Monday, February 13, 2012
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Lately I have been considering what it means to refer to God as “Emmanuel” (God with us, Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14). I take for granted most of the time that God is actually with us. As Christians during the Christmas holiday we affirm this truth about God’s grace and since I don’t have any upcoming exams or papers to write, I’m free to ponder a loving God who refuses to leave us alone, especially when we need him the most.
I consider myself blessed to have the good fortune of seeing God’s grace firsthand at different points in my life. In good times and bad and even within the mundane moments of life, God reminds me He is always present and participating in our world and invites me to do the same.
One of the most significant religious experiences of my life occurred nearly ten years ago. At the time I worked for an Information Technology services company as a recruiter. I detested my job. Mostly I was upset with myself because I was never able to achieve the “work-life” balance that the company preached but never practiced themselves. Most of my co-workers (including me) worked late hours to get ahead of our competition at the expense of our personal lives. The tension of wanting to provide for my family and also spend time with them seemed unbearable. The competitive nature of my work led me to believe that while I worked for this company, I could not support my family and also hang out with them. The two ideas were mutually exclusive from one another.
One afternoon I remember sitting on my back porch brooding over this unceasing tension of needing to support a family and wanting to also spend time with them. My two daughters played close by in the backyard. Ironically, I should have been present to them, enjoying their company like the good father that I hoped to become some day, and yet I could not think of anything but work. I loathed myself for not being the dad I wanted to be and out of desperation and frustration I prayed to God to show me a way out of this mess.
In the next moment, my oldest daughter Hailey, who was five years old at the time, pranced up on the porch in her joyful play and exclaimed to me, “Dad, I think God wants you to do exactly what is in your heart.” Then she left to join her sister in the back yard as quickly as she came to me.
Her words hit me like a ton of bricks. Seemingly she possessed a profound sense of what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “… it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20a). The shock of praying silently and then receiving an immediate response brought me to tears. Until Hailey’s advice, I had not thought to listen to the voice of Christ who lives in me. I realized that in my misguided efforts to support my family, I never considered whom I aimed to please. Instead of trying to please God, I tried to please too many other people. Instead of listening to the voice of God’s Holy Spirit, I listened to the voices of others. Instead of grounding my hope in God’s word, I trusted the word of successful business people who seemed to have life all figured out. I believe to this day that God used Hailey as a conduit to reach me. She reminded me that God is near in times of desperation as well as times of joy. That afternoon changed the trajectory of my life.
Since that time I learned that religious experiences happen every day as we seek communion with the One who is Emmanuel, especially during the mundane times of our lives. Recently, as I drove my eight year-old Abigail to school, I noticed God’s presence once again within the ordinary, repetitious parts of life. As I passed all the human-made structures around me (buildings, restaurants, cars, sidewalks, and so on) I lifted my eyes upward and fixated on a brilliant, multi-colored, and breath-taking sky. Immediately, my contemplation turned to God. That moment reminded me of the Psalmist’s words of praise saying, “This is the day the Lord has made… The Lord is God and he has given us light” (Psalm 118:24a, 27a). God’s presence in the ordinary brought me once again to tears.
Today I walk humbly in the knowledge that I am never far from God’s presence. He is with us in joy, in sorrow, and even during the ordinary, unremarkable times of life. This awareness leads me to praise and thanksgiving. It moves me to participate in God’s kingdom on earth to encourage others into the same faith that saved me. My prayer for all of us this Advent and Christmas season is that we encounter the One who loved us so much that He gave us the best gift of all, Jesus.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
What are you looking for? This question prompts an endless number of responses. The answers vary from 'my car keys' to 'my wallet' to other questions like, 'where are you staying?' perhaps.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Owen and I made it to "college" yesterday evening in Boone, NC to visit some students who go to our church and some who don't. This trip is part of a three-day, three-stop tour to visit folks on the western part of our great state and who also go to our church. Yesterday we had dinner with seven students and just talked about life for awhile. It was a good time catching up with folks and meeting some new friends.
And the purpose for our little trip? To be in relationship. To let them know someone else cares about them; who they are; and who they want to become. College is an exciting time; full of exploration, adventure, independence and pressure. I want them to know that we are there to support them; to be in relationship with them; to participate in their story lines.
And isn't that what God called us to do - to participate in each others' lives? He created this beautiful life, full of ups, downs, joy, sorrow, pleasure and pain; and He wanted us to know that no matter what, He would not let us go through it alone.
So we surround each other in love, continuing to participate in each others' stories. The stories that are our lives. To Jennah, Eric, and Geoff, I had a great time catching up and I hope to see you all again very soon. And to Brady, Samantha, Jim, Blakely, Emily, and Andrew; it was great meeting you all and I hope we can do it again soon.
On to Asheville and Charlotte!