Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Love That Toyota!

We were all set – all 5 of us – to leave for MI in our van. Yeah, the one that seats 7. Then, late on the evening before we were to leave as I was driving the van home from watching a movie with Brett, I heard a squeaky noise and noticed the battery light coming on. And it happened more than once. I knew what this meant: no van for the 10-hour trip. We five were taking the little Toyota.

Now understand what this means in 2009, because it doesn’t mean what it meant in 1976 when my parents piled me and my sisters into their Toyota. We didn’t have iPods and MP3 players, portable DVD players, cell phones, blue tooth sets, head phones, ear buds, Gameboys and DSes … shall I go on? I haven’t even mentioned the luggage yet. Back then, we just got in. Today, it’s like we move in.

You get the picture, don’t you? Boy, was it crowded! And by our own choice –we’re the ones voluntarily addicted to non-stop communication devices and audio stimulation of all types. But we all got settled in and started on our way – full electronics store and all!

I'll skip the details of each mile and simply tell you, believe it or not, we were just fine. Both there and back! 20 hours in the non-van (which is rare these days for a family of more than four) didn’t kill us. It didn’t even injure us! Truth is, it did us a world of good. You’d be surprised how grateful everyone was when we returned. And not just for the van; for each other. No kidding! You know, sometimes tight spaces can lead to happy faces.

The next day I asked the kids if they were okay with me renting out the main floor of our home, as well as the upstairs, and moving all of us to the basement. I’ll let you know what they say.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gene Power

Okay, here’s the scoop: I’m sitting in my in-laws home in Michigan watching our kids and their cousins, and I’d swear we were the parents of five kids not four. What do I mean? Simply this – my brother-in-laws son Micah could pass for our daughter Breanna’s twin brother! They act alike, look alike, respond alike…they are a lot alike! A LOT! Both have a bent towards the artistic and creative, both play multiple instruments, and both like to sing, to name a few similarities. It was far more than just the physical traits; the similarities were noticeable even below the surface (way below the surface).

As I was watching them talk and laugh, I was overwhelmed, in both good and not-so-good ways. Genes seem to pass on more than color, height, personality, and structure. They seem to pass on tendencies. Bents. Preferences. Subconscious ways and manners. I may not be scientifically correct or biologically accurate, but what I saw in Breanna and Micah was uncanny. It was cool to see our “family tree” show up like that. Oh, the joy of gene power!

Sure, I know there is the environmental factor when it comes to immediate families (i.e., we pick up the habits of others because we’re with them a lot), but these two spend very little time together in the course of a year. Yet, they were strikingly connected. Genetically twin-like in way more ways than the physical. I remember nudging Julie while they were interacting, and we both just chuckled. Actually, we laughed. Then we raised our eyebrows, knowing exactly what the other meant: we’ve passed on some other things, too! Yikes!

That was the not-so-cool second when we both felt the weight of gene power. I may not can explain it, and I may not like it all the time, but my good and not-so-good traits, seen and unseen tendencies, inner and outer responses, well, there’s a rope tied to them, and one end is somehow strapped to my kids. Maybe not forever and maybe not too tightly. But far more than the physical is being passed on, know what I mean? Wow! That’s a load to wrap your arms around.

Sometimes there's things I don't want to pass on. Ever felt like that? When you know how much you struggle, how quick you are to run the wrong way, how prone you are to evil, how far you went before God rescued you…whew, I don’t want to pass on those appetites. Tendencies. Habits.

Yet, I do want to pass on so much. The heritage of my and Julie’s parents. The legacy of God’s work throughout generations. Our passion for family and God’s kingdom. Our love for one another and the value of a forever commitment. I want those things to keep going and going and going and going. Like an Energizer Bunny gene trait that never stops.

Can I have one (the good) without the other (the not-so-good)? Pleeaasseee? For some reason I don’t think gene power discriminates or dissects; it just distributes. My job, I guess, is to help my kids know how to handle that rope. When to cut it, when to hold on, when to leave a little slack.

But even gene power has some irony, for one day one of my kids will see one of their kids acting like their grandparents, and they’ll have the same thought -- “That’s uncanny.” And when that happens, Julie and I will laugh again. Only this time louder.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The "Withusness" of God

I have been reflecting on the name Immanuel. The phrase “God with us.” Those three incredible words that teach us about our Lord’s “with-us-ness.” And my mind and heart have been massaged by the truth contained in them. Follow along for a minute…

“God” expresses the truth of Deity. Yes, at Christmas, God came near. It wasn’t merely a prophet or just a good man that descended to earth. It was God. And it wasn’t a son of God, but the Son of God. That’s who Jesus is – God! What a truth to celebrate: That at Christmas, Deity came to earth!

“Us” expresses the truth of humanity. At Christmas, Jesus became one of us! Not just someone close to us, or someone kind of like us. No, he became one of us in every way, even someone lower on the cultural chain than what most of us would want to be. He became a servant! Ah, the incarnation – God becoming flesh! It’s at the heart of Christmas!

Philippians 2:6-7 gives us a further glimpse into God's "withusness" when it says, “[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness...”

Here's the best part: Combine deity and humanity and something supernatural is available for the rest of us: Eternity!

Think about it -- Isn’t “God with us” the Nativity in a nutshell? You bet! God’s “withusness” should be the fundamental motivation for celebrating this season. Make no mistake: Eternity is possible because Deity and humanity came together! Yes, “God with us” means that for all who believe, it is “us with God” forever! Truly, once we believe the truth about Immanuel, these words hold great promise no matter the order. What a reason to celebrate “God with us” – that “us with God” is now a possibility!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Irony

When it comes to Nativity scenes and Christmas plays, I think the least favorite part to play is probably a shepherd. In the few re-enactments I remember (and I use that word loosely), there weren’t many, if any, of us boys scrambling for the staff. We were after the roles of Joseph, the wise men, or Gabriel. Shepherds weren’t high on our list.

Ironically, that’s pretty close to the way things were viewed in the first Nativity. Shepherding wasn’t the occupation of choice. They weren’t known for their spirituality, only because the nature of their profession – and “unclean” one – kept them from observing the ceremonial law of sacrifices and offerings.

Additionally, the attire that such a job demanded wasn’t exactly on the cover of Jerusalem GQ! Externally, shepherds struggled to gain any type of cultural class.

Furthermore, shepherds had a reputation that was, at best, questionable. “Stories from the hillside” flooded towns and villages, and often the facts grew into legend. The result? They became a group of citizens others considered unreliable. In fact, according to the Talmud, they weren’t allowed to give testimony in the courts as a witness.

See what I mean? Shepherds were seen as monotonously simple. Not sophisticated. Not stylish. Not refined. Not complex or intricate.

Just plain. Simple. Routine. Shepherds.

I think, however, that’s exactly why God selected shepherds as the first testifiers – witnesses – of his Son’s birth: They wouldn’t complicate the issue! Others thought shepherds couldn't get it; God knew they wouldn't miss it.

It's what I call Christmas irony. And it's just one of many in the Nativity – a virgin is pregnant, a baby is the King, an army (of angels) announces peace, and shepherds are compelled to be the first sharers.

That's the God of Christmas irony at his best!

It's Level at the Manger

One of my favorite symbolic lessons in the Nativity is who was there: both wise men and shepherds. Sure, they came at different times and to different places, but they still came. And both were accepted and welcomed!

People from the two ends of the social spectrum -- Kingly advisors and animal watchers! Yet, cultural status and human standing weren’t an issue, because it wasn’t about them. It was about the baby. It was about the Messiah. Jesus. So who they were didn’t matter; who he was is all that mattered.

And it’s still that way today! No matter who we are – whether high or low in the human hierarchy – who he is enables “whosoever will” to come. God welcomes all who believe! What a comforting thought to know the ground at the manger is completely level.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Missing the Obvious

One of the things I love about the shepherds in the Christmas story is their ability to spot the obvious.

Think about it – when they heard the angel encourage them to go see the newborn baby, they responded by saying to one another, “Let’s go!” I probably would have tried to figure out if it really was an angel; maybe I would have called a meeting to discuss if angelic appearances are viable, spiritual phenomenon for today; or perhaps I would have exegeted the angel’s announcement so that we really understand what he was saying in his original language; I might have even developed a 15-step action plan for carrying out the angel’s instructions. In some “spiritual” way I would have probably tried to “look deeper.” After all, you can’t fool me! Yeah, right. I would have missed the obvious.

When the shepherds got to the manger, they saw just what they had been told they would see: the face of God – Jesus! It wasn’t a hard sell for the sheep watchers who had just left a concert of angels. It was obvious. Truth was right before their eyes. What they heard was exactly what they saw. That’s pretty plain and simple. Pretty obvious.

Maybe that’s why God first told shepherds: he knew they wouldn’t miss the obvious.

Too often we miss the obvious, don’t we? I do. Sometimes the plainest things, well, I turn them into the hardest things. Why? Because I’m not paying attention.

For instance, just because I’m looking at Julie doesn’t mean I’m seeing Julie. Just because I’m hearing her doesn’t mean I’m listening to her. Believe it or not, there’s a scientific name for missing the obvious: change blindness.

This is a well-documented phenomenon in the area of Cognitive Psychology, and it occurs when large changes in a picture go undetected by the observer because they occur at the same time as a brief visual disruption, such as a blink of the eye or a brief disruption on the screen.

You’ve experienced this when you’ve tried your hand at spotting the differences in two pictures. Each time you move your eyes to the other picture – or blink, or look away – then that slight disruption often causes you to experience “change blindness.” And while you eventually see the 6, 7 or 10 differences, it usually takes a while to overcome change blindness. And if you’re like me, once you’ve spotted all the differences, you can’t believe you missed them in the first place!

[NOTE: Here’s a site where you can read more about Change Blindness and even try your hand (or should I say ‘eyes’) at it: I want to warn you, though: once you spot the obvious difference, you’ll laugh. But until you do, you’ll probably be a little frustrated.]

Sometimes I think we experience a spiritual version of Change Blindness – we miss obvious truth! Why? Same reason – we’re not paying attention. This Christmas, let’s pay attention. The Truth in the manger is starring us in the face; don’t miss it. The Good News is being sung in carols everywhere; don’t miss it. His name actually makes up more than 2/3rds of the holiday title – CHRISTmas; don’t miss it!

“This Christmas, Lord, give me the eyes of a shepherd so that I see the obvious.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Details of December

I’ve never been the sharpest mind on the block, but I can notice repeated patterns if given a fair shake. And the “shake” of budgets and schedules during this time of the year– whether seasonal, relational, or occupational – has shown me something about my own relationships and leadership in times of intense details. Let me explain.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. In December, things clamp up. And I don’t mean just financially. Logistically as well. We’re usually running on less time and less money in month #12, but lots more is generally expected in the holidays. This squeeze usually means we feel a tightening effect on our calendars and wallets. So we clamp up (or down) a bit. Maybe a lot.

Add to that this fact about December: things ramp up, too! The next year is just around the corner, so people are trying to nail down all kinds of things, from next year’s schedules to next year’s deductions to next year’s plans. Seems as though everybody wants a decision yesterday about tomorrow (figure that one out).

In other words, more than any other month, December seems all about details. Christmas lists. Family exchanges. Office parties. Secret Santas. Shopping lists. Department budgets. Decorating demands. Travel needs. Future particulars. Business reports. Year-end evaluations. See what I mean? December is like a major merge of the year’s details.

Here’s the rub. Those details can cramp up our various relationships. And since we don’t normally deal with that many details (every month isn’t like December), we aren’t real good at handling it. We respond too quickly, speak too harshly, ask too insultingly, or decide too rashly. What suffers? Not the details. The relationships. December’s details can take their toll no doubt.

Not to beat this drum too much, but I’ve seen this in happen personally more than I want to admit. My wife and I will be working through a “holiday issue” when, suddenly, a simple difference of opinion about a small thing (what to get a relative, where to put a decoration, etc.) shuts down the whole conversation. Or I’m hammering out financial facts for the upcoming year with our leadership team and, almost without warning, tensions thicken and people start taking sides.

At the root of this relational holiday hemorrhaging, at least in my opinion, is the selfish need to control and manipulate the final elements of the current year. Sure, this is a constant problem in humans, but I think we all want to “finish on top,” so for some reason division seems to be heightened in December. It’s like we think the party ends December 31 and we have to have the silver slipper when the clock strikes midnight.

A simple tip has helped me this year: Look to contribute, not control. So I ask questions that center on how I can help, not on why I think my every detail is being hindered. If I have to my way in every decision or situation in which I am involved, I shouldn’t be surprised if people start pulling away from me relationally, leaving me out of the process all together. If I have to always share my opinion and “be heard,” I’ll probably find myself with no one to talk to at some point. If, as the year draws to a close, I have to make a “last stand” every time I turn around, I’ll probably end up feeling like Custer at Little Big Horn.

I’m not suggesting you become spineless, never expressing strong opinions. But do it in a way – and at a time – when it isn’t relational suicide.

Bottom line? Christmas is the best time to go onto your conversations and encounters knowing that, for whatever reason, people are just a little more “clamped” and “ramped.” So speak and act in ways that relieve relational “cramps.” Think twice before you correct a technicality. Count to a million before you demand uniformity. Wait one more minute before developing an assumption. In light of December’s details, you – and others around you – will be glad you did.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What's Happening to CHRISTmas?!?

Not sure who wrote this, but found it quite interesting. Enjoy!

Twas the month before Christmas when all through our land,
Not a Christian was praying nor taking a stand.
See the PC Police had taken away
the reason for Christmas - no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing,
about shepherds and wise men and angels and things.
“It might hurt people's feelings,” the teachers would say
December 25th is just a 'Holiday.'
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit,
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-pod
Something was changing, something quite odd!
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets were hanging their trees upside down,
At Lowe's the word ‘Christmas’ was nowhere to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears,
you won't hear the word ‘Christmas’ - it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton!
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith,
Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace.
The true gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded,
The reason for the season was stopped before it started.
So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree,'
Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say,
Shout Merry CHRISTmas,
not Happy Holiday!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Power of a Letter

A few days ago as we were “hubbing” around the kitchen island (that’s the word I use to describe our family when we’re all hanging out in the central hub of our home – our kitchen!), the mail came. We’re like most families -- we love to get the mail. So we’re sorting through the cards and letters, and Bethany sees one from a college with her name on it. Thinking it was just another promo flier, she opens it, but with no real expectation. But in less than a minute she starts reading out loud, sharing the news of her letter from a college coach who saw her play at a showcase tournament a few weeks back and wanted to let her know about his team. Add to that the fact that there was a brief personal handwritten note scribbled at the bottom, and she went from “letter as usual” to “I matter.”

And it affected all of us! We started asking to see the letter, I was checking the handwritten part to see if it was really legit (sorry!), her siblings were already talking scholarship -- we all got pretty excited as we realized our daughter and sister was on a coach’s radar.

Even later that night as I was tucking our two little girls in bed and stopped by to say good night to Bethany, I saw the letter on her bed. She was proud of that! And no doubt. Her hard work had paid off; somebody had recognized it.

I got to thinking about the impact of that “personal” letter from someone she never met. It’s true – we all like to “matter” to someone. We all like it when our work is recognized. When an “atta boy” comes our way. And I tend to think when it is in writing, it holds even a little more value. Impact. Significance. It’s like they took extra time. More intentionality. A little more initiative.

Not a bad idea for parents, eh? I decided right then to better utilize the power of notes and letters. Sure, we all know this, but if you’re like me, I rarely implement it. A quick note in a lunch, a simple blurb left on a pillow, an encouraging letter inside the birthday card and gift, a short “memo” on the mirror…I want to do more of that. More of recognizing an achievement. Complimenting their character. Praising their work. Appreciating their uniqueness. Just jotting it down and passing it on.

Let’s put our affirmations on paper. It’s a little way to make a big difference.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Have a Messy, Blessed Christmas

Christmas is a messy holiday. I didn't say merry; I said messy. Think about it – it’s about a birth. Been to any birthing rooms lately? Well, Joseph’s and Mary’s was outdoors in a holed-out animal shelter. See what I mean? Messy!

But no wonder -- Parenting is messy. So it’s fitting it starts that way on day one. Remember your first child’s birth! Whew, it was a rude awakening for yours truly!

And the messiness of children continues. And I don’t just mean logistically or physically. But emotionally. Psychologically. Spiritually. There’s no way around it – children are messy!

Yet, no real parent would trade the messiness of children for the cleanliness of loneliness. Why? Because it’s in the mess that we’re blessed! That’s right – the blessedness is in the messiness. For it’s when we get our hands dirty that we do more than eye a work of God – we experience it!

Recall the manger in the holed-out animal shelter? God coming to earth via the birth canal amid an audience of animals. No doubt that was a hands-on experience for Joseph and Mary. No doubt a blessed mess!

No other verse describes the blessedness of messiness better than John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Now that’s a messy verse! Literally, the language could read he “pitched his tent” among us. Not near us. Not by us. Among us. Right smack dab in the middle of us. Yeah, us – the liars, stealers, backbiters, lusters, enviers, haters, murderers, adulterers, rebellious, proud, complainers, lazy, and addicted – us! That’s where he landed. Pretty messy, huh? That’s Jesus!

So get your hands dirty this Christmas. Jesus did on the first one. And we’ve all been blessed ever since.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Christmas Gift from Coach

Our son, Brett, plays basketball for Ankeny. And he has been waiting several years for this year, his senior year. Why? Playing time, baby! (Credit to Dickie V.) Maybe even the starting line up! Well, that’s not happening like he had hoped; it has been disappointing at best. He has a great attitude, though, and last night after his varsity game he received an awesome Christmas gift from his coach. Hang with me and you’ll see what I mean.

I won’t explain the whole game situation in depth, but suffice it to say that, after they lost by 1 in overtime, one of his team members ferociously hit one of the lockers and let out a loud, vulgar curse word as the team came in for the post-game meeting. Obviously, this player was mad, not only at himself, but at others. The coaches, when they heard it, inquired who said it, and began dealing with that individual. In fact, it became kind of a team meeting/encounter. Essentially, the coach’s point was that getting angry at the team and “losing it” doesn’t change what happens on the court. If you’re upset, play differently out there; don’t get mad in here.

Then he made an interesting observation that is humbling but honoring. He said (not an exact quote but the essential nuggets), “If anyone has a right to be upset, it’s Brett. He’s one of our captains, but he isn’t getting any playing time right now. He had nothing to do with this loss, yet he isn’t mad and cursing at himself, us, or others. Besides, Brett wouldn’t talk that way anyway.”

What a compliment about his character! I was really proud of Brett – he had garnered the coach’s confidence and respect with something that doesn’t bounce or go in a hoop. Sure, he’d love to be playing more! But his attitude while he wasn’t playing has probably been a greater testimony than 20+ PPG could have ever been. He was honored, not because of his talent for the name of the school on the jersey, but because of his commitment to the names in his heart – God’s name and his own name. For those two names stay with you long after you hang up the jerseys and take off the shoes. Those names – that which represents your character – matter most. I’m glad he knows who he really is even when the Ankeny basketball world my not. That’s the kind of identity security that lasts a lifetime. As Proverbs says, “A good name is better than great riches.”

Way to go, son! Your coach, probably unknowingly, blessed you with a nice gift this Christmas – his respect for who you are, not just what you do. No matter how much you play or don’t play this year, you’re a champion already!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Just Imagine (Part 2)

Thanks, everyone, for the comments and questions. Regardless of what you think of my (or others’) opinion(s), I encourage you to develop your own biblical reasoning. Don’t just follow the latest author or current trend. Like it or not, this is an area of freedom, and while you want to get good advice, ask God for his wisdom first. He will tell you how to implement his truth in your family based on the “bent” of your kids. Sure, some of us will disagree, but that's the beauty of the body of Christ in areas of freedom: we can each be fully confident in faith knowing we answer to the Lord, instead of judgmental to one another out of fear or insecurity!

Here’s the simple way we went about it in our home: We have always told our kids the truth: Santa isn’t real. But we still had fun pretending he was. (Yes, I think you can do both without involving deception.) You may think that sounds crazy, but we look at it no different than having a tea party with our girls and their dolls or playing Street Sharks with our son. In other words, when our girls were little and they’d dress their dolls up in clothes and pretend they were real, we all knew they weren’t. But we pretended they were. We let our girls give them names, talk to them, pour imaginary tea and eat fake cookies…it was a fun time of pretend and make-believe. Same with our son – we’d pull out the action figures and play in the floor, pretending they were real and could do superhuman feats. They had names, personalities, partners, enemies, etc. But no one for a minute believed any of this was true. We all knew it was just for fun. Make sense? A world of pretend and a world of truth side by side. I have always viewed this as honest, God-given creativity.

That’s how we did Santa. No one really ever thought he was real because we told them he wasn’t (that’s pretty plain, eh?). But we still had fun pretending he was and playing make-believe with various elements of Christmas. Seriously -- it's that simple for us! And, quite frankly, it has never taken our family away from the real meaning of Christmas. Maybe others’ experience isn’t as fortunate, but I can only speak for ours.

That’s our plain and simple strategy. Gotta run…I think I hear reindeer feet on the roof top!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Just Imagine (Oops, you can't these days)

It happens every year. Christmas arrives, and suddenly Christians lose their imagination. Well, not all of us. But there is a segment of believers who seem to think any kind of holiday “magic” is unbiblical and bad for kids. You know, Santa, reindeer, the North Pole…things that could just be part of a kid’s honest, make-believe world are now considered taboo. I don’t quite get it.

I remember playing loads of make believe games as a kid. That Captain America cape my mom made for me was awesome! Destroying entire fleets of UFOs and legions of aliens in the backyard, well, what a ride! These days, though, child-like, innocent fantasy seems to have been lulled to sleep by adults who are more concerned about correctness than creativity.

Perhaps I’m basing too much on my own good experience (i.e., just because I wasn’t damaged by Christmas fantasy doesn’t mean it is necessarily right). Or maybe I’m blinded to the real truth by my own love for the holidays. I don’t know exactly. But it does seem as though imagination and creativity are still valid options for a kid. It seems like we’ve confused wandering with wondering.

By no means am I “okaying” deceitfulness. I’m just asking an honest question: Is it really “deceitful” to pretend with our kids (you know, the cookies and milk by the Christmas tree, the whole chimney thing, and stuff like that)? I think not. God knows the heart, and a healthy imagination is more than a holiday benefit; it’s a God-given blessing.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Please Big Brother Santa? (You Bloated Hypocrite)

It was one of the most blatant cases of hypocrisy I’ve seen, and I have to admit I was amazed at how calmly the carmakers handled it.

I was catching up on the news this morning and saw a brief exchange between Sen. Shelby (AL) and a few of GM’s execs. They were back for a second round of sitting in Big Brother Santa’s lap asking for a little help (just a few trillion dollars, that’s all). The best part? When the questioning came around to how they got to Washington. Each GMer had to answer the question about their mode of transportation for the DC hearing, their accommodations, etc. According to the execs, they carpooled. In other words, they traveled a lot like us. I think this move was supposed to make us like them more.

My point is not to applaud or boo that. I do want to draw attention to the kettle calling the pot black. WOW! Washington insiders who live a life way different than the normal citizen were being almost interrogative to these entrepreneurs: “”How’d you get here?” “What did you drive?” “Who’d you come with?” It was like they wanted GM to be humiliated; like they wanted them to beg. Sure, they can ask whatever they want; they're the ones giving away our money (that sounds funny, eh?). But I wonder, if the tables were turned, how our elected reps would respond to our questions about their lifestyle choices?!?

Have you checked out the perks and privileges of being a national politician? There is very little that doesn’t ring with elitism and high-brow status. Crazy if you ask me – putting the business execs on the spot when the people asking the questions are hiding behind an ivory tower. Just more proof to me the system is broken.

Hypocrisy is always a sign something’s wrong. And Washington's got tons of it to go around. That's one thing I don't want for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Crippling Cost of Fear

Anytime we give in to fear and say ‘no’ to a step of faith, there’s a price to pay; fear always costs us something. In fact, we end up regretting our choice later. Truly, regret is a close relative of fear, and together they have crippled God’s people for centuries.

Fortunately, not Joseph and Mary. They said ‘no’ to fear and were there when God came to “live among us” (John 1).

And not Gideon. He was there when God won a battle with 300 fighting men (Judges 7).

And not Elisha. He was there when God caused iron to swim (2 Kings 6).

And not Peter. He was there when God created a coin in a fish’s mouth (Matthew 17).

And why were they there? Because they faced the fear of looking foolish and decided, “It’s not worth the price. I’m living fear free.”

Our own J.P. Richardson elected not to be crippled any longer a few weeks back as well. Some of you will recall that service when JP responded to God by laying prostrate here at the front during one of our response times. We were completing a time of intense focus upon the persecuted church, and he physically showed God his submissiveness through his posture; his willingness to, in a small way, identify with his brothers and sisters in those persecuted areas around the globe who don’t share the church comfort he enjoys. I knelt down beside him that service and just asked if there was anything I could do or should know about. He said “No, pastor, but thanks for asking. I just knew the Spirit was calling me to take this posture during an appropriate time in the service as a way to visibly show my spiritual camaraderie with the persecuted church. But I must be honest – I hesitated. You know, the ole’ ‘what-will-others-think?’ fear overwhelmed me. I finally just said, ‘Sure, God, I’m going.’ Well, I’m here, and I’m not sure what others think, but I know what God thinks.”

As a result, a God-thing happened all over the auditorium that day at our 10:30 service as people prayed, worshipped, and interceded for one another well past the "normal time." In fact, I don’t know if we ever officially closed that service; I think we just sort of went our way one by one. It was a time like few I have experienced. I often wonder what would have been the result had JP given in to the fear of looking foolish and stayed in his seat. My gut answer is we would have missed out on a God-thing.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I Want to See Christmas Again

Christmas is one of the radically “never-thought-it-could-happen” works of God. Think about it – a virgin is pregnant, a stable becomes a birthing room, a gazillion angels sing in the sky, and government officials actually seek out the child who is the Christ! And that’s just the beginning of the miracle list. For sure, that first Christmas was a God-thing for the ages!

And that’s what I long to see again – a God-thing for the ages! You know, the power of Pentecost. The excitement of Easter. Can you imagine? Oh, to be part of a miracle of that magnitude. Wow! That’s what I thirst for!

What I often don’t want is what necessarily accompanies a “never-thought-it-could-happen” God-thing. The fear of looking foolish, the dread of getting messy, the need to sacrifice personally – those were all elements in the Nativity (i.e., the circumstances surrounding this “never-thought-it-could-happen” God-thing). Perhaps that’s why I’m not often enough smack dab in the middle of ginormous God-things. Maybe that’s why you’re not either.

For many of us, a God-thing for the ages would be too frightening. Too risky. Too consuming. So we continue on in today’s casually comfortable, 21st century version of first-century Christianity, too scared to actually admit we long deep down for a Christmas-type event that would shatter our safe world into a million pieces. And that’s what Christmas did. And my, how our souls needed it!

Some will criticize me for wanting the grand and glorious. And some will mistake my thirst for the miraculous as a bad spiritual appetite, accusing me of being insensitive to the little miracles that happen every day. So be it. God knows my heart, and how it simply aches to see his power unleashed in a way that cannot be explained, only experienced. It can’t be figured out, only submitted to. Without apology I want to see a “never-thought-it-could-happen” God-thing for the ages.

I want to see Christmas again.