A few weeks ago, after a long fight with dementia and old age, my grandma, Patricia Barner, passed away at the age of 84. She lived here in Florida with my parents and hailed from the great state of Michigan (like me). My dad was tasked with officiating her memorial service to be held in Michigan and he invited me to open. My brain went to work imagining myself in front of a large group of people at the ceremony and what I would want to say. I conceptualized what types of people would be there, having a relationship with, away from, or at odds with Jesus. Then, I crafted, really contrived, what I felt they needed to hear with a heavy emphasis on getting back into right relationship with Jesus. I thought, “What better a place than a funeral where everyone is standing at the edge of eternity contemplating a lost loved one and considering the ramifications of our lives on forever?” This was reminiscent of my childhood when I would pretend to be Billy Graham on TV in front of a large stadium of people speaking to the whole world!

Holy Spirit helped me put the brakes on my train of thought. I cleared my mind and together we asked the Lord what He wanted me to share at the ceremony. Proverbs 10:7 ESV reverberated in my spirit, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing . . . “. Then, thoughts began to flow like a river in my mind, a sure-fire sign to me that I have tapped into what God wants me to share (Lauren Daigle shares more about this flow) . . .

The memory of Grandma Barner is a blessing. I remember spending every Christmas at her house as a child. She used to bake ham with spiral pineapples and cherries on top, make warm sugar cookies, and wrap the most perfectly packaged presents. I remember going to her cottage in northern Michigan and particularly the set of brown lazy boy chairs she and Grandpa Barner would fill to watch Detroit Tigers baseball games. She clipped from the Detroit Free Press the article when Verlander threw his no hitter to send me. I lived in Harrison and didn’t get the big city paper. Verlander is/was my favorite Tiger (I’m a bandwagon Houston Astros fan right now and I am waiting patiently for my Astros hat to come in the mail to help me cheer for them in the World Series). Grandma would fuss at the Tiger managers and bemoan the bullpen. I remember her telling Cecil Fielders and more recently his son Prince Fielder through the TV that they wouldn’t strike out so much if they would lose a little weight! She had this sweet chuckle and you knew she was really tickled when you’d get a northern drawl of “Oh dear!” The last few years Grandma and my wife had talked about teaching. Grandma was an elementary teacher for most of her adult life and my wife has her teaching degree. The memory of Grandma is a blessing.

All this remembering causes me to remember another person. Thousands of years ago Jesus Christ died on a lonely cross for the wrongs you and I have done. He rose from the dead and is alive today offering to forgive us and walk with us today and for eternity. All He asks is that we make Him the center of our lives. That is a decision I have made and I believe Grandma Barner made.

I remember Grandma Barner and her memory is a blessing. I also remember Jesus. Because of Him today doesn’t have to be the end and instead can be just see you later.

Becki, Daniel, Becki’s mom Pam and I went up to Michigan a few days before the ceremony to visit my old stomping grounds (see below). At the ceremony on Saturday instead of sharing MY thoughts, I shared the thoughts the Lord and I put together. Family and friends laughed, cried and listened intently as WE shared.

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Life has changed dramatically for Becki and me with the arrival of our firstborn son on Feb 17th. Time has sped up. The last four almost five months have been a blur. If I thought we had a laundry monster living in our house dispensing mounds of contaminated clothes before, I was sadly mistaken! How can one little baby produce so much dirty laundry?! I now know special meanings for and have poignant memories of the words “latch”, “frenectomy”, “rash”, and “spit-up”! In this flurry of laundry and learning, this new stage in our lives, Scripture has come alive as God has answered prayers and provided for us over and over again.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6d62Since arriving home from the hospital, we have discovered that all of our furniture is not conducive to baby feedings and snugglings. We did some recon research and set our sites on a glider at Babies R Us. Distressed wood, charcoal gray padding, locking mechanism, it screamed us. If we opened a credit card there we would save 10% which meant a nice savings based on the size of the price tag. We loaded our family into our mini-van (strange for this new daddy to type that phrase!) to buy our prize. As we pulled out, I prayed that God would guide us and give us favor. We were greeted at the store by a sign saying instead of 10% the discount was 30% for the day before and the day we arrived.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6d63Ephesians 3:20 Amplified, “Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us”

Psalm 37:23 King James Version, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way”

Two weeks ago, completely out of the blue, Regions bank sent us a large check in the mail to refund overpayment into our house’s escrow account. This was my first time hearing of or seeing a check like that. A week later I woke up with a random tooth ache. The next day my dentist told me I needed a root canal (props to the strength of that decay to wreck such havoc as to cause a root canal in one day’s worth of pain). I believe God knew we would have the expense of a root canal so He put things into motion well before we knew to get a large refund check in our hands right before being told.

Isaiah 64:24, “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.”

God is good. God is powerful. God is able. God is faithful. God is love. God is omniscient. Etc. Etc. It has thrilled me to watch Him demonstrate His attributes on the stage of our growing family. Put your trust fully in Him and watch what He can do on the state of your life.

img_0157Saturday, February 18, at 7:02 PM Becki delivered our firstborn, Daniel James Calaway. Leading up to that and since has been an incredible journey. Right now, I am talk texting this blog entry with him snuggled in my arms as we wait for his 1 AM feeding.

We are feeding him breastmilk and apparently that makes newborns poop often and in a wide variety of colors. Our little guy poops probably every two hours. This afternoon in the middle of changing yet another poopy diaper he farted and then gave me more poop to clean up. I’m glad I had his dirty diaper under his butt to catch the addition!

With all of this poop action, Daniel developed a diaper rash. We were given some Desitin to spread on his butt from the nurses at the hospital when we were discharged on Thursday. Friday evening, we noticed that we were running low. Early Saturday morning we ran out. We scheduled a Walmart pick up to get some but would not be able to get there until late afternoon Saturday. We considered one of us running out to get it but did not want to leave the other one alone at home.

img_5499As we contemplated the situation, a mom of one of the youth who has come to our small group texted us totally out of the blue. She said she was in Walmart and wondered if we needed her to pick up anything. We texted back our need for Desitin and in about 10 minutes it was sitting on our doorstep!

Isaiah 65:24 NLT, ‘I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!’

The same person signed up through our church to bring us food that evening. We were treated to London broil, mashed potatoes, and green beans. We received our much needed Desitin and had a yummy dinner all because God used this kind woman as His hands to provide for us.

All along this journey God has made Himself very known to us and taken care of us (‘us’ used to mean Becki and me but now it means Becki, Daniel, and me). It has been something to see He Himself involved through His presence, peace, and favor. It has also been something to see Him use the people of His body, the church, as His hands and feet in our lives.

I am thankful to God. I am thankful to our family and friends. And, I am thankful to play my part in His body both receiving and giving.

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When I was a child, I lived in the woods of northern Michigan. I enjoyed church (gave my life to Jesus at a very early age), baseball, Mario Brothers 1, 2 & 3 (especially the coon tail), and bass fishing. Childhood was quiet and nice. Challenges included trusting God to take care of me and teach me. God came through.

When I was a teenager, I moved to Florida where I graduated high school early and went to Bible school. My inner nerd came out (Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, etc.) and flannel shirts were donned as much as possible! Enjoyment of baseball evolved to include all the other major sports (while maintaining my allegiance to Michigan teams). Difficulties included condemnation that grappled with me, being a light in my public school, uprooting and moving to Florida to follow God’s call, working for early high school graduation, Bible school, and preliminary ministry. God came through.

When I was a young adult, I graduated from Bible school, went to Southern  India as a missionary, served as an associate pastor in Texas, and traveled to Northern India for more missions work. Harley the Golden Retriever joined our family (named after a pizza delivery guy). Nerdness continued. Good times. The challenges of childhood and difficulties of teen years grew in size and complexity. Indian ministry. Associate pastor work. Praying for a wife (a lot). Paying bills. Work. God came through.

As I have been an adult, I returned from India, settled in Pensacola, served as a youth pastor for eight years, married, became an insurance agent, and became a foster parent. Now we are expecting our first born. Geek is now chic! I’m cool with my Clark Kent glasses and plaid shirts! Pop culture is flooded with comic book and sci-fi things, HOORAY! I thought my challenges and difficulties grew when I was a young adult. They have turned into mountains, Goliath-sized giants, oceans to cross, etc. (whatever analogy you can think of)! Ministry. Providing for my family. Fostering. Expecting our newborn. God will come through.

I am 35 years old now. My wife and two foster kids depend on me to provide for them. We’re about to add a baby. Father. I’m going to be a father! The small group of teenagers that meets at our house depend on us. Our families depend on us. Mountains. Giants. Oceans. Obstacles. Challenges. Difficulties. These things all feel larger than simply trusting God to teach me how to be a good little boy. But, the same God who came through for child, teenage, young adult, and adult me will continue to come through. He will for you, too.

Psalm 37:25 (NIV): “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”

Saturday, July 16, 2016

This past weekend the surf and tide lined up nicely for an early morning fishing trip. I met my brother-in-law and a work friend out there. Our families joined us later.
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The Lord painted a beautiful sunrise on a thunderhead west of us. Thankfully, the thunder stayed there.

Once the shrimp poles were in the water, I undertook getting the shark poles ready. Thankfully, I had some bonito fish-sicle with me from a previous weekend trolling trip, because the non-sicle fish weren’t interested in my shrimp offering.

For my big bait caster, I cut the bonitos in two, putting the smaller butt piece on a hook and the bigger head portion on the other hook. The bonitos itself was large, well over twenty inches, so I went back and forth about using the whole thing. I decide go big or go home! I used a kayak to drop the bait into the gulf one hundred and fifty yards from shore.

I returned to slow fishing. The shark poles sat quietly. The dolphins put on a show for us. We did catch one small blue runner. Eh. At least we weren’t going to be skunked.
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At 9am, the big bait caster whispered, “click, click, click”. I picked it up. Everything went silent for a few painful moments. I felt a few tugs and then the drag screamed. It felt like I had hooked into a speeding train. The line was flying and I feared the fish would spool me. I tightened the drag as tight as I could and the fish just kept going. I tried to pinch the bail with my finger but couldn’t hold it and burned my finger in the process. I put all my strength into turning the fish around. I have never seen the shark pole bend like it did then.

Eventually, it took all of my line (over 300 yards worth). I looked in the bail and saw the end of the line tied around the internal metal rod. The fish continued to pull and miraculously the line didn’t snap. With my friends’ help, I ran forward to the shoreline to try to gain some line. I got a little back. I walked backward and then ran forward to gain more. Slowly I gained the upper hand.
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After an intense 30 minute battle, there wasn’t much fight left in the fish. I felt a few head shakes but no more train runs. That made me think I had hooked into a giant stingray. About 15 minutes later the fish was close enough to shore to glimpse. I didn’t see a shark dorsal fin but did see a lot of white underbelly, so I really thought it was a stingray. It came nearer to shore and showed its true colors – a fowl hooked hammerhead shark!

We landed the worn out beast. One hook was loosely hooked through a belly fin. I think it was initially hooked correctly but the hook came lose and ended up in that fin right before it gave me the fight of my life. I would have thought it was dead on shore except for a little blink from an eye at the end of its shovel head. Then I saw the gills moving. We quickly captured a few pictures and then I escorted my catch back into the gulf.

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Landed!

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Fowl hooked

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Measuring 7’2” head to base of tail

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Picking up the beast

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Snuggling a hammerhead

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The beast, my baby and me

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Catch and release

 

 

If the Bible is all about Jesus, our lives should be, too.

For the past few months, I have been working on a course called A Study in the Book of Hebrews. Last weekend I pounded out a twelve page research paper entitled Contribution of the Book of Hebrews to our Understanding of Christ in the New Testament. Sounds technical, maybe like reading a phone book, huh? I began the paper with the following:

The Bible is a single work made up of sixty-six different books penned by at least thirty-nine authors over a period of 1500 years (Christadelphians 2015, under “A Divine Library” para. 2). Such an impressively large work could easily cover an equally impressive amount of topics. In Jesus in all the Books of the Bible, Iain Gordon and Brett Wilton (2016) explain, “The Bible is about Jesus. He is pictured or prophesied about in each of the 66 Bible books” (main chart). W.A. Criswell (2014) in his book The Scarlet Thread through the Bible takes it farther by illustrating, “There is a scarlet thread that runs throughout the Bible and it is the binding that holds the pages of the Scripture together. That great scarlet thread is redemption through Jesus Christ” (49).

I go on to say the threads of Christ that run throughout the Bible converge at a crossroad in Hebrews, where the author weaves thought threads similar and unique to other New Testament authors together to form a marvelous portrait of Christ. At this point of transition in the paper, a different, personal angle hit me. The entire Bible, cover to cover, is about Jesus either in overt ways like the Gospels or subtle ways like allusions to Him in the Pentateuch. I can picture a proud Father God crafting all of human history and infusing the Scriptures with Jesus, saying, “It’s all about my Son.” If God is our example, our benchmark, our standard, and he makes everything about His Son, shouldn’t we as believers make everything about His Son, too? Unless we are called to, I don’t mean abandoning our earthly possessions and turning to a life of monasticism in a mountain cave (monk-hood). I do mean that our lives in overt ways (our social life, events we attend, things we say, work ethic, etc.) and subtle ways (family life, how we spend our free time, our thought life, etc.) should all point to Jesus.
I can be an example of how Jesus Himself would act at my “secular” job. I can attend church and volunteer in ministry as Christ would. I can welcome foster children who need a safe and secure place to stay into our home like my Savior would. I can be a husband, brother, son, and father, like the Lord would. I can relax and have fun with my family and friends like my Best Friend did after creating the world in six days. I want my life to be Christ centered so that a total stranger could be able to follow me through a normal day with full access to my outward life and inward self and see Jesus overtly and subtly. As Christians, we are called to nothing less.

REFERENCE LIST

Christadelphians. 2015. The Miracle of the Bible. Accessed February 15, 2016. http://www.thisisyourbible.com/index.php?page=library&task=show&mediaid=149

Criswell, W. A. 2014. The Scarlet Thread Throughout The Bible. Nashville, TN: LifeWay Press.

Gordon, Ian, and Brett Wilton. 2016. Jesus in all the Books of the Bible. Accessed February 15, 2016. http://www.jesusplusnothing.com/jesus66books.htm

Weight. Age. Income. These are private issues people commonly reserve for conversations behind closed doors. My relationship with Jesus has been a fourth issue. In ministry roles or in church settings, where it’s normal and expected, I’m comfortable discussing but in everyday life it’s another story.
My uncle’s father passed away a few weeks ago. Becki and I went to Bogalusa, LA, to attend the funeral. It is a quaint town that reminded me of stepping onto a real life Andy Griffith Mayberry set. My uncle led the funeral and different family members contributed. Toward the end, he shared a brief message of anecdotes and spiritual encouragement.
I can’t remember a thing he said but I do recall how naturally and conversationally he spoke about his relationship with Jesus. Instead of being a one-time act on a Mayberry funeral stage, it lined up with the rest of his daily life that I have observed. It’s not a forced facade. It is a large and genuine part of his life that naturally outflows to his daily conversations.
It challenged me. I want my walk with Christ to be a natural conversation piece in my daily life. “We’re trusting God in this area,” “let’s pray together for that,” “this morning I read in the Bible . . .,” “Jesus led us to do … ,” etc.. I don’t want it to be a forced act but instead a natural outflow.
I do insurance customer service / sales on the phone. While helping a lady I found out she had surgery scheduled for later in the week. After taking care of her insurance needs, I told her I was a Christian and I’d be praying for her. Honestly, it felt a little awkward but right and good. She was genuinely thankful and following the call I talked to Jesus about her. Steps in the right direction.
Deuteronomy 6 NLT, “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Relationship (vs. 5) naturally flows to everyday life (vs. 7-9).

My wife attends the University of West Florida. As a student card carrier (nautilus card), she has complimentary access to the UWF Fitness Center. This is a sprawling complex, a candy store (or should I say a fruit and veggie stand) for fit and becoming fit people. Amenities include basketball courts, locker rooms, exercise machines, free weights, cardio machines (including scary stair climbers – my calves shake in fear), and climbing walls. Becki has free access because she has a student card.

Climbing Wall at UWF Fitness Center

Climbing Wall at UWF Fitness Center

Gym On at UWF Fitness Center

Gym On at UWF Fitness Center

In January, we paid for me to join (perk of being married to a very cute Argonaut).  My wallet now holds a nautilus guest card and I have access to the candy (or fruit and veggies). I take full advantage, usually visiting twice a week to get my gym on. When I approach the check-in gate a twinge of panic presents itself because I’m not a student and I don’t feel like I should be walking in with students. Then, I pull out my nautilus card, swipe it through the id scanner and sashay in. Panic passes and confidence comes. I have access because I paid for a guest card.

A place exists infinitely greater than my new fitness center. This place is not greater because of its amenities but because of its occupant. This occupant is the source of all things, ruling the cosmos with absolute authority and plenary power while being the very definition of love. This occupant is God Almighty and this great place is His throne room. An insignificant speck of dust like me has no business entertaining thoughts of seeing this great place let alone entering. Forget panic, that is pure poppycock. Jesus Chris, God’s Son, paid for me to have a card called salvation that grants me access. By accepting the gift of this card, not only am I granted access to this great place but also into this great God’s family. Every time I pray, I can confidently come in and call God Almighty my heavenly Father. I have access because Jesus paid for a son card.

Hebrews 4:16 (NASB) Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

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I like candy, normally dark chocolate but occasionally I’ll branch out and go for Skittles, especially in purple bags. When I pop them into my mouth, I struggle to know if I should chomp them up or suck them dry. If I chomp them up, my taste buds get instant gratification and my instinct to chew is pacified. If I suck them dry, the flavors are allowed to linger in my mouth and self control triumphs over instinct. The Skittles struggle is real.

Often, I approach God’s word with a similar struggle. When I open my Bible (usually my Bible app nowadays), I struggle to know if I should chomp passages up or suck them dry of meaning by taking the time to consider each concept. If I chomp them, my spiritual taste buds are tickled and my sense of ritualistic duty is satisfied. If I suck them dry, the concepts linger in my spirit and my relationship with God is strengthened. Well, I know I should suck but far too often I chomp.

Take John 3:16 for wpid-Photo-Dec-8-2012-445-PMexample. The reference can be seen in a variety of places – under Tim Tebow’s eyes, church signs, t-shirts and even in a Star Wars parody (which is awesome). When I was in Bible college, I did some street evangelism and met a man drunk as a skunk (I wonder where that expression came from) who quoted John 3:16 to me. The vast majority of Americans have chomped on John 3:16, but how many have sucked it dry?

John 3:16 is an external example, but what about you and me? Do we give in and chomp our way through scriptures or do we suck them dry? Too often I settle for chomping. With the Lord’s help, I will suck!

Matthew 5:18 ESV, For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

A few weeks back I accompanied my wife to her UWF campus (she was a PSC Pirate but now she’s a UWF ARGonaut) so she could attend a teaching meeting and I could hit up the gym. We were on time for her meeting but an hour early for the gym. So, I decided to run, well actually jog but I like to think of it as running, on the campus.

UWF Nature Trail

UWF Nature Trail

I ended up on a nature trail that snakes its way through thick forest areas of the campus. At one point I was completely submerged in forest behind and in front. I felt absolutely alone. A snake in the leaves by the path and a frolicking squirrel were the extend of the animal life I had seen, but I imagined a more ferocious creature bounding out of the forest with a fancy for some Joshua flesh (yes, a little extreme but it sounds good). That thought didn’t help the aloneness I felt.

At that moment Someone else joined me on the trail, not visible with my human eyes but certainly with my senses. I felt an ancient, confident, powerful authority surround me and at the same time a soothing, reassuring, calming peace settle me. I felt the words, “This is a son of God,” echo around me. God my Father, the creator of that UWF walking trail forest and every creature big and small in it, made himself known. I felt His loving ownership over me. I felt His authority and peace.

Then, as if waking from a dream, I snapped back to “reality”.

Psalm 139:5 NASB, “You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me”

Psalm 139:5 The Message Paraphrase, “I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too – your reassuring presence, coming and going”