Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tell Me A Story, Daddy

Tell me a story daddy! I hear that a lot at night. Both of my sons like me or their mommy to tell them a story as they lay down at night. I've told literally hundreds of stories over the years. Stories of knights chopping off the heads of two headed dragons. Stories of Jedi knights whippin up on the bad guys. Stories of little boys who grow up to be race car drivers, NBA superstars, fighter pilots, etc. Stories of giant bugs, or giant dinosaurs, or giant something else attacking cities and how two boys save everybody.

I don't mean to brag, but I think I'm pretty good at telling stories. At least, my two boys think so. It's crazy though when I don't tell the story just the way that want to hear it. Both of them will let me know in a hurry when I take the story in a direction that they don't agree with it. There have even been times when they've attempted to have me deviate so much from my original story that I just tell them to finish the story. Afterall, there is only so much compromise a story teller should have to make. Of course, they never want to do that, so onward I push, even though my creativity has been tampered with.

The truth is they want me to tell them a story, but most often they want the controlling rights to the story. They want the license to change it up, if in fact the storyline strays from the way they want it to go. As I sit here thinking about that, I really think our response to God is often the same way. As a believer, we come to God wanting Him to write our story. We truly want Him to be in charge and we want to follow His direction for our life. At least until that story goes a direction we don't want it to go. We think to ourselves certainly, this can't be God taking us down this road. He would never tell the story this way, and if He does then we want a re-write. We want to take back some control as to how the story should go.

It's as if we sing the song, "I Surrender All," but we sing it with a disclaimer at the bottom of the page that says until we get uncomfortable, or don't agree with the storyline. The bottom line is we want to be in control. We want everything to go the way we want it to go and when it doesn't, it is so easy for us to get all bent out of shape. We pray prayers that often try to manipulate God to make everything go our way, rather than praying the kind of prayer that Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. You know that one right? "Not my will, but Yours (God) be done."

Ouch, that even hurt writing it. It's the truth though and we all know it. If we truly want God to write our story, then we'll let Him write it. And when it takes a turn that we don't particularly like, we'll trust that He knows what He's doing. He truly is a masterful story teller, and the story He writes for us, has Him walking through each scene with us. Trust me, Hollywood can't write a better story than the one he has for us. Let's choose to allow Him to write our story and then just walk through the adventure with Him, trusting Him the whole way.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Go-Kart, A Jr. High Driver, And An Aching Back

I have a bit of a chronic back problem. Nothing serious, or at least I don't think so. It's just a lower back pain that visits me from time to time. Although, I'm sure my over-sized gut doesn't help the problem, the real culprit is the result of a poor decision that I made years ago.

Have you ever made a choice that afterward you regretted big time? Ok, so that's a ridiculous question. The fact that we are breathing puts us all in that category. We all make mistakes in judgment from time to time. We all jump into things without giving it much thought only to realize mid way through we should have put more thought into it. Or, we fully weigh the consequences and jump in anyway. Whatever our method, the fact remains we've all been there and done that.

As for the decision I made years ago that's still affecting my back today? I was teaching at a school a few years back and was on my way home when I saw one of my jr. high students driving his new go-kart in a field. I stopped simply to watch him. He pulled up to where I was and wanted to take me for a ride. Reluctantly, I hopped on board. Now, the thought that flew through my mind at the speed of light was, "Tim, he's a jr. high student. Don't you think you should drive?" Of course, I pushed that thought aside and hopped into the passenger seat.

Its was fun at first. We went flying across the field. Wind blowing through our hair. It was great. Up until the moment. It seemed as if everything slowed down into slow motion. I looked over at him and he was grinning from ear to ear as if to say now watch this. Assuming he was about to show me some move he had perfected I braced myself. Then this jr. high student while at full throttle jerked the steering wheel as hard as he could, throwing me from the moving vehicle. Had that been all, I would have simply escaped with a few bumps and bruises. But, that wasn't all. Every part of me escaped the vehicle except my foot. Somehow my foot stayed in the go-kart a bit longer than the rest of me. Then the roll bars, which are meant to protect me, along with the entire go-kart, driver still in it, rolled over me. Remember the foot that was stuck in the go-kart? It finally came out after bending my back in a way God never intended for the human back to bend.

As I lay there with my face buried in the dirt and pain shooting through my body from head to toe, I remember thinking, "I think I broke my back." In order to make sure I was not completely paralyzed, I remember beginning to wiggle my fingers and toes. Thank God, everything worked. Yes, everything hurt, but at least everything worked.

Now, there were several mistakes I made that day. My first mistake was stopping my car. Had I just waved and continued on my way home, everything would have been fine. My second mistake was getting in the go-kart with a novice at the wheel. My final mistake was not having a camera on hand to video the event. Had I done that at least I would have had a chance to win money on America's Funniest Home Videos.

Life is full of choices. We're faced with them every day. Some of them are big, some of them are small and some of them are life altering. There are those of us who jump in before we think and then there are those who think so long we never jump. On that day several years ago, I jumped and then while I was lying on the ground in pain, I decided to think. Prior to getting in that go-kart, I would have never thought there was a possibility of feeling the results of that decision, years down the road. But, the truth is I do.

I know my story is a bit funny and truth is I get a lot of laughs when I tell it. And I would consider my choice that day to be a minor one. But throughout my life, as it is with everyone else, there are those choices I have had to make that are huge. The ones that we often wring our hands about and lay in bed contemplating. The ones that you just wish God, Himself, would speak audibly and tell you exactly what to do. Of course, if the truth be told we would probably haggle with Him a bit if He did. The truth is, I've never heard His audible voice and I think its safe to say if not all, most everyone else would say the same.

That being said, it doesn't mean God can't direct us. He can. When Jesus walked the earth, He made the statement that he doesn't do anything that He doesn't see the Father doing. Ok, so I know what your thinking, we can't hear God's voice audibly so how in the world are we going to see Him? We see Him in how Jesus lived His life. Jesus said if you've seen me, you've seen the Father. That's great, but how does that tell me whether or not to take a new job that's half-way across the country, right? Here's my point, Jesus lived His life by a set of principles. He lived His life by including God in every part of it. He didn't block out a part of His life for God, He made God the center of it. His life revolved around God. He lived His life in such a way that he put others first. All of His choices were made, remembering that there was a bigger picture than what He saw on any given day. Jesus came to show us the Father and His journey would include a cross. Everything about Him, moved Him in that direction. He lived His live on purpose, with purpose.

When we choose to live our lives consistent with the way He lived His, choices become easier. No, I didn't say we should all be headed for a cross, just that we should be headed somewhere. There are wonderful opportunities that come along in life, and if we're not careful we'll jump on board not realizing how far they are taking us from where we should be headed. I grew up thinking that open doors were God's way of directing us. Through the years I've discovered that open doors are often ways the Father tests us. God has a destiny, or destination for all of us. If we are headed nowhere, we'll flounder through life not getting anywhere. It is only at that point where we know our destination that our choices in life become easier. When we choose to live our life with purpose and we choose to live our lives by the principles that Jesus lived by, then choices become a breeze.

That being said, when it comes to getting into a go-kart with a jr. high student at the wheel....that just takes a little common sense.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What Really Matters

As we journey through life, it is so easy to lose track of what is really important. We can lose sight of what really matters in life. Here in America, the great American dream can lead us astray if we are not careful. No, I'm not dissing the opportunity we have in our country to accomplish whatever it is that we want to accomplish. Its just that our striving for bigger and better stuff can end up being a pretty empty pursuit even when we end up getting what we pursue.

This week while watching some of the coverage on Michael Jackson left me thinking a bit. Now, I didn't know the man personally, but I think anyone who followed his life would have to agree that his life was riddled with inner turmoil. He was indeed a bit bazaar, but I think when you look at the whole picture, you have to agree it all stemmed from some major inner struggles that he seemed never to reconcile. Here's the point, no amount of money or fame he seemed to acquire was able to fix it. As a matter of fact, it might very well have made it worse.

The tragic truth is that he's not alone. Countless numbers of people go through life thinking that more money, bigger houses, a successful career, and nicer things brings about contentment and happiness. What often happens is it produces a desire for more money, bigger houses, more success, and nicer things. It can often become an endless pursuit that ultimately ends with one still wanting.

All of this reminds me of a line from a movie made several years ago, "Cool Runnings." It's a movie about the first Jamaican bobsled team to participate in the Olympics. John Candy plays the part of the team's coach and he's having a heart to heart talk with the team's captain. Referring to winning a gold medal, he tells the young man that, "If you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it." I know its Hollywood and its a bit of a comedy, but there's still a powerful truth in that line. The same holds true with everything we pursue here on earth. If we aren't enough without it, we'll never be enough with it. It makes no different what the "it" is. "It" can never complete us, satisfy us, or fulfill us.

If your life is filled with stress and turmoil, more stuff will not bring peace. If your life is riddled with guilt and shame, a bigger bank account won't fix it. If your marriage is struggling, a nicer house won't solve the problem. If your striving for success is a result of trying to prove your worth, ability, or talent, trust me you'll not remedy that with a successful pursuit. If you find yourself unable to sleep at night because of inner struggles, nothing you pursue can set your heart at ease. Nothing, absolutely nothing on this planet can help you find contentment. It's all just stuff.

No, its not bad to have stuff. Its just a huge mistake when you think it's the answer to your problems. God told Abraham that He (God) was his exceedingly great reward. He didn't just say that he was going to give Abraham lots and lots of stuff. God said that He, Himself was Abraham's true reward. God had blessed Abraham with lots of stuff, but that wasn't the point. What really mattered was that Abraham understood that God was his reward. Sure, he could enjoy the stuff, but God was his reward not the stuff. I mean think about this, Abraham was called a "friend of God." God, the Creator of the universe and Abraham were buddies. Does anything else really matter?

So often we approach God with a list of wants and can become easily upset when we don't get what we want. We fail to realize that God, not the stuff He chooses to bless us with, is what matters most. Contentment can only be found in Him. He is the One that completes us. He's the One that helps us find peace when turmoil surrounds us. He's the One that helps us fix the mess in us so that we can walk through life complete and whole. It is Him who can help us get to the place where we can be completely content with who we are and where we are. He's the One who can help us look at our bank account and be ok, while at the same time looking in the mirror and being ok. No, I didn't say that we are always gonna stay there, just that we are ok, while we are there.

Paul said in scripture that he had learned to be content with wherever he was in life. That's what we're talking about. It's coming to the place where we are enough with or without stuff. Here in America, we have truly been blessed. Even those who have little, have much when compared to other places around the world. As a result, our view of things can be a little skewed. Believe it or not, there are those throughout the world who have little compared to us who are much more content than we are. It's because contentment has nothing to do with the amount of stuff we have.

Throughout the world there are those who are victims of human trafficking. There are those who are bound by slavery, victims of injustice, and children who are treated in ways that would break everyone of our hearts. There are places without electricity, running water, and other conveniences that we enjoy. There are orphans for whom we could build a home for less than many of us pay for a used car. See how blessed we are! I'm just wondering what God thinks when we pray for excess, while this is the plight of so many throughout the world.

Here's my point...What really matters? I'm thinking it's coming to a place where we realize the greatest treasure we could ever obtain in life is a relationship with God. When we understand that, then the stuff just doesn't matter anymore. We are content with it, and we are content without it. I think it also puts us in a place where we are not so attached to it, so that when presented with a need, we are compelled to action.