so he walked up front, sat down on the floor next to me, and stayed there the entire time. Not what I had planned to happen as I was speaking, but I thought it was kind of cool.  I had a great time with my boys shooting BB guns and bow and arrows, playing mini-golf and digging in the sand. I’m grateful for the relational space that was created that day. 

  • I’ve had a couple of opportunities to speak about being a parent lately.  One, at the above mentioned retreat.  The other was to a mom’s group that meets at our church.  Both were incredibly humbling opportunities for me.  There’s not much that reveals what is in my heart faster than my kids.  The more that is revealed, the more I see what needs to be transformed.  Parenting is such a gift, but that gift can be hard to receive at times, especially when I’m confronted with my selfishness and anger and impatience.  But, God continues to transform me through His grace and parenting is just one of the tools of transformation He uses in my life.  

  • If you haven’t listened to Lauren Dagle’s new cd, you really need to do so. I’m honestly not sure if she writes her own lyrics, does so with a team of people, or if someone else writes them entirely, but the track list of Look Up Child is full of powerful phrases and lyrics.  Here are just a few: 

"I thought that I was too far gone
For everything I've done wrong
Yeah I'm the one who dug this grave
But You called my name
You called my name"

"You are not hidden
There's never been a moment
You were forgotten
You are not hopeless
Though you have been broken
Your innocence stolen"

"No more performing out of fear
Trying to keep my conscience clear
It all seems so insincere
I'd trade it all to meet You here"

"Help me lay the renegade to rest
Turn the stone inside me back to flesh
And hold me 'til my best defenses fall
And watch this rebel heart surrender all"

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

An Oasis of Kindness on 9/11

Below are excerpts from a USA Today article written by Katharine Lackey, on an overlooked part of the 9/11 tragedies.  On a day when hatred seemed to win, a small town in Newfoundland became a place of hope and hospitality for nearly 7,000 anxious airline passengers.  

An Oasis of Kindness on 9/11

Seventeen years ago, a small Canadian town on an island in the North Atlantic Ocean took in nearly 6,700 people – almost doubling its population – when the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington forced 38 planes to land here. 

“Everyone looks at us and says that’s an amazing thing that you did, and the bottom line is I don’t think it was an amazing thing, I think it was the right thing you do,” says Diane Davis, 53, a now-retired teacher who helped 750 people housed at the town's elementary school. 

In a world today seemingly fraught with division, terrorism and hate, they’d do it all over again. Kindness is woven into the very fabric of their nature — they don’t know any other way to live.

To say Gander, a town of 10,000 people, and its surrounding communities welcomed the passengers and crew from nearly 100 countries with open arms is an understatement. The town all but shut down for the “plane people,” inspiring the Tony-award winning Broadway musical Come From Away.

“We did not know how we would be affected, if these people were staying, if the people who were coming were good people or not so good people,” says Linda Sweetapple, 54, business manager and partner at Sweetapple Accounting Group. “We just knew that we had to make room for them and take care of them. They were here, and they needed our help.”

As the planes, still packed with passengers, sat for hours at the airport, the town bustled with activity. Volunteers readied makeshift shelters — every school, gym, community center, church and camp, any place that could fit a planeload of people. Gander’s 500 hotel rooms were reserved for pilots and flight crews.

Bus drivers in the middle of a nasty strike laid down picket signs. Donations of toiletries, clothes, toys, towels, toothbrushes, pillows, blankets and bedding piled up. For security reasons, passengers weren’t allowed to take checked bags.

Gander residents began cooking — a lot. Grocery store shelves went bare. The Wal-Mart ran out of nearly everything — underwear was a particularly hot commodity — and the local hockey rink transformed into the world’s largest refrigerator. 

“It was like casserole city,” says Reg Wright, 43, president and CEO of Gander International Airport.

Stuck on planes for up to 31 hours since taking off from Europe and in the age before smartphones and social media, many passengers didn’t know exactly what caused their diversion to this tiny Canadian province. Those who did still couldn’t fathom the terror attacks in the U.S. without seeing them.

When passengers finally saw the destruction, Gander Police Constable Oz Fudge, 62, remembers the gasps.

“You hear this ‘huh’ when the plane hit the towers,” says Fudge, the town’s police constable. “That sound I hear all the time, of the shock that’s on their faces as they’re standing there looking at this TV and the look of loss on their faces. "I’ll live with that for the rest of my life."

The outpouring of kindness in the town only multiplied over the next five days. Gander residents took passengers sightseeing, moose hunting, berry picking and barbecuing. They entertained with music, stopped anyone walking down the street in case they wanted a ride and brought strangers into their homes for showers or even as guests for a few nights. They refused to accept money, though passengers later donated thousands to the town.

“They couldn’t comprehend what we were doing,” says Dave Blundon, 67, who took in one of the families. “The way they looked at you — they almost wanted to touch you to make sure you’re real.”

Robert Steuber, 55, stranded with his wife and elderly father-in-law after their Paris to St. Louis jet diverted, never felt like an outsider.

“That whole community is the poster child for how hospitality and just a sheer act of humanity should be because they had such a high level of open arms, and come in and welcome and here’s my house,” says Steuber, whose St. Louis family eventually ended up with the Blundons. “It just absolutely floored me.”

Israel, Austria, Spain, Poland, France, the Philippines, Iran, Italy, England, Germany, Thailand, Belgium, Ukraine, Africa, Hungary, Uganda, Senegal, Russia, United Arab Emirates and just about every state in the USA. The “come from aways,” as Newfoundlanders call anyone not from the island, were from all over the world, and despite the intense situation, no one in Gander batted an eye — prejudice against anyone is an entirely foreign concept here. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monday Miscellaneous

Trucks, football, hamstrings, and laps … just a few of the things covered in Monday Miscellaneous.
  • I had a great Father/Son weekend.  On Saturday, I was able to take our youngest son to a “Touch a Truck” event held at a local church.  If you know my son, you know that he’s never met a truck he didn’t like.  He loves dirt, construction vehicles, and all things with engines.  I loved spending that time with him and also, watching him have fun was all the fun I needed.  Here’s a pic.

  • Some very gracious friends offered to take my oldest son and I to the Notre Dame game on Saturday.  So, after “Touch a Truck,” I decked myself out in my best ND gear and headed to South Bend to watch the Irish play Ball State.  Penn State is still Team # 1 for me in college football, but Notre Dame is Team #1a.  Notre Dame is such a fun place to watch college football. My son was in heaven. Before the game, we were able to station ourselves in the stadium and watch the football players as they headed to the field.  We were so close that we were able to high-five or fist bump the players as they walked by.  That was a highlight, not just for my son, but for me as well!  We also had incredible seats 47 rows up in the end zone. It was really fun to be there with our friends and, personally, for me to be there with my son.  Here are a few pics.

  • I love being a dad.  Before becoming one, I had always dreamt of having weekends like the one I just had with my boys. Even though I often feel unqualified to be a dad … of all the tasks given to me by God, I believe raising my kids may be the most meaningful and important spiritual thing I ever do in my life. The influence I have as a parent is the greatest influence I will ever have.  And, never in my life will influence come easier than it does with my kids.  That influence is not something to take lightly and I need God’s wisdom to use that influence wisely every single day.

  • While I had a great “dad” weekend with my boys, I had a very teachable “dad” weekend with my girls.  Case in point … I was at a church event Sunday afternoon sitting at a round table with my family and some other people.  I knew that I was going to have to get up and speak at some point during the meeting.  Anyway, one of my daughters approaches me and says, “Daddy, can I sit on your lap?”  I said, “Not right now.  I’m going to have to get up and speak in a few minutes.” My daughter then went back to her seat at our table.  Immediately my wife turns to me and says, “You should really let her sit on your lap, especially if she initiates it with you.”  My heart sank.  I turned my precious little girl away and I was so grateful that my wife pointed it out to me.  I immediately called to my daughter and “patted” my leg in a way that said, “I shouldn’t have turned you away.  Of course you can sit on me.”  It was just one more reminder that, right now, my lap is the most popular seat in the house.  But, there will come a time when it is not.  While it is, I need to take advantage of it as much as I can in order to let my girls know that I love them, enjoy them,  and will always make time for them.

  • I was also able to help at my son’s middle school retreat on Thursday and Friday.  I was a youth pastor for 19 years of my life, so I’m no stranger to middle school retreats. But, it’s certainly been a while since I’ve been to one and, honesty, I’ve grown a bit soft. That became very evident while playing capture the flag. Now, I wouldn’t call myself the most competitive guy in the world, but I’m competitive enough that I’m not going to let some middle schooler grab the flag I’m defending. Anyway, picture an elephant trying to capture a gazelle … that will give you a good mental picture of what me chasing a middle school kid looks like.  In the midst of the chase, I was able to tag this boy with my trunk, I mean, hand … but in the process totally tore my hamstring. Oh my word, that was painful ... like I broke out in a cold sweat kind of painful. But, I’ve tried to find comfort in telling myself that I’m not old.  Some of the best athletes in the world have torn their hamstring. If I wasn’t able to move at the same speed that many world-class elephants, I mean, athletes move, then I never would have torn it.  So, I’ll take having something in common with Usain Bolt any day.  

Monday, August 27, 2018

Monday Miscellaneous

  • I’m so saddened by another mass shooting in our country. It’s a far too familiar story.  I’m no expert.  I don’t have any answers.  I’m just saddened and lamenting the loss of life and the families and friends who are hurting.

  • I had lunch last week with a dad who is several steps ahead of where I currently am in the parenting journey.  He mentioned something to me that I thought was really insightful.  He said that he’s discovered there are three things his kids seem to remember and talk about often:  1) Time around the dinner table.  2) Time spent playing outside.  3) Time spent on vacation.   I left our lunch really thinking about what it would look like to lean into those three things more and more with my kids. If you are a parent, I’d encourage you to think through those things as well.  I am a firm believer in eating around the table as a family.  I’ve written about that before right here, if you’re interested. Also, some of the best memories I have with my kids are walks in the woods or simply playing out in the yard. My wife and I have been trying to have regular time outside lately with our kids in a variety of ways … going for walks, playing sports, digging (with my youngest), or just simply eating on our patio.  It’s nothing fancy, but just simply ways to engage creation and get out of the house.  Also, we love being away with our kids.  Our last vacation was in Maine and we are still talking about some of the things we did while there.  When we first had kids, someone encouraged us to pay for experiences with our kids more than we pay for “stuff” for our kids. We’ve been trying to take that to heart and have been able to create some fun memories in the process.

  • I saw a quote by Diane Langberg recently.  She said, “Caregiver, when you sit with overwhelming pain it will frighten you, and you will want to alleviate it quickly so both people in the room can feel better. Be careful. Pain is the only protest in the human constitution that something is wrong.”  I had to sit with that one for a while and soak it in.  It’s so easy for me to try to “fix” someone who is hurting rather than simply “sit” with someone who is hurting.  When I examine my motives in that, I recognize two things:  1) A person doesn’t need “fixing.”  A person needs healing.  2) When I try to help someone feel better, the motivation is often so I do not have to feel bad.  It’s hard to sit with someone in emotional pain. But, unless that pain is explored, healing can never enter their life.  Helping someone feel “better” is not really helping that person discover the root cause of their pain.  Emotional pain needs to be explored before it can be healed and the only way for it to be explored is to have a willingness to sit there “in the excrement of someone’s life,” as Dan Allender has said. I have so far to go in my journey as a shepherd and care-giver for others in our church.  But, I want to be someone who “rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those who mourn.”  Someone once told my wife, “Your compassion ushered healing from Heaven into the wounded areas of my life.”  I hope that I can show others compassion as she has and, ultimately, as my Savior has shown to me.

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