Where To Start

Where is the best place to start?

The place to start is often where you are presently located. Seldom can you return to the beginning and start the process, life, or system over. As with billiards, you are simply where you are and you have to make the best of the situation. No matter what it looks like. It’s not like you can re-boot a conversation, or a friendship. You simply start from where you are. Right now.

 

This morning, while thinking about the past few days, and the weeks in the near future, I kept thinking about “what if’s”… What if we could have done this…gone there…handled it this way….that way…

You know, that analysis of your past actions to determine why things are they way they are in the present. If our life is a linear progression of mileposts from our past, through the present, and into the future – then what we did yesterday matters to what the results of tomorrow might be.

But when you find yourself behind the proverbial 8 ball, then you must adapt to imperfect situations, determine the best move forward, and then do it.

The end results will most probably not be what they would have been had you thought long into the future what your actions today would produce.

While researching a particular topic, of which I will write about later, it came to mind that if we simply care for the pennies today, the dollars of tomorrow will take care of themselves. We are such a wasteful people. We do not manage those few moments, and pennies, properly, hence, we end up in the future not having made proper provisions with what we were blessed with in the past.

Example. Imagine for just a moment all of those large cash transactions that came into your life. Tax refunds, bonuses, wages, etc. If those dollars had been invested, instead of simply spent, then your retirement could look a lot different than is possible right now.

Do we learn the lesson at 10 years of possibility? Maybe. But the stress of the moment often means we blow the next 10 years of future for the satisfaction of an itch scratched today.

If my 60+ years of learning could teach me anything, it’s simply that we are not living in the present for the satisfaction of the moment. No. We are living now for what we hope to enjoy in the future.

Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” ~Lyndon B Johnson

Essentially, we live today for the sake of tomorrow.

Think about it… What you squander today is your future. Waste it now, and you’ll have nothing then. Health. Relationships. Family. Finances. Career. Reserves.

How do you recover? Make a plan today, to be better prepared for the morrows that show up rapidly and in quick succession. The other old adage is equally important, “Fail to plan, means you plan to fail.”

Set a goal. Make a plan. Measure the steps. Adjust as needed, but never give up thinking about the possibility of your future!

Let Your Senses Take a Break!

Every day it is important to factor in some down time…

It doesn’t have to be much, and maybe only seconds are available, but I have found the refreshing that comes from simply stepping back from the load of the moment. Take a deep breath or two, enjoy a respite of peace…and close my eyes. Tune out the world and its constant cacophony of racket.

Imagine for a moment all your senses and how they are constantly receiving input from all that surrounds you. Right now. Your smeller is smelling and that’s a tough one to turn off. You can close your eyes, put on some noise cancelling headsets, keep things off your tongue, and even enjoy some sensory deprivation and not feel anything.

But it’s hard to turn off the nose.

The nose always knows. It knows when the flowers are too strong and sends a sneeze down the pipes to clear out any pollen that might be overwhelming your system. And I know how to sneeze! Two hundred miles and hour and it sounds like a freight train!

The nose smells danger in the middle of the night. Or that fresh smell of roasting coffee beans that comes from blocks or miles away. It seems the nose never knows how to Stop Smelling. You may adapt to a smell, but imagine a skunk right now… Your mind brings back that memory, but your nose is seeking it out!

Now. For just a moment. Imagine the scripture where we first learn of God smelling something. Surely he understood the olfactory sense since he made us in his image, but we do not find him discussing the sweet smell of the Garden of Eden. But after the earth has been cleansed with Noah’s flood, it must have had a weird smell. All the rotting flesh, putrid vegetation, and the soil slowly drying out.

But Noah… He comes out of the ark onto dry land. The first thing he does is to offer a sacrifice to God. One of the animals from the Ark, perhaps, and whatever dry wood he could locate. The smoke drifts into the sky…

“And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.” Genesis 8:21

We know scripture tells us that God never rests. He is described as one who constantly goes to and fro through the entire earth looking out for his own. (2 Chronicles 16:9) We find the patriarchs, kings, judges and leaders of all kind, reaching out to God in the middle of the day, as well as the middle of the night.

God never rests. Not in the way we think of it. Our bodies are finite and operates at peak performance after we have had appropriate rest. He rested after creation to teach us that we need a day of rest and recuperation from the labors of our hands.

Think about God always being there. Being God.

Last night I received a sweet message from someone I know. They thanked me for my years of being there when I was needed the most. “A pastor wears many hats” said a note from the weekend. It’s true. As a shepherd we try to be “all things to all people”, but I confess, it’s nice to receive the thanks that we miss throughout the years.

Part of it is, you want to feel appreciated. The other part, is you want to make sure you are making a difference…

Now. Think about God. We are fashioned in his image, that means he just may have some of the same needs we have for affirmation. The angels may cry “Holy, holy, holy” in the language of worship and adoration, but I believe God is simply waiting to smell worship, praise, and thanksgiving to him …

“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” 1 Chronicles 16:34 (Psalms 105, 106, 107, 118, 136…etc.)

What’s Your Degree In?

Some folks are very proud of where they matriculated…

…and what their degree is in, and they should be. But then some “lord” their school, along with their personal status at graduation, the clubs they belonged to, and the friends they made (some are now pretty famous). I’m happy for great education experiences, but for everyone that brags about their own awesomeness, there are plenty more, and maybe the majority, who are simply happy to be alive and kicking! Regardless of their matriculation status.

There are many who graduated from the “School of Hard Knocks” and those are probably the most successful ones I know – they’ve taken what life has dished out and proved their mettle to anyone who would listen. Even with a degree. From an Ivy League University….or the local community college.

A degree does not make you smarter than anyone else, but as I have learned later in life – a degree is not to pound facts into your brain (anyone can do this), rather, it’s to teach me how to learn, think with an expanded perspective and experience the world around me in a somewhat differently organized fashion. My education, when I’ve applied myself to it correctly, opened up the world of wonder and I slipped into a new framework of exploration.

Yesterday, a friend made a comment that caught my attention, and it went something like this:

Too many have a degree in Foot Dragging.

Ain’t this the truth! They never get anything done! You know that old adage about the best time to plant a shade tree that you get to enjoy today. Right? You’ve not heard it? Well, to enjoy it today that tree should have been planted 20 years ago!

Someone gets close to a milestone victory lap and you ask, “What have you done to prepare?” “Oh, nothing. Que Sera, Sera…” Wait. You plan on enjoying retirement without having prepared for it? Going to take a test, and you haven’t studied? Start to build a house and you’ve not applied for permits? Or drawn up plans? Really?

So. Not having a degree in Foot Dragging, you propose a possible solution to the proud graduate. They drag themselves, and you, through the mud puddle of negatives to prove that it cannot be done, and here’s a hundred reasons why not…

I’m at a point of being like Jesus, although these words were applied to a different problem.

And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. (Matthew 10:14 NKJV)

Shake the dust, or washing your hands off the subject… That’s showing that you can not condone or be responsible for the actions or thought processes of the person in question!

It was Colin Powell who famously stated: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” [Source] You have to prepare… Work hard… And when you make mistakes, and you will, then you have to learn from that mistake. Quit getting back up from your mistakes, and eventually you will agree to be the failure that last stumble said you were. You are never a failure if you get back up again. (Proverbs 24:16)

I keep myself in the “learning” mode. There’s so much to know, and so little time! I do not have an ear for music, but I wonder why I struggle with wanting to play the keyboard… Maybe there’s still time. But I am focusing on learning more ancient Hebrew and Greek for my biblical studies. I really want to grasp how the language worked during the times that the bible was penned.

Another friend (thank’s Brett) reminded a group of folks that wasting time watching all those reruns instead of being productive was not a wise use of time. We should be accountable for how we spend the moments of our lives.

It’s never too late. Turn the TV off. Get up. Leave that foot dragging mode next to the curbside for the rubbish and trash pickup. Apply yourself to something productive.

The Pulpit, The Man

The Pulpit, The Man

img_1225Created as a surprise, My Birthday of ‘06!
This simple desk, a personal gift,
Has been used by so many
It has weathered the storms
Of Word, and prayers and so many tears

Though some may say it’s simply built
But it represents the love
Of a man, we know we will miss.
For he too, has poured from here
God’s very heart, to our own ears.

Chosen specifically for this purpose
It was measured and sawed,
Hammered and nailed.
A final coat of paint
And wait, some stain as well

Closely viewed it’s easy to see
Imperfections of grain, and assembly
But measure not the man
By the craftsmanship you see
For Jesus did not come to save this tree.

By theme we clearly see
His sacrifice upon a cross
Where he volunteered like a lamb
His perfect blood
For one, and for all

We gather to say, good bye, so long
But in my heart of hearts I know
Those last words to me that fateful night
I will treasure, rehearse, and receive.
I’m Fine, let’s get out of here, let’s go home…

It’s Not Goodbye, Just So Long

There are times that “goodbye’s” are hard…

We’ve all experienced them.

You get caught in a moment, and you cannot respond properly, so the moment becomes awkward…

I remember both moments when it hit me that my kids were grown and gone. My son leaving Alaska for college, and us meeting our daughter in Seattle after she had moved for a job. Maybe you know what I mean.

It’s that choking sob that cannot come out and sort of gets caught in the back of your throat.
It’s those tears that will not come because you know it will be impossible to turn them off.
It’s feeling like you’ve not said what you should say, and there is now not another moment…

I’m never good at goodbye’s…but when there is a hope that you will see one another again, sooner if not later, then the time of spending those final moments are filled with hope for the future.

I met Frank La Crosse back in 2001. I was passing through Washington and my daughter had found the church in Tacoma. “Dad, you would like him.” So, I met him, his bride, and the church. I was invited to preach, a moment of fellowship, and then I flew away to Alaska. Only to reconnect with him several times in the intervening years of a migration from Alaska to Washington. Then, when we planted our own church in Lacey, all of a sudden he’s retired and now attending our church. It’s been a great dozen years or so.

He always had a “thing” for my bride. “Is he treating you good?” or words to this effect always seemed to get the response I’m sure he enjoyed – a pleasured repartee to keep the conversation going… If I’ve heard him say it once, it may have been a hundred times or more, “Preach good!”

Frank La Crosse passed overnight. (January 31, 2017) Today (March 18, 2017), we will meet to say our public farewells and remember his time among us. Today, he turned 94.

This past year has been a tough slip into old age, but he would never complain in public. Even in the hospital last night, “How are you doing?” “I’m doing fine. Let’s go home.” And then within the hour he’s gone.

His step was not as lively,
but just yesterday he walked his kids to the door to tell them goodbye.
His voice was not as strong,
and he knew he would never again preach a message with the timbre of his youth.
His building days were done,
although I’m sure his mind was hungry for something to swing a hammer at.
But his last goodbye is done,
and I see him waiting yonder to greet us all home.

Of course he’s doing fine. He knew where he was going. Home. His ultimate destination.

So long, elder… Some day…

The Road Untaken

I’ve always liked poems…

Well, certain poems. Certain styles, and definitely certain authors. I’ve never understood the logic of some poetry patterns, nor the rules associated with what works and what doesn’t. Still, there are some poems that speak to me. Subtly. And often boldly.

Consider Robert Frost. I’ve enjoyed many of his poems. He was chosen by JFK to read a poem at his inauguration. Due to complications with the day, he ended up reciting a favored poem, and not the one he had just written for the occasion. Or so the story goes.

In school, Frost was the one poet that spoke volumes to my understanding, in that his words and stride made sense to this young mind. Just like many, “Stopping by a Woods on a Snowy Evening” is probably a number one favorite. The closing words are phrases I have used often.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Miles to go…and promises to keep. The reason to keep going even when the quietness and beauty of the winter traveled road is beckoning. I remember stopping by a snowy woods in Alaska one cold and dark night. I recalled his poem and it immediately rang to my ears a sincere note. The darkest evening of the year would have been the Winter Solstice…

Another Frost favorite is called, “The Road Not Taken”. The dilemma of a road that diverges in a yellow wood (probably the fall) and the ponderous moment of choosing one, or the other, but silently wishing there was a way to enjoy them both. The traveler makes the choice for the one less traveled, “And that has made all the difference.” Each were equal choice, but the one taken was grassy and wanted wear.

In my life, I have often felt like this poem. Take the way less traveled. Do not go where the masses may go, but strike out for the boundary of the realm where few people go. I love to go to untraveled places, staying away from the tourist crowd, walking in paths that few will ever enjoy.

It’s not that the other way is wrong, but I’m a loner by nature. Some would call an introvert. I am often happiest when it’s quiet and there are few others along the way. I can get my “crowd” buzz in a simple coffee shop, where chatter fades with the grinding of the beans, or the shot of steam marking another successful brew. Give me a few minutes there to connect with others, then it is very easy to slip out and head for the solo drive. Quiet. No radio chatter, or music to divide my attention.

According to Frost, either way you choose to go is fine,
his traveler simply chose the quieter path.

A number of years ago, several of us took advantage of a fly-in fishing trip. An hour flight into the bush out of Anchorage, Alaska. As we watched the float plane head off into the wild blue yonder, I realized how far off the beaten path we were. True, a couple of weeks hard march and we could circle the water and end up in some form of civilization, but there were bears in abundance, and streams, rivers, and munching moose.

There was never a lonelier feeling. Even with the 4 of us together, and, yes, other fishing camps nearby… It was the sense of the ease of escape that had left us stranded and isolated on the bank of a river.

Imagine that intrepid explorer, leaving the familiar behind and heading where few have ever traveled, or where it was a true unknown. I think of Neal Armstrong, stepping foot on another marble that hangs in our sky, very visible on some nights. The first to do so. 

Sea of Galilee, March 2013

The other road. The one I’ve chosen. The path I walk. It is my path. And not the road many others take. I liken it to a teaching by Jesus in his famous sermon on the mount. It’s quite possible I stood on that very mount overlooking the Sea of Galilee where there was ample room for the thousands to sit, and the natural amphitheater of water and hills to project his voice.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 NKJV)

Here, there is a difference to the path one might choose. Broad, or narrow. Destruction, or life. Crowded, or nearly barren. Maybe this less traveled road is found by the few that chose a better way, striking out from the crowds for a more perfect life. Not the broad way that some clamber for, where everyone else has gone. But that quiet road that leads to a different destination. The better of the two.

Here, the road taken is better than the road not taken. 

You Are What You…

We have heard it a gazillion times…

You are what you ______.  Then you get to fill in the blank with the word(s) that will complete the thought. “Eat” is a most common addition. Love, Invest, Experience, Spend Time Doing, Think About, Focus On… This list could be endless.

In fact, this got me to thinking about all the endless possibilities. The infinite that has no ending of options, but must start from somewhere, right? Start combining several something’s together and the list incrementally increases in a greater infinity of options. Eventually, you will get to the point of not being able to add any more to your list, because you are a finite being in this present world. You have only so much time and energy to invest in all the avenues of your life. You had better choose wisely!

Your focus becomes narrower as you progress through your life.

When I was young, I started the “habit” of collecting stuff. Coins (still doing), all the way through pocket knives, cigarette lighters, bottle caps, books, cameras, maps…. this list could be endless because I had/have an insatiable appetite for owning things in numbers, especially the things I enjoy thinking about or handling.

Anything became something to collect.

Likewise, over the years I have unloaded some of my collections. Interests change. I change. My world changes.

I used an example last night of those “Westward Ho!” folks of the 1800’s. From the east, they headed west. They filtered through their life’s collection of things and loaded only what they thought necessary and what would fit in their wagons. They divested at the beginning a life time of things they needed where they were at. As the way got tougher, and the longer, their wagon starts unloading those things no longer important than their very lives. Those collectibles are like the “weight” that hindered their forward progress. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We let what we own define us more than we by who we are. Who are your? On the inside. The way you think. Your personality. Your focus. Your beliefs. Your responses. Your systems. The way you relate to the world around you. Your interactions, friends and even your family tree. How do you make friends, maintain friendships, and focus on being there when they need you?

Do you realize everyone is different? While I should never judge anyone by who they are now, we all know that we are subject to change. That change can be huge. Positive, as well as negative. Since I do not know how far you’ve come, nor how far you have yet to go, I must either accept you for who you are now, or simply step away until a more fortuitous time.

Remember. It’s a two way street. When you intersect their life, you must be aware of their imperfections, along with your own. Sometimes we clash. Sometimes, it’s simply not meant to be.

Slowly, the things I’ve collected, the friends I cherish, and the past that seemed to be so important, have nothing to do with who I am today, nor who I will be tomorrow. What was once important, no longer is…

I’ve watched many folks enter their later years. Slowly, they divest themselves of the things they once thought they could never separate from. Their world narrows. It becomes a smaller footprint. What we own must be maintained and that takes time, finances, energy, and another infinite list of possibilities.

Is it worth it? Good question. Only you can answer what you are willing to define yourself by. As for me…

Several things are immutable.

First, I will never divest myself of my walk with God. It is personal. It is me. It will always be.

Second, “Until death us do part”, my time with my bride will be till one or both of us are gone. Even then, how do you undo a lifetime of commitment, memories and love to the most important person in your world? Likewise, my family is mine, along with all the warts, zits and ugly pieces and parts. I cannot undo them, nor would I want to.

Third, Friends come and go. We realize this. I have friends from youth, career, church, neighbors and all sorts of connections. Who we thought of as a friend is really only an acquaintance. Friends do not need definitions, they simply are. As time progresses, some acquaintances will fall by the wayside for various reasons and are often replaced by someone new. The one thing I know, friends of my past are still there in my memories, even if not there in physical presence.

Finally. “I want to be the best me that me knows how.” (In response to a boss who wanted me to be more like him.) I am a work in progress. You will not change me, nor influence me to step off my pathway. I have my own destiny to fulfill.

Now, in the famous words of Buzz Lightyear,