3 reasons to stop complaining about Christmas in October

It started about 3 weeks ago. I heard friends comment about how early the Christmas decorations were going up in the local retail warehouse store.  I have read some facebook posts about how disgusted some were with the premature push for people to start spending money on Christmas gifts.

While most would agree that the commercialization of Christmas has gotten put of control, I have another take on the issue.

Consider this:

  • Whether they realize it or not every person who, in any way, recognizes the holiday, recognizes Jesus. Every light that is illuminated, every gift that is purchased and every Christmas carol that is sung is done in honor of Jesus. Had He not been born, none of this would be happening.  While they may not even mention Him, they can never remove Him from the holiday!
  • We live in a nation that still tolerates Christianity. It may not always be this way. In some nations, it has never been this way. Even though it sometimes gets abused, we should appreciate the freedom we have to celebrate Jesus. I love it when I hear music that praises Jesus in major retail stores!
  • Early holiday emphasis is your chance to become fully prepared for a meaningful observation and celebration. Use all the hype to get yourself ready for the best Christmas of your life. It will be the best if you really put Jesus first. You can’t wait until December 25th to do that.

So don’t complain if you see Santa at the mall this weekend. Instead, do your best to focus on Jesus and start pointing others His direction also.

By the way, only 55 shopping days left!

perspective on the World Series

I am a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan. Last night they won their eleventh world championship, the 5th in my lifetime.  I am pretty happy about it.

But some things have changed and are changing for me.

While I watched most of the games, it was not as intense for me as it once would have been. I am realizing some perspective changes in my life.

I know that the Cardinals victory doesn’t really change my life – at all. I won’t make any more money, I won’t gain any new friends and my relationship with my family doesn’t change.

I like the Cardinals players but I don’t worship them. Living 15 minutes from where they play Spring Training games, I have had the opportunity to meet many of them. I know guys who work in the Cardinals organization who give me insight about the players’ personal lives. You know what, these major leaguers are just men – men with a lot of talent and even more money. I am not inclined to worship them. I am not loyal to them. If one of them wants more money to the point that he is willing to play for another team to make that money, I say, “let him go”. Don’t get me wrong; I still collect autographed baseballs, signed by Cardinals players. (I may soon be willing to auction off an Albert Pujols baseball) But I’m just not willing to invest as much of myself in this hobby.

Though I’ve been a faithful fan for my entire life, I have made no impact on Cardinals nation. I have made no difference in the life of any St. Louis Cardinal. However, there are people who know me, love me and allow me to positively change their lives. They aren’t a bunch of professional athletes. They are family and friends and colleagues.  The people who know me and love are there for me, and hopefully I am there for them.

So, congrats Cardinals! I really like my team. But I really love my family. Now real life takes over again and there are some very exciting things ahead! That’s what motivates me!

overthinking the World Series

I’ve been a St. Louis Cardinals fan all my life. Having grown up a few miles from Busch Stadium, some of the best memories of my life involve Cardinals baseball. Last night’s World Series game was one of the more exciting games in history – unless you’re a pure baseball fan. For the casual observer, high scoring games are fun. For baseball purists, 1-0 pitching duels that feature great defense and execution of strategy are better.

The St. Louis Cardinals won in extra innings last night over the Texas Rangers. But the reason they were playing in extra innings was really ugly: Terrible defense, no solid pitching and previous games that they had given away.

I really hate the message that this game sends. David Freese is a hero, because he hit a walk-off homerun. But that kind of heroics wouldn’t have been needed if he had simply used two hands to catch the ball like they teach in Little League. Earlier in the game, Freese dropped a routine pop up because he was hot dogging: using one hand to catch, I mean drop the ball. The Rangers took the lead as a result of his error. Freese went from goat to hero by lining one over the wall in the 11th. Now the message that is sent to little ball players around the world is: fundamentals don’t matter. People don’t care if you are a solid player. They prefer theatrics.

I do see an example of grace in this story. We blow it and Jesus saves us. He saves us not because of our performance but because we are nasty sinners and He loves us. But Freese is not the Savior.

I also saw some chatter on Facebook about Lance Berkman being a Christian and I know for a fact that David Freese has recently given his life to Christ. Some are attributing the outcome of the game to the faith of these players. But that assumption doesn’t hold up for a couple of reasons. Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia also recently gave his life to Jesus but he was knocked out of the game earlier because he was ineffective. And players for Texas are outspoken believers in Christ. So much for God being a St. Louis fan. God doesn’t care who wins the World Series.

While I am glad for the outcome of the game, neither the Cardinals nor the Rangers are playing like World Champs. It’s an ugly series.

Game 7 should be interesting tonight. I guess I should stop analyzing so much and try to enjoy the game, huh? …not a chance. There is lesson in everything.

don’t let your vision degenerate

Without the aid of digital technology, the more copies of copies that are made, the more distorted the image becomes.  In printed documents, lines become blurry and detail is lost. In audio recordings, lows, mids and highs run together. The sound becomes muddy, “hiss” is heard in the background.  Before long, the original is nearly unrecognizable.

It’s been said of the typical family business:

The 1st generation employs.

The 2nd generation enjoys.

The 3rd generation destroys.

The same can happen with a leader’s vision. God puts a fire in our hearts. We recruit others to help us carry it out. And it can begin to degenerate from there.

So how do we keep from watching the vision that God gave us melt away into something that is only a shell of its former self?

We are commanded by God to involve others in fulfilling the vision:

II Timothy 2:2 (NLT) You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.

But how can we be assured that, when we share the vision with others who may help to accomplish it, it doesn’t get watered down?  We have to keep the original from degenerating, from blurring.

Seriously, I would love some feedback on this. Shoot me some ideas. I want to know how we share what God has told us with others who will do the same, all without dulling the edge.

takeaways from the 120

You learn some stuff while riding your bike for 120 miles. Maybe the first lesson is: don’t ride your bike 120 miles! Just kidding.

The 120 for Orphans was sponsored by International Orphan Support. The money raised is going to at least 2 projects: a well for the orphanage at Dufailly, Haiti (the money has already been delivered there!) and food, new beds and security bars for the Casa Shalom Orphanage in Guatemala! For more info on these and more projects, click on the website for International Orphan Support.

Simply put: this is all about the kids. They need help and we did something about it.

I had more fun at the 120 for Orphans than I’ve had in a long time. We have amazing friends – I mean really good people. And I am absolutely blown away to see how much people are willing to do for a cause in which they really believe.

I felt like I took a 2-day vacation. The landscape around Lake Okeechobee is breathtaking. It was so nice to enjoy the beautiful weather (God really came through with some stellar weather for us!).  Lots of wildlife, clean air and serenity. And it didn’t hurt that I couldn’t answer my phone most of the time.

Here are some things I learned or relearned on this trip:


In Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck said, “The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry.” Before we even got started on October 20, things changed. We had planned to circumnavigate Lake Okeechobee, the 2nd largest lake in the United States. The day before the ride, we discovered that much of the eastern side of the trail had been closed, due to construction. We would either have to get off the trail for 30 miles or so or cancel the project. My brilliant wife came up with the idea of riding half way the first day and returning back the same way on day two. That became the plan. The lesson is to be flexible, change on the fly when necessary, innovate! Don’t get so stuck on your plan that you can’t go with the flow.

The next lesson we learned is: Pavement is easier than rocks which is easier than grass. Most of the unpaved part of the trail is on the western side of the lake. Guess which side we road? You got it. As it turns out, nearly two-thirds of our 120 miles were off road. Since we had only planned on a total one-sixth being off-road, we weren’t quite set up for the journey.  Think of this, our speed dropped nearly in half once we left the pavement. The gravel was huge and the holes were deep. We bounced around like popcorn in a frying pan. We thought that was bad until we reached the prairie grass, which we had to ride through. Imagine foot-long grass, wet and thick, flattened only slightly by the riders ahead of us. We literally dropped to speeds of 5-6 miles per hour at times. It was brutal!

You can’t determine the end by the beginning. Within the first hour or so of our ride, we had experienced two blowouts and one busted rear wheel. Needless to say, we were all a bit concerned about all the riders and bikes surviving two days of this beat-down. As it turns out, we got most of the trouble behind us early on. We did have one wreck (John Morgan is OK!) and some scratches and bruises, as well as a couple swollen knees.  But everyone arrived in one piece. No bikes were destroyed in the completion of this trip.

While I was riding through the rocks and grass, I kept swapping lanes. It seemed that whichever side I was on, the ground is always smoother on the other side. So I flip-flopped like a Washington politician. Some of the other riders laughed at me, but I was persistent. Surely the other side is easier. Guess what? I was wrong. Just like in life, don’t jump round from one thing to the next; it’s no better over there.

It’s not the cost of the gear. Travis Johnson is an excellent cyclist and an even better friend. He is in training for a ride across Cambodia and used the 120 for Orphans as a training run. He has a great bike which cost more than several of our bikes combined. On day one, there were some mechanical issues with his bike. Thankfully, we had brought along a spare 10 year old $116 mountain bike just in case. Travis wound up on the iron horse for most of day one – and he blew the rest of us away with his expertise and strength. He was able to get his nice ride fixed for day 2. So it’s not always how much you spend that really counts.

There is no such thing as over prepared. I was able to train for this ride for a few months leading up. I worked hard getting myself in shape and building strength. I watched my diet and increased my endurance. And I’m very glad I did. This was not the most difficult physical challenge I’ve undertaken. This is not as hard as a marathon race. Nor did it compare with hiking the Inca Trail in Peru at up to 14,000 feet of elevation.  It didn’t even compare to climbing the Pacaya volcano (9,000 feet) in Guatemala. I am glad I prepared. I am a chronic over-preparer, which sometimes is annoying. But this time, it paid off.  I really think I could have ridden another 20 miles both days. Maybe I’ll do a century ride (100 miles in one day) in the near future. Anyone like to join me?

Group-think can be invaluable. Most endurance athletes are independent thinkers. We don’t need a lot of input from others and when it is offered unsolicited, we are annoyed. This trait is sometimes affectionately referred to by others as stubbornness. This trip was different. We needed each other. There were times when the trail was not obvious. There were decisions to be made about which way to go. We shared food. There were mechanical issues which required an extra set of hands. I personally had a blowout and some buddies did the brain work on it. It is good to recognize a dependence on others. This ride provided that for me.

You need support. This is not a joke about sports equipment. There were three ladies who drove their cars round, taking pictures, providing food and drinks, and cheering us on. I can’t tell you how glad we were to, several times along the trail, see their vehicles waiting. This represented a milestone, a place to stop and be refreshed.  You get it? We need support as we journey through life.

The wind is almost always in your face. When it’s not, you can’t tell.  On day 1, we road a comparatively easy 60 miles. We were not aware that the next day, the wind would beat us like a rented mule. Lesson? When it’s not tough, enjoy it. But get prepared for when the wind turns – because it will.

My last takeaway for now: I want to ride this trail with my daughter.  Jessica and I have enjoyed some of the more challenging athletic pursuits of our lives together. She was wanting to ride the 120 for Orphans with us. Hopefully one day, if we do a part 2, she can join us!

I’d like to give a special shout out to the 120 for Orphans Team:

On-site support volunteers: Kelly Blanchard, Betsy Morgan and Letha Whitter.

Behind the scenes assistance: Megan Williams.

A really big thanks to J Simms who came through big again, as usual.

Graphics design: Stephan Burton

Thanks to the riders: Richard Whitter, Efrain Diaz, Britton Winter, Kelly Howell, Kathy Rogers, Travis Johnson, and John Morgan.

Thanks to the donors: to date, we have collected over $13,400! No, it is not too late to give. Just click on our giving web site and donate.

The big question: Will there be a 120 for Orphans next year? My answer: I certainly hope so, but let me heal up first before I commit!

day one is in the books

We finished day one of the 120 for Orphans Bike Ride. It was a great day, beautiful weather and an amazing team of riders. Due to some last minute trail changes, we had to adjust our plans. We are still riding 120 miles, but taking a different route.

I blew out a tire today but otherwise fared really well. Day 2 starts at 7:30 – 60 more miles to go.

It is an incredible thing to see so many people come together to make a project successful. They do it because they care about orphans. This entire event is put together by International Orphan Support and will benefit children in Haiti and Guatemala.

Stay tuned for more details.

d day is here

On Thursday (day after tomorrow) some crazy friends and I will be riding our bikes 120 miles. We are doing so to raise funds for the children of International Orphan Support, a non-profit organization that exists to address the plight of needy orphans in 3rd world countries. The trek is around the 2nd largest lake in the US, the largest in Florida. Lake Okeechobee spans 5 counties.

If you feel compelled to contribute, even after our ride, you may do so at: 120 for Orphans on Crowdrise.com. Every penny will go to the children. We have two specific projects we are funding: the construction of a well at an orphanage in Dufailly, Haiti and beds and food for orphans in Guatemala. Our goal is $10,000, although we’ve already surpassed that goal! There is no such thing as too much support for these kids so feel free to give generously.

Would appreciate you passing this along and praying for the riders on this project.

Pix and video to come!