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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.”

Inaugural Observations

inauguration-celebration-american-flag-capitol-in-backgroundI 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 136 and be reminded. It will help put concerns into proper perspective.

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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Moses & Baseball

 

IMG_1312“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.  

Lemonade Stands

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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.

What Do I Know?

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Five years before my daughter, Abby, was even engaged, I wrote a song with my friend, Don Koch, called, “What Do I Know?” The song is about a dad’s emotional struggle about giving his daughter away. Of course, that dad is me.

I knew the day was inevitable and tried to project my emotional state. Even then, the thought made me my heart sink, my knees weak, and my eyes wet. I jokingly told her I’d be doing her wedding via satellite.

When I wrote this song, however, I never once even imagined she’d fall in love with an Aussie and move to Australia. So her wedding events and day were filled with an extra amount of emotion as our window of time together would come to a sudden end with her moving to the Land Down Under.

In the hundreds of photos taken by the wedding photographer, most of me were as you see below. I assured Abby they were not sad tears. I was and am thrilled for her and her new adventurous life with Alex. They make a great team. God is good.

With the exception of the “lanky and juvenile” part, I think I got it pretty right. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a Kleenex. I’m about to watch this again:

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Doubts

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Doubt.
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.

Dad’s Wallet

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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.”

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.

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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

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