Tuesday, December 26, 2000

"Take Care" or "Be Bold"

Some of you have wondered about the salutation at the end of my greetings and letters. The words, "Be Bold" may seem strange. Let me tell you why that has become my signature greeting over the past few years.

I became bothered by the way I ended conversations some years ago. I noticed that when I finished talking with someone, whether in person or on the phone, I nearly always ended with the words, "Take care." I thought that was a good way to communicate concern for someone. I don't believe that anymore.

In May 1993, I was in Colorado to help teach the Dynamic Communicators Workshop. After we finished up the week, I had the opportunity to talk with Rich, one of the other instructors. I'd wanted to have that time because I could see in Rich's actions and hear in his words a depth of the presence of God that I had not seen before. At the time, Rich had been battling Hodgkin's disease for several years and it appeared that God was touching the depths of his soul. I wanted to hear about it.

We rode the several hours together from Estes Park to Denver. I listened with excitement at how God had invaded Rich's life in wonderful ways. We laughed, we cried, we rejoiced, we hoped, and we shared deeply together about the ways that God shows up in our lives. We agreed to pray for each other, confident that God had the future in his hands. We spent that evening and night at Ken Davis' home, the president of the workshop.

It was the next morning that it happened. Rich and I were gathering our bags to go to the airport and were saying good-bye to Ken. The three of us hugged, laughed and were walking to the car. I said, "Well Ken, take care." Rich was walking behind me and said, "Well Ken, be bold!" Ken laughed and responded, "Do you two realize you just told me to do opposite things?" Rich did. He knew exactly what he was saying. Through some very difficult years God has taught Rich that life requires a lot more "being bold" and a lot less "taking care."

I've thought a great deal about that little conversation. Every time I say "take care" to someone I think about it. And ever since that morning in Denver I have gotten increasingly frustrated with myself whenever those two words exit my mouth. It seems to me that God has not called us to draw back, to pull up our defenses, to guard ourselves, to be careful. But rather, He instructs us to "be bold," to live with aggressiveness, to take life by the tail and live it with the confidence Jesus possessed. Many of our problems are a result of protecting ourselves instead of living with a Godly abandon. By taking our eyes off of ourselves and our stuff (taking care) and marching with our eyes on Jesus (being bold) we can experience the presence of God in ever increasing measure.

Joshua heard it from the lips of God this way, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord you God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9)

That incident occurred 6 ½ years ago. Since then Rich has gone to Heaven. He lived the rest of his life boldly. I decided a long time ago to take Rich's advice to "Be bold!" And I'm done encouraging people to "Take care." It has taken a few years. Sometimes I've fallen back into that same old pattern of telling people to "Take care." I've often had to stop myself and change it to "Be Bold." But I think I've finally got it right.

As 2001 is upon us it is appropriate for me to encourage you to "BE BOLD!" God invites you to be a person of faith, to risk, to step out, to stretch, to trust God even when you can’t see what will happen when you do. People of God always live on the edge.

Will you? BE BOLD!

"So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"" Hebews 13:6 (NIV)

Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Tracks, Trees, and Typewriters

Christmas 1965. Under the tree was an electric race track, complete with a blue and a red car. It was a small scale model. And exactly what I wanted. I spent hours racing on that track, adjusting the speed of the car with a trigger control wired to the track. Every time I catch a whiff of an electric motor overheating, the memories of that race track flood back. What a great gift for a young fellow.

Christmas 1978. I should say pre-Christmas. We were newlyweds living in an apartment the size of a two-car garage. I know it was the size of a two car garage because it was the second story of a two car garage. A few weeks before Christmas we drove to Kroger's grocery store on Shepherd Street where they were selling Christmas trees. We picked out a good looking pine, stuffed it into the back of my pickup and drove back to the apartment.

We tugged and shoved the tree up the stairs only to discover that an evergreen doesn't bend, no matter how hard you try to force it around the corner from the stairway into the kitchen. My brother-in-law, Steve, and I decided to take a break and think.

We pulled the tree up straight only to discover that we were trying to get a 9 ½ foot tree into an apartment with an eight foot ceiling. It didn't seem nearly that big in Kroger's parking lot. We cut some off of the bottom and some off the top until it fit. Just barely. That is it fit vertically.

It was then we discovered that a 9 ½ foot tree is really, really, REALLY wide. No matter how much we pushed the tree into the corner it still spread its wings over half that small living room. Fortunately, we only had a borrowed couch and a furnished easy chair to work around.

It was then we discovered that we didn't have any ornaments. Sheila and I purchased some inexpensive glass bulbs, several strings of lights, an angel topper, and some silver garland. It was a blast putting that together. We also found some cheap "paint yourself" wooden ornaments, 99 for $9.99. We still have them. Every day during that December I'd wake up to the wonderful smell of pine. A great first Christmas for a couple of newly married kids.

Christmas 1983. Living in the hills of central Pennsylvania where it never stops snowing. Our first born, Andrew, was 14 months old. Tow headed, bright blue eyes, barely walking and full of life. Sheila and I were excited about sharing Christmas with a child. The three of us sat on the floor and pulled out Andrew's first present. He opened it with a squeal. Out emerged a tiny, plastic, Fisher-Price, 3 keyed typewriter with plastic keys that moved up and down and rang a bell when you hit each key. He loved it. So much so that he didn't want to open up all the other gifts we got for him. Like good parents, we forced him to leave the present that he liked to open up all the other gifts we purchased. But as soon as he got the gift open he went back to the typewriter. Of all the stuff he got, that little typewriter was the simplest, the least expensive, and the one he liked the best. He spent hours playing with it. As he prepares to major in computers, I think it all started with that typewriter.

Looking back, Christmas 1965 was not really about a race track. I treasure the memory of it because it caused my dad be with me. Side by side we'd race the blue and red cars. He showed me how to sand off the contacts on the cars to make a better connection, how to change the bodies on the cars, how to slow in the curves and speed through the straight a ways. And it caused him to smile because he's given me something I enjoyed.

Looking back, Christmas 1978 was not really about a tree either. It was about sharing life together and creating couple memories. We discovered things about life and each other through that season that we didn't even know were there. Life was simple and fresh. And it caused us to smile at ourselves.

Looking back, Christmas 1983 was not about a toy typewriter. It was about a toddler who has grown into a wonderful young man. It was about a boy I love more deeply than I ever thought possible. It was about the pure, untarnished joy that only a kid in a diaper can express through his laughter. And it caused us to smile.

Christmas memories that mean the most are not about the "stuff" - the presents, the food, the activities, the reunions. They are about the people. The "stuff" is the means by which we connect with the people. The stuff is not bad, it's just not the point. Life is all upside down and frustrating when the "stuff" gets in front of the people on our value list.

As Christmas approaches this weekend, I encourage you to deliberately use the "stuff" to create shared memories that will last. Cherish the people who mean the most to you.

And most of all, deliberately cherish the God who loves you more than you can imagine. Only because of Him do we have the people and the stuff in our lives. Jesus really is "The Reason for the Season." Worship Him, honor Him, give yourself fully to Him. If you do you will cause Him to smile at YOU.

When the final page in your life is turned, those two relationships are all that will really matter.

"Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."" Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)

Thursday, December 07, 2000

"Angles of Life"

I'd always thought it was because my kids liked me and they liked me holding them. They would reach out their little arms toward me and want to be in my big, strong arms. When they got hurt, when they were tired, when they were scared, or when they wanted to see something they couldn't reach. Turns out to be purely selfish. It wasn’t about me, it was about THEM!

I tripped over this insight a few years ago when my youngest son, Chadd, was standing in the kitchen pointing at something on the kitchen counter to the left of the sink. Being a toddler he couldn’t communicate clearly so we played "the guessing game." You know the one… he points, grunts and I make guesses as to what he is looking at and what he wants me to do with it. (And we parents think we are in charge.) A similar game is played when the toddlers become teenagers. It's called, "How could you be so stupid?" This game is played when the parent asks a question, the teenager looks at the parent, and, often without even verbalizing it, communicates to the parent the question, "How could you be so stupid?"

Back to Chadd… I picked up item after item asking, "Is this what you want?" To which he would pull the pacifier from his mouth and say, "No." He kept pointing, I kept guessing, he kept saying "No" and I got frustrated.

In desperation I knelt down beside him, sighted up his arm and looked. It was instantly clear. I stayed on my knees a while and looked around at his world. It was enlightening. Do you realize that toddlers live in a world of kneecaps? I'll bet their experts. Big kneecaps, small kneecaps, kneecaps in hose, naked kneecaps, invisible kneecaps covered by jeans. Our world is built for human type individuals that are at least five feet tall. Everything looks different from the angle of someone two feet tall. EVERYTHING. The floor is close but all the good stuff is far away. Feet are constantly swinging toward you. Shopping carts look like bulldozers. You can't reach anything beyond the second shelf. And if you take a risk and climb on the kitchen table the big people yell at you. It is daunting, dangerous and disconcerting. That is why my kids wanted me to hold them – so they could see life better and be protected from the kneecaps. They felt safe when they were in my arms. And when a parade comes by the best seat on the street is on dad's shoulders, using his ears as handles.

The way life looks is determined by your angle.

Life appears a lot like Chadd's world to us human types much of the time. We just don't realize it. We see things we need or want up on the counter of life, but we can't reach them. Problems threaten to kick us in the teeth. When we take a risk often people yell at us. We get scared, hurt, frustrated, tired, and life looks overwhelming. That's reality. The good news is that we have the same option Chadd chose – we can reach our arms up toward our dad and He'll hold us, help us get what we need, protect us, and reassure us.

But best of all, when we're in God's arms we can view life from where He sits. Only then can we see it as it really is. The world was build by our heavenly Dad and only from where He sits does it make sense. Your life was specifically designed for you, but only as you see it from where God sits does it make sense. Sitting on His shoulders is the best seat on the street.

The way life looks depends a lot on where you’re sitting.

I hope today you will ask God to pick you up to give you at least a glimpse of what your life looks like from where He sits.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. 9 " As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)

Monday, November 27, 2000

The Surprising Truth About Christmas

My wife, Sheila, did the unthinkable last week – she went shopping the day after Thanksgiving. It’s not that she really wanted to. Being a good mother, she went to get those perfect Christmas gifts for the kids at extraordinary prices. So at 6:30 am (as in the morning) she braved the crowds (yes, crowds at 6:30) to shop. It was awful. Lines and rude people were every where buying gifts for people they don’t even like. She did battle at one location of a national electronics store chain for an hour and then waited in line for half an hour. Only to be told when she was one customer from the checkout, "Put your stuff down and leave the store. We must evacuate because of a gas leak." Moans and groan everywhere. I think some of those people would have rather risked death than put down their prized purchases. All those wasted hours of elementary school fire drills.

Sheila finally did make it home safely. "I don’t think this is what Christmas is all about," she commented to me in frustration. " And I will never do that again!"

No, that is not what Christmas is all about. Nor is it what we most often picture in our minds. We know it is not elbowing other people for the last Pokemon pillow, but have we fooled ourselves with other wrong, but seemingly benign, thoughts of Christmas? How would we describe the perfect Christmas? See if you recognize this… as you pull into the driveway of the perfect Christmas, icicle lights hang from the roof, Santa is perched in the front yard to the right and snow is lightly falling. The air is crisp, but not cold. You are greeted by smiles all around. Even the family cat is grinning. The fireplace throws warmth and light into the living room decorated in reds, greens and whites. A perfect tree stands in the corner surrounded by the perfect number of presents. You enjoy a perfect meal with all the people you love and then exchange presents as Christmas carols fill the room. Everybody gets along. All the children and elderly cooperate. Martha Stewart couldn’t do it better. But that is not what Christmas is all about. That is what we Americans think of as Christmas. Family, food, emotional warmth, giving, decorations, music. All of it good, just not really what Christmas is about.

Christmas is about war. Now wait before you hit me or the delete key. Hear me out. Christmas, from the very first one when Jesus was born in a barn, has been about war. Jesus came that first Christmas night as an invading force into Satan's territory. God knew it and sent an angel choir to announce victory to the human captives. Satan knew it and immediately launched a counter attack through Herod to try to chase the advancing enemy away by killing the Christ child. Joseph and Mary knew it. They were told of the danger Jesus brought to them. He disrupted their lives and they could never be the same.

Jesus did not come to provide warmth and glow and television specials that make us feel good and cry at the same time, to let us have Christmas eve candlelight services that create emotional memories, to fill our homes with wonderful gifts from others, or to enjoy wonderful meals. Again, those are not bad, its just they are not Christmas. Jesus came to declare war on the Prince of darkness who rules this earth and thus set us free. Christmas was the first phase of the battle plan that eventually led Christ to the cross.

So why celebrate Christmas? Because it marks a love so big that God was willing to send all He had to free us from captivity to Satan. Satan’s plan was to kill, steal and destroy. It still is. But God’s plan is bigger, better, and victory is sure. He revives the killed, returns the stolen and rebuilds the destroyed. And He SETS US FREE! It all began at Christmas. THAT is why we celebrate. THAT is what Christmas is REALLY all about.