Archives For January 2013

October Baby

Jeff Olson —  January 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Over the weekend I watched the film October Baby. It tells the story of a college-aged girl named Hannah whose world is turned upside down after she discovers she is the adopted survivor of a failed abortion.

This story about a girl whose life almost wasn’t is a powerful film on forgiveness. Hannah had to wrestle through strong bitter feelings and forgive several people before she could move on with her life.

The film’s grace-filled, non-condemning treatment of Hannah’s biological mother, who had attempted to abort her, was also a surprising breath of fresh air. Women who suffer the heartache of having had an abortion may find watching this film to be a very healing experience.

Something Hannah’s adoptive dad shared with her near the end of the movie also stuck with me. Hannah’s discovery and search for her birth mother caused a lot of tension between the two of them, which he often didn’t handle well. As they stood next to each other at the graveside of the twin brother Hannah never knew she had, her dad confessed,

“It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s that I’m trying honestly to learn to trust God again.”

Leaving things we care about in God’s capable and loving hands is a most important lesson for us all to learn.

The major sports story this past week wasn’t what was accomplished on the field of play but what went on behind the scenes in the life of the man who was until recently renowned as the greatest competitive cyclist of all time—Lance Armstrong.

In his exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance finally admitted what many have suspected and some have know for the last 14 years—that the 7-time Tour de France champion used performance-enhancing drugs and blood doping throughout his cycling career to gain an edge over his opponents.

As he described it, his “ruthless desire to win at all costs” drove him to brazenly lie about his use of banned substances for over a decade. His deep fear of losing propelled him to do whatever he thought it would take to win.

Losing was never an option for Lance. And that gets dangerous, not only for him, but for all of us who have drank from the winning-is-the-only-thing well.

When I watched Lance’s interview, what flashed through my mind was the scene from Cool Runnings, the 1993 Disney film about the Jamaican bobsled team at the Olympics. Irv, played by John Candy, was a former U.S. Olympic champion in the four-man bobsled event. He’d been stripped of his two gold metals and banned from competing in the sport ever again for cheating in his last competition by placing weights in the front of the sled.

Derice Bannock, the driver of the Jamaician team that Irv was coaching, asked him why he cheated and this was Irv’s response: “It’s a fair question. It’s quite simple, really. I had to win. You see, Derice, I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what. Understand?”

Derice: “No, I don’t understand. You won two gold medals. You had it all.”

Irv: “Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it”

When winning is everything, you’ll stop at nothing.

If we lose ourselves in winning at any price, we truly lose ourselves. We become less than who we were made to be. We fail to recognize that we are more than our accomplishments, more than our net worth, more than where we live or what we drive or what we wear.

Henri Nouwen writes in his book Bread for the Journey, “There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. . . . Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. . . . Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness” (Jan. 4).

I think Henri had it right. Hopefully, Lance is on his way to learning that too.

But what about you and me? How aware are you that you’re sacrificing your integrity at the alter of your drive for success? Whether it’s in your profession performance or keeping up a well-manicured image in relationships, it’s time to admit that all of us struggle.

I know I do.

Drivenness to succeed in ministry is still drivenness. It’s all about me. The apostle Paul reminds us to “make it our goal to please Him [Jesus]” (2 Cor. 5:9). When we focus on Him, it’s not about winning but about fruitfulness through faithfulness.

Lance reminded me in his interview that winning at all costs simply costs too much. Jesus’ invitation to follow Him and lose our life for His sake (Mark 8:35) is the way to discover a richness and fulfillment in life that surpasses any other finish line we may attempt to cross. And that’s the real victory.

Piling Up Stones

Dennis Moles —  January 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

This past weekend was a special time for me as a dad, a friend, and the follower of Jesus. It was a time of remembering the past, connecting with the present, and casting a vision for the future.

Every January the current and former members of a college organization called Theta Rho Epsilon meet for a weekend retreat. This year the meeting was in Chicago and my sons and I attended. Theta Rho Epsilon, which we affectionately call OPE (pronounced Opie—like Ron Howard’s character on the Andy Griffith show) is a men’s organization that began at Cedarville University back in the early nineties. The purpose and creed of OPE is summed up by Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” And for the last 20 years I have lived in community, often from a considerable geographical distance, with these guys—each of us trying to help the others look, act, and love like Jesus Christ.

When OPE began, I don’t think any of us had a clear idea how important the relationships we were making would be to us and our families. From the very best of times to the very worst of times, these guys have been there for me and I have been there for them.

As we gathered this weekend with friends old and new, I was reminded of the profound truth that none of us were meant to take this journey of discipleship alone. I was reminded that I need my brothers and they need me. I was reminded of the story we share and was encouraged by the story we are writing. But this year something else profound took place. This year all the alumni set aside some time to have a special ceremony for our sons.

It wasn’t elaborate. We simply told them stories, presented them with gifts, and shared our hearts. Essentially, we reminded them of the story of Joshua leading the children of Israel across the Jordan: 

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” . . . “These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” . . . “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground’ ” (Joshua 4:1-7, 21-22).

This past Saturday we piled up stones of our own. We reminded our sons, who range in age from 6 to 14, of the story of OPE. How before any of them was born we set out to help each other follow Jesus. How we have continued through the years to sharpen one another for the purpose of looking, acting, and loving like Christ. After we shared our story, we confessed to them that our greatest desire is for them to follow Jesus too and to know that they have a community of men who love them and are there for them no matter what.

Each boy left Chicago this weekend having received a necklace, hearing a declaration, and receiving a promise. The necklace simply reads “Proverbs 27:17.” It was presented to them by a man other than their dad with the simple declaration, “We choose you; we love you.” And it was solidified as 12 men stood to their feet and made these promises to 8 boys:

“We promise, as time and opportunity allows, to be a sharpening influence in your lives.”

“We commit, as the Holy Spirit brings you to our minds, to pray for you.”

“We are willing, should you ever need us, to be a safe place for you to share your questions and struggles as you grow and progress through life.”

“Regardless of the choices and decisions you make, we choose you.”

This weekend reminded me that I need to take more time to pile up stones. I need to remember the faithfulness of God in the past and declare that faithfulness in the present. It reminded me that I need my brothers, and it reminded me to pray for my own kids that they would find the same kind of relationships that God has blessed me with.

How long has it been since you piled up some stones?

Life Is . . .

Tim Jackson —  January 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

I love being a willing accomplice to surprises! I had just such an opportunity while back in Pennsylvania over the holidays. My daughter-in-law asked me to pick up a surprise Christmas gift for my son at a little Amish wood shop on my way home. While I waited for the shopkeeper to get my son’s rocking chair, I found a variety of sayings scattered throughout the store that peaked my interest. Many were the folksy kind of Pennsylvania Dutch wisdom that often makes me laugh. Others were more thought provoking.

But one saying especially captured my attention. Maybe it was the timing–looking back and reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities in the new year–but I found myself particularly drawn to this one:

“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is beauty, admire it.

Life is a dream, realize it. Life is a challenge, meet it.

Life is a duty, complete it. Life is a game, play it.

Life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is sorrow, overcome it.

Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it.

Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it.

Life is luck, make it. Life is too precious, do not destroy it.

Life is life, fight for it.” . . . Mother Teresa

Profound in its simplicity, this little sign is a good reminder that life is important. It matters in all of its aspects, and it’s meant to be lived to the fullest each and every moment of every day. Why? Because life is a precious and glorious gift from our amazingly good God.

The words of Jesus in John 10:10 come to mind when He reminded us: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” And that’s the kind of life that really matters.

Let’s commit to living life well and more fully this year than the last because of Jesus.

I’m in. How about you?

Reflect and Imagine

Tim Jackson —  January 9, 2013 — 5 Comments

Well, we’ve made it through the holidays and have launched into 2013. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Are you where you thought you’d be when you began 2012? From where have you come? Where are you headed?

Holidays are often so chock-full of busyness that we don’t take any time to really look back or forward. Often, we’re guilty of moving quickly from one item to the next on our list—the next appointment, the next project, the next blog article, the next vacation, the next whatever. It’s our relentless diet of “the next thing” that often consumes us . . . and our vision.

We just need to stop. Okay, I’ll speak for myself: “I need to stop.”

I’m not suggesting we neglect those important things that need our attention, but I am advocating that we plan to take some time to reflect and imagine. Here’s what I’m thinking.

Reflecting means to stop long enough to take a thoughtful look back over the past year. To take inventory of how you’ve lived over the last 12 months. For those who’ve never done this before, it can be intimidating. You may also be tempted to look back over the last 10 or 20 years. Don’t do that. That’s overwhelming, and you’ll probably avoid it like the plague.

Stick with the last 12 months. Look back. Remember. Take stock. Where did you invest your time, energy, and talents? Write it out. When we write things down they seem more tangible and real. It’s also a way to remember. The more we write, the more our brain is stimulated to remember other things as well.

So, now that you have your list of “what” you did this past year, take the time to ask yourself the “why” questions that point to your motives—the reasons you did what you did.

  • Why did I invest in those things?
  • Why didn’t I invest in other things?

After taking the time to reflect, it’s time to imagine.

Imagining is stopping long enough to take a thoughtful look forward to the new year. Again, writing out the “whats” and the “whys” for this new year is important as you look at what changes you’d like to make and where you want to invest of yourself in the coming months.

Don’t just imagine what you want to do. That often quickly degenerates into a self-centered wish list. Instead, pray and ask God what He desires for you to invest in over the next 12 months. Ask and then listen to what He’s saying. The still small voice of the indwelling Holy Spirit will direct you to those areas where you can be most productive for His Kingdom this year.

And just imagine what you’ll be reflecting on this time next year. Now that can get real exciting!