Sunday, May 20, 2018

My Boss Left the Company - We Got Empowered

John 15:26-27
"When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.  And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning."

I work for a large corporation and we have a lot of management "layers."  Sometimes we complain amongst ourselves about "micro-managing" done by meddling managers. These are business leaders who demand to review every decision before we act on them - or are quick to override our choices with their own. Eventually, teams in this leadership environment lose their edge and innovation. They start waiting for the manager to decide everything for them, its easier. They - we - lose confidence in own own ability to get things done.

18 months ago, my team's immediate manager left the company. I really liked her even though she kept our individual work tasks narrowly focused. I felt comfortable getting my projects done and I knew she had my back. I was disappointed to see her go and our team kept the status quo as we waited for her replacement. None came. Further up the chain, management announced they had eliminated her "layer." 

Our new, higher level manager had many people and much broader responsibility. He simply didn't have time or capacity to consider each of our day-to-day decisions. In the short term we floundered a bit as a team. We are all very capable, seasoned marketers, but we had adapted to the team dynamic of another person calling the most significant plays on our behalf. 

Without saying so, we each started looking at the bigger picture for our team. We made more influential, higher risk decisions. We consulted each other for support. Things got done. Nobody "up the chain" second guessed our work. And now 18 months later, we are a well oiled machine - still consulting our business leader at times, but strongly empowered and encouraged to function on our own.  We know the boss' overall style and goals, so we often say, "I think this aligns with his thinking," or similar. We're empowered, but we do recognize and respect a higher purpose and road map.

If our previous leader had not left and gone away, we might not have stepped up like this - why would we? Now the company has unleashed so much more energy and creativity and entrepreneurship. We are busier than ever, but it is much more satisfying and purposeful. We have clear purpose and the means to accomplish it.

John 16:7-11
"But truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment."
This recent business experience reminded me once again why Jesus' ministry was so brief.
I got a tiny glimpse of what Peter and his teammates might have felt.  "What do we do now that we're on our own?"
Jesus had already taught them - they knew the fundamentals of his message.  Prayer gave them access to upper management - their Father in heaven. And the Holy Spirit was present to inspire and guide them.
The apostles could have shut down after the crucifixion and waited for the next "replacement leader."  But they knew. Jesus had told them. It was with them that he intended to get the work done.  No comfort zone ahead.

We Christians talk a lot about the Gospel message and the fallen world around us. "I'm devoted to Jesus - but sharing the Gospel? That is WAY out of my comfort zone."

We are already empowered with the redemptive message of Jesus and the cross. His Father in heaven. The guidance of the Holy Spirit.   We are the people through whom God intends to accomplish His purpose. 

2 Corinthians 1:24 
"But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm."

What do you believe?

Friday, March 30, 2018

Down Syndrome and God-Syndrome

I was one of them.
One of the pragmatic people who logically concluded that some babies (or their families) might be better off "not being born" for reasons that included the "health of the mother." 

Note that I considered myself pragmatic and logical. Sincerely so.  Looking back, it's more self-aware to say I was immature, self-absorbed and breathtakingly uninformed - on many levels.  I take full responsibility. 

We got what we advocated, all us pragmatic, open minded people - the ability to choose. It's proved a devastatingly slippery slope. Choosing for the "health of the mother," quickly became choosing "for the convenience of the mother," and eventually "for any reason, at any time."  
And now 54 million babies have been "pragmatized" in this fashion.  In the USA. 
My heart breaks for any mother or father who now regrets their decision - and Christians owe them love and support to recover, through Jesus. I offer my prayers up for anyone hurting as they read this now. 

Personally, I woke up to the truth about 10 million babies after Roe v. Wade.  I was an adult cultural Christian. A God believing church-attender who had begun writing Christian music. Searching for  material,  I started reading the bible (I'm not kidding). Soon I was no longer uninformed, having read Jeremiah 1:5      
In fact, I was without excuse, having read Romans 1:20    (As any Christian is...without excuse..if they counsel others against God's plan for life.  Luke 17:1-2)

Not long after I got that biblical wake up call, I saw the ultrasound of our own daughter. It was a transcendent, electrifying movie moment when all my past college debates and snarky "pro-lifer" jibes went rocketing in front of my eyes. I literally said to my wife on the way home..."how could anyone see this and not believe it's a baby?"  How indeed.  At the local pregnancy center we support, there is an almost 100% decision for birth after seeing an ultrasound. Any surprise that Planned Parenthood doesn't invest tax dollars in ultrasounds?  They are without excuse...

Slippery slope. So now it's Down Syndrome.  Pragmatic, logical people - governments - are advocating a no-survivor policy. They will then be "Down's-free" zones. This has been reported as a "courageous" stance.

My buddy Jake is a black belt. He loves orange soda, prefers a hug over a handshake, has a mischievous sense of humor and is just one of the guys when we all hang out together on league night.  I enjoy spending time with him and his loving, supportive family. He has Down Syndrome. 
(Iceland has thus become a no-Jake-or-his-family zone. Somebody explain this to Icelanders, for Christ's sake.)

In the current cultural debate - I am now labeled as unconscionably intolerant - because I have matured past cold-blooded pragmatist to become chromosome-blind to Jake and his family.   On top of that, my moral compass comes with certain non-relativistic baggage (The Bible).
That's why it is literally - in the society we live in, right now - becoming difficult to share this point of view without vicious ridicule.    

One statistic I read suggests that over 100 million adult women are "missing" in other countries, because they got gender selected out of the womb in hopes of a boy baby on the next round. This is heartbreaking for everyone involved - including victimized mothers who fight against it.

The other shoe has also some countries who had "assisted suicide" laws have begun to advocate "proactive euthanasia" -- since it can be both "humane" and pragmatically expedient in economically troubling times.  

That gives us a slope slippery on BOTH sides of the womb. 

Think about that. The same cold logic that converted Roe v Wade to 1 million deaths per year (more than cancer, more than heart disease) for the "health of the mother" will soon be trained on "what's best for the health of 80-somethings."   We already know how that math will go.

None of it seems as complicated to me as it used to,  because I simply go with God on this topic, still somewhat embarrassed for how confidently I used to speak without the benefit of an informed, biblical worldview.

"And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."  1 Cor 6:10

Every life is precious. Let's let God determine the outcomes. We've proved ourselves unworthy to take his place.  

What do you believe?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Take the direct route - interstate, due west

From where I live, the city of Madison is about 60 miles due west as the crow flies.
If someone were to ask me how to get there, I'd say, "Hop on the interstate, follow the signs to Madison, you'll be there in less than an hour."

It is a virtually straight path east-to-west, it is well known and it works.  Simple.

Someone might ask for other options.
"What if I decide to take a scenic route and use one of these other roads?"
Well, its still due west, and if you pay attention, you should still get there, although it will take longer.

"What if I decide to come from a different direction...from another state?"
Madison doesn't move, you can still get there, but I don't know every route.

I do know ways that you will not get to Madison. If you hop on the interstate and head in the opposite direction, due east, you will not arrive in Madison. In fact, you will drive into Lake Michigan!
The same will happen if you head off in many other compass directions.
However, you could stop at any time, reverse your course, head to Madison and you will get there.
Madison doesn't move.

Jesus doesn't move. You can reach him.
He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Hebrews 13:8
There is a simple direct way to Jesus - as easy as jumping on the interstate to Madison.
Tell him you're sorry for your sins, that you believe on Him as the Son of God who died on the cross for your forgiveness and that you plan to follow his ways.   You will be with Jesus.

Lots of people say - I prefer the scenic route. Can they still find Jesus? Of course. It might just take longer.
Others say, if Jesus is west, then I'm heading east.  Of those, some will decide to turn back and make their way to Jesus after all.  That is repentance - to turn away from sin and towards the Savior.

And then there is, "Look, I'm going to travel to God, or travel to heaven, but I don't need Jesus for that."

Our family used to smile when we took "scenic" road trips down south, we'd sometimes lose our way and stop to ask directions - some of the locals would stop, think a bit, and then say kindly, "I'm not sure you can get there from here." So, we'd reverse course and rethink our approach.

When people ask me about finding the way to God and eternal life - scenic or otherwise - without acknowledging Jesus, I've given it a lot of thought and prayer.
I'm not sure you can get there from here.

What do you believe?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Are you keeping that gift I gave you?

I spent many years sharing the Gospel with a friend of mine.

In the early stages of our friendship it was part of getting to know each other.
I attended church, he didn't. What was your background growing up, etc.
We had both attended the same denomination with our families, but it was just routine for both of us as youths.
God was one of many topics we covered over many conversations, but never a focus.
With our wives, we were a great foursome. Then kids. Time passed, we moved to different cities.

He was a solid, family-oriented guy. Fantastic dad, respected business person.
There was just never a time when he asked more than I offered about spiritual matters.
Through the years, Angela and I both grew in our faith, attending bible study, keeping Jesus at the center of our family.  I began sharing the Gospel more openly and proactively with people, wanting to share the good news.

And so I brought it up more often in our phone calls.  Did he ever have questions about Jesus or his relationship with God?  No, everything was just fine. Did he understand Grace?  He'd patiently listen and we'd go on to other topics.  We'd send each other books and music now and again.  On one of those occasions, I had an idea.

He called me to say thank you for a music CD I'd sent him.
"You're welcome," I said. "Are you going to keep it?"
"Well, yeah, I like it," he said.
"We're you planning to send me any money or anything to pay for it?" I asked.
"I'm not sure where you're going with this, but its a gift, right?"

After some of our usual back and forth, I brought it into perspective.
"That's the Grace I've been talking about. It's a gift. You didn't do anything to earn it - it's part of our friendship. I provided it, but you received it. You could have thrown it away when you saw who it was from, but you didn't. And you know there's no cost, there's no expectation to repay it. In fact, you could try to repay me, but then it would mean less, and wouldn't be a gift after all. We'll have our usual ups and downs, but I won't ever ask you to give it back.  That's how it is with God's love."

That broke through where years of other conversations had not. It eventually did lead to the specifics of his personal faith. And though he never shared news of a profession of faith with me, he acknowledged his understanding and that we were on the same page about Jesus.

He's passed away now and I do believe that he took time to think it through, and was prepared to have the conversation with God.  I hope he did. I'm looking forward to catching up with him again when its time. We'll have a lot to talk about!

Is there anyone you've tried to share the Good News of Jesus with, but haven't quite found a way to explain Grace?  Try sending them a CD...

What do you believe?

The State Will Take Care of Me Anywhere I Go

Our travel guide through Europe was Gabriel, a young woman from Hamburg.
She spoke six languages - which helped as she navigated us through five countries!
We had plenty of time for conversation with Gabriel during long hours of walking and transit.
We came to know some of her personal worldview and caught glimpses of it intermingled with her tour guide commentaries.

For example, she explained that she was "not very religious." This came up at the first cathedral we visited in Frankfurt, St. Bartholomew's.  We had been walking and chatting with her for several  hours through the downtown, along the Main river and at a nearby cafe. As we were about to enter St. Bartholomew's sanctuary, Gabriel hung back and said she would be waiting in the courtyard when we were done.

She held up a cigarette to signal it would be a smoking break. Our initial disappointment was that we would miss her terrific historical insights, and that we had genuinely enjoyed her company. But we were soon engrossed in the lovely cathedral and its art.

When we rejoined her outside, it was with a new list of historical questions - who was buried there, who created the sculptures, what had been rebuilt after the war, etc. Gabriel patiently shrugged and said she didn't know, she was not very religious after all.

Angela and I shared a curious, bemused look, but it was only the first day and we still had lots to see.

On the one hand, Gabriel could easily recite dates, generals, battles, monarchs, novelists, plazas, breweries, rivers, mountains, etc. But whenever we arrived in a new city and inquired about the most historic cathedrals, we got a casual shrug and sometimes her own bemused look when she repeated, "As I said...I am not as religious as you are."

But there was so much more to our cathedral visits than spiritual interest. We stumbled onto fabulous art by the likes of Van Dyck, Veronese, Bellini, Caravaggio, etc.  500 year old works in 1,000 year old architecture.  Whether you cared to walk through a particular cathedral or not, surely you might be inclined to point out where there were masterworks to be seen, as she did later --- when it was the secular setting of the Louvre.

We learned to do our own google research as we "steeple chased", which worked just fine, and all was well in the end.

The other worldview glimpse came with Gabriel's passion for the European Union. She took time in each country to explain their role in the EU and would point out the 2 flags..a country flag and an EU flag. She had the tour bus circle around the grounds of the EU parliament in Strasbourg and Gabriel explained the work they conduct there on behalf of EU citizens.

Gabriel took that opportunity to explain, "Because I am also a citizen of the EU, I know that even if something happens to me while I am in a different country than my own, they will take care of me there, they have to."

And that helped me better understand how Gabriel might see "religion." While she seemed suspicious of - or indifferent - to Christian cathedrals and what they represented, she was almost reverent in her regard for the EU and how it would support her, wherever she might go.

We didn't have the time or opportunity to dig deeper into the topic. I would have loved to explain the gospel to Gabriel in terms she associated with the EU. God loves her with more than a union of economic and social welfare. He is there wherever she goes, to be called upon for support, guidance, protection, insight and wisdom. Forgiveness and mercy. Eternal life.

God's love provides so much more than can be accomplished by the principles of the EU, or any other government for that matter.  And that message of Grace is so close to Gabriel in the sacred buildings she has chosen to leave off her list of "places to see while visiting Europe." Maybe on another trip, another cathedral...

What do you believe?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Glorifying God - Cathedrals or Auditoriums ?

We finally got to Europe this summer and I was amazed at the age and art of so many beautiful cathedrals. In some cities there were literally churches on every plaza. These were of centuries old architecture - interior walls hung with stunning canvas and frescoes, painted domes, marble columns, tiled floors, carved wood and exquisite sculptures. Absolutely breathtaking.

The sheer volume of superlative religious art impressed me, but I also paid attention to the fascinating back stories of funding. Connected to these historic sites was the vast wealth of monarchs, merchants and the personal sacrifice of countless individuals and communities.

My favorite example turned up in Venice. It was late afternoon and we were due to board our water taxi back to the mainland. We saw a steeple peering over nearby roof tops and quickly navigated a few narrow streets to find a small courtyard and plain, bone white structure. It was the church of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist. Hurrying inside we were stunned to see lavish, floor to ceiling paintings. The late afternoon sun streamed through the high windows and lit the 500 year old art as though a spotlight from heaven had been carefully positioned for the purpose.

Centuries before, a convent next door to St. Zechariah trained the young women of local families. Those same families helped fund the church and its art. Quite a commitment. And remarkably, it's still standing for us to marvel at all these centuries later. The best part of the story for me is that this ancient community of nuns, in turn, donated a plot of land a little further down the canal. It became the site of St. Mark's Cathedral, the most well know landmark in Venice. We later learned that the beautiful altar piece in St. Zechariah had been painted by Bellini, considered one of his most important works. Who knew. What an amazing story traced back to people choosing to glorify God artistically with their wealth.

Fast forward five centuries to the nice Christian school we sent our own daughter to. Our family donations were in the form of tuition. Tuition pooled with much wealthier donors to fund a school building, library, auditorium, gym, football stadium, tennis courts. No Bellini's on the walls that I know of.

There are those who say we are better to "invest our treasure in the kingdom"  like this with schools and  missionaries - rather than in the elaborate edifices of architecture and art as in the distant past.   After experiencing the Bellini altar piece and the splendor of St. Zechariah's in Venice - I'd still like to see us glorify God with both.

One thing is not lost on me - Europe is full of exquisite churches visited by tourists in a post-Christian culture. Glorious architecture and art has withstood the test of time, but it has not sustained or nurtured a culture with evident spiritual foundations.  The thriving, growing churches of evangelicals here in the states are more auditorium than architecture, beautiful for their acoustics and worship music. And they actively glorify God by sharing the Gospel with new believers and with robust missionary programs. All good.

So its hard to know what will "stand the test of time" 500 years from now - what will have best glorified God and grown the kingdom with worship, service and discipleship.

For me, I was very encouraged and inspired as we wandered and marveled at the sacred art of our European travels. It was exquisite sensory beauty that anyone could appreciate, but it was spiritually moving as well. Worthy of its creation and preservation.

If Jesus hasn't yet returned 500 years from now, will there still be a church in Venice that grabs someone's heart and attention as St. Zechariah's and the Bellini did for me?  I hope so. I pray so.

What do you believe?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Disproving Jesus - Make Your Case

We just saw The Case for Christ, a movie based on the book of the same name by Lee Strobel.
It deals directly with key points that Lee himself wanted to use to disprove any possible foundation in truth or facts for Christianity. His hypothesis was:  if you prove that the entire Jesus narrative lacks truth, then Christ himself is a myth.

Eventually,  his obsessive search for facts turned up nothing to dispute the historical existence of Jesus in Jerusalem during the Roman rule of Pontius Pilot. Despite his very public death on a cross, first-hand accounts exist of Jesus' resurrected appearance after three days in the tomb, to hundreds of people. And there is much more of course, see the movie! The movie stops short of making broad claims about God, theology or other spiritual hot buttons - but  the "case" made for Christ is earnest and compelling if you're willing to watch and listen. Glad we did!

Not everyone is interested in these questions of Christ, of course. Most people get more tangled up in the God-or-no-God debate - or the "isn't your god the same as their god" race to indifference.

But for people who at least acknowledge Christianity as a spiritual concept to consider, I've encountered four main reasons for their decided choice to reject a "case for Christ."

They are:

1. Uniformed or misled: Most people who dismiss Christianity out of hand have simply not done their homework or have been raised with a false narrative. They have been told or assume that Christians are ...haters...judgmental...hypocritical...delusional...apostate..
They have not had or taken the opportunity to behold forgiveness, mercy, Grace, love and eternal life in Jesus.  Christianity rapidly flourishes in parts of the world where these basic elements of Christianity are finally revealed and understood. And that is why some cultures try so brutally to suppress it (including the USA).  Matthew 22:29

2. Proud:  Many people understand and believe the historicity of Jesus. But they stumble on the part where we must acknowledge our own sin and turn from it with God's help. It takes humility to admit that we cannot achieve "goodness" on our own - and that God alone is Holy. Christians humbly acknowledge God for His mercy and forgiveness, because we - none of us - are worthy without Him. That is why Jesus died on the cross.    James 4:6

3. Decided Rebellion:   I actually know people who say..."I'm going to hell I might as well enjoy it while I can...." or some version of that. Some want to bypass or oppose God with an alternative spirituality...It's not always as blatant as WICCAN or Satanic worshippers. Anyone who says, "Well, I'm aware of Christianity, but I have developed my own personal spirituality that doesn't fit with the bible or an organized church." These are often reasonable, sincere people who have in fact created their own religion in direct opposition to God.  Psalm 68:6

4. Disinterested or In Denial:  "I really don't care."  "It will all sort itself out in the end."   "I'd like to believe that, on balance, I'm a good person and God will know that,"  "You live, you die and that's it."  I encounter many people who have run into at least one of life's huge challenges...sickness, addiction, loneliness, boredom...and they then start to get interested in Jesus. "What happens when you die?" is often the leading indicator of someone who has previously been disinterested or in denial of God's plan.  Romans 1:16

Jesus himself acknowledged the diversity of disbelief when he told the parable of the sower. You can read his words in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 8.

I'll continue to "make a case for Christ" with anyone who is curious, searching, or struggling.  The ways of our world seem so amazingly daunting and confusing - but the message of Jesus is so simple.

"Repent, and believe the Good News."  Mark 1:15

What do you believe?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

I looked right past the cross

I walked right past this cross more than a thousand times over 18 years and never saw it. Here's what happened:

We were visiting family in Cincinnati last week and I planned to attend Sunday services at our old neighborhood church.  I got a late start and finally found an open parking spot on the adjacent playground 5 minutes after services had already begun.

Sometimes you can  peer through the stained glass doors to the sanctuary and spot an open seat, but no such luck for me. Half a dozen late-comers in the entryway gave me knowing half-smiles as I turned around... "We already looked..."

Ah, but there was still one alternative to standing there for the next hour.  I peeked over to the choir loft stairway that is tucked off to the side of the main entrance. Ha! Nobody had claimed the "late seat" at the bottom of the stairs.

I had never sat on the choir steps for a service before, but I had seen many people do so. For years I had navigated up and down the narrow stairway every week hauling guitar cases, keyboards and sound equipment to lead worship with my daughter and our dear friend, Sue.   At least 3-4 trips up and 3-4 trips down the stairs every week we played. Thousands.

It wasn't unusual to run down the stairs during a service to retrieve a piece of music or replace a microphone cable. And I'd have to step around the person or persons sitting at the bottom of the staircase with a whispered, "excuse me...sorry...pardon me."

So it was my turn to smile when I heard the choir door creak open during the sermon. A singer or musician was on their way down the stairs and I knew to lean tight against the wall and let them squeeze by. Now I was the one occupying the "late seat" as they knowingly smiled and stepped past.

With that extra dose of humility, I mused over the new perspective offered me. Physically removed from the "action," I was neither fully engaged in the sanctuary nor supporting it with music from the loft.  Even so, I felt warmly connected there in my old home.  I was able to pray and listen, and even the familiar creaks from the loft floor above were comforting to me.

That's when I noticed that sunlight began pouring in from a window on the stairway wall above.  I silently noted to God that this would actually be a very pleasant worship experience if I my view wasn't obstructed by the concrete sanctuary wall - because from where I was sitting, I would be looking straight through to the front of the church and the cross.

The cross! Right there on the inside of the old oak staircase railing - just a foot away - was a lovely cross carved into the original woodwork. A cross now brightly lit by the sunshine pouring in behind me at just the right angle.  It was directly in line of sight, but only for the person sitting in this particular "late seat," on the choir loft stairs. Had the original artisan thought of that? I hope so.

After attending church there for 18 years and hurrying by it thousands of times, I had never seen that cross.  I wiped away tears but couldn't stop smiling at the unique gift of that moment. I wonder how many similar reactions and assurances were brought to people who had initially felt frustrated or embarrassed to be the latecomer on the stairs.

We walk right by the cross of Jesus thousands of times in our lives. Not just in a church, but on the sidewalk, at work, even in our own homes.  God is in plain view, but it might take a different perspective sometimes to see him - or to see what others see from where circumstances have placed them.  I'm going to look more carefully in the future.

What do you believe?

Friday, December 30, 2016

How to Subsidize Your Salvation

We attended several holiday theater events this year.

The Milwaukee Ballet performed one of their best ever editions of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. Stunning music and choreography, true to the tradition. 5 stars, went to see it a second time.

And the Milwaukee Repertory Theater did just ok with a meandering,  somewhat morose take on Dickens' Christmas Carol. Adequate for 3 stars.

Before each event, an emcee politely reminded us that the cost of our tickets was subsidized. They didn't use those words,  but explained the price of the tickets would be far greater if not for generous contributions of commercial and private sponsors. The largest commercial sponsors were applauded and many private patrons named in the programs. Lead artists in the Nutcracker were personally sponsored by prominently named patrons.

And I appreciate that. As expensive as the tickets were - especially 7th row orchestra where I could enjoy the performer's facial expressions and hear musical nuances - we couldn't afford to attend if they were triple the cost or more. Many people would never experience the exquisite beauty of the Nutcracker if it weren't for these subsidies. The value is very real.

Its an easy way to think of our salvation.

The most commonly held view of heaven or life after death - in any global culture - is one of good outweighing bad. I will go to heaven after I die if I have been sufficiently good.
Deep down though, most self-aware people doubt that they are actually ahead on "good." And they're right.

The bible isn't as condemning or "judgmental" as many would like us to believe. It is honest, and it is fair.  It makes someone with a conscience squirm a little.

For the good: What is the measure of my kindness, generosity, compassion, mercy and forgiveness - as naturally expressed by me towards others? Including those who disagree with me?  That would trip up just about everybody during a presidential election cycle.  Plenty of ugliness, very little compassion on both sides of the debate.

For the bad: What is the measure of my personal pridefulness, selfishness, lust, wasted talent, laziness, greed, anger, intolerance (including toward spiritual diversity, or those who disagree with me).  I am tripped up by all of those at one time or another, some more than others.

I need a substantial subsidy to push my good past my bad.  Be honest, and you do too. We all do.  We know it, God knows it. The bible - and Christianity - don't condemn us for that, they recognize us for who we are.

The emcee at the Nutcracker didn't belittle me for accepting a subsidized ticket, he simply acknowledged the reality of it. They even gave away some tickets for free, all the beauty with none of the cost.  They want people to experience the joy and beauty of the theater. "We understand - you can't afford this - but we've provided a way." There is no shame in that.

You can sit in your theater seat and pretend you paid your way. But it's disingenuous.
If the full value were on the ticket, we would not get through the theater door.

The bible points out the need for a sponsor - someone to cover the cost of our sin. Someone's name next to ours in the program.  Jesus.  I am not ashamed to accept his saving grace.

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

What do you believe?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Things got better when my boat motor broke...

Its easier for me to trust God when things are going well.
My faith tends to remain strong when I'm aware of the next 2 or 3 plausible alternatives where I know God can guide me through adversity. When I have to cool my heels without any clear outcomes ahead, I grow steadily uneasy and wary as each day or week ticks by.

Last summer I was fishing on a remote Canadian boundary lake with my daughter and son-in-law. We were three lakes away from our cabin....miles of big, open wilderness water plus one river passage and one rocky set of rapids.  I heard an unfamiliar rattling sound when I started our outboard motor a few times that day. Once started, the motor ran fine, and I made a mental note to check it later.

The fish stopped hitting so we wound or way back to camp, reversing the miles of open water, rapids and river passage. Later that same night my son-in-law and I trailered the boat to a smaller lake and caught a lot of bass. As dusk set in, I tried to start the motor and was rewarded with a loud clanging, grating noise under the cover. We soon discovered a damaged starter bracket. After much trial and error we cobbled together a start and nursed the boat back across the lake.

Things could have been a lot worse. Earlier that day we would have had a much greater distance to cover. No cell phone coverage and no other boats along the way, we would have been lucky to row back with many hours of back aching effort.  But things weren't great either, since we still had the better part of the week left to fish without our main motor.  Fortunately we had a small backup motor for the smaller lakes, so we kept busy and took our time enjoying those lakes. Then our cabin owners were able to rent a boat to us on the larger lake. Rather than venture too far with borrowed equipment that last day, we opted for a closer shoreline. That ended up being our best outing - catching more fish in a short period of time then we had anywhere else all week.

Looking back, we had a wonderful trip with fantastic fishing. But in the moment, we had broken equipment, "limited options" and were "forced" to fish along a shoreline we would have otherwise passed up.

Our family has had several significant health challenges in the past two years that have not quickly resolved.
The longer things linger unimproved, the less confidence I have in God's sovereign power. Slowly, my capacity to appreciate simple daily joys erodes and sometimes I simply determine that God won't, or can't, intervene in any positive manner.  I don't doubt God being God - but I do question (resent) the wisdom of his non-intervention in more helpful ways. And so I am no different than most.

But that's what it was like in the wilderness last summer.  I didn't even realize our motor needed repair - looking back, what an unknown blessing that it held together and we were not stranded. And though I didn't welcome an alternate plan/boat - we had some of our best memories together as a result.

A fishing trip doesn't begin to compare to health or other family struggles where we wait on God.
Of course not, and I'm the first to get that.

But right now, this has helped to remind and encourage me -- that I can't see around the corner for what God has in mind. That even in the midst of unresolved adversity, there can be blessings, even joy. It doesn't mean everything gets fixed as fast as I want.  But maybe the timing is better than it could have been. And maybe we'll travel to a different shoreline of experience that we might have otherwise roared past wth the big motor. Its not the way I would have planned it. But God is at work in our lives even when we don't see or sense Him.

Psalm 62: 1-2
My soul waits in silence for God only; From Him is my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my Stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.

What do you believe?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I can't imagine heaven without...

I was surprised by what a friend said at bible study recently.

He said, "I realize my brother-in-law isn't a Christian, but he's a good guy and I can't imagine him not being with us in heaven. We would all be missing something without him there."

My friend has otherwise consistently explained the redemptive role of Jesus with clarity when he's said, "you can't earn your way to heaven, because its about faith, belief in Jesus, and what he did on the cross."

Amen to that. So, why this other, seemingly inconsistent reference to his brother-in-law? If not through good works (you can't 'earn' heaven), and not believing in Christ, how else will his brother-in-law find his way to heaven?

We all hold what I call a sentimental, heartfelt hope for unbelieving friends and loved ones, past and present, to be in heaven with God's peace.

But trying to put our personal spin on heaven is just the tip of a spiritually drifting iceberg.

The companion conversations start with,

"I can't believe in a god that would ______"
or alternatively,
"I would only believe in a god that would _____ "

A god.  A god as defined by personal beliefs or morality.

That is actually the start of a healthy conversation. Tell me more about that god. One of many gods? Sovereign over all others?  Accessible via prayer?  With a shared plan for all people to see?
These are all fair - and to me at least - interesting questions to raise and debate.

Its a debate because you can't genuinely reconcile these personally defined gods with God as we understand Him from the bible.

Our sentimental, heartfelt desire to say that heaven "wouldn't be the same without....." is natural.
But if God is truly the the sovereign Creator of all things, all powerful and worthy of praise and worship...then it may be that all our earthly personal relationships and life experiences fade in the light of His glory. And maybe the infinitely magnificent attributes and elements of God transcend even the most intelligently constructed (and convoluted) boundaries of our human attempts to define and shape Him to our expectations.

Of course we can't specify whom God has gathered to himself across the ages, or whom he has not. Its His call.  Surprises ahead!

That said, Christianity is confident to explain with surety the clear path that God himself has declared in the bible:  forgiveness of our sin, redemption and eternal life is through Jesus. And for our loved ones, those who believe in Jesus, there is no sentimental hope of heaven required. We can know. 1John 5:13

A believer in this God can best show their concern and compassion for loved ones by sharing what we know to be true of Him.  They'll hear plenty of other options - perhaps even create a few of their own.

What do you believe?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Safe sailing in a foggy harbor !

The weather changed abruptly several times during our sail on Lake Michigan last evening.

While we were raising the mast and getting ready to launch, the temperature dropped suddenly and then just as suddenly warmed up again, all within a few minutes. We had been tracking a passing rainstorm, so we continued to watch the cloud bank carefully.

After motoring out from the harbor slips, we came upon several larger boats which had not yet hoisted their sails. We were puzzled by their delay. Usually these larger boats simply motor out to open water while raising their sails. There is less sideways tension on the sail if you are steering directly into the wind. Less tension makes it easier to hoist (pull) the halyard sheet (rope) through the pulleys.

Then we looked offshore to the horizon - or what had been the horizon.
The fast temperature drop and subsequent rise of humid air had created a quickly growing shroud of fog. This was the first time we had been out on the water in the midst of fog cover.

It was initially disconcerting.
We could see pretty well for about  200 - 250 yards on all sides.
That kept us safe from the 3 nearby ships, but unaware of who, or what else might be coming our way.  Without our sail raised yet, we could not easily navigate out of harms way, should another boat come at high speed.

Then my first mate (also my bride!) started to think more clearly.
"Use the compass on your fancy wristwatch and get our bearing."

Ah, smart. No radar on our vessel, but a basic compass was sufficient.
We quickly surmised what was probably on all 4 sides of us - even what was unseen.
We had only ventured an eighth of a mile from the harbor slips, so that was a reference due west.
That put one concrete harbor wall to our south, the main breakwater was east, and a lot of open water to our north.

Good deal.
With that, we decided to raise the sail. We agreed to sail conservatively in an area where we would recognize landmarks as we came upon them, and that gave us a reasonable 200+ yard margin of visibility to see and negotiate other boats venturing into our space.
We would not go all the way out into the open water of Lake Michigan where the fog could surround us on all 4 sides with no visible references. Without sophisticated radar, that would be asking for trouble.

So we enjoyed cruising the breeze, and at one point began to hear a distant, booming horn. Then it got progressively closer. It could only be the high-speed car ferry coming across the big lake from the Michigan side. Sure enough, within minutes, a large, ghostly form began to take shape on our fog-shortened horizon. We had already navigated our way out of what we knew to be its usual heading to shore, and watched it materialize and power safely past us. Glad we had planned accordingly!

Later, as the temperature and humidity evened out, the fog lifted more. The city skyline broke through the top of the cloud bank and many large sailboats appeared further out from shore!
It was fun to know that we could navigate the unseen - with a compass and a few basic reference points - and still enjoy a beautiful, warm breeze and the noisy slap of friendly waves.

Now you'll know why I smiled at my daily bible reading this morning:
"For we live by faith, and not by sight."  2 Corinthians 5:7

I read the news and listen to TV reports of many jumbled and broken lives.
Its as though people - and cities and universities and nations - are plunging through a fog of issues and challenges. But there is no common compass or shared reference. So they bang into each other - and us - and take no responsibility for their own sense (or lack) of direction. Its a mess, and they seem irritated with offers of help.

And there is help. We do have a common compass that everyone can turn to.
The bible makes north, south, east, west as clear as the fancy watch on your wrist.

All of us in the harbor yesterday had the same frame of reference. It was not relative to what we thought it "should be" in "our interpretation."  God's direction is not relative to a person's perspective, it is the reference for perspective.
East is east. West is west.
You want to know that with surety when the immovable car ferry bursts through into the harbor.

I didn't bristle at the suggestion of a compass yesterday. I was glad. In fact, I was able to go about more freely, with more confidence. Still...somebody else could have chosen to ignore basic navigation and wiped us both out.  We can't keep the compass to ourselves - sharing it will make things safer for everyone to navigate -- and enjoy the breeze together!

We navigate by faith, and the reference is truth.

What do you believe?

Friday, September 02, 2016

Mix Part A with Part B

I bought fancy, self-molding ear plugs for target shooting.

They come in a package with two small packets of separate ingredients. Both were sticky and slimy.

The directions instructed me to mix them thoroughly before shaping them into the actual ear plugs. They would form-fit in my ears and then dry into that shape.
The writers admonished me at least three times to mix BOTH ingredients.
"Do not use separately"
"Product will not work if not mixed according to instructions"
"Unsatisfactory results if not used together."

I got the idea.

On the one hand, it was humorous. On the other, experience must have shown them that buyers would either not pay attention, or not understand without very clear directions.

We're seeing this same confusion over spiritual matters in our culture.
People go to church without claiming, or perhaps wanting to claim, Jesus' redemptive role in forgiveness and salvation.
Secular folks refer to select bible morals while refusing to acknowledge an encompassing, God-originated plan.

Do not use separately. Unsatisfactory results if not mixed together.

At times it seems almost humorous. Convoluted spirituality claiming Jesus as a "good man, if he existed" and the bible as "inspirational, though generally flawed." But the humor has taken an ugly turn as governments and public institutions encourage intolerance uniquely targeted at Christians (i.e. leave your faith at home or lose your job in the USA. Leave the country or die in the middle east.)

We need to more clearly and candidly help people through the process of getting to know God's love with all the ingredients. The bible called this discipleship.

Coming into a relationship with God through Jesus does not make someone a one-size-fits-all robot. Like my high tech ear plugs, there are basic Christian foundations that can't be ignored or it doesn't work -- at the same time, they allow the unique form and fit of the user. That's why it is called a personal relationship with Jesus. God loves the unique and spirited heart of every believer.

Like the clever ear plug manufacturer, God went to a lot of trouble to put simple, clear instructions into our hands via the Holy Scripture. Supreme and sovereign wisdom must have led Him to understand that people would need a user manual...

We need both, a spiritual connection to God through Jesus, mixed with the readable and actionable encouragement of His plan.

Do not use separately. Unsatisfactory results if not mixed together.

What do you believe?

Grab my hand!

"Grab my hand!"

I had a jumble of feelings coursing through me.
Fear, panic, frustration, embarrassment...

Embarrassment? How did that fit this picture?

"Grab my hand!"

I was balanced precariously on the rock face of a cliff in Ontario, Canada.
Everything had been fine during the boulder scramble from our beached canoe's to the cliff base. Then things grew progressively worse as the wall pitched nearer to vertical. Easy hand and footholds gave way to polished granite and slippery sand.

The embarrassing part was that my friends had already navigated this section and were looking down from a slim ledge beyond this chute. One had come back to talk me through.
I didn't think I could reverse course. I had already stretched past a tiny outcrop that now looked much smaller below my feet. My current hold was tenuous and slippery. This next move up was paralyzing me - if I couldn't get past it, I would truly be in a very, very dangerous spot.

"Grab my hand!"

I heard my friend, but it had not yet occurred to me to trust him.
He was right there. He had a solid purchase and was bigger than me. He had already gotten through.

But this was a new spot to be in. I was used to being the leader, confident of next steps, able to see my way through. How could I know that this hand up would truly save me from this miserable situation.  From my own fear and panic?  And what, I thought miserably, if it only got worse?

I grabbed his hand.

He pulled me through. We all made the rest of the way up together. Helping each other and growing closer as a result. And not one of these guys every chided me for my fear. Not then, not ever.

Everybody is afraid of something at some point. Something that paralyzes our ability to move forward. Often there is a hand held out right in front of us.
It's a friend, somebody we know, saying, "Grab my hand!"
And we ignore it, looking below, looking to the right and left.
How can they possibly have the answer that I haven't already thought of myself.

I experience this more and more as the years go by and I watch family and friends struggle. They have gotten to a juncture in life that frightens them. Below or behind them are broken relationships, muddled careers, maybe an unexpected health challenge. Here they are, holding precariously to a philosophy or spirituality that they've associated or credited with their forward progress to this point.

But its not giving them the courage or hope or confidence to keep going.

"Grab my hand!"

We tell people about Jesus. Saving Grace. Peace with God. The comfort of fellowship and support.
No accusers. No ridicule. Other people who had fears and misgivings.
Forgiveness, healing.

"Grab my hand!"

I can see many people - even friends, family - look right past me.
How can this guy know something that they haven't already thought of?
Some are even embarrassed to admit it. They're confident, self motivated. Independent.
And I see myself thinking the same thing on that cliff in Ontario - looking right past my friend and his hand.

But then I reached out - not yet knowing for sure the outcome, but fully understanding the consequences of doing nothing - and he saved my life that day.

That's what Jesus will do.

What do you believe?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

That Long Hard Walk to the Cross...

Man, was I suffering this morning!
I was scheduled to play guitar at an earlier-than-usual service time at church.
We were out late for dinner Saturday night, so I had not yet organized my sheet music or written down key signatures - it takes some hunting to track down 11 songs.  But I could squeeze it in before breakfast.
Then I overslept, making it that much more rushed to have coffee and toast before packing up the guitars and heading out for a quick pre-service rehearsal with the music director.
And...cold?!!  Minus 2 degrees before windchill.
Plus...!    My bride, who usually carries the heavy music bag, was driving separate, so I had that AND two guitars to carry in.
Then - of all days - there was a water main break and I couldn't park anywhere near the side entrace to the church. I mean, I was out in the least 30 yards away, and walking into a miserable artic polar blast.

I looked at that distance, felt the heft of the weight of my guitars and music - shuddered at the freezing wind - and muttered something about the sufferings of a poor, unloved volunteer church musician.

That took about a second, and then something else got my attention.
I looked at the distance again - and figured I would cover it in about 2 - 3 minutes, tops.
On my way into the nice warm church where we have this beautiful cross in the sanctuary.

It made me think about this other guy.
Much longer walk, through filthy streets and crowds - dragging an actual cross, not a puny figurative one.
Not heading to a nice warm refuge - He knew it was only going to get worse. A lot worse.
Nails in the hands and feet. Spear in the side. Taunts from the selfish, prideful, ill informed and haters.

Yeah....I must have blushed in my embarrassment, because my face felt warmer for a moment.
Then I shook it off and headed inside to church, feeling much less sorry for myself with each step.

We had a fantastic worship service. Made some really good music. Looked up at the cross.
Thanked Him again - I know too well that I am not worthy of His sacrifice - but He is worthy of my praise.
And I am blessed, in Jesus' name, Amen.

What do you believe?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Xmas Moon and that Drafty Night in the Monastery

I read that its been 40 years since we've seen a full moon at Christmas time.
That's a lot of Christmas' Pasts!
A few years after that last moon, I spent a handful of weekends at a drafty old monastery overlooking Lake Erie.  It had been a religious convalescent home in its day. But now there were only two people left as caretakers of the impressive, mansion-sized complex and the sprawling lakeside grounds. One was a gregarious young anglican priest and the other a shy, but fun loving novice from the same order.  I'd befriended the two while I was in town on a business training assignment and volunteered a few hours as they needed.

One freezing December night they invited me to dinner and told me to bring my guitar.
They introduced me to another twenty-something, Fr. Phil Bennett. He had a razor sharp sense of humor and kept us in stitches with his dead-on vocalizations of "Rosanne-Rosanna-Danna" from Saturday Night Live. After watching the sunset from the spacious dining hall, we made our way through echoing hallways toward the chilly gray stone chapel.  

I can't recall much about the chapel itself, but oh, how our guitars and voices rang in the natural acoustics of that space. Phil and I had both been writing Christian songs and we traded them back and forth for hours until we just couldn't play another note. Phil had an amazing sense for melodies and lyric phrasing. And he had traveled just enough to weave in some unforgettable characters and settings.

Of Phil's songs that I've played regularly in the decades since, my favorite is his Advent song called "Rejoice O Daughter of Zion." I never wrote down the notes and I can't locate the scratchy old cassette we had left recording on the cold chapel floor. But I know it like an old friend and sang it from memory again this past Sunday at the 10:45 service.

But surprise! I also learned something new this Advent - something as old as the last Christmas full moon.
When our bible study read through last Sunday's scripture passages, I realized I was seeing the core biblical elements of Phil's beautiful song.  ZEPhaniah 3:14-18 and Luke 3:10-18

Read them yourself and compare to his concisely adapted lyrics:

Rejoice O Daughter of Zion, rejoice and be glad.
Rejoice O Daughter of Jerusalem, for your Lord has come.
Your Lord comes to you.

John baptized you with water.
But He will baptize you, with Spirit, and with Fire.

Rejoice O Daughter of Zion, rejoice and sing.
Rejoice O Daughter of Jerusalem, and behold your King
Your King, draws nigh.

Like the recurrence of a full Christmas moon, I wonder now if this same combination of Sunday scriptures had come up in the Christmas cycle before I met Phil. It was a once in a generation full Christmas moon back then - and a once in a generation chance to enjoy brand new music with new friends in a drafty old chapel.  I've shared that song now with thousands of people and many congregations - I hope you'll also find something new this season to appreciate and share -  right up until the next full Christmas moon!

What do you believe?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas explained via the Terminator Movies

I readily admit that I enjoy Arnold in the "Terminator" movie series and recently saw the latest edition, Terminator Genisys.

In these movies, a robot can transport to our present from the future - but the time machine only works with human tissue. So they cleverly grow human flesh around the "cyborg" and suddenly Arnold's robot is walking around amongst "regular" humans to remind them..."I'll be back."
Back in the 1st terminator movie, rational adults think its crazy for a witness to believe this could actually happen. A psychiatrist easily spots their delusion and says, "they've convinced themselves of the logic to the point it actually makes sense..."

The idea of another entity taking on human form for a time-space continuum leap into our presence caused a stir long before James Cameron brought Terminator to the screen.
Chris Rice wrote about it in his beautiful song, "Welcome to our World,"

"So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy

Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world"

That is what Christmas is about.
God found the perfect way for us to get to know Him better - as approachable as the scruffy carpenter next door.  God in human form. Jesus, the Savior.

Let's all take the time to explain the simple beauty of God's plan - which can be challenging with a rational, educated 2015 audience.
A cyborg....maybe. But God?  Bring in the psychiatrist please!

Perfect Son of God...welcome to our world.

What do you believe?

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Dynamic Pricing and Jesus

Have you heard of dynamic pricing yet?

We recently went online to buy some last minute theater tickets for the Christmas season.
As I checked different nights, I realized the prices were quite different for the same seats.
Curious, I checked a few other performance times and the prices varied significantly - and not just for "prime time" like Saturday night. A couple week nights were also high. So I called the box office to ask why.

"Oh, its dynamic pricing," she explained cheerfully. "As the venue fills up, our pricing model senses the increase in demand and raises prices accordingly.   So...the decreasing commodity becomes increasingly valuable...and expensive. And somebody else "won" with low prices.  Interesting.

I've seen similar "multi-price" occurrences with hotels.  A discount price is available for the same room...but not during a holiday.   In season and off season rates, etc. Some  people fare better than others, for the very same room, or theater seat!

Jesus told the story of the Vineyard owner who hired people to work in the morning, then the afternoon, and finally the evening.  He gave everyone the same wage. Some complained to say "how is that fair?" But the vineyard owner replied,
"‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’  Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus has paid the price whatever our individual sins require - with no regard to how long we waited to contact him - late in the season, early - it doesn't matter. We all have the same access to salvation and eternal life in Jesus.  Are we envious because he is so generous to "latecomers" or people we think have the longer list of sins to forgive?  Let's not be.  Merry Christmas!

What do you believe?

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Remembering Dad H 1931 - 2014

My father-in-law passed away this week.

As his family and friends know, Dad H was never one to boast or brag about anything he'd done - let alone reflect on the accomplishments of his life. But as one of the children to have married into the family, I want to share what he meant to me.

First of all, his acceptance and support of family members was unconditional and absolute. On the occasion of marrying his first-born child, I gained my first insight into Dad H's definition of family. As he and I bumped into each other at church on the morning of the wedding, he turned to me and asked, "Where's your mother?" Since we both knew my biological mother was miles away at her hotel, it only took a second to realize that he was referring to my soon to be mother-in-law. And from that moment, I truly believe that is how he considered me - and anyone else who was fortunate to marry one of his most beloved treasures - we were invited to become another one of his kids. And like them, to be worried over and appreciated, and supported - no matter what.

And despite raising a family of nine kids, I've heard them say over and over again how Dad H was able to make each of the nine feel special and for the time he shared with them, his "favorite."

Dad H served his country in the Korean war, managing to get married somewhere in between and return from military duty to provide for his young bride and baby daughter (my future bride!). And provide he did...

Its amazing to think of in today's day and age, but Dad H managed to progress in the very challenging computer and technology development field for over 30 years. He truly worked on computers before computers were cool. From Cincinnati to Massachusetts, Kentucky and Glasgow, Scotland, he was a trusted problem solver for one of the largest companies on the face of the planet. Right up to the day he retired, Dad H was equally at ease chatting about Cray Supercomputers as he was choosing the right flowers for the annual Mother's Day planting expedition.

Along the way, Dad H pitched in to raise nine very unique and spirited kids. They say his culinary skills were legendary, including Hishy-Hashy Hell Fire Stew. Dad H made sure everybody had their food before claiming his. And with determined follow-through, he could finish the pan to make sure there wouldn't be a pittance of leftovers to deal with in the refrigerator. Then long after everyone else had trailed off for homework or bed you would see him washing and drying dishes in preparation for the next day.

When the opportunity came to get a cabin in the woods, Dad H began the family ritual of days spent on the river. There was hot chocolate delivered to the kids' bunks and then he kept careful vigil - coffee mug in hand - while they happily explored the nearby trails and river bends. My wife fondly remembers those times as some of the happiest with her dad.

There were also woodworking projects. Intricately carved necklaces, book shelves, bunk beds, and school projects. If you followed him around the workshop long enough, Dad H was sure to locate exactly the right piece of hardware that you needed. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he'd peer up between his glasses and ball cap to say dryly, "I knew I'd find it there somewhere." He was the family handyman at large and many a plumbing problem or furnace failure was brought to short order with a call to Dad H.

When he wasn't working, cooking, shopping with Mom or raising kids and grandkids, Dad H had a keen interest to read and learn. He could easily flow from topic to topic as it interested you. Politics, world affairs, history, etc. Dad H always enjoyed bantering about the literary works of Asimov and Heinlein, or a favorite classical music piece. He was also one of the most generous men I ever knew.  He made sacrifices to personally support some of his own family members in measures that were much greater than his "fair share," and without a contrary word about payback.

There is so much more to say, and I am inadequate to the task. But to me personally, Dad H was a bright, insightful and kind man.  A good citizen, faithful son, generous sibling, dedicated husband, warmly loving father and of course his favorite role - proud Grandpa.

I'll share my last memory as a bit of Good News.
In January of 1998, I had been troubled by Dad H's health as we all were. I took a moment during conversation in his workshop to tell Dad how much I appreciated him, and in fact that I loved him. I asked his indulgence to further say that because of my fondness for him, and knowing that we don't live forever, I had often wondered about his spiritual well-being. I shared with him that I believe our ultimate redemption will be through personal belief in Jesus as the Son of God.

I'm not sure I can tell you why I was surprised at what happened next, but without hesitation, Dad H stopped what he was doing, straightened up from the workbench and looked me straight in the eye. He said, "I've always believed that Tom. I've got no question about that - I may have some problems with organized religion - but not that."

"But not that," he said. No questions about his personal belief in Jesus as the Son of God. So from that day on, I lost my fear for the day we would eventually lose Dad H from this life.
We shook hands for the last time in October. He once again looked me straight in the eye and gave me that strong carpenter's grip. I'll remember that moment, and listening as his oldest daughter told him she loved him and hearing him say that he loved her.

And now I look forward to seeing him again in heaven.

What do you believe?

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Missed Conversation with John the Drummer

I was as shocked as anybody in our parish to learn that John passed away last month.
I don't know his last name. Early 40-ish, thick beard, soft spoken and always smelling of cigarette smoke.

John played conga drums at our 7:30 am Sunday church service.
If conga's seems a little out of place for the "early" service, you're right.
But our music director rarely has volunteers for that time slot and John was willing, so he became a regular.

As the parish guitar player, I rotate services and only play a handful of the 7:30's each year.
John was always very friendly towards me. Greeted me and offered to engage me in conversation despite the unseemly hour (7:00 am rehearsal...ugh).
But I wasn't very friendly back. I don't know why.
I usually enjoy the camaraderie of another musician. Whether it's the music director on piano, the flute and violin players who sometimes visit, they add so much and its more fun for me.
And I am almost always curious to learn more about my fellow musicians and the singer soloists as well.
What other types of music do you enjoy? How long have you been playing? Have any plans for the coming week?

But I never did ask John those questions, even though he asked me a few. That's why I know so little about him.
Maybe the conga drums were a little jarring for me, despite the gentle and capable way John played them. And I was admittedly put off by the heavy pall of cigarette smoke that encircled him.
Even when John would say to me after the service, "Nice job today, I really like the way you play."
I never accepted the opening to say more.

So I was as shocked as anyone to learn that the poor man had passed away at such a young age.
I'm equally troubled by how my own behavior cannot be reconciled with John in this lifetime.
I can't make an effort to be kinder to him next time. Can't apologize for treating him so indifferently.
There is no next time with John.

I won't make that mistake again...or will I?
I've asked God to help me do better and to please forgive me for not treating others as I would like to be treated. There is always more to learn, and I'm once again humbled by the stark reminder.

James Chapter 2:
"My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers."

What do you believe?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Daughter and the Trip West

I just had one of those most-gratifying parent moments.
My adult daughter explained details of her upcoming road trip to Yellowstone with her husband of four years.
Without a map in hand, she described the daily itinerary and various options they could take depending on weather and driving conditions. She had a rough estimate of time at key attractions like Mt. Rushmore and knew road conditions in Yellowstone (a mountain pass is closed for the season).
She's prepared for the weather (snow on the ground, but it could quickly warm up) and they are deciding on hiking distances and trailheads they may tackle in the nearby Tetons.
Its a solid, safe and well thought out plan, with a few twists and goals that I would not have included. And that's a good thing. She and our son-in-law are making it their own, building on what she and he have learned from their early family travels.

I never sat my daughter down to say, "this is how you plan a family road trip."
She's learned that you need goals and guidelines for a successfull trip. How many miles can you travel - and enjoy - in a day?   How do you plan for as many options and possible pitfalls as possible, still knowing that you'l have to call a few "audibles."  Rain days, road closures, mis-calculations.
Its all part of the fun.
She learned all this by being part of the family. And simply living it.
She traveled the 50 states with us and gradually absorbed that there was method to our madness.
I can remember apologizing to her on a long drive through Utah when I had underestimated the hours to our next destination. We had to pound through the miles into the late evening because we were whitewater rafting on the Colorado the next day. My teen daughter said, "that's ok Dad, the hike at Zion today was worth it!"

Our kids also learn their spiritual planning insights from us.
Years of attending church on Sunday help them to learn that its a priority. You work your schedule around it.
Praying out loud together - not just saying grace at meals - provides a familiar and natural setting to have conversations with God.
Highlighting your favorite bible verses and talking about their application in daily life.
And simply saying, "I love you, no matter what," helping to exemplify what God's Grace of unconditional love means in practice.

I hear parents say, "I didn't want to force them to believe what I believe, but I'll answer their spiritual questions when they're old enough to make their own decisions."
They don't always grow up to ask those questions, and they don't necessarily ask their parents.
But they do learn as they go - if there is an example to follow, and if its combined with positive participation and outcomes.

That's why I smiled to hear my daughter describe her travel plans.
She's got it.
One of my wife and my joys in life - the family road trip - its been passed on to another generation,  fully intact and breathing a life of its own.
We didn't force that on her, she took it and ran with it - recalling how much she enjoyed learning it together with us at her side. And with Jesus, her savior.
Spiritual travel plans, for this generation, and generations to come until He returns.

"Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they grow old they will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6

What do you believe?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

5 Memories of My Mom

Its been 5 years since my mom passed away in the summer of 2009, and I miss her.

Its almost surreal to accept that our individual lives have progressed as they have in her absence.
Yet there's no doubt our collective interactions would have been different in many ways, simply because she has not been here as the heart of our family.

I had originally thought to write about the 5 things I miss most about her on this fifth anniversary, but that seems morose - and mom would prefer something more cheerful.
So instead, I'm sharing 5 of my favorite memories. And as long as I'm still around and able to remember, I hope to add another each year in the future.
  • Riding in the wagon to the grocery store - many of my memories start about the time my two older sisters were off to school and I spent lots of quality 1:1 time with my mom as she tended to our home. Riding two blocks to the grocery store in the wagon was great fun, and I could tell she enjoyed our excursions on those warm, breezy summer days.
  • Ice skating and "cracking the whip" - when I was old enough to ice skate we went to the local park and its frozen pond. I remember our family holding hands and me being the last in the line, holding fiercely to my mom's gloved hand as we all turned in a large circle, with my dad at the center as we "cracked the whip." It was a sharply cold, moonless dark night and it seemed extra special because my mom was so enthused with the adventure.
  • Saturday night movies and popcorn - My mom had a gift for making world class popcorn. She had a certain way of tossing the popped corn in a bowl to get just the right amount of salt distributed. Any extra went into special metal tins that the family could enjoy for and extra day or two.  Part of the fun was knowing just how much mom enjoyed eating the popcorn herself! 
  • The Summer 10:30 PM Chats - I was a serious distance runner and I liked to take a nightly run during the summers when it was cooler. There was always a 10:30 pm TV rerun that mom like to watch after the news - Alfred Hitchcock, The Untouchables, PerryMason or the like. By those high school years I wasn't around the house quite as much, but we had an unspoken appointment to chat over the day either before or after I went for my run. Many was the night I dragged my feet until after the 10:30 show, just to see if we'd correctly figured out 'who dunnit.'  And she never failed to ask, 'do you really have to run every day?"
  • Seeing her play dress-up with my daughter - From the moment she held my daughter in the hospital, there was always a special bond between the two. You couldn't help but laugh to hear them play dress-up and make elaborate pretend stories as they cooked and cleaned with all the toy utensils. My daughter still speaks of those fabulous trips of imagination and its a joy to know that she will have some of these memories to hold on to long after I'm gone.
I'll share more next year.

What do you believe?

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Counterfeit 5 Dollar Bill

My daughter works in the banking industry.

This week someone included a counterfeit 5 dollar bill mixed in with their other cash.
My daughter spotted it.
She later snapped a photo of the counterfeit and a regular 5 dollar bill and asked us to determine which was which.
I could not.

"How did you do it?" I asked, genuinely impressed.

"It didn't look right to me," she said, " and when you held it up to the light you could easily see that the 5 didn't show through in the proper manner."

My daughter has seen literally thousands and thousands of bills over the years.
She's become accustomed to the true look and feel of the real thing.

My daughter is smart, thoughtful and perceptive. She has also seen many forms of spirituality over the years amongst friends, students, acquaintances and family.
She has held them up to the Light and recognizes the Truth when she sees it.

From her very youngest years we would talk about God in a very objective manner.
"Yes, there really is a God, and He loves you very, very much."
"Yes, Jesus really did exist, and he had a specific mission when he died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins."
"Yes, you can absolutely believe in the bible as your reference point."

She went on to do her own studies and make her own decisions.
And now I hear her incisive interactions with people who wonder about, or try to introduce, counterfeit spirituality.
She holds them up to the Light. And she is not mislead.

What do you believe?