Tag Archives: family

Cheat, Cheat, (Never) Beat

A tarnished reputation is difficult to overcome.  Just ask the Boston Red Sox or the New England Patriots.  Along with Lance Armstrong, Rosie Ruiz and Tonya Harding, they have found themselves labeled as cheaters within our current zeitgeist.  Just this week, the Red Sox field manager, Alex Cora mutually agreed to part ways after Cora’s name was linked with an elaborate sign-stealing scandal while he served as bench coach with the Houston Astros. This follows a report a few weeks ago that the Patriots were found recording the sidelines of an opposing teams during an NFL game (12 years after being punished for gaining an advantage by acting the same way).  The home teams are a bunch of cheaters, calling into question the legitimacy of their championship titles.

Would the Patriots have won all those Super Bowls without that unfair advantage of knowing plays the opposition was planning before they were executed or modifying the air pressure of footballs?  Would the Red Sox have won the World Series in 2018 had they not stolen signs and known the pitches they were facing before they were thrown?  Sadly, sports fans in Boston can never know for sure.  History is now tainted.  Reputations are now tarnished.  The critics are justified in questioning the integrity of the coaches and key players.  The city’s sports heroes will be subject to the consequences of dishonesty for the foreseeable future.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  Luke 19:8 (NIV)

Not surprisingly, the Bible has an ample supply of examples illustrating that cheating is wrong, whether it be swapping out an inferior sacrifice for a suitable one or moving a boundary line or tipping the scales to gain a small advantage.  I would argue that Zacchaeus is a prime specimen of the ‘cheater’.   Perhaps he contended that everyone was doing it, that it was acceptable to skim a bit off the top of all those tax payments he had received.  But that rationale did not mean it was the right thing to do.  God’s design and order for human interaction dictates our fair and equitable engagement with others.

In this way, Zacchaeus’s life story becomes a cautionary tale; if you cheat people you will be hated by nearly everyone around you.  But Zacchaeus’s response to grace also becomes a template for all of us with a less-than-stellar reputation; after being confronted with his wrong-doing, he acted in repentance, showed regret and offered restitution.   Almost immediately after witnessing the love of Christ, he changes the trajectory of his life; after years of focusing on selfish gain, he gives half of his accumulated wealth to others.  Then he characterizes himself as a cheater, owning and admitting his sin.  Finally, he compensates those he cheated sacrificially.

So, how does one overcome a tarnished reputation?  Follow the biblical example of the wee and greedy tax collector.  Admit your sin, change your priorities and repay what has been taken away.  I hope we all can learn from the public fall from grace of our professional sports teams.

Winning While Losing

There are a whole bunch of people around me who are acting like the prophet Jonah, as recorded in Jonah 4 (Jonah is despairing to the point of death over the withering of a weed as he witnesses the repentance of the people of Nineveh).  Like the Old Testament prophet, they are disappointed that things did not go their way, pouting due to a perceived personal slight and an actual adversary’s blessing.  These community members are distraught over the Patriots’ early exit from the NFL playoffs – not that they had a losing season (they won three times the games they lost this season) or failed to make the playoffs (unlike 20 other teams), but that they simply did not advance to the Super Bowl.

Instead of rejoicing in the blessing that the home team has appeared in nine or the last eighteen Super Bowls, they are mourning their demise; they might find partners in commiseration in fans of the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars or Houston Texans, who have never been to the championship game.  Instead of reflecting on the good times experienced in six NFL titles (and six more by the professional sports teams in the Boston area), they disparage the players and coaches; I suggest these sentiments not be shared with the fans of the Vikings, Bills, Bengals, Falcons, Panthers, Cardinals, Titans or Chargers, who have never won a single Super Bowl.

As human beings, we are susceptible to the temptation of maximizing our self-importance and minimizing the value of others.  We expect our lives to be a series of progressive blessings and we resent when others are blessed besides us, or – the horror – instead of us.  Jesus share a parable about it when he shared the story of a vineyard manager who paid the first workers in the field (who worked a full day) and the last workers (who worked less than an hour) the same amount.  Can you imagine?  Those first workers (who we naturally identify with) got what was fair; the last workers (slackers if you ask me) received way more than they deserved.  Jesus concludes his object lesson with the response of the vineyard foreman:

“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?’  Matthew 20:15 (NIV)

As a fan of the New England Patriots, I have been compensated handsomely over the past nineteen seasons.  And the greater truth remains that God can (and does) bless others with compensation just as handsome as mine.  There will be a new champion in a new town – maybe Minnesota, Nashville or Houston for the first time – and I am good with that.  I am glad that God is so generous.   And know this: His generosity is not limited to football games but extends to every area of life.  We are wise to rejoice with those who rejoice instead of mourning that it is not our day in the sun.  And who knows, maybe Duck Boats will still carry a champion (the Bruins, Celtics or Red Sox) this year!

Easy Breezy Meezy

It seems hard to believe that “Y2K” was twenty years ago.  Do you remember all the troubles that were anticipated, all because experts were not sure if computers, which were programmed with a two-digit place setting for the year, would operate as normal when they registered 2000 or crash when they reverted to 1900?  We were filled with anxiety as we waited to see if the utilities would continue to operate and banking software would still be running after the ball dropped.  As it turned out, we worried for nothing: the world was unphased by the change in millennium as all the electronic components of 21st century life performed as required.

Much has happened over the past ten years for my family as well.  We enjoyed 4 graduations, we celebrated a number of big birthdays (including both Jeanine and I turning 50 in the 2010s), we moved residences three times, and we travelled more than a hundred thousand miles.  If I can be honest, I have worried about a great deal of things over the past ten years – will the kids finish High School, be accepted into a college of their choice and come home on occasion?  Will we be able to find a suitable residence for our family’s needs?  Will the days ahead be kind?  I thank God that the previous decades have been filled with great blessing.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?  Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)

I have been joking with my wife and children that the Mike of 2020 is “easy, breezy” (which my youngest now has co-opted as “Covergirl Dad”), but my resolution is serious – I am consciously trying to release my inner anxiety about the things that I cannot control and release the reins on the things that I can control; thus, I will be easy and breezy.  This desire to be more relaxed has made me inventory the things that I control, which turns out to be a surprisingly short list: I control my decisions, my reactions and my responses.

This year, and decade, I will make a concerted effort to make and maintain wise decisions, and not regularly revisiting the angst inherent in the process.  I will try to express genuine reactions which are filled with grace and edification.  I will offer thoughtful and profitable responses, refusing to delve into the bad habit of pessimism.  I will not worry about whether I made the right decision, the appropriate reaction or the proper response.  I will ‘go with the flow”.   And in order to do this, I will seek the Spirit’s leading each new day and trust His transforming power at work within me.

If I hope to cease in my worrying, if I am dedicated to an easy, breezy disposition, I will need to place all my angst and anxiety somewhere.  So I am claiming 1 Peter 5:7 as my memory verse for 2020:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)

Heavenly Laughter

It was the best of plans: I had wrapped my son’s birthday present (his first cell phone) and placed it with the others on the dining room table, and then I typed up a text to the family giving out his number but was waiting until the right moment push ‘send’.  We proceeded with his party (the menu for our freshly minted 12 year-old’s festivities was Ring Dings and Wattamelon Roll), which we enjoyed before the opening of the gifts.  As we were about to get on with the gift-giving, there was a muffled ring coming from the pile.  It was the phone.  Had I mistakenly sent out the text? (I quickly checked, and I had not.)  It turns out a telemarketer had ruined our surprise, but in the process created an unexpectedly wonderful birthday memory.

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is a Yiddish proverb which means, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.”  No matter how much we plan, life is messy and things often do not go as imagined.  Josh’s birthday party made me think about Jesus’ birthday; the life his parents experienced was certainly not as planned.  There was an unplanned pregnancy (from their perspective), a thwarted divorce, a rejected reservation, an unexpected visit (or two) from strangers and an unforeseen move.  It was a year (or two) of chaos and confusion that neither Mary nor Joseph could have imagined.  Yet, God was with them and was creating something unexpectedly wonderful.

If ever there was a time in human history when God orchestrated a course correction in the affairs of His creation, the birth of the Messiah was that time.  God sent Gabriel to Mary to tell her, “Do not be afraid…”  God sent an angel in a dream to Joseph to tell him, “Do not be afraid….”, and another (also in a dream) to tell him to travel to Egypt to protect his family.  God sent angels to the shepherds to tell them, “Do not be afraid….”  God warned the Magi, in a dream, to return home by another way so as to avoid Herod and protect the Lord.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

As I see it, we all have a choice to make when things do not seem to go as planned: we can scowl and think that all is ruined, or we can smile and thank God for His intercession.  Our reaction when “things don’t go our way” reveals who we think is in charge of the details of our lives.  Especially during this season, we need to face the facts that our plans may not go as expected: cookies will burn, airlines will have delays, products will be back-ordered, illnesses will invade our homes and sentimental ornaments will break.  These things might be God’s way of correcting your course, adjusting your plans and preparing you for something unexpectedly wonderful.

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht”.  I hope you hear Him.

Giving Thanks

For the past month, as part of a reading group, I have been reading Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  It is a fabulously engrossing book that deals with the reality of life and death, the limits of the current medical system and the conversations that every person should have before it is too late.  One of the lasting lessons I received from Dr. Gawande’s words is to recognize what is important; it has caused me to wrestle with the reality of my own demise and to value every moment of cogency that God enables me to enjoy.

As I reflect upon these truths this morning and as I prepare for Thanksgiving next week, I am finding myself thankful for the moments I share with my family (immediate and extended, formed by blood and by friendship).  I am thankful for productivity (in my vocation and in my avocations).  I am thankful for opportunity (and the availability of the best in medicine, academia and ministry no more than a subway ride away).  I am thankful for the guidance of God since last Thanksgiving (among other things, in leading my family to a new residence and two of my boys to new schools).  I am thankful for the blessings I enjoy every day.

There is one more thing for which I am thankful, something never touched upon in the remarkable tome penned by the good doctor.  I am thankful for the Gospel.  I am thankful for the witness verified truth of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.  I am thankful for the long-established and prophetic plan of God’s salvation through Christ.  I am thankful for the availability of the forgiveness of sin and the redemption of the disobedient which reached a wretch like me.  I am thankful that my life-steps were directed by the Almighty to hear the truth of the Lord and accept Him as my personal Savior.    I am thankful for those who shared, and continue to share, this good news with those who are dangerously unaware of their eternal destiny.  I am thankful that I will participate in blissful life after my physical death.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!  2 Corinthians 9:15

But the gift is not like the trespass.  For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Romans 5:15

Each and every one of us reading this post has something for which to give thanks (if nothing else, we all have access to the vast worldwide web).  For what things, truths and people are you thankful this year?  What moments have brought you delight since last you sat at bounty’s table?  What gifts have been bestowed upon you that have filled you with gratitude?  In whatever way you will celebrate our thoroughly North American observance of Thanksgiving, I hope you will spend some time reflecting upon and remembering all the blessings you have been given.

I wish you all the happiness of Thanksgiving!

On the Road

On Saturday, November 2nd, at 6:58PM our minivan’s odometer struck 100,000 miles.  We were a block away from the house, on our way to a local eatery when it happened.  In all truth, this anticipated occurrence was somewhat anticlimactic; having a digital odometer with six digits, we were unable to see the gears turn over to register 5 zeroes like the vehicles of my childhood and watched a group of nines change, somewhat similar to a digital clock striking midnight on New Year’s Eve.  The numbers on the odometer have brought back to my mind many of those miles we, as a family, have traveled over the past 6 ½ years.

One hundred thousand miles means that we’ve made hundreds of trips to grocery stores and workplaces.  Many of the miles were traveling up and down the eastern corridor of I-95 to visit loved ones in Maryland and D.C, not to mention trips to see friends and family in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and New Hampshire.  How many cups of coffee and orders of fries have we eaten seated in the van?    Some of these miles were traveled offering rides to others and transporting stuff around the South Shore.  The van has made quite a few jaunts to the airport to joyfully welcome those who are arriving and to colleges to drop off (with tears) those who are departing.  Upon reflection of both the spectacular and the mundane, both the sicknesses and the singing that occurred in our van, it has been a wonderful ride.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way.  Psalm 37:23 (NASB95)

In light of this verse, I wonder what David would think about the last 100,000 of minivan has traveled.  If Psalm 37 was written today, as opposed to 3,000 years ago, would he be inspired to write something like, “The miles of the family vehicle are established, or made firm, by God”?  And if the words of God might be contextualized in this fashion, what might it mean for us?  Is it possible that those 100,000 miles in our Dodge Grand Caravan were ordered and set up by God so that we may delight in his way?  Is every one of the 528,000,000 feet we’ve journeyed over the last 78 months in the family car funded in God?

There is a memory my family has relating to our van that makes me think that God was instrumental in all those miles.  We were driving through downtown Memphis after a rehearsal dinner.  We were heading back to our hotel and took a wrong turn.  Adjusting our course, we waited at a red light, the only car in the intersection, when a homeless woman hurriedly crossed four lanes of traffic to knock on my window.  After I assisted her, my family joked about the aura of compassion I must radiate.  I think God placed us there.  I think that God has placed us in a great many places.

God was with us at all those rest areas stops, gas pumps and, yes, traffic lights.  He was with us through all the conversations we had within and outside our reliable transportation.  And I have no doubt he will be with us through the next 100,000 miles.

ICU (or “I See You”)

If you listened to my message on Sunday, I mentioned in passing an ordeal I had been going through regarding a prescription refill.  I had exhausted all my refills, so I called the health center to schedule a physical; I was informed that my PCP was no longer at that facility and I was reassigned; I was given the next available appointment – and a 7 week wait.  At this point, I asked if I could get my prescriptions refilled and was given assurances they were in process.  A few days later, as I ran out of one of my medications, I called the pharmacy, who was still waiting for authorization, so day after day I called and the health center marked my request as urgent.  10 days after I began the process, I determinedly walked over to the facility, talked to the receptionist, face-to-face, and she took my request to the back, returning after a while with the good news that my prescriptions were sent off to the pharmacy; a few hours later I finally received what I needed to maintain my health.

In hindsight, I have come to realize the importance of face-to-face interactions.  I have come to understand the power of looking into another person’s eyes and voicing a genuine frustration.  I have come to appreciate standing in front of another human being and receiving assurances that I have been heard and valued.  After interacting with disembodied voices for more than a week with no progress, seeing another human being and being seen by another human being was what was necessary for my issues to be resolved.   And now, because of technological conveniences, I fear that face-to-face interactions are few and far between.

I am concerned that we, as a society, are in danger of losing something important because we do not interact with one another in person.  We can maintain contact with friends through social media.  We can check in on family members with a text.  We can experience spiritual growth through an app.  We can shop for nearly all our essentials via the internet.  We can receive instruction on nearly every topic by watching YouTube.  In most areas of life (professional service calls are a singular exception), it is not required that we actually engage in human interactions…but it is desperately needed.

I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.  Peace to you.  The friends here send their greetings.  Greet the friends there by name.  3 John 14 (NIV)

Take it from one who has recently improved his physical health by meeting with someone face-to-face, your efforts in actual engagement will be rewarded.  Take the risk and put the phone down.  Sit a spell with a friend over a cup of tea or walk together along a river.  Pop into a local hardware store and talk to the owner behind the counter about thermostats or trash cans.  Attend a Bible study, even if it is filled with strangers.  Talking to someone will benefit your relational health, learning with someone will enhance your intellectual health, worshipping with someone will develop your spiritual health.  Let’s get together, face-to-face, for your sake and mine.

Any Given Sunday, on a Thursday

I had the great privilege last Thursday of joining my oldest son in celebrating his birthday by going to Gillette Stadium in order to watch the Patriots compete against the New York Giants.   Neither of us had ever seen the Patriots play anywhere other than on television.   It was, in many ways, an unforgettable experience.  We got to see Tom Brady’s completion to Sony Michel, making him the quarterback with the second-most passing yards in NFL history; we got to see a punt blocked and passes intercepted;  we got to see a win and the team we root for remain undefeated.  We got to see it all.  And it was glorious…mostly.

The traffic getting to the game was heavy.  We followed the back roads, knowing the highways would be crammed.  As we approached Foxboro, we were greeted with brake lights and orange cones.  We crept, along with hundreds of other cars, toward the parking lots.  Finally, we arrived in Lot 50, a quarter of a mile walk from the stadium.

The costs attributable to the game (tickets, parking and concessions) were substantial.  We paid $30 for parking and much more for second-market tickets.  We walked past the concession stands and decided to take a pass of a $10 malt beverage.  There was over-priced fare at other stands as well as team merchandise at the Pro Shop kiosks.  We could have easily dropped $1,000 during the night.

The comfort level of the seating was lacking.  We had to walk to our 3rd tier seats, zigzagging along the access ramps and climbing the stairs of our section.  After we adjusted to the perspective from being so high, we crammed our legs into the plastic formed seats.  Sitting in the elements (the weather was windy but dry that night), we were surrounded by every kind of fan – everyone from the loud and obnoxious to the quiet and casual.

The quality of what was presented was spotty.  The game itself was average.  There were an equal number of good and poor plays.  The Giants are not a team of great talent, and they played as expected.  It was a good game, but not much of it would be highlighted on SportsCenter.

The time involved in participating was excessive.  We left the hose at 4:30 and returned home at 2 in the morning.  While we didn’t tailgate, we could have (the parking lots open 4 hours before kickoff).  The game was a wonderful three hours or so.  The inching along in the parking lot to get onto route 1 was a frustrating 90 minutes.  It was a long and glorious night.

The experience was wonderful.  I got to spend time with someone I love doing something we love together.

… not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)

Why is it that 65,000 people can withstand the traffic, the cost, the time and the discomfort of a mediocre football game, but cannot do the same for a worship service at a local church?  I understand that the two experiences are not the same for many – our NFL experience was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – but I am puzzled that so many (especially season ticket holders) would risk rain and snow and spend large amounts of money and time to watch men play a game instead of attending a worship service.  Why is it that some would relish the petty annoyances of traffic and parking lot gridlock while others will not tolerate a longer message and a service extended past 12:15?

Thanks for letting me rant.  If you ever choose to come to Calvary, I promise that the parking will be free.

The Repurposed Life

As I mentioned in previous posts, my family moved about a month ago, but that is not quite accurate.  In all actuality, we are still in the process of moving.  We are still unpacking boxes, rearranging furniture and repairing window coverings.  Because of the size of the rooms and the placement of radiators and closets, we’ve been faced with making decisions about what we keep, what we shed and what we repurpose.  We have had to determine whether a shelving unit is a better fit in one room or in another.  We have had to experiment with the placement of dishes and bookshelves.

In the process, I have realized a few things: that we are not required to hold onto everything, that many things can have multiple uses and that a few things are non-negotiable.  As we run out of shelf-space, books and baubles that we carried from our previous residence have become donations for the church’s yard sale.  As we assessed our counter-space, kitchen carts were stacked and became an insert for a linen closet.  Along the way, we came across pictures and memory-rich items that we had forgotten we had.  We are removing what we no longer need, reshaping what we have and respecting what we cannot live without.

Our home, a work in progress, reminds me of my own soul.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  John 15:2

This verse from John is a snippet of a longer parable of Jesus which describes a vine, a gardener and a branch.  From this story we know that Jesus is the vine, the Father is the gardener and we are the branches.  We are living in connection to Jesus and the Father is regularly pruning us: we are not the ones who determine what is beneficial in keeping and what we is not, God is.  He is searching our souls and determines what is best lopped off and what is best remaining.

Like our domestic situation, I am convinced that God is continually exploring our living situation and expunging the things that are no longer needed, exposing what will remain and extending our joy.  He is regularly taking away our selfish attitudes and our self-interested motivations.  He is regularly reshaping our spiritual activities and our spiritual gifts.  He is reproducing fruit in our lives, all for His glory.  At the end of the day, He enables us to enjoy the abundant life He offers to all those who accept His pruning.

With the blessing of hindsight, I am sure that old and broken parts of me have been removed by God with the skills of a surgeon, that aspects of my makeup have been reassembled and rehabilitated by God with the skills of a master craftsman, and that I have become more fruitful than I have ever imagined – all through His abiding presence in my life.  As I place and replace the things in our home, I pray I remember the one who dwells in me.

Thirty Years

On Monday, my wife and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary.  According to Hallmark.com (the worldwide source of information ‘when you care enough to send the very best’), the gift for this anniversary is pearls.  I find it funny how random some of these yearly suggestions are: wood is to be given on year 5; appliances are appropriate for year 18; tools are the traditional gift for year 29.  Jeanine and I are non-traditional in this regard, I guess.   We tend to mark the years of marriage by enjoying more sentimental gestures, such as thoughtful cards and fancy dinners without the children.

Truth be told, the gifts of a long marriage are not given on anniversaries, but rather every day in between.  Jeanine and I have been married for more that half our lives and, it can be reasonably asserted, we are not the same people who stood before a minister three decades ago.  We were bright-eyed and optimistic, confident that love conquers all.  Over the years, the light in our eyes has dimmed a bit and we are a touch more practical now, but with age comes the certainty that love does indeed conquer all.  That certainty, that calm assurance, that we have each other and know each other is, in my opinion, more precious than pearls.

A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.  Proverbs 31:10

I do not thank God as often as I should for Jeanine, this completely different-than-me angel who has blessed my life for more than 35 years.  I am so appreciative that she complements my weaknesses with her strengths and accentuates my abilities with her own.  She has lovingly challenged me to be a better man, a better husband and a better father.  She has willingly, with her typical encouragement, endured my career change and seven moves while raising four wonderful children without complaint.  God has given me an equal partner in life who has brought comfort and cleanliness and made our house a home.  Again, I do not thank God as often as I should.

As we age and mature, we change.  I thank God that Jeanine and I have grown together and not apart.  I thank God that we enjoy one another’s company more now than ever, appreciate one another’s voices more now than ever and savor one another’s refinement more now than ever.  I could not have imagined the beauty of our union when we first met at a Friendly’s in the early 1980s.  And I am not too proud to say that I have gained the most in our marriage (which compels me to strive to appreciate to an even greater degree this precious gift of my wife of noble character).

Finally, I thank God for the demonstration of sacrificial love that Christ provides which serves as a template for my wife’s and my relationship.  I thank God that we have committed to do the hard work of willful submission to one another.  I thank God for the challenges we have faced and the strength we have found in our bond.

My prayer is that we would all have occasion to celebrate these bonds.