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September 30, 2008

Chapter-a-Day 2 Thessalonians 1

TommadisonlrYou need to know, friends, that thanking God over and over for you is not only a pleasure; it's a must. We have to do it. Your faith is growing phenomenally; your love for each other is developing wonderfully. Why, it's only right that we give thanks. We're so proud of you; you're so steady and determined in your faith despite all the hard times that have come down on you. We tell everyone we meet in the churches all about you. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 (TM)

"We're so proud of you," I've heard my parents say countless times. From Cub Scouts, to Little League, to graduation, ordination and beyond. I never tire of hearing the words. The feeling that comes with knowing I've made my parents proud never loses its power. We all need encouragement, and there is no better encouragement than that which comes from those closest to us.

I attended parent-teacher conferences for my daughter, Madison, the other week. She is a Junior in high school. I went from teacher to teacher asking them how Madison is doing in class. Beyond hearing that her grades were good, I heard a steady stream of phrases, such as:

"She is a great example for others to follow."
"I know I can always count on Madison to contribute."
"She's a delight."
"Her faith is a testimony to everyone."
"Madison is making a difference in our world."
"I hope my daughters turn in to a young woman like Madison."

Granted, teenagers don't make you proud 100 percent of the time. They each come with a level of aggravations and a bevy of pull-your-hair-out frustrations from day to day. My parents, I'm sure, would say the same of me as a teenager! Nevertheless, as I sat there and listened to teachers make comments like that I had to choke back my own emotions. I couldn't be more proud. Thanking God for her "is not only a pleasure; it's a must."

I couldn't wait until she got home to tell her how proud I was of her...again. In fact, I can't wait to tell her again, and again, and again. We all need encouragement.

The affect a parent's praise can have on their child does not tarnish with age.

September 29, 2008

Chapter-a-Day 1 Thessalonians 3

Sweet_sorrowNot that the troubles should come as any surprise to you. You've always known that we're in for this kind of thing. It's part of our calling. 1 Thessalonians 3:3 (TM)

My wife and I spent a long weekend at the lake together. The lake is a refuge for us. It's a place where we can rest our weary souls and have long conversations. The conversations usually meander here and there like a trail through the dense forest. We talk about our marriage. We talk about the girls. We talk about movies, politics, art and other favorite subjects. There is no agenda. Nevertheless, crucial conversations always seem to emerge.

Over brunch on Saturday, the conversation turned to face the reality that one of our greatest desires has, as of yet, gone unfulfilled. Wendy brought up the fact that God does not promise us happiness, nor do we have the right to our desires. Before God, she surmised, we have no rights at all.  For anyone who has long desired that God fulfill a certain hope, this is a difficult truth to accept. Most of us are used to lives in which almost any reasonable desire, whim or fancy is easily fulfilled. The idea that we have no rights to our desires cuts against the grain of the culture in which we were raised.

This morning's verse from 1 Thessalonians brought that crucial conversation back to mind. God "never promised us a rose garden," as the old song goes. Difficulty and various troubles are part of the calling when you follow Jesus on the narrow road. God's ultimate purpose is not to give us all that our selfish, self-centered hearts desire, but to transform us into the selfless, Christ-centered individuals He desires us to be.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and lucid_nightmare.

Morning Stroll


September 27, 2008

The Last Hurrah of Summer

AhhhhhhhI haven't done much filling in these past few weeks. I've been struggling just to get my chapter-a-day post published! Wendy and I left Thursday night to drive down to the lake. This is the final hurrah of summer for us. We'll return in late October to help the folks winterize the playhouse. This weekend is all about rest, relaxation and fun. The weather is beautiful. We spent a couple of hours yesterday on the boat. During the summer season there are so many boats on the water that it's too rough to go very fast. Now that there are few people on the lake, the water was smooth and we tooled about fifteen miles up the lake and back. It was a cloudless sky. The sun was warm and the breeze was cool. Perfect.

As for what's been happening with the V.W.s:

  • It's Homecoming week for Madison. She has been focused on helping the Junior class win the class competition. She stopped by the other morning to show us her "nerd" costume for "Nerd Day" and was over a couple of times this week getting Wendy's advice and sewing her indian costume for "Cowboy & Indian Day". She called last night to let us know that the Juniors did prevail! She's photographer for the yearbook and has been busy taking pictures of various sporting events. She's also started rehearsals for "Cheaper by the Dozen" for Union Street Players. She has one of the main parts. The show will be the first weekend of December. I had parent/teacher conferences last week and her teachers unanimously love her! :)
  • Taylor is having an amazing experience at YWAM. We had a Skype call from her the other night and it was good to see her and hear all about what God is doing. You can follow along on her blog, if you wish.
  • Wendy has been busy with work, chairing the script committee for Union Street Players, and producing "Cheaper by the Dozen." She went to Des Moines this week to visit her friend, Sarah, who was recently in the hospital with a blood clot and is on bed rest with her pregnancy.
  • Work has been busy with projects due, proposals for 2009 to be writtern, performance management, and the on-going task of client development. My part in "Cheaper by the Dozen" is very small (which is fine with me!), but with both Wendy and Madison highly involved I volunteered to design lights for the show.

As you can tell, things have been plenty busy, so this last hurrah at the lake is a much needed break for Wendy and me.

September 26, 2008

Chapter-a-Day 1 Thessalonians 2

P_calandYou remember us in those days, friends, working our fingers to the bone, up half the night, moonlighting so you wouldn't have the burden of supporting us while we proclaimed God's Message to you. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 (TM)

I come from a line of Dutch protestants, who gave themselves wholly to the belief that hard work is a spiritual discipline. They believed that your tedious, daily grind should be done as though Jesus, himself, was watching over your shoulder and would be passing judgment at the end of the day. Your commitment to daily labor and the quality of your work is a reflection your love and devotion to God. Others can tell how much you love Jesus by how well you carry out your rote, daily tasks.

My great-grandfather came alone to America, from South Holland, in the late 1800s [on the ship P.Caland, pictured]. You can call it the "protestant work ethic" or the "Dutch work ethic", but he diligently scratched a new life for himself out of the northwest Iowa prairie. I saw that same sense of indvidualism and hard work in his son, my grandfather. I see it in my father. I feel it in my own veins.

A job isn't just about money. Hard work done well yields far more than a paycheck.

September 25, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Mark 12

The_narrow_pathSitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, "The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford—she gave her all." Mark 12:41-44 (TM)

The church was nothing more than a poorly constructed shack. The walls were a mixture of second hand boards and some scraps of sheet metal. The pews were patched together with old boards and logs. The floor was bare dirt. The altar was an old, discarded table. Yet, it was the only piece of furniture that wasn't patched together.

I was in a remote part of the Philippines and had been asked to preach at this ramshackle church. People emerged from the dense foliage to gather and worship. I was amazed and surprised by the sheer number of people pressing into the church when it seemed that we were in the middle of nowhere.

"Where did all these people come from?" I asked my host and interpreter.

He then explained to me that most of them had walked from villages miles away. Some had walked through the night to meet, to worship, and to hear God's word. I am amazed today by the memory as I was at that moment of realization. These people were hungry enough for God that they would hoof it ten hours through the jungle. I sometimes balk at driving the half-mile to my church on Sunday morning.

I have a lot to learn about sacrifice.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and nielsb

September 24, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Mark 7

So_what_if_they_seem_strange[Jesus] went on: "It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution." Mark 7:20-23 (TM)

"You have such a strange mix of friends," a friend once told me. I'm not sure he meant it as a compliment. It was, however, a true assessment. As long as I can remember, I have had relationships with people from diverse walks of life and varying social groups. In high school, I mingled with a plethora of jocks, nerds, burn-outs, band geeks, religious kids, and those strange theatre types. I find that most people are wonderful. The fact that they may be different challenges and intrigues me.

From time-to-time, I get the feeling that certain church friends are uncomfortable with the company I sometimes keep. There is a relational comfort level they seem to maintain. It seems to me that they want to confine their relationships to those acceptable few who comfortably fit into their socio-religious box. It's easy to limit myself to persons who goes to my church, look like me, believe like me, and generally live in a manner acceptable to my religious comfort zone.

And yet, some who appear to fit in my nice, comfortable, religious box have lives that exemplify the very "pollution" Jesus was talking about. At the same time, I find people who appear to be so uncomfortably different from me who are filled with genuine love, honesty, faith and goodness. I believe I'm a better person for knowing them.

I try not to get hung up on the appearance of the wrapping, but to look at what is inside.

Creative commons photo courtesy of Flickr and carulmare.

September 23, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Mark 6

Don't think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. Mark 6:8 (TM)

When I was a young believer, at the age of 16, I felt God prompting me to share His message with others. I wasn't sure what that meant or how it exactly worked, but I truly believed God was calling me to do so. Within two months of this prompting, I was asked to give a message at the youth service in my church. A few months later I was asked to travel the state each week with a youth choir to give the message in the middle of the choir's concerts. That prompted more opportunities for me to share at camps and churches and conferences.

I had no formal theological education. I had no specific training. I was not ordained by a denomination. I was not given lessons. There was no special eqiupment. The truth of the matter was that I entered into a relationship with Jesus and Jesus changed my life. I simply wanted to share that experience with others. I chose to believe that I could do it, that God would equip me with what I needed, and that God would give me opportunity.

I learned in those years not to place limits what God can do through me.

September 22, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Mark 5

It_has_an_off_buttonJesus overheard what they were talking about and said to the leader, "Don't listen to them; just trust me."  Mark 5:36 (TM)

Voices. There are so many voices I hear each day. As time goes on, the sheer number of voices seem to rise exponentially. There are voices on my radio, voices on my iPod, voices on my television, voices in print, voices in my car, voices on the streets, voices in my client's office, voices in my church and voices in my home. So many words come flying at me from all directions. It gets all confusing at times. There are so many mixed messages. There are so many messages eminating from mixed motives.

Jairus heard mixed messages. The voice of those telling him his worst fears came in one ear. The voice of Jesus telling him to trust filled the other. Jesus made it clear to Jairus that he had a choice.

"Don't listen to them," Jesus said. 

I choose the voices to which I listen. I choose to read a chapter each day. I desire to choose wisely.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Mal Haigh.

September 21, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Mark 4

"Are you listening to this? Really listening?" Mark 4:9 (TM)

As I approached the age of 40, I noticed that I was having difficulty making out what people were saying when they spoke to me. It was extremely frustrating. I could hear that others were speaking. I could hear the general tone of their voice. I couldn't, for the life of me, understand the exact words they were saying. I went to the audiologist to discover I had significant hearing loss in my left ear. There are certain tones that my ear no longer picks up well, if at all. As a result, it's hard for my brain to register the specific words people are saying.

Earlier this year I purchased a hearing aid for my left ear. The device certainly helps, but it isn't perfect. Even with the hearing aid, I must strain to understand other people's words. It's a strange feeling. It often takes my brain extra time to register the noises I've heard and put them into an intelligible message. As a result, I will sometimes smile and nod while I'm waiting (and praying) that my brain can properly decipher the words in the next second or two. My wife has caught on to this. She will often ask me point blank, "Did you really hear me, or are you just smiling and nodding?"

I find it interesting that Jesus often asked his followers, "Are you really listening?" I would have to guess that Jesus often felt just like my wife feels in a conversation with me. We smile and nod at the teaching, but there's a disconnect between the ear drum and the brain. The message certainly doesn't get from the brain to the heart. "Are you listening? Really listening?"

God, aid my ears in hearing exactly what you are saying to me. Help your message to be received by both my brain and my heart.