When You Already Know Who Wins

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Around 1978, Foodland grocery stores ran a promotion centered around a 30-minute horse racing program called “Let’s Go To The Races”. With each grocery purchase you would receive a game card with a horse number for each of the five races that would be run during the Saturday night program. If your horse won its race, you were the lucky winner of between $2 and $500.

So each Saturday night, my brother and I gathered around the TV with our game card (or in the luckiest of weeks we’d have two cards). Our mom let us live with the impression that if we were lucky enough to win big, the money was ours to keep. For 9 and 10 year old boys in those days, $500 would buy pretty much an infinity of baseball cards and Kiss albums, so we were on the edge of our seats in the time slot preceding Hee Haw.

There were times where we were able to cash in on some $2 and $5 winners. But our luck just never worked out in the higher dollar races. Looking back, it was pretty amazing just how many times our horse jumped out to a 10-length lead in the $500 race. My brother and I jumped around the living room and yelled and cheered, thinking we were certain to be rich. But our horse always managed to lose in a photo finish when the stakes were highest. Dejectedly, we’d tear up our race card, throw couch cushions off the walls……….and think that surely we’d win next week.

In our young minds it never sunk in that the races were pre-recorded, and that the 2nd place photo finish loser was always going to be the number showing up on most everyone’s game ticket.

For the races that we witnessed, somebody already knew who was going to win. That someone wasn’t us. And maybe that’s why our anger, frustration, and disappointed were amplified in defeat. Uncertainty. Helplessness. They feed anger.

My oldest son is just a couple of months away from going away for college. I do remember being at that age and the anxious times of transition from high school to college and the new range of thoughts and worries that crash into your brain. He caught me off guard earlier in the week, asking the type of question that he usually wouldn’t ask. His nature is to listen, pay attention to what’s going on around him, and figure most things out on his own.

So I was caught a bit off guard when he blurted out, “Dad, how do you manage to not let things bother you and not get mad about the things that other people do?”

I wasn’t sure if he was specifically having trouble with anger and irritation or if he just got it in his head that I was an above average performer when it comes to anger management. Either way, I gave a lame answer.

How do I not get angry? My faith in God. My life experiences, being able to recognize that most things that people get so angry about aren’t worth getting angry about.

Don’t get me wrong. I get way madder than I should about printer problems, socialism, and stripped out screw heads. But there is a certain peace from knowing who wins in the end that takes away the fear, uncertainty, pride, and feelings of helplessness that feed the beast of anger.

My Jesus, who died on the cross for my sins and yours, he also rose again from the grave taking eternal victory over death. So when we get in the habit of taking pause to try to see things in an eternal perspective, in terms of Heaven and Hell and the promises of God……….most things we get bent out of shape over just aren’t worth getting bent out of shape over. “Did Jesus die on the cross for me to flip out over this? To talk to another human being like this? To withhold forgiveness like this?  No.

I’m sure most of us over-inflate the number of cases where we think a case of “justified anger” is justified. And too many times we’re angry just because we decide we want to be angry (because I have a right to be angry, right?) usually for four reasons:

  1. Our pride is too great.
  2. Our love is too little.
  3. Our trust in God is lacking.
  4. Our vision is too short. We fail to find an eternal perspective.

It may sound a bit too simple. But anger grows from thoughts of justifying reasons to be angry. Anger dies, and peace comes when our thoughts turn to Jesus, a cross, and an empty tomb. We already know who wins. I know I’m not holding a losing ticket. Shame on me if I can’t find peace in that.

 

I’m Right and You’re Wrong…..The Bible Tells Me So

ernest t

Honest question.  If you have to tell somebody you’re a Christian………should you even bother telling them you’re a Christian?

John 13 NIV -//

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Early followers of Christ were known for their love for one another.  What are Christians known for today, either fairly or unfairly?

We’re pretty judgmental.

no rock throwing 2

We cast a lot of stones.

We’re pretty good at digging up scripture that pertains to what someone else is doing wrong.

We get hung up on 4-letter words, beer-drinking, proper dress, and gay marriage.

We’re pretty good about downplaying the importance of the words of James 3 about taming the tongue.

Christians have a pretty massive presence on social media on the argument scene.  But some truths spoken in poor spirit in large doses to large audiences (and properly twisted by media) do much more harm than good.

We behave as if we are in charge of the deliverance of grace, and we’re stingy with it.

We’ve twisted the perception of what being a Christian is.

We spend too much energy trying to get people to agree with us while failing to devote ourselves to becoming like Christ.

Some battles are worth fighting and God’s truths can’t be compromised.

But Jesus commanded His disciples to be known by their love, not by their ability to quote scripture as a weapon to condemn others or win arguments.

“LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  BY THIS EVERYONE WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES”

If we have to tell somebody we’re a Christian, maybe we shouldn’t bother telling them.  Maybe we should seek to understand more, surrender more, love more.  Be transformed.  Then others will know we are Christians by our love, and they will want to follow who we follow.

Everyone that we encounter, every single day, its’ safe to assume…….”God wants me to love this person.”  It’s not always easy (obviously).  Sometimes we have to walk away and pray and try again another day…..day after day.

The Bible’s a pretty big book so I guess that gives us a lot of chances to make things a lot more complicated than they should be.  But I think Jesus is called Savior for a reason.  He changes lives and He saves people.  Followers of Jesus are supposed to lead the lost to Him.  We don’t have to change anybody or win an argument first (I’m sure somebody will argue me on this).  We have to lead a life that makes others want to follow who we follow.

I think that those who love most, just has Jesus commanded, stand the greatest chance of influencing those who need Jesus most.

Love is greater than knowledge.  So don’t get hung up on being “right” as an excuse for actions that aren’t Christ-like.

Are My Kids Gonna Recognize and Avoid That Big Pile of Poo?

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Right from wrong.  Truth.  All parents want their kids to recognize these things.  How will our children choose what is right?  How will they define what is right?  How will they become critical thinkers?

Ultimately, will they develop good decision-making skills?

It won’t happen by accident.  Blessed with young children in your home?   Embrace opportunities early on to not only teach right from wrong, but also to demonstrate truths, values, and worldviews that will form the foundation of their ability to make good decisions as they mature.

When my kids were small I made a habit of pushing their buttons of critical thinking by giving them small doses of impossibilities.  Tell them you think a puzzle piece goes somewhere it can’t possibly go.  Tell them to try the square peg in the round hole.  Watch their reactions, guide them toward finding the truth for themselves and toward correct solutions to problems without blindly accepting everything they are told.  They don’t have to “question everything” but they do need to assess the value and truth of things as they grow.  Crap or not crap?

The bad news is that the world is full of lies.  But…..the good news is that the world is full of lies.  Teaching moments come in large doses these days.  Failure is a great teacher.  TV and social media flood our lives with perfect examples of “how not to do things”.

Be ready to engage in conversations with your kids about the aftermath of bad decisions and the complete crisis of truth.  If you are a believer in the truths of the Holy Bible, then you must help your kids figure out daily how to apply these truths in a broken world……….to recognize crap when they see it, to realize when things have no value.

Parents who are silent in these areas risk seeing their kids’ system of values shaped instead by a culture that spews this garbage and more:

-Life is supposed to be fair.

-Other people owe me something.  Personal responsibility amounts to talking about what other people should be providing for me.

-There is great value in physical appearance, along with the attention and approval of others.

-If you don’t like the rules, re-shape them to meet your own desires.

-Instant gratification always outweighs patience, obedience, and hard work.  You can start at the top.

-If you fail, it must be somebody else’s fault.  Nothing wrong with blaming and excuse making.

-Lying is ok as long as you compare yourself to “worse acts”.  Results are more important than honesty and integrity.

-If you fail to embrace a decaying system of truth and morality, you must be a hater, bigot, sexist, racist.

-The president controls jobs and the economy and my prospect of work.

-It’s of utmost importance, not only to be right, but to convince others that you are right and they are wrong.

-Bruce Jenner……nah, not even opening that one up.

-It’s ok for Christians to spew venom toward and gossip about their brothers behind their backs……as long as they don’t use 4-letter words while they’re doing it.

There is an abundance of crap out there and it changes every day.  As parents, arm yourself with prayer and truth each day. Eyes and ears open.   Be intentional when your kids are young.  Set out to not only arm them with truth but instill in them a desire to choose it and live it.

Philippians 4

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Recognize the pile of poo.  Steer away from it.  Steer others away.

Dad, Are Man Cards Even Real?


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“Kal, if you don’t stop coming to mom and dad’s bed in the middle of the night, you’re never gonna get your man card.”

Kal is 9.  He is a migrant sleeper.  Sometimes he sleeps on a cot in his brothers room.  Most nights, he asks if he can park himself in the recliner beside mine until he falls asleep, and I give in so we can squeeze in just a few minutes of father/son time.  On these nights he gets carried to the sofa to sleep for the night.

And most nights, he wakes me in the early morning hours by crawling onto the edge of our bed.  So I told him that he had to start sleeping all night on the couch in order to earn his man card.

Didn’t think much about it until one day he proudly exclaimed, “dad, did you notice I slept all night on the couch?”

“Great son!  You’re on your way to getting your man card.”

Then the daily questions started.  What else did he need to do to earn his card?  So I started to have some fun with it and use it for teaching & motivation.

I listed some things he’s already done as requirements:

-Whittle a spear from a stick

-Throw a tight spiral with a football

-Complete a 5k race

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-Conquer a ropes course

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-Learn the words to “Freebird”

-Catch a fish and get it off hook

-Help your dad carry groceries to the house in the snow when he couldn’t get his truck up the driveway.

-Catch a shark with rod and reel

kal shark 2013

When he wanted to give up on his first attempt at finishing a song on Guitar Hero on Wii, I told him he’d lose his man card.  Giving up on a task just because it isn’t easy just isn’t acceptable.  So he stuck with it until he finished.

I finally told him he’d earned a man card.  Each additional test or task just earns a “punch” on the card.

“What can I do today, dad, to get another punch on my card?”

There are some things that little boys need to learn to do.  And there are certain things that dads need to try to teach their boys (and girls) to do……..even though they aren’t important skills.  Just part of being a dad and connecting with your kids.

I started running out of quick and easy answers.  Some became silly.

-Hit the bullseye on a dartboard.

-Load and start the dishwasher

-Wear the same underwear for three consecutive days.

So I started thinking of serious answers.  True life lessons to teach.  Sometimes to be taught by words.  Sometimes taught by our actions.  Dads, your children are watching you.

-Forgive someone who has wronged you

-Show initiative.  Notice when someone needs help and extend a helping hand.

-Close your mouth and listen when others are talking, and let them finish.

-Admit fault when you’re wrong

-Ask for forgiveness

-Never half-way do anything

-Speak kindly of others

-Share freely with others what the Lord has blessed you with

-Have a thankful heart

Teaching your sons to catch a fish or throw a spiral doesn’t quite make them a man.  But the time spent doing these things puts a dad into a position of being the most powerful influencer in the lives of his children.

Real men love.  Real men serve others.  Real men try their best to be like Jesus.

Matthew 20 NIV -//

whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Real men live to help those around them rise up…….to an eternal reward…..to their own life of impact.

“Dad, are man cards even real?”

I think so.  You get a new hole punched every time the Lord blesses you with the strength and ability to lift others up in some way.

Bear wrestling not necessary.

Perfect Gifts, Blondie Records, & Who Moved My Stuff?

skynyrd christmas

No ugly ties or argyle socks for this dad on Christmas this year.  My four kids know me better than that.

Ten days removed from Christmas, the decorations are put away.  My oldest daughter is settled back in at college.  The others dread the end of Christmas break as they return to school tomorrow.  And I smile now as I reflect on the significance of each of their simple gifts to me, the beauty in the uniqueness of their personalities, and the ways they arrived at their purchases.

From Kal, my 9 year-old, the #1 DAD ink pen.  This is most likely my fourth such pen purchased from the elementary school Christmas shop.  It represents some of his first efforts into independent shopping and giving.  The key is to act like it’s the greatest pen that I’ve ever owned (it’s already broken).  The desire to do for others and the joy of giving doesn’t seem to come quite as naturally for boys, so one must work these moments hard.  So Kal knows this is, without a doubt, my favorite ink pen.

From my 15 year-old son, a Lynyrd Skynyrd book.  I taunted him a few weeks back that he had no idea what he was getting for Christmas.  He smiled and proudly exclaimed that “you don’t know what I got for you either…..but it’s from the heart, dad.  I promise”, as he grinned and patted me on the shoulder as I’ve done to him so many times before. I don’t think he’s ever put a lot of effort into gift buying in the past.  But I knew something was different this year as I watched his birthday money going toward handpicked gifts for his brother and sisters (accompanied by his own personal touch of sloppy gift wrap).  Anyway, he has a great appreciation and knowledge for a boy his age of cassette/vinyl era music.  We share a common bond and have great conversations about the subject. So I have this vision of him in the bookstore coming upon the Lynyrd Skynyrd book, and his realization that it was the perfect gift for dad.  The excitement of giving.  Well done my son.  Welcome to the world of “the joy of finding and giving the perfect gift”.

From my 16 year-old daughter, the wallet……and thermal underwear…….and Bengal earbuds.    My thoughtful child.  Starting in November, coming to me repeatedly, asking me for advice about gift-giving ideas for various family members.  Wanting to find a perfect or useful gift for everyone on her list.  She’s always taken gift-buying (or hand-making gifts) seriously since the days of those first #1 DAD pens.  She understands the joy of giving. She’s a detail person, a giver like her mother and I love that about her.   I knew she was watching me for months, trying so hard to find something that I needed.  I noticed some time ago that she noticed my ratty, worn out wallet.  I knew it was coming.   She may have been done shopping before December 1st.  She takes giving seriously.  I love her giving heart.

From my 18 year-old daughter, the Rolling Stones album.  A great gift.  Maybe even a last-minute gift?  I found my albums in crazy order with an album that I would never listen to (Blondie’s Greatest Hits) mysteriously on top on Christmas Eve.  Before gifts were exchanged, I jokingly asked the three older kids which one was out shopping and sent sent the text to someone at home “Hey, does dad have _____album?”, but nobody confessed.

Or the gift could have been almost an afterthought, because my oldest daughter knows me deeply.  We have this wonderfully unique relationship where we share 1,000 words without speaking, exchanging a glance or a smile and knowing exactly what one another is thinking.  I honestly wouldn’t care or notice if nobody gave me anything for Christmas.  Macy knows this.  Sure, she was gonna do something for her dad for Christmas.  But she understands that it’s no big deal if she doesn’t.

We ended up spending Christmas Eve shopping together, not so much because we actually needed to buy gifts…….but just because we could.  And that turned out to be the greatest gift that she could have given me.

She isn’t a worrier and doesn’t seem to fret over little things…….has a lot a confidence in her ability to pull things out at the last second, living by the seat of her pants…….like her dad.  I love that about her.

I sure hope nobody ever frets about finding a gift for me of any sort.  I hope my kids all find joy in giving and doing for others year round.  And I’m so very thankful that God made each of them so very unique.

Sometimes a simple pile of gifts can remind us of so much.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Just as my children are unique and wonderful to me, all people are unique and wonderful in God’s eyes.
We certainly can’t be everything to everybody, but it’s probably safe to say that we can be more to somebody each day by trying to see that somebody through the eyes of God……even if they happen to be wearing argyle socks and listening to Blondie.

Smile….God Loves You!

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Sometimes perspective arrives when we stop searching for it.

One of those days…….

Too many hours spent at work (if I can just get caught up on some things, I’ll have more time with my family)

Too many rude and impatient people (“I can be nice to anybody for five minutes.  I can bite my tongue.  I’m not offendable)

Too many things to do.  Not enough help to do it.  The demands and requests keep coming.  (I can’t figure out how to get it all done)

Too many places to be at the same time.  (If this day was 30 hours long, I would still be in trouble).

If one more thing goes wrong, I’m gonna lose it.  (and it always does)

“This too shall pass.”

I don’t believe this is actually in scripture, but I repeat it to myself often when overwhelmed with circumstances.  It does give biblical perspective, but sometimes there is no comfort in simple analytical thinking.  The weariness doesn’t go away.

My day finished with a long church meeting that left me arriving home at 10:30.  Little to no time spent with any family member in an entire day.  Great.  Weary……very.

I mindlessly watched TV for a while before bed.  Kal had fallen asleep in the recliner next to me.  When I picked him up to carry him to bed, perspective came in the most gentle and perfect way.

He had been sick and hadn’t gone to school.  Almost 9 years old now, I struggled to pick him up and carry his sleeping body.  His head rested on my shoulder as I started through the house.  I took just a few steps and felt his fevered cheek against mine.

Weariness, unrest, and anxiety gave way to an amazing feeling of peace.

God loves me.  That’s enough.

“God loves you” sounds terribly cliche’ and empty when tossing it out to others, but it’s powerful enough to bring you to your knees in moments like this.

For just an instant, with my son’s head resting on my shoulder, I was reminded how much I love this precious child (and all four of my children).  And as I gave thanks for this boy and the privilege of being called “daddy”, I saw so clearly my Father’s love for me.

And I saw great purpose again.  Not to survive the day and schedules and get things done……but to love.  To be the best dad I can be.

I may not get to spend as much time as I’d like with my kids tomorrow either.  But if I trust, honor, and obey God with my plans and efforts to do so…….He will provide a way.

In comforting my sick son, I found comfort in my Father.

God loves me.  He loves me enough to make me a daddy.  He loves me enough to send His Son to die on the cross for me.

I carried my son to bed with a smile on my face.

 

When God Speaks Through Silence, Little Girls, and Heartache

My gosh! I’m in a funk. But I’ll get through this.

And because I’m a few beats off and “life’s a long song” (Jethro Tull), the lyrics to Suicidal Tendencies’ classic “Institutionalized” keep rattling in my brain:

No it’s ok, you know I’ll figure it out, just leave me alone, I’ll figure it out.  You know I’ll just work by myself.

Because God gave me a brain and I’m supposed to use it, right?  And I pray but I’m not sure what I’m praying for.  What am I supposed to see here?  Nothing in my life has changed but I sure do seem to be stopped in my tracks.

Peace, joy, happiness, contentment….I have all these things.  Depression?  No.

Maybe “oldtimers” would call it “being under conviction” in some way.  Abilility to concentrate leaves.  Usual passions of life escape me.  Willingness to patiently lead and encourage is gone.  Patience leaves altogether.  I begin to believe there is value in quietly making people around me uncomfortable.  I don’t want to be out in front anymore, don’t want to lead.  Just want to hide in the corner.

Backing up a bit, my wife and I have been blessed with four children (ages 8-18).  At some point we realized we may never have a greater opportunity, because of the hectic schedules of our kids, to intersect our lives with others and be a positive influence for Christ.  In recent years, I’ve stepped into plenty of situations in coaching youth sports and church leadership where my own wits and skills were sorely lacking, but God always provided the way through.

Making a choice to allow yourself to be spread thin for God requires faith.  And it makes your faith grow in amazing ways. 

Am I getting lazy?  Lacking faith, giving in to the temptation of taking the easy way out?

So what’s wrong with me?  Week after week, that unsettled feeling.  Is God telling me something by not telling me anything at all?

Always looking for perspective……prayer, meditation, reflection…..trying to piece things together.  Take a step back because you can’t see the forest from the trees.

Questions.  If you consider all the things that fill up your days and take up your time & energy…….if you dumped all the pieces out on the floor in front of you……how many pieces would have enough value that they would be worth picking up and carrying again?

Ecclesiastes 3 New International Version (NIV)

A Time for Everything

3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

Seasons change.  What is good today may not be good tomorrow.  Even though Christians may be working toward the same goal, it doesn’t mean that we are called to travel the same path every day of our life.

stopMy apologies for the Vanilla Ice reference.

Weeks later.  The same funk.  But I listen.  If God is speaking, I don’t hear Him.  I don’t see where He’s steering me.

I made a 4-hour drive one day to watch my daughter’s college soccer game.  In a 0-0 game, she took a shot with under a minute to go that would have won the game.  The goalie made a great stop.  With 20 seconds left in overtime, she took a shot that would have won the game.  It banged off the post.  In the second overtime the opponent took their first true shot on goal.  It went in.  Game over.

Some of her teammates were laying on the field in anguish.  Others were walking slowly off the field hanging their heads low.  I looked up to see Macy walking swiftly off the field with her head held high.  After meeting briefly with her team, she walked across the field toward me and greeted me with a smile and a hug, “Hi daddy, are you hungry?”

macy 2003

On my long drive home late that night, I knew that in some way, God had spoken.

Parents want to raise exceptional kids.  For me, that means loving and serving God, possessing high character.  I saw great character in my daughter, competing to the best of her ability (exhaustion to the point of vomitting later in the evening) coupled with the perspective of putting a game of soccer in its proper place in life.  No anguish, no blaming teammates or referees.  Head held high.  Knowing what’s important in life.

Character doesn’t happen by accident.

In a text conversation with Macy I commented (in my soured mood) that I was tired of working too much, “raising adults”, and being pulled in so many directions.

Macy has an 8 year-old brother at home.  It occurred to me that I certainly wasn’t pulled in so many directions when Macy was 8. The A-Ha moment.   Character does not happen be accident.

I started writing this weeks ago.  It appears that God added another treasured piece of direction for me today when I attended the funeral of a very special lady.  My stepmother’s dear mother passed away unexpectedly this past week.  She was an amazing lady who touched the lives of so many people.  What occurred to me as I listened to people speaking at her service was how deeply devoted she was to her family.  For someone who loves Jesus as she did, the impact of a lifetime of love and service and devotion to family can never be measured.

I give thanks to God for little girls.  They grow up to be big girls and help their dads figure out where God may be leading them.  And I thank God today for the lady that my kids affectionately called “Mammy”.  They saw the loving character of Christ in her each time they were in her presence, and her loving influence on them lives on.

Know your season.  It’s always the season to love, treasure, and guide your family in a Godly way above all else.

Do not allow yourself to be distracted.  Don’t lose sight of who needs AND depends you loving influence every single day.

Be cautious of trying to play hero to too many people.  You may end up being a hero to none.