Emmaus

Emmaus_2I went on a retreat for men last weekend called Emmaus. The weekend is based on the Scripture (beginning in Luke 24:13) about two  men who were traveling to Emmaus. They met Jesus and were talking to Him without even knowing it. When Jesus finally reveals Himself to them, he disappears. The idea is that we would travel together down this same road and  Jesus would reveal Himself to us.

Anyway, it was a great retreat. It was really awkward at first being with a bunch of people you don’t know, but it doesn’t take long to begin getting into the routine. Some of the best parts of the experience are supposed to be surprises so I won’t spoil it for anyone, but those were certainly the most memorable moments for me. I have worked in youth ministry for over 20 years now and have been a part of putting things like this together, but it’s been a really long time since I was a participant – since I was just able to sit back and listen and receive from the Lord. It was a refreshing change of pace. Someone asked to sponsor me for Emmaus about 15 years ago and it never seemed to work out as far as a date. I also never made it much of a priority because I had heard about the life-changing experiences that others were having. I knew that I had already given my life to Christ and was already living out my faith, and so I was afraid my experience wouldn’t live up to what they wanted it to be for me. Anyway, after all these years, I have now had the Emmaus experience. I was right – it wasn’t a huge deal for me, but it was certainly a good experience which allowed me to just focus on Him a bit. How could that ever be a bad experience?

The other part I really enjoyed was the discussions around the table. I sat with a bunch of really creative and fun guys. (David, Everett, Scott, Mike, and JJ) I was able to see God in new ways through their eyes and gained perspectives that I would never have seen before. We also had quite a bit of fun with the creative parts of the weekend (posters, skits, and songs). It was encouraging to hear how these guys (who were mostly my own age) were living out their faith and how God was working through their struggles with them. In my own church I have missed having guys my own age around – the good news is that He is bringing more and more of them to us and we’ve found a great small group to be involved with.

There were definitely some parts of the weekend that I did not enjoy too, but it was kinda cool to see God working in spite of it all. Here’s what I mean: On Friday afternoon, we were singing and I started noticing these guys behind me arm in arm swaying back and forth while they sung. Soon more men joined them and eventually it was me and a couple of other guys who were not involved. I felt a certain pressure to join them, but it was way out of my comfort zone – can you say awkward? JJ, one of the guys at my table, called it “Manlove.” Anyway, as I thought about it I realized that there is no place in American culture where this sort of thing happens with men (well, straight men). There is nothing about this behavior that men would really get excited about. As for a retreat and setting the stage for men to interact with God, it shouldn’t work. BUT when you factor God into the whole thing, “All bets are off.” God did move among us. He made His presence known, and in spite of  this sort of counter-intuitive approach, God used the efforts of the Emmaus team.

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for the work of the Emmaus team and my fellow walkers – for their servanthood, teachings, discussions, and expressions of love. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to leave my job for a few  days to focus on You and for protecting my family while I was away. Allow me to be the man you’ve called me to be at my home, at my job, and in my church, and everywhere I go. Lord, as You did on the road to Emmaus, continue to reveal Yourself and Your ways  to me so I can become more like You.

A New Dance with a Beautiful Bride

Dancing01I had some thoughts today – Miranda and I started our life together with a dance on our wedding day. Pretty early on in our dating life, we danced together. As we start this new part of our lives with Kasen, it kinda seems like another dance. We’re still learning the steps, and how to move together, but it sure is a fun song to dance to. And I’ve got the best dance partner in the world. I feel like I’ve been writing and praying about the kind of dad that I wanna be, while all along, Miranda is already everything a mom should be. She’s been so good with Kasen. I am so blessed to have her and I’m having lots of fun watching her “mommy-instincts” kick in. She’s incredibly patient and functions really well with almost no sleep. She continues to provide a beautiful home for us and smiles every time I come through the door. (Well, almost every time.) I like calling her “my beautiful bride” and today she is still the most beautiful girl in the world. The same girl I danced with on my wedding day. I see it as my job to help her realize how beautiful she really is. Someday, I’m gonna get her to say the words, “I’m beautiful.” and in that moment, I will have been a part of something really incredible – she will finally have seen herself the way the rest of us have always seen her.

Prayer:
Lord as we learn these new steps together, please be with us. We’ve already shed a few tears and I’m sure there are more to come, but we’ve also known You’re with us through it all. Comfort us. Give us patience with one another. Send people into our lives to bring encouragement and love. Hold us in Your hands God – close to Your heart. As Miranda holds Kasen, let us realize Your presence and closeness. Lord, on our wedding day, we had a multitude of people pray over us and I claim those prayers today over our lives. I’ve never felt closer to Miranda than I do right now, but I also know that things will never be the same. As we make this transition, guide us. Show us how to not only maintain a healthy relationship, but how to grow it even as we are being pulled in other directions with Kasen. God, we need You. We trust You and we will walk with You. Hold our hands and go before us. AMEN.

Rocks
The rocks in the vase to the right are the rocks from our wedding day. Each one was held by a friend or family member and a prayer was said for our relationship and marriage.  This vase sits on the table of our entry way so that each day we will be reminded of the love and support of our friends and family as we strive to live out the promises we made to each other on that day. With the addition of Kasen to our family, I am claiming by my friend Evan’s “transitive property” that these prayers were also for him.

Enoughness

EnoughI’ve had a few more thoughts about the quote from class the other night. Here’s the quote again:

Nathaniel Brandon, “In considering the many parental messages that may have a detrimental effect on a child’s self-esteem, there is probably none I encounter more than some version of “You are not enough”. . . The tragedy of many people’s lives is that in accepting the verdict that they are not enough, they may spend years exhausting themselves in pursuit of the Holy Grail of enoughness.”

Enoughness – isn’t that what God addressed when he gave us the Sabbath? Here’s what I mean. Before the institution of the Sabbath, the nation of Israel was in slavery in Egypt. Their value and worth was directly related to the number of bricks they could make – or how many blocks they could move – or how much dirt they could shovel. Their value was tied to what they could do – how much they could perform. When God rescued them from Egypt, one of the first things he did is institute the Sabbath – it was kinda like God was saying, “Look, you guys are valuable to me simply for being who you are. I want you to  spend one day a week doing nothing so that you can remember that you are my chosen people. Remember that you don’t have to do anything to earn my love and acceptance. You are enough because I made you enough – not because you did anything to earn it, but because I chose you. Remember how much I love you.”

As a Christian, I am enough too! I have been chosen, not for my works, but simply because God saw it as His good pleasure to choose me. Wow! That’s what I want Kasen to understand. For that matter, that’s what I want everyone to understand. How can I communicate that better? Maybe, there’s not a “better” way to say it – maybe I just need to keep saying it – to keep bringing it up – to pound it into people’s heads. Maybe I should say it enough that people can finish my sentence – I don’t know – I just know that I think it’s that important!

A Tap on the Glass

It was just a tap on the glass, but it was so much more! Yesterday, is a day I’ll never forget. My beautiful bride gave birth to Kasen Mathew (our first child) at 5:08pm. He was 20.5 inches long and weighed 7 pounds 12 ounces. It had been an incredibly long day as she worked her way through labor, but when it came time to push, she was great. I saw his head the first time she pushed. He has lots of hair. After we had a little time with him, they took him away to the hospital nursery for a couple of hours. The nurse took me there so I’d know how to find him. As she winded her way around all those hallways, my mind wandered about whether I could find him even though she had taken me there. I wasn’t allowed into the nursery, so I stood outside watching them check him over. It was a quiet hallway, and the first time I was alone – away from the crowd of  family and doctors. I looked at him through the glass and imagined the future. I imagined playing football and chasing him around the house. I watched him play with the dogs in my mind. I dreamt of Christmas and taking him camping. What would it be like to sing him to sleep? Will my lifestyle speak to him about Jesus? How will I care for him when he’s crying? What will I do? How do I. . . .? How. . . Oh no! I don’t know the first thing about raising a child. How could God give such an incredible gift to someone like me? What am I gonna do? I’m not ready for this. Tap. Tap. The nurse tapped gently on the glass calling me back to the present. Beckoning me out of my imagination and into reality. She mouthed something about giving him a bottle and I answered.

I realize now that I don’t have to know everything. I just have to be ready to love him in the present. I’ll figure  it all out as I go along. I’ll trust God to help me be the father He’s called me to be. It was just a tap on the glass, but it taught me something. . . . something profound. . . . .something important about living in the present and about trusting God.

Lily Pad Leadership

Lily
Here’s an excerpt from “Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott – She seems to have this idea that God’s leadership is pretty difficult to imitate. He can lead with such intricacy that we don’t even recognize that we’ve been led there.

“My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear.”

Lily2
I John 4:18 (NIV)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

I wonder if leading someone into discipleship could simply be the creation of "lily pads" to direct people across this swamp of doubt? How do these ideas play into the "method" we’ll be learning in class?

UM ARMY

Our UM ARMY camp this year is using 1 Timothy 4:12 as their theme. It says, ” Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believes in speech, life, love, faith and purity.” This is a classic “youth ministry” verse which has been used for camps for years and years. It lays out really well to focus on each of the five examples for a week long theme too. (Anyway, I thought it was funny ’cause we’re studying Paul’s epistles right now at school too.) The director of the programs for the week sent me an e-mail asking me to put together a banner for each day’s theme. I used a program called the “rasterbator” (weird name huh?) to take the work I did on the computer and blow up the images to about 4 feet tall by 5 feet wide. The youth helped me put all the printed pages together today to make the large pictures. They turned out pretty well. Here are the images that we used. (I’ll attach them here tomorrow when I have the files.) UmarmyspeechUmarmyactions

Umarmylove_2 Umarmyfaith Umarmypurity

I Miss my Baby

No, I don’t mean Kasen (He’s still in Miranda’s tummy) – I’m talking about my original baby – Miranda. I got to see her a little last week while we went with the youth to Meridian State Park, Stevemiranda
(notice the pic) but didn’t really get any alone-time with her. We didn’t really expect to either, but still kinda hoped.
Anyway, this past week I was at church camp in Lakeview and she went to Alabama to see her Grandma (they call her Gran). She won’t get back ’til Monday night and then I have to be at meetings and school all day Tuesday. She leaves again Wednesday morning to go with the youth choir to New Mexico – I’m already sick of the summer, and we’ve hardly gotten started. What’s a guy supposed to do? I got married ’cause I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this incredible woman and now (with her pregnant) it just seems like it’s being stripped away. I don’t regret my job or my call to ministry in any way – this is just a difficult time for she and I.

Pray for us – not only do we hate being apart, but we’re simply better people to be around when we’re together. She definitely brings out the best in me, and I can already feel myself slipping into someone I don’t wanna be. It’s my prayer that each of you (if you haven’t already) can find someone like my beautiful bride to live your life with – unless of course God wants you to be single. Anyway, my bride is amazing and it’s truly an incredible experience to be able to live my life with her!

Can’t Buy me Jeremiah???

Tonight was the last night of my Old Testament Prophetic Literature class. For an hour and a half of it we watched the movie Jeremiah, which covered his life. Clearly there had been some speculative licenses taken for the purposes of film making, but in general, it was pretty good. It followed the Biblical account pretty well and of the films we’ve seen in these classes, I’d say this one was the best. Patrick Dempsey played the role of Jeremiah, and he was great – the only problem I had was that I kept thinking of him from his other role in the movie “Can’t Buy me Love.” He plays the part of a teen boy who would do anything to serve his own desires for popularity. In Jeremiah, his role is completely the opposite – he would still do anything, but this time it’s not for his desires, but for God’s. Anyway, in spite of my own problems with seeing him as the teen movie star, I’d say his performance made the whole movie work.

I especially liked the scene from Jeremiah 27, where he breaks in wearing a yoke around his neck, declaring that the yoke of slavery was coming to them as they would serve Babylon.

In the film, it becomes clear how difficult the life of a prophet really was. God had even told him that the people would attack him (1:19), and yet he still spoke as God had commanded him. No matter what they did to him, he still continued the speak what God told him to. I must admit that my own weaknesses would have probably caused me to quit pretty early on in the process.

In Jeremiah 38, he is thrown into a cistern. He has already been hit, knocked to the ground, held in a cage, and repeatedly mocked. How much should a man of God suffer? How often does the Word of God bring suffering? It’s also interesting that he suffers for the message that God gives him even though sometimes the message is one of restoration and peace for the people. (Jer 31:31)

Another powerful scene occurs at the very end when Jeremiah looks on the ruins of the temple and declares that it will one day be rebuilt again.

Song of Solomon

Songofsolomon The Song of Solomon series by Tommy Nelson, has been and will continue to have an incredible impact on my life.

I first discovered this series and Tommy Nelson at Metro Bible Study many years ago. I’d guess around 2001 or so. Anyway, he was speaking there during one of the summers that I worked at Tomball UMC. I used to drive an hour up there each week to hear him teach and somewhere during that time I heard about this series. Around the same time, my sister was attending a church in the Dallas area where they had Tommy joining them too. Anyway, I went through the series with Tommy Nelson that summer and it really made me rethink how I had been doing the “dating” thing. I learned how I should treat women and also how I should be using the time I was single to prepare myself for meeting someone. My sister and I had a few conversations about it all back then.

Sometime after that, one of the adult Sunday School classes in Tomball decided to go through the video series. I heard about how some of the women who were active in the church really struggled through the series because their husbands just weren’t in the same place they were spiritually. I decided then, that I would not be one of those husbands. I also decided that I should be teaching that material to the students I was working with. At that time, they didn’t offer a “student” version, so we just carefully went through the adult series and the students just ate it up. They loved it! Tommy spoke of and explained things that no other adult in their lives would even come close to talking about. The students were also shocked to realize that the Bible really speaks about some of those things. It was an incredible time in the youth ministry as I watched students begin to make better decisions about their dating lives.

Sometime later, I began dating Miranda and we really tried to live out our dating life in the way that God would want us to. We prayed together and decided that after we got engaged, we would go through the Song of Solomon series together. We had each been through it on our own, but felt like doing it together would bring up specific issues that we could talk about and make sure we were together on before our marraige. It did, and it was a good thing for us to do together.

Another time I taught this series to my sister and her fiancee. They didn’t really have any marriage counseling, and were asking me to lead the wedding service. (My father-in-law actually officiated the wedding.) I insisted that they go through Tommy’s material first and Miranda and I traveled up to Ft Worth to lead them through it. I must admit that it was a little strange talking about some of those subjects with my sister, but still a really good thing.

My most recent experience (besides this school one) was teaching it to the students in my new church. It was my first experience with the student version, and it went well for our group, but when we finished, they still wanted to know the rest of the story. (The student version doesn’t cover the marriage portions.) I taught that portion to them on my own.

Now, I’ve talked alot about my different experiences with the Song of Solomon, but probably haven’t said much about how it specifically has impacted my life. The picture that the Song of Solomon paints of how to do a love relationship is the most impressive I have ever seen. Solomon’s character is strong and yet sensitive to His bride. He is truly a man’s man and yet knows how to approach her with gentleness. Their love for each other is evident and they freely express it to one another with their words, their actions, and in their intimate moments. It is also evident that there are times to restrain and to focus on the Lord. I pray that I can be a man like Solomon (with the exception of all the extra wives) and that my bride will love me the way that this book describes her love for him. Also in this book, we are able to watch them fight and argue and then make up with each other – how comforting it is to know that these are normal things that couples go through, and that love is a commitment to continue in spite of those things. I don’t believe that I would ever have been the kind of man who would have attracted my bride, if it weren’t for the things I learned from the Lord through Solomon and Tommy Nelson. I would still be a single, and probably miserable man – so all this is to say – I love this stuff! God has used it greatly in my life and I will continue to teach it to the best of my ability to anyone who will listen.

Welcoming or Welcomed?

Welcome I had a random thought today when I was in the shower. (The shower seems to be a good place to think.) Anyway, I’m not even sure why, but I was thinking about what it means to be a “Welcoming Congregation.” For some reason, that phrase “Welcoming Congregation” was in my head. I don’t know maybe it was an official title that my previous church was trying to obtain through some sort of higher organization, or maybe it was just a phrase someone used in a conference – I honestly can’t remember. Anyway, I think every church should be really good at welcoming, but I wondered this morning if we as the church might oughta strive for something else besides being a “welcoming congregation.”

Here’s what I was thinking: Instead of working towards being “welcoming,” what would the church look like if we worked towards being “welcomed?” Instead of focusing on welcoming the visitors that we have in church, what if we focused on being the visitors who were out and about the community serving others. Trying to be the kind of people that others would “welcome” into their lives. Instead of trying so hard to have our church services attract visitors so we could welcome them, what if we tried to be attractive people who sought to be welcomed? What if the church went to the community with blessings instead of blessing the community when they come to church?

Anyway, all this is to say: Lord, help me to be attractive and welcomed into the lives of the people I come in contact with. I truly want to be a blessing to others and it’s only by Your Spirit that this can happen. Fill me with You Spirit.

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