Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday Miscellaneous

- Got to be honest, I started to feel a little sad when Christmas was over. I LOVE this time of year ... by far my favorite part of year ... and I was sad to see it all come to an end. But, as I started thinking about it, I realized that Carol and I did our absolute best to make this Christmas a special experience for our kids. We started the new tradition of an advent calendar, which our kids LOVED! We drove around looking at Christmas lights several times. We told the Christmas story numerous times to our kids using our nativity (they kept on asking to hear it so we kept on telling it). As I reflect on this past Christmas, I don't think we could have done any more to make it a special experience for our family. So, a little sad to see it all come to an end ... yes. But, so glad we did our best to make it special.

- We celebrated Christmas 2 times this year. Our family Christmas was on Thursday (12/23). We spent Christmas day with extended family in Illinois. Carol and I both got "special" presents on the two Christmas days. On the Thursday night she caught some type of stomach flu and was sick all night on the 23rd. On Christmas night I promptly caught some type of stomach flu and was sick during the night. I'm sure we both would have gladly returned those gifts. I was driving back from Illinois on Christmas night when I started feeling sick. Thankfully I made it home in time before the worst of it hit. Thankfully, while we're both not quite up to par, we're feeling much better.

- Kids just bring a whole new freshness to Christmas. The whole wonder of the season is renewed. My heart was just full of joy as I saw the excitement in our kids' eyes when they saw the presents under the tree and when they were able to open up the gifts. I was full of gratitude and realize how blessed we truly are as a family.

Here is Mercy opening up one of her gifts at Aunt Marcia's house.

Grandma Fern got Ezra an Iron Man for Christmas. The kid loves action figures!

To celebrate our family Christmas we did lunch in Shipshewana at Jo Jo's pretzels. Below are a couple of pics of the kids there.

Torah sort of looked like a big marshmallow in her winter suit!

- I watched an interesting debate on C-SPAN last night (I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever said that). But, it was a debate on "Is religion a force for good in the world?" The debate was between Tony Blair (taking the side for religion) and Christopher Hitchens (an atheist taking the side against religion). It was really interesting stuff. Christopher Hitchens was very smart, very funny, and very articulate. Tony Blair wasn't quite as funny, but just as smart and just as articulate (although I'm not sure he was the right person to use on the side of "religion.") I finished the program really desiring to live a life that represents God well. As an imperfect person I realize that I'm going to mess up and misrepresent God at times. But, my desire is to be the best reflection of God that I can be and in my mistakes allow God's grace to shine. I was also struck with how our pride gets in the way of so much. Mr. Hitchens kept on commenting on how to truly be a follower of God in Christianity you have to be willing to totally surrender yourself to a Supreme Being but in so doing you give up all of your rights to think freely and rationally. He said he just simply could not do such a thing. He is certainly right in the sense that following God means surrendering our lives to Him. That's not an easy thing, and I think it's pride that keeps people from doing it. I also think that religious people full of pride have done a lot of damage in the world. Maybe that's why the Bible says that God HATES pride. It's the thing that keeps us from Him and it's the thing that causes us to misrepresent Him in so many ways.

- Carol got me the book Decision Points by George W. Bush for Christmas. I've read about 100 pages of it so far and I really enjoy it. I'm curious to see the process behind some of the decisions President Bush made ... good and bad.

- I get to take a little time off this week to celebrate 8 years of marriage with my beautiful wife. I'm so incredibly grateful for her. I'm more and more thankful for her every day and am so happy that I was the one she said "yes" too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A New Christmas Thought for Me

As I've been thinking about the Christmas story over the past week, I've been struck by something I never really noticed before. Here are some of the verses I've read and then I'll share my thoughts:

Luke 1:45 - 47 "'Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!' And Mary said: 'My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.'"

Luke 2: 13 - 14 "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.'"

Luke 2:20 "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."

Matthew 2:11 "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh."

Luke 2:28 "Simeon took Him (baby Jesus) in his arms and praised God"

Luke 2:38 "Coming up to them (Mary and Joseph) at that very moment, she (Anna) gave thanks to God and spoke about the child (baby Jesus) to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem."

Anyway, what I've noticed for the first time is the theme of worship revolving around the story of Jesus' birth. Mary rejoiced in God, the angels praised God, the shepherds glorified and praised God, the magi worshipped Jesus, Simeon praised God, Anna gave thanks to God. The story of Jesus' birth is full of people praising God and worshipping Jesus! What else could our response possibly be? We've been given the greatest gift ever ... a gift that changes everything in our lives. What else could people possibly do other than worship and praise God!

Tomorrow night our youth ministry will be having a special worship celebration. My prayer is that this night will help us focus our attention on Jesus and we could join all the other characters in the Christmas story in worshipping God. I can't wait for the opportunity and to continue teaching our teenagers that worshipping God isn't an event ... it's a lifestyle. And, in that lifestyle there are a ton of different ways to worship God. It's gonna be a great night!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Miscellaneous

- It's hard to believe, but Torah is 8 weeks old already! Man, those two months have gone by so fast ... and are pretty much a blur. It's definitely been more busy at our house over the past two months. It's amazing how 8 pounds of a beautiful baby girl can completely re-arrange the working structure of your home! It's been a wonderful adjustment ... at times pretty stressful ... we're a little more tired at the end of the day ... but so incredibly grateful for our family.

- Torah is smiling now. In the famous words of Bruno Mars: "When you smile, the whole world stops and stares for awhile."

- Ezra is totally in love with her and ALWAYS asks if he can hold her.

- No matter what my day has been like, when I hold my baby girl, I feel completely at peace. There's just something about holding a sleeping baby ... I just feel surrounded with a sense of calmness ... and my heart beats more slowly. I love it!

- We also did an event this weekend just for parents of kids in our youth ministry. We held a Christmas concert for them and served some yummy desserts. 40 Miles North (aka Jeremiah and Marcie Olson) did all of the music. They were awesome! Above is the crew of girls that made the concert happen. Let me tell ya ... cleaning up afterwards was so much fun! Wierd to say that, but those girls just made it a blast!

- Here's a picture of one of the delicious drinks that we made. Each drink got loaded with whipped cream!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Every Life Has a Story

My friend Dave posted this video on Facebook and I thought it fit in perfectly with what we talked about at axis this past Wednesday night.

Axis Wrap Up 12-15-10 The Christmas Series

Another great night at axis on Wednesday. I find myself just loving the kids in our youth ministry and I am very proud of them. I feel like my heart for them has never been stronger. We had a fun Minute to Win It game and we also had an amazing time of singing and worshipping Jesus. Our teaching during the night revolved around the earthly family tree of Jesus Christ. I read the first 16 verses of Matthew 1 (which is an accomplishment in and of itself with all of those names!) I then talked about a few of the names that were listed in Jesus' eartly family tree ... names like Tamar who posed as a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law in order to get pregnant (Genesis 38) ... Rahab, a prostitute ... Manasseh, who was just an evil king and the Message paraphrase in 2 Kings 21 says "that in God's judgment it was a career of evil." There were several other names that we talked about but the point was that when God chose the family tree to bring Jesus from, He did not bring Jesus from the best pedigree and the perfect family. He brought Him an ancestry with a history ... it wasn't all perfect and pretty. There was some ugly stuff in there. And, to me, it's just the amazing story of God's grace ... no matter what you've done or what's been done to you, God's plan is still bigger than it all.
I LOVE all the other stuff about the Christmas story ... the virgin birth, the angels in the sky, the shepherds, the wise men ... but it's all so miraculous that I just can't comprehend it. I believe it ... but it's so miraculous that's it's beyond my understanding. But this part of the Christmas story I understand. It's people with a history and yet God brought the Savior of the world out of it. I wrapped everything up by really trying to emphasize the fact to our kids that God believes in them and wants to redeem their pasts ... their histories ... and turn them in to something amazing. We can have a "history" or we can have a "HIStory."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Miscellaneous

- Had a really good weekend. Had some really good church stuff going on with our community blitz, our services, and our new small group met for the first time. But, the hi-lite of my weekend was spending time with my family. We had lots of fun in the snow!

- Here's Mercy getting all bundled up and ready to go outside. She's still not a big fan of the cold. She lasted about 5 minutes.

- Ezra and I had PERFECT snow for a snow man. So, we built our first family snow man together.

- Here's Ezra next to the finished product. Right now the snow man is pretty much 3 big balls of ice! When the temperature warmed up Saturday it started to melt, but the sudden drop in temperature froze everything. So, it's pretty much rock solid at the moment ... but still looks good!

- After church and before our small group, I was able to watch the Steeler game against the "Bungles." This was probably my favorite part of the game ... cuddling with my son eating a cookie. It was so much fun!

- I'm fighting a nasty head cold right now, but still excited about our youth team Christmas dinner tonight. Should be a great time just to hang out and enjoy each other. I love our team of adults!

Helping Out This Christmas

My friend Keith came up with a new way to help people out during our Christmas Crunch Blitz this past Saturday.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Our "Christmas Crunch" Outreach

At Grace Community we call our outreaches "blitzes." Today we had our "Christmas Crunch" Blitz. We spent two hours passing out free ice scrapers at intersections in town and also passing out free wrapping paper at local businesses. It was such a blast to see our people (kids, teenagers, and adults) sharing the love of Jesus with people simply by doing something kind and unexpected. I passed out wrapping paper and I just loved the look on people's faces when they heard that it was "free." And, I just loved saying "Merry Christmas" to hundreds of people as they walked by.

I'm not sure we'll ever fully know the power of a simple act of kindness, a smile, or kind word. Our prayer is that what we did today will point to Jesus and bring people to Him.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Our New Christmas Family Tradition

We've started a new Christmas tradition this year at our home. Carol's sister gave us an Advent Calendar this year and it has been one of the biggest hits at our home! Every morning our kids look forward to reaching in to the Advent Calendar and pulling out something special. We've placed several different things in there ... candy (of course), but we've also put in special "dates" with dad, some small presents, and readings or tellings of the Christmas story using our nativity. It's been an awesome new thing that we've done this year and I look forward to continuing this tradition every year. It's just one more way to make Christmas special in our family.

Axis Christmas Play List

1. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
2. I'll be Home for Christmas - Tony Bennet
3. All I Want for Christmas - Mariah Carey
4. Christmas Waltz - Michael W. Smith
5. Gingle Bell Rock - Bill Haley
6. Winter Wonderland - Ray Charles
7. Cool Yule - Louis Armstrong
8. Joy to the World - Mariah Carey
9. Wizards in Winter - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
10. Happy Christmas - John Lennon
11. Santa Clause is Comin' to Town - Bruce Springsteen
12. Go Tell It on the Mountain - Steven Curtis Chapman
13. Gingle Bell Medley - Michael W. Smith
14. Dig That Crazy Santa Clause - Brian Setzer Orchestra

Axis Wrap Up 12-8-10 The Christmas Series

We continued "The Christmas Series" at axis last night. I figured if one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time can simply be called "The Christmas Song" we could get away with calling our Christmas series "The Christmas Series."
This month we're taking a look at various things that surround the Christmas season and the Christmas story. Last week we look at family. This week we look at the PASSION behind Christmas. I shared the thought that Christmas is all about God doing everything He could possibly do to right a relationship that was broken. I spent time talking about creation and how God created everything simply to let us see how awesome He really is. I shared about the creation of Adam and Eve and the "perfect, never been better, everything is the way it's supposed to be" type of relationship that God had with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But, when offered the choice to break the rules ... Adam and Eve chose to break the rules, sin entered the world, and everything changed.
I also shared a thought from an interview that I heard with Andy Stanley where he talked about his children disobeying. His reaction when his kids would disobey was "Oh, no! Oh, no. Now you have to face a consequence." The thought was that he does not like disciplining his children but when they disobey they need to face a consequence. I think it was the same thing when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. God's reaction wasn't "Now I'm gonna get ya!" God's reaction was more like "Oh, no! Don't you see what you've done. Now you're going to have to face the consequences for your choice. Everything will be different now."
I wrapped things up with the idea that ever since that relationship has been broken between us and God, God has never stopped pursuing us and NEVER will stop pursuing us. Romans 5:8 says "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." It's the idea that God took the first step toward us ... even when we didn't deserve it. If any relationship is broken, for healing to take place in that relationship, someone needs to make the first move. God made the first move. He sent Jesus to us to restore the broken relationship.
I challenged our kids to spend time thinking of how God has stepped toward them and what steps do they need to take toward God this time of year.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What I Try to Bring Home Every Day

I LOVE how our home looks at Christmas. Carol does an amazing job decorating our home and making it feel incredibly festive. The above picture is of our mantle. We intentionally chose the word "PEACE" to place on the mantle because one of the prayers that Carol and I have for our home is that our home will be a place of peace for our children. My desire is that every time our kids step in to the doors of our home, they will step in to a place of peace ... that there will be a sense of safety, a sense of security ... no matter what else is going on around them, when they walk in to our home that will all be left outside the doors and they'll be overwhelmed with a calmness, a quietness ... peace.

Peace is an inner quietness, a sense of rest. We all probably know what a lack of peace looks like: fear, chaos, sleepless nights, anxiety. But, God says with the Holy Spirit in our lives we can have peace ... a rest, a security in the promises of God. I hope that our home will always provide that for our kids. Where do you need the Holy Spirit to show up in your life and offer you peace?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday Miscellaneous

- It's been snowing the past couple of days which means some snow-time fun for our kids. Well, at least for our son. Mercy took her gloves off 5 minutes in to being outside and still hasn't caught the concept of her hands getting cold in the snow. After a minor meltdown, she went inside to color. But, Ezra stayed outside and had a blast!

- One of the things I enjoy most about our home is our fire place. Here are the kids warming up in front of the fire place after a bath. I love chopping the wood. I love setting it on fire. And, I love sitting down in front of the fire place with a cup of hot chocolate.

- We started our new series at Grace Community yesterday called Rebel. We're taking a look at the life of Jesus Christ. I wasn't re-born to go with the flow. Following Jesus means you'll stand out and live differently. We started our morning with prayer. This is one of my favorite times on a Sunday morning. Praise God we saw several people make decisions for Jesus yesterday.

- Yesterday was definitely a long day of ministry. As much as I try to prioritize my family and say "no" to things in order to be with my family, being in ministry means there are just some days that are going to be longer than others. At the church at 6:30am. Served all three services. Ordered everything for and set up everything for our Business Celebration. Met with our student leadership team in the after that. And, then, capped the night off with an Angel Tree Christmas party. It was an event where we tried to provide a great Christmas experience for 100 families who have children whose parents are incarcerated. The night was full of food, Christmas songs, games, and lots of presents. It was really a great event. A long day, but well worth it.

- Got home from the Angel Tree event and spent some great time with our kids. After putting them down for bed, I was able to watch the Steeler game. What an amazing game! In my opinion it was one of the best games of the year ... period! It didn't have the style and flash of a high scoring game, but it had the determination of two teams just hitting each other in the face until finally someone fell down. Thankfully, the team that fell down was the Ravens. I cannot stand the Ravens, but the best compliment I could give them is that if I wasn't a Steeler fan I'd probably be a Ravens fan. They play football the way I like to see football played ... line up and try to hit the person in front of you harder than they hit you.

Friday, December 3, 2010


All the talk of Lebron James returning to Clevland since signing with the Miami Heat got me thinking about grudges. No town holds a bigger grudge against an athlete than Clevland holds against Lebron. I mean, the city of Clevland has been looking forward to this moment for months. The Browns are out of it. The Indians were horrible. But, what they could look forward to was totally laying in to Lebron on December 2nd when he came there for the first time since leaving Clevland. And, boy did they let him have it!

Bitterness is just a poison in our lives and the longer we hold on to a hurt, the more control it has over us. The Bible says some pretty interesting stuff about bitterness and unforgiveness. 2 Corinthians 2:10 says "Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven - if there was anything to forgive - I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." I think one of the schemes of the enemy is bitterness ... unforgiveness. If we could just get even, everything would be better in our lives. The sad reality is we never do get even. We can never get back what was taken from us.

The Bible also says in Ephesians 4:26 - 27 "'In your anger do not sin' Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." I always found it interesting to read the last part of those verses: "do not give the devil a foothold." It's not that anger in and of itself is wrong ... but anger we hold on to .... well, that gives the devil a foothold in our lives. It gives him an opening. It cracks the door open wide enough for him to come in and wreak havoc (which by the way is all he knows how to do).

Bitterness, unforgiveness ... it does nothing for nobody. What breaks the power of anger is to simply say "You don't owe me anymore. I give up my right to get even." Getting to that point does not come easily. It may take years. But, the only way to break the power of anger in your life is through the power of forgiveness.

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