Sunday, July 16, 2017

Image

I have an awful combination. First of all, I sweat a lot. Second, I am a baseball catcher. When you wear the equipment of the catcher (the tools of the trade) on a hot, humid July day, you produce sweat - lots of it. On a typical game, under these conditions, I will lose five or six pounds. Which is why my car always smells like a locker room.

I can spray a whole can of aerosol Fabreeze in there and it still smells. I bought one of those scent things that hangs from your rear view mirror and it was used up about five minutes into its journey. Deb's car on the other hand still smells new even though it is several years older. You see, she is not a sweater and she is not a catcher.

Seems like a strange introduction to my blog, but half the battle to the journey of the sinner is the realization that they are odorous in the sight of an Almighty God. We are currently studying in the Sermon on the Mount at church (Matthew 5-7). The first part of the sermon is the Beatitudes. Beatitudes literally mean "happy". But they sure don't sound happy.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit
  • Blessed are those who mourn
  • Blessed are the gentle
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are the pure in heart
  • Blessed are the peacemakers
  • Blessed are those who have been persecuted
The first four are self-assessment. They in essence say, I am a stinker. It is the one who completes the self-assessment and says that I need a holy and righteous God to remove the contamination of my stinkiness. That is the meaning of what the prophet Isaiah writes "though our sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow"(1:18). I need to come clean before God. To God, my stinkiness problem, when acknowledged in faith plus trust in Christ, is not only neutral but even sweet smelling. I still have the new car smell so to speak. 

I bring this up because our culture wants to constantly say we are all right and we can make our own way. Saying I am ok enough times does not make me ok.  This is not a healthy self-image. I am bound to disappoint myself no matter how many self-help books I might read. Don't get me wrong - we all have fascinating potential and I am an avid reader of authors like the late Stephen Covey. But my self-image must start with the flaws that I have. The amazing things can happen with a flawed sweaty guy.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Identity

What is your identity? I participated for many years in a personal strategic planning group called Focus Four. One of the exercises of Focus Four was to identify all of the roles that you play in your life and how you can be better at them. I am a husband, a father, a friend, a brother, a son, an entrepreneur and so on and so forth. Roles are factual - I am a husband because I am married (to a wonderful woman for 32 years I might add). I am a dad because I have three daughters (and wonderful ones they are). You get the idea.

I say that because roles define our identity. Sometimes however, roles get mixed up with beliefs or even worse opinions. Congressman Steve Scalise was targeted because he was a Republican. Our country has become increasingly polarized by this process of mixing up beliefs and roles.  It seems to be a problem on all ends of the political spectrum. We can disagree, but if you and I are friends, that is our role. Your opinions don't change that fact.


For the Christian, this is becoming even more and more of a problem. I don't even like to use the word Christian any more to describe me because people automatically assume I have a set of opinions and beliefs that cloud the only thing that matters. Increasingly, I like to use the word "Christ follower". The early church was described as "The Way" patterned after John 14:6 where Jesus said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to Father except through me".  Christianity was never designed to represent a set of political beliefs. Some of my well meaning Christian friends seem to have lost sight of this fact.

As a Christ follower, I am called to influence the world through internal change in the lives of people. Some people refer to this as the cultural mandate. I can serve the culture I live in and impact people that way. Peter says I am an ambassador. An ambassador comes from somewhere else and represents something else. We might say well that was then and this is now. But at the time of that writing Rome was the dominant power and Rome had slavery, abortion, infanticide, rampant sexual deviancy, and so forth. Yet there is not one word in the New Testament about the Christian trying to change this culture through demonstrations or political insurrections. One of Christ's disciples even changed from being an insurrectionist - his name was Simon the Zealot.

The change was through the change of hearts, one heart at a time. What I know and can testify to is that Christ changed my heart and my life many years ago. If I believe that Christ changed me and many like me, I have internal evidence. And if I believe that I can have a relationship with the creator God because of this, I am compelled to share this news which we call the Good News. Everything else I can do is a smokescreen to this.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Impact!

For those who played baseball or golf, there is a sound and a feeling that is unmistakable. The ball hits a sweet spot on the bat that generates the most impact. The ball feels like it literally jumps off the bat and you pretty much know it immediately. I hit one like this last week (about 330 feet - not bad for a 57 year old with a wood bat) and it keeps you going playing a kids sport. I won't mention that in the same game I struck out twice.



When we think about what is best for our kids, it is not happiness, but impact. Impact comes behind righteousness (or holiness) but it is it's cousin. To be righteous and be productive in our troubled world means to make an impact. I remember the people that have made the most impact on me - people that took an interest in me and mentored me. My dad and father-in-law certainly are among those people. Deb and I are marriage mentors and it seems like so much to spend 16 weeks or so investing so much in one couple, but it is so worth it if we can make an impact on their marriage.

I think it is for that reason that I don't really think about retirement in the traditional sense. The need to make an impact lasts for a lifetime. I think the best years of impact-building in my life are still ahead. The thought of no impact and living only for myself seems fruitless. I think of the words of Paul - "do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others" (Phil. 2:3-4).

Do you think of impact-building in this way? On this Fathers Day, are you building into the life of others? It is never too late to start.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Lost Art of Conversation

I love social media. It has brought me into contact with people I probably would not have stayed in contact with. It keeps me connected with those closest to me. My daughter is halfway across the world right now, yet she feels so close because of social media. Yet, for all its positives, I fear social media is causing more harm than good. One of the ways it is causing harm is it virtually eliminates conversation.


I can think of many ways to illustrate this, but let me share a couple. First your urge to engage in virtual activity hurts your ability to engage in interpersonal activity. Walk into your nearest restaurant and look at the tables. You will find people heads-down looking at their phones while the person sitting across from them does the same thing. Deb and I were eating out at Costco (yes, I am quite the date) on the way home from work and I spotted a father and young daughter and both were looking at their phones. I don't think I saw a single word uttered between the two of them. How tragic!

Another way of harm is that social media is a one-way expression of language. When someone tweets or makes a post, they are doing so to make a unilateral statement. That is why so many get in trouble. I don't care much for Twitter and don't use it. I have trouble expressing something in few characters and developing a thought. The problem is I am conveying a thought that has to be flattened into a few characters. Then I have the problem of context and time. Someone is going to read that tweet and try to inject their own context. In a conversation, both of these are less likely to happen.

I think of Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4:7-38) as a prime example of what we lose in conversation. There is context - it is the middle of the hot summer day and a Jew and a Samaritan woman would never associate. Jesus asks her for a drink, a very unusual request under that context. She responds to ask why He would do that. He says he can provide living water which evokes curiosity. It goes back and forth with Jesus explaining what living water is and identifying with this woman's sinful lifestyle without condemning her. It is a masterful use of conversation by the Lord of the conversation. Can you imagine Jesus using texting or tweeting?

"Can u give me a drink?"

?

"Can u give me a drink?"

? - "what r u asking Jew man? I am a Samaritan."

"I can give u living water"

?

And so on it goes. I have friends that will try to engage me in long conversation via text messaging and I put a stop to it. Call me - too long to discuss in 140 character spurts. It is so easy to fall into the trap and it follows us into ordinary conversation. I find I interrupt to frequently. I don't listen intently and empathetically. My staccato use of conversation is all too easy. Force yourself to listen deeply, to listen carefully. Repeat back the person's words to them. And please put the device away during the conversation.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Resist Hate

On my way home on Friday, I saw a car with the following bumper sticker.


I am struck by the combination of these two words. They don't go together. Kind of like "gorge slower" or "crawl faster". There is no way to resist hate. Hate is a raging fire that consumes everything in its path. Do you really think we can reason out of hate? Did the suicide bomber who targeted teenagers wake up that morning and try to reason his way out of the despicable act?

There is natural evil in that heart of ours. The separation between me and the terrorist is not that great. I blogged about this when Osama Bin Laden was killed. As an example, when I drive behind a person driving slowly and my "righteous" anger seethes and I curse at them. I have read many books on the Rwanda genocide as I have visited Rwanda twice. How could people kill their neighbor - people they had known for years? The answer is simple - they saw them, not as friends and neighbors, but as objects of the enemy. People when asked why they killed simply expressed it as a "job to be done". Just like the terrorist.

Hate needs to be transformed, not resisted. Hate must be transformed by love. We must see people the same way God sees them - in His image.We must empathize with them. We realize that they are not objects of God's wrath, but troubled recipients of His grace just like me. The love must be seated in that perspective, not some sappy man-made emotional reaction. This kind of transformation is 100% supernatural. I cannot will myself out of this deep-seated hate in my heart. God must do that. Hate is still there but it is crowded out by love.

James 4:7 is a great verse for this - "Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you."  This verse, at first blush, almost seems to support my friend's bumper sticker. In fact, it is the opposite. We are to submit to God first. Second, the resisting is against the author of hate, not the hate itself. The resistance must come supernaturally from God through his changing grace. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Handcrafted

McDonald's latest advertising campaign uses the phrase "signature crafted" to describe it's new sandwiches. At this time, I am also reading the book "Simplify" which is a book that describes how companies have succeeded through what the author calls "price-simplification" or "proposition-simplification". In price-simplification, the goal is to continuously drop your price to a point where it is almost a no-brainer to purchase. One of the examples in the book is the original McDonalds business formula which is to produce acceptable quality but fast, consistent, and cheap.

One of my management team in a previous company once coined a phrase that has stuck with me over the years. He said, "Dan there is fast, cheap, and great - pick two". I have nothing against McDonalds (I actually like their breakfast sandwiches), but crafted is not a term I would use for their sandwiches. It is not like Morton's or Ruth Chris where there is a cook to order and I wait for my meal. If I wait more than two minutes for my sandwich, I am disillusioned. That is why they still call it fast food.


As I think about the beauty of God's creation, I think of this word "handcrafted". The psalmist contemplates this "When I consider your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have created, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him" (Psalm 8:3-4). I read the Genesis account and you see creativity and thought interwoven through the creative process.

Further, today is Mother's Day, a day we reach out to those that gave us birth and those that raised us. My mother did not craft me in my mother's womb and it is ludicrous to think that Deb that with our kids. No, God did that. Not one of our kids called Deb and said - "thanks Mom for making me". The perfect creator of the heavens fashioned a new human being using human agents, intimacy of human relationship, time, and process. It shouldn't get old to amaze at the wonder of God. As our kids get older, this realization that they are in God's hands gets easier and easier as I think the same God handcrafted them from the beginning and calls them by name.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Science Guy

A few months back, I attended the Tableau conference where the keynote speaker was Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Bill Nye is a very popular science educator and known for his wit and high energy presentation. Nye said a lot of very interesting things - watch the first four minutes of the following video from this conference. He said something like "we are a speck that is standing with a bunch of other specks surrounded by a bunch of other specks that orbits around a speck among other specks in the middle of specklessness. In other words, we suck. Yet you can know your place in space and with your brain you can change the world." Earlier in the speech, he talked about finding how he came to be through water they found with life in it on Mars.



Nye, who is very entertaining, got a standing ovation. I found myself with a deep sense of sadness that this man, brilliant as he was, could view his origin and his significance through the lens of himself. In my wildest imagination and as someone who did not always have a personal faith,  I could not even possibly imagine the complexity of space and of humans just coming to be from nothing. Nothing I observe points to that. I see a great designer who fashioned the vastness of the universe and then fashioned human beings in His image. I saw that even before coming to a personal faith.

I am humbled that the creator of the heavens and the earth has desired a personal relationship with me. I look into the vastness of space and I do see how seemingly insignificant we are. Yet I contemplate the infinite worth that God my creator gave to me. I imagine the ultimate cost that God paid to redeem me from the bondage of my sin through His son Jesus. I think it takes far less faith to believe that a personal God created man in His own image and bought a relationship with him than my origins are from water on Mars.

Every rejection of a creator God ultimately comes back to pride. We want to be the captain of our ship, to control our own destiny. We hate the thought of being accountable to someone. So we fashion ourselves as our own god. So when we hear this kind of thing, it actually sounds good to us. Paul says we worship the creation rather than the creator (Rom 1:16). I am reminded by his words to the Corinthian church - "But a natural man doe not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised".  A creator God who loves you longs for you to come to Him.