I tried to play football at South Miami High School. I was a quarterback who couldn’t run fast or throw well. But man, could I hold a clipboard.
I was pale, skinny, and completely lost on the football field. I had never played before my 9th grade year and was far more afraid of our head coach than any opposing linebacker. It was on our high school football practice field I met Jonathan Scott. He looked like he could bench press 500 pounds. His robust laugh flew right in the face of danger.
We became close friends. His walk with Christ impressed me. It was real. He truly loved Jesus and it was hard to miss. Before practices and games he would even pray for his new friend, the pale and skinny QB who desperately needed courage…and much faster feet. Together, we survived on and off the field.
Today, Jonathan is the South Park Campus Pastor of Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, NC. He is a fabulous musician, teacher, preacher, motivator, father and husband. And now, on his own accord, he’s taken to putting to life to some of my blogs. And that’s just really cool. But more than anything else, John is my friend. That is a wonderful privilege and joy and one that will only last…FOREVER!
“Don’t jump,” the wise voice of sanity said in the back of my brain. It was quickly followed by my foolish voice of insanity which mockingly laughed and said, “You can do it. Jump!”
A moment later I found myself clinging to a Grand Canyon outcropping which stood out like a finger reaching far into the sky. It stood alone about four feet from where I had jumped and about three feet lower. To jump back to safety would require an Olympian long jump I was not capable of making. The drop on all sides seemed at least one hundred feet.
I was alone. The sun was setting. I was in trouble.
The Bible is full of stories of men and women who are in desperate trouble. More often then not, it is a result of their own foolish decisions. Like me, they “jumped,” knowing full well it was a bad idea.
So why do we still jump?
I came across an article written by my father many years ago titled, “How Forgiven Are We?” It seemed rather appropriate for all of us foolish and sinful “cliff jumpers.” In it, he takes us to Romans 7 and discusses our “unrelenting struggle between our spiritual desires and our desires that are totally contrary to God.” Paul says it this way, “…the trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself…” Sound familiar?
In my Dad’s article, he goes on to explain the incredible Good News of what Jesus accomplished at the cross for us – a full pardon “even for the sins we commit today.” Oh, that is Good News!
He then asked his readers to do something. He asks us to open our Bibles to Luke 7:36-50. In this familiar passage a sinful woman pours expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet. Feel the incredible emotion as “…her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair.”
Now, in all the places where the passage refers to “the woman,” insert your name. Dad said, “Open your Bible and read it aloud to yourself. Do it right now.” Bring yourself to verse 48. Here Jesus says to the woman and thus says to those of us who believe in Him, “_________, your sins are forgiven.”
What a beautiful Easter message! What a beautiful message for every other day, too. Our sins are forgiven! Complete and unconditional grace. “At the cruel cross,” my Dad explained, “the blessed Son of God received from His beloved Father all the judgment and punishment you and I deserve. There at the cross Jesus exclaimed, ‘It is finished.’ He completed all that was required for divine justice to forgive us completely and totally – no matter the depth of our sin.”
Back on that cliff…
My brother Gregg and a college buddy, Paul, were with me there in the Grand Canyon. They had ventured off to find some food and water while I foolishly jumped out onto the precipice. I’ll never forget my brother’s look of confounded wonder as they found me stuck on the cliff. Gregg has literally had to save my life more than once so perhaps this was not completely unexpected.
Risking his own life, Gregg leaned over the cliff with an outstretched arm as Paul held onto his belt and leaned back to create a fulcrum. Gregg looked at me and calmly and confidently said, “I got you.” In one motion, I reached out, grabbed his arm, and Gregg pulled me over the ledge to safety. He then whacked me over the head – followed by a long embrace.
Happy Easter…and happy Every Day…to all of us “cliff jumpers.”
I had to grab a few things late last night at one of those 24-hour grocery stores. That concept seemed strange to me until I found myself roaming the aisles close to midnight.
I grabbed what I needed and was heading to the checkout when I noticed a man about my age shopping with his son. His son, I guessed, was roughly the age of my youngest son and all seemed normal at first. Then it became apparent the son had handicaps which required constant attention and care. I suspected the father was purposefully shopping with his son late at night to avoid crowds.
I couldn’t help but just observe from a distance. Their walk down the grocery store aisle was extremely slow. Every few steps, the father would have to stop and adjust his son’s position so they could keep walking down the aisle. With each adjustment, he would gently reposition his son and smile. Then they would slowly move forward again. I was amazed at the father’s tenderness and patience.
I suspect the very last thing they were concerned about was the inauguration. Certainly decisions made by government officials could impact their lives. Regardless, this father seemed committed to tenderly care for his son, no matter what comes out of Washington or anywhere else.
As I observed, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my Heavenly Father’s love and care for me. I often feel so spiritually handicapped, so lost, and in constant need of adjustments. You would think the Father would be completely exasperated and worn out caring for me. But He’s not. “See how very much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
The presidential inauguration is tomorrow. To say the least, it’s going to be very interesting. But our trust and confidence is not in governments. Our trust and hope is in our Heavenly Father. And just like the son being tenderly led through the grocery store by a patient and loving father, “You, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).
Inaugurations will come and go until the end of the age. But God’s faithful love endures forever. Take a moment and read Psalm 136andbe reminded. It will help put concerns into proper perspective.
I’m sitting at an outdoor coffee bar that serves a lot more than just coffee. It overlooks a sports arena, downtown buildings, and a commuter train railway. There is also an airport close by. A few minutes ago an airplane flew past while at the same time a train and a bus rolled along. Everyone is going someplace.
It’s interesting to observe the mix of people in this place. There are all shapes and sizes and I count at least six different nationalities. Most seem quite happy. I suspect the median age is late 30’s and I suddenly realize I’m pulling the curve up instead of down.
Most conversations I overhear seem pretty light. If I had to guess, I would say there is one budding romance across the way. They are all smiles and laugh even if what was said may not have been particularly funny. A trio of ladies have gathered for drinks and are swapping stories about their respective “crazy” day. An elderly man is by himself staring into his glass deep in thought.
I wonder what their stories are?
We all have them. We’re all on a journey. All of us are hopeful our story comes to a happy and peaceful conclusion. We’re all writing stories.
I can’t help but wonder how God’s eternal and perfect plan—His story for us—is possibly taking place at this exact moment in each one of our lives. There just seems to be too much going on, too many details, too many people, too many possible outcomes. How can it be that God is in control and that “…every day of my life was recorded in His book and every moment laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:16)? How can this be true right now, right here in this coffee bar?
I know God lives in eternity and is outside all of nature’s laws regarding time and space. It is difficult to try and comprehend. My Dad loved to tell me that this meant “God has all the ‘time’ in the world to focus on me and me alone for my entire life—every moment of every day.” That both thrills and terrifies me. But I do believe that in some mysterious God-ordained-free–will way, we write our story with uncoerced choices which fit exactly into God’s eternal plan.
Maybe David was sitting in a coffee bar (circa 1000 BC) drinking a strong black coffee (no way King David drank lattés) thinking about some of these things. Why does the Almighty God–with that kind of power and ability–unconditionally love and care for someone like me? Why would he even care about my story and even desire that “through his mighty power at work within me, accomplish infinitely more than I might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)? It’s too outlandish to imagine.
But He does. And so David had to say what I’m feeling at this moment, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:6).
Fun summer reading. “Monkeys In My Coconut Tree” by Ed Thompson, is a compilation of fun, easy-to-read stories of fun, family, and faith. It was a Reader’s Favorite 2016 Silver Medal Winner. So come on, check it out. Read some of the reviews and download your copy by clicking HERE. (Also available at Amazon.com, iTunes and others.)
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, summer officially ends on September 23rd at 4:21am. Yes, I agree that’s a peculiar date and time for summer to end but who are we to argue with old farmers?
Sadly, the end of summer also brings the season’s end to a beloved American pastime—lemonade stands—which inexplicably, are under attack by various government branches. No, I’m not making this up.
The government lemonade crackdown may have begun last year in Coralville, Iowa, when police shut down little 4-year-old Abigail’s stand after she had been open barely 30 minutes. The reason? She did not have the required $400 permit. In Midway, Georgia, police shut down a stand run by three little girls because they did not have a business license, a peddler’s permit, or a food permit. In Overton, Texas, public outcry was so loud after two children’s (7 and 8) stand was shut down for not having the proper permits, the Chief of Police released “dash-cam” VIDEO of the occurrence.
The list of government shut downs of children’s lemonade stands has grown substantially over the years. So much so that websites like lemonadefreedom.com have opened up with news and videos to promote “Lemonade Freedom” throughout the land. So in the hope some government official will read this and have second thoughts on sending the police to shut down a child’s lemonade stand, I share this story.
I love lemonade stands.
In fact, my wife and children know it’s almost impossible for me to drive past a neighborhood lemonade stand. I’ll circle blocks, make illegal U-turns, and even try to sneak past a police crime tape surrounding the permit-less operation of a 4-year-old, just to get to a child’s lemonade stand. Then I’ll call my wife and kids and insist they drive over and buy some, too.
It goes back, of course, to my grade school days when I proudly opened my very own lemonade stand in my front yard. I was a proud and hopeful small business owner determined to make millions from the ten-cents-per-cup lemonade my mother made. It was back in the day when a young entrepreneur could set up shop in their own front yard without ever worrying about being busted by the Chief of Police.
I remember setting up the table alongside the street, making the signs, and wondering how much to charge for a wonderful ice-cold glass of lemonade; a nickel, a dime, a quarter? Could a cold glass of lemonade be worth a quarter?
Of course, mom helped make the lemonade and even supplied a small box of change. She helped me make the sign and set up the table in a spot where she could keep an eye on me from inside the house. Then, finally, it was time to sit in the chair behind the table and wait for the line of cars to show up, driven by thirsty people with an extra dime or two in their pockets.
That’s where a major flaw in my business plan was revealed. At age 11, I was unfamiliar with the “location, location, location” principle and Freakonomics hadn’t even been written yet. So I was on my own, on a quiet street, learning tough business principles the hard way. But dreams are beautiful and I never once considered our quiet street would not be teaming with thirsty drivers coming from all over Miami to drink my lemonade.
Long, lonely minutes crept by as I sat there anxiously waiting for a car—any car—to pull down my street. Then, when a car did come into view, nothing crushed my spirit more than watching it rumble past as I stood there with a cup of cold lemonade in hand and a hopeful smile on my face. (There’s just something un-American about driving past a lonely lemonade stand.)
But dreams die hard and I knew my first customer could be coming down the street at any moment. I would be ready. The minutes slowly ticked by and turned into a discouraging hour. Then that hour slowly passed into another hour, and another. The hot sun burned down, the ice in the lemonade pitcher quickly melted, and no one, not one car or person ventured toward my lemonade stand.
Mom had given me a nice apple to offer to my first customer as a special bonus. It had been nice and fresh when I had set up the stand, but now it too, was starting to look beat down from the sun and heat. Still, no one stopped. I was fairly miserable.
The afternoon wore on and I was dragging my head in discouragement. I was just about to close up shop when off in the distance, I noticed a car coming my direction. It was a familiar car. It was my dad’s car and Dad was in it. He pulled up to my stand and rolled down the window. “How’s business, young man?” he asked with a big smile. All I remember was bursting into tears.
The next thing I know, my dad was asking for a glass of lemonade. “Are you selling that apple, too?” he asked still smiling. I managed a “yes” through my tears but said it wasn’t looking so good anymore. “Looks like a great apple to me,” I heard back, as I handed it over.
I can still picture handing my dad the warm glass of lemonade and the sad looking apple through the window of his car. He leaned back and drank the lemonade in one long swallow, smacked his lips and then bit into the apple. “Wow, that’s delicious,” he said to my surprise. “I think I’ll take another lemonade.”
When he was done, he reached into his wallet, pulled out a bill, and handed it to the little boy trying to overcome his sobs. He said a big “thanks,” complimented me on the excellent lemonade and fine tasting apple and drove away.
He was around the corner and out of sight before I looked and saw the twenty-dollar bill he had pushed in my hand. In many ways, it remains the biggest sale I have ever made.
I have a sneaky suspicion my mom called my dad to let him know I was out there struggling to make a sale. I can see him dropping whatever he was doing at work and driving over as quickly as possible to buy some warm lemonade from his son. With tenderness and compassion, it was “Dad to the rescue” because that’s what loving dads do.
The Lord is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him (Psalm 103:13).
As my dad drove up our lonely street, I’m sure he knew the sad sight he was about to see: a little boy with a sad face and slumped over shoulders fully engulfed in his own private pity party. But as a loving father, he knew what to do.
For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust (Psalm 103:14).
I’m so incredibly thankful the Lord knows how weak and frail I am. I so often feel like I’m still that little boy at the lemonade stand down the lonely street with nothing going right. But my Heavenly Father is tender and compassionate. He knows I’m made of dust and always takes my frailty into account.
For His unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth (Psalm 103:11).
So the next time you see a lemonade stand—STOP—and remember the Lord’s amazing love, tenderness, and compassion for you. Then, pull over and invest in the hopes and dreams of a small child who is waiting just for you to make his or her day. It may just be the best decision you make all day.
1. to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.
2. to distrust
3. a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of the something
I have a lot of doubts. I doubt, for example, I will ever win a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, I don’t think the committee is even opening my letters anymore. I doubt I will ever purposefully swim with sharks and doubt I will ever toss a game winning touchdown pass in an NFL game.
Okay, but what about real doubts? Doubts that keep you awake at night and troubled during the day. Like whether someone really does love you or if you really do love them back? Do you ever doubt if your dreams will come true, or if you’re good enough, doing enough, working hard enough, or praying enough? And what about the really big, ultimate doubts? Is there really a God and if so, does He care about me?
Sometimes I struggle with doubt; even those really big questions. I’m very much like the father Jesus encounters in Mark 9: 14-29. The father is desperate for his son to be made well and says to Jesus, “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
Jesus answered, “What do you mean, “If I can?” The desperate father than cries out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
That’s me. I believe, but please God, help me overcome my unbelief. Maybe it’s you, too. If so, I invite you to invest 27 minutes of your time and listen to a powerful message from my big brother, Dan. He’s quite an excellent Bible teacher and this particular message may just be what you need to hear: http://www.christcommunitytitusville.org/sermons.html.
The message is from 9/7/14 and is titled, “Doubt is Everybody’s Problem.” Last time I checked, I was part of that “everyone.” No doubt, you are, too.
Summer is over which mercifully means, the end of family and friends asking for money so they can go on a paid vacation — I mean, short-term mission trip.
Ok, there are short-term mission trips that are impactful and meaningful. But come on. I’ve seen the itineraries, looked at the pictures and videos, and listened to the stories reported back in church. Everyone had a great time, returned with killer tans, enjoyed trying new foods, felt bad about how other people are living, were glad they helped (with their project), and oh yeah, got to share a testimony or two.
Can you imagine if the short term mission trip organizers were to ask those they were going to serve, “What would help you more, a group of well meaning North Americans coming to your place to work for a week…or the cash equivalent?”
I love short term missions
It is difficult to find a week long short term mission trip overseas for less than $1,200 per person with most costing upwards of $3,000 (which enables the trip organizers to go for “free”). Then, when you consider most short-term mission trips have a dozen or so travelers, the money spent on one weeklong short-term mission trip is more than most whom they are going to serve will earn in 10 years.
This past year I received roughly a dozen please-help-pay-for-my-short-term-mission-trip-and-or-vacation letters. The least expensive was $1,850 for one week and the most expensive was over $8,000 for the entire summer abroad. In my mind I’m saying, “Hey, I like exotic vacations too, but why are you asking me to pay for yours?” But of course, I bite my tongue, try to think positively, and sometimes even write a check. But I confess, in most of those circumstances when I write a check, I am not a joyful giver.
There is certainly a place for short-term mission trips. Medical missions will always be needed. Disaster relief and projects that need specialization are powerful. But should we really be sending a bunch of North Americans to run vacation Bible schools and music camps? I’ve talked to national pastors who watch well meaning North Americans build or fix up a church building while capable people in their congregations are desperate for that very work. “It’s the only way we can get it done,” they lament. I know of several churches whose single largest annual mission budget item is to send a group of their families to a lovely Caribbean island for a week or two to “help” with the local vacation Bible schools. The matching t-shirts are cute, too.
It’s time for some short term mission sanity. Can we really claim our short term mission trips are resulting in “making disciples of all nations?” Can we really “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” in our seven day trip less two days of travel? Can it happen? Sure. But if all you have is a few days, it’s a lot easier to help fix a roof or hand out food and clothing to those in need. Disciplemaking takes time…and a relationship.
Short term “mercy” trips to help meet physical needs are just fine. But call them what they are: mercy mission trips to do good deeds for our fellow man while helping our travelers see how good they’ve got it living in North America. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s also be honest and admit that few short term mission trips accomplish much in the way of fulfilling the Great Commission. For that, you need to empower “national missionaries:” men and women who love the Lord, already live there, understand their cultures, and see the spiritual need in others. They are the ones establishing relationships and doing the hard work of making disciples. They are the ones helping others in their communities discover the love, grace, and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Every time I receive one of those well meaning short term mission trip letters asking me to help cover the costs of their exotic vacation, I think of the thousands of national missionaries who are already there not only meeting physical needs but more importantly, making disciples. The cost to do that? $5 per month per national missionary (see FiveDollarMission.com).
If my math is right, for the cost of one $1,200 short term mission trip traveler, on-the-job Bible training, resources, and encouragement could be provided for 20 national missionaries focused on making disciples…all year long.
My Dad kept his wallet in his back right pocket. I remember it being thick and full of things like credit cards, business cards, a little cash, a full year’s calendar, and notes he had torn from pieces of paper. There was also the plastic photo holder filled with pictures of me, my brothers, and my mom.
Dad was very far from ever being considered rich, but you’d never know it from his wallet. If we were at dinner with another family, Dad was always the first to grab his wallet in order to pay the bill. He often did so on the sly so that by the time the time we would finish the meal, the bill would have long been paid leaving the other Dad surprised…and grateful.
I never thought too much about his wallet until I had a family of my own and discovered how few dollars were usually in mine. I have since learned from my Mom how tight things were when we were growing up. They would talk privately, late into the night, wondering how they were going to make ends meet. But I never knew. Dad’s wallet always seemed to have more than enough as far as I could tell.
There was the time I found my wallet completely empty. I had no where to turn, except Dad’s wallet. A difficult and tear-filled phone call home resulted in an immediate gift which to this day, I have no idea how Dad’s wallet managed. Missionaries, after all, are almost always just barely surviving financially. There was never even the slightest hint of repayment.
As Dad grew older, the need for his thick back pocket wallet changed. New technology let him carry around his calendar and notes on his cell phone as well as dozens of photos of his family. Several years ago I noticed Dad’s old wallet had become worn out and it was time for a new one. I found a new slim-lined front pocket wallet and wrapped it up for his birthday. It was the last wallet he’d carry.
It’s funny how such a simple little thing like a wallet can become meaningful. Just this past week, my Mom and I returned from a trip to visit my youngest son. As we walked through the airport I mentioned I needed a new wallet because mine had started to fall apart. Shortly after returning home, Mom presented me with a gift. Yes, Dad’s wallet. The same one I had given Dad a few years earlier.
I love this wallet. I had carried it many times before running various errands for Dad when he was restricted to his bed. When he gave me his wallet, he intended for me to use it completely and freely, just as if he were standing next to me. And I did just that.
Missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I think Dad understood that statement rather well and dedicated his life and wallet to “gain what he could not lose.” Dad believed God’s promises and often talked about being an “heir to an infinite inheritance.” He would quote Romans 8:17, “Since we are His children, we are His heirs…” He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
As I write this letter to you, Dad’s wallet is resting comfortably in my left front pocket. It was three years ago this month the Lord took my Dad home to start collecting on that inheritance. I can’t help but take Dad’s wallet out and look it over. Each time I do, sweet memories come pouring back. It has my things in it now, so I suppose to my kids it still is “Dad’s wallet.”
Over time, I know Dad’s wallet will wear down and eventually need to be replaced. That’s okay, it’s just a thing. But in many ways, it represents who I am, the choices I make, and how I live my life. And that makes me wonder what my children will remember when they think about “Dad’s wallet.”
May God give me the grace to “give what I cannot keep in order to gain what I cannot lose.”
Our dog, Bentley, has fallen deeply in love with my wife, Jenn. He has also become rather protective of her. I found this out the hard way when I leaned over to give Jenn a kiss while Bentley was lying beside her. Instead of the nice soft embrace of my wife’s lips, I got a face full of Bentley, who with amazing quickness and agility, sprang between my face and hers and pushed me away with his long, wet nose.
I jumped back with a start and stared at this crazy dog who was now suffocating my laughing wife under his protective paws. Not one to easily give up when it comes to getting a kiss from my wife, I leaned over once again searching for her lips. This time, Bentley started barking and positioned his long body completely over Jenn’s head.
By this time, Jenn was laughing hysterically and Bentley-the-Protector was barking madly to keep me away. The battle was on. Man versus beast. Passion versus protection. Crazy dog versus desperate husband wanting a kiss.
I cautiously circled the sofa. Bentley stared at me with his big, black eyes with Jenn safely secured under his paws. Tail wagging, he watched my every move. When the moment was just right, I jumped in, scooped Bentley up in my arms, ran the yapping dog into the other room with the tile floor. I put the frantic dog on the tile floor, held him back from running, and took off for the sofa to retrieve my kiss. As I ran toward Jenn, I could here the clatter of Bentley’s toenails flailing wildly on the tile floor desperately trying to get traction so he could beat me to the couch. His spinning legs gave me just enough time to race back to Jenn and win my kiss.
Man had won over beast once again.
Oh, the simple pleasures of life. Playing with a dog. Working hard for a kiss. Laughter. The list of ways to enjoy life is truly endless.
I am amazed by the entire concept of joy. It’s interesting, for example, that “joy” is both a noun and a verb. My dictionary defines joy—the noun—as, “intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.” Joy—the verb—is defined as, “to take great pleasure; rejoice” as well as, “to fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.”
I recently heard a wonderful message on creation. I was enthralled when the pastor suggested that God may have “sung” the world into existence. Of course, we have no idea if this is the case, but I love that imagery. Just imagine the beauty and joy of God’s voice singing as he creates stars, galaxies, and you and me…into existence.
Like love, joy is a part of God’s very essence. “God is love” as much as “God is joy.” The two are inseparable. The Tyndale Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains that joy is a “quality, and not simply an emotion, grounded upon God himself and indeed derived from Him.” Perhaps that is why famed author and professor, C.S. Lewis, described his conversion and ultimate belief in Christ, by simply saying, “joy.”
I have a friend who is battling cancer. Through emails, he keeps me up-to-date on what is going on through the various stages of treatment. He has endured many surgeries, medications with terrible side effects, long hospital stays, difficult setbacks, and endless doctor visits. Watching him fight this terrible disease is a reminder that none of us are immune from trials, sorrows, disappointments, and frustrations. “What a blessing,” he says, “that I have a basis for which I can experience God’s love, joy, and peace regardless of my situation.”
The famous preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “When you speak of heaven, let your face light up with heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell—well, then your usual face will do.”
So, here’s hoping more and more faces “light up with a heavenly gleam.” After all, there are far too many walking around with their “usual face.”