Friday, December 31, 2010


How long does your family leave the Christmas tree up? A week, or two maybe? I guess it depends on whether or not you have a real tree. I mean, technically, if you have one of the fake ones, you could let that bad boy stand there in your living room all year long, proud and tall; but if you have a real tree, you’ve got to get it on out of there... Well, I should say you need to get it on out of there. I’ll never forget the time in high school when I went over to my friend Apurva’s house and walked into the living room only to find a Christmas tree that was completely dead and brown from the top to the bottom. By the way, it was the middle of June! When I walked in, Apurva said his dad was wondering if we wouldn’t mind taking the tree down... Hello!

To be honest, I was pretty scared to go near the tree. It was drooping there by an enormous window like a rickety old man, fragile and weathered. I was so afraid that at any moment a beam of sunlight refracted through the window would cause the sad, dead stick of a thing to suddenly burst into flames, like a last gasp of life. I looked at Apurva and said, “Why in the world is this thing still up?! Are you crazy?” He said his dad had pestered him for ages to take it down, but he just never got around to it. I told him he should be thankful that the tree never got around to burning his house down! In a heightened sense of my own mortality, I helped my friend slowly and gingerly remove the ornaments from this unpredictable fire hazard and then we picked it up and started to make our way out of the house. I was sweating... trying my hardest to avoid all possible friction, not letting even one of the dry, lifeless needles rub against anything. There was a moment there when we were almost out of the front door when I was afraid that all that fresh oxygen outside plus the tight squeeze of the door jamb would actually cause the thing to combust; but no, we made it. We went across the street and tossed the tired tannenbaum into the woods. I stood there for a bit, just knowing that at any moment that thing would just explode, but nothing.

As I write this, it’s the very last day of 2010, and to be honest, I’m a bit tired. When I woke up today, I was really feeling the last day of the year. In some ways, I felt like Apurva’s old Christmas tree: dry and used up; but then I rubbed my eyes, opened up the Scriptures, said good morning to the Lord who never sleeps and asked Him to meet with me. As I read, something strange and sweet started happening: I began to feel revived. I started to feel fresh, green and strong. If you will, I began to stretch my branches and take in the warm sunlight (even though the sun hasn’t yet risen on this cold, winter day).

Check out these verses from a few different Psalms: “Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers... 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 am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.”

As an old year ends today and a new year begins tomorrow, I don’t want to be dry, sad and brown. I want to be planted. I want to be rooted, strong, green and growing in the love of God.

Friday, December 24, 2010


This week, our family took a little mini-vacation for Christmas with Christy's sister and her family. Before heading off to bed on Monday, my brother-in-law Patrick and I set alarms to wake ourselves up in the middle of the night. At approximately 2:35, I turned off said alarm and hauled my sleepy self out of bed, slipping on some shoes and grabbing my warmest coat off of the back of the couch. Patrick was already downstairs and ready to go. Yes, we were tired, and sure, we were probably going to pay for this in the morning, but we were convinced it would be worth it. You see, this past Tuesday morning, at around 2:45 there was a total lunar eclipse and we were going to see it.

It's not every day that the earth lines up between the sun and the moon so perfectly that the earth blocks the sun's rays completely. NASA says that when this happens and the earth casts a shadow over the moon, the moon appears to change color from gray to orange and even deep red because of indirect sunlight filtered through earth's atmosphere that casts a glow on the moon. Pretty cool, huh? But this wasn't the only thing cool about that night. It just so happened that Tuesday was also the winter solstice, which is the night where the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun, meaning the moon appears highest in the sky. This was actually the first total lunar eclipse to fall on the winter solstice since the year 1638! This hasn't happened in 372 years, which meant that no one in living memory had ever seen it!

So there we were, freezing our tails off in the middle of the night, watching our breath come out of our faces and looking... looking. We stared up into the sky, searching for the event stargazers had been collectively waiting for almost four hundred years and... Nothing. We couldn't see anything at all. It was so cloudy, nothing in the night sky was visible. We woke up, got dressed and braved the cold for... Nothing.

When Almighty God came down to earth as a baby boy on that first Christmas, almost nobody came. Almost nobody cared. In fact, if God had not rocked the worlds of some local shepherds with an impromptu celestial military choir, not even they would have come. The fact that the birth of Jesus was only attended by some blue collar outcasts is cool and it even fits the story, but I'm not so sure it's the way it should have been. You see, when the Father sent the Son into our world, He invited everyone to the party. An unprecedented astronomical event burst into the normalcy of the night sky, proclaiming to anyone who cared to look that a King was born in Israel. It was like a heavenly pop-up ad, a star no one could possibly miss! God was telling the whole world that Jesus was born! And that's not all! Hundreds of years before that star blazed in the night sky, God sent an invitation to his people in their Scriptures. It was like a holy save-the-date card that everyone was supposed to keep pinned up on the calendar. Micah says this: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace."

God invited the world, and except for a few outcasts and foreigners, no one came. Hundreds of years of waiting for... Nothing. In my opinion, rejection has got to be one of the most difficult emotions we ever have to deal with. Well, when God finally fulfilled a three thousand year old promise, answering the cries and songs of countless generations, one of the first things He felt was the dull throb of rejection. And yet, hundreds of miles away, someone was waiting, watching and wondering. Way out in a foreign country there were wise men whose hearts were not so clouded up that they missed the invitation. They came and worshipped. And just like He did then, God is calling me, wanting me, inviting me to come and know Him. The invitation is here today, in front my face and I don't want to miss it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas!

This is a collection of acoustic demos of Christmas tunes, but they aren't the traditional Christmas songs you're used to hearing on radio stations and in department stores at this time of year... No, these are brand new Christmas songs that developed out of the quiet reflection of my own heart as I considered the Old Story once again. God loved the world enough to come down here Himself and save it by emptying Himself, becoming one of us and then giving Himself to death in our place. May we never tire of singing the Old Story in new songs.



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Still Waiting

A shocking bit of news in the world of sports went largely unnoticed this afternoon. ESPN didn't run the story and you probably won't find an in-depth report on the pages of Sports Illustrated, but it's sort of a big deal. You see, today I officially retired from fantasy football. I know, I know, only a few short weeks ago on this blog I went on and on about how much I loved this hallowed, so-called sport, this make-believe clash of nerdy couch potatoes; but alas, I'm calling it quits. I'm hanging up my fake headset and my pretend whistle. I'm stepping off the phony sidelines and out of the artificial stadium for the last time. Some of my colleagues have seen this decision coming for weeks now. I've been going through a slump of discouraging losses that have turned a fun little game into a weekly, Internet homework assignment I just can't be bothered to turn in. In short, I'm over it. I wish I could say that it has nothing to do with the fact that I should have been really good this year and wasn't, but hey, let's face it, that's pretty much what it boils down to.

And to be even more childish, I blame it all on one guy... Chris Johnson. Now, I love the Tennessee Titans and I love Chris Johnson as a person; and if we ever met I'd want to be friends, (especially because he could crush me) but in the realm of fake sports, he has sadly let me down. I drafted last year's most dominant pro football player because he promised to have another 2,500 yard season. Coupled with Tom Brady, I should have been competitive every week with only two of my players, but CJ has been a total bust. The player that broke records and dropped jaws in 2009 assured the world he would have an even more brilliant and memorable season in 2010, but those promises haven't been fulfilled. I'm still waiting on him to have even one really great week. This disappointment of unfulfilled promises has basically become too much to handle in what my wife calls my "fantasy world." So, thanks to Chris Johnson, I'm walking away with only one imaginary Super Bowl ring.

Unfulfilled promises can be one of life's most devastating realities. Someone promises us something, we believe them and so we start to get our hopes up. When the promised something doesn't come through, we find that the expectation of that promise has become in our minds a guarantee we have banked upon, planned on and feel entitled to. This let down is worse than if we had never wanted whatever it was in the first place. The other day I was reading Luke 1 and thinking about Mary who received promises from Almighty God at the hands of Gabriel, one of the Lord's blazing, eternal messengers. When I read those familiar words again, something struck me... Aside from mentioning the pregnancy and birth, Gabriel didn't really go into any detail about all of the vast struggles and problems this heavenly assignment was going to bring Mary's way. In fact, the stuff Gabriel talked about was all sounding pretty awesome!

"The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. ”

Look at that! Her baby would be called great and become a King and sit enthroned forever and ever! And then this thought struck me with a dull thud: Mary is still waiting on those promises to be fulfilled. 2,000 years later, Mary, who endured so much toil and heartbreak is still waiting on the joyful fulfillment of the promises God made to her when she was but a teenager! Wow. And so it is for those who walk with God. This life winds up being harder than we thought it would be for longer than we ever dreamed it could be. But that's not the end of this story, because God is faithful. He will fulfill every word Gabriel spoke to little Mary. It may not be for another 2,000 years or even more, but it will happen, and when it does, not only Mary's, but all our dreams will come true forever and ever.

P.S. I'm going to be moving this blog to a new location soon, so if you like reading these weekly posts, click here and then set the new page as your bookmark. Thanks for reading... I hope it's an encouragement to you!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A couple pics from our pumpkin patch trip with the cousins!

Of Priests And Plumbers

When does a homeowner really start to feel like a homeowner? I think there is a point at which one crosses that divide and says, "Man, this place is really mine!" but what exactly is that point? Is it signing all the papers on closing day? Well, sort of, but no, not really. Is it moving all of your stuff in? No, not so much for me. That's mainly annoying. Is it painting the walls your own custom color and hanging up your family portraits? Um, maybe, but not really what I'm going for here. Is it going outside on a perfect, bright summer day and mowing the grass? Is it answering the door with a bowl of candy for adorable and neighborly trick-or-treaters? Is it hanging up the wreath on the front door and stringing up lights for Christmas? No, no and again, no. Sadly, though these are all great things, nothing makes the sobering fact of home-ownership sink in quite like replacing the wax ring under your toilet for the very first time.

We have been experiencing some plumbing problems of late. Turns out that the folks who remodeled our house cut a few corners when it came time to install the toilets, so that the flange underneath the throne isn't really attached to anything and the tile is uneven, which makes the can sort of rock from side to side. Long story short, the wax seal underneath the john becomes compromised and the whole house fills up with the unique, unmistakable and disparaging smell of sewage and methane gas... And look, when you have a problem with your toilets, you have a problem. That is when you know you're a homeowner. I mean, yesterday, the kids were insane. There was so much griping, complaining and fussing that I almost lost my mind. At the end of the day, Christy just said, "I think everyone in the house has just been completely affected by the overwhelming smell of poo." Amen, sister!

A friend told me to simply change the wax ring out and make a new seal. He said it costs $2.00, takes ten minutes and is a piece of cake, so I took Jack down to Home Depot so that he could see how a real man takes care of his family and fixes things. I came home with the wax ring and got to work. 45 minutes later my back was sore, my hands were sticky, I was frustrated and confused and our house still smelled like a T-Rex with the stomach flu. I went to bed emotionally drained and spent a restless night tossing and turning, unable to stop thinking about my failure as a man and the pungent smell of doo. I needed help! I needed someone with skills who could do the things I couldn't! I needed someone with wax ring experience and an iron nasal constitution to swoop into my house and help me! I needed the homeowners best friend! I needed... a reasonable plumber.

I called him this morning. He came in and did the things I don't know how to do. He installed new wax rings, meticulously fitted some plastic shims to stop the rocking pot and did it all without uttering even one profanity. Wow.

In the Old Testament, there was a whole class of folks whose lives were devoted to doing things for people they couldn't do for themselves. They were the priests. They interfaced with Almighty God on behalf of the normal folks. They sang to Him, sacrificed to Him and prayed to Him. One very special priest, called, "the high priest" got to go right into the presence of God on one day of the year. Those guys are gone, but now Jesus has become our High Priest. Hebrews 7 says, "Such a high priest meets our need–one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself." Isn't that awesome? Jesus is the one who has done for us what we could have never done ourselves. When we are frustrated, confused and covered in the stench of our own haphazardly patched-up lives, we have a high priest who gives us peace with God, adoption by God and friendship with God: Jesus, the friend of sinners and our merciful High Priest.

Friday, December 03, 2010

A Memorial For A Princess

Yesterday I got a new audiobook by Walter Wangerin called, "The Book Of God" which is a novelization of the Bible. So far, it is both beautiful and terribly sad. Even though I know the stories already, I couldn't believe the way Sarah and Abraham treated Hagar. My heart went out to Ishmael as he and his poor mother were sent away from the only home, family and safety they knew. Then came the story of Rebekah , which was a sweet breath of fresh air before the disorienting heartbreak that was the tale of Jacob, Rachel and Leah.

Jacob was just like I remember him; brilliant, headstrong and about three steps ahead of everyone else. After having tricked his brother out of his inheritance twice, and lying to his father, Jacob left home, running for his life to his mother's home country. When he arrived, he fell in love with Rachel on first sight. But you remember the story; the trickster got tricked! Rachel's dad gave Jacob the older sister Leah instead of Rachel. Nobody wanted Leah, but there she was. Before you know it, Jacob found himself hitched to two sisters who spent the next ten years hating each other and using themselves and their servants to have a baby-off with Jacob in the middle of the whole thing!

What really got me in all of this mess was Leah. Poor Leah. She didn't ask for this life. She didn't mean to be always in the way. She was constantly rejected; not pretty enough, not fun enough, not Rachel enough. As I listened to Leah's story unfold, my heart broke with hers. No one loved her, no one saw her, no one wanted her. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like Leah? Have you ever felt unseen, unnoticed and unwanted? I had to think that at least part of my sadness over Leah's story was the mirror it forced me to look into, and how lonely it feels to be Leah. Probably everyone feels that way sometimes.

When Leah got pregnant, (something Rachel couldn't do) she named her first son, "See, a son!" just hoping that Jacob would finally love her, or at least look her way. It didn't work. She did so much talking about how unwanted she was that when she had another baby, she figured even God had heard her miseries and so she named this one, "He heard." When she had yet another son she thought, "Okay, surely this time my husband will be attached to me because I've given him three boys!" so she named him, "Attached." but, no dice. She still wasn’t Rachel enough for Jacob. Finally she got pregnant again and I guess Leah just decided that even if her husband never loved her, at least God did. God heard her, He saw how unloved and unwanted she was and maybe for the first time, that was enough for Leah. This fourth baby she named, “Praise God.”

Listening to this story unfold, I was so sad for Leah until I remembered something. I remembered that Leah’s not sad anymore. In fact, Leah hasn’t been sad in over 4,000 years! Not only that, that fourth baby of hers, the one she named, “Praise God” became the great, great, great, great... (skip a few) great, great grandfather of our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace! The whole history of the world changed by the descendant of Leah! The rescue of the human race came through Leah’s family! The girl no one wanted turned out to be the very girl God Almighty wanted. The person no one saw wound up being a princess in the Kingdom of God and a name no one will ever forget forever and ever. So, for all of us who have ever felt unnoticed, unwanted, unimportant or unloved, remember Leah. Remember that God sees you and He loves you and that’s no small thing. Remember that your story isn’t over yet and you never know what God is up to. Hey may be getting ready to blow your mind in a few thousand years.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

We're in Huntsville for Thanksgiving with the Hulls and we took the kids down to NASA's space and rocket center:


If ghosts were real, they would be among the lamest things in the world. I mean, sure, probably the lamest thing around these days would have to be Brett Favre still trying to play football for the lowly Vikings, but a close second would have to be ghosts. In fact, now I think about it, Brett Favre is a bit like a ghost... a misty, unsubstantial shadow of something that used to really be something hanging about and pointlessly haunting his old stomping grounds... Lame! If ghosts were real, they would probably be scary for the first few times you met one, and then not at all after that. I mean, they can't do anything to you, right? After you really hung out with one, you would quickly learn that they can't hurt you and you could just walk right through them into the next room whenever they tried to annoy you. Annoying... that's what they'd be! After you got over the initial shock of these airborne, ethereal stalkers, you'd simply tell them to get over it and go bother someone else! "Move on there, dude! You're dead! The dream is over! Stop being lame! We're all trying to actually live here!"

Now I know this is all just silliness. I mean, there are no such things as ghosts. Hebrews 9:27 says this, "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment." So there. Once you're dead, you're dead and gone. People don't hang about, creeping on all their old places and relations, trying to half-exist in the bygone memories of a terrestrial life that has left them far behind. No, people die and then they're gone. They face the Lord and He sorts out the rest. So, why in the world am I talking about how lame ghosts would be if they in fact existed? Well it's because, quite frankly, sometimes I look around and think that I see one swooping about and haunting their distant past when they ought to just move on. Now, don't get me wrong... I'm not talking about literal ghosts here. I'm not seeing disembodied spirits of dead folks floating around. I'm talking about people; real, live people who act just like ghosts; and believe me when I say, it's lame.

Colossians 3 says this: "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming."

If you know Jesus, you died to your old life! When we get too wrapped up in things that have to do with this life, it's like we're ghosts, haunting old memories! We died to all that stuff and now we've been raised up with Christ for a brand new kind of life!! It's time to move on! It's time to leave behind the ethereal phantoms of greed, impurity and the like and step out into the firm reality of true and new life in Jesus!! If you know and love Him, don't get too wrapped up in earthly things! Don't waste your day haunting the old neighborhood of money, worry and terrestrial politics! Give your heart and your energy to the kind of stuff that Jesus cares about! Don't be a ghost... it's lame. Move on. Live. Breathe the fresh air of resurrected life. You're already raised up and hidden with Him in God... So leave all that other stuff behind, or as Paul says, "You died, so put the rest of that junk to death too!" Come and live!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

So, my computer died this week, but I did get an iPad...

Cooler Than You Think

When I was in college, I worked for an after school day care business at an elementary school in Cookeville, TN. It was a good college job that was always filled with some surprising ridiculousness... like the day my boss had to hose off the sidewalk because of a kindergartner who wasn't all that potty trained yet, but whose mother thought boxers would be a good idea... or like the consistent rhythm of lice outbreaks. One mother even shaved her daughter's head... Twice! Well, every fall we would take the kids on a field trip to a local farmer's corn maze and pumpkin patch to go on a hayride and pick out a pumpkin for home. It was always a fairly ridiculous trip... like the time a kid was so allergic to the hay and straw that his little face exploded into a bulbous, oozing, red balloon and one of our leaders had to spend the whole afternoon with him on the bus... or the time a kid got stuck in a rustic-themed obstacle course/fun house slide and got so freaked out that he screamed and then used the bathroom right there on the straw strewn slide.

These were my corn maze experiences. This is the kind of craziness I came to associate with pumpkin patches, so you can imagine my reticence and well, flat out fear when Christy suggested we take our kids to some farm out in the middle of nowhere and do the corn maze thing again. My initial internal reaction? "Lame..."

Long story short, our trip to the pumpkin patch was one of the funnest and sweetest things I've done in a long time. It turned out that Patty and Patrick came into town, so the kids got to spend the day with their sweet cousins, and folks, the corn maze we went to in Halls was awesome!! They had a giant blob buried in the sand that was basically just an enormous trampoline the size of a small house. They had a go cart track for little cars that kids could pedal around. They had a huge sandbox complete with shovels and Tonka trucks. There were slides, a bouncy castle and a great little hayride, and there was a ton more cool stuff there. It was a perfect day, we got some great pictures and had an amazing time. Lesson? The thing I thought would be lame because of some bad experiences wound up being a lot cooler than I thought.

I was reading Colossians 1 this morning and there is a place where Paul shares his prayer for these folks, and he starts building up this crescendo of things he wants for them, and it's a list that starts with walking and ends in all the glorious power of Almighty God... "And we pray this in order that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have..."

Have what?!? What's he building up to here? Paul seems to be pumping up the volume and cranking up the drama so that he can reveal the very height of spiritual maturity! Surely this next statement will represent the most amazing, earth-shattering ministry, right?! Well, maybe not. Or at least, not to our ears... Paul says, "...being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light."

That's the big ending... The height of spiritual maturity and manifestation of all the power of God in a person's life: endurance, patience and gratitude. It may not seem like much, but what God is really working for in the hearts of His people, the thing that really pleases His heart is a person that just patiently hangs in there every day, thanking God for where they are and what He has given. I'm not saying I'm there yet, but the older I get and the farther into this walk I get, it's what I want more and more. It may not look like much to us, but when you try it on, you find it's cooler than you think.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More pictures from our Fall Break Hike at Frozen Head:


I’m kind of a nerdy person. I love Star Wars, comic books and every single product manufactured by Apple. I have read every Harry Potter book more than ten times each and can tell you more about the history of Tolkein’s Middle Earth than I can about our current American Congress. Of all this nerdery however, probably the dorkiest thing about me is my participation in Fantasy Football.

I’m fairly sure that if alien life forms from outer space ever visited this planet, they would say that apart from bull running, eating competitions and Joan Rivers, Fantasy Football is the weirdest thing about human beings. I mean, the sport of football is weird enough already, right? Twenty-two guys ensconce themselves in protective padding from head to foot so that they can hit each other as hard as possible for an hour without getting arrested, and the whole point is to see who can take the overgrown bean across a line. Hmm. And the people that are really good at crossing the line with the bean are among the most famous and wealthy people on our planet. Hmm. But the weirdness doesn’t stop there, because millions of people all over the world pretend that they are the owners, managers and coaches of the various millionaire bean toters (even though they’re not) and stage make-believe competitions loosely based on the actual toting of the bean.

Wow. When you break it down and analyze it like that, I admit it’s pretty dang weird. Here’s the thing: I love it. I’m one of those guys. I am a fully-grown man with a loving wife, three kids and a mortgage who basically plays make-believe dollhouse using statistics from the real-life athletic performances of actual people like Peyton Manning and Braylon Edwards. It’s part poker, part chess and part reality show that all come together to make a socially acceptable male drama, and the whole thing revolves around stats... Numbers. How many yards will they get on Sunday? How many points will that defense allow? Every day and all day long, millions of guys check their computers, crunch the numbers and weigh the advice of the experts, wondering who is going to put up the most impressive stats. And none of it is even real! What if you had stats? What if there was a system of measurement that weighed the performance of your life and spiritual growth? What if someone was betting on you, hoping you would have a really good day today? Yikes!

For quarterbacks and wide receivers there are a variety of stats that make them valuable players, and most people would probably name a million things that mark measurable spiritual maturity, but according to the Apostle Paul, there is only one thing that matters. For Paul, there is one stat, and it is love. In 1 Corinthians 13 he says,
"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."

No matter how dynamic I think my ministry is, no matter what results I think I'm getting and no matter what anyone else tells me about myself, if I don't love, I don't have anything. Love is the most important thing about me and the only stat that counts, period.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Anna read her first chapter book silently to herself this week!! (Junie B. First Grader, Cheater Pants) Way to go, girl!

Our little Trunk or Treaters:

Poor Jack after his last minute surgery on Thursday:

Emergency Fervor

This week has been a bit of a ‘drop everything and put out a fire’ kind of week. You see, Jack has been sick for a month. Turns out one of the tubes put in his ears last February came out in the beginning of October and he immediately developed an ear infection that we still haven’t kicked. The poor guy got more and more sick over last month and the only thing the prescribed antibiotics did was serve up a heaping helping of stomach problems that have led to a host of other discomforts. Last week we even had to stop his medicine right in the middle because it was causing him so many more problems than it was curing! All in all, the guy has spent the last few weeks or so in pain, confused, saddle sore, with a faucet for a nose and sleeping badly. When he’s not been completely distracted by tons of people or something really awesome, he’s been fussing. Needless to say, it’s been tough on everybody.

Two days ago I took him in to see his Ear, Nose and Throat doctor, who looked at his dramatically infected ear for the second time in as many weeks and said, “Well Dad, he’s sick.” Yeah... I gathered that. Thanks. After reflecting on the history of this unsuccessful month of treatment, our doctor paused for a second in thought, looked at his watch and then, with an urgent look in his eye, said, “You know what? I think I have a little time tomorrow. You want to just do surgery tomorrow?” “Yes!” I said. “That would be awesome.” And just like that, we entered a whirlwind of getting ready for a surgery to happen in less than 15 hours. Christy and I were so glad that these folks were taking Jack as seriously as we were, and just like that, he was back in surgery yesterday morning. Turns out Jack was even more sick than the doctor first assumed. It was a bit of an emergency and a good thing they did what they did when they did it.

The thing that was interesting to me about this whole situation was how surprised everyone in our lives was to find out Jack was having surgery or was even sick. As far as they knew, and whenever they saw him, he seemed fine. Was he really so sick he needed surgery? Was he really so sick he needed immediate surgical attention? The more I think about that, it strikes me that lots of people are like Jack. They fill their lives up with distractions so that no one really knows the state of emergency that’s going on inside. They look fine on the outside and if you ask them how they’re doing, they’ll say they’re great, but oftentimes the truth is that they need to drop everything and put a fire out... or keep a fire burning.

This morning I was reading Romans 12 where Paul leads off by pleading with these folks to give themselves completely to God. He tells them that they are to be the ‘whole burnt offering’ of the old sacrificial system, completely consumed for the Lord. Paul says that when you look at what God has done for us, it only makes sense to offer yourself completely in this way. Then he spends the rest of the chapter showing what that looks like in real life. In verse 11 he says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” When I read that verse, it made me think of the original ‘whole burnt offering’ sacrifice of the Old Testament, way back in Leviticus chapter 6. Check this out:
The LORD said to Moses: “Give Aaron and his sons this command: ‘These are the regulations for the burnt offering: The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar... The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.

How’s your fire doing? There’s nothing more important than keeping it burning. If it’s flagging or dying out, there is nothing more important than tending to it! I bet a lot of people are spiritually dry a lot of the time and never tell anyone. It’s like being sick! It’s like needing surgery! It’s urgent, and if it’s you, tell someone! Get someone you love to pray for you. Don’t let the fire go out! It’s a big deal that all of us do whatever it takes to keep our love for Jesus burning. If you need encouragement or if you’re low on fuel for the fire, don’t go it alone! Don’t pretend you’re okay when you need emergency attention. Drop everything and find someone who will drop everything with you. There’s nothing more important than keeping that fire ablaze.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's Fall Break around here, so we took a little family hike at Frozen Head State Park:


I feel like I’ve been punched in the face. No wait, the face isn’t exactly right. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the bank account. I was in Wal-Mart the other day and saw Christmas stuff. Seriously. Wrapping paper, garland and cheap, plastic, robotic snowmen that dance along to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” were adorning the aisles of the lawn and garden center. Christmas!? How in the world am I going to afford Christmas presents?! It feels like we just finished buying 700 birthday presents last month and Jack is going back to the doctor this afternoon where they will probably prescribe his second $200 antibiotic ear drop in as many weeks. As soon as a little spot of cold weather hit last week, our trusty mini van started making some strange sounds and it looks like replacing the tile in our bathroom is going to be a must. Today I took Norah to her first dentist appointment only to have the dentist smile and say, “Well, you better start saving up for braces, ‘cause they’re in your future!” Future?! What future?! AHHHH!!!

Now, we all have money problems, (unless of course Kanye is reading this, in which case, do you have a tile saw I can borrow?) and we’re all going to keep having those problems. The Scripture promises troubles and problems and says that the first thing we’re supposed to do in the case of hard times is to “count it all joy.” I know this. I knew it when I woke up this morning and immediately felt my mind wandering down the all too familiar and enticing pathway to worry and fear; but I didn’t quite know how to count it all joy. All I could think of was the wall of problems surrounding me and a host of impossible solutions that flitted in and out of my mind; each scheme more ridiculous than the last and all of them about as solid as a puff of smoke. There I was frantically trying to invent ways out of my various troubles, and instead of counting them all joy, I just simply counted them.

Then I read Psalm 44. Have you read it in a while? It is awesome! Check this out:

“It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.”

Can you believe that?! My reflex in the midst of a problem is to fling myself onto my mental rolodex of possible solutions! It is in a moment of crisis that my mind works the hardest. My wheels crank and my blood pressure rises. Is this me at my best? No way! It may even be me at my worst! My brilliant ideas and solutions are like the swords and bows of the Israelites. They may seem effective and sometimes even impressive, but God is the One who solves problems and wins battles. When a problem arises, instead of flying into a fever pitch of brainstorming a way out, I just need to stop. I need to stop where I am and say, “I don’t trust in my own wisdom. I don’t know the way out of this. I can’t solve this problem, but Lord, You know what to do. In You, oh God I will make my boast.” I need to reprogram my reflexes. I don’t need better ideas or perfect solutions or even more money; I just need God. I need Him in order to make it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This week we took high school folks to Cades Cove:

And Jack turned 2!! (Check out his new axe)

Gift Wrap

“Go ahead, Jack, open it!”

“Come on dude, just rip into it!”

“Tear it, Jack. You can do it!”

These were the words of encouragement everyone was giving Jack as he looked at his birthday present with a blank face last week. He just sort of sat there, not opening it. It was surprising to say the least because normally, when a kid sees their birthday present, it only exists in that nice, neat, wrapped-up form for a few nano seconds before an explosion of ribbon and a tsunami of tissue paper break forth on the room of expectant gift givers frantically clicking snapshots of the ensuing delight. This little family birthday bash was as quiet as a police stake-out and included the same type of tense waiting. Jack just didn’t open his present. He didn’t know what to do.

Then it occurred to Christy that this was only his second birthday after all, and he hadn’t had a whole lot of opportunities to receive wrapped gifts. As a result, he hadn’t really learned that there are acceptable times to rip, tear and slash paper with all the ferocity of a horde of pillaging Vikings. You see, normally, if Jack ripped up some paper, he found himself in trouble, because (as he was rapidly learning) you can’t tear pages of library books, your sister’s newest piece of artwork or the third chapter of Deuteronomy. And now we were all huddled around him, encouraging to tear some paper off of this large, rectangular box. I’m sure Jack was thinking to himself, “No way, folks! I’m not about to tear this paper. I’m not sure why you’re all trying to trick me, but it doesn’t end well for me when I do this!”

When we finally tore back enough of the paper for Jack to see that there was a shiny new guitar inside the box, he forgot his reservations and finished off the rest of the wrapping to claim his gift, but it took a while. His hesitation to tear into his present was really cute, but I’m sure that one day soon, when he’s received enough gifts, he’ll figure out that wrapping paper equals presents, and that he can tear all he wants in that case. Once that day comes, opening the gifts probably won’t be that big of a deal anymore. The excitement fades with familiarity. I think this happens to everyone. We receive so much that many of us have forgotten the joy and excitement of opening the gift.

James chapter 1 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” Your life is a gift. Your spiritual life and your physical life were given to you freely by God. Every morning, when you open your eyes, you’re pulling back the wrapping paper of a gift God has given you. He didn’t have to give you another day. If you woke up today and knew your name, you received a present from God Almighty. Did you happen to say, “Thanks?”

I truly believe that one of the biggest problems people have is that they have forgotten to say thanks. We get out of bed, day after day, go to the bathroom, eat our breakfast, head out to the office or to school and just start living our whole day as if we were powering ourselves through this world on our own steam. Most people’s problem is that they forget that they have breath in their lungs because there is a God in heaven who is merciful and gives gifts. I sincerely believe that if you started everyday by stopping, your life would change from top to bottom. Give it a try sometime... maybe even right now. Relish the feeling of unwrapping God’s gift to you. Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes and say to Him, “Thank you. Thank you for another day. You didn’t have to give me this gift, but you did because you love me. Thank you.”

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