The Best of Intentions

What to do when you fall off your bicycle.

What does falling off your bicycle have to do with the best of intentions? When you’re learning to ride a bicycle for the first time, you’re going to fall off. You keep at it until you learn to ride without falling off. I don’t think anyone sets out to not learn how to ride a bicycle. So it would seem that the best of intentions doesn’t really have anything to do with falling off of a bicycle. That is until you realize that the best of intentions is to a project as learning to ride is to the bicycle. We begin a project with the best of intentions, and we fall. Somehow we fail to apply the lesson of the bicycle to this, and the best of intentions lead to inaction, and the failure of the project.

That’s just it. We keep on working at riding a bicycle. We don’t give up because of a setback. We don’t give up even if we skin our knees, or hands, or elbows. Some of us don’t give up even if we break bones. But somehow the best of intentions becomes more than learning to ride, and instead of pulling ourselves together to go at the project again, it either takes on a life of its own and becomes bigger than it actually is, or we give up thinking we simply can’t do the project.

That’s where I am right now in many places. I have projects that I’ve undertaken with the best of intentions, and things haven’t gone as planned. Writing posts like this on a regular weekly basis is just the tip of the iceberg. Other projects seem to be more pressing than my own contribution to the sea of information on the Internet. The excuses mount, and before you know it what was a skinned elbow is now a broken arm. And it is so much harder to do everything with one of those. So now I have an excuse. Do you see where this is going? My thinking is ultimately what is broken. I need to get back to work on the projects, instead of letting the projects mount. I need to stop fabricating excuses, as if that was my job. And most importantly I need to push through the pain of admitting that I’m learning how to ride a bicycle. No, wait, I already know how to ride a bicycle. And, I already know how to get things done. That must mean that the pain is admitting that I have the best of intentions, and I have to stop letting those become my focus, because that makes about as much sense as dwelling on learning to ride a bicycle. The end goal is being able to ride a bicycle. The end goal of a project is its completion, not the best of intentions.

Stop making excuses when a project gets off track. Stop dwelling on intentions, and instead simply ask, “What’s next?” Then, do what’s next.

If you’re looking for help in this area, there are several good resources that have helped me. Follow the book links for “Getting Things Done” or “Essentialism” for starters. Read them. Then live them.

A Tale Of Two Cities

More years ago than I care to admit, my sister started off her valedictory speech with a quote from Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. She of course was using it to refer to the many experiences the class had in its four years of high school, and would now face in life going forward. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. — A Tale of Two Cities

While the title would lead you to think this was a novel about two cities, it was really about two different men. It is that twist that makes this selection of a title for my blog post apropos. In my own version of the twist, I’m going to be talking about two types of people. And the study will also be one of contrasts.

Why I Hate Christmas, Yet Can’t Live Without It.

ChristmasSceneNow that I have your attention, you are probably asking one of several questions. Not the least of which is the contradictory nature of the title itself. How can I both hate Christmas, and not live without it? Maybe you’re asking how someone who has made no attempt to hide the fact that they imperfectly follow Christ hate the day that celebrates His birth? Or maybe you’ve come to the same point and you just haven’t articulated it. No matter how you come to read this, it is my hope that we can get to the point where we cut through the tradition, and the presents, to the giver of the ultimate present of all time.

You see this is the reason I hate Christmas. Not because of what it celebrates, but because of what it has become. Instead of celebrating the birth of a God named baby, it has become a God be damned battle for things. Can anyone remember what they got last year for Christmas? Let alone from whom? And if you can remember, how thankful are you now? Does it still work? Or, have last year’s gifts joined the pile of other toys and must have gadgets gathering dust? Sure that’s not always the case, but I’d venture a guess that what I’ve described isn’t just my experience.

We haven’t even fully addressed the frenzy that is Christmas shopping yet. The day after we proclaim how thankful we are, we are out fighting with one another over the best deals. But wait, not this year, we couldn’t even wait for Thanksgiving Day to be over this year. There just aren’t as many shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we need just one more. What about slowing down just a little so that we can remember the real reason for celebration. God with us. Immanuel. Isn’t that enough?

Seriously, what have we done with the day of Thanksgiving? And what have we done with Christmas? We worship at the altar of materialism, not in humble awe of what God did some 2000 years ago. We take our children to have their picture taken with “Santa”, we don’t even explain who Santa Claus even was, and why the real Santa Claus or St. Nicholas even did what he did. Instead we perpetuate the myth of a man who can fly through the air behind rain deer that can fly as well. We say he knows if we’ve been naughty or good, “so be good for goodness sake.” Is it any wonder that many kids have a hard time with the real person behind Christmas? Namely, Christ?! They get to college and all the professor has to say is that Jesus is just like Santa Claus, and what happens?  The myth we tell them innocently enough evaporated, and now the truth just as easily vanishes. Will they question everything else we tell them too? Will they believe Jesus? Or, will they wonder if Daddy & Mommy are lying about Him too?

As I write this, I know I’m going to be labeled by some, and maybe even my own family as “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” But, the real “Grinch” isn’t me. It is all of us. Because the real Christmas isn’t about “presents under the tree”, or “kissing under the mistletoe”, or “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday cheer.” No, the real story of Christmas is a love story. The story of God’s plan to redeem man. The story of God become man, and born to die.

I’m tired of pretending that perpetuating this myth this is a good idea. That it is harmless fun. Let’s tell the real story of St. Nicholas. It’s a good one. Why not start a different tradition based on reality? So, sure, give gifts, and graciously receive them as a reminder of the greatest gift of all. How can we ever hope to transform culture if we go right along with them buying in to the same myth?

In the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I manage a retail store, so we obviously like it when people buy gifts. However, if we only make it if you buy something you can’t afford, because you think you need it, or you can’t do without it, then we really haven’t succeeded. That’s not the kind of memory we want to help you preserve.

Now you know I hate Christmas because of what it has become. I love the part of Christmas that has God leaving glory to be born, and ultimately dying, “that man no more may die.” That is by far the best gift ever. And if that’s the only gift I need, then I don’t have to go fighting through the crowds for the current fad.

MovadoWatch_459x715The beauty is this isn’t a gift to be hoarded, it is a gift to be shared. There’s no line to wait in, and it is never out of stock. You just have to be living, and accept the gift.

Nothing would make this a better Christmas than discovering that somebody reading this accepted God’s gift, and is now following Christ. Not even the $1800.00 Movado watch I saw a commercial for, and not even an iPad Air. In fact, as much as I’d like an iPad Air, and I’d really enjoy it… if it meant you wouldn’t even consider the best gift of all, I’d rather do without it. Everything I own will crumble, but I’ll get to spend an eternity worshiping God with you. Why wouldn’t anyone who believes this give up everything now for this prospect?

Never Despise Meager Beginnings

mustard-seeds

The physical seeds are smaller than what they produce.

mustardTree

A mustard tree… much bigger than the seed.

At first blush I thought this was a quote from the television series based on Janette Oke’s “Love Comes Softly”, and it is.  However, Zechariah 4:10 asks, “Who despises the day of small things?”  What this illustrates is the challenge I’m going to have in properly attributing my ideas when I write them down.  Where did they come from?  Are they original ideas with me?  Or did I get them from reading?  or watching TV?  Then, you might ask, where did they get the idea that they’ve expressed.  Is it original with them?  So, here’s my philosophy.  I will do my best to identify the origin of my ideas giving credit where credit is due.  But as you might have gathered by now, I give all of the credit to the one who made each one of us.  Namely, God.  And God doesn’t despise meager beginnings, or small things.  After all, Jesus talks about the small grain of a seed from the mustard tree producing much bigger results.  While the same can be said of many seeds, what I’m talking about here is the seed of an idea.

I come from meager beginnings, even if my friends growing up thought I had it made because our family had a small business.  In the years that followed, I experienced many hardships that at the time seemed insurmountable.  The truth was, that everything without God was impossible, and I’m ashamed of how many years it took me to get to the end of myself and my desire to be in control, and turn my trust over to him.  Ultimately, I’m convinced that’s what has been holding me back.  God knew that unless he put me through the crucible of the impossible and insurmountable, I would never get to the end of myself.

Am I truly at the end of myself?  Like many of us, once things seem to be back on track, I want to take the reigns again.  At the very least I want to take credit for something.  What is it that God seems to be shouting at me?  Better yet, what is He whispering?  And am I quiet enough to hear it?  Ultimately, what has God gifted me with?  And, what areas need His work?

See if you agree with my self assessment.

I’m really good at imagining what could be, and planning how to get there. I’m good at solving problems that involve computers, electronics, electricity, and many mechanical things.  Finally, I’m pretty good with a keyboard and expressing thoughts on “paper”, even if that takes on electronic form today.

I am easily distracted by things I find interesting.  Unfortunately, I find lots of things interesting, and the rabbit trails… Web browsing and hyperlinks didn’t help me with this challenge.  I get bored quickly with most repetitive things.  I like to work really hard, and then relax.  I live with too much clutter, which feeds into the distractions.  So the conclusion I come to is that I need to work harder to eliminate clutter, and concentrate on one thing at a time.

Do any of you find yourselves in similar circumstances?  If you do, let me suggest making a meager beginning.  Then, let God continue to do His work in His time.  It isn’t easy, but most things worthwhile come with hard work and perseverance.  God has the best track record of finishing the work He starts, including the work He does on each one of us.  So here’s my simple question, “what’s next?”

The Wonder Of It All

To say I have a few favorite Christmas hymns would be an understatement!  While we have much to rejoice about, these hymns don’t sugar coat reality.  Here are some that came to mind, followed by why they did.

It came upon the midnight clear
That glorious song of old
From angels bending near the Earth
To touch their harps of gold
Peace on the Earth, goodwill to men
From heaven’s all gracious king
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing

Still through the cloven skies
They come
With peaceful wings unfurl
And still
Their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing

O ye
Beneath life’s crushing load
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow
Look now
For glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing

For lo the days are hastening on
By prophets seen of old
When with the ever circling years
Shall come the time foretold
When the new heaven and earth
Shall own the prince of peace
Their King
And the whole world
Send back the song
Which now the angels sing

————————————————————

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens,
There shone a holy light:

Refrain:
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo! above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed our Savior’s birth:

Refrain

Down in a lowly manger
Our humble Christ was born
And God send us salvation,
That blessed Christmas morn:

Refrain

When I am a seeker,
I seek both night and day;
I seek the Lord to help me,
And He shows me the way:

Refrain

He made me a watchman
Upon the city wall,
And if I am a Christian,
I am the least of all.

Refrain

————————————————————

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

Refrain:
O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign

Refrain

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Prayer and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high

Refrain

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

Refrain

Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Alleluia, Alleluia
Earth to heav’n replies

Refrain

————————————————————

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Refrain:
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Refrain

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Refrain

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Refrain

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.

Refrain

————————————————————

There’s the wonder of sunset at evening,
The wonder as sunrise I see;
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul
Is the wonder that God loves me.

O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.
O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.

There’s the wonder of springtime and harvest,
The sky, the stars, the sun;
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul
Is a wonder that’s only begun.

O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.
O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.

————————————————————

As I sat to write this, I clearly had “The Wonder of it All” on my mind.  But I also had the tragedy our nation faced when evil made it evident why Jesus needed to be born.  The lines of the first Christmas hymn I quoted are evidence that this display of evil is not new.

O ye Beneath life’s crushing load
Whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow
Look now
For glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing

That life is a crushing load of toil and pain is as old as time.  But neither the song nor the story stop there!  There is hope.  That hope is that God loved me and you enough to send His son Jesus to be born of a virgin, live a sinless perfect life, and ultimately to die though undeserved, so that we no longer have to.

Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Why do we need this “Second Birth”?  Our first birth was marred by a curse and sin.  And as a result we need to be reconciled to God.  That’s what God provided for when He sent Jesus, who saves from sin, and allows God to justly forgive us, because Jesus took the punishment that he didn’t deserve instead of us.  And did I ever deserve death!

With all of this evil, from mall shootings, and school shootings, and arson, we are asking questions.  When we experience the little pain it causes each of us, and when we think about the anguish the families and communities directly impacted felt, how can we not long for the day when this “heaven sent Prince of Peace” will reign?  Unfortunately, we are looking for him in all of the wrong places.  Our government will not save us.  More laws will not save us.  Keeping guns away from unstable people will not save us.  Shoot, we can’t even save ourselves.  We are outraged by these events because we know good and evil.  But we are powerless to do the good, at least if we are honest.  We each have the ability to do the things we know we should not do.  And as a society, we have explained away the fear of God.  So what is left?  Why, evil of course.  God says Christians are the only thing restraining evil in this world, and we are not doing a very good job.  God calls Christians to be salt and light, and we’re too afraid of what you may think of us, to speak out about what this world, and our country really need.

Salt in a wound hurts, but brings about healing.  Shedding light on evil exposes it for what it is, and also serves to disinfect.  What Christians starting with me need to do is repent.  I have not been nearly the witness, nor as forceful and loving as I should have been.  I’m the worst sinner there is trying to pass myself off as a humble flawed follower of Jesus.  But don’t let that stop you from having the only relationship that matters.  A saving relationship with the One who died to set you free, and restore your relationship with the God who made you.

If you accept this gift, you will have accepted the biggest gift of all.  If that doesn’t inspire “The Wonder of it All”, then nothing will.  This Christmas, my prayer is that God will use the tragedy our country faced to bring you, and many others to the Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Trusting God For Direction in Life

Why is it so difficult to live these verses?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He shall direct your paths.  — Proverbs 3:5-6

It is not a stretch to say that there are as many reasons, as there are readers.  That is to say, your reason, or reasons may not be mine.  And you likely will think of some I haven’t.

Here are mine, I hope they resonate with yours.

God has blessed or cursed me depending on how you look at it, I suppose.  I have a logical analytical, albeit imperfect mind.  I can give intellectual ascent to the reality that I should not lean on my own understanding because my mind is flawed.  Yet, the twelve inches or so between my brain and my heart seem at times to be more like twelve miles.  Add to that my sinful heart, and even if I successfully make the twelve inch trip, I have to deal with a heart that wants to be “like god”, where I’m in control of everything.  As if that were possible, right?!!

That brings us to the second proverb.  When I honestly search my life, I sadly realize that all of my ways do not acknowledge Him.  Yet, I expect Him to direct my path anyway.  Then, the things that I might come close to acknowledging Him, I want to take credit for them myself.

It might seem hopeless then.  And that is why I’m thankful for a lesson from David, of whom it was said that he was a man after God’s own heart.  I’ve often thought that it would be better to resolve issues with people here, than to wait for God to sort things out at the final judgment.  And while I still believe that’s true, I need to balance that with what David realized about God.  David just finished numbering the nation of Israel, and God was not pleased.  David was given three options.  If my memory serves me correctly, two of them were to lose in battle at the hand of man.  And the one he chose, was God’s wrath.  I honestly was thinking that was a bad choice, given all of the things that they had seen God do up to that point.  David threw himself on God’s mercy.  God is a God of Mercy!

GOD in mercy sent His Son
To a world by sin undone;
Jesus Christ was crucified —
‘Twas for sinners Jesus died.

Oh! the glory of the grace,
Shining in the Saviour’s face,
Telling sinners from above,
“God is Light” and “God is Love.”

Sin and death no more shall reign,
Jesus died and lives again.
In the glory’s highest height
See Him God’s supreme delight.

All who in His name believe,
Everlasting life receive;
Lord of all is Jesus now;
Every knee to Him must bow.

Christ the Lord will come again;
He who suffered once will reign;
Every tongue at last shall own,
“Worthy is the Lamb” alone.

— Miss Hannah Kilham Burlingham (1842-1901)

So it is for all of us.  We ought to throw ourselves on God’s Mercy, and we can do that because of Jesus.  If you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, then you truly have no hope.  God’s wrath is already on you because of your sin.  Jesus was, and is the only perfect sinless one.  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for God’s wrath that’s already on you.  Ask God to give you the faith to believe that Jesus paid the price, and become a follower of Jesus.  Then you too can have hope.

Now I suppose I’ve acknowledged Him.  At least a little.  Some questions are: “Do I trust Him?”  Do I trust Him with every challenge I face?  Do I trust He will direct my path?  Perhaps the better question is: “Why shouldn’t I?”  After all, I’m trusting Him for the life to come.  I’m trusting that Jesus paid the penalty I deserved.  I’m trusting that sacrifice is enough.  Trusting Him for everything else after that should come easy!

The Ten Commandments

I’m never sure exactly who reads what I post.  Much of what I write is for the cathartic process of getting things off of my mind.  Other pieces are things that I’ve discovered about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–the political element.  Then, there are the discoveries I make as I pursue relationship with God though Jesus Christ.  This post is in that category.  And while I would encourage everyone to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and join me in following him, I am not naive.  Not everyone will share my my convictions.  So, this is a warning!  This piece is primarily for those who are following Jesus, and as you will see if you keep on reading, there are some decided advantages.   Yet still we seem to desire the pleasures of sin for a season, not the pleasure of heaven with Jesus forever.

You no doubt have heard the phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt”.  I have a corollary.  Familiarity breeds presumptive understanding.  Let me explain.

There is a concept called generational sin.  In simple terms, if your grandfather was a crook, and your father was a crook, chances are you are a crook as well.  This is spelled out in the Ten Commandments, “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation” and that’s where many typically stop.  However, it goes on to say, “of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands (or to the thousandth generation) of those who love me and keep my commandments.”  (Italics and emphasis mine.)

The distinction I’ve often missed in my rush to the blessing is that the curse of generational “iniquity” or sin is limited.  Specifically, it is limited to those who hate God.  That means the chain can be broken by one generation who love God and keep his commandments.

I think the problem is that we hardly believe it, and continue living in bondage to sins in the past.  We allow them to take root, and run our lives as if this rule applied to us.  We give up hope of the victory already won, and think the battle is lost.  We allow little sins to slip by with excuses, until they become huge.  Then, we think we cannot overcome them because they are too deeply entrenched.

Do not be deceived!  While it is true that we reap what we sow, we have the power through the Holy Spirit to battle the enemy.  We have the power to realize the awfulness of sin.  And with the Spirit’s help, we can eliminate it.

Where do you start?  Might I suggest with the little ones?  Here’s an analogy.  In our backyard, we often have squirrels bury seeds, and then forget where they buried them.  Eventually those seeds become trees.  Trees we don’t want, usually!  We call them volunteers.  If I get those trees before they’re a foot tall, they come out without much effort at all.  On the other hand, if I give them a year or two to grow, I have to take a saw to them.  It is much more work.  If this analogy sounds realistic, that’s because I spent yesterday sawing down over 20 branches from these volunteers.  I hope they are sufficiently stunted so they don’t continue to grow.  But, like sin, they are stubborn things.  I’ll need to stay on top of them to keep them in control.  So it is with sin in our lives.  Give sin an inch, and it takes a mile.  So don’t give sin an inch.