Fresh Fruit (Week 7)

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If there has ever been a topic that could feel like a broken record, it has been the week on faithfulness.  So what did we do?  Focus on it, as a family, for 2 weeks 🙂  Explaining the concept of faithfulness to children seemed a little like teaching algebra to our pets…so we narrowed it into a simple definition that we could discuss in multiple scenarios:  “keeping your promises.” faith

Some promises are BIG, like the vows my wife and I made to one another when we were married.  Breaking that promise is a huge deal that affects a lot of people.  But the Word of God says that we should be people of such integrity that we never have to say  “I promise” or “I swear.”  When we say we are going to do something, we ought to be individuals who don’t need a person looking over our shoulder to ensure we really do.  This applies to all those daily things that families have to do to work together well:  cleaning up our room, setting the table, turning off all the electronics at a certain time, sitting down to eat together without our cell phones & iPods, putting our clothes away, feeding the dog,  and on and on.  We are a Team.   Being faithful to do our part as that team member blesses everyone.  When we are not faithful to do our part, it hurts everyone on the team.

But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…

Being faithful also reveals the state of our heart.  Do I believe in the one(s) to whom I’m being faithful?  Am I willing to do my part even when I don’t understand WHY it’s so important?  Contempt or whininess unveils that we may be on the border of breaking our word.  It reveals a lack of trust, and suggests that I think I know what’s best for me.   But a faithful attitude unwraps a heart full of love and trust…that this team is important to me…that although I may not understand why this is such a big deal I’ll do it anyway.

Of course the LORD is the ultimate example of faithfulness.  Can you imagine how difficult it would be to submit to the Creator of the Universe if He constantly broke His promises, changed His mind, or frequently said to us, “so sorry…I got angry at you about that thing you did for a while.  That’s why I’ve been absent for a couple of years.  Let’s see if we can work this out & like each other again.”  (!@#$%???!)  No, He is consistent in His love for us.  He sustains our every breath and so much more.  Usually, I am so busy with my own life and fretting about my own deal that I don’t even realize this.  He is unspeakably gracious in light of how seldom I acknowledge this.

Parents get a flavor of what it’s like to be in His shoes.  Our children are in the process of learning faithfulness, but don’t always do so well.  This precipitates many moments of counting to 10, or even stepping outside for some fresh air for a while so no one gets hurt, and so we don’t say something we will regret.  But we go back in…they are, after all, our kids.  We love them.  They are in process, and we keep modeling and nurturing the fact that promises are worth keeping.  We don’t leave.  Years of practicing this in the family is like tending to, cultivating, fertilizing, watering a field which produces a rich harvest.

Let us not scatter seed and stand off at a distance for several years to see how it does.

That Moment

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I had the privilege of being with some wonderful MS students this past week.  And I have to say, it’s been a while.  If you have ever been a camp counselor, it’s likely you can relate to these moments …so I made a brief list.  Enjoy.  camp

“That Moment” at MS Camp when…
1.  You realize you are likely the oldest volunteer on staff.
2.  You can’t figure out why the 11-yr-old girl in your family group looks so familiar, then realize  you had a crush on her mom in college.
3.  You realize you aren’t that cool anymore and you don’t care.
4. You see your own kid having a blast and having some of the great life experiences you had at this age.
5.  You witness a moment of pubescent awkwardness, and the full memory of being a hyper-sensitive 12-year-old comes crashing back.
6.  Adolescent hands are in the air abandoned worshipping like you wish adults would.
7.  You realize coffee is not an amenity, but necessary for survival.
8.  You’re watching kids being catapulted off the inflatable blob on the middle of the lake and remember when you too were once mostly made of cartilage.  Your current skeletal frame is audibly saying “don’t even think about it.”
9.  The Holy Spirit is obviously working on a young person’s heart.
10.  A kid accidentally and loudly farts right before the campfire talk, and you never really ever get your audience back.

A Zimmerman Liturgy

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Father, at this moment in our history, remind us that we are Your sons and daughters, adopted by You through the blood of your Son.  Impress upon us that being your children makes us brothers and sisters, family, regardless of race.  Reveal to us the great joy that is Yours as You behold the prism of creativity in which You made us.

Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior of the whole world, we praise You–who was without sin–but who became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.  You have restored our right standing with God.  Help us now to reconcile our selves to one another.  In your humanity, your Word reveals the touch of love and power which fell upon the Jew, the Gentile, the Greek, the European, the mixed-race Samaritan, the African…to all who encountered you at a multi-ethnic crossroads of the world.  May we remember that it is You who paid the price for us to be in your eternal family, your brothers and sisters, and that we have done nothing to earn this.

Holy Spirit, Guardian and Counselor of the Church, lead us to be a beacon of peace to the world in the coming days.  Regardless of what the world will pronounce, be the guardian of our hearts and our mouths.  Help us to be people who truly forgive, knowing this does not mean erasing the past but forging a new and a holy future in spite of the past.  Help us to do the difficult work of forgiving the sins of our ancestors.  Help us to do the difficult work of forgiving and correcting deliberate acts of in justice and inequality that have persisted.  Help us to do the difficult work of forgiving and correcting the insensitive and unintentional slights we inflict upon one another without even realizing we have done it.  Lead us in courage to pursue relationship with one another so that we might not fear what we do not understand about “the other” any longer.  Lead us into true, holy community with one another so that your Church might be an example to the world of what You desire eternally.

May we look to places like Rwanda where, in spite of holocaust, victims and murderers are forging a new, holy future together in Your Name.  May we release the individualistic, American pride we so often model that we can figure this out on our own without You.  May we remember that our ultimate allegiance is to You, and that You are the Head of our family.  May we remember that being American and being a Christ-follower are two entirely different things, and that neither privilege was granted without great cost.

Amen.

Vacation Memories

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This time last week, we were prepping the minivan for the 12 hour journey home from Williamsburg, VA to our home in Lanett, AL.  24 hours round trip in a car with your family can be one of the most intensive “small group” experiences of the year!  In your church, it may take 6 months to a year for some people to open up and share what’s on the heart.  But in this circumstance, it takes less than 5 minutes.  Planks

The confines of the car have caused ALL of us who are parents to completely lose it at times.  (More often than not, I tend to look back & think “wow, I could have handled that better!”)  Full of both great memories and difficult moments, the family road trip becomes a test tube for the practice of nurture before returning to a more normal environment. Christ-following parents are afforded the “Cross-fit” workout of pressing into the Fruit-of-the-Spirit.

Lest you think this is any different or easier for a pastor’s family, here are some the most repeated statements/questions during 24 hours in the car with our 3 boys:

How much further?

Are we still in Georgia?

Dad, will you turn on the wifi?

I don’t like that movie.

I love that movie.

How many more hours?

I’m hungry.

I’m bored.

Stop shooting me.

I LOVE this song!

Are we still in South Carolina?

He’s touching me!

I have to pee!

Ethan, can you get me a snack?

I can’t sleep.

I can’t stop eating!

I need a drink.

Mama, can you turn it up?

Can I have a caffeinated drink?

Can I sit somewhere else?

He always gets the back seat.

We need gas again.

Who has gas again?

Which Carolina are we in?

No, you are not peeing in a bottle. We’re stopping at the next exit.

Can I get a Starbuck’s Frappucino?

Did you make a wrong turn?

Dad, why didn’t you just listen to Siri?

Put your seat back and rest.

Your choice for the next hour is to read or take a nap.

No we are not there yet.

That is so beautiful.

Let’s play the alphabet game.

Where’s my ipod charger?

Mom, plug in my computer charger!

It’s about to die!

Whoa!

Look cows!

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

(Moment of silence)

Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!

Are we in Virginia yet?

When are we eating lunch?

Where are we stopping for lunch?

I want McDonald’s. I want Chick-Fil-A. I want Taco Bell. (Spoken simultaneously)

Why?

But WHY!?

You guys are using our data up too fast.

Can we have coke?

No.

What about Mountain Dew?

Mama, are we on hours, minutes or seconds?

He’s touching me!

Stop touching me!

Get your feet off of me!

Why am I always the one that gets in trouble and you never get on to him!?

Bwahahaha….hahahaha!

Where’s my DS?

Who’s got the iPad?

Let’s play Minecraft.

Can we eat at Red Lobster?

My tummy hurts.

I wanna sit with you, Mama.

There are no words.

That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

What would Jesus say if He was sitting here and heard you say that?

…I am Ti…ta….ni….ummmm….

Apologize.

Like you mean it.

I love you Mama.

Fresh Fruit (Week 6)

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Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell illustrate the tension of this week’s point better than anyone else I can think of.    When American Idol debuted, we all tuned in not only for the phenomenal talent and those people-who-thought-they-could-sing, but also for the ridiculous drama often posed by these polar opposites.goodness

I don’t know how much was show or how much is simply ingrained in their personalities, but my observation was that what flowed out of their mouths came forth quite naturally.  Each one revealed an underlying assumption, a starting place from which every critique was offered.  Paula:  “there is something very valuable about you.”  Simon:  “You suck, unless of course you can prove otherwise.”

During this week on goodness, we reminded the boys of how often we begin the day asking them “are you gonna have a good day or a bad day?  Because the choice is yours.”  One quick & simple way to illustrate this with kids (and well, adults too) is to put a black dot on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper and to ask what they see.  People will almost always say “a black dot.”  Rarely does someone say “a whole bunch of white.”

Our fallenness is unfortunately a part of our wiring.  Most of us have a tendency to gravitate towards what’s wrong.  (Watched The News lately?)  When we do this, we just end up swirling down a vortex of negativity.  But when we go against the grain, when we choose to savor goodness, then we continue to see and experience more goodness around us.  There are family moments when our boy’s “Mimi” (A.K.A. Katie Cartwright), as she is surrounded by her grandkids, exclaims “This is the life!”  What a great way to savor all the white space around you rather than to focus on the dot!

By the way, there’s always a dot.  If there are people in your life who seem to be uber-joyous and you’re tempted to think they have no bad-ness pressing in on them, think again.  Do yourself a favor.  Become their friend and learn how they have chosen to enjoy a life of goodness.

Deuteronomy 30:15 presents the covenant choice for the people of God:

“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.”

God calls us to see & to savor the good (tovah) that He offers us.  Our happiness & benefit is ultimately wrapped up in Him.  Life without Him leads toward deterioration & death.

The amazing thing is God gives us a choice in the matter.  In contrast to American Idol, God’s not hoping to eliminate anyone.  He’s got a much more compassionate & gracious starting point.  Take that Simon.

14 Lessons in 14 Years

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Today I celebrate 14 years of marriage to an amazing woman.  There is certainly much more to learn, but below are a listing of 14 of the top life-lessons-from-marriage that are true for me.  Because I write these from a husband’s perspective, these may be more helpful for the guys who happen to stumble across this…Me & Em

1.  She is frequently right more often than I am.  This is difficult to admit, and I am grateful that she [usually] doesn’t smear this in my face.

2.  “Fine” is never, ever, ever an acceptable answer to any question.  Ever.

3.  A weekly calendar planning meeting keeps a couple/family on the same page and dramatically decreases the likelihood of conflict.  If I’m blocking out intentional time to do this with people we work with, why do we not extend the same courtesy to our spouse?

4.  Sex is a wonderful gift, but is maybe 10% of a great marriage.  (Kudos to you, God, for all your imagination on day 6/Gen. 1:27-28).

5.  Seasons when money is insanely tight  are opportunities to bring us closer together and to point out the things that are truly important IF we both submit to God’s teaching and embrace it as a blessing.

6.  When her opening remark is “I just don’t feel very connected with you right now,” make direct eye contact, do not blink,  shut your mouth, listen, release every urge to be defensive and respond with “I’m sorry. I completely see how you would feel that way.”

7.  No matter how hard my day was at work, her day at home with the kids was more difficult.

8.  I need to plan special things for us as a couple and also as a family, and follow through with them.

9.  If we don’t pray together, I never really see what’s happening in her heart.

10.  Thought put into a gift is way more important than how much was spent.

11.  She really is more beautiful today than the day I married her.  I’ve heard people say that before and thought they were just being nice…but it’s actually true.

12.  She is my best friend. (This is evidenced by the fact that she is still here & genuinely likes me after moments of ridiculous childishness).

13.  Seeing her grow, develop and succeed at her career and ministry gives me great joy and makes me love her more.

14.  Every year goes by faster.  Even though I’m not great at it, I do want to savor each moment more than giving into the desire to press on to the next milestone.

Babe, when we bought those guitars I never imagined what the future held for us.  I love you.

Fresh Fruit (Week 5)

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Squeals of joy awakened us on the first morning of this 4th-of-July vacation week here in Williamsburg, VA.  What excitement could our boys have discovered already here in the Commonwealth?  A program on the Revolution?  The brochures on Jamestown?  The schedule for battlefield reenactments? Our balcony here at Governor’s Green was the source of the commotion, so I slid the glass door open revealing the frenzy:  a congregation of mallard ducks devouring our Captain Crunch.  Yes, all 3 boys were flinging the expensive-peanut buttery-preservative filled balls out onto the lawn as feathers flew everywhere in joyful competition for the unexpected breakfast of champions.  I’ll admit…it was kind of fun.  But then I asked them to please stop.  “Why?” they asked.  “We’ve got a bunch more.”  My answer:  to continue to feed them would be unkind.duck1

I could tell by the look on their faces that this made no sense.  So I had to explain.  Here’s the deal:  “if you continue to feed the ducks, then they will not learn how to use their ability to discover their own food.  Continually providing what they need will lead to their destruction as they grow to expect it.”

As a family, we focused (or tried to focus) on kindness this week.  At the core of this virtue of God, kindness seeks to bless the other person.  True kindness overlaps with love in releasing any motives of expecting something in return.  The blessing of kindness is magnified by the fact that the other person is not expecting the blessing.  If the blessing is expected, it ceases to be an opportunity for kindness.  It becomes a contract, or an entitlement.

As we explained this–in more elementary terms–to the boys, they were able to see that it was an act of kindness to feed the ducks AND an act of kindness to STOP feeding the ducks.  What an amazing moment to see the look on their faces in the realization that both statements are true!  God is fair and just.  “He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  He is kind toward us BOTH when He sends blessing AND when He stops sending blessing.  He sees our futures, and He will arrange what is best for us long-term.

I’ve met some believers who refuse to acknowledge this.  And there is no lack of systemic belief in North American Christianity, in particular, that God exists to bless me.  That I am a worthy consumer deserving of His product.  This attitude extinguishes the privilege of understanding God’s kindness.  If we cling to this system of thinking, then we are left in a giant theological conundrum when we don’t receive what we were sure He had promised.  Not to mention that to embrace this idea blacks out huge portions of scripture.

If you ever sing “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord” in your worship services, please don’t ignore the Bridge:

You give and take away. You give and take away.  My heart will choose to say Lord, blessed be Your Name!

To be able to sing this lyric is acknowledging His kindness.  We are learning this together as a family.  This week especially, I would like to suggest to our leaders a couple hours North of here that they spend time with some ducks.  There just might be a National implication.

But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… (Galatians 5:22-23)