Mother’s Day Revisited

We all have a mother. There is no getting around it. Having a mother is an intricate part of the procreating process that God dreamed into our earthly reality. While I know that science and social experimentation have tweaked the birthing process since it was first introduced, the genetics of a mother are still required. Without a mother there is no baby. The same is true of a father, but I digress.

What happens following birth though is greatly different from child to child. Some will be placed in their mother’s arms and held tightly until they leave home as grown ups. Others will never be cradled by mom and will long for her touch. Others will find warmth, nurture, and tenderness in the arms of another mother and be forever grateful for her role in their life. Many will reflect on their mother’s touch as hot or cold or as accepting or rejecting. Mothers come in all shapes and sizes as well as perspectives and practices. Hopefully we can all appreciate our mother for who she is rather than what she did for mothers are real people in our life and not just providers of our next meal.

Yesterday across the country millions of people stopped to thank mom. Flowers, cards, gifts, and expensive meals were provided as a gesture of appreciation. Christian congregations ordered their liturgy to reflect on mothers and how they are gifts of God to children and to the family. Sports teams and entertainment venues marketed Mother’s Day as a great time to come out to the ball park or come into the concert hall. Parks and backyards were full of families eating and laughing who get together only two or three times a year to catch up and refocus on the family. Mom was the MVP, MOP, GOAT, and the GDP all in one yesterday and rightfully so. Yesterday was a day for mom to rest, reflect, be revered, and rejoice at the work of her hands. It was her day of reward.

But that was yesterday.

Today is a day for mom to go back to work. You have 364 days until your next free day and every one of them will count. So let’s make the most of the next year. I am writing to every mom on behalf of every kid so read carefully and apply where appropriate.

Mom’s we need you to…

  • Help us to smile, laugh, breathe, and skip. Life takes that away from us at every chance.
  • Remind us of how much you love us, pray for us, and appreciate us. Sometimes you are the only one who does.
  • Teach us to mind our manners, eat right, and behave ourselves. We forget those things that you taught us so long ago.
  • Recount for us the story of our birth and beginnings. That will help orient us time and time again in life when we are lost or confused. Heritage is way more valuable than we sometimes think.
  • Be a person of real faith and certainty that God is at work in all things. No matter what seems to be taking place.
  • Stop worrying about us. Advise us and encourage us, but worry, anxiety, and heart burn only hurts you and us.
  • Show us how to forgive and faithfully love those who hurt us. No one forgives like a mother so teach us please.
  • Stop chasing our childhood and help us navigate adulthood. It is a jungle out here and you know the way. Show us like you showed us how to tie a shoe or wash behind our ears.
  • Take care of yourself. Not with cosmetics and clothes or fads and follies that adorn your outward appearance. Take care of the inside of you – your heart, your mind, your soul. Those are the treasures most important to your children.
  • Tell us that we are smart, we are kind, and we are important. (Thanks Aibileen!) That is all that we ever really need to know as children and you are the greatest source of it on earth.
  • Never give up on us. We are still growing up sometimes even at 44.  🙂

I will likely think of other things for your mom “to do” list, but that is a start. Don’t try and conquer all of it today or this week. Pace yourself as you get back to work. Don’t be overwhelmed by the load. You are a mom and God has made you just a little lower than a super hero (but a much better cook (probably.) You’ve got this and you getting this will make all the difference in us.

We love you. Hopefully it won’t take another year to say that. Let’s talk soon. Now get to work so we can go back to being kids.

I Have Some Bad News

pux-phil

Today is that day. You know the day that comes around once a year and gets us all in a ruckus. No not Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter or 4th of July. Not even Saint Pat’s Day or Valentine’s Day or Pastor Appreciation Sunday. Today is Groundhog day and we will find out if more winter is on the way or if Spring is springing early this year. Cross your fingers and say a prayer.

Most of my life there was only one source to get this valuable information – Punxsutawney Phil. He lives of course in Punxsutawney, PA and for 130 years has given us cause to pay attention to his town on February 2nd. Every town should be famous for something and a rodent whose shadow controls the emotions of his citizens is as good as anything I guess. This morning I found out that in Marion, OH there is a hog named Buckeye Chuck. Unbelievable. What a rip off. I bet Phil is a mad little critter. His one day to be the center of attention for the whole world and his fame is tarnished by an imposter from North Central Ohio. Poor Phil.

I have some bad news. Imposters are not just in the ground hog species and they aren’t just in Ohio. Although there are plenty of those around here to be found. Imposters come in all shapes and sizes, all colors and creeds, all cities and settings. Don’t think your space is void of the possibility. Be warned, but don’t be alarmed.

Imposters are rampant in our day. Some try tell you they are the best leaders when they are really copy cats of someone else’s better ideas. Some will tell you that they are making things great again while they subversively take things in a particular direction that pleases and profits their constituency. Some will make you believe they are the powerful teachers on truthful topics when they are only telling you what you want to hear and fueling your fears/insecurities with familiar rhetoric. Some will make believe to like you, accept you, love you, all while searching for your immediate replacement to meet their needs or fulfill their agenda. Imposters come in the form of leaders, pastors, teachers, churches, Trump University, celebrities, friends, and of course ground hogs.

Imposters are wide spread and wildly popular. Don’t be fooled. Listen carefully and look into the life and character of those you listen too and follow. Think, pray, discern if their words or direction do good or bring harm to others. Reject new things that are only shiny, but possess no substance. Embrace old things that have shown themselves to be tried and tested. Question those who make promises to some while offering threats to others. Be willing to walk away from those whose leadership doesn’t pass the test of authenticity, good will, and generous living. Buy into people who buy into people, but rid yourselves of the stock of those who discount others based on race, religion, or the right side of things.

Be the real deal. Impeach the imposters in your life (at least in your heart.) Be authentic. Don’t believe everything you hear. Learn to look, listen, and launch in a direction that benefits you AND others. Champion words and ways that are substantially useful and not just stylistically comforting. Resist the temptation to hope for a quicker change of season so that you may live into the season that God has called you to.

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. (Proverbs 4:18)

I’ve got something to say to Orlando (but it’s not my words)

Tragedy. Terrorist Act. Murder. Psychopath. Hater.

Call it what you want, but the Orlando night club shooting is a devastating loss of life on many levels. With more than 100 dead or wounded we know that thousands of family members have been effected with loss and grief. We know that a community has been shaken and stirred with fear, anger, heart ache, etc… We know that all Americans – all people everywhere – are witnesses to violence, hate, and death in the most horrific of ways. We know that with each similar tragedy we grow more numb to the reality of evil in our midst.

This event was breaking into the news yesterday as I was preaching on Psalm 24 and the sovereignty of God. It is inconvenient that the two would collide, but it is also helpful to contrast what it means for God to be sovereign and to witness tragedy and turmoil in this way. We preach and pray that God can do all things and also admit that evil is free to bring terror into our world. How can the two coexist? Wouldn’t God want to protect the many lives taken or damaged yesterday? Can’t God prevent such moments from happening? Does a shooting in Orlando tell us that perhaps God’s sovereignty isn’t as secure as we may like to think it is?

This is where I have to warn me and you to not let fear replace faith in our hearts. We can not move so quickly to explaining things before we explore them in light of who God has revealed Himself to be – sovereign, holy, loving, faithful, etc… All creation cries out to the power of God which crescendos at the cross, the empty tomb, and the ascension of our Lord. Death did not have victory over Him then and will not be victorious over Him now. Our response is not to explain why or how this occurred, but to rest and revel in the who that is working in the midst of a tragic world. God is not far off, but is nearby. To say that God is sovereign is not to say that God CAN, but is a proclamation that God IS. He is at work in this situation – through you and through me – to bring healing and a songs of hope. We respond with hearts that are full of faith in Him and a vision/hope to see the kingdom of God spread in such a way that no one would pick up a gun towards another (or any other violent act.) We carefully choose words that bear witness to the love of God for all rather than words of contempt that will divide and devastate relationships/communities/churches.

In our tears let us praise God for drawing near to us. In our hurt let us praise God for placing graceful ointment onto our souls when we feel like we have been wounded. In our heartache for brothers and sisters we did not know, let us pray that the Holy Spirit would bring good out of bad and replace their anger/hate with love. In our doubts let us ask God to renew our faith and dig deeper into every area of our life to trust in Him in all things. In our desire to seek revenge, blame an ideology, assign guilt to political platforms, let us find the courage to let God be the judge of the all while we are friends and family to all of creation. In our temptation to give up on God and His kingdom because of great loss, let us turn towards the beautiful truth that “all of the earth is the Lords” so that we may actively participate in the renewal of a lost creation that is killing itself. In our dismay let us not focus on our loss or anguish without admitting the hurt that violence and death causes to the heart of our creating God.

May we today choose to turn towards God rather than away from Him. Violence, death, destruction, sin is all around. The only promising path is into the arms of a gracious God who generously reaches out to help and heal us. Let us be a generation seeking God and not seeking revenge, hate, division, destruction, or faithlessness. Selah.

Those are a few reflective thoughts from today, but what I really want to say to Orlando is…

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive a blessing from the Lord
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face—even Jacob. Selah.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory. (Psalm 24)

There Is No Time Like the Present

past-relationships

 

You may or may not be aware that the 80’s hit show “Full House” has recently been rebooted by a streaming service as “Fuller House” featuring most of the original cast. Many girls (and probably boys, too) of the 80’s generation are designating this “must see TV”. So much so that a second season has been purchased already and John Stamos has ordered extra hair gel. Even my daughter – born in 2002 – loves the show and often greets me with the familiar line from the show: “how rude!” I, however, am standing strong and refusing to invest my precious time into leftover lines and warmed up scenarios that appeal to my childhood years.  🙂

It seems that nostalgia always has a piece of our hearts. Another big piece of our hearts belongs to “tomorrowland”, “what’s next” or “one of these days.” We are a people who live in the middle. Our reality is somewhere between “what was” and “what will be.” But whatever happened to “what is?”

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 – ESV)

“Also, do not live in the regrets, disappointments, defeats, devastation of your past. Today needs your attention more than yesterday or else tomorrow will be a repeat of your pitiful past.” (Matthew 6:34, part B, The GDB2 Version)

If yesterday is full of nostalgia (or regret) and tomorrow is full of possibility (or anxiety) for you, I encourage you to focus and face today with all of your faith. Live for today like tomorrow is not coming and as if yesterday never happened. Live for right now because later on will be drastically different if you are handcuffed with the past or future. Live for your current reality because the one you think you want or wish you had probably isn’t as shiny as you dream it will be. Live for the “right now you”, because the “old school you” wasn’t as good (or as bad) as you remember.

So how do we “do right now” the best we can?

Breathe – take long, deep breaths that remind you that you are in fact alive and you have a life worth living. Freezing up and closing off from the world brings rigor mortis to the soul.

Bathe – immerse your mind in thoughts and prayers that are good, acceptable, pure, and healthy for you. Leave the trash of this world outside of your heart and mind.

Bend – reach out to other souls in ways that you never have. Find true friends for the journey of life. You need them and they need you. Let their wisdom and experience help shape your view of the world, but choose those kind of friends wisely.

Bow – humble yourself before God. Don’t fit Him into your life. Fit your life into His kingdom. Be thankful that God creates us to live and walk through life with Him. He will do the heavy work. We need only to let him.

Become – make your greatest quest in life less about experience and more about encounters that shape us for the long term. Forget about what you have seen or heard and press into The One you know. Exchange your identity for the one he created you to have.

Bless – give your best work to making other people feel special and feel served. Be a blessing that people can’t explain but are deeply grateful for. Put away your need to save yourself for tomorrow so you can expend yourself on others today.

While we may think often about yesterday and tomorrow may distract us for a moment, today is the day that we have. So let’s get stuck in today together making the world a better place and sipping the full life that God offers us freely. Stuck right in the middle of “what we wish for” and “what we long for” gets us to “what we are really needed for.” Make today the best day that can possibly be by thinking, praying, acting, and trusting in what God is doing in and through you. Relish the gift that today is for you and for those in your circle of care.

Some Things Shouldn’t Be Faked

Netflix has uploaded a series of videos that were designed as countdown videos to help families ring in the New Year with some pomp and circumstance. The purpose of the family friendly countdown video addresses a major problem with families on New Year’s Eve. Apparently, telling kids they need to go to bed before it is actually midnight is a problem for some families and Netflix discovered a way to help families out. The videos feature some of the most popular cartoon and real life characters to fire up the kids so they can count down New Year at 6 PM, 8 PM, 10 PM or perhaps even earlier in the day. The actual time is really not the point. The experience of counting down and popping the cork – even for kids – seems to be a “can’t miss” and a “we can’t disappoint them” event for families these days. No need for truth or transparency in the family. Just fake it. Thanks Netflix for helping families across the world get past this end of the year calendar nuisance without making mom/dad seem so bad.

Countdown 2016     (Check it out!)

Please hear me when I say that I am not against Netflix, New Year’s Even Countdown videos or sending kids to bed early. It is highly likely that I will use and practice all three this Thursday night. I am against parents who deliberately lie to their children, media companies who intentionally aid such deception, and cultural experiences that tempt families and/or churches to bend the rules of what is right so that fun and cool always comes first. (Use your imagination on that last one for a minute.)

Faking that we are excited about getting socks for Christmas might be ok. Faking that your Aunt Polly’s casserole tastes good is probably a good idea. Faking that you are surprised that the New England Patriots are the NFL’s biggest cheaters might even be acceptable if you are trying to keep family harmony and peace on earth. A 40+ year old former male athlete faking an injury to get out of a tackle football game with younger men is certainly alright. These are things that can be faked without losing integrity or credibility, but there is a long list of things that shouldn’t ever be faked.

Here are just a few…

We can’t fake parenting by taking the easy way out. Our kids liking us can not be our highest priority. Our kids following us into maturity is. We can’t fake our maturity or authenticity. Kids know and others do to.

We can’t fake friendship with people so that our network is expanded or we have a fall back plan to prevent loneliness or boredom. True friendship accepts others as they are and enjoys them that way. True friends are not always the takers of the relationship. Sometimes (often?) we are the givers.

We can’t fake our fitness by buying new shoes or clothes. Eating healthy only helps when we exercise and sleep well. Faking fitness is an easy thing these days. Everyone dresses the part. Few people have the medical records to back up their wardrobe. Faking it puts us in a company of people trying to look and feel better, but in the end we know that we are really out of control and undisciplined.

We can’t fake love with our spouse or special other. We love them or we don’t and we shouldn’t fool ourselves or them. It just isn’t fair. ( If you are uncertain if you are faking love or not review 1 Corinthians 13. If you aren’t loving like that, you are a fake.)

We can’t fake our worship of God with tears and/or a happy heart. Those emotions could very well be moments of escape from our fear, worry or doubt. Worship likely does make us feel good, but worship is not about feelings. It is about God. Worshipping God is daily and is full of the details of our life including our actions, attitudes, assets and ambitions. Worshipping God consumes everything or it consumes nothing!

We can’t fake liking ourselves either. Many people hate who they are or what they have become, but see no way out. So they fake self acceptance by indulging or insulating their ego with pride and self deception. Yet, they are simply covering up the shame and disappointment they have with themselves by faking it day after day.

Truthfully, I have been a fake in all of these ways and more. It is painful to admit it, but to deny it just increases my status as a serial faker. I know you have too. Faking is not an anomaly in our culture. It is an epidemic. You might even say that our culture is suffering from a pandemic crisis of fakery. God’s grace is the cure. Don’t try any other remedy because it won’t work. Just try on the true clothes of Christ and see what happens. It will eliminate our need for popular parenting tips. It will forge friendships that last through the ages and across the miles (even from TX to Ohio). God’s grace will transform our love of self into a love of Christ and towards a surrendered love of others that is pure and holy. And when God’s grace grips our soul we become instruments of worship with our whole body, mind, and spirit.

Some things just shouldn’t be faked. Faking doesn’t help anyone or anything. It only deceives and divides. Real life and real relationship is impossible as long as faking is the foundation. Embrace truth in all things, but do so with love and concern for others at all times. Choosing not to fake things is not an excuse to be a jerk. Just an opportunity to be real.

Nobody needs a fake in their life on any level. It is a learned behavior that needs to be and can be absolved.  We just have to make the choice – daily.

So what are you choosing today?

Transparency Training

This time of year, it seems everybody is excited about getting outdoors. Summer is very near and (hopefully) good weather will allow for us to move our life from the inside to the out. For many of us the last few months have been full of looking through the window and trying to remember what outdoors is like. In many ways we have lived through the months as window shoppers in a winter wonder land imagining a beach, a park, a baseball field or a golf course. Of course looking through a window is not the same as actually playing outdoors, but thankfully glass makes it possible to put the imagination into action on even the dreariest of winter days. Windows help us see outside and allow light to penetrate our indoor existence. Windows help us see the world in a new way as walls and doors are stripped of their isolating power. Windows change our world because they are transparent.

window

Transparency is really the goal. Windows are just the tools that makes transparency possible.  No one wants to be a window, but it seems that everyone should desire to be transparent in their relationships and interpersonal dealings. The ability to be and live transparently will make our world vastly different, as the warmth and clarity of light shines into and then through us towards others. Transparent leaders permit others to see them as they are instead of hiding behind walls or mirages of togetherness. Without transparency reality is tainted and relationships are fake.

People who are not transparent will never make the deep connection with others that is necessary to build a strong support network. Parents who are not transparent with their children raise their kids to walk in the shadows and hide who they really are. Leaders who are not transparent will never be fully trusted and will find followers abandoning their ship.  Refusing to be transparent in life will guarantee that you will always be a solo act. Life without transparency is like riding your bike at night on a highway full of cars with no street lights while wearing a blind fold and no brakes. Danger and downfall looms straight ahead.

So where does one start when wanting to be more transparent? The starting point is not to be “all out there” with every thought, word, and deed.  Transparency is not spilling your guts to everybody or in every situation.  Transparency is born when we are committed to honesty, humility, and reflection with ourselves. In other words, we can never expect to be transparent with others until we are transparent with ourselves. Transparency starts with self-awareness as we take a look and evaluate what we see in our heart, our mind, our soul.  Simply put: if you want to be transparent outwardly, begin with a deep inward look.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Are you “present” when you are with others or are you consumed with your needs, desires, problems?
  • Are you on guard with people you meet? What about with people you have known for a long time?
  • Do you have an agenda with every conversation to get something for yourself or have something your way?
  • Is your success in life (family, work, etc.) dependent on others failing or falling short?

These may be more than enough questions to make us aware of how ‘self’ affects our relationships with others.  Transparency calls for us to set aside our ambitions and our agendas if they affect others in a negative way.  Cultures that value transparency (work, family, church, etc.) recognize that something greater than the achievement of one person or one segment of society is at work.

Transparency requires training because it is much more natural for us to be closed and guarded.  Transparent leaders train themselves to be authentic witnesses of help and hope to others because success is never a solo act or accomplishment.  Transparent leaders train themselves to live around a window that lets others see them for who they are and what they are like inwardly. Transparent leaders train themselves to remember that they are only a window to the Source of True Light ready to shine through them into a world stumbling in the darkness.