Went Off Without a Hitch

The TV show America’s Got Talent recently had a 93 year old man pull a 5000 lb pickup truck with his teeth.  Not to be outdone, I saw another man go for the world record of pulling a Boeing 747 as he walked.  (Seriously, where will you ever need a skill like that?)  In ancient Greek mythology, Atlas carried the whole world on his shoulders.  What’s this fascination we have for hauling around heavy loads?

Finally, after 5 years, I decided to remove the U-Haul trailer hitch from the back of my car.  It was installed by the previous owner, I’m assuming to haul around something small. After all, my car is a 10 year old Toyota Camry nearing 200k miles with a four cylinder engine.  What can you really pull with that? (Maybe a portable hotdog stand…if the wind’s behind you)  Well it may surprise you. Upon removing it I noticed that the weight load capacity is 3500 pounds.  What???  My car only weighs 3200 lbs!

When taking off the hitch I found it was bolted to the frame and some of the bolts were rusted on.  (Great chance for me to use my grinder  This thing cuts through anything and has saved me hundreds of times from costly shop work.)  When that heavy hitch finally fell to the ground I kinda felt a sigh of relief.  A spiritual lesson worth sharing.  (I’ve also started to purge a massive amount of unused and unwanted things I’ve been holding onto in my house.  I sense a life change coming for me and I don’t want the burden of old crap holding me down)  What’s my point?

We often go through life with our own U-Haul hitch for the heavy loads we carry.  Shameful past.  Guilt.  Broken relationships.  Regret and remorse.  Hurt.  Secrets.  Habits.  And don’t forget all the “shoulda, woulda, couldas.” That stuff is a load we were never meant to haul around.  My suggestion: Release it.  Is it rusted, bolted, or welded to the frame of your life?  Doesn’t have to be.  God’s got a grinder that’ll cut that stuff away.  Actually, He’ll keep on cutting every time we try to hitch up some new weight on our soul.

So ask yourself today: Do I have a U-Haul hitch or am I pulling a load too heavy for me?  “Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matt. 11:28-30 Msg

Oh, BTW, U-Haul rents a trailer for you to take your junk to the dump. They’ll also give you a huge plastic bag that you simply fill up, call them, and they haul it away. (And PLEASE don’t just take it to a storage container. That $22 billion dollar industry is a whole new blog.)

There’s no place like HOPE,

Stefan 

Seeking Imperfect People


Have you ever noticed that God chooses some pretty unlikely characters to do some pretty interesting things?  Cheats, liars, murderers. Folks often unqualified, lacking good references and possessing a resume’ we’d probably pass over without blinking.  I posted the text you see here to my Facebook wall and oddly had more people pass it on and share it than ANYTHING I’ve ever posted before.  

I had people text and email me explaining they had someone who needed to hear it.  Let me say that in all honesty, although I’ve never had an affair, murdered anyone, or been dead, I’m guilty of most of the things named in the list of “challenges” faced by these Bible characters God chose to use.  I’m so glad for second chances, and a grace that doesn’t let go.

As God continues to weave your story (and mine) all together, lets remember that, “He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it in Christ Jesus.”  I bet He’s using you today in ways you can’t even see, to bring light, life and hope… even if you feel unusable. 

There’s no place like HOPE,

Stefan

From Chicken to John Legend

A few weeks ago I did the song “All of Me” by John Legend in my son’s wedding, and then I heard he was coming to Raleigh. It was last night. I really wanted to go, but had no ticket. Really cool thing happened. 

5:00pm – Home from work. No tickets. 

6:00pm – I’ll just get some work done for church. 

7:00pm – I wonder what’s new on Netflix. The concert woulda been great.

7:30pm – Sitting on my bed watching a documentary on killer whales. Fascinating. Concert starts now.

8:00pm – Facebook friends start posting pictures of the concert opening. 

8:07pm – Hey, I wonder if there’s a point where they just let everybody in.

8:08pm –  Wow. Never knew killer whales don’t really like working at SeaWorld. More friends post photos on Facebook of the show. They’re having a blast!

8:16pm – A prompting again says “Stefan, just go down there and ask to walk in for free.” I get dressed and run out the house.

8:28pm – Arrive downtown and oddly find a single open parking space close to the gate. I can hear the music and applause. (Angels saying, keep going to the gate!)

8:30pm – I get to exit gate, and they look at me like I’m crazy when I ask if it’s possible to enter without a ticket. Small talk with security guy. I ask who I can talk to and they said give me 2 names at the main gate. 

8:31pm – I walk in that direction past a crowd of people listening outside the fence. Approach ticket lady #1 and explain I don’t have a ticket. She gives me that look of, “You gotta be kidding. Security!”

8:32pm – She lets 2 other ladies through who were scrolling through their phones to find their tickets. 

8:33pm – I know its coming. She says, “Just go ahead, it’s fine.” And now I was in the concert. I’m flipping out because 30 min earlier I was in my house finishing a piece of chicken and now I’m at the concert…for free. I’m in the back. I download a Camera Zoom App really quick for my phone. The sound and visual was amazing. No seat, but that’s OK. This is perfect. But I wonder what its like in the front.

8:36pm – I walk up towards the restrooms and realize somehow I’m next to the stage. Wow! More pictures. Incredible energy. Security eventually makes us all move back. Suddenly a hand comes out to shake mine. Its my friend Brian, owner of a Sports and Entertainment Ticketing company. Great time catching up. For years we met on Thursdays at a local sports bar. He asks where I’m sitting and I tell him I don’t have a seat. He says “Ok, now you’re with me. Comon.” Through security we go down to the 4th row. One empty seat was there in the middle. Ok God, is this real? It all started with an inkling to get up and just believe that I God could do… anything. Incredible evening. 

I posted a day ago, “So far in 2014 the accumulation of experiences has outweighed the accumulation of things in my life 100 to 1.” A few months ago it was a life changing trip to Mt Everest Base Camp in Nepal, and now just downtown to see a concert…on faith. I think God experiences, and certainly God glorifying opportunities knock on our doors every day. Lord help me to believe and respond when you speak. “You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That’s right—you don’t go off on your own; you walk straight along the road he set.” Psalm 119:1 The Message

Lesson From a Cabbie

“What do you do for life?”

She stepped off the plane, grabbed her bags and looked for the nearest taxi.  It’s not hard on the small island of St. Croix. There’s always a line of taxis lined up along the outdoor baggage claim.  Guys waiting to take the next person hopefully as far and as long as possible to keep the meter running. As a young executive for a large international company, she’s used to rushing here and there, exploring new places, and making small talk with taxi drivers.  But this one question, from one driver, in his “Cruzan” accent stopped her in her tracks, when it actually came out wrong.  He simply asked, “So, what do you do for life?” He meant of course, “What do you do for a living?” but for me, the slip was better than the intended question.

 So, what do you do for life?” Yeah you!

TD Jakes preaches.
John Legend sings.
Dwane “The Rock” Johnson played football, wrestled, and now makes movies.
Lebron…switches teams…ok, and plays basketball.

I posted the question on FB and got answers ranging from “some commit murder”  to “some people hold grudges for life.”  A lot of answers bypassed the existential vibe and simply said what they did for fun.  Other people responded with what they did for a living. 

Most people who know me have probably heard me use the famous Lennon quote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  As wild as it seems, I’ve gotten lost around the world, in third world cities, on the side of mountains, and deep in the ocean, and those times of “lostness” have been some of my greatest moments of life. My life isn’t some well planned, neat and tidy always upward trajectory of … up.  But, what do I do for life?  I guess, I might answer the question truthfully like this: “I play hide and go seek with my granddaughter London, and at times with God.”  I also watch my kids grow and live out their lives.  I talk with my family and friends each day.  I give.  Singing, writing, reading, hanging out with friends, all life, but not all of life.  

I realize I haven’t mentioned Jesus even once yet in this talk about life.  That’s messed up. Some might think I just went “Debbie Downer” in a perfectly good blog by bringing Jesus into the picture, but the truth is: No Jesus, no life.  Know Jesus, Know life. 
   
“Do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.” (Proverbs 3:1-2 NIV)  

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 
  
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 
   
“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matt. 7:14 

If you’re wondering how the woman chose to respond to the cab driver’s question, she said, “I love my God, my family and my friends.” Thanks cabbie for making us think.

There’s no place like HOPE,


Stefan

You’re Being Watched…Over

My son’s getting married this week.  Yikes!!!  I mean Yeah!!!  He’s the second of my children to be married off and truth be told, I think it may be too late to share with him everything I’ve learned about marriage, family, fatherhood and the like.

 I decided at the beginning of this week that basically I have 7 days left to share with him everything I know.  So, in my usual “kinda late for that dad” fashion, I’ve been sending him a lesson a day…in a text.  I’ve started most of the LMLs (last minute lessons) with the premise that what I share comes from my failures and successes.  He can throw it all out the window, take it with a grain of salt, or chew on it for awhile.

The fact is, he’s been watching, for a long time.  I’ve been a dad to him for 26 years so chances are more than just what I say, I know he’s been watching what I do.  I was married to his mom for over 2 decades, I’ve been blessed to have 3 of the greatest kids on earth.  We’ve had great memories.  Taught him Jesus and basketball, hopefully in that order.  (I’d like to think I could still cross him up and then dunk it backwards on him on the court…but my knee hurts.)

I checked in with Timothy in the Bible to see what Paul had to say to him, given the fact that Paul often spoke of Timothy as his “son.” His words are far greater than mine and although, speaking of himself, he coined the phrase, “Greatest of sinners” he still had a heck of a life for young Timothy to emulate.

Here’s what Paul would say to us all whether we face a marriage, death, life change, tough time or whatever.  “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.  Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:15-19 NIV)

So my friend, you’re being watched, but rest assured you’re also being watched over with eyes of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.  My final advice?  Run!  Run to Jesus now and keep going back to your Father till your final breath.

There’s no place like HOPE,


Stefan  

Meet at Burger King

The other day I found a voice recorder in my garage.  It had been sitting in the bottom of a box for the last 13 years, and to my surprise, when I put a battery in it, I started listened to all the messages I recorded to myself 13 years ago.  Song ideas, reminders, melodies, phone numbers, and names of people I needed to call.  One message was simply my son saying, “Hi dad.”  I’ve listened to that one about 25 times now.  I can’t tell you why it means so much…but it does.  There’s even a recording of him learning to play the drums.  He plays better than me (or at least he thinks he does) at this point, but at the time of the recording, he was trying the new beat I had just taught him.  Time flies.


 I found odd messages too.  “I see a pickup truck…cucumber.”  I have no idea what that meant.  “Buy the fan motor today.”  I had so many short messages of song titles and artists.  “New song, ‘Open the eyes of my heart’.”

“Buy Diana Krall CD.”  I think she’s released 8 CDs since then so I don’t know where to start.

“Meet Jim at Burger King.”  “Look for speaker wire.”  Odd stuff.  Then there were the messages with phone numbers.  “Call Ed. 540-436-xxxx.”  Call Henry xxx-xxx-xxxx…and so on.  Lots of those, so…I decided to call. Thirteen years later.  I didn’t really have a plan.  I just started calling the numbers to say, “Hey, this is Stefan. I just found a message that I was supposed to give you a call….13 years ago.”  I’ve only partially worked through the list, and some of the numbers are out of service.  I’ll let you know if I reach anyone, but the one thing I realized:  I had a 13 year old still unfinished “to do list.”

It’s obviously, technically, “done” at this point, but still, as I listen to my pastor’s sermons this summer at church, often related to busyness, I’m reminded to just slow down. If your plate’s too full, take some things off.  Focus on what’s important.  Put your attention, time, and energy into what really matters.  At the top of that list…Jesus.  Joy. Love, prayer, and things eternal.  Focus on loving those around you, forgiving those who’ve wronged you, and investing your time, talents, and resources into the things of God.

Thirteen years from now you may have a list of undone tasks, and unfinished dreams, but I hope that beaming out of all that comes one beautiful bright message to your your heavenly Father, “Hi Dad.”  That’ll put a smile on His face every time. 

There’s no place like HOPE,
Stefan 

Just Ask a Six Year Old

Yesterday was “Lake Day” at a local summer camp for kids.  I volunteered to help by taking kids, two by two, out on the lake for canoe trips…all day.  It was my 3rd year, and in some ways you could say I was a 3rd grader, with over 400 young teachers around me.  I got to play all day.  I asked  a few of them questions, and their answers were golden.
When I asked these kids, “What do you think God looks like?”  I got priceless answers.

 “Well, I know He wears sandals. Probably Crocs.”
“He has blue eyes.” (Btw, the next kid in the boat said, “I’m pretty sure He has brown eyes.”)
“He wears a robe.”
“He looks like the picture my dad painted of Him and hung in our hallway at home.”
“He has a really short beard. Kinda like mostly stubble.” 
“I think he wears a scarf.”
“I think He looks like every person in the world.” (I really loved that one)
“God looks like the sun.” (This kid didn’t specify Son or sun, but I think he was really on to something either way.)
My second question was, “If you could ask God anything, what would you ask Him?” Here’s a few answers:
“I’d ask Him for global warming.”
“I’d ask Him to make all the homeless people ‘not homeless’.”
“I’d ask Him if I could ask Him 3 more things.”
“I’d ask Him for no more fear.”
“I’d ask Him if He could help me walk on water.”  (I loved the fact that this kid said “Help me…”)
“I’d ask him if He could set up a fund for every kid to go to college.” 
“I’d ask Him for the Holy Spirit.”
I noticed that most of the kids, when asked to describe God, described what they had seen in depictions of Jesus and when asked what they would ask God, well, their answers ware as diverse as the kids themselves.  
I bet you need to see God today, (I know I do) and chances are you have something to ask Him.  Here’s good news.  Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.” Secondly, “One day while walking on a road Jesus saw 2 blind men and simply asked them “What do you want me to do for you?”  They said (of course)  “We wanna see!”  Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. 
There was one really sweet 6 year old kid, who when I asked what the best year of their (6 year old) life was, replied, “When I was a baby. Then I just slept, and didn’t have anything to worry about.” 

Best Week Ever

I remember a Sunday I’d have to call one of the best weeks I’ve ever had at church.  Not because the music was great or the prayers were eloquent.  I actually missed the preaching part, which was titled, “Take Time to Play,” because I spent the entire service playing with my granddaughter London.  We colored.  We laughed.  We ran.  We read.  We explored classrooms.  We had church, just not in the usual manner of church.  Ours involved Elmo and trying to slide the purple crayon back in its wrapper.

 I’ve been leading worship for over three decades, and I think the older I get, the less I realize I know.  Worship is so not about Sundays and singing and, well, even sanctuaries. Probably, more often than not, it involves coloring, outside the lines. Clever illustrations, theological ideas, deep lyrics, and moving music can fall far short of an Elmo Coloring book and a wide eyed 2 year old.  I guess that Sunday, trading the blue crayon for the yellow with London just seemed to help me really experience the love of God, more than anything.  I wonder if God sometimes whispers to us (or perhaps screams) “I’m over here!  Outside your sanctuary…in My sanctuary.”  Almost as if He’s saying, “Stefan, I see the love you have as a father and a grandfather, but My love for you… now that’s a whole different box of crayons.  So, color away.  Play hide and seek.  Have fun.  God for it!  Love them as I have loved you.”

I’m not sure what your week holds but I do know who holds your week.  God’s got you my friend. 

By the end of the service, as people were leaving, I was sitting on the floor in the back of the sanctuary drawing stick people on a chalkboards with London.  When she laughed and smiled, I think God was laughing and smiling too. Best Sunday Ever.

There’s no place like HOPE,

Stefan 

The Spurs and M&Ms

“We see more people trying to catch the moment for later than actually in the moment now.” ~ Singer Jack White commenting on people watching his concerts through devices.

Here’s the way it seems to happen.  A moment…then it’s a memory.  Moment… memory.  You could say “M&M’s” everywhere.  Deleting pictures on my phone the other day I realized I had some shots of what seems like puffs of smoke against a night sky.  What were they?  Fireworks!  As in the ones I missed because I was the guy trying to catch on an iPhone the greatest fireworks display I’d ever seen…to watch it later. #fail.

 Another moment to memory happened a few years back.  My son sat in his room crying (he was a lot younger at the time) because his buddy Tim Duncan had promised to stop by the house (we lived at the time in St Croix in the USVI) before he left the island for his first year playing in the NBA.  We waited the whole weekend and started to figure he had so many people pulling at his time that he couldn’t work it out.  Then, around 10:00pm Sunday night a knock came at the front door, and there stood Tim Duncan.  It didn’t take long for Justin to get from his bunk bed to the living room to awkwardly sit with his basketball hero.  The M&M happened a few minutes later when the three of us walked across the street to a neighborhood basketball court, turned the lights on, and I watched this gentle giant shoot hoops with my son.  I could’ve taken pictures or shot video but instead just saved the memory.  (I’m pretty sure that lesson Justin gave him is why they’re winning today.)

Years have passed.  As I write this, they’re both older and both in Miami.  Tim Duncan, to take the San Antonio Spurs to victory against LeBron James and the Miami Heat, and my son, at his bachelor’s party, about to get married in 4 weeks.  He’s also celebrating his 26th birthday tonight there in South Beach with his friends, so I think I should be praying right now instead of writing.  Memories come fast folks.  Don’t miss the moment.

This moment God could be speaking to you. Don’t miss it.  He could be telling you, “Come back home” or “I’ve never left your side.” This moment may be a chance for you to say, “I forgive you” or “I love you” to someone. Don’t miss it.  A friend commented to me recently, “You don’t have to change someone’s whole life, just start with a moment.”

Jesus was totally into every moment He lived. Fully present, fully available. Matt. 20:32-34 puts it this way: Jesus stopped and called them, “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.  “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”  Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.  Immediately they received their sight and followed him. 

Lord give us sight where we are blind that we may see what you are doing in, and through, and around us this moment. 

There’s no place like HOPE,
Stefan