Archive | December, 2011

New Year’s Eve becomes New Year’s Day

30 Dec

I have very mixed feelings about New Year’s Eve-Day.

On the one hand, I love someone giving legitimacy to my desire to stay up late. I love the fact that we can all look at things we want to improve and have a socially acceptable time where we state that we are significantly flawed and need to fix it. I think it’s cool that any holiday would push me to kiss my wife at midnight. I like the fact that we can get so excited about countdowns and balls dropping and many other otherwise silly things. I like that we have a built in mechanism for becoming nostalgic.

On the other hand, I feel like we are celebrating the mundane. We are actually celebrating time marching on with a random assignment of when the new year begins (it doesn’t coincide with any season or anything). We are celebrating at a time randomly chosen (who determined that a new day begins at midnight anyway). It also seems to be a holiday celebrated with people, place, and activities randomly chosen (if anyone has a longstanding tradition for New Year’s, please let us know in the comments).

Now, I only have two hands and when they lead me different ways, I am conflicted. In the last ten years, I’ve celebrated New Year’s by myself watching a movie and not recognizing the precise moment, delivering pizza, going to a party with friends, watching a countdown show with a small group of people at my house, with my family out of town hoping to just manage, out of town with extended family, with Kelly possibly going into labor, with church friends, and trying to fit in a movie marathon. Some of these were tremendous and others were just OK. One thing I have noticed is that the quality of my year to come was not really based on what method I began it with.

Coming on the heels of holidays that are usually so bound to traditions, I think culturally we revel in the ability to do whatever pleases us from year to year. What I do want to recognize, however, is that celebrating the mundane is really cool. After all this is what life as a parent can be. We attempt to make a huge deal out of things that really don’t amount to much. We celebrate the passage of time, the accomplishment of small things, and those moments that will never be duplicated. That’s why this holiday can be the ultimate parental test.

We can celebrate this by making our kids go to bed as they normally would, we can celebrate by allowing them to recognize this shift with us, or we can make it something ceremonially huge. We are moving forward and we can’t go back in time. We can’t unwrite blogs or unsay words or undo actions or change the past. But we can live deliberately into the future. We can look ahead and say whatever made my life what it was doesn’t have to bind me any more. I can improve my words, activities, actions, and friendships. And I think this is the essence of what we want to celebrate with these new beginnings. The problem is that most new years resolutions are dropped within a month. Most of us do not have the ability to change ourselves, our habits, and our actions. I would submit that we cannot improve ourselves without the assistance of God.

So, if you find yourself this New Year looking at the predictions of Nostradamus, the Presidential election, or just your own personal life with minimized hope, know that there is the ultimate Hope giver. It is true that God can change you, and there are many of us that would love to help you find that hope of better change!

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Composition of a Family

28 Dec

Let me start with the obvious—no two families are the same. Each family, just like each person, is a little different. And these families play a large role in the shaping of our existence. Because of this, each and every person comes into a situation with a unique perspective. The tapestry of diversity that colors our planet aside, I think the wonderful part of having people go through similar life experience is extraordinary.

Now, I spent the first part of November blogging about several key familial relationships that played a huge role in making me who I am. I don’t want to rehash all of those at this time, but one of the cool things that could be noticed is that my family has changed over the years. This is so cool to me. From babies being born to new family members moving into a house with you to growing up and creating a new family to recognizing God placing certain people in your life to the ever shifting landscape of interactions, families are not stagnant. The people I thought of when you said the word family 20 years ago is tremendously different than those I think of today, and that is one of the awesome things about families.

Some people will bemoan that their family was pitiful. And while I would not question that, the beautiful thing is that you get a chance to remake it. Whether you began as an adult who did a poor job with their family or you were a child with poor parents, you can re-write it. You can turn things around and make your family a tremendous and integrated unit. You can create a family by marrying and having children or just put together a group of ragtag people who need a group to dub a family. Families come in all shapes and sizes and a lot of them can be good.

I had an interaction today with someone who felt that their marriage was too abnormal because the wife was more outgoing and managerial aggressive. I talked with someone a month ago who was frustrated at their lack of children. Yet, I consider both of these to be great families. I guess I believe in the Sovereignty of God enough that I think if you need a mate who steps outside the norms in certain things, that is what he will give you.

I guess the real reason I think about this is because I have been moved by familial love and camaraderie lately. I started to see this in a movie Blossoms in the Dust, which I saw before Christmas. My wife and I shared a tear as we watched Anne of Green Gables and saw Matthew care for Anne. We spoke with a parent whose daughter is about to get married and another set of friends who just had a baby. We spoke with people over the Christmas holidays and we saw the variety of traditions and customs juxtaposed with a wide array of what people consider their family. And all of them are neat.

I say this, as I was recently encouraged by someone in my family, that I just need to get over my frustrations with things. I was told to create a family and set of activities and traditions that I love and will impact us. And whomever I may try to blame, the reality is my family is what I make it at this point. The same is true for most of you. If you don’t like the way you fit in your family, change it. If you don’t like something about your family, change it. Because the tremendous opportunity of having a wonderful, tight-knit family is one that you can’t afford to continue to let bypass you!

Muddling through a December 26 world

26 Dec

Today the World is beginning to take down the signs that it had slowed down to celebrate the coming of the Savior. Today (or sometime later this week) the world is beginning to go back to a “normal” work world. Within a few weeks at the most, the vestiges of Christmas will be gone from collective psyche of the world, and we will return to our regular lives. From a capitalistic standpoint of maximizing production, that may be a good thing, I suppose. And while humans certainly could not live their entire existence under the frenzied pace of a week around Christmas, there is also the fact that we are returning to a culture that cares little for God, His gift, or His presence among us.

My sister and my cousin, I believe, were recently having a conversation about when it was appropriate to start playing Christmas music. I stated recently that the power of music is a part of the Christmas phenomena in this country, but I don’t think that is the biggest frustration I have. I am willing to listen to Christmas music year round. I think the bigger issue I have is that people are ready to abandon Christmas music after their Christmas dinner is over on the 25th. Not really the music, as even my godly friend Joshua Austin has questionable choices in music preferences. The fact is people are so ready to move on from Christmas easily and move into a New Year’s mindset. And a New Year’s mindset usually is to leave behind everything and go to a new beginning.

To me, that is a sad way to live. It might be more redemptive if we had our “new year” and then began with our celebration of Christmas. If a month of feeling Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Men started our year, would that be more powerful as a new beginning? Wherever that digression may take you, I do become saddened that we are so quick culturally to divest ourselves of the Christmas Spirit. Unfortunately, this is the attitude most of us take with us into New Years and beyond. We live in a post-Christmas world.

I see many places that assert to keep Christ in Christmas. Certainly this is a sentiment I applaud, but I can’t help but notice these same places “drop Christ” after Christmas. I say we need to keep Christ throughout the year. As the Sesame Street characters sang at our visit to Sea World last week to Keep Christmas with you all through the year. We must keep Christ with us throughout our lives if He is to be any benefit to us at all.

Christ came to the world and we are currently awaiting the Consummation of the Establishing of His Kingdom here on earth! That needs to keep us looking forward more than anything. So, as I look at a December 26 world, I think we need to be just as vigilant to spread the good news. We don’t live in a post-Christ world, but rather one that needs Christ as much as ever. Our efforts need to be just as thorough and our mission just as clear. Christ is come and while the world may be ready to turn its back on Him, I am ready to make my new beginning of New Year’s to become more heedful than ever to the cause of Christ. Anyone with me?

The Meaning of Christmas and Tim Tebow

24 Dec

While the title is a method to get more readers, I do think there is something to the connection, which I will get to. The true meaning of Christmas is that the Christ child loved us, so he came to earth to pay the penalty for our sins. When I think of the greatness and momentousness of that gift, I continually stand in awe. I think of the reality of actually being God, yet not considering equality with God something to be grasped. That is tremendous!

While this will doubtlessly be unpacked for you by preachers far more skilled than I over tonight’s services and church tomorrow (as an aside, how awesome is it when we get to go to church on Christmas day!), I will give you a brief summation from my perspective. As we read the pages of Scripture, the coming of Jesus is not relegated to a simple story of a single event, but rather it is central to the entirety of the book. From the very beginning, we see that God created us to honor him. All of the Bible points to the coming of the Christ child and what He accomplishes for us. This is quite a profound understanding when it is grasped. Sometimes the understanding of this is assisted in its accomplishment with other humans who can exemplify characteristics of God in our lives, so they can point us to that one perfect example we have—that same Jesus who came to earth for us, lo those many years ago.

I recently spoke with a friend of mine who was expressing frustration that some aspects of Christmas, particularly some of the Christmas music, was consigned to a small period of time, while the Scriptures do not speak of the first advent as anything of the sort. Christ’s coming is the very lifeblood of the entirety of the text that has the power to transform our lives by being profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. So while this is a time when the world slows down to recognize it, the meaning of Christmas is present, necessary, and needed throughout our lives at every point of the year.

One of the ways God chooses to show us of the coming of His son (in Matthew 1) is by delineating His heritage. One of the highlighted people in this genealogy, as well as many other places throughout Scripture, is David. David is described in the Scriptures (Acts 13:22 and 1 Samuel 13:13-14) as a man after God’s own heart. David was not only the ancestor of Christ according to the flesh, but he possessed many of the attitudes that were later perfected by Christ, which should characterize all of us who are disciples of Christ.

David, among other things, showed a love for the Scriptures, prayer, and praising God, while hating everything that would take you away from this Truth. He clearly was not perfect, nor is he meant to be the one we are to solely emulate. Nevertheless, as the story of the Christ child coming to earth is woven throughout the fabric of Scripture, so is our call to respond to that message. And I believe the force of that message is one that makes some from a postmodern culture of pluralism bristle. But at this time of year, we can most get away with proclaiming the exclusivity of Christ—as He states, He is The Way. There is no other way to the Father! There is no other way to Salvation.

If the only story in Scripture were of a baby coming, that would be a nice story, but it would not be complete. I feel that too often, we want to put this Christmas season in a box. Jesus came to earth; that is amazing. When I think of the Wondrous sacrifice that a King coming into a land filled with people who are His sworn enemies (until He gives them the strength to not be so), I cannot help but recognize how awesome of a sacrifice that is. Nevertheless coming did not accomplish the task by itself. He had to live a perfect life for many years and then be worthy of taking on the atonement of others, as He did not need personal atonement. Then he actually had to become the propitiation for our sins. And all of that together is an incredible thing that He accomplished. And because he accomplished it and proved to be the way, we can begin to mirror these characteristics.

Mirroring these characteristics means we will lead lives that make people bristle, similar to the claims of our Lord. We see from Daniel in the Old Testament that he was chosen as a youth to be trained. He refused to eat the meat of earthly king, even though almost any nutritionist, even today, will tell you that building strength is more easily accomplished through protein intake. Yet Daniel tested above and beyond those who had the superior diet and training. It finally became so apparent that God’s hand was on Daniel that he became a trusted adviser to kings. This made others so angry that they wanted to get him in trouble. In searching for skeletons in his closet, the only thing on which they could criticize him was that he prayed and served the Lord.

Perhaps the similarities between Daniel and Tim Tebow are obvious to you or maybe you don’t see it at all. Tebow is one who despite methods which virtually everyone agrees are inferior is accomplishing great things. The only criticism that can stick is that he gives too much credit to God. Yet I would tell Tim, as I am sure his advisers are also doing, that this is a criticism worth having. As I have now entered the part of my life where I am most concerned with the rearing of my children, I submit that I would love for my kids to look to Tebow’s actions and mimic them. I’m sure he isn’t perfect, but much like David he reflects many of the qualities, which can only be perfected in Christ. He is willing to accept criticism and actually learn from it. He is respectful. He diverts praise and takes blame. He is willing to take unpopular stands and stand by what he believes. All things which I would love for my kids to reproduce.

This replication of the life of Christ is not something that just happens with wishful thinking or crafty methods. As I stated earlier, Jesus is The Way! He is the very personification of the truth and life, which requires us to need a Savior. By ourselves, we are enemies of God. We plot terrible things, don’t even understand the vastness of our under performance, run from the things of God, and have no fear of God or peace. Precisely because of that atoning work, we can receive the gifts of the One who lived a perfect life. One of the wonderful things of this atonement is that it wasn’t just accomplished so that we could avoid punishment. It was accomplished so that we can serve the One who gave it, live for Him, and begin to reflect Him more.

That then is the true meaning of Christmas. Christ came, lived a perfect life, took our sin, died, and rose again. Therefore we can begin to reflect God. Thanks be to God for his Unspeakable gift. This gift, its recognition and understanding, and acceptance thereby are what we need to get from Christmas, and I think even Tim Tebow may agree!

It’s Christmas Time. What should we do?

22 Dec

Certainly there will be some point in the next several days where I am motivated to talk about the true meaning of Christmas. But as for right now in my house, I am especially motivated to talk about various traditions, what should go into our tradition choices, and what is the benefit of tradition anyway? I believe there is no time period of the year where more traditions are done, but there is also less thought put into the consideration of decisions on what to do than Christmas. In my opinion, people do things just because others do them and that isn’t really the best decision making module.

First, I look at what are the benefits of traditions. While it may yield a wonderful song in Fiddler on a Roof, the benefits of tradition are somewhat nebulous to many. But we show value in those things we tradition-ize. That is to say, the things out of which we make a tradition are one being shown value in that act. The benefit is that these are very real pictures to those who come behind us, to those who see and interact with us, and to those who have no idea who we are. You see our traditions shape our reputation. While it could always be argued that our character is more important than our reputation, it is true that our reputation is largely molded from our character.

At any rate, I think that the internal benefit of tradition is the ability to do things that we believe are beneficial to our life without much need for consideration. It can be a way to develop good habits (of course that is why we need to try the traditions before they become such, because it also makes an easy development of bad habits possible). For those of of us with children, we know that their memories are fashioned by singular events, henceforth they will remember those things that are done the most often, the most. Therefore, we should do and perform those things regularly that are most advantageous to the reputation we wish to have.

Knowing that the decisions we make for various traditions are made up of choices made early, I have decided to not do anything thoughtlessly. This means that many people consider me to be strange, but I look at every decision made about Christmas celebration. While it may seem weird, I encourage everyone else to do it also. With that in mind, there are a few things that really assist our family in celebrating Christmas. Here they are.

  • We go to a Christmas tree farm, where we take a hayride, go in a human maze, ride ponies (until we get too big and are required to go to horses), and ride a zip-line. We never buy a tree there, but we find the atmosphere really gets us in the Christmas spirit. We have a load of fun, we sing songs, we see friends, and we begin the discussion of how Jesus was born.
  • We go look at Christmas lights. It allows us to have a discussion of how the star in Scripture was followed. Even though I do not believe the “wise men” arrived at his birth, it still is part of the story that shows the magnitude of God’s Sovereignty.
  • We listen to Christmas music. I’m not sure how redemptive it is, but it is happy! Christmas is one time, where all over the place you can have people who are completely anti-God for eleven months sing about the God they are actively rejecting. It makes it a great time to evangelize. I’ve been able to share my faith easily and without irritation to people at the supermarket, the bank, the courthouse, restaurants, and just about everywhere I go. We know how powerful music is in every other area of life, so it is no surprise that music plays a big role in that environment.
  • We go to Sea World. While I don’t necessarily think the people who perform or write the shows at Sea World have correct theology on everything, it is nice to go to a theme park, where there are thousands of people from all over the world, listening to a rudimentary presentation of the gospel. Literally thousands sing in Shamu Stadium, “Long lay the World in sin and error pining!”
  • We go to a Christmas Eve Service. Just a great way to celebrate the holiday. It’s kinda cool when Christmas falls on Sunday like this year, but the cultural phenomena of going to a service on Christmas Eve is powerful to both my kids and me.
  • Finally, we have a Christmas Day breakfast. We don’t do presents at it. We have over some friends and family, while I present a small story of why Christmas is important. Just as the symbolism of writing your first check after getting paid to the church shows what our “first fruits” are. We communicate what we care about by timing and doing a breakfast focusing on Christ first thing on Christmas morning symbolizes the first thing we think about the holiday.

Now none of these may work for you, but those are the things that have helped our family keep the proper focus on Christmas. We are not perfect and we certainly aren’t the same as everyone else. We do think it is important to be mindful of all we do, as our children are picking up on our traditions, and we want to make them worthwhile!

Blossoms in the Dust

20 Dec

I really am a sucker for a good Christmas movie. I love the sentimentality of White Christmas, the profundity of It’s a Wonderful Life, and even the feel-good nature of movies like Earnest Saves Christmas and All I Want for Christmas. The problem is several years back I became a father. And while those are all enjoyable movies, I find the first two to not be great at entertaining my children and the last two to be integrating the concept of Santa Claus. Now perhaps that is another whole discussion-worthy topic, but we decided not to teach anything to our children that was false. Therefore, during the impressionable years, that excludes Santa undertones.

So, that leads to my sister recommending a movie to me, as she details in the fifth reply down on this comment. Then this Christmas, Jenni finds the movie in a four pack of movies at her Sam’s up there in Tallahassee. So, I run to Sam’s to find it, and I guess my Sam’s was either sold out or just less cool than hers. At any rate, I find a four pack of movies that the descriptions on the back made it seem like I had totally missed out on.

While I think there is something to say about lost movie gems that maneuvered their way under the collective radar, I will save that for another day. And while this four pack of movies contained a movie that I found hysterical, a nice romantic comedy, and quite possibly the best tear-jerker ever, I feel some weird need to review the 4th movie—Blossoms in the Dust. SPOILER ALERT.

Frankly, I am a fan of comedies and this is by no means a comedy. I like titles that I understand, and I have no idea where the title came from. I wanted to watch Christmas movies with my kids, and I’m not sure this is an appropriate movie for preschool girls. The movie is very slow to build. It starts with a weird array of facts that just seem far-fetched even within the spectrum of a movie. It starts with a man stealing a fiancée from another man without much real substance. Then the stolen fiancée’s sister commits suicide for reasons that today would make no sense. Then she is sick in childbirth to the extent she cannot have more children, then her five-year-old son dies in an accident that just seems impossible. She copes in a way that really seems trite for about eight years. Then her husband tries to “trick” her into adopting a daughter. This resolves with her immediately turning into the person she essentially continues to be for the rest of the movie.

Now this is a movie based on a true story, which always leaves a tendency for gaps if it remains true to the story or fiction if it diverges from the story. So forgiving those things, the woman herself was really inspiring. As a human of my age, I remain uneducated on many things that happened before my birth, but I found it amazing that people discriminated based on the birth parents of adopted kids. I found it amazing that single mothers used to put their kids up for adoption because they had no other option. I found it amazing that birth certificates used to say “illegitimate” if the circumstances met that definition.

You can watch the preview, here. Edna Gladney fought for the aforementioned things; all of them. You could see how even the terrible things in her life (and the good things, too) were used to make her better at her purpose. She never gave up. She was focused. She was undeterred. And I found myself wanting to be like her. I found myself thankful that the world is as it is now, so the things that she fought against aren’t prevalent. I was glad that we seem to have good homes for children without parents and committed people working those homes, though I wish I could more definitively know this to be true. I found myself wanting to be as focused, committed, and undeterred as her. I found myself hoping that I had as noble of a cause as she did. And I found myself hoping that it didn’t take a proverbial slap upside the head after years of wasting opportunities to get me started. All-in-all the movie really convicted me.

And when you randomly come across an oddly named movie that you only saw because you were trying to find a movie your sister recommends and then you decide to watch it, you’ve gotta hope for some emotion. As a guy who never watches movies to be inspired, I found it refreshing. Though I have no idea how it is a Christmas movie, and I’m not sure I would recommend it, at the minimum, read the story of Edna Gladney and see what she accomplished. A really nice story of a lady, of whose name nor work I had never heard.

Prioritizing Being a Good Friend and Christian

18 Dec

Today will be an interesting day for me. My friends who stood by me and have been loyal to me in so many ways are practicing an alteration of theological doctrine. They are still my friends and I know them to be regenerate, but I must admit it is always a struggle when people change their mind to be different than our opinion.

In general, I think we spend so much time talking with people to get them to accept what we think as truth, that we find it an easy transition when they begin to agree with us. On the other hand, I think it is an almost impossible transition when people begin to disagree with us. And yet, with all the conviction we have, big or small, almost all people disagree with us on something. So, getting along with people with whom we disagree is probably something we should work on.

It is a part of the human ego that we must be correct on everything. While I can clearly accept the theoretical position that I am incorrect on something, I definitely don’t know what it is, because if I did, I would change my position on that. So, I think I am correct on everything (and I am not alone in this thought process). And it is a big blow to my ego when someone with whom I used to agree now disagrees with me.

But I know it isn’t a personal thing when someone changes their mind against my position. It is someone coming to a new conclusion. A conclusion, which by the very proposition of the theoretical is one with which I disagree. But many of these disagreements are not things which should test or challenge our fellowship. I was inspired yesterday, by my friend David Poston, who wrote a note about how the cause of Christ is furthered most by us staying on point.

Now clearly there are issues, which are important enough for us to draw a divide. Thank God for men like Martin Luther, whose courage, resolve, and fortitude on these issues gave us a holiday, like Reformation Day. But when we decide that it is something that does not require this kind of stand, I think we need to determine how we can support our Christian friends.

I think of the account of Abraham taking Isaac to be sacrificed. Abraham knew that Isaac, who had been promised to him for decades, was headed directly to destruction. He knew that Isaac was going to die. Yet, they walked together. I think we need to be like that. When we have a fellow brother who is walking toward his own doom. It could be a reflection of God’s personal sacrifice, and of Christ’s love for us in so completely trusting and obeying the Father. I think if we could show this kind of attachment to the plan of God, even when we are traveling with someone that we think is headed for destruction. And today, I aim to do that by supporting my friends, who have changed their position on an issue on which I now disagree with them.