Great at Being Not-So-Great

greatness

It seems I’ve spent much of my life striving to be great at one thing or another. As a young boy I was awkward and lanky so I practiced various sports and ended up on several teams, but I have no MVP or other trophies to show for it. As a newly married young adult I strived to be a good husband but the marriage failed and ended up in a divorce. I was blessed with three sons and I really wanted to be a great dad but it took me over twenty years just to learn how to be an adequate one.  I tried hard to be a great model employee throughout various careers but am familiar with the words “sorry but we have to let you go”. So I thought perhaps I’d make a better employer than employee and bought a business but that business failed and left me starting over. I have always wanted to be a great musician but I only sound okay when surrounded by truly great musicians.  I’d like to think I’m a much better grandpa than I was a dad, but if so, I am far from great.  I love writing and want to be a great blogger but you won’t find In My Own Words in the top 500 of any category. I think most of us want to believe we are great Christians but I am fully aware of my failures and shortcomings in that area of my life as well.  In summary my road to greatness is littered instead with mediocrity and failure, being efficient at many things but truly great at nothing.

As we end the old year and usher in the new many of us take this time to reflect on those things we have accomplished and those that remain in need of improvment. For some it is a welcome inventory as they have the personality to be highly motivated by goals set for self-improvement. Yet for others it is just another smack in the face reminder of just how non-great they and their lives remain as from year to year nothing appears to be any better-same income, same struggles, same habits, same mediocrity, just  new year. You wanted to lose twenty pounds but gained ten.  You wanted a raise but was instead laid off. You wanted to strengthen a relationship but see it slipping away. It is not very surprising that the beginning of the New year is ushered in with so much alcohol and partying-it deadens reality for those fearfully dreading yet another average year.

So how would one describe greatness? Would it be being the very best at something? Being highly achieved or esteemed?  Highly educated or degreed? Ranking at the top of any given corporate ladder? Having the most accolades or awards?  Although greatness is something most of us want to aspire to, our definition of greatness is a bit different than what the scriptures tell us.  In fact the greatest man to ever walk our planet showed us what His words on the subject looked like in action.  In the book of Matthew, chapter 20, the mother of James and John approached Jesus with a bold request that her two sons be awarded seats at the left and right of Jesus in his kingdom, places of the greatest honor. Of course when the other ten disciples heard of the request they became infuriated and lost their tempers, something I can relate to. So, Jesus gathered them and settled them down and taught them a hard lesson, described in the Message Bible like this: “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to become great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done. He came to serve, not be served-to give His life…”.  Earlier in chapter 18 Jesus held a child on His lap and told them that whoever would  humble themselves like the child would be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Humility, meekness, servant, slave-not words we would find in any dictionary associated with greatness but that is the way it is with the Christian faith. The things we would achieve often require the exact opposite actions our world would dictate. Want to be first? Go to the end of the line.  Want to get great service?  Pick up a pitcher and fill the glasses of others. Want to be publicly acknowledged? Take a seat behind the curtains. These are lessons I am still learning on my journey to greatness.  I may never achieve that greatness here on earth in spite of my best efforts. I may never have the life or success that others would want to emulate or pattern. Few ever find the brass ring of being a pro athlete, a Grammy winning artist, a Pulitzer author or Parent of the year. I just have to believe that if we run and finish the race we are in, if we get back up when we stumble, if we help others up along the way, we will have a great reward handed to us by the greatest of all time, Christ, our example. Let it be so as we enter and embrace the challenges of a New Year.

As a caveat, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have opted to receive this weekly blog.  My hope and prayer each week is that God gives me words through my own experiences that even one person is needing to read to help them in their situations.  It is humbling to know the expanse of readership In My Own Words receives globally. I wish you the very best God has to offer you in 2017.

Much love and prayer, Joe Hill

 

 

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New Year Resolution Disillusions

New Year's Resolutions, list of items

 

Yep, it’s that time again!  It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone already. I’m still tanned from my last visit to the beach-it can’t be almost January! But just as the ghost of Christmas present dries up and blows away at the strike of midnight on Christmas Eve, 2015 will soon be but a memory.  Some will have great memories of the past twelve months while others will still be living through the pain the year brought them. Whatever your story, you will likely be among the countless throngs who sum up the year and take inventory in an attempt to make the New Year better.  And just like last year, you will wonder after another twelve months just when your plans veered off course.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for self-improvement, being a better version of me, and perhaps a bit smaller as well.  We all tend to resolve to accomplish things that will make our lives better.  I would bet that if you compared one hundred random lists of resolutions, the majority would have very similar and common objectives: lose weight, eat better, save more money, pay off bills, quit smoking, drink less, (or for some, more), reduce stress, etc., etc.   The busiest week of any gym or fitness franchise is the first week of January. These are healthy and positive goals and I see nothing wrong with having them, at least on the surface.  But this year I have to ask myself, what is the real value of these goals in respect to the world around me?  Look at the list again, I want to lose weight, I want to eat better, I want to save money, and so forth. In being consistent with my faith and desiring to be a better Christian as well, I have to line up my list of resolutions against a master list that is provided each year in scripture, and one that never changes with time or the calendar.

Christmas is a time that temporarily for most, alters the usual inward perception to an outward one, making us more benevolence minded.  We buy gifts for “angels” we’ll never meet, serve at the local shelter or food bank or maybe even adopt a family for the holiday.  These are grand and caring gestures worthy of our efforts. But for many the charity outfit worn so festively just before Christmas is pressed and put back in the closet for another year the day after. I know as I am guilty and keep a closet full of barely worn charity outfits myself. I’ve always wondered why it is so easy to give of our time and resources for three weeks before December 25th, but so unnatural from December 26th on.  Our focus at New Year tends to change from others to self, resolving to do all I can to make my New Year a better one for me.

The sum of my annual resolutions should be met with but one command, the same command Jesus gave His disciples when He said to love your neighbor, even as I have loved you! Simple yet profound, straight forward but complex. Love each other-support each other-provide for each other-rejoice and mourn with each other.  In a world increasingly bigoted, hateful, intolerant and partisan, how can we possibly achieve a level of love that would ever resemble the same love that Christ shows, the “even as I have loved you” kind of love? What of our human efforts could ever be mistaken for that kind of supernatural, super human love?

On the surface it seems unattainable and unachievable and perhaps for some, an impossible undertaking not worthy of even attempting. While it may be true that our works of righteousness are “as filthy rags” compared to our Savior’s, the precedent has been set to take care of and notice the least of these. The same needs that are presented to us during the holidays exist 365 days of each year.  Hunger doesn’t hibernate until the next Thanksgiving; the homeless don’t retreat to some unseen holding area for eleven months; the need for visitation in nursing homes and jails isn’t silenced at the start of a new year. The only thing that seems to change is me, my perception, my involvement and investment in others.  This year the change I need most is the desire to bring change to others, which consequently will bring about eternal and valuable change in me in the process.  This will be my resolution this year-God help me help someone else just as you would.

One parting thought as I submit this last post of 2015. This year many families, including ours, said goodbyes to loved ones they were not expecting to leave so soon. Death and tragedy is not reserved for the elderly, as we have seen played out once again this year. While an unexpected passing is cause for us to hold our loved ones a little tighter, we should always have the attitude that any day could be their last, or ours in an unpredictable world of disease and tragedy.  As we strive to love each other a little more this year, please don’t forget to love on each other within your earthly family as well, bearing in mind that only God knows the number of our days.  Make each day count, say what needs to be said, don’t be shy or stingy with affection and be foolish enough to be vulnerable with your family, your mates and your closest friends.

Thanks to all who have considered my thoughts worthy to follow this year.  God bless and extend His grace to each of you in 2016 so that we may collectively draw a bit closer in reflecting His love to others.

OUTRAGEOUS OUTRAGE – The Flap over Frap

Starbucks-Red-Cup-2014-670x670

The controversy du jour of the day for religious zealots everywhere is a plain red cup void of any traditional holiday graphics save its red color. Social media ironically has been lit up like a Christmas tree with comments and posts over the absence of, said Christmas tree, snowflake, angel or other Pavlov-esque seasonal stimulators. Zealots everywhere have called for, or fallen for the command to either boycott this coffee establishment, or give a false name like Merry Christmas when ordering just so employees are forced to comply with our demand of a cheery holiday greeting. To that I reply with a resounding Bah Humbug!

The things that get some Christians’ panties knotted up continues to baffle me. Real, everyday situations that scream for our help and attention barely get a glance, but we stick our chests out like a Thanksgiving Butterball when it comes to a $5.00 cup of Frappuccino that fails to inspire us to have a Merry Christmas. This is nothing new. We’ll step over the legs of a homeless person or claim to be cashless when confronted by a vagrant wanting change for a dinner,  but we can become indignant over conceived evils of corporate America and pick up our crosses and blare out our off-key rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers as a sign of our unashamed allegiance to the cause.

I fully support taking a stand on legitimate principles based on personal convictions. Right or wrong we are given the freedom to protest and boycott at will.  What I question is our consistency to do so across the board, opposed to our selective preferences or trending evils, preferring to isolate others instead of remaining open to them in an attempt to be Christ whenever and wherever we can.  Out of curiosity I did some quick research to see just who and why Christians are boycotting these days.  The following are the current top 10;

  1. Starbucks, for lack of holiday spirit and views on serving everyone including the LGBT community.
  2. Pepsi for allegedly supporting the gay agenda.
  3. UPS for stopping their funding of Boy Scouts who initially disqualified gay scout leaders.
  4. Oreo, yes Oreo Cookies for support of same gay agenda.
  5. The Muppets for reasons above.  I always wondered about Beaker and the 2 old men.
  6. JC Penny for offering fashions to the gay community.  (See a pattern yet?)
  7. Nike for shoes that let you be light on your feet, like Mikee
  8. Home Depot for selling to the gay community.  Tool guy from Village people was consequently fired.
  9. General Mills because gay people have to eat too.
  10. Girl Scout Cookies-the only one in the top 10 not related to the LGBT agenda. They just aren’t godly enough.

If we as a faith-based community could demand that every corporation doing business in America do so based on our Christian values, there would be no need for us to be the light and salt of the earth.  Jesus said it Himself-it’s not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. We are exhorted to let our light shine before men and bring glory to Christ.  We can’t do that if we refuse to enter into places that are dark to the Gospel. Our views on ministry and evangelism are terribly skewed. However, in keeping with the current boycott trends based on our perception of supporting sinful lifestyles, I would like to propose that we add the following companies to our boycott list for their sins:

  1. Holiday Inn and all hotel chains-a hot bed (pun intended) for fornication and adulterous acts.
  2. If JC Penny, then Walmart, Target, Macys, Sears and any retail outlet that sells paisley.
  3. Any restaurant or club that sell alcoholic beverages because too much liquor makes you drunk.
  4. Any dance hall or club because dancing leads to touching-dancing is the devil.
  5. Any all-you-can-eat-buffet because the saints are getting gluttonous. Glutton is a sin.
  6. Churches-yes, they are full of hypocrites and sinners! Boycott them all.

How ridiculous can we be and how foolish we must look to a world we should be reaching out to as Christ would if He were still here in body. It is fine to be viewed as foolish because of the Gospel, but it is questionable to be viewed as fools because of misdirected indignation over things as silly as a red cup.  So here is my proposal and challenge to all my blog followers who read this.  If you really want to be in the Christmas spirit, buy a homeless person a hot cup of that coffee in a red cup.  Better still, get them a gift card for several and wish them a Merry Christmas. Ship your holiday packages with UPS and slap a Merry Christmas sticker on it somewhere. Buy a case of Oreos and deliver it to the local orphanage with a big red bow on it-better yet, wait until the red holiday Oreos come out. Raid your local JC Penny store for their clearance on scarfs and gloves and hand them out to the local homeless tent cities. Find that little boy whose parents are struggling and buy him a pair of Nikes for his parents to wrap for Christmas. Go to your local grocer who sells General Mills and get some Gift Cards for families who may not have a decent Christmas dinner this year.  I’d imagine they would gladly accept General Mills food without protest.

We can make a real difference, and not by engaging in social facades of overly righteous appearances.  Jesus had a term for that too-white washed tombs, pretty on he outside but full of dead bones on the inside. If you agree, share this with your social friends.  If not, I’ll still love you and drink to your health, with my red cup.

The Day After Christmas

Since my earliest recollections as a young child I have sensed December 26th as the day Christmas ends until the following year.  Until recently I didn’t even like hearing Christmas songs on the radio after Christmas day! I have heard from others that I’m not alone in this sensation of the holiday hangover. It’s really a bit odd if you think about it, especially from the Christian perspective. The day we have traditionally set aside as Christmas is to recall with great reverence the incarnation of Jesus, The Christ, a blessed and most holy event that transcends every other holiday commemoration, an event that is the cornerstone of our faith.  Why would it be that we choose to be unnaturally charitable and celebratory over it for a mere couple weeks in December?  What exactly is it about Christmas that builds us up to a particular day on the calendar with a finality when the clock strikes midnight?  Why do we experience “peace on earth, good will to men” only one or two weeks out of the year?  

I stand guilty as charged as each year I vow to keep the Christian mandate of our Savior, to take care of the widows and orphans throughout the year, not just during the “feel good” holiday, yet find as I look back a year later that I failed just like the many years before. It’s almost as if charity and benevolent considerations are an annual obligation, like taxes, that once paid are not due for another year.  And yet I pass the same homeless people every day, I read the same stories about runaway teens, I pass the same local missions on the way to work surprisingly at the same location as the day before without that Christmas tug at the heart.  Even the local Christian radio station sponsors random acts of kindness, going out of your way to pay for the lunch of a perfect stranger or the coffee order for the one behind you in line-great ideas that should be 12 month practices among us of the faith, and those of philanthropic awareness.  

I guess to me the feelings that are ushered in with Christmas are natural and built in through years of tradition, not unlike doing something nice for your wife on Valentine’s Day.  But to continue those practices when “not in season” takes a conscious effort to see, to recognize and respond as if there are only 5 shopping days left until Christmas and with the sounds of carols playing in your mind. There should never be a bad, inconvenient or out of season time to do something charitable for someone in need or to be a blessing when God is urging you to respond.  When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, He didn’t show up and perform a miracle or two once every twelve months.  In fact the Bible is clear that it’s not possible to record all the good things Jesus did in His short time on our planet.  

In 2014 I earnestly pray that I have ears that hear cries, that I have eyes that see hurt and that I have a heart that compels me to move and respond as the reaching hands and feet of our Savior in the colors of Spring, in the burning heat of a Las Vegas Summer day, in the warm winds of Autumn and on the 12 days of Christmas.