[RadCast] Why Jesus is the Greatest Gift (1 Timothy 1:15-17)

He doesn’t just rescue us from sin — he becomes our leader eternal, uncorrupted and unseen, rivaled but unmatched! No wonder we give him the glory at Christmas!

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RadCast – Patience

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Social Security & Horseplay

I have Social Security rolling around in my head right now and it won’t leave the premises of my mind, like a fly that keeps buzzing around the house whose microscopic brain and irritating stealth keeps me from crushing it. There’s nothing like sending a housefly to insect purgatory so that it can pay for landing on poop and then landing on my pie. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18), which gives me some hope as we try our best to keep the flies away and jump through the hoops of government.

If you’ve ever wondered what your tax dollars help pay for, it’s this: printing endless pamphlets about overly complex systems designed to make it difficult for a person to get needed help from a program designed to help them. Though I’m grateful to Franklin D. Roosevelt for creating a government program that provides economic security for the needy, I do find it frustrating that giving a hearty “yes” seems to be the last option for every intended beneficiary.

I soothe myself by remembering that most rules are in place because someone attempted to go beyond the intended purpose. Grandpa had step ladders so old they didn’t have a warning sticker on them about not using the top shelf as a step, and McDonalds once sold coffee in cups that didn’t have threats about hot coffee being hot. The reason hotel pools say “no horseplay” is because people like me wanted to run around and do summersaults into the shallow end — its either that or because someone actually brought their horse into the Holiday Inn. At any rate, there’s usually a story behind every rule, every form, every requirement. It couldn’t possibly be just for the sake of making things difficult for families that are already in a difficult spot, right?

I don’t mean to complain. Lexi, whose Down Syndrome and Autism make living alone, let alone having a job, completely impossible, will get benefits. For this I’m thankful. It’s due to my wife being a passionate fighter who doesn’t give up and will brilliantly keep two steps ahead of Uncle Sam. Lexi is fortunate to have her in her corner, but not everyone has a Brittany like I do.

We sat in a cold government waiting room with a plethora of other folks, stared down by the security guard lest anyone approach the window before their time. I imagine a few people have lost their composure while standing at the glass partition, an agent looking back at them to tell them they need yet more paperwork as 5×8 portraits of the President and Vice President looking down upon all of us. I had to wonder if they were posted near the ceiling because so many people had ripped them down through the years.

I used to teach a nonprofit management class. In every session, I would remind students that most of the charitable organizations we know today were founded by the church in the 1800s and early 1900s. Hospitals and schools exist in large part because followers of Christ saw that something needed to be done. Years have passed and most organizations have changed hands and modified their missions, but the calling of the church to stand in the gap remains strong and always will, because people will always be in need in a way that government simply can’t fix.

There are a few things you can do to help. First, keep the special needs population on your radar. They are easily ignored and conveniently forgotten more often than not. You can’t fix everything, but you can help a family in need. We’ve benefitted from countless blessings, given by people who saw the issue and took it seriously enough to make an impact. I’ll never forget how the church I pastored put a group of people together to build a bedroom just for Lexi, or the folks who helped pay for respite care through the years. Every time a casserole shows up, it’s one less thing for a family with their hands full to worry about for an hour or two. When people give to projects like Hope Farm, it bridges the gap between need and reality. You’d think we’d have plenty of places for folks with special needs to live and thrive, but no — it’s a long, long line to get placed in a group home. What does it look like when parents with special needs band together to do what needs to be done? Hope Farm is just one example, and we couldn’t do it without you.

Our friend Jess writes about the struggles of 24/7 caregivers and does a fantastic job of raising awareness. I’ve said before that I was oblivious before Lexi came into our world. In many ways, I still am, as my oblivion is destroyed by harsh reality: there’s a system, yes, but it’s about 7,000 times overloaded beyond capacity. For a nation that seems to have a solution for everything, it’s a punch in the gut to find out that what you thought was there — even what you were told — doesn’t actually exist without an uphill battle.

As I write this, our family is benefitting from a nonprofit horse ranch that focuses on kids who have experienced trauma. Horses, pigs, goats, and an overly friendly cat live here, surrounded by volunteers who help the kids do basic chores. Cam loves it. We see the positive effect in droves. If they didn’t have corporate sponsorship, individual donors, and annual fundraisers, this place simply wouldn’t exist. We just added a bunch of empty pop cans to their year-round recycling drive, which might pay for a horse to eat for a week, depending on how full the trailer gets this time. Every little bit helps.

Speaking of horseplay, here comes Cam in his muck boots and farm coat, a huge smile on his face. Whatever they do here works, and there’s little chance that a government bureaucracy could accomplish the same. Even a robust social program funded by the taxpayer can’t cover all the needs of our broken world.

Where would we be without basic generosity?

We must teach generosity to our kids and celebrate when people give. We have to communicate the need without sounding pushy or desperate, thought that can’t help but come through from time to time. Most of us are in over our heads here.

Thanks for reading, for praying, for listening, for paying attention, and for your generosity. We are grateful.

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Incarnation – No Longer Alone

“Every year we celebrate the holy season of Advent, O God. Every year we pray those beautiful prayers of longing and waiting, and sing those lovely songs of hope and promise. Every year we roll up all our needs and yearnings and faithful expectation into one word: “Come!” And yet, what a strange prayer this is! After all, you have already come and pitched your tent among us. You have already shared our life with its little joys, its long days of tedious routine, its bitter end. Could we invite you to anything more than this with our “Come”? Could you approach any nearer to us than you did when you became the “Son of Man”? In spite of all this we still pray: “Come.”

-Karl Rahner

Yesterday I was working with a pastor friend on their next sermon, focused on the incarnation. Been thinking about it ever since.

We need people in our lives. When a big life event happens, we naturally want to tell our friends. The same thing happens when tragedy strikes. If you’re old enough to remember 9/11, you’ll recall that we all found each other. Friends mark themselves safe during hurricanes and earthquakes. And, in my experience as a pastor, nobody wants to be alone when they die.

We need each other. Even the most introverted among us needs human contact from time to time. It’s how God created us to be.

In a sheer stroke of irony, social media has connected AND distanced us. Families torn apart because we feel like we can’t associate with certain others because we now know too much about their views. Insta and FB provide imbalanced intimacy at best.

And yet… here comes the Messiah. Messy, noisy, and high maintenance — like all babies are. It was a seemingly innocuous way to enter our world and save us. I couldn’t relate to a conquering hero who knows nothing of my struggles as a regular guy trudging and bouncing through the ups and downs of life but I can relate to a fully human, needy, and unassuming baby/child/man. His humanity disarms us, but his divinity is impossible to ignore. He is the Son of God, the word made flesh. The Savior has come, miraculously, to be with us.

Trudge and hop through life, but know you’re no longer alone. Someone has humbled himself and come along for the journey, knowing that our greatest need is someone else. It’s Him. It’s Jesus.

The question stands: is He invited?

Come, Lord Jesus.

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Homework and the Apparent Uselessness of Math

As I write this, Carter and Zac are sitting at the kitchen table working on math homework. Like his father, Carter is very very good at math. Conversely, like his father, Zac is not very good at math. I did okay with most subjects in school, except for 7th and 8th grade, when every class bottomed out for me academically. I had to begrudgingly ask each of my teachers fill out a progress report every Friday. I missed the bus a few times because my 7th hour ComputersII teacher made me wait until he was done making copies on the mimeograph before signing the form. These days, parents can log in and look at their kids grades, absences, missing assignments, and teacher comments. It won’t be long before we can find out how many times our kid blinked during the Virtual Reality headset lecture on the ancient technology of cavemen who used first generation iPhones.

It’s fun to hear my boys — “The Brothers” (as Cam calls them) — work on graphing skills and quadratic equations while I brew another pot of strong decaf coffee. I don’t have the courage to tell them that they will likely never use these skills in the real world, though I regularly present the age-old Dad lecture about school as the path to success. The objective is to prove you can jump through the hoop and move on to the next stage. I would chart a graph of the future practicality of this particular math unit that Zac is working through, but I don’t remember how. This is because I haven’t done a single quadratic equation since my 11th grade Algebra class. The only thing I retained from Algebra is X equals D minus.

I see Zac is experiencing the same frustrations in math class that I did. The Kahn Academy videos are poorly translated, and YouTube keeps crowding teaching videos with 20 HILARIOUS CAT FAILS – TRY NOT TO SMILE! According to the video description, the last one had them ROARING with LAUGHTER!! Laughing/Crying emoji, etc.

As a Xennial (born between 1977 and 1985, though I can’t remember precisely when), I look at the crying emoji and recall a simpler time when we typed ROTFL, which never actually happened and certainly doesn’t happen now, because such a demanding physical act would certainly tear an important ligament that took a beating in the 1990’s because we insisted on jumping from great heights and wearing Reebok Pumps which offered no orthotic support. Our knees didn’t hurt then like they do now.

It seems to me that we’re due for an overhaul of our current education system. You’ve seen the memes: let’s teach less calculus and more personal investing. A few years back, I was in a meeting with decision makers at my alma mater, and this very issue came up. The question was asked: what if, instead of requiring our students slog through a generic math credit to graduate, we had them take a class on financial management and thus fulfill their academic requirement AND be able to do their own taxes? I have to wonder if there would be a correlation between college freshmen discovering the scoop on compound interest and plummeting student loans. Yet we rage on with our quadratic equations, which never comes up on a 1040. And, if it does, you need to hire an accountant. Hopefully they were a math major.

See? I’m not saying that math is useless. Far from it! It’s just that people like me aren’t good at it and probably never will be. Teach me the basics: show me addition/subtraction/multiplication/division. Help me figure out how much carpet to buy in square feet. Equip me to do fractions when we’re doubling a pancake recipe. Also, please give me pancakes. But save the higher end stuff for the higher end students. Let me read a book and write a haiku. Let me build a house and try to get the pitch of the roof just right. Teach me pharmacology so that I know not to take Tylenol and Motrin at the same time. Walk me through history so we don’t make the same mistakes. Give me the best philosophers to not only read but slog through, because it’s in the slog that we are forced to really understand their worldview and, as a result, better understand ourselves.

Most of all, give me an identity beyond social media. Help me figure out who I am, why I exist, and what a good life looks like. Answer the eternal questions. Reveal and discuss the hard questions until we’re both confused yet enlightened. For me, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only theological construct that, I believe, answers all the questions with the integrity to acknowledge that there’s still a good dose of mystery involved.

The good thing about students learning a subject they’ll never use again is the stretching of their young, plastic brains. Even if you don’t value what you’re learning, the very act of trying to comprehend the unknown will expand your mind. Students are, in essence, learning how to learn. I don’t remember all the presidents, but at least I don’t have to google to find out who’s in the White House now — even though the current guy might have to.

Carry on, my sons, and struggle through the unknown. Yes, jump through the hoops. You may have a grand life plan and vision board, but I can attest that plans change in a way that is beyond your control, and certainly beyond your desire. We don’t know what the future holds, a truth that seems to be even more concentrated as culture now develops at a dizzying pace. Make your graphs, don’t complain too much, and learn how to learn. Press on. Grow.

Maybe the future is nothing but graphs. We won’t tweet: we’ll graph. Perhaps the math geniuses will rule the world. If so, I’d better watch those videos. Of cats.

The only part I truly understand is the pen.

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Thanksgiving 2022

It’s Thanksgiving 2022. How’s your food prep going? What’s the pie plan? Are you deep frying the bird? Your place or somewhere else? Lions fan? Weekend plans? I’m really looking forward to TG22 in our cozy place, surrounded by family and friends.

Some people simply don’t like Thanksgiving due to some unfortunate historical events that lead to the US as we know it today. Others dislike the gluttony of it, as if we’re not like that all year ’round. As for me, I could eat Pumpkin pie every day of my life, as long as there’s a copious stack of whipped cream atop that beautiful triangle. Pumpkin pie without whipped cream is an affront to the created order of Thanksgiving. Have you tried Pumpkin Pie without whipped cream? It’s like eating vitamins. Mashed potatoes have gravy, the Detroit Lions have losing, and Pumpkin Pie has whipped cream, followed by regret. Did I really just eat that much pie?

Pumpkin pie without whipped cream disappoints even the jolliest Grandma. The Lions playing on Thanksgiving tends to disappoint, but maybe not this year. It’s a new regime.

I wonder if some folks dislike Thanksgiving because it brings up bad memories and/or reminds them of what they wish they had but don’t. The last few Thanksgivings were like that for me. I was in a bad spot, not by my own doing, but by the powers of addiction and the resulting destruction of my family. It became commonplace to ignore the fact that she was high, pretending to be normal, which may be the most dysfunctional thing I could’ve done. For the sake of protecting my kids, I’d carry on in the prescribed manner, eliminating as much of the disaster as I could from their young eyes. All holidays became a balancing act between managing a strung-out adult while making a place for happy memories for the kids. It was like blowing bubbles with one hand for the kids while simultaneously extinguishing a fire with the other hand.

They say that you don’t know you’re in the good old days until after you’ve left them. I’ve discovered that you don’t know you’re in the bad old days until after you’ve left them, too. Living with an addict is dreadful, but you don’t realize how dreadful it is until you’re in a new phase of life, as I am now.

I don’t even remember what we did for Thanksgiving a few years ago. I have to strain my brain to remember a “normal” holiday from the distant past. Recently it came to me: I didn’t like Thanksgiving — or any of the other big family days — because it was always an even higher level of crisis than usual. Addiction is a disaster that causes disaster. Yes, there is help and hope, but the addict has to accept it. It never happened. So, I’d just kept eating Pumpkin Pie and watching the Lions lose, proving to my kids that it was okay and that it was going to be ok. This is survival mode: something is obviously wrong and not getting better, but it’s out of your control, so you press on. “It’s fine.”

That’s really what Pumpkin Pie without whipped cream is like. “It’s fine.”

No, it’s not.

Tomorrow I’ll celebrate Thanksgiving like never before, with five kids at the table instead of three, and a wife/partner/soulmate/lover who I will join in making Thanksgiving what it’s meant to be: a time of giving thanks, being with family, counting our blessings, and Pumpkin Pie.

Both Mac and Zac said that this will be our first normal/good/exciting holiday in 7 years. It hasn’t been like this in a long, long time.

Today I’m thankful for my wife, my kids, and a new era of life that gloriously reflects the grace of God in the healing and redemption of a really screwed up situation. I can’t even put words to it, but I thought I’d try.

May you be blessed this Holiday season. May you recognize that God is with you, whether you’re feeling it or not. May you come to the realization that situations, no matter how wonderful or tragic, don’t have power over our choice to trust Jesus in all things. He will work it out, though I don’t know how. I know this: we’d be lost without Him and remarkably incomplete, like Pumpkin Pie without whipped cream.

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Britt’s Dad

The first thing I noticed about Dave, besides his Corvette jacket and bald head atop a tall frame, was that he was a very quiet man. It was a comfortable quiet, the kind of midwestern calm that doesn’t feel the need to occupy the silence. He and his wife Beth were at ease, saying hi to Brittany and the kids and simply catching up on life. Papa Dave was well known and loved by Britt and her kids, and I was just on the scene, ready to meet the dad who helped raise my wife into the woman she is now.

I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I think it had to do with their fifth wheel in Florida. They spent winters there, which made me jealous with a smily face, as I had met yet another who found a way to beat Michigan winters — by annually leaving them. Once the conversation turns to weather, especially Michigan weather, you have plenty to talk about.

Brittany loved her dad. Sure, he’s officially her “step dad”, but we know that it’s not a blood line that makes a father. It’s presence, stability, direction, and love. Dave provided this for Britt and her siblings. A quiet, gentle giant, he had the biggest heart. His presence in the room got everyone’s attention. It was the comfort and safety a quiet observer brings.

Although we talked only twice — once about corvettes, the weather, and having the same haircut, and once at our wedding, which is a blur — I knew Dave to be a good man.

A good man suddenly passed away this week. We got the call at 4:30am. Nobody wants the phone to ring at 4:30am. It was unexpected and heartbreaking. Suddenly we’re putting together a memorial service. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Dave better through Brittany, her siblings, his wife, and his kids. I have the pastoral responsibility for this one. As I write, a group text between family members keeps dinging with funny stories and fond memories. This is healing. This is good.

You know what I’m going to say because I say it often: every day is a gift. Don’t take people for granted. Love the ones around you and plan on it being different in the future. We have no idea what’s next, but we do have each other.

A good man suddenly passed away.

Thank you, Dave, for being the gentle giant who helped raise my wife. The impact is obvious. I’ll hug her tight tonight because she misses you greatly.

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Wind, the Teacher

Yesterday I was way too interested in watching a bunch of garbage blow around in the strong wind moving through our back yard. Amid the fudge pop wrappers and flattened Amazon boxes, my attention was caught by a couple of cereal boxes, neatly collapsed for the recycle bin whose hatch was blown wide open by gusts beyond the design specs. And there he was: the Honey Nut Cheerios bee (Buzz Bee) flying free past our swing set and into the field out back. Fly free, deadly marketing creature.

It made me think about the imagery of wind used throughout scripture. Wind is a fascinating phenomenon. Created by God, wind is the charged adjustment of weather systems as they work their way across the globe. Wind brings with it new temperatures, puffy clouds, and the occasional strong storm. Wind always accompanies change. Wind is a byproduct of change. OR wind is a generator of change. Either way (was the chicken or the egg first?)* the two go hand in hand.

There are three different spots in the bible where wind shows up as the teacher of a deeper truth: The Ark, The Ask, and The Action.

You may know the story of Noah and the Ark. Huge flood, old guy Noah builds a big boat, animals load up, destruction follows, rescue and rainbow. The waters covered the earth to a level that the people and land animals couldn’t ignore (most of the fish were fine with it). Just about the time Noah and the animals wondered if the water would ever recede, we read in Genesis 8:1 that “God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.” The Ark gives us our first reminder: the wind of God does the work of God.

God is at work in our world, whether we realize it or not. Most of the time, wind goes largely unnoticed by me. I didn’t think about it being windy last week, but I sure did notice that all the leaves in the lawn. It wasn’t an earthquake that dropped those leaves — it was the mostly unnoticed yet remarkably effective wind. In our world, we may not detect that God is at work, but we can detect the effects of his work all around us. In every moment of healing, in every answered prayer, in every mysterious peace that covers a difficult situation like a warm blanket… these testify to the work of God — perhaps undetected, but certainly effective.

Our world is looking everywhere for some kind of wisdom, usually masquerading as life hacks and self improvement posts. My Instagram feed includes some guy who dispenses helpful advice about boundaries, trauma, and relationship issues. His tone is warm, his hands usually have a mug of tea, and his eyebrows are like friendly caterpillars inviting you into his world. Human beings are knowledge and wisdom sponges. We are desperate for something to help us find our way. Where did I come from? Why do I exist? What am I supposed to do? In our search for direction, we find all different flavors of wisdom, some godly and some not, and do our best to press on without getting cancelled or giving up entirely. Life is not easy.

God knows we need wisdom, and so he offers it in abundance, ready to be dispensed upon the ask. Need wisdom? Just ask! However, as James says… “But when you ask (for godly wisdom), you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). God’s wisdom comes with a disclaimer, not unlike a software agreement that we might mindlessly check off on the way to a new app. When we ask, believe that you’ll get what you’re asking for. Why is this? Probably because it will sound absolutely insane compared to the way of the world. Of course we should ask! But when we ask, we must believe. Otherwise — and here is the wind to teach us — we will be like a wave of the sea, pointlessly tossed about. The wisdom of God, freely available and most effective when combined with authentic faith, puts purpose to our otherwise pointless lives.

When Jesus Christ walked the earth, he spoke regularly about the Kingdom of God — a kingdom of healing, wisdom, grace, love, and truth. Not only did he reveal God the Father to us, he also helped us understand the work of the Holy Spirit. He used the mysterious power of the wind to help us understand what it means to be born again. We are born of the Spirit and find ourselves suddenly moved by a force that moves us in mysterious ways. The Christ-centered life is a life fueled by the wind of the Spirit. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Jesus said:

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

The stack we’ve built is intentional. Remember that God gets work done with wind, as seen in the story of the Ark. Remember that wisdom is readily available when we ask, BUT our faith has to be strong enough that we believe, otherwise we’ll be tossed about in the wind (like garbage in my back yard). Remember that the Spirit of God IN us means that we are powered by this wind: moving forward, walking wisely, and moving toward the Kingdom of God.

Windy days have much to teach us. So, let me ask you: are you aware that God is at work? Are you asking for wisdom and believing you’ve got it? Are you filled with the mysterious wind of the Spirit?

Thankfully Mac went out and re-threw away the cardboard boxes. Branches are blown down and someone online said that they suddenly have a barbecue grill cover in their yard (and no grill). Wind is powerful. May we become more like Jesus every day… for there is much to be done.

*I bet it was the chicken. Why would God create an egg for Adam & Eve to sit on?

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Da doot doot doo…

I heard my Grandma June’s voice this morning coming out of my own mouth and it scared me a little. Zac was dragging himself out of bed, angling for a sick day. All the Middle School symptoms were presented: headache, sore throat, and body aches. It’s a good strategy, naming multiple symptoms that can’t quite be measured. He was just a few steps from putting the thermometer on the hot light bulb, which doesn’t work because LED bulbs put off very little heat. Back when bulbs were glass spheres of incandescent heat, and thermometers were full of deadly mercury, I’d pull that trick and give myself a 109 degree fever. It took me a time or two to realize that this is the temperature of human lava, demanding MUCH more invasive medical attention than saying “ahhhhh”.

This morning Grandma said, “Zac, your best bet is to just get out of bed and pushing through the day. You’ll feel much better before long.” I didn’t mean to do that, it just came out, probably because I heard it 39 times during my 8th grade year. She was usually right. I’d come home after school, bounce to the kitchen, eat patty-shaped processed chicken product fresh from the microwave, then head straight for the Brothers Mario.

I teach my Communication students that most of our communication skills were acquired by the time we were 12 or so, shaped mostly by how our family interacted. We spend the first dozen years learning how to communicate, then spend the rest of our lives learning again (and again and again) how to communicate better. Relational dysfunction, cultural expectations, social behavior — it’s your parents/grandparents/guardians.

I was ok. He’ll be ok, too. I didn’t mean to mimic the voice of Ardith June, but it was bound to happen at some point. Admittedly, it came in handy today.

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