Friday, December 3, 2010

Exchange Student from Japan

This school year we've been the privileged hosts of an exchange student from Japan. Masa, as he goes by, is 16 years old and has quickly become a part of our family life over the past few months. We can already begin to feel how much we'll miss him once he has to return to Japan next June. I think his visa allows for him to stay three weeks past the end of school, so I'm sure we'll be packing all sorts of activities into those final days.

Philip Jr. has long loved Japanese culture. It's been so cool to be driving down the road listening to J-Pop (Japanese Pop) on the radio with Philip and Masa singing Japanese lyrics in perfect tandem. I'm grateful that God has given this opportunity for Philip to learn more about the culture and people for whom he's got such a large heart. I've promised to make every effort to take Philip to Tokyo during the summer between his Junior and Senior years of high school. Hopefully by then he'll be able to speak the language with ease, and can translate for his ignorant dad!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Man from the Par 3 13th

Tonight I watched the Lakers vs. Celtics game on the single story screens at our local casino. I watched in luxury because right in the heart of the sports book they've arranged six or seven rows of plush leather seats with arm rests and drink holders for betters and fans alike to enjoy the "big game."

Once I arrived the game was already twenty minutes old, so I scanned in search of a seat. There was one empty in the third row, one in from the end. I asked the man next to it if anyone was sitting there. "Nope! You are!"

As I slouched down into the leather he began to chat. "Who you pulling for?" "I'm a Suns fan," I confessed, "so I'm rooting for the Celtics just because I'm still bitter about their loss to the Lakers."

He chuckled with approval. To my surprise, in a room filled with gold and purple jerseys he told me he was pulling for the Celtics too. At least it would be a safe place from which to offer cheers for the team in green.

Within four or five minutes we were into a regular pattern of dialogue exchange. I quickly learned that he's a limo driver for the Rio Hotel and Casino downtown, but lives two miles from me on the north side. He told me about one night when he had Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Doctor J in his limo. He told me about his Vietnam experiences. He told me about the time he played Pebble Beach, the site of this year's US Open. He told me about his view of the 13th green at the Aliante golf course from his back porch. He spoke with a roughness that made the walls of his heart seem course and unwelcoming. He cussed like a sailor. He was a sailor.

As we sat together I was asking myself, "What opportunity am I going to have to say anything gracious? Is there a way to point this man in the direction of grace without putting my life in danger?" I considered thanking him for his military service, but I didn't expect an approving response.

Just then he told me about his three heart surgeries, including one for which he was only the fifth known patient in the world. He had been the lucky recipient of a local doctor's expertise and willingness to push the medical frontier ahead with hopes of giving my new friend a longer life.

That's when it hit me. He's got so much for which to be thankful! Then he told me that he's been married 40 years, and that his wife is a cancer survivor. He outlined her fear during the days when he was in a coma and fighting for his life with a lung infection after his second open heart surgery. His summary: "I'm a lucky SOB. That's for sure!"

"You've got much so much to be thankful for, don't you?" I meekly spoke into his right ear. He looked me in the eyes and spoke. "You know, you're right. I sure do."

The game ended moments later. Our conversation was finished. I had no opportunity to say more, but I learned something tonight. I learned in a new way that even God's common grace in the lives of the hard-hearted is so abundant that there is a door for the gospel. I remembered that it's His kindness that leads us to repentance.

I know where my new friend lives now. I don't even know his name, but I know the green he likes to watch on the par 3 13th. I hope to see him next time I'm playing at Aliante. I am praying that he lies restless in bed tonight because he realizes that somebody needs to be thanked for his health. Someone deserves his words of gratitude. Hopefully we will soon have the chance to introduce him to Jesus.

My Casino

In many cities families "adopt" any number of groups or causes in order to share the love of Jesus in an intentional way with a collection or geography of people who many not expect it. For us it's our neighborhood casino, Aliante Station. We love the people there, many of whom seem invisible to most customers. They clean their seats, service their machines, deal their cards, bring their drinks, remove their trash, freshen their restrooms and park their cars. But to many they are a faceless (unless they carry worldly beauty, then they can double as depersonalized objects for pleasure), nameless presence--an animated uniform there to facilitate their leisure.

Now, this description of a casino employee's work experience isn't meant to serve me in self glory, nor to be a platform from which to point my finger at all those "inconsiderate customers." Rather, I simply want to shine a light on the reason why our friends there respond with such vibrancy when anyone offers a genuine smile, inquires with sincerity about their family, or attempts to speak their native tongue if they are from another country. The opportunities to impact someone's day with great significance are without number. They are only limited by how much time our family has when we stroll from one end of the casino to the other en route to a late night ice cream snack or a dollar hot dog during the World Cup.

That provides the context for my conversation tonight with Martha. Martha is between 60-70 years of age. I've never spoken with her, but I've seen her on a number of occasions. Tonight our eyes met as I passed by some 75 feet away. I waved. She waved. I smiled. She smiled.

After I retrieved my slice of heaven from the food court pizzeria the return route to my seat took my right past her work area where she was sweeping the floor and cleaning ash trays. "Ten buen noche," I shared, my best attempt at "Have a good night!"

"Como esta tu familia?" was her reply. "How is my family?" I thought! In a moment when I anticipated to be the blesser and her the blessed I was overcome by her compassion for me.

"They are fine," I said with my limited Spanish vocabulary. "My wife would like to meet you, Martha." As I spoke I glanced past her uniform to read her name. "Oh, I would very much like to meet her too!"

Our conversation continued there in front of some noisy slots while my pizza grease dripped down the outside of my hand. As I left she cautiously broke from her Spanish to say, "Thank you for saying, 'Hello.' Have a good night" I did. She made my night, and somehow in God's grace I could tell I had impacted hers for the better too.

Perhaps next week when I see her I'll have the opportunity to speak more boldly about the love of Jesus.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Pace

I can't believe April's just about history...again. Wasn't it April just a few weeks ago?

Today's weather finally felt like summer. It must have been close to 90 degrees, with full sun. It felt so good to be outdoors for a bit. Once I was halfway through my errands, though, I was regretting the fact that I hadn't put on shorts before leaving the house.

My family is well, again. I'm thankful. We've been experiencing more illness than I can ever remember. Just this past week we had three members of the family depositing their undigested meals into the porcelain portal of our sewers. Looks like I might escape this current round without getting the least I'm still hopeful.

Tonight we hosted a half-dozen folks at CWR's Newcomer Cafe. I really enjoyed the conversation and appreciated the very thoughtful questions from these new friends whom I already count dear. It's incredible how much healing the gospel is bringing to their lives. More than half of them have been through some very difficult "religious" experiences in the recent past, but they have not relented in their pursuit of God's truth and they are finding our true God to be faithful. God is good.

Tomorrow I'll be preaching the last sermon from Luke's gospel. I started preaching through Luke in December 2007. We've taken a few detours through Ephesians, Jonah, and Ruth along the way. The perspective I've gained on Jesus through Luke's gospel has been very helpful to say the least. What a Savior!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Empty Tomb

Yesterday I was tasked to preach on Luke 24:1-12, the account of Jesus' resurrection. No details are given about how he actually "got up" or how the angels moved the stone away. Instead, the attention of the text is the process of discovery and initial disbelief on the part of Jesus' followers, including the apostles.

It was just too crazy to take in. The way things unfolded, though strictly according to what Jesus had already predicted, and according to the Old Testament Scriptures, was still not what they expected. The empty tomb forced a re-organization of their understanding about God and how he would redeem and rescue his people from the effect of sin in the world.

Two things struck me about the events and interactions that day in Jerusalem. First, everything happened in plain sight. Anyone could do the investigation and check with the eyewitnesses to see if indeed Jesus had risen. If someone wasn't willing to engage the truth (for example the religious leaders we read about in Matthew's account who just paid money to the Roman guards so they'd cover up the truth) it wasn't because the confounding events couldn't be verified, but it was because hard hearts didn't really want to know the truth.

This is a humbling reality. Sharing the good news about what God has accomplished through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection isn't just a matter of making sure people can get the facts straight. The Holy Spirit must first break up the ground of hardened hearts so that an individual will want to go through the difficult process of truth discovery and the resulting reorientation of worldview leading to peace and fulfillment in Christ.

So, I'm off to pray for my unbelieving friends in Vegas. I'm praying for clear communication, but I'm praying all the more for the soil of their hearts to be made ready for the true truth.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mid-week Update

I just arrived home from a time of celebration over Keith Robinson's arrival to Vegas. He left St. Louis yesterday morning and made it into town tonight. Keith will be joining our pastoral team at CWR as a church planting apprentice. He meets tomorrow with his new employer, as he will be bi-vocational during his first year.

Tomorrow evening marks the first gathering of City-Wide Redeemer Central, our second site in the midtown area of Vegas. We expect that around 20-30 people will come together for this first worship gathering. We can't pray enough for the Lord to protect us from the evil one as the gospel continues to mark through Las Vegas, and certainly not through our efforts alone. We praise Jesus for the opportunity to be working in this portion of his harvest field.

Philip Jr. heads back to the second half of his freshman year tomorrow morning. He did well on his first set of finals last week, in spite of being quite sick most of the week. I'm quite happy for him in his progress. This second semester should be a bit easier for him now that he has learned how to manage his schedule.

The happenings in Haiti has been gut-wrenching for us to behold via TV and email updates. I'm hopeful that in the next day or two aid will begin to flow freely to some of the mid-sized cities outside of PAP that were also devastated by the quake. It was quite a site to see Haitian orphan children deboarding a plane in Philadelphia today where they are being connected with American families who wish to provide them care. May Jesus richly bless those families as they extend their loving reach across cultures within their own homes!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Rock

I'm enjoying a much needed week of vacation. It's really a "staycation," since we are staying at home this week. My time has mostly been spent playing Wii, running a few casual errands, and working on Noah's new bed in the garage. It's such a grace to have a few days to put my hands to work on a project like this. Tomorrow will bring the big moment: assembly and unveiling for Noah's 6th birthday.

This afternoon while I was in the garage Hannah and Noah were on the street riding bikes and scooters with our neighbors. At one point Noah came to me and said, "Dad, check out this cool rock I found in Alex's front yard." I glanced at it and told him he needed to return it to their yard because I'm sure that Alex's father doesn't want to have to order more rock for his landscape due to little boys running off with his rocks one by one. He smiled and returned it.

As he strutted back across the street his eyes fixed on a rock in our yard. "Look at this one, dad!" I looked across twenty feet of pavement to see the one-inch rock he was holding up in the sunlight. "That's a pretty one, Noah."

"Can I keep this one, Dad?"

"I guess so. But, what are you going to do with it? It's just a rock!"

"I'm going to show it to people, so they can see what God made."

I paused from my painting and began to reflect on his answer. My interest in what I was "making" overshadowed my ability to appreciate what God has made and continues to sustain. I'm so thankful to have a son whose constant appreciation of God's goodness provides a daily refocusing for us as we hear his musings.

Jesus said that if the crowds hadn't praised him that the rocks would have cried out. Today I think I heard both child and rock declare God's praise. Thanks, Noah.

Me and Angie

Me and Angie
December 2010