Tag Archives: grace

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

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

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

BIG “G” – little “g”


In one of the classes that I’ve regularly facilitated, we do an activity called “The Parking Space.”  Participants are given a role-play scenario in which two people have to compete for a single parking space.  One person is running late for a job interview, and the other is running late for a meeting with an important client.  As one tries to back into the parking space, the other is trying to pull forward into it.  The two people get out of their cars and negotiate to see who gets the space.

What’s really interesting about the interaction isn’t who gets the space or even how they get it (and I’ve heard some really creative and unethical methods of coercion).  It’s that in the process of overpowering their adversary for the space, both people completely forget what their primary goals were – getting the job or making the meeting.  It never dawns on them that time is ticking away as they bicker about who gets to park where.  Each person fights for a win-lose outcome, but what they end up with is lose-lose, because the parking space is moot by the time they miss their respective appointments.

The role-play is an excellent example of sacrificing a Big “G” Goal (making the appointment) in order to achieve a little “g” goal (getting the parking space).  It sounds crazy, but we do it all the time.

  • We pull out all the stops to win the argument but forget that we are trying to build the relationship.
  • We prevent our top performers from transferring to other departments in order to protect our team’s productivity and end up losing them because there is no room for advancement.
  • We refuse to share information with another group because they haven’t reciprocated in the past and lose sight of the fact that we work for the same company.
  • We cut services back in order to reduce expenses and succeed in chasing off our customers.
  • We invent rules for a small percentage of “law-breakers” and ultimately punish the 99.9% of people who want to do the right thing but can’t get anything done because of the excessive red-tape.
  • We turn drill sergeant with our kids to get them ready in the morning and manage to ruin everyone’s day as we head out the door for a family event.
  • We argue with our neighbors over property rights and forget that we were trying to win them to Christ.

Our problem is that we are so focused on what’s before us that we can’t see the big picture.  We are intent on winning battles, but our short-term focus is losing us the wars.  If we could keep our eyes on the Big “G” Goals, what a difference it would make in our lives, in our work and in our ministries!

We would have so much more grace for people who don’t act the way we want them to act.   We would be able to keep a healthy perspective on the minor things that don’t go our way.  We would make better decisions in the moment as we assessed the impact of those decisions on our Big “G” goals.

Where is it that you have gotten seduced by the urgency of little “g” goals?  How could you maintain your focus on the the bigger picture?  A long-range focus informs better decision making in the moment.  It takes practice, but if you’re like me, you’ve got plenty of opportunities.

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Filed under conflict, Goals, grace, Interpersonal, priorities, Prioritize, Relationships, success

Schadenfreude


schadenfreude \SHOD-n-froy-duh\, noun: A malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others

Feeling guilty already, aren’t you?  Who doesn’t have moments (hours, days, months…) of schadenfreude when our enemies and competitors get their come-uppins?  They deserved it, right?  What goes around comes around.  It’s even better when we didn’t do anything to cause their misfortune.  There are no fingerprints at the scene, so to speak.

I’m not going to try to tackle the rightness or wrongness of this feeling when it is derived from our enemies and competitors.  Lots of gray area there.  But what particularly interests me is how commonly this feeling is directed at people who are on the same team as us.  They have the same goals and objectives as us, but we want them to stumble.  Why?  The two most common reasons are competition and resentment.

Competition
While competition can be a positive and healthy thing for athletic teams, it’s not so great within the Body of Christ.  We often measure our worth by comparing ourselves with those around us.  This can lead to frustration, despair, envy, covetousness, bitterness and even sabotaging behaviors if we feel like we are on the losing end.  It can lead to pride, complacency and disdain for others if we feel like we are on the winning end.

Resentment
Holding a grudge about a perceived wrong done to us makes it difficult for us to see the “guilty” party succeed.  We want justice.  We want fairness restored.  They slighted us, attacked us, overlooked us, punished us…, and we feel that we are righteously indignant.  Failure, embarrassment or difficult obstacles in their path would make us feel like the scales had been returned to their proper positions.

Hopefully, it’s obvious that this isn’t healthy.  It leads to all types of passive-aggressive and aggressive behaviors, ranging from negative thoughts to gossip to rumors to Tonya Harding-inspired pipes to the knee.  Even at their most “innocuous” levels, these feelings lead us to withhold assistance and advice and prayer that might help the other person.  Schadenfreude is the equivalent of cancer to the Body of Christ.  It will destroy us from the inside out.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be diligent to spot the signs of schadenfreude when they surface, and we need to deal with them quickly and decisively.  When we see them in ourselves, we should be quick to pray for God to give us the ability to forgive and to have His love for the other person.  When we see them in others, we should lovingly point out the bitter root and help our friends forgive and love.

We’ve got enough enemies and competitors without adding them from inside the Body.  Let’s stop doing the devil’s work for him.

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Filed under Abundance, agape love, blame, Body of Christ, christianity, emotions, forgiveness, Interpersonal, justice, love, Relationships

Behind the Clouds, the Son!


My family is visiting the U.S. right now.  We have a six-week furlough before returning to Thailand, and we are most of the way through it.

Today, we had to say goodbye to some old friends.  It was painful.  As one of the families packed in their car to go, my youngest called out, “See you again in three years thanks to my dad’s stupid job!”  I was about to scold him but then noticed the tears in his eyes.  No one got his permission before moving everyone to Thailand and changing his entire life.  It seemed very unfair to him.

Hoping to cheer everyone up, we went out to lunch at Red Robin, a family favorite.  But as soon as we got out of the car, my daughter started to cry, and it took almost ten minutes to console her.  When the tears stopped, we made our way into the restaurant and had a seat.

A waitress came by and asked us how we were doing.  Looking around at tear-stained faces, I decided on honesty, “We’re a little sad today.  We live overseas, and we’ve come for a visit but had to say goodbye to some good friends.”

She didn’t seem to know what the appropriate response might be, so she took our orders and tended to us every so often.  During the middle of lunch, my youngest began crying again, and we couldn’t seem to raise his spirits with any talk about his friends in Thailand or the greater purpose that is being served by us being there.  He was low, and there was no picking him up.

But as soon as we finished eating, our waitress appeared again with a giant mountain of an ice-cream and brownie dessert.  She said that she and the wait staff had all chipped in to buy it for us to help us feel better, because she had spent years living in Aruba when she was a kid and knew how tough it could be.  My wife, not normally given to crying, had to fight back tears at the simple gesture.

You wouldn’t believe the change that dessert worked on my youngest son!  Instantly, he was excited and cheerful again.  Food is his love language.  Dessert is probably his most fluent dialect.  He was thrilled!  In fact, we all were.  We finished out lunch with smiles and laughter and left the restaurant in great spirits.

As my oldest son and I talked in the parking lot about what had just happened, he remarked that God sure knew how to cheer up my youngest son.  It was the perfect antidote to his gloomy mood.  While we talked, the two of us were staring at the storm clouds above us.  They were dark and foreboding, but behind them, you could see evidence of the sun.  It was producing a silver lining around some of the darkest ones.  And it got me to thinking…

Sometimes all we see are the dark and gloomy clouds.  We look at our problems and the circumstances of our lives and see only the storms.  But what we often fail to remember is that just behind the clouds of our current situation is the Son of God, who loves us and wants the best for us.  He’s always there; He never moves.  We are the ones who are spinning round and round, so even though we may not be able to see Him, we can trust that He won’t leave us on our own.

The clouds will come and go, but the Son will never change.  And just when we are in our darkest moments, the clouds will part, and the warmth of His light will shine through in the form of a chocolate icecream and brownie mountain.

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Filed under agape love, Challenges, emotions, family, Fear, Suffering, Valley

Unforgiveness


The letter that Paul wrote to Philemon is a strange inclusion in the New Testament.  It’s short.  Just one chapter and 25 verses.  It seems to simply be Paul intervening on behalf of a new friend who has had a conflict with his master (Onesimus was Philemon’s slave).

But try reading it as if it were Jesus’ letter to you personally, and it takes on new meaning:

Therefore, although in I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.  I appeal to you for my son/daughter who became my child as a result of their trust in my death and resurrection. Formerly (s)he was not much use to you, but now (s)he has become useful both to you and to me.

So if you consider me as a partner, welcome him/her as you would welcome me.  If (s)he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me…I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.  I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart as you show your faith in me.  Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

I think Philemon was included in the Bible to remind us of our need to forgive our Christian brothers and sisters.  Jesus is reminding us that we have been forgiven of so much more than we will ever need to forgive someone else.  He admonishes us that we owe Him our very lives and suggests that until we forgive, we are not much benefit to Him.  The parable of the unmerciful servant comes to mind.

Unforgiveness breaks our fellowship with God.  At the end of the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35), the man who wouldn’t forgive is released to the jailers (tormentors) to be tortured until he has paid back everything he owed.  That sounds like hell, but it can’t be, because the unmerciful servant is a picture of a believer, who has been forgiven for all his sins.

The torture that Jesus is talking about in this parable is the torture we go through when we have unforgiveness in our hearts.  We are separated from God and lack His protection and His favor.  We suffer from stewing anger and resentment, jealousy and sometimes hatred.  The good news is that it’s so easy to pay back everything we owe and get out of this prison.  All we have to do is forgive.  That’s what we were given.  That’s what we owe.

Jesus ends his letter to us in Philemon asking us to prepare a room for Him (in our hearts).  He wants to restore the relationship we’ve lost in our unforgiveness.  He’s ready to return His protection and His favor to our lives.  All we have to do is pay what we owe, and it’s no more than we’ve been given.  

Remember when Peter was asked about paying the temple tax?  He didn’t have the money to pay, but when he went to Jesus about it, Jesus sent him fishing.  The first fish Peter caught had a four-drachma coin inside – enough to pay the tax for both of them.  God won’t ask us to give more than we have.  He will supply everything we need.  We just have to be willing to be obedient.  If you are struggling to forgive someone, don’t try to find it in yourself.  Ask God to supply what you need.  You are just moments away from restoration.

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Filed under agape love, blame, christianity, forgiveness, grace, mercy, obedience, Relationships, Suffering, Unforgiveness