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Doubters, Dreamers, People of Faith

4 Jan

Dreamers think of the “wonders and excitement of the opportunity, yet rarely act.”

Doubters begin to mount a list of “Why I can’t,” quickly dashing the notion of things most often quite probable.

People of Faith weigh dreams and doubt, sometimes over-analyze, make a decision, and then thank God for the direction.

When situations arise that present those marvelous and unique opportunities in life, we have to take personal inventory.  We must consider whether we are stuck in the “I just can’t” mode.  We must also consider whether our past choices and disappointments speak too loudly for us to even consider a choice by faith?  Consider that we only go around once in this lifetime and it begs the question, “How many opportunities do I have left to seize those moments?  I am curious about the reader.  So, let me ask you:  What is YOUR first response to new opportunities that come your way?  And what is your ultimate response to the same opportunities?

I would like to go on record as saying we should never make decisions based in fear, or doubt.  Neither should decisions be made by faith only, without using the God-given reason and common-sense, with which we were born.  But there are those unconventional moments, when the world is screaming “No, don’t!”  Those moments aside for a bit, here are a few things I remind myself about decision-making:

  • Making a decision by faith is not accomplished by a strong feeling
  • Stepping out in faith is seldom blind
  • There are promptings, assurances, confirmations, and definite affirmations for us to take another step, then another, and so on.

COMMON SENSE

Never in my life has God said, “Go ahead jump off that cliff unprepared, and I’ll bail you out.”  He has bailed me out of some dumb decisions I have made, but He never encouraged me to make a dumb decision.  He has led to some unconventional decisions and, in retrospect, I see clearly the reasons why.  Jumping off a cliff with a parachute is a bold move, but it is also a move that incorporates the common sense with which God graced us.

The difference between dumb choice and unconventional opportunity is found in the overall purpose and outcomes.  Usually, the former is about the individual and long-term insight is lacking.  Whereas, with unconventional opportunities, the focus in the purpose, but the medium through which the accomplish the purpose might take some special kind of action.  Personally, I have been at the junctures of both.

When it comes to the really big decisions in life, the life or career-changing decisions, I have found that direction and leading had been underway in my life, long before the big decisions occurred.  The decision is just the mechanism to move things along–the “yes button” that, when pushed, sets God’s will and our will in alignment.  I do make state lightly that I believe God is an integral part of the decisions–both prior, in the midst of, and afterwards.

GRACED WITH CHOICES

God allows us to choose, and He is often gracious to allow us second and third opportunities if we make mistakes, “or jump the gun,” as it were.  He knows us well.  Yet, there comes a time when a window of opportunity closes.  It is at those times I ask myself whether I missed the opportunity, did something wrong to forfeit the opportunity, or whether it was simply not meant for me.  Here is where I take consolation in considering God has at least three answers to prayers:  “No, Yes, and Not Now!”

Have you ever sought God’s direction and came to the conclusion that He replied “No,” or “Not now!”  I have been there before.

BABY-BOOMERS

We Baby Boomers feel way too young to be sedentary and irrelevant.  We are just a bit old enough to think about retirement, but we still have lots of zest and vigor left to both work and play.  Yet, many of us have thought about those big life-altering dreams–the “WHAT-IFS!”  I wanted to play professional soccer in the worst way.  I asked God what He wanted for my life and then a knee injury took away the drive for professional sports, at least for a time.  My focus and passion became education after that.

ARE WE AFRAID?

Dare I say, many of us are stuck in the ruts of life’s routines and comforts.  Another issue is the economy, where most of us are settling for what we already have, versus the unknown and what we would give up.  So where does this leave us?  Where does the conclusion, already drawn in our minds, place us in the grander scheme of our lives?  We wouldn’t want to hurt our families just for a selfish dream, would we?

For some of us we are left with unfulfilled lifelong dreams and goals.  Some of these have been voided do to unexpected health and family concerns.  For others, it is just too late to start over.  Still, others, are fearful of branching out, and find all sorts of excuses to stay put.  Those of us in the latter camp make me wonder “What are you waiting for?”  Easier said than done, I understand.

LIKE OUR PARENTS?

There is some truth that we are becoming more like our parents everyday.  The really disappointing part is that they have regrets about life and so will we, it seems.  Maybe regrets are simply a realistic part of life.  Could it be that we humans dream things into reality in our thoughts, and are disappointed that our thoughts weren’t as powerful as we “imagined” them to be?  I think there is some truth to this.

WALKING BY FAITH

A few of us seem to escape ourselves and reach that pinnacle of life’s experiences by choosing faith.  Examples of these kinds of persons are found in the Bible.  Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and other Old Testament saints–including Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego seemed to walk by faith.

Our children have their futures ahead of them.  They look to us for guidance.  Where is it that “we” look?  And what do they see in us when they peer in our direction?  I am still working out these issues, and I am probably not alone.  Bit I am moving more toward faith than apathy.

When it is all said and done, I think most of our dreams are youthful and unrealistic desires–some even bordering on the lusty things of life, hence material and fleshly objects.  We all grow up and our dreams and goals change.  They also shift from “self” to “others,” which is definitely not a bad thing at all.  After all, love does change throughout the years, even if priorities do change.  Somehow, the word “vicarious” takes on entirely new dimensions and different meanings with the passage of time.

MAKING AN EFFORT

Instead of thinking, “If I had it to do all over again, I would do this or that,”  I have a novel idea.  Why not band together and state, “While I am still able, I will choose to do this, or that.”  Rather than live by “if statements,” let us make realistic plans and goals and strive for them.  Goals do not have to be life-changing.  They can be just as fun if they are routine-changing.

So, Boomers, what are we waiting for?  It has been said about our generation that we have given this nation a lot for which to be thankful.  It has also be said about us that we stumbled along in life, at times, seemingly aimless, self-absorbed, and fearful of getting old.

We have been accused of plowing through relationships, burying ourselves in work, and after the kids are raised we ask “What’s left for me?”  Honestly, what I have found is that it is quite difficult to stumble through life if we are spending time on our knees seeking direction.

Care to join me?  It might be time for that “Yes” answer from above!

People Come and People Go, But Persons Last Forever

31 Dec

The title of this blog might come across as redundant to some.  But it is not meant to be redundant.  I enjoy parsing words and drawing out certain distinctions.  Therefore, I draw a distinction between “people,” the actual humans that cross my path each and every day, and the impacts their actual “being” has upon my life.

Certainly, in some ways most everyone we come in contact with leaves an impression upon us.  Some are quick; some are lasting.  Others are fleeting.  But impressions, however memorable, usually do not mature into deep and lasting connections, or interpersonal legacies.  Allow me to elaborate.

Aside from the obvious eternal dimension, to which “remaining forever” often refers, there is something else to personhood in my mind.  It has been said that very few people cross our paths in life, with whom we find deep and soulful connections.  Whether it is the persons tone of voice, interests, passion, jovial nature, or spiritual depth, we find there is something quite deep that ties humans together.  In addition to the eternal realm, this is in the vicinity of what I mean when I say that “persons last forever.”

Hyperbole aside, no one lasts forever in the state in which we presently find ourselves.  However, not having gone on into eternity as of yet, and to exaggerate the point, we use our lives are the only forever we know.  This is just how we roll.  Therefore, someone who impacts my life is deep and meaningful ways remains “forever.”

Now, who exactly leaves such an impact in my life, and who does not?  You can relax.  There will be no specific names mentioned, with the exception of my wife, kids, and family–as well as my students, my church family, and my friends, both online and in the flesh.

Consistency and stability are hallmarks of deep relationships with loved ones.  Certainly, love takes many forms.  I think there is little disagreement that personhood is unique.  What I understand clearly is that close friends have a different depth with me, usually formed around an interest, or a passion about life or work, or some other area that complements my family.  People come into our lives for many reasons, and friends may be lifelong, or maybe last only in the short term.  I’d like to believe each had a divine appointment for just the right length of time.  What we do with the appointment is the “good stuff” and the stuff of human drama, at times.  But we take it and roll with it, don’t we?

People come and people go.  We all make choices and we all eventually realize the consequences of these choices.  Sometimes our choices are what make people go away.  Persons come into our lives to enable our growth.  They also come into our lives to knock us around and bring us down.  Whatever the case, we learn lessons from people.  But the real lessons that change lives are best learned from the “persons” in our lives.

Here is an example, so that the reader doesn’t think I have somehow lost my crackers.  Let’s say one of my students has an issue at home, and asks for assistance.  I do my best to assist.  The parents are thankful.  My student finds a solution and life goes on.  To the family and the student, I might have been the “person,” they needed at that moment.  But when the year is over, they and I move on.  The years roll on.

Students come and go, yet to some, what we teachers have done remains in their person, helping still to mold their character and their lives.  Unfortunately, there are some students who slip in for a year, remain under the radar, and whose lives simply move on into the future.  These are the people in life.

I guess what I am saying is that when people become “persons,” there is a connection beyond what is required.  This person-to-person connection is what remains.  It consists of more than an influence, or a few memories.  The connection is life-changing.  This is the same with God.  When there is a personal relationship with Him, “persons” last forever, eternally.

On a more personal note, the saddest part of all of this is when people exit my life.  Death is the worst.  But I am not referring to death.  Try as I might, I find it quite difficult to accept that people simply leave and are never heard from again.  I wonder if I messed up, or whether I offended someone, or whether there was no connection due to some sort of shortcoming in myself.  I have to admit that missing out on a connection cuts several ways.  But I ceased taking such wonderment beyond the cognitive realm.

We won’t connect with everyone in this life, certainly not everyone will desire such a “forever” connection with us.  To be honest, not every connection turns out to be a healthy one.  We are, after all, only human.

There are a couple of things I have learned over the years, and permit me to share these revelations with you.  First, I have found that connections that are based in negativity, abuse, or founded in a set of emotionally bad circumstances are probably not the healthiest of connections and will not last once a person finds his or her way out of the negativity.  Connections are meant to enhance, and not to subtract.

Second, try as we might, we simply have to allow the natural course of disconnection to occur.  Some people come into our lives for shorter periods than we would like.  So, allowing the presence of the people to dissipate, might just enhance the person’s legacy and lasting connection in our lives.  So, we need to learn to let go.  It is, after all, quite healthy for all parties.

There have been many people whose lives have crossed paths with mine.  I have had the privilege of working with thousands upon thousands, and my words both audibly and in print have touched a million or more.  Of this group, how many have I had deep connections with?  In addition to my family, there is probably a dozen, or two.  The number of people I have influenced is hopefully much greater.  But those who will remain forever . . . I am still wondering.  There is more life yet to live.

Yes, people come and people go.  God is good that way.  If we take the one as from Him, why not accept the other as within this same goodness package?  I am learning to do this better and better, with each passing year.  I suppose it will never be easy and the pain of letting go will be as real next year, as it is today.  But being open to the next set of deeper connections is one reason I exist.  That being said, I truly believe that connections last forever, because within the connections are “persons.”

May 2012 find us coming to terms with the differences between people in our lives and those who are there for deeper and lasting reasons?  May God help us to see those whom He has brought our way?  Finally, may we have the courage to let go of those negative and damaging people.  It is healthy for us and for them.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Here’s to Everyone’s Health . . .

Anger Misses Out

17 May

Has our human anger kept us from the very blessings of God?

A quick thought for the reader’s consideration: Is our anger the very thing we choose, thereby missing out on God’s hand of blessing in our lives?

I was having this conversation the other day with my students about why it is that man takes most of the credit for discoveries and inventions, while God gets the blame for “acts of destruction.” It’s just not fair that God gets blamed for all the evil and bad things that happen in the world, while man takes all the credit for the good things. It is a cheap shot to blame a higher power, especially when that is the only time His presence is acknowledged.

Critics allow their anger to get in the way of that which is good in this world. God often emerges from the conquest of evil. But oo often we cannot get beyond the pain of the evil. Critics claim that mankind cannot be the blame for something that God allowed and could have easily stepped into the dimension of time to solve. But critics cannot have it both ways. Either God is present in time when good occurs, or He is not present in time when evil occurs.

Human anger is imperfect and misses out on things that are good.

So I am just here wondering how many of us are carrying around internal anger and missing out on the good that awaits our relinquishing of the negative and self-oriented emotion.

Choices

1 Dec

Choices

By Ernie Zarra, 2010

They say it’s time to make a choice

‘Tween going right, and what is left

And with each choice, a still small voice

Emerges from the cleft.

 

Choose ye, O soul, which path to take

The marvel of the will

With good the outcome, it to make

‘Tis better than standing still.

Christian Ethics and Choices

30 Oct

The following survey questions were written with the Christian in mind, and are part of my larger lesson on “Christian Ethics and Choices.”  A fully informed choice is the responsibility of us all.  Ignorance can lead us into all sorts of choices that, at first, seem the only way to decide an issue.  However, the choice measured by “truth,” is the most informed choice.  But do we desire such choices?  Therein exists accountability morally, as well as spiritually and physically.  In a culture that seeks quick decisions and easy answers, I do not believe we always take the necessary time to find the best answers for our choices.  The question is out there . . . What is God’s role in our choices?

As Christians, we are called to live by different standards than those who are not believers.  Society glorifies individual “choice,” and the believer is called to glorify God.  There is serious biblical tension in trying to accomplish both. 

If truth is unchanging, and not subjective to relative changes in culture, then it is lasting beyond each generation, and serves as a measure for all generations.  There are “truths” that each of us live by.  But what are the ultimate principles that are unaffected by belief, or practice?  This remains to be seen.  Welcome to my lesson . . . [smiling].

Feel free to respond to any or all of the 13 questions that follow,  and let me know what you think.  I am not collecting data from this survey.  That is reserved for in-person activity.  Your answers are strictly for blog dialogue.

TRUE or FALSE

_____  1.  Life has value because society has added to its value.

_____  2.  It is morally wrong for a Christian to believe in abortion.

_____  3.  Human life begins at conception.

_____  4.  Being human implies personhood.

_____  5.  Human beings are eternal beings.

_____  6.  Abortion is always sin.

_____  7.  Personhood begins at conception.

_____  8.  There was a time when the Son was not God.

_____  9.  A Christian should have a choice over how he or she dies.

_____ 10.  If a Christian commits suicide he or she will still go to heaven.

_____ 11.  Physician-assisted aid in dying is sometimes the right thing to do.

_____ 12.  God has a plan for our lives and deaths.

_____ 13.  Abortion is murder.

The Dynamo

19 Sep

Just a few Sunday evening thoughts rattling around in my head . . .

Happiness develops from fleeting moments that result from pleasure and fun, but exist to mark an optimistic persona. 

Joy is a foundation and a soulish steady-state, from which character develops, while unaffected by circumstances, yet marked by inner peace. 

Put the two together with faith and there emerges a dynamo. 

All I can say is “Stand back!”

The Other End of the Spectrum

8 Sep

This evening, I would like to open a little of my life to the reader.  I don’t practice transparency all that often, particularly about my years as a youth.  However, tonight I find doing just that is most apropos.  I have learned a lot about myself over these past many years.  I realize the obvious:  Choices have consequences.  I also learned that consequences can be used for good in the long run, if channeled into something productive.  Suffice to say that I am who I am today because of some concerted efforts on my part, coupled with the direction and grace of God, and rounded off by some very important personal mentors in my life (my awesome wife and family, friends, professors and coaches).

I have titled this blog “The Other End of the Spectrum” because those who know me today–and only today–have absolutely no idea what I was like in high school.  My high school friends know.  In fact, there is shock that registers on the faces  of those who know me today, when I share the person I was those many years ago.  I am not any more special than anyone else.  But this is MY blog so permit me to recap those earlier, formative years, and you will see why I gave this blog its title.  **smile**

As a teenager, I was quite shy.  I was shy with the girls and i was shy in front of my peers.  I was deathly afraid of public speaking and I felt threatened by those with intellects.  For some reason, I remember having terrible crushes on girls, yet always fearing rejection.  I must say I was almost a functional illiterate and a social nerd.  In those days, vocabulary avoided my conversation, so I avoided conversation as a result.  Quietness was my security.  I had a few friends, yes.  I am thankful for their acceptance.  We all wanted to be accepted, didn’t we?  So all was not lost.

Academically, I was a bit challenged and I do think most teachers has pity on me.  This pity carried over into college.  Yet, there were a few in high school teachers and college professors who saw something in me that I did not see.  Thank God for the few teachers and professors who saw into the future though optimism and hope.  Two special men in my life who took me by the hand and walked with me are Drs. John Warwick Montgomery and Dallas Willard.

I recall a lot of angst and frustration over not being a risk-taker.  I also know that I missed out on so many wonderful opportunities to meet people and get to know so many others as close friends.  Academics were not my forte.  In sports, I would have rather passed the ball than shoot it, and share resources with others rather than horde.  Social networking was not my strength.  Confidence was not a strong-suit of mine.  No poor-me stuff.  Just the facts.

But if I stopped this blog right here, I would dishonor the wonderful people who walked with me into adulthood and helped to shape the person I am today.  In addition to the men mentioned a moment ago, there are so many people who have helped to stitch the fabric of my being.  Who said “You can never go back”?  Some goofy non-risk taker, that’s who!  It has been fun reconnecting with high school and college friends and acquaintances.  It has been like night and day to share as a colleague with former professors–the very folks I admire so deeply to this day. 

Becoming a teacher has taught me more about myself than I could ever have imagined.  I have become a very different person since high school.  I changed again in college, when I got married, and then again after I earned some college degrees.  Responsibility and a broader understanding of life certainly do help to bring people out of their shells of insecurity.

Where once there was shyness.  It has now been replaced by gregariousness.  The lack of vocabulary has yielded to verbosity and vigor.  Where confidence was lacking, security in knowledge and persona  produce smiles held high.  I could go on, but I think the reader gets the point.  I am now at the other end of the spectrum.  When once I was laughed at and ridiculed by some.  I am able to point out my own flaws and identify with the laughter we all share about ourselves.  I can turn most anything negative into a positive. 

Looking back, I can see clearly why I went into teaching.  Many of the reasons surround the fact that I wanted to stand in the gap for kids like me, when I was of high school age.  I wanted to be a bright spot for some teenager trapped in his or her shyness and apprehension with fellow students.  I desperately wanted to educate young people about the value of making good choices and mentor them accordingly.  Even when I fall short of my own personal mores and expectations, those with whom I am genuine lift me up and forgive my humanity.  And off I go again!  I wanted to share my story to motivate others to achieve beyond what others predetermined for them.

In reality, being on the other end of the spectrum is a great place to be.  Just talking about it does not cut it.  God has brought me to a place where being genuine, open, and honest has grown new friendships I had only dreamed about in my teen years.  I am still amazed at how many felt and thought as I did.  What is it about the baby-boom generation that just never gives up?  Learning from the negatives does produces positives.  Experiencing kind personalities, and observing how others relate through optimism and hope are catalysts for myself, and others, to take certain risks we’d otherwise avoid.  Thank God for you all!

I know enough about science to state that one end of the spectrum is cold, while the other is hot.  Thanks to Mr. David Byrne, my chemistry teacher, I saw this in action.  In high school, I tended toward to “cool,” side.  I wasn’t cool at all, come to think of it, but you know what I mean.  All indicators are that today I am at the other end of the spectrum–HOT!  Now don’t get ahead of yourself here.  I don’t mean like THAT!  DO I REALLY HAVE TO EXPLAIN IT?  😉

ROYGBIV . . . Where are you when I need you?

  

I would be remiss not to mention the place God and my family have played in the development of who I am as a person.  The “Light of the world” refracted through my regenerated soul, empowers and enables me to be the person I am.  The love of our Lord through my family and their unconditional forgiveness and acceptance buoy my soul.  One of the best illustrations of this process is found on one of my favorite classic rock album covers . . . Let’s see who reads these goofy blogs I write . . . Anyone recall the band and album title?

In closing, I just want to say that CHANGE is a good thing–as long as it is accompanied and marked by clear indicators of the following:  (1) Positive change FROM something TO something else; (2) Change for the better, and not just for change’s sake; and (3) Change that results in higher virtues than before the change occurred.  No one wants to be worse off because of someone else’s notion of change forced upon us all.  (I will not get political . . . I will not get political . . . )

I’d love your thoughts about your teen years, at your leisure.

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