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Freedom

 

The 4th of July.  The birthday of my country, the United States of America.  July 4th, 1776, 13 British colonies issued a declaration that they considered themselves free from British rule, free to govern themselves, free to tax themselves, free to defend themselves from aggressors, free…

Freedom has been something that has been championed and cherished in our country ever since.  We have fought wars at home and abroad under the banner of defending this freedom.  Many have given their lives in defense of this freedom.

If you were to ask an American today whether they’d like to return to British rule, I doubt very seriously that you’d get many “yes” responses.  Freedom is as American as apple pie and baseball.  Threaten it, and we will get up in arms quite quick.

When I think of freedom, I think of the freedoms I have in this country, that I have because of my country, and I am grateful.  I can worship, freely.  I can vote, freely.  I can work, freely.  I can travel, freely.  I could spend all day listing the freedoms that I’m thankful for.

But there is a freedom that outdoes all the others.  A freedom that will last long after my country has come and gone, or any country for that matter.

It is a freedom that also cost a life.  It’s a freedom that’s bought with precious blood, Jesus’ blood.  It’s a freedom that never ends.  It’s a freedom that comes from knowing the Truth, Who is Jesus.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.  And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.  Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”  (John 8:31-36)

We wouldn’t think twice about returning to subjection to Britain as a nation.  So today, why would a Christian return to the slavery he once had to sin?

Celebrate your freedom today as a citizen of the United States.  It is a great and wonderful thing.

But also remember, celebrate and rejoice in the freedom you enjoy, now and forever,  if you are a Christian.

 

2012-06-17 20.35.07We celebrated Father’s Day today, and since I became a dad 8 years ago, the day has obviously taken on new meaning for me.  However this year was very special, and not just because I got to spend it with my 3 kids.  This year was special because my dad was here to celebrate Father’s Day with us.

And while I was not able to see my Pop today, I gotta tell you that the early morning phone call I made on the way to church this morning was probably one of the most meaningful Father’s Day calls I’ve made.  It was just a blessing to make the call and hear my dad’s voice on the other end of the line.

At church today, my pastor shared about how Father’s Day came to be, and some of the traditions that have sprang up around it.  The one that grabbed my attention was the wearing of roses on Father’s Day.  In times past, one would wear a red rose as an indication that their father was still living, and a white rose if he had passed on.

The fact that I could have (were I prone to such things) been wearing a red rose today was not lost on me at all.  The miracle of what God did last December for my dad, and the fact that I could hear his voice and have a conversation with him today…these things were not lost on me.

This afternoon as I played with my kids and watched them romp around my in-laws place, I was reminded of the shoes I have to fill.  The shoes of a great dad that loved me far more than I ever realized.  The shoes of a father that I’m so blessed to have.  The shoes that I can never fill adequately, but I will certainly try, following in his example.

So to all you dads out there, Happy Father’s Day.  And to my dad…I love you more than I can say.  So thankful I got to hear your voice on the other end of the line today.

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That beautiful kid turned eight today.  Eight.  It is extremely hard for me to believe time has gone by this rapidly.

Eight years.  96 months.  2920 days.  70,080 hours.  And they all went by like a blip on the screen.

In my brain, she’s still the age of my son…a little two year old just learning to talk and run and play.  Crawling up into daddy’s lap to eat a snack or read a story. Now she’s reading her own stories.  Now she’s raiding the pantry on her own, munching and crunching me out of house and home to keep up with her seemingly overnight growth rate.

I fear I’ll be teaching her to drive far quicker than I want to admit.  And having those conversations that father’s everywhere fear…the ones with the “b” word…b…bb….bbb…boys…

Good grief. Where does the time go, y’all?

But you know what else I see?  When I look at that kid and think back to the years before we knew we were expecting this little bundle of joy…the years of wondering if we’d ever have a child…the years of praying for a child, expecting a child, and then the crushing feeling in your chest when things don’t go as planned…

And then the fulfillment of hope…the joy of holding that baby in your arms…the tears of happiness and absolute joy in which all the painful days and nights are eased (not forgotten, but eased).

Then the prayers shift.  Instead of the prayers in hope of a child, you transition to prayers FOR THE child…the one you hold in your arms and rock to sleep.  The one who begins to change on a daily basis, to grow and become their own little person.  Prayers that she’ll love the Lord with all her heart, soul, mind and strength.  Prayers that she’ll become the woman God calls her to be.  Prayers that she’ll walk with the Lord all her days.

Prayers for her future…way future…way way way future husband…all these these slight and nearly imperceptible changes that are only noticed in the full light of hindsight.

And it’s only been eight years.  But those eight years are reminders, ebenezers, of God’s faithfulness.  Of promises fulfilled……of prayers answered.

So happy birthday my not-so- little girl…your dad loves you more than any words on a screen could ever say…and I pray for you always.

patio-old-house(It’s been quite a while since I wrote…after everything with Dad, I just haven’t had the urge to write!  But today, a conversation spurred me to write this…I pray it blesses you.  And by the way, for my wife’s sake, that is not my house)

Last month, as winter turned to spring and the days got longer, the world around me started to bloom after a long, cold winter.  Along with the buds on the trees and the blooms on the flowers came letters from the neighborhood homeowner’s association.  It seems that weeds in the yard and mildew on the siding also come with the onset of spring, and they felt I should do something about it.

A good friend took care of the weeds, and I have attempted a cleansing of the mildew (it’s better than it was), but those “friendly” letters got me to thinking.  While I had noticed the weeds in the yard, I honestly hadn’t realized the mildew was as bad as it was.  Sometimes it takes someone else to point out the things that are growing in our gardens, eh?  Sometimes, familiarity breeds not only contempt, but complacency.  We just don’t see it.

Had I been johnny-on-the-spot with lawn care last fall, the weeds wouldn’t have sprung up like they did.  And if I’d been periodically spraying off the vinyl siding on my house, the mildew wouldn’t have clung to it like it did.  But it’s so much easier to do nothing, isn’t it?

Today, I had a conversation that was a replay of so many other conversations over the past few months, and it made me think of those weeds and the mildew.  Those things didn’t just spring up overnight in my yard and on my house.  They came from time and neglect.  That’s all it takes, really, time and neglect.

Our spiritual lives are the exact same way.  The conversation I had today (or almost any day, you pick) revolves around how one just doesn’t have the desire to (insert whatever spiritual practice or service you choose here), and that it’s not exciting anymore, or that we just don’t have the joy we once did.  And, to a man, they’re tired.

 

Now, the thing is, most of these are guys are good men.  Husbands.  Fathers.  Serving at church.  Faithful.  These are the men that the enemy does not want to leave alone.  He wants to destroy them, and subsequently their marriages, families, churches, you name it.  This life is a war, after all, between the flesh and the Spirit.

And  it gets hard at times.  Incredibly so.  But when it does, I pray we all take these words of Jesus to heart:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  (Matt. 11:28-30)

Press in.  Come to Him.  The enemy wants you to retreat, to get alone, to lag behind the rest of the herd (we are sheep, y’all), so that he can, like the roaring lion that he is, devour you.

I for one would rather press in and stay near the Shepherd.  How about you?

Another Note to Dad

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Hey Pop,

Remember in my last note how I asked you for more?  I told you that you opening your eyes was awesome, was an absolute God-send, but that I wanted more.  Remember that?  Remember that I told you that I was going to keep swinging for the fences in prayer, because I’m God’s kid, and I know He love us?

Well Pop, He answered.  He answered in a BIG way!

When I got to the hospital this morning, Mom and Stacy were already with you.  Nita and Becky were tearing up in the waiting room.  I was worried…I gotta admit.  But they smiled so big and said “He squeezed your sisters hand!!”

Well you know me…I had to see this for myself!  You did give me Thomas as a middle name, you know!  So I came back, suited up, and walked up to your bed. As soon as I picked up your hand, you looked at me!  When I asked you to squeeze my hand if you knew me, you did!  Dad YOU DID!!!  I asked if you knew me, and you nodded your head!

Then I asked if I could pray for you, you squeezed my hand.  Pop, honestly, I don’t know what I prayed, but I prayed, and cried, and prayed, and cried!  And Dad, you kept squeezing my hand through it all.  You’re in the hospital bed, and you’re consoling me.

You were still being my dad, taking care of your little boy.

Then we got more news from the doc that all the tests on you had come back clean.  Dad can you understand the miracle that THAT was?  Your brain was fine Dad!  That’s astounding!  That’s miraculous!  That’s God!  They took the respirator out, and said we could go see you.

Well Pop, I’d told everyone that I just wanted to hear your voice again.  I wanted to hear my dad talk to me.  And pop, you just gave me the best Christmas present I could ask for:  you touched my face and said “I love you.”  Man…as Ted says, it got a little dusty in there then.  It got a LOT dusty in there!

Dad, I haven’t told you this, but when I first got the hospital last Saturday night, and when I went back to see you, for some reason, the first 2 lines of Psalm 27 were on my mind:

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

Well Pop, I reckon I should have read the whole Psalm then, but you know me, I’m a little slow on the uptake at times.

Then Wednesday (man dad, Wednesday was a tough day), I woke up and had this on my heart:

“I would have lost heart, unless I believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” 

Guess which Psalm that’s in?  Yep.  27, verse 13.  You know what the next verse is?

Wait on the LORD;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the LORD!”

Truly, God is good Pop.  I’ve always known it.  Now I know it just a little bit better than before.  Ok, a LOT better than before.  Thanks for giving me my Christmas gift a two weeks early.  It’s the best one you’ve ever given me.    I love you dad.

 

A Note to My Dad

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Hey Pop,

I was thinking about you today, and about how you love to get letters and cards and such.  Well, I’m not much of a letter writing guy, but I do blog (occasionally), so I thought I’d do this.  I really hope I can show it to you one day soon.  I just wanted you to know some things. 

I’m really proud of you.  I want you to know that.  I’ve often overheard you speak of how proud you are of your kids, well let me tell you, your kids are pretty proud of you.  You have no idea how awesome it is to have person after person come and tell you how amazing your dad is, how you make them feel like they’re the most important person in the world when you talk to them.  I’m like, “Yeah…that’s MY dad!”

I want you to know that people love you.  Dad, I mean they REALLY love you.  Tonight, we got home from sitting at the hospital, and you got a card from your friends at the gym.  It is FULL of signatures and prayers and well wishes.  From the GYM dad.  So many visitors coming by just to let us know how much you mean to them, to let us know how much they love you and that they’re praying for you.  Even the Firemen that came to the house to help when all this started have called to check on you.  You’ve got a lot of friends Pop.  Have you ever met a stranger?  Nope…that’s my dad.

I want you to know that there are people praying for you all over the place.  And I mean all over the place, Pop.  From Pennsylvania, to my church in Apex, to Oklahoma, to your church, through text messages, emails and more, prayers are going up on your behalf.  Today alone, we prayed at the hospital at least 4 times as a group, not to mention all the prayers we made individually.  So for me, it’s a privilege to pray for MY dad.  I know you pray for me.

I gotta tell you a funny thing.  I brought my guitar to play for you yesterday.  Amanda says it wasn’t loud enough, but I didn’t want to bug everyone on the floor.  Anyway, when we were done, we were trying to get you to respond if you liked it.  We asked you to wiggle your toe.  You didn’t.  When I asked if you didn’t like it, you wiggled your toe.  Always the funny man…that’s my dad!

Today, you made my day.  I needed something from you, dad.  Something bigger than anything I’ve ever asked for.  Something bigger than anything you’ve ever given me.  I needed my dad to look at me.  I needed to see your eyes Pop (You opened them for Ted, but we’ll talk about that later.  :-) I’d asked you to open them yesterday, but you didn’t.  I really needed this today Dad.  Really.

And Pop, like you alway have, you came through.  When you heard my voice and Amanda’s voice, you turned your head our way and opened your eyes.  That was the best gift you could have given me at that moment.  I will never forget it.

But now, I want more.  Just like a kid, ain’t it?  Give ‘em a gift, and they want more.  But hey, just like when we used to go to Red Lobster as a kid, and you told me to order anything I wanted (probably a statement you regretted later), I want to go big.

Jesus said  “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”  His Father is my Father, so I’m swinging for the fences dad.  I want to see you talking Pop.  I want to have a conversation with my dad, and tell you how much I love you.  I want you to squeeze my hand when I ask.  I want you to come home with us.

It’s a lot, I know…but my God is a great big God.  And I know He loves me and you.  So I’m asking.

I love you Pop.  See you tomorrow…

 

It’s Your Choice

IMG_3957One of the most beautiful things, and at the same time the most perplexing things about life is our ability to choose.  From the smallest things, like what you’re going to put in my coffee, to the biggest, like who you’re going to marry, we make choices everyday.  Our minds can grasp the difference between two or more ideas, concepts, paths…and we choose the one we want.

Which road to take to work?  Which place to eat for dinner?  Which song to listen to?  What show to watch?  What car to drive?  What time to go to sleep? What book to read?  What shirt to wear?

Do you ever stop and think about it?  I’m sure many of us sit and wonder what life would be like today if we had chosen some different things along the way.  Certainly, for all of us, we can say it would be very different than it is.

And yet, in all the choosing, with all the variety of choices we can face, some with hundreds of possibilities, there is one choice which is cut and dry, one or the other.  I’ll let Moses say it for me:

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may life and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess…I call heaven and earth as witness today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”  (Deut. 30:15-16, 19)

Life and good.  Death and evil.  The One true God vs. everything that is false.  We all have this choice to make, and there is no choice that has greater consequences for us, both now and forever.

In the books of Chronicles, we see that each king that rose to power had this choice to make.  Many chose poorly, and chose to run after the false gods of the world, rather than walk in the ways of their father David, and serve the One True God.  Yet others chose well…they chose to follow after God.  As was written about one of these kings, Jotham:

“So Jotham became mighty, because he prepared his ways before the Lord his God.” (2 Chron. 27:6)

Jotham chose to honor God, to obey His Word, to walk in His ways.  But after him arose another king, Ahaz, who did not choose wisely, but walked in the ways of the world, and worshipped false gods.

It hit me that not only do all of us have to choose, but (I know this is a shocker) my kids have to choose, too.  My son can go one of two ways:  the way of life, or the way of death.  God’s way, or the world’s way.  My choice to follow God will have an effect, I pray, and a good one, but one day, he will, he must choose for himself.

I pray he chooses wisely.  I pray I do my part to raise him to know and love the Lord, and he chooses to do just that.  But it will one day be his choice, just like Jotham and Ahaz.

So think about it today…what is your choice?

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