The Empty Life of Knowing It All

maddie auction

Five short years ago I had the honor of baptizing my daughter Maddie.

I remember standing at the front of our church asking our congregation to pray for Maddie and her peers,

“These kids aren’t going to hide in the corners.  They’re gonna make an impact in their schools and their community.”

I really had no idea what that meant at the time, but I’m learning.

Maybe Maddie’s biggest impact has been on her dad, and she’s already making a difference that reaches far beyond her school and community.

While attending Maddie’s recent high school soccer game, I noticed our goalkeeper leaving the field after a flurry of activity near the goal (I assumed she took a ball to the face and had to exit the game because of the presence of blood).

I looked up to see one of Maddie’s good friends putting on the keeper jersey and gloves, and sprint enthusiastically onto the field.

If you happened to be the opponent or simply didn’t know better, you’d think this was her normal position.(it isn’t)

She took to the goal like she owned it.

A smile spread across my face because this was one of “my own kids”, one that I’d coached for three years of middle school basketball and been around the sidelines for many of her youth travel soccer games.

I turned to another parent who also knew her spirit well,

“That’s what I love about Mandy.  She has absolutely no idea what she CAN’T do.”

As adults, we have full awareness of what we can’t do.  We revolve our days and our lives around what we can’t do or what we think can’t happen.

I have faith….or claim to.

I believe in the truths of the Bible.  I believe in God’s promises for this life and for eternity.  I believe in the resurrection of Jesus with all my heart and mind…..but still.

I think I know everything.  I live by sight.  I analyze everything and put too much trust in the mind that I was given.

If logic says it can’t be done, then I most likely won’t take the first step toward doing it.

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
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It pains me to admit that Maddie is no longer a little child, but she possesses a trust in God that adults find difficult to find because our brains are crowded with life experiences and our own “answers” to what comes next.
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Maddie returned from a Christ In Youth conference this summer with a determination to become involved with a Christian missionary organization called 1Mission.

1Mission assists severely impoverished families in Latin American countries in building safe homes, and in return, asks that those receiving new homes do service projects in their own communities.

$4000 to put a family in safe housing.  Maddie set up her own campaign on their website and was assigned a family.

An ambitious amount for a 15 year-old girl without income.  (Gee Maddie, that’s a lot of money…..I thought it but didn’t say it out loud).

But she was determined to make a change.  And she had faith.

Her main fundraising idea was an arts and crafts auction.

She announced at our church and on social media her desire to collect at least 100 pieces of donated art for a silent auction at our church’s life center building.  (Gee Maddie, 100 donated pieces, that’s a lot, I don’t see you getting that many…….again, I was silent).

As the auction date approached, donations trickled in, one by one at our home, our church, and at my family business.  But still, she seemed to have no more than fifty pieces.

The final day leading up to the auction saw a wave of last minute donations.

The scope of her dream was beginning to take shape Friday night as we set up the gym for Saturday’s activities.  Volunteers showed up to help Maddie decorate and set up tables to display the donated items.

Not only was it clear that she had well over 100 items, it was clear that there were pieces donated that were of great sentimental value to those who gave.  There was something special in the air for sure.

Moments before the scheduled start time, I surveyed the gym with a sense of joy at Maddie’s faith and the display of God’s love by His people.

what if nobody comes

But my own doubts crept in again.

After all her hard work, her great faith and desire to make a difference:

What if nobody shows up?

 

The events of the night went well.  Maddie was within $1000 of her $4000 goal at the close of the night.

I awoke early this morning, rested and with a bit more clarity in my mind.

And I had an unwelcomed visitor……a burden, that feeling of a need to speak during church…..about raising a generation of true followers of Christ who live by faith…..and adults living with doubts, living by sight.

I cried like a baby on my way to church by myself for a prayer meeting.

I’d been through a 70+ hour work week and battled severe exhaustion along with that poisonous mentality of “nobody better ask me to help with their stuff because I surely can’t even take care of my own.”

And during that drive there was this sudden sense of “when you’re at the end of your rope, God shows up in amazing ways.”

I realized that God’s way of lifting me back up was simply in the pleasure of witnessing Maddie’s faith and the chain reaction of love and kindness that it sparked (and it hit me sorta hard).

When you absolutely can’t take any more…….drop what you’re doing and do something for somebody else.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Our preacher’s sermon today was on David and Goliath.

From beginning to end of Maddie’s vision to build a home for a family, she only saw God.

Each time I doubted ($4,000 is too much, 100 is too many, “what if nobody comes”) I saw Goliath.

She knows how big her God is.

She had faith and her faith grew.

Because of her faith, my faith grew.

She gave me the boldness to speak up in church this morning, and perhaps God helped me find the words.

After church dismissed, our amazing church family picked up the remaining items and the final $1,000 was raised.

God is good.

One more family will have safe housing conditions.  We know that for sure.

And faith grew.  What will happen from this??

I don’t know……as much as I thought I did.

But I know now that if I stop looking at Goliath, I will be reminded that the only thing that matters is how big God is.

1mission house

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Sports and Sunday Games Are More Satanic Than Kiss Albums

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I’ll admit it.  Three of my kids have played travel sports.  They even played on Sundays.  Sometimes we missed church two Sundays in a row.  Shriek!

Their mother and me thought our girls would be the next Mia Hamm and our son is the next Lebron James.  And of course, if they are to go to college without paying for it, they need to play anywhere and everywhere and often.  Right?  No, not at all.

No, this isn’t another lengthy blasting of youth/travel sports taken too far by overzealous parents.  It’s more like a gentle reminder of the delicate balance that exists between sports and faith in our children.

Sports teach kids things that words and parental modeling alone cannot.  Teamwork, physical challenges, determination, overcoming adversity, and lessons in character just to name a few.
And sports can certainly teach an observant parent valuable lessons along the way (by watching other parents and coaches) in exactly how not to act.

I’ll skip right to what I believe to be the tipping point of that balance: when parents lead or allow their kids to believe that a sports game or practice is more important than their faith or church attendance.

When the traveling is over and your kids are beginning to make more of their own choices, what’s the message they have been hearing from their parents during their travels and adventures?  When they make their own choices about church attendance and involvement, what will they choose?  Which end of the scale are you pushing them toward?

Traveling time with family during the younger years is golden time.  The memories, experiences, and friendships made are priceless.  The absence from church services is temporary.  But the importance placed on faith must be constant.

That kid that missed 4 weeks of Sunday church service as a 9 year-old will be 15 before you know it.  The depth of their faith and the value it has in their life will not be dependent on where they spent those four Sundays.  It will depend largely on the message they receive from their parents over the course of the entire 52 weeks.

Teach well.  Make sure kids know that you’re not away from church because sports are more important.  Keep your eyes open for teaching moments.  As your kids get older, the moments become clearer.  Are you prepared for them?  And more importantly, how well have you prepared your kids for them?

A local basketball tournament changes schedules around and places your son’s team playing on Sunday.  Let him know it’s ok to choose to go to church and miss his game.  Let the choice be his, but lay out the steps for him to choose faith over sports.

Your daughter’s soccer coach holds practice on Wednesday nights during your church’s youth group activities.  Let the choice be hers to make.  Make sure she knows that you think it’s awesome if she makes the choice to attend youth group.

Encourage them to take those bold steps that say, “My faith in God is the center of my life.”

Yes, sports are a wonderful part of a child’s development in so many ways.  But they are temporary.  Parents have to be aware when the balance scales are tipping dangerously in the wrong direction.

“I can’t miss a single practice, no matter what.”  The tipping point is when parents adopt this same philosophy.

And like sports are temporary, childhood is temporary.  A big part of parenting is simply training up our children to make good choices as they mature.

Pave the way for these types of choices, encourage them:

“Coach, I won’t be at practice tonight.  I’m going to church.”

“Coach, I’m not going to soccer camp this year.  I’m going on a mission trip.”

“Coach, I’m going to miss some summer league games.  I’m going to church camp.”

Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you are on a given Sunday morning.  It matters greatly where your heart is and the lessons that your life speaks year-round.

Play hard.  Have fun.  Watch the scales.

The sports equipment goes to the yard sales and closets sooner than you realize.

Hopefully, most of us won’t wait til then to try to convince our kids how important a Christ-centered life is.

 

How You Gonna React?

96 flashback

Even boring, mild-mannered people have sudden bursts of emotion, excitement, and outward joy at times.  A celebration of a championship for their favorite sports team or a last second victory (in a single meaningless game?).  Tears of joy for the birth of a child or a baptism.  When something great happens, why hold back?  Enjoy the moment.

But what about when little things go wrong?

How do we react?

My pastor and friend delivered some solid life advice in sermon that has really stuck with me for these situations.  I believe the sermon subject was relationships.  He simply said this:

“Under-react.”

I don’t recall the biblical context or application that was applied, so I’m forced to provide my own from Colossians 3.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Since that day, I’ve paid careful attention to what triggers so many conflicts (my own and others).

In almost every situation where senseless or unnecessary conflict arises, there is a common denominator:

One of the involved parties overreacts to the actions of another.

Thirteen hours in a car with mom, dad, and four kids on a family trip……..what causes every conflict?  An overreaction!  Sure little brother shouldn’t have farted for the 28th time.  Conflict arose when big sister acted like her eyes were bleeding and threatened to kill him.

You get the picture.  Person A does something they shouldn’t.  Person B reacts as if this justifies whatever bad reaction they unleash.

I understand that conflict isn’t always bad and sometimes becomes necessary.

But I think it’s important to think before we speak or act.

Plan ahead.  Know what’s important.  Know what’s worth fighting for.

When anger rises, ask the right questions, “is this worth getting mad over, worth fighting about?”  “Am I about to do something that I’m gonna feel terrible about and have to apologize for later?”  “What does my reaction teach my kids or anyone else that’s around?”

James 13 “Bear with each other….”

Be reminded of what’s really important.  In the grand scheme of things (especially for Christians honestly seeking biblical and eternal perspectives), most things we get worked up about simply aren’t worth getting worked up about.

I wish:

I’d spoken a little more harshly.

I’d been a little less patient.

I’d never put myself in the other person’s shoes.

I’d make more exceptions when it comes to following God’s commands.  But…….

I’d gotten angrier.  Reacted like it was a bigger deal than it really was.

No, of course we don’t say these things.

So why do we continue to get fired up and overreact to things that don’t really amount to a hill of beans?

James 1:19-20

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Kevin Ward, Jr., a 20 year-old race car driver died in a tragic accident last night after he was struck by Tony Stewart’s car.  I’m not a racing expert or even a fan, and I’m not going to speculate on who was at fault.  But I am certain of this.  Two men found themselves in a situation where their anger rose.  Neither man “under-reacted”.  If only one had done so, a tragic death could have been prevented.

When something great happens…….don’t be afraid to act like something great happened. Share the moment with others.
When the anger, impatience, and irritation begin to stir……..walk away, count to 10 (or to 1000), pray. THINK.
UNDER-REACT.

 

Just Living…..Or Fully Alive?

dr maddie 6

I hear it often:  someone is greeted with a “how are you doing?”

The response:  “Well, I’m above ground and that’s a good thing.”

Is it?

Is it enough to just be living and breathing?  To just exist, floating from one moment to the next with no clear intention.

God calls us to be ALIVE in Him, to serve His greater purpose.

Collosians 3 tells us that we, as Christians, are made alive in Christ.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Guys like me, we stumble along, trying to live out our lives as Christians………..in our mind and on a keyboard.  Spending too much time reading and sorting out thoughts.

Seemingly having a relationship with God, but leaving out a large part of that relationship……loving His people.  Love doesn’t happen in books, thoughts, theories, or in one’s mind.

Love happens in deed.  For all those things (opportunities) that I may claim to “not have time for” because of work and family time obligations, etc, it’s not TIME that I am lacking.  It is COMPASSION that I am lacking.

Compassion, being a Christian, is First Baptist Church in Grayson, KY pulling together people and resources to package over 120,000 meals to send to Haiti……… in one day.

meals for haiti

A church this size, in a community the size of ours, has no business pulling off something so monumental.

But when compassion and love become action, all things are possible with God.

A mission team from First Church of Christ in Grayson is currently serving in the Dominican Republic, sharing God’s love and the hope of the story of Jesus.   Daily, the pictures are shared on Facebook of our youth and adults conducting a VBS at an orphanage, singing praises to God, preaching, and simply loving His people there.

Compassion.  Love.  Faith.  Action. 

These are the things that change lives, give hope.

I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced a true life-changing moment because of things I’ve read or words that have been spoken to me.

Life change happens when people are loved and when they witness the love of Jesus being poured out around them.  It’s a blessing right now to see God’s people in Grayson, KY pouring it out so faithfully.

Lives are touched.  Lives are changed.  God’s people are ALIVE here.  Bless these fine people and pray that because of their efforts and faithfulness, countless others will become alive in Christ.

dr vbs

 

 

Sweat the Small Stuff

kind atheists

I like to keep things simple.  Choose spoken words carefully, avoiding those with no value and speaking only when there is a least some chance that someone is remotely interested in what I have to say.  The flip side of this is that I often make the universal sign for “blah blah blah” when someone else is talking too much.   I’m judgemental.  People spew more words than I want to listen to.  And at least once a day, I accuse someone of “making something a lot more complicated than it needs to be.”

Maybe we have a lot of churches that are treading water by doing both of these things at the same time:

1) Making it too simple.  “Invite people to church.”  “Tell people about Jesus.”

2) Making things a lot more complicated than they need to be.  See the two directives in #1.  People freak out about their shortcomings and get stopped in their tracks because they can’t see themselves doing “the big stuff” that churchy people speak of. Then think about your own inadequacies, lack of bible knowledge, shyness, less than stellar reputation from a previous life, etc.  It becomes overwhelming, hopeless……especially for new believers. BIG STEPS SEEMS TOO HARD AND PATHS FOR SMALL STEPS AREN’T LAID OUT CLEARLY ENOUGH.

 

Obviously, it’s a difficult matter to balance, but maybe we could be more effective in the true mission of our churches simply by teaching our members to be more like Jesus? (sounds so easy, right?)  But I guess poor disciples can’t effectively spread Christianity.

I know I come back to this verse time after time:

Romans 12:2

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
But it seems that new and long-time believers alike miss out on the life that God desires for them because we fail to embrace the concept of daily growth/change/surrender.
We know big changes are needed and fail to seek God’s guidance through the patience of making small changes over time.
It seems hopeless.
We can’t see the end, so we don’t even take the first step.  We fail to trust.
Face each day with a willingness to change for God.
Or perhaps worse, we fail to acknowledge the need to change.
We coast, living under the impression that we’re doing ok.
We settle for mediocrity, living only by our own strength and not by faith.
I guess I should really circle to a point since I claim to be a man of few words.
If you are a Christian of one week or 50 years, you have spent periods trying to figure out what the heck your spiritual gift is.
You may be like me and spend years believing you have none.  You can’t do anything BIG, so you do nothing at all?
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus says to make disciples of all nations.  Sounds like a pretty tall order on the surface.
Now go back to Romans 12:2.
The great commission starts in our mind with our commitment study God’s word, to seek his will daily, to become more like Jesus each day.  If we are to tell the world about Jesus, our co-workers, friends and neighbors have to see us living like Jesus.
We have to become credible messengers.
My spiritual gift….and yours…..is small victories.
Daily growth, closer to God.  Understanding His word and His will more each day.
Loving others, forgiving, serving, putting others before self.
Modeling honesty, kindness, compassion, integrity, strong work ethic.
Placing value on every relationship and every encounter with every person every day.
I guess it was in the 90’s that the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” books were popular.
I think the concept was not stressing or freaking out about small stuff (good idea).
I can’t see myself hitting many homeruns in my Christian walk.
But consider the value of the opportunities that “small stuff” present each day.
When we tackle the small stuff God’s way, time after time, day after day……….that small stuff becomes an absolute jackpot.
Others may actually want to follow who you follow.
Others may place value on your spoken words.
Seek God’s guidance each day to make the small stuff count.

 

My Brother’s Keeper

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“Mom, Dad never has time to do stuff with me any more”.

Pretty sobering words relayed to me by my wife from my 8 year old son.  I responded in typical male fashion- defense mode, “I know, but I just can’t help it right now.  There’s nothing I can do about it”.

John 10:10

New International Version (NIV)

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Life to the full.  What’s that supposed to look like for a follower of Christ?  Eternity is a long time.  Point our eyes toward heaven and do something while we are here and do it well.  We’re not on this earth long enough to sit still or to wallow in mediocrity.

I can’t offer the perfect formula for balance in life.  Like a training athlete, we have to be willing to push ourselves and to be pushed.  We can take on such an overwhelming load that God’s presence and strength obviously carries us through, and our faith grows.  Or we can fly around wildly, over-promising ourselves and under-including God and littering our world with a whole lotta C- efforts…..just getting by.  Maybe this is the way that many of us truly develep our trust in God, by failing and seeing more clearly our dependence on Him.  It’s the logical next step that comes after “I’m about to have a complete beakdown.  I can’t handle this”.  Either way, we learn of the importance of seeking His will and His strength and trusting Him more each step along the way.

Life to the full.  Wife and four kids.  Demanding job managing a family business.  Involved in church leadership and teaching Sunday school.  Coaching middle school basketball and Upward basketball.  Two daughters in high school track, cross-country, and soccer.   Doing laundry at 2am to make sure everybody has clean uniforms and underwear for the next day.  Certainly not taking advantage of all my opportunities but certainly not sitting still.

BOOM!  A lifetime of suffering with migraine headaches is taken away.  My basketball coaching load is taken away.  I have TIME.  I have prolonged clarity of thought for the first time in my life.  Clarity told me that I’ve been working 40 hours a week at a 65 hour a week job for the last 15 years in an effort to raise children that make a difference in this world (definitely not something I regret, but something that has left a stinky trail of mediocrity in its path).  So I’m not only tackling today’s problems with energy and focus, I’m backtracking and fixing yesterday’s problems, and preventing tomorrow’s problems.  Sure, now is the best time to do this.  It’s ok to work 60-65 hour weeks NOW.

“Dad never has time to do stuff with me now”

“There’s nothing I can do about it”

TRUTH.  When we are where God wants us to be, doing the things that He desires for us to do, He provides a way.  Satan provides excuses and we can’t wait to grab them and use them.  Most likely, the responsible thing for me to do in the short-term is to continue to work extended hours while I have the focus and energy to fix the results of my years of neglect.  But as far as finding time to do things with my youngest son, I can do something about it besides make excuses.  Claiming to be “tired” in the evenings is not an option.   Plan something and do it.  And don’t pawn off “dad duties” on mom or big brother.

And that brings me to the greatest point in this long and winding story.  When we are faithful (and apparently even when we are just somewhat faithful but willing to admit our failure) God provides a way.  When you are living for God, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough of you to go around as a dad (or a mom), He provides a way to fill in the gaps.  Special people……grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches, youth ministers are there to provide that special something.  When that little voice in your head says, “I can’t do it all”, don’t give up.  Do your best and trust Him with the rest.  Obviously I can try harder as a parent, but I can see clearly now how God has filled in the gaps with an awesome mom and older brother.

My 3 great lessons for the week:

1)  It’s not acceptable to make excuses for not having or making time for our kids.  Plan it.  Do it.

2)  Where I have shortcomings as a father, I am so thankful these shortcomings seem to be perfectly offset and overcome by the strengths of my wife.  In the case Kal, our 8 year-old son, I’m thankful the God gave him the best mom in the world to do the exact things that I have failed to do (like teach him to ride a bike).

3)  Kal is truly blessed to have a big brother that takes care of him when the responsibilities of life call mom and dad in other directions.  Saturday, it was truly like seeing up close, the hand of God at work, as Kal’s 14 year-old brother selflessly devoted his entire day (and night) to playing with, entertaining, teaching,  and patiently listening to his little brother.  He takes care of his little brother, not because he’s been instructed to but because he wants to.  That’s not a normal teenage boy thing.   That’s a “what God’s love looks like” thing.  And it’s pretty cool to see when you aren’t really expecting it.

I can’t do it all.  But I don’t have to.  But I still have to try.  And I have to trust.  And mediocrity is not acceptable.

 

 

What Men Really Want (And why we don’t get it)

Can't always get what you want

Because we just don’t “get it”?

Ephesians 5:21-23

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

There is potential to have excessive amounts of fun with this one.  But since most who will read this know me personally (mainly my dear wife), I will refrain from following my first instincts of man humor.  But this list will not include fast cars, lottery winnings, and a “10”.

What do men really want?  Maybe that’s a terrible question.  What should men rightfully expect or hope for from their wives (and to some degree, from their families)?

1)  To be heard.  We hate to repeat ourselves because no one is listening.  We don’t like to be ignored.  We want our words to have value to others.  But……(Our words have no value to others.  They become absent of God’s truths, love, and wisdom.  Our words fail to encourage, build up, or lead in godly ways.  We speak in a tone of voice that would send us into orbit if someone talked to us in that tone.)

2)  Trust our judgement.  Men do not like to be questioned.  Not just major stuff like what’s for dinner.  Minor stuff like “are you sure we’re going the right way?”.  Mainly we are just like any other human; we don’t like to be treated like we’re idiots.  If we’ve made a few good decisions over the years, just trust us to make a few more.  But…..(How sound is our judgement?  How much thought actually goes into our decisions?  Does our thought process include God and His commands?  Selfish or selfless?)

3)  To be adored.  We prefer to spend our time with those who think we’re great.  But……(Obviously, we’re not, except in the eyes of our Heavenly Father and through His strength, love, and grace.  So we gravitate toward those who don’t grasp or suffer from our shortcomings.  We hide from accountability instead of making an honest effort to be a better husband.  It’s easier take the shortcut of spending your time with your kids, friends, and co-workers who tend to gratify you based on what you do instead of who you truly are)

4)  To be respected.  Treat us like you know we will work hard, do the right thing, treat others with kindness and respect.  But……(Duh, we just don’t earn it consistently over time.)

5)  Peace.  Not the kind that comes from knowing Jesus as your savior.  We’d just like to have an occasional dose of “a little slack”.  To rest, to be left alone, to fish, to golf, to do nothing for a day.  But…..(Our desire for “slack” is rooted in selfishness and laziness.  Not because we need to but simply because we want to.  Meanwhile our wives’ workloads double and our kids long for our attention…….I don’t know, maybe take your kid to the lake or golf course with you and ask your wife what you can do to help her?)

6)  Affection.  Did I mention that my wife and possibly my teen children and their friends might read this?   (Add up your failures in 1-5, talk to and listen to your wife, start bathing daily……..and you figure out the rest).

We want, we want.   But we usually aren’t willing to put out much of an effort if we are required to change our habits in any way.  Amazing changes happen in relationships when we submit to God’s commands, when we allow God to change us instead of living for selfish desires and demands.

Proverbs 3:5-7

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him,    and he will make your paths straight.[a]

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;  fear the Lord and shun evil.

Ok, I didn’t really get into the whole “wives submit to you husband thing” (and I won’t).  My main hope is to challenge men to submit to God.  Take steps each day to make yourself a worthy leader of your family.  Not necessarily someone to be submitted to, but someone who loves and trusts the Lord.  And from that love and trust, grows a level of obedience.  From obedience, grows a desire to love and serve others.  And from a consistent effort to stay on the paths that God desires for you:

You just might find, you get what you need.