Friday, December 19, 2014

Anniversary 23: Steady in one direction

"If you are not changing you are dying."  I don't know who said that, but it's generally true.  Life is a series of changes complete with a spouse who gets older, kids who get older, go to college, meet people, fall in love and move away.  We get it.  Lots of changing.

But the corollary statement is not necessarily true:  "If you are changing, you are really living."  Some change is unnecessary, unhealthy or just plain wrong.  For instance, giving up on your wife or your family to embrace a season of new excitement and change is not living.  It's change, but it is death.

With these thoughts in mind, I spent some time reflecting on things that changed in my life over the past 23 years because of my lovely best friend.  You can read my top seven below if you desire.

1.  Attend church together every week.  Since the first months of our marriage, Nikki and I have almost never missed church on Sundays.  In 1994 Nikki missed a Sunday or two (first child born).  This pattern repeated itself in 1996 and again in 1999.  Sometimes when we are on vacation we miss church, but we usually find a place to worship.  Sometimes we had a beef with someone, or something going on.  We went anyways.     Sometimes people had a beef with us.  I believe attending church (or #2 below) contributed to me growing up in Jesus (hearing the Bible taught by someone who was good at teaching it) more than any other factor in my life).

2.  Let your spouse change you.  My wife has changed me a ton!  Her conscience is sweet, and sensitive.  She is way classier than I.  She is more careful with money than me.  She knows how to put people at ease to give opportunities for the gospel to be taught.  Oh and she is a way smarter parent than I am.  She understood the kids wills when they were little (and broke them) and I try to understand her heart as they grow up.  If I had stayed the same guy I was when we got married (my conscience, my crudeness, my money habits, my social graces or my parenting) we would be in a world of hurt.  My wife has changed me more than any other person on this planet.

3.  Faithfully give money at church.  This teaches you that you have less than you think, and God owns it all.  It also reminds you regularly that life is not about how much you can keep for yourself. Eventually, it teaches you that you have more than you think, because when you give money faithfully, you do other healthy things with money that are wise.  We have a long way to go, but this has been an unchanging conviction.  

4.  "Decision" means "a cutting off."  When you decide something, you say, "Yes" to it, and just as importantly, you say, "No" to everything else.  The implications of this for my 23 years of marriage has meant that we have said "Yes" to each other, our children, the city we live in, the neighbors we live near, my profession and our church family.  Necessarily, we have said "No" to other opportunities, other cities, other people and other local churches.  I am okay with that.  Of course, there are sometimes new seasons of life which require us to re-visit old decisions.

5.  Distinguish between melody and harmony.  On some topics, it's not okay to sing different notes.  On other topics, different notes provide beauty and interest that make two better than one.  I believe husbands and wives need to sing the same note, regardless of their tendencies in the area of raising the kids and spending/saving money.  I believe that we should embrace different ways of doing things when it comes to the way we relate to people, serve at church and think.  The best singers in the world learn how to lead, and when to harmonize.  I've learned a lot about this, but I hope to keep growing.

6.  "Speaking the truth in love."  When you grow up, you get both of these traits.  Usually until we grow up, we emphasize one over the other, and when we emphasize one over the other for long enough, we become irrelevant.  "Love without truth is sentimentality.  Truth without love is brutality."  -Gary Hylander

7.  When to say nothing.  I'm terrible at this!  But in marriage, it is often really smart to keep your mouth shut.  This doesn't mean you're not real.  Sometimes it means that you are covering over shortcomings with love.  That's smart.  I'm trying to remember that God does not my words.  I need His Word.

Nikki, happy anniversary! I have loved going to church with you, the way God has used you to change me, learning to give, saying yes to you (and no to everyone else), singing some melody, and some harmony, starting to learn to say it with love and also that the world would often be a better place if I kept my mouth shut.  I LOVE YOU!

Friday, May 9, 2014

On Mother's Day

On this Mother's Day, I commend the reading of the Gospel Coalition's "8 Things I want My Toddler to Thank his Mom For (in 20 years)."

In a child-centered and self-centered world I rejoice that I have a wife, and a mom, who personify these characteristics as they follow Christ.  I strongly commend the article to you for your soul's good.  I paraphrase each concept below.  Happy Mother's Day!

1.  It's really not all about the kids.  Moms give children identity (in Christ), not vice verse.

2.  Teach your kids:  always strive for your absolute best, and give yourself tons of grace when you miss the mark.  But never become okay with something less than your best.

3.  As a Mom:  be the first to say "I am sorry," and "Please forgive me."  Don't live in the shadow of dark guilt.  God forgives first and best.

4.  Changing this world will come through 80 years of daily obedience to Christ--not from your kid's ability to throw a ball or play a violin.  Keep this in mind.  Character development ranks higher than abilities on the importance meter.

5.  Day-in, day-out: review it in prayer, reading and modelling:  God is your kid's only hope.  And they don't "get it" (or "have Him") just because they prayed a prayer.  Keep living out the Gospel.  Every day.

6.  If your life is defined by one human relationship, its the love you have for your husband--your kid's dad.  That means your life is not defined by how your kid responds to you (or not) today.  Be the best wife you can be.  If you are divorced, honor your kid's dad with every word you utter.

7.  Bring your kid to church and teach them to serve at your side.  Let them stay at church for hours.  Let them be inconvenienced by the fact that you are (at least sometimes) the last to leave.  Prayerfully understand your kid's spiritual gift before they do and encourage them in it.  This is part of what it means to "Train up a child in the way he should go . . ."

8.  Let your life be gladly inconvenienced by your kid.  And never point it out to them (or rarely!).  They won't get it for many years, but maybe they will thank you in 20 years.

Thanks, Nikki, for living this legacy!  I love you!

Friday, February 14, 2014


It's been 22 years of marriage.  Well over 8000 blissful days. . . except for those 4 days.  And this is our 26th Valentine's Day.  You get to great runs one day at a time, and this we are in the middle of one great run.

You are the picture of sacrifice.  You have given up so much of what could have been.  You could have had more money, more time for yourself, more stuff.  More.  You could have had a career or a Bed and Breakfast or Tea Room (and who knows if you might some day?).  But you happily traded all the might-have-beens for the beauty of a sacrificial and contented "is."

You never complained that I was gone too much (I don't blame you), or that most or all of the nasty home jobs (and dog jobs) became yours.  As I recently unloaded our groceries alone I realized that I don't think I have ever unloaded a full-week's grocery run by myself before.  Never.  Because you always do it.  You never complained about overnight feedings, diapers, boys crawling on you or our home making you stir-crazy.  You never complained about not finishing your college degree (for me), or why my Master's Degree took 6 years and thousands of dollars and countless hours away from a young mom with three little boys.  You did complain when I came home from my Master's classes with Kopp's breath and none for you, but hey . . . (remember when I would bring home Rainforest Crunch???)  You don't complain now when a busy day at work gives way to a busier night at home as you pull together laundry, tomorrow's lunches, pie sales and the bars a young man needs to make for Spanish class--which you were just told about, and are needed tomorrow (okay, sometimes you might complain a little).

But you do it all with grace.  There are bumps.  Sometimes a little blow-up.  But, oh the grace!  I praise my God for you!

It's my hope to give more.  I intend to give you Jesus.  Security. Love.  Protection.  Refuge.  Time.  Inspiration.  Guidance. And, when you need it, me.

This Valentine's Day I see that you are way outpacing me in the giving department, and in the not complaining department.  And in the grace department.  Actually, you are outpacing me in all the departments.  But it's my hope to be the kind of guy who makes you know that God is there, who never makes you afraid to submit to him and who leads your heart, rather than follows it.

I can't wait for 22 more Valentine's Days!  8,000 more blissful days (and four more other kinds of days).  I will never ask you to be my Valentine.  You are my Valentine.  I love you!

ps What is the Flavor of the Day at Kopp's tomorrow?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

22 years of bliss

Today I celebrate my wife of 22 years, my dearest Nicole.  She is my light.

Giddy attraction, to Christ, yes, and one another defined our start
Our goal was happily ever after
Young lovers' ears cannot hear of coming sacrifice and death which wisdom would impart
From "I do" thereafter

But the next pain came, at the Master's hand and it was mercy to feel His blows
Die for change and change or die
For two to become one means everything must change and two foes
Decide to forfeit separate dreams for aye

Happily ever after comes as we dream and work together, my dear
Adopting his ways is still a daily fight
Your love, obedient and selfless has overcome fear
You are my light

So Christ first, and together he has blessed beyond reason
3 mighty oaks planted in grace
Beside the river that brings fruit in His season
What joy to see Him chase

I have learned more from loving you than from any other soul
To love right and live there
And run to Jesus, making Him the finish goal
And learn His love to share

You are my life and breath and I love you now
More than life
Could have hoped I would vow
In the strife

And years till ahead for giving and living and swimming in His graces
22 have been used in His hand
And our boys have become men before our faces
And here we stand

I love you!!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pray for your family. Around the world.

Someone recently encouraged me to blog as I prepare for Sunday services.  So I am going to try that here.

  • 75% of those persecuted for their faith around the world are persecuted because they are Christians.

  • More people have been martyred for Christ in the last 100 years than in the previous 1,900 years combined.
Dear Lord, 

Your ways are perfect.  It is good for those who hate you to see those who love you suffer.  It is good for those who love you to hold on to you in the midst of trouble.  In this place, near your heart, we know you are good, we know you hear us, we know you are for us.  

Would you hold your children near your heart today?  Would you show them your strength and tender loving kindness?  Would you protect their bodies and souls?  Would you close the eyes of their enemies to conceal our brothers and sisters?  Would you open the eyes of their enemies to your glory?  

May the garden of their suffering yield fruit for the Kingdom 100-fold.  May their momentary suffering be a fertilizer of hearts and souls to Jesus forever.  May we, their immediate kin, enter into their suffering through knowing them and entering our Father's throne room with them daily.  May their lives press us to see Jesus' sacrifice, and Jesus' crown.

They have been found worthy to suffer, putting on display again the mind and heart of Christ, who did not hold on to what he might have had in this world, but instead let it go to accomplish God's perfect plan and to embrace real life--eternal life.  They have lost their life, and even despised it, to gain the hope of resurrection in belonging to God forever.  

May we who suffer lightly in this world be ready to follow our brothers and sisters in complete obedience a the Spirit leads.  May we not hold on to what does not matter.  And may we not let go of what you have placed in our hands.  

Because Jesus raised from the dead the third day, we know we will live forever with you.  We know we belong to you.  The realities of what is promised becomes even clearer than the mist of what is physical in this world.  Our faith will be sight. This is blessed hope.  


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cry out to the Lord

What does it mean to "Cry out to the Lord?"  (2 Chronicles 20:1-13)

A powerful and huge army is approaching Jehoshaphat, putting the people of Judah in deep trouble.  Their opponents have more people and more weapons.  They are a numerous horde of people, and Judah, on paper, could not withstand this attack.

Jehoshaphat did NOT do several things.  He did not try every option and then, because nothing seemed to be working, turn to the Lord.  He did not pray as he made up his mind about what to do next.  He did not "pray" and then try to get others to "answer" his request through the power of suggestion.

As I prepare a sermon on 2 Chronicles 20, I am learning what "Crying out to the Lord" is all about.  Here are some things I am starting to learn:

1.  Cry out to the Lord, even if it's your fault.  I am in no position to complain if he chooses to NOT deliver me.  Jehoshaphat was told that an earlier alliance with Ahab was a sin that God was going to judge.  I don't know if this situation was judgment for sin or just a trial to produce faith.  Even if the situation you find yourself in is judgment for your sin, your only source of help comes from the LORD.  Cry out to him.

2.  Cry out to the Lord, even if it seems too late.  By the time Jehoshaphat got the word that an army was assembled against him, he had no hope of winning a war.  They were 15-20 miles away, and they grossly outnumbered him.  But he prayed.  And he led his friends to cry out to the Lord.  "Guys," he said, "earnestly pray, and fast."  Honestly, turn off the TV, get rid of the phone, go into a room and talk to God.  It's not too late if you can still pray.

3.  Cry out to the Lord, even if the foe is huge.  Depression?  A load of debt?  A season of life you despise? An ending you didn't want?  A foe who is succeeding?  A sense in your heart that the very name of God is being trodden in the mud?  Addiction?  Honestly, with hands off every option, cry out to the Lord.  If the answer seems to make you look completely stupid, trust the Lord.

4.  Cry out to the Lord, making no move to act in your own defense.  Oh, how I love the words spoken by Jehoshaphat:  "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You."  Honestly, now--when was the last time you prayed--and meant--that prayer?  I confess that I have only prayed that prayer three-four times in my whole life.  And it was always right before I learned the best lessons of my life.  Now, we can't contrive these lessons, and to be fair, life is not meant to be lived in "alarming" and dangerous moments at all times.  But these dangerous moments that make fear well-up inside of us are opportunities to cry out to the Lord.

So Lord, I lay down my defense, I refuse to devise a fleshly plan, and I know that I don't deserve it, but today, with my danger in view, I cry out to you.  I do not know what to do, and my eyes are fixed upon you.

Friday, May 17, 2013

When does a father let go?

I remember it like it was yesterday.  Hands scarred from putting together a second-hand crib and stained nursery blue.  It was the neatest room in the house for a while.  We would go and stand there, waiting and praying, and the shadows from the nightlight gave just enough light to reveal a perfect room.  The young couple thought they were ready.

A doctor's visit on a fall day gave us a false sense that we had some time.  But the day of a child's birth should not be predicted well--after all, few of the other days of parenthood will be predictable.  Seated in a booth in a Columbus restaurant the young couple enjoyed the last meal they ever had in this world prior to being "Mommy" and "Daddy."  Common and supernatural at the same time.  The young couple was ready.

Car seats.  Trimmed fingernails that draw blood.  Discerning the cries that had to be stilled and calmed from the cries that had to be disciplined or ignored.  Diapers.  Sleepless nights.  The first smile.  The second smile.  The first smile you thought was on purpose.  Floppy little necks.  Winter pajamas.  Listening at the door for breathing in the middle of the night.  Making every decision together.  Prayer.  Drool everywhere.  Baths.  Cameras.  Thinking about parenting every minute of the day.  Tiny socks--tiny socks in the laundry.  Baby food.  Rice cereal.  Teeth coming in.  Rolling over.  Up on all fours.  Coffee tables and bruises.  The joy of getting baby out of bed, the smell of Desitin.  A warm bed.  Reading stories.  The dreaded first doctor's visit when you had tried everything, but he needed something more.  And the relief of knowing and providing what he needed.

I have done a fair bit of reflecting and processing with my wife.  Preparing for launch is gut-wrenching, not because we want to hold on forever, but because we have never done this before.  So in this moment of high school graduation and college approaching, I remind myself of 3 big truths.

1.  God designed families to launch their kids.  This world needs Christians to be launched into new areas of influence, thinking and difference-making.  Our kids have gifts and perspectives to share with this world that is going to make this world a better place.  Whether it's music, math or people, our kids are passionate and gifted.  When will they learn that God is sufficient and faithful to supply their every need in Christ?  When they must look to him themselves.  The spaceship flies high, while the launching pad gets scorched.  All necessary.  All right.  Moses instructed us (even before their was sin in the world) that "for this reason a man will leave father and mother . . ."  And all is right in the world.

2.  It's gonna hurt more now and less later.  The first pulling away feels the worst.  Things change--more than you thought, and in ways you had not considered.  And at first, I am sure the change will be more than it even needs to be.  At first his new found freedoms may feel like being un-considered and maybe even forgotten.  But we will forge ahead.  My kids will know that I made many mistakes and that Dad and Mom are not perfect.  But they will also settle in to a healthy rhythm which will draw them back.  Relating as adults will be rewarding.  And my wife and I will always be their parents.  That will never change.

3.  God will supply for our every need.  I have a need for connection. I also want to know how we are going to help pay for college, adjust to new relationships and how it will feel on the first Thanksgiving without them.  What will it be like when they plan their own spring break or have a summer job in another state, or when we meet the girl they will one day marry?  One day the graduations and weddings may give way to hospitals in new cities with waiting rooms and babies crying.  There will be friends they share life with that we don't know too well.  And hopefully, an amazing church family that is our kids' life-blood, but that we know only through friend suggestions on Facebook.

The young couple thought they were ready.  The older couple knows that life is hard, and no longer feels ready.  But we are ready for this new and beautiful chapter.  New friends. Exciting chapters.  Rockets launching and re-entering and splash-landing.  God is faithful.

The most rewarding moments in our life happen when we have to trust God to come through or life will simply fall apart.  And we find him to be completely faithful.  And the news that we have heard all our lives sinks deep into the recesses of our hearts because now our eyes have seen that God really is faithful.  And we want our boys to see it for themselves.  We want them to see him for themselves.  Completely.

Those little fingers are no longer wrapped around my thumb as my sons drift off to sleep in safety.  Our prayer is that their fingers are now firmly wrapped around God's fingers, like ours were, as they launch out to make disciples of all nations in Jesus' name.

This older couple is ready.  Trusting.  Broken.  Praying.  And all is right in the world.

A father never lets go.