Conversation Starters

On a back road in Southern Illinois, heading home for a Memorial Day visit, I saw these words on a church sign in Thompsonville, Illinois:

Jesus is God’s selfie.

I love clever church signs as much as the next guy. And I understand the desire to engage the culture “where it’s at.”

As long as we don’t allow the discussion about Jesus to end there.

A selfie is just a representation of a person. And every selfie I’ve ever taken is a bad representation of me, at that.

But Jesus wasn’t just a flat, one-dimensional image of God. In a way, mankind more closely fills that role, since Genesis 1 says that we were made in God’s image.

But Jesus was so much more. It’s the hardest thing for our limited human minds to grasp, this concept of Jesus as fully man, but also fully God. Yet it’s the most important thing to remember when we consider what Jesus came to earth to do.

He was fully man, to taste the full scope of human experience. Hunger and thirst. Fatigue. Temptation. Danger. Joy at a wedding in Cana. Sorrow at a close friend’s death.

He was also fully God, to meet the needs of His people that only He can meet. Of course, some of those needs were physical, like food for the hungry and healing for the sick. More often, He answered the unspoken questions of the heart. Questions like, “Who is God, really?

In the end, he did what only God could do. He took the sins of all mankind, past, present, and future, on himself. He willingly laid down his own human life.

And then, he took it back up again.

That is some kind of selfie.

We have a great God.

So kudos to you, Mr. Church Sign Writer, for yet another pithy phrase that captures the imagination of our tech-distracted world.

May I Have This Dance

Has the weight of just a thought ever taken your breath away?

Happened to me just this morning.

Maybe it’s the fact that my daughter’s wedding is now less than two months away, and she was in town this past weekend for her first bridal shower. Maybe it’s this fact that this afternoon, my wife and I are attending a funeral for a long-time family friend who lost her battle with cancer. Her two kids are the same age as my middle two kids.

No matter the reason, here’s the thought that left me struggling to breathe:

A husband and wife, in their 80s, dancing cheek-to-cheek in their kitchen.

It’s so easy to say, “Aren’t they cute? They still love each other, after all these years.” But have you thought about what that dance really represents?

  • Millions of miles together in the same car.
  • Tens of thousands of nights together in the same bed.
  • Depending on how many kids they had, thousands, or tens of thousands, of diaper changes.
  • Countless ER visits, late nights with sick kids, and broken hearts.
  • Graduations, weddings, births, and then round two of graduations, weddings, and births.
  • Deaths of their grandparents, their parents, their siblings, and occasionally, their children and even grandchildren.
  • Several major health scares, surgeries, and treatments.

Those of you who have lived it know that this list isn’t even close to exhaustive. And to top it all off, society has changed so extensively, and so rapidly, that the elderly couple can be left wondering if they’re even still relevant.

As my thoughts sunk in, a physical weight rested on my chest. The sheer magnitude of two lifetimes, lived together and for each other, was more than I could bear.

Anyone looking for miracles in the modern age need look no farther than the couple celebrating an anniversary of 50 years or more.  God’s design for marriage, and God himself, for those who choose Him, make it possible to complete the journey.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. – Isaiah 46.4

And for another post: What the elderly still have to give to their families and communities. Here’s a hint: They’re not only still relevant, they’re the missing link to sustaining our society.

I’ll never look at an elderly couple dancing the same way again.

The Day After Christmas

Twas the day after Christmas

And all through my brain

I can’t help but wonder

What happened yesterday?


Perhaps it’s the excess

Of food in my belly

That’s turned all my thoughts

Into bowls full of jelly.


Or maybe the fact

That just a moment ago

The floor was covered with presents –

Where did they all go?


 But my biggest concern –

Did Christ receive glory?

Was His father pleased?

Did we remember His story?


 And now, a day later

Are we different than before?

Do we praise ourselves less?

Do we love others more?


 So, my prayer for all of us

This late Christmas season –

We’ll use His birth as a springboard

His life as the reason


To take Him to the world

Like the drummer boy drumming

Be the light we’re called to be —

 ‘Cause it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.


Perspective, Promise and Presence

There are just two things I want to know when I start hiking a trail.

Where does it go?

And how hard will it be?

For me, the trail is a metaphor for life. For the passage of time. For choices made and not made.

I’m also fascinated by the fact that inverting just two letters in the word “trail” creates a word that is completely different and yet so closely related.

You see, it’s always during the times of trial in my life that the trail of my life is the most obscure. You know, those times when life throws a curve. In my case, it was the birth of a son with Down syndrome. Then, the loss of a career job. And later, a traumatic brain injury to my youngest daughter. For others, it’s a catastrophic illness, or the disintegration of a family.

Perspective

The Bible teaches that God’s perspective on trials is 180 degrees from the world’s view.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. — James 1:2-4

How can James possibly expect us to rejoice in our trials? During times of trial, even the next single step is uncertain.

Promise

I’ve always loved the quote from Michelango when he said, as he was staring at a plain rectangular block of marble:

The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.

The same is true for each life’s trail, when faced with the apparently impassable jungle of a trial. The trail is already there; it’s been there since the beginning of time. No, it isn’t marked, at least not that you can see; but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been set out for you by God.

Presence

It’s during the times of trial that God allows us to participate in finding the trail where none appears to exist.  So even though you don’t have a paper map, and the GPS on your phone doesn’t have what it takes, lean on and lean into God. He, through his Word, is your map.

I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. – Psalm 119:104-105

Waiting for the Light

That’s exactly what it felt like.  Waiting for the light to break through.

So many strange words.

Trisomy 21.

“Chromosomal abnormalities.”

Down syndrome.

For the first two days of March 1990, our world felt very dark. Our first child had just been born with a life-altering, if not life-threatening, disability. In those weary 36 hours, long minutes of numb silence were followed with tear-filled phone calls to grandparents, family and a few close friends. A broader announcement would have to wait.

To wait for the light.

In the 22nd hour of our darkness, we reached the end of ourselves. At the tender age of 27, the young leader of a new family of three, I was no longer able to lead.

All I could do was follow.

After a late night of prayer with an unnamed and otherwise unremarkable hospital chaplain, I laid myself down on a narrow, hard, 1970s-era fold-out hospital room chair, and tried to sleep.

I’ve never slept so well in all of my life. Before or since.

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matt. 11:28

When does something so ordinary become a miracle? When the Creator of the Universe makes it so.

That wonderful night’s rest was just the light we needed to make the tough decisions ahead of us, as we faced a life raising a son with Down syndrome.

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Talking with My Dad

I would love to be able to sit down and really talk with my Dad.

You know, a real heart-to-heart. There are so many questions.  What did it feel like when you had me?  What was going through your mind when you didn’t get that promotion you so badly wanted and (in my opinion) so richly deserved? How does its feel to have a 30-foot Marlin on the line when you’re on a tiny boat in the middle of the Gulf Stream? Were you sad that you never had more than one child?

And how did it hit you when you learned that your first grandson had Down Syndrome?

In case you were wondering, I haven’t lost my father.  He’s still alive and relatively well. However, the effects of almost 20 years with Parkinsons Disease have taken their toll, and it’s often difficult to hold conversations with him that are longer than just a few sentences. Thanks to modern medicine, his body tremors are largely under control. But his hearing and his mind slip away a little more each day.

Dad was never much of a talker anyway, so some of my longing can be attributed to Dad just being himself. But much of it comes from the simple inability to understand each other.

Dad’s also never shared with me his relationship with Jesus Christ, even though I’ve tried several times to talk with him about it over the years. My kids have been more successful getting through to him, though his responses to them were cryptic and, for the most part, unenlightening. I’ve not asked lately, and I know I should. Thankfully, I think we can still have that conversation, but I wonder for how much longer.

Suddenly, I find the words of Isaiah ringing in my ear.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)

Evangelists are quick to point out that none of us are guaranteed even one more minute on this Earth. But death is not the only way for someone’s time to find the Lord to run out.

If the mind of someone you know and love is slipping away, I hope you’ll take the time to help them find the Lord. He’s near to them, right now. You’re there, aren’t you?

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Creativity

A street artist in Boulder. Tree leaves. Long blades of pampas grass. A few colorful flower petals. A large rock. Water. Put them all together and what do you get?

This. The creativity blew me away.

Dust from the earth. God’s breath in his nostrils. When God put just those two ingredients together in Genesis 2, what did he make?

He made Man.

Yes, the music playin’, temple buildin’, giant killin’, masterpiece writin’, space travelin’, puzzle solvin’, plant-art-on-a-flat-wet-rock makin’ man.

What God did? Now that’s creativity.

And he’s just getting started.

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RIP John Glenn. Quoting Vince Gill, from his song performed at my aunt’s funeral just a few weeks ago:

Go rest high on that mountain, for son, your work on Earth is done. Go to heaven a-shoutin’ love for the Father and the Son.

Choices: Why, How and When

Holidays, especially the Hallmark variety, present some unique opportunities for choices. Presidents Day, for example, presents the simple choice of observing it or not. For holidays of the heart, like Valentine’s Day, the choices become more complicated.

For us husbands, the choice for Valentines Day is not whether you will celebrate (if you value your relationship, you will observe the day), but why you celebrate, and how. The choice you make on the “why” will probably drive the choice on the “how.” Is the day about romance, or is it about something more?  And is it even about the day at all?  Exactly when should we celebrate the depth of our love for our spouses?

There’s a funny meme going around the internet about celebrating Valentine’s Day. The meme list all the things the real St. Valentine went through in his life, including martyrdom, and then St. Valentine himself asks this question: “And you all exchange chocolates because of this?” Like all good humor, this meme holds a nugget of truth. Without saying it outright, this meme points out the shallowness that accompanies this holiday when only the surface aspects of emotional and physical love are celebrated.

To me, the spirit of Valentine’s Day is celebrated not just on February 14th. It’s celebrated in the middle of the night when you choose to get out of bed to feed the baby, so that your wife can sleep.  It’s celebrated when, after the latest fight with your wife and you feel like giving up, you choose to honor your commitment to her, and to God, whether you made that promise 25 days ago or 25 years ago.  And when you surprise your wife by choosing to stay home from that not-so-important business trip, you can be sure that some Valentine’s Day-like celebrations are likely to follow.

“A man shall leave his mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Matt.19:5)  Husbands, if we’re truly “one flesh” with our wives, aren’t our wives’ burdens our burdens as well?  Sure, cards, flowers and chocolates are great on February 14.  But husbands, let’s use our God-given choices to celebrate our wives (and our own Valentine’s Days) on the other 364 days in the year as well.