Boo Birds

The home crowd at this past weekend’s Bronco game booed as Peyton Manning took a knee and trotted off the field.  Was it because Denver had not played up to their ability in the first half?  Possibly.  Was it because the site of Peyton taking a knee with time on the clock reminds them of a similar knee taken during a cold day in January against the Baltimore Ravens?  Perhaps.  Was it because the Broncos were losing?  No.  That’s the troubling part.  The Broncos were winning. 

Now, don’t misunderstand me.  They were only winning by two points against arguably the worst team in the NFL (although a strong argument could be made for the New York Giants).  They had not played particularly well while conversely the Jaguars had been busy throwing everything they could at the Broncos.  But, booing your team for a winning effort?  It smacks of what has become so symptomatic in our culture. 

“What have you done for me lately?”

This is the question and mentality of our immediate gratification, get it now, do it now, give it to me now, culture.  We don’t want to succeed, we want to dominate.

Conversations this week among Denver fans have focused on their lackluster performance, Manning’s fumbles and the porous defense.  True, last Sunday was not the Broncos best game.  They did however still manage to win while scoring 35 points.  To put this in perspective understand that through the first 6 games of the season, only 10 out of the 32 teams in the NFL have even scored 35 points in a game.

There are many things that bother me about the boos.  Maybe it’s the lack of class it displays.  Or the damage it does to the tenuous fan/team relationship.  Mostly though it feels like a further example of the lack of maturity displayed by the general populace.  Which takes me to the question of how we as adults are reproducing our values in the next generation. 

Are we communicating to the next generation that there is value in believing in someone who doesn’t meet your expectations?  Or are we giving them the option of bailing when things get tough?  Or when things aren’t going as planned?  Is perfection the only standard?

Have we become addicted as a culture to the un-reality of augmented, false excellence?  Or are we as men communicating that the true fan, the true believer, the true friend, the true partner sticks by through even the worst days of “under-performing?”

Check out the link and wrestle with how God values the “under performer”.

Romans 5:1-9

 

 

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My daughter’s request

The other day my eight-year-old daughter literally sat me down to have a Daddy/Daughter heart-to-heart.  Understand that I am very close with my sweet Bella.  Also understand that at eight, she often has the insight and conviction of a passionate college graduate.

“Dad, you work all day, get home, eat some food, then go back on your phone and computer and work some more.  That is not fair.  You need to play more with us kids.  Sometimes I want to pour hot coffee over your phone and computer.”

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Wow.  Ouch.

Bella is the truth teller in our family and the truth hurt.  I looked into the sweet brown eyes of my precious daughter and offered the only response that made sense.

“You’re right Bella.  That is not fair.  Thank you for caring enough to speak up and share your heart.  I will try harder to protect our family time.”

That was not good enough though.  “Try”, was not going to cut it.

“I need you to put your phone in the cradle when you get home and leave it there until after we are in bed.  And I don’t want to see you open your computer while we are still up.”

I know what you are thinking, if only she felt free to speak her mind?  Right?

She is an incredibly intelligent and insightful little girl, and I have learned that my children are a terrific barometer of our family’s health.  She was not being disrespectful or unreasonable.  She was being honest.

My guess is many of our children can relate to Bella.  None of us set out to ignore or minimize our children.  We (usually) don’t plan to remain plugged in to our jobs.  It just sort of happens.  As one of my mentors says, “Too many of us try to squeeze 36 into 24.”  The westernized pressure for “faster, bigger, more, more, more” pushes many of us to tear down healthy boundaries around our families.  We all suffer for it.

Here are some practical steps my wife and I have begun to implement in light of Bella’s reprimand.

1.  Phones and computers stay off until after the kids are in bed.

2.  Phones and computers only come on again if my wife and I both agree.

  • Sometimes there may be a deadline that must be addressed (be careful though how often you allow deadlines to dictate actions within your home.
  • Don’t get sucked into the social media black hole after the kids do go to bed.
  • Set an overall limit to all your gaming, Facebooking, texting, emailing, etc., otherwise you will end up with your spouse telling you the same thing Bella told me.  Not good.

3.  Play with your kids!

  • Throw the football, frisbee, baseball
  • Pull out some board games
  • Play cards
  • Wrestle

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None of this is rocket science.  Ultimately it comes down to intentional choices we make as fathers.

Do we want the image of our faces lit by the artificial light of an electronic device to be the primary image our kids have of their dad during childhood?  Of course not.  My prayer is that this resonates with you and that you will join me in making course corrections that will pay dividends for years to come.

Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.  Psalm 90:12

The Big Three

Julie and I recently purchased a new bunk bed for our oldest two boys.  In the interest of full disclosure…it is the first new bed that they have ever had.  Also, their previous “hand-me-down” bed had broken several months ago and our oldest has been sleeping with his mattress on the floor since.  Needless to say, it was time for a new one.

If you were to spend much time in my house, you would learn that:

  1. I’m not terribly handy.
  2. I want desperately to appear handy around my children.
  3. Missing pieces from “assembly required” items gives me brain damage (see points A and B).

Therefore it was with extreme frustration that I discovered that a crucial screw was missing from the new bunk bed.  I had torn through all the packaging, retraced my steps and exhaled mightily over and over again.  Yet, no screw was presenting itself.  I was beginning to spiral down toward guttural incoherent growling when my sweet eight-year-old daughter grabbed my attention and said in the simplest and sweetest of voices, “Well, I guess we need to pray and ask Jesus to find it for us.”

I would like to say that I immediately pulled myself out of the funk I was descending into, that I recognized a wonderful moment of spiritual intergenerational modeling and that I gleefully dropped to one knee and prayed fervently for Jesus to provide.  That was not the case.  It took great intestinal fortitude to refrain from openly growling at my innocent daughter.  Yet, more to her credit than mine, I managed to squeeze out, “Sure Bella.  Lets do that.”  My prayer was not powerful.  It was not passionate.  Nor was it expectant.  It was obligatory.  In all honesty, it was done mostly to placate my daughter.

Then we found the screw.

Not more than two minutes later did the solution present itself.  I found the screw buried under papers I was certain I had checked under previously.  Within minutes after that, we had the bed completed and my wife was busily arranging blankets on the boy’s new beds.

Later that night, as I tucked Bella in, we talked about how great it was that God answered our prayer.

Here is the thing—Bella’s prayer was powerful.  It was passionate.  And most importantly, it was expectant.  It is the only way Bella knows how to pray.  Luckily, she has not learned otherwise.  She is quickly becoming the prayer warrior of our family.  Whatever the issue or need, she takes it to Jesus; assuming He will answer and provide.  She does not get held up by the esoteric arguments about Free Will versus Determinism.  There are no existential wrestling’s with the sovereignty of God.  It is simple for her.

She loves Jesus.

She knows Jesus loves her.

Therefore, she expects Him to answer.

I smile big and broad as I write this.  My kids teach me so much more than I teach them some days.  How different might my prayer life be if I condensed things down to Bella’s three points?

I love Jesus.

He loves me.

Therefore I expect Him to answer.

God is not a cosmic vending machine.  He is not waiting to pump out blessings if we pump in prayers.  Yet it is clear to me that He will most often go where He is expected.

Are you praying expecting God to answer?  Or have your prayers turned into unrighteous obligation?  If so, revisit Bella’s big three:

You love Jesus.

He loves you.

Therefore you can expect Him to answer.

Joel Thomas

Advice from a mountain

During Christmas break some dear friends of ours let us use their cabin in Winter Park.  This was a tremendous blessing to our family.  It was a joy to spend mornings in our “jammies”, afternoons walking and sledding, and evenings gathered around hot soup and fun family games.  On our last day we stopped by one of the many tourist trap shops in downtown and found this wall hanging that caught my eye.Image

As you and I look to this next year with anticipation, there is much truth and wisdom found in this cheesy-chic decoration.

Reach New HeightsThe LORD came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses climbed the mountain. Exodus 19:20 NLT

God is calling each of us to greater and newer heights of faith, sacrifice, joy and service.  I love Moses’ simple response.  He climbed.  He didn’t second-guess.  He didn’t argue.  He didn’t put it off until it better suited his timing.  He started climbing.  Will you and I do the same?

Rise Above It AllDon’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.   Romans 12:21 NLT

Dysfunction is all around.  From personal, family relationships to natural disasters to the evil men do to one another.  The way of the Cross is to rise above.  The best response, the best way to soar is to overwhelm evil’s machinations with the transforming Good of the Kingdom of Heaven.

There Is Beauty As Far As The Eye Can SeeHonor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Psalm 96:6

All of creation points to the grandeur and wonder of God.  The psalmist is overcome when considering the loveliness of the LORD.  When was the last time you were cognizant of the beauty of God?  Have you acknowledged His signature in the sunset?  Or His authorship in the sweeping vistas of nature?  In 2013 intentionally choose to sink deep into the beauty of God.

Be UpliftingI’m eager to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. In this way, each of us will be a blessing to the other. Romans 1:12 NLT

How might your relationships change if by the end of this year people would say of you, “He(she) is the most encouraging person I know.”?  Lifting other’s up is one of the best ways to root out the sickness of selfishness in our hearts.  Sharing an encouraging word costs you nothing but becomes an investment with unlimited returns in others.

Patience, Patience, PatienceFinishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride. Ecclesiastes 7:8 NLT

Most of us give up before we see the blessing.  We grow weary, distracted and disillusioned often just before the breakthrough comes.  Training for, and running a marathon has helped hammer this idea into me.  Patience is about faithfully putting one foot in front of the next in anticipation of a “finish line” that cannot yet be seen.  Have the resiliency, and patience to pray through whatever lies ahead of you.

Get To The PointFor the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 NLT

Too often I have depended on the “Osmosis Method of Evangelism”.  Trusting that the simple presence of my faith will somehow ooze its way across the membranes of doubt and unbelief of those I meet.  When was the last time you clearly articulated the Truth of the Gospel to someone?  Do not trust in actions alone; get to the point of salvation.

Enjoy the view!I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:11 NIV

Scripture is clear…a grumpy Christian is an oxymoron.  Joy is one of the best evangelism tools we have.  We must choose it and use it, daily.  Christ does not offer us partial joy.  It is not a 50% option.  His joy in us equals our joy topping out and flowing to others.

I encourage you to take these seven simple exhortations and doggedly apply them to your daily life.  So that 2013 will usher in a new season of Kingdom living for you and those you love.

Joel Thomas

My favorite gift

ImageOne of my most vivid Christmas memories is getting a used car stereo from the junkyard.  Strange, right?  Not if you were the particular kind of strange like me.  From a very early age, I so enjoyed taking things apart.  It began with my toys and quickly graduated to electronics.  Investigating the inner workings of radios, TVs, speakers and VCRs fascinated me.  How were they able to do all the wondrous things that they could do?  I assumed that if I took them apart, their secrets would come pouring out.  Unfortunately—for me and for the poor blighted piece of equipment I set upon—it never worked out that way.

As gifted as I was at disassembling and destruction—and I must say it truly was a gift—I was thoroughly inept at putting the pieces back together.  I could pull the most complicated device apart in seconds, but I was at a total loss at returning said pieces to anything resembling a working condition.  This deeply frustrated me.

I would stare bewilderedly at the pile of rubble before me; never able to fully restore what I had so deftly demolished.  Finally, my last option was to petition my father to sit with me and help.  He had ran a local Radio Shack, was the Audio Visual Director at our local high school and had as much affinity for repairing electronics as I had for dismantling them.  It didn’t matter how badly I had wrecked things.  He knew exactly where everything should be placed.

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I can remember one time in particular when he sat down beside me, “Wow.  That’s quite a mess you have there.  What say I give you a hand with that?”

It didn’t happen often, but when he had the time, putting things back together with him was some of the sweetest times of my childhood.

This is the story that came to mind when I was reflecting on the gift of Jesus.  Like my “gift” with electronics, humanity has an innate ability to wreck things.  Our sin nature gums up the works and makes it impossible to repair all the beautiful broken things in and around us.  Like a dejected child, we all huddle over the piles of our destruction wishing desperately to reassemble, that which was rent.

Into this despair, steps the Father.  He understands our nature, our ability to ravage, but never to redeem.  The God of creation compassionately enters into our plight and whispers, “Wow.  That’s quite a mess you have.  How about I give you a hand?”ImageThat is the message this year of Christmas for me.  Immanuel…God with us.  He enters into our mess.  Pulls up a chair and begins the beautiful heart surgery of restoration and redemption.

What is broken in your life?

What have you been trying in vain to repair?

Have you sought the Father’s help?

Have you swallowed your pride, confessed your inadequacy and opened yourself up to God’s restorative plan?

That is the gift that is most important.  Accept it.  Unwrap it.  And share it with others.

May you have a merry, merry, Christmas!

Joel Thomas

More and more and more

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“More and more and more.”  Seems like it should be the title song for today’s modern Christmas.  As the father of four I struggle mightily with shifting my children’s focus away from “getting” to “giving”.  It is no easy task.  The relentless barrage of ads, jingles, coupons and “for a limited time only” sales overwhelms me.   When I get the mail at the end of the day, I no longer really look through it.  It nauseates me.  All the “Black Friday Deals”, “Limited Holiday Savings”, and “Extended Cyber Monday” junk goes straight to the circular file.

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Before you categorize me as one of those, “Holy roller, anti-fun, anti-Santa” Christians, ease up.  I love giving and getting presents at Christmas.  I love filling my kid’s stockings on Christmas Eve and I love staying up late with my lovely wife to put together that ridiculous toy that always seems to be missing one critical piece.  It is all wonderfully aggravating…and worth it come that sweet Christmas morning.

What I cannot stand is our ability as modern Christians to celebrate Christmas without Christ.  More and more I sense that He has been relegated to the role of tiny Caucasian plastic figurine.  He is less and less the prophesied Messiah that all of creation has groaned and yearned for.

One response was given by the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph wanted to find a room where the Child could be born. The innkeeper was not hostile; he was not opposed to them, but his inn was crowded; his hands were full; his mind was preoccupied. This is the answer that millions are giving today. Like a Bethlehem innkeeper, they cannot find room for Christ. All the accommodations in their hearts are already taken up by other crowding interests. Their response is not atheism. It is not defiance. It is preoccupation and the feeling of being able to get on reasonably well without Christianity.

Billy Graham

Have all the accommodations in your heart been taken up by crowding interests?  Have your schedule, your pace of life and your family become so full of Christmas that there is nothing left for Christ?  If you and I were to peal away the decorating, presents, parties, pageants and often-awkward family gatherings, would what is left be enough to elicit our devotion, rejoicing and worship?  I wonder.

Last night our family gathered around our Advent candle and read Isaiah 9:6

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What an amazing passage.  So clear, so mysterious and so powerful.  Yet it is the first three words that mean the most, “For unto us.”  It wasn’t for a worldwide holiday filled with tinsel, ribbons and presents that Jesus came.  It was for us.  You, me, our wives, children, family and friends.  The Incarnation, God humbling Himself on our behalf, is the point.  So rejoice mightily!  Celebrate without limits!!  And love overwhelmingly!!!  For unto YOU a Child is born, unto YOU a Son is given.  Enjoy your traditions.  Enjoy the gift giving.  Enjoy the silly toys that bring simple joy to your children’s faces.  But guard your heart and your family from allowing any of that to become the point of Christmas.

Joel Thomas

I hate home repairs.

Last summer I woke early and began cleaning up the kid’s toys when I walked into the “toy room” from the kitchen.  The floor around the threshold was soaking wet.  At first I assumed that one of my little angels had spilled water from the night before.  Yet when I asked my wife about it she said she had tried cleaning up water from the same spot days before.  Yikes.  We soon discovered that the water line behind our refrigerator had been leaking for some time.  It had damaged a sizable portion of the kitchen floor, dining room floor, basement ceiling, carpet and drywall.

I hate home repairs.  Whenever anything breaks around my house I feel incredibly inadequate.  Though my dad taught me a powerful work ethic, he was not particularly handy.  Therefore I never learned any of typical home repair skills.  Plumbing, electrical, woodworking, flooring, etc.; all are mostly mysteries to me.  So when confronted with the reality of major water damage I not only have to deal with the inherent frustration of an impending repair, but my latent father and personal insufficiency issues.  Joy.

The culmination of this is that it wasn’t until two weeks ago that I actually began to repair the damaged floor.  In defense of my stalling I should point out that it took my dad took roughly seven years to hook up a second faucet in my brother and sister’s bathroom.  So postponing this repair was practically a genetic certainty.  My wife had patiently put up with my procrastination, but stated, “everything must be finished” by Thanksgiving.  It was therefore at approximately 1:45am on Wednesday morning that I finished installing the new tile floors.

I learned a couple of lessons from this experience.

  1. I have wonderful friends who were willing and able to help.
  2. Installing tile is hard, frustrating work, but totally doable.
  3. Blessings often masquerade as hardships on the front end.

Our linoleum floors were reaching the end of their life.  They were stained, yellowing and curling up as the glue had dried out over time.  As much as we knew we needed to replace them, we also knew we didn’t have money in our budget to put down the tile we hoped to replace them with.  Funny how God works these things out.  As I write this, I’m sitting in my kitchen looking over the freshly installed tile floors that God perfectly provided for.  Not only did insurance provide the needed funds, but several dear friends provided tools, time, guidance and the encouragement needed to make the Thanksgiving deadline.

I am humbled how God so faithfully takes difficult situations that are initially painful and redeems them into something beautiful.  Julie and I spent time last night listing out a few of God’s bigger “masqueraded” blessings over the past twelve years.

  • A heartbreaking miscarriage that was redeemed through a “surprise” redheaded blessing years later.
  • A long drawn out adoption process that resulted in a second adoption and  a family of six that I can’t imagine any other way.
  • My dad’s excruciating battle with cancer that was used to bring him to a destiny changing relationship with Jesus.
  • Eleven months of unemployment that allowed for me to be near my family during my dad’s illness.

This Thanksgiving, take a few minutes and thank God for His masqueraded blessings.  The real trick though, is in choosing to thank Him before the blessing is revealed.  I am hopeful that an obnoxious home repair job will result in a powerful lesson learned and a deepening ability to choose a posture of thanksgiving before the blessing is revealed.

What a stack of blessing you have piled up for those who worship you, Ready and waiting for all who run to you to escape an unkind world. Psalm 31:19 The Message

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!!

Joel Thomas