Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Was Jonah's Whale a Hero?

About a month ago we got a postcard in the mail from our Church announcing that on Wednesday October 25th, the Children's Ministry would be having a "Heroes of the Bible Party" for all the kids. All kids are invited to come dressed as their favorite Biblical character for a time of games, treats, and fun. We told Will about it and asked him to tell us what Biblical hero he wanted to be. His first answer was, "God". Good answer, because he picked THE Hero of all of us! But, we figured it would be hard to keep a white beard and wig on him, so we told him to pick another hero. His second choice was "The Whale".

I asked him, "As in Jonah and the whale?" He told me yes, so off we went to figure out what to do for a costume. Marci searched diligently online for a costume and found a few but they were a bit pricey. What she did next will definitely put her up for mom-of-the-year because she went to Walmart, bought two pillow cases, glue, googly eyes, sun visors, foam, and white felt and fashioned the whale costume (tail and all) that you see in the picture. It was a big hit at the party, even though the Children's and Student Ministers thought he was a penguin. The funny thing was that Will seemed to be one of the only biblical characters there. Out of probably two hundred children, I would guess that maybe 10 were anything, even remotely Biblical. In fact, it was a sea of Power Rangers, Disney Princesses, and monsters of all shapes and sizes. It's funny, but Will's Whale was the only "Hero" there. But, is the whale a hero?

If you've been around the Church long enough, you've heard the story of Jonah and the whale. Whether or not it was a whale is up for debate, but it really doesn't matter, God provided it to save Jonah. The story goes that God told Jonah to go preach in Nineveh and Jonah ran the other way, jumped on a ship, and sailed off. God caused a storm and the crew threw Jonah overboard, and:

"The Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah..." Jonah Ch 1:17a

When Jonah was floating in the violent waves and fighting for his life, God came through and provided a great fish, or in this case a whale, to be the hero and swallow Jonah so that he would not drown. And better yet, Jonah got to live inside of the whale for three days where he had time to get his heart right with God. And, it gets even better because the whale delivered Jonah to the exact place he needed to be by vomiting him out on the beach so that he could go to Nineveh.

I'd never thought of the whale as being a hero until my little boy wanted to dress like one for the party. Now I see that if the whale hadn't been sent by God, Jonah would have drowned and the people of Nineveh wouldn't have turned from their evil ways. Thanks son for the lesson in "Heros I've never thought of".

Monday, October 30, 2006

He is a Conditional God of "IF's"

"If you build it, he will come."

"If you pass go, collect two hundred dollars".

"If I had a million dollars, I would..."

I'm sure that most of you have seen the Ebay commercial with "It" as the subject. If you haven't, they are adds in which all of the people in them are enamored by the presence of "It". I think they are pretty funny because "It" comes in all shapes, sizes, and compositions. In fact, "It" is shown in the form of artwork on a living room wall and even as meat cooking on a grill. The main point of the commercial is that whatever your heart desires, you can find it on Ebay.

I almost wrote a post about how many people put stuff ("It") ahead of God, but He spoke to me yesterday and told me to use the word "If" instead. Throughout the Bible, God uses the word IF. Actually, IF is found 1,588 times in the Bible and each time is very important because IF is a conditional statement that requires a response. For example, I told my son yesterday, "If you eat your supper, then we will play basketball." Long story short, He ate, we played. Sometimes however, the word IF is used in more harsh ways such as: "If you disobey me again, then you will get a spanking!" The common thread in these statements is that the groundwork is laid before a decision is made by saying IF, and the outcome (good or bad) is foretold by saying Then.

In the same way that a parent uses "If" to rear a child, God uses it as well. For example, in II Chronicles 7:14, God says:

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

God tells the people that had turned their back on Him that If you do what I say, I'll hear and help you. Another random example is in John 15:5, Jesus said:

"If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit."

and my personal favorite Romans 10:9 says:

"If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."

I read a while back that the average person makes somewhere in the ballpark of 10,000 decisions everyday! That is a buch of "if's" and "then's" if you think about it. Even though ten thousand may seem like a lot, think about it this way:

From the moment you wake up, your mind (and your heart) are already making decisions that you may not even be aware of. Everything from which foot to step out of bed on, to which finger to use to scratch that annoying itch on your back, your mind is working all the time and making subconscious decisions that you may not even think about, you just do them.

When you look at it like this, 10,000 is probably a pretty reasonable number.

The big kicker is that every decision you make will have an outcome that is either good or bad, positive or negative. In fact, all decisions will have eternal significance in your life. This is why it is so important to put God in the middle of your decisions using his conditional model of that says if I listen to God, then I will be rewarded. Sure, some decisions like which tooth to bush first or which side of your face to shave may not be that important, but what about the bigger decisions in your family such as financial, educational, and above all moral decisions? When we put God in our decisions, He will help us discern which way to decide.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Living Vicariously Through Our Kids: Denial

By now, I hope you’ve realized that there a few ways, other than sports, in which we live vicariously through children. If you haven't a clue what I'm talking about, read my three previous posts. My hope through posting this is to break from the norm and maybe open your eyes a bit. All of my life I have only heard people use the “vicarious living” statement when talking of sports. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard anyone use it with regards to adultery or idolatry. Why you might ask? I think the answer is pretty simple: Denial.

One thing to remember here is that I am not an expert in parenting as I have shown through my personal stories. It should be obvious by now that I indeed stumble in the parenting area. I’ve been in denial for a long time, but now, I am having a clearer understanding of it and what I need to do in order to fix things. My prayer for you is that you will examine yourself and maybe uncover the fact that you have been having an affair with your child and neglecting your spouse. Or, maybe you hadn’t realized that you’ve been bringing offerings to an idol that is of your own flesh and blood, otherwise known as your child. But whatever the case may be, I hope you realize that God has a plan for parenting that we need to be diligent about following.

First things first, a good parent must love God with all of their being and must put Him first in everything as it is written in Deuteronomy:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These Commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.” (Deut 6:5 & 6 – NIV)

First means above everything. Let me repeat that, EVERYTHING. Above your family, friends, and the hardest one, above even yourself. Remember, He is the one that created you for His pleasure and gave you everything you have so that you can bring glory to Him. So… get over yourself. If you need another scripture, Jesus said this:

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:37 – NIV)

Next, a good Christian parent must teach their children about God by living a lifestyle of honoring Him through worship, love, and devotion, all the while teaching them to do the same. The good book says it this way:

“Impress them (God’s commandments) on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut 6:7-9 – NIV)

Children learn the best by watching those they admire perform a task, and then attempt to replicate it. From these verses, it is easy to see that we must spend the precious time we have with our kids talking to them about God and surrounding them with Him so that they will absorb the information. In other words, teach them by showing them, and give to them the things of God, rather than the things of this world. Oh, and never forget that you must guard your heart and be on the look out for behavior contrary to this model in your household, as well as in those around you. We have to remember to:

“Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.” (Deut 6:13-15 – NIV)

Finally, I’ll be the first to admit that I stumble often with denial. Although I stumble and fall, I get back up. Then, I stumble again, especially when it comes to parenting. But what I’ve found throughout my Christian life is that every time I stumble and skin my knees, the skin grows back in the form of a lesson that I have learned. Every one of these lessons learned the hard way, equips me for what I will face in the future. For I know that the struggles to come will be even more difficult and I need to be ready. But most of all, they open my eyes to how living in denial can only distance me from God. I thank God for making me aware of my denials, accepting me despite them, and giving me His wonderful grace that is sufficient for everything I will face and struggle with.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Living Vicariously Through Our Kids: Idolatry

When our son was born, I automatically wanted him to have everything that I never had while growing up. For example, I always wanted a “Sit-n-Spin”. If you don’t know, a Sit-n-Spin is a toy that has a round base on which you sit cross-legged, and hold onto a post in the middle, that you pull on, to make yourself spin round and round until you throw up or pass out (which ever comes first). I remember seeing the commercials that always seemed to make it look fun and exciting. So, every year I would ask for one, and every year I wouldn’t get one. But when Will came along, the first present I wanted to buy him was, you guessed it, a Sit-n-Spin! But not just any one would do. I went out and bought him the most expensive model with flashing lights and music that blares from the speakers in the center of the column as you… sit, and spin.

The first question I thought about when I started writing this was: Can we buy our children too many things? Obviously, yes we can. But let’s strip away the bark and look into the heart of why we overly buy too many things for our kids. Especially the ones that we may have wanted growing up (like my illusive Sit-n-Spin).

The last time I did this was when I bought Will a train set because, you guessed it, I wanted one when I was little. So, I’m at Toys r’ Us and I see the Geotrax stuff. I immediately flash back in time and remember how I always wanted a train set and didn’t get one. My logical mind maps out what I should do by adding up the facts:

I always wanted one, therefore I needed one but did not get it, so obviously I was deprived, my parents were bad people for not buying it, I will not have my son deprived of anything, I will be a good parent, therefore, I will buy him the train set, and all the other bells and whistles that go with it, and he will love me forever.

So, I take it home, he plays with it for five minutes, and it ends up in the yard sale six months later for $5.

Now, step outside of the box for a sec and look at this scenario with spiritual eyes and here’s what you will see:

It is my desire to please my son in the way that I think he should be pleased. So, I bring him an offering that I think will satisfy him because I think it would have satisfied me in childhood. It pleases him for a while, but then he is off to play with something else, and I feel dejected. So, off I go into a vicious cycle of searching for the next big thing that will make him happy.

Does this appear to be an act of empty and unfulfilling worship? Am I paying homage to an idol I have created, only to find that it can never give back like only God can? Sadly, I know that’s what I’ve done.

When parents do what I've described, they have turned there children into an idol. But it doesn’t just have to be toys. It can be sports, friends, dances, or anything else that you obsess over that puts your child ahead of God. Anything… period. Our God created us to bring Him pleasure through worshipping Him. Now sure, we are supposed to please our family members, but He never intended us to worship them. We are supposed to be worshipping Him and bringing honor to Him through being a servant to our family. Buying stuff to please people, especially our own kids, is an empty form of idol worship and is counter to what God desires us to be doing.

Do I do this? Yes, and I know I will in the future because Christmas is coming up. But, at least now I’ve cleaned the sleep out of my spiritual eyes so that I can be more aware of the fact that even our kids can be idols. And before I forget, my parents were and are awesome people that gave me everything I needed growing up. It’s pretty obvious that they knew what they were doing by not buying me that Sit-n-Spin, or the nice train set. If they had been like me, and bought me a bunch of stuff, I wouldn’t have learned this lesson and written it down today. Thanks mom and dad.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Living Vicariously Through Our Kids: Divorce

Over the past few decades, there have been countless studies and surveys performed to determine the divorce rate in our population. Some of these studies claim that greater than 50% of all marriages ultimately end in divorce. This is a shocking statistic when you think that half of all the marriages that you see in the Wedding Section of the Sunday paper will end at the hand of some lawyers, a judge, and an ink stamp. But let’s step back a moment and think about this while we ask ourselves the obvious question: What’s the problem?

It’s pretty obvious that we have a problem of some sort with marriage in this country by the great amount of media attention it has received lately. But, even before the media latched on, there was a vast amount of time and energy already invested in the study of divorce that laid a firm foundation for today’s attention. But are these studies, the books written, and the statistics generated something other than a way to point out that marriage is doomed? If so, who’s pointing the finger? I have to believe that when you scrape away all of the studies and the so called “experts” that trivialize, denigrate, and give a black eye to the Holy institution of marriage; you will find that all of it is simply a smoke screen of the Enemy. I believe that there is no problem with the institution of marriage, the problem is emanating from something more subdued and behind the scenes so to speak. It is coming from so far behind the scenes, that it’s located in the pits of Hell and it is dead set on dividing what God has joined together.

Think about this statement: There is no problem with marriage, but rather there is an outright attack against God that has been going on since He created man. He is the one that invented marriage at the beginning of mankind in the Garden of Eden. He saw that it was good, and essential for the survival of His children on earth. He also saw that it is essential for the survival of His children for eternity because He uses it as a metaphor to represent Christ and His bride, the Church. But, as in every other thing that is Holy, the enemy (Satan) is on the move. Satan has been working diligently to disrupt the infrastructure of Christianity by attacking marriages because they are so near and dear to God’s heart. And if it is true that 50% of all marriages fail, Satan’s plan is working.

The most recent debates over the sanctity of marriage are much more than a “Political Thing”. They are actually, a “Spirit Thing” that must be tended to swiftly and precisely. Of course, I am talking about the banning of homosexual unions, but that is only a small part of this entire argument. The greatest problem facing the future of marriages is maintenance of the marriages of people that are currently under attack and going through tough times. An obvious flag that goes up to signify a marriage is in defeat is when you hear a statement such as: “We’re (or They’re) staying together for the sake of the children”. I’ve heard this said so many times that I want to vomit. If only people would realize that this is one of the most anti-God statements that anyone could ever utter! This is because God intended man and woman to join together in marriage not just physically but also spiritually with each other! When a man and woman marry, they become one flesh and this joining can only be described as a “God Thing” and a “Great Mystery” because our finite human brains cannot fathom how deep this subject really is. It’s deep, it’s real, and it is God’s invention for His children to enjoy.

So when someone says they are staying together for the sake of the children, what they are really saying is that they cannot stand half of themselves (their spouse) and are finding their fulfillment in the marriage through their kids. If they do not have children then they find fulfillment in any number of other things, instead of in their spouse, but that’s another chapter. How contrary this is to God’s desire for marriage. God intends us to be united in marriage in which we become one. As I mentioned previously, the children that this Holy union produces are a physical representation of two becoming one. And that is it! Your kids are not there for you to worship, be fulfilled by, or to take the place of your spouse. They are a representation of the union that God set up for you and your spouse to enjoy one another and in return, glorify Him by giving birth to others to do the same.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Living Vicariously Through Our Kids: Adultery

Do you know anyone that values their children above their spouse? Let me ask this another way. Do you know anyone that is having an affair with their children? I’m not talking about sex here, I’m talking about value. Where, in the hierarchy of the world, do you place your kids and where is your spouse? If you immediately said “My kids come after my spouse”, because you think that is the right answer, put yourself in this scenario:

A madman with a gun has taken your home hostage and told you one person has to die. You get to choose who it will be and you can’t pick yourself. It has to be either your spouse or your only child. Who would you pick? It’s a tough question isn’t it?

It is a sad fact that I see parents putting their children above their own spouses. What brought on this rant, is the fact that one of my best friends told me flat out that his kids are first, parents second, and wife third! The way I read my Bible, he’s really got his priorities screwed up and as some may say, bass-ackwards. When you rank your family this way, you are going against God’s plan of marriage in which two people become one flesh, and one temple for His pleasure. If our body is His temple, and we neglect one part of it, (half of his temple) to tend to things we put above it, what does this say about our relationship with our heavenly father? Distance….. that’s what it says.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my son and I didn’t obviously understand the love of a father until my wife gave birth to him. But, she comes first, regardless of the circumstances; she takes precedent over all other human beings. Children are a blessing He gives to us and they represent the physical manifestation of the joining of their Mom and Dad’s souls. Did you ever think about it this way before? When you and your spouse have a child, you are showing the world physical evidence that you are joined together as one flesh, spiritually as God intended marriage to be. This is God’s plan to bring glory to Him through your children and what they represent.

Oh yeah, and the madman scenario may seem a bit far fetched to you. It actually sounds like some B Movie on late night tv... Or does it remind you of John 3:16?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Living Vicariously Through Our Kids: Sports

My friend Randy and I were talking about our kids yesterday and how much of a blessing they are. It’s amazing that God would trust us with raising something so precious. We also talked about how we so often see parents living vicariously through their kids, always pushing them to become something the parents can never be. After coaching my three year old for the past year in soccer, I’ve seen this sad fact rear its ugly head a few times and I have to say I am disgusted by it.

The last episode occurred a few weeks ago when we played a team that had obviously played together for sometime and took it very seriously (I remind you that we are talking about Under-6 soccer). During the match, the coaches roam the field and give instruction to our players. Since I am a purist of the game, I love to help instruct the kids as far as setting up defense, passing, and turning the ball. What I saw when we played this particular team was a Coach that yelled (I should say SCREAMED) at his. And if that were not enough, many of this team’s parents were also screaming words like: “Get him”, “Take him out”, and my personal favorite “Kill him!”. I’m not joking! These are the actual words I heard coming from the parents of the opposing team, that is comprised of 3, 4, 5 and 6 year old boys and girls.

It is a sad fact that within the sports culture of North America, many parents are finding their identity through the on the field exploits of their children. Parents that do this are obviously using their child’s achievement to fill the voids in their life and give them an identity. You know who they are, they use phrase like, “I taught him everything he knows”, or better yet, “He’s a chip off the old block”. Don’t get me wrong, I really do want my child to succeed in whatever he plays and does, but I will be the first to admit that my competitive days are over. Also, I was only a mediocre athlete at best. But that’s ok and I can accept it because I am Christian and my identity is in Christ, not in my child.

Lord, I need more of you every day to fill in the voids of my life. Fill me to running over!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Everything I Really Need to Know, I Learned at Vacation Bible School

Now that the leaves are turning from green to brilliant colors, and there is a chill in the air, I sadly concede to the fact that Summer is over... (big sigh)... As a tribute to my favorite season of the year, I decided to write about Vacation Bible School because it was historically the first rite of Summer while I was growing up. And, now that I'm older, I now realize that it was more important to my life than I ever realized.

There are three things you can count on when you are a kid: Little League baseball, School will shut down for the summer, and Vacation Bible School (VBS) will pick up where school left off. In fact, VBS normally occurred during the second week of summer break. I went to a large Church in Eastern Kentucky and have to believe that it had the greatest VBS ever in the history of Christendom. Actually I am probably a bit biased because I never attended the other VBS's because my Church was the only one that provided bus service to pick you up and take you home. This was especially handy because both of my parents worked long hours.

Anyway, A typical VBS day would start with an assembly of all the age groups in the main sanctuary where the Pastor would welcome us. While there, we would say the Pledge of Allegiance to the American and Christian flags and also to The Bible. Then, we would sing a few songs like, "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "The B-I-B-L-E". After this assembly, we would be shepherded to our classes. We had a devotional lesson class, a craft class, a music class, snack time (kool-aid and peanut butter crackers), and my personal favorite, the physical challenge. Even though there wasn’t much to the physical part of it, there was usually a water balloon toss or some other fun/messy event to complete in. The day would come to a close with another assembly. This assembly was the big one of the day, because the Pastor would have his chance to preach the Gospel of Jesus to us. This assembly always closed with an invitation to accept Christ. Then out the door, onto the bus, and home.

When I look back on the crafts, songs, Kool-Aid, and Peanut butter crackers, I smile. Whenever I hear the pledge to the Christian flag or the Bible, I snap to attention. When the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” comes to mind, I feel like marching onto a battlefield. But what I hold most dear is the fact that a seed was planted in my formative years that would later sprout, take root, and grow into a tree that bears fruit for the Kingdom. That seed, planted in me at Vacation Bible School, was Jesus Christ and the fact that He is the Son of God that died to pay my ransom for all the bad things I had done and will do in my life. And at the heart of the seed is this:

All I have to do is believe in Him, ask His forgiveness, and I will be washed white as snow.

And that my friend, is everything I really need to know.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Jumping Into God's Calling

Friday, on the way to Big Blue Madness in Lexington, we stopped at Bramble Ridge Apple Orchard. My Sis-In-Law wanted to stop there with her kids so we decided to join them. Even though I couldn't figure out why on earth we would want to stop at an apple orchard, we did, and now I'm thankful for the spiritual lesson I received there.

The orchard had a hayride, donkeys and sheep the kids could feed. They also had a rope maze, the largest apple slingshot in the world, and of course, apple trees. It really was fun, and even though it was cold and windy, we had a blast.

Ok, so here's what God showed me:

Will and I had a chance to play on a pile of hay bales. We jumped on them and chased each other around on top of them. Fun stuff! I told Will, "Come on, lets jump off." Will told me he didn't want to because he was afraid. The drop was only about three feet, but to him, it must have looked like the high-dive at the pool. He wouldn't budge.

I offered to jump first, and I did, and he still wouldn't. I then had his cousin Chloe do it, and he still wouldn't. So I asked him, "If I was to hold your hand would you jump with me?". He told me yes, so we went to the edge, held hands, and as you can see in the photo, we jumped.

He enjoyed it so much that he didn't need Dad's help anymore and he spent about ten minutes taking runs and jumping by himself, as shown in the "Swan Dive" photo below:

It's pretty easy to draw the parallel between my little boy's uncertainty and our own, with respect for God's calling. As a Christian, it's fun to enjoy the fellowship with God and the joy that comes out of it as we "play on the haybales of life". It's a fun place to be! But, God did not make us just to have fun all the time. Sure, He wants us to have life to the full (which includes fun), but also, He desperately needs us to do the job that he created us for that only we can do. He wants us to jump in and do it when He calls, but often times, we are afraid of all different kinds of weird things. He will not steer us in the wrong direction and believe it or not, His ways are better than ours. If only we will answer His call, He will hold our hand as we jump. When we jump in and do it, we find that it is the fun that we have missed out on all along!

The smiles and laughter that my son and I shared after jumping are the same things you will enjoy when God blesses you after you follow His calling. And, the happiness and laughter Marci and I had while we enjoyed watching Will jump by himself must be how God sees us when we are operating within the will He has for our lives.

If He's calling you out today, I hope you are ready to jump. He'll hold your hand and jump with you, just ask Him.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Don't Stop at Daily Walk and Doctrine Streets

Last night.... Or maybe it was this morning, God spoke to me. It was either in a dream, or it was in the first few minutes that you come to consciousness and wake up. Regardless of when it was, He came through loud and clear and gave me the guidance I needed in my latest research project.

In my post yesterday I wrote about how I was infatuated with the Calvinist/Wesleyan Debate and needed to find out just which side of the fence my doctrinal beliefs reside. At one point in my research yesterday, I became so frustrated that I stopped it midstream, put it away, and actually sulked for a little while. I was upset because I agree with much of the Wesleyan and the Calvinist ways but I've been told you're either one or the other ("squash just like grape" from yesterday's post). As usual, God came through.

I remember it vividly how God showed me the scene in my mind. I was driving at night through a desert and off in the distance, I saw a small town. As I approached this town, I realized it was a "one horse town" and since it was night, everything was closed up, and no lights were on in any of the buildings. I drove down main street and I saw one light ahead of me. It was a flashing caution light at an intersection, and it was the only intersection of the town. I slowed down and looked both ways but kept right on going and drove on through the town and back out into the open country.

God's message was clear to me that obviously I am on a journey. The main street into town is my daily walk. I knew I had to get through this town and I'm assuming the Holy Spirit was my vehicle. I take it the flashing light is Jesus reminding me to look both ways, proceed with caution, but don't stop here and spend much time. So that's where I'll leave the Wesley/Calvin argument for now because the bottom line is, it is not important to my relationship and my walk with God.

I never saw a street name at the intersection but I'm assuming it was probably something like Doctrine Street or maybe even STOCC Street for "Stuff That Only Confuses Christians". But the message of Jesus rings loud and clear:

Slow down and take a cautious look, but don't stop and allow it to draw your eyes off the really important thing in this life: Your daily walk with Me.

If you find yourself at the intersection of Daily Walk and Doctrine, don't stop, but do slow down a bit and look around. Always keep in mind the wisdom of Mr. Miagi that said, "Squash, just like grape".

Monday, October 9, 2006

At the Intersection of Calvin Avenue and Wesley Street

Today I'm confused. I know this is probably a shock to you (as if), but it is the truth. I have this desire in my gut to find out which side of the doctrinal fence that my beliefs reside. I let this one lie for a very long time because first of all, I love and follow Jesus and have always considered the doctrines to be man made institutions that I see people worship, rather than their savior. Second, when we stand before God, He will not ask which fan club we belong to. And finally, I've never wanted to get that deep into the ecclesiastology of Protestant Church history. But, God has given me the desire of late to start researching and going a little deeper in my faith.

This will sound funny but I was spurred on to do this while watching the movie The Karate Kid. In one scene, Mr. Miagi tells Daniel-san that you must "karate-yes", or you must "karate no". You cannot "karate-maybe", because you will get "Squashed, just like grape." If you have no clue what I'm talking about, get the movie and watch it. He is talking about how you are in essence a grape and you reside on one side of the street or the other. If you wander around in the traffic, you'll get squashed by a car. Oh, the wisdom of Mr. Miagi......

Anyway, I'm researching the Wesleyan and the Calvinist doctrines. From my research, I find that I believe a little of both. This scares me a little because when talking with folks from both of the camps, they tell me that I cannot be that way. They say that you are either one or the other (Calvin-Yes or Calvin-No -or- Wesleyan-Yes or Wesleyan-No). This makes me think that If I continue to walk in the middle, you guessed it, I will get squashed just like grape.

I'm going to quit writing for now and do a little more research. I wish some smart person would make a quiz for this topic and post it on the internet. They have them out there for everything from "What city are you" to "What super hero you most resemble", so why not how Calvinist or Wesleyan you may be. Until then, I better get my grape self back to dodging cars on the doctrinal/belief system highway of Christianity.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Coughing, Aching, Stuffy Head, Fever, So You Can.....WAKE UP!

I'm right in the middle of assembling one of these devices so that I will have a constant supply of tissues to wipe my nose. Yep, you guessed it, I have my first cold of the fall season. I noticed Will's nose was running on Saturday after the soccer game and by Monday, it was obvious that he had a cold. Since I always get whatever he is carrying, I woke up Thursday morning and my throat that felt like someone had crept into our bedroom, opened my mouth, and ran a belt sander through it! This morning my throat was a little better but now I've got all the symptoms found in the above title. My wife is fine and I'm sure she will not get this affliction, because she has an unbelievably tough immune system from the many years she has spent in the classroom.

Everytime I catch a cold, I always think back to other past sicknesses. In fact, my recall of past illness is so good that I remember vividly how miserable I felt one particular time that I had a cold in Junior High School! Overall, I've done pretty well avoiding illness my entire life and average about two colds per year and one stomach bug every 5 years or so. But, then we had Will. A child is an awesome blessing from God. Daily I am blessed by just having him around but along with the blessing, I also seem to get every sickness he gets.

Looking back, there is a common thread between all of the illness that I have suffered in my life: I made it through! Have you ever stopped to think about how you make it through and get back to normal after being sick? A Doctor will tell you that it is due to your immune system fighting the infection and utterly restoring you. They are right in a way, but who created your immune system? The fact is that God is our healer or as the Hebrews call Him "Jehovah Rapha", God the one who heals. Think for a moment about all of the bad stuff out there that attacks our bodies everyday. There are viruses, bacterias, chemicals, and lots of other things like pesticides and herbicides that in essence, make war with our human body systems. All of these things are set against us and there is nothing we can really do to prevent them from attacking because they are to small for us to see and brush off. This is one of the greatest qualities of God: He sees the things we cannot see so He can fight for us, protect us, and restore us to health. He does this everyday of our life and most of the time we take it for granted.

I know I take it for granted until I am sick, then I realize that this is just one of the thousands that God has been fighting off for me, but this one got through and took hold on my body. But why would God let me catch this one? I'm pretty sure this is a wake-up call and a reminder of how good He really is to me and my family. Well, it worked and this writing is my attempt to bear witness to it. Today I'm thanking God not only for the healing He gives to us all, all day, everyday. But, I'm also thanking Him for this sickness and the wake up it has given me.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

The Little Engine Could and Did

This morning I got to go to "Breakfast With Dad" at my three year old's Pre-K classroom. I was excited to go because it finally gave me an opportunity to put the faces with the names and the stories of Will's new friends. The other thing I looked forward to was that I was chosen to read the story, "The Little Engine That Could" to the kids during storytime.

We arrived on time(!) and Will showed me where he sits for breakfast. I took a seat next to him and we ate sausage, biscuits, and gravy. I asked him if they had coffee and he told me that all they had was milk and juice. However, a big thanks to my wife for fetching me a hot cup from the cafeteria. After we ate, we played with educational toys until the teacher rang the bell to announce that it was story time. All of the kids crowded onto the carpet and all dads were asked to line up so they could go to a meeting next door. All except for me.

Since I was the story teller, I got to sit in the rocking chair and look down at all the little faces around me, waiting in anticipation for me to tell them the story. When it was my turn to start, I began by having them make the sounds of a train whistle, a bell, and the chugga-chugga that resonates from the pistons that push the wheels. After the kids had the sound effects down, it was time to begin the tale.

I had heard the story of the little engine many times before, but I had never really thought about it much more than that it is a nice story about going the distance and never giving up. If you can't remember the specifics, here is the cliff note version:

A train full of toys is struggling along, trying to take a load of toys to the kids on the other side of the mountain. The train realizes it can't make it over the mountain on it's own. That's when the little engine shows up, hooks up, and hauls the load over the mountain for him and saves the day!

This is such a great story! You have an action, a problem, a hero, and a happy ending. The neat thing is that God spoke to me while I was reading to the kids and I ended up thinking of what the spiritual cliff notes would be comprised of. Well, here goes:

Every person on earth struggles through this life carrying their individual burdens with them on their back. You can't make it on your own and live abundantly unless you have The help that only God offers to get you there. That's when Jesus enters the picture, takes your burdens, and carries you over the mountain to the fullness of life He promised in John 10:10.

The next time I read a children's book to Will, I'll remember to have my spiritual eyes more focused so I can turn every story into one about God. Afterall, He is the great author of our story.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

"Signs, Signs, Everywhere There's Signs...."

There's something about Private Clubs that intrigues me. It's probably because the only one I have ever belonged to is the local swim club. But don't get pictures of serious swimmers in Spedos and goggles taking lap after lap. No, this swim club is just a pool we take our kid too. However, it is a private club that only paid members can enter.

It's funny when you think about private clubs and how they go to extremes to keep out people that have not met their requirements. I've been to several places (especially at the beach) where you could not enter unless you had the proper credentials of membership. It may be something as simple as your room key, or as elaborate as a badge of some type. But whatever it is, it sets you apart from everyone else and allows your entry into a private world. Thinking back on my experience with these place, I've been turned away a few times and I remember very well, being kicked out of one. Each time, I left feeling exactly like what I was, an outcast.

Have you ever felt like an outcast or an outsider in this world? Maybe you feel like you just don't belong. Or, maybe you just feel alone, even though you are surrounded on all sides with people going through the quick pace of life, excluding all others. What I'm asking is this: Do you ever feel like you are missing out on something but you just can't put your finger on the emptiness you feel? If this is you, there is a private club that is open to you for membership. As a matter of fact, your application for membership in this club has already been approved, and even better, your tuition for lifetime membership has been paid too!

So, what's the hook? There is no hook, only a cross, an empty tomb, and a risen savior that paid your membership in His club with His blood sacrifice. All He asks is that you accept Him into your heart, believe in Him, and try to become more like Him. His club is and has always been BYOBV (Bring Your Own Broken Vessel) so He can fill it with His mercy and Grace. Why not join today?

Monday, October 2, 2006

"A Church is a Church is a Church"?!?

There's one on almost every corner in my town. You know, a building, normally brick, with a steeple that reaches into the sky, and a cross perched like a cherry on top of it. I live in a town of around 40,000 people in Kentucky and there seems to be enough Churches around to minister to a town ten times our size. But why? I guess the efficiency side of my brain thinks like this: "Since we all worship the same God, why not consolidate all of the Churches into one? This would save money, time, and personal energy expended during Church hours to reach the members." But then I think about the different doctrines, beliefs, and worship styles and see that it would be a daunting task to make everyone happy. But aren't all Churches pretty much the same? Aren't they all comprised of a building with pews/chairs, a preacher, a children/youth program, a nursery, ushers, etc....? When you look around and take note of this, it seems as though all Churches were punched out of the same cookie cutter.

I love to ask people why they go to their particular Church. Most of the folks I have polled respond with answers like, "That's where Mom and Dad went", or, "We knew someone there." What I am looking for is what God is doing through them by using the Church as a portal. The funny thing is, most people really don't seem to know what God is doing for them and that is scary to me. Also, you'd be surprised to learn that most people really don't know why they go to their Church.

So, today I'm asking the question to you and asking you to get to the root of why you go where you do. If it's because, "It's where Mom and Dad went", then ask mom and dad why they went there. Everyone needs to know not only their spiritual heritage, but also why they do the things they do, namely go to their Church. This may seem like a silly question to ask yourself. But when you strip away the bark on your "Church Tree" and take a look at the soft wood underneath, I think you will realize that this is a question you REALLY need to know.

Oh yeah, I put the word "members" in bold because ministering to members seems to be the philosophy of many Churches. So while doing your "Root Cause Analysis" of why you go to your Church, I want you to think about one of the greatest quotes I have ever heard from my pastor:

"We don't need any more Christians in our Church, we need more lost people"