Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holiday Blues

It's 11:15 Friday night after Christmas and the stomach bug has claimed its 7th victim on Christina's side of the family. So far our niece, Brooklyn, her mom (Christina's sister) Jennifer, their younger sister, April, their mom, Kathleen, our youngest son, Titus, and now our oldest son, Levi have all had diarrhea and the pukes. Levi threw up about an hour ago and is sleeping now, but we know the worst is still to come.

If you have a spare moment we would appreciate your prayers for our family, especially our little guys.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Crazy Day

Christmas day began at 8:00 a.m. Christmas morning in Virginia. It was fun...then tiresome...then scary...then frustrating...then incredibly draining...and finally ended around 2:00 a.m. the morning after Christmas in Texas.

I preached a sermon on Christmas Eve about celebrating Jesus this Christmas, and continuing to do so throughout the year. It was easy to quickly forget my own words as we battled rental car agents, turbulence that sent us plummeting about 1,000 feet in 2 seconds shortly after take-off, a mix-up at the Houston airport that delayed us an hour and a half, and finally a three-hour drive that began at 11:00 p.m.

It's hard to keep Jesus in mind when you're tired and frustrated. It was hard to keep the Christmas spirit while simultaneously trying to keep Titus, our 7-month old from screaming the entire flight from Dulles to Houston. Yet it's precisely in those moments where Jesus is needed most.

I'm usually pretty calm and relaxed. I especially try to keep a positive attitude around our boys because I don't want them to think it's okay to treat people like trash just because you've had a long day. But sadly I lost my patience yesterday a few times despite my struggle to stay positive. It's not like I blew up or yelled or screamed, but I reacted strongly when I should have just let things go. I tried reconciling the situation, but I'm sure Levi knew what was in my head (fortunately Titus is still only worried about eating and grabbing whatever is in arms reach).

Because Jesus came to earth I'm called to celebrate my gifts, not take them for granted. I saw many employees and travelers sitting alone, surely wishing they could be somewhere else. I was blessed to be tired and hungry with those I love most. Despite our fun, tiresome, scary, frustrating, and draining day, it was a merry Christmas because I went through it all with my family.

I pray you had a merry Christmas too.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Patience is a virture - for everyone else

I am a product of American society.

- I don't prepare a meal when I have money for the drive-thru.
- When our wireless internet takes more than a second to two to go to the website I want, I assume something is wrong with our computer and hit the 'REFRESH' button over and over until the site appears.
- If I know the stop light is unusually long I'll find a way around it.
- If I Tivo a ballgame I'll skip ahead to the end watching the score change quickly in the upper left hand corner.
- I hate when a DVD won't let you skip past the FBI warning straight to the menu.

I don't like waiting. I don't like being patient when it comes to time. When dealing with people patience is not so much of an issue, but time is a different story. I value my time and I don't want to waste it. You know, sort of like Jesus.

Well, not exactly.

Jesus excelled in patience. Not the kind that allows a person to wait in a long line and keep whistling a happy tune. Not the kind of patience that helps a person keep their cool when some bonehead holds up traffic for no reason. That's showing acts of patience when the situation warrants - "incidental patience" if you will. But for Jesus patience was more of a personality, a day-to-day approach to life. At no point in the gospels do you get the sense that Jesus was in a hurry. A storm is raging, waves are crashing, disciples are squealing, death is knocking at the door and Jesus is what? Furiously paddling trying to get to the other side? Ditching the disciples and sprinting across the water to save his own skin? No and no. He's sleeping. No big deal.

A great friend is sick and on his deathbed. His sisters have sent for Jesus believing He could do something to help. Does He drop everything and take an express camel to his friend? Does He have Simon Peter hold all His appointments until He's handled this matter? Not at all. He waits. He waits a few DAYS!! He waits until after the friend dies and then decides to go for a visit.

Jesus went off to lonely places to pray when the crowds were begging for another show. Jesus took time to reflect on the theological significance of sparrows, lillies, fields, sheep, banquets, and bread. He understood the value of being still, getting away, for the sake of being still and getting away. Despite all He had to do He never missed a moment to rest, to get away from it all, and to simply "be."

Our family leaves tomorrow for a ski resort in central VA. I'm really excited about the time to be with my wife and boys with no place to be, no schedule, and no reason to be in a hurry.

When was the last time you spent time just "being?"

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Get off your pew!!!

Yesterday I joined our teens for a service day in which we took an official boatload of sweatshirts, blankets, shirts, hats, and other winter clothing to Monroe Park, a regular downtown hang out spot for Richmond's homeless population. When we arrived we saw some members from a Korean church serving hot spaghetti and french bread to the men and women in the park. The homeless folks saw our bus pull up and slowly walked toward where we were parked. After we told them what we were doing, it was like pigeons flocking to an outdoor bistro, geese gathering around a boy with a bag of Wonder bread, seagulls swarming the annoying guy at the beach that keeps feeding them cookies. At first they made a small line and gave the appearance of waiting patiently. But once the first guy grabbed something off a table, it was open season. We kept pleading for them to let us get everything out of the bags and boxes so they could see what we had. Instead they eventually came around the tables and went through our bags and boxes themselves. Amazing. Everything was taken. We left with a couple shirts and a few accessesories, everything else - down to the garbage bags we brought the clothes in - was taken.

Several things struck me about this experience:
1. Everyone was incredibly friendly and thankful. Many people have a bad perception of the homeless. Many think they're mentally unstable, violent, abrasive, abusive, vulgar, mean, and bitter. What we experienced was quite the opposite. We heard so many 'thank you's', even from those who didn't find anything they needed. Some people returned things when they could find no one to take what they didn't need. They didn't return it because they didn't like it, but because they wanted everyone to be able to get something to help them stay warm.

2. I will probably not see any of those men or women come to our church, much less place membership, and that's okay. It would be such a shame if someone said, "You know, we really don't need to spend our time or energy on this anymore because no one placed membership as a result. The church just isn't growing with this ministry so let's scrap it." Jesus didn't help people for the sake of building up his posse. He didn't heal the sick or turn water into wine so that He could become more popular. Instead He was full of love, grace, and compassion and wanted to share it with the world. Is outreach necessary? Yes. Is it important to work to reach the lost and allow the gospel to transform their lives? Absolutely. Is it important to keep our churches ever-growing lest we become stagnant, lazy or exclusive? Sure it is. But ministry cannot be gauged by worldly standards. It cannot be gauged by numbers, budgets, or baptisms. Those things are beneficial results, but ought not be the purpose. The purpose is to share the love of Jesus with the world.

3. We have some awesome teens in our youth ministry. I was so proud to see our group grab handfuls of water bottles or sandwiches or socks or toothbrushes and walk through the park, holding their items in the air, asking, "Does anybody need a...(fill in the blank)?" What is amazing is that I can see a visible transformation in their understanding of the Kingdom because they have become servant-driven. They have become compassionate toward any and everyone in need and are equally aware of their ability to meet those needs. It's quite inspiring to see what can happen when the church realizes Christianity is not about them, it's about Jesus and sharing Him - all His love, grace, forgiveness, and passion - with the world that exists all around us.

If you haven't served anyone yet this holiday season, take a morning, afternoon or evening to purposefully seek out a man or woman or family who could use some help. Maybe a homeless person or single mom who could use some help. See how much your worldview changes when you're focused on someone other than yourself.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Christmas Program

Our three-year old, Levi, had his first Christmas program this morning at his pre-school. He and the six other 3-year olds stood in a small room in front of a group of parents resembling camera crews at a New York Yankees press conference to sing about three songs in about 30 seconds. (Seriously, the entire thing lasted a good minute-and-a-half) Afterward we all went to their classroom for cookies, punch, and Chex mix.

Christina will ask me from time to time if I can believe that I'm a Dad. Honestly, being a father has never felt all that strange to me...until today. It was weird telling Ellen, our church secretary, that I was leaving to watch Levi's Christmas program at school. It was strange standing against the wall holding the video camera focused on Levi chewing on his finger nails, staring blankly at the sweet lady trying desperately to get them to sing, playing with the bell around his neck, waving to his mother, and chewing on his finger nails again. It was strange being in his classroom and hearing him talk to his friends Connor and Nickolas as though he's known them forever, even though I have absolutely no idea who they are. It's strange to see him with his own friends outside of our family circle. It was strange when his teacher, Ms. Donna, gave him his stocking filled with candy and a small book (I asked Levi what he got and he held up his stocking and said, "Daddy, Ms. Donna gave me a sock!!!").

All of this was strange because I have become used to being a Dad for babies and small children, but not big kids. I know he's only 3, but having Christmas programs and getting presents from your teacher are things that older kids do, kids who are very close to moving out of the house and going to college, then getting married and having a family of their own. Those are the kids who have Christmas programs, not ours.

I treasure these moments because it is in the hearts of my children where I so often see myself. And when I see myself in them, I understand a little better my heavenly Father's love for me.

Monday, December 04, 2006


At some point in my adult life I became a Fyodor Dostoevsky fan. Dostoevsky was a Russian author in the mid 19th century. He's written novels like Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, Demons, and others. Currently, I'm reading The House of the Dead. It's a novel about life in a Siberian labor prison. It's a combination of fiction mixed with personal experience from his own days in a labor prison. The conditions described in the book are disturbing at minimum; they're conditions that even the most barbaric nations wouldn't stand for today.

Dostoevsky's insight into human nature is what draws me to his writing. I love insights like this one from House of the Dead:

"Man is a creature that can get used to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him."

What I really want to share is this excerpt from House of the Dead:

"The thought once occured to me that if I wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, one at which the most fearsome murderer would tremble, shrinking from it in advance, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning...If, let us say, he were forced to pour water from one tub into another and back again, time after time, to pound sand, to carry a heap of soil from one spot to another and back again - I think that such a convict would hang himself within a few days or commit a thousand offenses in order to die, to escape from such degradation, shame, and torment."

I have many reasons why I love being a minister, but I think the thought behind this statement is at the heart of them all. There are many important occupations and jobs in our society. Where would we be without doctors? Without farmers? Without garbage collectors? But none carry eternal consequences.

I remember sitting in an office one day (I won't say what kind of office lest I offend someone by suggesting their career is irrelevant or unimportant, which I'm not suggesting at all) and thinking to myself that I could not have that job as my full-time occupation. I could not do what was required to devote myself to learning the craft, understanding the principles, and sacrificing time with my family for that particular career. Thinking of having this as my career gave me the same feeling as a man sentenced to pour water from one tub to another and back again.

Mitch Wilburn, now a preacher for the Park Plaza Church of Christ in Tulsa, OK, once spoke at a conference I attended and just about brought me to tears. He told the story of an elder at his church who chaperoned a mission trip while Mitch was a youth minister. This particular man was the epitome of success: extremely wealthy, highly intelligent, and moved quickly to the top step of his corporate ladder. The day before this particular mission trip this elder had wrapped up a merger between two major oil companies; a merger that required over 100,000 man-hours, a merger that saw hundreds of millions of dollars trade hands. He was explaining all this to Mitch as they were getting their beds ready on the cement floor of a warehouse. Mitch finally asked him, "So what are you doing HERE, on a mission trip with a bunch of goofy teenagers?" The man said, "Because this matters. Everything else I do is just arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It's all going down, but these moments are eternal."

I've learned to put up with people who think youth ministers just play all day. I've learned to ignore those who think my job is a joke. The reason is that as a youth minister I am blessed to be a part of God's greater Kingdom work. As a job, as a career, I get to be a servant of The King. What an incredible responsibility, and at the same time a glorious blessing.

Not everyone feels called into ministry. This doesn't make us ministers any better or worse than anyone else in the Kingdom, we've just chosen different career paths. I am thankful for all who dedicate themselves to their careers to try to make the world a better place to live. If everyone were a full-time minister what would come of our world? The need for Christian doctors, attorney's, dentists, teachers, firemen, administrative assistants, consultants, scientists, car salsemen, managers, athletes, Starbucks baristas, electricians, plumbers, mom's, etc. is tremendous. It is the Christians in the work force who are in the best position to change the world, so long as they live out the call of Jesus to be loving, gracious, hard working, honest, and kind.

Even if you find yourself pouring water from one tub into another and back again, heed the advice of Paul to the Colossians: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." (Col. 3:23-24)

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