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.