We were playing at the pool at my sister’s house. Her youngest son, Jake had been throwing the nerf football back and forth over the pool with me. At one point I threw it and it landed in the pool. Jake shrugged it off, squeezed the ball to extract as much water as he could, and we continued. It was a little more difficult now as the ball had added a few pounds due to the water he was unable to squeeze out. At one point his dog was sprinting back and forth and around the pool chasing the ball that we were throwing. It was sort of an unintentional game of keep away. Finally, as we noticed the dog’s tongue dragging the ground and our arms getting a little tired, we decided to end our game of catch. At this point Jake turned and punted the nerf ball away from the pool. The ball made an odd squishy thud sound coming off his foot and arced skyward away from the pool and toward some parked cars. One of those cars was our family van. The ball zeroed in on the windshield of our van and sure enough, SPLAT!!!! Almost dead center. But, it was a nerf. No big deal. Or so we thought. About an hour later we got into the van to go celebrate my sister’s birthday at a Mexican restaurant. Oh my! There was a HUGE spider-webbing series of cracks stretching across the entire windshield. We were shocked. We couldn’t believe that a nerf ball could do so much damage. But, sure enough, in the middle of the series of cracks we could see the outline of a football.
We went on to dinner without telling Jake, then brought him outside to show him the damage his punt had done. He was so sorry. I knew he was sorry and that he didn’t mean to destroy my windshield. So, I was happy to forgive him and move on. Still, there was real damage done that would involve getting my windshield repaired. Jake and his dad, my really cool bro-in-law Stacy, knew this and offered to pay whatever it cost to get it fixed. Fortunately, we had insurance and our out-of-pocket was only $100.
As I’ve thought about this incident I see some parallels to some of today’s issues as we as a nation grapple with the reality of racial inequities and how to make sure we live in a society where justice and opportunity are afforded every person regardless of skin color. Unfortunately, as in any human interaction the current conversation is rife with misunderstanding and oftentimes hurt, anger, and frustration from well-meaning people who have differing perspectives on things.
When Jake punted that ball he had no idea that the weight of the ball could potentially do great damage to my car. I’ve known Jacob Norwood since he was born. I know about his character. It was easy for me to see that he had no intention of damaging my vehicle. Many times in conversation, or even in social media posts, etc. people may have a very different opinion of an issue than me. The person may have no idea that their opinion or view is very weighty to me as I am personally affected by and emotionally invested in the issue. So, what may have seemed like an innocent nerf ball comment by the person comes crashing into the windshield of my heart and mind. At this point, I am confronted by a choice. To I assume that this person is a bad man and assign motives to him. Or, do I assume, like I did with Jake, that it was an innocent mistake due to a misunderstanding of the weightiness of the issue? My challenge to all of my brothers and sisters who call Christ their Lord, is to consider the weightiness of a matter before posting or responding. Secondly, that we would presume that the person with whom we disagree has good intentions until proven otherwise.
For us to make progress on racial harmony and unity as a society and even more so as the church, we must be able to listen without immediately making a judgement on those with whom we speak. God enable us to listen and love even with those with whom we disagree. Differing policy opinions and even ignorance isn’t a reason to judge our brothers and sisters. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he said:
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Phil. 2:1-4)
This is our calling. We can be difference makers by listening, loving, working together, and considering others more important than ourselves.
God Bless and have a great week!
When this posts I will probably be in the hospital. I am “electively” having my heart fixed. Two months ago, I was having dizzy spells and I asked a friend who is a healthcare professional to check my ears. I thought I had fluid in them from a sinus infection I had been battling. She said, “Sure. But, let’s do your vitals and everything first.” I thought that would be fine, but knew everything would be fine with my vitals. I was wrong. The first thing they do when checking your vitals is stick a little doohickey on your index finger called a Pulse-Oximeter, or Pulse-Ox. It checks two things, your heart rate/pulse, and your Oxygen concentration in your bloodstream. My oxygen looked fine. But my heartrate. OH MY GOODNESS! That little doohickey said my heart was flying along at 176 beats per minute. My normal resting heartrate is right around 60, so this was a bit of a shock. I said, “That’s got to be wrong.” So, they stuck what is called a 5-lead EKG on my chest and re-checked it. Sure enough, I was experiencing tachycardia. Or, a REALLY fast heartbeat. They wanted to send me to the local hospital (I was out of town) by ambulance. I told them that my doctor and my family were in Birmingham so I would drive back. I had to sign a release that I wouldn’t hold them liable if something happened to me on the way back to Birmingham.
I got to Birmingham, and a close doctor-friend had gotten a cardiologist to see me when I got there. He checked my heart with the EKG and this time it said 181 beats per minute. For a bit of perspective, I checked max heartrates on a couple of riders in the Tour de France during an intense climb in the Alps or the Pyrenees and they were in the 180-183 range. The simple formula for calculating your maximum heartrate by age is 220 – your age = Estimated max heart rate. I’m 52. My max heart rate, according to that formula should be 168. During the time I’ve been sitting here writing, my heart rate has been all over the place, including up to 165 beats per minute. The doctor looked at the EKG then looked at me. He looked back at the EKG, then back at me and said, “Man, you are flying!” He then told me to go over to the ER and to give them the EKG strip. He said, “You won’t be waiting in the ER. Watch how fast they move when they see this.”
Part of the story that I think is important is what I may have done to contribute to my heart going crazy. As I’ve said before, I am the poster-man for ADHD. Up until this happened with my heart, I had been on medication for this disorder. I also was a caffeine FREAK! Caffeine didn’t affect me like you would think. I was calmer and it helped with my focus. I could even sleep right after a cup of coffee. That said, like many people, I was constantly pushing the limits on work/play/life…always wanting to get the most possible out of every day. I had a serious case of FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. So, in line with this screwed up perspective, I bought some coffee that was supposedly, “The Strongest Coffee in the World.” It didn’t list the caffeine amount, but I found out later, that it was outrageously high in caffeine. Like, 479 milligrams per cup instead of 150-ish mg in normal coffee. That would have been bad enough, but I was drinking about 5 cups a day. I was so jacked up trying to go-go-go, all the time that I may have nearly done myself in. In trying not to miss out on life, I nearly cost myself my life.
That’s what brings me to this point. The heart is an amazing creation from an amazing Creator. It is a perpetual motion machine that works from the time a baby is around 5-6 weeks in the womb. And for most, it keeps beating until the day they die which in America averages out close to 80 years later. Wow. That is a remarkable part of an incredible conglomeration of parts that allow these bodies to take us through life. As I lay in the hospital bed with skilled healthcare workers buzzing around me, I was awestruck by how incredibly fragile yet resilient we are. I was also surprised by the peace that I had about whether this was the end for me. I am grateful for life. It is a miracle. I am grateful that God put me right where He put me, with those whom I have gotten to share this life. I did tell Him that I’d like to keep on living, but I was at peace either way. The main thing is that I didn’t want my kids to be without their Dad. I knew Jenn would be sad, but losing your Dad early is really tough for anyone.
After three unsuccessful attempts to normalize my heart rate and rhythm with a drug called adenosine, they decided to put me in the ICU. There, using various drugs including one called amiodarone, they finally got it to slow down. Since then, various drugs have been used to try to keep it down. I have had a few weeks of normal rate and rhythm. But, with the procedure coming up to fix it, they had to take me off one of them two-weeks prior and the others a few days before. So, now I’m back to flying. But, I’m ok. God is using this to teach me about being still. Listening to the wind…Enjoying my kids…Enjoying my wife—she’s really pretty…my dog Bo...A good meal. Stopping. Listening. Life is in those relationships, moments, and pauses.
Going forward, I’m hoping I will be ever more grateful for each beat of my heart. God knows how many I have left. I trust Him with that. I just want to make sure I make the most of the rest of them and I hope you do the same!
I was deeply saddened by the events that have occurred over the past week. First, I am heartbroken over the brutal murder of George Floyd. To once again have an officer who has sworn to serve and protect the public act in a manner that is criminal with the end result being the horrific killing of one of our citizens. I am heartbroken for his family, friends, and others who feel less safe today as a result of this killing. Everything about this is tragic and wrong.
I am also saddened by protests gone awry that become riotous rampages in cities around our country. I know that we are all susceptible to the adrenal surge that prompts a “fight or flight,” response. As a man, I know that I feel much more empowered and strong when I got the “fight” route. Flight can make us feel weak. So, I understand why the anger is manifesting in this way. Still, I know that there is another way. Through Jesus man was given an avenue beyond the constraints of our adrenal glands. This way was the way of love. I want to share words from some men who chose this much more vulnerable yet noble route. I’ll start with Jesus of Nazareth.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matt. 5:43-48
Next, Paul the Apostle.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 [b]bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I Cor. 13:4-7
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
“Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
All of these speak of how believers are to be revolutionary. Love is revolutionary. Still, I can list just as many quotes about how standing by when evil is perpetrated is unacceptable. Dr. King also said the following:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”
Finally, King Solomon, widely regarded as the wisest man to ever live, said the following:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
9 Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice. Proverbs 31:8-9
Our nation needs healing. We, the church, need to be leading the way. What can we do? Pray. Yes, pray. What else? Speak truth. Root out racism, bigotry, prejudice, and hate, and speak love into these circumstances. How do we do this? I encourage us all to talk to each other. Pray together. Let’s ask God to show how we can make a difference like the men quoted above did through love.
My wife comes into the room and says to me, “Todd, the next two weeks are going to be really tight financially. We’ve got two big medical bills, and two of your daughters have college tuition due.” I reply, “It’s really only 11 days, not two weeks.” Brilliant. Or, this fictional jewel taken from the Laughlab at the University of Hertfordshire in England, submitted by Geoff Anandappa.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are going camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. In the middle of the night Holmes wakes Watson up: "Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce."
Watson: "I see millions of stars and even if a few of those have planets, it's quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life."
Holmes: "Watson, you idiot, somebody's stolen our tent!"
Or, this taken from Twitter (by way of https://www.boredpanda.com/funny-people-missed-jokes/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic)
I’m not sure why most people do it. I think in my case it’s probably a mixture of being easily distracted, possibly not wanting to discuss the topic at hand (see the conversation with my wife above), and even willful stubbornness. I hate to admit those last two, but I’m just being real.
This topic came to mind as I was studying the Bible yesterday. I was reading John 5:1-24. It tells the story of Jesus healing a man who had been sick and unable to walk for 38 years. The man had lain near the Pool of Bethesda inside the city of Jerusalem for 38 years! Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be healed. When the man told Him that he wasn’t able to get into the supposed healing waters of the pool due to his handicap, Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” The man stood up, got his mat and happily walked away from the pool. This man who had languished at this pool for 38 years, desperate for help, healing, a chance…. Now, this Rabbi comes along and restores his health and he is able to stand up, get his mat, and walk. What a perfect way to celebrate a Sabbath day. He could walk over to his parents’ home who haven’t seen him walk since he was a young man. What a joy that would be for them! Not so fast. In a move I believe to be astronomically worse than my “11 days” statement above, some religious leaders see this man that they had undoubtedly seen at some point over the last 38 years.
“You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!”
Talk about missing the point! Instead of awe, joy, and a desire to go learn about the Source of this miraculous healing, these guys were fixated on their own misunderstanding of the Sabbath. This was an “Aha!” moment for me. I asked myself how many times has God been at work in my life, or in the life of someone I love, only to have me miss the point completely. It manifests itself in a variety of ways. Sometimes I rationalize the “natural” ways that it could work itself out. Sometimes I don’t even realize something has happened. This is usually because I’ve allowed myself to get too busy with things that aren’t nearly as important as what God has just done. Again, just being real here. I’m ashamed of this. I repent of it even as I am writing. This is unbelief and an ungrateful heart. God is real. He is working. I don’t want to miss it. My prayer for myself, my family, and the Big “C” Church, is that God would give us eyes to see Him at work, that we would be grateful, and energized and empowered to go make a difference in our little chunk of the world.
My uncle, Albert Earl “Rip” VanWinkle served and ultimately retired from the United States Army. He is as good a man as you’ll ever meet. When I was in the 6th grade I interviewed Uncle Rip for a class regarding his multiple tours in Vietnam. I remember being awed by the small bits he shared. Uncle Rip made it clear that he would limit the amount of information he shared as it was too painful and out of respect for those who paid the ultimate price.
In May 1868, the United States celebrated the first “Decoration Day.” The idea was to make this a day of remembrance and honoring of those who had served in the military and had passed away during their service or following it. This first one was initiated by General John A. Logan of a Northern Civil War Veterans organization. That first observance of what we now call Memorial Day saw 5000 participants decorate the graves of 20,000 Confederate and Union soldiers. Smaller observances continue in many Southern states for Confederate Memorial day to this day. However, after World War I, though many of the Confederate remembrances continued, there was a merging of the Northern and Southern states in honoring our country’s fallen veterans.
I am very grateful for the men and women who have served our country over the years. Across the country there are people who have lost sons, daughters, husbands, wives, Dads and Moms. As an American, I want to thank you and the soldier you lost as they defended our country and the freedoms we enjoy. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Freedom. I think this word is often misunderstood. Freedom is not free. It costs a lot. In many cases it costs everything. Sometimes people think of freedom as a license to “do whatever I want.” From a Christian perspective it definitely means something else. Jesus death on the cross and resurrection gives me the ability to be freed from my sin and freed from eternal death. Before I placed my faith in His sinless life, death, and resurrection, I was enslaved to my own passions. In essence, I needed freedom from me! In our country I think we often have a similar misconception of what freedom means. We often love the idea of freedom without the corresponding responsibility that freedom requires. This day is a day for us to take a step back and think about what goes into the freedom we enjoy. It’s a day for us to express gratitude to those who served and to our God.
Finally, just a word about safety and freedom. Freedom isn’t safe. Bad things can happen when we’re free. That’s why it makes sense to me that in defending and protecting our freedom, bad things can and do happen. Even as we navigate our current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, I think the balance of freedom and responsibility are important factors to keep in mind. Likewise, if we think that we can have guaranteed safety in a free society we are fooling ourselves. A close friend of mine grew up in Soviet-bloc Romania. She and her husband grew up in a world where freedom was a foreign word. Since immigrating here, my friend went through the process of gaining her United States Citizenship. I still remember the day she called me from the road driving home from Atlanta where she’d been sworn in as an American citizen. Recently I had a conversation with her and she said something that made me pause. As we were discussing politics she said, “It is unbelievable to watch as people vote away their freedoms.” We continued our conversation and it wasn’t until later that I really recognized the profundity of her statement. I began to think about what she had said and through the all important question of why a free society would vote away our freedom. I think that the false idea that we can be free, safe, and live without any personal responsibility is at least part of the motivation for some of these political decisions. One of my best friends is an avowed pacifist. He has really thought through his rationale and I respect him for it. Personally, as a Christian, I understand a lot of where he is coming from. Still, I know that there are a number of Christian soldiers who have also wrestled with conscience and come to a different conclusion. One thing that I am certain of is that this is a broken world. There are a lot of people around the world who’d like to harm America. America is not without horrible blemishes in our history. Still, over the course of human history, our country has played a big role in reversing many of the world’s most egregious human rights abuses. We are still able to worship and speak freely. In the world we live in today, I am confident that without someone defending those freedoms, we would lose them very quickly. For that, I am grateful to those who have defended us. Happy Memorial Day.
My sister Jessica is one of the best people I know. She is kind-hearted, loving, extremely intelligent, well-educated, a great wife to her husband, and an amazing Mom to her four children. She is a great sister and friend. She also has a penchant for saying really, really funny things. As I said, she is very intelligent, yet, occasionally, she will say something before she has fully thought it through. To be fair, I think we all do the same thing from time to time. I think her sweetness and innocent persona are part of what makes it so amusing when she says some of these things. It would be par for the course for someone like….um, me!
I have heard great things about the Emmaus Walk. My mother and Jessica have both told me great things about their experiences while participating in the walk and over the entire weekend. The Emmaus Walk is designed as a three-day immersion into a deeper, more grace-filled, intimate relationship with Jesus and with other participants (the church). There is singing, discussions, reflection time, time in small groups, communion, and lots of fun and laughter. Sometimes there may be even more laughter than originally intended.
For the three days that Jessica participated in the Emmaus Walk journey, one of the themes that really resonated with her was the idea that God is the Potter and we are the clay. There are several references to this in Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, and in the New Testament, Romans. Here is one of those references.
“Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. Jeremiah 18:6
One of the people who spoke over the weekend referenced the fact that God called Himself the Potter and us His clay. She said that as much as we want to be perfect, there are often cracks or flaws, but that God uses these “cracks” to allow His living water to seep out to others.
Toward the end of the weekend, Jessica was asked to share with the group. There were about 150 people in the audience. Jessica, like many people, is not a huge fan of speaking in front of large groups. But she knew that God had really impressed on her the need to be vulnerable. She really believed that in sharing our weaknesses and being transparent, that we could really be a conduit of God’s grace to others. So, when it was time to deliver her inspirational message she stood before 150 fellow Emmaus Walkers and said, “We all need to show our cracks!” There was audible laughter around the room as she realized what she had said. She re-phrased it and made her point eloquently from there on. That said, I believe that the group probably remembered her message much better as a result of her unique delivery.
Jessica was on to something though. We do need to “show our cracks.” How many people never want to step foot in a church because they believe that everyone there “has it all together.” Or, worse yet, people there act like they have it all together, but everyone else knows it’s not true. I know that for me, when I realize that I’m not the only one who often struggles, it is very freeing and encouraging. I’ve often told my family and friends, “God isn’t shocked at our sinfulness. He gave Himself up for us knowing full well who we are and what is in our hearts, and the things that we would do.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
The Bible teaches us that healing can come when we confess our sins to one another.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. James 5:16
The context for this verse is in regard to praying for healing and other aspects of effective prayer. One of the things that is necessary for this healing to occur is the confessing of sins to one another. Apparently, there is something really important about being without pretense when we come to God, and to others with whom we have relationship. Paul made it a point to let those to whom he wrote know that he too struggled with sin, calling himself the “chief of sinners,” (1 Tim. 1:15). He also wrote the following that I think anyone of us could have written regarding our own struggles.
For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. Romans 7:15, 19
So, I want to encourage you as Jessica encouraged me, to put aside any pretense of “having it all together.” With discretion, choose people who can be trusted and get real. For real healing, growth and freedom to occur we’re gonna have to let our cracks show.
Earlier today I read a quote from Eugene Peterson’s book, Leap Over A Wall: Earthly Spirituality for Everyday Christians.
“Pain isn’t the worst thing. Being hated isn’t the worst thing. Being separated from the
one you love isn’t the worst thing. Death isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is failing
to deal with reality and being disconnected from what is actual. The worst thing is trivializing the honorable, desecrating the sacred.”
There is a lot to unpack in a statement like that. Beyond our knee-jerk reactions to the initial onslaught of really bad things he mentions, we are left with those last two sentences. Those sentences make me uncomfortable. Not because I disagree or don’t understand them. They make me uncomfortable because so often I know that I allow those first things to actually be more important than the last. When I do that, I am in essence creating idols by taking things that are gifts from God that are good and important and making them supreme. Pleasure is preferred over pain or discomfort. Sure. But I don’t need to make the avoidance of pain my primary aim. Heck, just about every important life lesson I’ve learned involved some kind of pain. Being hated? Oh man. I feel like George Costanza in an episode of Seinfeld Season 5, entitled The Masseuse. In the episode, George and Jerry double date with George’s current love interest and Jerry’s masseuse girlfriend who doesn’t like George. It drives George nuts. I totally relate. Take a quick look.
Being separated from the ones I love…I’ve kind of learned over 25-plus years of marriage that that is going to happen. So, that one, I can usually handle. Death. That’s a big one. I think that I am relatively at peace with that one if it is my own demise we’re talking about. However, death to someone close to me? That has been a challenge at times. There have been difficult times regarding the health of a loved one that I am pretty sure I was at least on the edge of making that most important.
But what of Peterson’s “worst thing?”
The worst thing is failing to deal with reality and being disconnected from what is actual. The worst thing is trivializing the honorable, desecrating the sacred.”
Reality is rooted in the God who created the world. Reality is rooted in truth. God is good. God is true. The entirety of Peterson’s quote goes on to describe the importance of dealing with loss and grief in the context of God’s sovereignty as opposed to seeking to run from, avoid, medicate, excuse, etc. the pain of living in a fallen world.
As a Christian I can deal with the reality of the world because I have a true North. I have a foundation. But, as a person living in a fallen world, I sometimes catch myself adopting a bit of the thought processes of someone not living in reality. What I mean is, if there is no God, if we are “gene machines,” as the famous British atheist writer and biologist Richard Dawkins once said, then any meaning or purpose that we have in this life is only that which we create for ourselves. And, while most of those who call themselves atheists that I’ve known are kind, respectful, caring people, there is no real reason or purpose for that. They’ve just determined that their life will be better because of it. That being said, if it’s ultimately just about what makes our life more pleasurable, who are we to judge if someone else’s morality conflicts directly with ours?
Bottom-line? If we don’t have a foundational basis for reality, goodness, morality, etc., we are left with the responsibility of assigning it for ourselves. To a large degree, this is where we have arrived from an American cultural standpoint. The inability to recognize the Reality that we have an authoritative Lawgiver, Creator, Source of all that is good, who is Love and is the source of all love, means we have begun to trivialize the honorable and desecrate the sacred. As a believer, I repent of my tendency to do this. I pray for myself, my wife, my children, and our nation that we would not be disconnected from the actual, but instead we’d follow Paul’s admonition to the Roman church.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2
Beach trips. I’m on one right now. Why do we pack up and go to the beach? We can sit in an easy chair in our backyard, in our front yard, in our den, in our basement, or on the beach. What inspires us to save money, then spend that money to rent someone else’s house to bring our lawn chairs to their house to sit and relax? The economics are actually not the interesting part of this transaction to me. Rather, the idea that changing my geography may benefit me on some deeper level.
So, what is it? Where did the idea of a vacation or “holiday” begin? I think the easiest place to start is the beginning. The beginning…or I guess I should say The Beginning.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Gen. 2:2
God is the only truly self-sustaining being that exists. He is. That is His name, “I AM.” As such, he doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t need rest. But, He took it. Why? I think if we ponder that too long our heads may explode. Still, I think we need to acknowledge that the Creator of everything took a break. A break He didn’t need. I mean, He wasn’t tired. He doesn’t tire. But, there it is on Day 7. I think Jesus makes it clear for us.
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27
So, God didn’t need the Sabbath, we did! I think this is a good place for us to start with our investigation of the beach trip. As beings created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), we are creative, like our Creator. God made us like Himself. Still as creatures, we have needs. We are like Him, but we ain’t Him. We need rest to sustain our ability to be as productive as we were designed to be. A great example of this is Chick-Fil-A. Huh? Stick with me. Chick-Fil-A operates 6 days a week. Every other major fast-food restaurant in America operates 7 days per week. Still, Chick-Fil-A averages more per store than every other fast-food restaurant in America. To be clear, there are restaurants whose overall sales surpass Chick-Fil-A. In fact, there are 7 restaurants who have far more stores/locations than Chick-Fil-A and therefore have an overall higher total sales number. But, there are none who match Chick-Fil-A on a per store sales number. As a matter of fact, if you looked at the top three in total sales and added their average per store sales together, you’d still fall short of Chick-Fil-A’s store average. McDonald’s ($2,670,320 per unit), Starbucks ($945,270) and Subway ($416,860) the total per store average would be $4,032,450 as compared to Chick-Fil-A’s average per store of $4,090,900 in 2017. In six days per week, Chick-Fil-A produced more per store than the combined per store average of McDonalds, Starbucks, and Subway produced over 7 days a week. It makes you think, “Maybe there is something to this Sabbath thing…” Several years ago, I had gotten WAAAAAY out of balance with my work. I was basically working 7 days a week. And, even when I was home, I wasn’t really home. One day, my wife called me out in a loving way. She said, “If you can’t take a Sabbath, maybe you shouldn’t be doing this job.” She continued, “I challenge you to commit to taking a Sabbath and see what happens.” I took her up on it. A year later she and I took the “Mother of All Beach Trips,” to Hawaii on a trip for the top sales people in the company. I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying, “Maybe there is something to his Sabbath thing!”
I believe vacations, sabbaths, sabbaticals, long-weekends, etc. are an amazing opportunity for us to recharge, refuel, and begin the process of re-creation. We need it. God showed us in the Beginning. If you aren’t able to take a vacation, I understand. Still, if you have been hesitant to take a true Sabbath, don’t be! You need it. You will be better for it. If you can take a week, do it! The time with your family, or doing nothing, or reading, sleeping, or just being, can be an amazing time of replenishing and restoring that creative part of you that makes you great at your job. If you can’t take a week, find a way to take a day each week. God’s way works, I promise.
Number one, PRESENTS! Sorry, I couldn’t be spiritual there. I love birthdays. My father-in-law is such a Godly man. I am so blessed to have married his daughter. First off, I got the smartest, prettiest, best wife a man could ever hope for. She is the most amazing person I know. On top of that, I got two more parents who God uses to shape my character and that of my wife and children. Specifically though, my father-in-law amazes me in his reluctance to accept gifts on his birthday or Christmas. He is really that much deeper than me. He would much rather have a nice card with a heartfelt note on it. Me? I love presents. I mean, I go nuts on birthdays and Christmas. I love tearing open the paper and discovering whatever it is that someone got me. My wife is one of the great gift-givers ever because she is so thoughtful. She may purchase gifts for people MONTHS before the big day. She listens. She cares. And, I do my part. I go absolutely crazy! My mom and sisters do a great job too. Mom is a big gift-giver. I think that is one of her primary ways of expressing love. My sisters and I all have kids and college educations and weddings we are paying for, so we’re bigger on getting each other funny cards that make us laugh. I love these too. Now that my 4 daughters are getting older, they’re starting to give gifts, cards, or notes. I guess these show that I’ve got a little of my father-in-law in me. Just hearing a loving “Happy Birthday Dad!” from my daughters makes my day.
Number two is the people. They really should be number one. I know that. But, I’m kind of assuming that they had to be there to get the presents, so, I’m sticking them here. In real life, if it came down to it, I promise I would pick my family and friends over my presents. That said, if it’s my birthday and you come hang out, feel free to bring something. Nothing big is necessary. Find the most ridiculous card, or perhaps better yet, find me the funniest YouTube video you’ve ever seen and send it to me. Then, just come hang out and tell stories (the same ones we always tell) and laugh with me for a couple of hours. Birthdays are a great day to celebrate family and friends who’ve gone through ALL THESE YEARS with me.
Number three. Birthdays are calorie-free days. That’s right. You can eat whatever you want on your birthday and it doesn’t affect your health. Cake. Ice cream. French fries. Fried Chicken. Mexican. Repeat. No problem. Okay, maybe I’m stretching it a bit here…like I stretch my belt on my birthday! So, maybe it isn’t a calorie-free day, but it’s definitely a day to enjoy the foods you like.
Seriously though, today is my birthday. I am so grateful for the 52 years I’ve had to learn to love God and others. I’m grateful for God teaching me to appreciate His creation and the people He has brought into my life. I am grateful that He sent people my way who loved me enough to teach me about Him. I can remember photos from days at 1139 Kawanda Lane with my sister Jessica and our shared Circus Cake, circa 1974, or my 12-year-old birthday at 724 Oak Drive with Chip, Andy, Scott, Tommy, Micah, and others. I remember my 40th where my wife surprised me with a trip to Las Vegas, and my 50th where she surprised me with about 50 friends from across the years who showed up at my house in Chelsea, Alabama. I love birthdays because they are a great reminder of what has made my life great. Thank you to Jennifer, Mom, my sisters (Jessica and Jill), my daughters (Morgan, BK, Alli, and Maggie Leigh) and everyone who has been a friend to me. I really appreciate each of you.
One of my favorite things to do is to load up my bike and take it to some trails. I mean, I really, really, really enjoy mountain biking. I’d like to tell you why, but it’s gonna take a little work because I’m not really sure why I like it so much. So, I’m going to take a few minutes to ponder it and write my thoughts.
Like most 50-something year-olds, I grew up riding my bike around the neighborhood. My friends and I would go everywhere on our bikes. We rode on trails, to the school, to the convenience stores on either end of our neighborhood. The feeling of freedom to be able to speed off wherever we wanted to go was so fun.
After college, I began to get a little heavy. I decided I’d better start exercising. This eventually led to me getting back on a bike. I ended up doing some triathlons. But, I developed some issues with my knee that hurt like crazy when I ran, but not when I biked. I quit triathlons and started riding my road bike all over. I raced and rode all through my late 20’s and 30’s. I also had a cool Specialized Stump Jumper Mountain Bike during this time and I rode it and raced it too. Ultimately, I sold the mountain bike in my 40’s as I was riding on the road most of the time. Finally, when I was in my later 40’s I had a horrific wreck that injured me pretty badly. My wife told me that she thought I should give up the road bike. I reluctantly agreed and began to search for a mountain bike.
Now you may thinking, “Can’t you get hurt just as badly riding a mountain bike?” Wise question. The long and short of it is injury is probably more common on a mountain bike for riders who really like to have fun, but there are higher odds of catastrophic injury (head injuries and death) on a road bike. You remove one risk factor and reduce another. Cars and speed. You shouldn’t see a car out in the woods. And, for the most part, speeds are curtailed quite a bit on the trails as compared to the road. Over the years I’ve had lots of bumps, bruises, scrapes, and cuts. However, shortly after I started back mountain biking, I had a whopper of a crash and sustained a concussion and a 3rd degree separation of my right shoulder. Downer. Undaunted, I got back out there, improved as a rider, and I do my best to avoid injury.
Enough of the history lesson. Why do I like it so much? To start with, when you are on your bike in the woods, you focus on what you are doing right then. Sure, thoughts about things going on in your life will pop in and out of your head. But, in keeping with the injury avoidance thing, you better be focused on what you are doing. There is also that same sense of freedom I felt as a kid…that I can go all over the place on my bike. Another thing, is that it is beautiful out in nature. I like riding with people. But, I really like riding alone too. Sometimes I’ll pack a devotional book in my hydration pack (basically a backpack for water). I can stop in the middle of nowhere and listen to the wind, read my devotional, pray, or just stop and be still. But, I can’t lie. I love the adrenaline too. I love hitting jumps and getting “air.” I love flying down what are known as “flow” trails. It’s like being on a rollercoaster in the middle of the forest. I like being able to take my bike to areas where I am traveling and seeing new trails and nature from my bike. I even like to ride at night. I have a light for my helmet and a light for the front of my bike. I’ve been out in the middle of literally nowhere on the Pinhoti trail in the North Georgia mountains when it was pitch dark. It is so quiet and you can see a million stars.
So, to answer my own question, why do I enjoy it so much. I think all the things I just listed are why. For a middle-aged guy who is legendary in the magnitude of my ADHD, there are few things that require so much intense focus, but that also let me see deer, squirrels, hawks, snakes, and that give me moments of stillness and quiet when I need it. And, we all need it. It may not be mountain biking, but whatever it is, if you haven’t found something that gives you the opportunity to have fun, to be still, and to marvel at God’s creation, I encourage you to do it. You will be better for it.
Each day we go into the world with the opportunity to make an impact. Each person whose paths cross ours matters. Lives intersect for a reason. I believe there is One who directs our steps to these sometimes seemingly random meetings. My goal for these encounters is that I make a difference. That is my desire for those who venture across my blog. I hope you are blessed and it makes a difference for you.