Sometimes, you don't really want to write a blog post, but it's writing itself in your head and you have to. So. This is one of those.
It's three days before Christmas. We're watching Elf. I think I can honestly say we've done a fair job of focusing on Christ and giving to those around us this season. There's always more than can be done.... I've had a lot of travel, but we've kept up with the girls choosing an act of kindness to do almost every day, and we've been blessed yet again by our advent devotionals each night. This post may seem like I'm not focused on the real reason for this precious season. Or maybe it will seem like I am. You be the judge.
I can barely bring myself to even type "Duck Dynasty" because (and no offense is intended), I'm already sick to death of all of the blog posts related to this subject in my feed. And, to be clear, I've read some of them and they're really good. But still - the obsession with it in general seems so over the top. How is it that I find myself joining in? See the opening paragraph. That's how.
And I don't really even want to talk about that. However, if you're curious on my opinion it, not surprisingly, aligns very well with Jen Hatmaker's post on the topic which can be found right here.
On one hand, I admire many of my Facebook friends (on both sides of the coin, mind you) for being bold and sharing their views. However, I also think we forget who all may be reading these posts. Could a teenager struggling with the rejection that comes from being gay be reading the post? Could it feel like even more rejection? Is that the message of Christ?
Our home is 2.9 miles from Arapahoe High School. 2.9 miles. I know no one involved, but I know people that know both the shooter's family as well as the family of the sweet girl that passed away this week. Heartbreaking. Also heartbreaking is what the mother of the shooter must be feeling. Could we cast blame? Assume she didn't parent him "well enough" if he was capable of such destruction? Start bringing up the gun control debate? We could. But come on.... Of course we shouldn't. Did one of us miss a chance to love on that young man? Maybe. Dear God, give us ears to hear.....
There's so much talk on these subjects, and I really do wonder if God is just shaking his head at us. I think we've forgotten when we talk about our ideals that we're talking about people. People that God loves violently, overwhelmingly, jealously, whole-heartedly. How can we forget that we're talking about people?
Let me at this point reference two of the other posts I've read that have aided in shaping my thinking. My ideas are building off of theirs, so I want to give them credit and encourage you to read them both. The first is this one written by a self-described celibate gay Christian. The other is this one written by a youth pastor whose claim is that what you believe about homosexuality is not the point.
I think each of us has a responsibility, as Christians, to study the Bible and have opinions on what following Jesus looks like. We should all be striving to follow him to the best of our abilities. We're all free to decide whether we think homosexuality is wrong or not, whether we women need to cover our heads and whether violence is ever warranted or not. In almost no case, though, is it necessary or positive to be sharing those conclusions in broad public settings. So often, we're unintentionally letting the world see our ugliness when we forget about people. It seems to me that the main goal of following Jesus is loving others. Not discussing our theological differences on Facebook. Let's be about the things that unify us.
My prayer for us this Christmas Eve Eve Eve is this: Dear God, please oh please let us not hurt one of your precious creations by our beliefs but instead overwhelm them with your love. Let us leave any convicting that needs to be done in your powerfully capable hands. Most of all, teach us to love. Teach us to love well.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Here we are, just a few weeks before Christmas, and the snow is already flying. Today’s temperature is -8, but the great thing is that there’s a fire burning at my feet. And tonight, Amy and I head off to NYC for a long-awaited weekend together (sans children because of Pen and Bill – THANKS!) The undeniable fact is that this year has been full of blessing. I started with our new church on January 1 of this year and it has been a great year of new things and people for every person in our family. We moved into our home in March, and God provided us with a street-full of children our kids’ ages. It is an amazing thing to be able to let our kids go outside and play and run and ride bikes for hours with a huge group of good children and helpful parents. Sadly, that’s something that doesn’t happen much these days. We love our new home, and though there were many projects to complete, we had and abundance of help from friends and family members. And the even better part is that though we enjoy the house (and basement play area and media room) a lot ourselves, we have also been able to open our house for WeBeGrillin about a dozen times. This is a regular event where we invite our church members and anyone from our neighborhood to come over and grill with us and share a dish while we hang out on the patio on a weekend evening. The kids play outside or in the basement, and the adults get to sit around and talk and laugh and eat and share stories for hours. This has given us an opportunity to get to know people in our neighborhood and from our church in ways we are all blessed by.
In the long process of updating the older house we bought, Amy’s wedding ring was unfortunately stolen. We were blessed to be able to replace it with her work bonus, and were able to additionally get one other wish list item for her: a hot tub. We found a great deal on Craigslist for a used one, and I was able to do most of the installation work myself, and we’ve already gotten to sit out there talking and watching the snow fall. In the busyness of life right now, it has given us a chance to just sit and talk about what’s going on and what God has been doing. Our church here is a smaller one that the one we were part of in Texas, but it has given us opportunities to get involved in ways we couldn’t have in a larger church. My role as an associate pastor/church-planter-in-training has been a lot of work, but every challenge has brought with it blessing. Over the last year, I have gotten a number of opportunities to preach, which is something that I really enjoy. The preparation for a sermon is exhilarating and fun for me because I love to write and read and study, but also because God has opened his Word to me in ways I haven’t experienced before. We help co-lead a community group, which has been a great way to connect and grow with people in our church body. Amy and I both participate on the worship team. Amy learned how to play guitar this year and is a quick study. She has already led worship at a ladies retreat as well as in a number of Sunday morning services. I am now putting my habit of annoying Amy by constantly drumming to good use as I now play percussion on a Cajon during our worship time. The kids find their ways of helping too, and we’ve gotten to give and serve alongside them in a number of really cool ways too this year. The church plant is still a ways out, and God only knows where and exactly when that will happen. In the meantime, our pastor is working with me in every area of ministry, and I’m getting a great education in what it takes to run a church, and really stay focused on the work of discipleship, which is really the point of why we “do church” in the first place.
Amy’s job has been in transition as well. She wrapped up a 7 year stint working for PwC Dallas in October, but had already begun a new job working as a deployment director for the San Francisco office. While there have certainly been challenges in terms of travel and a heavier workload, she has gotten some great opportunities and has worked with some great new people who have shown great appreciation for the skills and talent she provides. (She will likely edit this section, but her track-record and feedback speak for itself at what a diligent and valuable employee and colleague she is for her organization.) The kids are doing very well in school. Ellie is in second grade and soaking up information like a sponge. She has developed a love of reading that is great to watch. Emma is in afternoon kindergarten and is learning to read, write, and do math. She still enjoys recess the most, though! Nathan is now 2, and like the boy he is, loves to run, wrestle, and play hard, but is also a sweet, little man who loves to cuddle with his momma and sisters. He is learning to talk and will soon transition to a regular bed. Hopefully, moving out of diapers will soon follow! Amy continues to sew and embroider various crafts, and keeps us all well-supplied in monogrammed apparel. She made all of our Halloween costumes and is presently in the process of making the girls’ Christmas dresses.
We tried to take advantage of our new state and did a lot of skiing last winter and a lot of hiking and exploring this summer. Thanks to the lovely weather, we were outside (either in our own back yard or in the mountains) often. We did take one trip to Dallas as a family in June. It was great to see all of our friends and family. Amy also took the kids to Detroit in August. This wouldn’t be all that remarkable, except she DROVE them. On her own. If you missed her escapades, I’d encourage you to check them out here. We also took a family weekend up in Winter Park which was nice.
Amy and I are continuing our family traditions of Christmas devotionals with the kids this season and are incorporating some new Advent traditions as well. The house is well and fully decorated, beautiful, and prepped for the upcoming winter. We have upcoming parties to plan, sermons to write and deliver, worship sets to practice, meals to prepare, crafts to finish, regular work to do, children to love and take care of, and the list goes on and on. However, in the midst of all of these things to do, it is easy to get distracted, to stay overly busy, to feel tired - to focus on things that are not the most important things. This is true all year long, but feels especially true during this season. Last night I heard a beautiful version of “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” and was reminded that in celebrating Jesus’ birth – the arrival of the Messiah – that we direct all glory to God in the highest because he brought about his plan to save a lost world in ways only He could. His plan wasn’t splashy or loud or fancy. It was quiet, and miraculous, and humble. If the God who made everything and everyone displays his power and love in these ways, it is no surprise that he also calls us to love the world around us and shine the light of the hope of Jesus to those around us in those same ways. As you spend time with family, as you get through the bustle of December, remember that the bottom line of this season is the joy of the Savior, and that gift is one you can and should share not only with those closest to you, but especially with the stranger and the widow and the orphan. We wish warmest Christmas blessings to you all, friends and family!
James, Amy, Ellie (7), Emma (5), and Nathan (2)