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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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