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You Gotta Serve Somebody

Those words were sung by Bob Dylan some 38 years ago and they still ring true.

Over the last few months I’ve been very frustrated. I’ve had a string of job and client opportunities find me finishing in second place, I got totally screwed over by a client with lies and deceit and all that mixed in with a decision in our nation’s political process that I just don’t feel good about. And in recent weeks I’ve experienced some doubt about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. So I went to the once place where I knew I could get answers …

God.

I caught the tail end of Dylan’s song on the radio one day and it made me think, “Who am I really working for?”

Me?

My wife?

My family?

My community?

No, God brought a verse back to mind from Joshua. “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15b).

And it’s that mindset that I move forward.

I’ve been down this road a time or two. A previous marriage ended when she decided that playing the field was her best option. I’ve been laid off for pretty ridiculous reasons, which were more petty and personal than they were professional.

But no matter what the incident, I have always found that when I finally get my stuff together and trust God, it all works out.

That doesn’t mean I get my job or wife back – in both cases a good thing – but it does mean that I more easily find the next thing God has in store for me.

And so I move forward. God has put some more opportunities in my path and I will pursue them with the same vigor as before. But hopefully this time around if God gives those opportunities to someone else, I’ll have the clear sight to see that He must have something even bigger and better down the road.

When the labelmakers malfunction

Labels are funny things.

They carry a lot of information, but rarely anything we really need or want to know.

I am the son of a man who spent nearly every waking moment of his life assigning labels. A good portion of that was for his work as a mechanical engineer for the United States Navy as he worked on the creation of the Sidewinder Missile. Every drawing had to meticulously described so that they guys on the other end building the thing knew exactly what his intentions were.

graph_equation_lg_whtAt home, those same skills made digging up a simple flower bed for my mother a college-level class in drafting and geometric design. My mom would say, “Can you guys dig up that square in the backyard so I can plant some stuff?” That request hit my dad’s ears and translated into some set of postulates and theorems that even Pythagoras would cringe at.

Never did a woman have such an exactly measured place to go daisies.

But he also dealt in some other labels, ones that I’m fairly sure were left over from his life growing up during the depression and without a father after the age of eight. One that tended to pigeon hole people into little boxes that made him feel better, but that were grossly unfair.

I picked up the habit, but shied away form it later as I became victim of some of those same misplaced labels.

Yeah, I was a bigger kid than most, but I wasn’t as fat as they all made me feel. The litany of names I endured was lengthy and hurtful until one friend, Greg Markarian, hit on one my freshman year. Mixing my size with my affinity for the play of one Ervin ‘Magic’ Johnson he tagged me as Magic Gut. It stung at first, but became something of a badge of pride later.

But that’s for another day…

But I’m addressing labels as I am coming to believe they may be the lynch pin in our problems today. Maybe not all of them, but a darn good many of them.

See, when we place a label on someone, that tends to become our reality. We look at people in that light almost completely irrespective of anything else they might do.

political-partiesPut the issue of people being equally and fairly on the table for discussion, and everyone agrees its a good thing.

But assign parties at the table with religious monikers and its starts to get ugly. Toss in sexual preference and skin color and people start whipping out weapons- verbal and otherwise.

The topic didn’t change, but the perception of the people in the discussion did.

I witnessed this most recently when watching a television show. Being the end of the year the parties on screen were going over some of the various happenings from the year and in this one segment focused on people who got in trouble. They dinged Paula Deen and Phil Robertson to name a few, and cracked wise with one liners on each. At one point someone asked if the room would like to watch another channel, to which one person replied, “Yeah, I’ve had about enough these damned liberal yuppies!”

Now, the first bad assumption here is that the people on the screen were liberals. Yeah, it does seem like Hollywood tips that way on the political scales. But tossing that assumption on the table just muddy the waters. For as soon as that statement was made, Jane Lynch – an outspoken lesbian actress – immediately voiced her support for Duck Dynasty’s elder statesman saying something to the effect of “What did A&E think they were getting? He’s down-home, self-proclaimed redneck who prays at the end of every show. What did they think he was going to say?” (my paraphrase)

JaneLynchWhen I heard that it became apparent that Ms. Lynch and held the exact same viewpoint. And I, in fact, had said almost the exact same thing not a few weeks earlier.

And I’m just guessing here, but I can’t imagine that Lynch is one of Robertson’s biggest fans.

And of course we are all aware of the labels that hinder our political process. Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, North, South, East and West and whatever tags you want to toss in there make getting anything done a virtual nightmare.

But it seems that, at least politically, people may be willing to start stripping off those titles.

In a January 2012 article, Gallup reported that a record high 40% of voters identified themselves as independents. That means at best that 60% of the remaining voters side with one of the two traditional parties, and we know they don’t all belong to one of them alone.

So during the presidential campaign from that same year when Mitt Romney made his now infamous statement about the 47%, that he ticked off a substantial portion of the voting public. He pigeon-holed a huge voting block with one statement – A statement that likely showed how he viewed what he perceived to be Democrats and that put the people who feel they are part of that crowd on edge against him.

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” ~ Mitt Romney

Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s how it played out.

Oh, but don’t think I’m not gonna kick around in my own backyard a bit.

Christians, we’re way guiltier than the politicians. They do it for money, one of the oldest hooks in the book.

Christians? We do it for something far less laudable and far more sinful.

We do it for pride.

Christians place labels on folks all the time, forgetting that Christ told us not to judge each other. We always seem to forget that.

We keep forgetting that when Christ boiled down all of the law and commandments that they could all be summed up in just two. And that if we’d focus on just those two, we’d be in good shape and doing the Father’s will.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ~ Matt 22:36-40

We label they as gay, lesbian, drug addicts, alcoholics, pornographers and the like. Yep, that may be what they do. But they are still God’s children and only as lost as any of us were before we came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

By labeling people we put them beneath us, because sure we wouldn’t have any such issues. And if they have issues and we are so superior, we really shouldn’t sully ourselves by talking, eating or (Heaven forbid) actually touching these folks. Its so much easier to legislate our morality and require them to act like us. Just like Jesus did with us, right?

What? He let us make a choice? Well I’m sure we can improve the system and make it easier and more efficient for them to ‘believe’ (aka conform). We’re Christ won’t mind.

We never say that, but that is exactly how we act. And as it dumb as it looks in print, its is a thousand times more offensive to those who have yet to truly consider Christ and make Him their Lord and Savior.

Labels work great on missile drawings, file cabinets and food stuffs.

But apply them to people and they never come out right.

Rumpled sheets are our own dang fault

Christians, we did this to ourselves.

And now the monster that WE created is coming back to bite us in the hiney.

The recent flap over A&E’s decision to put Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson on indefinite hiatus due to comments he made in a GQ Magazine interview is now the spearhead for Christians complaining that their First Amendment rights are being violated. And in this writers opinion, rightfully so.

But the outrage is being met with consternation from various groups who feel Robertson’s remarks about gays and lesbians are way out of line.

You make the call. The link to the entire article is above, but here is the excerpt that is drawing criticism and praise.

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

and later on …
Phil Robertson

Phil Robertson

“We’re Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television,” he tells me. “You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”

What does repentance entail? Well, in Robertson’s worldview, America was a country founded upon Christian values (Thou shalt not kill, etc.), and he believes that the gradual removal of Christian symbolism from public spaces has diluted those founding principles. (He and Si take turns going on about why the Ten Commandments ought to be displayed outside courthouses.) He sees the popularity of Duck Dynasty as a small corrective to all that we have lost.

“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Robertson gives his view of what he thinks a guy would find more interesting in a woman versus a man, nothing more. Yeah, Phil is nothing if not blunt, but he didn’t go out and head hunt anybody. He just gave his view. Period.

And when he continued with his assessment of repentance and how the world has gone wrong, he didn’t lash out against anyone. He simply stated what he believed and paraphrased Corinthians.

What’s truly comical here is that A&E acts as thought they had no clue that Robertson felt this way. I mean, how many shows have a negotiation where faith, family and duck season are immediately taken off the table by the stars?

Oh wait, didn’t the Kardashians do that?

Or was it the cast of the Real Housewives of Atlanta?

Remember, this is a blog and this is MY opinion. So get ready for both barrels.

Boycot A&E on Facebook

Boycot A&E on Facebook

A&E is copping out big time. This wasn’t a business decision. This smacks of pressure from a few people, maybe even within the company itself but more likely a handful of advertisers, who are headed by people in alternative lifestyle communities. They have a few bucks, a big mouth and feel like they can push the network around by threatening to make a ton of noise if A&E doesn’t drop the hammer on Robertson.

Unfortunately in today’s world its not what’s right that counts. Its who’s got the biggest megaphone or more Facebook likes.

In a statement issued Thursday, the Robertsons have pretty much drawn the line in the sand.

We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm.  We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.

A&E has made a huge mistake. And with its most successful series being the Storage Wars franchise, they can only hope that their next round of show proposals is as salted as the storage lockers they buyers find.

But back to the point at hand – how is this the fault of Christians?

It’s really pretty simple. See, when we as Christians go out and condemn the world for their actions, we invite them to do the same to us. Mind me, I’m not talking about stating what we believe or even quoting Scripture as Robertson did. I’m talking about that judgmental attitude that we, as a whole, have carried around for years.

Where did that come from, because it certainly isn’t from God.

God gave us two simple commandments and one commission.

Commandment #1 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

Commandment #2 – “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Commission – “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Hmmm… No condemnation. No trying to legislate our faith and morality into the lives of others. No burning down abortion clinics or book burnings.

See, much like contestants that get fired on The Apprentice, we have strayed from our sole purpose – loving God, love people and telling those people about Him and His love.

We made out bed and now we’re forced to sleep in it. And the only way to get any semblance of normal back is to pray, be diligent and stay our ground in love.

Get ready folks, its going to be a bumpy night.

When the ‘right’ get it wrong

While the title may hint at a political column, this post is really much more than that.

Its about a level of arrogance that breeds extreme ignorance.

Its about having blinders on so big that even road ahead looks black as night.

Its about self-righteousness that has run so far amok that even the Klu Klux Klan begins to look like a bunch of moderates.

Ethnocentrism.

Dr. H. Bruce Stokes

Dr. H. Bruce Stokes

That word has had a huge impact on my life, having discovered it some time in the Fall of 1990 while sitting in a Cultural Anthropology class at California Baptist University. Dr. H. Bruce Stokes dropped that term on us a few week before Halloween that year and spoke for nearly 30 minutes on how it had led anthropologists and archaeologists alike on a number of wild goose chases.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines is being “characterized by or based on the attitude that one’s own group is superior.” Dr. Stokes explained further people will fight to the death defending something they have convinced themselves is real, or that they were taught falsely – even when the facts are clear to the contrary.

Its really sad when intelligent, experienced, well-educated adults allow themselves to be sucked in on such gullible tales only top repeat them as thought they were fact. Its disheartening when people lose the ability to think and research for themselves, but instead rely on some talking head from one news station to do it for them.

And people, this doesn’t just happen in politics. It happens in religion too.

People have been mislead by preachers spouting a “name it and claim it” Gospel, so much so that they blame God when theyName it! don’t get they want or get things their way. Rather than seek the will of God in matters, they pray for their preferred outcome to occur, and question God’s ability or presence when it doesn’t come about.

Let’s get this straight people – we serve God, not the other way around. God’s plan is God’s plan and we need to get on board with it or get out of the way. Why? Because He’s seen all the possible outcomes and knows the best way to get the job done. He is infinite, not finite. His is omnipresent, not just hanging out. He is omniscient, not just good at guessing what card you picked from the deck.

Remember that Jesus told us that all of the law – not some of it, part of it or just the stuff we read – can be boiled down into just two commandments. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV)

Judging people for the purpose of condemning them? Sorry, not in our job description.

Shunning people because they don’t think or act like we do? Not in there either.

Forcing people to live according to God’s word? Nope, not part of our duties.

Then just before He left, Jesus gave us what is termed as the Great Commandment: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'” (Matthew 28: 18-20, NIV)

Now it seems to me that with Jesus proclaiming that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” He couldThinking Monkey have given us any number of tasks, jobs or game plans to carry out. And as His followers, as Christians, we would have the authority and the power to carry them out. I mean really think about this, He could have said…

“Go out and end world hunger!” or

“Go make everyone a Christian!” or

“Hate everyone who doesn’t follow my laws!”

But he didn’t say ANY of those things or anything like any of those things.

Jesus told us to go out and make disciples all nations; to make them students and hopefully followers of his teachings. Remember the two commandments, so whatever we do we must do in love. So everyone on the planet, from the tall to the small, must make a choice to follow Jesus. We can’t make it for them, no matter how bad a choice we think they are making.

That includes people who choose to be gay.

That includes people who choose to commit abortion.

That includes murderers, rapists and even the lowliest liar.

No sin is blacker than any other. So whatever you’re doing that is outside of God’s will – and that you make excuses for – is just as bad as the worst sin ever committed. And while that may sound condemning, it can also be a source of great hope. Because no matter what sin you’ve committed, Christ still sits waiting for you to come to Him and choose the life that He wants to give us. Life that is abundant and full and riuch in every way imaginable.

Christ never said it would be easy. But you can bet that it will be well worth the effort.

So I challenge you thin think for yourself. Don’t let some writer or news monkey be your only source. And certainly don’t let this writer be your only source. Read, research and best of all pray for yourself. If you truly let God lead you, He will never lead you wrong.

Moving Forward

Six years doesn’t seem like a long time.

It’s longer than the life of your average band and most TV series.

But six years in the life of a fledgling church that has walked a long and winding road seems a lot longer when you start looking back at where you’ve been.

This Sunday will mark the 6th anniversary for The River A Christina Church in Las Vegas. And it is one that, after some trials that would have staggered most mega churches, seems to be celebrating a rebirth as it moves forward.

River-Video-LogoI came to The River in the Spring of 2010, having just met my soon-to-wife online and getting ready to start a new life. My first visit was one marked by meeting senior pastors Ed & Lorri Conover. Lorri greeted me briefly with an effervescent smile and a hug. I only met Ed for a moment as he was in what would prove to be the final stages of a battle with cancer. He passed about five days after that encounter while I was back at home packing to make the move.

Unbeknownst to me at that time, Lorri had also been diagnosed with cancer, a battle she fought until June of this year when the Lord called her home. My last moments with her were spent with my wife holding her hand and my reading the book of James to her, Ed’s favorite.

Losing one pastor is a lot for any church to handle, but losing two is usually has people packing up and moving on.

But The River family has instead closed ranks and chosen to stay true to the call given their founding pastors six years prior.

As the last three years have passed I have become intimately involved with the administration of the church. It started with volunteering in the sound booth when its director left. I came in to help out and four weeks later was placed in charge of it.

A few months later I was the church “historian” (for lack of a better word), asked to record all of the events and what not through photography.

In the last year and a half I have taken on the roles of marketing and web administrator.

They keep me around much longer and they’re going to have sign some deeds over to me or something.

But as we prepared for Sunday’s celebration, I tried finding a theme for graphics and what not that I might circulate through our social media outlets. And so I looked at what the expected gifts might be for such an anniversary.

Traditional: Candy and Iron.

Modern: Wood.

Someday somebody is gonna have to explain who came up with that stuff and why, but that is for another day.

But as I pondered those items it became clear that they were very appropriate for The River in this season.

No doubt, it has been a very bittersweet six years. The creation of a church and being involved in such wide-ranging events as The Sound and Passion Play were certainly high marks. The loss of two pastors and the travails that come with not having your own building, not so much. Like a bag of Halloween candy, there’s always some you can’t wait to get to and other s you hope your parents will take.

The resolve that The River family has shown in this season is inspiring. Like Iron being forged in a fiery furnace, it may be shaped and bent to the master’s end purpose. But when it is done it will be stronger for it and be more useful than the lump of mineral components could have ever been.

And when building for the future, as The River is now, it requires a good foundation and framing. It requires that it be done right and that it be done with craftsmanship so that it stands the tests of time. So that when the storms come, and they will come again, that it will not be blown down or torn asunder by the shifting sands.

Six years. Seems like a long time. But in the scope of what The River was called to do, it’s but a blink of an eye.

And those eyes are only looking ahead as we move forward.

When we’re really all in the family

Lately I’ve been researching my family tree and it’s been quite interesting.

Malcolm MacDonald & Family circa 1913In the last two months since I really got into it, I was finally able to find the birthplace of my grandma MacDonald. Just getting there was a task, but thanks to the Internet and Facebook, I was able to find so much more.

I actually found pictures of her as a child, as well as her brothers, sisters and father – my great grandfather.

And once that door opened up, I was able to start seeing connections to people in the past that I’d never known. And interestingly enough, some I did know.

I found that I was related to the likes Robert The Bruce, Charles Martel and even Charlemagne.

Finding yourself attached to those folks is somewhat sobering. But this weekend it might have gotten even better.

I was searching for pictures of these new-found family members when I found a web site that linked members of this royal chain even farther back than I expected. I knew I didn’t have time to enter in all the data, so I just started clicking through the father’s names until I hit one I recognized.

Isaac (Ishaq) ben Abraham.

That seemed a little coincidental, so I glanced over at his wife’s name and found it to be Rebekah. One more look and I found that his father’s name was Abraham and his mother’s Hagar.

And it suddenly dawned on me that – according to this one web site – I had a direct lineage to the father of Israel. Not just any Abraham but the Abraham.

Of course you make enough clicks backward and you end up with a nice pair of newly weds (and newly createds, for that matter) named Adam and Eve who were having some housing issues.

It dawned on me at that point that what I had always thought to be true with the story of Noah, was true all the way around.

We’re all family.

Think of all of the evil in the world today. Greed. Theft. Envy. Lust. Murder. Wars. This list is practically endless.

And when we think we’ve just about reached the end, we always seem to come up with a new spin on an old sin or something completely out of the blue.

But what is we thought of each other as family.

As a child considering the saga of Noah, it occurred to me that everyone on the planet must be able to trace the ancestral roots back to one of Noah’s three sons and then to Noah. That no matter our skin color, race or sports team affiliation we are all related.

Think about that for a moment.

That guy who cut you off in traffic and gave you the bird.

That woman that called trying to collect a bill.

Congressmen.

All of them – and yes, even the Congressmen – are your brothers and sisters. They may be a few times removed, but we are all part of one family. The family of man.

And it was for that reason that God sent the Son of Man to atone for our sins. Because to make amends for the seemingly endless array of things we have done and will continue to each other, He had to send a member of the family to get it right.

Am I directly linked to Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. Well, if I believe the story of Noah then I must be somehow. But whether or not I am in their bloodline means little in that we are all one race, under God and we really ought to start acting like it.

Working For A Living

Work can be as nasty a four-letter word as there is some days, especially if you aren’t doing something you love.

But find the right job and every day is like playing a game.

My dad, Edwin M. Allen Sr., was a mechanical engineer. He spent every day at Michelson Lab at China Lake working for the government to help develop missile technology. It seemed like a lot of numbers and a lot of work from where I sat as a kid. And I never could understand his sheer giddiness when one of his Sidewinder missiles took out a Libyan jet in early 1989.

But once I understood it, it was like uncorking a bottle.

While the man worked in a windowless, temperature-controlled office all day behind fairly tight security, he was literally changing the course of history. The guidance system he designed for that weapon changed the way pilots all over the world fought aerial battles. Looking back, I can see why he brought his work home with him every night, even to the point of murmuring top secret numbers while he napped on our couch.

So how do we find out what it is we really want to do? That thing that makes us giddy? Let me offer a few pieces of advice that I’ve gleaned over the years to get you headed in the right direction.

“Hey Look! Mikey Likes It!”

The kid in that seventies commercial had no clue if he liked Life cereal or not. But when he finally tried it, he loved it.

Mikey from the Life Cereal commercial (1972)

Mikey from the Life Cereal commercial (1972)

Sometimes we have stuff we hate and are dead set against going anywhere near it. Other times we have stuff we love and think we could do it the rest of our lives. The point is, we have to try them.

Now that may seem a bit redundant. You’d think if you like something you’ve probably already tried it, right? Well there can be a huge difference between liking something you choose to be around as opposed to being forced to be around it every day.

If you don’t believe me, get a serving of your absolute favorite food and eat it. And when you’re done, force yourself to eat 13 more. You may find that your favorite food doesn’t taste so good come plate seven or eight, maybe sooner in some cases. And if you somehow stick it out to 14 total helpings, you may see that food in a whole new light, if ya get my drift.

When you’re young, try out things you think you really like or maybe have an aptitude for. Doing an internship somewhere (working for free while you learn the ropes) is a great way to go. Working part-time is another. Some places have clubs, like the Explorers for police and fire, where you can be part of what is going and get an inside view of what they really do every day.

Testing Your Patience

When I was a kid I really didn’t like school all that much. It seemed like they made me do a bunch of things that really weren’t all that fun. I kind of liked science a little because we got to actually do stuff. But math and writing? UGH! So the whole thought of just being in school was kind of ‘yuck’.

test_hg_whtSo right after my junior year of high school I took an aptitude test and what did it come back with? Yep, you got it – be a teacher or a writer.

I gave that test about as much chance of being right as lottery ticket where someone had scribbled in the letters A, B, Q and the word ‘broccoli’ over the numbers in hopes of having a one-of-a-kind winning ticket.

So after going through college and trying my hand at computer programming, telecommunications/broadcasting and business administration, guess where I ended up? I spent about 15 years of my professional career teaching and writing. And in both professions I was blessed enough to receive some substantial awards.

And every day in those jobs was a blast. They didn’t always pay that well, but going to work was never that big of a deal.

So while tests in general kind of suck, there are a few that are OK.

Do What You Love, Love What You Do

This seems pretty straight forward, and is easy to dismiss as a given. But take it to heart!

If you’re not having fun at what you do, every day is a chore. And as we all know, chores are no fun.

My wife loves to putter around our front yard with the plants. She gets out there and digs and waters and digs and prunes and, well, did I mention she digs a lot? I have little interest in that. My dad made me do that stuff when he decided it would be “fun” to build these slump stone walls around our house when I was in sixth grade. And then he offered to help the neighbors build theirs, selling my ditch-digging services out for glasses of ice tea that he drank.

So you can imagine my reaction when I’m asked to go dig in my front yard now. I smile and help because its my wife (guys remember, “Happy Wife. Happy Life.”) and then I make sure she has some beverage other than ice tea on hand and that I will be getting at least one glass of it.

When all is said and done, I’m sure it was probably guys like me that invented minimalistic landscaping.

The point is, when you’re doing something you love it ceases to become a job. Sure, you gotta spend time and collect a paycheck to pay your bills, but the time passes so fast its incredible.

When I was teaching or writing sports stories, my wife had to remind me to come home some days. Yeah, it was that fun!

Believe You Can Fly

Yeah, another opportunity to sing and I’m passing it up for your sake. But one of these days…

Once you’ve found that passion, that thing that really makes you want to get up every morning, do it with your whole heart. Make it the best you can regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

I wrote previously about the wonders of the 70s Pet Rock, but there are things that we take for granted now that no one thought was a good idea when they were first presented. Here are a few:

  • Star Wars – George Lucas couldn’t get any studios to produce the first one (well, what we now know as Episode IV) and so he did himself. It is still the biggest selling independent film of all time. And when he was ‘finished’ with his project, he sold it to Disney and now they will continue the franchise in 2015.
  • Rubics Cube – Yeah, this totally looks like fun … NOT! Yet it even had jocks like me trying to figure it out in secret so we’d look smart. My only problem was I couldn’t peel off and reapply the stickers fast enough to not raise suspicion.
  • Baby On board Signs – Creator Michael Lerner came up with an idea to put the signs in cars to encourage people to drive more safely, and it quickly mutated into a way to show your style. His take was more than $38 million after some 15 years in business.

Anything you do is worth doing well. And if you believe that God has a calling on your life to do it, then all the better reason to give it your best. I think Colossians 3:23-24 says it best:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” ~ NIV

The Finishing Touch

In the Bible we’re told to put on “… compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col 3:12, NIV)

In business its things like being disciplined, a self-starter and confident.

In friendship its about sharing sorrows and pain, being able to disagree and remain close and earning trust.

But in list after list, and as James puts it so well in the opening words of his book of the Bible, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4, NIV)

I’d been struggling to write this post for a few weeks now. I’ve felt compelled to share it for several reasons, but the largest being that the last thing I ever did for my pastor Lorri Conover before she she went home to be with the Lord two months ago was to read her husband Ed’s favorite book of the Bible to her: James. It just wasn’t that until today I had the proper perspective and words to get my message in order.

Think of all the things that people want from you and then weigh that against what they really need. And I mean really, really need.

I spent three years working for a credit union doing presentations on financial literacy topics, stuff like budgeting, credit and identity theft. But one of my favorite things to cover when talking money was about the difference between wants and needs and how we have seriously screwed up the definition of these two words in our daily lives.

Ask yourself, “What do I NEED to survive?”

Go ahead, I’m waiting…

Got it? You should only have three things.

We need food and water to survive.

We need shelter to survive.

Clothing is a funny thing. We think we need it, but mostly because there are just a large group of us that no one wants to see naked. If you don’t believe me take a break from this post and watch the video below. You’ll see what I mean.

So yeah, we need clothing.

But what others want and really need from us is perseverance. They need to know that no matter how much they screw up, no matter how many dumb things they do, that we will still love them and need them.

If you claim the name of Christ in your life, then you’re going to face trials and tribulations. Those are just 65-cent theological words for you’re going to get hassled, picked on and single out. Be ready for it. Deal with it. But remember this – while God told us up front we’d suffer on account of Him, he also promised to be right there with us to help us get through it.

And it is getting through it that produces perseverance.

When I was younger I was graced with the ability to push through things athletically. I was by no means the fastest, strongest or most talented player on any team I ever played on. And if I was, we didn’t win a lot of games. But then again, Being the ‘big man on campus’ wasn’t my job description. My job on just about every team I ever played on was to push the guys in front of me and make them better. There was little glory in that, except for a strange cult-like following that gave me 20-foot posters in our gym with the nickname ‘Magic Gut’ in neon letters spray-painted across them.

Trust me, that nickname is a story unto itself.

As I’ve grown older I’ve found that persistence and perseverance have served me well. I’m certainly not always be the smartest guy in the room, but it just bugs me a little when people settle for less than what they are capable of.

‘Bugs me a little’ may not be the right phrase. Drives me out of my freakin’ gourd is probably more accurate.

As James goes further in the opening chapter of his epistle, he tells us that we can ask God for stuff that will make us better such as wisdom. But he admonishes us that “… the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, NIV).

I like hats, and a crown is a pretty cool hat.

Perseverance, persistence or tenacity are not merely given, they are awarded. They are like a badge of honor that say you made it through this last task and I can make it through next one as well. It’s kind of like that line from Disney’s Aladdin, “You’d be surprised what you can live through.”

That same tenacity in life can be transposed into our business life as well. If we see a place or a product that God has called us to, we need to pursue it like it is the last thing we’ll ever do on earth. A calling is a calling, period. People have had some pretty weird ideas over the years that became multimillion dollar successes.

Pet Rocks circa 1975

Pet Rocks circa 1975

My favorite was the Pet Rock. A plain, smooth rock in a cardboard box with fake hay in it that people paid $3.95 in 1975 (which is $16.63 in today’s economy) that did NOTHING!

Even if you weren’t on drugs in the 70’s, you had to have been on something or been too close to someone who was to have bought that thing.

Every business opportunity, like everything in life, has to be evaluated. As much as we hate it and hope it will go away after high school, we have to do our homework on everything. We have to use our own eyes, ears and brain to look over whatever gets placed in our paths and make a decision as to whether or not we should get involved in it. We must be persistent, we must persevere to find all of the facts and not just settle when we feel comfortable or get the answer we’re looking for.

That’s how the government and scientists got us into the mess we’re in now.

So what got me so fired to finally get writing all this? Well, as ports typically does in my life, a Sports Center feature reminded me to get off my butt and stay in the game. I may not be a star, but I’m a vital part of the plan. If you don’t believe me, just ask God. He told me I have stuff to do and He probably has a few things on His list for you as well.

“Richie Parker: Drive” by ESPN

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” ~ Hebrews 12:1

For those of you that are a little more musically oriented, I’m gonna close with one my favorite Petra songs from back in the day. Run for the Prize

Taking Prisoners

So Friday night on the way home from seeing “Identity Thief” at the theater with Dee and the boys (and I didn’t think the movie was all that great) I started having some thoughts about how I wish my life had gone. It was the eve of my 49th birthday and a little introspection only seemed natural. I mean, I’m a happy guy and all but I had always envisioned myself doing something ‘bigger’ and more important. Whatever that meant I wasn’t really sure. In short, it was starting to weigh on me and really depress me.

So a few blocks down the road Dee could sense there was something wrong. And as I told her that it was really nothing, the words of our Pastor Grady Jones came to mind from a sermon a few weeks back about ‘taking a thought captive’. Now, I’ll be honest and say that on a few occasions I’ve had a downer thought and basically talked myself out of it. But this time I was able to take that part of his sermon and actually capture that thought, control it and decide what I was going to do it.

?????????????????????See, I was having one of those George Bailey kind of moments – wondering just how different would the world really be if I wasn’t around, or at least around the people I am. Like I said, as a kid I had planned on being something ‘big’: a baseball player or a coach, later it became wanting to be a major league umpire. But as I got older and got through college, I really wanted to get into sports marketing and get into the big leagues that way.

Yet, here I was basically struggling to make a small photography firm work, running a household and just not seeming to make an impact.

Queen Esther

Queen Esther

But that’s when God hit me with the realization that I was here for some purpose. His purpose.

He hasn’t let me know exactly what that purpose it quite yet, but I’m sure He will when the timing is right.

See, if I was off on a ball field somewhere, I wouldn’t have the awesome wife that I do and I wouldn’t be here to give my sons the insights that I have learned over the last 49 years. Much like Jim Beleushi’s character in “Mr. Destiny”, one small change in the course of the life that God has laid out for me would have had it turn out in a very different manner if I had chosen the path.

So in that moment in the car, with Thomas and Marvin talking about the state championship basketball game they went to and Dee and Zach discussing the movie, it hit me that like Queen Esther, I was placed here for a time such as this. Thank you for that little lesson VeggieTales!

So in those moments when Satan tries to get you thinking that you’re not where you should be, take heart and know that the Creator of the universe, the God of all creation, the Great I Am has precisely laid out your life and knows exactly where you should be, when you should be there and has given you every tool with which to do the task He has set before you.

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