Lessons From John Wooden

I absolutely love great quotes. There is something about the simplicity, the brevity, and the profundity of a great quote.

One of my Facebook friends put a simple quote on his status Thursday which, in very few words, hits the nail on a philosophy I’ve preached for years. The quote was by the legendary basketball coach, John Wooden. Coach Wooden is a man of great wisdom, insight, integrity and faith. Let me share with you this quote which, despite it’s few words, spoke volumes to me:

When an opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.

As a basketball coach, Wooden would spend countless hours preparing his players in practices and in the classroom studying film and diagrams on chalk boards. It’s impossible to prepare for every specific scenario that could ever come up in a basketball game. No two basketball games are the same. The key is teaching and learning fundamentals which can be applied in any scenario which arises during the flow of a game.

Life happens whether we think we’re ready or not. The thing is, God has been preparing us all along for the things which eventually happen in our lives. The question is, have we learned from life’s lessons? Have we learned the fundamentals? So many people go through life, banging their heads into the very same walls and doors they’ve encountered repeatedly throughout their lives. There is only one way to get on the other side of those obstacles, and that’s through them. We can’t circumvent them. Even when you think you have, you’re going to face it again at some point in your journey.

Preparation for life is not just for difficult times. I have seen many people miss out on wonderful opportunities because they hesitated. Heck, I’ve done it myself. I have seen people turn down jobs, relationships, ministry opportunities, and other wonderful blessings because they felt they weren’t ready for them. Or at least, they weren’t ready to make a decision. In those moments of hesitation, we are ignoring the lifetime of preparation which has brought us to the doorstep of personal progress.

I remember in my classroom training when I was wanting to get my first driver’s license. We were taught that you can legally make a U turn at any intersection, unless there was a sign that said you cannot. I am a firm believer that God will often times be silent when we’re at the gateway of opportunity. This is not because He is playing games with us. It’s because He has been preparing us for this moment, and He’s allowing us to draw on that preparation in faith. My personal rule is that when I’m presented with an opportunity that I need to decide on right now, I’m going to trust my instincts. Unless I see the “No U Turn” sign, that is, a direct word from the Lord, I’m going to trust in my preparation and fundamentals.

There comes a time in our lives when we have to act, one way or the other. More often than not, we do not have the luxury of saying, “let me take some time to pray about it.” It’s now “too late.” Most often, we have to make a decision right now. This is the time in which we must draw upon our preparation for this moment.

This is the time to trust that our life’s experiences have led to this moment. This is the time to trust that what God has been doing in you and through you has prepared you for this moment.

What are you going to do about it?

Lessons From Golf

I took up the game of golf at a relatively advanced age. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I started playing while in my 20s, but then took a 12 year sabbatical from it. I then re-picked up the game at the age of 40 or so.

If you’ve ever played the game, and done so at a, for lack of a better word, skill level like mine, you know you’re not doing it for the ego boost. It’s a very humbling game. When you’re a hack like I am, you may have 100-110 strokes in an 18 hole round. Out of those shots, maybe 5 of them were ones which either went where you actually intended them to go, or better yet…were even better than you had intended.

There have been times I was tempted to chuck the clubs, the bag and even my shoes into a water hazard and drive my silent golf cart back to the clubhouse, never to be seen on a golf course again. But the thing is…I really love the game. I stink at it, but I love it.

Golf courses, by their nature, are beautiful. The well-manicured grass, the trees, the lakes (plop goes my ball), and even the ocean next to some golf courses. On many courses, you even encounter wildlife. Unfortunately for me, I often hit my ball in areas with signs warning of rattlesnakes. Not exactly the wildlife with which I’m wanting to mingle.

The life lesson for me is that while golf is humbling and even very frustrating at times, there are many rewards along the way. It might be a beautiful cloudless sky, birds chirping, great conversation and quality time with friends, making new friends, and even the occasional golf-related success.

Life can get ugly at times. It can be very frustrating, and even overwhelming. But even in the worst of days, there are redeeming qualities. A man I am coming to know through our association with the Man Cave has an adult son who is dying from cancer. Every time we talk, I ask him how he and his family are doing. He usually responds with, “we’re hanging in there.” His son may literally slip into eternity at any minute. But rather than focus on the life being lost, they’re focusing on the life lived. They are anguishing over the pending devastation of losing a child, but they continue to live life. These people have every legitimate reason to take a time out from relationships and obligations, but instead…they drive on. Rather than pack it in and head for the parking lot, they pick their stuff up and move on to the next hole.

I love this picture. I took it as I was about to tee off. I was enjoying a beautiful day with a dear friend and mentor in my life. I don’t remember a single detail of how I played. That usually means I was terrible. What I remember is moments like the one captured in this picture. The rolling grass, the tree lined fairways, the snow-capped mountains in the background. Even the water hazards. (plop, there goes another one.) It’s simply majestic.

Sometimes we need to stop focusing on the difficulties, and focus on the beauty and miracle of life. And of course, focusing on the Giver of life. Putting life in perspective gives us a realistic and manageable view of our circumstances. If we focus on how terrible we’re “playing”, we may miss out on so many other subtleties which make our time special and worth our attention.

What Must They Think?

For over a year now, I’ve had a Facebook page. I signed up thinking that it would be a fun way to connect with people in my present day life. What has happened, however, is that I’ve connected with people from various stages of my past. I have reconnected with guys I’ve known since I was maybe 8 years old!

I sometimes wonder what they must think if they spent any time reading my Facebook page or what I share here on Crossing Paths. I wasn’t a terribly wild child growing up, but I also wasn’t interested in church. That was not part of my life at all, really. In fact, there is very little in my life now that was very important to me then. I guess you could say sports and music were part of my life then, but it’s funny how those elements have played significant parts in my adult life, but in ways I never would have imagined then.

There was one particular girl I went to school with from 7th grade through high school in whom I had a crush from the moment I met her. We became very good friends, but nothing romantic ever resulted. In the waning weeks of our senior year of high school, she was asked to sing a song at our Baccalaureate service the week before graduation. She asked me to sing a duet with her. Remember the song Up Where We Belong by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes? Yeah, the song from Officer and a Gentleman. Well, that was the song. Fun song to sing, still had a crush on the girl…but at that stage of my life, I was deathly afraid of singing in front of people. So I did what any respectful person would do. I accepted.

Then flaked.

Yeah, not one of my prouder moments.

I have often wondered to myself what she would think now if she knew that not only did I end up singing, but I’ve done it in front of huge crowds, and across our great country and in many other countries as well.

I think she’d kill me.

I wonder how my life since high school would cause my friends from back then to react. I mean, it’s not like I shaved my head and took a vow of eating grass and crickets. Anyway, there was a time when I was genuinely nervous about how my faith might “play” to people from my way back days. But really, why? I’m still me. I still love sports and music. I love movies, have great relationships with wonderful people throughout my life. I’m not ashamed of anything or anyone in my life, so why should I be nervous?

It’s funny the things we allow to creep into our minds and lock us up. I’ve led a pretty extraordinary life so far, and it has nothing to do with me being an extraordinary guy. I’m very ordinary. I just serve an extraordinary God. It’s pretty amazing what He can do with a big lump of clay.

I’m living proof.

Inauguration Day

Today, the 44th President of the United States will be sworn into office. In 232 and a half years, only 44 people have held this office. That’s a pretty prestigious and exclusive fraternity.

The United States of America, for all its faults, can boast of smoothly processing the peaceful transfer of power from one man to the next. The reason for that is the Office of the President doesn’t change, only the occupant. The Office is the constant. This isn’t about the physical office, the Oval Office in this case. The Office of which I speak is the authority, the power contained within the position itself. It may seem odd to consider an intangible subject with such reverence. In actuality, that is what our Constitution and the founding fathers protect and designed. When the President of the United States walks into a room, everyone in that room will stand to their feet in respect not of the man, but of the Office he represents. He is the embodiment of this country’s history and tradition, and the sacrifice of the tens of millions who have laid down their lives for our freedom. His life is no longer his own. His own identity is veiled behind the Office he holds.

I have to admit, I am burned out with Obama this and Obama that. This isn’t just because I didn’t vote for him. It’s because it seems that people have inverted the order of importance. I believe we, as a society, are guilty of elevating the man over the Office. It’s as if he is being treated as deity.

This is such a great illustration of the humanistic, relative morality of the postmodern mentality. Christians and Christianity have been villified for many reasons. My intellect has been ridiculed because I believe in, surrender my life to, and serve God. Meanwhile, many in this group of stone-throwers look to a 47 year old man as being a sort of savior of our country. Despite our human proclivity to make mistakes and fail, we are much more comfortable following another one of us than to serve and try and emulate a perfect God. Then, when that person inevitably falls short of our expectations, we nuke them with our criticism and disdain.

I am mindful of the fact that the Office, the position of President of the United States of America is bigger than any one person. No matter how long Barack Obama holds this position, the job will continue outlive him and his 43 predecessors.

I am also mindful that my God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, from everlasting to everlasting, is bigger than me, you, everyone who lives now, and everyone who has ever, or will ever live. I put my faith in Him, not any man or any political office. I will pray for our new President because he and our country will need it, and because my country is bigger than my political affiliation.

I did not vote for Barack Obama. Barack Obama doesn’t even know I exist. However, he will be my President nonetheless.

While you may not believe God exists, He loves you and sent His son to die for you. You may not love Him or serve Him, or even believe in Him. But He loves you nonetheless.

Your Path Determines Your Destination

My church is in the process of a 21 day corporate fast. Now don’t envision some cult-like sheep mentality of following someone into unnatural physical torment. That’s not what this is. It’s purely voluntary. The thing is, most people are on board…which is pretty exciting.

Fasting is not some spiritual formula for getting what you want. Some people do treat it as such.

If I sacrifice something, God has to bless me with my heart’s desires.

The purpose of our fast is to practice the discipline of hungering for God. God is not impressed with our so-called sacrifice. Skipping meals without seeking God is like driving to church and sitting in the parking lot all morning expecting God will do something special. When we want to see the Lord’s mercy and power in our lives, we do well by sacrificing our comfort for the purpose of developing a deeper level of intimacy with God. In the eloquent and insightful words of King David, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.” These words came in the wake of one of David’s great blunders which cost the lives of 70,000 people.

Sometimes we put ourselves in predicaments for which we must endure serious consequences. In those times, we have a choice to continue on the path to destruction, or choose as David did, to get back on God’s trajectory and fulfill our destiny. Even when we blow it, even by biblical proportions, God can make our way straight. Until we’re dead, it’s not too late. But it is illogical to expect to end up where God wants us to be when the path we’re on doesn’t lead to Him.

As a church, we are eager to fulfill our destiny in God’s kingdom, our community and our own individual lives. In order to reach a particular destination, we must first be on the right path. This fast that we’re on is the divine cooperation between man and God for the purpose o
f calibrating our lives so we are on the correct path in order to reach the destiny the Lord has called us. By sacrificing our eating habits, and instead replacing it with a fervent pursuit of God, He will be faithful to put us on the course He has for us.

But here’s the thing. Many people believe that
giving up meals or certain conveniences will somehow earn us favor with God. It’s not that simple. When we genuinely pursue God, He will reveal to us things in our lives which are not healthy. Are we involved in unhealthy relationships? Are we allowing things in our lives which cause conflict between our spirit and our flesh? Are we justifying things in our lives which we know shouldn’t be there? If we are, then doing the right things while on the wrong path avails nothing. In order for us to have a breakthrough in our circumstances, we must first have a breakthrough in our hearts.

God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. As Merriam-Webster defines diligent, this means by “steady, earnest, and energetic effort.” You can’t fool God. He will not be mocked. Don’t even try.

Are you satisfied with the road you’re on? Did you think that you may have been in a better place by now in following the route you’re on? Maybe now is the time to stop before you get further off course and waste even more time, and seek the Lord. He will be faithful to guide you…if you’re willing to seek Him…diligently.

Stupid College Days

Last week I had lunch with Gary and his wife, Cherisse. What is really interesting is that I went to college with Cherisse. I actually knew here before Gary did. Cherisse was roommates with another Lisa I’m friends with. This Lisa is really the one person from my college days who has been a fairly regular participant in my life ever since. Others have come and gone, drifted in and drifted back out.

When we were at lunch last week, Cherisse and I shared an interesting story from our history. It was not a particularly fun experience at the time, but now with time and perspective, it’s something we were able to laugh at. In fact, we laughed a lot.

The Reader’s Digest version of the story is that this was the year after I left the school, but Lisa and I had kept in touch. I lived about 2 hours away, but was coming down to the school to pick up Lisa and bring her back to my house to spend a weekend with my parents and me. When I drove down, I ended up bumping into my ex girlfriend. Long story short, that unexpected encounter led to a long-awaited conversation. You know…the stuff exes talk about after the emotional dust has settled. That conversation lasted hours, and beyond midnight. Meanwhile, Lisa sat patiently in her dorm room waiting for my arrival. This was LONG before the days of cell phones or even pagers. So there was no way to know if I was on my way, if I was off in a ditch, or having an emotional pow wow with an ex girlfriend.

Yeah, it was a pretty jerky move on my part. I admit it.

I ended up bunking that night in the dorm room of a former roommate on campus. From there, I called Lisa and gave her a pretty lame explanation of the evening. At that point, she handed over the phone to Cherisse. Let me summarize the conversation by saying this. I didn’t talk, and she didn’t breathe for probably 5 minutes as she tore me up. It felt like an hour, but I think it was about 5 minutes. She ripped me. She never said anything she would or should regret. She just blasted me. I deserved it, and I knew it. Sometimes you just have to take it.

Time went by, and fences were mended. I even attended their wedding a few years later. I had only seen Cherrise a few times in the past 20 years or so. I was definitely holding on to the shame of that foolish night, but Cherisse, to her credit, was long over it. When we recounted that event, it was like talking about a scene from a movie. It’s funny how time has a way of adding perspective to things. It really is like looking at different people, though it was really our own lives.

Now I’m a regular part of Cherisse’s life, her family’s life, and their business. I am in their home fairly regularly. We talked about how the Lord often times circles our lives back to those we may have had difficult times with in the past. I’m thankful that when it happens, people are able to let go of those old things. I am definitely not the same guy I was when I was 21. Yeah, I weigh more, have thinner and grayer hair, but I’m also a man with a lot more life experience who has learned many life lessons along the way. I’ve shared some with you here on Crossing Paths, and I’m sure more will come in time.

Man, if I knew then what I know now. Ahhhh, it’s OK. I’m just happy to be who and where I am today. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

The Lengths Some People Go

I’m very tired as I write this, (Wednesday night), so this WILL be brief. Mark my words.

We had another great night in the Man Cave on Wednesday. Before we even started, I spoke with a guy I know who is the father-in-law of our youth pastor. This gentleman lives in Concord, but was in the Man Cave on Wednesday. I asked him if he came all the way from Concord. He said no, he actually spent the day in San Francisco, then drove all the way to Rocklin after work. I asked him if there was some family thing going on, and maybe that’s why he was in town.

Nope. He came to be part of what’s happening in the men’s group on Wednesday night.

I can’t even begin to tell you what that meant to me. Not because we’re doing anything extraordinary. It’s because GOD is. God moved me here from San Jose, and He chose this time to do it. Coincidence?

Yeah, no.

I needed this. These men need it. Are you someone, or do you know someone who needs this? What lengths are you willing to go to experience God in a new and exciting way?

Me? Men’s Ministries?

It’s really interesting to look back over your life and see the long and winding road which you’ve taken to get where you are today. I can honestly link together the circuitous route to Rocklin, CA clear back to about 1984 rather easily. It’s just wild to think how such seemingly insignificant events from that long ago have a ripple effect which is evident today.

I have been asked numerous times throughout my life what my plans were for my future. When you’re a kid in high school, you may have an idea about where you want to go to college, what you want to study and such. I really didn’t have a plan then. And now, all these years later…I still don’t have a plan, but for different reasons.

Back then, I was just a dumb kid with no real ambition. Now, I’m a guy whose life has consisted of numerous twists and turns which have found me involved with exciting people and things I never would have imagined I’d ever do, or even want to do. Let me give you a few examples.

I grew up thinking singing was THE most embarrassing thing a person could do in front of a group of people. As you probably know, singing is probably what I’m known for the most. I remember confessing to people that I would never work with children because I really didn’t feel I could connect with them on any level. Finding me working with kids would have been like finding Boy George at a tractor pull. But then God put me in a position of leading a youth basketball league and coaching kids for several years. I also remember telling people I was very uncomfortable working with the elderly. It would break my heart to see aging people struggling to walk or breathe. But yet again, God put me in a position where a job I loved put me in the lives and homes of seniors on a daily basis.

And I loved all those things. I even had a passion for them.

Now I’m in a new season. I’ve typically steered clear of men’s ministry programs. I’ve never felt drawn to them. I’ve been to the standard men’s breakfast with a special speaker. They were good, but nothing that really inspired me to make it a regular part of my life. And now here we are, 2009. I’m now eyeball deep in a men’s ministry program, and I’m loving it. I have gotten to know some incredibly wonderful men. Men whose hearts have the unimaginable blend of masculinity and tenderness. Men whose lives have been, and even are being impacted by human suffering and tragedy. But men who recognize from where, and from Whom their help comes.

I haven’t found the spirit of volunteerism as I have discovered with these men. I have had more guys come to me saying that they are willing to help in any way they can. I ask them if they have any specific interests, and most of them say they don’t. They just want to be involved.

It is exciting to be part of this ministry. I’m excited and humbled by God choosing me, at such a time as this, to have anything to do with what He has in his heart for the men at my church, and those we connect with beyond the walls of the church. I don’t know what God has planned for my future, but I know that I’m sure enjoying the ride!

Now, one final thing before I end this post. My GBFF, (girl-best-friend-forever), Lisa, and I had a little challenge for one another last night. I thought it would be fun if she would pick a word, a person…something random for each of us to include in our blogs. She chose the subject of Boy George…so that is why you see him ever-so-cleverly inserted into my post today. When Lisa is feeling a bit more whimsical, I’m sure she’ll weave him, (somehow), into a future post. Stay tuned. You never know what may come next.

Lessons From My Mom’s Singing

I could easily write a book based on lessons I’ve learned from my mother, but for this particular post, I’m going to focus on this one particular aspect. I’ll get to my mom’s influence later on.

Back when Saturday Night Live was pretty funny, you may have seen this particular sketch featuring some…ehhhh, singing?

Now with this in your head, (sorry about that), I want to tell you about a man who sat near me last night in my Monday night bible study. Much like the Frankenstein character in this clip, this gentleman pretty much sang one note no matter which song was being sung, and no matter which key it was in. What was particularly stunning about this, aside from the obvious, is that the note he chose was the one note not to be found in any of the songs which were sung. It was amazing!

But before you click away, shaking your head at my music snobbery, let me now tell you about the lesson I learned from my mother.

My mom was not blessed with a talent for singing. This is no joke. When she would sing around the house, the dog would bark at her. One morning, my mom called me at work. She had just gotten done with her personal quiet time with the Lord. During this private time, she felt compelled to sing a song. Not just any song. She was making it up as she went. She was simply expressing her thoughts from her heart. After doing so, she wanted to share it with me. So, in that moment while I was sitting at my desk at work, I listened to my mom squeak out some notes. I heard a sweet melody in her song, and the most tender words ever.

I was very blessed by her sweet spirit. I didn’t hear her feeble voice this time, but her angelic heart. In that moment, I felt a certain degree of enlightenment in my heart. It was in that moment that I realized that God doesn’t hear what we hear. Singers are a dime a dozen. Watch American Idol. For good television, they like to show you the really horrible singers, but they weed out thousands and thousands of singers who really can sing. What God hears is the condition of our heart. My mom wouldn’t last 2 seconds in a talent contest. But what God hears is something He can’t get enough of. He would rather listen to my mom warble out her words of love and tenderness with an almost incoherent melody line, than a singer who can decorate their entire mansion in gold records, but has a heart of stone.

So, if singing isn’t something you would even dream of doing in public, and if the dog barks at you…lift up your voice to God. He’s your biggest fan, and He longs to hear you belt it out!

Lessons From A Gym

This past Saturday, Gary spoke at a Men’s Breakfast at a church in Elk Grove. It was a nice group of guys, but I’m telling you…there wasn’t a lot of fire in the belly, if you know what I mean.

No, I’m not complaining that there weren’t jalapenos in the eggs.

These men have gotten rather comfortable and content with over all mediocrity. It was a tough room. But of course, we were still buzzing from the wonderful night we had last Wednesday in the Man Cave. Saturday served as a great reminder of a couple things. One, we’ve got a special group of guys who are not ashamed to lay it all out before the Lord. Second, once you step foot out of the Cave, there is a world full of men, in and out of the church, who need to return to their first love.

It’s not an easy or natural thing to recapture. It’s easy to slide into some kind of malaise where your spirit gets lazy and out of shape. When that happens, it’s easy to go through the motions where it looks like we’re spiritually active, but in reality, we’re dying from the inside out. It’s like going to the gym, getting a locker, sitting down at some weights (but not actually using them), adjusting your iPod, drinking your water and even toweling off. After an hour or so of looking the part, you return to your locker, get back into your street clothes, and go home. Sure, you went to the place where it all happens, but you didn’t do a single thing. You look good going in and out of the gym. You even hope someone you know will see you there so they think you’re doing something about your health.

But really, you’re doing nothing of value.

The thing about being in church or a gym, you are in a place where you’re being equipped and strengthened. The purpose for that is for your life outside of those buildings. It does no good to lift all the weights and do all that cardio if you’re just going to leave and eat pizza and ice cream all the time. You have to live it. What you do in those buildings must be maintained when you leave.

I’m sure there are men in the Cave who are going through the motions. There are men who are hurting. I truly believe that if they keep coming, they won’t be able to help but participate in what’s happening. Maybe they’ll have a conversation with someone, a “trainer”, who will personally spend time with them and help them develop a regimen to a healthier spiritual life.

On the flip side, I’m sure there are men all over the place who have never heard of the Man Cave who are living spiritually vibrant and effective lives.

I wanted to be sure to share with you a little glimpse into our first Man Cave night last Wednesday. You can click here to view the slide show from that great night.

Can’t wait until Wednesday!