Self-preservation is not all bad. If you are being chased by a bear or mountain cat, it is helpful. Or securing your own oxygen mask before trying to assist others on a plane that’s going down. Seems logical.

But there is another type of self-preservation. It is an inner voice that says, “Every man for himself.” 

I was sitting in a lifeboat replica at the Titanic museum in Branson, MO and listening to the biographies of various survivors. One was a sailor named Robert Hichens. He was given charge of Lifeboat #6 which was under capacity when it was cut loose from the mother ship. It was alleged that he refused to go back to look for survivors after the vessel yielded to North Atlantic. Self-preservation. It is utterly dishonorable and yet there is a part of me that feels the pull.

But the truth is, I don’t want to be that kind of man. I want to be one of guys still playing his violin as the vessel is going down. Or even better, I want to be the one who would charge the lower deck and sludge through neck-deep water to find any left behind.

I’ve recently taken an interest in the Coast Guard rescue swimmers. Imagine jumping into a violent ocean from the open side of a helicopter in the middle of a swelling storm. This team operates under the simple motto, “So others may live.”

The actions of the violinist and the rescue swimmer would seem crazy if this world was all there is. But it’s not. There is life beyond this life. Self-preservation is a lie. Jesus said those of us who try to save our lives will lose them anyway. But if we are willing to defy self-preservation, we will find a true life that can’t be lost. And this discovery can give birth to defiant joy and unhindered courage far beyond anything the world has seen.

A Tool or a Weapon

A Tool or a Weapon

The knife. It is a simple form that has been around a long time.

It has many uses: opening bags of seed, cutting vegetables, extracting splinters, prying staples, cleaning teeth, sharpening pencils, cutting zip ties, removing gum from hair.

But it is also true that the blade has been used to kill many a man.

So which is it, a tool or a weapon? It depends on the handler. The hand holding the knife decides the outcome.

What is man then? A tool or a weapon? Again it depends on who is holding the man. If he is bent on ruling himself, his strength will inevitably bring harm. Just look at history. But if he is yielded to God, his strength can help fix the world.

A Bunch of Bull

A Bunch of Bull

We were at a family reunion when I discovered this relic of a carnival game. It is in the same genre as the High Striker (the one where you swing a mallet to ring a bell). You literally grab the bull by the horns and squeeze. It is an awkward movement. I’m not really sure which muscle groups I was using but my rib cage hurt for a few days after.

The thing that kept me thinking about this game wasn’t the residual pain though, it was the scoring system. It was a basic list of names ranking the strength of each player. From boy to little man to superman (and everything in between).

It reminded me that most of the names people give us (and we take on) are tied to our production. It feels good to be praised for a rare ability and I think much of what we do is subconsciously aimed at securing applause.

In the words of Terry Pierce, “Remember that there are many people who think they want to be matadors, only to find themselves in the ring with two thousand pounds of bull bearing down on them, and then discover that what they really wanted was to wear tight pants and hear the crowd roar.”

But there is an inherent danger here. If my name (i.e. my identity) is derived solely from my performance, my worth will be constantly threatened. Because what happens when I fail to produce? Unfortunately the crowd is fickle.

We all need validation. It is core. I’m simply suggesting we fill this need by turning to an unconditional, unchanging source. 

I’m working hard to make sure my kids know my opinion of them is unrelated to how far they can turn the needle. I love them inherently. And this love was secure long before they could even sit up let alone wrestle a bull.

If this is true of my fathering, how much more so with God.


Jumping for Joy

Jumping for Joy

The world is a heavy place and there are serious people everywhere. It is true there are many things going on that require sobriety. But what do we do with all the weight? Are we supposed to keep the guard up indefinitely? Instead, I’d like to suggest jumping on a trampoline. 

This may sound like an endorsement for denying reality and shirking responsibility. But actually the opposite is true. If we are to face the things before us and offer the strength that is required, we are going to need some reserves.

A revived heart is a strong heart. And one of the best agents of revival is joy. Choosing to find joy is not an escape from trouble, it is a means of confronting it. To quote the rebuilder of walls, “The joy of the Lord is [our] strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

It is amazing what a front flip can accomplish in the fight against darkness.


Get the tile on the wall

Get the tile on the wall

I have unfinished work.

There are times I forget about the ant and drift in laziness. But there are other forces at play causing drag in my work. 

The two main factors are equal but opposite. On one hand there is too much to do. The workload is overwhelming so sometimes I do nothing. Then there are times I work until the point of exhaustion — driving hard because I’ve staked my identity on the feedback of others.
The second one looks productive but grasping for perfection generally results in projects that get stale because they are never finished. The high mark can’t be reached.

In both cases the work remains undone. 

But I learned a solution from my friend Dan. He is a master tile worker and he gave me some of the wisest work advice I’ve ever heard…

“Just get the tile on the wall.”

In other words, do something. One piece at a time and mistakes are ok. Simply start the work and pivot as needed. Sounds easy. But if it were I’d already be doing it. So where is the breakdown?

If I still believe it is up to me, I won’t be able to focus on one tile at a time, I will just stare at the big, empty walls. And if I believe I have to prove myself, the mortar will dry before I finish the first row.

First there has to be an internal shift — from running solo to operating as a son.

Once I see God as Father everything changes. If God is my Father, I have access to the reserves of heaven. So the amount of work is no longer overwhelming. And if God is my Father, my place in the family business is secure and there is no need to prove myself. No more striving.

From that place I can get to work and finally make some headway. Speaking of which, I finally got a toilet paper dispenser installed in the bathroom (it only took three months).

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