Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And so it ends . . . .

New Year's Eve. A time for reflections about the past year and preparation for the New Year. I may do that in another post in the near future, but the title of this post does not refer to the end of the calendar year.

Today is the last day that my law firm - Ross, Dixon & Bell, LLP - will exist. We will be closed for the holiday and over the weekend and will reopen on Monday morning as Troutman Sanders. We will have new computers, be on a new network, have new signs in the elevator lobbies, and I will have hundreds of new partners. Later in the month we will all move across town into the existing Troutman Sanders office space. While there is a lot to look forward to in this transition, today is a day of reflection. A lot of my colleagues are sending emails to everyone expressing their thoughts, but after a while it becomes hard to say it differently without completely violating the socially acceptable limits on the length of an email. So, I turn here, despite the fact that it is unlikely that any of them will read this.

Ross, Dixon & Masback was formed 25 years ago when a few people left another Washington, DC firm to do something different. I did not join the firm until 1997, after practicing with another firm for over three years. By that time, Skip Masback, one of the founders, had heard his calling and left the practice of law to become a preacher. I have met Skip a few times, but I can't say that I really know him.

I have told the story of my decision to join RDM to a lot of recruits over the years. I had decided to leave my old firm and had a lot of interviews with firms in DC. But, the interview at RDM was different. It wasn't just that the first attorney I met with was wearing jeans, on a Tuesday, allegedly because it "looked like it may rain." It wasn't just that one of the senior partners never took his feet off of his desk and ended the interview after ten minutes saying "I've decided that you should get an offer, so why don't we get you to someone else that may want more time." It wasn't just that when I was introduced to Stu Ross in the hallway, he suddenly ran back into his office to put on his shoes and then came back out and said "I can't really meet someone without my shoes on." It wasn't just that another partner instead of asking me about my legal experience and law school asked me about my worst ever summer job and said he was interested in finding people that "got it." It was everything. It was the way that people interacted. It was the way that people were talking to secretaries and paralegals and the folks in the mail room. It was an overall feeling. I remember telling Tracy after the interview - "I really hope that I get an offer."

It turned out that what I experienced during that interview was real. There have definitely been ups and downs over the past 11+ years, but what made it special was the relationships that we have with one another. In trying to explain the atmosphere, I used to tell new attorneys - "I think it would be safer to walk into Stu's office and tell him off than it would be to raise your voice to or mistreat Shirley Banks [our former housekeeper, who sadly died in 2003]." In the time that I have been here, although we have generally stayed at around 50 attorneys in DC, 25 partners and 70 other attorneys associated with the DC office have come and gone. What is amazing is that most have left on very good terms and I think would say that they are better for the time that they spent at the firm. There were many marriages and births. And, sadly, a few deaths.

This firm, first RDM and now Ross, Dixon & Bell, has supported me through some of my darkest personal times (e.g., our first miscarriage) and through some of my brightest days. It has given me opportunities that I almost certainly never would have experienced anywhere else (e.g., the chance to take three months off in 2007) and supported my involvement in community service and missions work (e.g., the partners largely funding the costs associated with taking a 12 person team to Waveland, Mississippi shortly after Katrina). Though the people here are of many different faiths, I think it is very fair to say that we have attempted to heed the advice found in Galatians 6:2 "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

Ultimately, for better or for worse (you can be the judge of that), I am who I am - both as a lawyer and as a person - in part because of this firm. Other than Tracy, my family, and a few friends growing up and some from college, I haven't been associated with anyone or anything for longer than the almost twelve years that I have been part of this firm.

So, today is sad. But, it is really only the institution that is going away. Most (though to my very deep regret not all) of the people are still going to be together. A special place may be going away, but what really made it special is moving on and there is no reason that we can't do the same thing (on an even larger scale) as part of Troutman Sanders.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Finally, it comes to an end. Life can begin its return to "normal." The non-stop gift receiving extravaganza that my kids have been on since Christmas eve has come to an end. Seriously - five days of being somewhere or with someone that involved the kids receiving gifts. I feel sorry for Tracy who has to deal with the kids today on this first day in so long that will not involve ripping open packages and seeing what gets added to their bounty. I got to escape to the relative sanity of the office, where it will be very quiet this week with so many people out.

I, too, have received a lot of great gifts over the past few days - things that I will enjoy very much. But, in reflecting on this Christmas season, I think that what I will remember (or at least what I hope that I will remember) is the reminder of the love and importance of friends. I am very, very blessed to be able to honestly say that my wife is my best friend in the world - the person that I most want to share everything with. I take that for granted all too often.

Through the tragedy of Jean's murder, I also have had the chance to see and talk to some of my best friends from growing up (elementary, middle and high school). People that I lost touch with for no real reason. People that were very important parts of my life for a long time. What I found most amazing was how easy it was to be with them, how comfortable, how honest to share a loving hug and support one another. Proverbs 17:17 says "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." It was true - that love, that I didn't even know was love at the time, was still there.

I also had sincere, heartfelt expressions of support and love from friends that I have only come to know in the past several years - friends that didn't even know that I knew Jean.

There is another passage from Proverbs that says:

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."

Proverbs 18:24 (NIV). I was reminded of that this Christmas season. Friends are not the same as companions. Friends are not just temporary. Friends aren't just there for the parties and the good times. Friends don't stop being friends just because they don't see or talk to each other for a long time. Friends love at all times and stick closer than a brother. Friends are a gift from God.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What is Christmas All About?

I'm not sure there is any greater moment in a Christmas special than the moment when Charlie Brown asks this question and Linus, drawing on Luke 2:8-14, provides the answer:

Charlie Brown: I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about.

[shouting in desperation]

Charlie Brown: Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.

[moves toward the center of the stage]

Linus Van Pelt: Lights, please.

[a spotlight shines on Linus]

Linus Van Pelt: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

[Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown]

Linus Van Pelt: That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Charles M. Schulz, 1965) (with thanks to IMDb where I found the quotes)

Let every heart prepare Him room

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Luke 2:4-7 (NIV)

Trying to get ready for Christmas, I read these words last week. A lot has been made about the simple, humble beginning of Christ's time here on earth. The fact that the Savior of the World was placed in a manager. Born out back in the barn.

Beyond that image, even the way the whole event is relayed stresses the simplicity. First (at least as far as I can tell), Luke is the only Biblical author who really talks about the birth. Matthew tells us about the angel visiting Joseph, mentions that the child was born and named Jesus, and then picks up with the visit of the magi. Mark skips right to John the Baptist baptizing in the desert region and Jesus being baptized in the Jordan. John basically starts at the same point. I find it fascinating that the details surrounding this world changing event that we celebrate tomorrow are not more widely reported.

Past that, the images that Luke shares are straightforward - "she gave birth to her firstborn, a son." That's it. To the point. No "and so the son of God was brought into this world"; no "and so the salvation of all who believe began"; "no "and thus everything was changed forever."

The simplicity, when viewed in contrast to the hustle and bustle, run from one place to the next, have to bake dozens of cookies, stressful time of year that we have turned it into, really speaks to me.

But, what I have thought about the most since reading those words is the last phrase "because there was no room for them in the inn." Thinking about the opportunity that I have every day (but most particularly tomorrow) to celebrate the coming of Christ, thinking about the opportunities that I have to welcome Him into my heart, and thinking about how many times I essentially say – “sorry, there is no room.” Thinking about how many times I relegate Him to a small corner of my heart, like the barn out back. The story of the birth of Jesus is interesting and powerful when viewed solely as an account of historical events. It is much more sobering and difficult when viewed as an account of current events.

So, as the carol says, “let every heart prepare Him room.” Let’s not push Jesus out back, or into a corner of our hearts. Let’s not tell Him that there is no room in the inn. As we celebrate His birth anew, let’s change that. Make all the room that we can. Open our hearts fully to Him and warmly invite Him in. Today, tomorrow and every day after that.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Personal Comfort

Still trying to process thoughts, feelings, memories, etc. about my friend Jean and her son Jim. Not really knowing what to do, I pulled out my Bible this morning and started reading passages about death and what it means. I know that Jesus' resurrection secured victory over the grave for His followers, but I wanted more.

Two passages in particular spoke to me this morning.

"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. . . . For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

1 Corinthians 15:12-13; 16-22 (NIV)

While I know it is the case, I find the reminder helpful, particularly right now. A belief and a relationship with Christ is eternal. If it were only for this life, it would be an artificial and temporary thing. "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." Instead, though, it is a relationship and a love that lasts beyond death in this life and into eternal life. "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

"Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. . . . Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." 2 Corinthians 5:1; 6-8 (NIV)

Again, no deep analysis, I just draw comfort from these words and the image of our temporary tent here on earth compared to our eternal house with the Lord in heaven. I'm pleased to know that my friend is in that place. While there is still a lot of struggling to be done by a lot of people on earth in coming to grips with this, I am pleased to know that my friend is at home with the Lord.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jean Smith

Jean (then Maloney) and I were great friends in high school. Exchanging notes, talking on the phone for hours, hanging out, stuff like that. Jean got married to another friend, Rick Smith, out of high school and we just kind of lost touch. In fact, I hadn't seen or spoken to Jean in more than 15 years - until last month.

In early November, I received a Facebook friend request from Jean. I couldn't believe it. It came at a great time and really completely made my day to poke around her profile, looking at pictures, reading the things she wrote and just kind of catching up with her life. We exchanged notes and she filled me in on her life, telling me about the four kids that she and Rick had and how great everything was. Although we didn't speak to each other, I felt like Jean was kind of back in my life by seeing her status updates and notes.

This past Friday, at some time between 1 pm, when she was seen at her son's high school,and around 3 pm, when he came home from school, Jean and her oldest son Jim (a sophomore at JMU) were shot and killed in their home in Dale City. The police have not released many details.


Like that.

It is a miracle that I had the opportunity to reconnect even to a limited degree before Jean was taken, but I just can't process this. It doesn't make sense.

In our email exchange in early November, Jean summed up everything by saying to me: "Life is pretty darn sweet, and still spectacularly unpredictable." On her own page she once wrote:

"We all chose the times and the places and people where we think we should be. I hope that I am where I am needed, and that I chose wisely. I will have the opportunity to be remembered for what I have done, instead of what I have failed to do . . . ."

The Wall on Jean's Facebook account is flooded with messages from teens and young adults. I can't bring myself to read their last words to her - they seem too private - but I do notice that most of them call her Mama. From what I can tell, Jean, you chose wisely. It seems clear to me that you were where you were needed and making a difference with the people that needed you. There is never going to be a way to explain why this happened, why you were taken from so many of us, but I am confident that you will, indeed, be remembered for what you have done.

Until we see each other again, my friend, rest well.

For all reading this, please pray for Rick, Sarah, Connor and Liam. They are going to need all the prayers we can send their way.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

It is definitely Christmas time. Christmas songs are playing on the radio and in stores. Roadside tree stands are in full operation. Lights are up on people's houses. Some people have wreaths or reindeer antlers on their car. Yes, it is definitely Christmas time.

The famous carol tells us that it is "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." I think my kids would agree with that as they get ready for the toy pay day. But, for some reason, when I talk to people about how they are doing, it doesn't seem like it is the most wonderful time of the year. Maybe it is just my age and the fact that I am now talking mostly to adults or teens. But it seems like I am hearing more stories of depression, or of missing family, or of conflict, or of just general malaise. I can't tell if these things are actually worse than they are at other times of the year, or if they are heightened because it is Christmas time.

Does the idea that it is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year make us feel worse about not being 100%? Does the pressure to bake cookies, buy gifts, run around visiting people and attending events, etc., leave us more run down and tired and focused on what we have yet to accomplish? Is there so much increased stress associated with familial and societal expectations that we are more short tempered? Do we create a romantic ideal of our lives associated with Christmas that we feel bad about failing to meet?

The truth is, I don't know. Maybe it is all of these, maybe it is none of these. But, for some reason as I talk to people it seems like for a lot of people this is, in fact, not the most wonderful time of the year.

I think we need to make it more simple (and yet infinitely more complex). Christmas, and more generally the advent season, is, to me, a celebration of the miracles of the virgin birth and, more significantly, of God's infinite love as shown by the sending of His son to live on earth in human form for the ultimate purpose of dying for our sins. It is a beginning (note the intentional use of "a" instead of "the").

"But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will never end.'" Luke 1:30-33 (NIV)

I don't think "the most wonderful time of the year" was even meant to apply to what is going on in our everyday lives. I don't think it is supposed to mean that everything is supposed to be perfect. I don't think it is supposed to mean that everyone is supposed to be happy all the time. I don't think it is supposed to mean that we are all supposed to get a long better. I think it is supposed to mean that we are celebrating a most wondrous event. I think it is supposed to be a reminder that this is a time for a beginning. A reminder that because of what is going on in our lives, because of our stresses, our losses, our concerns, our squabbles, our failures, God sent Jesus into our world and into our lives to show us the way, to help us through. In that context it is exactly because alone we can't ever meet the picture perfect ideal that we create for ourselves that it is, in fact, the most wonderful time of the year.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Plan

Sometimes I think that I have it all figured out. Certain things aren't coming together the way I would like. Something else happens unexpectedly. I have questions about a different thing. Then, suddenly it all seems so clear. It 's like playing chess, thinking many moves ahead - knowing that you are going to win in seven moves. The outcome is inevitable. All you have to do is play the moves out.

"Ok God," I say. "I see where this is all going. I'm not sure that I would have done it this way - I really wanted that one thing to happen and I thought it was for your glory - but I understand what is going on. I may have chosen something different, but that doesn't matter. I know what the next steps will be now. I know how this is going to turn out. I understand what is coming and how it is all going to fit together. I'm good - you can focus on someone else now. I'll see you when I get there."

Then, wham! In a few hours, or a day, everything changes. Suddenly the next steps aren't obvious. Things that were off are back on again. The path that I thought I was on suddenly changes. It isn't so clear anymore. I'm back to not knowing what is coming and not understanding how this all fits together.


"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

The plan was mine. Me thinking about how it would come out. Me trying to draw a straight line through a bunch of data points. Me confusing my own view for God's plan. How foolish of me to think that I've got it all under control. It is God who has it all under control. I don't know what the plan is.

Thankfully, though, I do know that the promise that the Lord made to those who were in exile in Babylon applies to me, too. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Or, from The Message, "I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out - plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for." Jeremiah 29:11 (The Message)

Part of the chorus from the song "Here I Am" by Downhere keeps running through my head:

"Somehow my story, is part of Your plan,
Here I am."

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I came to work late today because we had someone coming to the house this morning. Of course, this means the dreaded "window" - as in, "I'll be there sometime between 8 am and 10 am." I understand that traffic can be unpredictable, and that it is nice to give yourself some wiggle room, but how have we gotten to a point where we let people get away with this?? I sure can't get away with telling my clients that I will meet with them at some point during a multi-hour interval. I can't schedule a deposition to start between 9:30 and 11:30. I can't . . . .

Ok, enough venting. You know where this is going. I was ready at 8, because I had to be. Then I started waiting. In fairness, she called around 8:45 to give me an update and she arrived before 10. But still, I was waiting.

How much of our lives do we spend waiting? Waiting for doctors or dentists who are "running a little behind schedule"? Waiting in an airport for a plane? Waiting for a concert or a movie to start? Waiting for a table at a restaurant? Waiting in lines? I could go on and on. My point is more general: We spend a lot of time waiting. It can be very frustrating. Is my time less important than theirs? Can't they hurry up? Why aren't they ready yet? Sometimes it gets so bad that I just can't take waiting any longer and I complain or I get up and leave.

The thing is, I can see God asking all of these same questions. How hard must it be to see people struggling, to see people feeling alone, to want a relationship with people that for some reason just aren't ready. Yet, amazingly, no matter how long we make Him wait, God does not give up on us. He doesn't complain. He never just walks away. And when we do reach out to Him, He never hesitates to make a point, He never asks what took so long, He never reminds us that we made Him wait. Instead, He welcomes us with love and open arms.

That is something beyond eternal patience. I think it is a profound suggestion of how important each of us are to Him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


This is the time of year where there are a lot of things going on and there are a lot of invitations: office parties, open houses, cookie exchanges, dinners, etc. We get some and we extend some, trying to fit in as many as possible.

I'd like to suggest that maybe we should all add a few more to that list:

1) Invite someone to come to your church, your Bible study, your youth group or whatever - then invite them to come back. This and Easter are the two times of year when attendance at church swells with people who do not attend on a regular basis. And, at this time of year, people are more likely to accept your invitation. Even though people may come on their own, being personally invited - and being personally invited to come back - will help them to make a connection. If you are not currently involved, accept an invitation, or find a friend and ask to go along. Make the effort, reach out. I think that if you go to church with someone you know, it is much more likely that you will be comfortable, more open to listening and more likely to want to come back.

2) Invite someone to discuss their faith. I've written here before (October 24) about not arguing with people and trying to force faith. What I am talking about is inviting someone into an open, honest discussion. I believe that we have an obligation to share our faith. As Jesus told the disciples after His Resurrection:

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

The point of the discussion that I am suggesting is not to "change" anyone, but to share with them where you are, how you got there, what it means to you, how it is important in your life, etc. Having that conversation may help someone else, and I think it almost certainly will help you.

3) As we prepare to celebrate the arrival of God into this world through the birth of Christ, take the opportunity to invite Him into your life. Maybe you pray and go to church and do everything else, but haven't really thought about inviting God into your heart and into your soul. Or maybe you've already done that before. That's ok, it is worth doing again. He will not force His way in, He is waiting to be invited: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Revelations 3:20 (NIV)

With everything that goes on, it is easy to caught up, to be too busy. I do it all the time - I get focused on what has to be accomplished, where I have to be, what else needs to be done. I have to make a point of stopping and finding time to talk and share - and listen - to God. I have to write reminders to myself (like this), or I just let it go.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Just a quick post today.

Over the weekend I had a chance to watch a few minutes of the SEC Championship football game between Florida and Alabama. I did not see much of it, but in what I did see, I happened to see a shot of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's face as he stood at the line waiting for the snap of the ball. I could see that there was writing on his eye black (those black stickers that players put below their eyes to help with the sun), so using the DVR I rewound and watched in slow motion until I could make it out.

Perhaps everyone knows who Tim Tebow is and knows his story. Not being a Gator fan, I didn't know much about him. I knew that he won the Heisman trophy a year ago and that he is in the running to win it again this year. I knew that after defeating Alabama on Saturday, he will lead his team in the BCS Championship game against Oklahoma in early 2009. That is pretty much it. After reading the message is his eye black, though, I decided to learn a little bit more.

Tebow was born in the Philippines, where his parents were serving as Christian missionaries. He was home schooled. He has taken time off over the summer to participate in short-term missions and has worked in a number or orphanages. He reportedly always stops to sign autographs if someone wants them.

The message on his eye black is "Phil. 4:13" - "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13 (NIV) By itself this is a great verse and a fantastic statement for an elite college athlete to wear humbly on his face.

When I looked up the passage this weekend, I read more of the surrounding passages and want to share the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV) as motivation for today, tomorrow and every day:

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

While things in our life may go up and down (see, e.g., the stock market, housing values, etc. to name some of the smaller things), harnessing the strength given to us by God can help us through.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I've Got Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy . . . .

We have eaten Thanksgiving dinner at the same restaurant for a number of years now. We usually go around the same time and we see Santa and Mrs. Claus eating Thanksgiving dinner. You have to understand, this isn't a couple dressed up to entertain the people in the restaurant. There are no red suits, no elves helping out, no special table. This is just a lovely couple out to eat Thanksgiving dinner. It just happens that they look exactly like Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The first year we saw them sitting there and we pointed them out to Alex to try to get him to behave. "Alex, you better be good, Santa is sitting right over there." We thought we were brilliant; he would definitely behave. Well, he did. The problem was, at some point he asked if he could go over and talk to them. He was a cute little kid, and shy, so we told him sure. He walked over and after a couple of seconds we interrupted - "Alex, let them eat their dinner." Mrs. Claus immediately turned around and scolded us with something like "Please, don't tell him to stop talking to Santa, he can talk to Santa if he wants to."

We got talking to her on the side and learned that they are year-round Santa and Mrs. Claus. And, they are truly wonderful people. We saw them the next year and were more comfortable having Alex go over and talk to them. Now we just have the kids go right up, get pictures and everything else. Of course, as soon as we do, so does most of the rest of the restaurant. But they are lovely. They tell us each year how much they love it.

Every time I see them, I think about how great it must be to be them. Everywhere they go they instantly make people happy just by being there. It is just impossible to see them and not smile. I used to always say that I want to be that guy (although that is partially just an explanation for the beard and the ever-expanding waist line). I can't imagine anything better than always making people happy.

This year we had to have dinner earlier, so we missed them. It was disappointing. But, the day after Thanksgiving we went and visited a house we had found the year before. Pretty much everywhere there is one house where the owners go crazy with decorations. They put up way more lights than anyone else, they have music playing, things dance or ice skate, you know what I am talking about. Let me tell you though, whatever you are picturing is nothing compared to this. This house has been on national television multiple times. They start putting up decorations in September. There are 47 switches to turn things on. They won a national award a few years ago. It is really just beyond description.

I had a chance to talk with the owner as he watched people stream by. We were talking for a while when he stopped, just looked around and said "This is why I do it." He patted his chest over his heart and finished - "The feeling I get, just watching everyone."

I thought about it. He is really doing the same thing. Everyone that came by, despite having to struggle to find a place to park and turn around on this gravel road, was happy. He was spreading joy.

But actually, what I think Santa, Mrs. Claus and the man with the decorated house are really doing is sharing some of their joy. There are other people like that who you probably know. They are just always filled with joy. You feel it when they walk in the room. So, I have new goal, rather than becoming someone who looks like Santa to make people happy (there goes the excuse for my weight gain), I need to fill myself with that same joy and share it. And I believe that joy can only come from growing closer to Jesus.

"I have told you these things so that you can have the same joy I have and so that your joy will be the fullest possible joy." John 15:11

So, something to work on and a reward for doing so. Not a bad bargain.

"Be joyful always." 1 Thessalonians 5:16 Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


This post is going to be a little different than my usual. But, I've been thinking about it for the last few days and thought I may as well share it. Plus, I thought that maybe writing it out would help me . . . .

Lots of times when I read the Bible I come across things that I do not understand, or can't figure out. Usually these are resolved by looking at the footnotes, introductions, insights or highlights in my Bible (although it is thicker and heavier, that is one of the beauties of a Student Bible). Often I find out that I didn't understand the context, other historical events, references to other passages, etc. When I still can't understand something - or maybe reconcile something is a better way of saying it - I can often find something online that helps me out. But, earlier this week I came across something that I just can't get to compute, and I have been trying to figure it out.

Earlier this week, I randomly opened the Bible and came across Matthew 15:21-28 - The Faith of the Canaanite Woman. The same events are also reported in Mark 7:24-30. In it, Jesus goes to "the region of Tyre and Sidon." A Canaanite woman comes to him and begs Jesus to help her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus ignores her, but she keeps following and asking for help. The disciples get annoyed with all the yelling and ask Jesus to send her away. Jesus then answers saying "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Matthew 5:24 (NIV) The woman runs up, kneels down and again begs for help. Jesus replies "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." Matthew 5:26 (NIV) The woman quickly responds "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Matthew 5:27 (NIV) Jesus then praises the woman's faith, grants her request and her daughter was healed.

Toss the children's bread to their dogs?? Did Jesus really just refer to this woman as a dog? I've tried to research this and read a lot of different explanations. I know the Canaanite's were the bitter enemies of Israel and often led them into idolatry. I've read that Jesus may have just been testing the woman, providing an obstacle for her faith. I've read that Jesus' mission was primarily for Israel, and that this was an example of the beginning of the idea that the Gentiles will no longer be separated from Israel. I've read speculation that Jesus was a racist (ethnicist?) until then and that this encounter changed Him. I've read a lot of discussions of this passage that ignore this issue and focus instead on the strength of the woman's faith, or of her recognition of Jesus as Lord.

Perhaps the explanation that I have come to like best is the idea that Jesus was the promised King of the Jews and that the Kingdom had to be fully offered to them first - that He did not turn to the Gentiles until His own had rejected Him. In that context, you can read the woman's words in response to Jesus as something more along the lines of - I will gladly accept what the others do not want. Maybe this does then begin an extension of the ministry.

I don't know, though, I still struggle with the image of Jesus calling the woman a dog. He who surrounded Himself with tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals, and others suggesting that this woman was not worthy is difficult for me to reconcile.

I know, I know, I should ask my Pastor. Maybe I will. And maybe they will be able to help me to make it make sense. Or maybe this whole thing is just a reflection of my lack of Biblical knowledge - of the need for a stronger foundation to be able to understand what is said. Or an example of the potential for misunderstanding by just reading or quoting random passages. In any event, for now I am just adding it to the very complicated mix of my own mental image of Jesus and still trying to figure out exactly where it fits in - an anomaly, or something to be learned from?

Anyway, I said this would be a different type of post, but it is what has been on my mind . . . . Of course I welcome anyone's thoughts here, by email, or the next time we are together, if you are so inclined.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Guess How Much I Love You

Most people with kids probably recognize the title of this post as the title of a children's book by Sam McBratney. In the book, Little Nutbrown Hare tries to explain to his Dad (Big Nutbrown Hare) how much he loves him. He starts by saying things like - "I love you as high as I can hop." Dad, hopping higher, responds by saying - "I love you as high as I can hop." Little Nutbrown Hare goes farther with something like - "I love you all the way to the big hill." Big Nutbrown Hare responds - "I love you all the way across the big hill and down to the river."

This goes on for some time until, sleepy, Little Nutbrown Hare curls up in bed and goes as far as he knows - "I love you all the way to the moon." Looking at his very sleepy child, Big Nutbrown Hare simply says something along the lines of - "Well, all the way to the moon, that is very far indeed." Then, as Little Nutbrown Hare sleeps, Big Nutbrown Hare whispers in his ear - "I love you all the way to the moon, and back."

My summary has not done the book justice. It is a book that holds a special place in the hearts of a lot of kids and their parents. But, for people that were not familiar with the book, you get the picture. Attempting to express their love for each other the two rabbits come up with the biggest expressions that they can. And they are big. All the way to the moon and back is a long way. When we read this book at home, sometimes we try to go farther - I love you to Pluto and back. I love you to the end of the universe and back. I love you to another universe and back.

For some reason in the strange way that my mind operates, I thought of this book this morning and of God's love for us. While we try to express our love in the biggest terms possible, it always accidentally has some outer limit - a boundary that defines a stopping point (the river, the moon, the edge of the universe, etc.), even if that point is barely something that we can imagine and not something that we intend. It is hard to express a limitless love.

God, though, found a way to express a love without limits. He says - I love you to the cross, and back. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16 (NIV) "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him." 1 John 4:9 (NIV) That limitless love - love beyond life, love beyond death, eternal love - is given to all of us.

Thinking about it and praying about it, I want to hold on to that thought. And it works for all of us. Think about it, read it slowly and let it sit with you - God loves me to the cross, and back. Read it again, even more slowly, and let it apply to you - God loves me to the cross, and back.
It is a very simple message, but profound in its power. Recognizing it, accepting it and letting it live in our lives can comfort us, guide us, pick us up, remind us that we are never alone, give us strength and courage, protect us and help us.

God loves me (and you) to the cross, and back.