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

Monday, June 30, 2014

A David and Goliath Tale

(photo credit: frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com)

Have you heard of the Goliath Bird Eating Spider?  If not, click the link and/or check out this YouTube video. WARNING: Arachnophobes should probably skip the video. I’d never heard of this gigantic tarantula until last night, when Mrs. Sweetie and I spent time with an amazing young woman and her family.  A 2009 graduate of Azle High School, where she was a classmate and friend of our favorite son, she went on to complete a BS in Chemistry from Baylor, and is now working toward an MS in Sustainability from Arizona State. As a part of this degree, she leaves tomorrow to spend the next 27 months working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, West Africa, teaching 7-10 grade chemistry.

Oh, I almost forgot … she’ll be teaching in French.

She told us last night about the application process: page after page of yes or no questions.  Are you willing to live for 27 months in a mud hut without running water … electricity … a toilet? Do you understand that you are likely to contract malaria while you are there …that any mail from home will take at least 6 weeks to arrive and will likely have been opened by the time you receive it … that the nearest PC volunteer on your team will be 70 miles away?

She also told us that the natives like to initiate visitors by throwing the Goliath Spider at them to see how they react.

This is a 23 year-old girl, for crying out loud!  On her blog, she lists the top 10 reasons why she is joining the Peace Corps.  Number 1: I believe that Christians should be leading the world in service to others. If we are truly following the teachings of Christ, Christians should be the kindest, most loving, giving, and compassionate people on the earth. Not only that, but we should be willing to do anything on faith, if God has called us to it. One of the first things I heard about the PC was, ‘there aren’t a lot of Christians in the Peace Corps,’ which was not only shocking to me, but disturbing. If what I said above is true, then people who aren’t Christians are doing a better job of acting like Christians than we are.”

Her story reminds me of the David and Goliath story in 1 Samuel 17. Space available here does not allow the whole story, but here are David’s words to Goliath in verses 45-46: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me.”

Our lives matter so much to God that He promises to be our strength, our source, and to fight our battles for us if we surrender ourselves to Him. Your Goliath may not be a giant spider, but you have access to the same God.

Question: What "Goliath" do you need a new perspective on right now?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Something About Larry

(Larry Landers: October 15, 1958 - June 16, 2014)

By the time I met him, signs were already there, albeit unrecognized. He had been described as a bit aloof, uncomfortable socially, a hesitant conversationalist. But that was ok.  He, like me, had a wife that could carry a conversation, and we were comfortable just being along for the ride.

It was apparent that our children were quite fond of each other and so the dreaded “get acquainted lunch” was scheduled. We were already in love with their daughter, and they with our son. It was an enjoyable lunch in a safe, public place, and I think we all knew that day that our lives and families were destined to be intertwined.

Not long after that first lunch, the symptoms became more pronounced and after months of tests, the fearful diagnosis came: early-onset Alzheimer’s. That was March of 2012 and he was 53.

By the time they were at our house for a few days in January 2013 for wedding dress shopping (the selections being more varied in Fort Worth than in Amarillo), his confusion made conversations difficult and public excursions tension-filled and frustrating.  So, while the girls shopped, Larry and I stayed at home, sharing burgers and a “Lord of the Rings” marathon; two naturally quiet fathers-in-law-to-be, making the most of the situation, and secretly enjoying our escape from Bridal Boutique into Middle Earth.

Larry managed, accompanied by his Mrs, to walk his daughter down the aisle to marry our son on June 8, 2013.  With the help of friends and family keeping watch over him, he made it through the day.  Six months later, he got to see his other daughter graduate from college. He knew he was proud on both of those days, though I’m sure he had moments of uncertainty about the source of his pride.

On Monday, June 16, I wrote this post on Facebook: My friend Larry Landers, father of my precious daughter-in-law, won his battle with Alzheimer's about 23 hours ago. Those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, as Larry did, will find that statement difficult. But the truth is that Larry has crossed the finish line victoriously while this disease stood helplessly by with no way to prevent him from stepping into eternal health, peace, and joy. This is not goodbye. It is congratulations and we'll see you in a little while. 

I was glad to hear, at his funeral service, stories about the man I never knew: the real Larry; the young man I would have enjoyed fishing and hiking with; the one whose brilliant mathematical mind I would have benefited from; the one who knew that his life mattered to God and who brought up his daughters to know the same.

So many families have a “Larry”.  I wrote this to encourage you to remember and celebrate the real person when you are weary of the one whose mind has been stolen by disease.  There is still something special about your “Larry.”

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Collecting Memories

(High class piano movers: 6/13/14)

I once had a great collection of cheesy souvenir coffee mugs that came from every place I vacationed.  The more it screamed, “I am cheap, but I have the name of this place in big, bright letters,” the higher its chances of making my collection.

Then I got married.

Mrs. Sweetie ever-so-sweetly began suggesting that my collection was not consistent with the kind of home décor atmosphere we were trying to create. I didn’t know we were trying to create one, but I was smart enough to know what kind of happy wife atmosphere I wanted to live in, so my collection went to my office. 

If she had known what she was getting into, she might have gone with the mug collection. I sold one of my old guitars about a month ago, so I am down to 5 guitars, 2 mandolins, a ukulele, and an accordion. Our living room has a spinet piano and a baby grand. I came home yesterday with an antique upright piano that I bought on eBay for $1.

You read that right: one crisp George Washington.  Ok, it was eBay, so it was an electronic transaction and they only got 67 cents, but you get the picture.  I got a beautiful antique piano for a dollar!  It is in terrible playing condition, but it will never be played.  I am going to use it to make a custom desk for my man cave/home studio.  And I got it for a dollar!

Of course there were a few dollars added to get it here.  I had to drive to Shreveport, Louisiana to pick it up (4 hours one way). So that added a tank of gas in the truck.  I had to wait until after work to go, so that added a night in a hotel. And it was in Shreveport, so it added a big seafood meal at Ralph and Kacoo’s.  And I needed help loading it, so that required that I take a strong person with me, feed him said seafood meal, and pay him a little something for helping me out.  For the several hundred dollars I spent on the trip, I probably could have found one closer to home.

So, how expensive was that piano?  A dollar! All the other dollars were associated with my most treasured collection: my memory collection. The person I took with me, a recent college graduate, grew up in my church.  I have been a part of his life since he was in elementary school and he is like another son to me. I couldn’t put a price tag on the shared experience of those 23 hours. 

Our lives matter so much to God that He lets us share the journey with friends. Ecclesiastes 4:10 says, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

No matter how the desk turns out, it was a dollar well spent

Question: How are you investing in friendships?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

New Book Cover!

Hey, Friends!  Thank you SO MUCH for your input on the cover for my new book.  I never expected such a response.  The final tally was 68 votes for "A" and 56 for "B."  We read every additional comment and you helped us come up with "C."  We are on schedule for release in print and on Kindle in July. I will send out word when they are ready.

Monday, June 9, 2014

How to dress for Success

(photo credit: floridatrend.com)

Mrs. Sweetie and I were having lunch recently when we got a good chuckle.  A young couple was at the register to pay their bill.  The man was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Tattooed AND Employed.”  Good for him!

I have heard the following advice many times: “Dress for the job you want, not for the one you have.”  That reminds me of a fellow student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1980’s that wore a suit and tie to class every day to show that he was serious about his studies.  I wasn’t that serious about studies.  About God, yes.  About studies, not enough to wear a suit and tie every day.  Even in my years as a pastor, folks pretty much knew that if they saw me in a suit and tie on a weekday, someone was deceased.

As I was leaving for my first interview with the team that was selecting an Executive Director for Harvest Baptist Association (my current job), Mrs. Sweetie said, “Are you wearing that?”  My response: “Yep!  I don’t want this job.”  Of course, now that I am 6 years into this job that I really love, I know that I would have made a much worse impression if I had worn a suit and tie.

There are at least three truths about me and clothes.  One is that I probably have more clothes than the average man. I’m not sure why and I don’t spend much time worrying about it.  The second truth is that probably 90% of my clothes came from thrift stores or garage sales.  I do require that my underwear comes in an unopened package, but pretty much everything else is open. The third truth explains both of the other two: I would rather spend my money on other things besides clothes.  This is why I have 10 golf shirts that cost me a total of less than $50 instead of 1 that cost more than $50.  And if I wear a different one every time I play golf, those 10 shirts will last me for about 15 years before I start repeating.

Did you know that the Bible talks about dressing for success?

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:10-18, New International Version)

The job that I want is not so much about location as it is about preparationOur lives matter so much to God that He is more interested in our success as Christ-followers than our success in the job market.

Now that I have my “under armor,” which previously owned shirt looks good for today? 

Question: Can you think of some practical ways to put on the armor of God?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your ideas.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Help Me Pick My Book Cover!

Friends, I am in process of producing my second volume of collections of my Life Matters column/blog.  This one will include everything from 2005-2012 and will be about 230 pages.  My editorial assistant and I thought it would be fun to do an unofficial and non-binding poll to select a cover for the book. Please leave me a comment with "A" or B".  Thanks for playing.

Monday, June 2, 2014

How to be happy with your choices

(photo credit: jimbonham.com)

Have you ever thought about what “super hero power” you would like to have?  Flight?  X-ray vision?  Probably the one I most often think about would be the ability to be in more than one place at a time.  Sometimes it feels like there are too many opportunities, too many responsibilities, and too little me.

This past weekend was one of those times. There were four places I wanted to be: the high school graduation of my nephew, the high school graduation of my next door neighbor who is like another daughter, the wedding of a young lady who grew up in our church, and the funeral of a friend and mentor.  Four places I wanted to be; the one I chose would, by necessity, eliminate others.  How could I possibly be happy with one choice and have no regrets about the others?

Jesus said, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).  No pressure!

I once heard someone say, “The road is narrow, but we get to use the whole road.”  That stuck with me, and the more I have thought about it, the more I am convinced that it is Biblically sound.  I did a search of the concept of choices in the Bible. Here’s what I found: the word “choice” is found 34 times in the New International Version, “chosen” - 125, “chose” – 45, “choose” – 66, “choices” – 0. The vast majority of those occurrences are talking about God’s choice, not ours. Hmmm.

Here’s one that is talking about ours: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).

It seems that the pivotal choice for us is whom we will serve (Joshua 24:15), which sets the direction of our lives (Matthew 7:13-14).  Within those parameters, we are able to exercise some discretion in our choices. So, here are some of my thoughts on some filters that will allow us to make good choices without regrets.  If I choose A over B:

1    1.     Will my choice do anything to dishonor God or undermine my life’s choice to serve Him?
2.     Can God be glorified in my choice and will I behave in such a way that He will be?
3.     Can I make this choice joyfully?
4.     Are there ways I can demonstrate faith, love, and respect in the choices I decline?

Sometimes, choices are really no-brainers.  When they aren’t, our lives matter so much to God that He doesn’t leave us without resources. 

Choose joyfully.  Love deeply.

Question:  What are some ways you can think of that help with filter #4 above?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.