Monthly Archives: September 2014

Through the Eyes of a Child

Yesterday I dropped some Operation Christmas Child boxes off at Ms. Jo’s Little School Kindergarten in Gardendale. This group of preschoolers chose to make the Shoe Box Ministry a part of their Christmas giving project. I had planned to knock on the door and hand the boxes off, but Ms. Jo invited me in to meet the kids—a sort of show and tell of what her pastor does.

The boys and girls were quiet, respectful, and listened intently to what I had to say. As I finished speaking, one little boy raised his hand and asked, “What’s wrong with your arm?” I was dumbstruck not understanding what he meant. It seemed he had noticed very astutely that I had a small band aid on my left arm and was concerned about the injury it covered. photo

I replied, “Oh, it’s just a boo-boo,” hoping that would be enough of an explanation, but that was not.

“What happened?” he asked.

Now I had to think because I had forgotten all about the band aid and why I even had it on. Here I was standing in front of ten kids with silver-dollar sized eyes staring at me with concern, who had forgotten about the pastor and his job and were now transfixed on a tiny flesh-colored band aid on my forearm—alarmed at the present state of my health and welfare.

“Oh, I scratched it on a bush,” I replied.

“How?” was the next response from this anxious classroom of kids.

Ms. Jo stepped in and the conversation moved from band aids to tee-shirts, and I said my goodbyes and slipped out. But the Holy Spirit would not let the band aid question go.

Those little children were far more concerned about my tiny wound than impressed with who I was. They listened quietly to what I had to say, but looked far more intently at who I really was. To them, I was simply another person, perhaps a bit larger, but still a fellow human being. And to makes matters more interesting—the band aid signified that I was injured or hurting. It was a fluorescent, flashing billboard-sized clue to a little boy checking the real me out.

When did we stop looking—really looking—at those around us? When did we stop seeing the pain, the hurt or the wounds of those fellow pilgrims we share this planet with.

I know when it happened! It happened when we stopped looking at others through the wonder, through the innocence, or through the genuine concern of a child’s eyes. Compassion became suspicion. Concern became fear. And we stopped looking because we were afraid we might truly see the pain and thus become responsible for bringing health and healing to those who are hurting. If one can see the pain of another, turn their head and go about their life without any concern—that person is in reality no longer alive.

Unless we—that’s you and me—become like children again we will never see the pain of those around us, much less the kingdom of God. By the way, I didn’t make that one up—Jesus did!

Navigating the Valley Just Beyond the Mountaintop Experience

For every mountaintop experience we encounter there is a valley to cross following close behind on its heels. These valleys are the lows after the highs of a life-changing encounter with God. All of us love those mystical moments in the presence of God breathing the thin air of high altitude perched victoriously on the edge of the precipice staring at the next mountain to be climbed. But between this peak and the next one is a valley—a long distance of desert land. Most of us don’t want to think about the valleys. We long for the mountaintops. Yet… these valleys enhance those mountaintop experiences even if we refuse to accept this reality.

I’m not a math major, but if I were putting a percentage of time spent on mountaintops versus valleys, the valleys would win hands down. I can only speak for myself, but 99% of my time is spent in the valley. The valleys, not the mountain-tops, are where we learn to walk with God through faith. Faith grows in much the same way as a muscle. In exercise, a muscle is tested, broken down and strengthened. Like that muscle, faith must be tested to gain potency. There in that scrub land filled with all kinds of dangers and traps, we gain the practical experience of surviving and thriving as our faith is pushed to its limits and beyond.

Valleys seem overwhelming. The terrain is unwelcoming and dangerous. Every step is fraught with uncertainty. But as rough as the landscape is, there is always a path through it marked out by God. To find the path we must concentrate on the destination while at the same time implementing the lessons we’ve learned in the past. Every past lesson learned has an instant in the future where its experience will either assist or assassinate you. A word of warning! Don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned crossing the countless valleys that brought you to this one. Every one of them has a purpose.

Let’s be honest, the first few miles of crossing a valley can be depressing and discouraging. After all, we’ve just finished a descent from a moment where our life was radically transformed. The air was fresh, the scenery was breathtaking, and the company—well, there are no words to describe what being that close to God is like. Yet, the valley looms large before us. One of the things that I‘ve learned that may help you overcome that discouragement and depression is to learn to enjoy the journey as you make your trek to your next destination.

Most of us want to travel on the interstate system. We can drive faster and get to our destination quicker, but we miss much of the scenery and beauty of the land. We miss God! That’s right! God is just as present in the valley as he is on the mountaintop. With one exception, we have to slow down to find him—we have to “faith” him out. He’s there, but his presence is manifest in different ways—the smile of a child, the eyes of a beggar, the thank-you a down-and-outer, or the simple recognition that a temptation has come and gone and we were not caught in its trap. The valley is where we learn to appreciate the small things that seem to compound into huge things on the mountaintop. The valley is where our vision is developed so that when we actually reach the peak of that mountain we will recognize God.

Don’t look past the valley you are in. Those hours in the valley prepare us for those fleeting moments on the mountaintop. Don’t waste them or your next mountaintop will look just like another valley.

Squeezed!

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On Labor Day weekend, I took a little time to wet a hook in the Warrior River and try my skill at fishing. As I mentioned, fishing relaxes me and when I catch something it’s just icing on the cake.

I baited my hook and tossed it in the water. It barely had time to sink and under my cork went. After a short fight I landed a two pound catfish. Carefully, I reached down to grab the fish just in front of his top fin and his two side fins. Nothing hurts more and ruins a good day of fishing than a catfish fin in the hand. You can’t really blame the catfish, but just the same a little care keeps you from the painful skewering of a fish fin.

Now once I put the grip on the fish, I proceeded to the removal of the hook for its mouth. It was a little difficult due to the catfish’s lip being so tough. I worked the hook back and forth carefully to remove the hook because I am into catch and release. If you catch and release you don’t have to clean fish. I didn’t realize that in my exuberance to get the hook out with my right hand, I was squeezing the catfish with my left one. If you squeeze a catfish too hard it will…how can I say this—poop on you. I know you were probably not expecting me to say that—with most of my blogs being spiritual and all that, but it is what it is!

I was unaware of what had happened until I pitched the catfish back into the river. And then to my horror I saw the catfish poop on my shorts and worst of all, on my favorite tee-shirt—the faded, soft tangerine colored Key West one. There I stood on the pier with dark colored fish stuff dripping down my shirt and shorts.

What did you do—you might be wondering? What every fisherman would do, I scooped up a handful of river water and washed the fish fecal material off my clothes and proceeded to bait the hook for another cast. Heck…the catfish are biting!

Later the next day when I returned home, I squirted some stain remover on my tee shirt and washed it. When I took it out the stain was still there. I did the same thing again with the same result. So, I went to the next level and saturated it with a Clorox concoction my wife makes up and let it sit for several days. At this point I’m not sure the fish poop stain will ever come out, but my fingers are crossed.

I have learned a lesson—not about fishing but about life. When you get squeezed hard enough—when the pressure is on—something is bound to come out. Whatever is on the inside will always ooze out. We may pretend to be this or that, but when pressed hard enough by a situation of circumstance—who we really are comes to the forefront. We may try to hide it but it will eventually surface.

That’s why God is conforming us into the image of Christ from the inside out. He’s pressing us into the mold of Jesus Christ (that’s what conform means), and everything that’s not like Christ gets squeezed out. It squirts everywhere and often it is embarrassing because we were unaware of the mess still hiding within our hearts. Hopefully at some point, when the pressure is on, Christ will gush out and the conforming process will be complete.

But until that day dawns, be prepared to clean up the mess. Like that fish poop, a harsh word, an angry reaction, or a bad attitude can leave stains on those around us that are extremely hard to remove regardless of how diligent you are or how much time passes. Hopefully the next time you find yourself in a squeeze, you will remember this little fish poop story and be careful with your aim.

The Stress Assassin

imagesThis past weekend I took a few minutes to stop, take a deep breath, and do a little fishing. Now before you allow your mind run away with you please understand I am not a high tech fisherman. I fish very simply—a rod and reel, a small hook, a split shot of lead, a cork, and some type of bait. I don’t desire a high dollar boat, don’t require a tackle box filled with exotic and expensive lures, don’t have to worry about charged batteries or costly fuel, and don’t need to travel to exotic locations. I simply find a little water, bait the hook, give it a toss and relax.

For me fishing is therapeutic. It’s not about hooking that elusive world champion big mouth bass (although if that gigantic lunker decides he wants to take a run at my bait). It’s more about quieting myself, chilling out and enjoying God’s creation. It’s amazing the things you can see or hear when you take a little time and pull apart from all the hands trying to grab your attention. For me fishing is a stress assassin.

Stress is an enemy most of us face on a regular basis. And stress is a silent, but deadly killer. Everyone needs a stress slayer in their life—a hobby, an activity, or an exercise regime. We were not created to live stressed-out.

So I spent a few hours lowering the stress factor in my life by challenging all the fish in the Warrior River to contest to see who has the quickest reflexes. I bait the hook with some delectable morsel advertised as irresistible to the culinary palate of the average bream, crappie, or catfish and attempt to lure them out of the safety of their marine hideouts. It’s man against fish and may the quickest win. I wait and wait and wait—until finally, the bobber moves just the slightest bit. And the battle is on! All of a sudden that big decision I’m facing, that yearly doctor’s visit, or that uncomfortable meeting set for next week disappears. It just me and the fish—game on!

You may not care for fishing, but you need to find a way to decrease the stress factor in your life on a regular basis. It’s biblical. God tells us to be anxious for nothing. Personally, I find that fishing does the trick for me. Perhaps it’s the challenge, or perhaps it’s just the opportunity to get out into creation and allow creation to get back into me. Whatever it is—fishing works for me!

What kind of things help you deal with stress? What’s your stress assassin?

  • Is it a hobby?
  • Is it an exercise regime?
  • Is it unusual or common?
  • Is it expensive or inexpensive?