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.”
There’s been a lot of talk about numbers these days: inauguration day numbers, immigration numbers, cost of a 60-second Super Bowl commerical number, and even the Dow Jones surpassing 20,000 number. We like numbers.
All this talk about numbers reminded me of a report I read a while back about Moses and the ancient Israelites. Bible scholars suggest that when you include all the men, women, and children who walked out of Egypt, there were some 2.4 million people (see Exodus 12:37-38). Now that’s a big number. You also need to consider they also took along “a rabble of non-Israelites along with great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38).
An apparent report by a Quartermaster General in the Army claimed that to feed that many people, you would need at least 3 million pounds of food and 11 million gallons of water every day. The report also claimed they would need a campground two-thirds the size of Rhode Island to pitch their tents, pen their animals, and roast marshmallows by the campfire. (OK, I made the marshmallow part up.)
Then there’s this: remember when the people of Israel were trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army? God tells Moses to “pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground” (Exodus 14:16).
The Quartermaster report said that if you tried to cross the Red Sea double file on a narrow path, it would take 35 days and nights to get everyone across. But Exodus 14:21-22 says,“…the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!”
For the people of Israel to walk across in one day, the Quartermaster report stated, God would have cut a path through the Red Sea at least three miles wide allowing the people to walk across 5,000 abreast.
Now there is no way my mathematically challenged brain can figure out if any of this Quartermaster report stuff is correct. But it certainly brought a greater understanding that food, and water, and armies, and Pharoahs, and logistics, and oceans, and whatever other troubles we may be facing, are not problems for our God. He may not answer or move in a way we want or even expect, in fact I would suggest He usually doesn’t. But He is always in control. He is never caught off guard. He is always up to some much bigger plan than we can see or understand, and He will always accomplish His purposes.
How do we respond to such wonder and amazement? The Psalmist David gives us an example, “You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:4-6).
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.)
“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.” —Yogi Berra
Realizing my youngest son, David (then 9), was excelling at baseball, I decided to move him to a more challenging baseball park in Miami called Tamiami. Instead of the popular “draft” where the talented players are spread out over the various teams, coaches handpick their young baseball players and bring them to the park to battle it out.
David was the only “American” on the Tamiami All-Star team filled with second and third generation Hispanics. To be fair, all the boys on his 10-and-under All-Star team were born in America. They embraced their Hispanic heritage and cultural diversity, but were proud Americans grateful to live in the USA and the wonderfully diverse city of Miami.
Tamiami baseball is well known for being “over-the-top” competitive. And just to prove it, in our very first Tamiami game, the team mom from our team got into a fist fight with the team mom from the other team. I knew right then and there it was going to be a very exciting season of baseball.
And it was. Despite all the fist fights (and there were many), the constant heated quarrels over the “real” age of some of the kids (just about every game), and some umpires who performed their own little dance move with every strike-three call (one umpire called himself Michael Jackson), it was a great experience. David’s final game that year was played on TV as the Tamiami All-Star team won the Pony League World Series in Dallas.
David learned the fundamentals of the game of baseball from passionate Hispanic dads. Lessons he is no doubt taking with him now in his first full professional year in the NY Mets farm system. Not only that, but his Spanish improved dramatically.
In many ways, the passion David’s Hispanic coaches used for teaching him the fundamentals of baseball is what Moses was getting at when he said, “Teach [God’s commands] to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up…so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 11:19-21).
And who doesn’t want to flourish?
Most of us have a hard time truly believing God gave us the Ten Commandments for our benefit. But unlike baseball where breaking the rules may cost you the game, we are all in the middle of the great “game” of life where the stakes are so very much higher. So if you’d like to know why Moses said obeying them will help your life flourish, my Dad just so happened to write a short book explaining just that.
You can find it here at Amazon or on our ministry website at LOGOI.
My son and daughter-in-law went away for the weekend, so I got to babysit my grand-dog, Luke. Luke is a beautiful and lovable German Short-Haired Pointer with piercing light brown eyes and a wonderful soft coat.
But of course, he’s nuts.
To babysit this dog, all you have to do is turn on a light that throws some sort of shadow on the wall. Luke will then sit there and stare intently at the shadow as if he’s certain it will jump off the wall at any moment and he must be ready to pounce on it. His focus and patience are amazing. Bumping the light so the shadow moves causes Luke’s muscles to quiver and his ears to peal back with excitement. This routine can keep me—I mean him—entertained for hours.
He also eats rocks.
But my grand-dog is a great listener. There’s been much on my mind lately and over the weekend, Luke and I had some long talks. There were no judgements or wary glances or hints of ridicule or condemnation as I rambled on. In fact, he didn’t say anything. He just looked up at me with his kind eyes and listened.
What a good friend.
I’m not a very good listener and need to learn from my grand-dog. I usually begin offering my “wise” counsel and advice before others have even finished their sentences. The classic Bible story in the book of Job tells of three well-meaning friends who offered advice without really knowing or in any way truly comprehending what Job was feeling or what was taking place. Most think the best advice they gave was when they just sat next to Job in silence.
I’m uncomfortable with silence.
No doubt, that’s part of my problem. If there is a gap in the conversation, I feel it’s my job to fill it — even if I have nothing to say. I remember a friend’s anguish as he quietly told me of his son’s drug addiction. His heart was breaking and he didn’t know what to do. He just needed to talk it out a bit and have a friend listen. He took a breath and left a vocal pause and I jumped in and began spewing meaningless advice without knowing anything of what he was experiencing or how to help.
I was just like Job’s friends.
Thankfully, the One with all knowledge is the best listener of all. He knows how to listen. And thankfully, He loves to hear everything that’s on our heart and mind. He doesn’t even mind if you ramble on and on. And unlike my grand-dog, Job’s well-meaning friends, or me, He has the power to answer our prayers according to His perfect will (1 John 5:13-15). I suspect that’s why the Psalmist said, “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen…” (Psalm 116:1&2).
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.
On one hand you have, of course, the “fanatic” or “zealot”, whom The Free Dictionary defines as “a person marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm.” The opposite of a fanatic, according to Yahoo! Answers, is the “troll.” A troll or “hater” as they are often referred, is someone who opposes what you think.
Things can get real interesting when a zealot and troll sit next to each other in the stands.
I’ve just returned from Omaha, Nebraska, where I had the thrill of watching my son compete in the 2015 College World Series. David was six-years-old when he first told me he dreamed of playing in Omaha. Seeing his dream (and mine) come true was a beautiful, amazing experience.
As our team took the field, I was talking with another dad who was also experiencing dreams coming true. “There are over 300 Division 1 baseball teams,” he explained quite excited, “which means with 35-man rosters, there are roughly 10,500 student athletes playing baseball.” I nodded my head in agreement giving him the impression I was able to multiply large numbers in my head.
“Eight teams get to Omaha,” he continued, “meaning out of 10,500, less than 300 kids get to experience this.” Once again I nodded confidently in agreement. But then he asked, “Do you know what percentage that is?” He then just looked at me and waited as if my brain was somehow capable of figuring out his complex mathematical equation.
He must have noticed the blood rushing out of my head as I was trying to do math and mercifully volunteered the answer: “Roughly 2.6 percent.” “Yes, that sounds about right,” I said, stomping my foot trying to get the blood flowing back to my brain. “Think about it,” he insisted, less than 3% of all college baseball players ever get here. This is amazingly special.”
Despite my horrible math skills, I’ve thought a lot about that brief conversation. It was indeed “amazingly special” to get to Omaha. And when you consider the winner of the College World Series represents fewer than half of one percent (0.33%) of all division one baseball players (I figured that out all by myself), you realize how truly incredible it is to win this, or any other championship.
Which brings me back to the fanatics and trolls. You see, most are so focused on the win or the loss, they never take into consideration the incredible journey the athlete must take just to get into a position to win or lose. All that matters is for “their” team to finish in that very elusive half of one percent.
My wife and kids have urged me to not look at social media – the playground for zealots and trolls. For the most part, I have complied. But sometimes, I just have to look. And so it was after our team lost I ignored the warning bells and viewed a few social media posts.
And there they were. The zealots and trolls filling page after page with their unbridled vitriol. The fanatics chimed in on all the mistakes made which lost “us” the championship and the trolls basically suggested blind lame dogs would have beaten “our” team.
“It’s okay,” as my son has said to me more than once. “It doesn’t matter what they say or think.” In fact, like most athletes, he seems to have a basic understanding of the zealots and trolls. “They’re just fans,” he says a bit matter-of-fact. “They cheer and they boo. But they don’t understand.”
Then he looked at me and said, “But you understand, Dad.”
Indeed I do. I know all about the countless hours he spends to hone his skills when no one is looking. I know about his terrible disappointment after a poor performance and his heartbreak with a loss. I understand how hard he has worked to fight back from injuries and overcome way too many surgeries and hospital stays. And I certainly know all the sacrifices we have made as a family to help him get where he is today. Yes, I do understand.
So go ahead with your cheers and boos all you zealots and trolls. We understand.