Monday, October 10, 2011

The Value of a Dollar

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.- 1 Timothy 6:10
I can't be silent any longer. This has just been eating away at me for sometime and I've had enough. I don't want to get political because I think we have enough "politicians" in the blogging and social media world already. But I feel that it is my job as citizen of a great community and nation, and as a minister of the Gospel to just go ahead and speak out on the politically in-correct. So here it goes...

In case you haven't heard, our country is in the middle of an economic recession. It's bad. It's not as bad as it could be, but this is the worst economic condition that this generation has ever seen. The current unemployment rate in America jumps up and down from anywhere from 9% to even a little over 10%. The current unemployment rate of my home state of Kentucky is anywhere from 9.5% to as much as 11%. The housing market is in disarray. Now's the time to buy if you can get a good loan. Now is NOT the time to sell being that you will probably not get anywhere near the value of your home let alone what you were hoping to sell for. This economic hurricane has trickled all the way down to our local communities. Yesterday I paid $3.19 for a gallon of gas. I was so excited! But then I came back to reality and realized that I'm still getting ripped off and I'm still hashing out anywhere from eight to twelve percent of my paycheck just to fill my gas tank. Small businesses are closing because they cannot compete with the low prices of the mega-stores. "Mom and Pop" restaurants are having to close their doors after only six months in business because they quickly see that running a small business in this economy has become a tough feat to accomplish.  The power of the American dollar is quickly becoming a joke in the world's financial institutions. Financially speaking, times are tough.

Basically Americans are unable to live the lifestyle that they were able to live ten years ago. And you know what this does to Americans??? It makes us mad! We want to be able to go and purchase whatever we want and whenever we want because the Declaration of Independence has given us the "right to the pursuit of happiness." And let's be honest, most Americans are happy when the checking account is full. We think that more money ultimately make us happier. lists "money" as the number two leading cause of divorce in America, second only to "communication." Money problems make us angry! I've seen more people become irate over an expired coupon that was not accepted at our restaurant even though it was only going to save them 97 cents. That's right 97 cents. As in, less than a dollar. But hey, in today's economy, every cent does matter.

But I also think that hard economic times have made us delusional. I question many decisions that our local, state, and federal government leaders have made in order to "encourage economic growth." The leaders of one local community are seeking to offer more liquor licenses so that the city can generate more revenue. But at what cost? How many more drunks do we need walking our streets at night or even getting behind the wheel of a car. At least it's helping us make more money right? What about the decision by many local communities to begin selling alcohol on Sundays? What use to be considered a sacred day by our communities has now become just another day to have fun. People use to go to church on Sundays to find peace. Now all they have to do is seek temporary relief at the local tavern. But hey, it's generating more money right?

How about the decision by one local community to open a strip club. Now men and even women can blow off some steam while gawking and lusting over young women like they are a piece of meat. As long as their spending money right? Don't forget our state lotteries! Did you know that Illinois and Kentucky (my two home states which both have legalized state lotteries) have the tenth and thirteenth worst unemployment rates in the nation? Guess what number one is.....go ahead take a guess......ok I'll tell you....Nevada! Now I haven't been to Nevada but I here that there are plenty of casinos there. Maybe they don't have enough casinos in Nevada to help the state out of the financial mess that it's in. They should go ahead and open more casinos. Like, they should have an ENTIRE CITY FULL OF CASINOS. Hmmmm... That would help them for sure. At least they would have more money right???

NO! Enough of these policies that are meant to "generate revenue." The only things that these policies are generating is the debilitation and ultimately moral breakdown of our communities and our nation. Let me ask you this: How many families have been saved from break-up because of the local bar? How many families have been helped by the local strip club? How many families have been financially rescued by the lottery? COMMUNITIES CANNOT BE BUILT UPON THE VICES OF MEN! If this is the case, then it is the vices of men that ultimately become the life-force of the that community. That's what happened in Sodom, Gomorrah, Athens, and Rome. Morality had taken a back seat to the lusts, desires, and economic expectations of the cities. In his recent book titled Storm Warning, Billy Graham says that "American's god; wealth and abundance have become the measure of Americas success." I believe that this statement is hauntingly true.

I won't deny that something has to be done to save our communities from financial collapse. But I think that we must do so in the ways that made this nation the super-power that it was. Ingenuity, excellence, and effort should become the pillars of our economic strategy. But more importantly, something MUST be done to save our communities from moral bankruptcy. It's like my man JC asked "What does it profit a man to gain the world, and yet lose his own soul?" So what's the value of your dollar?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Marriage Garden

July 31st will mark Emily and I's seven-year anniversary. It's hard to believe how quickly the years have gone by. We have shared moments of triumph, joy, and bliss and we have also shared moments of stress, frustration, and fear. We have been on the highest mountain with one another and fallen into the deepest pit. Through it all we've been together, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.

Em and I are no marriage experts...that's for sure. We've got a long way to go in the realm of selflessness and compromise. But I have learned, and I tell young engaged couples all the time, that if you are going to have a successful marriage, you must go into it with the understanding that MARRIAGE IS WORK! I think that couples must embrace the fact that marriage is something that must be nurtured and protected and these things require daily attention.

 Marriage is like a garden. You must carefully consider what the seed needs in order for it to grow to its fullest potential. But if you abandon your garden and fail to give it the means to grow, then it will surely die. Nurture by thinking as your mate does and trying to understand why they have the needs that they do. If your wife is a talker, then let her tell you about her day when you come home from work. Ignoring her and acting as if you don't care is not nurturing. If your husband desires recognition then be sure to let him know that you recognize what he does for your life and how he improves it. Don't ignore him. To ignore the needs of your spouse is to contaminate the garden You must WORK to nurture your marriage.  Another way to do this is to realize that marriage is not a 50/50 relationship. It is a 100% GIVE relationship. This totally contradicts today's "all about me" society. We have become such a selfish culture. Everything that we do is set to benefit me, myself, and I. But a marriage cannot be this way.  We must have the mindset that "I will do whatever it takes to build up my spouse rather than to bring them down." It's so easy for us to air out the "dirty laundry" and spit off all the weaknesses of your mate...but what good does that ever do?.

Marriage, like a garden, must also must be protected. Sneaky foxes and birds wait patiently for the right moment to sneak in and steal from your garden. We live in a sensual society where the words "divorce"  "swinger" and "affair" mean nothing to us anymore. We have become numb to them because our society, as a whole, has embraced lifestyles that are poisonous to a healthy marriage. Women sit and talk with other married women about how their husbands are emotionally detached and they feed on one another's negativity. Men refer to their wives as "the old ball and chain" and publicly disrespect their wives. The gravity of these situations weighs us down until ultimately we find ourselves looking for someone or something to fill the void in our hearts.(Enter the sweet-talking and sensitive co-worker or flame from the past.) You know where I'm going with this. Before you know it, you find yourself GIVING to another relationship. It's a vicious cycle that happens time and time again. We only have so much of ourselves to give. If we are giving it to someone or something else then we cannot adequately GIVE to our spouse what our marriage needs to survive. All of this can be avoided if we are willing to defend our marriage. Stay away from friends who joyfully take part in bashing their own spouse and who are quick to dissect your marriage. Stay away from smooth-talkers and especially those of the opposite sex who seem to be so interested in your personal feelings. Billy Graham and his team have been successful with never having any type of scandal that destroyed their ministry as it has to so many other successful evangelists. One of the reasons is because Billy Graham and his team made a pact with one another that they would never be left alone in the same room as someone of the opposite sex. That's defending a marriage!

I hear so many people who have struggling marriages use the phrase "well I'm just not happy." When did we start basing a successful marriage on an emotion?  What if someone told you that their marriage was successful because "no one makes me as melancholy like they do."? Sounds kind of stupid doesn't it? Happiness is an emotion. Sadness is an emotion. But emotions come and go. How can we define our marriage, or the state of our marriage by something as changing as an emotion? One of my favorite songs is "The Weight" by Thrice. The chorus says "Come what may, I won't abandon or leave you behind. Because love is a loyalty sworn not a burning for a moment." Marriage is a covenant relationship with one another and with God. It's not a cool thing when you break a promise to someone, especially God!

Finally, I don't have all of this marriage stuff figured out. Quite frankly, neither does Dr. Phil! But I believe that God's Word clearly shows us that marriage is a covenant relationship. God created Eve for Adam so that together, they could enhance each other's lives. Notice that God didn't make Eve and a whole bunch of other women for Adam to choose from once all the others got boring or annoying. Covenant relationship  is sacred and we must treat it that way. So when choosing a spouse ask yourself, "Could I dig a garden with this person?" If not, move on. If so, then start digging...there's a whole lot of WORK to be done!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Finding the Identity of a Super-Hero

Everyone has a list of heroes for their life. I'm talking about the ones who you have looked up to and who had a profound impact on your life. These people are the ones that you most wanted to be like. These are the ones who have made you who you are.

As a little boy growing up in northern Illinois I can easily say that the hero of my childhood was most definitely Michael Jordan. The first basketball game that I can remember watching was of Jordan and the Bulls in the 1991 Finals against Magic Johnson and the Lakers. I remember watching with my dad and my little brother as MJ won his first NBA championship. We all know that this was just the first of six championships for Jordan and the Bulls...and I watched, and can easily account for where I was when each title was won.

Michael Jordan has become the symbol of winning. Though his arrogance and ego have recently been considered suspect at best, no one can deny that MJ is considered to be the epitome of success. I wanted to be that way. Even to this day, Jordan posters are stuck to the wall in my office in homage to the one that they call the GOAT (Greatest Of All-Time). I believe that much of my competitive nature and my desire to be "number one" at EVERYTHING has come from my admiration for Michael Jordan. Even though he was my all-time favorite player, my basketball game looked more like Tracy Jordan than Michael Jordan. Even though his character does not promote Christian behavior or virtue, Michael Jordan has been a hero of mine ever since I was a child.

As I grew into my teens years, music began to take on more of a role in my life. I began singing solos in church and teaching myself to play the piano and guitar. Music seemed to come naturally for me. I typically sang the songs that I heard my mom and dad sing, which was mainly southern gospel songs. But around 1994, the world of my music was blown-up when my pastors son gave me a cassette tape of a group called DC Talk. I had never heard anything like it before in my life. These guys mixed rap, rock, and Jesus...OMG! I sat in my room for hours on end, rewinding that tape over and over until it eventually completely wore out. At the core of DC Talk was the guy that did most of the rapping and a little singing. He was considered the founding member of the group and was the main writer and producer of the band's music. He was a LEADER! I loved leaders!!!

Toby McKeehan or tobyMac as he is now known, can easily be considered one of my heroes.  He was and still is an innovator and a man that is considered to be one of the cornerstones of modern day Christian music. He co-wrote the song "Jesus Freak" which is widely considered to be on of the most influential and popular songs in the history of Christian music.He made Christian music cool. Not to mention, he dressed cool, talked cool, and made serving God look like a party as apposed to a burden. I got to see tobyMac live in concert last Spring and it was one of the most exciting nights of my life. TobyMac is a hero.

When I reached adulthood and became involved in ministry, I immediately was drawn to the ministry and life of Billy Graham. Here was a man that came from a dairy farm in North Carolina and went on to preach the Gospel of Christ to more people than anyone in history. His stance for basic Christian principles and the transparency of his organization (The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) are characteristics that are rarely seen in modern day Christianity. I have more books on his life than anyone. He truly has been an inspiring figure to many including me. He is a hero.

As much as these men have accomplished and as much of an impact as they have had on me, none of them can compare to the final person that I would define as one of my heroes. This hero of heroes is the only one on this list that I actually see on a frequent basis. In fact I see this person everyday. I have seen this hero accomplish great things but has never been one to brag on them self. With this hero, the work is never done and their drive to keep going with no excuses is an example to everyone, including me. Who is this amazing Super-Hero you ask???.......none other than Emily Louise Rust wife!

Let me first say that I'm not trying to score brownie points here. In fact, she is certainly qualified to be given the title of Super-Hero. She is a full-time mother, which is no easy task. She gives and teaches our daughter with grace, patience and love. She is a full-time wife, which is no easy task especially considering who she is married to. Emily makes me a better man. A better father. A better servant. A better Christian. She improves and enhances everything about me. She is my number one fan, supporter, encourager, confidant, and friend. Obviously it's easy for me to think so highly of her because of all that she does for me, but time does not allow for me to continue on. Full-time mom, wife, housekeeper, youth pastor and teacher. Now she has just added another title to her already impressive Super-Hero resume, "Retired Student."

Maybe that is how we know what a hero really is. Because a real hero never has to give away their identity, everyone can already see it. And if my wife isn't a hero, then you can just say that my game looks like Michael Jordan's!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Real "friends" of Facebook

I have personally seen the power of friendship this weekend. Real friendship. I'm not counting the number of "friends" that I have on facebook (640). In all honesty, about 90% of my fb "friends" are actually more along the lines of acquaintances that I rarely see or hear from. It's not that this 90% are people that I don't care for, in fact, I more than likely have cared for them at some point and in some way throughout my life. But the windows of time have a way of shutting some people out of your life. Every once in a while the window may open back up and they come back in only to leave again soon.
About 7% of my fb "friends" are people that I actually interact with on a weekly basis. I see these people either at work, church, or at some point during my weekly and daily routines. These people know me a little better than the 90%. These people see my emotions, hear me speak, and no doubt, watch how I live. Mainly they see what is on the outside or what I allow them to see. They see who I want them to see but not necessarily the real me. Many of the 7% will one day go on to become part of the 90% as the windows of life begin to open for new people to come into my life and close as some leave.

Then there's the final 3% of my facebook "friends." Many of these people do not see me on a weekly or daily basis. Some I  haven't seen for months. But what separates these people from the other 97% is that these people truly know who I am. They don't just see the outside features, but they know what it is that makes me tick. Despite who I may try to show them who I want them to see, they cannot be fooled. They know when I am hurting and when I fake a smile to pretend that everything is ok. They clearly see when I am biting my tongue to keep from letting someone know how I really feel about them. They see when I am fighting back tears. The 3% are truly my FRIENDS.

As I said earlier, I felt the power of real friendship this weekend. Friday was a rough day to say the least. Em and I were hurt by someone that we had cared for and nurtured. We thought that we had done everything we could for this person to help them but apparently this person said that we had treated them "shady." It broke our hearts into a million pieces. I was angry, bitter, and sad. I was not only upset with this person for making such a ridiculous, outrageous, and untrue statement, but I was also mad at God! I knew that He was the one who had gotten me into the "situation" that I was in and now that it had all fallen apart, I chose to do take the usual human approach of blaming Him after everything had gone wrong. I didn't want to pray. I didn't want to study. I didn't want to hear anything from Him or about Him. I was in a serious funk!

God and I began to get back on better terms when I saw how He was sending people my way to heal my broken heart. Later Friday night, we went out with some FRIENDS to have a nice dinner. I wasn't in much of a mood for talking and laughing but I soon found it to be easy around people that I cared for, and more importantly, people that cared about me. We never told them our situation and they never asked. They knew something was wrong and still tried to make our evening as pleasant as possible. Real FRIENDS.

Throughout the evening I received random text messages of encouragement from more FRIENDS. God was reminding me that His power can be extended through the people that He places in our lives. I even got a phone call from a FRIEND later that night. I hadn't talked to him in quite a while but he felt that he should give me a call and check in with me. It was again, exactly what I needed, when I needed it. As my heart began to heal and the night ended I went to bed only praying a prayer to God that said "thank you."

My day on Saturday was a little bit easier. The shock had gone away and I was coming back into a more stable emotional and spiritual state. I went down to the church to do some work and after I had been there for a few hours I got a call from Emily. One of our FRIENDS was having a bad day and Em wanted us to be there for her as others had been there for us on the previous night. I immediately agreed with her that this was an opportunity from God to now help someone else.

So friendship is not just writing on someones "wall" or clicking the "like" button every time you agree with something said. Friendship is a gift from God for us. He can't always hold us when we hurt or make us laugh when we our down, but He can and He does send people our way to do those things for us when needed. So I guess, when you really think about it, God is our BEST FRIEND!   

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Making Kindness Contagious in "About Thirty Minutes"

Have you ever considered the power of a smile and a kind word?
Last night Em and I went out for our weekly "date night." Red Lobster was the restaurant of choice, and as we walked in my enthusiasm of being there soon faded away due to the amount of time that we were going to have to wait. Thirty minutes was the time given until we could be seated.. I have worked in a restaurant for seven years so I know that if the hostess tells you that it will be "about thirty minutes," then this typically means that they have no idea how long of a wait it will be. They throw out the thirty minute time frame to either exceed your expectations by seating you faster, or to use the time as a scape goat after you don't even realize how long you have been waiting. Judging by the crowd in the dining room and the lack of parking space (yes i calculate those things in my head when I go out to eat. It's a manager thing) I knew that it was likely that we would be waiting for quite some time, and most likely longer than thirty minutes. I would have easily walked out the door but I knew that Em really wanted to eat there so I decided to tough it out.

Waiting Room Strategy is a "talent" that I have mastered over the years. When you are in a restaurant lobby or waiting area and all seats are taken, it is important to find a spot to stand that is close to the seats that will soon be available. When someone gets up, which they are likely to do since they have been there longer than you, then it is your opportunity to swoop in for the "seat-steal." You cannot do this from the other side of the room. That is why you must stand near the seating not walk outside or use the bathroom, you could be standing for much longer than thirty minutes!

After we put our name on the list and we were told that it would be "about thirty minutes," we cleverly positioned ourselves next to the seating area. It took about 5 minutes before buzzers were going off, peoples names were being called, and seats were now available. There were other patrons who also seemed to have mastered the art of Waiting Room Strategy, so we were not able to get two seats together at first. Patience is key! A few more minutes went by and another set of seats became available. I told Em to go ahead and sit down and that I was going to wait and see if any of the older ladies were wanting a seat. (I'm old fashion. I can't help it!) There was one spot still open next to Em and I was considering taking it when two women in their late 50's or early 60's walked up to the seat. "Is this seat taken?" one of them asked. "No go ahead," I politely urged. After being assured by her friend that it was ok to sit in the available seat, a woman who looked considerably frazzled sat down. She was wearing a red jacket. Another set of buzzers went off and more seats became available. I then encouraged the other lady that was still standing to go ahead and sit down where she liked. One of the ladies said "There's still room for you if you want to sit next to your wife or...I'm sorry, your girlfriend." (I guess we still look young!:) "No it's ok, I'm fined standing" I responded. After my statement, a couple of other ladies walked over and filled the remaining seats. "You've got a very kind man, not many people do that anymore," one of the ladies told Emily. At this point I was thinking "Oh great, now I'm the poster boy for chivalry. I'll never be able to sit down now!" A dialogue soon began between Emily and the two ladies and I later joined in.

We soon found that the lady in the red jacket did not like going out. She thought that most people in restaurants were generally hateful and rude, an insight that is not to far off base. She was urged by her friend to go ahead and go out for dinner and  she promised that she would have a good experience. "Look at what this boy did here," the lady said to her friend in the red jacket. "He gave up his seat so that you could sit down. Not everyone is rude." Em and I both knew that this was the perfect opportunity to go "overboard" with kindness. We talked with the ladies about the weather, Hawaii, and the fact that these two had been friends since they were fifteen years old. It wasn't long until our buzzer went off (approximately 28 minutes) and we were about to be seated. "Have a good night," we told the ladies as we began to walk to meet the hostess. When we got to our table, Em and I immediately began to dissect our conversations with the two women. We both noticed how the demeanor of the woman in the red jacket had changed from when they first sat down until we had departed from them. She went from not wanting to be in such a chaotic environment, to talking to two complete strangers about her life. We won her over. We killed her with kindness!

Think about the people that you encounter, not just in restaurants, but throughout your day. You never know who has been having a bad day. Someones hours have just been cut by their boss and the challenge of paying bills and providing for their family weighs heavy on their minds. Someone is on the verge of divorce. Someone carries they shame of what they did with their friends last night. Someone is still mourning the death of a loved one. Someones kid didn't come home last night. Someones child is very ill. Someone has hit rock bottom.

No matter who it is that you encounter, it is impossible not to smile when someone else shows interest in your life. It makes you feel comfortable. No one ever complains that someone is being "to nice" to them. People appreciate kindness. It increases their level of self-worth.  Kindness is contagious. When was the last time that you infected someone? 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Daddy Talk

I knew my life would be changed forever when I found out that I was going to become a father. I remember the excitement and terror that I felt as Emily and I embraced and celebrated the moment together. I remember how I felt when I found out that we were going to have a girl. I was just happy that at that point, the baby had been healthy. I didn't care if we had a boy or not. I remember how it felt going home that day and thinking about all of the "girl stuff" that we would have to buy in the years to come, boyfriends, proms, an aisle that I would have to walk her down one day....that was all kind of overwhelming to say the least.

I remember the day that she was born. I was scared to death! I remember the first time that me, Em, and my new little girl were all alone for the first time in our labor/delivery room . I cried my eyes out as I walked around holding her, talking to her and promising everything under the sun to her. The weight of fatherhood hit me at that moment and I think that is when I officially became a "dad."

I remember our first night at home with our newborn....the scariest night of my life by far! She cried and cried and cried all night long! Em and I combined for maybe 3 hours of sleep that night. We were so frustrated and afraid that we considered taking her back to the hospital and "hanging out there for a couple more days."

We have had so many memories over the last two and a half years. God has truly blessed us. It has not been easy, but it has been worth every moment. The adventures continue as we are on the verge of finally conquering potty-training! So many things ahead in the years to come and so many more memories to make.

As a father, I often think of my Heavenly Father's love for me. I believe that God "cheers us on" for every time that we win a small victory in the game of life. I believe that He too is concerned for us when we go through circumstances that we feel unable to bear. He of course is confident in these situations, because He has had experience walking through the same things that we deal with on this journey. I even believe that He shakes His head with disappointment when we stumble over the same issues that He has warned us about so many different times. Sometimes we have have to be "disciplined" in order to receive correction and awareness to what path we should be on.  Despite our ignorance and rebellion, His love for us is unchanged.

No matter the current relationship status between you and your Heavenly Father, His passion for you is certain. You are the most exciting being in the world to Him just as my daughter is for me. Everyday I can't wait to see my daughter's face and hear her say "I love you daddy." Nothing beats that!

Don't forget that God feels the same way about you!!!