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.