Sunday, May 15, 2016

True Heroes

Like many kids, my bedroom walls were adorned with posters of my heroes.  Iron Mike Tyson, Dwight Gooden, and Magic Johnson were my American idols.  Sadly, each self-destructed in their prime.  Magic's unfaithfulness produced consequences forcing him out of basketball.  After winning the World Series, Dwight Gooden found himself in a crack house and missing the celebratory parade.  Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion of the world only to find himself in prison a few years later.  Eventually, I came to realize that the attributes I idolized in these all-stars weren't those that make true heroes.  I wasn't looking deep enough, I was simply admiring performance. 

I've told these stories to my sons.  I've told real stories of true heroism, often not found on Sportscenter's Top Ten.  We've talked about courage, faith, hope, and what matters most in a person.

This political season has afforded much conversation about why people choose to vote for a particular candidate.  We've talked a lot about issues and positions.  However, a local State Representative summed it up best when he recently visited the school my children attend.  My son came home and explained that this representative was talking to his class and said that he couldn't support a particular candidate because he simply didn't see any evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in their life.  I realized that, yes, it can be that simple.

In his letter to the ancient church, the Apostle Paul wrote that "when we live God’s way.. He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely" (Galatians 5, The Message).  Most commonly, these "fruits" are referred to as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control.  What if these were the platforms from which we voted?  What if these were the measures of success?  What if we chose to take the Bible seriously?

The tragic stories of my childhood heroes each later found redemption to some degree.  Today each tells a story where every forceful grab for happiness resulted in emptiness and ultimately they found the greatest joy in something bigger than themselves.  Attributes like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control aren't typically associated with those that breed success in the boardroom or on the playing field.   It's perceived these traits just aren't enough to emerge from the pack and stand out  - to get ahead.  I wonder if we are really are ok with that?  Do we want our heroes, all-stars, and Presidents to downplay the fruits of the Spirits in their lives?  Or worse, to be void of them? 

 I pray that my wife and I will parent in ways that our sons will find heroes whose stories are rich with evidence of the fruits of the Spirit, of life that's truly life.  I know many people whose stories illustrate such a life.  And they aren't on the cover of a magazine or the nightly news.  They are loving and serving the lease of these.  They are showing up when the cameras aren't there, their heroism not recognized in headlines but significant in eternity's landscape.    

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Running Naked

"Be still and know that I am God."  I woke with these words on my mind.  I hurried out of bed to get a run in before the day began.  The early morning air was cold and fierce, like a lion. 

"Be still and know."  The words popped again in my mind.  The quote is an account of God announcing His sovereignty to His people centuries ago.  Was this God speaking to me?  Or, was my subconscious just replaying old quotes like TV jingles or old records; a deep memory mix tape?

"Beginning workout."  My phone announced the start of the run.  I affixed my ear buds and pressed play.  Nothing.  I tried podcasts and playlists.  Nothing.  My heart raced as panic peeked into my mind.  How would I get through my long run without any motivation or distraction?  I  pulled my ear buds from my ears and put them in my pocket.  I felt naked.

The morning was bright and brisk, the colors of creation sharp.  The rising sun sparked the frost on the field, all glimmering and amazing.  Stars strewn about. 

Maybe the "Be still" business and the audio not working were Divine intervention, God wanting me to be present for something of supernatural significance.  I ran on.

I heard a woodpecker in the distance.  I was envious.  The woodpecker rises with the sun, the rhythms of creation the only schedule he follows.  He does his work, the wood-pecking, as he is uniquely created to do.  There is no thought of trying to sing like a canary or do the business of another bird.  There's no comparing or regrets for the woodpecker.  Just living and being, content in the work of the day.  It seemed wonderfully simple and free.

Pit-pat-pit-pat-pit-pat.  I notice my pace.  I wondered what I'd been missing on these runs, all the music drowning out reality.  That's not always a bad thing, until it is.

A car drove by and I smelled cigarette smoke trailing from a window.  When I was a kid, I once smashed a pack of cigarettes that someone had left by a tree with a stick until the pack was destroyed.  I thought people who smoked were bad and that I was stamping out evil.  The world fit into neat categories back then.  It seemed so na├»ve now to think about my childhood judgment of the forgetful smoker.  Though masked in the complexities of adulthood, sadly, I still judge.  Often smashing the smokes of those I deem wrong - or not like me.

As I ran, my mind traveled down stressful paths of things to be done.  The sounds of reality snapped me back to the road I was running - God reminding me that He's the pace-setter.  I felt a peaceful stillness.  I thought of my friend diagnosed with cancer.  He's been forced still, yet he deeply knows that God is good all the time and that all the time God is good.  I want to share his heart, his faith, his hopeful outlook on these days.  I pray God heals him.

I notice my fists are clenched as I run.  I loosen them.  Minutes later their clenched again.   It's said clenched-fist running saps valuable energy you'll need during your race.  I live life like this sometimes, clenching my fists to hold things tightly, fearing scarcity, bearing down.  This illusory control drains valuable energy I desperately need other places.  I vow to hold life more loosely, to run through life openhanded, letting God set the pace.

The Message paraphrases Psalm 46:10 this way, "“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.”  One glorious morning, I did.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Resolutions for Life

This article started as a polished Top Ten Resolution List for the upcoming year.  Lose 10, add 10, and you get the point.  According to Forbes magazine, only 8% of people actually achieve their resolution goals.  Printing my list would inevitably lead to 10 people who read the article asking me 10 questions about how I'm doing in achieving my goals, forcing me to offer 10 impromptu excuses why I'm falling short.  Perhaps the article should be about the beauty and grace of not developing a list?

Jennifer Breheny Wallace, journalist for the Wall Street Journal, recently discussed the art of setting personal policies as a guideline for decision-making.  She writes, "On the surface, [personal policies] offer a gentler way of saying no… On a deeper level, they encourage reflection, help to define priorities and aid decision-making, especially with in-the-moment requests.”  Developing personal policies that align with our core values may be a much better investment of our time than drafting cavalier resolution goals.


Wallace outlines an approach for setting personal policies.  "Begin by defining a priority (like making it home for family dinners), name the sources of stress that interfere (such as evening work meetings), design a personal policy around it and then let others know: “I don’t take meetings after 6 p.m.”'  She continues, "When the late literary critic Edmund Wilson was asked to do things that took him away from his writing, he replied with a form letter.  It started with “Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him to:” and went on to list 21 items, including “read manuscripts,” “give interviews” and “contribute to or take part in symposiums or ‘panels’ of any kind.”'  These personal policies made it very easy for Wilson's yes to be yes and his no to be no. 


The wording of the personal policy is critical.  Wallace notes a wellness study where some participants were to tell themselves "I can't skip the gym" versus another group who told themselves "I don't skip the gym."  The "I can't" group stayed with their goal about 10% of the time while the "I don't" group stayed committed about 80% of the time.  How we identify ourselves matters.


To that end, I've scrapped the resolution list and defined ten (I couldn't resist) personal policies for 2016, in no particular order.


1.  I am intentionally joyful, finding what's right about people and places.

2.  I am fearlessly confident, not because of who I am but because of who He is.

3.  I find contentment not in people or circumstances, but in being a beloved child of God.

4.  I give my wife the first fruits of my time, energy, and attention - not the leftovers.

5.  I make running a priority for physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness.

6.  I will invest in youth as the main focus of my out-of-work commitments.

7.  I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.  (Bethel Music)

8.  I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.  (Romans 1:16)

9.  The legacy that Kristin and I leave may not be in the careers we build, but in the children we raise.  We are parents first.  (Andy Stanley)

10.  I look ahead with eager expectation.   "The Greatest is still to come."  (Jonathan Edwards)


To be sure, these are policies that seem unattainable at times.  However, each represents a personal choice that I can make which, over time, shape my personal policy and determine the direction of my life - all pointed toward the One who calls me to the life that's truly life.


May your New Year be bright,

Friday, November 13, 2015

Do Miracles Still Happen?

CS Lewis said, "Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of nature."  Turning water into wine seems to break the laws of what's possible, or certainly the realities of what I've ever experienced at a wedding.  There were plenty of people in need when Jesus attended the wedding feast.  There were the least and the lame waiting for a miracle.  Yet, this is where He started, reshaping the natural laws He created, providing happiness and hope, the celebration and dancing echoing into the night.

I know of a young mother whose light had dimmed to a flame, flickering.  She swallowed the last of what she wished would snuff the flame dark, the life-pain numbed for good.  She was found before the flame extinguished.  She was miraculously offered another chance.  Her mother prayed hard. He seemingly answered.

My kids pray for anything -  mountains to move, storms to calm, the sick to be healed.  My prayers have either matured or regressed into carefully only asking for us to be aware of God's presence in the pain.  It's like I'm expecting the worse to be worst and asking God to simply not abandon His promise to not abandon us.  Do my prayers reflect a deeper theological understanding of why bad things happen?  Or, am I hedging my prayers to allow God an exit strategy, for Him not to deliver?  Perhaps my prayers should be more child-like, full of unbridled hope, expecting the supernatural power of the Spirit in every situation.  Jesus prayed for the most.  His closest friends confidently prayed the same.  Why do I pray for anything less?

I know of a young family who has experienced a roller-coaster of emotions as their to-be-born child was declared no more, but then he was still there, and life continued.  I prayed alongside them.  And when the news of new life arrived, I simply breathed relief.  Why hadn't I fallen on my face with praise for the miraculous?  Maybe I don't always believe it will truly end well, that a miracle might really occur absolute.  Author Brene Brown calls it foreboding joy - the abstinence of experiencing joy in anticipation of something bad that's sure to come. 

Christian leader Edwin Louse Cole said that expectancy is the atmosphere for miracles.  Maybe I forebode miracles.  I find it in the trivial as I watch with angst when my favorite sports teams approach an important victory and all that I can envision is the impending heartbreaking last-second loss.  And I find it in the significant as I simply pray for contentment rather than asking God to use me in a "let's-go-ahead-and-part-that-sea" kind of way.  What if I asked and led and the sea didn't part?  Sometimes I settle and just ask to be content seaside watching the enemy approach, foreboding.

I know of a father estranged from his daughter who was in an accident.  He drove the long drive to her bedside, not knowing if he'd find her on this side of life when he arrived.  We prayed.  She lived.  I haven't asked him much about it since.  Tragedy thwarted, I gave God an affirming nod and slumbered back into the busyness of what matters less.

Pastor and author Andy Stanley cautions us to not miss the undeniable for the unexplainable.  These miracles, my everyday, are undeniable, beyond the explainable.  I should be running the rooftops of the city, shouting praise to a God I know for the miracles I've seen.  It's not that I fail to see, it's that I fail to name them and give praise to the One who lavishes us with countless miracles each day.  Too often, I take God for granted.  I want to live in expectancy, soaking in the wind of miracles blowing across the landscape of my life, constant and God-breathed.  It's true that miracles do not break the laws of nature, they are inherent in our nature, intertwined living, moving, and being.  

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Because I'm Happy...

My youngest son is on the verge of moving from the wonderful, magical, whimsical place of early childhood into the next season of youth where the murky layers of the world begin to appear.  Sometimes, I want to freeze time and keep him in this special place where the world is a playground and happiness is around every corner.  He teaches me to be lite and free; to be happy.

New data from the World Happiness Report confirms that we, as a country, aren't faring well in understanding how to be happy.  As reported by Jo Craven McGinty in the Wall Street Journal, these reports affirm the old adage that money isn't everything.  John Helliwll, co-author of the report, notes that "Even if you have a very good measure of the economy, it still wouldn't capture all of life."  While the United States ranks first in the world in GDP and eighth in GDP per capita, we rank 15th in happiness.  According to the report, Switzerland, Iceland, and Denmark round out the top three happiest countries in the world.  As a society, we measure, analyze, and create a process for everything.  What are we missing?  McGinty writes," The problem is that while incomes in the U.S. have risen, the country's sense of social cohesion has declined, said Jeffrey D. Sachs, a professor of healthy policy and management at Columbia University and co-author of the report." 

My youngest son lives in the moment.  He doesn't worry about what's next nor does he ruminate on what's past.  He dances randomly.  He laughs, a lot.  He lives life the same as he eats a meal, slowly, savoring each tasteful moment.  At times, I'm almost done with my meal before he's had his first bite.  I'm rushed.  He's intentional.  I pray that I'm not living life the same; rushed and unintentionally absent, chasing happiness when it's sitting on the bench behind me, quiet.

The Atlantic recently asked the question, "What Can we do to be Happy?" at the 2015 Aspen Film Festival.  The answers were profound. 

  • "Slow down... [it's about] carving out spaces in your day to do nothing."  Suleik Jaouad, journalist.
  • "When you ask people [this question] they always talk about relationships..."  Robert Putman, Professor, Kennedy School of Government
  • "Assume the best of about others."  Eli Finkel, Professor, Northwestern University
  • "Stop worrying about being happy... [happiness] is not something you chase in and of itself, it's something you welcome when it shows up on  your doorstep for no reason..." Jennifer Senior, journalist
  • "There are more important things than being happy... [America] is too obsessed with being happy..." Paul Bloom, Professor, Yale University
  • Pete Mcbride, documentary filmmaker said that he's worked for National Geographic and has traveled to over 70 countries noted that oddly the happiest people he's seen in the world are those who have very little.  He says that they have the important things, like family, friends, community, food, and shelter, but they are not drowning in material items.
Sometimes, when my youngest is unhappy, I want to buy him something to make him happy.  I know this is thin and temporary, but I still take this shortcut.  This makes neither him or I happy.  It pacifies. As a society, do we just pacify our days with stuff while chopping the roots of happiness at their relational core?  We are hard-wired by our Creator for relationship.  When I'm unhappy I need to remember just that - I'm designed for relationship and given an identity by my Creator, all rooted in trust.  My youngest trusts me as I trust God, all relationship woven in this innate faithfulness.

Dr. Sachs contends that our country's seeming decline of happiness begins with distrust.  "If you ask can you trust other people, the American answer has been in significant decline... Even though the U.S. is very rich, we're somehow not getting the benefits of all this affluence." 

I am the primary earner in our family.  However, my youngest son is rich with life.  Thankfully, joy spills and our family is better for it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Country Morning Run

I am reading a book that won a Pulitzer Prize.  I am more comfortable with lazy reads, something about a boxer's brutal battles or a slugger's heroic home runs.  The Pulitzer Prize winning book is lofty and heady and amazing.  I enjoy the read.  I'm not certain that I should enjoy it, as if people who read Bleacher Report are not permitted to gaze at such grand literature.  The words from the Pulitzer Prize winner's pen are elegant and provocative.  She writes of a season in the woods and nature shaping everything spiritual.  I read it slowly.  I'm stalled by some words that I don't recognize.  I don't know whether to stop and find the definition of the unknown word or whether I should just continue reading.  Most of the time, I just continue reading, as if stopping will reveal my ignorance to someone unseen.  When I visit the library, I don't ask for help either.  It's as though asking for help will uncover my sparse library attendance and the library folk will peer over the tops of their Pulitzer Prize winning books and stare me out of the building.  Sometimes, I pretend.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported  that Roger Federer sustains greatness, in part, because he is such a good loser.  He reflects on defeat only for a moment to draw out any valuable lesson and then he simply moves forward.  Tom Perrotta writes, "It isn’t uncommon for a tennis champion to master the art of losing. A player who dwells on defeats puts both confidence and ambition at risk."  Federer, he argues, is uniquely different.  The wins and losses do not define him.  He plays his game and carries on.  There is no need to pretend or to dwell on regret.  He just shows up and does the work, playing the game before him.

Running is my therapy.  During a recent morning jog, I turned the corner of a country road and arrived at the simply miraculous.  The landscape framed a tractor sitting in a freshly cut field to one side and the overgrowth yet to be cut on the other, work completed and work to be done.  The sun had risen just above the hillside, igniting the morning dew into works of fire, the tops of the blades of grass glimmering and flickering as if it had been timed for my viewing with a cosmic countdown to launch.  It was a God moment, to be sure.  Him, not audibly speaking to me in a James Earl Jone's tone, but awakening my heart with a thought.  God reminded me that the field is His, these endless seasons of planting, growing, and harvesting all orchestrated by a Grand Design.  The farmer, different with each generation, shows up daily for the task.  The farmer tills, the Creator produces.  As I ran further, I smelled a country breakfast wafting from the farmhouse.  The farmer would be getting back to the work in the field only after beginning the day with his family gathered.  God reminded me, there is a time to till the fields, there is a time to gather with those beloved, and all time is for sharing.  I couldn't create that moment.  God gave me a scene beyond the most extravagant artists rendering and a message that resonated deep.  It's as if He said, "All of this is mine.  These fields.  This life.  I am authoring a story greater than you can dream.  You are not the writer.  Yon only need to awake, gather, and tend to the field that's put in front of you today.   There is no need to pretend.  Don't let the wins and losses, the bountiful harvests, nor the lean seasons define you.  Life is not a race or an emergency.  You are a part of My Story, not the other way around.  This moment is for you.  Stop running and smile.  You are mine, completely defined, loved, and known.  Be with me in this extraordinary supernatural country morning setting, my son.  Breathe deeply.  When you are ready, let's continue this run together, not missing any of these moments along the way."

Sunday, June 21, 2015


"Politicians hate to speak about their vision of America's immediate place and role in the world for several reasons," writes Peggy Noonan (Wall St. Journal, June 6-7, 2015).  "They have risen in the ad hoc, provisional, moment-to-moment world of daily politics.  That life teaches you long-term plans don't have to be part of your long-term plan.  In foreign policy especially, declaring a clear stand wins you committed enemies and tentative friends.  Best to dummy up and speak in generalities."  Noonan writes reviewing Time columnist Ian Bremmer's new book on America's foreign policy.  They contend that Presidential candidates are hesitant to answer the question of which approach America should take toward the rest of the world in our new global realities.

I am a recreational runner.  I am not gracefully gliding to victory like local star athlete Josh Beck.  Unlike Josh, I get slower with age, not faster.  I plod along trying to run off the cheese steak I shouldn't have eaten the night before.  My knees and ankles creek, crack, and cry for me to elevate them on a recliner instead of going another mile.  Like Josh, I get to experience the runner's high.  It's the time during your run where you feel empowered and energized in every facet of the human experience.  Physically, you're strong.  Emotionally, you're content.  Spiritually, you are connected.  All is well with your soul.  And still, I hit snooze too often, choosing to delay the short-term investment that will result in long-term gain.  I only flirt with commitment. 

Noonan argues that leaders on America's political landscape are failing to choose a path.  She writes, "President Obama himself has never chosen or declared a foreign-policy vision, which made nothing better and some things worse.  The worst choice now... is to refuse to choose.  We can't just continue improvising - that has become dangerously confusing to our allies, our rivals, and ourselves."

My wife carries a lot of self-imposed guilt.  She works part-time, mothers full-time, and feels like she isn't doing enough in either role all the time.  Author and speaker Margie Warrell penned an open letter to working moms in Forbes, telling them to stop "shoulding" on themselves and stand confidently in their decision to work outside the home.  She argues that while there are trade offs to any decision, women must clearly understand why they've made the decision and then accept and celebrate the journey along the path they've chosen.  My wife misses some Saturday activities because she is working, however my kids learn a great deal about work ethic, entrepreneurial spirit, serving others, service, creativity, and leadership because of this trade off.  They learn about commitment. 

Jesus' antics would have been a nightmare for a PR firm. He went too far in his statements, calling himself the Son of God and such.  He was too far left (love others) and too far right (love God) and was unconcerned with the polls.  He was committed only to his God-given mission and called others to the same (surrender all that you hold important and follow me).  What Jesus did bring was a clarity of vision.  He understood his identify, embraced his purpose, and stepped obediently into a risky future.  It wasn't easy.  It his last hours, Jesus prayed for another way.  In the book of Matthew, Jesus told his friends that he was "overwhelmed with sorrow" and prays "My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me."  Later, he continued, "if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."   Jesus chose a path and was undeterred in his commitment.

Whether it's a commitment to exercise, aspirations of a Presidential hopeful, our personal identity and purpose, or our faith journey, may we confidently choose a path.  The world calls us to be uncommitted as to not be boxed into a position.  Let's get out of bed even when it's hard and we feel like sleeping in with the masses.  Lace up our shoes.  Walk out into the new day.  Commit to something.