Sunday, December 25, 2005

Ok, it was here and now it's about to leave. "It" being Christmas, of course. This is a confession blog. If you are not in the mood to read confessions then vamoose. Scram.

I warned ya.

Christmas is not my favorite time of the year. I know, I sound like a pagan or a communist or something for saying that. I've spent 50 years denying it but it's time to 'fess up. Let me make a few things very clear first.

A) I love Jesus. Actually, I love the whole Trinity. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. And I totally do not mean to be flippant or disrespectful in my phraseology. I am not merely a Jesus fan ... He is my Savior. I owe Him everything. He is my best friend. I would rather spend time alone with Him than anyone. I take joy in worshipping Him. So my lack of passion for Christmas is not a lack of passion for the birthday Boy. Not even close.

B) I love the church. She is the Bride of Christ. I am a part of her. I do not disrespect her, feel cynical about her, or in anyway mean to trash talk her. Never trash talk Jesus bride. That would, I suspect, be a very dangerous thing to do.

C) I love my family and my friends. Both my local family and my long-distance family. I would do anything for them. My local friends and my long-distance friends. Again, they are on my short list of things (people) I would die for. So I don't mean any of this as a slam against them. For that matter, I don't mean it as a slam against anybody.

So now that we have that out of the way, here we go.

The Christmas season leaves me cold. It is all of the usual things that people complain about when they analyze Christmas and it is more. Crass commercialism? Yes, of course. I detest the way that the media insists on a day by day dissection of whether or not we are going to spend as much money on each other as we did last year. How despicable is that? While Santa reigns in center court of every mall, Jesus sits outside somewhere beyond the parking lot. And we do not even try to hide it. "We" being the church. We fall for the same thing pagan's fall for. The only possible difference is that we spend our money in "Christian" bookstores ... of course they are owned by conglomerates that have nothing to do with anything remotely Christian. On the other hand I am well aware that I should not expect anything better out of the world. I mean, at least we are giving each other gifts. We are generally not killing each other. We are, for once, being nice and thinking of people other than ourselves. So I suppose that there is a plus side. It's just a smaller plus side than I would like.

I confess to being bugged by eight foot tall glowing Santa's, snowmen, and this years latest addition, huge inflatable water filled snow globes. I have to admit that this latest edition is at least creative. The first time I saw one I knew how an ant must feel crawling across an end table where the usual mini-snow globes sit. Do I even have to mention my thoughts on 200 watt manger scenes?

And then there is "The Little Drummer Boy." Have you ever really listened to that song? It's about some guy playing a drum solo for baby Jesus and getting a smile in return. Isn't that just a little bit goofy? There are twenty-one "rum pum pum pum's." This lyrical masterpiece has one hundred and sixty eight words. Ninety eight of those words are either pa, rum, or pum. That leaves seventy words for substance and story line. Do I really need to say more?

Fudge. I love fudge. Vanilla is my favorite but nobody makes it so I settle for chocolate. It is usually polluted by nuts of some sort. All nuts are evil so it doesn't really matter. I suck the fudge off of them and spit them out. Why do people only make fudge at Christmas? Have you ever seen fudge at an Independence Day celebration? Memorial Day? Have you ever seen green fudge on St. Patricks day? Face it, if it is not Christmas your only hope for getting fudge is to go to some tourist spot and pay $7.99 per pound. Not even fudge is worth $7.99 per pound. Carrot Cake is another evil thing that seems to dominate Christmas. People ... vegetables do not belong in cake. Ever. Make a note of it.

Now that I am fifty years old the gifts that I receive at Christmas tend to be designed to encourage me to do things that will not hurt me. You know. Things that point me to my favorite easy chair rather than participation in a wild eyed sporting event or even a minor league work-out. I suppose that I should make that concession to Christmas. I can't get hurt watching a dvd in my new sweater. Well, I can. But I have to work at it.

And here is the real problem. Who has the time during December to really sit down and contemplate what Christmas means? Can you honestly say that at any time during the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas day you are able to simply reflect on the magnitude of what this holiday means? I'm not really all that bugged by the shopping and the culinary gorging and such. I'm just irritated that the entire season slips by and I feel so pressured to "do the Christmas thing" that I never connect with Christ Himself. And you know who's fault that is? Mine. You don't run my schedule. Nobody runs my schedule but me. So it's my fault. Not yours. Certainly not God's. The gavel crashes down on nobody but yours truly.

I could go on but what's the point? I am always more tired when Christmas is over than I was when it began. I just wish that we (the church) could find some way to love Jesus out loud without having to fake it. And that is what Christmas so often seems to be. Faking it. Convincing ourselves that we are really loving and caring and self-sacrificing when we know that we are not. Not in any big scale way at least. I think that it would be really cool if, for instance, someone would just forget about the fudge and instead call me up or drop by my office and say something like, "How are you, Ron? Tell me the truth. What is on the front burner of your brain these days? Let me in on it so that I can pray for you or simply encourage you. Because I care and I don't need to spend a penny to prove it." How refreshing that would be!

Ok, enough. This is probably a really bummer/detestable blog. I apologize if I drug you down with my thoughts. That was not my goal. Honest. But every now and then I have to just say, "Hey, this is MY blog spot and so I'm just going to write what is on my mind." And that is all that this has been. It's what is on my mind. It may or may not be close to the truth. It may or may not apply to you, the reader. I haven't a clue. It's just where my brain is. I'll probably wake up at about 3AM, burp, and be over it. So sleep tight and puh-lease don't let these mini-ranting make a dent in your tomorrow.

God is good. He can take it when I'm feeling less than exhilarted. I hope you can too...

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Peace. it is a gift given by God. I have looked around a bit and have come to the conclusion that it really cannot be found anyplace else. You can be in the fiercest battle of your life and have peace if the Spirit of God reigns within you. You can be laying on the beach in Cancun and experience inner turmoil if the Spirit of God does not reign within you. It is that simple.

True, sometimes God reigns within and you still feel anything but peace. Many have said that you will know the will of God if you have peace about a situation. I have to take issue with that. There has been an abundane of times that God has directed me to do something and I have felt anything but peace. I have felt pain, grief, sadness, and a variety of other emotions. The picture the scripture paints of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His execution is anything but peaceful. He sweat drops of blood. That does not sound peaceful to me. Yet He went through with His assignment and came out on top. Way on top. This teaches me that God calls me to do the difficult thing at times. Peace is not always the hallmark "check point" for being in the will of God.

And yet outside of the will of God any peace you experience is a mere counterfiet. Life is odd. It is seldom pleasing in a geometric sort of way. It is about hard corners, difficult angels, and wicked curve balls thrown your way. But if you trust ... the Lord is always with you. Always.

And it is enough.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I'm not on fire anymore. I wish I were. Fire I can understand. This ... this I cannot figure out at all.

This is going to sound stupid. I feel like a gray haired grandpa (never mind that I am a gray haired grandpa) moaning about his lumbago or his rutabaga or something. I kind of ran into something last week. I did it with my right foot. I didn't have shoes or socks on. When I did, I tore the toe nail on my big toe. Really badly. I tore it in such a fashion that it ripped the edge off of it. You know what I mean ... the very corner. The result is that as the toe nail has started to grow back it is growing INTO my toe. This is what the call (in medical circles) an "ingrown toe nail." Who is the genius that names this stuff? It really hurts. I'm playing with it every day trying to turn it back into an "outgrown toe nail." It will eventually work but it's going to take some time.

That's where things get wierd.

I was on my hands and knees a couple of evenings ago poking around at the hot coals in my wood burning stove. I love seeing how long I can keep the same fire going. My record was set two winters ago when I kept the same fire going for twenty three days. I was sooooo proud! I haven't really gotten with it yet this winter. But I will when it gets really cold. It's just "toying with us" cold right now. I'm being patient. It will get here. Anyway, I was on my hands and knees going at it with the fireplace poker when I noticed ... I noticed that I could not feel my big toe. The one on my left foot. The one that doesn't have an ingrown toe nail. I sat back on the floor and looked at the toe. It looks normal. I touched the tip of the toe. Nothing. I poked it harder. Nothing. I took the relatively hot poker and touched the end of my toe. (Ok, this was not smart. I know. You don't have to tell me.) Nothing. No pain. No feeling whatsoever. Nada. Nyet. Nothing.

Is this not a little too odd to be chance? One toe is in great pain. The matching toe on the other foot feels nothing at all. What are the odds? And more importantly, does it mean anything? I told Debbie that it is probably the precursor of a stroke. She did not smile. I said, "watch!" And I closed my eyes, extended my hands, and tried to bring my index fingers together in front of me so that they touched on the tips. I missed by about 8 inches ... on purpose. I tried it again and almost poked both of my eyes out. I thought it was really funny! She did not. Something about not thinking it was hilarious to consider finishing up raising Christopher all by herself. (He's twenty. We are done. She just hasn't admitted it yet. And Debbie, I know you are reading this. I'M KIDDING.)

There is probably a spiritual application here. Like ... oh ... when one part of the body hurts other parts compensate by numbing out. Now understand, that is not at all a positive spiritual application. Yet I have found it to be true time after time after time. If you don't agree just talk to anybody after a typical baptist business meeting. Those that are not angry are numb. This is a lousy application. I'll have to work on a better one.

Well, there is nothing to do about this situation but wait. The bad toe nail will be good again someday. The numb toe ... well, I don't know what's going to happen with it. It doesn't really bother me physically. But it drives me bonkers mentally! Things on my body are supposed to respond when being touched! I mean .... today it's a big toe. Tomorrow? I shudder to think.

As Forest Gump said so eloquently ... that's all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I have been on fire twice this week. And it's only Tuesday. I have to wonder what the rest of the week has in store.

It all began on Sunday evening. It was quite crisp and I had a fire roaring in my wood burning stove. When the wood burned low I grabbed a new piece and slid it through the door, placing it on the glowing embers. And then I touched the steel plate that keeps the flame from rushing up the chimney and lighting the flue on fire. It really did not take long to realize that I had touched it. I knew it immediately. The pain was ... intense. I leaped the 15 feet to the kitchen sink and turned on the cold water. I also found a huge hunk of ice laying in the sink. Debbie had cleaned out the ice maker in our freezer. I stuck my hand against the ice and kept the water pouring on it. The pain eased. After several minutes I lifted my hand and looked at the wound. Part of my index finger was charbroiled. You know how when you drop a chicken breast on the old weber grill it quickly gets those black "cooked" marks on it? That's exactly what I had on my flesh. I was cooked. No, not all the way through. If you cut me open you would have found that I was probably to rare for your taste. But, none the less, I was partially grilled.

This morning I had an early dentist appointment. I found myself in his torture chair at 8 AM. It seems I had a small cavity in the back part of a front tooth and he was going to fix it for me. That is how I came to find myself tilted back so far that my head was below the level of my feet. My mouth was wide open and this big man had his hand buried in it up to his last knuckle. That is always a fun way to start off a morning. Then, through the music piped in to my Ipod covered ears, I heard him rev up his drill. What an instrument of mid-evil torture these things are. Total brutality! But four shots had gotten me numb enough that I really didn't care much. Within seconds his drill was doing its work on my tooth. I was listening to a nice rotation of various worship music that I had formed into a play list. After about a minute I realized that this drilling was taking quite a long time. I opened my eyes (Teachable moment: never open your eyes when a dentist is drilling on a tooth.) My mouth was smoking. Yes, smoking. The dentist did not seem concerned. The dental assistant didn't seem concerned. I, however, was concerned. I was numb from the tip of my nose to somewhere near my navel but I was pretty sure that smoking teeth was not a good thing. Well, he stopped drilling and his assistant squirted water into my mouth. The smoking stopped. I thought I heard a siren in the background. It might have just been the smoke detector bolted to the ceiling. I am not sure. So anyway, he finished his work, charged me a fifty dollar co-pay, and sent me on my way. I think I drooled down my chin for about an hour. I cannot find any signs of fire damage in my mouth. I don't have any symptoms of smoke inhalation. I don't know what to make of it all.

So that is how my week is going. I suppose things could be much worse. Of course, there is still 5 days to go. I am going to try to stay flame-free. Why push my luck?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Oh. So this is what it feels like. The White Sox won the world series. The last time they did that my dad (who died in 2000 at the age of 80) was negative two years old. That is a long time. A very long time. I have done some research and I think I have discovered the date of the first baseball game I ever attended. I began with the knowledge that it was a night game played during the week against the Detroit Tigers at Comiskey Park and the Sox won 7 - 0. That would fit only one game. It was played on September 2, 1964. I was 9 years old. And I was a deliriously happy.

I watched every pitch in all four world series games on a 31 inch television in my living room. I sat in the same chair ... MY chair ... for all four games. I do not believe that I missed a pitch. As a sports thing it was magnificent. My beloved White Sox, hero's of my childhood, the first team I ever saw play in person, executed a nearly flawless performance. And last night they won the world series. The Chicago White Sox are world champions.

So this is what it feels like.

I do not know what I expected. Exuberance, perhaps? I experienced that. Ecstasy? Present. Joy? Most certainly. Flashbacks of playing baseball on our neighborhood ball diamond while pretending to be Pete Ward, Ken Berry, Ron Santo, or Glen Beckert? Yes. I watched every post-game show I could find and absorbed every minute. I enjoyed it in its entirety with my baseball fanatic son as my baseball impaired wife and mildly interested son floated occasionally through the room. I propped a picture of my dad up on the edge of my chair so that he could enjoy the moment with me. After all, he was the one who got me hooked on the great American game. I had my childhood scrapbook of the 1968 Cubs and Sox on the table next to me. In it I had chronicled every game of both teams throughout that long, dismal, typical summer of Chicago baseball. It was all there with me. Sharing the moment.

And then it was suddenly closing in on 2 A.M. and I thought it best to go to bed. So I did. I lay there in the dark, on my back, listening to my wife quietly breathing next to me. That was the moment things began to fall apart in my baseball soaked world. Without asking for His opinion I heard God speak. He asked me which I enjoyed the most, a White Sox world series or the simple sound of my wife's breathing.

My wife won, hands down. It is better to lay in the stillness and listen to the life sounds of someone I love than it is to win the world series. And then God told me what it was that made baseball so important to me ... why it is a passion. And it turns out that it isn't the beauty of the game (though it is a thing of beauty,) it isn't the perfect symettry of the field (though it is a perfect diamond,) it really isn't even tradition and team and time honored statistics kept in painstaking detail.

It isn't the "what" of baseball. It is the "who" of baseball. You see, the man that bought me the tickets and sat with me in the bleachers and behind home plate is the same man who tossed the ball up in the air and hit it as high and as far as he could so that I could run across a field and chase it down, feeling that incredible satisfaction of leather landing in leather. The "who" of baseball is my annoying brother emptying out his paper popcorn holder, ripping the bottom open and using it as a bullhorn to cheer whoever was winning from 10 rows behind Sox catcher J.C. Martin at the "Boys Benefit Game" played annually at Sox park against the cross town Cubs. (I never could figure out who to cheer for. It was always an evening of exuberant pain.) That is, by the way, the same brother that I called within seconds of the Sox winning it all in the middle of the night. To call him was to touch him ... to touch our past. The "who" of baseball is sitting with my own wife and three children, sometimes right behind the dugout at Wrigley Field and sometimes huddled under a blanket in the frigid upper deck of Busch Stadium at April's "Good Student Night." These days the "who" of baseball is grabbing some tickets from on-line and running up to Wrigley Field's bleachers in mid-summer or, as was the case this year, a couple of great seats 5 rows off the field down the right field line at "The Cell." We were close enough to Jermaine Dye to hear him burp his pre-game snack.

But it's not what. It's who.

I never would have known this had it not been for last night. It seems that the best feeling I have ever felt is NOT my beloved White Sox winning the world championship. Don't hate me for saying this. Please don't call me a sissy. Friends, it probably is not even in the top ten. It does not come close to watching one of my kids lead their own church youth group. I've done that for thirty one years. And now both of them have done it. And they are probably just getting warmed up. It is not even in the ball park with the phone call I just got from my happily married daughter telling me that she's going to work at her church. She's going on staff within their preschool department. (Three of my three kids ... serving Christ by serving His bride. Only God could do that.) The Sox victory, as sweet as it is, should not be mentioned in the same breath with any one of the thousands of times my wife has slipped her hand into mine.

But the very best feeling I have ever felt is the indwelling Holy Spirit. Sometimes it is when He quietly whispers what I should say to the lost and seeking soul that has come to me for direction. Sometimes it is when He simply tells me that The Father really, really, loves me.

So there it is. My team won. If you are a Cardinal fan ... tough noogies. Nah nah nah nah nah. (thumbing my nose in your direction.) I shall rub it in all winter long. I will be merciless in my taunting.

But now you know the truth.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Some things on my mind at the moment...

V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N. Need I say more?

The White Sox are in the World Series. The last time that happened I was 4 years old and had not even moved to Chicago yet. While watching the game last night I realized that my dog, Bailey the Killer Beagle, has white paws. White Socks. Hmmm. My dog is a White Sox fan. And I don't even think she knows it. One of my dad's customers in his door and window business was a guy named Tony. Tony owned Melrose fireworks. They are the company that manufacture and launch the fireworks at Sox Park in Chicago when the Sox hit a home run or win a game. Tony was a great resource for tickets when I was a kid. I remember one day I was at my desk at Lincoln-Way High School when his factory blew up. When a fireworks factory blows up ... it really blows up. Fortunately dad was not there at the time. They rebuilt the factory and they still have the Sox contract. Every time I see fireworks above Sox Park (ok, ok, US Cellular Field) I think of Tony and dad and those twilight double headers we use to go to. Or the "Boys Benefit Game" that the Sox and Cubs would play yearly. It didn't count but we always went and always had great seats behind home plate. And now they are half way through winning the world series. Life is surreal.

My youngest son, Christopher, just moved back home after serving a two month mission in Council Bluffs, Iowa. By the time he had been home for a day I realized what I had missed. Like, I missed the little stereo being left on the vanity in the bathroom every morning. He listens to it while he showers and then never bothers to put it back in it's spot. That bothered me until he was not here to do it anymore. I actually put it on the counter myself one morning. It just wasn't the same. I was really glad to see it back there bothering me on the vanity again Saturday morning. Welcome back, Chris.

My wife is going to have her gall bladder removed two weeks from today. That scares me. My wife is my best friend and the best person that I know. I do not like the idea of some strange surgeon putting her to sleep, punching little holes in her, cutting out a part that she supposedly does not need, stitching the holes closed, and then waking her up again. If she doesn't need the gall bladder ... why did God give her one? Did I mention that I really love my wife? I want her to be ok.

Here is the best thing that I know. God loves me and made room for me in His family. And then He went to a lot of trouble and expense to get me ready to move home when I'm done here. I spent a little money sending Christopher on his mission trip and bringing him back. No big deal. It was worth it because I see how God worked in his life while he was away. I wonder if, when God looks at me, He says "I spent quite a bit to get Ron where I want him on this mission trip he's on and I spent even more to make sure he gets home ok when he's done. But it's worth it. Because I love him and want him back here with me." I really hope so. I know how good I feel every time I look at my kids. All three of them. They amaze me. It is important to know that they feel welcome here and will always have a key to my door. To think that God might feel that way about me, well, it's just the best thing I can imagine.

Friday, October 07, 2005

I have had this thought rolling around in my head over the last day or so. I can't get rid of it. You know the story about "the frog in the kettle?" How if you put a frog in a pot of cool water and then put the water on the stove and bring it to a slow boil the frog will just sit there. I mean, he won't catch on to the fact that he's being boiled alive because the change is so gradual. So here's the deal ...

Who figured that out ... and how?

Is there a guy out there somewhere that tried this? And if there is ... how in the world did it ever enter his mind that we needed this bit of information? Maybe he just needed to boil a frog and did not have time to kill it first and so he just threw the frog in and while he was tossing the salad he happened to notice that the frog made no move to escape?

Which is worse? The fact that somebody decided to run this experiment for experiments sake or the possibility that somebody didn't have time to euthanize a frog before cooking it up for supper? Either way it's pretty sick in my humble opinion.

Yet here is what really bothers me. Nobody bothers to ask the hard question. Nobody even THINKS of the hard question! (In case you didn't catch it, the hard question is "who figured it out ... and how?") We simply allow an anonymous person to give us facts about the death of a frog and we don't even use our brain enough to question the pertinent fact of the story. Somebody boiled a living frog on purpose.

Now, understand that this story about the frog is most often used in a speech geared toward warning you about how society is changing and we don't even notice it. (The old "We are the frog in the kettle" speech.) Or maybe about how we, as Christians, are being unwittingly corrupted by the evil left wing empire. The old "they are not like we are" story. And so the frog finds himself back in the kettle to make the point.

But (big BUT coming...) do you really think we should trust a person who makes his point by boiling frogs alive or, just as alarmingly, picking up lame illustrations from people who do boil frogs alive? How about this for a possibility. Maybe nobody ever boiled a frog at all. Maybe it is all just a story somebody made up to justify their about-to-be-made point. Perhaps all of the frogs slept the night away last night, safely floating on thier lily pads. Could be. We've been scammed before.

I do not expect this little essay to change the speech patterns of preachers, politicians, or doomsday predictors. And I don't really have a frog fetish. I actually think they are rather creepy. I just wanted it noted that just because somebody comes up with a eye popping illustration ... I don't make a habit of taking it at face value. Illustrations are just that. Stories. Parallels. Parables. They do not prove the fact of their message. So stop being so alarmed by them.

I mean, for crying out loud, there are plenty of frogs.

Friday, September 23, 2005

For the last three days I have been on a personal "mini-sabbath." It has been a mixed bag of encountering the Holy One and self-disappoinntment. He is always gracious and yet it seems as though I sometimes booby-trap our moments together.

But not tonight. Oh, no. Not tonight.

I sat in Panera eating some nondescript sandwich and a bread bowl of broccoli cheese soup. I was reading "Velvet Elvis" by Rob Bell. I am nearly finished with it. As I sat alone at my table, surrounded by yuppie couples and studying college students I felt a little out of place. Gray haired. Fifty. They were seeking to further their place in the world. I was seeking to further transcend my place in the world. They seemed anxious to compete and successfully upscale themselves. I was trying to figure out how to decrease so that He might increase. I didn't fit in.

Rob was writing directly to my heart. I knew it. Something was resonating within me as I read his words. They were alive. But I didn't know how close he was coming to the new reality that was about to over take me via cell phone.

He wrote, "Notice what God does with His 'good' creation. 'Then God said, Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. And it was so.' The next verse is significant: 'The LAND produced vegetation.' Notice it doesn't say, GOD produced vegetation. God empowers the land to do something. He gives it the capacity to produce trees and shrubs and plants and bushes that produce fruit and seeds. God empowers creation to make more. This happens again in Genesis 1: 22 when God blesses the creatures of the water and sky and then says, 'be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.' Once again God gives creation - here it is fish and birds - the ability to multiply and make more. God doesn't make more fish; God gives fish the ability to make more. An important distinction. God empowers creation to make more and in doing so loads it with potential. It is going to grow and change and move and not be the same today as it was yesterday, and tomorrow it will move another day forward. Creation is loaded with potential and possibility and promise. God then makes people whom he puts right in the middle of all this loaded creation, commanding them to care for creation, to manage it, to lovingly use it, to creatively order it. The words he gives are words of loving service and thoughtful use. From day one (which is really day six), they are in intimate relationship and interaction with their environment. They are environmentalists. Being deeply connected with their environment is who they are. For them to be anything else or to deny their divine responsibility to care for all that God has made would be to deny something that is at the core of their existence."

My cell phone rang. I put the book aside. It was my daughter calling. She is one of the best people to grace our planet. Anytime one of my children takes the time to call me I will take the time to answer. Each of them is a jewel etched into the history of my life. Add Joe to the mix and you have a winning combo that just cannot be outdone. I love Joe like as though he were my own flesh. (But I am sure Kelli is grateful that he is not...)

As we said hello, Kelli told me how disappointed she was that I was not at home. She and Joe had come over to give us a present. And she told me she was going to hand her mother the telephone so I could audibly share in opening it. Now, nobody opens a present correctly these days. Wrapping paper is meant to be shredded and tossed over the shoulder wildly in order to get at the goodies inside. I waited patiently, listening in as best I could to the conversation taking place in my living room seventy-five miles away. I heard Debbie say something like, "It's a children's book." Kelli said that yes, it was to read to our grandchild. Then the noise got really loud on the other end. I heard Debbie scream, "ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE A BABY???!!! And then there was just more screams. When Debbie began talking to me she was crying. It seems that April 15th is the day we should have a new child appear in our little family.

I clicked the phone shut. I looked around at the yuppies and college students. Their mouths moved and they shoveled food in between words but I ignored them when I realized the earth was trembling under me. I am going to be ... no ... wait ... I AM a grandfather! Somewhere deep in the abdomen of my daughter is a very tiny, very human, very much alive ... child. I glanced down at "Velvet Elvis." My eyes landed on these words, "God empowers creation to make more and in doing so loads it with potential." Well yes, indeed He does.

I am not lying. That is the place where my gaze fell. Look it up yourself. Velvet Elvis. Rob Bell. Zondervan Publishing. Page 158. The very first sentence on the page.

This has not yet soaked in. I am thrilled! I am elated! I am joy-filled! I am also quite shocked, a little bit afraid, and just slightly catatonic. (Is it possible to be "slightly" catatonic?) And I am done writing for now. All I know to add is the words penned by that great theologian, Forrest Gump. "That's all I have to say about that."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

In the beginning there was Dave. All of the friends that came before Dave really did not count. I was too young, as were they. We did not know what friendship was about. Dave lived 4 houses to my right as I was navigating the first part of my teenage years. He looked more like me than my brother did and so everybody assumed that we were brothers. We kind of were. Brothers of the heart. We would play catch for hours and never get tired. When my real brother would beat me up (which was not an infrequent occurance) Dave would run home and hide. He said he was afraid that my brother would mistake the two of us and beat him up instead of me. That made sense at the time and I never held it against him. Dave was in my wedding years later. The last time I saw him was when he came by my apartment to introduce me to his fiancee. There was no way on the planet that Dave should have been marrying this girl. He was either in to her for big money or it was going to be a "sympathy marriage." I never saw or heard from him again.

Next came Kling. Kling was short for "Klingensmith" which was his last name. His first name was John but I don't remember anybody ever calling him that. Kling and I went to college together. He was about 5 years older than I and served as a helicopter mechanic in Vietnam. Together we went to Trinity Christian College. Our team mascot was the "Trolls." If you picture a troll in your head and add 50 pounds to him you will know exactly what Kling looked like. Beard and all. He liked to have fun. His on-campus job was in the maintenance department. That gave him keys to everything students are not supposed to have keys to. One chilly morning the campus woke up to the smell of a nice fire in the chapel fireplace. That was not unusual. What WAS unusual was that the smoke was billowing from a toilet which had been cemented to the chimney of the administration building. I remember knowing instantly who had done it. Everybody suspected but nobody could confirm anything. Kling and I went to a local restaurant one day to grab a bite before evening classes. He chose the New Brunswick Stew. One thing about Kling is that he had cornered the market on Oshkosh over-alls. It was pretty much all he ever wore. Well, Kling did not finish his stew on this particular evening and I watched as he poured the remainder of it into his bib pocket. I was not shocked. I knew Kling. I figure he wanted it for a late night dorm snack. I WAS shocked when we went to pay for our meal. He stood at the glass counter with the cash register on it ... and began heaving the big deep heaves of a man about to regurgitate. He leaned down until his head almost touched the glass and made unmistakable "hurling" noises... while he unbuttoned his bib pocket and allowed the remaining stew to flow out. The he stood up, wiped his mouth, dropped a five on the counter and strolled out the door. Kling was in my wedding too. That was the last time I saw him. I heard he lives in Utah someplace.

I have a history of making interesting friends.

Most of them come, stay for a while, and then go.

Grace was a dainty woman in her sixties and she made chainsaws. Hoss was a TWA pilot who could not stand on a chair to change a light bulb because of his fear of heights. Mike was a messianic jew who swore at 5,000 teenages because one of them threw a light bulb into the street from the window of a hotel room on the 20th floor. He was not sure which one did it so he swore at them all.

I think you get the picture.

My favorite friends are the ones that stick around. For years. Many years. Oh, they might move a thousand miles away but they are still around in that surprise phone call one evening kind of way. They manage to find their way by my house every now and then and they always have a spare bedroom available when I am in their town. Some of them live nearby. We try not to take each other for granted but I know that we do. Otherwise we would hug more often and linger a little longer across the table from each other. It is part of life to do that. We don't mean to. It's just that our busy lives are constantly hounding us to get up and get something done. If you are reading this you are probably one of those friends or maybe a stranger that just dropped in to see what is going on. (Not much.) And if you are one of those friends ... you know it. I am tempted here to start listing names but if I did I would miss somebody very important to me for sure. And I do not want to do that. Never.

There are at least two tests of real friendship. One is found in what you do today. The other is found in whether or not you will still be around tomorrow. I am not listing those tests in hopes that you will measure yourself. I am listing them so that I can remember to do well in grading the guy I call "me." It hurts when a friend lets me down. It hurts much worse when I let a friend down. I can forgive the friend much more easily than I can forgive myself.

And by the way, if you are a current friend and you do something really weird ... I already know it. I just didn't mention it because ... well ... a real friend wouldn't tell on you. But if you dump me ... you are toast in my next blog.

Monday, August 29, 2005

You ever wonder if anyone is watching? Like ... right NOW. It's nearly midnight and my house is dark. Two of my three kids have moved away. The third is locked into his room for the night. Debbie is asleep. Bailey is hidden under her blanket in her little "Bailey Cage." So it appears to be just me and Tess. Oh, Tess is my laptop. Her name is short for "testosterone." You do not want to know why.

But here is what I mean. There is a really cool verse in the bible known as Hebrews 12: 1. It says "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

I want to know what that means.

You know what I like to do? Ok, this is weird. I admit it. But it's true. I like to go to the car wash. The automatic one next to the hand held ones. It's not the kind that pulls you through but the kind you put a few bucks into and then drive into the bay. Then this machine walks around you and washes your car. I like to do it in my Mustang. And I put in the extra dollars to make it do that "triple shine quadruple buff up real sharp" kind of wax. When that stuff spews out on my car it reminds me of what it would be like to be in an exploding bubble gumball factory. It's all sorts of colors and hit hits your car in the most beautiful essence of foam. And here is where it gets really good. It totally covers the windows. So when I do it, when I pay the price, I find myself surrounded in beautiful colors and TOTALLY invisable to the world. I timed it today. It lasts less than 40 seconds before the high powered rinser thing comes around and re-exposes me to the world.

But, oh what a wonderful 40 seconds!

What is it in me that makes me like to be invisable? Incognito? There and yet ... unseen? Really, I am not sure. Maybe it was growing up in the suburbs of a mega-city like Chicago. Maybe it's being a minister that gets a lot of phone calls and visits. I just like being alone sometimes. Completely alone. Invisable to the world.

And then Hebrews 12: 1 comes along. I wish I knew what it means. I mean REALLY means. I have all sorts of theories. Yet I am not positive about any of them. I did not play a lot of sports when I was young. I loved sports but I was not particularly good at them. Baseball was my thing. I am sure I was quite mediocre. But I do remember that every now and then ... not often ... but occasionally ... I would do something that just took my own breath away. Like once, I hit a baseball that went so far it cleared our ball diamond, crossed the street, snuck between two houses and landed on the fly in a back yard. I don't know how far it was but it was far enough that I didn't run around the bases. I watched it go, land, bounce, and vanish from my view. The center fielder stood still and watched as well. So did both teams. The pitcher stood especially still. He was my 40-something next door neighbor. He was an iron worker who was home early from "walking the high steel" on the construction of Sears Tower in Chicago's loop. His name was Jack. Jack told me later that it was a curve ball that actually curved. He was impressed but since I did not realize that it had curved ... well, I probably tried to put the bat where I thought the ball was going ... and I missed my aim. Fortunately the ball did too and I totally lucked out and hit the longest home run in our playground history.

And then there was the time I was playing centerfield for our church softball team. Again, I was not that good. I played because I love the game and they needed 10 guys. We were playing one evening and this guy on the opposing team hit a huge fly ball to deep left-center field. I went after it. It was a total given that the ball would drop and probably roll for a home run. For some reason I just honed in on it as though I actually knew what I was doing. To this day I remember running and watching the flight of the ball. It was like some computer kicked on in my head and just guided me laser-like to the place where the ball should drop. I never looked at the ground. I didn't look around to make sure I wasn't about to collide with the left fielder. I just ran. Then I stuck my glove out. I felt the ball smack into the webbing. And it held. As I looked toward the infield I remember seeing the base runner stop just past second base. He just looked at me like he didn't believe that I had actually caught the ball. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard my team mates going crazy. Hey, it was the best catch I ever made. I am now fifty years old and I still remember it. What a feeling ...

Hebrews 12: 1 talks about this "great could of witnesses" that's out there somewhere cheering us on. Who are they? Are they angels? Are they christians that have already departed planet earth and are now watching to see how the game plays out? I am not sure. I sometimes wonder about them though. Do they ever go nuts over a "play" that I make? Or do they look at me and say, "Man, he must be tired. He can barely run to first base." When I really "nail one" for the Kingdom do they go bonkers from their perch in the stands? I wonder.

Whoever these witnesses are they have seen my good and my not so good. They have seen my ugly and my uglier. I wonder what they think these days as I try to walk out some of the hardest things God has ever asked me to do. I know they are cheering "for" me. But am I doing anything to make them cheer "because" of me?

Man, I hope so. You see, it matters to me. It really does. I want to hit one "out of the park" for my King. I want the stands to "go crazy folks, go crazy!" But I worry. I am really tired at this particular moment if my history. Mentally. Physically. Certainly emotionally. I hope they are not praying for a rain-out so that we can start over again from scratch.

What if my parents are in the stands? Or the guy that baptized me? Or my favorite college professor who taught me so much that he actually came to remind me of C.S. Lewes? Is he in the stands? Is Moses watching? Paul? (Oh man, no, not Paul!)

What about Jesus? He must be there. He'd most certainly come to my game. Wouldn't he? He'd cheer. He is my coach. He is my manager. He is my owner. He would come to my game.

So excuse me for a second. I need to speak to my great cloud ...

"Hey, guys! Thanks for coming! I am so glad you showed up. I need the cheering section. Do me a favor, will ya? Let her really RIP and ROAR for a while. Maybe even loud enough where I can kind of hear you. That would be so cool. I am a little bit deaf these days. So, if it isn't asking too much ... could you please cheer really loud? Thanks."

Ok, that's all. I was just wondering about it. Somebody is up there listening. I have to strap on my spikes again in the morning and run a good race. See you at the track...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

It was only yesterday. "Yesterday" in that 15 years ago kind of way. She was 9. He was 7. The youngest he was 5. I stood in the hallway right outside their bedroom doors. I could not see any of them from my vantage point. Yet I could feel the presence of all of them. They were asleep. I had just checked to see. The clock chimed 1AM. I leaned against the wall and whispered these words. "Thank you, Father. They are all safe. I understand that these days will not last long. Those who have been there say they will be gone before I know it. I think they are probably right. But thank you that tonight they are all at home. Safe. Help me to remember this moment. Amen."

She lives in west St. Louis county now. She is a school teacher and the wife of a wonderful man. Together they make nearly the perfect couple. I could not be more proud of her. These days she is not just my daughter, she is my friend. I call her when I need to hear one of my children say something clear-headed and logical. She certainly is all of that and more.

The oldest he sleeps in the room next to mine. Oh, he has come and gone over the years. A ski trip here. A Chicago trip there. He has jetted off to the west coast. So far he has always managed to find his way back to his roots. That is a very good thing but it cannot, and should not, last. Now he is making rustling noises about moving to the northwest side of Chicago. His reason's are nothing less than spectacular. He wants to serve an internship at, in my opinion, one of the best churches on the planet. I will do whatever I can do to help make it happen.

And today I drove away and left the youngest he in his new temporary home on the edge of Council Bluffs, Iowa. I have buried two parents, walked a daughter down the aisle, and ministered over more tragedies than I can begin to count. But this "driving away" was, by far, the hardest thing I have ever done. Oh, I left him exactly where he is supposed to be. God has left fingerprints in his heart and pointed him to Council Bluffs to serve as a semester missionary at a wonderful little Baptist church. While there he will work with youth, children, and anyone else that the pastor directs him to. He might even change a light bulb or two. I've done it myself while serving on more than one church staff. There is nothing at all humiliating about it. The call to serve leads us in many directions. And tonight he is preparing to serve. He, his mother, and I all had tears in our eyes as we got in one last "family hug" and prayed together.

That is when a "God thing" happened. Christopher's new pastor, Dan, pulled up at that moment. I walked to him and shook his hand as he got out of his pick-up. I told him that his timing was perfect as we were just leaving. He could easily see the emotion that had built up in all of us. He assured me that he would "take good care of my boy." Then I walked back to Chris and told him that his dad had to leave but his mentor was there. We hugged. I kissed his cheek. We drove away. I watched him stare after us in my rear view mirror. I should not have done that. I will never forget that sight.

So tonight they are not all home. Actually, at his moment none of them are. The oldest he will drag in eventually from an evening out with a very special young woman. You know what this oldest one did while I delivered his brother to Iowa? He power-washed the house. He trimmed all of the shrubs and cleaned their mulched landscaping. And I had not asked him to do a bit of it. He could have slept in. He could have watched tv or played X-Box. But he power-washed the house.

Don't ever tell me that praying for your kids does not make a difference. Do not suggest to me that making every effort to live a godly life out before them does not matter. It is not because I am great because I am not. There mother IS great but that is not the reason either. She and I have "gone 3 for 3" with our kids. And it is because God is good. And He loves them. And they decided to love Him back. They still screw-up sometimes. But they get that from their "dad" and not from their "Father."

Three for three. It's worth standing in the hallways late nights praying for.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I do not know why but I suddenly feel compelled to put to writing some things that I have been thinking for a while. Maybe they will mean nothing to you. That's ok. I need to see them in print. If they help you, great. If they do not, well, might I suggest you go to It's fun. And it might teach you something. Probably not. But maybe.

Anyway ...

Have you ever felt so drained, so broken, so disillusioned, that you were not certain what to make of it all? Have you ever stopped to wonder if you are correct about all you believe or if maybe you have made some major mistakes? If you have not done these things or felt these ways, log off. You'll find nothing here that you need to read. However, if you have ...

The calling to a personal "undoing" is similar to a call to sack cloth and ashes. It is about brokenness and finding yourself destitute except for the presence of God alone. Nobody can walk it with you or understand what it is doing to you. It is you and God. It can be agony. It is far from enjoyable ... until the season is completed and then you will stand in wonder and amazement at "what God has wrought." Sara Groves sings a song about someday wanting to meet Job because she wants to know what he knows. Yeah. Me too. It seems to me that you don't really get to choose anything in these seasons. You cannot determine the depth to which you will descend, the degree to which you will resist, or the changes that God will make in you during the battle. All you can do is live today. How stark. How utterly barren the landscape. Books will call out to you demanding to be read so that you will understand more fully and quotes of those gone before will ring true in your heart. They will be a comfort but only in that they will remind you of the many who have traveled these paths before you. They cannot answer your deepest questions or tell you which forks in the road to take. Read them but do not hang on to them too tightly. Do not let them replace His Word. It seems God is only after one thing in these times. You. Naked and alone. You are "hungry to follow..." and that is good! I have found that the hunger never quite gets quenched. That is good too because it drives me to the next step ... the next level. When the hunger died ... as it did once ... I became very afraid. Yet even then God rescued me. He will do that. No matter where you find yourself or what you confront. Not matter what is taken from you. If the waters swamp your boat or the desert cracks beneath your feet you can count on Him to rescue you. You do not have to even have a conscious "wanting" Him to. He will do it anyway. Because He is in charge and He loves you that much. So let go of what ever railing you might be holding on to and let yourself sink into the hugeness of His love. And grace. And sheer raw power.

He wounds so that He might heal.

Grace over, under, around, and in you this day...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

I was doing well. I mean, it was a pretty good morning. God had been good to me and most people had been nice too. I went to staff meeting and everyone was pleasant. I ran a couple of errands. No sweat. I stopped by my house. I was a little hungry. Nothing major. I grabbed the last banana on the kitchen counter. I peeled it, thowing the yellow God-made wrapper onto the already overflowing trashcan. I made my exit and continued on my daily duties.
It happened about 45 minutes later. It started with a rumble in my tummy. Then another. Then it began moving upward. No, not the rumble. The banana. It didn't stop until it was back in the light of day. (Personal note: If you have to eat something that you expect to throw up, a banana is not a bad choice. It pretty much tastes the same going both ways.)
I went home. I fell onto the love seat in our family prayer room. I prayed to die. God said, "No." Darn. A couple of hours later I was feeling better and I passed through the kitchen, noticing the browned banana peal on the garbage pile. I picked it up and examined it. What could possibly be in a banana that would make you hurl?
Now I know. I found what appeared to be two ... TWO ... spider legs. They were on the peel. How many legs do spiders have? I do not know. But I know that they have more than two. I suspect that the remainder went with the banana (not to mention the little spider torso) into my mouth and into my tummy. And they had a round-trip ticket.
There actually is a point to this story. Several points. First, don't eat spiders. Second, if you do eat spiders stay close to a garbage can or at least a paper bag. And finally, chew your food at least 16 times per bite. One for each leg.
God, thank you for spiders. If you keep a running count on them like you do on sparrow's, well, I am afraid I made you get out your eraser today. Sorry about that. I'll try to stick with cows and chickens from now on.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

You think YOU’VE got problems? Oh sure. Maybe you got a flat tire today or your dog got lose and you had to chase her down. Could be that you fell flat on your face in front of all of your friends. Maybe you bit down too hard on a piece of candy and broke a tooth. That’s nutten … I have dual ear infections.

That’s right. One in each ear. (I find it’s always best to spread them out.) I was feeling pretty well in that “grading on a curve” kind of way when I got to the doctor’s office. Yeah, I was there because my left ear had been hurting a bit. Then it started sounding like somebody was holding a glass of water over it. Finally Bailey the Killer Beagle barked today and I knew I had a problem. I actually yelled so loud from the pain that she stopped barking and ran to her cage. So I called the doctor. The nurse said, “Come on in.” Easy for her to say. I’m in Bethalto. They are in West County. But I went.

Things went downhill from there. First they told me that my temperature was 101. That rather surprised me. Then they looked in my ear and told me it was infected. No surprise there. Except they said it looked like it was on fire inside. Next they broke the news that my right ear was almost as bad. Hmmm. It had not even hurt yet. All of this culminated with their revealing that it was going to get worse before it gets better. The doc said that by Sunday (preachen day) I would most likely be ABOUT to start getting better. He expects that I will be hearing my own voice echo in my head on Sunday. Monday things will begin to improve. He thought this was all funny. A preacher having to hear himself preach. I mentioned that he might deal with me when I am sick but someone like me will do the bury’en when he’s dead. He prescribed antibiotics and codeine.

But do you see what I mean? You don’t have any problems. Oh, I don’t mean that my pain is worse than yours or that my problem is longer lasting. I simply mean that what with the predicted echo in my head and all I will have to listen to myself preach TWICE this Sunday.
Ok, I said all of that for one simple reason. You needed to smile. You did. Admit it! In one of his songs the Christian artist Chris Rice sings to God, “Do you ever play tricks on the angels?” You know, that is an interesting question! I was not smart enough to wonder that. But isn’t God good! (Answer: Yes.) God is not only good. He is almighty. He is sovereign. He is grace-full. He is life. He is truth. He is healing. He is just. He is eternal. He is love. He is peace. He is joy. He is holy. He is near. He is far. He is deep. He is wide. He is food for the hungry. He is water for the thirsty. He is rest for the weary. He is security. He is fearsome. He is stronger than strong. He is wiser than wise. He is smarter than smart.

He is.


And he has you and me in His hand. He has never dropped one yet. You will not be the first.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

I remember sitting on the football field bleachers in my high school gym class. It was 1972 and I was a junior at Lincoln-Way High School in New Lenox, Illinois. We had just finished running a 3 mile cross-country course. The coach said it was to “make us tough.” I still believe it was to make us throw-up. He timed all of us. One guy was so fast that, as we watched him from across the track his legs looked like rapidly spinning fan blades. You know what I mean. They just all blurred together. I do not know how fast anybody ran that day but I remember that the coach called him down out of the bleachers to announce his time. He finished fifteen minutes before I did. The other guys and I sat in the bleachers and realized that sometimes fifteen minutes makes all the difference in the world.

Years later in August of 1982 I sat on the edge of my bed in total frustration. I was planning on finishing my final semester of college and today was the last day to pay for the classes I had already registered for. I was $1,200 short. I had just checked the mail and my promised scholarship money had not come in. I was tired of school. Debbie and I had a nearly two-year-old daughter and another baby on the way. I was working a full time job as a youth pastor and a part time job driving a school bus for a local high school. I had to take 18 hours of classes over the next months or come back again in the spring. As it turned out this would be the spring that God would choose to move us to Bethalto. I was aware that Bethalto was seeking a youth pastor and believed that God was calling me there … I mean here. It was 4:45 in the afternoon. Trinity Christian College’s business office closed at 5:00. It was a 30-minute drive from my apartment to the campus. Even if I had the money … which I did not … I could never make it. So I prayed. Then I decided to call the college and make sure that today was indeed the final day. As I called I spoke to a well-known woman working in the offices named Betty. She said, “Is this Ron Woods?” I told her that it was. She said that yes, today was the last day. And then she said she was glad I had called. My scholarship money had arrived at the office today by mistake. It was suppose to come to my home. She asked if it would be alright if she went ahead and marked my bill paid so that I could start classes on Monday. I said that would be fine. As I hung up I thanked God for His kindness and I realized that sometimes fifteen minutes makes all of the difference in the world.

About a week before my mother passed away last September she told me a story. It seems that two years before I was born she prayed a special prayer. My parents had been told that they could not have any children. So my mom prayed and told God that if He would give her children she would give them back to Him. They would be His to do with as He chose. My brother was born nine months later. I was born two years later. As many of you know my brother and I have both been pastor’s all of our adult lives. I really don’t see either of us stopping any time soon. Interestingly enough I accepted Jesus as my Lord when I was just turning 13. That was fifteen years after my mother prayed her prayer of promise to God. It occurred to me when she told me that story that sometimes fifteen years makes all of the difference in the world.

As I said, I accepted Jesus when I was 13 years old. I remember sitting in the very back pew of our suburban Southern Baptist Church. I was not just in the back pew I was in the back corner of the back pew. I was there for a reason. It was Saturday night and our church was having a youth revival. The night before I had felt God directing me down the aisle to pray and ask Christ into my heart. I told Him that I was afraid but that I would obey Him if I didn’t have to go alone. I asked Him to send 10 people down the aisle ahead of me. My hands sweated as I counted how many people went forward to talk to the pastor. The count reached … 10. And it stopped there. I did not go. I chickened out. The next night the guest evangelist spoke about what hell must be like. As I sat alone I did not make any deals with God. I just asked Him to forgive me. When the time came I walked the entire length of the church and prayed a prayer with a college student asking Christ into my life. God honored my prayer and made my heart His home. 15 years later I had completed 5 years of volunteer youth ministry, a 6-month stint in a church as a part time staff youth pastor, and nearly 4 years in another church as a full time staff pastor. At that time, 15 years after receiving God’s free gift of eternal life He led me to walk in the doors of FBC Bethalto as your Assistant Pastor. What a ride! You see, sometimes 15 years makes all of the difference in the world.

What are you willing to do to honor and obey God? Are you willing to do anything? Let me rephrase that. Are you willing to do ANYTHING? And not only are you willing but are you ready? You see, God wants you and I to be willing and ready to do whatever He asks us to do in 15 minutes or in 15 years. The scripture says we are to be “instant in season and out.” (2 Timothy 4: 2) When God says “go” … go. When God says “do” … do. When God says “don’t” … don’t. When God says “stay” … stay. Instant. In season. Out of season. 15 minutes from now. 15 years from now. All of the timing is up to Him. Aren’t you glad? Jesus came and died. He said that one of the reasons was to give us “freedom.” (Luke 4: 18) That means we get to choose. We are free. Free to obey Him. Free to disobey Him. Really, truly, radically, free. Yes, there are consequences to disobeying and they are very different from the consequences to obeying. If you are His He will still love you if you disobey. But there WILL be consequences. However you are free.

So how about it? What are you going to be doing in 15 minutes? What are you going to be doing in 15 years? I plan on being in love with Jesus. I plan on following His direction even if I find myself doing it all alone. I don’t just plan on it, I am making plans to assure that it happens that way. I am actively following His directions TODAY to make sure that I am where He wants me to be in life TOMORROW. Or in 15 minutes. Or in 15 years. It makes me no difference. Care to join me?

Just wondering.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Hey, there is something I have spent some time thinking about over the past week. It is simply this ... "How good IS God anyway?" I have always believed that God is the ultimate good. I still do believe that. God is good in the most radical sense. But I have to admit that there is a problem. The problem is not God's goodness. It is the harshness and the "realness" of life.

A couple of men got burned very badly at Olin this week. I mean REALLY badly. If I understand things correctly there was a leak in an "O ring" that caused oil to spray out, landing on a heater. The oil then ignited in the air ... the air which the men were inhaling. Their burns are horrific. We need to be praying for these guys and their families. Their lives hang in the balance. And, of course, we need to be standing by to assist if there is any way in which we as a part of the Body of Christ are needed.

And then there is a wonderful little gift to the world that we need to be praying for as well. This gift is a bundled up little boy named "Reid Scott Norvell." I got to meet Reid a few hours after he was born. He's a great looking little guy. We crossed paths when I went to visit him at the neo-natal ICU at Cardinal Glennon Hospital. Reid has a couple of problems. Life-long challenges are what they really are. You see, Reid was born with a mild form of Downs Syndrome. Exactly how mild will be known in time. He is not even a week old yet and he has already had major surgery to repair a messed up intestinal tract. His heart is not up to par either. He will be having surgery on that important organ in a few months. Reid is one of ours. He is the son of Scott and Richelle Norvell. They are a great couple. Scott is one of our deacons. Richelle is involved in ... well ... everything. They love God. Reid was welcomed into this world with hugs, kisses, and open arms. What a lucky kid! I can hardly wait for Reid to show up at our worship service. It will be so great to hold him up in front of our congregation and praise God for this wonderful creation of His!

Many people would look at these two events and wonder "why" God would allow situations like these to invade His world. I have a few thoughts about that. Let me share them with you. You see, life is not about God making us happy or healthy. Life is about God making us more like Him. And sometimes in order to do that He allows hard things to enter our lives. I do not believe that these things are "punishment." Rather they are the effects of living in a sinful, fallen world. A world where sometimes things do not work out the way we would like them to work out. But every time one of these things happen our loving heavenly Father is standing by waiting for us to "be Jesus with skin on." As Christians we know that the Holy Spirit of the Holy God lives within us. And He speaks to us. He gives us directions on how to live out life in ways that glorify Him. And then He speaks through us. We are, the scripture says, "Ambassador's for Christ." (I Corinthians 5: 20) God loves those guys in the burn unit at St. Johns Mercy. He loves their families. He hurts for them. He wants them to turn to Him for understanding and comfort. God loves Reid Scott Norvell at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. And He loves Reid's family too. He is going to empower them to face the challenges that await them.

And how about you? What is your challenge? Are you mad? Are you hurt? Are you sick or injured or just plain tired? Is your car broken down and you don't have any money to repair it? Is your job in jeopardy? Is your marriage falling apart? Are you lonely? Do you struggle with a secret addiction? Are your kids messing up and refusing to listen to you? Are you wanting a husband or a wife or a child so badly that you can hardly stand it and yet God doesn't seem to give you the desire of your heart?

Yeah. I know how you feel. Really I do. I have faced some of those same issues. But let me give you a piece of advice. It's free. Remember the goodness of God? You will see it again in the land of the living. I believe that with all of my heart. Psalm 27: 13 insists that it's true. I am not brave enough to call the Psalmist a liar. Are you? No, I didn't think so.

So how about it? Are you going to admit that, while you might hurt really badly, God is able, willing, and desiring to use your circumstances to make you more like Him? Do you really want to hang on to your issues? It is really easy to wallow in pain and defeat. Sometimes it even feels good. For awhile. Then it gets very, very old. And it starts to eat you up. From the inside out. Bitterness begins to show up. And we all know what bitterness does. It kills. Hey, don't let it do that. Your Heavenly Father has a plan for your problem. But you have to submit it to Him. And then you have to lay it down. The problem might not go away. But let it rest in His hands and not your hands. And then let Him get on with His plan for your LIFE. Because your life is bigger than your problem. And God is bigger than both.

He really is good, you know. He loves me when I am ugly. He loves me when I am mean. He loves me when I don't trust Him. He loves me when I yell at Him. He loves me. He loves you too.

Welcome to our world Reid. God has a perfect plan for your wonderful life. And we are going to help you find it.