Why I'm giving up my time for Lent

In the last few months it's been a little hard to maintain this blog to level I'm used to.  My time is being eaten up lately, by school, work ... but not as much by family.  At least not as much for my family as it should.

Last week I had two mid-terms.  Two weeks before that I had two major papers due in the same week.  I will say this - I'm blessed to have a wife and kid who understand when dad needs to study rather than play, read rather than go out, write rather than sit back on the couch with a glass of wine.

Although we make time for all of these things, it's tough, and we have to literally schedule everything in.  Leanne and I have a family meeting every Sunday night after the kid goes to bed just to walk through the week's schedule.  It's crucial time.  We're both spread out, both trying to bring excellence to our careers while I'm also trying to win at school.

We're doing a whole lot of thing at once these days.  And trying to be awesome at it.  But sometimes we come up short.

A lot of that has to do with time, which there's just not enough of.

So, as a family, and it just kind of happened, we're giving up time during Lent, or rather, giving time to each other as a family, and to our friends.  We're hoping to find renewal, that calm and quiet center, that the season of Lent is calling us to.

Three things have come together in just the last week where we'll be focusing more time for team building, toddler raising, and good discussion.

  1. Leanne went to see author, speaker, and UMC clergyperson, Rev. Leanne Hadley last week give a seminar on family prayer.  Leanne, was pretty fired up about it, so we decided during Lent that we'd give her model of family prayer time with little ones a try during Lent.  The first time was last night.  We read scripture, colored, and prayed as a family, giving little man a chance to share what he could.  All in about 20 minutes.  It went pretty well!
  2. After the kid is off to bed on Sunday nights, Leanne and are reading Love to Stay, by Adam Hamilton together.  We haven't done any kind of book study together since pre-marital counseling.  We figured this was a good one to do together, and the church had everything we needed.  Every marriage needs 'regularly scheduled maintenance', so we're setting aside about an hour to go through a chapter a week.
  3. We're hosting another online Bible study for young adults during Lent.  Sure, this one is technically work ... but, any time devoted to discussion of the Word is good for the soul, and something I don't do enough of in my church context.  Bible study only done at seminary doesn't lead to a balanced theological life.  We kick things off tonight, tying our study to our sermon series on the Seven Last Words of Christ.
Time is at a premium in all of our lives, but it's through the giving of our time that we can not only make room for the friends and family around us, but make room for the Lord to come in and stir things up - which as I understand it, is the whole point of the season of Lent.

How much time do you devote to your people in the name of Jesus?  Maybe rather than giving up caffeine, or chocolate, or Facebook, it's time to think of what we're called to take in during this wonderful season of prayer and introspection.

Focusing on the Family

I had the afternoon off last Sunday.  A non-church staff member might say, "Yeah ... so?"

In eight years of ministry, it hasn't happened that often.  For years Sunday morning has been a grind (95% of the time an extremely blessed one) from 7am or so to 6pm ... Or so ...

During the school year, when student choir rehearsals are going on, Sunday has usually been an 11+ hour day.  I say this not to complain - a minister signs up for these things - just to illustrate how wonderful it can be to have a Sunday afternoon off.

Sure, I often went home for lunch between worship and rehearsal for an hour or two.  But for my family, I might as well not have come home some of those Sundays.  I was pretty worthless as a human, dad, and husband.  My wife signed up for it with me, but that didn't negate the occasional tension in the house.  For me, coming home for lunch was just that - a lunch break, not really a time to get stuff done around the house, interact with my wife, or play with my kid.

That was just part of Sunday.  So when we new we'd have the occasional Sunday afternoon together, those afternoons were circled very brightly on the family calendar as a day to do something different or special.  Because dad could be all-in on family time.

In our family, and in most church staff families, my spouse works a mostly 9 to 5 job Monday through Friday.  So, while most families get a full weekend together we've generally just had Saturday.  I've always taken Friday as my day off.  It's always been a balancing act on the weekends, wanting to cram as much family time into Saturday as we can, while making sure to find time just to rest.

At Perkins, we had to take a class called "Spiritual Formation", a class designed in a group setting to introduce us to various spiritual disciplines.  The idea behind the program is to encourage those studying to work in ministry to start taking on spiritual disciplines as a way to keep you centered on Christ and family.  It encourages the students to find a way to keep a balanced and healthy spiritual life.  The class exists because those in ministry can have a really hard time maintaining a spiritual life that grounds a person.  It may seem ironic to someone who doesn't work in ministry, as those in ministry are there to help others find their way spiritually, but there it is.

Leanne and I work very hard during the work week to keep our family's spiritual life in balance, and we've chosen several family spiritual disciplines to keep us on the right path.  We eat dinner together, at the dinner table with the TV turned off, nearly seven nights a week.  We pray with Wesley before we put him to bed.  We've started a Bible-in-a-year reading plan (it'll end up being more like a Bible-in-a-year-and-a-half when we wrap it up).  And we pray with each other as a husband and wife before we go to sleep.

We've come up with most of this on our own, and we're accountable to each other.  But ... Rarely does somebody from the local church actually check on us.

The world needs to be let in on this: pastors and staff members have messy lives, just as much if not more-so than the average congregant.  And especially just as messy in one of our harder to swallow American statistics - divorce.  It's hard to find clear data on divorce rates amongst clergy, but nearly everything I could find essentially stated that clergy divorce rates are the same as everybody else (and apparently higher among female clergy).

So, I'd like to pose a few questions to Pastors, SPR/PPR members, and laity:
What are you doing to see that your staff is taking care of itself spiritually (as individuals and as a whole staff)? 
What are the vacation and time off benefits you have allocated to your staff?
   And do you encourage your staff to take that much needed time off? 
Do you provide health insurance for your staff?  Do you see that they take advantage of the benefits? 
Do you pray with and for your staff?  Do they know that?
Some times of the year are much busier than others ... I added up the hours I worked during this last Holy Week and I stopped counting after 70.  Advent and Christmas has it's own hurdles.  The whole ministry staff puts in these hours during the all-hands-on-deck events to help bless the communinity and create God experiences, but:
Do you help your staff keep track of the hours they work and take the necessary time off to balance things out?
Your staff needs your help.  It never becomes more evident at the sacrifice my whole family makes for my (our) career in ministry until I get a Sunday afternoon off.  Think about it.

Family Spritual Disciplines: We Read the Word Together

Earlier this week I posted my sermon on Mary and Martha, focusing on how to bring heaven down to earth and into our family homes.  As I was writing that sermon, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to get a book's worth of material into a less-than-25-minute message.  So I filed a few details for later and decided that this would be a good start to a series on Family Spiritual Disciplines.

Really, I'm just going to tell you what my wife and I do to make sure that we're not only in touch with eachother, but that we're always sure that we're inviting Christ to be a member of the family as well.  I'm kicking things off with a recent addition to our life together, and one that has been more fun than I ever thought it would be: reading scripture together on a daily basis.

When Leanne and I first were married, really back to the start of our engagement, reading scripture was a big part of our routine.  On Leanne's very first visit, actually, she brought with her to Louisiana a copy of Stookey's This Day devotional guide.  On our first date we took the time to read scripture and pray together.  It was a bit of a make it or break it moment for us ... When she pulled that book out and suggested we pray I had to either decide if I was in or out.  Was a I really ready for this?  I mean, praying together?  And reading scripture?  Well, I took the plunge.

We kept it up as often as we could, following the lectionary reading plan in the book.  But soon after we were married, the daily reading went by the wayside.  I'll take a bit of blame for it ... The devotional plan in the book is amazing, but it does take time.  Leanne would bring it up every once in a while, and I would promptly change the subject.

A couple of months ago, we were both thirsting to add reading daily scripture to our routine, we just weren't sure where to start.

Enter, the Youversion Bible ap.

At the start of the summer Leanne took on a 90-day Bible challenge.  It was very difficult and it was easy to get behind on with our crazy schedules.  She had to give it up - it wasn't exactly soul-filling to be stressed about getting in 12 chapters every night.  But it stuck in my mind.

A couple of months ago we were talking and decided together that we would take on a Bible reading challenge as partners.  Except, rather than 90 days, we're following a year-long plan to get us through the Word.  I'm happy to say it's gone real well, with only a couple of delays a long the way.  In 2 months, we've gotten up to Deauteronomy, and it's actually been ... fun ...

We do read the Bible out loud and take turns reading chapters.  It never takes more than 10 minutes as you're only reading 3 to 4 chapters per night.  The plan that we've chosen also closes with a Psalm to pray after the readings, and that's a beautiful element.  The fun element, though, is really getting a sense of the narrative of our salvation story.  Reading it this fast, we're not reading it for details, but we do get a sense of the different voices involved in the writing of the Word.  It's fascinating study and a blessing to my wife and I.   We've started a journey together with this, and because we're doing it together, we hold each other accountable to make sure we finish.  For us, we needed a system to keep us on track and we're thankful for a tool - one that breaks the boundaries between my Android phone and her iPhone.  It reminds me of the peaceful kingdom.

Does your family read scripture together on a regular basis?

God of Heaven Come Down - Into Our Homes

On September 30, I was given the opportunity to preach in worship, for the first time in several years.  I've given talks, read devotionals, and lead a lot of worship in public, but this was the first time in a long time I'd been given the opportunity to preach the word.

Several weeks back, I wrote a post on the new mission statement we were rolling out as a church family and that I was tasked with the second Sunday, bringing heaven down to earth - in our homes.

I had high hopes for the content of the message, but my outline set the bar pretty high in the time-consuming department.  I wasn't ready to give, nor was the congregation ready to hear, an hour long message dealing with my limited experience in the marriage/dad department.

So, I took some advice from Gospel Lesson for the day and focused on the one thing: dinner.

Before going any further, pull out your favorite translation of the Word, and read Luke10:38-42.
Lord God, steady our hearts this morning.  There's so much to be worried about, so much to do.  Help us at this time, to settle down and listen.  Help us to know what you would have us do, right now.  In your son's precious name we pray, amen.

You may have heard that we’re launching a new mission statement for our faith family … As we’ve been listening and praying for discernment in the way forward for FUMC Duncanville, we chose to get back to the basics of the faith, the reason Christ came down among us to begin with … to usher in the Kingdom Time, to come down as the incarnate Word of God and bring heaven down with him.  The new vision for our church family is the same vision that Christ laid down before us when he taught the disciples to pray that night, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven …”  As we seek to do the Lord’s will together here, to bring down the Lord’s will into this place, we’ve broken down the goal of what it means to bring heaven down to earth in five ever-widening and interconnected circles – starting with ourselves, then to our families, to our church family, our community, and then to the ultimate goal, the transformation of the world in which we live.  Today we bring our focus to the family, families that come in all shapes, and all sizes. 
The story of Mary and Martha is one that often comes to mind when I’m in my own home.  Spend five minutes in our house on a normal day and it won’t be hard to guess who in our home has tendencies towards being Mary or Martha.
I’m not going to lie here … Much of my day is geared towards getting back to my couch, putting my feet up, turning on the TV, and chilling out.  I especially love my Fridays, my day off, my time for me and me alone.  Time to catch up on the DVR, all those that I don't have time to get to during the week … I should say though, that changed a lot when I got married, and then changed again when Wesley came along.  I feel like I’ve adapted pretty well along the way, though.
But there was no time more evident that Leanne and I had different takes on relaxation then a certain Friday, about six months into our marriage. 

A little background is necessary here ...  After I graduated from Perkins in 08, I didn’t have anything holding me back from doing something crazy with my life.  I had worked at my home church in Farmers Branch for three years, and as I was wrapping up my Masters studies I was interviewing for the Music Directors job at my church as my boss and mentor was retiring after 25 years in ministry with my church family.  I was brought in to learn the ropes in Farmers Branch, but then an opportunity came up in Slidell, Louisiana and when the job in Slidell was offered, I took it.  It was an opportunity to get out on my own and have fun.  I had no girlfriend at the time and my family was supportive, so I made the big move.  And then, Leanne and I connected back in Dallas. 
Long story short, as soon as Leanne and I got started, we knew that this was it.  Even though we had known each other for a couple of years, circumstances had never lined up for us to get to know one another.  Between her having a boyfriend when she came to seminary, to my frequent naps in the basement of the seminary library, things just hadn’t come together for us.  We reconnected before a friend’s wedding, started talking non-stop, and next thing I know she’s visiting Louisiana.  Two dates, an evacuation, a Halloween party, and a change in my phone plan because I kept running out of minutes and text messages, and I asked her to marry me. 
And then, here's the real magic, I somehow convinced her that moving to Louisiana was a good idea.  She wasn’t too happy about it at first.  My career was just getting started, so I needed to stay put for a bit.  As she was just finishing seminary, she had a little bit more career flexibility than I had, but she knew no one in LA beyond my circle of friends.  We settled into our new life together after we were married, but the first job she landed wasn’t the best fit for our family.  Happy wife, happy life, right?
After a hard couple of months at that first job, we talked, argued, and eventually prayed together – we knew she needed to quit it.  In the following months, Leanne made work for herself – putting together 3 or 4 part time jobs during a bit of an in-between time.
It was during that time that we had to have little come-to-Jesus meeting regarding our Fridays.
One of the jobs Leanne worked was out of the home, taking customer service phone calls out of our home office in the morning.  It was all good Monday through Thursday while I was in the office, but things got a little hairy when I was home on Fridays.  Like I said, I need my chill out on the couch time.  Leanne, however, is a mover.  She’s always on the move during the day.  That’s not to say that she doesn’t know how to relax, but she took a little offense to my sitting on the couch while she worked.  In between calls Leanne would do chores, cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming, putting things away.  So of course, I needed to be doing that too.  Which of course, I didn’t.  That’s not to say that I don’t pick up after myself, but clutter does tend to follow me around.
One day things came to a head.  Things got heated.  Big time.  But when things cooled off we sat and hashed things out.  You see, we had competing sets of expectations.  I expected to get my Sabbath time in on Friday, my time of rest.  And she expected not to do all of the housework on her own.  So how do we deal?  One night a week we take 30 minutes and do our chores, clean the bathrooms, really clean the kitchen, vacuum and pick up the house.  Her Martha, and my Mary (I guess), coming together to peacefully coexist.  That’s not to say it’s not a lot of crazy hard work, but we prayerfully work as a team.  I’m of the thinking that bringing heaven down into our families looks like teamwork.
And I tell you what, it’s good that we had these debates early on, because bringing a baby, even a baby as good looking and happy as Wesley has further turned our life on it’s head.  I mean that in the best possible way.
To bring it back to Mary and Martha, I know that there are probably a lot of moms, and dads if you like to cook as much as I do, that would probably raise their hands and say, “Well, Jesus, who’s going to cook dinner if I don’t?”  And I would say that that’s not necessarily the point here … In speaking to Martha, he offers words like ‘distracted’ and ‘worry’.  He’s not saying that offering hospitality isn’t important, but that here at his feet, Mary is learning how to be a disciple.  He wanted Martha to join them. 

But even then, there’s a lot to unpack here in these five verses.
Number one being that Jesus really knew this family.  These are the sisters of Lazarus, the one whom Jesus loved, his friend.  He took his lumps from these sisters when their brother died, and he wept for their brother before calling Lazarus out the tomb, foreshadowing Christ’s own mastery over death.  Mary is also the wise one who anointed Christ’s feet with perfume and her own tears, as if anointing him for his own burial.  These women, this family, they knew Jesus.  So it’s not out of the realm of understanding to see the familiar way in which Martha addresses, to Jesus, her problems with Mary.  She knows who he is, teacher, healer, Son of the Most High, but she still speaks to him as if he’s her own brother. 

The part that was missing here, though, the step that Martha didn’t take before getting upset was to take a moment herself and ask Christ, “What should I be doing right now?”  It’s not that she was doing anything wrong, and we know that Christ doesn’t see anything wrong with what Mary’s doing either.  But Martha didn’t take the time to ask, “What does the Son of God need from me right now?”  Jesus needed her to take some time, and chill out, and listen – as family.
Christ wasn’t just an honored guest in her home, he wasn’t just there as teacher, either.  He was there as a member of the family.  And much like for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Christ wants to be a member of our family, and a presence in our own households.
So how do we know that we’re keeping Christ a presence in our home?  How do we know that we’re seeking his will for our families?  As a friend in ministry put it to me, “How do I know that I’m living in God’s perfect will for my life?”
Do you pray as a family?  Do you read scripture as a family?  Do you break bread together as a family?  Do you support the church’s mission with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness as a family?  It’s the challenge before us to seek the Lord’s will together as families.
I could spend all day speaking to you of family spiritual disciplines, and as I was discerning a way through this message, I nearly planned a sermon that would have.  But I’ll take a little advice from Jesus on this one, and focus on one thing …
Is there a room in your household that you consider to be it’s heart?  That room is usually the kitchen.  If you’re like Leanne and I, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  And when we were looking for a place to live when we were moving here, having a good sized kitchen was high priority, but we were also seeking an open floor plan (like many of you, I’m guessing) where the kitchen, dining room, and living room were all connected and open to one another.  We love having people over, so having a large space to host our family and friends was high on the list.  After moving in the first major purchase we made, after buying the first couch for either of us that wasn’t a hand-me-down from college, was a large outdoor grill to make sure I could grill for the neighborhood.  Gathering as a family with plenty of food to share is our very favorite things to do together.  Our kitchen is truly where the heart of our home is.  It’s a place where we can model Christ’s love for one another, Leanne, myself, and Wesley.
Would it surprise you to know that in households that eat dinner together fewer than three times per week, teens are 3.5 times more likely to abuse prescription drugs and to have use illegal drugs other than marijuana, 3 times more likely to use marijuana, more than 2.5 times more likely to smoke a cigarette, and 1.5 times more likely to try alcohol, according to a recent study done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.  In families that eat dinner together fewer than three times per week, teens and children are 20% more likely to have C’s or lower on their report cards.  In households where families eat together at least 5 times per week, teens are 81% more likely to actually tell parents what’s going on in their lives.  With fewer than three dinners per week that stat drops by half*.
I know a lot of parents out there can get out the family calendar on the phone and say, "There’s no way we could eat more together!".  But the stats are what they are.  And parents, it might surprise you to know, but of the 2,000 teens that were interviewed for the CASA study, 60% said they wanted to eat with their families more often.  When you look at statistics, wouldn’t you say it’s worth the time?  They say that especially for young children, family meals are essential to learning how to interact with adults and building their vocabularies.
The family meal creates a time for holy conversation.  It provides an opportunity to get off the spiritual milk that Pastor Josh mentioned last week in his message and move toward the spiritual food that the Lord wants to nourish us with.  I asked you earlier, Do you pray together as families?  Don’t many of us, when we’re gathered at the dinner table, first say grace?  It is at that point that we’re inviting the Lord down to take a seat with us, much as Christ was offered a seat at the table of Mary and Martha’s house.
I like even better how Eugene Peterson translates our lesson for today in the Message:
38-40 As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.”
41-42 The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”
I would challenge us as families not to underestimate the power of the dinner table.  We can find nourishment there, not just for our bodies, but our souls as families.  It’s a place where we can live out the Gospel with one another, to talk with one another, to pray with one another, to dig deeper in the faith with one another – to get to the spiritual food that will grow us into our faiths.  But we can’t also forget to make sure that we invite Christ to that table.  We can’t forget to ask Heaven to come down and dwell with us – because when we ask for heaven to come down to us, it will.

Is it any wonder that one of the most important ways in which we remember Christ is to join together in the Holy Supper that Christ instituted?  He calls on us to remember him in simple foods of bread and wine, things that are staples of the dinner table.  Christ reminds us through the sacrament that he is an essential part of our lives and he is meant to be shared with the family, as a family.
I would be missing an important opportunity if I didn’t share with you one more important way that we, as families in the faith, can make sure that Christ is front and center and supported with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
When we were first married, Leanne and I went through a pretty lean time financially.  But we felt convicted, even during that tough time to tithe to the church of which we were members.  The Lord taught us that, and told us of the requirement in the Holy Word.  Giving a tenth of our income, from our first fruits, is part of being a member of Christ’s Own Body.  We worked our way up to that tithe over the first few months of our marriage, making it a budgetary priority.  And now that tithe is a non-negotiable part of our budget.  When we sit at the table to chat about the budget each month, the tithe is one thing that we don’t need to talk about – that 10% of our income isn’t even ours.  It belongs to the Lord.  It’s not a tax, it’s a requirement of the Lord.  We give it up to the Lord, to the faith family of which we’re a part to make sure that the Lord’s work of bringing heaven down to the earth is able to be sustained.  But, this isn’t a sermon about tithing, so I’m going to prayerfully leave it at that.
You may have been wondering during this time, “What’s the music guy doing giving a sermon?”  Well, a couple of months ago I let Reverend Marie know that if there ever was a time that she needed a break, and Josh or Jim weren’t available, I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to preach the message.  It’s been since then that Leanne and I, and the rest of my family have been doing a lot of praying together and doing some call discernment.  It’s with great joy this morning that I get to share with you some good news – God has put a new call on my heart and I’m now a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church as an Elder.
God has been working this on me quite a while, and you never know what can happen when you turn yourself to God and say, “Lord, here I am, what would you have me do?”  I did that 10 years ago when I first felt my call to ministry, and as a musician I’ve had wonderful opportunities to live out the Gospel and share God moment’s with people of the faith.  But as I’ve asked the question of the Lord again, I feel God calling me to seek out people that aren’t of the faith, people of my generation who don’t know that healing touch that Christ can bring to our lives.  People who don’t know that they need the Lord.  As I’ve felt out the candidacy process for the last several months, Leanne and I know that we’re called to do church in new ways, through church planting.  The UMC is waking up to the needs of the local community, to meet the needs of the world block by block if necessary.  We don’t know what the future holds, we’re just beginning the process as a family, but we’re so excited to see what the Lord has in store for us, here at FUMC Duncanville and abroad.
Leane and I, with Wesley, are in constant prayer with one another, praying for the Lord to show us the way to give God the Glory through our life together.  Our families goal is to join with God in bringing that Kingdom Time to pass, to help God in bringing that heavenly, peaceful, kingdom down to earth.  It starts in our own hearts, and then it takes us working together as one, keeping Christ in the family to keep things on track.  Our deepest desire is to aid God in making disciples for the transformation of the world, and God’s desire for us is to work together as a family to make that happen.  It’s hard work to make sure we’re keeping Christ as a member of our household, and from our family to yours, we give thanks to God that we have a church family to help us along the way.
Thanks be to God, Amen.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!  How do you bring heaven down into your home?

*for more information on these stats, check this out

Looking to the Door

My boy first stood himself up a little over a month ago.  It was a crazy experience.  We had some friends over for dinner, and one of the families at our house has a one-year-old little girl - who's a walking maniac.  So, my boy, stood himself up for the first time while she was looking - you know - showing off for a chick.  We all cheered and cheered for him.  Which then got him upset.  Too many loud noises.

Of course, now my wife and I know that our lives are over.  He's standing all the time now, and is even shuffling a long the couch a little bit.  Walking isn't too far away.

Just after he stood up for the first time in our living room I had to lower his crib mattress, because it wasn't two days later that he was standing up in his crib.

But he, of course, has never missed an opportunity to use his new skills to manipulate mom and dad.  What's sadder than a sobbing baby standing in his crib and clinging to the rails wanting us to come in and get him out?  Invariably he's facing the door to his nursery - crying with the assurance that we'll come to door, feel sorry for creating this silly thing called 'bedtime', pick him up and take him to play all night.

I say invariably - but there was one exception.  A heart-breaking one.

My wife and I try really hard to let him cry it out.  Once the door closes on bedtime, we do our best to wait out the sobs.  But one night he just wouldn't stop with the crying.

It was my turn to calm him down, so I went in, expecting to see my boy grin when I opened the door. 

But this time he was facing the back of the room.  He was clinging to the back rail of his crib and sobbing.  He was stuck - standing was still really new to him, and he didn't know yet how to get out of it.  So he was stuck, crying, and facing the wrong direction.  He couldn't face the door - he didn't know how.  He couldn't face the door that his help comes from.

God taught me something about God's parental love that night, though.  I went and picked him up, rocked him, calmed him down, and put him back down to bed.  But it's stuck with me ever since.

I hope that when I get stuck, crying, and facing the wrong direction, I can remember that I do know to face the door my help comes from.
I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
   Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
   the maker of heaven and earth.
                                   Psalm 121:1-2

Heaven in the Home

In about two weeks our faith family will launch a new vision statement for the community, hoping to usher in a new era in it's call to minister to it's surrounding community.  This faith community has done it's share of the visioning process over the last several years, hiring consultants, doing retreats ... Only to have things setback over and over by various things that happen in ministry (pastoral and staff changes, changing dynamics in the community, facility renovations, etc.).

As a staff, we decided it's time to fish or cut bait.  So we've taken the work that had been done over the last several years and the conversations we've had with our congregational family and decided on:
"... on earth as it is in heaven ..."

Joining with Christ in bringing heaven down:
  • in ourselves
  • in our families
  • in our church family
  • in our community
  • in our world
To semi-quote the words of Bob Farr in Renovate or Die, the UMC has already set our mission, that is to fulfill the Great Commission in "Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World".  The vision statement of a faith community is similar in that it takes the grand mission of the UMC and gives it context in the local church.  We've chosen to take on living out the Lord's Prayer, specifically joining in Christ's mission, the one he laid upon us, to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven down here on earth.

So how do you properly launch a vision statement in a church with three different worship services with two preachers taking on preaching duties?  We've decided to launch it as a sermon series ... With one person preaching all three services, with five different people taking a Sunday over five weeks to cover each point of the mission statement.  Our service layout on Sunday morning goes like this: 8:30 Traditional (in our small chapel), 9:00 Contemporary, and 11:00 Traditional.  Typically our senior pastor preaches at 8:30 and 11, our associate at 9:00.  With some creative planning, a preacher/speaker can make it to all three services to preach, and for five weeks, that's what we'll do.

We'll have five different speakers, and I have the great privilege to preach the second Sunday on how we can bring heaven down into our homes.  We're really going to work hard between the five speakers to coordinate and weave different threads through the whole week, so with the blessing of everyone I'll be tackling Luke 10:38-42 - Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha.  I figure I'm pretty lucky to get this day - there are a ton of examples in the Gospel of Christ actually in people's homes.  Eating, teaching, healing, hanging out - he was never far away from the hospitality of a friend, student, or family member.

Having been married for only three years, and with an 8-month-old son, my wife and I hardly consider ourselves experts on marriage.  But I will say that work hard together, have covenanted with one another, to keep Christ the focus in all we do.

With intentionality we:
  • Pray together every night
  • We eat together, at the dinner table with our little man
  • We've just begun reading scripture together every night, with a Bible-in-a-Year Challenge
  • We worship together
  • We budget together, of which a tithe is a non-negotiable element
Here's where I throw it out to you ... What do you do in your life to keep Christ the center?  What do you wish you did more of?  Knowing that our church family runs the gamut of family systems, I can't just focus on our home ... What can different family models do with intent to bring heaven down a little more?

The Day I Knew My Son Knew Me

A convoluted title, I know, but about a month ago there was a profound experience between my son and I, and I learned a lot about God at the occurrence.  It was an event that every parent has at some point, but still more than a little miraculous.

At the beginning of the summer I had the great pleasure to lead an awesome group of youth and adults on our annual youth choir tour.  It was awesome.  Great ministry with an amazing group of young people.  The one bummer to the whole thing was being away from my 5-month-old and my wife for seven days straight.

Any of you that have run trips like this (mission trips, tours, retreats) know that it's a 24/7 job from lift-off.  There's not a lot of time to call home, and when it is a good time for one person, that doesn't mean it's a good time for the other.  Leanne was actually on a mission experience of her own (with Wesley) meeting volunteers during the Central Texas Annual Conference annual conference-wide mission trip.  So, it was doubly difficult for us to connect at any point during the week.  Compound that with the fact that my son can't talk yet.  I know, silly, but it should be said.

I missed my boy.

The drive home, from Monroe, LA to Duncanville was excruciating.  But not because of the students, adults, or anything else; it was hard because I could only go so fast.  There was a lot of anticipation; I mean, what if he was a totally different kid when I got home?  Another silly thing, but one that I understand most parents have when they make that first trip away.

I'd called ahead, so Leanne knew the exact time to meet us in the church parking lot.  There was a huge sigh of relief when we pulled in and they were waiting for us.

I jumped out of the van as soon as I put it in park and ran over to hug on my family.  Leanne handed me Wesley and he curled up on my shoulder and had a laughing fit.  He been smiling and chuckling for a couple of months, but this was a full on fit of laughter.  And it was right after Leanne handed him to me after I'd been gone for a week. Do you know what this said to me?

My son knew who I was.  After just a few weeks, they say babies start to recognize their parents.  We're usually around the most, and they can even hear our voices in utero.  After a few weeks out in the world they start to turn their heads when they hear us (parents) talking.  They'll start to smile and grin when we come close.  He'd been doing that for a bit.  But here was this little guy, curled up on my shoulder and just laughing away.  He recognized me as his dad, and that no one else is.

My son knew who I was.

It was a crazy, emotional revelation.  And looking back on it, definitely a God experience, for my wife and myself.  It's gotten me thinking about what it must be like for God when a child (all of us) recognizes that God is God, and no one else is. 

If you just a read a few chapters of the Psalms, the Psalmist rights frequently of a delight in the Lord, and a returned delight to us when we delight in our service to the Lord.  The Lord delights in our recognition of God's grace and lordship, just as I laugh everytime my boy shoots me or his mama a smile. 

God revealed a little bit of God's Own Self to me the day my son recognized me.