Look for the Stars

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)

You don’t have to sit outside in the dark.  But unless you do, you’ll never see the stars.

A piano holds endless music.  But it remains silent unless someone plays it.

A child has incredible potential with a reservoir of capability and creativity.  But adults must take the time to listen, train, encourage, correct, challenge, support and model.

Time, which is, by itself, directionless and vacant, can be filled with meaningful activities and personal accomplishments.  But to make that happen, you must think through a plan and then carry it through.

Your mind is a blank slate.  It will absorb whatever you feed it:  imaginary worries, fears, filthy and seductive thoughts, hours of television or games…or good books, stimulating conversations, exciting risks of faith and learning new skills.  The mind neither requires it nor demands it.  But, if you want to experience the joy of discovery and of learning new and doing exciting new things, you must put in the effort.

So, what are you waiting for?

Miss U….

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saint. (Psalm 116:15)

Last night was the Greater Gardner Relay for Life.  It was a special time for us as my wife walked for the first time as a survivor.  It was also bittersweet because it was the first year that my late sister-in-law was not a member of one of the fund-raising teams.  This was always an exciting time for her and important because so many of her siblings and other family member have died of various types of cancer.  It brought to mind some of the many things we are missing since her death Christmas Eve.  Here are just a few of them in no particular order:

She would host Super Bowl parties at our house (while we were away vacation).

She would call in the middle of the night to let me know that the Red Sox had just done something great.

She would call in the early morning of every birthday and sing Happy Birthday.

She loved making puzzles at our house–whether we were there or not.

She visited and became my mom’s best friend in the last years of her life.

She transferred those visits and friendship to my sister, who had lived with my mom for those last years.

She would go on vacations with us and various other family members ( her sister, nephew and family, my sister, etc.).

She took pictures for every holiday and family gathering–and sometimes just for the sake of taking a picture.

She would play Scrabble with her cousins and my wife (and Dominoes, too, with the cousins).

She would clip news and sports articles from the local paper for every friend, relative and neighbor for miles around.

We would join her in celebrating her 29th birthday year after year after year.

There were so many ways that she impacted our lives, and each day we remember another.  And each time it hurts like an emotional wound that has reopened.  And, these are just a handful of memories that I will always have of the woman who became my sister when I married her sister.  There are many, many more.

The Seasons of Our Lives

To everything, there is a season…. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

A long time ago in a what seemed to be a galaxy far, far away, I lived my life as a teacher, youth pastor and coach.  I loved what I did.  And, hopefully, I made a difference in at least some of the children who passed by me on their way to learning who they were, what they wanted out of life and who they would become.

Then, suddenly, it all changed for me.  After being incredibly healthy for all of my childhood and into early middle age, my body began to fall apart.  Three heart attacks, a knee replacement and an epileptic seizure later, I finally realized that my time for those particular activities was over.  I fought long and hard against giving up those things.  I wanted to hang onto what I had always loved and what I had always done for most of my adult life.  But I could feel my ability to do those things slowly slipping away.

No one likes change.  Especially when that change separates us from what we have always loved.  But, seasons change.  It seemed like, in the springtime of my life, God gave me certain abilities and desires that led me to work with children.  As I moved into the summer of my life, I began to recognize and develop those talents–realizing that working with children was indeed what I was meant to do.  In the fall of my  life, circumstances began to change–making what I had always done more and more difficult.  Then as I entered into the winter of my life, I found myself completely separated from the things that had always given me the greatest joy.  That part of my life had ended and I felt lost.

But after the winter came a new season with new challenges, different abilities and desires.  I’m now involved in things that I would never have imagined twenty years ago.  Never having been a father, I find myself sometimes being looked at as a father figure to those who actually are fathers.  I’ve gotten closer to my family and have been able to help out when things have gotten tough for them.  I volunteer my time to the area library and do yard work for our town’s historical society.  I’ve rekindled the love I’ve always had for art and have helped put on a local art show each year for the past seven years.  There are a myriad of things that I now have the time and the desire to do.  None of these things are more or less important than the things I used to do.  They’re only different.  And they are things that I would never have had the time or the inclination to do when I was younger.

Seasons change, but life keeps moving on.  We either keep moving and growing through each new season, or we die on the vine.

Watch out for the boomerang!

Have you ever been the recipient of some sharp criticism by someone who either should have known better or someone who didn’t know what they were talking about to begin with?  Have you ever been in a crowd where you saw such criticism take place and wondered, “What in the world were they thinking?”  Worse yet, have you ever been the one to speak that stinging criticism?  I’m sure if each of us would be honest, we’ve all been a part of all three–unfortunately, including the last one.  I know I’ve been guilty of looking at certain people through “black-colored glasses,” and seeing in them only the negatives that I think I perceive.  I recently saw a situation where several people became so upset with what they thought they were seeing in someone, that they separated themselves from him and from his friends.  It turned out that what they were accusing him of had a perfectly logical and appropriate reason behind it.  Unfortunately, the accusers had made a big deal of their criticism and were unable to take a step back and offer their apologies.

While some people have a hard time with the Bible, read what Matthew had to say in chapter 7, verses 1-5: “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.”

Sounds like a great suggestion to me–unless you like being bombarded by boomerangs.

Who are you?

I was listening to my pastor in church this past Sunday, and I was struck by something he said about human beings.  It seems like many of us are human “doings.”  We seem to want to define ourselves by our jobs, our careers, the things we do to fill up our daily lives.  He asked, though, do we do what we do because that’s our life’s desire or simply to get a paycheck to survive from day-to-day?

When I was much younger, I was simply looking for a way to have some spending money, or to pay for my driver’s license and , eventually, to pay for my college tuition.  Those jobs (jack-hammering out a new cellar hole, kitchen worker at our local hospital, mail room at the factory where my dad worked, painting houses with my future bother-in-law, working night shifts at the nearby paper mill, cooking at a local restaurant–the last three all at the same time!) were, for the most part simply to make money–although cooking has become one of my favorite hobbies.  I didn’t want to make any of these jobs my life’s work.  At this point in my life, I was a human “doing.”  Unfortunately, many of us get caught in getting a steady paycheck and find ourselves getting locked in to something we really don’t want to spend the rest of our lives doing.  Ask a mix of some of the people you know and find out how many are working to simply get money to survive and how many love what they are doing.

I was going to become a lawyer.  I loved words and I loved arguing.  Perfect match, huh?  Two years into college, I discovered that I didn’t really want to become a lawyer.  I wanted to teach kids.  So, I earned my teaching certification and as soon as we got married, my wife and I began to teach little kids at our church.  Then I began to teach a Sunday School class.  Then I started coaching.  Then came substitute teaching and full-time teaching.  Then more coaching jobs.  And then, finally becoming a youth pastor.  I was never happier than when I was teaching, coaching and pastoring–all at the same time.  Sure, I got paychecks.  And, while these various types of teaching were my jobs, I wasn’t limited or “stuck” with them because they were what I wanted to  do.  It was who I was–and still am though in many different ways.

God made us human beings to accomplish the things he gave the talents and abilities to do.  How sad it would be to simply do what gives a paycheck and never to enjoy the opportunity to become what He designed to be.

Christmas Past

God so loved us that He gave us the greatest gift, His Son, so that whoever believes in Him,….will have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

My first Christmas memory was being awakened by my mother and, along with my sister, being led into the living room where this wondrous tree was glowing with large colored lights.  The brightly wrapped gifts under the tree were almost an afterthought.  Opening the gifts to find out what was inside was great fun, but playing with the boxes and the wrapping paper was even more fun.  I was 4 and my sister was 2.

My next memory was of the following year.  I discovered tinsel and threw handfuls of it all over the tree.  This year I had a better idea of what to expect from this guy called “Santa.”  So, I got up at 4:00, put on all the Christmas lights, ate breakfast, organized the presents by name into nice neat piles and then watched TV until everyone woke up.  Mom and Dad were not all that appreciative of my unsolicited help.

At age 6, I discovered a hidden hoard of presents in my mother’s closet.  Somehow, she managed to convince me that some gifts came from her and Dad, but the rest were delivered by Santa.  I was always amazed at the number of gifts under the tree.  Of course, my parents were very imaginative.  Mittens were wrapped one hand to a box and a toy requiring 4 batteries would fill 5 separate boxes.  Christmas stockings made their debut this year.  They were Dad’s real socks (freshly laundered).

During the summer I turned 7, I got into the first and only fight of my life.  It was with one of my best friends because, right there on my front lawn, he informed me that Santa Clause wasn’t real.  Boy, did I feel foolish when Mom admitted he was right.  By the way, I lost the fight, so it was a bad day all around.  Somehow, we managed to keep the truth about Santa from sister for a few more years.

When I was 11, Mom and Dad were pleasantly surprised (shocked!) to find themselves adding a new baby girl to the family.  I was a big brother–again.  So, for the next 7 or 8 years, we went through the entire children’s Christmas all over again.  I was now at an age where it was more fun watching her reactions to everything Christmas than it was opening gifts myself.

When I was 12, my dad found a picture of some snowmen caroling that he liked, and he asked me to help him make an outdoor sign out from it.  I always liked art, so I painted the images on a 4 x 8 piece of plywood and then painted “Christmas Greetings” at the top and “The Knowltons” at the bottom.  We fastened that sign to the side of the house and shined a spotlight on it.  He used that sign until they moved away nearly 20 years later.  The sign now hangs from my fence wishing all who see it, “Christmas Greetings.”

I’ve always loved the excitement and festivity surrounding Christmas.  Getting together with family and friends has always been one of the highlights of the season.  But once I became a young adult, I began to realize that the reason for this season was more than family, friends or gifts.  It really was about the birth of a tiny baby in a straw-filled cattle trough, attended his mother, his stepfather, some shepherds and a few animals.  Yet his birth was so amazing that angels sang and kings traveled to bring him gifts.  That child was, is and always will be the greatest gift any of us will ever receive–one that no one can ever buy and one that need never be exchanged.  It’s been delivered and is sitting at your heart’s doorstep, waiting for you to pick it up and claim it.  That’s what Christmas is all about.

I know too much to do anything!

“Be doers of the Word…not merely hearers.” (James 1:22)

With thanks to “The Word for You Today:”

A businessman known for his ruthlessness, arrogance and religiosity told Mark Twain that before he died, he intended to visit the Holy Land, climb Mount Sinai, and read the Ten Commandments aloud.  “I have a better idea,” Twain replied.  “Just stay here in Boston and keep them.”

Most of us would rather think about what we don’t know than act on what we do know.  The growth in the internet, 24-hour television and mobile phones means that we now receive five times as much information every day as we did in 1986.  But that pales into insignificance compared with the growth in the amount of information we churn out through email, twitter, social networking sites and text messages.  It’s been said that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today on average, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months.  According to IBM, the build out of  the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.

That’s too incredible to even imagine.  So, our problem isn’t a lack of information.  It’s knowing too much and doing too little.  Here’s an everyday example: People would rather debate the merits of proteins vs. carbs, French cooking vs. vegetarian, lifting weights vs. cardio, than change how they eat.  The bottom line is simple:  Expend more calories than you take in.

In the same way, some people would rather debate church doctrine than simply do what the Bible says.  Instead of reading and talking about the idea of living a “good” life, practice loving a difficult person; try forgiving someone; give some money away; stop and say thanks; encourage a friend; bless and enemy; when you’re wrong, say, “I’m sorry.”  Face it:  You already know more than you’re ever going to use.  And nothing turns people off faster than someone with a head full of knowledge, who lacks grace and character.  It’s the same today as it was when James wrote, “Be doers of the Word and not merely hearers.”