Around the tree, around the tree, that is how we make a 3: Happy Birthday, Ben

2 Kids, 3 Days, 2000 Years would be an apt subtitle for this post…

Sweet Caroline (pause here to sing if needed) was born on the 14th. But not to be overshadowed is our oldest, Ben. He turns 3 today. Watching him grow and learn over the last few years has been such a gift, pure grace, in fact.

I’ve also seen him sin. Nice transition, right?

Ben is a wonderfully sensitive, thoughtful, expressive little guy who can brighten the dullest and most monotonous moments. But he also shoves his sister (Nora Jane) to the ground with hand to face and then lies about it. He has slapped mom and kicked dad.

Upon being told No at Target, he proceeded to throw himself onto the pavement in the parking lot and then run around said parking lot while Lindsey was trying to regain control without dropping sis in the process.

After watching Shark Tank for a season now, I’m considering a pitch. Imagine the scene described, but just as you’re about to drop your other child, you hit a button and the hellion running around drops to the ground (gently, of course). How’d that happen? You used the Tantrum Tranquilizer–the remote controlled child tranquilizer that is easily hidden inside any and all of your children’s clothing. I’m thinking Mr. Wonderful is my guy…

Seriously though, having two kids now with birthdays around Passion week serves as an unavoidable reminder of two things:

1.  Everyone is a sinner in need of a Savior. That cute kid-the one who is like your heart walking outside of your body-is as much a sinner as the crotchety old guy you go to church with [that's the worst person I could think of]. Both put nails in the hands and feet of Jesus. And both need the forgiveness of Jesus.

2. Jesus meets us where we are. He spoke to Mary by name. He entered through locked doors to meet the disciples. He invited Thomas to touch his wounds if that would help him believe. Jesus makes it a habit to show up in the heights of joy as well as the depths of sorrow.

When I see Ben do something stupid and sinful, I’m reminded of how God looks upon me in similar moments and loves me no less. To imagine that His love for us is infinitely more complete than my love for Ben is just hard to swallow.

Enjoy this little timeline of B’s life.

 

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Caroline Davis Mitchell DOB: 4/14/14

After a trip to the ER for an unrelated illness and a couple of nights contracting, Lindsey was able to deliver baby Caroline safely on Monday at 2:17pm.

Caroline is still in the warmer in an attempt to help her regulate body temperature. She is also jaundiced, so that’s something else that needs to improve. Momma is doing okay but is obviously saddened that she can’t hold her newest love. We covet your prayers for Caroline and Lindsey.

Below are a few pictures, courtesy of Honey and Hay Photography.

 

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April 16, 2014 · 11:10 am

When Bible Reading Is a Temptation of the Devil

The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel. 

These are the words, once again, of C.S. Lewis’ imagined devil, Screwtape. I say imagined, but this devil seems real enough. In the line above, he is the young Christian being tempted by Screwtape’s protege Wormwood. The man is experiencing feelings of repentance, but the key, says Screwtape, is preventing him from acting on those feelings.

What good, after all, are feelings if not acted upon? I may have ‘feelings’ of love towards Lindsey, but what good are those feelings if never translated into action? This is Screwtape’s [Lewis'] point. So I read that line and immediately thought about areas of my life in which I often have feelings but rarely act. These are my confessions…

1. I feel bad about not being in shape–not eating healthy, not exercising regularly, not lifting regularly. I’ve always had body image issues, at least from the time I was old enough to be aware (10 maybe). I’ve dreaded summertime for 20 years.

The darkest season was after I got married and hit 225lbs…It’s true that muscle weighs more than fat, which means I had a lot of fat because it wasn’t muscle. Lindsey spoke in love and truth: “I love you. You’re fat.” It was the best thing she could’ve said. No tip-toeing around. No false flattery. And I love her for doing that.

We moved to California and I started running. I. Hate. Running. But I lost 40lbs and learned to tolerate it. I still wasn’t happy with how I looked, but it was progress.

And then…

We started getting pregnant, though it was mostly Lindsey getting pregnant. As a loving and supportive husband, it is my duty to eat what Lindsey craves. So as her belly expanded with one baby and then a second and now a third, mine did/is too. So it’s time again to put some doing to my feeling.

2. I feel guilty over how much money we spend eating out, whether fast food or sit down (though sit down is like torture with two kids 2 and under). We talk about the possibility of adopting a child, but we don’t even support a child through something like Compassion International. Yet, we spend two kids worth of sponsor money on convenient, unhealthy food each month. When will the feeling turn into acting? When does conviction bring a change?

Some would call me a fundamentalist for believing in a literal devil, aka Satan. But I’d call them something in return…in love, of course. But I believe because I sense the attacks and temptations.

When I get up at 5am to workout, the temptation is framed this way: “You can run tonight when the kids go down [no way that's happening] or just take the day off and run tomorrow. You should read your Bible instead. That’s the holy thing to do.” What the what?!? Did I just get tempted to not act on my feelings with Bible reading of all things?

There’s great satisfaction in hell when you or I feel the need to make a change or take a chance and don’t do anything about it.

So what are you feeling?

 

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Tempted and Triumphant

There are a good number of well-intentioned, good-hearted folks who were raised to think that anything in a church that looks, smells, or hints of anything Catholic is, well, of the devil. It’s not Christian for sure.

I don’t think I was raised that way per se, but I caught enough of that sentiment to believe it up to a certain point in my life. Fortunately, though, I had caring and thoughtful models in the faith who showed me the other side of the proverbial Catholic/Protestant coin. There is much to be grateful for as a Protestant. We stand on the shoulders of the Catholic Church after all.

One of the things I appreciate now is the Church calendar. I know it’s not particular to the Catholic Church, but certainly her influence is felt to this day when talking of any liturgical community. And now, in the season of Lent, I find myself looking down that long corridor of ecclesiastical history. There is such connectedness with the Church catholic (universal) if one will enter through the various doors of that corridor.

In particular, as I begin a series on encounters with Jesus, I look to Jesus’ wilderness testing in which he fasts for…wait for it….40 days and nights.

There are hundreds of sermons one could preach from Matthew 4:1-11, but I preached about the types of temptations Jesus faced.

1. Self-sufficiency (3-4)

2. Self-image (5-7)

3. Self-glorification (8-11)

I exposited my little heart out. Since I’m an evangelical Protestant, I also felt compelled to make a “personal application.” If you sense the muffled ire, you know me well.

But I really believe in this application and find it helpful in this Lenten season. From Matthew 4 I looked to Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  (16)  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

More often than not, I find myself in need. I find myself failing and flailing. As we draw near to the throne this season, may we remember that Jesus’ temptation was/is our temptation. Accordingly, we have a Savior who walks through the fire with us. When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you...

Thanks be to God.

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To All the Pro-Lifers

I’ve said in conversation and from the pulpit that there’s more to being pro-life than opposing abortion. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Watch this video and then continue reading below.

Why bother getting children born if we aren’t going to help them survive and thrive?

I say this because once a child is born, is it not our responsibility to try to give them a good, fair shot at life? What about foster children? Don’t they deserve to be loved and cared for? What about orphans? Shouldn’t they be adopted? What about the parents who, for any variety of reasons, aren’t able to feed or clothe their children? Shouldn’t they be fed and clothed?

Being pro-life, it turns out, is far more expansive than we may have considered. It includes helping those who are at a disadvantage due to societal structures. It includes sacrificing my standard of living in order to bring others up to anything that resembles a standard of living. It means giving voice to the disenfranchised and dismissed. As best I can tell, that’s what Jesus did.

So whether you’re Republican or Democrat or Tea Party or Anarchist or don’t know what any of those terms mean, can we not agree that loving others means coming to their aid and providing the best possible chance for gaining a foothold in this life?

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The PR’s of the Peace of God

If you’ve been around the church or Christians long enough, you’ve heard someone pray, “Lord, just grant them a peace that passes understanding.”

By all means, this is a rather innocuous prayer. That is, you won’t upset many people by praying it. But what does it mean? What are you really praying?

We often pray it when circumstances are uncertain or answers are lacking. I’ve thought so many times that knowing why something was happening would make it easier to handle, but I don’t think that is true. Knowing why would only make me ask the follow up–then why this way? Why not another way?

So when we seek peace better than understanding, we aren’t seeking peace THROUGH understanding. This peace dwarfs understanding.

Philippians 4:4-9 provides two PR’s of this peace, specifically, how one experiences it.

1. PRayer: v.6 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Tell God what you want, what you hope for, and do it with a spirit of thanksgiving for what He’s done and will do.

2. PRactice: vv.4-5 and 8-9. I won’t type it all out, but v.9 is important. “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Don’t just listen. Don’t just learn. Don’t just watch. Do it. Get out in your life and live what you’re learning and hearing and seeing. Live your way into the peace of God.

These are two action steps for you if you’re in a season of uncertainty or desire clarity. Pray–seek God and talk to Him and listen. Practice–do what you ARE sure of rather than getting bogged down in what you aren’t sure of.

God be with you.

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I Love/Hate East Tennessee #Truth

If you’re pressed for time, skip down to the emboldened portion. If not, enjoy!

A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all–and more amusing.” Screwtape.

Religion here is read [Christianity]. “Us” are the devils of hell.

The elder devil is working with his protégé on how to benefit while a targeted person is in the troughs of the religious life. Get the person to see that his excitement in the beginning of his spiritual journey was a bit excessive. Moderation in all things is a better motto by which to live.

So you’re reading this and you’ve failed. You’ve faltered.

Go ahead and resort to a passive, tepid, pedestrian version of the religion we call Christianity.

Certainly Jesus didn’t really mean that mess about taking up a cross and following Him.

He didn’t mean that impractical banter about loving enemies and caring for the poor.

What Jesus meant was [please read with heavy sarcasm and righteous indignation], “Be really comfortable in your respective social class–unless you’re lower class, then you must strive for the middle, and if you’re middle–be jealous of the upper! Be sort of nice to your enemies, but loving them is really unnecessary in this day of modern warfare. Care for the poor when your church provides the opportunity to do so, but don’t get crazy. After all, God ONLY wants 10% of what you make to go the church. What a deal! You get to keep 90% of your money and still get into heaven, which is better than the alternative. Love your spouse as long as it’s convenient and doesn’t make life too difficult for you. And don’t forget to vote Republican.”

These are coming from a dark place in my ever-reforming soul. But when I read C.S. Lewis’ devilish advice to direct people towards “a moderated religion,” the above is what comes to mind. And it’s what I see all around.

Granted, I’m in east Tennessee, the land that I love. But it’s a love/hate relationship. The radicality of the gospel and the mission of the church should sound like a muzzle-loader going off next to people’s ears. But it’s silenced by the status quo of culture and religion.

As long as you follow the bold barrage of sarcasm above, you will fit in just fine here.

Even now, I can imagine Jesus walking into our church service and instead of overturning tables he’s flipping pews, people and all. And then he tosses me off the stage and smashes a guitar and says, “I meant what I said.”

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