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The anecdote says that when Spurgeon was robbed while away from home that he came home and expressed thankfulness that a) his life was spared, b) the robber didn’t get much and c) “I’m thankful to God that I was not the robber.”

Last Wednesday, the third day of this year, I was working at my desk at school when Christie called me on my cell. She said a jumble of things [in my mind] but also something close to, “some men just came into our house…they put a gun to Karsten’s head….and put him in the closet.” She was also able to confirm that at least one item was missing and they had attempted to take the TV. I was her first call, so I ran to the car, raced home and talked to 911 the whole way there. I beat the police, and as I entered home, Karsten obviously had a jumbled dread of emotions on his face.

Karsten is our oldest. He is 10, and he was enjoying his last morning of Christmas break by playing with Legos on the living room floor when a knock came to the door. Christie was heading up the stairs to tend to the running water (a tub being filled for Bear’s bath), and she told him he could answer it. We live in a busy house with many guests and neighbors at our door throughout the week; sometimes even when I come home, I knock and wait at the front door. When the door was opened, a man with a gun presented himself and asked Karsten who was home. There were two masked and gloved men with him. Karsten told him that his mom was upstairs. He covered Karsten’s mouth, put the gun to his temple and marched him about 12-15 paces to a closet and deposited him inside. For 3-5 minutes, the three men (ages 17-20) went through the downstairs of our home trying to disconnect the TV, taking our iPod, and turning the radio on the docking station to a rap station.

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Karsten’s heart was pounding in the closet. He couldn’t hear the intruders, but he expressed very high concern that they would head upstairs where his siblings (ages 9, 7, 4, 3) and mama were. His emotions were racing. He described that time, not as primarily fearful for himself, but a strong sense of “I can’t believe this is happening here, happening to us.”

The men left with a slam of the door and raced to the car where a waiting 15-year old was in the rear seat of their car. The gunman drove away and out of our subdivision.

Just after I arrived home, the police descended on our subdivision. It was a harrowing time of details and shock, reporting and telling, fingerprinting and rehashing. And the police were great. Metro Nashville Police were highly esteemed in our eyes, but now much more so. They were kind and thorough and were gracious with our whole family.

Because of Karsten’s very detailed description of the men and a neighbor’s very exact description of the car, the four were caught within an hour, the iPod and gun (with a 33-bullet clip) were recovered, and have all admitted to being involved in some way. The DA is seeking a whole host of charges, perhaps including aggravated kidnapping for each of the four involved (TN law does not exclude the one who didn’t come in the house).

There is a definite gravity to this event in our lives. We were immediately and intensely thankful. We were thankful that God had spared Karsten’s life; our precious son still lives! God had kept our other little ones upstairs. He had kept the bad guys downstairs. He had allowed the bad guys to be consternated and leave sooner than they had to (they said they were not in the house that they meant to be in). We appreciate what sort of tragedy may have come last week and how different our lives almost were. We appreciate that there was a quarter of inch pull between life and death and that God controlled even that quarter-inch of space.

At the same time, we have slept well every night since. We have resolved together that God is King, even outside of church. In the moments after the police left, Karsten found his shoulders in my squeezing hands, and we were face to face with me telling him plainly and slowly that, “No one can hurt you. No one in this world can touch or harm you without God’s permission.” I quoted Spurgeon to him, saying, “The God who has been sufficient until now can be trusted to the end.”

We have been so loved this week. We have received encouragements and prayers and Scripture and texts and calls from the world over. In the midst of the trauma, we have received this very special dispensation of overt love that have made all the creaky pains seem lighter. Karsten has been fantastic. He has met two very competent, professional and compassionate District Attorneys, a wonderful victim advocate, an amazing arresting officer, a hilarious CSI, two of Nashville’s finest detectives, and a whole precinct (practically) of caring officers and sergeants. He has been prepped and sworn in for two different hearings already but has not been called to testify, though we are pretty certain he will need to do so in the future, perhaps many times. He has been interviewed on TV, and I’ve turned down two other interviews because that one was hard enough for him.

Today’s hearing was especially hard since it was a packed courtroom with the oldest two defendants present, many family members of the defendants, a news team, a whole gaggle of court crew and 15+ police officers waiting to testify. We were told he wouldn’t be needed and then were told in the middle of it that he would be brought in. He was calm (and a little bemused about the loose tooth that was hanging from his gums that he wasn’t ready to pull out today), but I was trembling for him today. In the end, the D.A. said she didn’t need him.

It has been a whirlwind, though, mostly of happy graciousness. That man did not pull the trigger. Those men did not go upstairs where our other three boys and little girl were. We are safe. We are warm in our home together. We can sleep in peace.

We are lucky. We live in this corner of the world where we can live softly with high birth rates, heated blankets, electronic amenities, soft-serve yogurt on every corner…. We live in a part of the world where crime still shocks us and calls us to the realities of a fragile and desperate world. I don’t deserve five healthy kids. They are a grace. I don’t deserve the Gospel love I’m shown each day either, but we have a good God with a perfect Son who made a perfect atonement for my trouble. He solved and healed my woes. And now I can’t look on these other things as my own. I’ve written this before, but Christie and I will recite on occasion what we know is true: “These kids are not ours; they are God’s. He gave them; He can take them. Nothing is too good or should be too close for our God to take.”

My sympathy for Vaughn, Birdsong, Kelly and Spears is high. While I want the judicial system to do its work on them and want them penalized, I want them to know the freedom that I feel. And the freedom is not a result of my lack of leg irons and handcuffs and steel bars. My freedom comes because I know the truth of the Gospel, and I believe the plain truths of Ecclesiastes, that you can have nothing in this world–no freedom, no people, no things–and life can still be rich.

I am fortunate; I have my child and my family is whole. The four defendants are fortunate–I was shopping for home defense shotguns 22 hours before they intruded my home; and, if I were home, I would have been steps away from a pistol. For this, I am thankful that I was not home. I want the gun, but the stories are so much uglier when the guns are used.

Unapologetically, this trauma has been good for our family. It’s not that we wish it on others, are glad it happened or want it to happen again. But it allows all of us to see God’s steady, close protection and care of this family. One day, every knee will bow and every tongue will declare His Lordship; and the excess and bounty will drip from our mouths and saturate our sight. May He preserve us to better declare His story to others.

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But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house.

I will bow down toward your holy temple
in the fear of you.

Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.

For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue.

Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.

For you bless the righteous, O LORD;
you cover him with favor as with a shield.
(Psalm 5:7-12)

[This post is a follow-up to the question I posted today on Facebook about whether I should read the Harry Potter series.]

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Alright. Thanks all for your input today. I was not calling for divisiveness, but I knew that saying “Harry Potter” would bring you all out in full flourishes. You did great.

Just a couple thoughts and then an answer…

  • Yes, it is! The “magic” in Harry Potter is the same thing as the magic in Narnia and LotR. Accepting it in one and rejecting it in another is a problem.
  • You all don’t know many of each other and didn’t see that some of you were speaking tongue-in-cheek for part of the time at least.
  • I’ll be writing/speaking more on it in the next school year, but let us be really clear that the Bible has many, many objectionable elements in it, much more varied than Harry Potter. The Bible as a movie would be rated R in parts. The matter is how those elements are treated. Condemning a work because it contains something you don’t like isn’t just cause. The fact is that there must be conflict, there must be something that makes everything ugly and need redemption. That’s what makes a story good. Conflict/problem is what makes every story not a documentary/infomercial (and even documentary is enhanced by conflict).
  • If you’re struggling with people enjoying Harry Potter, I think that I Cor 8 should be your guide.
  • If you’re struggling with people being offended by Harry Potter, I think that I Cor. 8 should be your guide.
  • For meat!? For Harry Potter!? Are we willing to make mincemeat of the bonds of Christ? Don’t!

I don’t need to write a response, because one has already been gracefully and beautifully written. I read it last summer, and it helped swing me over to officially be willing to read/listen to the series (not sure I’m interested in the movies, but we’ll see if it’s convenient to watch them).

The fact is that “we turn to stories and pictures and music because they show us who and what and why we are.” (Madeleine L’Engle).

The best position I’ve read on the matter was written by Andrew Peterson. He said in part,

Let me be clear: Harry Potter is NOT Jesus. This story isn’t inspired, at least not in the sense that Scripture is inspired; but because I believe that all truth is God’s truth, that the resurrection is at the heart of the Christian story, and the main character of the Christian story is Christ, because I believe in God the Father, almighty maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ his only begotten son—and because I believe that he inhabits my heart and has adopted me as his son, into his family, his kingdom, his church—I have the freedom to rejoice in the Harry Potter story, because even there, Christ is King. Wherever we see beauty, light, truth, goodness, we see Christ. Do we think him so small that he couldn’t invade a series of books about a boy wizard? Do we think him cut off from a story like this, as if he were afraid, or weak, or worried? Remember when Santa Claus shows up (incongruously) in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? It’s a strange moment, but to my great surprise I’ve been moved by it. Lewis reminds me that even Father Christmas is subject to Jesus, just as in Prince Caspian the hosts of mythology are subject to him. The Harry Potter story is subject to him, too, and Jesus can use it however he wants. In my case, Jesus used it to help me long for heaven, to remind me of the invisible world, to keep my imagination active and young, and he used it to show me his holy bravery in his triumph over the grave.

The full article is called Harry Potter, Jesus and Me.” Please follow the link and go read it. Every word. It is seasoned with grace and addresses the wide array of problems that were brought up today. It will be an encouragement to the proponents, also.

Thanks for taking part.

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Karsten will be 10 next week. As a first-born, as a boy, as a son, he is a treasure to us. As much as Christie and I love kids, adore babies, and intensely love those early years, I am eager to watch Karsten begin tackling some of life’s issues and taking on more of life’s load. I think he’s ready.

He has an immensely thankful and thoughtful heart. He loves his siblings actively. He considers the lilies. He is becoming quite the proficient soccer and chess player. He is an astute student who loves the act of learning.

As we learn to honor and promote ceremony and milestone, Christie and I decided last summer to honor our children on their 10th birthday with an event to remember. I read Raising a Modern Day Knight to help with some ideas. Beyond the back story, Lewis had a lot of good ideas for making much out of the stages of life by acknowledging them and honoring them. We believe that our sons will never become men by accident. We need to purpose to actively and artfully teach them.

One of my favorite lessons learned from the book was the value of adding community to the event. We remember because of ceremony/pomp/surprise/magnitude. The act of enlisting community adds a whole synergism of values, sobriety, and depth. It takes lessons beyond, “that’s just dad talking.” It adds a depth of friendship that the lonely never know. It expands his spiritual and moral resources.

So Christie and I resolved that each of the kids will get a trip away on their tenth birthday, and we will do something else to honor them largely at their 18th birthday, perhaps. The goal of this event isn’t to be a vacation or a release. It’s a sort of initiation trip, not into adulthood or even into teenager-hood, but more of an initiation into higher expectations and capacities.

Karsten is turning 10 on May 4th, and we look forward to a simple party with him then. He doesn’t know the dates but we have tickets to fly to Boston and spend most of one week there together this summer. We arrived on Boston as a destination together over months of discussion (the second runner-up was Denver/the Rockies). We will be able to see a great storehouse of spiritual and historical sites in a small geographical area and will be able to even take in a Tigers/Sox day game at Fenway on Memorial Day! I’ve led tours in that area four times and am eager to show him what is there. He loves the Revolution, has learned much more about it this year in school, and he is eager to see so many of these things firsthand. As an honor and benefit, my dad will be joining us, too. [A super-added bonus is that we have free airfare and housing.]

As a way of adding community to the trip, I have asked Karsten’s uncles, Grandpas, pastor, and a couple of special friends who love Karsten to participate by writing a letter to him. I’ve assigned those twelve men topics to address, such as, A Man Works Hard, A Man Plays Well, A Man Serves, A Man is Pure, A Man Worships, A Man Treasures the Word, and A Man Does Hard Things.

My goal will be to disperse these letters for Karsten to find in NH and MA as we visit the sites. I am pretty sure that I can make it happen for him to find a letter in the steeple we will climb of Old South Presbyterian Church on the banks of the Merrimack River in Newburyport, MA (George Whitfield’s church). I think I can get a pilgrim or two to hand him a letter at Plimoth Plantation, that we can find one hidden in the grate at the monument at Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston from the South, one on his pillow every night when we return to the house and, well….I have lots of ideas and am fearless about enlisting help (I will even try to get the Governor’s Office to help). The surprise of finding them will heighten the effect.

I’m sure this collection is something that Karsten will treasure for life. I hope that the experiences of the trip as I craft them and encounters with these letters will give Karsten a keen vision of his life and especially that, from this point forward, life is going to be different!
Dostoevsky’s writes toward the end of The Brother’s Karamazov:

“I want you to understand, then, that there is nothing nobler, stronger, and healthier, and more helpful in life than a good remembrance from our childhood, when we still lived in our parents’ house. You often hear people speak about upbringing and education, but I feel that a beautiful, holy memory preserved from childhood can be the most important single thing in our development. And if a person succeeds, in the course of his life, in collecting many such memories, he will be saved for the rest of his life. And even if we have only one such memory, it is possible that it will be enough to save us some day.”

You and I will insert the Gospel into this and then, I think, agree wholly. Karsten has accepted the truth of the Gospel and is still learning about its power and reality. There is much that we can do together to influence and encourage the man he is becoming and add to his reservoir a history of happy and holy realities, remembrances and encouragements.

When we come home from the trip, Karsten will be presented with an album of the original letters from these men (he will be finding copies along the way). If you, reader, would like to include a letter of advice to a 10 year old, Christie and I would be happy to add it to the album. Karsten is young, but he has a keen understanding. I hope that these letters on the whole will not be over-simplified, but written to Karsten and the man is he becoming, not the boy he now is.  If you have no idea what to write, I have a list of topics that you could peruse. The soft deadline for these is May 20th.

Purposeful, Gospel-centered parenting is a hard plowing. Christie and I are still toddlers at it, but we do hope that by doing some planning (and sometimes some saving) we can well lead our four little boys and one little girl gracefully through the stages of life.

The big deal is that our children are not ours. They are God’s. Christie and I look each other in the eye and say this out loud from time to time. We get to oversee them for some time and then give them over to His service. If that time is 16, 18, 21 or whatever, we need to work to have them ready. If Jesus wants them now, we want to be ready for that, too. So we will keep reading, praying, planning and weeping over them, getting to know them better, seeking to hook their hearts to the glorious hope in Christ. The work is laborious [have you met Knox?], rapturous [if your little girl greets you when you get home like my little girl does when I walk in the door each time, you get it], intense, serious and rewarding. We are wholly inadequate and hopeless out of Christ.

So, we get back to it now…back to our counting stars and sand, little feet and little hands…counting joys.

It’s a rather corny/gamey/commercial format, but it’s still awfully interesting.

Good Work Well Done

“The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables…Let the Church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade–not outside of it… The only Christian work is good work well done.

Dorothy Sayers

Got Windex?

From the “seemed like a fun idea at the time–and still does” department:

It’s 6:15a. I’m in my office and my tongue is ready; I’m already thinking about my lunch today at Swanky’s Taco Shop, where I’ll meet up with a friend. I’m pretty excited, because I’ve tasted it before, and the flavor can enchant my senses a month later…as can other foods.

At home, I think Christie and I do a good job of remembering that our children are not ours. They are God’s. We have them for a very limited time and that these 18 years with each of them are fleeing. It really hits home when we will take down the crib today or tomorrow. My Dad made it; we love it. After 5 kids, it’s in beautiful condition, and and we’re not expecting  to see it again until we set it up for our first grandson in 15-20 years [Karsten would be breaking a 7 generation (at least) streak if he has a girl first].

When I’m in school vision mode, I usually have enough gumption to mention how we are building this school not just for our kids but for our kid’s kids. People like the idea usually, but don’t know what I mean. I need to do a better job teaching them.

I love the story of New College Oxford’s oaken beams. The founders had a long-term (500 year plan) that I hope was on purpose. The stories are sketchy and inconsistent though.

Now Jeff Bezos (founder and CEO of Amazon.com) is part of a big project…a really big project. It’s a 10,000 year clock. Here’s a one-page website that shows the work being done: 10,000 Year Clock.

The clock should make us remember to stop wasting our life today dabbling in fleeting joys and inanity. Invest in eternal things: like schools, like kids, like missionaries, like big ideas. Yes, by all means play your video games, watch your baseball and hone your corn hole skills, as part of living today. But God and people live forever. Invest in them.

Apologia – At the same time, let’s be clear: you are not wasting your life if you don’t have a 500 year plan or aren’t involved in a 10,000 year project. But you must be remembering what things really last. Ecclesiastes gives us very simple instructions (set in a bigger context) for enjoying life: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.”  Solomon says that these simple things are God’s gift to us. That which your hand is doing is what is best for today. Do it heartily as unto the Lord.

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