We missed church again today

This morning marks the second Sunday in a row that we have had to cancel services at the church. It’s the right decision but that doesn’t always mean it is easy. We meet every week and it is healthy to take breaks, but this feels different. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t really in my control. Last week when we cancelled the services I couldn’t quite figure out what I miss when we have to cancel. I’ve thought about it and here are a few things:zchurch

  • I miss walking into the church first thing on Sunday morning, with many folks greeting us at the door. From the time I was a child, I remember Mr. Gary that would hand out the bulletins and I would make my way to Mr. Ken, who had the donuts. The names have changed and now I’m bringing the little ones, but it still feels good to come into a place where you are welcomed.
  • I miss saying hello to other folks as they make their arrival. How are things going? Did you have a good week? Can you believe the Cats pulled it out last night?
  • I miss worship. I miss singing songs of praise. I miss watching my little girl twirl and cause a scene at the front. I miss joining with others singing a variety of songs that have impacted our lives in different ways throughout our lives.
  • I miss our weekly time of prayer. On most Sundays at First Baptist we have a time to voice prayer concerns, to share updates from our lives. We go before the Lord and we pray together and know that when we speak we are speaking to people who are rooting with us.
  • I miss opening up the Bible together. I am thankful for the privilege to preach, but I am most thankful that the Lord speaks through my mess and the Spirit works on the hearts of those gathered, mine included.
  • I miss leaving with the song “God Be With You Til We Meet Again.” This is a new tradition at the church, but one that I love because we go out in song, aware that our lives each week must be fully reliant on God.

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While I miss those things and many more, I take comfort in knowing that while we do not gather as a corporate body for worship this morning, each person in their own way will continue to praise and worship throughout the week. We will still check in on each other. We will pray. We will serve.
The Shakers on Sunday would not go to church, but they would go to the Meetinghouse. The distinction in saying that was an awareness that they are the church and the Meetinghouse was simply a place to worship.

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I’ve seen a picture on Facebook that reminds us that a church is not the only place to praise God and that you can also praise God in cars at 2am, coffee shops, and gyms. This is true and this important.

 

BUT…missing our Sunday services the last two weeks has reminded me of something that I hope we never forget. We need to gather together. We are commanded to gather together. We need to spend time with other believers. Yes the church will go, but it is in the gathering that we prepare ourselves for what is to come. It is in all of the things that I have mentioned that I miss and in all of the things that the Spirit does that I never even realize that my faith is strengthened. We need to meet together. Church must be a priority.

When I meet with God’s people, I am reminded that we are called to something bigger than ourselves, that we can’t do it on our own, and that we are able to relish in the grace of a God who loves us more than we can comprehend. I am reminded of my responsibility to the kingdom.

Today will be a day with family and I will thank God for the blessing that they are. We will gather as a church next week (Lord willing). I can’t wait.

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  Check us out at www.fbcftthomas.com

 

Fully Loaded Church

Right about the time that we found out we were going to have twins…after the shock period…it became apparent that Jenni and I were going to be minivan people. It’s the kind of thing that you hear happens to other people, but you never think it will have to happen to you.

Growing up, my family never really had what most would consider a nice car. The cream of the crop was a 1987 Chevy Astro…a beautiful machine that was driven off the lot at least a year before I was born.  By the time I was sixteen years old, the ceiling fabric was all but gone, the cassette player had long disintegrated, something happened in the motor that caused the whole vehicle to shake. No a/c? No problem.chevyastro2.jpg
One of the blessings that came out of that van was that I’ve never really known what it means to have a brand new vehicle and for the most part I don’t really care. As long as a car is reliable, that’s fine for me.

Fast forward to 2018 and the time comes to look for a minivan. The criteria we had for the most part was this: it needed to be reliable and it needed to be affordable. Jenni wanted cruise control. Aside from that, finance mattered as much as just about anything else.

After a few months of looking, I got the call from a dealer that they had just received a really nice 2013 Honda Odyssey that was going to be near our price range and very low mileage. We stopped what we were doing and drove to Florence to check it out.

Our salesman was a nice person. He was recommended as being trustworthy and honest. He was also good at his job and his goal was to sell us on this van. Well…in addition to being low mileage…this van was loaded. We’re talking leather heated seats, an entertainment system, sunroof, bluetooth, a cooling box (basically a fridge that I don’t know what to do with), and a few other cool perks.

I did not care. Is it affordable and is it reliable?

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My wife is now a minivan driving mama. 

We bought the van with the heated seats, backup camera, and all of the other gadgets but I was convinced the best part was that we got a good deal. I didn’t need and wasn’t sure that I’d even use those details.

Over time, something has happened. My 2011 Chevy Cruze isn’t what you would call “loaded.” It drives just fine. It has no car payment. It does everything that I need it to do. It’s a good car.

Sometimes, when I am backing up I have to do something weird…I have to pay more attention to my mirrors. I have actually TURN and look behind me to make sure I’m not hitting anything.

My seats? Not warm… just the temp that has been determined by the weather.heatedseats


On the van, I can change the volume on the radio with a switch on the steering wheel. When we bought the van I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be bothered by having to actually reach to the regular dash. Now in the Cruze I swear someone has moved that radio dial a few feet away and when I want to change the volume I sometimes just flip the cruise control switch on the steering wheel.

Both cars are great. Both cars get the job done. But something has changed.

I think that if we aren’t careful, we fall into the trap of what it might mean to have “fully-loaded” church. Because of the privilege we have to worship freely and because so many of us have never really experienced need, we have been able to add things to our churches that we don’t really need. They are nice. They make life enjoyable. They still are not necessary.
volume controlWhat slowly starts to happen is that in the process we find that we are the ones being changed. Sure, we think we can worship anywhere, but once you have experienced worship in a certain way, it is hard to go back to what we had before.

 

This can be venue, music style, bible translations, order of service, worship times, format, etc. etc. The problem we face is that out of our abundance we have become harder to please. We feel called to share the good news, but it has to be on our terms in our own ways and it has to be done comfortably.

We all have preferences. It’s okay to have preference. I believe that God has created us to be able to worship uniquely with different passions and I believe that God is working through churches of every size, shape, background, and is doing so for God’s glory.

What things have you included in how you “do church” that could be considered a luxury? Are you holding onto it for your own comfort? Anything that we are unwilling to give up for the greater good of the Gospel is an idol.

I’m going to enjoy my heated seats and backup camera. I’m also working to be more content in my paid-off, does what I need car.

In worship? I’m going to be more intentional about not letting the preferential things get in the way of the most important thing. If we can commit to doing that together, I believe the best things are still to come.

The Immigration Crisis and the Bible

Today I write something a little bit different than my traditional style for this blog; but as I prepare for Sunday’s message I see something happening that has left me frustrated. It isn’t where I intend for Sunday to go, but even if only for my own sake I wanted to get these thoughts out.

This Sunday we are going to talk about the infamous flight to Egypt by Mary and Joseph in Matthew 2 after getting word from an angel that Herod was out to kill Jesus. A family, facing persecution, flees to another country with the hope of being welcomed and safe. Hmm…

 

Jesus was a refugee! Right?

No wait…Jesus was a refugee?

Hmm…maybe?

Absolutely not.

Perhaps?

 

In our current news cycle with so much consideration given to the immigration crisis, the treatment of families at the border, and rulings from our court systems, this passage feels like it is filled with landmines for believers. We have been trained that every issue is an either/or situation. You have to choose. You perhaps need to find those who line up with your ideological spectrum and go from there.

Having served in a range of church traditions, I have a pretty diverse group of friends. I have spent time in more conservative, literalist churches. I have also spent time studying and serving with more progressive believers who push to ask deeper questions, examine context, and talk about listening to the Spirit. Forgive me if these seem like broad, judgmental strokes as it does not apply to each person. But for the general theme seems to have fallen along these lines and the end result is that we have two groups of believers that spend lots of time talking ABOUT each other, but rarely WITH each other.

So…what does that have to do with the passage about Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt?

In almost a stunning twist of events…my progressive friends have taken the verses about Mary and Joseph fleeing with baby Jesus at face value. Sure sounds like a refugee to me! Jesus was a refugee and so the Christian response to immigration issues is to welcome everyone. Case closed and anyone that has opposite views is just being judgmental and heartless.


Image result for refugee crisisAs I have scanned the internet reading various interpretations, I have found many from a more conservative background that say that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were NOT refugees. One person online noted that really Egypt was a Roman territory and so they weren’t REALLY fleeing persecution as refugees. And then…to talk about the immigration crisis we are expected to turn our attention to Romans 13 where it is pretty clearly laid out that we are supposed to follow the laws of the land. So Romans 13:1 is to be taken literally, but we really need to ask more questions about that Matthew passage?

I write this not to share my views on this issue, but to draw our attention to what is happening when we use scripture to figure out how to handle these issues and it seems best to do it through the discussion on immigration:

-For a minute, the progressives seem more like literalists and the more conservative folks want to start looking more at context and ways to contort scripture to say what they want to say.

Please never forget that anytime we read scripture, we bring our own biases to the conversation. We WANT scripture to say something and it can become tempting to twist it and use it to prove our point.

Having biases is not necessarily a bad thing and they can even be helpful, but only IF we know that it is happening. We must rely on our experiences, backgrounds, and ideological leanings to have true discussion. This is why it is so important to read scripture together. We talk it out, we ask good questions.

There are places in scripture where I wish my more progressive friends would choose to be more literal.

There are many places where I wish my more conservative friends would look at the context, ask better questions, and trust the Spirit’s guidance (affirming women in ministry would be a great place to start).

Rich Mullins once said “I think if we were given the scriptures it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the scriptures it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing.”

That statement is enough to make me lose some of you. I get it. If that is true, how do we know that things are true? Do we not trust the Bible? What about the slippery slope? Oh no!

It is possible to believe that the Bible is 100% true and also be aware that none of us are gifted to understand everything 100%. We read the scriptures, but we do so with humility. We do it with no agenda other than of being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can fulfill God’s will.

We read together, aware of our biases, and we trust that through genuine conversation we will begin to live lives that are honoring to God.

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So…what do we do with something like the immigration? Sit down. Talk to someone who understands things a bit differently. Figure out why you have come to your conclusion. Find out what in their experience has led them to theirs. Dig deeper.

 

 

 

And through that, we trust that the Spirit will guide us all.

 

Perhaps there is a way to be welcoming of those who are in danger and at the same time honor the laws of the land? I really don’t know. It’s time to ask better questions.

Christmas for the first time (again)

Most people that know anything about me know that I can be a bit of a Grinch when at Christmas. If you ask me, I would say it goes back to working a few years of retail at the mall during Christmas season.That will change a man I tell you.

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Bah Humbug

Anyway, due to various reasons, even the last few Christmases have been different than expected. They weren’t bad and we’ve made memories that will last a lifetime, but major things have happened. Twice we were in the middle of moving houses which meant limited time to decorate as it just felt like extra work when packing up.

This year, things already feel different. It began on Thanksgiving. I know…I know…we are supposed to focus on Thanksgiving and THEN start Christmas. If anyone loves that rule, it’s this guy. In my experience though, one of the things you do on Thanksgiving is watch the Macy’s Parade and wait for the grand finale as Santa Claus himself comes down the street to welcome in the season of commercialism….I mean Christmas!

Crosley will turn three in February, which means she is finally at an age where she really is starting to get a grasp on Christmas, Santa, Advent, and everything in between. In early November she declared that she finally was not scared of Santa and that he could bring her presents on Christmas.

As we had the parade playing, when the end was near I told her to stop and watch the screen. What happened next is a memory I will never forget.

“Crosley, who is that?”

“It’s Santa! Look! Hi, Santa! Daddy, take his picture!”



And she ran to the TV, jumping up and down, waving as if she was seeing a friend she had not seen in years. She beamed and what I saw was nothing but pure joy.

And yes, as it unfolded, my heart grew at least one size.

This Christmas is different because I get to experience it with someone who I love that is experiencing it all for the first time. Every Santa sighting, every reindeer, every gingerbread man, every baby Jesus in the manger is a reason for celebration.



I think churches can learn something from this.

For too long, too many of us have gathered with the same people doing the same things for so long that we have lost the passion that brought us together in the first place. We want to reach out, but we get bogged down by year after year of traditions that sometimes feel like an obligation rather than a privilege.

Perhaps this Christmas season, the best way to remember the joy in what we do is to try and experience it with someone who is doing it for the very first time. Who do we know that would benefit from hope, peace, joy, and love in the ways only found in the Good News?

This year when I see something Christmas-y, my thoughts are less “Bah humbug” and more “I bet Crosley would love this.”
zxmasWho are you inviting to worship with you? What relationships are we cultivating? I believe that the joy of Christmas will only come when experienced with others, especially those doing so for the first time.

Increasingly I am being convinced that the advent is a reminder not just that we get to to feel love, peace, joy, and hope but that we are called to be agents of those things to a world that is so desperate for them. Advent might best be experienced by helping share those things with others.

Make this Christmas one to remember, not for all that you had to do, but for what you got to see God do.

I’m Sorry, Steven Curtis Chapman

Like any good church kid growing up in the 90s, I was all about the wave of CCM music. Unlike many folks, I still find myself going back to those songs from time to time. Jars of Clay, Third Day, Audio Adrenaline, and the Newsboys were personal favorites. I was in hook, line, and sinker. These days I find myself focused on more recent CCM artists,

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Jars of Clay – Their cassette was the first album I ever remember buying.

favorites being Andrew Peterson, NEEDTOBREATHE, Chris Rice, and more. In college I discovered more and more about Rich Mullins and few folks have shaped my life more than the legacy of Rich.



I tell you this because no matter how my moods might have changed, one things stayed the same: I did not like Steven Curtis Chapman. At all.

Looking back on it, I’m not sure why exactly. As CCM music changed over the years, I started to see what I believe to be his squeaky clean image and thought SCC was a prime example of everything that was wrong with the industry.  The music wasn’t terrible, but usually I would play it more of a joke to my wife. “Saddle up your hoooorrrsess…” ..”I’m diving in…oh ohhh woaah ohh” It was a throwback, but not always an appreciated one.

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This is the SCC that would show up in my head.

To be honest, I knew nothing about the man other than what I saw from a distance. Jenni would often tell me how much I was missing as she knows how much emphasis I place on lyrical quality when choosing what I should listen to in any scenario. I would have none of it. SCC was not for me.

This year for Father’s Day, I asked for the gift that everyone would probably expect from me: two tickets to see Steven Curtis Chapman in concert for his upcoming solo tour. And I cannot wait.

What changed? Two years ago, SCC released his autobiography, “Between Heaven and The Real World.” Having known a little about his story, I was interested, but I was not prepared for what I found.

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In his book, we get a glimpse of what was really happening in his life at the time that many of his biggest hits were hitting the airwaves. Struggles with finances, marriage, raising kids, the loss of his children, and so many more things helped put his life into a new perspective. While I am sorry that he has walked through so many tough times, his candor in sharing his story made me start to see things in a new way.

As I read the book, I became more involved in listening to his music and really going back to look at the words. I could see how SCC was faithful in letting the Spirit lead him to write music out of his story. As I understood him more, I felt a connection. I’ve never been one to score high on an empathy scale, but as she shared I found many places where I could relate Some of his music helped get me through a rough year and at just the right time this year he released a new song that helped me celebrate life with a new perspective.

I write all of this with no expectation that SCC will ever see this, but I felt like I needed to say this publicly: “Steven Curtis Chapman, I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry that my judgment kept me from connecting with your music sooner. I’m sorry that I looked at the polished exterior of public image and thought for a minute that you were anything less than honest. I’m sorry for putting folks like Rich Mullins on a pedestal because of their ability to be raw while at the same time holding others like you to a standard that I myself can rarely manage to uphold.

I share this because I think there is a reminder that I need and I suspect others can benefit from as well. Whether it is in church, at work, in a restaurant, at a ballfield, or wherever life brings you…let’s stop assuming things about people based on public image. Let’s not forget that we all have our struggles and burdens and we never really know what is happening behind the curtain. The truth is, I shouldn’t have had to read this book and hear his stories to come down from my place of judgment. I’m sorry that it took me so long.sccpost3

To open up and share the parts of your life that don’t seem to match up to what others expect from you takes courage. The fact that that last sentence is true is more of a condemnation on the church than it is on any one person. We should expect, welcome, and even demand moments where we don’t just say “I’m fine,” but instead, “Well here’s where I’m struggling right now.”

I am thankful for the authenticity shared in his book and I believe it serves as yet another reminder of how important it is that we share stories. We all have things going on. How much stronger and more connected will we be when we decide to let others in?

I’m excited to sit and listen to a show next week. I’m thankful for a new world of music that has been opened to me and the way that it has ministered to me. I’m thankful for the reminder that I need to stop with my own preconceived notions of others. And oh yeah: I’m sorry, Steven Curtis Chapman.

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WHY WON’T YOU FEED US?!?

It’s amazing what almost six months can do. In early May one of our boys, Henry, was still in the NICU and we were waiting on his brain to develop to where he would decide he wanted to eat. Jenni and I were so thankful for all of the prayers and well wishes offered to us. Not to make light of where they were only a few months ago, I can confirm this much has changed since then:

They like to eat. No, they love to eat.

Based on genetics and who their father is, I am sure that this is no surprise to most of you. zbabyeat6

I know we aren’t supposed to be jealous, but I do think it is some kind of a double standard about how people view babies versus adults. Case in point?

It is socially acceptable for them to cry, weep, wail, and have the gnashing of gums when they decide that it has been longer than they think it should be before a meal. They do it and get sympathy. I do it and people give me weird looks.

While they both cry, Asher can scream at levels that I did not know were humanly possible. We can tell which baby is up from the other end of the house because Asher can give a tea kettle scream envy.

As one who sympathizes with hunger, I do not mind feeding them and want to help them feel better (and perhaps get them ready to nap longer). We’ll get the bottles ready and lay them in position and wait for them to eat.

But every now and then something happens….they decide maybe halfway or more into the bottle that they aren’t as hungry. They’ll shift their heads, not in pain, but just because they no longer see their hunger as an immediate need. They’ll gum at the bottle. They’ll grin at us. But they just stop eating.

zbabyeat3I know that there are a million theories and you aren’t supposed to push food…but I also know that if they don’t finish what I am trying to give them, they will be hungry sooner. Hunger leads to fussing. Fussing leads to crying. Crying involves all of us.  Plus, they need the nutrients in the bottle to grow.

One night I was feeding both and they decided it was the perfect time to both protest. We battled it out and eventually it went down, but after they had gone down for the night I started thinking about how I do this same thing. I’m guessing you might as well.  

It might not be protesting a meal, but there are things that we beg and plead for God to do. There are opportunities that we ask for. We pray and look and prepare fo the day when things will work out a certain way. We want a certain job. We want a certain opportunity. We want a relationship. We want our churches to have opportunities to serve more. We ask God to do things bigger than we can dream.

We pray big prayers. But then when opportunities come, something happens.

And just like the boys with their bottles, we get halfway through and we get distracted.
It’s not that we don’t know we want the things we asked for, the need just doesn’t seem as great. And perhaps it starts to feel more like a work we have to do instead of a work that we want to do. zbabyeat4

In an age where every church wants the biggest innovation, where every person is challenged to be the best and the brightest and the strongest, I think we forget that even the greatest things happen through deliberate attempts to be faithful even when things have lost their shine.

We commit to things, whether it be a new program at church, a new diet that we believe will be the fix, a new reading plan, or whatever it might be…and then we stop when the initial passion is gone. And because we don’t commit, we don’t finish. And just like the boys if they don’t finish their bottle, we get restless faster.

Wherever you are today might not be the newest and most exciting, but God has you there to use you to do great things for the kingdom. My hope is that we learn to commit to sticking through it, to working hard, and trusting that God called us to places for a reason.

Let’s do the work and see what happens.

Purple Balloons and Chocolate Cupcakes

I do not have a way to prove it, but in my 2.5 years of being a father I believe there is a strong chance that I have heard the song Happy Birthday more than I have in all of the years that proceeded it.

My little girl loves birthdays. She loves singing. For the most part, she doesn’t even care if there is actually a birthday, any day is a good reason to sing it.

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Purple all over.

This week was my wife’s birthday. This is the first year where Crosley is old enough to actually understand what that means and so I thought it was a good time to let her help plan how to celebrate her mommy’s birthday.

Driving in the van with her a few weeks ago, I told her,” Crosley, your mommy’s birthday is coming up very soon. How do you want to celebrate?”

“Purple balloons and cupcakes, ” she said.

I decided to let it go. Surely she would forget and I could ask her again, perhaps guiding her to the best answer. A few days later, I asked her the same question, “Crosley, your mommy’s birthday is coming up very soon. How do you want to celebrate?”

“Purple balloons and cupcakes, ” she said.

Outsmarted by a two year old (a common occurrence in our house), I again started to think about her answer. I was determined that she would want to give her mom the right gifts for the right reasons so that things could play out in the way that I had determined in my head.

But then, it hit me. I felt God telling me something that if perhaps I should have realized all along. Thankfully, God is more patient with me than I am with her and understands that sometimes it just takes me a little bit longer. What did I see?

Crosley loves purple. Crosley loves chocolate cupcakes. Crosley loves balloons. Most of all, Crosley loves her mommy. In her mind, the very best things that she could give her mommy at her party are purple balloons and chocolate cupcakes.

Along with that, Jenni loves Crosley. Jenni knows Crosley. Jenni understands what it took me a lot longer to realize. The very best gift that she could get from her little girl was something that her little girl thought was the best thing in the world. She wanted her mommy to have the best.

cupcakesAnd so that’s what we did. We had purple balloons. We had chocolate cupcakes.

Jenni loved it!

If you are like me, you probably spend too much time trying to dictate the gifts that other people want to give to God. Churches have become so institutionalized and formulaic that we encourage people to serve the Lord and bring their gifts…but then we try and dictate what those gifts are.

We have people who want to bring in a purple balloon and all we can think about is how we have traditionally been a red balloon church and how our surveys say that perhaps the best balloons for our area are green balloons. We spend time trying to tell people how their very best doesn’t quite fit the kingdom, while all along God looks down and just sees people who want to give God their very best.

Yes, following Christ means service. Yes, following Christ means focusing on the needs of others. Those things are necessary.

Had I brought Jenni purple balloons, she would have appreciated the gesture, but it wouldn’t have had the same impact. I know her favorite color is yellow (and that she’d much prefer daisies over balloons). For people that have been serving the Lord longer, we can be more intentional about how we serve and what makes the biggest impact.

But, let’s stop taking away the joy that people find in bringing their best to God.

When people visit our churches, they should not be expected to fit in, but to bring a new perspective and new passions. When someone makes a profession of faith, we should be encouraging them to find out where those passions are and help them bring their best.

Someday, Crosley will be older and wiser and will understand that while she likes purple, perhaps her mommy would rather have something else. Likewise, as we grow in Christ, we should become more and more aware of our need to meet the needs of others instead of our personal preferences. But as we grow, God smiles. We give Him our best and we’ll trust Him with the rest.

When the rain takes over…

We have lived in our new house for just over eight months. In the last eight months we have had a significant amount of water enter our basement at least four times. This is not just a basement, but our family room, with our couches, biggest tv, and lots and lots of Crosley’s toys. The first big flood came only a few weeks after bringing the boys home from the hospital, rendering a main part of our house temporarily unusable.

This is not ideal.

On at least two of the occasions, I stood by the sump pump watching the water rise. With a 3 gallon bucket and a few towels, I attempted to stop the impending flooding to no avail. I’m glad there is no video of how ridiculous I must have looked bailing out tiny buckets of water as the water continued to rise. I watch the weather radar almost obsessively, have stayed up entire nights keeping watch over the sump well, and searched for answers.

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I have had help. Church family has stepped in on several occasions, providing the tools that we need to try and fight against the flood. Folks with far more knowledge about such things have come and done everything within their power and we think we have a few fixes, but no way to know for sure.

One night as I was using a backup pump, sweeping out water, and cursing the rain, it hit me:

What do you do when your life feels like this? What do you do when the water is coming and as much as you’d like, there is no way to stop it?

I have had days in my life where there was a lot of rain but nobody else knew. Battling issues that I wish would go away, I knew there were times when I could not do anything other than watch life spiral out of control and then work on the inevitable cleanup.
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I haven’t found a basement solution just yet. But what I have done, I believe can help in other situations as well:
1) Accept it’s going to happen. This is not defeat. I am not advocating letting things happen without a fight. I am not saying we shouldn’t be angry when things happen. But fear is (sometimes) worse than the actual result. This past weekend after a flooding incident, I watched the radar, tracked the forecast, and held off plans because I needed to be there when the rains came. They never came. Until I can find a final resolution, I need to learn to accept that right now water is just a part of life. It isn’t forever, it isn’t ideal, but I can’t let it steal my joy. I know this is not easy. I don’t know what floods you feel like you are facing, but extensive worrying about things we can’t really control isn’t going to make things better, so at least try.

2) Fix what you can. This weekend with the help of others, I was able to make a few fixes that I hope will at least lessen the blow. Some water is now hopefully going to be diverted away from the house. The backup pump is in position and ready to go. We have towels blocking the doorway. While it isn’t a lesson I wanted to learn the hard way, I’ve gotten a little better about stopping the water. Last time, it only made it halfway into the basement. Progress. While I would like a permanent solution, right now the best I can do is fix what I can. Whatever you are struggling with, it might not get better immediately, but fix what you can. 

3) Rely on a church family. – Jenni and I have been blown away by the kindness and graciousness shown by our church family as we fight this battle. People have come over, helped make repairs, offered suggestions, and done what they can to find a solution. Unfortunately, when it comes to other issues, the last place people want to turn is to their church family. Fear of judgment, bothering someone, or shame makes it hard to seek out the church in times of need. If you feel like the water is coming in and you don’t know what to do, I encourage you to find a committed group of believers that will walk alongside you. In those moments in my life where I felt like life was out of control, I cherished having people that would walk with me, listen to me, pray for me, and encourage me. We can’t do it on our own. You can’t do it on your own. It was never supposed to be that way.

I don’t know your situation. I don’t know what flooding you are facing, but I want to encourage you to not give up hope. I’m going to close with one of the lines to my favorite songs by Needtobreathe:

“Even when the rain falls.

Even when the flood starts rising.

Even when the storm comes.

I am washed by the water.”  

–  “Washed By The Water” – Needtobreathe

Why my yard went from this to this…

When I was in seminary, I was fortunate enough to take all of my classes on Mondays, which allowed me to serve in a church and attend seminary both full time. As you might imagine, that also made for some very long weeks. One of my absolute favorite days of each year was the first Monday of spring where I did not have class and it was warm enough to work in the yard. I am by no means an expert gardener, but I enjoy being outside, working in the dirt, planting flowers, and watching it grow. This is done almost only for selfish reasons. Jenni likes flowers and I try to plant her favorite, but I don’t think she’d notice if I stopped planting them at all.

A few days ago I saw some pictures of the house where Jenni and I lived in Cynthiana: elmarch2elmarch
I don’t claim that it was the best looking yard in the neighborhood, but it was the most I had ever grown something on my own, there was lots of color, and I enjoyed looking at it every day when I would walk up the sidewalk to our front door.

Not long after seeing that picture, I went outside to mow the yard at our new house and snapped a picture of what those flowerbeds look like:

southgate1
Sure, it might look like the before picture of an extreme lawn makeover show…but that’s pretty much how they still look right now.

It drives me crazy. But, as with almost anything in life, it is my choice.

The truth is, the house before this one never looked as nice as I’d like. I planted a few flowers, but nothing seemed to stick. Working in the yard was just something to fit into a schedule, but not something to enjoy.

So, if I love working in the yard, why do I let it get out of hand?

Here are a few reasons:

 

These pictures do not reflect excuses. They reflect choices.
In Ecclesiastes 3:1 we are reminded that

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens”:

As much as I enjoy working in the yard, the amount of time that it would require to “do it right” would mean sacrificing time spent with those things that mean the most right now:

  • Hearing Crosley giggle as I chase her and fulfilling requests to read one more story.
  • Doing whatever ridiculous thing it takes to get both boys grinning at the same time and serving as the world’s lumpiest pillow as they nap.
  • Date nights with the love of my life.
  • Serving a church with some of the kindest people I have ever met.
  • And the list goes on…

 

In a social media world, we tend to feel an increasing pressure to have it all together in every aspect. We need picture perfect memories in picture perfect houses while taking picture perfect vacations while trying (and failing) to have picture perfect bodies and  on and on and on.

In the midst of that pressure, we try to do everything and in the end nothing is really done well.

calendar-overload
Churches feel this pressure. If only we add more programs, design our buildings a certain, if only, if only, if only….

Is there a need for balance? Sometimes. I would imagine 2-3 hours in the yard might make the flower beds seem a bit better. I think the neighbors would appreciate it (thankful to have very considerate neighbors who mainly ask us how the babies are doing). And I do my best to make sure that we don’t do things that harm the neighborhood.
At some point, though, we have to choose. What will you pursue the most today? If you pursue something with intensity, something else will surely fall behind. That means that the house might be a little dirtier than usual, the yard might seem unkempt, other folks might be questioning where you spend your time.

And that’s okay.

Someday I’ll have a yard with more flowers than I know what to do with and I’m sure I’ll sit there and long for the days that I have right now. I’ll miss my children and the craziness that life brings. And hopefully, I’ll have new and exciting ways to serve my place in the kingdom of God.

I love working in the yard. But right now, to do it well would mean missing out on the kind of memories that will last a lifetime.

I encourage you to examine how you are spending your time this week. What gets the most attention? What kind of things are you doing that leave you feeling burned out but in the end don’t really matter?

There is a time for everything.

That doesn’t mean that the time for everything is now. 

And that’s okay.

 

I’d love for you to learn more about what God is doing through First Baptist Church Fort Thomas. Check out our website to learn more! Click Here!

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