Be Optimistic

Personal Story: “Better” from Stevecorn.com

When I was in High School, I worked in the paint department at Sears. Mr Mahoney was an older man (maybe early 70s) who worked across the aisle from me in the sporting goods department. He was always smiling and would be the first employee to jump on the treadmill and start running to demonstrate the product to his customers. I was young, but remember thinking that I wanted to be active like him when I reached his age.

I didn’t work in his department so I had a pretty casual passing-in-the-stockroom-type relationship with him. When I’d see him, I almost always said, “How’s it going?” He always answered, “Better.” I never really gave it much thought, but one day Mr Mahoney didn’t come to work and the word around the store was that he had been admitted to the hospital for some sort of cardiac (heart) treatment. We wondered if he’d ever return, but after a month or so, he did.

He didn’t really run on the treadmill like he had done before, and we all wondered if he’d be able to keep up with the job. As I passed him in the stockroom later that week, I greeted him with my usual “How’s it going?” As soon as it came out, I felt guilty, but his response was still the same. “Better.”

That particular day, we had a little more time and so he went on to explain that every day was better than the one before. Even if things were looking down or not going so well, he knew that he was a stronger man and would grow through whatever circumstances he endured. He knew that each day prepared him for the next and that he was a better man each and every day in spite of his circumstances.

I think I became a better man that day too.

God’s Word:

Philippians 4:12b-13 – I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…… I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Romans 5:3b-4 – ….suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.

Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Romans 12:2 – Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Dad’s Word:

Don’t allow garbage thinking to enter your mind. When you watch scary or dirty movies, you invite crazy images and ideas into your mind. When you focus or obsess over things that make you depressed or sad, you will struggle to find hope. Sadness invites “self-absorbed pity-me” thinking which in turn brings more sadness. It’s a vicious cycle that only Christ can break. Think on Him. ‘Cause the opposite is true as well. When we think on Him…when we focus on Him, we see hope in the midst of chaos. We recognize His presence in the craziest of circumstances and we find beauty everywhere we go. He is always working in our midst and when we look for Him, we will find Him. Think on Him. Praise Him when you find Him – cause you will – you will find him – you definitely will.

Famous Words:

Still he (God) seeks the fellowship of his people, and sends them both sorrows and joys in order to detach their love from other things and attach it to himself.” – J.I. Packer

“The winners in life think constantly in terms of I can, I will, I am. Losers on the other hand, concentrate their waking thoughts on what they should have or would have done, or what they can’t do.” – Dennis Waitley

“Optimism increases explorative behavior and innovation, which is why so many entrepreneurs are on the optimistic side.” – Tali Sharot

“There’s no such things as ‘idle thoughts;’ every thought reverberates in the body and constructs some reality, for good or ill.” – Leonard Sweet

“Mountaintops inspire leaders, but valleys mature them.” – Winston Churchill

“The shadow proves the sunshine.” – Switchfoot

Song:

Shadow Proves the Sunshine – Switchfoot

 

Home and Hurricanes

Home is where my family gathers. We laugh. We play. We cry. Home is where we settle our lives and work through our difficulties. Home calls us away from strife and beckons us into its’ safety. It’s where we find true rest. It’s where we find peace. Home is where we’re fed and filled and find satisfaction. Home is where we are meant to be. I love home.

My house is not my home. As we evacuated our house and our town this week, these things became much more clear to me. I looked in the rearview mirror and watched all of our earthly possessions grow small and smaller, shrinking as we distanced ourselves from the path of the hurricane. It was very surreal. This week, I have struggled between the fear of losing everything and the knowledge that we already have all that we need in Jesus. We have our family and yet, my faith is intermingled with unbelief.

“Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” – Mark 9:24

When we drove away, I made some decisions. I decided that I was willing to lose everything that we left behind. I “let go” of our house. I now understand, that I was able to make that decision with confidence because I knew that we would always have a home. Jesus is our home and He has promised to never leave us. He is with us even in the midst of the hurricane. Would I miss certain things? Of course. Mostly things with sentimental value…. Items that are “more” than they actually are. However, in the end, even those things fall short of what Jesus Himself can provide.

Read my first paragraph again:

Jesus is where my family gathers. We laugh. We play. We cry. Jesus is where we settle our lives and work through our difficulties. Jesus calls us away from strife and beckons us into His safety. He is where we find true rest. He is where we find peace. Jesus is where we’re fed and filled and find satisfaction. Jesus is where we are meant to be. I love Him. 

 


PS – We have returned from our evacuation and our house has remained dry. Everything has remained the same. However, I have not remained the same. I have been changed. As a community, we have much work to do. I plan to help my neighbors. I’m praying that together we will experience this true “home” as we work side by side. Pray for us.

 

Quiet – The Internet Can’t Do This

Quiet – The internet doesn’t do quiet. It’s good for a lot of things, but quiet is not one of them. The internet overflows with information. It is loud and noisy. It’s a million voices. It’s full of people. (Many who would never be so obnoxious in person.) This can be a great thing. Sometimes, we need sensory overload and we need to fill our brains. Only then, can we sort through it all and make sense of the world around us.

Unfortunately, we need quiet for that part to happen. We can’t live our lives fully online, ’cause the internet doesn’t do quiet. When we’re online, we don’t see the long, quiet, thoughtful moments where people wrestled with themselves or with God or with other people. No one communicates the deep unsure quiet space where they work through things…..where they pray or where they seek guidance, but we need these times to sort through all the noise and settle in on the quiet where we find the “still small voice.”

I studied under Mike Ayers in college and he used to say, “A leader needs time to sit and stare out the window.” We’ve all got to have time to stare and imagine what life “could” be like and maybe more importantly, how it “should” be. Staring out the window gives us a chance to imagine and create a way to get to these new places, how build something new, to develop a new strategy. It allows us space to dream. Maybe daydreaming should be a bit of a discipline? When we need to make big/important decisions we need space and margin. We need quiet. Internet can’t do this.

Confession: Quiet is what I need. Soccer games, and football practices, and dance classes, and church responsibilities, and work, and family, and lifegroup, and, and, and. It all just overwhelms me. My life seems like a lot of noise. Then I come home to the internet……and it’s just more noise, more information, more, more, more. The stress builds and just piles on. I feel like screaming. I just want it to stop. I need quiet. I need margin and space so I am working on it. As a family, we are taking January off from sports – no soccer games or practices. We didn’t sign up for basketball. We’re planning to go camping. I’m also refraining from tv and much of the internet – planning to read more and write (on this blog) – to contemplate and sit and “stare out the window.” Pray for me.

I’d also encourage you to do the same – take a break from the internet. Disconnect and I believe you’ll find real connections – deep connections which the internet cannot provide. Get quiet. Listen to God. He is so much better than the internet. He has real answers without the booming voice – without all the sensory overload and confusion. He is the “still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)

Ruth Sermons

I had the opportunity to preach through the book of Ruth over the last few weeks @ Grace Bible Church. In my preparations I listened to sermons by Voddie Bachaum, David Platt, Alistair Begg, and Mark Driscoll. Much of what I shared comes form these resources as well as a commentary that I wrote many years ago based upon several commentaries as well as some of my own thoughts as I studied.

Download Ruth 1-2

 

Download Ruth 3

 

Download Ruth 4

 

 

Lowering the Bar

I was inspired by a friend (Denice Lambert) who posted this on facebook:

J: What do you want these boys to wear?
Me: They already dressed themselves. They sort of match and their clothes don’t have any holes or stains.
J: So those are the standards now?
Me: Yep.

Lowering the bar might be the most Godly thing you can do. (as long as it’s the right bar/standard) Lowering one bar is sometimes essential in order to raise another.

One simple example: Our house doesn’t always have to be spotless. When visitors drop in, it’s highly unlikely that they will find an OCD dream. Most of the time, we have shoes piled in one corner of the room and there might be clothes folded on the couch or backpacks opened with school supplies falling out onto the floor. It’s “lived in.” When I come home from work, I could focus my attention on cleaning up the place, or I could go outside and play with my kids. Some of you may disagree, but my calculations say that time with my children is more important. By lowering the “clean house” bar, I can raise the bar for my relationships. (Let me also say, that this one with my personality is easy for me to lower. My beautiful bride, who is usually correct, would like for me to pick this bar up off the floor a bit more.)

By choosing a specific bar to lower, we can focus on those things which are more important. By lowering one bar we might also grant permission to others to do the same. Using my previous example….maybe my wife only feels like the house has to be clean because her other friends have raised this bar…because our culture has said this is the “norm.”

By continuing to follow our cultural standards to always raise the bar, we perpetuate the myth that we can have it ALL together. It’s simply not true. We can play this game and mask the fact that we are not perfect, but that doesn’t make us perfect. In reality this game, forces us to neglect some other area in our life – quite possibly an area which is ultimately more important. Also, by continuing to raise all the bars, we overload ourselves with unreal expectations. When we fail and these expectations aren’t met, we feel an unnecessary sense of guilt.

When I attended CBS (College of Biblical Studies) they used a system called “Contract Grading.” They set a standard of a specific grouping of assignments and explained that if the student did each assignment successfully, he would receive an “A.” A smaller subset of those assignments would receive a “B” and an even smaller set would receive a “C.” They did not put pressure on students to work for the “A” all the time, and even explained that they understood that each of us had a life outside of school. They said that it might even be “sinful” to get an “A” in the class if it took us away from something that might be more important. I LOVED this approach and was set free emotionally to put as much or as little into each class as I felt like God would want me to do. These teachers communicated a trust in our own judgement and yet still held us to a standard that would stretch each of us. They gave us the option to “lower the bar.”

What bars/standards consume your time and drain your energy? Are they getting in the way of more important bars? Is someone else’s high bar making you feel inadequate? If so, evaluate the bar, is it important or will you choose to keep it low and focus elsewhere?

Prayer:   LORD, Help me to see which bars I need to lower and which ones I should raise. Give me discernment. Lead me to a schedule that will allow me to focus on the standards which you think are important and whittle away those which are not. AMEN.

rePost – Wise Men

wise-men1Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-12) still seek Him.

Here’s some interesting stuff I’ve learned about them:

Three distinctive actions of the Wise Men: (From an old message by Greg Matte.)

1. They left home to worship Jesus.

Willing to get out of their comfort zones and travel long distances. (Matthew 2:1) The journey from Persia to Jerusalem would have been very dangerous and preparations might have taken quite a while after the first appearance of the star.

2. They focused on eternal heavenly things rather than temporary earthly things.

Gave gifts to Jesus which reflected deeper meaning (Matthew 2:11) and hinted at Jesus’ yet-to-be-revealed identity.

Gold represented royalty.

Frankincense represented the priesthood. (Smoke represented prayers rising to God.)

Myrrh represented death. (Myrrh was used for embalming.)

3. They listened to God and God alone.

They ignored the wishes of Herod and obeyed those of God which were given to them in a dream. (Matthew 2:12)

Misconceptions:

1. There were 3 Wise Men

We read in Matthew 2:11 that there were 3 different types of gifts, however, that does not mean there were only 3 Wise Men. Most scholars believe there was a much larger group of them.

2. The Wise Men were there the night Jesus was born.

Considering the fact that Herod wanted to kill all Jewish children ages 2 and under, (Matthew 2:16) it is likely that they arrived at a much later date. The Scriptures are also clear that they arrived at a house (Matthew 2:11) rather than the “manger” scene which occurred the night of his birth.

3. The Wise Men were Kings from the East.

They were not Kings, but astronomers. They were most likely from Persia. The three types of gifts described were all in abundant supply in Persia and would have been highly valuable in both cultures.

Other Interesting Facts:

The Wise Men had probably known about the coming Messiah through studies of the prophecies of Daniel. Jewish legends even say that Daniel himself (as an official in the Persian government) founded the order of the Magi and had instructed them to be watching for the Messiah. (Guzik Commentary)

In Matthew 2:2 the Wise Men seem to believe that the Jewish leaders would have been well aware of the Messiah’s birth and would be excited too. They’re about to discover otherwise. Some believe they must have been aware of Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17 which describes a “star” which will “come out of Jacob.”

Matthew 2:3 says that Herod and all of Jerusalem was disturbed to hear the news of Jesus’ birth. Herod was not the rightful king and so he had a clear reason for being worried. There are, however, two possibilities for the people’s concern: 1) They knew Herod was going to freak out. or 2) The group of Wise Men was large enough and distinguished enough to scare them a bit.

Herod asks the Jewish scholars where the Christ would be born. Their answer “Bethlehem,” comes from Micah 5:2 quoted in Matthew 2:6.

It is probable that Joseph and his family lived off of the gold gifts which were given to Jesus while they were in Egypt.

Matthew 2:9 says the star “went ahead” of them. This is most likely a supernatural event and cannot be explained by any alignment of planets or the like.

It must have been an interesting site as this large group of dignified foreigners bowed down to a young child. (Matthew 2:11)

3 Different Responses to Jesus in this passage: Today, Jesus gets the same reactions.

1. Herod hated him and wanted to kill him.

2. The chief priests and scribes were indifferent to Jesus. They didn’t bother to do anything different once they heard about him.

3. The Wise Men looked for him and made great sacrifices to be with Him.

Summary and Prayer:

I hope this has been helpful to you all.

Prayer: Lord, Help me to be willing to move out of my comfort zones. Help me choose to follow You – one step at a time. Like the star that “went ahead” of the Wise Men, lead me. Give me the courage to continue this journey focused on You, Give me wisdom to discern Your still small voice among all those which shout at me constantly and give me courage to follow like the Wise Men. Lord, even if it means looking strange or not fitting in, let me trust You. Like these wise men, allow me to lead others (mostly my own family) to recognize Jesus as well. Let me respond appropriately to Jesus. Let me worship with my life and lead me to the specific ways you’d like that expressed with my time, my money, my relationships, and my passions. (Or should I say, Your time, Your money, Your relationships, and Your passions?) Anyway, I love being Your kid. Thanks for making that possible through the blood of Your own son, Jesus. Without Him, without You, I am hopeless. You are all. AMEN.

Criminal Behavior

roadblock2We met under the cover of night. We slipped into our cars and cautiously veered around the road blocks – careful not to draw attention to ourselves. We communicated quietly or with our eyes so as not to make much noise. We handled the goods with care as we swiped the merchandise from it’s location and transported it to the designated area. By the time we had finished, we had relocated all the goods without any issues. Everyone had done their job flawlessly. The cops didn’t suspect anything. The items were delivered and we were safe in our homes celebrating a successful mission.

I love my Community Group! We successfully completed the mission described above last night. We delivered Christmas gifts to a needy family. For now, they live in a duplex that will be torn down in the next couple of months and so their streets are blocked off. We were able to bring a little joy to this family and even share the Gospel with them.

Thanks Jennifer! God needs more people scheming on His behalf! I’m happy to be a criminal for God’s glory! Thanks for the opportunity.

 

Thanksgiving – McKinney Falls Camping Trip

photoMcKinney Falls State Park – Thanksgiving 2013
My family seems to be making it a tradition to go camping for Thanksgiving. We’ve done it the past few years and always have a great time. This year we went to McKinney Falls State Park and met my brother’s family, my sister’s family, my mom, and my aunt there for the week. We also broke in our new camper for this trip. It was a little cold and rainy the first few days but then ended up being really nice. We did a little geocaching with the kids, rode bikes, hiked to the waterfalls, and even took a little road trip to Lockhart for some great BBQ. (Black’s and Kreuz’s) It was a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

I’m grateful for Jesus, family, friends, camping and our new camper, football games, and time to get away from normal life and remember the things that are truly important.

What Could I Be?

Cover - 300pxI wrote a book (What Could I Be?) for Kesleigh and published an iPad version on Amazon. My friend and ex-student Sonya Hunt helped me get started on the illustrations. It’s a Christian children’s book about a little girl daydreaming about what she might do when she grows up. She is transported to the Olympics, a rock concert, into the sky, underwater, and even to a fashion show. In the end, she decides that no matter what she ends up doing, she already knows the kind of girl she wants to be.

 

Believe Now

Colorado“Believe now.” ~ Bryan McKenzie

My pastor said this in a sermon a while back. He was referring to coming to Christ for the first time, but I heard it differently. It stuck. It’s been rolling around in my head for months now. If I could “believe now,” then I could make a Godly choice in every moment. You see, my failures and bad decisions are usually based upon some sort of unbelief.

  • I don’t believe He will provide for us, so I choose to worry about our financial situation.
  • I don’t believe that my body is a “temple for the Holy Spirit” (I Cor 6:19-20) or that God really cares about my health. I tell myself, “It’s not that big of a deal”, so I eat more than I should.
  • I don’t really believe sin kills, so I speak rudely to my family and my wife.

I could go on and on. . . . but you get the point. If I could “Believe Now!” I’d probably make better choices. I’d probably represent Jesus better and become more like Him. If I could “believe now,” I’d probably say “Yes” to different things and I’d be involved in new things. I’d probably say “No” to some other things as well.

Prayer: LORD, help me to “Believe now.” Keep this phrase in my mind. Train me to remember it in the moments that I struggle. Guide my heart to believe constantly, moment by moment. LORD I believe, but I want to believe more often, more consistently. “LORD I believe. Help my unbelief!” – Mk 9:24
AMEN.