Merry Christmas (with Tears)

We’re told that Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and happiness, a time for family and friends.  But over the years I’ve learned that while that may sometimes be true, Christmas is, for many people, a time of deep sorrow and sadness.

For those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays can often be difficult as we more blatantly notice their absence.  In fact, the first year after suffering from the loss of a loved one is regularly referred to as the “Year of Firsts” – first Christmas, first birthday, first Thanksgiving, first anniversary… and the list goes on.

Over the past two months we’ve suffered the stillbirth of our youngest daughter.  To add insult in injury, just a couple weeks after that we lost one of our family dogs when her cancerous cyst burst open in the middle of the night.  Then just this past week we lost a puppy.  Yes, a puppy – the puppy we had purchased as a Christmas gift for our girls in an attempt to bring some joy and happiness into the midst of grief and sorry.  That puppy.

So at this point we’re fairly acquainted with grief and sorrow; three times in the past month I’ve had to give my daughters bad news that led to many shed tears, and had to answer more “why” questions that I can count.

So it is with a little trepidation that I enter into Christmas.

And yet it is Christmas that I need – that we all need – for it is Christmas that brings the hope we’re longing for. It’s because of Christmas that I have a hope – an expectation – that one day I will see my daughter again.  It is because of Christmas I know that “these light and momentary trials are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17); it’s because of Christmas I do not “grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thes 4:13).

On Christmas God came down to earth as a baby – as a babyand the invasion began.  And roughly 30 years after that first Christmas God died on a cross, then he got up from the dead and forever defeated death and sin and the grave, and for those who surrender to him, we have a hope that far outshines anything this world – or this world’s master – can throw at us.

So, yes, I rejoice this Christmas.  Not because of what has happened to us over the past two months, but in spite of it.  When our dog died I looked at her through tear-stained eyes as she was laying there on the floor of the vet’s office and I said, “One day he’s going to pay.  He’s going to pay.”  Death isn’t supposed to win – death isn’t even supposed to be here.  And the hope of Christmas is not that death will one day lose, it’s that death has already lost because Jesus has already won.

Am I sad?  Yes.  Do I grieve?  Absolutely – but I do so as one who has hope that Jesus is Lord, He is sovereign, and one day I will be with him in a new heaven and a new earth where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4).

So Merry Christmas – even if there are tears (as mine most certainly will have).  May the joy of Jesus fill your heart this season as you look back not only on when he came, but also look forward to his return when he will finally, once-and-for-all, set all things right.


What God Has Taught Me

Today our church service included the testimonies of several of our members regarding what the Lord has taught them over the past year.  Below is a transcript (as best I can provide) of what I shared with our congregation.


Looking Back

I wish I could stand before you this morning and tell you that I’ve spent the last 363 days of the year faithfully studying God’s word, desperately pursing him prayer, and passionately worshipping him 24/7; I wish I could rattle off a list of people I’ve personally led to the Lord, that I could say, “Hey – see that table there?  All of them are here today because when I told them about Jesus they listened and responded.”

But I can’t.  And that’s okay.  See, that’s what God has taught me this year.

One Word Summary

If I had to sum the year’s lessons up in one word, it would “grace” – the grace God shares through Jesus every day of the year as he deals with and talks to me.  Jason asked us a couple of weeks ago to talk about how God has moved in our lives this past year so that we could share it.  I wanted to be able to say, “I was sick – now look at me!  I’m healed!” or “One day, out of the blue, God sent a check that paid off my mortgage!” or some other miraculous story.  Instead, I stand before you and tell you that we spent the better part of a year recovering from the consequences of a car accident that totaled our van, delayed our trying to have another child, and put a complete stop on selling our house and moving into another one – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Rather than tell you about the mortgage being paid off, I will stand here and tell you that the promised raise was voted down, sometimes there was more month than money, and the insurance settlement didn’t come close to paying for the new van.

stone of graceYup, that’s our year.  A pretty normal year, a year mixed with both victories and struggles, great memories and pain I think I’d rather forget.  A year that started with good intentions – intentions to read scripture daily, to pray faithfully with and for my wife, to disciple my children – but as I look back I realize that while there were months I did read daily, pray faithfully, and invest in my kids, there are also weeks I’m not sure I even cracked the bible open except on Sunday morning, months that went by where prayers were little more than “Bless this day, God” or “Help feel better”, and plenty of nights where not only did I neglect to do devotions with the girls but where during the day I actually lost my temper and yelled at them.  Yup.  That’s my life – my imperfect, human, raw life.

And in the midst of it, He is here.  God is.  Jesus – he’s in the midst of all the turmoil, all the pain, all the disappointment.  He’s right here. That’s what God taught me this year.  To focus on the increasingly intimate, on-going, day-by-day and moment-by-moment relationship I have with Him, to remember that he speaks to me about and through the “mundane,” he works through me, and he fills in the gaps when I step aside and let him.

The Grant

I look back at the year and realize that when I was one of two people tasked with writing a 300 page grant application in just two weeks, that when the words were flowing through my fingers onto the screen, when the ideas in my mind were literally changing the way we structure support for schools in our district, that they weren’t my ideas at all – they were His. I recognize now that the whole process – a process that didn’t result in receiving the grant – was about growing me in Him.  Through that process he was shared both verbally and non-verbally with my co-workers; he grew my faith and honed my listening skills.  We walked side-by-side through that project.  And we grew closer.


I look back at the statistics class I had to take this semester, or the two-nights-out-a-week for school that robbed me of time with family.  And I recognize that he was with me on every drive to Chapel Hill, that those times in the car where I would sing, talk with him out loud, listen to sermons, and listen to him speak to me were times of growth and intimacy with my Savior – times I have come to treasure and even look forward to.  I understand they were times I have to invest in out-of-town friends and family via late night phone calls that serve to help keep me awake as I traveled but minister to them in other ways than I could ever imagine.  He’s worked in and through me even while I drive.

Driving Around Town

I look back on the day I was driving from a school in Winterville out to a school in Farmville.  I was sitting at the intersection of Davenport Farms Rd and Old US264 waiting to turn left.  There was a semi truck coming from the right and two cars coming from the left.  Even though there was more than enough space for me to safely pull out and make my turn, I heard a voice say, “Tom, just be patient – don’t be in such a rush.”  So, for once in my life while behind the wheel, I actually just decided to sit there and let everyone pass – to listen to and not just hear Jesus’ voice.  After the truck passed I turned to wait for the first of the two cars to pass, and after it passed I waited for the second car to pass.  It was then that I saw a third car that had been invisible to me just seconds before – a third car who was executing an illegal pass of the second car, so he was in the lane I would have turned into.  Literally, had I not listened when Jesus told me to wait I would have had a head-on collision with a car that was easily traveling 60+ mph.  And it took me longer to tell you this story than it actually happened in life – it was that quick.

The Missing Dog

I look back at the morning I woke up and the dog had escaped the back yard; of spending 30 minutes driving and walking the neighborhood in the rain when it was still dark outside, only to return home praying, “Lord, just bring her back – or help someone to find her and call us.”  Then I turned onto my street and who was standing in the middle of the road, one door down from our house, looking around all confused?  My Cosette.  And Jesus said, “See – I even care about the dog.  If I care about something so insignificant as that, don’t you think I care about the big stuff, too?”  Sure, it could have ended differently – she could have been lost forever, but I think God was saving me from have the country-music-song year (you know, no raise, car accident, totaled car, hurt wife, dead dog).

The Year to HearThe Lesson: Just Listen

So here’s what I’ve learned this year more than ever before – a year that, while it hasn’t been the most difficult of my life has certainly had its challenges.  I’ve learned that God is faithful in the little things, and he’s faithful in the big ones, too.  I’ve learned that God’s grace overpowers everything the devil can throw at us.  I’ve learned that the best part of life is walking hand-in-hand with my Dad – my Heavenly Dad – and hanging out with him.  I’ve learned that listening to Jesus and hearing him are two different things.  I used to teach my students that the while hearing was a function of the ear, listening was a function of the brain.  Hearing is simply when sound waves hit the ear drum, but listening requires actually processing and paying attention to those sounds.  It’s why we can sit in a restaurant and, even though we hear conversations of other people around us, we only listen to the person we’re having dinner with.  Jesus reminded me of that truth this year, so I want to share a couple of very specific examples when he spoke and I did more than hear, I listened.

Lance Armstrong

To do that I went back and reviewed some of my blog posts for the past year.  Two stuck out…  Two that were turning points in my year when Jesus spoke deeply to me.  The first one I want to share was from last January. To provide a little context, I used to be an avid cyclist, and Lance Armstrong was one of my favorite racers.  Last January was when he finally admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in each of his seven Tour de France victors.  Here’s some of what I wrote:

There is something about Lance Armstrong that saddens me: he is not a Christian.  I have to wonder how someone who has been given so much cannot believe in God at all.  It’s not that he knowingly serves another spiritual presence, it’s that he doesn’t even believe God exists.  To know that while he may inspire many here on earth to achieve great strides yet not spend eternity in heaven is disheartening.

He writes in his book, Every Second Counts, the story of the home he bought in Spain.  Part of the home is a family chapel that he paid to have restored.  He writes this regarding the chapel: “To me, that chapel isn’t just about worship, but about history, about age, about the hundreds of years that have seeped into the arched ceilings, the gold paint, and the original stained glass.  It’s stunning.”

I fear Armstrong’s comments regarding faith and religion are all-too-common in today’s culture.  Religion is viewed as a duty, as a set of rules, as a hoax, or as a crutch (Armstrong refers to it as this, too).

Yet what Armstrong fails to understand is Christianity is not meant to be a religion but a relationship with the living God of the universe.  Think of it—the creator wants you and I to know Him!  He even came to earth to make a way for us to draw near to Him.  Church is not a building, or a history lesson.  Church, The Church, is the living, organic body of our Savior Jesus.  That’s what Armstrong fails to understand.

This week we see what could be described as the deprivation of man in general and Armstrong in particular.  I didn’t watch his confession, but I read enough in the press to know that his sincerity and regret was, at best, questionable – how else could he still claim he didn’t think it was wrong to cheat?

For me, though, what is even more disheartening than the cheating is the years and years of lying – lying to the public, to his donors and supporters, to his fans, and, ultimately, to himself.  He was vicious – suing those who dared suggest he had doped and calling them terrible, horrible names.  In Armstrong we see the fallen nature of humanity for what it is: an obsession with oneself.  Like the title of Armstrong’s first book, we had confirmed this week that it wasn’t about the bike.  It was about him and only him, at all costs.

And here’s what really gets me… Armstrong’s cycling wasn’t what brought him to fame, it was the fact that he had overcome cancer and then still went on to be what we all thought was the greatest cyclist who ever raced.  We didn’t follow him because of the bike, we followed him because of the healing.

This afternoon I got kinda upset about that.  I found myself upset with God that my sister died of cancer when she was 20, yet this liar and cheater was allowed to live.  It just didn’t seem fair.  Erin wasn’t perfect, but she certainly wasn’t Armstrong.  How come she had to die and he got to live?  If anyone deserved to die wasn’t it a man who would take his healing, shove it in the face of the God who healed him (as he did in his book), and then go on to mock the rest of the world to win by cheating and covering it up for years afterwards – ruining the lives of countless other professionals in the process?  Isn’t that the one who should have died?

And then God reminded about his grace.  It’s what Armstrong needs – it’s what he’s always needed.  Not grace from me or any other person; what Armstrong needs is to accept the grace given him by God.  Erin died a believer, which means she ultimately was healed that night she passed into eternity.  But Armstrong?  He’s headed straight to hell.  Not because he cheated and lied, but because he’s a sinner just like everyone else.  Perhaps worse than some but better than others.  Yet at the end of the day when he dies he’ll spend eternity separated from God because he refuses to accept the grace found in Jesus.

And so God continues to offer grace, one chance after another.  Should Armstrong have died?  Who am I to judge that…  What I can say with confidence is this: God must certainly love him a whole bunch, if you judge it based on the chances he’s given (and continues to give) to come to know Him.  2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  Maybe, just maybe, Armstrong will wake up to this fact.  It’s what I’m praying for, anyway

Grey’s Anatomy

The second one I wrote the following month, in February, and I think you’ll see how they are related:

I was watching a little TV with Melissa and she turned on the most recent episode of one of her new favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy.  One main theme in the episode was a 19 year old who needed a blood transfusion but couldn’t get one because of his religious beliefs.  The conflict in the show revolved around how the doctors should respond to someone whose religious beliefs prevented them from treating a sickness that was curable.  At one point a friend of the dying patient comments to one of the doctor’s that even though they hang out “every day” his friend “never once mentioned to me that he was a Jehovah’s witness.  He never talked about it.  I kinda don’t think he is.” (his being a JW is why he can’t get a blood transfusion).  The doctor responds that maybe he’s just a private person, to which the friend says, “If you believed in something so hard you would die for it, would you keep it a secret?  Wouldn’t you at least tell your friends?”

And that’s when God slapped me upside the head and asked me the question, “Would your friends even know you’re a follower of Jesus?  Have you ever told them?  Would they know what you’re living for?  Would they know what you’re willing to die for?”  See, when God writes them a love letter, don’t you think he wants them to know that he lived and died for them?  Paul tells me that I’m the letter – I’m the ambassador.  So what message are they hearing?  Or am I keeping him a secret?

What about Sunday?

Both of those stories provide the “front book-end” examples, so to speak, of what Jesus was telling and teaching me this year.  So let me use one final quote before I tie this all together to provide the “back book-end”… Just this past week I finished reading a book in which the following question was asked:

“If Sunday didn’t exist, would anyone know you were a follower of Jesus? The reason I pose the question is because most people conclude someone is a Christian or not based on that person’s Sunday religious activities and behaviors. You may not even be inclined to advertise your faith, but inevitably if you attend church often enough, it will come out in conversation. So if Sunday didn’t exist, you would no longer have a building to point to as being the place you attend church…If Sunday didn’t exist, we would no longer be able to use our Sunday activities as evidence that we are followers of Jesus. So back to my question…If Sunday didn’t exist, would anyone know you were a follower of Jesus?”

The Missing Formula

I wish I could give you a formula that said, “This is how you grow closer to the Lord.  You read 4 chapters a day at 6:00am, then make sure you pray for 35 minutes every morning about these 5 topics.  Oh, don’t forget to fast once a week (Tuesdays would be best) so that you can spend extra time with the Lord in prayer.  Always listen to Christian radio, in the car make sure you play sermon podcasts rather than turn on political talk, answer at least 3 out of 5 questions at small group, and….”  Well, you get the idea.  But there isn’t a formula – it’s a relationship between two beings.  And that’s what Jesus has been teaching me.  There’s an ebb and flow to life, and an ebb and flow to relationships.  Hearing Jesus’ voice in every moment of every day isn’t something that happens just because you do X-Y-and-Z.  Hearing is a result of listening, and listening is a result of focus and paying attention – perhaps it sounds like I’m arguing semantics here, but hearing is a physiological process whereas listening adds both the cognitive dimension and the spiritual act of discernment so that physiology, cognition, and spirit all work together.

listen-and-learnNow don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting there’s nothing we can do to hear God’s voice or that regardless of what we do nothing will inhibit us from hearing him.  Sin is very real and it sets a wall up in our hearts to make it difficult to hear his voice.  We have to spend time with him regularly – if I never talked with Melissa or spent time with her or listened to her you’d all wonder what type of marriage we had.  But at certain times of our lives those shared times may look different.  When we first got married we had regular date nights every week – but once you have kids and you realize between dinner, a movie, and a babysitter that date nights take the entire month’s entertainment budget, they start to look different than they used to.  I can’t give a formula for the marriage relationship.  Are there certain things we do and don’t do?  Absolutely.  But we don’t get a marriage because we do those things, we do those things because we are married.

Similarly, I’m not so certain that we get a growing relationship with God just because we read the Bible, pray, fast, or engage in any of the other spiritual disciplines.  Reading the bible and prayer no more make you a Christian than babysitting makes you a parent.  Does this mean you shouldn’t babysit my kids for me?  Absolutely not! But remember that we aren’t parents until we’ve had a kid – whether you have them naturally or you adopt them.  Just because you are a teacher who works with kids, or a family therapist who studies child development and know what all the “experts” say about them, a pediatrician who diagnoses their sickness or a L&D nurse who delivers newborns every day – if you’ve never had the sole responsibility to care for a child you aren’t a parent.  That’s not meant to discourage or dismiss people, it’s simply stating a neutral fact.  In the same way, just because you attend church, read the bible, pray, fast, give money, and/or serve in the community it doesn’t mean you are a follower of Jesus.  Does that mean you shouldn’t do those things?  Absolutely not – but don’t overemphasize the vehicle when what is important is the relationship.


Abiding leads to doing

Because of our growing relationship with God we engage in those disciplines – just like when we get married we do things couples do, or when we have children we take responsibility for our kids in raising them.  But when it all gets dry?  Well, sometimes relationships don’t always “feel” vibrant.  But that doesn’t mean we aren’t in relationship.  Sometimes our sprititual walk with our Dad doesn’t necessarily “feel” great, but it doesn’t mean he’s not there or that he doesn’t care.  The thing that Jesus has taught me more this year than any year in the past is that a deep relationship with him is exactly that – a relationship that isn’t ruled by rules and regulations about what I do or say or think.  In fact, it’s not ruled by anything but His Grace.  To use our Covenant and Kingdom language, I’ve learned that as I abide with and in Him, the doing happens automatically and naturally and I don’t even need to think about it.  Just this past week I read John 3:21, “anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.”  When I abide in Him, he works through me and others see it for what it is.

Don’t take these words to mean that when you walk with God that what you consider to be “good things” only happen to you or you always get what you want.  Sometimes the dog doesn’t come home, sometimes your sister dies, sometimes you spend more than you make, sometimes the car accident happens or the tire blows out or you fall out of the tree and break your arm.  I have friends who are Christians who walk faithfully with the Lord and still experience great, great pain – the pain of divorce, untimely death, the sickness of a child, lost jobs, or even the loss of a home – so I’m not naïve enough to think that by walking with and listening to Jesus we are free of the effects of sin in a fallen world.  Walking with God doesn’t guarantee bad things won’t happen to you.  It DOES mean you don’t have to go through them alone.


Whom Do You Envy?

“Don’t let your heart envy sinners” is what I read in Proverbs.  Sinners?  Really?  Who envies “sinners”?  I mean, I can understand being envious of others who have more money, a bigger house, a nicer car, higher-paying job, better health, etc.  But “sinners”?  Really?


Yet as I reflect I realize that too often I fall into this trap – if I’m honest, I have to confess I too often envy the life the lost live, mistakenly thinking I’ve missed out on something.  And I don’t think I’m alone in this…  I hear this type of talk all the time from those who became Christians later in life (rather than early on) – they talk about the “sins of youthful indiscretion” when they were younger, but they talk about it as “yea, those were the good ol’ days when I had lots of fun, but now that I’m older I need to start acting my age and be mature and responsible.”  There’s almost a sense that, given the choice, the person would make the same mistakes again because it really was so much fun and the consequences were not so bad after all – it’s almost an attitude of pride towards their sin. Now I certainly can’t judge what another person really feels or thinks, so I am making an assumption here; I’m just making that assumption by what I see and hear.

0608-the-upside-oe-0941I’m reading through the book of Proverbs with the leadership group from my church, something I first mentioned in this post, and when I read the 23:17-18 it really challenged me.  I actually like the way the New Message puts the verse: “Don’t for a minute envy careless rebels.”  Too many times I look around and go, “Wow, how come I work so hard and try to do what God has called me to do, to live honorably and obey his will, and that person there is living so far from God and yet they have a better paying job, a bigger house, and a new car.  How come they don’t seem to struggle with <fill in the blank>?  How come none of their family members ever get sick?  Why doesn’t their car break down and need a repair and mine does? It just doesn’t seem fair.”  (and before you go there with the comments I know that life’s not fair, so you don’t need to remind me of that :))

I see this happening not just with individuals, but also within families – even church families.  I can not even count the number of churches I’ve know that have pastor envy, youth group envy, band envy, building envy, ministry envy, and so on – and the negative results that come from that envy…  They look at how God is moving through another pastor or church and think, “We need to have and then our church could be better.”Envy-2

But these attitudes and thoughts are not what scripture promises nor is it what this proverb advises.  We (I?) are (am) to focus on building a healthy fear of the Lord – of living in an abiding respect, admiration, and love of God through the grace given us in Jesus Christ.  Because our (my) future is ultimately not contingent upon my house, my car, my job, or even my health; it’s contingent upon my relationship with God through Jesus.  3-Blessings

And through that relationship, I am reminded, God has given me “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” and made me a “co-heir with Christ” (see Rom 8:17 and Eph 1:3).  And for that reason the lost will one day envy us.

Deeply Loved

Over the past month I’ve done I’ve done four posts reflecting on Keri Wyatt Kent’s book Deeply Loved; this post marks my final post on the book and my review of it.

Deeply Loved Cover

The book is described on the back by saying “Jesus Loves You.  That profound fact has been changing lives around the world for centuries.  Yet, there are days when you don’t experience this completely in your own life.  So how do you get to the very core of that statement on a deep personal level?…Using the gospel stories of Jesus, reflection, and personal stories, Kent will guide you through forty days of how to create space in your life for Jesus to show up and love you.  Deeply.”  Over the course of 40 days she then guides you through 40 different disciplines meant to draw you closer to Jesus, or, perhaps more accurately, allow you to open up so he can draw you closer to himself.  Either way you look at it, I have to say that having gone through the book I can testify that the disciplines Keri shares did help me re-focus my thoughts, attitudes, and even actions on Jesus.

Though I read the book over Lent (which happens to be 40 days), and I did so with others from around the country as part of a blog tour, I can also reassure you that it would be appropriate to read any time during the year.  Each entry is only 4-5 pages long, meaning you can read it in just a few minutes a day.  But as you close the book each day you’re left with profound thoughts and reflections you’ll spend days meditating on (literally!).  This truly is one of the few books I’ve read that I will go back and re-read multiple times simply because it’s had an impact on my life that can’t be easily put into words; it’s by far the best devotional book I’ve read in a long time.

I’ll give this book 5/5 stars, meaning you need to add it to your “must read” list, especially if you want to read a book to draw closer to Him.


This is the third post reflecting on Kerry Wyatt Kent’s book Deeply Loved; if you’d like to read my first two reflections click here and here.  Today I want to reflect on her thoughts regarding service.

Kent’s words were, to me, comforting to read.  In some ways for me they almost “lowered the bar”, so to speak in regarding expectations for service, but the more I thought about it I realize how difficult what she’s writing about can be.  I’ll just be honest and say that one of the things that drives me crazy is always being asked to serve – I get tired of hearing it.  This isn’t directed at anyone in particular, so if you’re reading it and find yourself thinking, “He’s talking about me” rest assured I’m not.  Here’s my gripe though – we seem to have defined “service” as only doing some sort of formal work for the church or some community organization.  And while that’s important, service is so much more than that.  I get tired of the implication that when I don’t serve in some “official” capacity I’m not serving.

I really believe that I have three main acts of service God has given me – so when someone asks me to serve in another capacity I have to weigh it against those priorities.  I suppose it’s cliché to say it, but I take Colossians 3:23 literally – I don’t work for anyone but the Lord.  And right now he’s given me three primary responsibilities: my family, my job, and my school.  That means that I need to value family time with my wife and girls, I need to be devoted to my job and give it everything I have, and when it’s time to study I need to do that to the best of my ability.  Some people have accused me of using that to avoid service, but I don’t think it is – I truly believe I’m focusing on what is important and serving where God has called me to serve.  I will be the first to tell you I often struggle to give my wife and girls the best part of my time, which to me says I don’t need to add anything else to my plate right now.

But more than that, service is what we do every moment of every day.  It’s letting someone get off the elevator before me, or opening the door as I walk into a building.  Read what Kent writes:

“The simple things you do to care for your family, the work you do to provide for others, the way you treat customers or coworkers – all of this can be service to God, if you choose to see it that way.”

This is what I meant when I said that when I first read the chapter I felt like the bar got lowered – I was reminded that I need to view every act I do every day as service and I felt like I did that, so I felt vindicated against those who would try to convict me – here was a quote I could use to prove to them I was correct.  But then I got to the application part of the chapter, and that’s when the bar got raised again:

“A simple way to practice service is to be open to interruptions, to give your attention to those who ask for it.  When you are interrupted, decide that you will see that interruption as one that comes not from the person before you but from God.”

Well there went my feel-good moment!  I hate to be interrupted.  I’ll let the phone right (voicemail can answer) or close the office door to avoid interruptions.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but too often I’ll put off something with the girls until I finish what I’m doing.  I hate to be interrupted.    And, worse than that, I let people know I don’t like to be interrupted.  I don’t do it intentionally, but I recognize that my tone of voice and my body language communicate loud and clear that I’m not happy with the interruption.  I’m selfish, and there’s no getting around it when it glares me in the face.  Yet according to Kent, allowing for the interruption can be an act of service in itself.

Deeply Loved Cover

Last week I posted a link on my Facebook wall that someone had shared with me about the “iPhone Mom”.  I thought it was a great reminder to live in the moment, to literally allow for the interruption.  And, in all honesty, when I read it I didn’t read it as written to “mom” but to “dad” (since I’m a dad) – I wasn’t trying to put down mothers or say anything negative about them.  But boy was that a mistake – I quickly found out there was a massive back-lash against the author for writing what she wrote (you can read two of the responses here and here).  I’m not here to support or defend the post, since obviously sharing the original one got me in trouble!  But as I reflect back on it I think the reason it struck a chord with me was that author was trying to say is what Kent was saying in this application section – open yourself up to the interruption (at least that’s how I read it).

I have a long, long way to g(r)o(w) here, and I rest in the grace knowing that God is working in me, he is molding me into the person he wants me to be.  This particular day made me re-evaluate (again) my priorities, and recognize where I needed to change and improve.  And, with God’s grace, tomorrow will be better than today.

A Love Letter

At the church I attended while growing up our pastor’s wife always had a phrase I hated to hear…  Whenever she wanted to ask anyone (including me) to do something, she’d say “Don’t you want to be a helper for Jesus?” (of course, since she was from the South and had that thick accent “Jesus” was emphasized and drawn out!).  It wasn’t that I hated the phrase – it was that I knew I couldn’t ever say no because, well, after all, how could I say know to Jesus!?!?

Last year while we visited churches I found myself evaluating some churches based on people I knew who attended there.  Melissa and I had several conversations that, “I’m not sure I want to go to that church because I know some of those people outside of church and I know how they live; if that’s what kind of people attend that church, well….”  I think you get the idea.  What I was struggling with was really not people’s lifestyles but rather the issue of being “religious” on Sunday but then living the rest of the week anyway you want.  Well, that and being overly judgmental….

Then I started thinking (or maybe God started asking), “But what about me?  What do people see in me?  Do they see Jesus in me, or would they not want to come to church if I invited them because, well, I don’t do a very good job of showing people him?”  Paul says in 2 Corinthians that we are, literally, “Christ’s ambassadors” (5:20), even going so far to suggest that we are “a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (3:3)  So it’s not about being a “helper for Jesus” but a “letter from Jesus”.  Which gives me pause…  What type of ambassador am I?  Would people describe me and my life as a “love letter” from God written to them?

Or would they see me as hypocritical and judgmental?  Do I operate like the world wants me to operate or as God wants me to operate?  If they visited my church and saw me standing there would they immediately go, “Wow!  So if this is where Tom goes then I want to go here too!” or would their response be, “Wow!  If this is where Tom goes maybe I need to go someplace else.”  I’m not suggesting Christians are perfect and we need to be perfect for other people, and I am absolutely in agreement that Church is for sinners – sinners saved by grace, redeemed sinners (imperfect saints).  I’m simply remembering inviting a friend to church years ago in another state and her response was, “I would never go to that church – I know for a fact several of the ‘elders’ are cheating on their wives because they’re cheating with friends of mine!”  Not exactly the response I was hoping for…

Which brings me to what happened tonight…  I was watching a little TV with Melissa and she turned on the most recent episode of one of her new favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy.  One main theme in the episode was a 19 year old who needed a blood transfusion but couldn’t get one because of his religious beliefs.  At one point a friend of his comments to one of the doctor’s that even though they hang out “every day” his friend (the patient) never “once mentioned to me that he was a Jehovah’s witness.  He never talked about it.  I kinda don’t think he is.” (his being a JW is why he can’t get a blood transfusion).  The doctor responds that maybe he’s just a private person, to which the friend says, “If you believed in something so hard you would die for it, would you keep it a secret?  Wouldn’t you at least tell your friends?”

And you could have just smacked me upside the face.   Which raised the question to me, “Would my friends even know I’m a follower of Jesus based on how I live my life?”  Would they know what I’m living for?  Would they know what I’m willing to die for?  When God writes them a love letter, don’t you think he wants them to know what he lived and died for?  And yet I’m the letter; I’m the ambassador.  What message are others receiving?  Am I keeping him a secret?

Here’s the thing with ambassadors – everyone knows who they represent.  If I at a party and someone introduces themselves to me and says, “I’m the ambassador for Argentina,” or “I’m the Saudia Arabian ambassador” I know without a shadow of a doubt who they represent (oh, by the way, I don’t foresee ever attending a party with an ambassador from another country).  Which means that for those of us who are followers of Jesus, people should know who we represent.  Sometimes that’s communicated by our actions, but it also needs to be communicated by our words.  And this is where I struggle the most – sharing my faith through my words.  The last thing I want someone to do is say I kept a secret from them.  Because, in fact, I have the greatest secret ever told – but it’s a secret that’s not supposed to be a secret; it’s a secret I’m supposed to tell.

And what’s that secret?  That I’m an ambassador for Jesus.  What’s that mean?  Jesus died to repair a broken relationship between us and God, and then he rose again from the dead so that we could experience a new relationship with God.  That’s the secret: God loves us and sent his son to die for us.  And in him we can have eternal life and the forgiveness of sins.  And part of that love letter from God to others is me – my life; they need to both hear the secret but also see it lived out in front of them.  We are the love letter.

If our friends and family don’t hear the secret from us, from who will they hear it?