The Struggle for Change

I’ve been on a diet since 2005.

At the time, I realized I had gained over 30 pounds since college and I decided I needed to be more proactive about my weight and overall health. You can read about my initial weight loss journey here. (https://bit.ly/Mar05-LD)

Photo by Jamie Matocinos on Unsplash

Since losing those 30 pounds fifteen years ago, I have found that keeping the weight off isn’t easy.

There are so many forces working against us, including, but not limited to donuts, chocolate, french fries, chips, cookies, ice cream, pizza and cheesecake.

Donuts and junk food are just a few of the challenges that face those who desire to get fit!
Photo by Jae Park on Unsplash

There are other non-food forces working against us as well, including lower metabolism and energy levels, slower recovery rates, and of course, Netflix.

The truth is that losing weight and maintaining fitness requires a certain level of surrender. I’m free to eat whatever I want and exercise as little as I want (or not at all), but every choice has its consequences. If I want to maintain a certain weight and fitness level, it will require some sacrifices and some intentionality.

With my 55th birthday approaching, I decided to once again embark on the fitness roller coaster in my attempt to lose 10 pounds. If I’m being honest though, my interest is not just in losing 10 pounds. What I’d really like is to get rid of this spare tire around my waist. I’d like to look different!

I’m doing the work, but so far, I look more like the guy on the left than the guy on the right!
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

I’m four weeks into this current program and every day I’m reminded why so many people give up. It’s HARD work. And while I’ve made some progress on the weight loss portion of the goal, I’m not sure I’ve made any changes to my waistline as my desired 6-pack still looks more like a keg!

I’m reminded that transformation isn’t immediate. Change takes time.

I think that’s true in our spiritual lives as well.

Years ago, I heard a speaker ask this question: “What do you want to become?”

He said that the choices we make today shape the person we will become in the future. I remember him saying these memorable words, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said to his disciples,

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Many people become Christians because they want forgiveness and eternity in heaven. They want the eternal benefits that come after they die. This isn’t bad or wrong, but Scripture is clear that Jesus has a different purpose for those who follow Him – TRANSFORMATION.

Jesus’ desire is that we would become more like him – that we would be a reflection of His character to those around us. The theological word for this is sanctification, which simply means that over time, my life becomes more and more like the life of Jesus.

Sanctification isn’t easy though, because it requires surrender, discipline and intentionality, just like dieting. This is why Jesus said that those who would follow Him must DENY themselves.  If we want to change spiritually (and physically), we have to deny that part of us that just wants to sit on the couch eating donuts and binge-watching Netflix!

Spiritual fitness. like physical fitness, requires sacrifice, intentionality and training
Photo by Tomasz Wozniak on Unsplash

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul compares the Christian life to a race. In order to win, strict training is required. Paul says that he beats his body and makes it his slave so that he might run the race and win!

Paul’s language shows the reality that our bodies don’t necessarily want to comply with our demands for discipline and training. We know this intuitively when it comes to fitness training or other skills like musical talent, but we don’t always think of our spiritual growth in the same way.

As Jen and I continue to minister to Young Professionals, we’re asking them this question, “What do you want to become?”

As they wrestle with the challenges of becoming the Christ-followers they desire, our job is to come along-side them, as coaches, and provide encouragement and support to help them “win the race.”

How about you?

What do you want to become?

How are you doing in this race Paul described? Are you winning or are you finding it to be a struggle?

If you’d like to share your thoughts, concerns or prayer requests, you can reach out to us through the Prayer Tab!

 

Butterfly Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

The West Point-French Connection!

Jen and I visited Paris for a few days in 2018 to celebrate our 25th anniversary.
Photo by Dave Lowe

I don’t speak French.

And though I’ve been to France once, I don’t really know anyone who lives there.

So imagine my surprise when I was tagged in an Instagram post last week by someone I’ve never met who lives in France.

A couple of months ago, I started an account on Unsplash. If you’re not familiar with Unsplash, it’s a site that allows photographers to post their photos for the purpose of making them freely available for anyone to use.

It’s a popular site for bloggers because everyone who blogs is always looking for photos that fit their latest posts. I’ve been using Unsplash for a number of years and I decided to make some of my own photos available for others to download and freely use.

Among the photos I posted were a number of shots I took 2 summers ago when our boys were attending a week-long leadership experience at West Point.

One of the most scenic views of historic West Point is a view of the Hudson River from Trophy Point.
Photo by Dave Lowe

At West Point, there is an area known as Trophy Point with absolutely stunning views overlooking the Hudson River. Situated among the trees and paths of Trophy Point are a number of concrete benches for people to relax, converse, or just take in the scenery.

I noticed that on the sides of all of these benches are stamped words that reflect certain character virtues. Words like “Responsibility”, “Trust”, “Discipline” and “Compassion”.

I didn’t think much of it but it turns out that these photos are among the most viewed and downloaded of the 60 photos I’ve uploaded to Unsplash so far.

Last week, an Instagram user from France, who goes by the name @s.ch.blog tagged me to alert me that they had downloaded one of my photos to use on their blog.

The Instagram user @s.ch.blog used my “Compassion” photo from West Point to introduce their poem titled “Compassion”
Original photo by Dave Lowe
Image edited by S.Ch.

It was a nice gesture because Unsplash does not require that users alert photographers when their photos are downloaded. Nor is it required to credit the photographer when their photo is being used (though I always try to credit artists when I use their photos in my own posts).

The blogger who tagged me wanted to use my “Compassion” photo because they had written a poem, entitled “Compassion” and they thought my photo would fit well with their post.

The poem is a beautiful reflection on the concept of Compassion. You can read the entire poem (in French, Spanish or English) at the following link: https://www.histoiresdaujourdhui.com/post/compassion

It’s interesting how connected the world is these days and I find it humbling to know the Lord is somehow using a photo I took at West Point to connect with people half-way around the world!

One Word to Define Christianity

If you had to pick one word that best characterizes Christianity, what would it be?

I’m sure an overwhelming number of people would say “Love”.

Eleven times in the New Testament we’re exhorted to “Love one Another”
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

This is a great answer. After all, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). He also said we should LOVE our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31).

In John 13:35, Jesus said, “Your LOVE for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” To Jesus, love was the pre-eminent characteristic of those who would follow Him.

Eleven other times, the New Testament encourages us to “love one another”, “serve one another in love” or some close variant of this admonition.

And of course, if you’ve ever been to a wedding, you’ve probably heard 1 Corinthians 13 read, in which Paul expounds on the characteristics of love and declares it to be the greatest of the enduring qualities.

I’d like to make the case, however, for a word that might rival the word “love” as a word that epitomizes Christianity.

In today’s culture, love has been totally distorted, and to be honest, secularism has co-opted the idea of love and adopted it as its own virtue.

Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it one of the characteristics that sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies.
Photo by Felix Koutchinski on Unsplash

So if you think of love as serving others, well, lots of non-Christians promote the idea of service. Or if you think of love as caring for those in need, or speaking up for those who are marginalized, there are many non-Christian groups that do that as well.

The word I’d like to promote that could rival to the word “Love” as a defining descriptor for Christianity is the word “Forgiveness”.

The other day, I was reading in 2 Timothy 3, starting in verse 1, where Paul says:

1 You should also know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. 2 For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. 3 They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control; they will be cruel and have no interest in what is good. 4 They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. (2 Timothy 3:1-4, NLT)

When I read that passage, I first noticed how Paul coupled the idea of love and forgiveness together. He said in verse 3, “they will be unloving AND unforgiving.”

Secondly, I was reminded of a tweet I had read the day before. It was from a woman who is an opinion writer for the New York Times (@ebruenig). She tweeted:

“there’s just something unsustainable about an environment that demands constant atonement but actively disdains the very idea of forgiveness”

Cancel culture is an environment where people try to shut down, ruin, or “cancel” those who have been deemed to have committed offenses that are not acceptable in today’s culture.
Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

I was struck by that statement because I thought it cogently described our current “cancel” culture. If you don’t know what “cancel culture” is, it’s an attitude within our culture that seeks vindication and retribution on anybody and everybody for any transgression that is uncovered, no longer how long ago, that might go against current accepted standards of behavior or current accepted views.

Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say you tweeted a coarse joke 10 years ago that was somewhat acceptable then but is considered out of bounds now. Somebody might dig that tweet up today and weaponize it by using it to “cancel” you, publicly shaming you to the point that your reputation and often your career are irreparably damaged.

I came across this statement from Alan Jacobs, a Christian who is a professor at Baylor University:

“When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.”  (https://blog.ayjay.org/vengeance/)

What this says to me is that in our current culture love may be indistinguishable and unidentifiable to others. Of course we should love people, but our loving actions towards others may not set us apart from the culture as much as we might like to believe.

On the other hand, forgiveness, in this culture, stands out because our culture neither teaches forgiveness, nor promotes it.

Forgiveness is hard. It takes an extreme act of love to forgive others and to seek their ultimate good instead of seeking vengeance or vindictiveness.

In Matthew 5, Jesus says:

43 “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. 46 If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, NLT)

I believe that what sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies is our ability to love others, even those who disagree with us and even those who persecute us. And I think a primary way we can demonstrate that kind of love in this current culture is in our ability to forgive others who offend us, while everyone around us is seeking retribution and vengeance.

What are your thoughts?

What do you think makes it hard to forgive others who don’t share our views or values?

How can we cultivate a heart that is willing to forgive?

The Latest Roboscam Attempt

Someone attempted to scam me earlier today.

I got a call on my landline this morning from an unknown number. It was an 800 number and I decided to answer it.

Right away, I could tell that it was probably a scammer.

Scammers often pose as technical support from companies like Apple, Microsoft or Google, but representatives from these companies will generally never call you unsolicited.
Photo by Clint Patterson on Unsplash`

The voice on the other end was not a live person but a computer voice, and not  a really a good one. The grammar was off as well, which is often an indicator that it’s coming from overseas hackers/scammers.

The robot voice indicated that they were calling from Apple and said that my iCloud account had been compromised and I could speak to a representative to rectify the problem.

By this time, I was 99.9% sure this was a scam attempt but I thought, “ok, lets’ see where this goes.” So I pressed “1” to connect to a “representative”.

I was quickly connected to someone who introduced himself as an Apple technician.

According to the “representative”, my iCloud account had been accessed in two different overseas locations. He asked if I was aware of this activity. I said I wasn’t.

Though not overtly stated, he was suggesting that my account had been hacked, which is a common tactic of scammers. Scammers often present you with a plausible scenario that suggests your computer or some online account has been compromised. They then offer to “fix” the problem, often for a fee. Their goal is to take advantage of the fear and anxiety they’ve created with this false scenario.

The representative then proceeded to give me instructions to fix the issue.

First, he asked me to turn my computer on.

Think about it…why would an Apple employee ask me to open up Chrome, which is the browser owned by Google, one of its chief tech rivals?
Photo by Greg Bulla on Unsplash

Second he asked me to open my Chrome browser. This is interesting because if he was really from Apple I would expect him to ask me to open my Safari browser, since Safari is Apple’s proprietary browser, whereas Chrome is owned by Google. Why is he asking me to open Chrome?

Since my Chrome browser was already open, I told him “ok.”

Next, he asked me to find the large address bar at the top, referring to the space where you type in the website url.

He then asked me to type in the following url: helpme.net (Don’t type this into your browser!)

At this point, I’m extremely suspicious and I googled the website he was asking me to go to.

Included in the results were words like “scam”, “fake” and “redirect”.

The purpose of the scam he was running was to get me to go to a site where he can get control of my computer, under the guise of looking for malicious files. The reality is that he wants control so he can place malware into my system.

Malware comes in many forms, including programs that steal information and programs that slow or lock up your computer.

The resulting malware could be ransomware – a technique where the computer is essentially locked up until you pay the ransom for them to remove it, or it could be spyware, software designed to steal sensitive information like passwords or financial account numbers. A third type of malware infects your computer with unwanted ads and solicitation. The scammers, passing themselves off as legitimate computer technicians will “disinfect” your computer of viruses, for a fee of course.

As I did more research on this site later, I learned that malware can often be introduced to your computer via Google Chrome extensions. I think this is the reason he was asking me to open Chrome instead of Safari.

The scammer mentioned some things I should be seeing after entering the url into my browser. I was actually googling and reading the results of this website he wants me to visit so I’m definitely not seeing what he wants me to see. I tell him, “I don’t see that.”

“Well, what do you see?” he asked.

“I see from google that this site you want me to go to is a redirect site used by scammers.”

At this point, the scammer got a bit flustered and in his comments back to me, he called me “Ma’am.”

I told him, “I’m not a ma’am.”

“Well, SIR”, he said with derision, “you sound like a (expletive)” – rhymes with “witch” but with a “b”.

I said “Whoa! You really work for Apple?” knowing that a person who really worked for a reputable company like Apple or Microsoft wouldn’t use foul language and wouldn’t respond with such disrespect.

The scammer replied, “NO!  F Apple!” (yes, he said the word).

There were some more choice words communicated before the scammer hung up on me.

So how can you protect yourself from the Robocall scam?

First, realize that anyone who is calling you unsolicited to help you “fix” your computer is almost certainly a scammer. Apple, Microsoft, Google and others don’t call customers offering to fix their computers. Instead, if you think there’s an issue with your computer, they expect you to reach out to them. In fact, most software companies don’t have the resources to contact users directly. They contact you only if you’ve submitted some kind of support ticket, in which you’ve outlined your issue in detail.

One easy tip to keeping your computer secure is never give access to your computer to an unsolicited caller. Just hang up!
Photo by chris panas on Unsplash

Secondly, never give a person who calls you unsolicited, claiming to be technical support, any personal information and never give them access to your computer. Entering website addresses they give you is one way you can inadvertently give access to your computer or unknowingly download malware that infects your computer.

The best course of action if you receive a an unsolicited call regarding your computer or your Social Security number or anything else that is personal in nature is to simply hang up. If you have the ability to block the number, you can do so but keep in mind that scammers will simply change the number they call from and so you can never truly block them.

If you are having issues with your computer or you’re afraid that you’ve been the victim of a computer scam, take your computer to an authorized repair technician for your particular computer brand. Don’t ever allow someone to try to “fix” your computer over the phone, especially if they’ve called you unsolicited. This is almost assuredly a scam from someone who is trying to grift you for money or phish for personal information that is often sold and used in identity theft.

Roboscams are likely to continue as scammers find new and creative ways to con you into giving them your money or other sensitive information. You can largely insulate yourself from these scams just by hanging up on any unsolicited calls from unknown numbers. If you’re worried that something is wrong with your computer or device, take it to an authorized dealer for inspection and repair.

 

 

Dealing With Doubts about God

While scrolling through my Twitter feed recently I saw a post from Sean McDowell with the title “Hawk Nelson’s Lead Singer Shares He Has Lost His Faith in God.”

My heart sank as I thought, “Not again.”

If you’re not familiar with Hawk Nelson, they are a Christian pop/rock band that has produced a number of top songs, including the enormously popular “Drops in the Ocean” and “Diamonds” from their 2015 mega-hit album “Diamonds”.

Jon Steingard, front-man for the Christian pop/rock band Hawk Nelson, recently announced via Instagram that he no longer believes in God.
Photo by Dave Lowe

I clicked on the link and read the article, as well as the 2200 word Instagram post from the lead singer, Jon Steingard, where he declared to his fans and to the world that he no longer believed in God.

What happened?

Steingard grew up as a pastor’s kid in a loving Christian home. Church was a way of life and since everyone he knew was a believer, he naturally became a believer. It was all he knew. He discovered his musical talents early on, participating in church worship and ultimately joining the Christian band, Hawk Nelson.

Steingard described his slow deconstruction of faith like wearing a sweater with a loose thread. As he pulled on the thread of doubt, the sweater of faith slowly began to unravel. Eventually, there was no sweater left.

What are the doubts that caused Jon Steingard’s sweater to unravel? The doubts mostly seem to stem from unanswered questions about the nature and character of God and the veracity of the Bible.

Steingard compared his faith deconstruction like a sweater with loose threads that began to unravel
Photo by rocknwool on Unsplash

For example, Steingard began to question the evil in the world. If God is loving, why wouldn’t he stop it? And what about natural disasters? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Steingard wondered why God seems so angry in the Old Testament and yet so loving in the New Testament.

Steingard also questioned various Biblical contradictions he saw and wondered how these inconsistencies could occur if God was really the author. He finally concluded that the texts were not authored by a perfect God but were the product of fallen, imperfect people like himself. It was at that point that Steingard realized there were no more threads to pull.

It’s a sad reality that more and more young adults like Jon Steingard are abandoning the church and the faith with which they grew up. There are a myriad of reasons for this but doubt and uncertainty about the truthfulness of the Bible and the Christian worldview is a common “thread” (pun intended) in the stories of many prodigals. The truth is, doubts are common. But they don’t have to be an onramp that leads to the deconstruction of your faith.

How should we handle doubts?

First, I think we need to acknowledge doubt and do our best to give space to those who have real questions without making them feel like 2nd-class Christians. Highlighting those who have struggled with doubts and allowing them to share their stories could go a long way to helping de-normalize the phantom-Christian caricature (who never doubts) that many hold.

Doubts and questions, while common among Christians, don’t have to be an onramp to deconstruction of our faith.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Secondly, while we acknowledge that doubt is real and common, we also can affirm that being a Christian does not mean being anti-intellectual. It’s popular in our culture for people to promote the idea that faith is anti-science (whatever that means). The reality is that faith and science aren’t in opposition to one another and Christianity is and always has been based on truth.

Third, we need to help those with doubts to reinforce the loose threads on their sweaters instead of pulling them and unraveling their faith altogether. We do this by helping them to see the truth in the foundations of the Christian faith. This is a primary role of apologetics.

The questions Jon Steingard wrestled with are not new. They are the same questions Christians have been wrestling with for two thousand years. The good news is that there is a lot of scholarship that affirms the Christian position and provides reasonable responses to many long-standing doubts and questions.

How is your sweater of faith? Are there loose threads of doubt? If so, reach out to someone who can help show you appropriate ways to reinforce your faith with a foundation of truth.

Nobody, whether Christian or non-Christian has all the answers. Life is complex and chaotic. But we believe God has revealed himself to us clearly through the Scriptures and through the person of Jesus Christ. This isn’t just some Sunday school fairy tale but is based on solid evidence.

If you’re struggling with doubts, let us know. We don’t have all the answers but we can point you to resources that you may find helpful.

 

The Lowedown on “The Auschwitz Escape” by Joel Rosenberg

The Lowedown on “The Auschwitz Escape” – my Goodreads review of Joel Rosenberg’s historical fiction thriller.

The Auschwitz EscapeThe Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A slight departure from Rosenberg’s normal political thrillers, this work of historical fiction contains the same riveting style that fans of Rosenberg have come to expect. Characters are vivid and real. Rosenberg has a way of helping you get into the minds and hearts of his characters and his descriptions of the conditions during this time frame are descriptive and emotional.

It is hard to imagine the pure evil that was exercised on humanity at Auschwitz. I’ve never been there and I’m certainly not an historian but I feel like I got a small taste of the atrocities and the horror from reading this book.

I felt a few of the scenes were kind of predictable but I still found myself glued to the pages and anxious to see what happened next. Through his characters and their interactions, Rosenberg deftly introduces the ethical and moral dilemmas that prisoners and citizens alike must’ve encountered during these harrowing conditions.

Overall, it was a good read and I’d recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of Rosenberg, but also if you have an interest in WW2 history and specifically the Holocaust and the plight of the Jewish people during that time period.

View all my reviews

Covid-19 Photo Gallery

Two weeks ago, I attended the Q Virtual conference (qideas.org). Q is an organization started a few years ago by Gabe Lyons that seeks to “equip strategically positioned Christian influencers to renew the way they believe, think and act in regard to culture.”

Jen and I attended a live Q conference in Nashville 6 years ago and it was there that Jen first experienced issues that initially led to an overnight stay in the local ER, followed by an eventual diagnosis of vasculitis, a rare auto-immune disorder. We missed most of that conference and have not had an opportunity to return, until this year.

This was my view for two days attending the Q Virtual Conference

The speaker lineup this year was packed with a range of cultural and theological leaders, including Tim Keller, Andy Crouch and Francis Chan.

However, one presenter, Sissy Goff, a mental health professional, spoke about “The Psychological Impact of Social Distancing”.

One of the many salient points Goff made regarding our emotional well-being was that in this time of sheltering in place and social distancing, we need to do one brave thing each day. She then asked, “what is one thing you’ve done in COVID that has required bravery?”

For me, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about slowing down, reflecting, and noticing things around me and capturing those moments with my camera. I’ve taken some steps to stretch myself and grow in my photography skills, including taking an online course and submitting some of my photos on unsplash.com. What follows are a number of images that give a glimpse into what we’ve been experiencing these past 7 weeks of the Covid-19 crisis…

When the shutdown first occurred, I was surprised to show up at our local Wal-mart just after 6:00 in the morning, only to be greeted by a long line of people ahead of me, waiting to get in.

The first time I went shopping during the Covid-19 crisis, I thought I would outsmart everyone by getting up early and getting in and out before the rush. Turns out, everyone else had the same idea and I was greeted to a long line just to get into the store.

In addition to long lines, I found the store to be quite barren of products. Most of the fruits and vegetable bins were completely empty as well as pretty much all dried goods (beans, pasta, rice, etc.) as well as meats, bread and dairy products. I found myself grabbing the most random items as substitutes for the items we really needed. In the end, I had to go to three stores just to get some semblance of groceries for the week.

Training never stops for those in the military!

Did I mention that our boys are home? They are still training and they are still eating…A LOT. That has magnified the grocery issues. After the Wal-Mart incident, Jen decided to start ordering stuff online, but that was hit and miss. Then she started using a grocery service, which worked well for about a week, maybe two, at which point, it became harder and harder to find time slots to get groceries delivered.

We finally got a grocery slot one week but we were told that groceries could be delivered any day between Tuesday and Sunday (which was Easter). No groceries came on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Finally, on Easter Sunday we were expecting our food to be delivered and boy did we need it. We had gone nearly 2 weeks without shopping.

Have I mentioned that my boys are home during this crisis? Have I mentioned how much they eat?

About mid-day, we got a message from the shopper saying that the store we had ordered food from was closed. They canceled our order and we were left with nothing substantial in the house for Easter dinner. It felt a lot like one of those cooking shows where they give each chef 6 random food items and ask them to make a gourmet meal out of it. Hmmm…what can we make with a can of sardines, a box of gluten-free spaghetti, a lemon from the tree outside, two eggs, a box of granola and a jar of salsa? GO!

This dirt track has been the only place locally that works for a timed workout. Hopefully, high school tracks will open soon!

Speaking of training, Jacob is a member of the Naval Academy Cross Country and Track teams. Though the season has been canceled, the athletes are all expected to keep working out in order to maintain their conditioning and long-term training cycle. There really is no break for distance runners.

It has been increasingly harder for Jacob to find places to do his workouts. He needs a track about once or twice a week in order to time his workouts. Other days are casual runs anywhere. Most local high schools are shut down with security keeping people from using the facilities. We were fortunate to find this dirt track locally that is not too crowded and has enabled Jacob to continue his training.

Local park playground structures have been closed off with this caution tape, even though parks in general are open

Initially we thought the lockdown might last just a few weeks or maybe a month. Our boys’ return to their academies was delayed by two weeks but then became indefinite.

As things progressed, businesses began to close and park playgrounds were shut down. We were told masks didn’t work and then a few weeks later, we were told we should wear masks. At first, we were told that social distancing was the primary step to curb the virus, but then the lockdown came and people whose jobs were not considered “essential” were urged to stay at home.

One day, while outside getting exercise, I found this sign laying on the ground in our neighborhood. Im not sure if it fell over on its own or if it was removed by someone protesting the lockdown.
One day while walking the dog, I spotted this small action figure lying on the sidewalk. It turns out that during Covid-19, even Action figures are wearing masks!

One of the things we have tried to do regularly to maintain some kind of routine is walk the dog. Most every day, Jen and I will try to get out in the afternoon to take the dog out. We pretty much walk the same route every day. One day while walking the dog, I spotted this small action figure lying on the sidewalk. It turns out that during Covid-19, even action figures are wearing masks!

It’s been interesting to slow down and try to notice things that I never noticed before. It’s amazing how much beauty and creativity is around us that we don’t pay attention to.  Now that it’s spring time, we’re starting to see flowers blooming and plants coming alive.

As I’ve ventured out daily with the dog and my camera, I’m trying to notice the things around me that demonstrate life and bring hope during this challenging season.

Flowers are in bloom, the air is clear and the mountains are majestic.

A few weeks ago, in order to avoid an oncoming dog walker and maintain our distance, we darted to the other side of the street. I was walking down the same street but on the other side, and this gave me a slightly different perspective. Had I not gone to the other side, I would have missed the sidewalk chalk message – “Always Stop and smell the Flowers.” Our dog Scout decided to take the advice!

The chalk message says “Always Stop and smell the Flowers.” Our dog is so smart, he complied with the message!

Attending church activities has been different. We are still able to attend our home group and men’s and women’s groups but everything is online now through Zoom and other video platforms.

All small groups and the weekly worship service are all meeting online for the forseeable future

We’re able to worship as a family by watching the sermon online every Saturday beginning at 4:00 p.m. at Saddleback.org. The worship team records all of their parts separately and the worship is edited and spliced together to give the feeling of a full live worship set. It’s pretty amazing what technology is enabling us to do. Pastor Rick Warren then gives his sermon online as well.

Signs like this, commemorating major milestones, can be found throughout our neighborhood.

There is so much loss during this crisis. I think about all the high school seniors who have missed out on prom as well as all their other senior traditions, including commencement.

College seniors are also missing one of the biggest days in their lives. We know of weddings that have been postponed or canceled, vacation trips that have been delayed or lost altogether.

In addition, I think about all of the spring sports that have been canceled and all of the athletes who had no idea that their seasons were going to be cut short.

What have you lost as a result of this crisis? What are you grieving?

I think about my friends Jim and Charlotte Van Steenbergen, whom I’ve known for many years. Jim has been in declining health in recent months and I just learned that he passed away peacefully on Cinco de Mayo. Normally, I would have loved to visit and honor my friend in his last days. Unfortunately, that was not possible in this current environment. I grieve that lost opportunity to say goodbye and to thank him for the ministry he’s had in my life over the years.

What have you learned from this crisis? What have you found?

Being forced to slow down has its advantages. All those things you wished for in the past that you never had time for are suddenly available. And yet, I’ve learned that I am not always taking advantage of the extra time to do the things I’ve said I would do IF there was more time. I’ve learned that my heart is not always intentional and honest about my true desires and motivations.

While cleaning out our office closet, I found this box that was the container for my Samsung watch.

I’ve learned to see more of the hidden treasures in life.

Recently, Jen undertook the long desired task of cleaning out the office. There’s a lot of stuff that we don’t use but is taking up space. Interestingly, as we’ve cleared out cabinets and purged the overstocked closet, we’ve actually “found” things we didn’t remember we had.

One of the things I “found” was the box to my Samsung smartwatch that I bought a few years ago. About 6 months ago, the band on the watch broke and I had to buy a new one online. I was planning to throw the box away, thinking I really didn’t need it anymore. But I decided to open it to see if there was anything inside. Low and behold, there was a spare watch band. I had the spare watch band all along but I didn’t realize it was there, so I needlessly bought a new band from an online seller.

I had completely forgotten that when I purchased my watch it came with a replacement band. It was a hidden treasure in my closet

We found many more of these kinds of hidden “treasures” while cleaning out our office. It’s a reminder to me that there are hidden treasures everywhere around us, evidence of God’s creation, power and beauty. I just need to slow down and look around to notice.

Like many of you, we are still able to work from our home. We have been working from home for a number of years so the shift wasn’t too radical for us. However, we were used to meeting people at various places throughout Orange County and beyond. In addition, we have conferences and other events we would typically travel to. All of those things have been either canceled or suspended and the bulk of what we are doing now is finding ways to minister to people online.

Dave connecting with the UCLA Cru director and two of their seniors to talk about the benefits of coaching. Dave was able to coach each senior in a short 15 minute preview session.

We continue to coach folks but we do it virtually instead of in person. We continue to lead groups and host groups online. Training and development conferences we are a part of have been converted to webinars and Zoom discussion groups. We’ve pivoted in a number of ways already but we’re actively seeking new ways to minister to people online in this current environment.

We are grateful for you, our friends, family and partners who have supported and encouraged us to press on, especially as Jen has been immuno-compromised due to a vasculitis flare she’s been experiencing.

We would greatly appreciate your continued prayers for Jen and her health and for us as we continue to navigate life and ministry in this new climate of social distancing, working from home and sheltering in place.

Just as I’ve been more intentional about seeking to recognize the things around us that may easily go unnoticed, please pray that we would “recognize” the ministry opportunities God is placing before us.

 

What Makes Good Friday “Good”?

When you think of the full Easter story, it seems the good part is on Sunday, when Jesus is resurrected.
Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

Have you ever wondered why Christians refer to the Friday before Easter as Good Friday? I never quite understood that myself growing up as a kid even though I went to church and heard the Easter story every year.

Think about the Easter story as a movie. The good part is at the end, when Jesus comes out of the tomb, resurrected! It seems to me that Friday is bad, at least if you’re looking at Jesus as a hero figure. On Friday, he’s dead. How is that good?

To answer that, I want to first ask a different question. Why did Jesus have to die? To put it another way, what was the purpose of Jesus’s death?

It’s an honest question, really. If Jesus is God, as he claimed, why couldn’t he just declare sins to forgiven?

I’ve posed this question to many people over the years as I’ve engaged in conversations about Jesus and some people respond that Jesus’s death is an example to us.

I suppose that could be true, but how exactly is it an example?

Perhaps Jesus’s death was simply a demonstration of his love
Photo by Neal E. Johnson on Unsplash

Well, you might respond by pointing to the verse where Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NIV)

Yes, it’s true that Jesus’s death does demonstrate the depth of his love for us. But what does that do for us?

Some people have responded to that question (Why did Jesus have to die?) by saying that Jesus’s death was a sacrifice?

Agreed. But what does it mean that he was a sacrifice? In what way was it a sacrifice?

The simple answer to “Why did Jesus have to die?” is that God’s justice required it.

Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death.” Since the penalty of sin is death, the only way Jesus could pay for our sin was to die. He couldn’t just declare sin to be paid for because death is required.

I often share this illustration with people when talking about the importance of Jesus’s death on the cross….

In New Testament times people who owed a debt were often thrown into debtors prison until they could pay their debt or until their sentence was complete
Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

In New Testament times, when a person committed a crime, the authorities would throw the offender in the dungeon until he made restitution or until his sentence was completed.

On the door of his cell they would list the crimes that he had committed. When he had completed his sentence or paid for his crime, they took the list and wrote ‘tetelestai’ across it, which in greek means “it is finished”, or “paid in full”.

The person would then use this document as a receipt that those specific crimes had been paid for. He could not be accused of those crimes again.

We are separated from God because of the debt that we owe because of our sin. Our sin must be paid for.

Now think about the Easter story again. Jesus is arrested, tried and crucified. The last words Jesus uttered before dying were, “it is finished” (tetelestai).

Here’s what Paul said to the Colossians about the importance of Jesus’s death:

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations,  that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

Why did Jesus have to die?
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The picture here is that Jesus had a written list of all of your sins and all of my sins and he nailed that list of all of our iniquities to the cross. Just before he died, he uttered “it is finished”, meaning that sin had been “paid in full”.

It’s as if Jesus, in his last dying breath was taking a big rubber stamp to that list and stamping it “PAID” so that we would know that sin was paid for and therefore forgiveness could be granted.

So when you think of the full Easter story, it doesn’t appear that Friday is good. It seems rather bad, if you are looking from the perspective of Jesus as the hero.

But if you realize what Jesus meant to accomplish, the redemption of mankind, the forgiveness of sins – through that lens, it’s clear that Good Friday is indeed good. Actually, it’s rather GREAT for us! Sin is paid for. We are forgiven!

Good Friday is indeed GOOD! And, that’s not even the end of the story….

Is Healthier Social Media Possible?

Last week, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a post from a friend who was announcing they were taking a break from Facebook mainly because of all the misinformation, politicizing and negative interactions.

Many people are taking a break or Sabbath from social media because of the negative interactions and anxiety it causes
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I feel ya! Going on social media these days can feel like entering the gladiator ring. You never know what political viewpoint is going to be thrown at you or who is going to challenge your ideology or what news article is going to pop up in your feed.

You innocently start off with a desire to see “What’s up?” with some of your friends and before you know it you’re engaged in a heated debate with a person you never met about some political policy on which you disagree. It’s easy to get worked up and riled up.

One of my favorite authors, John Ortberg, describes his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted as “Spiritual Disciplines for Dummies”, and says that the purpose of spiritual disciplines is really to train ourselves to love God and love others more.

Ortberg suggests that sleep could be a spiritual discipline, reasoning that If lack of sleep causes you to be grumpy and irritable, then a good night’s sleep could help us become more loving people! Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

In one of the chapters, Ortberg makes the case that for some people, the most important discipline they could practice is getting a good night’s sleep. His reasoning is that if being sleep deprived makes you moody and grumpy, then the best thing you can do to love God and others is to ensure you are well rested.

Maybe Ortberg is on to something! Given the polarizing nature of social media these days, it’s easy to see why so many people are deciding to take a break from it. The sad part about it though is that in this season where we’re sheltering at home and not physically able to connect with others, we could use the benefits of social media now more than ever. Is healthier social media even possible?

A friend of mine thinks so. Mike was a student I discipled years ago during my early days with Cru at San Jose State. Years later we’re still in touch and Mike and his family are living in Kansas City. After working as a graphic designer for most of his career, Mike has teamed up with a couple of believers who not only think that healthier social media is possible, they’ve created an app that aims to prove it.

Mike DeVincenzi is one of the developers of The Jump, a new app that seeks to provide a healthier social media ecosystem. Go to: thejump.com for more info. Photo courtesy of thejump.com

The Jump is an app that markets itself as “Healthier Social Media” with a mission of “bringing together authentic community, robust tools and a positive culture to create a better ecosystem.”

How are they doing that?

You can learn more at thejump.com but here are a few benefits:

For one, there are no ads, so you won’t be endlessly bombarded with posts urging you to buy an item that you happened to search for online last week.

Second, there are no algorithms. Tech giants like Facebook and Twitter use sophisticated algorithms to push content to you that THEY think you want, instead of just letting you determine what you want to see for yourself.

Additionally, in our high tech world, privacy is always a concern. Who has my data and what are they doing with it? The developers of The Jump are just as concerned about privacy as you are and pledge not to sell your data to third parties.

Last year I spent some time using The Jump app with my boys Cross Country team and was really impressed with how it functions. It seems to work especially well for teams and groups.

Check Out My Jump “The Lowedown” by clicking the image or the following link:
https://plm4.app.link/XH0QcDNap5

Personally, I love the idea of social media enabling me to stay connected with the people who are important to me, but much of the current social media culture is toxic and polarizing. The Jump may just be the alternative we’ve all been looking for.

I’ve created a Jump (group) on the app for those who want to stay connected to us and our ministry (Group icon is shown at left).

I invite you to try it out by texting 54293 to (913) 828-0100. You’ll receive a personal invitation to download the app and join our Jump.

In these crazy, uncertain times, now more than ever, we need a way to stay connected to encourage and support one another. Please let us know, in whatever fashion works for you (text, e-mail, snail-mail, The Jump, or whatever), how you’re doing and how we can pray for you!

We are so grateful for you and we pray that the Lord is protecting you and meeting you in the midst of this global crisis!

Adapting to New Realities

Jacob (Navy) and Joshua (Army) look on as their former team-mate races to the finish line of the 800m race!

One week ago, with my twins home for spring break, we went to a track meet where I took photos while my boys connected with former coaches and teammates. Everything seemed normal and life was good. We were making the most of our few days together as a family before the twins were scheduled to report back to their respective academies.

Within 24 hours, everything changed.

EVERYTHING!

It was announced that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson had tested positive for the Coronavirus. At the same time, a member of the Utah Jazz tested positive and the NBA immediately suspended their season. Things escalated exponentially from there.

The next day, Jacob and Joshua were both informed that they were to delay their returns for 2 weeks and that online instruction would ensue shortly. Restaurants began closing and other large events were canceled or postponed. Disneyland closed for only the 4th time in its history. By the end of the week, all major sports leagues had been suspended, most schools had closed, weekend church services were either canceled or moved online and many people were told to begin working from home.

New terms such as “flattening the curve” and “social distancing” have become a normal part of our vernacular while crowded grocery stores and empty shelves have become commonplace. Who would have thought a few weeks ago that toilet paper would be more sought after than gold?

Long lines and empty shelves are the norm now at most grocery stores

What we’re experiencing is unprecedented….at least in my lifetime. How should we respond?

As you know, Jen has been experiencing her own health issues with her vasculitis flaring up recently. She’s been hospitalized, is back on Prednisone and has undergone two different infusions of Rituxan, a drug which is designed to suppress her immune system as a measure of stabilizing the auto-immune flare that is currently afflicting her.

A few weeks ago, Jen spent the day at UCLA, receiving a five hour infusion of Rituxan, a drug that is part of her ongoing treatment in combating her vasculitis flare.

While she’s not bed-ridden and she’s able to carry on most work responsibilities, she’s at increased risk for infections. As a result, we’re trying to be extra cautious and vigilant, but also doing our best not to panic.

From a ministry perspective, we’re still working and actively seeking to minister to Young Professionals. While many of our upcoming work trips have been canceled and events postponed, we’re still able to coach Young Professionals virtually. In fact, we already office out of our home and have been doing more and more of our coaching in a virtual environment anyway, so these latest measures have not been a major disruption to us.

One benefit of having the boys home is the dog gets more attention…but yeah, he’s already a spoiled pup!

Perhaps the biggest change for us is the fact that our boys are home and we are all sharing the same space and needing to get online for virtual classes or online meetings. Our boys are attending class as normal but everything is on East Coast time so they are having to get up at 4:30 a.m. in order to attend their first period classes.

Food consumption has also gone up, which means there are more trips to the grocery store, and more empty shelves and hunting for food and supplies to keep these guys from going hungry!

Though the nation is in crisis, we are trying to rest in the peace that Jesus is in control and we are His.

We would appreciate your prayers, though, mainly to stay healthy and for Jen’s vasculitis flare to become stable so she can begin to taper off of some of the drugs that have such negative effects. Pray too that we would find new and creative ways to minister to people during this time.

We know this crisis is affecting many of you in very real and perhaps devastating ways. We would love to pray for you. Please let us know how we can intercede on your behalf!