Sunday, October 30, 2011



  • Failure? Hardly a word anyone would associate with Michael Jordan. Yet, when he lists his failures, they are eclipsed by his extraordinary success. 
  • Reggie Jackson, a.k.a. Mr. October, struck out 2,597 times - the all time leader in major league baseball strike outs. 
  • Henry Ford failed in business five times before he succeeded with the Ford Motor Company. 
  • Bill Gates, Harvard drop out, and Paul Allen started with Traf-O-Data which crashed and burned before Microsoft. 
  • Einstein did not speak until he was four and could not read until he was seven, causing his parents and teachers to think he was mentally disabled, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and denied admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.

This list above could go on and on and fill pages with people who have failed in their lives. What separates these people from others is that they got up, dusted themselves off and got back into the fight. They didn't see the deck stacked against them. They didn't decide to become victims. They didn't wallow in self pity. They overcame the obstacles that were placed in their way and REFUSED to give up. They didn't blame others and took responsibility for their lives and decisions.

Now this will probably elicit some hate mail, but I've had it before. Currently there are demonstrations around the country claiming to be the 99%. Occupy Wall Street, Oakland, Denver, Washington, D.C. etc... Here is my take on this situation. These are made up of numerous groups of people, but I want to look at the group my generation created. My generation made the "Everyone Gets a Trophy Generation". As our kids played soccer and T-Ball - everyone got a trophy. In fact, I remember my daughter crying after a soccer game which had ended in a tie, because God forbid we destroy a child's self-esteem by having a team lose. I asked her why she was crying and she said, "We never win!'

Here is a news flash! Life is not fair! There will be rich people, there will be poor people and a bunch in the middle. In California they wanted to get rid of grades, just in case some kid might be damaged with an "F". These Trophy Kids were then thrust into the competitive world of earning a living. Face it, if you are doing "F" work you will not have a job. We live in a cut-throat and highly competitive economy. Having your boss tell you to gather up you things and get out is not a trophy.

Now that we live in a global community the American education system is ranked "average"; America is ranked 14th out of 34 countries in reading, 17th for science and below average 25% for math. (
We haven't done our kids a favor. The competition is now global. A large number of our kids are entering a marketplace that is looking for skill-sets in reading, science and math - not how well you can do on Halo on an X-Box.

I have failed in business, marriage and more things than I would care to admit, however,  I take responsibility for my failures. I am not a victim, I just get up each day and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I am not speaking from some positive thinking rah rah place. I know what failure feels like. I know what it is like to try and get to sleep, knowing that I really screwed up. I know we need to have time for our own private "pity-party", but I also know that one has to always get up and keep going. If you have read my previous blogs, you know I did not come from some Lilly white upper class suburb. I have fought for everything I have and will continue to do so as long as I have breath. Does that make me superior? No! The people listed at the top of this page are people who experienced failure and kept moving forward.

I believe my faith in God, the support of loved ones and belief in myself have allowed me to persevere. These are tough times for everyone and now is the worst time to blame the government, the banks or the people in the black helicopters. You have it within yourself to get up and start doing. If you have lost your job, take one that is "below" you. A generation in the 1930's faced tough times and made it through! We have all been spoiled thinking we are owed something that we have to earn. 

Our failures define us. How do you respond? Success is easy and it often blinds us to how tough this world is. Stand up and say - THIS FAR NO FURTHER! Decide what you will do to keep moving and do it. If you are a believer, remember these words:

"We rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God's love has  been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us"
(Romans 5:3-5 -- ESV) 

Notice it doesn't start with hope, it starts with suffering. Hope in the New Testament is dynamic, active, directive and life sustaining. Today we can easily substitute "wish" for hope - I hope I get a new bike. Biblical hope is action based on faith and is brewed out of a life of suffering, endurance and character.

Pray that the God of peace can strengthen you to have hope.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Outside In or Inside Out?

No, I am not talking about belly buttons.

I think there resides in each of us a desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to make our mark on this world. We see this played out in various ways:
  • Financial or monetary success
  • Power
  • A political agenda
  • A family to carry on successfully
  • To have all the possible toys and the newest gadgets
  • To be a spiritual or upright person
  • To have a meaningful relationship with God or the Creator
  • To have knowledge and possess truth
  • You fill in the blank, what is your highest desire ____________?
The only problem we have is that no matter how much of what we crave, we always want more. There is nothing that can fill that void in our soul. You may have power, money, a family and yet, there is something missing.

In Mark 10 there is an interesting story:

"And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him. 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'
And Jesus said to him, 
'Why do you call me good? no one is good except God alone. 
You know the commandments:
'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal,
Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'
And he said to him,
'Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.'
And Jesus looking at him, loved him,
'You lack one thing, go sell what you have and give it to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.'
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, 
for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
'How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'" (Mark 10:17-25 - ESV)

In this story, a man who has possessions, wealth and power came to Jesus. He was obviously moved by the teachings and signs of Jesus and wanted to find out what he had to DO to inherit eternal life. I read from this that he is a typical "A" personality - DOING has to be the solution for everything.

This passage has been debated for centuries. The debate has focused on the camel and the needle. You may have heard them:

  • There were gates around Jerusalem and if a camel was loaded with cargo it would be hard to get him through the gate.
  • Oh, the Aramaic word here is similar to twine and so it would be hard to thread a needle with it.
Rather than try and justify some sort of reason that the wealthy are not actually forbidden into the kingdom of God, I would rather explore what Jesus is saying to this young man, and in turn, to us. It starts with the fact that the text says in vs. 21 "And Jesus looking at him, loved him". So, this is not a person Jesus detested, on the other hand, he loved him. This man had fallen into the trap that so many followers of God fall into. When asked about the commandments he had the right answer. However, his real god was what he possessed. Jesus cut to the quick and hit his real need -- You lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Was Jesus saying that possessions are bad? Was he saying that this man did not love God? Hardly. What Jesus saw in this man was a person who felt that if he just did the "right" things he would somehow earn the love of God and thus the kingdom of God.

There are many professed religious people and that may be the problem. Religion focuses on the outside. If you do certain things, hold to certain dogmas, have the right political views and abstain from what is considered immoral - that somehow makes you a spiritual person. There are people who have never missed a Sunday church service who may be among the most evil and immoral people on the planet. Oh, if you spoke with them, they would come off as very pious and upright people. Just ask them, they can tell you they don't smoke, drink or chew or go with those who do. Their religion is from the Outside In. How do these people relate to the disenfranchised of our culture? How do they look upon addicts? How do they view gays and lesbians? Sadly, they cling to their spiritual accomplishments like a boy Scout clings to his merit badges. Do they see a person made in God's image? 

If you even take a cursory look at Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you see that Jesus spent most of his time with those marginalized by the religious leaders. In fact, the harshest words of Jesus are found in Matthew 25, where talking to the religious leaders says, "On the outside you look like a freshly painted tomb, inside you are nothing more than rotting flesh and bones."

The Christianity that was brought by Jesus was from the Inside Out. The heart is were it resides. And from the heart that has realized that God has shown mercy and grace, even in our wickedness is driven to show grace and mercy to those it encounters. As Paul puts it:

"For by grace you have been saved, through faith. 
And this not of your own doing, it is the gift of God,
not a result of works,
so that no one may boast.
For we are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them."
(Ephesians 2:8-10 - ESV)

Christianity starts with gratitude. Gratitude that pervades and drives us to be more than we are. We are god's workmanship and created to reflect the image and love of His Son to those we come in contact with. We are not superior because we discovered some "secret" knowledge. We are not superior because we have a list of things we do or do not do. Our relationship with God is not made up of the things we do, but rather by the thing He has done. Our hearts have been touched and changed, we now see the world as God sees it. We see people struggling, people confused, people grieving, people who are wandering and because we have found someone who loves us just because we are His child - we start to love people for just who they are - children of God. All of this comes from the Inside Out. Ask God to help  have your heart broken by the things that break His heart. Commit yourself to let your heart be ruled by thanksgiving and reach out to people as God wants you to.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Wastelands


From 1995-2011 I was in the wastelands. I, like many of you reading this, had been hurt and deeply disappointed by the church that I thought was a place to heal broken people. Yes, I screwed up - not just sort of but REALLY screwed up. I had lost a family and tried to go back to the church to only find judgment instead of grace and anger instead of reconciliation. Even though, intellectually, I knew that God loved me - I blamed Him. It seemed like at one of the darkest times in my life I was abandoned by God. I reverted to my upbringing as an atheist, and with an advanced degree in Theology, I enjoyed dismantling faith of those who professed faith in my presence. 

I was still a "good" person, whatever that means. But I was numb to God. My skeptical mind kept me from the self imposed guilt. Whenever the topic of God came up I would shoot holes through those thoughts and would  be amused at my brilliance. However, I could never get past this nagging emptiness that was in me. I would read about events in the world and look at life and job and ask myself, "Is this it?!". I remember a quote that seem to pervade my mind:

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is worth or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy." ~ Albert Camus

The past eighteen months have been filled with death for me. The first death was what sparked my mind. It was like the phrase in the song above - WAKE ME UP! I attended a funeral for  someone who was not a follower of God. There was no "religion" at the funeral. People would get up and tell stories about good times, drunk times and the deceased in general. The one thing that was non existent was hope. There was laughter and there was pain but no hope. As I drove home, I was deeply depressed and the - "Is This It?" question kept echoing in my head. I started asking God for help as I drove home and started looking for a group of believers that I could hide among. 

Shortly after that I found out that my ex-wife, Angela, was diagnosed with ALS. Here again, death was visiting. I was a spectator and participant as Angela spent her last few months with us and sat at her bedside when she died on May 22, 2011. (You might read "How We Grieve" in a previous blog). On the heels of that death, my wife Josephine had to fly to Ireland because her Dad was suffering with cancer. She has been there since July and early Tuesday morning she called and said he passed away. While she has been there, three of her Mother's four brothers have passed away.

During this past eighteen months I heard the wake up call. I have come home to God, and those who knew me as an atheist have probably noticed a difference in my thought process. I found a congregation of people who come from all walks of life and all have their own stories. I think there are probably a great deal of people who in this present global economic meltdown are starting to ask themselves - Is This IT?! Many who feel abandoned by God. Many who have been hurt by the legalistic dogma of some church. Many who are just asleep and numb.

I can, with all confidence, say there is hope. There is love. There is faith. However you express your faith - intentionally show love to those around you. These are tough times and a lot of people are in pain and in the wastelands. I am now at peace. My prayer is that my two kids will eventually embrace faith. I was a horrible role-model for instilling that in them as they grew up. I did give them skeptical and critical minds, but some times I wonder if I gave them too much.

So my message to you this week is this:
Listen to that still small voice that is constantly being drowned out by a world in crisis. Focus on your families and loved ones. Show them and tell them you love them. Maybe, just maybe, take another look at God - hope is out there and I am confident you can find it. I pray that you find love and that you share it with those around you.


Monday, October 3, 2011

I Will Love You for You

I was going to write a very different blog this week. I am now sitting in a hotel room in Las Vegas and waiting for a conference to start. I opened my emails and checked the news, then I clicked on Facebook and saw a link shared by my mentor, Lynn Anderson. It is the song above by JJ Heller. I was struck by the simplicity of the message and it struck me, that is the message I am trying to share through my feeble attempts at blogging. That God loves me for me and He love you for you. However, it doesn't stop there. If people claim to be followers of God, we should love others as He has loved us. 

In the Lord's Prayer, without all of the 400 year old English, Jesus prayed - "And forgive us of our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us."

Above anything else, God's people should be known for their love, acceptance and forgiveness. In a world that cries out for justice, God's people should be the ones who make sure that grace is in the equation to balance out justice. As I have said before; justice can easily become a platform for revenge and hatred.

What if the church was known as the people that loved and cared rather than the Crusades, Inquisition and religious division? I wonder how many people within earshot of our Sunday assemblies are asking for someone to love them for them? Yet we sing our songs, plan lunches, share the Lord's Table and listen to a message, yet without hearing the cries for help around us - often times in our own homes.

There was an event that comes to my mind as I sit in front of this laptop. It is deeply personal and I in no way am trying to make myself more than I am. I know I am a flawed human being who has hurt a great many people over my 59 years. This event was when I was on the giving end of forgiveness rather than my usual receiving.

My Dad was a brutal man. I have shared in a previous blog, Fallen, that he would  routinely abuse me physically and sexually in an alcohol induced fervor. Around 1980 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The doctors caught it early enough and did surgery. As he was recuperating, he stayed with my wife and me. The only complication was that he had not had a bowel movement in about four days. Well, as luck would have it, in the middle of the night my Youth Minister ears heard a screaming string of profanity that would cause a long shore-man to blush.

I jumped out of bed and intercepted my Dad in the hallway heading for the bathroom. I don't think I need to describe that scene any further. I grabbed him and started taking off his pajamas and turned on the shower. He was extremely angry and kept pushing me away, but I was much younger and stronger. (It is interesting how these roles inverse) I pulled him into the shower and started washing the filth from his body, under his severe protest. When he was dry and in clean pajamas he broke down. For the first time in my life - my Dad hugged me. He kept saying over and over, "After all I have done to you." I told him that I loved him and he was the only Dad I had, that just made him cry harder. 

That very night I learned what it felt like to forgive someone. All of the hatred, anger and craving for justice melted away. I saw an old man, who had been strong - now weak, crying in front of me. The only thing I felt was compassion and a desire to love this man, my Dad. After that event I actually began to understand my Dad. I remembered that my Grandfather had been harsh and I remembered times, even as a very old man, he would just haul off and hit me when I had not done something to his mark of perfection. Then I started thinking what it must have been like for my Dad growing up. I decided that the generational dysfunction would stop with me. I continually tell Sarah and Nathan ow much I love them and that I am proud of the way they have turned out.

Now back to the church. As a fellow follower of the teachings of Jesus, I am continually thankful of the grace he has lavished upon me. In the song I saw myself in the first verse of the boy who had a story no one would believe. The church is made up of flawed people all with stories. People who have needed and received forgiveness. However, we have a tendency to draw lines of demarcation to make ourselves superior to others around us. I have the dogma right! I have never missed a Sunday! I give 10% of my income! I don't smoke, drink or chew or go with those who do. We build up these arbitrary lists of accomplishments that we then use to measure others' progress. All the time not knowing the story of their full life. It becomes, "I will accept you for you IF you are the you I think you should be".

One thing I can say for certainty is that we have not been called to act like that. We have been called to express the nature of God. When Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 - look at the: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. That is the nature of God! That is not some class conscious list for judging others, it is a standard in which we need to judge ourselves. Some of the meanest people I have met, have been Christians. I am sure this makes our God weep.

So, this week, pray that God can help you be more like Him. Pray that you can love and forgive as he does. Maybe, just maybe, contact someone who you have been alienated from and reach out with love, acceptance and forgiveness. They may not be receptive, at first, but you need to give it a shot. How many shots has God given you to come home?