Our youngest daughter Kandilyn graduated from High School last week, and recently decided what she wants as a graduation present. She wants to go sky diving! And she wants to take two of her best friends with her. My wife isn’t too keen on the idea, but I think it’s awesome. Ruthie is thinking, Why on earth would she want to do that? I’m thinking, Of course she wants to do that.
Kandilyn also wants to learn how to ride a motorcycle this summer, so I’m looking for a class to enroll her in. She knows her mother would never let her have a bike (though her dad would kind of enjoy having a riding buddy), but she wants to learn anyway. She’s been my riding partner for several years, so I guess she’s getting tired of riding in the back seat.
Several weeks ago, Kandilyn and her brother, David, announced that they wanted to spend a couple months backpacking across Europe. We didn’t say no, but we did say not yet. Not at 18. We’ll have to readdress that one in a few years, I’m sure.
Kandilyn has always been the adventurous type—always looking for some new experience. I tell people she’s been 21 since she was 4, but the reality is, she just loves pushing the envelope and trying new things. And she hates being held back. Quite honestly, she’s a little too fearless, but I love her spunk. She definitely has a good time.
And that’s what I admire most about her. Kandilyn instinctively understands a truth that we would all do well to learn. She knows that life is short and meant to be lived with gusto. That we’re all put on this earth for a divine purpose, for sure, but also for a staggeringly short season—a season that is as brief as it is precious. God put us here for a reason, and part of that reason is to enjoy life! To work hard, play harder, love deeply, laugh heartily, pray expectantly, and worship with abandon.
You and I are plucked from this earth almost as soon as we’re planted, and we should never take the time we have for granted. We were created for eternity, but too often we forget that eternity begins the day we’re born, not the day we die. So why wait until heaven to enjoy all that God has in store for us?
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). It’s hard to have a full life when you spend half your time worrying. Kandilyn certainly doesn’t, and maybe you and I shouldn’t either.
Last night my wife was baking a pie and ran out of eggs. This was a crisis of monumental proportions in my book, so I quickly volunteered to run to the store and pick some up. I hopped into my truck and pulled out onto the dark street, hoping to make it back before my TV show was over.
I was less than half a block from the house when I came up behind a small, dark Toyota, going all of 25 mph, even though the speed limit is 30. There is only one road leading out of our subdivision, and it’s a long, winding one, so I sighed and settled in behind him, trying to have a good attitude. Until he slowed down even more, to about 20. Are you kidding me? I thought. What is this guy’s deal?
I don’t tailgate as a general rule, but sometimes you can’t help it, especially when someone is going this slow, so I quickly found myself right up on his bumper, close enough where I could see the reflection of my headlights in his rearview mirror. I was hoping he’d get the message. But he didn’t. In fact he slowed down even more! This time to about 10 mph.
Now I was getting irritated. I was certain this guy was just some narcissistic egotist with a need to control every situation. He obviously could tell I was in a hurry and wanted to slow me down, simply because he could. Or maybe he’d just had a fight with his wife and now decided to take it out on me. Whatever the case, I was not happy, and inched up even closer to let him know that.
Just then he put on his brakes and pulled over to the side of the road. I wasn’t about to get into an altercation with a rageaholic, so I slowly pulled around him, and went on my way. As soon as I did he immediately sped up behind me, right on my bumper. He turned on his high beams and stayed right on my tail, his headlights glaring into my rearview mirror. I couldn’t believe it. What is wrong with this guy? I thought. What is he trying to prove? If he thinks he can intimidate me, he’s got another thing coming! I was determined not to let this bother me, so I just kept my speed steady and pretended not to notice him. What an idiot!
And that’s when I noticed it. Something that changed everything. I glanced at my dashboard and realized that I’d had my high beams on the whole time. Not only that, but my truck was a solid foot higher than his Toyota, so I’m sure my brights were completely blinding him as I tailgated him down the street. I immediately turned them off, and then looked back to see him do the same thing. Then he slowed down to put some distance between us.
It was an embarrassing revelation. I suddenly realized what had made him so angry, and I felt terrible. I waved my hand in a pointless effort to say I was sorry, but I’m sure he didn’t see. At the end of the street I turned right and he turned left, so I slowly crept away, glad that we were going separate ways.
It’s amazing how quick we are to judge the actions and motives of others. Someone does something that makes us angry and we immediately start making assumptions about them. And our assumptions are almost always wrong.
Jesus asked the question, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:2-4)
Those words took on new meaning for me last night. I was so busy placing evil motives on this poor guy in the Toyota that I never stopped to consider that I might be the one in the wrong. I’m sure he’s made a few assumptions about me as well.
There is a reason we are commanded not to judge the motives of others. Because you and I will never have all the information we need to make truly sound judgments about the state of someone’s heart. And the heart is what matters most to God.
Ezra said, “…for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.” (1 Chron. 28:9)
It is the Lord’s job to search our hearts and make judgments about us, because only the Lord truly understands what causes us to act the way we act. Only God understands the motives behind our wayward thoughts—the pain and woundedness and confusion that causes us to do the things we do. God sees our sin, but more than that, God understands the humanity behind our sin. You and I may never understand why we do the wayward things we do, but that’s not important. What’s important is that God understands. And that is a very, very good thing!
So, I’ll make a deal with you. You put away your bag of stones, and I’ll put away mine. And the next time you see me out at night with my high beams on, just give me a quick wave and a honk and I’ll try to fix it. I promise I don’t do these things on purpose.
A few days ago Joe Biden whispered the “F” word into Obama’s ear during a press conference and the microphones picked it up. The press has been playing the clip ever since, mostly as a tongue-in-cheek news story.
No one seems surprised that Biden would use this kind of language, including me, just a little shocked that he would do so while the whole world was watching. Is it a staggering lack of judgment on Biden’s part, or simply the result of a man who is so accustomed to foul language that he no longer notices he’s using it? I’m going with the latter.
I’m not sure many people see Biden as a role model, even though he is the second-most powerful man on the planet. Most see him as just another narcissist personality who was lucky enough to stumble into a career that feeds his ego—not unlike most politicians. But still, it seems sad that so many children had to witness it, along with the jokes and giggles from the press afterward. This kind of language has become so commonplace today that people aren’t even shocked by it anymore—and that’s what really breaks my heart.
I subscribe to a number of blogs, and Biden’s gaff has been the topic of conversation on many of them the last few days. Not surprisingly, most people don’t seem to think it’s that big of a deal. A lot of the blogs I frequent are Christian oriented, and Christian teens make most of the comments. Quite honestly, I’m a little stunned by how few of them were offended by Biden’s language. “Times have changed, and most people don’t see much harm in that kind of cursing these days,” seemed to be the general consensus. Many of the Christian teens admitted to using the “F” word themselves, usually in conversations with their friends, though they would never do so around their parents. One teen wrote, “It’s not like I’m taking the Lord’s name in vain or anything…”
It made me wonder, Is that really true? How is it not shameful and degrading to the Lord’s name when a follower of Christ uses crude and obscene language? And how exactly is that not taking his name in vain?
I’m not a religious prude, advocating a return to the puritan lifestyle. And I’m not so old that I don’t remember what it’s like to be a young person struggling with peer pressure. I know it’s tough being a Christian teen in the middle of an increasingly secular world. Being an adult these days isn’t much easier. But isn’t this one area of our faith where Christians just can’t afford to compromise? Can’t we admit that using foul and obscene language is such an insult to the name of Jesus that it’s simply wrong to try and justify it? Using careless and unwholesome talk is a sin, pure and simple, and not because this old fuddy-dud of a blogger said it was—but because God’s Word tells us it is.
Paul said in Ephesians, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity,… because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place… Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” (Eph. 5:3-12)
I’m pretty certain Biden’s flippant language qualifies as impure, improper, obscene, foolish, and coarse. That’s not a cultural thing—not in the eyes of God—so can we please stop calling it that?
I’d like to issue a challenge to every Christian reading this post—especially young people. No, not a challenge, a plea—a gut-wrenching appeal from the depths of my spirit. Not because it’s late and I’m an over-reactive 50-year-old, but because this is a matter of conviction that God has been burning into my heart and mind. Pledge with me today to make this your line-in-the-sand commitment to God—to decide once and for all that when it comes to maintaining purity of heart, mind and speech, you will not allow yourself to give in to peer pressure or “societal norms.” Commit in your heart to honor God with your speech—both in private and public. Promise God that no matter how many of your friends choose to use crude and obscene language, that you will not join in. Pledge to be a light for Christ in the world, not another embarrassing sell-out, just trying to be “cool” in front of your friends.
There is a reason God calls Christians to “rise up and be separate.” Because how we think and act has a direct impact on state of our hearts. More than that, it reflects directly on God, and says volumes about the seriousness of our faith.
Luke tells us, “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” If the language coming out of your mouth is course and crude and impure, then maybe it’s time to take a good look into the contents of your heart.
How can we possibly have an impact on an impure and ungodly world if we ourselves can’t commit to pure and holy living?
Thanks for letting me rant.
There is a young paraplegic boy who attends our church. He lives his life in a wheelchair. Black and brown straps hold him tightly in place, keeping him from sliding out onto the floor. There are straps around his chest and legs and arms, even around his forehead. I once found myself wondering how uncomfortable that must be, but then remembered that he likely doesn’t feel a thing. Still, he is fully alert—you can tell by the way his eyes dart back and forth as his family wheels him through the hallways.
I see them almost every week, this faithful family, the father guiding his wheelchair from behind as his mother walks ahead of them, paving a way through the crowd as they make their way to their regular seat.
I often find myself feeling sad for the young boy. What must it be like to be so helpless and unresponsive, completely dependent on others for even your most basic needs? To depend on others to dress you, feed you, carry you, bathe you, even hold the straw as you struggle to take a drink?
If I am brutally honest, I can’t imagine a more maddening and frustrating existence. I’ve always treasured my independence, prided myself in the fact that I don’t need help, that I can get by on my own, even bragged about my competence and self-sufficiency. I love setting out to do something and then doing it. I take pride in my accomplishments—in the businesses I’ve run, the comfortable lifestyle I’ve created, the books and articles I’ve written. The great things I’ve done for God.
And yet each week I see this young boy who can never dream of doing any of these things. He’ll never hold down a job, never run a business, never start a family, never write a best-selling book. He will never be able to do great things for God.
And knowing that fact begs an important question. Perhaps the most life-altering question any of us can possibly ask.
Does that make him any less valuable to God?
What if I am the boy in the wheelchair? What if there isn’t anything I can possibly do for God that this boy can’t do? What if all the things I’ve accomplished have been little more than distractions from the one thing God most wants of me? Could it be that all God expects from any of us is to lean into his love? To gaze into his face and receive his gentle mercy? To immerse ourselves in the warmth of his unquenchable grace?
Maybe all God wants from any of us is to trust him.
I’ve never met the young handicapped boy, but I owe him a debt of gratitude. His very presence has given me an eternal glimpse into the heart of God. I hope I get a chance to thank him.
Under the Mercy,
Writing is a strange profession. And it’s not always as noble as we writers like to think.
On the one hand, the process of writing is hard and grueling and cumbersome. It can be frustrating to the point of insanity—especially for those of us who agonize over words the way a Swiss watchmaker might agonize over a fine timepiece, or an archeologist might agonize to extract a rare bone from a piece of rock. Getting words to fit on the page just right is a painstaking and humbling process. One that often leaves you feeling more defeated than finished. And no matter how hard you work, no matter how well you think you wrote, no matter how many rewrites you suffer through, at the end of the day, you never quite know how others will respond. It’s no wonder most writers are so maddeningly insecure.
On the other hand, having written, is anything but humbling. In fact it’s a pretty heady experience. Seeing your name on a book cover is more than a little rewarding; it borders on ecstasy! It makes all the hard work, all the sleepless nights, all the insecurity, all the rewrites, all the painstaking piecing together of words worth the effort. More than that, it brings a level of pride and praise that few careers can offer. Tell someone you’re a doctor or a lawyer and they assume that you’re successful, but tell them you’re an author and suddenly they want your autograph. Instant rock star—and you didn’t have to play a note!
And therein lies the rub. It’s far too easy to start believing your own press. To get puffed up and prideful and full of your own self-importance. The word “humble” and “author” are seldom found in the same sentence. And when they are, you have to wonder how much of it is false humility.
I once had a friend who finally got his first book published. He was a minister who already smacked of conceit, long before he ever saw his name in print, but afterward became an unbearable ball of arrogance. Every conversation in his presence turned to a discussion of his “revolutionary” new book, and the anointing he felt as he slaved over the manuscript—never mind that he didn’t write a word of it, but instead had it written for him.
The label “Author” is a dangerous title to pin on a humble person, but pin it on a bonafide megalomaniac and you’ve created an ego with its own solar system!
This isn’t a tirade of cynicism on my part, just a career hazard that anyone who writes for a living has to deal with. The reality is, writing is a vanity business, and because of it, the publishing field attracts some of the vainest people on the planet. It’s the thing I least like about the industry. More than that, it’s the thing I have to most guard against in my own life. If a haughty heart leads to destruction and brings opposition from God, then the last thing I want in my heart is a hint of haughtiness. And I fight daily to see that it doesn’t seep in.
Do I struggle with pride? Absolutely. Like a caged stallion struggles to be free from its bridle.
Do I always win? Absolutely not. But I never stop struggling. I never give up the fight to remain humble. I never stop reminding myself that any success I’ve had—in publishing, or any other human endeavor—is solely by the grace of God and can be stripped away in an instant if I somehow forget that truth.
I have within me the propensity for profound arrogance and pride. But I also have within me the strength to overcome it. And the road I choose at a given moment has a staggering impact on my relationship with God.
More accurately, it determines whether I have a relationship with him at all.
Don’t allow yourself to buy into the oldest lie in the universe. It’s a humble spirit that leaves room for God’s grace and goodness. A haughty heart brings nothing but divine opposition and pain.
Under the Mercy,
One never expects to find a theological mentor behind the glass at a Pennsylvania turnpike, but then God seldom works the way we expect.
I was there on business, on a trip I didn’t want to make, during a time when I really couldn’t afford the time away to make it. On my way to another meeting that I didn’t want to attend, in a rental car that felt far too small and unfamiliar. The coming nor’ easter came early, making travel even more cumbersome and tedious. Visibility dwindled with each passing mile as buckets of rain waged war on the Buick’s over-worn wiper blades.
And I was angry. Angry that I had to be across the country in a blinding rainstorm when I’d rather be home with my family, chipping away at some overdue writing deadlines on my desk, spending time with my kids, sleeping in my own bed at night. I was angry and tired and dreadfully imposed upon.
And that’s when I pulled into the toll booth. The one that was about to confiscate another buck and a quarter from me, even though I was certain the road had long since been paid for. I considered complaining about the pits and potholes, until I caught a glimpse of the kind eyes and warming smile waiting for me behind the tollbooth window.
“How are you this fine evening?” she sparkled.
“Okay,” I answered, digging for my wallet, dogging bullets of water through the open window. “How are you?” I only asked because it seemed expected.
“I’m very blessed! Thanks so much for asking!”
I mustered a grin and passed her a five. “Isn’t this rain wonderful?” she asked, making small talk and change at the same time. “I just love it when it rains like this. It makes the air smell so clean. And the good Lord knows we need it.”
“It is nice,” I lied, reaching for my change, trying to sound more pleasant than I felt.
“It certainly is,” she chimed. “I can’t wait for Spring this year. With all this rain we’ve been having, why it’s going to be beautiful!”
I nodded politely, gathering my change and sliding it into the cup holder.
“You have a blessed time in Pennsylvania,” she continued. “And be careful on these slick roads.”
“Thanks, I will,” I said, coasting forward as I spoke. Then just as the window inched shut one parting phrase pierced the air. A comment I would have missed had I been a few seconds faster on the button.
“God bless you!” Like one last heaping coal of kindness singeing the hairs of my already convicted spirit. I waved to acknowledge her words, but I’m sure she didn’t see. So I drove on, the brief exchange resonating in my mind.
It’s amazing how God can use a simple, unexpected encounter to shake your attitude back to center.
Here I was, a man more blessed than most, with far more going for me than against me, with a rewarding career, a beautiful wife, two wonderful kids and a dog named D.C., all who love me dearly, a great home, even greater friends… a life more blessed than any man deserves. Yet I couldn’t see far enough past the inconvenience of the moment to appreciate it.
And in the other corner, a woman who makes her living making change in a six-by-six box on the freeway, pelted by wind and rain and gravel each day, suffering the smog and smoke from passing motorist for a paycheck that’s clearly far smaller than she’s worth, yet she exuded joy and contentment from every pore of her being.
There was clearly something wrong with this picture. And it wasn’t the woman behind the window.
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,” wrote the apostle Paul, “whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil. 4:12)
And the implication is that you and I can learn it as well. More than that, we can learn to live it. Just like Paul. Just like Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Just like Francis of Assisi… Just like the Toll Booth Woman of Pennsylvania.
Contentment is not a condition of the body but a state of the heart. It’s not an attitude that overcomes you, but a conscious decision to overcome your poor attitude, even when things don’t go your way. It isn’t the by product of a happy life; it’s a choice of the soul to make your life happy, even when there’s little reason to justify it.
Contentment isn’t something that finds you; it’s something you find when you suddenly realize just how blessed you are to be a loved child of the Most High.
Not a particularly profound thought, but an important one I thought worth sharing on this very fine Saturday afternoon.
God’s voice is not like other voices.
When God speaks, he speaks loudest through the quiet things that happen to us. Often he catches us at moments of pain or confusion or vulnerability then whispers into the depths of our spirits, saying, “you’re going the wrong way,” or “let me show you a better way to do that.” Sometimes his voice is a still, small one; other times it is no voice at all, but an event, or a sleepless night, or a chasm of guilt and remorse that seems to come out of nowhere. And it almost always comes when we least expect it.
Just this morning God roused me from a good sleep at 5:00 a.m. and kept my mind pried open. I tried to clear it and get back to sleep, but he wouldn’t let it happen. He wanted me to know that some things I did yesterday were unacceptable, that some things I said needed to be unsaid, that a relationship was strained and now needed to be mended. His voice was clear, so now that task is at the top of my to-do list, just as soon as the rest of the world awakens.
I don’t enjoy the guilt I feel at the moment, but I love that God deals with me this way. I love that he loves me enough to care.
Some years ago I was in my car on one of the busiest streets of the city. It was the height of rush hour, and cars were screaming past me on either side. The radio was tuned to a Christian music station, and soft melodies played in the background, but my mind was a thousand miles away—thinking of nothing, everything, and all that lies in between.
My life at the time was defined by periods of rebellion, followed by repentance, followed by weeks of penitence and shame. I was serving a god of anger and judgment–a god who loved me when I was good, hated me when I was bad, and couldn’t wait to share the tally with me at judgment. This was the pattern and lot of my life—the burden I bore for being a Christian.
But God had been working on me, pulling at me, trying to bring me into a fuller life. I can look back now and see his hand at work in so many ways, through books and tapes that friends were giving me, through experiences, through people he brought into my life. Little by little I began to see him, though I steadily resisted.
As I was driving a song came over the radio. A song from Margaret Becker, my favorite singer. I turned up the volume and began singing along with her, words I knew by heart. Words that had been in my heart yet had never quite pierced it. The song was titled Just Come In, and for the very first time the profound message of the lyrics began to penetrate and settle into the depths of my soul.
You think you’ve crossed some sacred line, and now I will ignore you.
If you look up, you will find, my heart is still toward you.
Look at the sky, the east to the west.
That’s where I threw this, when you first confessed.
Let it go now…Just come in; just leave that right there.
Love does not care.
Just come in; lay your heart right here.
You should never fear.
Without notice a well of emotion began to spring up within me. I started to cry, slowly at first and then uncontrollably. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I quickly made my way over to the far right lane and pulled into a vacant parking lot, where I sat and blubbered like a bruised child. I couldn’t stop the tears. Several times I tried to compose myself, to get a grip, to take charge of my emotions, but it wouldn’t work. I was completely and wholly overtaken by the tenderness of God’s Spirit.
At that instant I could almost feel God’s arms fold gently around me. It was as real and genuine as any embrace I had ever experienced. I felt as if I could reach out and touch him. And his Spirit whispered into mine, Don’t live your life in fear and shame. Let it go. Don’t fight my love…embrace it.
For a solid twenty minutes I sat and bathed in the warmth of God’s love and goodness, all the while weeping like a wounded child in his mother’s arms. I could have stayed there forever.
I plan to stay there forever.
Don’t we all have moments like that in our relationship with God? Haven’t we all had times where we sensed his nearness, felt his gentle hand on our chest, imagined his tender face within inches of ours, smiling, laughing, whispering into the depths of our heart?
If only for a fleeting moment, we feel close to God in a way we never imagined possible. As if he had suddenly broken through the barrier of space and time, stepped through the elusive dimension that separates heaven and earth in order to touch us, hold us, speak to us, comfort us. They are moments of closeness or clarity that seem to come out of nowhere, yet transcend human understanding in a way that far too few moments do.
There was a phrase used in the Deep South over a hundred years ago that I’d like to see us revive. When someone came to Christ, they didn’t refer to themselves as “saved” or “born again.” They described their conversion by saying, “I was seized by the power of a great affection.” What a beautiful way to express a new life in Jesus. Because isn’t that what happens? Isn’t that what brings people to their knees before the cross of Christ? Isn’t it the love of Jesus that sets our hearts ablaze with passion and sets our eyes to tears? I don’t just want to be saved from hell… I want to be “seized by the power of a great affection.” I want to be embraced. And I want to embrace my Father back!
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” said Jesus. “This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:37).
And why is this so important to God? Because it is with this same depth and breadth that the Father loves us. Because he loves us with all his heart, soul, and mind. Because his love knows no limits, and he longs for us to love him with that same sense of abandon.
Paul said it is the kindness of God that leads men to repentance. And in that kindness we find a love unlike any we have ever known. All we have to do is open our hands and our hearts and embrace it.
* * * * *
God’s voice is not like other voices.
And God’s love is not like other loves.
Both come wrapped in a tenderness and grace that only God can give.
Under the Mercy,