FEB 13, 2019 Devotional: “Getting dirty on my way to getting Clean!”

I’m going to tread lightly on this week’s devotional in order to protect the names of the “innocent”.  Mostly because the story I’ll share this week was fostered out of comments from a friend who I know did not mean to imply what ultimately came across by the comments.  Anyway….so here goes…

Most people who know me might tell strangers that “Mike loves to be involved in community…”.  And that’s true.  The flip side, however, is that it’s always a fine balance for me with the other responsibilities in my life….family, work, chickens….(okay, maybe not so much the chickens…).  When you stay involved in community efforts over time, eventually you get asked to become the “leader” of such groups.  Such is the case for me…and for one particular church effort, where I get to help several leaders assist some of the wellness interests of our members and the goals of our church.

All well intentions….always.

One such focus has been a program through a partner organization, Urban Ministry, and “Room In The Inn”.  The committee was discussing how we might assist with a perceived laundry bottleneck that occurs when “guests” from less fortunate members of our community come and stay overnight on church property one night a week during the winter months where sleeping on the street might otherwise be dangerous or even deadly.  Twenty-four guests are provided a warm dinner, access to showers, comfortable sleeping arrangements, and access to two pairs of washer and dryers.  And while the overall program is very efficiently run, its been my observation that the sheer volume of laundry from our guests and the limitations of only two washer/two dryers contributes to the bottlenecks that ensues.

“What’s our role here, Mike”, I was asked by the committee.  My response was a longer explanation to which if we cannot provide “rest” for our guests because many are staying up all night waiting in line for laundry machines to free up, then I don’t think we’re contributing to the full wellness of these same individuals.

“Let’s just add more machines” was one solution offered up.  Yes…maybe, but that requires some intervention by facilities management, potentially a new laundry room, renovations to existing infrastructure, etc.  Could be a longer process, if you ask me.

And there’s the ideal of a mobile laundry service that I talked about after reading of a similar offering out in San Diego.  Think of a food truck, of sorts, but the truck is filled with a bay of washers and dryers.  Could be a solution down the road, but again, there’s a lot of planning involved.

I heard about a church north of Charlotte that tackled this problem another way.  When the guests arrive, there’s a team of church members who are standing “at-the-ready” with laundry bags to take dirty belongings from the guests.  There’s a dialog that occurs, a quick inventory of items, and a commitment from the church member to bring back the dirty clothes “clean” in a couple hours.  And, during the two hours of separation, the guest can relax, take a shower, get off his/her feet, etc.

Without knowing all the details, my initial thoughts for this third solution are “man, there must be a huge amount of trust….”.  For many of these guests, their laundry in a plastic garbage bag represents most if not all of their personal belongs.  Their “life” is inside that plastic bag.  Would you be willing to part with your worldly possessions to a total stranger?

When I shared this story with the committee, one individual said, “I think we’d have trouble with this type of solution….I mean, think of all the dirt and grime in those clothes.  Imagine what we might find…..”.

Now, as I said above, I am 100% certain the person who expressed those concerns did not mean for it the way it came out.  But while the room became completely silent….I politely replied…..”I think that’s the entire point…”.

Picture me up on my soap box for a minute now.  I firmly believe that we have an obligation to serve those in our community who are far less fortunate than us.  And many times that means we’re getting dirty and filthy along the way.  I checked my answer to my fellow committee member…but what I really wanted to say was “while we might experience two hours of filth and dirt…..that’s nothing compared to those individuals less fortunate who deal with it every day…”.

When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in the upper room, it was symbolic in many ways.  But above all, it was His demonstration of humility and servant-hood.  Frankly, I bet the disciples were stunned.  But this was just one of the many ways Jesus reiterated that He came to serve….and not to be served.

Remember too when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan….and He asks “which among the three was a neighbor to the (Samaritan) man…”?  And, after the correct response is given, Jesus reminds them to “go and do likewise.”.

I believe we need to stand face-to-face, toe-to-toe and (perhaps) shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors who are less fortunate.  Maybe it’s as simple as doing a dirty laundry inventory and agreeing to bring back someone’s worldly possessions.  Maybe it’s building a Habitat home.  Or maybe it’s tutoring a fatherless child in his/her math homework.

Regardless of what we’re doing, my prayer this week is that we remember Christ’s call to us to do “likewise”.  I promise you will get much more out of serving than those who are being served.

….stepping down from soapbox now…..

Amen!

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JAN 24, 2019 Devotional: “Life, Death, and Getting Clean In-between”

In our new-age of “on demand” television, I’m becoming more and more of a binge watcher for programs that strike a chord with me.  Such is the case with a new series I’ve been watching called “The Cleaner”.  This show aired on the A&E network for two seasons (2008-2009) and now can be viewed on Amazon Prime.  My wife and I finished up season 1 last week, and we’re already four episodes into season 2.  It’s becoming our routine before heading to bed for the night.

The star of the show is Benjamin Bratt who portrays the character, William Banks.  Banks’ character is based on real-life person, Warren Boyd.  Both Boyd, and “Banks” are recovering addicts, mainly drugs and alcohol.  Banks makes a deal with God as his daughter in born and his life is a rapid, downward spiral of heroin and other drugs.  He tells God that he will commit his life to getting others “clean” if God would help him beat his drug addiction.  God does….and now Banks is working through his side of the deal.

Now whether or not you believe this type of conversation can or does happen between God and us is another question.  As for me, I’m absolutely convinced conversations like this occur….and more often than we understand.  Part of God taking us “as we are” means he also connects with us in a myriad of different ways too.

Banks, himself, admits that he has an interesting way of communicating with God.  “I don’t pray, all right?  I talk….”.  His elder son early in season 1 accuses Banks of being a little crazy as he appears to be talking to himself.  One of the other story lines is the relationship between Banks and his son….very rocky at first, but evolves in season 1 and carries over into season 2.

With each episode, Banks and his team of ex-junkies are faced with the addictions of many.  There’s the cop who stays high so he won’t feel the pain of shooting an innocent victim, a dad who’s so enslaved to alcohol that he asks his daughter to pour his drinks for him, and the prodigal daughter who sells her body to pay for her drug habits all the while her twin sister, also a junkie, masks as “at least I’m not as bad as her…”.

The monologues that represent Banks’ conversations with God are most poignant to me.  Sometimes, they’re accusatory.  Other times, very questioning.  Often times, retrospective.  Upon the death of Banks’ dad’s best friend, the interventionist says to God:

“You make birth.  You make death.  And you ask us to hang out in between and figure out the rest.

Very telling, right?  I mean, is Banks suggesting that God leaves us alone during the long stretch between life and death?  Probably not…but I think what he’s revealing is that God expects us to take some responsibilities of how we’re living our lives, and the consequences there-in.  I think that’s what’s called “free will….”.

At best, I believe a review of The Cleaner series in Christianity Today magazine sums it up quite well:

“Of course, the messy work of addiction recovery is smoothed over for TV audiences; each junkie-of-the-week story-line is wrapped up in an hour.  But all along, we see the complicated nature of Banks’ journey, living with the consequences of his past while slogging through the full, complex cycle of rebirth.  All of us have hit a point where we have recognized our sin, cried out to God, repented, been made new, and shared what we’ve found with others.  And, in that sense, we are all cleaners….”

Here’s to the messiness in our lives….and our efforts to clean them all up.

Amen.

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JAN 17, 2019 Devotional: “Resolutions and Guardrails”

Yesterday morning’s run was a chilly one!  29 degress at the start, but a “dry” cold so (I’m told) it didn’t actually feel as cold as the temperature might convey.  Still it was brisk and our pace was equally revved up to account for the weather.  Great run to start off the new WAWA season.

As we gathered after the run, I shared with the group two thoughts:  Resolutions and Guardrails.

First, when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, studies have revealed that 80% of those who make resolutions in the new calendar year, break them before January 15th.  So it was no secret that I wanted to talk about our fitness commitments yesterday morning.  I congratulated the runners, since it was January 16th!  They were already part of a select group of “twenty-percent-ers”!

Why is it that people break their resolutions?  They are certainly good intentions, right?  So why do they go awry?   I reached for some answers and came across one site that gave ten reasons why.  I won’t list all ten, but a few are worth mentioning.

Reason 1:  Going at it alone.  

I translate this to mean there’s no accountability.  When left alone, we tend to choose the easier path.  Not being critical.  I’ve been there and am still there many days now!

Reason 2:  Giving up too easily. 

Raise your hand if you have many other things going on in your life?  Family, work, community, church….?  We’ve all got conflicting priorities.  So when we allow a restructuring of our priorities, those resolutions fall deeper down the line, until they’re non-existent altogether.

Reason 3:  Wrong perspective.

This same study refers to this as focusing on things that aren’t going right when we should be focusing on what’s going well.

Reason 4:  Not believing in ourselves.

Like many other aspects of our lives, goals are a journey…not a quick solution.  We have to recognize that the end may not always be immediately in sight…but trust that it is down the road.

Now while these are all great points as to why many break their fitness resolutions, one can argue that they are also aligned to why we break our Christian resolutions.  Go back to those four reasons above and align them against similar reasons why we fall off spiritual paths.  Maybe, like me, you’ll see that the reasons are nearly identical.

But while all four are reminders, to me the most important is Reason #1:  Going at it along.  And that leads me to the second word for this week’s devotional:  Guardrails.  What do I mean by that?

A few years ago, I was asked to give a testimony about my spiritual walk of faith to a men’s group in Atlanta.  The audience was about 100 men….and while I readily accepted, I had butterflies on the morning of the speech.  I shared stories of ups and downs.  And I focused the other men by saying, “my life is not a story of someone who was away from Christ, found Christ, and now lives a model Christian life.”  I emphasized that I am constantly riding the roller-coaster that perhaps many of you can say the same.

By “guardrails” I am referring to the people and things in my life that help me try to stay on the path of my own Christian resolutions.  These resolutions are not something to be renewed every year but kept in place each and every day.  I surround myself and involve myself in people and groups to serve as constant reminders of those resolutions.  I call them my “guardrails”.  And without them, I am more likely to weave off the road and down the cliff.

It’s not easy.  And it can often times be exhausting.  And maybe some of you don’t need those types of guardrails in your lives.  For those in that category, I say “congratulations”.  But for the rest of us….perhaps more than just the fitness “twenty percent-ers”, I invite you to join me.

It’s a new year and a new chance to focus on a loving, Heavenly Father.  My prayer today is that we find the necessary guardrails for ourselves and those around up.  Keep marching towards our Christian resolutions.  Don’t go at it alone.

Peace!

 

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DEC 12, 2018 Devotional: “The Angels’ Dilemma”

Reposting a Christmas-themed devotional from 2 years ago….not because I’m being lazy…but more because I really liked this “story”.  I love the Christmas story, every year, and this remains my attempt to put a little humor into maybe what the angels in Heaven must have been thinking when God told them of His plan of our savior’s birth.

Enjoy!

(Repost from December 14, 2016):

You know what my all-time favorite, churchy Christmas song is this time of year?  That’s an easy answer…..”Angels We Have Heard on High“…. Simple lyrics with a mash-up of Latin thrown into the mix:

Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly singing through the night

And the mountains in reply

Echoing their brave delight

Gloria in excelsis Deo

Gloria in excelsis Deo

For years the story of the Christmas miracle, that miracle of the birth of a Savior, tends to focus on a young virgin woman, unmarried, and somehow pregnant.  Today, I want to share some thoughts on another side of this miracle.  Imagine if you will that God has assembled a platoon of his best angels.  He tells them he is going to send his son to the world, and that this son, born human, will be a savior to all people.  God tells the angels, “Come with a plan on how we’ll announce this spectacular event….and let me know your thoughts ASAP.”

God leaves the room and the angels are left to come up with a plan.

The Bible shares stories about angels throughout the chapters.  Angels are used to deliver important messages such as:

  • Life and Death
  • Victory and Defeat
  • Judgement and Mercy

But this would be the most spectacular news yet.  The angels know they need lots of flash, bang, and fanfare.

The leader of the angels might be heard saying, “Let’s make a huge splash with the announcement.  Maybe have angels descending onto a huge gathering of elders and chief priests in the most important temple in all of Jerusalem”.

The angels package up their plan and God returns to hear their idea.

They pitch the idea….and it falls completely flat on our Heavenly Father.

Now God delivers his plan to the angels to implement.  It goes something like this.

God says, “You’re going to deliver the good news of the saviour’s birth….to a handful of shepherds who are tending to their flocks.”

The angels are stunned.  “Huh…..”, they must have said back to God.

“Okay, Father,” says one of the angels….”Then will the shepherds race to the temple, interrupt the high priests and announce the great news?”

“Nope”, says God.  “You’re going to alert the shepherds in the middle of the night.  It will be cold, and lonely, and quiet and no one else will be around.  Even the sheep will be sleeping.”

“And you know what else,” asks God.  “My son’s earthly parents won’t be married.  Mary, my son’s earthly mother, will be a virgin yet pregnant.  And this will be a source of great controversy”.

“But, Father,” the angels will plead one final time.  “Surely, the birth will be at a place of great splendor, because only under those conditions could a future king arrive?”

“Wrong again.  Mary and Joseph, my son’s earthly parents, will travel to the city of David, called Bethlehem.  Mary will travel on the back of a mule and they will not be able to find any comfortable place to sleep.  There will be one small inn…but no rooms will be available.  But a kind-hearted inn keeper will allow them to rest in the barn behind the inn.” says God.  “And that will be the place of this great miracle….”.

Probably not the actual planning session that took place in Heaven.  But I hope you can see my point.

I’ve often talked about shepherds in some of my devotionals.  I love the stories of shepherds and sheep.  God knew he could announce the birth to shepherds watching their flocks at night because they would not think twice about the message.  They’d take it at face value.  In fact, scripture reminds us that upon hearing the news, the shepherds “hurried off” to see the Christ-child.

Where are you looking for our Saviour this Christmas season?  Are you looking at all?

Today marks our final WAWA for the year as we take a couple weeks off the rest, relax, and enjoy the Christmas season.  My hope and my prayers for you this week, is that we all find our Saviour in the simple ways all around us.  God doesn’t want us to honor this season with fireworks and fanfare.  Be kind.  Love one another.  Be peaceful.  Be humble.  Think of others less fortunate.  Pray.  And remember the reason for the season.

I’ll leave you with a great quote from a very smart man:

“There are two ways to live your life.  One is as if nothing is a miracle.  The other is as if everything is….”  Albert Einstein

Look for the miracle of Christ’s birth.  And look for the miracles all around.

Merry Christmas and blessings to all.

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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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