Saturday, November 28, 2009

Christmas is underway...

We got our tree today and of course forgot to get a picture of all of us around it. I am sure there is more to come but wanted to post these.

We live right around the corner from this tree lot. For years when we lived in town we would drive up to the Santa Cruz Mountains to cut down a tree. Now that we live in the mountains this is the first year we actually went a cut one down for various reasons. Our goal this year was get the tallest one on this lot.

Jake always disagrees with the tree that we pick out. True to form this one was not good enough. But the rest of us agreed and we had our fill. Nice to have Rob and Jensen to cut and carry - Robbie got a little carried away with the lifting on top of the car. The tree is up and we will spend tomorrow decorating it before Robbie heads back to college. We will all miss him but know that he will be back soon.

I was thinking about Thanksgiving and now approaching Christmas...what a blessing it is to be where we are right now. Jake was of course frustrated that he could not run around like he normally does and had to walk carefully with his helmet on... frustrated at not being "normal". Wanting to be whole again for Christmas. I reminded him of my birthday and the gift that he gave me - a standing hug. We take what we have and lay it before those that we love, not in greatness but in purity of heart. That is truly the best we have to give. "Lord, help me to be satisfied with what I do have, not longing for what I do not."

Grace and peace

Tom (Daddy)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Do not be afraid...

Quite often in the Bible it is recorded that when God shows up one of the first things he says is "do not be afraid." Adam was hiding from God after he sinned, Moses was approaching a burning bush, Abraham was leaving his home, Mary was pregnant, shepherds where in their fields, Jesus disciples were meeting in private - God or his angel shows up and says "do not freak out and run away."

Fear so easily drowns out that inner voice telling us that we are okay, that we are loved, that we are secure. Fear blasts it's voice and creates a reaction that shakes our foundation to the core. Our response is to run and hide like Adam or stand and fight like Jacob (later named Israel). I wonder if when God talks about man's "hardened heart" if that is not a result of fear. Fear is a response at self -preservation, self-defense, protection. Is that not a hardening that puts a defense around our being to avoid being hurt? Why would God come toward us and say do not be afraid?

He desires for us to be open to the message that He has for us - if we are defending ourselves and protecting ourselves we are closed not open. God's desire is for our soft hearts to receive the message that he has for us not to harm us or make us freaks but to mold us and shape us and create in us a pure heart.

As I look at this journey that we have been on and as I look at Jacob there are of course times of intense fear. Even now in the midst of being thankful for the miracles that have brought us to this point - there is fear - that brings us to the point of tears - that wages war and puts up defenses. God whispers "do not be afraid, do not go into hiding, open yourself up to me." I have been told since high school Sunday school to fear God and that means to revere God. I accept the difference between God saying do not be afraid and yet being told that fearing God is good. I can get it - but then I really do not always get it. How do I fear God and yet not be afraid of him?

"When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was." Ex 20:18-20

God is good all the time. He has no evil at all. Fearing God is not the same as fearing what is evil. In fact fearing God is fearing because he is perfectly good and it is I who am evil. How in the world can I stand in the presence of holy perfection? God's grace is perfect too and it allows me through he cross of Christ to draw near to God - not stand at a distance - but to draw near. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Mt 11:28-30

In the midst of this suffering - in the midst of your suffering Jesus says come close to me. Hold on to me. Allow me to be your rest. For us to do this we strive to keep our hearts soft and open to the message that He has for us - that we would come out of hiding and share our hearts with one another and allow God to speak through the community of those around us - and he gives us rest.

The opposite of fear is not bravery - rather it is rejoicing...

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Phil 4:4-9

Fear puts you in hiding but rejoicing sends you to the streets as you join the parade like King David dancing around in his underwear singing praises to God as the Arc was brought back to Jerusalem. Nothing could keep him from rejoicing. (Not even the disdain of Michal his wife) (see 2 Sam 6 for a very cool response from Davd when confronted by Michal.)

I guess that is my deep pray today - that we would not be in fear but rejoicing.

Grace and peace,

Tom (Daddy)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tofu Turkey and the Gift

Happy Thanksgiving!

We are so thankful for the amazing community that has and continues to surround us. We DO have so much to be thankful for on this day. We are laying low this morning and just getting going. Debbie made an amazing turkey last night and this morning we plan to do our favorite meal: "Big Breakfast". The puzzle is out, the parade is on and football games are coming. Later we are going to go down and see may parent's oddity: "Tofu Turkey".

What a blessing it is to be at home and not in the hospital. Immediately as I am thankful, I think of Jessica's family, Andrew's family, and so many more that are still in the hospital. There are so many others that have such heartache right now as we deal with "trials of various kinds." My prayer is less about taking away the trial these days - though of course that is still there. My prayer is that right where we are in the midst of our day we would recognize the Gift. The very presence of God in grace, hope, faith, truth can and does penetrate the moment and infuse our spirit.

It is so easy to wallow in the moment of "what is not" or "what should have been" or "what might be." We go there a lot with Jake's Journey. I am not saying we should just have positive thinking but that we should recognize that in this moment there is a power beyond us that is with us - not just in tragedy but also in the everyday moments. "Immanuel, God is with us" the gift is about being united with God through Jesus Christ in this very moment.

Paul says in Romans 6 "If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin."

So often I focus on being united with Christ in his death and the freedom that comes from forgiveness but I do not focus as fully on being united with him in resurrection. The resurrection does not just come in the future when I physically die - in spiritual death comes spiritual resurrection. The resurrection power is now in this moment because God is alive and active in this moment. So then no matter where I am right now the power of God is with me. Freedom comes in the death AND resurrection of Jesus - Immanuel, God is with us.

We have a lot to be thankful for. Time to start in on the "Big Breakfast".

Love and peace,

Tom (Daddy)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Continuous, reverent thankfulness

So very much to be thankful for.

As I write this, Robbie is on his way home. We are all looking forward to it so much. It will be so nice just to be together as a family and play games and do a puzzle. Jake usually does not do the Thanksgiving puzzle with us (other than trying to steal the last piece), but this year he picked it out. We also bought a random game to play.

Jake had frustrating day today. He gave blood (needs to get it tested weekly) and then had an appointment with the surgeon to look at the skin graft on his thumb. This is the third Tuesday since the operation and the third time the doctor has examined it. The first week he said it looked good. The second week he was not sure if it would take or not. Today he wanted the surgeon over him to look at it as he was not sure if the bone was showing through. Jake and Debbie were on their way home and stopped for lunch when the doctor called and they had to go back to be examined. Made the day so much longer and we basically came away with "we will see". At least that is as much as Jake shared with me so far. He was pretty overwhelmed when he got home.

Overall he is getting stronger - you can see it in how he walks and moves. He is able to spend a lot less time on his bed and more time downstairs with us. He may not feel like it, but I see it. So much to be thankful for. He is here with us and we will all be together for Thanksgiving. That sounds so cliche' right now - so typical that we count our blessings - stop and recognize the blessings that we have - it is more than cliche' though. A heart that is thankful, truly thankful holds on to peace, joy, hope and faith as a coiled rope; thankfulness changes your entire countenance, it changes how you treat others, it changes how you consider God.

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'" Heb 12:28-29

Being thankful we remember the relationship that we have with God and our place in that relationship which brings humility.
"Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." Deut 4:23-24

Establishing a heart of thankful reverence shapes who we are as we move forward through life helping us to evaluate, discern and react with the fullness of Christ - the power of Christ.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. Col 2:6-10

It is very easy to say that I am thankful and honestly have moments of thanks but continuous reverent thankfulness is so very hard. I honestly want more - I do not want things to stay they way they are now so I long for more...long for it to be better...and so easily forget. Perhaps that is the confusion at least for me - thankful does not mean finished - it does not mean we stop moving forward - it is actually the opposite - being grateful leads us forward because we see that God is moving and acting and is not done.

So grateful even for this journey - for we see the majesty of the Almighty in the midst of the storm - he is more real today that he was yesterday and we trust him more and more.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tom (Daddy)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Finding a handle on hope...

There is this continuous struggle in my mind and heart. There exists a tension of discontent that continues to be a struggle. It is between this idea of my own action and releasing things to God and let him do things. What I do vs what God does. I know some who refuse medicine for treating ailment because they trust and have faith that God will heal them. I have also known those that do not believe God moves in this area at all and that we need to trust fully in modern science and technology. The last time I checked this notion of "God helps those that help themselves" is not in the Bible. Where is the line then?

The struggle for me is how much I do vs trust God to do? Is faith diminished because I act. Is faith stronger because I wait for God to move. Or have I missed the sign that God sent me.

I struggled through this with unemployment. I feel my call and passion is for ministry and yet for the last 3 or is it 4 now years I have not been fully employed in a church. Called by God but no phone call by man. I have a friend who says that I just need to trust and wait on God to provide in his timing. I have a friend that says that I need to sell myself better. It seem that there is faith in waiting and in acting. Tell someone that you are an unemployed pastor and they look at you like you are some kind of freak. I actually had someone say that they did not know pastors could be unemployed.

Through the trials of these last years and especially in this journey with Jacob I have become more convinced than ever that who I am as a person, pastor, dad is not defined by my paycheck. Honestly it is really hard because our culture has served to define us in this way. I love being a pastor right now where I am - free to encouraged and love people and direct their attention to Jesus. That is the call - not just for pastors but for all of us. I do not need to be called by man to do what God has called me to do. It is so easy to forget that.

In church this morning the pastor spoke on suffering - it seems like that surrounds us right now. I told a friend of mine that maybe I could be the Pastor of Suffering...

He was talking about Paul and his time of suffering during the shipwreck on his journey. What he said sent me back to Romans and specifically these verses.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:1-5

I love these words: justified, peace, access, rejoice, hope... so much could be said in these verses. Paul in the verses before this was writing to help God's people to understand that the message of God, the Gospel, was not just for the Jews but the Gentiles as well. He spoke in terms of Abraham and the promise that God gave them and that it is not our outward conformity and obedience that determines being right with God (justified) but that our inward heart - the circumcision of the heart - that matters. That come through faith.

How do we get to the point of having hope against all hope like Abraham? Godly character is shaped as we persevere through suffering. Perseverance is all about recognizing that God is in this moment with us sustaining us through this storm. Perhaps it is not a decision between waiting for God to move or moving thinking God is not in this. Maybe it is about remain focused through faith that God is in the midst and that knowing God means that my actions and God's actions are so closely connected because I know the heart of God and it is impossible to distinguish the two.

Jesus says that, "I am the Great Shepherd. My sheep know my voice and they follow." I really think that I get so caught up in trying to figure things out that I forget to listen to the voice of Jesus.

The question I left church with this morning is: "what is the difference between acting on our own and obeying in faith?" My answer is still forming as I struggle daily. But In know this: being justified through faith I hold on to peace with God because Jesus Christ provided by faith access to the Father, standing firm in grace. That is the hope of God's glory that causes me to rejoice.

As for Jacob, I really think this is part of the struggle for him too. Each day is a day of struggle between faith that God is with him in this and strength to follow God and take steps to follow the voice of the Shepherd.

This week is one of a few appointments but mostly we are excited to welcome Robbie back home and have a little peace in the midst of family. We are all just excited to be together.

We continue to ask specifically for prayer regarding the graft on Jacob's thumb - "Lord, heal that thumb and allow the skin to live." Also pray for the infection to clear so that we can move on to head surgery as we dwell in Hope in 2010.

In growing peace.

Tom (Daddy)