Growing Up From the Inside Out!

I just saw my first “Prom” pictures in the newspaper and my advice to those in junior high would be—start saving your money or be very kind to your parents!  I read where this “Night of Nights” now costs an average of $1,000 per person.  It is no longer a night, but a weekend of activities planned for “feeling grown- up.”  And for most teens, it turns out that being grown-up translates into spending big money, splurging on luxuries and pampering yourself.  For a night, you can be a fairy princess and prince. 

Like the Prom, high school dating remains a rite of passage for teenagers, but it comes with a cost.  Teenagers (or more likely, their parents) spend more than $100 billion each year on everything from hamburgers and DVD rentals on an average weekend to hairdressers and Humvee rentals for prom weekend.  The moral to this observation is a simple one—growing up is a costly endeavor. 

Jesus knew this.  To Jesus, being grown up apparently meant denying yourself, taking up your cross and following him.  It meant spending your life serving others and being the person God created you to be.  

Now before I lose you with all this hard sounding, sacrificial stuff let me try to explain.  Life and growing up is all about determining what is important and then giving yourself to it as completely and as lovingly as you possibly can.  Jesus knew that when he said, “What good will it be for a man if he gain the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”  (Matthew 16: 26) 

Translated into real life this means that what we are inside is more important than who we are on the outside.  The riches of the soul are worth more than the wealth of the world.  When we learn that, we have learned all there is to know.  

So, let’s review this “growing up is a costly endeavor” observation:

The decision to follow Jesus:  EXPENSIVE.  Could run into years of self-denial and even death.  Abundant life blessed with the Creator who treasures us, the Christ who saves us and the Spirit who sustains us:  PRICELESS.

My hope for you today is that you will grow up from the inside out.  And while it is expensive, it is also priceless!  

Two Strangers and the News

Having recently had my hip replaced, I found myself reflecting on my preparation for another surgery … on my neck.  This was my experience with a strange test.

I was scheduled for what was called a myelogram.  I quickly discovered it is a medical test of the invasive kind.  It might well be called a “test with a lube.”  Why “lube” you ask? 

Well, as the two pages of instructions tell you—after receiving a local anesthetic, a standard lumbar puncture, better known as a “spinal tap,” is performed and contrast fluid or x-ray dye fills the area around the nerves of the lower back.  It sounds like what my brother used call a “lube job” he needed for his car.  They lubricate, luminate and laminate pictures of your spinal cord hoping to discover any foreign shapes or substances in that ever-so-tender nerve center of your body’s mainframe.

Neva, my wife, and I arrived at 6:35 a.m. and the receptionist greeted us with a “You must be Mr. Francis.”  I was quickly processed and fitted with my testing apparel—a bare-back, pokey-dot hospital gown and light blue pair of surgery-room pants accented with my basic black, dress socks.

Not surprisingly, all the technicians and nurses did their preparation succinctly and professionally.  There I lay on the concrete-like table, preliminary x-rays done, lower back shaved, cleaned and angled just right for the doctor.  Upon arrival, he quickly told me his name and rattled off a brief explanation of his part in the testing procedure, which was basically, short and oddly painful.  Short, in that he was only in the room for about 5 minutes and oddly painful, in that he seemed to be sticking my lower back with sharp knives and needles. 

With doctor finished and out of the room almost unnoticed, we began a “Chinese-fire-drill”-like flurry of activity of x-rays from every conceivable angle.  Working like a duo of trained Navy seals in combat frenzy, the two technicians chanted their commands with careful yet caring clarity.  “Hold your breath,” “now breathe” was the chorus of the song they sang for the next few minutes as they hurriedly leaned, lowered and generally hung me from my toes to get not only the “fluid flowing,” but the timely picture of my now pressurized and illuminated spinal cord.

This part of the test ended with my body leaning head-first in a downward angle on the table, arms stretched forward and shoulders braced, chin resting on a folded cloth, looking straight ahead.  That is when I was quickly transported back from patient to person.  Looking ahead, braced solidly against the shoulder restraints and vulnerability of the last few moments, suddenly with chin on table, the Oriental technician (I honestly think his name was Larry or Harry) suddenly and softly began talking to me.  His tone was careful and complete as he comforted me with a face-to-face encounter of the encouraging kind.  From that moment on, even with the pressure of the fluid floating ominously around my central nervous system, I was confident we had made our way to the other side of worry.  

From there we did the final stage of the procedure, a cat scan of the area in question.  Uneventful compared to the previous encounter, I quickly found myself back in my corner of the processing room where I started.  As my friend Larry elevated my legs and covered me with a blanket, I noticed a man sitting on a gurney across from me.  Two things struck me about him:  first, he was sitting up instead of lying down and second, he appeared apprehensive.  I nodded as our eyes met and once alone he asked me if I had just had a myelogram.  As I said, “Yes,” his demeanor changed from fearful to hopeful.  He wanted to know what I had to say.  Why?  He wanted and needed to hear what I had to say not because he needed “advice,” but because he needed “news.” 

Simply put, I had news.  I had the truth about his soon-to-be experience.  It was an experience sure to bring news—“good” news or “bad” news.  And he needed to hear a word of news from someone who had not only been where he was going, but had survived to tell about it. He needed more than pat-on-the-back encouragement.  He needed down-in-the-heart hope.  So, there we were, two strangers resting on rolling beds pausing long enough to tell and hear—the news! 

If we are followers of Christ, we have news.  Not only do you have news, we have good news.  So tell me, why is it that we are so reluctant to tell it? 

A Glance Back at Authenticity

His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage [Book]I am in a teaching series on “Stay in the Room” relationships and in our couples Bible study class we are studying the marriage classic, His Needs, Her Needs.  Then I read about a new study that says women are more moral than men.  Did I hear a “duh” from the ladies section?

A new study by Professor Roger Steare has developed a “Moral DNA Test” to calculate changes in our value systems.  The results are based on a quiz taken by 60,000 volunteers in 200 countries.  It measures responses to questions about morality, including judgments on whether those around us at work and home would consider us honest. 

The results say females are more moral than men and are more likely to make decisions based on how they impact others.  Further, it says our moral compass changes with age, becoming less obedient, but more rational.  The writer says we reach “a peak of our intellectual and moral powers” in our early 60s.  You can go online and take the test at  

The problem with the test is this: the test turns out to be only as accurate as our self-descriptions.  If I represent myself as being more honest or moral than I really am, the test will give me the profile I wish for myself. 

Remember last week’s message on authenticity where we asked the question, “Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?”  Years ago, John Powell wrote a perceptive book titled, Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am?  His answer was sadly simple:  because I’m afraid you won’t like me if I do

This means that each day we are tempted to project what psychologists call our “idealized self”—the person we wish we were.  Then we try to become that person, or at least convince ourselves that we can and in that case, self-disclosing tests such as the Moral DNA will tell us what we want to hear.

According to Jim Denison, three problems result: 

·      One: our attempts to fool others are seldom successful and the mask inevitably slips. 

·      Two: what impresses one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, so we’re forced to create a closet full of masks and the constant role-playing becomes psychologically draining and eventually fails. 

·      Three: the only Judge whose opinion matters isn’t fooled by our deceptions, no matter how cleverly we execute them.

 So, what are we to do?  In the Christian classic, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis suggests we give up thinking about ourselves at all, focusing instead on our Father and our neighbor.   If we do, we will feel “the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life.”  When we abandon “the false self” with all its “posing and posturing,” this moment of freedom and relief “is like a drink of cold water to a man in the desert.”

Do you need a moment of freedom and relief?  Do you long to put away your mask and listen to the only Judge that matters?  For this, Jesus came and lived and died and lived again.  Really he did.  Just ask Him.  Just trust Him.  Just believe Him.

I Never Got This Far in My Dreams

One is named Bubba.  The other is named Bobby.  One is on top of the world.  The other isn’t.  One smiles into the face of his wife and newly adopted son.  The other looks away from the face of his wife and four children.

 Let’s start with Bubba.  Bubba Watson, the lefty, long-hitting American, who has never taken a golf lesson, is the Masters champ.  For the uninitiated, winning the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia is like winning the Super Bowl.  To understand the power of this moment, you need to understand the Augusta National Golf Club. 

The club opened for play in 1933 and since 1934, it has played host to the annual Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships in professional golf and the only major played each year at the same course.  It’s exclusive membership policies have drawn criticism, particularly its refusal to admit black members until 1990, a former policy requiring all caddies to be black and its continued refusal to allow women to join.  Simply put, the August National Golf Club put the “E” in exclusive.

As Sports Illustrated writer, Alan Shipnuck put it, “Augusta National may be a bastion of the 1%, but Watson is a down-home guy with a homemade golf swing whose dream car is the General Lee, the hot rod from The Dukes of Hazzard, which he recently bought at auction and has been tooling around in ever since.”  After winning the tournament on the second hole of a sudden death playoff, he thanked the Georgia Bulldogs (his alma mater), Jesus Christ (“my Lord and savior”) and the host club’s African American locker room attendants, members of the 99% that make up Bubba’s core constituency.

While unlikely, Bubba’s win was no fluke.  At 313.1 yards, he is the PGA Tour’s longest hitter by almost 6 yards.  He swings a driver with a macho pink head and shaft for cancer awareness, and for all 4 rounds at the Masters his attire was all-white, supporting children with disabilities.

Appropriate to the moment, Bubba won the Masters out of the trees.  On the second playoff hole, he hooked his drive in a forest of pines off the fairway of the 10th hole.  But, his motto has always been, “If I got a swing, I got a shot.”  He located a gap in the trees and whipsawed what he called a “40-yard hook” to within 15 feet of the hole, a small miracle.

As he pulled the final golf ball out of the hole, he fell into the arms of his caddie and then his mother, Molly.  Noticeably absent was his wife, Angie, who is usually a towering presence in Bubba”s entourage.  A former WBNA player, she stands an inch taller than her 6’ 3” husband.  She had stayed in Florida to attend to their 6 week old adopted son, Caleb.  No wonder when asked if this was a dream come true, Bubba said,  “I never got this far in my dreams.”

Then there is Bobby.  Bobby is the recently fired football coach at the University of Arkansas, Bobby Petrino.  On April Fool’s Day, he committed the ultimate “fool’s errand” when he tried to get people to believe ridiculous things.

Petrina was involved in a single-vehicle accident on his Harley Davidson where he suffered broken ribs and other injuries, but attempted to cover up other facts released days later in a police report.  He later confessed to having a passenger, 25-year-0ld Jessica Dorrell, a football employee with whom he had an “inappropriate relationship.” 

Petrino’s initial account of the accident was that he was alone, 20 miles away from campus, after a day at the lake with his wife.  He and Dorrell asked a driver who approached the scene to see a bloodied Petrino struggling out of a ditch with Dorrell not to call 9-1-1.  Although  he went out of his way to refer to his relationship with Jessica Dorrell in the past tense when he was put on paid leave, cellphone records show the pair stayed in almost-daily contact both before and after the motorcycle accident. 

Dorrell was hired by Petrino out of a pool of 158 candidates and given a $20,000 payment from personal funds. Arkansas’ athletic director said Tuesday the interview and hiring process for Dorrell was very rapid compared to typical university practice. The young lady played volleyball at Arkansas and was engaged to the university swimming and diving operations director, Josh Morgan, who has reportedly left that job since news of the affair broke.

Petrino has a history of controversial departures from his previous places of employment.  He bolted for the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons less than one year into a 10-year, $26 million contract at the University of Louisville and months later fled the NFL for Fayetteville, leaving notes in lockers of players and coaches to inform them of his decision to take the Arkansas job.  His contract at Arkansas had an annual salary of $3.5 million.  Because he was fired with cause, he will not receive a buyout or settlement.  One of his final statements said it all:  “As a result of my personal mistakes, we will not get to finish our goal of building a championship program.”

One is named Bubba.  The other is named Bobby.  One is on top of the world.  The other isn’t.  One smiles into the face of his wife and newly adopted son.  The other looks away from the face of his wife and four children.  What makes the difference between Bubba and Bobby?  In a word, it is choices.  It is relationships. 

Think about it.  One is a story of a dream not even imagined coming true.  The other is a story of a cover-up not covered up.  Mark it well, what you say is who you want to be and what you do is who you are!