Saturday, January 30, 2016

Honor and Sacrifice

Today I led a memorial service for the father of a good friend of mine. I was able to share some memories and hopefully bring some comfort and hope in a difficult time. Personally, I felt the most powerful part of the service happened after I was done speaking. The gentleman we were honoring was an Air Force veteran and had been a POW. Three members of the Air Force were in attendance and played “Taps” before presenting the flag to his widow. The words spoken to her were, "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for faithful and dedicated service."

I was moved deeply by the honor and tradition of this act. It may have been a simple gesture to some, but I appreciated the recognition of years of sacrifice and service in allegiance to one’s country. The ceremony spoke of solemn gratitude for a soldier’s willingness to fight for freedom even if it was many years ago. It reminded me of the incredible commitment of so many men and women and the bond they share of having been in our military. This said to me, “We have not forgotten what you have done for all of us.”

There is great honor in genuine sacrifice and it should be recognized. Failure to appreciate these acts doesn’t negate what has been done, but diminishes our understanding of courage in action.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Know Your Pace

I use an app on my iPhone when I am running to help me track my mileage, running time, and intervals. I have it set to tell me the pace I have set at the end of each mile. This helps me to determine if I am running at my desired pace and if I need to make adjustments based on the total distance I am running. If I am only running 2-3 miles, I know I can set out at a much faster pace because I don’t have to maintain it for long. If I have a longer run planned for that day, I know I have to be careful not to set out too fast or I won’t be able to sustain my efforts over time.

Don’t we do this in other parts of our life? We set a pace that is too intense for us to maintain and end up crashing. We either reach the point of complete exhaustion, engage in unhealthy practices to try to keep up, or suffer from a breakdown of some type. While I believe we need to push our pace some to grow, we also need to make sure we aren’t going so fast we can’t sustain it. Pushing past our limits is possible (and even beneficial) in the short term, but a frenetic pace and maximum intensity isn’t healthy over long periods of time.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Keep Doing It

Some days are more difficult than others. Unexpected events, high stress circumstances, frustrating obstacles, and long hours can dampen your enthusiasm. One of the keys to coming through those healthfully is to figure out some way to re-energize yourself. 

I came home last night after a very long (and in many ways good) day. Before leaving the church I had already made up my mind to run. The cool, rainy weather would not deter me from hitting the streets and in fact, only added a measure of enjoyment to my run. Even though my end-of-day exercise got me to bed much later than usual, it was absolutely worth the effort. I was in a better mood and slept more soundly (albeit in fewer hours.)

We each have a different mechanism to keep us balanced and maintain a healthy perspective. Releasing our stress may be through gaming, exercise, napping, or some other hobby. I would simply encourage people to figure out what helps them deal with their stress in a healthy way and then commit doing it consistently.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Firm Foundation

My mother and father divorced when I was very young and I have very little memory of my dad's family. There is a big gap in my life history from the paternal side and I don't know it will ever truly be filled. Too much time has passed and most of those older generations have passed on as well.

My mother has told me my paternal grandfather was a pastor. The picture above has him seated on the left hand side. The book next to the picture is The Star Book for Ministers, a helpful guide for functioning as a minister, and belonged to my grandfather. These two items were passed on to me after my father's death and while I don't know their complete story, these things signify a foundation.

Even though I am unsure of the depth of their influence, there were things established for me before I knew what path in life I would take. The personal path of ministry was chosen by my dad's father long before I even existed. I don't believe this means I was destined to become a pastor because of his choices. My awareness of this legacy has influenced me in some measure however.

I don't mean to overplay the significance of this book and picture, but it reminds me of the value of the foundation I am setting for my future generations. The decisions I make today are not just affecting me and my children, but also those generations I may never see. It helps me (and scares me a little too) to think about the influence my dedication, faith, and character may have on my future family.

Monday, January 25, 2016

My One Word

Our lead pastor shared a book with the staff at Christmas this year which expounded the principle of selecting one word to focus on for the next year. Deciding on the word is a matter of prayer, meditation, and even a little inspiration. It becomes the main focus for your goals, fuels your actions, and keeps you centered on mission.

My “one word” for this year is calling. It’s a term used in many different ways, but often refers to the purpose you feel God has given to you and in many aspects, specifically for ministry. While I believe in the power of that particular principle I also believe we have a calling for each of the roles we should fill in our life.

Recognizing I have a calling as a husband and father shapes many of the decisions I make. I realize the power of the relationship I share with my wife and children and my need to choose to live that out with the best impact and integrity I can. I believe I have a calling as a friend and will choose to be present in times of need and be ready to sacrifice to help when necessary. I am called as an influencer in my community and should realize the potential of my impact and choose my words, actions, and generosity very carefully. I am also called at this stage in my life to be a pastor and must always keep that in the forefront of my thoughts as it shapes so much of what I do and say.

I don’t have all of the parts of this “one word” figured out, but I realize the power of staying focused on discovering the depth of it this year. I want to live fully in my calling—not just now, but also for what the future holds.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Full Distance

The things we do often present an opportunity to learn if we are willing to look for it. The past year has given me regular, new insights through running. While I started out just listening to my music and trying to survive the run, I now find myself using this time to meditate. As I ponder through things, I am finding new truths about myself and figuring out how to make them part of who I am now. 

Today I worked during the morning, planning a longer run when I got home. I had a number of miles I wanted to run and knew it would be a challenge with our current weather. While we aren't dealing with the blizzard my friends in the northeast are enduring we still have temps in the 30's with a 15-20 mile per hour wind. I bundled up, hit the streets and was able to make the distance I set beforehand. I realized while running, if I had not already decided I was going seven miles, I would have quit much sooner. Setting my goal before hitting the streets gave me a goal--a finish line to look for and cross successfully.

If I hadn't set out with a goal in mind, I am certain I would have quit earlier than I did. Being clear and specific about my objective pushes me to a higher level of achievement. Without a particular target I would accomplish some things, but wouldn't be stretched to the limits of what I can do.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Eye Opening Discovery

As I’m reading through the entire Bible this year, I was in the book of Leviticus and the descriptions of offerings for sin and worship. While it may sometimes seem to be dry reading, there was a portion which seemed to jump out at me. In it was a description of what should be done if you sin unintentionally and finally become aware of it. While the details were in the type of offering, it was the idea of becoming aware which seemed so strong to me.

I will confess I have not always been the most self-aware person. I wasn’t always cognizant of the impact I had on other people or the effect my words, attitude, and actions had on them. In the last several years some maturity on my part combined with caring mentors (and a very patient, loving wife) have helped me to open my eyes and see things more clearly. It’s something I consistently work at so I can be intentional with my influence while caring directly for the people around me at the same time.

I don’t have a specific formula or simple three step action plan for how to become more aware of who we are. I believe it starts with a willingness to work at it, a genuine concern for the people around us, and the patient diligence to keep shaping ourselves. A solid foundation of awareness creates community.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Those who have dogs understand what happens when you drop food on the floor. Most of the time you don’t stand a chance of picking that food up before it’s eaten. In fact, some dogs are able to get to it from another room before you are able to bend down and grab it. Our saying at the house is, “If it’s on the ground, it’s for the hound.” Any food item that bounces out of your control will be quickly devoured.

It’s like this with the passing of time in our lives too. If we lose our grip on it our time will be quickly devoured. It’s how a small detour online can quickly eat up an hour and derail your productivity and make you forget the path you intended to be on. I’m not proposing we eliminate every distraction and completely structure each minute of our day. There is just good wisdom in realizing that when time passes we can’t get it back. Hopefully this helps us be more strategic with some parts of our time and simply enjoy the others. Once it bounces out of our control it is quickly devoured and can’t be regained.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

It's Only Two

It's interesting how your perspective changes as you engage in activities for a while. I was talking with some friends a few weeks ago about the training program I was using for my half marathon. There were days when it only called for two miles of running. I told them I would run at least three on those days since I was not quite warmed up after only two miles. I jokingly said it almost wasn't worth putting my shoes on for just two miles.

I thought back to that comment when I was nearing the end of the race this past Saturday. I realized the irony of dismissing a two mile distance while my body currently groaned at the thought of two more miles. I suppose the difference in perspective comes from when those two miles take place. When they are the only ones I am running I'm not stressed, but when they are tacked on at the end of 11 miles they take much more effort to overcome.

That's probably not very different than any other stressor in our lives. If we are in a fairly peaceful time of life a minor hiccup doesn't seem to derail us much at all. When we have been under constant stress and are filled with anxiety something as simple as running out of milk can seem like a catastrophe. Being aware of our current stress level can help us prepare for these moments and hopefully remember to just take it in stride and keep moving forward.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Not There Yet

The dream so eloquently and passionately expressed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. still hasn't been realized. While we may have made advances in some ways towards racial equality and respectful understanding, huge gaps still exist. This discriminatory thinking is rationalized by many, but that doesn't mitigate the harmful effects of this negative practice. Regardless of how it might be explained, the devaluing of another person based on skin color, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual preference, and family history is still just wrong. Making stereotypical assumptions using these factors as a filter for judgment is divisive and hurtful. This misguided thinking diminishes the value of each of us whether it was intended or not.

I'm not okay with hearing stories of dehumanization and small thinking. My spirit is heavy and my body is physically ill when a brother or sister is wounded because of it. I wish it could be corrected quickly, but recognize the long term power of this way of thinking and the diligence we must show in leading in a new direction.

We can't make great forward strides until we gain respectful appreciation for our individual diversity. Recognizing we are not only different, but are better because of our shared differences is a step we haven't taken as a whole society. I realize we will not reach a time here on this earth when all people will live harmoniously in peace with each other. That still doesn't take away from the attractive power of the dream of the possibility.

If we want to see the potential of Dr. King's dream grow, we've got to commit ourselves to mutual appreciation. We've got to figure out how to learn to trust each other when generations before (and around us) have created so much mistrust. We've got to determine what actions we can take to develop those relationships and give each other the opportunity to contribute what we have to our society as a whole. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, we are in this together. How much better would things be in each of our communities if we shared a mindset of respect and appreciation?

I'm thankful for men like Dr. King who blazed a trail towards what was right even if it wasn't popular. I pray we'll see his spoken dream become our reality. Let's each do our part to make it so.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Maintain the Pace

I am a firm believer in setting goals and finding ways to push yourself to improve. This isn't just a mindset at the new year, but something I want to work on throughout the year.

When I finished my first half marathon in November, I decided I wanted to finish my next one in under two hours. I made adjustments to my speed during training and kept track of my completed mileage on long runs. I thought I could probably complete the race based on my preparation, but wouldn't truly know until the day of the event. As I started out I had my overall goal in mind and knew I would have to maintain a certain pace the entire race if I had any hopes of reaching it. I couldn't wait until the last mile and then try to make up the time at the end. If I didn't commit to reaching my goal during the whole race-not just the last mile-I wouldn't have reached it.

I've learned to keep my goals constantly in mind if I have any hope of fulfilling them. (That may seem obvious, but some lessons take me longer to learn than others.) There can't be a realistic expectation of reaching the finish line if there isn't consistent effort towards the goal. It's difficult to achieve 100% of your objective without spreading out the effort over time. We've got to set the right pace and maintain it if we want to keep growing.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Learning As I Go

I'm running my second 1/2 marathon tomorrow morning after my first in November. I actually only ended up taking a week off after that race before jumping back into the preparation phase. In retrospect I might have done things differently, but I'm on the eve of this race and ready to run anyway. At this point there are only small things I can do to change my readiness for tomorrow.

This time of training has given me several things to think about and they don't just relate to running. The lesson of needing rest has been reinforced to me more than once. It's not just about the time off from actual activity, but the also the need for down time and more sleep. Hopefully I'm learning how to fuel myself better in the process and discover what gives me the best energy reserves for endurance. There is also great power in variety and learning to change up the things I do to make myself better. Having a firm objective in front of me is also vital as it helps provide the structure to keep me disciplined when I don't necessarily want to be. One of the greatest lessons is in learning to peak at the right time. I told my wife I felt as if I was most ready to race two weeks ago instead of pacing myself better with the big day in mind.

I believe there are potential learning opportunities in everything we do if we are willing to look for them. I feel as if I do a fairly decent job of identifying them and now have the more difficult task of putting what I learn into practice.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Runner's Mentality

I’ve been a runner for just about a year now. I’ve discovered how much I enjoy it and the shared bond developed with fellow runners. We talk about split times, running courses, injuries, personal records, and nutrition. It’s also been neat to see how many people are runners when I had no idea beforehand.

I had someone ask me this past week if I ran with someone else in our church. This other runner is at an entirely different level than I am and runs much (much) faster. I laughed when I responded and shared this rationale: trying to run together would only discourage me and frustrate him. I can’t begin to keep up with his pace and he doesn’t want to run at mine.

The powerful thing about running however is that we can still share in the joy of it even though we are in different places. Our community is based on our common affiliation and not in having matching ability levels. The same could be said about our spiritual journey as well. We don’t have to be at the exact same point of maturity to be able to share with each other and provide encouragement. Our common bond is in the path we are pursuing even if we are moving at different speeds.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Conquered It

A year ago today my wife and I climbed Camelback Mountain in Arizona. We had "attempted" to climb it several years ago and didn't get very far before giving up. When we realized we would have the opportunity to challenge the peak again we took advantage of it. We packed our water and snacks, put our sunblock on, dressed appropriately, and headed up. A few hours later we stood victoriously at the top of a mountain which had previously defeated us. I attribute our success on this attempt to better preparation and improved physical fitness.

Climbing the mountain was a highlight of our year and a testament to our stubborn desire to succeed. I feel confident in saying we'll never forget that physical milestone and will always celebrate the completion of our goal. It's a reminder to me of what is possible if we are willing to be better prepared and to keep pushing onward even though the trail is difficult.

Monday, January 11, 2016

But Why?

There are very few people I know whose schedules aren't full. There are household duties to handle, appointments to keep, family responsibilities to manage, and social obligations to maintain. We keep running around and struggle to keep up with the demands in front of us. To survive we often focus on what needs to be done just to keep moving.

I think we might stand a better chance of keeping our sanity if we focus less on what we are doing and remember why we are doing it. The reasons behind our actions have great value and can give us strength to persevere when the frantic pace causes us to lose focus. There might be greater value in affirming our motivation than in checking things off our to-do list.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Self Made

Mrs. Spivey was an older woman who lived a few houses down from me when I was in junior high. She was retired, but delivered the evening paper for extra income. She asked me if I wanted to work for her and make $45 a month folding papers on her route. I would go over after school and sit in the back seat of her car and fold up the papers while she delivered them. It made her afternoon go by faster and it was easy income for me.

I remember one afternoon in particular when we were out on our route. We had done our prep work and were pulling up to our first house. From my spot in the back seat I heard a loud thud and then wild laughter from Mrs. Spivey. I jerked my head up to see what had happened and heard through her cackles, “I forgot to roll the window down!” No matter how hard she tried to deliver that paper her own window being rolled up was going to prohibit that desire.

When we face obstacles to our progress, we can often fall into the trap of blaming other people or even giving credit to satan for messing with us. If we examined things a bit more closely, I think we might find much of that interference is of our own making. We have allowed our past to hinder our forward progress, have neglected to work diligently, or created new stumbling blocks in our own mind. No forward progress can be made until we remove the obstacle we’ve put in our own path.

Friday, January 8, 2016

I'm Right Here

"Be where you are right now."

That statement seems too obviously simple to live by. How could we be anywhere else but where we are in this moment? While we can't change our present physical location we can choose to be somewhere else mentally and emotionally. It's reflected in the way we endure the work week to get to the weekend, pine for upcoming vacations while wishing the current days away, neglecting to engage in our community because of our fixation with other places and people, and in our obsession with social media instead of focusing on the people right in front of us.

This mindset ends up ignoring present people and moments because we are looking too far ahead. It ends up robbing the joy from our current position (even if we have to look harder for that joy sometimes.) There are experiences to be had, relationships to be developed, patience to be learned, and influence to be shaped if we dwell richly in this moment. Don't wish away or waste the moment you are in, but learn to be where you are right now.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


The relationships in our life are like a network of roads on a long journey. Sometimes they are headed on the same path for long distances while others only briefly cross before moving in a different direction. They are immediately important when traveling together, but also serve as mile markers on the journey after they are gone.

We have people we interact with for years while others are only for a season. I’ve discovered that the length of time of our relationships doesn’t always determine their value however. Traveling together for long periods of time will influence us more deeply, but there is still great impact from the brief interactions we have if we are willing to acknowledge them. They are all a significant part of our life’s journey and taking the time to recognize their impact strengthens their continuing influence on who we are becoming.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Too Much

I am re-reading the entire Bible again this year and have started in Genesis and the story of our beginning. I was reading about Adam and how long he lived (930 total years!) and his son, Seth who lived 912 years. When you read this passage you realize Seth lived 112 years after his father died. My thought this morning was that this was a long time to live while missing a loved one. I know they had hundreds of years together, but that would probably make the loss feel even greater.

The idea of being young and/or living forever has been pursued for centuries. While there are parts of that idea which seem attractive, I found myself thinking the opposite this morning. We obviously don't live as long as early man once did and I am grateful. Living that length of time provides a lot of years of sorrow. I realize there is great joy in life as well, but there is an abundance of trials and we experience much loss. I know how hard it is to effectively cope in our limited time and couldn't imagine making my way through it over 500 or more years.

It's another reminder to me that while there are beautiful pieces of this life for us to experience, we aren't ultimately made for this world. I have no desire to rush through the life I am allowed to have here, but I also recognize I am created for more than just this time.

Something beyond this earth is what our hearts long for and will eventually find, whenever that may be.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

It Takes a Team

There is a young man named Tey who lived in our neighborhood until recently. He has four brothers and a single mom who is doing the best she can with what she has. We have developed a friendship over the last 1 1/2 years and have been able to help his family in times of need. My wife has been the main connection as he seems to respond best to her motherly instincts. 

Tey graduated from high school this past year and has been working to follow a plan to help his future. He has overcome many personal and system obstacles to be a well-balanced, thoughtful, and caring young man who knows what he wants to do to help himself and his family. He has come to our church a few times and is always the initiator on attending even though he knows the door is always open. He was back in town this weekend and texted Dana earlier to ask if he and his friend could get a ride to church. She was obviously more than happy to help and had no idea how this day would end.

At the end of our service during our closing song, Tey came forward to talk with our lead pastor and asked to be baptized. He admitted he had always believed in Jesus, but had never had anyone communicate how important baptism was. We certainly never expected to have this happen on this first Sunday of the new year and also recognize it wasn't the result of one person's efforts. 

One of our elders is a teacher who knew Tey as a troubled elementary student and can attest to his maturity. This same elder helped drive him to Macon for an appointment this past year and has continued to pray for him. My wife has consistently been there for him and has helped in conversation, physical needs, and in prayer. Mike spoke today about baptism in a way that touched Tey's heart and helped to inspire him to take action. These three people (and many others I am sure) all contributed to helping Tey reach this point in his faith journey. Each role is important and valuable and a result of being obedient to God's calling to care for other people. 

We are involved as a community in making a difference in the lives of others. There is a role for each person to play and value in the contributions we each make. It takes all of us to reach all of us.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Do or Be?

This is a time of year when most people are thinking about personal changes, creating new positive habits, and ridding themselves of negative ones. The change of calendar year stirs up thoughts of new hope and the possibility of improving who we are. These lists can be challenging and exciting while thinking about the changes we hope to go through in hopes of being better people. This often ends up in discouragement unfortunately as we abandon our lists before checking things off.

I'm discovering the key to long term success is in adopting the right mindset. Instead of focusing goals and objectives on what we want to accomplish, we should focus on who we want to become. This moves from just being a list of things I am going to do and becomes actions which help to shape me into the man I want to be. Even as I refine my own list of goals, I am looking at them through the lens of the man I hope to be at the end of this year. That perspective is a stronger motivator than being able to mark off my accomplishments twelve months from now.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Starting New

The idea of new beginnings has always resonated with me. There is great power in the concept of starting fresh and being able to see something new rise out of the past. This doesn't mean our history has always been awful or should be entirely forgotten (although that may often feel true.) It speaks more of the potential for the future with our past (the good and the bad parts) as the foundation for what lies ahead.

The promise of a new beginning helps me to stay forward focused instead of being disappointed with a lack of progress. It's a glimmer of hope and possibility like the rays of sunshine slowly lighting a brand new day. The start of a new year is that sunlight slowly creeping up the horizon and I want to step confidently forward in the illumination of what could be. Fortunately, it's not just reserved for the start of the year, but can be experienced each day if I'm willing to look for it.