All posts by Phil

I am blessed beyond what I deserve. I have an amazing wife, a beautiful daughter, a wonderful extended family, great friends, and I love what I do for a living. But none of that compares to the gift of God's grace.

The Storm

Yesterday was a tough day. I went to the memorial service for a friend and former colleague of mine, Kevin. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor back in March, and he passed away early Saturday morning. Kevin and I worked together for about 5 years. During that time, he became one of my closest work friends and confidants. Many times Kevin would swing by my desk and ask if I wanted to go to El Fenix (his favorite Tex-Mex restaurant), and I knew that was a sign that he was having one of those kind of days. We’d head to lunch, and we’d spend a few minutes talking about what was driving us crazy at work that day, but we’d then turn our attention to other topics. That was likely the reason why he’d want to go to lunch so that he could focus back on the things that truly mattered.

I think the main reason why we hit it off so well is because we had similar perspectives on life. I respected Kevin because I knew very early on that he had a great love and devotion for his family and that he truly loved people. Like me, he also had a bit of a cynical streak which seemed more of a way of letting off steam so that he could go back to trying to take care of other people, which was a big part of his job. Interestingly enough, he liked to take care of other people in his personal life, too, and that was evident in what people said about him at the service.

As I was driving to the church for the service, I could see a storm in the distance in front of me. One thing to note about Texas is that you can sometimes see a storm brewing miles away from you. As I drove on, I realized that the storm was right where I was headed. I got a bit frustrated because I didn’t have an umbrella, and I wondered if this was going to be one of those storms where I’d be drenched just from the short walk from my car to the building.

It then dawned on me that the storm was a lot like life when tests and troubles come our way. God never promised that we wouldn’t have storms in our lives, but He did promise that there is peace on the other side of that storm. But being human, we can get angry, frustrated, and even scared when we are caught in the middle of test and trials. If we are caught in a storm like this, we keep going. We don’t know what the storm has in store for us, when it will end, or even where we will be when we reach the end of that storm, but we persevere. We keep going knowing that at some point, the storm will end or we will reach the other side of it.

If we are lucky, when storms come up in our lives, we meet people along the way who can help or encourage us to keep going. Some of these people are with us for a very long time, and some just for a short season. For many of those we encounter, the time they are with us on the journey doesn’t seem long enough. We end up having to go on without them, and our journey becomes harder. It seems unfair that they could not accompany us for the entire journey, but as it turns out, they are on their own journey which has its own timing. There is nothing wrong with being sad or upset that we couldn’t finish the journey together, but it is important to remember that we must continue and press on. You may become an encourager or help to someone else on their journey through the storm until you have pushed through it.

If you are believers, take comfort that you will see them again on the other side. They are not truly gone, they are simply not here with you because they completed their journey sooner than you completed yours. You will be reunited when your journey through the storm is over, and hopefully be able to tell each other about how well you used your time.

I got to see Kevin and his wife Penny a few days before he died. I thought it might be the last time I’d see him but obviously I didn’t know just how soon he’d pass away. It’s hard for those left behind because we will miss having him on the rest of our journey.

When we walked out of the memorial service, the sun was back out. It was as if the heavens were celebrating the end of Kevin’s journey and for him the storm was over. I am grateful that Kevin excelled in his time here and made an impact on people, and I’m even more thankful that one day I will see him again when my journey is complete. He beat cancer. He beat death. We are sad that we have to journey on without him here, but he’s run his race and now he is receiving his reward from our Heavenly Father. I’m glad that he was here for a little while to encourage me on my journey because I am a better traveler for it.

My Own Identity

Being the youngest son of a preacher, I struggled for my own identity for most of my early years. I can honestly say that until I was about 17 years old, I felt that when people looked at me, the only real thing they knew about me was who I was related to. Beyond being labeled as a “PK” (preacher’s kid), I cannot tell you how many times I heard “That’s the Preacher (or Mrs.) Rice’s son” or “That’s Greg (or Keith’s) younger brother”. Obviously people meant nothing by it, but when that seems to be the only thing people seem to know about you, that can be hard for a kid….at least it was for me.

I don’t state this for anyone to feel sorry for me. We had our times when we got on each other’s nerves, or didn’t get along, but all in all, things were good. I realize that my home life was much better than the average. But that doesn’t mean that becoming my own person was easy to come by for me.

Wherever I could, I tried to be different from my brothers. They both played trumpet in band, but when it came my time I purposely chose saxophone. I wanted to excel in school to try to stand out on my own. No matter what I tried, it really didn’t matter because for most people, I was still their kid brother. It was frustrating.

We moved cities toward the tail end of my junior year in high school. We began going to a really large church where my Dad was not on staff. I went from a private school with maybe 70 high school students to a public high school where my graduating class was over 400. In both places, nobody knew me or who my parents were. For some people that might have been really overwhelming, but I honestly loved it. I felt like I was able to be known for who I was, not for my parents or my brothers. It was a new beginning for me and it was a defining turning point in my life.

About 18 months later, another big milestone in my life was about to start: college. I lived at home with my folks and went to a local university with nearly 25k students, but unlike high school, this was definitely overwhelming for me. I had made some good friends at my church, and they were all going to colleges out of town. This had me feeling like I was starting all over again, but this time I felt like I had just lost a lot more. Thankfully I met a lot of great folks during college, several of whom I met through my social and business fraternities.

The interesting thing is that although I had become my own person, there was still something that drove me to push hard to be my own person, to be independent, to be successful. My new benchmark was graduating and starting my career. It then became getting a graduate degree and trying to push myself even further in my career. Then it was how much I made, and what promotions I had gotten. Basically I spent nearly 20 years of my life pursuing things that the world would use as good definitions of self worth. And by all accounts, I was doing just fine.

By this time, I was married and in my mid-30’s. We decided we wanted a family, but the road wouldn’t be easy. We found out it would be nearly impossible to have a child on our own, so we decided to adopt. It had its own set of hurdles (which you can read about in other posts) but we finally brought Alina home. I knew my world would be different, but I really didn’t expect it to be this big of a change.

I can’t say it happened overnight, but I started becoming less concerned about my self identity. I became less concerned about professional success being the benchmark of the value of my life. I started reading the Bible more and for the first time in my life, understanding what God truly meant to me, and how I could be a better father, husband, son and friend. There was nothing wrong with anything that I had been pursuing, it was just the fact that those pursuits were first and foremost in my life and not what should define me.

I now realize that I am largely at ease with being defined by a few simple statements: “Child of God”, “Husband to Brandon”, “Father to Alina”, “Son of David and Edith”, “Brother of Greg and Keith”. They have all helped make me who I am today, and I am forever grateful.

10 Years on the Other Side

This week marks the 10th anniversary of my Father’s death. I honestly think about him every day, and those thoughts are even more meaningful now that I am a Dad. My Mom and brothers granted me the honor of writing his eulogy, which I thought I would share. It was delivered at his memorial service by his friend Bill Bates, who added some of his own memories not captured here. Still miss you Dad, and I hope that you have given God a bit of a breather on all the questions I’m sure you wanted to ask Him.

In November 1955, David and Edith were students at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Friday nights at the college were considered “date night”. Several people would tell David that they knew who he was going to ask out, and that was Edith. Had people not given him a hard time about it, he probably would have gotten around to asking her out on his own.

However, before they actually went out, they were going with other students to an area church to minister, and Edith chimed up and told the group that she was going to get engaged January 3rd. When asked who she was going to get engaged to, she replied that she didn’t know. But that was the day that everyone got back to college after the New Year and it was leap year. Back then, people used to joke that in leap years, the girls could propose to the guys, so Edith said that she was going to ask around until she finally got someone to say yes. David asked Edith if she would ask him first. Edith simply asked if he was going to say yes, and he said he would.

So a few months later, January rolled around and Edith walked into the cafeteria. David was sitting with some friends, pulled out a chair and said “Edith, don’t you have something to ask me?” She said, “Yes, will you marry me?” He said yes, and they all got a big laugh out of it.

A couple weeks later, David finally asked Edith out on a date, and fairly soon they realized that they were meant to be together, and they were married on May 25, 1956, nearly 50 years ago. So David truly was a lucky man, because Edith actually asked him to marry her. If only she had known what she was asking for, that question may never have come up!

David had a great sense of humor. He was always telling jokes to everyone he met, usually getting a good laugh out of them. Trouble was that he only knew about 10 jokes, so after seeing him a few times, they heard the same ones over and over again. Even if
he knew that he had told you the joke before, he didn’t care because he would tell it to you again. And you knew he liked you if he picked at you.

For those who didn’t know David in his younger years, he actually wore a hair piece. He didn’t care if someone knew that he wore one, he just didn’t want anyone to see him without it. Probably the fastest you would ever see David move was if someone brought an unexpected guest into the house, and his hairpiece wasn’t anywhere close. He would fly off the couch and run to the bedroom to get it, coming back calmly with his hair in its proper place.

Walt Whitman, the great poet once wrote about life, “the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” This just shows that man cannot think as big as God, because with God’s help, David contributed so much more than just a verse.

David was ordained in 1960, and never looked back. He had what many people in this life do not have today, and that is purpose. His purpose was to minister to others, to share with them the joys of Christ’s salvation and love, and to tell them that if they ever got to the point where they didn’t think anyone in this life thought that they mattered, that they still mattered to the one that fashioned them in his own image. They mattered to God and they mattered to David, and that was his purpose.

David ministered in churches from Odessa, Texas, to Alexandria, Virginia, to Detroit, Michigan, to Whitsett, North Carolina. He started two churches, one in Daytona, Florida, and one in Flint, Michigan that are still to this day telling the gospel of Jesus Christ. And he made an impact on people that you could still see in their eyes years later when they saw him.

David was defined by his family, and he took great pride in talking about them any chance he got. He left an indelible mark on all of them, and there is a part of him that lives on in those closest to him. If you look at his sons, you can see a unique part of him in each one. Greg has his desire to work for the Lord and be a minister to others. Keith shows his compassion and tenderness, and Phil shows his aggressive, confident spirit and determination. All of them have David’s love for people and his sense of humor.

Over the last few years of his life, David was admitted to the hospital for different reasons, some of which were made more complicated by his diabetes. While others may have been preoccupied with their own situation, he looked at these moments as opportunities to reach out to others. He would ask for members of the church to bring him tracts so that he could witness to the workers in the hospital that came by his room.

David is now free of the body that failed him, and like every good Baptist minister enjoying the best pot luck dinner that Heaven has to offer. For the next few days, God is going to be really busy, answering a lot of questions, and showing David all the wonders that he talked about in this life for over 50 years.

His legacy in this life was his ability to give up his own will, give his life to God, and show others how to do the same. Some people say that their one goal in life is to matter. David not only mattered, he made an impact on those around him.

Ripping through my Fingers

This past Tuesday was our daughter’s first day of second grade. While first days of school always mark the passing of time, and thus can be a bittersweet moment, this one was especially rough for me. We just relocated to the Seattle area because I got a new job with my company. This meant that we moved away from all our family and the friends we’ve made over literally decades of living in the DFW area.

We just moved to the area a week before school started, so it’s been quite a whirlwind few weeks. The night before school started, it really hit me that Alina would be all on her own just a few short days after we had arrived. We haven’t even had the chance to get settled yet, and already she was going to have to venture out on her own.

So many people have encouraged us during the last few months, and one of the things they kept saying was that “kids are resilient” and that she’d adjust just fine. While my head believes that, that feeling was not echoed in my heart. It was actually a worse feeling than the day before we dropped her off at kindergarten. We had lived in that area for more than a year before she started school, so being here for such a short amount of time had me thinking that it would be harder on her.

As I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, I literally cried out to God and just over and over again said out loud “God be with my little girl.” As an adoptive father, I am very well aware that Alina is truly a gift of God, and that He has given her to us to guide her in the right way, encourage her, and try to guide her in the right way. What I was really freaking out about was that I couldn’t be there for her to comfort her if she was scared, and tell her that it would be okay.

What I realized is that trying to hold on to her is just as futile as trying to hold on to a rope that is tied to a runaway bull: it’s futile. The tighter I try to hold on to that rope, the more I would feel it ripping through my fingers. As time goes on, and she gets older, the less rope I have to hold on to, and the more she will be in control of her own life and the more choices she will be responsible for. I only hope that with what little rope I have left that I help steer her in the right direction.

But ultimately I know that she is not my daughter so much as she is God’s child, and I have to learn to be okay with that. I will continue to pray for her, plead with God to help me be at my best for her, and at times even try to wrestle with God trying to keep her safe and protected. But only He can really do that, and like every other Father trying to raise their kids that is so hard for me to swallow.

In the end, I am left with a hollow feeling that no matter what I do, I cannot be there to shelter and protect her all the time and I have to learn to live with that. That’s when I have to rest in God’s promise that He knows her name, He looks out for her far better than I can, and that He is with her all the time. I must ask for him to fill that hollow feeling of helplessness in me, and help me because I am so incredibly weak. Thank you God for allowing me to be a small part in her life story.

What I Learned From My Father

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I remember my Dad who passed away a little over 8 years ago. He didn’t get to see me become a father myself, as my daughter came home about 3 years after he was gone. However, the cool thing about being a good Dad is that your kids will (hopefully) take what you taught them, and teach their kids. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see your child doing something that your Dad taught you, and even more amazing when they never met in person. So in memory of my Dad, here are a few of the things he taught me.

Character is Important
My Dad was a minister for nearly 50 years. He taught in small churches, and many times was the only person on staff. He was the primary example people had of what living a life for God was like, and he took that role very seriously.

My Dad had taken over a church a few years earlier from the founding pastor who was retiring. After this man retired, he had a distinct idea of how he was going to still run the church, so to speak. My Dad had a very different idea about that, and because of this disagreement, the older pastor began spreading rumors about my father, saying that he was “adding to Scripture” or “being a false teacher” and trying to lead people away from the Bible. My Dad never once complained about it, he just firmly went about leading the church in the direction he felt was where God wanted him to go.

When I was in late elementary school, one of the elderly members of our church had passed away and we were heading to the visitation. I asked my father if this other pastor was going to be there. He said that he definitely would be. I then told my Dad that if the opportunity came up that I was not going to shake this man’s hand. I was angry that anyone would deliberately hurt my Dad and lie about him. My Dad simply told me that I would absolutely shake his hand because it was the right thing to do. He said that this pastor had led this church for over 3 decades, and that he meant a lot to the people of our church, so regardless of what he had done to us, we were to show him respect.

The Value of Hard Work
My Dad was always serving others. His job was basically like being on call 24/7: if a member of our church needed him, no matter what time of day, he would go, and he didn’t complain. I always saw him working hard at whatever he did.

My Mom shared a story with me not too long ago. A couple years after they had been married, my parents moved to the Daytona Beach, Florida area to start a church. They moved to town with $60 in their pocket. In looking for an apartment to rent, they found one that was perfect, but they needed to pay a month’s rent in advance, and the rent was $60. They explained to the woman why they had come to the area, so she agreed to take only $30 so that my parents would still have money to eat.

While the church was getting started, my Dad took on second jobs because the church was just getting started and there was not enough money for him to have a salary. He worked as a ditch digger, a milkman, and a few other blue collar jobs in order to provide for he and my Mom. He simply said that he wasn’t going anywhere because he knew that God had called him there to preach, so he was going to do anything he needed to do to make it work, and put a roof over their heads.

The Importance of Family
Growing up we effectively shared my Dad and his time with a larger group of people (our church). While there were things that he missed, I always knew that outside of God, we were the most important thing in his life.

He was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic in his late 20’s. As he got older, he experienced complications from the disease including circulation issues in his legs. This sometimes led to him having to be admitted to the hospital so that they could very aggressively treat sores that would appear on his feet.

I dare say that he seemed like he enjoyed these times at the hospital because he got to talk to EVERYONE! By the end of his stay, he would know the full back story of every nurse, doctor, and whoever else came into his room. He would enthusiastically introduce his family to all his new friends anytime we were in for a visit. One day someone asked him what his hobbies were, he simply said “my family”.

Don’t be Afraid to Show Affection
My Dad’s father was a good, hard-working man’s man who worked for and retired from Dodge in the Detroit area. He wasn’t necessarily one to express his feelings to others or to show his affection. This changed a bit with us grandkids, and honestly I think it was because we wouldn’t take no for an answer (at least not me).

My Dad was always hugging and kissing us, to the point that you almost got tired of it. I never had to question if my Dad loved me or was proud of me because he told me, all the time, every time I saw him. He told me one day that his Dad was not like that, and he decided early on that he just wasn’t going to be that way.

The last time I saw my Dad was about two weeks before he suddenly passed away. I had missed coming over for dinner as I had planned a few days earlier because I got stuck at work. I had told my Mom that I was upset I couldn’t make it because I didn’t want them to think that work was more important than they were. So I took a long lunch one day and come over to see them. My Dad met me at the front door, hugged and kissed me and began crying, saying “I would never think that you were putting work ahead of us” and I said that I knew that, but I just felt bad for having to break plans with them.

I didn’t see him in person after that day, but I didn’t have to worry about having left something unsaid to him because we always told each other how much we loved and appreciated the other person. So unlike some people who have a hard time talking to their father, I was able to say goodbye to him with no regrets.

All People Matter
There are almost too many examples to choose just one to give details about, but when things like divorce, inter-racial marriage, etc. were still very much taboo in the church, he accepted them. Many of these people had been shunned or literally asked to leave other churches, and my Dad would make a point to make them feel welcome. He wanted to tell them about this man Jesus that he had fallen in love with, and who cared about them deeply.

One woman who been coming to our church since even before we got there had actually been told not to come back before. She and her son would come, but her husband wasn’t a church goer. The pastor before my Dad had told her not to come unless her husband came too. My Dad assured her that regardless of who in their house came with her, that he wanted to see her there. My Dad helped to restore her dignity, and that of others who had been marginalized by bad representatives of the church.

Baseball is an Amazing Sport
My Dad was a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, and he instilled the love of the game into me and my two older brothers. Not only is the sport rich in history, it’s an amazing display of skill and strategy. I think what makes it a great pastime for spectators is the fact that when you watch a game, there is time in between pitches and innings to talk about what you would do if you were a coach, or an amazing play that you saw at another game, or to just socialize with whoever you are watching the game.

What makes it a great game for Dads and their kids is that the players of the past are so larger than life that they are almost mythological characters with god-like status who battled all the odds and won. If you grew up admiring your Dad like I did, then you think of your Dad in almost that same kind of context. My Dad was my hero growing up because he had a big heart and was the most generous person in spirit that I have ever known.

Always Have Faith in God
I didn’t know it growing up, but my parents really didn’t have a lot of money, but we never seemed to go without. Money wasn’t a topic that they shared with us, even though they sometimes were struggling wondering how things were going to work out. But despite this, they never wavered in their faith that God had a plan, we just didn’t know the details at the time.

The week before I graduated college, the company my Mom was working for shut down without a warning. My Dad was retired at this point, leaving my Mom’s salary their major source of income. I was a getting a degree in finance, so I could put two and two together at this point and new that they didn’t have an immense amount of saving to carry them through a prolonged time of unemployment.

My parents just told me that they had faith in God that it would all work out. While I sat there questioning God as to why He would repeatedly allow one bad financial disaster or another happen to my parents given all they had done to serve Him for decades, my parents faith never wavered, never cracked, not even once. I thought I was helping the situation by being worried for them, not that worrying has ever helped out any situation ever. Less than two weeks later, my Mom had a new job.

I could go on and on about what my Dad and Mom have taught me over the years, but this post has to end at some point, right? Not everyone was as lucky to grow up with such a great guy for a father. My Dad wasn’t perfect, and he would have been the first one to tell you that. But his love and care for us has allowed what mistakes he did make to fade away in the background.

The good news is that even if we have lost our father here on Earth, never had one, or had one that was the farthest thing from a good dad, we have an opportunity to see what that kind of good relationship is like. In the Bible, God is referred to as a Father in numerous passages. For those who didn’t have the kind of relationship I did with my Dad, that might seem more like a slice of hell than heaven. But when you have seen how good and nurturing that father-child relationship can be, then you know how wonderful that sounds to hear the term “God our Heavenly Father”.

I pray that those of us fathers here on Earth can build bonds with our children much like the good examples of Dads around us. More importantly, I pray that we can build the kind of relationships with our children just like the one our Heavenly Father wishes to have with each of us.

The Broken

In the last couple years, it seems that everyone is being forced to pick a side. Choose the topic, and you will likely find two very polarized majorities arguing over who is right, and who must obviously wrong. We can feel like our loyalty and even our character is being questioned, and the discussions can turn into brutal arguments. The thing is that for many people, myself included, we can’t choose one side or the other because we have people we deeply love and care about on either side. One of the issues that seems to be a big divider is homosexuality, and unfortunately, many of my fellow “Christians” are acting like the Pharisees of old and looking down on others because they are different.

(Side note: I used the quotes around the term Christian for a reason. You can call yourself a Christian all you want, and use the Bible to back up your beliefs, but unless you love like Christ and accept people then I honestly don’t believe you can label yourself as such.)

In the last few weeks, World Vision (a Christian-based humanitarian organization) announced that they would allow gay Christians in same sex marriages to work there. Almost immediately they were inundated with people telling them they would stop supporting the children they sponsored through World Vision unless they abandoned their new policy. Within a matter of a couple days, World Vision did just that. Ultimately this wasn’t a win for God, it was a travesty that we “Christians” showed the world that we were willing to let kids suffer simply because we weren’t comfortable with someone working at a non-profit business (not a church mind you) if in their private lives they were married to a consenting adult of the same sex. Anyone else see how we’ve become like the priest and the Levite who passed by the man lying beaten on the side of the road only to be watch for someone outside the church (in that case a Samaritan) to do the right thing (see Luke 10:25-37)?

In order to further explain my feelings, I’ll share some of my personal history. I had a tough time in the first three years of high school knowing who my friends were. I take as much responsibility for the situation that I found myself in, so I’m not naive enough to think I played no part in it. I know many people have experienced this feeling in their lifetime, but this was a first for me. I moved around a lot as a kid and had become pretty good at making new friends. This caused an immense amount of self-doubt and my self-esteem plummeted. Thankfully, my amazing parents were always there for me, and I made it through a couple of very tough years. But coming out of this, I was pretty shaken as to who I was, and what value I had to anyone outside my family.

Toward the tail end of my junior year, we moved and quite honestly, I was grateful that it came when it did because I could kick the dust off the old city and dive head first into the new. We started going to a large church and thankfully I fell right in with some really great friends. They accepted me for who I was, and actually shared my weird sense of humor. The next 18 months or so were great for me, and potentially even saved my life. But then came the fall after I graduated from high school. My new friends were heading off to college, and I was staying close to home to go to a local university. The night before one of my friends was leaving for college, I dropped him off at his house and I immediately knew things would never be the same and that I’d have to make new friends again. That thought literally frightened me.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long at college for me to make friends. I met some truly incredible people, and I was able to see that my ability to make friends was not lost. Through their acceptance and love, I realized that I was not broken. If ever I made mistakes, they encouraged me to push through them, and held me accountable to the best they knew I could be. After being friends with a couple different guys for a few years, on separate occasions they both confided in me that they were gay. The first time this happened, it really shook me because I had not knowingly been around gay people before and wasn’t sure what to think. I’d been brought up in church and the by in large had been taught it was a sin. Ultimately, I found that I had to make a conscious choice, either lose a good friend or find a way that I could live with it. Given my issues with not knowing who my friends were earlier in life, it really wasn’t a hard choice for me. I chose my friend vs. feeling like I was right about an issue that I thought was very black and white.

Since my time at college, I can look back and see the impacts my friends have had on me. Frankly I would not be the person I am today without the love and support of my friends. They have taught me more than I could have ever imagined, and they have loved me unconditionally. That’s not to say we haven’t had some rough patches. I think every friendship that last as long as some that I have are not going to be without difficulty. But those times have always been very short-lived, and we’ve always come out stronger for them. These people are like family to me, and they have my undying love and loyalty.

As it turns out, a couple of the key friendships I have had over the years have been with people who happen to be homosexual. They have not only taught me how to love unconditionally, but they have shown me how to look past my own initial judgement of someone and look at the path they have walked to be who they are. But even though I have walked through some tough times with them, I cannot possibly relate to their experiences in this world. These people grew up in church, so it’s not like they don’t know that a majority of Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin. And the fact that the majority of the established churches that we all grew up in not only would not accept them, but would villainize them not only hurts them, it hurts me too because you are referring to my family.

One thing I’d like to point out here is that when you accept someone, that doesn’t mean you approve of everything they do. I am accepted by a lot of people, but that’s due in large part to the fact that the majority of my life that is visible to others just so happens to fit in line with what most Christians deem to be acceptable Christian behavior. If I laid my life, actions, and thoughts out to you like an open book, I can absolutely guarantee that many people would have a hard time looking at me the same way again.

I just finished reading the book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, and it really hit home for me. In the book he talks about how we need to live more in the light of God’s love, grace, and mercy and reach out to people who are hurting. One of my favorite quotes from the book was “We are all, equally, privileged but unentitled beggars at the door of God’s mercy.” None of us is better than anyone else. In Matthew 6:10, Jesus prayed for God’s will to be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” His will is for us to love others as He loves us, and in doing so we bring a piece of Heaven down to Earth.

Some will say that when you love someone, you must speak the truth to them. They use this as their reason for why they can tell someone else that they believe what they are doing is wrong. While I agree with that in principle, in practice you should only do so when you are actually close to that person, or if they have given you an opportunity to speak into their lives. We are to be Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), and if he didn’t berate people about what they had done wrong in their lives then neither should we. If you do speak that truth out to the general masses, watch how you do it, and have a little tact and grace, otherwise you come off sounding like the folks from Westboro Baptist Church. You know who they are, the “god hates fags” folks. Well, in my opinion, the god they believe in is too small if his love cannot encompass us all.

In his book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul David Tripp said “Truth that is not spoken in love ceases to be truth because it is twisted by other human agendas.” Ask yourself the question “what is my agenda?” If the answer ins’t in alignment with Ephesians 4:29 (“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”), then I’d say you have a problem.

While I wrestle with how others live their lives, I still accept and love them. That’s a lot easier to say than do sometimes, so in writing this I am helping to remind myself to err more on the side of love. I am, and always will be broken, but thankfully with the unconditional love of my friends and family, and the Lord almighty, I am being put back together one piece at a time.

A Christmas Special

It seems as if we just started the year, and now before we blink, it’s time to celebrate Christmas again. This time of year, many of us take the opportunity to reflect on our lives and maybe even how we relate to God given that we are celebrating Jesus’ birth. Obviously, not everyone has come to a point in their lives where they believe in God. That doesn’t mean Christmas is any less special to them, it just has a different meaning.

Being raised in a Christian home obviously had a significant impact on how I came to believe in God. I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in Him. That doesn’t mean I always chose to follow Him, and even after I made the decision at 13 to do just that, I have strayed from religion and serving Him over the years. In the last few years, I finally began to venture back on to the path back to Him and part of that has really been to build upon the basic beliefs I had as a child. What I mean by that is that I have been trying to understand the foundation of what I believe and why, and to really understand God on a much more personal, or dare I say mature, level.

Over the last two years, I finally finished reading the entire Bible. I consider it quite a feat, not because I am anything special, but quite the opposite. I’ve never been a voracious reader and my mind tends to wander when I try to read, so tackling something as large as the Bible is a monumental task for me. I can’t say I understand everything in the book, or that I’ve even solidified my thoughts on some parts of what I read. But as many people smarter than I am would tell you, start with Jesus and work out from there.

I am in the middle of reading the book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and it really frames up the discussion about Jesus that each of us should consider for ourselves. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but ultimately the point Lewis makes is that you cannot think of Jesus as just a good or moral teacher. You could chalk Him up to be a crazy man, because not only did He claim to be God, He made some crazy claims like He could raise the dead. You can’t really think of Him as good if He is not God because then He’s basically the biggest liar that has ever lived. But if you decide not to write Him off, or think He’s insane or a liar, then you really only have one alternative, and that is to believe that He is everything He claimed to be, which means He was God.

I obviously accept Him as God, and while some may say that is because I was raised in a Christian home, it’s built on so much more than what my parents told me. No matter what background you come from, at some point, if you end up believing in a higher power there will be some step of faith you must take, whether big or small. My parents may have helped close the gap, but I had to go the rest of the way on my own. In my opinion, the best evidence lies in the undeniable impact that Jesus has had on our world.

I’m going to use a short essay entitled “One Solitary Life” from Dr. James Allan Francis, because he sums it up so much better than I could…

Let us turn now to the story. A child is born in an obscure village. He is brought up in another obscure village. He works in a carpenter shop until he is thirty, and then for three brief years is an itinerant preacher, proclaiming a message and living a life. He never writes a book. He never holds an office. He never raises an army. He never has a family of his own. He never owns a home. He never goes to college. He never travels two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He gathers a little group of friends about him and teaches them his way of life. While still a young man, the tide of popular feeling turns against him. One denies him; another betrays him. He is turned over to his enemies. He goes through the mockery of a trial; he is nailed to a cross between two thieves, and when dead is laid in a borrowed grave by the kindness of a friend.

Those are the facts of his human life. He rises from the dead. Today we look back across nineteen hundred years and ask, What kind of trail has he left across the centuries? When we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely picayune in their influence on mankind compared with that of this one solitary life.

We could point to different things as evidence, and even debate back and forth about, but we’d likely end up in the same place as we are now, but maybe with a better understanding of each other’s basis for our beliefs. Besides, if I could convince you with a winsome argument, someone else could convince you of something else. But if knowing where I am coming from helps you in some way to decide that you need to do your own reading or investigation on the topic, then I believe I have done my job. I believe that every person needs to decide for themselves what all this means because it is simply too important to ignore.

What’s mind blowing to me about Christianity is that we are the only religion that has at the center of its teachings the complete humiliation of its supreme being. In every epic story created by men, the hero is glorified. In every other known religion, there is something that man can do in and of himself to obtain sanctification of his own sins. The claim of Christianity that God sent His son in such an unassuming package as a little child in a manger, only lives a short time, has a remarkably short ministry, and then He eventually is tortured and murdered and yet His life has had a bigger impact on this world than any other just doesn’t seem to be something I can ignore. I think most people could agree that there has to be something more there, even if we may not agree on His deity. But consider again the essay above by Dr. Francis. Again, I don’t claim to understand it all, not by a long shot. But it does keep my nose in the Bible to try to learn what He wants us all to learn. I hope that you either start or continue your quest for the truth.

Merry Christmas!

Old School Sports News

Not sure what got me thinking about this topic this past weekend, but I couldn’t help but reminisce about the sports coverage shows that I used to watch over the weekends. There are three that stick out to me by far, and I love being able to go online and look back at some of the clips from each one. These were shows that were sports GOLD prior to the rise of ESPN, and especially for those of us who grew up in the dark ages without cable.

First, there was ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which ran from 1961-1998. This was the all-around sports show that covered every kind of sport you could think of, from alpine skiing to car racing. I love watching the Olympics due in large part to the variety of sports covered plus all the human interest stories, and the Wide World of Sports had both of those in spades. Jim McKay was absolutely great in covering the most eclectic mix of sports and making them seem absolutely fascinating. He could have you hanging on his every word when telling you about some random athlete you’d never heard of that had spent his entire life to become the world’s most amazing cliff diver.

Next, there was This Week in Baseball, or TWIB, which ran from 1977-2011 (albeit with a 1 year hiatus in the late 90’s). This was a weekly digest show hosted by the great Mel Allen that showed you all the great plays of the week before, plus tell you the inside scoop of what was going on in locker rooms and back offices around the league. It was the show to catch if you were a baseball fan because you trusted pretty much anything you were told so long as it was Mel Allen who told you. For a huge baseball nut like I was, the best part was when they interviewed one of my favorite players, like Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, or Johnny Bench, mainly because we didn’t live in a big baseball market so I didn’t see much of them otherwise. The greatness of the timing of this show was that it typically seemed to come on right after Saturday morning cartoons, and before the afternoon baseball game of the week. It made for a great transition right into watching a game, or going out and playing one with my friends in the neighborhood. The show wasn’t nearly as good after Mel Allen passed away in 1996.

Last but not least, was the The George Michael Sports Machine, which ran from 1984-2007. George Michael was a sportscaster in the Washington DC area and this syndicated show typically came on after the local news on Sunday evenings (at least in the Houston area where I lived). The format of the show seemed to be a bit of a cross between a local sports newscast and SportsCenter. It covered mostly major sports, but would throw out a few odd sports here and there (like a solid bio on let’s say bull riding champion Tuff Hedeman). The design of the set and the show was as if there was this actual machine that spit out great sports highlights of the week, and then George would punch a button and the machine would play the tape and he’d narrate. Absolutely cheesy, but somehow he made it awesome, probably just because he seemed like he really enjoyed what he was doing. I think they kept that motif through the end of the shows run, which made it a bit campy, but I didn’t mind it.

As with anything from childhood or “the good old days”, I get a bit nostalgic when reminiscing about past sports heroes. What may have been great about being a kid at that time was that you weren’t bombarded with knowing everything about the athletes themselves, you got just enough to make you be awe struck with what they could do in their respective sports. It was just enough to get you excited to enjoy watching them take the field each week, and then want to be them when you played with your friends. So many great times and memories.

Hitting Home

This past weekend, some members of our church volunteered at Shoes for Orphan Souls, a ministry of Buckner International. They take donations of new shoes, medical supplies, school supplies, and food and distribute them to several other countries around the world. We volunteered there once before this year, and we truly enjoyed meeting some of the great people who work for the ministry, and we came away with a feeling that we did a little part to make a difference.

We were tasked with sorting shoes, and we asked where the shoes came from. They told us they were part of shoe drives from various organizations, including schools, radio stations, and churches. One of the things that I thought was really awesome was seeing the notes that some people put into the shoes they donated. They were words of encouragement to whoever would receive that pair of shoes. In some cases, there were pictures of the donating family’s children, or maybe a child’s drawing made especially for them.

What really hit home for me this time was seeing a certain pair of shoes that I didn’t see the first time we had volunteered earlier this year. They weren’t special shoes, per se, just a pair of white, black and pink tennis shoes for a little girl. But what did make these shoes special was that my little girl has a pair just like them. Alina likes these shoes so much that she is on her third pair as she continues to grow out of them. What’s even more personal is that a little over five years ago, my little girl was in a baby house in Russia waiting for us to come get her, and the little girl who will receive these shoes may be waiting for parents, too.

In the midst of sorting through thousands of shoes, I took a picture and said a prayer for whoever receives them. I’ve shared that picture below so that you’ll be reminded that we need to do our small part to bring hope to children thousands of miles away who need to know that they are not forgotten. The other picture is my Alina with her shoes just like the ones that had been donated.

Thank you to Shoes for Orphan Souls for everything you do, as well as our small group that volunteered when they had plenty of other things they could be doing. You made a difference.

For more information about volunteering to sort shoes or other ways to help the fatherless, go to Shoes for Orphan Souls or Buckner International.

Shoes 2013

The Best People I Know

Many people are aware that November is National Adoption Month. What you may not know is that yesterday, November 3rd, was Orphan Sunday. This is an initiative fostered by the Christian Alliance for Orphans in an effort to spur on the efforts of the global church to follow our call as Christians to care for the fatherless. For the second year in a row, as part of our leadership roles for our church’s adoption, foster care, and global orphan care ministry, my wife and I helped organize our church’s participation in this special day.

As part of our services, our church’s media team showed the story of a family’s recent adoption of their foster daughter, and it brought me to tears. Their story was truly beautiful, and I’m so grateful that they shared it with us. But what’s amazing is that since we adopted our daughter five years ago, I have been privileged to watch many stories like theirs unfold. Every story has some amount of hiccups or hardships, and even in some cases, absolute heart-breaking circumstances. But so often, these parents and families persevere beyond human comprehension or understanding.

Being a part of this fraternity of adoptive and foster parents is so incredibly humbling. I’ve seen people persevere beyond what they felt was possible, overcoming the obstacles that always seem to come up, and provide a family for children that in many cases have never had a family, or who have never been part of a safe family. I get to witness an incredible amount of selfless, unwavering, and determined love, and it gives us a small glimpse of God’s love for us.

God knows every part of our past, yet He continues to pursue us. He knows that in many cases, people will reject Him, yet He continues to pursue us. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and yet He pursues us (Jeremiah 7:13). He is not waiting on the sidelines, He is not an absentee landlord, and He is not sitting idly by watching as children go uncared for and unloved. He resides in the hearts and lives of His people, and He has sent them to care for orphans (Jeremiah 22:3) and speak up about injustice (Psalm 82:3) so that people will see how big, vast, and wide His love is for us (Ephesians 3:18). Sounds familiar, right? You will find these themes and others like them woven into the fabric of stories of adoption, fostering, and orphan care.

To every person and family involved in foster care, adoption, or global orphan care, I want to thank you for showing up day-in and day-out and being faithful, in some cases beyond what I thought was possible. Thank you for helping to restore my faith that God is truly with us. Thank you for bringing Heaven into our world and showing everyone that what is impossible with man is truly possible with God. You truly are my heroes and quite simply, the best people I know.