Start the New Year Right…Count to 14!


And so it begins again!  A brand New Year!  2014 to be exact.

I’m sure by now you have been planning a whole series of what we like to call “New Year’s Resolutions.”  Maybe you want to get in shape, lose weight, or get that pesky family budget under control.  Maybe you’re dreaming of finally giving up that nasty habit that has been plaguing you for years.  The sad reality is that experts tell us that we don’t keep about 90% of the resolutions we make.  Resolutions just don’t work.

Let me take this New Year’s Day to suggest a different approach.  Why not just count to 14.  After all, it’s 2014.  Instead of Resolutions, make a list of the 14 reasons you’re excited about this New Year.  I tried this approach for the first time last year and it was a refreshing change from the regular resolutions route.  Make a list of 14 things that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months.  Your list can include personal goals, events, & activities that will happen during the year.

Here’s a look at a few of the items from my 2013 list…

1. Finally paying off a student loan debt.

2. Attend an important ministry conference.

3. Riding in a 50-mile bike event.

4. Celebrating our 34th Wedding Anniversary.

5. Our youngest getting his learner’s permit.

6. Attending an MLB game at a Ballpark I’ve never been to before.

7. Celebrating with close friends who are becoming grandparents for the first time.

8. Seeing what we owe on our home mortgage drop below $xxxxxx.

As you can see, some of the items on my list for 2013 were not goals or things I had to accomplish.  I included experiences and events that would happen irregardless of my involvement.  These items on my list were spread out over the course of the entire year!  It was enjoyable to revisit this list several times throughout the year to see how the year was unfolding.

I’m creating a new list for 2014 even as I prepare to post this first blog entry of the New Year.  What should be on your list for 2014?  And if you don’t want to stop at 14 items, go for it.  After all, you are the master of your list.  Make it distinctively yours.

Starting from Day One,

Live The Red,

Mark

Question: What 14 things are you excited about in 2014?  Why?

 

 

 

January 1, 2014 at 6:50 pm Comments (0)

Why Promise?

 

Together Forever, originally uploaded by Praying for Lions.

[I am currently mentoring several young couples that have either just recently married, or are planning to get married soon. I've encouraged them to read Gary Smalley's excellent book I Promise to help them prepare for married life. Periodically, I'll be posting my thoughts on the 8 chapters from this book. Whether you are newly engaged, newlyweds, or celebrating many years together, feel free to join in the conversation. The goal of these posts is to inspire you to experience life with God in your marriage. Enjoy!]

Chapter One: Why Promise?

Gary Smalley begins this chapter with a true life story of waking up in the middle of the night because his wife is convinced that there’s a prowler in the house! After 32 years with my girl, I can certainly relate to this story. As husbands, we want to keep our wives and our families safe. For Gary & his wife (who live in Branson, MO) they even installed an electronic security system in their house.

At 4:20 a.m. on October 6, 2004, Gary’s wife Norma’s greatest fear materialized. There really was an intruder in their house. Praise God, the story does have a happy ending…if you haven’t read Chapter One yet, sorry for the spoiler.

Gary uses this vignette from his personal life to talk about the need for security in our marriages…not electronic alarms systems but something far more important. “What I’m talking about here is emotional security–the security to truly open up and be known at a deep, intimate level without fear of being blamed, criticized, judged, or condemned.” (p.6)

Gary writes, “After directing a research team in years of study, my son, Dr. Greg Smalley, has determined that the number one key to a satisfying intimate marriage is for couples to maintain security.”

Gary reminds us in this chapter that our brains are hard-wired to seek a loving connection with others. Our need for relationship is built into us by God.

Dr. Bob Paul, director of the National Marriage Institute, has discovered that when you feel safe, you automatically open up and share more & more of your deepest self. (p.8)

Couples are always on the lookout for new and better strategies to make their relationship stronger. What Gary has found, however, is that all these strategies (date nights, reading books, attending seminars, etc.) are really only effective AFTER the vital element of security between partners is established. (p.9)

We all experience a natural resistance to openness. We’re afraid of being hurt or judged. Openness makes us vulnerable, and vulnerability means risk.

Gary writes, “Security reduces the risk…you don’t have to be the expert relationship guru, mastering all the strategies and techniques designed to enhance intimacy; all you need is to feel secure in your marriage, and the best possible relationship possible will happen naturally.” (p.10)

I enjoyed Gary’s illustration of the Bamboo Tree on pages 16-17. Like the Chinese Bamboo Tree, security is the root system of a flourishing marriage.

Here’s another thought that jumped out at me. “A secure marriage needs more than just that initial, under-girding, ‘forever’ promise (usually made @ the Wedding–my comment); it needs a series of subsequent promises to build safety into every facet of a couple living together and developing greater intimacy.” (p.21)

This first chapter concludes with this question: If security is the lock that protects every marriage, what is the key to that lock? That’s the subject of Chapter Two.

Questions worth asking:

How secure is your relationship with your spouse/future spouse? Explain why or why not.

What are you doing to make your relationship more secure?

Is the Bamboo Tree a helpful marriage illustration? Why or why not? At what stage of growth is your relationship?

Describe a time when you recently felt secure enough to open up & share your deepest thoughts, hopes & dreams without an uneasy feeling creeping in?

Building great marriages is another way we all can…

Live the Red,

Mark

May 31, 2012 at 12:36 pm Comments (8)

It All Started With A Mouse

It All Started With A Mouse, originally uploaded by Praying for Lions.

[The Leadership Team @ The Bridge is currently reading the book, "Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service" published by the Disney Institute. While many of the principles & practices may not appear to be uniquely spiritual, the implications of these "best practices" reach beyond business. This shared reading experience will help our leadership become more effective in ministering to & caring for God's people.]

Chapter One: Disney’s Approach…

It all started with a mouse.

It’s hard to believe but it’s true. Walt Disney had a dream to provide quality entertainment and bring a little happiness into people’s, especially childrens’ lives. I for one, think he has succeeded beyond any one’s wildest imagination.

When Walt died in 1966, the company that bears his name was already a household word. Mickey mouse, Disney movies…almost all of them classics, and of course…Disneyland…and for the past 30+ years, Walt Disney World in Orlando were & are the epitome of success.

Walt’s vision was so strong that it has only gotten stronger in the 46 years since his death. This ability to transfer vision over the decades may be Disney’s greatest achievement.

How has Disney been so consistently successful for so many years? For one, Disney really cares about their customers. In Disney-speak, they’re called “guests.” Employees are called “cast” members.

How has Disney continued to be so successful? One way they’ve done it is to consistently Bump the Lamp. Bumping the lamp was born during the filming of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  The film was an innovative mix of live action and animation.  In one scene, Bob Hoskins, bumps into a lamp hanging from the ceiling.  The lamp swings back and forth, and so does its shadow.  But what happened when the animated star, Roger Rabbit, was added to the scene?  That’s right–no shadow crossed our wisecracking hero’s face.  Most viewers wouldn’t have noticed but the film’s animation artists made sure that the shading on Roger Rabbit accurately reflected the moving shadow cast by the lamp in the scene.  The animators paid attention to the details and took the extra step in their commitment to a quality guest experience.  (pages 15-16.)  This extraordinary attention to detail has won Disney multitudes of fans down through the years.

Guestology is another way in which Disney excels. They study their guests and understand their needs and wants. For us @ The Bridge, Guestology becomes Lostology. We need to understand what it means to be spiritually “lost” so we can more effectively share the love of Christ with them.

Another takeaway in Chapter One was the two-word phrase: Everything speaks! How true this is in ministry!  The landscaping, the building, the lighting, the signs (or the lack thereof), the sounds, and the people all communicate a message.  What message do they convey?

Another term that caught my eye was what Disney calls Combustion Points. Combustion points are those moments when things can break down, promises aren’t kept, & a potentially good day suddenly becomes a really bad day.

I’m enjoying this book for two reasons: first, I’m a big fan of Disney. This book gives me a chance to peek behind the curtain and see how this amazing organization operates. Second, I love thinking about the implications for local church ministry. Disney-speak is more than a clever turn of a phrase. It is an invitation to think deeply about caring for and ministering to people in our consumer-oriented culture.

I look forward to diving into chapter two this week. Have fun.

Questions worth asking:

What does “bumping the lamp” look like at The Bridge? Give an example of where we’ve done a good job doing this.

What’s the relationship of our “onstage/offstage” ministry & activities?

Name a potentially high-octane “combustion point” @ The Bridge on a Sunday morning. What can we do about it?

 

Live the Red,

Mark

May 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm Comments (0)

Grandpa’s Diary. Day 470.

This Little Lady, originally uploaded by Praying for Lions.

(What My Granddaughter has Taught Me About Discipleship…or maybe just reminded me of what I already knew.)

Four Hundred and Seventy Days ago seems like yesterday. This little lady arrived in the most normal of ways. But since the day she’s arrived, SHE has been the center of attention. Amidst the relearning & the coaching and the reliving of what it means to be a parent, I have had a crash course in re-learning what discipleship really is all about. Now by discipleship I mean the process in which we become devoted followers of Jesus, and I mean the life transformation that takes place over time as we become more like Christ!

My learned professor in discipleship is this little lady who demands & gets almost constant attention. It is always about her. Her every whim is attended to by several large people, typically known as adults.

When I’m charged with her care…I truly feel like a Secret Service agent guarding the President’s daughter. Constant vigilance is required. This little lady doesn’t know much so I’m in charge of knowing things for her. She doesn’t speak our language yet so I must interpret the Gerber-baby glossolalia that pours from her mouth.

“What does this have to do with disciple-making?” You may ask. Well, in a word–everything. True discipleship is a 24/7/365 reality that cannot be relegated to an hour or two on Sunday. It is an around the clock affair. It is a relationship that transcends the easy glad-handing of a Sunday how-do-you-do.

This little lady has done more than steal my heart, she has gained my undivided attention. I focus on her. I pour my life into hers. In a word, I love her. I care about her welfare & her future. I think about what she’ll be like when she’s grown. I imagine her, many years from now when she’ll have grandchildren of her own. I know I won’t be around to see it so I visualize it now. Parenting is exhausting work. So is discipleship. Two steps forward. Then a step or two backwards. Lots of falling down. Crawling. And did I mention the sometimes aroma? And all the while she’s studying us big folk. She’s watching and listening to how our lips move when we talk to her. You can almost see the gears turning in her still-so-young brain.

I watched an iPhone video of this little lady recently as she was reading a book out loud to herself. Her vocal cadence mirrored her mother’s, the rising and falling of her tone was synchronized with the way her mom & dad had read it to her dozens of times before. I thought, “it’s happening.” Discipleship. Pure & Simple. Maybe parenting & discipleship are two sides of the same coin. Both require nurturing.

In 470 days, she has taught much. If you are serious about discipling someone, start by loving them, caring about them, wanting the best for them. Then invest in them. Pour your life into them. Teach them what you know. What you want them to be–be that to them now! Visualize their future, bright & bursting with possibilities. And be ready to pick them up & dust them off when they fall. Because they will fall often. But as time goes by, they will learn to speak the language. They’ll learn to walk and they’ll learn to feed themselves. In time, they will. But it takes time.

It has been 470 days. More pictures than I can count. This little lady has filled my life. And we’re only getting started. There are many more classes ahead. Her little brain is filled with myriad lectures.

For this grandpa, I’m a willing student. I’m smitten with my professor.

And we are both learning, teaching each other.

In time, she’ll learn how to…

Live the Red,

Mark

May 18, 2012 at 10:39 am Comment (1)

Gardening 101

Backyard Garden, originally uploaded by Praying for Lions.

How does your garden grow?

As for me and my house…so far so good. I’m only four weeks into the 2012 growing season and this much I know…God wants things to grow.

God graciously supplies the fertile soil, the sunshine, and the rain. Lowe’s/Home Depot/Boulevard Flowers provides the plants…and wallah!  Tomatoes and squash, here we come! In a couple of months or so.

Other ingredients needed for a successful garden include some elbow grease, faith, and lots of patience.  And daily attention.

Growing a garden is very much like growing in faith. It doesn’t just happen. There needs to be planning, hard work, watering…and one more thing–waging war against weeds. Weeds are those wicked little plants that love to choke out the important plants that produce. Let me just say it, weeds are relentless. Give them an inch, and they’ll grow four feet tall.   Their roots will reach to the Earth’s core if you let them.

What is choking out the things in your life that matter?   Weeds can be laziness, fear, prayerlessness, or even pride.  The parable of the wheat & tares seems to suggest that the most dangerous & diabolical weeds are sown by Satan himself.   In the story, the enemy plants “tares” in the midst of a wheat field.   Tares are good-looking fakes!   They appear on the surface to be good when in reality they are sapping the strength from your daily walk with Christ.  Stay close to the Master Gardener.  Just like weeds, the enemy is relentless.

Gardening is indeed a vocation close to the heart of God. When He finished His six days of Creation, God placed man in a garden. And it was good. Jesus used a gardening illustration when He talked about our relationship with Him. “I am the Vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said in John 15:5 “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

The Master Gardener is expecting a bumper crop in your life.  He has planted you in the fertile soil of His coming Kingdom.  He wants you to experience a bountiful harvest that only He can make possible!

In the garden of your life, you can expect more than just sun-ripened tomatoes…the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, & self-control will flourish.  This is the harvest that pleases the Gardener’s heart.

So how does your garden grow?  Tending to your garden today is another way in which you can…

Live the Red

Mark

May 9, 2012 at 9:54 am Comments (0)

The Direction of God’s Heart

 

The Migliore Family, originally uploaded by Praying for Lions.

If you want to understand the direction of God’s heart, look no further than the message contained in James 1:27…”Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

God is at work in our world, and the people of God have a responsibility to join Him in the work that He’s already doing. What is God doing? He is reaching out to those who are the weakest, the neediest, those who are the most vulnerable. God is directing His heart toward the orphans of the world. And the global body of the Christ, the church, are His arms & hands reaching out to the fatherless.

By some accounts, there are over 140 million orphans in the world right now. These children from every tribe, tongue, and nation do not have a mother or father to care for them. In far too many cases, they are completely alone.

As we venture out into the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, caring for and ministering to the orphans of the world is not an option. Woven into the very fabric of the Great Commission is a clear call by our God to seek out and care for the fatherless.

God is actively steering the heart & soul of the faith community we call The Bridge to take a more active role in reaching out to the orphans of our world.

It’s no coincidence that the Lord has brought Jason & Laura Migliore back to Ironbridge for such a time as this. The Migliores were active at The Bridge three years ago while Jason was stationed at Fort Lee. Uncle Sam then sent them to Okinawa for a three-year deployment. Jason has now completed his tour of duty in Japan and has retired from the military. But God did an amazing thing during their time in Japan. He opened their hearts to the plight of orphans. During his free time, Jason discovered and built relationships with a number of orphanages across Japan. He was also instrumental in helping local churches connect with and begin vital ministries in these orphanages. “The amazing thing is,” Jason related, “is that the evangelical churches that I worked with, weren’t even aware that these orphanages existed.”

For Jason and Laura, the last few years of orphan ministry have been an incredible faith journey. Laura commented, “if we’re comfortable [in our Christian life], we’re probably not growing.” As a result of God’s work in their lives, Jason & Laura, already the parents of three daughters of their own, welcomed Zachary into their family through domestic adoption. In God’s timing two years later, Laura gave birth to a son, Jeremiah. Now as a family of seven, Jason & Laura remain open to God’s plan for their lives which might someday include another adoption.

As the Migliore family settles into their new phase of life in central Virginia & The Bridge, it will be exciting to see how the Lord uses them to cast a vision for ophran ministry both locally and globally. I for one, am glad the Lord has sent them our way.

Keep your heart open to what the Lord of the Harvest may have in store for you and your family. And if you get a chance, join us for our next “First Thursday” experience @ The Bridge, on Thursday night, March 1st at 7pm in the main auditorium. The next phase of the journey may pass through this special time of worship and prayer. See you then.

Until then, you know what to do…

Live the Red,

Mark

February 16, 2012 at 6:21 pm Comments (0)

Happy Birthday Eric Liddell

 

Eric Liddell, originally uploaded by EUAC.

One hundred and ten years ago today, January 16, 1902, a Scottish missionary couple serving in Northern China gave birth to a baby boy. Their second son, they named him Eric Henry Liddell. Eric would grow up and become a world famous athlete, representing Great Britain in the 1924 summer Olympics in Paris.

Eric Liddell competed and won a bronze medal in the 200-meter race and the gold medal in the 400-meter race in the ’24 Olympics. His life and Olympic achievements were forever captured in the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire. This movie was my first introduction into Eric’s heroic life and strong Christian faith. The film won 4 Oscars in 1982 including the Academy Award for Best Picture.

To this day, 32 years later, Chariots of Fire remains one of my all-time favorite movies. I never get tired of watching it. It’s an incredibly inspiring movie because Eric lived such an inspiring life. Because of his strong Christian convictions, Eric refused to run his signature race, the 100 meter dash, because the Finals of the event were scheduled to take place on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Eric endured public scorn & widespread criticism because of his principled stand. When Eric ran the 400-meter race, he was not expected to win. He was a sprinter and excelled in the shorter distances. Despite the fact that it was not his specialty, Eric won the gold medal in the 400 meters and set a record that stood for many years.

One of my favorite quotes in the movie occurred when Eric’s sister was concerned that his Olympic competition would interfere with his missionary work in China. Trying to explain to his sister why he had to compete, he said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Eric’s life and legacy didn’t end with his Olympic success. Eric fulfilled his commitment to return to the land of his birth and served as a missionary for many years before his untimely death in 1945 shortly before the end of World War II.

In the brief 43 years of his physical life on this earth, Eric Henry Liddell was a true spiritual champion. Even these 110 years later, his legacy lives on…on the silver screen of the movies, and in our hearts. God bless you, Eric. Happy Birthday!

Live the Red,

Mark

January 16, 2012 at 9:38 pm Comments (0)

Why Every American Should Be In Church This Sunday

Old Glory, originally uploaded by Praying for Lions.

This Sunday is an important day in American History. This Lord’s Day is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, I’m sure that you are well acquainted with the horrific events of that fateful day. Our language fails us. There are no adequate words to fully and accurately describe what happened on that day, ten years ago.

As our nation’s leaders prepare for the day of remembrance after 10 years, they have made an odd (& I believe dangerous) decision. There will be no prayers at the “official” memorial service. No prayers? Really? Is this a good idea? I think not.

If our nation’s leaders won’t lead, then they are really not leaders, are they? Call them something else, but “leaders” they are not.

Appropriately, it falls to us, the nameless rabble, the great unwashed to lead our nation back from the brink. How do we begin? How do we lead our nation back to the greatness we once enjoyed and cherished? By leading our nation back to God. Without God, the so-called “Great American Experiment” will be just another crumpled, musty page in the great record book of humanity’s varied and sundry epic failures.

So what can every “America-loving” citizen do first to lead our country back from the edge of the abyss? Go to church this Sunday. Even if you haven’t attended for a long time…make the effort to be present & accounted for this particular Sunday.

Just showing up at a place of worship is a powerful statement. It is an early indicator that we remember that we are a part of the creation, but we are certainly not the Creator. This is a polite way of reminding ourselves that WE are not ultimately in charge. God is in charge. This one radical act alone will be a helpful “shot across the bow” of the American psyche. We need to be reminded of this truth on the anniversary of such a painful day.

Going to church this Sunday is a first step in the right direction. If the events of 9/11 have taught us anything, we have learned or should have learned that we live in very perilous times. Extraordinary courage is needed for the living of these days. Without God and without prayer, we as a nation are in the most vulnerable place imaginable.

Let’s recap. What should we all do this Sunday? Go to church. Why? Because we cannot possibly hope to flourish as a nation without God.

Any questions?

I thought not.

See you in church on Sunday!

Come early if you want a place to sit down.

Live the Red.

 

Will you be attending church this Sunday? Why or why not?

How will you observe the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this weekend?

September 9, 2011 at 8:04 am Comments (0)

Preparing for the Next Storm

 

Rain & Sun, originally uploaded by Praying for Lions.

For those of us living in Central Virginia, the last several weeks have been interesting to say the least. First, we were hit by a 5.8 magnitude Earthquake, the biggest quake on record in this neck of the woods since 1898. Then, just when we got our land legs back, Hurricane Irene came calling. Irene turned out most of our lights for the better part of an entire week. Now we’re getting soaked by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.

I hate to mention it now, but it’s only a matter of time until the next storm hits. We’ve been in metro Richmond for almost 25 years and during that span of a quarter-century, we’ve seen just about every kind of weather event imaginable: Hurricanes, tornadoes, ice-storms, snow storms & tropical storms, flooding, and thunderstorms. We’ve lost electricity more times than I can count. Several events have caused us to lose power for days at a time.

As a veteran of numerous storms & power outages, here are a few things we’ve learned along the way. What we’ve learned can provide you with a few key things that you can do now to prepare for the next major storm and power outage.

 

1. Buy a generator. It wasn’t until our third or fourth major power outage that we pulled the trigger on securing a generator for our home. Even though it was a significant expense, it has been one of the best purchases we’ve ever made. Take my word for it, go straight to the nearest Home Improvement Store and check out a make and model that is right for you. I would consult with a professional electrician before making the purchase. This is not optional. Make this purchase. You’ll be glad you did. And have an extra gas can available in case you need to run the generator for longer periods of time.

 

2. Have a modest stash of cash on hand ($200-$500). If the storm knocks out power over a wide area, there’s a good chance that the local ATMs will be out of commission as well. Without power, local stores may not be able to run their computer registers. Only cash will do in those early hours after a power outage.

 

3. A smartphone is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. During Hurricane Irene, we didn’t lose electricity but we did lose internet and cable for an entire week. Our smartphones kept us connected to the internet until connections were reestablished. If you lose cell coverage, its smart to have an old-fashioned, landline telephone that you can plug directly into the wall phone plug. Remember, if you’ve got a wireless landline, it won’t work with the power gone because “the base” requires electricity. You can pick up an old “slimline” phone at a thrift store for almost nothing. In an emergency, it’s nice to have.

 

4. Assess the viability of the trees nearest your house. There was a tall maple that was badly diseased in our front yard and posing a moderate risk to our house. Several months before Hurricane season, we had the tree taken down. This saved us a lot of headaches and cleanup during and after the storm.

 

5. Have a supply of electric candles on hand (at least one per room). These battery-powered candles produce no heat & aren’t a fire hazard. While the purpose of these decorative candles is primarily aesthetic, they can produce enough light to allow you to move through the house without a flashlight.

 

6. Have some “unplugged” entertainment choices available. This could include a stash of books you’ve be planning to read, some board games, or even a deck of playing cards. When the power’s out for days at a time, it’s a great chance to connect with others and enjoy some family time.

 

7. Invest in a propane camp stove or grill. This may become your best cooking option when the power is gone. Food stuffs in the refrigerator and freezer may need to be cooked soon or discarded. Once during a Christmas Eve ice storm, we enjoyed steaks grilled to perfection.

 

8. Use the day or two before the storm arrives to make some critical preparations. Fully fuel your vehicles, charge your cellphones, run that last load of laundry, & make any online bill payments before you lose power.

 

Sooner or later, the next major storm will hit. Make plans now to be ready when it happens. Be prepared. Get ready. Stay safe.

 

In the meantime, Live the Red.


What have I missed? What other things would you recommend that we do to get ready for the next storm?

What did you experience during the last storm? How do you cope with extended periods with no electricity?

September 8, 2011 at 7:59 pm Comment (1)

“We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”

June 1, 2011 at 7:36 pm Comments (0)

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