Sunday, November 29, 2009

Let Your Words Be Few

This Thanksgiving is the first to my recollection that has been bookended by heavy news. Two days before Thanksgiving I found myself navigating the corridors of the hospital to spend time with friends who were trying to digest that their two day old son had a high chance of having trisomy-18 (a chromosomal defect which is not compatible with life).

As I watched the well wishers come and go, I was struck by the fact that while all sincerely care, most do not know how to respond to the suffering of others. They try to comfort with words. They talk about God, His goodness, and not needing to know why? They try to relate by telling stories of their own suffering and loss.

Sadly, the breaking human heart is not very receptive to words. Words, apart from prayers, are not very practical when grief is palatable. In the midst of pain, it is often not the spoken word that is the most comforting. Instead it is time spent in a hospital room, a long hug that lets someone know you care, or being intentional to meet an immediate need like a meal. "When grief is the freshest, words should be the fewest!"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Picture Perfect

As Luke and I drove down the unusually quiet street on Thanksgiving morning to buy our plump Thanksgiving day paper, I began to reminisce of memories from Thanksgivings past. They were consistent to say the least, but just like cranberry sauce and gravy run into all the fixings on the Thanksgiving plate so do my Thanksgiving memories. Some can remember specific Thanksgivings, usually because of something out of the ordinary. While, I can't remember specific Thanksgivings, I remember the consistency of the holiday. Instead of vivid memories, I have snap shots.

I have snap shots of eating too many Hawaiian rolls, being teased by my uncle by the lack of food on my plate (I was a picky eater, aside from Hawaiian rolls), and hopelessly trying to find a good football game in my grandparents basement which barely got TV reception or eat. For the record the Lions have always been a losing team and I still don't have an affinity for the Cowboys.

We climbed back in the car with our monstrous paper and a hunk of free bread from the bakery for Luke, I decided that I wouldn't trade my snap shots of Thanksgiving for anything and began to wonder how I could give my kids their own snap shots. Maybe the routine of going to the grocery to buy a paper in order to spend time with Luke. Maybe getting an early morning Latte with Ava Marie when she is old enough to appreciate the love behind buying overpriced coffee. Or maybe some day they will laugh over the pictures of them sitting in Turkey pans. I don't know what their memories will be, but I hope that some day they will have a fabulous collection of snap shots like me.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Bias against Turkey

Last week, I worked 10 hours straight tutoring statistics. In honor of my subject, in lieu of the upcoming Holiday, and to help break the monotony, I decided to take a Thanksgiving poll. I asked each of my students what their favorite Thanksgiving dish. To my chagrin, only one said Turkey! Stuffing took the top prize (4) followed by mashed potatoes (2), sweet potato's w/ toppings (1) , and various desserts.

I have a theory on why people are biased toward turkey. I believe people are biased toward turkey because of the proportion of turkey that is left over compared with that of the traditional sides and desserts. No one likes Turkey because the majority of the leftovers is the bird. Solution, either those that raise turkey need to make smaller birds to create a greater demand (but this would be an economic theory and I don't tutor economics) or everyone should learn to enjoy my favorite part of the Thanksgiving milieux, left over Turkey meat (white), lightly salted, on white bread smothered with sharp cheddar cheese!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Does God Drink Coffee?

I woke up the other day with a strange, possibly sacrilegious thought in my head . . . Does God drink coffee? Apart from social settings and an occasional holiday mug, I have never been a coffee drinker. I survived high school without coffee. I have heard that caffeine can stunt growth. I endured college without coffee. I actually considered Starbucks to be at the top of the axis of evil that is taking over the world. I plowed through seminary without coffee. Even though I did not have to sign off on it to attend seminary like I did alcohol and tobacco products. I didn't even need coffee with the advent of my first born and he didn't arrive till 1 am. But somehow with the arrival of my second child, I have found myself being very intentional to add 5 minutes to my morning to brew a pot of coffee. Sadly, I find that coffee makes me happy which is either a reflection of the state of my life or a sign of my growing dependence on the caffeine. Don't get me wrong, I am still annoyed with coffee. It stains your teeth and it breeds dependency, but it seems to be a necessary evil to keep up with a life with two kids.

Which brings me back to my original question . . .Does God drink coffee? Which arose from me wondering how God keeps up with His children because I need coffee to keep up with life now that I have two. My lack of practical understanding of omniscience (the characteristic of being all knowing) and omnipresence (the characteristic of being everywhere at once) is obviously becoming apparent.

As a student of theology (theos - "God" and ology - "I paid a lot of money and invested a lot of time studying a certain topic") First, I know that God is immutable. Unlike me, he never changes. So if God hasn't been drink coffee from eternity past, He sure isn't drinking it now! Second, I also know that God neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps 124:1) and that he is omnipotent (all powerful) so He has no need of the extra stimulant. Third, God doesn't associate with evil. Unless you take into account Job 2 where Satan comes before God. (There is a theological quagmire for you). Therefore theologically, I have concluded that God doesn't drink coffee and that Starbucks should begin to marketing campaign with drinks called "the omnipresent," "the omnipotent," and "the omniscient." Whoa! The caffeine seems to be causing my business background to cross with my theological training. . . and I only drink decaf, scary!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Two Sounds Reasonable

So I haven't blogged for two months. This is probably due to the fact that I have two kids under two and two part time jobs. The number two does not appear to be conducive for writing. For those who read my blog my having two kids may be a blessing in disguise as my last post had 16 installments consisting of several paragraphs a piece. My beautiful bride informs me that a good blog post should be no longer than two paragraphs.

Two paragraphs sounds reasonable to me. The next time I feel the need to write a blog of 16 installments it won't be necessary to take a two month break or blame my absence from the blogging world on my two kids!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Confusion Concerning Divorce and Remarriage

This last week in Sunday school class some questions arose concerning divorce and remarriage. We were studying 1 Corinthians 7, a seminal and often confusing passage on marriage. A concise document outlining what I believe to be a biblical view on this subject can be found at

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 16

The rest of the morning went quickly; it was a busy one for Ava. She had her first guest, Jerry (her soon-to-be uncle), her first breakfast, her first look at her brother, and her first blood draw. Jerry and Suz ran to Café Brazil for our breakfast, Mommy provided Ava with her first breakfast, Luke came down and met Ava, and dad got the unfortunate task of holding Ava while she was first pricked on the heel and then poked and prodded until enough blood had been collected to send back to the lab.

By eleven o’clock we were packing to go home. Katherine had labored for two and a half hours. We had been at the birthing center for five hours. As we drove away, Katherine and I began to process about the morning. In the course of our conversation, I used the term “kids,” which caused me to pause. “That’s weird,” said Katherine. “It is,” I replied. Fifteen minutes later we arrived home to begin our new adventure as the parents of two.

The next day I would take Ava to meet her pediatrician. The following day would bring reinforcements. First one set then another set of grandparents would make the trip to come and love on our growing family. Ten days later, we would all return to the birth center to leave Ava’s “mark.” Every baby that is born leaves an inked foot print at their ten day check-up on the walls of the birth center.

Ava was unique as she left two prints. She left her first tiny, little footprint under her big brother’s mark on the stairwell of the old Victorian house that had been built about the time her great-great grandmother was born. The second footprint was placed all by itself, alone just as her two parents had felt during the early morning hours of August 26 when she had decided to make her entrance. This tiny marker in the middle of the front porch of the birthing center seemed fitting as it would proudly proclaim to those who come and go the story of a special little girl who made a front porch entrance.

I love you, Belle!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 15

The night before I had begun to think again about the name Ava Marie again. I liked the meanings of both names. I had commented to Katherine that I liked the name because its meaning was derived from the Greek. I felt that this would help to balance and close out our seminary career, Luke (also a pseudonym) being a name that I came to appreciate in Hebrew and the name Ava Marie would coincide with all the Greek that I had taken. I also loved the middle name as it met my desired condition of royalty and would provide a future nickname for my little girl, “Belle.”

After twenty minutes of indecisiveness during which I repeated both names numerous times out-loud and come no closer to a decision as I liked both names equally well, I decided to take the advice that I give the students when preparing them for a multiple choice test. ‘When in doubt between two options, always go with your gut reaction as it is more likely to be right due to the mind’s intuition.’ “Her name will be Ava Marie!”

While the nurses bustled about taking blood, temperatures, and making sure Katherine and Ava Marie were comfortable, Katherine sat and recited the verse that I had picked out for Ava Marie. Along with meaningful names, I enjoy picking out a passage that I can specifically pray for each child. Luke’s was Proverbs 3:2-3. I greatly desire that he be a man of both kindness and truth. Ava Marie’s passage was chosen from one of the passages that Katherine and I had memorized during the spring. The beautiful benediction found in Jude 24-25 states,

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, honor, and authority, before all time now and forever, Amen.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 14

I turned and walked back inside. Upon returning to Katherine’s side, the three of us plus one baby offered up a quick prayer of thanksgiving. The baby’s entrance while dramatic and been smooth despite the chord being wrapped around the neck and Katherine had had no tearing. Opening my eyes from my brief prayer, I realized that we still did not have a name for this little girl.

I began to discuss this with Katherine and Suzanne. “So do you think Gabrielle Victoria or Ava Marie (this is a pseudonym). I could tell that Suzanne liked Ava Marie, but she wisely withheld her opinion. I asked Katherine, “Which name do you like the best.” She replied very contentedly as she held our little girl, “I don’t care, you decide.” This caught me off guard: my usually opinionated wife didn’t have an opinion! The final decision was going to be totally up to me. Surprisingly, I found this to be the most overwhelming part of the entire morning as the bestowing of names is extremely important to me and I was not prepared to make a final decision.

I decided to call our parents and our other sister Rebecca (Julie and Sherwin were out of the country). I called each of them and gave them an abbreviated run down of the last three minutes. My dad asked, “What’s her name?” I said, “I don’t know…” He then said, “Today is Nanny’s birthday.” Nanny is my great grandmother, our daughter’s great-great grandmother who was turning 99 years old.

I then went back to agonizing over the name. We had been leaning toward Gabrielle but had not come to a conclusion about the middle name. I had decided that I liked middle names that connoted royalty or possibly the name of an English battleship from when England was at the height of its power and ruled the seas. Names such as Repulse, Bellerophon, Hercules, and Audacious somehow just did not seem appropriate though I liked the name Victoria which matched the criteria for both battleship and royalty.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 13

I hustled out of the room to help Suz set up the pack-in-play so Luke could sleep upstairs. I then began to unload all of the bags that we had packed for our expected extended labor which was over in five minutes. I came back inside excited and then remembered the advice that a kind seminary professor had given me when Luke was born. “Michael,” he said, “When Luke is born go outside and take a mental snap shot of what you see so that you can relive the moment for the rest of your life.” I had followed his advice and a couple minutes after Luke had arrived I had gone through the front doors of the old Victorian house where he had been born and taken a mental “snapshot” of the late October early morning. The almost-full moon had been draped in the horizon and the quiet cool night air had caused the leaves in the trees located in the park next door to merrily dance. It was a perfect picture.

I headed to find my mental picture for my daughter, but as I again stepped out of the old Victorian house, I realized that the mental image that would be forever etched into my mind would be me standing over Katherine as she labored alone on the front porch while we waited for help to arrive. This memory would not be replaced.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 12

“There’s the head,” Cherie observed. I looked down; everything was moving too fast to distinguish a head. Katherine cried out again and gave a powerful push. The baby shot out. The torpid shaped little body looked strangely un-human. Katherine’s entire body sagged. Cherie lifted up the tiny little bundle and handed the baby to Katherine to be held. The baby whimpered.

“I’m going inside to get the precept cart,” Cherie announced. We were alone again on the porch. I stared down at my wife holding my second child in her arms. We didn’t even know the gender. The baby looked a pale blue and wet. I wondered if it was breathing. Cherie returned to cut the chord. “We don’t even know the gender,” I said. She said, “I already felt (the gender).” I asked, “Is it a boy?” She said, “Do you want to know?” My statement now seemed silly as we stood on the porch. I hesitated, “Sure.” Cherie examined the baby, “You have a girl.”

Another car pulled up. I saw Suz coming up the steps. Cherie began to cut the chord. Cherie turned to Suz who was now standing on the porch and ordered her inside to strip the bed. Katherine was to be moved inside. Cherie tried to move the baby, but the chord was caught in the blanket wrapped around the baby. She worked some more and then turned to hand me the baby. I stood there clutching my newborn daughter. I took a closer look. Her eyes were closed. Her entire body was blue and her little face was a dark purple. She was not moving and I again wondered if she was breathing. Everyone was now inside and I followed them in holding my precious cargo determined to give her back to Cherie so that she could work on the baby.

Katherine was climbing into the massive king bed assisted by Cherie as I entered the room. I stood there in the middle of the room holding the baby. Cherie came to me and took the baby saying that she needed to be warmed. I watched as she carried her over to the giant armoire which contained the resuscitation unit. At that point, I looked down and saw blood all over my white t-shirt from the severed umbilical chord.

Cherie flicked on the heat lamps and began to snake a small tube with a suction bulb on the end into the baby's mouth. I assumed that she was clearing any fluid out of the baby’s airway. Again, I wondered if she had been breathing. It had been several minutes since birth and I was concerned. Thoughts of close friends who have had trouble with their daughters nagged in the back of my mind. The baby began to cry and kick her legs. I breathed a sigh of relief and moved over to Katherine's side as she lay in the bed. “Way to go, babe! You did it! We have a little girl . . . a little girl . . .”

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 11

“I can feel the head,” Katherine shouted again. I glanced at Katherine and then anxiously looked down the street. The lone runner was now directly across the street from the house. Katherine moaned. I wishfully pleaded in my mind that Katherine would not have a contraction as the runner might take notice of the half-naked woman kneeling on the porch with a man bending over her. Immediately a contraction began and Katherine moaned loudly, the runner took no notice. I rubbed Katherine’s back while straining for head-lights.

“I have to push,” Katherine gasped. “I can feel the head.” I reached down to see if things were really that progressed. I jerked my hand back. We were going to have a baby, now. I began wondering if I should go get Luke’s blanket to place under Katherine. Katherine was now forcefully pushing while clutching the bench.

I saw headlights speeding down the road toward us. Katherine screamed. I tried to encourage her. “Cherie is here, hold on!” I watched as the little VW Bug coasted to a stop. I looked back down to see my wife, oblivious to the world, seconds away from giving birth to our second child.

At that moment it was like everything went into slow motion, like the scenes in Face Off or The Matrix. I moved back to Katherine’s side as Cherie leapt up the steps. “I’m going to have you lay down on your back,” she said to Katherine. I moved in to help Cherie move Katherine, who was in mid-contraction and pushing, shift from her kneeling to laying on her back.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 10

Katherine staggered around the porch like a drunk woman as my adrenaline-flushed mind tried to calmly take in my options. I encouraged Katherine to kneel down next to the ornate wrought iron bench on the porch. I threw my shirt down on top of the bench and helped Katherine to her knees. I stood there for what seemed like an hour, but in reality it was only seconds. I strained to see headlights coming down the street. The street was dark and only a lonely jogger could be seen about a quarter of a mile down the street. It was about five thirty.

My mind whirled, “I could break the glass pane of the front door and open the door from the outside. Should I call 9-1-1?” Katherine wailed in pain. I reached for my cell phone and scrolled through my numbers hunting for the mid-wife’s cell. There were two numbers stored in my phone. I wasn’t sure which I should use as Katherine had been making the prior phone calls. I bent over Katherine and touched her shoulder to try to get her attention. “Which number is it?” I asked.

I hit the send button and the phone began to ring. “Pick up, PICK UP,” I thought. No answer. I snapped the phone shut. “Should I call 9-1-1,” I wondered again. I looked down at Katherine, “The baby is coming,” she yelled, “Help me take my pants off!” At that moment, I smelled a strong pungent smell. I realized with horror that Katherine’s water had just broken! She was struggling to get her pants off. I helped her remove her pants which were already half way down her legs. The thought of my wife kneeling on the porch half naked briefly crossed my mind, but the thought vanished as it seemed of little concern in the immediacy of the moment.

Another contraction hit as Katherine continued to push. “I can feel the head,” she screamed. I hit the send button on my phone. “PICK UP!” my mind screamed. The phone ring and then the other end picked up. “I’m four blocks away,” the voice on the end said. “Hurry,” I begged. “Katherine’s water just broke and she says that she can feel the head.” “I’ll be there in a minute,” the phone went dead.

I stroked Katherine’s head, “She is almost here,” I comforted her. “The baby is coming,” Katherine responded with her voice pleading for me to do something, anything to help the situation. I called Suz. I didn’t wait for a hello. “Suz, the baby is coming. When you get here, I am going to toss you the keys and let you take care of Luke. He’s in the car, strapped in his car seat.”

“I’m leaving now,” she said.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Preservatives Anyone?

A little history lesson. Herod the Great loved his second wife, but he didn't trust her. For that reason he had her killed and then preserved her body in a vat of honey. He kept her in his bedroom and from time to time would bring her out so that he could spend some quality time with her.

My wife informs me that my lists are boring (I think they annoy her). So in honor of 9/9/09 (a "lucky number" in China) I have decided to move all of my lists to this date for the sake of the order of my blog and the sanity of my wife.

I love you honey!

List Making: Bane or Blessing - Part 2

Having observed this bane, blessing phenomenon. I have decided that I will begin to post my lists. I do this for three reasons.

1) Warning: If you are not a list maker you should probably jump ahead to reason number two. If you are a list maker you understand the very real danger of "lists chaos" - a bunch of lists that just float around in your head and life which for the sake of sanity need to be organized, sorted, and accessible. If you don't do lists and you just read that, I'm sorry, but I warned you.

2) Non-list makers greatly benefit from the structure of the lists of others . . . at least this is what I observe from my wife who only makes lists or invokes me to bring order to her events and circumstances (a strength of the list maker) when she is so stressed and overwhelmed that she is close to shutting down

3) Transcribing my lists onto this blog has been on my list of things to do for a week and it must get done today or I will have a bad day

So brace yourself because on 8/23 at 4:30pm my blog will post the most random litany of lists you have ever seen! Please feel free to comment with additions to my lists.

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 9

We could now see Baylor hospital, the birthing center was located right next door. Katherine moaned loudly as another contraction racked her body, “I need to push!” “Hold on babe, we are almost there,” I assured her. As we turned onto Swiss Avenue, I could now see the birth-center. My heart sank, there were no lights on in the house and no headlights in the street. We had beat the mid-wife to the birth-center. As we sped toward the house Katherine gasped in pain and again pleaded with me to hurry.

I pulled up to the curb in front of the house and very intentionally put the car into park. As I was trying to decide what we should do, Katherine made up my mind for me, “I have to get out,” she almost shouted. Quicker then I thought possible she scooted out of the car. “She must be about to throw-up,” I thought. Vomiting is a common part of transition in labor, as the body does it’s best to empty itself before birth. When Katherine had thrown-up during her first labor with Luke, it had caught me of guard, but I had remembered this and had been waiting for this sign all night.

But Katherine didn’t pause and I was surprised to notice her rapidly moving up the two flights of steps to the front porch. The engine was still running and Luke was still strapped in his car seat. I had the presence of mind to roll down the back window next to Luke before turning of the engine and leaping out of the car to follow Katherine up the front steps to the porch where she was trying the door handle which I knew would be locked.

It was one of those weird moments during the labor process when you realize that your wife’s mind is on auto pilot. She has enough presence of mind to make decisions, but not enough awareness to take in all the details. I had experienced this during the car ride as Katherine had adjured me twenty times in four miles to hurry while I had been running red lights and flying through school zones.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 8

Katherine’s last contraction had dissipated. She turned to me with a panicked look on her face and with the calmest voice possible after having just finished a 60 second contraction said, “We need to get there – fast!” “I know,” I said, “I’m going as fast as I can.” Another contraction began to grip Katherine as I hit a straight section in the road and punched the accelerator. The engine revved and I looked at the speedometer. I was going 45 mph through the neighborhood school zone.

About halfway to the birth-center (a 15 minute trip) we hit our first red light on Lemon Avenue. Surprisingly there was a car waiting next to us at the light. I looked past this early morning traveler’s vehicle down the one-way intersecting street to see if any cars were coming. “Should I run it?” I half asked myself and half asked Katherine, she nodded as she was in the middle of another contraction. I buried the accelerator to the floor. I mean, common how many times do you get a valid excuse to run a red light? The back tires peeled out! My two-year old responded with a “Vrrm Vrrm” from the back seat. Katherine urged me on, “Go faster, run the lights,” she said as she half-coherently nodded her approval more to herself then to anyone else.

As I ran the light, I wondered about the neighboring car that had just witnessed my flagrant violation of traffic code. “I sure hope that they aren’t a rule follower,” I thought to myself. “If they are they are probably hopping mad.” I then began to wonder how fast I was driving. Having been told in between every contraction that we needed to hurry, I realized that my inhibitions might be a little low and that caution may indeed be the better part of valor.

I glanced down again at the speedometer; I was doing fifty miles per hour in a thirty mile an hour speed zone. Fortunately, the multiple intersections mandated that I slow down a little. I decided that this was probably for the best as an accident at this point would have me delivering the baby not to mention put my car back in the shop.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Brother Meet Sister

In honor of Labor Day, here are several pictures of Luke meeting Ava Marie for the first time. These were taken about two hours after the birth. Doesn't my wife look great!

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 7

I could feel the engine of our Ford Taurus misfiring as we waited for the large parking gate to slide open. Our mechanic who had replaced our compressor the week before had informed me that our car was only running on five of its six cylinders. I had dryly responded that that was my life. After he informed me, the husband of a pregnant wife who was due any day, that the compressor in my only vehicle was bad and would have to be fixed to a tune of $1000. To add injury to insult it would take three days to fix. That Friday when we picked up the car, the mechanic had assured me that the car would have more then enough power to run on five cylinders. We were going to put that to the test now!

It seems that cars and deliveries of children in my life must somehow be correlated. Twenty-two months before the day before my son was born, we had sold a car. I can still remember Katherine, nine months pregnant in the hot Dallas heat, sitting in the front seat while I had conducted the transaction.

Now Katherine was sitting in the front seat of our five cylinder car having a massive contraction. As she moaned in pain, I glanced into the rearview mirror to see my wide-eyed almost two-year old in the back seat. I wasn’t sure if he was scared, confused, or just sleepy. He probably thought we were going on vacation, except for his mother’s moaning and panting in the front seat. He clung tightly to Fluppy, his worn stuffed dog, while sucking furiously on his “woobie.” (Kramer men do not have pacifiers, its too sissy; they have “woobies!”)

“Should I call Suz, now?” “Yes,” Katherine replied. I dialed while the car coasted out of the garage. The phone rang. A sleepy voice answered, “Hello.” “Suz, it’s Michael, we are on the way to the birth-center. Katherine has been in labor for a while and it is progressing fast. Can you meet us there?” She said that she would be there as soon as she had changed her clothes and brushed her teeth. The plan had been for Suzanne, Katherine’s sister, to meet us at the birth-center in order to take care of Luke. She had witnessed Luke’s birth and was excited of being part of the birth of his sibling.

The streets were deserted and the lights flashed an eerie yellow. I slowly began to accelerate. I then called each of our parents, they had both requested to be contacted when labor began. My conversations were concise and three minutes later, I was done.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 6

After returning from the car, I sat on the floor of the bathroom timing contractions . . . 3:56 – 55 seconds, 4:00 – 45 seconds, 4:03 – 45 seconds, 4:07 – 40 seconds . . . Katherine got out of the tub choosing to labor on her birth-ball (an exercise ball). At this point she complained of pressure in her bottom; she also began to express that she felt panicky.

The contractions were now really strong, I could tell because Katherine would reach out to hold my hand which made it hard for me to time the contractions. I adapted. 4:44 – 20 seconds, 4:46 – 30 seconds, 4:52 – 45 seconds, 4:54 – 30 seconds. Katherine called the mid-wife and I got ready to wake Luke up. Return with a changed and very groggy son, I found Katherine had now moved to the living room. We had been given the green light to leave in order to rendezvous with the mid-wife at the birthing center. Katherine groaned as she hit the peak of a contraction. As it subsided she looked up at me intensely and said, “We need to go now!”

We gathered Judah and a couple small items and headed for the door. At this point we were having contractions every two minutes. I hoped we would be able to make it down the hall to the elevator before the next contraction set in. It took us three contractions to get to the car. Another while I strapped Judah into his car seat.

It was dark as I navigated out of the parking lot.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 5

The night Katherine began to have her contractions, we had climbed into bed at 11pm after a flurry of activity. At that time I was having more than a little consternation because we hadn't come to a definitive conclusion about a girl's name. The middle name that would pair with Gabrielle was still up in the air and the imminence of our nameless child's birth was pressing down on me.

On the bright side, I had packed my bag and made a short list of things of essentials that I would need to throw together before our departure for the birth-center, the Dr. Pepper two liter for caffeine, my Jack Daniel’s BBQ sunflower seeds in case the labor went especially long, and a pocket knife in case I needed to cut the umbilical chord in the car, which I am told you are not suppose to do. The whole time I wondered to myself, “How do you prepare for the arrival of another child?”

I went in to check on Luke. There by the side of his crib, I mourned the passing of his early years and the unexpected change that having a sibling would bring. He would no longer be the baby. He would now be the big brother. Along the side of my post-it note list, I summed my feelings, “Totally Unprepared!”

Katherine grimaced as another contraction swept over her body. I waited for it to pass and went to hunt for my stop-watch and the post-it pad from the night before. We began timing the contractions 2:56am – 30 seconds, 3:03 – 1 minute, 3:07 – 30 seconds. My sleepy brain struggled to do the math of the contraction duration. 3:11 am – 30 seconds, 3:16 am – 30 seconds, 3:21 am – 40 seconds, 3:25am – 40 seconds, 3:31am – 45 seconds . . . we began to talk about calling the midwife. We waited a couple more contractions and then made the call.

The transition for most first pregnancies from pre-labor to active labor is marked by 5-1-1 = contractions five minutes apart, lasting one minute each, for one hour. It is at the 5-1-1 benchmark that mother’s are instructed to start for the birth-center. Active labor for 2nd pregnancies is not as predictable.

In between the contractions Katherine answered the midwife’s questions though I suspect that at four in the morning the mid-wife was struggling. It was decided that we would wait until the contractions became more extensive (both lower and upper abdomen) and longer in duration. Katherine was ordered to take a warm bath in order to help her body relax. I made my third trip down to the car to make sure we were loaded so that when we decided to leave we would be able to make the 15 minute drive to the birth-center.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 4

Naming kids has always been a challenge. I make it hard! Not only must Katherine and I both love the name, but the meaning of the name must also have significance. While the first stipulation is challenging, the additional need for meaning makes the naming process almost impossible. This was compounded by the fact that we didn’t know the gender so we had to come up with two names.

Girl names were easy as we had already identified two that we liked when we had hunted for our first son’s name. A boy’s name was much more challenging. We had labored (snicker) intensively over our first son’s name and in anticipation of the upcoming struggle of finding a boy’s name. So I scheduled a date at Barnes and Nobles where we drank coffee and poured (he he) over books of names for two hours. We left with a tentative boy’s name. We left feeling productive (no stop, you’re making my sides hurt!) with two first names for girls and a first and middle name for a boy.

As we got closer to d-day (“delivery” day) we began to think more about possible middle names for girls. Katherine had suggested Kate while we were on our Barnes and Nobles date. I was not convinced. I threw out a name "Belle" for which Katherine didn’t care for at first, but after “checking” it with some of her friends she declared that she liked it.

About a month from d-day we began to tell our friends that we were leaning toward Gabrielle for a girl. At some point, we both agreed that we preferred Gabrielle (French) to Gabriella (Spanish). I thought the name was pretty while Katherine thought it was spunky. We both liked the meaning, “God is my strength,” and the fact that having a Gabrielle would round-out our family collection of archangel names (Michael and Gabriel; I guess we aren’t counting Lucifer), but we were undecided about the middle name. We thought Kate went well with Gabriella, but not as well with Gabrielle.

A week from d-day we realized that I liked strong middle names which Katherine says caused me to pick masculine middle names like Roussou, Striker, Blaze, and Bruce (well maybe not the last one). I then was able to articulate that I liked middle names that connoted royalty . . . or names of ships in Her Majesties Royal Navy. I also liked middle names that would allow for nicknames. Luke is my “little lion.” I taught him to roar by the time he was twenty months old. I want Luke to be bold and fearless as a lion. I want all of my kids to have nicknames that can be an added personality to their character.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 3

While business and the transitions of life impeded any hope for time to sit and ponder the impact of a second child, the real problem lies in my very analytical approach to life. Not being the mother who wakes up to the kicks of a child en utero, I struggled to come to grasp with the reality of a second child because life looked the same to me. Katherine’s pregnancy had not caused our life to slow down and an unborn child has little need apart from a nap taken vicariously through its mother from 1-3pm every day. Sure, I would often wake up in the morning to see my wife’s stomach contorting like the body of a character out of the movie Men in Black who is about to reveal the presence of an alien inhabiting its host, but this is just a weird extraterrestrial phenomenon not a profoundly life altering occurrence.

I had never really “seen” this baby. We could guess at its gender through the speculations of our midwives who claim to be fairly accurate in their ability to prediction the gender of a baby by its heart rate, but this baby had not been consistent. One appointment it would clock 160 beats per minute and the next appointment it would be 138. “So she says it’s either a boy or a sleeping girl,” my wife would tell me. I would think sarcastically to myself, “That’s great you have just confirmed my deep suspicion that I will soon have either a boy or a girl!” This 50/50 was no problem for my wife, who would flip back and fourth depending on the heart beat and the “expert” opinion coming from her last appointment.

At first I refused to assign a gender to my unborn child as I felt this would set me up for disappointment if the results went contrary to my speculations. I don’t deal well with surprises and the only thing that I was willing to speculate on was that I thought the baby would come after the due date. I have found that a great defense mechanism for surprises is to not allow myself to get excited about the unknown. I like the tangible things in life like little boy bits staring back at me on the tv monitor in the ultra-sound room, excited phone calls to parents and friends, and having a name picked out a month in advance.

None of these were afforded to me to aid in the mental prepared of the birth of my second. Instead, I had my wife’s contorted stomach and an erratic heartbeat.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 2

I had been as excited as anyone when we found out two days before Christmas that we were having a second child. That night, our second night staying at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis, was a sleepless night for me from what I suspected at the time was the massive amount of caffeine that I had consumed at P.F. Changs. I had run into their “Great Wall of Chocolate,” a marvelous desert with multiple layers of rich chocolate cake and sauce, after drinking two large glasses of Dr. Pepper. The result of my collision with caffeine was my inability to sleep, yet in hindsight it may have been the impact of the very sobering news that I was going to be a father for the second time.

My unpreparedness was reinforced by our decision to forgo an ultra-sound. Katherine had carried extra amniotic fluid during her first pregnancy and because of this we had taken the precautionary action to have several ultra-sounds to confirm the health of baby and mother. Because of our past experience, I assumed that our chance of a repeat scenario with our second child was high. This line of reasoning led me to hold off from paying for a preliminary ultrasound and instead I chose to wait to pay when it became a medical necessity. Secondarily or maybe foremost, I also felt the financial responsibility of being a seminary student who would soon be facing a job search during a substantial economic downturn. My logic easily aligned with my inherited nature of being frugal and Katherine’s romanticizing ideal of the unknown being adventurous. Ironically near the end of the pregnancy it would be Katherine’s adventurous spirit that would waiver while my frugality held fast to the end.

The absence of an ultra-sound had a strange effect on my ability to come to grips with the reality of having a second child. To be fair, my last nine months have been filled with unknowns, scattered with transitions, and at times emotionally exhausting. The last nine months have encompassed my last academic semester, the completion of my thesis, seven months of job hunting, the end of a part time job, the beginning of two part time jobs, five trips from Dallas, the selling of a car, the buying of a van, and the list goes on . . .

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Front Porch Entrance: The Birth of my Belle Part 1

It has now been one week since my little "Belle" made her entrance into this world. What follows is her story . . .

“Michael . . . Michael I am having contractions.” My eyes opened and I saw my wife in the light shining from the bathroom. She was leaning in the doorway steadying herself by the door frame. As this information penetrated my sleep-filled mind, I tried to see the clock which glowed back at me. It was 2:45am. As the adrenaline began to sweep through my body, I didn’t notice the usual ache that comes from being rudely awaken after only three-and-a-half hours of sleep.

As I clambered out of bed my mind began to actively take hold of the situation. The feeling was not a state of panic or surprise, but the processes of mental preparation that you go through when you go through a check list for a big event. Katherine was 39 weeks and 6 days pregnant. Her official due date was the next day (the 27th). Any feelings of anxiety or lack of preparedness for the arrival of our second child, I had experienced the night before when Katherine had informed me during a break in our movie (Babbet’s Feast) that she was having contractions.

The contractions were not consistent enough to load up the car or wake our sleeping almost two-year-old son, but they were frequent enough to cause a flurry of packing once the movie had concluded. Katherine’s bag had been packed several weeks ago. Luke’s three days prior. My bag was yet to be packed, possibly a reflection on my unpreparedness or possibly my unwillingness to acknowledge the imminent arrival of my second child.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Uncaging of an Unloved Son: Part 3


I. God uses time to bring about spiritual formation (James 1:2-4)

A. Judah 20 years Gen 38:1-42:1
1) Marked by baggage; Judah: Others ~ favoritism & Own ~ bad decisions
2) Filled with suffering
“Your trials are tailor made”
“God will not greatly use a man or woman who He does not first take through the
wilderness” [Biblical examples?]
3) Fraught with failure
“Failure is neither final nor fatal”

B. God is a God of the long road
1) We like immediacy [Example: the phone company]
“Not necessarily where we are going, but who we are becoming”
[Where are areas in your life that God has taken time to work?]
2) “God is looking for average men and women who are willing to go the distance in whom

He can accomplish great things”

II. God uses adverse circumstances to bring about spiritual formation (Matt 16:24-25)

A. Often unexpected Gen 42:1-3; 6-17
Timing ~ Bad; Circumstances ~ Unimaginable

B. Can be tied to past failure Gen 42:18-22; 23-28 (leaving for Seminary & car)
“Secrets on earth are open scandal in heaven”
1) Often the mundane [Example: dad running]
2) Can be the clutch shot when the game holds in the balance – Michael Jordan
Background: Gen 42:36-38; 43:1-10 – Reuben v. Judah
Background: Josephs 2nd encounter; Brother’s return (faithful men); A moral declaration
We Must Excel at the Mundane!

C. Can involves sacrifice

Gen 44:14-17
Confession - ambiguous
16) Triple Question – heightens the intensity of helplessness, the superlative (e.g. Holy, Holy, Holy)
16) God’s justice – not bad luck
16) Common Fate – faithful heart – if one stays they all stay
16) Saving their neck - “servants” and “slaves;” Joseph - couples
17) God’s judgment to Benjamin ~ “leave the thief, go in peace”

[Have there been instances in your life where you have had to make clutch decisions that have altered the spiritual course of your life? (Example – dating Katherine; going to Seminary)]

“This is one of the manliest, most straightforward speeches ever delivered by any man. For depth of feeling and sincerity of purpose it stands unexcelled.”
– Skinner, Exposition of Genesis, 1086.

Gen 44:18 - 34
18) servant (singular)
19) Judah reads his accusers mind: moves from moral to personal
20) “lad”
27) father’s sentiment (quotes) “my wife” ~ not Judah’s mother
29) Irony – Judah has lost two sons; He now has the opportunity to lose a second brother and second son of Jacob
30) shifts from “we” to “I”
31-32) not just an obligation, but a deep concern
33-34) begs to be sacrificed for a brother who is more loved then himself

We Must Stand in the Moment!

Judah, the slave trader, the forsaker of covenant, the impulsive adulterer, the calloused judge who has felt the pain of a Father who has lost two sons and tasted the shame of the confessor, the man who has been broken by failure in a moment becomes a man of honor, taking a stand in the worst possible circumstances He stakes His life to principle and demonstrates the valor of a leader who rises to the full measure of love through self sacrifice to protect an innocent brother and a helpless father.

III. God uses Availability Gen 49:1-7

A. Reuben’s tryst (Gen 35:22 ~ Bilhah) - pride (Jam 4:6)

B. Simeon and Levi violence (Gen 34:24-31 ~ Shechem and Dinah) – (Gen 6:11, 13)

C. Judah’s oracle Gen 49:8-11 - 2nd longest only to Joseph’s
1) Gifted by Grace (Jude 24-25)
2) Granted according to Giftedness
3) Given to the Available

We Must Take Our Spiritual Formation Seriously!

8) Word play: “Judah . . . praise . . . your hand” Yehuda . . . yoduka . . . yadeka
8) “father’s sons” not “mothers sons”
9) lion – “The lion, one of the largest and strongest carnivores poses threat not only to animals but also to humankind (1 Kings 13:24; 20:36; 2 Kings 17:25; Mic. 5:8)
10) 2 Sam 7:16
10) Shiloh = 1) until Shiloh comes, 2) the cultic center during the time of Judges, 3) “until he comes to whom tribute belongs” ~ tribute to him (David à Christ)
11) 1) donkey – ride of a chief; 2) vine symbol of fertility, joy, peace, and prosperity; 3) tie to the vine – incredible wealth; 4) wash in wine – incredible prosperity; 5) blood of grapes – metaphor of a conqueror
12) “sparkling;” “milk” – builds strong bones and teeth (“Got milk?”)

Time, Adverse Circumstances, and Availability

Excel in the mundane
Stand in the moment

Exegetical: God took 20 years to build character into Judah’s life through the tools of suffering and sacrifice which ensured Jacob’s blessing of Judah. Theological: God is the author of spiritual formation. Homiletical: God uses time, sacrifice, and individuals who take their spiritual formation seriously to build character. HP: Take your spiritual formation seriously!

Image: Michael waiting for God to provide a job and wondering if God will use him – job hunting, Judah, blogging, and part time work
Need: To see that God is working in our lives
Subject: What does God uses to bring about spiritual formation in our lives
Preview: Look at the life of Judah and examine three things that God uses bring about spiritual formation

Text: Genesis 38-44 & 49

8/23/09 - FBD Young Marrieds Sunday School Class

Friday, August 21, 2009

List Making: Bane or Blessing - Part 1

I have a confession to make . . . (deep sigh)! I am a list maker, it is my bane. I wake up every morning with a list of things that I want to accomplish that day and if they don't get done, well that's a bad day. I go to bed every night thinking about the list of things that I will do tomorrow, I'm told that is what highly successful people do . . . or neurotic you may be thinking. To some list making is strange to others quite normal.

I walk through life compiling lists: books to read, things to do before I die, topics for sermons, ideas to implement within a church, stories that will preach, movies that I would recommend, names for our second child that will be born any day now . . . well I have just done it, there is a portion of my list on lists. I know what you are thinking, "I feel sorry for this guys wife, they probably go out for dinner and talk through lists." It's not far from the truth, but she loves me anyway and I have a sinking suspicion that she married me for my lists. She doesn't live by lists, I think they feel restrictive to her . . . yet she will be the first to admit that she needs the structure and order that my lists bring to our life together. My bane, her blessing . . . when I am not driving her crazy

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Creepy Bride: Part 3

We'll just say the figure had several zeros and could pay my first years salary as a pastor. He then shared that this was the point when his tithe (Southern Baptist for 10%) went else where. Now I was discouraged, expensive bathrooms and moving tithes. "A Church you can Believe in." Good motto, creepy story.

I have been in church all my life. As a kid my dad sat on elder boards where men used profanity to give weight to their position (fortunately aside from this fact, he never shared many of his battle stories). I've heard horror stories of my peers who were deacons (some stories are so unbelievable they're comical). I have listened aghast to godly saints while they have gossiped to me about the stumblings and shortcomings of their leaders. I have set under the tutalige of the brightest minds within academic Christianity, many of which were previously pastors, and have seen them in fits of passion hurl pieces of chalk across the room to show their disgust of churches that have chewed up and spit out their pastors. "The Bride of Christ . . ." Nice title, creepy bride!

Like my five creepy movies, I have trouble getting these creepy stories out of my head! Yet maybe it depends on your context. Ephesians 5:25-27 states,

"Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also love the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glofy, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless."

The church consists of Christians, fallen sinners redeemed by God's grace. It should not surprise us to see warts, bunions, scars, and blemmishs. We are the problem . . . we are the church. Yet, it seems that we expect perfection (on this side of eternity) from the church and because of this we are really creeped out. That's bad theology! Where does scripture ever say that we're to put this type of expectation on the church or this degree of hope in man?

It doesn't! In fact our theology supports just the opposite, we are sinners saved by grace.

So how are we to respond when we freak? Toward those within the church we are called to love one another (John 13:34-35). Interestingly we are never commanded to love the church as an entity or body. That job is left up to the God-man, Christ himself (Eph 5:25)!

We are commanded to "hold fast to the confession of our hope" and to "not forsake our own assembling together" (Heb 10:23, 25). While we are to have fellowship with the believers that God places in our lives, which requires trust, we are never called to put the expectation of perfection or to entrust the confidence of our hope to these individuals. It is only when our hope resides safely in the perfection of Christ and His ability to perfect his bride.

The writer of the Hebrews declares "the LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid (of warts, bunions, scars, and blemmishs). What will man do to me . . . Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:6, 8). Armed with this hope, we can overcome any crepetivity and be part of what on this side of eternity can be a really creepy bride!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Creepy Bride: Part 2

This weekend, I added number five to the creepy movie list. We were in the mood for a movie, but it seemed that there wasn't anything worth renting. We then took a recommendation; as I said, we were desperate. The movie was a kids movie with a PG rating . . . how bad could it be? The popcorn was popped, the m&m's divided, and the lights were low when we loaded, Coraline. The movie was not that intense, but the crepetivity of this movie shot through the roof when you took into account that it was directed toward kids. ("Crepetivity" is an adjective for creepy, made up by yours truly.)

As I went to church this morning, "crepetivity" was on my mind.

I thought about the story related to us on Friday night at a young marrieds gathering, where a friend of ours had been trying to get her young daughter into her car seat after a full day of work and day care when she was honked at by a church member who asked her to move out of the way so that they could get into the parking spot next to her. She complied, and moved out of the way so the car could pull in. The spot was tight and after the car was parked our friend and the driver who had just parked the car realized that the young mother would not be able to open the door to fasten in her child or get back into the car. Upon realizing this, the Wednesday night church goer suggested that she crawl over the seat. Our church's motto is "A Church you can Believe in." Good motto, creepy story.

The choir was now in full tilt as I watched the late comers, shuffle in. I noticed an older lady moving up the stairs to my left. I sit in the balcony with a small contingency of young marrieds at the early service. I have met this woman once during the obligatory Baptist meet-n-greet each service. When I met her she had informed me that she used to sit down on the floor until someone informed her that she was in the "wrong" pew. She told me that she had decided that she would never get in anyone's way again. She was so offended and bitter that she now sits in the nose bleed section of the balcony all by herself. I am not sure which is more disturbing: territorial pew sitters or bitter old women in the balcony. "A Church you can Believe in." Good motto, creepy story.
Sunday school was packed as usual. As we left small group I struck up a conversation with a friend over my job hunt and the fact that I had been "dinged" for a position at our church. I commented that it was probably for the better as the individuals on staff were all very gracious, but somehow the work environment is tenuous and even cut-throat [future post: the megachurch]. As we were comparing notes, he commented that he loved our church, but had been turned off by the price tag of a bathroom which had been installed for one of the executive staff members, to the tune of well...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Creepy Bride: Part 1

While I have never desired to watch a horror movie and have proudly never seen Freddie or any of the "Scary Movie" saga, and I while I enjoy intense movies, Dead Man Walking (would not recommend) or Schindler's List (recommend with provisos), I have never quite figured out what to do with creepy movies. I find that they make their way into my subconscious and then set up shop from which they flit through my mind. You are thinking, "duh, creepy . . . that's the fun of it!" I guess it depends on your context.

This last week, I added to my creepy movie repetior (of which four come to my mind, though I'll throw in a fifth for my wife). The only creepy movie that I can remember from my younger years is Wait until Dark with Audry Hepburn (recommend!) and Psycho (recommend!). Hey don't laugh, my parents didn't let me watch the Wizard of Oz (recommend) until I was older because they thought the flying monkeys would scare me. To their credit, I was a very sensitive child and prone to have nightmares -- and the monkeys would have scared me!

The next creepy movie that I can recall was M. Night Shyamalan's (creepy name) The Village. Now I'm told this movie isn't that bad as far as creepy goes, but remember I am kind of a novice with these things and it should be noted that the nightmares that I had as a child always involved being chased by wolves. I think that this came from listening to a "Peter and the Wolf" sound track on my record player...

My wife teased me when I had to check all of the closets, tubs, and behind the doors after we watched The Village. I was freaked! I got my chuckles when we watched a 1940s movie called Marnie. The story line is about an evil little girl that manipulates, maims, burns, and kills. It didn't phase me, because it didn't seem real enough, but apparently the inner workings of my wife's mind resonated (related?) a little too closely to this manipulative little girl. For the next week, I would walk into the room, saying, "Maarnieee . . . Maarniee," in my best evil, high pitch, squeaky, little girl voice. She begged me to stop and finally I did, though the temptation in me is growing to run into the other room and see if it still bothers her...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Gone in 60 seconds

A mist in the pulpit causes a fog in the pew.

This phrase came to mind today as I returned home from interviewing a young couple for a unique incarnational ministry which seeks to impact urban dwellers with the gospel of Christ. The couples who apply for this ministry, while predominately younger, are the future hope of our present day evangelical churches. They have a functioning relationship with Christ and they desire to reach out to those around them. While many profess a relationship with Christ, the willingness demonstrated by these valiant few to put shoe leather on their faith and serve, causes them to rise to the top as the creme of the crop within Christianity. There is only one problem: most struggle to be able to articulate the gospel.

Half way through my interview as I sat across from my perspective applicants, I paused and then said, "OK, I need you both to tell me the gospel. I am not asking you to role play with me as I am already saved. Take all the time you want, but please feel free to be brief, we only have a half hour left in the interview. You can share the Four Spiritual Laws, the Romans road, the Bridge Illustration, one verse evangelism, whatever you feel comfortable with, I just need both of you to articulate the gospel. Who would like to go first?"

The first applicant began; he talked about sin. "Good," I thought to myself. "This is a good place to start." But then I began to have trouble following him. A couple minutes later we were talking about Christ. "Good," I thought again, "Here maybe now we were going to get the gospel." He continued on for another minute. Finally, I broke in and asked, "so what do I need to do to be saved?" I had heard "sin," "Jesus." "your life will change," "repent," but I had not heard what it took to become a follower of Christ. I thanked the applicant and then turned to the second.

The second applicant paused and gathered herself, possibly nervous as she had seen her fellow applicant struggle in a prolonged attempt. My money was on her, she would fair better. I know from personal experience that women can take what a man is blundering about and articulate it concisely and clearly in one or two pithy sentences. For a minute or two it seemed though my premonition was to hold true, but as the gospel plane continued to ascend, I began to realize somewhere between "the God-man," "repent," and "no works for salvation," that the plane was going to have trouble landing. I stepped in, "What must I do to be saved," I asked? And then she nailed it! "Confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart..." Well almost nailed it because at this point she trailed off. I smiled and thanked the applicant.

I was not upset as a matter of fact, I was proud of this young couple. They had tried admirably and come really close. I was not surprised that they had struggled, it may have been nerves but my guess is that no one has ever asked them to articulate the gospel in 60 seconds. They have heard it. They have thought about it. They have accepted it. But no one had ever challenged them to briefly articulate it!

I thanked them both again and then I said, "The essence of the gospel is that man has sinned and fallen short of God's standards thereby breaking his relationship with God; but God loved us and sent His perfect Son, Jesus to die and pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world. If we accept Christ's payment for our sins through his death and resurrection, by this alone can we have a saving and whole relationship with God." I looked up at them and sheepishly grinned. She said, "Wow, I didn't expect that to be so awkward, and I didn't know the gospel could be stated so briefly." He said, "That was hard."

They were a neat couple. Both have been involved in full-time ministry. Both are in seminary. One has a masters in theology. Both struggled to articulate the gospel.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident, instead it is a prevalent problem in these interviews and probably challenging for anyone who has not taken the time to sit down and attempt to articulate the gospel. As I drove home, I wondered, "Is there a mist in our churches which has left its members in a fog? Can the average Muslim or Hindu articulate their faith?" If Christians can't articulate their faith in 60 seconds you would think that a faith so little invested in would be gone in 60 seconds.

As I pondered, I took comfort in the fact that both of these followers of Christ had come to know their Savior through the impact of the Church. Someone is clearly communicating the gospel. I also realized that if it had not been for someone in my own life who challenged me to take 15 minutes to write out the gospel so that it could be articulated in under 60 seconds, I too would struggle to give the gospel clearly. Can you articulate the gospel in 60 seconds?

Exercise: Write out the gospel in five sentences or less

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A View from the Zoo: part 4

Note: read first A View from the Zoo: Part 1, 2, and 3

Andy's surgery went well and in the end I received an extension on my thesis and was permitted to walk at commencement, but would have to graduate in the Summer. Tutoring wrapped up and commencement came and went. May flew by as I concentrated on sending out thank you's to those who had partnered with us through prayer and financial support over the last four years. In my weaker moments, I wondered if their prayers had diminished with the advent of my graduation. Until the last several weeks of seminary, we had experienced a hedge of protection and tranquility that would be hard to explain apart from the prayers of those who had partnered with us. But God answers prayers in His own ways!

I sent more thank you's to those who had very generously lavished graduation gifts upon me. In the midst of the storm in April through the present, God has continued to demonstrate His faithfulness and provision toward us in a myriad of ways. In May, He provided a short vacation and clothes for Luke through our Sunday School class. In June, He provided income through tutoring. In July, He allowed us to sell our car and buy a van, my thesis passed, and we took two trips to San Antonio, without Luke (Thanks, Aunt Suz!).

I had planned to have a job in April. This was then pushed back to May. The two week before the beginning of August found me encouraged with several churches nibbling and two phone interviews. This time it was a church in Canada and a church in Iowa. I was 1 of 4 being considered out of 93 applicants in Canada and 1 of 3 being considered out of 24 applicants in Iowa. They both seemed to be a good fit. I had been diligent in my job hunt and the fruits of my labor were beginning to show. August was about to arrive and my prospects of lining up employment before the end of the summer were plausible. The day we left for San Antonio, the church in Canada sent the "ding" e-mail. Ding = "God bless, but you are not the chosen one." Now we are willing to relocate to Canada if God wills, but to shift from 1,000 miles south of Indianapolis to 1,000 miles north of Indianapolis would be a challenge. I consoled myself by thinking that Iowa was in the mid-west and that I would never be in danger of picking up the terminology, "Eh?" That weekend, I whisked Katherine away to San Antonio to celebrate her and four years of being in Texas. August had now arrived.

This last Wednesday found us at the zoo. I'm still not sure whose bright idea it was for a 22 month old, an 8 month preggo, and an unemployed seminarian to go to the zoo in 105 degree weather, but it was a small victory. That afternoon, I got the call from the church in Iowa. I was not the chosen one. It was a blow! Katherine's tears spoke for us both. I am the one who is supposed to be the wordsmith, but my wife often is the more concise. "I am just tired of waiting!"

"Yep," I thought to myself as I trudged down to get the mail, "I think God's finally got me where He wants me. It's His sweet spot, I've been there before. I can taste it! It scares me to death and thrills me at the same time. It must be like an astronaut floating in space, it's amazing and terrifying at the same time. He has pushed me to the edge of my envelope . . . I wonder how far out into the deep he will take me . . . He won't take me too far, will He? No, He won't take me anywhere He is not. I wonder how I will respond . . . He won't give me more than I can bear, will He? No, He's promised not to do that. Is this what faith looks like for me?"

I reaching into the mail box while these questions assaulted my mind. I quickly noticed what appeared to be "real" mail as my wife calls it. The note was addressed to me. It was from Daniel. A dear friend of K and mine from Purdue days. [Daniel is a true Rennaisance man, but I revere him because of his prowess on the organ. I know that churches by the day are getting rid of these glorious instruments, but it is a mistake! Any instrument that can produce enough force to be felt in your chest wall while making melodies that can bring you to tears is a singularly powerful weapon in the arsenal of worship! So I am biased and I want Daniel to be my organist some day.]

I quote,

"I just wanted to drop a line to say 'congratulations!' and also send this little 'graduation booster [$].' It's been such a joy to follow you guys during simenary and keep getting your updates! Be encouraged now as you wait for the next step along the journey and don't forget God's promises for your good and His glory even amidst the depressing days where things aren't going as you'd like. Keep in touch my friends! You are loved and appreciated! God's grace on the next step! Daniel"

Parking at the zoo, $5; Admission to the zoo on half price admission day, $6 a seminary education so that I can be "dinged," $40,000; God's timing in all areas of my life, priceless!

Sola de gloria

Monday, August 10, 2009

A View from the Zoo: part 3

Note: read first A View from the Zoo: parts 1 and 2

April was the month of terrible Tuesdays. I had three of them and frankly I have a hard time remembering their exact order as the entire month runs together. A little background first, Aprils like Decembers are stressful for the seminarian. It is cruel, but seminary dictates that you you work hard all semester and then in the final month everything comes due! Being a statistics tutor at SMU, April is doubly a tense month because all of my students are stressed. My best students are stressed because they are fighting for an A and my less motivated students are now motivated and stressed because of fear.

I once had a conversation with my "tutoring" boss about what motivates people. I as the budding theologian declared that love is the greatest motivator. My boss who is a "realist" like myself, shook his head with a smirk and told me that the greatest motivator was fear. Looking back we were both right. Either way even as a seasoned tutor I would find myself struggling to not take on the stress of my students while at the same time continually having to assure myself that their failure was not mine. To compound all this academic stress I had not lined up a job yet and the reality was that the "profession" (sorry Piper!) that I would be entering boasts an average shelf life of five years. If you didn't know the average pastor lasts less than five years at his first church! Yet, stress is nothing new. It's part of life and I think its one of the greatest tools of seminary (possibly grad school). The question is can you learn to find balance and handle the stress in a God honoring way? [Note to self - blog on high cholesterol and stress].

Tuesday, I'll get there . . . a little more background first. My schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays my last semester were amazing (remember I have a dry sense of humor which should be applied to the use of this word)! I would leave at 6:40am. Arrive in the school parking lot at 7pm. Spend 30 minutes talking with the Lord. Classes from 7:45am - 10:40am. Work from 11-6pm and then if I was lucky we would have a CARES event or some type of meeting which would have me coming home at 9pm. The rest of my time was spent doing homework, writing a thesis, preparing Sunday school lessons, and oh yes, my social life which amounted to an hour with a fellow seminarian and a second hour with my supervisor for my internship at church . . . I was logging 6 days a week . . . and K was just as busy. On Sundays we napped like zombies!

The first Tuesday, I got the call while having my "quiet time." My friend Andy, the father of the little girl Caden who had passed away in September, had had a seizure and had been taken to the hospital. I prayed! While at work that morning, I was informed that a massive tumor had been found on his front lobe. The doctors were concerned, surgery was scheduled for Friday. He is in his early 30s!

The second Tuesday, I got the call while I was at work. My thesis readers had decided to not pass my thesis, a years worth of labor for not. I would not be graduating. I was not sure if I would be able to walk at graduation and for all I knew this would prolong our time in Dallas. I called my parents who had just bought their plane tickets to Dallas to share the news.

The third Tuesday, well I think it was actually a Friday, but it might as well have been a Tuesday. I got the call from K to call my dad, after 10 years of working for Abbott Labs, he was now unemployed.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A View from the Zoo: part 2

Note: read first A View from the Zoo: part 1

Not that God attacks His own, for I believe that this would be bad theology, but I'm enjoying the metaphor.

Looking back, God began his offensive into my life before I even had a chance to brace myself. He achieved this through several stunning blows into the lives of those around me. The first was the death of acquaintance by cancer - he was young and left behind a wife and three children. A month later a close friend of my father's and a role model to me passed away leaving behind his wife and four college age children. At the end of July as I celebrated the marriage of loved friend from college, cancer struck again and took home my mentor and good friend from college, Bob VanZante. While these passings formed ever narrowing concentric circles around my life, a direct hit was achieved in September when I received an agonizing phone call from one of my closest friends that his beautiful little girl had died suddenly - she was not even a year old.

Seminary is an unconcerned mistress and time does not pause. December came quick and at this point I began to brace. But school progressed, academically I excelled, and I even scheduled an important meeting with a perspective employer during Christmas break. Exciting news arrived two days before Christmas, we found out we were pregnant! It was planned, but I still felt the sharp teeth of responsibility biting down a little tighter as I rolled out of bed the next morning.

My final semester was my lightest, apart from wrapping up my thesis. During this time God continued to bountifully provided through Apartment Life, our faithful donors, and my part time job tutoring. Mid February I began job hunting in earnest. I had a several nibbles a church in MI as an Adult Education Director, a church in IA as a Young Marrieds Pastor, and a church in PA which stood me up for a phone interview. Don't mention this to my wife she is still a little miffed!

Then a month before graduation, I was out flanked and the center of my line threatened to crumble.

[You will have to pardon all of the military metaphor. I have been reading Churchill's History of the English Speaking People and am currently concluding his account of the American Civil War. Probably shouldn't read this right before I go to bed as I think it's effecting my writing.]

The Uncaging of an Unloved Son - Part 2

THE DESCENT OF A SON: The Taming of Tamar

The brothers Judah and Joseph share similar baggage - they both come from a family that plays favorites.

The brothers Judah and Joseph share similar abilities - they are both leaders, who think on their feet.

While I admire the character of Joseph I struggle to relate to him. He is pristine and above board. While at times Joseph finds himself down on his luck, the writer of Genesis declares that the "Lord was with Joseph." Theologians argue over Joseph's attitude portrayed as a youth mainly because scripture does not focus here instead it looks at God's providence (explained well as God's hand in the glove of history) in the history of Abraham's line and over geopolitical politics. Joseph comes across like a piece of Teflon to which no flaw or evil will stick. Cool, but I don't relate.

I find in the character of Judah companionship. In Judah I see my own flaws and failures. Judah is a "round" character not a "flat" character like his brother Joseph. Judah makes his entrance onto the pages of scripture as an unloved and unprotected son, his name means "Yahweh will be praised," and we first notice him when he convinces his brothers to sell their father's favorite brother into slavery. A hater of his brother, with little care for his father, a profiteer, a leader among his brothers, this guy is real and raw!

In Genesis 38 we see the character of Judah explode onto the scene. While many commentators have debated the necessity or point of this chapter. It should be seen as a crucial foil (or contrast) leading up to Genesis 39 (see "... went down" in 38 and 39) with great irony and contrast connecting it to the previous Jacob narrative. It also contains an important lesson for those who will take the time ponder.

I. Judah's Lack of Faith (vv. 1-5) ~ Oops - Ps 1:1-3
A. Bad company - Prov 13:20
B. Despised God's Word
God's promise to: Abraham - Gen 12, 15, 17:18; Isaac - Gen 26:1-6; Jacob - Gen 35:9-12
C. Lack of Love - John 13:34-35
Joseph, Jacob, Hirah (saw, took, went-in), and Tamar
D. Fear - Prov 29:25

II. The Consequence of Judah's Lack of Faith - Suffering (vv. 6-11) ~ Ugh - Ps 1:4-6
A. Two Sons Die
[Irony - Judah takes a son and looses two. Feels the pain of His Father!]
Er ~ sin unto death? (1 Jn 5:16); Onan ~ no love for his brother, like father like son
B. A Daughter-in-Law Abused

III. God's Faithfulness through Tamar (vv. 12-25) ~ Oh - Is 55:8-9
A. A Credit Card Lost
[Contrast - Joseph flees; Jacob's deception]
1. Judah's lack of character ~ impulsive - 1 Cor 10:13
2. Judah's arogance ~ save face
3. Judah hypocracy ~ judges while knowing no shame - Matt 18:15-16

IV. The consequence of God's faithfulness - character (v. 26) ~ Ahh - Rom 8:28-30; Is 43:25
A. Judah comes clean
B. Judah does right

V. The consequence of God's faithfulness - blessing (v. 27-30) ~ Yippee - Jude 24-25
A. Tamar heroen; Perez - Ruth 4:18-22
B. God is not done with Judah

Judah had little if any faith and was a failure as a brother, son, husband, father, father-in-law...he was slavetrader, who kept bad company, spurned God's promises, he had no self control, was self-preserving, self-centered, judgemental, a hypocrit . . . then God stepped in!

Our lives are like Judah's
- habitual sin in our lives
- gaping holes in our character: anger, fear, lust, pride
- baggage from our past
- bad decisions -financially, as parents
- struggles in our marriages, with our kids, disfunction with our parents
- lack of faith in the midst of adverse circumstances ~ Is 43:25

Do our failures and lack of faith negate God's faithfulness? No! ~ 2 Tim 2:13

Our failures are no match for God's faithfulness!
He forgives our sin, he builds character, and he blesses!

As His children God is in the process of conforming you to His image ~ Rom 8:28-30
Are you letting God build charcter? or is He having to use extra-ordinary methods?

Why should I live by faith if God will build character in my life any way . . . you want a life like Judah's?

What part can we play in our faith . . . do everything that Judah didn't do:
1. Pick wise friends
2. Make God's word a priority
3. Love others
4. Do what you know to be right even in the face of adversity
5. Flee Temptation
6. Be quick to acknowledge your sin

Exegetical: ~ Ps 106:8
Judah's lack of faith which brought great consequences did not hinder God's ability to build character into His chosen people or jeopardize God's faithful in light of His promises of blessing
Theological: ~ 2 Tim 2:13
Man's lack of faith does not comprimise God's faithfulness
Homiletical: ~ Phil 1:6 ~ 2 Cor 12:9
Our failures are no match for God's faithfulness


Genesis 38:1-5

1) “departed” – lit. went down (note: connective to chapter 39)
Leaves his brothers for company of a Canaanite (Prov 13:2) – Bad Decision #1
2) progression – “saw,” “took,” “went in” = no relationship ~ consumer
Spurns his families covenant; Abraham and Isaacs example – Bad Decision #2
Note: where is Jacob’s influence?

Genesis 38:6-8

Further Study: Levirate Marriage (Deut 25:5-6; Ruth 4:5, 10, 17)

Genesis 38:9-11

6) Tamar ~ “Palm Tree”
7) Psalm 1:6b
8) Levirate Marriage
9) Used her ~ consumer “like father like son”
Marriage between a man and his brother’s wife forbidden (Lev 18:16, 20:21)
Masturbation v coitus interruptus
11) Judah as her Father-in-law has control; Tamar can’t marry or move on
Further Study: Lineage (Gen 2:24, Matt 19:5, Eph 5:31)
Judah has now felt the pain of losing a son; He has felt the pain of his father
à Pain is a the tool that God uses to mark the mature (James 1:2-4)
à Fear immobilizes, Faith empowers (Josh 1:9)

Gensis 38:12-26

15-17) Goat ~ impulsive (pure avarice, lust)
18) Seal and your cord/Staff – the equivalent of leaving your credit card in a brothel
20-22) “Harlot” = whore: “Cult Prostitute” = escort
23) Save face
24) “Harlot” = whore ~ my honor
Prostitutes were stoned at the city gates and in some cases their bodies were
25) “Please examine and see;” paralleled to Jacob in 37:31
Goat and personal article; paralleled to Jacob in 37:32
B) Bred Character
26) Judah learns to stake oneself for principal ~ takes it on the chin
No Incest

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A View from the Zoo: part 1

One of my favorite books is called A View from the Zoo. I recommend it to anyone who is struggling with their devotional life or going through a dark season of life. The content of the book is straight forward and simple, far from the tomes that I had to read in seminary, with contents that bring home the nitty gritty of life. Each vignette in the book talks about a trial or adversity that plays out within the inter workings of everyday zoo life, but the stories always end with a view of God's faithfulness steadily unfolding behind the scenes.

While this book was one of my childhood favorites, it came to my mind this week for two reasons. The first was our second trip to the Fort Worth zoo. Wednesday K took the day off and I took a break from job hunting. We went on half-price admission day, imagine that!

Luke lasted through the primates, probably because we had kept telling him all week that we were going to leave him with the "howler" monkeys. For you who have never been to the Fort Worth zoo, the primates are the first exhibit. This was actually an improvement from the year before when we weren't even sure that he noticed the animals. Free advice, never take a one year old to the zoo! K, being 37 weeks pregnant, lasted to the pachyderms, the second exhibit. Here the reader should be reminded that this is not a name for my wife, but the technical term for elephants and there should be no association between the two. I lasted to the lions and at this point the 105 degree heat combined with the Jack-Daniels bbq sunflower seeds had us heading for civilization.

Fortunately, the trip was declared a marvelous success by all. As we road home I thanked God for this small victory. It was needed! The second reason that I thought of A View from the Zoo is because it has been three months since I jumped out of the crucible of seminary into the fire of life and I have been thinking a lot about God's sovereignty. Physically, I had been gearing up for this transition from seminary since last September when I had begun to think about graduation in May. This was followed by the compolation of my resume, philosophies of ministries, and strategizing about job hunting (Nov-Jan) and then by the job hunt (Feb). Mentally, I had braced myself. Not for God's directive (calling) or even his provision (though a continual temptation) as my confidence in these areas has grown over the last four and a half years, but instead I was bracing myself for God's timing. God knows me better than I know myself, and we we both know that I enjoy control. Hence the bracing! In a positive light control is known as structure, order, predictability, consistency, etc. . . in the negative control is my own perceived divine right to rule over the affairs and circumstances of my life, how American!

The majority of time and situations in my life I have felt like I have control (merely a feeling!), but then there has been the minority of times which have consistently traversed my life...being a "late bloomer," being turned down for an RA position twice, dating K, watching my hairline recede, unemployment early on during marriage, the close of the door to dental school, heading to seminary, trying to get pregnant. In all of these citations I have seen God work for the good, but in the midst of the fray, I have never enjoy the timing. Well, it has been four years and it felt to me that God had been long over do. God's consistently refuses to operate on my time table in major life events. I should share at this point that I do want God to work in my life and I don't want to run (pointless) or wrestle (think Jacob) because I have done both and been completely miserable. I hope that I have matured from my past encounters with the Almighty. Yet, the time was ripe and launching from seminary was definitely a major life event and we all know that I still had more to learn about waiting, like learning to enjoy God's timing, so I scrambled to brace myself for the impending onslaught.

As always I was not able to pick the field of battle or foresee His plan of attack...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Making Memories

Romance movies often contain the often predictable scene where the male character, who is himself way too predictable and usually independently wealthy, whisks away his true love to the big city or some exotic place...while this feat is plausible the part where the lady's bag is packed and prepared down to the matching shoes for the evening dress is not. I tried. It is impossible! Hey, if you know me, you know that I'm a details guy, but there is nothing more challenging then packing your wife's bag when she is eight months pregnant. I did manage to completely surprise her though and steal her away for a weekend to San Antonio (without the little man in tow).

I have found that we were given good advice when we were told to intentionally take time to get away (at least three or four times a year) to make memories. So to celebrate the anniversary of our fourth year in Texas, to get a break from job hunting, and to get some time before the baby's arrival, I made reservations at the Omni Mansion del Rio (balcony rooms on the river).

Highlights of the trip included a pit stop in Austin to grab dinner at Fazolies. The one blight on Dallas is that there are no Fazolies in Dallas and therefore every chance we get we make it a point to eat at Fazolies. We were so giddy about it that K kept asking me, "does this make you as happy as it does me." And I declared that I preferred Fazolies to the Olive Garden! Ok, so we were being irrational. You will have noticed that I use the word "pit" in conjunction with Austin. It was intentional. I am still a little miffed at Austin traffic. We caught rush hour traffic on both sides of the city coming and going.

Upon our arrival at the hotel, we found a complimentary beverage next to the $6 bottled water which I forbade K to touch, a note from the concierge, and the room had been turned down. So what does a couple who has been married for almost six years do when they happen upon such a romantic setting, that's right...we went and got dessert.

The rest of our time was delightful and included a morning self-guided tour of the four additional missions to the Alamo which run along the San Antonio River valley. Built in the 17 century these are some of the oldest structures that I have seen in North America. The only thing that may out date these would be the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, CO. We then took in a movie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The Mrs. likes her popcorn as we skipped lunch in favor of this snack. For dinner we dined on a balcony over-looking the river walk at a quaint restaurant, Zuni's, where K had shrimp and I, the land lover, had a burger. Yes, my tastes are not quite as refined, but truth be known, I was really craving a steak...ahh, the things we sacrifice for those we love...she wanted fish!

Our day ended watching CSI. Sad, I know, but when you don't have tv or the time to watch tv you find that you get rather excited about the mundane. Though when you don't watch much tv and then take in a show like CSI, you do not have mundane dreams!

Aside from being alone with my bride, I enjoyed the balcony, not having to make my own bed, the beauty of the river walk, the five bars of soap that were given to me by the maid with whom I was chatty, the terrycloth bathrobes, the great deal that I got on the room ($80 for a $240 room) and the free complimentary coffee which was delivered to our door each morning.