Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Finding Encouragement from Moses While Raising Foster Children

Raising three foster children can be a challenge.  In my case, I find this to be especially true.  All three of my foster children are in diapers.  The oldest is a nearly three year old boy who has a ton of energy, is strong willed and defiant, will not obey, refuses to nap, and has major screaming fits when he does not get his way.  The second is a recently turned two year old girl.  She came to us when she was nine months old, weighing  only 14 pounds because she was not fed properly.  While she appears to have recovered well, she still has baggage from not being fed properly; she has little desire to eat and it is a constant battle to get her to eat.  Because of her small size, she is under medical supervision by doctors who continually want to test her to see if something is wrong, even though, to date, they have found nothing wrong with her.  In recent months, she has been demonstrating some of her brother's strong willed and defiant traits.  The third child is a baby boy born in July.  Unlike his sister, he wants to eat continually and wants to be held all of the time, even though that does not always make him happy.  The worst part is that he refuses to sleep through the night.  Every night he is up once or twice wanting a bottle.  Often, he will not return to sleep, requiring my wife or I to stay up throughout the night to keep him quiet so that he will not wake his brother or sister, who are little terrors if they do not sleep all night.  The kids are high maintenance and require constant supervision.

I realize that I am complaining a lot.  But, you need to know these facts in order to understand my reaction to reading Numbers 11.  In this chapter, the Israelites are complaining again, this time about the lack of meat to eat.  Moses was displeased (verse 10) and beginning in verse 11, he says to God, "Why have you dealt ill with your servant?  And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?  Did I conceive all these people?  Did I give them birth, . . . I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me."

I know my circumstances are nothing like what Moses faced.  But, sometimes I feel like Moses.  Like the Israelites, the foster kids are high maintenance.  Even though their behavior has improved during the 17 months they have lived with us, they still require constant supervision and we still have the previously described struggles.  While they may not complain like the Israelites, their behavior makes it difficult to be around them and it feels like their behavior is complaining.

Some days are particularly difficult and, like Moses, I ask "Why God have you but this burden on me.  The lack of sleep and lack of time with my wife is killing me.  I cannot handle it.  I know you want me to help needy children, but why did you have to give me such difficult children. These are not even my children.  Sandy and I did not even give birth to them.  I did not bring them into this world, so why am I paying the price of raising them?  How am I supposed to get the strength and patience to raise them?  I cannot do it. This burden is too heavy for me."

In the passage, God responded by providing helpers for Moses, by providing for their physical needs with quail, and by punishing them with too much quail and a plague.  For me, the punishment does not apply because the foster kids are children and are not responsible, in the same way, as the adult Israelites. 

However, I do see other similarities.  God has provided people to help us.  My wife is a great help to me.  In fact, she does more of the raising of the children than I do.  In reality, I am merely the helper for her.  My children are also a great help.  I know God would provide, but I do not think we could raise them without the help of my children.  Others help occasionally, like our parents.  Another help is actual encouragement from other people.

Similar to God's help in Numbers 11, God also provides physically for us.  Even though Sandy and I get little sleep, somehow I am responding better than I ever thought I would with such little sleep.  He is providing supernatural strength to survive my lack of sleep.  God also provides opportunities for Sandy and I to get away and spend some time together.  We enjoy weekly dates to the bookstore, which are made possible by my older children who babysit.

While at times, it seems like the foster children are a burden, I know that God has given us a privilege to raise them.  He does not give us more than we can handle.  If they are such a challenge, then God knows we are capable of handling this challenge.  And, He has given us a lot of help in facing the challenge, including physical help from our children and supernatural help to survive little sleep.  Ultimately, if these children accept Christ as their Saviour and spend eternity in heaven with God, then whatever price I pay is worth it.  My price is very little compared to the price that Jesus paid to provide salvation for me.  These children also provide multiple opportunities for me to learn lessons from God.  I have gained a much greater understanding of what it means to be adopted into God's family and made a child of God.  I have learned that I need to be dependent upon God and not really upon my strength.  These lessons are continuing.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Engagement Night

On the last day of Fall Quarter at Cedarville in 1988 (that sounds like a long time ago), I picked up a small diamond engagement ring.  A short time later, I was with my girlfriend, in her car, driving home.  She had finished student teaching and said her teacher was asking if she was going to get engaged over Christmas break.  She said that she was not getting engaged.  I had to keep a straight face as the ring sat in my pocket.

A few days later, I was standing next to her as she talked with a friend.  They were talking about how guys never want to ask the dad if they can marry the daughter.  Sandy explained that we were going to dinner that night and afterwards I was going to talk to her father.  Again, I had to keep a straight face because I had already talked to her dad.

On December 23, 1988, we at dinner at Wanamaker's and watched their famous Christmas light show.  I had a strong urge to pop the question right then.  I could not keep holding the ring any more.  But, that was not my plan, so I waited.  After dinner, we traveled towards Independence Hall to get a carriage ride.  Due to rain, no carriages were present.  Sandy said the carriage ride was no big deal and we could go home.  I told her that I really wanted to find some carriages.  I drove to South Street and we found some carriages.  As we rode along, I pulled the ring out of my pocket and told her that I have grown to love her over the last several months, I would like to spend the rest of my life with her, and asked her to marry me.  Shocked and speachless, she paused.  Then she said, "Yes" followed by, "when did you ask my Dad?"

Twenty three years later, I am married to my best friend.  A lot has happened during these 23 years.  We have four natural born children living with us, four children in heaven, and three Foster children that we hope to adopt.  We started a solo law practice in the home and turned it into a partnership with real office space.  She teaches our children at home.  We have served many hours in our church and have mentored numerous people.  Through it all, I cannot imagine my life without her.  Although I cannot understand it, I love her more today that ever.  Even though she is 23 years older, she looks more beautiful to me today than she did the day she said "Yes."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is Xmas Offensive?

It's a common sign this time of year. The sign that says "Xmas" instead of Christmas. Understandably, many Christians get upset when they see the sign. Not only have they removed Christ from Christmas, but they have crossed him out with an "X".

I don't believe that Christians should be offended when they see the "Xmas" abbreviation - because, in reality, "Xmas" is an abbreviation based upon the Greek language. While I do not know Greek, it is my understanding that when Christ is spelled in Greek, the first letter is "X". So, biblical scholars, Bible students, and Christians have, for centuries, used "X" as an abbreviation for Christ. "Xmas" is simply an abbreviation for Christmas, which actually recognizes the name of Christ.

While Christians should be concerned about the commercialization of Christmas and, in a practical sense, Christ is largely ignored at Christmas time, their concern about Xmas is misplaced.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Helping the Poor

Recently, I blogged about how many of the "poor" in the United States are not really poor. While this is true, there are people in the U.S. who are really poor and live in crime infested, destitute neighborhoods. Even though the Bible commands Christians to help the poor, many Christians and churches ignore this responsibility. Instead, they have turned the responsibility over to the government. Such inaction by Christians and takeover by the government has not truly helped the poor, but has made many Christians spiritually poor.

While there is no single answer to problems involving the poor, one solution is for Christians to be active in helping the truly poor. One such couple is Bill and Shannon Merck, who are members of Immanuel Baptist Church in Maple Shade, New Jersey. Seeing Camden, one of the poorest communities in the country, only a few miles from their church, they felt a need to provide real help to truly poor people. For the second year in a row, they organized a Christmas concert to raise funds. The concert took place at their church and involved members of their church, as well as talent from the area. They even had a band from New York City. At the end, Shannon sang and shared her heart. Her passion engulfed the auditorium. She explained the need and how they desired to help. Last year, they raised $1,500.00 and gave coats, gloves, books, and toys to needy children. This year, they identified over twenty children, twelve of whom are currently homeless, to help. These are people who truly need help. Again, they will provide coats, gloves, books, and toys. In addition, they identified a center that provides after school care for poor children. They will assist this center and the center helps children with physical needs and shares the gospel with them. If there is more money, they have identified other needy children through DYFS, whom they will help.
Bill and Shannon are a remarkable couple who are making a difference in the lives of people. They see a need and are acting. They are not living in their own material filled bubble ignoring those around them. They are not being judgmental. They are not waiting for the government or someone else to help. They are part of the solution. For that, I want to applaud them, am glad that we could provide some help, and that my children could be part of the benefit concert.

PS - if you are interested in contributing, let me know and I will get you in contact with Bill and Shannon.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dave Ramsey's Time Management Tips from EntreLeader

I have been reading Dave Ramsey's new book, EntreLeader. In chapter 3, he gives some good tips about time management. For example he relates some tips from Stephen Covey about evaluating whether tasks are urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and not urgent and not important. He also talks about using a "To Do" list, using time productively rather then wasting it, having productive meetings, applying technology productively, and using personnel to make you more productive.

While these tips are good, I believe they need to be kept in balance. For example, he spends a great deal of time warning about personnel who waste other people's time by talking. I understand and agree with him that we need to be careful about casual conversation taking away from productivity. But, I think he goes overboard. Maybe I am reading him wrong, but it appears that unless the conversation is important to his business, he will not have the conversation and does not want other employees having such conversation.

Some of those conversations may not be directly related to business, but they may be important to building relationships in the workplace that ultimately make people more productive. More importantly, they may also be opportunities to build into the life of another person. Perhaps, you can use those conversations to encourge someone, train them, or provide biblical wisdom. Not all of these conversations are a waste of time. God puts more value on relationships and people than business productivity.

Like I said, we need a balance. We, and others in our business, should not expend an inordinate amount of time in non-business related conversation. A business must be productive in order to earn the money needed to stay in business and pay its employees. But, at the same time, we must value employees over productivity. We should not neglect people for the sake of productivity. Perhaps, a reasonable balance is bugeting casual conversation into our work day. This way, we get the benefits of casual conversation without it taking over the day.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Who Are The Poor?

Poor is a relative term. Every year, our government defines the poor according to the income they make. However, the poor in the United States would be rich in many countries. So, who exactly who are the poor? According to Walter Williams . . .

* 80% have air conditioning,
* nearly 75% have a car or truck and 31% have two vehicles,
* 67% have cable or satellite tv,
* 50% have one or more computers,
* 42% own their own homes,
* 96% said there children are never hungry due to a lack of money to buy food.

Compared to much of the world, these people are not poor. Contrast the poor in the U.S. with other countries like the Domincan Republic. Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols grew up in the Domincan Republic and never considered himself poor because he had one meal to eat a day, while others had none.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pop Culture Invasion

Pop culture can invade your home very quickly. It does not take much for a song, television show, news story, or movie to invade a home, even when you try to limit such influences. I was reminded of this when my seven year old daughter and I made a recent trip to BJs.

As a family, we do not generally listen to pop music. Most of it fails to meet the standard set forth in Phillipians 4:8, which instructs us to think about things that are true, honorable, pure, etc. So, I was shocked when, while checking out at BJs, my daughter asked, "Dad, do you hear that song?" I had heard the song, but it was one that I did not expect her to know. Katy Perry's "Firework" was playing. We do not listen to Katy Perry and I really wondered how she knew the song. "It is the song from 'Soul Surfer'" she proudly exclaimed.

I know she has seen the movie a few times and it is one of her favorite movies. However, she does not know the song from the movie. The song is not in the movie. From what I can tell, she heard part of the song one time - only one time. Our church was showing the movie. In order to promote it, they showed the trailer, which plays part of the song. She heard part of the song during a trailer that she only saw one time. Yet, when she heard the song in a store, she recognized it immediately.

This reminded me of how quickly pop culture, and its messages, can invade our homes. Fortunately, this song is rather benign and I do not care that she recognized it. But, how many other songs will she recognize and what other messages will be conveyed? What if it was one of Kay Perry's other songs?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cardinal Fan

I was born and lived the first 10 1/2 years of my life in an area that loves baseball. But the area loves two teams. When you are born in Decatur, Illinois, you have two choices; you can love the Cardinals or the Cubs. I am not really sure how people choose the team they love. If it was really a rational choice, I don't know why anyone would choose the Cubs. They haven't won a World Series in forever. Generally, they are irrelevant. Why would anyone choose the Cubs when they can be a Cardinal fan. As of today, the Cardinals have won the National League a record 18 times, have won the World Series 10 times (the most for any NL team), and are working on their 11th World Series win.

There are many towns like Decatur, where the population is divided between Cardinal and Cub fans. Buzz Bissinger, in "Three Nights in August", described the Cardinal/Cub rivalry and explained that, for many years, the Cardinals and Cubs were the two teams farthest west and they had strong radio signals. So, most people in the midwest became fans of these teams. When he listed a town as having a typical Cardinal/Cub division, he listed Decatur, Illinois.

While I don't know how people choose between the Cardinals and Cubs, I know that I am a Cardinal fan, not by choice, but by birthright, or genetics, or some similar reason. My father was (and still is) a Cardinal fan. My grandparents were Cardinal fans. So, I became a Cardinal fan. Being a good parent, I have made sure that my children are Cardinal fans, even though they live in a Philadelphia suburb. I am even teaching my foster children to root for the Cardinals.

Some of my earliest memories are going to the grandparent's house on Sunday afternoons and watching the Cardinals on t.v. Long before cable t.v. and long before every game was broadcast, Sundays were usually the only days that we could watch the Cardinals. My grandmother was a big Cardinal fan and always had the game on.

Since t.v. was rare, I have many memories of listening to the Cardinals on the radio. Jack Buck is a legendary broadcaster and I listened to him for many years. As a teenager, I lived near Philadelphia, where it was hard to follow the Cardinals (again, before cable t.v. and the internet). I remember lying in bed with a radio tuned to KMOX out of St. Louis. The signal was weak and faded in and out, but at night, if I listened closely, I could still hear Jack Buck and Mike Shannon describing the game.

The first MLB game I ever attended was a Cardinal game in St. Louis. I was nine or ten years old. We took a friend of mine and made a Sunday trip to St. Louis. I remember entering the city on an Interstate and being amazed at the number and size of large highway ramps and bridges entering the city. This was the first time I had ever been to a large city. I was in awe. Going into the stadium was amazing. It was so large. How could anyone hit a ball that far? The crowd was huge. I had never seen so many people before. It was jacket day and I loved the red plastic jacket that I was given. The Cardinals were playing the Pirates. Ted Simmons hit a home run to right-center field and the Cardinals won.

1982 was a fun year because I lived near Philadelphia and the Cardinals and Phillies were battling for the NL East title. In September, my Dad got tickets for us to go to a game. The Phillie Fanatic was making fun of the Cardinals and Lonnie Smith, in particular. Lonnie Smith, the Cardinal left fielder, used to play for the Phillies, was fast, stole a lot of bases, but had a habit of tripping over his own feet. During warm-ups, the Phanatic was running around in front of him and kept falling down. At one point, the Phanatic was running across the field and Lonnie Smith ran up behind him, dove at him, and tackled him at his ankles. The crowd booed loudly. The Phanatic actually sprained his ankle during the mishap. Steve Carlton pitched for the Phillies and they won the game. I believe this put them 1/2 a game ahead of the Cardinals for first place. If my memory is correct, Carlton became the all time leader in career strikeouts during the game. I think the Cardinals won the next two games and took first place. The Cardinals won the East that year. They played the Braves in the NLCS and won. Then, they played the Brewers and won the World Series in 7 games. I bought a World Series coffee cup that has the scores of each playoff game. I still use the cup today.

I enjoy the great history and tradition of the Cardinals. I don't remember the '60s, but in the time that I remember, the Cardinals have been in the World Series 6 times. I loved the Whitey Herzog Cardinals. It always felt like they were the underdogs because they had no power. Instead, they won games by playing to the strength of their ballpark; it was large and had fast astroturf, so the Cardinals had fast players who hit the ball in the gaps for doubles and triples and they stole a lot of bases. It was very exciting baseball. In the 1982 World Series, they had two players score on one sacrifice fly; that is a lot of speed. They won the World Series in 1982, but lost in 1985 and 1987. Then they hit a dry spell until they hired Tony LaRussa. In 16 years as manager, they have made the playoffs 9 times. They had great teams in 2004 and 2005, winning 205 regular season games, but lost the 2004 World Series and losing in the 2005 NLCS. The 2006 regular season was very disappointing. After two 100 win seasons, the 2006 Cardinals only won 83 games, but still won the division. Without high expectations, the team won the World Series for the 1oth time. Now, they are ahead 2-1 in the 2011 World Series.

I have great memories of their great players like Lou Brock, Keith Hernandez, Bob Forsch, Ted Simmons, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee. I have grown up hearing about other great players like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and others. It is a great tradition to have. Now, new players are making memories for my children and me. Carpenter leading the pitching staff during the LaRussa years. Big Mac hitting many home runs (we did not know they were tainted then). Adam Wainwright, as a rookie, closing out the 2006 World Series. And, Albert Pujols hitting the ball like crazy.

I enjoy these memories and hope to have many more. In a few days, I hope to update this post by saying the Cardinals have won their 11th World Series. Now, I need to go so that I can watch game 4. When the game is over, I hope I hear the words, "That's a winner" in my head.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

S'more Cupcakes

With 7 children, it is easy for my kids to feel lost in the crowd. It is hard for them to feel like individuals. Even if I am trying to do something with one child, like going to a soccer game, other children are inevitably tagging along because it is difficult to leave 6 other children behind for someone else to watch.

In order to combat the feeling of being lost in a crowd, I try to make an effort to do things with an individual child. I probably should try to do more with my children on an individual basis, but that is hard. In the past few months, I went camping with Matthew, took a 23 mile bike ride with Laura, and took Aly to the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Saturday was Maddie's turn. I told her that we were going to do something special, but I did not tell her what we were doing. I said we had to go to Shop Rite. Once there, I told her we were going to make cupcakes. She was very excited. First, we started by choosing the cake batter. We chose chocolate. Is there really any other choice? I wanted to do something fancy on top, rather that the usual, plain icing. Maddie was having trouble catching my vision. She seemed happy with plain pink icing and sprinkles. I wanted more. I found some chocolate icing that had a picture of s'more cupcakes. They had chocolate icing topped with marshmallows and graham cracker. After seeing the picture, Maddie caught the vision; we were making s'more cupcakes.

Since this was her project, I tried to let her do as much as possible. She poured the powder in the bowl. She added water, oil, and three eggs. She beat them with the mixer. I poured them in the pan and put them in the oven. A little while later, they were baked, cooled, and ready for icing. We took turns putting on the icing, marshmallows, and graham cracker. Then, the best part - we ate. It seems that everyone loved them. There were eaten in no time.

Maddie felt very special and enjoyed her time with Dad. Now, I need to find time to paint her nails.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Key to Conflict Resolution

Throughout the years, I have seen, and been a part of, a great deal of conflict. As an attorney, I deal with conflict on a daily basis. While this conflict takes many forms, I deal with marital conflict more than anything. When I am involved, the conflict usually has escalated to the point that at least one of the parties’ wants a divorce. As a deacon for many years, I have dealt with a lot of church conflict.

Whenever people are around other people, there is bound to be conflict. We are all sinners. We are selfish. Everyone has different wants and desires. Most conflict is generally resolved. People resolve their differences and move on. Often, relationships are stronger because of the conflict. Unfortunately, some conflict is so severe that it is never resolved and destroys relationships. With such conflict, marriages are torn apart and churches are divided.

When such severe conflict exists, I have noticed that one party usually believes the other party has evil motives. They believe the person is “out to get them” or wants to destroy them. In a church context, they believe the other person is trying to take over the church or take away someone’s rights. Such conflict is extremely difficult to resolve because the parties do not trust each other. They assume the worst in the other person. They will not give the benefit of the doubt to the other person.

On the other hand, when people are able to resolve conflict, they usually give the benefit of the doubt to the other person. They acknowledge that there is a conflict but believe the other person has a good heart. They trust that the other person has good motives; they are just misguided at that moment.

My observations were recently confirmed. In an article on Townhall.com, Rebecca Haglin wrote that two marriage-killing habits are criticism and pessimism. She refers to a study that found “the happiest marriages reflect an overall positive attitude about the goodness of the other person and the marriage itself – even as the couple works to resolve conflicts.” (Emphasis added). Haglin continued, “[N]ewlyweds who maintained an idealized view of the other person, putting the best gloss on their attributes and behavior, were happier after three years than less idealistic couples.” (Emphasis added). According to psychologist Garth Fletcher, “Positive biases and happiness seem to push each other along.” Hagelin concludes, “[T]hose who persist in presuming the best about their spouse, and who maintain a forgiving attitude and optimism about the future relationship, actually create a better marriage for themselves.” (Emphasis added).

For a happier marriage, we should assume our spouse has a good heart. Give them the benefit of the doubt. In all conflict, presume there is good in the other person. Do not assume the other person has evil motives or is out to get you. By making this fundamental change in our thinking, we can resolve conflict and have happier marriages.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Father - Son Camping

In today’s culture, it is hard to raise a godly man. Our culture confuses the genders. Boys have few role models. Dads spend little time with their young men. One of my tools for helping Matthew grow into godly man is a father/son camping trip. Each summer, the two of us go away for a weekend camping trip. We sleep in a tent. So far, every camp ground we have chosen did not have electricity. We plan meals. We engage in great adventures.

We just completed this year’s adventure. We chose to go to Tobyhanna State Park in the Poconos. Prior to leaving, I realized we would drive near Lehigh University, the training center for the Philadelphia Eagles. As a kid, I remember going to West Chester University and watching Dick Vermeil’s Eagles practice. I knew Matthew would “flip out” at the chance to go. A week before the trip, I asked if he wanted to go to practice. He answered with a resounding “YES!!!” While practice begins at 8:05 a.m., the gates open at 7:00 a.m. Not liking crowds, I wanted to get there at 7:00 a.m. We got out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and were on the road at 5:00 a.m. We made the obligatory Wawa stop for ice (for the cooler), tea, and newspaper. While in our Eagles gear at Wawa at 5:15 a.m., a man asked, “Are you going to Lehigh?” With a large smile, Matthew answered, “Yeah!” although he was trying to figure out how the man knew we were going to training camp.

We arrived a little before 7:00 a.m. and waited in line. Upon entering the practice area, we saw a Playzone for kids. Matthew was the only one there for a long time. He ran through an inflatable football field with inflatable football players. He leaped over obstacles and scored imaginary touchdowns. He climbed a large inflatable slide and slid down. He threw passes to cut-outs of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Macklin. After several tries, he completed a touchdown to each. He kicked last second field goals to win games. He had a blast.

As players walked onto the field, we stood by a fence. Vick and the other quarterbacks worked out a few yards from us. We watched the offensive linemen work out. We heard the new defensive line coach yelling from 60 yards away. We watched the defensive backs, including DRC and Asomugha, go through drills. Minutes later, real practice began when the defensive and offense lined up opposite of each other and went at it. Asomugha, in his first practice, picked off a pass. The crowd roared as Vick scrambled for a huge gain. The new kicker looked good. The new punter, not so good. Practice ended and we moved on towards Tobyhanna.

In addition to camping, I was interested in doing something adventurous. We saw a billboard for a zip line and decided to give it a try. We arrived at Camelback for their 1,000 foot zip line. After getting our harnesses, we climbed the hill to the top of the zip line. They hooked our lines up. We peered over the edge. We held our breaths and jumped. Side by side, we zoomed down the line. After getting disconnected, we climbed the hill again for a second ride. While standing on the deck, my wife called to see if we were safe. I responded, “Right now we are, but I will have to let you know in a few minutes; we are about to jump off of a cliff.” She wasn’t expecting that answer. Again, we held our breaths and jumped. It seemed like we went even faster this time. In Matthew’s words, it was “awesome”.

Finally, we made it to camp and set up our tent and campsite. Prior to dinner, we went for a 5 mile bike ride around the lake. We grilled some BBQ ribs for dinner. Matthew ate an entire rack by himself. For Matthew, the hit of the afternoon was playing with the new machete. Matthew started the fire, with a little help from me. We made banana boats by splitting a banana in half, filling it with marshmallow, nuts, and chocolate chips; pushing the peal back together; wrapping them in foil; and cooking them in coals. DELICIOUS. We concluded dessert by making s’mores. We finished the evening by lying in our sleeping backs and watching a DVD about the Cardinals winning the 2006 World Series.

The next morning, we ate bacon, eggs, and hash browns. Then, we attacked the day’s highlight, our adventure bike hike. We took our bikes and rode out of the campground onto trails in the woods. Riding over upraised tree roots and large rocks, our bikes got knocked all over the trail. At times, the numerous rocks and steep climbs made it impossible to ride, so we walked until we could ride again. We crossed a rickety bridge. We road through narrow paths between thorn bushes, scraping our hands and arms on the thorns. Then, we passed under some power lines. But, that was a problem. We were not supposed to pass under any power lines. We pulled out our map and discovered we made a wrong turn. Miles out of our way, we regained hope when we realized we could follow the power lines northwest toward a road that would take us to our destination. Under the power lines was a nice gravel path with wild flowers growing. It made for a nice ride. We followed the power lines up and down hills enjoying this unexpected adventure. Then, the power lines turned left and the gravel path disappeared. Only a narrow rock filled bath remained. It was similar to the trails we followed in the woods, so we persevered. We climbed and followed the narrow path for a while. Then, the path disappeared as huge bogs of mud appeared. With very little room, we shuffled our feet on less muddy, but brush covered ground while we kept our balance by pushing our bikes through the mud. The mud almost appeared to be like quicksand. In one of the bogs, the front wheel of Matthew’s bike began to disappear as it sank into the bog. We quickly pulled the bike out and continued, undaunted. Finally, we cleared the bogs and the gravel path re-appeared. We were on our way again, flying over the hills as we peddled under the power lines. We reached the top of a hill and could see the road at the bottom of the hill. We flew down the hill anticipating the road we were chasing. Without warning, the path ended about 200 yards from the road. A swamp blocked our path. Disappointed but undeterred, we turned right to cut through some woods were no one has gone before. We pushed through uncleared woods as we circled around the swamp. We climbed one last hill and found the road. As we mounted our bikes for a ride to our destination for lunch, I saw my front inner tube bulging out of a hole in my front tire. Not knowing how long we could ride, we pressed on. About half a mile later, “pop”, my tire blew. Now, we were back on foot, miles from camp. We walked a mile when I flagged down a pick-up truck. The driver was a nice guy who put our bikes in the bed and drove us to our camp site.

As we arrived at camp, it started raining. This was not a surprise as the forecast said there was a possibility of scattered, passing thunderstorms. We ate lunch and waited for the rain to pass. We finished our lunch and waited for the rain to pass. We called home and waited for the rain to pass. We went to Wal-Mart for more camping gear while we waited for the rain to pass. We returned to camp and waited for the rain to pass. Tired of being wet, we went to Pizza Hut, where we saw 20 other campers, and waited for the rain to pass. We returned to camp and waited for the rain to pass. Trying to find some good in this wet situation, we decided to pop some popcorn, get in the car, sit in the reclining leather seats and watch Spiderman 2 while the sound pulsated through the Bose sound system. After two hours, the movie ended, but the rain didn’t. We went to bed very damp. In the middle of the night, after 13 straight hours, the rain finally stopped. Too wet to do anything, we cleaned up camp and left for home, stopping at Perkins for breakfast.

We made many memories. We spent a lot of time together. More importantly, we had many conversations about becoming a godly man, handling issues facing a young boy, standing up to peer pressure and doing right regardless of what others are doing. I look forward to more time with my son. More importantly, I look forward to helping my boy becoming a godly man.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lesson’s From Camping’s Judgment Day

By now, everyone knows that Harold Camping was wrong and the world did not end on May 21, 2011. Many had a good laugh. I saw Facebook posts about people being in heaven and heard people talking about leaving clothes out so it appeared they were raptured. While there is nothing wrong with having a little fun, I think we can learn some lessons from this event.

Primarily, I think most people, including Christians who believe Christ will return, did not really want the rapture to occur on May 21st. I heard people say, "I am glad we are all still here." Most are glad it did not occur because no one wanted Camping to be right and believed that Christ would not return on the predicted date because "No one knows." Matthew 24:36.

But, it goes much deeper. Most of us, me included, enjoy our life on earth and did not really want the rapture to take place. We claim the rapture could take place at any time (except on May 21, 2011, because Camping said so), but, inwardly, we really are not looking forward to it. Even with the ups and downs of life, most of us still like our lives. We really are not looking forward to going to heaven.

Paul's view of life stands in contrast to ours. In Philippians 1:21-23, Paul says, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. . . . My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." Paul knows that the next life is "far better". He desires to be in heaven and with Christ. Just think about it. If Christ raptures us, we will immediately be with Him. We will be with Christ. What an incredible moment. Mercy Me, in their song "I Can Only Imagine", captures some of the awesome anticipation of being with Christ. The best of this life pales in comparison to being with Christ. When we consider our life on earth with being in the presence of Christ, the preference is simple; we should all choose the presence of Christ. But, deep down inside, we don't get that excited because we enjoy our life too much. I think we need to reassess our perspective and have a greater anticipation of Christ's return.

In addition, we need to truly anticipate Christ's imminent return. Let me ask you a question, "If you truly believed that Camping was right and the world was ending on May 21, 2011, what would you have done on May 20th?" I heard that some of Camping's followers enjoyed what they thought were life's final moments; they bought cars they could not afford or took final, extravagant vacations. However, most of Camping's ardent followers made every effort to help people get right with God. Some spent their life savings on advertisements; others even sold their homes to raise money for the effort. These followers made incredible sacrifices because they believe the world was ending. If you truly believe Christ could return at any moment, what are you doing? Are your efforts to save people commensurate with a belief that Christ really could come at any minute? Probably not. Paul, in that same passage, wrote, "If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me." (Philippians 1:22). Is your life in the flesh fruitful? On one hand, we need to be prudent and make future plans on earth in case Christ does not return tomorrow. On the other hand, if we truly believe Christ could return at any moment, we probably need to make more of an effort to bring people to Christ.

Unfortunately, the Camping fiasco damaged the reputation of Christ around the world. To many, Camping and the Bible are a joke. How do you explain the Bible's plan for salvation when Camping claimed the same Bible said the world would end on May 21st? For many, the Bible lost all credibility. Let's overcome some of the negative by learning some lessons from this fiasco. Let's look forward to Christ's return and try to take some people with us.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lessons Learned From Boston Rob


Boston Rob, on his 4th attempt, won Survivor. In order to win, he played, according to Jeff Probst, a nearly perfect game. He created and maintained the strongest alliance ever seen on Survivor. Julie, a contestant that was not in his alliance, was amazed at the control he had of his alliance. According to her, his alliance would not even talk to other contestants. They would continually checked in with Rob and told him everything that was happening. Even Rob remarked that no one should have this much power. Jeff Probst called his alliance "almost cult-like".

The obvious question during the reunion show was, "How did you do it?" As the show progressed, keys to his strategy were revealed. In simple terms, he developed great relationships. To begin with, Rob knew that, as a returning player, he would be a target for early elimination. He felt that if he could build some relationships and show people that he could help them, such as building shelter, then he had a chance to stick around. The key was building the relationships. Andrea, a member of his alliance, said that he built individual relationships with each of them, he had a different relationship with each person, and he spent time with her for no reason.

Another member of the alliance, Philip, was one of the strangest contestants to ever be on the show. He was very difficult to get along with and nearly every person could not wait to vote him out. However, Rob befriended Philip, kept him around, voted out other people, and eventually used Philip to win $1 million. Jeff asked Rob what he saw in Philip. Rob said that Philip is a lovable guy; you just have to listen to him and his story. According to Rob, Philip is one of twelve children, so he has spent his whole life trying to get attention. You need to imagine his story and understand where he is coming from. Rob summarized his strategy with Philip by explaining that if he just showed Philip love, Philip will be loyal.

These lessons should be applied to everyday life. We need to show love and develop relationships with people. Do we treat each person special, like we really care about them? Do we spend time with them? You cannot develop relationships without spending time together. We should serve people and help them. We need to choose to love even unlovable people. We need to understand their story and show them love.

While I wish Boston Rob would get rid of his Red Sox hat, he is a likeable guy who saw the importance of relationships, won Survivor, and taught us some life lessons in the process.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

John Maxwell’s Five Levels of Leadership


On May 6, 2011, I had the privilege of attending the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast, which is an annual event where some of the world's best writers and speakers present a daylong seminar on leadership. The event is presented live in Atlanta and is carried throughout the world via webcast. I attended the event through the Kingdom Chamber of Commerce at Burlington County College.


The first speaker, John Maxwell spoke on the five levels of leadership, which is the subject of his next book. Initially, he taught that leadership is influence. Ultimately, a leader influences people. In the past, I have heard him say that if you think you are a leader and no is following you, then you are just on a walk.


According to Maxwell, the first level, and the lowest level, of leadership is the "Position Level". At this level, people follow because a person holds a title. This does not make the person a good leader. Instead, people follow because of obligation or authority. Under this type of leadership, the followers generally give the least amount of effort. They do not necessarily believe in the leader or the leadership, so they are not motivated to give their best. They tend to do the bare minimum.


"Permission" is the second level. At this level, people want to follow and generally like the leader. Relationships are the key to this level. Such leaders listen to their followers, observe their followers, learn from their followers, and have an attitude of service. Because people have given the leader permission to lead, they give more effort in their work.


"Production" is the third level. At this level, the leader is able to produce significantly more than at prior levels. The key is results. This leader produces more because he is a producer and better workers are attracted to, and want to produce more for, this leader. Followers see this leader producing, so they imitate him and produce more. At this point, momentum is created, which gets people excited and they do more. This momentum and excite can even salve problems that cannot be solved at lower levels. In explaining the importance of leadership, Maxwell explained that a train parked with a brick under its wheel will not be able to move past the brick. However, that same train, moving full speed, can crash through a brick wall.


"People Development" is the fourth level. This leader grows his organization by growing his people. He makes his people better. Then he puts his "better" people in positions where they are most effective. The steps for this level are (a) recruiting well, (b) positioning well, (c) equipping well, (d) the people produce, and (e) the people build other people (multiplication). Simply, you need to get the best people, put them in the right position, and equip them. Then they will do the work and multiply. This level is similar to some of the concepts taught by Jim Collins in Good To Great, where he talks about getting the right people on the bus and putting them in the right seat. Essentially, better people create a better organization.


"Pinnacle" is the fifth, and final, level. At this point, follow out of respect. The leader leads so well, for so long, that people want to follow the leader. This level takes years to obtain. I saw it as almost a legacy or a life-time achievement.


In evaluating your leadership level, Maxwell explained that you can be at different levels with different people. Someone may follow you because of your position or title; another person may give permission, while another follows as a result of people development.


It is good to hear these leadership principles and apply them to my work, family, and church. I need to remember that relationships are important and I need to help develop the people around me. I will be successful, as a business man, husband, father, and Christian, when the people around me become better.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Initial Thoughts on Don't Call It a Comeback by Kevin DeYoung

I just started reading Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith For A New Day edited by Kevin DeYoung. Having read one previous book by DeYoung, Why We Are Not Emergent by Two Guys Who Should Be and enjoying it, I am interested in reading another book by him. Regarding the subject, it seems that many young adults are very attracted to the “emergent church” with, what I believe is, long-standing liberal teaching led by teachers such as Rob Bell and Brian McClaren. The praise for Rob Bell’s Love Wins solidifies my concerns over “emergent teaching”. On the other hand, I have heard many young adults are attracted to a conservative, fundamental faith with substantive biblical teaching. From what I hear, it seems that many young adults are attracted to the teachings of people like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and teaching from Sovereign Grace churches. The thousands who attend “Passions Conferences” are attracted to substantive teaching. From my personal experience of teaching young adults, I found that many are simply not interested in substantive biblical teaching, but others hunger for God’s truth, study diligently, and want to apply biblical teaching to their lives. In light of this division amount young adults, I am interested in read DeYoung’s view.

In the Introduction, DeYoung explains that he grew up in church but, as a freshman in college, discovered he could not articulate “what I believe and why I believe it” and did not have a good grasp of some of the most foundational doctrines in Christian faith. He wishes he had been challenged more as a teenager. Based upon his background, he has two goals for this book. First, to introduce young and underdiscipled Christians to the most important articles of faith and what it looks like to live out this faith in real life. Second, to reassert the theological nature of evangelicalism. The book is divided into three sections. Part one is a brief, and I emphasize brief, history of evangelicalism. Part two is a survey of theology. Part three is applying theology to life by looking at specific issues such as social justice, homosexuality, abortion, gender confusion, the local church, worship, and missions.

The first chapter, written by DeYoung, is entitled “The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation”. Since I spent years teaching young adults, I was very interested in how to reach young adults. Also, I am interested in how to reach my children as they become young adults. According to DeYoung, many churches try to reach young adults by keeping up with the latest trends such as music, fashion, using their language, watching the right television shows, and looking like them. However, he believes this is not how to reach young adults; rather, he stresses five keys, which are (1) grabbing them with passion, (2) winning them with love, (3) holding them with holiness, (4) challenging them with truth, and (5) amazing them with God. He explains his meaning of these in the rest of the chapter.

I agree with his assessment and like it because it stresses substance rather than superficial feelings and passing trends. Regarding passion, young adults want to believe that something is real. If it is real, then a person will have passion about it. The reason that many people are not attracted to Christ is because many Christians are just going through the motions, have no convictions, live apathetically, and have no passion. Specifically, young adults see no passion in their parents, so they reject a superficial faith held by their parents. If we really believe in Christ, then we should be passionate about Him. As stated before, DeYoung emphasizes substance, which is seen when he stresses holiness and truth. He wants young adults to know substantive biblical truth, which leads to living holy lives. This is a high standard and very challenging. Finally, he talks about being amazed by God. I think this is somewhat related to passion. If we are amazed by God, then we will be passionate. I also think this results in worship. When we see God for who He is, then our natural reaction should be amazement. Just read the first few verses of Isaiah 6 or Revelation 4; you have to be amazed and just say “Wow! He is AWESOME!” Warren Wiersbe, in Real Worship, explains that when people truly worship God, then they start living godly lives. Godly lives are a natural result of people who know God and realize how great He is.

I find these five keys to be personally challenging. I need to have passion in my life; passion that demonstrates the true substance of my faith. I need to love people. No one will care what I believe if I do not show love to them. When people see my love, then I earn a license to tell them about Christ. I need to live holy. I need to be continually learning God’s truth. I need to be truly worshiping God. Then, I need to pass these along to my wife, children, and people I minister to in my life.

At one point, DeYoung talks about teens leaving the church. He refers to a youth leader who explained that attendance at youth events (including Sunday School and discipleship groups) is not a good predictor of which teens would, and would not, grow toward Christian adulthood. Instead, “almost without exception, those young people who are growing in their faith as adults were teenagers who fit into one of two categories: either (1) they came from families where Christian growth was modeled in at least one of their parents, or (2) they had developed such significant connections with adults in the church that it had become an extended family for them.” Similarly, he refers to a Christian sociologist who says, “a lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents.” This should challenge every parent so that we can see our children grow up to be adults who passionately love and serve God.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Response to Injustice

Recently, I was in court with a client who had charges pending against him. He denied the allegations and I believe him. Unfortunately, the Judge ruled against him. While the Judge’s reasoning was flawed, the verdict remained. When we left the courtroom and I could speak to my client, his first reaction was to criticize the judge, dissect the Judges’ errors, and wonder how she could reach that conclusion. Immediately, I stopped him and asked, “What is God teaching you?”

For over a year, God had been sending my client a clear message regarding some choices he was making in his life. Unfortunately, even though he knew what God wanted, he kept giving in to the pull of temptation. As I heard the verdict, I knew God was sending him another message; a very firm message that God wanted him to obey. I was, and am, fully convinced that God is using this unjust verdict to teach a lesson.

In Habakkuk, the prophet wonders why God is not doing something about the sin in Judah. In Habakkuk 1:5-11, God says that He is sending the Chaldeans to bring judgment. A confused Habakkuk cannot understand how God could use such a wicked people. How can He “remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (1:13). Judah might be bad, but the Chaldeans are worse. They even worship false gods. How can God allow these wicked people to bring judgment on God’s chosen people? First, God responded by saying, “wait.” God has an appointed time, “if it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” (2:3). Second, the “righteous shall live by his faith.” (2:4). Despite sin and injustice around us, the righteous will live by faith. Third, God will judge the Chaldeans. In 2:6, he pronounces “Woe” on the Chaldeans and “all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you . . . Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house.” (2:8-9). Finally, God is sovereign. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (2:20). Nothing happens, even wicked, godless people bring judgment on God’s chosen people, unless God allows it to happen.

My client needed to understand that God was using this injustice to bring about His Will. I believe that if my client had obeyed God months earlier, then things would have been different. Perhaps my client would never have been accused, or the verdict would have been different. Regardless, my client did not obey God, so God is using this verdict to further teach him and sanctify him. Like in Habakkuk, God is using an injustice to bring about His Will. God is sovereign. The Judge handed down this decision only because God allowed her to make this decision. God directed this decision so that my client would be sanctified.

In our lives, we often see injustice win. We need to remember that God is sovereign, He uses injustice to teach us and to sanctify us, He will judge the ungodly, and the righteous live by faith.

As an aside, situations like this illustrate why I like being a Christian attorney who focuses on the legal needs of Christians. My client is a Christian. He needs help hearing God’s message and encouragement to obey. I am there to help him. Similarly, this illustrates why Christians should have a good Christian for an attorney. Who else will ask, “What is God teaching you?” For his sake, it is good that he has an attorney who will speak God’s truth.