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Cliff Jumpers – Live

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!

Cliff Jumping

AdobeStock_14254754_email650“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!”

I jumped.

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.”

Writing Stories

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View from the outdoor cafe

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).

I need another strong black coffee.

Award Winning Book

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.)

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The GREAT Listener

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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).

What a GREAT friend!

A Friendship Reminder

tumblr_static_021-friends-theredlistA friend of mine died this week.

I didn’t know him well, so some might say he was more of an acquaintance than a friend. But they would be wrong. He was my friend.

I knew Lew Fraser for barely two years. He passed away on October 8, 2014. I suspect if you could add up the total time we spent actually talking together, it would not total a full 24 hours. Earlier this year, at least three of those hours were spent in his office where we talked about baseball, friends we had in common, and about Jesus. It was there in his office I learned of his remarkable business career, his desire to reach others with the Good News, and how much he loved his family. Many of those topics were captured in picture frames hanging on his office walls.

I knew his health was suspect. He had been in and out of the hospital for various things. Every time the topic came up, however, he would merely shrug it off. His office has a spiral staircase which he had to climb and in my visit, made the trek three different times while attending to various matters. But after pausing to catch his breath, he finally eased into a chair, leaned forward and focused his attention on me. There was no pretense. He was genuinely interested in me. In some ways, it was a bit unnerving because in our multitasking world, we often hold conversations without really looking each other in the eyes. Lew listened.

Baseball and his granddaughter brought us together. Lew had a big heart and his generosity has been felt by many. As for the University of Miami, I learned he had been a key backer for College Hall of Fame coach, Ron Fraser. From the handwritten notes and mementos on his desk, Coach Fraser enjoyed a key ally.

Over the years his attention had turned elsewhere, but when my son, who is on the University of Miami’s baseball team, started dating his granddaughter, he purchased chair-back season tickets. I’m not sure if it was to watch the games or to be able to more closely examine the interests of his granddaughter, but over the past two seasons, he rarely missed a home game.

He quickly became one of my son’s biggest fans and loved to wait around after games ended so he could congratulate our son on the team’s win, or offer a suggestion or two for winning the next one. He loved baseball and as happens with so many of us, coming out to the ball park on a beautiful Miami evening seemed to invigorate him.

I loved watching as his granddaughter would lovingly leave the social atmosphere of her friends in the stands to go sit with her grandpa. Lew’s eyes would light up with love and joy and there they’d sit, watching the game as they talked and enjoyed being together.

Over his years, Lew faced some of life’s great rewards as well as its heartbreaks and tragedies. I knew him when he couldn’t help but speak of his renewed faith in a loving and personal God and how he hoped his story of faith would encourage others. In one of our last conversations, he told me how much he wished he would have known my Dad. Then, in a very humbling moment, he looked at me with those kind and generous eyes and said, “But I know you. Your dad must have been someone very special.”

Lew was my friend because he wanted to be. It really is as simple and profound as that. In John 15:12, Jesus said, “This is my commandment: love each other in the same way I have loved you.” That’s a very tall order. But I have no doubt, Lew was always trying to do just that.

Making Better People

I have a vivid memory of my oldest son, Matt, walking off his high school football field after his final game. I wrote about it in “Surviving the End of High School Athletics” describing the slow, agonizing walk off the field. Shoulders were slouched giving way to heavy sobs. And Matt wasn’t doing much better, either.iF7D45B52-C766-470B-9882-B5CF871AB46D-1

Another powerful memory was after my dad died. The time had come to clean out his belongings from dressers and closets. I was standing in Dad’s closet overcome with emotion when Matt quietly put his strong arms around me, buried his head in my shoulder, and cried with me.

There was the time he chased a young man down the street who showed up to visit his little sister. Matt was just goofing around, but it was evident the young man didn’t know that by the cloud of dust his legs and feet were leaving as he took off down the street never to return. Guarding, protecting, and loving his little sister has, and always will be, a top priority.

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Dropping Matt off his first year in college in Pennsylvania revealed the inseparable bond he has with David, his six-year-the younger little brother. Saying goodbye was like they were both having an arm pulled off. I first became aware how close they were when one of David’s school assignments was to write about his hero. I was accustomed to being the “hero” and didn’t quite know what to think when David’s assignment revealed it was actually Matt. The two of them still have an awful time saying goodbye to each other.

054 too hard to say goodbye

Of course, I also remember Matt’s failed attempt at “neighborhood pool hopping.” He and two high school buddies decided it would be a lot of fun to video each other hopping fences and jumping into unsuspecting neighbor’s pools. It was a lot of fun until police cars and even a police helicopter showed up with sirens blaring. Apparently it never crossed their minds that some terrified homeowner may have misconstrued three screaming teenagers’ fun for an Al-Qaeda training exercise. Hiding out at a friend’s house until the heat cooled off was just part of their unforgettable summer afternoon.

August 2nd is Matt’s birthday. It’s hard to believe someone as young as I am has a 27-year-old-son, but it’s true. He married one of Miami’s most wonderful and beautiful girls and a career move has taken them to California. We text and phone and Skype quite a bit, but I still miss them terribly.

One of the things I told Matt when he got to the age — when a girlfriend could turn into fiancé — was to make certain she brought out the best in him and he brought out the best in her. “Do you make each other better?” I often asked. When he met Laura, I didn’t need to ask. It was obvious for all to see and their wedding was one of the great days in my life, too.

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God has blessed me with a wonderful family. We’re so far from perfect that even the hint of such a thing is laughable. But at the end of the day, the one thing that has bound us together is right from God’s Word. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

Thinking back over Matt’s 27 years swells my heart with pride and joy. It is a very rewarding and beautiful thing to realize your child makes you a better person. Thanks, Matty.  I love you, son!

Happy birthday.

Pops

Baby That’s Love

I admit it, I need a kleenex every time I watch one of those “soldier comes home” videos where they surprise their family. I’m reminded of the sacrifice made not only from the soldier, but of all the family and friends. I wrote a ballad a few years back with my friend, Don Koch, which seemed a nice fit for some of my favorite “soldier reunited with family” clips. It was also fun to include clips from my son and daughter’s engagements.

The idea behind “Baby That’s Love” is enduring love–love that survives through thick and thin even when it comes to saying goodbye. The song is on my “Beautiful Feet” CD which is available, of course, on iTunes. Hope you enjoy it, too…with or without a kleenex.

Home Field Advantage

I have watched with a great deal of curiosity as the latest group of high school area athletes contemplate their college futures. Most say the only thing they have decided on so far is that they are undecided.

Miami_Hurricanes_logo.svgBarely 16 months ago, my son was tossing his high school graduation cap high in the air while eagerly looking forward to fulfilling a life-long dream to become a Miami Hurricane.  His recruiting trail was less than 15 miles and the Coral Gables campus was his only official visit.  “Why would I go on any other visits?” he questioned, when out of state invitations were offered. “I’d just be wasting their time and mine.”

I understand that just because you grow up in a certain area doesn’t mean that the local college is the right fit.  For some, going away for school is absolutely the best decision for a myriad of reasons.  Academic standards, financial requirements, and other expectations are always factors affecting decisions.  And of course, there are many who would love to play for their home team but for one reason or another, are simply not given the opportunity.

But now, with a full year of being a family with a student-athlete under our belts, I have discovered that it’s the “other things” that make playing at home so special.

When my son committed early to the University of Miami, I’m not sure who was more excited: my son, or me.  Half my wardrobe has a “U” on it and the stickers on my truck would be difficult to remove. I am very comfortable flashing “the U” sign and my email salutation to friends who egregiously attended other universities often states, “It’s all about the U.”  I’m even friends with a former Ibis.

But things, as we all know, rarely go exactly as planned.  And so it was that before my son even stepped foot on the field his freshman year, he found himself as a medical redshirt recovering from an unexpected and certainly unplanned surgery.  One of the “other things” quickly kicked in as a mother’s care and concern meant sleeping in the uncomfortable chair in the hospital room just to make sure her boy was okay.

The list of “other things” started adding up quickly, like the fun of meeting his new friends and having them over for dinner. “Other things” include catching a last minute movie knowing Dad will gladly pay–even for Milkduds, or periodically delivering a fresh batch of mom-made-cookies for the team to enjoy. “Other things” even included sneaking into a practice and hiding behind trash cans and bleachers so your son (or a coach) won’t see you but being very worried that a security guard will–and taser you from behind.

The “other things” are also late night talks to encourage and advise when things aren’t working out quite right or when the struggle is greater than expected. “Other things” is simply being there to comfort when he finds finds out he needs yet another surgery.   Of course, “other things” is the absolute thrill of seeing your son on the field proudly wearing the uniform and living his dream.

While going away for college has its list of “other things,” too, there is a definite reason for the phrase, “home field advantage.”  It’s more than being familiar and comfortable with your surroundings.  It’s about an entire network of family and friends who support you, come to watch you play, and cheer you on in athletics as well as life.  Home field advantage is all about the “other things” that mean so much, but can’t be found in brochures, locker rooms, or play-books.

So I wonder, as I listen to the banter from some of these local high school athletes, if they have taken the time to consider the “other things.” I suspect not.  But as we have discovered, there is a powerful home field advantage.  Sometimes, it’s even hiding behind a trash can.

Jesus Fixed My Lawnmower

Jesus fixed my lawnmower.  I realize that sounds sacrilegious, but it’s true.  He did fix my lawnmower.  In fact, I see and talk to Jesus just about every day and believe me, it’s quite comforting.  He’s always warm and friendly, eager to listen and help, and is very good at fixing things.

He lives in the house next door.

IMG_0399A YouTube video suggested my lawnmower problem may be the carburetor, so while I was standing over my lawnmower wondering what a carburetor actually looked like, Jesus walked over to offer help.  He quickly found it, took it apart, cleaned it up, put it back together, and started it up.  My job was simply to stand there and offer words of wonder, appreciation, and amazement.

It’s great living next door to Jesus.

Just like within the Hispanic community today, Jesus was a relatively common name back in the first century.  Historians and Bible scholars explain that Jesus is the transliteration of the name Yeshua (or Jeshua) from Greek.  From Yeshua we get Joshua or Jesus.  Yeshua means “Savior” or more specifically, the “salvation of the Lord.”  Pretty cool.

Much has been written about how our name influences our character.  Psychologist Richard Wiseman says, “We have strong perceptions about first names and associate them with success, luck and attractiveness.”  Perhaps that’s why Amazon.com lists 32,727 different books about “baby names.” One is titled, The Baby Name Bible: The Ultimate Guide by America’s Baby-Naming Experts.

There are baby naming experts?

I decided I needed a detailed analysis of my name, “Edward.”  The Kabalarian Society offers a very interesting and instant analysis which you can find here.  While much seemed like those generic horoscope comments that can be applied to just about anyone, anytime, there was much that rang true.  So I typed in my wife’s name and then the names of my kids and found similar results.  They really blew it, however, on my dog’s name, Buster.  The only thing they got right is how he tends to treat “new and unfamiliar ideas with skepticism.”

Then, I typed in the name, Jesus.  While there were some things that could perhaps describe my neighbor, there was nothing there that described Jesus of Nazareth.  Of course, how does one go about describing whom the Bible calls, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

But, back to my lawnmower. My wife was out running errands and knew I was home trying to fix that lousy machine.  She called just after the repair work was done.  I must say I rather enjoyed telling her, “Jesus fixed my lawnmower!”

There was a short pause and then she simply answered, “Amen!”

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