Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And so it ends . . . .

New Year's Eve. A time for reflections about the past year and preparation for the New Year. I may do that in another post in the near future, but the title of this post does not refer to the end of the calendar year.

Today is the last day that my law firm - Ross, Dixon & Bell, LLP - will exist. We will be closed for the holiday and over the weekend and will reopen on Monday morning as Troutman Sanders. We will have new computers, be on a new network, have new signs in the elevator lobbies, and I will have hundreds of new partners. Later in the month we will all move across town into the existing Troutman Sanders office space. While there is a lot to look forward to in this transition, today is a day of reflection. A lot of my colleagues are sending emails to everyone expressing their thoughts, but after a while it becomes hard to say it differently without completely violating the socially acceptable limits on the length of an email. So, I turn here, despite the fact that it is unlikely that any of them will read this.

Ross, Dixon & Masback was formed 25 years ago when a few people left another Washington, DC firm to do something different. I did not join the firm until 1997, after practicing with another firm for over three years. By that time, Skip Masback, one of the founders, had heard his calling and left the practice of law to become a preacher. I have met Skip a few times, but I can't say that I really know him.

I have told the story of my decision to join RDM to a lot of recruits over the years. I had decided to leave my old firm and had a lot of interviews with firms in DC. But, the interview at RDM was different. It wasn't just that the first attorney I met with was wearing jeans, on a Tuesday, allegedly because it "looked like it may rain." It wasn't just that one of the senior partners never took his feet off of his desk and ended the interview after ten minutes saying "I've decided that you should get an offer, so why don't we get you to someone else that may want more time." It wasn't just that when I was introduced to Stu Ross in the hallway, he suddenly ran back into his office to put on his shoes and then came back out and said "I can't really meet someone without my shoes on." It wasn't just that another partner instead of asking me about my legal experience and law school asked me about my worst ever summer job and said he was interested in finding people that "got it." It was everything. It was the way that people interacted. It was the way that people were talking to secretaries and paralegals and the folks in the mail room. It was an overall feeling. I remember telling Tracy after the interview - "I really hope that I get an offer."

It turned out that what I experienced during that interview was real. There have definitely been ups and downs over the past 11+ years, but what made it special was the relationships that we have with one another. In trying to explain the atmosphere, I used to tell new attorneys - "I think it would be safer to walk into Stu's office and tell him off than it would be to raise your voice to or mistreat Shirley Banks [our former housekeeper, who sadly died in 2003]." In the time that I have been here, although we have generally stayed at around 50 attorneys in DC, 25 partners and 70 other attorneys associated with the DC office have come and gone. What is amazing is that most have left on very good terms and I think would say that they are better for the time that they spent at the firm. There were many marriages and births. And, sadly, a few deaths.

This firm, first RDM and now Ross, Dixon & Bell, has supported me through some of my darkest personal times (e.g., our first miscarriage) and through some of my brightest days. It has given me opportunities that I almost certainly never would have experienced anywhere else (e.g., the chance to take three months off in 2007) and supported my involvement in community service and missions work (e.g., the partners largely funding the costs associated with taking a 12 person team to Waveland, Mississippi shortly after Katrina). Though the people here are of many different faiths, I think it is very fair to say that we have attempted to heed the advice found in Galatians 6:2 "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

Ultimately, for better or for worse (you can be the judge of that), I am who I am - both as a lawyer and as a person - in part because of this firm. Other than Tracy, my family, and a few friends growing up and some from college, I haven't been associated with anyone or anything for longer than the almost twelve years that I have been part of this firm.

So, today is sad. But, it is really only the institution that is going away. Most (though to my very deep regret not all) of the people are still going to be together. A special place may be going away, but what really made it special is moving on and there is no reason that we can't do the same thing (on an even larger scale) as part of Troutman Sanders.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Finally, it comes to an end. Life can begin its return to "normal." The non-stop gift receiving extravaganza that my kids have been on since Christmas eve has come to an end. Seriously - five days of being somewhere or with someone that involved the kids receiving gifts. I feel sorry for Tracy who has to deal with the kids today on this first day in so long that will not involve ripping open packages and seeing what gets added to their bounty. I got to escape to the relative sanity of the office, where it will be very quiet this week with so many people out.

I, too, have received a lot of great gifts over the past few days - things that I will enjoy very much. But, in reflecting on this Christmas season, I think that what I will remember (or at least what I hope that I will remember) is the reminder of the love and importance of friends. I am very, very blessed to be able to honestly say that my wife is my best friend in the world - the person that I most want to share everything with. I take that for granted all too often.

Through the tragedy of Jean's murder, I also have had the chance to see and talk to some of my best friends from growing up (elementary, middle and high school). People that I lost touch with for no real reason. People that were very important parts of my life for a long time. What I found most amazing was how easy it was to be with them, how comfortable, how honest to share a loving hug and support one another. Proverbs 17:17 says "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." It was true - that love, that I didn't even know was love at the time, was still there.

I also had sincere, heartfelt expressions of support and love from friends that I have only come to know in the past several years - friends that didn't even know that I knew Jean.

There is another passage from Proverbs that says:

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."

Proverbs 18:24 (NIV). I was reminded of that this Christmas season. Friends are not the same as companions. Friends are not just temporary. Friends aren't just there for the parties and the good times. Friends don't stop being friends just because they don't see or talk to each other for a long time. Friends love at all times and stick closer than a brother. Friends are a gift from God.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What is Christmas All About?

I'm not sure there is any greater moment in a Christmas special than the moment when Charlie Brown asks this question and Linus, drawing on Luke 2:8-14, provides the answer:

Charlie Brown: I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about.

[shouting in desperation]

Charlie Brown: Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.

[moves toward the center of the stage]

Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please.

[a spotlight shines on Linus]

Linus Van Pelt: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

[Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown]

Linus Van Pelt: That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Charles M. Schulz, 1965) (with thanks to IMDb where I found the quotes)

Let every heart prepare Him room

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Luke 2:4-7 (NIV)

Trying to get ready for Christmas, I read these words last week. A lot has been made about the simple, humble beginning of Christ's time here on earth. The fact that the Savior of the World was placed in a manager. Born out back in the barn.

Beyond that image, even the way the whole event is relayed stresses the simplicity. First (at least as far as I can tell), Luke is the only Biblical author who really talks about the birth. Matthew tells us about the angel visiting Joseph, mentions that the child was born and named Jesus, and then picks up with the visit of the magi. Mark skips right to John the Baptist baptizing in the desert region and Jesus being baptized in the Jordan. John basically starts at the same point. I find it fascinating that the details surrounding this world changing event that we celebrate tomorrow are not more widely reported.

Past that, the images that Luke shares are straightforward - "she gave birth to her firstborn, a son." That's it. To the point. No "and so the son of God was brought into this world"; no "and so the salvation of all who believe began"; "no "and thus everything was changed forever."

The simplicity, when viewed in contrast to the hustle and bustle, run from one place to the next, have to bake dozens of cookies, stressful time of year that we have turned it into, really speaks to me.

But, what I have thought about the most since reading those words is the last phrase "because there was no room for them in the inn." Thinking about the opportunity that I have every day (but most particularly tomorrow) to celebrate the coming of Christ, thinking about the opportunities that I have to welcome Him into my heart, and thinking about how many times I essentially say – “sorry, there is no room.” Thinking about how many times I relegate Him to a small corner of my heart, like the barn out back. The story of the birth of Jesus is interesting and powerful when viewed solely as an account of historical events. It is much more sobering and difficult when viewed as an account of current events.

So, as the carol says, “let every heart prepare Him room.” Let’s not push Jesus out back, or into a corner of our hearts. Let’s not tell Him that there is no room in the inn. As we celebrate His birth anew, let’s change that. Make all the room that we can. Open our hearts fully to Him and warmly invite Him in. Today, tomorrow and every day after that.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Personal Comfort

Still trying to process thoughts, feelings, memories, etc. about my friend Jean and her son Jim. Not really knowing what to do, I pulled out my Bible this morning and started reading passages about death and what it means. I know that Jesus' resurrection secured victory over the grave for His followers, but I wanted more.

Two passages in particular spoke to me this morning.

"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. . . . For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

1 Corinthians 15:12-13; 16-22 (NIV)

While I know it is the case, I find the reminder helpful, particularly right now. A belief and a relationship with Christ is eternal. If it were only for this life, it would be an artificial and temporary thing. "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." Instead, though, it is a relationship and a love that lasts beyond death in this life and into eternal life. "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

"Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. . . . Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." 2 Corinthians 5:1; 6-8 (NIV)

Again, no deep analysis, I just draw comfort from these words and the image of our temporary tent here on earth compared to our eternal house with the Lord in heaven. I'm pleased to know that my friend is in that place. While there is still a lot of struggling to be done by a lot of people on earth in coming to grips with this, I am pleased to know that my friend is at home with the Lord.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jean Smith

Jean (then Maloney) and I were great friends in high school. Exchanging notes, talking on the phone for hours, hanging out, stuff like that. Jean got married to another friend, Rick Smith, out of high school and we just kind of lost touch. In fact, I hadn't seen or spoken to Jean in more than 15 years - until last month.

In early November, I received a Facebook friend request from Jean. I couldn't believe it. It came at a great time and really completely made my day to poke around her profile, looking at pictures, reading the things she wrote and just kind of catching up with her life. We exchanged notes and she filled me in on her life, telling me about the four kids that she and Rick had and how great everything was. Although we didn't speak to each other, I felt like Jean was kind of back in my life by seeing her status updates and notes.

This past Friday, at some time between 1 pm, when she was seen at her son's high school,and around 3 pm, when he came home from school, Jean and her oldest son Jim (a sophomore at JMU) were shot and killed in their home in Dale City. The police have not released many details.


Like that.

It is a miracle that I had the opportunity to reconnect even to a limited degree before Jean was taken, but I just can't process this. It doesn't make sense.

In our email exchange in early November, Jean summed up everything by saying to me: "Life is pretty darn sweet, and still spectacularly unpredictable." On her own page she once wrote:

"We all chose the times and the places and people where we think we should be. I hope that I am where I am needed, and that I chose wisely. I will have the opportunity to be remembered for what I have done, instead of what I have failed to do . . . ."

The Wall on Jean's Facebook account is flooded with messages from teens and young adults. I can't bring myself to read their last words to her - they seem too private - but I do notice that most of them call her Mama. From what I can tell, Jean, you chose wisely. It seems clear to me that you were where you were needed and making a difference with the people that needed you. There is never going to be a way to explain why this happened, why you were taken from so many of us, but I am confident that you will, indeed, be remembered for what you have done.

Until we see each other again, my friend, rest well.

For all reading this, please pray for Rick, Sarah, Connor and Liam. They are going to need all the prayers we can send their way.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

It is definitely Christmas time. Christmas songs are playing on the radio and in stores. Roadside tree stands are in full operation. Lights are up on people's houses. Some people have wreaths or reindeer antlers on their car. Yes, it is definitely Christmas time.

The famous carol tells us that it is "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." I think my kids would agree with that as they get ready for the toy pay day. But, for some reason, when I talk to people about how they are doing, it doesn't seem like it is the most wonderful time of the year. Maybe it is just my age and the fact that I am now talking mostly to adults or teens. But it seems like I am hearing more stories of depression, or of missing family, or of conflict, or of just general malaise. I can't tell if these things are actually worse than they are at other times of the year, or if they are heightened because it is Christmas time.

Does the idea that it is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year make us feel worse about not being 100%? Does the pressure to bake cookies, buy gifts, run around visiting people and attending events, etc., leave us more run down and tired and focused on what we have yet to accomplish? Is there so much increased stress associated with familial and societal expectations that we are more short tempered? Do we create a romantic ideal of our lives associated with Christmas that we feel bad about failing to meet?

The truth is, I don't know. Maybe it is all of these, maybe it is none of these. But, for some reason as I talk to people it seems like for a lot of people this is, in fact, not the most wonderful time of the year.

I think we need to make it more simple (and yet infinitely more complex). Christmas, and more generally the advent season, is, to me, a celebration of the miracles of the virgin birth and, more significantly, of God's infinite love as shown by the sending of His son to live on earth in human form for the ultimate purpose of dying for our sins. It is a beginning (note the intentional use of "a" instead of "the").

"But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will never end.'" Luke 1:30-33 (NIV)

I don't think "the most wonderful time of the year" was even meant to apply to what is going on in our everyday lives. I don't think it is supposed to mean that everything is supposed to be perfect. I don't think it is supposed to mean that everyone is supposed to be happy all the time. I don't think it is supposed to mean that we are all supposed to get a long better. I think it is supposed to mean that we are celebrating a most wondrous event. I think it is supposed to be a reminder that this is a time for a beginning. A reminder that because of what is going on in our lives, because of our stresses, our losses, our concerns, our squabbles, our failures, God sent Jesus into our world and into our lives to show us the way, to help us through. In that context it is exactly because alone we can't ever meet the picture perfect ideal that we create for ourselves that it is, in fact, the most wonderful time of the year.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Plan

Sometimes I think that I have it all figured out. Certain things aren't coming together the way I would like. Something else happens unexpectedly. I have questions about a different thing. Then, suddenly it all seems so clear. It 's like playing chess, thinking many moves ahead - knowing that you are going to win in seven moves. The outcome is inevitable. All you have to do is play the moves out.

"Ok God," I say. "I see where this is all going. I'm not sure that I would have done it this way - I really wanted that one thing to happen and I thought it was for your glory - but I understand what is going on. I may have chosen something different, but that doesn't matter. I know what the next steps will be now. I know how this is going to turn out. I understand what is coming and how it is all going to fit together. I'm good - you can focus on someone else now. I'll see you when I get there."

Then, wham! In a few hours, or a day, everything changes. Suddenly the next steps aren't obvious. Things that were off are back on again. The path that I thought I was on suddenly changes. It isn't so clear anymore. I'm back to not knowing what is coming and not understanding how this all fits together.


"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

The plan was mine. Me thinking about how it would come out. Me trying to draw a straight line through a bunch of data points. Me confusing my own view for God's plan. How foolish of me to think that I've got it all under control. It is God who has it all under control. I don't know what the plan is.

Thankfully, though, I do know that the promise that the Lord made to those who were in exile in Babylon applies to me, too. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Or, from The Message, "I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out - plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for." Jeremiah 29:11 (The Message)

Part of the chorus from the song "Here I Am" by Downhere keeps running through my head:

"Somehow my story, is part of Your plan,
Here I am."

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I came to work late today because we had someone coming to the house this morning. Of course, this means the dreaded "window" - as in, "I'll be there sometime between 8 am and 10 am." I understand that traffic can be unpredictable, and that it is nice to give yourself some wiggle room, but how have we gotten to a point where we let people get away with this?? I sure can't get away with telling my clients that I will meet with them at some point during a multi-hour interval. I can't schedule a deposition to start between 9:30 and 11:30. I can't . . . .

Ok, enough venting. You know where this is going. I was ready at 8, because I had to be. Then I started waiting. In fairness, she called around 8:45 to give me an update and she arrived before 10. But still, I was waiting.

How much of our lives do we spend waiting? Waiting for doctors or dentists who are "running a little behind schedule"? Waiting in an airport for a plane? Waiting for a concert or a movie to start? Waiting for a table at a restaurant? Waiting in lines? I could go on and on. My point is more general: We spend a lot of time waiting. It can be very frustrating. Is my time less important than theirs? Can't they hurry up? Why aren't they ready yet? Sometimes it gets so bad that I just can't take waiting any longer and I complain or I get up and leave.

The thing is, I can see God asking all of these same questions. How hard must it be to see people struggling, to see people feeling alone, to want a relationship with people that for some reason just aren't ready. Yet, amazingly, no matter how long we make Him wait, God does not give up on us. He doesn't complain. He never just walks away. And when we do reach out to Him, He never hesitates to make a point, He never asks what took so long, He never reminds us that we made Him wait. Instead, He welcomes us with love and open arms.

That is something beyond eternal patience. I think it is a profound suggestion of how important each of us are to Him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


This is the time of year where there are a lot of things going on and there are a lot of invitations: office parties, open houses, cookie exchanges, dinners, etc. We get some and we extend some, trying to fit in as many as possible.

I'd like to suggest that maybe we should all add a few more to that list:

1) Invite someone to come to your church, your Bible study, your youth group or whatever - then invite them to come back. This and Easter are the two times of year when attendance at church swells with people who do not attend on a regular basis. And, at this time of year, people are more likely to accept your invitation. Even though people may come on their own, being personally invited - and being personally invited to come back - will help them to make a connection. If you are not currently involved, accept an invitation, or find a friend and ask to go along. Make the effort, reach out. I think that if you go to church with someone you know, it is much more likely that you will be comfortable, more open to listening and more likely to want to come back.

2) Invite someone to discuss their faith. I've written here before (October 24) about not arguing with people and trying to force faith. What I am talking about is inviting someone into an open, honest discussion. I believe that we have an obligation to share our faith. As Jesus told the disciples after His Resurrection:

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

The point of the discussion that I am suggesting is not to "change" anyone, but to share with them where you are, how you got there, what it means to you, how it is important in your life, etc. Having that conversation may help someone else, and I think it almost certainly will help you.

3) As we prepare to celebrate the arrival of God into this world through the birth of Christ, take the opportunity to invite Him into your life. Maybe you pray and go to church and do everything else, but haven't really thought about inviting God into your heart and into your soul. Or maybe you've already done that before. That's ok, it is worth doing again. He will not force His way in, He is waiting to be invited: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Revelations 3:20 (NIV)

With everything that goes on, it is easy to caught up, to be too busy. I do it all the time - I get focused on what has to be accomplished, where I have to be, what else needs to be done. I have to make a point of stopping and finding time to talk and share - and listen - to God. I have to write reminders to myself (like this), or I just let it go.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Just a quick post today.

Over the weekend I had a chance to watch a few minutes of the SEC Championship football game between Florida and Alabama. I did not see much of it, but in what I did see, I happened to see a shot of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's face as he stood at the line waiting for the snap of the ball. I could see that there was writing on his eye black (those black stickers that players put below their eyes to help with the sun), so using the DVR I rewound and watched in slow motion until I could make it out.

Perhaps everyone knows who Tim Tebow is and knows his story. Not being a Gator fan, I didn't know much about him. I knew that he won the Heisman trophy a year ago and that he is in the running to win it again this year. I knew that after defeating Alabama on Saturday, he will lead his team in the BCS Championship game against Oklahoma in early 2009. That is pretty much it. After reading the message is his eye black, though, I decided to learn a little bit more.

Tebow was born in the Philippines, where his parents were serving as Christian missionaries. He was home schooled. He has taken time off over the summer to participate in short-term missions and has worked in a number or orphanages. He reportedly always stops to sign autographs if someone wants them.

The message on his eye black is "Phil. 4:13" - "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13 (NIV) By itself this is a great verse and a fantastic statement for an elite college athlete to wear humbly on his face.

When I looked up the passage this weekend, I read more of the surrounding passages and want to share the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV) as motivation for today, tomorrow and every day:

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

While things in our life may go up and down (see, e.g., the stock market, housing values, etc. to name some of the smaller things), harnessing the strength given to us by God can help us through.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I've Got Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy . . . .

We have eaten Thanksgiving dinner at the same restaurant for a number of years now. We usually go around the same time and we see Santa and Mrs. Claus eating Thanksgiving dinner. You have to understand, this isn't a couple dressed up to entertain the people in the restaurant. There are no red suits, no elves helping out, no special table. This is just a lovely couple out to eat Thanksgiving dinner. It just happens that they look exactly like Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The first year we saw them sitting there and we pointed them out to Alex to try to get him to behave. "Alex, you better be good, Santa is sitting right over there." We thought we were brilliant; he would definitely behave. Well, he did. The problem was, at some point he asked if he could go over and talk to them. He was a cute little kid, and shy, so we told him sure. He walked over and after a couple of seconds we interrupted - "Alex, let them eat their dinner." Mrs. Claus immediately turned around and scolded us with something like "Please, don't tell him to stop talking to Santa, he can talk to Santa if he wants to."

We got talking to her on the side and learned that they are year-round Santa and Mrs. Claus. And, they are truly wonderful people. We saw them the next year and were more comfortable having Alex go over and talk to them. Now we just have the kids go right up, get pictures and everything else. Of course, as soon as we do, so does most of the rest of the restaurant. But they are lovely. They tell us each year how much they love it.

Every time I see them, I think about how great it must be to be them. Everywhere they go they instantly make people happy just by being there. It is just impossible to see them and not smile. I used to always say that I want to be that guy (although that is partially just an explanation for the beard and the ever-expanding waist line). I can't imagine anything better than always making people happy.

This year we had to have dinner earlier, so we missed them. It was disappointing. But, the day after Thanksgiving we went and visited a house we had found the year before. Pretty much everywhere there is one house where the owners go crazy with decorations. They put up way more lights than anyone else, they have music playing, things dance or ice skate, you know what I am talking about. Let me tell you though, whatever you are picturing is nothing compared to this. This house has been on national television multiple times. They start putting up decorations in September. There are 47 switches to turn things on. They won a national award a few years ago. It is really just beyond description.

I had a chance to talk with the owner as he watched people stream by. We were talking for a while when he stopped, just looked around and said "This is why I do it." He patted his chest over his heart and finished - "The feeling I get, just watching everyone."

I thought about it. He is really doing the same thing. Everyone that came by, despite having to struggle to find a place to park and turn around on this gravel road, was happy. He was spreading joy.

But actually, what I think Santa, Mrs. Claus and the man with the decorated house are really doing is sharing some of their joy. There are other people like that who you probably know. They are just always filled with joy. You feel it when they walk in the room. So, I have new goal, rather than becoming someone who looks like Santa to make people happy (there goes the excuse for my weight gain), I need to fill myself with that same joy and share it. And I believe that joy can only come from growing closer to Jesus.

"I have told you these things so that you can have the same joy I have and so that your joy will be the fullest possible joy." John 15:11

So, something to work on and a reward for doing so. Not a bad bargain.

"Be joyful always." 1 Thessalonians 5:16 Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


This post is going to be a little different than my usual. But, I've been thinking about it for the last few days and thought I may as well share it. Plus, I thought that maybe writing it out would help me . . . .

Lots of times when I read the Bible I come across things that I do not understand, or can't figure out. Usually these are resolved by looking at the footnotes, introductions, insights or highlights in my Bible (although it is thicker and heavier, that is one of the beauties of a Student Bible). Often I find out that I didn't understand the context, other historical events, references to other passages, etc. When I still can't understand something - or maybe reconcile something is a better way of saying it - I can often find something online that helps me out. But, earlier this week I came across something that I just can't get to compute, and I have been trying to figure it out.

Earlier this week, I randomly opened the Bible and came across Matthew 15:21-28 - The Faith of the Canaanite Woman. The same events are also reported in Mark 7:24-30. In it, Jesus goes to "the region of Tyre and Sidon." A Canaanite woman comes to him and begs Jesus to help her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus ignores her, but she keeps following and asking for help. The disciples get annoyed with all the yelling and ask Jesus to send her away. Jesus then answers saying "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Matthew 5:24 (NIV) The woman runs up, kneels down and again begs for help. Jesus replies "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." Matthew 5:26 (NIV) The woman quickly responds "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Matthew 5:27 (NIV) Jesus then praises the woman's faith, grants her request and her daughter was healed.

Toss the children's bread to their dogs?? Did Jesus really just refer to this woman as a dog? I've tried to research this and read a lot of different explanations. I know the Canaanite's were the bitter enemies of Israel and often led them into idolatry. I've read that Jesus may have just been testing the woman, providing an obstacle for her faith. I've read that Jesus' mission was primarily for Israel, and that this was an example of the beginning of the idea that the Gentiles will no longer be separated from Israel. I've read speculation that Jesus was a racist (ethnicist?) until then and that this encounter changed Him. I've read a lot of discussions of this passage that ignore this issue and focus instead on the strength of the woman's faith, or of her recognition of Jesus as Lord.

Perhaps the explanation that I have come to like best is the idea that Jesus was the promised King of the Jews and that the Kingdom had to be fully offered to them first - that He did not turn to the Gentiles until His own had rejected Him. In that context, you can read the woman's words in response to Jesus as something more along the lines of - I will gladly accept what the others do not want. Maybe this does then begin an extension of the ministry.

I don't know, though, I still struggle with the image of Jesus calling the woman a dog. He who surrounded Himself with tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals, and others suggesting that this woman was not worthy is difficult for me to reconcile.

I know, I know, I should ask my Pastor. Maybe I will. And maybe they will be able to help me to make it make sense. Or maybe this whole thing is just a reflection of my lack of Biblical knowledge - of the need for a stronger foundation to be able to understand what is said. Or an example of the potential for misunderstanding by just reading or quoting random passages. In any event, for now I am just adding it to the very complicated mix of my own mental image of Jesus and still trying to figure out exactly where it fits in - an anomaly, or something to be learned from?

Anyway, I said this would be a different type of post, but it is what has been on my mind . . . . Of course I welcome anyone's thoughts here, by email, or the next time we are together, if you are so inclined.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Guess How Much I Love You

Most people with kids probably recognize the title of this post as the title of a children's book by Sam McBratney. In the book, Little Nutbrown Hare tries to explain to his Dad (Big Nutbrown Hare) how much he loves him. He starts by saying things like - "I love you as high as I can hop." Dad, hopping higher, responds by saying - "I love you as high as I can hop." Little Nutbrown Hare goes farther with something like - "I love you all the way to the big hill." Big Nutbrown Hare responds - "I love you all the way across the big hill and down to the river."

This goes on for some time until, sleepy, Little Nutbrown Hare curls up in bed and goes as far as he knows - "I love you all the way to the moon." Looking at his very sleepy child, Big Nutbrown Hare simply says something along the lines of - "Well, all the way to the moon, that is very far indeed." Then, as Little Nutbrown Hare sleeps, Big Nutbrown Hare whispers in his ear - "I love you all the way to the moon, and back."

My summary has not done the book justice. It is a book that holds a special place in the hearts of a lot of kids and their parents. But, for people that were not familiar with the book, you get the picture. Attempting to express their love for each other the two rabbits come up with the biggest expressions that they can. And they are big. All the way to the moon and back is a long way. When we read this book at home, sometimes we try to go farther - I love you to Pluto and back. I love you to the end of the universe and back. I love you to another universe and back.

For some reason in the strange way that my mind operates, I thought of this book this morning and of God's love for us. While we try to express our love in the biggest terms possible, it always accidentally has some outer limit - a boundary that defines a stopping point (the river, the moon, the edge of the universe, etc.), even if that point is barely something that we can imagine and not something that we intend. It is hard to express a limitless love.

God, though, found a way to express a love without limits. He says - I love you to the cross, and back. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16 (NIV) "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him." 1 John 4:9 (NIV) That limitless love - love beyond life, love beyond death, eternal love - is given to all of us.

Thinking about it and praying about it, I want to hold on to that thought. And it works for all of us. Think about it, read it slowly and let it sit with you - God loves me to the cross, and back. Read it again, even more slowly, and let it apply to you - God loves me to the cross, and back.
It is a very simple message, but profound in its power. Recognizing it, accepting it and letting it live in our lives can comfort us, guide us, pick us up, remind us that we are never alone, give us strength and courage, protect us and help us.

God loves me (and you) to the cross, and back.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Today is Thanksgiving. A day for turkey, stuffing, cranberries, oyster stew, pumpkin pie, and generally just eating to excess. It is also the day that kicks off the Holiday season. Christmas trees and lights go up. Christmas music will be on the radio and in all the stores. Santa arrives at the malls and in the parades. Tomorrow is Black Friday - one of the biggest shopping days of the year with stores opening at midnight and big sales.

But what is this holiday all about? We are reminded of pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, and sharing a feast with neighbors. The pilgrims, of course, came to North America for one primary reason - religious freedom; so they could worship God in accordance with their beliefs. Contrary to popular teachings, the information that I have been able to find makes clear that Thanksgiving was not celebrated to thank the Indians for their help. Rather, it was exactly what it sounds like. It was a feast to give thanks to God for His blessings and His grace.

Over the last couple of days, I have driven by a Baptist Church with a sign out front that says "Thanksgiving is not a day, it is a way of life." What a message! While it is great that we may pause today to give thanks for the blessings that have been poured out upon us, why should it only be today? Shouldn't we give those same thanks each and every day?

The fact that it is Thanksgiving motivated me to read several Biblical passages related to thanks. While there are many, the one that really stood out to me this morning was Psalm 30. It is a great read and I highly recommend it. For these purposes, though, I will only quote the closing passages:

"You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever." Psalm 30:11-12 (NIV)

Wherever you may be today and whatever you may be doing, I wish you peace and a happy Thanksgiving. Take the time to thank the Lord. Then develop it into a way of life. For me, I say "O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Ocean

Early yesterday morning I went for a walk with my sister-in-law. When we started it was dark and cold; there was frost on all of the cars. As we walked, we could see our breath. Over the course of the walk, the sky started to get brighter as the sun made its way towards the horizon. After a little over five miles, I took a break and walked over to the beach while Tina pressed on for another half mile.

I arrived at the top of the dune to my own world. It was a beautiful clear morning. The sun was just inching over the expansive horizon. I watched dolphin swimming, pelicans flying in a line low over the water looking for food, and flotsam and jetsam bobbing on the water. The surf was very light, but I still couldn't hear anything other than the gently crashing waves. It was truly awesome. Sitting there looking into that endless horizon and growing nearly blind from watching the sun rise in the sky, I couldn't help but feel the majesty of creation. It was a wonderful opportunity to take a moment to worship.

It also inspired me to take a few minutes to re-read the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. Prepare yourself and then take the few minutes that it will take you to read Genesis 1. I promise that you will be glad that you did. Excerpts don't really do it justice. But trying to capture at least a little bit of what I experienced and thought about yesterday morning sitting in the cold, looking past the fog of my breath at the incredible view:

And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:9-10 (NIV) [part of the third day]

And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:20-21 (NIV) [the fifth day]

I agree - "it was good." And, it still is good. I was hit over the head with it by the place where I was and the opportunity that I had, but I encourage everyone to find a chance to experience the miracle of the world around us. Sometimes we get caught up in the forest and don't notice the loving expression of our creator in the beauty of a single tree.

Friday, November 14, 2008


When I drive I usually listen to satellite radio. I love the variety, the lack of commercials and the ability to pick the specific type of music that I want to hear. I also love that it is crystal clear and you can usually keep the same station wherever you go. Recently, though, I have started to notice that I am getting some interference from time to time. I haven't been able to really figure out what is causing it and it isn't necessarily at the same point in my drive every day.

My prayer life can be the same way. Most of the time I feel like I have a crystal clear connection and I can talk to God about whatever I want, whenever I want and wherever I want. Sometimes, though, I feel like there is some interference - something getting in the way. Hurt. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Guilt. Lots of things. I just let them get in the way - like a fight over something petty can get in the way of your relationship with your best friend and leave you not talking for a while.

I'm trying to learn, though, that the cause of the interference is one-sided. It's all on my side. It's like a "secret fight" with a friend where they don't even know about it. Except - not talking to God doesn't hide it from Him. He knows and He wants to share in it, He is just waiting for me to ask. I'm also starting to recognize that the interference only gets louder the longer I let it build. The longer I go without sharing it, without talking to God about whatever it is, the bigger of an issue it becomes.

While I know that I am a long way from achieving the goal, I long for the ability to eliminate that interference. Of course I would love to eliminate the causes, but I know that I can't do that. What I can do is keep on working on not letting those things somehow get in the way of my relationship with Christ.

This morning I was reading from the book of Hebrews and this really jumped out at me: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8 (NIV) Regardless of changes in my circumstances, changes in my attitude, or changes in anything else, Jesus Christ is the same. He can hear me clearly, the interference is only on my end - only something that I sometimes let get in the way.

I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend. I'm traveling a bunch over the next few weeks, so I am not sure how frequently I will be posting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cleaning Up

A few weeks ago, I went camping with the cub scouts at Fort Washington. We got there in the late afternoon on Saturday and missed the daytime scouting activities (we did make the campfire ceremonies and skits). Since we had missed most everything, we decided that we would stay on Sunday morning and help with a service project.

After a cold night, we got up on Sunday and went to closing ceremonies to find out what we could do. We were directed down to the bank of the Potomac to walk along the "beach" and pick up trash. The spot where we were sent is kind of a bend in the river, and a lot of debris piles up on the shore. It was windy and hard to even hold the trash bags open. The amount of trash was overwhelming.

At first it was almost paralyzing. This was beyond hope. There was so much trash piled up along the shore that there was no way that our group of three adults and four boys could even begin to make a dent. Why even start? We could work here forever and probably never be done. But, we did start. We did the only thing that we could - we started picking up one piece of trash at a time. A bottle. A can. A shoe. A tennis ball. Fishing line. Plastic bags. Diapers. Styrofoam. More bottles and shoes and tennis balls. Paper. Metal. Glass.

Before we knew it we had six or seven overflowing trash bags that were heavy to carry back. Did we get it all - sadly, no. But, we did make a difference in that relatively short time. We made a dent, we made some progress. I think it is fair to say that we all felt pretty good about what we accomplished.

For some reason, I though about this again recently in connection with approaching overwhelming projects. Think of how God must feel looking at all of us that stray so far. How tempting it must be to say "Too much! Too many! Too big of a problem!" How easy it would be for God to either throw up His hands entirely or to prioritize and spend time with the ones that are closest - or the problems that are most easily addressed. But, He doesn't. Amazingly enough, He is there for each of us, individually and collectively.

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV)

To God, each of us is precious. He treats each of us as though we are the only one. There is nobody more important. There is no problem bigger than our problem. Our prayers don't get put to the bottom of the pile when someone else's come in. If we let Him, He has the power and the love to address everything and everyone, not to just make a dent.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Prodigal Son

Last night, Alex and I attended the youth service at our church. The service is directed towards junior and senior high school students, so it is pretty much right at my level. In addition to just wanting to go to the service, we went because it was a chance to see one of my friends that is in his first year of college and was home for the weekend.

The service addressed a number of topics, but mostly provided a recap of what the senior high students studied on their retreat last weekend. One of the things that they discussed was the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Most people are familiar with the story, found at Luke 15:11-31. Very briefly summarizing, Jesus shared the story of a man with two sons. The younger of the two requests all of his inheritance, moves away and blows it all. He hits rock bottom, he becomes so hungry that he longs to eat the feed being given to pigs. He decides to return home to tell his father that he no longer deserves to be called his son, but he wants to be one of his hired men. Seeing him returning, the father runs to him with compassion; has his men bring the best robe, a ring for his hand and sandals for his feet; he slaughters the fattened calf and celebrates. The older brother hears all of this and refuses to attend the party, complaining that he has been good and loyal for all these years and he has never even been given a young goat for a feast with his friends. The father tells him "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." Luke 15:31-32 (NIV).

I've heard and read this multiple times. I've had it explained, and "understood," that the message is the same as that of the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. Still, though, I have to admit that I have never really gotten it. I've always identified with the older son. The son that doesn't understand why, when he has been good his whole life, there is a celebration for the one who "squandered [his father's] property with prostitutes."

Last night as soon as the discussion started, it finally made sense to me. I'm sure it has made sense for a very long time to most anyone reading this. I think I was better prepared last night because the reading this week for my small group has centered on the topic of grace. It has been largely built around Ephesians 2:8-9 ("For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."). I wrote about the topic of grace and, specifically, Ephesians 2:8-9 in one of my earliest posts. It is the single thing in my faith that I have the hardest time understanding. In comparison, the Resurrection is easy. I don't want to repeat that post, but it is important background to share that I had been spending time reading and thinking and praying about grace.

I now see the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the light of grace. I see, much more clearly, that I am the younger son - not the older son. I am the one that takes the abundant gifts of God and squanders them; who takes everything that He gives me and walks away from Him and into sin. Yet - when, after deserting Him, I realize the need for His help; when I am unworthy of still being called his son; when I come back deserving nothing - through the gift of grace He is there to greet me with compassion, with His arms open wide and He celebrates.

Like I said, I suspect that everyone else got this a long time ago. But, somehow I've missed it until now. Perhaps it is because I would prefer to see myself as the older son, it is easier to think of myself as "the good one." But, it is false, of course I fail. And, even in those times that I am closer to God, when I feel strongest in my faith, the message of the Parable of the Prodigal Son is unabashedly good news - the Father tells the son "you are always with me, and everything that I have is yours."

Thursday, November 6, 2008


When I travel, I am one of these people that will do just about anything to avoid checking a bag. It's not that I have the largest carry-on in the world, it is smaller than most. In fact, it is usually my work stuff that causes the problems - my computer and all the paper that I end up carrying with me (have to try to work on the plane). Since you can't have three bags, lots of times my computer gets shoved into my suitcase or my briefcase. I hit the security screening station and I start unpacking. After re-packing on the other side, I grab all my stuff and run to the gate (I'm usually cutting it close, or trying to make an earlier flight than the one I am scheduled for).

If I do have time to wait and want to try to get a cup of coffee or a snack, I end up trying to figure out how to juggle everything (I once saw a security office beginning to prod my "unattended baggage" and he was not amused when I ran over to claim it, so I now never walk away from my bags (well, not for more than a few seconds . . .)). Then you try to get all this stuff down the increasingly narrow aisle on the plane, into the overhead and under the seat, back off of the plane, out to the cab, out of the cab and into the hotel, up to the room, over to the meeting/deposition/court/whatever . . . you get the picture.

Of course, along the way there are all sorts of opportunities to let someone take care of your bags. You can check your bag at the airport (curbside, even). The cab driver almost always gets out and is there to put your bags in the trunk. Someone at the hotel offers to carry your bags to the front desk or your room. They will hold your bags at the hotel the next day. But I almost never choose any of them. Oh no, not me. I'm fine. I can carry these and get them where I need them. I've got it all under control.

I find that I have these same tendencies with other baggage. I have a hard time letting it go and just keep carrying it around with me. Jesus is right there, telling me to let go, offering to carry my burdens. "Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." Matthew 11:30 (The Message) But, even though I work at it, it can be very hard to do. I know that He is there, but why should he have to carry my burden? I think the answer is agonizingly simple - He shouldn't. Jesus didn't carry all our sins to the cross because He should have; He did it so that we don't have to.

Not too long ago I was on a trip where it just wasn't going to work; I had to check a bag. What a pleasure walking through the airport. Not worrying about it, dragging it around, fighting with it in the airplane. In a way, I felt a little bit freed. It was liberating. Everything was so much easier.

Of course the analogy is pretty obvious, the same feelings come when I am successful in giving that other baggage to God - I can live "freely and lightly."

I still rarely check a bag, despite knowing how much better things can be when I do. But I do think that I am getting at least a little bit better at giving things to God. I understand that He is there and that He wants to carry those burdens.

"Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." Psalm 68:19 (NIV)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Accident

Last night as I was driving home from work on 395, there was an accident a few cars in front of me. An SUV came to a sudden stop and the four door sedan following did not see it at all. The sedan slammed into the back of the SUV and crumpled. Amazingly, the third car back stopped in time and it ended up only being a two car accident. I worked my way by, pulled to the shoulder and called 911. I reported the accident and said that I did not know if anyone was injured because I was still in my own car.

After getting off of the phone, I got out and worked my way back to the accident. In addition to me, the person in the third car stopped and she was just getting out of her car. I did not see anyone getting out of either the SUV or the sedan. The road was littered with pieces of plastic and glass, fluids were spilling everywhere, the horn was continuously blaring on the car and I could see that the airbags had deployed.

Thankfully, when I got to the car, the person driving was both conscious and seemed generally ok. She stayed in her car, but put the window down and was talking. The person driving the SUV got out and I could see that he was generally ok, as well. So, we just began the wait for the emergency equipment to arrive.

After it did, and after talking with the appropriate people, one of the firemen helped me cross back across the lanes of traffic and get back to my car. I was amazed that when we stepped out from behind an ambulance, a car was approaching at about 30 miles per hour - passing two fire trucks, a police car, an ambulance, a fire chief's truck and lots of working emergency personnel. The fireman shook his head and yelled for the driver to slow down. When I made it back to my car, I had a hard time merging back into traffic because nobody would let me out!

Thinking back on the whole situation, I am amazed by the lack of concern, or care, or involvement, shown by most everyone. I was surprised that nobody else stopped, or even yelled out their window to see if anybody needed help. There was a fair amount of time (probably 10 minutes) before the emergency equipment arrived. What I saw was people that ran as close to us as possible before changing lanes, people who slowed as little as possible (despite the fact that they were driving over broken pieces of the car), people who clearly wanted to look, but didn't want to see.

My question is why? I've read the old psychological studies about how few people respond to calls for help. I've seen the Dateline specials along the same line. I also understand that at some point you see that enough people have stopped and that the best thing you can do is get out of the way. And, of course, I completely understand why you wouldn't stop once emergency personnel arrive. What I don't get is those people in the first few seconds, or even the first few minutes.

What I don't get is why I had the same thoughts. See, though I didn't mention it above, after getting off of the phone with 911, I spent a second or two in my car thinking about just driving off instead of immediately getting out to see if I could help. What was the hesitation? Why?

Do we really try that hard to avoid getting involved when we see strangers in need? Are we thinking about what getting involved will mean to us (getting home later, potentially being in an uncomfortable situation, having to deal with the emergency personnel)? I know I have addressed this topic before in one of my earliest posts, and I do not want to repeat all of that. But the thought kept going through my head - Are we as a group becoming the priest and the Levite who ignored the man who was robbed and beaten on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho? Luke 10:25-37

There are many pitfalls in our way in this world. Let's try to help each other out. Even if it isn't a God thing for you (I hope it is, or that it can become one), think of it like those commercials where seeing someone doing something good inspires someone else to do something good, and so on, and so on, and so on. And, on a personal level, I am hopeful that if I can be better about this, that hesitation will go away. That with time, I will not even have to pause over the question of whether to do the right thing or the easy thing.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Day

In case you have been living under a rock and do not know, tomorrow is Election Day. We get to head to the polls (unless you voted early or absentee) and vote for the candidates of our choice. In most places, there are probably several choices to be made and perhaps questions to answer. But most of the attention has been on the race for the White House. This is our opportunity to participate in the process of deciding who will serve as our President and lead our country for the next four years.

Maybe I am just paying more attention, but it seems that emotions are higher than usual. You see Democrats saying nasty things about Republicans, and Republicans saying nasty things about Democrats. I've received emails from Obama supporters telling me I'd be crazy to vote for McCain. I've received emails from McCain supporters telling me I'd be crazy to vote for Obama. I've heard people on both sides suggesting that they are going to have to leave the country if the other candidate wins; predicting gloom and doom.

I have no interest in engaging in political debate here. I do hope, however, that everyone votes regardless of the candidate that they support. As I said above, it is an opportunity to participate in making a potentially significant decision. But, I digress.

It used to be said that you should avoid discussion of religion or politics in polite company. Yet, after spending multiple days with clients and potential clients last week, I can tell you that very few people were avoiding politics. People talked about it all the time. It is clearly no longer taboo. There are multiple cable channels and radio shows devoted to nothing else. It is everywhere in the main stream media.

But, for the most part, the taboo around discussing religion still exists. Why? Why don't we talk about religion; about our beliefs? Isn't that a little bit more important than politics? Instead of who will be President, who will provide for and care for our eternal soul? I'm no better about this than anyone else. Sure, there are some people that I talk to regularly about the importance of my faith and my attempts to live a life guided by that faith. But mostly I write here, in a pseudo-anonymous forum, where I don't even really know who is reading. If you are trying to figure it all out, like I am, I strongly encourage you to find opportunities to discuss your beliefs. Surround yourself with people that help you to grow; with people that will not hesitate to call you out - in a supportive way - when you wander; with others that will participate in the exploration with you. Literally from Genesis on, the Bible speaks of community and fellowship. There are two particular encouragements on this topic that spoke to me today:

"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 15:5-6 (NIV)

"Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor." James 3:17 (The Message)

Remember, tomorrow is Election Day. We elect our next President. The person that will govern our county for the next four years. But in a much larger sense, every day is Election Day. Each day, each of us are given the opportunity to make our choice about who will rule our lives forever.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I was traveling today and that gave me a few experiences to write about here. But, tonight I want to start with the over-arching theme. I apologize in advance for the quality of this writing. I am sitting in a hotel without my usual resources - all I have is the Internet and the King James version of the Bible from The Gideons . . . .

In any event, over the course of my travels today, I found myself getting pretty frustrated. I was early to the airport, but just missed the earlier flight, so I had to wait for an hour. Then I was pretty much one of the last people to board, so my carry-on bag had to be checked. When we landed the gate was occupied by a plane having mechanical problems so we had to sit on the runway for twenty minutes. It felt like one of the wheels was going to fall off of the cab so we stopped on the side of the highway to see if there was a flat (there wasn't, must be something else wrong). I was not particularly happy when I got the hotel, and I still had to have dinner with a bunch of clients tonight, so I knew I had to find a way to get it back together.

When I opened the door to my room, I was amazed. It is one of the upper-end hotel chains, so I expected nice, but I have a pretty large suite. Things in the room seem very calm and relaxing. My mood started to change.

I was reflecting on this and made the obvious Biblical analogy. Sometimes we focus too much on the annoyances (me perhaps more than most) and not enough on the destination. I lose track of the fact that the life as I know it right now is temporary and is just a second compared to the eternity that I look forward to in Heaven.

"At the end of the seven years, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked to heaven. I was given my mind back and I blessed the High God, thanking and glorifying God, who lives forever: His sovereign rule lasts and lasts, his kingdom never declines and falls. Life on this earth doesn't add up to much, but God's heavenly army keeps everything going. No one can interrupt his work, no one can call his rule into question." Daniel 4:34-35 (The Message)

I like this version because it reminds me that "Life on this earth doesn't add up to much." Regardless of what is happening here, "his kingdom never declines and falls." Sometimes I just need a reminder to keep my focus in the right place.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Discharge All The Duties of Your Ministry

For some reason this morning, rather than doing my usual devotional (either The Upper Room online or Experiencing the Heart of Jesus, which we are using for our small group), when I opened my Bible it fell to 2 Timothy and I decided to read that instead. I've said before that I am not a Biblical scholar, and it is probably obvious to anyone that has been reading these posts. So, at the risk of being completely wrong, it is my understanding that 2 Timothy is Paul, from prison and as he neared death, writing to Timothy to encourage and instruct him in his ministry. Kind of a "passing the torch" letter.

In any event, I don't recall having read this book before. There was a lot that I was really drawn to, and will probably call upon at other times. But, what I want to write about today is the teachings on how to go about spreading the word of God. How to interact with people. When to press and when to back off.

Sometimes I see people that are so aggressive in their faith. It seems like they are looking for a fight, for the chance to tell you that you and your beliefs are wrong. Their approach is judgmental and divisive. You get the sense that they don't care about you, they just want to change your behavior or put a notch in their belt. When I interact with those people, they don't turn me on to God, they turn me off. Perhaps understanding this, Paul, who suffered for his faith more than any of us could ever even begin to imagine, suggested that Timothy take a less aggressive approach.

"And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth . . . ." 2 Timothy 2:24-25

You don't lead someone to a relationship with Christ by arguing with them about it, or threatening them, or condemning their behavior. That is the whole point. It is what I wrote about yesterday and what I have written about other times. You may be able to force someone to do certain things, or say certain things, but you can't force a relationship with Christ. As Paul suggests, you teach, you show, you instruct, you lead, you help, you demonstrate, you live, you love, you support, you encourage, you pray.

But, equally important, you don't ignore. You don't turn a blind eye.

"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." 2 Timothy 4:2-5

We are called to be active. To share and teach what we know is the truth, not just what someone wants to hear. And, when we know someone is seeking that type of "counsel," we must correct and rebuke. It isn't easy. I know that often, in the spur of the moment, I ignore. Or I avoid the hard issues and go with the easy answer. It is funny, I would never consider that approach in my job. I often have to advise clients to do something other than what they want to do, or I have to lead them down a difficult road. But when it comes to discussing life issues with friends or colleagues, sometimes (not always) I just punt.

It may just be a definitional issue (and I may write about it another day), but I think all of us are called to be in ministry - each in the way God has chosen for us. Paul's words are not just to Timothy, they are to all of us - "keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." Hopefully, we can all do that while keeping in mind Paul's advice about how to do it.

God Bless You and have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The "Right" Way To Worship

As a general matter, I have a hard time with rules - I just don't like being told what to do or what to think or how to feel. I feel even more strongly about that when it comes to religion. Sometimes it seems like there are a lot of rules in religion, written or unwritten, about how to worship. Bow your head. Stand up. Genuflect. Be quiet. Say certain words. There also are a lot of rules about when and where to worship. Sunday morning. Saturday night. In a church. Facing towards Mecca.

I mean no offense if any of these are important to you and to your worship. But, they just aren't that important to me. I feel strongly that the Lord is not particularly concerned with the details of how, when or where I worship. If these traditions or rituals help you to worship, or remind you to worship, or provide a time and place for you to worship, that is great. But they are not, in and of themselves, worship. The prophet Isaiah wrote:

The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men." Isaiah 29:13 (NIV)

Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus repeating these words to the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law. Matthew 15:7-9; Mark 7:6-7. He called them hypocrites for exalting the rules above the worship. As Jesus explained "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." Mark 7:8 (NIV)

One of the definitions of worship offered by Merriam-Webster is an act of expressing reverence to a divine being. Worship is about giving thanks to God. There are countless ways to worship - traditional and not so traditional. I worship in many different ways and places. Devotional time. Quiet prayer. Staring at the ocean. In mission. As I've discussed with some of the people that have read this blog, writing this is a form of worship for me. Sometimes I worship at a set time (at a church service) and sometimes I worship because I just feel called to do so.

The bottom line is, I believe that the Bible teaches us that there is only one rule about worship, only one thing that is important - that it be real, sincere, from the heart. However that love and devotion is expressed is the right way to worship.

Monday, October 20, 2008

He Knows His Time

Recently an insurance client and I were laughing about a mediation we attended together a few years ago. In addition to our insured's regular counsel, the insured had convinced us that they had to have the big local name. "He knows everybody in that part of the state." "He can talk to the plaintiffs' counsel and they will listen." So, he (to make the story easier, I will call him "Thomas" from here on out) attended the mediation with us.

Thomas arrived in the room and immediately pulled out the newspaper. If you have never attended a mediation, this really isn't all that surprising. There is a lot of down time while the mediator talks to the other side, etc. But usually the understood rules of courtesy have everyone who is going to be trapped in a room together all day at least attempt to engage in polite conversation for a while before the reading begins. Thomas, on the other hand, sat down at one end of the table and just started reading.

The negotiations went back and forth over the course of the day. We were millions of dollars apart and things were pretty contentious at times. Every now and again Thomas would look up and make a comment, then he'd go back to reading something. As I recall it, about half way through the day we asked Thomas to go and talk to plaintiffs' counsel, to bring some reality to the conversations. Thomas responded - "Thomas is a closer, you don't want to use Thomas now, you don't want to waste Thomas." And, he went back to reading. Towards the end of the day when it appeared all was breaking down, we asked again - "Thomas, can you see if you can do anything?" The response came, "Thomas knows his time and now is not Thomas' time."

Ultimately, the mediation broke down and we all left. Thomas never did anything. While the case did resolve through further negotiations, Thomas did not play an active role in those discussions. When my client and I were laughing about it recently, we wondered when it was going to be Thomas' time.

I was thinking about this incident again this morning when I was doing my devotional and reading about times in life where we cry out for God. Where are you? Help me! How much longer do things have to be like this? When are things going to get better? I think that there are times when everyone wants God to act quickly, to change things now - on our schedule. When He doesn't act quickly enough I know that I can get frustrated, become somewhat disillusioned. I know you have the power, if you really love me as much as the Bible tells me that you do, why won't you do something now?!!?

One of the passages that I read this morning was Psalm 27:14 - "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (NIV) To me this is a stunningly simple, beautiful, message. Wait for the Lord, He will come. There is a lot of comfort in those words.

There some similarities, and of course at least one enormous difference, to my story that started this. Like Thomas, God does not always answer the second we ask Him to. Sometimes it is not yet His time. He hears us, He knows our thoughts before we think them, and He feels our hurt and our pain and suffers along with us. But, He knows His time and that time is not necessarily our time. Thomas, however, effectively abandoned us - it was never Thomas' time. God never abandons us. Even in our darkest of hours, the lowest of our lows, God is there with us. "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." He will come.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I've been thinking about this for a long time, but it bubbled to the top again earlier this week when I heard Real Me by The Who on the radio. I'll skip explaining the story of the song because it is really not all that important to what I'm thinking about. But it ends:

Can you see the real me, preacher?
Can you see the real me, doctor?
Can you see the real me, mother?
Can you see the real me?

Between that and Halloween coming up, I started thinking again about how much time and effort people put into hiding who they really are and to trying to convince people that they are somebody different. How, to at least some extent, we all wear masks, all the time.

Even though I certainly do it, I'm not entirely sure why I do it. Sure, sometimes I have to seem tougher, so I try to hide my weaknesses. Sometimes I have to be more brave, so I try to hide my fears. Sometimes I have to be more confident and certain, so I hide my questions and doubts. All of that I understand at some level, and it makes at least some sense.

But, I think about what else I may hide and why. Do my co-workers know how important my faith is to me? Do my friends know how important my family is to me? I once heard someone phrase it along the lines of: "Would your friends laugh if I asked them if you were a Christian?" I wrote here a while ago about figuring out who you really are. What I am writing about today is whether I let people see the real me?? If not, and I think that is the case to at least some extent, why not? I pray each day that I will live and act in way that people can see the love of God in me and through me, but then I probably consciously or sub-consciously try to hide it.

The following verse seems appropriate:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

For what I am thinking about and writing about today, though, I really love this version of the same passage:

Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Galatians 2:20 (The Message)

So, as we come up on Halloween, I am going to try to use the masks that I see as a reminder to ask myself whether I am letting people see the real me. And, if not, to ask myself why.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Love Not Knowledge

I have started participating in Bible study with a group of 11th and 12th grade guys (I know, I know, I'm a little older than the average member . . . .). We are starting by working through Experiencing the Heart of Jesus (Student Edition) by Max Lucado. Since I was out of town and missed the meeting on Monday, I didn't have a chance to discuss my thoughts on week one of the material, and thought I would share part of those here.

The guiding theme for the week was Experiencing the Care of Jesus. The readings were centered around God's love for us and the fact that He cares for us and has a plan for us. The verse for the week was 1 Corinthians 8:3. In the New Living Translation this is "The person who loves God is the one God knows and cares for."

I actually find the verse more powerful when coupled with the one that precedes it.

The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:2-3 (This is from the New International Version, which is the translation that I keep here at the office, though I am starting to wonder if I should keep another translation here as well).

I love that. Our relationship with God is not about knowing, it is about loving. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we understand, that it all makes rational sense, that we know what we need to know. The truth is, though, as long as we trick ourselves that way, we will never "know as [we] ought to know." As it says just before the quote above: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." 1 Corinthians 8:1

To me, this passage affirms that God is not looking for book study. Sure, it is a great thing to read and study the Bible, but God isn't all that worried about who can quote the most verses, or who knows just where to find that perfect passage, or who has read the Bible the most times. God wants a relationship with us. God cares about our love.

And that relationship, that love, goes both ways. God knows us (a whole lot better than we know ourselves) and cares for us. Think about that for just a minute. Really think about what that means. You and I are loved and cared for by the supreme being, by the creator of heaven and earth, by the alpha and the omega. As the Bible School song teaches:

He's got everybody here in His hands,
He's got everybody there in His hands,
He's got everybody everywhere in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands.

That is Good News for all of us.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Economic Unrest

I've consciously avoided writing about everything that is going on with the economy. But, I just can't. I'm certainly not going to talk politics, that is way too controversial - I'll stick with something safer like religion.

The markets are the lowest that they have been in five years. Large institutions have failed. Banks are going under. Unemployment is up. The tight credit market is making it impossible for some businesses to make payroll. The last I saw, and it was a few days ago so the number would be bigger now, more than $3 trillion had evaporated from the stock market. There is world-wide economic unrest and concern. Yesterday it was predicted that the global automobile industry could collapse in 2009. Things are definitely shaky.

Before I go farther, I want to be very clear to say that nothing that I am saying here is downplaying, in any way, the concerns that many people face - people have lost jobs, had their houses foreclosed upon, or are struggling to keep relationships together under the stress of economic difficulties. All of us need to be reaching out to friends and neighbors in these situations. All of us need to be reaching out to strangers in these situations, too.

This morning in working through the materials for our youth small group, I was directed to Haggai 1:6. To me, the passage talks about our inability as people and believers to be satisfied by earthly things. One part of the passage seemed particularly appropriate in light of the developments in the economy - "You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." Boy, isn't that the truth.

There are countless passages in the Bible that tell us to put our faith and trust and hope and future in God, rather than earthly things. People are probably familiar with a lot of them - Matthew 6:19-21, 25-33; Isaiah 55:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:8; etc. (Go ahead, take a minute to pull out your Bible and look them up) This morning I was lead to focus on one of them:

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

Having that degree of faith is a lot easier said than done. I worry all the time and try to figure out how I can control things to protect myself and my family, to insulate us, to make sure that we are protected from anything bad happening. But, ultimately, I know that I can't do that. So, I draw comfort and strength from the Lord and His promises, which he never fails to keep. I hope that anyone reading this can find such comfort as well. He offers it to all of us. And He does so without judging, or questioning how we got in the situation we are in or where we have been for so long - I know that from personal experience.

We will get through this. I don't pretend to have the answer to the economic mess. Frankly, some of it seems irrational to me. But, we can try to use it as a reminder that at least some of us (myself included at that front of that line) focus the wrong direction. God will meet our needs. In fact, in the most important way of all, He already has. See John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.")

God Bless You, and have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Earlier this week at cub scouts, one of the Dads talked to the boys about physical fitness and general good health. As I sat in the back of the room, I heard him talk about getting enough sleep, eating right and getting enough exercise. Apparently adults should get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and kids should get at least an hour.

A lot of us are in the routine of getting exercise on a daily basis (or we are at least trying to get in the routine of getting exercise on a daily basis). It may be going to the gym, walking or running outside, or playing a sport. I try to get into the office early enough that I can spend time in the gym downstairs without getting in the way of anything else that I have planned for the day.

Although the physical exercise is important for my general health (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. - you'd think I was almost 40 . . .), over the last six months or so I have begun to find it equally important to exercise my faith. To spend time reading scripture, praying and (more recently) writing here. I admit, though, that like my exercise routine, there have been days when I have let other things get in the way and I have skipped my devotional time.

The last time I did that was this past Monday. I was going to a youth small group meeting Monday night and decided that I really had lots of things to do and the group meeting would be worship anyway and that would cover it and did I mention that there were things that I needed to do? You get the picture. Anyway, as I went through my day I found myself feeling kind of out of sorts. I've heard people say that they feel bad all day when they miss their workout - personally, that doesn't happen to me - but I understand the feeling at least a little bit now from having failed to spend time in worship and exercise my faith. I had to stop, close the door to my office and spend a few quiet minutes in prayer. After that I could get back to work and I was much more focused and productive for the remainder of the day.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to challenge anything from cub scouts, I encourage everyone to get their thirty minutes (or more) of physical exercise a day. But, I also encourage everyone to take time to exercise their faith every day. Like any other exercise routine, I think it has to be what works for you. Maybe it will be easier with a friend, or if you join a group. Maybe it will be easier if you spend time in the morning, or the end of the day. Maybe you want to use a devotional guide to direct your time, or maybe you just want to open your Bible randomly every day and spend time reading. Or, maybe you just want to set aside time where you can talk one-on-one with God. Whatever it is, I think it is just important that we establish a routine - a time set aside for worship.

I've struggled to come up with the right quote to go with these thoughts this morning, and I just haven't been able to find something perfect. But, I did stumble across these words of encouragement:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

So, get out there and exercise your faith!

(I would say something about not forgetting to stretch, but stretching your faith is a whole different post for a different day, for now regular exercise is great)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Greeting

Last night I went to Alex's school to pick him up from an event and take him to cub scouts. I parked the car and as I started walking towards the doors, my family came out. Anya gave me one of those great greetings that you only get so often (well, at least that I only get so often). As soon as she saw me, I could see she was excited. When I got close enough and could be sure that no cars were coming, I told her it was ok and she ran across to me and jumped up into my arms, giving me a big hug.

It was awesome.

I was thinking about what to write this morning and I thought about that again. I wondered why she came running and jumping when she saw me last night, but lots of times she hardly looks up from what she is doing when I get home.

Then I realized that I am no different than that in my relationship with God. In fact, if anything, I probably come running and jumping into His arms a lot less frequently (if ever). As much as He would love to see that unbridled love and enthusiasm, and as much as He wants nothing more than to hold me tightly, how often do I actually approach Him that way. Instead, I hang back, approach more deliberately or barely even acknowledge His presence in my life.

I believe God wants us to approach Him like Anya came running to me last night. He wants that relationship with us. He wants that type of love. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Deuteronomy 6:5 Or as it is said in the Gospel of Luke - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind." Luke 10:27

As a prayer this morning, I ask for God's help in giving Him my heart, my soul, my strength and my mind. I want to continue to grow and to learn to run and jump into His arms with pure joy and enthusiasm and love.

As a brief coda to my post from last Friday, I want to share two things. First, the music during Communion on Sunday was "From the Inside Out." Second, at the youth service Sunday night the youth pastor used Matthew 6:14-15 as part of the basis for his sermon. Since both of these were things I felt called to write about on Friday, this was pretty freaky to me. I will continue to work on the issues I discussed in that post, but I do know that God was trying to tell me something.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Inside Out

At the end of my devotional time this morning, I was spending some time thinking about whether I would write today. And, if I did, what I would say. For some reason every passage that I had read spoke about forgiveness. Thinking maybe there was something there, I started to try to sketch something out in my head. I prayed, and while praying I tried to think of a grudge that I was holding, or someone that I needed to forgive for something.

Nothing came immediately to mind.

Then, I started to hear some of the Hillsong United song "From the Inside Out" in my head.

"And the cry of my heart is to bring You praise
From the inside out, Lord my soul cries out"

I looked up the lyrics on the internet to make sure that I had them right in my head and read through the whole song. I got goosebumps (like I just did again while typing this). Ok, God, I know you are trying to talk to me. What are you trying to say?

Forgiveness and "from the inside out, Lord my soul cries out" . . . .

I know that one of the biggest things that I need to figure out is how to forgive myself. There are lots of things that I have done wrong and that I regret that I need to forgive myself for. But, there is a big one that comes to the surface every now and again.

Most people who know me well know that when my wife was pregnant with our first child we suffered a miscarriage and lost the baby. I'm not going to go into all of it here and now, but it was a very, very difficult time and ultimately it was the event more than anything else that got us started coming to church.

Although I know on a lot of levels that it does not really make sense, I still blame myself for that miscarriage. I don't think I was really ready to be a Dad. It was not until that baby died that I understood how important it was to me, how much I loved that child and that my heart and my soul were ready. Ever since then, from time to time, this guilt comes to the surface. If I had been better. If I had been a Christian. If I was better prepared. If I had thanked God for the miracle of that life. If I loved that child enough. If any or all of those things and a lot more, then maybe it wouldn't have happened.

While I don't know for sure, I think God was trying to tell me this morning that I need to find a way to forgive me. That I need to let my soul cry out from the inside out. I've struggled with this for more than 10 years now. I'm sure that I am not going to succeed this morning, or even this week, but I hear You, God, telling me that I need to find a way.

The last passage that I read this morning before I started all of this was Matthew 6:9-15, and it seems like a good way to end:

This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I spent some time thinking about whether I really wanted to write this here - whether it was really something that I wanted to share like this. Ultimately I decided that I should, both for myself and for someone else. I just feel like there is probably someone else that may read this that is struggling, like I am, with the inability to forgive themselves for something. If that is you, I hope that hearing about my struggles with the issue somehow encourages you.

God Bless Everyone, and have a great weekend.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I'm not really sure where I am going with writing this morning, but for some reason this topic has been on my heart and in my head for a few weeks. I think maybe I need to make this commitment here as a measure of accountability.

Despite the title of this post, the topic is money - and how I spend it. A few weeks ago, for some reason, I stopped and thought about the fact that I spend about $5 a day on coffee during the week. That is roughly $1,250 a year - on coffee. I spend it largely without thinking about it and as a habit. In the scheme of things it is not an expensive habit, but it is money that I spend rather needlessly and carelessly. And, it is just an example of money that I spend that certainly could and should go to something better.

Then, the following week, I went to a meeting where we discussed our church's mission in Kenya. We have decided to help with the construction of a school in a rural area on the western side of the country that I visited with others while we were there in November. We recently learned, however, that the government is requiring the school to have water and toilets - something that we would take for granted here, but a big deal there. You may have a mental image of what that means, but you likely are wrong. The school is a series of buildings constructed of branches and mud. Toilets means holes dug in the ground somewhere of sufficient size, etc., to handle the demands. And water does not mean connecting to a water system. It means a cistern system to collect and use rain water. They need both of these things quickly so that they can continue operation while building new buildings and expanding what they can do for the children of the community. The total estimated cost of these two things is about $3,000 US.

While most of us certainly do not have $3,000 in our wallets, it is just not that much money - I could get there alone simply by giving up coffee for a few years. On the other hand, it is prohibitively expensive for the people living there. People at the meeting that I was attending where it was discussed quickly started to come up with fundraising ideas to raise the money - selling donuts, etc. I started thinking about whether I could ask my firm to make a contribution, or other sources for getting the money together in a hurry.

A few days later I attended a meeting of the celebration and design committee at my church - the group that develops the worship services. I did not know it before deciding to attend, but the focus was on an upcoming sermon series related to stewardship. The typical November money series at church that a lot of people just skip so that they can attempt to avoid feeling guilty for not tithing or increasing their offerings and giving more. In any event, during that discussion a friend of mine who was in attendance shared that for 27 years she had acrylic fingernails so that they would look nice. Then, recently, she did the math and thought about how much money she had spent over those 27 years on her nails. Then and there, she decided that money could be much better spent and gave it up.

I'm not sure that I am completely ready to declare that I will give up my $5 a day habit. But, I want to start by giving it up for one day a week. Sure - $5 a week is only about $250 a year. That is definitely not a lot, but used in the right way, even that little bit will make a difference. I know that the Lord will use even this little additional money that I am talking about here to do great things. Think of the boy who gave his five small loaves and two small fish to Jesus, who used them to feed the five thousand, with twelve basketfulls left over. John 6:1-15 Once I recognize that I don't even really notice, that it really isn't even a sacrifice, maybe I will try to step it up to two days a week, and so on.

While this will not answer the question of the $3,000 needed for water and toilets, I think the math really brought it all home to me. If I would give up spending on money for coffee for a few years, that very small gesture alone would have a profound impact on many, many lives both now and in the future. That is just not much of a sacrifice to change lives.
I'm not writing this to challenge others, or to suggest that anyone reading this does anything - I haven't even done it yet myself. As I said at the start, I'm writing this as a means of holding myself accountable by declaring that I am going to start this process.

Tomorrow's trip with the coffee group will be purely social for me.