Dirty Laundry

It is a common assumption that rabbits have the ability to multiply faster than any other animal.  I have absolutely no idea if this assumption can be back up by facts.  However, I have found something that puts the multiplication skills of those big-eared lagomorphs to shame—–my laundry.

A few years ago, my wife went on a laundry strike.  There weren’t any signs made or slogans shouted, but my lovely bride made it clear that she was done with doing laundry.  Apparently doing all of the cooking, most of the cleaning, the majority of daily child-care (including refereeing, rear-end wiping, boo-boo kissing, and repairing the same broken toys 1,473 times), and being the household activity coordinator causes a person not to take kindly to continuously being asked if there are any clean clothes to be worn.  After asking that question in the wrong tone of voice one too many times, I became the official “Doer of the Laundry” and jumped into my new chore with unbridled enthusiasm.

You may not know this, but there is not much difference between having unbridled enthusiasm and being ignorant. 

I thought that doing the laundry would not be a difficult task.  I thought that I would be a clothes sorting, clothes cleaning, clothes folding dynamo.  I thought that my laundry efficiency would show my wife and the rest of the world that I was indeed domestically gifted.

Like so many times before and so many times since, my thoughts proved to be incorrect.  Did you know that each load of completed laundry comes with three more waiting to be done?  Were you aware that folding the laundry is considered part of doing the laundry?  Did you know that socks disappear for months only to reappear at the strangest times, like right after you throw away the other sock in the pair?

While I have learned many lessons in doing the laundry, the most important lesson has nothing to do with doing the laundry.  It has to do with what happens when the laundry doesn’t get done. 

When the laundry doesn’t get done the earth does not cease to spin on its axis.  Dirty clothes piling up around the washing machine is not an indicator of a fatal, hidden character flaw.  “Thou shalt not get behind in doing the laundry” is not one of the Ten Commandments and you aren’t in danger of being cast into Hell simply for ignoring that basket full of dirty clothes over in the corner. 

Never getting behind on doing the laundry may be a good goal, but there are other things far more important.

Loving Jesus and sharing that love with others is more important.  Feeding your faith through prayer and Bible study is more important.  Cultivating a better relationship with your spouse and children is more important.  Seeking guidance from God on how to be the person He created you to be is more important.

Let the laundry pile up long enough for you to contemplate where you are going to spend eternity.  Leave that remodeling project unfinished a little longer and say a prayer for a hurting friend.  Wait another day to mow that grass and spend some time with your parents who aren’t getting any younger.  Lay down that hammer and those nails and throw a ball or pick up a doll with your little kids who soon won’t be so little anymore.  Those dirty dishes in the sink aren’t going anywhere, but your time to do the most important things is quickly going away.

Filling our schedules with more and more things to do can cause our lives to be empty of those things that are far more important.  I am not suggesting that people should stop doing their laundry or mowing their lawns.  What I am suggesting is that we not get too aggravated at ourselves or others if there are delays in accomplishing tasks which can wait while goals with greater significance are pursued.

Jesus is important.  Family is significant.  Friends need encouragement.  The laundry can wait.


Loving Kobe

Kobe Bryant has been called one of the best basketball players ever by many and the greatest basketball player of all time by a select, ignorant, lobotomized few.  He has been called a first-round draft pick, an MVP, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, the NBA Player of the Decade, and the greatest Laker of all time.  I’m sure his wife called him a few other things after his well-documented “indiscretion” that occurred a few years back.  Now, he can be called 5-time World Champion. 

I don’t choose to call him any of these things.  To me, he is the Johnny Lawrence of the NBA.

You remember Johnny from the original Karate Kid movie, right?  He was the blonde-haired  king of the Cobra Kai dojo and the defending All-Valley Karate Tournament champion.  Only a crane-style kick to the face from the impish Daniel LaRusso kept him from repeating.  Even though over 25 years have passed, I still grin whenever I see Daniel-son get into his constipated flamingo pose and kick his way into icon status on behalf of all of us who have ever been outcasts.

Johnny was the archetypal 80’s villain, but he didn’t need to be.  He had everything that one particular portly 8-year-old boy who will remain nameless wanted: perfectly coiffed hair, rugged good looks, rad karate skills, a passel of buddies with slightly less rad karate skills willing to back him up, and plenty of attention from the ladies.  Daniel was just the skinny new kid who happened to have the misfortune of getting too cozy with his ex-girlfriend.  Being a nice guy was a viable choice, but Johnny chose to be an arrogant jerk.  He chose to torment Daniel.  He chose to only care about himself.

The Karate Kid had Johnny; the NBA has Kobe.

Kobe might be the most generous person in the world.  At Christmas, he might turn into Santa Kobe and be carried around on a sleigh by a bunch of reindeer, much like he was carried in Game 7 of this year’s Finals by Ron Artest and company.  Maybe he is Robin Kobe, stealing from the court side crowd at Staples Center and secretly dispersing it to those in need.  It is possible that Kobe is planning to retire soon to start an orphanage or serve in a homeless shelter or at the very least become Pau Gasol’s personal stylist.

To me, Kobe is a jerk.  I don’t like viewing him in this way, really.  Normally I do a decent job of seeing the good in people.  Even Johnny Lawrence had some good qualities; he presented Daniel with the highly coveted trophy after being on the bad end of an upset and declared Daniel to be “all right.”  I haven’t seen any redeeming qualities from Kobe.

There probably are some, though.  He probably doesn’t have a curt answer for ever question or a scowl for every fan.  He may give to charity and spend time with those who are down and out.  He may have even hooked Artest up with the psychiatrist that he is crazy about and mentioned in the best postgame interview of all time.

But what if there is nothing at all good about Kobe Bryant other than his ability to play basketball?  What if he is a punk to the bone?  What if the people who know him the best, dislike him the most?

He is still loved by God.

Just like that guy you work with who always seems to steal the credit that you deserve, or the parent who hit instead of hugged, or the spouse who traded you for a newer model, or the boss who refuses to see your worth, or any of the people who have wronged you throughout your life.  Or even me and you. 

That is just one of God’s “things.”  He loves.  We don’t have to understand it to accept it.  Kobe the 5-time world champion is also Kobe the beloved.  And you are beloved, too.  Seeing Kobe as God sees him is a good thing; seeing ourselves as God sees us is even better.

We are beloved.

A Skunk and a Chicken (and Me and You)

My wife shot at a skunk with a handgun last week and I have a rooster that is unable to tell time currently residing in a crate just outside of my bedroom window.  That sentence alone totally obliterates my assertion that my neck isn’t red.  I may as well buy a few cans of Skoal, stop enunciating, and add “Wally-World” to my vocabulary.

On my list of fun things to do, owning farm animals falls somewhere south of bobbing for piranhas and watching all eleven episodes of Cop Rock.  If you are unfamiliar with Cop Rock, it was part NYPD Blue and part worst-hour-of-your-life.  It was a musical cop show that aired on ABC in 1990 until it was cancelled.  My choice between those two would probably be bobbing for piranhas because at least then I would have a cool story to tell if my tongue managed to survive.

The farm animals were entirely my wife’s idea.  Her heart’s desire has always included having a mini-farm of sorts; my heart’s desire has always included not stepping in animal poop.  Eventually, her mind became set on having goats and chickens.  Those were not bad choices based upon my Poop-O-Meter. 

Goat poop looks like Raisinets and is fairly hard which makes it difficult to get on the bottom of your shoes.  Chicken poop disappears.  I have no scientific evidence for that last statement, only the anecdotal evidence of having never seen poop in the chicken coop.  It could be that other chickens have visible poop and our chickens have magic poop or that our chickens eat their own poop.  Either way is fine with me as long as I don’t have to step in it.  Unfortunately, the smell is still there whether their poop is or not.

Our chicken coop is currently under our back porch.  That is, my wife attached chicken wire to the wood under our porch and used stakes to pin the wire to the ground.  She then fashioned a gate out of the wire and old pieces of scrap wood.  My wife is from Alabama.  Apparently, being from Alabama means knowing how to do things like this and not really caring how it looks.  I’m not from Alabama.

Our chicken population has shrunk over the last little bit.  First, our 6 big laying hens who had access to the freedom of our backyard during the day became enamored with the studly rooster who lives next door and jumped the fence to get to him.  Sadly, their blossoming romance with the rooster came to an abrupt end due to a fox that cared more about his stomach than their shot at true love. 

About a month after “the girls” met their untimely demise, two of our 5 silkie chickens managed to break free from the coop.  Instead of using their new-found freedom to benefit other fowl still in captivity, they meandered over into the neighbor’s yard to see what they could see.  They saw a dog that liked the taste of chicken.  And then there were three:  Cotton, Sara, and Blue. 

It was a little after 10:30pm last Monday night when we went out to feed and water the critters.  I made my way to the side of the house to turn the water on and Kristy headed toward the chickens.  And that is when she started yelling and ran inside the house.  It sounded like she was saying, “I don’t like Charles Dickens!” over and over.  As I stood in the darkness watching her barge through the back door of the house, I wondered what she had against the most popular novelist of the Victorian Era.  Then I wondered what had triggered such an outburst of vitriol against poor Charles while secretly being thankful that I was not the object of her scorn. 

I followed her inside, not knowing if Dickens was the only dead writer she hated or if her anger was kindled against others like John Milton or Emily Dickinson or even (could it be) Dr. Seuss!  That is when I saw her walking  toward me with a gun in her hand.  I was just about to throw my hands up and say “I’m not Charles Dickens!” when she told me that there was a skunk in the chicken coop and he was eating Blue.  What she had been yelling was, “Don’t go near the chickens!” 

While I was relieved that she did not hold ill will toward any deceased icons of classic literature, I was a little worried about her storming wild-eyed toward a skunk with a loaded weapon.  I could picture her blasting away indiscriminately–hitting the skunk, the other chickens, water pipes, her own feet. 

We crept quietly down the porch, onto the lawn, and made a large loop around the side of the chicken coop.  I offered to do the shooting, but Kristy was adamant about taking care of the chicken eating punk herself.  She gripped the gun with both hands, got into her best Cagney and Lacey crouch, and eased  toward the coop.  Where was her valiant husband?  Standing outside of the spray-zone, that’s where. 

When she got close enough to the coop and was at the correct angle, I saw her raise the gun up and pull the trigger.  And then she ran like the dickens (not to be confused with Charles Dickens) back toward me.  After standing there for a few short moments, we gingerly traipsed back hoping that one bullet had done the trick, but the skunk was gone.

Kristy was sure that she had hit the skunk, but he was nowhere to be found.  Could eating the chicken caused the skunk to  disappear just like the magic chicken poop?  Probably not.  It is more likely that the skunk had gotten startled and high-tailed it out from whence he came. 

After looking around unsuccessfully for the possibly wounded skunk, we caught Cotton and Sara and decided put them in a crate on the porch directly beside the bedroom window that just happens to match up perfectly to my side of the bed.  This temporary solution would not be a big deal if Cotton weren’t a little “touched in the head” (as my grandmother used to say).

When Cotton was a baby rooster or a chick or whatever I’m supposed to call infant male chickens, the kids enjoyed carrying him around the back yard.  The combination of an unlevel back yard and a couple of kids not known for having above-par balance meant that a few tumbles were taken with Cotton in tow.  I think that poor Cotton may have taken a few shots to the noggin. 

I realize that Chickens are known for having below average intelligence, but Cotton seems more below average than your average yard-bird.  It doesn’t bother me that Cotton is stupid; I am not a chicken snob.  What bothers me is that his stupidity is causing me to lose sleep.

If Cotton was a normal rooster and would adhere to the normal rooster policy of only crowing in the morning, I would have no problem with his lack of gray matter.  Cotton is not a normal rooster.  Sometimes he crows during the middle of the day.  Sometimes he crows in the evening.  Sometimes he crows at 10pm.  And sometimes he crows at various times throughout the night.

Every night over this past week I have gone to bed with hopes that Cotton will remain quiet until morning and that I will get an uninterupted night of slumber.  I have yet to have this hope fulfilled.  I have even talked to him about my situation.  I have threatened to have fried Cotton for supper.  He doesn’t listen; or he may listen and just not care.

My lack of sleep is the only reason I care about any of this.  I do not care that Blue was eaten by a skunk.  I do not care that the skunk got shot.  I do not care that Cotton and Sara are in temporary housing in a crate on the porch.  I do not care that Cotton has brain damage.  Even though I’m sure that God cares about all of the animals that he created, I only care how all of this affects me. 

After following the Savior for over 21 years now, I am still shallow at times.  This incident assisted in showing me a sobering truth: there are times when I only care about me.  I am saddened to admit that I care about me too much.  The same seems to be true to pretty much everybody else.  I’m not sure if I feel good that I am in the majority or bad that there are so many of us who should be like Jesus, but instead act more like jerks.

Most of us do not care about the massive oil spill in the Gulf unless it ruins our vacation plans.  When there is a hurricane, we tend to care more about the price of gasoline rising than about the people who have had their lives turned upside down.  If a waitress moves too slowly because she has to work 2 jobs just to keep food on the table for her children that she is raising by herself, we become agitated.  When things don’t go “our way,” criticism ensues before we try to understand the views of others.

I am too important to me and you are too important to you.  It took a skunk eating a chicken to open my eyes to my pre-occupation with me.  Maybe it has done the same for you.

Let’s improve.  Let’s beg God to make us more like Jesus.  Let’s do it now.

(Have you ever had a run-in with a skunk?  Do you find yourself only caring about yourself?  Share away!)

Rain Walking

I walked in the rain today and it felt so good.  You should really try it sometime.

This is not something that I do on a regular basis.  Normally on rainy days I try to spend most of my time indoors, but I am once again on a weight-loss kick and today I felt an overwhelming urge to walk.  So, I did.

I found myself with about an hour to kill near Holston River Park; a fairly well kept up piece of property with fishing piers, soccer fields, a playground, picnic tables, and a walking trail.  To me, the perfect conditions for a walk include a sky with a few fluffy clouds blocking some of the sun, a temperature of about 70 degrees, and a familiar path.  None of those were present for my walk today.  Rain was falling, the temperature was a little less than 60, and I was unacquainted with the path. 

Even though the conditions weren’t perfect, I decided to walk anyway.  The decision was based on the knowledge that I need to exercise if I am going to meet my goal.  I have already lost 30 pounds and need to shed about 45 more.  I could have sat in the car and complained about the rainy, dreary weather.  In fact, I was highly anticipating doing so.  Then I started thinking.

If I only walk when the conditions are perfect, I will not do much walking.  Complaining about the conditions will not help me reach my goal.  If I am really going to achieve what I desire, I must refuse to allow circumstances to dictate my schedule.

As I slogged through puddles in the rain, I began to ponder how common it is for us to wait on perfect conditions before taking action and how such waiting often causes us to miss golden opportunities.

Some people I know have done this with jobs, children, vacations, and dreams; waiting for enough courage, enough money, enough time, enough gumption.  Most Christians I know have done this at times with following what God has impressed upon them to do.

Always aiming, never firing.

We know that we should tell our neighbor about the life-changing Gospel, but the timing just doesn’t seem right.  We know that we should contact those we have hurt to seek forgiveness, but the conditions aren’t quite perfect.  We know that we should begin a particular ministry, but worry about the risks involved.

If we only follow God when the conditions are perfect, we will not do much following.  Complaining about the conditions will not help us reach our goals.  If we are really going to achieve what God desires for our lives, we must refuse to allow circumstances to dictate our schedules.

Those who follow Christ must realize that walking with Him means that often we will be walking through storms down unfamiliar paths.  But when the conditions seem imperfect to us, they are often perfect to Him.  Walking with Christ in the rain is far better than walking in the sunshine alone.

I walked in the rain today and it felt so good.  You should really try it sometime.

Existence Needs No Affirmation

How much of a nerd am I?  I found out recently that the #1 song on the day that I was born was the Star Wars Theme Song.  Yep–I am a nerd from birth.

Being a nerd is not something that I push back against; it is something that I embrace.  I am what I am and there is really no use in fighting it.  I have been this way for a long time and will presumably be this way until I breathe my last breath. 

As a nerdy child, I often wondered what it would be like to have various and sundry super powers.  Super strength.  The ability to fly.  Time control.  The ability to make asparagus taste like ice cream.

There is one power, though, that I don’t think I could handle because I believe that it would cause most people to misuse it and become more corrupt than we already are and that is the power of invisibility.

Using most of the other common super powers would mean that other people would realize that you possess a particular super power.  If I, being what my wife calls freakishly big, started flying around I believe people would notice.  “What is that in the sky; a flying bus?   Oh–it’s just Matt.”  And if someone started flaunting their super strength by picking up houses or super speed by outrunning Jimmie Johnson to win a NASCAR race, there would be plenty of attention.

However, if someone had the power to become invisible, they could use it without anyone noticing.  If people could do things without anyone seeing them I believe that their behavior would quickly deteriorate into very dark places. 

What would you do if you knew that you could not get caught?  Would you rob a bank, hurt someone who has hurt you, or something much worse?  Being able to do anything that enters the imagination without fear of consequence would drive some people far over the line of decency into the abyss of evil.

I would not want the power of invisibility nor do I want anyone else to have such power.  We are far too susceptible for corruption to be granted such power.

While we may not want to become invisible, there are times when we have been made to feel invisible.  Being shunned and made to feel as though we do not exist is hurtful to us, but it has happened to most of us.

Whether we deserve this treatment or not, it is still bothersome.  We can try to be as kind and considerate as possible and still manage to offend other people in one way or another.  Some people that we offend do the right thing by showing us grace and forgiveness, but others choose to hold a grudge.

They choose to act like we do not exist by not talking to us or even looking in our direction. 

When others fail to acknowledge our existence, we still exist.  We do not need any affirmation from others to really be visible.  If everyone else in the world decided tomorrow that I do no exist, I would still exist. 

The same is true for God.

There are some who doubt His existence and others who behave as though He does not exist.  Many claim boldly through words and deeds that there is no God.  Declaring that God is a figment of our imagination based upon our need for security, some equate the stories of the Bible to fairy tales. 

They fail to realize that declaring that God does not exist does not make Him go away.  He does not need the affirmation of His creation to truly be God.  If everyone of us decided tomorrow that God is not real, He would keep being God throughout all of eternity.

Though others may not acknowledge our existence, we still exist.  Though multitudes argue that there is no God, He still exists. 

There is a higher authority in this universe than man.  God is that authority.  He deserves all praise, honor, and glory.  But if He does not get it, He will still be God.

When I’m Gone

Dead people refuse to answer questions.

When I am asked to speak at a funeral, the deceased can’t tell me what he would like for those who loved him to remember. Since that isn’t possible, a usually ask a few family members if there is anything that they would like for me to mention. Wouldn’t it be great, though, if those who have departed this life could speak for themselves?

What is true of all those who have passed away will be true of me when I breathe my last breath. The time for sharing my heart with those closes to me will be over. So, just in case I never get another shot at this here are a few things that I want people to remember when I am gone.

When I’m gone remember that I am not really gone at all. My body may be lifeless, but I am not for my life in Heaven is just beginning. In fact, I am more alive than I have ever been and am experiencing eternal rest in the arms of my Lord. I’m not gone; I just went home.

When I’m gone remember that my entrance into Heaven was not based upon my goodness, but upon my acceptance of the free gift of salvation given to me by Jesus Christ. Anything good in me is because of Him. Anything good I have done is because of Him. Any good memory you have of me is because of Him. Without Christ I would have been a nothing with nothing who did nothing. I owe everything to Him.

When I’m gone remember that I tried. I’ve not been perfect. I’ve not always said or done the right things. My failures have been plenty. But I tried. I tried to listen to God, to follow His will, to preach His Word, to love my family, and to serve His church. I’ve tried to live life by loving God and loving people. There have been plenty of bumps along the road, but it was a good journey with Christ as my companion.

When I’m gone remember that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. It is only through Him that anyone can have both abundant and eternal life. If you know Jesus as your Savior, I will see you again. If not, you can be saved today. Don’t wait.

When I’m gone remember, my dear family, that I love you. Thank you, Kristy, for your love, encouragement, and sweetness. Your compassion for others is astounding and your beauty is unmatched in my eyes. Kids, thank you for the opportunity to be your Daddy. I pray that you have learned from me to love God and love people. Keep the faith. Mom, thank you for always loving me and being concerned for my well-being; your support helped keep me going through hard times. Dad, you are my hero and always have been. One of the greatest gifts given to me from God has been the privilege of watching your consistent example of humble service to Christ. And to the rest of my family and friends, thank you. I hope that I have enriched your lives as much as you have enriched mine.

By the time you read this words, I could already be gone. No, I don’t have a terminal disease or anything. But, in a sense, we are all terminal; death awaits each of us. Whether we die soon or live to see the next century, all of us will one day be gone and it could be sooner rather than later.

Are you ready? One day…you’ll be gone.

Can You See?

Can you see him?

The baby named Jesus is just a few hours old.  Laying in a feeding trough doesn’t sound comfortable, but his mother has made it so by wrapping him tightly and cushioning the hard wood with blankets and hay. 

His eyelids open ever so slightly as he looks slowly from side to side.  The accommodations may not be the best, but babies have no concern for such things.  Jesus, the creator of all things, is just a newborn now without the ability to consciously know the splendor of this night.

You see him move slightly as though he is trying to wrestle himself free from the swaddling clothes.  He is unsuccessful, except for a tiny hand that struggles loose and finds his face.  It is such a tender moment as he caresses his cheek with his hand ever so softly. 

A tear forms in the corner of your eye because you know that tender cheek will one day be beaten and that precious hand will be pierced.

Can you see Mary?

The exhaustion of the trip and the agony of childbirth can’t keep her away from her baby.  She is laying on blankets near the manger, propped up on pillows and packs that they brought with them from Nazareth. 

She senses Jesus moving around and raises up to take a look at her precious baby.  For nine months she carried him in her womb wondering what the Son of God would look like.  Now she knows; he is the most beautiful baby she has ever seen. 

Gazing at her child, the beginning of this improbable journey seems so long ago.  The visit from the angel, the time spent with Elizabeth, the questions from her family and Joseph, the hurtful gossip and scornful looks from the townsfolk. 

She had a feeling that the majority of those who knew and loved her didn’t really believe her, but she knew that at least she had Joseph.  That wasn’t the case at first, not until he had his own visit from a heavenly messenger.  Her love for Joseph exploded when he ran to her and begged forgiveness for not believing that she was to be the mother of the Messiah. 

As she looks at Jesus, she knows exactly who he is, yet does not fully know what all being the Son of the Highest will entail.  Anxiety mixed with joy fills her heart as she ponders what is to come.

Can you see Joseph?

Becoming betrothed to Mary was such a thrill, but the thrill faded when he found out she was pregnant.  The fanciful story she told of a conversation with an angel couldn’t keep him from thinking the worst of Mary.  His family and friends advised him to make a spectacle of parting ways with her; they didn’t understand why he would want to do it so quietly. 

Then he had a dream; an amazing dream with an angel confirming what Mary had tried to convince him of for weeks.  He woke up and ran to her, sharing both laughter and tears as he told of his encounter.

Joseph’s family didn’t understand and most of his friends abandoned him.  He didn’t care; the one who will save his people from their sins was coming and he was blessed to be called upon to play a role in the greatest event in the history of the world–the entrance of the Messiah!

Now he sits near the manger on the opposite side of Mary and sees her raise her head.  She going to be a good mother, he is sure of it.  It’s his own parenting skills that he is most concerned with.  How does a carpenter raise the Savior of the world?  He chuckles within himself at the thought.  That God often chooses to use unexpected people to accomplish His purposes is something that he has known since childhood, but this is just too much.  Why him?

He hasn’t been able to take his eyes off of Jesus since the delivery, even though his eyelids have become heavy as the night grows older.  He wants Mary to rest and his baby to be safe, so he stays awake.  Wondering.

The noise from outside causes him to jump to his feet.  He looks out and sees a group of men walking excitedly his way.

Can you see the shepherds?

They look somewhat deranged with wide eyes and quick steps.  Since arriving in the town they have gone from home to home and inn to inn asking everyone in sight where they might find a woman who had given birth that day.

They tell no one why they are looking for the baby.  It’s doubtful that anyone would believe them anyway.  An angel telling a bunch of smelly shepherds that the Christ has been born.  Not to mention the light and the rest of the angels.  Who would–who could–believe such things would happen to them?

As soon as the angels had disappeared from sight, they began running toward the town.  The sheep would have to take care of themselves, at least for tonight.  Once in Bethlehem and gasping for breath, they began their inquiries.  A few doors were slammed in their faces and few curses were hurled their way.  But there were some who were helpful. 

Finally, they were pointed in the direction of the stable that was built into a cave where a young couple had gone to spend the night.  The woman, they were told, was close to giving birth.

With great joy they ran toward the stable, but slowed up as they approached the door.  What would they say?  How would they explain what they had seen?  Who would believe a bunch of disheveled shepherds?

As they approach the door there is movement from inside.

Can you see it?

Joseph pushes the door and allows it to fling open.  He sees dirty men in dirty clothes heading toward him, toward his wife, toward their baby.

“What do you want?,” he says forcefully.  The question causes the shepherds to stop just a few feet away.

“W-w-well,” one of the bewildered guests stammers, “something has happened that is going to sound unbelievable.”  They obviously have no clue what Joseph and Mary have already experienced.

“Go on,” Joseph demands.

In a rush of words, the shepherd tells him of the angel’s pronouncement that they would find the Christ-child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.  He tells Joseph about the whole host of angels and how he and his fellow shepherds had run to Bethlehem in search of the baby.

Joseph lowers his head.  The chuckle that he has been suppressing now escapes in laughter.  Telling the shepherds to wait outside a moment, he heads back in to tell Mary about their visitors.

Her eyes widen in amazement at what Joseph says and she kneels before her baby with a renewed sense of wonder.  She tells Joseph that the shepherds can come in and see.

Joseph opens the door and beckons for the motley crew to enter.  They shuffle quietly to the side of the manger and kneel down in silence.  Joseph goes to the side of his wife and, in whispers, they share their story with the shepherds. 

The shepherds listen intently.  They ask a few questions and give more details of how the angel appeared so suddenly.

Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds sitting near Jesus, speaking in hushed tones about this blessed event.  But mostly, they just stare in awe at Jesus.  The Christ.  The Messiah.  The Savior.

Can you see Him?

A Church-House Lesson

It was a simple request that should not have evoked within me such a negative response, but I just couldn’t help it.  Remaining calm was what I desired, but instead my pulse rate quickened and my palms became sweaty.

Matthew came home from Kindergarten a couple of weeks ago and told me that all of the fathers and grandfathers of the kids in his class were invited to come in and help them build things using “a real hammer, real nails, and real wood.”  It was part of a special day in his class where the kids would pretend that they were in Santa’s work-shop.  He was super-excited about it; I was not.

My relationship with tools of any kind has soured over the years with me misusing them, neglecting them, and on occasion calling them names.  In return, they probably poor-mouth me behind my back by questioning my manhood or calling me a pansy like my elementary school gym teacher used to do.  I’ve apologized to them a few times, but it hasn’t seemed to help them perform any better for me.  I remain “mechanically declined.”

When Matthew asked me if I would come to school and help him build something, I lowered my head, leaned against the refrigerator, and groaned.  This is when my wife spoke on my behalf by telling Matthew that I would love to help him on that special day. 

I’m not quite sure where she got that particular idea, but when she said it his eyes lit up, a big smile covered on his face, and he let out a big yell of excitement.  So I knew that I had to give it a try.

I arrived in his classroom at 8am on the special day and listened to the preliminary instructions given by the teacher.  Actually, I only half-listened due to feeling a little weird.  No matter how many times I visit a Kindergarten classroom, it always makes me feel even more out-of-place than normal since I am over six and a half feet tall and everything in the room is built for kids who could use my shirt as a tent.  Using an elementary school restroom is even stranger, but that is another story for another day.

The teacher split the students up into groups of two and assigned them to an adult.  Matthew was put in my group along with an unsuspecting little girl who had no way of knowing about my ongoing feud with tools. With wood of various shapes and sizes at their disposal, they were told to pick out and few pieces and tell me what they would like for me to build. 

After they picked out their wood and I picked up a hammer and plenty of nails, I found an open space on the carpet and looked at these two little kids who had far too much faith in me.  With a big sigh, I asked the little girl what she wanted me to build.  She said, “A bunk bed for my Barbie dolls.”  She showed me how she wanted it to look and I set to work with complete confidence that I was going to screw it up. 

Sure enough, after a decent start, I split one of the pieces of wood.  I asked the girl if she wanted me to start over with a different piece of wood.  She said no, it would be fine.  So I kept going and split the would again.  I looked at it and she looked at it, still with a big smile on her face.  She said that it would be ok if it was just a single bed and not a bunk bed, bless her heart.  I would like to say that I split the wood because the nails were too big for the kind of wood we were using, but it was probably because IHADNOIDEAWHATIWASDOING. 

After finishing the bed that the sweet girl was amazingly satisfied with, Matthew informed me that he wanted me to build an airplane.  I looked down at the wood that Matthew had picked out and tried to imagine how in the world I was going to make that happen.  Then I looked over at the other men helping their kids make things like a miniature skateboard with a ramp and a fully functioning squirrel feeder.  Seeing them almost gave me enough confidence to think that I could actually build an airplane.  Thankfully, before began, Matthew changed his mind and asked me to build him a “church-house.”

We talked about how he wanted it to look and decided that it should just have three walls, a roof, and a “steeple-looking-thing” at the top.  The reason for the design only having 3 walls was partly because he wanted to be able see inside of it and mainly because I was pretty sure doing anything more would stretch my suspect carpentry skills to their breaking point. 

After I nailed the last nail into place, I looked at it and decided that it looked more like a “church-shack” than a “church-house.”  But Matthew didn’t care.  With great pride he walked up to his teacher to display his father’s craftmanship.  Then he sat down and drew a cross on it along with a few windows. 

I didn’t realize just how proud of it he was until I brought him and his little “church-house” home that afternoon and he carried it around for 3 straight days like it was a trophy that he had won for “Best Shack.”

Even though I was glad he liked it, I still didn’t think much of it until about the third day.  It is amazing how something so seemingly insignificant can help to teach or reinforce a profound lesson.

I had noticed that Matthew was pretending that one of his Batman action figures was preaching inside of the “church-house.”  I told him that he could set some of his other actions figures up inside of it and pretend like they were listening to Batman preach.  He said, “Or I could put a bunch of Transformers in there.”  I replied, “That’s silly–Transformers don’t go to church.”

I recognized how wrong that statement was almost immediately.  While the Autobots and Decepticons of the Transformers universe are fictional and do not attend church services, there are real transformers that certainly do.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ have become new creatures.  We have been transformed by virtue of having been born again. 

Not only have we believers been transformed by accepting the free gift of salvation, we should be in the process of continually being transformed and conformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  Some followers of Christ may have been misled to think that once they become Christians that their journey is over.  The truth is, our journey has just begun.

Not one person alive who has experienced salvation is perfect.  Christ is not done with us yet.  His desire is for us to be like Him. 

As a follower of Christ, I am a transformer that needs to keep being transformed by the renewing of my mind each day.  I am not the me that I will one day be.  To be all that God created me to be, I must remember that He is the potter and that I are the clay and that I must allow Him complete control to mold me as He sees fit.

If your spiritual growth has stagnated, please know that it doesn’t have to stay that way.  The same God that created you, sustains you, and saved you still loves you far more than you could ever imagine.  He has not gotten out of the transformation business.

By the Way, I’m on Facebook

Well, I’ve been on Facebook for a while now and have really enjoyed it.  It is easier and more efficient than Myspace (in my humble opinion).  If you haven’t joined in–you should.  It’s pretty fun.

Anyway, here is my address:  www.facebook.com/seekingpastor.