Friday, December 28, 2007

Anna and "Fluffy"

Just the Thing

A few weeks before Christmas Christy was on the computer shopping for presents for our girls when she said something along the lines of, “I think I found it…” She tilted the screen in my direction and clicked on the link for this little toy puppy called a “Rescue Pet.” It’s a cute little animatronic dog that you “feed” and “train.” The fuzzy little robot puppy actually sits, wags his tail, barks and lifts his leg… I’m serious. Anna has been pining for a pet dog or cat for some time and although none of us in the house are really ready for that, this rescue pet seemed a perfect fit. So, in full confidence that we know our girl, Christy clicked “add to cart” and then “proceed to checkout.” The mechanical golden retriever arrived a week or so later and was just waiting for Christmas day…

About a week before Christmas Anna, Norah and I were walking through Wal-Mart doing a little shopping when we just so happened to pass an aisle displaying a ton of rescue pets puppies. When Anna laid eyes on those dogs she freaked out with excitement. She said, “Dad! Dad! Look at those puppies! Dad, look at that doggy! Can I have one of those for Christmas!? Please Dad? Can I have one?” I played it cool and said, “I don’t know… we’ll see…” But inside I was as excited as she was because the very thing she wanted most was already sitting in our house waiting on her to open it up!

On Christmas morning Anna opened so many presents that by the time she go to her puppy she was almost over the whole thing. She even opened the box without much fanfare, but when she realized what it was she had, she got pumped! Soon she had named the dog ‘Fluffy’ and the two have been an almost inseparable pair ever since, sharing naps, meals and car rides…

On Christmas morning I read a really cool verse in the book of Zechariah, chapter 8 where the Lord was talking about how he was going to restore life and peace to Jerusalem and He said, “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?”

How amazing is it to know that, while we are in the midst of what may seem like the most insurmountable trials and challenges, our Lord has in mind for us amazing things… things we could only dream about, yet He has actually planned them out! And when He blesses our socks off with just the right word of encouragement, that extra money right when we needed it or the beautiful bright eyes of a brand new Christmas baby, He’s not surprised… We may find it marvelous when He gives us just the thing we needed most, but He doesn’t find it marvelous. Why? Because He’s known all along what He was going to do... He knows His children and He’s been planning ahead.

So, the next time you feel like you can’t make it and you’re drowning in your own life, just remember, He knows what you want. He knows what you need and He’s probably already ordered just the thing; wait ‘til you open it…

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Anna's first 'date' with Sam... they went to Alvin & the Chipmunks and then to "Old McDonalds"

Wish List

When I was a kid, I thought Christmas was the most magical and amazing thing in my whole world… I mean, once a year I got to make a wish list of the stuff I was really dying to have, and guess what? …I got it! I would wake up on Christmas morning (or in the middle of the night, rather) and head into the living room with my heart pounding wondering, “Did it happen? Did I get what I most wanted?” And then I would see it… a scooter, a gameboy, a bass guitar. Year after year, to my utter amazement it just kept on happening… I said what I wanted most (within reason) and lo and behold, I got it.

So this year I was thinking about Christmas and wondering just how magical it is for Jesus… in other words, is He getting the thing He wants most for Christmas? Does He wait with baited breath and heart pounding every year to see if that thing He wanted most is there, waiting on Him? Well, of course the thing about a question like this is that you have to find out what it is Jesus wants most… what tops His wish list? I don’t know about you, but that makes me think about the wise men… you see, even though they weren’t really there on the first Christmas, they did bring Jesus presents when they came, and I think those gifts were pictures of the thing Jesus wants most.

The magi brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the traditional view is that these gifts represented different aspects of Jesus… gold for royalty, frankincense for divinity and myrrh for death and burial. Now maybe this is exactly what the wise men had in mind when they brought Jesus these gifts, but what if these gifts were not meant to represent Jesus Himself? It could be that they were meant to represent that one gift that tops Jesus’ wish list. After all, as the wise men told the citizens of Jerusalem after their long journey west, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” -Matthew 2:1

So, how can these three gifts be pictures of worship? Well, I was thinking about gold and how it’s found in veins way down deep in the dark, hard roots of mountains, but when it is mined out and refined, it’s beautiful, bright, soft and ready to be molded. I know that sometimes my worship of the King has to be dragged out of a hard heart that’s been too dark, but when it’s mined out, it’s the best version of me... the one that’s soft and ready to be changed.

Frankincense is actually a resin that comes from the sap of these amazing trees called ‘boswellia’ that can grow right out of the side of a bare rock face, and whose roots cling so tightly that the strongest storms can’t tear them away. The sap that runs slowly down the trunk and dries over a four month time period is called a tear. Harvesters collect these ‘tears’ and use them to make medicine and perfume, but mostly incense. In fact, frankincense is one of the most valuable and beloved fragrances in the world… You know, when my heart is desperately clinging to the Rock of Christ through my strongest and most terrible storms and crying out my tears to Him, He not only hears my prayers, but He smells them as well and there is no more pleasing fragrance to His heart than that.

Myrrh is also a resin collected from tree sap, but it’s different than frankincense… it’s dark, sticky and although its smell is strong, it’s not considered as beautiful as frankincense. Myrrh is actually one of the world’s best natural antiseptics and is used to clean wounds and remove infection. Back in the day it was commonly used in burial to cover up the smell of death… When I think of the thing that holds me back from worship the most, it’s myself… my own selfish thoughts, desires, worries and fears. Maybe myrrh was a picture of our need to die to ourselves… to cleanse our heart of all the selfish stuff that we might mine out that bright and beautiful version of us that is clinging to Him, crying out to Him and ready to be changed by Him. You see, I think that the thing Jesus really wants for Christmas this year is us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

More Than Love…

There is one nightly ritual we carry on in our house that was started by Christy’s parents… that is, when we’re putting the girls in bed we always tell them, “I love you, I like you and good night.” When Christy told me about this practice from when she was a kid, I instantly thought it was very cool. I mean, everyone needs to know that they are loved, but there is also this other thing in side us that wants to know, “Does anyone like me? Does anyone think I’m cool? Would you hang out with me if you didn’t have to or if we weren’t related?” I think it’s part of what was so terrifying about choosing dodge ball teams in middle school… “What if I’m picked last?” It’s part of what it means to be accepted. It’s the reason peer pressure exists at every stage of life… we want to be loved, but when it comes down t it, we want to be liked too.

This desire to be accepted, liked and cool is such a powerful motivator. It’s the reason people do half the stuff they do. It’s the reason little kids who are funny cut up in class. It’s the reason kids form little clusters of friends and become more and more like each other over time. It’s the reason kids at the high school want the coolest phone or just have to be listening to the right music, and it doesn’t really stop with age. It’s the reason some parents push their kids so hard in sports and in school. It’s the reason some families take the vacations they do or have the kinds of cars and houses they do. There are people late in life who are still asking themselves the same questions they did in middle school gym class… “Is somebody going to pick me?”

This is one of the reasons that I love Christmas so much… if there’s one thing that the Christmas story is saying loud and clear to anyone who will open their ears and listen, it’s this: “God loves you, but guess what… He likes you too!” In Luke 2 we read about those shepherds hanging out in the fields with their sheep when suddenly everything changed… They had always been the social rejects and outcasts… the kids of guys nobody picked for dodge ball, but on this night an angel appeared out of nowhere and told them (of all people) that a Savior had been born as a baby and while they were trying to process this, the sky was rent in two as tons of angels filled their vision and shouted out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”

This is one of my very favorite Christmas verses because God didn’t just send His Son to us as a last resort. It wasn’t some last-ditch decision that He reluctantly made against His better judgment, or simply to fulfill some covenantal obligation. This was God’s plan all along and it was the evidence of not only His great love for us, but of the fact that His favor rests upon us. It’s as if the angel’s message for them (and us) was, “Peace… chill out on all of the crazy stuff you do to get everyone to like you and think you’re cool. You see, He does like you!” It reminds me of that awesome verse in Psalm 149 that says, “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him on the tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in His people…”

He loves you, He likes you and good night.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Manger Hearts

One of my favorite lines in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special is when the ‘little red-haired girl’ asks, “Did the Inn-keeper’s wife have naturally curly hair?” I get such a kick out of that because the Bible never mentions an innkeeper or his spouse who (if she existed at all) may or may not have had naturally curly hair… We assume there was an innkeeper, and that there were three kings named Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. We assume that Mary and Joseph arrived on a donkey and that everyone in our nativity sets were all gathered together for a nice silent night at the same time under the watchful eye of a pretty little princess angel, but the truth is, the Bible only mentions an inn where there was no room and a manger where there was.

Luke 2:4-7 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

I remember when Christy was pregnant with Anna and how we made her crib… how we decided on poplar and picked out the best we could find. How every cut was measured and re-measured and how we sanded and sanded the slats. We went over every square inch of wood a million times with different sand paper, and then with polyurethane. We glued the slats in place and clamped them down to dry. We then poured over the instructions as we assembled this beautiful crib… we picked out a great mattress and the cutest sheets and bumper pad. Everything had to be perfect to give our baby the safest and most comfy nights’ sleep.

And then I think about Jesus in the manger… the Creator of the world was wrapped up in random cloths and laid in a feeding trough. You know, when you make important furniture, you pick great materials and take lots of time and care to build what you had in mind, but it’s not like that with functional barn furniture… That manger was probably thrown together with mixed-up, stray and uneven scraps of wood that had been rejected from all other uses. Broken pieces may have been rigged up and haphazardly nailed into place. It didn’t matter what it looked like or what it was made of because all it was ever going to do was hold horse feed… that is, until that night. On the night that changed all other nights, that manger had the most important job in the world: it held Jesus, the King of Kings and Prince of Peace. That manger became the holiest place on earth.

The throne of God in the temple in Jerusalem was a place only one person entered and only once a year. Inside was the holiest piece of furniture in human history: the Ark of the Covenant, covered in purest gold and watched by golden angels. But that’s not what His throne is like anymore… When God came to earth He chose a manger for His throne and I think He still likes it that way. These days He looks for hearts where He can find a home, and He’s not looking for the spotless, untainted heart… He’s looking for hearts that are like His old manger crib… broken, scrapped, rejected and ill-used, but perfect for Jesus, and when He sits on that throne He makes it holy just like He did on that first Christmas.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The kids at Thanksgiving.

Last-Minute Tactics

My dad coaches a high school football team in West Tennessee and they are currently plowing their way through the state playoffs, which is Dad’s favorite place to be in late November! Last week they were minutes away from losing the quarterfinal game when some drastic measures paid off in a big way…

There were only about two minutes left in the game and not only was Dad’s opponent up by a touchdown, but they also had possession of the football. Now, if you don’t know football, that basically means that this opponent was sitting in the driver’s seat to win the game. There’s not a whole lot you can do when you’re down by a touchdown and the other team is eating up the clock by running the ball a few yards at a time… In those waning minutes, the coaches decided to go for a long shot; an unprecedented play call that had basically no chance of doing very much good. They called a safety blitz, which means that the last guy in the line of defense would rush the offense to get into the backfield as soon as the ball was snapped to try to make the play fall apart in some way.

The teams lined up, and as the opposing quarterback began his cadence, Dad’s free-safety started running toward the offensive line, trying to time his blitz perfectly with the snap of the ball… BAM! It was over as soon as it started… the second the ball was snapped to the quarterback, this safety was in his face. The ball went through the quarterback’s hands, bounced off his chest and was pulled out of the air by the blitzing defender! After getting the ball, he was (as Dad always says) off to the races… Can you believe it?! This free safety stole the bobbled snap from the middle of the air right in front of the baffled quarterback and scored a touchdown while everyone on the opposing team stood around scratching their heads. Dad’s team kicked their extra point giving them the one-point lead that won the game! It was the kind of thing that only happens in the playoffs…

When you’re at the end of the game, (and the end of the season) you sometimes make the calls that seem crazy… the calls that seem like they won’t work, because you’ve got to do whatever it takes. I’ve been reading 1 Peter this week and one of the things he talks about a lot in this book is the fact that we are at the end of the game… there are only a few minutes left on the clock, so what plays should we call? How should we live in light of the fact that we’re almost done? Well, in chapter 4, Peter says, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Sometimes it seems like a long shot… a play call that has no chance of doing any good, but hey, we’re at the end here, so love each other. And not just love each other, but love each other deeply… For some folks, this is an unprecedented call… the one that has no chance of working, but Peter says it’s the most important thing. “Above all else,” he says, “love with all you’ve got.” Love the hard-to-love folks, the hateful folks and the folks who would never love you back. Love deeply. You never know… it may just be the play that wins the game.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Norah's typical afternoon outfit: A bridal gown, wings, and though you can't see them, rain boots...

The Gateway

Well, another Thanksgiving is gone and it was awesome! I think I’m still pretty full actually. They say the average American consumes around 5,000 calories during Thanksgiving dinner, and it feels like I definitely did my part to keep the national average up there… I ate piles of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, rolls and even some fruit! And not only was the food awesome, but the football was great too! We watched the ancient Brett Favre (he’s really only 38) throw 20 consecutive completions for 342 yards and two touchdowns on the day. All in all it was a great day of enjoying the three ‘F’s of Thanksgiving, which are, of course: food, family and football.

As we were driving to Nan’s house Anna said it felt like we were going to heaven… We thought this was pretty interesting, so we asked her why, and she said it was because we were going a long way… but, as Christy pointed out, we were going to a feast, so maybe Anna was onto something after all. The more I thought about it, the more like heaven it seemed: tons of food that is too good to be true, tons of family loving each other and a spirit of thanks in everyone’s heart… Now, I know heaven is going to be way better than any holiday here on earth could ever be, but there is something about Thanksgiving that is very heavenly.

Psalm 118:19-21 says, “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.”

I think that from an emotional standpoint, Thanksgiving is the most powerful holiday there is, and it may be the day when more people are closer to Christ than they even know. You see, gratitude has power. It has power to change a person’s emotions, to lift us out of our selves… out of self-focus and into a place where we can think about others. Saying thank you is a big thing because when a person says “thank you,” they are admitting that they needed help, needed someone else. It is admitting that we’re not self-sufficient and that we can’t make it on our own. Gratitude is an essential element in the Gospel… in fact, gratitude is the gateway to heaven.

You see, thankfulness is the difference between knowing Jesus and every other religion in the world. Everything else is about self-improvement and self-qualification but faith in Christ is different. See, the truth is that there is nothing we can do to improve ourselves or qualify ourselves to earn heaven or righteousness, but everything that is required has been done on our behalf by Christ. He offers all that we need for free. He offers us charity and all we do is accept and say, “Thanks.” This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. It’s why Thanksgiving is probably the most like heaven of all of the holidays: a big family, gathered around a feast with thankful hearts… heaven.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Norah is now almost two years old. One thing this means is that every day she gets a little better at talking. I love having a baby at this stage because they are always up for trying new words on for size, which means I get to tell Norah to say things like, “What’s up, yo?!” There is hardly anything in the world cuter than hearing a little baby voice say the words, “Peace out homies.” The bad thing about this stage is that Norah is not really used to asking for things in the English language… she is used to fussing and crying when she needs something. Whether she’s hungry, hurt, tired, sick, uncomfortable or just frustrated, all we hear is this “Waaaaaaaaaaah…” Sometimes it’s a low, slow and bothered whine and sometimes it’s a loud and proud scream. The problem is that when she does this we don’t know what she needs. As a result, we are constantly training her to use her words rather than fuss when she needs help.

Christy said it best: “It always seems like we are just trying to get her to come to us for what she needs rather than just throwing a fit.”

In Mark 10 when Jesus was leaving Jericho on His way to Jerusalem someone started screaming His name. It was a blind man named Bartimaeus sitting on the side of the road and when he heard that Jesus was passing, he just started screaming, “Son of David! Have mercy on me!” People told him to shut his yapper, but that just fired him up all the more! Finally Jesus stopped and said, “Call him over.” The other folks standing around grabbed Bart and led him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Time out.

Are you kidding me Jesus? The guy is blind! He’s crying out for mercy… what do you think he wants you to do, tie his shoes?! I mean, to me it’s pretty obvious that the blind guy asking for help wants you to fix his eyes… on the other hand, how many people are really aware of what’s wrong with them? How many people out there could actually tell you where they most need help? If Jesus asked you, “What do you want me to do for you?” would you have an answer? Most people tend to think they’ve got it all together and don’t need anything, but when something bad happens they fall apart and don’t really know why…

I know that I have a tendency to do that… like Norah, I just whine and throw fits without using my words…the only problem with that is that I am not 21 months old! Lately I’ve started making a list every day or so of the four or five things I just can’t handle and want Jesus to take full ownership of and responsibility for. It’s my ‘weakness’ list. It’s me, using my words… telling Jesus exactly what I need Him to do for me, and you know what? He reads that list and is taking care of everything.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “Your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Triple C crew chillin' at Cades Cove...

Watch and Learn

Last night Christy and I were watching a movie that had a middle school science fair in it… remember the middle school science fair? Why is it that they always have the same exhibits? You know what I mean… dioramas of the pre-historic earth complete with dinosaurs eating each other, foam board diagrams of the water cycle and of course, the mini-volcano. When I look back on middle school science class, all the projects and experiments we did were kind of like that min-volcano… small and manageable versions of something you can’t really get too close to, in order that you might understand it better.

Lately during my time with the Lord I’ve been reading about prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel... boy, talk about a tough job! Those guys had it rough! I remember hearing stories about some of the terrible things they went through when I was a kid, but I always assumed that all of those things happened because certain people who were in power didn’t like the prophetic message and punished them as a result. Now, this definitely did happen to them… like Jeremiah being chucked into a cistern filled with mud for a few days, but as I’ve read their stories, I’ve discovered a surprising thing: Tons of the really awful things those guys experienced were at the command of the Lord!

Those guys were kind of like science fair projects… their lives were living examples of what would happen to the entire nation if they didn’t turn and walk with the Lord. At certain times the prophets were like actors living out what would soon be for all eyes to see. It’s why God told Isaiah to take off all his clothes and walk around naked for three years in Isaiah 20… now, I’ve seen shocking and even awkward ministries, but nothing like that! This week I was reading Ezekiel 12 and the Lord gave him a strange ministry… “And the word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, eat your bread with quaking and drink water with trembling and anxiety.”

What kind of ministry is that? Can you imagine holding your double cheeseburger and just working up a good tremble before taking a bite? Before slamming a milk shake, Ezekiel would have to have a good bout of the shakes himself! God said that when people asked, he was supposed to tell them that he was a sign to them… a warning sign that troubled times lay ahead when meals would be eaten with fear and anxiety.

You know, we don’t have prophets quite like those guys anymore, but in a way, we can be like them. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We are supposed to live our lives in such a way that we are like signs pointing not to impending destruction, but to the possibility of a joyful, hope-filled, beautiful life. When you walk with Jesus, just trusting Him for your stuff, thanking Him for His grace and love, you’re gonna look way different than most folks! I want to be like that… like a science fair project... an observable example of what life can be like when you trust in the love and mercy of Jesus, and how you really can have a sweet marriage, a peaceful home, a content heart and clean conscience before God.

Here's a video of Joe and Robert being... well, Joe and Robert. (with a little help from John Williams)

Friday, November 02, 2007

We took the kids trick or treating... Norah was a chicken and Anna wanted to be a duck... it was a foul Halloween...


How many times has something bad happened in the middle of your day and the first thing you do is think back on your recent sins in order to figure out why this bad thing is happening? You know what I mean? You get a flat tire or get caught at a red light when you’re running late and as soon as you ask yourself, “Why is this happening?” You remind yourself of how you talked about so-and-so behind their back yesterday and you figure, “Well, this stinks, but you’re right God, I deserve it.” When I was in high school and found myself staring down at some pop-quiz I was clueless about and would surely fail, I went through my mental rolodex trying to figure out which sin I was being punished for.

The really bad thing about exercising this particular bit of whacky theology is when you reverse the process… Basically, that’s where you decide whether or not you’re going to commit a certain sin by trying to figure out in your head if this moment of rebellion will be worth the resulting punishment God will surely bring down upon your head. Now, not only is this impossible because we are incapable of appraising the value of our own sin, but it’s just downright anti-gospel! It is just another way for us to feel like we can do something to even out our record with the Lord… as if bad weather or poor driving conditions were an even trade with anger or lust.

The crazy thing is that I know the Gospel! I know I can’t earn credit with the Lord by suffering for my sins! I know He doesn’t owe me anything like sunny days and a big, fat tax return; and yet, when the new episode of House got canceled because of a stupid baseball game, I just knew I deserved this and my mind started searching the vast catalogue of sins for that one that roughly weighs the same as suffering through disappointing television… I don’t think I’m alone either. In fact, I asked our high school kids this very question the other night and a bunch of hands went into the air… we know the Gospel; and yet, there are times when we don’t… that’s why we need to hear it all the time.

This morning, I was reading Psalm 103 which says, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Isn’t that awesome!? See, if God punished us for our sins, we would be dead! Lost! Without hope! If God gave us what we deserved, we would be hosed! Getting your wallet stolen or breaking your wrist isn’t an equal punishment for telling a little white lie or complaining about your insurance premiums. The truth is that we could never pay for our wrong stuff and live to tell the tale! God paid for us in the person of Jesus. If you have believed in Him, He paid for all of your wrong on the cross so that the punishment for your sin has already been taken care of. Jesus was punished for my sin and because of that, God doesn’t punish me for it, and He never will.

We don’t know why bad stuff, frustrating stuff or even tragic stuff happens to us, but it’s not because we’re being punished for our sins. God isn’t punishing you and He never will! So, the next time you stub your toe, drain your battery or get a bad cold at just the wrong time, don’t think about your old sins… just pick your feet up when you walk, get out the jumper cables, grab some Sudafed and thank God for the blood of Jesus.

Here's a pic of Rosie at the zoo... sitting on a gigantic, painted stone frog

Friday, October 26, 2007

Crying Over Vegetables

This past week I was watching a children’s movie with my kids and started blubbing all over myself. That is a really embarrassing thing to admit, especially since my two daughters were not crying, but there you go… I cried during an animated movie, and to be more specific, it was the new Veggie Tales movie, The Wizard of Ha’s. I didn’t mean to start crying all over the place, but that Jr. Asparagus crawled right down inside my heart and broke it in two. I felt the breakdown coming, and part of me wanted to switch the TV over to Sports Center real quick so I could hold it together, but another part of me wanted to hang in there and have a really good cry…

You see, the new Veggie Tales movie is a re-telling of Jesus’ parable in Luke 15 about a dad who had two sons and how one of them ran away, hating his dad and the life he had at home. The son went out looking for life on his terms and wound up wasting everything and ending up empty and alone. He wanted to go home again, but knew that after all he had done, he could never be considered a son. Finally, he decided to go home to his father and apply for a job. Jesus said that, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

In the Veggie version, Darby McGill is a young asparagus who lives with his dad on their dental floss farm. All he wants to do in the world is go to this new amusement park called “The Land of Ha’s” which is marketed as the funnest place on earth. He wants to ride roller coasters and eat cotton candy, but more than anything he wants to play on one of those blow-up bouncing castles where you jump around and knock your heads together… His dad tells him they can’t afford it because they have the floss harvest coming up and they don’t have the money, so Darby gets mad and sings a song about how he just wants to get away from the lousy farm and go somewhere where he has no boss and can do whatever he wants to do.

Well, a tornado sweeps Darby and his pet pig ‘Tutu’ off to “Munchie Land” where he has to follow Yellow McToad to the Wizard of Ha’s. Along the way he meets some very predictable friends and they make it to the amusement park where they have a blast and spend all of Darby’s money. When everything is gone, Darby winds up in a dungeon-like garbage dump wishing he could go home. That’s when he remembers his dad’s farm hands and decides to go back and ask his dad for a job.

While he was on his way home, he was practicing his speech: “Dad… no, Mr. McGill… no, Farmer McGill…” And his dad saw him, ran to meet him and swept him up in this huge hug saying, “My son, my son!” (That’s the part where my tears started busting out!) His dad said, “Get some cake! Get some ice cream! Get one of those bouncing castles! My son is home!” …Oh man, I was a mess and my two daughters were looking at me like I was some kind of alien life-form. Norah traced the tears going down my face and then slammed me with the biggest two-year-old hug you’ve ever seen.

Yesterday, Anna wanted to watch the movie again and as we started it she looked at me and said, “Dad, are you going to cry again?” And I said, “Yeah, probably.” Anna said, “You like that hugging part don’t you Dad?” And I got to tell her why I loved that hugging part so much… why I cried about a cartoon… because that story is my story. It’s that old, same story about people who want to do whatever they want to do and a Father who always takes them back… it was the Gospel told to me by vegetables and it was Good News indeed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Anna all dressed up for the Young Life hoe down!

Happy Re-birthday!

Yesterday I was hanging out with my boy Devon at the coffee shop when I got a text message on my phone from a friend which said, “Do you know what today is?” I read the message and thought to myself, “October 18… Thursday… hmm.” I texted back, “No.” A minute later my phone buzzed again and his message read, “Three years ago today I accepted Christ.”

Three years ago one of my best friends in the whole world got married. He was one of my first friends in Oak Ridge when I moved here in third grade and we have been really close ever since. As far back as I can remember, we’ve never had so much as a cross word, let alone a fight, but when I told him that I wouldn’t be able to be in his wedding or even go to it because I was going to be spending that weekend at a Young Life camp, we didn’t talk for six months. It was a really hard time for me because I obviously wanted to be there for him on his big day, but I felt called to Young Life and I was committed to going to camp with my guys.

The only thing that could have made me feel worse was the fact that Windy Gap was a total bust. Our kids were crazy the whole weekend and it didn’t feel as if I had gotten anywhere spiritually with the guys in my cabin. I came home down in the dumps because not only had I missed the wedding and possibly lost my friend, but it felt like it was all for nothing. I was hanging out on Monday sulking when I got a phone call from this kid… He said, “I need to talk. Can you meet me somewhere?”

We met up and he told me about how all of his friend’s lives were changing and how they loved God and loved to read His word, but he just didn’t get it. He told me that he wanted to understand that passion his friends had… he had even tried to read the Bible and pray, but he just didn’t feel anything. I asked him, “Is it possible that you’ve just never really trusted in Christ for yourself? Maybe you don’t feel anything because you’ve never really believed in Him.” He looked at me and said, “What do I do?”

What followed next was without question the coolest thing that I get to do in my work with high school kids. We spent the next forty-five minutes talking about what people were supposed to be, what has happened to us and what God has done about it in the person of Jesus. We talked about his life and his questions and then we came to it… the moment where he looked at me and said, “I want that. I want to pray right now.”

In Young Life, they have a thing called the “Say So” at camp where everyone who has given their lives to Christ stands up on the last day in front of everyone at camp and “says so.” It comes from Psalm 107 which says, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…” I think text messages count too.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Crystal Springs Reservoir (right outside of San Francisco)

Crystal Springs

Last weekend, we traveled to California to visit some of Christy’s family and celebrate her grandfather’s 80th birthday. It was a wonderful trip and such a great chance to be together with so many loving family members that we don’t get to see very often. For me it was really exciting, because I had never been to California and we were flying in to San Francisco… My mind was buzzing with expectation, excitement and tons of pre-conceived notions about what California would be like. I figured we would hop off the plane right onto the Golden Gate Bridge, drive around on really steep streets through thick crowds of famous and fashionable people talking on iPhones to Steve Jobs and the Google guys while stylishly wolfing down Rice-a-Roni and chasing it with all sorts of exotic kinds of coffee.

That’s not exactly what my first impression of California was like. I thought it would be all glitz, money, art and style I wasn’t cool enough to understand, but what I saw was something totally different. I piled our kids into a rental car with Christy’s papa and we rode down Interstate 280 toward Los Altos where they live, and as we left San Francisco behind, I saw a beautiful landscape totally untouched by human hands. 300 yards off the interstate there was a lake sitting still, clean and peaceful under the outrageously blue California sky. Bordering this tranquil water on the other side were rolling, forested hills as old and wild as the foothills of the Smokey’s I was used to back home. It looked like a scene out of the movie Open Range. As we drove past, the water and the hills stood there (they were definitely standing) quiet and strong. The scene was so unscathed by human influence that I thought Lewis and Clark would have seen the very same scene had they stood where I was.

Papa informed me that I was looking at something called the Crystal Springs Reservoir. He told me that San Francisco never gets the water it needs from rain, so they pipe in water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosimite and dam it up in a rift valley caused by the San Andreas fault. He told me that while there are walking trails around the reservoir, there is no development allowed, no dumping, no fishing, no camping and basically no human intervention of any kind allowed in the entire valley. This ensures a fresh and clean water source for San Francisco and its neighbors, but its effects don’t stop there. As a result of this area’s extremely strict protection, many important endangered species are surviving, not to mention the fact that the whole place is excessively and breathtakingly beautiful. That reservoir changed my whole perception of California!

As I looked out over the clean and protected water, certain verses started jumping into the forefront of my mind… verses like Proverbs 4:23 which says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Tom says that it could be translated “for from it come the issues of life.” In other words, protect it, set it apart, and take care of your heart because the stuff that matters for life is in there… I also thought of James 1:27 which says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I also thought about Psalm 92:12-14 which says, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…”

I looked at the still water and rolling hills and thought, “I want to guard and protect my heart! I want to keep myself unstained by this world! I want to stay planted in the house of God!” I know I can’t really do all that on my own… I need Jesus to keep me clean and protected, and I know that trusting in Him, that’s what I’ll be… and then not only will I have what I need on the inside when the drought comes, but I’ll have that extra something that Crystal Springs had… an arresting beauty of life that changes perceptions… Crystal Springs changed the way I think about California… maybe, trusting in Jesus more, I can change the way people think about Christians.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

If You Really Knew Me

A few weeks ago we played this game at Young Life leadership called, “If You Really Knew Me, You’d Know…” where everyone sits in a big circle and then goes around the room sharing weird, random, and sometimes embarrassing personal facts about their lives… it’s a get to know you kinda thing where you find out that there are guys who crochet and girls who burp louder than any human should. It’s a time for people come clean about having every episode of Family Matters memorized, while others (like myself) admit to being completely obsessed with Harry Potter.

That game is a ton of fun and always good for a laugh, but while you definitely learn some crazy stuff about people, it’s not how you really get to know someone. To get to know a person… and I mean really know them, you have to spend time with them, talk to them, enter into their world and live your life alongside theirs. To really know someone, you have to share experiences, laugh together, cry together and just be together. There are tons of people in my life who I know and consider to be friends, but there are maybe only a few that I would say I really and truly know deeply, and those are not people I just randomly hang out with. Those people are the ones I’ve lived life with… the ones where I have sometimes had a hard time telling where my experiences end and theirs begin...

In Philippians 3, Paul makes an incredible statement… he says, “I want to know Christ.” When I first read that statement, it seemed a little weird… it’s like, “Well, Paul, you do know Him! He appeared to you! You have seen Him and spoken with Him… why would you say, “I want to know Christ?! If you don’t know Him, who does?” And I think that’s the key… Paul is not just talking about knowing Jesus… not even just believing in Him. He is referring to something bigger and deeper than having Jesus as an acquaintance. He’s talking about really knowing Him, almost like saying, “I want to be one of His best friends!”

Whenever I come across that verse, I can feel a deep emphasis on the word ‘know,’ almost as if Paul is shouting through the page and across the centuries that he really, really wants to know Jesus… not just know Him, but deeply and intimately know Him. And after he says that, he qualifies the statement with what he believes it takes to really know Jesus well. Because Jesus is a person after all, and you don’t really know Him just because you know random facts about Him… I mean, picture the Lord sitting in a circle in the living room saying, “If you really knew me, you’d know… Uh, let’s see… ah yes, you’d know that I can walk on water and read your mind… right this second.”

Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” What does it take to really know Jesus? Well, as I said, He’s a person, so you have to spend time with Him… live life with Him… share experiences… feel His hurt. Live your life with Jesus, learning what it means live a new life empowered by the resurrection. Live your life with Jesus learning what it means to suffer and have people mistreat you, talk about you and push you out of their lives because they don’t want God’s love. Live your life with Jesus, laying it down in sacrificial love every day… I don’t know about you, but I want a life like that… a life where I do more than just believe in Jesus… a life where I live alongside Him so that we share experiences and so that I might really know Him.

Friday, September 28, 2007

An old Picture of Anna in a Santa Claus hat, because...

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

Well, not really. Actually, I don’t even think Wal-mart is decking the halls yet, but I have been thinking about Christmas all this week. You see, when you write church music, you have to think ahead liturgically which means that when everyone is watching bowl games on New Year’s day, still basking in the radiating joy of Christmas, I am already thinking about Good Friday and Easter music. And when everyone is mowing their yards for the last few times as fall really starts to kick in, I’ve already been thinking about the baby boy in the manger… the greatest story of all.

My favorite themes to write Christmas music around are the juxtaposition of opposing concepts… you know like the fact that Jesus who is King over all was not born in a palace and into fame and riches, but born into poverty in a stable… and the way the Almighty Master and Creator of the universe became a helpless newborn… the way the Great I AM, perfect in wisdom and knowledge became an infant incapable of speech. I love those ideas because they seem to be the ways God does everything… sort of backwards… you know, like the fact that weakness is strength, laying down your life is keeping it and the first will be last.

Well, in the middle of working on and thinking about Christmas music, I was reading Isaiah 46 this week and came across a verse that captures one of those cool, backwards thoughts, and it might just be a Christmas verse… In verse 13 the Lord says, “I am bringing my righteousness near; it is not far away…”

When I first read that verse I thought about the fact that the righteousness of God is about as far away as anything could ever be! When you sit down and read about what is righteous according to the Lord in the books of the Law, you find that the only thing about His righteousness that is near is the fact that it’s nearly impossible for us to be righteous in any way! The idea of God’s righteousness being near is almost a ridiculous concept… that is, until you consider Jesus.

When God Almighty took off His glory and put on skin, becoming a tiny baby on that first Christmas, the righteousness of God came near. That which is so unbelievably far away and so impossibly unattainable moved in to our little planet and walked around. The Righteousness of God grew up, had friends, went over to their houses, sang songs, ate food and laughed over jokes and good times. The Righteousness of God came near... near enough to touch, and then laid down His life, dying in our place, so that Paul was able to write those unparalleled words in Romans 3:21 which say, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known…”

Christmas isn’t here yet, but I’m getting fired up just thinking about it, because it means that the thing that is farthest away from me was brought near… It means that I can have the righteousness of God! As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

and now, a little video post from my Mom's most recent visit (with a little help from Allison Krauss & Union Station)

Friday, September 21, 2007

(not to be confused with dundies)

I don’t remember too many things from being a little kid with any kind of clarity, but if there is one thing that sort of permeates all of my really old memories, it is football. With dad being a football coach, it seemed like that game was always a part of our lives. Officially, there was an off season, but not for dad. I can remember work-outs with players, picture day, scrimmages, picnics, banquets and of course the intensity and rush of Friday nights in this football-loving town. I can remember Dad spending every fall Sunday night at the kitchen table painstakingly drawing out the blocking schemes for that next week on a manila folder that would be color-coded, laminated and then referenced for the rest of the week.

I have this one memory of Dad bringing home a video tape marked, “Fundies.” I had no idea what that meant, but I remember him watching that tape and wondering why he had to do it. See, it wasn’t a tape about the latest and most creative, new-fangled blocking schemes. It was a tape about how to get in the right stance, how to pull for a trap and where to put your hands for a good, solid, base block. It was the basics. I was confused as to why my dad, who had had played football in college and coached for like a kabillion years had to watch a tape about the basics. I mean, I was just a little kid, but growing up in that house, even I knew when to call a QB draw and exactly what an offensive coordinator is thinking when you’re on your own 8 yard line… That’s when Dad told me that “Fundies” meant “Fundamentals” and that if our players weren’t experts in the basics, they didn’t have anything.

This past week Christy and I tried an experiment… We were talking one night and the stress in the room was thick. We were both just down and dark about all kinds of stuff and we didn’t know what to do about anything. We tried to talk ourselves out of all of our fears and problems, but it wasn’t really helping. Finally we decided to take it one spiritual problem at a time… to identify one area of our life where we were straight-up forsaking a fundamental teaching of the Lord and just spend that week working on that one basic thing.

When we looked at our conversation, we had tons of anxiety and fear about things in our future… would the show on Wednesday be a disaster? Will our kids be well- equipped for Kindergarten? What is it going to be like when they are 14? In Matthew 6, Jesus said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? …Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

So, we’ve made it our goal to take this one basic teaching of our Lord and focus on actually obeying it this week… to listen to each other and help each other to become an expert at this one ‘fundie,’ and guess what? It is possible! We’ve been doing it all week! I think a lot of times we look at Jesus’ teachings and just blow them off, thinking, “Yeah, whatever… blah, blah.” But I think He really meant us to do this… to really stop worrying about anything that exists in tomorrow or after. I know one thing, I have had one of the most joy-filled and laugh-infested weeks I’ve had in a long time and it’s all because we just decided to trust Him and let Him deal with tomorrow as well as the next decade. What would happen if we just took Jesus seriously and became experts at the basics? I’m going to try to find out. I’ve tasted a sip this week and behold, it was good!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Anna drew this picture of Nan for her birthday this past Wednesday...

On Taking Tests

Have you ever known people that make you feel like you never meet their expectations? You know, people who always for some reason make you feel like when you’re around them you’re just failing their tests? It’s like, when you entered the room, you didn’t know it, but you needed a number 2 pencil because the exam was about to begin, but you might as well give up now, because nothing you do will be good enough… I have had tons of people like this in my life. When I was in high school I had long hair and was in a really loud (and pretty bad) rock band and I had teachers who just didn’t like me and it was because of the way I looked and the skater friends I had. It didn’t really matter how hard-working or insightful I was in their class, they had a test called the “I think good students should look a certain way” test, and I failed it every day.

Just the other day I was playing guitar and singing at a fund-raising banquet for some ministry here in town and when I arrived, the lady who booked me came up to me and said in a real sugary voice, “Hey there Lee! Oh! I see you forgot to shave this morning!” (In case you missed it, what just happened was this lady saying, “In order to pass my test, you needed to wear a tie and shave your face.”) Her disappointment with me was tangible. It was like an invisible but very substantial wall in between us. I had failed to please her… failed to meet her expectations… failed her test.

The problem is that everyone around us has expectations for us. And we care so desperately what other people think about us that we take their tests trying to pass to get their approval. Why would we do just about anything to get people to think we’re cool or good enough or that we have it all together? Why are we like this? –Because we want to be liked more than anything! We want to be cool more than anything! We want to be noticed, but we want more… we want to be cherished! We want to be wanted and if we are going to be wanted, we are going to have to please other people, right?

Paul said this in Galatians 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Then over in 1 Corinthians 4:3 he says, “I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court; indeed I do not even judge myself.” Then, and lastly in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 Paul says, “We are not trying to please men, but God who tests our hearts.”

You see, the only test you have to worry about passing is the test God is giving. So what if other people throw tests on you… you don’t have to pass them. You are accepted and loved by the God of the universe! You are only being given one test that matters… and that is the test God is giving your heart. Do you remember what Jesus said when asked what works God requires? He said “The work God requires is this, to believe on the One He has sent.” –it’s just about believing in Jesus, and believing in Him includes believing what He says about you now… that you are loved, accepted and valuable to Him.

When that lady said to me, “Oh, I see you forgot to shave.” I said, “No, I didn’t.” Then she answered back, “Oh, so you’re growing your beard out?” And I said, “Nope. Just didn’t shave.” She looked at me with such disappointment and such confusion that the big fat ‘F’ she just gave me on her test didn’t seem to bother me… a while back it would have, but I’m learning to believe in Jesus more. I’m starting to believe what He says about me and passing God’s test is good enough for me.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

So, Caedmon's Call has a new record out... Derek's back and so is Caedmon's. Go buy one. For real.

So-called Little Things

A few weeks ago Christy broke her foot and I played the role of Mr. Mom around our house. Now, I have done a lot of difficult things in my day including contact sports, AP classes, a college degree in four years, teaching a class of 36 ninth graders, lots of public speaking, composing for orchestra, leading a band and even stuff like plumbing and sheetrock; but I have never done anything that is anywhere near as hard as what my wife does. I love my two little girls more than I ever imagined was possible, but taking care of them full time is the most challenging thing I have ever tried to do.

Christy and I have great kids, but having kids (even great ones) is really hard. During my week as mom I learned a lot about my wife that made my eternal respect for her climb through the roof. For one thing, everything I did was undone in what felt like ten seconds. I would work so hard on the dishes just to turn around and find 10 million more dirty ones waiting on me in no time. I would bust my tail on laundry all evening just to find that all the humans in the house used more clothes the very next day making more piles of evening sucking laundry! I worked hard on food they didn't eat which meant I had to dirty more pots, pans and dishes making more food while the piles of books, toys and crayons all over the once clean floor multiplied like wildfire. How I made it through that time without going absolutely bonkers escapes me.

This little temporary trip into my wife's world showed me that there are some serious areas in my spiritual life that are underdeveloped. I learned that I am an excessively selfish person who doesn't get a whole lot of practice in laying down his life. I learned that I rock at complaining which, like golf, is a sport in which a low score is what you want. I learned that a life in 'direct, full-time ministry' isn't always where you find the spiritual studs. I think that in the Christian world we sometimes assume that the really important stuff is only happening on the so-called front lines where the Gospel is being preached and the Word of God is being shared and taught... And don't get me wrong, that stuff is important... but every life can be infinitely important, and when it is lived for Christ, every little thing is huge.

Back in the day in Israel the High Priest was the most important dude with the most important job when it came to things of God. He had special clothes that no one else got to wear with bells on the hem and a golden plaque on his turban that read, "Holy to the LORD." In Zechariah 14, a prophecy tells us what it's going to be like near the end of days and he says in verse 20 that "On that day "HOLY TO THE LORD" will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the LORD's house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the LORD Almighty..."

We're in those days... days when everyday things are holy and everyone is just as special and important to God as the High Priest. Whether you are sitting in chemistry class, filling out expense reports in a cubicle or cooking up mac & cheese for the kids, you can live those moments in a way that is holy to the LORD. Every seemingly little thing can actually be a very important thing. Loving your classmates, co-workers and kids because you are laying down your life to serve the One who gave His life for you is about the holiest thing you can do.

Caedmon's Call has a new song called Sacred written by Randall Goodgame and Andrew Osenga and the lyrics help me remember my awesome wife, how hard her job is and how much I need to grow:

This house is a good mess
It's the proof of life
No way would I trade jobs
But it don't pay overtime

I'll get to the laundry
I don't know when
I'm saying a prayer tonight
'Cause tomorrow it starts again

Could it be that everything is sacred
And all this time
Everything I've dreamed of
Has been right before my eyes

The children are sleeping
But they're running through my mind
The sun makes them happy
And the music makes them unwind

My cup runneth over
And I worry 'bout the stain
Teach me to run to You like they run to me
For every little thing

When I forget to drink from You
I can feel the banks harden
Lord, make me life a stream
To feed the garden

Wake up little sleeper
The Lord, God Almighty
Has made your mama keeper
So rise and shine, rise and shine,

'Cause everything is sacred
And all this time
Everything I've dreamed of
Has been right before my eyes

Friday, August 31, 2007

Anna driving the boat on the 4th of July!

At the end of every day in our house, Anna has to clean up her toys before going to bed. As a general rule, she does this pretty well, but there are nights when it seems impossible that she will be able to focus and do the work. She stalls, plays with the toys, wants to come up on the couch and snuggle, has to use the bathroom a hundred times and even lies down on the ground impersonating insects… The thing that blows me away is that when she just gets down to the task at hand, she knocks it out fairly quickly and gets rewarded, but when she messes around, it stretches the whole thing on forever and ever with no reward.

Of course, I do the same things. When I was in high school, I could find a million things that I “needed” to attend to instead of homework. I would gladly do yard work, dishes, laundry and even exercise if it meant I could blow off some chemistry equations for later. And it’s not just me either… why do you think one of the first things they put on PCs was solitaire and minesweeper? How many guys spend more time in their cubicles tweaking their fantasy football teams than filling out time sheets and expense reports? How many people lose precious hours following novels, blogs and playing video games when they know that filing will be waiting on them and that phone call is going to have to be made eventually? How much time do we spend running from what needs to be done? And how much junk can we pretend is important when we don’t want to do what really is important?

In Job 28, he starts talking about mining and just how far people will go to get their hands on gold and jewels when there is something else they should be seeking… He says, “There is a mine for silver and a place where gold is refined… man puts an end to the darkness; he searches the farthest recesses… far from where people dwell he cuts a shaft, in places forgotten by the foot of man; far from man he dangles and sways… no bird of prey knows that hidden path, no falcon’s eye has seen it. Proud beasts do not set foot on it, and no lion prowls there. Man’s hand assaults the flinty rock and lays bare the roots of the mountains. He tunnels through the rock, his eyes see all its treasures… but where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell?”

You see, people will do anything to avoid the most important thing. They will go where no one ever has. They will risk everything, dangling in the danger of uncharted darkness, but they don’t find what really matters… All that adventurous exploration of cutting shafts, dangling and assaulting the roots of mountains sounds really exciting, but it leads nowhere. Job essentially says, “It gets you gold, but so what? Who cares? What about the thing that really matters?” For the rest of that chapter Job talks about wisdom and how no one understands how valuable it is and how you can’t buy it. He says it’s hidden from the eyes of every living thing but that God knows where it is and how to get to it. In verse 28 he says, “The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom.”

I think that’s what people are running from… we don’t want to humble ourselves in fear before the Lord. That humility is so scary to us that we’ll do anything and risk anything to avoid it. We build up these images of ourselves to fool everyone into thinking we have it all together when it is so much easier to fall down before Him and let Him handle it all. Why should we go to such great lengths just to get our hands on what will never satisfy? Fall down before Him… lay down your life… take up your cross. Leave the adventurous distractions and walk in fear of the Lord… it’s where you’ll find something worth seeking.

Friday, August 24, 2007

On Being a Baby

I keep forgetting that Norah is still a baby. She walks and runs, climbs and spins, talks and sings so well that sometimes I think she’s as grown up as Anna, but she’s not. Now, she’s not an infant anymore, but she’s still a baby… (Does that make sense?) A couple of nights ago Norah woke up screaming at 2:50 AM. I went into the girls’ room and picked her up out of the crib… it must have been a bad dream because she was still asleep even though she was crying. When I held her, she got startled and woke up a little bit and then upon realizing who had her, she sleepily said, “Daddy” and held on tight. I held her for a while and then put her back down to sleep and remembered again that I was dealing with a little baby.

She might be getting bigger and stronger with more coordination and a larger vocabulary, but Norah still needs Mommy and Daddy for pretty much everything. She needs us to feed her and put clothes on her, she needs us to change her and clean up all her various messes and she needs us to read books and turn on Veggie Tales. She can’t open doors, get buckled up or brush her own teeth… and these are just some of the things she’s aware of! There are tons of things she needs us for that she has no idea even exist like maintaining our cooling unit, changing the brakes on the car and paying our property tax. She needs us so much and in the moments in which she understands this fact, she lets us know…

One time in Matthew 18 the disciples asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus called over a little child and had him stand among the disciples and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

When Jesus said ‘little child,’ the word He used meant infant. He was talking about babies… maybe little toddling babies like Norah who have just recently learned to walk. Matthew says about this infant that Jesus “…had him stand among them.” I wonder if the little baby boy was holding on with his chubby little hands to the index fingers of the One who made him, trying to stand up and wobbling back and forth. Babies are so cute when they’re just learning to stand and then walk… they need someone to hold them up and they need someone to pick them up when they repeatedly fall.

We are supposed to be like little babies with our heavenly Father… trusting Him for everything, crying out to Him and letting Him take care of all our needs and leaving behind our self-dependence. Christy and I had a moment this week where we had to cry out like that. It was a problem with no apparent solution where we just decided to throw up our hands and say, “Whaaah!” We prayed together and just gave the whole thing to Him… we got to a place where we realized we were helpless and like a little infant who doesn’t know anything about their parents paying the electric bill and washing the dishes, we just said, “Father, You’re going to have to take care of all of this… we just give it to you like a couple of babies.” And guess what, He did. And I don’t know how, just like Norah doesn’t know how her mommy makes those rocking smoothies. She just knows she’s hungry and smoothies are delicious. It’s a great arrangement really… we need everything, He gives everything we need. All we have to do is be totally dependent little babies crying out to our Daddy.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Understanding Me

One of the weirdest things about being a parent is watching your child’s personality develop and seeing yourself in them. When you see things in your kids that are like yourself, it’s like some kind of freaky time warp/psycho therapy session where you get to see how you became you… This doesn’t happen all the time because your kids are not you, they have their own unique personalities, but every now and then you get a glimpse into who you used to be, which I guess helps you understand who you are now.

For instance: Anna is not very fired up about swimming. No matter how many flotation devices we strap on to her, she still freaks out in the pool if all four of her limbs aren’t clinging to us like grim death. She understands how water wings and tubes work, but she still isn’t ready to go under the water or try swimming on her own. She gets this from me… see, Christy swims like a fish and always has, but I was afraid of swimming for a long time. Like Anna, I am not a fan of new, unknown and possibly dangerous things, no matter how much fun other people seem to be having with them. I can still remember the summer I decided I would try to swim under water… It wasn’t until I was well into elementary school, and I spent the preceding Spring drawing pictures of water with two legs coming out, telling everyone about how I was going to do handstands under water… those drawings were received with very little enthusiasm and a lot of sarcastic rolled eyes as everyone was like, “Yeah right.” But I did it, and on my own time… just like Anna will one day.

Way down deep, most people probably think that “…if everyone were a little more like me, this world would be a lot easier to live in.” I think that’s because we sort of understand ourselves… it’s also why we have so many misunderstandings with everyone else… People think, “Why doesn’t everyone love square dancing?” or “Doesn’t everyone think QVC is the coolest?” or “What could possibly be more fun than watching reruns of Bonanza and CHiPs?” It is such a good thing that everyone is so different, with different style, musical tastes, sensitivities, fears, insecurities and sense of humor; however, it's these differences that make relating so hard. I mean, when it comes down to it, I don’t even really understand myself most of the time… how am I supposed to understand someone that is totally different from me? I don’t know why I can’t stand peanut butter and chocolate together except when their powers combine in two very specific desserts, but that’s part of me. I don’t know why I hold grudges against actors when they play really messed up characters, but that’s just the way it is, William H. Macy!

It’s bad enough knowing that we’ll probably never really understand each other, but what about the fact that when it comes down to it, I don’t even get myself?! If I don’t fully understand me, can anyone else? This week I was reading Psalm 33, and verses 13-15 say this: “From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from His dwelling place He watches all who live on earth – He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.”

The One who made my heart knows it. He made it the way it is so that it closes up when I’m surrounded by crowds of people I don’t know and then bursts open when I hear a Dvorak symphony. He knows why I don’t like to dive into change, but take it slow and at my own pace. He knows why cheesy and sappy movies and stories always make me cry all over the place (even when I don’t want them too) because He formed my heart… He designed my personality. He considers everything this heart of mine does because He made it. He made me this way… He gets me. He understands me… and He likes me.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Norah ready for 'back to school' with her backpack, a way-too-big hat and her new crocs...

Secret Wisdom

The other day I was at one of my favorite restaurants which operates out of a little trailer and has been bringing the most addictive Chinese food to the good citizens of Oak Ridge for the past umpteen years. I had just ordered my sweet and sour chicken and fried wontons and gone into the next building to scout out a place to sit when I heard one of the future presidential candidates being interviewed on some political opinion show. The candidate was being asked all about mortgage prices for individual families with blemished credit histories and predatory brokers and their responsibilities in the midst of weak home prices and rising interest rates.

As I wielded my chopsticks amid a flurry of fried rice, it struck me just how much junk the president has to know. And not just know, but be an expert on and have a plan for. It seems like the president has to juggle so much information that simply getting a status report on every single sector of responsibility would take all day long… I guess being the leader of the free world takes a lot of wisdom about a lot of things. If I were president I would probably take the whole first day to find out whether or not I could hit a golf ball and have it roll around the entire perimeter of the oval office without stopping…

I don’t know anything about finances in the private sector or what to do with Pakistan. I have no idea how to find the money we need to provide everyone in this country with awesome health care and I really don’t have a solution for the energy crisis. I don’t know what I’d do if I found out Area 51 was real and we really do have guys like Jason Bourne. When it comes down to the wisdom it takes to lead in this world, I know beans. But, I do have wisdom… and it’s secret wisdom.

In 1 Corinthians 2:6-7, Paul said, “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”

The message of the Gospel of God’s grace is like God’s secret that He’s telling anyone who wants to know… it’s like a private club that everyone’s invited to where you find out that money, power, fame and success don’t mean anything and that love is everything… where you find out that we’re all a bunch of needy, messed up failures that God loves and is making into a kingdom of conquering warriors… where you find out that you don’t have to do anything or know anything to be totally accepted by the One who made your heart for the sweet freedom of knowing His.

This week one of my friends lost her mom to cancer. And while the people of power in this world struggled, clawed and debated their way toward position and influence by trying to know the most and talk the loudest, I was in a quiet room with six 18 and 19 year-old guys who got down on their faces to pray for their friend in her loss. It was their idea and it may have just been the quietest, sweetest and strongest gathering of wisdom that took place that day.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Taylor, Michael, Paul and Travis trying not too look like tourists in Chicago...


"I need to tell you something... do you promise not to tell anyone?"
-Don't you love it when that happens? Isn't it awesome when someone decides to trust you with something, to tell you a secret? It's one way you know that you're close... a mark of friendship. If you're in someone's confidence, you're their friend. Right now my kids are three and a half and one and a half and I know everything about their lives, but it won't always be this way. Someday they'll start liking boys and junk like that, and I'll be on the outside. They'll have other best friends.

You know, I used to be jealous of the Old Testament Patriarch Abraham because he's known as God's friend. I always wished I could be included in this two-person fraternity... God and Abraham, best friends forever... I could just imagine them hanging out, eating cheese burgers or playing frisbee golf. And then I read John 15 where Jesus calls His desciples 'friends' and for some reason I felt Him reaching out from those red letters all the way through 20 centuries and calling me His friend too...

And why? What was the mark of friendship for Jesus? "... everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." In other words, "You're my friends because I tell you stuff... you know all the secrets." Psalm 25:14 says, "The Lord confides in those who fear Him. He makes His covenant known to them."

Paul said that his ministry was making known a mystery that has always been hidden... like a secret. And you want to know what it was? ...That God loves people like me and you and that Jesus died for us too. John said Jesus came to make God known to us... to tell us things about the Father we would have never known otherwise. Peter said that the things we now know are the things the prophets and angels were dying to understand... like secrets we were let in on. Jesus even said that Abraham longed to see His day...

Jesus who is God loves you and has loved you unto death because He wants to know you and you don't have to do anything but take the free gift He's offering you to have forgiveness, a new heart, a place in heaven, power to live this life beautifully and a relationship with Him. These are mysteries, secrets He's letting you in on... why? Because He wants to be friends... best friends.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Me, Tom, Bill and Pottsy at this gigantic, reflective, metalic, ominous, misshapen, outer spacey, egg-type thing in downtown Chicago.

Eating: The Sign of Life

When we went to Chicago last week, we ate the world famous Chicago-style pizza at Giordano’s on Rush St. It’s one of those things you have to do when you’re in Chicago. We were all looking forward to a big day of walking, shopping and taking in the sights, so everyone ordered a ton of food thinking we were at Big Ed’s Pizza back home in ‘the Ridge’ and we would be able to slam tons of hot, cheesy goodness… Well, to make a long story short, we got schooled. It was hot, cheesy and good, but it was way too much for any of us. I have never seen so much food left on the table at a restaurant, but even though we got served, we still had the greatest time just being together and eating…

And by the way, isn’t eating just about the coolest thing? I mean seriously, is there anything better than a really good watermelon? And let’s not forget about brownies and milkshakes… In my life I’ve met plenty of people I have a hard time getting along with, but I’ve yet to meet a piece of bacon I didn’t like! Tom always asks the question, “What if God hadn’t invented eating? What if people just photosynthesized… you know, you walk out into the sun for a while, turn green and you’re good to go for the day?” Praise the Lord He came up with something so much cooler and more fun! I mean, if there were no eating, we wouldn’t have words like ‘delicious’ and ‘scrumptious’ because we just wouldn’t need them.

I was reading about the resurrection this week in the book of Luke and was struck by one thing… food. Eating plays a big part in the raising of the dead in the book of Luke. It sort of becomes a sign of life… in fact, it is the crucial sign of life; the case-closing, convincing proof that the dead has been raised. In Luke chapter 8, Jesus raised a dead girl back to life and while others laughed at the prospect, Jesus told her parents to get her something to eat. In chapter 24, after Jesus Himself was raised from the dead, He spent a long time with two of His followers on the way to Emmaus, but they didn’t really get that it was Him until they sat down to eat and He broke the bread. Later, when Jesus appeared to His disciples, they didn’t believe what they were seeing with their own eyes and so He said, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate it in their presence.”

So why is eating such a sign of life? I think it has to do with how visceral and physically interactive it is… I mean, ghosts can’t take a piece of fish out of your hand, put it in their mouth, chew it up and say, “Mmm. Got any tartar sauce?” If someone eats, they are really alive and being nourished by what they’re eating. And there it is... the reason behind eating. You see, to get the nourishment out of food, you have to eat it, take it in. No matter how colorful and beautiful the presentation on the plate, it gets crushed, ground up, poured out and broken. Then it descends into unseen depths and nourishes you, giving you everything you need.

When Jesus gave us a way to remember what He did for us on the cross, it was a meal. Bread is broken and wine is poured out. He said they represent His body broken and His blood poured out. His death… His being crushed, His life poured out. With His death and resurrection He has washed us clean and gives us new life, filling us and nourishing us from inside in ways we don’t fully understand. Maybe I’m reaching here, but maybe my veggies aren’t just good for me because of their minerals and junk. Maybe Lucky Charms aren’t just ‘magically delicious.’ Maybe all the awesome food is telling us something about how the One we need more than anything was broken and poured out to give us life.
...And here's Michael giving a valiant effort against a foe that was beyond any of us:

Cluster Map