Thursday, March 31, 2011

Inner Child

My inner child has gone and left no forwarding address. I'm not sure if he will come back this way again. I have been so busy and distracted that I never saw him go. However, until this moment, I felt certain he and I would be together forever as I always saw myself as a young person, with a child-like spirit and a simple, perhaps naive, way of looking at the world. Now it seems that things are noticeably different. I guess in most ways, I have finally grown up. This thought kind of makes me blue. You know who I blame for this? Justin Bieber. Well, maybe it's not his fault that I grew up, but it is his fault that I suddenly came to see myself this way.

I used to say that I had the musical tastes of a 14-year-old girl. Michael Jackson, I stared gooey-eyed at his posters. Backstreet Boys, dreamy. Their songs used to send tingles up and down my spine. I even have an album by Don Johnson as his style and swagger from Miami Vice made me want to grow stubble and wear a pastel blazer with a T-shirt. But something inside me is different, and it has taken me until my mid-40s to recognize that I'm not a little kid. I finally recognize myself as an adult.

My realization occurred when I considered the brouhaha caused by the latest teen-beat craze du jour, Justin Bieber. I look at this little whimpy, slightly effeminate boy and scratch my head. I hear his strained, thin wheezing and tinny voice and I am lost. He is all manufactured image and no substance. The other day I passed by a radio playing one his songs and all the teenage girls were there singing out loud, swaying back and forth, all with their hands on their hearts and tears in their eyes. I really don't get it. Not this time. I miss my inner child and worry that I will be left alone from this point forward. Will he be back? I would guess never, but "The Biebs" told me to never say never.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Desiring God

"Delight yourself in the Lord." is a verse from the Old Testament book of Psalms (37:4) that represents a command from the Word of God. It means that we should pursue joy in God. The Bible makes it clear that God created humanity to rejoice him, to make it our central purpose. Thus it stands to reason that the more passionately we pursue our purpose, i.e. delighting ourselves in the Lord, the more we will glorify the Lord and the more we will fulfill what God has designed us for. Such is the basic tenet of the book Desiring God by John Piper.

The book has chosen to make its arguments in the areas of worship, love, money, marriage, missions, and suffering from the standpoint of what Piper is urging us all to become, that is a "Christian hedonist". Of course, many folks are very uncomfortable with the term hedonist. A hedonist is someone whose life is devoted to seeking self-pleasure by whatever measures and means are necessary. Hedonism is the doctrine that the pursuit of pleasure is the highest good. I am sure that Piper chose this terminology purposefully to make folks uncomfortable and uneasy, to be provocative. To make them shift in their seats and shake their heads. The term hedonist is unequivocally linked with gluttony. All of these images have strong negative connotations.

Yet contrary to how we think about this label, Piper implores us that unless we approach God as a hedonist, then we aren't truly worshipping Him and giving Him what he desires and commands of us. If he could boil down his entire message in a single sentence it would be that "the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever". The more zeal and passion that we devote to this task, the more we will glorify God. Such is the notion of being a Christian hedonist.

The Bible plainly teaches that the goal of all we do should be to glorify God. But it also teaches that in all we do we should also pursue the fullness of our joy. Some theologians have tried to force these two pursuits apart. But the Bible does not force us to choose between God's glory and our joy. Many people mistakenly feel that if they experience joy or enjoyment or pleasant feelings in their work for the Lord, then they are not doing the work for the right reasons. Piper would argue to the contrary and he backs it up with fastidious attention to what the Bible actually says. So, go ahead, live hedonistically for the Lord, just make sure that you really understand what this means. Oh, and don't dive into this book unless you are willing to deal with a fair level of complexity and bloviation for a few relatively straightforward nuggets.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prune Juice

One of the main reasons that getting older sucks donkey lips is that we are forced to carefully consider every last thing that we put into our bodies. We can't just plop down on the couch with a tankard of Mountain Dew (in Latin translated as ambrosia) and a king-size bag of cheesy poofs. Ahh those good old days of sprawling out on the couch in our underwear in the fog of nap-itude with our chest and hands covered with a fine dusting of cheese-like particles. But I digress (and apologize for the images that I have placed into your brains). Not only that but we used to be able salt our french fries and steaks like we were curing cod fillets. Now the second we come within 50 feet of a salt shaker our blood pressure goes off the charts and we have to start taking pharmaceutical-ish pills the size of jumbo jelly beans. Oh, and did I mention sugar? Nothing with a single crystal of sugar is allowed or we are inundated with a flurry of medical issues like immediate weight gain, high flammability, stinky feet, painful intestinal cramping, along with diarrhea and constipation at the same time. The list goes on and on. Not only do we have to sacrifice taste and enjoyment of our food, we are forced to subsist on a diet of acorns and prune juice. Man, does getting old bite.

Of course all of this means that a trip to the grocery store that used to take 15 minutes, now takes half a day because I have to read every stinking label to check for lethal levels of riboflavinoids and any substance that ends with -ose (literally in english, yummy goodness). Folks like me have become pathetic. Oh and we are not hard to miss, with our bifocal glasses perched as far on the end of our noses as possible as we try to read the small print on the labels, we get frustrated because, besides our irritable bowel syndromes, we are all blind as a bat. Jeez, who was the sick biscuit who even thought of inventing prune juice? It just sounds villainous. Man does getting old stink.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Choose Already

Let me take a little informal poll of everyone out there. How many times has this sorry little scenario played out in your life? You are with a friend or two or with your family and you are planning to go out to dinner. The question is floated, "Where do you want to go to eat?". The only answer that emerges and bounces around the room from every pie hole in the place is, "Oh, I don't know. Where do you want to go?". Of course from time to time there is that one wing nut who earnestly pleads that everyone head to the nearby Korean restaurant where every dish is either some unrecognizable meat-like burgoo or some bowl of slop with flagrant suckers and fish eyes bobbing at the surface and where everything smells like a used diaper. Let me tell you now, if I had a rolled up newspaper I would swat every last one of you across the back of the head. You all really make me feel like gnawing on a ball of wadded up aluminum foil.

From now on, when the question is asked about where to go, make a freakin' suggestion. Now, for the love of Pete's sake, let me be perfectly crystalline here. I am not talking some namby-pamby answer like, "Well we could go to that Italian place, or to the seafood place, or to the docks where they are dumping the left over chum, or ..." This type of response is divisive and simply means that you should immediately lose your privilege of hanging out with friends for at least 30 days. You are all worthless and weak. You want to see how a real caring and honest man behaves in these situations? I invited my friend to lunch the other day. Because I took the time to pick the meeting time, I gave my friend the honor to choose where we would eat.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Answers May Vary

Being a student for as long as I was and then being a University professor for nearly 10 years, I have been witness to students who cheat. Some cheat in obvious ways, like looking over the shoulder of the student in front of them during an exam, or plagiarizing someone else's work verbatim off the internet, or copying another student's homework. Some cheat in more clever ways by using PDAs, or copying notes onto their bodies, or hiding books in the bathroom and then excusing themselves during an exam. I have seen students who could not be more blatant in their cheating, and students who are caught red-handed but swear upon their grandmother's grave that they are innocent. I guess that I could prepare a fairly amusing handbook on cheating given what I have come across over the years.

However, my favorite story on cheating was told to me all the way back in elementary school. It was such a great anecdote that I just could not forget it. Surely a classic in the annals of cheating. The story goes as follows. A young whippersnapper boy in the third grade was acting up during the time when he should have been concentrating on his work. He was warned, but continued to disrupt the class. Finally, the teacher reached the end of her tether and decided to punish the boy in the most henious way possible (at least to an 8 year old). He would not get to join his classmates at recess, but instead have to stay inside and complete the work that he had not done. Oh, the humanity.

The assignment was reading comprehension. It involved reading a short story in a workbook and then answering some questions about the story. When the teacher came back in from chaperoning the students on the playground, she found a contrite boy sitting quietly at his desk. She asked him if he had completed his work and he nodded his head yes. The teacher opened up his workbook and inspected his answers. She praised him for getting every single one of the answers correct. Yet she knew that he had cheated by copying directly from the answer key on her desk. How could she have known? Well, across the bottom of the page he had written the sentence, "Answers may vary." Busted. Off to the principal's office he went.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Journey

Johnny Cash sang a song titled "I've Been Everywhere" that became widely known as the background jingle for a hotel chain. I kind of feel like I sometimes channel the man in black as I get on yet another plane bound for yet another city. This time I am traveling to Houston, Texas (also known as The Bayou City, Baghdad on the Bayou, H-Town, Magnolia City, Capital of the Sunbelt, Clutch City, The Big Heart, Screwston, Hustletown, City of Syrup, and Space City). Some folks love to travel, I guess it is that Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart spirit of adventure gene that some come pre-packaged with. I missed out on this personality trait and tend to look forward to travel with all of the unbridled glee as one might have planning a visit to a thick-fingered proctologist.

Today I am making the full round-trip journey to Houston. Back and forth. To and fro. I will cover nearly 3000 miles. Up early and back late. Non-stop action, no time to take a breath. Ugh! But I am traveling for an important meeting. My graduate student is defending his Ph.D. thesis and it is a pretty big deal for both of us. Three years ago his research advisor died after a long battle with health issues, and I ended up taking over. For three years we have worked side by side to bring this project through to fruition. Along the way we have gotten to be friends. In addition to spending countless hours discussing and reviewing and critiquing the analysis details and results in all of their gory detail, we have also talked a lot about chess and baseball and life. I guess this too is all part of the process of mentoring and advising. Likely just as important as the research training itself.

So today I will see a bit more of the city of Houston than just the inside of its airport. Actually, I will really only get a chance to see the inside of a University conference room for two or three hours before I start the return trip. It will be a long day. That's fine. This trip is more about the journey that I took to get to this point.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Insights on Romans

I think it demonstrates my deep hunger for unpacking and understanding God's word that, after completing a ten volume series investigating great lives in the Bible, I immediately turned my attention to a series that serves to give verse by verse exegesis of each of the books of the New Testament. I also think that it goes to show my fondness and respect for the author of all of these books, Charles Swindoll. My journey into the New Testament began with a recent work by Swindoll entitled Insights on Romans.

My interest in diving into the book of Romans was borne by an invitation of a friend of mine to study this together. However, he moved away before we could ever get started. Beyond this, my feeling is that the book of Romans contains the who, what, why, where, and how for the Christian faith. It really represents required reading, and more importantly, required understanding. Without understanding what Romans has to say, you can easily misunderstand the critical notions of grace, salvation, justification, and sanctification. Insights on Romans represents a detailed exposition of the epistle to the Romans, a letter written by the apostle Paul around 58 A.D. in the Greek city of Corinth. The letter is called Romans because Paul was writing to the Jews and Christians who lived in Rome, prior to his planned visit to minister to them. The book of Romans is a critical and essential element of the Bible that contains the central doctrines of Christianity. It tells us about God, who He is and what He has done. It tells us of Jesus Christ and what His death accomplished once and for all. It tells us about God's grace and that salvation is given and not earned.

However, despite the importance of this letter to Christians everywhere, many view Romans as unapproachable due to its style and its density. This is no quicky read or "Christianity for Dummies" brochure. This is precisely why Swindoll's Insight text is so very welcome. Swindoll fulfills my role of a scriptural sherpa. Theme by theme, section by section, chapter by chapter, and verse by verse, he slowly, patiently, and methodically walks us through the book of Romans. Along the way he provides relevant background information on society, geography, politics, and government to fill in more of the details to help us develop a clearer interpretation of the words and their context. Then he makes it clear what this 2000 year old work has to do with our lives today. Absolutely wonderful reading.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Welcome Spring

My world is emblazened in glory as every tree and bush sprouts forth with life and color after a long and dormant winter. Walking outside in my yard after work the other day, there was still sunlight to kiss my face. The fragrance from the flowering trees in the neighborhood wafted past my nose and made me pause and embrace it. Ahhhh. Even the thought of having to remulch my landscaped beds and to mow my lawn makes me expectant. In the next few weeks I will be able to open the windows and invite the world within. Oh how I love burrowing into my warm bed as the crisp night air of early spring nips at my cheeks. The experience is made even grander when I awaken to hear the songbirds in the tree outside my window ushering in the rising sun of the new day. Welcome spring.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Imagine if you were skilled at building a very specific device called a widget. You went to school for 10 years and apprenticed for another 3 years to be one of the few people in the world with the requisite skills to keep them coming off the production line. As long as the economy is doing reasonably well, people put a high value in widget production. Not that anyone really owns a widget or needs a widget to get by in their day-to-day lives, but folks believe that it's a feather in America's cap that it can lay claim to producing the best widgets. However, when the economy hits the skids, folks begin to see widget production as something that we might cut back on. Heck, you can't eat national pride.

It turns out for the few folks skilled in widget production, they earn a fairly nice living. They can afford a nice house and a nice car, they can provide for the necessities of their family, and have sufficient money to afford some nice things and to give back something to their church and their community. Like many households, these folks live a lifestyle that spends the majority of each month's paycheck and apart from contributions to their retirement account, they only have enough money in the bank to support themselves for a few months once the tap on widget production is closed.

Like anyone who has been building widgets for a long time, they really don't have the skills or the passion to do anything else. After all, folks do not pursue a career building widgets willy-nilly or by chance. They enter into this field because they felt a strong pull. This calling was so strong that it drowned everything else out. Now here they are and they have given their lives to something that the public won't support and they have no idea what else to do. Meanwhile, the postman keeps delivering those bills that they had never worried about before ...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Stolen Echoes

In an empty house he calls out and waits. The only response that comes is the echo of his own voice off the vaulted ceilings and the corners where the egg-and-dart moldings come together. The louder the sound of the echo, the more he is reminded of how alone he is. Some welcome the quiet as a time to recharge, a time to dive into that book, a time to worry about the finances without interruption. The din of activity and every day can addle the mind and disrupt concentration. It can steal one's peace and smile. Yet for many, the balance board can get tipped too far the other way. The silence, broken only by the reflection of one's own utterances, can lead to despair. Hello? Can anybody hear me? Hello? ...

It's funny, but all it seems to take to drive those echoes from our walls and from our minds is the presence of another. Their company, their conversation, their attention, free our lives from the darkness of loss and emptiness. Their laughter and presence, even their stillness and quietude can fill us with contentment and peace. Hello? becomes hello and the echoes are stolen away before they ever get a chance to get back to us.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sun Stand Still

Sun Stand Still is the first book by pastor Steven Furtick, and it is subtitled "What Happens When You Dare to Ask God for the Impossible". Actually, I decided to read this book based on the recommendation of my friend Rob. In the back of my mind though, I was thinking that this book sounded like another cookie-cutter, self-help Christian book by another wanna-be celebrity pastor. Yet by the time I was done reading, I felt a part of my spirit that was once dormant, somehow rekindled. I felt real passion and understanding coursing through me. All of this caught me by surprise given how I initially approached this book.

I have read several books lately whose message is that we should pray to God as if he were a divine genie. "Ask and ye shall receive". If ye aren't receiving, ye aren't praying the right way. This book too is about praying bold, high-stakes, audacious prayers. Finding that Godly spouse, healing for that sick child, making a difference at your job, impacting the world. Praying for the miraculous, the seemingly improbable or impossible, and expecting that God will come through. Furtick refers to these as "sun stand still" prayers. This concept comes from the Old Testament book of Joshua, where Joshua and his army are chasing down the remmants of a scattering enemy as the sun is getting ready to set. If the sun goes down, the enemy will get away and be able to regroup. Joshua prayed to God that the sun would not set so that he could finish the job of destroying the enemy of God's people. This is exactly what God did.

However, as you can imagine, there is more to understand than simply praying big and sitting back and waiting for God to deliver. In James 2:17, the brother of Jesus writes "Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead". In other words, there is more to this than simply having the faith to pray for miracles. Once the prayer escapes our lips, we don't just leave it to God. If He does He does, if He doesn't, oh well. We need to pray and then jump into action to do our part. We need to pray and then do all that we can to prepare. Don't just stand in hope, walk in action.

Furtick also makes it clear that just because we pray and do everything in our power to get ready for God to act, things won't necessarily work out as we might wish. We must understand and embrace the fact that God sometimes lets the sun go down so that he can be our only light. It can also be that even if we are praying and acting according to his will, his timing may be totally incompatible with ours. Sometimes, though, God's greatest gifts to us are unanswered prayers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day's End

Another day has come and gone, marked by the setting sun in the western sky. Hues in pink and blue and orange bid the world adieu. Perhaps you are unwinding from a long day at work, looking forward to vegging out on the couch in front of the tube. Some may have had a satisfying day off, puttering about on errands or doing a bit of house cleaning or yardwork. Others have been dealing with hardships or personal issues and have been weathering the storm. Yet no matter what you have done with your time during the day, can you look yourself in the mirror and know for sure that you have accomplished anything of value? I am not talking about moving a stack of papers from one pile to another at the office, or dropping off some letters at the post office, or raking up the fallen leaves from your yard. I mean, have you made a difference in the life of someone else? Ahhh, this is where the true value of our effort lies.

This, for me, tends to be a most challenging and convicting question at times. Most days I seem too easily to make it all about me. Did I check off each of the items on my to-do list? Did I get all of the necessary household chores completed? Me me me. I I I. What about really making a difference in the life of someone else? What about giving someone your time and attention to brighten their day? What about encouraging someone you know who needs it? What about letting someone out in front of you in traffic? You can make a difference in the lives of those around you without even breaking a sweat. Yet I have found that sometimes the little things can make a big difference. I challenge you to make the first item on your daily to-do list to impact someone's life in a positive way. Don't let the sun go down without taking care of this one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The great thinker Costanza once referred to the big toe as the "captain of the toes". If it should fall, then the rest of the platoon will most surely follow. Now you may think that a now 20-year-old Seinfeld reference is a strange way to start off a post that discusses a serious notion. However, I think George was onto something important that I want to dive into a bit. It is all about the importance of a firm foundation, solid brick and mortar. If a structure is built on soft earth or shifting sand, it is sure to come crashing down. If it is constructed with poor workmanship, it will not remain. If cracks and fissures are not attended to as soon as they appear, they will ultimately develop into weaknesses upon which the collapse will be centered.

To align my illustration with the great Costanza, I want to focus on the feet, and in particular, on the captain of the toes. Recently I developed an in-grown toenail on my captain. I tried to ignore it for a while, but this soon led to hobbling and limping and gimping about. Soon I developed pain in my knees and my back. This lead to fatigue and irritability and headaches. One small problem in one toe, left unattended, led to my entire body feeling pain and a noticeably surly demeanor.

The toes and the feet provide the body with a firm foundation, but they must be cared for and attention must be paid to ensure that any problems that spring up are dealt with in a timely manner. It may even be that some short term pain is required to ensure longer-term health and vitality, such as my having to go see a podiatrist with had to stick me with multiple needles and snip at my foot with a pair of shears to bring me back to right. Of course, this post isn't really all about my toe problem, but hopefully you get the point.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Thermodynamics is a branch of physical science associated with relationships between heat and mechanical energy. An important quantity in this field is referred to as entropy. In simple terms, entropy is a measure of disorder of a system. A basic tenet of thermodynamics states that the entropy of the universe is increasing, and further, the entropy of a closed or bounded system can never decrease. In a closed system, any reversible process results in no net change in entropy. However, most processes are not reversible. Once you drop an egg on the tile floor and it splatters everywhere, up goes the entropy of the system and the universe. You can't undrop the egg. The damage is done. The process is irreversible.

My example of an irreversible process serves to illustrate the notion well enough, and I am sure that with a moment's thought you could add a few of your own. However, I wanted to share the real impetus behind this post. I was driving my daughter to one of her activities in an area that was new to me. I tend to get a bit anxious and nervous in these situations, and to make things a bit more flammable, we were running a bit late, and I was faced with lots of traffic, poorly labeled roads, and construction detours. I was lost and confused. When she tried to encourage me, my response was to snap at her.

Another example of an irreversible process is the act of raising our voices in anger or frustration at our children. Once the words escape past our lips, they too impact in irreversible ways. From a smile wiped away, to a slumping of the shoulders, to tears streaming down little cheeks. Where there was once playful warbling, only cold, hard silence remains. Our outbursts surely cause the entropy of the universe to increase. Try as we might to heal the wounded spirits of our children, we can't put the egg back into the shell.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Strange Currencies

Stories are passed from person to person. An ounce of sanity is sought. It doesn't make sense, nothing makes sense. Is this a reflection of them or a reflection of us? Hard to swallow this bitter root.

A lady had a good job for the first time in her life. She was able to finally pay her bills and gain a measure of self-respect. Finally, she was able to dump that old rust bucket at the junkyard and have something that ran reliably. Memos from the top down warned of a new drug testing policy. Random, regular urine tests of everyone. The next week her desk was cleared out. Every knick-knack and photo. An acquaintance who talked to her told us that she quit because she liked smoking pot too much to give it up.

A bright man, husband to a caring wife, father to two loving children, has been seriously overweight since high school. He claims he has a low metabolism, but his weakness is betrayed by the trash can full of vending machine wrappers. On top of this he is a heavy smoker. When asked about his health and his weight he teared up and said it was too much of a hassle to try to change. He is already suffering from high blood pressure, has a weak heart, and lives with severe joint problems in his knees.

A man has been married for over 20 years. Nothing about him or his wife is particular noteworthy. Average Joe and average Jane. If they hadn't found each other, they would both likely still be single. Somehow they just seem to complement each other. I would guess that neither of them would fare particularly well on their own. Yet whenever he heads out to the local dive bar, he hooks up with an old friend. He claims that it's just sex.

A word, a nod, a little breath. These snapshots of life haunt me, hunt me down, catch in my throat, make me pray, ..., strange currencies.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Field of Dreams

My daughter has been part of a local sports team for several years now. She chose lacrosse, which I find interesting because I have never played it nor did I encourage her to pursue it. Furthermore, this sport doesn't have any sort of broad following or wide-spread exposure on television. Anyway, I suspect the lacrosse seed was planted in her based on the encouragement of a friend.

From my standpoint, what all of this means for me is that once during the week I take her to practice that lasts for 90 minutes and on Saturday I take her to a game or tournament that can last for 2 or 3 hours. Being around other parents who have children involved in similar activities, I tend to hear a lot of negative comments. Mostly these complaints involve having to ferry their child around town and kill time while their kids are off doing their thing. They find the whole responsibility boring and time consuming because they would rather be doing something that interests them. They do it only because that's what parents are supposed to do. For me, however, I have always liked taking my daughter to her activities. Of course we lose out on a bit of together time, but there are definitely several positives for me in taking part. These include:
  • Watching my daughter enjoying her interaction with others her age.
  • The pride of watching her succeed.
  • Watching her complete and develop self-confidence.
  • Listening to the sounds of happy children.
  • Enjoying the outdoors.
Usually I take along a few snacks and my book, and find a seat in the shade or out on the grass along the sidelines. I then alternate between watching my daughter play and reading. Sometimes I feel like I am immersed in a positive energy field and my spirit is inexplicably uplifted. Even though I am not directly involved in the game or the practice, the experience just energizes me and brings me a little peace in my field of dreams. I have never looked at this as something that I have to do, rather it is something that I get to do.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dealing with Darkness

The past two or three winter seasons have really caused me to struggle with depression. I was afflicted by what I would call the winter blahs. Doctors have come up with more erudite terminology, calling my condition or attitude seasonal affective disorder. When I would wake up it was dark. When I came home from work it was dark. It seemed that by 6:00 p.m. my body would go into shutdown mode thinking it was time for bed. No matter how I tried to will myself to go about my normal activities in the evening and no matter how many cups of coffee I downed, my body always seemed to win out. I felt powerless to gain the upperhand over my own body. I found myself simply marking time, enduring the season, until the longer days of spring would finally roll around and I could emerge from my hibernation and go back to living.

This past winter has been markedly different due to a seemingly small change that I made. When I got home from work, I turned on all of the lights in whatever room I was in. I strove to flood every ounce of space with light. I wanted to drive out every shadow. My own version of light therapy helped me to turn the corner and drive away that droopy eyelid syndrome and incessant yawning and apathy that I had been suffering from. I was able to better enjoy the evenings with my daughter, time spent writing my blogs and reading books, or just puttering around doing household chores. I reasoned that this was well worth the cost in electricity that I paid.

Instead of just getting through, I have really been able to enjoy my time and make the most of it. Instead of fighting my body and its strong desire to want to sleep and battling feelings of fatigue and depression, I made a small change, and that made such a big change in my body and mind and spirit.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Castles in the Air

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, a fairy tale couple shared a first kiss, a kiss filled with promise and magic and light. In an instant, it somehow set everything right in the young lover's worlds. The din and chatter of the outside was instantly quelled and they saw only the other. They lived for the times they could be alone and walk hand in hand through the bailey and surrounding courtyard. In a world that had often been cruel and heartless, filled with dragons and dark knights, they felt adrift and tired. But at this moment they were rejuvenated and alive. It was as if every battle scar from their past was necessary to lead them to this perfect place at this moment.

In the turning of a few short pages, they wed and brought a child into the world together. Almost unnoticed, however, the brightly colored pastels of their fairy tale lives slowly morphed into the much harsher and darker palette of reality. Eventually the push and pull and pressure of the real world broke through and brought a sobering and somber quality into the chapters of their days. Gone were the extravagant balls and petal-strewn walkways of the promenade. Gone was the royal couple fit for a children's bedtime story. Now quests and fights to establish their treasury and to fortify their borders commanded their attention and became their priority. It seemed the biggest clashes of their lives occurred when they struggled and positioned and postured to rule as one when they had spent a lifetime out on their own kingdom conquests. Eventually small cracks in the castle ramparts developed into a full-scale breach that gave access to marauders from the outside. In no time, the light was extinguished, and the queen had abdicated her throne.

What started as a fairy tale crumbled into the fodder of a newsstand rag. It was only understood after it was too late that priorities and boundaries need to be established at the outset. The walls of the castle need to be protected at all cost, lest the kingdom and those within are lost. A cautionary tale to be sure, but one from which you would be wise to understand the lesson.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Acid Tongue

Do you struggle mightily with some personal issue that keeps you at a distance from who you want to be? Perhaps the problem seemingly has a stranglehold around your neck and sometimes you feel that you might never gain the upper hand. Maybe for you it is overeating, or dealing with road rage, or watching too much T.V.. For others it could be laziness, or procrastination, or neglect. For me, I have had a long history of struggling with controlling my words in and around colleagues at work. Specifically, I have had a tendency over the years to blurt out hurtful and inconsiderate volleys at and about others. I used to think it was related to impatience. I wanted things done a certain way on a particular timeline. When my expectations were not met, I would slam people for being lazy. I used to think it was about attitude. If I saw that a certain task was not being given the attention I thought it deserved, I would rail on people for lacking passion. I used to think it was about aptitude. If someone fell short of my expectations, I would tear into them for being incompetent.

Over the years I have gained some insight into this issue. My acid tongue had nothing to do with impatience, attitude, or aptitude. It had everything to do with calling attention to myself. It was ego pure and simple. By tearing other people down, I could build myself up. My salvos of verbal munitions were all about making me feel superior to others. It took a long time to understand what I was doing and why, and it has taken an even longer time to gain some measure of control over what I think and what I say to others. From time to time I still catch myself talking trash about someone else. These episodes can really discourage me and make me feel powerless to affect lasting change in myself.

It is so easy to think that we can never change. Sometimes when we try to improve our attitudes and reprogram our way of thinking, our efforts can seem futile, especially when our progress is slow and uneven. Recently though, my spirits were buoyed a bit by a colleague that I have known for more than 20 years. We see each other only a few times each year. After a conversation the other day, he said to me that my attitudes regarding others were markedly improved from what he remembered years ago. I smiled to myself, realizing that he was observing me from a vantage point that I could not reach myself. It made me appreciate how far I have come in this struggle. Perhaps you are further along in dealing with your issue than you give yourself credit for as well.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Don't Want to Go

I recently wrote a multi-part blog series entitled "Big Church" in which I shared my worries about rapid growth models of local churches and their success measures based on weekly attendance. As a result of this, one of the folks in my Bible study group suggested that I read So You Don't Want to go to Church Anymore by co-authors Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman. The story begins with an associate pastor of a large-growth "mega-church" named Jake Colsen who is feeling more than a bit disillusioned in his position. The pressures and demands of keeping his church "machine" going and growing are taking their toll on him and he is feeling hollow inside and more than a little disconnected from relationship with his Lord. At that time he stumbles upon a man named John, whom Jake suspects may be the apostle of Jesus. By talking with John, Jake comes to understand how perfunctory his life in Christ has become.

The book is divided into 13 chapters spanning four years in Jake's life. Each chapter is framed around some issue or worry that is getting in the way of his knowing and trusting in God. John then mysteriously appears to give Jake some necessary advice and wisdom. He then disappears for a stretch to give Jake time and space to think things through and to overcome his fears and to implement new approaches into his life.

The overriding theme of this book that comes up in each chapter appears to be an indictment of our conventional notion of church. Several reviews that I read harped on the fact that the authors seem to be saying that spiritual closeness with God cannot be found in church. Churches are too big, too impersonal, too human centered. But I think that misses the true message of this work of fiction. I think the authors are merely trying to espouse living a spirit-filled life and that we should seek to build fellowship more than in our single worship hour each Sunday. It is only when we keep our focus consistently on Jesus that we will find him and be able to follow him most effectively.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Grind My Gears 21

Let me paint a happy little scene in a happy little neighborhood on a happy little sidewalk - of course here I am clearly channeling the late, great Bob Ross from the PBS program The Joy of Painting to put my mind in a less hateful, angry, some might say felonious state of mind, lest I exploded in a frothy, unkempt spew of molten lava, which is somewhat hot and sticky. As you enjoy a nice leisurely stroll down the aforementioned sidewalk, singing a lilting, happy (although somewhat melancholy) tune, whilst pondering deep thoughts of orphans and hoboes, your entire demeanor is ravaged when you realize that you have just stepped in someone's discarded chewing gum. Of course, you just happen to be wearing your new tennis shoes and the chewing gum has now filled every nook and cranny of your treads. As you hop about the sidewalk on your other foot, you look and act like some sort of a deranged circus performer. People in the area laugh and gesture at you and your situation, which only stirs your pot-au-feu further. You search in vain for a stick or other pointy object to scrape the gum off your shoe. Then when you start to dig and poke and prod to extract the sticky wad, the worse of a mess you make. When you are just about to spontaneously combust from the building rage, you notice a trash can no more than 3 feet from the offending gum wad, 3 stinking feet! At this point your hair catches on fire. Of course, the pleasant thoughts of helping the woeful plight of the orphans and miscellaneous hoboes have been fire bombed with the incendiary and careless actions of the gum spitter. You start to choke and cough on your own bile you are so enraged. Why if I find the so-and-so that did this, I'll kick 'em in the slats and tell them what for. Man, people who spit their gum out on the sidewalk really grind my gears.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


When you are part of something small that blossoms into something bigger, an underground drum beat that crescendos into a mainstream symphony, it can be very exciting, especially when you are involved in an intimate way. Whether it is through your financial support, your service, your energy, your prayers, or even just as a cheering spectator, watching the metamorphosis take place in front of your eyes can be fulfilling, uplifting, and even a little awe inspiring. Growth of this sort has taken on a very personal meaning. Such is the case with my church, Waters Edge Church, which is opening up its second location in just a few more days. When I started attending "WEC" about 3 years ago, it was a church of about 500 or 600 folks. Today they are averaging about 2000 each week at their Sunday services!

The existing WEC sanctuary was just opened in the summer of 2009. This building was important in the life of my church in that it represented a major shift away from being a portable church using rented facilities. After quickly growing into that new building and using it to share the gospel with many folks in the area, it reached capacity faster than anyone could have been expected or hoped. The decision was made to follow a multi-site model to increase reach and capacity. Now the second location of WEC is on the verge of becoming a reality.

The building at the second site already has a long history. It was constructed in 1965 in a neighborhood shopping center and was one of the first multiplex movie theaters in the country. After several remodeling efforts and ownership changes, it finally went out of business for good in the early 1990s and had been falling into disrepair and decay as it sat idle for nearly 20 years. That's when WEC came in and signed a lease to remodel the facility and meet there as a church. Some would say that the building was opened in 1965 and was biding its time for some 40 years until WEC came along to take over. This second location is not only a metamorphosis from the standpoint of WEC and its approach to bring the gospel to people, it also serves as a wonderful metamorphosis for the life it will bring to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Congratulations WEC. I am proud to call you my church home and look forward to continue on our mission together to bring the good news to everyone we can.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


The book Radical (subtitled Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream) by David Platt, begins with a story of the author's involvement in underground and secret church groups in Asia. Those who are so hungry for the Word of God that they would risk jail, beatings, death, loss of family, and loss of all that they own. They meet in remote locations without comfortable chairs, air conditioning, lighting, music, showmanship, snacks, clean restrooms, and all the frill and extras of the church experience that we have come to know and expect and even take for granted. But what about us? How long would we hang around if all of the trappings were stripped away from our worship experience? Would the Word be sufficient for us and engaging enough and important for us to stick around? An important question.

The first half of this book is simply masterful in highlighting the American church experience and expectation as soft, Christian-lite material. Most of us would surely melt away if there was an ounce of persecution or inconvenience in our worship experience. Platt probes our complacency with the question, "Now that you have heard the gospel, what is a proper response?". Is it just going to church each Sunday and checking off that box as "done"? Is it giving our money to the church, even at the level of commitment of a tithe and feeling satisfied? Is it even volunteering for the church or taking part in a church bible study group or consistently kneeling down in prayer? His answer is that this falls far short of what Jesus has commanded us to do. Platt tell us that the gospel of our Christian faith must evoke unconditional surrender of all that we are and all that we have to all that He is. It is living a radical life for Jesus. Platt states, and rightly so, that "scores of people have positioned themselves on a religious road that makes grandiose promises at minimal cost." Man, this is the good stuff. This is no feel good rah-rah, live for grand blessings in this earthly life rubbish. But lo, this is the stuff that should leave us feeling convicted and yearning to reach out, even if it is beyond our own personal comfort zone to make His name known to all.

About two-thirds of the way into this work, Platt takes a bit of a dangerous turn that likely will alienate many folks. He makes the worrisome claim that if we don't "radically" support world missions then we are likely not truly Christians at heart. His point is that nearly 4 billion people on this planet are disconnected from God, and of this number, roughly 1 billion have never even been introduced to Jesus. For me personally, I truly believe that not all are called to the same cause. Some give of themselves in their local communities, and some from the comfort of their homes. I understand his passion for his calling, but one must be open to the gifts that each of us brings to spread the Word. But if you don't discredit him for his, perhaps, overly zealous charge regarding world missions, I think that this book is a real jewel and has much to teach us about living radically for God.