Saturday, May 29, 2010

Moving Day

We live in an older neighborhood with several rental properties. We have seen quite a few folks come and go over the five years that we've lived here. One of those rentals is directly across the street.

I've noticed a pattern over that time. You can usually tell when they won't stay long. For instance, the last tenants. They moved in with one minivan full of stuff, and that was it. One friend showed up to help. And maybe I'm over-thinking it here, but at one point later in their "stay" the man came over and asked to borrow a screwdriver. It seems to me that anyone committed to settling down, being on their own, etc., would own a screwdriver. But, I'm digressing from my point. He had ONE person show up to help. It seems he had no support system; No family that I ever saw. This particular guy had the police kick in the door and drag him out in handcuffs a few months ago.

Tonight, some new neighbors are moving in. It is currently 3:45 a.m. (I couldn't sleep) and they are still moving in. They had nine cars here about an hour ago, but they are down to three now. (Seriously, thats a good friend that will help you move 'til almost three in the morning). And they have stuff-- probably even a screwdriver in there somewhere. And I saw a baby... might not be the tenants' baby...we'll see. I think these folks will last a while.

The common denominator that I have noticed is the people there to assist the move... or not. People who will help you move means people who care. People who have built time into your life... like parents. And friends who share common interests and encourage you to keep going when life gets tough.

This brought to mind a part of a poem by John Donne I had to memorize in High School:

No man is an island, entire of itself.
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

This also caused me to remember Romans 12:4-8:

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

God designed the family, and specifically the church in the passage. The unbelieving world imitates God's perfect design with things like "community" and "a village" (if you're a Hillary Clinton fan... for the record I am not). But, this brings out a truth that even non-believers recognize; we cannot do this on our own. And even if you think you can, Romans 12 tells us that God has gifted you for service in the Body of Christ.

For even the most dedicated Christian who might say that he is praying to the Lord for his needs to be met, and trusting God's strength, may well be missing the blessings and power to live godly if he neglects the Body. How many times have I heard (and even said), "I am trusting God in this trial, but I just wish I had an answer with some skin on it?" Behold, the Body of Christ. The Lord Jesus knew you and I would feel that way and gave us to one another to minister until he returns. God help us connect with believers to avoid the danger of robbing one another of spiritual blessings and ministry.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Work it Out

When I was a kid, I lived in a pretty unique place. At least, it was unique by the standards of most of the people who know me. Most of the people I know, myself currently included, live on postage stamp sized lots. And, the concrete jungle surrounds us. Sure, there are bastions of nature here and there, but not like where I grew up.

My parents were saving to build a house throughout most of my young childhood. I remember being stuck in the back seat with my brother as we would drive for hours looking at one piece of vacant property after another. Finally, after nearly a year, my parents purchased lot that was over an acre in size. Now, for those that are not familiar, that is about the size of a football field.

The next nine months were mostly consumed with building the house. My mom, who is not an architect, designed the house and taught herself to draw the blueprints. We stood in countless lines as she pulled all of the county permits for the building. Then, there were the weekends spent at the building site as my dad literally built the house with his own two hands.

In addition, there was only one home for as far a you could see, and we were surrounded by woodlands. In my tweens and teens I would explore the woods for hours a day. There was usually adventure to be found, if you looked. Growing up there was nice, except for one thing: the lawn.

My dad purchased a riding mower shortly after we moved in to the new place. After several years, at the start of summer, that mower broke. My dad had it examined and found that it would cost $300 to fix. Instead, he bought a brand new push mower with absolutely no special features for $100.

For the next three summers (my young teen years), my brother and I mowed the grass every week with that mower. I would mow half in the morning (it took me about 4 hours), and my brother would mow in the evening (another 4 hours). If you're not from Florida, take my word, this is unpleasant in a Florida summer.

My dad would pay us $4 each to do this job. One time, after many weeks over a couple of years, I decided I didn't want to do it anymore. I told my dad to keep the $4, and I was out. He said he would indeed keep the money, but I was going to do the yard anyway (for free), as part of my contribution to the family.

I began to loathe that yard. And truth be told, I loathed my father to a degree, as well. It wasn't until years later that I realized something. He was not doing it to be mean. He was teaching us about hard work, and sacrifice.

You can't really learn that from a book. You can't study hard work, watch a video on hard work, and then take an exam on hard work. You have to DO hard work to learn about it. Life is difficult, at times, and the Bible is full of examples and stories, and Proverbs about the benefits of labor, and the pitfalls of laziness.

My parents demonstrated hard work by their efforts to build a house, then they taught us kids how to work hard by forcing us to DO it. I hope you have someone in your life who did, or will, teach you about hard work by forcing you to DO the work. If/when they do, don't give them such a hard time. They probably love you and want you to learn something that can't be taught any other way. If someone has already done this in your life, be sure to thank them.

I need to go call my dad.

Magic Tricks

To distract you from the fact that there are still no new posts here. Anyone have any topic requests?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Spending Some Time with Nature

Going camping with the Youth Group this weekend. It will be cold... and likely rainy on Saturday.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Time Ain't On Our Side

Ever since I was a little kid, I have had a fixation on time. If I was at an amusement park, or some other fun place, I was always monitoring in the back of my mind how much time was left 'til we had to leave. I received my first wrist watch at four years old, and I have pretty much worn one ever since. I have a tan line under my watch if that tells you anything.

It works in reverse for me, too. I have always been that guy counting down days until Christmas, or summer vacation, or whatever. I usually keep good track of what has happened and what is about to happen.

There's one major draw back to this that I have found. I am rarely enjoying what is happening. Take the amusement park example: I was not taking in the sights, I was looking at my watch and calculating how much time was left. Or, the days 'til Christmas: Can any Christmas ever live up to the extraordinary hype? Usually not (except for the original).

I often miss a lot of life's enjoyment now because I am trying to "get" somewhere.

I got to thinking about this because of some cheesy movie I watched on the WB while I was sick this week. The title and plot are unimportant, but you'll recognize the cinematic sequence. Boy and girl fall for one another, and then you get to watch a five minute song. You know, the one where they picnic under a Fourth of July fireworks display, bike ride through a forest of fiery fall colors, and cuddle beneath the Christmas tree. I was getting sucked in to thinking that their lives were great, when I finally realized that 6 months of real life just passed in a musical montage.

Where were the scenes about their disagreements over whether they should see an action thriller or a romantic comedy at the movies? What about that time he broke their plans to go watch UFC with his buddies? Or how about when she gets "emotional" and just wants to be left alone with a half gallon of Edy's? Or what about the days when they wake up and just have to go to work, and nothing happens at all?

My point is, real life requires you to live every moment; the fun ones, the tough ones, the heart-wrenching ones, the mundane ones... all of them. And, sometimes I cannot stand that fact. I want to get to the good parts. The fun stuff. The mountaintop experiences.

But God, in His wisdom has ordained time. The only way we can redeem the mundane moments is to live them for Him. I Corinthians 10:31 says: "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." What could be more routine than eating or drinking? Most of us do this many times per day. We are commanded to give God glory in these times.

I will close with this. God alone is eternal. He is not bound by time at all. I am excited by the idea that we will enjoy eternity with Him one day. I believe that in Heaven there will be nothing mundane, ever. There will be no reason to look forward to the next moment because this one will be, well, Heavenly. Further, what is a moment in eternity?

But there I go again looking forward to the next thing instead of making the most of this moment. God grant me wisdom.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What Was I Thinking?!?

I am sitting up late with what appears to be the flu. If this is a rambling mess, I hope you will forgive me.

Today we enjoyed a professional development day at the school, sans students. These are usually days we look forward to because there are no students (weren't you listening?), but secretly hope that the meeting will end early and we will be out the door by shortly after noon.

Not so today. The meeting lasted well into the afternoon, and I stayed for an hour after it ended just to hear the man talk, impromptu. His name is Allen Peu and he has a doctorate in something-or-other, and his overall premise is kind of hard to even put into words. So why was I so riveted?...The depth of thought. I actually commented that I felt like a little kid with floaties on my arms in the deep end of the the pool of thought. The thoughtful, reflective, biblical analysis of our culture, history, church, and Christian school compelled me to pay attention. More than that, I have been lost in reflection upon his concepts since leaving the meeting (it is now past midnight).

I am hard-pressed to give you a specific short version of what has challenged me. I will attempt with this: he challenged our traditions. He exposed our culture. He caused me to think about why we do what we do in ministry, and is there a more effective way to do it? Of course, we keep the main point giving God glory. But how can we do this excellently?

In all of this, I realized that I am not an extremely deep thinker. I used to think I was, but that was my young college student mindset that thought it's deep to wonder out loud if the professor knows anything.

Years, and miles down the road, I have become complacent in my thinking. This has been somewhat necessitated by being a family man. It really does not seem to matter what deep thoughts you could have when you are awakened at three in the morning by a hungry baby. Life becomes routine; diapers, formula, bills, home/auto repairs. I love the little diaper-using, formula-drinking, expense-makers. However, it starts to suck the brain power out of you just to survive it all.

By God's grace, we have survived. Our youngest is four and for the first time in 5 and a half years we are not buying any type of diaper/pull-up/night-time pant thingies. It seems luxurious.

Survival mode is giving way to deeper thoughts about the direction I think God would have us go in the next 5, 10, 25 years. How will I prepare? What will be our focus of ministry as a family unit with growing, grown, and grand kids?

I don't have the answers yet, but I am encouraged that God has prompted me to start asking what I think are the right questions.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Call of the Wild

College was a great time for me. Probably not the way you're thinking though. I was never that frat guy that went to all the parties. I really didn't date very much, so it was not the girls either. My sports career was nearly over after high school-- so nope, not sports. I have a couple great lifelong friends I made in college, but that is about it--I was never the super popular guy.

I enjoyed the freedom I got when I entered college. I enjoyed coming and going as I pleased, and doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

I was blessed to earn a scholarship from the State of Florida as I completed high school. I was doubly blessed because my dad wisely prepared financially for us kids to go to college, and generously paid for all of my tuition and books. What that meant for me was that I got to pocket about $1250 per semester.

I lived at home for free, ate at home for free when I was there, and had my medical/dental, etc. expenses paid for. I worked part-time at the local grocery store, and paid for my car insurance and gas, but had no car payment.

The extra cash led to some great adventures. I bought a dirt bike and learned to ride the trails. I bought fishing and camping gear. I bought guns and ammunition, and all kinds of fun toys men like.

One of my favorite things to do was with my cousin. We would leave on a Friday afternoon and drive his 4x4 north for several hours to a camp his dad (my uncle) owns. Once you reach the dirt road that leads to "Camp," as we called it, you have about an hour of winding, muddy, four-wheeling type roads to get to the actual camp site. All of this we did in the pitch black night. If you have never experienced this, you can't imagine what you are missing. The darkness is enveloping, yet the clarity of the night sky without the city's light pollution creates a sense of freedom from its sheer vastness. Thus began our weekend of campfires, and outdoor cooking, and hunting, and target shooting when the hunting was no good.

It as a simpler time for me. No real responsibility. No real bills. And, an hour's worth of nearly impassible roads insulating me from the world "out there."

Today, when the bill collectors are encircling me like sharks with blood in the water, and home repairs, and auto repairs, and the daily grind starts wearing on me, I can feel something inside of me long for the simplicity that was. Financially, it isn't feasible for me to go gallivanting around in search of adventure. To be clear, I wouldn't really want to go back if I had a chance. Especially if it meant that I would have to undo the choice I've made to marry my beautiful wife, or give up the tremendous blessings that are our children. It's not even a question.

But when life get's complicated and just plain difficult, I do wish for simplicity. And when the stuffiness of life crowds me, I do long for an adventure. Something inside me hears a call to go be "wild" again.

As I thought about this, I came up with a spiritual parallel. As a Christian, my old nature was crucified with Christ, yet that dead flesh will often rear up and try to convince me to go back. I love Jesus and would never go back on Him, but those old sinful patterns of thought/life try to remind me of "fun" I had, and call me to return.

Just as I am compelled to know that this is not the right time for me to spend the family's finances on adventure, I must master the sin that is crouching at my door (Genesis 4). By God's grace, I'll find rest and adventure when I reach Heaven's gate. May we all expend our energy on faithfulness to Jesus until then.

Grace and peace to you.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Thou Art the Man!

Throughout adolescence and young adulthood I often harbored the unspoken need to prove my manhood. I felt that getting in fights, or getting a girl's attention, or proving my physical prowess in some contest or another proved my manliness. Later, my feats became slightly more refined... but only slightly.

In high school (and part of college)I delved into judo with gusto. I went to judo practice 4 nights a week for 2-3 hours a night for several years. I won tournaments and trophies and medals. I thought this made me more of a man.

I concurrently discovered that I was not entirely disgusting to the female gender of our species, and I became proficient in male/female interactions. This made me feel that I had arrived as a man.

In subsequent years I learned to fish, drive a stick shift, ride a dirt bike, race motorcycles, work on cars, drive a forklift, drive a delivery truck, and do moderate construction. Now I was sure that I possessed the skills necessary to be a man among boys.

Unfortunately, I have found that none of these skills have helped me in the slightest now that I am an actual man among an actual boy, my son... (to say nothing of being a man among a wife and a daughter).

It turns out that being a man is more about controlling your temper, your tongue, and your strength rather than driving fast and furiously, or performing a judo maneuver on anyone that challenges your prowess. It's easier to seamlessly shift gears on a motorcycle at 100 mph while changing lanes(slack throttle, grab clutch, upshift to 6th gear, slack clutch, grab throttle and go), than it is hear your baby son cry for the 5th time that night when you want sleep. It is easier to drive a 24 foot box truck back from Orlando on I-4 on Friday at 5pm, than it is to listen to a 5 year old's story about a matchbox car during your favorite football team's only game for that week.

I recently had the privilege to teach the youth group about the humanity of Jesus. (Don't worry, one of my colleagues taught on His deity the week before). As I studied for this lesson, I came upon this thought that comes from Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. I am paraphrasing here, but he states that Jesus is not only fully man, but He is more man than any of us because He is the only man (besides Adam) that truly lived up to the prototype God designed. In other words, we are marred images of the man God first created because of our sins. However, Jesus is man minus sin, making Him the only one that truly exemplified the original.

It is only in Christ that I can become a true man. As His follower, His Spirit works in me to make me more like Christ-- the True Man.

Footnote 1- I do not advocate nor seek to glorify the sinful ways in which I used to ride my motorcycle. Young men, please do not try to use me as an advocate when trying to persuade your parents that a motorcycle is a good idea for you. It will backfire because I will give them more reasons than you can imagine why you should not have one.

Footnote 2-- This post was getting lengthy so I am cutting it short. With the help of God's Word, I will endeavor in the future to dispel the myth that Jesus was some kind of wimp. It just ain't so.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It's Ground Hog Day!

"I got you Babe."

Say hello to Punxutawny Phil.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dear Dad

I am Dad! Daddy! The Man! El Hombre! Chief! I get called up for middle of the night response to bad dreams. I am the great bug slayer. I am expected to know how to fix every broken thing. I wrestle, joke, and tickle 'til smaller stomachs might erupt. I am the Enforcer (a job I do not like). And, on Saturdays when my wife works, I am Mom (a job I really don't like).

I enjoy my children immensely, and they enjoy me. My mind is flooded with memories and thoughts and worries about them. My wife and I half-joke that we can't remember life before children. Seriously though, the older memories are vague. To those who have no children, it is difficult to explain the energy expended (both physical and mental) raising kids. My deepest darkest fears (things I won't say out loud, and especially will not type here) all revolve around my children.

But, the love is intense. It is unbelievably intense. I really cannot describe the joy that I felt when they handed my son (our oldest)to me for the first time, the night he as born. He was (and is) beautiful. My hands were trembling, eyes tearing, heart pounding. We had a moment in the room when the nurse stepped out, my wife was still in post-op, and the in-laws hadn't come in yet. It was just us. He wasn't crying, and he wasn't asleep. We just looked at each other. It's indescribable, but it was powerful. I was dad.

In the same way, we can give God joy. It is amazing to me that the God of the universe can receive joy from us.

Luke 15:7
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

And this repentance along with faith in Jesus makes us sons (and daughters) of God (John 14:6).

Roman 8:15-16
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.

I am an extraordinarily flawed father. But God, the perfect Father, loves us perfectly and calls us His children, and rejoices over us when we come to Him by faith in Jesus Christ.

This is an amazing, glorious, truth.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Riches I Heed Not

Recently I had a chance to catch up with an old friend. He is a young business owner on the cusp of a deal that he thinks could become more than a little lucrative for his family. I sincerely desire that it does, especially because of what he said about it. His desire is to take care of his family (as he should), but he wants to live modestly and invest the rest in people's lives. He is a Christian who wants to do the most good he possibly can with the resources God provides to him. He is a man I respect and I believe he is sincere.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered a time when I sincerely desired to be rich. It sounds silly now, but at the time I actually prayed for a windfall. I thought of all of the things that I would do with the money. Contribute a healthy portion to my local church. Pay off all of my debts and provide a modest, comfortable lifestyle for my wife and children. Finally, I wanted to buy decrepit homes in my area, restore them, and rent them to low-income families for really cheap. I envisioned myself showing up at tenants' homes around the holidays with a swing set for their children, and putting it up in the yard for them. To be honest, as I type this I would still like to do some of these things eventually (if God wills).

However, in the midst of my musings at that time, I was convicted by God's Word. I thought especially of the widow who gave the "mite" (all she had), and the other widow who gave the last of her oil and flour to the prophet Elijah.

The first story reminds me that God is not respecting the amount we are able to give, but the condition of the heart that gives it. The second story reminds me of what God is able to do with a little when we give it willingly, and faithfully.

Further, we know that the earth is the Lord's and all that dwell therein. Does God need my money (His money He loaned to me)to accomplish His plan? No, of course not. He graciously allows us opportunities to be part of the work he is doing. Indeed, it is our privilege to give back to God.

Finally, and this is my point, our lives are to be a living sacrifice to God. So money is part of that, but certainly not the extent of our service. Offer a smile to a neighbor, a word of encouragement to someone who is hurting, a meal for family that is struggling, and share the Gospel in spite of apprehension. These all cost little or nothing financially, but they may be used by God to accomplish much for His kingdom.

If God gives me financial wealth, I want to use it for Him. If not, He has given me so many more things to offer. May we all be found faithful in using what God has given us for Him.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Life on the Open Road

"BJ and the Bear"
This was a show when I was a kid about a trucker named BJ McKay and his "best friend" Bear, who was a chimpanzee. Why this was only on TV for a few seasons I'll never understand. It has all the makings of an instant classic: late seventies fashion, big rig trucks, and a monkey. What more could you want? I loved this show as a kid.

Feeling a little uninspired on the blog-front right now, but thought I would post this to let anyone interested know that I am still alive-- and I hope to post something awe inspiring soon. Okay, at least worthy of reading.