Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On New Year's resolutions:

I can't think of a bigger cliche that is doomed to failure than the worn out "New Year's resolutions" people so often make.  I've never, in my 45 years, made a New Year's resolution till now...

This time around, I have two resolutions.  One has to do with getting in better shape, I'm guessing I'm alone in making that one.  The other has to do with productivity.  I'm sure no one else feels they need to be more productive with their time.

The funny thing is, I have a great work ethic and have always enjoyed hard work and exercise.  So why this sudden felt need to make these resolutions?  This year, 2013 was inspiring but simultaneously it was grueling.
In the grueling parts of the year, I slacked off from the gym and completely quit working out at the gym.  Tammy and I had been going to gym for several years consistently, if not daily at least a few days a week.  Then, even though I rode my bike regularly all summer, I tore it up in the end of October.  I miss working out, and I know I need it to be as healthy as possible.

As for inspiring, we have seen a few new people at New Song, and have had a few great events that really encouraged me.  Additionally, writing had felt very rewarding for the first time in 2013.  Going into 2013, I wrote for a year or more for Wineskins.  I also realized I've contributed for two years now to the religion column I write for the Kingsport Times News.  It's always amazing to me when I meet strangers and they say they read my column.  It feels good.

Also, speaking of writing, in a time of prayer last January, I asked God for some guidance.  I asked God, where else could I write besides Wineskins & the newspaper.  "What else do you know, besides ministry?" was the soft, still response I felt.  I thought, Concrete.  So I searched the Internet for a concrete magazine I was familiar with, emailed the editor and submitted a query.  After two or three articles, the editor graciously approached me, inviting me to write a monthly column.

I have a couple of other writing projects I've scribbled down in notebooks, and want to squeeze into the business of life & ministry.  And I want to work out again.

How will I do this by jumping on the bandwagon of the New Year's resolution club?  For starters, I'm planing on getting up an hour earlier than usual.  So during the school year I would get up at 7:00 a.m., now I will get up at 6:00 everyday (that choice was inspired by a trip to the Hemingway house in Key West, the curator told us EH got up and started working at 6:00 everyday).

Also, I play online chess most evenings.  I'm not sure if I'll be so drastic I terminate my chess account, but I think I will.  If Zach will play a few live games with me during the week, then I probably will.  And, I will probably use Facebook differently.  Believe it or not, FB is a great resource for staying connected in ministry.  I plan to discipline my time spent on FB/Twitter.

Finally, Tammy and I are going to pick up a new gym membership, and I plan to buy another bike.  I hope to ride at least 3 days a week, and I hope we hit the gym at least 3 days.

There, I made my resolutions known; whew!  I hope my efforts in ministry, writing, and being healthier are all successful.  Here's to 2014, and may we make the most of the time God gives us.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I've never needed Duck Dynasty..

I know this will be unpopular, but I've never needed Duck Dynasty.
We read our Bibles, love owning guns, and say a blessing over our meals too.
Go ahead, unfriend me on Facebook, that will just be my cross to bear...

The first time I watched DD, I told Tammy, "These rednecks have nothing on a Cottongim family reunion!"  Uncle Si would get lost in the shuffle.  Willie would get beat up.  Phil would have to get darker sunglasses.  But no one at the reunion would give them a second glance.

It's sad when we Christians get upset over Phil getting slapped on the hand.  He is a really nice guy and I believe he's a solid Christian.  In fact, I'd say he's a great family role model, but if you think he was filming DD out of the kindness of his heart, you are very naive.  They were getting $200 grand an episode and were negotiating for $500 grand an episode, last I heard.

I don't begrudge the Robertsons for making money, for being on a reality show.  But if you think the show isn't scripted, then, well maybe you are even more naive.  Shows like theirs need conflict and resolution to snag you.  How many ways can you play off the funny Beverly Hills Redneck family shtick before you have to manufacture a few complications?  Think it over.

For every upset Christian who is ready to boycott this, that, and the other, how often have you said the "truth" in public?  How often have you put your neck on the line to stand up for truth?  OR is Phil's sanctioning from A&E another way for us to live vicariously through the Robertson family?  And, how many infuriated Christians who are pasting long live the Duck Dynasty on every social media outlet, how many have formed a relationship with a homosexual person?  Do you have any gay friends...?  If so, how have you helped them to see what the Bible teaches?  I think if we aren't careful, we'll rescue Phil (who'll be just fine and will never live long enough to spend his fortunes) and we will marginalize the minority of homosexuals that we might have had an influence on...  Theologically, I'm not disagreeing with Phil at all -- I'm disagreeing with how we as believers typically interact with the gay/lesbian community.

And finally, everyone seems in an uproar over Phil's GQ interview.  Why?  Why are we surprised that he would make his own opinion known, and why are people upset when A&E used this to their advantage?  The Robertson family was pressuring A&E for more money, and there's only so many ways to rehash the southern charm of the Robertsons...  I think A&E has been looking for a way to let the Robertsons go without looking like they slayed their goose duck that laid the golden-egg.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

This week's lottery: Who wouldn't want a billion dollars?

Okay, admit it.  You've day-dreamed about winning the lottery.  Who hasn't?  All the nice things we'd do with the money, the bills we'd pay off, the trips we'd take, the cars we'd buy for our kids.  Oh, and the tithe to church of course.  

All in all, pulling in the gas station to buy a ticket, we quickly think how our lives would change for the better by hitting the jackpot.  This week the Tennessee lottery is setting records, it could top out near a billion dollars -- now we are talking real money.  So it's a safe bet winning the lottery is on most people's radar now. 

Since the chances of winning this week's lottery drawing is now down to around 1 out of 200 million, if you are banking on having the winning ticket, chances are pretty good you are going to be among the vast majority people who end up disappointed.  I'm not knocking people playing the lottery, it's a free country. 

 And, surely some good comes of playing the lottery, scholarships and all.  Still, how could the daydreaming hurt?  Fantasizing about an extravagant lifestyle or enjoying some self-deception, telling ourselves "we" wouldn't change one bit if we won..., that's all harmless, right?   Surely we wouldn't feel more dissatisfaction with our lot in life, if we failed to win the lottery, would we?     

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Has American-consumerism killed Christmas?

Can you remember the Christmas presents you exchanged last year?  I can’t either, but I can remember who I spent the day with.  While most gifts end up gathering dust, time and attention are both unforgettable and irreplaceable.  This is the time of year when we could use a reminder: Christmas should be more about relationships than retail.

Is anyone else tired of the Christmas shopping season starting before Labor Day and crescendoing the day after Thanksgiving?  Jesus was born in a lowly barn; the Bible says there was no room in the inn.  During His earthly ministry, Jesus said He “had nowhere to lay His head.”   When we lead kids to get more excited about Santa’s sleigh than Jesus’ Cross, I can’t see the Jesus of the Bible defending the commercialized Christmas we celebrate today.  

Maybe it’s time for us to relax when the cashier at the mall wishes us a “Happy holiday” instead of a “Merry Christmas.”   What has the annual plea, “Keep Christ in Christmas” really accomplished?  Each winter, many Christians across the country condemn local shopping malls who do not explicitly articulate the phrase “Christmas.”  Several K-12 schools will gain air time as reporters cover the worn out battle over Christmas pageants verses Holiday parties.  I for one am weary of these Christmas season battles.

In this consumer-driven chaos, Christmas has lost some of its magic.  Who can argue for shackling Jesus to the Americanized Holiday we celebrate these days?  When people who have never taken their kids camping, spend the night on Best Buy’s sidewalk or greedy hordes stampede local Walmarts every Black Friday -- we have to ask what does our version of Christmas have to do with Jesus anyway?  

In just one day, Americans spent $52 billion on Black Friday alone this year.  I wonder what half of that amount would do to alleviate suffering and poverty?   The spirit of Christmas, of generosity, of sharing, of God entering our space, the story of mankind being redeemed, this all seems lost amidst clashing doorbusters and rustling shopping lists.  

I can’t understand why believers fight for maintaining Christ in Christmas at the mall, when the consumerism we are perpetuating is contrary to the anti-materialistic message of Christ.  The battle we are fighting for, perhaps we should fight against.  Putting Christ back in Christmas doesn’t start at the mall, it starts in the home & our church.  If you doubt the real message of Christmas has been lost to our culture, go to Youtube and simply watch any of Jimmy Kimmel’s videos, “I gave my kids a terrible Christmas present.” Warning: these videos are highly offensive and have horrible language -- the swearing and screaming comes from kids under 10 years of age!  

I relish in the joy Christmas brings my wife as we trim the tree -- though untangling the lights doesn’t bring out the best in me...  I feel good about exchanging gifts with our kids and grandchild.  I love serving Christmas dinner and I anticipate sitting around the table with loved ones.  However, as long as our Nation’s rampant love affair with Black Friday/Cyber Monday rages on, the race for winning Christmas hasn’t even left the stall.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lukewarm marriages lead to pain, so make yours sizzle!

I heard this song today and it inspired a few thoughts on marriage.
BTW: You don't have to be a Country & Western music fan to appreciate the wisdom within this song.

I know that I'm not the perfect husband, but I will always strive to express my affection and appreciation to Tammy.  I'm thankful for a wife who doesn't hold me to a standard of 100% perfection.  It is no secret, anyone who knows us, knows she's my best friend and I enjoy spending more time with her than anyone else.  After over 25 years of marriage, she still excites me and we laugh together often.  I can't even imagine life without her.

Sadly not everyone is happy in their marriage, I know, I've worked with dozens of couples over the years.  Some people can't imagine life going on with their spouse.  Too many people, it seems, either take their spouse for granted or for some unknown reason harbor resentment and contempt.  After months or years of this, they wonder why their marriages suffer.

I'm sorry if this describes you.  This is not a judgment or slur.  It might be a time to rethink things before it's too late.

How can you find happiness, or find it again?

  • Being kind, loving, and avoiding selfishness are worth it, if you want a healthy love life.  
  • Try to complement more than you complain.  
  • Really think about it before you criticize. Is this really the hill to die on?
  • Try hard to meet your spouse's needs, as hard as you would hope they would try to meet yours.
  • People crave acceptance and the permission to occasionally fail.  So exhibit the same grace you need.
  • If you & your spouse don't know how to communicate or deal with conflict, get help.
  • (Please read that last line again)
  • Spend time together.
  • Eat your meals together.
  • Laugh together.
  • Remember your vows.
  • Effort never hurt.  We tell our kids to work hard on their homework, so let's work on our home life.
  • If you don't know where to start, start with being more polite and use "please & thank you"

Remember, you are always setting an example for your children.  So good or bad, our children will more than likely imitate the attitudes and actions they see in mom & dad.  And, don't distance yourself emotionally when you are angry or in troubled time --someone somewhere will fill that gap quicker than a pop song...

May you have a love life with your spouse that's so strong, wild horses couldn't drag you away!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A man of few friends

This is the bottom-side of the stool Allan led singing from -- he inscribed it & gave it to me when he moved to TX...

As part of a professor's research project focused on ministers, I took the Myers Briggs personality test twice in college.  Once as an incoming student, where it ranked me as an introvert.  The second time was right before my graduation, then it ranked me as an extrovert. I think really I'm neither an introvert nor an extrovert; I fluctuate between introversion and extroversion based on my level of emotional energy.   

Even so, one solid standard is that I am a man of few close-friends.  It's not on purpose, but that's just how it seems to work out, though I am selective on who I surround myself with.  I never really thought about it before, at least not in this applying to me, but there's a Proverb that says, "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24, ESV)

I do not have some romanticized concept of being a lone wolf. Neither have I felt the need to surround myself with an entourage.  I can count on one hand the people who have been closest to me.  

Either way, when we move or a close friend moves away, it leaves a void.  I don't regret being a person of few friends, I do regret that I stink at keeping touch...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The book I should write, on how I'm not always right

I have a couple of writing projects I plug away at in my free time.  I'm quite excited about them.  I had an "ah ha" moment this morning.  The book I should write is "Being at peace with my mistakes: how to accept my failures without shrugging them off"

I don't shrug off my past mistakes as if they never happened.  Nor do I neglect to take responsibility for them.  I'm not proud of them, but they've led me to the place I am today.  I wish I could've had more patience raising my children and I wish I could have been a better husband.  I know through the years I've upset people in church too. At age 45, I finally have the maturity to see my earlier years of hubris.

In my 30's I really thought I had all the answers.  Now, I see just how many answers I was wrong about.
Whether it was marriage, raising kids, or how to minister to a congregation, I have the humility now to see I wasn't right all the time, about everything.  I wasn't the expert I thought I was...

For example.  Before, I felt that any advice I had for people I was counseling was golden, and if they rejected it, it infuriated me.  Now, I'm quite at peace when people choose not to make healthy changes.  Strangely, I no longer feel it's my responsibility to change or fix people.

Similarly, I don't feel responsible for people who reject the Gospel.  For many years I felt it was my personal responsibility to save the world.  There was one Messiah, and He died on the cross.  I can only point people to the cross, I can't carry them there.

God has revealed a lot to me this year; 2013 has been eye opening for me.
I feel today I'm more pastoral than ever.  Which, with my heritage feels awkward to say, but it is what it is.
I saw my role in the past as that of the prophet (not foreseer of the future), the guy who spoke for God to shake things up and get people back on track.  I felt the responsibility lay on solely my shoulders to stand for Truth and to correct the imperfections in the church world.  Now, I just want to worship God in peace, and be at peace.

I no longer feel I'm an expert on anything, instead, this year has taught me I'm only a lifelong learner.  Lesson number one, learn from my mistakes?  Not so much so.  Instead, lesson number one, I'm making my share of mistakes and that's part of the process.  Yes, that's a good starting point going into 2014 for me.