Contacting Craig

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Guns Don't Kill People...Sin Kills People...all People

I am weary. I feel tired and lifeless. Watching the horror yesterday just sucked the energy out of my soul. I am a dad. I have a daughter. Not that long ago she was in Kindergarten too. Not that long ago she was just a little child with wide eyes as Christmas approached. She was just like all those precious little children yesterday in Newtown. I am just like their parents, and their teachers.
The horror has already been discussed. Nobody who hasn't been in a coma can say they don't know what happened. And the usual discussions have begun again. "Take away the guns!" "Arm the Teachers!" "How did he get a gun when he was obviously crazy?"
Everyone has an answer but in their hearts...every single person out there knows one thing is true...they don't really have an answer. Not really.
Because somewhere lurking in the hearts of even the most ardent gun control disciple, there exists the knowledge that someone who could do something like this to children would simply find another means. He'd make a bomb, or steal a truck and drive it through the crowded schoolyard at the end of the day when the parents were picking up their kids, or he'd just grab a knife like the guy in China did yesterday. (China has very strict gun laws...NOBODY owns guns except the government.)
Maybe that's what drives people to want to take away weapons from good people. Because in their hearts they know there really isn't anything you can do to stop this but "by God we have to do something". Disarming is knee-jerk. Arming the teachers would be a means of lessening the damage, not ending it. Someone returning fire yesterday would undoubtedly have stopped some of the carnage...maybe even most of it. But certainly not all of it. So in reality, even the solution I agree with, (I am most decidedly pro-gun) is not a total cure.
That brings us to the real problem. The problem of evil. The fact that you can't ever cure this. The problem is not guns...the problem is us.
Man was not created to kill. Adam didn't have this insidious cruelty in his soul when God formed him from dirt and breathed His very Spirit into his lungs and brought him to life. And had man simply obeyed God we'd be living in perfection right now and the only mass shootings we'd experience would be when we good-naturedly spit watermelon seeds at each other on summer evenings. But that's not how it happened and we have been declining ever since.
Man's fate was sealed the moment the sound of Eve crunching the apple echoed through the Garden and the battle for man's soul began. Not long after that, her son Cain got jealous over his brother finding favor with God and picked up a rock or a log and beat him to death with it. It wasn't the rock or the log that did the was the evil heart of Cain.
God could have chosen to leave this situation as it was. He could have just turned His back on us and let us descend into an abyss of evil and depravity that knows no bounds. Instead He already had a plan in place. His plan was costly and heartbreaking and it is ironic that this horrible evil occurred yesterday in Connecticut during the very season we celebrate the birth of His Son...and the beginnings of that costly, heartbreaking plan.
God lost a Son too. It's His birth we commemorate at this time each year and it's His birth that was the beginning of the Great Plan of Redemption. A plan made necessary by the kind of evil that causes things like yesterday in Connecticut.
If you are looking for a reason for this tragedy...and all tragedies where man harming man is need only look to Jeremiah 17:9 "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?"
Yesterday was undoubtedly "desperate wickedness".
God sent His Son into this world to pay the price for the kind of evil that would inflict this on little children and their parents. God paid the ultimate price to end evil once and for all and redeem us from the curse we brought on ourselves.
Make no mistake...the same evil that could perform the evil feats of Newtown, Connecticut resides in the heart of every human being. Sin is inherited in humanity. We all have the potential to do this sort of thing. What keeps the vast majority of us from falling prey to this wickedness is simply the Grace of God. God's presence in this world keeps the great majority of us from going off the rails and succumbing to the deepest evil present in this world.
If you can imagine the cruelty and evil and demonic anger present in the mind of Adam Lanza yesterday as he executed a classroom full of 5 year olds...then you can imagine the cruelty heaped upon the body of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.
Evil has it's genesis in Satan himself. Coupled with mental instability and chemical imbalance it becomes a witches brew of horror. But at the base of it is the sin nature of man. Man before the fall would not even entertain the idea of yesterday...much less attempt it.
There is but one hope for this world and one hope for the battle against the evil that desires your soul and mine...the man Christ Jesus.
God cares. God's heart is rent in two today for moms and dads without their kids. God's heart is grieved for a nation and a world that is progressively more afraid, more angry, more desensitized, and more numb. God did not cause this. God did not stand idly by while this occurred.
God is not sitting slumped on His throne, absently staring at the carnage and caring little or not at all. God is ministering right now through His people. He is hearing the prayers of the saints from around the world and He is acting on those requests. But God has already made arrangement for the overcoming of evil.
The only hope this world has is in Jesus. The only way that hope can be accessed by the hopeless is through the work of God's people. God's voice in this world is the voice of His Word and the voice and work of the Body of Christ...the church. It's time we stopped running churches like corporations and like spiritual libraries for the believers and spend ourselves spreading the Gospel. It's time we stop the nonsensical and shameful gluttony we practice by continually feeding ourselves on "Personal Christianity" while an unsaved world starves to death. It's time we leave our little enclaves of spiritual safety and waddle our bloated butts out into the field and get busy harvesting again, as Jesus commanded.
It's time to get back out into the highways and hedges and proclaim the Salvation of souls and the setting free of prisoners and the crushing of the serpent's head.
The problem is sin. The problem is evil. The problem has been dealt with already but those with the solution need to get busy applying it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Emptiness of Christmas...

I'm going to pose a question for the sake of stirring some hearts and maybe making some folks think.
I hope you won't rip into my Theology here because I'm not stating this as a definitive...merely as conjecture.
Jesus was "Very God of Very God". God Himself in the flesh of man. We know that God is a Triune Spirit...3 in 1. So while Jesus, the Son, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit all exist simultaneously in one Being, they also exist separately of each other at times for the purpose of performing the works of God. It's confusing.
When Jesus came to this world as all babies do, He was God Incarnate...God in the Flesh. He was fully God while also being fully Man. He never gave up His deity, but chose to not exercise it during His time on earth except where directed by the will of His Father.
So...while Jesus was physically present here on earth, was He absent from Heaven?
I say yes. And I have thought often about the emptiness of Heaven during those 33 1/2 years.
Did God miss His son? Did He glance to His side and see an empty throne and know where his son was and what He was there to do? Did this knowledge cause Him pain? Did he ever sit on the edge of His Heavenly seat and watch His son at work in the carpenter's shop and wince as Jesus took a splinter in his hand or cut his fingers with the tools or felt the callouses growing on his palms?
Did God ever fall silently into Jesus' room as he slept when he was a boy and run his fingers through his hair as all of us have done with our own child at some point? Did he miss the company of His Son while He was here on earth completing the task of securing my soul?
God had never before been subject to time and He was. Jesus was constricted by the passing of time as we all are. God who existed outside of dimension or measure was now wearing the flesh of finite man. That was a huge price to pay for my soul.
Never lose sight of the fact that God was a Father.  That He loved Jesus as a son. He was a proud parent who adored His child and who had constructed the entire painful plan of Salvation with only His Son in mind to take the lead role. No other son would do.
Christmas is full for most of us. Full of friendships, full of love and hope.
Christmas...for the time Jesus spent on earth separated from His Father...was probably a little empty for them both.
All the more reason to say thank you this Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2012

What would you say to Him...if you could?

Undoubtedly the great effect of "A Ragamuffin Christmas" is the "what-if" factor. You read it, and you read about people like you and like me who somehow make a mystical visit to the Nativity and who meet Jesus face-to-face. You know it could never happen, but you also know that if it could have probably would have happened like it does in the book.  That's the wonder of "A Ragamuffin Christmas".
Nothing about the book makes you frown at it's theology. Nothing makes you angry or insulted and wanting to fire off an angry letter to me, telling me how wrong I am and how God would "Never ever do that!" and surround your protest with a dozen verses of scripture that prove me a heretic.
The story is clearly a fiction, but clearly a believable fiction. It's something that, if it could happen, would probably happen the way it happens on these pages.
The purpose of the book was to make the reader think.
It's to make you think about the situation Jesus was born in. Poor, isolated, ignored, scandalous...all descriptives that fail to meet the standards of the King of Kings. The angel declared: "Don't be afraid! Because I am bringing you good news! For today, for you, a baby is born in Bethlehem. He is the Christ, and He is The LORD!" And then God completed the announced task by sending His beloved Savior and my a filthy cave, to poor parents, amid whispers of scandalous illegitimacy, rumors of insanity, (Imagine those few people that Mary might have told this whole story to, and how they reacted to her.) and ignored by everyone except some shepherds.
Jesus entered the first act of the Great Plan of Redemption through a side door. I think this was all done so that we would find Him utterly approachable.
The story of "A Ragamuffin Christmas" takes you past the things we always think about Christmas, and creates a place where we can think about the other things about Christmas. We have always thought about the Baby...on these pages we think about holding Him. We think about touching Him. We think about making silly faces at Him so He'll smile and holding that precious hand, and our hearts melting as it curls around our finger. We think about the way babies smell, and the way they bring us peace and calm, and the way they make us see the future as a fresh start. They make us think about life itself...about Life Himself.
And somewhere in the pages of this book something inevitably clicks and we suddenly feel Him in our arms and we realize with stunning revelation...this baby is God. He has come to me like this and He has permitted me to hold Him in my arms and He has melted the frost that years and life have added, layer upon layer.
I was homeless when I wrote this story. I needed a special touch that year because it was more horribly painful than anything I can relate. My daughter was 10 years old and her daddy was homeless and it was killing my soul. Christmas has always been a very special time in our house and that year it hurt more than I can tell. I asked God for something special to help me get through that terribly painful period...and He gave me these stories.
He also gave me the vision of sharing them with the world as the printed page upon which they now reside.
And that is why I so desperately want this book to succeed. Sure there are financial considerations, but deep down I want people to be touched as I have been, by the stories.
I want you to be touched.
What if you had been there? What if you had wandered by that cave on that cold winters night and something said to you "Look inside..." and you poked your head in and saw a young girl and her husband and their baby? What if you introduced yourself to Joseph and Mary, and you looked in their eyes knowing more about their child's fate than they knew and it was all you could do not to break down in tears as the thought of what their hearts would endure wounds you to your soul?
So you would keep your knowledge to'd even go to great lengths to hide it so that it doesn't accidentally escape your lips.
"He's beautiful, Mary" you might say, "What is his name?"  And then your heart would race and tears would fill your eyes as you heard it from the lips of a young woman whose very name is mentioned in the Bible as "Blessed amongst women". She speaks  the name that all of history recognizes and upon whom the great Plan of Salvation rests.  "His Jesus" the young girl whispers. The name echoes silently in your heart. You try to hide the tears so as to avoid having to explain them to this young couple who don't know the half of what their son's fate will be.
But you know.
Imagine the baby stirs while you are still savoring the sweetness of hearing His name spoken by His mother...and she asks you "Would you like to hold him?"  Imagine the torrent of thoughts as they flood your soul. "Yes...of course" and before you know it, He is in your arms. He is soft, and precious, and vulnerable, and unassuming, and beautiful. And He is God.  And you are holding Him.
He stirs just a bit and He makes the special little cooing sounds that babies make and your heart wants to burst. Because in those sweet syllables of baby-babble you hear something else indeed. You hear what Mary has no way of grasping. You hear; "I have to be doing my Father's business". You hear; "Since your accusers don't condemn you...neither do I. Go get on with your life and stop sinning". His cooing becomes; "Peter...follow me and I will make you a fisher of men". The gentle sound becomes the boom of; "Lazarus come forth!" And then your heart crumbles as you hear; "It is finished".
All the while you are amazed because you are holding God Himself. God is nestled in your arms. God has trusted you with His very Son.
In this moment the words pour out. Maybe you don't speak them in the presence of His parents but they ring from your heart. Your faults, your frailties, your victories and defeats. The dreams you dreamed that died long ago and the ones you tucked away hoping they will never die.
The things you think keep you from Him. The things you need to tell Him about. All babies cause us to drop our guard and become loving, gentle, tender hearts. But this baby especially...He knocks down the walls that our lives have built and He never speaks a word as He does it.
This story is about exactly this encounter. And when you read "A Ragamuffin Christmas" you take the journey to the cave. You awaken to find the baby in your arms. And you have audience with the Very Son of God.
Now, what would you say to Him...if you could?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fox 17 in Nashville does story about Craig and "A Ragamuffin Christmas"

Stacy case from Fox 17 did a wonderful story about me and the book tonight

Fox 17 story about Craif

What is "A Ragamuffin Christmas"?

If we're honest with ourselves we would admit we are all ragamuffins. A ragamuffin is less than perfect. Far, far less. We spit when we talk, we fall down frequently and we get up angrily sometimes. Our clothes aren't always pressed. Our breath is sometimes bad and usually on a day when we have a lot to say. Our dreams are broken, altered, bandaged, re-imagined and distant...but never forgotten.
We have sinned greatly and therefore we need great forgiveness. Some of us have spent our lives in service to Jesus and wondered every single day if He was pleased by our offering. We lived wildly, broke rules, felt guilt and shame that few ever understood because we pretended we were okay.
Some of us hid dark secrets from even those closest to us, whom we trusted most, because we still didn't understand that anyone could ever choose to love us...not really love us.
Ragamuffins have sharp edges from the rough way our lives have handled us. The sharpness makes us abrasive and difficult to draw near...but we secretly, unknowingly, embrace that distance because under all our bluff and bluster and outward joviality...we are afraid of being left alone. And so we create that isolation before someone else forces it one us.
Ragamuffins fall to sleep at night to the echo of the voices of those we miss, those we loved who left us, those we have wounded and didn't mean to, and those who have hurt us deeply who we can't seem to forget, regardless of what they did. We long for God and fear Him all at the same time. We pray in earnest while the whispers in our heart turn to threatening bellows..."He isn't listening. He doesn't listen to people like you !"  We learned that from other ragamuffins who rose to power and authority somehow, despite...or more likely because...of their own faults and frailties and the powerful masks they wear to hide them.
Ragamuffins are pretenders. We walk through life like "Igor" in Young Frankestein, incredulously asking "What Hump?" when the doctor offers to fix us. We've pretended for so long, that we started to believe that this broken condition is "normal". We believe that we are inadequate on purpose. That this is how we were supposed to be. If we fail financially it's not because the economy is in the tank, it's because we're "stupid"...because that's what the bellowing buffoon says...and he must be right because he is a "Christian" and the church approves of him. We must be far from God because the smiley-faced guy in Houston says God want's our lives to be "like Friday every day!"  and we're locked in a perpetual Monday morning.
We get sick and we don't get healed. We drive a broken down car and we complain about it. We watch as our lives ebb and our dreams fade but we can't seem to give up and accept the empty hole that wants to take the place of those dreams.
Ragamuffins are bad housekeepers and lousy drivers, and can't balance a checkbook. We get angry and then we deeply regret what we said or did. We wish we could let our eyes glaze over and raise our hands during praise and worship like so many others do but somehow we can't. We are questioners who only want answers but somehow always seem to be viewed as troublemakers.
We love deeply...most of the time too deeply. We are fiercely loyal to those we love and many times to those who are far less than loyal in return.
We have a long list of people we've hurt that we seem to be forced to review each night before bed. We wish things had turned out differently, and we still strive to that end.
We love Christmas. We love this baby and what He came to do for us. So each year we return to this place with our worn clothes and the heavy suitcase that we keep shifting from one hand to the other, because we are so tired of carrying it.  We stumble back here to this cave and to this baby and we remember that He was a lot more like us than He was like any of the polished, and prudish and perfect. We find out...when we see the other ragamuffins here...that we are a lot more like the people the preachers preach against than the ones he is preaching to. But we find out that this baby was that way too.
Somehow in the midst of this Silent Night, we fall on our knees and gently lift this little Wonder into our arms and all the things we carried in here with us fall away. The Baby of Bethlehem does what babies do. Jesus...the Son of the flesh. He wraps his tiny hand around our finger and he sleeps in our arms and we feel the love of God break through all those layers of imperfection, hurt, disappointment fear and shame. That is His Christmas present to us.
The year takes it's toll and we find ourselves tattered and torn and adrift. But we cling to the single plank of Faith and find ourselves washed ashore and stumbling toward a star and a stable. We kneel at the manger and we see God, face to face and flesh to flesh. Jesus, the Baby of Bethlehem. The Savior of the world. The Ragamuffin who came for Ragamuffins.
Come as you are...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Two fathers of Christmas

I don't know when it was that I first tried comprehending Joseph's role in Christmas. Growing up it was too confusing to try to comprehend that Mary was his wife but Jesus wasn't his son. When I was really young I didn't even understand reproduction and sex yet, so Joseph at that stage was the guy who went to work every day and made money and told you to turn off the lights and to shut the front door because you weren't heating the whole neighborhood.
Then when I was a teenager I knew what it meant that "Mary had never been with a man".  It was sanitary and sanctified and it made the topic comfortable for the pastor. There are reasons they cling to the KJV that have nothing to do with accuracy...discussing the virginity of the mother of Jesus is such a reason.
When I got older I just stopped paying attention to Joseph altogether. He was Mary's husband but not Jesus' father and so he wasn't really a key player in this whole scenario.
Then I became a dad.
The night Morgan was born I was 34 years old, scared, hopeful, wondering if I could do this the right way, wondering if maybe now, with a granddaughter, my dad would want to have a relationship. Wondering if I would measure up. I was worried that my wife wouldn't be happy enough. That I couldn't spoil my daughter as I wanted to. I was afraid of a million phantoms and bogeymen that I shouldn't have even considered.
I was also a nervous wreck just watching the miracle of her life as it began outside the womb. A million things raced through my mind as I watched her enter the world, but none so frightening as the moment I thought her head popped off. Yeah...I thought that.
Here's the deal, Holly was doing fine as a woman does in delivery. She had early contractions around the 7 months mark and so the doctor had her on prescription Magnesium. Because she had some difficulty in the pregnancy, the doctor decided to induce at 39 weeks. So we checked into St. Thomas Medical center and began the wait for Morgan's arrival.
About 9:30, Dr. Ballardo gave Holly an injection of Pitosin to induce labor. The problem is that when Pitosin hits the bloodstream of a woman who has been on Magnesium, the result is horrible nausea. So my poor wife was pushing the baby out and in between pushes, vomiting forcefully into a bedpan. I stood by her side, holding her hand with one of mine and the bedpan with the other. I was positioned where I could see Morgan as she entered the world.
At some point, Morgan's heart rate began to drop just a little and Dr. Bellardo said "I'm going to have to help her a little, she's getting a little distressed". Okay this happens all the time but this was my first child and I was a nervous wreck. Was she okay? Was she in trouble?
Dr. B reassured me that this was normal and that she had crowned normally, (which means the top of her head was now showing) and he just wanted to give her a little help. So he attached a suction cup to the top of her head and began to gently pull.
So there I am...34 years old, no prior knowledge of what is going on, holding my wife's hand with one and a bedpan in the other and watching my little girl enter the world. At the very end, as Morgan was almost completely out of the womb. I was encouraging Holly, holding the bedpan, and trying to sneak a peak at my daughter. I was focusing on Holly one moment when I heard a loud "POP!" and out of the corner of my eye I saw Dr. Bellardo's arm jerk back...and for a brief instant I thought he had popped her head right off.  Just like that.  He apparently had seen the horrible look of fear before and he laughed. He showed me the thumb release on the suction cup and he assured me that Morgan's head was still quite intact. I laughed at myself and then with one last push my little girl came into the world...head and all.
It was a funny event in the midst of something that scared me with it's intensity and awesome solemnity.  I was a dad now. Now everything in life was important.
I thought about that story as I wrote the story about Joseph in "A Ragamuffin Christmas". Before I became a dad, I barely consider Joseph. Now I appreciate him. It's hard to be a daddy, especially with the situation as it was for Joseph. Imagine being charged with raising the very Son of God Himself. Imagine how nervous Joseph might have been when Jesus tagged along to the carpenters shop and picked up his daddy's tools. Imagine the thoughts in Josephs mind as he tried teaching Jesus his trade, knowing that Jesus was who He was and maybe wondering if He couldn't have done the teaching instead.
Imagine his response as he had other children and tried to be fair and unbiased.
Imagine if there were lean times in the carpentry business and Joseph worried all night about how he was going to feed his family...a family that included the son of God.
That had to be a burden that not many men could have handled.
Then I thought about the other Father at Christmas...God
I was a goofy, exuberant, joyous daddy the night my daughter was born. I couldn't wait to tell everyone in the entire world that my daughter was here and she was the greatest thing that ever lived.
Is it wrong to think that God might react that way?
Did He show up at some point that night, while Mary and Joseph slept and after the shepherd's had gone back to their flocks and nobody was around to see? Did his Holiness and Glory fall upon that filthy cave and did He enter in and kneel down beside the dirty manger where His beloved Son was sleeping. Did He pick Him up with no one to witness, and hold him to his chest and weep tears of joy and pride and love as I did the night Morgan came into the world? There is nothing in the bible to say that He did...but nothing to refute it either.
It's conjecture on my part...artistic license and nothing more. But having "Torn heaven open" and sending the Spirit and gloriously proclaiming "This is my beloved son..." at Jesus' baptism, is it a stretch to think He reacted to his birth as well?
Last year, I wrote one of  several new chapters for the original book and one of them was exactly that scene. a Daddy...having a few precious, tender moments with his Beloved Son before the war for the souls of men began. It's one of my favorites and I hope it will be one of yours as well.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wondrous Irony

Last night I took my daughter to Belmont University to hear their Christmas Concert. For those of you unaware, Belmont is a Baptist University here in Nashville known particularly for it's music education. It's a very good school and the music department is world-class.
So last night's show was astounding. Morgan made the arrangements because it was part of a requirement for her arts class. She had to attend two concerts and write a review of them both. So she didn't tell me it was pretty much a formal event and we arrived dressed casually. That's not to say we were frowned upon or dismissed or that we even felt uncomfortable. It's simply a way of saying that apparently this is a very big night in Nashville because the folks attending were all pretty polished and special.
The auditorium was breathtaking, with acoustics that made you tingle. From the opening note there was grandeur and pageantry.
The orchestra played and then the Belmont Choir sang and then the Nashville Children's Choir sang and then a brass ensemble played and there was an amazing song by the Women's Choir and a few more performances before the intermission.
At one point I sat there taking it all in and thinking about how unlike the actual Nativity this event really was.
Last night, the birth of Jesus was being heralded and celebrated with glorious precision and wondrous talent. The well-bred and high-class of Nashville showed up in their very best to witness the performance and join in the revelry. That's how it
But that night...that mystical, scandalous, blessed, Holy, silent night when God took on human flesh and entered this world in exactly the same way we all did...looked nothing like last night.
The night Jesus was born went unheralded. He was ignored by all the world except some shepherds who were nearby--maybe even the shepherds in whose cave he was born--who were alerted to his arrival by angelic hosts. It's befitting the situation really. The illegitimate, scandalous, pauper-king named Jesus who was "God of Very God" and who had been born with one purpose looming large on the horizon, was all but alone when He made his entrance.
There was no orchestra, no stage production, no welcoming committee. There were no local dignitaries in their finest, coming from across Bethlehem to meet him and deluge his parents with gifts. There was no room for him in the local Inn or in anyone's home. Maybe because they were crowded, but also just as likely because he was illegitimate, and his scandalous situation had preceded him to Bethlehem. It was likely that someone could have made space for a very pregnant teenaged mom and her carpenter husband on a cold winters night, but the "Little Town of Bethlehem" collectively pulled down it's blinds and drew it's deadbolts.
And so Jesus was born in a cave, cut into the side of a hill. A place where shepherds would run their smelly sheep into at night and then they themselves would sleep in the doorway to prevent intruders and escapees. It was dirty, it smelled, and it was so innocuous that nobody would have even bothered to look inside to see the sheep...much less the Messiah.
Jesus got His fanfare many years later. After his beautiful infant hands grew into the hands of a carpenter-Rabbi and then were torn by a Roman spike. His lovely, curly dark hair was matted with blood as he writhed on a cross. His precious face was marred and beaten and swollen so badly that he didn't seem human and he was mockingly anointed "king" by the spit of Roman soldiers and Hebrew scholars as it ran down his face.
...and I have trusted him with my soul.
This beautiful baby who was God Himself, and who came to save me from my destination, was not celebrated that night as he should have been. In a deliciously ironic turn, God...being God...told two sets of strangers about His Son. He told the local shepherds, whom the Roman occupiers detested, and He told the fabulously wealthy "3 Wise Men" from the Orient. (in truth there might have been 20 wise men...we only know they brought three gifts and so the story sort of morphed itself into 3 Wise Men). So God proclaimed His Son's arrival to the very rich and the very poor. But only the very poor got to see him that night. It would take the Wise Men almost two years to make their journey to find Jesus. The shepherds were ushered into His presence immediately. Why? Well without judging the Wise Men...I am going to guess that it was because the shepherds were overlooked too...just like Jesus. They too were humble. They too were poor. They were rejected for the most part and lived a nomadic, homeless life.
And perhaps it was because they possibly lent Him this cave. If, in fact, this sheep-pen did belong to one of them...then perhaps God affording them the first glimpse of his son was His "Thank You". In a town that had no room, they offered him the room they had. Perhaps...
Last night listening to the absolutely breathtaking and glorious music that poured out of Belmont, I was moved to tears. I fell more deeply in love with Jesus than previously. I thought of how this was His due and yet He chose to come here knowing he would not receive it on that night. The only sounds were the whispers and accusations of his illegitimacy and scandal. The only worshipers were the lowliest men of the city, who wandered in their life as He would, and who were the only people to hear the angels and the proclamation of the arrival of the "Savior which is Christ, the Lord".
If this was their cave...then it was a perfect type of the work he had come to do. The shepherds gave him the only asset they had. All their possessions in the world were these sheep and this dirty, dank piece of property cut into a hill and fit only for animals. He took it and made it his home.
2000 years later He inspires such pageantry and worship as I witnessed last night. But on the night He was born there was none of that.
And that is a wondrous irony indeed.
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

What were you Thinking?

So how does one write a book about the Nativity, from a first-person perspective? What sort of inspiration is the genesis of a book that places Bible characters, grandparents, and patron saints in the same space and time as the birth of our Savior? How does one imagine what Joseph and Mary's reaction would be to tasting popcorn for the first time? Or when they watch a murderer and his victims worshiping their son together, for reasons neither Joseph or Mary can't nearly grasp?
It starts with being a dad.
I always wanted to be a dad. For as long as I can remember. Maybe I hoped it would soothe the ache in my heart for my own father, or maybe it would fulfill the promise of a real family as it was supposed to be, not as it was in my childhood. Or maybe it was just the way God built me. In reality it was all of those things.
But it started years before I ever became a dad. It started when I read a book by Brennan Manning entitled "The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus".  It's a series of essays and 3 or 4 of them are about Christmas. In the stories, Brennan emphasizes how human Christ was. How He entered this world just like we did and how He felt the same crushing humanity we carry around with us every day. How He was born the same way we all were.
There are things about the birth of Jesus that we forget. Things that we mostly never consider, unless something brings them into focus for us. And it was when I became a dad in May 1998 I started to consider these things.
When I became a dad I started to grasp what the birth of Jesus really meant. What it must surely have been like for Joseph as a poor carpenter, who was stepfather to the son of God and who probably didn't really understand any of that. What it must have felt like for be a teenager and pregnant while a virgin. A story not a soul would believe. In fact, had God's angel not appeared to Joseph in a dream, he had planned to divorce her quietly, and move on with his life, because even he didn't believe her a first.
It's the humanity of Jesus, and his embarrassingly humble birth that draws me to Christmas...and that inspired me to write this book.
I started writing the book in late November 2009. I was homeless. It was the second Christmas I was in this situation. There would be two more before the ordeal ended. My daughter was 10 years old and she was worried about her daddy. She lived with her mom and so she was alright. But Christmas had always been our time together. She has the same Christmas-loving soul that I have and she loved being with me for the Holiday. This particular year it was not going to be like before and I guess we both knew it.
We had always done an advent calender together during the Holiday season, but for whatever reason that year she didn't want to have one. I was devastated. To me it was another thing that the loss of my career had chewed up from my life. It broke my heart.
During a very early morning walk one day in late November of that year, I prayed that God would do something special for me. That He would save Christmas for me somehow. On that walk I started thinking about what it would be like to experience Jesus as a baby. Perhaps I had come to realize that I had allowed life to distance me from the Nativity. With all that was going on I needed to make the trip back.
I walked and walked and as I did I started to process over again, the amazing truth of Jesus birth. How he was a baby just like my daughter was. How he was approachable. How he was gentle and unassuming. How poor his birth was. How he was born amidst the scandalous whispers of illegitimacy...just like I was. I thought about how he was vulnerable...and I stopped in my tracks. It was here that I made a connection I will never forget. Jesus was vulnerable. All of those things we worry about with our newborns were at play with Jesus too. And in my family it was something we never took for granted.
My father is one of fifteen children. The firstborn was my uncle Angelo. My grandparents were immigrants and all the children were born at home except the last two. I guess that's how they did it in Italy and so that's how they did it here. Uncle Angelo was delivered without a hitch apparently. Everything went as everything was supposed to and my grandparents had their first child. They had a midwife for the process and she delivered the baby boy, did the post-partum work she was supposed to do, showed him to his momma and at some point, she headed across the room to clean him up and put the silver nitrate on his eyes and dress him.
Somewhere in the trip, he wiggled and she dropped him.
She apparently didn't think it was a big deal, she picked him up, took him to the dressing table, cleaned him up as planned, put him in his little gown and brought him to my grandmother. When Uncle Angelo opened his mouth to nurse, there was blood trickling out. About three hours later he was gone.
I don't know how my grandmother reacted or how my grandfather reacted. But walking that early November morning I started thinking about how I would have reacted. And I suddenly realized how Jesus could have easily met the same fate. Because he was just like us.
He could have been dropped, he could have caught some terrible infection from the filth of the sheep-pen. Mary could have had complications. What would they have done? They were a carpenter and his teenaged bride in a cave cut into the side of a hill. Nobody even knew they were there except some smelly shepherds who had heard the angels and came to see what the fuss was all about.
I started thinking about the way babies touch us. How it was when I took Morgan out for the first time in public. How everyone looked, smiled, asked if she was a she or a he. Asked her name. Tried to make her smile. they were all touched by the mere presence of a baby.
That's when I got it. That's why I understood why God went to the trouble of telling us in two of the 3 synoptic Gospels, the details about the birth of His son. Because there would be many images and many portraits of Jesus painted in Scripture and the baby was an important one. It was important to see Jesus as a baby in the light of babies we know because for some...that's the only image of God they can feel safe in approaching. We grow up hearing sermons about judgment and justice and righteousness and sin and punishment. We watch "The Ten Commandments" and see an awe-inspiring, powerful, Holy, consuming God. Then we see ourselves and think we could never approach that God. We watch "the Passion of the Christ and see a brutalized, tortured, beaten and bloodied Christ attached to a cross the way you would nail a "No Trespassing" sign to a tree on your property and we feel so guilty, so broken and sad that He had to die like this for us. After a few years and a few blows in life maybe we feel so much guilt and shame and we carry so much brokenness around with us that we are afraid to approach these images of God. The Holy God might hate me and reject me and the crucified God reminds me how bad I really am that He would have to do this. Maybe for some of us we permit this thinking...often coupled with bad preaching that reminds us even more just how terrible we drive us irretrievably from God altogether. We build a wall of shame and fear and embarrassment and pain and we hide from God behind it.
So God sent a baby.
My daughter was a magnet for my soul. I was 34, illegitimate myself, like my own Savior was. I was a scared husband and a scared daddy and I felt like I was all alone in the world with a wife and a child to take care of. I was unsure of myself.
And then I held her...
And whatever I felt by way of doubt and fear and shame was overcome by enormous love and tenderness and hope. My mouth told her "I Love You" probably 500 times that first night. And somewhere in my soul I heard her say "I love you too daddy". Something told me it was okay. That this baby was going to love me unconditionally where others had failed. I could relax and drop my guard and allow my love to flow toward her in ways that frightened me with anyone else. Babies do that.
Walking that frozen November morning, with the shame of failure and homelessness and hopelessness blistering my heart...I remembered that night and the way my little baby made me feel. And I began to understand the reason God wanted us to know so much about Jesus as a baby.
Because all the safety of my daughter love was present in my newborn Savior too. This was an image of God I didn't have to fear and I couldn't misconstrue. He came as a knock down my walls and thaw out my heart. He didn't care how I'd failed or what baggage I carried. He even had the shame of illegitimacy in common with me. All He wanted was for me to hold him and whisper "I love you" thousands of times.
...Just like my own baby did.
From there it was easy to imagine a cast of unlikely characters visiting the manger. Brennan Manning has said that he sees Christmas as the most Holy of the Holidays. Even more special than Good Friday or Easter. Because, as he says; "The only thing more wondrous than the fact that He would die for me is that He would ever come for me in the first place". I agree. And that he did it as a catch me off guard and knock down my walls, was just a wink from a knowing God. A whisper that says "I knew this was what it would can come to me now"
The book places Jesus in the arms of some very colorful characters. And the magic of the book is seeing what the baby does to each heart.
The 24 day period in which I wrote the original manuscript was a true advent for me. Each story really was an anticipation of His arrival, memorialized in each amazing interaction between a ragamuffin and a baby.
Over the course of the writing I became one of those ragamuffins too. It redefined Christmas for me.
And that, is what I was thinking when this story came to be.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Story Behind the "A Ragamuffin Christmas" came to be...

I moved to Nashville, Tennessee in November 1997.
I'm a native of Philadelphia and grew up in the Philadelphia area. I had never considered living anywhere else, except one brief notion about moving to California because I had been there for 10 days when my best friend got married and I was in his wedding. Who wouldn't fall in love with a place that was 35 degrees warmer when you got off the plane than it was when you go on board? (Greg had gotten married in January and it was 35 degrees in Philly the morning I flew to L.A.)
But I love my hometown so very very much and I never thought I'd ever live anywhere else.
Then I got married.
My now-ex-wife is from Utah. (It's an interesting story how we met but one I won't tell here) She hated the Philadelphia area from day one. So we moved to Nashville where I soon realized she merely hated me.
We were married in February 1997, she got pregnant in August, we moved to Nashville in November and in May 1998 my daughter was born.
My daughter is everything. She is the one thing I live this life for (other than God of course). She is all the hopes and dreams I have for every day I shall walk this earth. I loved her from the moment I found out I was going to be a dad. I fell even more in love with her when we had that first grainy sonogram done and I could see the outline of a real-life child in there. I loved her every day during Holly's pregnancy and I told her so each night, when I would hold a cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels against her mother's belly and tell her "Hi's your daddy. I love you and I can't wait to see you!" One night around the 7-8 month mark, I did this as I always did, and before I got to "I love you and I can't wait to see you"...she kicked. Really kicked. It's a story I've related before so I won't retell it further.
Morgan has been the driving force in my life for every day of the 14 plus years she has been on this earth...and the 38 weeks before. (She was induced 2 weeks early because it was a difficult pregnancy).
I started out down here doing carpentry but that wasn't paying nearly enough. So, on the advice of another of my dearest friends, in September 1998 I got into the mortgage industry. I struggled terribly that first year. I stayed up late memorizing lender matrices so I could know which programs to put my customers in off the top of my head. I studied rate sheets and called on realtors. I held first-time home-buyer seminars. I called "For sale by Owner" ads and asked them to send me leads from people inquiring to buy their houses. I busted my butt to make something of myself for my family.
On December 1, 1999 at 2PM, I walked out of Davidson County Fourth Circuit Court a divorced dad.
My ex had really never been happy and my struggling to have success in a business I was brand-new to was all the impetus she needed to end our marriage. It crushed me. I had dreamed dreams and made plans and set goals for this little family of mine...really all the family I've ever had...and suddenly the person I dreamed all those dreams for decided she was going to find someone else to make them come true with. And my little princess, my daughter-who was the driving force that kept me going when I worked for that first crappy mortgage company where I learned to excel but was rewarded with my pocket getting picked in a thousand ways- was now a visitor in my home once a week and every other weekend and two months in the summer.
I don't know if you've ever known a broken-hearted divorced dad but let mt tell you...if you are a real dad, you don't have an off switch to make your love for your kids subside on the days they aren't there. I was a zombie for years after my divorce. Morgan was my one source of life and energy and the one person in all my life who had not changed her mind about loving me and who I could love safely. I would spend myself willingly for her happiness and I did.
A year after my divorce I really turned the corner in the mortgage business. I was really really good at my job. I had become a branch manager of a net-branch company and had my own office and was starting to see some real, measurable income. By 2005 I was a branch operator with the largest privately funded mortgage company in the U.S. I was successful, I was making more money each successive year. I was nationally recognized by my bosses for running a good branch and for being active in the community and for developing a really great marketing campaign for a FSBO product we had. I was doing okay.
There was still a massive hole in my heart, but I comforted myself with being a great dad and with the house I had purchased in 2004. Nothing special, 2500 square feet on five acres in the country. It was really the five acres that I loved. I had a wonderful vegetable garden that was ten times bigger than I could ever consume myself. But like my uncle Franny, I love making things grow. I once planted Cheerio's to see if I could grow donuts. (Not really...)
By 2006 the industry was really starting to feel the rumblings of what was ahead. I made very little money in 2006 and by January of 2007 I lost my home. 2007 rebounded for me in my market and I made enough money that I rented for a year and Morgan and I lived a nice little life in a neighborhood in Franklin. But my heart was sinking and the business was drying up. I had my best year ever in 2007...and I didn't close one loan after August 1st of that year. I closed two loans in February 2008. They closed my office in March, along with all but two other offices in the state. I was officially a loan officer for another branch but I had no more business. In May my lease expired and I was homeless. Morgan and I stayed in a friends loft apartment for the summer, travelling back and forth to Delaware so we'd have something of a time together. In August she went back to live with her mom, and my friends needed the apartment for a previous commitment  And so from August 2008 until January 2012 I was homeless. I slept in my car and showered at the local rec center.
Christmas 2008 was hard, but not the hardest. 2009 was terrible. Morgan had informed me that year that she no longer believed in Santa. Okay...I knew this was coming. But along with losing my home, my workshop and garden that were my refuge, and the two dogs the cat and the Welsh Pony that were also part of my I could no longer climb up on the roof on Christmas Eve, as Morgan was just drifting off to sleep, and stomp around and shake the sleigh bells I had made and bellow my "Ho Ho Ho" and be Santa. I would have liked one more chance to do that...on my own roof while my daughter slept in her own bed.
Morgan and I had always had the Advent calenders. I would buy two identical calenders and she would take one to her mom's and leave one at my house. And so together, whether in person or on the phone, we would open a door each day and get even more excited about the approaching holiday.
2009 she told me she didn't really want to do that either. I think it was her defense mechanism. I think that because I was living in my car, and had no kitchen counter to put it on, she just didn't feel like it would be the same. I have wondered if her not wanting to do the Advent calender that year was her way of dealing with the hurt and disappointment of what had befallen her daddy...and subsequently her as well.
I was devastated. I was worried that my daughter would lose faith in me and in God. All I had at the time were my words. And so I began writing a series of stories for the Advent...only they were very grown-up stories about broken Morgan's daddy...who found their way back to the manger and to the baby Jesus. They found their way back to Christmas itself somehow. They were broken, limping, hardened, and desperate. Their faith was dimmed by the beatings the world had inflicted. Their hearts were calloused from the blows of life. But somehow they all knew they needed to be the cave where Jesus was born. They needed to hold this baby and let babies do what babies do. Each day became a journey for me. Each story was inspired as I walked five miles each morning before going inside the rec center to shower and then go off to try to find a job. Each story became very real to me-in the way characters become real to writers- and I was amazed sometimes at how the stories twisted and turned and finally found themselves in front of the most precious Gift ever given.
These stories...and this book...were born from the heart of a very very broken daddy who had seen his whole life vaporize and who wondered if it was ever going to be the same again. Sometimes I still wonder that. I am still such a long long way from anything resembling the normalcy we once knew.
I wrote these stories during the worst Christmas Season my daughter and I ever knew. I had no money for a gift. If my friend Chris hadn't generously given me a rebuilt laptop he had worked on at his shop and was willing to let me pay him for it over time, I would have had nothing whatsoever to give my daughter.
I was crushed. I was nearly lifeless. I had nothing but these stories that seemed to pour out of me from a place that held so much pain of my own and so much embarrassment and humiliation over what my daughter was having to endure, not being able to stay with me on our weekends and knowing her daddy was living in his car. I could have left. I could have wandered into another state and found work and suddenly 5 years would go by and I would be too involved with that life to return to my first life. It happens all the time.
All I had that year were these stories and the love for my daughter that drove me to write them and polish them over the next 3 years until they became what you see now in final form.
These stories were my gift to her...from the deepest pain I've ever felt they brought me hope. Hope that one day we would look back on this difficult time we lived in and found something to share for generations.
It's the hope I have for everyone who reads it now.
Merry Christmas, Ragamuffins...

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Magical quality of "A Ragamuffin Christmas"

There is a certain "mystical" quality to this book. There has been since I first started writing it as a blog series in 2009. Most of the stories took me less than 10 minutes to write. They would come so fast that it sometimes felt like taking dictation more than it did composing a story.
The entire project was inspired...and I say that as solemnly and respectfully as I can. There are some amazing "stories behind the stories" on the pages.
Two Christmases ago, when I had self published the book and released it on a limited basis, someone told me it had a similar effect on him as when he read "The Shack".  Now, I have serious issues with the Theology of "The Shack" most folks do who have even a modicum of training in the Bible. But I understood what the guy meant.  As long as you read "The Shack" for what it was, it was a great book. It was special in a way that made you stop and realize that it was a once in a lifetime literary event. It's the folks who tried to develop a theology around the book that ran it off the rails. The underlying thing about "The Shack" was that, while you knew the events in the book could never couldn't help but wish they would.  Everyone who read the book wished, somewhere deep in their heart, that there was really a shack somewhere in some woods near their home. We all secretly wished we could escape for a mystical weekend with God in a nice little mountain cabin and hang out, and eat delicious food and get to know Him as we all deeply desire. We all wished it could just be us for a few days...just Him, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and me, and we could walk along the lake and hike the mountains and open up our souls and ask the burning questions that we all have inside of us. Questions that you can only ask when you are really comfortable with the person you are asking.
That was the magic of The Shack. It was horrifying what the main character endured to make the shack necessary. But the way God entered his life and brought healing...that was the real medicine the book offered. The author crossed the line quite a few times in the process but as I said before, if you were grounded, you could take the good and overlook the bad and be better for it.
The guy who told me that "A Ragamuffin Christmas" had the same feel, explained to me that it was this mystical feel that he compared to "The Shack".  Only my book is infinitely more Theologically sound. There aren't any doctrinal ideas that will make anyone cringe. No views of God that will cause you to run for your Bible and start emailing me scriptures to correct my post-Christian philosophy.
I make the case for salvation as clear as a bell by the end of the book.
But there is a quality to the book that is similar to "The Shack". The other day in discussing the book with a friend, it dawned on me what it is. Just like "The Shack", this book creates an event that you know immediately could never take place...but you wish with every page that it could.
It's obviously physically impossible for any of us to somehow become transcendent and return to that Holy night and see Jesus actually enter this world. To interact with Mary and Joseph and watch a parade of Ragamuffins as they come to meet the infant King of Kings. To hold Him ourselves and gaze in wonder at the very face of a form that makes us love Him more deeply. To smell the "baby-powder smell" of his skin, and to have our hearts implode as his tiny hand curls around our finger while he sleeps. ...and to understand the entire time..."This is God...and He has chosen to do this for come here like this, in this form and let me draw this close to Him."
That is the thing that every reader seems to take from "A Ragamuffin Christmas". That deep longing that this could really happen. That we could somehow really have this moment too. Sacred, silent, amazing. I don't present God in any form other than the forms he presents Himself in the Bible. Nothing in this book will make you scratch your head and wonder if you should be offended.
Instead, I think the book bridges the gap between who Jesus really is and what we have tried to make Him. Somehow we created a dichotomous Savior. Somehow in our lives, we developed a disconnect between the infant Savior of Bethlehem -sweet and peaceful and beautiful and approachable- and the Savior of Calvary, writhing in pain, abandoned by his Father, dying alone on the garbage pile of Jerusalem, with spit running down His face.
I think one of the great things the book does is reconnects those two. We are reminded throughout the book, in various scenes, that this beautiful baby is destined for a final showdown with death. And the realization makes both portrayals of Jesus more wondrous, more special, and more painful for those who love Him.
I think we all wish we could hold the baby. I think we all wish we could go back to the very opening scene in the Great Plan of Redemption, and experience the beginning, now that we've been touched by the end. Those of us who have made the journey up Calvary's hill, would have a very special view of Bethlehem's manger.
...if only we could really go there.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Christmas Book is for sale NOW!!

The Kindle version just hit Amazon and the print will be available by Friday! Please check it out...

Craig's Book

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Big Book Announcement!!

Here it is folks! "A Ragamuffin Christmas...An Advent Journey" will be available next week. (As soon as I know what day I'll post) As you might know, this book was a series of devotional stories I wrote for the Advent in 2009 while I was still homeless. It is a wonderful, mystical and emotional Christmas story. It was released this year by Liberty University Press.
Here is the cover art...

There will be more announcements in the next couple of days...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hearing the Voice of Daddy

When Holly was pregnant with Morgan I got in the habit of every night before we went to sleep, placing the cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels against her belly and talking to Morgan. I said pretty much the same thing every night..."Hi Morgan, this is your Daddy. I love you and I can't wait to see you!"
 I did this for several months and one night about the 7 1/2 month mark, we were lying in bed and I did it again as I always did. I put the tube against Holly's side and said "Hi Morgan this is your daddy..." and before I got any further, Morgan kicked. Really kicked. So much that I saw Holly's shirt jump. We laughed and then we cried. And it dawned on me that my daughter recognized my voice and knew I loved her before she ever entered this world. 
I think we would do well to remember that God has been doing the same thing for us since the dawn of time. He says we are "fearfully and wonderfully made". The Hebew word for "made" translated better to "created". It's the same word in Genesis that is used to describe God creating Adam, and it's the same word they would have used to describe an artist creating a work of art.He tells us He has written our names on the palm of His hand. He loved and desired you before you took your first breath and if you are listening...He is speaking to your heart, in ways that get only YOU'RE attention. And He is saying "Hi...I'm your Daddy. I love you. I can't wait to see you". When we finally get to where we recognize His voice, we can begin to kick in happiness at it's sound.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wholly Holy...

I wrote this on my divorced dad's blog but I thought it bore repeating here...

Peter admonishes us in 1 Peter 1:15, "But in the way that He who has called you is holy, so you should be holy in every aspect of your life. Because it is written, "You be holy because I am holy".

Dad's...I wrestled with this verse for so many years. I thought it was a very legalistic command to live a pious, perfect life, free of even the remotest form of humanity, much less sin.
But I was reading my way through A.W. Tozer's wonderful little book, "The Knowledge of the Holy" which is a study on the attributes of God, and I finally--after many years--grasped what Peter was saying.
Tozer makes the case...appropriately so...that God is all of His attributes fully, and all at once. In other words He is not Holy sometimes and Omniscient others. Or Just sometimes but Sovereign others. He is all of the things He is, and He is all of them all at once. He chooses to show us one attribute over another sometimes but those attributes are still totally at work all at once.
It took a while but I finally understood what Peter was saying when he said; "But in the same way He who called you is Holy, you be Holy..."  God is Holy all at once and His Holiness winds it's way through every other attribute and aspect of His being.
And so the charge from Peter. We should be holy. Holy in everything we do. There shouldn't be any areas where we aren't seeking to exude the Holy imprint of God in our lives. It's difficult to imagine how we can really be Holy. But remember...Holiness is not something we possess. It comes from God and it renders us Holy by contact. Remember when Moses first met God, in the form of the burning bush? God told him to take off his shoes because the very dirt he was walking on was Holy. How was that true? Was it special dirt? No. It was dirt just like the rest of the mountain was...until God showed up. When the presence of God descended on the mountain and lit upon the bush, His holiness became the holiness of the entire mountain. That is how it happens with us.
As dad's, sometimes we can close off areas of our lives and only open them when our children are around us. We aren't trying to be deceitful or duplicitous, we just compartmentalize. But we can't do this. We need Holiness in every aspect of our lives, from our fatherhood, to our jobs, to our citizenship in our country, to our activity in our churches to our workplace and on and on. Holiness doesn't mean rigid simply means a purity that comes from God Himself. The fragrance of our faith in Christ should permeate every single aspect of our lives...even the things we barely pay attention to. Things like our attitude in traffic (a trouble spot for me) to our smile and gentleness in the check out line in the grocery store, to the way we handle our finances and our assets, to the respect we show our children's mom and on and on.
Holy living doesn't mean being perfect. It doesn't even mean trying to be perfect. It means living out of a center of focus on Jesus Christ and His person and the Holiness of His Father God, through the indwelling power of His Holy Spirit.
That last phrase is really a key. Think of the third person of the Trinity...say that name thoughtfully. "The Holy Spirit". Literally it is "The Spirit (or power, or attitude) of God's Holiness" If I am filled up inside with the very attitude of Holiness of God Himself, then it simply must permeate my whole life.
Dad's...and all believers...are you Holy in all areas of living. Do we do everything we do in a way that points to Jesus Christ? It's hard. But I am trying.
Dad's, make a short list of a few area's where you could really use to surrender your way of living to more Holiness.
Here are mine:
     *Prayer life. I know prayer is vital and I pray each morning and evening but I could use more time and effort here. More serious pursuit of God in prayer...especially more sitting quietly and listening for His voice. This is an integral part of prayer as much as asking for things is. I need to model this in front of my daughter so it's a habit she develops too.
     *Kindness. I am stressed so often and it makes my fuse quite short. A life infused with the Holy Spirit will show more kindness and patience. I need to work on this more and let my daughter see her dad as a kind, and Christ-like man.
     *Faith. I need the Holiness of God to be the core of a large life of faith. I want my daughter to see a dad who believes big, asks big and trusts a big God for big answers.

Let's be determined to be holy, men. Let's let the Holy Spirit enter into every area of our hearts...even the loneliness, pain, and emptiness of post-divorced life. Because that is how He will make something wonderful come from it all.

Let's be wholly Holy.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Open Letter to Joe Biden...It's Not Funny Mr. Biden

Mr. Vice President…
didn't enjoy your performance the other night in the debate. It saddened me. I like to think I have a sense of humor. I have always been a funny guy, the class clown, a guy who disarmed many situations with a joke or a smile. But what you did the other night wounded me deeply and betrayed me as an American and as a dad. Let me tell you why…
I was born in Philadelphia and when I was 7 years old we moved a few miles south, to New Castle, Delaware…you’re home state. I was a constituent of yours.
 I remember reading in the Evening Journal about the tragic accident that claimed your wife and daughter. I remember being only 8 years old but being very sad. I know I didn't laugh.
You know the area. It’s blue collar and lunch pail. It’s only a couple of miles from the big Boxwood Road GM plant…the one they closed down. One of my best friends lost his job there. For the last three years he’s been living in Ohio, working at a GM plant there, and coming home every few weeks because he needed to get his last few years in so he didn't lose his retirement. He almost never sees the house he lived in, where he grew up, three doors down from me. That’s not funny either.
What’s even less funny is a few years ago Fiskars came to town and made big promises about moving their production there. They were given a choice loan from your boss, Mr. Obama. 529 MILLION dollars to be exact. But they changed their minds and they aren't coming. My friend John won’t be coming home to work. That’s not funny.
I moved to Nashville 15 years ago and had a beautiful wife and a daughter. I scratched out a living and got very good at my job. I was in the mortgage business. I wasn't a Wall Street bundler…just a loan officer. But I did well and found success. I went through a divorce and stayed a single man and focused on my daughter, because she’s my world. You’re a dad…I’m sure you can understand.
In 2004 I bought my dream home. It wasn't fancy or expensive. I only paid $175,000 for it. But I had a few acres and I could plant a garden and our dogs had room to run. We had two beautiful Springer Spaniels named Bonnie and Cooper and a cat named Giacomo and my daughter had a little pony.  They were like family to my daughter and me. I mention them because they are gone now. So is the house.
In 2006 the mortgage industry began to contract. In 2007 I lost my home to foreclosure.
That was nothing to laugh at…me losing my home. It wasn't funny Mr. Vice President.
I rented for a year but we all know what happened in 2008. I didn't just lose my job…I lost my career. By August of 2008 I was sleeping in my car, hidden behind a church. I showered in the recreation center and ate infrequently. It wasn't funny Mr. Vice President. My joblessness was nothing for you to smirk at the other night.
I lived this way for THREE and a HALF YEARS! Believe me…I didn't have much to laugh about in all that time. It wasn't funny.
I lived this way stubbornly because I love my daughter and she needed me to remain in her life and to do that I had to remain in her town. I know you understand this…you rode the train every day to come home to your kids instead of moving to D.C. Surely you appreciate the value of the sacrifice I made and the hardship and embarrassment I endured.  Given the dad you are, I don’t know why you laughed. Believe me…it wasn't funny.
I had to give our dogs and cat away. I had to tell my daughter that. I broke her heart with that news and here four years later we still look to the day when we can get them back. That wasn't funny either Mr. Vice President…it was heartbreaking. It was sad. I felt like the worst father alive.
My unemployment ran out after about a year and a half. Of course even that little bit didn't help much…not when gas was $4.50 a gallon in the fall of 2008 and it would take half my unemployment check to fill my tank. I ate every other day. I had to keep gas in my tank and my cell phone turned on so that the potential employers from all the applications I put out could reach me. But no one did. I put out 207 resumes in those days and got one callback. That wasn't funny Mr. Vice President…it was humiliating.
I decided to finish my degree and enrolled at my alma mater. Last May I graduated from Liberty University. I proudly walked with my class. I was older than most of them, and it was 28 years later… but it didn't matter. It took 6 semesters for me to graduate…I lived in my car for 5 of them.  That was about as hard a way to study as there is. Believe me Mr. Biden…that wasn't funny.
There were nights I awoke to frost inside my car and had to scrape BOTH SIDES of the windshield just to see. There were nights I fell to sleep with the image of my daughters face torturing my mind and wondered if she was worried about me and was she embarrassed…and would I ever be able to get back all I lost? I cried on those nights. I cried a lot. I cried sometimes because it was just so cold out and I had to spend yet another night wrapped in sleeping bags and blankets and living in my car.
The tears of a broken man are bitter indeed Mr. Vice President and they aren't anything to laugh at. Especially not like you laughed the other night.
I scraped together enough money to start a little carpentry business. I am making enough to live on…barely. I found a place to live temporarily but it’s for sale and I’ll have to move soon. I’m not making enough for a deposit, and furniture, and utility deposits. I fear I might be back sleeping in my car again. That’s not funny either Mr. Vice President. And it sure isn't Hope and it sure hasn't changed.
Since you and President Obama came to office more people are out of work…more people are on government assistance, groceries cost more, gas costs more, utilities cost more, meanwhile we all make less. These are facts Mr. Biden and they aren't funny. In fact the only person laughing at all this is YOU!
I have dreams. I dream of owning a home again some day. I dream of providing for my daughter’s education…without YOUR help! I’m a dad…I want to pay for it myself. That’s pride and responsibility. You and this president have stripped it from us like the skin from an orange. It’s sad, Mr. Biden. It’s not funny.
This patch of weeds and scrub is where I lived in my car for the first four months. Then I found another place to park where I was welcomed. Let me tell you what it’s like to sleep in a car. You don’t really sleep because you worry the police might find you and run you off or take you in. Every tiny sound wakes you up. You can’t turn in your sleep like you can in a bed. My back hurt every morning when I woke up. No matter how many layers and sleeping bags you wrap yourself in, and no matter how warm you can make your body…you still breathe the unheated winter air. That’s not funny. That made me cry. I cried in frustration and sorrow and humiliation and sadness. I went almost four years without being able to have my daughter sleep over on weekends like she was supposed to. You don’t know how it feels to worry that your child’s friends will find out her dad is homeless and she’ll be teased and bullied. I cried about that too Mr. Vice President…it wasn't funny.
This is MY story. This is how YOUR economy affected ME. The other night when you laughed and smiled…you laughed at MY situation.
I haven’t laughed in a long time Mr. Biden. Not really. But I've cried. I've cried when I see my daughter growing up and only in the last 6 months have I been able to resume my regular parenthood and have her stay with me. I've cried when I look at pictures of those dogs and that cat and my home and they are just memories now. I cried a lot. While you’re laughing… I've been crying.
I don’t know if you know what it feels like to be heartlessly laughed at when your life has been broken and battered. But it hurts. That’s what you did the other night with your callous display.
I don’t want help from the government. I am a MAN…I’m a DAD! I want to do this MYSELF! I want an opportunity! I want to make MY OWN decision about healthcare and pay for it MYSELF! I want to pay for my daughter’s education with my OWN money. I don’t want to be beholding to Barack Obama…or you. Or anyone else who would laugh at me and others like me when we have suffered so much for so long.
Mr. Vice President…This is MY life. And I don’t think it’s funny. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Loving Your Enemies...

Last night, as I knelt to pray, I went through my usual litany of things that were burdening my soul. I pray daily for myself, for my daughter, for my church and her staff, for my friends and family and people I love and hold dear. I pray for this country, that she'll come to her senses and have, if not a Spiritual Awakening, then at least an awakening of true Patriotism and national Pride. I pray that she'll hearken back to a day when even elementary school kids knew what it was to truly be American and not some multi-cultural menagerie. As a pundit once said "It's the Melting Pot...when are you  finally going to melt?"
I pray each day for doors to open for me to pursue the gifts and talents God has blessed me with. I pray for people I have yet to meet, who need Jesus Christ and for whom I pray I will be ready when that not-so-chance meeting occurs.
I pray protection over my daughter as she faces a world I was never facing at 14. I pray for wisdom to be better at being her dad than I am today, and better still tomorrow.
Last the midst of my prayers...I prayed for my enemies.
And my heart broke.
Last night I prayed for the millions of people trapped in a devilish, horribly enslaving, Hell-birthed lie covered in the thin skin of a religion known as Islam.
Make no mistake...Islam is in no way a path to God. Allah is not God. He's not the same God by a different name and he's not a deity and he isn't holy. Muhammad was no prophet except a prophet of Satan. The system of living that the Koran forces on it's adherents is slavery and it's hopeless. Jesus was no mere prophet and He certainly wasn't subordinate to a pedophilic, murderous, marauding brigand. This will offend some folks at first. I offer no apology.
Islam is a culture all it's own, not merely another religion. And it's adherents are trapped.
They are trapped by a lie so evil and so fully deceptive that they don't know any different. 80% of the Arab world is illiterate. 60% of all Muslims fall into that same category. (Not all Muslims are Arabs) They don't even know the content of the book they so violently defend except for what some hatred-spewing Imam tells them. In the 14th Century when Wyckliffe produced the first English Bible, he was outcast by the Catholic church. Why? Because prior to this there had been no English version and the people had to totally trust in what the priests were saying. They could not double check. If they had, there would have been a reformation a long time before 1495.
Think of the Muslim world in that way. The people can't read the Koran so they have no idea if the Imams are telling them the truth. Sadly...they are. The Koran is an evil book full of evil deeds and commands to do evil, horrible things to anyone who doesn't follow the religion of the moon god Allah.
But here's the heartbreaking, sad, soul-crushing truth. They can't read a Bible either.
And it's not just because it's outlawed and forbidden...that's never stopped a hungry soul in the past and it never will. God makes a way to get His word to a soul who seeks it.
They can't read anything. And because of this they are enslaved. Enslaved to a system of lies that steals their souls and is the antagonist in a great spiritual battle for humanity.
Last night, God did what God and God alone can do. He broke down my own defense against a terrible intruder and showed me how He sees this enemy. He permitted me to see them as the human souls they are.
The world looks different when viewed from the cross.
And so last night as I prayed for protection for my daughter and for my nation against this invading force of pure antichristic evil, I began to weep and then I began to beg God to set these people free. They are deceived and trapped. And while I do believe there is a culture at work that strips virtually all humanity from them and that is infinitely dangerous, (Who rapes a has been widely reported happened to the body of Ambassador Stevens after his body was retrieved from the Embassy compound?) the truth is that the majority of the people of the Muslim world are not full of the evil we see. They live in a culture of silence and they don't get outraged at the acts of their neighbors. To me this is cowardly and I can't understand it. But the truth is that they are heading toward the same horrible Hell as all who die without Jesus Christ and my silence at their demise is no different than their silence at the attacks of the radicals in their midst.
In fact...if I truly believe what I claim to's worse. It's worse because I know the truth and they don't.
And so last night as my heart broke and tears began to fall I begged God to open their eyes and set them free. I asked that the Spirit of Truth...the very Spirit of Jesus Christ Himself who is "The way the Truth and the Life" would penetrate the spirit of deception and evil that is Islam.
It's a hard, tempestuous prayer because my heart tells me that things will only get worse in this epic battle between good and evil. So how does one love the foot soldiers of the enemy? Only through the love of Jesus Christ. And so now, in addition to my prayers for my family, myself, my nation...I am determined to pray for my enemy. And to love them where I am presented the opportunity. I won't be foolish...Dietrich Bonhoeffer would warn us against that. But I will be loving and I will be their friend in my prayer closet.
Those who know me and know my often-extreme views know this is a big deal. I'm not given to grace where my very country and freedom is at stake. But somehow I have to separate the sin from the we Christians claim to be so good at. If all I do is pray for them, that's more than I've been doing. I know that I will never change Islam. It is what it is and it is evil. But I can pray for it's captives and love them in their chains and trust that Jesus will use what I offer in what way He sees fit to set a few of them free.
Somehow I have to learn to keep my guard up, my heart open, and my head bowed.
Because the world looks different when viewed from the Cross...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Last Call...

I hope this very confessional blog will remove some of the fears I carry around.
I hope that by putting this out there and starting a conversation maybe I'll feel better about the prospects of this country and the world.
I really hope that I challenge my friends who claim the Faith to get serious about what really matters and "Redeem the time because these are evil days" (Eph 5:16).
I have been watching world events and for the first time in my life I am afraid. I fear what this country is going to look like if we see another Obama term. I fear the creep of Sharia law into our legal system. I fear the ignorance of the average citizen about important things like civics, citizenship, our heritage and history.
I fear most of all that one day too soon I am going to hear the promised trumpet blast and be "caught up together in the clouds" with those of the faith who have gone on before. And I fear...I dread...maybe looking down for just a nanosecond and realizing that, while this events opens the door of eternity for me, it slams it shut for billions of others.
Lately...for a few weeks now...I have been earnestly praying Ezekiel 22:30-31 "I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn't have to destroy the land, but I found no one. So now I will pour out my fury on them, consuming them with the fire of my anger. I will heap on their heads the full penalty for all their sins. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!”
I pray this every morning before the sun comes up and my day begins. I pray it at night before I go to sleep.
When I pray, I beg God...beg stay His hand. I plead with him through tears to withhold His punishment and stop his anger. I reason with Him that there are still men standing in the gaps of righteousness in this land and in the Church. I tell him there are more who are willing if encouraged. I plead through sobs sometimes to give us more time. I remind Him of the words of His own Son that indeed  "The fields are white unto harvest" (John 4:35).
I beg Him for more time. I beg Him for opportunity. Because underneath the squawking of politics and underneath the attacks of Islamic hatred for Christianity and behind the anti-Americanism rampant in this current administration lies one immutable truth. We are in a battle. A battle for souls.
Those of the Christian Faith need to remember that we aren't in a battle for our souls. Jesus promised He would never lose even one of those His father gave to Him. The battle is for the lost.
I am as gung-ho American patriot as anyone who lives. I love this land and I will fight for her. But I have dual citizenship. I live here, but my final Heaven.
I am horribly guilty of forgetting this sometimes. I love all souls...not just American souls.
It's a hard balance to strike. It's not only our right to be patriotic and involved and active in politics but it's demanded. This is part of stewardship. We were blessed with the greatest form of government in history when this country was formed. Watching it dissolve into rampant, blatant communism is hard on my patriotic soul. I need to be involved and active and vocal and watchful.
But I need to remember that the final chapter of the Book was written about 1950 years ago and there is no changing it. The best I can hope for is to ask God for more time. Ask Him to slow down the approaching fulfillment of the few remaining prophecies that stand between now and Jesus return.
Because all the Facebook posts and Tweets and campaign ads and Youtube movies will not change the outcome one bit.
I take comfort in this but I also dread this. I know I am secure. I know my eternal destiny and that of my daughter and loved ones. But that doesn't relieve me of my duty to evangelize nor does it assuage the burning desire in my heart to spread the Gospel. People need to hear the Message. Loud and clear and not watered down or softened up. Face to face...a head-on collision with Jesus Christ that leaves them faced with a mandatory "Yes or No" to the offer of a Savior.
I dread hearing the trumpet sound and knowing...if only for a fleeting second...that this is it. That time has run out. That the final seven years has begun and the hellish Tribulation is upon them and I have no more opportunity to speak His name to a lost soul or open a Bible and show them the path to Christ.
I lost sleep at night because of the urgency of the hour. I weep in church thinking of those who are not there to hear the Word spoken. I think of the lost, racing toward a very real, very eternal, very literal Hell and I think how I want to be a roadblock in their way. I want them to have to step over my prayer-bent body.
The time is short. The lost are all around us. The hour is tragic and the command has never been more solemn..."YOU go into the highways and side alleys and convince them to come to me..." (Matt 22:9)
I can't sit back and concern myself with my own comforts anymore. America is a mission field as desperate as anything on any other continent. I can't sit back and watch the world go to Hell. I believe in Hell. I believe it's real, literal and more terrifying than anything our imaginations have concocted.
And I believe that the only thing standing between the lost and this dreadful place is the prayerful, effective witness of those who name the Name. That's me...and you.
I fear that our future on this Earth and especially in this country will be marked with increasing resistance and attack. I fear that even in this land, which was founded by Christians with the intent to be a launching pad for world evangelism and an incubator of perpetual Christian movements and revivals worldwide, we will face hardship for our Faith. I am convinced this President has in his heart to silence the great Voice of Christ's Church and install a emasculated non-religion at best...and an evil Islamic alternative at worst.
Either way, I am determined to stand my ground. I am determined to continue my pleading with God to stay His hand and withhold His judgment and grant us more time. I am begging Him to send revival. To get the Church off of it's embarrassing culture of tuning up the tractor only to leave it in the barn, and getting the darn thing out into the field!
Enough feeding of my spirit! Enough with "doing life together". I want to GIVE life! I want to PREACH life to the dead and freedom to the enslaved and sight to the blind.
I want to go out into the fields and work until sunset bringing in the harvest. Making a difference for eternity for those who live outside of Grace. All of them. All nations and peoples.
It's the last call. I don't think anybody but true amillenialists disagrees with me there.
It's time to put my hand to the plow and not look back.
Heaven is forever...but so is Hell.
The populace of both depend on our willingness to be used by God.
It's the last call...who will answer?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Obama's War on Men

It's Tuesday morning. I'm weary. I've been weary for a while now but I'm particularly weary today. I have no outline or draft for what I am going to write here today...just open my heart. But my instincts tell me I am speaking for a lot of men these days and I will get a lot of silent "Amen"'s muttered wearily under the breath of a lot of broken, weary men.
I am a dad. Nothing I do or ever will do or have ever done in all my life equals being defined as a dad. Nothing even comes close. Nothing. Being a man is hard in this society. Being a dad is even harder.
I grew up in a society where men were still manly. Where men talked politics passionately and where they eschewed evil and celebrated good. Where a man of character wasn't a big deal because it was still expected of you to have character. Where a man was an American and by God he was proud of that and he defended that ideal with a loud booming voice and the occasional clenched fist. He was disgusted by our enemies and embarrassed if we failed. They spoke of the tragedy of Vietnam not in terms of "We never should have gone there" but rather "We never should have gone there if we had no intention of winning at all costs." You can call that barbaric, or Neanderthal or whatever you want. But this country survived and thrived it's first 200 years, enduring some close calls, because men were still, by and large, expected to act like men, and they were celebrated when they did.
But then the 70's happened.
I understand that "macho" can be taken too far. I get it that dads can be seem to be too overprotective and too opinionated and too curmudgeonly. But it sure looks like they were right and the new breed was wrong. Softening up the male species wasn't an entirely good thing. Sometimes you really can get farther with a kind word and a punch in the mouth than just with a kind word. Sometimes you really do have to draw a line in the sand in your own front yard and tell the world they will have to step over your body to get to your family.
That is hard-wired into every man and it has been attacked and ridiculed by feminists since the sixties. When did we become a country where character is so rare that we have to celebrate it when we find it? Why do we have to read books about integrity?
This is a larger issue that is too big for me to tackle this morning. I want to dial it down a little. I want to go from pan to zoom.
Men are under attack in this country and by this administration.
It has been almost four years since Barack Obama took office. Four years of waiting for things to change. Four years of trying to squint to see dawn in this miserable darkness. Four years of seeing the only thing getting bigger is the debt. Four years of watching as we get our noses rubbed in poop by little crappy countries that we should be flicking off us like so many fleas. Four years of looking at our kids and promising them that this will be the year. This year we'll go on a vacation together like we used to. This year we can spend more time together like we used to. This year.
It's been four years like that and we only get worse. The only movement we've made is backwards. Unemployment rates drop because people give up looking and this man celebrates that like it's a victory. That's like being the last car to survive a crash in  Nascar race and celebrating your driving abilities. You didn't win anything. You were just the last loser.
There is a war on men being waged. A real man loves his family and wants the very best for them. There are the odd exceptions to this rule but for the most part this is true of all men. Nothing breaks our hearts more than not being able to give our family what they desire and what they need. A man will endure anything to take care of his family. I know. I endured four years of homelessness so that I could stay in the same town as my daughter. I slept in my car and lived like a vagabond in many ways so that at least she would go to sleep at night knowing I was in the same town as she was and that I could still come running if she needed me. That she would still look out in the audience during a violin recital and see my face, smiling at her. That we could still spend time together.
I paid for her braces $100 a month over 4 years while I lived like this. Because she needed them and that's what dads do. I worked odd jobs and side jobs to make sure there was at least Christmas each year and her birthdays never went unnoticed.
I maintained hope when hope was free-falling. But I am weary.
There are no good jobs. There are barely any decent jobs. There are scant few lousy jobs. Men are hurting in this economy in ways they don't reveal easily. A man takes pride in caring for his family and when he can't do that, it breaks his heart and his spirit. It renders him tired. Tired in ways that he doesn't bounce back from easily. You render enough men tired and you start having a populace without resistance. You start emasculating men without them realizing it. It's hard to stand up to tyranny when your heart aches because you don't feel manly. It's hard to fight oppression when you live each day in fear of which utility is going to be turned off this week if you don't scrape the money together fast enough. It's hard to stand for what's right when you feel like you aren't even right because you can't take care of basic things for your family. Men are being broken and I don't think it's an accident.
There is value in a days work. But a days work is not a career or a calling. It's piecemeal. That's okay for a college kid with no responsibilities besides himself. But a dad needs to be able to say "Here is my plan and here is how we're going to get there...". The biggest part of that, outside of having a clear vision, is having the financial questions answered. Without jobs a man can't dream. His vision for his family is rendered a pipe-dream. His heart breaks and his manliness fails.
I don't think this fact is lost on this administration.
We hear endlessly about how women are struggling. How women are living in poverty. How there is a war on women because we won't pay for their birth control. But none of those things break a woman's spirit the way it does a man.
This is a nation of broken men and that is a dangerous thing. A year of poverty will make you uncomfortable. A second year of poverty will make you mad. A third year will frustrate you but beyond that you give up. Your fight is gone. Your soul is so weary that you just don't care anymore. If I know this then I'm sure the powers that be know this too.
We are a nation of weary, broken men with spirits waning. We are under attack.
I am weary. I am so tired. I...the hopeless romantic, endlessly optimistic, dreamer of dreams, can only see black and white now. The color is fading fast. Men with fire in their eyes are disappearing. In their place are a nation of men of vacant stares.
If it's like this at year 4...what will years 5-8 bring?