Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Table

When we moved to Maryland 6 months ago, we had to sell our kitchen table.  It was a nice table.  Here is a picture of it set up one year at Christmas when we hosted our extended family.  

It was a great table, but just too big to bring with us.  So, as we moved to Maryland, one of our first orders of business was to buy a kitchen table.  Here's the one we purchased.

It's much smaller.  We literally have to squeeze in around it.  It moves if you lean against it.  But, it's not the table that is important, but rather what happens around it.

Around our table we have shared laughter and tears.  We have made crafts.  We have celebrated birthdays.  We have talked about the "highs" and "lows" of our day.  I have built numerous Lego sets with my son.  I have colored in countless coloring books with my girls.  

Around our table we share breakfast and dinner together nearly every day.  It gives us the opportunity to start our day together ... to pray together ... to read a short Bible story together and to express our dependence upon God.  It also gives us the opportunity to come back together as a family toward the end of the day and share our experiences.  What made us happy?  What made us sad?  We eat.  We share.  We laugh.  And, in all honesty, with 4 kids under 7 ... there are times when we get mad as well.  It's not all butterflies and rainbows at our table, but I wouldn't change a thing.

Around our table our kids have learned responsibility.  They have to help set up for dinner.  They have to help clean up after dinner.  They have to learn to eat their vegetables ... even the ones they don't like.  It provides an opportunity to show gratitude.  As much as I can, I remind our kids to say "thank you" to mom for all the work she has put in to making the meal happen. (My wife is an amazing cook, by the way!)

Around the table, we've exposed kids to different cultures.  We've tried to make different foods that different cultures may eat.  We talk about different countries.  It's helped broaden the world for our kids and helps them realize there is a much greater world out there than what they'll find in our hometown.

We also pray.  We take time to remember that all we have is from God and we do not take that for granted.  We want to take time to pray for those who do not have as much food as we do (like our sponsor children) and we thank God that He has blessed us for more than we would ever deserve.

A lot of research has been done on the importance of family meals.  One article said this: "Parents have heard it for years: Family dinners help kids avoid risky behaviors and may even help them in school. But new research shows that the more frequent these dinners, the better the adolescents fare emotionally.  (Journal of Adolescent Health). The effect doesn't plateau after three or four dinners a week," says co-author Frank Elgar, an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University in MontrĂ©al. "The more dinners a week the better."
With each additional dinner, researchers found fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and higher life satisfaction, regardless of gender, age or family economics." 

The table could be made of oak, pine, or particle board.  It could have wooden chairs, metal chairs, or plastic chairs.  It could be large or small.  To us, it's not the table that is important, but rather what happens around the table.  It represents more than a piece of furniture.  It represents a value we have decided to have.  We believe in family meals together.  I know it doesn't work for every family, and that's certainly OK.  But, we have enjoyed trying to make the rhythm of our family work around meals together.  I really feel it's one of the best decisions we've made. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Imagine the First Time the Name of Jesus was Spoken

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him, Jesus." (Luke 1:31) ... that was the very first time the name of Jesus was spoken ... the very first time.  Think about that for a moment.  What would it have been like in the spirit realm to hear the name of Jesus for the very first time?  I've tried to let my imagination run with that for a bit.

What must it have been like for Gabriel?  What an honor to be the one to first speak the name of Jesus.  How long did he know about his mission?  Was he "on call" and at just the right time did God the Father bring him to the throne and say, "Gabriel.  It's time.  The name will be revealed."  Or, did he know about this for centuries?  Was he anxiously marking the days off on his heavenly calendar counting them down like ... well ... like a child waiting for Christmas? What must it have been like for Gabriel?  How big was the smile on his face when the name Jesus fell from his lips?  Did he laugh?  Did joy or tears fill his eyes?  Maybe both?  What an honor to be chosen as the first one to speak the "name above all names."

Imagine the anticipation of the other angels.  I would think they probably knew Gabriel was on mission.  I can see them letting the other angels know, "Hey. There goes Gabe!  Is this ... could this be THE mission?"  I can see them waiting with this great sense of anticipation, maybe sitting on the edge of their seats, fists clinched, bodies tense with excitement.  And, when they hear his name ... "Jesus" ... the leap out of their seats with the excitement of an SEC college football crowd when their team scores a touchdown!  Leaping, chest bumping, high fives and hugs all around!   1 Peter 1:12 tells us that when the Good News is preached that "It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen." (NLT) How fun must it have been for them to watch this unfold.

Imagine the response of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets.  They had been looking ahead to the Messiah.  Jesus himself reminds us that we are "blessed" because we see and hear the Good News of the Gospel and that "many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn't see it.  And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn't hear it."  (Matthew 13:16 - 17 NLT) Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, all of creation has been longing to be rescued!  And, to hear the name of the one the prophets had been looking for ... to hear the name of the one sent to rescue mankind ... what must that have been like?  Were they thinking, "Will these people even know how blessed they truly are!?  Will they understand?  We have looked forward to the Rescuer coming our entire lives.  We believed, but we did not get to see.  They now get to see ... will they believe?  

Imagine the shock waves that rocked the demonic world.  When the name that is above all names was spoken. Did their knees buckle?  Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the face."  The name of Jesus was their punch in the face and whatever plans they make are no match for the counterpunch that is Jesus Christ.   Did they get nauseous?  Did they scream "Nooooooo!"  Did they regroup and plan their counterattacks and say, "How can we do all that we can to steal, kill, and destroy" those Jesus came for?  How can we keep them from knowing the power of the name of Jesus?

What does the name of Jesus mean to me?  It's the greatest word that has ever fallen from my lips.  It's the name my wife and I have sung to every one of my children as we've laid them to bed at night ... "Jesus loves me, this I know."  His name has meant my very salvation and has been the most consistent word I have ever spoken.  Louie Giglio has said, "The name of Jesus awakens the dead and gives them life."  How true this has been in my life.  No one compares.  No one even comes close.   

Friday, December 12, 2014

Making God Look As Great As He Really Is

Is there anything in your life right now making God appear small?  

I had the opportunity this past weekend to look at Mary's song in Luke 1:39 - 55.  The phrase that really jumped out at me from that passage was when Mary said in verse 46 "My soul magnifies the Lord."  A telescope is a tool used for magnification.  It takes something big and begins to make it look as big as it really is.  Think about what Mary has heard and seen in just a short period of time.  She has seen and spoken to an angel.  She has heard that she will give birth to the Messiah.  And, oh by the way, she will do this while being a virgin.  Instead of freaking out and collapsing under the weight of this, she rejoices that God has chosen her and she begins to magnify God in the telescope sense ... taking Someone great and making Him look as great as He really is.

John Piper once said, "The whole duty of the Christian can be summed up in this: Feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as He really is."  The question I asked myself while studying this passage was this:  What keeps me from magnifying God?  If Mary did it right, what do I do wrong?  And, so again, I ask you ... Is there anything in your life right now making God appear small?

I saw 4 different things that often keep me from feeling, thinking, and acting in a way that makes God look as great as He really is.

1. I can't magnify God if I don't believe God.  In Luke 1:45, Elizabeth said that Mary was blessed because she believed.  How would your life be different if you didn't just believe IN God, but you actually BELIEVED God.  The reality is that we do not live out what we know. We live out what we believe.  It's OK to take God up on his Godness.  He's up to the challenge and at the end of the day, He will always be the last one standing.  I magnify Him when I believe Him to be huge in any given situation and that God will either change what's going on or He will change me through what's going on.  

2. I can't magnify God if I'm busy magnifying myself.  In verses 48, 51, and 52, Mary is reminded that God honors humility.  This is a truth that fills the pages of Scripture.  Pride makes life more about me and less about God.  And, I think this is why God tells us in Proverbs 8:13 that He hates pride.  Our pride drags us away from God.  It refuses to admit that we need a Savior.  It refuses to admit that we're small.  It refuses to admit that I have issues.  It refuses to admit that I may actually be the cause of the relational conflict going on in my life.  It refuses to admit I have feelings I don't like and thoughts I don't want and regrets I can't let go of.  Pride keeps me in bondage to the worst this life has to offer and until we are willing to let go of our pride and admit that we are helpless to change on our own, we will always feel a sense of opposition in our life because "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6).  Not sure about you, but I need a whole lot more grace in my life than I need opposition.  God opposes us not because He's out to get us but because, as the Creator of our souls, He has a sense of obligation to point us to our need for Him.  "Any preoccupation with myself will always put me at odds with God."  "We either God or we magnify ourselves, but we will never do both."

3. I can't magnify God if I'm not thankful for what He has done for me.  In verse 49 Mary said, "He who is holy has done great things for me."  Even in the midst of what could have been a pretty stressful situation, Mary was able to recognize the blessings of God in her life.  You can never go wrong with thankfulness.  Thankfulness is good for everyone because the alternative is a life of stress, entitlement, and just making life miserable for everyone else around you.  But, for those of us who follow Jesus, we, in particular, should be the most thankful people on the planet!  He who is holy has done great things for us!  The more thankful we are, the more reasons we find to be thankful.  I will always magnify God more with thankfulness than with crankfulness. 

4. I can't magnify God if I minimize His word.  A majority of Mary's song is based off of the Old Testament passage in 1 Samuel 2.  That passage records Hannah's song.  Hannah was longing for a child but was not able to conceive.  When she finally did conceive, words of praise burst from her soul.  It's not identical, but there are amazing similarities between what Hannah said in 1 Samuel 2 and what Mary said in Luke 1.  It shows me that Mary's life was tied to Scripture.  When she was overwhelmed by the goodness of her God, what flowed from her heart were the words of her God.  She was longing for a fulfillment of what God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 22:18 ... "and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."  Through the birth of Jesus, all nations on earth are blessed!  She was holding God to the promises of His word.  When I do the same, God is magnified.

If "the whole duty of the Christian is to feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as He really is" ... is there anything you need to start doing or stop doing in order to do this?  May we believe Him to be as great as He truly is and run from anything that keeps that from happening in our lives.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Small Town vs. Big City

It's hard to believe that it's been 5 months since I moved from a rural Indiana town to one of the most populated areas of the country.  Needless to say, it's been an adjustment. Here are a few of the differences I've noticed between between small-town Indiana and the big city ... 

Small Town ... If I drove more than 30 minutes, I called it a "trip."
Big Town ... When I drive 30 minutes, I call it going to work.

Small Town ... When traffic is slow it's because of an Amish buggy on the road.
Big Town ... When traffic is slow it's because of the million cars on the road.

Small Town ... I had to plan my day around cutting our grass.
Big Town ... I have to plan my day around traffic patterns.

Small Town ... Security is increased because of the fair.
Big Town ... Security is increased because the President is in the area.

Small Town ... Farmers are happy about the rain because it helps crops grow.
Big Town ... The government is happy about the rain because of the rain tax.

Big Town ... "Red Neck" means you got a little too much sun on your back.
Small Town ... "Red Neck" describes half the people I know.

Big Town ... Wal-Mart is just another store.
Small Town ... Wal-Mart is a way of life.

Big Town ... Emissions are something my car needs to get tested for.
Small Town ... "Emissions" are normal smells from the cow farm next door.

There are definitely pros and cons for both, but, seriously, one thing that has been incredibly encouraging to me is to see that God is moving in small and big ways in both small and big towns.   I firmly believe that the biggest thing God is up to in the world today is building His Church and I'm so thankful that population has nothing to do with that.  

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What I Was Thinking As I Fell Out of the Shower

So yesterday I fell out of the shower ... literally fell out of the shower.  First time in 43 years. From shower to floor, the whole debacle probably took all but 2 seconds, but it's truly amazing the number of thoughts that can run through one's mind in two seconds.  Here is a brief glimpse of what I was thinking while falling out of the shower:

  • Whoa, that's slippery.
  • Oh, man. I think I'm falling out of the shower.
  • The toilet is right there.  What if I hit my head on it.
  • What if I literally fall in the toilet?
  • Did I flush?
  • If I didn't flush, I'm going to have to shower again.
  • I'm never going to live this down.
  • If I'm knocked out, please Carol, put clothes on me before the ambulance arrives.
  • I thought this only happened to elderly people.
  • So, this is how people break hips.
  • If I die, I was really hoping to go out another way.
  • I may just have to say to Carol, "I've fallen and I can't get up."
  • I don't think I hit my head on the toilet.
  • What if the shower rod falls on my face?
  • How will I explain any injuries?
  • I'm on the floor.
  • Ouch, that kind of hurt.
  • I think I'm OK.  
  • I can't believe I just fell out of the shower.
The processing speed of the brain truly is amazing and I'm curious as to where this processing ability was when I was taking math classes.  I certainly didn't seem to have it then. Maybe I should have fallen out of my seat more in class. 

Anyway, a large percentage of accidents occur while falling in the bathroom, so if you've ever fallen in the shower, don't feel bad.  You're not alone.  Clumsy people ... UNITE!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What Social Media and Technology Can Keep Me From

I am certainly not anti-social media or anti-technology.  I really enjoy going to the Apple Store.  I "tweet."  I "like."  I text ... but not while driving.  I practice "safe text."  But, I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that, even though these things have brought about so much good in our lives, they can also keep us from so much in our lives.  

This past Sunday we were challenged in our services to simply recognize some of the things that media/technology can keep us from.  Here are some of my notes ... 

Media/Technology Can Keep Me From: 

... Recognizing My Limits.  Technology always beckons us, but there is only so much attention I am capable of giving.  Am I focusing the best of my attention on what matters most.  When I'm out with my wife, will she feel as if she has the best of my attention if I'm checking my phone.  When I'm sitting with my kids, will they feel as if they have the best of my attention if I'm texting or on Facebook.  When I'm driving, will the road have the best of my attention while I'm driving a 1000 pound vehicle if I respond to that text or feel the need to make that phone call.  I only have so much capacity for attention.  Use it on what matters most.

... Solitude.  Solitude and silence are foundational to our Christian faith.  We need time alone with God and yet we are often afraid to sit in silence. Maybe it's just the introvert in me, but I really feel that time alone in quietness is a key discipline to have in our lives.  It not only helps me connect with God, it really helps keep me sane.  Deciding to have times of solitude is one of the best decisions I have made.

... Thinking.  Sometimes I can be so quick to simply go see what someone else says about something online rather than actually spending time thinking through the matter on my own.  It's not that it's wrong to do online research or anything like that.  I love listening to podcasts and sermons by other pastors.  I read other blogs as well.  It's a great way to feed my soul.  But, it's more the idea that it's important for me to spend time thinking on my own.  It helps keep my brain fresh.  

... Reality.  I can create my own world online and look really good.  I can post the best pictures, update the best statuses, and even create a game character that can help me escape a reality that I'm not so happy with.  As a parent, it's real easy to post things from my best parenting days and make it appear as if I'm always a great parent.  If only that were the case.  I have more than my share of parenting fails ... like the one I just had earlier today.  Wait, make that two ... no ... three parenting fails today.  

... Being Face to Face.  As good as it social media and technology can be to help us stay in touch, I'm not sure we can truly be connected unless we're face to face ... voice to voice.  There is just something about sitting across from someone and talking directly to them.  It's certainly easier to just send a message or a text.  It's faster, more convenient.  But, I'm not sure I can have true intimacy with someone online.  It's certainly a tool that can aid a relationship by helping stay connected, but I just feel there is no replacement for sitting across from another person and having a great conversation with them.

My Big Take-a-Ways From the Weekend Were:

... Be present.  When I'm with my wife ... be all there.  When I'm with my kids ... be all there.  Don't detach from them mentally and emotionally by going to social media while with them.

... Guard the number of times I go to social media sites.  I can find myself going to them mindlessly if I'm not careful and that can cause me to miss so much that is going on around me.

... Be mindful of my motives.  Am I posting or tweeting to make myself look good?  Am I truly trying to be encouraging or am I simply creating a "world" in which I look a whole lot better than I truly am.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Hair Dryer, Jesus, and the Impact Goes On

So, I had a really interesting, but great experience this morning.  I was invited to be a part of a "Women's Huddle."  Now, at the risk of losing my "man card" I have to say that I enjoy going to Bath and Body Works.  My father-in-law once got me a gift card to Peer 1 Imports.  And, I get excited about tea.  But, in spite of all that, I typically don't get invited to Women's Huddles.  

This group is a group of some women's small group leaders at Grace Community who get together to talk about their groups, pray, and just enjoy being together.  Let me tell ya ... being in a house full of ladies brought out every middle school insecurity I've ever had!  But, it really was a great morning and the reason I, and another one of our pastors, was there was to help honor a lady who was "retiring" from being a small group coach.

Anyway, while we were all having breakfast, I was in a conversation with a lady who was talking about an opportunity she had to share Jesus with her hair stylist.  Two things went through my mind:  1)  I'll probably never have a conversation like this with a man.  2) This is such a cool story!  

She was talking about how she was in a conversation with the lady cutting her hair and how they were talking about faith and religion and the types of families they grew up in.  The conversation got so in depth and intense that the stylist actually cut about 2 extra inches off the ladies hair!  But, she didn't mind.  She was so thankful for the opportunity to share.

Now, my hair dryer is a towel, so I don't know exactly how this works, but I guess she was getting her hair dried under one of the salon dryers.  She was still talking with the stylist and just began sharing with her how to have a relationship with Jesus.  As she is doing this, she's realizing that she is yelling so loudly because of the dryer that EVERYONE in the salon is hearing her share the Gospel.  It was a conversation directed toward one person, but the message went out to so many more people because everyone in that salon heard about Jesus that morning.

Stay with me ...

We all then move in to a room to begin to honor Kathy (our small group coach who is "retiring") and to discuss the impact she has had on their life.  There were tears.  There was laughter.  Powerful things were shared.  There were some women in the room who were directly impacted by Kathy because of her direct involvement in their life.  But, there were just as many who were impacted INDIRECTLY by Kathy. They were coached by women Kathy coached.  Their small groups were led by women who were in small group with Kathy. There were some who became small group leaders because of a direct ask from Kathy and they shared stories of lives Jesus changed in their groups and people who were saved and baptized.  It was truly an amazing time. Kathy's focus was always one person at a time.  But, God took that focus and multiplied it more than any of us will truly ever know.  

I was reminded today that God takes what we offer and multiplies it in ways we may never fully know.  Just as the lady in the salon was having one conversation, but it was heard by many, the time and love and grace we pour in to one person at a time will be heard by many as well.  The time you invest in that "one person" will in some way be passed on to another.  The grace you show that "one person" will in some way be passed on to another. The date you have with your daughter ... the time in the woods with your son ... these types of things have a greater impact than we will ever know.

God is the great multiplier!  He takes our "little" and makes it much.  Sometimes we don't see it.  Sometimes we can become tired and worn out and wonder if anything we are doing is truly making a difference.  Let me encourage you today by saying it is.  It is making a difference.  Focus on the good you are to do and allow God to handle the results.  Paul, a man who invested his life in others, reminds us of this:  "Let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up."  (Galatians 6:9)  

So, don't give up.  Keep getting up on Sundays to serve.  Keep waking up every day to teach. Keep going to your job and being an encouragement to the guy on the line next to you. Keep planning a fun date with your son or daughter. I promise you that God takes what little you may feel you have to offer and He turns it in to much.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Every Strike Brings Me Closer to My Next Home Run

My wife and I recently had the opportunity to visit the Babe Ruth museum in Baltimore. I didn't realize Babe Ruth was born in Baltimore, so it was fun to learn something new.  We were able to visit the home where he was born (which has now been turned in to the museum).  It was really fascinating to get an in depth picture of his life from his childhood to his death and everything in between.  One of the most fascinating parts of the museum was a wall that listed when and where each one of his home runs were hit ... all 714 of them.

When asked how he was able to hit so many home runs, Babe Ruth once said, "Never let the fear of striking out hold you back ... I just go up there and I swing.  I just keep on swinging and I keep on swinging.  Every strike brings me closer to my next home run."

For the record, he had 1330 career strikeouts ... or 1330 steps toward his next home run. 

I'm reminded of a few things when I look at the picture above:

1. Defeat opens up doors to God that we’ll never know in success.  Winning and losing … it’s all a process that God uses in our lives and we have to trust the process.  We have to trust that God works in our lives when we win and that God works in our lives when we lose.  We have to trust the process … trust that sometimes we lose so we can talk with somebody else that’s lost and help them through it.  Sometimes we fail so we can talk with somebody else that’s failed and help them through it.  Sometimes we’re defeated so we can talk with somebody else that’s been defeated and help them through it.  God has a greater purpose and a greater plan behind every defeat … behind every failure … and if we get so wrapped up in the fact that we simply failed … we’ll never, ever find out what God really has in store for us because we’re so focused on ourselves instead of what God wants us to learn.  I wonder if the Babe learned more from his strike outs than he did his home runs.

2. Winning and losing are both temporary.  We get so wrapped up in winning and losing … victory or defeat ... strike outs or home runs.  We are such outcome based people.  We think we’re better people if we win.  We think less of ourselves when we lose and what we fail to realize is that the thing that winning and losing have in common is that they’re both temporary.  If you base your worth on if you win … you’re only good IF you win.  If you base your worth on if you lose … believe me, you’re going to feel awful about yourself because you ARE going to lose.  God is not waiting for us to fail or succeed before He decides how he feels about us.  How he feels about us has already been decided!  He is absolutely crazy about you.  As someone once said, "If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it."

3. I think "trying" makes God smile.  Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  I believe the reverse of that is true also … with faith it’s impossible NOT to please God.  I don't believe God thinks more of you when you win.  And, I don't believe He thinks less of you when you lose.  I believe the bigger thing He's concerned with is did you try.  Because when we try we are showing faith … faith enough to give something a shot … faith enough to put yourself out there in a situation that you’re not sure about … faith enough to try something and you’re not sure what the outcome is going to be.  Faith makes God smile and it deepens our relationship with Him.

When my wife and I were dating, the very first birthday gift I got for her was, are you ready for this ... a blender.  A BLENDER!  Why, oh why, did someone not ask me what I was getting Carol for her birthday?!  And, the fact that Carol didn't dump me on the spot speaks to my movie star good looks and rock hard abs.  :)  It was an incredibly dumb gift to get, but the reason I got it for her was because just a week earlier she was saying how much she wanted a blender.  So, naturally, I'm thinking that I'm going to be a rock star if I get this for her.  Oh, young Rich, how little you actually knew.  But, even though a blender was NOT what she was expecting for her birthday, she knew the heart behind it.  She knew why I got it for her.  And, she actually thought it was sweet ... dumb, but sweet.  I was efforting and she appreciated the effort. 

So, as I reflect on the picture above and some of the history behind it, I want to encourage you to keep swinging.  When you do, chances are you may miss ... maybe even 1330 times.  But, at least you're on the field playing and not in the stands watching. You can hate failing, but you can’t fear it.  If you fear it, you’ll never show faith and without faith it is impossible to please God!  There will be times when you fail. Knowing that you are going to fail can free you up to do so because at least you tried and that’s what God is really concerned about.  Did you show faith?  Did you step up to the plate?  Did you put yourself out there?  Did you at least try?

Monday, November 3, 2014

What Would These Cabins Tell Us?

I recently officiated a wedding at a place called the Elkridge Furnace Inn in Howard County.  It's a beautifully restored home that has been turned in to a restaurant and a great spot for weddings.  The grounds are amazing.  The landscaping is beautiful.  The Patapsco River runs directly behind it creating some stunning scenery.  But then, in the middle of the lush grounds and restored home, there are these old, dilapidated cabins.  They seem to be so out of place.  It made me wonder why they were there.

After a little research (and hopefully I'm getting my history correct) during the Civil War, these cabins were used to house slaves who were a part of the Underground Railroad.  Now, the Underground Railroad was not really a railroad, but rather a secret route of safe houses used by Abolitionists to help slaves from southern states escape to free states. People risked their lives because of their desire to see people free.  And, so they opened up their homes or their barns or their fruit cellars or any place they had that could safely house a run-a-way slave and send him/her on to their freedom. 

I love history and I love looking at historical monuments, but the greater monument is the work that lives on.  The work and legacy of the Underground Railroad will far outlive any of the buildings that were used.  I doubt that many (if any) of the buildings are really being used today.  But, I'm sure that the legacy of the work lives on in the generations who watched their parents risk their lives for this cause and the lesson of standing up for the less fortunate has been passed on to future generations.  I'm sure the legacy of the work lives on in the generations who are now free and have opportunities they never would have had if someone wasn't willing to help them find their freedom.  

These things remind me, once again, to invest my best time and efforts in what will truly last.  How am I seeking to influence my family?  Am I living out Proverbs 20:7 which says, "The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them."  How am I trying to point others to Jesus?  How am I loving and honoring my wife? Am I setting a good example and trying to do more than is expected of me?  How am I seeking to invest in what matters most, not in what will fade with time?  These are questions I must answer honestly and evaluate regularly if I truly want to leave more behind than an insurance policy some old baseball cards and some items from my office.  No one ever gets to the end of their life and wishes they would have spent more time at work or made more money or built a bigger home.  You and I will not be the first.  Let's live for what will last.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What Is At Your Core

While in athletic training at Penn State University, we would always talk to our athletes about training their "core."  Your core muscles ... abs, hips, obliques, lower and middle back ... this is where power comes from.  A strong core allows you to generate power when you need it and speed when you need it.  A strong core allows you to change direction quickly when you need to.  And, it also helps prevent injury.  Even if you have strong "mirror muscles," and by that I mean the ones we like to flex in the mirror (biceps, triceps, chest, legs) ... you know, the ones you wish were as muscular as mine ... even if you have strong mirror muscles, one won't be as powerful as they could be if their core muscles are weak because the core is where the power comes from.  It doesn't matter what activity you're doing, strong core muscles will just help you perform better.

In life, I think it's the same, especially for men.  If our center is right, if our core is strong, we'll get the most out of life.  But, if all we're doing if focusing our efforts on those "mirror muscles" of life ... the things that may make us look good or even feel good, we will not be functioning at our highest level.

The picture above illustrates this.  I caught some of these thoughts from two guys: John Woodall and David Benner and I thought they were very powerful.  Men tend to run to 5 different areas to escape life or to find life:  

1) The Ball Field.  This represents a man's desire for recreation.  For some it's playing sports.  For others it's watching sports.  For others it's music or art or video games.  It's basically our hobbies and they can easily become a place of escape or a place of identity.

2) Our Brain.  It's our intellect, our ability to reason, our desire to sound like we know what we're talking about.  If I can prove myself through my capacity to reason or my ability to figure things out, a whole lot of respect can come with that. It's nice to feel like the smartest person in the room ... or so I've heard anyway.  Another way we use our brains is by philosophizing so much that we use it as a defense to keep people at bay and at such a distance that we never really let anyone in.

3) The Boardroom.  This is our job.  One of the very first things God did after creating Adam was give him a job.  He said "subdue the earth ... rule over it."  I believe God has placed within our souls a desire for something great or to be a part of something great.  This is not a bad thing.  But, as men, we know that it's really easy to get lost in our careers.  In the Bible I'm told to love my family and do my job.  The problem comes when I get that reversed ... when I love my job but just do my family.  

4) The Bedroom.  This represents our sexual desire.  When God created us, He gave us these desires and it's a beautiful thing!  My wife and I have 4 kids and I thoroughly enjoyed my part in making our each one of them!  But, as men, again we recognize that this God-given desire can become a place of escape or a place to try to find life.  A sexual conquest can make us feel powerful.  Pornography can give us the illusion of intimacy.  So much hurt can come out of this one area when used selfishly.

5) Our Bank Account.  God gives us the ability to make wealth.  So many are really good at this and can take a little and turn it in to a lot.  But, Psalm 62:10 reminds us that "though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them."  It's so easy for us to set our hearts on money because with money comes a sense of power.  

Here is the picture again.  Just a couple of observations.  First, these are the areas of life where men begin to compare and compete with each other.  We never win when we do this.  When we compare ourselves to other men, we'll either see them and think they are better than us (which can lead to a sense of shame and create envy).  Or we'll see them and think we're a whole lot better than them (which leads to a sense of pride and arrogance).  We never win when we compare.

Second, these are the areas of life where men wake up one day and realize how lonely and isolated they feel.  We are told that these things will give us life, but we find ourselves more isolated.  And, the reason we feel this way is because something is missing from this picture.  Can you see it?  What is missing is the "core."  The core is empty.  The core is weak.  One can be strong in all of those other areas and yet still be weak because strength does not come from any of these areas.  Our strength comes from our core and the only One capable of penetrating our core is Jesus.  

Sometimes we think that a rich and satisfying life happens by being strong in one or all of those 5 areas.  But, as people get older, they will often start to realize that all of those things are not what they thought they would be.  And, the same guys that made a ton of money when they were younger would cash it all in to get their family back or their marriage back or their life back.

We have an enemy who wants to steal what is most important to us, kill our closest relationships, and destroy the sense of authentic manhood that God has placed within us as men.  And, he does that by always trying to move one of those 5 areas to the center and moving Jesus to the extremities.  Those 5 areas were never meant to be the source of life and they will never hold up to that weight and pressure.  A full, meaningful, productive, purposeful life starts with Jesus at the core and allowing Him to saturate our very being.  He's the only One capable of carrying that weight and when He does, we'll discover that we are not (and were never meant to be) defined by what we do but rather by who we are ... a man who walks with Jesus ... a very son of the living God.

Those 5 areas were never meant to be the source of life, but they were designed to be expressions of life.  And, just like physically ... when our core is stronger, our extremities become stronger ... I believe it's the same in a spiritual sense.  When we allow Jesus to become the focus of our attention, the source of our life, the one who fills and strengthens our core ... when that happens, all of those other things only become stronger.  They finally become what they were meant to be all along.  

So, what is at your core?  It's a question you need to answer because your core determines the direction of everything else. 

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