Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Curtain Falls

I've been in four plays. I was Prince Charming in first grade. I was type-cast then and it has followed me throughout my life. I was Johnny Appleseed in another elementary production. I had to dance. Don't tell anyone.

I was Obeey Upschlager in our junior play Hillbilly Weddin'. I had the opening line. "Ain't it soon time ya moved, Pa Belsnickle?" Eddy Tiner replied, "Ain't made up my mind which way t' move yet." And we were off and running.

Then I played the father/coach in our senior play but I can't remember much about it other than I struggled to remember my lines. I now had a job so I could make a truck payment. Thanks to a few offstage prompters, I made it through. Being a senior is much different than being a junior.

I spent a few years singing in a gospel group and the last song was kind of like the last scene of a play. When it was over I would often quote the Apostle Paul before we walked off the stage: "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."

When the curtain falls on a performance the performers can have mixed emotions. Relief. It had been weeks or months of preparation. Then the performances. Everyone lets out a sigh of relief when the curtain falls.

Sadness. You've poured so much of your time and effort into something that is now over. How many times have the performers wanted just one more performance?

Memories. The people who work together to create a performance - whether it's on a stage or a playing field - bond in ways unique from other relationships. Not necessarily better, just different.

The end of a play, the end of a performance, the end of a season, the end of a year share these in common. Relief. Sadness. Memories.

All that you might consider to be a negative from 2015, let it impact 2016 only as lessons learned. Don't make the same choices that led to the disappointment or discouragement. Do your best to steer clear of people and situations that harmed you.

Everything positive from 2015 can serve as launching points for the new year. Build upon the successes. Tweak what was good to make it better or best. Find encouragement from what you did well and leverage that to energize new ventures. Your creativity this year is a window into what you can imagine for the future.

Bind all of this in faith. I like to say that faith is letting God be God and do what only God can do. His ways and thoughts are better than ours, so says King Solomon. I believe it's true and have found it to be so over and over again. When I trust my ways and thoughts over God's I get into trouble. Maybe you've found that to be true for you, too.

I want to be faithful. Then I can rest knowing that he is in control. Then I can charge forward knowing he is leading the way. Then I can dare to glorify him knowing the he deserves utmost glory. Then I can get up after I've fallen knowing that he forgives and restores those who love him.

2015 does impact 2016 whether you like it or not. But you have the choice whether or not the impact will be helpful.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's Christmas Anyway

Yes, I just made a Christmas Eve shopping trip. Went to Walmart and Kroger. Not very busy at either place. Ran the AC in the car. Even wore shorts. It sure doesn't feel like Christmas.

It's a good thing that Christmas isn't based on a feeling. It's Christmas not because of the weather or the people I'm around or not around. It's Christmas because of Immanuel - God with us!

I hope you can look beyond the circumstances and focus on the Savior.

"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
Matthew 1:21

"When the fullness of time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons."
Galatians 4:4

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Finals Week

I have spent years and years as a student. The regular K-12. Four years for a BS in Economics and Finance. A masters degree and most of a doctorate. I will tell you that through high school I didn't have to study. Maybe I had a good memory. But "straight A's" became harder in college.

More distractions with work and family, maybe. It just got harder. I still wanted the perfect test scores but soon settled for A's and B's. Then a professor told the class, "D equals MDiv." That's funny and true but it probably hurt me down the road.
So all that just to say that I understand the pressures of Finals Week. That's where we are around our house this week. Riley is taking finals for his first semester of 9th grade.

My advice to Riley throughout the last few years when finals became part of the experience was to be prepared. If you are prepared then there is nothing to worry about. Anything less than good preparation and you'll likely not recognize some of the test questions.

Panic can set in and blow the whole test. And the whole semester's grade. Nothing beats preparation. If you have prepared for the test then it doesn't matter if the questions are T/F, multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, or essay. Trick questions won't trip you up. So, as the Boy Scouts would say, "Be prepared!"

I worked for a few years leading a training department for a group of call centers. Part of my responsibility was to create training material, including the tests. Some employees complained the tests were too hard. Sure they were hard. But not too hard for those who were prepared. I worked by the motto, "If the training is hard, the job will be easy; if the training is easy, the job will be hard." I guess it worked. I recently heard from a friend that the company still uses some of my material. I've been gone nine years.

Life is like that. It doesn't matter if it's education, job training, athletic competition, or anything else. Preparation makes the difference.

What are you doing to be prepared for the next challenges in your life? Here are some tips.
  • Always be learning. Learn more about what you currently do. Learn something new. Some of us know a great deal about one thing but very little about anything else. A broad knowledge base will help you when you face something new. Learners are leaders and leaders are learners.
  • Read more. This can be part of learning but it's also part of protecting from the status quo. You can get into a rut regarding work, school, relationships, etc. Reading brings new ideas into your thinking process. Some ideas you will embrace. Others you'll cast away after pondering them. You may even quickly toss an idea you recognize as foolish. But if you aren't reading you aren't considering all the possibilities.
  • Begin friendships with people who are different from you. You can choose the differences. And make sure the differences stretch your comfort levels. If you always surround yourself with people just like you, you'll never grow and the challenges may overwhelm you.
  • Work or serve outside your area of expertise. Let your interests guide you. I am a pastor but I loved coaching youth baseball. I'm not a hunter but I love photography so I get out into nature with my camera. I'm an introvert but have volunteered to work the concession stand at busy ballgames just to work on interacting with others.
What else can you think of that will prepare you for the next challenges...many will be unexpected.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Training Our Children

Just outside my line of sight is a table of three old folks and a toddler. The toddler is a granddaughter to the couple; an uncle (great-uncle) is also with them.

The uncle asked the grandmother when the parents were coming back. "This week. Thank God!" I guess the joys of grandparenting can be tempered only by long sessions of having to do it.

Another part of the conversation caught my ear, too. As they sat down to eat the chicken biscuits they prayed. I don't really agree with the ritualistic way they did it but I appreciate that they prayed. And they made sure the toddler went through the motions with them. From their comments I could tell that the little girl is learning to pray with them.

The Bible tells us to teach our children the truths of scripture and the ways of God.

"These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NIV)

Years ago, a retired pastor told me, "We've raised a generation who have raised a generation without God." A lot truth rides in those words.

About 15 years ago I led a Bible study that focused on the problems associated with not following the Deuteronomy passage. The example in the center of the study was about King David and his descendants. David was a man after God's own heart. His son Solomon was a wise king but intermarried with pagans, and that diluted the worship of God. Solomon's sons were godless.

If we neglect, even slightly, the command to train our children in biblical principles we are making it easy for them to ignore biblical principles. And harder for them to adhere to them.

What are you doing to impress biblical principles upon your children and grandchildren? Here are some simple things you can do almost every day.
  • Pray. Pray with them. Pray for them. Involve them in your prayers. Let them hear you pray for all sorts of issues. In this way they will learn that God cares about and can do something about every situation they will find themselves in later in life.
  • Praise. If you are open and free with your praise of Holy God your children will learn that God is good and worthy of worship. So sing with the Christian songs on the radio or MP3. Acknowledge God's activity. Thank him for his goodness.
  • Be involved. Going to church gatherings for worship and Bible study teach children that this is important. Going on a mission trip does the same. Regularly volunteering in a local ministry project (and take the kids with you!) tells them that loving God means loving others, too.
  • Read the Bible. A teenager slogging through the kitchen at 6:45 each morning needs to see you with a Bible open. Or at least see the Bible open on the table so he'll know you've been reading. If you can involve them in Bible study with you that would be great. If not, at least you can share with them one truth you've learned that day. If you neglect God's word they will, too.
There is no silver bullet to make sure your children grow up to be faithful Christians. Modeling faithfulness is a good start. And it's commanded in scripture. No matter the age of your children or grandchildren, it's not too late to start training them in the ways of the Lord. And it's always too soon to stop.