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Right before our baby was born, I preached my 2nd sermon on Luke 9:57-61

The sermon is called “Jesus is determined to make his people more like himself: focused on bringing in the kingdom” (going old-school here and giving it a really long title)

You can listen here.

Gideon’s birth story

For a little while we jokingly called this pregnancy the “two-year pregnancy” because it felt about that long, and it was indeed a long road this year. But I took solace in the assumption that the labor and delivery would be quick, since the last labor lasted about 5 hours and the baby came out without a single push from mama.

But this one was a little different in that we went in to be induced a week before the due date (as opposed to a few days after, as in the past), so we weren’t quite sure. So we went in early on Friday morning, anticipating that we’d be holding our baby around mid-day. We went to the nice “Women’s Pavilion” where each of the other three babies were born, so we pretty much knew what we were getting into. Except there was a problem, as indicated by another pregnant woman clutching a boppy pillow in the lobby: no room in the inn.

So instead they put us in a small triage room that all the nurses jokingly called a “closet.” But it had a bathroom, a bed and the requisite monitors to stare at, so they got things started and we hoped some folks would check out before it was time for delivery. Michelle said that I should go around offering Starbucks to anyone who would leave soon. If it was our first labor experience we might have been upset or annoyed at being in the “closet” but we were too excited to meet our baby to care much, and figured we’d be in a real room sooner or later.

It didn’t take too long for us to realize this labor wasn’t necessarily going to be quick. She was steadily measuring 3cm all morning, and there wasn’t much change even as they slowly increased the pitocin to crank the labor into gear. But things were moving along and she opted for the epidural in the morning, so we attempted to relax even as we wondered how this would work out. In the late morning I noticed at least 2 families with newborns checking out, so we finally got a room to call our own. Now that was taken care of, we were ready to meet our boy.

But still the hours passed without much change. Thankfully the baby’s vital signs were always very good, otherwise we would worried even more than we were. So we chatted for a while with our moms who were there to witness the birth. I went downstairs to get lunch, and as I sat on the edge of the parking lot outside eating my turkey sandwich, I realized I was worrying for no good reason. The birthing classes always say: every labor is different. This certainly wasn’t going to be the previous three labors, and that’s OK. We were in good hands with all the nurses and doctors, and most importantly we knew that our heavenly Father was with us.

Having let go of my initial expectations, I figured Michelle would be in labor until evening at her current rate. Around 3pm they did a usual check of her progress and she was about 3.5cm. Again the pitocin was steadily increased. Around the same time, she was having problems with her epidural, as it stopped working except for one side of her body. So she was feeling most of the force of some strong contractions, much to her dismay (she has had epidurals for all 4 labors, but most of them were toward the end of labor, so this wasn’t completely new). The epidural guy kept coming back and redosing, but to no avail. And every time she got a new dose it would mess with her blood pressure, so she threw up a few times and was nauseous.

This is where things start to get crazy, and I’m a little fuzzy on what happened when. First, backing up a little, at the previous birth, everything went so fast, and she had the epidural pretty early, that there really wasn’t much for me to do as far as being a “coach” or a support goes. I thought that was pretty weird, since the first two were pretty intense. Well, this time it was different.

While the epidural guy and the nurse were trying to figure out how to fix the epidural (or if they even could), the contractions were getting pretty hard for Michelle. She was exclaiming and otherwise vocalizing how hard it was, so the nurse would talk her through it, and I was doing my best to calm her down, figuring we still had hours to go.

Then I noticed on the monitor that there were three hard contractions in quick succession (Michelle didn’t need a monitor to tell her this) and I figured it was the pitocin finally kicking in fully (my memory from our birthing class over six years ago failed me, as I forgot what this really meant). This really set her off, and not long after she was talking about needing to push. Of course the nurses didn’t believe her, as you need to be 10cm to start pushing, not 3.5cm. So they checked her, and sure enough she had progressed very rapidly, and she really was at 10cm! That’s when the chaos started, as no one was quite ready for this baby to come (much like our previous baby). Michelle was really upset from the pain, and I tried to calm her, but she would have none of it. Most of the birthing team arrived soon enough, including a resident, but not the doctor yet (I counted 10 people total). Just as Michelle exclaimed that she couldn’t do this anymore, the head nurse told her that she didn’t have to: the hard part was over. As everyone got ready, I saw the top of our son’s head, and in a tearful whisper while we grasped hands, I told Michelle that I saw him. I think she finally realized we were about to see our boy, at long last. With just one push from Michelle, the resident helped deliver his head, and the doctor got there in time to catch the rest of him. After just a couple eternal seconds, Gideon took his first breath and started that unmistakable newborn cry. The doctor handed me the scissors, and after making sure to get Gideon’s wiggly foot out of the way, I got to cut the cord, and we all joined his cries for joy.

This would usually be the end of the birth story, but this one has an especially sweet ending. One of Michelle’s good friends was the head baby nurse that day, and she made sure to honor Michelle’s desire to hold her baby immediately after birth. Of course the nurse was right there to dry him off and make sure he was OK, but Michelle got to hold him closely for quite a while (all the other births they whisked the kid away for shots and footprints and poor mama is left trying to even see her new child across the room). Michelle and I wept for joy even more at this special gift, and Gideon calmed right down and enjoyed snuggling with his loving mama.

more pics here

As for the details:

Gideon (mighty warrior — from the Bible hero in the book of Judges)
David (beloved – after his grandfather and great-grandfather, also from the Bible hero)

Born 9/17 at 4:33pm
8lb, 1oz
21” long
Dark blue eyes, reddish complexion, short dark hair

Last month I preached at St. Elmo Presbyterian on Luke 8:22-25

The sermon is titled “Jesus Keeps His People Safe” and by the way, it was the  first time I ever preached.

You can listen here: http://stelmopres.org/media/sermons/SEPC-2010-05-30.mp3

some songs just make me stop in my tracks and listen intently, like watching a beautiful and mysterious bird sing its little heart out, while (if you’ll forgive a little melodrama) perhaps a tear is shed for the sheer loveliness of it all.

songs like “Hidden Place” by Sandra McCracken (whose new album will be released shortly, and I highly recommend you go get it here). and if a tear may be shed for the beauty of the music, when the emotions of the poetry are thrown in, all bets are off. even so, few songs can make me cry (like Sufjan’s version of “Holy Holy Holy”, and his “Casimir Pulaski Day”, as well as the last verse of “In Christ Alone”, and some Edgar Meyer stuff if I’m in the right mood).

of course this particular song hit me and Michelle at the exact right time. we’re pregnant with our 4th child (in case you haven’t heard!), and she hasn’t felt well at all for most of the year. while thankful for the untold blessing of another baby, we haven’t done particularly well with her feeling sick and tired most of the time.  right on the heels of a really good year of God working on us and through us at our little church and neighborhood, we’ve lately been experiencing the chaos and loneliness of “survival mode.” yet it is true that God uses the hard times to really teach us, and I’ve been learning more and more about my great need for Him at all times, and how unconditional His love in Jesus is.

but I came here to talk about a song. listen to it here: http://www.newoldhymns.com/in-feast-or-fallow/hidden-place/ in a blurb accompanying it, the songwriter says it is “…maybe one of the most personal that I have ever recorded…[written] 10 days before my daughter was born…”

one thing this lovely little song showed me is that amidst all the relational chaos and God pruning us in various ways, I’ve neglected to treasure this latest blessing. grounded firmly and based loosely on Psalm 22:9-10, the song “touches on all the wonder, the waiting, the amazing privilege it is to carry this little one, the amazing gift and favor of God it is to have children” (if Michelle doesn’t mind me quoting her).

so, while I was at work listening and shedding a discreet tear, Michelle was home listening and openly crying, for the joy that is growing in our hearts and her belly. “Who am I to have known such favor?”

thank you Ms. McCracken for opening our ears to hear.

(cross-posted on the music blog)

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

Pause and consider the profound mystery of Jesus’ words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was the deepest of laments, from the most forsaken of men, yet behind these four Aramaic words lies an unexpected glimmer of hope.

Jesus’ heart cry is a direct quotation from Psalm 22:1, and is the crescendo of Matthew’s account of the crucifixion, which is carefully woven with other fulfillments of Psalm 22.  Forsaken by his God and Father, Jesus takes the words of the psalm as His own.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Did Jesus know the answer to his question? Yes, he knew why he came to earth: to die for the sins of his people, in obedience and love for the Father. So he was forsaken by God while bearing all of our sins and enduring God’s righteous wrath for us. Surely this tearing of the Trinity was more painful to Jesus than the extreme physical torture that he was also experiencing. As we consider the need for Jesus’ body to be broken to pay for our sins, let us also remember the indescribable pain of being utterly forsaken by his Father.

Yet in his cry of anguish and desolation, there is a sign of hope, even in the moments of Jesus’ death. In quoting the very first verse of Psalm 22, Jesus is pointing us to the entirety of the Psalm. Recall the entire chapter, which alternates between despair and trust, leading to verses 22-31 proclaiming victory and praise, including: “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever!” So while on Friday afternoon Jesus is truly forsaken by His father, he is pointing to the victory of Sunday morning, that proclaims that He will indeed live forever.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why did God forsake His only begotten son? In some ways the answer is simple: because he loves the world so much. Why did the only Son of God submit to being utterly forsaken? That same love: it was the only way to rescue me, to rescue you, to rescue all his people from our sins.

Yet it is clear from the next verse that many did not understand, just as many do not understand today. They continued mocking, unable to conceive of what was happening right before their eyes. The very Son of God was paying for their sins even as they mocked him. Only by opening our hearts does God change us from being a mocker, to one who says “Truly, this is the Son of God.”

While Jesus’ cry was a brutally honest call of anguish, it is a question that points us to the God’s love for us.  As we tell the good news of the gospel to ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors and any around us, let us pray that God will change the hearts of all who hear, and reveal this profound mystery to all who call on Him, and cause us all to respond in faith. Just as Romans 5:8 says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

5 years ago our son was born. it seems so long ago, and yet it has gone by quickly.

he is such a big boy now, growing and changing quickly. as Michelle noted in our prayers for him this morning, even at a young age it seems that he has a heart for God, for which we are very thankful. and he is so very excited about being in homeschool and he loves to learn (and he’s a bit of a perfectionist which causes issues sometimes). he is always surprising us with his amazing memory, and I am often impressed at how observant he is. we just love how much he cares for his sisters, and its so great to see that Alice is his best friend. of course they have their “moments” (daily), but it warms our hearts to see them grow closer and have so much fun together.

so we thank God for our little boy who is growing up fast. we pray that he will always have his tender heart, that he will always be eager to learn, and always be eager to pray and seek God.

a strange dream

I don’t often remember my dreams, but this is one I can’t forget. this is how I remember it, two days later:

it was something of a scene out of one of CS Lewis’s space trilogy books. it was dark out and I was swimming in a murky green sea, with little floating islands all around. the shore was near, and there were others swimming as well. we were all heading into shore with urgency. there weren’t waves to speak of, but it was difficult somehow.

then my knees bumped into a man who was below the surface. he was pale and unresponsive and seemed to be dead. somehow this wasn’t a shock to me, but I still tried to hoist him up to one of the tiny floating islands nearby. I remember grabbing him by the hair and lifting with all my might. others nearby came over to help. he gasped and sputtered water. somehow we all got to the shore, and somehow the man was revived.

the next thing I remember we were in a big bright room at a conference center or perhaps the basement of a large church. there were chairs around the edge of the room and just a few people around. I was sitting next to the man who was wrapped in a blanket and looked tired, lonely and sad. he apparently didn’t want to talk to me or to anyone.

but I tried. I said, “Tell me, are you a Christian? or are you religious?”

he looked at me sternly, yet distant, “I do not talk about such things.”

“Oh. Perhaps you can tell me about yourself then?”

“No.”

and that was all.

although it is often on my mind, and indeed one of my favorite subjects (and truly my reason for living), I do not often talk to others about faith in Christ. I feel God is changing that in me, and I even asked someone recently the very thing I asked the man in my dream. thankfully the response was quite different, and I am thrilled to be used of God in this person’s life, and I am praying that God would bring this person to salvation.

yet I can’t help wondering why I had this dream (especially since our pastor is preaching on the life of Joseph, the big dreamer himself). the rescue-from-drowning is a familiar analogy of salvation, but somehow if fell flat when my dream tried to interpret itself in the end. I suppose if God is going to use me, it’s not up to me to figure it all out, nor is it up to me to do the saving, but to follow the Spirit’s leading and do what he has set out for me to do.