Cubs Fever

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Chicago is a buzz with World Series fever.  It is exciting as I have not seen the Cubbies so close to a championship in my lifetime.  For others, it is has been much longer.  A senior in the church was describing a conversation with a young person who said, “I am so excited.  I have not seen them do this well in my lifetime” (a mere ten years).  She had been waiting over seventy years.

In our home, we are legitimate Cubs fans.  We went to a game as a family in August.  I took my son to his first game last year.  I pulled him out of school.  He enjoyed the whole experience including the ballpark hot dog and chips.  He even got a ball then had it signed by Kyle Hendricks after the game.  Needless to say, he was thrilled when “the Professor” pitched them into the World Series.  We have enjoyed watching the games together with high fives for every strike and a yell after every big hit.  Last Saturday, we went outside and lit some bottle rockets off after they clinched the NL pennant.  It has been a lot of fun.  I cannot imagine the response in Chicago if they win the whole thing.

For many people, this has been an awesome highlight to their fall.  It has served as a distraction to a lot of woes ranging from the anemic Bears season to life’s troubles.  For a moment in time, people do not have to think about their financial problems, relationship difficulties, or future worries related to their job or health.  On Saturday, there was joy that takes you away from the problems of life.  For a few hours if not days you can experience joy.  Even this week, there is anticipation of what might be – a rocking Wrigleyville and dare we dream a championship parade.  Just the sheer thought of such an ending to a dream season makes the problems of this week more easily tolerated.  You can put up with your difficult coworker.  The bills piling up don’t seem as heavy.  The worries of life can be postponed for another week.  Sports provide this relief.  They serve as a wonderful escape from life’s problems.

Yet, in a couple of weeks, life will return to normal.  Even if there is confetti thrown on Michigan Avenue, we will have to once again face the hardships of life.  We will have to tackle those bills and navigate those hard relationships.  That is for now.  One day we will have lasting joy where the worries and frustrations of life are gone.  In glory, there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the older order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).  In this moment it will not be an escape but a permanent reality.  In this moment, we will not experience it for a week only to face it again after the joy surpassed.  No, for believers, it will be an everlasting joy absent of pain and sorrow.  It will be permanent.  Yes, we wait a lifetime for this joy and one day we will experience it.  And it will be a joy like no other – one free from sin and pain, standing in the presence of our King.

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Embrace the Unexpected

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Yosemite National Park is beautiful.  For four days this past summer our family enjoyed traipsing around waterfalls and cliffs.  We witnessed breathtaking scenes, unexpected vistas, and awe-inspiring panoramic views.  Honestly, it is one of the most gorgeous places I have visited in my lifetime.

Yet, it is not as if there is a painting worthy scene at every step.  For most of the views you have to trudge through some pretty difficult terrain.  In fact, the smaller hikes that were accessible on the valley floor were ok in our opinion.  They were nice but not spectacular.  The spots that cause you to scramble quickly and take a photo are the ones that you have to earn.  One such hike was Glacier Point.  It was the first day so we were still getting our bearings.  We had just visited a marvelous scenic cliff called Taft Point (frightening if you do not like heights).  On our way back from the hike, we came to a fork in the trail.  We could go straight which would lead you back to the parking lot.  From there you could take another trail to Glacier Point.  Or, there was a “shortcut” if we took the left trail.  It was not clearly marked on the map but it indicated it was a direct route to Glacier Point.  Due to time constraints we chose the shortcut.  It was a worn trail so it was pretty easy to follow.  However, there were times where we were unsure as to whether we were on the right trail.  At one point, we had to ask for directions.  Eventually, we made it.

But, on the way, we saw the most amazing views.  There were sections where we stopped every few steps to take photograph after photograph as the valley floor spread out below us.  Since it was a “shortcut” the trail was not heavily trafficked.  We would have completely missed out on these priceless scenes if we would not have ventured down a trail we never intended to take.  At times, the most beautiful things in life are a result of the unexpected.  And, it is the unexpected that sweetens those moments because it was not planned (and you had to work for it).

Life throws at us unexpected turns.  We face hardships.  There are financial difficulties.  Relationship problems pop up.  Health diagnoses rattle us.  Job cutbacks scare us.  We find ourselves walking down a path that we never intended to take.  Yet, God is in the midst of each of these turns.  He is present with us around each unexpected turn.  We are never abandoned.  We are never forsaken.  And, it is in these moments that we experience God in the most amazing ways.  We see aspects of His character that otherwise we would have missed.  We find ourselves standing in awe of His presence and grace even though we are facing the unknown.

Yes, these moments are precious.  In fact, more precious because we had to walk through the difficulties in order to see them.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Character Matters

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Character matters in all aspects of life.  It is especially true when it comes to a job.  As a senior pastor, character is one of the first things I assess when it comes to hiring a person or filling a ministry position in the church.  It is above and beyond the best indicator of success, more than experience and viewpoints.  Good character ensues to me a person has a solid foundation by which to navigate life.  As a believer, biblical character is essential in navigating the difficult decisions of life whether at home or work.  Character serves as a compass for making choices.

  • Without character, my marital relationship would be insecure. My wife would not have confidence in my decision-making or actions leading to tension and uncertainty.
  • Without character, it would be impossible to make good parenting decisions. Other parents, school expectations, and/or society would influence my choices resulting in a shifting foundation and inconsistent results.
  • Without character, it would be easy to compromise integrity at work. Expediency, ambition, and people-pleasing would motivate me rather than doing the right thing.
  • Without character, my relationship with God simply becomes a shallow exercise in appearance (how do I look to others) rather than transformational.

Character is king for me.

Based on these convictions, I am pleased that character is finally becoming a consideration in the election.  Note:  this is not a veiled blog against a particular candidate as both candidates clearly have character flaws.  What I am saying is that this issue needs to be a major factor in our decision-making in life and specifically our voting decisions.

Thus far, the debates have focused on policy initiatives and vision for the country.  The subject of temperament has frequently surfaced.  Temperament by definition is “a person’s nature, especially as it permanently affects their behavior.”  I don’t think I am going out on a limb when I say that it is being used not in reference to character but one’s ability to handle stress, high-paced environments, and steady decision-making.  This understanding is different from character.  A person without character can certainly handle stress well.  Yet, it is a person with character that can handle stress rightly.  Granted, a person running for elected office needs to have experience, vision, and skills.  But, this person also needs to have character.  It is the foundation by which these others issues are framed.  It is the foundation by which a person is able to represent us rightly.

Luke 2:52 states, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

This verse describes character.  Wisdom and stature are qualities we should each strive for in life.  And they are qualities we should also expect in our political leaders.

Where has common decency gone?

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Where has common decency gone?

There is an increasing anger and anxiety in our culture.  It is common place for me to experience frustrated and edgy people on any given day.  Just this past week:

  • Someone honking behind us for simply stopping at an intersection
  • A middle age daughter with her elderly mom in the passenger seat blasting a horn because an older man pulled up his car in front of the store to pick up his wife due to the rain. Then, the elderly man raised and shook his fist after the woman kept honking.
  • Shortness by a customer representative simply for trying to get some answers on a particular product
  • Frustration by someone in the community because the church did not provide immediate financial resources
  • Oh yes, the presidential debate…. and the vice-presidential debate…

Anger seems to be commonplace these days.  It characterizes the general mood in our society.  American has become a grumpy, frustrated country.

Christians are not immune from these emotional outbursts.  Complaining over some program change in the church leads to vocal darts directed at a leader.  Emotions are displayed on a person’s sour face as they leave the church because they ran into someone who slighted them.  God is to blame for a particular difficulty in life.  Or church members are to blame for not responding quickly enough to that need.

Truthfully, I have had my moments of exasperation because something did not happen quickly or someone did not respond immediately.  At times, these bouts of frustration are understandable for me or someone else.  I am tired.  I am hurried.  Therefore, I respond in a regrettable way.  Yet, more often than not, it is simply a result of unchecked emotions.

There are numerous ways Christians strive to reach their communities:  programs, events, camps, service projects, and children’s programs.  These are wonderful initiatives.  Yet, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the most powerful means of outreach to society is an individual consistently displaying grace and kindness to those around us.  What would our lives look like if we responded to a slight with a smile?  What if we chose forbearance rather than a scowl?  What if we simply breathed and complimented the clerk rather than frown that it is taking too long?  What if our Christian faith became synonymous with patience, grace, and kindness?  What opportunities might we then have to share our faith?

I believe people genuinely want this in their lives.  And, amazingly as believers we have this to offer.  It is what should make us distinct.  It is what can make us distinct.