The Appearance of Fun

This weekend is the big game. I don’t need to tell anyone in the Kansas City area as the town is abuzz with Chief’s mania. Sunday evening, the game will kick-off, and a new world champion football team will be crowned. The event will be celebrated in many ways in the area with all kinds of gatherings and parties. There will be food and alcoholic beverages in abundance.

This is not a post about the evils of alcohol, although I have thought about writing a perspective on the topic. No, this post is about the impression people give when they drink. Having spent time counseling couples, working with struggling adults, and trying to guide teens into wise decisions, I have learned a thing or two about what you will see this weekend. The outward picture will be of people have a good time. There will be an appearance of fun that looms large at every party.

The problem is what lies beneath the surface. Most of the people I speak with are drinking for darker and often more sinister reasons. We, as believers, need to be aware of the ugly struggles many people have when they begin to drink.

  1. Some are Carrying Lifelong Pain. There is a long list of struggles that people carry with them throughout life. An absentee father (or parent), an abusive relative – both physically and emotionally, and sexual abuse, to name a few. Some people are trying to erase the emotions from years of struggle.
  2. Some are Struggling with Current Issues. Some of the problems are from the past, and many are still present today. I am amazed at the difficulties people have in their private lives, that they have not told a single person. That woman who is so much fun at parties is dying inside because of the way her husband treats her at home. The list is also long and troubling.
  3. Some are Trying to Escape Their Past Mistakes. These people have issues with failures that were not the result of someone else, but the work of their own hands. I once had a guy who would drink at every opportunity; his current wife called me and told me to come to their home and see it for myself. As I talked with his drunken personality that night, he only talked about one thing. He failed his first marriage, and he was not the dad he wanted to be for his girls because of it. He was carrying an enormous amount of pain from his past mistakes and tried to numb his feelings any way he was able.
  4. Some are Attempting to Numb Their Emotions. Some people will drink because they are lonely. Others are sad at how life turned out. One woman I know has a marriage that is falling apart, and she attempts to find joy in any way possible. She always looks happy, but it is just a show trying to veil the pain she is feeling.

Please hear me clearly; I hope you have fun this weekend. Also, we need to understand that many of the people around us are looking for something more. They are trying to hide behind the appearance of fun. We need to keep our eyes and ears open for places the gospel can help far more than a drink.

Didn’t Know What I Was Missing

When I started dating my wife, she asked me to go out to eat at a Chinese Buffet. I told her repeatedly that I do not like Chinese food. Every experience of anything remotely oriental was disgusting, and rice was a waste of plate space. Finally, after her begging and pleading, I went. As you can imagine, I loved it. It was so good. I ate till I felt sick and then asked if we could go back the next week. I had no idea what I had been missing.

I thought of this story recently after a conversation with an elderly lady in the Church. She had spent her whole life living outside of faith. She never went to Church, never understood Jesus, and definitely had no interest in Christians. Over time her children became believers, but she was still not interested in any of that religious stuff. Finally, a couple of years ago, she came to a worship program one Sunday morning to quiet her son. She never imagined what happened next.

She explained that the people were so friendly. “They shook my hand and made me feel comfortable,” she stated. No one pointed out her flaws and failure, even though many could have done so. She thought it was because she came on a special Sunday. She returned to find the people happy to see her again. Over time the focus went from the people to the message, and she heard the good news of grace and forgiveness. The story of Jesus and his work on the cross made sense to her. It was an opportunity to let go of the past and start fresh. Soon she decided to follow Jesus and was baptized.

Now almost three years have passed since the first visit. As she told the story, she said, “I had no idea what I was missing.”

I wonder how many people could tell a similar story. They had an idea about Church, Jesus, and Christians, and then they actually attended and experienced something incredible. Then my mind turned a different direction. I wonder how many people we know would change their mind if they joined us one Sunday. People will never know until they try, and they may never try until we ask. One invitation could change someone’s perspective and maybe their life.

Some of the Best Decisions of My Life

Today marks the 17,532nd day of my life. One date calculator says I have spent an estimated total of 5,840 of those days asleep. It seems like wasted time, but I know all of us need rest. Setting that aside, I wonder what I have done with those remaining days. What are the decisions that have moved me to this point in my life?

There are obviously three answers that you might expect me to say were the most significant. The accepting of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, marrying my wife and the decisions to have four children, would all be the top answers. What else has made an impact on my life over these days? Here are a few answers that I hope inspire and encourage you.

  1. Daily Routines. Twelve years ago, I made a commitment to spend time in prayer and Bible reading no less than five days a week. I also decided to tell my wife every day that I love her. On top of that, I write blogs five days a week. These few daily routines have done more to mold my life, thinking and emotions than anything else.
  2. I Left Busyness Behind. In the same time frame as above, I realized that a hectic pace of life, crowded schedule and long hours of work were killing my family and me. So, I decided to block out days off, keep evenings free, say no to some activities, and have a less busy schedule. This has allowed me time to think, connect with the people I love and be far less stressed. My days are full, but my life is not busy.
  3. Taking Care of Dad. For 18 months, I drove almost nine hours one way to help my dad. I made 16 trips during that time; I would not trade a minute for all the gold in the world.
  4. Letting Go of Sports. My children love sports. They played basketball, football, and a little baseball. We used to dream of scholarships and careers in one of these areas. After seeing the truth about sports five years ago, my wife and I decided to take a different approach. Sports are for fun and nothing more. No more travel ball, long hours at the gym or wasted time and money trying to make our life about a game.
  5. Keeping the Faith. Three times in my life, I have thought about giving up on God. I could have packed up my Bible, books and walked away for good. It would have been easy to do, and no one would have blamed me. In fact, it might have been what people expected. But I didn’t quit. I fought through the hurt, shame, and anger to come out a better person. I am far happier about my faith today than any other point in my life. I have people who care and support me while maintaining love in my home.

These are some of the best decisions I have made during my days on earth. I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about these this week. I wrote a list, and some items did not make the cut. Is there anything you would add to my list? What about your list? As you look back over your life, it is easy to see the big mistakes, but what about the positive choices. I thank God that I made these, and I pray that your life is guided by some good decisions as well.

The Power of Unsaid Words

The opportunity was obvious. I could say something that would be the truth, but it would also be hurtful. The words would sting but help me with the argument.

But I held my tongue.

When he spoke, it made me angry. I knew I could not openly attack in this setting, so I thought about making a passive-aggressive statement. It would bring laughter and make him feel the sting of my wit.

But I held my tongue.

My wife was clearly in the wrong. I could yell and let her know that this failure was not acceptable behavior to me.

But I held my tongue.

The Bible has a lot to say about the use of the tongue, especially the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 18:21, it says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (NIV 2011)” The tongue has the power of life … and death. Obviously, he is not speaking of literal death. He is underlining the possibility that the words we use can kill people emotionally. It can break their spirit, ruin a relationship and leave other people feeling dead inside.

Sometimes the most significant thing you can do to improve your life is to hold your tongue. I have done it a few times, and they were some of the best decisions I have ever made. Maybe the most productive thing you can do today is to listen more and speak less.

The Changing Hands of Love

When you are young, love comes with passion. You can’t wait to see each other, touch, kiss, and be close. Those feelings supercharge your emotions and make you feel alive. Young people write love, songs, poetry, and make art. The love of youth is full of energy that pushes people to do crazy and fun things together.

The other day I saw the other side of love. I watched an older couple getting into their car. He struggled to walk. She took his hand and helped him into the passenger seat. I am sure he once drove that automobile everywhere, as she was rarely allowed to drive. Now she was in control. She helped him into his seat, loaded his walker in the trunk. She came back to his door and made sure he was buckled up and secured. With all her might, she closed the door, walked around and maneuvered into the driver’s seat. The car started and off they went.

They never saw me watching them, even though I was staring to the point that might be considered embarrassing. I marveled at his trust in her. Her compassion for him. The teamwork that made their life together magnificent. By appearances, I would say they had been married at least 50 years. The fire of passion was dim, but their love has never burned brighter.

After watching their act of love, I spent time thinking about my wife and how much love changes. The passion of youth gives way to the teamwork of parenting. The fun of adventure transitions into the joy of time alone together. The hands that once touched with delight now help to support one another in times of difficulty. The feelings remain the same, but the expression becomes new with each season of life.

Real love is about joyfully changing yourself to meet your spouse’s needs. The hands that one day are buying lingerie will then wash baby clothes, and next will help your son pack for college and finally will hold your hand in the doctor’s office.

My challenge this week is this one project. If you are married, go home and grab your spouse’s hands and kiss them. Thank God for the things those hands have done. Ask God to guide you into the things those hands will do for you. Take a moment and recognize that the hands of love have many forms and each one is a gift from God.

Reasons to Try A New Seat This Sunday

I am a creature of habit. I eat the same things, wear the same things, and when it comes to Sunday morning, I like to sit in the same place. Likely, you do too.

Last week, as part of a joke, a family in our church came up to sit with me on the front row. They are the first people ever to do that, and it was nice to have people beside me. This got me thinking about why it is a good practice to sit in different places around the worship auditorium on Sunday.

  1. It will make the Church more guest friendly. When you sit in different seats, then no one area becomes your territory. If you walk into worship and someone is setting where you might typically sit, it is not a big deal.
  2. Moving helps you to meet more people. Since all of us naturally gravitate to the same general areas, a move across the room might enable you to meet some new people.
  3. It gives you a different perspective. When you sit somewhere new, your eyes will be opened to new things. I know this is very true in our Church building. The sound is different in various places around the auditorium. The view is unique from each location. Different seats help you to visualize what other people see each week.
  4. It will make change a regular part of your worship. Once you start sitting in the same chair every week, then you are going to want the same order of worship, the same songs and the same people on the stage. Moving seats starts you on a path of continual change. Frequent small changes will help you handle the significant changes when they come, and they are coming.

This Sunday, when you walk into worship, how about trying a different seat than usual. You never know, it might change your perspective and even make you a new friend.

Why I don’t spend much time away from Church

I struggle to take vacations. When I do take them, more than half of the time, I end up coming back to my Church to worship. Last year I spent one Sunday away from my Church family.

One of the most recent trends is for a preacher to only speak about forty times a year at the Church where they are on staff. The goal is to keep the preacher fresh and spiritually healthy while developing a team of speakers. My only problem with this approach has been a single question, “Do you still attend your Church when you are not preaching?” That question usually ends up with this pastor telling me they are always doing something productive for the kingdom on Sunday morning. The short answer is no.

This bothers me to my very core. How can we expect people to value the community if we don’t? If we only attend the Church we lead three times a month; there is a problem, in my opinion. We should never expect our people to be in attendance more than we are.

Let me explain my thinking. You see, this is not just the Church I get paid to lead; this is my faith community. This is where my Christian friends attend. These people love me, encourage me, support me, and stand beside me as the family of God. We cry together and we laugh together. For this reason, I enjoy preaching here every week, and I attend, even if I am not speaking. Yes, my wife will attest that there are seasons I need to take some time off to clear my head, but it not because I have no desire to be in worship together.

Recently, I took a vacation, and on the second Sunday I was off, I came back to be a part of worship here. As I shook people’s hands, everyone said the say type of thing, “We didn’t expect to see you today.” I was a little more than surprised at people’s responses.

I am here today to tell people that as a preacher, I love my Church family. Just like I enjoy being with my own family as much as possible, I delight in being with the people in my faith community. I am not saying this because I think I am more spiritual than other pastors or better than anyone who calls on the name of the Lord. I simply want my Church to know you are my family in the faith, and I want to be with you.

I hope and pray you will want to be with me also. If so, I will see you Sunday.