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

Friday, August 30, 2013

I Have a Dream

On August 28, 1963, I was less than two years old and had no interest or awareness of what was happening on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech didn’t have much effect on my life then.

Amazingly enough, I have never listened to the whole speech until today, August 30, 2013.  I have heard portions of it, quoted portions of it, and have been moved and challenged by it.  It has caused me to reflect on my heritage as well as my values.

I grew up and went to school in a west Texas town where most of the people of color lived on the north side of the railroad tracks.  In my memory, the segregation was limited to that.  We went to school together, played sports together, shopped at the same stores, and ate at the same restaurants.  Certainly there was some racial prejudice, but we were just going about with life and not thinking much about it.

But it was not always that way and it was not true everywhere.  I have a good friend who is now a retired Baptist preacher.  I love and respect him as a friend and brother.  He is a black man.  A few years ago, we had him come and preach at a special service.  He reflected on his own experience growing up in another west Texas town.  His father was the janitor at a local church.  They would let him come into the building to clean it during the week, but he was not welcome to come and worship on Sunday.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to be denied access to a church, a restaurant, or a drinking fountain because of the color of my skin.  And I am grateful that we now have laws that prevent that kind of discrimination.  We have come a long way in fifty years.  I am convinced that Dr. King’s dream has been realized as far as the laws of the land are concerned.

Racism, however, as well as all other prejudices, cannot be eliminated by laws.  They are problems of the heart.  As long as I see myself as superior or more valuable than others, I have a problem.  When my preferences become my prejudices, I hinder the work that God wants to accomplish in and through me.  If I believe MY life matters more to God than YOURS, I will not be the person He wants me to be.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

"You are worthy … with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:9-10)

I have a dream that we will live out these truths.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Is Your Account Overdrawn?

Have you ever gotten the notice in the mail (or by email or text message) that your bank account is overdrawn?  I have.  It seems like that scenario would not be all that hard to avoid.  It’s simple math: deposit more than you withdraw.  How hard can it be?

I think the hard part, at least for me, is that you have to pay attention and keep records.  You have to know how much you have deposited and how much you have withdrawn.  You have to stop withdrawing until you have sufficient deposits.

I had the unique blessing last week of conducting an in-service workshop for a division of the Fort Worth Independent School District.  The materials that I presented are based on the book “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey. The basic premise of the book is that in high trust organizations (including businesses, churches, and even families) productivity increases and costs decrease.  The converse is true: low trust results in low productivity and higher costs.

I have seen so many examples of this truth in working with churches and other organizations.  A good idea loses all momentum by the time it works its way through all the committees and/or levels of bureaucracy that have to sign off on it.  Creativity and innovation are discouraged by familiar systems.  Motives are questioned at every juncture. Today’s leaders are operating at a trust deficit because of mistakes and failures made by people who are no longer on the scene.

What’s the answer?  It seems like simple math.  Make more deposits than withdrawals. We have “trust” accounts with each person with whom we interact and the quality of those interactions will be affected by the balance of those accounts.  Furthermore, since we live in a culture where trust has so often been violated, we must be much more intentional and active in making extravagant deposits into those accounts.

Another way of looking at this is through an agricultural metaphor: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7-9, NIV)

We don’t reap what we wish for, or believe in, or deserve; we reap what we sow.  Sowing is active and intentional.  If we want to be trusted, it is not enough to simply be trustworthy, we have to sow trust.  If we want to be respected, it is not enough to simply be respectable, we have to sow respect.  If we want to be loved … you get the point.

So here’s my question (I know I am mixing my metaphors … I trust you to figure it out): What deposits will you sow today?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Can I Please Have a Do-Over?

“I need a do-over on this week.”

That’s what I told God while I was waiting for AAA to come unlock my car at the cafe where I had locked my keys inside.  That was Thursday.  A few minutes earlier I had received a text from my son-in-law that he was on the way to the Emergency Room to have his appendix checked.  A few minutes before that, I had been in my car talking on the phone to my son, getting him auto insurance information.  That’s when I locked my keys in my car.  And why was I talking to my son about insurance?

Wednesday afternoon - My son and daughter were rear-ended at an intersection in Amarillo.  Four cars were involved in this chain reaction and the person who initiated it had no insurance.  Son’s car was crunched from both directions.  Daughter wound up at ER with whiplash, but no serious injuries. It is hard enough to know that your kids have been in an accident six hours away, but this particular one was doubly stressful.  And why was it doubly stressful?

Tuesday morning – My son called me devastated because five members of the “Texas” Musical Drama cast had been killed in a car wreck Monday night (perhaps you have seen the news reports).  My son was in the “Texas” cast last summer and filled in for three nights this summer while one of the lead actors was on vacation.  These people were his friends.  Three of them were his classmates in the theater department at West Texas A&M.  One, whose stated goal was to be the “Tim Tebow of theater”, was a particularly close buddy.

Are you getting the picture of why I was ready for a do-over by Thursday?

Sometimes it seems that life hands you a heavy load.  In those times, well-meaning Christians will sometimes remind you that God won’t put more on you than you can handle.  There’s only one problem with that.  It’s not in the Bible.  The verse that is often misinterpreted that way is 1 Corinthians 10:13: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  That verse doesn’t mean that God won’t put more on you than you can bear.  It means that you never will be in a position where you have no choice but to give into temptation.

In fact, the whole point of following Christ is that life IS more than we can bear.  If it will never be too much for us, then we really don’t need Him.  The good news is that we can “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

So, God’s answer is that we don’t get a do-over.  But our lives matter so much to Him that He will carry us through. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A New Look for An Old Barn

The old joke goes like this: 

The uptight spinster was offended by the appearance of some of the younger women at church.  They were a little heavy on the makeup and needed some correction. On a particular Sunday, several of them were gathered in the foyer when the pastor walked by.

“Pastor,” she intoned, “do you think it is appropriate for women to wear makeup in the house of the Lord?”

With a twinkle in his eye, the pastor answered, “Well, I think any old barn would look better with a fresh coat of paint.”

I am not writing about makeup, but I do have a barn project going on.  It is not actually a barn, but the joke would have lost something if I used the term “workshop/junk storage facility”.  Mine is a 32’ X 16’  freestanding garage that was in our backyard when we bought the place 22 years ago. It needed to be painted then. I didn’t do it.  Nor have I done it since.

When we finished construction on our Sweetie Suite last year, including the great 37’ X 10’ porch for sitting and enjoying the view out back, Mrs. Sweetie indicated (sweetly, I must add) that her viewing pleasure was diminished by my ugly “shop”.  I would like to say that I got right on it, but I figure when you’ve waited 22 years there’s no rush.  That’s what I figured.  I figured wrong. 

To make a long story shorter, I have spent the past several weekends covering the outside with metal that we had left from our remodel.  I almost have the walls done and the roof is next.  During all that hot work, I have had plenty of time to ponder.  Here are a few of my top ponderings:

1. There is something strangely invigorating about doing something that you know makes someone else happy.  That is not to say that Mrs. Sweetie is not generally happy with me.  That is to say that she is REALLY enjoying the view now. Her smile makes all my sweat worthwhile.

2. There is something particularly gratifying about re-purposing old materials.  I could have hired it done with new metal, but … why?  I’m physically able to do it, the metal was already here and it continues our theme of putting old stuff to new use.  As I get older, I hope God continues to put me to new use.

3. Pleasing on the outside doesn’t guarantee effectiveness on the inside.  I have some great tools and am working on creating great space to use them.  None of that matters if I don’t actually do something in there.  Life is that way, too.  A new coat of paint may make an old barn look good, but barns aren’t meant for looking.

“For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).

Our lives matter to God. What new use does He have for you?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tickle Cheese, Sippy Cups, and Fingerprints

Life is good.  No, really. I’m not kidding. With all its challenges and frustrations, it is good. 

I’m not sure why I started with that thought this morning.  I sat down and put fingers to the keyboard to start telling my story and that’s what came out.

We had dear friends from Colorado who came to visit and spend the night at the Casa Lewis B&B last night before they head back to the mountains today.

This young couple moved to Ft. Worth to begin the seminary experience 10 years ago. They needed a place to serve and I needed an Associate Pastor and the rest is history. Now pastor of a church in Colorado, he is less colleague and more friend and younger brother.  We converse frequently via phone, text, and email, but this is the first in-person visit in awhile.

They have two precious little ones now, an energetic 3 year-old princess and a 6 month-old little man.  It has been awhile since we had babies in our house and it was a grand adventure.  They told us it was a warm-up for us to get ready for grand-kids (not that we are currently expecting any … this is not an announcement). Nor is this a not-s0--subtle message to my married children.  We are not ready until you are.

We really did have a great time and did lots of baby holding and enjoying the kind of conversations one can only have with a precocious 3 year-old.  The shredded cheese we served along with dinner was declared to be “tickle cheese”. ??? I’m sure there’s a story there, but we never got it.  However, there’s a good chance the moniker may stick at our house.

This morning as they were packing to leave, I held the baby and demonstrated that I haven’t lost my touch at helping put little ones to sleep.  Before the nap, there was plenty of cooing and laughing and playing with my glasses.  Since I didn’t wear glasses when mine were little, trying to see through baby fingerprints is a new experience for me.

Have I mentioned that life is good?  When I reflect on the lives that have crossed my path, I can’t help but be thankful.  There is much wrong with this broken, fallen world.  Shame on us when we can’t see what’s right with it—things like “tickle cheese”, sippy cups, and baby fingerprints. 

Philippians 4:4-7 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Our lives matter to God and He proves it all the time if we will just pay attention.

We also had some familiar smells in the house.  I still remember how to change a diaper, but I didn’t feel the need to prove it.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lost in Translation

Last Saturday afternoon Mrs. Sweetie and I drove to DFW to retrieve favorite daughter and son-in-law from their three weeks in India.  The next two days with us were spent either telling amazing stories from their journey or sleeping and trying to recover from their journey. 

Life, theoretically, got back to normal for them Tuesday when they got home and returned to work.  I’m not sure “normal” is a word that could ever be used concerning anyone in our family.  We tend not to do or be normal. Maybe it is because the Lord has allowed us the opportunity for enough life-changing experiences that we are really not looking for normal.  Just a thought.

Some of the more humorous parts of their trip had to do with visiting their Indian “family” for whom English is not the primary language.  Some phrases go through interesting transitions in the translation process.  For example, they were happy to see that my daughter had gotten “fat” since they saw her four years ago.  Now this “fat” girl weighs about as much as one of my legs, but they were really just commenting on how good she looks.  For them, the word “fat” is not insulting or judgmental.  It is a description of size.  Instead of saying, “What size does he wear?” they say, “How fat is he?”

They also told my son-in-law that if he would “just keep his mouth shut” people would think he was a local.  What they meant by that was that he looked enough like the local Punjabi men that people would rattle off something to him in the native language and then point at his fair-skinned wife and say “American?”  When they figured out that “American” was the only word he understood, they would start speaking English.

As I reflected on these stories and others, I thought about how easily we are insulted in our culture.  If someone calls me “fat” or says that I should “just keep my mouth shut”, that person is likely to get removed from my happy list.  On the other hand, if someone tells me I look good and compliments me on something I said (or wrote), this person is obviously an individual of exquisite character, intelligence, and judgment.

Here’s the kicker: that dear Punjabi family proved their love and devotion constantly for the entire duration of the visit.  Those words were not meant to be, nor were they taken to be, hurtful because the accompanying actions spoke so loudly.  Conversely, the person who flatters us may turn out to be an enemy when character is revealed through action.

Proverbs 27:5-6 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

Our words may lose something in translation.  My prayer is that my actions and attitudes serve as an interpreter of God’s grace and how much our lives matter to Him.

Now it is time for this fat boy to keep his mouth shut until next time.