Archive for the ‘Opinions’ Category

One of the more familiar parables of Jesus has come to be known as “The Parable of the Seed and the Sower” (or sometimes just the Parable of the Sower).  This title is somewhat of a misnomer, as the focal point of the story is neither the seed nor the sower; ultimately, it is about the soil.  And for those of us who count ourselves as believers, it is the words in verse 22 that most directly apply.


Matthew 13:22 “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” (NKJV)


Implicit in the manner this example is given, the depth of ones roots is not at issue here. The lack of a deep rooted faith is addressed in verses 20-21.  This passage speaks to the object of our focus, and it may be surprising to consider that it isn’t necessarily sin or evil that chokes off the seed of God for the believer.  Often times it is simply the cares of this life.  It also worth noting that the consequence of this distraction isn’t necessarily the loss of one’s salvation, it is generally a lack of fruitfulness.


It is tempting to gloss over the words and to convince ourselves that He is talking about caring about what the world cares about (i.e. fame, social status, the praise of men…), and/or about being greedy, but I sense the message of this passage runs much deeper than that.  I believe that the “cares of this world” quite naturally occur as part of living in a fallen world, and dealing with the world’s system for getting things done.  I also sense that when He speaks of “riches”, He isn’t necessarily talking about money.  He’s referencing what the world sees as valuable.


On a personal level, this passage hits me where I live. As I’ve endeavored to answer the upward call of God upon my life, being a good husband, a good father and a good neighbor have become a much higher priority.  But embracing those roles also creates an endless supply of practical issues that need to be dealt with, and those things often grab hold of my attention and require the bulk of my energy.  In those instances the reality of my circumstance tends to overwhelm my grasp of the reality of God’s word, and when it does, I flounder.


No doubt, there is a balancing point that needs to be reached with all this, as we are called to be in the world, but not of it. It is an equilibrium which I doubt that I’ve experienced for any sustained amount of time.  I don’t generally struggle on issues that relate to me personally, but I can be very susceptible when it comes to the people I love.  The truth be told, I often ride the rollercoaster of their situation until it dawns on me how nauseous it is making me, and I choose to step off.  In those moments I must cast my cares on Him who sustains me.  And when I do, I always wonder at my tendency to get back on that ride.


Jesus said that the key to producing fruit was “abiding in the vine”, which means maintaining a constant connection to Him. The Hebrew writer encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  Ultimately, it’s all a question of what we’re focused on.  Like Peter, we are capable of “all things” when we’re looking unto Jesus, but when we fix our eyes on the storm, we are bound to sink.

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There is an old saying that goes something like, “I wish I knew back then what I know now”.  And as I look back to my own graduation, here are some of those things I wish I had understood.


  1. Life is not a ride, it’s a journey.  A ride is simply being carried along to wherever the vehicle happens to be going, while a journey has an ultimate destination, which requires some navigation and effort to complete.  Unless we purpose in our heart to be someone, or to do something, we are likely to live life like a pinball; propelled by gravity and bouncing from one obstacle to another.  Anything worthwhile in life will require some investment on our part. Those who are unwilling to make such an investment will generally be pushed along by the winds of circumstance to some uncertain end.


  1. Not everyone who agrees with you is for you, and not everyone who disagrees with you is against you. In this era of political correctness openly disagreeing with someone is often viewed as being “intolerant” of their beliefs (i.e. a hater).  But there are times when caring for a person dictates that we confront and contradict them.  Conversely, there are those who are perfectly willing to allow you to drive headlong into disaster, as long as it serves their own selfish agenda.


  1. Misery not only loves company, it wants to settle down and have children too.  I’ve noticed that miserable people not only seek out other miserable people to bond with, but that they’ll often unconsciously sabotage anything that has the potential to pull them from their misery.  There are few emotions that are as debilitating and self-sustaining as self-pity. Generally, the only way to remain free of such feelings is through a dogged determination not to live that way.  As long as we are willing to blame other people, and circumstances, for our condition, we will remain powerless to change it.


  1. What other people believe about you isn’t as important as what you believe about yourself. Only the things which we genuinely believe have the ability to impact how we live.  Therefore, the only words (positive or negative) that have the power to move us are those which we accept as truth.  If a man concludes that he is a failure, no amount of praise or encouragement can bring him to victory; and if a man concludes that he is an over-comer, no amount of criticism can hold him back.  While we are generally powerless to keep others from speaking about us, we possess the ultimate responsibility for what we are willing to accept as truth.


  1. Planting apple seeds won’t get you an orange tree. Just as dependable as the law of gravity is the concept that we will reap (i.e. harvest) what we sow (i.e. plant).  Though this phrase is immediately recognizable to most people, there are few who actually live as though it were true.  Our human nature will often cause us to be unforgiving with other people, while expecting generosity in return; to be deceptive about our motivations, while expecting others to deal with us honestly; and to be selfish about our desires, while expecting others to be considerate of us.  We must always remain conscious of the fact that the cup we use to dispense blessing is the cup that we will eventually drink our blessings from.


  1. For everything there is a season and it’s important not to despise the season that you’re in.  If you live long enough you notice that there is a sort of pattern that life follows and that things come and go in seasons.  While we have a natural tendency to like some seasons better than others, I’ve found that every season comes with both challenges and blessings.  If we focus on the challenges of the season we’re in, we’ll often miss the blessings, and spend our time pining away for the season to change.  Conversely, if we focus on the blessings of each season, it makes the challenges easier to endure, and brings a sense of variety to the journey.


  1. It’s doubtful that anyone is really “out to get you”. Generally, a person has to be of significant consequence before someone is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to conspire against them.  I would suggest that we are more often damaged because people aren’t considerate of our position than we are because people have made a conscious effort to hurt us.  Though this knowledge doesn’t necessarily dampen the pain, it should aid in our endeavor to forgive.


  1. When you keep your own score, you always feel as though you’re losing. The problem with keeping score is that we naturally tend to under-appreciate our blessings, and to have an exaggerated sense of our hardships.  Because of that, people who keep score in life generally feel as though they’re never quite being given their due.  Ultimately, it’s better to just give our best in any given situation and to let someone else maintain the scorecard.


  1. The path of least resistance is rarely a road worth taking.  Often what causes something to be valuable is that it cannot be easily attained.  It follows then that the most valuable things in life normally require some perseverance to apprehend.  While everyone may sincerely want these kinds of things for their life (e.g. a healthy body, a strong marriage, a successful career…), few are willing to endure the process it takes to secure them.  Unfortunately, we live in a culture that increasingly values convenience above quality, and in which many of our children have grown up with an expectation of the instant gratification of their desires. Many a parent has worked hard to ensure that their kids get a great education, so that these children won’t have to struggle like they did.  But this ignores the fact that it is in the midst of the struggle that we tend to develop our character and work ethic; and that without this development we are generally ill equipped to handle adversity.  I’ve found that you can teach someone with character and work ethic just about anything, but without those qualities, an education becomes of little value.  I’ve also come to believe that giving my children everything that I didn’t have when I grew up will likely handicap them for life.


  1. There are few jobs easier than being a critic and few that are more taxing than being a builder. I’m ashamed to admit that there have been times in my life when I’ve been like the guy who sits in the back of the classroom, ridiculing the person who’s teaching the class.  Playing the role of critic, while someone sincerely tries to have a positive influence on the people around them.  While I might try to rationalize that their efforts were less than perfect, or maybe even in vain, life has taught me how little that criticism helps anyone.  It takes a tremendous amount of effort and patience to bring unity where there has only been division, or to stir a group to battle, when they’ve only known defeat, or to restore a sense of hope to a place of desolation…  The builder must make a concerted effort to create, while the critic can bring destruction with little effort.  As a witness to, and a participant in, both of these processes, I’ve committed myself to spending the rest of my days being engaged in the building up and not the tearing down.


  1. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.  Experience teaches us that the road to victory is generally paved with some amount of defeat; and that how we respond to those defeats will generally determine whether or not we ever come to the place of victory.   While victory tends to be the goal of every player, I’ve found that what we remember is how they played the game.  It is not necessarily the player with the highest winning percentage that captures our imagination, it is the player who played unselfishly, or with integrity, or who overcame the biggest odds…  Even for those who taste great victory, it is always in a moment that quickly passes into a lifetime of other moments.  At the moment we pass from this life, it won’t be that moment of glory that matters most; it will be how we lived all the other moments that ultimately defines us.


  1. It’s hard to be Clint Eastwood if you’re really Mr. Rogers. As I was growing up my conception of what a man was came largely from my father, who was a big fan of men like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.   Throughout my adolescence there were other icons (e.g. John Travolta – Saturday Night Fever, Sly Stallone – Rambo, Don Johnson – Miami Vice…) who seemed to collectively shape the culture’s conception of manhood, and who I unconsciously graded myself against.  Since I was nothing like these men I assumed that I just wasn’t much of a man, and in subtle ways I let their image affect how I walked, talked, dressed…  But as I got older I began to notice that there weren’t many things less attractive than someone trying to be something that they’re not (e.g. a middle aged woman dressed like teenager; a suburban white kid acting as though he grew up in the ghetto; a man with a bad toupee, acting as though it is his natural hair…).  I eventually came to peace with the understanding that regardless of the fact that I bear little or no resemblance to the trendy cultural images of manhood, the best thing I could do was to be myself.  That catharsis has  allowed me to do things like wear the clothes that I feel comfortable in; to act silly in public, just to make my kids laugh; to say “I love you too honey” when I hang up the phone in front of someone; to cry at sad movies…, all without feeling self-conscious.  I highly recommend it.


  1. Love grows over time. We live in a society that seems affixed on the idea of trading in and up, on an almost constant basis (e.g. cellphones, computers, cars, houses…); and that basic philosophy carries into our relationships as well.  Most of our cultural allusions toward love seem centered on initial attraction and the titillation of something new; but that is ultimately the shallow end of the relationship pool.  It isn’t until you’ve experienced a love that lasts for years that you come to understand the depth and profound fulfillment that accompanies it.  This same aesthetic applies to friendships as well (i.e. I wouldn’t trade a few old friends for 500 “friends” on Facebook).


  1. No person or thing can “make you happy”.  People can support us, love us, inspire us, and even enhance the quality of our life. But unless we determine within ourselves to find the joy, the beauty and the hope within our given circumstance, we will never be “happy”. The idea that it is someone else’s role to bring happiness into our life places tremendous pressure on our relationships, often causing them to fail (e.g. they just don’t make me happy anymore…).  Similarly, material things do not have the ability to bring satisfaction to our souls.  I’ve noticed that people, who can be grateful for what they have today, will generally be that way regardless of what they have.  And that people, who crave something more, will normally continue to crave regardless of what they get.


  1. The best things in life cannot be held in our hands or necessarily even be seen. A young person’s dreams are often rooted in tangible gains, like a mate, income, a career, a family, a home…  But as a person attains those kinds of things, values seem to shift from the tangible to the transcendent.  At the end of a long life, it is things like friendship, faith, love and hope that are ultimately treasured.


  1. No regrets. I’ve often heard people speak of having “no regrets”, both when looking back on their lives, or in the context of their hopes for the future.  I’ve even heard some say things like, “if I could live my life over again, I wouldn’t change a thing”.  And while those sorts of bold proclamations may sound good as T-shirt slogans or on sports drink ads, they don’t actually play out well in real life.  The truth is that we all make mistakes, and if we have any conscience at all, that is bound to stir up some feelings of regret.  Though unpleasant, it is often those feelings that provide the incentive to grow and change.  A wise man doesn’t pretend that he’s never done things that he wishes he hadn’t; he simply owns up to his failures, learns from those mistakes, changes his mind/direction and leaves those regrets on the side of the road (where they belong).


  1. Look out for that curve dead ahead. Growing up can often be a disappointing process.  When you’re 10, you imagine that becoming a “teenager” will change everything.  But a few days after your 13th birthday, you realize that things are pretty much the same.  Then you start dreaming about turning 16, and getting your license, which is cool; but again, you quickly recognize that it doesn’t make as much difference as you thought.  Even 18 is that way.  Yeah, you’re legally an adult now, yet you still have to turn in your homework and get up for school the next day.  But finishing High School is different.  Though you may not sense it immediately, the rules change dramatically.  Up to this point, there was a system specifically designed to carry you along.  There was a whole panel of adults (e.g. parents, grandparents, pastors, youth group leaders, teachers, coaches, counselors…) assigned to provide guidance, boundaries, bedtimes, wake-ups, rides, resources, and incentives to stay on the right track.  There were organized activities intended specifically for you, like sports teams, school plays, dances, and 4H club.  And there was an education system built to pretty much ensure your success.  As long as you cooperated (i.e. showed up with a decent attitude) with these processes, you were almost guaranteed to make it through.  But now, that all changes.  Adulthood is very much a give and take proposition.  Generally, you get out of it what you put into it.  Even staying in school changes.  Colleges and Universities are businesses.  You pay to take their classes.  If you don’t show up, the teacher isn’t going to come looking for you.  If you don’t turn in your work, they will not scold you, or even ask about it.  If you fail the class, they will happily allow you to pay them to take the course over again next semester.  The workplace, and relationships, and almost every other facet of life works similarly.  If you want to have a great marriage, a successful career, or even to live in an exceptional community, you need to invest yourself (i.e. time, energy, passion…) in it.  Simply showing up, empty handed, will no longer get it done.  Ultimately, life was never meant to be a spectator sport – so I’d highly recommend that you dive in.     

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Only a child can reasonably expect to show up at the table empty handed and be fed. An adult who consistently provides nothing for the pantry must learn to live with the anticipation of hunger. (1 Timothy 5:8)

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Too often our pursuit of the spectacular causes us to miss the profound. Similarly, the cost of “having it all” is frequently everything that truly matters.

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In the mid-nineteen nineties a documentary film called, “Hoop Dreams” achieved a high level of critical acclaim and a notable level of financial success for a film of its genre. It told the story of two very talented, young basketball players (William Gates and Arthur Agee), from the housing projects of Chicago, who were recruited to play for the prestigious private high school “St. Joseph’s” (alma mater of basketball star – Isaiah Thomas) in nearby Westchester, Illinois.


As the story begins there are many reasons to believe that these young men will get the opportunity to fulfill their dream of one day playing in the NBA. Their talent is evident, their confidence is high, and they are both supported by strong, loving families, who are fully committed to them.  To say that expectations were high would be somewhat of an understatement; yet as the story unfolds the harsh realities of life begin to take their toll.  Financial struggles, academic struggles, and injuries create unexpected detours.  As the film ends, though the dream remains alive, the outlook for the future seems greatly diminished.


More than 20 years after the release of this film we now know that neither of these men had notable college basketball careers, nor did they go on to play in the NBA. Though both men overcame numerous obstacles and emerged from the mean streets that eventually took William’s brother (murdered in 2001) and Arthur’s father (murdered in 2004), it is hard not to feel a sense of disappointment at how this story turned out.  But shouldn’t the fact that these two young men got the opportunity to attend college, and build legitimate careers for themselves (Gates in real estate and Agee as a teacher) be cause for celebration; shouldn’t the fact that their basketball talent was sufficient enough to break them out of the destructive pattern, that consumed so many of the young men that they grew up with, warrant at least a cheer?


If we could view their story, apart from the expectation that they would one day play in the NBA, it would undoubtedly make it easier to see that their lives are in fact a success story. It is not really the outcome of their lives that seems so sad, it is this unfulfilled expectation that creates the sense of disappointment?


While we generally attribute our disappointment to bad outcomes, I would suggest that more often than not, it is really rooted in faulty expectations. While it was certainly not wrong to recognize their potential or to encourage them to pursue their lofty goals, when you factor in the odds of any high school athlete making it to the pro’s, was it really reasonable to “expect” that to happen?


There are few emotions in life that are as crushing as disappointment, and it is not only our own disappointments that affect us. As a husband I am acutely aware of my wife’s disappointment, and as a father I am also painfully aware of the things that cause my children to feel disappointed.  For me, their disappointment is almost harder to endure than my own.


As a parent I’ve found myself deflecting some of my children’s expectations by using my parent’s old favorite line, “We’ll see”. I always hated that answer when I was a kid, and I’m sure that my children don’t like it any better.  But having experienced their disappointment, I can’t help but think that at times it is wise to temper their expectations, which often seem to escalate without warning.  It’s amazing how quickly the vague hope of “maybe we can try to get to the amusement park sometime this summer” becomes the tearful disappointment of “but you promised we would go to the amusement park!”


While many parents would likely agree with this tempering approach, the danger in taking that too far is that it would discourage them from expecting anything and a life that is lived without some sense of expectancy is a life devoid of hope. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand that hope is just as essential to our souls as water is to our bodies.  Lowering expectations just for the sake of avoiding disappointment is a lot like forfeiting a game to avoid losing.


As a man with a failed marriage behind me, I can understand the impulse that says, “I’m never going to let myself get hurt like that again”, but the cost of such a decision is to allow the pain of the past to dictate the future. Of course blindly repeating the same pattern and expecting the results to be different is just an alternate form of insanity.  Ultimately I think it is necessary to take a hard look at our expectations, and the way that they were formed.


Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our expectations are driven by the things we’ve invested our hope in. When my first marriage ended I did a lot of soul-searching, and I realized that I had invested too much of my identity and hope in that relationship, which is why when it ended I was so confused about who I really was, and whether I had a viable future.  I began to realize that a lot of the devastation that I felt inside was because of my own faulty expectations about what marriage was and what it would bring to my life.


The popular cultural portrayal of relationships had conveyed the message that if I could just find the right person they would make me happy; but in the aftermath of a dozen years of marriage, I could see that no other person could genuinely be responsible for my happiness, and that putting that kind of burden on a relationship is a great way to destroy it. When I chose to remarry a couple of years later, that revelation alone made a huge difference in how I viewed marriage, which has ultimately made all the difference in the almost twenty years that have passed since then.


It can be difficult to discern what we’ve actually invested our hope in, because often what we tell ourselves (and other people) isn’t really the truth of our hearts. I believe that one of the best ways to find that deeper truth is to examine our moments of greatest disappointment, and our times of greatest anxiety about the future.  To be truly disappointed one would had to have expected some different outcome; while anxiety about the future is generally rooted in the sense of lacking something that will be essential down the road.  If we can get a clear picture of what is behind our expectations and/or what we view as “essential” for the future, we can begin to see what we’ve truly invested our hope and sense of security in.


As I’ve watched the value of my 401K fluctuate wildly with stock market swings, it has been tempting to be anxious about the future, but I have to ask myself – is that really what I’ve invested my security in for the future. If the answer to that question is “yes”, than the revelation of this hour is that I’ve made a bad investment (of my hope).


While it’s not wrong to save for the future, God never intended for our security to be wrapped up in our investment portfolio; nor did He intend for our identity to be wrapped up in our job; nor did He intend for our sense of value to come from how we look, or what others might be thinking about us. Ultimately our sense of purpose, provision, value, well-being, fulfillment, and security are all things that He’s reserved for Himself.  To the degree that we have invested those things in something other than Him, we are sure to be disappointed.  Though it doesn’t feel like a blessing, it is a measure of His grace when circumstances come along which reveal the counterfeit nature of these things.


It is easy enough to tell whether we’ve invested ourselves in the things of this world, because our lives will be a continuous rollercoaster of highs and lows. Like little children, we’ll be overly excited about new things and then crushingly disappointed when they don’t live up to our inflated expectations.


The scripture teaches that we prepare the way of the Lord by making straight pathways; bringing the valleys up and the mountains low. I would suggest that this is a picture of someone who has invested their whole being in the person of Jesus Christ; who is never changing and everlasting.  Investing in anything else is precarious at best, and in this case, diversification isn’t a viable hedge against loss.


In the era we live in, we’re seeing things, we once thought of as cornerstones, crumble before our eyes (e.g. the institution of marriage), as the darkness seems to be on the offensive. It is a people who are fully invested in Christ that carry the hope of His Glory being manifest on the earth, and thus, all of creation continues to wait in the eager expectation of those children being revealed.

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Lately, I’ve pondered whether the mocking, taunting and belittling of those we consider to be hateful is the height of irony, or the height of hypocrisy.  I suppose it could be both.  Either way, disparaging people who don’t share our particular point of view seems to have become our new national pastime.  So much for all that pretentious rhetoric about tolerance, diversity, unity, and taking the “high road”.


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For those of us who count ourselves as “Christians”, it might be good to remember that we are called to be as “salt and light”, which is significantly different than being salty, and like lightning (i.e. striking things and setting them aflame).


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