A Blessed Man

Okay, I am feeling a little braggadocious today. Yes it’s a word! (click this link for a pithy and humorous look at its history)

Why am I feeling that way? Well, I saw God while I was looking for carpet for my Grandma’s bedroom today. One thing is for sure: when you can see God in Grandma’s bedroom carpet, it can only mean one of three things:

1. You are nutty as a fruitcake. The carpet could quite conceivably have been a large Rorschach Test pointing towards my being mentally unstable. This is a distinct possibility, as my sanity has long been in question.

2. You are about to make a fortune on eBay selling that carpet (it helps if the image is of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, though. Apparently grilled cheese is a popular way for God to show Himself) I mean, people get tattoos of this stuff, so it’s worth some cash right? Maybe an image of Jesus in Berber could put the kids through college.

3. God is at work in everyday life to show you how great He is and how much He cares.

I will take door number 3 today, FTW! 🙂 As I was walking out of Home Depot this morning, I couldn’t help but think of these verses:

An excellent wife, who can find?

For her worth is far above jewels.

The heart of her husband trusts in her,

And he will have no lack of gain.

She does him good and not evil

All the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:10-12, NASB)

Today I got a glimpse of the truth of these verses while finding carpet for Grandma’s bedroom. As I blog and try to see God in everyday life it is amazing to me where He shows up! Here is how God once again tapped me on the shoulder:

Our previous renter in our rental home was confined to a wheelchair because he has Lou Gehrig’s Disease (Stephen Hawking, the famed physicist, has ALS). Carpet cannot stand up to a motorized wheelchair, so it was pretty dirty when he moved out. This was expected, but obviously we can’t ask Grandma to move in with the carpet being nasty!

Laura borrowed a carpet cleaner from a friend at church and worked at it diligently, but it wouldn’t come clean at all. So she called a couple of places to get carpet quotes (after confirming with grandma that she would rather have carpet in there than laminate).

Her best bid was about $350 total, which isn’t bad in that the carpet needs to be in by Saturday. I stopped by Home Depot to look as well, but they were about $80 more so I was planning on just using the $350 bid she had. I mean, in my thinking I had a couple of reputable bids and that was enough. I would have just picked one and went with it because that is how I am. (BTW, never let anyone lie to you and say that rental property will make you money without work…remember where liars go!)

I should have known that my amazing wife would have something else in mind. 🙂 She made another call and found someone who could get it in this week (a major sticky spot-grandma moves in on Friday), and for under $300! If you know her then you know that this is vintage Laura; she is the queen of finding the best deal.

I am so blessed by her. It is 100% her doing that we aren’t in the poor house. Here I was looking for a place to buy some lunch-not giving it another thought-while she was figuring out how to save our family a bunch of money. And all of this was after taking her four kids to swim team practice and swimming lessons!

This is the same lady who continues to amaze me with her heart and her dedication to the Lord, to me, and to her kids. She does it all… really. She’s a homeschooling mom of 4 who also happens to run half marathons. 2:00:22 PR!!

Laura PF Changs finish

She sings on our worship team at church and has gone a long way out of her comfort zone to lead worship for VBS this year. She is a professional doula who helps women give birth. Did I mention that she even indulges me in my hobbies?

Laura AR-15

She makes sure that the family stays within our budget and runs an untold amount of interference for me so that I can focus on ministry. I can resoundingly agree with Proverbs 31:28-30 :

Her children rise up and bless her;

Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:

“Many daughters have done nobly,

But you excel them all.”

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,

But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

And let me tell you, seeing God in the beautiful, talented, and godly woman that He has blessed you with is a whole lot better than seeing Him in a half-eaten grilled cheese. No offense to any grilled cheese lovers.

The Power of “Family”

Note: This post was originally a note I shared on Facebook back in March. I saw James this morning and it made me think of this note, so I thought I would post it here for my friends who don’t have Facebook profiles.

This is just a joyful note thanking God for the power of amazing people. I want to share with you why community and family is so significant using an example in the life of my son.

Laura and I have some good friends who teach English in China and “live out loud” there, as it were. Michael and Tammy are awesome people living where God wants them to and doing what He wants them to; Tammy’s mom and dad live here in Phoenix about 20 minutes from our house. Because Norm and Betsy’s grandchildren live in China, they have unofficially “adopted” our four kids as their grandkids.

Here is where the story gets better. We home school, which is a lot of fun for us but makes us work hard to get our kids some experience outside the home. Norm is an old-school outdoorsman, with a shop full of tools that I think a lot of suburban guys (me included) don’t have a lot of experience or competency with. Every Monday afternoon James goes over to Grandpa Norm’s to spend time in the shop; it’s a fantastic man-cave filled with wondrous tools and limitless possibilities. He is learning leather-working right now.

Norm has given James a couple of folding knives and shown him what a good knife is. He has helped him make a beautiful belt sheath for a fancy knife. He has patiently shown him how to cut, stamp, and stitch the leather. He told James that he could have that fancy knife that he is working with IF he picks 5, 5-gallon buckets full of weeds out of Norm and Betsy’s yard. James is learning that craftsmanship takes time and the value of hard work by doing it under the tutelage of a master.

I called Norm today at his request. He wants James to take an NRA hunter’s safety course so that he can get a deer tag this October and go hunting with him. I haven’t hunted in probably 15 years, but it was so touching to me that he wants James to learn how to hunt and is willing to invest all the time to help him gain proficiency shooting a rifle and tracking a deer. These are the things that a boy needs to learn from a grandfather, and since my dad lives a long drive away and is really suffering from rheumatoid arthritis he can’t fill that role in James’ life. Laura’s dad lives a long drive away too, so having Norm fill that role is so important and needed in his life.

James and norm
The funny thing is, and the reason I find “family” so compelling, is that Norm told me tonight that having James around blesses his socks off. He loves that young man and wants to be part of helping him become the man God wants him to be. Yeah, James has me in his life and we do a lot of kenpo together. It is so amazing to see another more experienced man sowing into his life though. It blesses me as a father beyond measure. It blesses James immensely and he loves time at their home. And it blesses Norm and, by his own words, makes him feel young.

James has several other men that do the same. James helps Steve and Adam at church to set the auditorium for worship and fill communion cups. They play with James, teach him manly stuff (Adam gave him two knives a couple of weeks ago…James likes knives, can you tell?), and accept him as a man-in-training. He has Lawrence constantly speaking acceptance and challenge into him in kenpo, holding him to a high standard but picking him up when he falls without cutting him down. He goes over to play with Timmy and Ben and plays laser tag with their dad Michael. He heads over to play with Stephen and gets to hang around with Ken Strohmeyer.

I can see him growing up and becoming a man under all this tutelage. He is my “tiger man,” and I thank God regularly for men like Norm and all the others who are helping him become the man that he will be. See, he’s not a little copy of only me! He needs the input of this community of men to help him grow into a man. He needs to see all of these pictures of godly men and mold all of their input into his own picture of what a Christ-following, authentic man looks like. He doesn’t need the caricatures in the media; he needs living, breathing examples who can set the pace for him and give him handles to hold onto in his journey to manhood. He needs not just instruction but modeling and mentorship.

Isn’t that what every man needs? Guides, helpers, mentors on the path to godly manhood? Every man who wants to be a Christ-follower needs men who can not only tell him what that means, but show him and help him and pray for him. This is the heart of biblical mentorship and discipleship. What a fantastic picture in my son’s life of what Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (NASB) We need that chain of men in our lives who pass on to us what biblical manhood is, and in turn we must pass it on to those who follow.

I am just grateful he is getting at 9 what took me into my twenties and thirties to get. This is why community and mentorship and discipleship are so important, and why I thank God for leading me by watching my son and the amazing men in his life.

Markers Along the Road

Today I finished teaching Systematic Theology 1 at school. It has been three weeks of “drinking from the fire hose” for my poor students; they have endured 5 hours of classes, 3 days a week, for the last three weeks. They have had three tests, turned in 8 assignments, and have a major paper still to turn in. We’ve covered Bibliology (the study of Scripture), Theology proper (the study of God and His character), prayer, Anthropology (the study of humanity and our condition), and Hamartiology (the study of sin). That was a lot of work!

Congratulations are definitely in order to those who took on the challenge and conquered it. Well done, good and faithful servants! 🙂 It is a lot of effort, but (hopefully!) the knowledge gained and the progress toward their degree is worth the effort.

The same can be said of the week ahead at church. If you haven’t seen the church yet, get ready! It is all decorated for VBS starting Sunday; our VBS leader Cheryl, her family, and our dedicated volunteers have been getting it ready for the kids to come and enjoy. All the hard work serves to give kids a chance to know Christ if they don’t and grow in Him if they do.

PICT0169

It is a LOT of work for the whole church, but seeing the kids who trust Christ is always worth it! We are wiped out at the end, joyful but desperately in need of a nap and a long bath by the time it is all done. We have a lot of fun while we are there though (come on, you know you love that pic of me jamming to the music)! Where are my SBC friends who can still do the moves and sing “On Outrigger Island we live God’s unshakable truth/’cause we’ve figured out life is so much better when we do!”?

There are so many chances we have in life to work hard, dig deep, and grow mightily in community with others in Christ. These are just a few of many chances we have to see the “markers on the road” as we walk with the Lord.

Whether you are the one who is passing the class, teaching the kids who are, or watching your own kids graduate from AWANA or VBS class or high school or college, make sure that you see the hand of God in that experience this year. Opening a checking account for the first time is an exciting experience when we realize that God is trusting us with something new; so is a pregnancy, a graduation, our kids leaving home, or a wedding anniversary. They are all markers on the road to becoming the people who God wants us to be.

The path to “well done, good and faithful servant” is not walked by making a very few major decisions. It is traveled by means of a thousand little ones! Every paper turned in for class is a chance for obedience to Christ. Every child at church that looks to each of us for an example of godliness (and fun!) is a chance to make Him proud. Every call taken from a telemarketer or commuter we encounter on our drive gives us another small step.

The times of graduation, of completion, of fulfillment should give us pause and help us remember that it is God whom we serve. The little decisions we made that lead to the accomplishment bring us to it and make it satisfying, knowing that the Lord is pleased with our accomplishment.

When we look back and see all the markers on the path, hopefully we will see what the writer of Proverbs tells us, “The mind of a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Where are your plans, accomplishments, and steps taking you this summer?

Thieves make me mad…but thank God for my elders!

So my alarm was set for 5:15 this morning to make sure I got up in time to jog. I may as well have left it off, though, because my phone woke me at 4:45. It was the alarm company that the church uses. I missed their first call (it was 4:45 IN THE MORNING!), so when the second one woke me up it was to tell me that police had been dispatched. Normally the church alarm goes off because someone forgot to lock a door and it blows open in the wind or something, but with the police being dispatched I had to go.

So I grumbled my way out the door and drove to church all bleary-eyed.

When I got there, though, I realized that this wasn’t a false alarm. Thieves had cut the locks off of one of our storage sheds. Now, we have a trailer that is owned by the church parked nearby, and last week someone tried to steal that too. I would bet that the two incidents are connected! When they opened the door to the shed it set the alarm off, which must have scared them off because nothing was missing. The officers were fantastic (thanks, Glendale PD!), wrote a short report and left.

I went home upset. I mean, really, has society gotten so bad that people will STEAL FROM A CHURCH?!?! That was twice in about a week. Thieves make me mad anyway; I mean, really, someone worked hard to earn the money to buy something, and someone else is so lazy and inconsiderate that they will take what is someone else’s to have ease for themselves. If they were hungry we have a food pantry! I was up too early and angry at stupid thieving idiots.

I was upset and decided that we needed to get some video surveillance cameras installed to catch the guys responsible. I prayed for repentance for the guys who did that and then left for school.

At school on a break I sent an email to my elders telling them what happened and my plan to find some surveillance equipment and watch what God has entrusted to us. My secretary (the amazing lady that she is) was all over finding options and pricing stuff out. We were on the road to making the church less vulnerable to heathen, thieving reprobates! I was on a mission to catch these guys and show them that they were wrong!

All of my plans got derailed by Bob, one of our elders who is a financial planner. He pulled me up short and taught me a lesson that was sorely needed in the midst of my anger. Rather than spending $1000 on a surveillance system he suggested that we review our insurance and make sure that our coverages and deductible were where we wanted.

This is why I am glad to have elders. Bob affirmed my frustration and anger at the situation. It is natural to feel violated when something like this happens, but he reminded me that it would be wise to slow down and not overreact. The alarm did its job in keeping our stuff safe, we lost maybe $25 worth of locks and hinges but nothing of substance. The trailer was not stolen, and everything is okay. Even if they did clean the shed out we pay insurance premiums to cover the loss. So why spend $1000? Wouldn’t that be overreacting?

That was a lesson that was really important. Because I was upset about the damage I was willing to go a LONG way to make sure I didn’t get hurt again, even though in reality I had lost little. The safeguards we had in place worked, so “no blood, no foul” right? My desire for more security measures had more to do with my emotions and frustration than a wise use of church resources. His answer took the time to think about the consequences of our actions considering where we were. (This is why I am so thankful to God for the amazing elders at our church…)

Spiritually I think I do the same thing a lot. I get hurt by someone so I make a radical decision to protect myself from future harm. I have a problem in ministry so I put a bunch of safeguards in place to make sure that I never have that problem again. I got a reminder today that just because something bad almost happened it is no reason to put up a bunch of fences to make sure that it could never possibly happen again! God doesn’t want us to be spiritual Fort Knox, all safe and secure and inaccessible to others. Sometimes being open means being vulnerable, but just like He did this morning He will protect us when we need it.

God is in control, He protected us from loss in both instances, and there was no compelling reason to jump into a lot of protective measures. When we get hurt spiritually-say by the death of a loved one or the betrayal of a friend-God is in control and protecting us there as well. We would be wise when hurting to take some time, think, pray, and reason before we make significant decisions based on hurt or anger. Those reactions are seldom the godly, prayerful decisions that God wants for us.

A beautiful picture of Christ and the Church

I officiated at two weddings this weekend. They were each beautiful in their own way. One, though, reminded me of a profound lesson about our relationship with Christ.

The bride at the earlier wedding is a wonderful woman. She is a cancer survivor and has a really sweet spirit. Though the cancer has been removed, she still bears the scars of her battle. She has significant health challenges as a result, as any cancer survivor does. She has struggled mightily of late with a great deal of pain, so much so that at 2AM on her wedding day she was transported by ambulance to the Emergency Room.

The doctors placed her on morphine and tried to get her pain under control. The whole time she was in the hospital she told the staff that she needed to get home to get ready for her wedding. She didn’t care about an IV drip; she cared about being home to get ready for her big day!

They finally released her at about 7ish, and she came home to get prepared. She could barely stay awake long enough to get her hair done and could barely get out of bed. Though we started 45 minutes later than planned, there she was walking down the aisle. She was on the arm of a good friend, barely able to walk but with a huge smile on her face as she saw her husband.

We had a chair for her to sit in, but she wanted to stand with him before God, her family and friends to say her vows. She couldn’t really hold herself up and was in a great deal of pain, but all she cared about was him. Holding onto him was enough to keep her on her feet, as wobbly as she was. Several times her knees buckled, but with his arm around her she never fell.

He sat her in the chair we had brought up front so that he could serve her the Lord’s Supper for the first time as his wife. Then, at “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” he once again gave her the strength to stand and helped her walk down the aisle. They were both beaming, him with love for her and her with devotion and gratitude for him.

What a beautiful picture. In Ephesians 5:25-32 Paul speaks about husbands and wives as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church, and I have never seen that picture so powerfully and beautifully. As this woman had a good heart and excellent intentions, so too in my opinion the church has good intentions. However, just as she is sick and hurting, so too is the church.

She couldn’t make it on her own, but the call of her husband was a profound motivation to please him and respond to his love. The church, in all her sickness and pain, seeks to honor Christ as well. Without him she would have fallen over; she never would have made it by herself. Likewise the church without the strength and leadership of Christ is doomed to failure and death. Just as he loved his wife and sought her best, so Christ loves His bride and wants her to succeed. His compassion gave her everything she needed to be a beautiful bride, just as Christ provides everything that the church lacks to bring her to Himself.

What a great reminder as I struggle through my pain and sickness. When I try to make it on my own I will never be able to do so; as I look to Christ and depend on Him, though, His strength enables me to live for Him.

So I got not only a great date with my wife, not only a good time with friends from church, not only the joy of helping Christian friends begin their married life, but I got a deep lesson in my relationship with God as well. That, my friends, is a good start to the day.