Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Resolved Against Resolutions

With the calendar poised to turn from 2010 to 2011, many of us think of this as a time for a fresh start. For some it means making resolutions to do things differently.

For instance, "I resolve to eat better." "I resolve to quit smoking." "I resolve to get into a regular exercise routine and lose 20 pounds." "I resolve to watch less TV and use my time more productively."

The problem with resolutions is they tend to be all or nothing. Once habits triumph over good intentions, we quit in resignation. "I knew I couldn't do it," we mumble, shrug, and return to our old ways. That's why for many years I've resolved not to make resolutions. Instead, I set goals.

Goals provide a target, something I can aim toward over a desired period of time: Where am I going? How am going to get there? How will I know when I've arrived?

Almost every New Year's Day I sit down and review my goals for the year past, evaluate them, and write down new goals. I even classify them according to different areas of my life: vocational, physical, spiritual, family, mental, financial, ministry, and hobbies

Some of these simply carry over from the past year - such as spending time daily to read the Bible, pray and meditate; exercising at least five times a week; maintaining a goal weight; devoting time to mentoring other men.

But other goals are brand-new, whether they involve my work, writing and editing; planning a special getaway with my wife; or setting new financial objectives.

The point is they give me something to shoot for. If I fail one day, all isn't lost. Tomorrow's another day. A goal can take the whole year to accomplish, like reading through the Bible. Or it can be short-term, such as losing any added holiday weight by March 1.

For me the process is as important as the end result. Hopefully, my goals provide guidelines to help me become a better husband, father, grandfather, worker, friend, and ultimately, servant of Jesus Christ.

I try always to remember, as Colossians 3:23-24 instructs us, "Whatever you do , do you work (even goal-setting) as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why All the Fuss About Christmas?

Almost all of us enjoy the common Christmas image of the babe lying in repose inside a stable, surrounded by loving mother and father, barnyard animals, shepherds, angels, maybe the three wise men – the Magi. But billions of children have been born through the ages, most of them cute and cuddly. Have you ever wondered, what’s the big deal about Christmas?

The “big deal,” of course, is first, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). If we are to believe the biblical account, God became “incarnate” – took on human form, leaving the realm of heavenly perfection to immerse Himself in the world of flawed, sinful humanity.

Second, this baby – Jesus, the Son of God, whom Hebrews 1:3 describes as “…the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” – grew not only to become a great teacher and example, but ultimately the Savior of mankind, willfully dying for our sins on a cruel, torturous cross. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

And there’s a third reason: The first coming of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago was just the prelude, a promise of His second coming. He told His disciples, “…at that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:27-28).

So Christmas morning, as we sit near lighted trees and open festively wrapped gifts, we should pause to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas: not Santa Claus, not gifts, but Christ.

We celebrate because Jesus came – but we also celebrate because we know He’s coming again!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hearty Anniversary to Me

Four years ago today I lay on an operating room table, ribs splayed open while a gifted cardiothoracic surgeon and his team performed four coronary artery bypass grafts (also known as CABG or “cabbage”), along with an aortic root replacement (correcting an aneurysm in my ascending aorta).

Richard Holbrooke, a distinguished U.S. diplomat, died just last week of an aortic dissection at the age of 69. So it’s serious stuff, for sure.

I don’t remember much about Dec. 20, 2006, although I’m told even under pre-op medication I was cracking jokes en route to surgery. Better than kicking and screaming. My wife says when she saw me the first time in surgical ICU that evening, I was ashen. Kinda like death warmed over (although I don’t know why anybody would want to do that).

What I do recall from the days immediately following was feeling like someone hit me in the chest with a pickup truck, and then backed up and hit me again for good measure. Not recommended. Having to spend Christmas Day in a hospital recovering wasn’t my preference, but I’ll always be thankful for the excellent care I received - as well as the good health I've experienced since then.

That’s why I volunteer at the hospital one day a week, encouraging patients who have undergone similar procedures. When I visit them, along with strongly recommending they engage in cardiac rehabilitation, I point out every morning upon awakening, they should remember they’ve received a gift – another day. The question is: What are they going to do with it?

It’s so easy to take everyday life for granted, presuming we’ll have tomorrow, next week, next year. So struggles like that are not only humbling, but also useful in recognizing, as Psalm 118:24 tells us, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Looking Behind the Scenes

Have you ever wondered about commonplace things, like how they put silver wrappers around Hershey’s Kisses? Or how they make cardboard packaging that goes around electric appliances we buy for our kitchens? Probably not. We enjoy items like these, but rarely stop to consider the “how’s” and “what’s” of producing them.

Recently, however, it’s been my privilege to learn the behind-the-scenes story of another commonplace commodity we encounter virtually every day: Carpet. How did the technology – and processes – come about for carpet to become such an integral part of modern culture?

Tufting Legacies, a newly published book I’ve written, answers that question. It tells the story of two remarkable families, the Cobbles and the Cards, who quietly sparked a revolution in carpet manufacture.

In particular it spotlights brothers Lewis and Roy Card. Their imagination, ingenuity and innovation advanced the mechanized tufting process, starting with a single-needle industrial sewing machine. One incremental step at a time, their work set the stage for the huge, computer-driven tufting machines now used throughout the world, not only in the United States but also in such diverse settings as Germany, Dubai, China, Russia and Australia.

My time spent interviewing, researching and writing this book probably makes me the foremost expert of all people who have never worked a single day in the tufting industry. But Tufting Legacies reveals what the “American dream” is really about: hard work and determination not to quit in the face of adversity. It also tells how a clearly defined sense of mission and values has been maintained through four family generations – a rare legacy in any field of endeavor.

Oprah won’t consider Tufting Legacies for her book club. But if you have any interest in manufacturing history, or would like to read about what it took to succeed in the early to mid-20th century, I think you’ll find this book interesting. It’s available at

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sunsets . . . and Other Acts of God

Talking with a friend earlier this week, it occurred to us that God could use a public relations makeover – because apparently many people think of Him only when bad things occur.

Take, for example, the common term used in insurance policies: “acts of God.” When we read that, we know it refers to calamitous events like hurricanes, tornados, floods, and tsunamis. So we’ve become convinced unless we want our day ruined, we should avoid acts of God at all costs.

But why don’t we think of other things as acts of God? Things like sunrises and sunsets, flowers in bloom, leaves changing color in the fall, snow transforming a nondescript street into a crystalline, wintry wonderland?

What about the birth of a baby, a child laboring over a crayon drawing for Mommy or Daddy, or a couple celebrating more than 50 years of marriage – and still obviously in love with and devoted to one another?

Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon? Talk about an act of God! Or viewed a majestic, snow-covered mountain peak? Or listened as waves relentlessly tumbled onto the shore?

I love going to places like SeaWorld or aquariums, where a wondrous variety of creatures cavort for our enjoyment – sharks, rays, killer whales, seals, walruses, otters, alligators, fish of all shapes and a myriad of colors.

Yes, some acts of God result in destruction and despair, often defying explanation, but so many of His other – typically unacknowledged – acts stir up wonder, delight and excitement. He wants us to enjoy His creation; and draw closer to Himself in the process.

As Romans 1:20 tells us, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Be the Change You Want to See

While visiting with a friend at a local coffee shop, I saw a sign that read, “Be the change you want to see.” I like that sentiment.

I’m convinced we’ve never lived in a time like this, when so much is being said by so many . . . about so little. We’re surrounded by talk and opinions, on radio, TV, even blogs. Too often, that’s all it is – talk. No action.

The adage, “A penny for your thoughts,” is accurate. That’s about all they’re worth. I’m convinced if you really believe something, and aren’t just attempting to add to the cacophony of voices surrounding us, you should do something about it.

That doesn’t mean we should try and do everything. We might not have the expertise (or opportunity) to heal the ailing economy; offer absolute solutions for world poverty; or possess savvy for overcoming ever-present problems of hatred and prejudice in our society.

But when there’s something you’re passionate about – and somewhat knowledgeable – it’s not enough to talk and spout opinions. Do something.

Not to toot my own horn, but there are a number of areas I feel strongly about, enough to be the change I want to see.

For instance, I believe many men yearn for more mature men to meet with, to help them wrestle with everyday personal and professional issues so they can become the people they want to be. So years ago I decided to give time each week to mentoring.

Having experienced the consequences of heart disease and challenges of recovery, I volunteer, to encourage recent open heart surgery patients and give suggestions from personal experience on how they can enjoy a rapid and full recovery.

And being convinced the majority of people professing to be followers of Jesus Christ have little understanding of how to apply principles from the Scriptures on a consistent, everyday basis, I have written books, articles, a weekly e-mail devotional called “Monday Manna,” and even this blog.

Am I doing a lot? I don’t know. Probably not. But I am doing something – at least in some small way, I am trying to be the change I want to see. Are you?

In the Bible, the apostle James is very convicting about this: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says…. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 1:22, 4:17). Look around you. If you feel strongly that something should be done, don’t just talk about it. Do something about it!