January 17, 2012

Finding Joy in a Crashed Car

We reached a milestone this weekend. It wasn't the most pleasant of milestones, but more of a right-of-passage that we have all been through. Our teenager had her first car accident. She is still driving on a permit so I was in the car with her. She wasn't texting, listening to the radio or distracted by her siblings. Just needed some more experience to know that she could take the shoulder when there wasn't room to stop. Now she knows. No one was hurt, the car may be done but it was an old car bought in anticipation of this very thing (you can still be praying about how we will replace it though!).

The odd thing was as I got back in the car after talking to the man in the very large, high pick-up truck we had the misfortune of hitting, I felt this odd sense of Joy come over me. To really understand where that was coming from, we need to flashback nearly 25 years to a drainage ditch on the side of a road in Williamsburg, VA where my old ’69 Ford pick-up lay dying. It had just started raining and the roads were slick. I over corrected for a fishtail and the rest is automotive history. My dad met me with our family car and sent me on to my meeting while he waited for the tow truck. The biggest consequence was that my truck was dead. He felt no need to rub it in, just graciously helped me learn what needed to be learned from the incident.

As I sat back down in this newly crunched vehicle – which, by the way is also a Ford – I realized that I had been waiting for the day for almost 25 years! Finally, I would get to pass along the grace I had been given. I would get to be understanding and gracious exactly like my dad had been to me. It was a bit later as I reflected on the moment that a deeper realization hit me: Why don’t I feel that Joy every time I am wronged? Why don’t I relish the opportunity to forgive the guy that just cut me off, to show grace for the repairman that is running late, or be understanding (though firm) when a child disobeys? Where do I get this sense of entitlement that says ‘I should never be wronged’?

Could it be that I am not focused the grace I am given every day? Grace from God that allows me to walk in His presence, to kneel before Him, to know His Peace and His Joy. I think this may have been what was driving Paul as he sat in a prison cell and wrote to the Philippians.

“For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear…Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.” (Philippians 1: 14, 18)

How else could someone start a thought with “I am in chains” and end with “so I rejoice” except that he knew full well the grace he received daily in Christ? He knew the message that was being spread was the same one he had received - offering him grace and forgiveness beyond expectation or even comprehension. I’m not suggesting that Christians should become doormats for the world to walk over, but it is possible to stand for injustice while living out the fullness God’s grace. I doubt we could measure the impact on our lives of simply shifting our perspective from what we believe we deserve to what we have been so freely given.

The insurance adjuster should be here soon to assess the damage, but if he’s running a bit late today I think I’ll be alright!

January 7, 2012

The Auto-Bio Anomaly

I recently had to write a bio to go on the staff page of our church website. I sat down to get it done – just checking another thing off the “to-do” list – and was suddenly hit with the worst case of writers block. It wasn’t that I had nothing to write about. It wasn’t that I had too much to write about. I wrestled with the thought that I was having a hard time because I thought that nothing I have done has any relevance or eternal impact – but prayerfully dismissed that as distortions of truth.

After a day or two in prayer, God finally allowed me to see the problem: I was writing about me. Isn’t that the point of a bio – to tell about a person: who they are, what they’ve done and what qualifies them to have a bio published somewhere in the first place?

The thing is God doesn’t ask us to tell people about us, there is no benefit in it for them. My story is only valuable in as much as it points people to Him and brings Him glory. It’s not that my life (or our lives) has no meaning. It’s simply that our lives should be lived as a means to an end, not the end in themselves. The approach I was taking to the project was in conflict with the commitment I made to God to keep him at the center of my life and work.

I was finally able to get something on paper, a little more aware and conscious of being on mission, and one less “to-do” to be done. 

January 3, 2012

Lessons of 2011

Everyone has a time for reflection. For some it’s a birthday (might be for me again this year as I leap into a whole new decade of life!), perhaps an anniversary of marriage or of coming to know Christ (your spiritual re-birthday). Personally, New Year’s has always been that time for me. Traditionally I’ve been engaged in some sort of Christmas “happenings” in a local church or other venue and the turn to a new year is a natural time stop, slow down and breathe, then look back at the last year - how it fits into the context of God’s calling, my obedience and actions – as well as look ahead and resubmit myself to being faithful to God’s purpose in my daily actions and leading my family to do the same.

This year as I look back at 2011 there are four major lessons that stand out.

1) Love without hesitation. It’s difficult to walk in obedience unless we first submit to the Holy Spirit and love with His Love.

2) Serve indiscriminately. It’s not up to us to decide where and when God needs us. If we truly desire to honor Him we’ll be ready to go when He says go.

3) Trust cautiously. There is no biblical mandate to trust anyone or thing but God Himself. The less we put our trust in people around us, the more we are free to love and serve them (see #1 & #2).

4) Follow slowly. To elevate another to the status of “leader” in our lives can set us up for success or just as easily keep us from accomplishing #1-3! Whether it’s a pastor, teacher, politician, boss or peer, we owe it to ourselves and ultimately to God to be wise – and sometimes that means slow – in who we allow to lead and shape us.

I saw an interview with a GOP candidate on the trail in Iowa this morning. He was asked by the journalist if he was calling another candidate a liar. His only response: “Yes”. First of all, it was refreshing to get a simple one word answer from a politician. Second, his ability to answer that question so directly shows that he knows who he is and and I'd be willing to bet that every morning when he gets up, he doesn’t need to be reminded how to act or think. Granted it hasn’t always worked in his favor, but I'm pretty sure he sleeps better at night.

My desire for 2012 is that God continue to shape and mold each of us so that we can be bold and direct in representing Him to a lost and hurting world. I pray also that these four notions will more and more define me – to the praise of His Glory!

Praying that we all may delight in the year ahead!

December 20, 2011

Kindness Follow Up

I know I’ve been on a kick lately about “kindness” at Christmas. Our family has been blessed by all sorts of kindness over the years, so I don’t want to come off too cynical. It’s not really the kindness that bothers me, it’s the apparent motive. I firmly believe that true kindness comes from a transformed heart and that can only happen once the Spirit of God is moving and working in us – transforming us with His kindness, His compassion and His love.

Here is an illustration. Suppose I randomly pick ten guys off the street – from graduate PHD students to blue collar labor. Every morning I gather them together, give them each some Nerf footballs and tell them they each need to throw the ball through a hoop 50 times before we move on to anything else. After a week of this, I realize that some are doing OK, most are still struggling. To help out, I take away the Nerf balls and invest in NFL regulation pig skins. After another week, a few of them just aren’t going to make it – they usually give up after struggling to get just 10 “completions.” A few of the others are starting to excel, but most still falter. As a next step, I hire John Elway and Troy Aikman to work with them on arm strength and throwing technique. At the end of the week, there are only two men standing. One shows up early and throws extra passes, while the other still needs a wake-up call.

What’s the difference in the two? One obviously has a passion for throwing footballs – he is doing it from the heart - and the other is simply going through the motions. No matter what rules were established, equipment purchased or training given, it all boiled down to what was going on in the hearts of the players.

So I shouldn’t be surprised when the world isn’t kind or when they turn their noses up at the “good” things the church often pressures them to do. To expect anything different would be asking for results where the passion does not – even cannot - exist.

While there is only so much that can be done to nurture a passion for football, there is a way for passion to be re-built into the hearts of people, only it’s not our job to do it! Christ came to restore a relationship that allows the Spirit to dwell in us. Transformation from self-centered, hard-hearted men and women to passionate, loving believers is His specialty.

Truth be told, as Christians we aren’t simply kind at Christmas – we are kind because of Christmas.

Have a merry Christmas and a “kind” new year.

“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:16

December 13, 2011

The Problem With Kindness at Christmas

I was with my two younger kids the other evening at a middle school production of “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Clause.” If you’re not familiar with the story I’ll summarize it for you: girl is growing up and questions the existence of Santa Clause, after seeking advice from everyone from parents to siblings and friends, she is in the end advised by a down-on-his luck reporter that there is a Santa Clause as long as there are people with hearts good enough to believe in him.

I’m going to resist the urge to address the “good enough” and “believe in him” notions. Instead I was taken back at how moved I was by a scene when the well-off Virginia gives away her gloves and scarf to a friend whose family was standing in the soup line. What is it about Christmas that makes a simple act of kindness seem so touching? Hollywood has been capitalizing on the seasonal sentiment for decades, but what about kindness at Christmas moves us, even confident grown men, to tears.

Then I had a more disturbing thought: it’s not the kindness that stands out, it’s the fact that kindness has a season! It’s the fact that for a few weeks every year we prove that we are capable of caring, of putting others first and thinking beyond ourselves while the other 40+ weeks a year we what? Choose not to care? Don’t see it as a big deal? Are too busy to stop and notice?

The problem with kindness at Christmas is that it stands out as an exception. My hope and prayer is that Christmas becomes less sentimental – only because our kindness has become the rule.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39

It's a year round commandment!

Merry Christmas.
May you know Emmanuel – God with us – in a very real way.

December 7, 2011

Time Goes Faster at Christmas

With schedules filling, events and holidays piling up like little league linemen, and no less normal stuff going on (haven't the kids had enough candy? Do they really need us to fix them dinner too?!) - it's very easy to let the big stuff slip away from us. Investing on our spouses, withdrawing for times of quiet listening and reflection - just resting in God's unending presence are all keys to health living and managing the stress that consumes this time of year.

At Redeemer Church, we've been focusing on Celebrating Emmanuel: God With Us. If we forget that he desires our company, then there way not much point to the manger, the cross, the Pentecost or your own journey to come to know Him.

I had a great ride on the North Pole Express with our 6 year old and her fellow first graders today. It was a great moment to see God's presence with us as we shared this memory making moment!

P.S. - If you've been following the great Floods of Thanksgiving 2011, the adjuster came out and they are going to replace all the flooded areas and then some! HUGE answer to prayer.

November 24, 2011

Floods of Thanksgiving

What do you get when you cross a frozen turkey, a bathtub, a to-do list and a man whose multitasking skills are only so-so? Answer: a flooded bathroom, master bedroom, 6 year old's bedroom and hallway!

That's right, after turning the water on to allow the turkey to thaw, I was called away by the kids then absent mindedly went on to the next thing on the list - which happened to be removing the broken pieces of the old play-set in the back yard. As best I can figure the water as running for nearly an hour and a half!

The carpets are now draped over ladders in the back yard, the carpet pads in a soaking pile ready to be discarded and the concrete floors are nearly dry. Not the way I planned to spend Thanksgiving eve, but I'm sure God has a great way for this to turn into a blessing. I look forward to posting exactly what that turns out to be!

But for now it is 12:01 - officially Thanksgiving. So here it is: I'm thankful it was a flood, not a fire; I thankful for neighbors who lend a helping hand; I'm thankful for kids who will pitch in when the going gets tough; I'm thankful for a wife who knows me, understands me and loves me anyway (it's not our first time around this block. There was an incident with a fish tank a few years ago, but that's another story!).

Hope you all have a great, safe and DRY Thanksgiving!