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

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dear Diary ...

I’ve never kept a diary.  I am pretty sure I would have had to turn in my man-card even before I knew I had a man-card if someone found out I was keeping a diary.  Probably the closest thing I have ever kept to a diary was a spiral notebook with a series of letters I wrote to my daughter over a twenty-three year time period, beginning the day her mom and I found out we were expecting our first child and culminating the day before that child got married.  I wrote down my reflections at different times in her life-- the day of her birth, first steps, first day of school, baptism, first date, graduations—those kinds of things.  They were written just for her and I gave it to her as a gift the night before her wedding day.  I can only hope that reading them meant as much to her as writing them meant to me.

Other than that, most of my writing has been for public consumption and I have been blessed with the opportunity of writing email devotionals, blogs, sermons, songs, a newspaper column, and one book (so far).  Even the handful of journals I have kept over the years are fair game for anyone who finds them and reads them.  I guess that is all to say that there are no deep, dark secrets written down anywhere that I wouldn’t want shared. 

I don’t mean that there are no secret thoughts.  I mean that there are things that just don’t need to be shared publicly.  So, I don’t.  There are some filters I run my thoughts through before I speak them or write them.  And while I would not presume to suggest that my filters are the right ones for someone else, I do often wish that some people would run their thoughts through a few filters of some kind before they turn them loose on the rest of us.

I had an interesting conversation this week with some friends regarding social networking in general and Facebook in particular.  I realize that not everyone participates in that particular form of social networking, but over 500 million people in the world do.  Almost 900 of them are my “friends”.  I enjoy the opportunity to connect with old friends from high school and college days.  I enjoy keeping up with a lot of my ministry connections.  I have nieces and nephews for which FB (don’t I sound really savvy with my abbreviation) is almost our exclusive means of communication.  There are ways in which online social media have made our world smaller.

And a lot less private.  I’m not talking so much about the predators and cyber bullies we hear about on the news.  I’m talking about people sharing things that I just don’t need to hear.  I’m talking about people who will post a prayer request one time and then follow it up with an expletive-laden rant the next.  I’m talking about the joy-suckers who seem to live by the misery loves company creed. There are times I want to write, “Get a diary!”

At that moment, I realize that I am dangerously close to joining the ranks of the ranters and it seems that there are two options.  Option one is calling them out and exposing their rantiness. Option two is jumping on the rantwagon along with them. (Not only can I abbreviate, I can make up new words).  

But maybe there is a third option. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  What if I just made up my mind that I would use my words to build up?  What if I just made up my mind that I would use my words to bless and benefit anyone who might hear or read the words I say?  What if I concluded that when I assert that my life matters to God, it includes the words I say?  What if I never wrote anything about someone that I would not want written about me?

I think I’ll start again.  Dear Diary… Scratch that.  Dear God …

Friday, September 16, 2011

His Eye is on the ... Golden Retriever

My dogs just gave me a funny look. I was out in the backyard performing our morning ritual of feeding, giving them their doggy vitamins and throwing the ball a few times before I head out for work. As I was pouring the food into their pans I was struck with a thought.  Why is their food more expensive than mine … oh, wait … that was my thought another day.  Today’s thought, which I actually spoke out loud, was, “Oh, shoot, I forgot to write my column!”  With that, I made a mad dash for the computer and left one in mid-fetch and the other in mid-something else.

(A clarification here - Some of you may not know that Life Matters has been appearing as a weekly column in my hometown newspaper, the Azle News, since late April of this year.  I submit it to the paper and then typically post it online to the blog after the paper comes out on Thursday.  The timeline usually is irrelevant for blog purposes, but might have made this week a little confusing.  We now return you to the blog already in progress.)

I try to get Life Matters done and emailed over the weekend so that it is there in the inbox when the Azle News staff arrives on Monday morning. This weekend was actually not too stressful and there was really no reason to be down to the last minute.  I just plain forgot in the middle of a rare and blissful weekend with nothing on the agenda but some work around the house.

This workweek, however, is going to be as busy and crazy as the last few have been and there is no break in sight for awhile. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of people reading this right now are in exactly the same boat.  Your busy may not look exactly the same as mine, but the end result is the same—full days, heavy responsibilities, limited resources, and a lot of people who are demanding more than their fair share of your time and talents.  Does this sound at all familiar?

How about this?  You get up in the morning and you think about some project you want to attack when you get home at the end of the day.  Then you drag in at the end of the day and all you feel like doing is sitting and your evening is consumed with organizing your thoughts around how busy you will be tomorrow.  Then again, maybe it’s just me.

Man, those dogs have it made!  I look out in my backyard and they are napping in the sun.  Or on these blistering summer days we’ve had, they have dug out a mini backyard canyon in the shade.  Someone shows up and brings them food and checks to be sure they have fresh water.  When the weather is bad, or when there are loud scary noises outside, there is a comfy and safe bed inside.  When they bring a ball to play, somebody will throw it for them.  When they lose the ball, somebody gets them a new one.  I realize all dogs don’t have it made like these.  But these do, because I care about them.  And they are not the least bit worried about their lives.
As I left those dumbfounded hounds in the backyard and wondered what I would write today, these words of Jesus came to me.  

Luke 12:6-7 - "What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”  

Matthew 6:25-27 - "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

I know Jesus mentioned sparrows, not Golden Retrievers.  But the point is the same.  My life matters to Him and worrying doesn’t make it matter more. Because I know my life matters to Him, I can trust Him to take care of me.  How about you?

Now, I wonder what He wants me to fetch today?

Friday, September 9, 2011

We Will Not Forget

I have seen the t-shirts around.  I am hearing discussions in my various networks.  I heard a special announcement in the church I attended last Sunday.  Special gatherings and memorial services are being planned all over the country.  It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since September 11, 2001.  

Nine Eleven” has become a part of our country’s vernacular.  It truly has become a day that will live in infamy.  I remember telling my church family about two weeks after the event that I believed that September 11, 2011 would be for this generation what December 7, 1941 was for the previous generation.  Eyes were rolled and heads were shaken by those whose lives and perspectives had been forever altered by Pearl Harbor, but I think the ensuing years have given some validity to my words.  

Since we are now at the ten year mark, it has become apparent that there is a felt need for a commemoration of some kind and there seems to be a struggle in how to do it. Churches are working through the plans for their second patriotic service in two months’ time, since many of them had special services around July 4.  Elementary schools are trying to figure out how to commemorate an event that occurred before most of their students were born.  And if even half of what I am hearing is true about the planned Ground Zero gathering, there will be no shortage of controversy to deal with afterwards.

When I saw the “We will not forget” t-shirts a few days ago, I was struck with my own risky thought.  What is it exactly that we are not supposed to forget?  

Honestly, there are some things about that day and the days following that I would give anything to forget.  I wish I could erase my mental pictures and videos of planes crashing into buildings, people jumping out of windows, buildings collapsing.  I wish I could forget the political opportunism of those who use tragedy to further their own political agenda.  I wish I could forget the ugliness of those who have portrayed all Muslims as anti-American followers of Osama bin Laden and all persons of Middle Eastern descent as potential terrorists.  As a Baptist, I don’t want to be identified with that nut-job from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS.  And I suspect that many Muslims feel the same way about being painted with the same broad brush. 

So, what do I want to be sure I never forget?  

I want never to forget how our leaders initially set aside political differences and came together in solidarity.  For a few precious hours, we were not Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, or whatever … we were Americans.  Making sure our commemorations include the words, “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” would help us remember.

I want never to forget that there are heroes who risk their lives every day to protect us. Firefighters are being called out daily (lately close enough that we can actually smell the smoke).  Law enforcement and emergency medical personnel are every bit as vital to our daily lives as those first responders who were called to Ground Zero.  And certainly we don’t want to forget the members of our military in harm’s way throughout the world.  Making sure that our commemorations include recognition of these heroes would help us remember.

I want to be sure that I never forget that our security is not ultimately in our hands.  Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”  Not every commemoration will be in a setting where that can be acknowledged out loud.  But those of us who know how much our lives matters to Him can make our daily lives a reaffirmation of that reality.

May we never, ever forget.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happily Missing You

Is it possible to miss something from a previous season in life and yet have no regrets about what led you to the current season?  I think that is where I am this week.  I spent a half hour or so this morning looking through the special Chamber of Commerce edition of my hometown newspaper and enjoying reading the stories about the award winners from the recent Chamber banquet.

As a past keynote speaker and award winner at said banquet (a fact that still amazes me even five years later), I allowed myself a couple of moments of fond reminiscing.  But what struck me most in my time of reading this morning was not my own past experience, but the fact that so many of this year’s winners are people I would consider friends.  I certainly hope the feeling is mutual.  I won’t start naming names.  If the feeling is mutual, you know who you are.  If it is not, I am providing you with plausible deniability.

When the focus and location of my ministry changed just over three years ago, I didn’t just leave a church family that I love. Note that “love” is in the present tense.  That has not changed.  I also left a community that I love.  Same deal.

Oh, I still sleep, bank, go to the Post Office, and buy groceries in Azle.  I still eat, albeit less frequently, in Azle restaurants. I am supremely blessed to get to write a weekly column in that newspaper. But it is not the same.  I miss being involved in the Chamber of Commerce and the Azle-area Ministerial Alliance.  I miss the Marching Green Pride Boosters.  I miss being invited to speak at the various meetings of service organizations and community gatherings.  I miss being right smack in the middle of my hometown.  I may not have grown up here, but I have lived here twice as long as anywhere else in my life.  So this is my hometown.

And if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.  As much as I miss all those things, I am certain my ministry focus and location are precisely where God wants them to be for this season in life. 

So, connecting back to my original question, what are we to do with the changing seasons of our lives?  I think I have three suggestions.  

First, appreciate where you have been.  Philippians 1:3 says, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”  When was the last time you wrote a note, email, or text message to someone who has meant something special in your life?  For me, a lot of people I would like to write are already in heaven.  But a few of them are still around.  Some of them got awards at the Chamber banquet. 

Second, make the most of where you are now. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  I look back to the previous season of my life with a great sense of satisfaction about my place in it.  I want to look back on the current season the same way.

Third, make sure you are pointed in the direction of where you want to go.  Philippians 3:13-14 says, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  I don’t know if the current focus of my ministry is permanent.  I know God used the last season to prepare me for this one.  I want Him to use this one to prepare me for the next one.  And ultimately, I look forward to hearing Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Our lives matter to Him … every season.

Now, I have some cards to write.  How about you?