Sunday, December 20, 2015

Status Update for Day 44 (but hey, who's counting)

We have entered into our 7th week of time here at the fine institution of Texas Children's Hospital.  I really was told it was just going to be "a day or two" back in early November.  Those seem like far away words from a far away time.

Good stuff happening:

1.  Her chest drainage appears to be down along with a positive x-ray yesterday (Sunday morning).  Those are two markers we keep an eye on.

2.  She is her same bossy, demanding, center-of-attention self.

3.  We have on the radar a downgrade in her diuretic treatment (going from IV to oral).  All this assumes we keep going in the right direction - see below.

4.  Cousins came to see her yesterday and apparently had quite the Frozen karaoke moment.  That video may come back to haunt them on their wedding days...

5.  She got to see her older brother on Sunday and may get to see the Wonder Twins this week if they lift the visitation restrictions.

6.  They have eased her fluid restriction by 100ml.  That makes a girl happier because she can drink (even a little bit) more.

7.  Our friends adopting in Nicaragua have completed their journey.  A few forms at the US Embassy and they are homeward bound.  That has nothing to do with us but Maggie is a big part of their adoption story - and it's good to talk about events occurring outside the hospital room.  Especially happy ones.

Points to pray on:

1.  As of Sunday night, the Queen expressed some concern about her O2 saturation and some fear about Monday morning's x-ray.  You can pray both are fine.

2.  No steps backward.  Only forward progress, please.  The roll-out of IV-turned-oral-turned-reduced dosages is a long road.  And the longer we're on it, the harder it is on the rest of her systems.

3.  More Kingdom-related moments in the hospital.

4.  Everyone would get to be together at Christmas like we were at Thanksgiving (even for a few brief hours).

5.  The Big Three would continue to hang in there, know they are loved, and somehow feel secure in the midst of the world-rocking pattern we live right now.

I woke up Sunday morning trying to spark faith by reminding myself that Jesus reigns over everything and so it'll all be okay in the end.  I believe it to be so.  Sometimes more than others.

Thanks for staying with us.  We cannot say thanks enough.

This is the picture of her in the van on Gotcha Day.  From that point forward, I am forever smitten.  I'm her dad.  What can I say?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wednesday morning update

I have to type this very quickly because there are people coming for my girl at any point.  Forgive whatever brevity and choppiness you encounter.

Yesterday was not awesome.  She had multiple complications from the re-accumulation of the fluid on her lungs.  It was the kind of not awesome that makes doctors furrow their brow.  When they get worried, I do too.

Yesterday was totally awesome.  My sweet niece and her friend came by and hung out for about 3-4 hours and the Minion had the absolute best time with them.  She laughed and giggled and took selfies and just enjoyed the interaction.

This morning is not awesome.  The x-ray looks like a blizzard broke in to her chest and had a party right over her left lung.  Our other three are feeling the strain of it all.  If they do a heart cath, the two structural things they're looking at are not easy fixes.  And I just resorted to asking a friend for some magic fairy dust to fix it all and then fly us to Hawaii.
Here is her medical status of the day:
They will reinsert the chest tube this morning.
They possibly will do some combination of the following:  MRA/V, heart cath, hokey pokey, the electric slide, or none of the above.
She feels better than yesterday but is diagnostically worse.
This morning is totally awesome.  I married *the* most incredible girl.  I have a great job with great people that has provided me fluidity, not just flexibility.  My oldest made an A in math without much help from his dad this go-around and after being sick last week.  Our friends don't seem to fade but actually grow in strength as this craziness extends into the 6-week realm (not to mention how endeared we are with them and indebted to them).  And, where we root our hope, Jesus still reigns over everything and has this under control and hasn't been impeached or abdicated. He sits enthroned today with a disposition that is for us.  I'm really buoyed by that this morning.  His attitude hasn't changed.  He, along with hundreds and hundreds of others, is praying for Maggie right now (Heb. 7.25).

Thanks for hanging with us.  I'll try to update more later today.

Picture of the blizzard in her left lung...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

5 weeks long and 10 Random Thoughts

We've been here 5 weeks now.  Here are some thoughts in no particular order.  Feel free to skip to the end to pray if you'd like...

1.  Hospital and hospitable have the same etymology but not the same experience.  I'm not complaining.  I'm merely observing.

2.  When she asks to go home, my heart doesn't break.  It crumbles.

3.  Hands down, we have some of the greatest friends in the world.

4.  Donald Trump is to American politics what Sponge Bob is to cartoons.  They both epitomize everything that is opportunistic and freaky.  If my 13-year old can diagnose a charlatan, it's bad.  At some point, we the people have to get serious enough about the problems and solutions and not be in love with our rage anymore.

5.  If they can come for Muslims in mosques, they can come for Christians in churches.  Either the First Amendment applies or it doesn't.

6.  The more complicated the world gets, the simpler and saner the call of Jesus sounds:  "Be faithful to the end, I've got the rest."

7.  I told a friend today our church is in the midst of a hard season but is doing great because the church has basically sucked it up and said, "Let's walk it together."  I stand by that 100%.  I'm not sure an outsider would see it because there's no griping or fussing.  It's a steely-eyed, gritty joy.  And I love them for it.  I draw inspiration from it.

8.  Texas Children's Hospital cares for a lot of sick kids and kids who are a lot of sick.  Every time someone punches the elevator to 9, I pray for their family.  Kids ought not have to see an oncologist.  Jesus, come quickly.

9.  There are tons of stories in the nursing core and doctor teams.  I like asking questions and getting answers about T's bracelet with the saints' portraits that he wears to remind him to pray or J's music selection that includes R&B slow jams and the gospel sounds of Fred Hammonds or E's allergies to basically the entire world yet a tenderheartedness that has prompted her to bring Maggie two hand-sewn blankets or ribbing a doc about his new baby's first Hanukkah and me reminding him that Jesus was Jewish too (he about busted a gut laughing, so don't get offended).

10.  Sometimes my prayer life feels more like John Candy in his movie The Great Outdoors.  In the scene I'm thinking about, the bear busts down the door Candy is holding back and bounces on top of it.  At one point, Candy just starts saying, "Uncle!  Uncle!  Uncle!"  That's about all I have some times.

Just a few quick prayer points:

- We need the strategies they're trying now to work.  No more guessing would be awesome.

- I think her soul is starting to feel the weight of this.  The Queen said she asked for home about 10+ times today.

- Endurance.  I have told multiple people:  what we're doing isn't hard, it's doing what we're doing over and over again that's hard.

- Security for the Big Three.  Their world is abnormal, and I don't want that to become normal.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Week 3 Update: still here but maybe (?) some light at the end of the tunnel

Two days ago, we rolled three weeks of very unexpected stay.  So far, my girl has been here longer than most anticipated, had a chest tube put in, pulled out, and put back in, and made friends with just about everyone she can.

Oh yes.  And her dad can take "See your child have a seizure" off his bucket list.  Check that box.

She makes nothing easy.

Overall, her spirits are good, she still smiles a lot, giggles hilariously at times, orders people around, demands people look at her when she's talking, and acts like she runs the joint.  She's a three-year old CEO.

On the medical front, there is a heart cath coming early this week which will hopefully reveal something that we can fix.  That is hands-down the best option.  Option A, as I've been telling my friends.

The condition that is causing her problems is that the pressure in her circulatory systems is higher than in the lymph system.  That's important because the lymph system typically dumps its excess and some other stuff (a highly technical medical term, I know) into the circulatory system.  So if the pressure is too high in the one, the lymph system will back up and put its extra elsewhere - like a little girl's lung.

Option A, then, is there is something anatomic causing her circulatory system to carry higher pressures, and a stint / suture / cardiovascular magic will fix it and she will stabilize quickly.

There are other options, but let's stick with praying for Option A right now.  The others get pretty dicey pretty quickly.  Patience is not in high supply but it is in high demand.

So here's how to pray for our little Minion CEO...

1.  Pray we can get into the heart cath procedure quickly this week.  The more quickly we get this looked at, the more quickly we have answers.

2.  Pray it shows an easily fixed Option A.  That would be catching a divinely orchestrated break, one which we would frankly LOVE to catch.

3.  Pray she comes through all of that fine and isn't too messed up by the anesthesia.

4.  Ongoing strength, positive outlook, and mental toughness for her.  Heck, you can pray that for all of us.

5.  We have been blessed by so many in so many ways.  Please pray that God will pour out His blessings on those who have blessed us.  They have given of themselves without thought or seeking something in return.  So I'm asking God to pour out in ways that they never would've anticipated but will thoroughly enjoy.

Thanks for staying with us.  We are still in the fight.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

So, it's been two weeks...

We’ve been here two long weeks.  I don’t say that to gripe but to give it perspective, because two weeks has felt like a LOT for this unexpected, replan-the-holiday, keep-a-three-year-old-busy kind of stay.

I came up with another way of measuring this:  we have been in the hospital more than out since her surgery.  4 weeks in post-op, out 4 weeks, 2 weeks back in.  In case you’re keeping score at home, that’s 6 out of the past 10 weeks.

People ask how it is and my response typically is, “It’s a grind.”  And without the support of many and the prayers of many more, we would long ago have cratered.  So thanks.  Even yesterday morning, two friends dropped by during the brief time I had in the office and took time to pray.  I told them afterward how much I appreciated them and went to hug them, resulting in what was possibly the most awkward three-way-man-hug ever.  But hey, I was grateful.

Here is our current status:

She continues to drain from her chest tube.  We work hard throughout the day to keep it from kinking and twisting.  It appears to me that when we keep it untwisted and unkinked, the drainage is down a little more each day.  But then again I might be living in Half-Full Land.

Her spirits are good.  Outside of the tube and bubbling box, you wouldn’t know she’s sick.  On the outside, she looks great.  It’s what’s going on inside that is messy.  There’s a spiritual application there.

We’ve switched from IV to oral diuretics.  That’s one step closer to us getting home.  We have to keep the drainage going down while on the oral meds to stay on the right path. 

There’s been more talk about more surgical procedures but we’re trying to push them off as far away as possible on that stuff.  The Queen actually had that conversation yesterday.  Our favorite doc up here (who saved Maggie’s life two summers ago) told us to be sure and be patient.  We’re being patient.  Home is not better if there are more and painful surgical procedures that get us there.

By all accounts, we’re here through the Thanksgiving holiday.  That ought to be interesting.  And a good exercise for us, as a family, to find things to be thankful for while sitting where we’ll be sitting.

If you’re the praying type, here are ways you can hold us up…

She would continue to improve and we would have exactly zero steps backward.  All the medical stuff they’re trying needs to work.

She would continue to be able to find joy in the 250 sq.ft. that we are occupying.

The Big Three would hang in there.  Signs of strain are already present. 

Thank you.

Friday, November 13, 2015

One week in #MountainsForMaggie

We are officially in one week.  One week ago, I had just gotten Maggie settled into the room we were in then and hoping for a non-operative, medicine only, 2-3 day stay to get her pleural effusion squared away.

We received none of that.

Instead, she's had surgery, is on higher meds, is still connected to a vacuum box, has a chest tube, and is not going home anytime in the next couple of days.

Sometimes it goes exactly like we want it to.  And then there are times like these.

I honestly don't know why God hasn't answered the prayers we've prayed in the ways and timing that we've prayed them.  I have given him plenty of reason to do so.  So, it takes a little faith to sing, "You're perfect in all of Your ways to us" on Sunday mornings.  But it's still true.  And I still believe it.

As a quick update, she's doing well, sitting up, going on walks, seeing the fish, eating like a champ, and funny.  Her output is decreasing and changing to the right kind of color.  We have days ahead of us but hopefully not weeks (plural).

Some thoughts I've had since being here:

1.  We have our challenges, but there are others with much worse.  It's good to remember.  And humbling.

2.  I'm grateful we live locally.  I met a family from Mexico City whose little girl says hi to the Minion every time we're out and about.  They are close to discharge but get to stay in Houston for 2-3 more weeks at the Ronald McDonald house to ensure the health of their little one.  When we get out, I will sleep in my own bed and so will Maggie.

3.  We have great friends.  Thank you.  For everything.

4.  The medical staff here is top notch.  And smart.

5.  I have the briefest of sketches as to what happened in Paris today.  And a big earthquake in Japan. And other stuff here and there.  If Jesus rent the eastern sky tonight, I could not be happier.  In the word of the Apostle,

Thursday, November 5, 2015

#NT75 Day 60 - John 11-12 Miracles and Enemies

What a story today's reading unfolds for us.

But here's what sticks with me.  Lazarus has the miracle of a lifetime (quite literally) and STILL found himself in trouble.  He told his story over and over and many people put their trust in Jesus because of Him.  That's what a miracle is supposed to do - point to the Miracle Maker so that people believe and are saved.

For Lazarus, many did.

And then some others tried to kill him.

"So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus" (12.10-11).

His miracle was costing him.  Bigger than that, people saw the miracle and STILL chose to disbelieve instead of believing and surrendering their lives to Christ.

Even the receivers of miracles are targets for the enemies of God.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

#NT75 Day 59 - John 7-10 and the importance of God's Word

Jesus said, in this verse, that our freedom is directly tied to the Truth.  When we know it, we have liberty.  When we don't, we live in bondage.

In the CIA building (pic above), it quotes the verse.  And there are others.

But what Truth is Jesus talking about?  He's talking about His Word.

"If you abide in My Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the Truth [by abiding in His Word] and the truth will set you free" (8.31-32)

So this is brief exhortation and encouragement:  be daily in the Bible.  Know what it says and it will lead you to liberty and love.  You will walk in freedom and with the Father.

Know the Truth.  You'll find it in the Bible.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

#NT75 Day 58: John 4-6 and the importance of understanding Christianity

There are so many passages and teachings in today's reading that it is hard to pick just one to mull over and write something about, but here's my attempt.

In John 5, Jesus is in the middle of a diatribe about who He really is and then drops this little gem:

"Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him" (5.23, cf. 15.23)

In other words, you can talk about "god" all you want to.  But that's not what makes you a Christian.  Lots of people know, worship, follow, and evangelize for the sake of "god."  But that's not the way to honor God.

The way to honor God, the Father, is to honor His Son Jesus.

We, as believers in and followers of Jesus, are distinctly Christian, distinctly Christ-centered, distinctly Son-saved.  And so we honor the Father and the Son when we honor the Son.

Here's the translation to Tuesday:  in our culture, even still, it's pretty okay to talk about "god."  It's less okay to talk about One God.  And it's even less okay to give Him a name, to drop a name like Jesus.  But that's how we honor the One True God, we honor His Son Jesus with our words and lives and hopes and emotions and commitments and so on.

We honor the Creator by honoring Christ.  May it ever be.  Amen.

Monday, November 2, 2015

#NT75 Day 57: John 1-3 and maybe the shortest blog I've ever written

John the Baptist about Jesus in John 3.30:  He must increase and I must decrease.

More of Him,  less of me.

Him, not me.

What a prayer.  One I'm repeating constantly today.  Care to join me?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

#NT75 Day 55: Titus - All-encompassing Grace

When some people think of grace they think of forgiveness.  Believe me, I am in need of the kind of grace that forgives but I also want the kind of grace that makes me need forgiveness less.

One of my favorite authors describes grace as Help.  When we need forgiveness, grace helps us with that.  When we need to parent our kids, grace helps with that.

The key passage for me for this teaching is in today's reading:  Titus 2.11-14.

God's grace appears and save us through Christ.  But it also trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.  It helps us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives today.

Get that?  God's grace helps us be holy.

Grace is the power that makes us ready for Him to return, to be a pure people ready to receive Him.

How do I get in on that grace?  By living in faith that God will help me with the things He says are important to do.  When I need parenting grace, I can call to Him and He'll help me.  When I need physical grace because my body isn't doing what it should, I can call to Him and He'll help me.  When I need patience and wisdom, I can call on Him and He'll help me.

It's grace.  We live by faith and get grace.  Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2015

#NT75 Day 54: 2 Timothy - The Bible and its Importance

The second letter to Timothy is the middle book of what is often called the pastoral letters.  Paul is writing to his protege Timothy (and Titus, in the book bearing his name) about pastoral ministry in the places where they serve.

And I love what he drops into the end of 2 Timothy 3.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (3.16-17)

Paul has reminded Timothy before to keep at the business of being in and teaching the Word of God (1 Timothy 2, 4, etc.).  And here he reminds him of the why.

All Scripture is breathed out (inspired) by God.  The words that I have on the page in front of me are the words of God to me.  God spoke them through His people so that I could understand.  Wow.

And they're good for me.  They teach me.  They reprove me.  They correct me.  They train me.

To what end?  That I may be ready to do what God says is good to do.

WOW!  Wowowowowow!

This is why we must spend time in the Word.  We must read it and study it and memorize it and hear it and live it.  It's so good and so good for us.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

#NT75 Day 53: 1 Timothy 4-6 and the power of generosity

Paul finishes his first letter to Timothy with some practical advice on how to deal with those inside the congregation who have some amount of wealth.  Pastoring in the wealthy Houston suburbs, this is always a doozy of a passage for me.

Here's the instruction:  tell those who are rich in this world to get ready for the next.

That's it.

Question:  shouldn't we tell everyone in this world to get ready for the next world?  Yes.  But the rich deserve special recognition here because they have the proclivity and temptation to trust in their riches instead of Christ (see the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18).

So Paul lays it out there.  He says the following...

1.  People with wealth should focus on God and not their wealth.  Easier said than done since the latter provides comfort and is easily seen while the former consistently challenges us and is not so easily seen.  The latter promotes pride and haughtiness while the former opposes pride and haughtiness.

2.  People with wealth should remember that wealth is uncertain and God is generous to us.  He provides us with all things to enjoy.

3.  People with wealth are charged with doing good and being rich in more than just a bank account.  Be rich, Paul says, in good works!  Fix a widow's fence.  That's something worth doing (and an example from our church from this month).

4.  People with wealth have the opportunity and the command to be generous and ready to share.  To do so lays up treasure in heaven.

So, in light of the fact that if you're reading this you probably qualify as a person with wealth - at least compared to the rest of the world - then which of those do you need to apply immediately?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

#NT75 Day 52: 1 Timothy 1-3 and THE issue in leadership

Paul is very clear about THE big issue in leadership.

And it's one talked about so little in leadership circles today - at least the ones in which I have been exposed.  What is THE issue?


In both offices of the NT church (elder/overseer and deacon), THE issue for Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was the character of the person fulfilling that role.  Even the "practical" side of the question of his household management is really a question about leadership in his home.  Does he have the character to fulfill his calling?

The world talks about talent and skills and persona and charisma and so forth.  Paul talks about character.

How much less scandal would there be in our world if all leadership had character like Paul describes?  I'm not saying we'd never hear of a failure, but I wonder if we'd hear of a lot less.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

#NT75 Day 51: 2-3 John, Jude, Philemon and having mercy on those who doubt

The reading for today is a hodgepodge of the smaller books of the NT.  But just because they're small doesn't meant they're not worth reading and understanding - most of all following.

Consider this gem from Jude:  have mercy on those who doubt (v.22).

Those who are around the church a lot can have a little bit of Pharisee in them toward those who doubt.  I know pastors like this (I've been a pastor like this).  I know members like this.  There is just not much room in their lives for the people who are struggling with a particular doctrine, text of Scripture, or practice.  They doubt.

And Jude says to have mercy.

Not apply a warm-compress of another Bible verse and call in the morning.  Not dismiss them as "just like the disciples" to whom Jesus spoke but they still didn't understand.  Not to warn them that they're sinning by struggling.  (Yes...I've done all of my shame)

Have mercy.  Take pity.  Show compassion.

The struggler may be struggling because of something unknown to me - or even them!  The weary one may be weary because there's a home-life that sucks energy like a blackhole.  The slow one may be slow because of all the baggage being carried on the way to obedience.

Have mercy.  Take pity.  Show compassion.

Does that apply to you anywhere today?

Monday, October 26, 2015

#NT75 Day 50: 1 John and the need for a really good defense attorney

The passage we read in our church's worship gathering yesterday is the passage that sticks with me today.  In 1 John 2.1-2, John speaks of us having an advocate with God.  That advocate, he identifies, is Jesus Christ the Righteous One.

Advocate is an appropriate translation for the word.  But think advocate like attorney, not advocate like spokesman.

Jesus is our defense lawyer.  He defends us against the charge (and the reality) of our sin.  But He doesn't depend on some technicality to get us off.  He's not slick-handed and wink-wink-nod-nod at the Judge.  There's no witness tampering or malfeasance.

We're guilty.  We're caught.  We're in trouble.

Jesus advocates as our attorney by taking our punishment and, in so doing, relieving our guilt.  If someone has to pay, Jesus has volunteered to be our propitiation.

Propitiation means that He paid our debt that we owed God for our sin AND purchased for us favor with God by His death being pleasing to Him.  We, then, are forgiven and made right before God because of Jesus.  He stood in our place.  He took our punishment.  We are counted righteous because He is the Righteous One.  Our responsibility is to confess our sin (1.9) and commit to follow Christ (2.3-6).

That's Gospel, folks.  That's the best news you've ever heard.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

#NT75 Day 46: Mark 14-16 - Substitute

When I was (much) younger, I had something resembling an athletic lifestyle.  While I won't say I was the greatest thing on any court or field, I did love being in the game and taking part in the competition.  

And I hated someone coming in as my substitute.

Why?  That meant I was too tired, needed rest, had messed up, wasn't good enough for any particular situation, or didn't have the particular skills needed at the moment.

It meant I wasn't.  

In the reading there is another substitution.  The Pharisees saw it as trading Barabbas for Jesus.  They were getting rid of the guy they wanted to get rid of and gaining some power with the people, with Pilate, and surely with their posterity by protecting them from yet another false Messiah.

But that's not how God saw it.

God saw it as trading Jesus for Barabbas.

I have no idea if Barabbas became a follower of Jesus or not, but I do know this:  I am Barabbas.  So are you.  We're traitors.  We're infidels.  We're rebels.  We're thieves and liars and adulterers and idolaters and law-breakers.

Jesus died as a substitute in the place of the one who deserved to die.  Barabbas.  Trent.  You.

That substitute still means I'm not good enough.  I'm not up to the task.  But in this case, the substitute is a life-saver and a life-giver and I'm more than willing for Him to take my place.

How about you?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#NT75 Day 45: Mark 9-13 - The Two Ways to Ask Questions

This section of Mark has two distinct ways to ask questions.  That's what struck me this morning.

As the disciples are coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration in chapter 9, they are afraid to ask Jesus any questions about what it meant that He would rise from the dead.

Compare that to the peppering of questions Jesus got from the Sadducees, Pharisees, Lawyers, Scribes, Herodians, and general religious people who thought they could pick a fight with the Son of God.

The first group wouldn't ask Jesus because they were afraid and uncomfortable because they didn't understand something He said.  The second was unafraid and comfortable trying to trap Him in a quandary or get Him to say something that the Romans wouldn't like so they could kill Him.

The first group had a revelation from God but were too scared to ask.  The second had opinions about God and weren't afraid to express them.

For whom did it end up a better deal?

Anytime we don't understand something God has said, we should ask.  Even if He doesn't answer immediately or show us or we have to study for years to get it, that's not dishonoring.

Anytime we express to God that He's not living up to our expectations, that's honest...but not honoring.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

#NT75 Day 44: Mark 5-8 - When religion gets in the way

A friend of mine defines religion as the place people go to be respected when they've lost the courage to be real.

It has lots and lots of rules.  That's how you gain respect - by following those lots and lots of rules.

Enter Jesus.

When the religious leaders of the day gave Him grief about not washing hands before dinner, He turned the tables and quoted Isaiah's prophetic beatdown:  you honor God with lips but hearts remain in a whole different zip code, you teach like you know something but you're really dishonoring God completely.

The scary part about that for me is how tempting it is to run to religion because it looks so clean.  Relationships (certainly the one with God) are not clean.  They're messy.  There is some ambiguity in places you want certainty and some certainty in places you're tempted to place ambiguity.

Religion offers a one-stop panacea to a problem it can't really cure.

So be careful.  Don't trade respect among others for a real relationship with God.  Only the latter satisfies.

Monday, October 19, 2015

#NT75 Day 43: Mark 1-4 - Jesus is God

Twice in the reading today Jesus does something that only God does.

In chapter 2, He forgives a man's sin.  Those around Him state the obvious:  "Who does this guy think he is?  Only God can forgive a man's sin."  I have to think that Jesus kind of raised an eyebrow and smirked a bit, thinking something like:  "You're closer to the Kingdom than you thought."  He then heals the guy to prove that He has the authority to forgive sin.

In chapter 4, Jesus takes a nap on a boat in the storm.  He must have been some sort of tired.  When the disciples freak out, He wakes up, speaks to the storm, and the winds and waves cease.  The disciples, standing there slack-jawed and gaga-eyed, ask, "Who is this that even the winds and waves obey Him?"  Well, the rule is that if you're the Creator, then you are the Commander.  Only God can command the winds and waves.

And for all who follow Jesus, that's the biggest deal.  We're not saying Jesus is a good teacher (though He is).  We're not saying that Jesus is an example to emulate (though He is). We're not saying Jesus does a great job in the area of ethics (though He does).

We're saying Jesus is God.  Fully divine.  Fully human.  And fully our Savior.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

#NT75 Day 41: James - What an Invitation

James 4.8.

What a promise.  Seriously.

Draw near to God.  He will draw near to you.

I'm thinking about that in light of tomorrow.  In light of the people who will gather with our church family, those who are members and those brought by our members and those who just show up.  In light of those who are on top of their world and fight the temptation is to forget God in the midst of the prosperity and goodness.  In light of those who are in the bottom of the valley and can't see because of the darkness and fight the temptation to give up on God, on themselves, on those around them.

Draw near to God.  He will draw near to you.

Better than even that:  it doesn't have to be a Sunday-only promise.  And that's what makes it even more incredible.

Draw near to God.  He will draw near to you.


Friday, October 16, 2015

#NT75 Day 40: Colossians The Danger of Half-Truths

Paul speaks of "plausible arguments" in Colossians 2.4, stating that he doesn't want the Colossians church to be led away or deluded by them.

Plausible Arguments, in this case, are those that have enough Truth in them to be dangerous but not enough to actually be True.

"I believe that God is a God of love."  But if you use that to justify your sin (as if God isn't just or is apathetic toward sin), then it's a Plausible Argument.

"The Bible is a good guide."  But if you use that thinking to dismiss some of it because it's not an authoritative guide, then it's a Plausible Argument.

On and on we could go.  But the big thing is this:  truth is in Jesus (2.3).  If you find Him, you find what you need to know.  All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#NT75 Day 39: Philippians - Any Trade is a Good Trade

You can look at sports transactions and easily come up with some really really really bad trades.  Brett Favre for draft picks?  Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac?  Babe Ruth for basically anyone?

Here's a really good trade from today's reading:  anything for the sake of knowing Christ.

Paul traded in his identity, his comfort, his heritage, his abilities, his victories, his defeats, his EVERYTHING for the sake of knowing Christ.

I don't know what you might be asked to trade today or this week to know Christ.  But whatever it is, whatever it costs, whatever its value - it's a good trade.

You get what's eternal for what is temporal.  You get what ultimately and fully satisfies for what doesn't sate but save for a moment.

Surrender.  Open hands.  Blank check.  All lead to something that is absolutely worth it.  

They lead to Christ.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

#NT75 Day 38: Ephesians 4-6 Church is for Transformation

What's the point of church?

That's an easy one.  It's the transformation of the individual until he or she looks like Jesus.  That's what Ephesians 4 says.  God gave certain groups of leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers) to equip the saints for ministry so that the Body of Christ will be built.

Built into what?

Built into the image of Christ.  Built until we all reach a unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, because that's what it looks like to be a mature believer and follower of Jesus.

Church is for transformation.

We, as a church family at Heritage Park, talk about that all the time.  I tell our new members about it. In fact, I tell them that if they're the same people 2 years from now as they are when they came, they need to find a new church family because we have failed them.

Church is for transformation.  Repeat after me:  church is for transformation.

Lord, let it be.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

#NT75 Day 37: Ephesians 1-3 What the Church is for

I love the first two chapters of Ephesians.  As in, if I ever get called to preach on zero minutes notice, they are my go-to chapters because I love their content, their flow, and their ability to say important things about God and His work in our lives.

So I want to comment this morning from Ephesians 3.  Outside of the prayer (14-21), that chapter hardly gets press.

3.10 says, "So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."

What we do as a church impacts the spiritual realm in a way that is revelatory to the forces of darkness.  When we love well, they see something they didn't see before.  When we are patient, they understand in a way they didn't understand before.  When we forgive, they know something that was not theirs to know before.

And just a reminder:  these are forces of darkness, those rulers and authorities of the Kingdom of wickedness.  That's to whom these things are being revealed.

What exactly is revealed?  The wisdom of God.  We love, are patient, and forgive in ways that display the wisdom of God to the demonic realm.

That pushes me to do church and do church well.  It also prompts this thought:  if God is going to reveal through us the wisdom of God to the demons, what might He show to our neighbors, friends, family members, and other lost people?

So much is at stake.  Be the church.  Reveal the Truth.

Monday, October 12, 2015

#NT75 Day 36: 2 Corinthians 10-13 Apostolic Sarcasm

In the reading today - actually multiple times in the reading today - Paul breaks out his sassy freshman-in-high-school rhetoric to deal with his opponents in Corinth.  He sarcastically refers to how he is certainly less than the "Super-Apostles," and how his suffering surely makes him somehow less a representative of Christ even though...

He's physically seen the risen Christ
He's been caught up to the Third Heaven
He's the reason the Corinthians are Christians
He's been miraculously sustained through his ministry
He's made no moves to get money from the Corinthians

And on and on and on.

In Greek rhetoric, these kinds of sarcastic retorts were one way to shut the mouths of your opponents.  The conversation would go something like this:

Opponents:  "Look.  Paul came to teach but didn't trust himself to you.  He didn't even let you take care of his needs while here.  What kind of teacher do you think he is?"

Paul:  "Yep.  I didn't take money from you so I could offer the Gospel freely to you.  Please blame me for that."  *raised eyebrow*

In an honor-shame culture like the NT, this would often close the mouths of the accusers.

I write all of this in hope that it helps make sense of some of the things read today.

Friday, October 9, 2015

#NT75 Day 34: 2 Corinthians 5-7 Two kinds of sorrow

Paul says there is a godly sorry that leads to repentance and then to life.  There's a worldly sorry that leads only to death.  Both can come with tears.  Both can come with grief.  Both can come with regret.

But only one leads to life.

So often the difference is this:  whether you're actually sorry or just sorry that you got caught, got exposed, got told on, got blamed.

Actual sorrow looks like Zaccheus, who made things right and turned from greed to generosity.  John the Baptist told others to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  Paul says there's a repentance that leads to life.

How does that intersect your life and repentance today?

#NT75 Day 33: 2 Corinthians 1-4 What you behold is what you become

2 Corinthians 3.18 is an important verse in the realm of transformation of lives.  In it, the Apostle Paul makes sure we understand that what we behold is what we become.  As we see God, we are transformed by God to be like God.

When we talk about "seeing" God we're not talking about with the physical eyes but what A.W. Tower calls the "gaze of the soul."  We behold God when we gaze into the Word prayerfully.

But the other side of this is we can hurt ourselves by what our gaze.  What we behold is what we become.  Psalm 115 supports this:  those who worship them [idols] will become like them.

It doesn't take very much mental power to think about what you can look at, what you can behold that will make you become empty, vain, selfish, ruthless, darkened, immoral, impure, or any other trait associate with the Kingdom of Darkness.

So remember what Jesus said:  the eye is the lamp of the body.  If it's good, light goes to the whole body.  If the lamp is dark, just how dark will the darkness be?

You become what you behold.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

#NT75 Day 32: 1 Corinthians 12-16 The Lynchpin

Some people assign too much importance to doctrinal issues.  I have heard people say that if you can't take the first 11 chapters of the Bible literally, you can't trust the Bible at all.  I have heard people speak of the Kingdom of God as doing good in this world and excluding those who talked about heaven as off-the-agenda of Jesus.  I have heard people talk about Calvinism and Arminianism as if they were the only two things that matter.

But Paul is pretty clear on what matters.

The whole project of Christianity stands or falls on one thing.  The lynchpin of the whole thing is the Resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15).

If we believe Jesus was raised from the dead, a lot of other stuff then has a framework to make sense: God's miraculous creation of the world, doing good in this world and preparing for the next, etc.

Don't let people convince you otherwise to sell books or have conferences.  The key issue is, has been, and always will be the resurrection.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

#NT75 Day 31: 1 Corinthians 8-11 Becoming all things to all people

Paul makes an argument in 1 Corinthians 9 that even though we have liberty, it may be more loving not to exercise it.  A quick 2015 for instance:  you can drink, but it's more loving not to drink when it's front of a recovering alcoholic.  But if you're in England and your Bible study meets at a pub, it may be more loving to have a pint with your mates.

People have taken that and run with it.  You can guess which way that typically goes.  "Well, I'll be all things to all people by _________."  The blank gets filled in by any number of things that probably should raise an eyebrow as to conduct.

The question I always ask in situations like that is this:  Paul was very clear about his intent - are you?

Paul's intent was to share the Gospel (9.23).  Often times we hide behind "all things to all people" (9.22) to do what we want to do with the people we want to do it with and leave the sharing the Gospel out of it.

That's not why Jesus died on the cross and rose again.  Our liberty is for others' liberation.  We are free so we can share the Gospel.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

#NT75 Day 30: 1 Corinthians 5-7 God loves us enough to deal with our junk

This is such a depressing passage.

Chapter 5:  a guy is sleeping with his stepmom and the church is rejoicing in how tolerant they are.

Chapter 6:  church members are suing one another and dismissing the Christian sexual ethic.

Chapter 7:  people are perverting marriage, sexuality, and singleness.

What a depressing passage.

But it's in there.  And I'm grateful that it's in there.  Because what that means is that God loves us so much that He's not going to leave our sin unaddressed.  He will deal with our junk.  How we respond to Him is on us.  But He's so gracious to us, so kind, so loving that He's not going to let us continue on the spiral of suicidal sin without shouting out to us, convincing us of its wrong and His right.

Boy, do we need some more of that today.

And just in case you're wondering what His response is when we turn in repentance to Him:

6.11 - And such WERE some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

That can become a washed, sanctified, justified past.  Amen.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

#NT75 Day 27: Acts 23-28 Paul and the use of governmental rights

The book of Acts wraps up with Paul's defense of himself and journey to Rome.  He had always wanted to get to Rome and we see him there at the end of the book.  For what it's worth, tradition has it that he was beheaded there because of his faith.

Which brings me to my reflection about "rights."

The government has imbued us with certain rights, some of which certainly seem to be eroding, but provide us some legal protection nonetheless.  Paul had something similar.  As a Roman citizen, he made use of these on occasion to spare himself or his companions undue punishment.  And in today's reading, he made use of his right to appeal to Caesar (ch. 25) for his legal hearing.

It made sense.  If he was taken back to Jerusalem, he would be murdered by Jewish assassins.  Staying in Caesarea wasn't an option because Festus wasn't going to let him.  So an appeal to Caesar was made, and it got him to Rome.

Here's my reflection on that today (in light of our own situation, including this week's news):  Rights are good, but they aren't everything.

Religious freedom is good.  We should fight for it.  But it's no guarantee that Christians won't be persecuted or punished.  In fact, the Bible promises we will experience both, at least on some level.

The right to live freely and not die at the hands of a mad gunman is good.  But mad gunmen do target people of faith, in this week's case Christians.  And that's not to be unexpected.  Christians have died at the hands of others for centuries (Paul included) because of their faith.  And this is one of the tests we have to know if we believe that dying is gain, as Paul wrote.

Access to legal systems is good.  Paul appealed to Caesar.  But it also puts us squarely in the middle of that system.  Paul got to Rome, but not on his terms.

To be clear:  I like America.  I love our rights here, especially compared to other parts of the world.  But our rights are not ultimate.  God in His Kingdom is what you can call ultimate.  He is what finally and fully matters.

Friday, October 2, 2015

#NT75 Day 26: Acts 19-23 The power of telling your story

Paul speaks three times (chapters 22, 24, and 26) in the closing scenes of Acts.  All three times we see him telling the story of how he was rescued by Christ from his life of self-righteousness and anger.

In this section, Paul told his story before the elders and crowds of the Jews.  Later, he testifies before Felix (24) and Agrippa (26), both rulers.

Here's my takeaway:  be ready to tell my story whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Sometimes it will be among some pretty rowdy people and you won't expect the circumstance.  Sometimes you'll have more time to think and prepare.  Either way, it's critical to open your mouth and tell your story.

Great things await when we do.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

#NT75 Day 25: Acts 14-18 Paul just might be crazy

I cannot get over this part of the passage.  I thought about writing about something else but I just can't get past this one.

Paul was stoned, drug out of town, and left for dead in Lystra.  He suffered because he preached the Gospel.

Left for dead.

I take that to mean he was in pretty bad shape.  So when the disciples came to check on his body, they found him alive.  So he got back up.

And went back into Lystra.

The very place where they had just stoned him and left him for dead.  He went back there.

And with a living example before them, he reminded the followers of Jesus there that it is with many tribulations that you enter the Kingdom of God.


Bonus thought:  Acts 15 is such a crucial chapter because it answers the question whether one has to become Jewish before becoming a Christian.  We so often worry about who's in and who's out that we forget to care about the people who Jesus has transformed, is transforming, or wants to transform.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#NT75 Day 24: Acts 9-13 The beauty of a new name

Saul encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus.  Bright light.  Powerful questions.  Blinded days.  Worldview shattered.  Theology undone.  Purpose reborn.  Truth revealed.  Salvation received.

Here's the part I love.

When all that happened, Saul became Paul.  Somewhere along the way, he got a new name.  A new start.  A new life.  A new purpose.  A new future.

All of the stuff of the past was in the past.  Forgiven.  Buried.  Over.  Done.

Now he had a new name.

I don't know about you, but I'm grateful for fresh starts.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#NT75 Day 23: Acts 4-8 Obeying God rather than men

Peter makes the declaration in Acts 5 that he and John (and all the rest) must obey God rather than men.  That's a gutsy statement when you're facing the people who could cause you pain or death.

This is the same Peter who wouldn't confirm that he was with Jesus in front of a little servant girl.

This is the same Peter who Jesus compared to Satan because he was on the wrong agenda.

Gutsy.  Bold.  Anything but tame.

I can think of a few instances in my life where more boldness should have been my response.  Whether it was embarrassment or pain or something else, I didn't step up.

Like Peter.

But I want to step up, speak the truth, say what needs to be said, and live faithfully no matter the cost.

Like Peter.

And here's the hope for me today:  if God made a bold man out of a not-so-bold man once, maybe just maybe He'd do it again.  Once for Peter.  This time for me.

Monday, September 28, 2015

#NT75 Day 22: Acts 1-4 Peter's greatest failure

There's a reason I read the Bible through year after year, and in this case the New Testament yet again.  That reason:  I always see something I have never seen before.

Today's example...

Peter, in his sermon in Acts 3, talks about how the people of Jerusalem had denied Christ before Pilate and denied Christ to get Barabbas.  

Peter twice used the word denied.

He knew something about denying Christ before another.  He knew something about denying Christ so that a guilty party could go free (in his case, he himself).  Yep.  He knew something about denying Christ.

And yet he brings it up.  Why use that kind of language?  If Peter were a politician, he would be skewered by social media, late night comedians, and attack ads.  But he's not a politician.  He's an apostle.  And his best (and only) defense against denying Christ was that Christ had forgiven his betrayal.  

End of story.  Drop the mic.  Exit stage right.

Peter's greatest failure became a platform for his proclamation.  

May it be so for us too.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

#NT75 Day 20: Luke 19-24 Getting what is Due

Today's reading encompassed the final days and moments of Jesus' life as told in Luke.

One particular thing caught my attention, one which I know I've read before and it's grabbed me because it's circled in my Bible.

Jesus is hanging on the cross with the two thieves.  One thief is ridiculing Him.  The other is talking to Him.  At one point, the latter says the former, "We're getting what is due us."

They were getting what they deserved.  Jesus was not.  But that was the situation.

That reminds me of the situation I'm in.  I am due something.  And it's not good.  I can sin with the best of them.  But Jesus has died on a cross and I don't get what I'm due.

That's the Gospel.

And as we head to church tomorrow, remember that.  Remember that we don't get what is due to us.  We get Him instead.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Night Update #MountainsforMaggie

Well, after a rather eventful day, the Minion was taken back to her little procedure about 12:30 or so.  She made it through with flying colors, though she did have a heart rate drop at one point that raised a few eyebrows.

It may be because her heart is an all-star athlete.  Resting heart rate of 40-something.  That's at least the theory I'm working with right now (with all my medical knowledge).

She has recovered and done reasonably well tonight.  They have her hooked up to wires galore and that means no distractions of walking down the hallway.  I hope we can remedy that tomorrow morning.

She is left with one more tube, making a total of three now.  This one should come out Monday.  Her chest tube output is still pretty significant.  So, we keep holding on that.

But I like her fight.  I like her spirited responses at times.  I like her spunk.

And I really like that God's got this.

Prayer requests:

1.  No post-surgical complications and we'll be able to move toward where we were a few days ago.

2.  Her heart will continue to recover and do what it's supposed to do.

3.  She'll be able to find rest in the middle of all the wires, beeps, blurps, and so forth.

4.  God will open doors for ministry and conversation here.  No wasted opportunities.

5.  Her story will make a difference.

6.  Blessings on so many who have blessed us.  We are loved.

#NT75 Day 19: Luke 14-18 Humility

Twice in today's reading (14.11 and 18.14), Jesus tells His listeners the same thing:  who humbles himself will be exalted and the one who exalts himself will be humbled.

There are certain professions that are prone to exalting the person holding that position.  Pastors certainly rank right up there.

In a recent conversation with an executive friend of mine, he talked about how when he got the C-level of his job, it was nice having the driver pick him up and business class tickets on the airline and so forth.  Perks.  Lots and lots of perks.

Then he swung this wrecking ball:  "But when I got home, it was still my part of the family economy to do the dishes."

That's what humility looks like.  Get out of your first-class seat, be ushered home in a Lincoln Town Car, and then step in and do the dishes.

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself with be exalted.

Working on my humility today...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

#NT75 Day 18: Luke 10-13 A war in Suburbia

Here's the verse that caught me today.  "And He said to them, 'Take care, and been your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions'" (12.15).

That so reminds me of Suburbia.  I won't speak for everyone, because I know some very selfless people.  But Suburbia has this pull of covetousness, of defining life by the abundance of possessions. It's what's in the water, in the air, in the assumptions of suburban existence.

Suburbia pushes us to define "us" by what we have.  The newer and the shinier and the faster the better.  And if we don't have the newer and shinier and faster, somehow we're not quite "normal."  I write this as my inbox is pinging me with the announcement that Apple's new iPhone is available in stores today.

And I want one.

And that's the issue right there.  I want one.  Or four.

There's the poison.  The stuff takes over and, like spiritual cholesterol, clogs our hearts such that we cannot and do not function as we should.  They get hard.  They die in places.  We die in places with callousness present where compassion should be.

It's quite a fight - a war even - to beat back the entropy of suburban life.  The best way to "guard against all covetousness" is to work be generous with my time, resources, energy, and so on.  Generosity kills greed (in whatever form it shows up).

Lord, let it be in me.  Amen.