Tuesday, 29 April 2008

"Do You Wanna Take My White Puppy?"

As I write this, I am looking at my favorite picture taken of us when I was on leave in March (see "Family Pic"). My wife Jen, my 3 year-old son and my 5 year-old daughter were standing at the top of the Harbor Town Lighthouse on Hilton Head. Jen is standing there with a big smile—happy that I’m home finally, after 10 months of deployment. I have a huge grin on my face as well, excited to be with them. As I look at the kids, I see many lessons that I have learned over this deployment. My son is scared stiff—tightly holding onto my leg with both hands clasped. Maybe he is scared to death to be at the top of the lighthouse on a windy day. He doesn’t want to let go of Daddy for fear of what may happen. This is not new for him. He now knows what it is like for me to be gone and can't stand the thought of me not being there. When I got off the plane and walked into their arms a week before, he just grabbed on and wouldn’t let me go. This is far different from his reaction to my leaving. At that time, surprisingly, he was the strong one.

I remember the day I left, I was crying, Jen was crying--and it was our kids who comforted us! My son has a little stuffed dog he calls “my white puppy.” He cannot sleep without his white puppy. He takes it with him like Linus with his blanket, everywhere he goes. When he saw me struggling with tears the day I left he said the sweetest thing any kid has ever said, “do you wanna take my white puppy?” Jen and I laughed and then cried all the more. God used him to bring comfort and humor in our lives when we needed it most. My daughter was also strong. She said, “its OK, we’ll be here for mommy.” Neither of my children understood how long Daddy would be away. They didn’t know how many nights of crying and missing their Daddy were ahead of them. But they had a compassion and empathy for our sadness and they were willing to give up their most prized possessions to make me feel better. I learned that day that I was more important to my son than even the white puppy! I learned that he was willing to give up his own comfort in order to comfort me! That day, both of our children fulfilled the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” How privileged I am to be their father!

During leave, I spent as much time as possible playing with them, rolling in the floor, sword fighting with the foam swords I bought from the toy store, camping in the back yard, riding bikes out front, going to school to pick up my daughter, dyeing Easter eggs, playing hide-n-seek—doing those things that I wanted so much to do when I was gone. When I left again, at the end of leave, my daughter knew that it would be a while. She cried. We all cried. And the kids are still having a hard time getting used to Daddy being gone.

As our days on this deployment come to a close and as we begin to develop the expectations of our wonderful reunion, we all must remember to invest time and effort in connecting and loving and teaching our children. I will never regain the time that I have spent away from them, but I can make every moment with them, from here on out, count. If you love them, they will offer honor to you—maybe even, in the form of a white puppy.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Hateful or Grateful?

In chapel services here at COP Apache, I am preaching through the Gospel of Luke. Last night we were on chapter 23 and I was fascinated by the contrast that the story shows between the attitudes of the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus. One guy was hateful. The text says in verse 39,

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (NIV)

Now, to the sarcastic unbeliever, this may not sound as if this man is being that hateful, after all, he's just going along with the crowd (see preceding verses 35-37). And this crowd was only repeating what Jesus had already claimed: that He was the Christ of God, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. What a great opportunity for Jesus to prove His power! Come off the cross and spare us the death! But that is hateful thinking. For the power to cheat death is vastly inferior in comparison with the power to conquer death. Jesus remained on the cross and remained true to His mission. His conquering death, though not immediate, was, indeed, a most powerful expression of his power.

The hateful criminal had no genuine trust or belief in Jesus or in His power. His state of unbelief meant that he had no desire for confession, no desire for repentance and no hope for the future. Judgement was his only inheritance.

In contrast to the hateful, the other criminal was grateful. Verse 40-42, "But the other criminal rebuked him.

"Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

This second criminal began to trust and believe in Jesus and his message. This belief lead to a confession, which lead to his repentance, which gave him a hope for the future. In reply to his conversion, verse 43, "Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

When it comes to Jesus who is the Christ, the Messiah, and King of the Jews, and His power, on which side are you--grateful or hateful?