Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas through the Eyes of a Child

It is interesting how children and adults look at Christmas different. It shouldn't be much of a surprise since we look at the world differently as well.

I remember Christmas as a child. On Christmas Eve my parents and brothers and sisters would go to my grandparents who lived about a block away from us. Grandpa would have the fire place going full blast to take away the chill of the cold outside air. We had enough food to feed a small army which is just as well because we were a small army. It was a Norwegian feast: meatballs, lutefisk, lefse, oyster stew, mashed potatoes, and rice pudding. There was always a nut in the rice pudding. The person with the nut in his or her pudding won a box of chocolate. Since I was the youngest, I seemed to win most years.

We opened the gifts in the stockings above the fireplace first. Then we opened the presents under the tree. As the youngest child I got to deliver the presents to everybody else. I loved to open presents. I just ripped them open as fast as I could. It was pure joy. We threw the boxes and the wrapping paper into the fireplace. We played with our new toys. We ate some more. We closed the night by going to church at 11:00. We didn't go to church much during the year, but there was something special about church on Christmas Eve. Even for the distracted child, the Holy revealed God during Christmas Eve.

Life is different now. I still love Christmas, especially now that I kind of understand what it means. But something is different. I open presents much slower than Benjamin does. I seem to enjoy giving more than receiving. Nothing is wrong with either of those things. The latter is generally a healthy thing. I think what is different is this: Children see Christmas with wide-eyed excitement that some of us adults have lost along the way.

One more thing. Christmas is God's idea. For years and years and years God watched His children struggle. Then one day He said something like: "If you want something done right you have to do it yourself." So He gave himself to the world. The boy grew up and became a man. He showed us how to love and how to live. He died so that we can live abundantly now and eternally forever. It is a gift. God's gift to us. Christmas, in its rawest form, is about joyfully unwrapping the gift that God gives to us in Jesus Christ.

Benjamin and David getting ready for bed

David getting ready for a marathon

Sunday, December 9, 2007


The day started around 4:00 a.m. as is typical for most Sundays. I reviewed my sermon notes and the media.

I went running from about 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Even though the weather was cold (about 10 degrees), it was one of my best runs of the year. I was the first person on the trail after about an inch of fresh, powdery snow which provided the perfect blend of cushion and traction.

Worship went well. Despite the bad weather, we had more kids than we have ever had on a Sunday before. Our worship area was full too. After Wednesday, people were looking for a word from God. Hopefully that is what they got. Here are my notes. They probably won't make much sense without listening, but you may find something useful. You can listen as well. I remember saying something at the end like: "Sometimes we see life most clearly through tears. We honor the dead by living. Today is a fresh start. I pray for us lives of focus where we give our best time and energy to the things that are most important and most important to God." Anyway, here are the notes:

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” -Thomas Merton

How do we achieve balance in life?

1. Don’t Fill a Teacup with a Firehose (Emotional Balance)

James 4:14

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Proverbs 25:27

Whoever has no rule over his own spirit
Is like a city broken down, without walls.

Outside noisy. Inside empty. -Chinese Proverb

Maintaining a complicated life is a great way to avoid changing it.

Yesterday is a cancelled check
Tomorrow is a promissory note
Today is the only cash you have
Spend it wisely

Do you love life? Then do not squander time. For that’s the stuff life is made of. –Benjamin Franklin

2. Lord, Teach Us to Play (Physical Balance)

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

2 Samuel 6:21 (KJV)

I will play before the Lord.

Zechariah 8:5

The streets of the city
Shall be full of boys and girls
Playing in its streets.

Matthew 18:3
Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Romans 12:1

I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

3. I Just Wanted to Be Sure of You (Relational Balance)

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh!” he whispered. Pooh replied, “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

Romans 12:18

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

It is better to have loved and lost that to have never loved at all.

4. United or Untied? (Spiritual Balance)

Psalm 86:11 (Note change in wording)

Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Unite my heart, so that I may honor you.

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.
–C.S. Lewis

If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Police Horse Barn

The boys and I drove down to the Omaha Police Barn this morning. Benjamin and the rest of the Tiger Cub Scouts had a great time learning about the Mounted Police Officers. The adults thought it was pretty cool too.

Benjamin and one of the Police Horses

One of the horses getting fed a well-deserved candy cane

I was in the Omaha World-Herald two times today--once on the front page and once in the religion section. I wish neither of these stories had to be written. A lot of people are still grieving and still trying to make sense of what happened on Wednesday.

Comments about coping with tragedy, pain, and grief.

Comments about worship on the Sunday following Wednesday.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Winning Chili Recipe

A few weeks ago The Water's Edge had its first Great Chili Cookoff. Congratulations to Steve Johnson for winning the first annual Great Chili Cook-Off. Steve is excited to share his winning recipe with all of us.

1 Pound Hot Italian Sausage – Ground
1 Can Bushes Chili Fixins – Medium
2 Cans Stewed Tomatoes with garlic
¾ Can Refried Beans
1 packet Taco Bell taco Seasoning
½ Cup Water
1 red bell pepper
1 small onion
Optional: 1 medium – large Jalapeno

Brown sausage, onion, pepper, seasoning mix, and optional Jalapeno. Add chili fixings, stewed tomatoes, water, and refried beans. Cook for 1 hour at medium heat. Cool and refrigerate overnight and put in crock pot on low heat for four hours before serving.

Benjamin and his Chili

Thursday, December 6, 2007


We got one of our first snows of the year. The boys and I did some sledding and lots of shoveling. Georgia always enjoys the cold weather. She especially likes the snow.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Tragedy and Pain

I had just arrived at home with my six year old son, Benjamin, around 2:10 in the afternoon. Amber called me to make sure I was alright. She told me about what had happened at Westroads Mall. I turned the television on in disbelief.

Westroads Mall is a place where most of us who live in Omaha have been many times. It is generally a busy, fun place. Today it was only busy.

Jesus says life will not be perfect: "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." (John 16:33) People get cancer. Babies are neglected. Children are hungry. Airplanes are hijacked and crashed into buildings. People go into shopping malls and shoot people. Sometimes the world doesn't make any sense at all.

I spoke with a newspaper reporter earlier who was wondering about the church's response to an event such as this. One of his first questions was: "What do you say to somebody who is grieving?" My reply was something like: "Not a whole lot because there is not a whole lot that can be said." Listening seems to be a more appropriate response. I spoke with a man a short time ago was was grieving. "I'm so sorry" were the first words that came out of my mouth. Most of the rest of the time I just listened to his story. Hopefully, somehow he experienced the love and care of God during our conversation.

The reporter also asked me if I change what I talk about on Sunday morning. I thought about it for a few moments and said, "No." A few months ago we planned to do a worship series where we look at Christmas through the eyes of various people. The eyes of a man, the eyes of a woman, the eyes of a child, and the eyes of a retailer. Ironically, this Sunday is the Sunday I will speak about Christmas through the eyes of a retailer. During this time of year, retailers are extremely busy and face extra stress. I was going to use our time on Sunday morning to encourage all of us to make priorities and seek balance in our lives to help us manage the busyness and stress we face in life. The message doesn't change. It only becomes more passionate and more urgent. Many of us spent a little extra time tucking in our children tonight. We spent extra time with our loved ones. We spent time thinking about what is really important in life. If we could turn back the clock ten hours and make this event disappear, we would do so without thinking twice. But it has happened and all we can do is react. I pray one of our reactions is by focusing our lives and giving our best time and energy to the things that matter most.

Jesus continues his little speech: "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

So we take heart. God is with us. He is grieving with us. He wants nothing more than to comfort us. He gives us the gift of each other so we can make it through times such as this. We will never have all the answers. But we get something even better--the presence of God.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I Forgot

I woke up this morning around 5:30 and was on the trail running by 6:30. I forgot how much I love running early in the morning. It was dark when I started. The temperature was in the mid 30s and there was no wind. It was a perfect morning for a run. I saw plenty of deer, lots of birds, a few other early morning humans. I also got to see a great sunrise as I made it around the lake. I ran 8 miles in just under an hour. What a great way to start the day!

I pray we don't forget the simple joys of life.

Here are some pictures I forgot to post when I took my sabbatical from blogging.

Me and Benjamin at the Father / Son Cake Bake

David and his skeleton shirt

Benjamin during a hike at Platte River State Park

Monday, December 3, 2007

Christmas Through the Eyes of a Retailer

This Sunday we start a new sermon series: Christmas Through the Eyes of...

We start off by looking at Christmas through the eyes of a retailer. Retailers are exceptionally busy during December. Many retail stores can do about 25% to 50% of their yearly sales in one month. Stress is obviously high. Certainly the long hours can make a retailer tired.

Did you see three words? Busy, stress, and tired. I don't think these traits are unique to retailers in December. Many of us deal with these daily. I also don't think these are words that God generally wants us to use to describe ourselves.

Here are some thoughts about busyness, stress, and being tired:

The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. -Stephen Covey

There's no sense talking about priorities. Priorities reveal themselves. We're all transparent against the face of the clock. -Eric Zorn

It's not stress that kills us. It is out reaction to it. -Hans Selye

He who runs behind a truck is exhaused; he who runs in front of a truck is tired.

A teenager is always too tired to hold a dishcloth, but never too tired to hold a phone.

Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

You can help me write the sermon. How do we respond to stress in a way that is helpful? How do we not get so busy with unimportant things so we have time and energy for the things that are most important to us? How do we achieve balance in life?

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Here are the notes from my message this morning. Thanks to all who participated from Friday's blog:

All God Intended for You - A Message of Hope

The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city's hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child's name and room number and talked briefly with the child's regular class teacher. "We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now," the regular teacher said, "and I'd be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn't fall too far behind."

The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, "I've been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs." When she left she felt she hadn't accomplished much.

But the next day, a nurse asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. "No, no," said the nurse. "You don't know what I mean. We've been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, responding to treatment. It's as though he's decided to live."

Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?"

What would life look like without hope?

Have you been there before?


Have you been there before?
Are you there now?

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

We all find ourselves in the gutter from time to time, but some of us choose to never stop looking at the stars.

How do we, like the little boy, change our attitude and decide to live?
How do we never lose sight of the stars?

1. Open the Gift

October 8th 2007 – An ex-employee of an online clothing sales company in Japan expressed remorse in court for smashing 22 computers after learning his boss hadn't opened a gift. The 31-year-old man said he became angry when he discovered his gift hadn't been opened by the Osaka company's president, Asahi Shimbun reported. He pleaded guilty to charges of obstructing business with force. The defendant's attorney said the man was sorry for what he did and sought leniency from the court. Prosecutors said the man began working part-time in the company's shipping department in January and in July he gave a box of jellies as a thank-you gift to the president. His employer, apparently too busy, left the unopened box under his desk. When the man found out his gift had been set aside, he went on his workplace rampage, destroying the computers. While about a dozen people were in the office, no one was injured.

How would you feel if you gave somebody a gift and they failed to open?


How do you think God feels when He offers us a gift and we don’t accept it?


Like humans give each other toys and candy. God gives us gifts. Hope is one of them.

1 Corinthians 13:13

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

So hope is a gift from God and it ranks right up there with faith and love.

Hope is nothing we can earn.
Hope is nothing we deserve.
Hope is a gift God offers to us.
It’s on the house. Free. No charge.

Like the toy or the box of candy – all we can do is accept it or not accept it.

The Greek word for hope is Elpis.
It is used 54 times in the NT.
Elpis is the desire for some future good with the expectation of obtaining it. Elpis is the opposite of despair.
Elpis then is a gift from God of a better future that we can expect to acquire.

1 Timothy 1:1

This letter is from Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, appointed by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus, who gives us hope.

Psalm 71:5

O Lord, you alone are my hope. I’ve trusted you, O Lord, from childhood

Genuine Biblical hope is not a concept but God.

I took a few polls this week and asked people what they hoped for. Here is what I got.

Things We Hope For

  • I hope my marriage lasts my whole life
  • I hope for the restoration of fractured or broken relationships.
  • I hope for a cessation of stress.
  • I hope I am successful as a parent and husband. I hope I leave a respectable legacy, and that the world is a better place because I was here.
  • I hope that my life can be characterized as "well done, good and faithful servant" at the end of my term on this planet. –Matthew 25:23
  • I hope for peace of mind.
  • I hope to be more understanding and accepting.
  • I hope to be understood and accepted.
  • I hope for happiness for myself, my family, and for others.
  • I hope to be a kid every once in awhile.
  • I hope for family safety as we have known a number of families who have not been so fortunate lately.
  • I hope I see my father again and he tells me he was proud to have me as a son. We didn't have time for that conversation before he died.
  • I hope at least one person can say I was a good person and they miss me.
  • I hope my children learned some life lessons from me so they can make their little part of the world a better place.
  • I hope humanity someday learns to stop destroying each other because of race, religion, and / or desire for power.
  • I hope that my work doesn't bore me.
  • I guess if there's one thing I hope for, one all-encompassing thing, it's that I hope I've done the right thing and that it's enough.
  • I hope that we would learn to value biblical success and not our current materialistic success.
  • I hope for physical and emotional health and wellness for my family and myself.
  • I hope to make amends with some people from my past.
  • At the end of the day I hope I am a great husband and a great dad. I also hope to make the world a better place.
  • I hope to grow in my relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything else will take care of itself when that happens.
  • I guess what I really hope for then is a mixture of clear purpose and contentment with whatever that purpose is. Maybe not even contentment, but excitement and joy.

Things God Hopes For His Children

  • That we love God
  • That we love others
  • That we don’t live in fear
  • That we experience joy
  • That we experience peace

Pretty much everybody I ask hopes the same thing for themselves as God hopes all of us. God is willing and able to give us what we most want and need.

So we open the gift. Next we need to…

2. Utilize the Gift

What if Benjamin opened the train, but didn’t play with it?
What if the executive opened the box of candy and threw it away?

One night at dinner a man, who had spent many summers in Maine, fascinated his companions by telling of his experiences in a little town named Flagstaff. The town was to be flooded, as part of a large lake for which a dam was being built. In the months before it was to be flooded, all improvements and repairs in the whole town were stopped. What was the use of painting a house if it were to be covered with water in six months? Why repair anything when the whole village was to be wiped out? So, week by week, the whole town became more and more bedraggled, more gone to seed, more woebegone. Then he added by way of explanation: "Where there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present."

And so it is with us. Where there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present.

What if we opened the gift of hope? What if we once saw some value in it and maybe even used it and benefited from it, but then we stopped using it? Even though we may be aware of the gift, maybe we aren’t using it.

Acts 27:20

The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.

People can live about forty days without food
People can live about three days without water
People can live about eight minutes without air
But people can only truly live for one moment without hope. Despair sucks the life right out of us.

When we say a situation or a person is hopeless, what we are doing is slamming the door in the face of God.

Philippians 4:13

For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.

No problem is too big for God.
No opportunity is too big for God.

Hear the words of Jesus from

Mark 10:27

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”

Think about this:

Hope never abandons you; you abandon it. -George Weinberg

God won’t abandon us. Hold on to God. Clutch on to God. Don’t let go.Remember that things can happen when we let God take the lead.It is often in our darkest times that God makes His presence known most clearly. He uses our sufferings and troubles to show us that He is our only source of hope and strength.
Are you facing a great trial? Take heart. Put yourself in God's hands. Know that you are not the only imperfect person.

The Bible is full of imperfect people. Such examples are written for our consolation: for it is a great comfort to us to hear that great saints, who have the Spirit of God, also struggle. Those who say that saints do not sin would deprive us of this comfort.

Samson, David, and many other celebrated men full of the Holy Spirit fell into grievous sins.

Job and Jeremiah cursed the day of their birth;

Elijah and Jonah were weary of life and desired death.

No one has ever fallen so grievously that he may not rise again. Conversely, no one stands so firmly that he may not fall. If Peter and Paul and Barnabas fell, we too may fall. If they rose again, we too may rise again.

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying and kept on believing when there seemed to be no hope at all.

3. Enjoy the Gift

Hebrews 6:11

Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true.

What will your life be like when your hopes come true?

Keep loving, keep hoping, and know that dreams come true.

4. Make Others Aware of the Gift

Self-made millionaire Eugene Lang, who greatly changed the lives of a sixth-grade class in East Harlem. Mr. Lang had been asked to speak to a class of 59 sixth-graders. What could he say to inspire these students, most of whom would drop out of school? He wondered how he could get these predominantly black and Puerto Rican children even to look at him. Scrapping his notes, he decided to speak to them from his heart. "Stay in school," he admonished, "and I'll help pay the college tuition for every one of you." At that moment the lives of these students changed. For the first time they had hope. Said one student, "I had something to look forward to, something waiting for me. It was a golden feeling." Nearly 90 percent of that class went on to graduate from high school.

Romans 15:13

So I pray that God, who gives you hope, will keep you happy and full of peace as you believe in him. May you overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Ice, Wedding, Football

Benjamin and I woke up around 7:00 a.m. and found the area to be covered in ice. It was beautiful. Thankfully it melted by noon.

I did a wedding at 2:00 p.m. They are both firemen. I guess she is probably more of a fireperson. Anyway, they rode away in a big red fire truck. Nice wedding.
I played a little wii golf with Cody at the church after the wedding. It was fun.
Benjamin and I watched college football tonight. This whole thing in crazy. This year is a poster child for a much needed playoff system. Hawaii and Kansas should play for the national championship.