Thursday Thief is about the things in life that steal the life that Christ has for us.  It’s based on John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

I am a competitive man. I always have been. My competitive spirit is what helped me be successful in sports as a teenager, and it’s what helps me in whatever “success” I experience today.

Competitiveness in and of itself is neutral – what makes it “good” or “bad” is the goal for which we compete. When we compete for God-centered things, it’s good. When it’s for aimless or fruitless things, it’s bad. First Corinthians 9:24-27 clearly speaks to this:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Last night, I competed in two “competitions” at the same time. It’s actually the reason why I didn’t post on time for Thursday Thief.

The first game I engaged in with my competitive nature was “Settlers of Catan”. If you’ve never heard of this game, “Settlers” is basically a combination of Monopoly, Risk, and the TV show “Survivor”. Intense stuff! We barter resources, form alliances, back-stab those alliances…good times!

I played Settlers three times with guys from my youth group and church, spanning almost six hours!! I won twice, and lost once.

If my goal for the night was to “get the prize” of being crowned the best Settlers player in the house that night, I did a good job competing toward that end.

And, if that were the goal…what a tragic waste of time that would’ve been! Today, as I type this, I have nothing to gain from yesterday’s conquests. Tomorrow, there will be no benefits from my striving. If my competitiveness were focused on being the King of Settlers, the Thief just robbed me blind of the life Jesus offered.

Thankfully, there was a second “game” in which I was competing in. This competition was about mentorship.

Around the game table included a veteran youth group volunteer, a ministry-minded youth group alumnus, two current youth group students who are future youth pastors, and at least one future career missionary. There were a couple other boys who are living for Christ; I’m not sure where they are headed vocationally, but I know God will be in the middle of it all.

Three other men whom I had successfully mentored in ministry were there as well: one volunteered to lead worship for my first church in Wisconsin after we moved away, one is our current Middle School pastor, and one is currently a key volunteer for our ministry and our church’s children’s ministry.

Last night wasn’t intended to be a formal “mentorship seminar”. But it was an informal opportunity for me to have these men in my home, share life together, and even have a couple meaningful conversations between victories and losses.

I regularly compete hard for these gentlemen, because I know what’s at stake: a Kingdom-worthy prize. And I believe that last night was a stirring victory over the Thief.

Have you ever been to our house? 

Chances are, if you have, it looks different than when you last saw it…no matter when that day was.

Even if it was an hour ago?

Different.

Even if you just stepped outside for a moment?

Still different.

Our home is an ever-evolving super-sized Rubix Cube, constantly changing shape, color, function…you name it. Yesterday’s brown dining room is transformed into today’s blue-gray living room. Yesterday’s hall closet is transformed into today’s piano room. Yesterday’s living room is transformed into today’s dining room. 

Beautiful is a sculptor. She is constantly chipping away at her already-stunning home, making what was once beautiful even more…beautiful. Just when you think our home couldn’t look better, she tilts a plant, or “up-cycles” a window, or moves a chair, or spraypaints a vase…and…

BOOM. Better.

And you should’ve seen this place before she got her fingerprints all over it. It was just like every 2-story home in the development…only uglier. And dirtier. (The previous owners didn’t exactly prioritize cleaning this home.) Jenny has laid ceramic tile in two rooms, updated the kitchen cabinets, painted the trim, installed a new kitchen sink, and has even done some electrical work!

Beautiful has a single fatal flaw in this matter: she doesn’t think that what she does is anything unique or praiseworthy. She’s oblivious. But, please take a look at the photos below, and see for yourself how extraordinary this woman is at decorating. Ahhh…Life with Beautiful is just, simply, beautiful. 

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Spring Break is breaking. 

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Is your SPRING about to BREAK?

Gone are the predictable routines, the rhythm of life, and the 6.5 hours of non-parenting. Our lives are in complete chaos. Our children don’t know what to do with all this disposable time. Play with friends? Watch TV? Ask mom for food? Play video games? Make messes? Ask mom for more food? Watch a movie? Ask mom for….

Spring Break is breaking, but I’m about to fix it.

For the rest of this week, I’m going to have each part of their day broken down into 50-minute blocks of activities, just like school. This way, they will experience familiar structure and will stop asking us to entertain them or referee them. Something like this:

8:00am   Quietly wake up, pray and read your Bible

8:50am   Quietly re-read your Bible, just in case you missed something

9:40am   Gently awaken your parents with the smell of coffee and homemade donuts

10:30am Clean up all the messes you made from…the last Spring Break. 

11:20am Pay the bills…with your piggy bank money

12:10pm Make lunch out of anything FREE that you find around the neighborhood: vegetation, insects, road kill…

1:00pm   Do homework. No homework? Make up your own. Find a dictionary or something. Make up exciting games with calculators. 

1:50pm   Bathe. All that homework and chores makes you sweaty.

2:40pm   Stand outside and wait for the school bus to pick you up.

3:30pm   Realize that no school bus is picking you up, come inside.

I think all the parents out there would agree that this is a highly-productive schedule that will serve two purposes:

  1. It will inspire families worldwide (or at least the dozen people who will read this) to rise up and lovingly revolt against their children, taking back the true intent of Spring Break: TO RELAX.
  2. It will highly motivate my kids to further their educational endeavors as soon as possible.
Obviously, this post is all in good fun. I love having our kids around. I love spending more time with them than normal. Someday, our kids will leave home, and they will visit on rare occasions like Spring Break.
 
Maybe by then, they’ll be able to prepare our taxes.
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March Madness is making me madly march around.

I grew up playing basketball, watching basketball, talking about basketball, and – later in my career – humbling aspiring student-athletes in our church gym through the game of basketball. I went to basketball clinics growing up, won actual trophies (and not those lame “Participation Awards” we have nowadays) that related to excelling in the sport of basketball.

So it’s safe to say that I know my stuff when it comes to basketball.

I’m in a free NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Challenge through espn.com. I joined up with five other people to form our “league”. You earn points for each correct winner you predict during “March Madness”.

I’m now officially in 6th place in our group.

Dead. Last.

One thing I didn’t mention: the five other people are my wife and my four Elementary school-aged children.

Oh, and here’s the topper: the overall leader is our 6-year-old daughter.  Yeah, the exact same kid who gets scared when people are dribbling a ball near her.

That’s right. Mr. Basketball is getting crushed by Ms. Dora the Explorer.

What if all of life worked this way? What if the ill-equipped tried to take over this planet? What if your neighbor could waltz into your operating room with gardening tools, insisting on assisting? What if your dog drove the school bus on all your kids’ field trips – blindfolded? What if – horror of all horrors – your boss tried to do your job?

It’s got to stop, right here, right now. This Monday Musing is a call out for sweeping reform. I propose that, from this point forward, only the highly-qualified may be allowed to enter any sports-related predicting opportunities. Amateurs need not apply. Go back to playing with your dollies and your video games. Leave this stuff to the experts.

Maybe that way I’ll be able to finally win my family bracket.

This Sunday, I didn’t have an opportunity to preach in my “normal context”. I was in the church choir, which was a treat! If you’ve never seen CCC’s choir in action, it’s a pretty neat worship experience. (Here’s a link to catch a short video clip of it!)

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t preach a message. In fact, each of the 5 songs our choir lifted to Heaven was a “sermonette”, if you listened carefully. They all pointed to Holy Week, as it was Palm Sunday.

“I Am Free” and “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”. When Jesus walked into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, His countrymen had already invested several years of prayer for a Deliverer to free the Jews from Roman oppression. Jesus would set them free all right. Not from Roman rule, but from an oppressor who had imprisoned humanity since the Garden. True freedom from sin and death is found in Christ, no matter which earthly king has you in shackles. A great stanza from the old hymn speaks clearly to this truth:

He breaks the power of cancell’d sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood avail’d for me.

“In Christ Alone.” The choir also sang this song this past Friday at a Celebration Service for a dear saint who went home to be with Jesus, Janel Saunders. It is a clear message of confidence as we approach our physical death. We who are in Christ Jesus have absolutely nothing to fear. What must it be like for an unsaved soul to breathe his or her last few breaths? Absolutely horrifying. What is it like for the new creation? Absolutely freeing.

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

“I Will Rise.” This was another song we sang at both the worship service as well as Janel’s Celebration Service. The part of the song that struck me was this:

There’s a day that’s drawing near 
When this darkness breaks to light 
And the shadows disappear 
And my faith shall be my eyes 

I usually get this backwards. I imagine death as a darkening moment for the soul, where reality disappears. But the opposite is true. Death immediately opens our eyes to the full reality that we see dimly. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Whatever side of the cross you’re on, you will have everything made completely clear when you die: you will be clearly united with God through His Son’s sacrificial atonement, or clearly condemned by God’s judgment because of a faithless, works-based attempt at salvation.

“He Reigns.” Whatever side of the cross you are on, you will one day sing this song (or something to the effect). Each one of us will confess that Jesus reigns. Romans 14:11 says, “It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.” Will you confess this freely or will you be forced to confess this before your impending judgment? Satan himself has known since the first Easter that he has been defeated. Even he will confess that Jesus is Lord, even though he hates the truth of it. It’s as my favorite line in this song states:

And all the powers of darkness
Tremble at what they’ve just heard
‘Cause all the powers of darkness
Can’t drown out a single word

Music can sometimes be the most encouraging, most challenging, most inspiring, and most convicting medium for a message to be communicated. The next time you hear a sermon with instruments accompanying it, allow your soul to take good notes.

And yes, the pun was intended!

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Last night, I did what I’ve done for decades. Nothing was different, except for one simple variable: my age. It’s amazing how one small difference can make a world of difference in the outcome. 

We had a youth group event called BreakQuake, and one of the activities was pick up basketball. Since I LOVE basketball, and grew up playing it at a very talented level, that was easily my first choice. Smooth sailing, right? 

I played full court basketball with several high school boys for approximately 2 1/2 consecutive days. (In reality, I probably played for a total of an hour. But old-man basketball sort of works like dog years.) The fruit of my labor: several pulled muscles, a devastated lower back, and a severely bruised ego. 

What happened? I’m 36 years old. That’s the same age as Peyton Manning, the guy who went through four neck surgeries, only to emerge as a highly-coveted quarterback. I emerged from my athletic endeavor as a cliche. 

Needless to say, I used this Sabbath to go into Recovery Mode. 

One key theme of Sabbath-keeping is “recovery”. We rest to recover from the week. We rest to replenish our bodies, minds, and spirits. We rest to refuel our relationships with God and others. 

Farmers know this practice very well. They will let a field “rest” for a year to help the nutrients in the soil recover. 

So this Sabbath was a great reminder that (1) I am no longer 23 years old, (2) I should start playing shuffleboard, and (3) I need to recover every week on so many levels. 

Did you allow yourself to go into Recovery Mode sometime this week?

 

 

Here’s the inaugural Friday Funnies! We all need a good laugh at the end of a long, grueling week!

This is how it works:

  1. Links to two videos will be posted below each week. In the future, it will be the defending champion and the new challenger.
  2. You go to this link to vote for Video A or Video B!
  3. The winning video from the poll comes back next week for the new challenger to the crown!
  4. To submit a potential challenger you find on YouTube, please send me the link through my Facebook page.  The video must:
  • Be less than 3 minutes. (We’re all quite busy, you know…)
  • Be clean enough for Jesus.
  • Be of decent quality – easy to see/hear.
  • Be FUNNY.  I mean REALLY funny!
  • You’re more likely to get your video picked if it’s quite different from the defending champion’s theme!

So, without further ado, here are the first-ever Friday Funnies! 

Video A 

Video B

(Don’t forget to vote! Go to the link above!) 

Okay, I’ve been giving this some thought over this past week of blogging. I’ve been toying with the idea of having a daily routine…some framework in which to work throughout the week. I’ve decided to have seven unique themes addressed on each day. And since I’m adamant about adhering to annoying alliteration, the topics and days start with the same letter. How ingenious and original, I know. (Sarcasm Alert.) 

So here’s what you can anticipate reading/enduring throughout the typical week! 

Sunday Sermon: A reflection on the message I gave (or heard) that morning in youth group.

Monday Musing: A soap box topic that will inevitably (and humorously) collapse underneath my feet.

Tuesday Tale: A meaningful story about my children from the past week. 

Wednesday Wonder: All about my extraordinary Life With Beautiful.

Thursday Thief: The aim is simple – to help readers fight off the Thief, and have life to the full (John 10:10).

Friday Funnies: It’s a YouTube funny video contest! You’ll be able to vote for which video remains the champ for another week. (Feel free to suggest new video candidates on my Facebook page.)

Saturday Sabbath: What did God teach me after I gave Him more time and devotion than usual?  

Don’t sweat it. It’s not like I expect you to build your busy lives around the schedule…but if you’re a creature of habit (as am I), you’ll appreciate the predictable seasons on this blog. It’s sort of like Newton’s Cradle (the image below). There can be great strength and comfort from things we can rely on to routinely occur. Like the sunrise. I hope this blog can add some predictability to your otherwise unpredictable world. 

Who does this? I mean, really? WHO?

What stay-at-home moms with four young children, when given the rare chance for TWO days in a week to themselves, does this?

For those who know Beautiful well, you know she just can’t chill out. In spite of my tireless attempts in mentoring her to embrace her inner slacker, she is just as tireless to remain tireless.  She has no low gear.

So, naturally, she took those two days of “down time” to…paint and decorate…

…her home?

No.

…her friend’s home?

Getting colder. MUCH colder.

Her…

Husband’s…

Office…?  

Bingo.

It was a complete act of mercy, like helping a rat with a broken foot. My office at church was a horrible display of complete…schmleckage. (Don’t waste your time looking up the word. I made it up for this special occasion. Sometimes the English language just doesn’t offer an adequate adjective for a noun.)  Anyone who would pass by my office would either just stop and gawk at the carnage….or just run for cover, out of fear of catching an airborne virus. Schmleckage.

So, Beautiful gets to thinking, “I have available time this week, and an insane ability to make any room look like it’s prepped for a magazine photo shoot, and a husband who is just embarrassing me with how schmlecky his office his. I have a plan.”

Off she goes, using the only gear available to her. New paint job. New photography with new frames (thanks to this talented neighbor friend). New lighting. Even a plant that she insists I cannot possibly kill, even with a blowtorch.

Never fear: there will be photos of this transformation after my office makeover is complete. But let me just say this, I will have the nicest office at CCC…and that’s even without having windows or a humane walking distance to a restroom. Yes, miracles do happen. Especially in a church.

So now I can go to work, and not grimace at all the schmleckage. In fact, I’m actually going to enjoy spending more time in the office. (And, in case you didn’t know this, that’s one of the signs of the Apocalypse: a youth pastor who enjoys spending time in his office.  You’ve been warned.)

I realize that I’m slightly biased. But I’m beginning to think that Beautiful is a pretty special lady.

There is a dear family in our church who is grieving the loss of a true “pillar” in the church, community, and – most importantly – home. My heart goes out to the Saunders family, as we know the journey ahead will be paved with a powerful mix of pain, celebration, struggle, and worship. This post is dedicated to Janel. You will be missed, and Heaven just got a little more amazing.

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Today, Gracie cried. Just out of the blue.

“What’s wrong, Gracie?”

“I’m sad,” my 7-year-old replied. “Whenever I start to cry, I always think about Grandma dying. Then it makes me cry more.”

Wow. My mother passed away after a brief battle with cancer just over a year ago, December 2, 2010. (For the whole story, please feel free to check out Beautiful’s blog chronicling her journey.)

Since my mom spent her final months in our home, my kids had a front row seat of her suffering and struggle. And Gracie still grieves whenever she cries, even when she cries about anything unrelated to that sad day when we said good bye. Such a tender heart.

I told her that, because both she and Grandma trusted Jesus as her Savior, they would see each other in Heaven. I told her that Grandma wasn’t in pain anymore from the cancer that took her life, and that we should be happy that Grandma has victory.

While everything I told her was true, it wasn’t enough. Not enough to make it all better. Not enough to bring Grandma back. Not enough to stop the tears, to make the pain go away.

See, that’s the thing with death. No words can ever make the pain go away because pain and death are supposed to coexist. It’s supposed to hurt. It’s supposed to feel wrong. Death, and the effects of it long after the event, constantly reminds us that all is not right. We live in a broken, fallen world, where it never makes sense without the beautiful rescue story of Jesus.

As Easter approaches, it’s a great reminder. This is why Easter is so…so…worth getting overwhelmed with worship for our Savior, our Hero, our Rescuer.

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”….But thanks be to God! He has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”  

1 Corinthians 15:55, 57

http://donandlindasjourney.blogspot.com/

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