Learning 5 Major Costs to Painting My House

paitingOur house is old.  Not 19th century old, more like 1950’s.  Like most old stuff, it needs touched up a bit.

I’m not sure the last time it was painted, but it is obvious that it has been a long time.  This became very apparent when a young couple on bikes stopped by the house to ask if it was for sale (thinking it was foreclosed).  Not too mention, the two random painters who knocked on our door to ask if they could paint it for us.

The big question is, Do we paint it ourselves?

The original answer was yes.  Then, we requested an estimate from a few professional painters.  We hired one.  We fired one.  And, we’re back to painting it ourselves, again.

Our final compromise is asking a friend of a friend (professional painter) to help with the difficult painting for a nominal fee.  The result is spending our Christmas break painting the house.

Today will be day #6 in the last 7 days.  Here’s the major costs I’ve learned so far:

  • Price of Paint.  Good paint is not cheap, and it has taken nearly 20 gallons.
  • Time.  We’ve put in at least 8 hours a day.
  • Sore muscles.  Working out doesn’t prepare your body for muscles needed to roll or brush paint.
  • Rest.  Days normally designated for relaxation are replaced with work.
  • Money.  Depending on the painter, we saved between $2-4,000 doing it ourselves.

Luckily, my dad gave up his break to suffer the costs with me.  I’m blessed with a selfless, hardworking, loving dad.

Thank you, Dad!

What have you done with your Christmas break?


Learning 10 Christmas Expectations in Our House

Lights of Lakeland 2012

Lights of Lakeland 2012

Christmas is full of expectations.  As my family grows alittle bit older (our youngest turned 4 yesterday), I’m learning the expectations grow stronger.

Here are 10 Christmas expectations in our house:

  1. 6 Nights of Lights of Lakeland.
  2. Waking every morn in December to find our elf (named CT, short for Christmas Tree), hiding somewhere new.
  3. A pony to match Mya’s unicorn.
  4. Boxes to come in the mail.
  5. Visitors from Ohio.
  6. Good food, and lots of it.
  7. Cookies and candy.
  8. School concert.
  9. Presents to open.
  10. Christmas Eve Church service.

My kids woke up today (Christmas Eve) overflowing with expectation.  Giggling.  Playful.  In a good mood.  Excited.  They can’t wait for the next 24 hours to unfold, hopefully as they planned.

Christmas was born out of expectation.  God’s people were expecting a Messiah.  He came.  Not in the form they expected, but the Messiah came.  Every year since, we practice the art of expecting all over again.

As we grow older, our expectations change.  Some grow stronger and sometimes more expensive.  But, one thing remains the same.  The event that started it all was an expectation for a Messiah.  A Savior.  A new Hope for the world.

What are your expectations this Christmas?

Learning Who Jesus is: A Christmas Reminder

Jesus in mangerChristmas is approaching quickly.  Online shopping has about one more day to ship and deliver before Dec. 25.  Grocery lists are long.  Party invitations are out.  Presents need wrapped.  The house needs cleaned.  Cookies still aren’t made.  It’s crunch time.

With all the food, family, friends, and fun, it’s easy to pass through the holidays without considering the significance of the baby whose birth we celebrate.  So, I am taking a moment today to let Christmas remind me, “Who is Jesus?”

  • Jesus is more than a human being.  Jesus is God in human form.
  • Jesus came to his own.  From the early days, God was preparing history for the coming of Jesus to God’s own people.  Jesus isn’t a stranger, he is the one God’s people have been expecting.
  • Jesus is human.  Jesus took on our reality and our limitations.  He was tempted like us.  He ate like us.  He cried, sweat, and experienced pain like us.  He needed his diaper changed, and he needed parents to help him grow to maturity.
  • Jesus balances humanity and divinity.  One does not cancel out the other.  They are not opposed.  His humanity and divinity are mutually supportive of God’s plan of redemption for the world.
  • Jesus is both sufferer and victor.  Jesus suffered hunger, thirst, ridicule, physical pain, and eventually death.  Jesus also conquers death and rises from among the dead.  Not only that, Jesus promises to return again in judgement and to make all things new.

Christmas presents us a baby cuddled in peasants wrappings laying in a horse’s trough far from any possibility of royalty.  Yet, the same baby is born a King whose reign will never end.  Jesus is more than a baby like you and me.  Jesus is a God who came to us, willing to suffer what we suffer in order to defeat what we can’t defeat.  Christmas is a message of hope to all of the world for all of history.

Who is Jesus to you?


Learning Mary’s (the mother of Jesus) Christmas Wish List

Joseph&MaryI’m not sure Mary would have a Christmas wish list.  It may even be slightly sacrilegious to suggest she might.  But if she did, here’s my guess at what it might include:

Mary’s Christmas Wish List:

  • A less intimidating Angel.
  • A hotel reservation with a bed, bathroom, and four walls.
  • An amendment to the religious law that stones a wife (or engaged woman) whose virginity cannot be proven.  See Deuteronomy 20:21-22
  • A mom, dad, or best friend around to help process the biggest news ever.
  • A baby shower, or at least wise men who know what gifts a new mommy needs.
  • A book on how to raise a King.
  • A title other than “Virgin.”
  • A memory book to record every precious moment.

Would you add anything to the list?


Learning to Survive Sitting the Bench: Advice to Middle & High School Students

BasketballI never sat the bench . . .  until college.

Here’s proof:  Coming off the bench.

It was one of the most painful experiences of my life.  It’s torture.  Especially when you feel like you deserve a chance to play.

Last night, I was reminded of that dreadful part of my life.  I went to watch a sophomore in high school play for his varsity team.  Minute after minute passed by with no playing time.  The final buzzer sounded and zero minutes of playtime could be docked in his column.

I remember the feeling.  It’s discouraging.  It’s upsetting.  It’s confusing.  It’s depressing.

For me, it lasted longer than I ever dreamed or expected.  Looking back on my experience 13 years ago, I’ve learned that I could have responded differently.  Here’s my advice:

  • Build a good relationship with the coach(es).  My instinct was to put up a wall.  It hurt too bad for me to even know how to talk to my coach.  With every passing game, my relationship to my coach grew more distant.  I didn’t believe in him, and it appeared he didn’t believe in me.  Now I know, this is the wrong move.  To be given a chance to get off the bench, my relationship to the coach needed to improve.  This means pursuing opportunities to talk to him or her about the game, and about life.  The better the coach knows you, the better chance you have to work together.
  • Talk business with the coach.  This is difficult, nearly impossible, without building a good relationship.  Once you’ve developed a healthy relationship, then you can get down to business.  Ask questions like:  What improvements do I need to make?  Is there something that I am doing wrong?  What can I do to improve my chances to earn playing time?  How do you see my role on the team?  Is it realistic for me to expect playing time this season?  If you were me, what advice would you give yourself?
  • Show your support for the team.  This may be the toughest one.  It’s not easy to show enthusiasm when your heart is pulsating with the pain of a broken spirit.  Cheering for the team is the last thing on your mind.  But, it’s important.  The coach and your teammates need to see your enthusiasm for them.  After all, you are part of a team.  It says something to the coach and everyone watching, “this kid has a good attitude.”
  • Know your real worth.  Your value is much greater than any sport that you play.  I know the embarrassment of having family and friends come to watch me play, only to never enter the game.  Or worse yet, get in the game with less than a minute to go.  I felt worthless.  But, it’s not true.  Someday, everyone will sit on the sidelines.  Even the super stars.  Ask Michael Jordan.  The cheers and adulation of the crowd will disappear for everyone at some point. It’s in the moments outside of sports that we discover our true worth.  Your real worth comes from God’s love for you.  To God, you are worth it all.  God created you to be you and no one else.

Not every Middle School and High School student plays a sport.  Most students, though, will experience some form of rejection and feeling of inadequacy.  It might be with band, or grades, or testing, or popularity, or club, or even youth group.  I pray that adults will be there to help them along the way.  To give advice.  To cry with them.  To defend them.  To pray with them.  To help them discover their true worth.

What’s your story of sitting the bench? 


Learning a Prayer for Christmas

mary&babyIn his book, Prayers for a Privileged People, Walter Brueggemann offers a prayer for Christmas.  Because it’s unlike most you will hear this Christmas season, I thought I would share it with you.  Here it is:

Had we the chance, we would have rushed

    to Bethelem

        to see the thing that had come to pass.


Had we been a day later,

    we would have found the manger empty

        and the family departed.


We would have learned that they fled to Egypt,

    warned that the baby was endangered,

    sought by the establishment of the day

        that understood how his very life

            threatened the way things are.


We would have paused at the empty stall

    and pondered how this baby

        from the very beginning was under threat.


The powers understood that his grace threatened all our


They understood that his truth challenged all our lies;

they understood that his power to heal

    nullified out many pathologies;

they understood that his power to forgive

    vetoed the power of guilt and

        the drama of debt among us.

From day one they pursued him,

and schemed and conspired

     until finally . . . on a gray Friday . . .

        they got him!


No wonder the family fled, in order to give him time

    for his life.


We could pause at the empty barn—

    and ponder that all our babies are under threat, all the

        vulnerable who stand at risk

            before predators,

our babies who face the slow erosion of consumerism,

our babies who face the reach of sexual exploitation,

our babies who face the call to war,

    placed as we say, “in harm’s way,”

our babies, elsewhere in the world,

    who know of cold steel against soft arms

    and distended bellies from lack of food;

our babies everywhere who are caught in the fearful display

    of ruthless adult power.


We ponder how peculiar this baby at Bethlehem is,

    summoned to save the world,

        and yet

we know, how like every child, this one also was at risk.

    The manger is empty a day later . . .

        the father warned in a dream.

Our world is so at risk, and yet we seek after and wait for

    this child name “Emmanuel.”

Come be with us, you who are called “God with us.”



Learning Social Justice from the Christmas Story

Joseph&MaryAt the time of Jesus’ birth, women were little more than property.

A woman’s worth came down to the status of her family and her ability to produce offspring, particularly sons.  Whatever social, economic, and political influence she afforded the family of her groom-to-be was the measure of her value.  Once married, it was weighted in the number of her male offspring.

Little rights were reserved for women.  Equality wasn’t even considered.

Christmas tells a different story.  The birth of Jesus initiates a new way.  A way that refuses systems of oppression in favor of liberating the vulnerable.  It begins with Joseph, Jesus’ mother’s husband.

In the book of Matthew, the story begins with the engagement of Joseph and Mary.  In the same sentence (Matthew 1:18), we learn that Mary is pregnant with a child from the Holy Spirit.  Oh yeah, and this takes place before they are living together.

The story quickly jumps to telling us two important things about Joseph.  One:  he is righteous man, meaning he acts right according to the Law.  Two:  he is unwilling to publicly disgrace Mary, meaning he’s not willing to let her face the penalty of adultery (Matthew 1:19).

Here’s the deal.  Joseph has every right to do it in his culture.  If he wants, he has the power to have her stoned.  It says so right in Deuteronomy 22:20-21.  As one who keeps the law, it’s kind of his contractual duty.

Joseph and Mary are betrothed (engaged).  Their families have entered into a contractual agreement together.  This is a long process of investigation and negotiation.  The whole village is involved.  All of them have witnessed the village leader signing the contract making it official.  They have been set apart for each other.  It is sealed and binding.

Of course, they are not officially married yet.  They aren’t even living together.  They barely know each other.  Unlike like engagements today, there is no emotional, attractional, or romantic connection between them. It’s purely contractual.

The moment Joseph moves Mary into his house, the marriage contract is completed.  Until then, she is just a name on paper.

The contractual agreement promises a virgin.  Before they live together (Matthew 1:19), Joseph has evidence that Mary is not a virgin.  If guilty, a crime punishable by stoning to death.

As far as he knows, Mary could be lying.  What proof does he have that the baby was conceived of the Holy Spirit?  Imagine the damage it could do to his own family’s social and political standing.  They trusted her.

But.  He chooses a plan to dismiss her quietly (Matthew 1:19).  He refuses the system of the law in order to protect a vulnerable young girl whom he barely knows.  Against what he’s been taught.  Against what would his parents would expect him to do.  Without emotional ties or romantic feelings for her.  He made a decision to set her free.  
Joseph exemplified the way of Jesus before Jesus was even born.  It is a way that seeks justice for the vulnerable, the downtrodden, the beaten, and the abused.  It is a way that undermines systems of oppression with a vision of setting captives free.  It is a way that sees the equal worth of all, whether male or female, white or black, Western or Eastern, rich or poor, young or old.
Joseph resolved to set Mary free.  
He made this decision before the story unfolds as most of us remember.  An angel visits him in a dream.  He wakes from the dream and changes his course.  He took a risk and made his marriage to Mary official.  Together they had a son, named Jesus.
Imagine the implications had Joseph followed the way of the Law. 
How is God asking God’s people to refuse the injustices of our system?


Learning 1 Crucial Factor for Innovation

drillHere it is:  Manufacturing. 

Hands-on production.  This means being intimately involved in making a product.  You’ve been taught a skill.  You’ve practiced the skill.  You use the skill to produce a high-quality product.

It’s not limited to tangibles.  Delivering a speech (or sermon), writing a book, parenting a child, teaching a class, fighting fires, and many other intangibles are included.  Whatever it is, the key is actually doing it.

I’m not the one who came up with this idea.  It came to me when reading an online article:  This Is the Man Bill Gates Thinks You Should Absolutely Be Reading.

In a question and answer format, the author Vaclav Smil (the one being interviewed) makes a statement:

“Innovation usually arises from somebody taking a product already in production and making it better: better glass, better aluminum, a better chip. Innovation always starts with a product.”   -Vaclav Smil

Innovation is made possible by our familiarity with and commitment to producing something in particular.  Because if we’re not producing something (or at least trying), how do we know what to make next?

I’ve recently found this to be true.

We bought an old house that needs a few updates.  One update we can’t overlook anymore is repainting the exterior.  I’m  a bit of a perfectionist.  I want to do things right.  Unfortunately, this means scraping chipped paint off metal windows.  Big metal windows.

I started with a simple metal scraping tool.  I transitioned to chisels.  I changed again to steel wool.  Then I tried paint thinner (not meant for latex paint).  A friend bought me a can of paint stripper.  Finally, I start making some progress.  But, there’s still some stubborn paint that will not come off.  I’m back to scrubbing again, to the point of my fingernails aching.

My only thought is, “There must be an easier way to do this.  There must be some kind of power tool I can use.”  I ask a friend, and he supplies me with a tool that works with my electric drill.  All I can say is, “Thank goodness for innovation.”

Somebody went through most of the steps I went through.  And because they did, they innovated a new, more efficient way to remove paint.

Now, I’m convinced.  To innovate, I (you) must be in the nit and gritty of manufacturing.  We must be intimately tied to producing something.

Most of us want to be innovators.  Not many of us are willing to get close enough to the hard work of production that makes innovation possible.

The history of Christianity is stacked with a long list of innovators.  I pray the Church of today doesn’t get left behind.

Are you ready to innovate?

Learning to See Myself Differently

ZechariahI’m an expert at seeing the worst in myself.

It’s really easy to recognize my faults.  My shortcomings.  My uglies.  My failures.  My inabilities.

Whether it’s in a mirror, or a reflection of me through my family, friends, colleagues, or enemies, what’s wrong with me is ever-present.  BUT, I don’t think it’s the way God sees me.  Or the way God wants me to see myself.  God sees beauty and potential and God’s own image reflected in me.  God sees me differently.

I don’t think I’m alone.  I know I’m not alone, because the story of Christmas begins with a character with the same struggle:  Zechariah.  Read Luke 1:5-25.

Zechariah was born into the priestly order.  From birth, his was career was set before him.  His life is committed to offerings and sacrifices.  You might consider him a holy man.

The story also tells us of Zechariah’s faithfulness to God.  He lived his life right before God.  He kept all the laws.  His relationship to God is in good standing.

But, he can’t forget the one glaring negative about himself.  He’s not able to have a child.  And now, he’s getting old.  A disgraceful reality.

While performing his priestly duties, an angel appears to him.  By himself.  The angel tells him good news, that he will have a son.  Quickly reminded of his inability, Zechariah responds by doubting:  “How will I know that this is so?  For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”

Zechariah sees himself one way.  God sees him differently.  It’s time for him to see himself differently, as well.

I came across a video that reminded me of the need for most of us to see ourselves differently.

Watch this:  Because Who is Perfect?

As one of the subjects embraces the mannequin of herself with a smile on her face, she says,

“It is special to see yourselves like this.  When you usually can’t look at yourself in the mirror.” 

I’m learning to see myself differently.  Not the way others see me or I see myself.  But the way God sees.  I agree, it is special to see yourself like this.

How do you see yourself?


Learning Another Reason Why Our Church Hosts a Huge Christmas Lights Festival

Lights of Lakeland 2012

Lights of Lakeland 2012

If I’m completely honest, I’ve been searching for reasons to bring the Christmas Lights Festival to an end.

As a staff member, it requires several extra hours of work.  At a minimum, we commit 6 weekend nights at 4.5 hours a night.  With young daughters, no family to keep Kirra and Mya while we work late nights, and entering our 7th go around, I feel some hints of burnout.

Then, I hear a story from a woman who has been attending our Saturday Night Church for just over a year.  A few weeks ago, she let me know it was the one year anniversary of her first time at our church.  Curious, I ask what led her here.  In her answer, I am reminded of the reason we host a Christmas lights festival that attracts close to 30,000 people.

It was three Decembers ago.  Her son was a member of his high school band.  Most nights during our Christmas lights festival, we invite a local high school to perform live music.  Her son’s band was one of six bands scheduled to perform this year.

Like they were asked by his director, the mother and her son arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule.  All the parents and band members were asked to report to the church sanctuary.  Meeting in the sanctuary served a double purpose.  It was a proper environment to tune their instruments.  It was a space large enough to hold the students and their families until their performance.

Unexpectedly, she finds herself sitting in the pews of a church sanctuary.  With nothing else to do but wait, she takes a good look at he surroundings.  She’s impressed.  All of a sudden, she feels a certain sense of safety and welcome.  She feels at home.

Moved by her experience, she finds information about the church and it’s worship services.  But, she doesn’t give it a try until…

2 years later.  Within a couple days of the exact date she sat in our sanctuary with her son’s band, she attended a service with her son and daughter.  Now, one year later, she is a regular.  Most Saturday nights, you will find her children and her sitting in our sanctuary experiencing God’s love through our worship service.

More important than becoming a regular attender of our church, she has discovered a renewed relationship with God.  She has found a new self-confidence.  She has experienced many moments of emotional healing.  She is leading her children to trust God’s love for their own lives.

Just another reason why we host Lights of Lakeland at Highland Park Church every December.

I’m learning, it’s worth it.

Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who make this event possible.