Thursday, December 25, 2008


Risky Business

Whenever I lay my brand new baby down in his crib to sleep, I am absolutely filled with two equally urgent thoughts: please go to sleep, and just keep on breathing! I know it sounds weird but in the same moment, I want him to be quiet and I don’t want him to be quiet. I want the crying to give way to peace so we can finally chill a little bit, and yet I find myself going back into the room over and over again, leaning down into the crib and putting my ear right up next to his little face to hear those tiny breaths… His little lungs are smaller than a coin purse and his airways are like those little straws people use to stir coffee… sometimes it scares me to go to sleep, because what if… you know? It’s just all so precarious! Babies are so fragile and so many of them don’t make it! It seems like all of our time, energy and money are going towards just keeping this little dude alive… just making it through these early stages until he’s not so delicate.

This is what kills me about the Christmas story. It seems pretty risky! I mean, there were so many points at which this plan could’ve fallen to pieces. What if Mary’s delivery had gone wrong? What if Jesus had been breech? What if the chord had been all tangled up? These things happen thousands of times a day throughout the world, but Mary and Joseph didn’t have a labor and delivery room with heart-rate monitors and a doctor on call. There were no nurses standing by with a heated incubator ready to roll, fully stocked with diapers and those awesome striped swaddle blankets. They were in a stable, or in a cave or maybe on the street beside some house because they found a feeding trough where they could lay the baby in some straw and Joseph could lean down and listen to Him breathing.

It just doesn’t seem like a rock-solid plan, you know? I mean, what did the shepherds think when they learned from the angel that Christ was born and lying in a manger? I know they were probably still shaking in their boots from the terrifying sight of winged couriers on fire, but wouldn’t they have felt it strange that God had placed all His eggs in one pretty vulnerable little basket? Surely the Messiah should be in some high security crib surrounded by Israeli secret service, right? What was the King of heaven and earth doing in so dangerous a situation?

Well, the truth is that it wasn’t precarious in the least. Sure, babies are fragile; and yes, tons of them don’t make it, but this One was going to make it, no matter what. Why is that? Because God said so. He said so in the Garden of Eden right before Adam and Eve got booted out. He said so to Abraham when He promised the One who would bless all nations. He said so through Moses when He promised a true prophet. He said so when David sang about the coming King of Psalm 2 who would laugh at rulers and dash nations. He said so when David sang about the victorious warrior in Psalm 45 who would ride forth in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness. He said so in Daniel’s vision of the worshipped and mighty Ancient of Days. He said so when Isaiah told Ahaz that the sign and solution to all his problems would be a child who is God, born to a virgin. He said Christ would be born in Bethlehem and that His Son would be called out of Egypt, and it all happened, just as He said it would.

In Ephesians 1:11 Paul said that we were predestined “according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.” Dave Roper said that there is no maverick molecule in this universe. The Christmas story seems risky, but it wasn’t. And the same is true for us… sometimes it looks like everything’s falling apart at the seams, but it isn’t. He’s still in control, still running the show, still ordering and allowing everything in your life that comes into it and it’s all in line with the purpose of his will… His good, pleasing and perfect will. And that is why no matter where you are or what’s going on, you can have a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Our good friend Erin took our family pics at Judy's house...

Smells Like Home

Last Saturday I was walking beside Christy at Dollywood as I was stopped in my tracks by an amazing smell that came straight out of my childhood… no, it wasn’t the funnel cakes, (although that’s about the most delicious smell ever) it was something totally different… burning coal. I know, you probably don’t think burning coal is an amazing smell, but for me, it is. You see, my dad is a blacksmith. He literally owns two forges, a few anvils and tons of hammers, tongs, pliers, leather aprons and all kinds of really manly stuff like that. As a kid I would watch him take scraps of black and useless steel and pound them into works of art with fire and force. It was pretty awesome. I love watching the rock-hard metal turn bright orange in the belly of the white-hot coals. I love watching the sparks fly as the hammer beats shape to rhythm. I love hearing the hiss of the hot steel being plunged into a bucket of water to cool, and I love the smell of the coal.

When I smelled the coal of the blacksmith shop at Dollywood I was instantaneously transported back to the house where I grew up. For a moment I was a kid again. I didn’t have any bills or responsibilities and my only worries were getting to the park in time for the pick-up football game and finding all my darkest clothes before sunset for a nighttime game of capture the flag. It only lasted a moment, but that smell made me feel at home.

The other day I was reading the story of the baby Jesus being brought to the temple. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have felt like for the Creator of the Universe to be trapped in the uncontrollable body and consciousness of an eight-day-old baby. How far had He come? How trapped and inhibited did He feel? He was helplessly wrapped in whatever scraps of cloth were lying around and carried six miles down the road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem by a couple of teenagers who were scared out of their minds. How awkward, uncomfortable and out of sorts must He have felt coming into the temple? And then He smelled it… worship.

Over and over again the Old Testament talks about how the sacrifices that took place in the tabernacle and then in the temple were fragrant offerings to God. The temple was like a barbeque that never closed… it must have smelled awesome! But I don’t think it was the roast lamb or beef that smelled so good to the Lord. He loved the smell of contrite hearts offering prayer, praise and gratitude with love. Maybe it reminded Him of home… His home, where angels never stop offering worship. And even though we don’t have the temple anymore, our worship is still the smell He loves. Hebrews 13 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name.” When the baby Jesus entered the temple, what if the prayers and singing of His people were the smell that made Him feel at home in this cold, lonesome world? What if the songs of Simeon and Anna took Him back to the songs of angels?

I’m not finished with my Christmas shopping yet and there are less than ten days left until Christmas… I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what to get so and so, trying to remember what I got them last year and wondering if there’s anything I have received that’s re-gift-able… shhh, don’t tell. But I know what to get Jesus. It’s the thing He smelled when shepherds bowed. It’s the gift He opened when an old man held Him and sang… He wants to smell prayer, praise and gratitude. He wants love for Christmas.

And here is a family portrait drawn by Anna... complete with a big 'ole heart!

Friday, December 12, 2008

With Us

Anna is one of the most excitable people I’ve ever known. Tell her she’s going to the zoo or going to get ice cream or going to Wal-Mart to get new socks and she lights up like a Christmas tree, exponentially increasing in volume. Sometimes she bounces off the walls with such pure joy that it can be exhausting to be a spectator. Sometimes she flits around the house, jumping off of the furniture and dancing with wild abandon and then sometimes she gets shy and won’t really move. Sometimes she laughs out loud like it’s going out of style and then sometimes she won’t even make eye contact. So, what’s the story? Why does she go from totally hesitant to complete dare devil? Why does she fluctuate from boisterous to bottled-up… from fearless to fear-filled?

Well, It’s simple really. When we’re with her, she’s fearless. When we’re not, she’s not. If Christy and I are there to catch her, she’ll jump with all of her might into the air from the fourth step up. If our arms are outstretched, she’ll leap off the edge of the pool every time. If we are breaking it down to her favorite Beatles song, she’ll dance like John Travolta, laughing hysterically! But if we’re not around… if we’re not with her, she’s not jumping, not diving and definitely not dancing. In order for her to cut loose and be free and full of life she only needs one thing: she needs us with her. If we’re with her, she’s good to go.

This attitude of Anna’s is really a very Christmas-y one to have. After all, Christmas is all about God coming to be with us… it’s the reminder that we could never be who were made to be without Him. After Matthew tells us about Jesus’ birth he says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” which means, “God with us.” Jesus was born… God was here, on this earth.

It struck me this week that although the birth of Jesus fulfilled what Isaiah predicted, it wasn’t totally fulfilled until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. I mean, when Jesus was born, God was on earth, with a body and a voice and an address, but He wasn’t with everyone at all times. One time Mary and Joseph accidentally left the teenage Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem and panicked when they realized that He wasn’t with them. When Lazarus was dying in Bethany, Jesus wasn’t with Him, and He was glad He wasn’t with Him so that His disciples would believe. When Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus’ body in a tomb and sealed it with a stone on a Friday night, Jesus wasn’t with anyone. He was dead and gone… but then Sunday came, and He arose.

2,700 years ago the prophet Isaiah made a prediction that a virgin would give birth to a Son who would be called, “God with us.” 700 years later a virgin named Mary did give birth to a Son. 33 years after that He died on a cross, and three days later He rose form the dead. Now He is alive forever and is really ‘God with us.’ Because He died and rose again, He can be with everyone who wants Him all the time. He can come all the way down inside our hearts to be with us… making us free, making us strong and giving us everything we need to make it through this life. Don’t you need Him? Don’t you want Him with you always? He wants to come in and be Immanuel… God with you.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Two very excited girls about getting ready to decorate the Christmas Tree!!

I’ll Do Anything!

During the past week, something has happened that has totally changed my life. I mean, it’s happened to me two other times in my life as well, but whenever it happens, I’m never prepared for it. When it happened the other day it made my heart skip a few beats and made my mind race. I may never be the same person again. Honestly, I cried a little… so, what was it? What was this earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting thing that happened? Ready? Okay… Jack smiled.

When you find out you’re going to have a baby, you experience this tornado of emotions, that depending on your plans and your place in life can be either really exciting, really scary or some strange alloy of the two. Then you go to your first pre-natal care appointment and they use this little JV ultrasound to let you hear the baby’s heartbeat and you’re in love. Whatever you were before that moment, you’re in love now. Over the next few months you get to see fuzzy black and white images of what is either your baby or a tadpole clinging onto a beanbag. The images become more and more human-like or rather, your baby does, and so your excitement builds. Finally, your baby arrives… after much toil, trauma and sacrifice, your baby is in the world and in your arms and there is nothing in this life that compares with that moment.

Then you go home and they scream all night long. You trudge through your days on the kind of sleep that tortured prisoners of war get and then change so many diapers and outfits that washing your hands becomes a reflex, like blinking or something. The whole time you’re thinking about how you love your baby more than anything, but soon you will be dead, and then it happens... You’re holding this person that has relentlessly taken absolutely all you have without ever saying “Thank you” or “You rock, Dad” and just when you are about to lose hope of making it through this season of life, they smile. He smiled at me. It wasn’t gas and it wasn’t an accident. You can tell the real ones. He smiled at me and everything was okay.

Since that time, I am a new man. I am not kidding, I would do anything to get this boy to smile. In the past week, I have made the craziest faces that a human being can possibly imagine without the aid of photoshop. I would sing, coo, jump up and down, hit myself on the head with whatever is around… you name it! If I could get Jack to smile by eating cold spam drenched in yogurt and balsamic vinaigrette, I’d do it right now… right now. Now that I know it’s possible to make him smile, it’s all in the world I want.

When I realized the change that’s happened inside me and recognized the fact that all I want is to make that little dude smile, I thought of David as a teenager writing the words of Psalm 19, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” It’s possible for us to make God smile. It’s possible to please His heart and to put a smile on His face. Don’t you want that? Don’t you want to make Him smile more than anything else out there?! Isn’t the thought of pleasing Him the most exciting and intoxicating thought ever?! Don’t you want His smile like you want air? You can have it! You… right there where you are in the middle of your life… you can make God smile. Wouldn’t you do anything to see Him smile?

Cluster Map