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Monday, April 26, 2010

Waiting 4-26-2010

When I married Jackie we repeated the customary wedding vows promising to cherish one another “in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth.” Perhaps we should have added an additional line. Something like. “I promise to wait for you.” Since we married we have waited for each other. We have waited at airports, train stations and bus stops. We have waited outside of public restrooms too many times to count. I have waited on her to put on last minute make-up and she has waited on me to put down my book or close my computer. When she gave birth to our children, I waited. When I had a motorcycle accident, she waited. In too many ways to enumerate or remember, we have waited on each other. If we added it all up it would be a huge chunk of our lives. And now, it makes me happy. She is worth waiting for.

When we had children, we waited. We waited for their birth. We waited for them when they got out of school. We waited late at night in dark parking lots for their buses to return. We waited for them in the car, the motor running, the clock ticking, knowing we were late to church. We stayed up waiting for them to come home from their first dates. And we waited for them to come home from college.

Waiting is a part of life. We choose to wait for those we love.

That is why God waits for us, because He loves us. Isaiah says, “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you for the Lord is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him. (Isa 34:18). In Jeremiah, God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5). God has waited an eternity for you.

We often miss God because we haven’t learned to wait on Him. We blast through busy schedules making quick decisions without taking time to connect with God’s better plan for us. The Psalmist said, “My soul waits in silence for God only. From Him is my salvation.” (Ps. 62:1) “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.” (Ps. 40:1) The prophet Micah said, “But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord. I will wait for the God of my salvation.” (Micah 7:7)

Waiting on God involves prayer and finding time to be quiet before Him. Sometimes it includes fasting. But waiting isn’t always about sitting still with our arms folded. The Apostle Paul waited on God by remaining in motion. Acts describes his efforts to discover God’s plan for the next chapter of his life. While he was moving through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, the Holy Spirit forbade him from entering Asia. He then sought to go into Bythinia, but the Spirit of Jesus said no. Only after his visit to Troas did God make it clear to him he was to head west toward Macedonia. (Acts 16:6-10).

Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened.” The secret is to remain open to God’s direction and to listen to His voice while we remain in motion constantly seeking and knocking. When we “wait upon the Lord” in this way, He will direct our paths.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Acts of Kindness 4-19 2010

Most of us are inspired by great acts of heroism. Sully Sullenberger, the captain who skillfully landed US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, has become a household name. After striking a flock of geese that disabled the engines, Sullenberger flew the plane like a giant glider and landed safely on the Hudson River saving the lives of 155 people on board. For thirty years Sullenberger flew airplanes in an uneventful career. This one act made him a national hero.

A couple weeks ago New York City was captivated by the heroic act of a French tourist who plunged into the river to save a two-year-old child. When Julien Duret saw Bridget Sheridan slip through the guard rail and fall into the East River, he did not hesitate. He immediately jumped into the river to save her. Later, amid all the commotion, he took a taxi and disappeared without waiting to be thanked.

Few of us will be given such significant opportunities to perform heroic feats that make the news. And even if the heroic opportunity were given to us, we might miss it.

Celebrated heroic actions make a difference. They burst upon us like a torrential downpour that sweeps us off our feet. But it is the little known acts of kindness that often make the greatest difference. They are like the raindrops that pool into fresh water lakes and nourish the earth.

Jesus recognized the importance of heroic and sacrificial actions. He said, “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend.” Of course, this is what he did when He went to the cross and laid his life down for us. But he also taught the importance of little acts of kindness. In fact, it might very well be that the little acts of kindness we choose to do every day have a far greater impact in transforming the world than a few famous acts of heroism.

All of us have opportunity every day to perform little acts of kindness. We all have opportunity to let someone else in line before us, to hold a door open for a stranger, to speak a kind and encouraging word to the cashier who wearily scans countless items at the checkout counter. We can all be kind to a waitress who works for a minimum wage to support her child, or a student working nights to pay for college. The little acts of kindness change a culture.

A friend recently recounted his visit to Arby’s. Completing a cell phone call, he watched from his car as a large woman frantically searched the back seat of her car. He asked if there was a problem. She told him she had a roll of quarters she was going to use to buy lunch, but she could not find them. He pulled out a $10 bill and asked, “Will this help?” She refused. He insisted. Inside he stood behind the rattled woman as she thanked him profusely. She said, “God sent you, you know.” When the cashier delivered his order she said, “The manager was watching and he went ahead and gave you a free sandwich.”

Little acts of kindness add up. All put together, they can change the world.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Master's 4-12-2010

Sports are never just about the performance on the field or the final score at the end of the day. It is always about the story behind the competition. That was true this past week, once again, at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia.

The Masters has become a highlight of the year for me. Like millions of other golfing duffers, I look forward to this unique week in sports. The spectacular fairways lined with brilliant azaleas and dogwoods mirrored on the surface of glassy pools mark the beginning of spring. It has become the setting where some of the great stories of sacrifice, hope and devotion have unfolded.

Bobby Jones, the original designer of the Masters, somehow left a legacy that has made this tournament different. An amateur golfer who won all the major championships, Jones never accepted a check for his victories.

I have watched the Masters legacy unfold across the years: Jack Nicklaus making a surge on the back nine to become the oldest winner of the tournament at age 47 with his son as his caddie; Ben Crenshaw doubled over in tears on the eighteenth green after winning the tournament one week after he buried his life-long coach and friend, Harvey Pinick.

This week, the tournament ended with Phil Mickelson tearfully embracing his wife, Amy and claiming his third green jacket. For more than a year Amy has been battling breast cancer. Phil has limited his appearances in order to be by her side, and, as a result his golf scores had suffered. But this week was different.

Perhaps Phil learned something from Payne Stewart in 1999. Standing on the green at the final hole of the US Open and playing with Stewart, Phil had a chance to win his first major tournament on Father’s Day. Amy was at home expecting their first child at any moment. Phil fell one stroke short when Stewart sunk his par putt. Payne Stewart had wasted much of his early career partying and carousing, but he had given his life to Christ and discovered the values that truly count. Stewart walked over to Phil, took his face in his hands, locked eyes with him and beamed as he said, “Phil, you’re going to be a father!” The next day, Phil’s daughter, Amanda, was born. Four months later Payne Stewart was killed in a plane crash. His funeral at First Baptist Orlando inspired the golfing world and his wife Tracy wrote a biography of her husband’s golfing journey to faith. Phil Mickelson wrote One Magical Sunday (But Winning Isn’t Everything).

Most of us will never attend a Masters golf tournament. The tickets are carefully guarded and difficult to obtain. Fewer still will ever compete in the event and only a handful will be able to claim victory. But all of us have the opportunity to win at what really counts: the relationships that make life meaningful. Jesus taught that all of life is summed up in relationships: to love our enemies, to lay our lives down for our friends, to love our wives as Christ loved the church, to care for our children and to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The real question for all of us is not whether we ever make it to the Masters as an observer, a player or a winner. The real question is whether we belong to the Master.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Listen 4-5-2010

I am not a great listener. I lose focus. One word can trigger any number of divergent thoughts. My mind will race off in pursuit of those thoughts suddenly deaf to the words being spoken. At other times I leap ahead, thinking about what I want to say rather than listening. I have to discipline myself to re-focus on what is being said, sometimes scrambling to piece together the gaps that I missed during my mental lapses. My wife knows this. She can see it in my eyes. Sometimes she will stop talking and the silence will awaken me from my temporary daydream. “You’re not listening,” she says. Of course she is right. But occasionally I am lucky enough to be able to repeat the last sentence that she spoke, retrieving it from some kind of digital recording in my head, even though it’s meaning was not being registered in my brain.

My wife, on the other hand, is a great listener. That is one of the reasons I married her. She listens intently, not just to me, but to anyone speaking to her. I once watched a total stranger stop her on the street in New York and spill out their life story. I have witnessed the same thing on subways, in train stations, at Walmart and, of course, at church. You can see it in her eyes. She focuses. She doesn’t glance around the room wondering if there is someone else she should speak to. She doesn’t look beyond you. Her eyes don’t glaze over in a fixed stare that pretends to listen while she thinks about something else. This is the reason she is so successful in what she does. She works with high school students in crisis. She has students of every race and religion, and she makes a difference.

Listening is a powerful gift. It is transformational. When someone listens to us without judgment or accusation we hear and see ourselves differently. Somehow the act of having someone truly listen enables us to sort through our emotions and confusions to reach better conclusions. Feelings of isolation and loneliness dissolve and melt away when someone listens to us. The listener, by listening, has the ability to heal.

Most of us are far more intent on being heard than hearing. When we pretend to listen, we are, more often simply waiting for a gap, a chance in the conversation to insert our already preconceived conclusions. We interrupt one another with conversations that often are running on different tracks.

The Bible says, “Everyone must be quick to hear and slow to speak.” (James 1:19).

How many times have we injured someone, or simply failed to help someone, because we were too quick to speak? How different our world would be if parents listened to their children; if bosses listened to their employees; if businesses listened to their customers; if politicians listened to the people; if persons in power listened to each other? Maybe if we were better at listening to one another, we might be better at listening to God.