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Corps of Discovery

Lewis and Clark: The Corps of Discovery Expedition -

Years ago I read a Stephen Ambrose book, Undaunted Courage. It’s a recounting of the Lewis and Clark journey from St. Lewis to the West Coast. It was a captivating read. You probably already know most of the story. These two guys, more than 200 years after their accomplishments and deaths, are the most famous of all American explorers. I’m not sure their contributions could be overstated. Ambrose didn’t think so, either. If you’re still a little quarantined and looking for something to read to pass the isolated hours, or if you’re just ready for a good book, I recommend Undaunted Courage as a worthy read.

Among the many challenges and trials the Corps of Discovery encountered in their expedition, the most discouraging one was discovering that the waters of the Olympic River, which they knew they would be able to float down to the Pacific Ocean, wasn’t “just over there,” like they had assumed. Turns out they were right in their assumption that the Olympic River would take them to the Pacific. The problem was what stood between them and the Olympic River. The Rockey Mountains. Nobody but the Native Americans knew the Rockey Mountains were in the way until the Corps saw them rising on the horizon.

Imagine the emotions Lewis and Clark and their crew must have felt when they realized that after the long, hard months of traversing rugged and unyielding wilderness, thinking that the Olympic could be just around the bend, realized that what was ahead of them was more daunting than what they’d traversed. Way more daunting. Seeing the rugged silhouette of the peaks on the horizon would have done me in. I’d have been thinking about finding a way to build a little cabin there at the edge of the range, on the east side of the eastern slope, chop fire wood, and settle in until spring, so I could head back on the reverse route of how I got there.

Ambrose’s title, Undaunted Courage, is aptly selected. That’s absolutely what it took for the Expedition to press on.

I think a few of us had one of those kind of Corps of Discovery moments on about Feb. 15 or so. Sort of.

We’d pushed through 2020, with all it’s twists and turns and disappointments and frustrations and losses, and when the New Year came, lots of us thought, “OK! Let’s get this lousy year behind us and move on into the Happy New Year! 2021’s got to be a move in a better direction.” So we rang in an optimistic beginning of the New Year. It was going to mark the start better times.

Um. No.

It’s not the same thing, but by the middle of February, a lot of the world was looking out at a Rocky Mountain horizon. The reality dawned that there’s a good chance we’re not just around the corner from better times. Depending on who you get your news from, it’s looking like we may not want to push around the corner, because something as bad as (or worse than!) what we’ve moved through is waiting for us there.

I’m not a very optimistic person, so it could just be me. Something makes me think I’m not the only one who’s wincing at the thought of what might be ahead, though.

Will schools open (as in all day, 5 days a week)? Will we be able to go to baseball games and movies and church? Will we ever not need to wear a surgical mask? Will California open? Will the government keep on doing what they’ve been doing, and keep on not doing what they’re not doing…? Will Mr. Potato Head be left alone, or will he have to reassign himself? Will the vaccine work? In other words, will the world go back to some kind of Normal?

If you’re on social media, you know you can find 3 or 4 answers (different answers) for these questions. And you don’t have to poke around long to find them. It’s frustrating and confusing to me.

It raises what is the most important question for me: “Who do I trust?”

And that brings me to the point I want to make.

When things are uncertain, trust is more important than at any other time. Who you trust, and why you trust them comes gets really important then. On one level, when things are running smoothly, and we’re happily getting life the way we’ve ordered it, trust isn’t very hard. It’s almost optional. When life’s running this way, we get lulled into believing we can make it just by trusting our own good will and wit.

But we got a pretty strong wake-up call over 2020 (and so far in 2021) that life isn’t certain. Our own good will and wit won’t do the job.

The lock may be coming off of the world sometime in 2021. It could be soon, but the indicators leave me a little discouraged with that view. If it happens, I’ll be a happy camper, but I’m not counting on it. There are too many forces at work on this, so if somebody tells me a solid date, I’ll believe it when I see it.

In the mean time, my challenge is to figure out what to do about the Rocky Mountains ahead of me. I’ve got a couple of ideas.

First of all, I need to remind myself that even if it doesn’t feel like it, God is in control. Yeah, yeah. God is in control. Got it. That’s a really good Sunday School answer. But what about all this chaos and what feels like a falling sky? Exactly. This is exactly when I most need to remind myself that all this nuttiness and confusion isn’t just random and by chance in a universe that just moves along with no real meaning and no master. There really is a God Who is Sovereign Master over all of it. There really is One Who is in control, even if it doesn’t look or feel like it. I have to bring myself back to this reality often. A simple way to do this is to say out loud, “You’re in control.” Take a deep breath and say it again.

Your brain gets “programmed” by repetition, so repeating the words, “God, You are in control,” out loud to yourself is a great practice.

Second, I have to make some effort to live (behave) as if I actually believed this. This is the hard part. I have to answer this question: what would I do if I really believed God is in control? DO is the operative word. How would my behavior be effected by my belief? That’s kind of the bottom line question of the Christian life, isn’t it? A good follow-up question is, “What would that look like?”

It’s not really rocket science. Like Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, perseverance is the key. These two things just might help you put your trust in the One Who’s got it all under control.

FATIGUE

5 reasons why driving with an almost empty tank is bad for your vehicle |  Auto Care – Gulf News

As I type this, we’re nearly a year into what was supposed to be a 14 day national intervention to mitigate the impact of a virus none of us had ever heard of and knew almost nothing about. That was the start of a very long and vexing season. Vexing on so many levels.

People died from Covid 19. The report I most recently saw was half a million people. Millions of people were infected and hospitalized. More millions were ill from it and many more millions were exposed and confined to isolation and confinement because they were potentially contaminated, and could have been infected and/or contagious.

Businesses (nearly whole industries, in some cases), schools, sports on every level were completely shut down. A large number of the business that were shut down will not reopen.

Depending on what part of the country you live in, the shut-downs continue. Debbie and I have friends in Germany and the Czech Republic, and the shut-down there is even more severe there than it is here.

Two big things (thought there are more than two things) have come from all this, I think. First of all is frustration. Second, fatigue. They are actually sometimes joined at the hip. If you’re frustrated for very long, you will get fatigued. When you’re fatigues, your threshold for frustration is low. Way low.

I had a conversation with a young mom the other day who was worm smooth out. She was on empty. I could see it in her language – verbal language and body language. I could see it in her affect. She and her family live in a part of the world where lots of “virtual learning” happens. Actually, in her opinion, there’s more virtual than there is learning. She was done. Frustrated. Fatigued.

My oldest daughter is a 1st Grade teacher. She’s had to do “virtual instruction” through this crisis season. It took more work and more emotional energy for her to do this than to show up every day in her classroom and teach an over-sized group of kids in person.

Nobody in the “virtual” loop has had it easy.

Working from home sounded kind of nice at first. And for a little while, it was. Drinking your own good coffee. Snacking out of your own fridge. Wearing your sweatpants. Pretty good, initially. But it didn’t take long for that to wear thin. After a pretty short time, it wasn’t fun anymore. Can I get an amen?

I occasionally come across blogs that promise unique and effective ways to keep from getting fatigued, ways to never let your tank get empty. I’ve come across them, but never read them. I think they make a promise they can’t deliver on, so I don’t bother. My experience (and the experience of a pretty good roster of authorities) is that you can’t keep your tank from going down to “E”. The truth is, there’s no way to totally prevent fatigue. So if you’re looking for a formula for not getting fatigued, you’ll want to be done with my blog right now, because I don’t have that. Sorry.

What I want to ask you to think about with me is what to do when you’re running on fumes, when you feel you’re being held hostage by fatigue. You’re feeling it. Your family’s feeling it. So here we go.

First of all, and most important of all, take what you’re feeling – not an explanation for what you’re feeling – to God. Pour it out. It doesn’t even have to be articulate, and it certainly doesn’t need to be poetic. King David was a poet, and although he used poetic language, he had no trouble telling God about his fatigue. In a couple of places, he wrote about feeling weak. Look at Psalm 6:7 (NIV)  My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.

Here’s another one that sounds a little similar and way familiar. Psalm 31:9-10 (NIV) Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.

Second thing: Ask God to do what you can’t do for yourself. Ask Him to restore your soul (as in Psalm 23:3). Offer it sincerely. It’s a prayer He wants to answer. God understands your fatigue. The shepherd knows the sheep. So ask Him for this.

Next thing: Go to bed. Right. OK. Go to bed earlier. Turn off the TV and retreat to bed. You’ve got little kids, though. The only time you have any time to yourself is when they’re in bed. And on lots of days, this is the only time you can get anything other than taking care of them done. OK. You don’t have to go to bed 2 hours early. If you can get in bed a half hour earlier, that’s a win, even if a small one. Think through what keeps you from going to bed earlier and figure out what you could do to push those things out of the way, at least for a week. You might be surprised at what that will do for you.

Next: Breathe. Deeply. Most people don’t. Most of us are shallow breathers. Especially under stress. When you’re fatigued, you’ll be breathing shallowly. Intentionally take 5 or 6 deep breaths. You may want to do it while sitting down, in case it makes you dizzy…

A couple more: Listen to some soothing music. Not everybody is a music aficionado. I get that. But almost anybody can figure out how to settle in with something that feels good to them. If you’ve got a computer or a smart phone, you won’t even have to buy CDs for this. Poke around on your web browser and find free recordings to play back. Let the music sooth the savage beast in you.

Last one: Start or end the day – or start AND end the day – with Scripture. Just a few minutes with God’s word can reorient you and refocus your heart and mind. My favorite part of the Bible for this is the Book of Psalms. If you have a smart phone, put the You Version of the Bible on it as an app. It will make it easier to get your hands on the Bible. Go to your app store or Android store and search for You Version. You can put this on your tablet and on your computer, too (https://www.youversion.com/the-bible-app/). If the feel of print on paper is good for you, get your Bible and put it where you can easily get to it.

These things won’t make everything all better, but they can help you get a little fuel back in your tank.

Milestones

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As I write this on January 10,2021, I’m celebrating a personal milestone. Well, not so much celebrating it as reflecting on it. We’ll celebrate it later this week in Phoenix. Ten years ago today, I should have died. I had a heart attack and “coded.” Three times, I’m told. God’s grace and the quick thinking of my friend, Danny Hinkle, made my death temporary.

A series of what I think of as miracles were provided by God to bring me back to the land of the living. Start with the fact that I was with Danny, who had the week previous been refreshed on CPR by his daughter, so that when he looked over at me in the car and saw that my eyes had rolled back in my head and that I wasn’t breathing, he knew what to do. He started pounding on my chest with his right fist and looked for a place to pull the car over. The place turned out to be 118th and Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale, AZ.

He dialed 911 on his iPhone and put it on speaker while he ran around the car and climbed in on top of me to give me chest compression. Less than 4 minutes later the second miracle happened: EMTs arrived. They pulled me out of the car, confirmed that I had no pulse or respiration, and started their work on me. They “hit me with the paddles” and finally got both pulse and respiration (a third miracle), and got me in the ambulance. I coded again. They hit me again and revived me (another miracle). We headed out for the hospital, which was less than a mile away (another miracle). I coded again in the Emergency Room, and they were able to revive me. Another miracle.

Mercifully, I have no memory of any of this. The last thing I remember is passing the Mayo Clinic, westbound on the way back to Danny and Anita’s, and closing my eyes. The rest happened without my direct participation or awareness. Or consent, for that matter.

A skilled cardiologist (turns out he’s one of the leading cardiologist in the country) at Scottsdale Health Care (which turns out to be one of the best cardiac hospitals in the nation) performed an angioplasty on me and opened my LAD artery (the one they call the “widow maker”) and was able to place a stint. I think this was another miracle. No surgery. No cracking my ribcage open to reroute arteries. I was up and walking down the hall of the cardiac unit the next day. Not briskly, but upright and walking on my own power.

There’s more to the story I’m reflecting on – a good bit, actually – but I won’t bore you with it. Today, 10 years later, I’m living a healthy life – in some ways a healthier life than I’ve lived since my 20s. My heart issues really don’t get in my way. At my age, it’s hard to decide whether it’s just Bro. Ass (my aging body) or my cardio issues that limit my energy. I can do pretty much all I want to do. Since 2015, Debbie and I have had the honor of being part of an international ministry (Open Door Libraries) that takes us to Europe and the Middle East a couple of times a year or more (when we’re not held hostage by Covid 19). Heart issues haven’t kept us from broad travel and meaningful ministry both here in America and in our 3 Open Door Library locations. My cardiologists are happy with how I’m getting along, and have given me pretty much a clean bill of health. I check in once a year. That all feels a little like a cluster of miracles.

I’ve had the blessing of being able to tell my story many times. And afterwards, often people tell me some version of, “Wow. God wasn’t finished with you here. He must have something important in mind for you!”

Fundraising Forecasts for 2016…a head scratcher | Copley Raff

I take this as a compliment, but after 10 years and a lot of reflection, embarrassingly, I really can’t put my finger on what that important thing is that I was saved for. Kind of a head-scratcher for me. The best I’ve been able to do is to take life as it comes at me and do the best I can, in partnership with God, day by day.

I’m really grateful that in these last 10 years God’s given me the chance to watch my 4 grandkids as they grow up, and watch their moms and dads be awesome. I’m so thankful I’ve had these last 10 years to enjoy my Proverbs-31-woman wife. She’s more beautiful to me today than she was 46 years ago when I saw her walk down the center isle at the Boulevard Christian Church in Muskogee, OK, at our wedding. I had almost 5 more years of ministry in Las Vegas, and then a great 3+ years on staff at a church of wonderful people in NE Iowa. And as I mentioned earlier, more than 5 years of working with Open Door Libraries and the amazing staff there. For the last year and a half, I’ve been walking with God toward a shift in my ministry career from church-based to pastoral counseling (pretty close to the 1% mark within my sweet spot). It’s been a bit of a zig-zag route from January 10, 2011 to January 10, 2021, but I think I’m moving forward in partnership with God and His Grace.

I didn’t go out into the wilderness or up on the mountain top to get a special word from God before I started moving forward. I just did what I thought was next. No telegrams or emails from God. No writing on the wall. Just a sense that the best thing for me to do was what seemed next to me.

There are others with a deeper background and bigger faith than I have who have written and spoken about getting their mission given to them from the Lord in terms they couldn’t mistake. I envy these people. Sometimes I feel guilty and embarrassed that I didn’t get that clear word from God. I’ve more or less gotten over these feelings in the last 10 years. I’ve come to believe this is how God decided He wanted to write my story. I figure the smartest thing I can do is (paraphrasing something Oswald Chambers once said) trust God and do what’s next. I’m convinced that’s good enough for God, too. I hope it’s not bending the context, but I think His word to me is similar to what He told the Apostle Paul, “My grace is enough for you.”

Walking in that grace is what I’ve decided my mission is. I think it will work out over time as a series of milestones ahead until, according to His will and timing, I’m done. As of today, He and I aren’t done.

Good Riddance

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In a couple of days, we’ll say goodbye to one of the most difficult years many of us have experienced. A little more than 3 months into this year, the world was turned on its ear, and for much of the world normal life came to a screeching halt. OK. Maybe not a screeching halt, but at least a screeching almost-halt. The hitherto robust and growing American economy was choked into a sputter. Travel all but stopped. Toilet paper was impossible to find. Lots of people lost their senses. Lots of people went into a panic-driven survival mode.

And lots of people lost loved ones to a virus that had never been seen. There have been viruses like Covid-19, but nothing exactly like it. Most of the scientific community began pulling all-nighters to try and figure it out. And pharmaceutical companies, driven by compassion for the world and income potential, began a blitzkrieg effort to produce an effective vaccination for it in record time.

Data and numbers began to emerge. A plethora of meanings were assigned to them. Power shifted. Politics found a new sandbox to play in. And, boy, did they play.

Businesses closed. Many started this as a temporary closing, but ended up permanently closed. Employees were furloughed or laid off. Many were left without any guarantee of having a job to return to in the future.

Along with this came Lockdowns. What started as a 15 day effort to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus stretched into months. “Stay at home; save lives.” Except it didn’t seem to work. Covid-19 didn’t go away. But stability did. Mental health tumbled to lows that are unique to my lifetime.

I could go on and on, but I’ll force myself to stop. I don’t imagine I need to convince you that 2020 has been a pretty lousy year for most of us. For lots of us, it will feel good to say, “Good riddance!” to the year 2020. When January 1, 2021, comes, I think we’ll probably all breath a sigh of relief, and hope and pray to be able to emerge from the one we’ve just endured and into a much better future. The jury’s still out on whether or not we’ll be able to crowd together in Times Square and watch the ball drop, though.

Which brings me to my point, really. Forgive me for being pessimistic about this, but the truth is, we have no guarantee that 2021 will be any better than 2020. So there you go. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Like it or not, that’s the truth.

There is no guarantee that turning the calendar page to January 1, 2021 will put everything to rights and life will settle back into a better, more comfortable and acceptable normal. The one thing I can confidently guarantee about the new year is that it will bring its own set of challenges. Some will no doubt be extensions of the challenges and difficulties 2020’s brought us. Some of them will come in the form of other new setbacks.

Has this ever not been the case? Please let me know if your experience has been different than mine. All of the 67.5 years of my life that I can remember have had challenges and setbacks. Not to the degree that or in kind with what 2020 has brought, but every year has had its own set of them.

I think the New Testament writer, James, knew this. Here’s what he writes in timeless wisdom in what we have as chapter 4 of his letter to the churches of his day:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 

“You do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” Strong words. The future, even the future in as near-term as tomorrow, is unknown. This is a reality that is easy to forget or ignore. Especially in a world where technology has become so powerful and accessible that we easily get infected with the lie that we can control most everything. And what we can’t control, we can somehow fix.

Enter Covid-19.

Apparently we needed the reminder that, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” So here’s a telegram from China to get our attention.

Saying (mostly to ourselves, but to others, too), “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that…” is a way of reminding ourselves that God is in control. We can plan, and probably should. After all, part of stewarding my life is planning. But all the planning in the world will never insure life will go the way I want it to. That’s not my department. I literally have NO control over this.

Chuck Swindoll once wrote, “Ten percent of life is what happens to you. Ninety percent is what you do about what happens to you.” Chuck is a wise man. I think he’s absolutely right. His words here are perfect for 2020 and our step over the threshold of 2021.

You can spend a lot of time trying to figure out why 2020 happened the way it did. You can spend a lot of time railing against what happened in 2020 and what it’s done to you. But you can’t change it. What you can do is decide what you will do about what happened in this monumentally difficult and challenging year.

I believe this is especially important for Parents. Your kids are watching you to figure out how life works. How you do life in response to these challenges is so important. You’re a living textbook for your kids. Whether you want to be or not. So, Mom, Dad, partner with God and model for your kids how someone who knows God is in control faces uncertain – even disappointing – times.

I’ve got a few suggestions for this. First of all, Acknowledge that this is hard. Denial won’t help you. Pretending that everything’s just hunky-dory won’t work for more than a little while. So call it what it is. Hard.

Second, don’t get stuck in the reality that this is hard. Your direction is always a function of your focus. If you focus on how hard this is, and get stuck in that focus, your direction will take you into an emotional tail-spin. So once you’ve confronted and acknowledged it, move your focus to Step Three.

Third, seek God’s wisdom and partnership as you navigate these deep and choppy waters. Pray for His help privately. But also pray about it with your kids. At meals. At bedtime. At any time, really. And as tempting as it might be to whine about it in prayer, consider this phrasing: “Lord, we’re in a really hard time, and You know it. Thank You for being right here with us. We put our trust in You to make us wise so that we can make the best decisions about what to do about what’s happening around us.” Use your own words, but take the focus off your problems and put it on the One Who is faithful to never leave you, to never forsake you. Both you and your kids need to be reminded of this.

And fourth, when God answers your request for wisdom and gives you an idea, THANK HIM FOR IT IN THE PRESENCE OF YOUR KIDS.

“If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” Seeking His wisdom, and then pursuing it, will put you in His will, where you can do this or that.

And in this same letter, James gives us some of the most hopeful words on this: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 NIV) God wants you to call out to Him for wisdom. He wants to give it to you. So ask. Often. He won’t find fault with you on this.

If you’re thinking this isn’t rocket science, you’re right. But it’s counter-intuitive. So counter-intuit and begin weaving it into the fabric of your life and your family’s life as we face the unknown future.

Timing Is Everything

All About Your Body Clock

The long-snapper hikes the ball, the holder sets it, the kicker puts shoe leather to ball leather as the clock ticks down to 1 second. Both benches and half the crowd hold their breath. The ball sails through the uprights and one bench and half the crowd goes nuts. The game’s over and they’ve won. With no time left on the clock.

Three minutes earlier than this, and even if the kicker had split the uprights, they would have left their opponents with enough time to march down the field and post a score to either tie or win the game. In the last 5 minutes of a football game, timing is everything.

He yawns and stretches his arms. And casually drapes his left arm around the shoulder of his date. She snuggles in closer. Thirty minutes earlier, and she wouldn’t have snuggled closer. Thirty minutes later and they would have been walking out of the theater. Timing is everything.

The Auctioneer raises his voice to say, “Going once, going twice…” A hand in the back goes up to make a bid and win the painting. Timing is everything at an art auction.

This time of year, lots of us are like Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation, waiting for the Christmas bonus check to come in at just the right time to cover our plans for a very merry Christmas. Some of us, like Clark, are likely to be disappointed when the check doesn’t come. Or when you get a Jelly of the Month voucher. (If this happens to you, I’m very sorry. And if you’ve got a Cousin Eddie, you could be in trouble…) With Christmas bonuses, timing is everything.

Nearly every opportunity is like that. Timing matters. I envy the people in my life who just have a knack for timing. Usually they’re the ones who learn about the half-price sale with 25% more off, and get the brand new driver I’d wind up paying full price for if my conscience would let me, for half what I would have paid. They can play the stock market and win most of the time. The can buy low and sell high. They do it with real estate, too. Me, I’ve managed to do the opposite of this on every home we’ve ever owned and sold. I’ve just got a knack. Timing is everything.

When it comes to timing, though, nobody’s got it down like God does. The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the church in Galatia: But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. (Galatians 4:4,5 NLT)

The Christmas Story, the real one, is the ultimate in amazing timing.

There are a couple of things about this “right time” that are worth thinking about. First, the “right time” came 700 years after it had been promised in the prophecies of Isaiah and his fellow Jewish prophets. That’s 700 years of “are we there yet?” and “is it time yet?”

Lots of things happened between 700 BC and Jesus’ birth. Like, for instance, false teeth were invented in Italy in 700 BC. I didn’t know that either until I went to the Internet to see what had happened in those 700 years.

Confucius was born in 551 BC.

The Parthenon was built in 448 BC.

The Great Wall of China was built in 215 BC.

Cleopatra and Marc Antony committed suicide in 20 BC.

It’s out of chronological order, but I’ve got to mention that Malachi wrote his book of prophecy in about 430 BC. This is important because after that, there are 300 years of biblical silence. So by the time the “right time” came, lots had happened in the world, but there hadn’t been a word from the Lord in a very, very long time.

But in that time, Rome had begun to take the world (or most of it) by storm. Taking much of what they had learned from the Greeks, they created a governmental system that could support and sustain an empire that sprawled across the known world for a few hundred years. A strong military – the strongest in the world. Some domestic technology that would surprise you. (Look it up. You’ll be surprised. Here’s just 10: https://www.history.com/news/10-innovations-that-built-ancient-rome) And maybe the most important of these innovations was a road and highway system that made it possible for Rome to dispatch and return troops and legions across the Empire. All roads led to Rome. And there were lots of roads. Virtually every region under the rule of the Caesar benefited from a system of roads that has endured through to today.

These and many other things came together to make the “right time.”

The world had needed the Savior since Eve and Adam took a bite of the forbidden fruit. But needed doesn’t always equal ready, and often way not the “right time.” A glance at the theologians of Jesus’ birth day gives you a sense that, although the world needed a Savior, these who should have known best the dynamics of the prophecies of his coming seemed tone deaf to it. On that level, they weren’t ready for it. Some would even say in denial of it. Either way, people who should have seen it coming seemed not to have.

If the world had been ready for Jesus’ birth, I wonder if He would have been turned out from an inn in a pretty obscure little village, born in a cave and laid in a feed trough (likely one carved out of a rock, not one made of wood). I wonder if He and His mom and step-dad would have had to flee for their lives when he was about two, when Herod sent troops to slaughter every boy 2 years old and younger in the vicinity of Bethlehem? There’s a strong possibility that the story might have been quite different if Israel and the rest of the world had been ready.

An irony, in fact, is that Magi from the east – men who were for all practical purposes pagans – were more ready for His coming than the Jerusalem theologians.

The world’s need isn’t want made the time right. God’s design is what made the time right. When the time was right, “at just the right time,” in spite of the fact that the people who should have been ready for it weren’t, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.”

There’s so much in that. Too much for a blog that’s already running long. But the nugget I want to harvest from it is this: the reason for this greatest of all gifts is in the last of verse 5. “…so that he could adopt us as his very own children.

In a few weeks of overspending and frenetic activity, masked up and selectively moving about in an effort to make Christmas as “normal” as we can make it, I’m finding it easy to lose sight of the point. The real motive gets a little lost. As sons and daughters, adopted as God’s very own children, the point of the season is to gratefully, even enthusiastically, celebrate that the right time came, even though the world was less ready for it than it should have been.

I wonder, is it possible that in all my movement and activity and spending and sentiment, could it be that I’m no more ready for the Savior than they were? Could be. What about you? And what about your family?

As we turn back to the point, I wish you abundant joy this Christmas.

The Thanksgiving Thing

Twenty Red Cross tips to help celebrate Thanksgiving safely

Any blogger (or preacher, or editorialist, or talk show host, or, well pretty much any and everybody with an audience) who doesn’t write or say something meaningful about Thanksgiving should lose their credentials. Or at least apologize. There’s just too much to say about Thanksgiving to not say anything. So here you go with mine.

In Colossians, 2:6-7, the Apostle Paul wrote, ” So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (NIV)

The last 3 words of this sentence are the ones I want to unpack a little. “Overflowing with thankfulness.”

A literal translation of this could be, “gushing with thanksgiving.” There’s an important requirement for anything overflowing or gushing. To do this, the vessel has to be more than full. There has to be so much of something it that there’s not room enough for it all. Simply full vessels don’t gush and overflow. They spill, but they don’t overflow.

King David wrote of this in his Psalm 23 masterpiece, “My cup overflows.” This was a picture of a cup being filled and filled, and then still being filled once the wine reached the top and began to flow out on the table. That’s what Paul was writing about in Colossians. Thanksgiving overflowing and getting out onto the table, and all over the place. To be full of thanksgiving is a beautiful thing, but it’s not the same thing as – and in my opinion, not as beautiful as – overflowing with thanksgiving. For thanksgiving to overflow in my life, I’ve got to be more than full of thanksgiving. I need to gush it.

OK. So how do I pull that off? Good question. I can tell you that not many people get to the overflow state in a snap. Nobody I know started there. Normal people start with just being full of thanksgiving. There are lots of ways to eventually get to overflowing with thanksgiving. They all start at the same point, though: learning to observe and reflect. I know, this is rocket science.

OBSERVE. The non-technical term for this is, “Pay attention.”

Most people think they pay attention more than they actually do. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is absolutely attentive at 100%, most people would like to think they’re at about 8. We may say, “Oh, well, I know I miss a lot.” But down deep, we’re thinking, “I’d say 8 is my conservative estimate. On most days, it’s got to be around 8.6, unless I’m sick or over-fatigued. Then it’s gonna go down to 6 or 7.”

A counselor friend gave me this sentence and told me to count the number of F’s in it: FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

How many F’s do you count in that sentence? Go ahead. Go back up and count them.

Most people get 3. What if I told you there’s actually 6? That’s right, SIX. Most people leave out the three times “OF” occurs in the sentence. The eyes see them, but the brain doesn’t. Still feel like you’re about an 8.6? I didn’t when my friend showed it to me. It took me three re-readings to see what I’d done.

Psychologists tell us that we only see what we’re looking for. Occasionally, we don’t even see what we’re looking for. In that little trick I just pulled on you, you might not have even seen what you had actually seen: 6 F’s. That’s just how our brains are designed by God. Generally, we’ll see what we’re looking for, though.

Many people – maybe even most people – aren’t as observant as they think they are. And one of the things most of us don’t observe are our blessings, because most of us are so busy trying to make ends meet and not disappoint the important people in our lives, we just don’t have time or energy to look for them. Which is why it’s a very good thing to have a day set aside every year to observe our blessings and give thanks for them. We all need an excuse to look for, to observe blessings.

So you start with observing, looking for blessings. Notice them. Identify them.

REFLECT. And then you reflect on them. That doesn’t mean to just nod in their direction and keep racing down the expressway at 75 MPH. Which is what lots of A-Type people are inclined to do. “Yep, that was great. Now keep moving!” It’s really hard to overflow with thanksgiving at 75 MPH. I won’t say impossible. I’ll just say I can’t do it.

I discovered this when I was in my 6-month recovery from my heart attack. For 6 months, I just didn’t go anywhere in a hurry. That wasn’t normal for me. Being a short person, I’d spent nearly my entire life walking faster to keep up with the tall guys. But when you’re not sure you can get through the parking lot from your car to the auditorium at church (about 100 feet) before they sing the last song, it makes you rethink your speed. My body made me take the speed back a few notches.

And during this recovery, the only demands or appointments I had on my formerly jammed calendar were for doctor’s visits. There was nothing to be in a hurry for. I went from working with no margin between appointments, to having nearly nothing but margin in my day. If I needed to be at the doctor’s at 10:00, it was no problem to leave at 9:20 for the 20-minute drive. I had nothing better to do with the time, and I was fine with taking it easy.

To make a long story short, I learned how not to hurry. And I liked it. It was far better for my heart, and far better for my soul. I still occasionally get jammed with too-short margins, but it’s nothing like it was. Not even close.

One of the things I learned from that recovery time is that when you’re in a hurry, it’s nearly impossible to be thankful. You have to slow down to be thankful. If I’m bustin it because I’m 5 minutes late to my next appointment, I guarantee I’m not thinking about my blessings. I’m thinking about the bozo doing 55 in a 65 speed zone, who’s making me late. Milk it or move it! But that’s just me.

To reflect takes time. It takes margin. Don’t try to do it in a hurry. Even if you’re pretty sure you can do it in a hurry. Slow down and see what happens in your less cluttered and hurried mind.

Thursday is a national holiday that was originally designed as a day to give thanks to our Creator for His blessings to us. George Washington set it as a national holiday in 1789, and Lincoln made it a federal holiday in 1863. Both men believed we, as a nation, owed God a debt of thanks for His goodness to us. Originally, American families slowed down from what we, today, would look at and think of as their grindingly slow lives to observe the day. Unfortunately, that sentiment and practice has begun to lose out to football, parades, extravagant feast prep and pre-Black Friday starting blocks. (Can you tell I could easily do a rant on this?… I won’t. Yer welcome.)

My challenge here is simple. Regardless of what the popular culture does with the 4th Thursday of November, why don’t you and your family use it as the entry-point for building a life of overflowing thanksgiving by observing God’s blessings and reflecting on them. Around the Thanksgiving dinner table would be one of the finest places I can think of to get started. Slow it down. Turn off the TV and tune into each other and God. Observe and reflect.

And if you do this, let me know what happens.

Tis the Season

Not the season to be jolly, but the season to

No Party

This means it’s also the season to have to sift through a ton of opinions and accusations, mass mail and email, commercials and ads on TV and radio for candidates I didn’t even know were running. And for a few that I wish weren’t running.

For me, tis the season to fill my trash cans (both the one in our kitchen and the one on my computer) with discarded mail and email, and to use the mute button on my remote. A lot. I’m doing both quite a bit.

In spite of all the controversy and all the rhetoric and acrimony – I felt I needed to use some big words here – it’s still the season to get registered to vote and then cast a vote for the people you believe best represent your values.

Before you do this, or at least as a part of the process, you’ll need to clarify your values. There is room for more than one opinion on what your values should be. I’ll spare you mine, except to say that since your values are derived from your core beliefs, you’ll do well to make sure they can and do align with biblical insight and instruction.

Depending on who you consult for the statistics, as many as half the registered voters didn’t vote in the 2016 election. I’m not sure I’d go that far. Half seems a little far fetched. I think those numbers may be hyperbole – exaggeration for the sake of effect.

I saw a figure that half the Christians who are registered to vote didn’t vote then, either. I think that may also be an inflated number. I’m not sure how you could calculate it. My faith and church affiliation isn’t on my voter registration. Please tell me it’s not. I’ll happily tell you what these are, but I don’t think it makes sense for them to be part of my permanent record as a registered voter. Call me an alarmist.

Inaccurate and misleading statistics aside, it’s a sure bet that lots of people who could have voted, many of whom were Christians, last time we elected a president didn’t.

I’m not campaigning for any candidate. Let me be clear on that. Vote for the person you believe best reflects and will represent your values, whomever you believe that to be. What I’m saying is V O T E! If you’re not registered GET REGISTERED! There’s still time. Just access your privilege and right to vote.

No one vote will win an election. Anyway, if there were such a thing as one vote winning an election in 2020, there would be no way to know whose vote it would have been. So I’m not saying you’ve got to vote because your vote could make the difference. But I am saying that your vote will make A difference. Your vote, along with the millions of others who vote as you do will make a difference. So get to the poll and cast your vote. Or mail it in. Arrange for a ride if you need it. Go out of your way. Do it first thing election morning. If you can’t get there first thing, and you’re in line when the polls close, the election workers are required by law to let you vote. Just get yourself there and do it.

In one way or another, to one degree or another, every federal election decides the direction of our great country. This election is sure no different from any other election in this regard. Interestingly, the Founding Fathers intended it to be this way when they set up a Democratic Republic with representative and free elections. It seems the least we can do is honor the memory of these heroic and wise individuals who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors for our liberty to vote in free elections by going a little out of our way every 4 years or so to do so.

Bounce Back

Resilience – How to thrive not just survive | Steph Walters

As I type this, one of the burning questions lots of us have on our mind is, “When will we bounce back?” It’s a burning question for me, anyway.

There are all sorts of answers available for this question, and you can get them at the tap of a few keys on your smart phone. Everything from, “Hey, we’re already bouncing back!” to “The world is ending. There will be no bounce back. The sky has fallen and we’re all going to die,” and most everything in between the extremes.

I have a second related question: Is there any way to bounce forward?

As a golfer, I’m familiar with the bounce-back. As in, “I hit the stupid tree and it bounced back 50 yards farther away from the green…” Occasionally I have the bounce forward, where it hits a tree or a limb and actually bounces forward toward the green. By “occasionally,” I mean, “That one time…”

I’m also simi-familiar with the bounce-back and bounce-forward in life. Like you, I’ve had at least my fair share of set-backs and bounce-backs (in the golfing sense of the term). I’ve experienced seasons of frustration and bewilderment when life has sent me a symbolic 50 yards farther away from my goal. It’s never been fun to this point, and I doubt it will ever be fun.

Now, positive thinkers call this kind of thing, “Opportunity for Course Correction.” They talk about set-backs and bounce-backs as opportunities to try something different. Intellectually, I can see the value of this. But not emotionally.

One of the things James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote kind of puts him in the positive thinkers group for me (though the rest of what he wrote seems very realistic). In the letter he wrote to the churches of his day, he gives more practical and useful concepts and principles than almost any of the other New Testament writers. One Bible commentator calls the Book of James, “The Proverbs of the New Testament.” In almost every regard, James is a realist, and a pretty strong one. I say “almost every regard” because of one thing that sometimes seems a little out there to me when I read it. He writes it early in his letter, in what we have as James 1:2. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds

Wait. What? Pure joy? Are you kidding? Half-brother of Jesus or no, that’s a bit out there for a realist.

The way J.B. Phillips paraphrased it makes it even more enigmatic. When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! 

Welcome them as friends? With friends like that, who needs enemies?

And yet, there it is in black and white. Could it be that bouncing forward begins with how I frame up the bounce-back? My conclusion is that indeed it can.

James goes on: because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

This, I think, is how a bounce-back becomes a bounce forward. The bounce-back isn’t the point. There’s an outcome that’s the point, and an amazing one: being mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James describes a process in a few words that can breathe life into otherwise hopeless situations. It starts with a test, with a bounce-back. Initially there’s nothing fun about that. It’s not the whole process, though. It’s actually the front porch of a process that produces depth and breadth of soul.

According to James, the bounce-back, the test, produces perseverance. It can, anyway, if I let it. I have to set my attitude toward this, or a bounce-back will only be a set-back, and I’ll be a victim of another bad thing, one more time on the fairway of life.

Perseverance is one of the most desirable qualities anybody can acquire. It’s in rare and short supply today. Perseverance is the ability to stay with it until it’s done, even – especially – when it’s difficult. Perseverance is the character trait that keeps going when it would be way easier to just say, “No mas.” It’s one of the lead marks of an effective life. And probably the most important thing about it is that it’s one of the top things God has on His list of things He wants to develop in your life.

But perseverance isn’t the end goal. It’s a means to an even greater end. James said it this way: Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

There’s the end goal. Maturity. You don’t get there by going to a class or reading a book. You don’t get there by listening to sermons. You get there through a process of moving through trials and trouble, through set-backs and bounce-backs, if (and this is a big if) you cooperate with God’s design to let them grow perseverance in you.

OK. So here’s my challenge. Train yourself to see your bounce-backs for what they are: opportunities to cooperate with God’s plan to produce maturity in you through the agency of perseverance. You don’t have to throw a party and hop up and down in excited anticipation when you have a bounce-back. I’m not wired for that, temperamentally. But I can discipline myself to lean into them and partner with God in His good plan for my life. And you can, too.

When we do, bounce-backs can become bounce-forwards.

By the way, if you’re a parent, or a grandparent, or an aunt or an uncle, or live in community of any kind with other people, you’re teaching people who are younger and less experienced than you how to deal with bounce-backs. Even when you don’t realize it. That’s a high honor, a grand trust. So pay attention to how you greet trouble like a friend, because somebody is watching and deciding how they’ll do it.

Nineteen

Atentados del 11S: ¿Cuántas personas murieron en los ataques del 11 de septiembre?

If you were born before 1995, you can tell me where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001.

I was driving into work at the church I was serving at the time, Highland Park Christian Church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As usual, I had the radio on. An unbelievable news alert came on, interrupting the normal programming. An American Airlines plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. The structure was on fire. Thousands of lives were at risk.

I thought, “That’s just crazy. It’s like a Tom Clancy novel. Is this a War of the Worlds thing? Somebody’s got to be messing with us.” By the time I got in the building and to my office, TVs were going, and the nightmare had begun.

The reports coming in were choppy and chaotic. First one plane, then the next, strategically crashing into the Twin Towers. Then another one crashes into the Pentagon. Then one crashes in Pennsylvania, in a field, which we learned was thanks to the heroism of passengers on board. The Towers began to collapse. Soot, smoke and toxins filled the air. In a few hours, all that was left of the Towers was twisted girders and debris at what would come to be known as Ground Zero.

In all, 2,977 people lost their lives.

I remember thinking and hearing, “Life will never be the same.” Planes were grounded, business came to a halt, Capitol Hill, the White House and the Pentagon went into hyper drive, and so did the news networks. We held our breath. Churches from sea to shining sea filled with grieving and praying souls looking for some kind of grace to make some sense of what happened and make their way through this.

In some ways, life hasn’t been the same. You get a dose of this every time you fly. No more rushing from the curb to you gate for your plane. No more accompanying loved ones and friends to their gate. Long lines through the TSA screening, instead.

Eighteen years after 9/11, Debbie and I were given tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game, and were surprised to have to empty purses and pockets to go through a metal detector to enter the arena. This precaution and others similar to it are in place in places we would never have dreamed of 19 years ago.

So, no, life isn’t the same as it was on September 10, 2001.

And yet. After about six weeks, there were no standing-room-only church services any more (or at least not very many – not as many has there had been that first week after 9/11/01). Once the world felt safe enough to get back on airplanes and do business again, life went back to something very much like “normal” with some considerable inconveniences.

That’s kind of how we are. We have short memories. The ardor and passion and sense of our need for God in those first days and weeks after the unthinkable event of 9/11, and the nation turned our hearts and thoughts to Him began to slide back into a normal rhythm of hustle and buy and sell and get on with life.

Is this because we’re evil? Do we have so short a memory because we’re just bad? Well, there’s no doubt that there is real evil at work in the world, and sometimes in us. There are bad people out there. But I’m thinking this short memory thing is less about us being evil than it is about us being human.

Once our limbic system is no longer over-stimulated and finally comes back to stasis, we’ll come back down to some kind of normal. That’s how God designed our brains to work. The nearly instant hyper-vigilance reaction of our limbic system when we’re under threat is a gift to us from God for our survival. The return to stasis is a gift to us, too. Without it, we’d never be able to sustain survival. Our short collective memory is something of an undesirable and unavoidable outcome of this process. Just my opinion.

On this 19th anniversary of one of the saddest days in American history, it would be a good idea for us to do some remembering. Like remembering the 343 firefighters (including a chaplain and two paramedics) of the New York City Fire Department who gave their lives trying to save the lives of others. Like the 37 police officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department and the 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department. And the 8 men and women from Private Emergency Responders who died. The 265 men and women who lost their lives on the four airliners. The 125 who died in the Pentagon. And then the 2606 who perished in the Twin Towers.

With the exception of Police, Firefighters and Military Personnel, none of those who died had signed up to put their life at risk. They were innocent victims of a meticulously planned and orchestrated terrorist attack.

I don’t know how to calculate the number of families who were represented by these 2,977 souls. All I know is that it’s thousands. I also don’t know how to calculate how many of them have come to peace about their losses. I’m pretty sure it’s not the majority.

Honoring the memory of those who perished won’t bring them back. It won’t lessen the grief and sorrow of the families left behind. It won’t fix anything. But it seems ungrateful and unmindful to nod at the day on the calendar as we charge off to the next thing as unhindered as possible.

For me, there are three essential realities that this day brings to front and center. First of all, life is short and none of us has a guarantee of our next breath, let alone tomorrow. This is a reality worth pondering.

Secondly, the loss and sorrow of people I do not know and possibly will never meet is worth a pause from me to pray for them and think about them and honor the memory of their loved ones. Life has returned to a form of normal for me, but I doubt it will ever be normal for them.

And last of all, control is an illusion. We forget this to our harm.

Whatever you’ve done on this day, on this 9/11/2020, it would be wise to intentionally pause and reflect on the weight and significance of 19 years ago.

I’m the Exception

But I'm An Exception Products from Cheese Tees | Teespring

No. You’re not. Really. You’re WAY not the exception. Not even AN exception.

I know I’m an old guy, and as an old guy, I tend to talk about things in a somewhat rigid way. But I’m just telling you the truth.

I also know that you’ve had everybody from TV Preachers to Kindergarten Teachers tell you that you can be anything you want to be. President, Pro Athlete, Movie Star, Rock Star, whatever you want. Positive Mental Attitude people have been saying some form of , “Whatever you can dream, you can make happen,” for more than 50 years. I know that lots of the movies you watch are about men and women, boys and girls becoming what everybody told them they couldn’t be. I get all that.

I know that professional athletes (and sometimes college athletes) seem to get away with stuff that, if anybody else did them, would land in jail. I know that the same thing has happened with politicians and media personalities and movie stars. I know that there are lots of voices making lots of noise to lead you to believe that you’re the exception.

But there’s this other thing called R E A L I T Y that will always be getting in the way of you being an exception. The biggest part of this R E A L I T Y is that we live in a cause-and-effect world. Action/reaction is the basic formula for everything in life.

Twenty centuries ago, the Bible laid out the formula in agricultural language. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7 NIV)

Most of the time when I read or hear a teaching on this, they skip right to the “A man reaps what he sows” part. But that’s not the entire formula. It starts with, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.”

I want to camp out a little on that idea.

First of all, “Do not be deceived.” Again, I know I’m an old guy, so I’m doing my best to filter that out and be objective. But even with that filter on, it seems to me that we live in a world that’s full of deception. Some of it is just entertainment. But some of it is very harmful. I sometimes wish I could throw Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth around politicians, advertisers and news casters to get the actual truth out of them. I have my mental list of these people, and you probably have yours. But alas, neither Wonder Woman nor the Lasso of Truth exist. So that’s not going to happen. Bummer.

But if it did, I wonder how much activity there would be on social media, and how many of the 24 hours of the day and night could be filled by the news media? My sense is that it would be “not much.” There would be a lot more posts of pets and grand kids, and the news cycle would be shortened a good bit.

You pick the news outlet. I’m not talking about just one side of the political line, either. I’m talking about all of it.

I have no doubt that some on both sides know that they’re being deceitful, and they’re leveraging an agenda. But not all. I think there are sincere folks in all these places on both sides of any line you want to draw who really believe they’re presenting the truth.

Short of a Lasso of Truth, how will you and I know what’s real and true, and what’s not? I don’t have a great answer for this question.

What I do know, though, is that although I can be deceived, and you can be deceived, God cannot be mocked. That’s the second part of this first half of the formula.

Now, I know you don’t intend to mock God. Neither do I. I’ll let you believe what you want to about whether or not there are people in the world who do intend to mock Him. If you’re unconvinced, you may want to watch TV with a critical eye…

But even for them, the bottom line is that they can try to mock Him, they may even think they’ve successfully done it and gotten away with it, and have a lucrative following as a result. But Paul didn’t say, “Most of the time God can’t be mocked.” He didn’t even say, “Mocking God isn’t a good idea.” He made the bold and unequivocal statement that God CANNOT be mocked. As in, “It’s not possible to mock God.”

I suppose if you wanted to, you could mock Einstein’s intelligence and genius, but in light of reality and the truth, even accounting for relativity, you’d only end up mocking yourself. Put that on steroids, and you’ve got what trying to mock God is like.

And here’s why:

“A man (person) reaps what he (they) sow.”

Well, of course. It stands to reason. If you plant okra, you’ll get okra, not squash. You’ll always harvest what you plant. This isn’t a principle that usually works. It always does. There are no exceptions. Okra seeds will always produce okra plants. I suppose it’s possible that squash seeds may have been packaged as okra seeds, and so you may have thought you were planting okra seeds when you were, in fact planting squash. (If this ever happens to you, let me know. I’ve never heard of it. And if you’re an actual gardener, you already know that okra seeds and squash seeds are very different in size and appearance.) But squash seeds will always produce squash, even if they’re mislabeled and misidentified. Without exception. It’s a law, not a suggestion. You will always harvest what you plant.

You’re connecting the dots between you and me being exceptions and Galatians 6:7, right? There are universal laws you can’t suspend which rule out being an exception. Paul’s Law of the Harvest is one of those.

Sometimes we act like we’re not under these universal laws, though. Even those of us who know better. We live as though we were entitled to be treated as exceptions. After all, doesn’t every rule have it’s exception? Well, no, not this one.

“Entitled” is the operative word in that last paragraph. It’s also a hallmark – maybe THE hallmark – of our current culture. I could go a long way with this, but I won’t. You’re welcome.

I’ll just ask you to reflect on your own life and see if there are ways you act like you’re the exception. Are there any ways you act as though you’re entitled? I’m not judging you. I’m right there in the same boat with you. My answer to both of these questions is, “Yes, I’m afraid so.”

So here’s my suggestion. Since both you and I have to admit that there are times when we act as though we were entitled to be the exception, how about we ask God for grace to both see this in ourselves, and to empower us to come back to the reality that we’re not entitled and not exceptions? When grace does this, it shows up as humility, a seed, which when planted, produces incredible harvests of fabulous things in a person’s life. Fabulous things that make a person seem truly exceptional.

And by the way, MOM and/or DAD, one of the most important things you will ever teach your kids is how to balance the fact that they can live exceptionally in a world of confused values while knowing they’re not the exception. Guess what the most valuable technique for this is? Your example. There’s a lot at stake! In partnership with Christ and His Spirit, you can make it work. Live authentically. Trust God’s grace to give you all you need. Live confidently. But don’t fall for the lie that you’re the exception…