Month: December 2013

Overcoming Barriers in 2014

I’m doing a lot of thinking about goal-setting in 2014.  Not “New Year’s Resolutions” or “wishes”.  Actual goal setting.  Achievable goals.  Meaningful goals.  Measureable goals.  Goals with a definite start and end.  In short… goals.  Thinking about the barriers I’ve had in the past to accomplishing these goals, I came up with the following barriers:

1. Fear – Fear of failing, fear of the unknown, fear of not finishing well!

2. Apathy – I’m so lazy in many areas of my life, and so passionate and gung-ho in other areas. Overcoming apathy in the “hard things” is challenging.

3. People-approval – Sometimes I get so focused on feeling approved and accepted by others, that I’m not willing to risk and get outside of my comfort zone to do something, especially when I may “feel” rejected in the process.

4. Undisciplined mindset – Related to #2, I love generating ideas and find it difficult to follow them through. It is difficult for me to discipline my mind to do the hard work of “thinking and deciding” to move to the next step.

5. FINISHING – I have 20-30 unfinished books by my bedside. I have started and never finished many Bible studies. I have bought parenting guides that I never worked through. You get the picture. I keep wanting the next purchase to somehow solve my issue of finishing things, and finishing them well. Truth is, like losing weight, often the starting of a project is the most rewarding and possibly the easiest part of it. It is slogging through the details, overcoming the hurdles, and finishing that is tough. I want to do that this year!

There… I feel like I’ve opened up my journal to all of you. But that’s it. Those are my barriers.  What are your barriers?


I Want To Meet Jesus

When I was a kid, I used to dream about meeting my favorite celebrity in person.  This could have been a professional athlete, a TV or movie star… shoot, even a local newscaster seemed celebrity enough to me.  I would think about being like that person.  Oh to meet John Schneider or Tom Wopat (HUGE Dukes of Hazzard fan – so, yes, to have met Catherine Bach would have been pretty AWESOME).  Or Erik Estrada from CHIPS.  More recently, I remember sitting in a Shoney’s while I was in college, and I look over and see John Schlitt from Petra.  I was star-struck.  I loved Petra in college.  Their brand of Christian “rock” fueled the tiny engine of faith I had during those college years as a young Christian.

What was it about these people that seemed larger than life?  What kept me so fixated on meeting them during those year?  I found myself pondering that question this week as I reflected on a recent message our pastor gave entitled Meeting Jesus.  I was moved during this message on a very familiar passage, John 1:35-51, Jesus’ calling of His disciples.  Each one: Andrew and an unnamed disciple, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel, all had a unique, divinely-appointed encounter with Jesus.  They met Jesus!  I want to meet Jesus.

Now, the cynic in me says I’ll hear the following responses:

The Non-Christian: “Meet Jesus?  He is a man who supposedly lived 2,000 years ago and is dead now.  You say you want to meet Jesus?  That’s crazy.”

The Christian: “Meet Jesus?  You already met Him when you accepted Him as your Lord and Savior.  There is no need to meet Jesus again.”

I disagree with both.  Here is what I saw on Sunday that just makes me want to know Christ more and more.  Jesus came to be met.  To be known.  For us to encounter Him in the way we might encounter a celebrity, where we are so enthralled with the “glory” their lives represent that we just want to be near Him.  To follow Him wherever He goes.

Have you ever been at a party and there is that one person that everyone loves being around?  You know, every story they tell is followed by raucous laughter.  Every time they moved to a room, they are followed by a crowd of people.  They stand out. They are attractive.  You just want to be near them.

Oh, how much more the Son of God, the man known as Jesus Christ, deserves my attention, adoration, affection, and my time.  So, how do I meet Jesus?  What does this mean differently in my life:

1. I look at what I’m seeking for contentment in my life, and as I approach Jesus I do so seeking to be with Him rather than get something from Him.  It is there that we meet Jesus.

2. Go…  Go seek Him!  Go after Him.  It won’t be perfect, but get going with it.  Make time to seek, listen, and learn from Him.

3. Follow Him.  Meeting Jesus should shape my life.  It should cause me to look at my life and see the need to give up something… control, idols, fear, need for affirmation and approval… give it up because Jesus offers so much more.

4. Trust and know that He will change us.  We all have areas we want changed.  God knows I have many areas.  Just as Jesus looked at Simon and told him “your name will be Cephas (Peter)”, Jesus looks on us and tells us we are not who we think we are.  We are becoming something much better.

I think this is what is meant with Hebrews 12:2

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

How have you met Jesus?  What ways is Jesus shaping your life?  Share your story.  Tell the world.  He’s worth it. 

4th Quarter Comebacks and Parenting

I am a huge Peyton Manning fan.  OK… so, Carol says I have a man-crush on him.  I’ll own that.  He’s fun to watch.  Now, opinions are pretty polarized out there about whether he is as good as people say he is.  I’ve personally followed the Manning family since I was kid growing up in Louisiana watching Archie play for the Saints.  I’m also a graduate of the University of TN, Knoxville, where Peyton played 4 solid years before coming out as the #1 pick in the NFL prior to the 1998 season.  He is just so fun to watch, calling all those audibles, engineering drives with such precision and timing.

One of his stats which just blows me away is his 4th quarter comebacks and game-winning drives.  There are a number of sites depicting various stats on this topic, but this one probably has the best detail (and I’m a numbers guy).

Peyton has completed 40 4th quarter comebacks and 51 game-winning drives!  The level of intensity Peyton maintains throughout the game, but especially in the 4th quarter is unbelievably inspiring.


I liken parenting (really life in general… but for this topic, parenting) to the various quarters in a football game.  We have 4 children, ages 5, 7, 11, 14.  Things seemed easier in the 1st and 2nd quarter (the younger years) of our family life.  Raising 2 boys who were close to 2 years in age that played pretty well together seemed… manageable.  In fact, during that time, I would have even declared our family to be playing at an “elite level”.  We were commended over and over for our children’s behavior and character.  So young and prideful…  Flash forward 8-10 years to the present, and well… life is very full and challenging.  I would not trade it for the world, but it is challenging.  Our approach and expectations as parents has been difficult to maintain when it is spread across 4 children with different ages, different needs, and extremely different personalities.  And our once “elite level of parenting” (Ha!) seems to have dropped like an NFL team that loses a 30-point lead and goes on to lose the game.

So, today, we are in the 4th quarter of parenting.  In fact, every day from here on out, I am in the 4th quarter.  I desire to raise my family to become people who love God, love others, are productive citizens in society, and hopefully one day, lead their own families, ministries, or whatever they are called to do in life.  To do this, I must maintain a high level of intensity and commitment to the goals we have as a family.  Because in the moment, when I’m tired or have an agenda that doesn’t match their willingness to follow that agenda, I forget it and lose it.  And those who watch football know that when a team starts to “lose their cool”, they forget who they are, and eventually kill themselves with penalties and turnovers.

But maintaining that level of intensity is not so easily done.  For me, this means every day… every moment, much like every play in a football game… every moment could be that game-winning moment.  Every moment counts.  Make the most of them.  Maybe that is what Paul meant with Ephesians 5:14-17:

14Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Football games are won and lost in the 4th quarter.  What things do you do to “win in the 4th quarter” of your family?

Stiff-arming God

I really enjoy watching football.  I can tell myself on a Sunday afternoon that I have a number of other things to do, and like a moth to a flame, if that TV is on with football, I’ll stand there in one spot for 30 minutes watching without moving.  The sheer force of will and strength these guys show, week in and week out, is something to behold.  I think one of the greatest displays of this strength is the stiff-arm.  Most reading this will know what a stiff-arm is.  But for the benefit of those that don’t, a stiff-arm is when a runner who has the ball is about to be tackled. The would-be tackler is starting to wrap his arms around the runner, when suddenly the runner extends his arm with full strength straight into the facemask (or neck) area of the defender.  The defender seeks to keep his grip on the runner after the initial devastating blow to his head, and meanwhile, the runner continues pushing into the defender’s helmet, further contorting his neck and head, in what has become a severely disfigured looking posture.  One of the best I’ve seen is this shot of LaDanian Tomlinson administering a pretty brutal stiff-arm.
So, I found it intriguing Sunday when our pastor began talking about how we sometimes “stiff-arm” God.  That is an immediate word picture for me and helps me get what my pastor is saying.  Later that day I heard a message on Desiring God from John Piper where he too spoke of stiff-arming God.  OK… 2 times… I think God is trying to get my attention!  Now, removing those images of football players dropping guys like flies to the ground with their stiff-arms, I start to wonder… what does it mean that I stiff-arm God?  Clearly, I cannot apply some kind of force to make God go away from me.  I am not more powerful and more wise than God that I can somehow keep Him from doing something.  No, I think it is when, over a series of choices, priorities, and idols, little-by-little, I push God away from that innermost part of my life… you know… that most vulnerable part of you that feels pain, sadness, joy, ecstasy, delight, desire, anger.  It is that part of me which fears God coming close to me because of who and what He’ll see.  Not wanting God to see the “inside of the cup,” which would reveal all manner of sin and idolatry.  So, I push Him away.
Now, picture for a moment a small child… maybe a 2-year old… running down a football field and suddenly a large, athletic football player like this guy below comes running up to tackle this 2-year old and suddenly from out of nowhere, the 2-year old stiff-arms the would-be tackler and drops him to the ground.
Seems absurd, doesn’t it?  Of course!  And this is not the way of God.  Like this large fellow with the 2-year old, God could easily force me into submission, if He chose.  But He doesn’t.  God is interested in our heart, not our blind, loyal, resentful obedience.  He wants me to know and love Him.  He wants me to desire Him above all other things of this world.  So, when I stick my “arm” out to prevent God from interfering with my life, something peculiar happens.  He sometimes lets me experience my intended result.  But my “stiff-arm” has a sort of “Corsican brother” affect, where the only one I end up stiff-arming… is myself.  I experience the pain and agony of that loss of “felt” closeness to God.  I feel the longing in my heart that there must be something greater meant for this life.  So when I finally drop my stiff-arm, God reveals a wonderful promise to me:
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…
2 Corinthians 4:16-17 
God is continuing to work in me, shaping me to be made into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. So, about the only stiff-arming I can do is to stubbornly attempt to refuse the love God has poured out on me so lavishly through Jesus.  And He will make it miserable for me during that time.  For His commitment to me is to keep me in His grip.  To “not let one of them fall”.  For that, I am ever grateful.  And it makes me fall in love more and more with Jesus each day.
In case that first stiff-arm picture was not enough for you, enjoy this youtube video shows a compilation of NFL stiff-arms.  There are a bunch of these out there.  I picked one.  Good stuff.

Realtime couponing – How I saved $30 in 15 minutes

Our family decided to eat out Sunday afternoon after church.  Now, normally, this can become a pretty torturous event.  It goes something like this:
One of the kids:  Dad, can we eat out today?
Me: [Knowing we don’t have a meal planned] Sounds good.  How about [fill in the restaurant]?
All 4 of the kids in various forms, but simultaneously:  I don’t want to go there. Why not [4 different restaurants]?  We never go there?
Me:  We’re going home to eat.
Kids:  [Sad and complaining]
Me:  [Mad]
So, yesterday, I tried something new.  I know there is one place that we like to eat, but one of our children has a minor allergic reaction to some of the food there.  Knowing this, we discussed a different option that normally would be a little pricey to feed all 6 of us – Pei Wei.  But we all pretty much like it.  So, we go and we’re standing in a long after-church line waiting.  Carol then sees a special – Buy $50 gift cards, get $10 gift cards free.  We knew how much this would end up being, so we said “sure”!  $10 saved (sort of… at least $10 earned).
Next, while I’m in line, I’m still thinking this is expensive (Note: while I’m waiting in line, Carol takes one of our kids to get their hair cut – that’s how long the line was).  So, I start searching for Pei Wei coupons.  All of a sudden, a link comes up for Pei Wei for a BOGO coupon.  All I had to do was take a short 5-question survey.  I did, and moments later, the coupon arrived in my e-mail.  Next, I told Connor to take the same survey, answer for Carol, and e-mail her.  Suddenly, I’m about to have 2 buy-one-get-one free offers, for entrees that are about $8.50.  Carol got back from the haircut.  We ordered with the gift cards, and in total (if you count the extra $10 gift card), I saved $28.24.  I only spent $28.62 on our meal that fed 6 people!  Unbelieveable!  That’s Taco Bell pricing.  It was so much fun!  And all of this while standing in line for about 15 minutes using my iPhone.  Plugging all of that into our You Need a Budget tool was fun too.  (See my post on YNAB).
Funny… I suddenly pictured my mom (who passed away a couple of years ago) walking around the grocery store with her little coupon folio saving money trying to raise 5 kids on a shoestring budget.   Here’s to you Mom!

A Love Affair With Christ

I feel a little… risky… as I write this post.  But I feel compelled to write it.  I guess it is the curse of reading John Eldredge and John Piper.  Both characterize our relationship with Christ as a love affair, as a pursuit… even a hedonistic pursuit of all things Christ.
My deepest longing in life is…  you might think I would say “is to know Christ.”  Had I began with “I want my deepest longing…”, then maybe.  I wish it were so.  But instead, my deepest longing is for significance.  I want my life to count for something, and I want to be noticed.  There you go.  I want to be noticed, affirmed, validated, told I’m special, and in general, to have my life show that it counts for something.
When I think deeper about my longing for significance, it is really a longing to be known.  It is masked in my sin to be noticed and recognized and… well, to have a good reputation.  But I believe it is definitely a deeper longing to be known.
I also know that what God desires is obedience.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  Romans 6:16
 But is that all God desires?  To be obeyed?  To follow a set of rules?  Or does God also desire something greater of us.  Does God desire to be known?  I was looking at a familiar passage, but until I read the New Living Translation, I did not see it in the proper light:
I want you to show love,
    not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me
    more than I want burnt offerings.
God does want to be known!  I want to be known!  And it is no coincidence that sexual union between a man and his wife is described as being “known in the Biblical sense.”  To know God and to be known by God in the way that God intended is the most scandalous, beautiful, and satisfying love affair one can ever have.  Think about it.  If I loved and knew God the way I was made to (go read Song of Solomon 5 and see if you don’t blush a little bit), how scandalous this would be!  The world is constantly telling us to have love affairs with the things of this world.  People, material possessions, fame and success.  What I’m saying is that this Christian life is to be lived not as a set of rules, but as a love affair with the living God!
We are the bride of Christ.  One day, the marriage and consummation will happen:
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
May we see our walk with Christ, our relationship with the living God, our enjoyment and obedience of the Holy Spirit not as a set of rules and obligations, but as a deep love affair that we will enjoy in the fullest sense one day in eternity!

Treasuring Christ and the Character Quotient

I love reading anything that identifies opportunities to improve some area of my life or that of my family and work.  I recently read an interesting column in the Tennessean, written by a local author and business owner named Rory Vaden.  In this column, Rory, who also wrote a book called Take the Stairs, a book on my “I really want to read it, but probably ought to wait until I finish reading the 50 other half-read books” list, describes something called Character Quotient.  He defines it as follows (a little bit of math… hang with me):

Virtues Valuation = The self-assigned value I place on sticking to my own virtues, doing what I know is right.

Promised Payoff = The money or other value received from choosing something incongruent with my virtues and values.

Character Quotient
Interesting idea… the thought goes something like this:  the higher the quotient, the greater the likelihood you will make healthy decisions in your life (you will follow your virtues).  The smaller the number, the more challenging this will be for you and the more likely you are to deviate from your virtues because of some payoff.  But the statement that really got me was “the greater the temptation and the larger the payoff, the higher your virtues valuation must be to maintain a character quotient greater than 1.”  In other words, if I perceive some negative thing as giving a BIG payoff… something I really enjoy…  then to counteract that, my virtues… that which I regard as important and right…  must be even greater than that BIG payoff.

To say this differently (more “John Piper-esque”), if Christ is not my greatest treasure in life and if I don’t treasure Him immensely, I will find it very difficult to fight sin.  I will value the payoff of sin more than the virtue of abiding in Christ and obeying Him.  So, now, what do I do with that?  How do I make Christ my greatest treasure?  How do I desire Him more than the world?  Can I truly do that myself?  Well, once again I have to remind myself of my humanity and use a human parallel.  When I’m eating something I really like.  I mean, really like… no one has to convince me that it tastes good.  It just does.  But I have to be willing to try it first.   And sometimes try it many times.  And in doing this, what did I do to grow that food as a delight to me?   Did I make the food better than it is?  No, the food is what it is.  I don’t change it.  I just tried it and experienced the great taste it had.
And so it is with my spiritual journey.  The more time I spend with Christ, through prayer and reading His Word, the more I find I delight in Him.  I must fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  And my sense of treasuring Him will grow, and the payoff of SIN will diminish.  So, it will actually change the formula.  I LOVE the idea of that!
Today is Saturday, and I will be about the typical family life tasks on a Saturday.  And I will try to remind myself that as I go through my day, I need to fix my gaze on Jesus in all that I do, and treasure Him for all He is worth!

Embracing my humanity (aka, the DOT)

Mall-You Are HereHave you ever been wandering around a mall and trying to figure out where a store is?  You finally find the map and you see the 100 stores that are at the mall and you’re trying to figure out where you are relative to those stores. What do you look for?  The DOT that tells you “you are here.”
I have been meeting with a mentor at church for the past 2 months and he is attempting to get a message across to me that I am starting to accept… no, embrace.  This is the idea of the DOT.  The DOT tells me where I am in the mall.  And in life, the DOT represents where I am, warts and all.  There is good in the DOT.  There are challenges in the DOT.  But regardless of what I feel about the DOT representing where I currently am, the DOT does not lie.  I am at… the DOT.
Now, in a mall, once I figure out where I am, I then have a decision to make.  Do I stay at the dot and complain about how far away from the anchor store I am going to?  Do I bemoan the fact that I parked so far away from the store I’m interested in, thinking all the while that I’ll have to walk all the way back here to get to my car?  I could.  And truth be told, I probably have at times.  But most of the time, I embrace the fact that I am where the dot tells me I am, and I map out where I need to walk to get to my desired destination.  Then, an interesting thing happens…  As I walk to my destination, I enjoy the journey.  I look at the stores (mostly electronics… again, I’m kind of a geek), I notice people, and I enjoy the walk there.
Then I ask myself… why can’t I do that in life?  My DOT in life is simply an indicator of where I am.  It does not define where I go from here.  It does not define who I am.  Now, I might feel good about my DOT some days because I’ve made great choices over a period of time.  Or I might feel bad about myself because I’ve struggled.  But moving from that place, forgetting the past, straining forward to what lies ahead… isn’t this what we’re supposed to be about?  Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
In my previous 2 blogs on my humanity, I wrote about Accepting my humanity and Rejecting my Humanity.  But I think to fully “move forward”, I must embrace my humanity, surrender what I think my life should have been like and what I wish I was, and press on trusting Jesus and living in the joy He gives me.  I must love people and not be afraid to interact with the world. I must not only not be afraid of being human…  I must embrace being human.
So, one of my great desires in life is that I would live so free from the burdens of this world, live so content with life and God’s love for me, that people would ask me “what is different about you?”  And that my answer would simply be “Christ.”  Nothing I’ve done.  Just Christ.  So, I press on to make that truth my own as Paul says I should and enjoy the journey.

Rejecting my humanity

I was listening to a message this morning from my pastor titled “The Pursuit of Holiness“.  It came from back in 2009 and is centered around Hebrews 12:1-14 and the idea of pressing on and not giving up in the Christian life.  Not giving up in the pursuit of holiness (or sanctification).  The core of the message came down to us seeing our need for holiness, the beauty of holiness, and how God is presenting us to the world in all our holiness as a shining testimony of His work on earth.  To fade gradually… to “drift away” from active participation in this process is to turn away from all of these beautiful truths.
Last week I wrote a blog titled Accepting my humanity.  As I consider my humanness and come to accept that, there is also an aspect of being human that I must reject.  That part of my life that can be so destructive and counterproductive.  In rejecting this aspect of my humanity, I’m basically rejecting sin and my “fleshly desires.”  And in a sense, I’m suffering for Jesus.  Here’s how it works for me:
– I’m tempted.  Could be a simple “over-the-counter” sin that everyone accepts as “OK”.  This Thanksgiving, I completely overate.  I knew I was full, but kept eating more desserts.  I’ve been on a real sugar binge lately.  So, after that, I felt TERRIBLE.  No stretch pants for me.  But no one is going to fire me from work or kick me out of church for doing this.  Or my temptation to sin sometimes is something deeper.  Something more destructive that will hurt me or others if I followed through with it.  Either way, I’m tempted.
– In that temptation, I have a choice.  Embrace it, love it, and enjoy it for the moment.  Or deny the flesh that tells me how much I’ll enjoy it and decide not to do it.
In denying the fleshly desire, I have suffered for Jesus.  In participating in the sin, I am essentially ending the suffering, and rejecting Jesus.  Sadly, I do this quite often.  And I hate it.  Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  (Matthew 16:24). So often, I set my cross down and live for myself.
Today, I will choose to deny the earthly pleasures that seem to bring great satisfaction, but in the end are a bitter pill.  I choose to trust in the promises of God’s faithfulness.  And I choose to believe that what He has said about me is true.  I am His precious child.  I am adopted into His great family.  And He will not forsake me.  He will continue the good work He began in me and bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  (Philippians 1:6)
Is this easy?  Are you kidding me?  It is one of the hardest things I have to do in life.  Deny my flesh.  Deny what feels good.  But I’ll do it today.  I’ll reject my humanity.  And in so doing, I know that I will receive a peace that passes all understanding.