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6/14/17

It Wasn't Always Like This...

     Recently, I began a teaching series called, MAD MONEY.  It's a look at the insanity that has become the financial status of most Americans. It's little doubt why 95% of Americans say they fight over finances and the #1 cause of divorce in the US is financially related. But... it hasn't always been that way.
     This society on debt-overload has not always been such. In the 1930's and 40's, most people were severely scarred by the Great Depression. As a result, they seldom borrowed and lived well beneath their means. Little, if anything, was wasted. Debt was a totally foreign concept.
     In the 1950's and 60's people began the concept of borrowing for a home. The average mortgage for a home was $13,500. Then came the 1970's and 1980's. If borrowing for a home was a good idea, then how about borrowing for homes, cars and even large items such as appliances. This is when Credit Cards started to be popular and the concept of revolving debt came into practice...basically, the idea of getting people in debt and keeping them in debt. 
     Things can change quickly. In 1929 only 2% of homes had a mortgage. Fast-forward, only 40 years, to 1969 and now, suddenly, only 2% of homes don't have mortgages! That's quite a turnaround... Put another way, it took only 40 years for us to become a Debtor Nation. Not that all debt is bad, but staying in it is. When debt becomes just an expected part of life...all our life...something has gone terribly wrong.

     In their book, The Millionaire Next Door, authors Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko interviewed people from affluent neighborhoods and form middle-class neighborhoods. They findings were pretty astonishing. Much of what they found in the affluent neighborhoods were families with lots of "stuff", but little money. They were highly leveraged in debt, with little cash resources.
     On the other hand, those in middle-class neighborhoods tended to lived beneath their means, drive used cars, live in more modest homes, were wise shoppers (watch for those sales and clearance items), were systematic savers and had much less "stuff". However, they were less leveraged in indebtedness and had more cash reserves. 
     BOTTOM LINE: Many who seemed to live more affluent lifestyles were not necessarily more affluent. They tended to go into more debt to support their lifestyle...a lifestyle they were not necessarily able to afford. In other words, they were PRETENDERS. 
     The reality is, we have become a nation of PRETENDERS. We have adopted a "pretentious" lifestyle that says we have the capacity to afford things that, in reality, we cannot. We have gone from a nation with no debt to a nation that goes into debt for our homes, to a nation that commonly goes into debt for cars, appliances, vacations, home remodels, toys of a grand variety...basically, just about anything. It's just the way we do business. It's just the way we've chosen to live life.

It's the new normal.

     Listen to what God's Word says..."A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life." (Proverbs 13:7 MSG) And again, Solomon writes, "Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than to pretend to be somebody and have no food." (Proverbs 12:9 NIV) Is that a word we desperately need to hear today? I think so. It was written thousands of years ago, but sounds like something that was written for the 21st Century American. Let me take a few liberties with that scripture...Better to be a nobody (if by somebody you mean how many toys we possess and how many people we are trying to impress with what we have) than to pretend to be somebody and have no food (as in no reserves for the future, no plan to take us to 90 years old with an inheritance to leave our children, ruled by trying to keep up with the Jones'...when there's always a new crop of Jones' cropping up after we've finally managed to keep up with the last group). That's a horrible way to live, with no win to be found...ever!
     I know, this is not the popular view...but, it's God's view, so maybe that trumps popular.

A "plain and simple life is a full life". Do you believe that?

Or do you believe the world's theory...He who dies with the most toys wins? I think maybe it should read, He who dies with the most toys probably died much too young due to the stress of paying for all those toys...and now someone else gets to play with them cause you're dead!

     Years ago my wife put a large sign up in our kitchen that just read SIMPLIFY.  Maybe we should locate that sign once again and bring it back, read it daily and heed its message. I think God is on to something. I think a plain and simple life is a full life. Less stress. Less debt. Less payments. More LIFE. Think about it.


5/13/17

WHY...13 Reasons Why?

Unless you've been living under a rock recently, you're probably, at least somewhat, aware of the Netflix series entitled 13 REASONS WHY. It's the story of a teenager who undergoes bullying to extremes and, ultimately, takes her own life. Before she does so, however, she records a series of tapes, each one aimed at a different person, who make up the "13 Reasons Why" she commits suicide.

I believe the producers of this series made it with the hope that it would shed light on the problems faced by today's teenagers and to open up discourse regarding the epidemic of teen suicides that has swept over almost every community in our country.

Much has been written and much has been said about "13 Reasons". Some by the public school systems. Much by psychologists. And much by parents...many of which do so with little idea of what "13 Reasons" is really all about.

Therefore, I decided to "take one for the team" and invest 13 hours of my life in watching every minute of every episode. So, what I write is not written from the point of view of a professional in the Mental Health industry, but from the standpoint of one who has actually watched and knows that of which he speaks, one of a father who has raised four teenagers, one of a grandfather of eight would-be teenagers and one of a former Student Pastor and current Lead Pastor who cares much for his flock ...parents, grandparents and kids.

Having said all that, I'll try to answer some of the questions that are being asked:

Would you allow your teenager to watch "13 REASONS WHY"?
I definitely would not. The reasons that I say this is multifaceted. I believe "13 REASONS fails at a number of places. Here's a list of a few of the failures I see:

*I do believe suicide is sensationalized in this series. The young woman is seen as the victim, which she is, indeed. However, being the victim does now absolve her of any responsibility for any and all of the things that befall her.

*There's really not a moral absolute to be found in this series. Did she do the right thing? Did she do the wrong thing? There's no answer given to that question. You're left to decide on your own. She is definitely cast as the heroine of this series, so that may leave some to infer that her decision to take her life was the correct decision. I would never want my teenager to watch something that leaves suicide in somewhat of a moral morass as to whether it was the right or wrong decision.

*Suicide may be seen by some as the answer to her problems. She is in pain and no one is able or willing to take action to help her pain to cease. Apparently, when death comes the pain stops. But, is the problem solved? No, actually, not only does she not solve her problem, she creates an entirely new set of problems for those that loved her unconditionally and, in the case of her parents, were never made aware of any problem at all in their child's life.

*I'm aware that all of the things that happen to her actually do happen in today's society. However, I believe rarely do ALL these things happen to one person at the same time. Yes, it is possible, but unlikely. One or more of these may, however, have happened to a teenager who might identify with her and with her plight, as well as her solution.

*Hannah is presented purely as the victim in this tragic tale. She is presented as bearing no responsibility for anything that befalls her and is seen as a sympathetic object of abuse, ridicule and betrayal by an entire school. But, that really is not true. Many of the things that happen to Hannah, although horrifying, were precipitated by poor choices on her part and by her failure to allow anyone to help her, even when those who desired to do so were able and prepared to help. Hannah does not speak to an adult until the very end of this story, refuses to allow him to help and never once tells her parents of anything that is transpiring in her life.

*Hannah's recording of the "13 reasons" (or, at least 12 of them) leaves one with the false sense that she has turned those who victimized her into victims themselves. The reality is that those she hoped to victimize were probably victims for about 2 weeks, then moved on with life and never thought of it again. (that's how victimizers tend to roll) What's not emphasized is the fact that those who were totally innocent in this dysfunction are now made to be the unintentional victims for a lifetime. How tragic and backwards is that? The parents who loved her unconditionally will live in grief for the rest of her days. Statistically, they will most likely divorce. She hurt beyond measure those she never intended to hurt.

Is "13 REASONS WHY" a suicide prevention show?
It may have been intended to be so, but if that was the intention, then it fails miserably. Again, Hannah is the beautiful, likable, girl nextdoor, who bad things happen to and HAS to resort to suicide to solve her apparently unsolvable problems. I found nowhere that a moral statement was made. Rather than dealing with the right or wrong of suicide, this show chooses to focus more on who to blame for it happening. The focus is placed more blame for this act than in how it could have been prevented. But, apparently, Hannah shares none of the blame.

If my child asked me to watch it, what should I do?
I would strongly encourage you to watch it with them. Here's why:

1. Your child has access to it and if they want to watch it, they will. Without you. Without a reasonable counterpoint. They will most likely draw their conclusions in a vacuum, or even more likely, from their peers. Not advisable.

2. Because all their friends will have watched it, mostly without parents, and will have formulated poor responses to it. I believe you have to decide here if you want your child's friends to parent them, or if that's a job reserved and better suited for you.

3. Telling them they cannot watch it is no indicator that your child will not. Your child, no matter how compliant, comes equipped with a sin nature. Therefore, you telling them they cannot will only make it more enticing.

4. This is the most important one of all...It's a great teaching tool when placed in the right hands and the right setting. I would encourage you, not only to watch it with them, but to discuss it with them as well. Here are some questions you should ask after each episode:

     *What happened to Hannah that was bad?
     *Why did it happen to Hannah?
     *What could Hannah have done differently that might have kept this from happening?
     *If anything like that ever happened to you, what would you do?

Should I watch it before I let my child watch it?
ABSOLUTELY! There are things that are graphically depicted in this show. You need to know what's coming. Only you can decide what is appropriate for your child to view and when. It will not be comfortable to watch with your child. You are forewarned. Yet, the opportunity for preparing your child for real-life possibilities and knowing steps they can take to either keep this from happening to them or dealing with it in a life-giving way are invaluable.

Bottom Line: I do not believe "13 REASONS WHY" is good,  but I definitely believe it can be used for good. We can say like Joseph from the Old Testament, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good".

4/25/17

PROVING GOD

     This week, we started a brand new series called WHY? at Crosspoint Church. We're taking on some pretty tough stuff, looking to answer questions like, Why should I trust the reliability of the Bible?, Why is the world so messed up if there is a God?, Why the conflict between faith and science?, Why is Jesus the only way?, and, this week, Why should I believe in a God anyway? Good questions. Really good questions. Tough questions.

     Let's look at the last one: Why should I believe in a God? The question there seems to be, How do I prove there's a God to someone who doesn't believe? Well, I think that's part of the question. That's the part that frightens us the most. That's the part that usually shuts our mouths whenever the hard-core "prove-it-to-me" types speak up. Then, we have a tendency to change the subject quickly or go with the old standard, "It's not proper etiquette to discuss religion or politics in public".  Nice out.
     What most of these people are asking is "show me some proof". If we are brave enough to not go with the politically correct bail-out,  what we usually go with is either, "Well, the Bible says" or "Here's something for you to read" or "Here's a great podcast I'd like you to listen to". That sounds good enough on the surface. But, what does the Bible tell us to do? Does it give us instruction on how to bridge the gap with non-believers? As a matter of fact, it does. Check this out...

"… if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it." 1 Peter 3:15 NLT

     What Peter said was not, "When someone asks for hope, give him someone else's reasons for hope". People aren't looking for some canned answers from someone else. They want to know why you believe. Why you have hope. If we can't give reasons we believe, reasons we have faith, then our faith doesn't sound like faith at all. It sounds like a pipe dream. It sounds like we just drank the Kool-Aid.
     What Peter is saying here is that we need to be able to verbalize our intellectual realizations, our emotional experiences, our physical encounters, and finally our spiritual decision to bridge the burden of proof with faith. Not somebody else's experience...ours.
     I’m not telling you to stop inviting your friends to church or sharing great content with them, but never let someone else’s faith replace the hope that God has given you. That’s the best hope you have to share.
     Then, James goes one step further to help us bridge this gap between our faith and their doubt:

"If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom." James 3:13 NLT

     James says the burden of proof is in our actions. Words can share our ideology, but only through humble works can we fully share our theology. John tells us of Jesus that, "the Word became flesh and lived among us". God’s truth became Jesus in our world. But, God’s Word didn’t stop becoming flesh when Jesus ascended, it continues to be claimed as true (or otherwise) through our lives.

Let me restate, we demonstrate God’s Word as truth for humanity and prove God is real by living out what we believe.

     People are not looking for someone else's faith and reasons...they're looking for yours. Can you state them? You're either proving the existence of God or the lack thereof.

     People are looking to you for the reasons to believe. Tell them.


2/3/17

WHO ARE YOU?

OK, so I'm a child of the 70's and 80's. Grew up with the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and the like. (this explains much, right?) Add to that list The Who. I can still hear Roger Daltrey belting out, Who are you...who, who, who who? (CSI fans may just think that was their theme song. Long before the show was....IT WAS!) Actually, it's not only a pretty good song, it's also an amazing and necessary question. Who are you?

This past Sunday, I told my people that I believe one of the greatest challenges that the Church faces today is an IDENTITY CRISIS. We simply don't have a clue who we are. I say that based on many factors, but none more prominent than almost 40 years of simply talking to and counseling Christians. I've talked to thousands of Christians over the years who see themselves as incompetent, incapable of anything significant, as damaged goods, victims of their pasts and unworthy of God's love, acceptance and calling.

Yet, God's Word says exactly the opposite. It says we are loved with an everlasting love that nothing can change. He calls us His child, His masterpiece, His beloved, His Bride. He says we are members of a royal generation, a holy priesthood and that we are a people for God's own possession. How in the world do we reconcile our insecurities with the overwhelming security that God says we possess...permanently? That NOTHING can touch?

As I write these words, I think I want to introduce you to one more song. Yes, it's a song from the past. Most of you have never heard of it or of its author. Let me introduce you to Keith Green and "When I Hear the Praises Start".

My son, my son, why are you striving?
You can't add one thing to what's been done for you.
I did it all while I was dying.
Rest in your faith, my peace will come to you.

My child, my child, why are you weeping?
You will not have to wait forever.
That day and that hour is in my keeping.
The day i'll bring you into Heaven.

My precious Bride, the day is nearing
When I'll take you in my arms and hold you.
I know there are so many things that you've been hearing,
But, you just hold on to what I have told you.

For when I hear the praises start
I want to rain upon you,
Blessings that will fill your heart.
I see no stain upon you,
Because you are my child and you know me, 
To me you're only holy.
Nothing that you've done remains,
Only what you do for Me.

My encouragement: When the enemy begins to lie (you can tell he's lying...his lips are moving), just LET THE PRAISES START!

1/25/17

THE LION AND THE LAMB AND ME...

     Let me just say that I believe that when it comes to worship at church most of us...maybe all of us, consider ourselves song selection aficionados. Seriously, some of us would love the chance to pick out the songs sung. However, most of us would rather just render verdict on those that someone else, not nearly as keenly adept as ourselves, has chosen for us. We're much better commentators and critics than actual pickers. I place myself squarely in that tribe.
     Take last week, for instance. Someone said to me, "Well, we're singing The Lion and the Lamb again. Immediately, I was right there with them. I was thinking, "Are we getting paid every time we sing this song? If so, I want to know where all the money is going." So, on Sunday, when the band cranked up The Lion and the Lamb for what seemed like the 89th time recently, my heart was obviously in the right place. Right.
     Curious thing though... God had spent the last few months talking to me about how the Church was His idea, how it was bought with the blood of Christ, how we desperately needed to ask Him to wrestle our hands off the wheel and allow Him to drive (since apparently the deed is in His name). If we ever relinquished control over to Him it would revolutionize, not only our concept of church, but our practice as well. So, that Sunday morning was different. With bad attitude in tow, it was as though God spoke to me and asked, "Is this a concert for your enjoyment or worship for my pleasure. Have you ever considered the fact that I might like this song, and beyond that, that I might enjoy hearing you sing it to me?" (swallow hard)
     I was exposed for the fraud that I am. Sure, I say it's about Him, but in reality, it's really about me. My heart sank to my knees and I was a mess. All I could utter under my breath was, "I'll sing it to you, Lord. I'll sing it for you, Lord." And as I did, my cold, hard heart became softened and warmed. No one in that place knew why the tears welled up in the corners of my eyes but me. I'd been busted...and I knew it. 
     As my attitude did a quick 180, I saw and heard things I had never even heard or seen before. It was an old song sung, in my estimation, too many times. Yet, suddenly, it was as though I had never seen or heard it before. This song, this simple little song was pregnant with powerful truth. 
     Here's a few quick things got taught me in the next 5 minutes or so:

1.  We're much more comfortable with Jesus being our Lamb than we are with him being our Lion. As our Lamb, he dies for us. He is the perfect sacrifice that takes away our sin and makes us holy and right with God. We love that. But, as our Lion he leads us into battle. It's right there in the song..."He's roaring with power and fighting our battles." We're so much more comfortable with the Lamb that was slain and takes away the sin of the world than we are with the Lion of Judah who says follow me into battle and take on the forces of darkness. Why else would the church be in such miserable shape? We're better at admiring our robes of righteousness than we are putting on the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation and strapping on the sword of the Spirit and heading into battle. I think that's what we hired the pastors for....

2.  The bridge says, "Who can stop the Lord Almighty?" Again and again it resonates. "Who can stop the Lord Almighty?" As I sang that question, God seemed to turn it from a rhetorical one to an actual one. His answer was simple and direct. "You can." What no principalities or powers of darkness has even the least chance of doing, the people of God...His own people...can. Aren't we His body? Aren't we his hands and feet? Aren't we, His Church, the ones...the ONLY ONES...He has poured His power into? Aren't we the Army of the Lord? Aren't we called to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." And, that's on a good day.

3.  We have not been called to worship music or to to worship "worship". We are called to worship God. It seems in the Worship Wars we have lost our way. We're more concerned about the methods of our worship than we are about the recipient of our worship. Hopefully, we are more wrapped up in the satisfaction of the God we adore than we are with the chosen methods of adoration. The WHAT must never take precedence over the WHO. 

     Since I can't seem to shut up lately, let me share one more thing with you. I love to sing. Or maybe I should rephrase that...I loved to sing. Seven months ago, I had surgery on my spinal cord. The incision was made through the front of my neck and, although it fixed and cured my spinal cord, it ruined my voice. They said it would come back, but it never did. The worst part of it all was that I could no longer sing. Oh, I tried, but to little avail. I had a range of about 3 or 4 notes. It broke my heart, but I assumed it was a small price to pay for keeping the use of my arms and legs. It had been seven months, and not only did it not come back, I didn't even see any progress. Until Sunday. As God worked on my heart, apparently, He was working on my vocal cords as well. I didn't even notice until the song was ending. I WAS SINGING! My voice was back. Nothing beautiful mind you, but I was singing and matching every note. Something that I had not even remotely done for the last seven months. Healed heart. Healed voice. Maybe it was just for that song on that day. I guess we'll find out. But, even if it was...I'll take it. 
     Our God is a Lamb. The lamb that was slain for the sins of the world His blood breaks the chains.  Our God is a Lion. The Lion of Judah. He's roaring with power and fighting our battles. Every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb.


9/29/16

How to Give your Marriage a Fighting Chance...

Recently, I ran across some sage advice for making marriage work. Honestly, as I read through this list of 25 Things, I have to admit, I was mostly looking for the ones that were unnecessary and I could cut out. I mean, who can remember 25 Things?

My problem was that I couldn't find anything to cut out. The bottom line is, marriage is complicated. Marriage is hard work. Marriage is totally counterintuitive to any two sinful, selfish, self-centered, self-willed people (That's all of us, by the way...yes, even you. Especially YOU!) From a purely secular, logical standpoint, this just doesn't work on paper. The math is all wrong. All it requires for success is for two selfish people to live selflessly together, putting the other selfish person ahead of ourself in the pecking order. No problem, right? More like no possibility.

But, we fail to add to the equation our God who specializes in making the IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE. Turning the RIDICULOUS into the OBVIOUS. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in His crazy idea of marriage. 

With that in mind, I humbly submit to you this great advice from Dave Willis:

If you’ll apply these 25 principles below to your relationship, it could make a life-changing difference in your marriage!
  1.  Choose to love each other even in those moments when you struggle to like each other. Love is a commitment, not a feeling.
  2.  Always answer the phone when your husband/wife is calling, and when possible, try to keep your phone off when you’re together with your spouse.
  3.  Make time together a priority. Budget for a consistent date night. Time is the “currency of relationships,” so consistently invest time into your marriage.
  4.  Surround yourself with friends who will strengthen your marriage, and remove yourself from people who may tempt you to compromise your character.
  5.  Make laughter the soundtrack of your marriage. Share moments of joy, and even in the hard times, find reasons to laugh.
  6.  In every argument, remember that there won’t be a “winner” and a “loser.” You are partners in everything so you’ll either win together or lose together. Work together to find a solution.
  7.  Remember that a strong marriage rarely has two strong people at the same time. It’s usually a husband and wife taking turns being strong for each other in the moments when the other feels weak. 
  8.  Prioritize what happens in the bedroom. It takes more than sex to build a strong marriage, but it’s nearly impossible to build a strong marriage without it!
  9.  Remember that marriage isn’t 50-50, divorce is 50-50. Marriage has to be 100-100. It’s not splitting everything in half, but both partners giving everything they’ve got!
  10.  Give your best to each other, not your leftovers after you’ve given your best to everyone else.
  11.  Learn from other people, but don’t feel the need to compare your life or your marriage to anyone else’s. God’s plan for your life is masterfully unique!
  12.  Don’t put your marriage on hold while you’re raising your kids or else you’ll end up with an empty nest and an empty marriage.
  13.  Never keep secrets from each other. Secrecy is the enemy of intimacy.
  14.  Never lie to each other. Lies break trust, and trust is the foundation of a strong marriage.
  15.  When you’ve made a mistake, admit it and humbly seek forgiveness. You should be quick to say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” 
  16.  When your husband/wife breaks your trust, give them your forgiveness instantly, which will promote healing and create the opportunity for trust to be rebuilt. You should be quick to say, “I love you. I forgive you. Let’s move forward.”
  17.  Be patient with each other. Your spouse is always more important than your schedule.
  18.  Model the kind of marriage that will make your sons want to grow up to be good husbands and your daughters want to grow up to be good wives.
  19.  Be your spouse’s biggest encourager, not his/her biggest critic. Be the one who wipes away their tears, not the one who causes them.
  20.  Never talk badly about your spouse to other people or vent about them online. Protect your spouse at all times and in all places.
  21.  Always wear your wedding ring. It will remind you that you’re always connected to your spouse and it will remind the rest of the world that you’re off limits!
  22.  Connect into a community of faith. A good church can make a world of difference in your marriage and family.
  23.  Pray together. Every marriage is stronger with God in the middle of it.
  24.  When you have to choose between saying nothing or saying something mean to your spouse, say nothing every time!
  25.  Never consider divorce as an option. Remember that a “perfect marriage” is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other!
25 Things? Seriously? Yes, seriously. Why? Because marriage is serious business. It's not just my serious business. It's serious business to God. Heck, it's God's business for crying out loud.  My relationship with my wife is not just a legal matter. It is so much more. It is a relational matter. It is a key indicator of my emotional health and well-being. It says more about my spiritual health than my church attendance. Next to my relationship with Christ, it says more about who I really am than anything I do in this life and it effects the lives of more people than any of us ever allow ourselves to realize. Why 25 Things? Because this marriage thing is a BIG FREAKIN'DEAL!!!!!

I am fully aware that being married to me is no walk in the park. Fortunately, even when I've not been so great at some of these 25 Things, I've been blessed with a wife that is amazing and has picked up the slack. And, maybe, a few times I've picked up her slack. (I doubt it, but it sounded good.)

I dare you to be a 25 Things Man or a 25 Things Woman. You ask, "Even when my spouse isn't?" Simple answer: "Especially when your spouse isn't!"


8/5/16

POST-OP OBSERVATIONS

The last time I sat down to write was the day before I went in to have spinal cord surgery. I shared my fears, as well as my trust. Well, I'm happy to share with you that my surgery went absolutely as planned. As soon as I started to come out of the sedation, I wiggled my fingers and wiggled my toes and they both wiggled. Then, I did my little "happy dance" (invisible, internal edition) and smiled wryly.  It was a good moment. It was a VERY good moment.

So, what did I learn from this experience. It might not be what you'd expect (it certainly isn't what I expected), but I'm glad you asked.

1.  If God can't slow me down long enough to get my attention, He will lay me down, by any means necessary.
The Bible says that our God is a jealous God. We struggle with understanding exactly what that means. The problem is that we hold jealousy in such a negative light. And, how can you attribute a negative characteristic on to a perfect and holy God? When His Word identifies Him as jealous, I believe it's saying that God wants to be our "one and only". He demands to be our "one true love". He wants to come first. He demands our attention. And, He will have our attention...one way or another.

In other words, we can do this the hard way or we can do this the easy way...but, we're going to do this. He WILL have our attention...undivided.

This is where I fail and fall so stinking many times. I (this is hard to write) fail to see prayer as productive. Don't misunderstand, I believe strongly in prayer. I pray every day. But, my definition of prayer and my definition of productivity rarely intersect.  In my warped little mind, productivity is reserved for something you can describe in terms of "this is the list of things I accomplished  today". Can't write it on the list? Then, you can't call it productive.

Contrary to me, God defines time spent alone with Him, talking to Him, listening to Him, dare I say, hanging out with Him, as one of, it not the most productive thing we will do in our brief stint on this planet.

And He doesn't just want it....He demands it! He WILL HAVE MY ATTENTION. The easy way or the hard way. Too often, I chose the hard way. He has to cut open my neck and play with my spinal cord and lay me on my back to get my attention...so, He does. Oh, that some day I'd pick the easy way. Maybe. Maybe not.

2.  It is not just OK (especially for us guys), it is actually GOOD to say, "I need your help".
I am a hard-headed, testosterone-infused male. Since I was 2 I've been saying, "I can do it". Somehow, my identity as a male of the species is caught up in my personal independence. "I need your help" is a sign of weakness. It is a sign of the loss of masculinity. You can lose your hair and you can lose your good looks, but don't ever ask for help or directions. It's part of the Man Code.

Who wrote the Man Code? I have no idea. Is it actually written? No, it's more of a spoken code. Actually, it's not really even spoken. It's more simply understood. There's no Man Police to take away your Man Card. It's not necessary. When you have to start asking for help, you just kind of know it's over and you give it up without even being asked. Bye. Think I'll bake a quiche now.

What BUNK. "I need your help" is not only what a real man does, its what a real man with a brain does. Its what a real, godly man with a brain does. How did your relationship begin with your God? Remember? Ours all took different routes, but they all actually began EXACTLY THE SAME. We said, "God, I've sinned and I can't un-sin". "I'm broken I I can't fix me". "I'm lost and I can't save myself and I NEED YOU TO SAVE ME". "I need your help". And, funny thing, that's how our relationship with Him has progressed too. "God, I need your help with ________". Just fill in the blank. And He does. And we love Him. And He loves us. And that's how our relationship grows.

And God says, "Tom, I love these people who don't know me. I NEED YOUR HELP". Wow! "People are starving or hurting or whatever...and I need your help". And, we say OK, I'm in. We say that to God! And, God says it to us!! So, why can't we say it to one another? Really good question.

3.  It really is the little foxes that spoil the vineyard. 
If you're not aware, that's a quote from Solomon...the wisest man that ever lived. So, what's he saying? It's not always the hurricanes or the wildfires or the plague of locusts that spoil (destroy, render useless) the vineyard. Sometimes it's the little things we'd never suspect...the things that we pay no attention to that wreak the most havoc in our lives.

I went into surgery scared of losing the use of my limbs. That didn't happen. But, I was really concerned about post-operative pain. None. I was really concerned about sleeping in a neck brace. Borrowed about 8 different recliners. Sleep in a neck brace? Piece of cake. (in my bed)

But, what I wasn't looking out for or prepared for, were the vocal and swallowing problems I incurred. I've been out of my neck brace for over a week now...with no neck pain. But, I just visited the ENT today. Let me tell you, I doubt seriously that many of you give much thought to your ability to swallow food or talk. Neither did I...until it was taken away. I never saw that coming.

And, that's just the way life is. What hits us the hardest are the things we never think about. The things we take for granted. We're blindsided. We're caught off guard. We're unprepared. And, it all goes back to..."I TOOK IT FOR GRANTED". What do you take for granted? When was the last time you told God how much you appreciated and how grateful you were for the ability to swallow? How about the joy of smelling? Or, the unbelievable miracle it is to walk to the kitchen every morning, smell the aroma of the coffee and then taste its deliciousness? Again, fill-in your own blank.  I believe I worry about 5% of my life regarding things that MIGHT happen, 99% of which NEVER happen, while taking for granted the 95% of my life that is a blessing and a gift that could be taken away at any moment. Because you know, it is the little foxes that spoil the vineyard.