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Boo Birds

The home crowd at this past weekend’s Bronco game booed as Peyton Manning took a knee and trotted off the field.  Was it because Denver had not played up to their ability in the first half?  Possibly.  Was it because the site of Peyton taking a knee with time on the clock reminds them of a similar knee taken during a cold day in January against the Baltimore Ravens?  Perhaps.  Was it because the Broncos were losing?  No.  That’s the troubling part.  The Broncos were winning. 

Now, don’t misunderstand me.  They were only winning by two points against arguably the worst team in the NFL (although a strong argument could be made for the New York Giants).  They had not played particularly well while conversely the Jaguars had been busy throwing everything they could at the Broncos.  But, booing your team for a winning effort?  It smacks of what has become so symptomatic in our culture. 

“What have you done for me lately?”

This is the question and mentality of our immediate gratification, get it now, do it now, give it to me now, culture.  We don’t want to succeed, we want to dominate.

Conversations this week among Denver fans have focused on their lackluster performance, Manning’s fumbles and the porous defense.  True, last Sunday was not the Broncos best game.  They did however still manage to win while scoring 35 points.  To put this in perspective understand that through the first 6 games of the season, only 10 out of the 32 teams in the NFL have even scored 35 points in a game.

There are many things that bother me about the boos.  Maybe it’s the lack of class it displays.  Or the damage it does to the tenuous fan/team relationship.  Mostly though it feels like a further example of the lack of maturity displayed by the general populace.  Which takes me to the question of how we as adults are reproducing our values in the next generation. 

Are we communicating to the next generation that there is value in believing in someone who doesn’t meet your expectations?  Or are we giving them the option of bailing when things get tough?  Or when things aren’t going as planned?  Is perfection the only standard?

Have we become addicted as a culture to the un-reality of augmented, false excellence?  Or are we as men communicating that the true fan, the true believer, the true friend, the true partner sticks by through even the worst days of “under-performing?”

Check out the link and wrestle with how God values the “under performer”.

Romans 5:1-9

 

 

My daughter’s request

The other day my eight-year-old daughter literally sat me down to have a Daddy/Daughter heart-to-heart.  Understand that I am very close with my sweet Bella.  Also understand that at eight, she often has the insight and conviction of a passionate college graduate.

“Dad, you work all day, get home, eat some food, then go back on your phone and computer and work some more.  That is not fair.  You need to play more with us kids.  Sometimes I want to pour hot coffee over your phone and computer.”

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Wow.  Ouch.

Bella is the truth teller in our family and the truth hurt.  I looked into the sweet brown eyes of my precious daughter and offered the only response that made sense.

“You’re right Bella.  That is not fair.  Thank you for caring enough to speak up and share your heart.  I will try harder to protect our family time.”

That was not good enough though.  “Try”, was not going to cut it.

“I need you to put your phone in the cradle when you get home and leave it there until after we are in bed.  And I don’t want to see you open your computer while we are still up.”

I know what you are thinking, if only she felt free to speak her mind?  Right?

She is an incredibly intelligent and insightful little girl, and I have learned that my children are a terrific barometer of our family’s health.  She was not being disrespectful or unreasonable.  She was being honest.

My guess is many of our children can relate to Bella.  None of us set out to ignore or minimize our children.  We (usually) don’t plan to remain plugged in to our jobs.  It just sort of happens.  As one of my mentors says, “Too many of us try to squeeze 36 into 24.”  The westernized pressure for “faster, bigger, more, more, more” pushes many of us to tear down healthy boundaries around our families.  We all suffer for it.

Here are some practical steps my wife and I have begun to implement in light of Bella’s reprimand.

1.  Phones and computers stay off until after the kids are in bed.

2.  Phones and computers only come on again if my wife and I both agree.

  • Sometimes there may be a deadline that must be addressed (be careful though how often you allow deadlines to dictate actions within your home.
  • Don’t get sucked into the social media black hole after the kids do go to bed.
  • Set an overall limit to all your gaming, Facebooking, texting, emailing, etc., otherwise you will end up with your spouse telling you the same thing Bella told me.  Not good.

3.  Play with your kids!

  • Throw the football, frisbee, baseball
  • Pull out some board games
  • Play cards
  • Wrestle

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None of this is rocket science.  Ultimately it comes down to intentional choices we make as fathers.

Do we want the image of our faces lit by the artificial light of an electronic device to be the primary image our kids have of their dad during childhood?  Of course not.  My prayer is that this resonates with you and that you will join me in making course corrections that will pay dividends for years to come.

Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.  Psalm 90:12

The Big Three

Julie and I recently purchased a new bunk bed for our oldest two boys.  In the interest of full disclosure…it is the first new bed that they have ever had.  Also, their previous “hand-me-down” bed had broken several months ago and our oldest has been sleeping with his mattress on the floor since.  Needless to say, it was time for a new one.

If you were to spend much time in my house, you would learn that:

  1. I’m not terribly handy.
  2. I want desperately to appear handy around my children.
  3. Missing pieces from “assembly required” items gives me brain damage (see points A and B).

Therefore it was with extreme frustration that I discovered that a crucial screw was missing from the new bunk bed.  I had torn through all the packaging, retraced my steps and exhaled mightily over and over again.  Yet, no screw was presenting itself.  I was beginning to spiral down toward guttural incoherent growling when my sweet eight-year-old daughter grabbed my attention and said in the simplest and sweetest of voices, “Well, I guess we need to pray and ask Jesus to find it for us.”

I would like to say that I immediately pulled myself out of the funk I was descending into, that I recognized a wonderful moment of spiritual intergenerational modeling and that I gleefully dropped to one knee and prayed fervently for Jesus to provide.  That was not the case.  It took great intestinal fortitude to refrain from openly growling at my innocent daughter.  Yet, more to her credit than mine, I managed to squeeze out, “Sure Bella.  Lets do that.”  My prayer was not powerful.  It was not passionate.  Nor was it expectant.  It was obligatory.  In all honesty, it was done mostly to placate my daughter.

Then we found the screw.

Not more than two minutes later did the solution present itself.  I found the screw buried under papers I was certain I had checked under previously.  Within minutes after that, we had the bed completed and my wife was busily arranging blankets on the boy’s new beds.

Later that night, as I tucked Bella in, we talked about how great it was that God answered our prayer.

Here is the thing—Bella’s prayer was powerful.  It was passionate.  And most importantly, it was expectant.  It is the only way Bella knows how to pray.  Luckily, she has not learned otherwise.  She is quickly becoming the prayer warrior of our family.  Whatever the issue or need, she takes it to Jesus; assuming He will answer and provide.  She does not get held up by the esoteric arguments about Free Will versus Determinism.  There are no existential wrestling’s with the sovereignty of God.  It is simple for her.

She loves Jesus.

She knows Jesus loves her.

Therefore, she expects Him to answer.

I smile big and broad as I write this.  My kids teach me so much more than I teach them some days.  How different might my prayer life be if I condensed things down to Bella’s three points?

I love Jesus.

He loves me.

Therefore I expect Him to answer.

God is not a cosmic vending machine.  He is not waiting to pump out blessings if we pump in prayers.  Yet it is clear to me that He will most often go where He is expected.

Are you praying expecting God to answer?  Or have your prayers turned into unrighteous obligation?  If so, revisit Bella’s big three:

You love Jesus.

He loves you.

Therefore you can expect Him to answer.

Joel Thomas

uncommon water

Water is the most common substance on the planet.  It is ubiquitous in its prevalence in our lives.  Oceans, lakes, streams, creeks, ponds and puddles.  For many of us, water is around the next corner, or a turn of the nearest faucet.  Scientists tell us that more than 70% of the earth’s surface is slathered in it.  We drink it, bathe in it, walk through it and complain when there is too much or too little of it.  Water is entirely ordinary.

Except, of course, when it is not.

Combine water with a sharp descent from an aspen covered mountain grove and you get one of nature’s most extra-ordinary sights, a waterfall.  Mix a salty flow with one part coastal shore and two parts lunar pull to witness the relentless might and thunder of the ocean waves.  Again, extra-ordinary.  Or observe stratospheric droplets from a cool summer shower refracting late-day sun into the glorious display of an afternoon rainbow.  Decidedly not ordinary. 

This past weekend I was blessed to participate in another of water’s exceptional transformations.  My family met two other families in Estes Park, Colorado for one last gasp of summer camping.  It was wonderful.  The kids ran, played and generally terrorized the other campers.  While us adults, ate, drank and laughed lots.  It was exactly what was needed.

On Saturday we loaded everyone up and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park.  The Aspen were turning, the air was crisp and the kids were behaving.  It was truly glorious.  Our little three-car-caravan traveled through the park gates and eventually to the East Alluvial Fan parking lot.  After a quick snack of cinnamon covered almonds we led the troops on a short ramble to the base of the waterfall.  As some of the older kids crested the hill you could hear audible gasps and giggles as they responded to the beauty before them. 

“Wow!  Mommy, Daddy, come and see!”, was heard over and over.

For the next thirty minutes we clambered, climbed and splashed in the cool autumn spray.  Time slowed down a bit as we soaked in the pure joy of the moment.  One of the dads, Jason, then pulled me aside and asked if he and his wife could get baptized.  “Of course you can!” I said.  After taking a few minutes to find a good spot, and to allow my wife time to get just the right camera angle, I had the amazing honor of baptizing Jason and Jodi in the presence of all our families.

Combine two public confessions of Christ with the most ordinary substance on earth and you get the extra-ordinary sacrament of baptism.  Basic, simple, common water is transformed into the symbolic grace, mercy and restoration offered to all who have accepted Jesus’ invitation of salvation.  As Watchman Nee so plainly stated, “Baptism is an outward expression of an inward faith.”  Baptism then is a powerful mechanism transforming the most common substance into an uncommon symbol of man’s acceptance of God’s glorious gift.  Extraordinary.

If you believe in me, come and drink! For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water will flow out from within.  John 7:38 NLT

If you never have, I challenge you to embrace the act of baptism.  Experience firsthand the uncommon waters of renewal and rebirth.

chasing gold

The Olympics have been ridiculously exciting to watch.  My DVR is about to burn out with all that we are trying to record.  Volleyball, Gymnastics, Swimming, Diving, Track & Field, Cycling, Rowing, it never ends.  The stories are powerful and the finishes have been climactic.  Never before have I seen a photo finish at the end of a Triathlon, or crowds come completely unglued at the end of the men’s 10k.  It has been thrilling and exhausting as a spectator.

During one night’s report, the broadcaster mentioned how one of the athletes was “still chasing after more gold medals.”  One of my sons turned to me and asked, “Why is he still chasing gold if he already has one?”  Great question.  Why keep chasing after something you already have?

This morning as I was spending time with Jesus, a particular verse from Romans stood out to me.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.  Romans 5:1 NLT

There is much that could be said about this verse, but this morning, the detail that leaped out at me was the tense that Paul writes in.  From a literary standpoint, Paul is writing in “Present Perfect Continuous” tense.  Present perfect continuous.  What a terrific phrase.  It means that the thing Paul is describing is already ours—and will continue to be ours indefinitely and irrevocably.

We have been “made right” and we “have peace”.  Done deal.  No more striving or chasing required.  Righteousness and peace are ours, now.  Author Sarah Young in her wonderful devotional, Jesus Calling shares the following,

My Peace is not an elusive goal, hidden at the center of some complicated maze.  Actually, you are always enveloped in Peace, which is inherent in my Presence.  As you look to Me, you gain awareness of this precious Peace.

Rather than chasing after more, lets stop and look to the One who has already wrapped us in His Peace.

Joel Thomas  

I hate death

The recent murders in Aurora have reminded me that I hate death.  It screams of an inherent wrongness.  It is counter intuitive to the relational wiring of who we are as humans.  You hear it shouted through the words of Rebecca Wingo’s father when he wrote an emotional Facebook post in the aftermath of his daughter’s appalling death.

“I lost my daughter yesterday to a madman, my grief right now is inconsolable, I hear she died instantly, without pain, however the pain is unbearable.  Lord why, why, why????,” wrote Steve Hernandez.

We were never created to experience the tragedy and separation of death.  Yet we are stuck in a cosmic paradox.  As spiritual beings we are meant for eternity.  Yet our eternal spirits reside in fading flesh.  A flesh that suffers the results of sin, sickness and the evil that Man may perpetrate on a daily basis. 

From birth forward we pursue, chase and embrace relational connection.  While at the same time drawing closer, day by day, to the moment of our own passing.  This is not how it was meant to be.  We were intended for unbroken union.  Union with one another and union with a loving God.  At worst we were intended for “see you later”.

Officiating many funerals over the years, the one unifying factor is the power of relationships.  Rich, poor, young, old; relationships are what connect us.  They add value to our present.  They define us.  When they are taken from us, they are what injure us the most.  Even when death brings a release to those suffering through horrible pain or disease, it still feels inherently wrong.

I find hope though in a God who understands the contrariness of death. He is intimately acquainted with the earth shattering power of abruptly severed relationships.  Jesus’ death on the cross represented the only time in eternal history when the Trinity was severed.  In the moment that Christ drank full from the cup of sin and death the relationship between He and the Father was broken.  Where there was once unity and oneness, separation and death took their place.  Thankfully, Jesus emerged victorious from the tomb having defeated death and now offers that same victory to all who trust in Him.

The victory of the empty tomb reminds me that death does not have the final say.  It reminds me that Jesus has made a way to lovingly restore the relationships that death attempts to take from us.

Revelation 21:3-4 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Yes, I do hate death.  It is tragic, painful and heartless.  But I praise God that it does not have the final word.  Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross demonstrates God’s compassionate understanding of the unnatural tragedy of death.  Death is in fact “unnatural”.  It is not what was intended.  What a great battle is lost when we acquiesce to the lie that death is part of the natural order of life. 

Life is the natural order. 

God’s every act is to restore what sin and Satan have broken.  Jesus said, “I have come to give you life.  Life abundantly!”  It is this hope, this restoration of relationships, this redemption of present pain that carries me through to the time when all will be restored to its natural order.  Please join me in praying for all those impacted by the senseless killings that they would experience restoration and redemption.

Joel Thomas

speaking well of your spouse

After years of counseling many couples, my wife and I have developed a handful of anecdotal analytics based on the answers to simple questions that help assess the health of a marriage.  In no particular order they are:

  1. Do you assume the best in your spouse during times of conflict?
  2. Do you consistently affirm what is true to your partner?
  3. Do you leave the past in the past?
  4. Do you trust that your spouse speaks well of you to others?

In a future post I’ll peal back the intent and impact of each of these questions.  For today though I want to focus on question four.  How you and your spouse speak of each other reveals loads about your character and care for one another.  In “Christianese” it is the loudest witness your marriage makes in the world.  James 3:5-6 has this to say of the power of our words,

5So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself.  NLT

Therefore we stand an enormous amount to gain when we “tame our tongues” and speak well of our spouses.  I recently read a great article by Michael Hyatt that speaks wonderfully to this very issue.  Allow his words to both inform and transform the way you speak about your wife to others. 

Joel Thomas

 

As a leader, the health of your marriage directly affects the impact of your leadership. I have witnessed this time and time again. Being effective at work or in ministry begins by being effective at home.

Early in our marriage, Gail and I attended a church led by a dynamic, thirty-something pastor. He was an extraordinary communicator. He was a wise and empathetic counselor. As a result, the church grew rapidly.

But as we got better acquainted with him and his wife, we started noticing a disturbing trend in the way they related to one another. They would often make disparaging remarks about the other in public.

At first, it seemed cute. Their comments seemed playful and humorous. Everyone laughed. But over time, they became more and more pointed, thinly masking their frustration with one another.

We ultimately left that church. But several years later we learned they suffered an ugly divorce, both admitting to multiple affairs. They lost their family, and, of course, their ministry. To this day, it grieves me to think about it.

Conversely, I noticed that Sam Moore, my predecessor at Thomas Nelson, always spoke highly of his wife. He would often say, “I hate to leave her in the morning, and I can’t wait to see her in the evening.” They have been married now for nearly 60 years. Last time Gail and I were with them, they were holding hands. It was obvious they were still in love.

In reflecting on these two experiences, I am convinced that praising your spouse in public is one of the most important investments you can make—in your family and in your leadership.

This is important for at least five reasons:

1.You get more of what you affirm. Have you ever noticed that when someone praises you, you want to repeat the behavior that caused it? This is just human nature. It can be a form of manipulation if it isn’t genuine. But it can be a powerful way to motivate others when it is authentic.

  1. Affirmation shifts your attitude toward your spouse. Words are powerful tools. They can create, or they can destroy. They can build up, or they can tear down. I believe most people have a drive to align their actions—and their attitudes—with their words. If you start speaking well of someone, you start believing what you say.
  2. Affirmation helps strengthen your spouse’s best qualities. Encouragement is also a powerful force for good. All of us need positive reinforcement. This is why when we are losing weight and people notice, it gives us the strength to stick with the program. This is true in every area of life.
  3. Affirmation wards off the temptation of adultery. When others see you are happily married, they are less likely to proposition you. It’s like a hedge that protects your marriage from would-be predators. You simply stop being a target.

5.Affirmation provides a model to those you lead. To be a truly effective leader, you must lead yourself, and then you must lead your family. Your marriage is a powerful visual of how you treat the people you value the most. When you speak highly of your spouse, your followers are more likely to trust you. It takes your leadership to another level.

Affirming your spouse in public is an investment that pays big leadership dividends. In a world where fewer and fewer marriages last, it can be a difference-maker.

Question: How have you seen this play out in the lives of those who have led you?

You can read more from Michael Hyatt by clicking the following link: www.michaelhyatt.com