Presence

The word “love” has been hijacked by our culture. It’s misused all the time. We “love” certain foods and as culture defines it, “love” changes with our emotions. This is why divorce is accepted and rampant. Even with all the talk about it and obsession with it, we don’t know what “love” is.

When Jesus left the earth, it was his “presence” that He expressed to us, not his love. I wonder, “Is presence the full expression of love? Jesus presence on the cross in our place – His presence in our sin.” The people who have the strongest marriages our our world are those who have been “present” with each other the longest. When my own marriage is at it’s best, it’s when we are fully “present” with each other. The closest relationships I have in this world are those people who I have been with the most – That includes both family and friends. Maybe “presence” is more important than love? (Probably not, but considering the way our culture has defined love, maybe this is a better way to think about it?)

I wonder what our world would be like if we started valuing “presence?” Would our marriages last longer? Would we put down our cell phones more and be with the ones we’re with?

In times of grief, Jewish people “sit shiva.” They just make themselves present with those who are mourning. They aren’t expected to say anything or do anything – simply “be” with each other. This is an example of valuing “presence.”

In his story “The Places Outside the Maps,” Doug McKelvey speaks of a man who has gone through many struggles and says of him, “It had never been answers he had sought in his sufferings, but presence, and that presence was here and was itself the thing that had always stood – from the foundations of the world and even before and even after – in the place that answers could not. Before the questions had been asked, the presence had already been given.”

I’m really just asking questions today. This idea was thought provoking for me.

What do you guys think?

A Perfect Act of Love

Self-Love (1)2If I ever do a perfect act of love, I’ll probably be proud of it, and then it won’t be a perfect act anymore. Maybe if I die in the midst of performing this act, I could do it.” – man on radio (wish I knew who he was)

When I heard it, this idea struck me. Even my best efforts are littered with selfishness and pride. My “wants” show up in the most unlikely of places – even when I “serve,” I want to be recognized – or I want someone else to take notice and look at me with more admiration, etc. My service serves myself. I’m sinful. Very sinful.

Scripture addresses this too.

Isaiah 64:6 – “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

Romans 7:21-25 – “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

So here’s the question: How can I get rid of this? How can I serve selflessly? Of course the only REAL answer is Jesus. He alone has done a “perfect act of love” – the cross. He alone is perfect, and so all of His acts were perfect. Ours are NOT. Nor will they ever be. Our acts of service and sacrifice are always going to be tainted with at least a little bit of selfishness. We are sinners, but because of His “perfect act of love” (the cross), we can receive forgiveness and will be made holy. Our selfishness is forgiven and covered by His blood.

A perfect act of love? This is not a goal for us to attain, but a grace that Jesus has offered to us.

Magic Hugs

KesleighI was just playing around the other day with Kesleigh and was trying to convince her that my hugs were magic. I explained that if she hugged me, she’d be able to fly like Tinkerbell. My hugs are better than pixie dust. I’m not sure she was buying it.

Truth is: It’s her hugs that have the power to make a big daddy soar through the air like Tinkerbell. I lied about the power of my hugs as an excuse to get some of hers. (I’m a sinful man.) Her hugs and snuggles can redefine my entire day. My stress dissolves in her embrace. She has the ability to bring light into the darkness that runs around in my head. I’m so grateful for the joy that she is and the ways that Jesus uses her to touch me. I’m grateful for her magic hugs.

Prayer: LORD, Thank you for Kesleigh. She is such a precious gift and You’ve used her to help make me into a different man. I’m not sure why you entrusted her to me, but I’m very grateful. Please continue to grow our relationship. Help me to be the father that you have called me to be. Use me and my bumbling to lead her to You. Give me wisdom to guide her into the life You have prepared for her and help me to see the specific things she needs in order to be equipped for whatever comes her way. Hold each of us in Your hands and hold tight when we’re tempted to run away from You. You are our true father who has already given much more than magic hugs. Thank you! AMEN.

Holding Hands

honeymoonWe strolled down Main Street hand in hand. It was a moderately cool day and we drank in the moment savoring each step as we made our way toward the castle in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The breeze nipped at our faces, but nothing could quell the excitement coursing through our veins. These days would be remembered forever as precious – a beginning as well as a celebration.

It was January 2004. Miranda and I strode past families who gathered in their matching t-shirts to capture the excitement with their cameras, but it was our honeymoon. We were oblivious to anyone outside our own little gaze and communicated our love for each other with just a look.

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Just a week ago….10yrs later, Miranda and I were able to relive the same experience – only this time, we had our kids. We still held hands and strolled down Main Street towards the castle, but this time there were extra hands. We stopped to have our picture taken in our matching t-shirts, We still looked into each other’s eyes and were oblivious to others around us, but this time the look carried different messages – “Can you do something about her whining?” or “Tell him to stop chasing his cousin.” The ease with which we chose our next destinations had disappeared – now there were so many more factors: “Is she tall enough? Will they be scared? Where is the nearest restroom? How long is the line? Can the kids make it without a meltdown? When is our fastpass scheduled? Can we use a stroller pass?”

However in spite of all the madness competing for our attention, nothing could quell our excitement. With the extra people, we also had contagious excitement that coursed through our veins. These days will be remembered forever as precious – a new beginning and a celebration of who we are and have become.

Mike and Patti Mathews generously provided everything for us to enjoy this trip. They arranged: 1) a surprise on Christmas Day for the kids, 2) Flights for 11, 3) an incredible house with a pool and hot tub, 4) car rental, and 5) 5 days of Disney tickets – not to mention the countless hours of planning, the tshirts, parking $, and extra gifts all along the way. Your love for all of us is incredible and we are blessed to have such a “legacy of love” in our lives. Thank you!

Prayer: Thank you Jesus for our family. Thank you for all your efforts in drawing Mike and Patti to you all those years ago and for giving them to us. You have blessed them and they are truly a blessing. Guide Miranda and I to carry this “legacy of love” forward and pass it to our children. Thank you also for giving Miranda to me. Allow us to continue to “hold hands” as we move through life – not just with each other but more importantly, help us to “hold your hand.” Amen.

I posted a few pics here, but if you want to see a few more, you can go here: Disney 2014

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Community Group

adults2We just got back from a little trip with our Community Group (or “Life Group” as they will be called soon) and so I’ve been reflecting on some of our times together:

I love this group. We play together, serve together, worship/learn/grow together, and just do life together. They have been there for us in both good and bad times. Don’t get me wrong – cultivating these relationships hasn’t been easy. We’ve all worked at being intentional and made sacrifices, but in the end, it’s definitely worth it.

In general, we just enjoy being together and find ways to be together. I don’t think it matters what we’re doing near as much as just being together. In doing so, we “rub off” on one another and begin to share memories/experiences which shape us. Even our parenting skills are influenced as we watch how everyone else “does” it. These are the people I consciously choose as “influencers” in our lives and I will protect those relationships.

kidsHere are just a few of the things we’ve experienced together so far:

  • Before my son Kasen had surgery earlier this summer, the kids from our group gathered around him and prayed for him. In this one act, they were an example for taking our burdens to the Lord. Their faith gave him more courage and their little prayers communicated their love and support for him. They taught him that God is in control and his faith was strengthened as he witnessed God answering those prayers.
  • When my truck broke down, one of the guys in our group came to my house to help with repairs – truly an answer to prayer. I’m not good with this sort of thing, but my friend is. This is how the body of Christ should function – each one offering his own gifts.
  • Some of them showed up to support me on the night I was leading a fundraiser for another organization I’m involved in. One of them actually serves on the board.
  • We volunteer together at the Pregnancy Help Center and work to be a blessing to one of our local schools. We also serve at our church together by cleaning the building and working behind the scenes.
  • The girls celebrate birthdays together and the men hang out and see movies together. We plan “Date Nights” together. Our kids play on the same soccer teams.
  • We go on trips/retreats together – Jellystone and Livingston.
  • We spontaneously decide to do things together – bike rides to the park for picnics.
  • We spend time praying for each other and study the Scriptures together. We have worked our way through a few books (Respectable Sins, The Praying Life) as well as sharing our own life stories with one another.

Prayer:
LORD, Thank you for giving these people to us. They are instruments in Your hands to help keep our family on track. When they speak, I often hear Your voice. When we’re together I sense Your presence and know You are near. When we’re together, I feel safe to ask questions and wrestle with what it means to live as You have called us. These relationships give us opportunities to practice living out this call to love one another and I must admit that sometimes it can be difficult. I’m so grateful that You brought them to us and pray that You will continue to draw us into deeper relationships that will push us deeper into our relationship with You. AMEN.

 

 

Kasen’s First Day of BMX

We had a great time today at the Beltway 8 BMX track! The people at the track were great hosts and led us through the whole process. Some of the riders were very helpful to Kasen and the other little guys while they were on the track as well.

Kasen loved his first experience as a BMX racer. He even fell down once and got up to race the next time – made daddy very proud. As a dad, I’m learning so much about what it means to love – and how much God must love me. I take so much joy in watching my kids. It doesn’t matter too much what they’re doing – I just love watching them learn, and grow, and experience new things. I love watching them succeed and even watching them overcome obstacles when they fail. It’s so much fun watching who they are becoming.

I’m recognizing how great God’s love must be for me in all of this too. If I can love my kids in this way, I figure God’s love must be even better. Maybe it I shouldn’t stress so much about “what” I’m doing and focus more on “who” I’m becoming? Maybe that’s more what God is interested in too?

Anyway, here’s the video: You can see all of it – the good, the bad, the wipeout. . . everything. Miranda pointed out that I say “buddy” an awful lot too.

Chores…..Because or So?

“It’s the difference between saying ‘I’m doing this because…’ or ‘I’m doing this so…'”

I heard the words coming out of my mouth but hadn’t really even processed them yet. Miranda and I were driving during the Christmas holidays and talking about chores for our kids. Let me explain:

“I’m doing this because I love my family.”
Internal Motivation – I want my kids to be motivated to express their love of our family by doing some chores.

“I’m doing this so I can get paid.”
External Reward – The other option is to give an external motivation like paying them.

So where are we? I know what I’d like for my children, but what works? I’m sure that the external reward would work if my only goal was to get the job done. But I want my kids to learn some responsibilities and know what it means to be a part of a family – to learn how to contribute to the family – to learn how to serve others and be motivated by their love rather than just some selfish motivation like a reward.

How do we make that work? I know that my example is the best way to teach a lesson, but where and how do I set expectations for them that will really convey this message and teach them what I really want them to know?

Ideas? Please post ’em in the comments section. I need all the help I can get.

Miranda – Draft Written in Nov 2009

I really believe that the most amazing woman in the world has married me. We’re coming up on 6 years of marriage and I’m more and more amazed by her each day. Let me tell you about the her most recent extravagant efforts: As many of you know, we’re going through a tough time right now. I need to find a way to support my family by January due to some financial troubles in our church. (They’re making all full-time positions part-time – due to finances, not performance.) Anyway, God had been making it clear to me that He wants me to begin moving in some different directions. I chose not to say anything to Miranda for a couple of reasons. 1. I have come to understand that women need to feel secure. Stability and consistency are highly valued among them. 2. All my contacts and my reputation is in youth ministry. I could probably get a youth ministry job relatively easily. 3. The timing was horrible – I just lost my job and it would not have been smart to tell her that I was planning on seeking another position the hard way.

Here’s what’s so amazing about her though: I came home from work one day about a month ago and she sat me down saying that she had been praying and God had revealed something to her. She went on to explain that she would be willing to let go, even lose our house and sacrifice/scale back on our living expenses in order to wait for the “right” position. She knew that God was leading me elsewhere and wanted to give me the freedom to chase the lion that she knew I was being called to.

Whew!!. . . For me, this was incredible! I was feeling tons of pressure to “provide” for her and the kids in the same ways that I had been doing so for the past few years and yet I also knew that this new calling would probably mean we’d have to make some sacrifices. I have the most amazing bride!!! One who seeks God and who is willing to follow Him even when it’s hard to make sense of the things He’s calling us to do. She not only came to those decisions, but also recognized that out of my love for our family, I was in an awkward position – wanting to provide and wanting to follow God. So she took care of it. Before my stress grew too large to handle – even before I came to the place where I needed to find a way to tell her what I was feeling, she alleviated the stress. She is good. I love her more today than any other day. I know we’re probably going to see some hard times ahead, but I wouldn’t want to go into these uncertain times with anyone else. I’m so blessed to be able to walk through this life with her by my side.

Unconditional Love

Check out this quote:

David Powlison says, “I’d like to propose that God’s love is much different and better than unconditional. Unconditional love, as most of us understand it, begins and ends with sympathy and empathy, with blanket acceptance. It accepts you as you are with no expectations. You in turn can take it or leave it. But think about what God’s love for you is like. God does not calmly gaze on you in benign affirmation. God cares too much to be unconditional in His love… Such real love is hard to do. It is so different from “You’re okay in my eyes. I accept you just because you’re you, just as I accept everybody. I won’t judge you or impose my values on you.” Unconditional love feels safe, but the problem is that there is no power to it. When we ascribe unconditional love to God, we substitute a teddy bear for the king of the universe… The word “unconditional” may be an acceptable way to express God’s welcome, but it fails to communicate its purpose: a comprehensive and lifelong rehabilitation, learning “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

God loves us too much to leave us where we are or let us stay the same! The idea that God wouldn’t judge me or impose His values on me is crazy! I NEED His values! I NEED his discipline & judgment! I need a powerful God who meets me where I am, but also one who guides me into what He wants me to become. Yes, His love is unconditional in that He accepts me no matter where I am in my journey, but His love wants so much more for me. It doesn’t stop at “unconditional.” God’s love is beyond unconditional! It’s beyond our understanding! God’s love flows out of His infinite character. God doesn’t just love. He IS LOVE! And He is better than unconditional!

Isaiah 55:8-9:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Our Wonderful Life

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Sometimes saying, “I’ll pray for you.” just isn’t enough. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Our friends have lived out this passage and I want to tell you about it:

We had an incredible experience last night!! A bunch of friends (both old and new) surprised us and showed up at our door Christmas caroling. It was Nov 20th. We gathered the family to hear them and when they finished singing, they explained that they knew our year had been tough (with my unemployment) and wanted to come “be the church” to us. They handed Miranda a gift bag and then (like the movie) one by one filed by and dropped $$$/gifts in. We were all in tears. In addition, we received tons of cards and beautifully written notes from people who were unable to come as well as financial gifts both large and small. Some of the small ones are incredibly touching too – from students and people who really don’t have much to give.

Their presence, encouragement, love, and gifts could not have come at a better time. Although God has carried us through this past year, we have had discussions lately about how we’d make it through the next few months. We’re learning to trust Him more and these incredible friends were the faces of God’s provision for us last night. I can’t describe how much of a blessing they really are. My friend Josh said that God could have just given us the $$, but instead, out of His goodness, He decided to bring His people together so we’d receive both $$ and encouragement. God knew what we needed. He is an incredible provider!! He is good!! And we are blessed!!! It’s truly a Wonderful Life!!! I am grateful, humbled, honored, and probably most importantly: I know the LORD and His character better because my friends and family have represented Him so well to us.

I’d also like to say a great big “THANK YOU!!” to everyone who played a role:

Those who came.
Those who sent messages or $$ or both.
Those who organized and planned.
Those who were sneaky and lied to us so it’d all work out.
Those who got the word out.
Those who drove such long distances to be with us.
Those who prayed.
Those who cooked.

We are especially grateful to God for bringing these people into our lives, for providing us with $$ and encouragement, and for motivating them to “be the church” to us.

Here are the videos and pics:


From It’s A Wonderful Life -Steve and Miranda, posted by Laurie Godbold on 11/21/2010 (37 items)

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