Category Archives: Serving Others

Her First Birthday Party


Each summer, I serve as the Bible teacher for a summer camp in Texas.  The camp’s mission is to create positive memories for abused and neglected children, ages 7-11.

Two years ago, we had a little girl who was at camp for her first time. Every time she would see me, she would remind me that it was her birthday during the week, and she asked me over and over not to forget. I promised  her each time that I would be sure to remember and that we would celebrate it together.

Confession: I knew something that she didn’t.  At the camp, we always throw a birthday party for ALL the kids on Thursday night.  Many of them have never celebrated their birthdays before, so we get a church to donate enough toys to fill up a large shoebox for each child, make a giant cake, decorate the camp’s mess hall with streamers, confetti and party favors and make sure it’s an event that they will all remember!

When the night of the party arrived, I was excited for her and hoped that she would be pleased with the celebration. Amazingly, none of the older kids had let on about the party, even though they had been to camp several times before. I did my part distracting the kids with some other meaningful activities while the party decorations were completed, and then I got them lined up at the door of the mess hall, ready to go in for their big surprise.

The door opened up, loud cheers and clapping emerged, and the kids bounded inside, high-fiving all the adults and teens that had lined up to greet them!  Once past the gauntlet of celebrating big people, the kids found tables and chairs set for the biggest birthday party they had ever seen!  Party hats, juice pouches, colorful plates, napkins and plastic ware, noise makers and balloons!  Everyone excitedly took their seats and began to explore their table settings while the adults brought them cake and ice cream and sang “Happy Birthday!” to them.

When I went to see the girl after the initial surprise, she caught me off guard. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she said, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Pastor Mike! You remembered!” Over and over.  She was quite undone by the grace of it all.

I was a little embarrassed that she thought I was the reason for the party when I had really done nothing except distract the kids while the preparations were being made, but I didn’t want to ruin her moment by saying anything awkward. To her, this was a promise fulfilled and an opportunity to celebrate her birthday for the very first time.

I often think about this moment.  It both breaks my heart (for a little girl who had never had the simple gesture of a birthday party), and it humbles me.  There were dozens of people more deserving of the credit for her birthday celebration, but God allowed me to be the one that received her appreciation.  What I’ve realized is that God often allows us to get the credit for good works that we had very little to do with.  If we are honest, He does 99% of the work most of the time.  We have little to offer, and we are often selfish about offering what we do have.

I think He uses these moments to remind us of the joy we receive from joining Him in His work.  They are an incentive for us to trust Him more with our time, our talents and our treasures, and they soften our hearts toward those in need.

So, in retrospect, I’m not sure if the birthday party that night was more for the little girl or more for me.  I suspect God made the appointment for us both.

———–

If you would like to know more about Royal Family Kids’ Camps (which are held in many places around the world), you can visit their website at http://www.rfkc.org.

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Filed under Abundance, agape love, christianity, generosity, grace, love, Service, Serving Others, unconditional love

Crazy Maisie


Maisie DeVore had a vision.  She wanted to build a community pool for children to enjoy.  She was worried that there weren’t enough positive and healthy activities for kids in her hometown of Eskridge, Kansas, and she felt that the pool was just the thing they needed.

But she had a problem.  Money.  Maisie decided the best way to earn the money was by collecting aluminum cans and turning them in for recycling.  She began searching for them all around town – in trash cans, behind bushes, along roadsides.  When that didn’t net enough cash, she began collecting scrap metal, then making and raffling quilts, then picking wild berries to sell as homemade jellies.

Her neighbors thought she was crazy.  “Hide the toaster!  Maisie’s looking for scrap metal again.”

Her family thought she was crazy.  Said one, “I never came right out and told her I thought she was nuts, but I said, ‘You know Maisie, are you gonna be okay with this if it doesn’t happen?’”

In truth, no one but Maisie thought she would ever see ground broken on the pool.  But that was all the belief she needed.  She collected cans, scrap metal and berries until she had earned $100,000 ($83,000 from the 90 tons of aluminum cans she found).  When the state of Kansas got wind of what she had done, they kicked in a grant of $73,000 to make up the difference.  It wasn’t long before the pool was going in right across the street from Maisie’s home.

As you may have guessed, Maisie didn’t raise that much money overnight.  It took her 30 years!  During that time, Maisie kept her focus on her ultimate goal.  She withstood the teasing and the gossip and put in the incredibly hard work required to see it through.  Now, her neighbors don’t call her “Crazy Maisie” anymore.  As dozens of kids enjoy playing in “Maisie’s Community Pool” each day, all the neighbors call her “Amazing Maisie!”

(S – “Making a Splash,” CBSNews.com, 7/14/02)

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Filed under Abundance, Attitude, belief, Challenges, commitment, creativity, dedication, delayed gratification, determination, overcoming obstacles, Persistence, Problem Solving, sacrifice, Serving Others, success

Soft Hands


During a Monday night football game a few years ago, the Dallas Cowboy’s were defending at their own three-yard line.  The quarterback for the opposing team dropped back and fired a bullet…right to one of the Cowboy’s defensive linemen.  To my disgust, the lineman dropped the ball even though it was right between the numbers and even though he got both hands on the ball.

At the time, it seemed unthinkable that he would drop a sure interception, but I stopped yelling at the TV long enough to hear one of the commentators (a former lineman himself) explain why we should give the guy a break.  As he explained it, linemen spend their entire careers pushing against three-hundred-pound gorillas on the other side of the line of scrimmage.  Every muscle in their body is invested in the struggle to push past the opposing lineman to get at the quarterback.  When a ball is thrown their way, they don’t have the “soft hands” required to catch the ball.

By that last comment, he meant that because the linemen were totally focused on the goal of overpowering their opponent, it was supremely difficult for them to switch goals in the middle of battle.  I can relate.  I remember countless times when I was insensitive to my wife when she called me at the office.  Her calls always seemed to come right in the middle of my battles with three-hundred-pound gorilla projects and three-hundred-pound gorilla deadlines.  Bruised from her own battles with the kids, all she wanted was a sympathetic ear.  What she typically got were short, curt responses indicating I had better things to do than to talk with her.

Because I was so focused on the battle, I didn’t have the soft hands necessary to respond to my wife appropriately, and I forgot we were playing for the same team.  Each time I dropped the ball, I regretted it the second I hung up the phone.  Realization of how important and unrecoverable the moment was always made me wish I had not been so single-focused.

If we are going to be effective leaders, we have to learn to develop the soft hands required when our team members come to us for help.  We have to be skilled at transitioning from driving the line, chasing down the goal, sacking the competition… to taking time out, being receptive and possibly moving in a whole new direction.

While success requires us to be totally invested in our work, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that teams are made of people, and we can’t play this game alone.

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Filed under Attitude, Challenges, Change, communication, conflict, determination, emotions, family, Fathering, Goals, habits, Interpersonal, leadership, management, marriage, mentoring, paradigm shift, pressure, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Relationships, Serving Others

Full of Riches But No Life In It


In Israel, there are two major bodies of water: the Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. the Kinneret) and the Dead Sea (though both are really lakes).  Although they are in the same country and connected by a common river (the Jordan), the two couldn’t be more different.  The Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River and teaming with life.  It contains 27 species of fish, some found nowhere else in the world.  Its sweet waters serve as the heart of the water supply system for Israel.  It’s shores are lush with vegetation.

The Dead Sea, on the other hand, didn’t get its name for nothing.  There are no fish, no fishermen, no vegetation on its shores…  It’s twice as wide and almost four times as long as the Sea of Galilee, but the Dead Sea is toxic and bitter.  So much so that there is no life in it or around it.

Why?  The Sea of Galilee receives nutrients and water from the Jordan River.  It then empties into the Jordan River, which begins again at the lake’s south end.  The Jordan then takes the nutrients throughout the Jordan River Basin, snaking 200 miles before it reaches the Dead Sea.  But that’s where it all ends.  Nutrients from the Dead Sea stay in the Dead Sea.  It doesn’t share any of its wealth with the valley below it.  Seven million gallons of water evaporate from the lake daily in the hot desert environment, and the water that’s left is so mineral-rich that it can’t support life.  Scientists estimate that it has a mineral concentration between 26% and 35%.

The two bodies of water serve as a good metaphor for a spiritual principle.  When you share your gifts and resources freely, you receive much more in return.  Whatever you jealously clutch and keep for yourself stagnates and eventually chokes the life out of you.

“Sea of Galilee people” have an abundance mentality.  They know that if they give freely, there will always be more coming their way.  They never worry that the supply of blessings will dry up.  “Dead Sea people” have a scarcity mentality.  They fear that sharing their riches will make them poorer.  What they don’t understand is that the only reason they were given the gifts and resources in the first place was so that they would pass them along.

If you want to keep it, share it.

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Filed under Abundance, delegation, generosity, growth, helping, ownership, sacrifice, Scarcity, Service, Serving Others, Sowing and reaping, Spiritual Growth

Sharing Your Best Seed Corn


There was a Nebraska farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won a blue ribbon.  One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.

“How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why sir,” said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”

The farmer had what Stephen Covey calls an “abundance mentality.”  An “abundance mentality” says, “There’s plenty to go around.”  A “scarcity mentality” says, “There’s not enough to go around, and if he gets some, that means less for me!”

Maybe we’ve got this competition thing all wrong.  Sure, we’ve got to compete with other companies for market share; we’ve got to compete on the playing field or around the track; we’ve got to compete when we want to be chosen for a new job or opportunity… but what about on our teams or with the people at the same organization or even in the Body of Christ?  Should we compete with each other in these groups?

As I look around, I see the net result of some of our competition: teams reduced to groupings of individuals who happen to work for the same boss, departments in silos that won’t benchmark with other departments because they will give away their “secrets,” plenty of “us-them” thinking, gossip, resentment, bitterness…  Even on the same teams, we can’t be happy for someone who gets a great opportunity or who God uses in a special way.  We delight in the misfortune of those we see as “competitors.”

Are we limiting the quality of our own corn just because we won’t share some of our best seed corn with our neighbors?  What could we learn from them if we were willing to give up something that cost us something?  Could helping another department, or team, or church actually help us to improve?

I had a boss one time who put it this way, “Michael, when I retire, I don’t plan to collect my retirement check from just this department.  By sharing resources and what I know with other parts of the company, I help us all to be more successful.”

Amen.  And if you belong to the Body of Christ, consider that your “retirement check” will not be based on your individual contributions as much as it will be based on how you advanced the Kingdom together with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Filed under Abundance, Body of Christ, christianity, Church, family, helping, marriage, mentoring, Productivity, Relationships, Scarcity, Serving Others, Sowing and reaping

Arrive Alive


Three men led expeditions to be the first to reach the South Pole in the early 1900’s: Robert Falcon Scott (1902-1903 and 1911-1912), Ernest Shackleton (1908-1909) and Roald Amundsen (1911-1912).  Shackleton was actually part of Scott’s three-man party in the first failed attempt, and during the long, exhausting and disappointing march back, the two grew into rivals. Shackleton returned five years later with his own team and bested Scott’s first attempt by leading his men 366 miles closer to the South Pole.  Although Scott was the one who ultimately achieved the Pole, Shackleton proved to be the better leader precisely because he did not.

Shackleton’s journey toward the Pole was costly.  All four in his party were slowly starving to death.   Each time severe weather conditions (temperatures reaching lows of -57 degrees Fahrenheit with blizzard winds over 90 mph) and dangerous terrain slowed their progress, Shackleton had to reduce their rations to ensure that they had enough food to last.  The party originally had four horses to pull the heavy sledges full of supplies, but three horses succumbed to the elements and one fell into a deep chasm that almost claimed one of Shackleton’s men, as well.  The men were forced to man-haul the sledges, and the few handfuls of food a day were just not enough.

Shackleton got within just 97 miles of the Pole before he turned his team back.  It was a huge disappointment for all the men, but it was the right decision.  While they were only a few days’ journey away from being the first explorers to reach either of the planet’s poles, they would certainly have lost their lives in the attempt.  Courageously leading his men back to the shore, Shackleton kept them all alive through expert leadership, tenacity and skillful rationing of their remaining food supplies.

Shackleton never made it to the Pole, but Scott would not accept a second failure when he returned a few years later.  He was determined to do what his rival could not.  Like Shackleton’s party, Scott lost all his horses along the way.  Dog sled teams and their leaders were forced to turn back in December, and only five men were left to make a final assault on the pole.  He and his men marched a total of 1,842 miles before they finally reached the Pole on January 17, 1912.  But to their utter disappointment, they found that Amundsen’s team had already been there five weeks earlier.

Dejected and exhausted, Scott’s men began the long trek back to the shore, but they would never make it.  In February, one of the men died after a fall caused him to have a swift physical and mental breakdown.  In mid-March, the weakest member of the team realized he was slowing the others down (he had lost the use of a foot to frostbite and gangrene) and sacrificed his life for them by leaving the tent and marching out into the snow, never to be seen again.  A severe blizzard trapped the three remaining men in their tent a few weeks later, and there they all starved to death.  Conquest of the Pole had cost them their lives.  Ironically, they were within eleven miles of the next food and supply depot.  Their bodies were discovered eight months later by a search party.

When Scott’s diary made it back to England, he was celebrated as a hero and even knighted posthumously.  In the eyes of his countrymen, his failure was a success in terms of its boldness and daring.  Shackleton’s accomplishments just two years before were all but forgotten.  But Shackleton was not surprised.  He had counted the cost when the Pole was in reach, and he chose the health and safety of his men over the glory of accomplishment.

Leaders who are only interested in their own achievements see their team members as a means to an end.  They are willing to sacrifice their followers if their loss will bring them closer to their goals.  But the best leaders are not in it for themselves.  They can’t conceive of success at the expense of their teams, and the goals aren’t worth achieving if the team can’t celebrate the accomplishment.

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Filed under Challenges, character, delayed gratification, determination, failure, Goals, Instant Gratification, leadership, management, parenting, priorities, Priority, sacrifice, Service, Serving Others

Substitute Dads


In 1 Chronicles 27:32, the writer tells us:

“Jonathan, David’s uncle, a wise and literate counselor, and Jehiel son of Hacmoni, were responsible for rearing the king’s sons.”  (The Message)

They apparently did a spectacularly bad job with King David’s boys.  One son raped his sister; one killed his brother, usurped his father’s kingdom and slept with his father’s concubines in broad daylight for all the neighbors to see; another one tried to usurp his father’s kingdom and sleep with one of his father’s wives only to be put to death by another brother; and one left his faith in the one, true God, because his sexual lust led him into at least 1,000 sexual relationships with women who worshiped foreign gods.

Where was the moral fiber that characterized their dad, “a man after God’s own heart?”  Why didn’t these boys grow up knowing right from wrong?  Why did they fail so miserably?

I believe the main reason is that you cannot substitute for Dad.  Boys need their fathers.  They need that intimate, male relationship in their lives to help them learn what it is to be a real man.  Not a man who sleeps with the most women or who has the most money and toys or who always settles his problems with his fists.  A REAL man.  A man who submits to the authority of Jesus Christ; a man who puts other peoples’ needs (particularly his family’s needs) ahead of his own; a man who commits to one woman and honors her all the days of their marriage.  A REAL man.

Ironically, David was many things that we admire.  He was a warrior; a poet; a musician; a king and even a man who submitted to the authority of the Lord – but he was an abysmal father.  During the years his boys needed him most, he delegated his parental responsibilities to other men.  And while those men might have been wise and literate and many other good things, they weren’t Dad.

God has designed the family as the perfect way to disciple young children into mature Christian faith.  When it works as planned, godly parents live their lives humbly before God and model powerful spiritual disciplines for their children.  It takes place over years and years in real-life situations.  Because it is lived in real life, its credibility is beyond reproach or suspicion.  No teacher, preacher, mentor, friend, book, seminar or seminary will be anywhere near as effective at passing along spiritual wisdom and discipline.  …that is, when it’s done well.

When it’s not done well (as in David’s case), it teaches equally powerful negative lessons.  David modeled that work and personal pursuits were more important to him than his children.  No wonder all his boys could think about was themselves.  They had 20+ years of discipleship in selfishness.

Our boys need us, men.  We can’t delegate fathering to their school teachers or their soccer coaches or even their youth group leaders.  Those men serve an important role, but they cannot replace what God intended for us to provide.

And no, you don’t have to wait until you get your stuff together to start spending more time with your boys and being intentional about discipling them.  Start now, and get your stuff together as you go.  There are powerful lessons that our boys will learn as they watch us struggle against our sinful nature.  In fact, if we pretend to be perfect, we will do more damage than good.  Let’s just live our lives and invite our boys along for the journey.

Send the substitute home.  Class is in session.

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