Week of Silence Day 7: My First Words….

So my week of silence has come to an end.

For Zechariah, 9 months of silence ends with the cries of His newborn baby boy.

He began this silence with the words, “how can I be sure of this?” A kind of “what-you-talkin-bout-Willis” response to the Angel of God.

But he ends his silence, filled with the joy of a Father, who through no goodness of his own, received a gift, and this gift would prepare the way for Jesus, and the world would never be the same….I will never be the same.

So I figured you might as well hear my first words, as the first words of Zechariah:

 

Merry Christmas.

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Week of Silence Day 1: I May have Made a Mistake….

(If you missed the first blog post in this series, you can catch up by clicking here.)

End of the Day Yesterday

I had one more conversation with our Children. We talked about Zechariah again and about what the next week might be like. Our middle child was concerned that if I couldn’t talk I wouldn’t be able to send her to the corner for bad behavior….I quickly reassured her that was not the case.

They seemed to understand as much as they could with an almost, “Well that’s just Dad being Dad” kind of quality to their reactions.

Waking up this Morningwww-St-Takla-org--Domenico-Ghirlandaio-Annuncio-dell-Angelo-a-Aaccaria-02-details

“I may have made a mistake” are the first thoughts I had this morning. Like most of the Spiritual Habits, the idea of them seems so easy, almost glamorous. I typically start Spiritual  journeys with unrealistic thoughts like, “I’m going to read 12 chapters in my bible everyday….heck I might make my own handwritten copy of those twelve chapters, which is sure to help with my memorization of said chapters!”  Or I tell myself,  “I’m going to rise at 5AM, brew some General Foods International Coffee (remember that? in the little coffee tin?) sit in front of the picture window, and pray for an hour every morning. Then I actually start that journey and find it looks nothing like the picture in my mind.

So when it came to being silent for a week, I thought, “What a great way to climb inside the story of Zechariah as well as explore a Spiritual Discipline that is rarely practiced in this culture.

Then I woke up this morning, and any glamour was replaced with the reality that silence is hard.

The kids did great for the most part. There was, however, one moment where I had to break up a dispute between the girls. So there I was snapping and clapping and clicking, all while dancing around, pointing my finger and mouthing words they could not understand. They stared at me….fascinated….the same stare they get when they stand at the glass wall of the  monkey habitat at the Zoo. They don’t know what is going on in there, but all the jumping up and down and running all over is mesmerizing.

Before I went silent, I made up some short videos of some of my most common phrases that I use on the children: “Stop please!” “Come upstairs it’s time for dinner!” “Time to brush your teeth!” “Don’t put anything in your nose but your elbow!” I haven’t decided if this is cheating or not so I’m not sure if I will use them.

Heading in to the Office

Something that is cheating is an app I found for my phone, that allows you to text, and then turns that text into an audible voice. You can even change the voice to a guy with an English accent.  I think the assistants enjoyed it….it was like listening to Hugh Grant talk all day.  I probably won’t use that on a regular basis.  The rest of the time I communicated through emails, texts, and head nods.

Today was our staff Christmas lunch, and as you can imagine, I made for horrible company.  But those at my table were gracious and had some fun with my situation. I accidentally spoke on several occasions, usually when someone would ask me a question and I would simply react.  It’s like when the power goes out at your house, but you still turn on the light switch every time you walk in to a room. I did have some small cards made up that explain what I’m doing that I can hand out to people I run in to in public (like our waitress, who after reading the card, referred to me as “the mute guy”).

One Thing I learned Today

There seems to be built-in to the subconscious of many people, a general fear of silence. The most common phrases I’ve heard today from people who found out what I was doing were, “I could NEVER do that!” “I would just die if I couldn’t talk!” “That would be miserable!”

I wonder what it is, specifically, that we fear about being silent? Why is silence to be avoided? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions.

But if you want to have something to fear….how about knowing that tonight your Wife is going out (always well deserved) and you will need to silently feed, bathe, and put to bed your three children! :)

But, Penny, if you’re reading this….I look forward to listening to you talk all about your day when you get home….and not just because that’s all I can do!

A Week of Silence (My Nod to Zechariah)

For the next week I am going to try to live without speaking….

I’ve spent a lot of time recently on the story of Zechariah in Luke 1.  www-St-Takla-org--Domenico-Ghirlandaio-Annuncio-dell-Angelo-a-Aaccaria-02-details

A priest, a holy and righteous man who by all accounts has served God faithfully for many years.  But even that was not enough to earn from God what they wanted most….a child.  Now they were old, and the desire that burned so bright early in their lives still remained an ember in their hearts.

He’s in the temple of the Lord when the angel, Gabriel, stands before him talking about answered prayers and joy and wine and the Holy Spirit. Amidst the shock and awe of the announcement Zechariah makes out that his wife, Elizabeth, will have a baby boy.

His response?

“How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man; my wife too is….well on in years.”

I guess it’s one thing to stand in the presence of God on behalf of others, and something altogether different to have God come to you with an answer to your own prayers and longings.

Gabriel’s response?

“I’m Gabriel! I stand in the presence of God and He sent me to tell you the good news.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the Angel informs Zechariah that because he did not believe, he would be unable to speak until the day His Son is born.

In our typical way of reading the bible, we pass by this silence quickly, we still have the story of Jesus’ birth to get to, and besides, Zechariah speaks again before the chapter is over!

But 9 months….9 months of silence….don’t move too quickly past this point.  Zechariah stops speaking (vs. 18) with the words, “How can I be sure of this?” and 9 months later, He starts speaking again with the words, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and redeemed His people.” (vs. 68)

I’ve often thought of this silence as simply a punishment for his unbelief. But maybe there is more to learn in silence than we ever could by speaking.

So, to experience in a very small way the silence of Zechariah, I have decided to stop speaking for one week, beginning tonight, Monday, December 16.

I know, there are all sorts of questions that come with being silent for a week:

How will you deal with work?  What if there is an emergency?  How do you interact with three young children?

What if you’re in the upstairs bathroom and you run out of toilet paper? (I actually had not thought about that until my Wife mentioned it)

These are all good questions, and I suppose I will figure it out as I go (that was not a bathroom joke).

You can join me on this week of silence by checking my blog each day for complete updates and observations.

To listen to a message from my Pastor (Brad Hoffmann) on this story, click here.

Letters to my Children: You Talk too Much

Dear Adeline,adeline

From the time you were born, you have always had so much to say.  Each morning, before the first bite of syrup-soaked waffle brushes your lips, you have already burned through a small book of observations, comments, songs, questions, random thoughts and unusual mouth sounds.  Each night you spend your last moments, using any unspent words from the day to reject the advances of sleep.

The daylight between those two moments find your brother and I staring at each other in confused disbelief as your mind rotates from one line of thinking to another without missing a beat…. while your Mother just smiles at you like a woman who is on the inside of a secret.

Lately, you have been learning a lot about Jesus, His death on the cross and His resurrection.  You have been talking all about it:

“Daddy, did you know that Jesus died on the cross for our sins??”

 “Three days later he just rose again from the tomb!”

 “Jesus took all of our sin and POOF, they’re gone daddy!”

 “When Jesus died on the cross he broke our sins and we are free!”

 “Can you believe that Jesus died on the cross?”

 “No matter what we do, God still loves us.”

You’re voice is so animated; your eyes are wide and wild. You speak with a smile as you repeat this surprise over and over to anyone and everyone who will listen.  You talk about Jesus as though He is the greatest person who has ever lived, as though the cross and empty tomb was the greatest event in all of history.  When I hear you tell the story, I actually believe it is good news.

As people get older, they don’t talk about Jesus…. at least not like you talk about Him.  You speak so matter-of-fact about Him, you seem genuinely surprised at this unexpected gift, and you assume that others want to hear this amazing story.  But we grown-ups tend to talk about the cross in muted tones and in “appropriate” places.  We know that the answer is Jesus, we just aren’t as amazed as we used to be.

I don’t know why we don’t talk more about Jesus.  I suppose you talk about someone to the extent that you have let him in to your life and allowed him to reshape who you are.  I know for me, the moment my life intersected with your Mother’s, it has never been the same. Then we had, Evan, and a few years later you came along.  Then the surprise that is, Malina, happened and now I find myself forever changed. I don’t know a life that is outside of the one shaped by my family and I welcome any opportunity to talk about you guys to anyone who will listen.

Your brother and I might be tempted to say you talk too much right now. But in your impressive display of words are cradled the very depth and length and width and height of God’s love.  The reason you seem so surprised and amazed and filled with Joy is because the good news of, Jesus, is surprising and amazing and the source of lasting joy.

May you always see the wonder that is Jesus, and never stop talking about Him.

Love,

Your Dad.

Letter to my daughter: Something you said

Typically the “Letters to My Children” series runs on Fridays, but I’m finding that there are always things that come up during the week that I have to get down on paper. So I am writing a letter on Wednesday and Friday this week.

Dear Adeline,

You were in the car with me today as we dropped Evan off at school. On the way back, we were talking about the weather, the clouds, and storms. Then, after a few moments of quiet, listening to the hum of the road, you started talking again. “Hey daddy….if we were in a boat….and um….and there was a storm….Jesus would, Jesus would just walk out on the water and rescue us.” You said this as you made the walking motion with two of your fingers, walking them up your arm.

“That’s true honey” I said. A moment of silence. “Because Jesus will rescue us from every storm” you said.  I started to laugh. Not because what you said was funny, but because I was amazed. You soak in everything at this age, from the conversations that Mommy and I have, the stories we read before bed, and the lessons you learn in your bible study.  I was also amazed because, at just three years of age, you spoke a truth about life that you don’t fully understand yet. At this age you are learning the lines to a story you have not had a chance to live. It’s like outlining a picture that only time will allow you to fully color.

Adeline, I don’t know what the picture of your life will be, but whether you are three or thirty-three, what you said today in the car will always be true. If you find yourself in a storm, Jesus will always walk out to you….always.  While you may still have to face the storm, you will never face it alone.

Thank you for the reminder.

Love,

Your Dad.

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

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.