The whole time I was in Bali I kept dreaming about fall back home, but I was thinking “fall and 50 degrees” weather, not early winter with snow flakes and freezing cold rain. I guess I wasn’t quite as ready for fall as I thought I was!
- CHRISTMAS IS COMING. Yes, you heard me. It’s less than two months away and the Christmas planning here at the church has already started in earnest. We have a few things in the works for Christmas this year, including adopting some families from our community again, a Christmas party, and of course our Christmas Eve services. This year we will once again have two Christmas Eve services (5 and 7 PM) and we are really hoping to pack the place out for both of them. We’re working on a special invitation for our regular New Life folks to give out to their friends and family, and we’re working hard to make this the most memorable, engaging Christmas Eve service we’ve ever had. We’re not going to stray too far from the traditional Christmas Eve service, but we are making some plans to bring some new life and light to some of the elements we’re familiar with. Intrigued? You’ll just have to show up to find out what we have planned!
- I LOVE MY CHURCH. It was great to be a guest at my home-away-from-home church at ICC Bali, but there’s nothing quite the same as preaching to people who you’re living your life with. And there’s something about being in the familiar environment that makes me appreciate more deeply the work of Jesus among us. The people of New Life really are my extended family, and so they’re more than just people I preach to – they’re people that I’m living my life with. They’re helping me love Jesus more every day, helping me love my wife and lead my kids more like Jesus wants me to, and they are spurring me on to love and good works with their hearts to change the world. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I think my short absence from New Life made my heart more grateful for the way that God is working on my life through all of them.
- I DON’T ALWAYS LOVE MY NEIGHBOR. In fact, sometimes I can’t even see my neighbor. If yesterday’s message was convicting to you, I assure you that it was equally convicting to me. It’s easy to become blind to the people around me as I chase after all the things that make my life so busy. But I can’t help thinking that God has more for me as a follower of Jesus, and more for us as a church than just going through the motions. I think my committed idealism for the church wins out over my skepticism most days, so I believe deeply that the local church is the hope for the world because there God is doing work to shape the lives of men and women who would genuinely, radically love their neighbors as themselves. I pray God never lets me forget where he found me with his mercy, and that he allows that same compassion to flow through me to the world.
- PARENTING SCARES ME. There are few things that make me more aware of my shortcomings than my relationship with my kids. Nothing magnifies my fears quite like watching our kids grow into young adults. I can see the pressures they face every day of their lives mounting. From the simple things like increased homework and academic stress to the mental and emotional stress of being a middle school kid trying to find the place to fit in I can see it in their faces – this is as difficult for them as it was for me. So I’m praying a lot for them to see that Rita and I are their allies, not their enemies. I’m praying for the other adults in their lives who are encouraging them to live out their faith. And most of all I’m praying for them to be transformed through this crucible into men and women who will love Jesus more than I’ve ever hoped they would.
- MY WIFE IS GOD’S GREATEST GIFT TO ME. Three weeks with your spouse away is a long time, but she never once made me feel guilty for taking that time away. Sure, she missed me and she expressed that it was difficult with me being away, but never felt sorry for herself in the process. She is the strongest, most capable, hardworking, beautiful woman I have ever known. She makes me laugh. She makes me cry tears of pride and joy when I watch her push past her obstacles in a workout at the gym. She holds my head to her shoulder when I cry my own tears of sadness that no one else sees. She wears so many different hats – mother, employee, volunteer, leader, mentor, friend, pastor’s wife – and she wears them all so well that it humbles me to realize that we belong to each other. I told our URI students last week that if they ever felt like they were getting “tied down” when they got married, that they probably were in a relationship with the wrong person. I’ve never felt tied down a day in my life with Rita, just the opposite, I’m most free and most myself when I’m with her. That is a gift whose value you can’t measure.