Truths I Have Learned

Not long ago saw a fascinating list with the following title: “Great Truths That Second Graders Have Learned.” Let me share part of it with you.

1. Cat’s don’t’ like baths.

2. When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair.

3. Never ask your 3-year-old brother to hold a tomato or a raw egg.

4. Don’t sneeze when somebody is cutting your hair.

5. You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.

Don’t you just love the clarity of the above? It strips all of life down to a place of such purity and simplicity that you have to smile and nod in agreement. Even after teaching school for over 30 years I never tired of hearing the voices of those little ones echoing down the hall. I taught high school but I frequently walked into the elementary wing just to hear what was going on. I never knew what words of wisdom would flow out of those little hearts and that is what kept things exciting. Every day was a new adventure in the undiscovered territory of a child’s mind.

As some people age they seem to forget what every child instinctively can do. The responsibilities of life, and the brutality of others have a way of robbing us of our ability to enjoy the moment. We become so focused on doing the next thing that HAS to get done for the future, that we forget how to be caught up in the wonder of what IS being done in the here and now. This amazing ability to live in the moment is what every child possesses. That gift allows them to enjoy life in a way that we adults just continually miss on a daily basis.

I have had the great privilege of knowing a few adults who never lost this ability. My 97 year old mother is one such person. Even though her memory is not what it once was, and she forgets a few things, she is still happy, active and enjoying life. She wakes up every day looking for ways to make life better for others. My wife Esther is another such person. Even though she is clear-minded and can see through the thickest smoke screen, she is not a cynic. There is a child-like innocence about her that can melt the hardest of hearts, or be captivated in the moment by seeing the vibrant beauty of a single blue flower.

How about you? What list might you draw up if asked about the great truths you have learned? My guess is that it would be filled with personal conquests, self improvements, your leadership of others and the glory of your new 5 year plan. If so, you will have listed the very things that brought your real revelations in life to an early demise. My hope is that you will begin to rethink things from a child’s perspective and gain back the lost freedom that was once the real you.

Here is my list of things I have learned that really matter in life. Hope you enjoy it.

  1. When fishing, one foot always gets wet. Jump in and get both feet wet the moment you near any stream. This way you can enjoy the rest of the day.
  2. You always forget to pack something you need when traveling.
  3. Keep an extra house key and truck key in your wallet because you’ll need them.
  4. “E” doesn’t really mean empty on any gas gauge.
  5. When a man asks a woman “what’s wrong”, and she says “nothing”, it’s not so!

Now smile and have a great day, and remember what the old farmer said when asked by the city reporter why he was so happy. “Any day I wake up and I’m above ground is a good day!”  🙂

Stop Whining And Live Your Life!

Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, told the following story several years ago and I could never forget it. She and Billy were building a new house in the mountains at that time and daily they traveled up the newly paved road with their family to see how the construction was progressing. On the trip one day, they noticed a small bump in the freshly paved road and wondered what had caused it.

As the days passed by the bump continued to grow. The family could not imagine what had the strength or the tenacity to push its way up through 6 inches of hard packed road binding and 4 more inches of hard rolled asphalt. Soon the bump turned into an eruption of asphalt and finally a pile of road binding and dirt slowly was pushed up and out of the hole.

Speculation ran wild as to what was doing all the damage. Some thought it was an animal digging its way out after being trapped beneath the paved road. Others said it was a mighty oak tree that was sprouting or perhaps a sturdy walnut tree. To the amazement of the Graham family, what forced its way up from under 10 inches of hard-packed road surface was a lowly mushroom.  Its delicate white cap emerged from the hole one afternoon. It was frail as hand-made lace yet totally unscathed by the process it has just gone through.

Isn’t this a perfect picture of the untapped potential and unyielding strength God placed within each of us? Some have chosen to tap into that boundless reserve and changed while others with lesser problems just caved in and give up on life. As an observer of human nature, I had to know what makes the difference. Why is it that some people can rise up, push through immense difficulties and thrive when they have been “paved over” by life, while others simply embrace their situation and make-due with what life has dished out?

I have watched in amazement as some who were handed impossible life conditions sprang back to become world changers. One young man I saw the other day is a primary example. He was an amazing motivational speaker. He had a room filled with high school students laughing one moment and crying the next. He was filled with hope and looking ahead to an adventure-filled future. He was even challenging them to look ahead and become all they could. Oh..and did I mention that he was born without arms and legs? Stack that up against the worst thing you have ever been through and things come into a very new perspective!

What words of wisdom do I have to offer today? Look around you and begin to be thankful for all that you have. Do you have arms and legs, hands and feet? You are blessed! Is your house warm and your closet full of clothes? You are blessed! Do you have income and food on the table? You are blessed! Are you safe and able to go out into the street without being killed? You are blessed! Do you have clean water and the ability to pray and freely worship without being arrested? You are abundantly blessed! My God stop whining! It’s time to man up and start living!

We are all like that lowly mushroom. Even the frailest of us have a God-given ability to grow. By choosing to grow in your situation rather than wallow in it, you are eventually given the gift of “break-through”. The most difficult things in life must give way to the one who refuses to give up. Begin to look at every place of resistance as the very place you were meant to thrive.  If you do, who knows, you might be surprised at just how good your life really is!

Does Family Matter?

The older I get the more I realize just how much time, energy and finances I have spent on stuff that doesn’t really matter. Many of the things I assumed were vital to my life, happiness and success have just faded into the distance and lost their addictive draw in my life.  The need for recognition, the striving for success and the compulsion to continually have a fresh vision have finally found their rightful place at the back of the bus.

When I was a young father, I incorrectly saw my three sons as a responsibility. They were bodies to be clothed, mouths to be fed and lives to be trained and disciplined. We had fun at times, but quite often that was an after-thought that happened once all else had been accomplished. I thought my primary mission in life was to be sure they were well behaved, respectful and had a relationship with God.

Don’t misunderstand me. The above things are important, and every father should have such noble goals for his children. However, there is a lot more to having a healthy life and a happy family than what was mentioned above. You can have piles of money, order in your home and a knowledge of God but still not enjoy the life you have or those who are a part of it.  That, my friends, is the great tragedy of this present society, and it was the reality I had to face a number of years ago.

At that point in my history I had achieved recognition and I had developed successful careers in teaching and ministry. I had authored books, written music, created ministry CD’s, founded several not-for-profit corporations, established several churches and was traveling internationally. On the outside it really looked like I was a successful man with a clear upward vision. Many younger than I would ask me about my life and what they could do to have a life like it. Some even asked if they could travel with me and be mentored. What they didn’t know is that I was not happy with the empire I had built, and my family had suffered while I was building it.

I came to the place where life had no meaning because my family was unable to enjoy it with me. I had given up my time with them to build success that did not include them. What hit me one day so painfully was that this was not success at all and something had to change. I felt alone, unconnected and unknown by those whom I loved the most. I had invested all I had in things and people that were destined to fade away.

What was the solution? My family had to know they really mattered. The fact is, they did, but my actions clearly did not convey that message! I had to being putting my wife, kids and grandkids into the mix when ministry was booked and speaking engagements were put on the calendar. They had to know that I was thinking about them and how my schedule impacted their time with me. Most of all they had to know my time and relationship with them was the real treasure of life.  It’s not what we do, it’s who we do it with that really matter the most when you get right down to it.

Does family matter? In every way! Without family we are like leaves blown about in a restless wind. We have no personal foundation, no meaningful emotional connections to our own history, and no lasting legacy to leave in the hearts of those who carry our physical and emotional DNA. Without family we are nothing more than the lone survivor in a catastrophic life failure.

Let me encourage you to begin rebuilding the legacy of a happy family today. Give them the time and consideration they need to be connected to you. These are the basic cements that hold life together, and when used properly, they put the family back in center stage where it has always belonged. I am living proof that it is never too late to enjoy life with those who love you and who you love the most. Remember, words are never enough. Until you show it, they don’t know it!   

The Destiny Killers

At times we all see through a glass darkly. That is, we see things but not as they really are. Our life experiences, personal desires, inner fears and unhealed places of wounding all create “glasses” through which we view life skewed in one direction or another. These issues live within our heart and silently adjust the reality of what we see, even though we don’t always realize it. Each can act like a lens which bends the light of reason into something it was never intended to be. Until we face those issues, and admit they are present, life will be out of focus. Even more critical is the idea that how we live life will constantly be knocked out of alignment as well.

This concept of a life being out of focus, and out of alignment with others is more important than you may realize. The clarity of our vision determines where we are going and ….. how we get there. Without clear vision we are destined to live in muddied waters where false assumptions lurk about in what we think are the hidden motives of others. In the end, this will cause us to wander about in life with no purpose and no goals to keep us grounded. Those who lack purpose and have no goals, have no passion for life either, and that is deadly.

When we don’t see life clearly this also means we can’t properly align ourselves with the people God intentionally placed in our path. These people hold the keys to our future and when we fail to connect with them it changes everything. Some people are here for a reason, some are here for a season and but others were meant to be with us for a lifetime. If we miss these key relational connections, and the influence they were intended to bring into our life, it is a destiny killer!

Over the years, I have discovered a common thread among those suffering from the frustration of a misaligned life. They choose to ignore what is screaming inside them and refuse to admit that something is “wrong”. They simply will not face or let go of the issues that live below the surface. Instead they smile, nod the head and pretend that all is well, when under that calm exterior is an emotional storm that has gripped their heart, impacted their soul and hijacked their world. Try as they may, they never seem to get over the mountain that is standing in the way.

Does this have a familiar ring to it? Is life for you ruled by an inner turmoil that drives your decisions and feelings on a regular basis? If you answered yes, then you have not yet faced the giants that live within. Your destiny killers are alive and well and they are hard at work derailing the life God gave you to enjoy. More importantly, they are also going to impact the lives of others that you were intended to touch, and that is an even greater tragedy.

Take a moment right now to consider something. The life you have is a wonderful gift that you are supposed to give back to others. Every moment you hold onto unresolved issues it empowers these destiny killers to redirect your emotions in a most unproductive way. Beyond that, these things take hostage the future that was established for you and others. Until you take an honest, long look inside you can’t expose, repent of and let go of those things that are robbing you of the life you were meant to have.

We have to face the issues and deal with them once and for all. If not, we will never become who God intended us to be, or do what He intended us to do. The bottom line is really very simple, we each have a choice to make and we can make it whenever we want. You and I can stay as we are and continue limping along, living in the shadow of what could have been. Or, we can kill our destiny killers and live a life that others will want to follow.

As for me, I’m stepping out of the shadow and into what I was made for. I have decided to put a knife to the throat of anything that has the power to hold me back. I have come to the conclusion that my life matters, and it’s way too short to be lived any other way. My hope is that today you will find the courage to do the same! Until you do you have settled for a second class life and not the gold standard that God intended. I believe it’s time for us all to get up and go for the gold!

Picking Up The Wrong Monkey

I learned a hard lesson the other day on why it is so important to think things through before you jump in to “get her done”. Not that I am opposed to helping when I can, but I have now accepted the fact that I don’t have the answer for everybody. Every opportunity which presents itself where I can assist is not necessarily my monkey to carry. There are some monkeys I simply need to let somebody else pick up. What just happened to me this week is a sad case in point.

About six months ago I upgraded my phone from a Nokia e72 to an LG Optimus E970. The Nokia was a good phone but I needed better access to the internet when traveling. I had just gotten the LG for my wife and it was wonderful. So, I bought another one on ebay and ported my number to the new phone. The old phone went in my top drawer and I left it inactive on my Straight Talk account as a backup.

About a two months ago one of the young men in my church broke his Nokia e72 and was without a phone. Thus, I thought it was a good idea when another of the young men said “Hey Pastor, why don’t you give Chris your old phone. His just died and he really needs one”. Without giving it a second thought I did a noble and good thing. I gave him my old phone. He was happy, I was happy and all the world was at peace once again.

Then the unthinkable happened. I dropped my new phone and the touch screen cracked. After a few frustrating days I knew I had to have a new phone so I went and bought one. The sales clerk easily made the switch to a new Galaxy S III and then tossed out the SIM card from my broken phone. However, at the last moment I decided to keep my old phone and I left the store with both. I was such a happy camper!

That evening, after considering the massive outlay of cash for the new phone, I decided to look into the price of repair for my LG. To my shock, I saw how reasonable it would be. Thus, the next day I mailed my old phone out to Arizona for repair and returned my new phone to the store.  Within minutes I got the cash credited back on my bank card and I happily headed out of the door.

However, something hit me when I was driving back home. I forgot to think through one minor but very important detail. My Nokia e72 was my backup phone and it was not on my account. When I shut down the new phone there was no back-up phone for the sales clerk to port my number to. He had not only deleted my phone, he had also deleted my phone number. It felt like the life was being sucked out of me as I realized I had just lost the number I had been using for the past 20 years!

“Why is that such a big deal?”, you may be asking? Well, this messed up all of my 1200 contacts. It impacted my business cards, letter head, security conformation texts, my bank accounts, credit cards, checking account, etc, etc, etc….  All of these are invalid now because the phone number connected to them is gone. Think of it, all texts, sms, and the like are now unable to find their target. Every app between my phone and computer is unconnected. Every program or account I have on line, every on line purchase, calendar sync, global contact, rocket lawyer contract and political official I know uses my old phone number. Beyond that, every family member, friend and fellow minister around the world are all being told “this number has been disconnected and is no longer in service”. Why? Because I did not take a moment think through what would happen when I gave my phone away!

One simple act that is not well thought out can ended up causing a massive amount of work and trouble. Doing what is good instead of what is best, can send our lives into a black hole of disconnected chaos that will have to be laboriously put back together. The point is that at times, it is best to just give things a bit more thought. Instead of rushing in to rescue every person from every need, think about it first. If you do, many of life’s great difficulties will be avoided. Living can then take on a majestic, peaceful rhythm that is pleasing in so many unsuspecting ways, when we just pause to consider the consequences.

How many monkeys have you picked up in life just because somebody had a need, and you had the answer? I have now learned that some answers are much better off being spoken by somebody else! I have also learned that the monkey you pick up today, that is not yours, will have the tendency to transform itself into a gorilla tomorrow. When all is said and done, it’s always best to pick up only the monkeys with your name on them. Once you have those in place, you will be able to help others pick up their monkeys without destroying all that holds meaning for you. Perhaps this would be a good week to do a monkey check in your life and let go of every one that does not have your name on it. You’ll be better off for it and so will everyone around you! 

When Spring Is Delayed

I have never been a big fan of winter. I do enjoy that first snowfall and the beauty of its transforming power on the land.  I love to see it falling during the hunting season because it easily marks the movement of any deer in my area. I enjoy its beauty at Christmas as it sets the tone for the holiday season. Snow paints the landscape for all that is about to come. That being said, once Thanksgiving and Christmas are past and January is well under way, my vision is set on the lengthening days ahead and the final arrival of Spring. In short, I am ready for the sun to come out, warm the land, and bring everything back to life once more.

As I sit here writing this particular entry it is March 18th. Last year on this very day I was enjoying my early-morning time with the Lord and a cup of hot coffee on my back sun porch. It was 64 degrees and the sun was shining in on my freshly planted garden. Life was as it should be! Today, the temperature outside my window is 1 below zero. A record-breaking snow-filled, bone-chillingly cold winter has been followed by a record-breaking, bone-chillingly cold spring. The maple sap production is down by 60% and so is the hope of everyone I meet. Many are angry with the weather man, not that it’s his fault, and cabin fever is at an all-time high. Every place I go people are still bundled up and I hear the familiar sound of “when is it going to warm up?”

This long delay in spring has not just hit the hearts of the people, it has hit their wallets as well. Fuel consumption has been way above normal. Heating bills nearly doubled this winter and spring for many home owners. I had to sit down myself when I opened our last gas and electric bill for the past 30 days. At a time in the year when we should be turning off the furnace and opening the windows for spring cleaning, I am still paying hundreds of dollars above normal to our service providers to keep my house warm and my pipes from freezing. Spring, oh Spring …. where have you gone?

Proverbs 13:12 gives a clear and accurate assessment of the human heart when something it longs for has been delayed for no apparent reason. We as humans have our own ideas about how things should go, and when that fails to happen we can quickly sink into despair. This is what the Bible calls being heart sick. We begin to look at our circumstance and magnify it above the God who loves us and is in control of the situation. Yes “hope deferred makes the heart sick”, but that scripture goes on to say, “but when desire comes, it is a tree of life”.

So the question I have to ask is “how does this apply to the deep freeze we are now suffering through”? How could this possibly end up being a tree of life? What I discovered was quite amazing because it literally is being fulfilled in my own front yard. You see, I have four large, 200 year old Ash trees that shade my house in the summer and let the sunlight in during the winter. However, over the past few years it has been so warm that some type of disease has actually been killing them. Last year the one on the west end of my lot was so bad that it had to be cut down.

What really upset me was that I saw signs of the same issue beginning to happen on the other Ash trees that shade the south side of my house. So last fall my wife and I prayed that God would show us what to do to prevent the loss of these last three beautiful trees. The answer came in a most unexpected way. It came in the winter and spring that we just experienced. Apparently what was killing my trees does not do well in subzero weather. In fact the bitter cold we experienced (and are still experiencing), is what keeps ash trees healthy.

Hope has indeed been deferred, but for a good reason! Had it not been so cold, all my Ash trees would have suffered the same fate. However, when my desire for warm weather is finally fulfilled, it will most certainly be a tree of life, right in my own front yard. Now that I know there is a great blessing that awaits me at the end of this long cold winter, it makes all the difference. Could it be that this is what God is wanting us all to do when we hit a wall of delayed hope? It may still be 1 below zero outside my window on March 18th, but now I see the cold as an answer to my problem, not a problem to be answered! My question for you is simple: “Is your situation a problem to be answered or an answer to your problem”?

The Need For Change

Whether I am hunting or fishing, there are two family-run diners I love to stop at. One is about 30 miles north of me and the other is just down the hill from my house. I have been getting my cup of tea or an early morning breakfast at these two places for the past 28 years. The one just down the street is called “Pete’s Sandwich Shop”, the other is the “Hope Diner”.

Pete’s has been run by the Agnestopolos family for over 100 years. I never met those who started it but their daughter, Jean, (age 87), and their son, John (age 78) were running it from the time I first went there in 1986. In fact Jean never married and has lived above the diner her whole life. I guess you could say it is her life, and she loves it. She and John still help out, but the place has been turned over to John’s son, Mike who made a few minor upgrades. However, things are still pretty much as they have been since I first walked through the doors and that’s what I love about it.

Change has not come easy or fast at Pete’s and this is part of its charm. When you pass through the door you enter into another world. You see old friends, hear familiar voices and you feel like you have just stepped into the past. In fact, it was “just” remodeled”, according to Jean, “when the boys came home”. In case you missed it, that is a wonderful reference to the boys coming home after World War 2. The posters, post cards and pictures in the hand-made glass-topped booth tables are vintage. The hand-made pine paneling on the walls is vintage and most of those who eat there are vintage as well.

Over time you become part of the family at Pete’s and you hear every bit of news about our town that is really important. You know who died, who married, who had kids or who finally moved away. You hear the world’s problems being talk about and the experts there even know how to solve most of them.  Here, everyone is known by their first name and a few of us have nick names. I happened to be one who picked up a nick name and was soon known to everyone as Rev. (short for Reverend Emmons). Not that I have even called myself that, but it happened all because John and Jean are Greek and they respected my call to ministry. Thus one day as I arrived for breakfast before hitting a favorite trout stream, John said “good morning Rev., you want the usual?” and the name stuck. From that moment on I was forever “Rev.”

However, this 100 year old stream of continuity was nearly upset when I first began to go there. Out of ignorance I asked for a cup of green tea, to which Jean explained, “oh, we have never had that here, just black tea or coffee”. After being told that a dozen or more time I finally got the picture. Green tea is not on the menu so get over it and move on. However, after building a friendship over several years I began to ask if they might ever consider selling a cup of green tea. Once again Jean explained they had never sold it and that was that.

For me this presented a challenge. I knew there had to be a way for the green tea change to happen and I was on a mission to discover it. Thus, one day I ventured into uncharted waters. Just to nudge things in the right direction, I bought a box of expensive green tea, took it with me to Pete’s and before I ordered I handed it to Jean. She laughed, thanked me and graciously put it behind the counter.

To everyone’s surprise, I proceeded to order a cup of green tea, two eggs and two pieces of rye toast, to which she said, “Today it so happens we do have green tea Rev. I would be happy to get it”. When I got up to pay, sure enough, their it was on the hand-written bill, “one cup of green tea, two eggs and two pieces of rye toast”. History had been made!  Buying back my own tea one cup at a time was a small price to pay for the change that had come. From that day to this, you can get a hot cup of green tea at Pete’s, and for me each cup is the sweet taste of victory.

The point being made here is simple. When God wants to make a change in your life, He knows exactly how to make that happen. Let me assure you that He will not give up until it comes to pass. Every wall of resistance you may put in place, every excuse you may have, simply delays the inevitable outcome. God will continue to deal with you until He has His way and you become the new and improved model. You may not be selling green tea at the moment God asks for it, but He knows there is a good reason why you need to. Trust me when I say He will not give up until green tea is on your menu!

Don’t be surprised if God shows up in your life, like I did at Pete’s, and hands you the very thing you have needed all along, but were unwilling do for yourself. In the end He knows what’s best and you will be a much better person for it! When God hands you your box of “green tea” , my prayer is that you will have the good sense to accept it and enjoy the change. After all, He does what He does because He loves you. Why not relax, accept that fact and enjoy the blessing and benefit it brings. You might be shocked at how much you will begin to enjoy a life of change and the cup of green tea it brings.