Monday, June 17

Common to Man

No temptation has overtaken you 
except such as is common to man; 
but God is faithful,
who will not allow you to be tempted 
beyond what you are able,
but with the temptation 
will also make the way of escape,
that you may be able to bear it.

This is a passage I use often in counseling, but just this week, I gained a new insight from these words of Paul, and I'd like to share with you a few thoughts about it.

"If you just knew what I have to put up with..."

According to God, every temptation you face is "common to man".  No matter how you feel about it, you are not the only person who has had a wife/husband like you have, or parents/kids like you have, or the suffering and heartache you have.  I know we all want to think our pain is somehow more than everyone else's, but really, it's not.  God will not allow Satan to pick on you in a special, unique way that no-one else can understand.  Yes, the circumstances of your temptation will be uniquely yours, but in its essence, the pain/sorrow of abandonment is the same as the pain/sorrow of abandonment...loneliness is loneliness, anger is anger, and lust is lust.  You should take courage in knowing that whatever challenge or heartache you now face, many, many Christians before you have faced...successfully.

"Well, when he said that, I just couldn't take anymore..."

Really?  That's not what God says.  Here He says that He "will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able".  God limits your temptation.  He knows you, and your limits.  Just as He did with Job, God specifically sets fences on Satan and his minions as to what they cannot do to you.  He will not allow your grief or enticement to be so big, or last so long that you have no choice other than to give in.  Truth be known, when "he said that" you could take it.  You could love him [even if he was your enemy], you could maintain your faith [even though your loss was so great].  If you don't, it's not that you couldn't, it's that you didn't.

"I just want the pain to stop..."

This is really the crux of the matter.  A huge percentage of people who come for counseling want out of the jam they are currently in...but they don't want to change anything.  Do you want to change?  Yes, there have been times in my life that I was pretty focused on stopping the pain too.

Here is where I used to latch onto the word "escape" and tell people that they too could escape their temptations, heartaches, suffering and trials.  But that is not what this promise says...look closely at the words of scripture here.

with the temptation will also make the way of escape,
that you may be able to bear it.

God's promise is that He will provide a way of escape, not from the temptation, but through the temptation.  He does not promise to make your trouble go away, even if you are faithful to Him.  He promises you will be able to bear it.  That's right...God promises to help you endure it.

Jesus said as much in the Sermon on the Mount.  If you hear and obey, you are building on a rock.  If you hear and forget, you are building on sand.  The rains fall and the floods come in every life.  Storms are common to man.  Building on a rock doesn't mean no storms, it means you weather the storms.

The final piece of this puzzle is actually something we just flew right past in the text.  The foundation, the rock, that this wonderful promise is built on:

God is faithful

This promise is founded on the faithfulness of God Himself.  

It is a simple equation: If He is faithful, this is true.  If this is not true, He is not faithful.  So, which do you believe?  You can't have it both ways.  You cannot serve the God of the Bible, trust His faithfulness, and deny this promise.  You cannot make excuse for your sin.  God, in His great mercy, has chained Satan, like a mean pit bull.  Oh, yes, he seeks to devour you, just as he sought Peter.  And yes, he is dangerous.  But he is defeated, and as a defeated foe, he cannot get off his chain.  

Your troubles, temptations, terror, they are real, but they are common.  God has limited the the enemy; Satan cannot tempt you above what you can handle.  And He provides a way for you to endure the temptation.

God is faithful, so quit making excuses.

Monday, December 10

A Just Man

I can't imagine the heartache.  He really thought she was the one...and now, there she stands, tear stained face, obviously pregnant, trying to convince him that it was some 'miracle' and that she has been faithful to him.  He knows better.  Young girls don't just miraculously end up pregnant...but they are sometimes unfaithful.  I really can't imagine the bitter taste Joseph must've had right then.  The rage of betrayal, the humiliation he will now surely whirled in his mind like a cyclone.  What to do now?  He could marry her anyway...everyone would think it was his child...but he would never be able to trust her...and he would end up raising the other guys child.  No, he just can't do that.  what to do...He could have her stoned...many righteous men would...but that seems so callous and brutal...what to do...what to do...What would you do?  Here is what Joseph did:
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
Yes, that was the best answer...Joseph would secretly 'divorce' [put away] the woman who was to spend her life as his wife.  He would do it in secret, as quietly and quickly as possible, and then she would probably go back to cousin Elizabeth's to have the child.  That way he will not have a lifetime of heartache from an unfaithful spouse, and she can go be with him, whoever him is.

Is that what you would do?  Obviously, we know the rest of the story:  it really was a miracle, she had been faithful to Him, and the child was the Almighty God.  But put yourself in Joseph's place for just a moment.  You don't know any of this, you haven't seen the movie Trailer.  All you know is that a few months ago you packed her off to her cousin's house while you continued to make ready for your life together.  Now she's back, months later, expecting a child, with a wild, unbelievable story, expecting [or at least asking] you to be a complete fool and believe the unbelievable.  If you were really Joseph, what would you do?  I don't see me buying the Angel story, how about you?

But Joseph wasn't like most of us.  Even before the Angel appears to Joseph, his response is not one of vengeance, it is one of justice and compassion.  Joseph was a just man and evidence of that justice was his decision/intent to privately deal with what appeared to him to be Mary's infidelity.  He had no desire to 'shame' her, no vengeful spirit of putting her through public humiliation.  Was he hurt?  Yes!  Angry?  Probably.  Heartbroken?  No Doubt!  Devastated?  Of Course!  Vengeful?  Not in the least.  Why?  Because he was a just man.  What does that mean...that he was a 'just' man?  I believe it means that his way of thinking, feeling, and acting was wholly conformed to the will of God.  He acted like God Himself would act were he in this situation.  Consider the parable of the Good Father [usually called "The Prodigal Son"] from Luke 15.
But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his heck and kissed him.
He runs to his son, filled with compassion [love and pity] embraces him and kisses him.  What a tender scene of joyful reunion.  It is quite obvious how much this father loves his son, how he has missed him, agonizing nights of wondering if the boy is okay.  Praying for God to protect him and bring him home. Do you detect a judgmental spirit in this father?
Look at you!  Peeeyewwww, you STINK!  Where have you been...a pig pen?!?  Do you think you can just go live like a heathen, and then waltz right back in here like you never left, like you own the place?  Now listen boy, if you're going to come home, I better not hear any of this 'far country' talk!  Do you have ANY of the money left?  NONE OF IT?  If you want to come back here, I better see you on the front pew at church Sunday morning...Do you know what shame and humiliation you have brought on this family?...  
No, that wasn't the heart of this father [actually, that was the heart of the older brother, but that's another story].  Listen to what the father did:
But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.'
The first thing he does is send a servant home [remember that they are "a great way off"] to get a robe and a ring.  Why would he do that?  Why not drag the boy through town in his stinky, pig-pen wardrobe so the depth of his humiliation would be indelibly impressed upon him.  He should be ashamed of what he has done shouldn't he?  But the father puts the best robe, a ring, and sandals on him first thing.  If he does this, no one will know what a loser this boy has been.  No one but he and the father will know...but wasn't that the point?  Like Joseph, he was a just man, not wanting to make a public example of the boy.  That's why I believe being just is being like God.  Here is a description Jesus gives us of His Father:
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who cures you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love whose who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Therefore you shall be perfect, just as you Father in heaven is perfect.

The father isn't interested in publicly humiliating those who have failed, and/or betrayed Him.  He isn't interested in you writing books about your dirty past, and he isn't certainly isn't interested in his children being vengeful and seeking to expose the failures of his other children to public scrutiny. God doesn't just love those who love Him.

Do the names Josef & Madga Goebbels mean anything to you?  They were friends of Adolph Hitler.  Think about that for a moment...even the poster boy for wickedness had friends...people he loved who loved him back.  Anyone can do that.  But not anyone can love those who hate them.  You see, that is, as the preacher said yesterday, the acid test of Christianity.  How do we treat those who mistreat us?

God doesn't want everyone to "get theirs", He wants everyone to come to repentance and be forgiven.  To be sure, if you refuse to repent of your sin, you are not like the prodigal, and a day of great humiliation awaits you.  But if you penitently come to the Father, he has a robe and a ring for you.  Joseph didn't want Mary to Taste the bitter anguish of her sin, he didn't want public vindication, he wanted to be like God.

So, what about you?  Are you just?  Are you minded to privately deal with the sins of others when those sins hurt you?  Or are you unjust, loving only those who love you, and seeking or expressing scorn and defamation to the reputation of those who wrong you?

Friday, October 5

When it's wrong to be All In

Through the last few months of his life, Justin and I talked a lot about being "All In" and in the end, I believe he was.  But not everything merits, or is even appropriate for, being all in.  The good things in life are the enemy of the best things in life.  So often, we get "all in" on the wrong stuff, and then there is not enough left for us to be "all in" on the stuff that really matters.  This is how I would categorize a few common things in life, in no particular order.

All in things:
Your marriage
Being a mom or dad
Learning God's Word
Being a fundamentally good person
Living [not wasting] your life
Providing for and protecting your family
Being a good friend
Fighting to remain alive [like Justin did against cancer]

Non-all in things
Football, NASCAR Races, or sports of any kind
Video Games, TV shows, books, movies, any entertainment
Making money
Clothing, toys [electronics & otherwise], any possessions
Seeking optimum health
Hobbies, Hunting, Fishing, Boating
Blogging or Facebook

Not that I have any objection to football, fishing, or facebook.  In fact, those are all good things, even important, in their place.  I have a college degree, a blog, a Samsung Nexus, and I just got home from a fishing trip to Lake Texoma with some great friends of mine [It wasn't a top notch week for fishing but the lake was beautiful and the company was refreshing.]  But if we get unfocused and end up all in on the good things, we won't be able to be all in on the best things.

So how about it,  are you All In on the important stuff and not all in on the rest, or do you need to do a little priority shuffling?

Wednesday, September 26

The House of Mourning

One year ago today Justin died.  Yes, there is still sorrow, and heaviness in my heart when I think of him.  It seems unfathomable that it has been over one year since I spoke with him.  It has been a roller coaster for me, and I have learned a lot about myself.  I want to share a few of those thoughts with you...the challenges, and what appears to me, right now, to be my take-away.

Sorrow - I cried at his funeral, as well as other times.  I don't know about everyone, but for me, what we call 'emotional pain' is more akin to heaviness.  It is like a very heavy weight
 inside my chest.  I guess that's why people say their 'heart hurts' when they lose someone.  It is not pain in the sense of slamming your finger in the car door, but it is pain, in a weird and yes, physical way, and I would be lying to deny that sometimes, very much today, I still feel it.
- Take away:  I do now understand those who sorrow, more than I did before.  Sorrow has made me more introspective.  Even though it is unpleasant, I do have a more realistic view of life...and death.  I know now that there is no earthly tonic for sorrow.  A vacation doesn't fix it.  A new smart phone won't dull it.  Holding a baby is about the best earthly pain killer there is for me.  But, I have found that I can have the joy of eternal hope, even in sorrow.

Help - I've always been the guy people come to for help, never the other way around.  As a result, I don't talk to others about my heartache, problems or struggles...I have felt like the answer man and the answer man doesn't need answers, he dispenses them.  That has gotten me into a heap of trouble a few times through the years.  Some stuff you just can't handle by yourself, 
you need to talk to someone else about it.  I ached for a long time about some of these things I'm sharing with you today without talking to anyone about it.  Thinking about 
talking to someone made me feel weak, and people around me don't need me to be weak, they need me to keep a stiff upper lip as they say.  That wasn't a good choice.  Then, when I did begin to try to talk about it some, I learned that almost everyone is more interested in their own problems, no matter how trivial, than they are in yours.  Thankfully God did bless me with a wife and a couple of friends who were not so self centered.
- Take away: When someone comes with a heartache or sorrow, listen to them.  Often all they need is someone to sorrow with them.  Don't think you have to have some magic answer to take away the heaviness, just share it with them.  And for goodness sake, don't be so self centered that you turn the conversation to some problem or heartache of your own.

Memories - Justin used to tell me that we are all just two generations away from no one remembering us.  I argued with him [as we often did with one another], after all, don't we still remember Abraham Lincoln?  Julius Caesar? Actually no.  No-one alive today actually remembers Abraham Lincoln.  We remember what we have learned about him, but no-one remembers him.  Justin was right, and that realization caused me to feel like I needed to remember him.  Just remember everything I could about the times we were together, on three continents, the night before his wedding, every detail, because so many of those memories are shared by no-one else, and if I lose them, they are gone forever.
- Take away:  I have learned that the only real value in memories is the blessing they are to you right now.  Memories are, like dreams, strangely personal.  No matter how hard I try to remember details about Justin, even if I were able to perfectly keep every memory vivid, when I die, those memories die with me. 
 Even writing them down doesn't help anyone else remember them.  So, when you do remember, just enjoy the moment, but don't torture yourself by trying to remember it all.  I think its wise to hold on to memories that comfort you, but you have to remind yourself that they are gone, and memories are not real life, they are just memories of life that used to be, and no longer is.

Death I got new glasses recently, and now, everything I see is seen through those new lenses.  They are progressive lenses [low power at the bottom, higher power as you go up] and what is weird about them is that they bring some things [what I am directly looking at] into focus, but they distort other things, and they don't really fix my vision, they just help me get by.  I got new glasses metaphorically when Justin died, and now, everything I see is seen through that lens...the lens of coming death.  I became acutely aware of my own 
impending death.  Not that it bothers me, really, but it is there.  I expect death.  I'm not often surprised to hear of death, even untimely death, but I didn't often think about my own impending death.  Now I do, pretty often.
-Take away:  Like my progressives, the new glasses of keen death awareness bring some things into much clearer focus, but they also distorts some things.  One distortion is joy which I'll talk about next, I'm sure there are others that I'm not yet aware of.  As to the clearer focus, I am going to die, and just as sure as you are reading this you are going to die too.  So what will we do about it?  I'm choosing to be All In with Jesus Christ.  He is the only one who ever beat death.  He's the only hope I have of beating death.  Justin believed that, and so do I.

Joy - Death is a joy-sucker.  Not just at the moment, but for the long haul.  The biggest challenge for me has been the failure of joy to overcome the heaviness of death.  Do you remember in the Wizard of OZ when the wizard said "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain"?  But once they had seen him, they knew the magic of the wizard wasn't real.  I have known, and believed, for years that there is a man behind the curtain, but when Justin died I saw the man behind the curtain.  His name is death, and he is coming.  That is a real joy-killer.  For a while, I allowed him to rob me.  Sure Christmas time is fun; gifts, songs, family...but we are all going to die.  A birthday party is great; love the cake, candle's and balloons, but we are still going to die.  Great meal tonight honey, but we are going to die.  It taints everything.  Life is irrelevant.  It becomes a brief moment of smiles and tears, then it's over.  I felt myself becoming an existentialist.  It's really very depressing.
-Take away: When I finally did talk about this, a dear friend recommended I read Ecclesiastes.  I don't know if you are familiar with Ecclesiastes, but my wife didn't think that was such a good idea.  Solomon makes a pretty strong case for existentialism.  But I took his advice, and found it strangely comforting.  I'd found a com-padre in my emptiness, and he was far beyond me.  Not only is life vanity [worthless] to Solomon, but it is Vanity of Vanities.  He confirmed that life it totally meaningless.  Whatever you build will someday crumble, what you earn will be spent, what you accomplish will fade away or be eclipsed.  Then, to top it all off, people won't remember you.  Nothing in life is worthwhile.  Then, at the end, the wise man gave me the answer.  Serve God, keep His commands.  That glorifies my creator, and that gives everything meaning.  What a shocking turn around, every little detail in life goes from worthless to worthwhile.

Over-reaction - I have become an over-reactor.  I don't know why, I don't think I've always had a propensity toward that, at least not that I'm aware of.  I have tended to make mountains out of molehills, but I've seen in myself a tendency over this last year, to just react, almost out of instinct, to what happens around me instead of thoughtfully responding.  I'm not sure why.  Justin was so cerebral that one struggle he had was trying to reason himself to a solution to the Pancreatic Cancer, and the despair that comes from facing something you can't out think.  We talked about that quite a bit.  Maybe I've just internalized that.
-Take away:  My dad told me one time that as we get older, we don't get better, we just get more of what we always were.  That is a sobering thought to me and motivates me to know that my struggle against weakness, failure, sinfulness, will not end in this life.  There isn't going to be that A-ha moment when it all clears up and everything gets easy...not until death.  We are in a war, a very real, spiritual war, and we are constantly under attack.  We must be constantly fortifying ourselves; the enemy is an expert at exploiting the cracks in our defenses...even weaknesses we don't know exist.

Change - I would love to be able to tell you that all of these realizations changed me in some fundamentally positive way.  That I'm not impatient with my children anymore because I realize I could lose them and they will lose me.  That I don't argue with my wife over petty things because my heart is set on things above and not things on this earth.  
That I'm more conscientious about returning phone calls, answering email, and just keeping in touch because I understand the fundamental need we all have for relationship.  That my sermons are somehow more insightful, more spiritual, more convicting and effective because of the angst of my soul.  But the sad truth is that I'm still the same old me.  
-Take away: I have learned that the death of a friend, though it touches you to the core, exposes who you are, it doesn't change who you are...only the death of Jesus can do that.

After he found out that he had cancer, and that it was really bad, Justin was asked to come preach in his home congregation.  Leading up to that, he told me "I know that lots of people will come just to see if I look different, and they will expect me to have some deep insight because of what I've been going through...I don't know what I'm going to say, I just don't have anything profound to tell them..."  When he went and preached, late that night the phone rang.  "So what did you tell them?", I asked.  "I just preached the gospel", he said.  "The same story I've been preaching for 30 years."  I guess that's all there is to say.  In the final analysis, Justin bet his soul on that too.

Better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that is the end of all men;
And the living will take it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
For by a sad countenance the heart is made better.
The heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

Thursday, June 2

Should I Double Down…or Go All In?

Michael has asked me to be a guest writer on his blog. I have never considered myself a writer, but perhaps you can gain something from my effort.

In case you don’t know me, my name is Justin Springer. I am an evangelist with the church of Christ. I have known and worked with Michael for nearly 30 years. On Christmas Day, 2010 I found out that I had stage four pancreatic cancer which has spread to my liver. I have undergone two chemo protocols which have not worked. I am currently on my third regimen and pray this one will work.

I was recently reading the book Decision Points by George W. Bush. In deciding to go forth with the unpopular surge of troops in Iraq, President Bush commented to one of his aides that he guessed they were going to “double down”. His aide said that it was closer to being “all in”. There is a big difference between “doubling down” and being “all in”. When you double down you are taking a risk by doubling your original bet. When you go all in, however, you are in a sense betting it all. It is all or nothing.

When I found out that I had cancer I, of course, immediately began to think about end of life scenarios. What will it be like when I breathe my last breath? Am I ready to meet God? Is my faith strong enough? Have I done enough?

My initial reaction was to examine my past life. I would go back to try and justify my sins. That I had made mistakes in my life was obvious. I at first tried to minimize my transgressions and then I tried to figure out a way to change the effect of those mistakes. I decided to “double down”. I was going to live such an exemplary life that I could overcome any mistakes I made in the past.

As a preacher I know this is not the biblical method. God wants us to strive for a high calling. God asks us to attempt to reach His glory, perfection. He knows that we are incapable of attaining that perfection so He sent Jesus to die for us so that through Him we could become righteous when we fail to attain His glory. We must live by faith, meaning that we must trust God to resolve the gap between His perfection and our inadequacies.

But when you are the one facing the dilemma it seems different somehow. When I was a child I would often have to get up and go to the bathroom. Unfortunately my brother liked to close our bedroom door. I would get up in the middle of the night and stand at the door. My brother and mother would both tell me that there was nothing beyond the door. I knew this was probably the case, but I was the one having to open the door. My need to go to the bathroom would eventually overcome my fears and I would open the door. Guess what? Nothing but a hallway was on the other side.

When I think about death I liken it to a door. What is on the other side? None of us have ever been there. Jesus, who has been on both sides, so to speak, has tried to comfort us. He told us that there is nothing to fear. He stated that in His Father’s house are mansions of glory, a heavenly home not made with hands, a place with no tears and no death, and a home with Him for all eternity. Who would not want to go to that place? Why would we not want to fling open the door?

And yet, here I stood facing the door and not wanting to open it. What was wrong with me? I was trying to “double down”. It takes faith to do that, but not enough. It takes tremendous faith to be “all in”. You see, if you are not all in then you really aren’t in at all. It is all or nothing. Doubling, tripling, or for that matter, quadrupling down is not enough. You can’t change the past and you won’t be perfect in the future. You need to depend on Him. You must be all in. That is the faith I want to live by.

Please pray for me that as I stand at the door, be that in the near or distant future, I have the courage to be all in. In fact, since we don’t know when we cross that threshold let us all be ready to take that walk. We need to have enough faith to be ready to go all or nothing. May we be ALL IN for Him.

ADDENDUM: September 26th, 2011: My friend, Justin Springer, no longer stands looking at the door. He now knows what is on the other side as he has passed from this life. And here I stand, missing my friend, looking at the door...knowing more than ever what "all in" means. Thank you Justin.

Saturday, March 19

Blood, Brains & Bulletholes

"There were 5 Allied Offensive’s in Europe during WWII. I flew in all 5.” He began as he spanned the miles and the years as though they were but a moment and right next door. Today I was privileged to spend some time with 87 year old, WWII Veteran Joe Gibson in his apartment at the Assisted Living Center that he now calls home. The Southern Alabama accent is dignified and thick. He walks with a hand carved spiral Hickory cane with a deer hoof for a handle…and no, you’ve probably never heard of him, but I’ll probably never forget him. He carries his aging, and hurting, 6 foot something frame with a grace and nobility befitting a cultured southern gentleman. When I asked if I could have my picture taken with him he responded that he would be honored to have his picture taken with me…his picture taken with me…but I digress, for this story is about the unexpected results, and the unforeseeable ripples across space and time that come from someone being all in. I didn’t have a recorder running, so unless you get to visit with Joe and hear the story yourself before he passes away, you’ll just have to take my word for it. Here is the story he told me…

I was a crew chief on the ground, and an engineer in the air. We flew personnel carriers, dropped paratroopers, in all 5 offensives, yes, Normandy too. I never was trained to be a navigator, I would have liked to though. I learned how to do it well enough, even learned how to fly a plane, without ever going to flight school, I spent so much time up in one; it’s really not that difficult, anyone could do it. The good Navigators could tell us where we were and set a course for us just from looking at the stars, I never was that good. I was a Navigator for the replacement pilots they sent, the really young ones…we lost so many pilots…they couldn’t go on missions until they had some experience in the planes in Europe so I would navigate for the new guys on training missions. Those poor guys, they were scared to death. Did you know there is an airfield on top of the Rock of Gibraltar? I landed there one time. You know, when you’re in something like that, flying over enemy territory, on all those missions…we flew at night you know…but when
 you do that, you always wonder what you would do if you got shot down. I always wondered, would I be able to stand up to the torture without cracking? Would I be able to take it, or would I turn against my country?

He spoke quietly, with intensity. “You know, three of my buddies got shot down. They were in another plane, they got shot down, and they were captured by the Germans. I didn’t know what they would do to them. After they had them a while, they put them in front of the firing squad. They lined them up in front of a wall that was splattered with blood, brains and bullet holes. There were parts of the bodies of dead American Soldiers there. The Germans offered them a US Cigarette, and they said ‘no’. Then they offered them a candy bar, and they said ‘no’. So the German commander told his firing squad to shoot them. Just then a Major came in and said “let me speak to these men…” He was able to negotiate their release. They did it. They stood up to the Germans, they didn’t lose their nerve, they refused to turn against the United States, and when I learned that, I knew I could do it too. After that, I never doubted that I would crumble under torture; I never doubted that I would die before I would turn against my country. It gave me courage to know they did it, and if they could do it I could do it too.”

He got courage to be all in because his buddies were willing to pay the ultimate price to be all in before him. He was en-couraged by their courage. And you know what else? I was en-couraged by their courage too, just because he chose to spend 20 minutes of what life he has left to tell me the story…and then connect the dots for me. Think about that for a moment, almost seventy years ago, three young soldiers refused a cigarette, a candy bar, and a Nazi offer to spare their lives in a courtyard in Germany. A courtyard covered with the blood, brains, and bullet holes of those who did the same before them. And now, nearly seventy years later, and 8000 miles away, a 47 year old preacher they would never know existed was encouraged by their choice to be all in. Does it do that for you? Or are you too cynical? That’s what I want you to consider today…that your decision to be all in affects far more people than you can ever imagine. Just like the negative overspray from your life gets on others, your cowardice or courage either en-courages others, or dis-courages others…lots of others…even others you will never know existed.

Paul knew this. [No surprise there.] He told some first century Hebrew Christians, who were thinking about taking Satan’s offer…to turn their back on Christ, become a traitor in trade for deliverance from persecution…He told them:

Seeing that you are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,
run with patience the race that is set before you...

What witnesses? The one’s he had just finished telling the stories of. Hebrews 11 is the All In Hall of Fame: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, Barach, Samson, those who defeated armies in the name of God, received their dead brought back to life again; and those who were beaten, sawn in pieces, tortured, etc…These all stand as witnesses that the race is worth the running. The life is worth the living. And yes, the death is worth the dying. It gave Paul courage [He was later murdered because he was a Christian], and he knew it would give us courage too.

So, I guess this leaves me asking whether my 'all in' life will encourage or my 'not all in' life will discourage others. Oh, yeah, and what about you?

Friday, March 11

I am not that kind of coach

I am not a least not that kind of coach. I do have a jersey that says Coach from being an assistant for my son's baseball team. [Not one of my more successful ventures, record wise, however we did get some good, fun, father-son time so it wasn't a complete loss.] But I have absolutely nothing in common with successful coaching legends in any division of organized sports: Tom Landry - Football, Phil Jackson - Basketball, G.A. Moore - H.S. Football, Gordon May - Baseball.

However, I think that all these great coaches do have one thing in common with us lesser coaches. All coaches that I've ever known, spend much of their time trying to convince their players that Football, Volleyball or [fill in with your sport of preference] is an all in kind of thing. The great ones are just better at it than the rest of us.
They do that for at least a couple of reasons. We've all seen a skilled athlete who is all in. Pele? Nadia Comaneci? Michael Jordan? They are the reason that we are a nation, no, a world of sports fans. We all marvel at and aspire to the accomplishments of that special athlete whose image adorns the Wheaties box and stares at you from the walls of your favorite store in the mall.

We've also been inspired by someone with limited skill, who, because they were all in accomplished much more than anyone could have expected. Often they are immortalized in books or movies because their story inspires us to think that maybe, just maybe, if put in the right circumstance, we too would have been all in just the way he was. But like all things positive, there is an equal and opposite negative.

We've all seen someone with unmatched skill who isn't all in.
Anyone remember Marcus Dupree? Yeah, if it weren't for an ESPN 30 for 30 special neither would I, yet he was one of the most gifted, special athletes to ever play football. We have a term for someone like that, someone with so much potential, who just never seems to make anything of the great gifts they've been given...A bust, that's the guy that everyone wants to avoid on draft day. There may be many reasons for a gifted athlete to become a bust, but one of the most common is the failure to commit. He [or she], despite their considerable physical skills, just isn't all in. They don't work hard, they don't practice hard, they take plays off, they loaf...half-hearted effort.

So every coach [great and not so great] wants Pele or Rudy, not John Daly right? [Oh, I know there is always a coach who will take a chance on Ryan Leaf or Ricky Williams, but it is exactly that, taking a chance.]
Well I told you I'm not a sports coach, but I am a coach of sorts. I spend much of my time coaching people in life through preaching and counseling, and in doing that, I've come to the conclusion that most p
eople have problems in life because they aren't all in. They give a half-hearted effort at loving their spouse, disciplining their children, quitting tobacco, alcohol, or porn, forgiving their offender, unity in their church, supporting their family... They kind of try, then, when they don't experience the success that those who give it their all experience, they quit. They run for the sideline instead of turning up the field.

When I am doing my life coaching thing, guess what? I'm looking for Pele or Rudy too, or at least that one simple characteristic that they share; that all in mentality, that commitment that won't quit, that will to give all they've got, against all odds, in spite of all disadvantages. Rudy couldn't be Pele, but he could be the best version of Rudy he could be. I don't know your personal skills, but I do know that you can be the best version of you, or you can be a half-hearted caricature of you. Your coach wants that, your wife needs that, your kids depend on that, your church asks for that.

Andrew didn't need to be Simon Peter, he just needed to be the best version of Andrew that he could be. That won't happen if you run with Loser's limp. Live your life...give it all you've got. Forget the failures of your past, we all have them, even Michael Jordan had them. Listen to what he said:
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life."
He's not the first guy to say something like that. Way back, about 2000 years ago, a guy who had everything, made some terrible choices, and woke up one day as the enemy of God, later in his life said this:
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:13-14
So are you all in? You'll never know what you could have done until you are.