Fresh Fruit (Week 8)

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For a while, I thought I was doing something wrong as a parent.   And if you have a boy (or 2 or 3 or more), you will understand this psychosis.  In the calmness of my morning coffee, our 3 sons begin their day at an acceleration level that would make a Porsche jealous.    Cereal, bacon and pancakes are eaten as if we live in a concentration camp and may not receive any more food for a week.  I’m on the second verse of a wonderful, contemplative Psalm in my morning devotion when full scale war breaks out between the youngest two over who took the last blue Lego.  My name is exclaimed to adjudicate the injustice as I witness the oldest on the back deck, barely clothed, shooting squirrels out of an oak tree.  Their beautiful mom emerges down the stairs like rose being sucked into a tornado.  gentleness

Maybe I need to be a firmer disciplinarian?   Maybe I need medication?   It didn’t help when we got together with our friends with daughters & witnessed the princesses playing happily and quietly with a doll in a corner for 45 minutes.  I get it why some people choose to exchange their morning coffee for a Bloody Mary!

It’s not always this way…there are actually frequent moments when “mama” emerges, everything briefly stops and there are hugs all around.  There are SO many great qualities embedded in the energy of these little people.  For the parent in this situation, it takes prayer and advance planning…as if a flash flood is coming, but you are in charge of where the water goes.

For the past couple of weeks on gentleness, we keep revisiting this idea:

Gentleness is power under control

The best hands-on illustration of this for our boys was the day we took them to an indoor putt-putt place.  The first few rounds went well…even a hole-in-one by the 6-year-old!  But since the youngest set the bar so high, this quickly became THE goal for every hole.  Adrenaline was pumping.  This resulted in a narrow miss to the face when our “center child” hit the ball too hard, ricocheting off a giant dinosaur toward two teen girls innocently playing their round at Green #12.  (The second time this happened, I pretended to not know whose child that was.)  At other times, the ball was simply not hit hard enough, resulting in the slow backwards roll right back to starting position, and demands for a mulligan.

This week’s lesson for our little guys was this:  how they are learning to handle themselves at this point in life is like their putt-putt game.  Sometimes I see them exert too much power…like when playtime starts out fun but escalates to a point where someone gets injured.  Sometimes I see them exert not enough power…like when homework is supposed to be completed or a room cleaned up “the way mom would do it.”  But when power is used correctly, at just the right level, you win and so do those around you.

One more compliment & admonition for them this week:  whenever they are around young ladies, they naturally become gentlemen.  “Let’s try to remember that mom is a lady and not one of the guys!”

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness… (Gal. 5:22-23)

As adults, power tends to go to our heads and is easily abused.  Sometimes even our identities get all wrapped up in it.  This is true of governments and churches.  Without the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure it can be controlled.

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)

Fresh Fruit (Week 4)

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Before gathering to discuss our week on “patience” last night, everyone had an assignment:  bring to the dinner table at least item from God’s creation that you would say has intricate design. (I had to define “intricate”…which took some patience to achieve).  So in addition to slices of pizza, the patio table accumulated flowers, a fern frond, a strawberry, a blueberry, a “pokey leaf from a holly bush,” and fire (yes, from the middle schooler).  We examined the intricate details of each one and pondered the details God put into every design. patience

Then for a little imagination, I asked, “do you think that each one of these came out exactly like this the first time God made them?”  Food for thought.  I mean, what if when God created the blueberry it came out more like a radish?  He doesn’t sin.  And He doesn’t make mistakes.  Could he not have looked at the radish with as much joy as He had when He got to the blueberry?

This exercise was not intended to be lesson from Genesis as much as it was to have my family think about God’s patience with us as He nurtures us toward what He desires.

In my masters program, I had the honor of sitting under Walter Brueggemann for a couple of OT courses.  He always amazed me with the way the ancient Hebrew people valued concrete imagery in their lessons about God.  I remember the day he spoke on a text from Psalm 103:8…

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

That phrase slow to anger (arek–ap) is a Hebrew idiom directly translated as long nostrils.  So if we translate this section of the verse literally, it reads:  The LORD is compassionate and gracious, He has a long nose, and is abounding in love.

My kids burst out laughing at this point…never imagining God as Kilroy.

But here’s the deal…the Hebrew image was like picturing God as a fire-breathing dragon.  But this isn’t just any dragon…even though He gets angry, He is so full of lovingkindness and his nose is so long, that when He becomes angry the fire is nothing but a puff of smoke by the time it reaches the end.  He tempers His anger with His patience, for the benefit of the ones He calls His children.

Whether we count to 10, inhale deeply/exhale slowly, take a walk to cool down or find another medium, we would all do well to find a practical, initial alternative to retaliation.  Doing so, keeps the relationship intact, and honors the other person.  It gives us time to process the truth and to pray about appropriate and just responses.  This is what God does for us.  So we are surely called to model this for those around us.

What do you find yourself nurturing this week: a child, a family, a marriage, an employee, a staff, a paper, a sermon, an account?  You might try imagining yourself a bit more like Pinocchio.  And remember…you and I have been honored to be a part of the creative process; however we are ultimately not in charge.  The outcome may take a another path and may be different (and better) than what we had in mind.

kilroyBut the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience… (Gal. 5:22)

Fresh Fruit (Week 3)

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peaceI’ll be honest:  the week on Peace was a little like what happens when one prays for Patience.  Why doesn’t God just zap us with the virtue we ask for?  Wouldn’t we save time and frustration if we could just get to the product?!  But apparently, He sees value in the practice that leads to it.  Let’s just say that all 5 of us had multiple opportunities to “practice” peace this week.

Toward the end of the week, we took the boys on a surprise, quick trip to the beach where we joined some great friends whose vacation was already in progress.  Among all the items dragged out into the sand were 2 large paddle boards which the boys quickly decided to use as surfboards.  Living near the Gulf, surfing is not something generally on our radar.  But the waves were actually large enough to give it a go.  It was comical at first…then amazing to watch their determination of climbing back on the boards to try again after some serious and painful wipeouts.  Before long, all 3 were successful surfer dudes riding all the way into shore.  On a side note, I can see how this could be addictive and ego-stroking.  Even our 6-year-old wanted to make certain that his new-found (girl) friend “Miley Grace” was watching him on shore!

Throughout the week, we discussed the Old Testament Hebrew word “Shalom” in light of peace.  It wasn’t a term that necessarily meant just an absence of conflict.  It is a spoken blessing that literally means “may your life be balanced.”  Balance is difficult to achieve.  In relationships, it’s nearly impossible without the Holy Spirit guiding our hearts.  What comes natural to us when we feel wronged is retaliation.  As human beings, we thoughtlessly achieve “balance” by returning slight and injustice in kind.  But all that does is perpetuate more imbalance.  It’s a truth that we all have to learn…whether it’s the Middle East or our living room.  On the surfboard, when one feels like he is about to lose balance, the way he stays on is to shift weight in the opposite direction.  Christ’s Spirit empowers us in the same way…to shift the opposite direction…to respond with humility, grace and kindness, even when it is not deserved.

Which brings us to the point…peace is not just the absence of conflict but is the presence of Christ.