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November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Weekend Begins!

A weekend of Thanksgiving celebrations kicked off on Wednesday night with Taylor's arrival home from Colorado Springs where she's been preparing for her upcoming three month mission trip since September. Taylor's boyfriend, Clayton, arrived to with a comical homecoming surprise. He had his hair cut in a mullet! (Yes, it was a joke).

Clayton joined the four of us on Thanksgiving morning for our annual excursion to Grandma Jeanne and Grandpa Dean's in Des Moines. The entire family was gathered together for the first time since Grandpa and Grandma's 50th Anniversary celebration in September 2007. The day was spent devouring Grandma's cinnamon rolls, eating, playing games, eating, watching football, eating, and more eating. We even celebrated Madison, Bonnie and Ellie's birthdays.

Wendy and I returned home late in the afternoon with Madison. Taylor and Clayton left earlier in the afternoon to visit Clayton's family. The girls and Clayton headed to celebrate with their mom's family in Osky, while Wendy and I settled in for a quiet evening together. We watched a movie, played Wii bowling, spent some time looking through old family photos and fought to keep our eyes open.

Claytons Mullet 2008 11  Cuzzes 2008 11  Tay and Wendy 2008 11  Thanksgiving feast 2008 11  Thanksgiving bday celebrations 2008 11  Thanksgiving lovers 2008 11  Thanksgiving afternoon 2008 11

November 26, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 88

The blues. Abandoned as already dead, one more body in a stack of corpses, And not so much as a gravestone— 
I'm a black hole in oblivion
. Psalm 88:4-5 (MSG)

The road of life has as many dark valleys as hilltop vistas, and every wayfarer through life will walk through his share of them. Everyone gets the blues. One of the major symptoms of a bad case of the blues is the sense that you are utterly alone. When you've got it bad, you are convinced that you alone know this depth of isolation, pain, and suffering. "Just one more body in a stack of corpses."

Psalm 88 is an ancient blues tune.

I love blues music. Not only does it move both your heart and your feet, but it's a place where you can find companionship and camaraderie in the midst of your your own personal struggle. Two are better than one, we're told in the book of Ecclesiastes, because you have someone to, at the very least, help keep you warm in the cold. The blues give us an antidote for that feeling of isolation in our pain. Someone else has been to a dark place like the place I'm in, and they wrote a song about it.

Everyone needs a good dose of blues music now and then, just to help keep us company on tough stretches of the sojourn.

November 25, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 87

Jerusalem from Mt. of Olives LR He founded Zion on the Holy Mountain— and oh, how God loves his home! Loves it far better than all the homes of Jacob put together! God's hometown—oh! everyone there is talking about you! Psalm 87:1-3 (MSG)

When you live in Iowa, a common question you are asked in any introduction is, "Are you a fan of Iowa or Iowa State?" My answer is always "yes." In fact you can add me as a fan of Northern Iowa and Drake, too. I went to college in Chicago with many students from Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin who playfully looked down their noses at Iowa (joke I heard far too many times: "Hey Tom! Did you know that Iowa stands for 'Idiots Out Walking Around?'"). I cheer for any Iowa team who plays any team from Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Most of us have a certain spot in our hearts for home. We know that it's a special place. Special places get songs written about them. It's not surprising that many psalms sing praises to Jerusalem and the hill of Zion where the city and Solomon's temple was built. It is a special place for many reasons.

How interesting that Korah prophetically pointed to the most important reason. Almost a thousand years before Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, Korah references all those who will be born anew there, those whose names are written in God's book. It's not because of the city itself, but because of the One who would be sacrificed there for our iniquities. The descendent of David who, in Jerusalem, would conquer the grave.

Which brings to mind another song..."Start spreading the news!"

November 24, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 86

Hearts and minds. Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I'll worship in joyful fear. Psalm 86:12 (MSG)

In the city where I grew up, at the time I was in high school, there were two large churches with large youth groups. They were the churches to attend if you were a kid who wanted to be involved in church. The church I attended was focused on helping us learn and grow in our faith. We were provided with a plethora of Bible study options. Discipleship classes taught the spiritual disciplines of study, prayer, meditation and scripture memory. Our minds were being fully prepared.

The other youth group, down the street, was focused on emotional, ecstatic worship experiences. They were encouraged to throw their whole heart into worship each week. The music was excellent and lent itself to a great worship experience.

I thought about this dichotomy when I read Psalm 86 this morning. It's not that either group was right or wrong. There was just a different emphasis. One emphasized the discipline of the mind while the other focused more on the heartfelt experience. I sometimes feel my mind engaged in worship, though my heart isn't in it. Other times I feel my heart swept away in a wave of ecstatic emotion, leaving my brain somewhere back on shore. I want both my mind and heart engaged and united when I worship.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickrand mad paul

November 23, 2008

Two Ball in the Corner Pocket

Intensity 

November 21, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 85

Just one step. Why not help us make a fresh start—a resurrection life? Psalm 85:6a (MSG)

I remember standing on the end of the three meter diving board as a child. I stepped out to the end and curled my toes around the end of the board. Then I looked down at shimmering stars of sunlight reflecting off the bright turquoise water of Northwest Municipal Swimming Pool. My heart was beating. Fear gripped me like a vice. Only one step and I would feel the exhilaration of nothing but air, the excitement of plunging into the cool, crisp depths, and the satisfaction of finally taking that one step. I couldn't do it. I went running back to the ladder.

"You don't understand the terrible things I've done" someone once told me as they fought against God calling them to follow. Just this week a woman said to me, "there are skeletons in my closet that I would never want anyone to find." I know the feeling. I believe we all do. Past mistakes grip me like a vice. I feel unworthy. The weight of guilt and shame keeps me standing in shadow. I hate hiding in the darkness, but I'm also terribly afraid of stepping into the light.

Just one step and I can confess these things and let them go. One step and I can feel the Light surround me, chasing the shadows away. One step and I can feel the exhilaration of freedom from my burden and the plunge into God's love, forgiveness, and unmerited favor.

Just one step.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickrand John Curley.

November 20, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 84

035 third One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I'd rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sinPsalm 84:10 (MSG)

I have a personal struggle with church buildings. While I appreciate their function and their beauty, I find that they distract me from the truth. It's easy for me to get focused on the bricks, mortar, steel and stained glass as the house of God. It gets me thinking that the church building is God's house. I feel like go I go pay God a visit on Sunday and then leave Him behind when I walk out the door to live my own life. God becomes grandma.

Back in the ancient day the Psalms were written, the temple in Jerusalem was the center of worship. That's the way God set it up. There was a worship center on Earch where He chose to have special presence. But, after Jesus resurrection, everything changed. God made it clear that our bodies are now the temple and His Spirit takes up residence within our very own flesh and blood. My body is God's house.

That puts a whole new twist on a verse like Psalm 84:10. Better is one day worshiping God in my own body than a thousand elsewhere. I'd rather be contentedly living daily life fully aware of God present in me than running around submitting my body to willfully disobedient and unhealthy places and practices.

November 19, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 83

Not_listeningGod, don't shut me out; don't give me the silent treatment, O God. Psalm 83:1 (MSG)

My daughter is trying to figure out her future. She put off her freshman year in college to spend the year on a missions trip abroad. So, she knows what's she's doing for the next few months, but then things get really fuzzy. She's not sure what she's going to do when she gets back. There are so many options available to her. She prays for clarity, but God seems silent.

I was hanging out the other morning with some friends. One of them asked another what his plan was regarding a significant life choice ahead. "I don't know," the other answered, "I pray about it all the time. I keep asking God for the road map, but He won't give it to me."

My wife and I have been praying consistently and continuously for years that God would answer one specific request. The answer has not come and I must admit that I am often left feeling shut out by the silence I feel from God's end of the conversation. I hate it when God is silent. Though, it seems a common experience. Even the most faithful of followers feel their prayers bounce off the ceiling at times.

I always remind myself of some of the impassioned requests I made of my parents when I was young. Sometimes I felt that my plea fell on deaf ears, but now I look back and understand why. In some cases I was being a self-centered child and needed to grow up. In other cases, granting my request would not have, ultimately, been good for me. Despite my abject frustration at the time, I realize my parents had my best interest in mind. I have to trust that my Heavenly Father does, as well.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and benandjenn

November 18, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 82

Here_come_da_judge"You're here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them." Psalm 82:3-4 (MSG)

It's so easy for me to depersonalize God's message to the point that it seems irrelavent. I read Psalm 82, which is clearly Asaph's rant against the judges of Israel back in his day. It is a protest psalm. So what does a 3000 year old protest song about judges have to do with me? Big deal. There's nothing here for me.

Then, I began to think about the judgements I make everyday.

I'm a judge in my family. I dispense justice. I weigh evidence. I make rulings according to our family's code. I hear appeals. I decide cases involving labor, wages, division of property and punishment.

I'm a judge in my business. I weigh evidence. I hear grievances. I make judgments about ethical infractions. I hear appeals. I settle arguments. I decide cases involving labor and wages.

I am a judge. I make decisions that involve the lives of others, even if it's a small set of scales in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, I have an obligation, in my role as family judge and business judge. I have the same obligation as the judges of Israel did to judge fairly, to defend the defenseless, to stand up for the powerless, and to make sure underdogs get a fair break.

November 17, 2008

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 81

DisobedienceSo I let go of the reins and told them, 'Run! Do it your own way!' Psalm 81:12 (MSG)

Very early in my daughters childhood, I established a principle with them. I told them that I would trust them until they did something to prove to me that they were unworthy of that trust. I then warned them that they really didn't want to experience Dad's wrath if they did. As they got older and entered their teen years, my promise became harder to keep. Sometimes, I had a nagging doubts. Other times, I trusted them but I didn't necessarily trust who they were with. Nevertheless, I stuck to the principle and refused to be overly protective or to say "no" just "because I said so." If I was going to rein them in, I had to have a very good reason.

It's a funny thing. My daughters both came to value the trust I placed in them. They didn't want me to become like the blindly judgmental, overbearing parents they saw with some of their friends. They certainly didn't want to lose the trust they had built up with me. They made choices accordingly.

So where did I get the idea for this parenting principle? God. I've tried to model my parenting after the way my heavenly Father parents me. God doesn't stop me from running off and making stupid mistakes. In fact, I've learned (the hard way) over and over again that He is willing to let me fail. When I do blow it, I'm reined in by the consequences of my own actions. I can't argue with whatever rules are suddenly placed to modify my behavior. I put them there. Bitter experience is a better teacher than overprotection.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and nhand47