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Two years ago, the university I am affiliated with began the process of moving our athletic affiliation to the NCAA. It was not an easy decision. We were accustomed to the traditions of our old association. There were established, sometimes bitter, rivalries that we were accustomed to. And then, there were the rules and regulations.

Yes, the NCAA is known for its rules, and the enforcement thereof. Violating a rule at this level can get you a handslap, a public flogging, or even “the death penalty”, depending on the severity of the violation. And yet, for a myriad of reasons the NCAA is the right affiliation for our university.

The history of intercollegiate sport, and certainly athletics in general, long predates the founding of NCAA, but don’t tell that to some in their leadership circle. It can be our little secret. The 26.2 mile race known as the marathon, in fact, dates back to the namesake battle around 490 BC. The famed James Naismith invented the game of basketball in 1891, 15 years before the creation of the NCAA.

Speaking of 1906, another organization dates back to that year, give or take a little time on either side of that date. The university I am affiliated with is a Christian university, and is affiliated with an American Restoration religious movement identified by most religious census data as having begun in 1906.

We are accustomed to the traditions of our association. There are established, sometimes bitter, rivalries that we have become accustomed to. And then, there are sometimes rules and regulations.

The history of faith in these United States, and certainly Christianity in general, long predates the recognized founding of a certain movement in 1906, but don’t tell that to some. It can be our little secret.

Actually, forget what I just said. I must be suffering from March Madness. Everyone knows, or should come to know, that Christianity officially came into its own in 33 AD, after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

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Today is a day known to many in Christianity as Palm Sunday, they day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem to begin his Passion Week. Many Christians recognize this week with pomp and circumstance, just like that Sunday in Jerusalem. Pomp and circumstance is not a big deal in the associated group of Christians that I relate with, unless you are talking about weddings. Sorry, I digress.

My point is, or maybe should be, that we maybe should be open to sometimes being more in tune with ceremony and tradition, for it can be an outlet for our passions. The spiritual leadership of AD 33 was passionate about their rules and perceptions, and they ultimately killed Jesus over them. We would do well to avoid similar crimes of passion today. March Madness, indeed.

Basketball fans are passionate. That much is an understatement. They love their teams. They dress up in colorful garb. They sing, and they dance, and they cheer. So do some Christians, when celebrating their Love. Is that wrong? I’m not necessarily convinced it is.

I’m feeling my way along here. To say I’m thinking out loud may be an understatement, as well. I’ve been reading lately about the divisions in Christian movements in the United States (and, not surprisingly our related/supported universities) dating back to 1906, it the irony struck me as I was looking in the car mirror yesterday at my NCAA hat and saw the “Est. 1906” looking back at me.

Don’t get me wrong. I think rules can be good. The same can be said of order. But, too many rules can diminish the flow of the game. Naismith would tell you that, were he here today. So would Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18-28:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

I often find myself more passionate and expressive about basketball than my faith, and that just shouldn’t be. The faith group, the church, I am affiliated with is a Christian faith, and is affiliated with an American Restoration religious movement identified by most religious census data as having begun in 1906. And yet, the passion dates all the way back to 33 AD. I would do well to work to ignite it each and every day, just like for a good contest on the hardwood. Bring on the madness. It’s game time.

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I don’t either.   That is what I love about early mornings: stillness, silence, a clear mind, and an opportunity to consider it all.

Be still, and know that I am God!       I will be honored by every nation.       I will be honored throughout the world.”

Psalm 46:10

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We had a great message tonight from an expert in Bible translations. He commented on how the Bible remains a best seller every year, and then said something ironic and thought provoking: “I’m glad someone is buying them, but I wonder what they are doing with all of them, because they’re not reading them”.

And it got me to thinking (STSTF). I wrote back in October about accumulations in my closet ( https://jbinghamoc.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/too-much-is-not-enough/ ), but what about the accumulation on my bookshelf? Too much is not enough, that is for sure.

You see, if I read the Bible enough to utilize the accumulated copies on the family shelf, I would feel even better about my Walk.

I don’t buy a lot of Bibles, the most recent being a small copy of the NLT in a soft red leather cover about two years ago. If it were not for the freedom of YouVersion and my iDevice, I might fall victim to much more of too much.

I love the Bible section at Mardel, much like a good Barnes and Noble. So why do we buy so many Bible in this country, much less around the world?

Why do we buy anything, whether it be sportcoats, suits, shirts, shoes, leather computer bags, etc? Is it because some of us have a fabric, leather, consumer products fettish? Maybe, but I digress.

I think we buy new things because they make us feel good. A new suit of clothes, or something as simple as a new tie can make you feel good leaving for work one day.

Is that how it is with a new Bible? If I don’t read it as much as my soul longs to do, like exercising or eating right, maybe a new copy will help me want to read it more. The same probably goes for treadmills, running shoes, warm up suits, and the like.

If you will excuse me now, I’m going to go out and exercise. Relax, the treadmill is in a fitness center at work and my shoes are about a year old, with two 5k’s and a half marathon to their credit. Maybe I can pull up You Version and do a little time in the Word while I’m at it.

If only it came in a red leather cover…

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Where to start? That’s a tough one. His name is Bernhard. I’ll start there, and we’ll see where it finishes.

Proverbs 19:21: Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

We’ve established earlier on FB (when I was too tired to put any of this down) that myself and two co-workers are out of the country for business, working on facilities issues for one of our student programs. The plan was to fly out from OKC at noon on Friday, and to arrive at our destination city of Vienna, Austria at around 8:30 local time Saturday morning. That was the plan.

Upon arriving in the OKC airport and getting our passports scanned and our luggage checked, we were informed that the plane out of OKC had a mechanical delay and we were likely to miss our connecting flight from another city in The States to Vienna. After much wrangling over the phone with airline customer service and turning down options that would have us going everywhere from Chicago to London on our way here and take an extra 12 to 24 hours, we finally settled on a re-route thru Switzerland that would get us to Vienna about 3 hours later than originally planned, but it would mean a very tight connection time, and our luggage might not get correctly retagged and moved between planes to make it to Vienna with us. Oh well, they at least promised us good seats in exchange for our trouble, maybe even beds in Business Class. A good sleeping environment over the ocean would be well worth a 3 hour delay and maybe one night without luggage, we thought.

We barely made the connection, and they almost did not let us on the plane due to “confusion with the reservation”, but we did make it onto the flight. And as for the seats? Back two rows of the airplane, which also happened to be completely full, and my seat was middle of the row and away from my two co-workers. As Little Frau texted me to see how good the seats were, I had an unfortunate but to be expected answer for the moment. “Terrible”.

The seat next to me remained open for the last few minutes, along with two across the aisle by a window. Then a family of three came in, all speaking very rapid German, and claimed the seats with no eye contact or acknowledgment between us. I settled in for a very long and seemingly uncomfortable flight.

As we jetted down the runway and into the air, I saw the man reach across the aisle to take his wife’s hand. Hoping for a possible switch to the aisle, I motioned his way. While he did not understand or respond to my intended communication, we did begin to talk. His English was quite good, and he engaged very quickly.

As mentioned before, his name is Bernhard, and he said he is a “Joiner”. I understand that means a carpenter, in his land. Hold that thought.

He talked about his home. He talked about his daughter, a triathelete, and her strong performance in a recent race out west. We talked about his two sets of twins, and my twins, all three being boy/girl combinations.  Quite a coincidence?  We talked about my oldest child currently being in China, and he admirred what he referred to as “my amulet” bracelet that she got me on a mission trip to Mexico.   He talked about his work.   He is 3rd generation in a business begun in 1914 by his grandfather, then continued by his father, and now by him. While he has two sons, neither plan to work in the business, but one of his apprentices from a few years ago took his youngest daughter’s hand in marriage, and the business will likely continue with him. But the name? She took her husband’s  surname, which is not a given in Switzerland, but an option, even moreso than in the US.   The business bears Bernhard’s surname.    How will that work, he wonders?

But another thing is troubling to Bernhard. His new son in law is not a Catholic, as Bernhard has been all his life. He, and now the daughter, are both baptized members of the Free Church in Switzerland. This is different for him, and it became our primary point of conversation.

The hour or so that followed included discussions of Heaven, Hell, what they are, what they are not, and Purgatory (which Bernhard does not believe exists, if Heaven and Hell even do in substance) and all points in between, whether real or perceived, or maintained in the memories of those we all leave behind when we die. We held open a large fold out map of the world from the in-flight magazine, and he showed me all the places he had travelled to as a young man. He wondered aloud about how God should make a way for all people of all nations to get to Heaven, how it was hard for him to think there could be a place such as Hell, but how people like the Nazis and Americans who killed the “Indians”/native Americans could not deserve Heaven. And we talked about how it is easy/easier to be “Good Men” when times are good, but how it is hard not to be “not so good men” when times are hard.

Each of these points was initiated by Bernhard, and at one point, his wife called across the aisle to tell him that he “should let me eat my dinner”. After dinner, we actually made formal name and handshake introductions of ourselves to each other, now four hours into the flight. We had reached a point of non-agreement, but mutual appreciation for the discussion, and after a review of some Bible verses on my iPhone in English and German (thank you, You Version), we agreed it had been a good discussion and was time for sleep.

As the flight crew began to stir us a short time later with lights and breakfast, I looked at my watch. It was 11:30 PM Friday in Oklahoma, but the sun was coming up on Saturday as we moved across France and further into Europe. I adjusted my watch, “Dialing Up” for the new day that we were already experiencing. And, I was “dialing in” with Bernhard, or as my coworkers called him, “my new friend”. He reached across the aisle just before we landed and took a pad of paper and a pencil from his wife, and he began to write. He then handed me the a slip of paper. (I’ve not included it all in the picture above, for hopefully obvious reasons).

Bernhard invited me, and my family, if we ever come to Switzerland, to spend several days and nights with his family in their small village near the Swiss/German border. He carefully explained every character of his handwritting, from the name, to the address, to the phone number, to the email address. I gave him a business card and told him the same if he is “ever in Oklahoma”. I should be prepared, as his daughter may very well find a triathalon near our home before we fly anywhere near theirs.

Now, back to the beginning.   Proverbs 19:21: Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. Our flight was delayed, and our plans were changed, but I can’t help but think about how God wanted someone to be there to listen to and engage with Bernhard, for clearly he was ready to talk.

As we worshipped this morning with our OC students and the students from Lipscomb University, one of them shared how this verse meant so much to them and their experience here in another land and another culture, and it further fed my thinking about this “chance” encounter in row 38, seat E. It was a better seat than I ever expected, and I’m humbled by the experience. I’m also challenged, as I feel Bernhard’s invitation to visit can’t be left to collect dust when things like email and the web are right at our fingertips.

Another person was talking to me later tonight, totally out of context, about how he “sees how God is working right now” in a small local church that we visited tonight. I think God was working on the plane Friday night. How many other times is he working and expecting me to pick up the task, but I fail to see or respond because the environment is different or I’m somehow inconvenienced?

I know another carpenter. He too is a “Joiner”. And, I think he wants me to not drop the ball with “my new friend”.

And, by the way, our luggage was right there for us when we got to Vienna. It’s hard to believe, but it should’nt be. After all, I’m not the one doing the planning here.

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The birthday event started in earnest early Tuesday morning.    “If you are not growing, you are dying”.    Isn’t that what they say?

“After dropping the kids at school early, I made a quick Starbucks run before heading to campus for the day.   Enroute, the positive encouraging conviction of the radio was there for me.     Kudos to Matthew West for the lyric vault moment charge to be more: to be more of what God has called me to be.

In my own little world it hardly ever rains
I’ve never gone hungry, always felt safe
I got some money in my pocket, shoes on my feet
In my own little world
Population: me

I try to stay awake during Sunday morning church
I throw a twenty in the plate, but I never give ’til it hurts
I turn off the news when I don’t like what I see
Yeah,it’s easy to do when it’s
Population: me

What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a greater purpose
I could be living right now
Outside my own little world

Well, I stopped at a red light, looked out my window
I saw a cardboard sign, said “Help this homeless widow”
Above that sign was the face of a human
and I thought to myself, “God, what have I been doing?”
So I rolled down the window and I looked her in the eye
I thought how many times have I just passed her by?
So I gave her some money then I drove on through
And my own little world reached
Population: two

What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a greater purpose
I should be living right now
Outside my own little world

Father break my heart for what breaks Yours
Give me open hands and open doors
and put Your Light in my eyes and let me see
That my own little world is not about me

What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a greater purpose
That I could be living right now
Well I don’t wanna miss what matters

I wanna be reaching out
showing the greater purpose
so I could be living right now
Outside my own little world

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 I was flipping channels on the TV early this morning, and the cable programming guide said Mythbusters was on, but instead, what I saw on the screen was deep south minister Charles Stanley.   I’ve watched and listened to Mr. Stanley before on occasion over the past 25 years, and was  not that interested this morning.  I flipped to next channel, and it was Joel Osteen’s program.     There’s an exercise in contrast for you: one man has a large, static, full color map of the World behind him, and one has a large bronze hollow globe spinning behind him.    And I was expecting Mythbusters…

 One man is in a fully lit room, and often has camera cut aways to many of the faces of the people listening to the message, and the other has the frequent cut-away to the massive packed house dimly lit auditorium he is speaking to, with a distant background view of the well-lit stage containing him and the aforementioned spinning globe.   And, most importantly, one had his Bible open and quoted from it often; the other did not.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with everything Mr. Stanley has to say, and both of these guys found a way to ask for money inside their programs this morning.     But Stanley’s message was pointed this morning: “You cannot out give God“.      Osteen was on his traditional point, God wants you to prosper.    There is that contrast again: You and God trade positions in the sentence placement, but which takes the place of prominence, the object of the sentence, in each?

My Bible does not tell me that God promises prosperity.    And, as we’ve thought about before here in our earlier consideration of Mr. Osteen and the late Mother Teresa, how can I believe in a God who wants me to prosper, but is content with those who love and serve Him around the globe suffering in poverty and distress?       Blessings, cursings, callings, and obligations in life do not equate to the message of Prosperity Theology.     Just ask Job about that.    Would we love God for nothing?     I sure hope so.    I have a lot to learn and improve my practice on in this arena.

Mr. Stanley has been preaching the same way for decades.     Mr. Osteen has only been pushing the prosperity plow for but a few years, with his daddy setting the congregational table before him.    Our friends, the Mythbusters, have been the cult stars of Discovery for a few years as well.

This brought up an interesting thought: what about a Mythbusters episode where our cable TV scientists experiment with pushing two televangelist preachers off large arena/sanctuary type structures.       I wonder which of the two discussed here would bounce the highest?    My bet is on Mr. Stanley.    Just sayin…

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The following is a repost of excerpts from a recent article on John Maxwell’s leadership page. The hourglass/egg timer in the picture belonged to my grandmother and is proudly placed at the front of my desk to remind us all that time is fleeting.

By John C. Maxwell

A group of American tourists walked through a quaint English village in wonderment. They were enamored by the town’s winding cobblestone streets, the beauty of its courtyards and plazas, and the sense of history emanating from its ancient churches. While strolling through the local park, the tourists struck up conversation with an elderly gentleman and found out that he had lived in the town for his entire life. One of the Americas, eager to hear more about the town’s history, asked, “Sir, have any great men been born in this village?” “Nope,” said the old man, “only babies.”

Personal Growth Is a Process

In our twenties, we think ahead to when we’ll be ideally situated in our career, positioned to do exactly what we enjoy, and enjoying immense influence in our occupation. Like children on the way to Disneyland, we impatiently await arrival at our destination instead of appreciating the journey there. However, as we age we encounter an uncomfortable truth: growth doesn’t happen automatically. We cannot coast through life hoping one day to stumble across our dreams. Unless we set aside time to grow into the person we desire to be, we’ll not reach our potential.

Leaders develop daily, not in a day. They commit themselves to the process of growth, and over time they reap the rewards of daily investments in their development. In this lesson, I’d like to share five principles to encourage you to adopt a lifestyle of personal growth.

#1 Growth is the great separator of those who succeed and those who do not.

#2 Growth takes time, and only time can teach us some things.

When it comes to personal growth, you cannot substitute for time. Yet, the mere passage of time doesn’t make you wise. Experience is not the best teacher; evaluated experience is the best teacher. To gain insights from your experience, you have to engage in reflective thinking.

#3 Growth inside fuels growth outside.

The highest reward of our toil is not what we get for it, but who we become by it…. With respect to personal growth, take the long view on results. The most important question to ask is not “What am I getting?” from the discipline of personal growth, the most important question is, “Who am I becoming?”

#4 Take responsibility for your own growth.

We have to put together a game plan so that we become students of life who are always expanding our minds and drawing upon our experiences.

#5 Determine the areas of your life in which you need to grow.

You’ve probably heard someone say, “You can do anything as long as you put your mind to it.” Sadly, as nice as that sounds, it simply isn’t true. In watching people grow, I have discovered that, on a scale of 1-10, people can only improve about two notches.

Don’t work on your weaknesses. Devote yourself to fine-tuning your strengths.

Focus within those areas of strength; you have incredible potential to make a difference.

If the time runs long, turn the glass over and keep working at it; give life and those you love everything your hours have to offer.

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