My Dad Taught Me What Mattered Most

My dad passed away on July 8. I tried to honor him at the memorial service by offering some remembrances. Here is a condensed version of those remarks.

My dad was a simple man. I say that in the best possible way.

He knew the power of a handshake and taught me such power. Just a few days before he died, he still gave me one of his patented handshakes.

He taught me that life wasn’t about comparison but an opportunity to get the most out of your ability. To this day, I tell our girls each day as they go to school to, “do your best.” I learned that from my dad.

He taught me that little things can make a big difference. My parent’s neighborhood is set up like a circle. Everyday, when he was able, my dad would carry each neighbor’s newspaper from the driveway to the porch. On trash days, he would roll the big trash cans from the curb to the house so that the neighbors wouldn’t have to do it. This sounds like a small thing, but just about every neighbor I talked to after his death mentioned his kindness to do this day after day.

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I mentioned that my dad was a simple man. A good way of thinking about simplicity, as it relates to a person, is they know what matters most. My dad knew what mattered most.

Before he retired, his job sent him to schools in small towns around the area where my parents lived. Instead of cranking up his favorite song or listening to talk radio, my dad would turn everything off and pray and meditate and sit in silence. What a simple yet profound thing to do in our day and age.

One Easter growing up, I noticed something strange at the dinner table. The rest of us were enjoying our meal but dad was just drinking orange juice. He wasn’t broadcasting it but he was fasting in response to the sacred event. I had never been exposed to this before and this action really had an impact on me. My dad took his faith serious enough to sacrifice something.  What was I willing to sacrifice?

Not too long ago, my dad and I were on a long trip out of town. He took the opportunity to tell me, “If there is anything I have done or said that hurt you, I am sorry.” Here was a man in his sixties asking for forgiveness. He was at the age where most men don’t think they owe anybody anything. You are supposed to be set in your ways by then. It takes a real man to go first in a situation like that. Unfortunately, I wasn’t man enough to return the favor and tell him that if there was anything that I did that disappointed him or hurt him, I was sorry.

What mattered to my dad was consistency, integrity, love of Jesus, family, connections with close friends, and kindness to others. These are the things that should matter the most to all of us.

May we all practice this kind of simplicity.

 

The Awful But Essential Need To Consider Our True Neediness

No one chooses to face the depths of their ruined heart.

Because we never seek this out, sometimes God has to force us to come to grips with our true bankruptcy of spirit. This usually occurs through some kind of tragedy or crisis or wilderness time. These are times when we come face to face with our own limits and realize we have little of what it takes to truly make it, to truly change, to truly be like Christ.

As my Dad faces death due to Cancer, I have had constant and ugly reminders of the depths of my selfishness, childishness, spoiled nature, and general immaturity. I talk a big spiritual game but this crisis has shown me that I am more than willing to manipulate even the most serious of situations towards my own comfort and wishes. I have fantasized about scenarios surrounding my family that might benefit others but basically only benefit me and my agenda.

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I have discovered that my capacity for compassion has limits, that my willingness to trust God is lacking, and that I want growth but on my own terms.

So I repent of my need to manufacture good for myself and put myself at the center of the universe. I want you Lord more than I want comfort for myself; more than I want my agenda; more than I want things to be easy.

Not my will but yours be done.

Reality Bites: What We Can Count On

This was originally posted in April.

Grow Up Blog

In Wichita, James Bryan Smith talked about reality. He said that reality is “what you can count on.” He also referenced Dallas Willard’s definition of reality as “what you find out when you find out that you are wrong.”

Are there things that we can count on that are constantly hiding behind our wrong assumptions? I think there are.

In this life, I can count on getting angry. I can count on desiring something that I don’t have. I can count on being disappointed with another person. I can count on making mistakes. I can count on feeling helpless at times. I can count on not having all the answers. I can count on needing help from another person.

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I don’t think anyone can dispute that this is reality for every person who walks the face of the earth. We are limited, frail, and needy people…

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God is Speaking, Are We Listening?

God is present to his people, he is with them. If there is anything we can learn from the life of Jesus is that God was with him and part of Jesus’ mission was to provide a way for God to be with all of his people, even in the difficult times.

I have seen some difficult times of late, yet God has been with me in surprising and miraculous ways.

What has happened of late is that the books I am reading have had significant insights that touch on exactly what I am going through. Sermons I hear preached, not only have some encouraging words but are addressing the exact situation that I am going through. Podcasts that I listen to discuss things like prayer with the exact questions that I have about prayer but were afraid to ask.

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As much as I like to talk about God’s presence and work in my life, I am always hesitant to force my sense of God’s handiwork in every situation. I am cynical by nature, and don’t trust my own motives and desires in these situations to give me an accurate picture of what is truly happening.

But, like I have stated here before, the more you experience God the more you are able to recognize when he is at work. The more you begin to expect God to show up in a variety of ways. Though lately, I have experienced a heaviness and a burden that has been uniquely difficult and challenging and I have been angry at the way that God has handled my situation, I have also been overwhelmed at how often He shows up. He hasn’t left me or forsaken me, even in my darkness. And it hasn’t just been platitudes and spiritual pats on the back, it has been deep words of encouragement, surprising messages individually designed for me, and discussions, interpersonally or intrapersonally, that have been what I was looking for without knowing what I was looking for.

Just this past weekend, it was J.R. Briggs’ discussion of wilderness as the training ground for God’s chosen people. It was a sermon from Steve Queen on Romans 8 as a reminder that all things work for good for those who love Him. It was a podcast from Renovare on C.S. Lewis and how he wrestled with how to pray and the function and benefit of prayer. I didn’t go intentionally seeking these things out at these exact moments to receive these exact words. God sent these items to me and probably others if I was paying attention.

Though I have had plenty of words with God about how he has done things, I haven’t been surprised to see him work in this way over and over. My relationship with God, through Jesus, has taught me to expect God to show up. It still amazes me, though, how He is present and ready with just the right words at just the right times.

Are Difficult Times Required In Order To Grow?

Since I have been writing this blog in earnest over the last year, I have chronicled the amazing times, the heartbreaking times, and the really hard times.

This past year has presented some of the richest and most profound times with God I have ever experienced. But as soon as I experience a spiritual high, the next week will bring devastating news about my Dad’s battle with Cancer. An enriching breakthrough spiritually might be happening in the midst of the most difficult moments of my professional life. There is joy and pain often mixed in the same day, sometimes the same hour.

I began to ask myself, are the times of great spiritual growth preparing me for the struggles and the obstacles or are the obstacles and struggles providing the framework for the times of significant growth? Does the crucible of change and improvement with God have to be struggle, hurt, and difficulty? Or was the growth already there and I just needed the difficulty to demonstrate and contextualize the growth?

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I guess what I am trying to say is that I am thankful for the difficulties while at the same time wishing and praying that they would go away. I know that good will come out of struggle while often trying to avoid it.

Jesus himself asked that the cup he had to bear would pass from him but then prayed that if that couldn’t happen, may God’s will be done. I feel that I understand this sentiment on the tiniest of levels and I am starting to see that God’s will is the best place for me to be.

Just don’t make it too hard, Lord.

Lament: When It Is Not Okay and That Is Okay

Lately, I have found expression for my own frustrations and disappointment in the Psalms of Lament. The thing about these Psalms is that they are honest and emotional while acknowledging the reality of God. I find this an incredibly healthy way of interacting with God. I decided to write my own modern lament patterned after Psalm 3.

Lord, where can I find dedication to your Son!

Why do the once faithful seem to move away from you the first chance they get?         Why are they so weak in the face of personal difficulty or challenging social situations?

Many say, “I once believed, until this happened.” Should a few poor situations really push people away from you?

But you have given me an assurance of your faithfulness to me.

Even when I have faced my own bad situation, at church and otherwise, I have never wanted you more Lord.                                                                                                     You have been with me and others through Wilderness times.

Don’t let your church be sullied by unbelief, modern sensibilities, controversies, reduction of the mission, or scandals.                                                                                       Give no one ammunition to bring down your name in response to your church’s example.

From you comes blessing, living water to sustain us, peace, and direction for the future. May your blessing be on your people.

The Uniqueness of the Ordinary

No one in our culture likes the ordinary. Nothing ordinary goes viral or gets likes or gets copied. The ordinary is often shunned as if it is wrong or terribly mistaken.

The church in American has picked up the aversion to the ordinary. No church highlights their willingness to meet the ordinary people, provide tools for ordinary situations, or celebrates the purity of the ordinary.

But the ordinary is the most important aspect of our days. How we manage the ordinary is how we manage life. Who we are in the ordinary situations is who we are. If we don’t stress the ordinary in our days then we are ignoring 95% of our existence.

This is where Growing Up comes in. Becoming a mature follower of Christ means that every moment, every situation, and every encounter is an opportunity to live my life in the way that Christ would if he were I. My mornings are not just the preparation for the day but an opportunity to commit that day over to God. Driving is not just a point A to point B thing but a mobile prayer closet. Dinners are not just communal necessities but a chance for thankfulness and unity among loved ones. My work is not just routine but my God given tasks that require my God given abilities.

The ordinary is everything. Christ was ordinary yet he changed the world and offers us an ordinarily extraordinary life.

Embrace the ordinary.

I Am Not Very Observant

Most of the time, I am too distracted, too busy, too worried, too anxious to notice all the good and meaningful things that are around me.

I recently picked up Eugene Peterson’s book Practice Resurrection. This book is Peterson’s conversation on Ephesians. I had read this book, or portions of it, several years ago, but never knew it was the better written, and more deeply thought out version of what I am trying to do here with this blog. For example, this section from page 2:

The most significant growing up that any person does is to grow as a Christian. All other growing up is a preparation for or ancillary to this growing up…The human task is to become mature, not only in our bodies and emotions and minds within ourselves, but also in our relationship with God and other persons.

The rest of the book is like this. Peterson is reading my mind and heart and illustrating it in a very thoughtful and profound way. His subtitle to the book is, “a conversation on growing up in Christ.”

The thing is,  I have read this book before and remember nothing about this talk on Christian maturity and Growing Up.

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How much truth, how much meaningful content, how many messages from God just pass us by without us paying much attention?

It worries me that Peterson was addressing my own key message and purpose and it barely registered for me. Maybe one of the first steps in maturity is fewer and fewer of these moments and messages pass us by unnoticed. A sign of maturity may mean that we are in a state where we are more spiritually observant and receptive to all God is throwing at us. Our distraction levels are lowered and the Holy Spirit has more room to work.

What is it that you have let pass you by unnoticed? Do you need to read that passage of scripture again? Can you find that sermon online that you should have been paying attention to? Can you take your time with your next book long enough for the words to soak in? Or do you just need to approach the next thing with more receptivity to God’s work in your life?

He is present and he wants to connect with us. Are we listening?

Re-Growth: My Letter To God

I have been writing this blog in earnest for one year now. There are some interesting things we have discussed over this time and hopefully some of you have gotten half as much out my postings as I have in writing them. This week, I will be highlighting some of my favorite posts as a year in review. Thank you for reading and lets keep Growing: 

(December 5, 2016)

Dear God,

The life I want most for myself is a God-breathed life; a life where those that know me, know a little of Jesus.

I want decisions I make to have a hint of the special and holy and divine. I want to be inspired daily and not live a hum-drum existence. Without you in my life, my life is full of limits and boundaries and roadblocks. With you in my life, I can accomplish many things I couldn’t accomplish on my own. I want to lean into that reality and watch you work. I want to be as amazed by your work in my life as everyone else.

I have seen so much in the last few months. Your presence has been there, moving me to the next thing. I can’t believe I am here in my life right now. I wouldn’t have predicted this scenario. I need you Lord. I need the best of me to be all of you. I have so many questions and concerns. Please don’t turn those into worries. Worries are no friend to growth, they try to stifle it. I put my worries behind me and your transforming power in front of me.

Come Lord Jesus.

Your indwelt and loved child,

Scott


I encourage you to write a similar letter to God. And don’t misplace it. Returning to the letter a year from now should be a keen reminder of what God has done in your life and how you have Grown Up.

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photo credit: Lukas.bO

Re-Growth: The Politics of the Good

I have been writing this blog in earnest for one year now. There are some interesting things we have discussed over this time and hopefully some of you have gotten half as much out my postings as I have in writing them. This week, I will be highlighting some of my favorite posts as a year in review. Thank you for reading and lets keep Growing: 

(January 30, 2017) So apparently we can’t call things like we see them anymore.

The social media political environment forces one to double down on ideology instead of being considerate of the reality. If I am on the right, I can’t call injustice for what it is, I have to point out that the left also practiced injustice. It is like we are 7-years old and screaming, “I know you are but what am I?”

Maybe, we, no matter what side we are on, need to get off of our high horses and humble ourselves. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

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Jesus didn’t die to make me right politically, he died to make me right spiritually. Are we exploiting Jesus in our pride to win an argument or appease Twitter followers? Instead, lets humble ourselves and let God make us Grow Up. May the Grown Up person we become- indwelled and charged by Christ – dictate our beliefs and actions. May we move, speak, and respond out of our Christian maturity not out of our religiously sprinkled yet immature need to win or one up someone on the other side.

Our world, our intermingled lives, are not a game. We have to live together. We have to promote the good. Jesus, when he healed a demon possessed man and was accused of working for the other side, said, “A good man brings good out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”

May we all, including me, check ourselves and see what good is coming out that is indicative of the good that is stored in us.

“Lord, may I lose every argument but gain your goodness. May that goodness be evident in my thoughts, my words, and my actions. I don’t want to be right in my peers eyes; I want to be right in yours. Make me good Lord and help me work for all the good you are bringing to the world no matter what side that is on. To live for you and die for my own gain.”