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“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NIV)

As I write these words from the safety and security of my home in Ireland the scene outside my window seems calm, quiet and at peace. However, I know that there is a battle raging in this country and all around the world. It’s a battle to save lives from a deadly virus that’s spreading and infecting people of all ages in large numbers with the potential to become one of the world’s greatest pandemics in history.

I’m not interested in becoming another news reporter explaining all the details of the spread of the disease or careful spokesperson to encourage you to practice social distancing and safe hygiene. We have many capable and competent people already doing this. Please continue to follow wise advice.

I have a very specific reason for writing today and that is to consider a subject that will face each and every one of us. The current crisis has me asking the question, “Am I ready for death should it visit me personally?” Other related questions come to mind, such as, “If this were my last day, week, month or year to live what would be the legacy I leave behind?” or  “What might others who have known me say was the purpose and significance of my life?”

No matter what our age or health situation I doubt that many of us are really expecting this to be the last day, week or month that we could be alive on this earth.

In recent days I’ve seen videos of transport vehicles in Italy taking multiple coffins to crematoriums. It’s a grim reminder that death will overtake all of us at one point or another but now we don’t even have the assurance that any of us will actually have a typical funeral or memorial service to perhaps remind those left behind what our lives represented or signified.

My grandfather (above), father (left) and uncle after the passing of my grandmother Hallie

Back in 1918 the world faced a terrible pandemic which has been labelled “The Spanish Flu.” It took the life of my grandmother at the age of thirty in the prime of her life. My father and his brother were very small boys and were left without a mother and with a father who would later die of tuberculosis. The reality of those premature deaths marked them for life. Fortunately, we have some photos of my grandmother and a lovely obituary of her life to remind us that she was a woman whose faith was securely in Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church in the first century reminds these early Christ-followers that they are aligned to the One who has defeated the power of death. The only religious figure in history who has experienced a vicarious death and resurrection for all people is the One to whom I give my heart and allegiance. If those who know me don’t know that, then they haven’t really known me at all.

The very same life and security that I have experienced personally in knowing and following Jesus is freely available to all who turn to Him in faith.

To be perfectly honest, today I don’t feel that this virus will overtake me and I hope and pray it never takes the lives of any of my family, friends and loved ones. If you know me personally and are reading this know that I’m praying for your health and safety as I capture these thoughts. However, I am faced with the harsh reality that I have no guarantees.

So for today, I’m ready to continue to share the love and life I have experienced as a follower of Jesus Christ with the world around me and with others with whom I can connect around the globe.

As the apostle said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”

Another reality is that during this life we don’t generally know what others think of us unless they specifically tell us. Perhaps in these uncertain days it’s time for you to communicate to some friends or loved ones just how special they are to you.

Once we have departed this life it’s impossible to shape the legacy we hope to leave behind. That’s still the opportunity of the hour.

Let’s consider today that as long as we have life and breath we can continue to give our heart, mind and soul to what is really important  – the relationships we enjoy with others. It’s my prayer that in the midst of the present crisis you will find a relationship with the One, and the only One, who defeated even death itself that you might live – even for all eternity.   

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:6 (NIV)

Amid the desperation and despair of our world, occasionally we find reasons to believe that God is still at work changing lives and giving us a reason to hope for a better future.

On a recent trip to the cinema my wife and I went to see a film definitely worth watching  – and watching again. It was the film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which featured a glimpse of the life of Fred Rogers, the children’s television specialist.

The film centered around the character of Lloyd Vogel, a hardened, cynical journalist, played by Matthew Rhys, from Esquire Magazine who was assigned to interview Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, for a series of articles the magazine was doing on “American Heroes.”  In the film, Vogel was intent on getting the information he needed out of Rogers, writing the article and getting on with his next project. However, due to the integrity and character of Fred Rogers and his dealings with Vogel, the entire story turned on its head and a deep relationship formed between Lloyd Vogel and Fred Rogers.

One of the main themes the viewer experiences in watching the film is that of life transformation. Due to the type of person Rogers was and his simple and profound approach to dealing with all people, Vogel, the main character finds his life turned around and discovers a new friend for the long-haul.

When discussing the film with others, I have noted that in Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, we observe a man who exemplified his devotion to Jesus Christ in almost everything he did. He treated each person he encountered with respect and love, accepting them as the were, not withholding love until they met a certain standard. At times during the film we find true-to-life snapshots of Fred Rogers – reading Scripture and bowing in prayer to remember by name people he was seeking to influence with the love and grace of Jesus.

Some critics of Rogers have accused him of soft-peddling truth by not being more direct about his personal faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps the real-life Fred Rogers might be accused of sacrificing truth at the expense of grace. However, I am convinced that he felt the best way to teach truth was to live it out. His actions and his tone of voice spoke volumes to children and people of all ages.

The love and devotion that many people had for Fred Rogers was unprecedented. His work was rewarded time and time again. During his life he received honorary degrees from forty-three colleges and universities. His half-hour television program, “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” ran for 895 episodes and Rogers crafted the sets and wrote each script himself.

As I reflect on the man, I observed in the film I was brought to a place of repentance. Unlike Fred Rogers, I often have many unmet expectations of people around me and my acceptance of them is conditional upon them changing to meet some arbitrary standard I have  set for them. I would do well to take a page from Mr. Roger’s book and know that each person I encounter is a special gift of God worthy of respect, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

Living out from a perspective of respect and dignity perhaps I will have the opportunity to speak words of life – both grace and truth – into the lives of those around me. I pray that others will know I truly desire the best life for them and that I respect them apart from their personal views and conformity to my expectations of them.

God gave us Fred Rogers and in doing so blessed a generation and a legacy that he left behind. We would do well in this day of tragedy and turmoil, of division and isolation, to capture the legacy Mr. Rogers left behind.

It can be my personal aspiration to live out of a place of grace that I believe is fully realized in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My thinking is that if we start with words of grace and actions of truth people will start to listen more carefully to us as they did to Fred Rogers. Perhaps it can be a beautiful day in the neighborhood once more.

Ballet Lessons

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” – Ephesians 4:15-16 (NIV)

Until recently ballet performances weren’t part of my everyday life experience. That changed when my six-year-old granddaugher began taking ballet lessons within the past year.

A couple of weeks ago we (my wife, daughter and son-in-law) attended a performance from The Metropolitan School of Dance in Dublin which involved ballet dancers from around the greater Dublin area. The performance, “Alice,” was a musical ballet version of the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” Lewis Carroll’s classic.  Even though our granddaugher had only a small role in the grand scheme of things I was struck by several noteworthy reflections after experiencing what was a stunning, well-coordinated and executed production.

First of all, the dancers in the production, of which there were many, were obviously performing ballet. Along the way there were various other dance steps used, but the primary focus was on the art and skill of ballet. Everyone was on the same page!

Having said this, the dancers were primarily and largely female, but several male dancers were performing and all were participating at various levels of skill and experience. Some were mature and well-seasoned dancers. Others were just small children and, like my granddaugher were just developing their skills.

The leadership and coordination of the performance was second to none. The production was in two Acts and several Scenes within each act. At every juncture the dancers, performing in their various groups, came on stage, executed their routine and then exited the stage in grand fashion. Knowing what it’s like to lead a group of people of various ages and skill levels, I know what a daunting task this must have been for those leaders working behind the scenes.

Being mainly a female production, I could easily see how the older, more mature girls were developing and caring for the younger girls. Some of the lead dancers came out and mirrored the dance steps for the young ones, modeling what they were meant to be doing. The older ones led the younger ones on and offstage by hand with the utmost care and tenderness.

I admit I’m not in the dance business, however, the entire production gave me much to ponder when thinking about the ways in which we lead, develop and care for others in the church, the Body of Christ. Rather than expounding on my own thoughts I would rather raise some questions to consider for anyone reading this essay.  

Am I, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, as focused on Jesus and His mission of making other disciples as these ballet dancers were in their individual and coordinated efforts? Am I devoting my energy, talents and abilities to perform at the highest level possible for the sake of a common cause? Am I willing to set the pace and lead the way in modeling for others who a disciple is and what following Jesus looks like in everyday life?

It’s all too tempting to be distracted by everyday tasks and engaged in many worthwhile projects but without intention and the focus necessary to be a disciple of Jesus who is making and developing other disciples and leaders of disciples.  

On a broader scale, is the church of Jesus Christ, particularly the local church, willing to develop the gifts and abilities of its people for greater impact and effectiveness in this needy world? How, as a leader, am I contributing to that in ever more intentional ways?

In the verse quoted above, the apostle Paul is writing to the Ephesians in the context of the church being given gifts that build up (mature) the body of Christ. He adds, “From Him (Jesus) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  

No one ever said that being a disciple of Jesus would be easy, much less being a church leader, but no one ever said ballet was easy, yet I saw many skilled performers doing an excellent job of it.

I’m still pondering that wonderful production of “Alice” but more importantly I’m praying that the church of Jesus Christ, both locally and world-wide, will mature in breath and depth of influence.

We have much more growth and development that needs to take place. At least occasionally it’s a blessing to witness an event that reminds us that God still has a plan for our local communities and for our world so desperately in need. And, in my view, we need what I believe only disciples of Jesus and His Church can and should be.  

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

When the last decade began in January 2010 I was in the early stages of a major transition in my life. The story is far too long to even summarize, but needless to say several major shifts were taking shape in my life. I had just come through a very difficult season and due to some major personal failures was side-lined from what had been my normal work/life routine. My weaknesses and failures were being surfaced and exposed and it wasn’t pleasant!

At one and the same time I was devastated by a sense of loss and personal failure but also relieved that there was hope for the future and fresh start. Looking back, I can see that I was greatly blessed to have a loving wife (who didn’t abandon me) and family as well as countless friends and care-givers carefully placed around me by the hand of God. These choice people saw me through some of the darkest days of my life.

One of the major lessons at the early stages of the decade was a fresh understanding of the grace of God (i.e. His unmerited favor). In circles where I travel, there’s generally a clear understanding that the Grace of God is fully realized in His gift to us in Jesus Christ. His free gift of personal reconciliation with God culminated at the Cross. However, there’s often less discussion about how the same grace that brings us into a right relationship with God also enables and sustains us on a daily basis. This is equally essential to our health, growth and wholeness.

God’s grace is also highly relational. God has demonstrated limitless grace to us and with us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Before I went through a major crisis I had an intellectual knowledge of grace, but through failure and weakness (alluded to in the verse above) I grew in an experiential knowledge of Grace. I can only be a living demonstration of this grace. I cannot in any manner transfer that experiential knowledge to you or others. You must experience this yourself and hopefully see it lived out in community around you (e.g. God’s idea of “the church”).

There were key people along the way who vividly embodied God’s grace to me and without them I would have never come through a very dark period. They too had experienced God’s unmerited favor. They in no way excused my failure but they recognized it for what it was – an opportunity to grow and trust God at a deeper level than ever before.

I discovered many things through the past decade. It began with an exposure of my weaknesses and a grew through an ever increasing understanding of my daily need for God and dependence upon His grace and sustaining power.

I’ve often been told that I’m a man who is very hard on himself. In my perfectionistic ways I abhor my weaknesses. I often feel they limit my effectiveness and I would be so much better off without them. However, the great Apostle Paul says, he is thrilled with his weaknesses, he even boasts in them. They allow God to shine brighter through him and that’s the bottom line.

I’m not there yet, but I’m continually growing in my awareness that God is not glorified by me being able to make life work without Him. God is most glorified in my life when I’m truly trusting and fully dependent upon Him. That’s why Paul understood that God’s grace was “sufficient” for Him. It should be sufficient for all of us.

During the decade of 2010 to 2019, found many things restored in my life that had been broken or missing in previous years. I can’t begin to enumerate all the wonderful discoveries that I have made along the way. However, I will say this, I discovered that personal growth, guided by God and His grace, is far more dynamic, relational and process-oriented than I ever would have imagined.

If you are feeling a sense of weakness or personal failure at the beginning of this decade, take heart. Some of my greatest life lessons came out of my greatest personal failures. My weaknesses had me listening to the One who is always speaking. He wouldn’t have it any other way. May you know and experience His grace for yourself in this New Year.

“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” – Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)

Each year, as August ends and September begins my mind returns to a major transition in my life, now one decade old.

As mentioned previously, it was the summer of 2009 and my life was undergoing internal turmoil. From outward appearances most people would have assumed that I had “my act together.” Little did I or anyone around me realize how little the appearance on the outside was true of what the man on the inside really thought and felt.

Quite without my awareness of it I was living a very isolated life where I could be “god” of my own little world and keep others at a “safe” distance.

The influences that God brought to bear on my life during the summer of 2009 are too numerous to recount but in reflection I realize that there were some major areas of repentance He was working within me. Repentance, if you don’t know, is from the Greek word “metanoia.”  At its root, it means “a change of mind.” It actually refers to a change of mind that results in a change of life. When true and heartfelt repentance takes place we often see dramatic and permanent transformation.  

In my case, there was plenty of drama. I was not at all happy or satisfied with where I was at in life or where I was headed. There were also major issues that I had covered up going back more than a few years which I knew deep down needed to be confessed and cleaned up.

As a result, on the 1st of September 2019 I took one of the most difficult steps of my entire life and phoned a friend. There were probably people around me I needed to speak to first, but I had to start somewhere. The depth of my despair was soon touched by the healing power of compassion in the voice at the other end of the line.

Up to then I was never known as being a very “vulnerable” person. Little did I realize at the time that the leap of faith that I took on that day would radically alter my life forever.

I often refer to myself as “a recovering perfectionist.” A perfectionist, I’ve learned, longs for a perfect world where he or she can “get everything right” so that they can avoid criticism or judgement from others. If I were to confess my sin and brokenness it could radically alter my public image. Would that shatter my life forever? How could I handle it if others knew me in my brokenness and imperfection?

The first conversation led to many significant others. As time moved on there was a new “posture” emerging in my life. This “posture” included not only repentance, but humility and most of all vulnerability. Vulnerability means “open to attack” and I certainly felt open to forces that I could in no way predict or control. The entire experience can easily be described as personally devastating but deeply healing. I would also learn that vulnerability is a steady and constant companion of humility – it’s never “one-and-done.”

I admit there were plenty of messes for me to clean up. I also found that God was in the mess of life and He’s a Master of clean-up and restoration in the lives of all who humbly seek Him. During the past decade there have been many lessons recorded in my journal and at least one book is probably within me. I also have deep and lasting gratitude to the heroes of my life who got me through my darkest hours by giving me time, space and most of all acceptance and compassion.

God designed us to live a life that is “connected” – with Him and others. By living in isolation we can easily become proud and distant from God and those around us who need us to be the “real” people God created us to be.

It’s only through open vulnerability and humble recognition of our need in some type of public way before we can know we are loved and accepted, even in our mess.

One decade later, I’m forever thankful to God who worked in my heart to disturb me into a dramatic change of direction in life. And I’m forever grateful to my family and a myriad of friends who stayed the course with me, loved and accepted me, warts and all. You know who your friends are when they never condone your rebellion but always affirm that your sins never define your identity.

“Coming clean” takes courage, vulnerability and humility but I’m now convinced that lasting change comes by no other route. May you in God’s grace find that path that leads to wholeness, healing and health.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 (NIV)

September 1st 2019 is not far away. It will be a special milestone in my life.

A decade ago I wasn’t living a very fruitful life even though everyone around me would have assumed otherwise. I had a wonderful wife and family. Most of my six children were thriving and well-adjusted in life. I had a job that was stable and I was by most standards doing well in it. I was part of a local church that was growing and enjoyable to be a part of, both as an attender and as a member of the leadership team. I could elaborate further, but you get the picture.

What no one knew was that for a number of years previous I wasn’t “dealing” with some personal issues that I had swept behind a very thick curtain. Leading up to 2009 I didn’t even think that anything from the past could come back to haunt me. But in reality I was a powder keg only a lit match away from exploding.

Now I know that God doing at least two things with me the summer of 2009. The first was that He was exposing me to some quality teaching through some mentors new to me. He was gently directing me to a better pathway. The second was that He was beginning to expose my sin, error and wrong thinking in some very dramatic ways. Some were my own mis-steps that were very harmful.

Leading up to my transformation, my response to life was much like being a lost driver in a strange town at night in a pouring rainstorm. I was driving frantically never knowing where I was going, where I had come from and where I was supposed to be turning next. Needless to say, I was in serious need of help and direction.

Without knowing it at the time, I was desperate to make life work on my own. If I could figure this life out without others I could perhaps be a hero-crusader – loved and admired for my independence and ingenuity. Little did I know how isolated I had becomeperhaps the biggest danger any of us face.

After a series of drastic personal failures, known only to myself, by the end of August 2009 I finally reached out to a trusted friend and made that life-changing phone (actually Skype) call. Even though I had confessed to God, I finally confessed to another real, living human being.

One of my greatest fears was how people would react if they really knew the darkness of which I was capable. I had to risk and trust that God had at least one gracious person out there who could handle my truth.  

It may seem strange to say, but I had always been a man who loved the truth. The truth of God as revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. However, what I was about to learn was the equal reality of grace.  I would now say that these two powerful principles cannot be found until they experienced at the deeper levels of our souls. Do you recall the story in the Bible of the woman caught in adultery (John 8)? What was the deep emotional experience of that woman? How was her life transformed by the experience of Grace and Truth in Jesus Christ?

That critical call on September 1, 2009 was to a trusted friend who not only loved the truth but was a man full of grace. Without that living reality of Grace and Truth I now could not imagine what life would have been like the past decade. As a result, God showed me that His grace and truth was also embodied in the lives of many others around me. Not everyone – but many of His servants were already prepared to demonstrate the grace and truth I so desperately needed.

God had to bring me to a place of deep brokenness in order to end my years of isolation and self-sufficiency. Previously, I would have said that I trusted God and most people in my life would have believed me. In the coming days and weeks I would actually see what it was like to finally “trust” Him and others He put around me.

The early days of September 2009 were some of the darkest days of my life. I went to bed at night  thinking of how I could end the deep pain I was experiencing.  At the same time that I was suffering my family was too. No way would I choose the easy way out and leave them to suffer more pain and agony that I knew would be their fate without me.

The first two years of the decade were the worst. Any major change of direction in life takes pain, effort and intensity. The cost was well worth the results that have come on multiple levels.

The lessons I learned in my recovery and restoration period were profound. But perhaps the greatest lesson was that we daily need to bathe in the truth of God and in the abundant and generous grace that He offers us. We also desperately need people of grace and truth in our lives who are following the lead of Jesus Christ – the One who is and will forever be “full of grace and truth.”

One of my deepest desires is that I will continue to be and become a man of “grace and truth” – living by the principle that touched me so deeply. How can I withhold from others what was so generously lavished upon me?

I’m rejoicing today that I’m no longer a loner (at least most of the time), isolated in my own little world, trying to make life work by myself. I still have a long way to go in being fully whole and mature, but I have a much clearer path forward than ever before.

Whatever you are facing right now, whatever situation you are in, please know that the path of “Grace and Truth” is the only path to wholeness, spiritual and emotional health. I hope you will also come to realize that Jesus Christ is the complete embodiment of grace and truth.

I know, because not only have I met Him but I know He has many of His choice servants speaking words of Grace and Truth into my life on a daily basis.

I plan to never leave the path of Grace and Truth – and you shouldn’t either.   

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

I need not remind you of the volume of distractions these days that beg for our time and attention – 24/7 news reports, e-mails, texts, social media, Slack, WhatsApp, the list goes on, and on and on! I heard recently that some 3 Billion hours per month world wide are spent on people playing video games alone!

For a number of years now I have kept a personal journal dealing with issues that relate to what’s going on in my life at deeper levels. I’m far more self-aware than I used to be and exploring what’s going on “below the water line” so to speak. The parts of me that others cannot see.

Several years ago many “D” words were showing up in my journal vocabulary – “Depression, Despair, Discouragement, Disappointment.” To say that I was dissatisfied with this situation would be an understatement. And yes, that also begins with the letter “D”!

In my daily devotions I seriously began to look attentively “inside” and question why these persistent emotional battles were being fought. I was convicted because if one was to look at my life from the outside they would see very little, if anything, that would account for these feelings. It just wasn’t reasonable or rational.

To some degree I discovered that many of the emotional maladies I suffered were due personal choices as to where I invested my time and attention. For years I was a worrier and brooder – thinking deeply about things that disturbed and saddened me. The internal focus of my life was not invested well in the things of eternal value that I knew in my head were much more important and essential.

In the passage quoted above the Apostle Paul in writing to the Colossian church in the first century describes some incredible truths. He says that a person who has trusted Jesus Christ in this life (which would describe me and thousands of others world-wide) has a new identity that is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
This profound truth, he explains, now means that even though we live in the physical realm, we can focus the center of our lives on the eternal reality that we are given a new identity that will endure forever. Paul says, set your hearts and minds on this new reality.

I have found that this is a matter of moment-by-moment and day-by-day choices of where we focus our attention. In reviewing my journal in recent days I see that words of gratitude, grace and thankfulness have replaced the nasty “D” words that once so dominated my thinking.

Obviously this is a long-term process, but it’s also a daily choice.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to counsel a man who had dealt with several addictive patterns in his life. He had successfully dealt with a serious gambling problem but wanted to go deeper and deal with other issues as they surfaced. He had learned in the recovery process that an addict is “chasing good feelings.” I had to admit in my own life that I was guilty of doing the same thing even thought I had never been into gambling or substance abuse.

I now see that God wants to give us great feelings. But the difference is that the great feelings are based on great realities – those of an eternal realm that will endure long beyond this beautiful but broken world we now inhabit.

I’m now convinced that good feelings are not an end in themselves but are a result of where we focus the center of our lives.

God’s desires for us include feelings of love and acceptance, of beauty, grace and mercy. These all flow from who we are and what we have in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He wants us to turn off the noise and give moment-by-moment attention to the new identity we have in Jesus that is not based on material possessions or on our status in society (or even the “Christian” community), and certainly not based on our personal performance.

If you will engage in this process with me you’ll also discover, as I have, that in this new pattern you will have much more time and energy to give to those around you who need your love, acceptance and availability.

By shifting our awareness of where our attention is focused we can become people who are growing strong in giving our energy to others who are of eternal value as well.

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