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.

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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The Snake Stick

Man, I really miss my Grandma.

Grandma was a woman of the Old World. Born in America, mind you, but not of the modern age. She was born in the hills of Appalachia in the early 1900s, to a family that we could trace back to the early 1700s in her small Pennsylvania town. Somehow, her family found its way to rural, coal-mining southern Illinois, where she met and married my grandpa and finally settled down.

In her 84+ years, she never got a driver’s license. She lived in a house that had no running water, central heat or air conditioning until she was over 70. I’ll never forget the smell of coal burning in the fireplace instead of firewood. In the golden days of Crisco, Grandma cooked with lard. You hear that, Mrs. Obama? Lard. No one ever ate so good as us grandkids when we went to Grandma’s for fried chicken. And the water from the well outside the kitchen? People pay millions  of dollars each year for bottled water that doesn’t taste half as good as the water from that well.

When I was a kid, my Grandma and Grandpa’s little four-room house sat about a third of a mile back from a county road, just a stone’s throw from places with names like Gobbler’s Knob, Eagle Creek, Pound’s Hollow, and Cave-in-Rock. They didn’t have many visitors, so their long, gently sloping driveway was visible, if not a little overgrown. And it was down that driveway Grandma would walk, day in and day out, to retrieve the mail from the box at the end of the drive.

Some other notable residents of their little piece of southern Illinois were rattlesnakes.  Lots of rattlesnakes. So to make sure she didn’t have to entertain any unwanted reptilian guests during her walk to the mailbox, Grandma would – without fail – take along her snake stick. What is a “snake stick?” Well, it’s a stick that’s between 4-5 feet long, about the thickness of a pool cue at its thickest part. It was basically a tree branch, with a small “Y” fashioned in the end where the main branch had separated into two smaller branches. The smaller branches forming the “Y” were trimmed down to about 2-3 inches long.

You see, Grandma was not just Old World, but old-school smart. She knew that she wasn’t quick enough to kill a rattler with a stick, so she didn’t carry a “snake spear.” And she probably wasn’t a good enough shot to kill a rattlesnake, so she didn’t carry a gun. But with her snake stick, she could at least pin the head of the snake to the ground until she could safely walk by, and then release it.

Most of us don’t live in a forest infested with poisonous snakes, but to be sure, we all deal with “snakes” in our lives. They just take different forms. The most dangerous snakes are the “slings and arrows” of temptation and sin that Satan and his demons send our way every day. Thankfully, through Jesus Christ, God has provided our “snake stick” for daily living through his Word and the Holy Spirit. If fact, the Bible says that God provides the believer with an entire spiritual suit of armor, if the believer will just use it.

So don’t even start your day without your “snake stick.” Meet with God in the morning, hear from Him through his Word, and invite the Holy Spirit into your day. Because you’re going to run into some snakes today.



Prepare Your Field (Because God’s Preparing His)

One of my favorite characters from the Sherwood Pictures film Facing the Giants is Mr. Bridges (played by Ray Wood), the gentleman who walks the halls praying for the students in the high school as he passes by their lockers.  In case you aren’t familiar with the movie, Coach Grant Taylor (played by Alex Kendrick) coaches a football team for a Christian high school in Georgia.  His team is floundering, he is dealing with disappointments at home, and his faith is wavering.  He’s hearing rumors that his job is on the line.  Entering Coach Taylor’s office uninvited and unannounced, Mr. Bridges first brings a prophetic word to the Coach, exhorting him to stay strong because God’s not finished with him yet at that school.  After Coach shares some of his doubts, Mr. Bridges asks the Coach a faith-building question: If two farmers pray for rain, but only one prepares his field to receive it, which farmer trusted that God would bring the rain?  Mr. Bridges then offers Coach Taylor this wise and Godly advice: “Prepare your field to receive [the rain].”  Watch the clip here.

By telling the Coach to “prepare his field,” Mr. Bridges didn’t mean that Coach should do some extra work on the playing surface in the school’s stadium.  For Coach Taylor’s character, first and foremost, “preparing your field” meant time alone with God, studying his Word and in prayer.  It meant reminding his team that, no matter whether they win or lose, they will praise Him.  It meant challenging strong-willed young men to be all that God meant for them to be, both athletically and spiritually.  And it meant providing Godly leadership both in his home and at school.

If you and I were to prepare our own fields for God’s rain of grace in our lives, our preparations would look much the same as Coach Taylor’s: solitude, study, prayer, action.  But, why should we prepare our fields for rain?  Because God is also at work preparing his.   “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.” John 4:35.  All who believe in Christ live under the light of the same Great Commission: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matt. 28:19-20 (NIV). By preparing our hearts and lives to be of service to Him, we become available to be used by Him.

No one seeks after God on his own. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 3:10-11 that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  Jesus himself was even more direct: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44.)  God first seeks us!  So, before we even think of someone as a person with whom we should share our faith, God is already at work in that person’s life, preparing him or her to receive the Word.  Coach Taylor’s experience in Facing the Giants is a good example.  The Coach’s preparation of his own field led to a new unity within his football team, a revival of faith among the school’s student body, and even the healing of a broken relationship between a star player and his father.  Not everyone can be a leader of an organization and have such a large impact.  But we can all join God in the work of soul winning.

Several years ago, my family travelled to another city with a small church group to minister to a people group of another faith and culture.  Before we left, we spent many Sundays after church praying with our team, learning about the faith and culture, and reading Scripture about God’s love for all the world.  While we were at the mission site, we helped teach English to the adults in the morning, and in the afternoons we just spent time with the families, visiting at a local coffee shop, helping their young children with school lessons, playing sports with their teenagers, and just sharing life with them for a brief time. My wife and daughters visited with one of the families in their apartment, and my two daughters (11 and 12 years old at the time) had the privilege of helping the pre-teen daughter in this family make cupcakes for the very first time.  As my daughters spent time with this young girl, she asked them the inevitable question: “Why did you leave your home to come and be with us?”  God had prepared this young girl’s heart for to hear the message of Jesus’ love for her and her family, and my daughters had the joyous opportunity to share with this young girl the reason for the hope we have in Jesus.

Those of you who remember Facing the Giants will also remember that things turn out pretty well for Coach Taylor in the end.  Perhaps a little too well (remember the new pickup truck?).  But that’s OK, it’s a movie.  And, it can serve as a reminder that, for believers in Christ, things always work out very well in the end, when we step out of this world and into His presence.  But while we may not experience as many blessings during a brief period of time as Coach Taylor’s character did in the movie, each of us still has the privilege of joining God in his work of bringing others to himself.