Friday, July 31, 2009

The Rock

I have this moniker, Mr. Woo. It comes from people saying my name and my answering with (wait for it)...woo. Mr. Woo is actually not too bad of a nickname. It beats the nicknames I was given as I was growing up. Skinny Boy and Four Eyes weren't horrible, but Cries-When-Wets-Pants left some scars. Needless to say, I have tried to leave these behind. I've never introduced myself by saying, 'My name is Rick, but you can call me Captain Pansy.'

Because of my not so successful past with nicknames, I am surprised when people with great nicknames choose not to use them. Case in point, I saw a movie poster for some has-to-be family friendly flick starring...Dwayne Johnson. Now there is nothing wrong with the name Dwayne. But I saw the picture and said, 'Isn't that The Rock?' If I had a choice between my name and The Rock, I'll be honest, I am going with The Rock.

It got me thinking about how we choose to be identified. Perhaps Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson is getting some advice on who will choose to see his new movie based on his name, but most of us have to make up our own minds based on how we want to be seen. This can be simply by nickname, or by who we hang out with, or simply by how we act.

I am ashamed to say it now, but I can remember a time when I did not desire to be associated as a Christ Follower. I would acknowledge it if forced into a corner, but was normally attempting to be someone I was not meant to be. It's ironic, because now I try to hide the parts of me that do not reflect Christ.

This is not all bad, as I read Colossians 3:3-4, my goal is to become less as Christ becomes more by living through me. It's only when this life is over that I, the true me, will appear with Christ in glory. I can live with that. I will put my identity in the true Rock.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

God vs G.I. Joe

Summer is known for releasing blockbusters. And at the risk of affecting your image of how cool I am, I need to tell you I want to see one more. G.I. Joe. That’s right; the preferred toy of me and all my friends is being made into a movie. I can remember many, many days spent setting up and enacting battles between the Joes and their arch enemies, the Cobras. If I still have any sense of cool left, let me get rid of that now by telling you that I still have all my G.I. Joes from my childhood. I only kept them for my kids to play with...no, really….seriously.

I recently pulled them all out from boxes that have been taped for more than twenty years. After cleaning off two decades worth of dust, I introduced my children to my old toys. All the effort I put into packing, shipping, storing, and cleaning was worth it to hear my son ask why their weapons do not fire automatically. What’s wrong with kids today?

I was playing with my children the other day and explaining which guys were good and which were bad. I was reminiscing about how much I played as a kid with my friends and their G.I. Joes. Then I mentioned that my friends and I would sometimes trade toys. That is when Jacie, my 7-year old, said matter-of-factly, “That’s not very good, Dad. You should be happy with what you have.” This from the girl who just prattled off a birthday list as long as my arm with things that would complete her happiness.

But she has a point. It made me wonder how often we do that as Christians. The Apostle Paul talked about this when he wrote the church in Philippi. He said that, even beyond materialism which has obvious pitfalls, we tend to want more and compare ourselves with one another. His conclusion?

“The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant…” (Philippians 3:7-8, The Message)

I have some cool, vintage action figures. But what I have in Jesus Christ is worth far more. That’s something that I will not trade.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Disclaimer: This is my story, but it is not a story about me. This is about what God can do. Oh, one more thing (a disclaimer within a disclaimer). While I am prone to exaggeration in my stories, I am not prone to exaggeration in my life.

The very fact that I am hesitant to write about this says more about my lack of faith than about one answered prayer. Undoubtedly God has answered many of my prayers. But I am guessing there are many boxes of unanswered prayers waiting because I have simply not asked. Here's what happened.

My wife and I have been planning the gala event of the year; our son's 6th birthday party. It means a lot to us that it goes off well because he lives in a world largely dominated by estrogen. He has two sisters and a church full of girls his age. While this will might be deemed a good thing in his mind in about ten years, right now he lives to play with and wrestle boys.

So we set the date and plan for outside water games. We also buy some blow-up boxing gloves for use on our trampoline, which seems appropriate given the audience. All systems are go for the ultimate boy party. Then we check the weather. All week long the weathermen, who are always accurate, are calling for rain on Saturday. This results in stress for my wife as she imagines 7 boys in her house. It leads to stress for my son who wants water games and boxing gloves. Stress for them translates to stress for me.

So, in a rare moment of courage, or defiance, or stupidity, I have a heart to heart with the Almighty. (I preach it, why can't I live it?) I talk to Him about many things, but add that I don't care if it rains Saturday morning and Saturday night, I want 2-4pm to be sunny skies.

Saturday morning comes and goes with great big ominous clouds all over. I pray again, in case God needs a reminder. About an hour before the party is supposed to start, it's still cloudy and my wife and I debate getting water balloons together. Seriously, I need more faith.

With about 15 minutes to go before the party starts, the skies open up and it is actually warm outside. So I scurry around getting water games ready, assuming my rush is punishment for my not believing that God, who is a Father and likes to give good gifts, would want to grant one of His children a happy birthday.

I'd like to take another crack at some other mountains in my life. Perhaps I'll take them one at a time.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Fair

"No fair!" she screamed.
"But you punched him," I reply.
"It wasn't that hard," she shouts.
"I don't think his ear is supposed to be that color," I reason.
"It's still no fair," she concludes.

With punishment taken care of, I walk away wondering why justice doesn't make sense to my children. Then again, God probably wonders the same things about me. Sure, I appreciate justice when it is being doled out to murderers and other 'really bad people', but I wince when it heads in my direction.

In my most mature moments, I can appreciate that justice comes because God loves me. It is the opposite that causes me bigger problems. How do I handle life when injustice comes my way? Those times when I am minding my own business and someone deems it necessary to ridicule or hurt are the times when I question, 'why me?'

Paul says it ‘has been granted…to suffer for [Christ]’ (Philippians 1:29). Some of us may at time suffer for being a Christ follower, but Paul writes as if we should be honored. The first century Christians felt it was an honor to suffer, because it was then they shared in the life of Christ.

'No fair' was not part of their dictionary. They did not think like that. Fair, unfair, good times or bad, it was all about Jesus. This should be okay with us since we know that He has our best in mind. Especially since our suffering here cannot compare with our future glory. (See Romans 8:17-19). That seems fair.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What We Say in Our Sleep

They say on average that women use twice as many words in a day as a man. Apparently that is not enough for the women in my life. My two-year old was napping as we came to a drive-thru window of a fast food chain. In her sleep she heard her brother ask for a cheeseburger and she mumbled that she wanted one as well. On several occasions, my seven-year old, who probably uses three times as many words in a day as I do, will come out sleepwalking and mumbling. My wife has also been known to sleep-talk, but due to the fact that I value life (my own!) I will withhold details.

All this non-stop talking has me thinking.

First of all, it seems that Christ followers tend to have answers that we give in our sleep. It would be difficult to convince non-believers that we aren't all handed a manual, upon entrance to our club, of how to answer tough questions. The single fact that our answers are similar would not be a bad thing, except that some of our sleepy answers don't actually answer the questions being asked.

This leads me to this second thought. Perhaps we answer questions too quickly. Yes, maybe our answers are technically correct. Yes, maybe the hearers sometimes have to 'man up' and accept hard truth. and perhaps some of the questions are not really valid. But how much time do we give for questions when they are asked in earnest? How many of our answers are not typical knee-jerk reactions? How afraid are we of saying we don't know?

I have done no research, but I wonder if Christians could be accused of using twice as many words as we should.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Complete Silence?

I am no expert when it comes to the book of Revelation or the end times. If you want that, go check out one of the 56 books by Tim LaHaye. But it's part of the Bible and so once every decade, I take a peek. I found something that left me wanting.

"When the Lamb ripped off the seventh seal, Heaven fell quiet— complete silence for about half an hour." (Revelation 8:1)

As a father of 3 young children, and a youth pastor by trade, I don't know what 5 minutes of silence would look like, much less 30. Actually, this is quite remarkable, even for Heaven. If you read the first 7 chapters, you have Elders and Angels all singing, all the time. And I have to believe it's loud. Plus it's probably loud. What reason is there to whisper in heaven?

But the silence is not to last. And it looks like the silence there is similar to the silence that occasionally comes to my house. It's the calm before the storm. It's only quiet because something bad is about to happen. In my house, if it's too quiet, you can be sure there's plotting going on. Silence in my house is usually followed by one of several scenarios; rolls of toilet paper inextricably strewn about, a child climbing his/her way to the ceiling, quick giggles followed by shouts of 'don't tell Mom!', or blood.

I'm not saying God was plotting, but the silence is followed by 7 trumpets. And no, it's not a band. It's the tune of fire and brimstone.

Maybe you look forward to some silence in your day. So do I, but I may just remember to be a tad more thankful for the relative calm in the noise.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Twice as Expensive

Do you know why those stamps at fairs and parks are important? I'm talking about the ones that they put on your hand when you want to return on that same day. Obviously, we want to get back in. As a first-rate thrifty dad, I do not want to have to pay again to get in a theme park that I have already paid to get in to.

But what if? What if my family had been paid for and then exited the park for some reason? Most likely it would be to eat at our vehicle. As I said, I'm thrifty. And let us suppose that one of my children had somehow slipped out without having their hand stamped. It would be like them to squirm away and refuse. And because I was hungry for lunch, I did not notice.

As we head to go back in to the park, we might all be granted access except for this one wayward child who decided the stamp was not that important. And as long as we're supposing, let's say we got that one Type-A worker at the gate who refused to believe that I had already paid for my kid to get in the park earlier that day. Let's assume that there would be no logic that would convince this worker to let my kid back in with me. No stamp, no admittance.

I know what I would do. I would pay for my child to get back in, if for no other reason, than for them to be reunited with their family who loves them. (They might not get any ice cream from me later, but that's a different point entirely...)

This is what God has done for us. In Revelation 5, we're told that Jesus bought us back. It's actually quite beautiful.
"Paying in blood, you bought men and women,
Bought them back from all over the earth,
Bought them back for God."

We've been a tad expensive for Christ, and that's understating it. But just like my proverbial child who will not be allowed to forget what I did for her, we should never be allowed to forget what God has done for us. So don't lose that stamp. You've been bought back!

Friday, July 10, 2009

3-year old Girl: 1 Dad: 0

I think way too highly of myself. Despite what the Apostle Paul said about not thinking too much of yourself, apparently I do. This is despite the fact that I have very little power and am in a position of very little respect. Most of the time I am ok with that. After all, I am a youth pastor.

But when I walk through the doors of my home, I expect things to change. For whatever odd reason, I expect blind obedience to my wise council and bold direction.

I'm an idiot.

Last night, I set the children down for bed. Mind you, this had been a good night. The kids played in the water in the back yard, took showers, we ate, and then celebrated life by having cake and ice cream. They should be putty in my hands, I thought. Like I said, I'm an idiot.

'Bedtime', I call out. The 7-year old goes down without a fuss. The 5-year old, though squirmy, goes down. It's just my wife and I and the 3-year old. 'Bedtime', I repeat. The swift reply is 'no'. I told this just-turned-3-year old that she was, in fact, going to bed. She sat down in the living room. Like a recent Wimbledon final, we fought back and forth. I assumed victory would be mine, but it only came after the humble realization that I was not the more determined.

I need to re-read the Apostle's Paul's direction to be humble and consider others better, even if they are packaged in the seemingly innocent form of a 3-year old.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

You need to leave room for dessert

My wife is a good cook. Seriously. But no matter how good a meal is, I always try to save room for dessert. I know the information out there about eating healthy and not snacking late in the evening. It doesn't matter. If I am too full for some cookies and milk, then the day feels like a loss. Yes, my name is Rick and I am a treat-a-holic.

The problem as I see it is that I have been programmed to think that dessert comes after the meal. But I think it should be seen as important to the whole meal as the vegetable, if not more so. See, we fill our bodies with stuff that we're not as interested in as dessert. It leaves us with no room.

This reminds me of something John Piper write in his book Hunger For God.
"If we don't feel strong desires for ... God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great."

Making room for God is a much more serious matter than desserts. When we try to simply 'fit in' God, we inevitably find that we're left with inadequate space for Him. This is why many decide to give Him the first, the first part of their day, the first portion of their income, their best energy, thinking, and resources.

I would think that, just like whoever made the dessert, God wants us to taste and see how good He is. So I guess what I am saying is to make sure you give your first space to God. And keep in mind the age-old wisdom to leave room for dessert. God and cake. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Friday, July 3, 2009

But won't my arms get tired?

Small does not mean isignificant. Being insignificant means being isignificant. But perhaps that's besides the point. I came across this small verse in a small letter towards the back of the New Testament. It's Jude 20-21. All of it is good and I am thankful to Jude for writing it, but one thing in particular struck me this morning.

Jude encourages his readers to "keep your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ."

It seems to me that we keep ourselves very busy dooing things. This keeps our hands busy. Busy, busy, busy. We're busy like bees, but at least the bees make honey. I often wonder what we create with all our busyness.

Jude is telling us to keep our arms open and outstretched. I'm not sure about you, but I haven't often tried to get things done with my arms in the air. Unless, of course, I was holding something up for somebody. But except for those instances, I often have my arms full and doing stuff. Because doing stuff is perceived as good and important and not doing stuff is equated with southerners on their porch. (Before I have anyone from the south tell me how stupid I am, keep in mind two things. 1. I am from the south. 2. I already know how stupid I am.)

I guess, for now, instead of getting back to the to-do list, I'm going to go hold my hands up somewhere and wait to see what God does.