Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Of...Topics I Love to Discuss

I have a couple more days in this Best Of series. Today I bring one on a favorite topic of, the final frontier. Oh...and how small we are. I have new stuff coming back on January 2. 

How Big Do You Think You Are?

Last Friday, as a way of celebrating one last night of freedom before school started, my wife decided we no longer needed comfort. So we went way our back yard and set up the tent. The kids loved the idea. I brought my laptop.

I was checking the weather to see if we needed to put the cover up on our tent when I found that a meteor shower was expected. I looked up and saw a lot of clouds. But the children looked anyway for meteors that we wouldn't see. It led us to talk about space, a favorite topic of mine.

I used the laptop to search pictures of space. I stumbled upon pictures of the size of Earth, like this one to the left. This was no big deal, as they've seen pictures of Earth before. But then I showed them this one.
Now I had them intrigued. Those other planets seemed awfully larger than Earth. How could this be? Shouldn't we be the largest? Why would God make other planets larger?

Without going fully into 3-point-pastor mode, I simply shared that we often forget just how tiny we are on this spinning ball. Then I showed them this next picture.
In case you can't see it, that big orange ball is the big orange ball you see everyday when you wake up. It's big. Real big.

This led to a science class lesson on how the sun is a star. We talked about how far away the other stars are and why we only see them at night. I think I fooled my children into believing I know a lot. But then I blew their minds and showed them these two last pictures.

The picture to the left is of a few different stars,showing our Sun to actually be a small star. This isn't even comparing it to some of the really large stars out there.

The second picture is of some of the most distant galaxies as seen by our Hubble Telescope.

This led to me explaining that we are just one planet within a solar system, just one solar system within a galaxy and just one galaxy within the universe. Oh, and that universe is continually expanding. At this point my son's head just exploded.

We continued to have a really cool conversation as we sat out under the cloudy sky. It left us all with one very large feeling; we are very small. Yet God loves us. Then, since the laptop still had battery life left, we watched an episode of Veggie Tales.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Best Of...Book Reviews

I am doing a best of series this week while taking a break. Today I am featuring the most popular book review I've posted. I review lots of books, but the author, Jonathan McKee, was paying attention to this one and drove some traffic my way. This also became known as the most exciting Wednesday I've had on this blog. 

Oh, and it's still a good book that I would recommend to parents of teenagers. 

Candid Confessions of An Imperfect Parent

When I listen to sports talk radio, I sometimes forget I don't like commercials and listen to a promo for adopting teenagers. The voice tells me that if I ruin the punch line of jokes, make runny eggs, or wear stripes with polka dots, I could make a great parent for a teenager who needs a family.

That's probably true, which means I must be a super parent because I tell great jokes, make great eggs and I can rock those polka dots and stripes like nobody's business.

But if you're looking for someone to be a bit more honest than I just was, you need to pick up a copy of Jonathan McKee's book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent. If you can see the cover you can see a plate with burnt toast on it. That plus the title gives you a decent idea of what you're in store for here.

There's no happy family with pasted on smiles to make you give up before you even read what Jonathan has to say. It's burnt toast, which has to be about the easiest thing to make...and the simplest to burn, if we're being honest.

And honest is what we see over and over again from Jonathan. From start to finish we get the idea that Jonathan and his wife are in the trenches, along with the rest of us, in this parenting adventure. In 10 easy to read chapters we get everything from building relationships to seeing those teenagers leave the home. Jonathan gives his opinion to you without apology and backs it up with plenty of stories and research.

Just like the title might suggest, those stories don't always end up with him winning, not even in the Charlie Sheen delusional fashion. He's not claiming a perfect style, in practice or philosophy, but he gives us all plenty of tools to figure out our best style.

For churches who are interested, this is a great tool for small groups or parenting classes. Each chapter ends with great discussion questions and chapter 8 even gives a great exercise for figuring out what kind of parent you wish to be. As I'm thinking ahead in my own ministry schedule, 10 chapters can easily fit into 1 chapter a week, making this something even the busiest parent can make time for. (Was that too much? Did it sound like a commercial? If I had more time, I'd have written a jingle...)

For the sake of full disclosure, I'll let you know I got this book from the man himself, Jonathan McKee. I agreed to blog but Jonathan did not use any coercive tactics to make me say anything. I may not have anything bad to say about the book, but that's just because it's a good book. (Enter music and voice over...Buy your copy today!)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best Of...All Time Second

I'm posting some of the best of my blog from the past few years. This post came in second and I have no idea why. But since seeing the popularity I am hoping to get a patent on this idea and cash in on my kid's golden idea. 

My Son: The Toymaker!
I don't know what you talk about around the family dinner table, but topics at my house have a wide range. From discussing why southerners have an accent to how it would be if Phineas and Ferb lived with us we pretty much cover it all.

So it shouldn't have surprised me when conversation turned to baby dolls and why some of them have ugly faces. After all, some real babies have ugly faces. (Tell me I'm wrong!)

My son, always quick to offer a solution, though not always a great one, offered this. "What if the baby doll smiled when you picked it up to look at it?" Can't you see the possibilities here? How could you put back a baby that smiled when you chose it? And what if the baby had some pre-recorded messages such as, 'Yay! I finally have a family!' or 'Thank you for choosing me!'

Are you telling me that you hate people so much that you could put that baby doll back? Are you the type of person that enjoys kicking kittens? You are, aren't you?

But if you're not, I imagine that it would be almost impossible to put this toy back. After all, you wouldn't just see the smile on the baby doll's face disappear, but that of your little girl, who is looking at you, wondering if you almost put her back on the shelf.

All of this got me thinking about how we affect people in our daily lives. If we got to see a visible expression from people that we interacted with, would we see a smile? Would we see hurt or discouragement? And how would that change our actions?

I know that sometimes ugliness from this world runs deep and we don't always see how we affect others, but would it make a difference? Are we willing to stretch out our hands to help someone? Are we willing to look around and choose someone?

After all, this would be faith in action.

Or, as James puts it;

"Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?" ~James 2:14-17

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Best Of...All Time

I've been blogging for a few years now and so I thought it might be time for a best of series. I've had some surprises looking back, seeing which posts got the most hits. But, it's not about me, so I'm re-gifting some of the best of for the next week. This first best post is more than double the next and I can only assume it's because of the title garnering Google search hits. 

New stuff will begin again on January 2. 


Always Be Prepared

Always be prepared. It's a lot more than just a slogan for the Boy Scouts. It's great advice for anyone hoping not to get caught off guard. Hey, it's even a command given by the Apostle Peter when he tells us to always be ready with an answer for the hope that we have.

My senior pastor was prepared this past Sunday when he discussed being prepared. It would have just been ironic if he hadn't been prepared. But thankfully he was as he discussed the many ways that God prepared Mary for being the mother of the Son of God. That's a tall order.

Aside from being prepared to play the role of such an important mom in history, her and Joe were first time parents. Have you ever considered what it was like for them in this regards? For instance, when they had to flee to Egypt, how hectic was that?

I remember packing up for trips with my first child. There was the diaper bag, complete with enough baby food for 3 days, in case we got stuck someplace where Walmart has yet to find. We had diapers and wipes and blankets and rags, bottles and lotion. Then we had the back-up diaper bag, the stroller and enough toys to distract for any situation. This was just for a routine trip to the post office.

Joe and Mary were escaping to Egypt, but I'm sure they still needed a stroller. More importantly, they needed to be people who could handle the pressure and remember why it was important. We talk about the Reason for the Season. They were holding Him!

Our stress factors will be vastly different than Joe and Mary. None of us should need to escape to another country. Our biggest problem may be figuring out what to get for wives and moms. (I strongly suggest not getting her a vacuum.) Our preparation should also go beyond the giving of physical gifts.

Are we ready to worship the newborn King? Are we ready to share the Joy of the world? Are you ready to give a reason for the hope you have this Christmas?

Let's banter people. What do you do to be prepared for the Christmas season?

Friday, December 21, 2012

God is Here

There are lots of comments being made in regards to last week's tragedy. I would not want my name anywhere near most of them. But this, this I would be okay with.

We need more people making sense.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Posts From Christmas Past: Christmas Verses

This is part 4 of my God First, Man Second: Christmas Editions. You can find the other 3 here, here and here. No matter what you do at Christmas time, no matter what your traditions, I hope that you will take some time to remember why we even get to celebrate this season.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” ~Luke 2:14
This is what it all comes down to. The whole heavenly host come out just to sing it. Glory is given to God. This is right, because God is deserving of our glory. In fact, God is the only One deserving.

What do we get? Peace. This is beyond our undertanding. We can think we understand it. But we know, deep down, we don't.

See, we come to this God-man relationship offering nothing. I could sugar-coat that for you since it's the holidays and all, but let's be honest. We're in a big heap of trouble and we have no actual solution.

But God, planning as only He can, prepares and foretells and gives us Jesus. I'm not saying that our lives as Christians become a cake-walk, though that would be yummy. But now we have an answer. And not a 12-step, apply twice daily, take this pill kind of answer. This is miracle beyond miracles!

God is worthy of our glory. We don't need it anymore. So give God the glory that is due Him.

This originally posted on 12.19.11. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Posts From Christmas Past: No Room

Let me give you a typical conversation at the Nier household. Jennifer will be cooking supper and I will be calling the children to wash up, an activity that resembles herding kittens. I will go to our 4-year-old and say that it is time for supper. She will respond, 'I don't want anything icky.' The amount of trust that our children give us is mind-numbing. But since I know which foods get defined as icky and which foods get eaten, I measure my response.

I will explain to her that she should trust that her parents will only give her good food to eat, but she has seen too much broccoli to believe that. She has her own version of truth and will not allow my perception to warp her reality.

Such is the case with Jesus and some Jews that we're told 'had believed him' (John 8:31). The conversation starts out innocently, with Jesus offering them freedom. Jesus breaks it down for them, even telling them why they are ready to kill Him. 'You have no room for my word' John 8:37. Uh-oh.

Have you ever considered what this actually meant for these Jews? We live in a day where people seem to make room for every silly thought that is uttered, no matter the source or veracity of such comments. We make room for anything and everything to be true. But not the Jews. They lived in a time where Truth was a rare commodity. And apparently they had developed such a truth in their own hearts that they simply had no room when THE Truth was standing right in front of their very eyes.

This is often our predicament because we are full of ourselves. Our abilities. Our schedules. Our stuff. Us, us, us. We are discouraged and offended by God's word because we simply have no room. We choose not to accept truth because we are consumed with the lie.

Sadly, the manger scene was not the only time in history when man made no room for God.

I would give more to charities, but there is no room in my budget.
I would spend more time helping at church, but there is no room in my schedule.
I would pray more for people, but I have no room in my thoughts.
I would read the Bible more often, but there is no room in my reading schedule.

So now we are full swing in the Christmas season, with the Grinch making appearances long before the cartoon gets aired on TV. If only it were as simple as Linus explaining the real meaning of the season to Charlie Brown. But it's not.

It begins with us and a choice. How will we make room for Jesus in our lives?

This was originally posted on 12.09.10. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Posts From Christmas Past

Let me see if I have this straight. God’s Son enters this world as a baby, the ultimate in a gift to mankind. We select a date of December 25 (though let’s not get into that), and we commemorate this gift of God. We celebrate each year by singing songs, giving gifts, and keeping in mind ‘the reason for the season’.

Whether through history before or after Christ, we have added details of some jelly-belly bringing gifts, drinking eggnog, and having office parties until the New Year. Added to this in recent years, we have Christmas decorations sold before Halloween is here and, despite any economy, lists as long as our legs and retailers willing to sell us the items on that list. Don’t even get me started about the 362 different versions of The 12 Days of Christmas song.

Is it just me? Or does just about everything around us scream for attention to be taken from Jesus?

I remember as a child in my family that birthdays were important. You may be neglected the rest of the time, but on your birthday, you were the star. You got to choose where the party was at and what was for dinner. You could (almost) do no wrong. Today was the day your siblings got ignored and you reigned supreme. I loved my birthday. I still do. The only difference now is that I just want a nap. (Can I please not go anywhere special for my birthday?)

Here's my point; if a birthday is about the person being born, how did we make Christmas about us? It's Jesus' birthday, for crying out loud. It should be about Him. I, for one, am going to make it about Him. Will you join me?

This post originally met the world on 12.10.09

Monday, December 17, 2012

Guilt Trips Rock At Christmas

Do you think Mary ever gave Jesus a guilt trip over the pregnancy, labor and delivery?

I know you're the Son of God and all, but I was in labor for 19 hours. And don't even get me started on the smell in that place, with all the barn yard animals. 

And how does Jesus begin to answer that? Is that the time to remind Mom you are going to die for her sins as well as those of the whole world? Do you remind her that labor and delivery wasn't your fault, but Eve's? What about enlightening her to the fact that you've never done anything wrong?

Have you ever tried to deliver a baby with the smell of goats? Have you ever seen the ways cows don't mind their own business?

I have to say, being Jesus isn't easy.

And don't get me started on Joe. He just sat in a corner while I did all the work. He tried to tell me he didn't do this to me, but I still blamed him. 

Let's be real. The Christmas story is a messy story. In more ways than one. It wasn't long before Joe and Mary had to leave town. Just the first of many ups and downs in the life of Jesus. Imagine Joe and Mary packing up everything in the middle of the night to flee to Egypt with a newborn? 

Joe, did you pack the baby stroller?
This is to say nothing of what would happen 30 years later as Jesus began His earthly ministry. As we celebrate Christmas, let's remember the purpose for which Jesus came. This holiday is just the beginning. 

Scheduling Note: I've dug into the posts from Christmas past to bring you thoughts from previous years. I'd write new stuff, but I still have some shopping to do for my wifey. You understand, I'm sure. So this week is Christmas stuff. Next week I'm going to bring out a 'best of', since most people will be busy with families. If you do have time to read me, it will only be the most popular posts. You are welcome.

Friday, December 14, 2012

My Wife on Meds

It's not the only time that I expected a call from a grocery store informing me that there was a strange lady wandering the aisles and perhaps could I help, but this time the phone call was real close. And the lady in question was my wife.

Side note: I haven't talked with grocery store managers and put my name on some sort of 'counseling needed' list. So I really shouldn't ever expect calls from a grocery store. But I think the idea is worth exploring.

But oh, my wife! 

She's been going through a mighty struggle with allergies. But she's like a Norseman when it comes to illness. She'll just glare at the sickness and shrug it off. Or, at least, that's what happens in her mind. In reality she drags her body around while trying to keep up with our kids and her normal schedule. 

The great thing about my wife is that she's not so stubborn that she won't get some medicine after being down for 2 weeks. The even better thing about my wife is what happened next. 

She needed to pick up her prescription after an evening at church. After all, where else would we be? Knowing she needed to pick up a few other things, I left her a note reminding her not to forget her medication. In my typical fashion, I simply wrote 'MEDS' in big letters on a post-it note. 

As she left the church, she stuck the note to her chest, so she'd have it with her in the store. She got her prescription and a few other items. While in the check out, she ran into a friend, who promptly asked her why she had a note stuck to her chest. That's right, my wife walked the entire store and even conversed with the pharmacist, all with a note reading 'MEDS' stuck to her chest. 

I can only imagine why the pharmacist suggested counseling while handing her the MEDS. But it also got me thinking. What if we all had our biggest need written out for everyone to see? 

My wife walked an entire store and it was clear to everyone that something was not right. (I'd say more there, but I'm clearly already treading on thin ice with this post.) The thing is that many people walk around with needs just as obvious, even without the note. But most of us try very hard to keep our problems hidden. 

But what if we didn't keep it hidden? After all, the only way my wife is going to get better is if she gets some medicine. The rest of us stand a much better chance of receiving help if we make ours needs known to those who can help. 

I know we don't want to be needy. And nobody wants to be down during the season of Christmas. But perhaps post a note asking for help might provide a chance for that Christmas miracle to take place. 

How hard is it for you to ask for help? 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rick Nier says Woo!

This guy doesn't need any help directing traffic to his site. If anything, Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like fame, is like a superstore that uses the other smaller store around him for extra parking. My blog, on the other hand, would be where you park when you just bought a new car and don't want to get it scratched.

I digress.

His post from yesterday is equal parts snarky, pointed and convicting. Oh, it's also good food for thought. You can check it out here.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Handel's Handle on the Messiah

It was 1741 when George Frideric Handel composed the Messiah. In the mix is the song For Unto Us a Child is Born. He used Isaiah 9:6.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

That's good stuff and hopefully you're humming the tune in your head by now. In case it isn't, listen here. And that's nice. It's got good stuff.

But I like to look at the context of Bible verses. Especially the famous and popular verses, we can learn a lot by where they are found. I kind of wonder which groups might sing this song with such flourish if it began with verse 5 from Isaiah 9.

Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.

At least now you have something for the guys to look forward to as well. If you know the tune, I think you can hear how the high tenor voices would do these lyrics justice. The echoing of 'every garment rolled in blood' would bounce off music halls quite nicely. 

On a serious note, especially in the context, notice where the focus returns in verse 6. It's on a child. And it's not the child crying for attention. It's a child on a mission with a Dad who will not give up His glory for another. 

The same is true this season. It's all about a child.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Now and Later

Most people that read my blog will not care about pro basketball but there was a nationally televised game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat. Gregg Popovich, the coach of the Spurs, chose to send his 4 best players home before the game. The Spurs as a team are older and he decided to rest his stars throughout the season so they will be rested and ready for the playoffs.

Now, forget for a moment that sports mean way too much in our world and athletes are overpaid. Let's take it for what it is and allow me to give you a few more details. The Miami Heat are the defending champs and this game was highlighted on national television. 

So, because people talk all the time about sports and decisions, much was made about Popovich's choice to seemingly throw this game. People argued that this was way too early to be worried about the end of the season. This was too soon to be resting players. 


Are choices we make in November and December too soon for outcomes in April and May? Is there no acknowledgement that the things we do today have an impact on our lives months and years later? In the case of sports, one could argue that players cannot just turn fatigue on and off. But in more important areas of life, it must be admitted that we do not just become the person we've always wanted to be without working hard to become that person.

Our choices have consequences, both good and bad. This was made real to me recently as my son finished his occupational therapy on his left arm. Breaking it back in September, we worked through the pain and prayed against lifetime injuries. We took him twice a week and exercised his arm throughout the week. At the end of September, my boy could barely move his arm. He certainly didn't want to think about moving his arm. It wasn't easy for us to watch him struggle and wince. 

Today, he has 99% of the movement back. It should also be noted that the Spurs almost won the game. 

The little things we do now have a great effect on what happens later. Anything less is shortsighted.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Keeping the Feast

If you had told me there was a cookbook I would enjoy reading, I'd have asked if it was about bacon.

Had you told me there was a book about communion that would leave me longing for the taste of wafers in my mouth, I'd have scoffed. 

Keeping the Feast is not about bacon and while I am not craving plastic wafers, I found myself riveted as I turned the pages of this book by Milton Brasher-Cunningham. In fact, I turned so many pages over and marked so many quote that you will probably see me referencing this book a few times on this blog. 

Milton has taken communion, an admittedly oftentimes habit that we Christians have taken for granted and infused the readers, at least this one, with a sense of the more that it can be. In fact, on that very point, Milton agrees that we are creatures of ritual. 

"Yes, we are. On purpose. Ritual is best defined as 'meaningful repetition' - repeating those things that help you remember, as the old saying goes, who you are and whose you are."

Milton waxes eloquent about the ritual, the preparation, the community and a host of other topics as he shared stories of his ministry, his resume of cooking jobs and all the people that came along the way. As a bonus, he includes a favorite recipe at the end of each chapter. I'm not much of a cook and even less so for recipes, but his poetic treatment of everything leaves me wondering if I should give it a try. 

Either way, this book is something you should give a try. Because communion and community is something worth us falling in love with, all over again if needed. 

This book was given to me by my good friends over at SpeakEasy. They send me books and ask that I say something. What I say is up to me. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

It's All Connected

Watching the news, my wife and I came across 2 interestingly timed segments.

The first was of a woman, Lindsey Stone, who took a picture that went viral. She was standing next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, near a sign that read 'silence and respect.' The pic showed her yelling and holding up her middle finger. What was interesting was how people were calling for her to be fired. She works at a nursing home, who separated her actions from their core beliefs very quickly after the pic went viral.

My first thought was to ask how her job was connected to what she did on her own. I know this is a slippery slope and can be instantly asked of every president who made a crucial error in moral judgement that likely did not affect job performance. (Read:Bill Clinton) This question has been asked of sports stars as well. Tiger Woods, anybody?

And while I wondered why others might feel the need to call for Lindsey to lose her job, I couldn't help but imagine that the apology given was not going to make things easier for Lindsey or her friend that took the picture. 

Perhaps I should have turned off the news before things got worse. 

The very next segment was about the retiring of the long-time voice of Elmo, Kevin Clash. Accused of child abuse by multiple people now, he stepped away, acknowledging that the story was distracting from the purpose of Sesame Street and their goal of education. If only that was the biggest problem. 

If the first story left us wondering where professional and private lives collide, the second story certainly cemented the connections. In the first, i wondered whether Lindsey would be served well to face veterans who would be offended by her actions instead of being able to hide. But in the second, I stand together with anyone agreeing that Kevin should not be allowed to influence, much less be in proximity, to children. 

Just how connected is our professional and personal life? Perhaps there is a better question. Why did we ever think the two could be separated?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rick Nier says Woo! 12.06.12

People won't always like what you say. The sooner you get accustomed to that idea, the easier the internet is going to be for you. Here's a case in point:

People are all worked up over Bob Costas' recent comments regarding the Javon Belcher tragedy because of his views on gun control. Okay, I get that. But what's being missed is a great quote I discovered through a friend's blog, which you can find here.

I'm choosing to highlight this because I want to argue about gun control. 

I'm choosing to highlight this because I needed people to be angry with me.

I'm choosing to highlight this because people often miss the main point. They get stuck on a detail they disagree about and then the main point gets ignored.

So, to Howie Snyder, willing to face backlash if it comes, I say Woo!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Bundle of Joy

It’s the story that never grows old. Filled with God’s special messengers, unexpected company from the field, unexpected gifts from special guests from afar. Tales of romantic twists and a marriage that almost wasn’t. Even the stars seemed to align themselves.

And all of it centers in on a baby.

Babies in our day are used to getting all of the attention. Company comes from all over to celebrate the new bundle of joy. Every little need they have is met with great attention by a mom or a dad. If it’s not, the cries come quickly. But this story of Christmas was more than the normal routine for a birth, even by first child standards.

Yet, routine is one of the words that is unfortunately linked with Christmas. I find people can lean towards two categories when it comes to this holiday. They love it and begin to play Christmas music in late September or they will bemoan the fact that Christmas decorations pop up around the same time as Halloween stuff in all of our stores.

I won’t say people automatically fit in one of these categories totally, because while I am not a Grinch, I am certainly not listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. I’d like a good dose of tryptophan to get me ready for this season, thank you very much.

But I have to wonder, for those who roll their eyes and simply see dollar signs when they think of Christmas and how much it is going to cost. Has this story grown old? If the thought of more wrapping paper and letters to Santa only elicits a sigh, perhaps they are focused, and weary, of the wrong story.

There are plenty of ALL-CAPS-red-font websites to decry the commercialization of the birth of Jesus, so I won’t go there. But for a people who are committed to worshipping their Lord and Savior every day, and coming together every week as a reminder of what God has done for us, a yearly focus on the Messiah come to Earth shouldn’t make us weary.

Anticipation should mark our attitudes as we recall just how amazing is the birth story. After all, it is filled with plots and subplots, danger and escape, gifts that double as prophecy, and of course, family.

Even today, company comes from all over. With any luck, most of it is not unexpected. And hopefully, we will come prepared to celebrate, because this bundle came to bring…joy. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Refusing a Gift

My family, like many others, has a traditions of busting out Christmas decorations as a way of shaking off the turkey-induced comas. That, and my wife knows I would put it off until the weekend before Christmas if it was left to me. 

There I would be, on December 21, asking if decorating a floor lamp could count, since the light bulb at the top could act as the star. But the wife, joined by the children living with us (how many of them are there?) demand this tradition be carried out in its rightful time. 

Getting out the Christmas decorations meant pulling out the nativity scene, which for us means a Little People version the kids can play with. At least it was one they used to play with when they were younger. Since it remains buried away for 11 months of the year, it still draws some interest. 

They will divide the characters into 3 teams, causing the shepherds to be picked last, even behind the fuzzy sheep they were in charge of. Teams picked, the storyline begins, with my boy introducing more danger than ever there was in the actual story. His danger is often created from a wayward donkey bent on doing evil. Mary, in the hands of one of my daughters, undoubtedly bears resemblance to a Disney princess. And so the story goes. 

But this year an interesting twist was added by my 6-year old. Holding the angel in one hand and the baby Jesus in the other, Jerica asked if Mary would want the baby, as if this gift was one she could refuse. She asked from the perspective of the angel, as if from a Heavenly Baby Delivery Service. 

'I sure hope Mary wants this baby.' To be honest, Mary's willingness was probably far removed from her desire. Did she want relational problems with her fiance Joe? Did she want to be ostracized from the small community she was a part of? Did she want to put on the extra weight without even a holiday as an excuse?

No, my daughter, I don't know that Mary wanted this gift as much as the gifts you have asked for. The gift was like her Spidey-power, one that brought great responsibility. It was a burden as much as it was a privilege. This begs the question...

Do we want this gift?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cross Roads

Wm. Paul Young has done it again. Depending on how you felt about his book The Shack, it could very well determine if you are glad it has happened again. His new book, Cross Roads, follows Anthony Spencer through his less than perfect life.

If you liked the playful depictions of God from Young's previous bestseller, you're likely to enjoy this view as well. Some of this felt familiar, but that is far from a complaint. When a good reminder is given, it often is needed to be given again.

You shouldn't fear that this is simply The Shack 2.0, for new characters are introduced in unconventional ways, including an Irishman named Jack, who will feel like a welcome friend to many.

Young does a good job of keeping the story moving, bouncing between several stories. I must admit there was at least one point where the story line felt forced in order to give Young a chance to stand on a soapbox. Readers can be sure that assumptions will be questioned and beliefs challenged. But what else is reading for, if not for an opportunity for growth?

In the end, I was left with a few questions, but I believe that marks a good book, just like a good movie. If I want everything wrapped up neat and tidy, I'll rent a rom-com for my wife. This was a good story with lots of room for thought, both during the read and after the book is done.

I was given this book for free by my good friends at SpeakEasy. They ask me to say something, but don't tell me what to say.

Paul's website
Paul's old blog
Paul on Facebook
Paul on Twitter
Crossroads chat on Amazon

"This is my first novel on purpose." Jim Henderson (of Off-the-Map fame) interviews Paul Young aboutCrossroads