A Cool Dad

Yesterday Facebook reminded me of an experience I had four years ago and it was a good reminder for me as a dad. The year was 2012 and I was running the Tucker Creek Walking Trail. And yes, even though it’s called a walking trail I still was bold enough to run on it. That’s just who I am.

Tucker Creek

Tucker Creek Walking Trail

Actually, this walking/running/biking paved trail was right by our house so the 3-mile there and back route was perfect for someone looking to maintain their body shape as I was and I would try to be on it a couple times a week. Since it was the only walking trail of its kind in Conway, Arkansas there were always people riding their bike, walking their dog, taking a family stroll, or if you were the kid that lived across the street from us, wading neck deep in the creek pulling out snakes. He was always bringing snakes of various sizes and colors back to his house, which with my four kids playing outside all of the time, would inevitably be brought over and placed in my yard to slither around in my grass. I’m not a wee little man like Zacchaeus was, but when snakes are involved I do share his passion for climbing trees. I want to be as far from them as possible.

Anyway, as was common when I would run the walking trail, there would be little kids out there riding their bikes with their parents in tow behind them. On this one particular day, a little boy decked out in helmet and elbow pads, comes riding by and since he looked way too young to be out there by himself I looked past him to see where his parent was. And sure enough, his dad was about 20 feet behind him. However, his dad wasn’t running or riding a bike behind him. His dad was riding in a wheelchair.

Since I was familiar with the trail, when I passed them I calculated that this dad had wheeled himself a little over two miles and had another mile to go to get back to where they started. Here he was, confined to a wheelchair, yet out here teaching his son to ride a bike and enjoying something most of us would take for granted…going on a bike ride with one of our kids.

The rest of the run I kept thinking what a cool dad that was. He did not let his disability give him an excuse to not get out there and be actively involved in his son’s life. Even now I find myself coming up reasons to get out of throwing the football with my son or taking a walk or bike ride with one of my girls. “I just need to finish one more thing then I can.” or “I have to get this project done on the house before I can play.” or “I spent all day yesterday doing stuff with you and now I need my own downtime.”

Don’t get me wrong, we have jobs to do, things do actually need to get done around the house, and it is always nice to have some personal downtime, but after being reminded by Facebook of this memory, it brought back two thoughts I want to keep at the forefront of my mind when it comes to engaging with my kids:

I can’t even begin to imagine what that dad would give to be able to run around the backyard playing tackle football with his son. Or to step onto a baseball field and throw pitches from the pitcher’s mound so his son could learn to hit. I take that for granted and go as far as to not want to be inconvenienced by driving five minutes to a nearby football field so my son can kick field goals, which he loves to do.

Second, if he could wheel himself for three miles to go on a bike ride with his son, I have no excuses for not fully getting in the game and engaging with my kids.

What about you. What excuses do you allow to get in the way of spending time with your kids? Are those reasons good enough to supplant taking time to play and invest in your kids?

The father-son and father-daughter relationships are arguably the most important relationships, especially in their foundational years, and I want to encourage you to make time with your kids a priority. The house project can wait 15 or 20 minutes while you throw a ball around for a little bit and the work emails will still be there tomorrow. But the investment you can be making in your child’s life will have a lifelong – and eternal – impact. So get out there and engage! You’ve got this, dads!

Words They Need to Hear

Last week I was in San Diego attending an event and met a man there named Jimmy. His story goes like this:

When his mother became pregnant with him his father tried to cause a miscarriage. He didn’t want another child and Jimmy knew it. As a young boy born in the Bronx and raised in the Lower East Side, Jimmy would wander the streets on his own. It seemed like no one noticed or cared. His parents soon separated and he lived with his father and basically raised himself.

Without proper supervision it wasn’t hard for Jimmy to drop out of school. As he grew older and reckless his father gave him an ultimatum, “Join the Army or you cannot live in my home.” He joined the Army but still felt empty. After he was released in 1982, he got involved using drugs to avoid dealing with his problems and then he began selling them. He married and had three boys, which resulted in increased drug activity to provide financially for his family. Of course he was eventually caught. His prison sentence was 15-30 years under the strict Rockefeller drug laws. He had lost his family and his freedom.

While in prison his sister and brother-in-law became believers. They started going to church and the people in the church began praying for Jimmy.  Jimmy behaved while he was in prison and when the Rockefeller drug laws were slightly modified in early 2005, he sought early release. Influenced by his sister he prayed, “God, if you allow me to leave here, I’ll serve you.” He’s quick to say he didn’t really know what that meant but God answered his prayer and he was released on Monday, May 2, 2005, after serving just 3½ years.

During his stint in prison another life-changing event happened. His dad passed away. He has a tattoo on his arm that says, “In Loving Memory of Jimmy Badilo Jr. RIP”. When I asked him about the tattoo he told me he got it while in prison after hearing the news of his dad’s death. It cost him two packs of cigarettes. He also teared up when he told me that he lives with regret that his dad died only knowing that his son was in prison and how he hurts thinking about how his dad didn’t see the person he has become.

I found it interesting to talk to a grown man, a thick, strong man, who served time in a tough prison, who lived and sold drugs on the streets of New York, a man who knew his dad didn’t want him when he found out his wife was pregnant and who tried to end his life while he was still developing in his mother’s womb; here was a man who still wanted validation from his dad. He wanted – no he needed – to hear the words, “I’m proud of you son. You have become a man. You have done good things with your life.”

I wasn’t sure if Jimmy had ever heard these words before and as I sat at my layover in Phoenix headed back home Thursday afternoon I felt the Holy Spirit ask me to email these words to Jimmy:

I know your dad is proud of who you have become and if he were still on this earth you would hear him say, “I am so proud of you son”, just as your Heavenly Father is saying the same thing about you. You’re a good man and God is going to use you in mighty was, just as He already has in touching the lives of countless individuals. You have impacted people in ways you will not know until you get to Heaven but it will be tens of thousands. Keep up the good work. I’m proud of you too!

Several years back I was talking to a gentleman in his late fifties who had previously been homeless but was now working at a soup kitchen at a church in Little Rock, AR and as we talked he said, “Last year I heard for the first time someone say they were proud of me. Those words had never been spoken to me before but to hear that meant so much.” 

If you have sons, they need to hear often how proud you are of them. They need to know you believe in them, that you believe they have what it takes to be a man, that they are important and you can see specific things in their lives that are unique to them. And when I say “often”, I’m talking about every day. They won’t get tired of hearing it. Look at it this way – would you ever get tired of your boss acknowledging the work you did and how much it helped the company out? If he said something positive to you every single workday, would you grow weary of hearing it and ask him to stop? I know I wouldn’t. And neither will your son grow tired of hearing these words from you.

But wait, there’s more! Not only do your sons need to hear this, but God has allowed your path to cross with the paths of other men who have not heard these words spoken to them. God wants you to be His voice, His hands and feet, to encourage, inspire and speak words of life to others. When the Spirit prompts you, listen and obey with what He wants you to say and to whom He wants you to say it to. You can have a profound impact on someone’s life by saying a few small words they need to hear.

Becoming a good Father

fatherknowsbest

While standing near the top of the extension ladder painting one of the four columns on the front of our house, my 10 year old son reluctantly stood at the bottom and said, “Dad, I need to tell you something but I know you’re going to be mad at me.” He went on to explain how he was trying to get the bicycle pump from a corner in the garage and in the process knocked over a paint can, causing its contents to color the garage floor. Regardless of if you’re on a ladder painting or sitting in a lazy boy watching TV, those are never magical words to hear.

To his credit, he had found a roll of paper towels and cleaned up just about the entire mess before coming to let me know what happened, for which I took the opportunity to heap praise on him for being so responsible. I even told my next door neighbor who happened to be outside what he had done, which made my son’s chest puff up a little bit with pride. It was a good moment to let my son know he was being responsible and tell him that was a sign of him becoming a man. This was probably the only thing I did right…

As I’ve thought more about our interaction, the part that keeps bringing me discomfort is when he said, “I know you’re going to be mad at me.” Ouch. And looking back at my history, he’s right. I’ve not always been patient, understanding, kind or as realistic when it comes to where my expectations are with my kids and the ages they are at.

A song we sang in church Sunday said, “I hear the whispers of [Your] love in the dead of night and You tell me that You’re pleased with me.” I’ve been processing this for the last several days: God is pleased with me. I’ve done plenty to make Him not feel that way, yet He is pleased with me. Which got me thinking, what else does God think of me? In God I am:

Chosen

Protected

Forgiven

Loved

Guided

Provided for

Welcomed

Honored

He’s also patient, kind, understanding and pleased.

Here’s where the punch in the gut occurs. This is how God is to me as a father. Is this how my kids see me as a father?

Am I kind in my actions and words?

Do they feel safe when they talk to me, or better yet, when I talk to them?

Are my actions toward them loving?

When they look into my eyes, do they see someone who is pleased with them?

The answers to those questions need to be ‘yes’ for two reasons: First for the sake of my relationships with each of them and second, their view of God as Father is going to be directly tied to how I treat them as a father. If I get mad and fly off the handle when they spill milk – or a gallon of paint – they’re going to have the same visual in their mind of God lashing out at them when they sin. Which of course is not true and could be a hindrance in their relationship with Him.

I know I have work to do in this area. Thankfully I have four children who give me ample opportunity to practice. Not one of us is perfect but we still need to strive it (Matthew 5:48). The next step for me in my journey is to write these character traits of how God sees me and what He does for me on a piece of paper, stick it by my desk so I see it often and then begin to view and treat my children through the lenses of how God is viewing me. That’s the kind of dad they deserve to have and it’s certainly the kind of dad I want to be. With a little practice, maybe next time my son will just yell from around the corner, “Dad, I spilled paint again.” and he won’t have to worry about my response.

paint

If God is good then you don’t need to be in control

Do you ever get the feeling that God is trying to teach you something? I’m living in that space right now. Over the past three weeks I’ve had a ton of things swirling around me. As someone who likes to plan and have a strategy in place for every scenario possible, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how everything was going to get done, when is the best timing to pull the trigger on some important decisions, how are we going to pay for all that has to happen, etc. Planning is certainly good and a necessary thing, but I’ve realized a lot of mine comes from my desire to be in control. And drilling down even further, that desire to be in control is born out of a fear that if I’m not in control, then who knows what kind of chaos could ensue.

Over the past five days God has been going to work on me in this area. It started Sunday when my pastor closed his sermon with a statement that made my wheels start turning:

“If God is good, then you don’t need to worry about being in control.”

I believe God is good. There are prayers I’ve been praying for many, many years that, in my mind’s eye, appear to continue to go unanswered and at times God feels distant in these areas. But I know He is good. And knowing He is good is the beginning of giving Him control. Which in my case is a lot easier said than done! Thankfully God has been repeating this theme to me these last several days in multiple ways.

On Tuesday He gave me a living example of someone who has gone through more stuff than I can fathom yet he still believes God is good. I met Ranzel on Tuesday morning when he shared with our Bible study group just a small part of his story: In the past year he lost his health, lost his marriage, lost his money, and in September lost his son to suicide. He never went into specifics as to what caused all these things but it felt like I was listening to a modern day Job. At the end he said, “Even after all of this, I still see God as beautiful. His mercy to me through all of this has been that I can still say He is good.”

Ranzel continued, “If God tells me one day to go outside and dig a hole, I’ll go dig a hole. Then if He wants me to fill it back up, I’ll put all the dirt back in. Or if He tells me to plant a tree I’ll do it. And on the next day if He tells me to cut it down, I’ll go cut it down. He may tell me to go clean toilets. If that’s the case, I’ll go clean toilets. I don’t care what He says to do. I trust Him and will do it.”

My trials look different than Ranzel’s and they look different than the trials you are going through. But you and I can get to the place where Ranzel is and be able to say like him, “Even in the midst of all that is swirling around me, God is beautiful and I can give Him total control.” Meeting someone who is living that out was an encouragement to me.

Then yesterday God gave me a story to read and said, “Hey, this is you!” It was from a book about Jesus’ disciples by John MacArthur called, Twelve Ordinary Men. MacArthur is looking at the feeding of the five-thousand in John 6 from the perspective of the disciple Philip. He says:

Philip was apparently the apostolic administrator – the bean counter. It is likely that he was charged with arranging meals and logistics. Jesus was testing Philip and it’s why he turned to him, the classic administrative personality, and asked, “How do you propose to feed all these people?”

Philip already had his calculations prepared: “Philip answered Him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that everyone may have a little.’” (One denarii was the equivalent of one day’s wages for a common laborer. Which meant they weren’t even close to having enough to feed all the folks). He apparently had been thinking through the difficulties of the food supply from the moment he first saw the crowd.

Philip had been there when the Lord created wine from water. He had already seen numerous times when Jesus had healed people. But when he saw that great crowd, he began to feel overwhelmed. And when Jesus tested his faith, he responded with unbelief. ‘It can’t be done’.

Philip knew too much arithmetic to be adventurous. The reality of the raw facts clouded his faith. He was so obsessed with his temporal predicament that he was oblivious to the transcendental possibilities that lay in Jesus’ power. He was so enthralled with common-sense calculations that he didn’t see the opportunity the situation presented. The limitless supernatural power of Christ had completely escaped his thinking.

I felt like I was reading something out of my own life. The thoughts and actions of Philip mirror exactly what I would have done in his situation, and what I have done countless times in my own life. I know too much arithmetic to be adventurous and let go of control!

MacArthur continues: He [Philip] should have said, “Lord, if You want to feed them, feed them. I’m just going to stand back and watch how You do it. I know You can do it, Lord. You made wine at Cana and fed Your children manna in the wilderness. Do it. We will tell everyone to get in line, and You just make the food.”

This was a good word for me! “Ok God, I don’t know how this is all going to shake out but here you go. I’m going to stand back and watch how You do it.” For someone, who like Philip, is ‘obsessed with his temporal predicament’, this lesson of standing back with my hands up is tough but completely necessary.

And finally this morning I was reading a short devotional from John Eldridge talking about prayer that said, “When seeking clarity we will almost always ask for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. Both are needed. Sometimes, wisdom holds the answer. Other times, we need a revelation from God.  However, the key to receiving answers to prayers for guidance is to let go our constant attempt to ‘figure things out’.”

Guilty once again! I regularly ask God for wisdom, and He certainly gives me insights to solve the issues I’m up against, but far too often I ask for wisdom and immediately start thinking how I’m going to solve the problem without ever taking time to be still, to be quiet and to truly listen for His voice to speak into the situation. I ask Him for direction and instantly start mapping out my course. Why? Because I feel like I need to be in control!

No doubt I’m a work in progress and God is gently molding me into who He wants me to be. When Satan attacks and plants thoughts that cause me fear and worry I have to counter them by quoting John 14:1 “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me.” and “God is good. I do not have to be in control.” God offers me an abundant life if I’ll take Him up on it. This lesson He’s teaching me right now is moving me one step closer to experiencing it. He offers it to you too. Begin to loosen your grip, invite Him into it and He will transform you!

Beautiful

Every girl, if she’s two years old or a hundred year’s old, wants to know she is beautiful and worth fighting for. There is a God-given need that has been put deep inside every woman’s heart to know they are loved, cared for and valued. Satan knows this and one of his schemes is to constantly bombard them with messages telling them they don’t quite measure up. It’s in the advertisements on TV and in magazines, it’s comparing themselves to others on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, it’s everywhere.

Over the weekend, while I was getting covered in paint attempting to paint my house, I was listening to a Pandora station and a song I had not heard before came on who’s words spoke to this very thing. They express the raw feelings and longings of every woman – to know they are beautiful and worthy of pursuit. Here are a few lines from the song Beautiful by Bethany Dillion:

Sometimes I wish I was someone other than me

Fighting to make the mirror happy

Trying to find whatever is missing

Won’t you help me back to glory?

.

I want to be beautiful

Make you stand in awe

Look inside my heart

And be amazed

I want to hear you say

Who I am is quite enough

Just want to be worthy of love

And beautiful

.

You make me beautiful

You make me stand in awe

You step inside my heart, and I am amazed

I love to hear you say

Who I am is quite enough

You make me worthy of love

And beautiful.

The last seven lines of the song is where you get to step in! You, yes you! are the person in your wife and daughter’s life that gets to make them feel beautiful, to step inside their heart and fill that longing, to make them feel they are enough and to make them feel they are worthy of love.

And the good news is it isn’t rocket science on how to do this! I certainly have ample room for improvement in this area as I don’t say or do things as often as I should for my wife and two girls, but it truly does not take special training or a post-graduate degree to get this one right. It’s a simple as saying something like:

“You look very nice today.”

“That dress looks great on you.”

“I like what you did with your hair.”

“Your outfit looks really cute.”

If saying something like that out loud to your wife or daughter seems overwhelming, start by getting a pad of sticky notes and a couple times a week leave a note that simply says, note“I love you.” “You are beautiful.” “You are an amazing wife.” “I could not have asked for a better daughter.” etc. Once you get comfortable leaving notes then begin to verbally say it as well. And if you’re good at verbally saying these things, do that but also leave notes behind. Then your wife or daughter can put them in a special place and re-read them whenever they want. Also feel free to pile it on by giving your girls flowers, an occasional gift card to your wife’s favorite coffee shop, an unexpected trip to get ice cream, wine and dine your wife at a restaurant you don’t normally go to, you get the idea. Be creative and sometimes be extravagant!

Satan wants to tear your wife and daughter down and you have the privilege to make them feel special, valued, worthy and beautiful. So take full opportunity of the privilege you have been afforded!

If you’re interested in hearing Bethany Dillion’s song you can listen to it and read (or sing along if you’d like) the words here: Beautiful by Bethany Dillion

The Fisherman

fishing boat

As the story goes, a boat was docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the local fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. “Not very long” answered the fisherman.

But then why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American. The local villager explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?

I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar and sing a few songs. I have a full life.

The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the revenue you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plant and maybe even open your own plant.

You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise.

How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.

Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.

And after that?” replied the fisherman.

Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big you can go public, start selling stocks and make millions!

Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the fisherman.

After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your grandkids, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife, and spend your evenings drinking and playing the guitar with your friends!

I’m liking the question, “And after that?”

netOur lives have gotten out of balance. At the dawn of the introduction of technology there were dreams of a 30 hour work week, or even 20 hour work week, with more time at home with our spouse and kids, more time to relax and enjoy life. But just the opposite has happened. There is no more 9-5 work day. When are you not “at work” when you are tethered to your smartphone? Even on vacation you’ve probably spent an hour or two (each day) answering email. The line between work-home has become blurred. And just so you know, like Paul told Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” If I’m throwing stones I’m throwing them in the air and letting them hit me in the head! I’m guilty of all the above.

The bottom line is it comes down to having balance. Run everything through the “And after that” grid. Sure, you could work an additional 10 hours a week and make more money, “And after that”?

Somewhere along the line we believed the lie that we needed bigger, newer, nicer, more. In our attempt to achieve those things we have lost what’s vastly more important than material things…relationships.

paintingI’m certainly not advocating a lazy work ethic. I’m currently in the process of painting my two-story house. Besides the roof and windows, everything else requires me to slap some paint on it. I love a good project but this one is pushing it a little. If you’ve never painted the exterior of a house, trust me, it’s not the easiest task to undertake. I’m a firm believer in if I have the physical ability and brain power to do something, I’m not going to pay someone to do it for me. But more on that another time.

All that to say, as Ecclesiastes 9:10 tells us, “Whatever your hands find you to do, do it with all your might.” Work hard but have balance. The relationship with your wife, kids, parents, friends, all those far outweigh making a little extra income. This may require you to make some tough financial decisions but nobody looks back at the end of their life and regrets not working more. It’s always “I wish I spent more time with my wife, kids, etc.” As you are faced with opportunities to make a little more money even though it will require longer work days, ask yourself, “And after that?”

Looking for Jesus

Sometimes when I read the Bible I’ll envision myself as the person in the story. This is particularly fun when envisioning myself and my wife while reading Song of Solomon. But for today I wanted to write about something I was reading in John 6 where at the beginning it’s the famous story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a couple of fish and a handful of bread. No doubt that would’ve been interesting to see, but what happens after these verses is what caught my attention.

After the group picnic the story continues that Jesus stayed back to send the crowds home while he sent his disciples in the only boat they had across to Capernaum, which was a decent row of an oar to the other side. So we have Jesus alone with the crowd he just fed, his disciples rowing to the other side and a nasty storm blowing up on them over the water. While they are battling the wind and waves Jesus decides to join them in the boat and walks across the water to get to them. Once he’s in the boat they land on shore.

Verse 22 -24 says, The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

Here’s what stuck out to me. These people valued being near Jesus so much they were willing to do whatever they needed to do to be close to him. They spent the night out in the open where they had dinner the evening before, they were obviously skipping working because they were still on the hillside wanting more of Jesus and not back in their cities where their jobs would have been, and when they couldn’t find him they waited around for some boats and undoubtedly paid a fee to have the boats take them across the 3-4 miles to the other side. Their actions were saying being with Jesus was more important than anything else they could be doing.

As 2016 begins, I want to take some time to ask myself if I’m searching for Jesus like this? Am I making time with Jesus my top priority? Am I willing to give up some things to make sure I’m close to him?

In the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42, Jesus tells Martha at the end, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better.”

Jeremiah 29:13 – You will find me if you seek me wholeheartedly.

He’s there waiting. He’s ready to draw near to you, show you great and unsearchable things and give you fullness of life. What more could there be?!

Make a list of some things that are keeping you from pursuing Jesus like you need to and then write out what you can do to counter them.

There’s an interesting twist to the end of the story I want to point out. Once the crowd gets to the other side where Jesus is they ask him how he got there (a legit question in my opinion), what they must do to do the works of God and then they ask him: “What sign will you give us so we’ll believe in you.” Seriously?  Less than 24 hours ago he fed 5,000 men with two fish and five slices of bread and they want Jesus to give them a sign that he’s from God?

We must be aware that when we search for Jesus like this Satan will be displeased to say the least, and will throw any kind of roadblock in front of us to distract and discourage. One of those could be doubt about our salvation or doubt about who Jesus really is. When these fiery arrows come remember to “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

There are a lot of activities that can keep us from fully going after the One who gives us fullness and abundance in life. Some of these activities are even actually good things we can be doing! But only one thing is necessary (to quote Jesus). As you start this year, may this short statement guide you through 2016:

“Being is more important than doing.”

Gratitude

“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:15-18)

From a comfort and convenience standpoint, we have a lot. And we take a lot for granted. Just to scratch the surface: running water, hot water, lights turn on when you flip a switch, heat in the winter to stay warm, air conditioning to stay cool in the summer, comfortable bed to sleep in, grocery stores with an overabundance of food, couches and chairs to sit on, a table to eat at, people that come every week to take our trash and recycling items away. We have it good.

For me personally, I don’t want to get to a place where I lose sight of how fortunate I am and how many luxuries I have. My wife drives a 10 year old van with 190,000 miles of wear and tear on it and my car was built in 2001. I doubt anyone would, in our society, look at our two cars and say we drive luxury vehicles. But your perspective changes when you look at it through the lens of less than 9% of people in the world own a car. I own 2.

I’m also not too close to gracing the cover of Forbes magazine and nobody is going to mistake me for being rich and famous. Ok, famous maybe but certainly not rich. And chances are you don’t feel like you are particularly wealthy. But did you know the US tops the world in average monthly salary? (It’s $4,537). The country Tajikistan ranked 40th in the world for average monthly salary with an average take home pay of $247 a month. With 196 countries on earth, it means there are 156 countries where the average monthly salary is lower than Tajikistan’s $247 monthly average. Let’s be honest. We live in luxury.

I can easily lose sight of how blessed I am when I look around me and see people who have so much more than me. Instead of being grateful for all I’ve been given it turns to bitterness that I don’t have what my neighbor has. The best way to combat this is to be thankful. I need it for myself and I want to instill this heart of gratitude in my kids.

One of the things I take for granted that I mentioned above is being able to carry my trash to the end of my driveway. On Wednesday mornings someone comes to my house, dumps my trash into a big truck and I never see it again. Pause for just 10 quick seconds and think of what our lives (and yards) would look like if we didn’t have this? When was the last time you gave thanks for someone taking your trash away?

To help myself and my family not be engulfed in consumerism at Christmas we went out and bought a handful of $10 gift cards to In and Out Burger to give to those who have tough jobs (jobs that we probably wouldn’t want to do) but that make our lives more convenient. On Wednesday morning my family and I will be standing at the end of our driveway and when the guys come to dump our trash I’m going to have each of my kids thank them for the work they do and give them a gift card so they can enjoy a meal on us.

With Christmas being just four days way, I wanted to leave you with three simple things you can do on your own and/or with your family since you’ll have so much down time between now and Christmas day. And since I was being sarcastic, you could always wait for that post-Christmas let down to try these things out:

  1. Write down 50 things you have that you probably take for granted (There’s about 10 listed above so feel free to use those)
  2. Be like the one leper who came back and thanked Jesus by going back over your list and thanking God for His provision and blessings that let you to live in a time and place where these things are available and for His provision that allows you to enjoy and take advantage them.
  3. Thank those people who do the jobs that make our lives easier and better. (Postman, person who cleans the bathrooms and Walmart, grocery store worker, Convenient Store clerk…) Thank them with a note, a small gift, a handshake or a simple, heart-felt thank you.

“Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. “Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.” Isaiah 12:4-5

Small Things Matter

tree1 (1024x306)

“What is the Kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches”…“It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Luke 13:18-21)

Sometimes I don’t feel like the small things I do matter much. I’ll think of the slogan, “Go Big or Go Home”, and usually decide since I don’t have the time, energy or resources to “Go Big” I might as well call it a day and head to the house.

A few days ago I was reading in Luke and this verse stood out to me. It reminded me that a simple, small act could be the catalyst to something big. A small seed grows into a large tree. A tiny bit of yeast makes an entire batch of dough rise. The vast majority of things start out very small and over time grow big.

For two years I coached my son’s Upward basketball team, and whereas I do enjoy coaching, these were first and second graders and more than half of them had ADD. At best it was like herding cats and at worst it was like sorting confetti in a wind tunnel.  This was never my attempt at a first step toward a long and prosperous coaching career. The only reason I wanted to get involved was so each boy could hear from an older man that someone believed in him, that he was talented, he was proud of him and he had what it took to become a man.

During the course of the basketball year I wrote each boy a handwritten note and mailed it to them. In it I basically said something specific I noticed about their character, that I believed in them and that I was proud of who they were becoming. I don’t know if a five-sentence note will have a lasting impact on any of those boys but I do know it was something small I could do. I also know each of them will always have something they can look back on and know there was a man who believed in them and was proud of them. And that could be huge, especially for the boys who didn’t have a dad or male role model in their life.

Galatians 6:9 offers us even more encouragement that small things matter – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

If you’re sitting on the sideline waiting to get in the game but don’t feel like you have that much to give, or if you can’t do anything “big” so you don’t want to do anything at all, let these verses be a reminder that even the smallest act done can produce a huge harvest in someone’s life. “A seed planted fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:8)

Going at the Words

Normally when I read a book I’ll highlight the parts that stand out to me and once finished I’ll go back through and type those thoughts into a document. It takes some additional work but then I can go back and re-hit the highlights quickly and easily. I read Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz several years ago and recently went back over my notes from it. Not all of mine and Donald’s theology will match up but he has some good thoughts in his books.

One thing he says in Blue Like Jazz as he talks about exploring and trying to figure out the Bible, “I would lie on my bedroom floor, reading my Bible, going at the words for hours, all of them strong like arms wrapped tightly around my chest.”

What jumped out at me was the part about spending hours reading the Bible. I’ve never spent four or five hours in one single setting just reading the Bible. Here’s someone who is exploring the claims of Christianity and was willing to spend hour after hour reading the Bible and I’m all in with this Christianity thing and on most days I’m doing good to grab 10 – 15 minutes of reading. And honestly some days it’s closer to zero minutes.

God’s Word is rich. It’s nourishment to our souls. It is a cure for worry, fear, doubt, hatred, greed, envy, lust, jealousy, you name it. God’s Word will give you insights to help you solve issue you are dealing with and in those times when God is not revealing an answer or seems to be quiet on what you are coming to Him with, diving into the Bible will give you peace like you’ve never experienced before.

We would all do well to spend hours at a time soaking in God’s Word. I know I would act differently with my wife and kids if I would fill up on Scripture. It benefits you, benefits them and it benefits everyone you come in contact with because “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45).

What if you spent 2 – 3 hours alone doing nothing but reading the Bible? Why not give it a try before 2016 gets here and see what it does for you!