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.

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