The thoughts and writings of Jeremy Keegan. You can follow or contact me on Twitter @JeremyKeegan

21st February 2014

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NOAH: Dark, Complicated Character.

I have said for a long time that there are so many great movies just waiting to be made from the Bible, finally they’re starting to catch on! There’s a new movie coming out next month, entitled “Noah.” This looks like perhaps the first really big ticket movie based on the Bible. Directed by Darren Aronofsky(Black Swan, The Wrestler), and starring Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, and the very amazing Russell Crowe playing Noah. It even has… wait for it… Nick Nolte! 

Now, this isn’t being remotely touted as a “Christian” movie. So, those of you who were hoping for an OT movie similar to Fireproof - you probably want to skip this one. Those of you who think Gladiator is one of the best movies ever, please proceed to the ticket counter now. 

That being said, I had a very interesting insight into the actual Bible tonight, via this movie. And here’s how. I saw the trailer on TV and wanted to know more, so I went to the IMDb app on my phone. In the trivia section, I found this:

Darren Aronofsky had been fascinated with the character of Noah since childhood, seeing him as a “a dark, complicated character who experiences real survivor’s guilt”.

Please open your Bibles to Genesis chapter 9, verses 20-23. To set the stage for this passage, the flood is over, the water’s gone, the rainbow is in the sky, and life is all happy once again. And we pick up the story of Noah with… 

Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded[a] to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

Do what?

Noah is drunk and passed out naked in his tent? I don’t get it. In fact, this is a part of the Bible I’ve been intrigued with for a long time because I’ve never understood it. First, why was he like this? Second, why would God put this in the Bible? 

Tonight, while perusing the trivia section of IMDb regarding the Noah movie, it hit me when I read these words: “…experiences real survivor’s guilt.” Mind = blown.

Think about what Noah likely saw from the boat as the waters rose. (this might be depicted in the movie, I’m not sure…) People were dying, and not in the very passive and silent way that some Biblical pictures in children’s Bibles might suggest. They were likely shrieking, and gasping for air, and animals were likely making horrible noises too. There were probably some people visible that he’d been friends with at one point. There were women and children. It was a deeply, disturbingly traumatic experience for someone to go through.

I believe God called Noah for the purpose he served, and granted him strength to get through those 40 days - for the overall good of the earth, mankind, etc. Noah had an enormous task to accomplish, and thankfully he did just that. 

But just like what happens to modern man when he goes through a traumatic experience - once the adrenalin wears off, and the moment’s over, you throw up and start shaking. The emotions are allowed to finally take root, and you relive it over and over, and it overwhelms you for a while. People need therapy and lots of support from friends and family. And yes, sometimes people cope by getting drunk. 

Noah got drunk, and passed out. That’s IN the Bible. It happened. And now, perhaps, I know why. Or at least there’s a potential good reason for it to have happened. 

And I think God put it in the Bible to show several things. First, for anyone who’s ever read that story and thought, how could Noah and his family simply just move on? Maybe they didn’t - maybe it WAS hard, and they did have survivor’s remorse, and guilt, and anger over the whole thing. They were real people with real emotions, and I think it’s pointed to in Genesis 9. 

Also, as man was made in God’s image, I think it could be a reflection of the pain God felt after it happened to. Not that He regretted it, or made a bad decision - this leads into a MUCH larger and tangent discussion that I won’t get into now; suffice it to say that I believe that somehow it was for ultimate good, since God did it. But that He wasn’t just immune to it or callous to it. He cared too, and He put Noah’s struggle in there - just those few verses - to maybe hint that what man felt in those days, God also felt in His own way. 

Now, I’m making a lot of assumptions, based off of a snippet of trivia on IMDb. I realize it’s not exactly perfect hermeneutics. But more about that part of the Bible seems to make sense to me now, and I’m glad.

I’ll be watching the Noah movie for sure - but not with my wife, because she hates sad movies. Spoiler alert: most of the people in that movie WILL die in the end.  

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4th February 2014

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Things may come to those who wait…but only the things left by those who hustle.
— Abraham Lincoln

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4th February 2014

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Like A New Man. For $100.

It has finally happened - I got a new full-time job this week. June 19, 2013 is when I was permanently laid off from Rosetta Stone, and now, 228 days later, I was offered a full-time job once again. I’m going to be an Area Manager overseeing 5 cell phone stores in western Virginia. My boss’s title is Regional Manager, so I guess that makes me Assistant to the Regional Manager…? (hopefully someone gets that)

Anyway, I’m excited and I start soon. BUT, my wardrobe is severely lacking in professionalism. I’ve mostly been either a blue-collar guy wearing jeans and flannel, or a creative slacker wearing jeans and hoodies. I had a severe lack of actual “business professional” wear - until today.

Why am I sharing this? Good question - it’s a bit off from my usual. For those who don’t know, I love The Art of Manliness website. And it talks a lot about how to dress, groom, and act like a real man. I’ve never really needed to dress like a real man before, but I’ve read lots of articles they’ve written and been influenced by them. So, I took that advice and went shopping, in search of a grown-up, professional look - but for a bargain! My main goal was not to spend very much money, but to have all I would need to do this job for quite a while, and look like a manager of managers too.

I went to two Goodwill stores, TJ Maxx, and Walmart and found everything I needed, for $100. My wife suggested TJ Maxx for a leather belt (had a black one, needed a brown one), and wouldn’t you know, they had one for $3.50. I couldn’t believe it! I went to Walmart to get some undershirts and dress socks (for about $20), to add to what I already had. All the rest I found by just going to two Goodwill (or thrift) stores and taking my time poking around and trying things on. Here’s what I came away with for around $70:

- 1 black wool blazer

- 7 pairs of dress pants (3 brown, 2 black, 2 gray)

- 8 dress shirts (2 white patterns, 1 pink, 1 purple, 1 green, 1 light aqua, 1 light blue, 1 dark gray)

- 1 new tie

I tried everything on to make sure they were a good fit, and inspected all garments top to bottom for any quality issues, and found none.

These add to the few shirts/pants I already have to give me a wardrobe that I can mix and match in many different combinations so that, although I only have about 10 complete outfits, I can go for over a month without ever wearing really the same outfit. I also have a couple of V-neck sweaters, some ties (not that I have to wear ties, luckily), and another blazer I can pair with these items giving even more variety.

I already sort of feel like a new man because of the transformation I’ve gone through over the last 7 months, but now I will look like a new man as well, and for a very reasonable price.

So, if you’re wanting to “man up” your wardrobe, remember to check at thrift stores first. It takes some time and a lot of picking through, but you can really class things up without spending a lot of money. If you do your homework first, and know what types of materials to search for, and what basic rules to adhere to for mixing and matching wardrobe, (and that’s where the Art of Manliness website comes in handy) you’ll come out looking like a million bucks, and only you will know you did it for a fraction of that.

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25th January 2014

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Swapping Stories & The Magic of Friendship

Several years ago I was asked to be a character witness in a divorce trial for a good friend of mine. He was a somewhat older man, and I knew him because I kept my horse at his farm. I agreed to come in and support him in whatever way I could, and that would mean being a witness in the trial. I was surprised the day of to find out that a) there were about 8 character witnesses in all, and b) that we’d be waiting all together in a room for hours before it would be our turn to enter the court and give our statement.

We were in a small county courthouse in Virginia, so it wasn’t anything fancy (though the courtroom itself was quite nice if I remember - kind of like a church sanctuary). But the room we were put in was pretty stark. Cinder block walls, painted white, a conference table in the middle and metal folding chairs around it were our only accommodations. We were allowed to go get a drink or use the restroom, and we had a lunch break, but otherwise we were essentially locked up together in that small room for the day. We arrived at 8am, and while several people were called at odd times throughout the day (and then were allowed to leave), my time didn’t come until about 4:30pm.

I didn’t know a single person in the room with me. The good news was, we were all there for a common purpose - to support our friend (or for some it was their family member). Over the course of the hours we spent together with nothing to do, we all talked. And talked, and talked. We found out what we all did for work, where we all lived, how we knew the man we were there to represent, and all other manner of relative knowledge. And of course, once we were familiar with each other, the pattern of conversation shifted into storytelling. I would tell of a time he and I had something funny happen with a horse. Then his son would share a similar story. His neighbors would chime in with another. And around the circle we went. Later into the afternoon, I talked more in depth with his son who was about my age and found out we had some similar ideas rolling around in our heads about theology and we engaged in that for a while.

At the end of the day, what was the result? I had 8 new friends. People who I didn’t know a bit that morning, through the process of talking and sharing stories for a few hours, were now considered friends.

This week my dad had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. I went down to Winston Salem to be with them at the hospital during the surgery. My dad’s pastor and his wife also came, and I met them for the first time. When my mom went back to be with dad during the prep part (which was about an hour and a half), I figured we could either look at our feet and ignore each other, or we could start talking and pass the time. I scooted over on the couch of the waiting area and struck up a conversation. They were just as happy to reciprocate.

So, we talked for a few hours, had lunch together, and talked for a few more during the surgery and after. We swapped stories, and found many commonalities. And of course, you can guess the results - we became friends in short order. They stopped to visit mom and dad at their house a few days later while I was there and it was like a reunion.

How does this happen? When I start a new job, it takes days even weeks sometimes to become friends with new coworkers. Same for people in a new neighborhood. What is different about these situations is that you basically go straight past the idle chit chat we so often engage in and go straight into storytelling and sharing common experiences - and THAT’S the stuff that forms friendship. It’s like attending a one-day intensive conference on the person instead of studying them for a semester. While saying “Hi, how are you? Good. I’m good to. See you later” is polite, it doesn’t form any type of real relationship. You can say that every day for years to a person and not know them a bit. Sitting down, swapping stories, sharing experiences, eating food together - that’s what forms real relationships.

It turns out this is what God does as well. The Bible is a very condensed (although expansive) account of His and our life stories, of shared experiences, of commonalities. God’s mode wasn’t just to keep us at the “Hey how are you” level of intimacy - but to draw us in, deep. To the beginning, and all the way through to the end. There’s reasons and explanations and how to’s all throughout the Bible - not just casual stories, but stories that have deep and eternal meaning. And if you sit down with the Bible and read for hours at a time - you will experience the same type of rapid relationship formation that I’ve experienced at the courthouse and hospital. You will become quickly acquainted with God and see how you (and all humans) relate to Him and how we need Him.

Jesus came to BE the shared experience with all humanity. He walked the earth, swapped stories with real people, ate with sinners, and shared in the pain of this world with us. It’s this shared experience that allows us to know Him and Him to know us so well. We’ve trod the same soil and eaten the same bread. Our hearts have ached over death and injustice together.

God reaches out to us and wants to know us. Jesus said in Matthew 7 that some people didn’t get into Heaven because He never knew them. If someone doesn’t know God, it’s not because God hasn’t made Himself available for conversation. It’s because we have seen Him sitting across the waiting room, and chosen to sit on our couch and keep our eyes down instead of going over and engaging. Read the Bible, pray, and look for God in this world and you WILL find Him. Reading the Bible will be an intensive get-to-know-you session, and the more you read, the better you will know Him.

Swap stories with God. Sit and talk a spell. It will form a friendship that will last beyond a lifetime.

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15th January 2014

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The only way to lead a symphony is to turn your back to the crowd, the critics, the court.

Ann Voskamp. aholyexperience.com

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13th January 2014

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The Weeding Out Process: UPS & Jesus

Getting hired on as a UPS driver, even as temporary holiday help, is not easy. You first have to attend a group interview with an HR rep. There was a guy who arrived just 2 minutes late, and he was turned away and not allowed in. “Being on time is important here at UPS. Please reschedule for a different day and time.” Some of us who had been on time exchanged glances that conveyed mild shock. They weren’t messing around.

From that first moment when I started the process, I began to realize slowly that the process to bring someone into UPS is also designed to be a process to keep people out of UPS. And that is a good thing.

First, you have to be on time to your interview. During the interview they tell you no holds barred what to expect, and how hard it will be, and if you think this will lead to full-time then you’re wrong, so leave now if this isn’t for you. Two people left when they said that. Next, you get to show up and do a driving test in one of the trucks that has a manual transmission. I did fine, but at this point, many people failed. Then you complete an online safety course and have to pass several tests in order to move on. That process took me roughly 8 hours over several days. There were probably many people that had gotten this far that either didn’t pass, or didn’t want to go through the 8 hours of online learning and testing and just dropped out. And there was lots of paperwork and background info to fill out all the while.

IF you make it through all of that, you get enrolled in a week-long training program in D.C. You stay at a hotel every night and train for almost 12 hours every day, studying in the evenings. There is a HUGE amount of information thrown at you the first day and it doesn’t slow down from there. If you don’t meet dress code any of those days (uniform ironed, face shaven, shoes polished, etc.) - you are dismissed immediately. There are at least 8 assessments you have to pass, including 2 driving assessments, and the pass line is 85% or higher. One or two people dropped out mid-week, and 4 more failed out on Thursday. Out of my initial group from the interview the first day - I was the only one to make it to the training program. Out of the 20 of us enrolled in the training program that week, only 14 graduated.

I had to then wait 2 weeks until I began on-route training, learning the route I would do during the holidays. It took enormous energy to put into practice all I’d learned, in a real-time, real-world scenario, with real people counting on me. It took a lot of mental effort to learn all the ins and outs of the actual geography of the route (where roads change names, and how that affects the numbering system of houses, what door to go in at various businesses, what times schools close, how to accurately locate houses that have no number, etc.). And continuing to learn how to use the handheld scanner we carry and in general how to be more efficient.

And every day it just got busier and busier, and I was asked to do more and more, well beyond what I thought I was capable of. There were a couple temp drivers that quit part of the way through. But there were at least 3-4 of us who stuck it out. And you know what? That’s exactly what UPS was looking for - people who would stick it out.

Reflecting back on the whole process, I think that’s the point of it. To week out all the myriad of people who just want to have a job and make money, but who aren’t willing to put in the effort necessary to do what UPS needs them to do. And that is, show up to work every day, deliver all your packages on time, in a safe manner, and keep coming back for more all the way through the end of the crunch. The process collected the right type of people to do the job they needed us to do.

And I think Jesus did the same thing. Here are some of His teachings from the Sermon on the Mount:

- unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven

- anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…. anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

- if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.

- I tell you, love your enemies

- Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

- narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

- Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father

These were very difficult things to accept and live by in that day and time. The main religious practice at the time was to have a set of rules that, if followed, guaranteed you blessing. If you follow the rules, you’re fine. Jesus throws that theory out the window in the Sermon, saying that these matters go much deeper than they believed (it’s not just murder, it’s angry words you think even). It’s not just the outward appearance and actions that matter, but what’s in the heart. And not only that - the list Jesus gives for people to “obey” is an impossible list. NOBODY could ever follow those guidelines, and that was His point exactly, that man can’t save himself. We NEED Jesus because it’s bigger than simple rules, and it’s impossible without Him.

When Jesus taught in John 6 about how He is the bread of life - the thing that truly gives sustenance to our souls, the one essential we can’t live without - people walked away.

- On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

- From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

But the twelve disciples didn’t leave. They stayed.

"Have I not chosen you, the Twelve?"

Now, I’m not saying that this is the ENTIRE understanding of Jesus’ teachings mind you - that He made them hard to weed people out. In fact, the Gospel does indeed draw people in, and we have many examples of that. Christ is available to everyone and He desires everyone, from a salvation standpoint. But I think there was a bit of a weeding out process that also came through in His teachings and His actions. When He sent the disciples out to preach in the towns, He told them if the people didn’t accept their message, shake the dust off their feet and move on. Jesus said you would have to leave father and mother to follow Him. And while His ways are FOR everyone, they are hard to follow.

Why then? Who does He want to weed out?

In John 6, it was the people who were just there for the food and the show. And I think it’s the same today. Many Christians enjoy the food and show aspect of their faith, but don’t want to invest beyond that. They show up for the good music, and they never miss an opportunity to attend a potluck, but when it comes to getting that Bible out every day and reading it, talking with friends, family, and sometimes strangers about faith, and practicing the presence of God on a daily basis - that’s too much work and they just drop off.

If you think about what God’s message to the people of this world is, it’s that life WITH HIM is redeeming and worth it. The poster child if you will for that message isn’t the casual country-club Christian. It’s the Ann Voskamps and Brother Lawrences, and Brennan Mannings of the world. People who lived with God and loved God and who were much more deeply ensconced in the spiritual life than the casual observer.

Again, salvation is for all, and is desired for all. But I think there is a weeding out process woven into the teachings of Jesus that, when fought through and persevered upon by believers, brings about just the kind of people God wants to do His work in this world.

Kind of like the UPS. Kind of…

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6th January 2014

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Ten Years In Books

I’m a list maker. Not lists of things I need to do as much as lists of things I’ve done. This stems in large part from my horrible memory. I have a hard time remembering things: what movies I’ve seen, memories from childhood, etc. So, ten years ago, for some random reason, I began keeping a list of what books I had read. I started in 2004, and as of last week, the list has continued to be updated for 10 years! In 10 years, I managed to read 240 books, an average of 24 per year, or 2 per month. Here are my reflections on 10 years’ worth of my reading choices.

I started out slow, only reading 6 books my first year. Then things increased year after year to the point where I read 40+books in 2010, and 51 books in 2011. In 2012 I began to cool off only reading in the 30s, and this year I read a paltry 17 books. A nice sine wave if you can imagine it that way. As I went back over the list, I put everything into 3 large categories: fiction, non-fiction, and spiritual. I read 61 works of fiction, 44 works of non-fiction, and 135 books in the Christian/spiritual realm.

I thought about putting up the whole list, but then realized it’s probably only interesting to me, so I decided to just put up my 10 favorite books in each category. Keep in mind, these aren’t the “best books ever” of a category, just the “best books of the ones I read” of a category. (in no particular order)

10 BEST FICTION BOOKS THAT I’VE READ IN THE LAST TEN YEARS:

1.  Going Postal - Terry Pratchett (hilarious and ingenious series!)

2. A Painted House - John Grisham (I love all Grisham books, but this is my fav)

3. The Gunslinger - Stephen King (masterfully written and deeply engaging)

4. The Pawn - Steven James (the first of a series of 8 that I am addicted to)

5. Ender’s Game - Orson Scott Card (can’t believe I didn’t read this as a kid, but glad I did as an adult)

6. O Jerusalem - Larry Collins (really eye-opening about the Middle East)

7. Mexico - James Michener (wonderful historical fiction)

8. For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway (perhaps one of my favorite stories ever)

9. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis (can’t wait to read this to my kids)

10. The Circle Trilogy - Ted Dekker (incredibly inventive, fictional take on the Biblical narrative)

10 BEST NON-FICTION BOOKS THAT I’VE READ IN THE LAST TEN YEARS:
1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig (my most favorite philosophy book ever, and an amazing story)

2. Palm Sunday - Kurt Vonnegut (if you like Vonnegut, this is essential)

3. In A Sunburned Country - Bill Bryson (highly educational about Australia, and hilarious to boot)

4. The Mindful Carnivore - Tovar Cerruli (extremely well-written piece on mindful hunting)

5. On Writing - Stephen King (the best book on writing I’ve ever encountered)

6. Love and Logic: Magic for Early Childhood - Fay and Fay (this book saved us as parents when we had toddlers - a must read for parents!)

7. Love and Respect - Emerson Eggerichs (the most straight-forward examination of what’s wrong in most marriages and how to fix it)

8. The Art of Manliness - Brett McKay (great man stuff)

9. Darkness Visible: Memoirs of Madness - William Styron (an insider look at depression, written by a pro)

10. The Total Money Makeover - Dave Ramsey (this book got us out of debt and has saved us so much money over the years, it had to be on the list)

10 BEST CHRISTIAN BOOKS THAT I’VE READ IN THE LAST TEN YEARS:

1. One Thousand Gifts - Ann Voskamp (short of the Bible, this is the most essential book I’ve ever encountered for living the Christian life)

2. The Shack - William Paul Young (incredible look at grace and forgiveness)

3. Searching For God Knows What - Donald Miller (my favorite of his, but I love all of his books)

4. The Screwtape Letters - C.S. Lewis (great explanation of how the spiritual battle is waged)

5. The Ragamuffin Gospel - Brennan Manning (a book on grace that will draw tears)

6. Where Is God When It Hurts? - Phillip Yancey (important book on some of the most difficult situations people face in life)

7. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount - John Stott (a great explanation of the most important sermon of Jesus)

8. Knowing God - J.I. Packer (there is a ton of great stuff in here, but the concept of adoption is what I’ll always remember)

9. The Knowledge of the Holy - A.W. Tozer (after reading this book, I finally began to understand who God is a lot better)

10. No Perfect People Allowed - John Burke (after reading this book, I stopped judging other people and finally saw that God wants everyone)

It was a lot of fun looking back over the list and remembering all the good and bad books I’ve read. Luckily not too many bad ones. Looking ahead into this year, I plan on finishing another Michener book that I started back in July. I also plan to read some books on father relationships with sons and daughters. I’d also like to get into some deeper theology books too. But we’ll see what happens I guess. The one thing I’m sure of is that I’ll continue reading - it’s played such an important role in helping to shape who I am today, it’ll be interesting to see how it continues shaping me in the future.

Got any good recommendations for what I should read? I’d be glad to hear them.

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1st January 2014

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The 3 x 3 Plan

As much as I try to tell myself I am not the type of person that “has” to have New Year’s resolutions - because I’m capable of change any time of the year - I also find myself saying, “January 1st I’ll go back to eating better,” etc. So, that being said, I have a New Year’s resolution yet again.

My life had been very stable and predictable for many years, and as a result I was able to develop some very good habits around that life. Ever since I lost my job 6 months ago, things have been very unpredictable and stressful and constantly changing, and as a result, I’ve developed some very poor habits that need routing.

I love simplicity, and this plan couldn’t be more simple to remember and do. It’s a 3-prong plan, with 3 items under each prong. Each prong is an area of my life that is important to me, and one that I feel needs improved upon this year. The three items under each prong encompass the whole of the prong.

AREA 1: SPIRITUAL

I firmly believe three simple tasks a day will feed your soul with all it needs for the rest of your life. Those three tasks are:

1. Read the Bible

2. Pray

3. Give Thanks

I’ve said so much on those in the past, and yet, in the confusion of the last 6 months, I’ve lost my way with them. I’m feeling the lack of them in my life in the way I talk and think, and I need them back. In addition to doing these three personally, we’re going to start giving thanks together and reading the Bible together every time we have supper together as a family.

AREA 2: PHYSICAL

Early as an adult, I used the 2 Timothy verse about “exercise profiteth little…” to tell myself if I just read my Bible I’ll be happy no matter how I look or how much I weigh. I really did that. I now believe that I am more than my soul, and the better I take care of my body, the more at peace I will be and the more ready I will be to do God’s bidding. I’m also getting older and seeing some friends 10 years older than me starting to have back surgery, etc. and I want to take steps now to avoid that as my own future. These three things are simple to do and I was doing them just a few months ago daily:

1. Pushups/SItups

2. Stretching

3. Eat Right

I am not an exercise nut - I’m not going to be running or going to the gym. Luckily, at least for now, I have a job that requires a lot of physical activity 5 days a week. Add to that a few simple things to retain some muscle strength (especially core strength), stretch out good 2-3 times a week to avoid injury, and just don’t shovel unhealthy food into my system and I’ll be good to go.

AREA 3: RELATIONAL

This one had been probably the one I was doing the best with before I started working for UPS, and is the one suffering the most currently. There are 3 “simple” but extremely important elements under this one:

1. My wife

2. My son

3. My daughter

It has been quite difficult to be away from them so much after all the time I spent with them when I was out of work. The basic premise here is to just spend quality time with each one individually, and do things as a family when we’re able to. I can’t simply focus on myself and hope they’ll be fine too. I MUST be an engaged father to my son and daughter, and I must continue to find ways to date my wife and spend time connecting with her and supporting her too.

The good news is, this plan really is easy to do. It’s a little reorganizing of my priorities in the morning - less watching ESPN and more time doing things that actually matter. And it’s being cognizant of my responsibility to my family - to work hard to provide for them, but to get home as soon as possible every evening too in order to spend more time with them.

Whether you like the idea or not, January 1 IS a good opportunity to make some changes in your life. Take a good look at your priorities today. If there’s room for improvement, put a simple plan in place to bring about positive change.

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25th December 2013

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I Made It! My Journey As A UPS Holiday Driver

Today is Christmas, and that means I officially made it through the busy season of the parcel delivery business. I was hired in November to be a temporary delivery driver for UPS, to help through the holiday season. I had no idea what I was in for…

Since it was so surprising to me what it was really like compared to what I thought it would be like, I thought it would be interesting to share an inside perspective on the experience. First of all, they give you a uniform (in fact, I have 6 and a half uniforms), jacket, vest, and hats to wear - but you have to supply the shoes. I bought a pair that has worked out pretty well - but two things they don’t tell you you’ll need - things that are very important indeed - are chapstick and gloves. My lips have never been drier, and chapstick is applied 2-3 times a day on average. You can’t be without it! Gloves are also a daily necessity. You might not know it, but if you handle packages all day bare-handed, by the middle of the afternoon you will have totally black hands - gross! And, as the weather changes a lot around here, you will need gloves of varying thicknesses. BUT, that’s not all. The gloves also have to be touch-sensitive, so you can use your phone and DIAD regularly. You can’t be taking your gloves on and off 100 times a day, so this is an important quality. They also must be thin enough to have good dexterity, but durable enough to last for a few weeks, and have good grip so packages don’t slip out of your hands. I never knew finding gloves for this job would be so challenging, but it has been. Gorilla grip are pretty much the best I’ve found and they’re also quite cheap.

I also had no idea just how well you have to know an area in order to deliver there. I have lived 5 miles from New Market for almost 10 years now, but I was virtually lost my entire first week of driving that route. I eventually got my hands on some maps and spent time on the weekends adding more detail to those maps, and eventually got to the point that I don’t need the maps anymore because my brain is now a highly detailed map of the area. I could tell you where any address is on any street or road in a 5 mile radius from the center of town. It was a challenge at times, but I now know the numbers to many houses that don’t have numbers posted, the ins and outs of a single street that changes names 5 times as it passes through town, and just how to get to some very well-hidden apartments in old houses downtown.

The pace you have to maintain throughout the day (during this time of year when there is a lot of deliveries to make each day) is… fast. The saying goes, “If the wheels or your feet aren’t moving, you’re wasting time.” The single most frustrating thing to a UPS driver during this time of year is when your internal clock hits about 30 seconds of stillness and you realize you are wasting time. There are several common causes of this: 1) having to collect a COD (most of the time it’s not a big deal, but often people are not in nearly as much of a hurry to write a check as you are to collect it and run), 2) bulk stops (when you have 30-40 packages for a business, and the door you have to go through every time has a 4-digit code to punch - going in AND going out - AND you have a different truck today that doesn’t have a hand truck on it), 3) not being able to find a package.

As not being able to find a package is the MOST frustrating, I’ll spend a little time on that. Sometimes, simply due to human error, a package gets loaded in the wrong place in the truck. Usually you find it later in the day and you just have to circle back and deliver it. Sometimes, due to human error, the package you are looking for was accidentally loaded on someone else’s truck. So, after you’ve spent a maddening 5 minutes searching every shelf, and then searching again later in the day, you find that it was never there in the first place. And oftentimes, the truck is so heavily loaded in the morning that when I head out on winding, bumpy, country roads, it tosses the back of the truck like a salad and packages to every which way and change shelves, and form nice piles you have to sift through every stop for the first 2-3 hours until things finally all start staying put. Trouble finding several packages in a row early in the day can set a sour tone on the rest of the day. Contrarily, being able to locate packages quickly throughout the day keeps you smiling.

In addition to these daily travails, other things pop up that can stress you out. First and most inevitable being increases volume every day up till Christmas. I got home several times at 10:30pm, and often around 9pm. Each day I left around 7-7:30am. Two weeks ago, we also got the additional stress of ice and snow. We still had to deliver in these conditions, but we got backed up due to roads not being cleared, so we were behind for several days and constantly trying to not get stuck on bad roads.

To say the least, I am VERY glad today is Christmas. The worst is over, and I made it through. I delivered all my packages (at times with help from other drivers), and I did it safely (only getting stuck twice, but getting myself unstuck both times).

I met many interesting people on the route (the guy who came to the door in the tighty whiteys, the man in the mental health home who looked at me and said “Boo”, a nationally renowned woodworker, and many others). I encountered many dogs on my route too, some so nice they jumped in the truck when I arrived and wanted petting, some so mean they wanted to jump in the truck and kill me.

It has been a very memorable experience, and it may be almost over. I might get to work a couple more days, but after that, I expect to be laid off as I was only temporary help. Maybe, just maybe though, I’ll get the chance to do it full time. If they ask me, I will think about all these things, and say “yes please.”

Now you know a little more what it’s like being a UPS man during the holiday season. Thank yours next time you see him/her.

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2nd December 2013

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How Writing Brings Perspective to Your Life

I was listening to an encore presentation of a story my local NPR station had done a while back, with their guest being Timothy Wilson, who has released a new book called “Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change.

One of the things Mr. Wilson talks about is how the simple act of writing can bring about positive change in your life. One practical example of how would be someone who experiences a traumatic event and is having a hard time dealing with it. They would have the person write about the event from someone else’s point of view, or from a fly on the wall’s perspective and talk about the reasons that might have been behind what happened. This helped the people to get some distance from their direct emotions and gain some new perspectives on it, thus helping them move past it in a constructive way better than those who didn’t engage in these writing exercises.

Another thing that his research found was that people struggling with losing weight, or making good grades in school - if they were to simply pick something they cared a lot about (relationships, family, their values, religion, etc) and write about it and why it was important to them, just once in a while, the folks who did would see an increase in their performance in the areas they were struggling with. Writing about something they valued made them think more about the people and things important to them, thus motivating them to make better decisions, try harder, etc.

I found all this to make a lot of sense, and seem relatively common sense. Not “obvious” mind you, for if it was obvious, everyone would do it. But important for me was that it stated something I’ve found to be true in my life for a long time, but never quite had a way of explaining. I have been blogging for maybe 7 years now. I also write in a journal regularly, and in addition to that, I write down things I’m thankful for regularly. A lot of what I write about is the Bible, my life happenings, relationships in my life, and parenting. And I think I’ve gained a better perspective on those subjects in part due to writing about them so often. 

Writing forces you to think about something to a greater extent than you normally do. Our brains are all too eager to hurry on past the bad things that happen and skip in and around big issues that are hard to figure out, and we never really make any headway in dealing with things like that. Stopping to write about them, really anything about them, causes us to slow down, think things through more thoroughly, and very often gives us new ideas and thoughts we wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t taken the time to write it out. 

This was made most apparent to me through my first year of writing down things I was thankful for. The more I forced myself to write things down, the more I saw I had to be thankful for - so many things I wouldn’t have noticed without stopping to write.

I encourage you, no matter what your situation in life, to take time from time to time to write about things that are important to you. Write from different perspectives. Write about what you value. These very simple tasks truly can have a positive influence in your life. There is no right or wrong way, you just need to do it.

One last thing - here’s something I did this week: when you are really thankful to someone for doing something, actually write them out a quick thank you note and mail it. It helps you put actual words and thoughts around why you were so thankful, and it is an absolute treasure to the person receiving it. It also emboldens both of you to do more things to help others out in the future, and puts some genuine meaning behind those words “Thank you.”  

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29th November 2013

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Substance Over Shadows This Holiday Season - Matt Chandler →

"Substance Over Shadows > The Village Church"

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29th November 2013

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Opportunities to Minister Abound

This isn’t the first time it’s happened to me. In fact, the first time it happened was over 10 years ago now. It was at the time in my young adulthood that I finally became subordinate to God, and wanted to live like that was true. I had left one job and was starting a new job as a carpenter, building houses.

The first day I started, it was as evident to me that nobody else was a Christian there as it was to them that I was one. We didn’t even have to talk about it, just the way we talked told the story. I thought to myself, "There will be no opportunities to minister here in this job." OK, I probably didn’t think that exact thought, but that’s the impression I got - that I would merely be a Christian in a non-Christian place, but nothing would ever come of it.

But I became friends with the guys on my crew over time, and to my utter surprise, there were in fact opportunities for me to minister to them as a Christian. From being asked to pray for ill relatives, to being asked marriage advice, to being asked to explain “The Passion of the Christ” - I was blown away by the opportunities that came my way, in a place where I thought there was no opportunity. But see, I don’t always think like God thinks. We Christians tend to think that ministry will only find purchase in the soil of Christian places. But God wants to sow the seed of ministry out where it doesn’t seem like it would grow, just to prove that it can grow anywhere. He wants EVERYONE to experience Him.

So, the next major job I had was working for seven years at Rosetta Stone, and my first impressions there were that it was a very multi-cultural, liberal, non-religious place. But even there opportunities abounded. Petitions for prayer, advice, talks on parenting struggles, Biblical passage explanations, and opportunities for me to talk with atheists about how God helped me do my job. I was once again surprised by the opportunities to minister.

So, I should know by now, right? But I’m only an imperfect human… I started a temporary job with UPS as a delivery driver a few weeks ago. I basically work in two environments there: one is in the actual building we leave and come back to every day, and the other is out in the community were my route is. My experience of being in the building is that it is loud, fast-paced, and raucous. And out on route, every second I spend at a stop is cumulative time wasted for the overall day, so I have to go, go, go! "There won’t be any time to minister in this job for sure…" But of course, there has been already. I have made deliveries to many people who are shut-ins. Treating them with respect and being polite, and taking just a few extra seconds to smile and be patient with them gives them dignity and makes them feel good, and that’s ministry I can easily do every day. And I’VE been ministered TO as well. There is a family-run business I get to stop at several times a week, and the woman there frequently offers me a bottle of water and a couple of chocolates, and they smile when I arrive, and it’s an oasis in the middle of my hectic afternoons, even just for a minute or two.

So, my point is, no matter what job you have, no matter where you work - even if you work from home - never underestimate the opportunities that are out there for you to minister to others. God ALWAYS has a way, and usually it’s one we couldn’t have thought up. If you are open to possibilities, and if you pray for opportunities, they will be there. Opportunities to minister to others abound in your life, if you have eyes to see them, and a heart to do them.

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24th November 2013

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Olive Us →

My wife was recently fishing around on Vimeo for new videos for the kids to enjoy. With our Roku box, we watch a lot of Vimeo on the TV. She stumbled upon a great series featuring 6 siblings called “Olive Us.”

We haven’t watched all of them yet, but we’ve seen about a dozen episodes so far, and we just love them. The show has equal appeal for both parents and kids. It has a catchy little jingle, and is wonderfully filmed, but more importantly there is a good message behind it. The show “showcases values we care about like working hard, being kind, helping each other, being creative, problem solving and staying positive even when frustrating things happen.”

So, either pop on over to their website (linked above), or check them out on Vimeo like we do! Enjoy!

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3rd November 2013

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Sermon Notes 11.3.13 - The Prejudice of Jesus

My family has been sick for a L O N G time, and we were all finally healthy enough to return to church this week. And we were sure happy to be there. Getting to see a lot of friends we hadn’t seen in a while, and meeting some new couples in our class. And I’ve missed hearing a good sermon - and today’s was good. It was given by one of HMC’s pastors, Jake Lee, and can be heard here.

I took some notes on the sermon and both my wife and I were impacted by it, so I just wanted to share a bit from it. Here are my notes, and if you want to hear more, feel free to click the link above:

  1. The prejudice of Jesus is one of love.
  2. When you find a passage of Scripture that doesn’t make sense, and you are trying to interpret it, err on the side of love.
  3. Love your neighbor as yourself, and love God with all your heart, etc.
  4. In a day and time when people say truth is not possible, the Truth is that we should always act in love.
  5. Corrie Ten Boom lied to the Nazis in order to protect the Jews she had hiding in her basement. She later said that she in fact spoke the Truth to the Nazis. The real truth was to act in love, which she did.
  6. 1 Corinthians 13, and 1 John 2:9-20
  7. "Love is not our duty, it is our destiny." N.T. Wright
  8. When have you given love as a gift, and not an exchange?

There was more to it than just those notes, and it was pretty good. I’ll share more notes as I have them in future weeks.

One Bonus Note:

- During a sermon that I heard Pastor Craig Maven give over a year ago, I wrote down just one note, but it’s a note I also have memorized because it was so important to me. And since it was in the past, I’ll just share it now.

"Love is giving people what they need, in a way they can receive it."

Think about that, and how it applies to things you do this week, and I think you’ll see just how huge that one simple statement is.

Have a great week!

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29th September 2013

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During my daughter’s nap today, my son and I made “cowboy cookies.” I chose gingerbread cutouts from the The Cowboy Cookie Book, and they took a while to make, but they’re good. Very hearty and filling for a cookie though - must be because it’s an actual recipe that cowboys used. Had to last them while out on the range…

During my daughter’s nap today, my son and I made “cowboy cookies.” I chose gingerbread cutouts from the The Cowboy Cookie Book, and they took a while to make, but they’re good. Very hearty and filling for a cookie though - must be because it’s an actual recipe that cowboys used. Had to last them while out on the range…

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