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.

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