Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What A Good Year!

It's the last day of the year 2008, so that makes it a good day to post some reflections on what made it a good year. This post will also double as a kind of "Family Christmas Letter" sent kind of late.

Eli turned one in March and is a regular tormentor of his older brothers. He is a very happy boy, though he is fighting through some ear infections and a persistent cough. When he's not showing off his Kung Fu Panda moves, and when he's not sitting on his brothers heads, Eli is usually playing his many plush puppies or flipping through book after book. Eli is talking a lot, running a lot more, and loves to laugh and roughhouse with his daddy. During the summer he was a big fan of the lake, swimming (well more like bobbing in the water...), getting very dirty in the sandpile, and going for boatrides with the family.

Isaac turned three in January and is turning into a very mischevious boy. When it's warm outside, he's a big fan of riding his sister's bike, dumping sand in the yard, and playing soccer in the backyard. Isaac also like to swing real high, water the huckleberries, eat the raspberries, and go for long walks in the woods. He's been in speech therapy since late 2007, and Isaac is doing great. He's really blossoming with his verbal expressions, instructions to his parents on what he wants us to do, and in lodging complaints against his siblings - pretty much Eli, but once in awhile against Emma too! We wrestle a lot, read lots of books, play with trains and trucks, and watch too many cartoons! Preschool has been plenty of fun for Isaac, he was a little shy for the first few weeks, but now he's chatting away with the teachers and even other students. He loves his teachers, loves the playtime there, loves the projects, and especially snacktime.

Levi turned three in January and is always coming up with something silly to do. Without much prompting he'll make a funny face, make a funny noise, or make a funny pose. All with a big cheesy grin. Levi likes to show off how fast he can run through the house, how high he can jump in the air, and how long he can tumble on the floor. He also likes it when I grab him, put him in a headlock, roll around with him and throw him in the air. Levi really likes to ride Emma's bike up and down the sidewalk, he likes to help plant flowers in the spring, enjoys our walks in the woods and around the neighborhood, and he definitely likes to play in the sandbox. Levi loves going to his speech class and preschool, he loves the activities, and loves his teachers. He likes to show us the projects he brings home, but we usually have to pry out of him what they did during the day. "So, what'd you do today in speech??" "Nothing." Tara and I kind of thought this kind of conversation didn't start till middle school.

Levi and Isaac play together a lot. Their imaginations are really blossoming, and they do pretend play all the time with their cars, their plush animals, their tool benches, their train sets, and with dress up clothes. Sometimes they let Eli play with them, but he usually busts in on whatever they are doing and makes them mad. Emma joins in their play a lot, and she usually tries to take over what they are doing with her great ideas- and sometimes they let her...but not for too long! Everybody, though, loves it when Papa Ger and Grandma Rozer come over twice a week, or when Shirley and Faye come over twice a week to be with them while the parents head off to work. Everybody also loves to travel to Grandma Karen's home for a special evening, or head up to Papa Jim and Naomi's. We're thankful for the family we have who help make life good.

Emma turned five and is blossoming and amazing us everyday. Kindergarten is a dream come true for her! She loves her teacher, has made some great friends, has a great time doing all the activities, she really likes going all day so that she can eat lunch at school with her friends. In December she was part of a drama class, and had fun reading and rereading her poems for the class, and she did a good job doing her presentation. I'm constantly amazed at how well she can read. She really likes to read Fancy Nancy books, Bad Kitty, anything about princesses, and her Highlights magazines. When Emma's not reading she's either watching cartoons, playing dress up with her brothers (either getting them into their doggie costumes, or getting them into her extra princess dresses...), wanting to play on the computer, or else wanting to go outside and play with the neighbors. Emma's a big fan of riding her own bike whenever Isaac and Levi will let her!  When we're not swinging in the backyard, we're usually rolling down the hill in the frontyard, going for walks in the neighborhood, or on very special days, going to the school playground!

Tara is a third grade teacher at Whispering Meadows, job sharing the position so that she can be home in the mornings and teach in the afternoons.  It's a great situation for which we're constantly thankful.  When Tara's not doing teaching stuff (like grading papers, doing lesson plans, bulletin boards, etc.) she's doing her Creative Memories stuff.  She hosted some all-day crops at the church this year, which are always lots of fun with family and friends.  Of course, like most scrapbookers, she never gets enough time, and is constantly hoping to catch up.  Her latest craze is running (even she is amazed!) and ran in in her first "race" this fall in the Fort 4 Fitness in September.  Tara also teaches Kids Sunday School at Anchor, is part of a MOPS group at Emmanuel, attends a Twins/Multiples group, and goes out to coffee with me every Wednesday.  She also volunteers in Emma's classroom, helps with some leadership stuff at Anchor, and spends lots of time emailing her friends and reading their blogs (and their status updates on my Facebook site!). Most of all, Tara loves reading stories with the kids, doing crafts with them, going to the lake during the summer, teaching Emma how to scrapbook, giving baths, and all the other stuff that goes along with being a great mom.

I, Tim, am still leading and teaching Anchor Community Church - we just celebrated our ten year anniversary in October!  It's been quite an amazing decade - huge learning curves, lots of friendships made, and many, many God-moments.  Through Anchor, I've helped build a network of neighborhood churches - we're in our fourth year of working together to serve our community.  Very neat stuff.  With Anchor it's also been very rewarding to see so many people get involved in service projects, in caring for each other, and growing in their faith. Another highlight of the year was my graduation (a Masters of Divinity degree) from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in May!  It was so much fun to have so much family come up for the weekend in Chicago - especially since so many of them had a hand in helping me and Tara get through school.  Now that I'm done with school, I definitely feel more relaxed, I feel like I have more time for the family, and I even lost some weight - now that I'm not munching Cheetos and slurping milkshakes to stay awake on those long drives home.   I've had fun volunteering in Emma's classroom, I had fun volunteering for a Habitat House build with our church and three other Presbyterian churches in town, and it was fun volunteering to do some landscaping for some neighbors on 3rd Street.  It was fun to help coach Emma's soccer team this spring and fall (I was the assistant to the assistant...), to go on field trips with her, to join Levi and Isaac at preschool for special events, and have Fridays off to do laundry and play with the boys.

As you know, Christmas letters never fully capture all that happened in a year, but hopefully they capture how thankful we are for all the good that has happened.  We're thankful to you, our friends, to our family, to our church, and to God for 2008 - and we're looking forward to a great 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another Matt Day Come and Gone

Today is seven years since Matt was killed in the car accident. It seems like a long time ago, but parts of it feel very recent.

We just got back from hanging out and the Lake with Mum and Dad, Jerm and Maria, Eva and Lydia. One of our Matt Day traditions is to get together for dinner (it used to be at Shirley and Faye's) and then we all open our Christmas stockings that Santa (aka Mum) stuffed for us; we also do a Pickle Gift and a White Elephant. This year Shirley and Faye couldn't join us, so we nixed the elephant gift - pray for Faye, she's in the hospital recovering from pneumonia, and pray for Shirley, she's nursing a swollen ankle and badly twisted knee.

It was fun hanging out with the family, playing the Wii, eating pizza, gorging on Christmas cookies and "Can we drink this yet" punch. Earlier in the afternoon Tara and the kids went with me to Huntington to spend a few moments at Matt's grave. And Ben's. I was glad to have their company, and we took some pics there of the kids running around the cemetery, climbing on the gravestones, and generally having a good time. Going to visit Matt there is a good ritual for me, a way to remember him, a way to remember reality, and a way to remember what I pledged to do different because of his life.

As we shooed the boys into the van, Emma remembered to grab some pebbles to put on top of Matt and Ben's gravestones. I had already put one on Matt's, and she did also. She asked: Who died first? I answered: Matt. Oh, she said, and then she took the pebble off of Matt's gravestone, put it on Ben's, and then proceeded to put a different pebble on Matt's gravestone. Very thoughtful of her. Tara and I like to teach Emma and her brothers about their very cool uncles. Not a week doesn't go by that we don't chide Emma Reigh for her big booming Ben voice. Often times we shake our head at Levi Matthew - his stubbornness, his silliness, his refusal to look normal in a picture is so true to form for his namesake uncle.

Miss you Matt.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How Icy Was It on Christmas Eve?

We had a great Christmas Eve service at Anchor on Wednesday night. Emma and Braden sang a duet together - her very first one: they sang Away in a Manger!

On the way home from the service, we drove around for a bit to look at the Christmas lights. After driving by the huge house with thousands of lights in Emerald Lake, Amy suggested we head home since her girls were getting hungry. It's a good thing she suggested it, because when we got home, we were in for a surprise.

It had gotten so icy that my car slid down our driveway!

As Tara and I were driving down our street towards our home, we saw a dark object sitting in the middle of the street by our driveway. We remarked in bewilderment at what was going on. Then we recognized a car sitting in the middle of the street, blocking almost the whole intersection; then we recognized the car as ours! I laughed, of course, and told Tara to get out of the van and take a picture. And then the cop showed up!

Here's the car sitting at the end of our driveway blocking the street. I had already parked the van in the garage (after backing up and then gunning it to make it up the icy slope) and was urging Tara to take a bunch of pics when the police officer arrived with all his lights on for dramatic effect. Jamil was the first one to hail the officer and put in a good word for me. I hurried down to the copcar to assure the officer that I was indeed the owner of the car and I just got home from our church's Christmas Eve service. No, officer, I didn't think my car would slide down my driveway. Yes, officer, putting salt down on my driveway would be a good idea. No, officer, I won't let this happen again. Yes, officer, you have a Merry Christmas too!
Me moving the Malibu before the police calls the tow truck! This was a great way to start our Christmas Eve party!

We eventually got the Wii going, we got kids eating cookies off the floor, we got toddlers guzzling egg nog, and Hannah praying that her mommy would beat Emma in bowling!

Trying to get a good Christmas picture of the kids

The Ice Storm 2008 - Yeah, we lost our power too...

So there we were, eating our fluffy banana pancakes smothered with huckleberries and fake maple syrup (Aunt Jemima...), drinking our coffee, when all of a sudden the lights flickered, the kids got an odd look on their faces, and then bam! the lights went out.

We weren't too fazed at first. We were busy eating breakfast, we still had plenty of daylight in the house, and we had plenty of toys for the kids to play with. But as the day moved along, we began to wonder if the power would return anytime soon. We called the power company to report our outtage. And we had found out that Tara's mom Karen was without power (she's less than a mile away) and Tara's sister Amy was without power (she's on the other side of town). The church neighborhood, though, still had their power. As the day entered early afternoon, it dawned on us that if the power didn't come on soon, it was going to be dark outside and and also inside...which means we'd have a houseful of bored little kids with hours to kill before bedtime. Scary!

After some phone calls, we decided to pack up and head to the church for the evening, and possibly the night. We packed the pjs, lots of blankets and sleeping bags, food, drinks, cards, movies, and popcorn! Amy and Jamil and the girls joined us for a fun sleepover! And so we spent the night there...with Tara calling the home answering machine every fifteen minutes to check if our power came on...which it didn't.

Saturday was Lydia's birthday party in Avilla, so we headed out of Anchor and up to Jerm's house. It was nice to have a house to lounge around in, though we were ready to head home - sleeping on the cement floor at the church wasn't very comfy. Tara and I ended up conking out before the party was over....sorry Lydia! But we were also planning on spending the night there too! As it would happen, the power came back on at our house in the early evening. Emma was sad she didn't get to spent the night with Eva, but Tara and I were looking forward to sleeping in our soft, comfy bed!

Unfortunately for Amy and Jamil, they didn't get their power on until Sunday afternoon. We had friends who didn't get their power on till Tuesday and Wednesday. Ugh.

Here's some fun pics of our iced-home and the sleep-over at the church:

This was the extent of our tree damage. Compared to all the other devastated trees in the area, we were lucky.

This is a willow tree in the backyard that is bent over the fence because of the ice.

Our firebush on ice. Cool, huh!

In the foreground is ornamental grass with the top tufts frozen like crystal shards; in the background is a willow tree bent over to the ground.

The ice on the front and back windows was thick, at least half an inch; the side windows almost as thick. Luckily the ice on car panels banged off rather easily, but I ended up breaking my ice scraper on the side windows.

Ahhh... this is the life! Kids happily watching a movie! Much better than sitting at home in the dark.

Dinner time! The kids are all lined up so they can watch their movie while they are eating. Jamil is checking the answering machine at home. No luck yet.

Uncle Jamil reading a story to Eli and Hannah - they didn't want to sit and watch Toy Story 2!

Breakfast time! Instant oatmeal for the kids and cereal for daddy! - what a way to start the day!

Mmmmm...breakfast and bedhead!

Emma always wakes up happy - especially when she gets breakfast right away!

The kids slept well, and were ready to play! Nice bedhead there, Levi!

All the kids except Hannah slept here in the Nursery. It was toasty warm and quite comfy.

Time for Eli and Aunt Amy to play!

Aunt Amy, Emma and Tara playing an intense game of Uno. Alia was pretty interested in her hot chocolate drink.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday Sermon Notes 12.21.08

I really like watching Charlie Brown's Christmas special each winter. We both are annoyed by the commercialism of Christmas. Even a simple reading of the Christmas story undermines the modern experiences of the Christmas season. A close reading of the story clashes with our current attitudes about what constitutes a good Christmas.

The first Christmas was not only a time of great hardship, but also of great humiliation.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid.
I'm here to announce a great and joyful event
that is meant for everybody, worldwide:
A Savior has just been born in David's town,
a Savior who is Messiah and Master.

This is what you're to look for:
a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises: 

Glory to God in the heavenly heights, 

Peace to all men and women
on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!

Luke 2v8-20 (The Message)

To have your first guest be scoundrely, stinky sheepherders was a great humiliation. The first guests should have been family members, friends, neighbors. Sheepherders were despised, mistrusted, and the dregs of society. It was no honor to have them shouting praises and proclaiming the news around town.

To be born in a setting where you are required to lay your newborn baby in a manger is a humiliating setting. Instead of giving birth in a warm home surrounded by attentive midwives, Mary must trust Joseph to deliver the baby, and together they must both clean up the mess, care for the newborn, and recover from the exhaustion, alone. A very humbling situation.

To be rejected by family for being "sinners", to be in hiding from Herod - being descendants of the daring King David, to be far from home because of the will of the Caesar, this is all a very humiliating set of circumstances.

Interestingly for many of us, we too have our own stories of humiliation. We have our secrets, that if found out, would be very humiliating. We have current life circumstances that are humbling, and we resent them. We've humiliated others, we've maybe snickered at the humiliation of others, and maybe we've looked the other way when we come across the humbled. Instead of letting humiliation bring out the best in us, we let it make us shamed and angry.

This Christmas, maybe the best gift you can give is yourself - a you that lets God use our own humiliation for something really good. Maybe we need to forgive those who have humiliated us, maybe we need to repent of the humiliation we've caused others. Maybe we need to let go of our shame, our fear of being discovered.

God in Jesus faced great humiliation at Christmas, as was just pointed out. He grew up in humbling circumstances, Nazareth was not an honorable place to grow up. Jesus ministered to the humiliated: tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes and cripples. Jesus died a terribly humiliating death upon the cross, everything about his trial, torture and abandonment was a great humiliation. Yet God raised him from the dead, and used all that humiliation to bless and rescue and reconcile and restore.

God can take your humiliation and bring good out of it, if you will let him. Surrender your secrets to him. Tell a trusted friend your secret, don't keep it to yourself, let it out and be free. Repent of your shamefull deeds, and then move forward to make right what was wronged. Forgive those who humbled you, and be free, and move forward to be used by God to bless and rescue and reconcile and restore.

That is the true meaning of Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yeah for U2!

U2's album is coming in March! Yes! And there are five versions to pick from...and one of them is a vinyl cool is that?

No Line on the Horizon - I can't wait...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sunday Sermon Notes 12.14.08

What will you do different this Christmas?
People tend to get into a rut with their lives, getting into habits and comfortable ways of doing things, understanding things. Yet they want different results. They want their Christmas' to be different, but they don't do anything different when it comes to reading and understanding the Christmas story, and they rarely do anything different about their schedules or attitudes when it comes to the Christmas season.

Read the text carefully - do something different and read it slowly, don't assume you understand what you read, ask some questions about the text...
About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David's town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

Luke 2v1-7 (The Message)

Note that the very first Christmas was full of hardships. As you read through the text, what were some of the hardships you were able to identify?
* the hardship of being under the harsh rule of Caesar Augustus (and his cruel and paranoid puppet-king Herod the Great)
* the hardship of registering for the census (which was used for oppressive taxation and military conscription purposes)
* the hardship of trusting Mary's account of why she is pregnant
* the hardship of accepting Mary as his own - overcoming the objections of his family (and maybe hers?)
* the hardship of finding a welcoming place to stay in Bethlehem
* the hardship of delivering the baby in such a unwelcoming conditions
* the hardship of avoiding being noticed by King Herod's henchman (Joseph being of the famous line of King David...)
* the hardship of facing the future alone and rejected

As hard as the times were for Joseph and Mary, they made some good and right decisions. Mary kept her cool when no one believed her. Joseph trusted Mary and accepted her, protected her, cared for her. Joseph and Mary obeyed the command to register for the census despite potential risk to their well-being. Joseph and Mary sought to stay obedient to the commands the LORD had given to them.

Like Joseph and Mary, you likely have your own hardships you are going through this Christmas season. (Maybe you don't, but odds are there is somebody you care about that is going through a hard time...). What are some of the hardships you are going through?
* relational hardships?
* financial hardships?
* workplace hardships?
* school hardships?
* emotional hardships like depression?
* spiritual hardships like loneliness?
* mental hardships like boredom?
* etc...

In light of the specific hardships you are going through...what are some good and right decisions you know you ought to make - even though it is really hard to do so?
* forgiveness?
* reconciliation?
* learning to listen?
* admitting you were wrong?
* trading selfishness for love?
* cutting up the credit card?
* making immediate actions steps to eliminate your out of control debt?
* be a friend?
* work hard (while avoiding all cheating, lying, slacking, and conniving..)?

Odds are you know what the right thing to do is in the midst of the just need some encouragement to do the right thing. Joseph and Mary were alone, rejected, and yet they chose the right thing. Part of the stems from their long-term work of building character, they had made it a habit of choosing wisely in the past when it was easy. The habit of choosing rightly in the easy times makes it possible for you to choose wisely in the hard times.

This Christmas is a time for you to reconsider your habits and attitudes - and take action to do something different.
Make it a point to fix what is broken, to repair what is cracked.
The windshield of my Chevy Malibu has a long, ragged crack running alongside the passenger side. It started off from a small pebble smashing a small chunk out of the windshield, but month by month, left untended, it cracked up the window. Now it sits there as a constant reminder of what happens when you leave cracks untended. Now it will be more expensive and more work to restore the window. But it can be restored.

Whether it is your heart or your husband's, whether is your soul or your son's, whatever is cracked can be restored - that is what God is doing in this world. But to restore it, one must admit there is a crack, and one must admit one's responsiblity for the crack, and then one must actually be willing and desiring to restore the crack and remove it. I don't mind the crack in my windshield, so I don't plan on fixing it anytime soon. But it really annoys my wife and any other passenger who has to stare through the crack. I don't care enough about my passengers to actually fix the crack. I'm not bragging, just being honest.

This Christmas, do something different...restore what is cracked.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fourteen Years Ago...I Popped the Question!

Today's the day Tara and I reminisce about the evening we got engaged.

There are a couple reasons why I picked this day to ask Tara to marry me.
One reason: our first date was on November 12, 1993 - so it seemed neat to ask her to marry me on the 12th of December.

Another reason: it was the last week of class, exam week, and I only had two more days to ask her while at school, otherwise we'd be on Christmas break. If I was going to ask her, I'd be a moron to wait till after Christmas.

Still another reason: Tara and I had been talking about getting engaged for several months. My asking her to marry me wasn't going to be the surprise, when and how - that was the surprise. Dec. 12, 1994 was a Tuesday; Tara thought I'd ask her to marry me on Monday. That's what I thought anyway, so that obviously ruled out Monday as an option, since I can't ask her to marry me on the day she thinks it's going to happen. So I lied to her.

I told her that I didn't think I was ready to get married yet. She wasn't to happy with me after that conversation. But now I had her where I wanted her - now she would be surprised when I asked her the question. I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I was smart enough to know that I'd better not let too much time pass before I actually did ask her. So Tuesday afternoon I put my plan into place.

I gathered a bunch of my friends together and gave them each an item, and then sent them to different places around campus and around town. Fourteen years later, I'm fuzzy on the order, and I may forget a couple of the guys who helped me. I think Matt Lister and Kurt Grau went to the Subway where Tara and I could get a cheap lunch (we were very poor in college...); Scott Starry and Kratz ...Adam...and Kirby...I think, went to the Sunken Gardens; Marty and his girlfriend Julia - I think they went downtown by the courthouse (Tara and I used to go for long walks in the night); Tom Rapchuk was in the dorm foyer; Troy Jester and his girlfriend Michelle went to the soccer field (where Tara and I used to go to watch the stars); my brother Jerm was the last stop by the water fountain (a traditional spot to get engaged). I was waiting for Tara at my Aunt Shirley and Faye's house, which is where Jerm sent Tara.

The house was all decorated with beautiful Christmas lights, the inside was all lit up as well, with a gorgeous Christmas tree filling the parlor. Obviously Tara had figured out what was going on, but we enjoyed the moments, and enjoyed Tara retelling her experiences of going all over town trying to find me, and getting the messages from all our friends. During the story-telling, we started slow-dancing to the music I had playing, and then finally I got down on my knee and asked Tara to marry me. She gasped, she smiled, she teared up, she let me put the ring on her finger and of course she whispered Yes!

December 12 is always a good day to remember!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sunday Sermon Notes 12.07.08

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not much of a poetry-reader. I try. I've even written a few poems of my own. My friend Jeremie Solak is a poet, and he's inspired me to enjoy poetry. I like songs, which is pretty much poetry set to music. But once the music is removed, and all that left is the words, something makes it harder to appreciate what is being communicated. And since the Bible is not set to music, sometimes it is hard to catch what God is trying to speak to us, since most of the Bible is poetry.

Zecheriah's poem is a song - actually a prayer (a prophesy too!) - which we read without the foot-stomping, hand-slapping, body-swaying which would've been part of the original utterance. And so it's easy to skip over his song/prayer/poem. Don't! It's the heart of the gospel, the foundation for what Jesus will do as recorded by Luke. The song-poem catches the essence of what God has been doing in the world through Israel, and it points us forward to what God is going to do through Israel in the present. Of course if you don't know the OT very well, it will be too easy to miss all the connections Zecheriah is making with Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Malachai and others.

To help us connect with this song-prayer, ask yourself this question: what do you really want for Christmas? Really? To be serious for a moment: if you could ask God to intervene in the world, what would you want God to do?

To ask the question a different way: what are you praying for this Christmas season? At this time when we seek to keep Jesus at the center of CHRISTmas, what are you praying for God to do in this world for the good of others and the world? Zecheriah's song reveals to us what he was praying for with all his heart and mind, what he was praying for that would be a blessing to his people and the world.

Then Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, 

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; 

he came and set his people free. 

He set the power of salvation
in the center of our lives, 

and in the very house of David his servant, 

Just as he promised long ago 

through the preaching of his holy prophets: 

Deliverance from our enemies 

and every hateful hand; 

Mercy to our fathers, 

as he remembers to do what he said he'd do, 

What he swore to our father Abraham— 

a clean rescue from the enemy camp, 

So we can worship him without a care in the world, 

made holy before him as long as we live. 

And you, my child, "Prophet of the Highest," 

will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, 

Present the offer of salvation to his people, 

the forgiveness of their sins. 

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, 

God's Sunrise will break in upon us, 

Shining on those in the darkness, 

those sitting in the shadow of death, 

Then showing us the way,
one foot at a time, 

down the path of peace.

Luke 1v67-79 [The Message]

The song/prayer/prophesy of Zechariah is about God's restoration of Israel, and the world - God is always at work in the world going about his restoration of all things - and Zechariah is thrilled that he and his son will be part of it in a huge way. If you were to re-read this song/prayer, what themes of restoration would you find in it that describe what God is/will do?

It's important for us as disciples of Jesus to catch the significance of Zechariah's song - it was an important song to Jesus, and it should be to us. The song shaped Jesus' life, it was a foundation for what he would do and say in his ministry. Thus we would expect to make some connections between the stories and teachings of Jesus and what we read about in Zechariah's prayer. We'd think of Jesus' rescue of Levi from the treasonous and corrupt world of oppresive tax collectors; we'd think of Jesus' deliverance of children, women, and men from evil spirits, evil thoughts, evil attitudes and practices; we'd think of Jesus forgiving sins and healing hearts/minds of those that would trust him; we'd think of Jesus instructing his followers on how to be peacemakers, how to reconcile and make peace with neighbors, strangers, and enemies.

So if we are going to let Zechariah's prayer become our prayer, like Jesus did, then we'd want our life, our story to begin to be influenced by it as Jesus' was. Who are people in our world/neighborhood/sphere of influence that need rescued out of destructive habits/attitudes/thoughts/actions? Who are people in our place of work/school who need to be given an alternative to the evil the see around them? Who do you know that needs to be forgiven? Who do you know that needs help to forgive? Who needs healing? Anyone you know that needs help in making reconciliation a reality? Anybody need more peace?

There are lots of prayers we could be offering up to the LORD this Christmas season. There are lots of things we want for ourselves and the world. But like Zechariah, and Jesus, maybe we ought to consider what God wants us to want. Not that we are incapable of getting our wants right, but often it seems that our wants become too self-centered, too small, too narrow. This Christmas, pray that God would reveal to you what you ought to want this Christmas season.

More than material possessions, more than modern convenience, more than increased leisure - may God whet our appetites for evermore peace in our homes, mercy in our workplace, justice in our courts, truth in our schools, righteousness in our churches, generosity in our neighborhoods, love in our world. May God reveal to you what you can do everyday to contribute to his ongoing work to restore all things as they are meant to be. This is what God cares about, this is what Jesus has come to do, and this is what his Spirit is trying to do in and through us. And God wants to use you to guide others into the paths of peace.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What a Snowstorm!

We're finally home! Our family travelled back from Detroit tonight through lots, and lots, and lots of snow.

At first we started out driving 45mph on I75, and then down to 40mph (as wackos pass us going what seemed to be 60mph)! Amy was following close behind us, and we slowly made it out of the the first storm. We stopped for gas, got food at the state's slowest McDonalds (15 minutes from the time we ordered our food to the time we paid for it...ugh. It still hasn't settled well.) and then were on our way, setting the cruise at 70mph. No snow, clear roads, little traffic.

And then BAM! Out of nowhere the visibility dropped, snow was flying everywhere, and the road was completely covered. We slowed down to 55mph, and then 40mph, and then all the way down to 25mph within a minute. It was terrible. We were less than twenty miles to Coldwater, and we were stuck in one-lane traffic trying to not hit the truck in front of us and praying nobody hit us from behind (and again, wincing as the crazy wackos whizz by us on the right). Finally, just before we came to Coldwater the storm subsided some, and we saw two semis in the ditch within a half mile of each other.

As we approached the Indiana state line, Amy muttered that she hoped our INDOT did a better job of plowing our roads. No sooner than she said that then we came up on two (slow) INDOT trucks plowing and salting the road. And of course we passed them. And were appalled at the driftcover. You couldn't see the lines, the road was completely covered with packed snow. We took it slow, 40mph, and just when we thought we could speed up a little bit, WHAM! Another storm hit, and this was the worst one yet. We flipped on our blinkers and slowed down to 15mph - visibility was only a few feet. I had never seen anything like it - we could barely see the side of the road. The snow was slamming straight into the van, the lighting was terrible, and again there were those crazy truckdrivers roaring past. I kept asking Tara if there was something wrong with me - I could not possibly fathom how they could pass me at such velocity when I could barely see in front of me.

Obviously we made it through the storm, and the rest of the trip from Lake Orion to Fort Wayne was uneventful. It was just nice to finally get home. After five long hours of intense driving. It took us less than three and a half hours to get their Friday evening...and we thought that was a long trip. The kids did good though, Amy was a great driver, and nobody got hurt.

All in all, the trip was a success - Cookie Day at Dawn and Dave's house was a hit, the kids had lots of fun, the falling snow made for a pretty atmosphere outside during the day, and now we're home and ready for bed. Good night.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sunday Sermon Notes 11.30.08

Growing up in a Protestant Christian church, we didn't pay much attention to Mary, except that she was the mother of Jesus and the young wife of Joseph. Other than the fact that she gave birth to the baby, we pretty much skipped her song in the Christmas story. I don't know why, maybe we were a little skittish about coming across too Catholic. Pity. Mary is quite the character. And her song is quite powerful.

And Mary said, 

I'm bursting with God-news; 

I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me,
and look what happened— 

I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me
will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy,
set apart from all others. 

His mercy flows in wave after wave 

on those who are in awe before him. 

He bared his arm and showed his strength, 

scattered the bluffing braggarts. 

He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud. 

The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.

He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies,
piled them high. 

It's exactly what he promised, 

beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Luke 1v46-55 (The Message)

We understand the stories and teachings of Jesus to be the heart of the Gospel, the Good News about what God is doing in the world. To give the word "gospel" a simple definition, I'm using this one from Scot McKnight:
The Gospel is - The work of God to restore us
to God and to others
for the good of others and the world.

With this kind of definition, it is worth asking: What’s the work of God that Mary is celebrating in her song? God has announced to Mary what he is going to do in her and through her as part of his ongoing work to restore his world. That what she's singing about, God's continued restoration of Israel - through her. And thus we get a glimpse into what kind of stories and teachings Luke is going to stitch together - he's given us the outline of his gospel in Mary's song. Well part of the outline, Zechariah's song is the other outline; Mary's song is about Jesus as King, Zechariah's song is about Jesus as Priest and Prophet. Mary's song is triumphant, she is confidant that Jesus will be the kind of king that rules with all the wisdom, justice and mercy we all hope for.

So, based on this song, what kind of stories and teachings should we expect from Jesus? The theme of reversal comes up alot in the stories and teachings of Jesus. So does healing the poor (to be sick was to be poor), feeding the multitudes, demonstrating power that rivaled the Herod's and Caesars, and showing mercy to the sinners, outcasts, marginalized, and trampled. Thus, there is one more question to ask: Based on this song, what kind of work should we be doing?

Especially at Christmastime, when we remember the "reason for the season", when we seek to keep "Christ in Christmas", you'd think we'd keep close to our heart Mary's song, which spells out for us the reason and the identity of the Christ. To live out the true spirit of Christmas, we'd look at the situations around us that need to be reversed. We'd start noticing the unnoticed, we'd start having mercy on the marginalized, we'd help out with getting healing to the hurting, we'd feed the famished, and use our power to make right the wrongs of our neighborhood and world.

All this seems a bit ambitious, but it's what the Spirit of Christ is all about, and it is what the Spirit wants to do in us, this Christmas and every day. We obviously can't accomplish this work of God by ourself, to restore the world is going to require some miracles. Which is what Christmas is all about. But before we can sing and live Mary's song, we have to speak with her heart: "I am the LORD's servant, may it be to me as you have said."