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.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Last week I got to play music at Young Life's Windy Gap!!

And Anna turned 7!! Check out her present: two parakeets!

Keira and Ashley

Our daughter is obsessed with animals. I guess that all little kids like animals to some degree and I’m sure that for kids under the age of 10, one of the most popular future occupations has got to be Veterinarian, but Anna could be the ring leader of this popular fascination. For years she has pined for a pet. She would harass me for a dog every single day and all day long if I had not already convinced her of the utter uselessness of repetition on that score. She knows very well that I refuse to even discuss the matter of bringing a dog into my home until everyone in said home is well out of diapers and pull-ups. I am not going to be personally responsible for dealing with the fecal matter of two kinds of mammal. In return, Anna has assured me that she loves me very much, and loves living at home, but is looking forward to the day when she has her own place just so she can buy a puppy, first thing.

Anna dreams about pets. She talks about pets. She ties string around the inanimate necks of her stuffed animals and drags them around the house. She imagines her younger siblings to be pretend animals and somehow even becomes her own imaginary pet! She comes home from school, binds leaves of paper together into books that she writes and illustrates about her going to the pet store and picking out some animal for her very own. Wow. Intense, right? Yeah... well, a few weeks ago, Christy diagnosed this very singular condition right before we were about to go to bed when she very solemnly said to me, “Babe, our little girl is pet-deprived.”

Pet-deprived?! Is that like being asthmatic or having an immune deficiency? Do we need to call someone? No... turns out we were starting a conversation about Anna’s birthday. And look, before you jump to any conclusions, no! We did not get a dog or a cat or anything like that. Jack is still firmly kicking it in diapers and I am still stalwart in my ‘no dog till that day’ thing. We decided to get Anna some birds. Two birds to be exact: a couple of parakeets. We got a cage, some food, a perch or two, the whole nine yards. On Anna’s birthday, the family were all sitting around as I brought out the cage covered in a sheet. Anna had no idea what it was. When she uncovered it, she stared blankly at the birds for a moment and then a smile broke across her face as she exclaimed, “A Pet! I got a pet! I got a pet!” I said, “You’ve got two pets.” and she returned, “I got TWO pets!” Christy said, “Anna, you get to name them and they’re both girls.” And then, without waiting, deliberating or even thinking, Anna busted out, “The white one is named Keira and the yellow one is Ashley.”

Whoa! My head was spinning... I thought this naming process would take some time and maybe even some editing, but no. She busted those names out as if she had been waiting on this day her whole life. That little heart of hers was so filled with love for animals and so ecstatic to find that she finally had some animals to love, that the names Keira and Ashley just burst right out of her heart and landed gently on those feathery little heads.

This week I have been reading and re-reading John chapter 10 where Jesus calls Himself the “Good Shepherd.” I noticed something the other day that I’ve never really seen before. Jesus says, “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” I love how it says that He calls His own by name. He owns His sheep. They’re His, and He knows their names because He probably named them. There’s someone who knows you and made you the way you are because He absolutely loves you. He loves who you are. His overjoyed heart loves to have you as His and He delights in being followed by His own! His favorite day was probably the day you became His!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

It was a BIG week around here...

We traveled to Chicago to see our dear friends Jed and Hallie tie the knot!

We had a visit from Dylan, Penny and Sarah from Texas!

And received the first shipment of my new CD! (which you can listen to or buy if you visit my website by clicking right HERE ...Go for it!)

It’s About Time

I’ve been waiting for this day. Actually, I’ve been praying for this day. In fact, I was just telling a couple of my friends at breakfast this morning about how I’ve been praying for this day. So, what happened to day that was an answer to prayer? Well, it’s going to sound weird when you first hear it, but here goes: Today, Anna got in trouble at school...

Let me give you a little back story. You see, Anna is a great kid. Now, I know everyone thinks their kid is great and all, but I’m telling you, Anna is the kind of kid that teachers love to have in their classes. She loves school. She loves teachers. She loves to please people and loves to have the good opinion of authority figures. She loves rules and she loves to keep them. She’s in first grade right now and so far has never gotten in trouble in school... at all. In her classroom, everyone has a traffic light and when you get in trouble, you have to change your light. Each light change represents a different disciplinary consequence. A week or so ago, Anna was telling me a story about a boy in her lass who had to change his light twice that day and how much trouble he was in. I asked Anna if she had to change her light and she flipped out. “Dad!” she said, “I have never had to change my light, ever!”

On the one hand, it’s great that she’s such a fine student and good little citizen in her classroom, but on the other hand, Christy and I don’t want her to feel like she has to be perfect. Anna is the kind of kid that is devastated if she gets in trouble or has to be corrected. She’s harder on herself than anyone else is, and that is exactly why I’ve been praying for this day. I want Anna to mess up. I want her to fall short and get in trouble so that she learns from her mom and dad that it’s okay and that she’s still loved. In other words, I have been longing for an opportunity to really show her grace on her own terms.

The call came while I was at lunch. Wednesday is my day to pick up Anna from school and Christy called to let me know what I was in for... Anna’s teacher had called the house today because Anna didn’t follow directions and had to change her light. Actually, that’s not why her teacher called. It’s not the practice of first grade teachers to call home after one little light change, but poor Anna was so emotionally devastated by this occurrence that Christy received a call. I was so excited! Anna changed her light! I jumped in my car and drove to the school. There she was in the car line waiting to be picked up with a fragile, pensive look on her face. The door opened, she got in and with a trembling voice uttered, “Dad, today I had to change my light.” A couple of tears eased their way out before she saw my face beaming at her with the biggest, warmest smile I could muster. As jovially as I could, I said, “Anna! I love you!”

Why would I pray for my child to get in trouble? Why would I hope for her to get busted for doing wrong? Because! There’s nothing in this world better for a human heart than a self-awareness of the necessity of grace! Finding out that we’re weak, broken, imperfect and needy is the beginning of all our eternal happiness! Paul says in Romans 3 that this is the very reason God gave us the Ten Commandments... to close every bragging mouth before God and show everyone they need Him! He says in Romans chapter 11 that, “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” Isn’t that amazing? God is going to make sure we know we need Him. It’s good to find out you need mercy and grace, because mercy and grace are abundant in Christ!

After Anna buckled up her seat belt, I asked her if I could hold her hand, and she said I could. Within a couple of minutes, the tears were gone and she was laughing and telling me about her day, squeezing my hand all the way home.

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