Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Review

The year 2008 A.D. has been a productive year for me in terms of personal growth and happiness, in marked contrast to the previous two years. I have been compiling a list of things that have happened to me this year that I wanted to share. They are listed in no particular order, just as they streamed into my consciousness. If you had a positive or negative year overall, make definitive plans for how to take steps in the right direction in those areas of your life that are not where you want them to be. Then, take the first step. Good luck. Here, without further delay, is my list.
  1. Stopped smoking,
  2. Found a church,
  3. Joined a small group,
  4. Gotten involved in my church,
  5. Read over 30 books,
  6. Did significant volunteer work,
  7. Greatly increased my giving,
  8. No illicit sex with strangers,
  9. Made some friends,
  10. Learned to accept myself,
  11. Forgave my ex-wife,
  12. Forgave myself,
  13. Completed counseling,
  14. Came back toward equilibrium,
  15. Stopped drinking,
  16. Strengthened my relationship with my daughter,
  17. Looking for love,
  18. Came to terms with my position in life,
  19. Survived a fourth recurrence of my cancer,
  20. Started and continued on an exercise program,
  21. Had knee surgery,
  22. Lost 12 pounds (and counting),
  23. Strengthened my relationship with God,
  24. Developed some hobbies for the first time since I was a kid,
  25. Realized that work is not the most important thing in my life.
Each entry on this list, while comprised only of a few words, involved a lot of determination and hard work to deal with or overcome or move past the problem. All of the glory for my successes in each area belong to God and I give my love to those that helped me along the way (you know who you are). Here's hoping for continued success and growth in 2009. Peace be with you.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 Resolutions

For the past several years, I have attempted to lay out some New Year's resolutions, or at least define some specific hopes that I might have or set some goals to achieve for the upcoming year. As with most folks, I have had decidedly mixed results. I think that, by necessity, these types of resolutions should not be taken lightly. They are important in shaping who I want to be or where I want to be. Obviously I have thought of them to overcome some perceived deficiency, flaw, or need. It is probably not a good sign when I cannot attend to them properly, to give them enough attention to make some progress. It could be a sign of laziness, or of not having the energy to move away from the known or comfortable. Sometimes, the resolutions are not fully under my control. Sometimes they rely on help or cooperation from others. Looking back on my list of 7 resolutions from last year, I think that I had an amazing level of success, certainly much more than I did the year before. While I view my resolutions as private, I am happy to share a brief statistical analysis with you.
  • 5 resolutions were fully and satisfactorily accomplished.
  • 1 resolution is coming along nicely and will be fully accomplished over the coming months.
  • 1 resolution was a total failure as I am not sure how to make progress with it.
Looking back over the past year, how did you make out on the resolutions that you had established for yourself? A rousing, unqualified, pat-me-on-the-back success? A dismal, shameful, tail-between-your-legs failure? Somewhere in between?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Best Books of 2008

This past year, 2008, has been, for me, marked by a new interest, a new love. One that I certainly did not have in the past by any measure. My new love is reading. I have never been a big fan of reading in the past, too boring, too time consuming, too professorial. Why the looks of incredulousness? I was more a fan of napping, snacking, and watching T.V.. However this year, something within me changed. I have read over 30 grown-up type books, am in the middle of 4 right now, and have about 10 books in the to-read queue. What has changed you ask? I think that it's the type of book that I am reading and my thirst for knowledge about and answers to long-held questions. Many of the books that I have read this year were suggested by friends, and a few others were books that I sought out on a particular topic. I can honestly say that I have not wasted a moment of my time on any turkeys. Nope, not a one. Readers of my blog know that I keep a list of my book reads on Shelfari. A fun side benefit of my reading is to watch my bookshelf fill up. It brings me a small sense of accomplishment somehow. Anyway, I wanted to share my top ten list of best books that I have read this year (and give shout outs to those that turned me on to them). What books have touched you personally this year?
  • The Shack, William Young (recommended by Bill and Heidi Sprouse)
  • Darkness Visible - A Memoir of Madness, William Styron (recommended by Keith Solberg)
  • In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, Mark Batterson (Community Group book)
  • The Agape Road, Bob Mumford (recommended by Stew Diesel-Reynolds)
  • Crazy Love, Francis Chan (recommended by Rob Shepherd)
  • Growing Deep in the Christian Life, Charles Swindoll
  • The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
  • This Present Darkness, Frank Peretti (recommended by Robby Turner)
  • Wild Goose Chase, Mark Batterson
  • Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis (recommended by Robby Turner)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Four Stages of Lost

Christmas is supposed to be a serene time of peace on earth, love for your fellow man, good tidings of great joy. Suddenly out of nowhere, there is the sound of a tussle. I hear someone yelling out, "No mercy! I will beat you senseless.". Now, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Let me take you back to that fateful day, so long ago. Let me tell you how I lost my little girl in just 4 stages on Christmas day, December 25, 2008 (O.K., so it wasn't that long ago, but I am trying to build up some atmosphere, some drama).
Anyway, in stage 1, you can see my little girl when she came into the living room and saw all of the presents that Santa had left for her. Notice how cute and innocent she looks, a picture of excitement, you can almost hear Norman Rockwell crooning in the background (strange, he wasn't known for his singing). Fast forward the scene to just a few short moments later. In stage 2, she unwraps what is to become the source for all her affliction. It appears innocent enough at first glance, but this device bears the marking of the beast, "Wii". Just a few frames further on, we see in stage 3, this once cute, innocent girl trying to beat the snot out of some hapless simpleton who dared challenge her in the Wii boxing ring. This is no friendly sparring match, no low-key exhibition. Notice the fury in her eyes, the unbridled rage. By stage 4, my little one is a total zombie, unable to make complete sentences, unable even to ask for a glass of juice. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Nailed to the Cross

Several years ago at an Easter service at Central Methodist Church in Athens, OH, vivid reminders, in the form of long metal spikes, were given to each of us attending the service. The point was to fully understand and appreciate what Jesus Christ endured for each of us. He withstood the physical torture, he withstood the harsh, vindictive, and hateful words, and he withstood those closest to him denying his name. If that was not enough, he allowed himself to be arrested and murdered. He allowed his own people to reject him and hang him on a cross to die in one of the most inhumane ways man has ever dreamed up to kill their own kind. Long metal spikes were pounded through his hands and feet that day at Golgotha to affix him to that cross, followed by long hours of unimaginably excruciating pain. He did this for you and he did this for me. In this time of year, remember what Christmas is really about. Certainly take the time to celebrate your family and friends, exchange gifts, go to social functions, but be certain to find some quiet time to put Jesus Christ foremost in your thoughts, foremost in your mind. Giving him some leftovers just before you fall asleep, is never good enough, especially now. Remember what this is all about and honor him with your thoughts and prayers. I keep that spike on my desk where, from time to time, it serves to remind me of the truth.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lot Full

During the Christmas season (or the holiday season as many would like to say), we tend to become inwardly focussed. There is so much to do, so many expectations to fulfill. We are faced with shopping for presents for family, extended family, friends, and co-workers. There are lots of holiday parties and get-togethers, there is travel, decorating, cooking, eating, and entertaining. The list goes on and on and we are stretched thin - we really have it rough. With all of this festive holiday cheer, we never get a break. How we long for some time to be alone and relax, away from all the hubbub and commotion.

Do we realize just how fortunate we really are lost in this existence of holiday fever? We complain, we groan, we force a smile and bear up under the onus of our heavy loads and responsibilities. However, I think that we have lost touch with the world around us, the reality that surrounds us. Driving past the hospital the other day while out on a Christmas errand, I noticed that the parking lot was full. You know what, it always is. It doesn't matter what day of the year it is. Death, pain, sickness, and suffering never take a break. These are tireless foes who never stop their onslaught. Some of the cars in the lot belong to folks who are hovering over their loved ones praying for another day, some belong to those who are alone and scared, some belong to those who won't get the chance to drive them home. I would bet that many of these folks would give their last dime to change places with you, to bear up under your loads. So, realize how good you have it, how much you are blessed. Give thanks for your good fortune and pray for those who have to face the full parking lot.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My First Christmas

The preacher and his family were driving past a ubiquitous nativity setup the other day. He asked his kids who was in the manger, a check on their understanding of the real meaning behind the entire Christmas season. With excitement they answered, "the baby Moses!". This conversation was the basis for his message the following week, namely, who's in the manger? Do we really understand what this season is all about, or more properly, who this season is all about? As for me, I have just now started to figure it out. So much so that I believe that this Christmas will be my first real Christmas, the first where I understand what it truly represents, the person that we are supposed to be focussing on and giving glory to. That person is Jesus Christ, and the Christmas season is an opportunity for us to celebrate his birth, how he lived his life, and how he died for us as the perfect sin offering.

Going through my life, there have been a number of seasons of Christmas.

  • Childhood: It was all about me and my love for presents.
  • College: The hustle and bustle with exams and then decompressing and relaxing before the start of the next semester.
  • Marriage: Focussing on the needs of my wife and daughter, dealing with family commitments. Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by the obligations and the frenetic pace.

Each of these different seasons was marked by a unique brand of selfishness and a misplaced focus. This year I celebrate my first Christmas, focussed on my Lord and Savior.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Colors of Life

Daddy, can we? Maybe next weekend sweetheart, Daddy is real tired. Can I get things out of the closet? Not now please, you will make a mess. I tried to put it off, to delay the moment. I had to eventually look at myself in the mirror and ask why? This year, like the past few, I have faced some deep-seated, inner termoil during the Christmas season when it came to putting up the Christmas tree. Things just haven't been the same for me since my divorce. The Christmas season was a time for family, a time for all of us to look forward to and celebrate together. Now that it is just me and my daughter, it seems that bringing that box out of the closet just serves to highlight my loss, my failure, my depression. Each year it brought out memories that I was trying to bury, to lose, to out run. This year really could have continued the cycle in full force, just like the last few. However, as I searched myself, I didn't feel the same breadth of hurt, the same dread. Funny how time and prayer can increase the distance, diminish the pain, and bring about relief and healing. I think that the biggest realization that I have come to this year is that it is not all about me. It never was. With a new perspective and a new found peace, the colors can return to your life.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Belief to Believe

Where do our core beliefs come from? Think about the things you truly hold dear, are passionate about, are willing to fight for. The basic tenets that define what you are all about. You've probably already been able to rattle off 3 or 4 of these right off the top of your head. That's great. But where did these core beliefs come from, what was their source? Did you learn them from your parents or your peer group? Did you carefully hone them over a period of many years to turn them from carbon into diamond? When I talk to folks about the things that they have very strong opinions about, they have the ability to defend them with such strong convictions that it is clear that these beliefs are woven into their fabric. They are an organic part of them. This has always amazed me. I seem to work so much differently than anyone else that I have come across. In fact, it seems that I did not come with any core beliefs factory installed on my hard drive. The oddest look comes over my face (kind of like I have gas) when someone catches me off guard and asks me what I think or feel about something. I have no thoughts or feelings most of the time on any given topic until I first find out what others believe so that I have a pool of ideas to choose from. I approach it like making selections from a chinese menu. I take one idea from column A, another from column B, and form the ideas of others into something that only then becomes a part of me. I think that I require some boundary conditions defined by other people before I can define what I believe. Am I alone in my strategy or am I a robot from the planet CrEmi-NuGat V?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Answer the Call III

Today's blog is the last of my three-part series entitled "Answer the Call". I have been musing about spiritual gifts. So that I don't leave discerning my true spiritual gifts to chance (or even to God), I figured that I should take a 100% fool-proof test that is scientifically accurate and guaranteed or your money back. Anyway, the test is from an outfit called Disciple Making Ministry (DMM) and was passed on to me by my good friend Bill ("Bill") Sprouse. If you follow the link, you too can figure out what you are supposed to be doing. Anyway, the results of my test are given below. The y-axis is a linear scale. The higher the rating, the more strongly you are gifted in the listed categories (as you can see, there are 20 areas rated).

Looking at the results, it is clear that I should not be allowed to come in contact with anyone at any time! Tis not my blessing, dearie. My top three gifts apparently are writing (me write good!), leadership, and prayer. Hmmm, very interesting, now I have a clear mandate from God (or at least the folks at DMM). Watch out y'all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Answer the Call II

As I view things, finding out what our true spiritual gifts are can be an awkward journey. There are those who believe that this discovery process is one of the most exciting adventures a person can have with God. Spiritual gifts are abilities that God has endowed every believer with for the good of the body of Christ. Truth be told, I am just now starting to figure out what my true gifts are. There are certainly things that I do, like volunteering to help with tear down of our church at one of its remote locations. But is this my gift? I am not so sure. It is certainly a necessary and important job, but I surmise that pretty much any able-bodied person could do it. Am I supposed to be doing other things where I can uniquely effect people? I don't know, maybe I should be doing something that would bring in new people or strengthen those that are having troubles. What about stepping up to do things that I might not necessarily like to do, but need to be done. Is this my gift? The bottom line is that there is only one way to find out. We must explore, and not just in those places where we are fully in our element. We need to try a number of different things to find out where we are supposed to be, where God is calling us to be, where our piece of the puzzle really fits.

So that you can at least appreciate my struggle to listen to God's call, I have volunteered to help out at the WEC church office contacting folks who are seeking information. I can't tell you just how uncomfortable I am doing this work. There are moments when I would rather walk down Jefferson Avenue during rush hour wearing a loud (but tasteful) dress than do this type of work. But I think the Lord has asked me to step up, to answer the call. I invite you to do the same. There is no time like the present. I think it boils down to the fact that our ultimate goal in life is not to be happy or content or even satisfied, it is to glorify God. (Part 2 of 3)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Answer the Call I

At my Waters Edge Church (WEC) Community Group meeting a few weeks back, we were having a discussion regarding our spiritual gifts. These amount to the skills and passions that we are blessed with to help spread the gospel of the Lord. While by all metrics I am a highly educated person, I have always felt that my main spiritual gift is, well, staying out of the way. Hah. Seriously, I feel most comfortable doing physical labor or routine office tasks that, while important and necessary, kind of keep me in the shadows. I used to tell folks who would press me on my religious beliefs to leave me alone - religion is a personal thing. How's that for spreading the good news! After some reflection on this matter, I think it all boils down to the fact that I am highly agoraphobic. I think my fear of being around other folks has led to a strong reluctance on my part to think that I could have any special skills or passions about talking in public about my faith or beliefs. So, when the subject of ministry as a spiritual discipline was discussed in group, I stated that it was clearly not one of my gifts.

It's funny how God takes what you think you could never do and turns it on its ear. You say no, no, no - he says yes, yes, yes. You say no way - he says way. It was only a few days after I had this discussion that I got a call from WEC asking if I would participate in a video testimony. I said yes as I immediately understood that even though I was being asked by WEC staffer Brian Miller, it was actually God doing the talking. The video was shown at the services on Nov. 30, 2008. I will let you be the judge of how effective I was. Regardless (or as the scholars say, "irregardlessly") if I mumbled, said nothing useful, or even made a fool of myself, I stepped up and answered God's call. Will you? (Part 1 of 3)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


My office at work doubles as a critically acclaimed fine art gallery. There are no Bruegels, Van Goghs, Rembrandts, or Brassaus (O.K. you got me on that last one. Brassau, as in Pierre Brassau, was acknowledged as a master until it was revealed that he was, in fact, a chimpanzee). However, the featured artist is quite well known to me. I call her Maddie. I am not dropping names here to appear suave and sophisticated. I call her Maddie because that is her name. You see, Maddie is my 10 year old daughter. Over the years she has provided me with many wonderful masterpieces to display in my office. In fact, I have more pieces than I have wall space. Some are simple, some are colorful, and some are quite complex. Maddie has gone through several noticeable phases in her work. There was the fingerpaint phase, the spiral phase, the, errr, eclectic phase. Each one is unique, but signature Maddie.

Several years ago when my office gallery was situated in Ohio, a person came to visit me and commented on my extensive art collection. This was not all that unusual of an occurrence. However, this particular connoisseur actually made an offer to buy one of the pieces that had tickled his fancy. When I told Maddie about this, it was such a thrill for her. It somehow validated her work well beyond any praise that I could give. This was an independent, outside judge - an outside judge offering cold, hard simoleons! Maddie still reminds me of this episode every now and then. She has authorized me to tell you that if you are interested in any of the items from her extensive catalog, have your people call her people. (Cash only. No dealers please.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Birds and Bees

Folks, given my advanced age, I am closer to the off-ramp now than to the on-ramp. However, I feel like I am incomplete. I feel that there is something that I should have learned long ago, but I missed out on it - never got the inside scoop. My mummy and papa never sat me down and had that talk with me. You know the one, about, hmmm, what to call it, the one about the birds and bees. Actually, I could not imagine a more awkward conversation. I can picture my parents trying to make do with the standard euphemisms, while I, sitting in my footie pajamas, have focussed every ounce of energy trying to make lightning strike me or trying to spontaneously combust so that I could get the heck out of there. Ack. The thought of this scene makes me itchy. Talk about your heebie-jeebies! On a serious note, I have a 10 year old daughter. I have tried my level best to teach her right from wrong, to bring her up with strong moral values, to be a positive role model in her life. However, I feel totally inadequate and totally uncomfortable even thinking about having the talk with her, my precious baby. My instinct is to stick my head deep in the sand and only emerge when the all-clear signal is sounded 20 years from now.

I have visited the web site of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology for some help. Their advice in this area is to: i). encourage your child to talk and ask questions, ii). maintain a calm and non-critical atmosphere for discussions, iii). use words that are understandable and comfortable, iv). try to determine your child's level of knowledge and understanding, v). keep your sense of humor and don't be afraid to talk about your own discomfort, vi). relate sex to love, intimacy, caring, and respect for oneself and one's partner, vii). be open in sharing your values and concerns, viii). discuss the importance of responsibility for choices and decisions.

Despite my total discomfort and reluctance to talk to my daughter, I know that all of this is too important to ignore and avoid. I can't shirk my responsibility and leave this for others. I know what I must do. Please pray for me to finally be the mature grown up that I am supposed to be, but in the mean time, I need to call mummy to find out about this bird and bee business, it's about time I found out too.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Family Values

Today I want to touch on a prickly subject. The subject is homosexuality, and more specifically, homosexual marriage laws. It is entirely possible that my words will make me sound confused, at odds with the scriptures. The topic is one that I wrestle with and perhaps care more about than most men would dare confess in public (but that never stopped me before). The subject matter at hand is one that is constantly in the news - modern culture and politics view this as a hot button issue. It was not too long ago when a presidential election was decided, in part, on the issue of "Family Values". There is a constant battle between the homosexual community and the straight community about laws relating to same sex "unions" (egad, we can't use the word "marriage"). California passed a law allowing these unions to take place with the assurance that they would be legally respected and recognized. After less than six months, the law was overturned. I know the one side will bring the issue back, followed by a counterattack from the other side, and on it goes. What are folks so afraid of, so threatened by, that they would go at the other side with such ferocity? When I try to talk to people about the subject, I tend to see only open hostility and hatred. I don't get the feeling that the battle raging has anything to do with religion or religious beliefs. It has to do with differences. All of us divide the world into "us" and "them". We tend to believe that our ways are the norm, and anything else, anything different, is unnatural, and must be done away with. Personally, I do not think about this issue along the usual path. On the one hand I have the word of the Bible: "Don't have sex with a man as one does with a woman. That is abhorrent." (Leviticus 18:22). On the other hand I feel for people who have found love, true love. This is a gift that comes along so very rarely. I feel the anguish, pain, and conflict for those people who have found their sole mate and the world wants to extinguish them. Is there no middle ground here? Does my sympathy signal tacit allegiance with the them's against the us's?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pain is Essential II

We've come to understand that pain in a Christian life is essential. Do you ever look back on a painful situation that ultimately led to some positive change in your life and ask if it was worth it? Do you ever count the cost? Do a simple cost/benefit analysis? If you could unwind the clock and reclaim what was lost - the spouse, the friend, the job, the victory - would you do it knowing what you would give up, what you would forfeit from your current life?

Let me be specific to give you something to chew on. Personally, I have known God, I mean really had a close relationship with him, only for about 3 years. It all began when I was at the lowest point in my life. My wife had just told me, after 10 years of marriage, that she was done with me. I was lost in such a dark place, such a lonely place, that I simply wanted out. I wanted the end - my end. I felt like my life was too far gone to be saved. I was broken and worthless. It was only at this point, my nadir, that I was finally able to hear God speak to my heart. I would not have come to know him as I have if I not gone through this living hell.

So, was this a fair deal? Does the benefit outweigh the cost? On one side of the balance is a life with God, on the other, my wife and the life I knew. There was no way to have both. Truly I say to you, it is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply. What do you think?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pain is Essential I

An interesting section in the book Man to Man by Charles Swindoll tells us that pain is essential to our lives. It is a mechanism, maybe the mechanism that God uses to bring us closer to him. The scriptural basis for this is in Psalms 119.

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep thy word. It was good for me to be afflicted that I may learn.

Oftentimes God does not get our attention until we are flat on our backs, down for the count. It is not until our will, our pride, our stubbornness, are beaten out of us that we have eyes to see and ears to hear. A.W. Tozer said "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.". Suffering and pain are necessary for us, essential to soften our spirits and to allow us to come to a point where we can be moved by the spirit and be able to hear that "still, small voice".

How have the major setbacks in your life shaped you for the good? As you look back and consider these experiences with a critical eye, knowing what you know now, were they worth it? Would you willingly submit to the pain if you knew what would come out of it? What if it brought you face to face with God? Stay tuned, more to come.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Peer Pressure

There is so much written and said about peer pressure. It has been an important focus, and rightly so, of parents and psychologists for many, many years. So many good kids have been led astray by this hideous beast. They end up doing things that they know are absolutely wrong, absolutely sinful. They hurt themselves, they hurt their friends, they hurt their families. In an instant they tear down walls of trust that took years to erect. The frustrating thing is that we tend to give into peer pressure to impress or gain approval from our "friends". Our friends, the people that we would like to think have our best interests in mind. Have a drink, take this pill, steal that, intimidate them, have sex -- man just loosen up. Why is it that we think we need the approval of anyone who encourages us to do something, anything, that we know in our hearts is wrong? Why don't we think about how damaging our actions can be to those that we love? Is it that we feel that our reputation in our circle of friends is that important? If we lose this friend we won't have any others? Is it the boredom or the thrill? The mindset is so focussed on the here and now, this moment, this instant, that we are willing to release an important part of us. If you are on the inside, your decision to go along makes so much sense, hey it's no big deal. If you are on the outside looking in, these decisions make no sense at all. Of course none of us are immune to the temptations of the beast. Learn to trust your inner feelings and walk away. You are too important to be discarded or used. It is so trite, so hackneyed, but "just say no". It really can be this simple. Surround yourselves with people and situations where you know you will be protected and loved. Learn to respect what you have learned, respect your family, and most importantly, respect yourself.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hold On

What do you hold onto? Are there things that mean so much to you that you can never let them go? Memories, gifts, scents, photographs, money? Some things that we lock onto can lead to our undoing, they can be the taproot for sin to seep into all corners of our life. Other things can keep us connected closely to those we love and can strengthen our spirit.

When I came back to Virginia a couple of years ago and moved into my new office, my daughter drew a picture on my whiteboard of the two of us standing together under a colorful umbrella. The drawing is still there to this day. It really symbolizes our strength and unity together - always standing side by side. Our bond is a shield that protects us from the slings and arrows of the outside world. We know that we always have each other to lean on in times of trouble - always have the other to laugh with in times of joy. Her drawing remains as colorful and vibrant today as when it was drawn. Time has not overshadowed its message. What do you hold onto? Things that bring light into your world or things that bring in darkness?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Case for Science

Folks who know me, know I am a scientist, more specifically, a physicist. Physics is my vocation, as well as my avocation (i.e. not just a job but an adventure). It is one of the things that defines who I am. In fact, truth be told, I have known exactly what I wanted to do for as far back as I can remember. In my line of work, I am constantly asked to describe what I do to non-experts in the field (i.e. soccer moms and non-maverick types). This has always proven very difficult and awkward for me. My research is quite intricate and complex, and when I try to describe it, my own words make my ears bleed. My blather seems so esoteric that I fear I am doing my field an injustice. As your typical scientist is a nerd, with either bad acne or white poofy hair and a mustache, we are not known as being the most personable, outgoing folks on the planet. So we try to leave justifying our work to paid professionals. Those who lobby on our behalf in Washington D.C. (and yes there are many of these folks skittering around in the congressional shadows), lay out arguments like: Physics matters because it stands where wonder at the workings of the world meets our practical demands ... Physics matters because issues of understanding and practicality rarely stay apart for long. However, congress members are not blind to our manipulative ways. I found a quote a couple of years ago from former senator Sherwood Boehlert who stated "The argument that science funding is a long-term national investment does nothing to set scientists apart (from other special interests). All that sets you apart is that scientists are the only group that thinks it's making a unique argument."

What do you think about our government supporting basic science? Do you feel that this support is in our best national interest? Is important for mankind? Is a total waste and there are much better ways that we could allocate these funds? Weigh in if you have an opinion.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Revisit the Past

The other day I was minding my own business, keeping to myself, not getting in anybody's way. Out of nowhere I hear a beep on my computer signaling that I had just received a new email. The message was from a researcher in Germany who had some questions about a paper that I published some time ago. In fact, the paper was based on my Ph.D. thesis project. I set about answering the questions when I realized that it would be best to send them a copy of my thesis for reference. I went to the directory where all of the files for my thesis are kept and realized that I could not create an electronic file from what I had. In fact, it took me about 3 days to take what I had and whip it into shape so that I had a document suitable for transmittal. During this rework, I came across a few typos, some grammatical errors, and some style problems that I could not believe escaped my careful inspections lo those many years ago. Looking back at this moment from the past caused me some pain and anguish.

This exercise made me think about looking back on my actions of the past. I would like to think that I try to conduct myself in all sitations with the attitude that I would not be ashamed for anyone to know what I did or said. In short, I should not be disturbed by anyone taking a closer look at my behavior or actions in any situation. Of course this is what I would like to think. In reality, my behavior, action, and words in way too many past situations would cause me to sink in shame, cringe in embarrassment, or shake in disgust. Can any of us look back at moments of our past without any shame, embarrassment, or disgust? We all know the answer to this question. The solution is to take time to think more carefully about what you do and say before you act. Trust me, it is very hard (i.e. nearly impossible) to take back hurtful words or undo selfish acts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bad Day

I came across the following hilarious, amazing, and unique but true story in the book Man to Man by Charles Swindoll. So you think you've had a bad day? Compare your story to this poor guy who filed the following work accident report.

When I got to the building I found that the hurricane had knocked off some bricks around the top. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels full of bricks. When I had fixed the damaged area, there were a lot of bricks left over. Then I went to the bottom and began releasing the line. Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was much heavier than I was -- and before I knew what was happening the barrel started coming down, jerking me up.

I decided to hang on since I was too far off the ground by then to jump, and halfway up I met the barrel of bricks coming down fast. I received a hard blow on my shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers pinched and jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground hard, it burst its bottom, allowing the bricks to spill out.

I was now heavier than the barrel. So I started down again at high speed. Halfway down I met the barrel coming up fast and received severe injuries to my shins. When I hit the ground, I landed on the pile of spilled bricks, getting several painful cuts and deep bruises. At this point I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of my grip on the line. The barrel came down fast -- giving me another blow on my head and putting me in the hospital.

So, count your blessings my friends!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Two Arms, Two Arms!

hate - verb (used with object) - to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest.

This word completely describes my feelings, it is perfect. Couldn't say it better. Dislike intensely? Yup. Passionate feelings? Got those. Extreme aversion? You read my mind. Extreme hostility? My, yes. Detest? Lordy, lordy. What could bring about all of this emotion? Just what is it that is givin' me them ol' down in the dumps I gotta scream out blues? Well, listen up. I HATE having my arms and hands too full. Sometimes I think that I can handle it. I figure, I can save a trip, walk a few less steps, save a few seconds. Then I load up my arms and hang onto a different object with each finger. Everything is threatening to drop to the ground with each step. I look like some cheap department store Christmas tree. The ensuing feelings are overwhelming. I begin to mutter to myself and I don't care who hears me, yeah, you heard me, I don't care. I stomp my feet and wrinkle my face. Veins start to pop out on my forehead. They throb, they pulsate. Why, oh why didn't I just make two trips. Maybe next time I will learn, I will remember. Nah, probably not.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Furniture Apologies

I have read a number of books on the topic of developing spiritual disciplines. These include Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines and Charles Swindoll's So You Want to be Like Christ?. I will not go into a discussion of the spiritual disciples today. Today I want to remind you of the old adage "practice makes perfect". Think of a pro golfer practicing his putting stroke hundreds upon hundreds of times to develop what is known in the business as "muscle memory". The same approach is entirely appropriate and relevant for the spiritual disciplines. Practice makes perfect. Really the point is that most spiritual disciplines are a pain in the gluteus maximus, that is to say that they are not normally a natural part of who we are. Instead, we must mindfully approach them with nuturing and patience like a timid bunny that might skitter away at any moment into the underbrush. We must realize that anything worth obtaining or anything worth mastering will take time. Remember it is a journey.

All of this discussion so far is well and good. My main point today is, however, to brag. It is about me. One of the disciplines, I have down cold. It is so imbred into my coding that no processing or thought is required. What is my special spiritual gift? Well, I am one of those folks, who if they bump into something, immediately offers an apology or an "excuse me". Apparently, it does not matter if the other party is a pope, a Fuller Brush man (this allusion probably goes over the heads of most folks), or, in my case, a piece of furniture. I have given so many apologies to furniture that I have bumped into, that an objective observer might think that I am a few figs short of a newton. I also noticed today, sadly, that when I sneeze, I immediately say excuse me, even when I am driving alone in my car. This makes me wonder what other disciplines I have mastered ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What, Me Worry?

There are huge chunks of my life that are infected by worry. The truth is that all of this worry, really worries me. The issue that I am struggling with is that by allowing worry to control areas of my life, I am reducing God to the size of my biggest worry. To get around this limit to my piety, I tend to play silly games. I try to reclassify my feelings. Oh, it's not worry that I am dealing with, it's concern, it's grieving a loss, it's self-pity. Thinking about it, I find that I tend not to worry too much about things that I view as more under my control, things that directly depend on my actions, my effort, my words. These I am very comfortable praying about and then handling. What really churns in my heart, my mind, and my gut are those things that are totally out of my control. Those things that are contingent on the actions of others. I pray over and over again, I can pray until I am sick of the sound of my own voice, but I never really turn it over to God. I hold onto it tightly. I am fearful that I really have let the size of my problems define the size of my God.

There are some relevant notes in scripture that folks like to point to about worry.

  • Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Matthew 6:27;
  • Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34;
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7.

While I do appreciate these verses, especially those from Philippians, I think that my favorite comes from Charles Swindoll. In this book, So You Want to be Like Christ?, he provides this simple prayer: Lord, this is your problem to fix. You take control. Let me know what you want me to do if I'm to be involved in the solution. By leaving it with you, I will consider it solved. Amen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Skunk Juice

I needed money badly see. I was running on flat broke, flat broke. I was down n' out and out n' down. I was living on the edge and falling fast. Let me take you back a ways, a long ways. It was during the summer after my freshman year in college. I thought that I was some know-it-all, but I was just a punk kid. Down on his luck and running scared. I needed some scratch, so I did what anyone in my position would do, I got a job that would raise me some dough. It was actually at Pizza Hut. The problem is, the Pizza Hut gig was my night job. I moonlighted during the day at a major defense contractor testing sonar cabinets for nuclear submarines. But that is another story. The real issue is that after working for the man all day and at Pizza Hut all night, I was a total, certified zombie by the time I completed the books, cleaned up the store, and made the night deposit. I was unintelligible, I grunted alot, and didn't care if people saw me scratching myself in public. I had this same schedule day after day, for the entire summer.

Anyhoo, one night my oldest brother tells me that he will come and get me at 3:00 a.m. from the store and give me a ride home if I will toss a pizza his way. This sounds like a crummy deal from his side, but you should have seen the meatballs that I loaded up on that bad boy. When it came out of the oven, I swear you could hear a heavenly choir singing. Change the scene. I am all done, my brother has his pizza, and we are driving home. He was really bookin' down a windy side road, all windows open and the night air blowing in our faces. In my hand I have a Mountain Dew in a jumbo to-go cup. My brother rounds a curve and there in the middle of our lane, almost smiling at us, is a big old polecat. In my delerious state of total sleep deprivation, I close my eyes and shriek like a 13 year old girl at a horror film, but only with less manliness. My brother deftly swerves the vehicle around the skunk, but in my panic I splash my Mountain Dew all over my face and shirt. I let out an ear-piercing yell, "Skunk Juice -- I'm hit!". My brother nearly steers his vehicle into a ditch because he is doubled over in total laughter. After he catches his breath, he coolly reaches into his pizza box and pulls out a slice of pie. He savors the taste and all is quiet once again. I slink down into my seat, cold, moist, and clinically dead, hoping, just hoping that this was all a bad dream.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fish Chunks

As a loving and devoted father, I am always trying to get my daughter to experience new things, new food dishes, different traditions, art and architecture of foreign places. A necessary experience to foster worldliness, appreciation for other cultures, an introduction to new ideas, and an opportunity to embrace the differences among us. Sounds like I should be up for a father of the year award, right? Well, hold up just a minute. I feel compelled to tell you something before the big award presentation. I have been rethinking my position about all this culture crap. Why? Well it all started when I began to think that if I am going to make my daughter try new things, then I should be willing (and, yes, eager) to try new things myself. O.K., picture the scene, I am in the Netherlands walking about through quaint villages with some friends. The greatest delicacy known to these people is fresh herring, caught right out of the myriad streams that interlace the country side. They are then served up immediately to the drooling throngs. So, I step up to the plate (hah). I am not a big lover of seafood (or food that stares back at me either for that matter), but I agree to try the local favorite. I am going to be brave. Yes for once in my life, I am going to be a man. I place my order, the vendor hands me my, err, treat, and I am ready to put my money where my mouth is. I take a bite and chew. Three, two, one, ... wait for it ..., I blow chunks everywhere. The side of the vendor's cart, the vendor's shoes, in short, all over the blessed quaint village. Funny, the locals did not act upset. In fact, the entire episode seemed to be a great source of mirth for them. I am beginning to suspect that, perhaps, this raw fish isn't really a local delicacy, but a huge joke perpetrated by the cursed Netherland-ians on unsuspecting and gullible tourists. But my point is, forget about all this openness to cultures and other's traditions, if it smells or looks in the least bit funny, run like the wind Bullseye.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Beware - I Have Gas

Sometimes something silly enters into my brain that resonates within my cerebral humoritoral lobe (that portion of the brain that controls hilarity). The result is a good chuckle. I wanted to share one item that I really enjoyed. Here at the laboratory where I work, we often use bottles of compressed gas, i.e. cylinders containing gas at incredible pressures. You can think of them as bombs in a convenient package adorned with pretty stickers, but of course there are other dangers present too. One of which is that in a confined space, if the bottles leak, they can quickly displace the available oxygen, which could kill you in a couple of minutes (and maybe, if you are lucky, cause you to foam at the mouth). Anyway, safety is a big deal at the lab, and we have safety personnel "up the wazoo" (which means, as far as I can tell, up the butt or with great abundance -- I will let you choose your preference) who are charged with making at least one new safety regulation per hour per person or armed goons with kill their house pets in a most extreme manner. Anyway, I digress. The safety folks have posted signage in all elevators on site that states emphatically: "Personnel are not to accompany gas cylinders on the elevators". I came across a handwritten note in one elevator that was meant as a reply (or challenge) that said "How will they know which button to push for their floor?". I liked this. Silly, inane, and with a touch of anarchy (due to the graffiti element).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Big Reveal

God does not need to shout, a whisper will suffice. Neither does he need to speak as if to children, Christians must learn to understand the parables. He does not need to perform miracles one upon the other for all to see, his infinite power is obvious in the world around us and the stars above. It should be clear that the unbeliever, the agnostic, the self-absorbed, the self-righteous, the egoist, the lazy, the hate-filled could see every miracle in his arsenal and still find a way to turn away from his truth, his gospel. They will not open their hands for gifts, their mouths for food, or their eyes to see. Watching the reactions of these types goes against all logic, all rational thinking. How could anyone witness all of his glory and still turn from him, denying themselves the opportunity of finding eternal peace, eternal love, and eternal joy? This is an opportunity to have a never-ending relationship with the maker of the universe, the king of kings, and the lord of lords.

I have just finished reading the book The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. While the book is over 50 years old, it is an amazing read - not an iota of the work is dated or out of touch with "modern" thinking. While is it fiction, the allegory of a Christian's life after death is a tool that Lewis uses to literary perfection. The message is clear, focus your attention on what matters, leave the unimportant, erroneous, and petty ways behind, and follow the Lord without distraction. However, in the end, not all can be saved from themselves.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Good News, Bad News

A dose of good news is needed to offset a dose of bad news. I need to focus on things sometimes, not just give them a cursory glance. Sometimes when I read something important, I go back and read it again out loud or write it down and go over it a couple of times. This can really help me to better grasp an idea or to wrestle with something in a way that can give me the upper hand (at least intellectually). Passages from Galatians 5:19-24. (These ideas were inspired from Charles Swindoll's book, So You Want to be Like Christ?.)

The raw realities of sin (aka The Bad News):

... repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods, magic show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-comsuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.

The sweet fruit of the Spirit (aka The Good News):

... affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Remember the Monkey

I have noticed an annoying and hypocritical tendency of mine. I have had a number of bad habits through the years (thanks for asking, but I hardly think this is any of your business), which I have worked hard on extricating from my life. Of course this is the good news. The annoying and hypocritical aspect of today's discussion is that I find myself rashly judging others who are still slaves to these exact same habits. I look down on these folks with a totally haughty (now there's a good word) attitude, as if I am so much better than them. How disgusting they are, how petty, how common, how lower class.

I often pray that the Lord will reveal areas in my life that I need to work on, and this is one area that rises to the top. When I catch myself in one of my mental diatribes against those people, I need to chill (an expression used by some hip youngsters I saw on T.V.). I need to realize that I was once afflicted by the same problems, I had the same monkeys on my back. I need to search my memories and remember how the habits arose in my own life and controlled me and give some space and some understanding.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Brain Smell

The brain is an amazing hunk of matter, isn't it? It has the incredible ability to encounter something and then to store it away for days or weeks or even sometimes for countless years. Subconsciously, and at times unexpectedly, it can be triggered to pull out these memories and then flood the body with an exquisite and palpable recreation of a past experience. I am reminded of a specific instance of this in my life. A long time ago, I was courting (now that's an old-fashioned word!) this wonderful girl. In the evening, she would take a shower. During this time, I would anxiously wait downstairs for her to finish. The anticipation of seeing her again, holding her hand, and talking with her into the night was electric. One of the things I remember clearly is the smell of her shampoo when she first opened the bathroom door. It was the smell of clean, of renewal, of anticipation. Every now and again, I will encounter this same smell as I am walking along and I am transported back to this place, this situation, and this time from so long ago. I feel like I am lifted out of my dreary present world, even if only for a moment. Of course I have to come back, albeit resistantly, but I always return with a memory that connects me again to myself and to the past. Indeed, an amazing hunk of matter.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

WEC Journey

When I came back to VA two years ago, I was a broken man. The kind of broken that couldn't be undone by any cure except the passage of time. One thing that I left behind in OH was a wonderful church -- Central Methodist. In VA, I ached to find a new church home. I needed that connection with God and that special, unique brand of Christian fellowship. I had never "church shopped" before and I was totally out of my element. I had no clue as to how I should begin. What I found were congregations with about 50 folks whose mean age was at least 125, music that was lifeless, sermons that were white noise to my ears (and yes, I realize this sounds like a harsh assessment, but it was my perception). Lost, defeated, and adrift I gave up after several months and a half dozen churches.

Fast forward to Feb. 2008. I was looking for a cabinet for my home. After a search that had consumed countless online hours, I found what I wanted. I made a beeline to the furniture store and inspected a floor model - it was stunning. I made my purchase and arranged for delivery. Two days later I get a call and am told that the piece was closed out and no more are in stock. In fact, the floor model that I looked at was already gone. They set up to refund my money. This episode lingered in my mind and ate at me. I didn't know why, but it was somehow more than the furniture. After a couple of days, I was moved to go back to the store, I don't know, maybe a trust but verify kind of thing. In retrospect, this was quite unlike me. Walking into the showroom, I was surprised to see that the floor model that I had studied just a few days earlier was right where I had left it. I talked to a very nice salesperson and just for the heck of it, she checked on its availability. Curiously, this piece had not been set aside for anyone. She told me that it was mine if I wanted it.

As I was arranging for delivery, I told the salesperson that I live on Waters Edge Dr. Her face lit up as she set about telling me about Waters Edge Church. She told me over the course of the next 30 minutes (in no uncertain terms) that I would definitely not be disappointed if I showed up. Attending to other customers was definitely not forefront in her mind as she told me about the people, the pastor, the music, the messages, and the laughter. She even went out to her car and gave me her program from earlier in the day (it was a Sunday). Her enthusiasm and generosity were wonderfully received and much needed in my life. I left the store with an entirely new attitude and spirit. Somehow I knew that my search was over.

It may seem silly, but I definitely feel that God's hand was on me, leading me to Waters Edge. Ten months after my first visit, I feel totally at home and am finding my place. This is where I am supposed to be. My beautiful cabinet sits in a prominent place in my home, and is a constant reminder of the watchful oversight of the great Shepherd.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Road Rage!!

I have a problem with road rage. Now before you edge away from me, note for the record that my nostrils are not flaring. I'm not the sort to go so far as to get out of my car and engage in fisticuffs, to yell out my window, or to employ an uplifted middle finger (i.e. the "bird"). However, I am the sort who can carry a negative encounter with me for hours. Typical symptoms include headache, tightness across the chest, and upset stomach. People just seem so selfish when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Their me-first attitudes are so freakin' obvious. I would guess that only about 20% of people actually even attempt to use their danged turn indicators. How about those ninnies that pull into your lane at the last second as you are slowing down at a red light or Johnny lane-changer who thinks that his car will explode if he stays in one lane for more than 2 blasted seconds? What about those jerks who poke along, holding everyone up, but when they see the yellow light they floor it through the intersection, leaving the rest of us to boil in our skins for the next two minutes. Man I hate that. When will people realize that how they operate a motor vehicle is really more than just common courtesy, their actions are directly related to safety, my safety! What about the fact that we are supposed to live in a community? Just thinking about this whole topic just gets my blood boiling and my glasses all steamed up!! It fills me with such rage and venom that I just want to spit!!! Oh crap, so many exclamation points have infected my thoughts that I just ran through a stop sign. Look what they made me go and do. Now that makes me really mad.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Confession

Where do I start? I need to share a very personal thing about myself, but I am afraid of how you will judge me. You may not say anything, but I can see the look in your eyes, I can hear the whispers in clipped and hushed tones that stop as I approach. I have tried to keep this buried for so long that my insides ache. But I guess that you already know this about me, for you can see it in my face, it envelops me like a thick fog. It is an area of immeasurable shame and failure in my life, one that I worked so hard on and took such pride in. Now it's gone and I fear that I will never be the same again, for better or for worse. Funny, that phrase was the start of it all. It was the basis of a vow sealed in the purest gold that dissolved before my eyes. My words useless, my rationality unravelled. My whole life changed, and still now, two years later, I have so much healing to do. There are times when I don't think I am ever going to get back to right or trust again, that I will never again find my smile. Even now, from time to time, I still call out, half expecting an answer, but there is only silence. Money, communication, touch, time. I learned some vital life lessons in the ordeal, but it hardly seems a fair exchange. Anyway, now you understand that I wasn't always this way, and who knows, maybe some day the fog will clear.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I have been thinking for some time about temptation, particularly the sin of temptation in my own life. This is an area that I struggle to contain and a trap that I frequently fall into. I came across some thoughts by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his work Temptation that captures my thoughts and feelings on this topic to perfection.

In our members there is a slumbering inclination towards desire which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desire seizes mastery over the flesh. All at once a secret, smouldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames. It makes no difference whether it is sexual desire, or ambition, or vanity, or desire for revenge, or love of fame and power, or greed for money, or, finally, that strange desire for the beauty of the world, of nature. Joy in God is extinguished in us and we seek all our joy in the creature. At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God. The lust thus aroused envelops the mind and will of man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us.

This is an area of my life where progress is slow, but I am trying to do my best to move in the right direction. I proceed in fits and starts, often fall down, curse my weaknesses, cry, and seek help. What's cool is that sometimes, every once in a while, I look in the rearview mirror and see places that I have not visited for a long time, and have no desire or need to visit again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lukewarm Me

I recently completed reading the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. This book challenged me, not that it was a difficult read, but in that it kind of left me feeling exposed, as if I was not all I was supposed to be, as if I didn't fully measure up. One chapter in particular was the root of my uneasiness; it focussed on the characteristics of a lukewarm Christian. After reading the material closely, I did not want to just press on to the next chapter. I felt some immediacy to face these issues in my life head on. Frankly, I wanted to see where I really stood, at least from my own biased point of view. I kind of think that this is a good exercise for all of us. This should definitely not be seen as keeping a running tally, a scorecard of us. It should be approached as an opportunity to make course corrections in your life. I don't know about you, but oftentimes I am completely blind to my own failings and shortcomings until I sit down and think about them. To give you an example of how you could consider thinking about this, I have prepared a document that lists Chan's traits of the lukewarm Christian and how I feel about my position in the different areas. Now I have more work to do. (Thanks to Rob Shepherd and Brian Miller for recommending this book to me.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Celebrate Love

A week or so ago I posted an entry entitled True Love about the wonderful blessing that my daughter is to me. I wanted to share another brief episode. My daughter had just completed making a drawing for me, one that had taken her some extra time and effort. Her face beamed when she presented it to me. I thanked her and hugged her. For a moment I considered hanging it in my office, as I have done with countless others of her masterpieces over the years. However, this time I suggested that we frame it and hang it up at home. This idea thrilled her to no end. The office gallery is nice, but in her mind, hanging it up on the wall at home somehow elevated her picture to true art. My hope is that you will celebrate the work and effort of your little ones with genuine attention. Whether it is a scribble on a piece of scrap paper or a Michelangelo-ian effort, celebrate their gifts of love.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blasphemous Questions

The more I read and think about things, it seems the more questions that rattle around my brain. Here is a brief list.
  1. If God is ultimate perfection, how could he create or even conceive of the imperfect?  Not just man, but the rebel angels.
  2. If God uses miracles to lead men to him, why does he act in a (seemingly) haphazard manner?  Why not just force the issue in a major way?
  3. Why has God not been as present on the earth as he was 2000 years ago?
  4. Extensive studies of hospital patients who either did or didn't have folks praying for them have shown no differences in their survival levels. I know "you should not put the Lord your God to the test", but shouldn't prayer make a difference?
  5. What is the role of God's angels in the world today? What is the role of Lucifer's angels in the world today?
  6. How will our physical bodies be remade or reborn in heaven?  What about male and female roles? What happens to sex?
  7. What will there be to do in heaven?  An eternity with nothing to 'do', even in paradise, could get old fast.
  8. Will we know everybody in heaven or just those we knew on earth?  What about coming across those that wronged us on earth?
  9. What emotions will we have in heaven? Will there be laughter?
  10. Would Christian doctrine be forced to change if intelligent life was discovered elsewhere in the universe? What about unintelligent life?
  11. Why are King David and King Solomon so revered in the bible? It seems that when they were left to their own devices (as opposed to instances where God took control), they sinned with great regularity.
  12. What was so special about Israel that God made this nation his chosen people?  This group turned its back on God at every opportunity. What made them set apart? God could have worked his plan through any group of people.
  13. When Israel entered the promised land, God told them to slaughter everything. Men, women, children, animals.  Believers or not, does this make any sense given God's laws and commandments?  It is not "thou shalt not kill a fellow Christian, but killeth heathens ye may".
  14. Christianity is a minor religion in the world. Millions of people follow other religions. What about their fates? A majority of these folks know nothing about Christ. If their fate is damnation, this doesn't seem fair at all. The religion they know is mainly due to where they were born.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Defining Your Limits

I recently read a true story that occurred in early 19th century Russia during a period of severe religious persecution. Groups of Christians would secretly meet to read scripture and worship. They went to great lengths to avoid detection, with carefully crafted plans for gathering without arousing suspicion. Despite their best efforts, a group meeting was sniffed out by several KGB agents. The agents stormed the hidden sanctuary and threatened to kill everyone for disobeying the standing orders of the government on unsanctioned religious activity. They told the gathering that if they denounced their God, they would be spared. A sizable fraction of the congregate immediately followed these orders and hastily made a path for the shadows. However, a core group held strong. The agents became even more agitated and began more direct death threats and physical pressure. Another fraction ultimately relented and scurried away. When it was clear that no further members of the remnant would give in, come penalty of imprisonment, beatings, or death, the KGB agents stated that they had recently received the gospel and could tell only those who would protect their identity at all costs. So, what group are you in? Those who immediately betrayed their faith and their Lord or those who held out until the fire was turned up and then slinked away to save themselves. What about the group who would face their demise without yielding? Are you in it to the end no matter the cost? What defines your limits?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Potty Regulations

This just came across my desk at work. This is what happens when you hire too many administrators!

To: All Personnel, Subj. Restroom Privileges

In the past, employees have been permitted to make trips to the restroom under informal guidelines. As a result of increased budgetary controls, a Restroom Trip Policy (RTP) has been established. When it becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2009, the RTP will provide a consistent method of accounting for each employee's restroom time. Under this policy, a "RESTROOM TRIP BANK" will be established for each employee. The first day of each month, employees will be given a Restroom Trip Credit of 20. Restroom Trip Credits may be accumulated from month to month up to a total of 40. On Jan. 15, the entrances to all restrooms will be equipped with personnel identification stations and computer linked with voice print recognition devices. Before the end of February, each employee must provide two copies of voice prints (one normal and one under stress) to the Records Section of Personnel. The voice print recognition will be operational, but not restrictive, for the month of February, so employees may acquaint themselves with the stations during that period. If an employee's RESTROOM TRIP BANK balance reaches zero, the doors to the restroom will not unlock for that employee's voice until the first day of the next month. All restroom systems on site will be computer connected. In addition, all restroom stalls are being equipped with timed paper roll retractors. If the stall is occupied for more than three minutes, an alarm will sound. Ten seconds after the alarm sounds, the roll of tissue in the stall will retract, the toilet will flush, and the stall door will open. If the stall remains occupied for more than an additional 5 seconds, your picture will be taken. Please direct all inquiries and comments to your Department Director.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Invincibility Lost

I remember the exact instant that I had to pack up my cape and retire my bullet-proof tights. The moment that my mask was laid aside. The evidence was revealed in a deep crimson, there was no mistaking it. There would be no reprieve, no second chance. There are few declarations that can stop a man dead in his tracks and alter his life course forever. Cancer. They must be mistaken, not me. This is not part of the plan. Surgery. I can't, I have too much to do. Malignant. No I'm not ready to go. I have a new bride and a new baby on the way. Chemical cocktails. My power is gone, only shadows remain. I used to think that this diagnosis was the sound of the final bell. Invincibility lost. Game, set, match. Wholly mortal. This prognosis redefined who and what I thought I was. It's gone for now, perhaps in hiding, but it will surface again, it is an all too frequent boarder. The fear never subsides, the song never fades. Each new ache or pain raises worries of a possible new assault. The ultimate reality has only been realized in my heart after a decade of searching. I am not alone. My heavenly Father will decide my fate, and you know what, at last I am totally fine with that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Life Balloons

As the end of the year is hastily approaching, I wanted to share a method that I learned in my small group back in Ohio for taking stock of my life. Regular self inspection of all areas of our life is a sensible and necessary process to carefully consider in our journey toward the Father. This process can be at any number of levels, but it is perhaps most valuable if one takes this work seriously, with contemplation and openness. I perform this evaluation on an annual basis.

There are 10 areas that I consider (your list could have more or less). These include family, career, friendship, primary relationship, hobbies, mental, financial, physical health, adventure, and education. I have prepared a "mission statement" for each area indicating how I believe it should be approached in my life to most honor God. Looking back over the year, I give myself a rating on a scale of 1 to 10 (for how high in the air my balloon is flying) and list a few noteworthy plusses and minuses for each category. I continue by listing a few ways in which God fits into each area of my life and how God is honored by my "work" in each area.

The point of taking stock is not to see how you rate against your friends or neighbors. It is an opportunity for self improvement, to make course corrections and adjustments in all of the areas of your life. It is time to look at yourself in a brutally honest manner, to see without blinders or bias, without retribution or blame. I have prepared a template for such work that you may find useful to consider as you prepare to see how high your life balloons are flying.

Monday, November 10, 2008

True Love

My friends (no this is not John McCain talking), I know the source of true love. However, I cannot bottle this magic, it is just for me. This wellspring is pure, unquestioning, innocent, and eternal. It is a gift of unspeakable value that I would not trade for any treasure. This past week I completed another trip around the sun. My daughter Maddie, without my knowledge, made me a wonderful cake and presented it to me. The love that I received was totally overwhelming and brought me instantly to tears.

The good news is that this gift is available for all of you from within your own family, just open your eyes and your heart.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Crazy Love Question

I have just started reading a book called Crazy Love by Francis Chan that was recommended to me by both Brian Miller and Rob Shepherd. I am about a third of the way into this book. What struck me immediately was a question posed in the foreword to the book. A statement from the book of Acts (chapter 11) in the New Testament -- The disciples were called Christians. The question posed is if somebody observed me, would they come to the same conclusion? Interesting. I go to church every Sunday and give an offering. We all know that this is a poor metric. I volunteer at my church as often as I can. At face value, this doesn't prove anything. Grace is received through faith, not by works. Perhaps my attitude toward others is a better clue. I'd like to think that the light that shines through me is a reflection of my heavenly father. However, I am certain that very few would notice this. I don't tend to walk around in burlap and sandals, chanting and intoning, swinging a censer before me. However, in these modern times, this is not necessarily a sign of a mature Christian but a nutbag. Can I quote lots of scripture at opportune times? No, certainly not (although I do have a few personal favorites). Maybe what sets me apart as a Christ follower is a personal recognition that this world is not about me (man, I have come a long way baby). I recognize at once how insignificant I am compared to the most high God, while appreciating (at least sometimes) how unique and valuable I am in his service. I try to give what I have and do so willingly and humbly.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ode to the Potato

I am totally blown away by the versatility of the common spud. In France it is called the pomme de terre, the ground apple. Did you know that the potato is the world's fourth largest food crop after corn, rice, and wheat? You knew this? Hmmm. O.K., well did you know its genus and species is solanum tuberosum? Not feeling so smart now are you? (Actually don't feel so bad, I just copied this information from the web). Now back to the potato. The main point of my post today is to honor the potato in all its delicious glory. What other food item can be prepared in so many different manners? Boiled, fried, baked, braised, roasted, broiled, sauteed, mashed, raw (really?). Oh I could go on. I get the feeling that butter and salt would be quite lonely if the potato had not been invented. So, give thanks to your friend, the potato, today (and then commence to munching).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Voodoo Religion IV

I was having a hallway conversation with some physics colleagues of mine. We were kicking around the merits of some highly debated data results just presented to us. I made the statement that scientific results should not be approached like a religion (I believe they are true or I have faith they are correct) nor should they be open for democratic debate (how many people believe these results are correct?). This statement led one of my colleagues to paraphrase the opinions of Bob Park (see Voodoo Religion I for details -- see how this series all ties together?). Park's viewpoint is that religion and faith are mere superstition, the desperate clingings of the misguided, the uneducated, the weak-minded. The laws of nature categorically rule out supernatural "interference" at every point of space and time in the entire history of the universe. There is simply no possible role or place for a god or gods. My colleague then went beyond Park's opinions and made a statement that amounted to saying that religion is a fraud. My problem is, that at that moment, I was totally unequipped to say anything. I felt as if two big goons (hey, Moose, Rocko) were holding me down. Looking back in hindsight, I still do not know what I could have said to express my point of view, to defend my beliefs. Did my lack of ability to stand up and do something at that moment expose me as an immature Christian or show some chink in my armor? Should I have stood up to these disparaging remarks on my faith and my God (or somehow engaged them in conversation)? With the movies and books and other munitions coming at me, shouldn't I be able to listen to other points of view and always have clear, consistent, and coherent answers -- at least for myself? This whole four-part diatribe has been meant, in part, to get some of my self-anger and self-disgust off of my chest, to give it to God, and to seek some answers. I feel like I should be able to defend my Lord (to myself and others) and all I can do, at times, is stand there, helpless and meek. I don't have all the answers that I want or need. I often feel castrated and defenseless. What does it mean when I start to see the points of view of the other side? What does this say about me? What does this say about my faith, my salvation, and my true relationship with God? What is the answer, what can I do?

Epilogue: The only approach that makes sense to me is to practice patience and perseverance. Seek wisdom and truth, wherever they lie. Ask questions and pray for the answers to be revealed in God's perfect timing. A true heart and soul will ultimately find its way. (Fin)