Friday, December 17, 2010

Animals, A Pile Of Poo, And A Little Baby

We took a family trip to the zoo this week. Now, while I don't get too much out of it when the animals are laying around asleep, I don't think I ever get tired of watching them when they are active and moving about. My boys are much the same. If an animal is just lying around sleeping, they don't much care about standing around observing that. They are ready to move on to the next one. On the particular day we went we were able to watch the elephants chowing down and moving about, after watching them for a few minutes, one of my boys pointed to a pile of something on the ground and asked me, "Is that elephant poo poo?" I responded with an affirmative and the look on his face was priceless.

Now, while I enjoy visiting the zoo, the animal droppings and the smell they create I could do without. But, if you're gonna have animals, that comes with the territory. There's no way around it. Live animals equal poo and the stink that comes with it. That's just the way it is. As we made our way through all the animals at the zoo, the stink was everywhere. When we got to the chimpanzees, I'm convinced one of them was playing with poo and was wiping it all over the observation window. Yes, I know that's disgusting, but that's the kind of thing you see at the zoo.

If you've ever been to the zoo or visited a farm, you know exactly what I'm talking about here. There is just this odor in the air and images that you can't ever forget. Now, with that in mind, just think of the night our Savior was born. When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem that night, there was no place for them to sleep except a stable. A barn, if you will, complete with animals and all the stuff that accompanies them. There in the middle of the night, the King of all kings, was born. Right, there with all the animals and the stench of animal poo in the air, God's Son entered our world.

Have you ever wondered why there? God, who created this planet, chose a messy stable. He chose a stinky, dirty, barn to welcome His Son to the world. I'm thinking He could have chosen a much better place than this, but He didn't. A shelter for animals was His choice. So, there Mary gave birth and wrapped Him in rags and placed Him in a feeding trough. There among all the animals, God came to earth.

I'm pretty sure that on that night, if we would have been able to take a family trip by this stable, one of my boys would have pointed to a pile and asked me, "Dad, is that donkey poo poo?" I know we all have an idea of that night Jesus was born but lets get real. If we watched all this play out, we would have thought nothing special of the entire event. A man and his wife with no place to stay, bedding up for the night in a stable and giving birth right there. Which brings us back to why?

Why did the Creator choose this kind of place for His Son to be born? I can't help but think it paints a great picture of why He came. He came because of our mess. He came because this world was a messy place. He came because fixing our mess would require Him to get right in the middle of our mess. Yes, He was born in a messy place but His purpose would send Him on a journey that would prove to be even messier. And every second of every minute of the time He was here, was spent cleaning up the mess we ourselves had created.

This Christmas season, we'll see lights, and bright colors, and take part in festive events. We'll decorate our trees, and wrap our gifts in shiny paper. We'll display our attractive nativity sets in a place where all can see. And in the middle of it all, our challenge is to be careful not to lose sight of the night, God sent His Son to be born in a stinky, dirty, barn complete with animals and animal poo. Because, in that barn that night, with animal aroma in the air, God entered our world in order to rescue us. Yep, God was ok with becoming messy if it meant saving us. So, while there were many places that could have welcomed His arrival, I'm thinking God knew what He was doing when He picked a stable on the special night.

Friday, December 10, 2010

We Can Learn A Lot From A Place Called Narnia

Today marks the opening day of the latest movie in a series of movies based on C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia." I was able to catch a pre-release screening of "The Voyage of The Dawn Treader," and I have to admit in my opinion it is the best of the three movies so far. Though I think you would love the movie, I'm not attempting to make this BLOG an ad for the movie.

For those who haven't read the book, I'll try not to spoil the movie for you. But, there is a part in the story where the character Eustace becomes a dragon. Having given into his "flesh" if you will, he becomes something he hates. No matter how hard he tries, he can't fix himself. He can't rid himself of the thing that he has become. And, though he has friends and family who see him in this state, nobody can help him. Interesting enough, Eustace is a good dragon, but even being good, doesn't fix him.

Not sure if you've ever been there, but I'm thinking the story of Eustace is one that most of us can relate to. I'm thinking C.S. Lewis had a great handle on humanity and the struggle we face to fix ourselves when he penned this story. Its a struggle that dates all the way back to the beginning. In the garden of Eden, something tragic occurred that left us all fighting to get back to the place God designed us to be. Adam and his bride, tried to fix the situation with fig leaves and found that was about as effective as putting a bandaid on a severed artery. We don't use fig leaves today, but our attempts are just as futile. Just like Eustace, we try and we try, but every attempt is a complete failure. No matter what we do, we can't shed the dragon skin. We can't fix ourselves, and no loving friend or family member can fix us either.

I'm thinking Paul understood this when he wrote in Romans, "The things I don't want to do, those are the things I do. And the things I want to do, those are the things I don't do." Paul understood, C.S. Lewis understood, and believe me, our Creator understood better than anyone. He saw us in our hopeless estate, and knew that mankind had no hope in fixing himself. He and He alone could save us. The price for Him would be a hefty one, but somehow and someway He found us to be worth it. Our liberation would require nothing short of His sacrifice. His willingness to pay that price, indeed set us free from the dragon we had become. He removed the dragon skin, but more importantly, He changed our identity from the inside out. And though we may act like that dragon from time to time, it is no longer truly who we are.

I'm not sure where you find yourself on this journey, but Jesus came not simply to offer you a ticket to heaven someday. He came to liberate you here, and now. There is indeed a freedom that God designed all of us to live in, but apart from Him we can never obtain it. Jesus came to give you life! A life of freedom! A life worth living! If you find yourself like Eustace in Narnia, no longer able to recognize the being that you've become, and longing for the kind of life you know you were created for, there is hope for you. In Narnia, C.S. Lewis called Him, Aslan. His name in this world is Jesus. The prayer isn't some long and difficult religious one. Its one that simply comes from the heart of one who has come to the realization that they can't fix themselves on their own. It goes something like this, "Jesus, help me!"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving....So, That's What This Is All About

I was out running a few errands a few days ago and had to run by the grocery store. Now, I don't know if you've ever experienced a grocery store a few days before Thanksgiving but let me see, what was the word I used to describe it? Oh yeah, "INSANE!" Wall to wall people with shopping carts fighting for space in the aisles and stretching, reaching, and grabbing for stuff. A complete mad-house if you will. This particular store had a couple of people with microphones wooing people to try some particular food item. Personally, I think it was just adding to the confusion. It took me several minutes just to navigate through the crowded produce section. And, of course, after I made it through, I realized I had forgotten something on my list so I had to fight my way back through. And that was just the beginning.

I noticed, as I made my way through the store, the looks on most of the faces I past. Not alot of holiday cheer I must say. I'm sure had I looked in the mirror, I would have seen the same kind of expression staring back at me. I was not having fun. Ok, that's a little understatement. Let's just say I could think of several places I would rather be.

As we head full throttle into the holiday season, I can't help but think with all the "stuff" we have to do, we have become so good at missing the point of it all. Think about it. I'm in the middle of a crowded store where people are purchasing their food for their Thanksgiving celebration and I can't help but think how many were missing the spirit of the holiday. I know I was for one. I remember standing there thinking, "Please, get me out of this store!" Yes, I admit it, Thanksgiving was the furthest thing from my mind. The noise, the crowd, the craziness of it all did a great job of helping me lose sight of why I was there in the first place.

I was there because of Thanksgiving. I was there because I needed to pick up some last minute things for our Thanksgiving meal. A meal that I'll share with family and friends. A meal that I'll eat in a free country. A meal that I can afford to prepare. A meal on a day that we set aside to give thanks to God for all that He has blessed us with. I'm not sure about you, but my life is good. Its extremely good. God's blessings overwhelm me constantly. I have so much to be thankful for. We all do. Even if we are surrounded by negative things right here and right now, we all have so much to be thankful for.

Our problem is that we are very good at focussing on all that is wrong rather than all that is right. I'm thinking God knew that when He inspired Paul to write, "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things." The truth is that whatever we focus on orchestrates our life. If we choose to focus on the inconveniences, the negatives, and all our problems, we will journey through life, depressed, upset, cranky, stressed, and critical. On the other hand if we can learn to focus on all the goodness that God has blessed us with, then all the negatives pale in comparison.

One of my closest friends is bringing his mother home from the hospital today. She suffered a massive heart attack almost two weeks ago. The doctor informed the family this week that 1/2 percent, yes .5 percent of those who have that kind of heart attack live. Not only did she live, but she is alive and kicking. Also, today a couple we know is bringing home a young daughter from Ethiopia that they have just adopted. Its been a long, drawn out process, but today that journey is complete and their family of 4 just became 5. Stories like that are going on all around us and it really helps to put things into perspective. I know that not all stories have happy endings. Let me rephrase that. I know that there are some events in our lives that aren't happy ones. The happy endings are the result of what we do when those difficult times hit us. The key is in that moment, in the middle of that event, we can still choose to set our minds on the goodness of God rather than our current circumstance. Yes, we can choose to look at all that is wrong, but there is so much more good surrounding each one of us. And, if we can make a practice out of focussing on that good, it will re-order our life.

God is good! He is always good. His goodness surrounds each and every one of us. Regardless of what is going on right now in your life, it doesn't change who He is and how He relates to you. True, genuine thankfulness, is birthed in the heart of those who really know that. Over the course of the next few weeks, you'll be challenged to lose sight of the important things in life. You'll be tempted to forget what this season is all about. My challenge to you is, in the middle of it all, to remember who God is and how He's blessed your life. Perhaps, you struggle to find His blessings in your life, but you can start with John 3:16. If that was the only thing we could find that was good in our life, that alone would be worth a lifetime of thankfulness!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thank God The Stink Is All Gone!

I went fishing the other day. I didn't catch a thing. Not sure of what kind of fish might be in this particular fishing hole, I tried several options. Lures, fake worms, and my personal favorite, stink bait. Hopefully, you can hear my sarcasm loud and clear concerning stink bait. I hate it. It stinks really bad. And once you touch it, your hands stink. You can wash and wash and wash and still the stench lingers. Its absolutely putrid. Why we humans would ever eat a fish that would devour this stuff is beyond me. Yet, I really like catfish.

This day though there would be no catfish. Just the stink. And like always I washed, I sanitized, and then washed and sanitized several more times. Then, I took a whiff of my hands only to smell the stink, mingled with the aroma of the soap. Yep, it was still there. I was stuck with it for a while. I could try covering it up, but trust me it was still there.

Not sure about you, but I've tried that same method when it comes to getting rid of the stink in my life. You know, that stuff that stinks in the nostrils of God. Diligently I've worked, trying to clean up the stink. I've attempted time and time again to get myself clean, only to find that nothing I do comes close to making me smell any better. Sure, I may cover it up, but truth be told, the stench still remains. My best falls so very short of any aroma that would ever be pleasing to God.

I just thank God that getting rid of the stink, isn't up to me. He saw me in my helpless state, and stepped in to remedy it all. The One Who knew no sin, and was never tainted with any kind of stench, chose to become my sin and smell like me. In doing so, He didn't just cover my stink, but washed it all away. Now, a perfectly pleasing aroma rises from this person I now am and I now stand perfectly acceptable to God.

As I write this the smell of the stink bait has faded away and for that, I am extremely thankful. More importantly though as far as God is concerned, my stink hasn't just faded away, it's as if it never was there. Though, I am not completely sure how God pulls this miracle off, one thing is for certain....I thank God the stink is all gone!

Friday, October 29, 2010

I Can't See A Thing!

A few weeks ago we took a family vacation to New England. We had a great time taking in the history and sights of that part of our country. On one particular day we decided to drive up Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Now, the summit of Mount Washington reaches a height of only 6,288 ft. To put that into perspective, Pike's Peak is 14,115 ft., Mt. McKinley is 20,320 ft., and Mt. Rainier is 14,410 ft. So, having been up Pike's Peak several times, we thought a drive up Mount Washington would be piece of cake. Afterall, the city of Colorado Springs sits at an elevation of over 6,000 ft. and we've taken several trips there without any problems.

The initial part of our journey was incredible. The colors of autumn were unbelievable as slowly we made our way up the mountain. The road was a bit narrow and the absence of guard-rails made the drive a bit adventurous. As we continued up the mountain, some clouds blew in and our ability to see became increasingly more difficult. Onward we drove with the summit as our goal. Thicker and thicker and thicker the clouds became until we could not see past the front of our vehicle. Oh, did I mention the wind? The wind was hitting the car like a linebacker hitting a running back. Needless to say, our drive up the mountain that was suppose to be a piece of cake was turning into anything but. My crew's confidence in me was failing. Well, actually my own confidence in me was failing. I'm pretty sure I saw a turtle pass us like we were sitting still.

Now, although I've driven in some difficult weather before, I have to admit this was a first for me. That being said, I've faced this scenario many times walking through life. Those moments when you have no idea what lies ahead. You want so desperately to know how this thing is going to turn out, but there's know way of knowing. Just like us on that mountain, even the next step is cloudy. Maybe, you've heard God speak and you step out in confidence knowing that you've heard him clearly. Then, life takes a turn and you begin doubting. Circumstances are screaming loudly and the journey you anticipated is not the one you're experiencing. The fun has given way to work and everything in you is saying turn back. Everyone around you is screaming turn back.

Your mind becomes flooded with questions and doubts. "Maybe you didn't hear from God." "Maybe you missed God on this one." "Maybe this is God saying, NO!" In those moments for some reason its hard to hear his voice. Perhaps its because there are so many other voices competing for your attention. Whatever the reason, the truth is that so often here is where we lose the battle. Its in those moments when what we know is challenged by the world around us. Our five physical senses begin taking in thousands of inputs and most of them oppose that one input we originally received from God.

We are no different than the disciples who think the boat is going down in the storm or who can't wrap their brain around the day Jesus died. We're no different than Abraham trying to figure out how God was going to give him and Sarah a son at such an old age. Just like them we are faced with the decision to continue on or throw in the towel. We are faced with the cold hard reality of how firm our faith is.

On that mountain, I couldn't see a thing. I had never been there before and I had no idea what was up ahead. I would love to say I forged ahead and made it to the top. I didn't. I found a place to turn around and started back down the mountain. Sadly, that has been the same outcome many times throughout life. Fear, doubt, and unbelief win and the summit is never reached.

I know it would be great to journey through life with no obstacles. It would be so wonderful to be able to hear God's voice clearly, see the big picture and step out with no opposition. But that kind of life would require no faith. God has designed us in such a way that faith is a necessity for how we are to live life. Its living life in such a way that regardless of how our five senses interpret the world around us, we simply believe and trust God. Its understanding that there is a reality that is more real than what we can touch, see, hear, smell, and taste. Its banking on the promises of God when your experience is telling you something else. Its seeing with another set of eyes when your natural eyes see nothing.

While we had a great trip and I will never forget the experiences we had there, I do regret not making it to the top of Mt. Washington. I know that on that day once we got there we would have not been able to see anything. That's not really the point though. The point is just finishing the journey. Its about fighting the fear, the obstacles, and every urge to throw in the towel and just pushing forward to finish the journey. I pray today that wherever you find yourself on the journey, you fight through everything that says turn around and you fight to press ahead. The summit awaits!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Time-Out, Time-Out, TIME-OUT!

Wouldn't it be good if we could stop the clock? Just like they do in sporting events, as the clock is running down, we could simply call for a time-out. I know we can stop or slow down, but the clock never stops. It just keeps ticking and tocking. The 24 hours you get in a day, the 8760 hours you get in a year, just keeps ticking away, never slowing down. Before long the 8760 hours have long passed and we stand around wondering how the time flew by.

If you're like me, you need at least 48 hours in a day. Even with that, of course we still wouldn't get everything done on our to-do list. We would manage to still load up our day with way too much to do. We would try to cram 72 hours worth of tasks into those 48 hours. And in doing so, we would be even more exhausted at the end of the day. Somehow, I think in God's infinite wisdom, He knew just how long to make a day. He knew that 24 hours was all we needed. Any more than that would be more than we were created to handle.

Still in those 24 hours, there are those moments when a time-out would come in handy. A moment when the clock stops and we sit to take a breather and regroup. As great as that would be, we don't get any. The clock just keeps rolling....tick, tick, tick, tick. If you manage to live to be 90, you'll have just under 789,000 hours. I know that seems like a lot, but if you're like me, I'm quickly approaching the half-way mark and man did those first 300,000+ hours fly by. Regardless of where you find yourself on the journey, the fact remains that at the moment you were born the clock began and it hasn't stopped since.

While we all have different life-spans, the truth is we all get the same amount of time in each day. 24 hours. That's it. No more, no less. And once its gone, its gone. We all have lists a mile long of things that need to get done and at the end of the day its still a mile long. Since, time-outs are not an option, then good time management is a premium. Sitting down and doing a survey of what's truly important is a must. Let's face it, we all have things on that to-do list that in the grand scheme of things is of little importance. Regrets are the product or sacrificing the important things for the unimportant. You know as well as I do, that although we may get through most of our to-do list in a given day, if it was at the expense of what is really important there's little satisfaction in the end.

Of course, I try to live life with God's kingdom in my sights. I attempt to value what He values. I try desperately to keep focussed on what is eternal rather than on what is temporal. Trust me, I don't always get it right. That being said, getting it right is my goal. I just know that when its all said in done, at the end of the day those things that are eternal are the things that truly matter. One thing I know that is eternal is relationships. Afterall, that's all we take with us when we leave this earth. Our relationship with our Creator and our relationship with one another.

For me, putting work aside for a time of one-on-one with my sons is much more rewarding than getting the job done right now. Staying up taking in a football game with my son is more satisfying than trying to get a few more work related tasks done before bed. Choosing to take a day to spend with my family each week while I could easily spend the day working, is life-giving. Taking an evening each week to go on a date with my wife is priceless. Hanging out with friends and family, building relationships and doing life together is more rewarding than sitting in front of the tube, or surfing the internet, or getting that last task done on my list.

What I'm trying to say is that in the end when those 789,000 hours have been spent, I want to make sure that the majority of them were spent on the things that truly matter. I know there are things that must be done. I know there are jobs that need our attention. I know there are only 24 hours in a day. But, I hope you'll agree that if we fail to do the truly important things on that to-do list, at the end of those 789,000 hours we'll face some pretty hefty regrets.

I am writing this because, for me, this week has been one that has been filled with way too many tasks. Yes, I've been trying to cram 2 weeks into one. In my attempt to get all the things done that I need to get done, there have been some important ones that have taken a back seat. Remember, I said I don't always get this thing right. Yesterday my oldest son kept asking me to play with him. When I say kept asking me, I mean he asked me alot. But, I had work to do. A lot of work to do. At least 48 hours of work to do yesterday. Finally, he found me exhausted sitting on the couch at the end of the day. He comes up to me and asks one last time, "Daddy, will you play with me?" Up the stairs I stumble to take him on in Madden Football. Thank God it wasn't real football, as I don't think I would have lasted 5 minutes. And thanks Mom, for letting us stay up a few minutes past bed time.

I did a lot yesterday, but the thing that I most remember is that moment when I'm driving for the game winning score and Peyton Manning throws a pick-6 with less than a minute to go. Yep, his Patriots beat my Colts. I just know that of all the to-do's on my list yesterday, that was number one. I know for him, he'll not remember anything else I did yesterday.

It's true I'm tired and it's true I have a lot to do today. But at some point, the list gets put on hold as I have some truly important things to attend to. And as you know, the clock is ticking and there are no time-outs.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Closer Look Reveals Something Else

This past week, our family had an adventure. While eating lunch, from out of nowhere there crawled what first appeared to be a mouse. My 7-year-old was the first to spot the rodent and began warning his little brother. After the initial scattering, we all stopped to take a look at this "mouse" as it strolled across the living room floor as if it was scared of nothing. I thought it odd that it was out in the middle of the day in a brightly lit room, with activity going on. I was convinced the thing was carrying rabies or something as it's behavior seemed so odd.

In order to save my family, I immediately went into "He-man" mode and trapped it in an area where he had only two ways of escape. I then fetched two mouse traps from the garage, and set them in his path and waited for that "pop" that would let me know my rodent removal process was complete. I waited, and waited, and waited. No "pop." Apparently this was a wise mouse. I then carefully observed what was going on. The mouse would walk right up to the trap, sniff it and make his way around it. Now, I had loaded the trap with cheese as well as peanut butter. If this mouse was uninterested in that, then apparently my diagnoses was correct....we had a rabies infected mouse in our house.

Since the intruder was not taking the bait, I would have to resort to plan B. I ran to the garage and picked up my weapon and came back to the scene ready to protect my family. Telling everyone to stay back, I ran to the battle with garden hoe in hand determined to take this enemy out. I was using the garden hoe not because I intended on chopping its head off, but because when trying to kill something with a blow to the head it covered a large rectangular area. After several attempts, I finally managed to immobilize the rodent and then carefully escorted the dead creature outside.

Gathering around the "mouse" with my two boys in order to get a good look at it, I discovered that this rodent looked different than any mouse I had ever seen. You couldn't really see any eyes or ears on him. His feet and nose looked odd as well. I came to the conclusion that this rodent was not a mouse, but a mole. Our yard has been littered with mole tunnels all summer and I guess with all the rain that we had, the mole was flushed out and somehow made its way into our house. Suddenly, all the odd behavior I had witnessed made perfect sense. He didn't act like a mouse because he wasn't a mouse. Although at first glance, it appeared to be a mouse, a close look discovered that our initial assessment was an error.

As we journey through life, how many times do we do the same thing in our assessment of people. Think about it. How often do we peer at them from a distance and judge them or size them up? I dare say, we do it way too much. We stand at arms length unwilling to truly get to know someone because that first glance has revealed to us all we really want to know about them. There is not a human on this planet who can truly be known from a distance. We may assume we know them, but in my experience, the truth about a person can only be known through relationship. I've stood at a distance from people judging their behavior and actions only to find out the "whys" of their behavior after a closer look. Perhaps it's wounds from the past, internal fears, habits they can't conquer, or a host of other things. The truth is we all walk through life and behave the way we do because of something internal. Judging others from a distance will always result in us failing in our true assessment. As a matter of fact, refusing to take a deep look at ourselves will result in the same. But, that's another topic altogether. Just like me and the mole, I was convinced it was a mouse, but after a close look determined that I was completely wrong.

You can choose to stand at a distance and size up every person you meet. And in doing so, you'll miss so much. I've never seen a mole close up like I did the other day. I've seen pictures of them, but never a real one. I could have simply killed it and dumped it outside and assumed that my initial determination was correct. It was only after I chose to get a close look that I was able to see things I have never seen before. When we choose to get close to people, we will always see more clearly the things that we can not see at a distance. However, I think its imperative that we approach people just a little differently than I did the mole. I'm just thinking we should leave the garden hoe in the garage.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I Came Home With Thousands In My Car

A couple weeks ago, I spent the day at the beach with my family. We had a blast building a sand castle, collecting shells, and playing in the water. The weather was great and the beach was empty, making for some wonderful family time. As we got ready to leave, we were faced with the dilemma that every beach goer faces...sand! Trying hard to bring home as little of the beach as we possibly could, we wiped, we washed, and we tried every creative way we could to get as much sand off of us as was humanly possible. Satisfied that we had exhausted every possible way known to man to remove the sand, we loaded up. When I looked at the floor board under my feet, I noticed that apparently all of my attempts to rid myself of the sand were pretty much failures. There was sand everywhere. What's crazy is when I got home it seemed like that sand had multiplied over the course of our travel time. I've since had the car cleaned, but I'm pretty sure some remnants remain.

Now, if you've ever been to the beach, I'm sure you can relate. It is absolutely impossible to go to the beach and hangout for a few hours and get back into the car without bringing some sand with you. While we were in Galveston, I noticed just across the the street from the beach some landscaping guys with their high powered blowers trying to clean a parking lot. Sand was flying everywhere. I thought to myself, what a futile fight. I'm pretty sure you can go to Galveston and not even visit the actual beach and still somehow come home with sand in your hair, and in your car. Everywhere you look and everywhere you go in a beach town like that, there's sand. As you walk on the beach and look there is literally miles and miles of sand.

My recent experience with all that sand reminds me of a verse in Genesis where God is making a promise to Abraham. In Genesis 22:17, God tells Abraham that He is going to multiply his descendants as the sand that is on the seashore. Reading that with this beach experience fresh in my mind, makes me step back and say, "Are you kidding me?" "That's amazing!" God, is telling Abraham, who is now over 100 years old, that through his one son Isaac, the number of his descendants will one day rival the amount of sand on the seashore. Now, I'm not sure if God is speaking of all seashores combined or one in particular, but I'm thinking either will do.

God is telling Abraham that his descendants will be innumerable. While at the beach we played in the sand. We picked up handfuls of sand. We built a castle out of sand. I buried my feet in the sand. Just the amount of sand that we personally encountered would take lifetimes to count if we separated every single grain of sand. And to think that those grains of sand represent Abraham's descendants is pretty amazing. What's equally amazing to me is the fact that from the beginning of time, God's enemy, the devil has tried to thwart God's plan and this sand is a constant reminder of what an utter failure he is. God's promise to Abraham is to this day continuing to be fulfilled and nothing the devil can do can prevent that from happening.

Isaac was a miracle baby. And from that moment until now and on into the future, God's promises are true. God will not come up short concerning anything He has promised. Without going into some deep theological dissertation here, I understand Scripture to declare that through Christ, I have become the spiritual seed of Abraham. That being said, I can't help but think one of those grains of sand represent me. As I sit here thinking about that, its a bit mind boggling. Thousands of years before I was ever born, when God promised Abraham that his descendants would be like the sand on the seashore, He was including me in that count. He was including my friends and family members. Those of us who represent the seed of Abraham, are all a part of God fulfilling His promise. Not sure about you, but when I think about it that way, I am so glad God is One who keeps His promises.

I'm not sure how many grains of sand we came home with following our adventure at the beach. I'm sure it was thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. While our Chevy Trailblazer normally rides 6 comfortably, I can't help but picture the thousands that fit in it that day. I'm wondering who all rode home with us that day. Was it saints of old, or perhaps some who are yet to come? Whoever they represented, one thing is for certain, there are literally billions more out there, for our God is a God who keeps His promises.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Confessions Of A Savioraholic

Control, alt, delete. Ever been there? You know what I'm talking about. The computer freezes up and you get some message like "program not responding" or "your computer is going to explode...RUN!!!" I know there's no message like the last one there, but there are times when I'd like to make it blow up. Anyways, its in those "computer freeze" moments when you hit those three keys, control, alt delete, hoping that perhaps that will help get things running smoothly again.

Now, I'm not a computer science major, so I'm not going to pretend to know the inner workings of a computer. But this much I do know, there are moments for whatever reason when computers just freeze up. Maybe, its because of too many processes occurring at the same time or some kind of virus or maybe even faulty software or hardware. I know there are a lot of different reasons. Again, I don't pretend to know all that much about the "whys," I just know its quite frustrating when it happens.

I don't know about you, but my brain does that from time to time as well. Its like all of a sudden something like this runs through my brain... oiuqwe09809kd;aldjp;ioeupoiwer. Has your mind ever felt like that? Like, brain waves are there but no thoughts are really registering? I get there sometimes. More times than I care to admit. Usually its at the end of a busy day or a crazy week. In moments like these, I just like to check-out for a bit. You know take a deep breath, stare at a wall, and just use as few brain functions as possible.

I remember when Lori and I first got married there were times when I would sit on the couch and just veg-out for a little bit. She would want to talk and my brain literally could not connect two sentences. It wasn't that I was disinterested. It was, just like those computer freezes, my brain had encountered too many inputs and was shutting down. It's not a stress related thing, or an emotional thing, just an exhaustion thing. Through the years I think she has become very good at knowing when my brain is at control, alt, delete stage.

One thing I discovered over the years is that I haven't been all that good at learning how to knock off work at a specific time. I carry it with me, much of where I go. My brain is so often in "work" mode, and I have a real difficulty turning it off. I will go to bed thinking, and I will wake up thinking. Again, for the most part its not worry, or fear, or stress, just a list of things that needs to get done or problems that need to get solved. Ok, I'll say it...yep, there are even times when I'm thinking "there's a world that needs saving, how can I rest at a time like this?" Yes, my name is Tim Stone and I'm a savior-aholic. I feel much better now that I've got that off my chest. I felt like a while back after I did my best attempt at playing savior of the world, and I was feeling completely exhausted, the Holy Spirit said, "So, how's it feel to play savior for a week? How's that working out for you?" It was in a time of prayer and I actually chuckled because I knew He was right on.

I think we humans are really good at loading things on our shoulders that we aren't meant to carry. We're walking through life with huge spiritual back-packs and wondering why we're worn-out, exhausted, and bordering on burn-out. God forbid we step back and take a breather. A day off? Are you kidding? There's too much to do. Got to wash the laundry, got spend time with the kids, got to go to work, got to mow the yard, got to return the phone calls, got pay the bills, got to run by the bank, got to run by the cleaners, got to get the oil changed, got to check facebook, got to check emails, got to wash the car, got to dust the furniture, got to take out the trash, got to clean the garage, got to cook dinner, and on and on it goes. Oh, yeah and haven't you heard there's a world that needs saving? So we go through life at the speed of light until we get to that point where Starbucks can't pump enough caffeine into their coffee to keep us going. Control, alt delete! Control, alt, delete! Control, alt, delete!!!

Unfortunately, we don't have those buttons to reboot us. God is really smart, though. He knew how we would do life and he instituted this thing called a sabbath. We've made it a religious thing, but God created it to be a part of how we do life. No, its not that hour long Sat. or Sunday thing we do. It was created for mankind, as a day to recharge and refuel. A day to cease from work, and take a breather. Its a day for us to allow the Holy Spirit to breath life into us and refresh us. Think about it, you were created with both the capacity to work, and the need to take a break. More times than not, those moments when my brain hits overload mode, its because I've failed to stop to recharge and refuel.

I know for those workaholics and savioraholics out there, its a tough thing for us to take a break. Afterall, there's so much work to do and haven't you heard there's a world to save. I'm just thinking it might be a little prideful for us to think that the world can't handle being without us for a day. I'm learning how to slow down. No, I don't always do it right, but I do believe I'm getting much better. Because, I'm a pastor, Mondays have become the day of rest in the Stone household. I still have my prayer time and Bible study time, and the rest of the day is family day. I don't check emails, I rarely answer my phone or return phone calls, and I spend the day resting and having a great time with my family. I know, there's a world to save, but I'm thinking I'll let Jesus be the Savior, since He's much better at pulling that off than I am. I'll do my part Tuesday-Sunday and I'll engage in kingdom business like crazy on those days, but I'm determined to follow God's design concerning the sabbath.

Now, even following that design for life, there are still those moments when my brain registers....laoiuer098029384roidad;flakdjva. They are fewer and much further apart though. As for my computer? Well, let's just say even taking Mondays off doesn't seem to help it at all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Thought I Had Ups

This week my 7 year old challenged me to a slam dunk contest. When he did, my mind went back to the day when I soared through the air like Michael Jordan. Ok, so maybe Michael Jordan is a stretch and the fact is that any dunking I did back in the day was on a 7 or 8 foot goal. That being said, I do remember having some game. While Nike never came knocking on my door, it seems like I remember at least being able to move without feeling as though my feet were glued to the floor.

Now, being 43 years old, and having a challenge thrown down by my 7 year old, I was determined to lace up the shoes and to show him some old school moves. Lowering the goal to 7 feet, I was confident I was going to impress him. By the way, just so you don't get the idea that my kid is a giant, he has a small goal that he would be doing his dunks on not the 7 foot one. As we showed our stuff, I couldn't believe that at 7 feet, I actually missed some dunks. I figure with my 5'-10 1/2" frame and my long arms, it is only necessary to catch 1 or 2 inches of air to slam on a 7 foot goal. I'm guessing that apparently on several attempts the air beneath my feet was less than the required 1 to 2 inches, since I came up short.

While my son dazzled me with his fancy moves, I can assure you nobody was dazzled by my pathetic attempts. I was able to slam a few home, to save complete humiliation, but even my 4 year old appeared to have more ups than me. I think the lowest point of the contest came when out of a possible score of 50 my son gave one of my dunks a 36. If you know anything about the slam dunk contest, below 40 completely stinks and trust me, my boy knows that. To be honest, I thought the dunk deserved more like a 20, I'm just thinking he was being nice to his dad.

As I'm writing this, I have about 10 minutes left before I hit the court with my two boys for a little two on one. And while I have to work and have to take care of all the responsibilities that come with being a pastor, a husband, and dad, I must admit this is one thing I try to place a priority on. No, I don't always do it right and yes, there are times my boys take a back seat to all the other stuff. But, thank God for those times I get it right.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I'll take the 36s on my dunks. I'll take those moments when my skills feel like they have got up and went. I'll take those moments when I feel like my shoes are glued to the ground. I'll take those sore knees and other aches the day after. I'll take every loss on the chin. I'll walk through it all if it means that I get to spend time with two of my best friends.

I could go on and on, but my 10 minutes is up and I've got a couple basketball players warming up on the court ready to take on their dad. Time for "Air Jordan" (that's my nickname) to lace em up and show these youngsters how to play this game. They're going down, today! Oh, yeah they are going down!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Joy Of Discovery

Had an interesting day a couple days ago. We took a family trip to IKEA. Now, if you're not familiar with IKEA, I'll try my best to describe it. Its a massive Swedish department store that is full of furnishings for the whole house as well as for the office. Imagine a furniture store, with a bit of Home Depot, Office Depot, and Walmart thrown into the mix, all of it with a Scandinavian flavor. Oh, yeah, and then throw in a restaurant complete with Swedish meatballs and a playroom for your little children. Upstairs is a showroom that seems to never end and downstairs is where you pick up your goods. No, this is not a paid advertisement.

I hope that paints a good picture for you. Now, picture a 4 year old full of energy walking through this show room that never seems to end. Ok, so maybe walking is not the correct term here. I'm not sure how to describe the process by which my 4 year old boy made his way through the show room, but lets just say he kept his mom and I on our toes.

"Look at this one mommy!"
"Wow, look an orange couch!"
"This one is really soft!"
"This one is softer than that one!"
"Mommy, the water doesn't work in this sink!"
"Daddy, look I'm sitting in this really high chair!"
"That bed is way too hard!"

On and on and on the exclamations poured out as he continued on his journey of discovery. He ran from couch to couch, from bed to bed, sat at every desk he could, and touched everything that was within reach. His older brother, an IKEA veteran, had a blast as well but I'm thinking most of his entertainment value came at watching his little brother as he experienced this Scandinavian wonderland for the first time.

I know its crazy that a store could hold that much excitement, but for a 4-year old the only thing necessary is for something to be new. There's just something about discovering things for the first time. This same joy of discovery is in us all. Its something we are born with. Although as adults, we may not get all that worked up about the funny shaped Swedish furniture at IKEA, trust me this joy of discovery is still in there. Just think of how you react to the latest technology on the market. Or, the excitement you feel behind the wheel of a new car. Or, when you slip on those new shoes, or new clothes. Think about the first time you saw mountains, or snow, or the ocean. Think about the first time you flew in a plane, or saw the Grand Canyon, or rode a roller coaster.

If we are not careful, though, we can get lulled to sleep by the things in life we have become acquainted with and comfortable with. So much so that discovering new things is something we rarely do. You know what I'm talking about. We go to the same restaurants and order the same food that we always do. We take the same route to work, never deviating off course. We go to the same vacation spot every year. We mow our yard in the same pattern every time we mow. We drink our coffee with the same flavored creamer every day. On and on the list goes.

God created us with this capacity to get excited about discovering new things. Although, that manifests in us as we take in the world around us, it was also meant to manifest in our discovery of Him. As I think about this, I'm reminded of a story in the Old Testament where the Children of Israel heard thunder and saw lightning as God revealed Himself to them in a small way. All of them were a bit freaked out by the whole event. So much so that they just told Moses to talk to God for them because they wanted no part of that. On the other hand, Moses gets close to God and desires to see more of Him. He's not satisfied with the part of God that he has been able to see.

The thing about discovering new things is that it can be a little bit uncomfortable for us. Sometimes, downright risky or dangerous. Yet, without this joy of discovery, life can get quite uneventful and bland. Like Moses, we were created with this built-in desire to discover God more intimately with each passing day. So often though, we are like the rest of that group that hesitates to go deeper with Him. It's risky isn't it. Mortal, imperfect man communing with an immortal, perfect God. Let's face it, the more we discover Him, the more messed up we realize we are. That of course, is completely uncomfortable for us as it requires a decision on our part to continue this journey of discovery or to stop right there. The crowd Moses lived with chose to stop when it got a little uncomfortable. Moses chose to get closer. If I had to guess whose life was more exciting I would have to say it was the guy who hung out with God so much that once he came down from the mountain with his face literally glowing with the glory of God. Incidentally, even that "glowing face" was a bit much for the rest of them as they insisted Moses cover his face. Yep, even that was too uncomfortable for them.

While discovering more and more of God can be a little dangerous, the joy of discovering new aspects and parts of Him far outweighs the risks. As a matter of fact, the only part of us that is in danger or at risk is the part of us that needs to die anyway. Whether it is finding Him in His Word, or in our quiet times, or as we take in His creation, there is a joy and excitement that comes with each and every moment of discovery. Just like my little one at IKEA, when it comes to our discovery of God we can choose to take in as much as we can possibly handle. Or, we can be like some of the adults walking through IKEA who have no idea what that orange couch feels like to sit in, or how comfortable that bed is to lay in. When we approach God with that kind of mentality while it is certain we will be comfortable, we will never experience the joy of discovery.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Two Are Better Than One

"Two are better than one..." I read this phrase in Ecclesiastes this morning. The Scripture goes on to say "because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up."

Now, I've got a couple hundred Facebook friends, but I'm thinking this is speaking of something much different than that. I was in a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago and we were talking about relationships with people. He referred to some of his acquaintances as more like Facebook friends. I can tell you from the context of our conversation he was implying that those friends were little more than superficial. No, I'm not dissing Facebook friends, just indicating that the level of friendship is quite different than those with whom we do life with. While those of us who do the Facebook thing may have an ever increasing list a "friends," the truth is those with whom we truly walk through life together with is generally a pretty small list. I would go so far as to say, that there are many who know lots of people yet walk through life very much alone.

We were never meant to go at this thing alone. God created us to walk through life with one another. After all, His purpose in sending His Son was to bring mankind back into relationship with Him. Scripture tells us, He has adopted us, He will not leave us as orphans, He sets the solitary in family, He will never leave us, etc. And while God longs for us to understand the dynamic of this relationship He longs for us to have with Him, He also longs for us to embrace this idea of walking through life with one another.

This concept is much more than posting what you are dealing with on Facebook and others replying with their well meant sentiments. Walking through life with one another is more than shallow comments like "I'm thinking of you," and "I'll be praying for you." Its about being willing to roll up your sleeves and walk through, (lets see how can I keep this g-rated) "refuse" with one another. Its about hurting, I mean truly hurting when others are hurting. I'm not talking about pity, but having compassion for one another that insists on helping one navigate through the hurt. Its about celebrating the victories with one another. Its about standing on the mountain tops with high fives, chest bumps, and genuine excitement over the triumphs in life. Its about strolling through the valleys with the commitment to remain there even when bolting is the easiest thing to do. Its about having the difficult conversations and speaking the truth even when the risk of offense is high. Its about remaining on board when everyone else has jumped ship. Its about fighting through wounds and offenses because the value of the relationship is worth more than walking away. Its about choosing to forgive even when the wound is huge. Its about seeing all the stuff nobody else can see and choosing to love in spite of it all. Its about seeing the gifts, talents, and potential in one another and challenging each other to rise up and be all you were created to be.

I'm sure you'll agree that this list is a pretty small list. Yep, superficial friends are great but these friends with whom we walk through life with, they are irreplaceable. It's these of whom this phrase was written..."Two are better than one." Are there some of these on your list? Or, better yet, are you on someone else's short list?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

All Of This From A Kid's Movie

I came home today and fixed myself a sandwich for lunch and plopped down in front of the TV for a few minutes intending on turning on the news before I got back to work. My boys had gone upstairs and left the movie "Meet The Robinsons" playing on the TV. It is one of my favorite animated movies so rather than turn on the news I watched a few minutes of the movie. If you've never seen it, the story line is really all about learning to let go of the past and to keep moving forward.

As I sat there watching this animated kid's movie, I started thinking about how refusing to let go of past hurts and offenses, is truly an epidemic. Think about it. Like "Goob" in the movie, we so often hang onto things with this idea of revenge taking root in our heart. We've been wounded and we figure that its only fair to get back at those who have hurt us. Or, we remain silent, don't launch a counter attack, and stuff the thing deep down inside of us where nobody can see it. Regardless of which route we take, the truth is that if we never truly deal with it, the result is never healthy. When I say deal with it, I mean let it go. Choose to forgive and move forward.

"But, this person did this," "I can't forgive them," "You have no idea what I've been through." We've used all the excuses and to us they all seem valid. However, the excuses never bring healing. When we refuse to forgive others, the wound remains opened and healing never comes. And while we may decide to break ties with the one who wounded us, unhealed wounds affect how we approach others and how we approach life. Perhaps it makes us view life as if we are a victim, or we build walls that never allow anyone else get close. Or, maybe we set out on a mission to prove others wrong, or we settle into a life that trusts nobody.

I think Jesus understood the power that a heart of unforgiveness could have on us. He spoke on the subject more than once, instructing us to forgive those who have hurt us. He even went so far as to say that if we want forgiveness from our Heavenly Father, then we must be willing to forgive others.

On the other hand, our enemy, the devil understands what unforgiveness can do to us as well. His strategy is to cause us to never let go of those things because he longs for us to live in bondage to it all. Bondage vs. freedom? Tough choice isn't it. God wants us free, and the enemy wants to keep us in bondage.

There have been seasons of my life where I refused to forgive those who had hurt me. It affected the way I did life and every relationship was tainted by that unforgiveness. Those times were miserable. Those seasons were truly some of the most frustrating times of my life. Today, I can think of no person I have unforgiveness toward. I am totally free and I have to admit freedom beats bondage hands down.

Make a decision today, to let go of past offenses. I know some of those wounds are serious and there are hurts that go deep and are life altering. I want to encourage you though, there is nothing quite as life altering as the day you release that thing. The moment you choose to forgive and move forward, the healing begins.

Back to the movie. After watching a few minutes I fast forwarded to the end of the movie because I love the song at the end. I'll end with a few lines of the song here, and I pray you'll take it to heart.

Let it go,
Let it roll right off your shoulder
Don't you know
The hardest part is over
Let it in,
Let your clarity define you
In the end,
We will only just remember how it feels....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Are You Stupid?

Ok, I have to admit I couldn't resist the title. I was reading in Proverbs today when I came across chapter 12 verse 1. "Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, But he who hates correction is stupid." So there it is, the "s" word as we refer to it in our household. While we shouldn't make a habit out of referring to anyone with that term, I think it is important to evaluate ourself in regards to that Scripture. So, here we go...are you stupid? Do you struggle with correction? I'm thinking when defined like this verse in Proverbs, I definitely resemble that "s" word on occasion.

Think about it for a moment. Have you ever been sitting in church when the minister says something that hits you right between the eyes? Not a condemning word, but one that you know deep down is right on and yet there's something in you that is ready to reject that thing? Perhaps, you start looking for some Scripture that can support your position and prove his position to be in error. Or, better yet you just try to find someone who will agree with you. Its amazing how often we reject the truth as long as we can get a couple people who can agree with us. Have you ever had a difficult time being corrected or receiving instruction from a parent, a teacher, a boss, a co-worker, a friend, or anyone else? If so, then I hate to say it but....well, let's just say God's Word indicates that you may not be acting intelligently.

As I mentioned earlier, I too seem to act a bit unintelligent at times. There are certainly times in my life when I struggle with receiving correction with a good attitude. Although, I am much better than when I was a teen, there are still moments in my life when confronted with correction that my first impulse is to get defensive. Not sure if you can relate, but my heart starts beating fast, I can feel the blood pressure rising, and I guess its that spirit of "stupid" that begins to take over. It makes no difference if its a person or the Holy Spirit speaking to me personally through God's Word, when I am confronted I usually offer a bit of a fight.

Of course, there are times in our lives when those attempting to correct us have impure motives, but that's not really the point. The point is the attitude of "our" heart. I have discovered throughout the course of my life that even when confronted with correction at the hands of those whose motives are way off, truth can still be imparted to us. Let's face it truth is truth regardless of where it comes from. As the parent of a 7 year old and a 4 year old, I have discovered that God can even offer correction and instruction through their mouths and actions. I'm even reminded of Balaam in Scripture who had a quick course correction when his donkey spoke up and warned Him that his head was about to be chopped off. Yes, God can use anything or any means necessary to bring correction and instruction our way. The key is whether or not our heart is willing to receive it. Those who receive that correction are better for it and those who don't, well, we know what Scripture says of them.

Because we are all on a journey tainted with imperfection, we are constantly in need of correction along the way. When we are teachable and maintain an of attitude of humility, then growth on that journey is much quicker. On the contrary, when we walk through life unteachable and full of pride, not only is our growth in spiritual things stunted, but at some point destruction awaits. Now, while I don't like thinking of myself as stupid, I am more disturbed by the fact that around some corner, destruction is waiting for me. Continuing on a path knowing that it leads to destruction is like driving through a road block that warns a bridge is out. Now, maybe you're ok, with the whole destruction thing, and if so then, go for it. But, as for me I'm thinking I have to agree with Scripture when it says that's just stupid.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Connecting With God

Last week I had the opportunity to accompany some young people as they attended a youth conference in Colorado Springs. Its a given that coming from southeast Texas to the mountains of Colorado that the scenery and the climate is an awesome shift. That aside, I have to say that attending meetings with a couple thousand young people who are bombarding heaven with their prayers and with worship do something to you. Having served in youth ministry for 15 plus years and now a senior pastor, I can honestly say that at no other "event" do I receive the spiritual infusion that I do attending these.

Yes, I know that God can speak to us and do things in us where ever we are at any given moment. That being said, I can't help but think there is something truly powerful about an environment saturated by corporate brokeness, desperation, and passion. Within that climate, I just think it is so much easier for us to be sensitive to God's voice. I mean think about it, no television, internet, Ipod, computer, cell phone, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Distractions are limited to very few things and you spend a few days saturated with little more than God and His Word.

Our culture is one that is characterized by busyness. Our schedules are filled with work, entertainment, chores, work, education, friends, family, more work, social networking, and somewhere, somehow we find a little time to sleep. For me personally, I'm trying to juggle being a husband, dad, son, friend, and pastor and all the responsibilities that come along with that. If you are anything like me, in the middle of all the busyness, God often takes a back seat to it all. I know that God is with us always, and in everything we do, but let's face it, we often use that statement to make us feel good in light of the fact that our personal prayer life and our times of intimacy with God are little more than puny and pathetic. Maybe that doesn't apply to you, but it hits me right between the eyes.

We've fallen for this lie that as long as I do my duty and go to church once a week for an hour or so, read my little promise scriptures, pay my tithe, put a Christian bumper sticker on my car, and listen to Christian music, that I'm good with God. The truth is I'm good with God, because of what Jesus did for me. I just think we are off track as long as we have the kind of mind set that says, "as long as I give God a little token offering of my life then all is well." Is that really the kind of life that He's worthy of?" Think about it for a moment. The purpose of Jesus coming and submitting Himself to death on a cross, was to reconcile you and I back to God. He came to rip down the wall that separated us from our Creator. He came to bring us into relationship with our heavenly Father. God, Himself, put on flesh and blood, and was willing to bleed and die in order to restore our relationship with Him. Can we honestly think that an hour a week and a quick prayer before nodding off to sleep, and our prayers of personal petitions, are worthy of His sacrifice?

If Christ's sacrifice was for the purpose of connecting us to God once again, shouldn't connecting with God be a huge priority on our life? I believe our attempts at fitting God into our schedule are playing right into the hand of the enemy. Our enemy doesn't really mind if we engage in lots of religious activity as long as we lose sight of what Christ died to give us. God longs for relationship with His people. A real authentic relationship is not one that we try to squeeze in somewhere between all of our list of to do's. Real authentic relationships demand time in order to be healthy. While it may be a truth that we are sons and daughters of God, it is equally true that we will never experience the fullness of that relationship if we don't choose to spend time cultivating it.

God longs to connect with us. God longs for us to come to the place where we long to connect with Him. Let's determine to make time for those personal, intimate encounters with our Creator. Let's make a decision to work the rest of our lives around those moments. I grew up with personal Bible study, prayer time, and quiet times being called "spiritual disciplines." The more I think about that, I just kind of think if that's the way we see it, we're missing the point. I'm just crazy enough to believe that we can fall so in love with our God that our heart yearns for those moments of personal connection. After all, God has fallen so in love with us that He was willing to do whatever it took to connect with us. Let's live a life that is worthy of the sacrifice Christ made for us.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Dad

I've posted this before, but with Father's Day here I can think of nothing better to post this week than this article I wrote about my Dad immediately following his going home to be with the Lord a few years ago. For those who didn't know my Dad, it'll introduce you to him. For those who knew him, it'll remind you of this world's greatest Dad.

Most of you knew Troy Stone as a strong conservative voice in Ellis County. A man who had an opinion about everything and never hesitated to share it. A man who held elected officials accountable, ruffled the feathers that needed ruffling, and rocked every boat that needed rocking. You knew him as a man who loved his country and was determined to do whatever was necessary to keep it the greatest country in the world.

But, let me tell you a little bit about the man I knew as Daddy. He taught me things every young boy needs to know. He taught me how to throw a football, kick a soccer ball, and hit a baseball. Never, once did I ever look to the sideline without seeing my Dad on it. Every single game there he was on the sidelines rooting for me as if I was the best player out there, when in reality, I can assure you, I was not. By the time I made it to high school, my physical stature, yes, I was a runt, steered my away from organized sports and I became involved in marching band. Dad’s level of support never changed. It didn’t matter if it was a home game or an away game. Every week there he was in the stands watching my eight minute half-time performance. Once again, I don’t recall one that he missed. 

That’s the way he was with all of his children. He always supported everything we were involved with. He invested his time, his money, and his energy into each of our lives, our dreams, and our futures. I think I can speak for each of his children in saying that when we were young we thought he was the best. What is an awesome testimony though, is that each of us hold that same opinion here at the end of his life. 

My Dad had five children, but he was “Daddy” to many more. I remember years ago, our family sponsored a young boy who lived in an orphanage in Fairfield, TX. My Dad heard about a track meet this boy was competing in. I don’t remember all the details, but I believe he ran the mile. Although he told my Dad that he wasn’t very good and had never won, my Dad drove to Fairfield to watch him race. When the race started, he took off too fast and my Dad was sure he was going to run out of gas, but he never did. He won the race. I think that the fact that he had a “Daddy” in the stands that day had something to do with it.

I learned more from my Dad by just watching the way he lived his life. He was always willing to help out whenever he saw a need. Like the times he would see a family in need and would buy them groceries, clothes, etc. Or, like the times he would hear of a need at church and would step up to the plate to supply that need. There were even a couple of occasions when he opened his house to young people in need of a place to stay.

Daddy, taught me that the wealth of a man is not found in the size of his bank account but in the depth of his character. He taught me the importance of being a man of integrity and man of your word by living it out before me. For example, one time he had promised to take me to a Ranger’s game. He was out of town working in Laredo at that time and we didn’t think he was going to make it home in time. I was crushed, because he had promised to take me. Then all of a sudden into the driveway pulls my Dad. He runs into the house, changes clothes, kisses Mom and off we go to the game. Pretty incredible for a man who had just driven all the way from Laredo. I don’t remember anything else about the game that night, just that my Dad kept his promise.

I also learned about strength and courage from my Dad. There was no better example of that, than how he lived his life over the past few years. While living with the advanced stages of emphysema, he continued to live his life to the fullest. Even though he became oxygen dependent 24/7, he continued to be involved in the Republican party here in Ellis county. Every election day you could count on seeing him working the polls. Afterwards, he would be exhausted for several days, but that never kept him from doing it again. He never let his disease prevent him from making trips to the Houston area to spend time with his children and grandchildren. On July 4th, 2004 while hooked up to his portable oxygen machine, he insisted on running his snow-cone machine at an outdoor church function in southeast Texas. We constantly got on to him about over doing it, but the fact is he knew no other way to live his life than full-throttle.

I could write volumes about my Dad and perhaps someday I will. He didn’t leave his family a huge monetary inheritance, but the inheritance he left is worth more than all this world’s riches. It is no doubt that this world is a better place because of his influence here. All that knew him will truly miss him. America will miss his patriotism. Ellis county will miss his strong conservative voice. The Republican Party will miss his leadership. And I’ll miss my Daddy.

Friday, June 4, 2010

There's A Hole In The Bottom Of The Sea

"There's a frog, on the knot, on the log, in the hole in the bottom of the sea." Not sure if you've ever heard that song, but it was one my Dad sang way too much when I was growing up. He would start it up at times like when we were on long trips and we had played the ABC game until all of us kids were bored out of our minds. It never mattered how much we protested, the song went on and on and on. And while the song was a bit annoying, I never really thought about the fact that there might be a big hole in the bottom of the sea. Until now that is. Now looking at what is going on in the Gulf of Mexico, that annoying song seems to be playing out in front of us. I'm thinking maybe if we could find a big enough log with a big enough knot and a big enough frog, we could solve a really big problem.

Ok, so maybe the whole log, knot, frog thing isn't going to work, but it appears nothing else is getting the job done either. Now, while I have no idea how to fix the spewing oil in the Gulf, as they didn't offer that course at the school I attended, I'm struggling a bit with the fact that we are pretty intelligent beings but can't plug a hole. I know, I know, its deep underwater and its got a lot of pressure forcing the oil out, and I'm sure the greatest minds are at work trying to fix it. I think there a couple of things that bother me about this whole thing. Number one is that those who lost their lives in this accident have pretty much become a side note. Let's remember that children have been left fatherless, wives have lost husbands, and mom's and dad's have lost sons. Another thing that bothers me is everyone blaming everyone else. BP's under the gun, the government's getting hammered, people are mad at oil companies, and our President is going to kick somebody's... well, we won't go there. I'm thinking lets just get the hole plugged and then worry about all that later.

Anyways, I was just sitting here wondering what God thinks when He sits back and watches mankind do his thing? I mean lets face it, we are really good at making messes. Lets see, there was that Russian nuclear meltdown thing, Exxon Valdez, the unsinkable Titanic that sank, and the madman from Germany to name a few. Throughout the ages we've made one mess after another. Our man-made messes date all the way back to the first man and woman that God created. Remember, there was that whole forbidden fruit thing that really got things headed in the wrong direction. The problem with that mess though was that man's best efforts couldn't fix it. When Adam and Eve blew it in the garden, mankind was presented with a problem that only God, Himself could bail them out of. Fixing this mess would require a hefty price, but thank God, He stepped up to the plate and did what He had to do to save humanity.

What is so special about mankind, that God would stop at nothing to save him? Scripture says it like this, "What is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that You visit him?" The longer I live the more I believe that this is really less about the man and more about God. What I'm trying to say is that this scenario reveals much more about the heart of God than it does about the value of man. Think about it all for a minute. God does an amazing work in His creation of the universe. He spins the planets into motion and adorns the sky with the sun, moon, and stars. He landscapes our planet with mountains, plains, oceans, and thousands upon thousands of different kinds of plant life. Then, He continues this creative wonder by creating sea life, birds of the air, and every kind of "creeping" thing that calls this planet home. And, to top it all off, He creates us and places us right smack in the middle of all He's created and allows us to be stewards of it all. Then "we," the thankful, and gracious recipients of all His goodness did what could only be expected. We did what amounts to spitting in His face by rejecting Him and aligning ourselves with the enemy of God. Crazy isn't it? Can you see the big mess we caused?

What's even crazier is how God responds to our mess. He cleans it up. Wait a minute, let me paint the complete picture. It's like we're in the middle of the ocean surrounded by flesh eating sharks and God doesn't just simply throw out a life saver. No, instead He throws Himself to the sharks in order to rescue us. Our actions put us under a death sentence, but instead of God simply turning a blind eye, He takes our place and condemns Himself to death in the person of Jesus. What's mind boggling is that after all of that, there are those who still reject this God and all His goodness.

While I have no idea how this oil spill in the Gulf is going to play out and how big of a mess it will ultimately be, I know for certain that regardless of how big it is, it will never compare to the mess we created in that garden so many years ago. And while it is certain, this clean-up will probably cost more than any clean up effort in our history, the price that was paid for our salvation eclipses it by a long shot.

Now, let me see where was I? Oh yeah, all together now..."There's a hair, on the wart, on the frog, on the knot, on the log, in the hole in the bottom of the sea...there's a hole, there's a hole, there's a hole in the bottom of the sea."

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Price Of Freedom

Freedom...What an awesome concept! I'm not sure if we totally understand just how truly great it is. Living in America, we've not known anything but a life of freedom. Because of that, if we aren't careful we'll take for granted this freedom we've been given. We all know that the freedom we have wasn't free, but how often to really ponder the price that was paid for it? When we speak out without fear of being prosecuted for what we say, do we ever think that some fallen soldier secured our right to do so? When we choose to go to Baptist church or a Methodist church or some other kind of church, do we ever stop to think of the men and women whose blood spilled in order for that choice to be our own? When we choose to be a doctor or mechanic or school teacher, do we truly think about those who died in order to create and preserve a place where young and old alike could pursue their dreams of becoming whatever they want to be?

No greater price can one pay than the giving their own life. And throughout the years, countless numbers of men and women have been willing to pay that price in order for freedom to reign in this country. At the same time moms and dads have lost sons and daughters, sons and daughters have lost moms and dads, and all of us have lost some of the greatest heroes this world has ever known. Yet, so often we live our lives enjoying the freedoms they secured without thought of the price they paid.

This weekend we set aside time to remember those heroes. But like so many "holidays" we have become very good at forgetting the whole meaning behind it all. We get with family and friends, crank up the grill, take a week-end get away, or just enjoy the extra day off. Somehow, I'm thinking our fallen heroes would be totally ok with all of that. For somehow it all speaks of the freedom they gave their lives for. That being said, I'm thinking the price they paid is deserving of so much more. It is true that the debt we owe, we could never repay. However, we can honor them all by taking time out to remember them and the sacrifices they made. In addition, we honor them when we choose to fully embrace the freedom they gave their lives to secure for us all.

So, enjoy your weekend. Chow down on that bar-b-que and take time out for family and friends. But, in the middle of it all take time out to remember those men and women whose sacrifice made your weekend possible. And when this weekend is over, determine to live life to its fullest fully embracing your freedom, always remembering that somebody paid a hefty price in order for you to do so.

Friday, May 21, 2010

In Search Of Honor

A few weeks ago we took a trip to Dallas to take my 4-year old son to a place called Medieval Times for his birthday. This is a place where you eat a meal while taking in a reenactment of Medieval knights jousting, sword fighting, and engaging in other knightly events. I have to admit it was a really enjoyable evening. And while it was only men acting out the role, there was this bit of awe in the crowd as these knights entered the arena. Sure, they appeared to handle their swords and lances with great skill, but the awe factor was more than that. I think it was just because they were knights and the fact that they carried themselves with this sense of honor. Again, I know they were just actors, but its really impossible to play the part of a knight without the honor thing.

I mean, honor is at the core of being a knight. It's part of their code of chivalry. Honor, bravery, honesty, etc. It's what defines them. It's what makes a true knight. It's what makes a good knight. It's what sets them apart from all others. Its the balance between handling a sword well, while at the same time taming the inner man with the same manner of excellence.

As I watched these actors play out this role, I couldn't help but think, "where have those men gone?" I began to take a bit of a snapshot in my head at our society today, and I was left with that thought. Where are they? Where are those men of honor? Where are those men who are determined to do what's right because its right? Where are those men who refuse to allow integrity to fly out the window when pressure is applied to their life or when dollar signs get in their eyes?

Ok, I know that there are honorable people out there, but it sure seems like they are few and far between. I was talking politics with someone recently and we mentioned the void of great statesmen today. Think about it, how many "Give me liberty or give me death," or "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" guys do you know? How many Franklins, or Washingtons, or Lincolns are on the scene today? Where are those men whose greatness was determined by the content of their heart and the measure of their character? No, its not a democratic or republican issue, its a national epidemic.

No area of our society has been spared when it comes to this vacuum of honor. Our politicians are simply a mirror image of the spiritual and moral climate of our nation. From Washington to the classroom, to the church doors, to the business world, there's evidence of this decline in honor everywhere you look.

At first glance it can all look a bit hopeless. Yet, I can't help but think that the search for honor will never come up empty if that man I see in the mirror every morning will simply determine to live an honorable life. If he'll simply make the decision to do what's right because its right and let the chips fall wherever they fall. If he'll choose integrity over compromise. If he'll determine to please God at the expense of pleasing men. If he'll take responsibility for his actions even when its the most difficult road to take. If he'll prefer others at the expense of self. Then every morning in that image I see in the mirror, I'll find honor.

No, honor didn't fade out with era of the knights. And, no it didn't end with the Washingtons or Lincolns. And, it'll be here long after the "Greatest Generation" has left, if each and every one of us will determine to take a hard look in the mirror every morning.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Man, Do They Have A Problem

Think for just a minute about somebody who has some major problems. I’m talking about some major character issues and flaws. People with bad tempers, selfish attitudes, rude behavior, dishonest, etc. Pretty simple task isn’t it? The truth is most of us can think of a huge list of people. The trouble is that in the process of making that list, how many of us put ourselves at the top of it? I’m sure there are those who don’t even include themselves anywhere on that list. Lets face it though, we are all messed up. We are all works in progress. We all have much room still left to grow. It’s just so much easier to see the problems in another person’s life. We often do well at fulfilling the roll of judge and jury when it concerns others while overlooking the faults in our own lives.

I was listening to the radio today when they read an email from a lady who encountered an irritated driver who apparently wasn’t happy with the fact that she was traveling slower than he was but was in the fast lane. He reacted in a way that was inappropriate and made it apparent to her that he was quite angry. Her response? She prayed for him. She didn’t retaliate with anger or malice. She just simply prayed for him.

Although, her response to him was a really good one, I couldn’t help but think that she might be missing something. I’m sure the angry driver didn’t take time out to ask himself, “Why am I so upset,” or “What’s the driving force behind me losing my temper?” While he needs to find the answers to that before his road rage injures him or someone else, I also believe the lady could benefit by asking herself a couple questions. Rather than just pray for the man, the lady needs to ask herself, “Why is this man so upset,” and “Is there something I’m doing that is facilitating his behavior?” No, I’m not excusing his temper tantrum, I’m just adding a perspective I think we often don’t want to examine. It’s true that he’s responsible for his behavior, but its also true that she’s responsible for hers. We are really good at judging the actions of others with a magnifying glass while excusing our own.

While this man could probably benefit from some anger management courses, I’m just wondering if its possible for this lady to benefit from a deeper look at the encounter. I’m thinking that had she been driving in the right hand lane, it would probably be a non-issue. A quick glance in the rear-view mirror to see an approaching car should have prompted her to move over if she was in a position to do so. Perhaps, there was traffic in the right lane and that wasn’t possible, but if the lane was clear its just a respectful gesture to give way to faster moving traffic. Again, I’m not saying its her fault that he flew off the handle. I’m just saying perhaps being more aware of those around her and respecting them, could have prevented this event from ever being played out.

I know that there are people with major issues and regardless of what we do, they’ll still leak those internal issues all over the place. All I’m saying is that, I think it’s extremely healthy for us to examine ourselves and why we do what we do and how those actions affect those around us. Personally, I feel as though while I’m driving I have a responsibility to those driving around me. I’m just constantly aware that there are more people on this planet than just me. When I’m sitting at a red light, I feel a responsibility to the people behind me to watch the light and go once it turns green. In the same way when driving on the freeway I try really hard to make sure if there are cars behind me wanting to drive faster that I move over and allow them to pass. That being said, I’m not always paying attention and while I don’t take kindly to the unseemly behavior of some drivers, I have to admit that I may have added to the problem. Again, I’m not saying that others don’t have problems. I’m just saying that I’m in the same boat and that I need to worry about fixing the holes in my boat and stop trying to figure out who has the most water in their boat.

The truth is, so many times we become totally oblivious to those around us. We are focussed on ourselves, our agenda, and our world. Then, when someone around us acts in a way that is selfish and immature, we step back and think, “Man, do they have a major problem or what?” And while praying for them is great, I just think there is a bigger picture here that includes us. Jesus said it something like this; We walk around with this honkin’ big 2×4 sticking out of our eye and all we are focussed on is some tiny little speck in somebody else’s. Ok, so maybe this temper-tantrum throwing, irate, needs to get off the road driver had something more like a railroad tie sticking out of his eye. The point still remains that if we only focus on his flaws and fail to examine ourselves with that same lens, we’ll miss a huge opportunity for growth. I know from experience that self-examination results in growth while judging others produces nothing positive.

Lets determine to put up that lens we examine others with and take out the high powered microscope to examine ourselves with. Then,….oh, wait a second….I’m having a little trouble seeing….I guess I’m gonna have to run….it appears I’ve got something in my eye.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Moms...So often in life, so much of what they do goes unnoticed. As a child, I can't ever remember spending too many brain cells trying to figure out how in the world I always had clean clothes, or how the refrigerator was always full of food. It's crazy, but when I was sick, or sad, or upset, it seemed Mom just always had the answer or knew what to do. I never gave it much thought how inconvenient it might have been to drive me to soccer practice, or baseball practice, or band practice. Looking back it seems that Mom had somehow been supernaturally endowed with gifts of nursing, cooking, teaching, counseling, and multitasking, just to mention a few.

As we walk through our childhood, Moms are so good at doing it all without a lot of fanfare. They just do it. Behind the scenes they work most of the time unnoticed and unappreciated. Cleaning this, cooking that, folding this, driving here, driving there, picking up this, putting away that. And then because we are so grateful we set aside one day every year to say thanks.

I don't know about you, but I'm thinking even if we had a whole year we called "Mother's Year," it would still fall way short of the honor that's due. I mean, I'm glad we do the whole Mother's Day thing but a card, dinner, and some flowers or some other gift pales in comparison to the sacrifices made in our upbringing. I think what I'm saying is, I really don't believe we can ever pay in full the price Moms have paid for us.

That being said, I think honor is a pretty good down payment. Scripture tells us to give honor to whom honor is due. Honor is simply stepping back and recognizing the value in someone and choosing to acknowledge it. It's treating another more highly than oneself. It's recognizing the position one holds and the grace of God that is on them and choosing to respect them accordingly. It has little to do with what someone does, and has everything to do with who someone is.

This Mother's Day, and in the days, months, and years that follow, let's determine to truly honor our Moms. Let's appreciate the sacrifices they've made through the years, but beyond that let's choose to take a step back and recognize the treasure they are. Then, let's make an effort to communicate that in a way that convinces them we see just how precious and valuable they are. That's honor, and it's more valuable than any gift you could ever buy them.

Oh, yeah Happy Mother's Day Mom. Just wanted to let you know that no deed has ever gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Sure, it may have taken 43 years to recognize them, but recognize them I do. But, your value is far beyond all the sacrifices you made for me or any of your children. You're the best and my life is great, largely because of the mother you've been.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Ah, The Smell Of Spring

I was sitting outside yesterday with a cool breeze blowing in my face and enjoying a plethora of spring time smells. I'm not sure exactly what all those smells were but it was an awesome bouquet of fragrances. Not only fragrances, but the colors were incredible as well. On one bush there were white and purple flowers, on another were pink flowers. There were several with different shades of red, some yellow, some orange and all of them surrounded by a sea of green. As I sat there taking it all in, I began to ponder the awesomeness of God.

Think about it for a moment. I'm not a botanist, but I'm thinking there have to be thousands if not millions of different types of plants. Each of them uniquely designed, with colors spanning the entire spectrum and fragrances that are unmatched by anything man can manufacture. I picture at the moment of creation, God's creativity being expressed like that of a master artist. A little blue here, some red here, green over there, yellow, pink, purple, and teal over there. Let this one have a sweet fragrance, and this one gets a warm, soothing fragrance, while this one gets one that'll wake up the nostrils. On and on, His unlimited creativity painted a picture that's so much more than colors on a canvas. A picture that's alive with His nature, His character, and His life. Sure, the Sistine Chapel is a pretty incredible artistic expression, but is there really any comparison? The Mona Lisa versus roses, or azaleas? Let's face it, nothing we can create even comes close.

The truth is one has to really go out on a limb to hold to the belief that this God does not exist. I mean come on, creation testifies of Him. You can see Him in every color and every fragrance. You can see him in everything we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. All of it together, screams "There is a Creator and as awesome a creation is, this Creator is even more so!!!" I challenge you today, walk outside and just take it all in. The fragrances, the colors, the life, all of it. And as you do, pause for a minute and let it all remind you of the awesomeness of the God we serve.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Living Like You're Planning On Not Staying

I love life. Well, most of the time anyway. I mean, sure there are those things I encounter that don't just overwhelm my heart with joy. However, for the most part, I love my life. I love the family I've been given and walking through life with them. I love living in the great state of Texas, in the greatest nation in the world. For a non-morning person, I actually even enjoy getting up in the morning. Yes, I roll out of bed slowly, but I still love waking up to a new day.

I love the fact that I have a roof over my head, a car that starts when I turn on the ignition, and food in my belly. I love having air conditioning, especially with the heat during the hot summers here in Texas. I could go on and on about all the things I'm thankful for and love about my life. Yet, as great as it is, I have to constantly remind myself, its all temporary.

Last week, I performed a funeral for my wife's great aunt who was just months away from her 100th birthday. Just think about this for a minute. During her lifetime the Titanic sunk, the Hindenburg crashed, the Spruce Goose flew, and man broke the sound barrier. She lived through World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and both Persian Gulf Wars. She lived under 18 different Presidents, went through the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, the Golden Age of Radio, and the beginning of the age of television. During her lifetime the Yankees fielded Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Roger Maris, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter, and A-Rod. She saw out-houses give way to indoor plumbing, and phones go from ones with built in generators, to rotary dial, to push button, to Iphones.

Pretty amazing isn't it? Yet, even her nearly 100 years on this planet, was still just a vapor when compared to eternity. I know its hard to fathom 100 years as being a short time, but it truly is. Whether we live to be 70, 80, or 100, the fact remains that when we leave this world behind another one awaits us. One in which clocks and watches don't matter. Its a world that knows no end. Eternity...try wrapping your brain around that concept. Forever and ever and ever and ever. And then forever and ever and ever and ever, again. Is your brain about ready to explode?

It's important to keep that world in mind while we are here. If we don't we are certain to fall in love with this world. We are certain to become attached to the things here in an unhealthy way. We will live our life as if we are planning on staying. Now, I'm not saying its bad to enjoy this life. God created us and put us on this planet and desires for us to enjoy our life here. However, He doesn't want us to become so attached to it as to neglect the world that is to come.

A rich man came to Jesus one day and wanted to take hold of this eternal life, Jesus had talked about. When Jesus told him to sell all he had and give to the poor, we are told the man leaves very sorrowful because he is unwilling to part with his stuff. I think its pretty clear that Jesus is well aware of the fact that this man is in love with the things of this world. He has become attached to it in an unhealthy way. God has no problem with us having stuff, but He does take issue with that stuff capturing our hearts.

Remember, this life here is nothing compared with the life that is to come. It's so important to keep that in perspective. Refuse to allow this world and the stuff in it capture your heart. Keep in mind that this world is temporary and determine to live in such a way that it is apparent you are living like you're planning on not staying?