Some years it is hard to watch the Super Bowl. This year was, for many, a struggle to decide who to support. (For Dallas Cowboy fans, which team turns your stomach less–Eagles or Patriots? It’s a coin toss.)
Super Bowl LII gave me something to watch that was better than football. It was a game all about backups.
The Eagles won, supported by three backups.
The first was the coach Doug Pederson. Pederson played in the NFL at the position of quarterback. His problem was he played “backup.” He was number 2 to Dan Marino at Miami, behind Bernie Kosar with the Browns, and warmed the bench watching Brett Favre in Green Bay. He had retired from football in 2010 to coach high school football in Louisiana.
The second backup was Nick Foles. Foles made his way around three teams in the NFL. None gave him much of an opportunity to play. He considered walking away from football.
Then came a call from the Philadelphia Eagles. They needed a backup quarterback to their first-round golden boy Carson Wentz. He found himself a sideline roamer until…Wentz cratered his knee during the championship run against the Los Angeles Rams.
Now it was his turn. After a couple of tough games, pundits doubted his ability. Then, in the playoffs, he showed his stuff. He played to a level where he became the MVP of the Super Bowl. Remember, Foles was the number 2 quarterback, not the star.
The third was Carson Wentz himself. He was destined to lead the team to the Super Bowl. His season was stellar, and his career was skyrocketing. Then, after after a blow to the knee in LA, his season was over. He had to stand on the sidelines and watch.
Some find themselves in that position seething with resentment. Not Wentz.
One of the great memories of Super Bowl LII was Wentz standing on the sidelines in an Eagles baseball cap cheering his understudy. It takes grace and a big heart to cheer on someone when you should have been the one in the spotlight.
It takes more character to be a backup than a star. For Pederson and Foles, they patiently did their jobs. They kept their attitudes right. They continued to work hard. Years passed before the Lombardi Trophy bore their fingerprints.
For Wentz, he gave up his glory for the greater good of their team. Many have ego while few have character.
Not one of those backups blew their own horn or touted their greatness. They played with a team.
Genuine winners give up themselves for something beyond themselves. They empty their egos and do what is best.
That is the best definition of a champion.
For a dozen years, I make an annual January trip to Managua, Nicaragua. While many go as tourists and many Americans are ex-pats, I go for another reason.
I go to help poor people.
I go with a talented and devoted team of doctors, pharmacists, dentists, and helpers from Health Talents International. We conduct mobile medical clinics in areas where the need for medical attention is lacking. All are poor, and all are less than standard American conditions.
the ground” view of the workings of the program.
The trip is hard. Often, travel is long and bumpy roads in a 15 passenger van and doesn’t do much for your backside. The days are long, and the atmosphere is hot and dirty.
Accommodations are not Motel 6 but more Motel 3. The beds are harder than at home. Hot water? What is that? Don’t even ask about the plumbing!
Why, then, carve out a week of your life to make the journey? Here is what I get out of it.
I get to realize there is a world out there. One of the problems of American society is to believe America is the only world. It is a wonderful place, and I would not trade living here for anything, but there is a different world.
The people are like me and very different than me. This perception keeps me looking around.
I discover how blessed I am. I come back home every year with a greater appreciation for little things like soft sheets and hot water.
The tragedy of a lot of lives is they are in a constant state of want. They want more money, the newest gadget, and a bigger house. I come back, and contentment settles into my heart as my body sinks into the sheets. In short, it is better than Thanksgiving.
I better understand the nature of giving. Gretchen Rubin has written that the way to be happy is to give to another…and there best thing to give to another is to be happy.
I fear we substitute writing a check to a charity for real giving. Giving is not about what you have, but what you are. When you give you, it’s worth more than how much you can give.
I am back for another year and planning my next trip. I wanted to say thank you to my teammates for the love and dedication they show. Perhaps God smiles on us all as we stagger wearily off the plane.
I hope you can have an experience like it once in your life!
I am a simple carpenter. No one would believe my story. I wouldn’t believe it had I not lived it.
My father Jacob was a carpenter who trained me to be a carpenter. As a boy, he would tell me the family stories. My favorite was a shepherd who became a king. He said we were related to a famous king. We had royal blood flowing through our veins. My long days in the carpenter shop belied that fact.
I had found the love of my life. I betrothed Mary, and we planned to be married. Then, I heard the street whispers. I could not believe they could be right…until she told me. Mary admitted she was pregnant, but it wasn’t by a man. It was the Holy Spirit. What kind of man could believe that! The news crushed me. I left that night and decided to end our relationship quietly. I did not want to be hurt, and I did not want Mary to face any more ridicule. I needed to put this sad time behind me.
Perhaps I would never marry or have children.
I am a simple carpenter. I like tangible things. I enjoy the feel of the grain of the wood as I run my hand over it. I want things I can touch, feel, and cut. I have always preferred sawdust to theology.
That’s why it was hard when I awoke one night. Was it my imagination? But there stood a messenger. I had never seen an angel and his appearance shivered my spine and focused my attention. He told me Mary told the truth. She was pregnant with someone else’s son. The father is God. It was God’s will, God’s way, God’s plan.
“Don’t be afraid,” was his message. “Mary will have a son, and you are to give him the name Joshua (or in Greek, Jesus) for he will save people from their sins. He is will “God with Us.””
I could not pass my hands over the grain of this revelation like a cypress board. This dream changed all my plans. Mary and I remained betrothed, but I dared not touch her in her state. The months passed quickly. Mary’s womb grew swollen with child. The angel’s message echoed in my soul.
The Roman emperor dictated that we leave our home and travel to my family hometown of Bethlehem. It was a terrible time. Mary had started to groan with pain, but we had no choice. I placed her on the donkey and tried to find the least difficult path to Bethlehem, but the trip was hard for a woman about to give birth.
As we neared the ancient town, it was alive with pilgrims. I knocked on doors and had them slammed in my face. I begged and pleaded, but all space was full. We finally came to what seemed to be the last place on earth. The man was not very sympathetic, but he gave in when he heard the moaning of Mary.
“There’s a cave where I keep the livestock. It’s not much of a place, but there’s straw, and it is out of the cold.”
Here I was, not even able to find a decent place for a child to be born. It was not what I wanted, but it was all we had. I lifted Mary as gently as possible and carried her to the makeshift barn. I spread what little straw there was and tried to find as clean a place as possible. I shooed away the animals from the manger. It was not a suitable crib for a newborn, but it was a necessary one this night.
It was there, on a quiet night in a place Bethlehem ignored, the baby spoken by the angel was born. With a sharp cry, life came to a dark cave.
Little did I know that life came to the entire world that night.
I placed the crying boy in the manger. He was a baby that was not mine but a baby that I was given to raise. I gazed at him as he whimpered and whispered his name, “Jesus.”
This was not how I envisioned my world.
We fulfilled God’s command at the temple on the eighth day. There our son was circumcised. They asked, “what is his name?” I answered without wavering, “his name is Jesus.”
I did not have much time to ruminate about this new life bestowed by an angel. It wasn’t too many days until the angel returned.
“Leave this country,” he said. “Herod is slaughtering any potential rival who has been born.” I had heard the wails of mothers haunting the darkness. I knew I had to act with haste.
That night, I collected my new family and loaded them on the donkey. We made my way down a dark road headed toward the desert. For two years, I worked odd jobs in Egypt. Once the reports of Herod’s death reached us, I could return home but decided to be careful. We traveled north, east of the Jordan until we came to the sleepy village of Nazareth.
There I could raise my son in safety to serve God.
We made regular journeys for feasts. One Passover, we missed him. We backtracked worriedly hoping for his safety. We heard our son’s 12-year-old voice echo in the temple. He was answering questions of the rabbis who had an amazed look on their faces. He told us he had to be about his father’s business. I knew then, he would never be a carpenter like I was.
I am sorry to say I never got to see him reach maturity. I died leaving Mary with Jesus and the other children we had together. I wish I could have been there and glad that I wasn’t. He opened blind eyes, straightened crippled legs, and raised corpses to life.
But this son I raised was put on a Roman execution cross where he died in pain and humiliation. Why would they kill my son? After all, he name was Jesus or salvation. How can death be saving?
I am a simple carpenter. I want my world real and hard as oak. When I run my calloused hand over my life, I realize God chose me to serve in shadows. He chose me to protect his son. He chose me to raise his son. And his son…and mine saved the world from their sins.
I am a simple carpenter. It took me a while to believe, but I do now. Will you believe it, too?
Merry Christmas from Robert Taylor
Christmas colors are red and green. Tinsel shimmers. Lights twinkle. Hearts soar.
Sometimes, life paints Christmas a different color. There’s no Pantone color number, but the best way to describe it is Melancholy Blue.
I enjoy Christmas but also the holiday season carries a little different hue for me today. Both of my parents died around Christmas. My mother died three days after and my father died several years later four days before. It’s not that I am weepy at Christmas. Instead, the sense is more like the faint aroma of smoke after a distant fire. It’s there and doesn’t seem to go away.
Many people share that sense, especially those experiencing the first Christmas with loss.
The Problem of Christmas
The Christmas season is supposed to be happy. We sing songs. We open gifts. We share love.
For those who feel loss, something is missing. Where is the person I want to share this season? Their chair is empty. For some, compounding it is the guilt of “I wish I would have spent more time, cared more, said things. Guilt mingled with sadness makes for a bitter brew.
In the end, there is still that hole in life that no tree or colorful display can fill.
So how do you approach Christmas when it is painted blue?
Three Approaches To Christmas Sadness
Accept the feeling. The problem is our vocabulary. I should be happy. I ought to count my blessings. I must get over this. A lexicon cluttered with oughts, shoulds, and musts are toxic for dealing with emotions. It is what it is. Loss happened. Memories are real and, if recent, raw. Take time and acknowledge how you feel. Face the mirror of your soul and see the melancholy. It doesn’t mean you are wrong or immoral, only human.
Remember their current presence in your life. Too many times we focus on what we lost when someone died. The truth is we are left with much more complete lives because we had them. What was the best Christmas with the person you miss? What made you smile or laugh? If they were here, what would they say? People linger in our hearts because a gracious Father in heaven bestowed on us a memory. It is when we access our recollections that we counterbalance the loss. Something needs to fill the void. That “something” is what you remember.
Appreciate and live out the values they taught you—in this season and all year long. It is not only memories that help us, but their character and example. The person you miss the most taught you the best lessons you ever learned. Whether it be mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter, they shaped your life in significant ways. One of the things I still filter through my life is a question “what would my father want me to do?” The greatest tribute to someone is to practice the principles and precepts left as a spiritual inheritance.
Even with all that, it won’t change the color palette of loss. If you feel it, I pray for you. One other thing from a fellow struggler…you can make it through holidays and even feel joy.
Have a safe and Merry Christmas.
snow, and nativity scenes. They put a tear in the eyes of Christmas.
The song speaks to what you should give for Christmas. None are from big box stores or online shopping sites. None need coupons or credit card numbers.
- The stuffed feeling after the Thanksgiving feast.
- The people who feel the hope they have for the Lord they serve.
- The McMansion with a fire in the fireplace.
- The summer barbecue and softball games.
- If you could take half of the food you eat on Thanksgiving and give it to someone hungry, would you?
- If you could put a bow on your faith and give it to the person who is at the end of his rope, would you?
- Suppose you could package the warmth of your home and give it to someone living under a bridge. Would you?
Church shootings seem to fill headlines on the crawls at the bottom of cable news networks. America saw death at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. Then it visited Antioch, TN at the Burnette Road Church of Christ. Last Sunday it rained its terror on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX. The latest killing spree took the lives of 26 people whose simple goal was to worship God that day.
Each round poured out of the barrel of a butcher’s weapon raises the blood pressure of church members and church leaders alike.
We have hard questions without simple answers. (If it were easy, we would have already done it.)
How open are churches to be? Are we to welcome but look at them with suspicious eyes. Some lock doors but what message does that send. Churches that want to engage the world with the love of Jesus, but they now must struggle to be welcoming but cautious. That last statement seems both two-faced and paranoid.
We are not unique to the tension between faith and fear. The first-century church worshipped and believed under threat. The threat did not deter them.
- Look at Acts 4. Fire-breathing persecutors were jailing and executing apostles. In the midst of that terror, the group gathered to pray for strength.
- Peter warns in his first letter of the sweeping tide of official oppression which tried to stamp out Christianity.
- Revelation shows the accomplished feat with John’s flesh seared from hot oil banished to the rock of Patmos.
In all the New Testament, talk of church security is missing. Christian living and teaching that changes lives and destinies occupied their minds, not their protection. People died for their faith.
So why are we concerned? It is because of a swing in American society. In our experience churches were “sacred.” A person could shoot up a bank or blow up a courthouse, but no one touched a church. It was God’s house.
The secular and scientific society of modern times yanked away the sacred from the church. It has become an institution of superstitious people and backward thinkers. Instead of sacred, the world paints a bulls-eye on religion as something to removed.
So we balance two ideas.
Do we become a fortress to keep the world out? When my father was in Navy boot camp, he told the story of the drill instructor on the first day pointing at the big fence. “That,” he said, “is to keep ‘them’ out, not keep you in.” Is that the mentality of the church? We can wall up the glass, build high fences, conduct pat-downs of visitors, and install metal detectors. Is that the church you want?
The second idea is to be a beacon to a darkened world. We are open to sharing God’s word, and help hurts. That comes with risks. Are we prepared to take risks?
Many possible answers can float to the surface but don’t answer that question.
Church leaders regularly survey this situation. (The church I serve had a discussion last Wednesday night.) My congregation has taken steps and will continue to take more. Thoughtful leaders are trying to be both safe and evangelistic. It’s a tough balancing act.
What do we do?
We must recognize a central fact. Evil is real.
Secular society cleanses it with words like mental illness or social isolation. Those are simple disguises. At the root is the evil which is what Jesus’s church seeks to attack. Letting evil control the agenda is never the answer.
While it is important to explore what to do when it happens, it becomes vital to plan for how to prevent it. No one…no one wants someone shot or killed in any church anywhere in the world.
Of all the security audits given to me at my congregation, most have a single thread. Be situationally aware. Know who comes into the building and know why. Put eyes on entrances and know how to look for possible problems. A friendly conversation can uncover tension and trouble brewing.
In short, pay attention to people. That’s a foundation of effective evangelism and good security.
The reality is while we talk about security, we will always feel the tension of safety and salvation. We make choices to do both.
At the end of the day, we trust God and make preparations. May God protect churches and help church leaders find the best solution.
It took centuries to collect the stories that would become A Thousand and One Nights. One character, the best known, was not in the original.
It is the tale of a magic lamp stumbled upon by a peasant named Aladdin. A Frenchman named Antoine Galland added the story of Aladdin in the 18th Century.
Aladdin’s story of finding a lamp and rubbing it to get a genie who grants three wishes resonates with us all. We long for what Aladdin had.–a magic lamp to give us whatever we want, including me.
In short, most of us believe in magic. In a technological age of wonders, we expect drugs to take away disease, devices that answer our questions, and gadgets to dispel our boredom.
Do you believe in magic? Let’s find out.
Believing in Magic
We want easy answers to difficult problems that that took months or years to create.
Organizations retreat into magic. Starting a new program, building a new building, hosting a unique seminar, or listening to a special speaker will solve our dilemmas.
And most do something along those lines, yet the problems remain.
We do it with our personal challenges as well.
In 2012, people spent over 69 billion dollars on lottery tickets. If I hit the right combination of numbers, I can be rich. I don’t have to save, work, earn, or invest. The money drops in my lap.
It doesn’t take much of an internet search to find a pill, supplement, or workout that’s a miracle. It can, in 5 days, transform you into someone who is 20 pounds lighter and ten years younger. When I was a kid, the going thing was fitness belt. A person would put it around their waist, hook the ends to two rotating arms, turn it on and it would “shake the fat away.”
Writers sit in front of blank screens waiting for inspiration to hit. (I know because I have done it many times.)
We do these things, and so much more. It’s because there has to be a lamp with a genie inside. Rub it and, “poof.” It is ours.
The Marks of Magic
How can you tell if you believe in magic? See if any of these resound in your mind.
I want it now.
We take a lifetime gaining weight but want it off next week. If I pop a pill, it will make me svelte and ripped. It’s always overnight.
On Friday afternoons, an organization puts in a new software program. On Monday morning, they expect growth in sales.
The longer you need to wait for results, the more you believe in magic.
I want it easy.
Be honest. None of us likes to sweat. We abhor risk. Sacrifice is not even in our vocabulary. We have been promised “quick and easy” for so long we believe it.
When we believe we can have something without effort and heartache, we believe in magic.
I want it my way.
We tend to come up with solutions and answers that allow us to stay the same as we are. We want it convenient. We need to “like it.” We want changes that don’t change us but change everyone and everything else so we can feel comfortable.
We rationalize this infantile sense by saying, “it will be best for everyone” when it means “I like it that way.”
The sense is “I get what I want in the way I want it.” (That’s what my preschool grandchildren believe.)
Magic has three mantras:
- I want it now.
- I want it easy.
- I want what I want.
The Terrible Truth About Magic
Albert Einstein observed, “we cannot solve our problems with the same problems we used when we created them.” It takes a change from believing in magic.
If the solution were easy, we would have already done it. We would have saved the money, stayed on a diet, made the calls, and written the novel.
The only way forward is to stop believing in magic. Magic is a story, a legend, but not an effective strategy to solve problems in our lives or our organizations.
Give up your ideas for a greater good. What I or any group wants is unimportant as what is best for all. One of the marks of realism is to accept the fact you cannot have everything you want.
Put in the hard work every day. Single events, such as a motivational speaker or session, do not produce results. It is better to put together a process that, when worked over time, pays dividends.
Lengthen your timeline. Things worth doing take a lifetime, not a day. How patient can you be to do the hard work? Michelangelo took over four years (but we don’t know how much over) to paint the Sistine Chapel.
If you find the magic lamp, let me know. But I am not holding my breath.
Seldom do you find Genghis Kahn held up as a role model!
That is what Eric Barker does in his new book, Barking up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Everything You Know About Success is (Mostly) Wrong. In it, you find other interesting characters who illustrate principles of success. Included is a diverse cast of characters such as Einstein, hostage negotiators, Emperor Norton (who called himself the Emperor of the United States), and the Navy Seals.
Barker writes a practical and widely-read blog called Barking Up the Wrong Tree. (Note: I have read his blog for some time.) Barker brings insights revealed by extensive research into the time-worn subject of success.
You will not find the typical “think it, live it” banality that flows so from the hundred of internet sites devoted to the subject. Barker takes a different approach. He asks, “what works?” and then opens a window to fresh thinking about a stale subject.
In the book, he stands up the usual cast of characters (long hours, networking, etc.) and gives them the third degree. It makes for a compelling book. He simplifies complex and scary terms to make them understandable. In many of them, the scary mask comes off. It is a much more useful work than the usual diet of self-help books and websites.
My gleanings include:
- Networking is vital for success but scares us. The word leaves us with sweaty palms and the aroma of greasy manipulators. Instead, he simplifies it to, “be a friend.” Barker details the simple formula for being a friend: give more than you get. (The getting always comes later).
- Friendship grows from authentic listening, a lost art in modern society. To listen you have to hear the words and the emotions. Until you listen well, you can never connect with another human being.
- The standard benchmarks for happiness (money, possessions, and position) are wrong. Connection with others brings happiness, not having things.
- Make a plan and have a goal. Most people wait for life to happen to them rather than doing something about their lives.
- Success is not what you do or an amount of money or a position or title. It is aligning what you do with who you want to be.
Barker writes in the same easy-to-read and humorous vein as his website. It is one of those books I plan to go back and read again to gain new insights.