Here’s to Luke

Today is Luke’s birthday.  He’s my youngest.  How could he possibly be turning 11?

Luke is a great kid.luke blogpost

He’s the kid who used to eat dirt.
He’s the kid who didn’t talk until he was almost three.  (We think he knew how, he just didn’t have anything he wanted to say.)
He’s the kid who watched Toy Story 2 almost every day for a year.
He’s the kid who was doing two-digit math problems in his head before he started kindergarten.
He’s the kid who constantly crashed the scooter, but was too tough to get hurt.
He’s the kid who walked around Chicago with his dad so they wouldn’t have to eat lunch at American Girl Place.
He’s the kid who has a brillo pad for hair.
He’s the kid who sings in the shower because he doesn’t think anyone is listening.
He’s the kid who is first down the trail or first up the dune.
He’s the kid who will always play a game with you.
He’s the kid who suffered through 4 losing basketball seasons with his dad as the coach – before finally enjoying a winning season (guess who wasn’t the coach?).
He’s the kid who cleans up after the dog without complaining.
He’s the kid who can ride a Ripstick – and who doesn’t laugh when his dad tries.
He’s the kid who would rather have brownies than a birthday cake.
He’s the kid who is gentle and easy going.
He’s the kid who still doesn’t have much to say – but who sometimes says a lot with what he does say.
He’s the kid who I have big dreams for.
He’s the kid who God has big plans for.

Happy birthday, Luke.  I love you.  Me and you, man.  Me and you.

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What are you thinking?

F004 Question mark head CAT 72dpiMany years ago I faced a situation where the outcome was  not what I had hoped for.  Being young and immature, and also pretty typical, I handled it poorly.  My strategy was to feel sorry for myself – and to be honest, it felt kind of good.  I was indulging my emotions, and finding an odd pleasure in my pain.  But my approach didn’t really help.

I felt depressed, I started losing weight, I wanted to sleep all the time, I lost my ability to enjoy life.  Ok, let’s be honest – I was losing my ability to live life.  I couldn’t stay focused, I had no motivation.  I was not a pretty sight.

So I got help.  And in the end it came in the form of a green 3×5 card that I folded in half and put in my pocket.  And that card was my ticket to healing.  Any time I started to feel bad I pulled out that card and I felt better.  It wasn’t the card that made me feel better; it was what was written on that card.  I had written down a dozen things that I knew to be true (even though they didn’t necessarily “feel” true), and when I started thinking negative thoughts I would pull out that card and read those twelve statements.

That first day I must have read that card about every five minutes.  Self-pity would crop up and I would grab my card and read – and feel better for at least a few minutes.  In the first few days of being a card-carrier I about wore out that card.  But I was feeling somewhat better, so I kept at it.  After 4 or 5 days I was no longer pulling out the card; the list was so much a part of me that I could recite it from memory.  I found myself repeating those dozen things over and over again in my mind.  I also found that I was no longer depressed.  Life was good again!  In just one simple week.  And amazingly my circumstances never changed; it was my thinking that changed (and, of course, my life).

That’s been almost twenty years ago now, but the lessons I learned are still huge in my life today.  First, I can control what I think.  I have the power to choose my thoughts.  Second, I can only think one thing at a time – so if I am struggling with negative thoughts, I have the choice to replace them with positive thoughts.  And third, the way that I  think  pretty much determines the way that I feel.

I believe that is the point of Philippians 4:8.  “Whatever is true, honest, just, pure, etc. – think on those things.”  We all have the ability to choose what we will think about.  When we think well, we find life to be good.  When we think poorly, our outlook on life suffers, too.  But we get to pick what we think about!

Sadly I lost that little green 3×5.  But it was ok – because I had it in my mind.  And I often find myself today repeating some of those things that I wrote down many years ago.  Want to know what they are?  I’ll give you my list, because maybe it will help you, too.

  • God knows better than I do.  (I Corinthians 1:25)
  • God takes an active role in arranging the events of my life.  (Romans 8:31,32)
  • Whatever my need is, God can meet it.  (Philippians 4:19)
  • God will never subject me to more than I can handle.  (I Corinthians 10:13)
  • Anything I receive from God is better than I deserve.  (Lamentations 3:22,23)
  • I am to give thanks in every situation.  (I Thessalonians 5:18)
  • God has never lost control of a situation, mine won’t be the first.  (Psalm 146:10)
  • When something doesn’t work out, it may be because God has a better plan. (Psalm 31:19)
  • Nothing ever happens to me that has not been allowed by God.  (Proverbs 21:30)
  • God is incapable of doing anything that is not good.  (Exodus 34:6,7;  Malachi 3:6)
  • God’s main goal for me is that I be conformed to the image of Christ.  (Romans 8:28,29)
  • God loves me more than I will ever understand. (Ephesians 3:19; Romans 8:37-39)

There’s my list.  Use it if it helps you.  Or better yet, create your own.  And then choose to think those thoughts!

So what are you thinking?  Remember – the quality of your  life will be determined by the quality of  your thinking.

Down at the Hope

hope_ministriesWhen people ask me about my brother, I love to tell them that he is downtown at the rescue mission.  And then I have to tell them that he works there as the director of spiritual life.  Rick asked me to come down and lead the devotion time this morning for the men.  It was great – 35 guys together in a room needing God to do something big in their lives, and I am including myself in that 35.

The official name of the mission is Hope Ministries, but people there just call it “the Hope.”  The mission uses a grace-based model developed by the  Grace Network.  One of the components of the program is called a self-evaluation.  When a resident violates a community standard of the mission, he is asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding the incident.  A series of 7 questions leads him to evaluate his thinking behind the choice that he made.  During the morning devotion meeting, any guys who have filled out a self-evaluation are asked to read their responses to the questions before the entire group, and then to answer any further questions that any member of the group may have. 

Twice now I have sat in on these sessions.  And when I do this verse keeps coming to my mind, “Confess your faults to each other.” (James 5:16)  I’ve read that verse in the past and thought to myself, “Yeah, right, I’m going to tell someone else how I messed up.  I don’t think so.  That’s my business; not theirs.  And besides, I already feel bad about it – I don’t need other people looking down on me, too.”

But then I look at how self-evaluations work at (the) Hope.  When guys have to share how they screwed up, it’s not judgment that is offered, but rather grace.  Every guy in that room has messed up before, so he knows the feeling – and he knows that condemnation is not the answer.  Support is.  Unfortunately in most of our Christian circles we can’t share our weaknesses and failures because we are part of a judgmental community and we can’t afford to lose face.

Instead we lose grace. 

When we struggle in life, our natural tendency is to keep it to ourselves and just try to work through it on our own.  But is that really the best plan?  Maybe it would be better if we had the help and support of others around us.  Maybe that’s what God had in mind when he told us to confess our faults to one another.  Maybe He was thinking that it would be healthy and helpful if we could be transparent enough to involve others.

I know I’m starting to think that way.

The forever business

The other day I had to go to the eye doctor.  I signed in and took my place in the waiting room.  I don’t really mind waiting rooms, as long as they have current issues of sports magazines (since I’m too cheap to buy a subscription for myself).  But yesterday I didn’t see a sports magazine.  Sigh.  My choice was either Smithsonian or People.  Since I’m not much of a celebrity fan, I went the more intellectual route.  

am hist museumPerhaps my interest in Smithsonian was greater because this past spring my family and I, along with every other family in America, took a Spring Break to Washington D.C. so that we could stand in line (with no magazines provided).  One of the places where we stood was the Smithsonian, specifically the Museum of American History.

So it was with double interest when I picked up the magazine and read about the curator of that museum accepting some sports items from the 2004 World Series into its collection – a base from one of the games and a uniform.  But what really caught my attention was that  Brent Glass, the curator, mentioned that the museum was in the “forever business.”

Check out this quote:

“Forever institutions such as libraries, universities, and museums are especially important in uncertain times because they provide stability and continuity; they are at their best when they maintain the core values even as they face new challenges.”

Then I got to thinking…

1.  Libraries, museums, universities – they’re not really in the “forever business,” they’re in the “up till now business.”  I get his point – that we should take the knowledge gained from the past and put it to use in the future, but that future is still out there somewhere, and not in his museum.

2.  The real institution in the “forever business” is the church.   The museum traces history and culture and values, but it stops with the present.  It can only move forward by living off the past.  The church moves forward by living off the future – how cool is that?!  And it’s future is already laid out and guaranteed.

3.  If people are looking for stability in uncertain times, the church needs to step up and take advantage of the opportunity.

4.  We as the church need to remember that we really are about forever.  We have a tendency to be short-sighted and we get way too focused on today, or maybe the day after today – but we need to look further down the road.  What we do matters forever. 

5.  Let’s not let our churches become too much like museums where we live too much in the past.  I know we are supposed to remember what God has done; I’m not discounting that.  But we hold onto the wrong things.  Relics may have their place, but the church shouldn’t feel musty and antiquated.  No, the church should feel fresh and alive as it moves forward into forever.

 The “forever business.”  What a great way to describe what a church should be about!

Vision – Nehemiah style

Vision is a big in today’s world – the kind that goes with leadership.  We love people who have vision – guys like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., even Walt Disney.  Guys with big dreams.  Guys who see possibilities that no one else does.

But we don’t typically see ourselves as one of them.  Vision, we think, is for the special few.  Unless your name is Nehemiah.  He doesn’t seem that special to me – but he was a visionary.  We might not lump him in the same category as the guys like Gandhi; his great accomplishment was merely building a wall.  But it was his vision that got it built.   Even though he probably wasn’t known as some big visionary.

  • he was only a king’s cup bearer
  • he was not particularly well known
  • he probably didn’t have some big personality
  • he didn’t seem to be that good at motivational speaking

But no one else had done anything to build a wall.   He was the visionary who made things happen.  He got the job done, and he rallied the Jewish people to join him.  How?  With simple vision.  While a lot gets said about vision today, maybe it’s as simple as 1-2-3.  Nehemiah’s 1-2-3.   Check it out:

Nehemiah 2:17,18 “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” [P.S.] “The gracious hand of the Lord is on me, and the king will be providing the means to do so.”

That was his big motivational speech?  Really?  Was he really thinking those few words were going to inspire the troops?  They did.  Check out the people’s response:

 “Let us start building.” And with that they got to work.

Huh. Maybe being a visionary is simpler than we think.  Maybe even common guys like Nehemiah have a chance.  Maybe it’s just working with, and communicating three simple ideas:

1. What needs to be done (a wall needs to be built)
2. Why it needs to be done (let’s end this disgrace)
3. How it needs to be done (let us build, the king will provide resources, God will bless)

Isn’t that really what vision is all about?

That means that it’s not so much about a person.  It may not even have that much to do with a presentation.  It simply has to do with a plan.  A simple plan that most anyone could use, including you and me.  Do you see any walls around that need to be built?  Be a visionary.

The joy of church hopping

Disclaimer: I am opposed to church hopping.

Due to various circumstances in my life, I have visited at least 17 different churches in the past year. In each case I came as a visitor, and I checked things out. The following are some of my impressions:

  • Appearance matters – and it starts outside. Taking care of your grounds communicates excellence. In some places I got good vibes in the parking lot.
  •  Inside appearance matters more. Churches can be like houses – you can get so used to living in them that you fail to realize that the bathtub is baby blue and the stove is avocado. Lobbies that look like funeral home parlors are outdated.
  • It’s nice when people come early. That seems to happen more at the churches with coffee shop type lobbies (ah, updates!). An early crowd gives the sense that people are excited to be there.
  • Every church has greeters – but not all greeters are the same. Most greeters were content to hand me a bulletin, but didn’t say much, if anything. Sometimes I felt like I was walking into Walmart.
  • Bulletins. Wow. It’s just two sides of an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper, but it’s enough space to do some seriously bad things. This is what people take home with them – why not make them look nice? Some I never even attempted to read. Call it the intimidation factor. I have more thoughts on this, but I’ll save them for another post.
  • Are you ready for this one? In zero, nada, none, zilcho of the churches I attended as strictly a visitor did I have any person (besides a staff member or someone I already knew) make an attempt to be friendly beyond the perfunctory hello. It must be me. Maybe I look pastoral and intimidate the average church member?
  • I like shorter services. Most services seemed to fall into the little over an hour category. The ones that went any longer seemed very long – and usually they seemed very long because the speaker talked for a very long time. And the longer he talked, the less I seemed to remember. And I’m not even ADD.
  • What about the Bible? I dutifully carried mine into every service. Call it habit. Here is what I found. In every single church service the Bible was mentioned and verses were read. That’s a good thing. However, in many cases the Bible was referenced rather than explained, and sometimes it seemed to be used more as a support than the source.
  • The services that stuck out to me had three things going for them.
    1) Expression of vision – when I left I felt like I knew what that church was about
    2) Flow – the service seemed to be intentionally crafted from start to finish so there were no gaps or announcements of what was to come next
    3) Relevance – I liked it when at the beginning of the message (or even better, at the beginning of the service) I was told what the main point was, what need was to be addressed, what question was to be answered.
  • Some churches feel happy. People respond to humor, the music is appreciated (without the judgmental frowns of some), the crowd sticks around after the service. Those churches made me wish that someone would talk to me.
  • Every church does things differently. That’s ok. In fact, I think it is good. I actually have enjoyed the variety.

In just about every church I found something I liked. And next Sunday? I’ll be at church – because I love church. Maybe I’ll be at your church. So if you see someone you don’t recognize, try to be friendly. It just might be me.

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