do you hear what i hear?

Just recently, I spent some time in a crowded shopping mall.  It was full of the typical holiday commotion that you would expect to find in a mall this time of year.  It was nearly in a state of complete chaos, but I will dismiss it as “general holiday excitement.” People were bustling all around, trying to find the perfect gift.  In the midst of the busyness, I sat down, enjoyed a cup of coffee and watched.

As I watched the shoppers scurry around I sipped my coffee and listened to the Christmas songs that were playing over the mall PA system.  For whatever reason, I began to pay close attention to the words that were being sung.  “In the dark streets shineth the everlasting light…” Song after song poured out of the speakers. “Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the new born King…”,  “The holly bears a berry as red as any blood, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good…”

I felt like I was the only one who was listening, or the only one who cared about what was being sung.  “These songs should be acknowledged as more than just background music,” I thought to myself.  Wonderful truths were being proclaimed to the mass of oblivious shoppers. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  But no one batted an eye at this incredible announcement.

“God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.  Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day.”  No one acknowledged the song, but it continued all the same. “To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy!”

One after another the songs came.  And not the typical mall Christmas songs either.  They weren’t playing songs like “Here Comes Santa Clause” & “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”  They kept playing the good ones.  O Holy Night, What Child Is This, The First Noel… With each song, it was as if someone was intentionally trying to get a message across.

I understand that people had other things on their minds.  Not everyone had the luxury of sitting with a cup of coffee and simply observing & listening.  But still, the contrast of beautiful, life changing truths being sung to people who appeared to be completely indifferent was stark.

I kept listening.  I sat and thought about the words I was hearing.  Tears welled in my eyes.  I felt overwhelmed by God’s love.  I felt thankful.  I felt sad for those who weren’t hearing what I was.

I have been back to the mall since then.  Unfortunately, I think I was more like the other folks as I attempted to get some shopping done.  Not only when I am at the mall, but just in life in general, I can get so distracted and caught up in the frantic pace of life.  What was it about that day at the mall?  Why was I so moved by the beauty of Christ coming to save sinners?  Why was the significance of Jesus’ work so apparent to me then? I think, very simply, the difference was that I took time to be still.  I took time to listen and to let the truth settle in my heart.   Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

It becomes more pronounced around Christmas, the rushing around and forgetting what the “season” is really all about.  But it is a problem that we deal with all year round.  Take some time to hear.  Take some time to “be still & know.

 

 

just a matter of time

I can’t seem to escape it sometimes.  Occasionally, I will try to put the thought out of my head all together, but the reminders are everywhere.  Pictures of my kids from just a couple years ago remind me of how much they have changed and how quickly they are growing. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, changing seasons… they all work together to keep me aware of the ticking of the clock.  Even subtle wrinkles, just beginning to form at the corners of my eyes, seem to insist that I remain conscious of the fact that time is passing and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

An awareness of how short life is can almost haunt me at times.  I think it used to be a good thing.  When I was younger and would hear the “old-timers” talk about how short life is and how quick it goes, I believed them.  I took them very seriously.  In high-school I kept myself reminded of their warnings .  When others would complain about teachers, classes & school assemblies, I did not share their disdain.  When they would talk  longingly about graduation  and “getting out of here,” I knew that it was a time to be enjoyed and would all too soon be gone.  I feel like this awareness also helped me to thoroughly enjoy my years in college as well.  But now…. now it causes me to be anxious. If I will allow it, it will fill me with dread.  Time is moving too quick.  Time with my kids, time with my wife, time to accomplish anything of significance… It is running out!

In my struggle with the fact that I have an ever approaching expiration date, I find 2 significant comforts that I need to be reminded of regularly.

1.  The idea of time “running out” isn’t something that bothers me alone. It didn’t sit too well with God either.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Our mortality upset Him to the point of taking extreme action. He gave His Son so that we  “shall not perish but have eternal life.”

2. The second comfort I find is the result of this “extreme action”- eternal life.  In a very real sense, time is not ticking.  Those of us who believe in Him will not perish!   My time with my wife, with my kids, with many of my family and friends, it is unlimited.

What a relief.  I find an overwhelming sense of peace knowing that I’m not the only one concerned with the fact that “the end is coming soon.”  Not only was someone else concerned, it was someone who was able and willing to do something about it.

Through God’s love and through Jesus I don’t have to wring my hands as I watch the pages of the calendar steadily fall away. Instead, I confidently look forward to eternal life.

“And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.” 1 John 2:25

Fall

It is now officially autumn and there is “a feeling in the air.” The air is getting crisper in the evenings and the leaves are, ever so slightly, showing signs of changing.   I don’t understand how fall is not everyone’s absolute favorite time of year.  I really don’t.  I don’t dislike any of the seasons.  I enjoy them all and I would not want to live somewhere where they don’t get to enjoy all 4 seasons.  There is just something extra special about autumn.  My wife and I even named our first child “Autumn Grace.”

I recently read Bubba Smith’s blog where he discusses his favorite things about fall. (You should check out his site at http://www.BubbaSmith.net) Reading his blog both got me excited about autumn and inspired me to write about the things I love as well.  So here you have it, a few of the many reasons why autumn is far and away the best season.

1. The feeling in the air.  I am not sure if anyone remembers the band “Better Than Ezra,” but they had a tune that talked about “a feeling in the air” called “This Time of Year.”  They were on to something.  I don’t know quite how to describe this wonderful aspect of fall other than “there’s a feeling in the air.”

2. Changing leaves. This is an obvious one.  Certainly some years are better than others, but it is hard to beat the beauty of Autumn leaves.

3. Hunting season.  When fall arrives so does one of my favorite pastimes. I love getting out in the woods and hunting gives me an excuse to do it during the most beautiful time to be out there.

4. Blue sky. This one may just be me, but I think the sky is “bluer” in the fall.  Every thing seems more vivid and beautiful to me.  It could simply be that I can finally see things clearly after the humidity and haze of summer has gone, but either way, I love it.

5. Holidays.  When Autumn rolls around we are also moving into the “holiday season.” Looking forward to time with family, focusing on being thankful and preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth go in the “plus” column for fall as well.

6. Breaking out your favorite sweatshirt, jacket or other cool weather clothing.

7.  Football season is here.

8. Beverages.  From apple cider to hot cocoa, there are some drinks that just seem out of place when enjoyed outside of fall.

9. Fire.  Whether it is an outdoor bon-fire or indoors in a fire place, it is nice to enjoy some warmth instead of trying to escape from it.

10. Hay rides, harvest parties, the smell of the air in the morning, jumping into leaf piles…

Ok, there are lots and lots of reasons to love fall.  Did I miss any?

It’s that time of year

Well, I have done it again.  I have watched a group of young people work their way through middle school and high school and then go off to college.   And, once again, I have underestimated the toll it would take on me emotionally.

Just this past week the last few students from the class of ’10 left for college. They have been slowly trickling away for 2 or 3 weeks.  And now, they are all gone.  They attend their last youth service, say their good-byes, then they pack up their things and leave town.  I know I will miss them, but it is not until they are gone that I realize just how much.  I suppose it is the nature of youth ministry, something most youth pastors can identify with and experience at the end of every summer.  After spending 4, 5, or 6 years investing in, pouring into and loving these students, the time comes for them to move on.  My first time through this cycle it caught me off guard.  I became nearly depressed when students I had grown so attached to left.  Now I know what to expect, but it is still no fun.

I knew I would miss them, but last night, after the kids were in bed, and I had a moment to sit and reflect, it hit me.  I became quite emotional as I lamented that my time with these students has essentially come to an end.  In 1 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul said, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”

It is one thing to simply preach to people.  It is quite another to share your life, to love those you minister to and to allow them to become dear to you.  Learning to care more deeply makes you incredibly vulnerable.  It makes you susceptible to heartache. But I am learning to be more like Paul, and despite these risks, I am “delighted” to do so.

first day of kindergarten

This morning I took my oldest daughter to school for her first day of kindergarten.  Last night I helped my wife pack her lunch.  This morning, she dressed in her new school clothes, gathered her new lunch box, school supplies and backpack and we headed off to school.  During the first week I am allowed to walk her to her class.  We prayed in the car together before gettingt out.  We walked through the hallways and found her class.  After situating her things in her locker it was time to give her a hug and leave her in her class.

For the last several weeks she has been very nervous about starting school.  She has cried and pleaded not to go.  She has asked innumerable questions about what it will be like through streaming tears and a quivering chin.  But yesterday all of that gave way to a new found bravery.  She decided she was excited for school.  At first the proclamations of excitement were tentative, but over the course of the day her confidence grew.  She went to bed with no problems.  She got up and ready for school with no signs of anxiety or fear.

But as I gave her a hug and prepared to leave she clung to me.  As I knelt on her classroom floor, our arms wrapped around each other, she whispered in my ear, “daddy, I don’t want you to go.” She didn’t want the hug to end.  Neither did I.  After another squeeze I pulled back my head to look her in the eye and reassure her.  Her eyes were welling with tears but she didn’t give in to them.  I could tell she was being brave.  The teacher came and took her by the hand and led her to a table to color with some of the other kids.  I left the room but didn’t go far.  I stood in the hallway and watched for a while, not doing nearly as good a job fighting tears as she did.

This afternoon I will pick her up from school and celebrate a great first day.  I want to hear all about her day over some ice cream.  And then, tomorrow, we will do it all over again.

10 & 33

Today is the first day of school for students where I live.  I know that technically it is still summer, but once school begins it feels like the page has been turned and summer has come and gone.  This past summer I have celebrated both a birthday and an anniversary.  I am currently 33 years old and have been married for 10 years.

Anyway, I thought I would reflect on a few things I have learned over the years. Here are 4 lessons I have learned and am learning.

1. What I thought I had figured out I didn’t and probably still don’t.- In some ways it seems like my education on life is moving backwards.  I once had it all figured out, or so I thought.  Then, as I  I began to mature, I started to understand that maybe I don’t have it all figured out, just slightly more than those around me.  This trend of realizing I know less and less has continued until eventually I reached the point where I am now, in awe of how little I know and overwhelmed by just how many things there are out there to know.  I probably should not have started a list of things I have learned by proclaiming how little I know, but maybe this will serve as a disclaimer of some sort.

2. It keeps getting better.- I really think my life keeps getting better and better.  Learning to persevere has been key.  I have seen repeatedly that hard times have eventually yielded to things being even better than before the onset of the difficult times.  This has held true in my marriage, my career, my ministry, and in my relationships in general.

3. life goes fast.- I feel like I am constantly aware of how quickly time passes.  All of my life I have heard people warn of how fleeting time is. I never doubted them, but I also never understood just how right they were/are.  I don’t know if most people think about this as much as I do, but sometimes I almost feel like life is moving so quickly that I am just sitting and watching it whirl by.  My wife and I will sometimes say things like, “can you believe we have been married 10 years?” or, “can you believe we are parents and have 3 kids?”   In a lot of ways I feel like I should still be in college or finishing up high-school or something. But nope, I am 33 and married with children.  I am happy to be where I am, but shocked at how right the “it goes so fast” people have been.

4. People have a profound affect on people.- I think we constantly underestimate the impact we have on others and the impact they have on us.  When I look back at my life it is amazing what a significant role relationships have played.  Where I am and who I am is in a significant way, the result of who I have been around.  I can think of numerous people whose influence on me has been monumental.  These formative relationships aren’t limited to parents and mentor types. My life has been significantly impacted, even just recently, by people who I have had very limited contact with.  It is a mistake to ignore how immense our effect on one another is.

So there you have it.  33 years of life and 10 years of marriage have taught me 4 things.

look here

I am at home with our 8 month old daughter, Sadie.  My wife has our 2 older girls at the dentist for check-ups.   I have been rolling around on the floor with Sadie, playing and trying to make her laugh.  I am also using this time to help her work on her vocabulary, primarily the all important word “da-da.”  She has been able to say it for a couple weeks now, but I am trying to up the frequency of this glorious utterance.

This is only my second time to have Sadie all alone, so it is fun to have some “one-on-one” time without any distractions. I love it when I know I have her attention.  I try to hold it as long as possible, the only problem is, there are SO many distractions. An object doesn’t need to do anything more than wiggle or be shiny in order to completely steal her attention away from me. In fact, my competitors are not limited to those who can move or shine; I am up against any and all things that are small enough to fit in her hand, anything that can be chewed on, anything that makes noise, anything that can be banged against something else, anything that is in arms reach, anything that is colorful…Basically, everything else in the room has the potential to be more interesting than me.

But how can this be?!?  I am her dad! How do I keep losing out to small plastic things? Even when I am trying to feed her, and I have what she needs and wants she keeps getting distracted from me!

I can’t help but see the similarity between her and I.  And not just because she is my daughter and incredibly cute, but because I get distracted from my father pretty easily as well.

Just like her I am surrounded by things that compete to take my eyes off of my Dad.  When I take the time to think about it, my life is full of things that are all too capable of becoming distractions; work, bills, television, working out, fantasy football, facebook, friends…   Things that aren’t in themselves bad can become bad when they distract me from Him.

I know that my desire to have my daughter look at me is a silly analogy. It is basically just a dad who enjoys having his daughter’s attention. But when it comes fixing our eyes on the Lord, the stakes are a good bit higher. Hebrews 12:1 says, “…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily entangles us. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”  We are talking about some pretty serisous things here.  This verse is talking about things in our lives that will tangle us up and slow us down. It is talking about getting rid of things in our lives that will prevent us from being the man or woman God had called us to be, or worse yet, stop us keep us from being a man or woman of God all together.

Thankfully, the writer continues and tells us exactly how to avoid these potential disasters.  Hebrews 12:2, “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the originator and perfecter of our faith.”

Fixing my “eyes” on the Lord is not simply so he can feel good about himself, although I believe he does enjoy it.  It is a safe guard against things that weigh me down, slow me down, entangle me and hinder me.