Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Happy Birthday Dad!

Today is Dad's 61st birthday.  Here's a post I wrote two years ago about my dad on Fathers' Day.  Two years ago being a dad myself was an idea; on Dad's birthday this year my being a dad is a reality.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

I'm Turning Into My Dad... Hopefully

My dad isn't perfect.  In fact, he, like me, is full of imperfections.  He's lost the checkbook in the freezer a few times, a while ago he thought it would be a good idea to put the dog on the roof of the shed and was surprised when the dog jumped off, he leaves cups of iced tea with a swallow remaining all over the house at times, but that all makes him more like me I guess.

My wife will often say, "You act just like your dad."  This may be when I say, "Well..." followed by nothing or get excitable about some joke I laughed at and nobody else did.  Those are humorous things that I do and I think to myself, "Oh my gosh, I'm turning into my dad."  But honestly, my dad is someone I'm more than happy turning into.

My parents raised me so well and I want to copy much of what they did when I have kids, and, because I will be a father and not a mother someday, I especially want to father like my father did.  If my wife can say "You act just like your dad" while I pray every night with my children I will feel I've accomplished something great.

My dad wasn't a perfect dad but he helped me understand God's love for me.

Dad prayed with me every night before bed.  I remember those prayers and much of the way I pray today is patterned on those prayers.  We were always so thankful for this beautiful day at the beginning of our prayers and that taught me that every day of life is a gift from God.  We made petitions to God and through that I learned what my dad wanted from God and what I should want too.  We always prayed in Jesus' Name and I learned who gave us the right to go to our Father.

Dad cared for people that many others did not.  I recall the mentally handicapped people that Dad gave his genuine attention.  I remember the "weird people" that were/are drawn to him because they were not threatened or judged by him.  I remember picking up a hitchhiker or two and Dad saying, "Don't tell your mom."  My dad, perfectly and imperfectly, demonstrated that everybody has worth... that God's love extends to those that society's doesn't.

Dad was transparent in front of me.  I watched my dad fail or stumble a few times.  He'd lose his temper or put his foot in his mouth and I got to see it.  I've also gotten to see him grow to be more patient, self-controlled and merciful through the years.  My dad let me see that God works in our lives to grow us and I'm thrilled because I have a lot of room to grow.

Fathers, do your children understand God's love more because of you?  Does the way that you care for your children model God's love for them?  Are you a pattern for spiritual growth for them?  Would you like your children to turn into you someday?  Does your love for their mother model Christ's love for the Church?

I'm not a father yet, but the questions above already keep me up some nights.  Fatherhood is a high calling and we all need God's help to do it right.

Since I'm not yet a father I won't give any advice except this one thing: pray with and for your children.  I've already decided that if I don't pray nightly with my children I've failed.  Pray with your kids and for your kids.  Model for them how to talk to their Father.  Show them what you love and desire.  And pray that God does for them the things that you can't, pray that God helps them understand how much He loves them.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Fight Won by Gentleness

Today was the March for Life Rally in Washington D.C.  Thousands of people marched, like they have for 40 years, in protest of abortion.  I, like them, pray that abortion becomes a thing of the past.  I pray that my children or grandchildren one day come up and ask me in amazement if people really used to kill unborn children.  I pray they ask me that as strangely as I asked my dad about separate drinking fountains based on skin color and protests against desegregated swimming pools in his town growing up.

I find abortion to be an abominable practice that must be ended.  I'm passionate about seeing an end to it and that can make me volatile.  I can at times be tempted to be unkind in an effort to win an argument and that is wrong.

Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the March for Life today and one part of his speech was very important.  Now, I'm not saying here that Mr. Pence does what he says here perfectly.  I'm not getting into whether his and his boss's immigration policies match his statement below.  What I want is just to look at it and see what we can learn.

"I urge you to press on, but as it is written, 'Let your gentleness be evident to all.' Let this movement be known for love, not anger. Let this movement be known for compassion, not confrontation.
When it comes to matters of the heart, there is nothing stronger than gentleness. I believe we will continue to win the hearts and minds of the rising generation if our hearts first break for young mothers and their unborn children, and if we, each of us, do all we can to meet them where they are with generosity not judgement.
To heal our land and restore a culture of life we must continue to be a movement that embraces all, cares for all, and shows respect for the dignity and worth of every person."
"Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near."  Philippians 4:5
If someone saw your last Facebook interaction about abortion would your gentleness be evident?

I've seen people type "MURDERER" to a woman who's admitted she's had an abortion.  I've seen the name calling... the assumptions... the lack of care about anything other than "winning" an argument... the absence of gentleness and love.  All this makes me sad and, frankly, sets the cause back.

I've also seen when someone interjects a loving, true statement into the fray of words.  I've seen gentleness melt anger.  I've seen the difference this makes.

The fight for life is won more by sonogram pictures than nasty comebacks.  It is won more by donations to organizations that provide for women's prenatal physical and emotional needs than by angry shouts.

Can we be loving and gentle about this topic and not sacrifice the truth and urgency?  Absolutely.  Our gentleness must be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  What Paul means when he says "the Lord is near" is that God is close by us, He is in control.  God doesn't need us to be rash and unloving to win this fight for life.

So, be passionate about life.  Pray that abortion ends and act in ways to accomplish that.  But be so gentle.  If people can't see your resolve for ending abortion AND your gentleness then you're doing it wrong.

Let your gentleness be evident to all today.

My son.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I Bought a Pet Monkey

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across my dad's status.

I brought a pet. Monkey

Now ignoring the fact that the sentence was constructed quite strangely due to the fact that Dad is still learning to type on his smart phone, this was a strange status even if it didn't have a period in the middle of the sentence.

So, I was intrigued.  At first I thought Dad's Facebook had been hacked by a prankster.  Then I found out it was him and that it was some autism awareness thing.  But bottom line is that many people were perplexed and interested in his status.

Dad's status got attention partially because everybody would like a monkey.  I mean who doesn't want a monkey?  The Barenaked Ladies sang "Haven't you always wanted a monkey?" in their song "If I Had a Million Dollars."  Seriously, if it was doable how many of you would like a pet monkey?  I know that monkeys are wild animals and some have hurt people badly, but if the monkey was safe and could be a good pet I would like a monkey.

When I was a kid I thought Siberian Tigers were the coolest animals on earth.  They are huge, majestic creatures.  I could never have a Siberian Tiger as a pet, but they do wow me.  Every once in a while you'll hear a story about a guy that lives with tigers or lions and like walks up and pets them.  Every time I see that I think that a story about a guy getting mauled will be in the news soon because wild animals are wild.

My wife and I now have cats.  Charlie and Waldo are our cats.  We spend time watching them play and sleep, we talk to them, we feed them and care for them.  They are decently nice companions.

But why do we, why does anybody, have pets?  Think about.  What is the purpose of having animals live in your house?  I mean, it's rather strange when you think about it.  Why do we love animals?  Why do we long for their companionship?  Why do we think it would be cool to have a pet monkey?
I think the daydreaming about how cool it would be to have a pet hyena or kangaroo or actually having a domesticated animal as a pet shows a longing for Eden.  Inside all of us is a longing for an edenic paradise.  Whether we're pet lovers or not we were created with an intrinsic longing for the peaceful paradise that only God can bring.

Look at what the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 11 when writing about our future paradise:

"The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child will put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea."  Isaiah 11:6-9

Isaiah said that one day we will have paradise and it will include our peaceful cohabitation with all animals.  As you read that "the infant will play near the hole of the cobra" did your heart tense up?  I know mine did.  Well, one day in Heaven that won't be the case.  I'll hug a Siberian Tiger.  You'll play with a monkey; the lion and the wildebeest will sleep beside one another.

We are built with a longing for Eden in us.  We are built wanting the perfect world that only God can give us.  When we see and feel the tension between our edenic longings and our current circumstances we must use that as fuel for desiring the Kingdom of God.

Long for the reign of King Jesus to come to earth today.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Do You Kiss Your Wife With That Mouth?

"The old ball and chain."

Have you been around a group of guys and listened to how men speak about their wives?

Often men speak about their wives in a dishonoring way.  We speak of our wives as if they were holding back from something... like a ball and chain.  We speak of our wives like they were a task master.  We speak of our wives and all the reasons they may be difficult to love.


Now, I'm sure women talk negatively about their husbands, too, but that's not the point.

Why do we feel the need to speak of marriage in public as if it's a huge burden?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying marriage is an easy thing because it's not.  I'm not saying living with another human being is a piece of cake at all times.  I'm not saying that we shouldn't bear one another's burdens and listen to someone's needs.  I'm not saying that at all.  What I'm wondering is why the default public tone of discussion when talking about marriage is a negative one.

And I'm talking about in Christian circles.

I've been in rooms with people I strongly admire and I hear this tone.  Why is this?  Why does it feel awkward for people to praise their spouse in public?

"Marriage should be honored by all..." Hebrews 13:4a

Marriage is a mysterious and intricate picture of Christ and the Church that married Christians are commanded to put on display.

Does the way you speak about your wife honor the institution of marriage?  Does the way you tell stories about your wife help those around you honor her and therefore honor marriage?  Do you say things that make single men want to pursue marriage?

Men, and I'll speak to men but ladies you can listen, too, do you honor your wife with your lips in groups of men?  When other men start talking about the "old ball and chain" do you join in?  When other men share stories about their wives' poor moments do you add a tale?  Or do you talk about your wife in a way that is noticeably different?  Do you speak about your wife in a way that makes others think highly of her?  Do you speak in a way that demonstrates that you love your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her?

Don't kiss your wife with the lips you use to dishonor her in public.  Guard her image and promote her loveliness.  Honor your marriage with your words today.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Farewell 20's

The other day I turned 30.

January 3rd as a date wasn't as interesting as I thought it might be.  30 brought with it no fears or epiphanies, it is just another number for me.

See, when my mom turned 30 I remember her being devastated.  The doctors office she worked at had black "Over the Hill" balloons and put her in a wheelchair.  I remember her feeling as if she had left her youth behind when she entered her new decade.  I remember watching the episode of Friends where they were all depressed about turning 30.  So, either I missed something or there was nothing to be missed.

I actually was hoping by turning 30 there might be fewer "Wow, you're so young" comments, although that's likely not going to be true.  In fact, you may be reading this and thinking "Wait till you turn 60."

Turning 30, though, gives me a chance to look back.  Birthdays and other milestones are awesome opportunities to look back and take stock of things.  Perhaps that's where the pain comes in for some.  But for me my 20's was a great decade of growth and connections.  I graduated college, got a job, married a wonderful woman, bought a house and have a baby on the way.  I have nothing to complain about and God has been with me each step of the way teaching me.

As I say farewell to my 20's I want to share three lessons I learned in those ten years.

1) I don't know everything.

In my teenage years and early 20's there was a temptation to believe I knew everything.  Coming to college I was so sure of life and what it meant; I was so sure of what I was going to do with my life.  Then life happened.  John Lennon famously sang, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."  Lennon is right.  While I had detailed plans coming into my 20's my plans were drastically changed and I thank God for that.

When we learn that we don't know everything we learn that questions are often more beautiful and necessary than answers.  Learning to ask good questions has done more for me than regurgitating previously known answers.

2) My parents know more than I thought.

The older I get the more amazing my parents become.  Don't get me wrong, I'm under no delusion that my parents are perfect, but teenaged Matt had no idea how good he had it.  In my 20's I got enough independence to realize how easy my parents made adulting look.  They raised kids like they knew what they were doing meanwhile I'm terrified at the prospect of not knowing what to do with my little boy on the way.  In a few months when my son is born I'll get back to you on my newfound appreciation for my parents level of genius.

3) Who God is is the most important thing to know.

I've not had a lot of suffering, but in my 20's but I had times that demanded I trust God.  From wondering if I'd ever meet my wife to dealing with death and infertility, there have been times that required faith.  Through books and friends and pastors I've learned so much about the character of God.  I've been taught this last decade that when life is chaotic the only thing that isn't is the character of God.  I've learned through experience that the character of God is the only thing worth leaning on in faith.

So, farewell 20's.  I can't say I'll miss you but I can say it was fun.  My life changed for the better in most every way and I can't wait to see what's in store for the next decade.  I don't know what God has for me but I do know that trusting in who He is will steady me no matter what comes my way in the next many years to come or simply today.