Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas

I’ve had a blast blogging the last few weeks and I look forward to 2009. Until then, Merry Christmas from the Hoggs.

Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Romanian Journey

During our stint in Romania with IICS in 2004 blogs did not exist or were not that popular, and even if they were, internet access was another subject in itself. What I did keep was a daily journal of this memorable journey. I never had much use for the journal other than our monthly newsletters; however, with my new blog I’ve decided to post once a week on our journey. I hope you do not mind.


Some of my most memorable moments in Romania were in the villages. Our home away from home was Susani, a small village with approximately 300 residents. This village is home to two of my closest friends Daniel Olariu and Ovidiu Patrick. Daniel is a local farmer, business man, and jack of all trades. Ovidiu is the local pastor. Visiting Susani is like taking a step back in time. There is not a single paved road in the village. Residents live in small homes with a large garden out back. The coolest thing is seeing the livestock grazing in the fields nearby, open range.

Each year after it turns cold families return to the villages to visit family and to process meat for the coming winter. This is where the ride in the time machine begins. We processed the animals the old fashioned way. I will save you the details but it pretty much involves an axe, knife, a tree and rope. At the end of the day they have a bucket full of meat to either be smoked or salted that will last the year.

Romanians are event oriented and this is definitely an event for the ages. Everyone returns to the villages and they have a large feast. Kacee and I were fortunate enough to “enjoy” this feast. We had pan fried liver and lungs, brain, pork, bread, and pickles. Kacee and I mostly had pork and bread. I did try the lungs and liver but I have had brain before and I chose not to try it again.

Most people would get wrapped up in this process and how archaic it is, as well as how unpleasant the brains, liver, and lungs were. But if you truly look beyond this you find yourself a culture steeped with tradition and appreciation for quality time together. This was one of the first things I grew to appreciate about Romania and still miss to this day. All too often I find myself consumed with speed and productivity. We miss so many opportunities in life for fellowship and relationship building.

No doubt one does not have to travel to a village half-way around the world to experience these things. And there is no better time than Christmas to refocus on family and traditions. I hope you find what you are looking for in the next few weeks.

Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Plantin’ Chickens

Many of my Aggie friends take offense to the numerous Aggie jokes told around the world. I however, both, find the humor, and realize the free publicity A&M receives from these jokes. One of my favorites is about an Aggie that decided to raise chickens. He goes to the feed store and buys some chicks. He takes the chicks home, and plants them with their heads sticking up. He waters them, but they die. He goes back to the feed store and tells the proprietor that he bought defective chicks, and gets another set. This time he plants them with their heads sticking down. He waters them, but they die. He then sends a letter to his Alma Mater, describing the problem. They send a letter back asking for a soil sample.

Guess this is a case of agriculture confusion. I’m reminded of another story of a close female friend (you know who you are) that proceeded to argue with me that square bales of hay could not be “bales” of hay; they were shaped nothing like a “bell.” Apparently she always thought a “round bale” of hay was called a bale because of its shape! But probably my favorite example of agriculture confusion was when a member of my Sunday school class in Houston told me how much he liked my cowboy boots. He then proceeded to ask if they were CACTUS. Of course they were not cactus but rather ostrich!

As Will Rogers once said, “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” It just seems a greater percentage of our population lacks sufficient knowledge related to agriculture. Now, I don’t want to beat a dead dog. I already made a case for Agricultural Literacy in my last blog. However, I do want to focus a bit more on the value agriculture could have around the world.

According to World Vision, “Close to 799 million people go to bed hungry each night — most of them women and children and more than 153 million children below the age of 5 are underweight.” They go on to say that, “Reducing malnutrition among children under age 5 in poor countries can decrease child mortality by 20 percent.”

Research from the Penn State University estimates that “two-thirds of the Third World Population draws a living directly from agriculture; meaning 60% of the absolute poor in Third World are farmers.

Even a dumb ole’ Aggie could conclude that with over half the Third World being farmers we should be doing a better job of empowering them to feed themselves and the world. Dr. Norman Borlaug, senior consultant and 1970 Nobel laureate once said, "Agriculture is the engine that stimulates change in rural development. A farmer's neighbors come to see the results of using new methods, and a village is transformed very quickly."

It’s easy for me to say this, but much more difficult to conclude HOW we can reach these farmers. That is where you come in! I hope you will join me in starting a discussion on how we can join together to change the world. I hope to hear from you.

Aspire to new heights!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

This Stinks: The Case for Agriculture

I’m an Aggie. Yes, yes, I know you are fully aware that I’m a Texas Aggie (the grief I catch proves it), but more than that I’m just a good ole’ farm boy (aggie). My roots run deep in agriculture. I grew-up in a small farming community. I showed animals. I was in 4-H and FFA. My first car was a truck. I even have degrees in agriculture from TWO outstanding agricultural institutions.

Some would say I have abandoned my roots. I don’t live in a small town anymore (depending on your perspective). I don’t farm. I don’t own a single animal except a cat. I drive a VW Jetta. I don’t have a single Ag related book in my office. The diplomas on the wall have even been replaced with pictures of children from all over the world. But don’t jump to conclusions. As the saying goes, “You can take the boy out of the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy!” Don’t believe me? Take a look at my feet! Nine times out of teen you will find cowboy boots. They are my tennis shoes!

Just last week Kacee and I were in Las Vegas at the National Finals Rodeo. We rarely miss a chance for a good rodeo, especially the finals. This is our chance to visit a crazy town like Las Vegas with common, simple, good folks like us. Plus I get the chance to bust out the Wranglers and dust off the old cowboy hat. It’s just who I am. It’s in my roots.

It is for these very reasons that I was taken back a few days ago when I read an article about States charging farmers a tax for the “gas” their animals produce. And no, this is not the kind of “gas” you can put in your car. According to MSN this new law “would require farms or ranches with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs to pay an annual fee of about $175 for each dairy cow, $87.50 per head of beef cattle and $20 for each hog.” How crazy is that? The government wants to charge someone for growing or producing something we need; while at the same time provide a subsidy through the Farm Program. Maybe we should just start importing agricultural products like we do fuel. That has worked really well for us hasn’t it?

Now I promised early on that I was not going to take a political stance in my blog. I’m going to stand by that. Today’s blog is not about the “cow tax.” Rather it is about something I personally still believe in; agriculture. I have always felt that agriculture was too important a topic to be taught only to the small percentage of students studying agriculture. In college I took history, math, English, golf, even flower arranging (easy A!). So, why not have everyone take an agriculture class? How can you make informed decisions at the grocery store or in policies like those above if you don’t understand agriculture?

Even more important is the value agriculture has on the world. As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” I personally believe Agricultural Literacy and Education could be the future for developing countries. Think of the difference that could be made by simply giving someone a small piece of land, a cow, a pig, and chickens, and then teach them how to grow crops and care for their animals. They will never be rich, but they certainly would not be hungry. They could grow all they need to survive and sell or trade the excess for other products. Just a simple thought from a simple farm boy. But don’t take my word for it; Heifer International and World Vision are just a few non-profits already striving to change the world, one “cow” at a time!

So the next time you buy a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread, think about what it took to make that product and also consider what this knowledge could do for others.

Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Romanian Memories

During our stint in Romania with IICS in 2004 blogs did not exist or were not that popular, and even if they were, internet access was another subject in itself. What I did keep was a daily journal of this memorable journey. I never had much use for the journal other than our monthly newsletters; however, with my new blog I’ve decided to post once a week on our journey. I hope you do not mind. Please know that my Romanian blogs are not meant to poke fun at anyone other than myself and the experiences we had. By no means do I feel anything we experienced was wrong, just different than what we are accustomed to!


Last week I shared with you our car buying adventure. As I pointed out, this process seemed simple to us at the time. Unfortunately things got complicated! Upon purchasing a new or used car in Romania you are immediately given temporary registration papers and temporary license plates. The letters of temporary plates are in red to indicate they are temporary. Now, in Romania under normal circumstances one would receive their permanent license plates within a four week period prior to the expiration of your temporary plates.

My initial concern came after not receiving our plates for three weeks. With translator in hand I visited the registration office. During this visit I was told they would be in tomorrow and to return then. What followed was a daily visit for an entire week with the expectation our plates would arrive the following day. Finally, after a week had passed, my friend Daniel made a phone call to get to the bottom of the situation. He was told that our plates were lost but they were in the process of locating them and that I should return in a week. Now, I know what you are thinking; “Hasn’t your temporary plates expired?” Yes they had. Because of this I was told that we should “park” our car until our new plates arrive. My request for an extension to the temporary plates was denied.

To make a long story short; I returned every other day for several weeks without any luck. Finally, my translator discovered that my plates were not actually lost, but rather my plates were given to someone else by mistake. You see, in Romania your plate number matches the “talon” or paperwork you carry in your car. If the plate number does not match the paperwork then you have serious problems. The talon is worth more than the car! So my translator asked when the plates would be returned. We were told they would be returned when the person that had them wanted to return them! After a few more weeks of walking to school, taking the bus, and riding in taxis, Daniel had all he could take. He called one morning to tell me he would take care of the situation. Several hours later he arrived at my door with our permanent plates.

I asked Daniel how he got the plates but he swore he would never tell. A year later when we moved home I asked him to reveal his secret. This time he said, “After discovering where the car was with ‘your plates’ I took the other plates and personally switched them!” I guess that is taking matters into your own hands.

So the next time you have problems with your local DMV realize it could be worse; they could make you walk for a month! Have a great weekend. Aspire to new heights.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

From A to Z, and everything in-between

Over the past few weeks I have quoted many famous people. However, today I want to quote someone just as important to me, but maybe a little less famous! While living in Romania, my wife Kacee resolved that “Sometimes God takes us one place to get us to another.” This prophetic statement no doubt came during one of those long, sleepless nights after an even longer day of soul searching (probably grocery day!).

Kacee and I both felt called to Romania. It was our longing desire to serve there that prompted us to accept a position at University of Banat Timişoara. Our objective was to minister to my students via the classroom and beyond. Our hope was to develop relationships through movie nights, game nights, and Bible studies. But, God had even greater plans in mind. A month or so into our stint, we discovered international medical students from Africa and India in need of Christian friends and discipleship. Who knew God would send us all the way to Romania to give us a worldview.

Now that I work for Buckner we have been able to expand upon that worldview. I’ve been blessed to travel to all over the world, but more than that, God has opened our eyes to an entirely different ministry opportunity in our own back yard. In September, Kacee and I, along with Donald and Wendy Lie and Ahnna Parker started a LIFE group (SS class) for international university students at First Baptist Church of Lubbock.

What a wonderful opportunity! Just think of the impact one international student might have if they return home as a Christian. How small minded of us to think that the only way we can reach the lost is to send a career missionary to them. Though sending missionaries is no doubt effective, empowering the nationals with the knowledge of Christ can be just as powerful. The vision of IICS is “To change a nation, teach the leaders…” Ironically, this same vision can be carried out in your local church. There are thousands of international students in the U.S. and most will return home at the completion of their education. Just this semester we have had students from China, Taiwan, Burkina Faso (West Africa), Mexico, and Ethiopia; all of which could one day be missionaries in their own country.

Isn’t it amazing how God is in control? As the old saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Today I can look back over my life and see God’s finger prints on every aspect of my life. What started as a small seed planted through family to visit Romania in 1998, grew to a number of visits to not only Romania but Russia, Guatemala, and Kenya and eventually led to a long term stint in Romania with the International Institute for Christian Studies. During that stint God planted seeds in our hearts for orphans and international students which we continue to harvest today through our careers and our church.

So the next opportunity you have to do something that God is obviously prompting you to do, say “yes,” He may be leading on place just to get you to another. If nothing else it probably will change a life. And more than likely it will be yours.

Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Romanian Journey

During our stint in Romania with IICS in 2004 blogs did not exist or were not that popular, and even if they were, internet access was another subject in itself. What I did keep was a daily journal of this memorable journey. I never had much use for the journal other than our monthly newsletters; however, with my new blog I’ve decided to post once a week on our journey. I hope you do not mind.


Kacee and I decided early on that we wanted a dependable car while living in Romania. This was not typical for missionaries (what is) and really not necessary considering the quality of public transportation. However, we were going to be on the run a lot with visits to several orphanages and friends that lived two hours away. Plus, how would I keep my girlish figure if I walked everywhere? We also made the decision to tour parts of Europe while we were living in Romania. We were young, did not have kids, and history was all around us. This would not be possible without a dependable car. The decision was easy, the purchase was an adventure!

The most affordable and “reliable” method of purchasing a used car in Romania is at the piaţa de maşini (car market). When you think car market, think U.S. flea market with cars! One of my favorite things about Romania was that there was a market for everything. There were flower markets, car markets, fruit and vegetable markets, meat markets, and clothing markets. One day I will have to share with you my experience with the animal market! But for now I will stick with the car market.

The car market in Timişoara was once a week and individuals from the area would bring used cars they had to sale. Most of the cars came from Germany, or at least the ones you wanted to buy. You would have to see some of the roads in Romania and how some Romanians drive (me included) to understand why. Typically a Romanian would travel to Germany, find a good used car, return to Romania, sale the car and return to Germany to buy another while keeping the profits. This was their source of income.

Our good friend Daniel took us to the market three different times before we found our car. Over these three weeks we saw hundreds of cars. With cash around my belt (cash only) we honked horns, kicked tires, turned up radios, and test drove a number of cars. Ultimately we found our “new” used car. It was a 2002 VW Passat station wagon. Of course it was diesel and five-speed. This pleased Kacee because she cannot drive a stick and she had no desire to drive in Romania, nor did I have any desire for her to drive!

Once we made the decision to buy our car we took our cash to a small van to fill out the paperwork and pay for the car. Inside the van a gentleman typed out our temporary paperwork and gave us our temporary license plates. Within 10 minutes we had our paperwork and our car. However, one stipulation was that we drive the previous owner to his home two hours away.

Though this process seems simple and it seemed simple to us at the time, things can get complicated. What happens if you don’t get your permanent license plates? What happens if your paperwork gets lost? Unfortunately, I know. You will just have to read my blog next Friday to find out!

Have a great weekend. Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The future from a child's perspective.

Monday I had the distinct pleasure of an extended Thanksgiving vacation. Now before you get jealous you probably should realize I had the stomach bug. I was the last of our family to have this 24 hour near death experience. In the days that followed all I wanted to do was lie in bed, sleep and watch T.V. (with my own personal bathroom nearby). As many of you know, these are luxuries you give up when you have children, especially multiple children. And, living in a 1,300 sq. ft. house does not help either.

I never knew a day could go by so fast (sarcasm!). We watched Blues Clues, Cars, Care Bears, and Tinker Bell. The day was also filled with Brynlee jumping on the bed to cheer me up and the occasional knock on the bathroom door to make sure I was okay (she has her mother's compassion). It was somewhere in the middle of the “I love you’s,” “hold me’s,” and “Daddy be a horsy," that I realized how innocent children are (and that they have no concept of a day off!).

Oh, to be a child again. I can’t remember that far back, though Kacee seems to have a much better memory, but I know life could not be that complicated. What’s to worry about? From my perspective it appears Brynlee’s main concerns right now are cartoons, toys, and clothes (takes after her mother). And Becton’s main concerns right now are sleep, eat, and bathroom, repeat as often as necessary (takes after me). Neither has been affected one second by the stock market falling, cost of fuel, the election, or the recession.

I’m reminded of Matthew 18: 2-4 when “Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Life was so much simpler as a child. It is no wonder Jesus wants us to look upon the world through the eyes of a child. And for good reason. As Wes Stafford, President of Compassion International said, “For children, today is all about tomorrow. By nature, they look to the future, since so very little of life lies behind them. Everything worthwhile is in front. The future is waiting to happen for them.”

This gives me hope in the days ahead. Maybe I shouldn’t dwell too much on the past, or even the present for that matter. As John Wayne once said, “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday.” So tonight maybe I will be more like my children and forget about the day and anticipate tomorrow. After all, it is a new day. What’s the worst that can happen? I get another shot at it!

Aspire to new height!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Game Plan

All football teams have a game plan for their opponent. However, it is usually the ones that are most capable of taking the circumstances they face and altering their game plan that come out winners. I am a planner, and I definitely have a game plan. Unfortunately one of the most difficult things for me is to realize that I’m not always in control, especially when it comes to the will of God. Brennan Manning says that “…abandonment consists in seeing the will of God in all the people, events and circumstances present to you. If God tears up your beautiful game plan and leads you into a valley instead of onto a mountaintop, it is because He wants you to discover His plan, which is more beautiful than anything you or I could have dreamed up. The response of trust is ‘Thank You, Jesus,’ even if it is said through clenched teeth.”

One of my best friends in the entire world is a Romanian pastor by the name of Ovidiu. Pastor Ovidiu exemplifies what it means to allow God to be in control when it comes to making a “game plan” for his life. Yesterday I received the unfortunate news that Ovidiu was denied a U.S. Visa. Ovidiu has attempted a number of times to visit churches in the U.S. to share about his ministry. Each time he has been denied. However, instead of wallowing in self-pity, Ovidiu will continue to be about His “game plan.” And what an amazing “game plan” it is.

Ovidiu has served as pastor of a small Romania village by the name of Susani since graduating from seminary close to five years ago. Early in his career Ovidiu and his wife Adina decided to remain in Susani long-term in an effort to reach the youth and adults of this village and a number of surrounding villages. All too often these remote villages are forgotten by missionaries and local believers. Ovidiu is young, educated, and trustworthy, all of which are characteristics necessary to pastor a large church in Romania. However, Ovidiu and Adina feel God has called them to serve via the remote villages, not the large cities.

Through VBS, camps, weekly prayer meetings, and now short-term mission teams, Ovidiu and Adina are reaching hundreds of children these remote villages. And, by reaching these children, they are also paving the way for their parent’s salvation. Are there consequences to this decision? Absolutely. Are they greater than the consequences of not following His will? Absolutely not. John F. Kennedy observed, “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

As Kacee and I were toiling with the idea of moving to Romania a friend made this statement, “When God’s will is for something to happen, it is going to happen, with you or without you. If you are not willing to help make it happen, He will find someone that is willing. Those He is calling you to serve will not suffer due to your lack of commitment; however, you will!” Thank you, Ovidiu and Adina for your willingness to follow His “game plan” and teaching all of us to be receptive to His will for us. Hebrews 6:10 says, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." Keep up the good work!

Aspire to new heights.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

During our stint in Romania with IICS in 2004 blogs did not exist or were not that popular, and even if they were, internet access was another subject in itself. What I did keep was a daily journal of this memorable journey. I never had much use for the journal other than our monthly newsletters; however, with my new blog I’ve decided to post once a week on our journey. I hope you do not mind.


Reflecting back on my journal has been reinvigorating (probably more for me than you). Though 2004 was not that long ago, the reflection has been like discovering a childhood time capsule you buried in your back yard. It’s like reading an old diary! Oh, the memories. Some were definitely meant to be forgotten; others I’ve enjoyed remembering. As I strolled down memory lane this week, I could not help but notice how much we ate at McDonalds.

This is somewhat ironic considering the fact that Romania did not have a McDonalds until June 1996. At the time of our move in 2004, Timisoara actually had two; one of which was conveniently a few blocks from our flat. But why the long wait? It is a well known fact that Americans are time oriented, while many Eastern Europeans, especially Romanians, are event oriented. This is extremely noticeable in the number of fast food chains we have in America and the number in Romania. Hence the reason McDonalds was not that popular in Romania until an influx of Western Culture. McDonalds has provided Romanians with a component previously not present with their event oriented culture; the availability for speed as it related to food service. But, for us, McDonalds provided much more.

President Reagan once said, “When we are cut down by adversity and suffering, a hope springs forth borne of our trust in God.” There was just something about those “golden arches” that resembled a spring of hope on a day filled with culture shock!

I’m definitely not an expert traveler; however, over the past 10 years we have been blessed to have visited a number of countries. In my experience there are very few consistencies one might find in traveling the world. However, McDonalds seems to be one of those constants. Who hasn’t heard of McDonalds (48% of the people of India were aware of McDonald's before it opened its first restaurant in the late 90s). I was amazed to learn that McDonald's feeds 47 million customers each day through 31,000 restaurants in 119 countries (wikipedia).

According to CJ Online “Americans eat 90 meals a month. The average American, who has 900,000 restaurants from which to choose, eats three of those meals at McDonald's. McDonald's core customers eat there 50 times a year.” I firmly believe Kacee and I exceeded all of those numbers during our stint in Romania, sometimes even eating two meals a day from the famed fast food chain (if only they would have served breakfast). There was just something about a Double Cheeseburger, McDonald’s French fries, hot apple pies, and ice cream cones that made us feel right at home.

We found ourselves eating there for two reasons. The first was the convenience. The other was familiarity. Maybe it was the familiarity in McDonalds’ food or maybe it was the familiarity with the speed and convenience. Either way, we did our part in 2004 to keep Ronald smiling (If they just would have served T-bone steaks and Dr. Pepper)!

Happy Thanksgiving! Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

With Grace Comes Responsibility

Earlier this week I shared with you my struggle with the complexity of God’s grace. I ended with a profound statement by Philip Yancey; “We receive grace as a gift from God, not as something we toil to earn. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell.”

I’m resolved to the fact that nothing I’ve done has earned me anything I have received and nothing those less fortunate than me have done has earned them what they received either. Knowing this makes it easier to perceive but no easier to understand. As I reflect upon my life, I realize how graceful God has been to me. You see, in 1975 I was adopted into a wonderful Christian home. One does not have to look far to see what my life would have been like had God not showered me with His grace. Grace I received even before I was born. It is because of this grace that I have committed my life to making a difference for those that have not been as fortunate.

It is because of His grace that I believe we ALL have a responsibility to return that grace to others. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we are doing a very good job.
  • It is estimated today that there are 150 million orphans around the world.
  • Worldwide, 8.4 million children are in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labor.
  • In 2007, it was estimated that 2.1 million children under 15 were living with HIV.
  • It is estimated that by the year 2010 there will be 40 million orphans as a result of AIDS.
  • National statistics tell us that each day in America, 13,700 children are abused and neglected, 4 children die from abuse, and 27 die from poverty.
  • In Texas, there are currently 6,300 abused and neglected children waiting for adoption.
These are just a few of the staggering statistics. I could fill this blog with horrific, discouraging, insurmountable numbers. Even more discouraging is our reaction. Today we find ourselves living in a world of excess (if you don’t believe me, take a look at your dinner table Thanksgiving). Yet with all of this excess we still find ourselves on the heels of a recession. On Tuesday, The Federal Reserve announced that it will purchase as much as $600 billion worth of mortgage-backed assets from fledgling companies in hopes of jump-starting lending by banks nationwide” (

How does this happen? And why does it happen? One thing you won’t catch me doing on this blog is taking a political stance. What you will find is me taking a stance for those that do not have a voice. I can’t help but think about what $600 billion could do to the orphan crisis. But, these statistics somehow are not improving. Reports have actually shown an increase from 143 million orphans in the not so distant past to 150 million in 2008. Unfortunately, as our awareness increases, as well as our ability to make a difference, our response seems to decrease. In a world full of neglect, pain, abuse, and endless suffering, we, the Body of Christ, are not doing our share to provide restoration, healing, and prevention for orphans and at-risk children.

No doubt God has blessed all of us and I personally believe He expects us to do the same for others, or at least that is how I interpret the book of James. “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

As you pause this week to thank God for His many blessings I hope you will join me in praying for those that are less fortunate. And while you are at it, why not go ahead and pray for God to “Give you His eyes to see.” It may make all the difference.

Brandon Heath - Give me your eyes (chorus)
Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
Ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see

Happy Thanksgiving! Aspire to new heights.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Gift of Grace

What does grace mean to you? Have you ever stopped to consider how much grace God has shown you? “Most of us believe in God’s grace – in theory,” says author Brennan Manning, “But somehow we can’t seem to apply it in our daily lives.” I will be the first to admit that I have questioned God’s grace for me and for those around me. Whether it is the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the disgrace of a spiritual letdown, we find ourselves questioning God’s grace. These are the moments we seem to be as far from God’s grace as possible.

If there was ever a place where you felt a million miles from grace it would have to be an orphanage. Most of these children were abandoned at a young age. They have grown-up in a competitive world full of hate, abuse, and anger. I cannot remember the number of times I have heard “If God loved me, then why did He put me in an orphanage?” Oswald Chambers says, “We have to realize that we cannot earn or win anything from God through our own efforts.” However, I still find it difficult to convince an orphan that in all likelihood they did nothing to put themselves in this position.

I, too, have often asked God the question, “If you love these children as much as you do me, why do you allow them to be raised in such a difficult environment while you allow me to live in such comfort?” My search for answers immediately led me to the Apostle Paul and his letter to the church in Ephesus. “Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV, emphasis mine). I think about the numerous gifts I have received in my life and how few I actually deserve (if any). I guess the best thing about a gift is that we do not always get what we deserve (otherwise I would probably get a sack of coal).

But, like this newly wrapped Christmas present, we undeservingly receive the gift of grace from God. Author Philip Yancey, best known for his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, penned, “We receive grace as a gift from God, not as something we toil to earn. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell.” Oswald Chambers further clarifies, “We have to realize that we cannot earn or win anything from God through our own efforts.”

I have often reflected upon the words of these great authors. During our stint in Romania I became obsessed with grace. This obsession was a direct result of countless hours with children that had little, if any, hope in their lives. Though I found comfort in the following words of Os Guinness, “Christ does not choose us because we are worth choosing, but simply because in his grace he loves us and chooses us,” I still had my hang-ups. How COULD I not? How CAN I not? You try observing the conditions an orphan lives in knowing what is waiting for you at home! Somehow the words of Yancey (“God loves people because of who He is, not because of who we are. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more...And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”) resolved with me but they did nothing to resolve my issues.

Today, I find myself still struggling with this notion that there are 150 million orphans in the world, all of whom could be living the same life I’m living had God blessed them with an adoptive family like he did me. In the end I realize I cannot do anything about that which I received that I did not deserve, but what I can do is take that gift of grace and pass it on to those just as deserving. More on this later in the week. Until then, be blessed with God’s gift of grace to you.

Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Life in Romania

My wife once made a profound statement that “Sometimes God takes us one place just to get us to another.” This should be our mission statement. We will be married eight years in May. During those eight years we have lived in Lubbock, Houston, and Romania. That may not seem like much but we have had three stints in Lubbock, one in Houston and one in Romania. This does not count several moves in Lubbock and several in Romania. This means a lot of moving. During our stint in Romania (2004), Blogs did not exist or were not that popular, and even if they were, we did not have very good internet access to post. What I did do was keep a daily journal of this memorable journey. So, I hope you don’t mind if once a week I share with you stories from our time in Romania.

Home to most of us is where our family is, where we reside day-in and day-out. Some say, “Home is where the heart is.” If that is the case, then home to me is Romania, Russia, Latvia, Kenya, Guatemala, Mexico, Lubbock, and now Houston.

Romania may be one of those initial places where I “left my heart,” but it definitely did not begin that way. Oh, the memories! I will never forget our first day and night in Romania. This was not my first visit to Romania, nor was it Kacee’s. We had both been to Romania on several occasions; however, this trip was different. For the first time, we did not hold a return ticket in our hand. We didn’t even know when we would return. We had accepted a position with the International Institute for Christian Studies and would be serving in Timisoara, Romania, at Banat’s University. Finding a place to serve was the easy part. Finding a place to live was the difficult part. So tough, we were forced to take a giant leap of faith and allow a career missionary family, which we had never met, to pick out our apartment.

On August 25, 2004, my good friend Daniel drove two hours to pick us up at the Timisoara Airport. I’m sure he immediately regretted this offer when he saw the number of bags in our possession. We had enough books, clothes, and supplies to live in Romania for five years. Upon arrival to our new home we soon realized we should have left that stuff at home and brought paint, carpet, brooms, mops, and cleaning supplies. As we stepped into our apartment I thought Kacee was going to have a heart attack. She now admits she questioned what I got her into! This place was a dump. Daniel even said “I live on a farm and my cow and chickens have a cleaner place to stay!” He was right. The paint was falling (yes falling) off the walls, you could grow a garden on the floor, the bed was a pull out couch, and only one of us could be in the kitchen at a time. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did not expect five star accommodations; however, I had hoped for something comfortable that was big enough we could have our students over for socials and Bible studies.

As if jetlag was not bad enough, Kacee cried herself to sleep. I lay in bed our first night with a million questions running through my mind. Praise God the second day was a little better. We did a lot of cleaning (and crying) and it felt a bit more like home (good thing we brought one bag full of pictures and frames, and another bag of shoes). But, all the pictures in the world could not fix this place. Nighttime was the worst. I remember trying to watch the Olympics on a 14 inch black and white T.V. while eating from a “Target special” plate balanced on my lap. Our saving grace was my Dell projector, laptop, and several seasons of M.A.S.H. (now you know why I always quote M.A.S.H.) and a deck of cards.

Finally, after a month of washing our clothes in the bathtub, watching movies on the wall, wearing out a deck of cards, and sleeping on a couch, we decided to find ourselves another apartment. Life has a funny way of working out. We found an awesome apartment on the other side of town that was close to the university, convenient for our students, twice the size of our old one, and most important, it was clean!

As the old saying goes, “what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger.” Living in that apartment didn’t kill us (we wondered on several occasions) and we can now look back and laugh. Probably one of my greatest memories of these first few weeks was the reliance Kacee and I had on each other and our reliance on God.

Hope you enjoyed the reflection. Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It's a dirty job, but...

Is there something in your life that you are so passionate about and so determined to do that you would do it at all cost, regardless of the odds? Ken Mink obviously has that calling. The 73 year old is likely to become the oldest college basketball player when he laces up his high tops for Roane State Junior College. He’s either passionate about basketball or he has fallen off his rocker (literally).

One of my favorite authors, Os Guiness says that “Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves. Only such a larger purpose can inspire us to heights we know we could never reach on our own.” This is obviously true for Mink. Is there something in your life that you are just that passionate about; something that inspires you beyond reasoning?

Every day I thank God for His calling. How a simple country boy from a little Podunk town of 1,000, whose claim to fame is Dan Blocker (Hoss Cartwight of Bonanza), could stand face to face with a lion in Kenya still amazes me!

But more amazing than that, are all the steps taken in-between. Our lives will never be the same after living in Romania and serving with the International Institute for Christian Studies. And now I have the opportunity to work for an organization like Buckner where everyday I get to do something I love and get paid for doing it. My life is a testimony to the advice Katherine Whitehorn gives; “Find out what you like doing and get someone to pay you for doing it!”

I personally believe that all too often we look at our job as a way to pay the bills and nothing more. The greatest advice my dad ever gave me was “to do what you love.” We spend the better part of our lives at work, why not enjoy it?

A current T.V. show on the Discovery Channel that has grown in popularity is Dirty Jobs. Each week host Mike Rowe “introduces viewers to a hardworking group of men and women who overcome fear, danger and sometimes stench and overall ickiness to accomplish their daily tasks.” The work these folks do is definitely work. I can’t for the life of me imagine them loving their job, but for some reason many of them actually do love their work.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be a rattlesnake catcher, fish processor, bee remover, or septic-tank technician? How about a stump remover, fainting goat farmer, garbage collector, tire retreader, or baby chicken sexer. My favorite is probably the Roadkill Collector. What if your job description read like this: "Must be able to work long hours braving oncoming traffic while picking up creatures of various size and breed and in various states of decay. Benefits include working outdoors. Strong stomach a plus."

If someone can find satisfaction in a dubious job like “Roadkill Collector,” I hope I can find satisfaction in a job as rewarding as mine. John Maxwell put it this way, “It’s not so much where we are or what we’re doing as much as for whom we are doing it.”

Aspire to new heights!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Playing Dumb

One of my all time favorite quotes is from Colonel Flagg (M.A.S.H.). “Don't play dumb with me; you're not as good at it as I am.” I must admit I’m pretty good at playing dumb. Kacee reminds me of this quiet often. Fortunately, as Will Rogers once said, “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” (Spelling is my worst subject so forgive me now.) Fortunately, I’m not alone, and misery loves company!

Personally my greatest area of weakness has to be understanding why God does the things He does. The human in me wants to understand everything. Like a little child I find myself asking why all the time. But, as my dear friend Teri McCarthy said in her blog “God is complicated. He is mysterious. He is difficult. He is indescribable. He is above our ability to comprehend.”

Ever since the movie The Bucket List everyone has starting making their own list. I, too, have my list of things that I would like to accomplish in this lifetime. Many of which I have been blessed to accomplish (see the world, trick someone into marrying me, have children, drive a race car, etc.). However, my lengthier list has to be my “why list” for God. Some are very simple. (Why are carrots orange and not maroon?) Some are crazy. (Why can’t cows talk?) Some are deep. (Why September 11? Why Auschwitz? Why orphans?) And some are personal. (Why am I adopted and so many more need to be adopted? Why did I loose my hair?)

I have many more and it continues to grow (the list, not my hair). It is a work in progress. Today I found myself writing another check for repairs to our home in Houston. This albatross around my neck will not go away. Could there have been a worse time to try and sell a house? Consequently I find myself asking God why. Kacee calls it our vacation home. Trust me; we are not in the financial shape to own a vacation home. But, until Jesus comes back I doubt I will have the answers to most of these questions. Even Solomon himself knew this when he penned the following in Ecclesiastes 8:16-17, “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth – his eyes not seeing sleep day or night – then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.”

I’m not all that wise, and I’m definitely not claiming to comprehend everything that goes on under the sun. But, I do have comfort in knowing that everything that does go on “under the sun” is in His control. Kind of a Sunday School answer isn’t it? Sorry, I won’t always defer to the SS answer! None-the-less, until His return or my death I have to trust that God knows my simple mind can not handle all these answers (but He could at least let me know why I lost my hair). I guess for now I will just keep working on my list.

Aspire to new heights!


Welcome to my new blog. This has been a work in progress, especially with our move during the summer and an addition to the family. I'm sure you may find yourself wondering about the picture of me acting goofy. For those of you that know me well, I find myself doing things out of habit just to agitate my wife Kacee. This was one of those moments. We were on a staff retreat outside of Budapest, Hungary on this beautiful lake. Kacee was taking pictures and I was posing! I’m not sure I will have all that much to say. Again, for those of you that know me, you probably find that hard to believe. However, I will just try to share what is on my heart and my mind. Nothing earth shattering, I guarantee that.