Monday, April 27, 2015

Watching the Driveway

I just can't seem to help it -- I'm a father. It's happened countless times. A daughter is out babysitting. She says it might be late but not too late. So, I'm thinking 10:30, maybe even 11:00, right? But it's nearly midnight. Where is she? Why doesn't she answer her cellphone? Our house is silent except for the ticking of a clock. My wife is sound asleep, but not me. My eyes aim out the window, staring past the driveway and down the road. The slightest hint of a glow that might be approaching headlights causes me to press my cheek against the cold glass for a better look.

I know, I know. A watched pot never boils. She'll get here when she gets here. I totally trust the person responsible for getting her home. And it's true that I was never given an exact time. Still...

I seem to perceive a faint glow in the distance. Is it my imagination? I fix my gaze intently as the light seems to grow brighter.

It's been nearly two-thousand years since a very dear Someone told us He'd be back. He gave no exact time, but told us to trust Him and watch for Him. He won't be too late.

But it sure seems late, and the night is very dark. I can't blame you for staring down the driveway. My cheek is pressed against the window, too.

With that mental picture, here is something I wrote that I'm considering turning into another picture book...

If Jesus Comes Today
© 2015 by Gary Bower

Since the first time Jesus came,
Earth has never been the same.
Before He left, He made this claim:
“I’m coming back someday.”

Two-thousand years seems long to you?
To Him, it’s been a day or two.
God’s promise isn’t overdue,
and Christ will come someday.

Anticipation grows and grows.
When He’s coming, no one knows.
I wonder…hmm…do you suppose
that He might come today?

Now, I’m not one to speculate
the minute, hour, or the date.
But it will sure be worth the wait
if Jesus comes today.

I’ll go nuts when He appears!
Who needs earthly souvenirs?
I’ll erupt in wild cheers
if Jesus comes today.

In the twinkling of an eye,
quick as lightning splits the sky,
I’ll be soaring very high
if Jesus comes today.

Blaring trumpets will be loud.
He’ll descend upon a cloud.
Won’t the whole wide world be wowed
if Jesus comes today!?!

Wait…a thought has just occurred:
All my loved ones, have they heard?
Have I said a single word?
What if it’s today?

Have I been afraid to speak?
Worried I’ll be called a freak?
Just too busy every week?
But Christ could come today.

Being busy’s not a crime.
Sometimes, though, I feel like I’m
wasting too much precious time.
And if He comes today…

…it won’t matter what I own,
if I’m wealthy or well-known.
What will matter? This alone
if Jesus comes today:

Did my lamp burn bright or dim?
Did love fill me to the brim?
Will He find me serving Him
if Jesus comes today?

Time is short, my heart perceives.
Time to roll up both my sleeves
and live like someone who believes
that He could come today.

Boldly, I will speak His name,
telling others Jesus came
to bear their sin and take their blame.
So, before that day…

…knowing they were highly priced –
just how much He sacrificed –
they will place their faith in Christ.
So on that special day…

…like a joyful, loving bride
drawn right to her bridegroom’s side,
they will rise up, justified.
What a happy day!

Change is in the atmosphere.
That great day is drawing near.
One day, Jesus will appear.
It just might be today.

Ready for His Father’s cue,
perhaps He’s waiting just for you.
Trust Him – you can join us, too,
if Jesus comes today!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

More or Less

Not all mistakes I make as a dad necessarily involve doing the wrong things. Often, my mistakes come from doing right things in wrong amounts.

As a dad for nearly 36 years, I've compiled a list of 36 "quantity adjustments" I'm trying (or trying to try) to make as I head down the stretch.

1. Being a little more firm, a little less harsh.
2. Doing a little more "show" and a little less "tell."
3. Acting louder, talking softer.
4. Keeping more promises, making fewer threats.
5. Being quicker to sympathize, less hasty to rescue.
6. Investing more time, wasting less money.
7. (In my kids' hearing) Praying more short prayers, fewer long prayers.
8. Lingering more at the dinner table, less at my desk.
9. Eating more breakfasts together in the morning, less junk food together at night.
10. Tuning in more to my passengers, less to the radio announcer.
11. Tossing around more Frisbees, fewer criticisms.
12. Training my facial muscles to show more delight and less frustration.
13. Being more eager to understand what my children actually mean, and less eager to correct what they actually said.
14. Making more home movies, watch fewer Hollywood movies.
15. Laughing more at my blunders, barking less at theirs.
16. Being more consistent on the rules, less insistent on my preferences.
17. Reading more books together, fewer media stories alone.
18. Playing more games, winning less often.
19. More face-to-face, less Facebook.
20. Listening more with my eyes, less with my mouth.
21. Doling out more rewards, fewer free passes.
22. Disciplining wrongs more swiftly, judging motives less quickly.
23. Ordering more toppings on my kids' sundaes, fewer on mine.
24. Pitching more, batting less.
25. Going to more places where we can serve, fewer where we get served.
26. Singing more, sermonizing less.
27. Trying harder to have fun, less hard to be funny.
28. Finding more solutions, less fault.
29. Introducing them to more heroes, fewer celebrities.
30. Teaching them to give a little more, take a little less.
31. Wrestling with them more, arguing with them less.
32. More discussing the Bible with them, less throwing doctrines at them.
33. Reading more to them in their bedrooms, less to myself in the bathroom.
34. Saying yes more often to "May I come?" and less often to "May I stay home?"
35. Discussing more heavyweight issues, rattle off fewer lightweight formulas.
36. Hugging them tighter, holding them looser.

These days, that's generally how I'm trying to try to approach parenting...more or less. Lord, help me.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Happy is the Dad...

Happy is the Dad who teaches his children to put away their toys before they start asking to borrow his tools.

Happy is the Dad who takes the time to listen to his children while they are still speaking to him.

Happy is the Dad who notices his daughter's haircut.

Happy is the Dad who teaches his sons tenderness and gentleness as primary life skills.

Happy is the Dadwho offers his children praise in public and correction in private.

Happy is the Dad who would rather make a lasting impression on his child than a passing impression on a stranger.

Happy is the Dadwho can appreciate his children's unique interests and abilities, even if they are nothing like his.

Happy is the Dad whose eyes can dance and leak their delight toward his children.

Happy is the Dad whose kids hear honor in is his voice when he speaks to their mother.

Happy is the Dad who is willing to be slowed down occasionally by a child eager to "help" him.

Happy is the Dad who is "facially literate", having learned to read what his child's expression is actually saying.

Happy is the Dad who doles out the discipline as long as necessary, and revels in the restoration as long as possible.

Happy is the Dad who works harder at leaving a legacy than leaving an estate.

Happy is the Dad who understands that children are intended to be primarily enjoyed rather than primarily endured.

Happy is the Dad who shows at least as much interest in his teen as he did when his teen was a toddler.

Happy is the Dad who teaches his kids when to take a stand and when to take a seat.

Happy is the Dad who is not satisfied with "not being as bad as some dads."

Happy is the Dad who recognizes the difference between imparting life to his kids and trying to live his life through them.

Happy is the Dad who can never forget his children's past heroics, and can't seem to recall their past failures.

Happy is the Dad who finds more satisfaction in his kids’ success than in his own.

Happy is the Dad whose kids seek his counsel, even if they’re not convinced they need it.

Happy is the Dad who brushes up on the traffic laws himself before his teenager takes driver’s ed.

Happy is the Dad who doesn’t gloat when he wins, and shows class the first time he loses for real.

Happy is the Dad who knows enough about his teen’s social media to care, and cares enough to know.

Happy is the Dad who accepts the fact that spiders will always be in his job description.

Happy is the Dad who has learned to face diapers with daring, and vomit with valor.

Happy is the Dad who teaches humility by example.

Happy is the Dad who has a strategy for channeling his anger away from innocent bystanders.

Happy is the Dad who remembers that he’s always under surveillance.

Happy is the Dad who treats his kids like tires: not too much pressure, not too little.

Happy is the Dad who hugs his kids tightly, but holds them loosely.

Happy is the Dad who understands that considerate children can only grow in the garden of consequences.

Happy is the Dad who knows that he is still Someone's child, and needs to listen to his Father, too.

Common Questions Posed to a Father of 12

If I had 12 fingers, I might get a few stares. Carrying a dozen roses might garner some attention. If I brought a dozen chocolate ├ęclairs to work I might gain some new friends. So what does a dozen children get me?

Silly questions.

Not just silly, but oh-so-predictable. Common. Not as clever as the self-congratulatory jokesters may think. Actually, some comments aren't silly at all; sincere people are just curious. That's great! But after all these years, the questions still come frequently enough that pat responses roll off my tongue without a thought. Among them:

Q. "Have you figured out yet what causes that?"
A. "No. Please tell me."

Q. "Are you Catholic?"
A. "No, but my wife is a saint."

Q. "Are they all yours?"
A. "No, we share them equally."

Q. "Are you a blended family?"
A. "No, they all came wrapped individually."

Q. "How many boys and girls?"
A. "12."

Q. "Can you name them?"
A. "We already did."

And the most brazen question I've heard:
Q. "By how many different women?"
A. "Just one different woman -- very different."

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

RE: The Best Prefix in the English Language

This morning my son and I peacefully strolled across our back yard together. Only a few patches of snow lingered here and there, like small arctic islands in a sea of dead sod. At least, the grass appeared to be dead, prompting Austin to comment, "It's funny how we all look forward to spring, but when the snow finally melts it exposes all the ugliness and death beneath it."

Of course, we both new the grass wasn't really dead, though the yard certainly did look pitifully drab. So why did we feel upbeat? Because winter is behind us. I asked him, "Would you rather be in a dreary place heading to a tropical paradise on the first day of spring break, or in a tropical paradise heading to a chilly destination on the last day of spring break?" The answer is obvious. What matters most isn't where you are now, but where you are heading. Springtime and Easter are about hope -- hope in the promises of a redeeming God. It's about hope that anticipates beauty, warmth, and new life. This season is all about my favorite words: the RE words.

For over a year now, I have been writing a book called "The ABCs of God: Who God really is, and what He says about Himself." As we enter spring and the Easter season, I thought I'd share with you what I wrote for the letter R. The word I chose is REDEEMING, but as you will see, it includes many more RE words...

REDEEMING the fallen, the broken, the lost,
He paid a tremendous, exorbitant cost.
Despite our condition, He didn’t think twice
to pick up our scraps and remit the full price.
Christ our redeemer is always reclaiming,
recouping, refreshing, rebuilding, renaming,
retrieving, remaking, reforming, redoing,
repairing, reshaping, restoring, renewing.
God specializes in people who’ve failed,
whose hope has dried up, whose last ship has sailed.
When others say no, our Redeemer says yes,
then works a great miracle out of the mess.

Whatever it is that you've faced in your past, today is a new day -- a day that you can find hope in the promises of the Redeemer. Where you've been does not have to be where you are going. And this is true because of one more RE word -- the ultimate, most wonderful, most powerful RE word of all.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A bright future despite climate change.

My wife gave birth in four different decades. Each decade brought new challenges as we raised our twelve kids, and we worked hard to water their faith and cultivate character in a climate that wasn't especially conducive to spiritual things.

Fast-forward to 2015. Now our kids are raising kids. New challenges still pile on top of the old ones, but the issues have intensified. Terrorism, school shootings, inconceivable national debt, the attempted dismantling of our country and our sacred values ...these dominate the headlines of the world my grandchildren are growing up in. Their parents - my children - are trying to raise their crop of kids in tougher conditions and in an environment more hostile to Christ than the world I raised my kids in. Drastic climate change has set in. No, I'm not talking about global warming, but a spiritual ice-age.

Quickly fading are the days when sincere followers of Jesus were simply smirked at or ridiculed. There was a time when those who didn't share your moral convictions might still respect you for having some. Back then, many who didn't embrace the Bible's teachings for their own personal lives still referred to it as the "Good Book." Maybe you've noticed that the climate has changed.

This drastically-changed cultural climate wants to leave Jesus out in the cold. Young followers of Jesus today face an environment that isn't merely growing harsher - it's growing toxic. Oh sure, things like angels, heaven, miracles, spiritual energy, karma, etc. are acceptable and remain topics of bestsellers; and for many, believing in God (or god) remains the decent, patriotic position to take. But Jesus? Nobody makes people nervous like Jesus can. He's a threat. And the Bible? It is rapidly getting a cultural makeover that attempts to subtly redefine its terms, cleverly reinterpret its teachings, and insolently reprogram those who once tried to live by it. The "Good Book" isn't getting such good reviews lately, with a growing number of Biblephobes portraying it as a collection of myths & fairy tales at best, hatred & bigotry at worst.

In a climate so hostile to the Christian faith, what chance do parents have to raise their tender plants to bear eternal fruit? Is there any possibility for the children of believers to have a bright future? Emphatically, YES! Here are 7 reasons why my children can have a bright future:

1) Because I am free to invest every free moment that I choose in my children's lives. I can take them on outings, read them powerful stories, and share fun & wholesome entertainment with them. With the wonders of God's world, wonderful books, and pleasant conversations I can shape their worldview, their values, and their futures.

2) Because I have opportunities that others don't to probe my children's minds. This gives me the advantage of intimately knowing their likes, dislikes, fears, dreams, passions, insecurities, etc. By really listening and truly caring, I will gain access to their hearts, because they'll know that they are in mine.

3) Because no law can ever keep me from praying to the One "who is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes." (Ephesians 3:20 TLB)

4) Because Jesus promised that in Him we "can have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)"

5) Because "I know the One in whom I trust, and I am sure that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until the day of His return." (2 Timothy 1:12 NLT)

6) Because despite our weaknesses, "greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world." (1 John 4:4 KJV)

7) Because of "the incredible greatness of God’s power...the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms...far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things..." (Ephesians 1:19-22 NIV)

The first three reasons motivate me. The next four reasons embolden me. These precious promises are worth memorizing and playing over and over in your mind. They do wonders to encourage this grandpa's heart!

Years ago, I split wood by hand for hours each night to keep our drafty old farmhouse warm. When the wood pile ran out I busted up and burned pallets I found in the shed...old furniture I found in the basement...whatever it took. I just couldn't let my family freeze.

This cultural ice age doesn't have to claim our children. The love of God burns within us. His Word blazes our trail. Read it with your kids. Pray with your kids. Talk to your kids. Read stories to your kids. Play with your kids. Now is the time to spend more quality time with them than ever before. It will likely take some sacrifice. But, hey, it's really cold outside! Bust something up that you really don't need and throw it on the fire. God is eager to help you keep your kids' hearts toasty warm.