Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Struggling through the Journey

When I turned 16, I took a morning paper route delivering The Montgomery Advertiser. I had a very large route, covering some 25 miles or so around my small town. Because of the size of the route, I drove my parents car to make deliveries. My brother, who is 23 months younger than me, worked with me on the route.

A little information might be helpful about my brother. At that age, he was really not a morning person (he still isn't). I generally would wake up five or ten minutes before the alarm went off, jump out of bed, get dressed, and was ready to go in less than five minutes. My brother on the other hand wasn’t quite as excited about getting up at 4:00 AM to deliver the paper.

Our assignments on the route was simple: I drove the car and threw the papers on the left hand side of the car. My brother was to roll the papers as I drove and throw the papers on the right hand side of the car. Sounds simple enough, right? But, almost every day, a problem arose. The first four deliveries were on my side of the road. So, when we picked up the newspapers from the local gas station, we would sit for about five minutes and roll as many papers as we could. Then, we would head out on our route. On more than one occasion, I threw my four papers on my side of the road, kept downing around the block to our next three deliveries, all on my brother’s side of the street, only to realize that he had fallen asleep from the time I had thrown my papers until he was supposed to throw his papers.

As brothers can do, when situations like that arose, I often lost my cool with him, dare I say I lost my temper with him. One particular morning comes to mind quite easily for me. I had thrown my papers, he was suppose to throw his papers, and once again he had fallen asleep. In the heat of the moment, I said to him, “Did you know what an imbecile you are?” He kind of stared back at me, but didn’t say anything.

About a week passed. We were again on our paper route. About halfway through our morning’s deliveries, my brother said, “I know what you meant!” I said, “You know what I meant? Meant about what?” He replied, “I know what you meant when you called me an imbecile.” I replied, “Oh, how did you figure that one out?” His answer is a classic: “I finally found it in the dictionary!”

What do you say to a statement like that? He had finally found the meaning of the word in the dictionary. Took him a week, but he did find it.

I'm afraid, at times, we are all just a little slow. For me, I'm slow in math. I can be slow in grammar as well, thank goodness for spell/grammar check on my word processor. I work hard to correct those problems, just like my brother did with his knowledge of the word imbecile.

What do you struggle with the most? Words? Grammar? Math? Social settings? Friendships? How about in your relationship with God?

Don't give up in your search for improvement, especially as it relates to God. I promise you, the journey will be worth it. I'm not sure I can say the same thing about my math journey!


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rediscovering the Hot Corner

I guess I was about five or six when I first started playing organized baseball. While I have many memories of playing sports at that age, much of what I remember has little to do with the playing of the game or learning how to play the game. What I remember are the things associated with kids playing outside. I remember being far more interested in chasing the bugs in the outfield than I was in watching the game going on. I remember being excited about every ballgame, knowing that after the game each player received a free soft drink from the concession stand. I also remember going to the concession stand and buying the long, skinny pieces of bubble gum and then putting the entire thing in my mouth. It’s a wonder I didn’t choke with all that gum in my mouth.

As I grew older, I developed a real love for baseball. At first, I was afraid. You see, in those days, we didn’t start out with T-Ball or Coach Pitch baseball. As a six year old I played against ten year olds! If you haven’t noticed, there’s a huge physical difference in those ages. And, the opposing coaches were always so smart about taking advantage of those age differences. They used the ten year olds as their pitchers! I’ll never forget coming to bat the first time against a ten year old. I’m surprised I didn’t soil my pants—I was that afraid. I learned something that night, it’s very difficult to hit a baseball thrown by a ten year old when you have your eyes closed! All I really remember from that first bat was hearing the “whooshing” sound of the ball flying by!

Over the years, I got better at playing the game. I moved from the outfield to the infield. I spent many years playing third base, the hot corner, as it is called. A third baseman has to have a good feel for the game, quick foot movement, and a strong arm to throw the ball across the infield diamond.

I always dreamed of being the next Brook Robinson—the Hall of Fame third baseman who played for the Baltimore Orioles. I always dreamed that one day I would get my shot at playing in the major leagues. I would have given anything to play professional baseball, I might even have paid them to play!

It’s funny how that love for the game and desire to play changes as a kid is drafted by a major league team and it’s no longer just about the love of the game. That love for the game quickly turns to hiring lawyers, negotiating contracts, and receiving endorsement contracts that often exceed the contract to play the game itself.

If we aren't careful in life, as we grow older, we replace fun and excitment with everyday and ordinary. We substitute joy for ritual. We no longer see the extraordinary, we only see the ordinary.

I'm wondering, have I allowed that same thing to happen in my walk with God? Have I replaced the joy of my salvation with the ordinary journey through life? Have I replaced joy with boredom?

Father, may today be a day of renewal and joy. May I see You in new places, in new ways, and with a new appreciation!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Positive Not Negative

For 20+ years, I served as a pastor. During those years, I learned a lot. I also failed more times than I would like to admit. At times, I focused far more on the times I failed than on the times I didn't. That always seemed to be true on Monday mornings, as I re-evaluated the previous day's sermons.

Maybe that is how I am wired, I'm not sure why I beat myself up like that.

It could have been that those negative attitudes were also imposed upon me by others. I will admit that often pastors are viewed so differently than others in the local church. There seems to be a higher standard for pastors--and maybe that is justified as well. Everything from his words, to how he dresses, to his family, to even the car he drives, is noticed and commented upon.

A little over 6 1/2 years ago, I changed jobs. Now, I serve as an editor for a Christian publishing company in Birmingham, Alabama. Even in this job, there is a danger of being focused on the negative, rather than on the positive aspects. There's always another deadline to meet, another writer who needs help, another layout to look at. There are meetings, phone calls to make, and emails to return. Those are all normal parts of the day. Much of it is good, some of it isn't. Just being honest here.

I suppose there can be either negative or positive in just about everything we do. It really does come down to how we approach life and the things that come our way. Are we going to see the glass as half full or half empty? Are we going to rejoice in the rain or complain how damp it is? Are we going to celebrate life or fear the unknown?

Some time back I made a decision about life and the attitude I face it with. That decision led to the title of this blog--All Toes in the Water. I made the simple choice to jump into life, fully, with no hesitation about what may come. I'm tired of being hesitant. I'm tired of weighing all of the options. I'm really tired of wasting time worrying about what may or may not come! I'm tired of worrying about what people think about me or may say about me.

From this point forward, I'm going to celebrate life and do more to see the positive in it! I'm going to do more to celebrate what God has done in my life, how He changed me, and how He brought me to this point in my life. The journey has been interesting, to say the least. But, no matter the twists and turns I've seen along the way, God has never failed me, not even once!

Have I failed Him? Sure and I admitted that in the first paragraph. But, never has He failed me.

So, what should I fear about tomorrow, or next week, or next year? Absolutely nothing! God has proven His faithfulness time after time. For that reason, I have no reason to fear what is yet to come!

Let's start a new pattern in the blogging world. Let's put aside much of the debating and arguing and dare I say mean-spirited comments we find--even among Christians, and especially pastors.

Will you join me? Let's start a revolution! A positive revolution! A new attitude revolution!

It can be done!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

All Screams for Help Aren't Urgent!

I remember an event from childhood as if it took place yesterday. I was only about eight or nine years old at the time. I was still very innocent and extremely naïve about life. In my day, most eight year olds were.

One Wednesday night, while at church, us boys headed outside to play. That’s what boys did best and that’s what kept us occupied until our parents finished up in prayer meeting. The church my family attended was rural country church. It looked just like you think it did, red brick all around, a white steeple on top, and green Astroturf grass on the front porch—so no one would fall down the steep steps.

On this particular night, it was already dark by the time we made it outside. It was a perfect night to play hide-and-go-seek. And we had the perfect place to play—the cemetery, or as we called it, the graveyard. Someone was chosen to be “it.” He began counting and the rest of us scampered off to hide.

Let me tell you a little about this cemetery. To begin with, it was very old. There were graves dating back to the early 1800s in it. Some of the markers were nothing more than wooden crosses that had rotten over the years.

Each person had hidden and the person we had chosen to be it had just started looking for us when something unexpected happened. From across the dark cemetery, in the really old section, we began to hear a very faint cry—“Help! Somebody help me!” Now, instantly, I knew what had happened. Someone or better yet something had come out of one of those graves and was dragging a friend of mine back into the grave! I knew it! That had to be it! How else could an eight year old explain what was happening?

Again, I heard, “Help! Somebody help me!” Well, I was no hero. Even at that age I had heard the old saying, “It’s better to be a live coward than a dead hero!” I didn’t move. I stayed in my place knowing that if he were being dragged into the grave, it was only a matter of time before whatever grabbed him would be coming after the rest of us. So, I stayed crouched in my position behind a tombstone. The pleas for help kept getting louder and louder and finally I could see some movement toward the area where the sound was coming from. So, I figured there was safety in number and if something was going to try grabbing the rest of us, all I really needed to do was to be the fastest one there and outrun the rest of them!

I made my way to the old section of the cemetery, following the cries for help. I finally found my friend. My worse fears of him being dragged into the grave by some unearthly creature were simply unfounded. It seems that for several days that week it had rained. Not just a few sprinkles here or there, but a real gulley washer. Because of the heavy rains, one of the older graves had collapsed. This was one of those graves marked only by a rotten cross. My friend had lain down beside what he thought was a grave and when he heard a noise near him, rolled over to hide even more. As he rolled over, little did he know there was a 6 foot deep hole beside him and he instantly rolled into the collapsed grave. The grave was just deep enough that he couldn’t climb out, but it was shallow enough that it didn’t hurt him. So, all he could do was scream for help! And hope some of us would be brave enough to come find him.

How do you handle screams for help? Do you run and hide? Or, do you run and help? I hope, now that I'm a little older than 8, that the next time someone screams for help near me, I'll be a lot braver!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hanging on to the Rules

Did you know…

•In Smallville, South Carolina, it is illegal for a dog to wear sneakers.
•Residents of Sprinkle, Oregon, can be fined $50 for playing croquet in the rain.
•It is against the law to slurp your soup in a public eating place in New Jersey.
•It is illegal to remove your shoes if your feet smell while you’re in a theater in Winnetka, Illinois.
•It is illegal to ride a bike into a swimming pool in Baldwin Park, California.

I’m sure those rules have a history somehow connected to them. Some of them even make sense—like the one about not taking off your shoes if you feet smell! But, I can also say with a great measure of certainty that some of those laws are outdated and are no longer enforced. At least I hope police officers have better things to do than enforcing such outdated rules and laws. I think it is also safe for me to say that more than likely, many citizens of those towns wouldn’t even know those laws are still on the books.

So, why do we hang on to them? Why hang on to such archaic rules and laws? Why not draft a petition or resolution or something to update the books? Well, if you’ve followed politics for long, you know that once something becomes a law, it’s often difficult to make it go away.

You may have read about the sign found on an old country road. The sign read: “Ruts in the road ahead. Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it a while!”

If I were to update that sign today, I would probably warn readers this way: “Ruts in the rules ahead! Choose the rut carefully or else you’ll never find a way out!”

In truth, the silly rules, the old way of doing things, is really nothing new under the sun, is it? Jesus often faced people who were stuck in a rut. And sadly, many of those people who were stuck in a rut were the religious leaders of the day. Too many of those leaders didn’t understand an important life truth—even though rules are good, there’s more to life than rules.

Think back to one lesson Jesus taught the people about the Sabbath and picking grain. “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:23–28).

Let’s take a moment to better understand what happened here and why. Jesus’ disciples did something the Mosaic Law permitted when they picked the grain (see Deut. 23:25). However, when they picked the grain on a Sabbath day, they violated a traditional Pharisaic interpretation of the law.

The Pharisees were quick to point out the disciples’ mistake and Jesus’ mistake for not correcting His followers. However, as we unpack what the Pharisees said, we quickly see that they—not Jesus and His disciples—were wrong for two reasons. First of all, the Pharisees did not distinguish which laws were more important, the Mosaic Laws or their own Pharisaic Laws. They basically accepted that their rules, their laws, their self-created ruts, were equal with the laws and rules given by God to Moses. How arrogant and self-righteous is that?

The Pharisees were wrong for a second reason as well. The Pharisees did not believe that Jesus had the right to provide for His disciples’ physical needs because doing so violated the Pharisee’s tradition governing ritual worship. The disciples should have just remained hungry rather than Jesus providing for their physical needs.

If you read carefully what the Pharisees said, you realize just how many ruts they had placed on the Sabbath day. Their ruts, their rules and laws, basically inhibited the Jews more than providing them any sense of freedom or joy. The Sabbath day became a list of don’ts, not a list of do’s from God. The Sabbath day became a day to dread, not a day to relax and enjoy.

I have no doubt that Jesus was right to point out that God had given the Sabbath as a good gift to His children. From the very beginning of time, God had designed the Sabbath to be a day that was set aside to free people from labor and to give them an opportunity to rest. You must understand, at the very heart of Jesus’s argument is this life truth: Since God made a day of rest for man, it is up to God to determine the rules related to the day—not man.

Then again, that idea, that God is in charge and not man, hey, doesn't that apply to every thing in life? I think so!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Starting Point


That one word best describes how most children face life. Maybe there is a good reason for them to be fearless. Despite the brevity of days they’ve had on earth, just think of the changes they have already gone through.

Think of the journey a baby makes to enter the world. From the warmth of the mother’s womb to the sterile glove of a doctor’s hand on his backside to being separated from his mother for the first time in nine months, the shock of coming into the world surely must toughen up a child quickly. Fortunately, we can’t remember what those first few moments of life this side of the womb was like. I am thankful God put a limit on our memory, not allowing us to remember those first days of life.

Fearless also describes how a child learns to walk. Within months of birth a child moves from laying helpless in his crib to scooting on the floor to crawling to mustering up enough courage to let go of the chair or coffee table to stand on his own two feet. Within days, there is no stopping the child as he wanders from room to room, exploring his world, testing his newfound independence, proud of his accomplishment, and fearlessly expanding his view of the world.

Think of a child entering school for the first time. Whether or not a child has been in daycare or was able to stay home with mom during those early years, the first day of school can be traumatic for even the bravest of children. New friends must be made. A new environment must be discovered. A new teacher guides his path. He has a new bus to ride, a new carpool routine, a new schedule during the day—all of those things challenge a child to rise above and level of comfort he has previously known.

Think of a teenager learning to drive. Wow! Talk about an adjustment. A child goes from riding in the car to controlling it. The child goes from knowing the parent is responsible for transportation to the teenager being responsible for the people riding in the car. When my daughter started driving I was surprised how little she knew about how to get to where she needed to be. For the years prior to her driving, she relied upon her parents to make sure she arrived safely and on time—now she was in charge and had to figure out how to move from point A to point B and back to point A again. That was a challenge for her to say the least.

Think of a graduating senior moving into the real world. Whether the child goes off to college, to work, or to military service, leaving the comforts of home and mom’s (or dad’s) cooking can be challenging and difficult. Everything that young adult has known for the first 18 years of life is now rearranged, changed, and challenged. Is there any wonder that some young adults simply can’t handle the pressure and return to the comfort of their parents’ home? I often call these returning young adults “boomerang kids”—you keep throwing them out and they keeping coming back. These young adults often return to what they know best and where they feel safe.

Fearless. Let’s go back to that word again. Maybe children are fearless because of their lack of worldly experience. Maybe they are fearless because they have an innate trust in God. Maybe children trust their parents far more than they should. I don’t know for sure what it is, but I have always found that most children are fearless about most things.

Fearless certainly seems to describe young David as he took on Goliath. David heard the unceasing taunts of the giant. He saw the fear in the eyes of the Israelites. He saw a king that was incapable of doing anything. Young David refused to stand and watch and do nothing. He gathered a few stones and his trusted slingshot and off he went to slay a giant. Fearless.

Fearless seems to best describe the young children who climbed into Jesus’ lap as He taught life lessons to those around Him. Read the gospel accounts of that again and notice how the children were completely unafraid to climb into the lap of the Son of God. What other word, besides fearless, describes children who were not intimated or frightened by God’s only Son? They simply climbed into His lap and listened to His parables. Fearless.

I remember going as a child to the beach, pool, or even swimming hole near our house. As soon as I saw the water, I started running at full speed to jump in. I didn’t check the water’s temperature or cleanliness, or even depth (probably not very wise, especially on how deep the water was). I just ran with all my might to jump in, creating the biggest splashing of water that I could possibly make.

Now, compare that attitude of fearlessness with how many of us act as adults. Would you be honest with me? When was the last time you ran full-throttle and jumped into a pool or into the water at the beach? Been a while? A long while? I know it has for me. I can’t even remember the last time I did that.

As we get older, we tend to be more careful, cautious, if you will. Here’s what we do as adults. When we come to the edge of the water, we tend to stick one toe in the water first, to gauge whether or not the water is too cold. We tend to check the cleanliness of the water. We certainly want to check the depth of the water before we dive in.

As an adult just about everything has to be perfect before we inch our way into the water and get acclimated to the water.

And as we do that, all the while, we are moving further and further away from being fearless.

While I would never advocate reckless abandon regarding water, I think you see my point about how our level of fear often increases through life. If we aren’t careful, we not only grow up, we also grow prematurely old.

Do you understand what I am saying?

We go from being fearless to being fearful. We become afraid to interview for a new job—we might not get it. We become afraid to marry—it might not work out. We become afraid to go to the doctor—she might find an inoperable tumor or something. We become afraid to try new things, travel to new places, eat new foods, experience new adventures—the list could go on and on. If we aren’t careful, our life is guarded by fear—not us controlling that fear.

That, my friends, is a tragedy that doesn’t need to happen. As a believer in Jesus Christ, we must learn to move from living in uncertainty and fear to living in joy and peace.

Can that be done? Can that be a reality in your life or my life? Yes. Yes it can! Being joyful and happy and secure is possible if Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of our life.

That’s the beginning point for all of us—our relationship with Jesus.