Wednesday, December 31, 2008

For Thought : 123108

A few quotes from Oswald Chambers that I read this morning. You can view the complete writing online by clicking here.

"Our present enjoyment of God's grace is apt to be checked by the memory of yesterday's sins and blunders. But God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them in order to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual culture for the future. God reminds us of the past lest we get into a shallow security in the present."

"God's hand reaches back to the past and makes a clearing-house for conscience."

"As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, unremembering delight, nor with the flight of thoughtlessness but with the patient power of knowing that the God is Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

With 2009 less than 24 hours away (in the central time zone at least), I'm guessing that "resolution" is a fairly hot topic right now for a lot of people... as in, "New Year's Resolution." lists 276 "clusters" that provide links to websites that are in one way or another related to the term "resolution"... conflict, dispute resolution, image, council, Iraq, high-resolution, screen, and human rights violations are just some examples. Interestingly enough, "New Year's" is not among the 276 clusters.

On to the topic at hand. defines a "New Year's Resolution" as "a commitment that an individual makes to a project or the reforming of a habit, often a lifestyle change that is generally interpreted as advantageous." The name is obviously related to the implementation of these commitments on New Year's Day.   

Google search for "New Year's Resolution" brings up more than 2.5 million hits in about the same amount of time that it takes for a major league fastball to travel from the pitcher's mound to the catcher's mitt. You will find tips and guides and facts and figures to help you stick to and even come up with resolutions for the year ahead. There's a "Top Ten" list that includes (1) spend more time with family & friends, (2) fit in fitness, (3) tame the bulge, (4) quit smoking, (5) enjoy life more, (6) quit drinking, (7) get out of debt, (8) learn something new, (9) help others, and (10) get organized. You can actually go to a government-sponsored website that lists popular New Year's Resolutions. And, no surprise here, but you can find out what famous celebrities have resolved to do this year. For example, British pop star Cheryl Cole wants to go up one clothing size because she thinks she looks too skinny... poor thing. Britney Spears wants to stop biting her nails... seriously?... seems like that's the least of her problems to me. Kim Kardashian wants to tone up more and continue to get in shape. Kanye West promises to be nicer to paparazzi, which is a very good idea considering he found himself in hot water at LAX a few months ago for shoving a camera into a photographer's face. Tom Arnold wants to adopt a child. Ty Pennington wants to stay healthy and spend more time with his family and friends. Jim Belushi wants to stop being so gullible. Anderson Cooper promises to blog every day. And Anne Hathaway is determined to keep working hard but enjoy life more.

Pretty good. Lots of good things there. Wonder how they'll do?  

I must admit that I have never been very serious about making New Year's Resolutions. And the ones that I have made didn't work out so well... I typically fall off the proverbial wagon, oh, about mid-February. Nonetheless, I am resolved to do some things this New Year, 2009. (More on that later.) Having said that, it seems to me that the best thing any of us can do is resolve to live today without worrying about tomorrow or next week or next month or next summer or next fall. I think Jesus would probably agree... after all, He did tell the disciples, don't be anxious about tomorrow because tomorrow will be anxious for itself. James says the same kind of thing. Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit, yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Whoa. Evil? Strong word. 

The point? My friend says it like this: "Life is a vapor." I would call that a brilliant reminder... the past 7 months have certainly reinforced this principle for Nicol and I. 

Maybe, then, Resolution #1 should go something like this: Walk with Jesus today, as long as it's called today, and live today with the hope and peace and joy that only He can give me today. Today. [ ;-) ]  

Oh, one more thing I just remembered. I saw a sign today (there's that word again) at some store that read, "Live in the moment." My first thought was, "That's cute but it's not very good theology." Then I reconsidered. It is good. True, we shouldn't live "for" the moment in the sense that we forego sound wisdom and God-honoring/people-honoring choices, but we have to live "in" the moment because it's the only thing we have for sure. Today

So, what are my resolutions? Well, you just read the first one. The rest? TBD. To be determined, that is. But, you say, it's December 30, you better come up with something pretty quick. That's precisely... what I don't want to do. I'm going to follow the advice of one of my favorite people ever, Dr. Bill Thrasher. Each January, he commits the first week or so of that month to pray and really seek God for His desires and direction for the upcoming year. It's a "firstfruits" thing. Just like tithing is giving back to God what has been given to us, he spends the first part of the year giving back to God in terms praying and listening and seeking and worshiping and discovering where God is leading him and his family. 

I've never approached the New Year like that. So I'm gonna give it a try. And I will definitely let you know what happens.

Now, happy New Year and...

May God be gracious to you and bless you 
and make His face to shine upon you, 
that His way may be known on earth,
His saving power among all nations. 
Let the peoples praise You, O God;
let all the peoples praise You!

--adapted from Psalm 67:1-3


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Coach Louis Mulkey

I saw this story on an ESPN "Outside the Lines" segment the other day.

It's a story that will probably have you weeping. It's a story that reminds me of the one common question we all have in the midst of tragedy and loss... "Why?" It's a story that reminds me that we don't know if we have tomorrow with those we know and love, let alone years and lifetimes. It's a story that reminds me of losing my son.

It's not easy to watch, but it is very much worth it.

PART 1 (9:54)

PART 2 (5:26)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I AM Smarter Than A Fifth Grader... least I think I am.

Yesterday I was a Target shopping for a few of the final pieces to this puzzle that is my Christmas shopping... or should I say was my Christmas shopping, because I AM DONE!!!

Anyway, I was in the toy department and spotted a Nerf Hoop, which brought back many very fun memories. My cousin Aaron and I had many a fiercely contested games of one-on-one and H-O-R-S-E back in the day. So I thought Summer might like a Nerf Hoop and if she didn't then Nicol and I would have fun shooting some hoops. [ ;-) ]

The first thing I did when I got home was tear open the package and to put my new gadget together and play a little. The only problem was I couldn't figure out how to put the stinkin' thing together. I was like, 'I know I can do this because if I could do it when I was in 5th grade, surely I could do it now.'

No such luck.

There were 5 steps, complete with diagrams, on the back of the package. Steps 1-4 were a snap. Step 5? Different story. The hitch? I couldn't figure out how to attach the bracket to the backboard so that I could hang it over the door. I messed with it until I was ready to slam dunk it (pun intended) in the trash can. Then Nicol and Summer got home and I very meagerly asked Nicol if she could figure it out. Nope. Two almost-40-year-olds, one with a degree in political science from Wheaton College, the other with a master's degree from Moody, and neither one of us could figure that thing out.

Fastforward to this afternoon... I looked again at the diagram for step 5 and noticed something that I didn't see last night. I had been trying to attach the bracket in completely the wrong place... and I wasn't even in the right ballpark! So I found the right place and, presto, my Nerf Hoop assembly mission was complete.

Next, of course, came the mounting on the door.

And then, the first shot.


And after all that, I found out that I AM smarter than a fifth grader. [ :-) ]

My new toy.

World's Worst Gift Wrapper

The title says it all.


[ :-) ]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

God Is Sort Of Like That

Some of the most majestic, spectacular, breath-taking and awe-inspiring scenes we will ever see are also, potentially, the most risky, treacherous, anxiety-causing and fear-inducing encounters we will ever have.

It seems to me that God is sort of like that. Admittedly, I can't go too far with the idea and it probably breaks down fairly quickly... but bear with me.

Nicol and I have seen a lot of incredible places together... places that showcase God's creativity in such remarkable, unique, and there's-nowhere-else-on-earth-like-this ways that I have at times thought to myself, "I can totally see why God sort of sat back, looked at everything He had created, and said, 'This is good. Really, really, really good.'"

We've been to the San Diego Wild Animal Park to see the pseudo-African wildlife preserve that is home to rhinoceros, water buffalo, lions, tigers, silverback gorillas and more. We were able to get close enough to a momma lion and her cubs that we were extremely thankful for the moat and thick plexiglass wall that separated us. As beautiful and physically impressive as those cats were - fluffy, tan coats; well-defined musculature; powerful, bounding leaps across the range and all - there is absolutely no way you would ever consider getting near them. They would tear you to shreds.
Amazing to observe from a distance. Heart-poundingly frightening to get up close and personal to.

We've walked along the cliffs on the north coast of Northern Ireland, near the famed Dunluce Castle. I don't remember a lot about this, partly because it was about 6 years ago, mostly because it was freezing cold and drizzly. Plus, it was our honeymoon, so that's what I remember the most. But I do recall that the cliffs were more than a little bit intimidating. We walked rather cautiously along that path because it was somewhat slippery from the rain that was falling... and to be at the top of the cliffs was far more preferable than being at the bottom! Cautious as we were though, it was tempting to look out over the cliffs at the waves that were crashing beneath us. That said, there was no danger whatsover of us getting all that close to the edge because the risk to our safety was simply too great.

Thanks but no thanks. I'll do a Google image search for those views.

Mt. Katahdin, located in Baxter State Park in Maine, is the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. I have not hiked to its mile-high summit, but I have ventured to the top of its shorter neighbor to the west, Doubletop Mountain... enough of a challenge in its own right to make me appreciate anyone who has trekked higher than its 2000-or-so-foot peak. I've talked, however, to folks who, on their way to the top of Mt. Katahdin, crawled on their knees across Knife Edge, a narrow pass that looks like the edge of a knife (go figure) and has a reputation for reducing the bravest of souls to whimpering babes.
Gorgeous and spectacular from afar. Attention-getting and cardiac-arresting up close and personal.

We've been on a cruise ship as the captain carefully guided us thru Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. The water was a gorgeous blue-green. Whales could periodically be seen breaching in the distance. Sea lions and otters played off to the side of the ship. Smaller boats cruised by us. And, most spectacularly of all, massive ice chunks broke away from the (seemingly) Everest-like glacier that stood before us, sending ripples across the bay for what appeared to be miles and miles. I thought it would be AWESOME to be in a kayak out near the glacier. Then someone told me that the chunks of ice that were plunging into the water were the size of my car. Then I thought my idea was kinda dumb. Plus, I didn't think it would be so good if a whale breached beside me... kayaks tip easily.
Grand idea. Fun. But sometimes you can't know what you're getting into unless you have a birdseye view.

Some of the most majestic, spectacular, breath-taking and awe-inspiring scenes we will ever see are also, potentially, the most risky, treacherous, anxiety-causing and fear-inducing encounters we will ever have.
Somehow, it seems to me that God is sort of like that.
He is majestic, spectacular, breath-taking, awe-inspiring, beautiful, eternally loving, life-giving, a father-like provider and protector, a mother-like nurturer and comforter, sensationally able to do all things well, infinitely kind and merciful and gracious... He is indescribable.
He is risky, treacherous, anxiety-inducing, fear-inducing, unpredictable, unfathomable, the One who is capable of snuffing out all things bad yet also the One who allows all things bad... He is indescribable.
To see and experience Him from afar is incredible... but it is not enough.
To see and experience Him up close is satisfying... but it is risky.
His ways are not our ways.
God of heaven, in your kindness please give us the grace to trust you and follow you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Summer Photos

Thought you'd like to see some new photos of Summer... the teddy bears are our special little reminders of Lukey.

More This Than That

FISH interview...
In the original post about the interview tomorrow (Thursday) on The FISH in Nashville I forgot to specify the time as being 7:00-8:00am CST / 8:00-9:00am EST.

And here's the link again if you'd like to hear it live online... click
here and then once you're on their home page, click on the green "listen live" button located at the top left corner.

More this than that...
Not sure why, but I was thinking about this yesterday... it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)

It occurred to me that God's work in our lives, at least in my experience, is more marathon than sprint, more polishing cloth than belt sander, more chisel than hatchet, more non-abrasive cleanser than super-scrubber, more finish carpentry than rough framing, more meandering stream than roaring rapids, more gentle breeze than violent gale, more light drizzle than torrential downpour, more sip than gulp, more savor than gorge, more slow cooker than microwave, more relaxed than stressed, more smart bomb than grenade, more local than general anesthetic, more father's heart than drill sargeant, more whisper than shout, more calculated than impulsive, more here than there, more now than then, more big picture than microcosm, more spirit than law, more free than bound, more warm and personal than cold and distant, more unpredictable than expected, more faithful than flaky, more steadfast than hit-or-miss, more exciting than blasé, more painful than cushy, more stretch than static, more be than do, more tender than gruff...

When I look back over the past 20 years, I am so thankful that He is as patient and persistent and loving and kind as He is. He is up to something right now, even if I am not aware of that fact, and it seems to me that that is the beauty and sheer genius of His ways. We can look back and reflect on our journey and see things now that we would have NEVER thought possible one year ago or 5 or 10 or 20 or a lifetime. And it's all because He's at work.

Grateful that He is up to something in our lives... and that because of His kind heart and good ways we aren't left to fend for ourselves in doing the work out our own salvation with fear and trembling part. (Philippians 2:12b)

Grateful too that this is all part of His will and good pleasure, that those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.

Monday, December 15, 2008

FISH Nashville Morning Show

On Thursday, December 18, from 7:00-8:00am CST / 8:00-9:00am EST, Nicol and I will be on the morning show at The FISH 94FM in Nashville. If you are interested and/or able, you can listen online by clicking here and then clicking on the green "listen live" button located at the top left corner of their home page. We would appreciate your prayers as we talk about the devastating loss of our son.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's A Slow Fade

This morning I was driving along I-24 in TN and tuned in to the FISH station in Nashville. The song that was playing was Slow Fade by Casting Crowns. Oh man, does this song ever nail it! One of the things I absolutely love and respect about the music CC has been putting out is that it is so incredibly REAL and HONEST and ACCURATE and TRUE-TO-LIFE and JUST WHAT I NEED TO HEAR.

Slow fade? You betcha. I am aware more than ever, and I hope I am speaking with absolute honesty here, of the activity of the devil in doing what his name implies... lying, deceiving, accusing, stealing, killing, destroying, threatening, intimidating, etc. No, I am not always aware of what he is doing at any given moment and he certainly pulls his stinking rotten tricks on me, but I am aware of how much he hates people and wants nothing more than to keep us from living free in Christ Jesus.

I am also more aware than ever at this point in my journey of my own sinful tendencies and weaknesses and patterns and predispositions.

The combination of my own "quirks" and the enemy that loves to prey on them is not a good one.

But praise God that Jesus has set us free, and whomever the Son sets free is free indeed, and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and He has separated us from our sins as far as the east is from the west, and He has not given to us a spirit fear, but a Spirit of love and of joy and of sound mind.

The old hymn says it well... O victory in Jesus, my Savior, forever. He sought me and bought me, with His redeeming blood; He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him, He plunged me to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.

While all this is true, we still have to guard ourselves because it's a slow fade... nothing happens overnight... NOTHING. It starts with me not being in God's Word regularly. It starts with me not praying which, incidentally, I am commanded to do. It starts with me not walking in the light as He is in the light so that He and I can talk freely and consistently and honestly (and I should note that any breakdown in communication is clearly my doing). It starts with me being prideful and arrogant and stubborn. It starts with me not keeping watch over my tongue. It starts with me holding on to offenses and letting (sometimes righteous) anger fester into cancerous unforgiveness and staph-like bitterness that infects my soul and negatively affects those closest to me.

And then it all boils over like an unattended pot on the stovetop and I rush over but the mess has already been made and it's really difficult to clean up at that point.

I need to guard myself because it's a slow fade.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. ~~ Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. ~~ Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life. ~~ Whoever guards his way preserves his life. ~~ Whoever guards his soul will keep far from [thorns and snares]. ~~ The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. ~~ The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. ~~ I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

[ Psalm 119:9; Proverbs 4:5-7; Proverbs 4:13; Proverbs 16:17b; Proverbs 22:5; Philippians 4:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Timothy 1:12 ]

Take a listen to Slow Fade here on the player and let it sink into your heart today.

O God, would You graciously and mercifully give us the strength to avoid wandering away from You and all that is best for us as you know what is best for us. You have been kind and good to us and we are desperate for You every moment of every day. Deliver us from evil and guard us from the temptations that we will encounter today.

Amen and amen.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Connecting Dots

Have you ever had a moment where you learn something new and you suddenly find yourself connecting dots that had never, well, connected before? Have you ever reflected on conversations or experiences or circumstances that have been spread out over a significant period of time, all of which were seemingly unrelated, and then God just sort of takes you down memory lane and reminds you that He's quietly and patiently been up to something in your life even though you don't necessarily know what that something is? Have you ever had your heart stirred and encouraged because you realize afresh and anew that God really IS there and that he ALWAYS has been even though you are not always convinced of that because sometimes you go thru a season when He is just too silent for your comfort?

I have.

Such was my experience on Sunday. 

Love it when that happens.

Here's a list of things (from oldest to most recent) that I have been reflecting on the past couple of days...
  1. In the end, only thing that matters in life is what we do with Christ. --My Dad, aka Grampy Sponberg [This was probably about 15 years ago... time flies! Anyway, he was in town on business and we went out for dinner one night. I was not in a good place spiritually at that time and I can still picture Dad taking out a pen and drawing 5 dots and a line with an arrow after the fifth dot. (It looked something like this: . . . . . --------> Hope you get the idea.) Dad then explained the meaning of what he had just drawn: first dot, the day your are born; second dot, the day you get married; third dot, the day your first child is born; fourth dot, the day you retire; fifth dot, the day you die. The line and arrow, Dad said, represent eternity. Keep in mind, I was struggling spiritually, but that visual really grabbed my attention. Nothing earth-shattering happened, no lights flashed, and no dramatic revival took place, but I definitely started thinking about the direction my life was going in. Oh yeah, the lesson? Life is a vapor and, in the end, the only thing that matters is what we do with Christ.] 
  2. You are going to walk a similar path of suffering. --The Spirit of God [I was at the Worcester Centrum (in Massachusetts) about 10 years ago for a Promise Keepers weekend conference. Long story short, on Saturday a guy by the name of Joe White gave the message and he shared with us that he had been recently diagnosed with leukemia. He talked about carrying our cross and suffering and the uncertainties life throws at us. The session ended with 2 or 3 songs and at some point during that worship time I began to get this overwhelming sense that I was soon going to face a very difficult set of circumstances. I immediately dismissed the thought but it soon became obvious to me that God was talking to me... you are going to walk a similar path of suffering. I of course was convinced in the days and weeks and months following that experience that I was about to be diagnosed with a fairly serious if not life-altering if not deadly disease. As time went on, that fear subsided but I never forgot what had happened. (Incidentally, I think the only person I have ever told about this is Nicol... although I'm not entirely certain of that.) Well, the months turned into years and the years turned into a decade. On May 27, the day we lost Luke, I believe that I finally found out what God was whispering about that day in Worcester... because we had just taken our first step onto this path of suffering... and we will be limping along this path for the rest of our lives.
  3. Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. --Jesus via Dr. John Fuder [Dr. Fuder is the urban ministries prof at Moody Grad School. More than that though, he is a friend and mentor, and I learned so much working alongside him on several projects while in Chicago. He quoted the verse above during a lecture one afternoon, and what I remember so vividly is the compelling passion with which he spoke. Mind you, it wasn't a "you have to do this" - i.e., die - it was an "I want this to be true of me" kind of thing that came straight from his heart. I have to be honest about a couple of things: (1) I didn't get it, and (2) I'm still not sure that I get it. Yes, I understand the "single seed" becoming "many seeds" part. It's the "dies" part that gets me. It doesn't come naturally to me. What does come naturally to me is, well, pretty much anything to do with me and what I want and what I think is best and... you know. Thankfully though, while I don't know the extent to which I understand (better yet, follow) this teaching of Jesus, I do know that this dying thing is more of a reality now than it was that day in class. I guess God in His mercy just sort of brings us to that point. Not that we ever "get there" completely, but we take baby steps and we learn (hopefully) that life isn't about us. We increasingly long to adopt John the Baptist's declaration as our own: "He must increase and I must decrease" because we finally realize that things work out much better for us and everyone else when we set "me" aside and trust Him and love Him and obey Him and let Him work on us without a bunch of whining and fussing and... receive His faithful love into our lives.]
  4. You need some of that knocked out of you. --James MacDonald [James was our pastor in Chicago. One night after church we were talking and, while I don't remember anything else about the conversation, I do remember saying something like "there's a certain way to do things and that's that". I have no idea what led me to make such a stupid statement or what I was even referring to, but I am not surprised that I said it. My personality sort of makes it easy for me to see this world in very black and white terms. That can be a good thing, but like the saying goes, our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. In reflecting on my comment to James, I know that he was right... I did need some of "that" knocked out of me... and I probably still do. Whatever the case, there have been enough humbling circumstances over the past 5-6 years to remind me of this again and again. Marriage and life in general has a way of doing that to you... things don't work so well when one person adopts a "my way or the highway" approach in doing relationships. But NOTHING has knocked "that" out of me more than losing Luke. I don't care to be right nearly as much as I used to. I don't care to fight battles that just don't matter. I don't have the strength to carry on with silly contentious attitudes. And hopefully I have grown up enough to realize that there are many ways of doing things and that if things happened like I think they should it would be a ridiculously boring world.]
  5. Never minister out of giftedness; always minister out of brokenness. --Crawford Loritts [The bottom line here, I think, is that when our approach to life and ministry is a gifts, talents, and abilities thing, it becomes all about me. Hmmm... back to that "me" thing. It's wood, hay, and stubble. But when it's about serving, loving, and a sense of unworthiness rather than entitlement, it becomes all about God and others. It's the stuff that the fire won't consume. It's the honest assessment that, as Paul said, we have this treasure in jars of clay, and so we give our broken and fragile selves to God and all of a sudden we watch Him doing things in us and thru us that would never be possible if our giftedness was in the way, and Jesus begins to flow out of us and He touches people where they most need to be touched and He comforts them in just the right way and He encourages them at just the right moment and He injects a dose of hope into an otherwise hopeless situation and... He is able to do all of it because when we are weak, THEN we are strong.] 
  6. God is good; life is hard. --Alistair Begg [Fill you in later.]
  7. The last thing you need in your life are people who tell you that you're doing everything right. --Alistair Begg [Ditto.]
  8. My wife and children have every right to call me out when I'm not living out in our home what I tell people from the pulpit to do in their homes. --Alistair Begg [Ditto.]
  9. God doesn't call us to places; God calls us to people. --Rick Kavanaugh (The context... Rick was the pastor at my sister's church in Maine and one day over coffee he was talking to Nicol and I about the 17 or 18 years or whatever it was that he and his family had been at that church. He talked about some of the things that made ministry challenging and some of the things that made it all worthwhile. It was at that point that he made the statement above and it just rang true in my heart. God calls us to people. Jesus loved and served people and that's what He calls us to do.]
  10. The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image; otherwise, we love only the reflection of ourselves that we see in them. --Thomas Merton via Clayton Blackstone [Clayton sent me this quote in December '07 as part of a message he and I were going to give together at his church. The Scripture we were looking at was the greatest commandment... love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The point Clayton was making is that it's not possible to really love someone if we have an agenda for engaging with them in a relationship in the first place. For example... if I say that I'm going to do this or that for my neighbor just so that they will go to church with me or get saved or whatever, that's an agenda. Jesus says we are to love people... not change them but love them. And whom do we love? Anyone God places in our lives... spouses, children, extended family, church family, neighbors, co-workers, long-time friends, or total strangers... anyone we encounter. We don't have to save the whole world, we just need to love those who are in our little part of the world. And how do we love? By meeting any need(s) our neighbor has that we may be able to meet. By accepting people as they are. By meeting them on their turf. By remaining mindful of how incredibly gracious God has been with us. By helping as we can. By guarding against the expectations and agendas that destroy relationships. By remembering that the beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves. By remembering that while we were still sinners Christ died for us and showed that He loves us right where we are.]   
  11. God orchestrates events in our lives for His glory and for our faith. --Scott Patty [In a message this past Sunday. More on that later.]


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

An Unplanned Moment of Grace

[ I will be giving an update later on (hopefully this week!) about our time in Maine, including the Thanksgiving Day outreach, thoughts on being thankful in the midst of life's difficult circumstances, and the family memorial service for Lukey. But my heart is in another place today so I want to write about something else. BTW, thank you for your prayers yesterday! We made it back safe and sound and EVERY prayer request I listed was answered! Thank you Jesus! ]

I like to plan, but sometimes plans don't work out. Yesterday, I had a plan for our flight from Bangor (ME) to Philadelphia, but, well, you guessed it... my plan didn't work out. My plan? Thanks for asking! Sleep. I wanted to take a catnap but was rudely interrupted soon after take-off. Okay, let me temper that a bit... since it was a nudge from the Spirit that kept me from snoozing, some might say that 'rudely' would be a dangerous description of what happened.

Truth be told, I was very thankful for the way that 90 minute flight unfolded.

Our plane was a regional jet, so it wasn't huge by any means, which is sort of a big deal when you are 6'3" and change. We boarded and were making our way back to our seating assignments... row 11, seats A, C, and D. Summer crawled up into the window seat on one side of the aisle and Nicol settled in beside her. My seat was direclty across from Nicol, on the other side of the aisle. I scoped out my spot and was a little bummed to see that someone was already sitting in the seat next to mine. I was hoping to be able to stretch out a bit and, you know, stick with my plan... a/k/a, get some sleep. Besides, you gotta cut me some slack here... don't forget the 6'3" and change part. Anyway, after cramming our coats into the overhead compartment, I was about to sit down when I noticed that the row behind Nicol and Summer was completely open. Believe me, the choice was a no brainer. I plopped down and stretched across those seats faster than you can blink... and faster than anyone else who may have had thoughts of claiming them.

My plan was coming together nicely.

(As I write this I'm getting the feeling that someone may be thinking that (a) the flight attendant made him return to his assigned seat, or (b) the Spirit convicted him to go and talk to the lady sitting next to his assigned seat about Jesus... or something along those lines. Nope. Neither one of those things happened. But the Spirit did whisper...)

We made it thru the standard pre-flight rigamarole and off we went. I think Summer was asleep before the front tire left the ground. Nicol was already enjoying one of her favorite magazines. And I pressed the button on the arm rest, closed my eyes, pushed back to the recline position and... my plan was suddenly interrupted.

Get your Bible out of your backpack. Really? Oh come on, I'll read on the next leg, from Philly to Charlotte. Really, I will. I'm tired. Get your Bible out. Seriously? Get your Bible out and read 1 Timothy. Okay, okay. So I grabbed my Bible, opened it up and started reading. La la la. I've read this before. Yep, I remember that. Okay, I'm going to get thru this, but I'M ALSO GOING TO GET MY NAP. What a marvelously grateful attitude, huh?

But something happened. I began to notice a theme in what I was reading, phrases like some have made shipwreck of their faith, some will depart from the faith, having abandoned their former faith, some have already strayed after Satan, some have wandered away from the faith, some have swerved from the faith, and turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.***

Shipwreck. Depart. Abandoned. Strayed. Wandered. Swerved. Turn away. Wander off.

Strong words.

Frightening words.

Real words.

Critical reminders.

And then I began to think about Paul's words at the end of his second letter to Timothy... I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6b-7)

The time of my departure has come.

Paul was at the end and, somehow, he knew that. What a remarkable realization this must have been for him, as he put ink to parchment while sitting in a dingy, cold prison cell. The beauty in these words is best seen thru the lens of another oft' quoted and well-known passage that he penned a couple years earlier... it is my eager expectation and hope that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:19-24)

Paul was about to experience that far better part of eternal living. The Light that once flashed around him that day on the road to Damascus was soon to embrace him with the warmth of fulfilled love and grace and mercy.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race...

Paul had lived well. He had walked worthy. He did his part. His conscience was clear. And I think it safe to say that he had no regrets. His mind wasn't preoccupied with his investment portfolio and bank accounts, domestic and global economic uncertainties, rogue regimes and terroristic ideologues, physical and mental health, waste line and receding hairline, life insurance beneficiaries and college funds, housing markets and transportation needs, career accomplishments and epithets. His greatest desire? Depart and be with Jesus.

I have kept the faith.

It's impossible to miss, for all the Hymenaeuses and Alexanders whom Paul had observed tragically stray and wander from their faith, and for all the warnings Paul gives us about them, his great accomplishment in life and his great legacy to us was trusting his heavenly Father, standing firmly in the grace and kindness of Jesus, and walking step in step with the Spirit.

It's also impossible to miss, with all that this world throws at us, the daunting challenges and inherent dangers of life before the time of our own departure from this earth, the time when we will finally go to be with Jesus.

Oh Lord God, help us to keep the faith. Amen.

***1 Timothy 1:19b; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 Timothy 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:15; 1 Timothy 6:10; 1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 4:4

Light of the Stable (Selah)

[ You'll need to pause the music player at the bottom of the page before watching this video. This is one of my absolute fav's! Enjoy! ]

Monday, December 1, 2008

South Bound

A quick update for you...

Our time in Maine is drawing to a close. We said most of our good-byes today (sad) and, Lord willing, will be back in the South tomorrow evening. We would appreciate your prayers as we travel... for safety and protection, for on-time departures and connections, for our bags to make it all the way thru with us, and for plenty of grace.

FYI, traveling to and from northern Maine is not... the most convenient of itineraries. We have two connections to make -one in Philadelphia, the other in Charlotte - so it will be a long day. Which reminds me of a specific prayer request: our schedule allows us about 35 minutes in Philadelphia to get off the plane, change terminals and get to the Charlotte flight. Please pray we make that. We definitely don't want to get stuck in Philly. Anyway, we're looking at 12+ hours of traveling altogether tomorrow. But I'm not complaining because we have had a great time here!!!

More later...

PS - Check out the new song on the playlist: "God Of This City" by Passion/Chris Tomlin. Absolutely love it. We hadn't heard it until over the weekend. Maybe you are already familiar with it? Too bad this Tomlin guy couldn't come up with a good song or two. He might actually have a career in this business if he could just catch a break. Pray for him too. ;-)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

To Sheila...
I have been burdened for you since you wrote last week. I responded to your request for books, but I realized that the email may not have reached you... not sure how or if replying to comments works. So I'll list them here in hopes that you will see this.

Here are the titles: Lament for a Son (Wolterstorff); Morning Song (Landorf); When Life Has Changed Forever (Taylor); Safe in the Arms of God (MacArthur).

I pray that you are ok... may grace and peace be yours in abundance today.

We will be having a memorial service for Luke this Saturday, November 29 at 11:00am for my family here in Maine. Many of my relatives were not able to travel to Georgia for the funeral or committal services and we felt both the need and desire to provide a time for us to all be together to remember and celebrate his life.

We would appreciate your prayers on Saturday... for emotional strength, for Christ to be honored, for Luke to be remembered and celebrated, for a sweet time together and that it would in some way be a healing time... and any other way you are led to pray.

Your prayers continue to help us so much.

Happy Thanksgiving...
Tomorrow will mark six months since Luke's death. And, unbelievably, it obviously falls on Thanksgiving. We would SO appreciate your prayers.

We are going to do something a little bit different as a family tomorrow. No traditional family gathering around the table. Instead, we are going to my sister's church (fyi, the Presque Isle Wesleyan Church) and help pack about 300 meals that will then be delivered to various locations throughout the community. Once the packing and deliveries are done, everyone who participates will sit down together at the church for Thanksgiving Dinner.

We are really looking forward to it... and honestly, I hope it serves as a bit of a distraction for us.

I'm sort of embarassed to admit this, but it will be only the second time that I've actually done anything on Thanksgiving FOR someone else in terms of service. The first was in Chicago in 2002 when I was in grad school at Moody Bible Institute. A group of us, about 20-25 I think, went to Pacific Garden Mission (a homeless shelter in the city) to serve the men there. We had an absolute blast, a totally fulfilling day. After we finished there we all, most of us at least, went to the apartment of one of our fellow grad students and had dinner together. What a great memory.

Maybe this service thing can become a new tradition for us?

How many of you do that sort of thing as a family?

Whatever you do, have a great day with whomever you are planning to share the day with!

Thank you...
I want to say thank you to everyone who has commented on the "I Don't Get This..." post. Your thoughts mean so much to us... mostly because your thoughts are borne from your experiences. I've heard it said that our experiences shape our theology. I believed it when I first heard it a few years ago, but I grow increasingly convinced of this reality day by day by day.

Thank you so much for sharing your hearts and insights. You are a blessing! Be blessed!
= = = = =
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in the heavenly realms
with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
[ Ephesians 1:3, NIV ]
= = = = =

Friday, November 21, 2008

I Don't Get This...

On being thankful "for" everything vs. being thankful "in" everything...

I have very much appreciated the responses to the Random post from 11/18. The point has been well made by several people that there is a major difference between these two little words, "for" and "in." Speaking to our situation specifically, and for that matter to any challenge, struggle, or tragedy one may face in this life, it is unfathomable that God would ask us to be thankful "for" these things. Thankful "in" them, yes, I understand that. Thankful despite them, ditto. Mind you, it is a struggle to daily (actually, moment to moment) display this attitude genuinely and from the heart, with integrity if you will, but it IS possible. Not in our own strength, but with the help of Christ and in the power of the Spirit, it does happen. I wholeheartedly agree with everyone who has pointed this out, and I have some thoughts that I have been wrestling with on that, but before I do, I think it would be good to shed a little light on the context of my friend's statement (i.e., the Bible says that we are supposed to be thankful for everything).

It's extremely important for me to point out that his words were definitely not directed at me! He was actually referring to himself, saying that he is selective in his thanks and praise... or something to that effect, meaning that he felt like he shows more gratitude when it's convenient for him than when it is costly and, well, not so convenient... a "fair weather" thanker/praiser you might say. :-) I can identify. Who can't? He talked rather transparently about his failures at praising God and being thankful for the negatives in his life... but, he said, that's what the Bible tells us to do. At that point in the conversation, as I mentioned in the earlier post, thoughts of losing Luke immediately began to race thru my mind, as well as all sorts of other things that occur every day in this broken mess of a world... things that are not in any way deserving of thanks or praise, things that God surely, in my mind at least, is certainly not pleased with... so how could He possibly demand thanks? He doesn't. At least that's the way I see it.

Having said all of that, and I hope this is making some sense, here are some thoughts on the subject.

I began to think the other day, What DOES the Bible actually say about this? That's a good and necessary question, don't you think? I mean afterall, we need to know what God is saying to us in His Word. So, here's what I found... and I know that what I have to say is definitely NOT a complete picture of what the Bible says about being thankful "for" or "in" trials... it is not exhaustive, but rather selective... so I continue to welcome (and want!) your thoughts and observations and experiences and "whispers from the Spirit" on this.

What I found are two primary verses that speak to this subject. The first is Ephesians 5:20, the second 1 Thessalonians 5:18. What I also found was that the latter is understandable to me and therefore encouraging, while the former is... not so understandable and therefore quite disturbing.

First, the understandable, I-can-kind-of-wrap-my-brain-around-this-one part:

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (ESV)

The key word, of course, is "in". As in "give thanks in all circumstances." I even checked it out in a bunch of other translations and paraphrases (which, fyi, are listed at the end of this post).

Ok, so I get the point. I'm ok with it. Really. I don't know how exactly, but I can tell you in all sincerity that I am thankful, more so now than ever, and even comforted and joyful and confident in Christ, again more so now than ever, despite the fact that a most horrific thing happened to Nicol and I and Summer and our entire family. I'm thankful. Broken? Crushed? Confused? Disheartened? Yes, all of that too... for sure. But I'm thankful in Christ. I'm thankful because He offers hope. I don't like what has happened and I don't understand it, but I know that this is not the end. There are days when nothing makes sense and I have to fight back anger and bitterness and disappointment and depression and fear, but I know that our faith is real. I know that God has been with us. I know that He has made it possible for us to keep on keeping on. I know that He has given us a ton of grace. I know that the cross and the resurrection are more evident and real to us than ever. I know that Jesus Christ is the best news that we have ever heard. I know these things because we've experienced the love and mercy of the God who promises to never leave us nor forsake us, to listen when we cry out to Him.

The bottom line is that, no matter what happens to any of us, God will give us the grace to continue to see Him for who He is: a relentlessly loving, faithful friend and savior to those who are broken, crushed in spirit, struggling with sin, fighting with demons, stumbling and tripping over the same stupid tendencies that one way or the other keep coming back to haunt them... people just like me.

And for that I am unbelievably thankful.

Now for the disturbing, I-just-don't-get-this part:

Ephesians 5:20 says, "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (ESV)

The key word here? You got it: "for." What!? Are you kidding me? Give thanks always and "for" everything? Puhlease!!! Surely it doesn't mean that. Must be a bad translation, right? Wrong. You can read a baker's dozen of others listed below that say the same thing.

Look, I don't know what to say, so I'm not going to say anything else. Not going to try to figure it out or explain it away. If anyone has something to offer on this I AM ALL EARS. This is the kind of thing I don't understand. I don't want to understand it. Maybe I'm just not ready to. Then again, I'll never be ready to. All I know is that it makes no sense to me. Not that God has to make sense to me, but it just seems out of character for Him. How could He expect anyone to be thankful "for" a tragegy the likes of which we have been thru?

Lord, you know my heart. I do not want to come off here as irreverent or unfaithful in any way. Forgive me if I have. I do not want to offend Your good name. You are good and kind and Your Word is eternally good and true in every way. I thank You for that. Please give me (all of us) the grace to understand the things that I cannot now comprehend as well as the grace to be ok with what I will never understand. Amen.

Grace and peace to all.


1 Thessalonians 5:18 Version Comparison:

  • "in every thing give thanks" (YLT; KJV)
  • "in everything give thanks" (NASB; ASV; NKJV)
  • "give thanks in all circumstances" (ESV; NIV)
  • "give thanks in everything" (HCSB)
  • "be thankful in all circumstances" (NLT)
  • "Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks]" (Amplified Bible)
  • "thank God no matter what happens" (The Message)
  • "Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ" (CEV)
  • "and give thanks no matter what happens" (NCV)

Ephesians 5:20 Version Comparison:

  • "giving thanks always for all things" (YLT; KJV)
  • "always giving thanks for all things" (NASB)
  • "giving thanks always for all things" (NKJV; ASV)
  • "giving thanks always and for everything" (ESV; HCSB)
  • "always giving thanks to God the Father for everything" (NIV)
  • "And give thanks for everything" (NLT)
  • "At all times and for everything giving thanks" (Amplified Bible)
  • "Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything" (The Message)
  • "Always use the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to give thanks to God the Father for everything" (CEV)
  • "Always give thanks to God the Father for everything" (NCV)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Northern Maine Update : 112008

A little update for you... temps last night: -5 to -10 with windchill... temps today: 17 when we got up this morning; about 25 now... we're having a good time here... hope you all are well... we so appreciate your kind words, prayers, and comments... you are such an encouragement... grace and peace.

Here are some fun pics for you!

Summer enjoying the snow... even though there isn't much of it yet!

Little Viking Girl
This was at a Scandinavian gift shop where Nicol was shopping. We are (partly) Swedes on my dad's side. There's a community just north of here called "New Sweden" and it became home to a lot of Swedes who came here for potato farming and free tracts of land. Among them were my great-great-great-grandparents.

You guessed it... momma was shopping again!

Summer and Kermit!

These pictures were taken by a guy who lives here in my hometown (Washburn... did I already mention that?). His name is Paul Cyr and you can check out his photography here. I don't know him but my parents do. His work is pretty amazing. Anyway, thought you'd like to see some pics of the moose. People usually ask if we see them when we're up here. Haven't seen any yet on this trip, but we usually do. When I was in high school, I was standing in our kitchen, looking out the back window while eating a bowl of cereal, and a moose walked right up to the window and stood there for a brief moment staring at me. We used to see them all the time at our first house, which was located near the Aroostook River; the moose used to cross the road in front of our house there to get water down at the river.

It's not uncommon to see moose crossing the road. It's also not uncommon for vehicles to hit them. One of my high school friends hit one the summer we graduated (I think) and it peeled the top of his car right back. Fortunately he was ok. Another friend hit one a few years ago and he's glad to be alive. His injuries required quite a bit of facial reconstruction because it sort of crushed his face. Bad scene. He's fine now.

This is my favorite. It wasn't taken by the same photographer. My aunt sent this to me about a year ago. The story is below... it's a little lengthy but you may be interested to read it.
Moose Logging Story
>>Lew and the rest of the gang- We had been trying to keep this under wraps as we knew this would happen once folks found out that with some effort you can train moose to harness. Once this picture got out, it's been e-mailed around like crazy but no one has bothered to fill in the rest of the story so before any rampant rumors get going, I better write down what I know. If folks want to extrapolate on that, then Lord only knows where this picture and story will end up.
>>The man in the picture is Jacques Leroux who lives up near Escourt Station and has always had work horses, first for actual work and then for show at Maine's many summer fairs. I think he had two matched pairs, one Clydesdale and the other Belgium's. He would turn them out to pasture each morning and then work them in the afternoon dragging the sled around the fields. Three springs ago, he noticed a female moose coming to the pasture and helping herself of the hay and what grain the work horses didn't pick up off the ground. Jacques said he could get within 10 feet of the moose before it would turn and move off.
>>Two springs ago, the moose foaled(?) at the edge of the work horse pasture and upon getting to it's feet had not only the mother in attendance but the four horses. The young moose grew up around the horses and each afternoon when Mr. Leroux took the teams for their daily exercise the yearling moose would trail along the entire route next to the near horse.
>>At some point, the yearling got so accustomed to Mr. Leroux that, after he had brushed each horse after a workout, he started brushing down the moose. The moose tolerated this quite well so Mr. Leroux started draping harness parts over the yearling to see how he would tolerate these objects. The yearling was soon harness broken and now came the question of what could you do with a harness broke moose.
>>As you may or may not know, a great deal of Maine is being bought up by folks "from away" and some of them understand principles of forest management. Well the folks buying small parcels of land up in the area of the Allagash have it in their mind that they don't want big skidders and processors and forwarders on their small wood lots. Enter Mr. Leroux with his teams of horses.
>>Every morning, when Mr. Leroux loaded the teams into the horse trailer to go off to the days job, the yearling moose got quite riled up and one day loaded himself right into the trailer with the horses. At the job site, Jacques unloaded the horses and as the moose stayed right with them, he would take the Clydesdales and his brother Gaston would take the Belgians and off into the woods they would go with the moose trailing behind. They would put the harness on the moose in case they encountered someone who they could kid with the explanation that the moose was a spare in case something happened to one of the horses. The work required them to skid cut limbed and topped stems to the landing where the stems could be loaded onto a truck for the pulp mill.
>>All morning long the two brothers brought out twitch after twitch of stems with the moose following the Belgian team for the most part. At lunch break Jacques had the bright idea of putting trace chains and a whiffle tree on the moose's harness and all afternoon the moose went back and forth following the Belgians in and out of the woods dragging his whiffletree along the ground. As there were no stumps in the skid trail, the whiffle tree never hung up on anything and that first day in harness went great. So next day, they hitched on first a small stem and the moose brought it out just fine following the Belgians.
>>Mr. Leroux told me they were up to four small stems now and the moose was doing just great. He cautioned however that there were a few problems with using a bull moose. Come June, when the new antlers start, the new bone is "in velvet" and must itch like crazy as the moose stops every once in awhile and rubs his rack against just about anything to appease the itch. Once, before the brothers learned to tie him off by himself while they had lunch, moose was rubbing his antlers against the hame on the Clydesdale called Jack and got it wedged there for a bit. Jacques said he wished he had a camera as it looked like moose was trying to push Jack over.
>>The other problem is the rutting season. The brothers learned quickly to leave moose in the barn as he was constantly on red alert in the woods during this time. The brothers are also considering trying this with two females to make a matched pair which would become an instant hit at the Maine Fairs. The trouble with the bulls is their racks. They would be constantly rubbing and hitting each other and yes they would have to be gelded as I just couldn't imagine getting the two bulls anywhere near each other, let alone in harness.
>>So now that this picture is going all over the place, the surprise has been let out of the proverbial bag. The Leroux's want to continue the work of trying to get a pair of females in harness but they may have to end up breeding moose to do this and that's where they will run into trouble with the State of Maine IF & W. I'm sure they don't like the idea of the brothers "keeping" wild animals.
>>Thought you should know the rest of the story. If any of you doubt this please contact Tom Whitworth in Ashland , Maine . I think he said was a second cousin to the Lerouxs and has seen this anomaly many times.
>>Regards from your frozen Northeasterly most state.