Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Table

When we moved to Maryland 6 months ago, we had to sell our kitchen table.  It was a nice table.  Here is a picture of it set up one year at Christmas when we hosted our extended family.  

It was a great table, but just too big to bring with us.  So, as we moved to Maryland, one of our first orders of business was to buy a kitchen table.  Here's the one we purchased.

It's much smaller.  We literally have to squeeze in around it.  It moves if you lean against it.  But, it's not the table that is important, but rather what happens around it.

Around our table we have shared laughter and tears.  We have made crafts.  We have celebrated birthdays.  We have talked about the "highs" and "lows" of our day.  I have built numerous Lego sets with my son.  I have colored in countless coloring books with my girls.  

Around our table we share breakfast and dinner together nearly every day.  It gives us the opportunity to start our day together ... to pray together ... to read a short Bible story together and to express our dependence upon God.  It also gives us the opportunity to come back together as a family toward the end of the day and share our experiences.  What made us happy?  What made us sad?  We eat.  We share.  We laugh.  And, in all honesty, with 4 kids under 7 ... there are times when we get mad as well.  It's not all butterflies and rainbows at our table, but I wouldn't change a thing.

Around our table our kids have learned responsibility.  They have to help set up for dinner.  They have to help clean up after dinner.  They have to learn to eat their vegetables ... even the ones they don't like.  It provides an opportunity to show gratitude.  As much as I can, I remind our kids to say "thank you" to mom for all the work she has put in to making the meal happen. (My wife is an amazing cook, by the way!)

Around the table, we've exposed kids to different cultures.  We've tried to make different foods that different cultures may eat.  We talk about different countries.  It's helped broaden the world for our kids and helps them realize there is a much greater world out there than what they'll find in our hometown.

We also pray.  We take time to remember that all we have is from God and we do not take that for granted.  We want to take time to pray for those who do not have as much food as we do (like our sponsor children) and we thank God that He has blessed us for more than we would ever deserve.

A lot of research has been done on the importance of family meals.  One article said this: "Parents have heard it for years: Family dinners help kids avoid risky behaviors and may even help them in school. But new research shows that the more frequent these dinners, the better the adolescents fare emotionally.  (Journal of Adolescent Health). The effect doesn't plateau after three or four dinners a week," says co-author Frank Elgar, an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University in MontrĂ©al. "The more dinners a week the better."
With each additional dinner, researchers found fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and higher life satisfaction, regardless of gender, age or family economics." 

The table could be made of oak, pine, or particle board.  It could have wooden chairs, metal chairs, or plastic chairs.  It could be large or small.  To us, it's not the table that is important, but rather what happens around the table.  It represents more than a piece of furniture.  It represents a value we have decided to have.  We believe in family meals together.  I know it doesn't work for every family, and that's certainly OK.  But, we have enjoyed trying to make the rhythm of our family work around meals together.  I really feel it's one of the best decisions we've made. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Imagine the First Time the Name of Jesus was Spoken

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him, Jesus." (Luke 1:31) ... that was the very first time the name of Jesus was spoken ... the very first time.  Think about that for a moment.  What would it have been like in the spirit realm to hear the name of Jesus for the very first time?  I've tried to let my imagination run with that for a bit.

What must it have been like for Gabriel?  What an honor to be the one to first speak the name of Jesus.  How long did he know about his mission?  Was he "on call" and at just the right time did God the Father bring him to the throne and say, "Gabriel.  It's time.  The name will be revealed."  Or, did he know about this for centuries?  Was he anxiously marking the days off on his heavenly calendar counting them down like ... well ... like a child waiting for Christmas? What must it have been like for Gabriel?  How big was the smile on his face when the name Jesus fell from his lips?  Did he laugh?  Did joy or tears fill his eyes?  Maybe both?  What an honor to be chosen as the first one to speak the "name above all names."

Imagine the anticipation of the other angels.  I would think they probably knew Gabriel was on mission.  I can see them letting the other angels know, "Hey. There goes Gabe!  Is this ... could this be THE mission?"  I can see them waiting with this great sense of anticipation, maybe sitting on the edge of their seats, fists clinched, bodies tense with excitement.  And, when they hear his name ... "Jesus" ... the leap out of their seats with the excitement of an SEC college football crowd when their team scores a touchdown!  Leaping, chest bumping, high fives and hugs all around!   1 Peter 1:12 tells us that when the Good News is preached that "It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen." (NLT) How fun must it have been for them to watch this unfold.

Imagine the response of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets.  They had been looking ahead to the Messiah.  Jesus himself reminds us that we are "blessed" because we see and hear the Good News of the Gospel and that "many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn't see it.  And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn't hear it."  (Matthew 13:16 - 17 NLT) Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, all of creation has been longing to be rescued!  And, to hear the name of the one the prophets had been looking for ... to hear the name of the one sent to rescue mankind ... what must that have been like?  Were they thinking, "Will these people even know how blessed they truly are!?  Will they understand?  We have looked forward to the Rescuer coming our entire lives.  We believed, but we did not get to see.  They now get to see ... will they believe?  

Imagine the shock waves that rocked the demonic world.  When the name that is above all names was spoken. Did their knees buckle?  Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the face."  The name of Jesus was their punch in the face and whatever plans they make are no match for the counterpunch that is Jesus Christ.   Did they get nauseous?  Did they scream "Nooooooo!"  Did they regroup and plan their counterattacks and say, "How can we do all that we can to steal, kill, and destroy" those Jesus came for?  How can we keep them from knowing the power of the name of Jesus?

What does the name of Jesus mean to me?  It's the greatest word that has ever fallen from my lips.  It's the name my wife and I have sung to every one of my children as we've laid them to bed at night ... "Jesus loves me, this I know."  His name has meant my very salvation and has been the most consistent word I have ever spoken.  Louie Giglio has said, "The name of Jesus awakens the dead and gives them life."  How true this has been in my life.  No one compares.  No one even comes close.   

Friday, December 12, 2014

Making God Look As Great As He Really Is

Is there anything in your life right now making God appear small?  

I had the opportunity this past weekend to look at Mary's song in Luke 1:39 - 55.  The phrase that really jumped out at me from that passage was when Mary said in verse 46 "My soul magnifies the Lord."  A telescope is a tool used for magnification.  It takes something big and begins to make it look as big as it really is.  Think about what Mary has heard and seen in just a short period of time.  She has seen and spoken to an angel.  She has heard that she will give birth to the Messiah.  And, oh by the way, she will do this while being a virgin.  Instead of freaking out and collapsing under the weight of this, she rejoices that God has chosen her and she begins to magnify God in the telescope sense ... taking Someone great and making Him look as great as He really is.

John Piper once said, "The whole duty of the Christian can be summed up in this: Feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as He really is."  The question I asked myself while studying this passage was this:  What keeps me from magnifying God?  If Mary did it right, what do I do wrong?  And, so again, I ask you ... Is there anything in your life right now making God appear small?

I saw 4 different things that often keep me from feeling, thinking, and acting in a way that makes God look as great as He really is.

1. I can't magnify God if I don't believe God.  In Luke 1:45, Elizabeth said that Mary was blessed because she believed.  How would your life be different if you didn't just believe IN God, but you actually BELIEVED God.  The reality is that we do not live out what we know. We live out what we believe.  It's OK to take God up on his Godness.  He's up to the challenge and at the end of the day, He will always be the last one standing.  I magnify Him when I believe Him to be huge in any given situation and that God will either change what's going on or He will change me through what's going on.  

2. I can't magnify God if I'm busy magnifying myself.  In verses 48, 51, and 52, Mary is reminded that God honors humility.  This is a truth that fills the pages of Scripture.  Pride makes life more about me and less about God.  And, I think this is why God tells us in Proverbs 8:13 that He hates pride.  Our pride drags us away from God.  It refuses to admit that we need a Savior.  It refuses to admit that we're small.  It refuses to admit that I have issues.  It refuses to admit that I may actually be the cause of the relational conflict going on in my life.  It refuses to admit I have feelings I don't like and thoughts I don't want and regrets I can't let go of.  Pride keeps me in bondage to the worst this life has to offer and until we are willing to let go of our pride and admit that we are helpless to change on our own, we will always feel a sense of opposition in our life because "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6).  Not sure about you, but I need a whole lot more grace in my life than I need opposition.  God opposes us not because He's out to get us but because, as the Creator of our souls, He has a sense of obligation to point us to our need for Him.  "Any preoccupation with myself will always put me at odds with God."  "We either God or we magnify ourselves, but we will never do both."

3. I can't magnify God if I'm not thankful for what He has done for me.  In verse 49 Mary said, "He who is holy has done great things for me."  Even in the midst of what could have been a pretty stressful situation, Mary was able to recognize the blessings of God in her life.  You can never go wrong with thankfulness.  Thankfulness is good for everyone because the alternative is a life of stress, entitlement, and just making life miserable for everyone else around you.  But, for those of us who follow Jesus, we, in particular, should be the most thankful people on the planet!  He who is holy has done great things for us!  The more thankful we are, the more reasons we find to be thankful.  I will always magnify God more with thankfulness than with crankfulness. 

4. I can't magnify God if I minimize His word.  A majority of Mary's song is based off of the Old Testament passage in 1 Samuel 2.  That passage records Hannah's song.  Hannah was longing for a child but was not able to conceive.  When she finally did conceive, words of praise burst from her soul.  It's not identical, but there are amazing similarities between what Hannah said in 1 Samuel 2 and what Mary said in Luke 1.  It shows me that Mary's life was tied to Scripture.  When she was overwhelmed by the goodness of her God, what flowed from her heart were the words of her God.  She was longing for a fulfillment of what God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 22:18 ... "and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."  Through the birth of Jesus, all nations on earth are blessed!  She was holding God to the promises of His word.  When I do the same, God is magnified.

If "the whole duty of the Christian is to feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as He really is" ... is there anything you need to start doing or stop doing in order to do this?  May we believe Him to be as great as He truly is and run from anything that keeps that from happening in our lives.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Small Town vs. Big City

It's hard to believe that it's been 5 months since I moved from a rural Indiana town to one of the most populated areas of the country.  Needless to say, it's been an adjustment. Here are a few of the differences I've noticed between between small-town Indiana and the big city ... 

Small Town ... If I drove more than 30 minutes, I called it a "trip."
Big Town ... When I drive 30 minutes, I call it going to work.

Small Town ... When traffic is slow it's because of an Amish buggy on the road.
Big Town ... When traffic is slow it's because of the million cars on the road.

Small Town ... I had to plan my day around cutting our grass.
Big Town ... I have to plan my day around traffic patterns.

Small Town ... Security is increased because of the fair.
Big Town ... Security is increased because the President is in the area.

Small Town ... Farmers are happy about the rain because it helps crops grow.
Big Town ... The government is happy about the rain because of the rain tax.

Big Town ... "Red Neck" means you got a little too much sun on your back.
Small Town ... "Red Neck" describes half the people I know.

Big Town ... Wal-Mart is just another store.
Small Town ... Wal-Mart is a way of life.

Big Town ... Emissions are something my car needs to get tested for.
Small Town ... "Emissions" are normal smells from the cow farm next door.

There are definitely pros and cons for both, but, seriously, one thing that has been incredibly encouraging to me is to see that God is moving in small and big ways in both small and big towns.   I firmly believe that the biggest thing God is up to in the world today is building His Church and I'm so thankful that population has nothing to do with that.  

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