Many Bible readers know the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector climbing a tree to get a better view of Jesus.
If not, here it is:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:5-10)
Everyone always focuses on the last part of this story. Zacchaeus, the sinner, seeing the error of his ways and giving back to those he had sinned. The people murmuring behind Jesus’ back about staying with a sinner. And a man giving up his sinful life to follow Jesus.
But, in this post, I want to focus on the first part where Zach climbs a tree to see Jesus.
How many of you would climb a tree for Jesus? Many of us, including myself, would barely leave our front porch to see Jesus. Let alone climb a tree. Lets face it, many of us are not as young as we used to be. The thought of climbing makes me hurt all over. But here is this guy that so wants to see Him that he scurries up a tree like a squirrel. We need to start having that kind of squirrel like drive where we would go anywhere and do anything for our Lord and Savior. Forgoing how strange or uncomfortable it may be.
(And, for the record, if Jesus in the flesh really was walking down the street I would charge through that crowd like a linebacker. But you get the point)
This is a post that I should have made 7 years ago. I don’t know why I didn’t but listen up because I have a tale to tell.
For starters I have nothing against Hong Kong and I in no way want them to sink into the ocean. You will understand the title as you read.
My wife and I moved back to Vietnam ten days after we were wed. We really didn’t see any reason to put it off. We wanted to be there and any time spent in the states was just keeping us away from our mission working with street kids in Ho Chi Minh City. We already had a nice apartment on the top floor of the street kid run coffee shop we worked at. It wasn’t large but it worked for what we needed.
Both my wife and I are huge animal lovers. We have really never gone a moment without having a pet. And most of the time we have had multiple. So, it is very understandable that very shortly after we moved back to Vietnam we got a pet cat. We named her Catastrophy (yes, I know it is misspelled) and she was a mess. Broken tail, burned ear, tar in her fur and very malnourished. We felt the name fit like a well fitting glove. The second kitty came a week or two later, in a plastic bag.
The staff at the coffee shop saw our love for animals so when Phoung went to the market for the daily supplies, she bought a sweet cat being sold as food in the meat market. She paid the equivalent of 12 cents, put her in a plastic bag and delivered her to our door singing the Vietnamese Cat Song. This one was a lot calmer than Catastrophy so we gave her the Vietnamese name Ngu Dep, which means Sleeping Beauty, but we have been told that you would never call a cat “Dep” and it isn’t really a proper translation.
So passes a few more months of living and serving in Vietnam and snuggling with our cats.
Then came time for our Exodus, which is where our story begins.
As you might imagine, we wanted to bring our feline friends back to the States. We knew that leaving them in Vietnam would not only be heartbreaking but greatly increased their chances of ending back up on the dinner menu. It wasn’t a choice, it was necessity.
We had not booked our flight back home yet. We didn’t really know when our service would be over, so we left the return trip open. The first thing we did was called up United and asked them to make us a return path that would allow us to bring our cats with us. The woman in the Chicago office told us that flying Vietnam to Hong Kong to Chicago to St. Louis was a guaranteed cat friendly flight plan. So we booked it.
The next step was making sure our cats would be allowed to fly on the plane. We got them up to date on their shots, cleaned them up, secured them their kitty passports (yes.. kitty passports) and purchased a large cat carrier. Everything was set and we were ready to leave in two weeks.
One week later is when it all fell apart.
We received a call from the United office in Hong Kong. A man in broken English informed us that he just received word that we would be bringing Vietnamese cats through Hong Kong. This is the point where we learned that Hong Kong is a disease free utopia of cleanliness, and they do not allow foreign animals on their soil. We were leaving in a week and a little frustrated and this is when the wife and I went on the offensive. “What do you mean?” “You told us we could!” “They won’t be on your soil'”
We called the Chicago office back and plead our case that they were the ones that told us Hong Kong was acceptable. We ended up talking to the same woman and at this point she denied ever telling us this. We also learned that we weren’t even switching planes in Hong Kong, but still our cats could not enter. We went from frustrated, to mad, to homicidal. Our new mission became convincing Hong Kong to let the cats come through.
Calls were made to every United office we could find. We went to travel agents, we went to the airport, we called the American Consulate. We also drove ourselves mad, tore out our hair, got sunburns from all the motorbike riding we did, and I have to imagine were not that fun to be around. But we were determined to fight the laws of Hong Kong and make them change their ways. We were so broken at this point that we just fell to our knees and screamed out to God. “Please! Let us take our cats!” I was crying out so loud I think I might have blacked out. I had never prayed with so much desperation before. We really had no idea what was going to happen.
Finally we had a breakthrough. One day before we were supposed to depart I went wild on the man from Hong Kong with broken English. And we finally got them to agree to sign the order to allow the cats passage. Victory!
Our flight left Ho Chi Minh City at 6AM. We said our goodbyes the night before and slept soundly with our kittens.
Early in the morning our friend, co-worker and brother in Christ, An, let us out and we hopped in a taxi towards the airport. Catastrophy cried the whole time and greatly annoyed the driver, but we arrived at the airport and were ready to finally go home.
It was what I heard on a security guard’s walkie that clued me that our struggles were not over. I don’t understand much Vietnamese, but I know I picked up the word “Con Meo”, cat. Word of our arrival had been sent and they were waiting for us. Despite the line at the ticket counter, we were ushered to a closed station. “You no can fly with cats.. Mr. Chung say from Hong Kong.. you no can fly with cats”. We explained that Mr. Chung the day before had told us that we could. Then the woman at the counter handed us a fax from Mr. Chung that read “Under no circumstances should you let the Finley’s board their flight with their cats.” Ugggg.. that liar. I was too worn out and defeated to really say or do anything. We plead a bit, but we really didn’t know what we could do. They wanted us to let our cats out in the parking lot and board our plane, but clearly, that was not going to happen.
This was when a Korean woman working at the neighboring Asiana Airlines counter stepped in. She told us that South Korea had no regulations against Vietnamese animals and we might be able to change our flight path with them to get home with our cats. The workers at the United counter, set in their ways, tried to convince us to just give up on the cats and get on the plane, but we saw a small Korean ray of hope and we were willing to give it a chance.
The Asiana rep told us that the office wouldn’t be open until 3:00 that afternoon and we should just wait for their call to find out if we could change our flight plan. That was a long wait from 5AM to 3PM. We broke back into our apartment and just fell asleep. We would wake up from time to time to pray that Korea would allow us to come though, but we knew it was now in God’s hands.
Finally at 3PM, we received our call from Asiana telling us that they had worked out a flight plan for us to go from Vietnam to Seoul to San Francisco to Chicago to Saint Louis. We also learned that all Asian animals coming into the United States have to go through San Francisco. Way to know your rules and regulations United Airlines! And the best part was, not only were our cats checked through all the way to Saint Louis, but Asiana was not going to charge us the animal fee. They were to be treated as simple checked luggage, which was a lot less at the time.
So, later that night after a few more goodbyes we arrived at the airport, checked our cats, and were allowed to board the plane with no trouble. However, I was not able to fully relax until I saw our cat carrier get loaded onto the plane and our wheels were up. The rest of our 36 hours of traveling were quite delightful. The agents in Korea even took food to the baggage workers so they could feed our cats. And when we passed through customs in San Francisco all they did was made sure our cats were not bombs and even welcomed them to the United States as they stamped their Kitty Passports. We were close enough to home, and I was finally able to relax. Although I was a little put off by the price I now had to pay for coffee.
My wife and I were in a hard spot. And really there was nothing we could do. We tried pushing and pulling and clawing and fighting and it really got us nowhere. God had another plan for us. One that we could not see or even imagine. We were so focused on beating Hong Kong that we might have missed all the signs telling us to try South Korea. Our exit strategy had already been written and all we needed to do was follow. God put that wonderful Korean woman in earshot and gave her the heart to want to help us. He works in wonderful ways and as long as we are following his wonderful plan, our lives should be just as wonderful. Just open your heart and let him take control.
I want to close with something that one of our American teammates told us after watching our struggles and success. Our cats are like us and we are like God. We were working our butts off to save our cats and give them a better life and they probably had no clue. They just followed us and went for the ride. They put their faith in us to keep them from the dinner table and in the end everything for them worked out. And by being fat, happy and loving was how they thanked us for what we did.
God wants the perfect life for all of you. It might not always seem perfect. But have faith because some day it will. And nobody, not even Hong Kong, can stop Him from making it so.
The hottest new trend in America right now is being busy. People walking down the street saying “Look how busy I am!”. Calling friends just to say that you can’t talk because you are too busy. I’m not joking, I have witnessed this. I was at a Starbucks one time and heard the guy behind me calling everyone he knows and starting each conversation with “Sorry, can’t talk long, I’m really busy today” I, for one, was very impressed by this man.
Today I am sitting in work with a sign on my back which reads “If I am not already doing it, It will not be done today” I am just too busy today. I have my list of tasks that need to get done today and there is no way I can possibly add anything else. I am actually typing this blog post one or two sentences at a time as I load the “House of Hair” radio show into our system for the weekend. I get a minute between segments while they are saving and I choose to fill that time with writing.
I wrote about this before in my post “The Case for the American Siesta” but as a culture we always need to be doing something. We are so afraid of down time. I imagine for many of us, if we aren’t doing something we feel like slacker losers. I know I do. I can’t just watch TV. Unless it is an action movie where the plot can change in a second, very rarely do I ever just sit and watch. I get out my iPad and I write, or check e-mail or play “Simpsons: Tapped Out” (I love that game) Like the goat looking over the fence, I always have this feeling that there is something good to find out there and I must be always searching for it.
But don’t we know living like this is killing us? If you are always working, thinking, searching and talking you are not resting. And if I wasn’t so busy, I would take the time to find some facts and figures that show that doctors report we are losing more sleep and are becoming more mentally unstable and depressed. Facts or not, I imagine nobody would really dispute me on this. We live in the age of ease where everything is done for us, yet we are more stressed out than before. Ironic, don’t you think?
My message for you all today is this weekend, take some time to relax, be quiet, think and totally unplug. Sit outside and watch the birds and rabbits. Listen to the wind and the rain. Pray a little, but mostly listen and experience God. Because if we are constantly talking, thinking and filling our time, how will we be able to hear Him and the world around us?
It is a six letter word but it should qualify as one of those four letter words. I hate it! It makes me cringe like when I hear one of those words. But, sadly, my life is full of it. A life long list of should haves and should have not’s. Things I wish I could go back and try again and things that I wish I could undo. Some things I had control over and some things were accidents.
Yesterday I did something that rocked me to my core and totally ruined my day. I don’t want to say what I did. It is too horrific to mention. But it was a total accident and one that I will work hard to never repeat. Now, I know it was an accident and in the long run it will probably not rock the Earth off it’s axis, but I am still full of regret over it and the thought will probably haunt my dreams for a little while longer.
But what can I do about it now? Short of having a Delorean or the time traveling powers of “Heroes” Hiro Nakamuro, there is nothing I can do to fix it. Or fix any of the other accidents, mistakes and awkward moments of my life. They are in the past, lost and gone forever. But I know I am not alone in not being able to forget. And in some cases it absolutely eats me alive.
But we must remember that God does not want us to live with regret. Philippians 3:13-15 says:
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
God knows that we can not focus on His Kingdom if we are constantly bogged down in the past. You know who wants us to regret? The Enemy. He has a plan to keep us worried and tied up with our sins and mistakes. If all we do is think about that we begin to look down on ourselves and start to doubt our worth. Don’t doubt your worth, because God has amazing plans for you and He needs you on top of your game.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
The second reminder is that if something happened, it is by God’s will. It might not make sense why God allowed something regretful to happen, but as I always say, it is not our job to understand. He made it happen for a reason and it is our job to grow from it.
Be joyful followers of Christ. Our Lord and Savior has a plan for us and is always giving us these teachable moments. Keep your eyes focused on the Lord and never regret about the past.
I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, please let me know if you do, but I sometimes compare my Christian faith to the movie Groundhog’s Day. The movie in which Bill Murray, playing weather man Phil Connors, is forced to live February 2nd over and over again until he learns the true meaning of Groundhog’s Day. Or something like that, we don’t really know why Phil is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again. I read an article that revealed that a gypsy cursed him because he is kinda a jerk, but that never made the movie.
Throughout the move we see Phil go through different stages of dealing with this curse. At first he rejects it, then he abuses it by robbing an armored car, then he really rejects it by committing suicide over and over. Phil finally starts getting the point in the later days and starts trying to improve himself and using his new skills to help people. Phil has figured out that he will continue repeating until he has righted his wrongs. Unfortunately for Phil one or two good deeds are not enough to lift the curse and it probably takes him weeks of being good before he finally wakes up on February 3rd.
So I tell you that story to tell you this one.
Phil really has no idea why he is repeating Groundhog’s Day and he really has no idea what he needs to do to move on to the next day. He just does what he thinks might work and hopes for the best.
Isn’t that how so many Christians live their lives? God gave us a list of do and do not’s, and we do our best to stick to them. Sure, we may stumble from time to time, but we say we are sorry and we try to do better the next time. And for many of us, we feel that we are stuck repeating one crappy day after another. Jesus promised us a life to the fullest. All we have to do is look to him when we make our choices and things will turn out great.
Sometimes, however, no matter how many things we do and choices we make, that full life seems to escape us. We start thinking we are doing everything wrong. Maybe we need to stay away from bad movies, maybe we need to not laugh at that dirty joke, Maybe we need to give more at Church and maybe we aren’t praying right.
The last example is my personal favorite. I start thinking that my prayers are weak and God doesn’t know how serious I am. So I yell out, I rant and rave, I stretch out my time and give up my Saturdays. If that doesn’t work I start thinking my prayers are too self centered. He doesn’t want it to be all about me, so I add in other people and world peace. We all do crazy stuff like this because we think that is what He wants, but truthfully we are clueless.
And that is the fact, we will NEVER fully understand God’s mind and most of all his time. He has a plan and he has a schedule, and there is nothing we can do that is going to force his hand. No matter how much we offer, how hard we pray, and what we promise to do, if it is not in his plans it will not happen.
So instead of driving ourselves crazy over how we can unlock that Godly treasure chest we need to sit down and pray for peace and understanding and then completely let go and actually be peaceful.
As long as you set your eyes on the Lord, He will show you what you need to see. And when you have your mission, you can finally move on to February 3rd.
Some people call them random acts of kindness. I like to think that they aren’t so random. For something to be random, it means it happened without expecting it, on a breeze with no forward thought. It might come across as random to the receiver; after all they weren’t expecting it. But, for the provider, it should not be so random.
Nothing feels as good as when someone does something nice for you. They didn’t have to help you, but that person felt your need and gave you what they had. I often fantasize about going into a restaurant and leaving a waitress a hundred dollar tip. I know that extra money would make her day and reward her for doing a great job. (This, if you remember, is the reason for the tip) I, however, do not have that kind of money so that fantasy of kindness will have to wait. But nothing is written that says you can’t leave them a nice note with the check, or simply giving them a sincere thank you.
There are other ways someone can display an act of kindness. Helping a neighbor with their groceries, giving someone with a broken foot a ride, sending a handwritten letter to someone who has lost a loved one and other acts like that. They are so simple to do, and make a world of difference.
Personally, there was a time when I was stuck in the Ontario, California airport. My 6am flight was canceled because THEY FORGOT THE PLANE! No joke, they forgot it. A plane needs to go through hours of pre-flight checks and inspections. They forgot to line up an aircraft to act as the 6am flight and could not get the pre-flight checks done in time. (I would also like to thank the chatty airline worker at the gate for telling me all this) I had the option to jump on another flight fifteen minutes later, but not everyone could get on. I chose to give up my seat to someone else who might need it more. And I did it again on the next flight and the next. I was not in a rush to get home, so why not give someone else a chance? I believe I let a total of five or six flights go and waited an extra eight hours. But I felt good knowing that I was able to help five or six people, even though they did not know it was me.
I never knew if it helped anyone but I think I made a few people smile providing Free Hugs on Fridays. It was called Free Hugs Fridays and every Friday I would wear a shirt that read “Free Hugs Today”. The premise was simple, if you want a hug at no charge, I would be willing to give it to you. I took the act on the road from Columbus, Ohio to Pasadena, California and I gave out a lot of hugs. Yes, there were a few drunk guys at Steak n Shake at 2am and a homeless guy that smelled like rotten meat, but everyone got the same hugs. What really made my day was when I was walking down Colorado Blvd in Pasadena and the door greeter at this really upscale restaurant yelled inside “The free hugs guy is here!” and one at a time the entire wait-staff came out for their hugs. I guess word about me had gotten around.
I ask everyone reading this to open their eyes, ears and heart and start thinking about what they can do to show Christ’s love. Anything you can do to make someone smile or feel good. It doesn’t have to be anything grand, just a simple act of kindness.
You only live once, aka: YOLO.
The now popular theme taken up by today’s youth meaning life is short, you might as well have some fun. You only live once, take this time to go skydiving, talk to the girl out of your league, get that tattoo, etc. You never know when life might end, so you should take any opportunities you have.
This is not a bad idea. God wants us to live life and live to the fullest. But many of the grand ideas our youth are coming up with don’t seem to be in line with what He was talking about. Not being afraid to live, love, fight and learn is something everyone should strive for. But where does making and posting a sex tape fall in? Where does getting a face tattoo or ear stretchers come into play? What about having a one night stand with the girl at the bar?
What YOLO seems to leave out, is that life can last a very long time.
If we had the lifespan of a mayfly and knew we would drop dead 24 hours later, then that might explain such reckless behavior. But some of us just might live a few decades longer. When you mess up your life on a whim at 19, what happens at 19 never stays at 19. Your parents or boss finds your sex tape, you are unable to land a job with your face tattoo, and the girl at the bar is now calling you for child support. Your one act of YOLO themed defiance has now defined your entire life for the next 50 to 60 years.
The message I am trying to express is, live life to the fullest, just make sure your life is something you can live with.
I love the CBS show “How I Met Your Mother”.
It is the tale of a man sharing the story of how he met his wife to his two kids, in excruciatingly accurate detail. Many details are seemingly unnecessary to the story at hand. He could just skip to the night of Robin and Barney’s wedding where he actually first makes her acquaintance, but instead he tells the story of the years leading up to the moment. His relationships, his friends relationships, the many many women that Barney has slept with. In the long run, the details of these past relationships do not seem to make a difference in the story of meeting his wife.. or do they?
Ted, the main character, believes in fate and that the Universe will provide. Although he never actually states this, Ted believes that he is a piece in an eternal game of chess. If he feels the universe is pushing him in a certain direction he follows it. He takes the smallest signs and tries to find the true meaning behind them. All of them he believes will lead him to “The One”.
Ted is at a small disadvantage, however. Although he does not know anything about his future wife, the viewers do. We do not know her name, or what she looks like, but we do know she plays guitar, likes the same books as Ted, and most importantly owns a yellow umbrella. At one point Ted actually unknowingly borrows this yellow umbrella after it was left at a club and then unknowingly returns it to her apartment when he was dating her roommate. This yellow umbrella acts as an identifier as well as a mask. Often throughout the show we will see the yellow umbrella on the street, but never the girl under it. We cry out to Ted “There she is! Go up and meet her”, but he never does.
There is one episode where Ted describes how because he made one choice, a whole other set of events were put into play. “If he hadn’t stopped to give a dollar to a bum.. he never would have run into a man carrying a stack of plates, and if he had never stopped to help him pick them up he would have never run into a girl with a yellow umbrella..” Now as we find out, this was a huge tease. The girl with the yellow umbrella in this case was his ex-fiance Stella, and not his future wife. Also shame on the writers for teasing us like that. Not cool!
This theme of being in the right place at the right time comes up a few more times in the show. Every time “The Universe” has put him on a path to what he believes leads to “The One”. In the second to last episode of season eight, Robin is looking for a locket that she buried in Central Park. When she only finds an empty box, she believes it to be a sign that she is not meant to marry Barney. Ted then realizes, in a drunken fit, Robin had already dug up the locket and by chance he is now in possession of it. Ted takes this as a sign that “The Universe” wants him to marry Robin. This thought kills him, however, because she is set to marry his best friend that weekend, and universe or not, he could never break them up days before the wedding. Ted realizes the only way he can escape the pain of never having Robin is to leave New York and move to Chicago. He even confesses that he does not think “The One” is in Chicago, but he knows if he stays in New York he will live in pain the rest of his life.
Of course, fans of the show know that after attending Robin and Barney’s wedding in Farhampton, Ted meets his future wife at the train station as he is making his escape. In the finale of Season 8 we finally see the face of the girl with the yellow umbrella buying a ticket to Farhampton, setting the meeting of her future husband in motion.
So, why did I tell you all this? Whether the writers know it or not, the story of How I Met Your Mother could be straight out of The Bible. Think about it, Ted is our biblical character on a mission from God. Sure, he doesn’t realize it fully, but God gave him the heart to be married. We know from episode one that Ted is a crappy dater, but would be an amazing husband. He tells Robin that if he could skip over all the rules of dating and get straight to the love, caring and fatherly duties, he knows he could be a great husband. He just needs to find a girl that doesn’t want to keep it casual but wants to get straight to the commitment.
So, we know where Ted’s heart is. He is a born husband, and will never be happy with one night stands and empty relationships. When God wants us to follow a path, he puts that in our hearts. The Israelites wanted a land of their own and even though they had their doubts, they held on for 40 years. It was never easy, many of them strayed to other gods and idols, and when they finally found the land it was already inhabited. In Ted’s mind Robin was the promised land. Even though she was distant, unwilling and sometimes “inhabited” he truly believed the whole time that if he kept pushing on he would win her over. Finally, Ted just couldn’t stick by his own plans and he let go. We know that less than 48 hours after truly giving up on Robin, he finally meets “The One”.
God had been working in Ted’s life. By keeping him obsessed with Robin Ted was never able to enter into an actual relationship. And even the seemingly good relationships he did have, ultimately they were broken up by his history with Robin. His relationships with Stella, Victoria, Blah Blah and even Robin, were all meant to keep his mind occupied while God was moving the chess pieces to their proper locations on the board so he and his wife would both end up at the train station in Farhampton ready to begin their relationship. Maybe Ted dating Robin was the move that Barney needed to end up with her. And because Barney was lead to the proper location to marry Robin, Ted was in Farhapton and placed in his location.
I am a big believer that God has a plan for us and even though it might not make sense, and might even be a little painful. He will get us there. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, that caused me to miss a semester of college, because I missed a semester of college I wasn’t ready to start my post school life until the spring of 2005, and because I didn’t go out on my own until 2005 instead of 2004, I was placed in the right location to meet my beautiful wife. I hated having to miss that semester of college, but I believe in the end, it was the thing that needed to happen.
God’s plan does not always make sense. Sometimes it even seems a little crazy. But having faith is knowing that you are not living your life alone. While you are struggling through life, God is with you moving the chess pieces so ultimately you will find your girl with the yellow umbrella.
Believe me, I know it is tough! Not knowing what His plan is will drive us out of our minds. We will lose faith, we will curse God, we will do anything to fill that void and feel just a little bit of satisfaction. I have been there, you have been there, we all have. But to close, I ask that we all remember that even if God seems distant, he is always closer than we think.