Character

Dear Younger Me

I recently saw a post to a Facebook group I’m part of about a 20-year high school reunion. I glossed over it, figuring that the post was for another graduating class, because I’m not that old—but then it dawned on me that I AM that old! My 20-year high school reunion is supposed to be THIS summer!

Well, a lot of people have been posting pictures and life updates to the group, but one in particular brought up the fact that she was hesitant to attend a reunion because she was treated poorly in high school and didn’t really want to see those same people. Her post set off a number of responses (78 at last count), many from people with the same experience. Then there was one response from a girl who was hesitant to attend a reunion because she had been one of the ones doing the mistreating and felt a lot of regret over it. The proposed theme of the reunion is now “Kind is the New Cool.”

All of this is to say that I wish we could all have gotten along better back then, done great things in school, made great memories, and avoided the regrets that so many seem to have. And then I figured, now might be a great time to pen one of those “letters to my younger self.” What would I say?

  1. Own who you are. There’s no point in pretending to be someone you’re not. If people don’t like who you really are, then they don’t really like you anyway.
  2. Portray confidence. If you do, it will translate into REAL confidence. How? I’ve found over the years that three things help: smile, eye contact, and posture (and it also helps to know and accept your identity in Christ!).
  3. Develop your strengths. Try out for the debate team, or speech, or apply to work for the school paper. Stop lamenting about the school plays or the Concert Choir you weren’t chosen for, and find something you excel at.
  4. Go for it! Don’t just go to a week’s worth of cheerleading training—actually try out for the squad…Or for the fast pitch softball team…Or swimming…or cross-country running. And if you don’t make it, it’s not the end of the world. At least you’ll know, instead of always wondering whether you could have made it.
  5. Look outside of yourself. Instead of feeling alienated from others (usually the popular kids) who don’t want anything to do with you, forget about them. Instead, befriend someone who looks lonelier than you. Be the answer to someone’s prayers for a friend. And when all is said and done…
  6. Forgive. I can’t imagine any of us made it through school without ever getting hurt. Someone, whether intentionally or not, will have said or done something unkind or thoughtless or insensitive. Remember that kids don’t always know better. And when they do, it is sometimes a symptom of something else that’s going on—consciously or otherwise. We may never know someone else’s whole story, but we can respond with grace and compassion. Forgiveness is a freeing thing—don’t let bitterness and resentment control and imprison you, or steal your joy. Let the past go and start fresh.

As I continue to reflect on the advice and wisdom I would give my younger self, I’m sure I’ll come up with many more nuggets. In the meantime, how about you? What would YOU tell YOUR younger self?

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Feet and Ashes

John 13:5-9
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

I didn’t grow up observing Lent, or Ash Wednesday, or any of the traditional liturgical calendar really. But our church home of the past six years does observe these “holidays.” And each year, I’ve attended the self-guided contemplative service that is offered on Ash Wednesday. But I have always bypassed the actual ashes. On the surface, that is because it feels to me like one of those rote rituals that loses its meaning in repetition.

But as I’ve reflected on it more this past week or so, I’ve realized there is more to my abstention than that. First, there’s a bit of my own rebellious spirit. I tend to buck the system, oppose authority, and dig my heels in at every chance. I like to think of myself as a rebel for God’s cause, but sometimes it’s just me being contentious. And Proverbs 13:10 warns that contention is born of pride, and as we all know, pride goes before destruction.

Pride also opposes humility, and I’ve come to realize that this too is lacking in me as I decline to receive the ashes. At a safe distance, I can hide my flaws. Someone may not notice if my bangs are full of cowlicks, or if my forehead is greasy, or if my breath smells. But up close, that’s another story. Every part of me that’s out of place or imperfect is magnified and on display. But to hold back and keep my distance on account of these imperfections exposes a pride deep down, doesn’t it?

I can think of someone else who was likewise prideful: Peter. Now, don’t get me wrong—feet are definitely gross. And you wouldn’t catch me giving or receiving a pedicure…yuck. But as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He was setting an example of humility and servanthood, and one the disciples needed to see if they were to humbly serve others. But for Peter, it wasn’t enough to learn to serve others. He first needed to humble himself to receive his Lord’s service.

Even after Peter gave in and allowed Jesus to wash his feet, I expect he was uncomfortable. Humility doesn’t come easily. And I can tell you that tonight, as I approach the altar to receive the ashes, I will be uncomfortable. My heart will be pounding, my palms will be sweaty, I may even start hyperventilating. But I will choose to receive, as a discipline of humility.

Maybe you’ve thought about attending an Ash Wednesday service this year, but have resisted. Maybe you’re hesitating because you feel too unworthy, or too worthy, or too busy, or too hurt. Whatever your reasons for holding back, would you consider letting those go, humbling yourself before the Lord, and joining me in approaching the altar on this Ash Wednesday?

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Dust

Psalm 103:13-14

“As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.”

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Well, I finally got tattoo #8 yesterday. I’d been thinking about it for some time, but the logistics only just fell into place. Whenever people see a tattoo in another language, the first thing they ask is what it means. Well, in this case, the Korean symbol on the back of my ankle means “dust.” It isn’t the only symbol for dust in the Korean language, but this one means, “soil, earth, clay, dust, ground, terra.” And that seems pretty close to the meaning of dust in the Bible verse above. WE. ARE. DUST.

I think we forget that sometimes. We think we are greater than we are, more invincible, more in control of our own destiny. Or maybe we are constantly beating ourselves up because we aren’t as great as we think we should be; we aren’t as kind, honest, or righteous as we are called to be. We fail. We fall. We disappoint ourselves, and those around us, and presumably God. But the verse above suggests that our God is a God of compassion, understanding, and unconditional love.

We also need to remember that, just as we are formed from dust, so are the people around us. They will fail. They will fall—and the higher the pedestal you’ve put them on, the greater the fall will be. They will disappoint. They will betray. And God remembers that they, too, are but dust.

Now, does this mean we should throw in the towel and dispense with all the good we know we should do? Does it mean we should do away with our efforts to promote justice and righteousness? And does it mean we should try to avoid the consequences of our actions, or protect others from suffering the consequences of theirs? No, no, and no. Paul makes that abundantly clear in Romans 6:1-2: “What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? By no means! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?”

We should do what we know to be right and good. As Micah 6:8 commands, we must seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And as Jesus stated (Luke 10:27), we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Still, as hard as we try to obey God’s instructions, we will fail at least some of the time. And no matter how hard our fellow believers try to keep those commands, they will fail. And no matter how much trust and loyalty we place in our leaders, they too will fail. And maybe, just maybe, if the God of the universe—holy, righteous, and just—can show compassion toward such dusty creatures as you and me, then perhaps we could too.

The Greater Blessing

Hebrews 12:1-2a

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run
 with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

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If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you may recall how I feel about blessings and what it means to be blessed. Awhile back, our pastor described blessings in terms of a nearness to God. So it isn’t the material things (money, houses, cars) or even the nonmaterial things (health, longevity, family) that we so often ask God for that offer the greatest blessings. Rather, it is those things that draw us closer to Him, that force us to place our trust more firmly in Him, and that help us to fall ever more in love with Him.

I recently posed an argument that opportunities to become more like Christ would also fall under this definition of blessing, and I still believe that’s true. However, over the last week or so, God has begun to change my heart about what that Christ-like transformation might look like—namely, it will look different for each one of us.

Of course, we are seeking a likeness to the same Jesus, who is as unchanging as God the Father Himself. But that Jesus is made up of many more characteristics than one. And we each excel at Christ-likeness in some areas, and struggle in others. And God wants us to grow closer to Him along all of those dimensions. And that growth may look different for you than it does for me—in fact, it almost assuredly will!

So, perhaps God will grow my patience, while He grows your joy. Or my gentleness and your love. Or my self-control and your peace. These exercises will require different actions from each of us. God has convicted me to recognize that my way is not the only way, or the right way, or the only right way. It isn’t even necessarily the better way. Instead, each of us will find the greater blessing when we openly accept God’s invitation to draw most near to Him. It will come when we allow God to stretch us beyond our current strengths, and to grow us in our areas of weakness.

I pray that we would each be open to God’s leading and instruction: that we would read the Word with intention and conviction, taking from it the hard as well as the easy truths; that we would seek and discern wise counsel from among the many voices swirling around us; and that we would trust and follow the Holy Spirit. Godspeed as you seek the greater blessing!

The Choicest of Wines

John 2: 7-10

“Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.
He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said,

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine
after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

Don’t you just love how you can read a Bible story over and over, and still get something new out of it every time? I think we’ve all read John’s account of Christ’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana. But recently, I read it again, and it meant something new to me. You see, the master of the banquet was right. The guests would have been perfectly content with a cheap wine. Jesus could have brought out the Franzia or the Boon’s Farm and it would have been fine.

But Jesus doesn’t do that, does he? He doesn’t give cheap gifts—ever. He doesn’t perform half-hearted miracles—ever. He gives only the best, because that’s what God does. Every. Single. Time. He outdoes himself, and never ceases to amaze his beloved children.

And even when things aren’t going the way we planned, even when we’ve run out of wine at the wedding, we can be confident that Jesus will step in and meet our needs in a way that only he can—in a way that will amaze us and everyone around us. Our job is to ask, and to ask believing that he will respond, and trusting that he will always respond with the very choicest of wines. Selah.

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Who I Am–Part I

Ephesians 4:30

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

The new year, for many, is a time of resolutions. But for me, it’s just as important to spend time reflecting on the person I already am as it is to contemplate the person I want to become. So that’s how I want to kick off the new year. And to get a feel for who I am, we need look no further than my body art. If you want to know what’s important to someone, consider what they’ve had imprinted on their bodies in indelible ink. In the same way, my tattoos offer a glimpse into the memories, passions, and dreams that comprise me. So this week, I want to tell you a bit about my very first tattoo.

When I was in high school, I met someone with a multi-colored ichthus tattoo on their ankle. Theirs had only four colors, but I remember thinking it was really neat. I decided then that I wanted to get a similar tattoo when I turned 18. Of course, to make it my own, I chose to include a cross as well, and to incorporate more colors. When people heard about my planned tattoo design, some expressed concern. Are you sure you want a Christian fish permanently etched on your skin? I mean, what if the end times come? What if the antichrist rises to power and starts executing Christians?

Well, so be it. I have no intention of denying my Lord—tattoo or not. Granted, Peter thought the same thing and ended up denying Christ three times in one night. But as much as I believe that I would remain strong, I’m happy to take the choice out of my hands. And do you know what’s funny? When I got my tattoo, my parents cautioned me to be sure this was what I wanted. At the time, my dad was pastoring a small church. And that first week, when I showed up at Sunday service, it was my DAD who was showing my tattoo off to the congregation members. Oddly, I think that he had a sense of pride that I would wear my faith like a badge of honor. And I imagine that God feels a similar sense of pride when He looks at that tattoo. I pray each day that I will reflect Him in my thoughts, words, and deeds—that I will honor Him in my behavior, so that people will see Him in me. Because being a believer in and follower or Christ is the single most important part of who I am. And I’ll leave you with this question: Who are YOU?

Compassion for Humanity

Psalm 103: 13-14

“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

I may have mentioned before how I feel like our testimonies should be living, changing, and growing. God should be moving in us each day—what He’s doing in and through us should never be stagnant, it should never be only in the past. I’m thankful that God challenges and convicts me each week, and that I have the privilege of sharing that journey with all 12 of you. Does my testimony include falls and failures? Absolutely. But just as surely, His continued work in my heart is evidence to me that I am not living surrendered to my sins. It gives me faith that God is not through with me yet. And I praise Him for it.

It is against this backdrop that I confess that this week, I lost hope in humanity. I felt disappointed, and to some extent betrayed, by the words and thoughts expressed by some within my circle of friends and family. I felt like we couldn’t find a common ground—and of course, I was in the right. My first instinct was to—well—judge. I quickly convinced myself that these people lacked compassion. To some degree, they were heartless. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45)? So there I was, peering into hearts that looked to me a lot like tar pits. But then I felt the disquiet that often accompanies the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and I heard a still, small, slow voice speaking to my heart, No.

No. Okay, you’re right, it wasn’t my place to judge. I can’t see people’s hearts. But I could see their actions, and I could tell that these people (and frankly most others) were not to be counted upon. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that GOD will supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19)? God, not people. So the best course of action was clearly just to rely solely on God for every need and to ask for nothing from others, expect nothing from others. But again, there was that still small voice, No.

How about bearing with one another (Colossians 3:13), and accepting those of weaker faith (Romans 14:1)? No. I don’t know about you, but in my flesh, I end up applying these verses from a place of pious self-righteousness, which was never the author’s intent. It wasn’t Paul’s intent, and it wasn’t God’s.

My heart finally started coming around to a right place once I started thinking about what Jesus would do, what Jesus in fact did. I know it sounds trite, but it’s so right. Jesus encountered an adulterous woman at a well, and another in the street, and He forgave both. He chose Peter, knowing full well that this guy’s fear of man and his temper would lead him to sin. Then later, He asked if Peter loved Him with a sacrificial love. Peter’s answer was essentially, “No. I mean, come on Jesus. You know I love you like a brother and you’re one of my closest friends. Isn’t that enough?” The answer was basically, “No. But that’s okay, you’ll get there.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.

But this seems to always be Christ’s sentiment. So even though I may occasionally struggle with my fellow humans, even though I may not be able to reconcile their perspectives with my own, I know what Jesus would do. Or rather, I know what He wouldn’t do: He wouldn’t give up on them. So if I want to be like Him, then I can’t give up either.

Honor

1 Peter 5:5
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”

It’s New Year’s Day. Florida State has just suffered a humiliating loss to Oregon. Then the announcer comes on the air stating that 70% of the FSU players headed straight for the locker room without congratulating their opponents. I was appalled. I was glad to see that Jameis Winston was one of those who remained and accepted defeat with dignity. That is what I would expect from a team leader and Heisman Award winner.

In the aftermath of this disappointing scene, I’ve read several excuses for the players’ swift departure from the field. I read somewhere, for instance, that the players on both teams were asked prior to the game to exit the field quickly after the game, in order to allow for the trophy presentation. But as a coach or a player, I personally would have refused the request. And since 30% of the team chose to stay, it seems that would have been an option for the other 70%.

I read an interesting perspective by Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel (January 2), wherein he wrote: “Good grief, this isn’t Little League Baseball where it’s traditional for teams to form a line and shake hands.” But I have to disagree. Is there typically a physical line-up? Maybe not. But in my experience watching college football, there’s usually kind of a mosh-pit style gathering at midfield, where players from both sides do shake hands and congratulate one another. And you know what? Even if Mike’s right and this practice isn’t as common as the rest of us think, maybe it SHOULD be.

Sportsmanship should be the hallmark of college athletics—along with any other athletics, for that matter. It demonstrates honor and humility, both of which are great character traits that should be instilled in athletes through their participation in sports. So how do we instill those traits when things like this happen? Here are a couple of ideas that come to mind for me, in relation to this particular instance:

  • If I’m in a leadership position with the Seminoles (a coach, a team captain), I’m standing at the tunnel directing players back on to the field to congratulate the victors on a game well played.
  • If I miss the players there, I’m going into the locker room and sending them back out.
  • If I’m a coach, and players refuse to demonstrate sportsmanship, I’m going to bench them. They won’t play again until they write a sincere letter of apology to the opposing team.
  • As a coach, I’m writing a public letter apologizing to the other team and to the fans on behalf of my players and promising to do whatever it takes to rectify the problem.

But I think we should be starting earlier, when kids are playing at a “little league” level. So I have some plans for how I will encourage sportsmanship for my own kids when they start to get involved in sports or other competitive pursuits:

  • I’ll be a positive role model to my kids by not making sports out to be more important than they are. I will foster a “winning isn’t everything” attitude. I won’t fight with the referees or the coaches or the other parents in the stands.
  • If my kids refuse to shake an opponent’s hand or congratulate them, if they act like “sore losers,” they’ll be grounded. And they won’t play again until they write a letter of apology to each and every member of the opposing team.

So who’s with me? Let’s make sure that our athletes are known for their sportsmanship, and the level of honor they display while playing the game.Lj Baseball Helmet 1