Entertained & Saddened

One year ago today, one of the world’s most beloved entertainers, Robin Williams, took his own life. Very few entertainers have cut across such a wide swath of age groups while entertaining the masses. From Aladdin to Peter Pan to Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams put his very own mark on every movie or act that he performed.

Several months ago, my wife and I had stopped at some yard sales in a small town near our home. While perusing a box of older VHS movies, I came across the movie Dead Poets Society. I had never watched the movie but remember hearing about it years ago. I purchased it for $1 and several weeks later watched the movie. Although we could debate some of the finer philosophies presented throughout the movie, one thing was undeniable. Williams was brilliant in playing his part as an English teacher encouraging his subjects to not just endure another English class but to seize life and live it for all its worth.

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Coach or Cheerleader?

Coach or cheerleader

It was a beautiful fall day. One of those days when you wished that it was twenty-five years earlier and you were the one suiting up for a thrilling soccer match. There is something about the cool, crisp air in the fall that just beckons any true soccer player to the pitch. Although I was not the one playing, I was equally excited to see my three boys playing on that fine afternoon.

As the game progressed, I stood on the sideline and listened to the coach. To be honest, I couldn’t tell if I was listening to a cheerleader or a coach. To be fair, he was trying to inspire nearly every player that got close to the ball. However, looking at the level of play on the team, it was apparent that there had been more inspiration dispensed than instruction over the course of the year to that point. Continuing to watch their level of play, I was convinced that there had been much more cheerleading than coaching. Certainly a coach should inspire his players. There are times when he needs to encourage them to play above their level. However, the primary responsibility of a coach is to instruct, to teach, to train.

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Books I Read in 2014

Stack of booksCharles William Eliot said, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Ah! Such wisdom in this quote.

Personally, this year of 2014 has been a new high for me when it comes to the reading of books. Not only have I read more than at any time of my life, the books I read were quite rewarding in a variety of ways. The longer I live, the more I believe that reading can shape a life unlike nearly anything else. Although I am one who enjoys a good movie, in my opinion, a good book will trump a good movie every time. It does concern me that more & more men that I meet read so little. It is through a Book that God communicated His truth to us. Often, no desire to read will lead to a struggle for a Christian to read the Word of God.

My wife and I constantly encourage and direct our children to learn to love reading. We do this in a multitude of ways: taking them to the library (we encourage them to find at least one book to check out every visit we make), purchasing good books for them as gifts throughout the year, raving about certain books my wife & I have read, and in general, making much of reading.

Like last year, I used Evernote to track/compile this list. In addition, I am constantly revising my current list of “books to read.” For something that I believe this important, why wouldn’t I want to be organized? One more note – two items that I read on a regular/constant basis are the Bible (daily) and WORLD magazine (a Christian biweekly news magazine). Enjoy the list and may 2015 be a rich year when it comes to reading for you!

Books That I Read in 2014

Top Five (in order)
1. The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan
2. Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell
3. Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Thom Rainer
4. The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller
5. Out of Commission, Paul Chappell
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In the Grand Scheme of Things

TrainLast month, I set out for work on what I thought would be a typical Monday morning commute – long, but necessary. After 45-50 minutes of driving, I parked my car and made my way onto the loading platform at the train station. It seemed that the trains were delayed (not unusual during this railway construction phase here in Philly) but I didn’t think anything of it. Boarded the train and away we went. The train stopped after only a few minutes. A voice crackled over the intercom, “There will be a twenty-minute delay due to a medical emergency.” After a low murmur arose from the train’s irritated commuters, we all sat and waited.

After what seemed longer than the promised twenty-minute delay, the train started moving in the right direction. It’s about time, I thought to myself. After pulling in to the next stop, we were all met with unpleasant news. Due to the nature of the medical emergency ahead of us, they were shutting down the westbound track that crossed over the river into Philly. We were advised to get on a train heading eastbound. Eastbound? That is not in the direction of my destination. That is the opposite direction of the work, people, and meetings that were waiting for me.

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See-Through People

See Through FoodsThe Wall Street Journal recently (August 13, 2014) published an article detailing the surge of food and drink retailers to use “see-through” packaging to market their goods. Generally, goods sold that show at least some of the product are selling better. The piece highlighted the delicate balance of using this type of packaging with a variety of different foods. For instance, potato chips don’t sell well with “see-through” packaging but tortilla chips do. Granola, pricey juice drinks, yogurt, and pizza are examples of “see-through” items that seem to be selling better than their “hidden” competitors.

The research was clear (no pun intended) – shoppers are more inclined to buy when they see what they’re getting. But here is the kicker – “transparent packaging is surprisingly hard to make. Food often isn’t ready for a big reveal after a package has suffered shipping, shelf stocking, and other jostling.” Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2014, See-Through Food Packaging Boosts Sales

Now this grabbed my attention! Having worked and interacted with people of all shapes, sizes, political persuasions, different levels of religious fervor, and a sundry of other temperaments, I am convinced that the most attractive people are those who we can “see through.” And let me tell you – just as actual transparent packaging is hard to create for the retailers, a transparent life is hard to live. Why? Because just like a bag of chips, life has a way of causing “shipping problems, shelf stocking, and other jostling” to occur day-to-day.

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Christians Struggle Too

Christian DepressionWith the recent suicide of Robin Williams due to severe depression, I have heard many well-meaning Christian friends comment something like this:

“It just goes to show that money doesn’t make you happy.”

“Wealth, fame, and popularity does not bring joy.”

“Having lots of money or being famous will not bring you inner peace.”

And although I agree with the truth behind these statements, we sometimes like to say certain statements to bolster the position of the Christian. We say them to show (albeit falsely) that we don’t struggle with these types of things. I am sure you have heard them. They go something like this:

“We Christians have that inner peace that the world doesn’t have.”

“Having Jesus Christ in my life keeps me from being depressed.”

“If they only had God in their life, they wouldn’t struggle like they are struggling now.”

Anyone that has been a Christian for any length of time and has dealt with people, knows the real truth – Christians struggle with depression too. 

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Right This Way Please

WalmartIf you know anything about my wife, you know that every time we drive by a Wal-Mart, she places her hand over her heart! Well, maybe not EVERY time but seriously, Wal-Mart holds a special place in our heart. Why Wal-Mart? I’ll get to that in a moment.

Growing up in Northwest Montana, we were not privileged to have a Wal-Mart in our town. In fact, Wal-Mart did not have a presence in Montana until 1992. By then, I was in my sophomore year of college. No, we had the utmost “privilege” of shopping at the only other “mart” that was in town. Yes – we suffered by shopping at Kmart. I guess I should say my mother suffered while shopping at Kmart. I do not have fond memories of Kmart for several reasons. First, every Kmart I have ever been in has something like 37 registers with only three of them open for service. Usually, one stands about seven deep in line just dreaming about another one of the multiple registers being open for service! Second, I do not believe the words “customer service” and “Kmart” were ever found in the same sentence (until now). I have never had the privilege of actually finding a Kmart associate to help me in the department that I am aimlessly wandering in the unfruitful search for an item. One must traverse their way halfway across the store to hopefully spy a Kmart associate. However, this is not the worst of it. When you do find one and ask for the item you are looking for, the conversation goes something like this:

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