Going Public

A common restaurant. A simple meal. A cryptic card. Some amazing news.

It’s been more than 16 years, but that evening is still vivid. It was centered on a dinner-out with my folks. After being seated, we exchanged pleasantries and ordered our meal. When a gap opened in our chit-chat, my wife handed my mother a card. On the front of the card was a cartoonish drawing of an oven with a loaf of bread baking. Written inside the card were six words: “There’s a bun in the oven.” My mom looked at the card, opened it, read it, and looked back at us. We grinned expectantly. She returned her gaze to the card.

With mom confuzzled (a term coined by my children), dad watched and read over her shoulder. A grin grew on his face that betrayed his understanding of what the card communicated. Mom sat quietly, scrutinizing the card. Perplexed. My wife and I were working hard to contain our giddiness. The card was a harbinger of wonderfulness – and we were ready to burst.

After several seconds of awkward silence, the newly crowned grandpa stepped-in to illuminate grandma – who had yet to realize her new moniker. “There’s a bun in the oven…they’re having a baby!” dad proclaimed. Mom’s countenance morphed from confusion to joy. Anxiety fled as relief and celebration washed over our little table. We laughed and hugged and began the requisite talk of the due date, it’s proximity to family birthdays, and painting the baby’s room.

This story of our announcement is a fitting way to close the mini-series on this blog about parenting. We’ve dug into Deuteronomy 6:7-9 and pulled-out some key words. So far, we’ve unpacked ‘teach’, ‘talk’ and ‘bind’. We’ll conclude with the verb ‘write’.

One more time, here’s the bit of Scripture we’ve been looking at:

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
(Deuteronomy 6:7–9, ESV)

Without being overly prescriptive, these verses offer broad and deep instruction to parents. Teaching, talking, sitting, walking, rising, laying, binding and writing. These verses are loaded. Households saturated by the things of God foster words, thoughts, actions and attitudes flavored with grace, truth and love. Deuteronomy 6 is an invitation to experience the God of the Bible to the fullest. To know more of His decrees and desires. His love and grace. His timeless truth. His character. His redemption. His restoration. Our salvation.

The startling news of who God is and what He’s done demands expression. Life with Jesus is more wonderful than our best day at the office, a fantastic 10-days in the Caribbean, or even the news of pregnancy. God is life – eternal life. And in his gracious generosity He has stooped down to rescue us. That is the news of history.

That news demands families of God go public. Deuteronomy 6:9 says we are to write the Words of God, “on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” I’m not proposing that we write “God’s #1” or “Got God?” on our garage doors. But the spirit of this imperative does imply that our trust in God should be apparent. Our households are to be beacons of redemptive light to friends, neighbors, coworkers, sports teams, music and theater groups and the lady at the checkout. Our lives and homes should emanate with the sweet aroma of Jesus Christ.

I’m challenged by this command to ‘write’. It can be risky. We live in a world filled with good, and evil. Many aren’t friendly to the Bible’s message. But that mustn’t hinder our expression. We are here to make God famous. Life is about Him, not us. We are called to pray, act, and speak the truth about the life and message of Jesus. He gave us everything – the least we can do is tell everyone about it.

May the following quote inflame our collective desire to write God’s truth upon our households and be active in our proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

“If sinners be damned at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
– C.H. Spurgeon

All Knotted-up

Memories of the small Baptist church where I was raised crowd my mind. One oversized recollection contains a carpeted floor with a multi-colored duct tape circle, a bean bag, a bowling pin and lots of sweating and screaming. Mix those elements with Scripture memorization and some kitschy uniforms and you’ve got AWANA.

In short, AWANA is a Bible club for kids. Growing up, it was a Wednesday night staple of my spiritual diet. Besides the biblical emphasis, AWANA was flavored with a hint of Scouting (i.e. Boy and Girl Scouts). In addition to committing God’s Word to memory, male clubbers were required to tie knots. The square, the bowline, the hitch, the figure-8 and the dreaded fisherman’s knot haunted me. My carefully planned gyrations with a strand of hemp often unraveled into a nameless mess. I found more success getting a knot in the laces of my red colored Keds while running around that sadistically tight-radiused AWANA circle.

The past few entries in this blog have extracted some parenting principles from Deuteronomy 6. So far, we’ve unpacked the words ‘teach’ and ‘talk’ from verse 7. This time around we’re going to tie ourselves to the word ‘bind.’

“You shall bind them [God’s commands] as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:8, ESV)

The word ‘bind’ conjures images of my knot tying struggles. But more important than my lack of dexterity with rope is this instruction from God to bind his Word to our bodies. It’s a curious metaphor. Or is it?

Some see this verse not as literary device, but as literal. For millennia, Jewish priests have crafted small leather boxes called phylacteries. They fill these boxes with bits of Scripture and tie (bind) them to their arm and forehead (I wonder what knot they use?). Even though it would make for great water cooler conversation, the strapping of small boxes to our person is a bit unusual. Still, the command to bind deserves serious attention.

Binding can be bad, like the shackles of slavery. It can be wonderful, like the covenant of marriage. It can be neutral, like the binding of a book.

Syntax aside, what’s fascinating is that God wants His truth stuck to us. It’s to be part of who we are and how we live. This suggests God’s Word is more than paper and ink. It’s has life outside small boxes. God’s Word is living, active, useful and profitable (see Hebrews 4:12 & 2 Timothy 3:16). And the places God tells us to bind it are wonderfully strategic.

Look at your hands. What are they doing right now? What were they doing this morning? Who or what have they touched in the last 24-hours? What gestures have you made? Have you held, hit, hugged or hoarded? Has the work of your hands been directed by God’s principles? If you saw a phylactery on your forearm, would it cause you pause? Remember the WWJD bracelet craze? Those bracelets were a 20-century phylactery. In the time I donned mine, it can attest to the power it had over my behavior – at least for a while.

Consider your eyes. Eyes are extraordinary receptors. They pipe an unending stream of information. What our eyes gather has the power to influence our words, thoughts, deeds and attitudes. What have you looked at today? If you had a Bible verse taped to your forehead, what would you focus on more? Less? Not at all? There is power in the phylactery. It’s an outward indicator of our faith commitment. It demands accountability. Like WWJD garb.

These thoughts of binding remind me of a song I often sang in my pre-AWANA years:

O be careful little eyes what you see

O be careful little eyes what you see
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down with love
So, be careful little eyes what you see.
O be careful little ears what you hear…
O be careful little hands what you do…
O be careful little feet where you go…
O be careful little mouth what you say…

Yes, it’s a cute song. But it mustn’t over-sentimentalize my need as a follower of Jesus to act as such. Metaphor or not, I can’t go wrong as a person, partner, parent or professional when I’m bound to the truth and love of God’s written word. I want to be fastened to Scripture so its timeless truth might seep into my pores and season to a Christ-exalting savory-ness.

And I’m grateful no knots are required.

Mining Fields of Grief

Despite being an introvert, my fondness for conversation is growing.

With the recent passing of my father, these past two weeks have been filled with conversations. Some focused on memories and recollections. Others were teary-eyed offerings of sympathy. And many began with emotion-choked words that quickly slipped into a gentle, silent embrace that communicated more than words ever could.

The day of my dad’s funeral, in the quiet of the church foyer I conversed with a friend. As she held my hand and fixed her eyes on mine, she spoke to me. Her words were purposeful. Piercing. Spirit-filled. Wise. She drew me into a sacred moment—a moment that has stolen my thoughts often in recent days.

Through that simple conversation, I was given a profound perspective on death. With her verbal and non-verbal communicating, my friend led me to an understanding of how we lay the dead to rest. As the sun streamed through the foyer’s glass doors, her soft, careful, intimate words brought life to Ecclesiastes 7:2—“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (NIV)

As my friend and I talked, music played gently in the auditorium. I watched my mother worry her overly used tissue. One of my children nestled close to my side seeking the comfort of my touch. My father’s body laid an arms-length away. I was in a house of mourning. And it was wonderful.

The words of God, the conversation with my friend and the atmosphere of a small church foyer coalesced for a few surreal moments. My soul was shaken as it kindled the hope that God reveals Himself not just in life, but also in death. For the first time I felt a desire to mine funeral grief for bits of redemptive treasure. Funerals need not be empty goodbyes. They are opportunities to rescue beauty and truth from the grasp of humanity’s most painful, broken inevitability. The death of my father was a slice of history from which I can take something and keep it alive through my own living.

My heart is full. And heavy. Before, during and after dad’s relocation to heaven, my family has been surrounded and sheltered with love. Countless expressions of grace have bolstered our faith through this trying time. All we can do is respond with deepest gratitude.

Through my father’s death, my longing for restoration has intensified. But in the waiting, I rest in our Great Hope, Jesus Christ. And, thanks to a friend, I will engage funerals with expectation. Yes, I will grieve. I will comfort. I will cry. I will love. But I will also beg God to show Himself in fresh ways as I sit in a house of mourning.

Smallville

Adult life is not what I expected. I can’t define what it was I was looking for, but now that I’m here, I’ve been a bit surprised. For one, being an adult does not imply adult-like behavior. Next, no matter how great your eyesight was at 20, it will be worse at 40. Finally, the self image issues faced as a child haven’t really gone away.
My disillusionment with adult life was reenergized this week. In the course of conversation with a friend we each expressed a recent rough go of it. We were both wrestling the demons of fear, inadequacy, inability and smallness. The struggle was familiar. We’d been in this wrestling match before. Many times have we heard the sub-conscious shouts to give-up, tuck-tail and go home. This latest round of shouting was making us unsure, tentative, anxious and wobbly. As I wobbled, my thoughts drifted back to my growing-up years. Years of shyness and insecurity. Years of feeling…small.
Even though I’m all grown-up, at times I still feel small. Boyish, not man-ish. It’s a chronic syndrome that can be debilitating. Small feelings are like weeds in my thought life. A cold shadow on my demeanor. A fog over my marriage. An extinguisher of good parenting moments. Smallness shortens my temper while feeding emotional tiredness.
So what’s to be done when I tip toward thinking I’m small, second-rate and incapable – a little boy in a man’s body? Can I just fill my chest with air, cinch-up the boot straps and feign a John Wayne persona? Is looking big and manly the cure for small? Not really.
What I need is perspective. A reorientation that brings strength to my fragile moments. I need Someone who relates to my small with their big.
That big is God’s big. A big that engulfs, but doesn’t devour. A big that isn’t aloof or put-off by my self-centered fears. A big that is gentle, caring, comforting and available. A big that enters my small with understanding. A big that is personal, pursuing and gracious.
Here’s God, in all His bigness, entering our small.


Psalm 56:8-11
 (ESV)

 8You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
9Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
   This I know, that God is for me.
10In God, whose word I praise,
   in the LORD, whose word I praise,
11in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
   What can man do to me?
So much for feeling small. When I toss, turn, fret and fear God settles, holds, calms and protects. He gives me safe shelter to stand, expand and face the lies. To embrace truth. To be a man. God makes me big – not so I look big, but so He does.
I’m grateful that God is big for me. That He patiently coaxes me out of my miserable corner thinking small thoughts. That He empowers me to be bold and risky for Him. After all, when my big Father cares enough to know the stories of each tear and the angst of sleepless nights, who or what can ever tell me I’m small?

Eating Words

I’m like a coconut. Outward presentation is a bit tough, abrasive and scratchy. But inside there’s a tender sweetness that can be quite refreshing. Really. I do have a soft side. I’ve been working hard at thinning my husk and growing tastier fruit. My wife, Katrina, is very patient as she waits for more of my inner coconut. I’m thankful she tolerates my rough edges and clumsy attempts at romantic expression.

While courting, one way Katrina and I expressed our thoughts to each other was through letter writing. Separated by 500 miles, we exchanged many, many letters as I finished my electrical engineering degree. Some letters were short. Many long. Some light-hearted. Some tense. Most were giddy. A few expressed pain and frustration. All were tinged with longing. Each letter, no matter the content, is a treasure.

I still have every one of those letters. Katrina does too. Tucked away in old shoe boxes, they are irreplaceable pieces of our relationship. They capture and archive significant moments of growing closer. They’ve been read and re-read. Laughed and cried over. Stuck in Bibles. Pinned on walls. Carried in coat pockets. Folded and unfolded. Cherished and preserved.

When thinking about words and letters, this verse comes to mind: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” (Jeremiah 15:16) The metaphor of eating words speaks deeply to me. First, I love to eat. Second, I love words, and books and writing. Eating words is a common, but negative euphemism. A forced humiliation. But in Scripture, eating words has profoundly different implications. We’re asked to ingest an offering from our Creator. To take-in the gift of divine expression. A gift of words that nourishes, strengthens and satisfies – just like food. Words that express hope, joy, pain and desire. Words that capture stories of real events and real people. Words that span the past, present and the not yet. Words that are eternal. Words we must read, and re-read. Carry in coat pockets. Laugh over. Cry over. Cherish. Revere. God’s expressions of truth and love. His letter to us.

So what am I doing with God’s words? Am I eating? Do I have a fondness for words from God like I did, and do, for Katrina’s words to me? In those college days I could hardly wait to receive another letter. The mailbox was my best friend. The course of my day was set by the receipt and reading of her words. Which begs the question: Are the course of my days presently set by God’s words?

That question blind-sided me last week as I viewed a short video about the Kimyal Tribe in Indonesia. The Kimyals are a people hungry – even ravenous – for God’s Word. Until last year, the Kimyals didn’t have God’s Word in their language. The video shows how they received the first ever complete New Testament in their language. It is amazing. The Kimyals helped me realize how the ubiquity of Bibles in our culture can numb us to the potency, value and power of the Word of God.

As a family, we watched this video – over a stack of 30 Bibles we collected from around the house. We are humbled, saddened, and challenged. Most of all we are grateful for God’s words to us and the privilege we have to feed freely on it.

I am thankful for the fresh wind that was blown in my personal reverence for God’s Word via the Kimyal people. I want an ever increasing appetite for His words. I want my soul to feast on the truth and love that comes from my Creator. To treasure His words of grace and salvation. To know more of Him through what He has spoken.
Watch the video. Then ask God to grow your appetite for His words.

Fruit Tree

Psalm 1:1a,3a – A blessed man…is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season… (my paraphrase)

I’ve been called many things. Chris. Christopher. Dad. “Hey you!” Mister. Husband. Scrub. Son. Sweetie. Kid. Boy. Punk. Friend. Jerk. Stupid. There are other special monikers I will not reveal, and some crude ones I’d like to forget.

Of all the things I’ve been called, there’s one I haven’t – but want to be. It’s a good name, but uncommon. Perhaps even weird. And to be honest, if you were to call me this name I’d be more than a little surprised and a tad bit embarrassed. But I’m OK with that.

You’ve read this far, so I’ll end the suspense. A name I would like to be called – a name I’m striving to grow into – is “fruit tree.” Yes, really.

My longing for this arboreal handle comes from Psalm 1. This Psalm touches the soul of my manhood in delicately invasive ways. Its imagery is vivid. It draws me outside myself and into a grander view. The metaphor of a tree is especially intriguing to me. Why a tree?
 
Well, my thoughts pour out like this: all trees start from seeds but grow with time, care and nourishment. Trees are strong, tall, majestic, stately, reliable. They withstand wind and storms. Trees offer shade, comfort, rest, and protection. They provide a place for gathering, talking, pondering, laughing, crying and loving. A place for remembering and making memories. Trees are useful – even in death.

The psalmist expands his metaphor beyond just any old tree. The blessed man is like a fruit tree. Fruit is tangible evidence of health and vitality. A sign of life. Something to be enjoyed. Fruit nourishes, replenishes, sustains and assists growth. It’s pleasant, tasty and desirable. Fruit is a seasonal offering packed with the energies of patience and persistence. It’s valuable and life-giving. Fruit bears the seeds of reproduction.

I treasure scriptural metaphors like the tree. They are deep oceans that invite exploration over and over again. Many times have I pondered this Psalm and the quality of my tree-likeness. I’m humbled and challenged when considering the quality of my fruit.

Call me what you will. My prayer and desire is that by God’s grace I will be called “fruit tree.”