Giving More than a Trip to Michigan

Give.

When we hear that word, give, what happens to our psyche? Some of us may tighten up and get defensive. Or, we may get warm feelings from memories of birthdays or Christmas time. But how many of us are passionate about giving.

Giving what? Whatever you want. Whatever you need to. Whatever you have that you would be delighted to give to someone else who could use what you have or may really need what you have to offer.

The saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” is not a proverb that a wise person created to teach children. We heard it first from the Apostle Paul quoting Jesus.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive,” what a simple statement. However, few attempt it and even fewer have mastered it. What a joy it is to be around those who try. Not simply because by proximity, you may be a recipient of the giving, but because there is something, I dare say supernatural about giving.

Giving is not natural to our contemporary world, not without some sort of return expected which is not giving but an investment.

Yet, there is something inside of us that knows that giving is “good.” Good in the purest sense of the word.

Why is that?

Our Creator, Our God is a giver. We are made in his image. Oh, there has been a curse of sin that tries to darken the light bearer that we are, but that is what we are. Created in the image of the One who gives and so when we fulfill our purpose of image bearing and act as a giver, it is not natural but supernatural. It is the light of the gospel made manifest to the world. It is us being the city on the hill.

So you see, it is a pleasure being around those who master giving because of this light, because of the image that they bear. I heard a pastor once say, “Jesus was the most joyful person ever because he was the most generous person ever.” And to use that rationale, those who are most generous tend to be the most joyful to be around.

I have just a small few people in my life who are like this.

I had the wonderful experience of adding one more earlier this month. Let me tell you about it.

My son Mac was born in 2010 surprisingly without his right forearm/hand.

My and my wife’s faith in God’s sovereignty and goodness grew immediately as we were held up by God’s Holy Spirit and God’s people, the church.

Also, with my endearment to baseball as a boy, I remember watching Jim Abbott with a similar birth, pitch a no-hitter for the Yankees and play for other teams, using his patented fielding style holding the glove under Jim’s right arm until the ball was released and then switching the glove to his left hand to field cleanly.

My son Mac, quickly proved to us that he would be just fine and we received the pleasure of seeing the blessing of stubbornness and determination in our Son as he excelled in whatever he wanted to.

But still, the questions are there, the social awkwardness, stares, offensiveness and a parent’s defensiveness. Sometimes Mac has been tough for us, others Cassie has been tough for Mac and me, and a few times I hope they have been able to lean on me.

There are wonderful communities like Scottish Rite in DFW, but it is not realistic for us to be consistently present there.

Last year, as grandparents do, my mother – Mac’s Nanny, was talking all about her grandkids to people at her work and we were introduced to the possibility by someone that she was talking to wanted to help us get in contact with Jim Abbott, so that there might be some wisdom and encouragement there.

Are you kidding me?!

A childhood hero of mine wanted to speak to my Son, Mac!!!

Both were true to their word. The connection was made and Jim Abbott called us, sent a letter to Mac, and signed pictures and cards, and Mac had someone “like him,” to look up to. To hear the words from someone like him, say, “Don’t ever give up”.

End of story. It was awesome. Call it a day.

Except that was not enough for our friend who kept wanting to “give” to my son Mac.

His thought was, Mac has to see Jim Abbott in person, and he thought “this could change his life.”

Well, we live west of Fort Worth and Jim Abbott isn’t driving through Mineral Wells any time soon.

How about going to a University of Michigan football game (where both our Good Samaritan and Jim Abbott are alumni) where Mac can meet up with Jim Abbott?!!!

I was told, “See if Jim Abbott will be at any Michigan games, and we will meet him there.”

If you know me, I have a hesitancy to drive to the mall thinking, “Will our car make it?” “Do we really need to spend money on this?”

Can you wrap your mind around someone you do not know, someone who does not owe you anything, someone who does not need anything that you might have, and you cannot repay, not only completely covering the cost of a trip like this but making the emotional connection and investment to make this trip happen.

Not only is the money a concept that I cannot understand, but how many of us have never thought about the impact that any sort of gesture could make to someone else, let alone a complete stranger.

Now to take it multiple steps further, we (My mom, Mac, and I) were met at the airport boarding passes in hand. We were guided through the airport and made it to Detroit where our host prepared our rental car and then drove us to Ann Arbor where he had arranged our hotel. Thoroughly providing for our trip, first thing in the morning on game day, his family was preparing our tailgating spot so all that we had to do was come to the stadium and enjoy eating chili and the environment of 110,000 Blue faithful at “The Big House,” as we waited for our encounter with Mr. Abbott.

Jim, of course, was not bribed or tugged into this. Jim was so encouraging leading up to this point and assuring that he would love to meet Mac. This very morning Jim was emailing and texting me to make sure that we would be at the right place and right time, he was pursuing Mac, I did not have to “remind” him or hope that it would work out.

Then the moment that our friend had invested so much in and we had held our excitement in for so long came, Jim and his wife found where we were and I got to watch my son and Jim chat, get to know one another, play catch, share some stories, and Jim get down on one knee and give a pointer or two to Mac.

Our friend sat back and enjoyed seeing what he wanted to see all along, simply a boy getting a gift, an amazing gift. But that’s what we were all there for, a boy receiving not a box with wrapping and a bow on it or a gift card but a vision of possibility and encouragement, strength.

Hundreds of people around us tailgating knew what was going on: not a celebrity signing autograph but a memory that not only will not be forgotten but a memory that could galvanize the will for a young boy. The surrounding fans of Michigan, who knew that one of their favorite sons was near, did not interrupt but kindly respected the moment,  as one man put it, “all these grown men, jealous of an 8-year-old.”

Everything else, and that is a big “everything else”, (50-yard line seats near the players’ entrance to the Michigan game, not only watching Jim Abbott’s daughter play volleyball later, but Mac got to go on the court and receive an autographed volleyball, etc. Seriously I could go on and on) but all “everything else” was icing on a very amazing cake.

I say that because as any parent knows, there is just something amazing about making your child smile and 100 out of 100 times, a parent would choose that something miraculous would happen to their child over themselves.

So when someone gives a trip like this to your family and gives this gift to your son, what is there to do?

Say Thanks.

To Paul Janiak, thank you so much for a trip that will not be stopped talking about. Thank you for caring about Mac. Thank you for all that you gave.

Thanks to Thomas Janiak and Joe Janiak for your hard work hosting us and creating an unforgettable tailgating experience.

Thanks to Mrs. Janiak for sacrificing your football ticket and your husband for the weekend.

Of course thanks to Mr. Jim Abbott for being a trailblazer and a role model and just a genuinely great guy to spend that time with a child.

Thanks to everyone else in Ann Arbor as we got to meet and spend time with some great people being a member of the Michigan Wolverines for the weekend and a fan for the future.   Go Blue!

Grace & Fascination

Wonder, awe, breathtaking, etc. These are words that have been used to capture an experience. Maybe this was with God, or in nature, or with a newborn child. It was definitely not describing a grocery trip to Wal-Mart.

You are probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s the point, they are extraordinary.”

Do we really only ever stop and pause at a few extraordinary moments in life?

With so much instant entertainment in our culture, we may have become desensitized to the miracles of life.

We should with hungry humility seek out the “everyday” miracles and attribute them to God. That’s what the word “fascination” brings besides the words mentioned earlier, is a sense of on-going, continuous, searching out.

We should be fascinated with grace. We should be fascinated with what God is doing in our lives.

This simultaneously brings about a higher sense of worship for God and gratification. God gets the exaltation, the credit for what is happening in our life. We find more satisfaction, more joy, thankfulness for what is going on in our life. This practice will also strengthen our faith, provide endurance for when we get rocked, it will bring to light that God is great and there is much more going on than the trial in front of us. Whether you need reminding that there is more than this crisis, something better than the mundane, or whether you need assurance that God will work out all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Be fascinated with every miracle God has in motion. Be curious to find out what we are not seeing. Be hungry to find out what we can thank God for that we have been ignorant of in the past. We need to be in pursuit of fascination with the miracles around us.

As a believer in Jesus and in particular a pastor, I have a calling to invest in people’s lives. With every text message and every lunch, there are exchanges of grace. There are so many things that happen daily and weekly that make a lifetime of differences.

As a husband and best friend to my wife, a connection that is unexplainable. A relationship that is indivisible, there is nothing in my life that does not affect her nor her’s mine.

As a parent, every night when I come home, I can see and hear little miracles. My children have a story of their own now. They have their own interactions at school, with other kids. My little girl is in Pre-K and has a boy crushing on her. My son has his playground adventures and wants to start karate. Are these not moments to treasure?

As a co-worker, we spend 8-10+ hours a day, basically as a family away from home. For some of you, it may just be a couple of people. For me, it is 70 people. C.S. Lewis said, “I have never met a mere mortal.” Every day I go to work with 70 people who were made in the image of God.

History contains fascination. The present should hold our fascination. The future intrigues our fascination.

To be bored is to fail at worship. To not be fascinated with your life is to be guilty of being lazy with your eyes and mind. To not be fascinated is to fail to recognize what is going on around us.

How can you stir up your thankfulness? How can you slow down to realize your fascination with life around you?

What can you do to turn the moments that are difficult into experiences that can be more helpful? Is it treating your spouse differently? Is it changing a parenting approach, performing a job better or rescheduling something? Life is too precious to not be fascinated with our lives and seek out the grace that is present and become transformed by it.

Lemon Pie

Easter. When you see or hear Easter you think of ______? It might be Resurrection Sunday, but it is probably more along the lines of “easter” eggs or bunny, or maybe those horrible marshmallow “peeps”. Or maybe, a new dress or coloring eggs the night before.

To me, I know it is time for my lemon pie. That is pretty much my main objective. My wife’s lemon pie and I go way back.

*Flashback*

It is a perfect spring day at a church bake sale fundraiser and up next is a fresh bright lemon pie. At this point, I didn’t even know if I liked lemon pie but there is a sassy blonde up there displaying her grandma’s recipe that she achieved. So I open up with a big bid to get her attention, and someone outbids. I counter trying to impress her with my determination but apparently this guy must really like lemon pie. The war is on. We are throwing bids like haymakers, me in the back of the crowd bidding for her pie and affection and my adversary sitting down in the front row locked in.

After a 12 round heavyweight fight, who do you think came out victorious? Well, we probably both did. Oh, I won the war; I got the pie and the girl. But this guy in the front row was my future father-in-law exposing my weakness for lemon pie and his daughter as well as my intentions with her to the world. Everyone knows no lemon pie is worth $150 unless there is more than lemon meringue in the air. Yep, he won the day. But he was merciful at letting me off at $150 because I would have gone higher.

Back to Easter. How do you enjoy or celebrate Easter? How should you enjoy or celebrate Easter?

I see a few options and will keep this short.

1) Don’t celebrate Easter at all because:

A) You don’t believe that Jesus resurrected

B) You believe that Jesus defeated death but you choose not to celebrate and are not commanded to.

2) Celebrate Easter, but do so without any cultural practices like the easter bunny and eggs sort of thing.

3) Celebrate Easter as a follower of Christ, and according to passages like 1 Corinthians 8, your conscience is not bothered by the cultural aspects of Easter so you can participate in an egg hunt and have fun.

This is what we choose to do. I know what I am teaching my kids and am not bothered by them picking up eggs out of the grass. To me, that is all they are doing. Eating candy and picking up eggs out of the yard. There is nothing more to it than that.

But what is mandatory on Easter?

Nothing is mandatory because of Easter. However because Easter is on a Sunday, lets rephrase the question. What generally happens on Sundays, regardless of Easter or not?

On Sundays the church gathers together. Emphasis on when the church gathers. When the church gathers, the gospel is proclaimed and celebrated. Easter or not. Jesus defeated death, rose from the grave, walked out of a tomb after 3 days; Jesus died and didn’t stay dead. For me, for you, for us. So when the church gathers, we celebrate this.

I don’t just need this on Sundays; I need to hear this every day.

I sincerely hope that we are hearing more about the gospel than what we should or should not do on Easter. The gospel isn’t an Easter message, it is an everyday message. If your Easter sermon sounds radically different than most Sundays, it might be time to look for a new church.

One evening when my kids and I were reading through this passage of Jesus’ crucifixion, my little girl said something like, “Jesus died, that is really sad.” And I explained, “Of course, in a way your right that is really sad. But it is also the greatest thing ever because he died the death we should have died and he rose again that we may live.”

Resolution:

  1. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity.

Common Grace:

Children. Or being a kid. Children are a gift. Remember when your biggest concern was not being bored. Don’t directly take this with responsibilities of parenting, but just take a look at the miracle that kids are. What they are capable of. I am also not saying they are innocent but most kids tend to be a little more gracious than adults. They want to play with you and they want you to like them.

Beeline:

John 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Childlike faith is dependent on knowing you can’t help yourself and that your identity is linked to another. In there is true freedom and great joy.

Hometown:

Treehouse Learning Center (Daycare and Pre-school) located at Grace Church of Mineral Wells. This is a no-brainer because of the wonderful staff. I also get to see the training, hard work, and integrity that surpasses just being responsible with children, which is a great task in itself. They are selfless and trustworthy. As a bonus, the facility is multifunctional as Grace Church’s kids building and fellowship hall and some of the profit from the Treehouse Learning Center is redirected to church ministries and missions. Like Cocoon Pregnancy Resource Center and Church plants and pastors in Yucatán, Mexico.

Recommendation:

Be a neighbor. Get past social awkwardness. Do more than wave. If you need a starting point, buy a dessert and take it to them, introduce or re-introduce yourself. Imagine life around your house if there was a connection with other people with real relationships.

DirecTV

Last Fall, our household had DirecTV installed. It was time. We had gone long enough with not being able to watch the Dallas Cowboys in the comfort of my own living room. We were married in spring of 2009 and it was a wonderful decision to not have cable or satellite television in our home for a time. We saved money, we spent more quality time together as a new couple, and we still had DVD’s for entertainment.

Now I never missed a game, but there was something missing about my son and me not watching the game in our home together. So I pulled the trigger and ordered DirecTV before the first regular season game of 2016.

So it has been a little while since the Cowboys and NFL season has been finished.

Now is really the first time that I have felt the need to justify having DirecTV without the Cowboys. Of course I am not going to cancel, but what might practically make me feel like I am getting my money’s worth?

So my DirecTV, is it worth it?

Since we are typically busy Monday – Wednesday, my wife and I catch up on our “shows” on Thursday evenings.

Do you know what I like?

I like keeping Thursdays free for family night.

I like pretending that I don’t like “This is Us”.

I like “Lethal Weapon” more.

I like James Spader in “Blacklist” even more than that.

I like that my wife records the View just to laugh at them.

I like that my son who has a very hard time sitting still, will lay down on me for an hour to watch Planet Earth nature shows.

I like that my daughter would rather dance to the music than watch what is on.

Several people have offered the advice to watch shows as a way of zoning out to help relax my mind, when dealing with stress. My mind doesn’t work like that, I enjoy the shows but they are more mentally stimulating than relaxing.

I have lived without DirecTV and could live without it again but since the NFL draft is coming up we might as well keep it.

If you want to take away something from this, let it be that as a believer in Jesus Christ is redeemed, some things in this world can be redeemed as well. Christ did not die for DirecTV to be redeemed; he died for his sheep to be redeemed. As a believer in Christ and according to Scripture, there are things that cannot be redeemed. These things are sin. If we try to redeem things that are sin, this will surely bring about loss and death. For when things are not clearly sinful but in the big category of things that are abused, like television, we have to use a sensitive and informed conscience. When it was not a good idea for us to purchase DirecTV, we did not. When we felt like it would be a welcomed addition to our house, we had it installed.

This is where wisdom acquired from Scripture, guidance from the Holy Spirit, and a new heart leads to decisions and changes.

If I neglect my relationship with Christ because of DirecTV, that would be sinful. If I neglect my relationship with my wife and kids, that would be sinful. And so on with real priorities.

Other things in my life have not been dealt with so well. Even now, the kids whine about wanting to watch cartoons when it is bedtime or the news will get irritating. I like DirecTV, I don’t love it.

That is why the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards are so helpful to me; they are a constant reminder of priorities.

Resolution:

  1. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

Common Grace:

Clothes are a gift. Very literal for me as about 90% of my clothes were bought for me. The season is changing our attire now, going from winter into spring. Some are very stylish and fashionable; others get made fun of for getting “dressed-up” just to be asked to go change. Yeah that’s me. I don’t really put thought into clothes. I like that I wear basically the same thing to work as I do church Although, I do love seeing my little girl dress up and my boy as a cowboy or superhero, or when my wife and I get a date night and we put the right clothes on for dinner to make the occasion special.

Beeline:

Genesis 3 tells of a time when wearing clothes was not the norm, Adam and Eve did not know to wear clothes until after they sinned against God, verse 10. They had not experienced shame until after sin. God sought them out in verse 21, “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” So God made a sacrifice to provide a covering for Adam & Eve because of their shame from sin. In this same chapter God would tell the serpent that eventually, Jesus would be not just a covering, but atonement for sin once and for all for those would have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and be reconciled with God.

Hometown:

West City Park is definitely a hometown place that is on my mind right now. My son’s baseball season is kicked off causing flashbacks of me playing out at the baseball fields there. The city pool is out there, next to the volleyball court, kids enjoy the skate park, some people group exercise, and we like to meet other families out to have kids play together. Tons of birthday parties are out there and last year we had our family Easter celebration there. I bet most of Mineral Wells can think of some great memories that occurred at the West City Park.

Recommendation:

Cook your bacon in the oven. I don’t do it, but my wife does. And hey, listen up; it is the best bacon ever. It cooks crispy and lays flat without getting blackened and curled up. It might be healthier, it might not be, I don’t know, but its better. Better! Cook your bacon in the oven.

There will be a special post next Sunday, something that no one besides my wife has read.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Enjoy.