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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

In the beginning…

20 Sep

beginningThe Bible starts out with this phrase.

In the beginning…

God introduces the work of creation.  How we got here.  Why we got here.  Who put us here.  How did He do it?  The first book of the Bible, Genesis, assumes and highlights the existence, eternal nature, and sovereign power of God.

And then later on… like thousands of years later on… a Jewish man named John writes a biography about God’s Son Jesus Christ… starting with the same three words.

In the beginning…

And we’re not talking about the start of a new season.  We’re not tracing the history of some internet startup company or tracing your family tree or cracking chapter one of world history class.

We’re talking about THE Beginning.  First things.  The origins of mankind.

Way way back, farther than any other “way backs” we can think of or even begin to explain.

As John continues, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1).

With this “Word,” John is talking about Jesus.  God’s Son was there in the “way back” beginning – existing eternally with God well before arriving in a Bethlehem manger.  Jesus always was, always is.  So, when we begin to read the Gospel of John, we’re reading about Jesus Christ and God’s plan from the very beginning.

Needless to say, anyone who was with God from the beginning is worth watching, following, and trusting!

Needless to say, John’s story is a book worth reading.  Read it with me!

Our church begins an extended walk through the Gospel of John, starting Sunday with a series entitled “This Changes Everything.”  It’s a journey that originated in God’s mind and heart before the creation of the world, but is now revealed to us as we pursue a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s a plan to reveal God’s unconditional and perfect love through Jesus Christ for all who would believe and trust in Him.

And so we start the story where John starts it…

In the beginning…

 

 
 

Watching Games or Watching Dad?

17 Sep
Gary and his son, Luke, getting their game faces on at the OSU game.

Gary and his son, Luke, getting their game faces on at the OSU game.

Last week, we had the privilege of taking our kids to the Ohio State football game.  We had previously bought two tickets for me and Luke, and then a friend wound up sharing three more tickets with us so Jennie and the girls could go as well!  We’re grateful!

There’s something incredible about being in a stadium with 107,000 people who are rooting for the same team, the same goal, and the same result.

For about four hours, though, my focus was on just one of those 107K.

I enjoyed sitting with Luke.  We had some incredible fan experiences, like getting to high-five the players as they ran out to warm up.  Like getting J.T. Barrett’s autograph.  Like getting our picture taking with all-conference linebacker Joshua Perry.  The whole day was full of fun memories for two guys that love sports.

But for me as a father – and for Luke as a son – it was so much more.  We made memories together.  We had great conversations.  We had a great time talking about the game and about the players.  And, throughout all of these conversations, I’m thinking “dad thoughts.”

Things like, “encourage your son.”  “Listen to him.”  “Point out things we both can learn from the people we’re watching.”  “Talk about how grateful you are to get time with him.”  “Pray for the player who got injured.”

Football is not just our common interest, it becomes a common context to talk about life issues.  Like why a player got suspended.  Like how much money is involved in big games like this.  Like how hard these players have worked to get here.  Like what do former players do.  Like how God feels about every single one of these 107,000 people.

You mean, there’s more to life than football?  🙂

So, while we Dads can enjoy sporting events with our kids, we’ve got to focus on the greater challenge and opportunity to invest in our sons and our daughters.  For me, going to game is never just about going to the game.  It is just one more opportunity to prepare our children for the game of life.

As much as our kids enjoy watching Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones, or anyone else for that matter… they are watching their Dads and Moms so much more!

 

Where are you going, Periscope?

16 Sep

socialmediaYes, Periscope, I really like you.

I’ve only known you for two months, but I like you.

You’ve helped me connect – if only for a few moments – with people from all over the world.  New Zealand, Australia, Brooklyn, and Cleveland.

You’re free, easy to use, and helpful for “real-time” interactions, thoughts, conversations, and experiments.

You’ve helped me learn, all over again, the value of listening to others before speaking.

You’ve helped me practice and test out ideas, sermons, questions, and approaches to ministry.  You’ve allowed me a forum to speak a language that I think I’ll always love – the language of sports.  You’ve helped me capture moments that may seem routine and boring and learn to celebrate the personalities and interactions of others.

But you’ve also made me concerned.  Perhaps the power to make every person a broadcasting network isn’t always a good thing.  Perhaps the instant access to great conversation is also a venue to destructive personalities as well.  Perhaps the freedom to broadcast our lives would only serve to feed our addictions to attention, approval, celebrity, and control.

I don’t know where you’re going, Periscope, but you’ve got my attention.

Less than six months on the market, and you’ve got 14 million users.  You’re just getting started, and the “early adopters” are getting in line, but what’s next?

Where is this train going?

 
 

A Time to Laugh…

15 Sep
Just looking at these people makes me want to laugh - either with them or at them!

Just looking at these people makes me want to laugh – either with them or at them!

Throughout the course of my week at the church, there are serious moments and there are light moments.  Or, as the Bible tells it, life gives us “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

One of the signs of a healthy family or a healthy team is this: do we feel the freedom to laugh together.  Are we comfortable enough around one another to just bust out laughing or to crack each other up at times?

Show me a couple who laughs together, and I’ll show you a couple who stays married and in love.  Show me the family that laughs together, and I’ll show you that same family that loves one another and makes memories and forgives.

Show me the co-workers that laugh, smile, and bring joy to the office, and I’ll show you a productive team that any of us would love to work with.

A few minutes ago, our staff at church enjoyed laughing and sharing random, spontaneous comments at the end of our meeting together.  At the same time, we had a very productive, thoughtful, interactive meeting – we prayed together about some deep issues and concerns as well!

And I enjoy doing life and ministry with our staff team, and I’m grateful for the joy that was in that room.

Don’t be too proud to laugh at yourself or let others laugh at you sometimes as well.  If you are part of the human race, then you’ve probably said or done something funny in the last twenty-four hours.  It’s okay, perhaps even healthy and humble of us, to laugh at ourselves!

In my recent blog posts about faith and work, I’ve shared some serious thoughts about how God feels about our jobs.  One of the best things any worker can bring to the table or to the office is a smile and a heart of joy.  A willingness to laugh.  A willingness to even make others laugh.  Not at their expense, but at yours.  Take the initiative to make others smile.  Share something funny you saw or read lately.  Do something unexpected and spontaneous.

One time, after I came back to the office from a vacation, all of my co-workers had posted funny pictures and quotes around the wall of my office.  It was hilarious, awesome, and encouraging all at the same time.  They seized the opportunity to enjoy doing something silly together as a team.

Perhaps today is your time… in your marriage, with your kids, at your job, or even in your church.  It’s your time.  A time to laugh!

 
 

When Everything Changed

15 Sep

TCE_LogoWhen Everything Changed.  Can you remember the life-changing moments or decisions in your life?  Were there any “before and after” moments when you knew that life would never be the same?

1990 changed everything for this guy.  When I saw my face on that State of Ohio Driver’s License, it was on.

1996 changed everything as well.  Recently graduated from Grace College, I remember the feeling of getting my first actual full-time paycheck, and there was an immediate rush to the bank.  And soon the reality of paying my own bills.

2000 changed everything in all the right ways.  Saying “I Do” to the most incredible woman I’ve ever met, grateful to God and His timing in my life.  From lost in my singleness to found and blessed in the grace of marriage to Jennie, my best friend and love for life.

2004 changed everything and still does.  Allison was born with all sorts of tears, burps, and diaper noises – changing our Underwood lives and every moment since.  Then Luke in 2005 with the introduction of man to man defense.  And Julie sending us into zone coverage in 2008.

2012 changed everything in little ways, when our family welcomed that helpless little puppy, Rocky.

But this Sunday, I can’t wait to share the kind of “game changer forever” things that God has brought into my life and millions of others.  God is passionately in love with us, pursuing us, saving us, and raising us.

And this.  THIS.  CHANGES.  EVERYTHING.

 

How to Get Promoted!

14 Sep

FAW_LOGOGod cares more about your job than you do.  He knows the job description and how well you’re doing.  He sees the work environment and knows the challenges you face each day.

What the Bible says about hard work, interactions with your boss or co-workers, and your attitude – it’s not just spiritual, it’s practical!

In the first century, a church leader named Titus was urged to teach and encourage people in all jobs and in all walks of life.  Even slaves were to hear God’s guidance and contribute to God’s mission to build the church.  Listen to these words:

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” – Titus 2:9-10

Did you catch that last phrase, giving the reason for all these directions about life as a slave?  God uses all of us – even the slaves – to “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

In other words, God promotes SLAVES to become His EXAMPLES.

God promotes the LEAST to become the GREATEST.

The incredible good news of the Gospel would be on display in how each slave responded to his master, earned his or her trust, and lived a life of humble, genuine faith in the context of first-century slavery.

When I read these verses, my heart leaps at the opportunity to help others be “attracted” to the life-changing news about Jesus Christ.  Do you want to get promoted at work, or do you want God to hire you as His ambassador and influencer no matter what your profession?

If so, then keep these things in mind, straight out of Titus 2….

(1) Respect and obey your earthly supervisors.  #humility

(2) Become part of the solution at work instead of part of the problem.  #excellence

(3) Do not speak disrespectfully about or toward others.  #self-control

(4) Do not steal or cheat your boss or your company.  #integrity

(5) Earn the trust of those you work with.  #faithfulness

If you put these principles into practice each day, you’ll become a great co-worker, teammate, employee, and boss!  Even more, just like the “rags-to-riches” slaves in the Bible, you’ll be promoted to the eternally-rewarding role of making God’s teaching attractive to those around you!

 
 

Does My Job Define Me?

02 Sep

FAW_LOGOI’ll never forget my first “real job,” serving as a plumber’s assistant at Conrad’s Precision Plumbing in Hartville, Ohio.  While I was grateful for the opportunity, the learning experience, and the paycheck… I knew early on that it probably wasn’t my chosen career path.

Life as a plumber’s assistant helped me learn a lot about working hard, interacting with co-workers, respecting the boss, and choosing a positive attitude no matter what was going on around me.

This Sunday at Grace, we’re starting a 2-week series about our jobs.  Our lives at work.  Our career paths.  Our “nine-to-five” roles that often become part of our identity and the way we introduce ourselves…

“Hey, I’m Sally, and I’m a teacher.”

“I’m Urban, and I’m a college football coach.”

“I’m Madison, and I’m a stay at home mom.”

“I’m Kyle, and I was Gary’s boss back when he was a plumber’s assistant with us.”

We are so quick to attach our names with our jobs.  Countless times, I have introduced myself as “I’m Gary, and I’m a pastor at Delaware Grace.”

To be true, work does play a huge part in our lives.  It was always meant to be that way, according to the Bible and how God created us in God’s image.  In Genesis 1, God quickly assigns Adam and Eve the privilege of ruling over the animals, taking care of the earth, and “subdue-ing” it.  In other words, “Get to work – it’s part of why and how I’ve made you!”

I look forward to encouraging our people to get the most out of life at work, no matter what your circumstances are.  Even if you can’t stand your circumstances, your co-workers, your boss, or your work culture… God still wants to use all of these things to help us become better people.  To help you grow as His son or His daughter because of the already-finished work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Whether as a plumber’s assistant or a pastor, I need reminders that my identity, purpose, and value comes from God alone, and not from my job.   The same is true for you.  Your value and worth and identity does not have to come from your job, your employer, or your career field.

I love my job, but it’s not who I am.  It is not my identity.  My job does not define me.

God does… and He cares deeply about our perspectives on how and why we work!
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” – Colossians 3:23-24

 
 

Digital Invasion: Amazon

30 Sep

4005738_origIt’s one of the largest rivers in the world.

It covers much of South America.

It’s legendary for tropical and mysterious jungle-dominated terrain.

For centuries, the Amazon River has been a source of life and health for countless species.

However… in just a few quick years, this incredible creation has fallen to #2 on the list of “world’s most famous and influential Amazons.”

The Amazon River is NOT what anyone thinks of when we say the name.

These days, Amazon.com is one of the most dominant, popular places for buying and selling ANYTHING from ANYWHERE at ANYTIME.

Want to save money at Christmas time?  Go to Amazon.com.

Want to avoid the “hustle and bustle” of Black Friday?  Click to Amazon.com.

Need a last-minute birthday gift shipped directly to your loved ones?  You guessed it.  Amazon has us covered.

Not sure what you should buy as you head back to school?  They seem to know what you need over there at Amazon.

As much as anything about the digital world, Amazon has helped millions of people develop TRUST in online buying and selling.  Our family buys a lot of products – groceries, books, gifts, toys, and household cleaning supplies – all through Amazon.com.  We’ve turned to Amazon often for convenience, and we can purchase from our computer or cell phone at a moment’s notice.  As a result, one of our favorite Christmas or Birthday gifts has become the all-too-powerful Amazon Gift Card.Amazon-Gift-Card

Yes, Amazon has been a huge player in the Digital World, bringing us into an age where we can buy, spend, and order anything we want.  Has Amazon (and the instant gratification of shopping online) also brought some negative side-effects?  Is it far too easy to spend money by clicking and without thinking?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Just like anything with technology, I think it’s important for us to know WHY we are using something and HOW it works.  What insights or practices have helped you get the most out of Amazon?  Has Amazon presented any challenges to your financial life or your family budget?

 
 

They lost… again?!

24 Sep
Even the Browns' best play on Sunday was called back because of a careless offensive penalty.

Even the Browns’ best play on Sunday was called back because of a careless offensive penalty.

Nobody likes to lose.  Have you heard anyone say, “Man, I just can’t wait to lose the next game!  Crush me!”   Nobody ever says that.

But I grew up in Northeast Ohio, where the Cleveland Browns are still our only professional football team.  For more than twenty years, the team has brought disappointment and heartache to sports fans all over the state.   It’s no surprise at all that their stadium is affectionately called a “Factory of Sadness.”

This season, the Browns announced that things would be different.  The billionaire team owner, Jimmy Haslam, appointed a new general manager and a new head coach.  He insisted that the Browns draft a new franchise-leading quarterback – Johnny Manziel – one of the most famous college players of all-time!  The Browns invested millions in stadium upgrades and enormous screens and amenities for their ever-faithful fans.

But when the season started, one of their officials said, “None of these changes matter if we can’t start winning some games.”

And, though they have played tough and competitive, the Browns are 1-2 to start the season.  One win, two losses.  Sunday’s loss against Baltimore (the “old Browns”) came in the final seconds, as the Ravens kicked a field goal to win it.

Use all the cliches you want… “they played hard…” “they deserved to win…” “they looked good…” “they… ”

They lost.  End of story.

Losing can hurt – whether it’s your hometown sports team, your daughter’s soccer team, or your family’s UNO game.

Nobody likes to lose.

But… losing is a part of life.  Losses are often out of our control.  Losing implies that you hopefully tried to win and gives you the chance to improve and do better next time.  Losing might make us feel like quitting – and I’ve thought of rooting for a different team – believe me, it is hard to be a Browns fan!

In the end, it’s not the losing that defines us.  It’s how we cope with loss.  How we respond.  How we stay and commit and learn from our losses.  I hope the Browns get better, and I think they’ll beat the Steelers on October 12.   But there’s really nothing much I can do about it.

As one of my favorite writers – Terry Pluto – says regularly – “Don’t let the millionaires ruin your day.”

I think that’s good advice when it comes to any competition and any loss…. don’t let it ruin your day.

 
 

“Hi, I’m Gary, and I use Facebook.”

23 Sep

Facebook addictions are real.  It starts innocently, wanting to “stay in touch” or “see what so-and-so is doing” or “find pictures of my grandkids.”

But Facebook addictions start when we try to meet ACTUAL needs with VIRTUAL answers.

People turn to Facebook to cure loneliness.  Does it?

You can have a thousand Facebook “Friends,” but how many of them really know you?  The name doesn’t fit the reality that most of these are not “friends,” but rather, “people I may or may not have met at some point over the years.”

People turn to Facebook to relax and catch up at the end of the day.

But does Facebook really help you relax or reduce any stress at all?  I guess it depends on what your “friends” are posting at that time.  If they are angry, critical, sarcastic, or down… be careful and don’t let their thoughts get you angry, critical, sarcastic, or down.  Facebook attitudes can be contagious.

People turn to Facebook as a better alternative to e-mail.

I know I have.  It’s easy to get in touch with people and keep up a conversation, even as a group!  I love that!

Why do you turn to Facebook?  Did you know that more than 33% of divorces these days are caused by affairs and emotional connections that started over Facebook?  Did you know that most people spend twice the amount of time on Facebook than they think they spend?

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook can be a GREAT tool.  A GREAT avenue to connect with friends, encourage people, and keep up-to-date on what’s going on with the people that matter most.

But you have to get control of Facebook.

You can change the settings.  You can limit your time.  You can designate certain posts or pictures to certain friends.  You can get a Facebook accountability partner.  You can think through WHY you use Facebook and how much you will use it.

Personally, I enjoy Facebook, but I have learned to watch how it affects my time, my thoughts, my pride, my “need” for any affirmation from people, and my conversations with people.    If you use it, use it with thoughtfulness and take control of Facebook!