Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Man UP, Cards Down

Nine men gathered in the Fish Barn this morning to play Texas Hold 'Em. We had to explain the rules to a few of the guys. Christians used to consider playing cards a sin. Today Americans call it a sport. I'm not sure which description is more ridiculous.
Over the course of the hour, I lost two dollars in change and confessed a few sins. Fess UP was our theme. We ate peanuts, placed bets, and received our challenge. While week five of Man UP did not boast the adventure of last week's boating accident, it did net John several bucks. Our self-proclaimed poker novice won the largest share. We called him a hustler; he never fessed up.

Christ-followers must confess sin. Confession loosens strongholds and invites forgiveness. Christian men should not live in the darkness. Christian women should not suffer in the shadows. "We have all sinned," Paul states. The failings of our brothers should not surprise us. The sins of our sisters should come as no shock. And yet, confession is curiously absent from most Christian friendships.

This morning we asked our men to be honest. Some unleash hell with their tongues. Others have cheated employers and deceived neighbors. One spoke about his judgmental spirit. We laid our cards on the table. We showed our hands. We banked on God's grace. Fortunately, He is rich in mercy.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9, NASB).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Man UP, Boat DOWN

Man UP, a weekly gathering of Leesburg Grace men, has become my favorite hour of the week. Every Monday night I send a mass text to our group. Location, theme, and items to bring appear in the message. Men arrive early in the next morning with crust in their eyes and Bibles in their hands. They leave with a shared experience and corporate challenge. This morning they left with wet pants.

Our rendezvous point was the Boathouse restaurant. From there we crossed a bridge and came to a pontoon boat I'd secured a few days earlier. During my crash course in boating, I couldn't help but notice the weight panel over the steering wheel: Limit 8 people OR 1060 pounds. I told the owner I was bringing eight men aboard, and our median weight eclipsed two hundred pounds. The math added up to a sinking ship. The owner assured me the figures were a suggested guideline, a golden rule.

The men climbed aboard timidly. Dave said, "I always make boats sink." I admitted the transport might not start, for the owner had told the me the evening that he'd flooded the engine. We prayed, and boat roared to life. After a quick stop to pick up a straggler from a nearby pier, I shoved the throttle forward. The target was the center of Winona Lake, where we would enjoy some public Bible reading.

But my plans took a sudden nose dive. We had not dispersed our more-than-1060-pound human cargo evenly. The front of the boat submerged; water rushed onto the deck. "Come to the back," someone shouted. The men cleared the bow and rushed the stern; the boat raised up. Nervous laughter filled the air.
We proceeded with our readings. Each man bellowed a verse over the murmuring water and groaning engine. We read Mark 6:45-52 and 2 Samuel 22. A few times we had to shout, "Speak UP!" because the reader's voice did not register with enough authority. Godly men must learn to Speak UP. Finally, every man chose his favorite verse from 2 Samuel 22 and sounded his barbaric yawp.
  • The Lord is my Rock!
  • The Lord draws me out of deep waters!
  • With my God I can jump over a wall, I can rush upon an army!
  • I will call upon the Lord; He will save me from my enemies!
  • In my distress, I call upon the LORD. He hears my voice!
The exercise was cathartic. It sealed in our hearts the belief that God cares, guards, attends, and delivers. This belief came in handy a few minutes later when the engine of the boat died.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Five Reasons We Do Not Finish

I ran a marathon with blisters on my feet bursting open at mile eighteen. My socks were soaked and bloodied, but I finished. Months of training, pride, and a few loving hollers carried me through. The espresso-flavored fuel gels probably helped, too.

Unfortunately, other ares of my life are haunted by unfinished business. I am not alone. Most of us could use a good work day to tie up some loose ends. However, before any of us becomes a finisher, it is helpful to expose reasons we do not finish.

  1. Laziness: Some people barely start something, let alone finish it. Although the laundry does not require constant attention, it does consume the better part of a day when you consider sorting, washing, drying, folding, and restocking closet shelves. The very thought of dedicating several bursts of energy to this household chore makes me glad I have a few pairs of clean underwear in my drawer.
  2. Busyness: So much of our time goes to the road, commuting from one obligation to the next, we hardly have time for a pet project. In our age, we wear busyness as a badge of honor. It goes nicely with the bags under our eyes. And by the end of the day or week, we tend to be too tired to do much more than update our status, continue our game, or watch the next show queued on our Netflix account.
  3. Distraction: Stephen King argues for a desk in the corner of a quiet room when writing. Annie Dillard opts for a cabin in the woods. In contrast, the typical venue for creation and connection is the bustling coffee shop. Espresso machines steam, friends chatter, keyboards click, and Wi-Fi streams digital distractions right before our eyes. Simply put: one cannot finish when distractions abound. As much as we laud our ability to multitask, finishing requires focus.
  4. Suffering: Once I put weeks of preparation into a speaking opportunity at a national youth conference. I carefully pitched the topic, creatively packaged my material, and prayed hard for the outcome. Five people attended; the remaining two thousand people went elsewhere. The rejection, albeit impersonal, hurt. Most of our efforts face some form of pain, both emotional and physical. Whether we are trying to reconcile a relationship, sell insurance, or complete a bike ride, success depends on our ability to endure some measure of suffering.
  5. Fear: I've heard many musicians talk about unfinished songs. They have a chorus or refrain or bridge, but they cannot tie it together. And they will not force it, for they fear they will ruin a good tune. In other words, they are afraid of failure. This fear, of course, is not unique to musicians. The world is filled with incomplete canvases and unresolved plots. A promising start is more satisfying than a weak ending. No one likes a critical review or rejection note.
Which of these reasons is holding you back from finishing?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Completion: An Old Problem and New Album

"I finished," Aaron Scantlen announced. We sat together at family lunch following church. Aaron is the most verbally gifted member of our extended family. He's conversant on many topics: sports, movies, politics, economics, women in ministry, and Taco Bell.

Today's conversation is music. Before dawn broke, he finished a worship album he had started in a previous life. He wanted to celebrate. He told our family.