Friday, January 31, 2014

Day 31- A Praising First

I've been challenged to praise God out loud to one person every day this week. Today, I decided to praise God out loud to every person that I had a conversation with or who asked me, "How are you?" That was my "first" for today.

The truth is there are many reasons to praise God.  If a person is a believer in Christ, we can praise God for forgiven sins, a real relationship with God, being His chosen and adopted children, and the list can go on for a long time. The Bible says we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  We have a great God to praise.  The deeper I get to know the Lord, the more I want others to know how great He really is and the more I want to brag on Him to others.

The day was fairly interesting.  I think I startled a person or two on the phone when they asked me how I was doing and I replied, "I'm praising God that my sins are forgiven and I'm part of His family."  I got a tentative smile from the Wal-Mart cashier.  I think she praised God when I finally offered her a different credit card since my debit card just refused to be accepted.  The fact that I had praised God to her sort of kept me in a positive frame of mind.  What kind of witness would it be to praise God and then start complaining either about my card or her machine?  It worked as sort of an accountability deal as well.

I was a bit disappointed at the opportunities that I missed. When my children asked me about my "first" at breakfast and I told them I planned on praising God to everyone I met today they said, "You didn't praise God to us." Busted at breakfast! So, I told them I praised God for being allowed to be their Daddy. That's not the first time they've heard that. Having a 9 and 12 year old in the house is like a built in accountability partner.  Several times people asked me how I was doing and I said something like "good" or "fine" and then I always felt sort of bad about it. It's like an "oh rats, I missed one" when that happened. A couple of times I was on the cell phone and someone said hey, how are you and I let the excuse of being on the cell phone keep me from praising God when it should have been more of an encouragement. I could have praised God to two people at once. 

I also found that my praising changed a bit at times. At the start of the day, I was praising God for forgiven sins and being part of His family. When I was leaving Wal-Mart after shopping for a loooong time (long to me), I was praising God that He still loved me and was still meeting my needs.  Not quite as joyful, but better than complaining.  I think praising God that He is meeting my needs is a better witness than saying something like " What do you think? I'm stuck here at Wal-Mart."

There were at least two take-aways for me today. One is that when I praised God, I noticed that others tended to lean toward a more positive frame of mind if not outright praising God themselves.  They would say something like "me, too" or "that's good."  When one person praises God, others tend to as well. It at least reminds them of God's goodness.

The second take-away is that praising God is a personal decision of the will and not a matter of feelings. God is always worthy of praise. It doesn't matter how I feel. God is great all the time. I love what Mark Batterson wrote, "Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God."

Not praising too much

Praising God with a little help from a friend

So, I am encouraged to make praising God to other people more of a priority.  Maybe others will be encouraged to do the same.  Jesus is sure worth bragging on!!

Praising God for the abundant life


3 things I thank God for today
1. Laura's home
2. Shrimp Parmesan (Laura brought home)
3. A God who is worthy of all my praise

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Day 30- A Snowy Love Letter First

Today has been another cold day with road closures around us here in South Alabama. So, whatever "first" I might do is going to be done here at the house.

Laura is not here. You may have guessed that yesterday before I mentioned it.  She had a consulting job in Jackson and has not been able to get home yet because of the ice and snow.  I've been hanging out with the kids without Mommy being around.  That's not a "first." I am not babysitting either.  I don't babysit my own children; I parent them.  Sorry; that's a little pet peeve of mine that sort of slipped out.

I thought about what we could do as a first for Laura while she was away.  I came up with the idea that we would draw her a picture of the family with an "I love you" attached and send it by email.  I've never sent a snow family portrait with an "I love you" attached to anyone before. That's my "first" for today. It's not a huge "first" but once again, I probably would not have thought of it if I was not doing a year of "firsts." I'm very glad I did it.

Not a very clear picture; they get better as you scroll down

If you look closely, you can see the dog and the turtle in this picture

A better picture of the dog: Mei Mei

We had fun making something for Laura.  Hannah Grace and Joel insisted that the animals be included.  The pictures do not show them very well, but we tried.  It was fun to think of something to do to show Laura that we miss her and love her. She is a great wife and Mommy.  Today reminded me that I need to tell her often (and I do; I make a lot of mistakes but not telling Laura that I love her very often is not one of them), but also to tell her in different ways.  I also like trying to include the children in telling Laura that we love her. God has given us a very sweet, romantic, loving, and fun marriage.  I want to keep it that way.  Telling each other that we love each other often and in different and fun ways is enjoyable and helpful.

God tells us that He loves us.  He has done that in various ways.  The most significant way is when Jesus died on the cross and rose again for us.  One of the truly outstanding attributes of the cross is that Jesus died for the ungodly.  He loved us when we did not love Him back.  That's true godly love.  Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." When we do loving acts for people that can't repay us and don't want to we are acting more and more like Jesus. It's fun to love Laura.  She loves me back. It's a lot harder to love someone that I don't receive love back from in return.  Sometimes not even a thank you is given.  In those times, I have opportunity to become like my Lord.  That takes the power of the Holy Spirit for me. It's not in me to love that way.

 Grateful for the love in the abundant life


3 things I thank God for today
1. God's love for me when I was His enemy
2. The ability to send love letters immediately over a great distance
3. Sleeping in a warm bed and not out in the snow

 The snowman says hey; that's a carrot in Joel's mouth. If you look close, you can see his hair

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Day 29- A Cold and Invigorating First

It's really cold here for South Alabama today. The roads are frozen and closed.  There is snow and ice on the ground.  We are pretty much yard bound for the day. This will produce some interesting challenges for a "first".

We get bundled up and out in the yard we go.  One of the things Hannah Grace and Joel spied out that looked fun to do was jump on the trampoline while it's covered in snow. They quickly found out this involves a lot of slipping down and snow/ice in the shoes.  They say, "Come on, Daddy, come jump with us."  I come back with typical Daddy response, "No, that's OK, I'll watch ya'll."  Then a voice inside the ole head speaks up.  There's a "first" right there my friend (my thought my have turned on me and not been my friend if I had not agreed).  Plus, Hannah Grace and Joel were having a lot of fun and really wanted me to jump with them.  So, on the trampoline I go.  It was my first time to jump on the trampoline in the snow.

There were other firsts today.  I told Joel the cool secret that every young man needs to know about writing his name in the snow (if you don't know about that, you are better off not asking).  I pulled a knee board behind the truck down the driveway.  I refuse to say if there was a young person on the knee board or not.  I do not want to be reported to any authority.  Though, down here in the South you may get reported if you do not do something along those lines when it snows.

There was one more first that happened to pop into my mind.  I came upon this idea (you can read the story in the Day 1 blog) of doing something every day of the year that I had never done before by reading a book titled "I Dare Me" by Lu Ann Cahn.  Her first for the year was a Polar Bear Plunge.  That's where a bunch of people on New Year's Day get together and jump into an icy lake, river, or ocean.  That was her first and it was a big deal for her. It was her way of plunging into the new year of firsts.  Well, I did play around with the idea of doing that, but I was in Jackson, MS on New Year's Day and did not see where anyone was doing that kind of thing.  So, today, with snow and ice on the ground I modified the Polar Bear Plunge.  There is no water I really wanted to plunge into today.  Instead, I put on my bathing suit and a T-shirt and ran barefooted (barefeet??) around our yard.  Our yard is an acre.  Well, Hannah Grace decided she wanted to do this with me. Joel said no way, but as we got ready to go, he wanted to go as well.  In case anyone is wondering, yes, Laura is out of town and not present at any of these proceedings. So, Joel goes and gets his swimming suit on and off we go.

It was more fun to talk about than to actually do. The worst part was the bare feet in the snow.  That was harsh.  Hannah Grace made it about 25 yards and turned around and went back to the house.  Joel and I ran the whole way though we did not strictly stick to the perimeter of the yard. I blame him for that.  He cut the first corner on me.

The after picture; Joel not smiling as much

The cool thing is that we laughed the whole time.  It was definitely a hoot.
Sometimes as believers in Christ, we just have to jump into something we believe God wants us to do.  One man wrote that we sometimes need 20 seconds of insane courage.  That's the time where we ask to join the Bible study, open our mouth and say something about Jesus, signed up for the mission trip, or suggest that the family pray together every night.  Most big challenges God has put in front of me I did not feel ready for.  That's why we are called to walk by faith.  We need God to do in our lives what we can't do for ourselves so that He will get the glory.  You don't have to run in the snow, but consider jumping into something God wants you to jump into for His glory.
Running for the abundant life
3 things I thank God for today
1. Trampoline jumping in the snow
2. Finding a way for the children to sled
3. God's love that can thaw out a frozen heart

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Day 28- A "What am I" first

It was pretty cold for this part of the country today.  We had some sleet and cold temps.  This made it difficult for a "first".  The children were out of school and we were cooped up in the house together for most of the day.

 Joel suggested we play a new game that Hannah Grace received for her birthday. It's called headbanz. My "first" for today was playing headbanz with Hannah Grace and Joel.  There is also a bonus feature at the end today.

The idea of the game is that you are wearing a headband with a card inserted in it. Everybody can see what is on your card but you.  When it is your turn, you ask questions about what's on your card until you either guess it or the timer runs out.  I quickly found out that this game was either designed for children or I have a pretty big head.  No comments are necessary on that last sentence.

It becomes quickly apparent that asking good questions is the key to this game.  Some questions we found helpful were:
Am I an animal?
Am I a food?
Am I a machine?

I continued asking "Am I a person?" though it was never a helpful question. I thought maybe there would be farmer, clown, or teacher. I was wrong. It turned out to be harder than I thought. There are no categories to narrow down the guessing. Here are a few of our results (the list is not inclusive). Hannah Grace was able to guess cat and hamburger.  She was stumped on butterfly and duck. Joel was able to get elephant and dragon (dragon was impressive, but Hannah Grace let a pretty good hint slip). He was stumped on ice cream and cake.  In fairness to Joel, he does not like desserts very much.  I was able to get fish and mushroom (I'm pretty proud of the mushroom one).  I was stumped on dice (dice? dice?  what kind of question do you ask to get dice?) and goat.  I was pretty bummed about goat. I should have gotten that one. I had it narrowed down to an animal that was sometimes on a farm and was bigger than a dog and smaller than a cow. Man, I should have gotten that one. It was pretty fun and, of course, it doesn't matter who won. That's not even worth mentioning.  The important thing is that we had fun together (I won).

Asking good questions is helpful in headbanz. It is also very helpful in our relationship with Christ.  Instead of asking questions like:
Is this something I want to do?
Is this something that would be fun to do?

It's important to ask questions like:
Is this what God wants me to do?
Will this help me grow closer to Christ?
Will God be glorified in this?

Instead of asking questions about an opportunity like:
How hard will this be?
Will I look silly if I fail?
Can I do this?

We could ask questions like:
Can God do this through me?
Does this give me chance to brag on Jesus?
What does the Bible say about this?

If we are confused about what to do, instead of asking:
What woulod my friends do?
What will my friends think?

I could ask questions like:
What is the wise thing to do?
What is the loving thing to do?
What is the moral thing to do?

If I ask the wrong question, I will get the wrong answer. If I ask the right question, I will have a much better chance of getting the right answer.

Asking questions about the abundant life


3 things I thank God for today
1. The joy on children's faces when they hear the words "no school"
2. Francis Chan's book "Forgotten God"
3. A sleetball fight with the children

Bonus: I had another "first" today. It was not something I actually did so it doesn't qualify.  It was something I heard. I was at the beauty shop to get my hair cut (gave up on the beauty part a long time ago) and I actually overheard two ladies talking and the words "deer urine" were used. I've never heard those words used at a beauty shop before. I have heard them used by men getting ready to go hunting.  Yes, I do live in the South.  Yes, it was worth a good laugh.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Day 27- A QT First

Today I started doing my alone time with the Lord differently. This is my time to read my Bible and pray.  I call my alone time with the Lord my quiet time (QT).  I started calling it that because I heard others call it that.  It's really kind of an odd thing to call my alone time with the Lord. It's not really quiet.  I pray about loud. Sometimes I sing to the Lord.  I desire for God to speak to me.  A quiet time almost sounds like punishment; a "stand in the corner" kind of thing.  I actually have a friend that calls his alone time with the Lord his loud time.  He sings, shouts, and prays with some volume. He said when he started at a new church one time it sort of scared his secretary when she heard him loudly praising God in the other office. Maybe I should have a loud time with Jesus.  Or, how about a large time with Jesus? A meaningful time?  An awesome time?  A profound time?  OK, enough with the terminology though I'm open to a new term for this.

The idea is that to grow in a relationship with someone you need to spend time with them. So, I try to start most days by reading my Bible and asking God to speak to me.  He's never done that out loud, but I do see things in the Bible that I believe God wants me to know and obey. I think I want Him to speak out loud though it would probably freak me out big-time.  I also spend time praying. I pray by praising God, confessing sin, praying for others, and myself. It's often in that order but not always.

For the past year or two, I've been reading a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New Testament.  These are picked out by someone other than me which I like. It prevents me from reading my favorite Scriptures all the time or manipulating certain Scriptures on certain days so that I will "feel" like God is saying what I want Him to say.  However, I have felt lately that maybe I'm a bit too comfortable in this format and it's time to change.

So, today I started on a Bible study workbook that I've had in mind for a while. So, I've done these kinds of workbooks before, but I've never done this one.  So, that's my "first" for today.  I've put this one off for a while.  Sometimes a relationship can profit by some change. I don't talk to Laura about the same things every day. That'd be weird to have the same conversation every day. That means I should have some variety in my prayer times. Laura and I talk about different things, go different places, and have different experiences.  It's helpful for growth.  I want to have a relationship with Jesus that really grows.

The real challenge on this one is that this Bible study (and the study books are ways to get God's word in me; not replace Bible study) is pretty strong and it's really designed to do with a small group. I'll probably do a week or two and see if it is helping me connect deeper with the Lord. If so, I may try to find another guy or two that wants to do it with me. If that goes well, I may use it in some small group settings.  It's stronger than most I've done before. For starters, it's about 24 weeks. The exciting thing is that usually means more growth.  It also means that it is usually harder to find people that want to journey along with you.

Hopefully, this variety will lead to more and deeper growth in Christ. Feel free to ask the Lord if it is time for you to have some variety in your relationship with God.

Looking to grow in the abundant life


3 things I thank God for
1. Past small groups that I've been a part of
2. Henry Blackaby who has written a number of helpful studies I've done (he's not the author of the one I'm starting now)
3. Glasses that help me see

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Day 26- Opening Up to a New First

I challenged people in the church to take home an envelope from the altar.  That was my “first” for today.

A word of explanation will help.  I’ve been preaching this month about being “all in and all out for the All in All.”  I was praying about how to make this last Sunday of the series a real meaningful experience for the church family.  I remembered something that I heard Kyle Idleman do one time on a podcast and felt like the Lord would be pleased if we did something similar here.

With the help of a few church members, I came up with 6 tasks that were kind of “all out” for Jesus kind of things.   The challenge was to find things that everybody could do but they would be a stretch for most.  I was looking for specific acts of obedience that would get most people out of their comfort zones.  I put them in envelopes; one task per envelope.  Then, at the conclusion of our worship time, I challenged our people to go all out for Jesus by taking an envelope with a task in it while committing to doing whatever was in it without knowing what it was. It’s like saying to the Lord, “I’ll do what You say even before I know what it is.”  The emphasis was on committing to do it before you know what it is.  If you were not going to commit to doing it, then you were asked not to take an envelope.  The thinking behind this for me is that it’s easy in our culture to pick and choose what you want to obey the Lord on and what you don’t.  God is about us obeying Him no matter what.  I’ve never done this specific challenge before. I did not do this to get a “first.”  After I had the idea and met with a few people to work it out, it did occur to me that this would be a “first.”

Envelopes on the altar awaiting a home

A bag of opportunities

Our congregation was asked to wait until after the service was over and then come to the altar and pick up an envelope as they left church. The envelopes were scattered over the altar area. I asked them to wait until after church so people would not go get one because someone else did. I wanted it to be a challenge between each individual and the Lord.

It seemed to have gone pretty well.  I don’t know who accepted the challenge by getting an envelope except the people who talked with me about it.  I was grateful for the number of people under the age of 23 that agreed to get an envelope; some as young as 12.  I look forward to hearing our people talk about their challenge.  Hopewell people are pretty open to talk about things like this; especially the ones that got an envelope. It did require some faith in the Lord to do that (plus a bit of trust in the pastor as well). Yes, I did pick up an envelope and will do my task as well.  Remember, the abundant life comes from letting God set the terms.

On mission with Jesus


3 things I thank God for

1. A church that is open to new and different challenges from the Lord

2. Hearing wonderful stories about what God did in and through our Haiti mission team last week.

3. Kyle Idleman’s good ideas


P.S. If you are a member of Hopewell and were not able to be here for this, simply email or call me and I’ll pick you an envelope.  I promise to pick one and not just give you what I think you needJ  If you are not part of the Hopewell family and want to do one, please let me know. I’ll pick you one as well. Remember, you have to agree to do whatever is in it before you can have one. It’s better to not make a vow than to make one and break it.  See you on mission with Jesus!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Day 25- A Laying Down First

Today, for the first time, I laid down on a bed of nails.  With the pointy end up.

A word of explanation may be in order.  We took the children to a place called Wonder Works.  The brochure says it's an "indoor amusement park for the mind."  It is kind of a big science museum with some pretty fun stuff thrown in.  This is what Hannah Grace wanted to do instead of a birthday party this year.  We went to Wonder Works last year in Pigeon Forge, TN (it could have been Gatlinburg) and both kids loved it. 

Not long after we entered Wonder Works, we came to the bed of nails exhibit. When they have an exhibit like this in a place designed for children with someone under 25 years old in charge of it, you feel like it's pretty safe.  Still, it's the kind of thing that I would typically pass on.  Laura might say something like, "Do you want to do that?"  And I typically say, "No, that's OK, you go ahead and I'll take the pictures."  Today was different because I did not just see a bed of nails; I saw a "first."

The guy lets you lay on the nails for about 30 seconds or so. It's not a big deal.  They do actually hurt just a little. Of all places, they hurt my elbow the most.  What's up with that?  It was right about the funny (or not so funny) bone area. 

I thought about this.  As Christians, we need each other close by to support one another.  As we do that, we can support each other through hard times, when temptation is especially strong, and in our commitments to walk close with Jesus.  Like the nails, we can sometimes hurt each other.  We all have quirky personalities, mouths that run faster than brains, and bad attitude days (these are much worse on the people around us than bad hair days). Even with the issues there are to work through, we need each other.  We need each others' love, example, prayers, and friendship.  We need people who will walk in when everyone else walks out. We just can't do life as God intended by ourselves.  God has made us to need each other. 

Me with bubbles; not nearly as dangerous sounding and surprisingly fun

Don't forget to gather with believers this Lord's Day.  As you do, look for ways to support someone else in their walk with Christ.  Remember, it's not all about you; it's about Him.

Now, for the next laying down first, I'm hunting a hammock.

Needing support for the abundant life


3 things I thank God for today
1. A very fun family trip with children who were well behaved and had lots of fun
2. Jesus took three nails for me
3. Haiti mission team is back home in America

Friday, January 24, 2014

Day 24- A Qigong First

Today, I took a class in Qigong. That was definitely a first for me.

"What is Qigong," you might ask (and I would not fault you for asking). Qigong is an ancient Chinese health care system that integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention. That's how one website defined it. 

I was in the Mobile library for my "borrow a Kindle book from the library" first a while back and I saw a flyer for a free Qigong class.  Well, methinks, that would be a first.  I had actually heard about Qigong in some reading I had done a while back.  This is what my year of firsts is about.  Instead of looking at something and thinking it would be interesting, I am about actually doing things I would not normally do.

So, I drove to Mobile for my Qigong (pronounced chee kung or chee gun depending on which website you look at). I was a tad bit nervous about this being some kind of stretching exercise like yoga that I just would not be able to do. I was also a bit concerned that it would be a bunch of qigong junkies and I would be the only novice.

I arrived about 10 minutes early and was the first person to arrive besides the teacher. She appeared to be warming up and kindly introduced herself as Mrs. Lee. She was very nice and reassuring that this indeed was a class for beginners. Soon, about 8-10 other people arrived and we started. Mrs. Lee is prompt- as soon as there were about 3-4 of us, we started warming up though it was only 9:57.

I quickly surmised I was the only dude there. I figured I'd be OK as long as no discussions broke out about how men were pigs or estrogen. "Do the exercises and keep your male mouth shut" I say to myself. Mrs. Lee had us started so there was no time for discussions.

The class went well. It was not too hard. We warmed up by doing deep breathing and tapping our arms and legs. This is much easier than my basketball coach was on us when he warmed us up. Then, the class started and we mostly did some slow arm movements while breathing deep. She told us a lot when to breathe in and when to breathe out. It was very relaxing. Then we walked in a circle very slowly focusing on our balance. I was way better at this than the 2 ladies in front of me. There was one lady that was obviously more experienced than the rest of us but she was behind me so I was glad I couldn't see her. I might not have felt so good about myself. We were walking around a circle of chairs and if you got off balance a bit, you were to steady yourself by touching the chair. I hardly ever touched my chair (the lady in front touched her chair several times). Not that I'm competitive or anything.

After the class, Mrs. Lee was very kind to hang around and chat with those who were interested. I talked with her for a few minutes. She expalined that Qigong was good for lowering blood pressure and de-stressing. Those are good things. I'm all for that. Then she said, "As we get older, we tend to lose our balance and the walking is helpful in that." I wanted to say, "As we get older?" Who said anything about getting older? Why are you directing the getting older comments at me? I'm real sure I was fairly young in this particular setting. I decided to keep those comments to myself. I'm not real sure if Qigong is related to Karate or Kung Fu or anything. It seemed best to smile and say, "That's something."

She was nice enough to have handouts for us that describe the exercises we did so we can do these at home. She said, "Now, do these every day." And that's where they get you. Everyday? For an hour? Of course, I knew this. If I want Qigong to help with blood pressure and stress, it has to become a part of my daily life.

Me and Mrs. Lee (not to be confused with Bobby McGee)

Our relationship with the Lord is that way. It's a daily thing. Just like I can't do Qigong once and have my blood pressure take a drastic dip and live with much lower stress levels, I can't pray one day a week or worship one time a week and expect to have a great relationship with the Lord. I am memorizing 2 Timothy 3:16 this week and it's going well so far. I know if I miss a day or two, it will affect my memorization and more importantly, rob me of meditating on God's word. It's key to me to know those daily habits that help me grow in my love relationship with Jesus and keep them daily.

Breathing deep for the abundant life


3 things I thank God for today
1. Mrs. Lee's kindness and encouragement toward those who did not know nearly as much as she did
2. After hunting yesterday, Joel saying the best part was spending time with me
3. No female discussions broke out at the Qigong class

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Day 23- A Banking Drive thru First

Today was a hard day for a "first." I went to bed last night with what I thought was a pretty good idea for a "first" but in the light of day it turned out not to be so great an idea.

So, I'm stuck with the day passing quickly and not many opportunities that I see for a first.  I needed to go to the bank to deposit a check.  I thought about what I might could do there for a first.  I've never robbed a bank but one of my rules for a "first" is that it can't be illegal or immoral.  I've never deposited a million dollars at one time either.  Still haven't.

As I drove up to the drive-thru lane, I thought to myself, "I've never told the lady at the drive-thru that Jesus loves her. Hmm, not an earth shattering first, but still a first.

When the nice lady sent my deposit slip out with my weekly allowance, she asked me if there was anything else she could do for me.  I considered asking how well she cooked seafood.  In an effort to remain on good terms with the lady that has access to my banking information, I refrained from that idea.  Instead, I said, "No ma'am, thank you and don't forget that Jesus loves you."  She said, "Yes, sir."  She said it fairly enthusiastically.

The thing I like about today is that I was forced to look for ways to get out of the routine.  I was seeking for a way to make life more abundant.  Some days are busy and there is not a lot of time to do a "first."  Even in those days, if I can share the love of Jesus with someone that ordinarily I would not think about doing, then it's been a better day; a bit (OK, a tiny bit) more adventurous and helpful than otherwise.

Glad for the little pieces of the abundant life


3 things I thank God for today
1. John 15:9 (you can look above rather than looking it up)
2. A fun evening spend hunting with Joel
3. News that the Haiti team is having a spiritually enriching week

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Day 22- A 12 year old first

I have never parented a 12 year old before. Today, Hannah Grace turned 12.  My first for today is to parent a 12 year old.

Joel gets in the birthday spirit

Yes, today is Hannah Grace's birthday.  I thank God for this beautiful, creative, funny, delightful and loving daughter. I do think something of truth exists in the old fable that "a daughter can twist her father around her little finger" in our relationship.  No, I don't think she can twist me around to do her wishes every time, but there is a deep bond between us.  I am so glad we enjoy each other's company and have lots of fun together. Laura and I prayed that we would not have a boring child.  God has answered that prayer.

As I think about her 12th birthday, my mind asks the question, "Am I doing a good job of helping her develop a strong love relationship with Jesus?"  That's the most important aspect of her life.  I do want her to have a life of love, fun, adventure, and joy.  More than that, I want her to know Jesus well. That is the key to having a life of love, fun, adventure, and joy.  I have often prayed that she would be converted in a way that she and everyone else around her would know that she's been converted.  That's my heart for my little girl (of course, all of this is true for my son Joel as well).
I'm grateful for the fun times we've had together.  We've had many days spent laughing together. I've been there when she was crying during much of many nights. I was glad I could be there for her in those times.  If I had my druthers, neither of us would have had to go through those long nights. I'm very glad Laura was also there in those long nights.
I thought today, "What do I need to do better with Hannah Grace (and also Joel).  I believe I need to concentrate more on teaching the Word to them. They hear me preach and they go to church every Sunday and Wednesday, but I need to be more intentional about teaching the truths of God's word to them on their level. Tonight, I started a series on Wednesday nights where the church will be memorizing Scripture together (the ones that come on Wednesday night and choose to).  That may be the first step we take as a family-to memorize a verse a week together. When I mentioned it to Hannah Grace, she said that sounded cool. Yay!
When Jonathan Edwards' son Timothy was 14, it was feared he might have smallpox- a very dangerous disease in the 1700's.  Jonathan wrote him a letter telling him of his concern for him but mostly encouraging him to make sure his heart was right with God.  Here's an excerpt from that letter: "Indeed, God often hears the poor miserable cries of sinful vile creatures, who have no manner of true regard to Him in their hearts; for he is a God of infinite mercy, and he delights to show mercy for his Son’s sake, who is worthy, though you are unworthy, who came to save the sinful and the miserable, yea, some of the chief of sinners. Therefore, there is your only hope, and in him must be your refuge, who invites you to come to him, and says, ‘Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.’... We are expressly commanded to call upon God in the day of trouble, and when we are afflicted, then to pray. But, if I hear that you have escaped,—either that you have not been sick, or are restored,—though I shall rejoice, and have great cause of thankfulness, yet I shall be concerned for you. If your escape should be followed with carelessness and security, and forgetting the remarkable warning you have had, and God’s great mercy in your deliverance, it would in some respects be more awful than sore sickness. It would be very provoking to God, and would probably issue in an increasing hardness of heart; and, it may be, divine vengeance may soon overtake you."
Pretty strong words to be sure.  I may choose different words, but I need to have a strong zeal for the sure salvation of my household. 
Praying for the abundant life for my household
3 things I thank God for today
1. Haiti mission team continues to do well
2. Jesus does not cast out those who come to him in repentance and faith
3. A daughter who expresses joy very well

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Day 21- A Hugging First

Today is National Hugging Day. When I found that out last night, I knew I had a first. Today, I celebrated National Hugging Day. I did not even read about how to celebrate this day. I figured I'd just hug a bunch of people. I even came up with a little speech for people that might not be used to getting a hug from me.

I know some people are tree huggers, but I decided to keep the hugging to people. The only time I've ever tried to hug a tree was when I was climbing one. I have been a tree sitter this week, but I was deer hunting and did not have to hug it in order to climb it due to the nice ladder someone had built.

The hugging thing can be tricky. If someone wants to hug, then that's a really cool thing. Some people are not so "touchy feely" and are not as comfortable being hugged so I don't want to be freaking them out.  So, my rule of thumb is if people offer to hug, I hug back. If they stick out the hand, I shake hands. I've had people tell me they are glad I like to hug and others tell me that they know I don't like to hug. I guess they don't know I'm sort of following their lead.

This morning as Laura was leaving the house to go to town I gave her an extra long hug and she said,"That feels good." It was a good start to National Hugging Day."

 We have a license to hug

When the children came home from school, I gave them both a big hug.  That's pretty normal for us. I visited with an elderly man and after we shook hands I asked if I could give him a hug.  He said, "I can always use a hug." This evening when I told Joel it was National Hugging Day, he immediately stood up without a word and hugged me.  Sweet boy!

Those were the highlights of my day. The rest of the day was pretty disappointing. The reason is that I just did not see many people today.  I thought I would this morning as I chose National Hugging Day for my first. But the day did not really go as planned.  It was a really good day; just not many opportunities for hugs.  I did go to pick up Hannah Grace from her dance class.  It was pretty cold and most of the parents (read 95% Moms) were sitting in the cars waiting. I thought I could go hug the girls as they came out of dance class.  Then, it occurred to me that some guy hugging a bunch of young girls might not only lead to celebrating National Hugging Day, but also an investigation by the authorities.  I could have went and knocked on car windows and offered hugs but that just seemed creepy. I sat in my car and watched for people that I knew. I did not see any.  So, I sat in the car and read. Then, I came home and hugged the dog.  I think she thought I was wrestling or something. She was the only one who resisted a hug.

Of course, some people send out cyber hugs. I am not gong to do that.  A cyber hug (a hug through the Internet) is like the cyber cup of coffee someone sent me one time.  I got a message that I had received a cup of coffee.  So, I started looking for it.  It was not anywhere around the computer.  I checked the coffee pot and it was dry (I know that sounds silly, but with the things they can do with the Internet these days, you just never know).  I looked on the computer for a coupon or something for a cup of coffee. There was none. It was just words. That's not a cup of coffee.  Coffee is meant to be drunk. A cyber hug is not a hug.  Hugs are meant to be felt.

Hugs are also good for you. Hugs can boost the oxytocin levels which help with feelings of loneliness and anger.  They also boost your immune system. Hugs can raise your serotonin levels which help to raise your mood and create feelings of happiness. There are several other positive effects of hugging.  One person wrote, "We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth."

So, I wish my National Hugging Day had went better.  I was thrilled with the hugs I did get.  Oh well, it doesn't have to be National Hugging Day to hug someone. Go hug someone real good!

Hugging for the abundant life


3 things I thank God for today
1. Nagging sense of guilt over things I've not done yet that God wants me to do- reminds me that He doesn't quit on me
2. A wife and children who like to hug
3. Sweet gifts my children received from Aunt Darla and Uncle Mike

Monday, January 20, 2014

Day 20- A Dreaming First

A bad dream woke Hannah Grace up this morning. She said it was scary.  Hannah Grace has some very vivid dreams. Most are not scary.  When she was about 2, she dreamed a walrus was chasing her through the  house. I did not even know she knew what a walrus was at that age. When asked, she described a walrus perfectly.  What makes a 2-year old dream about a walrus?  Not long ago, she dreamed she and I were super heroes. We were at her school and it was being attacked by huge spiders (like 4 feet tall). We defeated them but I got bit by one so my Mother (Hannah Grace's Nannie) had to shoot me with an anti-venom gun so I would not be turned into a spider.

Something you might dream about

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day.  As I thought about that and the possibility of a first, I looked online for something to do to celebrate his birthday.  I did not find any type of celebration in our area.  I remembered his famous speech, "I Have a Dream."  I can't ever remember watching or reading that speech.  So, my first for today was that I watched Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech on Youtube.

It is not that long- about 15 minutes. I would have thought it was longer.  I was impressed by the picturesque language that he used.  It was extremely vivid.  His speech really connected to the audience.  It was easy to tell that they were passionate about what he was speaking about.  Several other things stood out to me, but perhaps the biggest one was the conviction with which he spoke.  It appeared (and history would bear this out) that he really believed what he was saying.  One thing in particular that he said was that he had a dream of a day when a man would be judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.

As I watched the video of his speech, I thought about how followers of Jesus ought to be passionate when speaking about Him. King was speaking about a very important subject-equality for all races. When a person speaks of Jesus, there can be no higher subject.  There should be a real intensity and conviction in our talk about our wonderful Lord. There can be no nobler topic. There can be no more deserving person.  There are no words too lofty with which to describe our Lord.

So, watching Dr. King,  I was encouraged to speak well and often of Jesus. He is more worthy than the greatest athlete, most talented singer, or most erudite politician.  Who else could die and rise again for me? 

Longing to speak better of Jesus


3 things I thank God for today
1. Jesus is so worthy that even angels worship Him
2. There are stores nearby that have many medicines
3. The progress that has been made toward racial equality in the USA 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Day 19- A Testimony First

We had a baptism at our church today.  A young lady gave her life to Christ last Wednesday evening and today she was baptized by immersion as a picture of her faith. 

Baptism is not a first for me or our church.  I've been baptized and I've baptized others. Our Youth Pastor baptized the young lady today. He is the one that the Lord used to share Christ with her and help her to come to Christ.  It was beautiful.  Something malfunctioned with the heaters that we use to heat the water and so it was also very cold water that she was baptized in.  However, our Youth Pastor and the young lady were hardy (one literally) souls and persevered through the chilly waters.

As I was praying about the service today, I thought about baptism.  We usually baptize right at the beginning of the service or right at the end.   I prayed about what would make this more meaningful.  How about if we shared testimonies on the meaning of baptism.  I asked the people to share a testimony (a true story) about how baptism affects them or a meaningful baptism they've experienced. That was my first.  I have never asked people to share publicly a testimony about baptism.  Preachers are usually a bit reticent about asking people to share publicly in a worship service.  The fear is that nobody will say anything and so you have this "stare-off" wondering who is going to give in first- the preacher or the people. The preacher figures if he waits long enough somebody will say something.,  The people think if they sit there quietly long enough the preacher will move on to something else. Hopewell church is very good about sharing when given the opportunity. That is not much of a fear for me. Still, that is a pretty specific testimony to ask for.

There were some beautiful stories shared.  People shared about others they had seen baptized that were related to them, or had some real fears about baptism or were disabled and still managed to be baptized.  I hope tonight that you'll revisit when you were baptized (if you never have been I encourage you to give it some thought and talk with someone about it) and thank God that Jesus died for you and rose again on the third day.  He made it possible for you to have your sins forgiven and to become a follower of Jesus.

After church, a lady reminded me of a story that a missionary told us one time. There was a man who had given his life to Christ where this guy was a missionary.  This man participated in all the Christian activities he was encouraged to with the exception of baptism.  The missionary could not figure out why.  He was very involved in growing in Christ, but just would not be baptized.  Finally, one day he said he would be baptized.  The missionary could tell this was a great struggle but could not understand why.  So, they went to a river and he baptized this man.  When the man came up out of the water, he asked if that was it.  The missionary said yes.  The man replied, "I thought you were going to drown me."  Somehow, the meaning of buried with Christ in baptism got misconstrued in the translation from English to his language and he thought he was literally going to be drowned.  That's total commitment to Jesus. I've been preaching on the subject "Going All In and All Out for Jesus." That guy really did go all in.  I hope that encourages you in your life with Christ today.

All in and all out for the abundant life


3 things I thank God for today.
1. Inside baptisteries in January
2. Missionaries in persecuted countries
3. The mission team from Hopewell that is in Haiti reported that they had a great worship service in Haiti today and that God is moving

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Day 18- A Hunting First

Today I went hunting.  That is not a first. I've been hunting lots of times.  I generally enjoy it. There have been times I've not enjoyed it a lot. That is usually due to severely cold weather.  I don't usually hunt in severely cold weather anymore.

Today I took Joel hunting.  That is not a first either.  However, today I took Joel hunting for the first time that he had a gun that he could shoot at a deer. He was potentially lethal for the first time.  A very nice friend of ours had a gun for Joel to use and a place for us to hunt.  When we got there, Joel took a little target practice. In the picture, the holes that have the circles around them are the ones that Joel shot.

That's good shooting, Joel. So, we got out in a deer stand and waited for what seemed like a really long time to Joel.  4 deer finally came out after many agonizing hours.  OK, it was about an hour and a half.  Joel  felt like he could shoot them even though they were pretty far across the field.  He shot and the crazy deer ran off.  I'm not sure how that happened. They must not have known they were shot.  Of course, they were pretty far.  Joel had a hard time getting the right height to prop up on the deer stand. It was his first time to shoot at a deer. See, hunters can not only find reasons why they miss a deer but also why their sons miss.

It was a fun afternoon.  I've wanted to take Joel hunting where he could actually shoot at a deer.  He was very proud of his target shooting and had fun shooting at the deer. I think it's important that I remember that it's not the success of a venture as much as the joy in the journey. It's easy to get caught up in a goal for an expedition like shooting a deer, catching a fish or winning a ball game. There needs to be some enjoyment along the way.  A smile on my son's face is much more important than the success of a trip.

Which reminds me, am I bringing a smile to my Heavenly Father's face today?

Smiling toward the abundant life


3 things I thank God for today
1. Joel's smile
2. Friends who share
3. Hopewell people who made it safely to Haiti today to begin a mission trip