Values

We all have them. Some surface thoughts, some culturally driven, some are a part of our base human nature, and others very deeply held. To take the word values at it’s highest tree top level thinking you’ll come up with words like attitude, standards, morals, belief, code or ideals. Taken to the root of the word, the thought, you come up with words like conscience and integrity.

So what are one’s values and how deeply do they hold those values. I’ve seen a lot in my half century plus of walking to and fro and breathing in and out of persons and their relationship to their values. I’ve seen persons take values, once deeply defended, and place them in a heap on the side of the road of their life like so much trash floating in their automobile. I’ve seen persons take up values and champion them based on nothing more than an emotional response to an emotional event, and I’ve seen persons literally lay down their very life for values that many will claim but were unwilling to pay that degree of sacrifice for.

Have your values added to your life? Have your values enriched your experience? Have you had to pay a price, small or great, for the values you possess? This I think is a profound question facing our western society in this day, perhaps more profoundly than ever before. In an age of social media dominance, me centrist thinking, feelings based attitudinal responsive mindsets, values are less concrete and more gelatinous. The price of values, what they cost you, how they enrich you, has never been more diverse or in flux.

I have been faced with a question of values for the better part of a year at this point. A relationship started with a person, friendly, probing at times, still very much on the surface of things and thoughts, but always a question of what price my values will extend in this interaction. This person constantly pecking at the edges of my already stated, openly held, plainly expressed Christian values. Me carefully stating my stand on matters but being certain to remind that my values are mine, not required to be theirs, and that their beliefs, while different, were none the less legitimate to them and respected by me. A tedious waltz at times. In truth, I had hopes of freeing myself from one circumstance to have the opportunity to place myself in another in a business relationship with this person.

Ultimately, it would seem that this person while probing beyond my stated line in the sand, was offended that I would not quickly give up my values for a very lucrative business opportunity. Contact has stopped. Conversation, inquiry, and general how ya doing, nonexistent.

Have my values cost me something?  Maybe. Have my values enriched my life at this point. I think so.  Through the eyes of the world, it would be easily said that I was or am a fool. Few would know of my compromise. The financial gain would open avenues for me to embark on long held dreams for my family and myself. Take the money and run. Salve your conscience in the privacy of your own thoughts. Shore up your integrity in your own mind and heart and damn the rest. Money solves it all. So, yes, in that world view, my values cost me a great deal financially. I would say it cost me personally as well. This person, while very different from me, was someone I wanted to know better. For whatever reason, I saw them as part of God’s created and wanted to have an influence on them and they on me to some extent.

As to enrichment, yes, my values have and are enriching my life. Given a biblical world view, I am reminded that this is not my home. My place is with another. He sacrificed a tremendous amount to have a relationship with me. I am in debt to Him. However, my relationship with Him is not one of indebtedness but of love. I love Him.  Not because of the price He paid, but because He loved me first. Because of this framework, my devotion to Him and the values, ideals, conscientious thinking, integrity that I derive from that relationship is enriched by my obedience to them and to Him. That obedience enriches my life and my experiences.

I will not mourn the loss of an opportunity. I will mourn the loss of a relationship a little. I will celebrate the deepening roots of my values. If only by a millimeter at a time, ever stretching for the living water of Christ and His living through me I will find great value in values. May they ever be founded on Him, and deeply held.

Sixteen And Never Been…..

Today is the day. The day my one and only son turns 16. For such a small number it looms so large in my mind.

Sixteen years ago he quite literally spilled into this world and forever turn mine and his mother’s world upside down. It rained bath tubs the day he was born.  You’d have thought it was the second coming of the biblical Noah it rained so much.  I remember how mad your mom was that your birth came on a Friday the 13th and here we are again, full circle, on a Friday and the 13th.

I’m not really a superstitious man. I don’t worry about black cats or ladders or most any of the other common superstitions. That being said I’d still never touch the chalk lines coming in or going out to the field playing ball. For all the ideas people may pontificate on regarding your birth date, they can generally agree on several things.

My boy is a good boy. Full of silliness and as much so as any young man of sixteen years, but in all a good boy. My boy is kindhearted. He has always had a soft spot for people and particularly those who may not be the pinnacle of what society holds as worthy. He tends toward the underdog, the lesser, the marginalized. His heart just works that way and it makes his mom and dad very proud.  My boy is strong. Not strong so much in the physical sense of the word but in the moral context. He has his weaknesses as all do, but when it comes to justice and rightness, he is strong and he exerts that strength in a quiet and gentle manner that proves formidable when the times call for it. I’ve seen him defend the defenseless, be a protector of the weak and friend to the outcast many times and many more that I haven’t seen but only heard about. My boy is strong. My boy is also funny. Sick sense of humor and all. He continues to hone the craft of a well turned phrase. Not always successfully but then again, he is only sixteen. Feel free to ask him what the most important thing in comedy is.

Such a small number but there are volumes in that number. Page upon page of growing, and doing, and being, and living, laughing, crying, and flying. I marvel at this thing I see. I marvel that I am able to be so close to something so magical and marvelous. Mystery and revelation rolled into one. I marvel that I am given this thing to love with a passion that escapes my ability to express it. That moment when I say goodbye each morning to hear him say with that little upward lilt at the end “I love you too”. That is enough to allow me to face down the ridiculousness of what is to walk in this world with all its brokenness. I marvel that such a creature could love me back, as broken as I am.

Silly saying, “Sixteen and never been kissed.”  I’m under the assumption the boy has been kissed and that if he is reading this he is grinning that grin and turning a shade or two of red. I know this however.  He is sixteen and…never been loved more. Every age of my kids is my favorite age. Memories are precious, but the now is the thing. The now of my boy being sixteen is awesome to me. He’ll drive soon. He’ll be away from us more as time goes on. He’ll go to college, meet “the” girl, marry, and maybe, if he’s really blessed, raise a boy of his own. Those are hallmarks of larger numbers than sixteen and many days into the future. For now sixteen is big enough.

He has a very busy weekend this weekend with other responsibilities besides a birthday, but I hope he knows and never forgets. Noah, we love you with a love that transcends ages and epochs, the barriers of time and space, and physics. We are proud of you and have only the highest hopes for you and your future. You are crossing a milestone. Continue to walk as your namesake walked, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; and Noah walked with God.”

Happy sixteenth birthday son. I love you.

Daddy

Trail Magic

Recognizing God’s Grace in the moment and having sincere gratitude.

Trail magic, trail angels, trail blessings, all of these terms describe the same thing. A moment(s) on a hike when someone provides you with something that you are in need of. This can be as simple as a container of filtered water to copious amounts of food or a ride to town or the trail head. Trail magic is a much lauded and highly anticipated event for any hiker on a long trail. We hear stories about it, he hope for it ourselves and many will seek to be the purveyors of said blessings after they finish their through hike or even while on the trail.

Have you ever been given something out of the blue by a complete stranger for no reason at all?  What was it?  How did it make you feel?

Trail magic or angels or blessings are really just another name for God’s grace. The definition of grace is unmerited favor.  Getting something that you didn’t earn and can’t pay for that is a benefit to you.

Can you name things in your life that fit this definition of grace?

The key for us as Christian men and women is to see each moment for what it is, God’s grace.  There are differing kinds of grace. There is general grace or universal grace. This is the grace of God that keeps the planet turning, the sun the right distance so we’re not crispy critters, the cells in our bodies from flying apart like a busted water balloon, the everyday breathing in and out and walking to and fro that we take for granted, constantly.  Then there is the revealed grace of God. The death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of sin, the promise of a hope here on earth as well as in heaven. The Holy Spirit as a comforter and Jesus in our hearts.

My response to the big and the small should be gratitude.  I have not earned the right to breathe in and out much less to stand before the throne of Almighty God. All of that and so much more is by the grace of God so that I can glorify God in the course of my breathing in and out and walking to and fro every moment of every day. There is nothing that is happening to me that does not have a purpose in the kingdom of God. I may never know the why of it but I can certainly know the Who.

I will thank God for His graces every day and multiple times a day.  Yes   /   No

Everybody has a plan until they get hit

The importance of dealing with temptation

The use of a hiking itinerary is mixed among through hikers. I would say that almost without exception, every hiker starts with a “plan” of how many miles they want to average each day, what town stops they want to hit to resupply and an end date to complete the trail. However, as another modern philosopher Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit.” You can also use the military version of “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”.

A virgin through hiker will over estimate their ability, under estimate the terrain, and delude themselves into a quick and successful hike.  For many, this will be the tipping point for them to quit and get off the trail. The temptation for ease and comfort is too much for them to be willing to hike one more mile.

Have you ever put a plan together for something and seen that plan fall apart?  What were the circumstances?  What was the outcome?

The same is true of Christian men and women when it comes to the topic of temptation. We over estimate our ability to resist temptation, under estimate the power of temptation and delude ourselves into believing that we aren’t or won’t be affected by its lure.

So how does a through hiker deal with a busted itinerary? They adapt. They adjust. They take a reality check for clarity. What they DON’T do is quit. At least, not the ones who make it all the way to the end.

Christian Outdoorsman, TV Personality and Worldclass Hunter Jimmy Sites shared a story at a recent wild game supper that I thought was very important. His father gave him the option of temptation and participation and asked him which was wrong.

So which is wrong, temptation or participation?

Jimmy’s response was initially participation but he changed it to both thinking his father was asking a trick question. His father told him that the participation was the right answer but that the real issue with a person moving from temptation to participation was a crucial moment in between. What was that you might ask? His father told him it was “hesitation”.  That lingering moment where we have seen temptation raise its hand and wave. We linger, we hesitate, we think about it too long, then participation becomes irresistible and begins.

Temptation                                         Hesitation                                            Participation

The challenge for the through hiker is not to hesitate in their thinking about plans or miles or issues. They have to be decisive about what the next step will be then take a literal step on the trail. They can’t afford the luxury of hesitation.  He who hesitates is lost as the saying goes.

Look at any verse that speaks to dealing with temptation and the verbs are the same: Avoid, Flee (1 Corinthians 6:18), Abstain (1 Thessalonians 5:22), Resist (James 4:7), Run. These verbs are very active. They invoke an action. There is no debating, no thinking it over, no rationalization. Get out of there. Git. Run, flee, avoid…don’t hesitate.

1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The way of escape always begins with action. With the step away. It is encouraging to know that God does not allow us to be tempted “beyond our ability”. It is profoundly important that we see that as a promise directly from God Himself.  If we can believe and have faith in that promise, we can know that the outcome will be positive and glorifying to God. If I know that God promises me that the temptation that I see before me is not more powerful than Him and that He has already provided an escape mechanism for me, then my likelihood for hesitation goes down. My trust is in God’s power, His provision, His grace and not in my perceived ability to resist because I’m all that and a bag of righteousness chips.

When the plan gets busted, this is where the hiker gets some help. When you are tempted, the help is already there. The promise is already given. You can know what the outcome will be. Have faith in the promise of God. Do not hesitate.

2 Timothy 2:22 “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

I will trust God’s promise that HE is stronger than any temptation that comes my way, that He has already provided an escape.   Yes   /   No

 I will stop hesitating when it comes to temptation.  I will act. Avoid, Run, Flee.   Yes   /   No

NO Rain, NO Pain, NO Maine

The importance of adversity in your life

No Rain, No Pain, No Maine.  This is a common mantra on the AT. It’s going to rain, there will be pain. There is no avoiding it and avoiding it will not get you to Maine. 2,190 miles is a very long way to hike. You may experience rain in all its forms from mist or fog to hurricanes over the course of a through hike. You can go days, even weeks at a time with only rain to hike in.

The pain is a given as well. It is estimated that of those who begin at Springer Mountain in Georgia, that only about half of them even make it out of the state of Georgia hiking the AT. That section of the trail is less than 80 miles. Less than 80 miles is all it takes for some hikers to tuck tail, give up and head home. If you make it out of Georgia and hike the whole trail, you’ll take some 5 million steps along the way. Achy muscles, sprained ankles, various scrapes and abrasions, not to mention the blisters will all be had. You will fall. It is not a question of if but only when and how often.

This doesn’t include the multitude of logistical issues that can arise from trying to get into a town for mail drops, finding places to stay, finding water sources, space in shelters, bears and other critters or equipment failure.   If you’re going to hike the AT or any of the triple crown trails, adversity is a given.

Think about a time when you have had to endure a physical or mental struggle?  How did you make it through? Did you handle that adversity successfully?

We hear it said often but it is hard to sink in sometimes. Following Christ does not automatically afford us a life of sunshine, unicorns and rainbow skittles.  Matthew 5:45b “For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Everyone has adversity but it is what one does in the face of it and with it that makes the difference. John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” The overcomer in this verse is Christ himself. As His joint heir, we are given the same power to endure and even overcome adversity of any kind. The important aspect of this is that we need to keep believing Christ and all He has promised us.

Just as the hiker’s strength and endurance are vastly improved by the end of a through hike on the AT, so can your strength and endurance in the faith be improved as you walk through adversity.  Romans 5:3-5  “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  The word I love most of all in that verse is hope. If I have hope, I can endure anything. Christ is our hope. So many promises from our savior and friend. We should never be without hope.

What are some of the promises that Christ has given me that will help me know I have a hope?

 I will use these promises, look for more promises, and believe these promises in order to trust, endure, and hope in Christ.  Yes   /   No.

Intentional….

As a young man, a junior in my college career, I was given the unique opportunity to live abroad for a semester. I eventually spent roughly eight months living in the Netherlands while working with high school and college students in nine different countries. The core of what I was there for was to minister to and foster the spiritual growth and understanding of this group of students.

To say it was a special time in my life would be a dire understatement of the experience and its profound effects on my life both then and in decades to come.

When it came time to leave I was gifted with a tradition of a pair of wooden shoes, iconic of the Dutch culture, signed by the students and close church members I had shared so much of my life with. There were the usual notes of encouragement, well wishes, and we’ll miss you, one would hope for and in many ways expect. Then, there was this. “The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions.”  Thanks Alex. A well meant, if not misplaced attempt, at humor by a junior high student. The idiosyncrasies of junior high students, particularly boys, is, well, legend.

So here I am in 2017 finding myself being a bit more thoughtful than 2016. I am definitely wanting to be much more intentional in my actions, my thinking and my reactions to life as it comes to me.

I’m fresh off two weeks of vacation time at the end of the year. Time to spend with my family, focus on them, enjoy the holidays and what they should mean to me, and perhaps an unintentional time to decompress or purge myself of the massive amount of stimulus I encountered on an average day in 2016. This decompression was unintentionally facilitated by a week’s worth of sinus infection. Not having been ill to any real consequential degree in over three years; I’d forgotten what a joy it was to feel both disembodied and thick as a slab of concrete at Hoover Dam, all in the same instance. The cure truly is more harmful than the disease sometimes.

All of that left me seeking, as I stated, to be more intentional in my approach to everything. The renewed “perspective” of the Christmas season, morphed into a desire to see each moment for what it really is and not what it could be ginned up into. There is a certain amount of worry that is necessary if not beneficial, but so much more of it is of no use. It doesn’t serve a purpose except to preoccupy the mind, paralyze the person and terrorize the soul, and ultimately the spirit of the person.

The normal day’s modus operandi would be to begin by thinking of all the things needing to be done once I hit the door of the office: print this, verify that, request this information, begin checking this, receive those, direct them, and then before I know it my agenda is full and I have a purpose of action for the day. This, unfortunately, does not include the two text messages received as I drive into the office, which change the ranked importance of a number of the mentioned items above, or the remembered “potential tasks” for things that “may” have to be done this week in which case everything I’ve gone through previously will now be 75% changed and will leave me with a sense of disappointment and, if only on a small scale, a sense of failure at being the best at what I do.

So what happened today that was different? Me. I happened differently. I took the extra second or two to think more intentionally about what I was walking into to. All of the above was the same. Yes, the same. Print this, verify that, request this information, begin checking this, receive those, direct them, as well as, two text messages received as I drive into the office, which change the ranked importance of a number of the mentioned items above, AND the remembered “potential tasks” for things that “may” have to be done this week in which case everything I’ve gone through previously will now be 75% changed. All of that was the same. I was, however, different.

The list got built and I then told myself, “This WILL get changed and there is not anything you can do about it. You will adapt to the change and you will do all that you can do and only what you can do. The rest will fall where it will and it will be what it will be. I won’t be lazy or uncaring or defensive. Things will happen as God intends for them to happen and you will make the best of what you are given and leave everything, not to be confused with everything else, in His highly capable hands.”  Then the text messages came. “Well, you knew this was going to happen. This is not a conspiracy to make your life a living hell nor a personal attack from those you work for. This is life and life is happening and since I am walking to and fro and breathing in and out, life will happen to me. I’m not so special as to dare expect otherwise.”

Yeah, I know. All this sounds very vague and highly philosophical, and it is to a great extent. However, I’m trying to convey the practical matter of this vagueness and philosophy. I’m trying to, in the moment, practice the intentional thinking of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God.  If I have no control, or understanding or ability high enough, strong enough, powerful enough to cause me to happen to life, but I am in relationship with THE God who is all of those things, then why do I need to stress or worry or fear?  Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God.”  So the intentional thought was – “This is what is happening. Will the worry, or the mentally projected difficulties, or the stress I cause myself in either of those processes be beneficial to me or serve any purpose in solving these issues?  If the answer to any of those questions is no, then what should my next intentional thought be?” For me it is this. Lord, I am not in control of much. I am in control of who I trust. I am in control of what I will lean on for support emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I am intentionally choosing You. Given that I am choosing You (the Lord, Christ, Jesus, God) I am going to walk away secure in the knowledge that You will work this out using what gifts, talents and abilities you have given me or you will give me the grace and strength to walk through this if it can’t be solved. This is true of the logistical nightmare facing me at work or of the relationship with a difficult co-worker. It’s true of the laundry list of chores at home or the list of things I should do to prove once more to my wife and children, how precious they are to me. It’s true of my fragile emotions or my over developed and over used ego.

I know I will be less than completely successful at this approach. My hope is that if I can be even 10% more intentional in my daily thoughts and actions, that I will give more glory to God and receive more contentment for myself. Out of the overflow of this I want to see my family and relationships grow closer to the God who is at the center of all of this.

Thanks Alex. For once again reminding me, ever so inappropriately, that intentions have little purpose except to lead me down a path without hope. However, being intentional in my yielding to the Almighty God of the Universe will only give me hope on more levels than I can presently comprehend.

Christmas Perspective….

Daily life for me right now, like many people who will read this, can be summed up in one word…drama.

Between the two deaths my wife has experienced in her family, an uncle and an aunt, the hectic practice and performance schedule of a church Christmas program and two performances, the massive workload of training a new assistant, setting up a new store location and converting to a new system’s programming, to the craziness that is this particular time of year with budgets, and money and on and on and on….drama. In the midst of all of this I find myself grasping for perspective.

I’m not seeking solutions. In many of the instances mentioned above, the offending circumstances will either work themselves out with time and patience or there simply is no solution. Add to all of the aforementioned the fact that my family is to have our traditional Christmas get together at my home this year. This is a family that is riff with their own personal dramas and challenges and theirs like mine will work themselves out with time and patience or there is no immediate solution. Again, drama. Again, they as am I, may be grasping for perspective.

I arose this morning, like every other morning for the past 51 plus years. I walked to and fro and I breathed in and out and I faced this day’s tasks as all the days prior to this. I interacted with two truly awe inspiring children. Not so much for their individual brilliance or there staggering appearance although I think them as smart as or smarter than most and grateful they look more like their mother than me. No, I’m in awe because they are with me. In my house. Hugging me each morning and nestled under my chin each night and that they call me Daddy. I beheld a woman far more gracious and loving and beautiful than I deserve. I am a man with much pride and many failings and yet in the midst of this she walks in my world. This woman among women. Soft, smart, loving, sweet and kind. Gracing my harsh character and cleaning up if not brightening up my shambles of a life.

On Christmas Eve I’ll stand before two aging mothers, a brother, his sweet wife, his two sons and their wive and sons, a beloved sister and her renowned husband. I will see in each of them something that is also amazing and beautiful to me. Husbands loving their wives furiously, if not a times, ineptly.  Wives loving their husbands in the same way and all of them experiencing the same joy, frustration, and awe  in their own children that I experience in mine. I’ll see in them the collective decades of life experience. Of living, of heartache, of joy, of passion, of hope, of momentary defeats, of great successes and of the brokenness that we all have resident in our souls.

There is a verse in Hebrews 4:12  “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  I had always thought of soul and spirit as being pretty much one and the same. I’ve learned that “Soul” is that invisible dimension of our life that we are by nature. That person of thought and character. Who we naturally digress into being in our most unguarded or weakest moments. The soul man if you will. “Spirit” is what we are by supernatural rebirth. That which God ordained us to be and works persistently and consistently to mold us into being in our moments of breathing in and out and walking to and fro.

I am profoundly captured by the complexity of this time in my life and yet I am also profoundly struck by the simplicity of where and how perspective is obtained.  So where is this “perspective” that I seek. What is this thing that seems to be so elusive to almost everyone I know, to me.

Simply, I find it in the person of Jesus Christ. I see it in the creation I enjoy hiking in so much. In the natural beauty of this earth. I see it in the faces of my children, in the kiss from my bride, in the frailties of our parents, in the relationships of my siblings and their families, in the walking to and fro and the breathing in an out. It is in the miracle of a virgin birth. In the fact that not only did The Almighty God of the universe send his son to be the payment for my sin cursed soul, but He sent the only son he had. That before time was even time, He knew that there would be a Todd, and a Sharon, and a Noah, a Bailey, a Voncille, a Martha, a Waid, Debbie, Donna, Homer, Pete, Micah, Crystal, Abby, Eli and Brayden, and that each and everyone of them would be in need of a savior. He created everything and orchestrated everything that each of these would have the knowledge of this Savior. He does all of this so that I will know the glory that is His son Jesus and to have the same love for Christ that the Father has for His own son. Not an attempt to be more loving, but to have as much of that very same God love as I can possibly manage in this life before I can do it perfecting in a heaven that’s waiting for me.

The “perspective” is being in a constant state of acknowledgement that God made all of this with me and these and you the reader in mind. That He is doing what must be done to draw me closer to Him, whether that means joyful things or stressful things, pleasure or pain, it is what it must be for me to draw near to Him as He has drawn near to me. To acknowledge that there is a spark of divinity in all and thus they are valuable. His very breathe brought all into being. Whether I agree with your politics, your moral compass or your personal preferences, you were created by The Almighty God. Acknowledging that He is GOD and I am just Todd.

So this Christmas, this celebration, will be about the birth of my Savior and the rebirth of a God centered perspective.

Merry Christmas and may God bless us, every one.