Surface Issues


Have you ever been around someone you knew was focused completely on themselves but were acting as though they weren’t?  It may be the person who nodes when you tell them about a bad day, but forgets what you said just a few seconds prior and quickly changes the subject to themselves.  Or, maybe the person who wants to be near you because of something you could do to make them look good.

I would suggest that we’ve all experienced someone who was self-absorbed, self-centered, or vain.  Typically, those attributes show themselves more in younger people than those who are over 50.  By the time you hit that age, you’ve had most of that knocked out of you; just by living life.

While working at a church in Southern California, my boss (the Sr. Pastor), mentioned to me in his office that he thought one of the singers was ‘Plastic’.  Being young and naïve, I was confused.  In fact, I thought to myself, ‘Is he saying they are cheap?’  I couldn’t figure it out until another associate pastor explained to me that it means, ‘Pretty on the surface but not much going on inside’. 

I will admit that I was taken back by the pastor’s comment once I learned what it meant (just a little judgmental if I don’t say so myself).  Even though it wasn’t becoming of a pastor and a poor role model, later in my life I understood more of what he was saying.

There are those in this life, and even in the church, who aspire more than anything else to be famous, beautiful, or rich, that they neglect their own personal mental, emotional, and spiritual development.  The sad truth is that, in America, it’s becoming an epidemic. 

I recently took a break from Instagram for that very reason; most of those who are posting photos (not my family & friends) are trying to be the next ‘Instagram Star’.  Some fly all over the world accumulating loads of debt just to get that selfie photo in front of a famous beach, rock, or over a cliff.   Nearly every day we hear of one of these people being killed because of the risk they’re taking just to get ‘The shot’ that will go viral. 

Our culture is driving us to focus so much on fame and appearances that it’s leading to an explosion of people with eating disorders, augmenting their body parts, and suffering from depression caused by a sense that they will never live up to this false image.  My question is where will it all end?  We must battle this ‘Plastic’ surface-focused culture with truth, humility, and by seeking out opportunities to serve others. 

During my time in the Bay Area, one of the things I would do was serve in a local homeless shelter downtown in San Francisco.  A local high school had a community service program that required each student to have at least 100 hours of service before they could graduate.  Often, to help them get their hours in, the school would bus kids to the shelter where they would spend their Saturday serving meals to people who just came off the street.  I saw many of them transformed in a short amount of time by the experience, believe me.

The first step to change is realizing we need to change.  It may take a dramatic event for some to realize they are self-absorbed.  Some may never realize it and live their entire life expecting others to serve them or to raise them up because they are somehow more ‘Gifted’ or beautiful.  

For me, God has a way of keeping me humble.  He knows, and reminds me often, when I may give myself one too many looks in the mirror, feel a little too good about myself when complimented, or just obsess about my life’s dreams.   Over the years life has also humbled me (many times). 

Yet, at my lowest, most humbling moments, I felt that was where I found God the most.  It wasn’t my gift He wanted; it was my heart.  It wasn’t money or even my ‘Not so great’ looks either (joking). God simply wanted me and, even more importantly, He wanted me to serve others. 

When we’re at that place where we give everything to Him is when He will take it and give it back to us in a way we could never have expected, because that’s just what He does.  When we lose our lives, for Him, we will gain life; life eternal…

Kick the Can


One of the games we used to play while walking to school or while walking downtown to grab a candy bar at The News Stand, was ‘Kick the Can’.   It was a simple game really.  We played keep away while kicking the can down the road.  It was more soccer than anything else, but with a can.

 In an odd way, I used to feel a bit sorry for that can.  By the time we reached our destination, it was dented up, beaten down, and sometimes smashed completely flat by one of us.  For the cost of just a throwaway can, much joy was gained, and a few kids were kept out of trouble.   

 A lot can be said about that old can I would feel sorry for.  I guess I sort of saw it as myself at the time; the one who was picked on and bullied.  I played the game more defensively trying to protect the can from other players who liked to smash it just out of meanness. 

I knew I wasn’t the can, but even today, I feel that way about the helpless and vulnerable; those who feel like life has constantly played with their lives kicking them down the street or just discarding them in the trash.  In some ways, I’ve felt that way myself on several occasions and, believe me, I know how that feels.

You may be feeling like that tonight; as though life has looked you over and tossed you out.  Maybe you feel like you’ve been used by others to help their career advance only to leave you behind.  You may even feel like your life is spiraling down a steep hill having been kicked aside just waiting for the final foot to fall smashing you to the ground.  That once shiny can, new and bright with colors, you once felt like, is now sitting in the mud rusting away.  It seems like only a matter of time before you’re gone, and you no longer have any purpose.  Hope has turned to despair and the fullness inside is now empty.

If that is you tonight, I want to encourage you that there is still hope.  You may feel left behind, stepped on, and like you’re wasting away, but underneath that rusty finish is the strong metal you were made of.  Sure, it may have some bruises and dents, but it’s still there.  With enough fire from heaven and handy work of the Master, it can be reshaped into something beautiful, useful, and strong again.  The rust and dirt will be washed away leaving only a shining finish reflecting His creative touch. 

All you need to do is offer Him your life as a vessel for Him to shape.  He’s looking for broken vessels to put back together again; reshaping them into something new and beautiful.  You may be just what He’s looking for.  I know I am…

Why Aspire to be at ‘The Top’?


For most of us, the allure of being at the top of the ladder has been something we could only dream of.  A few of us, though we think about how great it may be, resist the idea of being at the top of the heap or in the front of the crowd. 

The dream of ‘Having it all’ is something our culture promotes continually.  Everywhere we turn we see billboards, magazines, television shows, and the commercials showing the perfect figured young people sipping a glass of fruit drink while dangling their feet from a pool’s edge overlooking the ocean.  To that I say, ‘Yeah, whatever…’

Reality can be quite a slap in the face with our daily rituals of being to work on time, fighting traffic, stressing over nearly every part of our day, and then finding time to just relax when we get home. It’s about enough to make us all wish for that top place.  Yet, for the few who do attain it, though they may say it’s wonderful, often regret their now vaulted position having missed out on many of life’s simpler pleasures.

It’s no surprise that many today who can’t take that vacation to the luxury hotel by the beach look for a place where they can just get away from it all for a while.  If being at the top isn’t available, the next best thing is to sit outside and leave everything behind.

How we approach the aspiration to be ‘Top Dog’ is often a part of our personality makeup. Being a mixture of Types A, B, and D, the three sides of me often compete with each other between drive, social aspirations, and the security of a set routine.   Personality wise, to put it bluntly, I’m a mutt, for which, I’m glad.  I wouldn’t want to be too much of any trait. 

Learning who we are and how we’re built will help us to set realistic expectations of ourselves in life.  Part of us may want to be at the top (Type A) but the part of us that likes order (Type D) may be too strong to allow us to take chances.   Or, the part of us that is fearful of social settings (Type C) may keep us from the hidden desire to be the social king (or queen) that our other side (Type B) would love to be.

Mostly, knowing how God created us is essential to finding the right path in our life; knowing why we have the desires we have for success and what our natural gifts are, will allow us to have attainable goals.  The person He made us to be probably won’t be the person at the top of the heap. In fact, it may be the person who helps others to get there before we do ourselves.  Which, in His eyes, would be considered greatness. 

So, the next time you feel the need to be at ‘The Top’ or to just get away from it all instead, remember that you’re created for a purpose.  That purpose may be the opposite of what the world says you should be; and that’s ok.  If you don’t do anything else with your life other than learning what, and who, God made you to be, what His plan is for your life, and then acting on it, you can consider yourself a huge success.  And that, you can bank on because, like my old university president used to tell us, ‘God makes no small plans’. When we tap into His plans and purposes with a humble, realistic view of ourselves then ‘The Top’ doesn’t seem as great as the life He already has planned out for us…

Bridge Over Troubled Water


Anyone from my generation, and even today’s generation, if asked whether they’ve heard of the song, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, would say ‘YES…’  It is an iconic song released in 1970 by Simon & Garfunkel.  It came out at a time when our country was going through tremendous turmoil over the Vietnam War, race relations, the cold war, and a dramatic rebellious cultural shift away from ‘The Great Generation’s’ traditional values.  I remember those days well.

Many times, over my life, this song has spoken to me when going through challenges, heartaches, and loss.  It has also motivated me to befriend others who were going through the same.  One thing that occasionally happens to me at times when hearing classic songs such as this one, is for God to speak in His still, small voice to my heart and say, ‘I’m your friend and will help you get through your troubled water too’. 

He’s good about speaking to our hearts at just the right time.  It’s just like Him to take a song written to address the culture around us at the time, even if it’s 49 years old, and apply it directly to our own situations in a personal, loving way. 

Tonight, if you’re going through a challenge and feel all alone, I wanted to remind you too that there is a friend ‘Who sticks closer than a brother’ and who wants to help you through the challenges you may be facing.  I want to encourage you to listen to this song below, read the lyrics, and imagine it’s God speaking to you; because He says this to us every day (classic song or not).   And remember, you are loved, and you will get over the troubled water to find peace again.  Whatever It may be…


Having a Positive Outlook


As I get older it seems one of the main topics of conversation has become none other than the weather.  It may also be due to the fact that I live in Texas where the weather can make dramatic changes from one day to the next.  When I lived in Northern California, the weather was the least talked about topic.  Every day it was sunny and 65 degrees.  Not bad, I know. 

When I was young, we were lucky to know what the weather may be like in the morning let alone the hourly forecast for the next two weeks.  It seems technology has brought all of the science right into our hands these days which can help us plan our entire week around the forecast.  Or, cause one to be OCD about every cloud in the sky (me).

Having a positive weather outlook seems to change our view of our entire day.  Having the thought of possibly facing thunderstorms on the way to or from work can also dampen our day.  Why does our outlook on life tend to follow the weather outlook anyway?  Does the weather have anything to do with how well I do my job?  Maybe, but probably not so much.  Does it affect my relationships?  Not really.  Does it affect my ability to live life comfortably?  YES. 

Life seems to have enough stresses these days and the thought of having to deal with baseball sized hail falling from the sky is just about the last straw. It’s enough for most of us to keep our lives in order let alone have to deal with flooding waters coming into our home, tornados, and in these southern states, even hurricanes.  Can’t it just be sunny all the time?

The truth is that life is like the weather.  We don’t always know what we’ll be facing every day.  Our life may be stormy one day and sunny the next.  Having a positive outlook will help us to deal with those changes as they come.  Life will throw those baseball sized hail balls at us and they may even do damage we weren’t prepared for.  How we prepare and how we react to them will make all the difference. 

If there’s one thing I know more than anything else, it’s that we have a loving God who cares about every aspect of our day.  He even cares about the weather.  He cares if we’re flooded, have hail destroy our car, or have winds blow over that tree in the front yard. 

Most of all, He cares even more about the storms we will face in life.  During the worst of storms, He will be there to shelter us and guide us through to safety.  He knows the future and will prepare us for that day when we face the unexpected changes that try to wreak havoc in our life.  In the end, He will be the light that shines on our path. He will bring warmth in the cold, clarity when it seems foggy, and new life by washing away all the dirt.  We can have a positive outlook no matter what the weather is like outside.  Because of Him…

Unexpected Lump on the Head


We’ve all heard it before, ‘Expect the Unexpected’ in relation to our work, our kids, or life in general.  It’s true.  There is something to the practise of being prepared for nearly anything that could come our way.  Eliminating the surprise is half the battle.  It’s when we aren’t expecting those changes that come our way that we are affected the most.

Last Saturday I was helping to mow a friend’s yard who is elderly.  She has several trees in the front that haven’t been pruned very well, and over time, have grown several large limbs at a height someone like me, who is six-feet-tall, needs to avoid. 

Sure enough, as I was rambling on with the mower listening to my Spotify mix, I suddenly felt, and heard, a crack on the top of my head.  Stepping back, I realized what had happened.  I walked full speed into one of the largest tree limbs smacking the top of my head.  It felt like someone had hit me in the head with a baseball bat.  It was very painful. 

For the rest of that day, and the day after, I struggled with dizziness and the feeling like I was going to faint.  Had I not have given blood that morning and been working in the hot sun for several hours prior, I probably would have had the Mrs. take me to the hospital for an MRI.  But, I knew most of what I was feeling was just fatigue and dehydration.  Still, the whack on the head was very unexpected. I went back today to mow her grass again and, rest assured, I was very aware of that limb this time. 

Running into that tree was a good lesson for me.  It reminded me that we can be moving along on our path of life focused on the task at hand and not even be looking out for the giant limb that’s about ready to knock us in the head if we don’t duck.  I’m sure there are many of you who can relate. There may have been a time when you were living life just chugging ahead with your job and family, when there was a sudden log in the road, tree limb in your path, or just an unexpected obstacle that caused you pain.

The shock of running into those obstacles can shake us and cause us to doubt ourselves. Like most people when they run into barriers, I initially turned on myself to place the blame.  If you’re like me, all I could think of was, ‘How did I not see that coming?’ and ‘You could have killed yourself right here in this woman’s yard.  What would the Mrs. do?’ I asked myself.  ‘You’ve been mowing lawns for over forty years and you would think by now you would know better?’… I think my ego was bruised more than head, frankly. 

We may not be able to prevent events from happening that bring those unexpected logs to block our path or limbs to knock us in the head, but we can learn from them.  If we allow ourselves the freedom to make mistakes and take them as a lesson on what not to do, we’ll be way ahead of what may lay await for us in the future.

If you’ve run into one of those limbs and acquired a nice lump on your head, you’re not alone.  Whether it was physical, emotional, or something in a relationship, you can learn from it.   You may find yourself doing what I did initially by beating yourself up for it.  If you are, I would encourage you to give yourself a break this time and instead ask yourself if there was anything you could have done differently that would have prevented it from happening.

Sometimes, however, there isn’t anything we could have done, but for those times when there is something we could have done, take a close look at how, what, and when it happened so that you can be prepared in the future to help prevent it from happening again.  And most of all, always remember that you’re human and God loves you just the way you are; bumps on the head included…

Just Stopping By


The Mrs will tell you that I’ve never been one of those people who spontaneously stop by someone’s home just to say ‘Hi’.  She, on the other hand, is the opposite.  If she thinks a neighbor or friend needs something, she won’t hesitate to stop by and bring them a meal or just talk. 

Just this evening, on the way back from dinner, we passed by a friend’s home.  I jokingly blurted out, ‘Hey, let’s go knock on their door and say we were just stopping by!’ thinking we really wouldn’t stay, but that we could all get a good laugh just by the surprise visit.  After all, no one would expect uninvited company on a Friday evening! 

The Mrs, thinking I was serious, and would love to hang out at their house, said, ‘Yeah.  That would be fun’.  Like a dummy, I had to tell her I was just joking because my mind was so fried from a long week of work, I could barely keep my eyes open, and we had dogs that needed to be let outside.  

Fortunately, we balance each other out when it comes to our social life.  If I were more like her, we wouldn’t spend much time alone.   If she were more like me, we would stay home most of the time.  So, in the end, we both make compromises to keep the other happy. 

When I was younger, it was much more common to stop by uninvited just to drop off some homemade cookies or to say ‘Hi’ to family and friends.  It also made a good excuse for my mother to use in order to get us to do our chores; because of the ‘Just in case someone stops by’ factor.  

Today, we need to plan at least a week in advance and put it on our phone, or Facebook invite, to remind us.  Socially, it’s even considered rude by some people today to stop by uninvited.  For us, if someone came by our house just to say ‘Hi’, we would be more than happy to let them in and share a cup of coffee.  We may be embarrassed because the house wasn’t picked up as well as we would prefer it to be if having company over, but most people won’t care about that.  

So, tonight, as we’re huddled up at home by ourselves getting ready to watch a sci-fi show together, here’s to breaking all the rules this weekend and finding a random friend’s house we can stop by just to say ‘Hi’!  Don’t worry, we probably won’t do it, but just in case…

I’ll leave you with a very funny video below that relates to the random visit.  I promise it will give you a laugh if you’re near my age and can relate…