Saturday, June 28, 2008

Lookin' Good

Grass is grass, right? Mmmmmmmmmmm...not really. See, from the road, our yard doesn't look any different from our neighbor's lawn. I mean, her yard looks green, our yard looks green. She mows her yard, we mow our yard. We don't let our grass get wild and out of control; she doesn't let her's get out of control. Yeah, from the road, we look really similar.

But a close up look tells a different story. In reality, a whole bunch of what we mow is weeds. Our "grass" actually is green, but a close inspection shows that the impression of lush, soft, and healthy grass is just that---an impression. We're about equal parts weeds and grass--we just mow the weeds and grass down equally, and behead the dandelions as they come.

Our neighbor can't handle that. She wants her lawn to actually be beautiful green grass. So she works on it almost religiously. Certainly faithfully. She even pays a team to come in and spray and make sure that her yard is the real deal. It costs her in time and money. Karen's reward? Her yard not only looks good from a distance, but it's delightful up close, too. It can even stand up under the evaluation of bare feet! Yeah, no disappointment there---what it looks like from a distance is what it actually is up close.

I've been thinking--it's fairly easy to look good in most of life with a quick mow and a little distance. You know, don't deal with the dandelions--just whack their heads off for the day. But can my "impressions" stand up to close ups? Or, is a closer inspection of my life usually disappointing? Real success in lawns and life is when the closer you get, the better it looks. John Maxwell says, "True success is when the people who know you the best respect and believe in you the most."


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The story the closet tells

My mother went to heaven on May 29th. Like all of us, she went without a suitcase or even a purse, so all of her earthly possessions were left here. It was her great desire for all of her clothes to be put to good use as soon as possible, so Dad asked my sister and I to come down yesterday and sort her things. Funny the story a simple closet can tell.

This is what her closet told me yesterday. Take care of what you have. It's a gift from God, and careful use will help you represent God and yourself well. Be thrifty. You can look good and be appropriate without big brand names, and sometimes God will surprise you with a designer find at a thrift store. :-) Clean it and fix it before you put it away. You can be ready at a moment's notice if you take care of things as they come up. Enough is enough. You can only wear one outfit and one pair of shoes at a time. Reason and stewardship says there's a place to stop--I don't need it just because I can afford it. Simple memories are precious. Mother chose the dress she wore to my brother J's and sister-in-law Cathy's wedding almost 20 years ago for the "going-away" outfit she was buried in. The dresses she wore to the other 3 family weddings were treasures draped in plastic. HER wedding dress was not there. After 50 years, she had gotten rid of the simple white suit she wore, but her sentimental heart still had it's treasures. In a little box were 6 decorated buttons with this note, "The buttons from my wedding dress." Thinking ahead saves time. She had written little notes to herself and attached them to some of the clothes, saying, "Can wear this with the green slacks and scarf."

One job is left from the closet, and that's going through several small boxes on a bottom shelf. Just by a quick count, I saw one box had more than 20 prayer journals Mom had filled with her own careful handwriting. Just about then, it seemed to me the closet started singing. It sounded like this:
After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone, and our children sift through all we've left behind, May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover, become the light that leads them to the road we each must find! Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful! May the fire of our devotion light their way! May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey! Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful! (steve green)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Happened??????

A movie came out a few years ago starring Bruce Willis--I loved it. Russ Duritz, a wealthy L.A. image consultant nearing 40, is cynical, dogless, chickless, estranged from his father, and he has no memories of his childhood. One night he surprises an intruder, who turns out to be a kid, almost 8 years old. There's something oddly familiar about the chubby lad, whose name is Rusty. The boy's identity sparks a journey into Russ's past that the two of them take. The improbable premise is that Rusty is Russ--back when he still had dreams and a heart. When Rusty realizes that he actually has become this hard, unfeeling, "dogless, chickless" man, he queries in bewilderment, "What happened???"

Sometimes I get a similar response in my heart. I see people who once came to Christ for salvation. They began with hopes and dreams of a super serving life, a fabulous marriage, a contributing life--and now a few years down the road, they have crashed and burned. They haven't grown--in fact, they aren't even the people they were when they first made that commitment to Christ. They are wwwaaayyy off track. I ask myself the same question everyone else is asking about them, "What happened??"

I think I know the answer. A little girl fell out of bed one night. The next morning she explained her fall like this to her mother. "I guess I stayed too close to where I got in." That's the explanation for many of our lives, the explanation behind our failures and falls, and for the major mess-ups we make of our lives. We aren't moving closer to Jesus. We're sticking really close to where we got in.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Joining a church??

“I tell our new members: you don’t join a preacher, you join the church. And you join the church for one reason—because you believe that God told you to plant your life there. If you join because of a style of preaching, that can change. If you join for the facilities or the programs, that can change. You’ve got to ask, ‘Where does God want me to invest my life?’ We don’t welcome spectators.”—Dan Yeary, pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, attended by presidential candidate John McCain. The quotation comes from an interview with The Christian Century magazine. [, 6/9/08]

So what do you think of that? That's the kind of talking that gets a pastor criticized. But it's true. Churches are not intended to compete for "attenders", seeing who can put on the best show each week. Churches are intended to have a compelling vision, and Christ-followers are intended to identify with a church and it's mission. When you find a mission that is worth the investment of your life, you stay there--even if the music changes, the carpet changes, or little things happen that aren't your favorite. You see yourself as investing your one and only life in something that matters for eternity, and doing it with others who are as committed as you are. It's like committing to marriage--it's something you give your life to.

July marks the 30th year I have been part of Cornerstone. I believe in our mission and vision. I plan to be here, making a successful pass of a vital, relevant faith to new generations by helping them find the Father, a Family, and a Fulfilling Future for a long time to come. My heart is completely bonded to the core of people who are making this investment with me, despite the changes, despite the occasional things we disagree about. We DO agree about the mission--and that keeps us on this team. I love you guys. What we're doing really matters.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

An Officer and a Gentleman

The last week ended a season of life for me. My mother died. Want to meet a REALLY great woman? You can read about her at I could go on and on about her. She's the most amazing pray-er I have ever known. If there's anything like Jesus you see in me, she's a major reason. The tribute I wrote to her life gives some details on that.

But today I'm thinking about Dad. The phrase, "an officer and a gentleman", describes a military standard to which leaders are to aspire. It was popularized by the movie of the same name, starring Richard Gere. My dad gave me a super example of what it really truly means to be a courageous soldier, a leader, and a gentleman through and through, under the most trying emotional moments of his life.

When my mother--his constant companion, best friend, spiritual comrade, and love of his life—left this life, they were married just 2 weeks short of 58 years. Their relationship had to be exactly what God had in mind when He planned the one-flesh scenario for marriage. Though on her behalf, he is celebrating her safe arrival in heaven, on his end of things, he is as broken-hearted as a man can be. He and Mom made it their rule of life to out-serve each other, and it didn't take her illness to show his colors. He served her with courtliness, sacrifice, humor, gentlemanliness, and the utmost respect all 58 years. Her cancer diagnosis only showcased his tender strength. Dad was with her in every difficult moment, praying, believing, encouraging, laughing--sleeping beside her bed every single night, insisting on taking every burden off her shoulders he possibly could. He didn't "baby" her, though; he saw her as a fully capable partner, one who really was God's premiere tool in making him who he is.

So sending her on before him to heaven was heartwrenching to him. But he was a soldier. Through her calling hours and her memorial service, Dad's focus was still outward--not on himself. He wanted people to know what a great God we serve, what an amazing woman Mother was, and to not focus on him. He prayed for God to help him keep his emotions in check so no one would let pity for him distract them from those main messages . 87 years old, and he stood at the casket the entire two days without breaks, thanking and greeting more than 1200 guests. Here's a moment for you--two friends of mine came through the line to share their sympathy. When Dad discovered that they were believers who were currently divorced from each other, but now were friends, he said, "Let me pray for you right now." He prayed intimately and urgently for God to "rekindle the love that once burned brightly" and to restore their marriage. He hugged them, and urged them to invite him to their wedding when God had done His work. Then he was back to greeting other guests.

When it was time for the fanily to tell Mom our last good-byes, he asked us all to precede him, because he wanted to be the last one to kiss the most beautiful person he had ever known. Oh, yeah---he's an officer and a gentleman. I salute you, Dad. You're my hero.