October 9, 2014

Football and Worship

Every week at South, the worship team comes out to begin the worship gathering. The beginning of the first song signals to everyone in the lobby that it is time to come in for worship. In the time of one worship song, the droves of people join the handful in the handful of people already in the room. Normally everyone is quick to engage. This week was slightly different.

As the first song came to an end, about twenty people clapped. In a room with over two hundred people in it, twenty people clapping sounds like you would expect it to sound….dismal. And, for the record, let me state that people clapping after a song has nothing to do with us on the stage getting accolades. We aren’t there for that. We are not rock stars. We are there worshiping along side those gathered with us. Our focus is revering God with our singing and music. I felt the need, as the worship minister, to stop the worship train and challenge our people. See, the MSU football game was the night before. It started at 8:00pm and went way late. I know this because I was up watching the almost self destruction of the green and white in the 4th quarter. I was there, frustrated, yelling, cheering, and so on just like everyone else. Understandably, everyone was tired and reserved the next morning.

Which leads us back to worship. We finished the first song where we were just singing about how God’s creation shares in our worship of the Creator. Our response was extremely lack luster, “Yeah God, for being the creator of everything….where’s the coffee…who is clapping…stop clapping!”

My challenge to our people was that we must have perspective on life. Staying up late and yelling/cheering at a football game pales in comparison to us joining together to worship God, the creator of everything. He who gives us breath to breathe should receive much greater accolades than a football game or team.

Now, understand. I’m not innocent in the matter. I don’t know that I clearly communicated that last week when I paused our singing (and I will probably address it again this week). We will get emotional and fired up for just about anything like a hockey game, a new apple product, the beginning of the new fall TV schedule, America, a new app, hunting, eating, exercise, or even our Facebook feed. This list is endless. It doesn’t even have any bad stuff on there like porn, gambling, drinking, money, power or whatever else we crave. Our attentions are continually distracted from the one who created life and gave redemption.

Our struggle runs really deep in our souls. How many of us have made time in our schedules to make sure we can watch the game each week, yet struggle to find anytime to read God’s word or pray? What’s the first thing you check on your phone each morning? Twitter? Email? The scores of last night’s game? Would we be embarrassed if we tracked how much time we spent on Facebook or playing video games and compared it to the time each week that we mentally engaged in our spiritual lives? We are a mess and in continual need of our Savior.

Like I said above, I am not innocent in this matter, not in the least. The question for us is this: How do we change so that our Creator has the top spot in our attention all the time?

Maybe you need to schedule God time each day. Maybe you need to delete some apps off your phone. Maybe you need to quit doing some things. Maybe you need to read Job 38-42 or Psalm 104. Then go spend some time out in nature, taking in God’s creation, seeing the beauty in it. Stand in awe of it, in awe of the Creator, the giver of life, the only one who can rescue us from ourselves.

Lord, help us to lay aside our idols so we can truly be your children.

October 1, 2014

Testing Again

I am testing to see if will work on my ipad in a browser. It seems to be. 
Technology amazes me sometimes. I can have conversations with people on the other side of the world with simple technology now. I can talk face to face with my siblings with my phone. The rental car I am driving helps me see where I am backing up with cameras, lights, and guide lines on the screen in the dash. My phone helps me not get lost when going from here to there when away from home.
I can type here on my iPad, have do its magic, and eventually post to my blog without having to fight format issues and the such. We have it so good.
I read articles on the internet, save them to my Pocket to reread later. Then I file them to Evernote. Of course, all of these resources are available on my phone, my ipad, and my computer on my desk. I am completely mobile and able to do just about anything from anywhere. AND, when I need to do something heavier, I can log into my home base computer in my office and control it from my phone and my ipad, as long as I have an internet connection. 
While all of these things are great, they still involve one thing. Me doing things. The enable me to be more productive from anywhere, but I still have to be productive. I still need to be engaged and do something.
Isn’t that always our problem?
Spoke too soon….wasn’t able to fully get it to work. Bummer. Now I have to move this over myself. Ho hum.

July 20, 2014

Big Thoughts

Every week here at South all those serving in some capacity join together worship to focus, talk through the day and pray. We call it the huddle. Each month a different elder handles the discussion, giving a scripture thought to challenge us for the day.

Today, Jim led. He shared with us the following lyrics from The Earth Falls Asleep by Abandon Kansas.:

I’m convinced that the world that we see is a curtain, behind which vast realms await us of uncharted marvels in oceans of mercy inside my father’s eyes and the mountains are grand stands that sheets of blue skies rest upon pealed back with ease by yours hands to reveal a glory I’ve never dreamed

He then said, “Today, I want you to think big thoughts.” He challenged us to see past the mundane, the tasks at hand that always have to be done. He encouraged us to see something bigger going on in the day, to be ready for something bigger. Then he prayed and we were done.

It was so simple, yet so beautiful and mind blowing. Think big thoughts…

We are a part or something bigger, something beyond what we see right here right now. We are a part of something beyond what we planned to eat today, or the coffee we stopped and got on the way to church. We are a part of something bigger than this week, our jobs, or our lives. We are a part of something that has been going on for generations and generations. Really, its been going on since man fell in the Garden and separated humanity from God via sin. God has been chasing us ever since with an unrelenting love. And, when we accept and embrace that love, we become a part of the pursuit.

That means it is not just about me. It is is not simply about the church that I serve, or even the churches of Christ/Christian churches here in Lansing. It is not even about all the churches here in Lansing. It is about all of us, one entity who are called brothers and sisters of Jesus because of the cross - the Church, the tribe, the Kingdom of God - whatever you want to call it so you can grasp the bigness of it. Actually, it is about us and beyond us. It is about the unrelenting love of God working through us to redeem the world.

It is about us here AND it is about our brothers and sisters in Mosul, Iraq. They are being persecuted by ISIS (an Islamic group). ISIS came through in the last few days, marked their houses with an Islamic symbol that means “Christian” and gave them three options.

  1. Leave
  2. Convert to Islam for the sum of one pound of gold
  3. Die by the sword

To them, faith is real and in their face right now. Move on from your homes, confess Islam with payment, or die. How would I do in that situation? Think big thoughts…

Where does faith take hold in our lives? When will we pull away from the mundane and live lives that matter? Think big thoughts…

July 16, 2014

An Early Camp Morning

This was written last week in the midst of camp. I think it was on Tuesday, but it is all a blur now….enjoy!

Today I sit in a place of honor. I’m in David Joe’s spot by the fireplace here at Michiana Christian Service Camp. For as long as I’ve been serving here each summer, I can remember David Joe sitting in this place every morning, pouring over the Scriptures and listening to what God had to say to him each morning, allowing himself be filled so he could pour into the students that day.

A table away normally sits a woman named Day. Every morning you can hear her playing her lap dulcimer and singing in songs like Come Thou Fount to her Creator - a daily ritual in her life that feeds and fills her soul, a soul that loves God, life, and students. She calls our students children. If you were to meet her you would understand why. She has a deep motherly love for the students we get here at camp. She loves them like she loves her own children. She hurts for them because the world is harsh to them. She wants to wrap them up in God’s love, to help them change and see a bigger life that they could have, a life shaped by the Cross.

These are only two of the many people I am lucky enough to work with year after year here at camp. I could share story after story of people like David Joe and Day. Each would have its own uniqueness because of the individuals involved.

In their uniqueness, though, they have a unity about them. While each has their own story, there is a common thread that binds them together. It is not really fair to say that it is a thread. What binds them together is much bigger and stronger than a thread. What binds them together is thick and strong like a ship’s rope, compiled by thousands of small strands of cord and fiber. It is God’s story - a story of creation, failure, and redemption - where love overcomes everything.

It is that story, God’s story, that we share year after year here at camp. It is wrapped differently each summer, but at its core it is the same. God created the world and saw that it was good. He created man and saw that his creation was very good. He gave man free will to rule over the earth and bask in God’s glory. Unfortunately, man wanted more for himself. He wanted his own glory. So, through the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity separated itself from the Creator.

In all honesty, God could have walked away then. He could have given up on this rebellious creation who had life by His own breath. He could have given up on us. But He didn’t. He pursued us with His tenacious, constant love all the way to the cross.

The cross is why we exist as a living temple…a tribe devoted to proclaiming God’s glory, a tribe devoted to living out the story and helping others learn what the story is–how it feels, tastes, and smells. We are the present Kingdom of God here and now. May we live to our potential.

June 9, 2014

30 Days of Hustle - Day 2

Day Two’s challenge is about the Why. Why do I want to lose weight. I guess I answered that yesterday. I need to lose weight so that I can see my daughter grow up and grow old. I don’t feel healthy now. I don’t feel horrible, but I know that I need to lose weight. There is heart issues on both sides of my family. Its time to clean up my act.

I also mentioned yesterday that I am a temple of God, or part of it anyway. I am not treating the temple very good. I’m abusing it.

If I stop and think about it, I probably have some sort of a food addiction. Food is my comfort. It is what I go to when I get stressed. It brings me joy sometimes. I eat it and then feel guilty sometimes. I think that means I have a problem. Don’t you think?

I think God an my family are important reasons to lose weight, don’t you think?

So, if you are joining me in this challenge, answer the “Why?” question for yourself. Why are you doing it? Is it just because of me? That’s honorable and nice, but you need more. I’m not that important!

30 Days of Hustle - Day 1

I got an email the other day. I get a bunch of emails every day. Some are junk. Some are fun to read. The email I am talking about was from Jon Acuff. In that email he talked about offering a 30 Days of Hustle Challenge.

It sounded interesting to me. So I signed up. I am doing the 30 Days of Hustle Challenge. Each day for 30 days, I will get an email from the Acuff enterprise challenging me to do something…Below is the beginning. Read on at your own risk.

Day 1 –What do I want to do?

The list for this is long. I want to do a lot of things. I need/want to lose weight. I want to own a coffee shop. I want my wife to get through this dark spell of life she is having and I want to help her lose the weight that is part of the darkness. I want to be better at my ministry.

Thanks for bringing all of these struggles and wants up, Mr. Acuff.

His point in the first email is to choose one thing. What one thing do I want to do? Does Mr. Acuff realize that I am a high C in the DISC personality profile? As a high C (conscientious), want to do everything right. Because of this, I struggle to make decisions. So, not only did Mr. Acuff bring up all the things I feel I want to do in my life, he has cornered me with the challenging of picking one thing. What I if I choose the wrong thing? Will that wreck everything else I want to do? How do I even decide? Does he even know what his simple question does to me on the inside?

It sounds to me like I need some help. Or, I simply need to suck it up and choose something and go. So, I chose my goal.

I am overweight. I need to lose weight. A lot of it. I weighed in this morning. 304#. I was surprised it wasn’t more.

I WANT to weigh no more than 250#. I want to do this so I can be healthy enough to see my daughter grow up and live life. I want to be healthier for my wife. I need to be healthier because I am the temple of God…or a part of it, anyway.

My goal is to lose 54# by Christmas. I am putting it out here on the internet world to show that I am serious. Maybe throwing it out here will make me push more and actually do something rather than having good intentions with no follow through.

Do you want to join me? What is a weight loss goal you have? If you don’t have one, set one right now. How much do you want to lose by Christmas? We’ll call it the Skinny Christmas Challenge. What are we going to do? How are we going to get there. How can I challenge you and how can you challenge me?

June 2, 2014

Boxes of Toys

My daughter has lots of toys. We move them every few months when my wife spring cleans her room. They are colorful boxes, full of items that my daughter has collected over the years. She had one box out the other day. It has MSU Spartan pom poms, a feather boa from a past halloween outfit, a bag in the shape of a basketball, amongst other things. That is only one of the dozen or so bins that fill a shelf in her room. Another has the ever awesome Legos…or at least the legos that will fit in the box.

I was thinking about this the other day. Hannah Grace is 10 years old. She is still in the toy phase. Though most of the toys simply sit on the shelf, she pulls them out from time to time to play with them. Then, its back on the shelf. Over the next few years, what will happen to these toys? As she gets older, she probably won’t want them anymore. Where will they go? Will we sell them at a garage sale? Will she donate them somewhere? Will she keep some for the memories?

An even bigger question that I have concerning these boxes of toys is this: What will take their place? Her room right now is a lovely pink with polkadots and everything that represents an elementary girl. I am certain that as she gets older, things will change. How will her personality change? What will fill in the spaces in the boxes, bins, and on the walls. My prayer is that good things will take the place of the toys, trinkets, and stuff. That’s what any good dad would want.

As I thought about this, my mind remembered a passage of Scripture I had been working through last week.

In 1 Peter, the writer is encouraging the believers who live in Asia Minor–present day Turkey. They lived in a challenging time where the megalomania minded caesars called for everyone in their kingdoms to acknowledge them as gods. If you were a Christian at that time, or a Jew for that matter, this was a problem. God said, “No other God’s before me.” That means, no caesar before me. When people won’t do what caesar wants, bad things happen. Persecution happens. People die for their faith.

Peter is writing to these people and encouraging them to understand the bigger picture–that the inheritance they have received from God, through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, is greater than what they are suffering. Even more, their suffering is growing their faith.

He then continues to challenge them, calling them to be holy, like God is Holy. Imitate the father God, pushing forward with their faith, because that is what the Gospel calls them to. He also tells them to imitate God’s love, and show that they are doing so by loving one another with the love of God.

Throughout chapter 1 he uses a child metaphor to carry his encouragement forward. Peter continually calls them little children who are growing in their faith. He closes out the section by saying this:

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3)

Peter tells them, get rid of the world in you. Push forward and crave the Word of God, which they have heard and tasted. Hunger for spiritual milk and grow up their faith.

This really resonates with me in the stage of life I am. I daily watch my 10 year old transform in front of me. She is growing in every aspect of life. As she grows, she struggles to adjust–just as we all did at that age. She is learning to deal with the new emotions, the new feelings, and the new responsibility of life. It is exciting to watch. It is painful to watch. Part of me doesn’t want her to grow up. I want her to stay my little girl forever. But, I have to realize that I can’t do that. I have to let her mature. I have to help her navigate the the feelings, emotions, and changes, so that she can become her own being. As a father, that is a scary thing. I’m sure it is for her mother, also.

Does God feel the same anxiety that I feel as a father? Does he want my boxes and bins to be full of good things just as I desire for my daughter? How is he helping me navigate this transformation from a spiritual baby to a mature adult? How am I listening and learning from him? Or, am I fighting the help, wanting my own freedoms, just like my daughter?

Lord, help me to hunger and thirst for your righteousness with my life. Help me to shape every breath and every action a worship to you. Help what I do to encourage my daughter to do the same. As I love her like I see you love me, may my presence and influence shape her to be a child of God. Help me help her fill the boxes and bins of her life with the good that comes from you.

May 27, 2014

Courtney, Amy, and Miley

I have always been intrigued by certain pop music stars. There’s something that draws me in to them. Its been this way since I read an article on Courtney Love about a decade ago in a Rolling Stone magazine. In that article she shared how she felt alone, how she wrote music, and the stream of thought that she was continually on. I remember wondering what she would be like if she had some consistency in her life through people…people who weren’t looking to take from her fame or use her. How would her life be different if she had a group of people who unconditionally loved her and encouraged her through her drug addiction, marital problems, the loss of her husband to suicide and so on. Would she be different?

I thought the same thing of Amy Winehouse. Such a big personality and a huge talent caught up in the mess of life. She used alcohol to escape life, amongst other things, and in the end, the addictions won. What if there were people there, not allowing her to alienate herself and hide?

Understand, I’m not naive. I would guess that there are and were people around trying to do this. I understand that fame pushes and pulls in ways that I will never understand. Each life like Courtney’s or Amy’s is a huge mess of fame, fortune, addiction, brokenness. How much power did some of those things have in keeping healing away?

I have similar thoughts and sadness for Miley Cyrus. Here’s a young girl born from fame thrown into popularity where every action and reaction is magnified by our culture and media. I would guess she’s achieved the fame and fortune that the world wants her to achieve, yet she’s at the same time, been walled in by that fame and fortune. She’s become a prisoner to her own self.

Maybe this is similar to what happened to Michael Jackson. Child star turned super-world star, pressed in on all sides by his fame and fortune, every action and reaction microscopically analyzed and criticized. There was musical genius within the music he made, no matter whether you like his music or not. Everything was specifically placed and on purpose. Yet, the musical genius couldn’t save himself. At best it learned to medicate and manage, rather than overcome.

While I know there is no way that I could become friends with any of these people, living or not. Who am I to them? Who would I be to them? As I write, though, I ask myself this question, “How am I creating this safe place that I would want for these few individuals for those that I do know?” How am I helping people find rest and hope in the Kingdom of God?

How do we do it? How do we make a safe place for people to come in, in whatever state they are in, to find hope, peace, and love? Are we fooling ourselves as the church saying we are this when we really aren’t? Are we actively pushing to make this place for real? We are called to be the kingdom–a place where we enjoy the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Not only are we to experience it, we are to help others experience it.

Lord, help us to die to ourselves so we can live you for the world.

May 20, 2014

John 3:1-21

Its funny. At the beginning of these commitments to journal through Scripture, I have these grand ideas that I’ll be able to sit down and fire things off in no time. Then, once I get a few steps in, I realize I am in way over my head and that the commitment I made, while being completed, is going to be done very slowly. Like today, for example. I need to blog on Chapter 3. I read and study a bit on chapter 3 and realize, there is no way this is all going in one blog post. So, our pace slows even more. I don’t think you mind. I haven’t gotten any hate mail because I’m not writing fast enough.

Up to this point in our journey through John we’ve seen our writer proclaim Jesus as part of creation, paralleling Genesis. He’s stated that Jesus is the Messiah–the one coming to restore Israel to God’s intentions AND called him Lamb. We’ve read the story about Jesus turning the water into wine and seen him cleanse the temple, both of which to me seem to show Jesus establishing this new Light, the Light that will overcome the darkness.

It is interesting to me that following all of this, the writer has a leader of the Jews come to Jesus at night to ask questions. Why a leader of the Jews? Certainly they would have been upset and chastised by the cleansing of the temple. They were partly in control of that system. Has Nicodemus come to set Jesus straight? As we read we see that he has come because Jesus has intrigued him with what he has said and the miracles he has done. He needs to know more.

The exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus tells us a bunch. Nicodemus calls Jesus, “Rabbi.” That was a title of honor. Nicodemus is acknowledging that Jesus knows the Torah. He must have heard him teaching or something before this. He wouldn’t have called him that unless there was merit to do so. He says to him, “We know you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

We? Is Nicodemus coming with others behind him that John is not telling us about? Or is he coming as a spokesperson for the Jews, inquiring more about this Jesus? Or, did Nicodemus say “we” to hide or soften his own intrigue? “It’s not just me who wants to know more of who you are, Jesus.” I think it is a combo of the latter two. Nicodemus acknowledges more good in Jesus because of the “signs” he has done. This would mean miracles. What Jesus is doing is well beyond what anyone else could do without the power of God. That being said, there seems to be some skepticism here in Nicodemus. Scholars say that if there was more belief and trust, he would have called Jesus a prophet.

Jesus’ response to this subversive, inquiring greeting is that no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again or born from above. Obviously, by Nicodemus’ response, this confused him again. He makes a pretty funny statement in my opinion about the impossibility of being born again. Jesus clarifies, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

We need to stop a minute and unpack some things. Kingdom of God refers to the Jewish perception that when the Messiah comes, he will restore the earth and the Jewish people by bringing the Kingdom of God where the son of David, the Messiah, would reign. Jesus in his statement to Nicodemus is saying one can’t get to there without new birth. If we think about who he is talking to, a Jewish Leader, there is some weight to this little sentence. Its not by simply knowing Torah and living the Law that gets you to be present in the Kingdom of God. There is a born again that needs to happen. One that involves water and spirit–divine remaking, a rebirth from God.

Jesus continues on to say, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Time to pause again. Lets think for a moment in terms of light and dark. The world before Jesus comes was in darkness, so to speak. He is the light coming into the darkness. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. Maybe our writer is signifying something more than just the time of day here. This light called Jesus has intrigued him and he wants more. Even more, from what I see Jesus saying, the only way to fully know the light is through water and the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh–darkness gives birth do darkness. Yet, Spirit gives birth to spirit–light brings about light. There is transformation that needs to happen in man as he comes to know the Light–a spiritual rebirth.

Then Jesus say, “The wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The wind means Spirit. In the Old Testament, the word for wind/spirit/breath is ruach. Its pretty much interchangeable, depending on the context it is used. Its interesting to me that Jesus says, the wind blows where it wants and you hear it. To me, Jesus is acknowledging to Nicodemus that he has seen the light. He’s heard the wind–the coming of this light into the neighborhood. But, he does’ know where it comes from or where it is going. Jesus jabs at him pretty good following this by saying, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” You are one of the teachers, one of the smart people who should understand what the Old Testament is saying and how it is pointing to the Messiah, yet you do not.

Jesus continues on pushing at the unbelief of Nicodemus. “We speak,” probably referring to his disciples who are possibly at this meeting, “of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet y’all do not receive our testimony.” We–Jesus and his followers/entourage– see and testify, yet, y’all–the Jewish leaders/teachers of the Law–while seeing it and hearing it, don’t accept it. Pretty tough words. Jesus even goes as far to say if I showed you earthly stuff or heavenly stuff, you wouldn’t get it either way. “Even more, you haven’t ascended into heaven an been born of heaven, like me.”

I can’t help to think about what is going through Nicodemus’ mind at this point. “I shouldn’t have come here. He’s putting me in my place! I’m drawn in even more by what he is saying–I want to know more!” So many possibilities.

The conversation builds to Jesus proclaiming his need to be lifted up for all to see as in the crucifixion, paralleling that with an OT story from Numbers 21 where a bronze serpent was used to rescue the Israelites. In that story, the people of Israel were bad mouthing Moses and God again, asking why he had brought them into the wilderness to die. God sent poisonous snakes upon the people. They cried out to Moses for help. A bronze serpent was made and put on a pole. Israel could look to it and be saved from the dying from the snake bites. Jesus is going to be a new antidote, so to speak. He is the light that is coming to cleanse the world of darkness.

I find it very intriguing that this story about Numbers 21 comes right before one of the most famous of all scriptures, John 3:16. God’s righteousness calls for holiness, which man cannot do on his own, so God sends his son so that all who believe–who look on him, see what he is doing and accepts it, which is what Nicodemus just got called out for not doing–will be saved and have eternal life–life in the kingdom of God where God will reign. Jesus doesn’t come to condemn and break down. He comes to save.

May 19, 2014

Black and Blue

It has been an interesting few days. Interesting, as in bad days…well, not bad per say. More like trying. Every time I turned around this past weekend something wasn’t working right or I was doing something dumb.

Friday night we went to a Lugnuts game. For those readers of mine who aren’t from Lansing, the Lugnuts are the local minor league baseball team. It was a decent night and they were free tickets–my daughter received them as part of an award for good citizenship at school. Pretty cool award for her. She makes me very proud. Back to the game…it is baseball. It was a decent night. We thought we were prepared–had a blanket and everything because it was supposed to get a little chilly. It got more than chilly. The last 5 innings were painful to watch. I was cold, we were losing by 10 runs. I was ready to go home. But we couldn’t. There were to be fireworks after the game. I endured for my daughter. Do you know how long baseball games go? So much stopping, waiting, scratching, and such. I endured…

Then, on Saturday, I had more problems. I’ve been working on a little renovation project for some friends. I was finally getting to the trim portion of the project. The window and door trim went in fairly well. not too much fighting, even with the tools that I had. When I went to start the baseboard, I came to realize that the saw that I was using didn’t have the clearance for the 4” trim I was putting in. I made it work for a few pieces, but then gave up. Progress halted. At least I got the windows done.

Yesterday was the bad day. When I woke up I was ready for a nap. You know those days, right? You simply can’t shake the sleep out of your system. I think I even fell asleep standing in the shower. That’s certainly not good. After I got dressed, I gathered my things and headed out the door. It was cold out, so I put on my jacket and walked out the door, neglecting to check my pockets for keys. As I walked down the sidewalk to my truck, I came to the realization that I was locked out of both my truck and the house. I did have my cell phone. “No problem!” I thought. I’ll call my wife, have her unlock the door and all will be well.

Understand, that at this point, it is about 5:45am. I like to get to the church by 6:00am on Sundays to get things ready, write in my journal, and so on. One would think a phone call at 5:45am would startle you. Dialed the phone and listened to ringing. Standing at the front door, I can hear my wife’s phone ringing in on the counter–through the door, the brick wall, and so on. Does it wake my wife? Nope. I start knocking on the door as I call again, trying to wake her, but not my 10 year old daughter. Knock, knock, knock. Ring, ring, ring. Nothing.

At this point, I’m warring with myself on the inside. How can she not be waking up? How can I be mad about this, since I was the one who locked myself out? Knock, knock, knock, ring, ring, ring. I even started adding the door bell with the knocks and the phone calls.

This went on for what seemed like hours. The sun rose while I was standing there. Then, finally, I awoke the dead…ok, it wasn’t hours. It was at least five minutes though. I’m glad there wasn’t a fire.

Unfortunately, the day gets worse. After worship at church, I was packing up my guitars and gear. The place I normally put my guitar cases to load them had stuff on it, so I balanced them on a stool. I’ve done this hundreds of times. If you get them just right, everything goes peachy. I should have known better.

I open up one case and put a guitar away, balancing and holding things just right to keep gravity from crashing everything down. I close the lid and grab the other guitar. Then I realize, I had put the wrong guitar in the wrong case. As I rewound the process, gravity got the best of me. This, on its own, shouldn’t be a big deal. There were no guitars in the cases at that point. I was holding the right guitar for the right case that I had part way open, when they started to shift. If they crash off the stool its no big thing. They are cases–they are made for crashing type events to protect the goods inside.

My daughter’s toe, however, was not built for a crash. Her foot was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her big toe took the full brunt of a falling guitar case. She crumpled to the ground and started screaming and holding her toe. I am the greatest dad in the world…

Unfortunately, life is like that, isn’t it? You have good intentions to do great things that simply don’t turn out great. Sometimes we are the culprits. Other times, we are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I told my daughter on the way to school today that if I could take her bad toe and give her my good toe I would. She understood, I think. The problem is, that I’m not God. I can’t intervene in this situation and make it better for her, just as much as I couldn’t magically make the saw I was using on Saturday cut the wood the right way, even though I tried my hardest to make it work. I simply need to come to grips with what I can’t change, and keep on living forward.

I guess I’m helping my daughter learn this the hard way. Luckily, her toe will quit hurting in a few days. I would guess that the nail will turn black and blue and look pretty gnarly. Good thing for her she’s a girl, and its socially acceptable to paint her toenails. When you see her this summer, comment on how pretty they are, so she can tell you how awesome her daddy is!

May 14, 2014

John 2

Ok. I said that I was going to blog through John. We see how well that has worked so far. I made it through John 1, then crickets–the chirping kind that make noise in the quiet, still of night. I’m ready to do chapter 2. At this pace we will see the end of John by Christmas.

In John 1, the writer is setting the stage. He parallels his gospel with Genesis and creation. This Jesus, the Word, is with God, and all things are created through him. That creation in Genesis turned from God, chasing after darkness. Jesus, the Word, is coming into the world to establish a new light–he’s “moving into the neighborhood” as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message-John 1:14. The world is going to be much different with him here.

Chapter 2 begins in an interesting place–a wedding. Weddings in that day lasted for a week. Think of it. You plan this big party and you run out of wine on the third day. That is a problem. Even more of a problem in my opinion is Mary coming to Jesus and telling him to make more wine. There is so much backstory here that we don’t know. What is Jesus and Mary’s relation to the bride and bridegroom? Have they been asked to provide some of the supplies for the wedding (which wouldn’t have been unheard of in that day and age.)? How does Mary know that Jesus can turn water into wine? Has she seen him do other miracles before this?

We can get really crazy trying to fill in all the cracks here. What we do know is this. Mary sees a problem and knows that Jesus can fix it. The way he goes about it seems even more telling to me. He has the servants fill up six jars with water. These aren’t simply your run of the mill jars, these were used for Jewish purification ceremonies. They are like the special fine china that you never use…or they are like the communion table at church that really should be treated extra special and only used for the communion.

Jesus has the servants fill them up with water and then sample what is in them. Should be water, one would think. But, its not. Its wine. Good wine, from what the writer tells us. So good that the steward, the master of ceremonies, compliments the bridegroom on saving the better wine for the second half of the party–the wedding.

The next story we get in Chapter 2 is Jesus cleansing the temple. He is frustrated with the Jewish system that is in place here. It has become something that it is not supposed to be–a marketplace that probably is laced with crooked practices where God is not the focus. Jesus drives out the animals and the moneychangers. Needless to say, this causes some struggle between he and those that run the temple, the Jews. Their exchange is telling. They ask Jesus to give them a sign so they know by what authority he has to cleanse the temple. He chimes back at them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The text is quick to tell us the Jews were thinking of the physical stone temple they were standing in at the moment, while Jesus is talking about his own being, body, spirit, and such.

I can’t help but see the parallels in both of these stories. John 1 tells us this light that is moving into the neighborhood is going to outshine the darkness. We hear the Jews asking John the Baptist about this Messiah that he is proclaiming. Jesus is going to cause some tension.

In the wedding story, Jesus takes the ritual jars for Jewish cleansing and uses them for something else. He makes wine to help carry on the wedding. (I wonder what connection there is to this story at the beginning of this Gospel to the concept that Jesus is the Bridegroom and the church is the Bride.) The wine was better than the first bit of wine for the wedding. Is this all a parallel that this Jesus is something better that is coming out of Judaism? What statement is this story making about how Jesus is turning Jewish ritual life on its end? So many questions…

What about the clearing of the temple? I think the writer is making a statement to his readers that the Jewish life has been tied to ritual and to the temple and in doing so, has lost the focus of what it is to be about. This Jesus is going to give a new focus, where its not fully about a building or the Law (ritual). Its about something more–being the light in the darkness.

May 12, 2014

Coffee Shops

Coffee Shops are the most interesting places in my opinion. I think that is why I enjoy hanging out in them. You can see just about any type of person walk through the door. Sometimes they are simply in for a quick fix of caffeine. They are in and out in a flash.

Other times they are here to have a conversation of some importance. A few months ago it was a conversation between business partners trying to transition their concert venues and so on here in Lansing. Today it was a professor and his student processing the future work they were going to venture in on through the summer.

Clientele is not limited to a specific age group. In the place I am at today, Grand River Coffee, there are young and old scattered among the chairs, tables, and couches. To my right there is a guy who looks to be in his 30s going through a green plastic bin of accumulated mail. All the while, over my shoulder to the left there is an old guy passed out with his laptop on knees. He’s been that way for about an hour. (I think someone should check on him to make sure he is still breathing.)

The coffee shop isn’t a place that judges. it is here for anyone to use, whether you need to refuel, rest, or get some work done. If you need to have a conversation, that is welcome also. It is a Third Place.

That is the draw. For me, I’m looking for a place that has good coffee and isn’t my office. Great internet signal is also a bonus, but not really necessary and probably better for my productivity plan. Free parking is also a bonus. I’m looking for that place that is a home away from home so to speak.

I think that is the reason I have had a strong pull to open up a coffee shop at some point in my life. I want to create the place that I love…a place where you can come and find what you need and get great coffee. That is a must.

Now if I only had an endless amount of money to do this….

May 11, 2014

The Double Space

I was born in 1972. That makes me old. Maybe you don’t think 41 is old. I think its old. I feel old. Things are changing around me all the time. When I was growing up, you had to dial a number on the phone by spinning the rotary thing. Then touch tone came in style and it cost extra to have with your phone service.

I can remember our kitchen phone having a cord that was 10 miles long. You could go from the phone all the way into the living room…almost. If you came in and someone was on the phone, you had to either limbo or step over it and hope that you wouldn’t trip and fall.

Then there were the cordless phones with the pull out antennas. I remember when we got one of those. I felt so cool! I felt like I was as cool as Tubbs and Crocket on Miami Vice. Well, I felt cool until I broke the dumb, cheap antenna off. I think they made those things out of aluminum foil.

I remember when you had to push a button with your foot on the floor of the car to flip the bright lights off and on. It was called a toggle switch. I remember having to put a quarter on the needle to get it to play through the scratch in the record–and if you didn’t understand that, too bad. I remember having to load software onto a computer with a cassette tape. Then there were floppies. Then there were Zip Drives.

I am old.

As one gets old, there comes a need to change with the times. I don’t use a rotary phone anymore. I have an iPhone. I am very proficient at it, I might add. I have adapted to change very well. I am fully functional with any computer. I can even handle a 3.5” floppy still–I work for a church, some of our computers are really old.

Except for two things…both of which are grammatical changes in English. The first is the use of the comma. I was taught in school by Mr. Paupier and Miss Ashby to use a comma before the and as I was writing a list in a sentence. Thus, one would write, “I went to the grocery store, the mall, and the gas station.” Makes sense. Unfortunately, for me, that has changed. It is not socially acceptable to put the comma in anymore. Or at least that is what I have been told. I stand in rebellion and put it in ALL the time!

The other change is the double space. When I took typing back in 1988, Ms. whatever her name was (I said I was old) taught us to put two spaces after a period while typing. When we hand wrote things, you alway put a little more space between the end of one sentence and a new one. The double space translated over our writing style for the typewriter. The world was at peace.

I guess that isn’t acceptable anymore. Like I care. I continue to put them in wherever I put a period. (See, there I did it again. You can’t see it, but I put in in there. I’ll explain in a moment.) If you were to get an email from me you would see them all over the place. I have the settings in the auto correct in Microsoft Word to make sure they are there, if by chance I miss one.

Unfortunately, I work a lot on the internet. I have this blog that I’ve been writing to for ages. I manage the website for South Lansing Christian Church. For some reason, the people that wrote HTML and the laws of the internet decided to follow a different rule than I was taught. Maybe they made up the rule and the rest of the world chose to follow along. All I know is that it messes up what I do.

There are things you simply can’t unlearn. I play the guitar. I didn’t have formal training–I learned on my own. In turn, the position of my left hand at times is totally wrong. I learned wrong. I made do and can handle my own, but I can’t play an A Bar chord for nothing. I’ve tried to learn the right way. It just don’t work.

It is the same way with the double space after a period. I can’t unlearn it. I did it right that time, but it was only because I was thinking of it. Every other time my brain is in high gear and the double space simply happens without thought.

Unfortunately, when I type things into a web browser–blog posts like this one, the world wide web has no idea how to handle my double space. It actually sees it as a double space and puts it in there. Nice of it to do what I ask it to do. The problem is, when there is a double space at the end of a line and the line break happens in between the two spaces, the next line is thrown off…because the space is there. Look at pretty much any post before this one and John 1 and you will randomly see the extra spaces on the left hand of the text. If you resize your window some of them will go away. They don’t care. They come and go as they choose depending on where they fall at the end of the line.

I sort of ignored them on this blog simply because its my personal page. Its my statement of defying the system that chose to make a dumb change. However, I can’t deal with the extra spaces on the church website (nor can my Sr. Minister).

This put me on a quest to solve my problem. I needed to find a program that will let me double space, interpret it as only one space, and ignore my rebellion. That program was MOU. It is the program I am writing in right now. It uses a system of coding called Markdown. It allows you to type and add style through some simple keystrokes rather than having to move your hand off the keyboard and touching the mouse. Its really quite slick. And, some of the other programs I use also understand Markdown. So, I’ve been learning the coding…which leads me to here.

The other day I wrote a blog post on John 1. Its linked above. I wrote it with MOU using markdown. It was supposed to go smoothly. But it didn’t. Nothing seems to go easy for me. When I copied and pasted it over to the blogger page, I either got my formatting for the paragraphs (a space between them so it is easy to read) OR bold/italics I had put within the dobument. I couldn’t get both to work at the same time. The double space issue was fine after my periods, but I had to choose one or the other of the above formats and then edit the other when I moved it over into the blogger website.

If you know me, once I have a problem to solve, I will dig and look and figure it out, no matter how long it takes. Simply fixing the problem by sidestepping it doesn’t sit well with me, especially when it comes to computer things. It goes along with my ability to write long, worthless blog posts about things like the double space.

Tonight in my searching, I found a solution. It was really accidental. MOU has some exporting features, which I tried and had some success with to another blog website. It only made things worse when I tried to cut and paste from there. So, I turned to the almighty Google and did some searching for Markdown with Blogger. I found success! is an online Markdown editor that can post directly to my blog, amongst other things. It keeps all the formatting I type in with Markdown AND it totally ignores my double spaces.

Its all for your benefit, so you aren’t distracted by the extra spaces that haphazardly appear at the beginning of the line.

Aren’t you glad you spent the time reading this? It looks beautiful on your screen! All is at peace in Wally’s world again.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be posting more blogs about John in the next few days.

May 7, 2014

John 1

Our church is journeying through the book of John over the next 21 days. I'm a few days behind already...go figure. I'm going to try and blog some and share my reflections as I read. I'm not going to try and be heavy dig into the text with commentaries and so on this time. I would love to do that, but simply don't have the time to put into it right now. My prayer is that this is encouraging to you.

I love the way that the gospel of John begins. Its not a story about the birth of Jesus or a genealogy showing his birth line. No. John begins his gospel a lot like the book of Genesis. "In the beginning..."

Quickly John establishes that God is the beginning. It is through him that everything has life. Even more, there is a light in this life.

This idea parallels Genesis. God creates and sees his creation as good. The culmination of that creation is man, who is made in God's image. God puts his breath (spirit) within his creation--in the animals and into man. He has given them life. They are good, because he has made them.

There is something different in John though. There is this darkness, a darkness that came about as Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, breaking their promise to God. From that point on, in my opinion, the Bible is about God trying to restore/rescue his creation back to its divine intention--to be good. The whole Old Testament is the story of this desire to redeem his creation, and his creations inability to see and accept it.

In John something new is happening. Verse 14 holds the key for me. The Word, the Logos in Greek, becomes flesh and lives among us. God worked as he could through interactions with his creation (namely the kingdom of Israel in the OT) and has not been able to catch their attention. So, he must come in a flesh form, as Jesus. The world is about to be turned upside down because the Light has returned to the world! (It feels like we should sing Silent Night now)

This light moving back into the world is Jesus, the Messiah. For the Jews back in the day, the word Messiah meant one thing--an anointed King coming into the world to restore Israel. I would guess they thought of him as a new King David, so to speak--one marked by God to make everything right. Jesus is going to make everything "right", but not in the way they expected it to be.

John is a good story teller. Right out of the gate here in the first chapter, he's introduced us to Jesus. He establishes him as the Messiah--the one who is the Lamb of God. As the priests question (grill) John the Baptist in the middle of the chapter, you can see the tension beginning to mount. Here is this man we have been waiting for, this messiah, this son of God!

The light has come into the neighborhood. Its going to light all the dark places. Its going to show a different way to live and think about the Kingdom of God. Its going to be beautiful and painful, because it means change.

As the chapter closes, grown men are drawn into this Jesus. They quickly ask where he is staying and follow him. They have no idea what they are getting into...

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it...

January 18, 2014

The Early Morning

It was the wee hours of the morning, ten years ago today. We had been anticipating this moment for some time, and it was now upon us. The contractions had started earlier that day. We called the doc around 5:00pm and were trying to hold off as long as we could. By 11:00pm it was time. Our first stop in the hospital was the birthing triage. The docs and nurses had to see where we were at. Had the labor progressed far enough along that we could move to the next step? Life at that moment was all about centimeters. We didn't have enough, so we waited and watched the TV in the room. We even strolled down the hall a few times. No change.

Then I was faced with a dilemma. The kind hospital staff wanted to send us home. We had stalled. It was late. There was no one else there having babies that night. I figure they wanted to enjoy their evening quietly at work. They didn't want to have me have them call my doc another time. What they didn't realize was that I was scared beyond belief. My life at that point had been a bit of a mess...I had taken some knocks in my ministry that year and, unexpectedly, we were having a baby. I was freaking out, trying to have faith that God was in control while I tried to control everything.

I distinctly remember being encouraged to take another lap down the hall with my wife to encourage the centimeters. I remember sitting in the vinyl seats in that hallway with her, watching the anguish of another contraction, the look on her face, the uncertainty and inevitability of what was about to happen. There was no way I was taking her home.

I don't know what changed the minds of the staff at that point. Maybe it was the terror on my face that my life was about to turn upside down. Maybe they felt compassion on my wife as she tried to breathe through another wave of pain. Maybe they were simply tired of torturing us with the push to go home. We were allowed to stay!

They took us to the end of the wing. They were in the process of renovating, converting all double rooms to single suites. The place they stashed us felt like it was out of the 70s. It served the purpose. I had a recliner and Steph got the bed. They gave her something so she could get some rest. We had a moment of peace till morning.

We were quickly moved to a birthing room the next morning. Our doc had called in and was on her way. On the docket were some drugs to induce labor, to give us the ample centimeters we needed to move to the next step. The drugs went in and we waited...and waited. As the time passed the emotional roller coaster raced on. There was excitement, then more fear, accompanied by tears, and then excitement. Some where in there I think there was an epidural.

The drugs finally worked, though it was hours later. My daughter, even then, was a bit stubborn. We were ready for the next step. They had to break my wife's water, which was interesting to say the least. When they did they found out the my daughter had already pooped before getting out of dodge. They called in the neonatal unit to make sure they were ready if there were any complications like ingested poo, which simply added more fear.

Then it was time to push.

As I think back on all of this, it really is all a blur. I remember bit and pieces. I remember Steph yelling at me for touching and rubbing her arm too much. I remember our doc walking the new resident through the different things she was doing. I also remember the nurse who was there calmly walking my wife through everything. She had been a nurse for a long time. This was nothing new to her, it was simply a day at the office. I remember being thankful that God had put her there to walk us through the birth of our daughter.

And then it happened. Hannah Grace Lowman was born around 4:30pm, January 18, 2004. When she was free and clear the neonatal people kicked into action. It felt like there were 100 people in the room. They took my daughter, swarmed around her, and checked through all the things that neonatal people check. She was fine. No swallowed poop. She even had all of her fingers and toes!

When they were done, they wrapped her up and laid her in my arms. She was looking looking up at me with her big eyes as tears streamed down my face as if she were questioning me, "Who are you?" In all the commotion, all the fear, and all the pent up emotion, there was now a new peace. Those eyes can get me every time.

There has been a lot of life happen over the last ten years. That little baby has grown up into a beautiful little girl. She is my little girl. She is so full of life and wonder. She is so full of questions and the desire to know things. She is still full of laughter and dancing, which I pray she never loses. And, as hard as I have tried, she won't stop growing up.

Again I find myself awake in the early morning hours on January 18th. I am still full of fear and anxiety. There is lots of life and growing up ahead of us. There are the coming emotions, more so than now. There are the attempts of boys to steal her away from me. There is that moment, or moments, I guess, when we have to learn to let go so she can grow into the young woman she will become.

Lord, help her to always be my little girl.

Happy 10th birthday, Hannah Grace!