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Archive for the ‘Personal Development’ Category

“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” – Mark 4:37-40 (NIV)

Some years ago I recall watching an old western film or television show. It featured a dastardly gunslinger who was terrorizing a small town with his gang of nasty marauders. Out in the dusty main street of the town was an old gentleman, a hard working cowhand who had lived an honest and hardworking life on the range. The gunslinger, singling him out, said something to the effect, “Hey old man, dance!” and began to shoot very close to his feet, forcing him to “dance” around in panic or have his feet injured, even permanently maimed.

Personally speaking, during the past year the term “calm” hasn’t been one that’s described my life most of the time. It also hasn’t been the term I would use to evaluate most of the information hear shared on any news channel or social media platform with which I’m familiar. If anything, news and social media startles and shakes us out of any peace and serenity we might enjoy, even for a few minutes of the day.   

I so often resonate with that poor old cowhand in the western. The gunslingers around me shoot at my feet on a regular basis and I start dancing to react or avoid whatever bullet they shoot my way.  

I could list any one of a number of troublesome current issues which plague our world on a daily basis and to be honest, it’s almost impossible for any sincere person to avoid thinking about these issues some or all of their waking hours. Even when we are awake in the middle of the night our minds often drift back to some pressing issue which directly or indirectly affects us or those we know and love.

How can any one of us remain calm when faced with these constant pressing issues?  

An entire range of self-help books, articles, blogs and advisors abound seeking to help us break free of the constant barrage of unsettling information and stressors we all face.

When feeling overwhelmed, I much prefer to go back to the foundations of my faith and recognize that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have a much greater resources than anything else that’s out there these days.  

One of my favourite stories in the New Testament comes in Mark chapter four, quoted above. It’s the end of a long day and Jesus wants to escape the crowds He’s been ministering to all day. He instructs His twelve disciples, many of them fishermen, to get into a boat and to cross the Sea of Galilee with Him. The trip starts out in perfect serenity but along comes a furious squall and the disciples are beside themselves. They go into an absolute panic, trying to rid the boat of water before it capsizes and they are all washed away. They well knew the risks of their trade.

Jesus, in the meantime, is asleep! What’s the Son of God doing sleeping at a time like this?

Often like the disciples when I’m roused out of my calm and serene state I don’t really think about the grounding that I have in Jesus, the one who created the world and placed me into it personally. I forget my connection with Him which I need moment by moment, regardless of what’s happening around me.

As I read the text closely, I think Jesus very much reveals His authority over the natural world and displays to His disciples the truth of His word to them. Before they got into the boat He says, “We are going to the other side.” He never said anything about drowning in the middle of the lake!

Jesus is teaching them the lesson of just exactly Who is running their world and challenging them to trust Him completely. I’ve read the rest of the story. Not only did He care for them in the midst of the storm, but they went to follow Him, almost to a man, and be part of His Kingdom program here on earth. My relationship with the same Lord is a legacy of their faith and confidence in Him.

During the past few months I’ve not been very calm or patient, waiting for a surgical procedure which was coming up for me at the end of April. As a result of my surgery I was told to be still and quiet for one to two weeks and expect very little of myself during the recovery time.

One thing I’m starting to realize as I stepped back for a week was that I was returning to a sense of calm in my life. Oddly enough, we can fear something like surgery yet, it may be the storm that we need to quiet us down and get us back to trusting the One who created and loves us.

Whenever we feel like that poor old cowhand in the old west, we might just want to step back and ask some key questions. Who is doing the shooting? What do I have to fear? Is there Someone greater to protect me from harm? What might He be trying to teach me? Am I giving away the calmness I need for living to someone else who I feel is demanding it from me?

When the storms of life rage around us we can have a calmness that is beyond our understanding. There is One whom we can trust completely but our complete trust in Him is never finished.

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“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:33-34 (NIV)

As my 68th birthday rapidly approaches, tomorrow in fact, I’ve been feeling like I will never get caught up. Caught up on the books I didn’t read last year, but wanted to. Caught up on the things I have left undone (I haven’t written on this blog in all too long). Caught up on the people I need to talk to, but haven’t! The list is endless!

When I started feeling that way I began to think, “why is the temptation so great for me to feel that I’m somehow ‘behind’?”

Here were some of the random thoughts that came from me asking myself this question –

I have to catch up to “others” I feel are “ahead” of me.

I have to catch up on all the good things I need to do to consider myself “worthy” of the rewards and benefits I reap.  

I have to catch up on my devotional life, my work, my reading, my writing . . . .

It then dawned on me that I may somehow have this perspective on life that I’m in some sort of competitive race. It’s perhaps my pride that shows up to suggest that there are people in my life I’m magically “ahead” of and others I know and admire who are actually “ahead” of me.

I’m not really aware of anyone in my life who would consider being in a “race” with me or against me.

This is a very uncomfortable and desperate way to live life. It was only when I stopped and asked myself this question that began to realize the insanity that was gripping me.

Do I have something to prove to others? Do I have something to prove to myself?

Why the need to feel “caught up”? Will I ever really be “caught up” in any sense of the word?

The answer is “probably not.”

Then the comment Jesus Christ made, recorded in Matthew 6 came to mind. He said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow (catching up, perhaps?), for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

Someone recently commented to me that we really only live in the present. We can’t “fix” or alter the past, we can only learn from it. We actually can’t know or live in the future which hasn’t arrived. We can only live in the present – often where we find the greatest challenge.

I know that I can be much more disciplined in my use of time and in organizing my life around the things which are most important. However, when I feel the stress of trying to “catch up” I’m really oblivious to all the wonderful opportunities for life and growth my Lord and maker has put right around me each day. As a follower of Jesus, life in His eternal Kingdom has already begin and I’ll never be behind or have to “catch up” only to live moment by moment in His Divine Presence.

Perhaps you can relate.

So when you and I feel the urge to “get caught up” maybe its time to take a step back and do a reality check. Is there anyone that really cares but us? Is there anyone keeping score?

If not, it might be better to trust the God of all eternity with the present and seek Him and His Kingdom first.

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But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” – James 5:12 (NLT)

Actually when you think about it, whether we admit it or not, we all have our limits. During the past couple of weeks I’ve been considering the fact that we have so many limits or boundaries in our lives that we often don’t take time to consider.  

Recently a friend and colleague died of cancer at a relatively young age, leaving behind a husband and two children with particular needs. For those of us who knew and loved her we all feel the pain of losing someone who left us far too early. But her life, like all of ours, has limits. We won’t live in these bodies forever, and as a follower of Jesus as I grow older, I’m looking forward to the next one that God has promised me.

In the meantime, like everyone else, I have limits. I don’t have unlimited time, money, patience, emotional energy, and the list goes on. I have limits or boundaries and I’m learning more about them all the time. I often don’t like or appreciate the fact that I’m human and I have to say “no” to some things.

I’ve often pondered why I don’t like to say “no” to everyone’s requests. I think I’ve discovered that I don’t want to disappoint anyone and I want to be helpful to everyone. That’s a lofty goal, but virtually impossible to reach. I’m human and I have to be the first to admit it. I’ve been addicted to people-pleasing for years and it’s a difficult habit from which to break free.  

I’m re-reading Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.” I think this should be required reading for almost everyone, especially people who relate to what I’m saying. One of the key thoughts from the book comes under the section on boundary myths under the question – “Are Boundaries a Sign of Disobedience?”

The authors write, “. . .an internal no nullifies an external yes. God is more concerned with our hearts than he is with our outward compliance. ‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings,’ (Hosea 6:6) In other words, if we say yes to God or anyone else when we really mean no, we move into a position of compliance. And that is the same as lying. Our lips say yes, but our hearts (and often our half-hearted actions) say no. . . Here’s a good way to look at this myth that boundaries are a sign of disobedience: if we can’t say no, we can’t say yes. . . We must always say yes out of a heart of love. When our motive is fear, we love not.” – pp. 110-111.  

As I was reading these words I reflected on what James writes in his epistle, quoted above. There is a responsibility for our lives that God entrusts to us as we stand before Him. We have to say “yes” to the things we devote our hearts to and “no” to what we cannot or must not do. In other words, I have to take ownership and responsibility for what is mine and you must do the same.

This is no simple task and it’s not a pat answer or “formula” that we can plug in to each and every situation. However, my thought and prayer life is much more informed by the boundaries and limits in my life and more importantly, in my heart.

Like everyone else, I’m a work in progress I need to continually guard and watch over my heart so that when I say “yes” I can really mean it – on the inside as well as the outside.

Daily we are bombarded by choices and decisions which are tough calls to make. To what will we devote our time, our energy, our money and our resources? Who will get the best part of our day and our full attention?

As something of a compulsive thinker at times, I can become consumed with trying to make the “right” decision instead of allowing God to speak to my heart and trusting His guidance. I know as I trust Him more fully He will give me the insight and wisdom to say “yes” and “no” and speak from a heart of love rather than fear of rejection or disappointing others. May this bless you on your journey with Him today.  

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“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and as His disciples walked along, they began to pick some ears of corn. The Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’  Then He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” – Mark 2:23-28 (NIV)

I’m seeing a common theme that seems to surface regularly. Perhaps it may be because I’m more attuned to it in recent days.

It relates to  two very different and distinct ways that one’s life can be lived. I know that I might be oversimplifying this but I can see the difference in my own life and I use the distinction of a life of “Reaction” as opposed to a life of “Rhythms.”

A life of “reaction” may best be described as a “driven” life. We feel hard pressed by some unknown force to live life “in the fast lane,” milking each moment of the day for as much as we can accomplish while being an influence on the world around us. The temptation in living life this way is that we don’t really know what each day will hold until we have checked the news, social media or our e-mail to see what the world “throws at us” next.

I can easily live life by the motto, “What’s the latest fire I’m meant to extinguish?” I have to admit, there’s a few of us around with Messiah complexes as if we are God’s gift to a hurting world which desperately needs us to be “fixers of the universe.”

Our reactions, and our lives can very much be shaped by others around us who are also living this way. These days we have much greater connectivity than ever before with the internet and social media. The hope of having “down time” from excessive connection is quite fleeting these days. Those of us, like myself, who tend to be an obsessive thinkers are in a much more vulnerable place.

Living a life of “reaction” means that one is hopelessly at the beck and call of the latest news story or the constant stream of social media commentary, seeking to have one’s voice heard above the madding crowd.

So what’s the alternative? Although I have been a poor model of an opposing lifestyle I think there’s a better way.

Like many other followers of Jesus I have done some serious study and refection on the life of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospels. I see a completely different way of living reflected in what I know and am learning about Jesus. He lived an intentional life but was rarely, if ever, driven by reaction to others. Perhaps the most intentional man who ever lived invites us to daily dependence on Him and unbroken conversation with Him.

There are many scenes in the life of Jesus to which I could refer, but the one mentioned above is where Jesus told the Pharisees, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” I think the Pharisees were living a life driven by rules and expectations. They represented a strictly religious approach to life that was more into rules keeping than understanding rhythms behind the rules.

According to Jesus, the Sabbath had a wonderful purpose as a life rhythm to allow men and women to rest, recover and to be re-shaped by the God who made them and who, by the way, does run the universe.

I can easily see that when my Sabbath-keeping hasn’t been a consistent part of my life rhythms, I’m drawn quickly back to reactionary way of life. A life dominated by “reaction” gives way to other people or pressing issues, allowing them to set the agenda for me rather than my taking ownership of my life choices and my response being one of submission to the God who made and sustains me.

I’m also seeing that it’s going to take more than one day a week for me to get into a healthy pattern of “rhythm” rather than “reaction.” It’s going to demand a life-style change and those are the most difficult ones to come by.

I can begin to fear that I’m not diligent enough and as a result I may miss something important and fail to meet the needs of others around me in an appropriate manner. Alternatively, I’m learning that getting caught up in a “reaction” mode doesn’t really help the cause of Jesus whom I seek to serve. I think most of my family and friends would agree that I’m much more available and helpful to them when I’m living out of rhythm rather than reaction to stimuli around me.

There will always be times in our lives when we are asked to go above and beyond the call of duty and respond to emergencies which arise. That’s part of life in the real world. However, when I’m constantly in a place of agitation due to living a reactionary life, I’m losing more effectiveness than I’m gaining.

What do you think? Will your life be driven by values, rhythms and intentions or will it be driven by reaction to what is thrown at you by the forces that seek to move and shape you? I’m seeking to do the former rather than the latter.  

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“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV)  

It was late July 1968 and I can’t remember when I had been more excited. I was fourteen years of age and we were packing our blue station wagon (an “estate car” in Irish terms where I’ve lived for the past thirty-seven years) on a Friday afternoon for the journey of a lifetime.

With my father at the wheel, and me joining him in the front seat, my mother would be in charge of the back seat (and the snack bar) along with my sisters Betty, age 17 and Jeanne age 11. The trip would take us from our home in Fort Worth, Texas to Eugene, Oregon and back in the space of two weeks, or thereabout.

Why would our family be invested in such a dramatic journey of over 5000 miles? My eldest sister Susan had just gotten married on the 8th of June just a few weeks previous and she and her husband Bryan were living in Eugene where he was doing doctoral studies at the University of Oregon.

That Friday afternoon a neighbor saw us packing the car and offered us a small two-wheel camper trailer for the journey. It came in pretty useful bar the fact that it kept blowing out tires and we were continually getting them repaired, as I recall.

My father was a hard working electrician and didn’t have unlimited vacation time so we had to make the most of every day’s travel. That Friday evening we set out for the first leg of our journey and made it all the way to a small motel in the town of Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Just before we turned in for the night my older sister Betty broke down in a flood of tears. She began to beg and plead with my father, explaining that this trip was not on her agenda, and he should send her back home immediately! She generally had the reputation of being the rebellious teenager of our house, but I couldn’t imagine at the time why she wasn’t excited about the trip! It just shows you that a fourteen year old boy sees life differently than a seventeen year old girl, especially one like my sister Betty.

As you may have guessed, it was too late to turn back so Betty had to make the most of the trip and the next morning we continued the family traveling circus across America.

I have to admit that my father was not easy to live or travel with but throughout the journey I continued my role as peacemaker among the family, as best as I could. It seems to me that we each have a tendency to play a particular “role” in the family where we have been placed – not by our own choosing – but we often adapt to a role that seems to come our way along the journey.

As I have matured I have often gone back to the words of the Apostle Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians where he compares the Church of Jesus Christ to a human body. Each part of the body is there for a reason and each one plays a role that’s necessary for the health, well-being and growth of the body. I would learn over the years that I have a role in the larger “family” of God’s Kingdom and if you are a follower of Jesus – so do you!

Saturday, the first full day on the road, we made a strategic decision to drive all the way to Florence, Arizona to see my aunt Myrl – my mother’s only sister. After a long day’s journey including treacherous hairpin turns along mountain roads in a night-time thunderstorm we finally made it safely to my aunt’s home. I can still recall how tired my father looked sitting in a lounge chair in my aunt’s living room.

With My Father at Armitage State Park near Eugene Oregon, August 1968

Space doesn’t permit me to recount the entire journey but we drove all the way through California from south to north and ended up in Eugene, Oregon on about the fifth day of the journey. When we arrived in Eugene my sister’s apartment wasn’t very large so my other two sisters and mother stayed with some new friends of Susan and Bryan in a nearby apartment.

My father and I meantime, drove up to Armitage State Park Campground just north of Eugene and stayed in tent that folded out of the camper. I can recall some of the fun times my father and I had on the campground more than the events back at the apartment.

So many of the sights we never would have experienced if we hadn’t been travelling together as a family. The beauty of Oregon was stunning and we even made it to Crater Lake, a must see if you are ever in the region. If my memory serves me correctly, we even worked in a brief visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona on the way home and a drive through a scenic part of Colorado.

Yes, it was the trip of a lifetime. I’m thankful that God placed me in the family that I have and I’m grateful for the role and the gifts He has given me. I hope you, regardless of your family of origin, will find a place in God’s family as a follower of Jesus and discover the unique role He has for you.  

My sister Susan would pass away tragically in 1994 and my sister Betty in 2006. I regret not having more discussions with them about the trip and the times we spent together.

We make decisions daily as to how we choose to travel with our family of origin. Sometimes they are a blessing, for some of us they may not be. We may want or even need to break run, just like my sister wanted to do late that night in New Mexico.

We can also choose to be part of a larger family, to find our place in the Kingdom that God is building here on earth. If you are reading this today my prayer for you is that you will join the exciting journey of following Jesus and discover the part He has for you to play. I’m so thankful that it’s a journey that’s always moving forward.  

Along life’s journey there are always tears, laughter, blown out tires and beautiful scenery, but my hope and prayer is that you will find joy and contentment and realize that going somewhere together with others is well worth the price of the ticket.

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“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him.  He appointed twelve–designating them apostles– that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve He appointed: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.” – Mark 3:13-19 (NIV)

It’s often been said that we come into this world not knowing who we really are and we try on different identities to see which one fits and sticks. Ultimately, if successful, we may discover our true identity and feel comfortable and confident living out the role we were meant to have by our Lord and Maker.

During my childhood years, growing up in the fine city of Fort Worth, Texas, I can recall trying to discover my identity and see which one might stick. As I have discussed in my previous posts, I came down with Rheumatic Fever in early primary school and it wasn’t until about third or fourth class – age seven or eight that I started a more active lifestyle as a “normal” kid.  

I had several male friends around our neighborhood and we experimented with several sports like baseball and American football which of course didn’t take a lot of equipment for us amateurs. I can recall a season of my childhood where we developed an interest in pole vaulting. We somehow managed to find a stiff bamboo stick and set up a pole vaulting station. We went though all the motions of running toward the station, planting the pole in the ground and attempting to hoist ourselves over the bar a few feet off the ground.

As you might imagine, without the proper equipment, training and the mentoring of someone who really knew and understood the sport our lame attempts didn’t amount to much. Sometime after that I actually began to watch some pole vaulters on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, on Saturday afternoons and I marveled at the men and women who could actually excel at such a specialized sport.

As I reflect back on this childhood experience I can laugh at myself for thinking that I could have made any progress at all as a pole vaulter. That dream came crashing down very quickly. I’ve also considered the fact that throughout my life I’ve perhaps made many other experiments in trying to be someone else or copy someone I admired, to see if that persona would fit.

My failed attempts as a pole vaulter got me thinking about Jesus calling his Twelve Disciples. Have you ever noticed before that only two of them share the same name – James? One is James the son of Zebedee and the other the son of Alphaeus.  

Jesus called unique men all with different names bar two. He called different men with different personalities, different skills, different gifts. Then why do we try to run from who we are and try to be like someone else?  

It recently dawned on me that Jesus never asked any of His disciples to be like any of the others.

“Hey James, why can’t you be more like your brother John!”

“Peter, why can’t you be more like Judas!” – Can you imagine what might have happened?

Our Lord and Maker has created and gifted each of us as unique individuals for His greater purposes. We each have a unique name and a unique role to play in the building and developing of His Kingdom. Note also that Jesus called each of these twelve men “that they might be with Him. . .” Yes, He had work for them to do, but being with Him took priority over everything else.

A few years after my failed pole vaulting attempts a couple of things came my way that would set me in a different direction. Around 1966 or 1967 – around age twelve or thirteen, my father went into an electrical contracting business with a partner named Calvin Davis.

My father and Calvin became co-owners of Michael Electric Company on East Lancaster Street near downtown Fort Worth. Calvin was a keen golfer and because the business was starting to take off we somehow acquired a membership at Glen Garden Country Club on the east side of Fort Worth.

In these years a family moved next door to us – James and Wanda Clarke from Rodgers, Arkansas. James just happened to work for the AMF Ben Hogan Company and he sourced the first golf clubs that ever came into our house. I had found a sport that fit my identity – much more suitable than pole vaulting!

As God’s plan for each of us unfolds through life we each have some unique experiences but we all share in some very common emotions and discoveries. I think that discovering who we are and what we are meant to be – as individuals and as part of the family and social networks we form, is one of life’s greatest joys and challenges.

A few years later, I would also make a commitment to follow Jesus for myself and become one of His “Band of Brothers.” The greatest adventure of my life and yes, part of my true identity.

It the truth be told, I’ve probably wasted some valuable time and energy over the years trying to work hard at being who I’m not (pole vaulting) instead of resting in the care of my Lord and Maker, enjoying Him and trusting in the identity He created for me.

Why not just be the best version of myself rather than trying to be someone I’m not?

Failure perhaps tells us more about who we are and aren’t than anything else. Fortunately, when we follow Jesus He wastes nothing, redeems even our failures and continually develops us for His greater purposes.

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“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39 (NIV)

It all changed for me one sunny Friday afternoon. It was the autumn of 1962, school was back in session and I was finally back to something of a routine, having missed several months of school in first and second grade due to Rheumatic Fever.

Sometime during the autumn of ’62 I recall being admitted to Cook’s Children’s Hospital in my home  town of Fort Worth to have my tonsils removed. I can still remember having been given ether as an anesthetic for the surgery. One whiff of that awful smell and you never forget it. I recall having a very bad dream during the operation and waking up in a lot of pain.

After my recovery, even though my mother tended to be hyper over-protective, she started letting me ride my bike up to Don, a friend who lived a few blocks south of home up Lubbock Avenue and off one of the connecting streets.

Don was a classmate and I can clearly recall that he was a partner in suffering as well. Somehow a heater had caught his pajamas on fire as a young child and he suffered from a badly burned and scarred back. It unfortunately became his badge of courage and I tended to sympathize with him. He also had a very nifty cotton candy machine and he would treat me often when I visited.

Whenever trying to negotiate my way to Don’s house I had to risk getting past a very pesky dog that would chase me on my bike as I rode up Lubbock. On this particular Friday afternoon, I decided, that since I had more time, I would cycle all the way up my street and take the long way around to Don’s house. A different direction that would take almost twice as long, rather than risk facing that pesky dog!

About half way up the street on the left hand side of the road I hit gravel and the bike slipped right out from under me.  I may have ended up with a skinned knee but the most notable change was the feeling that my mouth was injured.  

The rest of my plans were now cancelled for the day and I walked back home to confess yet another setback to my mother. It turned out I had just lost my front right tooth. I soon learned that I really missed having it intact.

I recall how calm and collected my mother was that day. She had just spent two years dealing with my infirmity and now she had a son who had just knocked out his front tooth! She immediately called our dentist, Dr. Charles Cash, a legendary Fort Worth children’s dentist. I learned to realize how much pain he could dole out for being such a popular individual.

I was only in third grade but I was already getting experience in Rheumatic Fever, tonsillectomies and root canals!

Looking back on these childhood traumas, they seem now like minor pin pricks, yet at the time they were, for me, painful experiences. Time has a way of giving us perspective on our pain and problems.

All through life there will always be heartbreaking situations that we would rather avoid but the perspective we have on them can either make them worthless or pricelessly redeemable.

As a child I would not have been familiar with the verses quoted above in Romans 8:35-39, but I would come to love them later in life. No setback we face or suffering we endure has power within itself to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

I think often about that Friday afternoon. What if I had risked taking on the dog? What if I had bravely set out down Lubbock Avenue and taken the direct route to Don’s house? We’ll never know. I ended up visiting a dentist named Cash instead of a boy named Don, and the future would be different because of it. I can’t recall ever visiting Don in his home again after that day.

During this time of global pain, suffering and setback perhaps it’s a season to realize that there is a God who is sovereign over the affairs of man. Perhaps He is calling each of us to greater dependence on Him for the outcomes that He desires. After all, if we are seeking Him, there’s no power on earth that can separate us from His love.  

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“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.

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“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.  

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“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.

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