Can We Pick How God Blesses Us?

By: James Thompson

God's blessing

A few weeks ago, my family attended a home school convention in Arlington, Texas.  Among the various presenters and speakers, were the man behind Hank the Cowdog and the Duggars.  Not all the Duggars were present.  But, 17 of 19 isn’t bad.  For a family with the highest rated show on TLC, they were pretty down to Earth.  They were friendly and approachable.  Interestingly, they even put their kids in the kids convention.  Zoe, Lexi and Isaac were awestruck when they actually playing with some of the same kids that they watch on TV.

During their talk, Michelle Duggar quoted Psalm 127:3 “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.”  I don’t know why that surprised me.  After all, she has 19 kids!  But, it really did get me thinking.

Do I believe that?  Are children a gift from God?  I know there are times when I may question it.  It would be a gift if they put their shoes away, turned off the lights, and FLUSHED!  But, if I believe children are a gift from God, then I may have (literally) cut off one (or two) avenue(s) for God to bless me.

After Isaac was born, I promptly contacted my local neighborhood urologist and scheduled a vasectomy.  For those who don’t know what it is…….well, it is a whole lot of  “Your gonna what?” mixed with some “I can’t watch” and just a dash of “Are you done?”  Which is then followed by a week of frozen peas.

But, by deciding to undergo that procedure, I probably got in the way of God’s blessing.  The reasons that I used to justify the decision are the same used by many: costs associated with food, clothing, schooling; will we have space; etc.  In retrospect, most of these concerns factor around money.  And, more clear to me know, a failure on my part to put my faith in God to handle these concerns.

So, had God wanted to bless us with another “gift,” I basically said….”No, thanks.”

Not surprising really, is it?  It started in Genesis.  God creates heavens and the Earth.  He puts man in the garden, gives him a wife, and sets forth to bless him for eternity thanks to the Tree of Life.  He only gave him one commandment.  That’s right, don’t eat from one tree.

Simple enough.  Nope.  Apparently, eternal communion with God was not enough.  We had to go for what was behind Curtain No. 2.  What was there?  “Sin, death, and banishment!  But, wait, there’s more – women will also have more pain in childbirth!  And, for him – working the land which is now cursed!  But, for playing (and because God is gracious), you’ll both receive some new cloths made of skin because nudity was so before the Fall.”

God wants to bless us.  He desires to bless us even more.  In exchange, what does he ask for in return?  Faith.

In Malachi 3:10, God even goes so far as to say “Test me in this. If you have faith and trust in me, I will “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”  

How do we respond to this challenge?

“No, thanks.”
“I know you created …….. EVERYTHING……..but, I think I can handle this alone.”
“Can I pick the way in which you bless me?  How about a new truck?”

I am not saying that placing your faith in God is easy.  It goes against everything we are taught growing up or experience on a daily basis.  Just as I did six years ago, I struggle with it and still often think I know what is best for me.

My prayer for everyone is that you “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6.

40 Shades of Me

By: James Thompson

No, I am not jumping into the bru-ha-ha created by a certain movie lately. I apologize to those that only started reading this entry seeking to weigh on said movie. You may stop reading now. This entry is entirely and completely about me. Specifically, me and each of my shades (i.e., years).

In case you haven’t figured, my impending 40th birthday is what has led to this introspection and psuedo-wisdom nugget review. I have learned a few things throughout the years:

1. It is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). That is true for this man. I probably would not have made it to 40 without my bride. I mean, really, can one live 40 years only eating vegetables that come on hamburgers?

20140413_183639

2. Speaking of Genesis – Poor Adam. Aside from the whole original sin thing, Adam had it rough. He was the first to deal, handle, hide from….love a pregnant woman. And, having children was completely a new experience. He didn’t get to practice as the “awesome” uncle.  Nope. He couldn’t even draw his own memories as a boy to give him insight into his own children.

3. And, yet, I sometimes feel like Adam. My kids make me feel like Adam. I have no clue what do with, or for, them sometimes. Isaac will even sometimes jump on me (with no warning) making me feel like I have dislodged a rib in my side.

4. If I’m Adam, Missy is my Eve. She was made for me. I truly believe this.

20140109_200154

5. Missy wouldn’t have eaten the apple. There is no way. Had the snake tempted my bride with an apple, there is no way she would have eaten it. And, by the time the snake proved to her that the apple was organic, raised from non-GMO seeds, without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and produced in an ecologically harmonious manner, the apple would have likely rotted.

6. It ain’t about stuff (Matthew 6:19). New stuff is only exciting for like an hour. Then, it becomes like the stuff you already have. Which you probably have too much of anyway and no where to store it.

7. You can’t change people. You can’t. Don’t try. Only they can change themselves. Some people are going to merge at the last minute, cheer for the aggies, and eat mushrooms. And, then, there are normal ones like me. All you can do is pray that they will someday see the error of their ways.

20141117_153836

8. Sometimes it just aint worth it. I don’t know what “it” is for you. But, for me, it is those things that suck the enjoyment out of life. Those things that are done out of sense of obligation rather than desire.

9. If you do something, do it with all your heart. Not only are we told to do so in the Bible. But, if you are not going to do your best, why do it at all?

10. Proverbs 25:24. There are no truer words….so, I’ve seen from some of my friends.

11. Hug your kids…..Especially when they ask for it (even if they are only asking because they are delaying going to bed).

20141119_081011

12. If you love someone….tell them.

I could probably come up with 40 of these gems. But, if you are older and wiser than me you already have them figured out. If you are not, read these words closely as they will ring true soon enough.

I hope each and every one of you have a great weekend. Appreciate each moment as a unique opportunity and gift that it is.

In full midlife-ing mode,

JET

Thank God Not Everyone is Like You

By: James Thompson

old paint brushes

I have been giving some thought lately about things that bug me. Specifically, things that people do that just get under my skin (and quickly).

I think, for the most part, I am a very easygoing guy (I guess most people think they are). But, every now and then, someone will do something that gets just gets my blood boiling. But why? Why these people and not the others I encounter daily?

The answer I came up with is: They are not doing what I would do. The person who tries to merge at the last minute (and thinks they are soooooooo special) is doing something that I don’t do and don’t appreciate from others. The opposing counsel who tries to dictate the conversation just because the firm he works for has locations in other countries. The child at the store who has not learned that one does not speak to their parent in such a manner (unless, of course, that parent is too busy on their phone to deal with their children – two for one on this example).

I guess everything would be hunky-dory if everyone were like me. I thought about that.  What would it be like if everyone was like me?

Here are a couple of thoughts of a James-y World:

1. No one would be on their phones a checkout counter.

2. Ben Affleck would not have a career.

3. Everyone would know the first name of their waiter/server.

4. Game of Thrones would have new episodes every week (it would be a law).

5. More laughing than crying (unless you laugh till you cry).

6. Shiner Cheer and Vanilla Oreos would probably reduce life expectancy in such a James paradise (or Jame-dise if you will).

7. All sermons – 10 minutes or less (another law – punishable by wearing a maroon jumpsuit).

8. Chick Fil A (open on Sundays – free sandwich with a bulletin).

9. If needed help, you could call just about anyone and they would lend a hand.

There would be some significant benefits to a world filled with James-like people.  However,  upon closer reflection, it would not be a place that I would want to live.

1. No fireworks or parades.  (Also gone, the looks on the kids’ faces watching them).

2. No ballet. (Also gone, watching my girls prance around the house practicing their Arabesquey things with huge buns on their heads).

3. No singing (in tune).

4. No dancing (in public).

5. No music (unless bad tuba is your cup of tea).

6. No Hallmark or HGTV channels (sorry, this belonged up on the benefits list).

Any G-O-D in this post, James? 

Yes. I thank God that everyone is not like me. And, I guess, I thank God that everyone is not like you. And, you should thank God for the same thing.

I try to keep in mind that everyone (even those who annoy me) bears the image of God.  Genesis 1:27 says that “God created human beings in his own image.” Each of us is given gifts from God. Romans 12:6. I think that these divine gifts allow each of us to reflect God in a different way. And, in witnessing these “reflections”, we can see a new perspective or point of view. And, we can ultimately gain a greater understanding of our Creator.

 

James

Thoughts on the (Magic) Kingdom

By: James Thompson

20141120_110354

A couple of weeks ago, my family went to Walt Disney World.  And, when I say family, I mean my parents, my in-laws, my nieces, and my aunt.  There were 12 of us in all.  We had a great time.  My wife said something during our “Post-Disney-Evaluation-and-Assessment” Meeting that really stuck with me.  She mentioned how the “kids were different” this trip.

We reflected on how we had accomplished much of what we (er, she) had definitely wanted to do: (1) character greet with Anna and Elsa (not an easy task); (2) ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train; (3) take Lexi on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (she was too short last time); (4) attend the Very Merry Christmas Party; etc.  While a few items on our “to do” list were recent additions to the park, a lot of what we planned were things that we had before.

20141118_090324

So, as we approached our vacation, we basically knew what to expect. We knew on this attraction, your seat jostles around and at the end a dinosaur springs out at you (and your picture is taken and available for purchase at the gift shop).  Or, on this ride, the roller coaster accelerates really fast before doing two loops (and your picture is taken and available for purchase at the gift shop).  At this restaurant, the princesses will come to your table and say hi (and your picture is taken and available for purchase at the gift shop).  We even planned on going to some of the same stores – Lego Store, World of Disney, Christmas Shop, etc. (where you can purchase frames for your newly purchased pictures of you being scared of a T-Rex, hanging upside down, or smiling with Ariel).

On one hand, it seemed that we were just going to repeat the experience we had last time – after all we were going to the same parks, eating at some of the same restaurants, riding the same rides, etc. Yet, it wasn’t a repeat. And, I think, the kids had more fun this time.  Like Missy said, they were not the same kids that we took last time.  Last time we took a 6, 4, and 2 year old.  This time we took a 9 (working on 18) year old very social and outgoing Zoe; a 7 year old daredevil “not scared of any ride” Lexi, and a 5 year old Isaac who was ready for everything. So, while Disney was the same, they were not.

I think Disney’s consistency is what many find appealing. They are consistent in the type of people they hire and the experience they provide.  And, for the most part, what you saw there last year will be there next year.  Rides you rode when you were a kid are still there (I’m talking about you It’s a Small World).  You have the opportunity to share the same experience with your children.  But, as Missy and I noticed this time, something had changed – namely the kids.  We got to witness how the children’s experience was different because they were different.  Zoe was more interested in meeting the characters and watching shows, Lexi was interested in the rides and roller coasters, and Isaac didn’t want to miss anything!  Missy and I wrapped up our Mother and Father of the Year awards by getting all three to be able to fight Darth Vader.

20141119_180818

But, James, what does this have to do with God?

    Malachi 3:6      “For I, the Lord, do not change.

Hebrews 13:8  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

This idea of being constant was what I started to think about. If something is constant, we can see change in ourselves on how we experience it – because we change. God is constant. I have never opened my Bible to see that someone has changed the words in it.  Yet, often when I read a passage or verse, I will notice that it resonates with me differently that the last time I read it. So, if the words didn’t change, but how it affects me does, then I must have changed. Simply put, because the Word remains constant, it allows me to notice how I am changing.

So, like my kids at Disney this year, I am different every time I read the Bible. It becomes a cycle.

“The more I read the Word and study it, the more it transforms me,

and the more it will reveal itself anew to me next time.”  

I think that God gets to enjoy the process as well. Missy and I enjoyed this trip not because of the rides, shows, or meals. Mostly, our enjoyment came from watching the children. They were more excited and eager to experience what Disney had to offer. Zoe volunteered to teach a whole auditorium a dance, Lexi nearly pulled my arm out socket to ride the roller coaster “one more time,” and Isaac got on a stage and fought Darth Vader – and all three danced in a street parade in Magic Kingdom. They all literally took a step forward from merely watching to becoming a part of the show.  

I can’t help but think that God feels the same way watching us learn and grow in our knowledge of him and his will; and thereafter, become part of the action.  

20141118_171327

JET

Down! Set! Hut!

By: James Thompson

My son, Isaac, is “playing” Upwards Flag Football this season. He came to the program a clean slate: he couldn’t catch, he couldn’t throw, and well, he barely knew what a football was. I realized then how I had failed this boy during the “tryouts.”

20141004_101111

“Tryouts” – an attempt by the program to assess the ability (or lack thereof) of all the boys in order to place them on teams with boys of similar skills (or lack thereof). On Friday nights, I now find myself sitting on the sideline watching him at practice, and on Saturdays playing against other teams. At practice, one of the boys on his team went out to catch a pass.

The ball passed through his outstretched hands and hit him right…in…the…face. He didn’t cry (although I wouldn’t have blamed him), he didn’t blame someone else (I guess he’ll learn that later), he just kind of stood there – stunned. His father, who was sitting next to me, told him basically “You’re okay. You’ll do better next time. Try Again.” He then went back to the huddle for the next play.

I hate to admit the whole thing made me laugh a little. And, when I say “a little”, I mean a lot. I cried more than the kid did.

A few plays later, my beloved son (with whom I am well pleased) got the handoff and immediately ran in the opposite direction. I’m sure I heard the father sitting next to me chuckle. On another play, Isaac rushed the opposing quarterback and grabbed his flag before he could even hand the ball off to the running back. It was beautiful.

20141004_101152

I yelled “Way to go!” and “Good Job!” Isaac’s team was penalized for that play because the rules (of which I was not familiar) require that the handoff take place before the quarterback can be “de-flagged.” Well, at least it looked good.

These boys are learning a new sport. They start from a knowledge base of zero. They may have only seen it played on TV. It is unlike anything they have ever done. They have to learn where to stand (and where not to stand), what they are supposed to do on a play (block, get the handoff, or catch the ball), what needs to be done to be successful (avoid the other team getting your flag), and what the end goal is (to score). Along the way they’ll learn that you don’t score on every play, sometimes you need to rest and regroup, practice makes you better, and get up when you fall (not if you fall).

20140927_103247

All of this reminded me of my Christian walk. I’ve come a long way. I have a good idea where to stand, what some of the plays are, some of what I’m supposed to do (and a lot of what I’m not supposed to do), and some of what to do to be successful (don’t let the D get my flag – D is for Devil).

But, what struck me most is that kid who got hit in the face. I have had that same experience as a Christian. I know what I’m supposed to do. I have studied. However, actually following Christ is different that it is on paper or discussed with others. It is often more difficult than I anticipate, requires more effort that I think it will (or that I may be willing to put forth), and I am not always successful.

And, yet, for some reason, it surprises me when I fail. It leaves me, at times, “stunned.” And, I’m sure there are many non-Christians on the sidelines laughing at my failures.

God is like the coach. He is there to instruct and encourage us. And, despite our best efforts, we all fail sometimes. Sometimes it hits us when we are not expecting it. Other times, we see it coming and think we got everything handled…wrong!  And, we get it right between the eyes!

Sometimes it makes us cry. Sometimes, we are just left stunned. What happened? The good thing is that God is also like that father on the sideline telling us when we fall short that “We are okay. We’ll do better next time. Try Again.”

N.T. Wright wrote “Jesus himself taught his followers a prayer that includes a clause asking God for forgiveness. He must have thought that we would go on needing it.”

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,

your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Wow.  I never thought of it that way before.

So, when you fail (and you will), ask for forgiveness, you’ll do better next time, and get back in the game.

James

It’s Too Easy to Be Green

By: James Thompson 

A couple of weeks back, I rode in the Tour de Cure –a bike ride that raises money for diabetes research. A disease that hits home for my family. This particular ride started at Katy Mills Mall and rode through the back roads of Katy, Fulshear, Simonton, and Brookshire. The day of the ride was good for riding. It was overcast with a slight breeze – which was great considering the forecast called for rain.

So, there I was pedaling through parking lots and subdivisions until I found myself surrounded my acres and acres of farmland green with grass/crops on both sides. It was quite enjoyable. It was nice being out in “nature” and just enjoying the ride.

Yet, it was surprising how fast my thoughts of enjoying nature turned into “must be nice to have house that big,” “must be nice to have a pool,” or “must be nice to have a big truck like that.”

Pretty soon, I was numb. Not only were the parts of me most closely touching my bike numb, but I was numb to God’s creation/nature and focusing instead on man’s creation (and my selfish desires). It is funny how I totally dismissed the trappings of all my “must be nices.”

The house comes with an equally large mortgage; the pool comes with the upkeep; and with the truck comes the need for maintenance and gas that I would probably struggle to keep up with.

Is the grass

I catch myself falling to this trap constantly. Even at the beginning of the ride, I entertained such thoughts like, “I’d like a three-wheeled bike,” or “I’d like to have a jersey like that one.” The guy on the bike had to ride that style because he was disabled (i.e. had a prosthetic leg). And, the jersey was for a team dedicated to those riders with diabetes…luckily, I do not qualify.

The Bible instructs us that being envious is not good. Proverbs 14:30 sets forth that

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”

I read a quote that basically equates envy to the art of counting someone else’s blessing instead of your own. Ouch!

So, after realizing that I had been envious of things I saw as I passed by (at my mind-blowing, sonic boom-inducing speed –not really…have you seen me?), I made a conscious effort to look at things differently. So, as I rode back to Katy, I observed lots of activity at the businesses/plants on old highway 90. I rode past a truck collecting food donations for charity. And, I saw a number of trailer homes mixed not far from the larger estates.

What I should have been doing, is counting my blessings:

  • My health and ability to ride a bike (without impairments).
  • My ability to ride on Saturday afternoon (instead of working like those in the plants).
  • My knowledge that Whataburger awaits for me after the race (and not having to rely on the food truck).

And, most important, I should have been thanking God for the knowledge that the sun shines on, and the breeze blows by, the people in the huge house on acreage just as it does on those who live in a manufactured home with no yard.

God’s true blessings, and the ability to experience them, are for everyone.

It is funny how often I am reminded to count my blessings when I am reminding my children to count theirs. God uses my own voice to speak to me.

And, in that way, I am blessed.

James

 

Church Can Be a Beach Sometimes

Written by: James E. Thompson 

A couple of Sundays back I found myself sitting next to Missy at church. However, this church service was being held on the beach. We were in Destin visiting the Penningtons, and, as it was Sunday, we all went to church. We found out that a church held a service on the beach (it was just an added blessing that it happened to be a Methodist church).

Attachment-1-2

We were sitting on a white sandy beach that disappeared into bluish-green waves. There was a constant crashing of waves on the shore.  The sun was partially hidden behind clouds that hadn’t quite made up their minds if they were going to rain on us.  It was, well, awesome.  The speaker that morning was a youth intern who had asked her senior pastor for advice on the topic of her message. His reply was basically, “Does it really matter?  He was, in a funny way, reminding her that she will be standing before an amazing example of God’s creation. (I have a feeling he also reminded her to take up a collection).

So, as I was listening to the speaker, I couldn’t help but notice the other people on the beach.  It was hard not to notice them as they were passing directly behind where the cross, musicians, and audio equipment had been set up. I saw four groups of people:

  1. those who passed by with blinders on;
  2. those who seemed to be annoyed by our presence;
  3. those who were interested in what was going on but who were with others that fit into category 1 or 2; and
  4. those who joined us in worship.

Each group got me thinking.

Attachment-1

Group 1: These people had jogging/exercising that had to get done. It didn’t matter if the rest of us were worshiping God or sunbathing in Speedos.  They had a task to accomplish and our worshiping was not going to get in their way.

Group 2: These people made faces and seemed annoyed that they had to listen to a few minutes to our (off-key) singing as they walked by. Why should they have to hear such things? If they wanted to go to church, they would have!

Group 3: I felt bad these people. They seemed interested in joining us for worship, yet they were either unable or unwilling to express that interest to their companions. Meaning, they had a longing to participate but were going with the flow. And, that flow took them right on by.

Group 4: This category had one person in it. One lady who was walking by stopped and took a seat. She sang along and listened to the message.

At one time or another, I have been a member of all of these groups.

Group 1: I have sometimes put the emphasis on the “task” of being at church (on time) and have been less than Christ-like in “encouraging” my kids to get dressed and ready to go. “Where are your shoes?” “Why are you still not wearing shoes?” “Shoes, boy, shoes!” I put being “at church” above being a member of the church and reflecting Him in my actions.

Group 2: I have, on occasion, been put off by another’s worship of God in a setting that I was not expecting. It’s weird, but I have been annoyed by someone who has prayed or thanked God for something that I thought was minor or not worthy of thanking God. Really, James?

Group 3: I am guilty of not saying grace sometimes before a meal because I know I am with nonbelievers. Not only am I not giv[ing] thanks in all circumstances,” but I am wasting a chance to witness.

Group 4: I hope to be in this group more often than not. I want to take advantage of being with other believers, fellowship with them, and worship our God. In our lives, we will spend more time being a part of “the church” than we will be “in church”. [This statement does not apply to those on staff].

The whole experience reminded me of Matthew 18:20:

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

IMG_8883

Group 4 gets it. They get that we need not be in a building to worship and experience the presence of Christ.

In fact, one of the best examples of this verse is found in Luke 24. As the two men were walking to Emmaus they were talking and discussing the events after the resurrection. It was then that “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.” He “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” A part of the story that I tend to overlook is the part where “as they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther.” The two men asked Jesus to stay and fellowship with them. And, Jesus did.

Wherever you and another member of “the church” find yourselves, worship Christ and he will be there….even the beach. And, even better, ask him to stay awhile.

JET