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Blogger, Christ-follower, Encourager, Friend, Husband, Dad

Sunday, June 30, 2013

What's So Amazing About Grace?

One of my favorite authors, Phillip Yancey, asked that question in a book by the same title.  Since that is one of his books that I have not yet read, I will have to provide my own answer.

Grace is amazing because it is unnatural.

Do you need evidence of that?  The responses of The Food Network, Wal-Mart, and other sponsors to Paula Deen’s admission of racially insensitive remarks (decades ago) was completely natural.  None of us wants to be labeled as racist or bigoted, even by association.  To extend grace would have put those sponsors at risk from some of their other constituents.

How about the issues brought forth in the discussion of Senate Bill 5 in Austin a few days ago? It is completely natural to accuse the pro-life crowd of being more concerned about a fetus than they are about a woman’s right to choose. It is completely natural to describe the pro-choice crowd as being callous toward the murder of innocent children. Similarly, the Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 have given plenty of opportunity for natural and graceless responses on both sides.  It is completely natural to accuse defenders of traditional marriage of denying rights to people just because they are different.  It is completely natural to accuse the homosexual community of trying to undermine the moral fabric of our nation. For either side to extend grace would risk losing the strategic political battles that are determining the laws of the land.

Our problem is that we are so natural, and therefore define grace from a natural standpoint.  If we extend grace we are giving in.  We are tolerating or accepting.  We are refusing to take a stand.  Natural grace is weak.

Unnatural (dare we say supernatural?) grace is none of those.  It sees real people with a real need of real love.  It sees real brokenness and real confusion and seeks to speak the real truth without either condoning or condemning.  Supernatural grace draws from resources beyond ourselves to love people more than politics.  Jesus did not die for politics.  He died for people.

Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, smacked me upside the head just a few days ago.  “One of the greatest proofs that you are drawing on the grace of God is that you can be totally humiliated before others without displaying even the slightest trace of anything but His grace.”

What are you and I willing to risk to show others the unnatural grace of God?  Our lives matter so much to Him that He risked everything to make it possible for us to be right with Him.

2 Peter 3:9 (The Message)- God isn't late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn't want anyone lost. He's giving everyone space and time to change.

That, my friends, is amazing grace.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Things That Go Beep in the Night

Beep, beep, beep! 

That unexpected sound woke me up at 1:00 this morning in the middle of a weird dream about dragons that I was really glad to have interrupted. But when the beep was discovered to be the heat/smoke detector in our bedroom, I had to get up and investigate.  By the time I walked around the inside and outside of the house for a look and sniff, and even stuck my head up in the attic for more of the same, I was in a state of what might be described as … awake.

It took me awhile to go back to sleep and even then, it was for brief naps that included more weird dreams about radiation alarms going off and other things that make complete sense only during sleep and in Hollywood. 

Fortunately, I recently found the setting on my phone that only allows calls from designated numbers to make any sounds between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.  Otherwise the person who called me at 2:00 a.m. would have contributed to my beep-full-ness sleeplessness. 

Of course there was also the internal alarm caused by that piece of watermelon I had at dinner that necessitated another trip during the night, but that’s all I’m going to say about that.

At least last night there was a reason for being awake.  Mrs. Sweetie also heard the alarm, so it wasn’t part of my dream.  But there are plenty of other nights that the alarms in my head during the night contribute to my morning fatigue.  That important meeting coming up.  That unexpected expenditure.  That worry over the kids. That thing I wish I had said or done differently.  Beep, beep, beep!

What goes beep in your night?

Psalm 121 says, “I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.  Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The Lord himself watches over you!  The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever."

Psalm 3:3-5 says, “But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain.  I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me."

Our lives matter so much to God that He stays awake so we don’t have to.  Give those internal beeps over to Him and trust Him to watch over your sleep.

But you might want to eat your watermelon a little earlier.

Monday, June 17, 2013

COWabunga, Dude!

“Gerry, we just took out a cow.” 

Can I just tell you that when you hear those words on a cell phone call, it does not bless your heart!  Especially when the call comes from a groomsman who just left from your son’s wedding reception and has another two of your son’s best friends and wedding attendants in the car with him.  I have known these boys for years, the driver for his entire life. We definitely had some ANGUS ANGST going on and there may be some future COWnseling necessary.

This crazy COWmikaze event was probably a result of the powerful thunderstorm that blew across Palo Duro Canyon toward the end of the wedding reception and left us COWering under cover watching one of the most amazing light shows I have ever seen. 

Young men from the big city of Azle don’t expect to enCOWnter livestock in the road while they are driving in the rain late at night.  Of course, in cattle country those BLESSED BOVINES can and do move around during stormy weather. It is UDDERLY impossible to keep them all under COWntrol and all acCownted for. The ten minutes it took me to catch up to them after the phone call seemed to COWnt down like molasses on a January morning.  When I arrived at the scene, the car was totaled and Bessie had departed for HEIFER HEAVEN, but the boys were ok. They are to be COWngratulated for their calm response. I’m sure that Zeke’s wedding day will be one they will never forget--and that's no BULL!

All I could think of was how a spectacularly wonderful day could have ended in tragedy.  Ok, maybe it did end in tragedy for the cow, but the rest is just stuff.  A rancher lost the value of a cow.  Our friends lost the value of a vehicle.  But God protected our most precious treasures—the lives of three young men. 

I don’t know why God let them walk away unhurt.  We don’t usually bother to ask why on things like that.  We ask why the cow was in the road.  We ask why they weren’t able to swerve at miss it.  We would certainly be asking why if they had been injured or worse.  But since we think we deserve good things like protection, we don’t bother to ask why when it happens.

I’m not suggesting that we should always ask why things happen the way they do.  I am suggesting that we have a purpose for being here.  Sometimes a “near miss” can refocus us on fulfilling that purpose.

Acts 17:27-28 says, “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.”

Our lives matter so much to God that He has arranged circumstances so we can enCOWnter Him. 

Spiritual lessons from a restless cow?  COWabunga!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lord of the Rings

Mrs. Sweetie and I have spent the past week on “vacation” and I am exhausted.  No, it wasn’t one of those see-how-far-you-can-drive-and-how-many-attractions-you-can-visit vacations.  We have spent a week in the Texas panhandle helping with final preparations for our baby boy’s wedding.  Yesterday evening, we stood on a point overlooking majestic Palo Duro Canyon, under the warm glow of a Texas sunset and I pronounced this couple, my amazing boy and his beautiful love, husband and wife.  After eight years of friendship and almost four years of courtship, they pledged their love and commitment to God and to each other standing before a rough hewn cross at the Christian camp where they first met.  I have to admit … no, proclaim … that I am one happy dad.

Next Sunday is Father’s Day.  This year, it is especially significant for me as I celebrate being a father for 25 years and getting a daughter-in-law.  I’ve almost gotten my head wrapped around the father-in-law thing because my baby girl presented me with a son-in-law 2 ½ years ago.  Yesterday’s wedding gives me a certain sense of completion and fulfillment.  Our precious Allie became the final piece of my fatherhood puzzle.  My two kids are all grown up and have found their partners for life.  The circle is completed. 

Symbolic of this completed circle, Mrs. Sweetie bought me a ring for Father’s Day.  Whenever I wear it, I will be keenly aware of the blessings of God on my life through my family. This ring will always be precious to me; probably second only to the wedding band that pretty much stays on my left hand 24/7.  I wore this new “Daddy ring” for the first time at the wedding yesterday. It seemed so appropriate to introduce it in this sacred moment.

I got a little misty-eyed when that special girl came down the aisle toward my boy.  Watching the two of them looking at each other filled my heart with something that defies my vocabulary.  That feeling was probably what caused me to say at the crucial moment, “Zeke, you may kiss my daughter-in-law.”

That other ring, the left hand one, is symbolic as well.  It symbolizes choices.  After 29 years, Mrs. Sweetie still makes my heart go thumpity thump, but the ring reminds me that I choose again every day to share my life with her, to do what is best for her, to honor our Savior with our marriage.  Truly, He is the Lord of my rings.  How precious our lives are to Him!

My prayer for my “circle” is that each one would see their Savior as the Lord of their rings, their marriages, their lives.  They are more precious to Him than they are to me. And that’s saying something.

Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.”  I am a man most blessed.

Our lives matter to God.  Is He Lord of your rings?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Over the Next Hill and Around the Next Corner

Are we there yet?  How much longer?  More than likely, you have both heard and uttered those words on a long road trip.  When I was a kid and asked that question, Dad would always say, “Over the next hill and around the next corner.”  When we would top the next hill or round the next corner, I’d notice that there was no end in sight.  When I questioned Dad, he would say, “This is not the next hill.  This is THIS hill.”  Cheap!  And did I use that on my kids?  Oh, yeah!

In August, 1984, a 21-year-old newlywed and recent college graduate walked into her first grade classroom at Walnut Creek Elementary School in Azle, Texas to start her first year of teaching.  Two days ago, for the last time, she walked out of the Counselor’s office she has occupied at Walnut Creek Elementary for the past 12 years and walked into retirement.  So, now I can call her Mrs. Officially Retired Sweetie.

During a career in education spanning 29 years, she has taught Grades 1, 3, and 4.  She’s been a Gifted and Talented teacher, a Homebound teacher, and a Counselor.  Thousands of kids, families, and coworkers have been touched and blessed.  Yes, I am her biggest fan.  Of course, if you have read my blog more than once or twice, you already knew that.

So now that she is officially retired, she is going to kick back and do nothing.  You know … sleep late every day and watch TV all day long … a perpetual state of vacation.  NOT!

If I have learned anything about my Mrs. in 29 years of marriage, it is that she is hardwired by God for serving and blessing others.  She will find volunteer opportunities in the community.  She’ll get plugged into some new ministries.  She’ll be more involved in my ministry. She will keep looking forward.  Good days are ahead!

Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, “Don't always be asking, ‘Where are the good old days?’  Wise folks don't ask questions like that.”

When we see young families with small children, we remember how much fun it was to have little ones.  But, we don’t want to go back to those days.  Our youngest is getting married next weekend.  There is so much of life ahead.  We don’t want to miss what’s ahead by always looking back over our shoulders.

But, we also want to realize that the NEXT hill and corner will soon become THIS hill and corner.  We also don’t want to be looking so far ahead to the destination that we can’t enjoy the trip.  We don’t want to skip today’s treasure looking for tomorrow’s prize.

Colossians 4:5-6 says, … make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

Our lives on this hill and corner matter to God.  Enjoy the trip.  We’re not there yet.