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Blogger, Christ-follower, Encourager, Friend, Husband, Dad

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Learning to Live and Living to Learn

It happened again this week. There have been 28 of them since Mrs. Sweetie became a Mrs.  There have been 15 of them since I was personally involved in one.  We have been sending our offspring off  to college for the past 6.  And this one was the first one that my favorite daughter will experience from the other side.  The First Day of a new school year.

I guess with a daughter teaching, a son in college, a son-in-law in grad school and a wife as a school counselor, there is no way for the first day of school to be just another day for me.  I may not build my schedule around the school calendar as much as I did at one time in my life, but it is definitely relevant.

I also have to admit that I still get a little excited about the beginning of a new school year.  And it is not just because the people I love most are directly involved.  I think part of it is the reality that I love learning.  When I finished my Doctor of Ministry degree 15 years ago, it was likely the end of my pursuit of education that results in diplomas and degrees, but I am still a bit of a training junkie.  I love developing new tools and competencies that help me do my job better and help me empower others to unlock their potential and vision.  I am infected by a love of books and that contagion has spread to my family.  I remember a quote from a few years back from Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  He said that the person who does not read is no better off than the person who cannot read.  As a reader, I am encouraged by that.  As a writer, I am hoping to encourage others about that.

As I approach my 50th birthday in a few more months, I am aware that there are quite a few things that I know something about.  There are some things that I know a lot about.  There is a small list of things about which I might even be considered competent.  But there is SO MUCH I have yet to learn.  Some of those things I can learn from books and conferences and seminars.  Some of them I will learn from observing others and asking questions.  Some of them I will learn from making mistakes (yes, that is still one of my most common methodologies).  Some of them are way bigger than me or anyone I know. So how will I learn what I need to in those areas?

There are two statements in the Bible, both spoken by Jesus, which I think about when these questions come up.  One is found in John 14:25-26 - "These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” 

The second is found in Matthew 11:28-30 - "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded me to attend and graduate from a number of institutions of higher learning.  I am grateful for those who write, teach, inspire, and train.  But for LEARNING LIFE there is no better source than the Author of our lives.  Our lives matter to Him and he is eager to teach us new things if we are open to it.

So sharpen your pencils.  What are you going to learn today?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Missed It By THAT Much

The record was in sight. It was looking like we would easily break it. Then one day short of the legendary consecutive triple digit temperature record of 1980, the clouds relinquished a few drops of rain and kept the official temperature in double digits.

I have to admit that there was a part of me that wanted to see a new record.  To be honest, I’m a little tired of hearing, “Well, it’s hot, but nothing like 1980.” On the other hand, I really don’t want to remember a year of my life based on nothing more than scorching summer temperatures.   A few weeks ago, when we were about half way to the record, someone asked me if I remembered the summer of 1980.  Of course I do, but not because of the heat.

In the summer of ’80, I was 18 years old and had just graduated from high school.  Extreme temperatures didn’t have nearly the effect on me at 18 as they do at 49.  But what I do remember the most about 1980 is a series of life changing choices.  One of those was choosing to head off for the Texas panhandle to seek a music degree at West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M University … Go Buffs!).  No one from my family had attended that institution before and I didn’t know a soul there, but for some reason it seemed right.  Over the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on how different my life might have been had I not made that choice in 1980.

The most obvious life impact of that choice was that WT was the place where I met Mrs. Sweetie. Of course, she wasn’t Mrs. Sweetie when I met her.  She was the really cute and outgoing freshman that showed up in the first WT Chorale rehearsal in the fall of my sophomore year.  And since she was not only cute and outgoing, but smart enough and driven enough to graduate in three years, it worked out great when she convinced me to marry her about six weeks after our graduation.  (Now, she doesn’t remember it happening exactly that way, but this is my story!)  After 27 years of marriage and two children who have now attended our alma mater, I don’t even want to think about how my life would look if my college choice had been different.

It was also at WT that I met a grad student named Charlie Fuller, who would eventually become the choir director at the high school in a town I had never heard of—Azle.  When I was preparing to come to seminary I asked Charlie if he knew of a church needing a music director.  He suggested I call the pastor at a little church outside of Azle called Eagle Mountain Baptist Church.  After serving as their Music and Youth Minister for four years and then returning later to serve as their pastor for seventeen years, I don’t even want to think about how my life would look if I had gone a different direction in 1980.

The truth of the matter is that 1980 meant a whole lot more to me than a record heat wave.  So does 2011.  When I look back on this year, I’ll think about getting a son-in-law.  I’ll think about getting my house paid off.  I’ll remember it as the year I turned the big Five O. Even now, I am wondering what decision I will make this year that will affect the course of my life for the next three decades.

God says, in Jeremiah 29:11-13 (The Message) – “I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out — plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I'll listen. When you come looking for me, you'll find me”.

Whether we set new records or we just miss it by that much, God knows what He’s doing and our lives matter to Him.  So, what choices are you making in this hot summer that will affect the course of your life?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Of Mountains and Molehills

Do you remember in 2004 when Mel Gibson released his movie The Passion of the Christ?  I remember it well for several reasons.  The graphic depiction of the crucifixion was visually profound and many of those images are still vivid in my memory.  I also remember it because of the publicity.  If you listened to some of the promotion, you could get the impression that this movie was the greatest evangelistic tool in the history of the world.  If only we could get people to see it, we would change the world!

How about two years later when the movie version of Dan Brown’s bestselling book, The Da Vinci Code was being promoted?  I also remember that well.  I read the controversial book for the same reason I have read quite a few other books.  I was hearing so much about it that I felt I needed to be conversant.  When it was announced that the movie version would include Hollywood heavy hitters like Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, folks imagined a blockbuster.  And if you listened to some of the concern from the Christian community, you could get the impression that this movie was the most dangerous film in the history of the world.  If we did not educate people about historical and biblical inaccuracies in Dan Brown’s fiction, we could lose a generation!

You’ve probably heard the phrase, "making mountains out of molehills”, the idea being that the reaction to an event may be disproportionate to the actual event.

I thought about that over this past weekend in observing both the promotion and the protest surrounding The Response, the all-day prayer gathering in Houston called for by Governor Perry.  Now before anyone jumps to any conclusions, let me make it clear that I am not calling this a molehill.  Anytime 30,000 people gather in one place across denominational and racial lines for no other purpose than prayer and worship, it is a significant event.  And from what I was able to watch on the live web stream, I believe God was honored and there may very well be some profound effects in the days ahead.

When I think of mountains and molehills, I think of those who protested the Governor’s participation in an event that was overtly and distinctly Christian, as if it were a threat to religious liberty in our nation and would destroy the wall of separation between church and state.  I saw a quote on a local TV station that said, “We don’t need religion running our country.”  

When I think of mountains and molehills, I also think of those who would suggest that this single event will change the world OR that the correct Christian response is to vote for Rick Perry if he decides to run for president, as if it is possible to bring about national revival through the political process. 

It is my belief that there is one single event that radically changed the world like no other event in history.  It took place over a three day time period about 2000 years ago.  I like to refer to it as the cross-resurrection event.  What matters most in life is how we respond to that event.

Regardless of the various perspectives on the event last Saturday, I believe the organizers got one thing spectacularly right—the name.  Neither our nation nor our individual lives are changed by something that happens to us.  The changes only come through our RESPONSE to what happens to us.  Saturday’s prayers will not matter if prayer for our nation ended at 5:00 p.m. Saturday or if the focus remains on politics or politicians OR if the only ones praying are those who were in the stadium.  Our lives matter so much to God that He wants us to talk to Him, listen to Him, love Him, and do what He says.  

And to trust Him with our mountains and our molehills.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Heigh Ho!

I didn’t see the original theatrical release in 1937.  In fact, my parents were toddlers then themselves. However, I did see it in 1967 when it was re-released.  And one of the songs became a part of the soundtrack of my growing up years.  The movie was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the song was Heigh Ho!

We sang that song anytime we started to go do a chore.  Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work we go … and then we made up our own words after that.  In fact, we sang it when we were off to work, off to bed, off to town.  Pretty much any new activity was transformed into a grand adventure when it kicked off with the words Heigh Ho!  When I grew up and had kids of my own, I continued the tradition.  Now that the nest is empty, I still catch myself using it to let my wife know that I am headed for the office.

A few weeks ago, I previewed my intention to write about how our perspective on work can open us up to new adventures.  Just so you don’t think that I am not a man of my word, here it is.

Work often seems like a four letter word.  You know what I’m talking about.  It is a necessary evil if we enjoy things like having food on our table, a roof over our heads, and gas in our tanks.  We have to get up and go to work in the morning.  We don’t GET to, we HAVE to.  Why is there so little energy on Monday morning and so much on Friday afternoon?  Because of work!  The only time work seems like a good thing is when we can use it as an excuse to get out of something we enjoy even less than work.  “I’d love to spend the day shopping for new window treatments, dear, but I have to work.  Darn!”

Do you really want to spend over half of your life doing something that is such drudgery, albeit necessary for the previously mentioned benefits of room and board?  How can you head out for work with a Heigh Ho instead of a Ho Hum?

One recent morning in my personal devotional time, I came to this verse.  Ecclesiastes 3:22 – “So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is why we are here!” (New Living Translation)  Admittedly, Ecclesiastes can be a perplexing and sometimes less than enjoyable read.  But that verse really spoke to me that morning.  How is it possible to be happy in your work?

Sure, there are days that you and I might be happy about a particular activity within the day’s work.  We might be happy about an outcome that we have really worked hard to bring about.  But is it possible to be generally happy in your work?  Can your Heigh Ho be sung with a lilt in your voice rather than a sigh?  

I believe it can, but the secret is in the perspective you choose. If work is to make a living, it is an obligation to be endured. If work is to make a difference, it is an opportunity to be embraced.  If you work so that you will have money to live on, then it would be theoretically possible to have enough money that you wouldn’t have to work anymore.  That is, after all, the dream of some.  But if you work so that you can touch the lives of those around you or so that you can have a part in making your community a better place to live, then money ceases to be a motivating factor.  And when your work is an opportunity to demonstrate the reality of your faith, it takes on a whole new meaning. When you see that your life AND your work matters to God, then maybe an honest-to-goodness Heigh Ho is possible.

And maybe folks around you would see a little less Grumpy and a little more Happy.