And They Worshipped (a post from my wife Ashley)

IMG_1069Steadily the water dripped into the sink below, each drop echoing the thundering of my heart. Squatting and standing. Standing then squatting. In comfortable silence we waited. No words for this moment could be found. “Does it usually take this long?”, I asked. “It depends. They already have her on her back. I don’t know why they won’t let us in now.” Worried words spoke of weighty thoughts. The doors opened and we were ushered in. I struggled to tuck my phone into my back pocket and zip up my blue paper jumper as I entered.

Covered faces with exposed eyes all around us. All of us the same in that moment.
My friend’s gaze met her husband’s. He sat in the chair next to her. A set of kind eyes directed me to a stool beside him.

Silence from the three of us. Murmuring voices all around us. The smell of burning flesh. The sound of tubes sucking up fluid.
A nurse with a blanket appeared. She held it out. Another person placed a tiny body inside of it.

No noise.
No crying. No hurried movements to clear out airways and bring warmth to flesh startled with the newness of life.

No miracle today.

Wrapped in two blankets, she was placed in her daddy’s arms. He turned her miniature, porcelain doll face to her mother.  For a moment, we were all as breathless as she as we soaked in the slightness of her frame.
Ten delicate fingers and ten delicate toes. Her daddy’s ears. Her sister’s nose. Her biggest brother’s lips. Her mommy’s chin. Her other brother’s toes.
Perfection, she was. Fully formed, yet not quite enough.

I held her in my arms moments later. 1 pound 9 ounces has never weighed so much.

Sweet Maelee Ann was born at 25 weeks gestation.
We waited in recovery for 15 minutes. A nurse was there. She had no idea.
Stunned she stood as a broken father spoke words no one wants to utter: “She’s gone”.
“But…but she was fine?”  The words poured out like a terrible question to which the answer has already been given.
A few seconds, some rapid steps forward, and he was standing, slumped over, weeping on the shoulder of a nurse turned friend.
They wheeled in his wife, my friend.
The chaplain entered. “I’m so sorry,” he spoke in a near whisper.  Genuine sorrow rested on his face. Awkwardness too. Nearly speechless at such a heavy moment.
We were taken back into the room where my friends had spent the past several weeks.  A nurse, attempting not to sob and failing, brought in their little bundle of lifeless joy.

A few minutes later, mom in bed and dad beside, with arms around each other and tiny body in between, they wept as the music played:

Blessed be Your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

And blessed be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name

When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name

On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
And when the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say, Lord
Blessed be Your name, Lord

They worshipped. Dead baby in arms, hope for her future dead with her. And they worshipped. They wept, but they praised. Broken hearts poured out gratefulness for this moment, this wrecked and ragged moment. Debilitating sorrow, gut-wrenching agony.

And they worshipped.

I consider it one of the greatest privileges of my life to have been there with her parents when Maelee was born; to have celebrated her existence and mourned the life she would never live with them; to have held her tiny frame, stroked her dark hair, and kissed her rounded cheeks; to have said hello and good bye at the same moment; to have sat quietly in a corner and watched “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord” lived out in the midst of profound loss.

Watching her parents grieve over her in that moment was a tangible expression of the very real way God grieved the loss of the Son He willingly gave up for me and of the very real way God loves me.  Because of Maelee, I think of another baby who also weighed more than his infant body displayed. Because of Maelee, I think of Jesus, and I worship.

 “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my heart may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” -Psalm 30:11-12

Abiding in Rest

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This post is meant to be read with the sermon “Abide in Rest.”
Click here to listen, and then click back to this post to read along.

The Big Ten

  • No other gods.
  • No graven images.
  • Don’t take the LORD’s name in vain.
  • Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
  • Don’t murder.
  • Don’t commit adultery.
  • Don’t steal.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Don’t covet.

#4 is the least understood commandment, but it is extremely important.

So what was/is Sabbath?

  • A day of rest, devoted to God.
    • Exodus 20:8-11

How serious was God about the Sabbath?

  • Life and Death
    • Exodus 31:12-17

Why did God give Sabbath to His people?

  • A Day to Rest (Leviticus 23:3)
  • A Day to Remember (Deut 5:15)
  • A Day to Worship (Mark 1:21)

What does this have to do with us?

  • First of all, Christians are not required to observe the Sabbath in the same way as Israel. (Mark 2:27, Colossians 2:16-19, Hebrews 4)
  • The Principle of Sabbath Rest
    • Even though we are not required to Sabbath, we shouldn’t neglect the principle of taking a regular Sabbath rest.

So how can we abide in rest?

  • We need to develop rhythms in our life.  Here are three specific areas.
    • Rhythms of Rest
      • (Create boundaries that protect your ability to rest. My example: Email Boundaries)
    • Rhythms of Reflection 
      • (Work to develop ways to regularly reflect.  My Example: Journaling)
    • Rhythms of Worship 
      • (Weekly Worship, Family Worship, & Private Devotions)

Recommended Resources:

Here are some resources that I have found helpful.
41ymerlulGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Making Room for Life – Randy Frazee

DeYoung Crazy Busy – Kevin DeYoung

 

I Remember (A post from my wife Ashley)

World-Trade-Center-9-11-cross-1Every year on this day, I find myself forgetting to breathe, holding my breath every time I look at the news, waiting…waiting for the words and the images to appear on the screen.

I know I am not alone in this. I am not the only one who has a deep and abiding fear tangled up in this day. I am not the only one who grieves for the loss of people and peace.

My children, I think, they know nothing of life for us before this day. They do not know that we were married mere months after the attack. They do not know the fear I had walking up the steps to get on an airplane in December of 2001 for our honeymoon. They do not understand the relief of landing on the concrete of an airport safely. They do not know the fear and the despair of that day and of the days and years that followed. They do not, but I do. We do. And we remember. I remember.

I remember.

I remember sleeping peacefully and late into the morning.

I remember my then fiancé bursting into my apartment, talking non-stop, words jumbling in my brain indistinguishable from the numbness of my sleep.

I remember the look on his face when I gained focus.

I remember sending him out of the apartment with a weak “I’ll meet you at your place”, so I could get dressed.

I remember half walking/half jogging to his apartment to watch the news, trying with every bit of me to focus on what he had said and make sense of it all.

I remember seeing smoke on the screen of the tv, still struggling to awaken from such a deep slumber.

I remember looking at my fiancé staring blankly at that same screen.

I remember asking him what I was looking at and if it was real.

I remember not being able to shift my eyes from the image.

I remember a subtle panic welling up inside of me.

I remember when the second plane hit.

I remember the Pentagon.

I remember the plane in Pennsylvania.

I remember the panic no longer being subtle.

I remember feeling numb and feeling firey at the same time.

I remember knowing I would never forget and wishing I could take the images out of my mind.

I remember people jumping. Dust in the air. Panicked voices. Wailing. Destroyed vehicles on the streets. Children. I remember hearing about the children.

I remember going to a gathering on our college campus and listening to a man talk about class cancellations and available counselors for the undone hearts surrounding me.

I remember the words of our president, and I remember his face as he spoke them.

I remember their faces, images of people I did not know with names underneath, recordings of phone calls made with the now familiar voices of strangers saying goodbye.

I remember the stories of their lives.

I remember the expressed sorrow of their loved ones.

I remember the despair.

And I remember the hope.

I remember the sensation of pride rising up in a nation that would overcome.

I remember people crying on the shoulders of the stranger next to them.

I remember people noticing those around them.

I remember the humanity of it all and the way people put aside all of their preferences to uphold the grieving and the broken.

I remember the all night candlelit vigils at churches around the country.

I remember once silent voices crying out to a forgotten God, yelling over the sorrowful cries of mourning, “Why have you forsaken us, God?”

And I remember words I have read and heard many times over reverberating in my soul,  “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?”

I remember understanding on a much smaller scale what weight My Jesus must have felt on that cross; what loneliness.

I remember knowing those words were not His last, and knowing they would not be the last of our nation either.

I remember the peace from acknowledging the sovereignty of God, Who does not hide in a dark corner unaware, but waits to be called upon.

I remember longing for the people surrounding me to look up, to take hold of grace, to find hope in the God who willingly suffered the terror of seeing His own son suffer and die for the good of those who would call out His name and love Him…that God, the ONLY God, gave up everything so that we could run to Him in our confusion and anguish…that God, He did not abandon them. He has not abandoned us. He will not forsake His own children.

That God, He remembers this day.

He remembers their faces, their names, their stories.

He remembers you.

He remembers where you were when you heard.

He remembers how you felt. He knows how you still feel.

He remembers. He knows. And He waits.

Remember, Reflect, & Gain Courage

moleskineThere is a black Moleskine journal on my desk that contains proof of the faithfulness of God. While the proof inside may or may not be convincing to you, it powerfully strengthens my trust in my God who has provided for me and my family again and again.

There’s something so tangible about this record of faith, that I even treat my journal with an extra level of honor. If my office was on fire, this book and a few pictures are really the only things I would care to retrieve. To me, like the pictures, it’s content is priceless.

Here’s why…

My journal helps me remember.

It’s almost shameful how quickly I forget.  And I forget important things.  Things that, in the moment, consume my life, quickly become vague memories that are filed and forgotten. But this isn’t the way I want to live my life.  I want to remember.  I want yesterdays discoveries to guide todays decisions.  I want to allow the layers of character and humility to build up in my life.  And the only way that this can happen is by remembering lessons learned.  Remembering prices paid.  Remembering valleys and mountaintops alike.  My journal helps me remember; and by remembering, I grow.

My journal helps me reflect.

Remembering is the first step, but it’s not the last.  Once I remember, I need to reflect. Here is a definition of reflect that might be helpful.

Reflect is to think about (something or someone) carefully especially in order to make a choice or decision

When I remember and reflect on the past, I become a far better decision maker in the present.

My journal gives me courage.

I need courage…often.  As a husband, as a father, and as a pastor; I need courage. Courage to blaze new paths, to change direction, and to keep going even when the path is almost impassable.  When I remember the faithfulness of God, reflect on His goodness in the past, I gain courage to walk into the future.

If you don’t currently use a journal, I encourage you to consider trying it out.  You won’t regret it!

Also, here is a great article from Desiring God entitled “Journal As a Pathway to Joy,” that I think you might enjoy.

Your Gate is Too Small

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Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory! Selah
Psalm 24:7-10

When you study the text of the Bible in the context of the land in which it was written, your mental pictures begin to match the mental pictures of those who originally wrote and read the Bible.  And when you see the pictures correctly, you begin to understand the text more fully.

Above, you see a picture of the pylon gate at the Temple of Edfu in Egypt.  This is one of the best preserved Egyptian Temples and displays the astounding level of devotion and honor that the ancient Egyptians paid to their gods.  As historically significant as this is, I want you to see that picture for another reason.

In ancient times, gates like this one would be a normal part of the building of a temple. This gate provided not only an entrance point for worshipers, but also a symbolic entry for whatever god was being worshiped.  That being the case, the size of the gate, was a direct reflection on the size of the god that entered through that gate.

The bigger the gate, the bigger the god.

Now reread Psalm 24:7-10.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory! Selah
Psalm 24:7-10

Do you see it?

The Psalmist is shouting that the gates are too small; that the King of Glory is way bigger than the gate, and that the gate must be reconstructed for Him to come in.

God is bigger and more capable than you currently believe; and, with the Psalmist, I challenge you to “raise the gates” in your life, and trust Him.

 

PS: There is nothing quite like studying the text of the Bible in the context of the land, and I would love the opportunity to show you pictures like this one in Israel in 2015.  So click here, watch the video, and sign up to receive more information as it becomes available.

Why Egypt?

The rabbis say, “The children of Israel came to Egypt as a family but left as a nation.”

Much of the formative development of the people of Israel was experienced in light of the power, prosperity, and influence of Egypt.

Once we see this, the question becomes Why?

Why would God choose to raise His children in this foreign land?

While we can never claim to fully understand the council of God, it seems to me that God used this environment to teach His children a lesson.

Think about it. Egypt represented the absolute apex of human prosperity, power, and order in the ancient world. And they maintained this status, not for centuries, but for millennia. Egypt was the clearest picture of the best that humanity had to offer.

But God wanted something better for His children.

He wanted them to know that no level of human power, prosperity or order could give them what they truly needed.

He wanted them to know His peace or Shalom.

This Shalom doesn’t only speak of peace with the world around us. It speaks of peace with Him.

After the rebellion in the garden, they had never known peace, and they had no way of finding their way back to God. Only God could save His people and give them peace.

And He began to show them this in Egypt.

The ultimate picture came when God gave up His Son, King Jesus, to be killed on our behalf so that we could have peace with Him.

And this peace is better.

Better than everything that we can achieve through our individual effort. And better than all the greatness of humanity which was displayed in Egypt.

He is better and He brings His Shalom to all who will follow Him.

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Study Tour 2014

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Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad,
Ve’ahavta et Adonai eloeikah,
b’khol levavkah,
uve’khol naphshekah,
uve’khol m’odekah.
Ve’ahavta re acha comocha.

Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone,
love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your strength!
Love your neighbor as yourself.

-Deuteronomy 6:4:5 & Leviticus 19:18

I’m thankful to have the opportunity to once again walk some of the ancient paths of our faith, and as much as I can, I would love to share some of this experience with you.

Here is the plan for the days ahead.

  • Day 1 – Traveling to the Middle East
  • Day 2 – Cairo: Where Stone Touches Sky
  • Day 3 – Aswan: Meet the gods!
  • Day 4 – Nile Center: Let My People Go!
  • Day 5 – Aliyah!: Going up to Meet with God – Sinai
  • Day 6 – Into the Wilderness: Walk this Way
  • Day 7 – Timnah: God Shaped Servants – A Wilderness People
  • Day 8 – Jordan South: Preparing to Engage
  • Day 9 – Jordan Center: From Moses to John to Jesus
  • Day 10 – Jordan to Galilee: Entering the Land
  • Day 11 – Galilee – North: Another Kind of People
  • Day 12 – Around the Galilee: Another Kind of Egypt
  • Day 13 – Shephelah: Engage!
  • Day 14 – Jerusalem – Old City: Another Kind of Exodus
  • Day 15 – Traveling Home

If you’re interested in following our progress on this trip, you can follow me on this blog, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.  I’ll share what I can, when I can, as I study the text in the context of the land in which it was written.

Here is the promo video for this Study Tour.  Enjoy!