Baby Eyed Faith

  
 I have always had strong faith. Faith just comes really naturally to me. That isn’t to say that I have not gone without struggles. And I find myself deep in doubt more often that I am comfortable admitting. But overall I am quick to grasp faith in God, his goodness, and his personal impact on both my eternal and temporal my well-being. But I know after countless conversations over the years that I am not necessarily the norm in the faith department.
Staring into our one month old son’s eyes last night I started thinking of this verse from Matthew’s gospel in a different way. 

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3 NIV)

My son Jonathan is a month old. This early in his development his vision is roughly 20/400. He sees nothing but a blur past the twelve to eighteen inch mark, and colors are largely something he will not even begin to appreciate for three more months. What does this have to do with faith?

Jon doesn’t have to scramble, cry, and worry for everything in his life, it is provided for him. He doesn’t have to fret for his safety and well-being. It is provided for him. All my son has to do is sit back and be. 

He just has to be my son. The very fact that he lives and breathes, that he is mine, bestows upon him the guarantee for protection and provision given to the fullest measure of my ability.

Even in my easy approach to faith there are moments of darkness. There is apparent blurriness. There are times when I do not have the answers and no answers seem forthcoming. Those are the moments when even walking by faith seems impossible. 

In those moments we must simply be. We must belong to the Father. We must realize that just being his guarantees us the fullest redemptive measure of provision and protection that is His to muster, which is all of it.

It’s yours. Just be His kid. 

That doesn’t guarantee you a steep bank account and a lavish life. But it is an unshakable eternal promise worth SO MUCH MORE.

Myth of the Great American Prizefight

  
Boxing once was a thing of gloriously brutal beautal. Two guys would enter the ring, and one guy would emerge a winner. No one won tonight’s bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao except perhaps their bank accounts.

Prize fights are BIG business. Truckloads of money changed hands for this fight. But was it worth it? No. No it wasn’t.

The crowd was a who’s who of celebrity boxing enthusiasts. Twitter nearly exploded from the hype. And it was all for nothing. Floyd Mayweather Jr. “won”  a statistical victory. He won a financial victory. But boxing still loses.

It was a lame fight. It was boring in every respect. It was exactly what we have all deep down in our hearts come to expect from the world of pugilism. Long gone are the days of Ali’s “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and George Foreman’s telephone-pole jabs. I’d even take bat crap crazy Mike Tyson over this stuff. Now we have Mayweather. A guy who hits his wife more than his opponent and hugs his opponent more than his wife.

In the build up and hype it was hailed as the “fight of the century” and with a delivery like that it could very well be the final swansong in a long list of over-hyped under-delivered fight cards. It could be the last big fight of the century. A prizefight did indeed take place tonight, but it was not much of a prize, or a fight. It certainly wasn’t great.

Avengers: Age of Ultron [NO SPOILER REVIEW]

Total disclosure: I’m an absolute Marvel fanboy. I knew 18 months ago that this was going to be a movie I was going to love. My review of this film comes from a bias that’s been building issue by glorious spandex-clad issue for nearly 30 years. So if you’re looking for an objective review from a film critic you’re in the wrong place. However, if you’re looking to find out if this movie lives up to the expectations of a longtime Marvel-ite then keep reading.

It was fun. It was spectacle. It was special-effects. It was action wall-to-wall. It was not disappointing. This is the first true summer blockbuster of 2015 serving up super hero mayhem in its finest form.

In this film The Avengers are a team and they fight as a team. We get to enjoy the glorious spectacle of it all. And it’s kid friendly. Sure there are minimal curse words, but my son will easily hear worse on an average trip to the grocery store. This is not the dark little corner of the comic book movie universe where guys like Batman, Superman, and Daredevil hangout these days.

Director Joss Whedon handles each of the returning characters extremely well while bringing in several new ones. However, the real stars here in terms of sheer acting prowess are James Spader as Ultron and Paul Bettany as the Vision.

This movie was a ton of fun. It’s essentially the third Act of the Phase 2 Marvel films. As such, it is a wonderful payoff. It pays homage to all that came before and paves the way for a very interesting future in the Marvel movie world. I can’t wait to see it again with my wife.

In a word, Avengers: Age of Ultron was excelsior. What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

We Need You

What are we doing? I mean, what are we REALLY doing to impact the world around us? Chances are, unless we live in a cave of apathy and indifference (as many do), we are making a difference. But what kind of difference are we making?
Is it an intentional difference? Do we have a presence about us that is measurable by our absence? For good, or ill?

Life matters. People matter. Your neighbors, friends, coworkers, and enemies. Those you like and dislike. Those with whom you do and do not agree. 

The truth is, we need you.

The world needs the selfish, entitled, pansy, lazy, overly sensitive, easily offended wonderful, productive, engaging, understanding, and actually tolerant and compassionate you that is far too easily hidden, marginalized, and/or forgotten. 

Step up. Do something. C’mon already! We need you!
What will you do that world needs? Let us know below.

Easy & Light

  

I was thinking about this passage today during my time alone with God.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

A yoke is still a yoke. A yoke is used for something. It has purpose. It’s for accomplishing an
end. Jesus never said it would for real be easy. It is necessary. It’s work. Doing stuff takes stuff.
The yoke was made for doing stuff. 

We read Matt 11:30 and think that means it should be a walk in the park but then we forget that all of his disciples were martyred. Even John had multiple attempts made on his life. The kind of easy Jesus was speaking of was altogether different than the connotation of the word we drag up in our comfortable 21st century minds.

Paul talked about being a slave to Christ. It’s hard sometimes. And ministry life can be really
hard at times—but it beats the hell (literally) out of the alternative.

To live is Christ, to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21) 

Paul said that too. 

A burden is still a burden. There’s a big difference in the burden that Jesus brings and the one
sin brings. Jesus brings a burden of peace, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, love,
understanding, consideration, and justice—all wrapped in grace. Sin brings a burden of
brokenness, wretchedness, insecurity, deception, blindness, stubbornness, and fear—all
wrapped in death.

The burden Jesus brings is a burden. But it’s light.

It is easy to carry in respect to the death that is the alternative. The yoke is light but it is a
yoke. It is quite simply a great relief to your soul in regards to the death that is available should you choose to shackle yourself to a yoke of your own making.

Jesus is better. Believe it. 




The Apologetic Muslim

  

Something both wonderful and sad took place earlier this week. I was hanging out with a large crowd of students in the minutes before a midweek worship gathering at our church when I began a conversation with a wonderful young man that I will call Tahm.

We engaged in several minutes of very interesting conversation about travelling and our common interest in helping others. As the conversation continued and the service drew near this delightful guy shifted gears. It was then, with apologetic tones, he felt the need to inform me that he was a practicing Muslim—and the look he gave me that followed was one I will never forget. It said, “how will you treat me now?”

In September 2001 I was wrapping up my first collegiate tour of duty, finishing up a degree in communications, journalism, & public relations. I was surrounded on a daily basis by international students at a time in my life when, overnight, our nation turned hostile toward almost anyone of middle eastern ancestry. I remember how ugly it was. How afraid everyone was. I remember my Pakistani friend Zishon was whisked away to a safe place off campus in a storm of confusion. Zishon was a Muslim too. He didn’t identify with the hateful acts of violence perpetrated by those who claimed to share his faith.

That’s what I remembered this week when Tahm shared his faith with me. He was afraid of my response. It broke my heart. He wanted to know if he was in a safe place. 

Do I have strong opinions about Islam? Absolutely. Should I allow that to influence my treatment of Muslims? Absolutely not.

Many, many, many, times in life I completely blow it. I let Jesus down. I fail to respond as he may have in a given situation. But I think I got it right with Tahm. I invited him to lunch. I expressed my genuine desire to get to know him. And then I walked him to the sanctuary myself as the service started.

Jesus said that he came to “seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) That my friends includes anyone and everyone. But how often, I wonder, do our responses to people’s lives get in the way? How we respond to the vulnerability of those who walk into our lives says more about us than any sermon we can preach, book we can write, or song we can sing.

Thanks for reading. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

WALKING WITH GRANDPA

  

Today my parents came to visit us. It was a really good day. We didn’t do anything too out of the ordinary but it still stands to serve as a day that will mark a special place in my memories.

One of the best moments of the day came after lunch. The fellas in the family; my oldest son Ethan, my brother Brian, my father, and myself all went for a stroll outside—in the woods. It was great. Perhaps the best part of the whole affair was the simplicity of it. We just went outside, for a walk, together.

At one point I looked up to see my dad, who has never been an overly affectionate man, holding my three-year-old son’s hand. It was touching. Why? Because it was a perfect picture of rare and raw masculinity at work.

My dad is a man’s man. He loves the outdoors. He would rather be outdoors than anywhere else you can imagine. He likes all of the kinds of things that the men of his generation enjoy about the outdoors, but mostly he just enjoys experiencing God’s creation.

Back to the walk in the woods…

This picture perfect masculine moment came when my dad, a hard working outdoorsman of the rarest kind, used his strength in a way that offered my son protection. It was the simplest of gestures. But it carried so much meaning for me. It was more than my dad holding my son’s hand.

It was a multigenerational extension of strength, identity, and initiation—all wrapped up in the protecting hand of a grandfather. Something that is becoming rare in our society today.

.

We are no longer at a crossroads in our civilization. No, the crossroads has long since passed, and may indeed no longer even be visible from our rear view mirrors. We missed the turning point. Men stopped being men. Fathers stopped being fathers. A generation grew up with dad’s in their homes that were not dad’s in any other capacity that mattered—and having lived that way they have believed that fatherhood is optional. My sons’ world is a world where the numbers of kids who know their dads is fewer than it has ever been, and the number who know their grandpas is fewer still.

I will be there for my boys. As much as I can be. My dad has always been there for me—and will be a grandpa to my sons. But what will the continuing repercussions be for a society that finds itself lacking grandpas who want to hold their grandsons’ hands?

What will the implications be for boys, of all ages, who don’t have someone to model strength for them? To tell them who they are? And give them a loving push into manhood?

The answer is all around us. It’s in our prisons. It’s in our broken sense of honor, justice, and morality. It’s found in the depravity that permeates our culture like a dirty poisonous fog. It’s death.

Without the guiding embrace of a man, on some level, a boy cannot become a man—and a man cannot truly live.

God walked with Adam in the Garden. He showed him strength, purpose, and identity. He showed him fatherhood. And ever since the Fall we’ve been fighting to get it back.

Thanks for reading. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Welcome: A Letter to My Son on His First Day in This World

  

Welcome to the world son. It’s a lot different out here, huh?

It’s big. And cold. And wonderful.

Sometimes it can be scary. Sometimes it can be miserable. But it is also beautiful.

Everything is new. Not as new as you. And not as cool as you, but it’s all new to you. And you’re new to everything.

There are quite a few people who have been waiting to meet you. Some of them are pretty awesome. They have already been in love with you for a while.

Your mom, brother, and I are crazy about you. We’ve been talking about you and getting ready for you for months. We’ve prayed for you every day together.

You’re a little brother now. And big brother has been really excited about you!

You’re a grandson, nephew, and cousin too—and those are all names that come attached with more awesome people who love you a whole lot.

The one mommy and I are most excited about though is the name son. We welcome you into this world because you’re our’s. We both get to love you, teach you, and help you.

You don’t know it yet but you’re a minority now. Not every sweet little boy or girl has a mommy and a daddy. And while we’re not anything that special we are yours. And you are ours. And we promise to do everything we can, the best that we can, as often as we can. It’ll have to do because you’re stuck with us.

So welcome to this world. It’s crazy (I think I already mentioned that but it is worth repeating). I can already tell how awesome you are. My little gift from God.

You’re going to grow up to do some pretty amazing things. Just try not to grow up too fast ok?

waiting

Waiting

Parenthood comes with lots of “waiting” time. This isn’t something anyone warns you about. Not saying there’s a lot of calm time just waiting.  Waiting at practice, waiting for potty time, waiting on food to cook or cool (isn’t that funny that we have to do both).  Waiting at the doc’s, waiting for a phone call,
waiting…waiting… Waiting.

Maybe that’s why pregnancy comes with so much waiting.  Waiting on a positive test result.  Waiting to tell everyone until you’re ready. Waiting for nausea to subside. Waiting to find out what you’re having.  Waiting at the docs.  Waiting on test results. Waiting on your water to break.  Waiting on contractions.  Waiting to push.  Waiting on birth.

Having had my first child after being induced at almost 42 weeks I did a lot of waiting.  Now here I am waiting again.  God designed pregnancy to be a certain length of time for different creatures.  Why does ours have to be so long?  Why do we have to wait? And why is it so hard?

Waiting can do one of two things to you.  It can exhaust you or revive you.  We have to LEARN to be good “waiters.”

Isaiah 40:31 speaks of the good kind of waiting.

31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

But we often see people who react quite differently to the waiting.  Who impatiently demand change or anxiously blame the waiting on something.  What is different?  Okay let’s be honest we all are these “bad waiters” sometimes.

So what can we do?  Shift our focus and be content.  Paul talked about learning to be content in all circumstances.  Not accepting of status quo but so rooted in Christ and so trusting of His plan that you can accept what comes your way.  You can search the scripture but Jesus didn’t follow a “traditional life schedule,” write out a to do list, or whine about the demands of the job.  No he consistently fed those around him and then turned around and spent time with His Father.

So let us focus on serving while we wait. Let us remember the things we allow our minds to dwell on have power in our life.  As Paul wrote:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (‭Philippians ‭4‬:‭8-9‬ MSG)

Harmony and peace while waiting.

Walking the Line

IMG_8986

My wonderful grandpa’s birthday is today. Much of my stubbornness and compassion came from him. I talked to him on the phone earlier and shared with him the name we have chosen for our second son, Jonathan Eli. At Thanksgiving he had announced to the family, pretty much out of the blue, that he had been thinking of that name. Today when I told him that we had in fact chosen that name for our son he said, “I know. I just told my sister Ruby on the phone.” He was touched but not surprised.

Apparently he really did know. It was one of those inexplicable knowing by faith kinds of things. A measure of the movement closer to God I have seen in my grandpa’s life in very recent years. The power of God’s love has been hard at work in the lives of my mom’s family. Prayers that were prayed for decades have been coming to pass in the wonderful work of God’s mercy and grace. The culmination of a passage from the Psalms that has been really moving to me lately…

I’m finding my way down the road of right living, but how long before you show up? I’m doing the very best I can, and I’m doing it at home, where it counts. Psalm 101:2-3 MSG

My Papa has been an incredible example to me in my life. Not because of his perfection, because I have never been under such a false assumption where he was concerned. In fact, I have long since felt that his many flaws were so well known as I grew up that they always pushed me in an authentic direction. I struggled to actually be authentic much of the time, but the example was there. I never felt that he tried to be someone he wasn’t. I never felt that he pretended. He was never fake. He was always himself. And he never apologized for it, perhaps another series of traits I inherited.

Like the classic country ballad his nephew Bob helped to make famous my Papa Wootton has always Walked the Line. Not perfect, but dedicated. Dedicated to his family. Dedicated to the things that matter. When I grow up I hope I can be just like him.

Happy Birthday Papa & Happy Valentine’s Day to the rest of you.

Thanks for reading,
Nate