The Enemy Within

In the book of Numbers chapters 24 and 25 there’s a poignant story of a pagan king named Balak who saw the Israelites approaching his land and he was concerned. Balak hired Balaam, a diviner to have a chat with God in an effort to convince God to curse the Israelites. He recognized that it was a spiritual battle so he went straight to the top. 

God said no 3 times. To his credit, Balak was wise enough not to fight Israel militarily. The Israelites came on into his land and got comfortable. Too comfortable. 

With Balaam’s help, King Balak realized that if he couldn’t use military strength to defeat the Israelites he could exploit their moral weaknesses and hurt them from the inside out. His plan worked and the Israelites fell into sin that greatly displeased God. Israel paid a high price for its disobedience. 

In many ways I see parallels between the USA and Israel. I think that God has protected us and blessed us. We became the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world. We’ve never suffered a major attack on our soil by an enemy nation. Then 911. 

I think that’s when things began to change. Maybe God didn’t completely remove His hand of protection, but it was a warning that we were going wayward into the wilderness. We took Creationism out of the schools and let in evolution. Prayer in schools got kicked out and replaced with sex ed. The Ten Commandments were removed from courtrooms and other public buildings while we started killing babies and glorifying debauchery in movies and music. 

Now so many things are turned upside down. Tolerance is defined as anything said by anyone but a Christian and when a Christian does utter a word, it’s hate speech. Police officers are the bad guys and guys who feel like girls can use any public restroom they choose. Businesses who refuse to make wedding cakes for gay weddings can be forced by their States to pay damages. Elected officials can lie, cheat and illegally destroy thousands of government emails and still win the popular vote. I guess no one cares about character anymore. It’s ok to defecate on and burn an American flag or take a knee during the National Anthem, but we’re vilified when we talk about protecting our borders. 

We were founded as a Christian nation, but we have lost our way. Just like the Israelites, it’s not the enemy across the border that will defeat us. It’s the enemy within. 

Time Flies

A friend today congratulated me on my 25th wedding anniversary. He has known me all of those years and more and commented, “Time Flies”.

That made me pause. Yes, 25 years has flown by, but not without some turbulence.

We soared at times, we swooned at others. And there have been times that it felt like we crash landed.

But we remained faithful to each other, put all of the pieces back together and took off again. Marriage isn’t easy.

I give all credit to the grace and mercies of God and I’m very thankful to have a wife who lives a life surrendered to Him. It’s the only hope and chance I have.

Albums That Have Marked Me 

As I approach 50 there are less than a handful of albums that have left an enduring mark on me.

The first one (and I admit this without shame) was Back In Black by AC/DC. I still remember where I was when I heard it the first time. I was playing basketball in the neighborhood when a guy had it blaring from his house. Evidently, his parents weren’t home. I was 13 years old. Now, 37 years later, I have the album on my iPhone. Lord, forgive me.

Then came John Cougar Mellancamp’s American Fool a couple of years later. Somewhere in my house is a cassette tape of Sandra and I singing Jack and Diane recorded at Carowinds when we were 16 and 15 years old.

Fast forward to 2002. I enjoyed plenty of great music in between. Telegraph Road by Dire Straits lulled me to sleep many nights as a struggling teenager. The Eagles, Clapton, Buffet, Raitt, Seger, Skynard, all good stuff. But 2002 was the next time an entire album captivated me. Come Away With Me, Norah Jones’ first album won over a lot of people (I’m listening to it now). Her next release, Feels Like Home was pretty good, too.

Then in 2005, Jack Johnson released In Between Dreams and it has become my standard beach and poolside music replacing Jimmy Buffet’s Songs You Know By Heart (or anytime I needed to mentally take a vacation).  Although I’ll never forget listening to Buffet on my waterproof Sony cassette player while riding a jet ski off the coast of Marco Island in 1996.

It took almost 12 years and I suppose the jury is out if this next album will stand the test of time, but considering I’ve logged probably 100 listening hours in 30 days, I’d say it will pass the test. That album is This Side of Jordan by Mandolin Orange. It puts me to sleep almost every night. The group is from Chapel Hill. Bonus points.

So kids when you put me in a nursing home one day, please make sure I have my music with me.

4 Types of Interstate Drivers and Life Lessons 

Drive I-85 for a lengthy period of time and you will see different types of drivers. One is the Bat Out of Hell. He drives like the interstate is Daytona speedway. In and out of lanes, cutting other drivers off and going 20mph faster than the fastest of other drivers. 

Then there’s the PITAs who sit in the left lane going barely the speed limit or under  and they feel it’s their God-given right to do so. And the Bat is riding their bumpers while the PITAs tap their brakes. 

The Contented driver stays in the middle lane with the steering wheel locked and eyes focused ahead with no plans to change lanes ever. 

Then there’s me. Shelby asked why I was changing lanes so often. I’m not a Bat, but I drive offensively. I look for open lanes. I see a slow car ahead and try to find a way around it. If a Bat approaches me I respectfully move over. I have a speed that I like, slightly above the limit, and I want to drive it. I have somewhere to be. 

We all have somewhere to be. We’re on the road for a reason. Yet our driving styles are different and because of that we will rub each other the wrong way occasionally. But we share the same road and we all want to reach our destinations safely. When we don’t respect other’s right to the road accidents happen. Road rage happens. And everyone gets shut down for a while. 

Seriously though, PITAs, get out of the left lane. 

Talking To God 

Do you pray? 

The Bible says we’re to pray without ceasing. This implies that we should be talking to God all of the time, all day and not just with eyes closed early in the morning. After all, God is always with us. He’s always there and ready to listen. 

So do you talk to God? 

If so, are you nervous and anxious when you talk to Him? Or when you think about talking to Him? 

Probably not. And He’s God. 

So why do we get anxious and nervous when we think about talking to any human on the planet? 

My Dad

The following are the words I spoke at my Dad’s funeral last Saturday.  I struggled whether or not to post this, but ultimately I think he’d want me to as it tells his story and gives glory to God. 

Thank you for being here. Some of you may not know my dad but you’re here because you are a friend of the family. We appreciate your support. 

If you know me you know my relationship with my dad was a tricky one. We both could talk to anyone on the planet but struggled to talk to each other.

 Then Wednesday morning I believe I got a word from the Lord. And that is that my dad wanted a deeper relationship with me. If he’d known how. But my dad was an only child and his father deserted him at a young age. Then my dad quit high school as a sophomore and joined the Navy. What did he know about being a father? Yet he and my mother had 4 kids, 7 grandkids and 4 great grandkids. And He and my mom were married 59 years and exactly one month.

 So Wednesday after Hospice had told us that dad had hours or days remaining, I wanted to stay with him that night. I felt compelled. So after my sister left I was the only one with him. His breathing was very shallow. For 30 minutes I sat beside him and had the best talk of my life with him. Even though he wasn’t cognizant the nurses said he could hear so I’ll assume he was listening. It was the kind of conversation I enjoyed. One where I was talking without interruption.

 I told him that he was a good father and I know he did all he knew to do with me. That he loved me and I love him. And that I realize that he wasn’t totally responsible for the nature of our relationship. I could have tried harder and not been so closed off to him. I shared with him moments in which he shaped me like when I was a young teenager and his mother couldn’t care for herself any longer and he and my mom brought her into our home to live with dignity the last year of her life. Or when my oldest sister and her 2 young sons needed a place to live and he made room for them in our house for several years and I saw how he helped raise my nephews. I remembered the times he took me fishing either at Lake Lee or the beach and I had to be frustrating. I wasn’t a good fisherman then or now and he probably spent most of his time untangling my line.

 And he could never say no to me. When I was in high school he owned a little country store and he had a poker machine in it. He’d pay out to the winners. I would use his quarters from the cash register and play the game while I was minding the store. Once I ran the score up to $250 on his quarters and insisted that he pay me and he did. I told him in our talk that I may have been a spoiled brat but part of that was on him.

 Then there was the time I almost dropped out of college and needed his signature on the withdrawal form. I could hear the disappointment in his voice. He didn’t lecture me. He just said he wished I wouldn’t and I didn’t. That moment was a watershed event for me and I have him to thank. And there were times I needed help and he was always there for me. And as he got older he always encouraged me to help our family as they needed it. I think if there was one thing that my father never fully understood was the influence he had on people. But over the past few days as his family has drawn close together, I could definitely see it and feel it and I think he sees it now and is smiling.

 Then I said my last words and quite literally at the same moment he took a big breath. It alarmed me and I got the nurse. She came in and he took 2 more big breaths. The nurse said he was passing. He didn’t take another breath. The nurse pronounced him at 8:18pm. I grabbed my phone which said 8:18 and took a screenshot. Coincidentally if you want to call it that I had set my phones lock screen early that morning with the scripture Jeremiah 33:3 in which God said, “call out to me and I will answer you and show you great and unsearchable things.” So 8:18 was on top of this scripture on my phone.

 Later that night I couldn’t get 8:18 off my mind. It occurred to me that 8-18 is my oldest daughter’s birthday. August 18. When my wife Sandra was pregnant with her she went for an ultrasound at 18 weeks. My daughter, in the womb, had cysts in her chest cavity. The doctors said she would die in a matter of days and they couldn’t do anything. So we prayed for a miracle and God gave me Romans 8:28 to hold onto. It says that all things will work out for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. This scripture gave me peace that if my daughter died I would be ok.

 God gave us a miracle who will be 20 years old in August, but what did her birthday 8-18 have to do with the time of my dad’s death 8:18? I felt the Holy Spirit say return to the book of Romans that helped you before but this time turn to chapter 8 verse 18. I had no idea what it said but I did it. It says,”I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. ”

 That was the great and unsearchable thing God wanted to show me and to share with you. We suffer here, but one day if we have accepted Jesus Christ as our savior He will reveal the glory of Heaven to us. And I believe that my father would want you all to know that. We would all gather for birthday dinners at his and my mom’s house-kids, grandkids and great grandkids and in-laws. We almost had every month of the year covered. I know that he loved those times.

 He made his decision for Christ in his later years and I believe he is up in Heaven right now pleading and cheering for his loved ones to make the same decision so that one day we can all gather together again for an eternity of celebrations.


 

iPhone Baptism

I dropped my iPhone in a body of water yesterday. And it wasn’t the Atlantic. 

Impulsively, I reached down and snatched it up without considering if said body of water was clean. It was. 

I pulled off the case and all was well. Or so I thought. The speakers didn’t work. I was sad. I just downloaded “This Side of Jordan” by Mandolin Orange. 

I went to the Google machine and found oodles of articles on the subject matter. Put the phone in an airtight bag of rice for up to 48 hours. Doubtful. 

I did give it 3. Still no sound. I tested the charging port and the lightning cable wouldn’t fit. Did the components swell? No. Rice was stuck in the hole. 

Since the speakers didn’t work I tested the headphone jack. The plug wouldn’t go in. I extracted more rice. Great. 

Then my genius daughter said to put the phone in a pair of pantyhose and then in the bag of rice. Ok. For extra measure I put the bag in a glass bowl with an airtight lid and then let it marinate for 15 hours. 

It worked and I’m enjoying Mandolin Orange again. So my point in this post is twofold. One, don’t do the rice trick without pantyhose and two, to acknowledge that Shelby is pretty smart. 

Broken, But Valuable 

I had one of those proud moments yesterday that fathers often enjoy. 

Will and I were repairing a couple of outdoor lounge chairs. The straps that held together the material to the frame had deteriorated and broken. We were tying on new binding. 

I asked him, “Will, why are we repairing these chairs?”

“Huh?”

He is 10. 

“Why not just throw them away? They’re broke.” Or is it ‘broken’?

Anyway, he says,”Because they still have value.”

Boom!

And he’s only 10. 

I went on to tell him that God is the same way with us. There are times that we’re broken, but He fixes us because we are valuable to Him. He could ignore us and cast us aside, but He doesn’t. He sees value in us no matter how messed up we are. 

And He can fix us. 

God’s Welfare Plan

God’s ways are always the best ways. 

Leviticus 19:9-10 says,

9 “When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. 10 It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.”
So smart. Not harvesting up to your property line eliminates squabbles with your neighbor. “You’re picking my corn!” “No I’m not!”  “Yes you are!”  It teaches us also to have margin in our lives and to practice generosity. 

And the main purpose it serves is to provide for the poor. But the beauty is that the poor can’t sit at home streaming Netflix waiting on a government check in the mail. They have to get up and go to work to gather for their own needs. 

How can anyone not think this is a great idea?

Intangibles 

There are life tangibles. Set in stone. Your height, your intelligence, your mama and dad, these are things you can’t change. 

But then there are the intangibles. 

You may be taller than me, but that doesn’t mean your heart is bigger or your faith is stronger. 

You may outsmart me, but I determine if you outdiscipline and outwork me. Charles Stanley said that discipline determines your destiny, not intellect. 

You may have been born into a life of privilege, but I’m a child of THE KING. 

Now that one is set in stone. 

Not Off the Hook

As I read through the Old Testament I become grateful that Jesus came so that we live by grace now and not under the Old Testament laws. There were lots of rules, statutes and laws. And I for one love baby back ribs. But I think many people, me included, feel that Jesus let us off the hook. After all, He said that all of the laws could be summed up in just two: love God with all of your heart, soul and mind and love other people like you love yourself. Ponder that deeply, be honest with yourself and you’ll realize that Jesus let us off the Cross, but not off the hook. These 2 things are not easy. 

Then He went to say a few more things. One is that the sin of adultery is a pretty easy threshold to cross. Just have a lustful thought. Next, the horrific sin of murder is committed if you’re angry with someone without cause. Finally, He takes away almost all valid excuses for divorce. 

Jesus wasn’t a lighthearted pushover. His standards were very high and just as difficult to satisfy as the Old Testament laws. But fortunately for us who call Him our Savior, He gives us grace and forgiveness when we confess, repent and ask for it. So that as we fail, we can fail forward by His grace. 

Slaying Thoughts

I have a tendency to slay thoughts instead of holding every thought obedient to Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Someone may suggest an idea to me or ask a question and I’ll give an immediate response. I slay it. I won’t pause and filter it through the lens of Christ. Then Jesus, who has the power to bring things back to life, will resurrect the thought in my mind.  And I’ll change my mind. 

Today we planned to attend church together as a family. All 5 of us. With teenagers it’s rare that we’re all together at the same time. Ever. Shelby asked if we could go to lunch after I church. I killed it.  

No. 

We have plenty of leftovers. My first thought was the money I’d spent on food over the past week. 

Then Jesus resurrected the idea. It’s New Year’s Day. My entire family is going to church together. In the same car. My teenage daughters could have asked to drive separately so they could split as soon as church was over. But they didn’t. And they wanted to have lunch with us. Yes, they expected me to pay. Of course. But that’s ok. It’s a price worth paying. These days are rare. 

Now if I could just learn to hold these thoughts captive to Christ before opening my mouth. That would have come in handy yesterday when Sandra and I were taking out the Christmas tree. 

I Lost 30lbs…TODAY

No kidding. Go ahead and make your New Year’s resolutions. I made mine early and started today and I lost 30lbs today. 

30lbs of clothes.

 I cleaned out my chest of drawers and closet and said goodbye to some items that I’ve had since 1995. Probably. 

And I still kept some clothing items that I haven’t worn in a year. 

I guess I have a bad habit of holding onto some things that I need to let go of. 

But that probably gets into other resolutions. And prayer.  

What Made You Smile?

There are some days that you just get through. And you go to bed as soon and as early as you can. 

That was yesterday. 

This morning I woke up and opened this guided journal thing that Sandra bought me and one of the prompts was, “What’s one thing that made you smile yesterday?”  

Hmm, nothing. 

Ok, I’ll try a little harder. Oh, yeah. There was one thing. We were at a family Christmas event and Will accidentally knocked off and shattered a glass dish with Buffalo Chicken dip. Later on I made a private joke with Will (I don’t believe in making public jokes at his expense) and we had a good laugh. A real laugh. I love seeing him laugh. 

It did make me smile. It’s good to remember these things. Life is hard enough. 

Two Kinds of People

We’ve all heard that there are 2 kinds of people. There’s lots of different types of 2 kinds and I have one more. Those who make excuses and those who make things happen. Those who make excuses are sitting at home while those who make things happen with the same circumstances are out getting stuff accomplished. 

My sister Sheri and her husband, CW have been through some trying times recently. CW had a pacemaker/defibrillator installed and has been waiting on disability to kick in. They’ve been without a paycheck for months. So when his great niece and nephew were abandoned recently they had plenty of excuses they could have made to shirk familial responsibilities: poor health, no money, almost 60 years old. 

But they didn’t. 

Instead they stepped in as foster parents so that the young kids could be with family. God blessed this act of faith and their church and community have flooded them with help. They are overwhelmed and humbled. 

What God will do for one of His children He will do for others. If we stop making excuses. 

The Blind Squirrels 

We lost the first game in our end of the season little league double header and really, we weren’t surprised. Maybe we had won a single game all year. Maybe. So we went home that Friday night with plans to come back the next morning, lose and then get on with our Summer. I, for one, had plenty of kick the can to play, trails to ride and general mischief to get into. I’ll withhold those details for fear of the statute of limitations still running.
But something happened between shaking hands with the other team Friday night and 9am the next morning. 38 years later and I still have no idea. But Saturday morning we arrived to the field and had a new coach. Our head coach and assistant coach, both whom are dads, quit. We only had one more game to lose, so I’m not sure why they didn’t stick it out. But Mr. Meeks, another dad agreed to coach us to our last soul crushing defeat.
Or so we thought.
We won that morning. Something was different. Maybe it was just luck. A blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then. This means that Summer is delayed a game. We’ll have to come back Monday night to lose that second game. Except we didn’t. Well, we did show up, but we didn’t lose. The blind squirrels found another nut and by the end of the game we definitely realized that something was different. Mr. Meeks was a passionate motivator; a natural leader who could pull out the best in every player. He was active and vocal throughout the game hollering encouragement and advice. He infused an energy into the team. And maybe by late Monday night a little bit of confidence.

Our unexpected victory streak must have wrinkled Mr. Meeks’ plans because he traveled a lot for work and rarely if ever made it to our games, but we had another game Tuesday night. We won it, too. In 3 consecutive games, we tripled our win rate from the entire season.
We won Wednesday night. We won Thursday night. We steamrolled every team and showed up Friday night to face Weddington for the championship. They were the best team in the league and no one was surprised to see them on Friday night. But we were a different story. It was Rudy, it was David versus Goliath, it was epic. If ESPN had been around, I’m sure that we would have been the story of the week. The only problem was that Weddington had yet to lose in the tournament. If we beat them, we had to beat them again in a doubleheader.

Beat them we did in the first game. It was a 2-1 pitching duel. That victory was a crowning achievement for us. One that I still remember so many years later. It doesn’t matter that they torched us in the second game. We all felt like winners.
I think we all learned a valuable lesson. At least I did and it’s the difference that one person can make in the lives of others. I don’t discount the efforts that year of our head coach and assistant coach. They coached every practice, every game and taught us the basics. They prepared us for the moment. But one man had the little something extra to pull out everything our regular coaches had put into us all season.
It also taught me that inside all of us is the potential for greater things. It may lie dormant until we work to extract it or we’re blessed to have someone come along and help us start digging. As a father that is one of my most important jobs.
To be a Mr. Meeks to my kids.

Perspective 

I can walk out of my house on a Fall Saturday morning and see a yard full of fallen leaves and think, “crap, I’ll be blowing leaves half a day.”

My friend Morris can see the same leaves on the same day and his reaction would be something like, “God, what a beautiful and splendid display of nature and the change of seasons and your control over the seasons and all things. Thank you for giving me the good health and a beautiful day to blow leaves and to enjoy being outside.” 

I want to be more like Morris. 

Marathons 

Nothing I’m about to say has been fact-checked and verified. But I think I’m right. 

For some reason today I was thinking about marathon runners. Not sure why. I hate to run and don’t understand the psyche of people who do. Especially marathon runners.  That’s a lot of miles. My back hurts driving 26.2 miles. I almost omitted the .2, but that’s quite possibly the hardest stretch. 

I was wondering how many people enter marathons with a goal of winning? Or finishing in the top 10. Maybe 5%? 1%? Surely it’s a small number of people who really think they can finish in first place. So why do the other 95% or more even bother? Why enter a race if there’s no chance of winning? 

I believe their goal is to just finish. Finishing, even crawling to the finish line, would count as a victory. The last person who hobbles across the 26.2 mile mark probably feels like a winner, because he didn’t quit. He finished what he started. 

There’s a life lesson. 

27 Minutes 

So, counting the ways I’ve tried to control my weight over the past 10 years:

  • Adkins diet
  • Myfitnesspal app
  • P90X
  • Ideal Protein
  • Anytime Fitness membership
  • A running program with Will
  • Aquatic center membership
  • Daily sit ups and push ups 
  • Ketone diet
  • Transcendental meditation…surely I jest 

So that’s one for every year since I turned 40. And I’m probably forgetting some. 

I found that they all had one flaw. 

Me. 

I’d lose weight on a diet. The more expensive, the more dedicated I’d be. But then at some point, there’s an end. I reached my goal and then my goal would be to maintain. Keep it steady. 

Then I’d remember how much I missed the taste of my homemade macaroni and cheese or ice cream, whatever. 

P90X? I did that for a while, but did you know it takes 90 minutes? 

It got too hot to run. And I hate to run. 

Anytime Fitness was great for a couple of years, but to be honest there were times I didn’t feel like being there, so I didn’t push myself. I always went alone, but even if I’d gone with a buddy who encouraged me I’d just tell him to shut his pie hole. 

So I’ve identified the problem and it’s me. 

I may have found a solution. 9 Rounds kickboxing. Nine 3 minute rounds and I’m done. No appointments necessary. No set class times. I walk in, I walk out, sometimes crawl out, soaked in sweat and grateful that I survived without a coronary episode. 

So why does it work for me? Because if I show up(and this is the point in the process that I could get in my own way), I’m going to get a great workout. There’s a personal trainer there to guarantee it. A person who’s paying attention and won’t let me mail it in and cross it off my to do list. Someone who barks at me if I slack up. I hate these people for 27 minutes-until I ring that bell at the end and walk out alive feeling better than on the way in. 

It’s a formula that works. If I get through the front door. 

Ignore Meet Consequence 

I knew the power steering had a leak. A couple of times over the last year the steering was tight so I added fluid and drove on. As long as I had $5 I could keep buying fluid. No problem. I’m a bandaid kinda guy. 

But when my alternator went out, there’s no bandaid for it and the doctor wanted $500 for the transplant. Ugh. 

So I took it to Jeff at Nisstech and by the way, can you check the power steering fluid? He calls me later. About your power steering fluid. It’s definitely leaking …onto your alternator. It’s what took out the alternator by leaking on to the electrical components. Ca-ching. Another $500 to replace the pump. 
By ignoring one problem I effectively created another one. 

Ignore meet Consequence. 

Our Christian walk is no different. There are things that we tolerate that we should eliminate. But we don’t. We rationalize. And rationalization is the devil’s tool that keeps us from God’s best or worse, we eventually get bit. Playing with the snake may be exciting, but when you’re shocked and you ask why he bit you, he’ll say, because I’m a snake. That’s what I do.