God Speaks Through Bushes & DreamWorks Animation

Some weeks we live at the grocery store and occasionally check in at home…we’ve made our peace with it.

The other day I was sitting in the car with our three children, trying to keep them occupied while my wife ran in for a “few things”. It’s taken me a while but I now know that a “few things” is a distraction, a little smoke and mirrors in order to lull you in to a false sense of security. No a “few things” stems from a Greek phrase which means to sit in a small running car keeping your children from turning on each other, while your wife takes longer and buys more than you thought possible.”

My reaction to this situation is to talk out loud like she could hear me in the store.

“Come on! hurry up Penny!” I say in frustrated tones.

“Is Mommy here?” my children ask, confused.

“No, I’m just telling her to hurry but she’s not…. never mind.”

The wait has been made a little easier by the introduction of smart phones. While when I was growing up you passed the time by breathing on the window and writing messages, now we can just turn on a movie. I put on, “The Prince of Egypt” for my children to watch and we settled in together. We came to the scene of the burning bush. You can watch it here:

 

At the end of the scene my children stared at me as I wiped away the tears.

Something about the presentation of that scene spoke to me in ways I was not expecting from an animated movie. The force and Glory of God coupled with God’s comfort and reassurance. In that scene, I was reminded of the fact that each day, in a million unexpected ways, we catch glimpses of the Everlasting and the All-Powerful in the midst of the temporal and frail.

That God speaks through burning bushes and also through DreamWorks Animation.

That God is speaking in this very moment to go and display God’s wonders.

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To my Wife: 5 things I remember about our wedding day

Well it was hot….                                                                             

The church was packed, it was over one hundred degrees outside, and part of our decorating was obstructing the intake for the air conditioning units.  Not to mention the fact that we had unknowingly ordered winter tuxedos that appeared to be lined with the latest North Face warming technology.  Some assumed I was crying….they just couldn’t see the sweat rolling down my young face.  But through the sweat and the tears, I could easily see you as you walked toward me.

And you were beautiful….

It wasn’t just how you looked in the dress or the way you wore your hair up. You were beaming, from every look and each smile, you lit up the room that day….as you still do today.

We were so young….

I look at the pictures and I see a couple just out of college, with little knowledge about anything further than the moment we were enjoying. Before jobs and bills and ministry and moving it was just you and I surrounded by friends and family and in the presence of the One who brought us together.  Many years from now, we will again be together — just you and I. When that time comes, I want you to  know you will still be my bride and my best friend.

And so broke….

Some things never change. I remember coming back from our honeymoon and packing all of our belongings into the smallest Uhaul that was available….with room to spare.  Most of what we filled our first apartment with were still in boxes, having received them as wedding presents.  That first apartment would now fit in our basement.

But God has been so faithful….

What an amazing journey so far….so much more than I expected and far more than I deserve.  Marriage and then fatherhood is forever shaping and sharpening me into more than I ever would’ve become on my own.

And you’re still so beautiful….

You are so much more than that picture from our wedding day.  The passing of time, having children, and the changes of life do not make you inferior to that young girl in the photo….to me, they make me love you so much more.

Happy Anniversary.

Bryan

Letter to My Daughter: We’re more than Friends

Dear Malina,

There is a tricycle that you love to ride even though you can’t touch the pedals. The only way for you to ride with your brother and sister, is for me to stand on the back of the tricycle, lean over you to hold the handle bars, and push with one foot like a skateboard….You love it.

But recently, while we were out cruising the streets around our house, you kept pushing my hands away from the handle bars.  You wanted to steer, and if you were going to steer, then I had to let go. But you weren’t ready for me to let go. I had already caught you several times to keep you from falling.  You could barely sit in the seat and reach the handle bars, let alone steer.  But you insisted, and when I wouldn’t let go, you threw a pretty impressive fit in the middle of the road.

While you were stomping your feet, my developing “parental brain” was running the calculations — evaluating the risk of letting you go your own way compared to the expected outcome, measured against the “show” you were putting on for people driving by our little “display”.  In the end, I decided to steer….and you decided to fall down from the bike and flop like a fish….You didn’t like me very much in that moment.

This is something I’m learning about parents.  Sometimes, parents think that getting their children to “like” them is the sign of a good parent. So instead of doing what they know is best for their children, they give them control, let them steer their lives before they are ready.

But Malina, Your Mommy and I love you too much to simply give you what you want, or to be just one of your friends.  The responsibility that God has given us, is not simply to make you a friend, but to train you up, and guide you, and correct you. We’ve been told to help you grow and prepare, to challenge you, protect you, and celebrate all that you are becoming.

Eventually you got back on the tricycle, we made our way back home and you liked me again.

Eventually, I know I will have to let you steer, and fall down…on tricycles and in life. With God’s help, your Mommy and I will do all that we can to prepare you to live a life loving God, other people, and the world around you. And as your friends, we will walk with you every step of the way, for as long as we can.

Love,

Your Dad.

Next Friday my “Letters to My Children” series will move to its own site. I hope you will make plans to check it out, invite others and follow along.

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.

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.

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!