Friday, May 30, 2008

Norah smiling through some two-year-old tears...

Sunday Morning

Do you ever remember being a kid and feeling like there were just some things you could always count on? I know for me those were things like always getting homework on long weekends, always being able to watch four episodes of Saved By the Bell after school everyday and always knowing that Dad was going to be up in the kitchen making breakfast every single morning before school… (which carried with it the bonus of knowing that on Friday we were most likely having grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast)

One of the clearest memories that I was always able to bank on was knowing that every Sunday morning I was going to sing Just As I Am at church at the close of the service when the invitation was given… We all knew it was coming, and some people even bothered to open their hymnals to that trusty ole page as if they didn’t have it memorized. It was about the closest we ever got to any kind of liturgy in the Baptist Church, and even though we all knew it was coming, I loved it. I loved hearing and singing that song because I liked the way it felt to be in church and feel accepted by Jesus just the way I was. I remember liking that Sunday morning feeling even as a really little dude standing in my pew holding that hymnal I didn’t need.

One of my favorite songs is called Sunday Morning by Sandra McCracken. It’s about a person who is utterly shocked to discover that the love of God comes all the way down into the dust and mess of our darkest moments and cleanses us, making us clean and making us feel clean. She says,

You were the first and You’ll be the last
And like cloud on the Chicago skyline, these things are past,
Just as I am You rush in without a warning,
I didn’t think that you would really want to come to this place,
And make it feel like Sunday Morning,
You make it feel like Sunday morning

One of the reasons that I love to come together with brothers and sisters to worship is to remember that because of the blood of Jesus, we are clean and forgiven… That God accepts us and loves us just as we are and that He has declared us righteous in Christ, just as righteous as Christ. That’s why we sing the songs we do… to remember that He loves us and that He paid so that we could be clean and brand new and so that we could feel clean and brand new. After King David's really big screw-up he says in Psalm 51, “Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones you have crushed rejoice.” I have always loved the way it feels on Sunday morning because I know I’ll feel new and accepted again… “O Lamb of God I come, I come.”

So, this past weekend was our annual High School Spring Retreat with special guest stars Graham and Emily Murray. Graham brought an awesome message about the importance of weakness which was good because the only two eighth graders who went to the weekend dominated the tournament we created around this ridiculous bean-bag game...

Here's a video:

Friday, May 23, 2008

It Smells Holy Here

So today we had this huge cookout/fellowship meal at the church. It was awesome. Everyone brought their own food and a few guys broke out this super fat-daddy grill and started cookin’ it up. Brothers and sisters stood around eating, talking and laughing for an hour or so and then everyone packed up and headed to the house. After everyone left I turned out the lights, locked the doors, went home and just crashed for a while before heading back up to church for the high school Bible study. When I got here and got ready to unlock the door I was overwhelmed by the smell of grilled burgers… mmm. No one had been up here cooking for about three hours, but the smell of our cookout still dominated the air. After I unlocked the door, I walked in the building and was again bombarded with the smell of our cookout along with this outrageous desire to slam another burger! It was a fragrant reminder of the awesome fellowship we had together.

It has often struck me, when reading through the Old Testament accounts of sacrifice, just how much worship was a feast for the senses. You would hear the beat of the music alongside the bleating of lambs. You would feel the wool or the wine or grain in your fingers. You would see the flames and smoke of the altar alongside the multi-colored costumes of the priests and the arresting deep red of blood. If you were a priest, all these sacrifices became your meals… the taste of others’ offerings. And maybe more powerfully than any other, you would smell worship. It was like a never-ending barbeque with the aroma of beef, lamb, bread and wine constantly filling every corner of the temple or the tent. It was the height of hands-on drama and it must have been awesome. ‘Holy’ had a smell and it was delicious. It didn’t just feel good to make things right with God… it smelled good.

In 2 Corinthians 2 Paul says, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life…”

Holiness still has a smell. If we are offering our lives and hearts to Him, people will know it… just like the whole neighborhood knows on a bright summer day when one family breaks out the grill and throws on some burgers, people know when we smell like Him. Some folks don’t like it and some folks do, but when our lives are His, it’s fragrant to Him. Don’t you want to have a life that smells awesome to God? Don’t you want to have a life that makes people hungry for the Bread of Heaven?

Tomorrow the church won’t smell like burgers anymore… that is, unless I bust out that grill again and cook ‘em up! How’s your spiritual aroma? Is it time to get the fire going again? You can smell like Him. You can be fragrant. You can have a life that God loves to sniff and that others walk by and say, “Mmm… what is that?”

Friday, May 16, 2008

Norah Rose sidewalk-chalking it up at the Morgan's last month!


Lately Norah has had a mantra… in every situation, no matter what, she has one thing to say: “I do it all by myself!” In everything from getting in her high chair, putting on her shoes, brushing her teeth, putting in hair bows and everything in between, she desires independence. Now on one hand, this is a very good thing. I want her to get to a place where she can pick out her own clothes and successfully place them all on her body in a socially acceptable way. I want her to be independent in a ton of ways and in fact, one of the biggest blessings in the past couple of years has been the way our oldest little girl Anna has been doing so much for herself, by herself. The only problem with Norah’s intense yearning for independence is that she can’t do a lot of those things yet and with the advent of this desired independence, she’s losing the ability to ask for help.

The clearest example of this is the process of getting in the car. First off, Norah wants to open the door, so if I go anywhere near the handle, she freaks out: “No! I open it all by myself!” But she can’t, so she turns to me after grunting and trying and says, “It’s locked, Daddy.” So, I open the door and try to pick her up to get her in the seat, and yet again, she freaks: “No! I get in all by myself!” This is actually doable, but it takes around six or seven months and usually involves a few slips, bruises and tears. Then comes the seatbelt… wow. She wants to do this so badly, but she’s just not strong enough yet. She needs me, but she doesn’t want my help. If I touch the seatbelt, she freaks yet again: “No! Daddy! I do it all by myself!”

It’s like I’ve been watching someone simultaneously mature and regress. You see, babies love asking for help from their Daddies and Mommies. They are awesome at crying out when they are in need. When they first gain control of their limbs, they show it by holding them out to someone bigger in a cry for help. As we grow though, we become more able, tougher and more self-sufficient. This is a good thing when it comes to being able to feed yourself lunch, but it’s a very bad thing when it comes to spiritual matters...

One time people were bringing babies to Jesus and He was pumped! His disciples thought this was a waste of time and tried to stop the influx of infants, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

You see, when it comes to understanding what it takes to know God, babies are pros. They know how to cry for help. In watching Norah lately, I’ve been able to see in myself so many things I’m trying to do that I’m just not strong enough to do… things I need my Daddy in heaven to do for me… things I need to cry about instead of huffing and puffing and trying harder. I can’t clean myself up… I can’t be good enough or acceptable enough on my own. I can’t prove how awesome I am at this… I’ve been thinking that a big secret to growing is immaturing… going backwards to days when I wasn’t so strong and self-reliant… days when I knew how to need, and when I knew how to cry about it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Anna kickin' it on Sam's trampoline...

(stay tuned for a video at the end of this post!)

Unseen Feet

We’re getting to a place with this third pregnancy (and the accompanying sickness) where the kids are getting used to it and know what to expect with Mommy being really sick… I mean, they don’t give me funny looks anymore when I show up in their bedroom after they wake up in the morning. Before all this started I was always off and working before they got up, but now I am Mr. Breakfast-time, and they’re getting used to that. Also they’ve learned that when we get home from the store or the gym or wherever not to furiously knock on the locked front door until I can get there with the diaper bag or groceries to unlock it, as this makes Christy feel that she has to get up and get the door… not good. They’ve also sort of learned that when we arrive home, they don’t really need to go stampeding through the house to find Christy while screaming at the top of their lungs about whatever adventures we’ve had… (I say “sort of learned” because they are two rambunctious girls who love to stampede and scream more than almost anything.)

It turns out that we’re all really learning a lot. I’m learning how hard it is to be a full-time mom with laundry, dishes, naptime, bedtime, tax time, bath time, nutrition, spills and bad attitudes that all need my undivided attention right now! How am I supposed to give Anna computer time and reading time as well as give Norah ABC and color/shape time when (if I’m honest) I’m trying to make it to bedtime without completely losing my mind?! And on top of all this, my sweetheart is sicker than she’s ever been and in all the running around, grocery shopping and coordinating play dates, I just miss being with her…

I keep waking up every day with the mind-set that today will be the day… either it will be the day that the sickness stops and life can get back to normal, or it will be the day when I have a breakthrough and really grow… becoming the patient and long suffering parent that I desperately want to be when this whole thing is over. Everyday I go to the Scriptures looking for hope and looking for help. Will we make it through this? How? When? Sometimes I feel like one of the random millions of Israelites after that first Passover… all I see is water in front and an army behind and I’m not Moses, so I don’t know the plan… I’m just sitting there in the middle of the night waiting on a way out.

In Psalm 77 the songwriter Asaph talked about that night. He said, “The waters saw You , O God, the waters saw You and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; Your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, Your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, Your way through the mighty waters, though Your footprints were not seen.”

Unlike the movie representations of that amazing night, the Red Sea didn’t split in twenty seconds… it took all night and according to Asaph, it was a long and stormy night of waiting and getting soaked. Sometimes God’s paths are long, dark and full of wind, rain, thunder and lightning, but He always walks in front, even when we can’t see His footprints. This trial has been hard, but I know that I am growing… be it ever so slowly. We’re going to make it out and we’re going to be different on the other side because we’re walking the path of the invisible footprints.

Here's a little video i put together for Norah... er, I mean, of Norah, for me...


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

We Need You!

This week I got a great CD in the mail that I ordered from It was a CD that I discovered at the end of high school and just wore out in college. Christy and I used to listen to it non stop in the early days of our dating and then married life. It was by this country/rock band called the Jayhawks and I loved every track on the record. Well, after college, we moved back to Oak Ridge and into a house and before we knew it, Anna was born and our whole lives changed. It wasn’t long before we turned around good and discovered that we didn’t know where half of our stuff was. Sure, we knew where to find pacifiers and bouncy seats, but college degrees, passports and dearly loved CD’s had gone by the wayside.

Well, a couple weeks ago I thought about the Jayhawks and especially the first song on the record, which is one of my all-time favorites; and realized that we had probably lost that CD at some point in the whole process of our lives turning upside down. I scoured the house for the familiar cover art, imagining in my mind’s eye that I remembered seeing it in any one of a million places, but I had no luck. It was gone. I mentioned my deferred longing to Christy in hopes that she may have seen the CD lying around, but those hopes too were dashed.

Finally we had a chance to go out to Knoxville on a date together and after an awesome dinner, we went to every music store in town looking for the Jayhawks, but alas, we were unsuccessful again. In the end, we ordered it from Amazon and a week later, it was in the mailbox! I was so excited that I crammed it in the CD player as soon as I got back in the car! I just knew that hearing the first few chords of those songs I loved so well was going make my day… but it didn’t. I advanced to the next track, and still no explosion of joy… track after amazing track flew into my ears and totally bypassed my heart. What was happening? Then I realized… I needed Christy. I needed her to be there for me to really get into it. I wasn’t just longing to rock out to the Jayhawks… I was longing for someone to share it with… someone who loved the Jayhawks the way I did and knew every word on the CD as well as every slammin’ guitar solo! I needed to listen to that record with someone who cared about it too.

Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” You see, it’s not just important to worship the Lord… (I mean, that is totally important!) but it’s also important that we come together to do this. It’s good to sing praises to Him, and I love to do it, but when there are a bunch of folks praising Him together, it’s even better! You see, when we are praising together, you’re telling my heart that what we’re doing is important. It’s more important than not being here. It’s more important than whatever else we might be doing. We encourage one another. We affirm the importance of worship. We need each other. I need you to tell me that this matters, and you need me, so let’s not give up meeting together to worship!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Norah holing out the "I'm the big sister" pin Anna wore when Norah was born... Now Norah gets to wear it!


Lately Anna has been drawing Pocahontas and John Smith. See, we recently got the Disney movie through Blockbuster Online and it is simply the only movie the girls want to watch right now. As a result, I have had the song Colors of the Wind stuck in my head for the past week and a half…

How high the sycamore grows,
If you cut down, you’ll never know!
And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon…

I don’t really know what a blue corn moon is, but that song is pretty catchy and seems almost noble right here around earth day… Anyway, Anna loves drawing John Smith with Pocahontas and not only are the drawings really cute, but she’s really pretty proud of them. I love to see how Anna’s art has evolved… how people used to be boxes with dots and now they almost always have all of their appendages, eyelashes and even accessories like earrings! The cool thing is that when I pick her up from Sunday School or some other child care place, I can always pick out her drawings from all the rest. They look like her. And I don’t mean they look like her style of drawing. I mean, they really sort of look like her… like her personality and her heart. These drawings are always very colorful and full of emotion… just like Anna.

I was reading the other day in the Gospel of Luke where some dudes were trying to trap Jesus to get Him in trouble by asking about taxes… They wanted Him to come down on one side or the other about a heated political issue so that He would get in big trouble with somebody. “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Luke tells us that they were not only unable to trap Him, but that they were so astonished by His answer that they became silent… You know, I think they were silenced because they understood what He was saying to them about ownership. The coin looks like Caesar. It has his name on it. It was stamped out in his image. By his power and authority it was made and is, so it belongs to him. Give it back to him… And in the same way, you were made by God in His image. By His power and authority you were made and are who you are. There are things about you that are like Him because He made you. You are His completely. You belong to Him.

It is my belief that if we really understood the concept of ownership… that we belong completely to God and not to ourselves, everything about our lives would change. Jesus actually has a double claim on us because not only did He make us, but He also gave Himself to buy us back, and this is redemption. First He formed us, then He actually purchased us. We are totally His. In a way, we can be like Anna’s drawings: if only we gave Him what is rightfully His… we would change and start looking more like Him too.

Here's Anna... pretty pumped about a lady bug she made with play-doh.

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