Nose Prints on the Glass

I happen to have two dogs and they love to look outside.  We have two recliners that are used exclusively by our dogs to face the street and look out of the windows to see woodland creatures scampering about, birds flying overhead, and even a cardinal that comes back every single year and runs hundreds of Kamikaze missions into our windows every day for the spring and summer months.  That thumping has become so predictable, that our dogs do not even react to it anymore.

Additional moments of excitement is when the mail man comes or anyone walks down the street.  Dogs do not understand property lines and who is permitted where.

On the outside looking in at our dogs through the windows, you cannot help but notice the nose prints.  This requires weekly window cleaning just to keep our house from looking un-kept from the outside.

All around the first floor of the house, the bottom windows have these nose prints. Over time thy can obscure the view for the dogs and that do not get as clear a picture of what is really going on around them.  That me cause them to drop their head lower to find areas of the glass that are not marred yet.

While these dogs are animals, every now and again it appears like they are thinking through the problem and then start to stand up on the back paws and get a cleaner and clearer view.  Over time they glass gets marred even further up on the glass.

The actual reason for the glass getting marred is that they are so excited and push there nose and paws into the glass.  They pant, move, nose and paw to get to what is on the outside.  I look at this process as doers and not thinkers.

On the other hand, I can sit a little further back and a little higher up and not mar the looking glass at all.  At the same time I may be so removed as to never engage or ever do.  So what is the right balance of thoughtful evaluation and active engagement. Every personality type is going to be different and the mix is different for every person.  I think the answer is in what do we currently do mostly today instinctively.  That part already comes natural.  my thought is to create opportunities to do the other.  It is not as natural.  So engaging with purpose to handle the lesser with more effort is probably the healthy solution.

This is just a general observation and can be proven wrong in a micro sense based on one specific individual or another.  It just seems like the answer for most things is a healthy balance.  So I would apply that same principle to this.  If you have been to removed, then it is time to get a little excited and get your nose prints on the glass.  By the way, we are humans so we can walk out the front door and engage the world.

Bringing the Transparency

Bringing energy into a group of guys that maintain shallow relationships with one another is similar to revving up your muscle cars to impress your friends and then not going anywhere.  People can see the energy, but it is wasted if it is not channeled in humility, grace and transparency.

I know that I have been in new groups and shared my weaknesses and the remainder of the group decided not to follow suit.  Shallow is what one the day. A bit beaten, I pulled back my involvement from that group.

Then I have been in other settings when others were extremely vulnerable and I realized that the power in making change is being the second one in. Now men know this is just not a one off and they may have to go there.

As we were running out of time, the facilitator was trying to get us back on track with the study, but God was calling on me to share my struggle. Others started to share theirs.  Quiet people in the group said now this is starting to get good.  I look at the folks refuse to go there and that defensive posture actually retards the group in terms of openness and accountability.

So I was surprised that I said anything, because I had no plan to say anything. But it was clear that God wanted me to speak up at that moment and I seized upon it.  The light is liberating.  It frees us from repetitive nature of getting caught in the same snare over and over again.  Who God has set free is free indeed.

I pray that the fifteen men that come to Men’s Bible Study grows to thirty.  I was excited to help out to maintenance work at the church with a new attender at the church.  He did not even know the characters in the Bible and I had a great time sharing some of the characters in the new testament that I really liked.

Church is fun, when we unshackle ourselves with the cleansing power of the light of God.

 

Bringing the Energy

When I came to my current church over a decade a go, I was blown away by how engaged the men were.  It was not something that I was used to having men welcome you and inviting me to events and activities within the church.  Every demographic had many many examples of men that were not only the salt of the earth, but also full of light.

Over time many of those men moved out of the area either to be closer to family or because of job opportunities.  It is always tough to lose pillars of the church.  That does present an interesting challenge.  When I look at the elders of our church, they are all different from when I originally arrived.  That is understandable, but many of the original elders are not still at the church.

 

Again, Family moving out of the state was the biggest culprit.  When I look at the current elders, they are wonderful men of God.  All meeting all of the expectations of an elder as spelled out in Timothy.  Sober, slow to speak and quick to listen.

I then look into the congregation and so many people put in there time, but we are consumed by the needs of our own family even within the context of church.  When I look across the church now, we are missing the mature Christian leaders that we have had in the past.  Without men stepping up, we have experienced a bit of a malaise.  This had nothing to do with the shepherd of our church, who I believe many feel we are lucky to have.  It is the state of the folks in the seats and more specifically the men.

I have gone to Wednesday night men’s bible study and cannot help but notice that after years, we are missing crucial and vibrant relationships amongst the men.  Some of this can and should be accomplished in accountability groups.   I also look at the make up of men’s events at the church be it men’s breakfast, men’s bible study or men’s retreats.  I see some of the men trying to be honest and transparent, while other refusing to give a thing.  it makes it awkward because some men will go there and some will not.  It is the men that will not go there that seems to prevent a majority of the men to feel it is a safe environment.

This is my church, but I bet it represents a significant number of churches in the country right now.  I thing my job, is to bring some energy and be a change agent. One is by being transparent, the other is by being energetic.

Stewardship

Many times when you hear about stewardship, you usually think about your giving from a financial perspective.  Our giving should also include our calendar.  In our church we have spoken about how many hours is consumed a week by your church involvement.  If you are involved in a bible study, a care group, Sunday School and church on Sunday.  That consumes on average eight hours every week.  We also sleep eight hours a day, which equates to fifty six hours for the week.  If we have one hundred and fifty six hours a week and we subtract eight hours for current involvement in church and fifty six hours for sleep, then every week we have one hundred and twelve hours to offer up in terms of good stewardship.   So if God has given us this awake time and the rest is available time at work and in the community to present God an offering.  It could mean walking alongside someone at work that is going through a tough time.  It may be an opportunity for you to give that person your testimony.  It may be an opportunity to pray for and with that person. It may be an opportunity to schedule a time to get together after work to dig in a little deeper.

It could also be serving the community or choosing to go and feed the homeless at a soup kitchen.  it could be being a positive influence in the places that you go on a routine basis. It could be who and how you interact with people at the YMCA or Gym that you frequent.  It could be the person that sells you your coffee or soda every single day.  The point is to not check out and just escape from one thing to the next.  it is to offer up our time in a purposeful and honoring way.

We become self-centered and think we deserve “our time”.  We may go and do things begrudgingly. It is our heart that we need to offer up to God moment by moment.  if our heart is not in the right place, we know that it is time to get in His word or find a place to pray.  We know there are early tells when we are just drifting from one thing on the calendar to the next or falling into a Malaise because we have no schedule or structure at all.

The plan is to set out time for the Lord for our own fellowship.  When that is right then we can shine the light to others.  Thinking about stewardship in respect to my time and attitude is an eye opener for me.  Financial stewardship to ask for thankful giving.  In the same way, we need to thankfully give of our time so that God will be glorified in our community.

Is it Time to Lead?

Have you ever gone to a church and always sat back and got fed.  Of course you pitch in to help with acts of service.  You take your rotation as an usher or child care, but you never really take a leadership position.  i have volunteered with Youth Group and specifically with high School boys.  However, that was relational.. There was a Youth Pastor doing all of the heavy lifting.  I know when I had to step in to give a 10 minute message, it took me 4 – 5 days to get to the point that I was comfortable on the topic and subject matter.  i look around and these kids are brilliant.  Most seem to be children of engineers.  So I swallow my pride and just do the best I can.  What I realized is that the kids knew I loved them and they treated me extremely well and were extremely gracious I tried to encourage and teach them.  I remember I did an exercise talking about the requirements to be an elder in the church.  I asked them to act as though they were the board that was going to either recommend me to the congregation or not.  So I gave them the requirements for an elder and say based on what they know of me over the last two years, make a recommendation thumbs up or thumbs down.  i asked them to take it seriously and that I wanted them to go through that exercise.  They discussed for over thirty minutes.  In my own mind, I was not qualified to be an elder, so I was not going to get hurt feelings if they stated what I already knew to be true.

Then they called me in to give me the verdict.  They said while it is encouraging that I had taught second grade Sunday School and that I had taught as part of the Youth Group team, it was not enough.  The recommendation was that I teach some adult Bible Studies first. Once that was done, then they would be more than happy to recommend me to the congregation.

I was really appreciative of how they deliberated and also how gentle they were with me when giving me the news.  Since that time I have taken my rotation in leading the Men’s Bible Study on Wednesday night.  That was nothing special, except I would lead the group once every two months.

Then we got news that the leader of men’s ministry was going to be joining the board of trustees and would have to give up the reigns on the men’s ministry.  i was approached by a friend at church that asked me to consider heading the ministry.  My instant reaction was to recoil and say that I am not the right guy. My administrative skills are weak, my teaching skills are immature and I do not have a depth of understanding in scripture.  That is a nice way of saying that I have not stayed consistent in reading the Bible.  I said that I will pray about it and discuss it with my wife.

I have yet to discuss it with the Pastor yet, but knowing me like I do.  I know that by taking the reigns, it forces the issue for me.  I t gives me challenges and deadlines. It requires me to lead.  For me to lead, then I need to prepare. For me to prepare, I must be in God’s Word.

So my inclination is to say yes.  After Bible Study tonight I will have a sidebar with the Pastor and get his take.  I do know we run out of options at some point and I would hate for the men’s ministry to just dissolve.

Like Moses, I ask God to find someone else.  Hopefully, if the calling is validated by my shepherd, then I will answer the call.  Historically I need to be prodded.  Now it looks like I am the one to do the prodding.  The point is I guess I cannot continue to be fed like a baby.  It is time to teach and lead and do it humbly and faithfully.  I know we need a leader, I was just surprised that that leader could be me.

Is it Time to Be Radical

David Platt wrote a book called Radical.  It was a book that was intended to shake the luke warm church to the core.  It was challenging whether you look any different from the culture which is contrary to our Christian beliefs and values.  If we quantified our sins and transgressions and compared them to non-believers, they were virtually the same.  The inference is that Christians are not acting different then anyone else in the worlds and we are clearly not standing as a beacon of hope or a way to let people remember the Good news of Jesus Christ.

So what would it take to look radical.  To serve God’s purpose for us.  The commitment is for one year.

  1.  Pray for the entire world over that year’s time.  Free material are provided country by country as to the relgious make up of the country and specific trials that we can lift up and pray.
  2. Read the Bible in a year. We need to be saturated in god’s word.
  3. Put a cap on your lifestyle and take that money that you sacrificed something to get it and then purposefully give to some one in need.
  4. When need comes out, many people will send money, but the will not go.  The work is many the worker are few.  Be one of the workers.  David Platt told a story of when he was in the Sudan and the Christian Refugees were getting supplies from secular f government agencies, The refugees were hapy for their help.  One refuge looked David Platt in the eyes, that we knw when a brother in the Lord gives us something, because they walk alongside us, nit just send money.  that is what it is to be a brother in Christ.
  5. To be a multiplier at church. Get Discipleship and then go disciple someone else.

These challenges are not impossible and we saw value in the exercize, but looking at our lives, we said a lot of christian ministry would have to end to make time for this.  The time to pray for the world, read a lot in the Bible everyday,  Give sacrificially for a purpose. Bit that means putting a cap on our lifestyle.  this takes planning.  If we look to serve outside of a comfortable context like feeding the poor in neighboring city or go where there are refugee camps and serve,  Serve with the purpose of sharing the best news of all.  That the risen Lord calls to them that they might be saved.

Then multiply your efforts.  It is a big gut check to see if it can be done. I think doing the challenge as a group got a uneasy grrr.  But I think some of us will modify it a bit to make it sustainable and present us from burning out on it even before it begins.  Baby steps to radical so that I can hear from Jesus, :well done good and faithful servant” Meet God’s purpose and not David’s Platt’s view is what gives me some movement. Buying a bible in Chronological order tomorrow, to make my year in the bible flow better.

Moving in Freedom

The greatest delight I have as a father is seeing my son so far ahead of me when I was his age.  Kids still need to live life and get bumped and bruised along the way, after all that is how they grow.  We want to shield them from pain, but we inadvertently stunt their ability to learn and grow from it.  I believe it is our own desire to deflect pain and deep seeded hurt that cause us to kick the pain down the entire road of our life. With our kids, tough love can be the best love even though it hurts us the parent so very much.

Preparing our kids for life comes with dealing with pain.  So often we want to give them the speech of do not make the same mistakes that I made.  Or I am trying to save you from the pain that I went through.  Don’t you know that it is wisdom to learn from other peoples folly.  Yet, we were not wise and followed the path frequently traveled and got nicked.  What we do with that nick is the teaching moment.

When we screw up, I believe it is in everyone’s interest for the parent to own his or her mistake and explained how the dealt with the problem, be it positive or negative.  That is the real parent / child conversation that does not scream hypocrisy.  It simply states there is a cause and effect to choices.  Some of the effects can be dire or dangerous.  Either way, the consequence is very real and something that a parent cannot shield their child from.

Sometimes when a child can see our broken and see what it was that sustained us through those tough times, that is a moment the child is not likely to forget.  in the same way, if we deflect and ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room, then that too will be something that our child will not forget.

Find it, own it, come to peace with it and move on.  How we find it is introspection that does not spiral into self-pity. Own it is claiming that it is what it is, find what truth is needed to be found.  Expose any lie that gets hurled by the accuser that is wrapped in deception. Come to peace with the one thing that said His yoke was light and move on in freedom.

Did You See That?

Every now in again, you see something that needs to be shared with someone.  Something so precious that you need to know that that thing was appreciated by at least one other person.  Words do not do it justice.  It is strictly a visual phenomenon, where once you see it, you want to make sure that you are not alone and that someone else saw it as well.

I travel into Boston frequently for my job and a friend had flown into Cambridge so I arrange to have a meal while they were in town.  I had located the hotel where they were staying, but I also know that I was almost out of gas.  I did not want to come back after dinner and forget that I was on empty and run out of gas on my way back to my hotel.  So in Cambridge across from the hotel was a small gas station.  While I was pumping gas, I looked over and saw your classic MIT genius pumping gas into a smallish scooter.  My guess is that this guy was 45 years old, 5 foot 4 inches in height, balding on top with an epic comb over.  This is no big deal.  You expect to run into a bunch of guys that look Einstein or some other socially awkward being that was utterly brilliant.

Then I looked behind him to see a man no less than 400 pounds leaning against the pole.  I guessed that he worked at the gas station and was getting ready to receive payment from the math genius. That is when it happened.  The genius looked back at the gas attendant and gave him the nod.  I was waiting for the lifting up of a hand with a credit card or cash, but that did not happen. Instead the genius put on a helmet as though he was driving a Harley Davidson.  This was a very small scooter that likely only took a couple of gallons of gas to fill.  With the genius not paying the large attendant and after nodding to him turned his back on him and put his helmet on.

I was ready for a sketchy reaction by the attendant.  Then, that very moment I saw something that is the greatest visual site that I have ever seen and will remember it for the rest of my life.  The 400 ponds man grabbed the other helmet on the back of the scooter and put it on his head.  Then he squeezed onto the back of the scooter and the tiny genius with the very large man aboard slowly scooted out of the gas station. At that moment I pleaded to God, please let me know someone else was able to appreciate this as much as I have. Then I looked over to see a middle-age african american woman smiling as she watched them ride off.

That was validation that God hears prayers and that he has a sense of humor.  I have to believe that the genius was calculating the gas mileage on the scooter with over 500 pounds draped over its frame.  I literally feel like I was on the set of Good Will Hunting in the land of the super intellects, but it was transformed into something infinitely more wondrous then anything I might find at the nearby aquarium.

 

You’re NOT Santa!

I remember last year when the Pastor was had all of the young children come to the front of the church for the reading of the story depicted the birth of Jesus.  Children are hard to coral and you never know for sure what they are going to say.  During the story one of the kids declared to the Pastor that You are Not Santa.  I am not quite sure what the parents explained to the kids as to what was going to happen the last church service before Christmas, but there it was blurted before everyone in attendance that the Pastor was not Santa.

Of course, the story of the birth of Jesus had nothing to do with the Santa but the church has to address the reality of one and the tradition of the other.  I thought the Pastor fielded the assertions with grace and humility.  That lead me to wonder, if I were to give a choice to people that knew me best, would say I was more like Santa or Jesus?  What would they say?  That of course takes away all of the more negative options.  For the sake of argument the only two choices were like Santa or like Jesus.   What is our subconscious defaulting to.

I came to the conclusion that the relationship with Santa was very one sided.  It was all cause in effect.  If someone was good or was pleasant to me, then I would bestow the gift of being generous with my time, resources and talents.  However, if someone was quick to judge me,  dismissive of me or flat out offensive, would I treat them to the “lump of coal”?  Which is the darkest form of matter that I can think of.

If I unpack that a little more, I would see that my actions were always a reaction to a circumstance that would directly benefit me or I would go dark.  Do I give gifts to those I do not know?  Do I withhold gifts from those without merit?  The answer is yes.

That would not only mean that I fall well short of any comparison at all to the “Living Lord”.  In this example, I could be mistaken as a follower of the world aside from my profession otherwise.  Based on eyewitnesses of my actual actions I might failed to convince others that I am indeed different. Then my ways are still transformed by the world.  Ouch.

Now I think of the comparison to Santa Claus and think how many kids would say, I know Santa Clause and you Mr. Dan are no Santa Claus.  Meaning I fall short of lesser of two choices in this season the light entering into the darkness.

So, with Christmas passing by yesterday, can I transform my ways and renew my mind.  To this I say yes.  Looking with hope to 2016.

 

History Repeats

I had to come to terms with the fact that the things I did five years ago that bothered me still do and yet I still do them.  I have not changed what I know is defective in me.  I find that my self-talk is what fuels this repetitive cycle.  Are the deep seeded negative things I think about in myself create a rinse and repeat over and over again.  I need to look underneath the root cause of that core belief that I have about myself.  The real question is it true or was a lie fed to me that I chose to adopt and make a part of me.

So we all have areas of insecurity.  If you are a guy, that insecurity can be defined by your relationship with your father.  Now your dad can be the greatest guy in the world and love you to death and still have ignored you because culturally that is what father’s of that era typically did.  They worked all day and then came home for dinner and then grabbed a newspaper, watched TV or maybe even went outside to play catch with you.  But kids need time that is engaging. Time where Dad asks what happened at school today.  A dad who when he hears of conflict does not automatically assume that you caused the situation.  To have a dad that has your back no matter what.

We are a product of that cycle with our dads.  We can say yep, my dad did a couple of those things and a list of positive things and maybe a list of much more negative things.  We recognize that abuse by our father’s is going to create dysfunction in our life.  But we also need to recognize the certain levels of emotional neglect can also leave a scar that you still battle with most of your life.

This post is about unpacking that thing with your dad that did not end well and resolve that with him and more importantly with yourself.  Free yourself from the grips of control it has in your life and how it impacts your current relationships today.  Even if you feel your dad made mistakes, know he is human and needs our love and respect.  So son’s turn your hearts to your father, even if you are hanging on to some things.  Then look forward in Hope. Hope is a profound need and it is so important that someone pretty significant died so you can have it.  Look backward in and effort to move forward.  If you cannot look forward yet, then look up, help is there for those who seek.