Saturday, August 20, 2016

Everything does NOT happen for a reason

I've heard it over and over from Rio - "everything happens for a reason." Usually it's from someone who didn't win a medal but sometimes from those who did. But I hear it all around, from non-athletes commenting about life.

Everything happens for a reason is a LIE! It's simply not true.

This is the phrase used to make ourselves feel better that there must be a reason for something that didn't work out; or something horrible that happened. We say it in hopes that Someone is in charge of everything. If Someone is not in charge, what's the meaning of life!

Everything doesn't happen for a reason because: It would mean that every evil act originated in the mind of God before it came to be in the actions of mass murderers, rapists and pedophiles. If it happens for a reason then that Someone must have planned it. This simply is not true.

Someone is not responsible for planning the difficult, evil, bad things that happen in our world. But someone (notice the small "s") is.

Ok, everything DOES happen for a reason, sort of. Let's take the Rio Olympics for instance.

People don't win gold medals for a great cosmic reason. They win because they were the best on that day at that moment thanks to an enormous amount of hard work and discipline. That's the reason they win.

People don't lose races because Someone has a cosmic grand plan and picks who wins and loses, like manipulating Marionettes. They lose because they weren't the best on that day at that time; they lose because someone else cheated; the lose because of a mistake on that day. That's the reason they lose.

So, sure, everything happens for a reason but that's not the way we use the phrase. We use it as a way to have an answer for things that have no answers. We use it so that we can blame something other than ourselves.

Why do some things happen:

  • Some people do stupid things. Take #LochMess for instance. There were some stupid choices made. Irresponsible decisions. None of this happened for a reason.
  • Some people are evil. The Holocaust did not happen for a reason. It happened because someone decided to set himself up as god. When people do that, bad things happen.
Here's the truth: God will use everything if we'll trust Him to do it.

We learn more from the difficult circumstances and our poor decisions than from the other things in our lives. I hate that that is the case but it's true.

I don't know how God does it but He can bring good things out of the worst of circumstances. I have stories. You may have stories. But not everyone has stories.

I think it's mostly in the way we respond to the difficult and evil things that happen to us or are caused by our stupid choices. 

If we believe that each mistake, each evil, each loss is a final statement about who we are, we may not recover. "I did something stupid" becomes "I am stupid." 

However, if we believe that those things happened but are not the final say, merely a chapter rather than the end of the book, then we can recover. "I did something stupid" becomes "let's not do it again."

This is by no means a thorough discussion of the topic. Perhaps it's a stab at hope for a man and some other young men who blew it in different ways. I hope it won't be approached as the end of the book. I always believe there's hope, that there's always the possibility of change, because God can work good things out of anything if we'll let Him.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

On A Road to Nowhere?

Today I took my wife on a road to nowhere. She has always said she'd follow me anywhere and today she proved it when we went to Nowhere. She did quip that with the many times we've gotten lost on family vacations (yes, usually with me driving) this could be the place we've been looking for our whole lives!

You can read about the Road to Nowhere here, but the summary is that it's a failed government project and a broken promise. 

It was a beautiful drive full of gorgeous scenery and not a few befuddled hikers who wondered aloud about the road that led to the tunnel that went to nowhere.

"How do I make sure I'm not on a road to Nowhere?" I have to admit to being in possession of a mind that wanders to the thought of legacy and purpose and impact. The older I get the more I have tended to wander that way.

A recent experience in the NC mountains at my mother-in-law's house is a good illustration. While beginning the process of cutting down some high-up black walnut tree limbs overhanging the covered porch, I had a purpose in mind. I wanted my son to learn, to know experientially how to do this, so that when I'm no longer here, he'll know how. Another family member was far more focused on safety and so stepped in, barking orders, taking over and while we got to the place of cutting down the limbs safely I'm not sure much was learned. I'm not sure we got anywhere, at least not to the place where I was focused. The road just ended when it could have pressed forward.

In order to get to legacy, I had to go through safety, but safety was not the final destination. We learn not by being ordered but by figuring our way through something new, under the watchful eye of someone else who can step in when safety could be compromised.

It's not unlike the side-seat driver who sees the car unseen by the driver and yells - "STOP!" (Of course, I'm reminded of a time when I was driving and my wife yelled, "DUCK," so I ducked, not seeing the ducks in the road!)

While exploring The Road to Nowhere with my wife, my mind wandered to marriage. A marriage is on a road to nowhere when it seeks happiness rather than holiness. God's creation of marriage isn't to make me happy. I won't always be happy in marriage. Sometimes she's (I mean it's) downright irritating!

Marriage, I believe, provides a way to holiness because my wife won't let me get away with sloppy living. I can ignore her, but then I'll end up nowhere. If I choose to break my promises to her, I will end up nowhere rather than the somewhere we were headed.

The road to nowhere is full of pull-offs called Short-sighted and Self-centered. When I want what I want NOW, my HERE becomes NOWHERE. I lose sight of the goal. If I spend everything and more than I have NOW for HERE, I'll end up NOWHERE. If I get focused on my dreams and wishes, forgetting "mine" is now "ours," I'll sacrifice something greater together in exchange for nowhere.

As a Pastor, my mind wanders to the pursuits of people which are focused on NOW and HERE outcomes such as pleasure and power. If I spend my days pursuing today what will be gone tomorrow, exchanging the eternal for the temporary, I will end up nowhere (I really believe I'll end up somewhere but it won't be anywhere anyone would like to be).

As an Executive Leadership Coach, my mind wanders to the behaviors of leaders that short-circuit their leadership impact. When a leader is focused mainly on defending their position or themselves because they take things personally, that leader is on an unproductive path and it leads to nowhere. Through intimidation or anger, a leader isolates themselves because of fear and insecurity (among other issues).

Each of us is on a road but to where does it lead? The road to nowhere is strewn with broken promises, myopic vision and fear. The road to somewhere is not always enjoyable. There are pitfalls and drop-offs, dangers galore, and the end isn't always in sight. It's a dream really, a vision of a preferred future. As a husband, I'm glad to be traveling our road together. As a father and grandfather, I'm honored to get to assist my children and grandchildren with encouragement and modeling to stay on the right road. This creates legacy. They get to continue what I won't get to finish when my race is done.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."
2 Timothy 4:7-8

Thursday, March 31, 2016

#10 - Partnering with Athletes in Action (The Year of 52)

Athletes are unique. Sometimes a bit strange. Keeping odd hours, eating copious amounts of food and never gaining weight, competitive, intense, athletes live a different life.

During my first year at the University of Cincinnati I met Mark Householder, campus staff with Athletes in Action (AIA). Some relationships become part of a road for a time while others become part of the heart, a piece of life no matter what the road. Usually we never know until later.

Mark spent time with me those first two years, one on one, in group settings and especially on a trip out to Fort Collins, CO for an AIA summer camp. A long drive with four of us provided great learning and relationships.

I didn't do much with AIA for more than 25 years, after retiring from swimming and heading into local church ministry with Salem Church. We crossed paths here and there, in some of the same circles around Southwest Ohio, but nothing formal.

In 2007 I reinitiated some contact because of my desire to connect ministry to my opportunity with officiating. Our fun, I believe, is never just for us. Everything we do is always about Him, whether it's building relationships, smiling at strangers, praying for the people around us - there is always an opportunity to serve a greater purpose, all while enjoying what we're doing.

I have a motto for approaching God's will: "Pay Attention." It's not very scientific, not deeply theological, but it works. I try to pay attention to the experiences, the teachings, the relationships that come into my life. My second stage is this: "Don't make more of them than there is and don't make less of them than there is."

I don't want to miss God's next step for me. AIA is one of those "next steps," not for going on staff, but for partnering to learn and impact the Kingdom through sports. Sports is just a hobby for me. Every hobby can be a ministry. God doesn't want us to find something we don't like to do for ministry. I believe He wants to use who we are - a combination of calling and experiences.

I think serving Jesus is a joyful thing - ok, not everything He calls us to do is enjoyable but it brings joy if it's not automatically joyful. Sometimes we just have to CHOOSE joy. Other times we get to live in joy.

This is what came of a relationship with Mark and AIA. Who knew? What about you? Are you paying attention? God is at work, sometimes for the moment; other times, for a lifetime.

Monday, March 28, 2016

#9 - Partnering with Salem Church (The Year of 52)

In college my horizons expanded, along with those of everyone else. New experiences. New opportunities. New dangers. For me it was seeking out new churches. I tried the Methodist Church. Definitely not for me. I ended up walking a good mile or so up Calhoun Ave. to First Assembly. Now that was an eye-opener for a kid from a "be quiet and don't misbehave" Sunday morning church. I went to InterVarsity Fellowship gatherings. I met up with Campus Crusade leaders and eventually Mark Householder with Athletes in Action. But FCA (First Christian Assembly) became a home for about 2 years.

During my Junior year my parents graciously purchased a car that I could take to school. This gave me the ability to enlarge my circle of searching: Episcopal Church of the Advent (only because there was a girl there!), back home to Anderson Hills and then to visit down the road at Salem Church with Pastor John Larsen.

Stephanie and I had begun dating in 1983. It was now 1984 and since we were on a trajectory toward marriage, we decided to join a church together and we made that church, Salem. Here is where I began to enter into the "business" of the Church, almost a testing to see if this was really where God was leading.

By late-1985 I was beginning to help lead Sunday mornings as well as teach at the California Church, down near the river, a church also Pastored by John. It was there, at California, that Stephanie and I stayed through our time at Asbury Seminary.

John took a chance on me, on us. He was a mentor, setting up challenges for growth. He allowed room to fail and was there to help pick up the pieces when I did.

One of the great lessons I took away from that time, a lesson that follows me to today, is the importance of people. Ministry is not about looking good or saving face. Ministry is about people. I've lived that out personally especially with my approach to guests and visitors at worship. While I would gladly welcome anyone with open arms, I am far more concerned that someone finds what they are looking for - where God wants them to be - than I am about a person coming to the church I'm leading. One way I say that is I'm more concerned with helping people be followers of Jesus than I am about growing members of a particular congregation.

My time at Salem was formational to a Kingdom focus rather than a local focus. Everything I do I try to keep it centered on His Kingdom rather than my space in that Kingdom. More often than not, people appreciate the approach. A few throughout 27 years have felt like I didn't care about them. The majority have said how refreshing it is.

So, thanks John. It was a good experience that has lasted a lifetime.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

#8 - Swimming at Cincinnati (The Year of 52)

From the age of 5 I've loved water. I do liquid only though, no frozen water. Therefore, no snow skiing, no ice skating. I'm sure with some practice I could learn but frankly I'm just not that good at it. I usually just fall and slide. It's not pretty. The result is probably due to the fact that during swim seasons I didn't dare get on frozen water for fear of breaking something and ruining the season.

In the pool is where I've always felt at home.

I remember at the age of 12 saying to my parents at the dinner table: "I'm going to get a scholarship to swim in college." It became a goal, probably an obsession - which might have been a bit unhealthy at times.

I made my college decision based purely on the scholarship offer. That I now know what not a healthy choice. Not that I regret my choice, it's just not what I advocated for my children nor others when I'm asked.

Eastern Kentucky came calling, my parent's alma mater, but no scholarship. Missouri flew me out for a weekend, but no scholarship. A few tenths of a second too slow. Mt. Union's President called, seeing that I was planning to go to Seminary and be a United Methodist Pastor. He tried to convince me going to a United Methodist School would be the best thing I could do. I visited Ohio Northern, where my son now attends and swims, but it definitely was not for me. Sad that it's the same pool today as it was then!

Then the week before High School Sectionals, my team from Anderson went down to Cincinnati to practice. Coach Frank Busch and Coach Tom Keefe were on hand. Pulling me out to talk, they were encouraging and wanted me to come for a visit after the State Meet. I did that, was offered a scholarship and that made my decision. Done.

I swam for two years, until my left shoulder gave out. With a torn muscle and a sublexating shoulder, swimming was over. I chose not to go through surgery at that point with a goal to re-enter the pool. I rehabed for two years trying to avoid surgery, but finally went under the knife in 1986.

I wouldn't recommend my decision making grid for college. But for me, college was merely a formality for getting to Seminary, so I didn't much care where I went. College wasn't my final destination. I'm not sad I went to U.C. as God used that time to shape me into who I am today. 

It was at U.C. that I met Mark Householder, campus staff for Athletes in Action, who played a large role in discipling me in my faith. 30 years later Mark and I connected again as I was moving into a role of international swim official and he was now President of AIA. It's been a great partnership, thanks to my time at U.C.

Because I was close to home I was able to start working at my now home church, Salem UM, under the leadership of John Larsen who took some risks and allowed me to lead. This time shaped me. 

Being a college athlete was awesome. I wouldn't trade it. Some of those teammates continue to be friends. Some of the foreign teammates became good friends - from West Germany, Sweden, Norway, Canada & Great Britain. My mother, having a gift of hospitality, would invite them over for Thanksgiving dinner, fixing a local dish each time - Black Forest Cake for one. They were grateful for a home-cooked meal. We enjoyed their friendship and the connection for years to come.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't make the decision for school the same way.....knowing what I know now. I look at that decision as an illustration of how God uses our choices, whether they are His first choice or not - whether they are done with His values or not - and He shapes us. I am grateful for all He taught me at U.C. and how He is using those things even up to this day.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

#7 - Learning to Lead (The Year of 52)

Even if you have innate leadership skills, there is always a place to start and always room for improvement. My learning and growing and training began in 1980 when Mark Rowland, my youth pastor at Anderson Hills Church, invited me to lead a Sunday School for 8th Graders. Looking back and I think I may have been Mark's last ditch choice because who would choose to volunteer for a Sunday School class of 8th Graders!!

I remember very little other than I was faithful to be there every Sunday. I don't remember the students. I don't remember any topic. But I did learn my first lesson on leadership: "show up." Leaders show up. 

The year was then 1981. Before the start of my Senior year I partnered with my friend Kathy K to lead a Bible Study for 8th graders. Her parents graciously offered their house as the meeting place. I remember a few more things from this experience. I've got some of the lessons we made those trusting teens endure. God forgive us!!

For some reason, the group grew. In fact it did more than grow, it flourished. We grew so large that we had to divide into two groups. Kathy and I invited two others to lead one group with each of us. Through prayer and the faithfulness of showing up, some of these teens became life-long friends. I was privileged to marry two of them and baptize a couple of their children many years later.

Here I learned some more foundational leadership lessons. Choose the right people as leaders. Without the right team, the future is uncertain. Every time I have lessened the expectations for leaders, I've regretted it. 

Encourage young leaders but be careful to not advance them too quickly. I watched a young leader or two crash and burn because I encouraged them but didn't form and shape them in God's Word. I don't mean to make that sound like it's all about me. What I know is that leaders do have a responsibility to take careful steps with young potential leaders.

Then there was the lesson of taking risks, the risk Mark Rowland took in supporting us to lead this group. I'm honored to be a colleague of Mark's today, but he was not always so certain of my leadership. But he took a risk to support what I sensed.

I've learned to not stand in the way of God's Spirit leading someone, even when I'm not certain it's God leading. Just recently when the former Pastor of The Park Church, where I now serve, said God was leading him to plant a new church, I commented: "I'm don't sit in the seat of telling someone they have or have not heard from God." This attitude and approach had its genesis in these early 80's days. 

I still have a lot to learn. A key character trait of a leader is they are learners. As soon as leaders stop learning, they stop being leaders. We've never arrived.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It Makes You Think

I've been in a hospital only once before for a procedure - a package discount of wisdom teeth and shoulder surgery back in 1985. I wasn't supposed to stay the night, but because they were operating on my left shoulder, a couple of MIT grads put the IV and blood pressure cuff on the same arm. They kept me overnight because they were concerned my skin was going to die. AWESOME!

So, tomorrow I lose my first body part. Actually I hope it's the only body part I ever have to lose. It's minor, not really a big deal. Gallbladder. Over the past month I adjusted what I ate and found I was able to control most reactions. I learned what had more fat in it than I thought. It was an interesting journey of self-control, even as the weekend messages @ The Park Church were going through the Fruit of the Spirit, ending last Sunday with "Self-Control." I was the illustration for me.

I'm not much of a fried foods, red meat guy, going rather for chicken, fish or turkey burgers without sauces. But suddenly, when those things were off limits, that's all I wanted.

The whole thing has made me think. Any time anesthesia is used there is risk involved. It made me think when the hospital asked: "Do you have a living will and or health care power of attorney? Please bring a copy with you." This is serious and it made me think.

I'm thinking about asking for an under 1-hour discount from the Doctor. He said it would be about 40 minutes because "I was in shape." I think I should get rewarded for that. But then again, I don't want him to rush. I think I'll be OK with the full charge. It made me think.

Everyone reacts differently is what I've learned, at least in the food category. Some friends went back to eating fried things within 2 days. Others it took weeks. Some have told me it took almost a year to figure it out by trial and error.

I don't think I'm worried about. The Park Church has an extremely high per-capita of nurses who have told me anything from: "piece of cake," to "just suck it up and be a big boy!!" I think what I'm more concerned about is missing my daily 90 minutes at the Y for the next couple of weeks. I told Stephanie tonight that it'll be like I'm on taper (swimmer language for those who don't get it). Her quick response with rolling eyes: "I'm going to work!" Not being able to swim for a period of time, nor lift over X pounds, I'm not sure what I'll do with myself. It's made me think.

I've been a bit more existential, thinking about the difference between the temporal and the eternal. It's so easy to pursue that which seems urgent, which often means it's right in front of us, begging for our attention. The eternal is more rewarding in the long run, but it's not "in your face," clamoring for our time and energy. This is not a big deal surgery, but still it's made me think.

What have I been pursuing with my life? What will I be remembered for? What do I want to be remembered for, and am I pursuing that vision? Self-control is a central key. I don't always feel like getting in that pool, but I'm in better shape today than I have been in 20 years. The reward is worth it. It helps to have 2 or 3 others to swim with and we hold each other accountable, basically through sassiness and disparaging remarks when we miss.

The same goes for pursuing my purpose on earth. Having others who hold me accountable is essential, for without that team, I'll be tempted to stop doing those things that no one else sees. These are the necessary things that make the biggest difference. I'm inspired by the new Under Armour commercials with Michael Phelps. One tag line is: "It's the things you do in the dark that put you in the spotlight." That's it - self-control. Lead yourself first.

We human beings tend to disintegrate and become lax over time and these moments of reality - I'm human - I'm not eternal and indestructible - I'm getting older - I won't live forever - are like a slap in the face to wake us up. Life is short, too short to waste not pursuing a dream, a passion, your purpose.

It's made me think. I'm grateful for the pain (it was more a discomfort really) that triggered the doctor visit that led to the ultrasound that brought me to this point. Pain is a friend that reminds me to focus on that which lasts and not worry so much about the things that won't. When the Doctor asked about any pain in the middle of the right side of my back and I said yes, over about the past 9 months, I was a bit shocked. He said: "I'll get of that too!" Awesome!

Spending time over the past month helping my mother in law learn a new normal after the death of her husband (not my father in law), served to double the message - "What do I want my legacy to be?" If I don't know what I want, I can't know how to achieve it. It's the difference between the financial planner who already knows what's best for you versus the one who asks for the details of your needs and wants, understanding your desire for the next generation, before laying out a plan.

I've had a "life goals" list for a while. I've got short-term goals, long-term goals and also dreams "if I get to choose." Proverbs reminds us: "In his heart man plans his way, but it is the Lord who establishes his steps." (16:9)

Life is full of twists and turns, surprises; detours and delays, even the destruction of dreams and plans. It's not the events that determine our end but rather our response. "Some people just get stones," my Doctor said, "even though you eat well and exercise." Awesome! But there are more serious things in most of our lives, things over which we have little control. It's our response that makes it a launching pad or a grave that masquerades as a rut.

With lots of time when I can lift things much less get in the pool until after Easter, I'm hopeful I'll be sharing more with you.

It makes you think.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

#6 - The Choice is Ours (The Year of 52)

We're all influenced by our environments. Grow up in southern California and your life will be colored by beach and mountains, surfing or swimming and skiing as normal. Experience childhood in the country, surrounded by cornfields and soybeans, with your nearest neighbor a "country block" of more than a mile, and your life will be different. Not worse or better, just different.

I was born in Indiana during January of 1964, just months following the assassination of JFK. We moved to Cincinnati's eastern suburbs in 1967, purchasing a house that was temporary because my dad worked for IBM and it stood for "I've Been Moved!" 40 years later my mom moved out of the house.

I vividly remember a family dinner, let's say it was around 1980, which is summarized with these words: "We're probably moving." The destination was to be Gaithersburg, MD. I found out during that dinner that there had been other possibilities in the years before: Rochchester, NY; Boulder, CO; perhaps Boca Raton, FL. A wide variety of different places that would have brought a different shape to my life. Different people. Different experiences. Different opportunities.

Needless to say we didn't move. It doesn't really matter what happened or didn't, but my father was committed to the stability that comes with longevity. 40 years on a cul-de-sac with a neighborhood of others who were mostly there for that long as well. Did he give up something? more money? a "bigger" title? It doesn't really matter. It was a choice and with choices come consequences.

I remember looking up the High School swimming results in Maryland. It was that serious of a possibility. I'm pretty sure of some things that wouldn't have happened had the move happened:
  • meeting and marrying Stephanie...and therefore our children and grandchild
  • college swimming at Cincinnati and teammates - where would life have taken me on the East Coast?
  • career in Ohio - would we have connected with a different denomination?
  • opportunities with swim officiating
  • and all of the relationships
These are the kind of things that came about because of geography and relationships. Other things would have happened but I never wonder what.

Our choices have lasting effects. We aren't always conscious of the impact when we make choices, small waves of our wings that create far reaching disturbances. Our choices are the pebbles, sometimes the rocks, that create the ripples making changes in the landscape. 

A recent conversation with a child reminded me of all this. "What choice should I make," I was asked. My response: "It's your choice. Make the best choice you can with the information you have today."

We choose our spouse if we want to get married. We choose a career, for the most part, although sometimes we just need a job and figure it out from there. We choose with the information we have at the time. If we're smart, then we'll figure out how to make it the right choice down the road. What choice will you make today?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

#5 - 1st Mission Trip (The Year of 52)

Looking back on our lives we can all see those watershed events, the times that change our lives. Our lives are made of the tapestry of chance encounters and the paths we chose or left untouched. 1979 was my watershed event with my first mission trip, which just happened to take me outside the country for the first time, to Haiti.

God used this time to make a such a significant impact on my life that 24 years later when offered the opportunity to teach in Haiti, I didn't have to think twice. I clearly remembered at that time - and remember today - taking off from Haiti on a sweltering summer day, as the wheels left the one runway, saying in my heart: "Lord, I want to return."

I would offer no pretense that the trip changed my everyday life right away. The usual post-trip commitments of not taking things for granted, of living more simply, quickly faded away, succumbing to advertising and the need to keep up with friends and acquaintances. There was a lasting impact, the now germinated seeds sown that color my approach to life and ministry.

Haiti is shocking to the soul. The known corruption of government officials creating a stark contrast to the extreme poverty of the greater population makes the soul sick. It hasn't gotten much better after the dictatorship of the Duvalier's. The great hope for Haiti was Aristide who seemed to be immediately corrupted by title and access to dollars, created selfish devastation rather than widespread relief.

One of my first memories from 1979 is lying in bed at the former Mexican Embassy turned mission house and hearing the voodoo drums in the distance. To a 15 year old basically innocent soul, it was frightening. I may have learned how to pray on that trip! The spiritual impact of dedicating your country to Satan for 200 years was real. (That dedication ended in 2004 and there is a positive spiritual awakening underway.)

My most vivid memory is from serving at Grace Children's Hospital, a ministry to children with tuberculosis. There a young lady named Denise became attached to me - ok, I became attached to her too! For the two days we were there I was who she wanted. I didn't complain. She grabbed my heart and God broke it on her behalf. I've not been the same since. Really.

My impressions of Haiti from that first trip haven't changed. Abject poverty is not the reason for lack of joy in your life. Family and relationships are always the most important building blocks for a full life. Jesus brings life to all while rejection of Jesus leads to temporal blessings for a few.

I continue to return to Haiti, as well as serve in mission around the world in the places where God opens doors. Where there is great spiritual oppression, there is a great awareness of other choices. Haiti is a great place for the Gospel.

Many people have asked me about the government corruption and are we wasting dollars. After all, everyone agrees that every Haitian should be a millionaire with all the dollars that have poured into the country over the decades, so much of it siphoned into the pockets of the Duvalier's and some of the subsequent leaders. This is why I have partnered with One Mission Society (OMS). They have a nearly 70 year history of consistent ministry in the country, are well known, trusted and have a network of believers from all walks of life. OMS missionaries know the culture. They know what to avoid. They know how to navigate even the most difficult of governmental red tape. And they get results.

Why go on a mission trip? Why spend the dollars? Why not serve people in our own backyard? My response is simple: It's not multiple choice. It's both and. Jesus calls us to serve people here at home, across the nation, and around the globe. Some can go. Some will send dollars. I have found that most people who argue for serving at home over global missions, often don't do much at home either. That's probably a little harsh and it betrays my passion.

I'm grateful I made that choice. The trip changed my life, for the better.

Read the other entries in this string:
The Year of 52 - The Beginning
#1 - First Childhood Memory
#2 - The Faith Journey
#3 - A "Chance" Meeting to change my life
#4 - Small Groups for life

Sunday, February 7, 2016

#4 - Small Groups (The Year of 52)

I was a bit of an arrogant teenager. Some might say I still am today! I like to know, I like being a part, I want to be where the action is. Call it dumb luck or arrogance, I'm glad God can use for good whatever pathetic morsel I have to offer. These are the things that make up my list of 52 Impacts & Experiences after 52 years of life.

Maybe I do keep everything!
It was 1978, my Freshman year in High School. I had moved into the "big" school and the "big" youth group at Anderson Hills Church. Mike Slaughter was our youth pastor. I don't know if he announced the start of a small group - called "Action Groups" - or he was forming one by personal invitation. What I do remember is it was for Juniors & Seniors in High School, of which I was not. I found out about it and therefore wanted to be part of it.

Again, I'm fuzzy on some details but I approached Mike and said: "I know I'm not a Junior or Senior but I don't think you're going to be here much longer and I'd like to be in that group with you." Whether immediate or after a little thought (probably immediate knowing Mike), he said: "As long as you do the work, you can join."

I'm not sure what the rest of the group thought about this wet-behind-the-ears, runny-nosed kid butting in, but what an experience it was. Life changing stuff with this group that may have included people like: Linda Layton Smith, Lisa Carey Erickson, Mark Erickson, Lynn Carey Pinner, Kevin Pinner, Joyce Palmer Geng, Kelly Wagner Oldham, Ron Johnson, Don Johnson, Rob Keller, Jay Wilson and I'm sure others. 

We studied the Book of Acts, read a book on discipleship by Leroy Eims and generally deepened our understanding of God's work for us through Jesus and His call on our lives to make disciples. Through Mike's leadership I learned to be more committed to God's Word than the shifting winds of the culture. As we studied the "acts" of the early disciples we clearly saw that their commitment to Jesus often ran counter to the culture, bringing into sharp relief God's call to holy living in the midst of the crowd.

Years later I came across a Bible translation by J.B. Phillips. The first verses from Romans 12 bring me back to that group sitting in the basement of Mike & Carolyn's townhouse:

"“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed. Then you will prove in
practice that the will of God is good...”

Squeezing is happening. Always has. Always will. The difference is whom or what will you allow to squeeze you and therefore shape you? What I learned in those early days of High School was the importance of constructing inner braces based on the unchanging truth of God's Word, so that when the pressure comes to capitulate, to conform, to follow the culture, I won't collapse. 

Small groups have been formative throughout my life since those days so long ago. I sat for many years in Stu & Betty Carey's family room, who led along with Barb Dierking, building relationships. I remember very little of the topics and "facts" learned. I do remember the people - people who gave of themselves to a bunch of teenagers because they thought we were worth something. They helped us see Jesus working in us by showing us Jesus through them.

Pastors groups and groups through the churches we've served, have helped shaped me into who I am today. I'm still in a small group because I still need more shaping.

Transformational growth does not happen in large groups but only in the more intimate fellowship of relationships around a family room or table. I'm grateful I learned that early on.

O, and Mike, I'll get you that report on the book...although it may have been eaten by the dog!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

#3 - A "Chance" Meeting (The Year of 52)

I was fortunate to be part of a large youth ministry @ Anderson Hills Church, across the road from Anderson Middle School and the High School next door to it. At one point there were almost 200 teens gathering weekly, from 8th grade through High School. Out of this group from 1978 to 1982 came at least 9 Pastors and an uncountable number of church leaders, elders and deacons.

It is here that I met the girl I've spent 30 years being married to. Although there is a discrepancy about when we met. I like to tell it this way: "We were both born in '64. She met me when we were 14. I met her when we were 16."

That could be a descriptive microcosm of our lives. In short, I'm a little slow on the uptake!

The impact of the youth ministry at Anderson Hills Church on my life cannot be told in a blog post or summed up in any number of pithy statements. God used people like the Campbell's, Stu & Betty Carey, Barb Dierking, Gary & Trish, Mike Slaughter and Mark Rowland to shape my life. The project of this arrogant and competitive creature who often thought he was better than he was, was indeed a labor of love. There's no other way they could have made it through!!

Not everyone had the same experience as me. I've met countless participants in that same youth group who painted pictures that looked nothing like what I experienced. Years later, after I was out of Seminary, I ran into someone who commented: "I thought it was all a myth, just for fun." We were on the same retreats and in the same Parlor at AHUMC.

That's the way it is with so much in our lives - chance meetings, paths cross. Some roads we choose to take. Other roads are left alone. What impacts one doesn't impact another.

I imagine back to those days and see where I could have chosen a different path, 100 different ones. How life would have been different.

I don't believe that God creates one person for each of us to marry, if we choose the path of marriage. If that were the case, then when one person chose wrong, well, it's like dominoes! We all have choices. Our choices take us places.

I'm glad I chose to believe and follow the truth of Jesus.

It wasn't until years later that Stephanie and I dated. And broke up - ok, ok - I broke up with her the week before Christmas! Yes, I am that guy! She still gave me the hat she hand-knit....and I still have the hat. We dated and broke up - yes, again and yes it was me! She was patient.

Then that day in March 1983 when I invited myself to her sorority dance and, well, she didn't refuse. The rest is history.

Choices. I've not always made great or wise ones. Change meetings. Some we ignore while purusing others. I'm glad I pursued this one......or did she pursue me?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

#2 - Faith Journey (The Year of 52)

Jordan River
I'm on a journey in my 52nd year to write about my memories and experiences, my triumphs and learnings through difficulties ("tragedies" is far too harsh a word as most of them are 1st world problems). I have no doubt there are things between the years of 1969 and 1977, but this is the jump I've chosen to make for this "project."

I came to faith backwards, is how I like to begin sharing my story. That's probably a theme for my life, doing things in the wrong order! Wrong according to some, that is. I'm not sure God is so concerned with the order as with the heart of the matter, although there are certainly cases to be made for the order of some things like marriage and babies. But that's for another post.

My family was part of a large Church in Cincinnati and I was participating in a large Confirmation class. I'm guessing there were 35 in the class. It was THE most boring class I'd ever been in up to that point and from that point on to today! The curious thing was that down the hall in the Parlor was a growing youth group that as they grew they got louder.

My plans were clear: I would be confirmed, join the church and never be seen again. God interrupted, as He so often does. He had other plans. As the saying goes, if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans!

As the end of the class approached and membership loomed, if we had not been baptized as an infant we needed to choose the mode of baptism we wanted, sprinkling or immersion. What I appreciate about the Wesleyan theology of the Methodist Church is that it's not about the water but rather the activity of God in baptism. When the focus is on God then the amount of water doesn't matter, although there are clear analogies to death and resurrection in an immersion baptism that makes it a preferred method.

Ancient baptism pool - Israel
Well, I chose to be immersed, along with what I remember were more than a dozen others. We Methodists had to borrow a Baptist Church for the ceremony. In 1977 I was probably thinking: "I've already been in the water 2 hours a day for 6 days this week, now I'm going under again!?" But that's what I did. We marched behind the screen, up some steps, down a couple of steps into the baptismal pool and out the other side.

It was after that that something changed. I dried off, got dressed and at some point found myself out under the portico of this Baptist Church. I remember looking up, because that's where God lives, and praying:

"I don't know if You're real, but if You are, I want to know You."

Talking with friends who were part of the growing and loud youth group, they were talking about Jesus. I knew about him but not a lot. In Confirmation class we weren't learning about Jesus, the Head of the Church. We were learning about the Church and I was bored. These people down the hall were joyful, excited to be at Church. "How weird," I thought to myself.

"I don't know if You're real, but if You are - and these friends down the hall believe something about You - then I want to know You."

Backwards. Baptism then a prayer of faith. Although I'm really not sure the order matters here because baptism depends on God's activity not the water. God moves and that's the most important part. The focus is on what He does far more than what I do, as if I could do something without Him that was of eternal significance.

Whichever way it happened I'm glad it happened. I think it took! My faith journey was off, on a roller coaster ride through life. I consider this a pivotal moment in my life. What is your pivotal spiritual moment?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

#1 - Memories (The Year of 52)

My earliest childhood memory goes back to age 5. That's a long way back from where I am today. As is often the case, one's earliest memory can help solve the riddle of "What am I all about?" For me this is the case.

If you know me well, you won't be surprised to find my mind going back to a swimming pool. My first competition was at age 5, even though it was unplanned and unanticipated. With a borrowed suit (that was too big) and no goggles (yes, it is possible to compete without goggles), the pool has been calling my name ever since.

My mother fills in some of the gaps before this vivid memory of mine. We arrived at the iconic now and at that time new Keating Natatorium in Cincinnati, Ohio to watch my sister compete in the summer Junior Olympics. Walking through the doors into the Natatorium which took you into the middle of the wooden, pull-out stands, Coach Tim Blood asked my mom: "Did he bring a suit?"

I wasn't really on the team. Apparently I got in the water to "practice" because I was there with my mom for my sister's swim practice. The answer was, "No. He's not even on the team."

Coach Tim said they needed a fourth for a relay. All I had to do was make it down one lap of the pool. With the too big suit tightly tied on my 5-year old body, I arrived at the scoreboard end of the pool to be the 4th.

I'm not sure when I realized it, but the pool was long course, 50 meters, a length I'd never seen or swum before. My outdoor "practices" were in a 25-meter facility. I don't remember diving in but then up pops my memory. At about 25 meters, when my mind and body felt like I should be finished, I lifted my head to see I was halfway. Only halfway. Twice as far to go. I remember those thoughts and then the determination to finish, which I did.

This earliest of memories is a microcosm of what drives me in life. I love to win. More than that, I hate to lose. I'm competitive. Give me a challenge and I'll find a way to make it work. Tell me I can't do something or that something won't work, it only spurs me on forward. These are good attributes, springing from the competitive character that makes the impossible possible.

I'll make a competition out of how many strokes it takes for one lap in the pool to how long it takes me to cut the grass at home.

This determination to win can also be a "not so good thing", when it becomes the only thing. I can get so focused on reaching the goal that I will forget about the people who surround my life. If I'm not careful, others can become a means to an end rather than part of the journey and accomplishment. The intense focus is an asset and a deficit. This is a thread that can be found in every story of my life.

So I'm learning to enjoy the journey and to remain competitive but being more careful of people. Everyone has strengths that can become weaknesses all too easily.

What is your earliest childhood memory? Does it serve as a micro-story for your life? Do you have a strength that is also a weakness when it becomes the only thing?

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Year of 52 - The Beginning

It's my 52nd birthday, a time for reflecting, refocusing, renewing and redeeming. A friend of the heart, Dan, counseled me during a particularly difficult time: "God redeems all that He allows." God doesn't cause everything that happens in our lives. Everything does NOT happen for a reason. God does use everything that happens in our lives, whether by His ordained will, the stupidity or evil of others or our own unwise choices. God redeems all that He allows and I have found that taking time to reflect helps me to refocus, renew and redeem the experiences He has allowed.

There are times I've ignored God and experienced things that He can redeem. There are times I've chosen my own way and run into issues and experiences that weren't His will, but He can redeem them.

With my 52nd birthday I've decided to write about 52 experiences I've had, choices made by me or choices made by others, all of which had an impact on my life. It's not a matter of positive or negative impact because I believe if I learn something, then it's a positive. You can succeed or learn. Failure really isn't an option for me.

I've made a list chronologically, along with some more or less general experiences such as "mission trips" rather than separating out each one. From my earliest childhood memory at 5 years to those life-altering times such as marriage, becoming a parent then a grandparent, there are lessons I've learned. I've uncovered patterns - some of which I don't like - running like threads. It's not surprising but compiling the list brought new insight and appreciation.

I've found that looking back, reflecting, is the best way for me to move effectively forward. It's a way to learn. Distance and time bring clarity to life's experiences. My choices for the most recent two years are suspect at this point, perhaps a little myopic. Time will tell.

The first post will be the week of the 17th, the day I share with Benjamin Franklin and Al Capone, along with a high school classmate, Jill. We're quite a collection.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Leaders & Takers

I stood for some moments watching these ducks and I learned a lesson about leadership, maybe more than one lesson. You see, these ducks weren't all doing work to get the food amongst the kelp and seaweed at the shallow bottom. One duck was diligently diving while the others stayed above the fray, but just as diligently searching for the diving duck. As the non-diving ducks would see their compatriot surfacing, they would frantically move into position and begin to reach for whatever the one had worked hard to get.

There are leaders who, well, lead. I'm not thinking of delineating between good and bad leaders here, just that some people lead the way. They are the divers who search out new possibilities and work hard to gather resources.

There are takers who, well, try to take what leaders work hard at gathering.

What I didn't say early was that these were young ducks. They were learning but while one was learning the benefits of hard work the others were learning the idleness of being takers.

I wondered which one I have been exhibiting. Which one are you?