Read this blog or you will die: A Blog about blogging from a blogger

There is a fine line between being compelling and being melodramatic. I’m pretty sure the title I used for this piece crossed it.  This is the life of a blogger. You want people to read what you write, but you are one of millions who have something to say.  The internet is the wild west of ideas (and blogs). Everyone seems to be fighting for a corner of this market. So we turn to over-the-top titles to draw people in.  Suddenly I find my self using tactics ordinarily reserved for gossip papers at grocery check out counters.

You have to make it sound urgent, so the person feels like they have to click on the title or they will miss some piece of information they must have.  Usually, it helps to have a list of 5 things a person must know in order to live a healthy life, a spiritual  life, or just a better life than their neighbors.  Now if you can find a ‘key” to making life work, that is even better….it makes it sound like there is only one and you hold it.

Just about the best thing you can do is come up with a title that makes a person’s index finger twitch, and then finally click the mouse that opens up the portals of wisdom flowing from your “retro-fitted” themed blog page.  And just about the worst thing you can do is craft such a title and then have nothing with which to fill in the space.

People will check out the magic potion you are selling until they realize it’s only dish soap.  They find out there are no secret “keys” and it usually takes more than 5 easy steps to the life you’ve always wanted.  Relationships take time to work through and God doesn’t seem to care if I have that Lexus. Now who am I to offer a critique on blogging techniques? Well I bring literally five months of blogging experience to the table. But, before you discount me, allow me to share my little arsenal of future blog titles:

1. God’s treasure is for you….here’s the map!

2. The one trick I learned to turn your children into the Von Trapp family (complete with dance number)

3. The “look” to give your wife to make her headache disappear (this one involves a video demonstration to fully explain said “look”)

4. Joel Osteen is the Anti-Christ: The truth behind the smile

5. Do NOT do any yard work until you read this!  (sorry….couldn’t resist)

Do NOT do any yard work until you read this!

Please take a moment to read about the nightmare I recently went through at the hands of an alien invader no bigger than my fingernail….it may just save your life, and the lives of those you care about.

I was outside blowing leaves with one of those backpack blowers. You may be asking why I am just now blowing leaves in April, but it’s a long story and it makes me look lazy, so let’s not get sidetracked.

I was walking the backyard, blowing a wide swath through the November leaves, pushing them into the woods. I was so focused on where those leaves were going, that I failed to recognize I was walking headlong into an ambush, arranged by a nemesis that waited patiently for me to step in to their trap.

For over a week now, little inch worms have been arriving, gathering, spinning webs and waiting patiently.  I’ve been watching them, taking them down whenever I can.

So I was watching the ground, and did not see the 1.5 million worms that had gathered in the tree, hanging all around me. As I’m walking I feel something land on my head, I reach up to find it’s a worm.

Looking up I then run head first into another worm.

I spin around to feel one crawling on my neck.

I turn the other way and there are two worms in front of me who appear to be mating (why are they mating??)

At that moment a worm drops from the tree, and lands in between my glasses and my eyeball. I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping the sheer force of my lashes will crush it. Worms are now dropping all around me, like tiny kamikazes determined to defend their way of life.

I use the backpack blower to fight my way out, as the dangling spawns of satan continued to torment me. I look down to find worms all over my shoes. I’m struggling to clear the webs from my head and pull the little parasites out of my arm hair (why must I be so harry??) It’s then that I feel a worm drop down the back of my shirt.  I drop the handle of the leaf blower, which is still blowing full blast, bouncing up and down off of the ground. I reach for it when I feel a tiny tickle moving around the waistband of my boxer shorts.

Now I am dancing around, the leaf blower still flapping in the air, as I attempt to grab the worm without sending it even lower.  I can only hope that my wife does not come out at this moment, to see her “shining knight” whimpering like a small child and jumping around the yard. I get control of the leaf blower, and run toward the door of the house. I open the screen door and run headlong into an inch worm web, that I had just cleared out 30 minutes earlier!

I stood in the sun room, visibly shaken. I looked out at that tree, still draped in inch worms and their webs, daring me to come back for more.

I’m told that if I wait a little longer, the worms will burrow into the ground, and be gone until the fall….I will outlast them.

But the point here is clear….Guys, you must suspend all outside yard duties until such a time as it is deemed safe to do so….your wife will understand.  But if you must go out there, be sure you keep your eyes open….and wear a belt.

Letter to My Children: Our Little Secret

This letter is a continuing series of blogs entitled, “Letters to My Children”. You can read my previous letter to my Son by clicking here or to my daughters by clicking here.

 

Dear Evan, Adeline, and Malina

I’m starting to realize that so much of what I plan to say to you involves things you will have to experience for yourself to fully understand. That’s the thing about life, a lot of what you need to know you can’t learn until you’ve lived through it. Only then can you look back with the wisdom you needed in the first place.  So I want to share with you a secret, knowing full well that you won’t understand what I am trying to say for many years to come.  This is a secret that some parents try to hide, afraid of what will happen if they let their children know. We figure you are going to find out eventually, so you might as well hear it from us.

We are human.

I see the way you depend on us, the way you look to us, and I know that to you there is nothing we do not know or can not do. Now I hear that in a few years, you will wake up one morning to discover we know very little about life, nothing about what you are going through, and therefore can offer no direction for your future, but that’s for another letter. Right now, I seem to know everything about anything. But there will come a time in the not so distant future, where you will begin to discover another side to your Mom and Dad. You will begin to see what I saw in my Mom and Dad….that we don’t always know (and many times we were making it up as we went along). One day you will realize that we have questions, we hurt, we mess up, and we get older. You’ll begin to see that we cannot save you, because just like you, we are in need of a Savior.

Now, the two people you thought were superheros as a child, appear a little more human than you are used to seeing.  This can be a shock at first, but eventually, it’s part of what makes you love them even more.

Some parents think that if their children knew this secret, they would lose respect for them….not look up to them anymore. But I know this is not what happens because this is not what happened to me with my Mom and Dad.  And what I’ve come to realize (and hope to pass on to you) is that my parents have not only lived real lives, but they have lived so much more life than I have.  Having already lived through so many of the ups and downs, they have so much wisdom now to share….if only I would listen.

Well, I fell better getting this little secret out there….I trust you will keep this between us.

Love,

Your Dad.

A Letter to My Daughters: Throw the Pictures Away

(This letter is part of a series of blogs entitled, “Letters to My Children”. You can read about it by clicking here.)

Dear Adeline and Malina,

Throughout your  life people will try to offer you a picture of how they see the world, and how you should see it too. Then there will be people on T.V. or online magazines that will give you pictures of how you should view yourself.  They will try to tell you what you need to change about the way you look or the food you eat in order to match those pictures.  Eventually, Disney (assuming they still exist) will give you a picture of who you should marry and how to live “happily ever after”.

In every stage of life, we start to collect these pictures and refer to them regularly to see how we measure up. The problem is that life rarely follows the pictures we have in our mind.  Adeline and Malina, you cannot let those who know you only as a demographic, sell you on the idea that your worth, your value as a woman, is based upon your hair, or your clothes, your shoes, or your measurements.  You are NOT your dress size, so don’t let anyone give you a picture of life that says you must fit into their mold of beauty in order to be considered beautiful.

There will be moments where you will look at the pictures you carry around of what people have decided “beauty” looks like, and you will look at yourself in the mirror, and you may start to feel like you just don’t measure up. In those moments, you have a choice to either hold on to those unrealistic “pictures” of beauty, or throw them away….throw them away.

True contentment in life comes when we throw away the pictures we collect of how life should be or how we should look, and we embrace the life that God has given us and the way God has made us.  We then allow God to paint the picture and that is what we carry with us.  The way you will look, your size and shape and features, none of those are a surprise to God. God crafted you and God is the one determining the steps of your future, long before you took your first.

I know there will be days when you will struggle with these issues of self-worth and value. I know you will probably go through things growing up that I cannot or will not understand (your Mother is already preparing me). But you are my girls, and I will spend the rest of my time as your Dad, reminding you that you are loved, that you are valuable, and so beautiful, inside and out.  That you are worth the entire world to your Mother and I….and worth the God of the universe giving His only Son to die for you.

But for now, I’ll just watch you put on your Mom’s shoes and jewelry, or watch you as you  dance around the kitchen….those are the pictures I will always carry with me.

Love,

Your Dad.

Do You Remember this “Old School” End Times Movie?

Mondays on my blog are becoming my “remember when” of movies and T.V. shows….not sure why but let’s just go with it for now.

I’ll never forget arriving at church with my family one night to find that our regular services and activities had been cancelled, and instead they would be showing us a movie!! Sure enough, there was a movie projector with the film all fed through the machine and ready.  This was awesome….I had never watched a movie in “big”church before.They said it was going to be a movie entitled, “A Thief in the Night”. Sounded like an action adventure movie so I sat on the front pew and I was ready.

A few pieces of information I did not have before I started watching this movie. I was not aware of how poorly acted and produced most Christian movies were at the time. I also did not know this movie was a part of a series of movies depicting a view of the rapture and the end times.

I sat on the front row with my friends, my mouth open, eyes wide, pretending it was no big deal.  In reality, these movies scared the crap out of me!!  People were getting tattoos on their foreheads, there was a girl named Patty who missed the rapture and a creepy friend of hers with a beard from the 1800″s. There were these weird guards who always wore dark sunglasses and chased people without the mark. I remember there was a Guillotine involved….and even at a young age, I wondered, “why a Guillotine?” Did they really need to bring back that back?

Needless to say I walked around in shock after that. I’ll never forget getting home one day from school to find my mom was not in the house. It looked like she had started dinner, and the lights were on, but she was not there. Well, in my mind all I could hear was the song, “there’s no time to change your mind, the Son has come and you’ve been left behind.” I ran around the house in a panic, trying to think of who I could prank call that I knew God would never leave behind, to see if they were still here. A few minutes later, my mom walks in with a cup of flour from our neighbors house. That night I let my younger sister sneak into my bed, and I made sure I kept my foot on her leg, so I could make sure she was still there and I wasn’t left behind.

There is not a person I know who has seen these movies and has not had some kind of long-lasting psychological trauma.

Enjoy your Monday :)

A Letter to My Son: Don’t Take the Easy Laugh

(This post is part of my “Letters to My Children” series. You can learn about it by             clicking here).

Dear Evan,

Your Dad loves to make people laugh….or at least I enjoy trying.  Maybe it goes back to being a middle child, always fighting for attention. Or maybe it reflects the insecurities that I have and try to hide. Or Maybe it’s just that I enjoy comedy…just like you.  At this stage in your life the bar is a little lower in the comedy department.  I’m almost guaranteed a laugh as long as there is a story that ends with the words “booger” or “toot”.  And if that doesn’t work, there is always the classic trip and fall routine.

But, Evan, there will come a time where in your own attempt to say something funny, or make people laugh, you will be tempted to turn your focus toward a single person, to make him the target of your jokes. It’s an easy laugh. We’re all awkward and different and we have plenty of soft spots in our lives where a joke can land.  But, Evan,…don’t do it.  Of all the times I’ve tried to be funny, the times I regret the most are the jokes that came at the expense of someone else.  Some of those moments I still remember to this day.

You will meet all kinds of people in life who seem to know of no other way to talk to each other than to hurl insults and put-downs, dressed in a joke.  People like that are not as strong as they appear. Most likely they are covering up their own hurts and fears. So if you become their target, just know that about them, and love them anyway. But never, never go through your life making your own targets out of others….This is not who you are.

I’m writing this to you and not your sisters (though they should probably read it too!) because at a certain age, this tends to be the way that boys “assert dominance” or gain respect, and though it will be hard to see at the time, those same boys end up neither dominating nor being respected.

Evan, You have infinite value to your Father in Heaven, and you are priceless to your Mother and I.  So make people laugh, and find the humor that is everywhere. Your Mom and I love the way you come up with just the right line, seemingly out of no where, that makes us laugh out loud.

This is a special gift….Just don’t waste it.

We love you Son,

Your Dad.

Do you Remember this T.V. Show?

For three years in the early 80’s, the world was given the privilege of a television show entitled, The Greatest American Hero. This is the story of a man who receives a suit from aliens that gives him superhero powers, but he loses the instruction manual on how to use the suit, and has to figure it out on his own….yep….

I came along just in time to remember the very end of this show, but I loved it! Maybe because it was a combination of slap-stick and superhero, (it definitely wasn’t because of the writing or acting) or maybe it was the amazing theme song. I remember a fast food chain that sold copies of the song on a record with the purchase of a meal. We would spin that record and I would wrap something like a cape around my neck, fly around the room, and crash in to everything.

This was a time in my life where whatever I watched on TV, I acted out in real life in my neighborhood. You see growing up I still had “free-time”.  Free time was a time in a child’s life where there was nothing planned for you, no activities or sports to be at and no schedule to keep….you were simply told to go outside and play. So you made stuff up. For me, I would watch a show like Greatest American Hero, fly around the neighborhood, and fall down a lot. When I saw, Greystoke:  The Legend of Tarzan, I spent a lot of time attempting to climb up trees and grunt at people. And unfortunately, when I was exposed to Grease 2, I put on a black “Members Only” jacket, and rode around on my bike with a solid rocket boaster from my Space Shuttle toy hanging out of my mouth like a cigarette.

I miss free time….Enjoy your Monday.

Letters to My Children….

It’s hard to adjust to the quickness of life.  Moments move by so fast that sometimes I struggle to take it all in, not to mention passing on anything that I’ve learned. My wife and I have three children: A five-year old, a three-year old, and a sixteen month old.  I’ve noticed that our house is rarely still or quiet.  I’ve also noticed how time has started to move forward faster than it did when our family first began.

Many times there are conversations that I have with someone, or situations I go through, or thoughts that I have, that I wish I could somehow hold on to until my children are a little older. Then I could share it with them, offer them some kind of observation about people, and God, and failure. Maybe a couple of insights into relationships, the unfairness of this life, and even the strange and beautiful complexity of women (maybe).

So I’ve decided to write these things down every Friday morning in a blog for my children. Sometimes it will be something I need to share with my Son, Evan. Other times it may be a blog to my two girls, Adeline and Malina.  I don’t know how long this will last, and I don’t even know if they will read them. But every day in a million different experiences, there are these teachable moments that we can all grab on to, focus our children’s attention on, and plant something in their lives that we trust God will grow in them. I don’t want to spend life so focused on myself, moving so fast and living so distracted that I miss these teachable moments. In missing these moments I miss opportunities to hear the Holy Spirit speak….and I miss a chance to pour in to the life of my family.

“God, today, there are teachable moments everywhere….please help me not to miss them, for myself, and my family….Amen.”

Forgetting to Say “Hello” Could Kill You!

Sweet Hot Electric Water.                                                    

That was what we dubbed the shower at the place where we stayed in Botswana, Africa while on a mission trip with a group of High school seniors and college students.  There was nothing wrong with the place where we stayed, it was just that there was some sort of mix up between the electrical wires and the plumbing.  Every time one of the females stepped in to the shower, they got shocked.  You can’t plan for things like that….a shower that carries with it a small, but invigorating electric current. Certainly Paul never wrote about that in his list of hardships while traveling to spread the Gospel.

We would laugh and laugh as we talked about the “sweet, hot, electric water”. But the next day when one of the property managers came by, I walked straight toward him, determined to see if we could get this situation resolved.  Now in our team trainings at home and on the field, they talked about the differences in cultures, and how we interact with the people we would meet in Botswana. They stressed the importance of greeting people. They told us that greetings are not the sort of thing you brush past.  No, before you move forward in the conversation, get to the “business” at hand, you must take time to properly say hello, to inquire about the other person, to be fully present in the conversation.

Well I quickly walked up to the manager, and without even thinking I said, “Hey, we are having a little trouble with some wires and water in the shower, do you think someone could take a look at it?” The manager looked at me for a moment, and his smile lessened.  It was as if he was graciously willing to look past my act of rudeness in order to teach me an important lesson. ” He interrupted my ramblings and said, “Excuse me….good morning.”

I stopped as my mind raced to figure out where that response came from, I had clearly already said hello. But then I remembered….I messed up.  I knew that nothing was going to be done about the “liquid shock” coming from the shower head until we started things off right.  I smiled at him and said, “good morning, how are you?” We talked for just a few moments and then the man said, “so….there is a problem with the shower?”

My wife made me a journal when I went to Africa so that I could write down what I learned on my trip. I learned so many things during that time, but I only wrote down one idea….GREETINGS MATTER!  I learned that greetings set the tone of the conversation. Your greetings greatly affects the direction of your words, and many times it is what we say in the beginning of a conversation that plays a role in the outcome.

For the people of Botswana, greetings not only frame the conversation, they are the soil from which a conversation grows.  A clear and genuine “hello” or “welcome”, a few words of interest in the other person you are speaking to….these things are part of hospitality and a way to honor one another. Here in the West, we brush past greetings as a necessary (but not really important) part of getting to what we really want to say.  Even when we do say, “how are you?” we are not really asking about the well-being of the other person….that is just a way of saying, “hey”.  We wouldn’t know what to do if we asked that question and someone replied with more than one or two words.

As I look back, I realize that the way I start a conversation is sometimes an insight into my heart.  Sometimes a lack of genuine greeting at the beginning of a conversation reveals my true motives, my priorities, and my focus.  But what if we began to take greeting others seriously.  How would it set the tone for the day if you greeted your spouse, really greeted her in the morning when you woke up, or in the evening when you returned home?  How would your children respond if you looked them in the eyes, welcomed them, and listened to how they are doing today? What about your co-workers? Your boss? Friends at church? What about your Father in heaven? Do you brush past a genuine greeting, of listening and engaging, in order to get to what you want?

Don’t miss the opportunity that exists in every conversation you will have today….start well….take a deep breath….and say hello.

PS. The sweet, hot, electric water stayed with us, though they were able to lower the voltage.  The girls didn’t seem to mind and nobody got hurt.  And if you read this and decide to start a band….please consider using sweet, hot, electric water….or even “The SHEW Band” for short.

If President Obama Causes you to Sin….

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. I Timothy 2:1-4

Is it possible that we give our selves a pass on the sin of gossip and slander because it involves someone we do not know and may never meet?

It is election season (and feels like it has been for years) which is open season for critique, evaluation, and the passing along of useful voter information. But the closer we get to the election, the more passionate we become.  Politicians become more desperate, and our words become sharper.  And yet, if we are not careful, we take the next step. Our conversation turns a corner, and we start to say things like, “yeah and did you hear….” or “but I heard he….” “He’s such a ….”. Suddenly I find myself in conversations, and joining in conversations, that sound more like gossip and slander, rather than a discussion of issues, values, or candidate voting records.

Now do not get me wrong, you have every right to voice your opinion and be vocal in your political convictions. We should expect a certain character and morality from our elected officials.  But we do not have the right to sin in that passion with half-truths, and partial facts and questionable motives.

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
they go down to a man’s inmost parts. Proverbs 18:8

The same is true of celebrities. We get sucked in to the whole lifestyle, and propaganda, and make-believe world of stardom because it is just so delicious. If we were honest (and the reason shows about this are so popular) we would admit that it tastes so good to hear about whose life is falling apart and whose marriage is failing, and who is “winning” (while the children lose).  So we take it all in, true or not, and we pass it on to others who share our appetite for the “delicious”.  While we will never meet those people, behind their faces on a magazine are men and women made in the image of our loving God.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

The scripture is a book of hard things — made possible by the Spirit of God.  We are told to request things, to pray, to intercede on behalf of, to offer thanksgiving for those in authority.  Is this a part of your time before God?  Where in your A.C.T.S formula for praying do your leaders fit in?

President Obama, will not be your excuse for sin. Nor will the Republican you may not be able to stomach, or the Independent you may dismiss. You belong to the Kingdom of God. We are constantly praying for all celebrities, all politicians, all neighbors, all family, to realize that this Kingdom is available and it is FOR us all!

This is simply an observation, and a warning to myself (and maybe others)….guard you heart, God is in full control, so keep praying!

What You Learn to Say When You Can’t Speak (Or My Dance with Viral Meningitus)

Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges.  The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms and less commonly by certain drugs.  Meningitis can be life-threatening because of the inflammation’s proximity to the brain and spinal cord; therefore the condition is classified as a medical emergency.”

All I know is that I went to bed Monday around noon and slept until Tuesday morning.  I also know that when I awoke on Tuesday my wife discovered that not only could I not come up with answers to her simple questions, when I did try to speak it was a random mix of consonants and vowels (although our daughter, who is 16 months, seemed to be tracking with me).

Between the time I woke up on Tuesday until I got to the hospital that afternoon, I have a few memories scattered here and there. I don’t remember getting to the hospital, but I remember being in the waiting room. I remember going back to get checked in at the ER, but I don’t remember talking to anyone or sitting in a room while they looked me over.

Over the next several hours I went through a bunch of tests and blood draws. I was asked questions my 5-year-old would’ve aced – “Honey, what is your name?” “Sweetie what is your birthdate?” “Can you tell me the date today?” Most of which I could not answer. Penny, was certain I had a stroke.  I could not read, or explain myself, the best I could do many times was to look at Penny (with tears in her eyes) and shrug my shoulders.

It’s not that I didn’t know I couldn’t speak. When I tried to answer questions, I could hear myself saying things that were wrong, I just couldn’t make them right. Question after question, each time a nurse or doctor came into a room.

Long story short, they said I was the healthiest-sick patient they had seen in a while. The tests all came back negative, and they told me I had a virus. No, not the really bad one, just a sort of bad one. With some fluids, rest, and a medley of antibiotics and antiviral medications, I began to come around. Soon after that I was able to speak again. And eventually, a couple of days later, I was able to answer the age-old question: “honey, can you tell me the date today?

So that’s it. My dance with viral meningitis. It’s amazing how you wake up one day and find yourself scrambling to make sense of the next turn in your life. It comes out of nowhere and leaves just as quick. As I think about all that has happened, I can tell you that there has been no “near-death” experience that has completely altered the course of my life.  For me, this experience was another clear reminder that life changes quickly, and it’s only when you cannot speak that you find what you really want to say.  For me, I had a chance to talk more with my Dad while he was here. We talked about all kinds of things – life, kids, wives, politics, childhood, and the church. I had a chance to seek forgiveness and speak words of gratitude.

I recently met with a man who is entering the last stages of his life. He said if he had to do it all again, he would try to finish something everyday….one thing….everyday. He said he kept putting off doing jobs around the house, making phone calls, repairing relationships, or taking family trips.  Only now, facing his last days, he realizes he doesn’t have the time to put them off or complete them.

Yes, you do have time.  But it is only the time you’ve been given today. What do you need to do with it? What do you need to try, or step out and fail miserably at? Who do you need to forgive, or seek forgiveness from, or encourage, or offer words and acts of love?  It might be a conversation you need to have, or maybe a decision that you cannot do what you’ve been doing anymore. Or maybe….maybe you need to offer your life to the God who is waiting for you to come back home — for that you don’t need to do anything at all, you just need to say “yes”.

Please don’t forget.

Today.

Today.

Today.

In a Relationship? Watch this Clip!

My  Wife and I were at a marriage conference recently where they showed a humorous clip from the movie, “Shenandoah”, Starring the great, Jimmy Stewart.

You can watch the clip below and then tell me what you think. I would love to hear your comments on his observations about women and the “answers” he arrives at.

Enjoy!

I Don’t Need My Wife….

I’m not sure when I first realized this. I know it wasn’t in High school.  I met my future wife our senior year of High school in a biology class (seems appropriate). I’m sure she had a great personality and a wonderful outlook on life. But at the time, all I could see was that she was wearing a jean skirt.

In high school you live or die by your ability to size up the people around you, determine what “group” they belong to, and more importantly, where you fit in. It is complicated, kind of like the Glee version of the caste system.  When I first met my wife, I determined very quickly that she was further up the “scale” than me and that to pursue her would be a risky undertaking.

So you can imagine my surprise when she asked me to be her lab partner. Because nothing says potential date and romance like looking at single-celled organisms together. But I got to sit next to her and occasionally bump my leg into hers, so I was willing to watch paint dry if necessary. From that microscope our love began to grow, first as a friendship and then in to a dating relationship. After 4 years of college, we got married, proof that with enough persistence and positive mental attitude, you can move up the scale and marry the woman of your dreams.

Now in high school you tend to swim in drama. It is like a food group to most people. You say dramatic things and dress in dramatic ways (trying to be unique of course, only to realize that you’re trying to be unique is just like everyone else’s trying to be unique).  When you take the drama that naturally exists in high school and you add a relationship to it, you end up with some amazing statements and acts of “love”. You skip meals and go without sleep. You break in to your girlfriends house (long story) and you spend all that you have.  I even wrote a love song; it had 2 verses and three chords and everything.

You also say things like, “I will just die without him” or “I cannot imagine being a part from you for even one second.” They are over the top statements about your love and devotion. While it is heartfelt, the truth is that as you get older you realize those statements are not really true.

I recognize now that I do not need my wife and that she does not need me.  I realize that I could live life without her and if we had not met, we would both probably go on to live productive (and even happy) lives. If I were not around, her world would not fall apart for good, and she would move forward. We are not co-dependents, without individual identities.

But I also know this, that from the first day she walked in to Mr. Porter’s biology class, I was lost in her smile (yes the skirt was nice too). Her eyes were captivating, and I could listen to her speak for hours.  Her heart was full of compassion, and she had this amazing ability to see past my awkward attempts to impress her and eventually find what the real me was trying to say….that I loved her with all that I knew, and that I wanted to make her my wife.

So on this Valentine’s Day, I recognize that I do not need my wife….and yet….believing that God has brought us together, I am committed for the rest of my life, to NEVER be without her.  In the space this type of commitment creates there is so much respect and joy and admiration, and beauty, and grace. I think in a way much bigger than I understand, this is the commitment of Jesus on the cross. This is a God that had no need in Himself, but out of His love and for His glory, created humanity in a self-sacrificing commitment that says while I do not NEED you, I have CHOSEN to never be without you….and to go to the ends of the earth to bring you back….to die for you if necessary.  Maybe, in the commitment we make to our spouse, we begin to reflect in a very limited way, the kind of self-giving love that exists between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I may not need my wife, but having committed to each other, I could not imagine a world in which we would ever be apart. I would go to the ends of the earth to bring her back, and to die for her if necessary. Paul tells us to “love your wife as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her.” Having met my wife, I have been inspired to spend the rest of my life learning to walk in obedience to this command.

God is so….Predictable?

 The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land,…And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.  So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”  Exodus 3: 7-10

If we are not careful, we read this story with such familiarity that we miss a life-changing conversation that takes place between God and Moses. Notice the movement of God’s description of the situation in Egypt:

“I have indeed seen the misery….” The God who governs every moment of the entire universe, comes to a sheep farmer (hiding out in the desert because of murder charges in Egypt) and says there is a group of people….my people….and I see the misery caused by the practices of their masters.

“I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers.” Through hundreds of years and thousands of tearful prayers, God has been gathering and holding each cry, attentive to every word of His children as He prepares for this day of judgement.

“I am concerned about their suffering.” The suffering of humanity draws the concern of a loving God wherever and whenever that suffering takes place.

“So I have come down to rescue them….”  For God, it is not enough to see the misery, to hear the cries, and to be concerned. God is one who, in the fullness of time, sees, hears, is concerned, and comes down to rescue.

“So now go, I am sending you….” God says to, Moses, I am getting involved, entering the suffering of my people in order to bring them out of slavery, and my getting involved means that YOU must go!

God’s plan to rescue humanity means the sending of a human, it always has….and it always will.  For a God who is free to respond to humanity any way that He chooses, this seems to be the predicable response throughout history: That wherever there is injustice and the cries of enslaved people, there stands the God of all creation, seeing, hearing, concerned, listening, and stepping in to bring freedom through those who have become aware of this suffering, and willing to allow God to use them to bring freedom. This is the message of the tabernacle, the prophets, the cross, and the upper room.

In this God is….predictable.

That’s what Jonah was saying when God spared the city of Ninevah. God sends Jonah to speak judgement to Ninevah and, Jonah, while he was excited about the message he was not thrilled about being the one to deliver it. So you have the boat, the fish, the vomiting, and then Jonah heads to Ninevah. He preaches a great “hell-far”and damnation sermon and….well….the people listen and repent, hoping that God would not pull the trigger. God sees their repentance and has compassion on them….and Jonah is ticked. Why? Because he could’ve predicted God’s response.

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 4: 1-2

Jonah, says to God, “God, I knew it!” “I knew what you were like and I knew what would happen if I warned these people.” ” I Could’ve predicted your response, you being just so gracious and so loving and so willing to forgive and set people free” (sarcasm implied by me).

What is predictable is that God is always engaged to set the oppressed free — spiritually and physically.  This is true in Egypt, and Syria, and Greece, and Nepal and in Indiana for the Super Bowl. This is true for the over 6,000 people groups that have not heard the name of Jesus and it is true for the 27 million people in the world who are held as slaves.

If this is true, then it is no longer acceptable to simply see the injustice and slavery around us. No longer can we walk around just being aware or even concerned. These are crucial steps in a process that is leading us toward our next step: We must find ways to be actively engaged. This is the way of the Kingdom of God, this is the way of following Jesus into the world. This is not for professional ministers or career missionaries. This is you….and this is me. We have been called to live this way. And we have been called today, not when you graduate or when you settle down, for the call of Jesus does not follow our plans our class credits, and following Him means anything but “settling down”.

 The truth is that you are the physical response of God to the injustice and darkness in our world.

So where is it that God is showing you injustice and slavery? Where in your neighborhood, your community, your workplace or the world have you become aware of people being held in physical and spiritual slavery?

How are you going to be the response of God in those places?

Pray.  Think specific.  Start somewhere and take the next step.

God is NOT your Grandpa.

My God is so great, so strong and so mighty,

there’s nothing my God cannot do.

The mountains are his, the rivers are his,

the stars are His handiwork, too.

My God is so great, so strong and so mighty,

there’s nothing my God cannot do, for you!

Our 3-year-old is going around the house singing this song. She has a little squeaky voice and a bit of a lisp, and it is quite possibly the cutest thing I’ve heard in a while. We teach this song to children, but it is much more than a child’s song.  Maybe the thing that strikes me most about this song, is that the God it speaks of is not always the God I pray to.

Consider Hebrews 11:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

The writer of Hebrews spends the rest of the chapter pointing out men and women in the bible who were just like you or I, ordinary people who had faith in a great God.  But before he talks about these men and women he reminds us of a God who is much bigger than we understand.  A God who simply speaks and matter forms in all of its complexity to become the world we see around us….simply by the words of God. This is a big God, a God who is worth having faith in.

Sometimes, if we are honest, our god is too small to be the God spoken of in the bible. Sometimes, if I were honest, the God that I pray to looks more like my grandpa; you know, he’s always there to listen, and he really does care. He’s gonna fret over me when I’m done talking about my problems, and I am always welcome to sit with him, share a Werther’s candy….but beyond that there is not much he can do about my situation. Sometimes, the difference between my view of “God” and my Grandpa is very small.

Hebrews 11 begins by saying, “before I tell you about these men and women of faith, I want to remind you of the God who compels such faith. This God who takes nothing, and forms all that exists. This God not only hears your prayers, but can actually change situations and transform lives.  I want to have faith in this God. I want to live each day with a growing view of this God and a passion to expand this view to others I meet.

I’m learning that in order to continue with a big view of God in my life, I need to do 3 things.  1. I must stay centered in His Word. Much in the world around us tends to shrink a big view of God, feeding the lie that what we really need is a bigger view of ourselves and our own ability. But when I stand in the bible, my view of God expands, and helps create the faith that we read about in Hebrews 11.  2. I need a community, a smaller group of people who can remind me of God’s bigness when my vision becomes small. 3. I must be willing each day to take steps of faith, trusting in the greatness of God.  Because I put my faith in the God who speaks the universe into existence, Am I willing to pray big, expecting prayers,

am I willing to walk where I have never walked before,

am I willing to speak the truth in love,

and live as though I truly believe that God is so big, so strong and so mighty, and there is nothing my God cannot do.

That’s a Lot of Sex for One Chapter!

Ahhh It’s February, that time of year when Pastors feel a certain amount of freedom and even a certain expectation to discuss issues related to love and sex. So with Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, I thought I would do my part.

I’ve been working through the book of Genesis, rehearing so many stories I had read before. But then I read the story of Jacob, and how his family came to be, and I was shocked.

There is a lot happening in this chapter, so let me give you the rundown:

Jacob is married to 2 women — Leah and Rachel. You’re not suppose to have favorite wives, (and I always assumed you didn’t have a choice since you only had one) but it’s the bible…and Jacob loved Rachel more.

So Leah has four children and, Rachel, cannot conceive. Rachel, gets desperate and says to her husband, “give me children or I shall die.” No pressure eh?

Rachel, ends up offering her servant, Bilhah, to her husband in order to have children.

He ends up having 2 children with, Bilhah, and, Rachel, is happy.

Leah sees the situation, and that she is not bearing children, she offers her servant, Zilpah, to her husband, Jacob. Zilpah ends up having 2 children with Jacob, and, Leah, is happy.

Are you counting? We’re at 8 children.

Then one day one of Leah’s children brings home mandrakes and when Rachel sees them, she has to have them. She is desperate to have children and this root might be the answer. This is the exchange:

One day during the wheat harvest, Reuben found some mandrakes growing in a field and brought them to his mother, Leah. Rachel begged Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”

But Leah angrily replied, “Wasn’t it enough that you stole my husband? Now will you steal my son’s mandrakes, too?”

Rachel answered, “I will let Jacob sleep with you tonight if you give me     some of the mandrakes.” Genesis 30: 14-15

Yep, little does Jacob know that his wives are making deals while he is away….deals that involve sex for plant roots.

 So that evening, as Jacob was coming home from the fields, Leah went out to meet him. “You must come and sleep with me tonight!” she said. “I have paid for you with some mandrakes that my son found.” So that night he slept with Leah. Genesis 30:16

I have paid for you? Talk about your, “welcome home hubby.” But Jacob doesn’t seem to object, and Leah goes on to have 3 more children.

Oh….we’re at 11

Then we go to, Rachel. She conceives and has another son, Joseph.

That makes 12 sons (and one daughter though she doesn’t normally get included)

Can you believe that?? I mean you put this family on a stage with a studio audience and you have an episode of Jerry Springer.  One chapter in the bible, with all of the jealousy, and anger, and bed-post notching, and competition, and sex, and pain, and low self-worth that often is the human experience….and you thought there was drama in your family.

And yet, through all of the craziness found in one chapter in Genesis, you still find a God who enters the mess of their experience, redeems, it, and leads them toward His purpose. From this family God would establish the twelve tribes of Israel (sorry Dinah). This chapter tells a story greater than 2 women locked in a baby war. As in the other chapters and books in the bible, this story speaks to the God who “works all things for good” and who seeks to draw all Peoples, all nations, and even all of history to Himself and for His glory.

There is nothing like the bible….and nothing like a good love story

Happy Valentines Day everybody!

My Birthday is Coming….I Want Presents!

February 12 actually.

And this year, I am going to do all that I can to get as many gifts as possible. Not for me, but to help free the 27 million people around the world who are held against their will and forced to work in brutal conditions with little or no pay.

Slaves….today….it’s hard to believe but impossible to ignore.  There are so many factors that go in to someone becoming a slave, and just as many ways that we can get involved to help stop it.

I first became away of The A21 Campaign in the months leading up to The Passion Conference. But ever since then, I have not been able to look at my children, without thinking of the millions of children in the world who are sold as sex slaves.

Watch this:

And so, for my birthday, as well as my wife’s birthday, and our son’s birthday we are asking you to give presents, to give financially to The A21 Campaign to help end human trafficking.  I plan to blog once a month on this issue, as well as send emails, and post wherever I can, so that as many people as possible will become aware, and help provide the financial resources the A21 Campaign needs to actively combat this injustice.

So I am asking you, for my birthday, please give a gift. Please consider giving a donation equal to the amount of a birthday gift….or even more!

My family has created a fundraising page to make it as easy as possible to learn more about human trafficking, to give safely, and then to pass along the page to others, encouraging them to join the fight.

To learn more and give me a birthday gift, check out our family fundraising page by clicking  HERE

You can learn all about the problem and the solution by going to The A21 Campaign website.

Please help us spread the word and thank you in advance for my birthday presents!

Open Letter to 18-25 year olds (cont’d)

The fallacy of the straight line (the audacity of the scribble).

Page 2 (If you missed page 1 please click here to catch up)       

So throughout the stories of the bible you find the audacity of the scribble. Abraham’s life was headed in a straight line until God calls him to leave his home and bring his family to a new land. Moses had a nice career….you know….building stuff….and then he is on the run for murder and finds himself talking to some shrubs on fire.  David was just a shepherd boy, and then an old guy (Samuel) pours oil on his head, and his life begins to spin — forward and then seemingly backward, and then upside down, and then the bottom drops out, only to be raised up again. There is Noah, and Jonah, and Solomon, and Hosea.  There are the Israelites wandering in the wilderness (which is actually a giant scribble in the sand) and Ezekiel, and Peter, and Paul, and John the Baptist. Even the life of Jesus seems to be following safe, familiar patterns for the most part, until around 30 when he is baptized and starts to preach the Kingdom of God. Everything spins out of control until he ends up in the scribble of betrayal, hate, flying fists and spit….ending with a cross, and nails, and execution.  Jesus shared in all that we are, including the scribble of life. 

And then 3 days later….

You and I no longer have to fear the unknown, the unclear, or the scribble of life. Jesus, the risen Son of God walks with us in and through the scribble, using that scribble to show us a new way to live, to think, to work and love and play. Now we embrace Jesus in the middle of what looks like scribble, throwing away all hopes of a straight line.

So our plans do not work out the way we thought, but Jesus is leading us, and we would rather follow Him in the scribble than walk a straight line of disobedience. You still plan, you work hard, you hope and dream, but you offer all of that to your real master, one who may lead you away from all of those things, into a life you could not have imagined.

Finally, a few observations as I finish this letter:

1. You don’t get to see the end from the beginning, but you will see the beginning from the end. One of the downfalls of living life forward, is that you don’t get all of the details, you can’t see all that God is doing, before you take your first step. But, it is a beautiful thing to be able to stop at a point in your life, look back at the direction God has led you, and be in awe of his care and purpose.

2. You are not called to wait until all lines become straight. You must follow Jesus now, even though your life is unclear and God seems distant. God is not far away, and it is often in the feeling of distance that God is doing His best work in our lives. Martin Luther would look at the scribble of Jesus on the cross and say that where God seems most hidden, there God is revealed….the same is true in our lives.

3. Call your parents. I know, you didn’t see that one coming! Call them. I get it, your busy and you don’t always think of it and they should understand….but they don’t. I can’t imagine having one the main goals in your life as a parent (to see your kids off) is also the most painful.   So put the letter down, call one of them right now, tell them you can’t talk long, you’re in a bad coverage area, but you just wanted to say hey! No reason, no money, just hey, and once they come to and pick up the phone, they will be happy.

Talk to you soon….if you ever call (just practicing)

Peace,

Bryan

Open Letter to 18-25 Year Olds: The Fallacy of the Straight Line (the Audacity of the Scribble)

Dear 18-25 year old,                                                                                                       

I know it’s kind of awkward getting a letter like this from me, either because you have no idea who I am, or you find it strange that I would write random letters to whole groups of people….I can see your point.  I only know that I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time with your age group (not that I am too far away from it!) and there are a few things I feel like I need to share with you before you go any further.

These are not new ideas and you probably know all of this already, so just humor me and keep reading. What I’m about to say is written from a heart that believes in you, or more importantly, believes in what God wants to do in your life….if you will only learn not to fear the scribble (yeah you need to keep reading if that’s going to make any sense)

Most of us love straight lines. We like to make plans, set goals, create situations, and then we like to see those plans, goals, and situations play out, exactly as we planned, goaled, and created (goaled is a word to me).

What we secretly long for in our lives is for every plan we make to have a line that moves from point A (where we are) to point B (where we plan to go).

Like it or not, while straight lines exist on paper, they can rarely be found in real life. But this truth does not keep us from trying.  So you plan to graduate from High school and move on to the college of your choice. You graduate in 4 years and then you get married, to the spouse of your choice. You immediately move in to the career of your choice and soon you buy the house of your choice. Then the dog (the test baby) and if that goes well you have a child (the real baby) and so on and so forth.

we take comfort in straight lines

we love them

we have faith in them.

And then you don’t get in to your college, or you graduate without a spouse, or you move back home with your parents, or no one is hiring, or you are not doing the kind of work you really want to be doing. There is a tragedy in your family, or you struggle to have children. Suddenly we start to see the fallacy of the straight line. If we were to map out our lives it would look more like a scribble. A scribble has loops, it rises and falls and goes backward and forward and even diagonally. It looks messy and yet beautiful at the same time.

Now you must plan and even talk about and work toward your hopes and dreams. But even those plans must come with the understanding that for every time your life moves from A to B, it will move back to A, and then over to C, only to move around to B again.

I think about a guy from the bible named Joseph.

Joseph was loved by his Father, and blessed by God. But follow the path of his life. He gets betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery – not exactly A to B. He gets to Egypt, and eventually rises in the ranks, becoming the CEO of Potiphar’s house. What’s next? He gets solicited for sex by his owner’s wife! Next she frames him, and her husband throws Joseph in prison. God’s hand is on him, and eventually he leaves prison and becomes second in command of Egypt.  To make things more complicated, Joseph has a run in with his jerk brothers. when he finally reveals himself to them, this is what he says:

And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. Genesis 45:5

God sent him? The betrayal? the pit? Slavery? Egypt? The Sexual advances? The lies? Prison???? This was God sending Joseph to Egypt to be in a position to save his family? Seems like God could have moved Joseph from A to B and avoided all the mess.

Later, when Joseph’s Father had died and his brothers were expecting revenge, Joseph reassured them by saying this:

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:19-20

We want to run from the scribble in our lives, assuring ourselves it is not God’s plan….unless it is. Unless in the middle of the loops and rises and falls — right in the middle of all of the scribble there is God, shaping and forming our hearts, so that at the end of the scribble we are at the right place, at the right time, to be used by God to glorify Him, and share life and light with others.

As I finish up this letter, I have 4 final thoughts on this subject I’d like to share with you, but I think I will save those for tomorrow…oh come on….it will be like turning to page 2 of the letter….Just a really long turn.

Until tomorrow, I’d love to get your thoughts, comments, and testimonies on how God has led you in the scribble, and if you’d be so kind as to share this with someone else, that would be just swell.