Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Still Waiting...

After a long day yesterday, we're still waiting. I was all ready to go but Cara's contractions settled down and she's much more her normal self today. So, we'll keep you all posted as things transpire but for now, things are normal. Maybe we'll have a new years day baby after all?

Have a great and safe New Year's Eve and we'll see you in the New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Giving Thanks on Christmas Eve

I'm feeling pretty thankful today.

Thankful that I have the wonderful opportunity to be a pastor in the same neck of the woods that I grew up in. Thankful that all my kids are home from the hospital and doing well. Thankful that I have a beautiful wife that does what I could never do such as birthing my children (something she'll be doing for the sixth time in only a few days). I'm also thankful that I have a roof over my head and food to eat on my table. I'm thankful for my family and friends who have gone out of their way to help us in the past and present. I'm thankful for the chance to reconnect with family and friends during this time of the year. I'm thankful for snow at Christmas (despite all the shoveling I've done and it's only December!)

But most of all, I'm thankful for the love that came down at Christmas all those years ago. And I'm not just saying that. I'm thankful because it's our measure of hope during tough times. It's just what we need even though some of us don't know that we need Him - The Christ and Savior. Just like we look for love in all the wrong places, I'm confident many of us have been looking for our savior in all the wrong places too. Still, the gift that keeps on giving is right there in front of us this Christmas (and every other day too).

Remember that this Eve of Christmas and be sure to tell others about the reason for your hope in the year ahead.

Blessings and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Uncle David

When someone you've known passes away, a little piece of your life is removed. A void replaces a relationship you once had. As I reflect on the life of my Uncle David, I'm feeling both thankful and sad. Thankful knowing that he doesn't have to suffer any more. Sad, knowing that I'll never see him again on this side of heaven.

The Good News - and there is Good News - is that when someone dies whose a follower of Christ, our hope overshadows our sorrow. Our belief in a new life and a new body overrides our feelings of grief and sadness. Yes, we grieve, but our grief is mixed with hope. This is how I feel about David. Despite having Down Syndrome, David lived a life that many of us would be envious of. His was a simple life. The littlest things could make him happy. Whether it was sitting in his room listening to music or watching reruns of his favorite TV program, David experienced joy on a level that many of us probably never do. Our lives, unfortunately, are much more complicated and this is mostly our fault. We've filled our lives with too many things and the result is a life of anxiety and complexity that tends to steal the joy right underneath from us.

David, despite his failing health, still found a way to experience joy. He still found a way to smile even when it was quite obvious that he was feeling pretty horrible. He still found a way to make us smile as he recently did just last week-leading us in the singing of Happy Birthday in celebration of my Grandpa's 90th birthday party.

Well, today I can smile as I think of his life because I know I'll see him again. I know where he's going because I know how he lived his life. Thanks to my grandparents, David grew up in a home that loved Jesus. He grew up in an environment that allowed him to learn at his own pace. And because of this, David can sing the Hymns with the best of them.

As I walked out of his hospital room door yesterday afternoon, I said to David: "Good bye, man. See ya later." At first I felt kind of foolish doing this but now I realized that what I was saying to him was the absolute truth. I will see him later. And when I do, while David won't have the same body, what he will have is the same joy and the same smile and I'm confident he'll be singing something.

This is the hope I have this Christmas season. Knowing that because Jesus came down to us and for us, the future is most certainly a bright one.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Search for Peace

It seems that we're all searching for a little peace in our lives. We're all searching for some sense of normalcy in the midst of the circumstances that we find ourselves in. For some of us, our jobs have been lost. This, of course, means coming to terms with the reality that what we've done for a number of years we won't be doing again. And the reality is that an uncertain future brings no small measure of concern and consternation. For others, maybe we've faced a health crisis recently that has thrown us for a loop. Our family has been hit by this in the past week, albeit mildly, creating dis-function and disarray that includes a heap of laundry that never stops building. I can only imagine what it must be like for those families that spend weeks and months at the hospital with little or no idea when they'll get to return to the "normal" life. So, how do we find a measure of peace within such dim and dire circumstances?

Simply put, we quite trying to solve these problems on our own (especially those problems that we have absolutely no control over) and turn these into opportunities for God to work. When we fully surrender to God and allow him to work, suddenly the burdensome nature of our problems goes away. I've been there myself a time or two and, while it's not necessarily easy to do, it's the only way to find peace.

Very few of us are without some problem, situation, bad relationship, etc... in our lives that can quickly steal away the joy that we are to have as followers of Christ. If we allow it to get the best of us, it will. If we turn these problems into opportunities for God to work, we soon find peace returning to an otherwise unpeaceful life. Yes, we can find hope amidst sorrow. Yes, we can find a measure of calm despite the cards that we've recently been dealt.

So, if you're facing some tough days ahead of you, know that the Prince of Peace is willing and able to provide the peace that goes beyond understanding. It's certainly a peace that we are all searching for, and it's a peace that we can find if we will only surrender.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Joy's Home!

Joy is home tonight! She's still in a bit of pain every now and then but the motrin and tylenol keep it manageable. Still, she's eating and drinking well (something she wasn't doing Monday and Tuesday when she was sick). We even caught her doing a little dance on her way to the bathroom tonight from music playing in the background.

Please continue to pray for healing and a quick recovery. It's nice to all be home tonight. Toby (our dog) is enjoying having his family back as well.

Thanks for all of your prayers. It made a big difference!

Joy's Update

Joy is doing pretty well today (Thursday morning) all things considered. She's in a little pain from the surgery and does not want to take any pain medication for it so she's a bit grumpy. They also took some blood from her other arm this morning. They couldn't do it from the IV so she had to get poked - something she REALLY doesn't like.

The doctors have her on solid food as of this morning so she's starting to eat and make progress. They may in fact send her home tonight if she continues to move forward so well. While it would be easier for us parents, I would hate to rush her home too soon though. We'll just have to wait and see.

Thanks again for all of your care and concern during this rather hectic week. Your prayers have been felt and answered. The irony here is that we're talking about Jesus as the "Prince of Peace," this coming weekend. I don't know about you, but I could use a little peace in my life right now so this should help us all during the season upon us.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Joy's Appendix

Thanks for many of your prayers concerning my daughter Joy. As some of you know, she had her appendix removed late last night (Tuesday). According to the surgeon, Dr. Roberts, the appendix had already burst and was pretty severely infected. Hence, all the pain that Joy was complaining about was understandable considering. She's a real trooper, let me tell you and a brave kid to say the least. The doctors and nurses here have been great as well. The lady who explained to her the surgery was incredible - doing it in a way that made sense to a 4 year old. Not too much info but just enough to give Joy a sense of peace about what the surgery would entail. This morning, she even got a visit from the Grinch. She's sleeping again now but eager to go and play in the children's play area here at Devos Children's Hospital. Please continue to pray for the infection and the antibiotics to do their thing. She'll be here for 3 -4 more days to make sure everything is cleared up before she goes home. I'll keep you posted...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Searching for the Savior

Have you ever lost something as significant as a child? I have. In fact, with 5 kids, I'm embarrassed to say that we've lost a few of them a time or two. From a parents perspective, this brings no small amount of anxiety - frantically searching for their child.

Well, Mary and Joseph had a similar experience with Jesus(see Lk. 2). At the age of 12, Jesus and his parents along with a caravan of others in his family, made their way to the temple in Jerusalem. It was the Feast of Passover where it was estimated that nearly 200,000 Jews gathered to celebrate and remember the passover. It was into such a place that Mary, Joseph, Jesus came. All was well, I'm guessing until the Feast was over and the caravan began to make it's way back toward Nazareth. It wasn't long before they realized and recognized that Jesus was not with them. They quickly made their way back only to find (albeit three days later) Jesus hanging out in the Temple. Apparently, he'd been asking all sorts of questions. The response of the people was "amazement," considering he was only 12.

Mary and Joseph weren't all that excited, more like relief I'm sure. "Why have you put us through this?" Mary exclaimed. "We've been searching frantically for you." The response by Jesus in verse 49 is what gets me here. He responds with two questions: "Why were you searching for me?" followed by "Didn't you know I had to be in my father's house doing my father's business." Mary and Jospeh didn't quite get it. They didn't quite notice the signs or they chose to ignore them.

You see, while Mary and Joseph thought they were searching for their Son, what they were really searching for was the Savior of the World.

This fact had somehow alluded them. Even though Gabriel had announced to Mary that Jesus wouldn't be your average boy, even though Simeon had so much as said that Jesus was the Lord's Christ (or Messiah), they still didn't quite get it.

You see, while Mary and Joseph thought they were searching for their Son, what they were really searching for was the Savior of the World.

As many of us miss things right in front of our eyes, they too missed the very fact that their son, Jesus, wasn't just any son. During this holiday season, let's not miss the true reason for the season. As many of us seek peace of mind, prosperity, and help, let us be reminded that what we're really searching for is the Savior of the World. Only he can truly give us that peace of mind and prosperity that we all long for.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thoughts on Time Management

I stumbled upon something this afternoon that I'd like to share: According to one study found at, the average Christian in the U.S. spends 10 minutes with God each day (I think this is stretching) while the average American watches 4 hours of TV.

Whoa! Wait a minute! Here's the source of many of my own problems. If I'm only spending 10 minutes with God amidst a day with lets say 16 wakeful hours, that's pretty bad. I'm not good at math, but those are some pretty horrendous statistics to say the least. Even then, how often do we rush through our "time with God" in order to get on with the rest of our day. I did this this morning, racing through my time with God in order to get to bigger and better things like finalizing the church bulletin ( a topic and a post I'll save for another day).

Really, though, can we be all that surprised when we get so little from God in the area of wisdom and his promised spiritual blessings? Can we really complain about our emotional state of being when we never really tap into the one and only source that can help us? As we approach the New Year, there's no better time to renew our efforts to spend more time with God. Would it really kill us to spend, say a half-hour in prayer and devotion to God? Would that really prevent us from getting to all the other things we need to get to? I think not. If we're really watching 4 hours of TV, only watching 3 1/2 hours won't kill us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thoughts on Tradition

There's a little problem with this thing called "tradition" that I'd like to comment on. Let's face it, at the heart of our makeup is this bent towards the traditional. We joke (or some of us don't) about our family traditions. Maybe for you it's always opening presents on Christmas Day or even holding a party at your house on New Years Eve. Perhaps this year you began a new tradition of going to a movie following your Thanksgiving Dinner ( a good decision this year since the football was hardly football.) Whatever it is, we tend to like tradition. And here's why. It brings comfort to a mostly uncomfortable life.

In the wake of a stumbling economy who can blame us for our desire for stability. Who can blame us for wanting to bring a little control to the situation that we find ourselves in. And I think we do this the best through established traditions that happen in any and all sectors of life. Corporations large and small have traditions. Nonprofits have traditions too of which churches are the most noteworthy. At this time of the year, some churches have the traditional focus on Advent (arrival) of the baby Jesus that culminates in the celebration of his birth on Christmas. Other churches realize and recognize that each sermon is about Christ and therefore don't give all that much attention to Christmas at all. Regardless of how you do it, or have done it, here's a new take on traditional.

I think (although I've been known to think wrongly) that tradition over time becomes bad for our health. Yes, for a time, it's nice and enjoyable but over time it becomes religious and something we do because "we've always done it that way." Not because we particularly like it. Not because we understand why we do it. But because it's the way things have always been. When it gets to this point, it becomes religious. And when it gets religious, we are generally doing it for all the wrong reasons. As an example, if we find ourselves in the discipline of reading through our Bible in a year (which I highly recommend), this simple act of devotion that starts out with excitement and a true desire to Know God, becomes monotonous, boring, and something we do because we can check it off of our "to do list." When we do seemingly religious things, we need to keep it fresh and stay focused in order to keep it from getting the best of us.

So, this year I invite you to celebrate a "Not So Normal Christmas." Do something different, exciting, and downright crazy in order to bring back the joy that tradition has stolen from you. We could use a little more joy! Don't you think?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

False Alarms

It was one o'clock or something like that when the phone rang. The time in the night when either it's a wrong number (which your hoping for) or something bad has happened. Last night it was the latter, or so I thought. The security company of the church was calling me to let me know that the motion detector had detected motion (as it should) at the front entrance to our building. I immediately, albeit groggily and hesitantly, made my 10 minute jaunt up to the church. When I got there, everything looked fine. I opened the doors and disarmed the security system and took a look around. Honestly, I expected the worst. Some broken glass or something of that sort. I was pleasantly surprised to see everything intact. I could also tell that only one car had been up there before myself - the snow falling made this easy enough. I could also see tracks all around the church from one person. I assume (although we know where that often gets you) that these were the police officer's tracks as they would normally be dispatched in such a case. Anyway, after making sure all was well, I took off in hopes of resuming my sleep back at home. Problem is, my adrenaline was jacked up a little too high for me to get back to sleep. A long night to say the least.

This morning I got another call from Pastor Jody. She too was called last night about the alarm. She too, being the valiant warrior that she is, made her sleepy body up to the church to check things out. She too saw nothing amiss and went home. I'm not sure what kind of lesson we're to take from such an experience. There's gotta be something...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Christmas Shopping

There's something weird about going into a woman's clothing store by yourself. This, of course, is coming from a man's point of view. It's one thing to walk into Victoria's Secret with your wife and five kids - it's entirely different to walk in there on your own. People look at you funny. People wonder what your doing there and their suspicious of your motives. All that to say, I try to steer clear of those kinds of stores for the most part.

But this brings to mind the weirdness of Christmas from a Christian's perspective. Maybe it should feel weird for us to be shopping during this time of the year. Maybe we should feel uncomfortable buying gifts for others and picking out gifts for ourselves from the point of view of a Christ follower. I'm not trying to put a damper in the Christmas spirit here, just trying to point out some things about how Christmas is celebrated here in the U.S.

I love this time of the year. For the most part it brings out the best in us, but, as was shown only a few days ago in the horrific death of the Walmart employee, it can also bring out our worst. We are a strange bunch. We'll stand in line for hours or even overnight to save a few pennies and yet how far do we go and how much do we sacrifice to the one who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us? Every year we need to ask ourselves the question: "Doesn't this seem a little weird?" What else could we do this time of the year instead?

I don't have any great or profound answers but I leave you with a thought from one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time. The band was Band Aid ( a mixture of British and American 80's pop icons who got together one day) and they recorded the song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Does the rest of the world know it's Christmas? Does the world living in hunger and without adequate food, water and shelter even have a clue? As we go about our shopping this year, ask yourself this question? How can you and I make a difference?

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Not So Simple Church

I was reading in a book the other day titled "Simple Church" about how complicated we seem to make church. We seem to feel like a church isn't really an attractive one unless we offer programs for every single person we might possibly attract. For the large church, this isn't as big a problem. With a larger staff, programs can be put together to meet those needs. For the small church, this is challenging task. One pastor (or even two) could never do this. Unless there were able bodied lay people willing to pick up the slack, the church would have to simply be resigned to the fact that they could never possibly meet every and all needs - and then feel guilty and bad for seemingly settling.

But then the authors go on to point out that churches can have so many programs and so many events and so many other things that one could fill up their calendars with that they never have time for the other things. For example, if they are so busy with church "stuff," how do they ever get to know their neighbors who might just be unchurched? Or, if they are so busy hanging out with churched folks, how do they ever get to know and develop relationships outside of their comfort zones.

While we can definitely build programs with the best of organizations, perhaps we should stop to think and ponder whether this is what Jesus had in mind. Where two or three are gathered, Christ is. As such, church doesn't have to happen inside four walls. Church doesn't have to exist in a formal environment but can happen over a cup of coffee. In fact, church can happen anyplace and at anytime.

So, this holiday season, don't feel guilty about not filling your calendar with the typical church stuff. Perhaps your family or your neighbor or that stranger needs you more.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Making Coffee

Today is the day that Jody and I learn how to make coffee! Yes, I know how to make coffee but not espresso, lattes, and the other more prevalent and popular drinks that many people love to drink. So, out comes Rodney Hensley, roaster and owner of Sozo's coffee, whom we'll be buying our beans from as we open Tower Coffee here in a few weeks.

Here's a few things we need yet that we really don't have money for. Please pray for funds to purchase the following:

1. An upright fridge (21 cubits) commercial and NSF approved (@ $1000)

2. An under the counter fridge that is also NSF approved (@600)

3. A 50 gallon and 50,ooo BTU Water heater (@$500)

Until we get these items, the Health Dept. will not allow us to move forward. Please pray for provision. We're close but still need to press on...

Thanks for your continued prayers, support, and hard work in the days past as well as for all you will do in the days ahead.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Thoughts on Prayer

This morning I read these words about prayer: Prayer is the "slender nerve that moveth the muscles of Omnipotence." I've never heard it put quite that way before but I like it!

In Exodus 1 and 2, we read that prayer is more than just articulate and well chosen words. Sometimes our prayers feel like this - a little too "canned." We often pray this way before dinner as we simply say: "God bless this food to our bodies. Amen." But here in Exodus, we see that it's because of the bondage that Israel "sighs" and "cries" out to God. Their "groans" become that "slender nerve" the moves God into action. It's out of their anguish and out of their desperation that they plead to God for help.

What this teaches me and hopefully you as well is that the most heartfelt and down-to-earth prayers may just be the ones that God wants to hear from us. Yes, there's room for the "oldies but goodies," but I think God would rather hear us yearning for his help, guidance, and wisdom instead of praying a prayer because we feel like we have to.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thoughts on Winning and Losing

Last night I found myself cheering for the other team. Not because I especially liked the other team but because they managed a valiant comeback and defeated our team. I felt bad for my son and his fellow teammates but I also felt good about the opposing team's ability to mount a final surge against all odds.

What I didn't enjoy, and frankly found somewhat repulsive, was the attitude of the opposing team's coach and parents. Being a little different, my younger son and I decided to sit in the bleachers closest to the entrance which just so happened to be the visiting team's bench. To sum it up, our claps and cheers were met by silence and a few turned heads. Nonetheless, as the came unfolded, I heard several comments from these parents and a few remarks by the coaches that seemed unfair. At one point, with their team behind, one gentleman professed quite loudly that the coach needed to move to a "bigger" lineup in order to better match up with ours. I also heard lots of snide remarks about the referees and the "unfairness" of many of the calls. But, what really set me off was the yelling from the parents and coaches at the kids themselves. You'd a thought these kids were playing for all the marbles or something like that. Instead, I wanted to remind the parents that they were watching 7th grade basketball and that these kids are only12 and 13 years old.

As the game came to a conclusion and it was evident who was going to win, I was honestly a little relieved. If the visiting team had lost, and these parents had to leave the building with such a weight, I'm not sure what would have happened. Thankfully, their kids came out on the winning side and after enduring what they endured from both their coach and parents, I was really happy for them. Nevertheless, I hope and pray that I don't ever come across this way as a parent. Winning and losing graciously is not easy but it sure does say a lot about one's character.