Bowling No More

20130610-075742.jpg“There is no joy in Mudville…” – Ernest Thayer, Casey at the Bat

There is no joy in Greenhills. The bowling alley has shut its doors for good.

A few years ago, there was a book called Bowling Alone. I didn’t read it, but I understand it was about our shifting culture of disconnection. People don’t have the same sense of community and friendship that they used to have – of which the weekly bowling night was a time-tested symbol.

I confess I had only bowled there a couple times, but even I am sad at the demise of the local bowling alley. If you ever saw the TV show Ed, you’ll have a sense of what this place was like. I suppose the fact that I would cite a TV show for a point of reference is evidence enough of the shift in our culture. A generation ago, everyone knew what the local bowling alley was like. Unfortunately, some of my strongest memories of bowling are of Fred “Twinkletoes” Flintstone and Barney Rubble going bowling every week. My grandmother bowled a mean game, I’m told.

However, maybe bowling isn’t dead after all. I was thinking that I’d write this post about how it’s ok that bowling is dying out because, after all, it’s not like life didn’t exist before bowling. It’s only been around for a hundred years or so. After a little research, I found that bowling has been around for hundreds, possibly even thousands of years! According to the International Bowling Museum, bowling may have existed as early as 3200 B.C.!

So, now I’m thinking that bowling is certainly changing. Or, at least, our culture is changing and bowling is going to have to adapt with culture. And frankly, I’m not really that concerned about bowling except for the nostalgia of it all. As I stated, I don’t bowl much. I am, however, concerned as I see change happening to our culture. I don’t fear change. I’m the type of person that likes to ask some questions as we change. For instance, are we losing our sense of community and caring for each other. With all the concern about social justice nowadays, I don’t see much in the way of genuine love. Even in myself – I rarely stop to talk to my neighbors. There are folks who live within three or four houses of me whose names I don’t even know (did I really just admit that?)!

Perhaps it’s time to join a bowling league? I’ll need to drive a little farther to get to a bowling alley, but maybe I’ll cultivate some friendships along the way. If I was Ed, I’d just buy the Greenhills Lanes and open it myself.

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The Call To Serve

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  – Mark 10:43-45

This one just feels backward, doesn’t it? I mean, nice guys finish last, right? A man’s house is his castle, isn’t it? Look out for number one. That’s what we’re told. Yet, the Lord of the universe came “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom…”

Imagine being a fly on the wall for the Last Supper. You know the story – Jesus washes the disciples’ feet before sharing the Passover meal with them. He calls out Judas and rebukes Peter in the Upper Room. Back up a little, though. Remember that these men have been with Jesus for three years. He’s been teaching them about loving and living, giving and forgiving, sacrificing and serving. And yet, within a few weeks prior to this night, his disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them. Two of them even asked to be seated at Jesus’ right and left when He is established as king!

You can almost hear Jesus sigh as He thinks to Himself, They still don’t get it. The disciples are all seated at the table, wondering who forgot to get a servant to wash their feet. Jesus looks around at each of them. Not one of them volunteers to serve the others. The thought doesn’t even cross their minds. While this comes as no surprise to Jesus, I imagine He is, nevertheless, disappointed. So, Jesus stands up.

“…so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:4-5)

A look of shock, almost horror, comes over each of the disciples as the “full extent” of Jesus’ love (John 13:1) begins to dawn on them.

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Turning Points or Mile Markers

Failure is one of two things. Failure is either a turning point or a mile marker. And here’s the great (or terrible) news – You get to choose which one it is.

You get to decide if you want failure to be a chance to redirect your path toward success or to stay on the same path, doing the same old things, and getting the same results. It’s up to you.

Personally, I’ve done both. I’ve stayed on the same path of failure for far too many years in some areas, at different times in my life. I’ve continued in careers I didn’t care about. I’ve repeated bad habits that sabotage relationships and success. I’ve also chosen to drive a stake in the ground and mark a turning point. I’ve chosen to move forward in a new direction, sometimes in small increments, sometimes in a complete U-turn.

The problem is that, in the heat of battle, it’s easy to forget that you have a choice. It’s easy to just react, which usually means an emotional tantrum-style response to a problem that requires the exercise of wisdom and grace.

Which way are you headed?

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Burn Ships, Not Bridges

When Cortes reached the New World, he ordered his men to set fire to the ships that had brought them there. There would be no turning back. Cortes and his men would succeed or die trying.

While the stakes are not quite as high, I have recently had an opportunity to ‘burn the ships’ in my own life. I should probably back up a little to give this tale of adventure a proper setting. Fifteen years ago, my wife and I were doing college ministry. Fast forward a couple years and we had our first baby and were struggling to make ends meet. Another year later and I found myself back in a career I’d left to do ministry – retail banking. When the opportunity arose, through a friendly contact, to divert my career into workers’ compensation, I was happy to take it. It would be a means to an end, a stepping stone to finding my true calling, or so I thought.

Ten years passed. Life happened. We added three more awesome children. As an aside, I don’t know what I’d do if I had to look at the last fifteen years of my life and wonder where the years have gone with no answer but my broken career. One look at my wife and children and the regrets fade into the distant background.

I’ve been trying to discover my calling and create work I love for a while – tried an eBay store for a while, blogging, explored the life coaching option, etc. I had never lost a job in my life until the last 3 full time jobs I’ve had. The first company went out of business and the next two eliminated my position because there just wasn’t enough work to justify my position and they needed to save money. Having never felt called to workers’ comp./HR in the first place, I’m delighted to be free of that job. And, I am taking this opportunity to set fire to the ships, as it were. I’m done with the human resources career path I was on.

I was also tempted to burn the bridges I’ve built (sorry for the mixed metaphors), particularly with this last job. However, about 6 months ago I started producing a podcast (The Familyman Show) with Todd Wilson (www.familymanweb.com) and helping him with social media. My wife has a burgeoning photography business and I’m working on expanding my podcasting into a network (www.UnsocializedMedia.com - coming soon) focused on the homeschool market. I had a goal to transition to full-time self-employment this year anyway, so now I’m jumping in with both feet. And, while it is wise to commit oneself fully to an endeavor, even to the point of no return in some cases, it is foolhardy to destroy relationships and embarrass oneself in a moment’s rage at a former employer. See it as an opportunity to move on to the next adventure. I plan on being one of those people that says, six months after losing a job, that it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Question for you: Is something holding you back? Is there a situation in which you need to set fire to the ships?

When you do light the torch, be careful not to burn the bridges at the same time.

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YOU’RE FIRED!

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” – Matthew 7:24-27

I didn’t want to write about this, but I feel like I should. I haven’t posted anything in almost two weeks because I lost my job on February 1st. This is the third full-time job in a row where my position has been eliminated. It’s funny how we talk about such things. Fired, laid off, let go, position eliminated, downsized, etc. Trust me, when you’re the one being – whatevered, it makes little difference what they call it. It still means you’re in deep trouble.

This time, it was a Friday morning. They let me go around 9am. With my wife at an all-day seminar and the kids with Nana, I went to the mall to walk around and think for a while. I suppose I should be grateful that I already have some experience with this. It didn’t feel nearly as devastating this time, though in reality, the circumstances are more dire, in some respects.

The reality of the situation is this: Jobs come and go. If you find your identity and your worth in your work, it’s like building your house on shifting sand. I know that work is woven into the fabric of a man. It has an effect on how we feel about ourselves, but it is more about doing something of value than it is about the particular job. We must remember what is of eternal value and keep that in perspective. It feels terrible right now, but this won’t last. There are pains that don’t go away. They are to be avoided at all costs.

 “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. The Lord works out everything for his own ends…” – Proverbs 16:3-4

It’s almost a paradox, isn’t it? “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed,” BUT, “The Lord works out everything for his own ends…”? Well, I guess the only wisdom I have to offer here is that I don’t have any wisdom to offer. I mean, I’ll make my plans and commit them to God, but He knows best. While I feel like I want what I want, I know that God working out his own ends is ultimately the right thing.

While I was walking around the mall I passed the record store where I worked about 17 years ago, shortly after I got married (I know what you’re thinking – “What’s a record store?”). It was having a “going out of business” sale (see the picture above). I guess things really are tough all over. You know, I was pretty upset when I got fired, but I quickly started thinking forward to where I’m headed. I decided that I’m going to be one of those people who gets fired and, a few months later, says, “That was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” I’ll write more about that later.

Have you lost a job before? What does it feel like? What advice do you have for the newly unemployed?

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Real Strength

“I’m so afraid… Give me the strength to die well.” – William Wallace played by Mel Gibson in Braveheart

This is the first in a series of letters to my children, that I may turn into a book.

Dear son,

A man’s strength is demonstrated in many different ways, few of them physical. Spiritual, relational, and emotional strength are equally as important, if not more so. God’s word admonishes us to “be strong and courageous” time and time again. Strength is part of being a man. It is essential to being a dad, also.

Don’t worry. You have this strength within you. God gives dads all the strength they need. We just need to rely on Him to help us use it properly. Trust me and Him – You have what it takes to be a great dad, a great husband, a great man. Do not give up. Be strong and courageous.

In Joshua, God commands Joshua to, “Be strong and courageous,” many times (Joshua 1), “for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (verse 9) He also admonishes him, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8) This is a powerful verse to memorize, regarding the power of God’s word.

There will be many times in life when you will be tempted to give in to fear. Whenever that happens, cry out to God. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)

The source of every man’s strength lies in his ability to rely on God. Everything else is just shifting sand. You will need to be able to humble yourself and rely on God. This is vitally important. I’ve seen many men fall because they were unable to humble themselves. It’s the sin that leads to all the others – pride.

It’s not even that I’ve seen men fall into sin. I’ve seen lots of men fall into sin, myself included, but we eventually come to our senses, fall on our knees, and beg for mercy from God. The inability to humble oneself runs deep in some men, so deep that they spend years, decades, their whole lives and even eternity stubbornly refusing to come to God. They think it is a sign of weakness to admit they were wrong.

Son, listen well and hear me: Admitting you are wrong, confessing you are a sinner, is the first step to true strength. It is only the fool that thinks he can fool God (see Acts 5:1-10). This is one of the many paradoxes of life. It is only in admitting you are weak that you find true strength. God is our strength. Never forget that.

You want proof? Read the story of Samson in the Old Testament. It is only by God’s spirit that Samson had any strength at all.

“The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.” – Judges 15:14-15

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Two Wrongs

Publicity photo from the television program Th...

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

When was the last time you heard that? I said it to my kids the other night and it sounded like an ancient and long-forgotten saying. Why? I heard that every day of my childhood, sometimes multiple times a day, from parents, teachers, coaches, friends, everybody!

I used to hear things like that on popular TV shows, too – shows like Andy Griffith, Happy Days, the Brady Bunch, Mr. Rogers. Not today. When was the last time you heard Johnny Test or Spongebob quote the golden rule? “Now Dukey, remember to do to others as you would have others do to you.” Right.

Heck, Bart Simpson is an old conservative compared to today’s cartoon role models. What was he famous for saying? Oh yeah, “I’m Bart. Who the (bleep) are you?”

I guess that just proves Rule #1 of parenting – Don’t let Hollywood mold your child’s character.

Are there any good influences coming from Hollywood these days? Who would you want your kids to look up to?

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2013 Reboot

I haven’t posted much lately. I’ve been busy. Between Christmas, kids’ birthdays, heart problems, the flu rampaging through the family, and all those New Year’s resolutions to fail at, it’s been a challenging 2013 so far. I’ve been trying for a while now to get into a new routine that involves me getting up early (thanks a lot, Andy Traub) and working before I go to work. It’s also supposed to involve me working out sometime during the day. Like I said, it’s been a challenging year so far.

So, as I recover from the flu and take stock of the first few weeks of 2013, I find myself longing, for the first time in recent memory, for February. Normally, I hate February. No, not because of Valentine’s Day. That’s usually a bright spot in an otherwise dreary month. The one year we (my family and I) went to Florida (aka, Disney World) at the end of January, I understood instantly why people flock south like geese every winter as they get older. I’d give anything to spend every February in the Bahamas.

If you fancy blessing my family and me with an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas for a month, I’ll humbly accept, but for now I’ll go on the assumption that I’ll be in Cincinnati for the balance of winter 2013. That being the case, I can’t wait to put January behind me and start February. Why? I know it’s just a date on the calendar, but I feel like the first few weeks of January have been so challenging that I need to do a 2013 reboot in February. I’ll pretend like it’s the start of the New Year all over again and get going on my goals for the year.

How about you? Has January been so hard you need a 2013 reboot? If so, I hereby give you permission. Forget about January and start 2013 over. Heck, call February January! That’s even better. Then, we can have a new January, skip the dreaded February, and go straight into March! Who’s with me?

Unless you’re going to the Bahamas…

In that case, when does our plane leave? :)

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Heart Monitor

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
~ Proverbs 4:23

1 – 2 – 3 – 4, 1 – (pause) – 2-3 – (long pause) -4

That was my heartbeat the other day.

It scared the daylights out of me. I’ve skipped beats before and the doctors say everybody skips a beat once in a while without even noticing, but this was different. I noticed!

It started a couple weeks ago – nothing alarming, just once or twice a day for a few seconds. So, I made an appointment to see my doctor. After a couple tests revealed nothing, the doc set me up with a heart monitor to wear for 24 hours.

That day turned out to be one if my more stressful days of late. I will spare you the details but let’s just say I gave the doctor plenty of data to analyze over the next 24 hours. The end result is this: I need to take better care of myself. I’m not in deep trouble, but I need to guard my heart.

Great wisdom applies to many areas of life. Solomon’s proverbial advice to guard your heart certainly qualifies. I need to guard my heart – my physical heart, my spiritual heart, and my emotional heart. All three, I believe, make up what Solomon calls, “the wellspring if life.” If you’ll pardon the pun, this verse has been on my heart a lot lately – obviously more so this week. Generally, I’ve been thinking of it in terms of needing to guard the hearts of my children as they grow up. There are so many forces attacking their hearts nowadays, it feels like an enormous responsibility to be a dad, the protector and provider. I’m also thinking of it in regards to guarding my own heart, spiritually and emotionally – and now, physically.

“Guard your heart. Treasure it. Defend it, because out of your heart flows anything that makes life worth living. You literally cannot know another person or love them including God without your heart. And they can’t know you or love you deeply unless your heart is present to receive that.” ~ John Eldredge, Desire Conference

Are you starting to get the feeling this heart stuff is critically important? Me, too. How are you doing at guarding your heart?

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Sinners in the Hands of a Loving Daddy

Theologian Jonathan Edwards

Theologian Jonathan Edwards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” – Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

“Smite me, O Mighty Smiter!” – Bruce Almighty

I sometimes wonder why God doesn’t just wipe us all out. I mean, look at us! We seek out new levels of depravity every day!

Then, I look at my own children, and I know that I would give each of them every possible chance to come home to me – no matter how far they had strayed, no matter what they had done.

In his book, Three Free Sins, Steve Brown says:

“Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.”

I weep for unrepentant sinners in the hands of an Angry God, but those of us who have accepted His mercy can relax and rejoice because we are sinners in the arms of a Loving Daddy. We have no reason to fear. He knows all about all of our junk, and He loves us just the same.

That is good news.

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