The Game of Life

disappointWhen I turned on the TV and tuned in to watch the Packers and Falcons, I was expecting to watch an entertaining and competitive game of football—I was disappointed.  When it came time for the second game between the Steelers and the Patriots, I was confident the game would be much better than the earlier fiasco—I was wrong.

While the games were minor disappointments to me, I have learned that Mr. Disappoint is a frequent visitor to some and he presents himself in different forms.  To correctly identify this culprit, think of him as a PUNT which is usually the result of a frustrated effort on the gridiron:

  • People are culprits who can disappoint.

The minds of some people are laced with memories that are full of disappointment.  These are recollections of the past when they feel as though the people whom they cared for the most could not have cared for them less.

  • Unrealistic expectations can deceive and disappoint

Sometimes we place people on pedestals and we are disappointed when they do not live up to our expectations. There are other times when a tendency toward self-perfection will lead us to be disappointed in our own accomplishments.

  • Networks will disappoint you.

Some networks consist of a complicated grid of wires and electronics; others are a complex meshwork of emotions. The latter can be frustrating because it’s full of people and their passions that conflict with ours.  When you’re involved in an organization, whether it is faith-based, educational, or work-related, you take the risk of being disappointed—one or all of these can falter in its potential or fail to keep a promise.

  • Transitions will disappoint you.

The one word definition for stress is transition, and the stress associated with any change can be disappointing. These life-altering occasions force us to make changes that move us out of our comfort zone and reshape our daily routine.

When we have been PUNTED, and we experience a let down in one of these areas, it helps to refocus:

  • Face the fact: No one is perfect. Disappointment is as old as Adam and Eve and their disobedience in the Garden of Eden. There simply is not a person alive who will be able to fulfill all of your dream.
  • Forgive and release it. Resentment is the rope with which you hang yourself. We need to, Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:14-15).

We may not be responsible for the circumstances of life, but we are responsible for the way we respond to them.  Emotions and attitudes are the responsibility of the individual, and when God is added to the equation of life our perspective can become more positive:

Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD.

I will be joyful in God my Savior

~Habakkuk: 3:17-18

The Pick-Me-Up Principle

christianencouragementsecularencouragementThe season ended much differently for the Denver Broncos than it did for the Minnesota Vikings—especially Blair Walsh.  Confetti and ticker tape parades were the focus of the Broncos’ fans; however, some Vikings’ fans were thinking more of a hangman’s noose.

During the season, Walsh had made an NFL-high 34 field goals. With time running out, all the Vikings needed to defeat the Seahawks was a field goal.  Everyone assumed Walsh would kick the ball through the center of the goal posts, but it sailed wide and the Vikings season came to a sudden end.

While many of the Vikings’ fans attacked Walsh on social media, a group of first graders in Minnesota decided to share some encouraging words with the much-maligned kicker.  One of the students, Allie Edwards, said, “Blair was really sad, and we wanted to make him feel better.”

To see how the class reached out to Walsh, you can watch this video:

The actions of these children reminds me of one of the great pick-me-up principles of the New Testament:

If a person is caught doing something wrong, those of you who are spiritual should restore that person gently. Watch out for yourself so that you are not tempted as well.  Practice carrying each other’s burdens. In this way you will fulfill the law of the Messiah. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is really nothing, he is only fooling himself . . . So then, whenever we have the opportunity, let’s practice doing good to everyone, especially to the family of faith.    ~Galatians 6

Blair Walsh was blessed because Allie Edwards and her classmates heard opportunity knocking, and Walsh was encouraged by their little hearts that were large with empathy. Who will you bless and encourage today?

Peyton Manning Retires or Goodbye Omaha

peyton-manning1Four years ago, Peyton Manning joined the Denver Broncos.  Before he stepped on the field for the first time, he first waked through the locker room to meet the

In this era of super-sized egos, Manning was a rare gem.  He loved and respected the game, and it showed on that April day in 2012 when he shook hands with the guys on the practice squad, the backups, and the starters.  Every one of the Broncos already knew who he was, but Peyton wanted to know each of them.

Most people who follow the NFL were pretty sure Manning’s career was over, so no one was surprised when the news began to leak out on Saturday night.  To show respect for his fellow Broncos, Manning had sent each of them a text before his final decision to retire became public.

As I think about the way this famous man has managed his life, I’m reminded of a couple of Scriptures:

  • Romans 12:3: I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.
  • James 4:10: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
  • 1 Peter 5:6: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time

I hope aspiring athletes will remember Manning less for his signature “Omaha” and more for the manner in which he has respected the game and the way he continues to invest in the lives of others.

Goodbye Christmas and Hello 2016

hope-at-christmasWhat remains of Christmas?  Is the shredded paper in the curbside container all that’s left?  Is it the December delights that have been boxed-up with your dazzling array of decorations and stored neatly away until the arrival of Holiday Season 2016?

Since people quickly become bored with nativities and Christmas trees, how is the story to be told these next 12 months?  After hearing Silent Night sung for the thousandth time, how do we keep its message fresh and lively?

Christmas is more than the ashen remains of empty platitudes, it’s the colors and hues that imbues the message of Emmanuel:  God is with us!  Not just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but every day:  His daily presence is His eternal present.

As you count down the final days of 2015, I hope your thoughts will be more than the fantasy of Star Wars, the NFL, and college football.  I encourage you think about the message of Christmas.  May it live in you and remain as the joyful refrain of hope, and a message that refines you and defines you throughout the coming year.

Barbed Wire and Ballerinas

ballerinaSince I live in the land of bluestem grass, it’s a common sight to see cattle grazing in pastures.  Many times these cattle are seen with their necks sticking through a barbed wire fence to eat grass just beyond their reach; hence, the cliché:  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 

I think the old cliché is the life philosophy of some people.  They’re not content with what God has given them, so they keep searching for that elusive something that is just beyond their grasp.

When God designs a person with the body of an NFL lineman, He never intends for them to dance in the shoes of a famous ballerina.  If God christened you as an acorn, don’t feel like you’ve been slighted because you don’t have the fragrance of a rose: rejoice in the deep roots you’ll grow.

Grasp this truth—you’ve not been manufactured on the assembly line of life.  You’re a unique creation; the handiwork of God; designed for a specific purpose; and, blessed with the appropriate amount of grace to accomplish the mission to which you’ve been called.

Let me remind you that God has blessed us with gifts that “vary depending on the grace poured out on each of us, so it’s important that we exercise the gifts we’ve been given (Romans 12:6).”

You can exercise these gifts by slipping on your shoes, lacing them-up with the grace of God, and running the race that He has set before you.

God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that, in all things and at all times, having all you need, you may overflow in every kind of good work.   ~2 Corinthians 9:8

A Normal Failure

images (2)Success and failure are the topics of many discussions.  In the Proverbs, Solomon draws a contrast between the “God-loyal people” and the “wicked” and how they manage the difficult times they face:

“Don’t interfere with good people’s lives; don’t try to get the best of them. No matter how many times you trip them up, God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet, while the wicked end up flat on their faces.” ~Proverbs 24:15-16

When a person is successful, he hears the cheers of the crowd; however, when he fails, the whispers of the same people are heard as an agonizing shout.  Failure is, however, a normal part of a person’s life.

With this in mind, let me share my Top Ten Failure Quotes:

  • Failure is not falling down: It is staying down.
  • “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” – John Wooden
  • “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley
  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
  • “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
  • “It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” – Zig Ziglar
  • “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
  • Try again. Fail again. Fail better. ~Samuel Beckett
  • Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat. ~F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. ~Lloyd Jones

When I think of a God-loyal person, I think of Tim Tebow.  This young man had a stellar career as a college quarteback.  When his professional career came to an abrupt halt, some peole labeled him as a failure.

Tebow stayed in shape, continued to work hard, and he signed a contract with the Eagles this week.  He is anything but a failure, and he is a living example of Solomon’s words: “God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet . . . “

How Do You Measure-Up?

Measuring-tape-010Success is determined through a process of standards and measurements.  In the world of sports, speed and strength are two important measurements.  At the NFL combine, athletes go through a rigorous examination of their physical skills and abilities based on the criteria below:

  • 40 SPEED: 40-yard dash time.
  • 3-CONE: 3-cone drill time.
  • SHUTTLE: 20-yard shuttle time.
  • VERTICAL: Vertical jump – measured by the differential between a player’s reach and the marked flag.
  • BROAD: Broad jump distance.
  • BENCH: Bench press – measured by the number of times a player bench presses 225pds.

A sports analogy was on Paul’s mind when he wrote of athletes who disciplined their bodies in preparation for the Isthmian Games.  Paul said, “Everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away (I Corinthians 9:25).”

Like the athletes of today, the aspiring athletes of Corinth lived a disciplined life in preparation for the sporting events.  They realized that the exemplary life of an athlete is the result of an examined life.

Standards and measurements should be as important to the Christian as they are to the athlete.  Paul said:

Examine yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it (2 Corinthians 13:35).”

The unexamined life is a nefarious life, and it can make for precarious habits.  Benjamin Franklin eschewed sloppy living, so he measured his life by asking himself two questions each day:

  • The Morning Question: What Good shall I do this Day?
  • The Evening Question: What Good have I done today?

Franklin believed these two questions are the key to an examined life that is as efficient as it is beneficent.  I encourage you to use these questions to measure your life through the remainder of this year.

Are You On The Edge?

honingrodEarlier this year, I read the sad story of a promising young man named Logan J. Stiner. Even though he was a healthy 18-year-old and a state-qualified wrestler, Stiner died in May from an overdose of powdered caffeine. The corner, Dr. Steven Evans, said he doubted that Stiner had any idea he had consumed a toxic amount of the powder.

Stiner, a national honor society member who planned to attend Toledo University, may have been influenced by the antics and influence of some of the elite athletes among the ranks of the pros. The NFL has already suspended more than 20 players this year for violating the league’s policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs and illegal substances. They were trying to get an edge by hedging the rules.

Paul used the context of athletic competition to call Christians to a lifestyle of self-discipline: “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself ( The Message ~I Corinthians 9).”

You can summarize what Paul said in five words: “No sloppy living for me.” It’s hard to get the winning edge when you’re dulled by sloppy living.

I used to make knives, and I know a sharp knife can lose its edge suddenly or slowly. When it is abruptly dulled, you usually know why because you have abused and misused your knife.

When your knife slowly uses its edge, you may not be aware of the dullness that has slowly crept in. Solomon spoke of this in Proverbs 27:17: I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of one who lacks wisdom. I saw that thorns had grown up all over it, the ground was covered with weeds, and its stone wall was broken down. When I saw this, I gave careful consideration to it; I received instruction from what I saw: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to relax, and your poverty will come like a bandit, and your need like an armed robber.”

This type of dullness can be the result of not taking the proper care of your knife or it can be the influence of the wrong kind of friends. The power of friendship is a principle of the Proverbs: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).”

What kind of a friend are you? Are you the iron that hones the life of your friends and posse, so their lives are more polished and glossy? Another key question is: How do your friends influence you?