Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Power of RE

This morning I found myself pondering some words which were flowing through my mind. I noticed one distinctive commonality in them. They all started with the letters R-E. In some cases, the RE takes a nice word, like union, and makes it sweeter, re-union. But in other cases, the word simply isn't a word without the RE. I'd like to focus on the latter.

Romans 3:23 reminds us that we have all sinned and fallen short of God's glory. There is no escaping that fact. Sometimes the sin in our lives is a recurring sin. When we have developed a habit of a particular sin, we must turn away from it. This process is called repentance. The only way we can achieve victory over sin is to admit we are powerless over it, and we must then rely on Christ for the power we need to overcome it. When we come to this place, we experience the cleansing power of redemption. There is no way to circumvent the act of repentance, so don't even try. If you do, you'll just end up right back where you were, only the consequences will likely be more complicated. There is a tragic philosophy out there that it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. God is not to be mocked. This is why the onus is upon us to take responsibility for our actions and turn from them.

When we determine in our hearts and minds to turn away from the things which separate us from God, when we are honest with Him and ourselves in admitting our sin, He is faithful and just to not only forgive our sin, but also to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9).

When we get to this place, we are renewed. He begins to build in us a new reputation. When I was 18 and literally only weeks into my new life in Christ, I was going through an interesting, and subtle change. Well, subtle to me anyway. I wasn't going around in t-shirts with bible verses on them or anything. There was nothing I considered obvious about the life change I had made. But a friend of mine approached me in a class we shared and asked me if something had happened in my life because I was different. The work had already begun, and I had no idea! Without even trying, God was giving me a new and better reputation.  

I had been redeemed. Everyone loves a great story of someone who was so mean and evil who, for one reason or another, turns their life around and becomes friendly. Charles Dickens' timeless story of Scrooge comes to mind, among countless others. Redemption can only occur when we recognize that we are weak and not the best we can be. Redemption can only come when we commit to making changes in our lives.

When our sin has hurt others, part of this process may include restitution.Through this, relationships are restored. 

When we go through these processes, we will end up better than we were before. There is something about experiencing God's grace that compels us to maintain a relationship in which we don't want to hurt or disappoint the object of our affection. Forgiveness breeds loyalty. 

When we enter in to such intimacy with the Lord that we turn from the things in our lives which grieve Him and create a gap between us, when we walk in true relationship, He has great gifts for us. Eternal fellowship with Him is chief among them. You might even say it's our reward.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom

This Sunday, October 25, marks the 74th anniversary of my mom's birth. This will be the first such date for me without her.

It has now been seven months since she passed away. The tears are fewer and farther between, but they still come at random, and sometimes inopportune moments. One day I was standing on a street corner waiting for the pedestrian light to change so I could cross. As I stood there, I saw a mother primping her little prince, doing that thing only moms do. She licked her fingers and swiped them through his hair as the world's least expensive, but most wonderful hair product ever created. She then used this same miracle elixir to clean off what was probably dried mustard from his face. 

It was as if I was Ebeneezer Scrooge being led down a path where I could see my own memories being acted out in front of me. I knew exactly how that boy felt. 

Oh mom, c'mon. I'm fine. I don't like my hair like that. Oh, and by the way, the sandwich you made for me today was really good! Especially the mustard!

Sometimes it takes us many years to learn to appreciate what we had as kids. I know many people who had very difficult lives growing up. My heart aches for them. I had an embarrassment of riches when it came to the love I had from my mom. She drove me everywhere. All my practices, all my games. She was always my biggest fan. 

One summer during my vacation from elementary school, she bumped into a friend at the grocery store who was a staff member at the Boys Club in Petaluma, where I spent a lot of my boyhood time. He was taking a group of kids from the Boys Club out to Bodega Bay for an overnight camp out, and picking up a few last minute items before they headed west for the beach. For some reason, we were unaware of the trip, but he welcomed me to join them. Unfortunately, they were already on their way, and I was still at home. Mom came home, told me about the trip, helped me pack a bag, and just like that, she's driving me out the winding roads toward the beach.  For the one and only time in my life, I got car sick that day. My mom is driving like a mad woman along the coastal roads, and I'm hanging out of the car window sprinkling the roadside with my breakfast.

My mom was so passionate about my having the best experiences, the best childhood possible, there literally was nothing she would keep from me. That's not to say I was spoiled materially. True, I knew how to turn on the Mother Manipulation Mechanism to get that toy that was strategically placed by the checkout stand at the store. I could usually push the right buttons to score whatever bounty was to there to be had, despite her initial refusals. But her heart was no match for her little man who convinced her he would surely die if he didn't have that item.

As a grown man, I know I broke my mom's heart more times than I can stomach imagining. I'm sure she knew many of the secrets I thought I was able to sneak by her. But my mom showed me the heart of God, even before either of us had become intimately acquainted with Him. God knows every single detail of my life. How humiliating is that thought? But he withholds no good things from me. Like my mom would do, I get the occasional swat on my backside when I disobey. But it's done with such love that the pain of disappointing her was greater than the sting of the spanking. How many times I have let God down. But still, nothing can separate me from His love.

God blessed me with an amazing mother. Even now, seven months since she left us, I hear her voice. I sense her heart of love and compassion. I pray that my life is a reflection of the quality of woman she was, and that I honor her many sacrifices to give me a good life and a good home.

So I lead the rest of my life with this charge. As I honor God, I honor my mom. And as I honor my mom, I honor God.

Mom, I miss you. But you are, and will always be part of me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Reunion I Long For

I'm going to tell you a true story of a strange, but unforgettable night back in 1983. I was a senior in high school, and I still had that new Christian smell that we have right out of the factory. I had scored a couple tickets to a weeknight baseball game, so I took my girlfriend at the time to a San Francisco Giants game at what was then their home, Candlestick Park.

As was common for those days, the stadium which seated over 62,000 people, only had about 10,000 on this night. It was almost as if everyone had their own row, and some, their own sections. My girlfriend and I took our seats in the upper deck, down the 3rd base line. Two rows in front of us sat a man who was a rather unpleasant distraction from the game. In those days, it was permissible to smoke in the stadium, so the fact that he lit a new cigarette with the one he was finishing was absolutely fine. Add to that the number of beers he was consuming and his colorful language, I had an unholy trinity of behavioral issues sitting just feet from us.

About 4 innings into the game, the man turned to me and asked if I could give him a ride home in downtown San Francisco. Of course I had absolutely no intention or desire to pile this foul man into my car, particularly with my girlfriend sharing the ride. But rather than simply saying no, I set for him what I figured was an impossible challenge. I told him I'd give him a ride if he quit smoking, quit drinking, and ended the foul mouthed tirades. I figured he would answer me with one such tirade, but he agreed to my terms.

I had no expectations that he would honor the terms, but sure enough, he was doing so with each inning that had passed. The game continued for nearly two more hours, and he was behaving like a gentleman. At one point, he did slip up and use a four letter word, but he caught himself and sheepishly apologized as if he were a child caught by his mom with his hand in the cookie jar.

Finally, the game ended. He had honored his word, so I had no choice but to do the same. My girlfriend gave me the thumbs up, so I at least had her consent to add to our car pool.

We left the stadium and made our way to my car. The only item the man carried was a cardboard tray one would use to carry their stadium food from the concession stand to their seat. In the tray was a carton of cigarettes. Not a pack. A carton.

He gave me directions to his neighborhood, which was a pretty scary place to be at any time of day, much less after 10 PM. He directed me to pull in a parking spot behind a pickup truck. I did as he instructed. He sat in the back seat of my two door sedan, so I got out of my seat, pulled it forward, and helped him out. He thanked me for the ride, and I wished him luck. He was actually quite pleasant by this point. I think I even found myself a little emotionally attached. As he made his way down the sidewalk, he reached the back of the pickup which was in front of us. He stopped for a moment, looked at his tray of cigarettes, then tossed them in the back of the pickup and continued on down the street.

By this point, I was weeping openly.

I circled the block, returning to the place where I had dropped him off. He was gone. Nowhere to be seen. It took me a few minutes to absorb all that had happened. I wasn't sure why his walking away from the cigarettes had such a profound impact on me.

I think of how powerful it is when we walk away from things which are not good for us. Things which shackle us and keep us from being who God intended us to be.

"let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us"
~Hebrews 12:1b

I was a brand new Christian, so it was years before I was able to piece together the meaning of this experience. I have thought of it many, many times in the ensuing 26 years. Each time I have thought of this man, I have ushered a little prayer for that man that somehow God would reveal Himself to this man, and that he would walk away from his sin, and run the race God marked out for him.

I doubt he is still alive to this day. He very well may be. Maybe he has told his side to this very same story about how some teenager challenged him to refrain from his nasty habits, if only for a couple hours. Maybe those couple hours led to a lifetime, even an eternal commitment. I have no idea. I didn't say a single word about God that night, but I have prayed that God would use the events of that night to show this man that God had His hand on him. God preserved him. And God was speaking to him.

Right behind the reward of entering into my own rest at the feet of Jesus in Heaven, being reunited with my mom and other loved ones who have, or will have gone before me, the next face I would want to see is this man's. I've been thinking of him and praying for him for 26 years, not knowing his name or if he's even still alive.

When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.
When we all see Jesus, and sing and shout the victory!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The "Little" Things

I was speaking with a friend recently, and she was sharing a story about her senior year in high school when she had to purchase her senior portraits. As you know, these things are not cheap. Due to family hardships, she was forced to have to pay for her portraits on her own. She worked, she saved, and did all she could to raise the money, but when the day arrived that she would have to shell out the several hundred dollars for even the least expensive package, she was significantly short.

Through a series of miraculous events, and even someone who took advantage of one of them for their own financial gain, God provided the funds for my friend to pay for the exact photo package she wanted.

During the conversation, we both marveled in how God really cares about the "little" things in our lives. We often think that God is only interested in hearing from us when we're facing some life and death circumstance. I remember teaching a Sunday School class when I was in college. The class was made up of 1st and 2nd graders. During each class, we would take prayer requests. The kids would sometimes want to pray for their grandparent who was sick. Other times, one of the kids would want to pray for their sick kitty. You know what? We prayed for the kitty, too. Sure, it felt a little weird as a sophisticated adult to pray for Fluffy, but God cared because it mattered to that child, and they had the the simple faith to go to God with whatever they needed from Him. 

How I need to have the faith of a child.

Could my friend have survived without her senior portraits? Of course. But they were important to her, and the story of how God provided for her is something she shares all these years later, as she continues to give Him glory. There is no such thing as a minor miracle. 

Let's not be too "sophisticated" to think that something is too small for God that He wouldn't want to be bothered. If something is important to you, even if your life isn't teetering on the edge, it's important to Him. I don't know about you, but I am utterly and completely dependent upon Him. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17). 

I don't ever want to be guilty of trivializing God's interest in me. He cares about the things I care about. He even goes out of His way at times to give me love letters. I don't need a beautiful sunset to survive, but God paints a breathtaking tapestry on the canvas of the sky every single evening. Do I take it for granted? Sometimes, yes. But there are times when it doesn't matter where I am, He captures my attention with His handiwork. I close this with a couple photos I took recently of one of His masterpieces I just couldn't ignore, despite where I was at the time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An "Atta Boy" From God

This post will serve as something of a sequel to yesterday's post about the lesson of faith using a twist from a famous quote in the movie Top Gun. If you haven't read that one yet, let me give you a brief recap so today's post will have its full impact.

Last week I was faced with a financial challenge which required of me a very uncomfortable step of faith. While it was uncomfortable in one sense, I was comforted in the unwavering faith that somehow, some way, God would come through. 

He did.

If you'd like all of the details, they're all in yesterday's post for you at your convenience.

Today, I want to share an exciting follow up on what transpired since that post went up Monday morning. In fact, the excitement happened less than 12 hours before this post went live online.

Late in the evening, well, by "Dad Standard Time" (meaning after 9 PM), my dad called me to see how things had worked out last week. The last we had talked, he knew only of the challenges I faced and that I had no promises that I would receive the money that was owed to me in time to cover the check I had to write on Monday. My dad doesn't have a computer, so he couldn't read yesterday's post. Shame on me for not calling him to share with him my wonderful experience. 

Anyway, I told him everything about how it worked out. I shared with him one of the scriptures which served as my rock during the week, Psalm 50:15, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. I told my dad that this was exactly what I was doing. In every way I could imagine, I've been sharing my story of rescue and giving God all the honor and glory. 

Within 2 minutes of the conversation ending with my dad, I arrived back at home after being away since about 10:30 AM. My first stop upon my arrival was my mailbox. The contents of which included a significant check which was due nearly a month ago. I was led to believe it still could be another 7-10 days away from arriving. As opposed to last week where my answer didn't come until Friday afternoon, five full days after I wrote the check I had to write, this week's rescue came right away. I immediately rejoiced and felt an affirmation in my heart that God was pleased with my step of faith and attitude of praise during the entire situation. I really felt that the Lord gave me an "atta boy" by providing me with a blessing right at the front of my week. 

It is not my nature to sit back and pat myself on the back for anything. This is why I know with great certainty that the sense I had in those moments immediately after checking my mail was not my own ego, but a warm embrace from God for a job well done. In other words, it was a reward not so much for doing what I should have been doing all along, but for defeating a relentless and virtually undefeated life opponent of mine that has tormented me my entire adult life.

As a male, there are no words which can compare with "I'm proud of you, son" coming from our earthly father. 

I was overwhelmed last night when my heart heard those very words from my Heavenly Father. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Lesson From Top Gun

For those of you who have seen the 1986 movie hit Top Gun, you may remember this famous scene...(Facebookers, you know the drill:


Last week, I was facing a financial deadline which was proving to be a real challenge. I had money owed to me which would have made the situation an utter cakewalk, but due to unforeseen circumstances way beyond my control, the money hadn't come in. The deadline was reaching the point of no return. Last Monday, I was faced with two options. Don't write the check, and reap the consequences of not owning up to my obligations, or I had to write a check that at the time was no good. Sure, money was out there with my name on it, but I had no assurances, or even hints that it would be in my possession in time to cover this situation.

I wrote the check anyway, knowing that I had to take this bold, and rather frightening step of faith. But in doing so, I knew deep in my soul that I had done all I could. I had done the work for which I was owed money, and I had written the check I was obligated to write. I put it in the envelope, put a stamp on it and stuck that bad boy in the mail. That's all I could do to that point. My next task: trust.

On Thursday, one of my clients contacted me saying that due to the size of the invoice and her financial limitations, she could only afford to pay me half. This was not going to be enough to cover the looming check.

On Friday, I got a promising phone call from another source who owed me, but I wouldn't see that money for at least another week. Even though the amount would be more than sufficient, it wasn't going to be here in time to cover the check which, in my mind, was beginning to take on the same physical properties and purpose of a dodge ball.

Then came Friday afternoon. One client paid me for work I had performed in the previous week and a half, which by itself was enough to cover about a third of the dodge ball's...errr, check's value. Then I went to the office of the client who said she would have to pay me in installments. I had to go there for something unrelated, but she surprised me by saying that she underestimated her position, and she was able to pay me in full on the spot. Her check, combined with the check I received earlier, exceeded the amount of the check I wrote by $4.

God is never late, and He's good at math.

As I considered this wonderful testimony of God's faithfulness and provision, I remembered this quote from the movie. Only, in my mind, God put a little spin on it. Why this phrase isn't in the bible, I'll never know.

My faith can write checks my God will cover.

My responsibility is to do my part. I had to perform the work for which I was due income. Even though the money wasn't in yet, I had to take care of those to whom I am obligated. Then, I have to trust that God will spring into action as I put my faith squarely in Him. I had to move, which then compelled the Lord to move on my behalf. It would require no faith on my part if I waited to write that check until after the money came. In fact, it would have created stress and harmed my reputation.

Even as the week progressed, and all the signs pointed to things not working out, I sat on the edge of my seat, as if sitting in a thriller mystery movie, anxious to see how the plot would be resolved. As in the movies, the resolution didn't come until the clock had ticked down toward 0:00. God came to my rescue (listen to the song on my playlist in the right margin).

When my client told me she could pay in full, I was surprised, but then again...not. My God proved Himself faithful when I had put it all on the line in obedience and faith.

What are you facing this week which feels like the clock is ticking down? God will make a way where there seems to be no way. But He needs you to trust Him. He will move on your behalf, but if you truly trust Him and believe Him, you'll do your part even when you don't have the means to meet the demand on your own.The human and the Divine working together in supernatural harmony.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
~Hebrews 11:1

and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.
~Psalm 50:15

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Hairy Experience In Hong Kong

In the spirit of Friday, I decided to kind of lighten things up today. I thought I'd share a story about a really funny thing that happened to me when I was in Hong Kong back in 1996. By the way, did I mention that I haven't been to Disneyland since 1996?

I digress.

Back in August of 1996, I was part of a leadership team that took a group of teenagers on a missions trip to Hong Kong and China. This was exactly one year before Hong Kong was turned back over to China after more than 150 years as a colony of the United Kingdom. It was an exciting trip in so many ways. But let me get to the point of this particular post. 

Here, you'll see a picture of me and part of our band in Hong Kong as we performed outside. Like the hat and the Garth Brooks headset microphone? Like the pony tail? Yeah, I had long hair back in those days. It was so stinkin' hot and humid, I did something I really hated...the pony tail. I felt dorky, but I was several thousand miles from home, so the decision to go for comfort over style was an easy one.

Anyway, back to our story. At the performance where this picture was taken, we did music, drama and some preaching. We opened up with music, then moved on to the drama. On this particular day, I was not part of the drama portion, so I spent that time walking around the crowd, which was pretty significant at this point. While roaming the crowd, a Chinese gentleman approached me and handed me a folded piece of paper which had clearly been torn from a larger sheet. I glanced at it and noticed there was a scripture reference on it. It wasn't a quote, just the book, chapter and verse. I didn't immediately recognize the address, so I simply thanked the man by bowing my head in appreciation. I was touched because we were aware of the fear and nervousness of the people living in a land where Christianity is not exactly commonplace, and in fact, where people have been martyred for their Christian faith. These folks were not prone to publicly displaying their allegiance to Christ in a land in which they don't enjoy the freedom of religion that we take for granted
enjoy here in the United States. (Facebookers, if that sentence didn't make sense, it's because FB doesn't show the cool HTML effects that I utilized in it. You'll have to look at the original post for the full benefit.)

So I took the piece of paper with the reference to God's holy word, and put it in my pocket so I could look it up later.

After we finished with our presentation, we spent the rest of the day sightseeing, eating and shopping. It was a full and fun day. It wasn't until several hours later that we finally returned to where we were staying. By this time, I had completely forgotten about the slip of paper the man had given me until I was emptying the contents of my pockets to pack away in my suitcase. In the bunk next to me was my good friend, Steve Edwards. I quickly told Steve the story of the man at the outreach who gave me the scripture and wanted to bless me and the team. 

Or so I thought. 

As I recounted the story, I was reaching for my bible and flipping through the pages for the verse. At this point, I have my back to Steve. All he can see at this point is my bouncing shoulders as I was in hysterics over the verse to which this man pointed me. Steve knew I was reading the bible, and he was struggling to think of what I could have been reading there that was so comedic. So I shared with him the verse, 1 Corinthians 11:14. 

Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him

Are you kidding me??? I'm half way around the world, and this man, who doesn't even speak my language, has THIS verse committed to memory for just such an occasion? 

If this man could see me now, he'd be very pleased with himself and rejoicing before God because my hair now is more comparable to glorified peach fuzz than the flowing mane I had in 1996. 

I knew I shouldn't have gone with the pony tail.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Real Coach

It is completely coincidental that this post comes one day after the 99th birthday of perhaps the greatest coach in sports history, John Wooden. If you don't know who he is, go Google his name. He is an incredible man whose greatest achievements, he will admit, didn't come on a basketball court.

They are in the lives he influenced.

I don't find it ironic or coincidental that the word coach in this context is the same as the one used for vehicles used to transport people. In fact, originally, coaches were used to take very important people from where they were, to where they wanted to be.

You see, the truest meaning of the word hasn't changed at all.

Personal coaches are now commonplace, not just in sports, but in business. People even have "life coaches" to help them squeeze the most out of their lives. 

When I was asked by a friend what my passion was, this is it. I want to be a vehicle that enables people to get from where they are to places they may even be unaware is within their ability to reach. Sure, I'm probably best known for singing, but while it's something I love to do, it doesn't mean anything to me if my doing it doesn't inspire at least one person to greater heights in their life.

There was a season in my life when I was doing all the singing I could ever have wanted. It was great, musically speaking. But there was something missing inside my heart. I missed looking into sets of eyes and knowing that I'm connecting with them. It was during this period that I stepped away from singing cold turkey. Meanwhile, I started developing relationships with some teenage boys who were finding it difficult, even demoralizing in trying to fit in with their peers at school and at church. These four boys found a bond in each other which was exactly what they each needed. However, no one outside of their circle had taken the time to get to know them and what made them tick.

Somewhere along the way, I found that they enjoyed playing basketball. There it open door. I told the boys I would show up 90 minutes before our Wednesday night youth service, and we'd go up the hill to the outdoor basketball court and just play. There were no lights on the courts, so in the months when it got dark early, I'd drive my car up and park it on the court with my headlights beaming so we could see what we were doing.

It wasn't until I had a private conversation with the parents of those boys that I learned that they each had learning disabilities. The things they struggled with also hindered them socially. In that conversation, each of the parents, including the dads, started crying because someone had finally taken the opportunity to get to know them and show them, not just tell them, that they were valuable.

I don't tell you this story out of any selfish ambition. I'm sharing it because I know there are many of you who have taken time to give of yourself to people just because. What made me feel good was that I wasn't drawn to these boys knowing they had social and learning issues. It meant the world to those parents, and the boys, that I wasn't spending that time with them out of charity. I just loved spending time with them. I had no idea what that time together meant to them. One day in the mail, I received a card from one of the boys, Stephen. Stephen didn't say much, and the card was no different. On the cover, it had a little cartoon dog with a long, sad, droopy face. Underneath the picture was the word, "Before". When I opened the card, it was the same little cartoon dog leaping, spinning and dancing with a huge smile on his face. Beneath that was the single word, "After". Through my tears, I read what Stephen wrote. "Thanks for playing basketball with me."

I later found out that this was completely Stephen's idea. His parents didn't even know until after he had given it to me.

Stephen and his friends felt, for the first time by someone outside their families, that they were very important people. God used me to be the vehicle to take them from "Before" to "After" during that wonderful season in our lives. Little do they know, they took me somewhere special, too. And sharing this story with you has re-opened my eyes to the beauty of that wonderful place where I want to spend my life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I have to admit, I have about 15 sweet teeth in this head of mine. The same "gift" that enables me to find and want the most expensive item in a store without trying also empowers me to love foods that are most certain to shorten my life. You could put a blindfold on me and just start shoveling random foods down my gullet, and there is no doubt in my mind that the better it is for me, the faster it will be shot from my mouth in protest.

But in those times when I'm really hungry, I mean with those unmistakable hunger pangs with accompanying light headed-ness, I tend to crave foods that are actually better for me. I want protein and veggies. In fact, about the last food group I want in those times is from my usual favorite, the chocolate food group. And when you're really thirsty, like after a good workout, you're not craving Starbucks. You're needing water.

Tonight I'll be leading a song in The Man Cave which has me dwelling on the question, "what am I hungry and thirsty for?" Below is a video of the song, (Facebookers, click here to see the original post and the video). The thing for me is getting to the place that I am not only hungry for God when I'm feeling weak and unstable, like when I wait too long to eat a good meal. A healthy and proper appetite for God is insatiable. It cannot be satisfied. There is no such thing as enough. When we are full, we are then poured out. But if you're poured out without a continuing supply coming in, you will eventually empty.

Over the past couple days as I've listened to the song over and over in preparation for tonight, I have found that hunger for Him growing and growing. I find myself listening to this song not merely to learn it, but to live it. I want to be passionate in my pursuit and hunger for God. Have you ever hungered for a particular food so much that you've gone completely out of your way to have it? I have. I have driven to other towns simply to get that meal that was unique to a particular restaurant. How much more should I be willing to ignore obstacles and inconvenience to pursue and hunger for the things of God?

Are you hungry? What are you hungry for? If you're looking for an emotional high, that's as fleeting as even the most expensive meal at a five star restaurant. Sure, it's great, but soon, you're going to be hungry again as if you hadn't eaten anything. Emotional highs are great, but they're unsustainable. But when we hunger for God, He sustains our souls. Even when life is downright ugly, feeding on the things of God overwhelms us and whatever challenges we face. And when things are going well, consuming the things of God prepares us for feeding others, as well as for facing the difficulties which inevitably come.

As promised, the video is below. I also want to leave you with a special interpretation of Psalm 42. As I read this version, I felt as if it echoed what has been stirring in my heart for the past several weeks. I'm going to post it here. If you have a longing, a hunger, a thirst for something more, only God can truly satisfy you.

Psalm 42 - The Message

1-3 A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek;
   I want to drink God,
      deep draughts of God.
   I'm thirsty for God-alive.
   I wonder, "Will I ever make it—
      arrive and drink in God's presence?"
   I'm on a diet of tears—
      tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
   All day long
      people knock at my door,
      "Where is this God of yours?"

 4 These are the things I go over and over,
      emptying out the pockets of my life.
   I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,
      right out in front,
   Leading them all,
      eager to arrive and worship,
   Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—
      celebrating, all of us, God's feast!

 5 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
      Why are you crying the blues?
   Fix my eyes on God—
      soon I'll be praising again.
   He puts a smile on my face.
      He's my God.

 6-8 When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
      everything I know of you,
   From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
      including Mount Mizar.
   Chaos calls to chaos,
      to the tune of whitewater rapids.
   Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers
      crash and crush me.
   Then God promises to love me all day,
      sing songs all through the night!
      My life is God's prayer.

 9-10 Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God,
      "Why did you let me down?
   Why am I walking around in tears,
      harassed by enemies?"
   They're out for the kill, these
      tormentors with their obscenities,
   Taunting day after day,
      "Where is this God of yours?"

 11 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
      Why are you crying the blues?
   Fix my eyes on God—
      soon I'll be praising again.
   He puts a smile on my face.
      He's my God.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sunshine On A Cloudy Day

Today is the first rainy day of the fall here in Northern California. With the rain comes the official end of the good weather we've enjoyed for the past 6 months. I was speaking with some friends recently who were recalling places they've lived or times in their lives when they remember it raining every day for weeks on end. The rain wasn't the worst part. The most memorable thing about those stretches in our lives was how depressing it was to go without sunshine.

Wait for it...

This got me to thinking.

If you've ever flown on an airplane, you've probably traveled on days where, on the ground, it was overcast and dreary. But have you ever flown through the clouds only to find that on the other side of them was a perfectly sunny day? I have. It's like in a simple climb of 30,000 feet, you've entered another world.

There are times when we're in a funk. The sun just hasn't shined in our lives in quite awhile. We're stuck in the quagmire caused by the rain. In those times, it's completely unnatural to think about the fact that on the other side of those clouds is a perfectly sunny sky, radiant and clear.

There are times in our lives when we're just going through it. There are times when it's flat out depressing. But these are the times when we have to consciously remember and believe that God is still there on the other side of the storms of life. Sometimes He'll show Himself to you and rescue you from the storm, and other times we just have to go through it, but He'll be there with us through it all. The reality is that the sun (Son) is still there, whether we see it (Him) or not. Our view is simply blocked by the clouds. But when we don't have the luxury of hopping on a plane to physically rise above the clouds, we have our faith. Faith is the vehicle to pierce through the obstacles which stand between us and a clear view of God.

Maybe you're going through a storm in life right now. If you're not, you will. Welcome to life. Just remember, despite the clouds and rain, God is there with a radiance more powerful and brilliant than the sun. Let your faith transport you above those nasty clouds to a place of peace and comfort.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is It Friday Yet?

How many of you have uttered that phrase? Now how many of you have uttered that phrase within minutes of walking in the door of your job on Monday morning?

Here's another one. I'll be OK once I have a cup of coffee.

Among some of the status messages I've seen on Facebook recently have been things like,
  • "totally thought today was thursday.... just cried a bit realizing it was wednesday... I want the weekend already!!"
  • "It is Wednesday, we are almost to the weekend!"

I'm not going to get all holier than thou on this topic because I've been guilty of this myself, many times! I do, however, want to draw attention to this attitude we have developed of being so over dramatic. We complain about everything. We tend to be really negative with this, "if I can just hang on" mentality.

Why are we this tired? Because you have a job? Because you're in school? Because you have kids? Because you have a house to take care of? Because you have a spouse? All of the above? What are we saying when we are negative about the things in our lives that a great percentage of the world can't begin to dream about.

We get so peeved by filthy rich athletes who whine because they feel that instead of the $20 million dollars they were offered, they feel the are more deserving of $23 million, so they aren't going to play. Yet, we complain about the blessings we have in our lives. The degrees of wealth between us and the spoiled athletes are different, but the scale of our complaining is the same.

Let me reiterate, I have been guilty of the same thing. What I'm writing is more of a challenge to myself than it is to you. But I do want to issue a challenge to all of us. Be positive today. For the next 24 hours, don't allow yourself to say anything negative. If you say something negative, or even think something negative, catch yourself. See if consciously being positive changes your outlook on things. Then, if you can make it 24 hours, make it another 24 after that, then again after that. Make it a lifestyle!

I'm interested in your feedback on this topic. Well, I'm always interested in your feedback, but I would really like to hear of your experiences with this little experiment and your observations.

Finally, brothers, 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.
~Philippians 4:8

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Finding Your Voice

It was twenty five years ago that I accidentally and involuntarily wandered into the world of singing. It is no exaggeration when I say that when I was growing up, I was convinced that singing in front of people was the single most embarrassing thing I could do, next to running through the mall in my underwear.

After I was thrown into a situation where I was forced to sing a solo, (another story for another time), I found that somewhere deep inside, something was awakened. It was many, many months later before I took the next step into this new world. When I did, I had made a friend who was much more experienced and kind of mentored me along in that next step. He introduced me to the world of background tracks. These are cassette tapes of individual songs with everything but the lead vocals on them. My friend and I would go to our church on Saturdays, when no one else was around, and we would just sing for hours.

As I was brand new into this, I really had no idea what I sounded like. I had a tendency to mimic the voice and style of the original singer. I figured that whatever the song originally sounded like was what it was supposed to sound like. It would be quite some time before I discovered my own sound, and that I didn't have to sound like someone else to make a song work.

In the ensuing 25 years, I have developed my own style. My own sound. Through those years, I have been able to do other people's songs, but personalize them with my own sound. This hasn't necessarily made a song better or worse, but it's been mine. I've even had many occasions where people would hear a song on the radio and think of me because they knew my style so well, they felt it was one I really should do.

Whether in the arts or just in life, we have to find our voice. We have to find our own way of communicating what is deep within our hearts. It may be artistically, or it may be in acts of service. A week or so ago, I wrote about my friend "Ruth" who found her voice in the world by making a difference in the lives of underprivileged children and abused women. Others have found their voice in their marketplace by being a positive influence to their co-workers.

I saw a quote by Oscar Wilde yesterday on Facebook. I had never heard it before, but it was both funny and profound.

"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."

Great advice! The fact is, you have your own unique voice. Your voice has been molded and influenced by your environment and your experiences. These influences are what make your voice different than everyone else. Have you even tried to find it? It's there. If you haven't, it may be a bit awkward at first. You may even find yourself mimicking the voices of those who have influenced you. That's OK. They're kind of like training wheels for you. But keep plugging away at it. Your voice is in there. You just have to let it out.

If you're not sure where to begin, here's a tip. What is your passion? What fuels you? For me, it's this. It's sharing my thoughts and experiences with you in hopes that it will serve to encourage and motivate you. At the same time, it's serving to help me take the lessons in life that I'm learning and make them more tangible for my own growth. More and more, I'm finding this "new" voice, which isn't so new at all, is propelling me into a new trajectory in my life. It's exciting, it's challenging, and it's serving a purpose which goes way beyond anything I ever expected. This is why I want to encourage you to find your voice. You have lives to touch that I can't.

Your voice is one that someone is dying to hear. It just may be that neither one of you knows it yet.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Awareness To Action

If you watch professional football, you may have noticed that the NFL is recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In honor of this, many NFL players are sporting pink accoutrement on the field.

This got me to thinking. C'mon, you had to see that coming.

I think it's wonderful to bring awareness to causes such as this. But there is a huge difference between awareness and action. I'm aware of the horrible affects of breast cancer, but I have to be honest...watching a millionaire wide receiver streaking down the sideline in his fuchsia cleats isn't going to cause me to lunge for my checkbook.

I don't think many of us are actually motivated by different colored ribbons, even when we're aware of what they represent.

What tends to genuinely inspire us is knowing someone whose life has been changed by whatever it is.

The same can be said of our spiritual lives. Does having a little fish decal on the back of your car cause those behind you to pull over to the side of the road, (unless said road happens to be in Damascus, perhaps), for the purpose of surrendering their wayward life to God? I'm thinkin' no.

However, people will watch how you are living your life. Are you really different? When difficulties come, do you show strength, confidence and peace which come from your relationship with, and faith in God? Or are you whining about it like everyone else? Why would they want what you have if you're not handling life any better than they are? If your life story includes victories which can genuinely be attributed to your faith in a living and loving God, people will be inspired by seeing that in you, not the "NOTW", (Not Of This World), decal on your car's rear window.

Even if you haven't had to endure some traumatic obstacles in your life such as drug addiction, cancer, divorce or whatever, people who are dissatisfied with the direction their lives are going aren't going to be inspired to action by ribbons, t-shirts or decals. However, a life which has been changed by the love and power of God is the very best advertising there is.

St. Francis of Assisi once said, "Go and preach the gospel. If necessary, use words."

If your life isn't bringing positive awareness to the cause of Christ, now is a good time to start doing something about it. And really, that's all it takes to instantly become more powerful than any bumper sticker, silicone bracelet or colored ribbon ever invented.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Here's Your Sign

You may be familiar with the comedy routines which talk about how stupid people ought to wear a sign saying "I'm Stupid" as a warning for the rest of us so we know what to expect when engaging in communication with them. This random thought popped in my head, (it happens), when I was considering a comment from my friend Michelle in Seattle to my post yesterday on giants.

I feel a little bit like Larry King. "Michelle in Seattle, hello."

Michelle made a good point that I had thought of, but not very deeply. But she was absolutely right. She said, "Too often though we become comfortable with our "giants" and fail to see that they are preventing us from realizing our personal promised lands."

This is so true. Sad, but very true. I know a guy who looked me dead in the eye and told me, "I'm probably the most selfish man I know." While they say that admission is the first step toward recovery, I think they imply that that first step is actually followed by a second step. I'm not exactly sure what that second step is, but I'd be willing to bet it has something to do with fixing the object of the first step. In the case of the man who told me he was selfish, he hadn't. He was basically saying, "I'm selfish, so don't say I didn't warn you." In so many ways, so many times, he lived up to the label without remorse.

How many of us are guilty of hosting our flaws, our "giants"? How many of us have allowed them to take up residency in our lives to where they have become part of us, like a sign around our neck.

"Here comes Nancy the gossip. Be careful what you say around her!"

"There's Paul the womanizer. Don't be charmed by his attention to you."

Are we guilty of nurturing those things in our lives which damage our character and integrity? Are we dealing with those things which keep us from being our best and being able to have healthy relationships? Have we simply accepted those things to be part of us because they're just too hard to overcome? Have we accepted those things as being part of us because our parents were that way?

As Michelle stated, we have become comfortable with those things in our lives which hold us back. It's like we have some sort of weird version of Stockholm Syndrome where we become sympathetic and attached to that which holds us captive. We become attached to these qualities because it's easier to accept them than hate them. It's easier to be loyal to them than be miserable and responsible for the negativity and hurt they cause. It's easier to give in to them than to beat them.

It's time to break the chains. It's time to take responsibility for patterns we've held on to for so long. It's time to take control of what has controlled us for so long. Believe it or not, it is in your control. That doesn't mean you can do it alone. But you have to choose to beat it. Consider this some kind of cyber intervention. No one can make you do it. You have to want it. Take the first step of admitting something has been stealing your very best from you and those who love you. Then, follow it up with another step. Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable and support you in getting past it. You already know who they are. They are people who have your best interest at heart and will walk with you through it. They won't tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.

It's time to take that sign off that you have carried around for so long. It's time to face the giant and beat it once and for all. It's time to enter your Promised Land!

It most certainly is my time to do precisely that.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Beating The Last Giant

No, this isn't a postmortem on the finale of the baseball season for my San Francisco Giants. Instead, I was inspired by the sermon yesterday at my church. The reference was about the 40th and final year in which the Israelites were wandering in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt, and just before they were about to enter the Promised Land. As you might imagine, those 40 years presented many serious challenges, and that was after the miraculous task of getting out of Egypt in the first place.

After all they had gone through, they had to defeat two kings and their people as their final challenges. If you've ever played video games, well, you probably get the idea of having to go through several different levels in order to get to the next challenge.

When my pastor was reminding us of this story, my head went to the old Bruce Lee movie, Game of Death, in which he had to fight his way up several levels of a pagoda. Each level brought a new and more difficult opponent. The top and final level found him face to face...well, not literally, with a giant who was a good two feet taller than he was. (You can look it up on YouTube if you want to go back and watch the scenes.)

Where am I going with this? Thanks for asking. I find myself at a place in my life where I have gone through a lot of recent challenges. Who hasn't? But what is unique to me as I look back is that the past couple years have found me circling back to many things which have popped in my life through the years. Old and familiar foes. In other words, I don't know that I had really progressed to new levels because I never really beat some of the giants it takes to move on to new heights. But now, I look back on several challenges which have confronted me in the past year or so, and I see the carcasses of many old nemeses from my past. Things which would have set me back before, now litter the path behind me, lifeless and defeated.

I believe my personal Promised Land still lies ahead of me, but at the same time, there is that one giant in my way who has kicked my butt many times in the past. Before you get sidetracked thinking it's some sort of scandalous moral thing, don't go there. It's not that. What it is for me is not what is important. The point is, we all have these things in our lives which have been our Kryptonite. It's that thing that sneaks up on us when we're sailing along, or that thing that is the "last straw" that breaks us.

The key is, don't give up! The land has already been promised to us! The victory is already won! You're right on the edge of the breakthrough! It is so tragic that so many people give up when the promise is just on the other side of the hill. If you look back, you'll see the remnants of the victories won. Yes, there is a giant ahead of you, but despite his appearance, he's no match for you and God!

It is a new week. This week will have its challenges for each of us. I know I'm facing my giant. But I also know that there are blessings lined up ahead of me. I can actually see some of the challenges and blessings coming my way, while others are unforeseen. All, however, are in God's timing and control. Whatever is in front of you, God has given you the land! I don't know what level of the "pagoda" you're on. But wherever you are, face it, defeat it, and move on. Don't sit there and celebrate it to the point that you become satisfied. Enjoy the moment, but move on to the next level. Remain persistent! Remain passionate!

God has more for you, but you have to want it, and you have to go for it!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Nerve of Some People!

I think if there is one area where I might actually have something in common with God, it's in the area I want to touch on today. In reality, I'm sure He handles stuff like this very differently than I do, but I think I understand Him a little better knowing how I feel about this.

About 10 years ago, I dated a woman who lives in the Sacramento area. Now that I live up here, we live about 20 minutes apart. Shortly after I moved up here, we got together for dinner once just to catch up. Nothing big. Since then, I tried to keep in touch with the random text message just to say hello and see how things are going. But literally, the only time I ever hear from her is when she wants something. First, she needed help moving from her apartment to another one in the complex. So I went to help. A few months later, her broken down second car had been tagged and was going to be towed if she didn't move it from the parking spot it had occupied for several months. I showed up to push it to another part of the parking lot. A few months later it was a phone call to help her map directions to a place she needed to drive to because she didn't have the internet and couldn't do it herself. This week, it was to tell me her son is selling something for a fundraiser.

I have to admit, I get really annoyed when someone sees me and reaches out to me only when they want something from me. There's no, "hey, how are you?" just for the sake of genuine interest and respect for the other person. There is no relationship. She rarely even responded to my messages saying hello. I'm her personal Santa Claus. Does she have such little respect for me or awareness that she blows me off except for when she wants a favor? I have actually gotten to the point to where I don't even respond to her requests anymore, much less fulfill them.

If you think I'm writing this just to rip on someone, you don't know me very well.

This person's actions have caused me to stop and take a good look at myself. I have had to ask myself if I have been guilty of treating God like she treats me. I'm completely certain I have. I probably don't even want to know how often I've been guilty of it, or even how recently.

You've probably heard the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, God is not looking for foxhole Christians. I don't want to be one who only calls upon Him when I am in need. Am I so self-absorbed that I expect Him to be at my beck and call whenever I get into a scrape or just want Him to fix something for me? Is he reaching out to me, and I just ignore Him?

It's not enough to even go to church every Sunday and sing songs and take notes during the sermon. It's not enough to even talk about Him with friends, or to write about Him in a blog.

These things are all good, and they're all a big part of my life. But I must serve God because He is God. He is not my own personal Santa Claus. How can I justify being annoyed at a person because they treat me the way I sometimes treat the Creator of the universe?

Thankfully, God is much more forgiving and understanding than I can be. Despite my sometimes cavalier attitude toward Him, He remains faithful to me. When I call Him, He's there. I just have to make sure I'm not only calling out to Him when I want Him to do something for me.

The resilience and buoyancy of a relationship, any relationship, is revealed during the storms of life. The building and maintenance of that relationship is done at dry dock.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Character Building...Patooey!

I heard someone say that experience is what you get when you don't get what you want.

Man, do I have a LOT of experience!

I have to say that throughout my life, I've been surrounded by people who were living out my dreams. There were times when I was really resentful about it. Other times, I've been very mature about it and happy for others. But what happens when someone you think doesn't deserve it is loaded with good things?

I have learned through my vast experiences, (see the quote above), that there is much more in life that I can't control than that which I can. I can't even control the events of my own life, so why should I spend even the amount of time it takes to blink my eyes being bitter about stuff that is happening in the lives of other people?

When I find myself surrounded by people who are living my dreams, good people and the not-so-much ones, I believe two things to be equally true. First, God has His own agenda for my life. Second, He has His own agenda for theirs.

No matter what I think I know about their life, I don't know what God is up to. Frankly, it's none of my business. I must focus on the first truth and concern myself with what He's up to in my life.

Character building is brutal. Doing the right thing is almost always more difficult than cheating. Especially when no one is looking, and no one will know. I had come to a place in my life where I absolutely hated the phrase, "be the bigger man!" This simply meant that if someone else did you wrong, don't sit around waiting and expecting them to make it right. Being the bigger man meant forgiving them. It may even mean going to them and asking
for their forgiveness for even the most trivial thing you may have done to escalate or prolong the matter. There have been times when I've been the so-called bigger man, but my motives still weren't pure. My expectation was that in being the moral compass, I would be the recipient of accolades and a tearful plea for my forgiveness. But more often than not, none of that came.

I had to learn to do the right thing simply because it was. Not for any rewards.

I believe I am in a place in my life now...finally, where I feel as if I can accept that other people are being blessed in ways that I long for in my own life. I have come to realize there isn't a finite amount of blessings in this world. They aren't being blessed at my expense. Their good fortune doesn't mean there's nothing left in the vault for me. At the same time, I don't need their blessings to be stripped from them in order to be blessed myself.

God is more concerned with my eternal well being than my temporal comfort.

The blessings God is giving me will serve to benefit me when and where it matters most.

Character is the vehicle which will determine the route you take in this life. The path you take cannot contradict the character vehicle you have built for yourself. For people with poor character, the path of their lives may even look good...for awhile. Eventually, it all catches up. (see: Rob Blagojevich, Bernie Madoff, etc.). If you are of this ilk, your deepest desires and intentions will eventually come to the surface, exposing anything which appeared good for what it really was.

For those who build a strong character, the quality of their path may actually go unnoticed. I remember attending a funeral of a man I knew who was a very sweet and caring man. But it wasn't until his funeral that I saw the lives he touched throughout his life. One by one, people from different parts of his life came to the podium and shared a unique story which shed light on the depth of this man's character. The co-worker, the waitress in his favorite restaurant, his customers, his neighbors, children...right down the line.

Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
-- Charles Reade

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
--Galatians 6:7-10