Wednesday, December 31, 2008

After Christmas DAY

One of the many things I love about celebrating Advent is that you are celebrating for an entire month. Ideally by celebrating Advent, you're longing not for the day of Christmas to come, but for the Christ of Christmas to come-and reflect on how much He's already done and is doing in the world. As a result, when the day of Christmas comes and goes, you neither feel let down (if the day was bad) or saddened (if it as too short). Ours was just right.

But I still have two problems.

1.) Taking down the Christmas tree. We're going on vacation for a week and plan on taking down the Christmas tree after we get back. And then the lights after that. What activity is more anti-climactic than removing Xmas decorations?

2.) What to do with the music? I've been listening to Xmas music for a month. But as soon as Xmas day comes, I feel weird listening to the same carols. Shouldn't there be "day-after-Christmas" type music?

Maybe I should keep celebrating Advent and do the few devotions Amy and I missed until our decorations are completely down. Maybe then the Xmas music wouldn't be too un-Christmassy in early January? Or maybe I could go Greek Orthodox, celebrate Epiphany, and dive into the waters in Tarpon Springs in hopes of retrieving a cross. But that's a bit too similar to vying for the garter at a wedding. And I'm not Greek.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The difference between a snow angel and snow ball according to the NFL: Nothing

Two Sundays ago, when it was warm in Florida but nowhere else in the U.S., Patriots receiver Wes Welker caught a touchdown pass in snowy Foxboro. After crossing the end zone, Welker did something a bit creative. He made a "snow angel."

And for this non-taunting gesture he was fined 10,000 dollars by the N.F.L. On the same day, New York Jets defensive tackle Shaun Ellis hit a Seattle fan with a snowball as he and teammates were walking off the field. He was fine 10,000 dollars.

Good to see the punishment for making a snow angel and throwing a snowball is the same amount. Both are equally heinous, eh? Sure....Fortunately we can put our trust in a better and more just judge.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Connar's first Christmas and he knows it, I think

I wonder at what age kids become cognizant that a certain day is special. I really do. Because Connar woke up today in a more-than-crazy mood. He screamed joyfully just about as soon as we came to fetch him from the crib, like he knew something was happening today. Amy couldn’t even fully feed him this morning because he was so excited. So I had to hit up the sweet potatoes for him. He seems to know that today is Christmas. This picture was taken by Amy on Christmas Eve, so he was probably dreaming of proverbial sugar plumbs or whatever last night. Who knows? He won't be able to remember to tell me if my conjecture was a bit over the top, so I'll just dream as well.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Which Shepherd do I trust more?

I’ve noticed some noises with my Mazda the last few days. So I took it in to Shepherd Tires here in Bradenton. After about 15 minutes of observation, they came back with a fair verdict: the rear brake pads needed replacing. Looks like I’ll be out 130 dollars plus tax. Could be a lot worse I guess. Could be double that if all four needed replacing.

But there are two main reasons why I’ve taken the 130 dollar-plus-tax hit quite well, or at least quite stoically. And one reason kind of points me to the next.

The first is that I know nothing about fixing cars. Nothing. So don't have advice for them and I really can’t disagree with whatever they say.

The second reason is that I trust the Shepherd Tires folk. They could have told me that all four needed replacing. I would have no way of knowing the truth. But since they have a great reputation, and have saved me money before, I fully accept their verdict. I believe what they say is exactly what my car needs. It is for the overall good of the car-though it kind of hurts on the front end of things.

It’s a shame I often put more trust in Shepherd tires, than the Shepherd born in Bethlehem, “who will shepherd my people Israel. (Micah 5:2/Matthew 2:6).” I know far less about how to run the world, much less my life-though at times I don’t agree with that statement. And God has proven Himself, not just in the scriptures but in my life, far more trustworthy and powerful. Yet unlike coming to Shepherd Tires, I trust the true Shepherd far less. Doesn’t make sense, does it?

Friday, December 19, 2008

A new kind of Xmas letter

I like Xmas cards, though I honestly don't know what I'm supposed to do with them. If your kids are cute enough (like the Thomas girls), and if we have enough space on our fridge, they adorn our lovely Frigidaire. But if neither of those are the case, they get tossed immediately. I mean what else is one supposed to do with them?

I'm a bit more ambivalent with Xmas letters, you know the kind of letters that give you a SportsCenter highlight version of the year in review. Yesterday Amy and I received a Xmas letter from a woman in our church who pointed us to Jesus and our need for Him to return. When we finished it (so it was obviously short), we were both greatly encouraged and challenged. Amy and I are thankful for some of the elderly people in our lives who have refused to sit back and waste their health; instead they bless the socks off everyone who comes in their path.

And I really like Xmas prayer letters from missionaries or other ministries like RUF. I like to know what to pray for. Otherwise I won't do it. Seriously.

But what I really don't like is the standard Xmas letter that tells everyone how great your family is doing, how many tricks your dog can do, how wonderfully sweet the kids are, and how well they are doing in sports and school. We both know that you're either lying or you're oblivious to reality and the affects of sin on the human heart (I don't care how young-we've already seen how selfish Connar is after he grabbed a toy away from a girl in the nursery!)

I'll tell you what kind of letter I really want to hear. I want to hear how poorly you've done as a parent. How you've yelled at your kids too many times, how you drive them crazy, how you've forgotten to pray for them, how you've disappointed them and let them down (because as much as you'd like to be-you're not Jesus).

I want to hear how they've failed to love you, how they've hurt you, how they've disappointed you and let you down (because they have often become your idol-and they are not Jesus either).

But please don't stop there. Then I want to hear how Jesus' cross is so big not only in your life, but your family's life. That you know you're all forgiven despite the mess you and your kids have made. That you know Jesus loves your kids more than you do, and that He will be faithful even when you are faithless (II Tim 2). That you know He will continue his work of conforming you to His image and will not stop until He completes it. That he promises a new record, a new heart, and one day a new body and new world.

I don't really get many Xmas letters at all. My reflections are more from letters I've read and the sappy sentiment from which they are sent. But if I had my vote, this is the kind of letter I want to read, because then I will know that Jesus is truly at work.

Please understand that I'm not blasting people who don't write letters such as these. I've never actually seen one to tell you the truth. The question I struggle with now, even as I write this, "Will I be able to write such a letter in a few years when Connar, Amy, and I disappoint and hurt each other?" I hope I believe in the Cross enough to do so. I guess you'll just have to check your mailbox in December of 2010 to find out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bono and Xmas

I found this Christmas reflection from U2 lead singer Bono on another blog. Very poetic and thoughtful.

This reflection on Christmas occurred after Bono had just returned home, to Dublin, from a long tour with U2. On Christmas Eve Bono went to the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift was dean. Apparently he was given a really poor seat, one obstructed by a pillar, making it even more difficult for him to keep his eyes open…but it was there that Christmas story struck him like never before. He writes:

“The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in sh&$ and straw…a child… I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry … Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this.”

Excerpt taken from Bono: in conversation (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 124-5.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Connar Blessing

One thing that we regularly pray for Connar is that he would be a blessing to others. Even in a small way, we hope that this little boy would be used by God. On Tuesday, God really answered such a prayer. Amy took him to school to visit a fellow teacher. Mr. Luther, the janitor who became close to Amy over the last few years, ran into the dynamic duo.

Even though no one knew where his hands had been (probably better not to think about it), he reached out to grab Connar. Amy simply let him. He held Connar up and said, "Thank you Jesus," several times. He was near tears. It made his day. It made mine too.

We prayed tonight that his life would be a blessing to others for a long time coming-particularly when he's able to point folks to the "lovely source of true delight" and source of all blessings. But we're happy even now that God has given him a head start.

He'll be showcasing his cuteness when we go caroling to an area nursing home this Sunday. Fortunately, he'll not be alone as Connar's favorite little ladies, the Thomas girls, will be joining forces.

Love is in the Lights II

If you've read my brief article for the Bradenton Herald, you'll see why I think that turning your lights on at night can be a great example of love. I mean, once you're inside your house, you don't get to enjoy them anymore. In fact, that's often the main reason (not the only reason as you'll see) I go and turn my lights on some times. However, last night, self preservation (I didn't want to get shocked in the rain) kept me from "loving my neighbors."

But while turning on your Christmas lights may dip into the essence of love (finding delight in the delight of another, even in your own sacrifice), it by no means reflects pure love. For instance, putting up Xmas lights can be a way to "out do" your neighbors. One episode of Home Improvement delved into Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor's obsession to have better lights and arrangement than a particular neighbor. They battled it out year after year. That may be hyperbole, but that episode certainly reflects the competitive attitudes existing within men's hearts.

Another motivation for putting up Xmas lights is self protection. One could simply put up lights because they feel obligated, for everyone else is doing it and they don't want others to look down upon them. They may not care at all about blessing others; they simply don't want to look like a scrooge. So in this case, the motives would not be 100% pure either.

Sometimes I want to bless others, sometimes I turn my lights on simply because I don't want others to say or think, "Why doesn't that joker have his lights on? What's his deal? Is he playing the "economy" card?" Often those two motivations collide within my heart.

Such is the case with all things we do. That doesn't mean we become inactive. Our motives are never 100% pure, and so everything we do has to be offered up in faith to God. Faith not in the action, nor the motivation, but faith in Christ-the one who perfectly loved his neighbors on our behalf. So we can love, even with a mixed heart, because the object of our faith is what makes the action "good."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Love is in the Lights

Here's an article from yours truly, the contributing religion editor of the Bradenton Herald. Perhaps the 2nd most read paper in Manatee county. They actually kept my title and didn't cut off any sentences to make it fit this time!

The article is about Christmas lights and how they can remind us of what love really is. With that said, there's some other stuff worth noting, which could not fit into a short article, and will be mentioned in a future post.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Xmas Music

Someone the other day told me she didn't like Xmas songs. I don't get that. But, whether you like the tunes to them or not, the story which they tell is quite amazing. It is an amazing story, and some folks have really captured it quite well over the years. I'm a huge fan of the standard Xmas carols, no matter what arrangement. And there are also some new Xmas songs which are really quite worshipful. If you're looking for another Xmas CD, especially one for free, I highly recommend going to a site called noisetrade where you can download Sojourn's "Advent Songs" for free.

Some of you shared some lovely and thoughtful Christmas traditions on one of my posts. Do you have any favorite Xmas albums? Here are my favorites. Please post and share yours.

My Top 5 Xmas Albums

1. The Chieftains The Bells of Dublin
2. Amy Grant's A Christmas Album
3. Indelible Grace's artists Your King Has Come
4. Point of Grace (this was Amy's but it's starting to grow on me!) A Christmas Story
5. Sojourn's Advent Songs

Honorable mentions
The Three Tenor's Christmas, Loreena Mckinnitt

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two ways to learn

I heard yesterday that there were plans to not play the 09 Arena Football League season. Apparently some big investors had been hit by the economy and wouldn't be supporting it this year. I'm sure all 65 fans of the A.F.L. will be hurt by this decision.

Yet it seems that some other sports franchises are not at all hurting in this down economy. For instance, the New York Yankees just came to terms with highly sought after free agent C.C. Sabbathia. The deal looks to be worth over 161 million dollars. They offered another pitcher, A.J. Burnett, a deal for nearly 70 million.

There are two ways in which we learn not to "trust in chariots (Psalm 20:7):" things which we put our faith in instead of God. Of course we spend all our lives trying to learn this truth.

1.) God takes the "chariots" away. Investments, home prices, appearances worsen, skills deteriorate, etc..

2.) God allows us to ride the "chariots" and find that they really leave us empty. There's something incredibly depressing (but can point us right back to Jesus) about getting what you hoped for and finding it only disappoints you further.

Guess what route the Steinbrenner's (who can buy anything but happiness, and recently a World Series-though not for lack of trying) will have to take? Which road is God taking you down?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Annual Neighborhood Xmas Party and listening like a child

On Sunday we had our 35th annual Christmas Outreach Party at my house. Well, actually it was our 2nd, but who's keeping track? Click here to see more pictures. We included church kids, Amy's school kids (last year's kindergarteners and those she's tutoring this year), as well as neighborhood kids.

At first, it didn't look pretty. At all. At 2:30 pm (our start time), we had zero from outside the church. At 2:45 pm, one neighbor. Eventually folks started trickling in from 3-3:30 pm. By the end of the party, we had 3 different neighborhood families, 4 different church families, 3 different school families. But all of the school kids brought brothers, sisters, and both parents. So we had at least 20 kids (and a number of teenagers and adults) in my front yard, kitchen, and all around the house.

I was angry at God at 2:30 pm. I was praising God at 4:45 pm (when the last one's left-it was supposed to end at 4pm!). He brought people in His timing, not mine-which is His right. It just happened to be in Latino time, which was appropriate for most, even though my neighbors who came were either black or white.

One of our youth got to share the gospel through candy. It was a hard road (peppermint hard candy) for Joseph and Mary. The Baby Ruth reminds us of Jesus, Smarties-the wise men, Starburst-the star....You get the point. Go
here for the full story. It's really quite simplistically brilliant.

The highlight for me was seeing one of my neighbor's kids, who had already finished making his craft, card, and his ornament, sit down and listen attentively to the telling of the Candy filled Xmas story. When the next group of kids came out, and his group moved on, he simply came right back to listen again. His parents were looking for him because they had to go, but he wanted to hear the story again.

That was a powerful picture for me. We should be like Caden (the one in the Santa hat), never getting tired of hearing the amazing story of the gospel: how God entered into time and flesh to save a sinful people whom He loves. Each detail of the story, with or without candy, points us to the uniqueness of our Tri-une God. Amen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

You never know...

On Saturday from 7 am-2 pm, I participated in a kayak fishing tournament hosted by I really didn't enter the tournament with any expectations other than hoping to build relationships and meet some new folks. It's always nice to have hobbies in which you can use for a greater purpose. Then you don't have to do something ELSE just to do outreach.
So the fishing was simply a means to an end.

I didn't expect to do well since I was fishing an area I'd never fished before. I was not disappointed. I ended up with 6-7 trout and no reds or snook.

The goal is to catch and take pictures of a snook, red fish, and trout (what we call a "slam"), and then add the inches of the largest snook, red, and trout. Since I didn't catch any redfish or snook, I figured there was no need take more pictures of trout. What I didn't realize was that everyone had a slow day, and NO ONE caught any snook. Therefore people just added up the inches of their trout. And third place was 40 inches. I caught at least 3 trout over 14 inches, and you can probably realize that adds up to more than 4o inches. I lost out on nearly 200 dollars because I figured, "What's the point, there's no way I can win?"

I believe the psychological term for that is "learned helplessness." Ultimately you feel like you will fail, so there's no reason to even try. But just like a fishing tournament, you really never know what will become of your faithfulness. It was a good reminder to me to keep plugging along faithfully in the work that God has called me to do. You never know what may become of it. Here's a "for instance."

One of the intended purposes of our neighborhood Xmas party was to invite folks to the Xmas Eve service. Last year no one from the party came to the service. This year, a neighbor brought it up in conversation that he and his family were hoping to attend.

I guess that's why I'm so drawn to fishing and ministry: you just never know what you'll catch, literally or proverbially.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Advent and Devotional

I'm a huge fan of advent. It constantly and properly reminds us where we stand: smack dab in the middle of Christ's first and second comings. Thankful for all that he has accomplished, and longing for Him to finish what He started. A dude named Tullian (I'm not getting into spelling his last name) wrote a good little blurb on Advent. I doubt I'd do any better, so I commend his to you. He's the 2nd person to recommend this little Advent devotional from Christ the King Presbyterian Church (PCA). Click here and you can download it for free. I checked it out and it is fantastic. Amy and I will be hitting it up from this day forward. Of course it's not as good as the one I created (I'm not biased or anything), but it's a very close second and more family friendly! I hope you give it a whirl. I know it will help you celebrate (with thankfulness AND longing) Christmas all month, especially in the midst of the economy, busyness, family issues, sickness, and suffering.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Miles to go before I sleep

Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" served as my introduction when I preached at my best bud's ordination service a few years back. I used the last lines "Miles to go before I sleep. Miles to go before I sleep...." as commentary on how we feel much of the time. Well I felt the "miles to go" part again tonight.

Since everyone is busy-I've met few people who say they're not busy-I'm sure all of us have felt despair at the proverbial miles we feel we must travel before we get a chance to sleep. All of the stuff to do (bills to pay, chores, reports, papers, sermons, books to read, relationships to mend, etc....). Especially during Xmas time when everything seems to get busier.

In fact, these "miles" I must travel next week are a large reason why I'm up blogging at 12:30 am tonight. I was already awake BEFORE Connar started his midnight gas routine that woke him and Amy up.

When I preached at the ordination service I camped out at Colossians 1:28-29 where Paul mentions that he struggles with all Christ's energy which so powerfully works in him. In fact his goal was to present everyone "perfect" (I think he means "perfect" as in mature). A lofty goal no doubt. Paul lost sleep, I'm sure, worrying about his churches (II Cor 11:28). But he also slept content at night (Phil 4:11-13).

And so we can sleep and rest even now. There will be many more miles to travel tomorrow, yet we have someone who promises to sustain us during those miles. After all it is "His energy" which powerfully works in us. I can sleep. I can rest. If I believe, which I'm obviously not doing right now (its always easier to preach a verse than believe a verse) or I would be in bed. There's still hope for me and help in my unbelief (Mark 9:23). I just hope that help comes soon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Monte Kiffin and Leadership

I've never like the University of Tennessee football team. For reasons that are probably unreasonable. But now I have one more reason that is perhaps a bit more, well, reasonable. They recently hired Lane Kiffin as their head coach. That joker is only 2 years older than I am. Crazy.

But the real problem is that his father is Monte Kiffin, the Buc's defensive coordinator for the last 13 or so years. Guess where he'll be going next year? To coach with his son. Can you imagine being your dad's boss?

One of the things that both former Buc's coach Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin were really good at was leadership development. A number of Dungy's assistants, and several position coaches under Monte have gone on to head coaching and defensive coordinating positions.

The mark of a good leader in any arena, in my opinion, is indispensability. Is he making the church, organization, or team utterly dependent upon him or is he doing everything possible to develop leadership under him. In other words, will the organism go south when he leaves, retires, or dies? Or did he/she do all that was possible to make him/herself dispensable?

Some sports talk host believed that the mark of a good coach was how well the team did when he left. He argued in that light, Gruden is great: the Raiders still haven't recovered; Dungy was not so good: the Bucs won the Superbowl the next year. Yet even secular models of leadership, as presented in Good to Great, recognize the need to be team-centered as opposed to being single leader-oriented.

That leadership reflection finds reference in II Tim 2:2, where Paul tells Timothy, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." Any leader who fails to train up other leaders fails to lead well. Otherwise he/she will just be creating a culture that is dependent upon him/her.

We'll see how well Monte Kiffin trained up others under him (they'll probably hire within, getting a "Kiffin disciple") next year as the Bucs will spend their first year without him calling plays. Based upon Kiffin's philosophy and track record, the Buc's should be fine.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Stealing, sharing, and blending family traditions

Once Thanksgiving ends, the Xmas season, at least for all commercial and residential purposes, begins. Since Connar hasn't experienced any Christmases yet, we have yet to develop any distinctly Christmas Henderson family traditions. In order to form them, we will become somewhat syncretistic: absorbing some Henderson-Nance traditions, but also taking new bits and pieces of other folks' traditions and blending them together. Not a good idea when it comes to the orthodox Christian faith, but perhaps very helpful when developing new family traditions.

And since I've already blogged on the need to evaluate all traditions, I'm guarding against becoming Clark Griswald from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Clearly the Christmas family traditions were for him, and not his family as a whole. So with that said, please post any of your favorite family Christmas traditions. We may steal them, tweak them, use them, or pass them on. You may give others some good ideas, and they may give you some. A win-win.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thankful for a good lawyer

I had a great Thanksgiving weekend. We took Connar to the Zoo and watched him splash about trying to grab the Sting Rays in the "petting" tank. That was probably the highlight of the weekend for me.

One person who didn't have a good weekend was N.Y. Giants wide receiver Plaxico Buress. He accidentally shot himself in the leg. Unfortunately it only got worse from there. Something about gun laws, and possessing firearms. So he had to turn himself in today, and potentially face a minimum of three years for his crime. Getting shot, and then getting arrested for shooting yourself. How about that for a Thanksgiving weekend?

Well he can still be thankful the bullet didn't hit any major arteries and cause him to bleed to death in the night club. That and the fact that most NFL players not named Michael Vick ever serve jail time during their careers. Plaxico can sit around the table with family and be thankful that high priced lawyers usually trump common sense justice (this dude already helped Puff Daddy get off from a similar charge 8 years ago). As John Cougar Mellencamp sang, "Ain't that America.."