100% Satisfaction Guaranteed. Or, Your Money Back.

Not that long ago I was having lunch with some friends at a well-known chain restaurant.  Now, let it be known that I don’t frequent chain restaurants for many reasons.  However, if I could only give one reason it would be out of a fear for an overall lack of quality.  See, simple economics will dictate that often times quality is compromised for quantity.  The more one produces something, the less time they have to spend on each single item.  I understand there’s always an exception to the rule, and given into that understanding I decided to give this particular chain the benefit of the doubt.

The setting was pleasing, and the conversation was even better.  However, when my food arrived (nothing too complicated, bear in mind), I found the plastic lid to a disposable container IN my sandwich!  Go figure, my luck!
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I did, however, learn a few things from this obvious oversight:

At least I know my sandwich was portioned properly.  There is NO CHANCE this restaurant will lose money on over applying guacamole, or any other condiment for that matter.
I also became aware of the date the topping was set aside to be used.  And, much like the date on the milk carton gives you a sense of confidence, knowing that someone chopped up my jalepenos a few days ago gave me a sense of “fresh.”  Maybe.
While the intention was to control the quality of the food with a pre-portioned measurement to ensure consistency, the obvious oversight of the plastic material overruled my would-be satisfaction.  That would be called an “epic fail.”

Now, the restaurant’s response?  Well, unsurprisingly, they offered me a new one!

A new one.  As if I would like another pre-portioned, plastic-infused sandwich!  Ok, sure.  That’ll make me happy.  Actually, it won’t, but I don’t want to be seen as “that-guy” in the public setting.

As consumerists, we’ve become so accustomed to getting things right, or it’s free it’s almost maddening.  No, seriously.  Think about it.  Are we not allowed to make mistakes anymore?

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How many signs do we read at cash registers now offering to make things right?  If I don’t get my receipt, my meal is free?  If I wasn’t happy, management will offer me a new one, PLUS a discount, PLUS a coupon for next time!?  These promises eliminate the opportunity for ANY customization, whatsoever!

For many years I’ve served the public hand-crafted cocktails.  Yes, that’s a fancy way of saying “bartender.”  And, it is also the truth, because as the industry started to take a turn from a free-pouring craft into a portioned, inventoried, quality-controlled systematic flow I became less interested.  In reality, restaurants would prefer robots behind bars, accurately portioning all their liquids, and topping each drink with the precise amount of garnish over having one who puts thought, creativity, time and personality into the taste, appearance and unique quality of a drink.

From our food, to our automobiles.  Our homes, to our phones.  We demand quality, and expect nothing less than perfect.  One blemish and we immediately want a refund, discount, rebate or replacement.  I’m serious.  For awhile I worked as a salesman at a new car lot.  It wasn’t uncommon for a new car shopper to investigate the car for any scratch in order to get some type of discount!

“OUR MARRIAGES ARE UNDER ATTACK!”
Attack!  As in, there is a pre-meditated ploy out to get you married folk!  I’ve heard it pitched a thousand times.  And, mostly while sitting in church.  Many times preachers, pastors, and advocates will use this type of fear-mongering to defend traditional marriage and, therefore, advocate a stance against gay-marriage.  Many times, too, the argument is built under the assumption like this is something new.  As if “only in America” do we allow things like this.  Or, the pulpit vocalist will pump out statistics inspiring us to think that somehow moral-decay is becoming an epidemic, as if it was never an issue “back in the good ol’ days.”

Here’s the truth:

Marriage found its first oppressor right after its creation.  Yes.  Satan attacked God’s very first union of two.  We know the story, you know, with the apple.  Or, was it an orange?  Regardless, that age-old story of Adam abandoning his wife, Eve, therefore, subjecting her to the temptations of the Great Deceiver.  This, friends, was the very first attack on the sanctity marriage.  And, guess what, statistically back in those old days, Satan attacked 100% of marriages, and, sure enough, he won that battle.

So, in a sense, nothing has changed.  Satan still attacks.  However, he’s sharpened his tools.  Today, he uses even more clever devices, like the one I’ve begun illustrating: an expectation of quality.

As pointed out, we demand quality.  When something is broke, we just get a new one.  I’m amazed at how many people I know drive a brand new car.  When I see on facebook the flashy pictures titled, “my new ride,” part of myself cringes.  I think, “oh boy, I hope they can hold on to the payments.”  What’s even more nerve-racking is typically I find these people on a restless mission to always “upgrade” their devices.  It’s not a good thing to become so obsessed with quality.  Here’s the problem it may present:

If we have a high-quality car that carries us to the best gym in town and, afterwards, we purchase only the finest brewed coffee (or, latte) then return to our climate-controlled castle so we can relax, briefly, under our precision-tuned shower-head before carefully applying only the most pure cosmetics so we can endure our plush work environment, using the latest in technology and communication, then when things begin to go wrong in our marriage what’s our first response?  I WANT A NEW ONE!

I want a newer model!  One that whines less, and is adjusted perfectly.  I want less consumption, and more options!  I want to not have to deal with all the WORK associated with this old piece of JUNK.  I’M WORTH MORE THAN THIS!

The reality is, the more we pursue comfort, precision, and perfection in our lives, the less inclined we are to actually FIX that which may not need much fixing at all.

Satan has, once again, manipulated the simple truth of love, and layered it with conditions, complications, qualities, and, therefore, inspiring us to shift our focus from the finesse to the flaw.

Perhaps a quick reading of God’s Word would have us understand that we are all imperfect and all in dire need of a Savior.  And, it is only He who can make all things new.  (Truth)

How?  Cling to Him.  Attach yourself to Jesus, and allow Him to manage the discomforts, the imperfections, and even the impurities.  I promise, you will be amazed at the work He does–not in the stuff that bother you, but rather, in you.

To Live By Words and Numbers.

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The Phantom Tollbooth (1969)

I recall watching the movie, The Phantom Tollbooth, several times as a kid.    In the movie, Milo, the main character, eventually comes across the King of Words (from dictionopolis), and the King of Numbers (from Digitopolis), and they’re in a heated debate over who’s got more influence in life: numbers or letters.

That debate inspired discussion in my sixth grade language arts class: if you could have an army of numbers or an army of letters, which would you choose?

I recall choosing numbers, because numbers are infinite.  But, then a classmate told me that for every number, there’s a word (meaning, multiple letters): “2” would lose in battle with “T-W-O.”

Nonetheless, it is now many many years later, and I still recall the discussion –and, perhaps she had a point.  After all, I’m not blogging in binary code, am I?

As I woke this morning I had a few thoughts.  First, I reflected on this past week, and thought of how my desk is just absolutely covered in papers and notes and note-cards all related to my study for the Montana Real Estate License Exam.  Then, I thought of going to my church right in the middle of my week and playing music for my Lord.  While, it may have seemed like an interruption to my studies for some, to me, it was necessary to abandon myself for about an hour.

That night of worship became a night of surrender.  I prayed, intently, asking for God to go before me.  To lift the fear, and the opportunity of fear from my week, and allow me to conquer the state exam.  Some friends prayed with me and as I left to return home (to study), I felt like a Spartan warrior — minus all the chiseled abs.

A few verses have been floating around in my head over this past week.

Romans 8:28 (NIV)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose.

This verse has given me security, knowing that my ends are not God’s ends.  And, therefore, my means, are really not mine at all.  In fact, I can have faith (and, therefore, confidence) that God is working a great work in my life, because I love Him.  Then I notice some of the fear withering away.

Psalm 46:10a (NIV)

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

This verse, like the above, reassures me that God is in control.  He’s got stuff figured out, and really, I just need to chill out.  I love this verse because the command is simple:  chill.  I’ve got this, He says.

And, finally, Proverbs 16:3

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.

I quoted this verse in an earlier blog-entry, and, really, it’s a recent favorite of mine.  My wife must have recently stumbled across this one, or became moved by it and decided to write it on a post-it note and stick it to the bathroom mirror.  I noticed it some time ago.  At first, I just read it, and moved on.  But, in no time, I noticed those words echoing in my head: He will establish my plans.  Just commit!

This verse has helped me find that there’s victory in submission to the Lord.  Just let go.  Scripture tells us to cast our fears upon the Lord (see: 1 Peter 5:7 and/or Psalm 55:22), and even Jesus said:

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

That’s Matthew 6:27, by the way.  I love that question!  It’s even a bit humorous: who can add a single hour to your life by worrying?  Ha!  Jesus is laughing at adversity!  I love it!

Now, if I may digress, or better-yet, regress (to the point I originally thought I had); notice all these numbers (in the form of Bible verses).  I’m sure you already knew this, but think about the fact that the original Scriptures were NOT written in verse form.  It’s not like back in the day people shouted: Psalm 46:10 when they needed a spiritual-pick-me-up!  No.  These passages, many of them, were written like letters.  And, do we number our paragraphs or even our sentences when we write letters?  Nope.  Not since grade-school.  Yet, today we like to remind ourselves of the Love God has for us by plastering “JOHN316” on a license plate.  Or tattooing Psalm29:11 on our arm so we can feel “stronger.”  Or, perhaps we buy a new house and notice the address is 2415, as in Joshua 24:15.  (That would be cool!)

Numbers are reference points (to use a Real Estate term: benchmarks).  They refer us to a truth in WORD.  The idea behind the numbers is to give us an easy way to recall the Truth of God: that He LOVES us, and He fights for us!  (Ezekiel 14:14) 😉

So, maybe my classmate was right after all, with every number, you’ve got WORDS describing it.

In the beginning was the WORD, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

Victory. From the starting line.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In John’s record of the Gospel, we find the above quoted to Jesus, himself (see: John 16:33). Now, for me, this is an incredibly strong verse. Imagine, not only is Jesus — God incarnate — talking, but He’s reassuring us that He’s already overcome everything the world can throw!

I’m thinking of that epic moment in Rocky IV where the Russian boxer, Ivan Drago and Rocky Balboa are in the middle of the ring

Scene from Rocky 4

“I will break you!”

acknowledging the rules of the event. They go to touch gloves and Ivan, in his massive, broken-English voice mutters, “I will break you.”

Bam!

At that point in the movie, I recall really fearing the fight for Rocky.

Now, consider for a moment, the amount of confidence in the Russian. He’s so sure he’s going to win the fight, even to the point of “BREAKING” his opponent. It’s just not enough to win, but to CRUSH the opposition.

Not that I’d encourage anyone to adopt a broken-English-egocentric-Russian voice while they read the red letters in the book of John, but I can’t help but revere a sense of ultimate, infinite, authority when I hear Jesus say, “I’ve overcome the world!”

In my life, at the time of writing this blog entry, (which, by the way, I do apologize for so much time in between entries, but as you’ll become aware of, I’ve been very busy over the past several months!), I’m just five days away from taking my state exam for the Montana Real Estate Sales License. Now, for most, Real Estate is a career that doesn’t immediately demand much adoration for. Sure, we all appreciate a helpful Realtor, but if we were told of the complexities and intensities of the study we’d be quite shocked. Well, I was! This has been no small task! The amount of information that is expected of an agent is baffling! But, I was informed recently by a friend who’s been a Realtor for over a decade, “the buck stops with you.” Meaning, as an agent, you become accountable for everything: titles, property, home conditions, even the market expectations. Ergot, the massive study, of all the aforementioned.

Now, when Jesus comforted His disciples (really, those who were chosen to follow Him) — and, I put that in parenthesis to take a break in thought, because I’d like you to think about where you stand with Jesus; are you on His side? Have you been chosen? Do you call yourself a Christian? If so, then pay attention.

Ok, back on track. When Jesus informed His disciples that they didn’t need to fear, but instead be in awe of the Mighty Conqueror, He meant exactly that! See, it is that simple–if you’ve thought otherwise, then perhaps your idea of “Christianity” is a bit too complicated.

Jesus says, “don’t worry.”

“But, Lord, this is a big test! I mean everything is riding on this!”

“I’ve already overcome that test, Justin. Don’t worry.”

And, see, at that point, it’s done. Because He has. Overcome. It’s all good.

Now, what are the advantages of surrendering fear? Well, for starters, the time that I planned on spending on worrying about the test, I’m going to spend studying for it. Yes, more time right there! Remember, even the most successful person in the world still only had 24-hours in a day to work at it. I’ve got to continually remind myself, I am just a man, and therefore, just as capable as any man!

Secondly, with the time I would have spent worrying directed toward studying, (and, literally, not having any time to worry anyway), then I’m more focused on doing what I should be: studying (just to purposely sound redundant).

But, really, it’s not only MORE study, but it’s FOCUSED study. And, that is a MUCH better start!

And, finally, I need to remind myself that if I commit myself to the Lord in all that I do, then the outcome is totally His. (Proverbs 16:3–obviously, a little paraphrased). His outcome. Not mine. See, it pulls the rug out from the opposition. They have nothing to stand on. There is beauty in abandoning fears.

Know this, God has the BEST in mind for you. He’s not wanting you to enter into a state of total humility that you forget who you are and what you want to, and can, accomplish. No, He’s merely asking you to cast your fears upon Him, so you can CARRY ON WITH THE BEST OF YOU! It’s a win-win situation. You win because He wins in you!

I mention all this even before I go to take the test for this reason: accountability. It’s one thing to talk it, another to walk it. So, I’ll publish this days before the exam. Study hard. Prayer even harder. And, move forward with God’s desire in sight. If I were to fail the test, it’ll hurt, yes. Because, in my finite mind I’ll wonder why. Or better yet, whatwhat, now? However, good thing my HOPE is not in my finite mind! Good thing my HOPE is in the LORD!

It’s like you’ve prepared for the foot race of your lifetime. You’ve exercised diligently, every day. For many hours. You’ve eaten everything you can possibly eat to give you that extra muscle and energy. You’ve even purchased the really nice shoes-and, I’m talking about those ones with the highlighted springs on the bottom! You show up for the race to find others who seem just as prepared, and possibly even hungrier for victory. In fact, they have even brighter shocks under their rubber soles. (Dang it!) And, as you grab your spot on the starting line your phone vibrates. Well, first of all, you should probably ditch the phone! You know, wind resistance! But, curiosity gets the best of you and you read the text. It’s from God:

Hey, don’t worry. I’ve already conquered this race. Smile!

God. Thank you, for taking my burden!

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.

(Psalm 62:5)

I Want California!

It’s very easy to go to California and begin a list of “I wants.”

I want to go to the beach.  Everyday!

I want that body!

I want that car!

I want that house!

I want … to live here!

California is no stranger to these desires for since its acceptance into the United States in the year 1850, it has seen tremendous population growth.  Initially, the rush was over the gold discovered just prior to US Statehood, but with the introduction of a new century, and the advent of new technologies yielding new cultures (movies, that is), California soon became a staple of American pop culture and an intended destination for many for most, if not all, of the century.

Recently, my wife and I took a quick road tour of some of Southern California’s finest.  We perused the Gaslamp District of San Diego, shopped the Promenade of downtown Santa Monica, dipped our toes in the salt water of the Mission Beach coastline, walked the sidewalk of Hollywood Stars and posed with some of the finest wax figurines, and even cruised Mulholland Drive overlooking the home to over ten million people; Los Angeles.

And, that’s not even mentioning Sea World: San Diego!  But, all the enthusiasm I have for that theme park is for another time.  Otherwise, I’m likely to go way off track.  Let me just put it this way: go!  Go to Sea World!

One of the spectacular shows Sea World: San Diego offers!

That being said, there’s much to enjoy in California!

However, I have been told that the problem with San Diego is that it’s always sunny and warm.  Always.

Read that twice, because the first time I did, I didn’t get it.

What my friend was pointing out is there is no change in San Diego’s climate.  It’s always sunny and warm.

Without the bitter the sweet ain’t as sweet.

And, change is a good thing!

The thing I like most about the winter in Montana is that I know summer is coming!  I mean it!  I’m not a skier.  I don’t prefer the snow.  I certainly do not enjoy shoveling it, and, personally, I’d love to not need a truck with 4×4!  But, even on the grayest and coldest of winter days, I can find joy in knowing that summer is on its way, and it is awesome!

Didn’t Jesus tell us the same thing?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

That comes from John 16:33, by the way, and it really sums up all our fears and worries.  See, the Christian truly has the ability to live without fear.  It doesn’t make us immune to problems, or even terror.  But, we need not fear it.  Jesus has overcome!  Summer is on its way!

Ok, maybe my winter/summer analogy is a bit far reaching, but it works for me!  Nonetheless, I can imagine that living in “an endless summer,” can, at times, cause one to feel a bit enclosed, or limited to say the least.  We thrive when we have variety.  History has taught us that, time and time again.  The thing that I need to remind myself of when I travel, especially to destinations that resemble some semblance of paradise, is that the beauty is in the travel.  Not the destination.

Jokingly, I told my wife that if we moved to the beach, we’d become fat because all we’d do is sit on the beach.  Sit.  On the beach.  Two things that lead to the leading causes of death: obesity and cancer.  Yikes!

Well, as it turns out, there may be some truth to that.  According to usnews.org (citing gallop), five of the nine US States that have a less than 20% obese rate are located in the mountains.  Only one US State with a major coastline is considered “slim”, and that does happen to be California, but I’m willing to guess it’s due to the mountains in California since there seems to be a connection with mountains and fitness.  (I did happen to find a visual representation of CA counties and [childhood] obesity, here, and it looks like I’m right.  The “heaviest part of CA is its coastline!)

However, the point is not to pin one place against the other.  I have my favorites as well as other’s have theirs.  And, really, one of the things I love most about being American is my right to travel within my country.  When I want, I can go to the beach, or the mountains, or the lakes, or the cities.  It’s great!  It is one of the great qualities of being American.  And, the truth is, no matter where you live, you can find great things in your own community.  And, if you’re hard pressed to find them, then maybe it’s your time to shine?  Maybe YOU are the greatness of your community?

I want California like I want Montana.  Or Florida.  Or South Carolina.  Or Michiga…wait.  Not Michigan.  Just kidding!

The goal is to not allow the greatness of any community be its superficiality.  Instead, allow the greatness of a community be that which Christ came to redeem; its people.  The people are what make a community great.  Everything else is stuff that doesn’t really matter.

As I once told my mom, I’m glad I don’t live on the mountain top.  For, if I did, what, then, would I strive for?

Go.  Strive.  And be the greatness in your community.

Remembering a Birthday.

Reminiscing on moments in history is not foreign to the US citizen.  In fact, of 20 major holidays, 13 of them have origins of just that: remembrance.

Today is a bit different for me.

Yes, I know it’s Memorial Day, and while I have already begun recognizing and remembering the sacrifices that many have made so that I, and my family, can enjoy our “American freedoms,” something else distracts my mind today.  Something else won’t escape and won’t allow me to give my undivided attention to another.

That “thing” is my brother’s birthday.  Today he would have 27 candles on his cake — wow, that’s hard to believe!  I wonder what he’d be like at 27.  Would he have “settled down” and married?

Nah, probably not.

Would he have a house?  Probably not.  He preferred the migrant lifestyle.

Would he have a greater love for this land?  Yes, definitely.  In fact, just a week ago I was traveling up the North Fork Road in the North-western corner of Columbia Falls, Montana (a very scenic route) thinking of him.  Thinking he left too early.

Four years ago, on this day-his birthday, he and I left our hometown of Wilmington, NC for a spectacular roadtrip across the US.  Here’s my journal, penned just three days before:

In a discussion recently with a good friend I began to answer the commonly summoned, “so what’s new?” Such a typical cliche question that normally is followed by the typical (and, yes, cliche) “oh, not much.”

However, there was a pause and while it was for just a moment, it was a deep deafening pause as if thunder interrupted the conversation. It was then that I began to realize that my life is complicated and in need of more than just a simple one-line summation. OK, you can stop rolling your eyes now–those of you who know me well enough to know my life has been very complex lately and mostly due to self-imposed complexities.

Nonetheless, I began:

“Well, I’ve got some big changes on the horizon…in fact, starting real soon.”

My former roommate has always been very respectful and generous in his time toward me so he inquired further. He then learned of my ambitions to travel a few time-zones back…to the West.

In short, my desire for the West is inspired by a few larger intentions of my character:

1. Independence

2. Spontaneaty

3. Beauty

Independence – I have a strong desire to promote individualism. I believe we all benefit by the fruits of many individuals rather than the collective sum of the masses. The American West has historically and even today represents this very intention; that all deserve some room and no one holds rights or privilege over another.

Spontaneity – Some call it a curse, I tend to think it makes life more interesting. I’m not an advocate for mere existence. I desire to live. Get on the road, do something you haven’t, reach for the stars for it’s better to live for a minute than to exist for a lifetime.

Beauty – Beyond just surface pleasures, the Western portions of the United States far surpass what the East can provide, unless the smell of congestion, confusion, chaotic manipulation, and social inequity suits your fancy. I believe every American kid should visit the Grand Canyon, and every American parent should make that happen. Go visit God’s canvas!

So here it is. Welcome to the “Western Mecciafication!”

All packed and ready to go!

Chris and I, May 28, 2008. Wilmington, NC

Somewhere in WY

Chris and I, days later. Somewhere in Wyoming.

Montana!

Chris and I, Montana. June 1, 2008

Sometimes it’s hard to think about.  But, still, it’s easy to smile.  Chris was good at that, smiling.

Today, four years later, I certainly miss him.  But, I have the hope of seeing him again, given to me by God through His word.  God promises me a day with Him, and him(Chris), in paradise.  A day that knows no fear and sheds no fear.  Only peace.  A peace we are incapable of understanding today.

Some may find it bizarre, a belief in the afterlife (especially an afterlife that is so profoundly beautiful–typically, people prefer the likes of zombies!).  But, as I think of God and His will, His power, and His intention, I really can’t think of anything less than beautiful.  He is magnificent!

This gives me the strength to move on.  I love my brother and miss him dear, but I still have a mission while I’m here.

Today, I will sing Happy Birthday, but I’ll not cry.  I’ll smile.  For I know he has been renewed and is in the presence of our Father.  The Father.

Thirteen and Luck.

Not that long ago, I was boarding an airplane with my son, and I had explained to him that on the ticket it identified our seats as ‘17A’ and 17’C’.  So, while we were walking down the aisle, I had him view the aisle numbers and count.  “10….11….12….—14?,” he asked.

Since we were in a bit of a hurry to find our row, I shuffled him a few more rows and collapsed onto our seats in row 17.  After fastening seat-belts and securing our luggage, I began to explain that on planes there’s no 13.  And, then I reached the limit of my explanation, for there really is not reasonable explanation.

Jesus had 12 disciples, making Him either #13 or #1.  Either way, someone was #13.

To the Jews, 13 signifies the age at which a boy matures and becomes a ‘Bar Mitzvah,’ and, interestingly, and perhaps related, according to Rabbinic commentary on the Torah, God has 13 attributes of mercy.

Interestingly, the calendar year is broken up into 12 months, making the 13th the beginning of a new year.

This is an oil on canvas painting of George Washington receiving the first US flag from Betsy Ross, painted in 1950 by Walter Haskell Hinton.

Thirteen is also the first of the ‘teens,’ again, marking something new.  And, may I suggest it is also the beginning of repeated numbers, meaning “twelve” is unique, but “thirteen” is really just the combination of “three” and “ten.”  Again, marking something new.

Our country, America, declared its independence with 13 original colonies, and is also the number of guns in a gun salute to one of the US military.  Interestingly, while the original ‘American flag’ consisted of 13 stars (one for each original colony), the number of stars increased as the number of US States increased.  However, the original number of stripes–13–has remained the same.

Colgate University also considers 13 to be a lucky number. They were founded in 1819 by 13 men with 13 dollars, 13 prayers and 13 articles.  (To this day, members of the Colgate community consider the number 13 a good omen.) In fact, the campus address is 13 Oak Drive in Hamilton, New York, and the male a cappella group is called the Colgate 13.

However, trivia aside, I always felt it was a bit silly to pay so much attention to the number 13.  In fact, many times I find myself filling up at pump #13, and intentionally trying to end my dollar amount with $0.13 because I feel the number is left out!

In any event, I hope this letter finds you in good fortune (notice, I chose the word ‘fortune’ rather than ‘luck.’)  As luck would have it, though, I did find $20 in my pants this morning, which calls to mind that old adage, “luck is merely the intersection of preparation and opportunity.”  I prepared to surprise myself by forgetting the $20 bill, and therefore, gave myself the opportunity to be surprised when I reached into my pocket!

I used to work at a bar with a small casino attached to it.  So, often times I would find myself serving the gamblers as well.  Although, it was a rather easy job (bring a beer to a gambler, change a hundred, toss an empty bottle), it was a bit more difficult to me not being a gambler.  Some would enter and ask to know which machine has been paying out lately.

A typical Keno screen

Other’s would question their luck, or ask me if I’m lucky and then suggest picking their Keno numbers.  Again, this is an illusion that ‘luck’ is an essence that floats around like a butterfly, never knowing where it’s going to land, but lands, definitely, and then embracing this chosen individual with it’s blessing.  It’s rather silly, don’t you think?

Some will comment, “Oh, you don’t have to worry about your diet, you’re lucky.  You’re skinny and healthy.”  Could it be, perhaps, that I’m skinny and healthy because of my diet?  Could it be that because I chose to pursue a college education that I’m, therefore, more qualified for the job?  Ultimately, could it be because of the conscience decisions I made in the past that I have the celebrations and the sorrows I do today?

Now, I’m not trying to eliminate the avenue for God’s divine reach.  He certainly has the ability to reach into our lives, transform them, and work in us in a way we’d never expect.  How do I know?  Because he did to me!  While some would regard my intersection with Corylene as pure luck, I see it as nothing less than God’s divine working.  But, before I leave that, let’s consider the similarities of luck and God’s work.

1.  Both appear to be the work or result of an external force – one that supersedes our grasp or possibly even our understanding.

2.  Both require a level of faith.

3.  Both, often times, become apparent only after an event, in a way, post-result.

Now, if I may add a fourth, and perhaps most pertinent, reason; that, both, can result in either a positive or negative outcome.

Consider, for a minute, Roy Sullivan.  Ok, certainly not a household name, but maybe if I told you that he holds the record for being struck by lightening the most he becomes a bit more interesting.  Turns out, in his lifetime, Roy was struck seven times, and the interesting thing is that it wasn’t lightening that ended up taking his life.  Turns out he accidently shot himself in the stomach.  Poor guy.  What a way to go, especially after defeating lightening seven times!

Roy lived in Virginia and worked as a park ranger in the Shenandoah National Park.  Now, being amongst nature can certainly increase your chances of being struck by lightening, but being in Virginia, apparently, can significantly increase those chances, too.  Turns out, in the entire country, the South-East coast is the ‘hot-spot’ for lightening flashes.  So hot, that even Roy’s wife was stuck once!  Wow, out of all my friends on facebook, I don’t recall any of them updating their status claiming a personal experience with lightening!

Status Update: I wass strucckk by lighttteening today.  Kinnnda tinnggless.

Now, as you read more about Roy, and may I suggest for convenience, just plug his name in Wikipedia.com’s search engine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Sullivan), you’ll find that by the fourth strike, he began to feel a bit ‘[un]lucky.’  So much that he started to carry a jug of water around all the time.  In fact, after one lightening incident he was able to extinguish the flames on his head with his water jug in his truck.

I mention Roy, and his oddities, because here’s a man who would more than likely suggest he’s rather UNlucky.  However, consider the opposite: maybe it’s because he’s SO lucky that he was able to withstand seven strikes of lightening?  Really, who are we to say what is and isn’t good luck?  Or, perhaps, God’s divine reach?

I indicated three, actually four, similarities in luck and God’s working.  Roy would indicate that the lightening, in his life, was certainly the work of someone, or something, beyond his grasp, perhaps even his understanding.  It’s safe to assume that if he had any control over this situation at all, he would have elected to NOT be struck.

That being the case, he undoubtedly began to question God’s intention.  What’s the meaning of all this?  If, perhaps, he was not a believer in God, then certainly we could expect some type of divine rationalization (or even irrationalization) for this unique set of circumstances.  Therefore, the element of faith enters.  I’ll explain the element of faith a little later.  And, finally, it’s really only in the aftermath that we (and Roy) are able to put some of the evidence together in efforts to understand what just happened.

In 2001, I was a victim to a violent robbery at a pizza store in Wilmington, NC.  It was a friday night.  I was one of the last delivery drivers on duty, and it was near the end of my shift.  I was given the opportunity to go home early, but I decided to try and get a few more deliveries in before the end of my shift.  After all, it was a really good night for tips!

A little after 10:00 PM, I returned to the store, entered through the side-door (not visible to the carry-out customers, and therefore, utilized commonly by the delivery drivers), and approached my tip box.  Just as I was going for my keys to unlock my tip box and begin sorting my bills for check-out, three men entered the store, rather suddenly, too.  What caught my attention was that within seconds, they were behind the counter.  Before a thought as to why they were possibly behind the counter could begin in my head, I saw one man raise his hand to expose a gun, draw back the trigger and fire a bullet at another co-worker.

They just shot Nate!

As I panicked, I dropped to the floor, buried my head in my arms and closed my eyes.

Do you recall playing hide-n-seek with your friends, or brothers and sisters when you were younger?  Did you ever get the feeling that you weren’t visible to others if you, yourself, couldn’t see anything?  Many times, while playing, I’d hide in a cupboard, or under a table, and while sitting on my butt, I’d hug my legs, bury my head between my knees, and close my eyes.  It was as if supernaturally I acquired the ability to be invisible if I just closed my eyes.

Eventually, well, really, in a matter of seconds, one of the men made it to the back of the store.  He had the store manager in is control.  She was crying excessively.  Lisa may have been 25 or 26 at the time.  She had a young son and a husband, and worked at Domino’s as a store manager.  It was a good job for her and her husband.

I turned my head to see if she was injured just in time to see the assailant strike her face with the pistol.  I jolted.  He caught me, and immediately, I was staring at the barrel of a stub-nose revolver.

Get up!

I jumped to my feet.  He began asking about the camera tapes, and the hidden safe, and where all the money was.  As polite as I could reply, meanwhile getting beat in the back of the head by a pistol that I was increasingly becoming convinced was going to go off, I informed the man that we don’t utilize any security cameras, not do we have a hidden safe, or even a visible safe that we utilize.  Each night, after the store closes, the store manager, and the closing driver, drive to the bank and deposit the excess cash, leaving, at best, two hundred dollars in the store.  The intention, behind this thinking, is to deter theft.  A lot of good it was doing now!

The tragedy ended within minutes and I was left unconscious in a small pool of blood on the cold, concrete floor of the Ogden Domino’s Pizza, Store #8944, in Wilmington, North Carolina on March 16, 2001.

Now, what I learned about that night in the months to follow was evidence that, really, it’s God’s working, and not luck.

Verse to consider:

Romans 8:28..

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Now Go Tell At Least Three People

In my early twenties, I decided I’d try one of those “pyramid-deals.”  You know, one of those “this isn’t a get rich quick scheme, this is the real deal.”  Or, this one’s better, “I started as a stay-at-home mom in my part-time, today I make (insert lavish dollar amount) and I’m still a stay at home mom…working part-time!”

I recall the motivational orientation.  (Flashback begins)

Que the 90’s upbeat dance music (let me add “cheesy,” too).

Now, put yourself in a hotel banquet room, with about 100 others.  Clapping.

The lights dim.  Except for the make-shift stage.

Some guy in a Miami-vice suit jumps up front with one of those stupid wireless microphones attached to his ear.

His overly enthusiastic smile is enough to make you want to chew your own face off!  (Kinda makes you wonder how you ever got there, better yet, how ANYONE ever got there).

THIS CAN BE YOUR LIFE!

Anyway, after a 30 minute rags-to-riches testimonial, and an unparalleled changing of this man’s life, juxtaposed with picures of the Carribean, the big cruise ship, and the new Porche (you know, it’s always the same picture of the Carribean, isn’t it?), you begin to think, “I want that life.”

“I can do this.”

“I just need three friends.”

“Yeah, piece of cake.  I’ll be the next motivational speaker!”

Three months later, where are you?  Or, let me personalize it, where am I? I’m on the phone trying to get the auto-pay option discontinued.  I have boxes of materials stuffed away and a long list of friends needing apologies.

The truth is, none of that should have any real lasting appeal.  Be thankful that’s not your life.  Did you know that the overwhelming majority of lottery winners end up right back in debt within years?  (See this article, if interested).  It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?  Maybe that’s why it’s been said that if all the world’s wealth was divided up evenly amongst the population, within a few years, we’d all be back in the same spots.

Personalize it for a minute.  Do you receive a “refund” during the tax season?  Meaning, instead of paying into the tax coffers, do you receive a hypothetical “bonus check?”  I worked with this young woman once who told me she got an $8,000 tax refund one year!  The irony was, just earlier she was complaining about not having enough money to fix her car.  I told her that $8,000 divided up over 12 months is over $600 a month!  The truth is, if she had been a better planner, she would have set up a cushion for an unexpected expense.

I guess one of the positive impacts of the “pyramid-dream” (let’s forgo calling it a “pyramid-scheme,” shall we?), is the emphasis it puts on PLANNING.  Yes, to get the future you dream of, you need to PLAN.

What’s your plan?

No, not financially.  Because, as you are already aware, money doesn’t buy you happiness.  However, as a good friend of mine recently counter-argued, “no, it may not buy you happiness, but it can buy to access to happiness.”  Really?  Is money required for access?  As if happiness is a theme park and only those who can cover the cost of admission get to partake?

Hardly.

Just earlier this morning I was at the school yard watching my son run to the entrance door.  As usual, I drove up to the playground, walked him across the street, and lifted him over the fence.  Then, over the next minute, as he runs toward the door, we engage in a battle of who can shout “I love you” loudest.

“I love you, Dad!”

“I love you, Vince!”

And, this goes on until he reaches the door.

Today, he got to the door, and as he usually does, he got the last “Love You” before heading into the building.  However, anticipating his “Love You,” I shouted before he did.  He laughed and walked in, but then behind the door, through the window, I see him wave “I Love You” in sign-language!

He won!

This was happiness!

Purely, happy.

And, there was no financial figure involved.

As, I climbed back into the truck and turned toward home, I prayed.  I told God that I was happy and thankful for the happiness that was overwhelming every fiber of my body.  I told him that I am honored to be the dad of the beautiful children He gave me, and that I am amazed at how much He loves me!  You see, God loves me so much that He sent His beautiful son to endure a death I couldn’t so I can receive a life I don’t deserve.  His son was beaten, bruised, and bloodied for the sins that I committed.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

-2 Corinthians 5:21

I can’t imagine sending my own child to anywhere NEAR the persecution of the cross, let alone for the sins that another committed.  Yuk!

Yet, He did.

Because, He loves.

It’s because He loves, I write.

I speak.

And, I live.

It’s not because of he who is in the world, but because of He who is in me.

God has a plan, too.  And, like the “pyramid-dreams,” you should tell at least three people!  Jesus calls it “the great commission.”

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

-Matthew 28:18-20

Some Christians would be better calling it ‘The Great Omission,” however, as they can hardly muster up the energy to proclaim their King.

Again, what’s your plan?  Are you part of the Commission, or the Omission?

Let’s draw a metaphorical hypothetical and find out.

You awake in the middle of the night to a roaring fire across the street.  The lot next to your neighbor’s house lit up and in just the time you jumped to the window the flames have already begun crossing the fence.  Within minutes your neighbor’s house is going to be caught up in this fire!

Your mind races through your friendly neighbor, his hospitable and loving wife, and their beautiful children.

Do you:

1)  Run out immediately, kick down the door Chuck Norris style, run up the stairs and save them?  Or,

2)  Let someone else worry about it?

Think about it for a minute.

Jesus called us to be disciples.  To lead.  To be the light of the world.

Where are we leading people?  Into the light!  Into safety.

See, Hell is an all-consuming fire (and don’t even begin to dismiss that argument claiming God isn’t hateful and wouldn’t send anyone to Hell!  Because He’s not hateful.  And, He doesn’t send anyone to Hell.  They choose it).  If we don’t warn others of the encroaching FIRE, they’re likely to BURN.  Seriously.  And, it really IS that simple.  People have a tendency to complicate religion, but really, Jesus made things quite simple.  There’s life and there’s death.  No middle.

You don’t have to be a trained fire-fighter to warn people of fire.  And, if this doesn’t offer total reassurance, you don’t even have to fight the fire (although, if your profession actually is a firefighter, please continue to do the awesome work you do!)!

As Jesus warns in Matthew 25, be as the homeowner on the lookout for the thief.  That is, be prepared!  Get your soul protected with the armor of God, and let Him extinguish the flame.  Just be on the lookout for others, and show them the light!

You are the light of the world.

-Matthew 5:14