Life from the rear-view mirror

There are ALWAYS dirty dishes to do ….VOL 124

dertyI’m never sorry when I see something to do around the house…and I do it. (It doesn’t happen as often as it should thanks to multiple  “Kathy” interventions) But for instance…last night the kitchen had taken a licking from the day’s activity. Someone had mercifully loaded the dishwasher and now the green “done” light on the front panel was glaring at me. I looked around and there were dirty dishes in the sink awaiting their turn in the machine.

It had been a long, hard day. I was tempted to go back into the living room, sit down, finish my movie and go to bed…leaving the mess for someone else. But I dug into the dishes. it took me about 15 minutes. Kathy came out for a drink and saw I was working. Thanked me and pitched in. That made the job even shorter and now at 6am, I see a clean kitchen from my perch at the computer.

I’m not a neat-nick. But there is something about “clean and orderly” that is stress reducing. Kind of like going to work and starting with a clean desk rather than have to work through the pile from the day before just to get to the work of the day. It’s not always possible, but it almost always feels better to start fresh.

Lamentations 3:22 – 23 goes like this. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions (mercies) never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

The dishes will get dirty again today…that’s a fact. Here’s another fact…I will need God’s mercy and forgiveness many times today as I slog through some of the day’s challenges that I already know about…let alone the “surprises” that are bound to “pile on.” And God will be there…walking with me…guiding me…convicting me…convincing me…forgiving me…strengthening me…encouraging me…blessing me…helping me to be a blessing. He always loves…he is always faithful. He is the ultimate good father. It is the privilege of living in the house of the King.

dugz4 September 16, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink

Jesus “In Focus” …..VOL 123

telescopeTonight I got a chance to take a look through my buddy Jim Ford’s new telescope. I’ve never had the occasion to do that before. It was extremely cool.  Jim pressed a few buttons on the telescope’s internal GPS and after some whirring and clicking, the telescope focused on Saturn, some 834,000,000  miles away (give or take). For a moment, it was just a bright point of light in the night sky but in a few seconds, the telescope brought Saturn into clear view. Throughout the next 30 minutes or so,  I saw a couple of satellites pass by , saw the red glow of Mars and truly enjoyed God’s handiwork in the heavenlies.
The telescope was able to bring far away Saturn into focus. We could see its rings and even one of the moons. It’s been right there since creation…I’ve seen pictures in books…but discovering it for myself last night was an amazing moment.

As a believer…I’m all about people discovering Jesus for themselves. He too has been there all along, even before creation. Man’s attempt at finding Jesus or God or the creator has lead to what many would call “religion.” A “man-made” attempt to reach God by the performance of a set of rules. As many have found…religion is loveless and empty. And it has one major flaw. There is nothing we can do to earn a relationship with God. We come to God by grace through faith alone. It’s all about accepting a gift from God that is freely given.

A few days ago I heard a “conversation” (read that: sermon) by Andy Stanley, lead pastor of North Point church in Georgia, It turned out to be quite controversial for some. In his “conversation” he talked about some people’s struggle with God because of the Bible. Many people struggle with how the Bible got here. It’s validity, authenticity and inerrancy, infallibility.  And while it is true that the growth of Christianity did explode prior to the Bible being written…the Bible is the only book today that brings Jesus into focus for many still far away from him.

I know where Andy was going with all this. But I think we need to be careful if we attempt to disconnect the Bible from God and Theology simply to address the concerns of people far from God or even those who once were close to him but are moving away…even if we mean it for their good. People far from God (people who don’t have a personal relationship) are unable to discern the things of God. People need a clear message of how much God loves them and the sacrifice that was made by Jesus for them as found in the Bible. We never have to defend or make excuses for the Bible. It stands on it’s own as God’s holy, written word. And I for one, stand with it.

Not everyone will accept the message of salvation, the forgiveness of sin, found in the Bible…but the message is meant for everyone.
“He (God) was not willing that any should perish (go to Hell) but that all would come to repentance (find forgiveness of sin and go to Heaven)

We are never going to convince people who are struggling with God and Christianity with any argument that we can present. We can’t convince them that Christianity is true or that it is right for them. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. But we can present the truth of Scripture time and time again…and let the promise of God’s word do it’s work. The promise goes like this in Isaiah 55:11…So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
Today we have the Bible…God’s word. Today all God’s revealed truth lies within it’s pages. It stands on its own. It is true, relevant and prophetic. It tells of amazing grace that is ours… freely given.

I find it interesting that we will pick up a magazine or book to learn something of diminishing value at best…but read the Bible to learn of eternal value? Talk about reading the Bible as God’s revealed will for his creation? C’mon! That’s just nuts!

Well…maybe to some. But to millions of us…it has been what God used to draw us to himself and what He still uses to keep us close.

dugz4 September 5, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink

Leaving Texas… VOL. 122

ToyotaLynchburg, VA August 1980

I loaded up my little orange 1973 Toyota Corola that I’d purchased from Les Speakman in Nashville a couple years before, and headed southwest to a little town in Texas on Lake Ray Hubbard…Rockwall.
Rockwall was truly a sleepy little town back then…I still have fond memories of Grandma’s fried chicken, sweet tea and late nights with the boys ( Stan Kellam, Mark Roberts and Mark Hoffman ) at the Truck Stop. These days, Rockwall, TX would no longer be recognizable, or so I’m told.
But anyway…I was on the road once again to what I thought was going to be home…and a place I could settle down. I’d meet and marry a nice Texas girl, buy a pair of boots, get a big belt buckle and maybe starch my jeans…buy a horse or two…oh yea…and finish my pilot’s license, (a quest I had started when I was 16.)

I was close to having life all figured out…or so I thought.
Eight years into it and life wasn’t so “figured out.” I was broke, didn’t have a girlfriend, wore out my boots and had my horses repossessed. ( I actually did have horses)
I hocked everything I had to get my pilot licenses, spent a night in jail for writing a $15 bad check to Kroger’s for food (they are tough in Texas) and was late on my rent.

Something had to change.
Thankfully it did…and I’m writing this from Rochester, NY and not Texas…married with 4 kids and a dog. (I’ve given up on horses…)

So what does this have to do with anything?

This morning as I was putting dishes into the dishwasher I saw two old white bowls on the shelf that I had brought back from my first real, on my own, apartment in Texas, 28 years ago. They are both pretty weary, but they are the only things that remain from my sojourn in the Lone Star State…except for memories.
They are a reminder of the journey that I had been on. I would like to say, “The journey that God led me on…” but God wouldn’t have wanted to take any credit for that crazy 8 years…

In 1988 I left Texas in a big U-Haul truck with Mom and Dad stuffed into the front seat…towing my car. It was a long 1434 miles back to NY… and one of the lowest points of my relatively young life. I’ve only been back to Texas twice. Once for a friend’s wedding and once to do some business. I truly miss my friends there…but I don’t miss Texas…not even a little.
You know…I really should just throw those bowls away. They aren’t much good any longer. They are chipped and cracked and we only use them if there is nothing else clean. But I digress…again.
For many years now I’ve been more attuned to what God is doing in my life. I’m in the Word more…I’m trying to lead my family well…and I’m involved in ministry once again. Life doesn’t look anything like I imagined it would as I was driving to Texas so many years ago…but that is a good thing.
As I feel the rough edges of one of the old white bowls that is holding my cereal this morning (I forgot to run the dishwasher…) I’m reminded that God is not finished with us…until he’s finished with us. If you can still fog a mirror…God can still use you. If you’re available. It doesn’t matter if you have rough edges, cracks or chips. God can still fill up your bowl with good things from his hand.

dugz4 August 17, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink

A heavenly love tap… …VOL. 121

Speaking for myself, the hardened, skillful sinner that I am…when I’m being disciplined or chastised by God, I often know why…and usually within that period of discipline, I’m convicted of whatever it is and seek to restore the relationship claiming 1 John 1:9.
But Hebrews 12:6 says “For the Lord disciplines him who he loves, and chastises (disciplines) every son whom he receives.”
I have become a big fan of Walter Henrichsen over the past few weeks. Rarely have I looked forward to my devotional reading more. I see myself in the pages and come away with new insight and encouragement…that is if I’m not burdened and broken because of my failing. But my devotional time has never been more profitable.
So according to this verse…the only prerequisite for God’s discipline…or chastisement is that you are a son/daughter, loved by God. The relationship with God must exist first for you to fully understand this meaning.
The discipline may come as a result of disobedience or it may come simply to make us more like Jesus. As Henrichsen implies, it makes little difference as to why…it is all for our good. It is all to help us reach our potential in him. I hope you got that. Whether we are disciplined towards repentance for wrongdoing or disciplined simply to make us a better, stronger follower of Christ…we benefit either way. Love and discipline or maybe Love with discipline. As parents who love our children…we discipline them. We don’t discipline another family’s kids…that would be inappropriate…there is no relationship there.
So it is with God. He disciplines his family. And we are his child if we have trusted Christ to save us. And if we are his kids…we should expect to be disciplined both for our good and for His glory.

dugz4 August 10, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink

“You’re free to go”….Dude!…Really? VOL. 120

TrooperI always slow down at the same spot on Rt 590S… except for today. I’d just gotten off the phone (hands free speakerphone for all you distraction nazis… ) And as the conversation intensified, so did the pressure of my right foot on the gas pedal. By the time I realized what I was doing and where I was…I saw the State Trooper…hiding in plain sight. I got right off the gas and glanced at the speedometer…72mph. I just signaled and pulled over.
By the time the Trooper got to my window I had all my docs out ready for him. He was a young guy… mid twenties maybe and he was very pleasant, with Tom Cruise-ish looks. He took my license and said he clocked me at 72.

Embarrassed…I said I knew…and that I hadn’t been paying attention due to a rough phone call with my 17 year old who was in crisis. He smiled and quipped “Aren’t all 17 year olds in some kinda crisis?” I chuckled and had to agree with him there too.

He walked around the car to make sure I was legal, then to my surprise (and relief…) handed my license back and thanked me for pulling over so quickly and being respectful. I put my stuff away… signaled, put the car in gear and pulled away. No points on my license. No increase in insurance premium. No speeding ticket…not even a stern “don’t do that again!”

The truth is… I was guilty. I knew it and he knew it. He didn’t have to show me grace, but he did just the same.
I know there’s a big difference between getting a speeding ticket and going to heaven or hell. But I couldn’t help noticing the one common thread…grace. Unmerited, undeserved favor.

I’m thankful I didn’t get the speeding ticket I deserved…I’m more thankful that I won’t get the hell I deserve. I am the benefactor of God’s amazing grace found in Jesus and his death and resurrection. I could never deserve it. It can’t be earned. It is freely given but comes at great expense. The life of Jesus. There is no greater love… No greater demonstration of Grace than Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s a gift of grace to be claimed simply by believing in the gospel message.
John 3:16

Don’t beg God for what He says he won’t give you….VOL 119

beggingI have started reading my own devotions again. I found a book through a FB post from a college friend of mine called: “Thoughts from the Diary of a Desperate Man” The pilot verse this morning was Ephesians 3:3 and goes on to say “…how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.”
When the Bible is clear about something, we can understand and apply clearly. We can’t (and don’t) always apply that logic to its mysteries. We sometimes approach them as if God is challenging us to “figure it out.” I think those folks who want to run with that “false challenge” may have missed the point. Conjecture and educated guessing are fun, even encouraging us in thinking about the greatness of God…but we should be careful. There are definitely mysteries both in God’s character and his plan that we don’t (and won’t) fully understand now. They are mysteries on purpose. By not understanding fully everything of God and his plan, these mysteries do help us understand that this present life requires us to “walk by faith.”  To trust God even through the fog and uncertainty of mystery.
I have friends who are passionate about eschatology. They can hardly speak of anything else because of the attraction and challenge that the mystery of “end times” provides them. Nothing wrong with that kind of passion and the reading, digging and research that goes along with it. It’s great discipline. However it is not terribly profitable to our main job of teaching and preaching the gospel…bringing as many folks with us to heaven as we can. I’d rather someone come to know that God loves them and has made a way to heaven through Christ and the cross than be able to explain (read that: guess at…) the meaning of the 70th week of Daniel. Again…the desire to fully understand God’s word is noble…but in the case of the mysteries of it…not practical.

Check out this excerpt of the devotion:
“No one can know the future but the One who decides it. Although He has revealed a great deal about the future, much of it can be misunderstood. His promises are true; your understanding of those promises is prone to error. Hold tentatively your convictions regarding the future. Your hope rests on His return, but you know little about when He will return, the exact order of events after His return, and what heaven will be like. Some mysteries have been revealed; more will be revealed when Christ comes again. Speculation may be fun, but it is not all that profitable. God does not want you to know all; He wants you to walk by faith.”

And so I encourage us all to invest in your understanding and application of what God has made clear…and trust God for those things that puzzle or perplex you now.  Just like Morpheus said to Neo*…The answers are coming.

  • The Matrix

It’s not all about the “LOSS”… VOL. 118

LORIMy kids lost their mom to cancer just over 6 years ago. That was a defining moment. Their lives were forever altered. As much as I wanted the outcome of Lori’s illness to be different for their sake…it wasn’t.  And all the things I believed about God, his sovereignty, his mercy and his plan…were tested. Are still being tested…
“Why?” is a question that doesn’t necessarily apply just to big divides over theology and the mysteries of God. There are plenty of “why?” questions that pop up all on their own. (and it’s not like we don’t want to know those “why?” answers too.) And some of them are knowable…or at least guess-able…some not so much.
These days…and for the most part…I leave the big God whys? alone. My feeling is that once we’re in heaven we will just know the answers. I don’t think we’ll need to “take a number” to talk to Jesus about any burning question we had here on earth. I can’t prove that in scripture…but I think you’ll find I’m right. If I’m not…come find me in heaven and I’ll apologize 😉 I might give you my place in line!
Losing a parent creates a lot of conflict and questions in a child’s mind and heart. I don’t think there’s a lot of blame that they take on as sometimes happens in divorce…but when a parent dies, it’s a different dynamic.
I’m no doctor, and all I can do is observe my own kids. I’m not trying to draw any psychological conclusions or provide any answers ’cause I don’t have them. Our family is still a work in progress. I just want to point out a danger and a conflict I go through on a daily basis for those parents who may have a challenge with their kids after a huge loss like our family experienced.

Don’t try to tie every behavioral issue back to the loss…like I often do.

You will create a box for them, a box around them that you will try to keep them in…to protect them (you say to yourself.) In that box that you’ve created, no real-life rules apply. You can justify just about everything because of the loss of mom or dad…but you keep them from the growth that comes from consequences (their own consequences)…good and bad. That should be evident to us…but somebody needs to inform our hearts of that truth. Or maybe it’s just me.
I tend to live vicariously through my kids when it comes to the loss of Lori. How would I react to this? What would I be feeling? Am I mad at God? I wish mom were here now…and a thousand other things…none of which are helpful or encouraging by the way. In the end I can, and often do, end up making excuses for questionable behavior…bad decisions. For friend choices…for life choices.
Here’s a truth I’m having to learn…they are young adults and they WILL make mistakes, have bad days…choose friends I don’t like…have car accidents…have broken hearts and experience life as God gives them breath. They will all deal with Lori’s death differently and in their own time…but they are all alive and moving through adult life. They don’t need me to live vicariously through them…they need me to allow them to live their own lives. They will take each decision as it comes. I am there to help and gently guide and direct… but ultimately they will make the decision and (for the most part) live with the consequence…good or bad.
Part of the wisdom that we should have as moms and dads is knowing when the right time and age is to simply let them go. Step back. Watch them fly.
Listen…all wisdom comes from God. Some of the more practical wisdom comes from experience. I am thrilled when I’m smart enough to apply both correctly. That doesn’t happen as often as it should.

“Skin deep” success… VOL 117

A Shallow Success…

At 61, I still do my fair share of planning…looking ahead, setting goals…even a little (sometimes a lot) of dreaming.
But honestly, I spend more time these days reflecting. Thinking about things I wish I had done differently…dealing with the scars of regret. Trying to wring some sort of wisdom or perspective out of life for me, my kids and anyone else who might read these ramblings.
Most of my working life has been spent in sales. Many people would call that career path “lying for a living.” Sadly, I know too many people who lend credence to that thought.
If you are going to be successful at anything…it has to grow from integrity…a sense of self and what’s right that is shaped by family, friends…but mostly faith. If you aren’t careful, if you disregard these values, the periphery of life can get really screwed…er…skewed. It can get skewed so much that those core values are lost…or at least well hidden. I see these things magnified in a sales career. I struggle with this disease. This distasteful anomaly. And yes…sometimes I even resemble the remark.
How something or someone looks is not often a good measure of what is really there. I’m not going to explain that…you know what I mean. Looks are skin deep…if that. As the saying goes appearances can be deceiving.
As believers, we are sometimes tempted to think the only people who are truly loving, giving and full of integrity are other believers. That is far from the truth. The fact is that God made man/woman (ALL men and women) in his image. If we just look we can see glimmers of godliness in most people. Not all the time…but enough to notice. More than enough for God to work with. More than enough for God to use us to reach them.
There are games we play in sales. Looking the part is one of them. How that plays out kind of depends on what you are selling…but we are likely to drive a certain kind of car, wear a certain type of watch. Join a health club, a gym or become a member of a country club to communicate “success” at some level. That alone doesn’t have to be an “integrity killer”…but it can be. Some take such a big bite outta this “faux” success they begin to develop a self-worth based on what they are able to “project” to people as opposed to what they really produce or who they really are. They develop a life strategy that breeds a life-style that demands (and relies on) a “threshold of success.” What I mean by that is the stuff that was always optional now MUST be in their lives for them to feel good about themselves and to keep up the “appearance” of success, whether they really have achieved success or not. In the name of appearing successful they make misguided sacrifices and excuses. They exercise bad judgement in the name of this false success … and in the name of success (and image) they often create an unintended consequence of financial disaster or worse, a failed or failing life. And it might just have started just by wanting to “look the part” to gain some sort of advantage in sales or stature. That is the integrity killer.
After many years of playing, I understand the game…but it’s a dangerous one. Perhaps it can be played without selling your soul… but it has to be played with great discernment. I wish I could say I play it well all the time. I don’t. And the consequences of collateral damage to yourself and your family are very painful. Trust me.
For the believer, the danger is transferring your sufficiency from God to stuff or to pride. From what God thinks of you and requires of you to do and to be…to what people think of and require of you. One path finds its measure in personal character…the other in “things” that fall away or get burned up in the end.
It might take a lot of therapy to uncover all the “whys?” of this behavior. As someone once said while surveying the mess they were in “I didn’t start here..but “here” is where I am now.” We don’t get to “here” in one decision. And if “here” is a bad place for you…chances are good that it was never your original destination. We didn’t wake up one day and decide that our life sucked and we were going to create a “make-believe” one. It’s a multitude of small decisions that gradually move you in a particular direction. But once you are headed that way, it can be very hard to turn around. Very hard…but it can be done. You can change priorities. You can choose to be content, to be honest, to be successful on God’s terms (whether the money and success follow or not..) You can lift God up in your life and see how God lifts you up in return. Again…it may have nothing whatsoever to do with material things. Because the “show” of your life and mine, should be evident to people by seeing “Christ in us.”
I’m not there…not even close… but I’m on the path…still too close to the edge for my own good…but moving toward the safety of the center of God’s will. How about you?

Prayer matters… as a matter of fact! VOL 116

prayPrayer matters to God…Prayer matters to people…Prayer matters to me…

There are few things in life I take as seriously as prayer. I’m not talking about some “shout-out” to the universe. I’m talking about getting a-hold of the “God of the universe,” knowing that the same God who fashioned and created it, cares more deeply about us than we may ever fully understand.
I realize that this may sound foolish or naive to some. No matter. I have experienced the POWER of prayer as folks have prayed for me and I for them in desperate circumstance. I have experienced the COMFORT of prayer …crying out to God in tragedy and loss. I have experienced the PASSION of prayer…whole-heatedly seeking God in desperation for someone or something that has broken my heart. I have experienced the FELLOWSHIP of prayer…daily communicating with my creator who lets me know in his word that he is my Savior, my Lord and my friend.
Prayer is powerful and purposeful. I would say that our prayer-life is an incredible indicator of our relationship with God. If the word prayer sounds too religious…talking to God with purpose is sort of the same thing.
Today I asked for prayer from the guys in my community group. I just sent them a group txt message, and a few minutes later I see the texts start coming back. “…praying” “I’m praying for you” and others. This wasn’t a 911 “all hands” call to prayer. This was me struggling with something personal…and it was them, keeping an open heart and an open ear to a brother who needed them go to God on his behalf. Whether I’m anxious about something or have a real pressing need…sometimes all it takes to relax about it is to know that guys I trust, respect and love, have my back in prayer. Sometimes…they have been the answer to prayer themselves. God has often used them in some material way or with some wisdom or life experience they have passed along to meet my need. That’s important to understand. Prayer doesn’t always have to be (and shouldn’t always or only be) about huge things like “please heal my wife’s cancer” or stuff that miracles are made of. (An important note here…what we would consider a miracle of God is no big thing for God…only a big thing for us) and believe me I have prayed for some big things and looked for miracles in life.
God is just as interested in hearing about the small things in our lives, the thankful things…the praiseworthy things, the joyful things. He is interested in everything about us and can listen to all of us, all at once and respond to each of us in our individual need, all at the same time, without breaking a sweat…more accurately without expending any energy whatsoever. He is God after all.
“Answers to prayer are ALWAYS about his will for you…and NEVER about his ability to accomplish anything you ask.” Did you get that? I’m going to repeat it for effect…”Answers to prayer are ALWAYS about his will for you…and NEVER about his ability to accomplish anything you ask.”
That makes it both easier and harder when we hear a “no.” Easier in that God could have said yes and perhaps our will would have been accomplished…in which case we are most always happy with God. Or he could say “no” and leave us not understanding what his ultimate will is for us in a particular situation. Believe me…”no” was hard to hear when I asked for Lori’s life. But I believe that ultimately God accomplished, and is accomplishing his will in my life. I am the only barrier to him using me to the full extent of his purpose.
So I hope you never forget that God wants to hear from you often…all the time in fact. But please be mindful of your heart when you pray…don’t allow a threshold of sin in your life.
Last time I looked God was not speaking out loud to anyone these days, so look for his answers to come in many different ways. Even in the timing of things. And when you see God at work…(and you will) and you see answers coming…(and THEY will) be thankful…and continue to trust God in every area of your life.
I have just undertaken a very hard and long struggle. This is not the first time I have taken on this personal character issue. But with God’s help…I hope it’s the last. I’m so thankful his grace and mercy are unending.
Long obedience in the same direction. I don’t know if David Whiting coined this phrase or not…but I heard it again from him last Sunday. That is what it’s going to take for me and of me…and I know it’s impossible for me without prayer and making the next right decision.
You know…I bet someone is praying for you right now. To meet a need…to mend a broken heart…to turn a child’s heart to God…to meet financial needs…to heal a marriage…to calm anxiety…to help find a job…to repair a relationship…maybe that you yourself would believe the gospel message and become a true Christ follower.
Real life is only found in life with Christ. And that life begins and ends with prayer. Don’t miss it!

dugz4 July 9, 2016 1 Comment Permalink

Decision making past the end of your nose……Vol 115

Rarely does the implication of a decision stop at the end of our nose. It often takes on a life of its own far after we have achieved what we thought we wanted from it.

I think we’d call that being shortsighted. I think we’ve all been there a time or two.

Part of the challenge of parenting in the “influence” stage of our kids life is helping them understand the potential “unintended consequences” of their decisions. What does that mean? In short, it’s the “what if?” component that lives beyond every decision they make. A potential chain of events that they may have unwittingly put into motion because they didn’t think a thing through.
This kind of decision making is really evident to those of us who are still parenting teens… but it’s certainly not limited to teens. I know plenty of adults, including me, who do the same thing. We can’t see past what we want in the moment. We are blinded by our greed, pride, you name it. Sometimes we dodge that bullet of unintended consequence…sometimes it hits us right between the eyes…or worse…it hits someone else.
We can’t escape all unintended consequences of the decisions we make. But we can make a much higher percentage of good decisions by stopping to think past the end of our nose. 

Proverbs 15:22