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?

Rocks

My collection as it remains today.

As a kid, I collected rocks. The obsession followed me into adulthood and my first youth ministry job in Tomball. I think I like rocks, ’cause to me, they aren’t just rocks, they represent stories, times in my life, memories, etc. The movie “With Honors” also features a guy who collects rocks as symbols of his life. Anyway, I took a few pictures and thought I’d share a few of them with you guys. I’ll start with the oldest ones and move through my life:

Rose Rocks

As a child, my parents took us on all kinds of short little weekend trips where we could discover the world around us. I remember taking shovels to dig up salt crystals (Oklahoma Salt Plains) and collecting “rose rocks” another time. Although the salt crystals didn’t survive my childhood, I still have a few of the “rose rocks.” They will always represent my childhood and the adventures my family would take us on.

The first individual rock I remember finding and keeping was a piece of pyrite (also known as “fools gold”) in the bottom of a creek in Yellowstone National Park. I’m not sure if I really found it or if my dad dropped it in the water before I arrived, but nevertheless, I became a “rock hound” that day. It was the summer of 1978 and I was 8yrs old.

After that my collecting became more intentional. I also spent lots of $$ (well lots for a kid) buying polished rocks from every souvenir shop we ever entered. I also used my collecting as an excuse to hit my parents up for “rock candy” every chance I got.

Fossils from Meridian State Park

There are many more rocks I could show you, but these are quite possibly the most important. I found these fossils in Meridian State Park when I was in High School. These represent the greatest decision of my life. It was in that park that I began my relationship with Jesus Christ. I found them with my friend, Shayne Hackworth as we hiked around the lake with a group of friends. You just see rocks, but I can still picture the trail where we dug them up. I can still feel the weight of them in my pocket and remember the joy of my first days as a Christian. I’ll refrain from reminiscing more.

The next rock has a bit more of a story. When I was attending Texas A&M, I went on a canoeing trip with some great people from the Wesley Foundation. My friend Scott and I decided to climb the side of a cliff to crawl into a cave that we had seen. Once we were in, we couldn’t see the back of the cave, so we started throwing rocks to see if we could hear the back wall. One of the rocks slipped out of my hand and hit the ceiling which then crashed down in front of us. We realized then that the whole ceiling was crystal. We grabbed a few rocks and climbed out. I ended up using this rock many times throughout my Youth Ministry career to show students how the body of Christ works together. Each crystals fits perfectly with the others. Together, they make up the whole rock (Jesus is the Rock). If one crystal is removed, other crystals fall out. One time I was preaching and as I shared the story I dropped the stone on the ground in front of me. It broke. At first I was upset, but then I realized that the Body of Christ was broken for me too. Anyway, there’s are lots of great symbols in this one.

I found this rock on a beach in San Franscisco. I was with a group o youth ministers who were attending the National Youth Workers Convention. We had pooled our $$, rented a van, and taken a little trip to see the sites. I picked up this rock, cause I noticed the holes in it. Once I looked closer, I also noticed the small stone within one of those holes. I tried, but couldn’t dislodge the small stone from it’s position. If the rock is Jesus, then He was protecting that stone very well. It’s been at least 15yrs and that stone is still there. It remains because the larger stone remains. I think there’s a lesson in that for me. I will remain as long as I’m able to remain in in the hands of God.

The Fish Fossil was given to me by a student who was in the Youth Ministry in Tomball. Shane Sampson was the son of a science teacher and he and his dad actually dug this thing up. He contacted me on Facebook recently and to my surprise is very involved in doing ministry himself these days. He is an area director for Young Life – doing student ministry himself. This is not just a rock. It represents all the stories I’ve been able to hear from my ex-students about the things God is doing with them now.

I cannot speak of my rock collection without mentioning these. On January 3, 2004 I married my beautiful bride Miranda. We asked each of our guests to grab a stone as they entered the sanctuary. During the ceremony, we had them hold the stone and say a prayer for our marriage. You may see rocks, but I see prayers. I see friend and family who are encouraging us in our commitment to one another. I see hundreds of voices who joined together to request God’s intervention on our behalf. Our marriage has been great! The past year and my job/financial struggles have certainly tested us, but the truth is that we are probably stronger than ever in our love for one another. I believe these rocks are part of the reason why. Well, not really the rocks, but the prayers of our friends and family are priceless. They are able to touch us with God’s hand even when we don’t know we need a touch. This vase sits in our living room. I see them every day and I’m grateful for such amazing friends and reminders.

So there you have it. A few of the rocks in my collection. I have enjoyed this little walk through my life and hope somebody out there is actually still reading. (I probably should have started with my wedding rocks if I had wanted people to read about them, but. . .well, it is what it is.)

My Beautiful Bride Today

Miranda was exceptionally beautiful to me today. I’m not sure what the deal was, but today she looked even more incredible than normally. Maybe it’s this “radiant glow” thing that people say happens with pregnant women. Maybe it was what she was wearing today or the attitude/outlook she had on life today. Maybe it was my outlook on life today. Maybe it was the way that God shined His light on her today or how all the planets aligned to cause a special gravitational pull which subtly pulled on me causing a heart palpitation within my chest cavity blah, blah, blah. Bottom line. . . . I don’t know what it was today – I just know that I’m so blessed. God has given me such an incredible gift in my bride. I’m so excited about our future together. It’s gonna be so cool to watch her as a mom to Kasen. I’m excited about the team that we’re going to be in raising him.

Our lives are about to change in huge ways once Kasen is born and I must admit that my excitement about the future also has a tiny little hint of sadness/fear about those changes too. I mean, I love my bride and the relationship that we have. I love that we can just get up and go to dinner or travel to Houston to do something fun. I love hanging out with her and cuddling in front of the TV for a quiet night at home together. I’m a little fearful that these days are almost over. Of course I’m excited about what’s coming and how we’re gonna be changed, but I’d be completely clueless to not recognize the beautiful thing we have now.

I thank You God for everything you’ve given me – for my bride, and these incredible early days or marriage, and for the amazing future You have in store for us with Kasen. It’s gonna be so good!!! I love You God!!!

Jewish Wedding Lessons

06-01-23 01I heard a guy (Dan Kimball who wrote “The Emerging Church” – www.vintagefaith.com ) talk the other day about what a Jewish Wedding back in Jesus’ day was like. He related the Jewish customs to our relationship with Christ as the groom. We are the bride. He is the groom. Here’s my take on it all:

1. Selection of the Bride – The first step in the process was when the father of the groom selected the bride. Young Jewish girls had little say in who they would marry and would dream about who would select them. The groom committed his love the the bride based soley on his father’s decision. The bride loved her groom simply because He had loved her first.

It’s good for us to remember that God chose us. Even in the midst of our sin against Him, He still loves us. Romans 5:8 “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Of course it is out of our response to the love that He offers us that we are able to love Him. 1 Jn 4:19 “We love because He first loved us.”


06-01-23 022. Mohar – The second step in the process is called the “mohar.” This is the price that was paid to the bride and her family. It represented the magnitude of how the groom valued her. The greater the price, the more value they had ascribed to her.

For us, we should remember that Jesus (the groom) paid the ultimate price for us with His own life. This is proof that we are incredibly valuable to God. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “You are not your own; You were bought with a price.”

3. Engagement Contract and Gifts – After paying the “mohar,” the groom would offer the bride a list of promises which he was committing to her for the life of their marriage. This is list was called the  “ketubah.” In addition, he would give her gifts to remind her of his love while he was away. (see next step) He would also offer a cup of wine to his girl. If she accepted his offer, then she would drink of the cup without saying a word. This act ceremonially sealed the engagement before he left. (check #5)

We were given a “ketubah” (list of promises) called the Bible, and many gifts (Romans 12:6-8 – spiritual gifts, the Holy Spirit, the church, etc.) to remind us of Christ while He is away. Mark 14:25 Jesus says, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine again until the day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” The last supper represents the seal that Christ has on us.

06-01-23 034. “Mikvah” – The fourth step in this process is called “mikvah” which is a ritual bath that the bride would take to “set her apart” from the world and “for” this man. She would symbolically say – my old life is gone and the new has come.

Our baptism is our “mikvah.” It is the time when we decide to “set ourselves apart” for Christ. It is during this time that we are made “new” again. Jeremiah 1:4-5 – We are set apart for God.

5. Groom leaves to prepare the wedding chamber. Typically this would last about a year, but the groom could not decide when he was ready to come back for his bride. This decision was made by his father. Most grooms would typically want to rush through the preparations to “get on with” the wedding, so their fathers would decide when the chamber was ready. When the day finally came, the groom would gather his friends and together they’d march into town blowing a “shofar” to announce their arrival. They’d make all kinds of noise to show how proud they were for this union. It was the bride’s job to be ready (to have her lamp trimmed) for when he came.

John 14:2-3 – Jesus speaks of leaving to prepare a place for us in heaven.

Matthew 24:36 – Not even Jesus knows when He is coming back, only the Father does.

Matthew 24:31 & 1 Thessalonians 4:16 – Jesus will come to get us loudly – with a loud trumpet call.

Matthew 25:1-13 – It’s our (we are the bride) job to be ready for His arrival.

06-01-23 046. Wedding Ceremony – In most cases a “chupah” (canopy) was built for the ceremony to be performed under. It symbolized the “covering/blessing” of God on this union. The bride would receive a crown and the couple would drink another cup of wine. (Another custom which was added later is that this cup would then be broken as a symbol of the “bittersweetness” of the day – sweet for the couple, but bitter for their people whose temple had been destroyed.)

When Christ returns and gives us our crowns, our union will be complete and we will be with Him forever. As the cup is destroyed, we can remember that we will no longer need it for communion – we’re already communing with Him.

7. Wedding Feast – There was one final step in the wedding process. The party time!

This is the time after we are joined with Christ forever and begin the eternal party with Him. Rev 19:6-9 and check out who is invited to the wedding – the normal/poor people – Rev 3:20.