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.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dust from His Sandals

While headed towards a mediation in New York City last week, I looked out the window of the car that I was in to see a Dad and son walk out of their apartment building. The Dad was carrying a briefcase and obviously was on his way to work. The boy, who was probably about nine or ten (the same age as my son), had one of those roller backpacks and was pulling it behind him. Within a few seconds, the Dad was well ahead and I heard the boy yell "Dad" to get him to slow down and wait. Traffic moved slowly and I watched them walk up the block. The Dad always about thirty feet ahead and the son trudging along behind. It was kind of sad.

I thought about myself and my interaction with my son. The number of times that I just keep pushing ahead with him trailing behind. The number of times that I yell for him to hurry up. It is time to go. Get your shoes on. We have to go. Get your stuff. We are going to be late. Come on. I'm going out to the car now.

The Dad continued up the block ahead of his son (and ahead of me in the car - love that traffic), until he came to the corner. The light was green in the right direction, the Dad could cross. But, his son was still too far behind. Of course he didn't cross, he waited for the boy. And, when his son caught up at the corner, Dad didn't complain. He didn't look mad or annoyed, he just started talking to his son. I couldn't hear what he was saying, but from the looks on their faces, I imagined something along the lines of "what is going on in school today" or "it sure is a nice morning."

My view of the situation changed. It was no longer sad - it was just a Dad doing what a parent has to do sometimes. Pushing their kid towards where they need to go. Leading them, gently pulling them along. When it got to where it was dangerous, Dad waited to be side-by-side to help.

I thought about all of this again this weekend. At one point during a prayer at church, the pastor said "may we walk close enough to You to be covered by the dust from Your sandals." In my own walk following Jesus, I thought about how often I am like that boy on the street, or like my own son. How often I am saying "just a minute" or "can I just finish this" or "I'll be there in a second" or "I don't want to go, I want to stay here." But He is always leading, gently pulling, doing what it takes to move me along. Sometimes I get distracted and He is thirty feet ahead of me, or walking just outside - never actually walking away, but showing me that I am letting the distance between us grow greater. But, when it comes to the dangerous parts, to the places where I have to cross that road in New York City, He waits to hold my hand and help me across.

Just like I always hope that my son will be ready when it is time to go and we can just walk together out to the car, or where ever we need to go, I know that God always hopes that I will be walking with Him. And, though I often fail and let that distance grow too great, I know that I long to always walk in that place of comfort and safety close enough to Jesus that I can hold His hand and be covered by the dust from his sandals.

Psalm 23 seems particularly appropriate this morning:

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

Thursday, September 25, 2008


This weekend, my family went to the opening celebration of the Lorton Workhouse. It was a lot of fun and people have done a fantastic job working through everything that needed to happen to make this incredible transformation from a dangerous prison to a place of the arts. A few of those individuals were called out on Sunday night and recognized for their vision, persistence and hard work over the years it has taken. Then the event was marked with a gorgeous fireworks display - definitely rivaling what you would see anywhere on the Fourth of July.

As we were leaving, I was thinking about how great it must feel be one of those people, what a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. But, I was also thinking - how cool would it be to have a giant fireworks display for me? Now, I need to say clearly that this is not what was going on. The fireworks were for the community and were to celebrate the event, they were not for the individuals. And, since I know some of the people involved at least a little bit, I know that the people involved certainly saw them that way, not as some sort of tribute.

The point here is that I was thinking about me and how much I would enjoy being in that kind of spotlight and celebrating earthly achievements. It is kind of that want to be celebrity mentality. In my work life, I get caught up in all of that and don't even think about it. I don't think twice about having a car service pick me up at an airport, spending hundreds of dollars on a dinner with clients, flying half way across the country for a cocktail party, having dinner at the best restaurant in town, or staying in fancy hotels. Sometimes it seems like it is just what you do - it is not even special.

But sometimes you stop and think about it.
And wonder about it.
And pray about it.
And try to reconcile it with what you know is much more important.

Over the past few days I have heard "Lose My Soul" on the radio a number of times - including when I got in the car this morning. The song is by Toby Mac with Kirk Franklin and Mandisa. The entire song is full of great lyrics and I recommend that you check them out on the web. One part says:

The paparazzi flashes, and they think that it's you,
But they don't know that who you are is not what you do

The chorus is "I don't want to gain the whole world and lose my soul" and it is based on Mark 8:36 - "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?"

All of us know people that work tirelessly in support of various organizations and causes - religious and secular. One thing that I have found that they have in common is that they are entirely uninterested in recognition. They don't want the admiration of others or fireworks to honor them. They want the focus on the issue or the problem that they are passionate about.

The Bible tells us many times that power and recognition in this world mean nothing by themselves. Jesus says "many who are first will be last, and the last first." Mark 10:31; Matthew 19:30 ("many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first"). Jesus gently rebuked the seventy-two who were celebrating their power over demons by saying "do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Luke 10:20

Catching myself thinking about how cool it would be to have people celebrating something I did served as a reminder to me of how often, and how quickly, my focus can get out of whack. So, I am writing today simply in another of my attempts to refocus and stop thinking about me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Stop Playing Church - Greater Things Have Yet To Come

Yesterday morning at church, our Pastor spoke about passing on a legacy. Since it was part of the Faith at Home series of sermons, the general message was that our children and others learn to model the behavior that they see. If they see someone living out their faith and living a life of faith, they are more likely to do the same. If they see someone who works hard to make an honest living, they are likely to do the same. If they see someone who takes shortcuts and never does more than just enough to get by, they are likely to do the same.

I thought it was a very good sermon, and the message kind of fit with some of the things that I have said here. But, the part of the sermon that most reached me was our pastor emphasizing the importance of the role of the church in supporting people to pass on that legacy. As he said it - "I don't have time to play church!"

When the sermon ended the band came back with a choir and we sang "God Of This City" by Chris Tomlin (I think). The song has special meaning to me because we used it in worship multiple times when I was with the high school youth in Atlanta a few months ago. I vividly recall standing in the old warehouse that had been converted into a homeless shelter and singing this song with that group of people. The chorus says:

Greater things have yet to come,
Greater things are still to be done,
In this city
Greater things are still to come
And greater things are still to be done here

That song, and the memory of being in Atlanta, combined with the phrase "I don't have time to play church!" really hit me yesterday, and brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes it seems to me that so much of what we do with religion in our lives is play church. We get together on Sundays, we sing songs, perhaps we are in a Bible study, whatever it is - but we get lost in the events, in the process, in the trappings of church. We go through the motions without necessarily making it more than that.

If we can focus on the idea that "greater things have yet to come, greater things are still to be done" how much more can we do? We have to think beyond the programs to the people. We have to think beyond the words to the deeds. We have to think beyond us to others. We have to think beyond the walls of our churches or the boundaries of our neighborhoods to the world. We have to think beyond the now to the future.

I agree with my Pastor that we have to stop playing church. There are greater things still to be done here. While it is incredibly important to be secure in our faith, to renew and refresh our strength in our faith and to grow in our own faith, we have to let our faith out, and our churches should train us and empower us to do just that, in whatever way is right for each of us.

"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Ephesians 4:11-13

All of us have a part to play in this. We all - definitely including me - need think about how we can stop playing church and be part of those greater things that are yet to come.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stand Up For What Is Right

Over the last couple of days, for reasons that are not important here, the names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have come up a couple of times. This caused me to read from the book of Daniel, where they are discussed. With the disclaimer that this is only a summary of certain parts of the first four chapters of Daniel, it goes something like this:

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, laid siege to and ultimately took Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar ordered one of his chief civil servants to gather up some Israelites from the royal family and nobility and bring them to the palace and train them so that they could enter into the king's service. Among those that were gathered were Daniel (who the Babylonians renamed Belteshazzar), Hananiah (renamed Shadrach), Mishael (renamed Meshach) and Azariah (renamed Abednego). They were to be given a daily amount of wine and food from the king's table, but they refused to defile themselves with this food and wine and asked to be fed only vegetables and water. At the end of a ten day test period, they looked more well nourished and healthier than any of the others.

Ultimately, all four entered into the king's service. After Daniel interpreted the king's dream of the statue, the king made Daniel ruler over the province of Babylon. At Daniel's request, the king made Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators.

From there, we get to the most famous part of their lives. Nebuchadnezzar had an idol made of gold - ninety feet high and nine feet wide - placed it on the plain of Dura and ordered that at the appropriate time, everyone should "fall down and worship the image of gold." Daniel 3:5 He commanded that whoever did not do this would "immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace." Daniel 3:6

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the idol. The king was furious. He called them - his trusted administrators - before him and essentially told them that they had better do what he said and worship the idol, or he would have them thrown in the furnace to burn to death. Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego told the king:

"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Daniel 3:17-18.

Wow. Talk about standing up for what you know is right and what you believe in. The king was very clear that he was going to throw them into the fiery furnace where they surely would burn to death. All they had to do to save themselves was fall down and worship the statue. But they refused. They refused to do it because it was not right and - this is the important part to me - although they believed God would save them, they were willing to give their lives if He did not.

I've always admired that quality in people. I particularly think about people involved in the Civil Rights movement in our country. They risked everything, and many gave their lives, to stand up for what was right. I think about the man in Tiananmen Square in 1989 who stepped out to stand in front of the advancing tanks. I have often wondered if I would have the strength of faith and character to do that. I think I generally try to stand up for what I believe in and that I do not just decide that it is too hard to stand in the way. I hope if ever truly put to the test, I would show the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The faith to believe that the God that I serve would rescue me, but the willingness to say that even if He does not, I will not do what I know to be wrong. I also hope and pray that we are able to raise our children in a way that they recognize the importance of doing the right thing and standing up when necessary.

It seems worth sharing the rest of the story here for people that do not know it and who do not have the time to pull out their Bible and read it.

Not surprisingly, the king grows even more furious with this reaction and orders that the furnace be made seven times hotter than usual and that his strongest soldiers tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the furnace. The furnace is so hot that the flames kill the soldiers and the three fall into the furnace. Looking into the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar jumps to his feet and yells to his advisers that although they threw three men into the fire, there are now four there walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed - "and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." Daniel 3:25 Nebuchadnezzar calls for the three to come out and all who were there "saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them." Daniel 3:27

As Nebuchadnezzar said:

"Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, who sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God."

Daniel 3:28

I can't think of a better way to end today than that - Praise be to God! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

So Long

Today was a sad day at work. A close friend of mine decided that rather than staying with us through the merger that we are going to go through, she would join some other mutual friends at another firm. It was absolutely the right decision for her personally and professionally and, in fact, I was among the people that told her that. I'm proud of her for the decision that she made and very happy for her. But, that doesn't make it any easier.

I have been blessed to work with a lot of people that have become very close friends. While a number of them are still here, some have left over the years. They leave for various reasons - to pursue other interests, to move to another area, or just to change jobs. But friends, in the workplace, like in life, are very important.

"If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" Ecclesiastes 4:10

There are lots of times in life when we move on or when friends move on - moving as kids, going to college, getting married, a job change. But, that doesn't have to mean the end of a friendship. In the last several years I have had the pleasure of rediscovering a friend from high school that I had not spoken with in many years. It is just a change. The different paths that you take give you different perspectives to share and different experiences to learn from.

There are some very powerful quotes out there from a lot of people about friendship. I don't want to go there, though. Instead, I want to share some wisdom from my grandfather. He used to always tell me "Never say goodbye, say so long, because goodbye is forever." So, since my friend and I largely avoided parting words and, at least from my side, attempted to pretend that it was not happening, I just want to say "so long." If you ever fall and need help getting up, you know who to call. The really good thing is that I do too.

To everyone and anyone reading - think about your true friends. Make it a point to be there for them.

Family Mission Statement

As part of our family small group last night, we created a mission statement for our family. We talked to the kids (Alex mostly, Anya is a little too young) about how we would want to be described by other people and what is important to us about who we are. It is a good exercise - in a way it is kind of like writing your own eulogy, but about what you want to accomplish and be remembered for. I've read ours a couple of times last night and this morning and thought about places that we, as a family, and I, as an individual, fall short of that mission statement. It is going to serve as a good reminder.

This is what we came up with:

The Jones Family

We are a family that loves and supports each other, has a strong faith, stands up for what is important, and does the right thing, not the easy thing.

We are honest, generous and caring.

We are good friends and good neighbors.

Like I said, I'm not sure we always live up to those ideals, but they are what we want to live up to.

At the end of the session, almost everyone read their family's mission statement to the group. There were a lot of things that people had in common and a lot of times someone would say something and I would think - that was a good one, we should have added that.

Anyway, I kind of thought about this as an extension of the Who Am I question that I was asking in these posts a little while ago. Who are we? What parts of our family are essential and non-negotiable? What do we value? What will we cling when the chips are down?

I think it is interesting that, without really thinking about it, we used the phrase "has a strong faith." Most families said something more specific like "a Christian family" or "follow the teachings of Jesus" or "read from the Bible" or something like that. I'm not sure what to really make out of the distinction, if there even is a distinction, I just find it interesting.

Anyway, I'm kind of rambling this morning and thinking about other things going on today. Based on our experience, I recommend the exercise of coming up with a family mission statement, or at least thinking about it and discussing it with others. I think that we will refer back to ours often and I look forward to coming up with ways to incorporate it into our lives.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I've been thinking about this topic for some time, but it never seemed to be the right time to write about it until yesterday evening. On my drive home last night I was thinking about when we first started attending the church where we are members now, and when I first started becoming more involved. We knew a number of people at the church already, so that made it easier, but what impressed me the most was how welcoming it felt. How comfortable. We loved our former church and it played a very important role in our lives (getting us to church, helping me to discover that religion was not always something to be feared, etc.), but we have remarked to each other a number of times that we never really fit in - we didn't have a lot in common with many of the members and we never developed all that many personal connections (certainly with some notable exceptions).

That being said, any church, like any organization, has its cliques. People expect each other to, within a range, look a certain way, act a certain way, worship in a certain way. I remember the pastor at our former church asking more than once - what would we do if Jesus walked into our church right now? Think about it. He'd probably be dirty from the road. He may look a little unkempt. He may have some of his friends with Him - tax collectors, prostitutes, etc. Would we recognize Him? Would we welcome Him? Or, would we all look at Him kind of funny and slide as far down the row as possible?

Now make it easier, or harder. What do we do when someone that we do not know walks into our church? Suppose they are dressed differently? Or look different? Or for one reason or another, just stand out? Casting Crowns has a song called "If We Are The Body" that talks some about this. The song ends with the following:

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ

If we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching
Why aren't His hands healing
Why aren't His words teaching
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way

There are lots of references in Paul's writings in the Bible to the same idea - breaking down the barriers, recognizing that we are all one:

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." Ephesians 2:19-20

"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Romans 15:7

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28

I know that I could do a better job at this - being more accepting and welcoming. And this is not limited to Church - being more welcoming to a new person in the neighborhood, a new person at work, a new person in whatever groups we are members of. Rather than focusing on differences, focus on similarities. Opening the cliques that I am a part of.

If we just think about it, and focus on it, we can all make people feel more welcome. That little effort could make a big difference in someone's life.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Flight Delay

This past Saturday morning, I attempted to fly back to Washington from Chicago. I had booked a flight that left Chicago at 9 am. Since it was raining a little bit when I woke up, I decided to go early on the off chance that I could catch an earlier flight. On the drive out, the rain picked up and I realized it was unlikely that flights would leave on time and I thought my chances for catching an earlier flight were actually improving because of the likely delays.

When I got to the airport, the ticket counters were a disaster. I assume that it was mostly people who had flights cancelled because of Ike. The security line was very short and I got right through, but the earlier flights had already left. The 9 am flight boarded late, but it looked like we were going to be pretty close to on time. Then, before we pushed back, there was lightning and we had to wait for over an hour. When we finally did push back, there were problems with the brakes on the plane. We needed to return to a gate, but many gates were flooding from all the rain and others were full. We waited for more than another hour before the plane finally returned to the gate and let us all off.

Those of us who travel a good bit immediately ran to try to get on other flights. I was one of the lucky few who got seats on a flight that was supposed to leave at 11, but already was delayed until after 12, and ultimately left somewhere closer to 2:30. My original flight eventually was cancelled.

Sitting in various airplanes waiting to leave it was pretty hard to get too upset. After all, although the rain was causing flooding of roads and runways around Chicago, it was nothing to what people had experienced over the weekend along the Gulf Coast and Houston (you are all in my prayers).

While I was waiting to leave because of the weather, I kept getting reports from pilots, etc., that the weather in Washington was nice. As I listened to some music, and thought some about this post, I went through all of the obvious analogies - being delivered from storms to nice days, etc. But, when I landed safely in Washington, what I ended up thinking about the most was just the delay in getting to my "final destination," as they say in airline lingo.

It made me think about all the delays I have experience in my spiritual journey. I wish I could say that there had been a straight path that I followed on the road to a relationship with Christ, but there hasn't been. I know that is the case for a lot of people that I have spoken with, and I suspect that is the case for most of us. There are starts and stops. Times that it seems like we are moving full speed ahead, but then, for one reason or anther, there is a delay. Times when it seems like we are on a straight road, but then we hit detours.

Although used in the context of a love song, I think of the following from Rascal Flatts' "Bless the Broken Road":

This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you

I know that it is not what I think of the road and the delays that makes a difference. It is God's plan and for one reason or another (on the day that I sit at His side I hope to have a greater understanding of the Master Plan) it is the road that has led me straight to Him. I am blessed that God is patient with me and what I allow to become my delays. "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentence." 2 Peter 3:9

While I often feel differently in a worldly sense, in a spiritual sense it is not about how quickly we can get to our final destination. It makes no difference if we have delays or get rerouted. In many respects it is not about the journey at all (I don't say that in any way suggesting that how we live our lives is not important - of course it is) - it is about reaching that "final destination" by whatever road.

For anyone reading this, I would appreciate it if you would join me in prayers for friends, and millions of people that I don't yet know, that are recovering from the impact of the recent hurricanes (as well as those who continue attempting to recover from Katrina/Rita/etc.). Thanks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Family of Faith

At my church last week we started a new sermon series called "Faith at Home". Very generally speaking, it is directed towards making Faith about more than Sunday mornings at the church. The key Biblical passage comes from Joshua:

"But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

The series fits well with a new program that is going to be starting tonight called - surprisingly enough - Faith at Home Family Groups. It is going to be a family discipleship class that will meet as a large group and then break into a number of smaller groups. Tracy and I have volunteered our family to serve as facilitators for a small group. While I am excited about it, I am also a little nervous for the program as a whole and for us as a family.

Personally, I think the idea is fantastic. We have historically had a number of small groups meeting after dinner on Wednesday nights, but they have not included kids in the groups. The kids had their own place to go. So this will be a significant change.

I did not grow up in a church. I had lots of friends that were active in their churches, and we usually attended VBS, but that was it. In high school I once decided that I should read the Bible, kind of like I should read Shakespeare or Dickens. I tried, for a while, but I never got into it and never made it very far. Despite not growing up in a church, my parents did an amazing job instilling strong values and an openness and willingness to listen and accept. I would not be the person that I am without the way that they raised me. I never felt like I was missing anything by not being involved in a church, and I don't think that I would change any of it. I'm not sure that I would feel as strongly as I do about my Faith without that background and having come to my Faith in the way that I did.

But, that being said, I know how my life is different now that I have begun to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. As I said to a bunch of teens in Atlanta a few months ago - Now I get it. I wish I got it earlier. I wasted 30 years of my life not getting it.

I want to share that with my kids. I want to help to lead them to a place where they get it and where they develop their own relationship with Christ. Hopefully I am modeling that at home, but traditionally, in my case, a lot of that process has been left to Sunday School teachers and Directors of Children's Ministries and the like. All those people play an incredible role, but it just makes a lot of sense to me to bring it into the house. "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Ephesians 6:4

As I said above, I am also a little nervous about this. I'm nervous for the program as a whole - how many people will participate, how well will it be received, are a lot of people going to be upset that there is no longer a place to put there kids while they participate in adult groups? I'm also nervous about being a facilitator. While I think we are doing ok with bringing our Faith into our home, there are probably a lot of better role models out there. I have to remind myself every day of Luke 16:13 - "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." We are going to be experimenting and exploring and trying to figure this all out as much as any other family is.

I guess, more than anything, I just wanted to share today my feelings about this new program that we are going to be trying. I have high hopes that it will help Tracy and I to be better parents and better models of our Faith to our children and to help them in the process of developing their own Faith. I'm not particularly interested in force feeding my Faith to anyone - let alone my kids - but I am very interested in trying to help others - particularly my kids - to develop their own Faith.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I first noticed it yesterday, when I was driving to work. Some of the construction was down from in front of the Pentagon. Once again, you can clearly see the reconstructed side of the building that was struck on September 11.

The building is lit from below, bathed in blue light. Hanging off the top of the building and down the side is a giant American flag. Just like it was for months after the attacks (for all I know it may have stayed there all along, but I could not see it). A simple, but incredibly powerful memorial. I remember driving by it day after day shortly after September 11. Each time I would slow down a little bit and pause for just a second. When I first saw it again yesterday, I felt the familiar pause and slight catch in my throat. I don't know anyone personally that was killed in the attacks, but sometimes I feel like I did.

Like I said, the flag hanging off of that building is a simple, powerful memorial. Although I see no words and hear no sounds when I drive by and see it, I fill all of that in on my own - sacrifice, hard work, patriotism, remembrance, strength, unity, loss, conflict, terror, family, freedom, love, service. The photos that I have seen of the Towers of Light at the World Trade Center site have made me feel the same way. In some ways these memorials are like the empty cross - a symbol that says more by not "saying" anything.

I recognize that it is a few days early, but I will be traveling on September 11 this year and likely will not be able to post that day. I hope everyone takes time to pause and remember.

It is important to me that I comment, though, that I am not encouraging hatred for the attackers, their countries, their religion, or anything else. I believe strongly that, instead, we must attempt to understand what happened, why it happened and the beliefs of others. Action or beliefs formed from ignorance or fear are irresponsible and very dangerous.

But that is for another day.

For today my wish is simply that people take a few seconds or minutes to remember and say a prayer for the friends and families of those who were lost or injured. God Bless.

Monday, September 8, 2008

How Do You Do

I have pretty eclectic musical tastes. I listen to country, rock, pop, Christian, gospel, jazz, reggae, etc. I love satellite radio and the ability to jump to a particular genre at any time.

The other day, I heard the Louis Armstrong classic - What a Wonderful World. One of the lines really caught me that day:

I see friends shaking hands
Sayin how do you do
They're really sayin
I love you

I love you. I tend to reserve that phrase for my wife, my kids, or other family members. It just isn't socially acceptable to say "I love you" to my friends at work, my college friends, or my neighbors. One of the things that I really enjoy about spending time with the high school youth in my church is that they do not hesitate to tell each other - or me - I love you. They will yell it across the parking lot as they start to leave, or in greeting when they first see each other. Not joking, or teasing, or sarcastic - a sincere I love you from one person to another - be it man to man, woman to woman, or man to woman. There is no discomfort in the phrase, no extra meaning, just an honest expression.

Love is discussed in the Bible in a lot of places and in a lot of different ways. I am focused today on a commandment that is repeated over and over.

As the Lord said to Moses, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." Leviticus 19:18

As Jesus said when asked which commandment is the most important: "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is hear this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:29-31 (see also, Matthew 22:37-40)

As Jesus told the disciples when sharing that his time on earth was coming to an end: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35

Finally, as stated by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

I think we would all be better if we found a way to express our love for our friends and neighbors. Maybe we are not at a place where it is comfortable to just say I Love You. Maybe it is something else - sharing time or smiling. Or maybe it is just a sincere "How do you do?"

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Although it is supposed to be in the mid-90s today, kids are back in school and the summer is over. One of the things that we have been focused on in our house is getting used to a new teacher. Tracy has done her usual excellent job of already meeting with our son's fourth grade teacher and starting the process of educating him on Alex's learning challenges and the various accommodations that have been put in place.

All the signs so far are that Alex's teacher is very willing to work through as much as possible, to help him with the various technology that he will use, etc. So things seem good.

Trying to think about it from the teacher's perspective has made me really think about the fact that it takes a special person to be a teacher. You have to focus on the needs of every child in your class and really try to make sure that all of them get the best education possible. Teachers make such a big impact on people's lives. Think about how many speeches from athletes, business leaders, politicians, scientists, etc., involve them thanking a special teacher for taking an interest, setting them straight, nurturing a talent, or igniting a passion. Even if you don't have that type of special relationship with one of your teachers, I bet you can fondly remember at least some of them. In addition to some of my own teachers, I think of teachers that I have met in Cambita (Dominican Republic), Nairobi (Kenya) and Kisii (Kenya) and how those teachers were Called to Serve through teaching.

Teachers, whether they are at school, at church, at home, scout leaders, sports coaches, music directors, etc., are true blessings. They work to make a difference in the lives of our children, and to change the world of tomorrow.

"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit . . . . All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines."

1 Corinthians 12:4 - 11

So, today I pray for all the teachers - give them guidance in working with our children and the children of the world; give them discernment so that they see how to reach each child; give them understanding, patience, wisdom and strength; continue to use them and work through them to change the world, to set each of our children - your children - on the path that you have laid out for them.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Phone Trees

I hate phone trees. You try to call the cable company, or the electric company, or just about any company and what do you get? You get a computerized voice.

"To help our service representatives and speed your service, please enter, or speak, your 15 digit account number now." You'd better enter in the number through your phone's keypad because the computer never gets the numbers that you speak.

"Please enter your personal identification number now." If you pass both of these tests, you get.

"Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed . . . ." Then you get menu after menu of options, all supposedly directing you to the exact right person that will be able to address your problem. Ultimately, no matter how many options you go through, you still end up with -

"All customer representatives are currently busy. Your call is very important to us - please hold for the next available operator." Followed by muzak, which presumably was specially chosen to offend nobody and instead actually drives everyone crazy.

When someone eventually does pick up, you go through the entire process over again as almost inevitably the first things they ask for is your account number, your personal identification number, your mother's maiden name, and that you confirm your address, phone number, etc.

By the time you get to actually start the conversation that you called to have, it has been twenty minutes and you are ready to scream. Then, in my experience, about 98% of the time the person that I end up speaking with is either the wrong person and I have to be transferred to someone else, or the person does not have the authority to address my problem and I have to talk to their supervisor.

Why, oh why, can't you just call and actually talk to a person? Why when you call the cable company's customer service line to report that there is a problem with your cable can't you actually just get to someone to tell them the problem that you are having? Why can't you speak with the person that can actually address your problem?

This morning I was reading from Isaiah. I turned the page past where I was reading and stumbled across this:

"Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." Isaiah 58:9

It is comforting to me to know that when I really need help, when I really need an answer, I can call directly to God. There are no middle men, there are no menus of options, there is no risk of wasting time and energy talking to the wrong person. And, God doesn't make me confirm my account, make sure that I am up to date with my payments, or put me through any tests before He hears my prayers. He knows me, He knows why I am calling, He is always immediately available and He is always the right person for the problem.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Live Out Loud

Lots of times I think about my faith as a "part" of my life. There is the work part, the family part, the church part, etc. Things are compartmentalized. I go to church on Sunday morning, that is the faith part. I spend time in prayer and reading the Bible in the morning, that is the faith part. I write here, that is the faith part.

And, I have to admit that I like my faith convenient. Sometimes, for one reason or another, I just don't make it to church on Sunday morning - the house needs to be cleaned, there are too many errands to run, etc. No big deal. I really only spend time studying the Bible and in focused prayer when I am in the office and it is part of the routine. I carried my Bible with me on vacation last week, but I never opened it. I don't write on weekends, when I am traveling, on vacation, just too busy, etc.

One of the things that I have been working on for the past few years is changing that compartmentalized approach. My faith should not be "part" of my life that only exists when it is convenient. It should be the same all of the time. A few years ago, Milt Zapata sang the song "Live Out Loud" in church. I loved it. You could feel the joy and the praise in his singing. I've tried to grab on to that phrase - Live Out Loud. I remember sitting in one of the nightly worship services in New Orleans on the high school mission trip last year and praying that I could learn to Live Out Loud.

I wondered, do my friends and my family know where I am in my faith journey? Would my co-workers laugh because they didn't believe it was true if someone told them? Why? What sense does that make? I still pray that prayer often, that I learn to Live Out Loud. I admit that I find it easier to do so in some company than I do in others. While I know that a few co-workers read this and a couple of family members, I sometimes wonder if it would be awkward to find out that friends from college are reading, or others. I also wonder if the people that I know can reconcile these posts with the me that they see every day - I hope they can, but I wonder.

Anyway, I didn't know this was where I was going to end up when I started typing today. But, we are blessed to live in a time and a society that let's us Live Out Loud, that doesn't make us hide our beliefs, or worship in secret. But, we still put those restrictions on ourselves. Join me in trying to Live Out Loud - don't feel the need to hide your faith because it isn't "cool", or it's not who people think you are. And, if you know me, help me to do a better job Living Out Loud.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:17