In Church Today…

When I arrived at worship this morning I saw a building filled with sinners. Dressed as well as they could, trying to be polite to one another. Sinners all. I fit right in. I am a sinner.

Then we started singing praises to the Creator of everything.  And then we prayed that everything we would do and say during this gathering would please Him and glorify Him.

Next we remembered Christ’s sacrifice by breaking bread and drinking the fruit of the vine, followed by more singing, followed by a reading from the Bible. This was followed by more singing and then a message based on the Bible reading. The message was about life, teaching, serving, and suffering.

There was an opportunity for those in attendance to respond. A collection was taken amidst more singing. The service closed with prayer.

As I watched people leave the place of meeting, I witnessed sinners (yes, still sinners) answering a Call to abundant life, seeking to learn so that we can share and teach what we have learned, serving and pondering other ways in which to serve, some suffering physically; others psychologically and socially; all having been insulted or reproached or dismissed or disrespected by others because of our faith.

As I watched us all leave the place of worship, I saw Jesus in disguise on this side of eternity. I saw His Body and realized love alone is worth the fight in this existence between “the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’” (from the story behind the song).

Peace.

Advice for Graduates

It’s graduation season and I thought I would share some thoughts on the topic, and perhaps a little advice:

  • Be yourself. Jenny asked Forrest Gump: “Don’t you ever dream, Forrest, about who you’re going to be?” Forrest replied: “Aren’t I going to be me?” When I was a young whipper-snapper, the cool thing to do was “find yourself.” I always thought that should be a brief search. You are who you are. Roll with that.
  • Identify your a passion. You can have more than one and it’s very likely your passions will shift throughout your life. This is not only ok, it’s normal. How do you identify a passion? Imagine it’s Saturday and you have nothing to do. Your chores are complete. You have zero plans. Everyone you know is out of town. What would you do? The answer (or something related to the answer) may be a passion.
  • If at all possible, let a passion become your vocation. At least allow a passion to influence your choice of vocation. This is especially true if you intend to be self-employed. Running a business is a full-time job. And then you have to do the work. Those last two sentences may not make sense to you now, but if you start a business they will make perfect sense. If you are doing something – anything – just to make money, you will run out of motivation. But if you are doing something you love, you will find motivation easily. Do what you love. Optimally, …
  • Do what you are. I hope you see what I did there; I just tied the previous bullets together into one. This one. Right here.
  • If you are successful, some people will not be happy for you. They may express their unhappiness in any number of ways, including (unhelpful) advice, cynicism, snark, and outright criticism.
  • If you are successful, it helps to have friends whom you trust and who trust you. Good friends will be truly happy that you are successful. They will provide helpful advice. They will be there for you during the best and worst of times. Friends are truly a blessing.
  • Learn to listen to people’s hearts.
  • Listen to what people do.
  • Stuff happens. You can either try to avoid it or learn to manage it. You cannot predict it. Everything changes.
  • Pain is part of this life.
  • This life is part of eternity. A very, very small but very, very important part.
  • Take risks. Risk is the difference between living and existing.
  • Cultivate the ability to recognize good advice.
  • God is calling you. Listen. Please.
  • Follow good advice.
  • Love people. We are stuck on this planet with each other. For now.
  • Help people.
  • Be a good friend.
  • Dance.
  • Pick battles worth fighting and fight them until the end.
  • Realize that failure is not just a part of success; failing is vital to success.
  • Divorce the idea that “I was wrong” from failure. Celebrate failures as another step on the path to success. Why? Because all you did was fail. Everyone fails. When you react poorly to failure you create a metaproblem. Get up. Clean up the mess to the best of your ability. Move on. Success awaits.
  • Discover several hobbies. If a hobby stops being fun, stop it. Find the next hobby. It’s out there.
  • Wear sunscreen.

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“Why Costa Rica, Andy?”

A few years ago, God led us to leave the US. Not immediately. Just “I want you to leave the US.” So Christy and I began searching for places to live outside of the US.

We asked God to lead us where He wanted us to go, and started considering options. We considered Europe and did not feel led to move there. We considered Malaysia, no dice. We considered Uruguay, nothing. After Stevie Ray and I returned from a mission trip to Honduras, we started looking at Central America. We considered Panama and then Costa Rica.

And something clicked inside.

Christy and I made a one-week trip here (I’m writing this from Playa Jaco) in August 2012. We survived. More than that, we found the people to be awesome and friendly. The climate was somewhat muggy, but it was August. We returned to the US and Christy began taking private Spanish lessons.

I spoke at SQL Saturday – Costa Rica in April 2013. We planned an 11-day family trip here around SQL Saturday – Costa Rica 2014. We are about 2/3rds done with that trip as I type. On this trip:

  • We found an area we really like (Atenas).
  • We established a relationship with a realtor we trust.
  • We found a couple candidate schools for one or more of the kids.
  • We established relationships with local folks who are able and willing to increase our knowledge of the transition ahead of us.
  • We got a better handle on the costs of the transition.
  • Christy served as our translator.

“So Why, Andy?”

I don’t know. The only thing I know at this time is, “Leave the US. Go to Costa Rica.”

I understand completely how crazy / dumb that sounds. How do I know it’s God leading me? I think that’s a great question. Allow me to share another story by way of an answer:

“Withdraw Your Application and Start a Business”

In September 2010, God led me to withdraw an application for a promotion to director at work and to start a business. I had zero prospects in September 2010. Zero. But that changed. Christy supported the move. We had some savings we could coast on until business started coming in. Mostly, we had peace God was leading. By November I had three weeks of work booked for after 1 Jan. I remember distinctly praying, “God, this makes sense everywhere except when I look at this cash flow projection spreadsheet.”

God’s response? “If it did not require faith, I would not be part of this.” That was enough pushing for me. I submitted my notice in early December 2010 and jumped out on my own 1 Jan 2011.

Now there was more. God told me starting my own business was not what He had for me, but that He needed me on my own so that I would be ready for what He had for me. Once I was out there, Brian Moran and I connected and began working on SQLPeople. We had a lot of fun working together – we were (and are) a great team. Brian and I formed Linchpin People in April 2011, and this was the thing God wanted to happen – the thing for which I had to start my own business in order to prepare for.

When I shared this with folks nearly four years ago, some thought I was nuts. Why should I turn down a shot at being a director? For three weeks of work? Crazy, right? Wrong. God. And it’s obvious sitting on this end of the events and looking back that it was and is God speaking and leading. Is life rainbows and unicorns? No. And it never will be. There are challenges now and challenges yet to come. But did I hear and obey God? Yep.

Same God, Different Thing

God is leading us to leave the US and move to Costa Rica. Is it to start some mission work? Is it because something bad is going to happen to the US? I don’t know. I don’t have those answers.

And I don’t need them. All I need to know is God is leading.

Will life be easy during and after the move? No. God doesn’t usually lead people to lives of comfort. Inner-peace? Yes. Provided-for? Certainly. Enabled? Yep. Easy? Not required. Obedience is required to follow.

What Who I Know

That’s what followers do, we follow. Those verses we quote and songs we sing mean something. Wherever You Lead, I’ll Go, for example. And when we call Christ “Lord,” we are calling Him “Master” in the sense of identifying Jesus as our Master and us as His servant or slave. While I understand the social and political ramifications of this kind of relationship – especially in US politics – especially as I write this at the beginning of May 2014 – I am compelled to share that being a slave to Christ means I am freer than I was when I was not His slave.

Servant-hood to Jesus cannot be examined in isolation. It cannot be parsed from either God’s Sovereignty in and over the universe, nor can it be compartmentalized from Him paying for my sins on the cross at Calvary. No; it must all be taken together; whole, in total; together. I am His. I was bought with a price. I didn’t define the relationship – Christ did. He gave me a choice: follow or not.

I choose to follow.

How About You?

Is God leading everyone to move to Costa Rica? I don’t know. He may not be leading you to leave your home. He may be; God doesn’t tell me how He’s leading other people or His plans for them. In fact, He told one disciple, “What is that to you…?”

That said; if God leads you to leave your home, will you go?

A Better Life

A Story

Back in the 1980′s I participated in an evangelism outreach on the streets of Richmond Virginia. Around sunset on Friday nights, a team would assemble, pray that God would send those whom He willed into our path, set up some speakers and lights, play loud Christian rock music, and talk with whomever God sent. For those familiar with Richmond, we set up on Broad Street, one block north of the fan district.

I remember overhearing part of one such conversation. One of the team members said something like, “If you are not worshiping the God of the Bible, you are worshiping a dead god.” The person to whom he spoke this took offense, and I heard him very clearly refute: “MY GOD IS NOT DEAD! YOUR GOD IS DEAD!” Everyone within a hundred yards or so heard him refute our team member.

I do not know the details of the conversation that lead up to the confrontation. If memory serves, the conversation ended with the evangelism team member praying with the gentleman after he had calmed down.

We are all learning and growing. Some of the things we are learning are truth and truth always leads to growing towards God. Some of the things we are learning are not truth and are leading us away from God. It’s easy to confuse the two.

The gentleman in the story was enduring an adjustment in his beliefs. Correction is painful, no matter the source. But correction towards the truth and away from error yields good fruit. the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews states it thus:

Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11 (New King James Version)

Many resist “chastening” as the gentleman cited above. I sure did. Some do it loudly, as he did. Some do it by debate, as I did. Resistance takes many forms but it produces the same fruit. That fruit is not the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

Why Share?

Christians share the Gospel for many reasons. The Great Commission is a command from Christ Himself to His followers to share the Gospel wherever we go. In fact, we are explicitly commanded to “go” and “make disciples.” To people who do not know Christ, this may sound like a strange compulsion. But many find this an extremely easy command to follow due to an abundance of joy and peace in their hearts. 

Christ gives us a better life. By nature, people seek a better life and most desire to share it once they’ve found it. When someone recommends a recipe they found for a new dish they enjoyed, this is sharing a piece of a better life. When one begins to enjoy the fruits of physical exercise and shares tidbits about the new energy they experience or reduced pain and stress or the weight they’ve lost, this is sharing portions of a better life.

Now we may find people sharing such information annoying. And, no doubt, some may in fact be annoying. But many others just want to spread the goodness they’ve discovered.

the same holds for many Christians: they simply want to share abundant life in Christ. That’s their motivation for spreading the Gospel – their relationship with Christ is so awesome they cannot help but to share!

An Invitation to a Better Life

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s sacrifice for our sins on our behalf before any of us knew Him. While we were yet sinners, He died for us. That’s a powerful truth. Because Christ died for us and was resurrected, we can live in a relationship with God. That’s one of the things His sacrifice means for us. But Christ’s sacrifice means so much more.

If you don’t know Christ, I encourage you to seek Him. How? There are many ways. Praying, studying the Bible, attending a Bible study or worship service, or simply talking (or emailing) with a Christian friend.

Christ offers a new life – today. It’s a better life.

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Wake Up, America

I was in South Carolina a couple weeks back. Some friends picked me up from the airport and we had a long lunch, enjoying each other’s company, catching up on family, community, and friends. We left lunch and, while stopped at a light on the way to our next stop, we saw a man wearing a sign that read “END ABORTION NOW.”

He was screaming at the top of his lungs, “WAKE UP, AMERICA! WAKE UP!” as he walked past cars stopped in the left-turn lane, handing pamphlets to anyone who would take one. “One of us is crazy,” I thought, “either him or me.”

So I did some research. The Centers for Disease Control collect statistics on abortion from 52 state- and territory-based centers in and around the US. The CDC’s annual summary references statistics collected by the Guttmacher Institute, where I found this paper dated December 2013 (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html).

The latest year for which there are compiled statistics is 2008 – 5+ years ago. They show a total of over 50 million abortions have occurred in the United States in the past 41 years (not counting the last 5+ years).

50,000,000.

If we look at the populations of the 244 countries of the world listed at this Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population), the number of those aborted in the US alone would populate a nation ranked 27/244 – or roughly the 11th percentile – of most populated countries on Earth.

Taken another way, the US has not experienced the contributions to society of 50 1-in-a-million lives – lives that would have been considered by many to be “winners of the birth lottery” simply because the children would have been born in the US. What would these extraordinary have achieved in the fields of technology, science, engineering, or philosophy? What advancements in medicine are not present in 2014 because of these missing contributors? What stories of inspiration, overcoming obstacles to achieve greatness in sports or business or philanthropy will never inspire our generation or generations to come? What have we lost in these 50 one-in-a-million lives?

A lot, I believe.

What can one person do? What can I do? I can actively support the local Crisis Pregnancy Center. I can contribute money, sure; but I may be able to do more – like my friend Mike – who serves on the board of a CPC local to him. I can support sensible legislation to limit abortion as a means of birth control. I can support young women – and young men – who find themselves at the crossroads of a decision that appears, at the moment, like a no-win scenario. I caused a crisis pregnancy at age 17, and have some perspective on the immediate vs. the rest-of-your-life. I can find other ways to make a difference in these statistics. I want to help.

As my thoughts return to the screaming South Carolinian, my initial assessment appears accurate. One of us *is* crazy. And it’s the one content to sit in the vehicle. The one satisfied it’s enough to write Facebook posts sharing statistics, no matter how sobering – even when we disregard what the devastation those numbers mask.

I’m awake, sir. I’m awake.

Wake up, America.

Rational Christianity

Rational Christianity

For a while, I thought I believed something I call “rational Christianity.” I searched the Bible for principles in the hopes of learning how God responded to folks in olden times. I searched Christian literature for the same thing. My goal? To get God to do something for me.

I chose the incorrect name for this set of beliefs… they weren’t rational at all. I should have called them “irrational Christianity” (and the “Christianity” part is doubtful, as well).

Relational Christianity

Rational Christianity didn’t work.  No matter how hard I tried I could not successfully manipulate God into doing what I wanted, so I stopped being religious (except about hygiene – bathing, brushing my teeth, etc.).

During this period I learned God is my Father and I am His child.

I am a child of an earthly father. I have five children. To this, I can relate. My children love me. They don’t rationalize that they should love me, they just do. I love them too. If you ask them why they love me, the most common answer is “I just do.” Can you rationalize that? I can’t.

Getting Stuff

I know more about life stuff because I’ve been alive longer and have more experience. It bugs my younger children when I tell them they cannot do something that they want to do. Usually their requests are along the lines of staying up late on a school night or spending too much time playing a video game or going outside unprepared for the weather. I tell them “No” because I want them to enjoy a good night’s rest and get some exercise and not catch a cold.

They could rationalize my responses into “You don’t love me,” but that rationalization would be inaccurate.

Similarly, I realized I could not base God’s love on the stuff to which He says, “Yes.”

I realized later that I was being a spoiled child. I had a lot of things backwards.

What I’ve Learned

God isn’t a mechanism. I can’t “operate” God. I cannot manipulate Him. He has changed me and is continuing to change me. That’s what God does; He changes people. Ultimately, He will change those who love Him into something new.

God changed me into a new person. This process continues. I think “process” is a better word for describing this Relationship. It’s more than an event where I said a prayer, although the process began that way.

What’s Changed? 

I want different things. I want what He wants. How do I know what God wants? Read the Bible; He inspired people to write what He wants. It’s there, all you or I need to do is read (or listen to) it.

I had it backwards, but God changed me.

Has He changed you?

Me and The Man, Part 5

Parts 1-4 are available here.

Part 5

When my first wife was pregnant with our first child, we had two remarkable experiences:

  1. She was tutored the last few months of her senior year of high school. The tutor was a beloved English teacher who reminded many of the character portrayed by Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society. While he was tutoring, he was going through a personal transformation. He was becoming more alive, more aware, and more connected with God. Being one year ahead of my first wife in school, “Mr. C” had been my English Literature teacher the previous year. We became friends. Late in my senior year, he shared with me his frustration with not knowing what he wanted to do with his life. “You are the best teacher I’ve ever had and you don’t know what you should do with your life?” I asked, a little sarcastically. Now we watched this transformation. He told me, “I know what I’m supposed to do when I grow up. I’m supposed to be a teacher.” It wasn’t just this. He was happy. He was close to God. He even looked… different. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never seen it. I’ve only seen it a couple times. He wasn’t overt in his sharing about Christianity. But it was obvious and he didn’t have to be overt. He simply was. I don’t know a better way to put it. Apologies. But the gist of it all was that God had showed up.  A few weeks after our daughter was born, Mr. C was murdered. We know where he is, even now. And he is one of the first people other than my immediate family I hope to see in Heaven.
  2. As part of our National Guard weekend drills, we were allowed to attend worship services. I went with some of the guys one Sunday to get out of doing more soldier work. The message struck me, but I didn’t respond to the altar call. I told some of the guys with me, though.  Before our daughter was born we didn’t have much money, and I did a lousy job managing what money we had. They knew. And later that week they showed up at our front door with a couple boxes of groceries. Minutes earlier, I’d looked at a nearly empty package of bologna and the few slices of bread remaining in the house and thought something like, “God, we sure could use some help with food.” And here was enough food to last a week or more.  It’s easy (for me) to debate with people. I can see their arguments and – even if I lose this debate – I can cost them a whole other separate issue simply by re-applying their arguments on one issue to another. It’s a gift – or curse – depending on whether we agree. I couldn’t argue with the food in those boxes. My logic fell apart as I remembered my earlier thoughts. God had showed up. Again.

God used those occurrences to make Himself known to me. He made me aware that He was real. He showed me He loves people and changes them. He showed me He cares for our needs. And that He loved me and cared for my needs.

Like Mr. C, I’ve grown to know and love God more. He means more and more to me each day. I love Jesus Christ. Without Him, nothing you read in Part 2-4 would have happened in my life. I would have remained a bitter punk until death, and then I would have spent eternity separated from God in Hell.

Like the folks who showed up with food, I’ve been privileged to obey Christ by helping others. From experience, I can share that it is blessed to receive, but it is more blessed to give. That’s not a cute platitude. It’s a fact.

If you don’t have a relationship with Christ today, I hope you will seek Him. He is not part of the solution to life’s woes, nor is He part of the answer to your questions. He is the entire solution and answer and way and truth and life (John 14:6, paraphrased). Placing Christ on the throne of your heart is a daily thing (Luke 9:23). It’s not a moment. It’s a life. But it starts with a moment.

Is this your moment?

 

Good Causes

This time of year, many folks seek to contribute to good causes. And there are many causes worthy of your support, energy, prayers, and (yes) money. I mention these causes because they are on my heart at present.

There are lots of other worthy causes. Lots. And most are doing awesome work. I encourage you to find a cause and help in some way. Money can help, sure. But I encourage you to do more than just send money. There is no substitute for volunteering your time and energy.

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One Thing

 Picture the scene: Jesus has been tested by the Pharisees regarding the lawfulness of divorce. Then He rebukes His disciples for not allowing little children to come to Him. And then this guy chases Jesus as He leaves town. When the rich young ruler catches up to Jesus, he kneels. (I love that he kneels!) He asks Christ what he needs to do to inherit eternal life and Jesus responds with a list of commandments. The unnamed ruler responds that he has kept all these commandments. Jesus looks at him and loves him (I love that He loves him!). And then Christ says:

Mark10_21

Verse 22 records the ruler’s response: “But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

The ruler’s problem wasn’t possessions. It was priorities. He loved his possessions more than he loved God. It may have been a close call for the ruler, we don’t know. He may have struggled with the decision, weighed it out. But in the end, he chose to hang on to his stuff. Perhaps he found security in that stuff. Maybe he was sentimental.

It wasn’t fair, either. Others were rich. Why wasn’t Jesus telling them to give away all their stuff, take up a cross, and follow Him?

It gets worse. Jesus told others to pluck out their eye or cut off their hand if either caused them to sin:

Matt5_29-30

What is the one thing today between you and a more committed relationship to Christ? Is it a habit? An attitude? Unforgiveness? Greed? Hatred? Addiction? Laziness? Fear? What is it?

I don’t want to know why it’s there, or how it got there, or what it is, or how you think you should be allowed to hang on to it. I encourage you to aim to resist. I implore you to realize this thing was nailed to the Cross. I challenge you to daily ask Christ to take this thing out of your life. I dare you to practice Luke 9:23.

“For how long, Andy?” For as long as it takes. “…for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.” Proverbs 24:16 Don’t count to seven failures and then stop. Keep getting up until you stop falling. Stop pulling out the nails holding this thing to the Cross. Let it die there. Jesus is stronger than this thing.

Change your one thing, starting today.

My Schedule

My friend Brian Kelley (blog | @kbriankelley) has been challenging me recently with posts and tweets. The most challenging snippets deal with our schedules and what they about our priorities. He has me thinking…

One thought: What would my day look like if I lived it according to my stated priorities? That begs another question – what are my stated priorities? Oh, I rattle those off almost without thinking: “God, family, others and other stuff (work, church, etc.), and then me.” You may disagree with that list or its order. I disagree with it, too.

I can hear you thinking, “What?!”

Part of the reason I disagree with the order of the items in that list is because some of them overlap. For instance, taking care of my family means exercising regularly to maintain (and improve) my health. So I run semi-regularly. Now here’s the thing: Since I started running, I’ve learned to enjoy it. Immensely. So one could now argue my priorities are out of whack because I am doing something solely for myself and placing that thing above my family.

That’s compartmentalizing and that can get you into trouble.

Getting back to the original question that came out of Brian’s challenges: What would my day look like if I lived it according to my stated priorities?

  • There would be time prioritized for God. These would be moments free from priority pollution – not Jesus And… moments.
  • There would be time prioritized to spend with beautiful bride, Christy.
  • There would be time prioritized to spend with our children living at home.
  • There would be time prioritized to exercise. God provides for our family and we are thankful. By the gifts and opportunities He provides, I work and our needs are thereby met. I need to remain healthy to work, and I’m getting older every day.
  • There would be time prioritized for work, church activities, and farming.

Does my life look like this? Some, but not enough. I am looking forward to reading the book (Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes) that is challenging Brian; looking forward to the same challenges to my life and schedule.

Andy