Thursday, September 28, 2006

Human Capabilities in Times of Stress

I'm currently reading "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," the self-told story of Aron Ralston - the hiker who was trapped for three days only to free himself by cutting off his arm. I'm only on page 80 and already the story is incredible. He is a very adventurous guy who loves the outdoors. The book goes back and forth between his circumstances in the narrow canyon in Utah and previous harrowing experiences while exploring nature. In one story he describes hiking alone in the Grand Tetons while being stalked by a black bear. He is able to keep the bear away by firing rock after rock to keep it at a safe distance until he can reach his car.

He clearly knows A LOT about hiking, camping, backpacking, and outdoor activities in general. But what is most striking is his persistent instinct. He routinely presses on when the terrain is difficult; he refuses to succumb to extreme cold or heat when he has a goal he's aiming for; he knows what needs to be done and refuses to rest until it's accomplished.

Yet despite all that, I still cannot fathom having the pain tolerance or the emotional wherewithal to act so drastically in a situation like that.

Here's the question: COULD YOU CUT OFF A BODY PART, ANY BODY PART, IF YOU THOUGHT IT WAS YOUR ONLY OPTION FOR ESCAPE? Oh, and all you have is a blunt knife on your multi-tool device. I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Let's Play a Game

I'm currently trying to get local restaurants and businesses to donate items to our silent auction we're having at the end of next month for 30-Hour Famine. I thought I'd solicit your advice on some stores and restaurants to hit up. Here's a few places I've gone to so far:

Maggiano's - Dinner for 2 (a $60 value)
The Cheesecake Factory - Dinner for 2 (a $60 value)
Jason's Deli - $30 gift card
The Baker's Crust - $30 gift card
Firebirds - Dinner for 2 (a $60 value)

Disco Sports - 2 "Fan Packages" - one for VA Tech and one for UVA (A $200 value)
Dick's Sporting Goods - $360 worth of camping equipment
Apple - an iPod
Soak - $30 worth of merchandise
Lids - $30 worth of merchandise

There will be others, but these 10 are the biggies. I'd appreciate your input.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Am I Really a Jerk?

Self-discovery can be very healthy - in a long-term sense. But short-term, it's a little disappointing, if not depressing.

I've recently realized that I can be, well, unobliging at times. When I sense that people are looking for affirmation from me or that someone is trying to set themself up to receive a compliment, I stay silent, refusing to build them up simply because that's exactly what they want me to do. Here's an example:

Other person: "Man, I'm so tired."
Me: "Why?"
Other person: "Well I was up all night talking to my friend because they're really going through a hard time. But it was worth it - they said I was so helpful and I gave them the best advice they'd ever heard. I think they might have killed someone had I not been there to talk to them. I'm sooooo smart."
Me: Force a fake, botox-like smile, nod my head
Me: Walk away
Me: Roll my eyes

Okay, so that's a bit extreme. But I've come across my share of people who, for whatever reason, feel the need to throw the bait out hoping to catch someone that will boost their confidence and self-worth with a few praise-filled comments. There's no profile for these people, either. They're rich and poor, white and black, male and female, Christian and "Other." They might be someone at church or a person at Target. They seem to be everywhere. I'm sure these are great people with jobs, families, friends, hobbies and interests; they're probably very kind, generous, loving people who would most likely help even a jerk like me if I were in need. Yet this might be my all-time greatest pet peeve - this desire to suck compliments out of people like a leach on a swamp creature.

I've narrowed down the reason these people annoy the living bejeezes out of me: HONESTY.

I realize that I have flaws, many of them actually. I realize that not every person in the world likes me and, well, the feeling is mutual. But I really do my best to be honest with who I am in all aspects of my life. I don't try to hide my flaws because, if I do, they're eventually exposed anyway and all that work was for nothing. I get the sense that these people I'm referring to are too afraid to be honest with who they truly are. They're terrified that if someone knew of their shortcomings that they would have no friends and the entire world would vote to banish them to live on Mars because they're not worthy of human contact. Insecurity is nothing more than a lack of honesty with who you truly are. You're honest with yourself, but you're not willing to be honest with other people. So everyone gets a steady diet of your superhero-like stories of how great, wonderful, and awe-inspiring you are.

I'm sounding quite bitter. Sorry.

The problem is I know deep in my heart (which is also where I've got the joy, joy, joy) that it shouldn't be such a strain for me to squeeze out a few affirming words every now and then. Not that I don't, but I try to save my compliments and encouraging words for those who don't seem to be looking for them. I reason with myself that those people will appreciate it more because it's not just another empty thought that makes them still feel empty inside. I reason with myself that those who search desperately for compliments will never be satisfied, so why even try? I also reason with myself that by giving them what they want, I'm only affirming their behavior, and somehow encouraging them to continue living in their insecurity. While some of that, if not all, might be true, it still shouldn't matter.

I posted some thoughts a while back about helping people in need. I think when we see someone in need we ought to help them and let God judge how they use the money we give. Why shouldn't the same concept apply here? Are insecure people NOT people in need? Are those who are never satisfied with themselves not in need of someone who will assure them of their worth and value to God and to their peers? Let God judge my words and attitudes toward others, and let the same God judge what others do with those compliments and affirmations.

Imagine being a person who cannot exist without believing that they're liked by everyone. Imagine the energy and work it would take to fake your way through week after week after week. Imagine the pain you would feel when you're alone and the constant questioning and doubt raging inside your head. Imagine constantly wondering if you look okay, if your hair is out of place, or if your last comment offended anyone within earshot. Imagine the risk involved in throwing out the bait trying to get compliments, and the devastation felt when guys like me leave you guessing. What a lousy way to live. Seeing people this way helps me understand a little better the need that is addressed with a few simple affirming words. The sad thing is that I'm most likely the one who needs to hear this; most of you reading this post have no problem being kind, generous, and uplifting with your words. Thanks for putting up with me.

Bring on the leaches!!!!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Well Shucks, They Were Right

I realize this will sound arrogant, but try to look past that.

People tend to go on and on about how amazingly good looking our kids are. This is not done in a general sort of way - the way everyone thinks every baby is cute. Oh no, it's for real. Our kids are good lookin'.

After people go on and on about the pleasing-to-the-eye-ness of our children, they always say the same thing: "Enjoy it while it lasts, before you know it they'll be in high school or headed off to college." When I hear this I always smile and say, "Yeah, that's right." But inside I'm thinking, "No, this person just didn't appreciate the time they had with their own children. Time doesn't fly. In fact it moves quite slow."

Today is Levi's 3rd birthday. It's already been three years since the day he came slithering through the birth canal into the latex-cove s of Dr. Foust. THREE YEARS!!! And so, as the title of this post suggests, the recurring thought I've had over the last couple of days is, "Shucks! They were right! Time really DOES fly."

We watched home videos last night of Levi in his early years. It was fun to see how much our younger son, Titus, resembles him. It was fun re-living the days when he was a helpless blob; the days when he could barely crawl; the days when he could only say the first sylables of each word, yet we understood him perfectly; the days when he learned how to truly laugh; the days when he discovered the world for the first time.

While it was fun, it was also very hard. Several times I felt myself tear up thinking of my wonderful, beautiful child who is growing up too fast. Even as I sit here writing, I can feel the flood of emotions wanting so desperately for time to stand still, even for a moment, so he'll forever be my Little Guy.

At the same time, though, I think of how wonderful it will be to cheer for him the first time he steps up to the plate, or the first time he makes a basket (in basketball, not in art class), or the first time he scores a touchdown. I can't wait for the day when "Playing Catch" actually means we both catch the ball. I can't wait to see who his first girlfriend will be or who he'll take to the prom.

Most of all, I can't wait to see what magnificent things God is going to do with my Little Guy. I see in him already a love and a dedication to doing what's right that leads me to believe that God has big things in store for him. Whose life will be forever changed because of Levi Jones? Who will know God because of the Spirit that lives inside of him? Who will see grace through his service? Who will feel love through his touch? Who will be blessed by his kindness? Maybe a few, maybe the entire world. I can't wait.

I've never cried while writing a post until this one. Parenthood is such an overwhelming flow of emotions. In fact just this morning he was angrily screaming at the top of his lungs because Christina fed Maggie and didn't wait for him to do it. So he got put on the red mat (our equivalent of time out) ON HIS FREAKIN' BIRTHDAY!!!! Yet despite the times when the 3-year old really comes out, he's still one of the most precious gifts God has ever given to me. I cherish every moment - even the trying ones - because they are moments when I'm exposed to a glorious gift from the Father of Heavenly Lights.

Nevertheless, it goes by too fast.

Happy birthday, pal.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Coming to Nothing

As I sat in Copolla's Deli in Carytown today eating my Reuben sandwich and drinking my soda fountain-style Coke, I had my Bible out reading from 1 Corinthians. I read something in 2:6 that caught my eye:

"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing." (Italics mine)

I'd never noticed that phrase before - "coming to nothing" - but I think it's a very provocative statement that really sums up what Paul is referring to. The church in Corinth was consumed by the dominant lifestyle of that day that held high the ideals of wisdom and knowledge. The more wisdom and knowledge you had, the "better" you were. However, their wisdom and knowledge centered around worldly things, things that would change, things that would shift, and things that would ultimately find their end.

Paul specifically mentions the "rulers of [their] age." Surely the rulers were those considered to be the wisest and most knowledgeable, for that was the ultimate status symbol. They were the celebrity politicians of their day, those whom everyone saw as untouchable, not human, and set apart from the rest of normal society. They might be likened to modern day celebrities who use their celebrity status to push agendas.

Yet despite their high societal status, Paul refers to them as those who are "coming to nothing." In other words they're only wasting their breath, wasting their time, and wasting their knowledge because everything they stand for will eventually fade away. I wonder what it must have been like to have been an original reader or hearer of that letter; the inner struggle that must have been felt to hear someone speak of social icons as though they're as insignificant as dust you wipe off your feet. Despite the struggle to grasp the thought, Paul completely hits the target with that mindset.

Our world continues to hold high a select few. Today it's not as much about wisdom and knowledge as much as looks, money, and talents. A person can be dumb as an ox and still succeed in our country (insert George W. joke here). As long as they can keep up their image of being somehow better than everyone else, they'll stay on top. Yet even in our day, those that our society holds so high are "coming to nothing."

However, those of us who hold high the standards of love, grace, mercy, humility, and holiness set forth by God through Jesus, why we're "coming to SOMETHING." Living lives that are set apart from today's cut-throat culture will actually take you somewhere. And unlike our society, you'll actually STAY there, even if others come along.

Combine this statement of Paul's with his statement in Romans 12 that says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind," and you've got yourself a pretty good philosophy on how to live life.

So, based on how you're living your life, are you coming to nothing, or are you coming to something?

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Truth is Out There

I've been pretty tired of the whole "post-modern" discussion since, oh, 2001. It's been a conversation that's been more overplayed than 'Golddigger' on 94.5. I get it. In fact, I think we ALL get it; and we have been getting it for quite some time.

Okay, having said all that, here's a posting about post-modernism.

This morning I was in the left lane at a stop light. In front of me was an older-model Nissan Altima loaded with bumper stickers. Each one said something about women's rights: "Keep Your Laws Off My Body," "Abortion Is A Choice," " I Am Woman," "Women Are As Good As, If Not Better Than, Men." Okay, the last one wasn't actually on there, but I think that was the overall sentiment of the colorful liturature plastered to the bumper, trunk, and window.

Beside the Femi-Nazi Altima was an Infiniti sedan with two bumper stickers. One said, "I'd Rather Be Driving a Titleist," and the other said, "Abortion is Murder." In my mind I quickly played a scenario of the Femi-Nazi lunging out of her car and smashing the windshield of the rich, macho man in the Infiniti with her bare hands and screaming, "KEEP YOUR LAWS OFF MY BODY!!!!!!!!!!!!" It was more than a little funny.

I initially thought that those two vehicles, stopped side-by-side, spoke of a healthy democratic society where we're all free to share our views and opinions. I appreciate the fact that neither of those two people were chased down by the police because they expressed an opinion that went counter to the law. Generally, I don't get too worked up about politics and patriotism (I love my country, but chances are you'll never see me marching on Washington), but I can appreciate the freedom we have that others in the world aren't so lucky to share.

Then as I continued behind the two cars it occured to me that, in the matter of abortion, one of these people MUST be right. Either it's wrong, or it's not. And who is left to make that moral judgment? Legally we have a Supreme Court who decides, but who decides on the deeper, moral level? Apparently everyone.

It's sad to me the number of people who are unable to see the logic behind the life that God has laid out for us. Take Matthew's version of the Sermon on the Mount for example; if everyone lived their life according to these bits of wisdom spoken by Jesus on a hillside, imagine how beautiful our world would be. What would it be like if everyone in the world turned the other cheek (5:39)? What would it be like if everyone in the world worried about eternal things and not worldly things (6:19)? What would it be like if everyone in the world kept their word (5:33-37)? What would it be like if everyone were humble, everyone put others first, and everyone sought to glorify God in all things? For that matter, what would the church be like? What would I be like?

Christian or not, there's no denying that living according to the life prescribed by Jesus leads only to joy. It doesn't lead to wealth or fame, but it certainly leads to fulfilment, joy, and peace. It's unfortunate that so many people have decided to live counter to what Jesus taught. It is almost to the point where our borders will not only keep out illegal immigrants, but Jesus will soon find Himself on the other side of the fence, wanting back in.

Perhaps someday the world will see that living according to Jesus' plan for our lives is the only way that leads to peace. Until then, keep your laws off my body!

Friday, September 15, 2006

What to do, What to do

There's no occurance of this recorded in the gospels. Paul never mentions it. I've read the Law of Moses three times trying to find an answer, and, quite frankly, it's just not there.

What I'm talking about is cable. Not just cable, but FREE cable. Cable that the cable company doesn't know you have. Or, if they do know, they just haven't gotten around to fixing their mistake yet. Cable that you've always wanted but never wanted to pay for, and now you have it without shelling out huge bucks.

You see yesterday Christina decided she'd rearrange the living room. (I was supposed to help, but being the wonderful wife she is, she moved it on her own to surprise me. It worked, I was pleasantly surprised). We have been blessed by Jehovah God with a HUGE television. She slid it onto a chair then slid the chair across the living room. In the process she had to unplug our cable. When she got the television in the right spot, she hooked it back up t.v. The cable box that sits on our T.V. wasn't working. So when I got home from work she asked me to see if I could figure it out. So I started changing channels on our actual t.v. and saw that every channel WORKED!!! Not only did they work, but I was seeing things I had never before seen in our house with our cable box:
The History Channel
The Game Show Network
TLC (which now has cool home improvement shows that dudes can watch too)

Then the question came to my mind like a flash of lightening: do I have ESPN?
Channel down, channel down, channel down...
Do I have ESPN?
Channel down...
Do I have ESPN?
Channel down...chan...

I HAVE ESPN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And ESPN 2.

Channels 3 and 4 are like Peanut Butter and Jelly, milk and cookies, hot dogs and mustard.

I had planned to take full advantage of this new-found piece of heaven by watching tonight's Yankees-Red Sox game on ESPN, but it got rained out. No big deal, I'll just catch the second game of the double-header Sunday night because I HAVE ESPN!!!

I know. Stop shaking your head, I know. WWJD? I hate those freakin' bracelets. But Jesus didn't have television. Paul didn't have television. How are we to know if this is REALLY stealing? I mean, I'm not God am I? I really cannot make such a judgement in good conscience because I was nowhere around when the foundations of the earth were laid. I have no idea where the lightening is stored. I don't know where the storehouses for the snow are located. How can I possibly pass judgment on this issue?

Not buying it, huh?

Okay, how about this: some of the teens in our youth group are slowly becoming Yankee fans. I'll have those teens over this Sunday night for a Bible study, and afterward we'll check out the Yankees-Red Sox game. IT'S MINISTRY, PEOPLE!!! And doesn't God want me to be a good minister? So wouldn't God want me to have this cable. So maybe there's a slight discrepancy in the price, but look at the money I'm saving that can go to the church.

Need I say more? Obviously God WANTS me to have this cable. God would be sad if I didn't have it. I don't know about you, but I don't want to make God sad.

But apparently my wife does. She thinks I should call the cable company and explain what's going on. She thinks that what we're doing is wrong. Well, Job's wife thought what he was doing was wrong, but he stayed faithful to God's calling. So that's what I'm going to do. Christina is essentially asking me to "curse God and die" but I'm not going to curse God, and I'm not going to die. I'm going to watch the Giants and Cardinals play in place of the Yankees-Red Sox game. I'm going to learn how to "Flip" a house on TLC. And I'm going to watch over 20 hours a day of Law and Order on TBS. And why? Because it's God's will.


Am I right?

I'll call the cable company on Monday.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Heart of a child

It's a humbling moment when a child seems to understand the concept of goodness and generosity better than their parents. I experienced this last night.

In my previous post I talked about our experience at the Yankees-Oriole's game last night. But perhaps the fondest memory I'll take is what happened before and after the game.

On our way up to Baltimore we stopped at a gas station so Levi could use the potty. When we came back out to the car I asked him to keep his hand on the car while I fumbled around for my keys. Before I could reach him he started walking around to the other side, but with one hand on the car of course.

I finally got my keys out and went around to the other side with him. I picked him up and put my face right up to his. I said, "Son, you can't walk away from Daddy like that, okay?" And in typical 2-year old fashion, he asked, "Why?" I said, "Because I don't want anyone to try and grab you. That would make Daddy very sad."

"But no one is trying to grab me," he said. At this point I knew I was NOT going to win this discussion.

I said, "That's right, no one did. But sometimes people might try to."

"Bad people?" he asked.


"But there's no bad people."

"Yeah, bud, there's bad people."

"No there's not."

"Yes, son, there ARE bad people."

"No there's not."

"Yes there are."

"No there's not."


"Everybody's just nice," he said.

What a wonderful perception to have of the world - that everybody's "just nice." While I rejoice in the fact that that's how my child sees the world, it also makes me sad to know that some day that perception will be thwarted; someday he'll see what evil is, and someday he'll understand that there actually ARE bad people in the world. Hopefully he'll find out later, rather than sooner.

The other humbling moment for me came after the ballgame. Leaving Camden Yards you're bombarded with vendors trying to get rid of the last of their inventory - $1 water bottles, $1 cotton candy, $5 t-shirts, etc. We fought and fought our way through them only to come to the second layer of beggars: actual beggars. Once you're past all the vendors the homeless of Baltimore line up, hoping to maybe get your loose change from the hot dogs, or, if they're lucky, a whole buck or two.

Levi was riding on my shoulders and we were talking about the night when we passed by a homeless man. He was old with a long, curly gray beard and long, thinning gray hair. His shoes had holes the size of half-dollars, and his clothes were almost see-through, surely from the years of being his only clothing option. His hands were grimy and he had clearly not seen a bathtub or shower in the last decade. He was certainly what Jesus refered to as "the least of these."

"What's that man doing?" Levi asked after we passed him by.

"He's asking people for money," I said.


"Because he doesn't have any."

"Why doesn't he have any?"

"Well's a long story. But he asks people for money so he can eat."

"Did we give him any money?"


"Daddy, did we give him any money?"


"Do you think we should, pal?" I ask.

"Yeah, he's probably hungry."

I stopped walking and opened my wallet. All I had was a $20 bill.



More silence.

I took the $20 out and walked back to where the man was sitting. For a brief moment I thought about maybe making some change, but all he had was one quarter, a dime and three pennies in his cup. I cupped the $20 bill in my hand and slid it in to the cup so he wouldn't see what it was, then I turned and walked away.

After a few steps I heard, "Thank you."

Without turning around I stuck my left hand out and waved a sideways, "You're welcome."

"Thank you!" I heard again, only a little louder.

This time I turned my head slightly to the left and, without really being able to see him, I nodded a "You're welcome."

"Sir! Thank you!" The voice was now closer.

Startled I turned around and saw the man now walking toward us, having left his cup and his bag of junk behind. I was a little nervous, not really knowing what he would do. He was walking hunched over and he drug his right foot behind him. Despite the obvious labor it required just to walk, he was smiling a huge, near toothless smile. When he got close to us he said something that, I'm quite certain, will haunt me each time I see a homeless man or woman asking for help. He said,


Part of the reason this affected me so much is because for the last several days I've been preparing to preach a sermon on the story of Jesus healing the man with leprosy. You'll recall from this story that Jesus doesn't just speak healing words, instead He reaches out and touches the man. The reason I was so nervous when the man was coming toward us is because I thought he might try to hug me. Is he not worth a hug? Is it not worth having a stench on my clothes to bring a brief moment of joy to one of God's children?

Not only that, but those words will forever indict me when I pass by the man or ignore the woman asking for help. Is another human being worth $20? Our actions usually show that human beings in need are worth the change in the slot in our car, or our last $1.

I heard someone say once that things are worth whatever someone will pay for them. So if a house, no matter how big or small, can be sold for $1,000,000.00, it's a million-dollar home.

To God, we're worth only as much as He was willing to pay for us. Only He spared no expense. He gave Jesus for us because that's what we're worth to Him, and we ought to treat one another that way too.

O What a Night...

Last night I took Levi to Baltimore to see the Yankees play their final game of the season at Camden Yards. The Yankees won 9-6, but that isn't the coolest thing that happened.

We arrived around 5:30, just as the gates were opening, and headed down to the left field seats as the Yankees were taking batting practice, hoping to catch a ball. We stayed there for a minute or two, then I saw one of the Yankees' pitchers, Ron Villone, standing in the corner where the left field wall and the 3rd baseline meet. He gave someone in the crowd a ball that was hit in his direction, so we went and stood about 10 feet away from him. I greeted those standing around us and after a few minutes a woman we were standing beside asked where our seats were. I pointed to the upper deck in left field and said, "Waaaaayyyyyy up there." She asked, "Would you like to sit right here?" Keep in mind, we were on the FRONT ROW right under the left field foul pole on the 3rd base line. I smiled and said, "What?" Her husband then turned and said, "Yeah man, we own these five seats and we're only using two of them tonight. You and your son can sit here if you'd like." I went on and on with my 'Thank you's' until they appeared satisfied with the amount.

You might be thinking to yourself, "Well, that IS pretty cool. Sounds like a fun night." Wait...there's more.

As we stood watching batting practice, A-Rod hit a ball near our seats. Ron Villone scooped it up, turned, and tossed it to the guy that had just given us his seats. The guy immediately stuck the ball in front of Levi and said, "Here ya' go, buddy." Again, the 'thank you's' came down like rain in a tsunami.

"Wow!" you're thinking to yourself. "What an awesome experience." Wait, still not over.

Moments after getting the ball, future Hall of Fame reliever (and one of our favorite players) MARIANO RIVERA, comes and stands right in front of us. He signs a kid's ball that had squeezed down into our seats, then he reaches up and takes Levi's ball, signs it, and hands it back. Levi even said "Thank you."

I KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!! What an awesome night!! The Yankees were losing 5-2 in the 7th, but they scored 6 runs to come back and take the lead, and Levi, myself and all the Yankee fans in our section were losing our voices from cheering so loud. It was quite a night.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Move...Get Out The Way, Get Out The Way

On Richmond's Sports Radio 910, they always play a line from a song that says, "Move, get out the way, get out the way" during their traffic report. Something tells me the rest of that song isn't exactly family-friendly, but it's a catchy clip that tends to stay in my mind the rest of the day. It especially came to my mind recently when I was reading the gospel of Luke.

"One day as [Jesus] was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the Law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for Him to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith He said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.'
The Pharisees and teachers of the Law began thinking to themselves, 'Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?'
Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, 'Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or to say 'Take up your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...'
He said to the paralyzed man, 'I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.'
Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, 'We have seen remarkable things today!'"

Normally when I hear this passage I picture in my mind a room packed full of eager listners and curious observers, wanting to hear more from this new "Teacher" who speaks with greater authority and wisdom than they've ever heard. I envision amazed men and mesmerized women watching as Jesus heals the paralytic. But, after a careful reading, I realized that this was not the scene at all. Look at the first verse again:

"One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the Law, who had come from every village in Galilee and from Judea and from Jerusalem, were sitting there."

Apparently it was the Pharisees and teachers of the Law that were taking up most of the room. Luke is sure to emphasize exactly how many are there; they came from "EVERY VILLAGE in Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem." The house wasn't full of eager listeners and curious observers, it was packed full of hypocrites and bitter men listening for one misspoken word or one slip of the tongue. They weren't there to hear a word from God, they were there to criticize, nit-pick, and gripe.

The saddest part is that when someone came actually wanting to see Jesus because of who they believed Him to be, they weren't able to get in because of the mob of haters. They had to take their friend to the roof of the house and DIG down to Jesus. And instead of sharing in a miraculous moment with Jesus and the paralyzed man, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law inwardly criticized what was going on.

How frustrating that must have been for Jesus.

After reading this several times I had to ask myself the logical hard question: am I in the way or am I allowing the lost, the hurt, and the hopeless see Jesus?

One of my college professors often reminded us who planned to go into the ministry that our primary responsibility is to reflect the Light of Christ to those we minister to. The problem is us "ministry types" are often a little more concerned with reflecting ourselves onto those to whom we minister. We want our church to be the biggest in town; we want our youth ministries to be the most creative and fun; we want our outreach programs to bring in more than any other outreach programs. While those things sound like positives, often the motive for arriving at those goals is to exalt ourselves and not our Savior.

It's taken a while, but I've finally arrived at a place where I'm not concerned with what other ministers are doing. I celebrate with my friends in ministry who experience success and I hurt with my friends in ministry who feel that things are not going well at all. And my primary focus is on keeping my walk with Jesus on the straight and narrow so that the teens to whom I minister have a clear reflection of the love of Christ. When ministry is really happening, the teens see Jesus Christ, and not Cory Jones.

Unfortunately that's a hard place for many of us in ministry to come to. I'm not patting myself on the back for having arrived there, but there are those who spend their lives trying to absorb the "glory" rather than reflect it, and they find themselves quickly burning out and ending up as far away from ministry as they can get.

When it comes to the lost, do you reflect yourself or your Savior? If it's yourself, maybe you should "move, get out the way, get out the way, get out the way."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Other World

Last night Christina and I went to VA Beach to see Rascal Flatts in concert to celebrate Christina's completion of OT school. I surprised her by renting a red mustang convertible that we cruised down in. I had never been to a concert that wasn't either Acappella or a Christian band so I wasn't exactly sure what the atmosphere would be. Because Rascal Flatts is a clean band and they sing songs with good messages, I expected the concert atmosphere to be pretty tame and mellow. So I was surprised to find myself feeling so out of place.

When we arrived nothing seemed odd. Sure there was the guy walking in front of us bragging to his friends that he had to pee because he'd already had five beers.

'Not that big of a deal,' I thought to myself. 'It IS a country concert.'

Then when we walked into the Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheatre, immediately to our right was a Skoal stand that was apparently giving out free samples of Skoal snuff if you signed up for some kind of give away.

'Again, not a big deal,' I thought. 'It IS a country concert.'

As we made our way around the big hill to the ramp up to the lawn, we saw a myriad of beer and margarita stands.

'A little much,' I recall thinking to myself. 'But it IS a country concert.'

We were lucky to arrive as early as we did, because we managed to find a patch of grass that was big enough for us to spread our blanket and stretch our legs out. Most people arrived too late and they either had to stand at the very back against the fence or squeeze themselves uncomfortably close to those of us that already conquered our plot of land. This was the case for the four girls to our left, and the three girls plus a guy to our right - all of whom were smoking.

Smoking - Is it a sin? Does it make God angry? I honestly don't know. I do know the groups of smokers infringing on our blanket space were probably too young to be smoking, which would seem a little un-Christ-like.

I don't think it's necessarily a sin, but I do think it's a poor way to care for the wonderful gift God gave you that is your body. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit..." Sure he's speaking of sexual immorality, but the idea is still the same.

Honestly, it wasn't the smoking that had me feeling weird, out of place, at the concert. The underlying cause of my discomfort was the feeling that I just didn't belong there.

Perhaps it was all the girls showing everything for their upper thighs down. Perhaps it was the performs singing about getting so drunk you can't remember your name, or where you are, or who you're with. Perhaps it was ALLLLLLL the cussing I heard. I think it was a combination of it all.

Those outside the Christian faith would probably call me 'Sheltered.'To some degree that's true - I don't really see a lot of non-Christian behavior on a regular basis. But that's by choice, not by force. So when I am in an environment that does not appear to be overly concerned with the presence of God, I feel a little out of my element.

The church in Corinth found themselves wrestling with the same feelings. Paul refers to himself and the church in Corinth as those "on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come." (1 Cor. 10:11) They were caught in limbo between the Old covenant that isolated God's people into one nation and the New Covenant through Jesus that broke down all walls and borders and welcomed everyone into the Kingdom. And, of all places, Corinth was NOT the best place for a floundering Christian church to to be. It was certainly a hot spot for un-Christlike behavior. So part of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians is a reminder that "He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1:8)

I often hear differing views on what our relationship ought to be with "the lost." There are those who say that Christians ought to remain separate from unbelievers, keeping ourselves pure and focused on all things holy. There are also those who say we should spend as little time together as we can so that we have more time to be with "sinners."

Here's what I know:

Last night at our concert I was longing for my Christian brothers and sisters. Yet I also have a heart for the lost. There was a woman in her late 30's or early 40's in front of me in a concession line bragging to her daughter and daughter's friends about how much beer she drank at her last concert. Instead of being appalled I felt genuine sorrow for her and those girls listening. And while those trying to steal a corner of our blanket on the lawn were a bit annoying, I certainly felt a level of compassion for them because they were clearly not out to be a light for Jesus that night.

I think we must go about living our lives with an awareness that we are of an "Other-Worldly" kind. We truly are aliens in this world. I think it was a good sign that I felt so uncomfortable in that setting. Yet it was also good to be aware of and compassionate toward those who didn't appear to be living for Jesus.

There truly is another world that we live in while here on earth. We MUST keep our selves and our identity in that world, while we go about living in the physical world. Living in "that" world means living with compassion toward those who don't yet know of it; it means living with the freedom and joy that comes from serving an all-sufficient Savior; and it means living with a desire to be holy - set apart from the rest.

Maybe this concert was a good thing for me after all.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

School Days, School Days

Today I took Levi up to one of our local high school's to have lunch with one of the teens in our youth ministry. It was fun to be back in a high school cafeteria (not that I ever ate in one - my high school had off-campus lunch). But the buzz and the energy felt in a room full of high schoolers is enough to get your adrenaline pumping. As we sat eating our Burger King hamburgers and chatting about the day, I was reminded that I, in no way shape or form, miss high school. While I thoroughly enjoyed being with the high schoolers, I did not want to be A high schooler.

I remember driving my brown 1986 Chevy Cavalier with a huge dent in the front fender. I remember showing up for early morning band practices and staying late for basketball and baseball games. I remember my senior year getting my mascot costume on for pep rallies on Friday mornings. I remember piling in cars to get away as fast as we could for lunch at a near by fast food joint. And I remember absolutely nothing from any of my classes.

I remember high school being the most confusing, aimless time in my life. I was never really quite sure who I was or who I wanted to be. This sounds bad, but on the surface I looked just like everyone else, who I'm sure were experiencing the same things I was. I was into things like sports, the ladies, and band (woohoo, band geek!!!). But honestly, I remember being a different person in each of those settings.

I was reflecting recently on the day I realized I wanted to be a minister. It was something I always thought about simply because my sister and I were so involved in our youth group. But there's one day that stands out above the rest as the day I decided that was where my life was going. I was driving to school one morning and stopped at a red light. Directly to my left stood my church building. I found myself wanting, even longing to be there instead of headed to school. It wasn't because most of my closest friends were church friends (which they were), but it's because I liked the "Church Cory" better than the "School Cory." I knew the "Church Cory" was who God wanted me to be but I was easily distracted and thrown off by all the temptations that come to a high school guy.

I really believe that God was present in that moment when I sat at the red light on 8th Street in Odessa, TX. He has guided me to the place where I am today and I can see His fingerprints all around me. I have a beautiful wife and two glorious sons. I know a lot of people feel that way about their wife and children, but I feel especially blessed to have mine. I'm also a part of a youth ministry that is alive and full of the Spirit. I know that it is not my doing that has caused this youth ministry to be successful, but instead it is God. I cannot picture myself being more devoted to an ordinary "job" as I am to my calling as a youth minister. I think of the jobs my friends have and I think, "BORING!!!" (No offense) I am thankful that God has led me to this place as a minister in His Kingdom. There truly is nowhere else I'd rather be.

While I LOVE our high schoolers, I certainly don't envy the stage of life they're in. But I can already see God working, guiding and leading them to a path of life meant for glorifying Him. What a glorious God we serve!!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


As I'm sure you've heard by now Steve Irwin, known to most of us as the Crocodile Hunter, was tragically killed this week when he was pierced in the heart by a barb on the tail of a stingray. He was swimming with the rays for a documentary, doing what he did everyday, and doing what he loved.

Nevertheless, as I laid in bed last night - correction, this morning at 2 a.m. - unable to sleep, I couldn't help but think about the dying process. Morbid as it may be, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts about , heaven, and the fear many of us share in anticipating the end of our lives.

First, is the great humiliator. It's the one thing we ALL have in common - we will, eventually, die. From the most arrogant in our world like Barry Bonds, Terrell Owens, etc. to the most humble, we will all some day cease to exist. It's inescapable. Funerals seem to be a reminder of that. Yes, we're mourning the of a close friend or family member, but in the back of our minds we're also coming face to face with the fact that one day we'll be the one lying in that casket while our friends and family gather round to mourn our , celebrate our life, and wonder what the heck comes next.

I often wonder why God isn't a little more forthcoming with information about what awaits us in our post-earth lives. If we truly do have this great reward in heaven, why don't we know anything about it? We've gone into space, yet no one has seen a sign saying "HEAVEN - 3 TRILLION LIGHT YEARS AWAY." We make things up to make ourselves feel a little better about it - like having streets of gold, a crystal sea, mansions on hilltops and beautiful singing. Despite that, there's no denying that we know very little, if anything at all, about what awaits us FOR ETERNITY!!!! Our lives on earth are over in a flash, so shouldn't we know just a little more about where we're going, as David Crowder says, foreverandeverandeverandeverandeverandeverandeverandeverandeverandeverandever?

I'll be honest, I fear death sometimes. I feel a little guilty about that because I'm a minister, but my mind is still a human mind and it can only fathom so much. I don't know that I feel really comfortable with the whole "eternity" thing. Are we really there for an infinite amount of time? Is there really no end? Do we not wonder around the universe exploring other galaxies? Do we have anything to do? AND WHY ARE WE THERE FOREVER??? It messes with my head.

My wife fears the fact that we might not know each other in heaven. That's to be dreaded as well. How sad to think that we'll spend our lives together, loving and cherishing each other, only to never again be in the presence of the one I love more than any other. We talk about seeing each other again someday, but will we really?

There are so many things to fear when it comes to . But only because it's unknown. For me, my faith means the most in these times when I'm fearing what is to come. I am trying to teach my son, Levi, the concept that God is bigger than us. So we read the story of David and Goliath each night before bed. He understands that God is bigger than David and that God is bigger than Goliath. When I see that he gets it I smile then go through our ritual of giving each other a big squeeze, a soft bonk, a nose twiddle, a fish kiss, a high five, on the back side, in the hole and then I tickle him for a half second. I leave his room content that he knows in his mind that God is bigger than everyone else. So why do I struggle with it?

Here's a conclusion I came to recently on , dying, and eternity: I WILL TRUST THAT GOD IS IN CONTROL AND THAT HIS PROMISES WILL BE KEPT. I'm going to trust that the Psalmist was correct when he wrote "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere." (Ps. 84:10) I'm going to trust that even if I don't know my wife in heaven or even if I'm going to spend eternity in the same place, that God knows better than I do what awaits me there, and He has promised that it will be greater than anything I could imagine. I've found this to be a wonderful way to live life and to aliviate the fear and stress that comes with facing .

Father, thank you for being a God who is true to His promises. Thank you for preparing a place for us to spend eternity in the Great House of God. Thank you for being in control of my life and of life as we know it on earth. You are greater than my fears, and you are the One that can overpower . For that I am thankful, and for that I give you praise. Amen.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Yankees

Yes, you probably hate the Yankees. I get that. I understand that. I can, in some ways, sympathize with that. Nevertheless, I LOVE to cheer for and follow the New York Yankees. I get asked all the time, "How can a guy who grew up in west Texas love the New York Yankees?" Well, for a lot of reasons. First, I've never liked cheering for the team everyone else cheers for. In the early 90's I liked cheering for the 49ers because they were the Dalls Cowboys' arch nemesis, and everyone in west Texas cheered for the Cowboys. It's not because I particularly liked San Fransisco, but I wanted to keep from doing what everyone else did.

When it came to baseball everyone in Texas cheered for either the Rangers or the Astros. I've seen them both play. I've been to the old Rangers stadium and to The Ballpark. I saw Kevin Bass and Jose Cruz (Sr.) play in the Astrodome and I've seen the more modern Astros play at Minute Maid Field (although when I saw them it was still called Enron Field).

So who was it that everyone despised in the baseball world in Texas? Why the New York Yankees of course. And why? "Because they buy their championships" is a popular answer. Let's examine this mindset, shall we?

What teams in baseball have "bought" their championships? Most people only associate the Yankees with this, but let's look at the World Series champs from the past five years starting with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. The DBacks beat the Yankees in 7 games, winning it all on Luis Gonzalez's now-infamous bloop single off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th. This was perhaps one of the greatest World Series' ever, because most of the games were won in either the 8th or 9th innings by the home team. Who were the co-MVP's of that series? Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson for the Arizona Diamondbacks. And who were two of the top three paid pitchers in 2001? Why Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson of course. And now, in the year 2006, do either still play for their World Championship team? NO!

2002 - Anaheim Angels - This is perhaps one of the only exceptions to the rule. Anaheim won their Ring with no-names like David Eckstein and Garrett Anderson. They won by reviving the small ball game (which is the BEST way to play baseball) and by having a lights-out bullpen. However, since their World Championship season, the Angels have been included in the same breath as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees as the only teams having the financial capacities to land big name stars.

2003 - Florida Marlins - In 2003 the Marlins also won with a lot of small ball. Perhaps the best story from that season was young rookie Josh Beckett who sealed their championship with a complete game victory over the Yankees in Game 6 in the Bronx. But who was a vital key to the success of the Marlins? Pudge Rodriguez. How long did he stay in Florida? He left the following year after only one season. More on Josh Beckett to follow.

2004 - Boston Red Sox - Yes, the infamous year when the Yankees choked, the Bambino was forever put to rest, and the Sox finally won it all. It was exciting and great for baseball (although one of the most painful years for myself). But, who once again keyed a postseason victory over the Yankees? Curt Schilling. His performance was legendary in Game 6 in the Bronx. He pitched through enough pain to make Kirk Gibson shutter, and he dominated the Yanks. But Schilling is not the story of the Sox "store bought success" in 2004. Instead, that award goes to one Orlando Cabrera. The Red Sox, with the 2nd highest payroll in MLB by the way, sold the soul of their team - Nomar Garciaparra - for a shot at a championship. It all began with a trade that never happened for Alex Rodriguez. Nomar found out about the possible trade while watching SportsCenter on his honeymoon with Mia Hamm. Talk about a slap in the face. He'd been the face of the Boston Red Sox for years, and just like that they're willing to sell him out for THE HIGHEST PAID PLAYER IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. Yet no one seems to ever comment about the fact that, had that trade gone through, the Red Sox would have had the top TWO highest paid players in MLB - ARod and Manny Rameriz. But, evidently only the Yankees buy their teams.

2005 - Chicago White Sox - Like the Anaheim Angels, the White Sox escape this rule. They won just as Anaheim did, with small ball and an incredible bullpen. Much love goes to the White Sox for winning the old fashioned way. However, in the offseason they went and outbid every other team for Jim Thome. We'll see where that leads them.

So, all this to say, the Yankees get blamed for "ruining" baseball. But, their string of championships from 96-2000, was a product of home grown talent - Jeter, Rivera, Tino Martinez, Posada, Pettitte, Bernie Williams, etc. They had cast-offs from other teams like Chuck "Can't Throw From 2nd to 1st" Knoblauch, Scott Brosius, Paully O'Neil, and the like. Their championships came from also returning to a small ball approach. But, no one seems to remember that. And, since adopting the buy now, pay later mentality, they've yet to win it all. But, no one seems to mention that either.

Another reason I love the Yankees is because I really appreciate where baseball has been, specifically in the old school eras of the 20's and 30's. If you're into that age of baseball, you can't help but at least admire the Yankees for their history and their contributions to the game of baseball.

Love 'em or hate 'em, the Yanks will be a force to contend with for a long, long time. Not only do they have guys like Jeter, Posada and Rivera still around (although they are getting long in the tooth), but they have guys coming up the pipe like Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera, Andy Philips, Scott Proctor, and Philip Hughes. Perhaps their spend-happy ways are a thing of the past and we can all just get back to building your team from Single A up, the way it's meant to be. But, if not, the Yankees will continue to dominate the American League because of their commitment to winning and their dedication to acquire that next Ring.


Monday, September 04, 2006

No More MySpace

Myspace is fun. It really lets you use your own creativity to express yourself and keep up with friends. When I was growing up the cool thing was to have your own phone line, or at least a phone in your room. That was the way to chat with friends. IM got popular for a while, and still is, but Myspace is the first of its kind. With the ability to upload and share pictures, display videos, upload songs, post bulletins, leave comments, send email, IM, and blog, it's the ultimate experience in sharing yourself with the world.

The problem is too many people are sharing too much of themselves; specifically in the skin department. The moment I sign in I'm bombarded with scantily-clad girls. With the click of the mouse I can see an entire page filled with profiles of girls longing to show all that God gave them to whomever wants to see.

If you struggle with the issue of lust, pornography, or other physical temptations, I would really encourage you to consider if Myspace is the best option for you. Yes, there are alternatives like ChristianSpace360 and MyPraise, but, honestly, they're just not quite as cool. But it's still an alternative.

I plan to use this blog as a way to share my thoughts about, as the title suggests, God, family and the New York Yankees - my three loves. Stay tuned...