Size 11 Boot Reality Check

Size 11 Reality Check

I wear size 11 boots.  Shoes too.  True thing.  Now you know what I only came to know in the past 25 years.  Shoe size shouldn’t be so hard to nail down, right?  Well, my shoe size confusion started when I was a wee lad growing up with feet.  As far back as I can remember my Dad had a thing about shoe size.  I recall him frequently mentioning that he wore size 9 in Justin boots.  He proclaimed the message with a sense of solemn pride like an award recipient’s acceptance speech.  I would think, “Someday I’ll wear size 9 Justin boots too.  Then Dad and I can share the honor.”  However, by the time I reached middle school I noticed that size 9 footwear were noticeably uncomfortable.  As a matter of fact, as I moved into high school, size 9 became downright painful…until I got them “broke in” properly.  To compound my shoe size confusion, my twin brother clearly nestled into a size 9 with no apparent side effects.  Over the years, even though shoe sales people would measure my feet at size 11, I would assure them that I wore size 9, with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities thereunto appertaining.

So what broke the size 9 spell?  Oh, just like a lot of fallacious beliefs, the truth eventually eroded the falsehood into a funny inside joke.  By the time I reached my 40th birthday I had embraced my correct shoe size and I continue to rest in its comfort.

My shoe sizing adventure serves as an example of a dynamic I often see in counseling.   People develop beliefs about themselves and the world in childhood that become increasingly unworkable in adulthood.  For example, years ago I counseled a young man who described himself as “not that bright.”  He had come to me for vocational counseling because he was frustrated in his present work.  All of the career inventories pointed him to jobs requiring educational levels he didn’t possess.  He told me he hadn’t attended college because he was the dumb one in his family.  After a few sessions, I apologetically admitted that I was not convinced about his self-defined dumbness.  In response to my request he obligingly agreed to take an IQ test to verify his claim and disprove my skepticism.  His Stanford-Binet profile yielded a standard score of 145,  placing him in the upper 99th percentile of humankind.  His puzzled response was, “Yeah but my older brother’s IQ is 175.  He is in Mensa.  I knew I was not even close to that.”  I assured him that an IQ of 145 was well within the genius range and he also easily qualified for membership in Mensa.  He and his bro could definitely ride to meetings together.  Still, he didn’t immediately reject the old belief (“I’m not that bright”) in favor of a more accurate belief (“I’m one of the world’s smart people”).  But eventually he accepted the truth about his intellect and went to college.  Last I heard from him, he had completed an advanced degree in Semitic languages.

Probably one of our most important developmental challenges in adulthood involves examining goofy childhood logic and replacing it with sober mature thinking.  Everybody has archived obsolete mental artifacts from bygone days.  Adulthood is a good time to take inventory and test those beliefs against reality.  I’m not talking about blaming your parents or being mad at somebody for steering you wrong.  Adults embrace truth and reject falsehood and then act on it.  Jesus made it clear that truth sets us free (John 8:31-32).  He also declared that He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6) followed by the truth about the Truth that “no one comes to the Father except through Me.”  The basis of spiritual reality testing runs through Him.  Stay close to the truth and the Truth as you audit the distortions of life.  Living free from the pain and restriction of lies really is worth it.

But hey…it’s fortnight.  Pull on your best boots and celebrate.  Me?  Oh I’ll be wearing size 11 Tony Lamas to step out tonight.  They are real comfy.  Cool looking too.

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Rolling with Johnny Lingo

eight cow wife

Typically, people say and do weird stuff because they think weird stuff.  And I’ve heard and seen some seriously weird stuff over my years working with humans.  One of those disturbing cases of tortured logic involved a guy who cited The Eight Cow Wife as the basis for his marital expectations and subsequent disappointments.  Stay with me, this one takes some interesting turns.  The story begins with my question to a sullen husband in marital counseling.  After several vague complaints against his wife for not keeping up her end of the marriage, I asked,  “What exactly is this unspoken marital obligation she has failed to uphold?”  He seemed happy for the opportunity to make his case and divulged that as a teenager he had read a Reader’s Digest article about a Pacific islander named Johnny Lingo.  It seems this young man with an awesome name had paid an unusually high bride price to purchase a wife.  The story goes that Johnny Lingo offered an unheard of eight cows for the hand of the unremarkable Sarita when he could have made the deal for a single cow.  Everyone thought Sarita’s dad had gotten the best of young Johnny but the clever up-and-coming businessman had voluntarily offered the excessive amount.  His unprecedented act  instantly made him a regional icon. Years after our hero took his plain, downtrodden bride home, a journalist heard the tale of the eight cow bride and went to investigate.  The writer found Johnny living happily with the now beautiful and confident Sarita.  Johnny explained that he loved Sarita but knew she felt worthless and unloved in her home village.  Turns out the wacky high bride price became the foundation for her transformation into a magnificent and accomplished wife.  In the end, Johnny explained his magnanimous gesture on behalf of Sarita was based in his devotion to her but also in his desire for an amazing eight cow wife.  The unhappy husband in my office explained that the eight cow payment was an ongoing reminder of her value in Johnny’s eyes and it was also a measure she gratefully lived up to.   He had applied Johnny’s story to his situation and was chagrined with his wife’s response to him redeeming her from a sad and abusive family situation.  He believed she had defrauded him by failing to majestically blossom out of gratitude for taking her away from her misery.  Ultimately, in his assessment, she still owed him a proper eight cow wife.  My response?  “I hope you are joking.  Please, tell me you’re just kidding.”  Sadly, he wasn’t.

In all fairness, I don’t blame Johnny’s story for seducing people with an appealing yet unrealistic message of human transformation. The fault with any misapplication of parables from Reader’s Digest or God’s Word lies with our own self-serving predispositions. Consider the following goofy thinking that can lead us down the road to equally goofy conclusions of eight cow entitlement:

  • The first fractured meaning in Johnny’s story is the idea that our acts of kindness or generosity or cows will transform someone…anyone.  I’m not saying our good deeds don’t have impact.  They can and do.  I am saying that our virtuous actions will not radically reinvent another human being.  Sorry.  Sometimes in premarital counseling I have to point out this fallacy.  “I believe I can change him/her” has a long history of failure.  For every exquisite Sarita in the world, there are a bazillion cases of what-you-see-is-what-you-get-and-will-continue-to-get.   Sadly, humans don’t do personality makeovers very well.  And certainly not as the result of a one-time splurge of bovine extravagance.
  • Getting an eight cow response is not why we treat people with humility, respect and lovingkindness.  We treat people with eight cow deference because it is right to do so.  Philippians 2:5-8 says:  “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though He was God,He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”  None of our efforts come close to that standard, so please don’t expect fawning appreciation for simply being thoughtful.
  • Realistically, our own behavior is the most controllable aspect of any storyline.  In the real world, nobody can bend someone else’s life narrative like a party clown making a balloon dog.  Fortunately, we have the ability to shape who we are in the story.  If Sarita had remained depressed and withdrawn, would Johnny have continued his epic benevolence?  Maybe.  He had the power to be someone who cherished and revered his wife even if she never morphed into a magnificent Polynesian goddess.  Too often we lament or rage against how people in our lives aren’t acting right rather than intentionally deciding how and who we want to be within the situation.   By faith and by the Spirit, exhibiting a biblical Christ-likeness is absolutely within our grasp.  Go ahead and take the grasp rather than trying to manipulate someone else to.

If you want to read the original version of The Eight Cow Wife by Patricia McGerr, just click on the link below.  It’s still an entertaining read but not necessarily a prophecy ensuring similar results.  I will close this Fortnight by saying that if I ever seek a career in professional wrestling, I will definitely choose the name Johnny Lingo as my alias.  Either that or Nubber Barrakus.  Both are good.


Hey…make this an eight cow fortnight, okay?  In as much as it depends on you…

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April 2018 Official Sieges Newsletter: Yes-No-Wait…WHAT?

February 2018 Yes-No-Wait Newsletterprayer cartoon

Yes, Eugene.  You have only two choices here.  Pick one.  Having said that, I’ve got good news for the rest of us.  God knows more than three words.  Really.  He does.  Give the Bible a try.  You’ll be surprised at how articulate He is.

Okay, my faithful homies.  You can see the new edition of The Official Sieges Newsletter in two different formats.  If the images below are too dinky to read, have no fear.  You can just click on the link to the PDF file and voila…it’s right there.   Almost like magic only it’s technology.   Nice.  And as always…thanks for reading our newsletters.

siegesdotorg.files.wordpress.com/…/february-2018-yes-no-wait-newsletter.pdfApril 2018 Yes-No-Wait Newsletter 2 April 2018 Yes-No-Wait Newsletter 1

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Expecting A Miracle

In 1820 Thomas Jefferson completed his famous cut-and-paste version of the New Testament entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus Christ.  In an effort to legitimize the gospel message, Jefferson meticulously removed all mentions of the Lord’s miracles and resurrection.  Jefferson sought to create a record of Christ’s life devoid of “superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications” devised by the “ignorant, unlettered” gospel writers.  Ahem.  Jefferson vigorously rejected miracles as irrational inventions that flew in the face of his enlightened sensibility.  Even as I am appalled and indignant at Jefferson’s treatment of God’s Word, I see a wee bit of his logic within myself.  Just as Jefferson questioned historic miracles, I have to admit a leeriness of present day miracles.  Sorry.  This is a confession.  Sometimes when people outline their solution to a problem in terms of “expecting a miracle.” I often respond, “Well, let’s talk about how you can actively participate in the miracle process.”  Don’t get me wrong.  I believe miracles happen. But I don’t believe they can be summoned like “Okay Google” on my phone.  Having said that, my caution was nudged recently by a reminder of my own experience of the miraculous. And it all started with cleaning out some old files in my office….

One afternoon, as I purged dated counseling notes from a file drawer, I found an old study Bible from the early years of my Christian walk.  Leafing through the dog-eared pages, I read various passages I had underlined and highlighted.  The pages flipped easily to well-worn sections I frequently visited.  Psalm 34 opened up as the binding gaped slightly in the middle.  At the end of that psalm was a notation:  March 23, 1977 and December 7, 1977.  I knew immediately the meaning of those two dates.

In the spring of 1977 I was an aspiring twenty-something cattle rancher.  In spite of several years of hard work and austere living, my prospects of making a living as a cattleman were not exactly rosy.  I loved the lifestyle but the livestock markets and inflated interest rates of that era didn’t return the love to young guys like me.  Even though I had accumulated a nice little herd of cows, I knew that it was only a matter of time till I would have to sell them.  I simply couldn’t make enough money at several part time jobs to afford their feed and pasture rent.  So, in March 1977 I began praying for direction about what to do with my cattle ambitions.

Spring blurred into autumn with feed prices soaring and cattle prices sagging.  November brought early snow and I knew I was out of options.  I chose the first week of December to take my cattle to auction.  My prayers about this inevitability had been refined to a handful of specific requests:  First, I asked the Lord to provide a rancher to buy my cattle.  Even though that petition seems fairly obvious,  it was actually recklessly explicit and a profound long-shot.  In a down livestock market, cowmen cull their herds to save on feed costs going into winter.  They certainly do not buy more breeding stock, which was exactly the type of cattle I owned.  My cows were all young and pregnant: the least desirable livestock demographic in a sliding market.  The only buyers for stock cows in final month of 1977 were meat packers and cattle traders.  And that brings me to my next request:  I prayed that neither of those two customers would buy my cattle.

In the 1970’s, meat packers were making a good living selling tons of hamburger to a newly booming fast food industry and cheap adult cows were their preferred burger source.  Cattle traders, on the other hand, buy and sell livestock in the same way financiers trade paper stocks.  The main difference is that livestock is transported long distances to various markets.  Trader cattle are generally stressed and often sick and mistreated from being shipped from stock yards to stock yards.  Probably one of my failings as a cattleman involved my caring about who bought my cattle.  Most ranchers didn’t care who paid for their livestock .  They were understandably more interested in how much money their cattle brought.  I told the Lord I sincerely didn’t care how much money my cows brought, I only wanted them to return to the country and not to a butcher’s kill floor or a cattle trader’s traveling road show.

And finally, I asked that the Lord to show up in an incredible way.  I reasoned that anybody can take their chances in the livestock market but since I was His son and I cared enough to ask, why wouldn’t He want to demonstrate His powerful goodness even in this obscure corner of His kingdom?  I simply asked that whatever happened on December 7th, I would walk away saying, “I can’t believe it, Lord.”

On sale day morning, I checked the opening livestock markets out of Omaha, Nebraska.  Predictably, cattle prices were down that day.  That meant I was selling my herd on a bad day in the middle of a bad market.  With that news in mind, the auctioneer advised that I sell my cows by the pound.  This would ensure their sale to the only buyers willing to spend money for this type of animal:  cattle traders or meat packers.  I told him to try to sell them first by the head as replacement cattle but if they couldn’t bring $200 each, then he could sell them as butcher cows.  He nodded and added, “You know, we could just save a step and sell them in the butcher pen to begin with.  But it’s your hanging, son.”

My cattle were among the first sold that day.  They were fat and shiny with my family’s brand proudly displayed on each left hip.  The auctioneer started them at $200 per head but quickly dropped down to $150 before he got his first bid.  Then, strangely, almost magically, the bidding took off. The numbers bounced rhythmically past $200 then past $300 then to $400 before the gavel fell.  $400 per head?  I was stunned.  I turned to Dad and asked him what my cows sold for.  He verified the unthinkable.  $400 per head.  The auctioneer seemed to also need a  moment to take in what had just happened.  He whispered something to the stock yards’ accountant, who immediately slipped away from the auctioneer’s booth.  The sale resumed when the accountant returned and conveyed a message to the auctioneer.  The next cattle failed to bring $175 per head and were quickly shifted to the butcher pen.  The remaining livestock sold for woefully low prices that mirrored the morning’s opening markets.  Entire herds began selling on a single bid.

After I shook off my disbelief, I went to the auction offices to confirm the sale of my cattle.  With the market back to normal, I feared my sale had been a cruel mistake and my cows would be resold later in the day.  Instead, the cashier issued me a check and explained that my cattle were bought by a local rancher.  He hadn’t been to the auction all year but showed up that day to buy replacement cattle for his herd.  Mine were just what he needed:  young, healthy pregnant stock cows.  She volunteered that an out-of-state cow trader was the only other bidder.  But after my cattle sold, the auction contacted the trader’s family to see if he should be buying cattle that day.  They emphatically told the auction to not take his bids. He was in serious financial trouble and couldn’t pay for any purchases.  With my rancher buyer finished for the day and the broke trader unable to bid, the markets slid back to their predicted wretched level.

As I walked out of the auction, I caught myself muttering over and over, “I can’t believe it, Lord.  I can’t believe it.”

So, do miracles happen?  Oh yes, they do.  And when I absolutely need a miracle to bolster my sagging faith I remember that day 40 years ago.  But I know my miracle was not strictly relegated to five minutes of bidding on that winter afternoon.  The miracle actually started well before March 23,1977.  It was precipitated by thousands of less visible long-shots that culminated in a moment in time.  In the same way, the Christmas miracle of Christ’s virgin birth started in eternity past and beat the odds through thousands of years of cliff hanging experiences.  Ultimately, the miracle points to the Miracle Maker.  Mine is no different.  Take a look at your own and you’ll see it’s true.

Have an awesome Christmas season remembering the abiding miracle that continues to reveal the heart of the One who made it happen.


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How to Un Friend and Not Influence People

winning friends

Dale Carnegie’s communication classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, published in 1936, is still a relevant plea for respect and humility in interpersonal relationships.  At the top of his list entitled “Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking” is the admonition to steer clear of arguing as a method of persuasion.  For Carnegie, arguing simply doesn’t help anyone achieve their communication goals.  With each impassioned exchange, people only entrench more deeply in their opinions until even the most compelling and rational evidence will not change anyone’s mind.  A recent Cornell University (2016) study on social media influence patterns seems to support Carnegie’s point.  The researchers found that if the arguers’ minds are not changed after the fourth exchange, further attempts at persuasion are futile.  Beyond the fourth exchange, it’s less about the either person’s edification and more about the arguer’s need to be and feel right.  I’m sure you can think of exceptions to the rule but for the most part the fourth exchange guideline is intuitively and now empirically pretty accurate.


In counseling, I tend to use a more subjective measure for encouraging people to know when to “just let it go” and when to press forward in a discussion.  The following are some thoughts for knowing when to stop the debate and start talking about something else.  I’ll use the four exchange concept as a structure for my version.


·         Before the First Exchange:  Don’t even start your discourse if you are in anyway trying to teach another adult a lesson.  This is especially important when engaging your spouse, grown children, colleagues, pastor, professor or boss.  Teaching other adults a lesson patently does not work.  It is annoying and condescending.  If you have a point to make, just make the point.  People don’t learn lessons by being humiliated, manipulated or tricked.  Really.  Let the “I was just trying to teach you a lesson” concept go.  It only creates alienation and hard feelings.


·         After the Second or Third Exchange:  Let’s say you are a few point-counter-points into a conflict.  The give and take should continue if you can honestly look at the other person and imagine hearing him/her exclaim, “You’re right!  No one has ever explained this like that before.  Thank you so much for this insight.”  Truly, if you can’t imagine any version of that response coming from the other person, stop.  This is especially important in sequels to former arguments on the same topic.  If those words of gratitude and enlightenment are never gonna happen, it’s time to let it go and walk away.


·         After the Fourth Exchange: Aside from ego gratification, why would anyone want to continue after the fourth unsuccessful exchange?  I believe either of two conditions could hold you in the debate.  First, if you legitimately wonder if the other person is confused about your position then stay on board.  Generally, people who know you, know what you stand for on most topics will not miss your point.  If you’re like me, you have never been coy or ambiguous about topics near and dear to your heart.  People just don’t have to read between the lines with me.  But, if there is a remote chance the other person misunderstands your position, then by all means, persevere in the debate.  This isn’t so much about being right as it is about being understood.  But after you’re assured the other person gets it and agreement is not forthcoming, you can move on with a clear conscience.


The second condition to keep you in fray after the fourth exchange is the realization that you’re actually wrong and the other person is right.  Gulp.  It happens.  During those times your best response might be the one I mention in my After the Second or Third Exchange heading.  Just admit,  “You’re right!  No one has ever explained it like that before.  Thank you so much for this insight.”  That really hurts coming out but will definitely win that person as a friend.  And really, isn’t that the point?


I think we all agree that fortnight is just straight up awesome.  Certainly no argument there.  Enjoy it with someone who still loves you beyond the fourth exchange.

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June 2017 Official Sieges Newsletter: Gotta Love Millennials

Generation Gap

Are any of you old enough to remember when the term Generation Gap was first used?  I am. The designation was coined in the 1960’s to describe the unprecedented social, religious, and political differences between the Baby Boomer generation and their parents.   Now it is broadly applied to disparate values between parents, grandparents and children of any generation.   The following are few thoughts on Boomers, Millennials and global missions.  Emoji up, kids.

To read the Official Sieges Newsletter, just click on the image below.  Then in the lower right corner, you’ll click on View Full Size.  And finally click on the image again and it will get real big.  Three steps and it will be so big that even an aging Baby Boomer can read it.  You may have to back track a bit to view page two, but it is sooooo worth it.

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Awkward Love and Respect!


Happy Valentines Day!!  You have probably heard of Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ 2004 award winning marriage book:  Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs.  The book is built on a simple premise.  Marital success increases when women receive love and men, respect.  Eggerich’s ideas resonated with enough people that he sold 1.6 million copies along with workbooks, a sequel, and a gift book version.  The purpose of this blog post isn’t to endorse or critique Eggerichs’ work.  Simply view this as a tribute to people who fall through the cracks of the love and respect paradigm.

Take the above Valentines Day couple for example.  There’s a lot of passion behind those quizzical expressions.  If you can’t have love and respect you may have to settle for shocked and confused.  Could be as good as it’s gonna get.

A shout out to Awkward Family Photos for such great pictorial examples.  The photos themselves are funny even without my commentary.


Love and respect wasn’t working for these nice people so they went all in with hate and contempt.   She is ready to stab the photographer in the face with the pointy corners of her glasses. The photo’s upward shot angle is because the photographer is cowering.  The broad shouldered couple made it real clear, “You can get off the floor after we leave.  Not before.”


Voyeurism is wrong.  Straight up.  The one exception may be watching yourselves make out in the backyard.  That might be okay.  Billy chose his retro short shorts and Star Wars tee shirt for both kissing and watching.  Ain’t no love and respect here.  Only a strong dose of creepy and creepier.


Ahmad clearly loves a smoke in front of his honeymoon duplex after a workout.  Ginny absolutely respects Ahmad’s dedication to fitness and his hairy tummy.   Both are looking forward to having tan, beige, and grey kids together.  And watching them play on their cement lawn.


Darryl just escaped from a maximum security prison.  He sure appreciates the way Shirley hid a hack saw, dynamite and a getaway car in her hair.  And the kids are ecstatic to have their daddy home.  Plus they are hoping there’s a pony in mommy’s hair.


Oh my.  This couple uses big kitties for clothing.  Little kitties really wouldn’t have done the job.  Love and respect pales compared to this shared cat fashion.  Just hope someone remembered to get the kitties declawed.  For real.


Grammy and Grammpa have been married over 50 years.  Grammpa is excited that Grammy is wearing his favorite bacon scented perfume. Bacon happy Grammpy is feeling frisky.  Run Grammy.  “My little Baconator” is not a normal pet name.


Creative Valentines Day fun keeps the passion alive in any marriage.  Jeb and Tina don’t exchange cards and chocolates.  They just have a few drinks at the kitchen table and rip hair off Jeb’s pits.  Both Jeb and Tina  enjoy this stay-in date night activity.  They tried it once at a Panera but it just wasn’t the same.


Uh oh. Look who’s jealous that his wife looks more pregnant than he does. Come on, George…after Rachel gives birth, you’ll be ahead again.  Really.  You will.  So chill.


Sometimes you just gotta push reset to reboot the love and respect in a marriage.  Mitzy is so amused by Omer’s cute gesture, she’s going to head butt him right between the eyes.  That should give Omer a much needed reset of his own.


And finally…Jake and Mavis just got home from date night at the Golden Corral.  Jake:  “Dadgummit, Mavis.  I et too much fried okra again.  I done got the vapors.”  Mavis:  “I know baby.  I know.”  Sometimes love and respect means that one of you gladly sleeps out on the porch that night.  Either one.  Doesn’t matter.

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Celebrating 30 Years in Wycliffe

Seems like only yesterday Denise and I were sitting in our home in Bozeman, Montana praying, “Lord, is this missions vision really from You?”  His answer was, “Trust Me.”  And that’s what we did.  Over and over and over for the next 30 years.  Here is our latest newsletter celebrating this milestone in the Lord’s faithfulness to us and Bible-less people of the world.

Since the image is too dinky to read, just click on it.  Then in the lower right corner, you’ll click on View Full Size.  And finally click on the image again and it will get real big.  Three steps and it will be so big you can read it from across the room.  Trust me.

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One Thing to Never Forget


My memory isn’t so good anymore.  I am not exactly ready for a nursing home but sometimes I am clearly not as good as I once was.  For many years I rode a fairly reliable memory to a few advanced degrees and modest acclaim at trivia board games.  Not so much anymore.  I manage my old guy memory with notes to self and knowing the difference between important do-not-forget-this-stuff and less important nice-to-remember-but-no-dire-consequences-if-I-don’t-stuff.  Besides, names and numbers can always be googled.  Sadly, you can’t just ask Siri for wisdom and insight to bring your life into focus.

Good memory or bad, we all need to remind ourselves daily of certain truths that give our lives a rallying point.  These truths create a context for daily priority setting and decision making.  Whether we are conscious of them or not, everybody touches base with personal reality based self-talk.  So, what if you could choose only one value or principle to never leave home without?   What would that be?  Now I realize there is more than one supremely important rule for godly living.  But I’m assuming your memory is as bad as mine.  Six or eight truth statements might be more than your neuro-hard drive can store.  So, assuming I am allowed only one wisdom prompt to structure my life around each day, I think it would be this one:

Remember, Tim: Nobody gets out of this alive.  That’s all.  Short and sweet.  Sounds pretty obvious, huh?  Well, that’s because it is.  We all know only two things are certain in this life, right?  Death and taxes.  Sorry but that’s only half true.  Tax exemptions abound, but nobody is death exempt.  There are no loopholes for death.  The Scripture is indisputably accurate and without exception on the topic:  “…it is appointed unto to men once to die, and after that, the judgement.”  Hebrews 9:27  Death is an appointment that we will all keep.  No cancellations.  No reschedules.  We bury loved ones and they will bury us.  Everybody does it.  If you haven’t yet, you will.

In light of that inevitability, so what?  Is the answer as simple as Tim McGraw’s formula to live like we are dying?  I don’t think so.  This truth’s application is bigger than a self-gratifying grab for all the gusto while you can life/death ethos.    I’m talking about living like you know you cannot hang on to this life and ultimately you are required to give an account to the One who gave it to you.  Don’t forget the last phrase of the above Hebrews passage.  Death is guaranteed but the subsequent reckoning is equally sure.  The Apostle Paul offers this perspective to the tension between the temporal yet eternal nature of our existence:

“Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on the unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  We live by faith, not by sight.  So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”  2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 5:7, 9, 10.  Even I can remember this:  By faith, daily prioritize the One who is unseen.   Seek to please Christ every day.

Jim Elliot was twenty-two years old when he wrote these famous words in his journal:   October 28, 1949  “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”    I imagine that was one of his primary orienting truths; maybe even the single wisdom that he would have chosen to remember if he was only allowed one.  A little over six years after he penned that sentence he was killed on a river bank in Ecuador.  The elegance of his life statement was in stark contrast to the violent horror of its fulfillment.  He knew that nobody gets out of this alive and eternity is a long long time.  We should all live each day accordingly.

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Living the Story


The 1990 sci-fi thriller Total Recall (starring a young Arnold Schwarzenegger) is about a futuristic world in which people can buy a memory implant of a vacation they never took.  The concept is simple:  Since every vacation ends with only a memory of the event, why not buy the most fun filled, action packed memory possible without the potential misadventures of a real vacation?  Great premise for a movie.  Sadly, we aren’t allowed to compose an amazing life storyline then install it.  True life stories happen to real people moving through unpredictable scenarios with limited control over the outcomes.  As much as we want to steer the story of our lives, we are constantly reminded that the story has a mind of its own.

In many ways, counseling is all about examining genuine but raw life stories.  Every day, all day I listen intently to narratives that shape and describe people’s existence.  The stories contain the essence of each person’s values, priorities, character, motivation, and logic.  Everything I need to know is imbedded in the story.  People can give elaborate rationales and spin for their behavior but ultimately the details of the story will disclose the truth.  Even mistruth is detectable in the story.  You have to listen closely and hang on every word.  But without a doubt, the story reveals all.

Often people come to counseling hoping I can offer an insight or strategy that will steer their story away from danger, loss, and sorrow toward safety and fulfillment.  They see their story careening toward disaster and are desperate to change the course.  Sometimes a few basic attitude and behavioral adjustments can turn the story to a better outcome.  But more times than not, the significant factors of the story are beyond the person’s control.  Illness, other people’s misbehavior, and nature will not cooperate with our best efforts to turn the Titanic from its collision course.  As much as I want to help people implement solutions to control negative outcomes, the story’s countless moving parts defy regulation. How many times have we made literally hundreds of wise, mature and well thought out decisions in a day, but the story abruptly exploded in a single instance of someone else’s ill-advised maneuver?  Our seemingly bullet proof plans for a success story are much more brittle and fragile than we ever imagined.

The story, as unmanageable and uncontrollable as it  seems, is still the record of our legacies.  When we are gone, our stories will remain.  Never take the story for granted.  Cherish it.   Protect it.  It is the enduring statement of your character, integrity, and soul.  Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind as your legacy unfolds:

  • As I mentioned earlier, and especially as I get older,  I am increasingly aware of how little I control the story.  When I was young, I thought I was the author of my own life script.  After hearing thousands of people’s stories and examining my own, I am aware of how little impact I have on the narrative.  My sovereignty is a joke.  God’s sovereignty is dead serious.  Obviously, I am responsible for how I conduct myself in the story but honestly, the story is profoundly beyond my control.  That knowledge would scare me if I didn’t know the One who shapes the story according to His good and perfect will.
  • The acceptance of my impotence goes hand in hand with my understanding of the story’s true focus.   This older version of me recognizes that  the story isn’t even about me.  Sorry, but you and I don’t have our own autobiographies.  We only have a part in a bigger one.  Our story is imbedded in God’s story.   He is the lead character in every story since eternity past.  The story…all stories…are His.  We are fortunate to occupy a small corner of it.  Think about how honored you would feel if a famous person mentioned your name in his or her memoirs.  Well, you are recorded in His.  Live each day with that reality in mind.
  • If you have little to say about the plot of the story, at least you can choose how you will be in the story.  The trials, injustices, losses, and pain of life invade even the most virtuous storyline.  In a fallen world, expect trouble that you didn’t cause.  Expect to pay debts you didn’t make.  In the end, you can only control how you were in the story.  Did you choose to engage the story with faith and grace and courage or was your piece of the story tarnished by bitterness, self-pity and blame?  Your legacy is less what you do and more about who you are.  Choose a loving, faithful, generous Christlikeness.  Those qualities fit perfectly into the nature of the story’s main attraction.

Remember what I said about the story revealing the person?  That’s true about Him too.  The Bible is the authorized and published version of His story.  He reveals Himself in the stories of His Word.  Look for Him.  Focusing on the human biblical characters and contexts is important but if that’s all you do, you’ll miss the point.  There is a massive, dynamic, personal God at the center of every biblical narrative.   His Word reflects His glory.  Apart from it, we can only guess at who and how He is in our corner of His story.  Look closely at your piece of His story and you’ll see Him.  Really.  Look.  He’s all over it.

Sorry about the long wait between fortnights.  Nobody should wait months for fortnight.  May the story of your fortnight reflect the glory of the One who wrote it.

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