OCT 10, 2018 Devotional: “Organizing My Spiritual Golf Bag”

I’ve talked a lot about my golf passion several times on past devotionals.  And, keeping along those lines, my devotional this week might cause some of my fellow golfers to look at their golf game a little differently going forward.  More specifically, you might look at your golf bag differently after reading this week’s message.

I recently purchased a new Sun Mountain 4.5 14-way stand bag.  Now if that’s “greek” to you….let me spell it out in plain English.  It’s a golf bag, that weighs around 4.5 pounds (empty), can stand on the ground with legs that pop out when pressure is applied to the bottom of the bag, and there are 14 individual holes for the maximum allowable golf clubs (also fourteen).  My closest friends will not be surprised that I wanted a bag with those individual holes.  I’m super organized, and am a firm believer that everything (in life) needs to go back in its rightful place after use.  Pull the club out, swing at the golf ball, put the club back into its hole….move forward and get ready for the next shot.

All of this brings me to the point of this week’s devotional.  I did some research on Google, and even asked one of my golf pro friends, Rob Harner, how to best organize my clubs into the 14 holes.  Should I put the shorter clubs, the “wedges” near the bottom?  Should I put the longer clubs (the driver and woods) near the top?  Where’s the best spot for my putter?

After over-researching those questions, I was left to the conclusion that it’s another of life’s first world problems that really comes down to personal preference!

I did find some parallels in organizing my bag last night, to how I organize my spiritual life.  Bear with me as I walk you through this!

Let’s start at the bottom of the grid where into the line of three holes, I’ve placed my wedges: a 50-degree, a-56-degree, and a 60-degree wedge.  These three clubs are essential to my short game, but the toughest (lately) for me to master.  These represent my family at home; wife and two sons.  Often neglected during my practice time on the range, but often times I come to the realization on the actual golf course, how important these “wedges” are to me.  And because they’re at the bottom, I find myself looking at them first when walking up to my golf bag.  Another reminder to always put those three important people as paramount every day.

Next, above the row of three wedges, is a row of four holes.  Beginning with the three holes from the right, I have three irons; 7 iron, 8 iron, and 9 iron.  These three are always together and get a lot of use during my golf game.  These represent my extended family; my daughter, my parents and in-laws, and my siblings.  A swing coach once told me that when I use these three clubs, 7-iron, 8-iron, 9-iron, that my swing needs to be more compact; tight follow through; stand a little closer to the ball.  So true is it with the people represented by these three…..especially “standing a little closer”…..

There’s a fourth hole to the far left on that second row that I reserve for my putter.  Now, the putter is unlike any other club in the bag.  Not paired with any other wedges or irons.  And typically the putter serves a singular purpose.  Now, I have seen some that will “putt from way off the green”, but it’s still a “putt”.  Little room for error.  When I putt the ball, I step back, line up my shot, look at the way the green is flowing along the projected path and make a judgement on the velocity the ball needs to take to the hole.  The putter in my bag represents “me”, oddly enough.  The putter reminds me to have focus, address the things that might cause me to fall off that path, and understand what it takes to get there in a timely manner.

The next row up similarly has 4 holes.  And just as the previous row, I keep another set of three irons and another specialty club.  The three irons are the 4, 5 and 6.  These three, also kept together, represent my distant friends, such as former work colleagues and college classmates.  Honestly, I don’t use these clubs much, but when I pull them out of the bag, it’s usually one of those times where I really need something.  How many of you have life-long friends you don’t speak to much, but you can pick up the phone and call them in a pinch?  With so much going on in my life, it’s hard to stay in touch with this group.  But, I know they are there for me, and me for them as well.

The specialty club is my Hybrid.  For me, I use my Hybrid club in many, many situations.  Sometimes, if the ground is soggy near the green and I’m in a situation that would normally call for one of the wedges, I’ll instead pull out the Hybrid and use a well-calculated putting stroke with that specialty club.  Or, in other situations, I’ll pull out the Hybrid to hit the ball a little longer than I think I can with an iron.  My Hybrid club is represented by Jesus in my life.  I need Him in certain, key situations.  That Hybrid is “reliable” more than other clubs in my bag.  And I realized that I need Jesus in all aspects of my life for reliability; for accountability.  Like this club, Jesus is universal and has a role all around the golf course.  For us, too, Jesus has a role in all aspects of our lives.  It’s up to us when we choose to invite Him into “play”.

The final row at the top is just three holes.  To the far left and far right, I have two 3 wood clubs…..yes, two of the same type club but they have different loft angles. Arguably, these clubs are practically the same and I tend to use one or the other without rhyme or reason.  These two represent my Christian faith; one that I display at Home and one that I display at Work.  That display is basically the same, but different environments.  In my professional career, I’ve learned how to be a leader of strong character just as I should be at home (and in my community).  I never want to be two different individuals.  I want to be mostly interchangeable.  This is what I think about when I see the two 3 woods in my bag.

Lastly, in the center of the top row is the Driver.  The “big daddy” of the golf bag.  So might say, the most important club in the game.  When uses correctly, it packs the most power.  And when aligned, it makes the ball sail straight down the fairway.  My Driver is God in my life.  Do I need any further explanation on this one?  Hopefully not!

My prayer this week is that not just the golfers in our lives, but all of us, can look at the people and things around us that help us walk the Christian faith.  As is true in golf, my prayer continues to be for straighter “drives” off the tee-box, selecting the correct tools when we get into trouble along the course, and smooth greens that always remind us of the greener pastures of Psalm 23.

Amen!

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SEPT 5, 2014 Devotional: “Are you a corporate leader, comforter, and pastor?”

Here in Charlotte, I lead a group of about 30 software quality assurance testers for one of the city’s national banks.  And my team is fairly evenly split; half work here in North Carolina and the remainder work in Bangalore, India.  In the corporate sense, this is referred to as “on-shore” and “off-shore” labor.  For me, however, they are all ONE team.  They’re my team and I am their leader.

Leadership, as my college alma mater taught me, comes in many shapes and sizes.  The most significant type of leadership to me has always been “reverent leadership”; by definition, reverent leadership (or power) is gained by a leader who has strong interpersonal relationship skills. Referent power, as an aspect of personal power, becomes particularly important as organizational leadership is increasingly about collaboration and influence rather than command and control.  For me, reverent leadership has never been about being “liked” so much as it’s being respected and being the type of leader that others would follow without question.

Pat yourself on the back if this is the type of leader you are….or aspire to be!  I have my bad days as a manager, but (hopefully) on a majority of the good days, my team would agree that I resemble most of the reverent leadership traits.

“Leadership” also brings its share of responsibility.  Remember the old saying, “to that which much is given, much is expected”.

Sound familiar?  Jesus told a parable in Luke 12:48 about a servant who was given a lot of responsibility and much was expected in return.  I believe in a corporate sense today, much is expected from those who are responsible for the lives and welfare of those working subordinate to us.  And, also in a corporate sense, this is typically defined as making sure the work gets done, by the appropriate skilled individuals, that they are paid appropriately for the work they do, and ensure the greater good of the team is paramount above all…..so long as the organization’s bottom line is profitable.

But what does this parable say to us in a Biblical sense?

I learned a little more about this recently when tragedy struck my close-nit team.  One of the Charlotte team members, died suddenly and unexpectedly.  Though I will go on record saying I do not have “favorites” on my team, this particular individual was quite special.  His personality and demeanor, often times a little abrupt with his northern, Brooklyn accent, represented the core character of the entire team.  Always the first into the office, he was my go-to guy when I needed to get a pulse of the team.  He would willingly tell me where I had gaps and respectfully offer recommendations.

He was the first to tell me about a new coffee shop opening in Uptown.  Or share any rumors of new restaurants.

And he had a certain sense about the others on the team.  While he was quick to put dissention in its place, he was just as quick to offer up someone else’s good deeds ahead of his own.  A true team player.

I miss him dearly….and that’s not something that’s shared often in our corporate settings.

When I got the news of his passing, I shifted quickly into the mode that was shaped from my military training.:  “Focus the team on what needs to happen; continue the mission; adapt where necessary; don’t spend a lot of time on the softer side of what’s happening, else we lose any momentum towards the goal at hand.”

My tester had been uncharacteristicly missing from work and as I worked with Charlotte police for several days, jointly we put some pieces together, which ultimately allowed them to discover him passed away in his home.  Upon confirming the news I had thought might be the outcome, I assembled my team, informed them of the news, and put together an email message for a broader audience that included executives from the bank.  I began assisting police on how to contact the next of kin.  And, for me, I kept myself busy for several days, even weeks, as if to stay ahead of the personal grief that would eventually surface.

Corporate America doesn’t always prepare us for what should be the more compassionate response.  But God does.  Where much is given, and where much is expected.  I faced many team members and other co-workers who cried at the news of his passing.  I met with the mother of my employee after she and one of her other sons traveled to Charlotte from Brooklyn.  What was I to say?  What was my role in all of this?

Could I share tears in front of my co-workers?  Could I offer an embrace to ease someone’s pain?  Would either of these be perceived as weakness from someone who’s supposed to be a leader?

Recall Jesus openly weeping over the loss of his dear friend, Lazarus in John 11:35.

Leader….yes.  Comforter…..huh?  Pastor…..no way!

Leader, comforter, and pastor…..yes, in the immediate days that followed, and continuing still a month since his passing.

Not a day has gone by since “Jimmie” suddenly departed that I haven’t thought about him while driving into Uptown.  I’ve even reached for my phone a few times getting ready to text him asking, “are there any surprises I need to know about today?…..”

I believe the lesson in this untimeliness is the leaning back on our spiritual muscle memory.  I could not have predicted any of this would happen to me….nor could I have promised how I would respond.  I can only be thankful that God has prepared me, and with His grace, I was able to be leader….comforter….and pastor…to a grieving team, a heart-broken family, and the empty pit in my own heart.  There are no other explanations than to be thankful for a loving God that has carried me once again through some difficult times.

If you can relate to the story of my past several weeks, then I hope you can also relate to God’s grace in our lives.  My prayer today is that we will always have a loving Father to show us how to lead, how to comfort, and, most importantly, how to pastor those who need that simple kindness in our broken world.

Amen!

 

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JUN 6, 2018 Devotional: “Praying for Birdies”

For this morning’s run, I had one of my favorite baseball caps on my head….turned around backwards, of course, to be more aerodynamic!  Didn’t help much, but today’s specific cap was more to emphasize my theme for the devotional….a “golfing” one.  The cap was a green Augusta Masters trucker-style cap.

If you’ve been around me more than 15 minutes this past year, then you’ll agree that one of my new passions is golf.  I try to play it as much as possible, but there’s work, family obligations, community involvement, tending to my chickens…..I live a fairly busy life!  But most weekends, I am on the golf course playing.  It’s created a whole new network of friends that rarely overlaps with some of the other circles I play in traditionally.  Not to say that any one group is better than the other.  Simply different pools.

And my endurance within golf is increasing.  I started out only playing 9 holes at a time.  Now, I’m able to swing the clubs 18 holes without much thought!

In our family, my brother-in-law, Kermit Murphy, carries our golfing banner.  He’s our resident “family champion” having played in college and also a VERY frequent participant in local tournaments and outings.  Safe to say it will take me years or even a lifetime to reach Kermit’s skill level.  But, still, I try and try … and it’s certainly a focus of mine.

But my focus, physically, rarely extends beyond the weekend.  Sure, there are days when I can play a quick 9 after work.  Mostly, its weekends on the links.

So, like most things in life, only swinging the golf clubs once or twice a week, also affects my performance.  While my stroke handicap has gone down…..generally a “good” thing…..my overall game is relatively stagnant.  I was thinking this week about my Christian life as well.  If I’m only a “good” Christian on Sunday mornings when we attend church services, could the same be said about that side of my religious life similarly being “stagnant”?  How many of you might say the same?

Much has been argued over the years about who are the better Christians.  Is it the group of individuals who we see in the pews regularly, singing all the hymns?  Surely they are the most pious of all.  Or, rather, could it be those who are more spiritual in their daily lives, focusing on their families, friends, and work colleagues?

In his book, “Jesus Outside the Lines“, the Rev. Scott Sauls tackles this point in one of the chapters that he’s labeled…”Hypocrite or Work in Progress”.  Sauls relays a famous quote from Mahatma Ghandi when asked why he chose to be a Hindu instead of a Christian.  Ghandi said, “I love your Christ.  I don’t like your Christians.”

Wow.  Pretty harsh stuff but maybe worth some introspection for all of us, even still today.  Ghandi’s observations seemed to indicate that the Christians he knew seemed more focused on materialism over service; richness over charity.  Famously, there’s another story about Ghandi where he was asked why he would use the pencil all the way down to the nub.  “I don’t want to offend the pencil maker”, he replied.

Let me reel this back into the boat before I get to far down a tangent.  I think Ghandi’s example for us is that living a Christian life is an every day thing….not just something we do on Sunday mornings.  We live busy lives….and I don’t want to be a hypocrite either.  You want your golf game to improve?  Spend some time on the practice range?  You wanna be more satisfied in your spiritual “game”….look for opportunities throughout the week to be thankful, be service oriented, love one another, and build on that relationship with our heavenly father.

My good friend and frequent Charlotte golfing buddy, Brandon Lawn, has a trucker cap he wears from time to time that’s labeled “Pray for Birdies”…. And for my non-golfing friends, the hat talks about aspirations of shooting one-under-par (a birdie).  Aside from Brandon’s lighthearted nature, the hat does point out that, in golf, there’s plenty of room for prayers.  And, more importantly, in our lives, there’s always more room for that as well.

My prayer this week is that in our lives, the fairways are wide, the greens are flat, our drives off the tee are perfectly straight….and our Christian efforts, too, are always focused on living well under par!  Work in progress, indeed! 

Amen!

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May 9, 2018 Devotional: “We All Need a Little Fortnite in Our Lives!”

If you’re the parent of a middle-schooler or high-schooler, especially boys, then you undoubtedly know about the “free” video game called “Fortnite” that’s sweeping the country….literally!  “Free” to download to your child’s Xbox, iPhone, iPad, etc….but certainly not free from the headaches that will ensue.  Trust me, from personal experience and the many stories from fellow parents, this Fortnite has been a nightmare!

According to a recent article in the New York Times, Fortnite generated $223 million in March 2018 alone, mostly attributed to V-bucks which is a currency that players can purchase to buy things like “skins” (ie. character uniforms) and other cosmetic items.  Fortnite is also one of the latest trends of social experimentation where players can play along side friends in virtual settings while communicating via headsets, Facetime, alerting other players about upcoming threats in a particular game, coordinate strategy, or even talk “smack” to one another.  Believe me, if you’ve heard the screaming of “give me bandages” from your living room during a son’s game, then you know what I’m referring to!

Another positive is that while the game does involve shooting weapons, the graphics are free from blood and gore, unlike another video game series, Call of Duty, which was just the opposite.  Lastly, there’s research to confirm that action video games cultivate spatial skills needed in advanced math and engineering.  Maybe I should have played more video games before “Plebe” math at West Point?

With all these positives, how can Fortnite be bad, you might be asking?

One word….”addiction”.

Just the word alone conjures up images of someone who’s lost control and cannot make decisions without some assistance, either it be counseling, prescriptions, or going “cold turkey” altogether.  There are stealth habit-forming features in this new game such as the element of “luck” that, by human nature, keep players coming back for more.  Players need that “hit” or the “high” or the “rush” with the belief that good fortune is just around the corner.

That same NYT’s article explains the adrenaline rush that comes if you almost win.  Players will feel like they have to play again to try and overcome that near win scenario.

My wife and I have found ourselves struggling for ways to apply some controls around these video game sessions.  There are days, especially on the weekends, where our living room if filled with a half dozen boys.  I’ve seen some pictures of multiple monitors and devices where teens are playing Fortnite.  Recently, we purchased an Eeros system for our home which creates a “network mesh” for our WiFi.  Every device on the home wifi network has a profile to which a schedule can be applied.  So, the boys’ Xbox is one profile and during the school nights, the Eeros system will shut down the Xbox from the network between 5:30 pm until 6:30 am the next day.

We have another schedule on the weekends where the Xbox shuts down between 10 am and 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Ingenious?  Maybe….but even the Eeros as a means of our sanity has created an uproar from our two sons.

“What are we supposed to do until 3 o’clock on a Saturday,” was one response from our oldest son when we were explaining the rules one evening.  It was a literal melt-down.  As a parent who was himself raised doing chores around the home on weekends, and mowing lawns around the neighborhood to earn some extra spending cash, the “what are we supposed to do” response did not sit well with me.  A conversation about responsibilities around the home quickly followed.

Now I’m not writing today to say we have it all figured out.  In fact, it’s just the contrary.  We are still struggling.  And many of you are too.

What are the “Fortnites” in your lives?  For me, it’s my aspiring love of playing golf.  I’ll have a terrible round and I’m ready to throw away my clubs, but then magically, I’ll hit an amazing drive straight down the middle of the 18th fairway, and I’ll turn to a playing partner to say, “Man, I love this game!” or “Isn’t golf easy….?”.

Some might call that my addiction.  There’s an element of the “rush” or “hit” in my golf game too, isn’t there?

Addictions are not always the historical ones of drugs, alcohol, or other vices.  We live in a new age where everything in excess can become addictive.

There’s a biblical message for all of us, especially as it relates to Fortnite.  The video game, although caustic as times, has become a focal point for conversations.  I’ve learned to be a little more patient.  Learned to keep to my word as it relates to the Eeros schedule.  And I think we’re talking more as a family.

We’re learning to tackle problems head-on instead of festering in a back bedroom.  There are fewer slamming doors, fewer shouting matches, and, thank God, we actually have some quieter times in the evening after 5:30 pm.

Funny or not, I find myself talking to God on a daily basis….”Lord, just help me through this final 30 minutes of hearing Fortnite in the other room…!”

And the boys, well….they’re coming around too.  Amazingly, our youngest doesn’t treat the kitchen as his personal diner anymore, demanding anything and everything on the menu…..And I’ve even witnessed him wiping down the kitchen island with a damp sponge after taking his plate to the sink now.  Progress!

If there is a “Fortnite” in your household, consider yourself lucky.  Really….lucky.  Embrace it.  Monitor it.  Keep it in check.  Use it as a focal point to bring the family together rather than tearing it apart.

I’m learning.  And I know you can too!

Amen!

 

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MAR 28, 2018 Devotional: “The Legacy of Easter”

There are many thoughts we might have about the season of Easter.  Perhaps, it’s the end of 40 days of Lenten fasting.  What did you give up this year?  Or perhaps, it’s the vision of a stone rolled away, an empty tomb and an angel saying, “He’s not here….He has risen…”.  Or maybe, perhaps, it’s a long walk down a dusty road with a stranger who finally says something you remember….and poof… He’s gone.

All interesting yet positive thoughts, right?

What if I took you down a different path of Easter memories?  What about the betrayal in the garden?  What about the group’s leader who denies any knowledge of the Christ, three times over?  Or the brutal crucification?  Need we say more?

Right or wrong….good or bad, there’s a legacy that comes from the Easter story?  A legacy….you know….something that makes a mark, takes a stand, and postures itself for the future.  That’s my definition.

Here’s another definition I found from a blogger’s quote:

“Legacy is about life and living. It’s about learning from the past, living in the present, and building for the future.

Where do you think it’s best to plant a young tree: a clearing in an old-growth forest or an open field? Ecologists tell us that a young tree grows better when it’s planted in an area with older trees. The reason, it seems, is that the roots of the young tree are able to follow the pathways created by former trees and implant themselves more deeply. Over time, the roots of many trees may actually graft themselves to one another, creating an intricate, interdependent foundation hidden under the ground. In this way, stronger trees share resources with weaker ones so that the whole forest becomes healthier. That’s legacy: an interconnection across time, with a need for those who have come before us and a responsibility to those who come after us.”

Susan V. Bosak, Legacy Project

I’ve come to realize over the years that Easter is all of those things I mentioned above, but more importantly it’s the fulfillment that Christ said He was going to do.  For those who followed and listened to His teachings, the Easter resurrection story is about the legacy Jesus set forth from the start of His ministry.

The deck was certainly stacked against any prospects of Jesus laying the groundwork for a legacy, however, especially during those final days.  Pontius Pilate, who served loyally under the Roman Emperor, Tiberius, could find nothing gravely wrong with Jesus that merited the outcomes that would ensure.  Still, the crowds yelled, “Give us Barbarous…” and “Crucify Him….”.  Rome was going to make a statement at Jesus’ expense.  The sign at the base of Christ’s crucification read, “Here is your king….”, a certainly mockery to the Jewish people, reminding them that any rebellion against the Empire would be struck down, and struck down in a bloody, cruel manner.

Disciples scattered.  There was no legacy forming.  No preaching Christ’s word.

They hid in an upper room.  Locked the doors.  Feared for their lives.

No learning from the past.  No living in the present.  And certainly, no building for the future.

But….Christ came (and comes) during the darkest hours.  And when still those doubted, He showed them the physical pains and scars of His earthly disposal.

If we’ve learned nothing more from our Savior’s story, it’s the message that God has plans on a much grander scale than we can ever imagine.  His plans can overcome our short-mindedness of how the story….the legacy….could and would unfold.

Last week, I was fortunate to attend a men’s prayer breakfast where the keynote speaker, Bishop Claude Alexander, energized the gathering of just under 250 men.  Claude right out of the gate started his sermon by talking about the disciples.  Now, as many of you know from earlier messages, I have just recently finished a study following the book, “12 Ordinary Men”, which chronicles the lives of the apostles as twelve “no-bodies” who became “somebodies”.  I looked over my shoulder and smiled at one of my Friday morning fellowship brothers as Claude was sharing a story about Peter and James, two opposites in personalities, but together carried out Christ’s message.

Claude reminded the gathering that all mentions of the apostles in the Bible are made by suggesting at least two or more were working together.  And you know there’s only one place in the Bible where a single apostle is mentioned alone; the story of Judas Iscariot.  Left alone, this Judas neglected his beliefs, and soon betrayed Jesus.  Claude reminded us that “left alone, we can all fall prey to the devil”.

So how was the legacy of Jesus carried out …. and prospered?  Not alone, but in pairs, in groups, and teams of disciples.  In this way, our earthly doubts of the Easter legacy, continue to connect with God’s heavenly promises.

Claude used one more example that will sit with me for a long time.  Redwood trees….. you know, huge enormous 300 foot tall trees with massive trunks?  You might think they have deep, deep root structures.  “Not so fast”, said Bishop Claude.  Instead, these massive trees have shallow roots that barely extend down below six feet in the ground.  So what makes them stand tall in the weathers of life?  Those same roots are interconnected with the roots of other redwood trees around them.  It’s through this interconnections that the trees survive.  It’s the relying on others that the trees remain strong.

This year, as you think about the Easter story, think about how the legacy of Jesus was able to be carried out despite all that could have gone wrong.  Here on earth, it was the faith of a band of brothers, yes…but it continues to be the leaning on one another, the trust in our Father in Heaven, and the interconnectivity of anchored beliefs that has spread Christianity throughout the world.

The Easter story is one of our Savior sacrificing all for our sake.  Remember that it’s also about the legacy carried out by the disciples rather than letting Christ’s efforts slowly die away, one by one.

My prayer this week is that we remain mindful of Christ’s teachings applied in all aspects of our lives, and that we continue to be a part of the chain of His legacy.

Have a blessed Easter.

Amen!

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MAR 7, 2018 Devotional: “My Neighbor’s Trash”

My neighbor, Robby, and I have a little game that happens most weeks on Tuesday evening.  It’s called “see who can grab the other’s trash can and take it down to the curb“.  It started out as a simple way that we were being “neighborly”….but eventually turned into a badge of honor.  Robby upped the stakes a few months back when he was taking our container down the driveway and saw another neighbor watching from across the street.

“You won’t believe that Mike pays me $60 a week to take his trash down to the curb,” Robby jokingly said as the across-the-street neighbor did a half-chuckle, wondering if Robby was telling the truth or not.

But all kidding aside, we love our neighbors and I’m confident they’d say the same.

So what got me thinking about neighbors this week?  Well, that’s the meat of this week’s devotional.

Several times a week, I drive along a cut-through street between Queens Road West and Selwyn Avenue.  And by “several times”, I mean literally at least 3-4 times a day.  For the past two weeks I’ve noticed two trash cans sitting out on the curb in front of one of the houses.

Just sitting there…..day after day.

And I wonder every time I drive past that house, “Why haven’t they put the cans back near the house?  Is the family in town?  Do their neighbors…..care….enough….to help out?”

In all honestly, there could be a number of reasons why.  Maybe the family is out of town.  Maybe there’s been a family emergency.  Maybe they’ve just had too much going on to realize the empty cans are out on the street.

I just don’t know.  But am I correct to think that something “neighborly” is not happening just a few blocks away from me?

You know, I’m guilty of ignoring the obvious as well.  There are neighborhoods adjacent and very near to my comforts in Myers Park where things have been left unattended as well.  But I continue to drive by and not offer to be neighborly.

Today’s run was a last minute audible and instead of running towards South Blvd, cutting through the Sedgefield neighborhood, we decided to run through Eastover.  If you’re from Charlotte, you’ll know the difference between Sedgefield and Eastover..but those differences alone were not why we chose a different route.

What if someone had suggested running through Grier Heights today?

“Grier Heights…..”, would have been the outcry.  “What good (routes) could there be in Grier Heights?”

Sound familiar?

Recall from the Gospel of John the following:

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Torah and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  JOHN 1:43-46

In those days, the town of Nazareth was considered the lowest of the low.  Ironically, Nathanael, who made the bold statement above, was himself from the town of Cana, another small, nothing-great, kind of town.  And aside from the wedding miracle, not much has happened at all in Cana, even today. At least Nazareth was at the cross-roads of commerce, but Cana was really off the beaten path.

But Nazareth gets the bad rap.

So Jesus comes from the town with the least expectations of anything “good” can come from there.  Suppose for a minute that He had come from Jerusalem?  Would things have been any different?

But Jesus came to heal the sick, bring hope to the poor, energize the oppressed, and preach the way to salvation.  And the best way to do this was to come from a place of the lowly in order to confound the wise and powerful.  In the book, “Twelve Ordinary Men“, the author John MacArthur explains, “He even calls people from the most despised locations.  He can also take a flawed person who is blinded by prejudice, and He can change that person into someone used to transform the world.”

Nathanael was transformed….and I know you and I can too.

My prayer this week is that we look for opportunities to be neighborly.  And I don’t just mean taking up your neighbor’s trash can or sweeping their driveway.  Let’s all look for those neighbors who aren’t like us, in our mind, and look for the opportunities to see how alike we really are…

And soon, I promise, to plan a WAWA run route that takes us through Grier Heights….and beyond!

Peace!

Read more "MAR 7, 2018 Devotional: “My Neighbor’s Trash”"

MAR 1, 2018 Devotional: “The Preacher from the Dairy Farm”

Lately, I’ve been binge watching a new network I discovered among the countless cable channels that I normally skip over.  The network is called “Destination America”…have you heard of it?  My sensible side says you’re not missing anything if you haven’t tuned in yet.  But, if it’s a rainy afternoon and March Madness hasn’t started yet, then check it out.

The lineup of shows includes titles such as:  UFO’s: Uncovering the Truth, Kindred Spirits, Terror in the Woods, Mountain Monsters, Killing Bigfoot, Paranormal Survivor, and Ghostly Encounters.  Interested yet?

Maybe not.

There’s a world of unexplained stuff that happens in our world….and I’m not sure any of these shows are going to solve them.  But, some of the shows are entertaining, to say the least.

In my family, only my youngest son, Hill, will join me on the couch to watch these scary shows, much to his mom’s uneasiness.  So far, he hasn’t woken up in the middle of the night.  I promise to include him in moderation.

We actually got a good laugh at the story line for Mountain Monsters the other day.  And if I fully understood the story, I’d probably explain it here.  But that’s just not the case.

How do we explain the inexpiable, though?  Part of me thinks that God uses the “head-scratcher” times to draw us closer to Him, as a way to guide us along a path towards “truth”.

Last week, at my men’s fellowship group, I asked the gathering to share their individual thoughts about the passing of Reverend Billy Graham (earlier that week).  The responses ranged from “no impact, really, on my life” to “I became a Christian by watching Billy preach to the masses.”

But the most interesting response came from “Jonathan” who lives on a piece of land in Charlotte that was on or very near to the original dairy farm that Billy Graham grew up on as a child.

Much has been written over the years about Rev. Graham, his life in ministry, and especially the impact he had on varying degrees on several US presidents.  What’s fascinating to me, however, are the stories of his upbringing, his early life on his parent’s farm here in Charlotte.  I read recently that Billy would wake up early in the morning around 3 am and would milk 20 cows on the farm before school.  Then, after school, he would come home and milk another twenty!  Imagine that…..!

His parents were “pious Presbyterians”, according to one author, who led all the Graham children in prayer before every meal and insisted they learn a new Bible verse every day.  This religious rigor appealed to Billy, even at a young age.  And with Charlotte becoming a frequent stopping point for revivals, he became more drawn to the more evangelical style of preaching.  Billy would often practice some of the same preaching styles of those evangelicals in the quiet areas around the farm such as the tool shed, where he’d preach to oil cans and lawnmowers, or paddle down a creek nearby to relay a message of repentance to snakes and alligators.

That’s also where my friend, Jonathan, comes back into this story.  Jon explained to our group that Billy Graham also used to walk out to the cow pastures and practice preaching to the cows gathered in the shade.  And Jonathan said that there are many times when he’s outside at their home where he can feel Rev. Graham’s presence.  Remember earlier that said that Jonathan’s home now resides near (or on) what was formerly the Graham’s family farm!

Do I believe in the Bigfoot stories on the cable network?  Probably not.  But do I believe that God’s presence is alive near my friend, Jonathan’s home?  Absolutely, even it remains largely unexplainable to me!

Maybe Billy Graham said it best when he said:

I’m okay with not knowing all those answers.

Tomorrow, the Reverend Graham will be laid to rest in a private ceremony here in Charlotte.  His life, his story and his Christian faith, are tremendous guide rails for our lives today.  Critics of Reverend Graham will point to some of his beliefs that were considered controversial in the day.  But mostly, Reverend Graham’s life demonstrates his desire to share the gospel ….  and only the gospel.

“I’m just going to preach the Gospel and am not going to get off on all these hot-button issues,” Graham said. “If I get on these other subjects, it divides the audience on an issue that is not the issue I’m promoting. I’m just promoting the Gospel.”

Some might say these are lessons for today.

My prayer this week is that we take a moment to honor Billy Graham’s legacy of preaching the gospel, the Good News, to the thousands.  Perhaps, like me, you’ll take time to dig a little more into Graham’s life, and see where his lessons can apply to our every day lives.

Well done, faithful servant!

Amen!

Read more "MAR 1, 2018 Devotional: “The Preacher from the Dairy Farm”"