Monday, February 12, 2018

Parenting Safari

As our family grew I lost any of the coolness that I ever thought I had.  As more bundles of joy began blessing our home, the first thing to go was the sporty SUV.  We needed something much more practical, a Minivan.  We started with two old Chrysler Town and Countrys with wood panel decals, then finally a GMC Safari. That van had three rows of “don’t make me come back there” seating. It was “so not cool”, but we discovered that the minivan was a great place to disciple our kids. They were captive in car seats, they had no control over the audio, and it was the first place Mom could help them process what happened at school, sports practice, or a friend’s house.

With four kids, we were always going somewhere… school, soccer, dance, swim, church and long trips to see the relatives. The minivan became a little chapel on wheels for our kids and their friends. We began with an opening prayer for a “hedge of protection” around our vehicle. As you can imagine, these preacher’s kids also had to listen to Bible Songs, Kids’ Praise music, and every episode of Veggietales. (And if you turned it up loud enough it would drown out even the most obnoxious whining.) When it was a bad day, conversations were steered toward God’s amazing love and forgiveness. When there were challenges to be faced the next day with a tough assignment or a difficult classmate, the discussion turned toward a Biblical life lesson. And when an ambulance came by we prayed for anyone who was hurt. The kids soon learned scripture and godly values as they rode around.

We also learned to share cheetos in that van and learned to respect each other and wait our turn to talk. We had a lot of joy in that van too... Singing together (we are definitely not the Von Trapp family) and we often got to hear the latest joke or funny incident at school.

Perhaps some of the most important discipling came during middle school carpools. My wife would sit, listen and gently steer the conversation back to something more healthy when the language took a turn for the worse.Once, my wife had a daily 45 minute commute each way to the gym with 7 middle school cheerleaders. She was not sure what kind of impact her driver’s seat discipling had made on these girls from various family backgrounds. But when one of them broke her elbow trying to do a handspring, they all ran straight to my wife asking for prayer and looking to her for support.  

Maybe that rolling Bible-to-life-lesson classroom in the uncool van did make a difference… our adult children still want to follow Jesus...

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 (NIV) Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you go along the road... 

This article appeared in GoodNews Christian Magazine March 2018, Page 22.

Sometimes God Has To Write It In The Sky

Our first (and only) time to go to Disney as a family, we had talked to all of our friends who were Disney fanatics.  They told us how to make reservations to the resort and to the best dinner places around the parks, about the Disney dining plan, about how to ride all the best rides, how to make your dollar go further, what days to do the park hopper, where to see the fireworks and parades, transportation to the park, how to stay late, how to see the characters. These people knew everything.  

So, with much fear and trepidation I said, “okay Anita make the reservation.” My wife did all her homework and made reservations for us. Of course, for the McGinnis clan we have to have enough room to sleep 6. Anita gets a really great Disney representative on the phone who set us up with adjoining rooms, a reasonable meal plan and park passes for 4 days for a reasonable price.

We always try to stay positive for our kids.  When they are anxious we try to remind them of Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV), which says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” However, God usually has to remind me too.  On the long drive to Orlando, I start getting anxious. I’m thinking, “We are going to get there and the plans are going to fall apart.”   I was thinking “Wow, I am so Disney ignorant.  What happens if we have a terrible time?  I will have wasted all this money and all this time and we didn’t get any closer as a family.”  

We get to “the happiest place on earth” the night before our first park day. I get a few hours of restless sleep at the All-star Value Resort and the next morning I get up and go poolside to do my regular quiet time. So, in my journal I talk to God about my worries and anxieties about us going to the Disney parks for 4 days with 4 kids. Finally, in desperation I write, “Okay God, if this is all going to work out, You are just going to have to write it in the sky.”

So, we get in the Safari van and head to the park. As we are driving into the parking lot, the kids say, “Hey dad, that airplane is writing letters in the sky.” It says, T.R.U.S.T and under it is says, J.E.S.U.S.” So, the rest of the week, I did. I had that peace that guards your hearts and minds. I didn’t need secret insider knowledge of Disney. All I needed was Jesus.

Now, whenever I get anxious about anything, my wife and kids say, “hey dad, that airplane is writing words in the sky.”

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Neck Stretching, Leaning Forward, Tippy-Toed Christmas Anticipation

This is an article published in GoodNews Chattanooga Magazine, December 2017. Find it here:

Christmas mornings as kids, my sister and I woke up really early. Many times we were sent back to bed for another hour or two.  Trying to stay in the bed when my heart was racing in anticipation of what could be under the Christmas tree was often a task too great for this youngster.  

Sometimes I would sneak back into the living room with the lights out hoping to see the outline of any of the gifts that were left unwrapped.  In the low light I could see faint outlines of what I thought was the gift I had “always wanted.”  Then my heart would race even faster as I imagined myself riding the new Big Wheel, pogo stick, moon shoes (now those were an accident waiting to happen!) or shooting a Red Ryder BB gun (“you’ll shoot your eye out kid”).

But the year I thought I would get that Spyder bike with the cool “monkey hanger” handle bars with black simulated leather tassels and the “banana seat,” the picture in my mind was too much. I was so absorbed in my imagination,  I even caught myself making “udn, udn” noises as if the bike was motorized, and then I had to look around in embarrassment to make sure no one had heard me.  The anticipation had me standing on my toes peeking in, leaning forward, straining my eyes in the dark to see if I really saw that bike.

The Bible  says that creation is doing the same thing, standing on its tippy toes straining to see something. However, creation does this longing to see which of us are true believers in Jesus. Romans 8:19 says,“For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.” Apparently, in the Greek this verse paints a picture of someone literally watching with outstretched head, standing on tiptoes and eyes looking ahead, totally absorbed with intent expectancy.
Mary and Joseph awaited the Messiah whom God told them she would bear that first Christmas. Every birth pang brought a little more anticipation of the Advent of Christ. There are birth pangs and anticipation again, from all creation this time for Christ’s Second Advent. Romans 8:22 says, For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
Jesus is coming again and true believers are living life leaning forward in anticipation. They are telling their friends and family about this great gift of salvation from God. Like kids eagerly anticipating Christmas morning, creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal Himself and His true children.  Jesus is coming back to save those who are leaning forward with tiptoed eagerness.  Hebrews 9:28 says,  “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

This article appeared in GoodNews Chattanooga Magazine in December 2017, Page 36

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Decline of Gross National Happiness!

Happiness seems to be at an all time lull. The 80’s, 90’s, 2000's were times of such growth for square footage of homes, the increase of the stock portfolio, the luxury of the car, the number of adventures we could boast and yet that all hit a limit and we weren’t all that much happier. When the internet exploded we had access to anything and everything we had never seen before. It seems nothing is new under the Sun. If you think you have done something, just wait, you will soon discover someone else beat you to it. If you have created something novel, chances are someone has invented it before. Creativity seems to have peaked and now we are Zombie eyed wanters, staring at screens for hours on end, ever seeking, but we "still haven’t found what (we’re) looking for."  We seem to be addicted to the chemicals that wash through our brains when we discover something new on the "interwebs."  We seem addicted to the browsing behavior, but the very things that grab our attention are gone from the screen as we seek the next big wave to surf.  The horizons seem boundless, yet we are trapped in the vastness of the cyber universe.  At the same time the commonalities that serve to attract us to connect with each other, seem to be less and less exciting. The elicited slope to boredom seems to take us so low compared to the super highs of the funny, striking, or appalling pages. We are in sort of a cyber Babylon, each pursuing our own little universe, but not really connecting with anyone else. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trust Your Training

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)

I have a friend who is a bicycle training coach with Echelon Cycling. His teams always do well in the competitions they enter. His training is intense and disciplined. Just before each race he tells each team member, “Trust Your Training.”  He knows that at points in the race, there are factors that trigger adrenaline and competitive fervor and cause you to take off like a rabbit. But that doesn’t leave energy for the rest of the race… and as we know from the childhood classic The Tortoise and The Hare, the race doesn’t always go to the fastest. (With the possible exception of Usain Bolt).

There are times in parenting when we can lose sight of how to raise our kids to follow Christ and we are just trying to hang on to the end of the race. There were lots of times in our home with four children that the chaos was pretty extreme.  I remember when an unsuspecting neighbor, who was an only child, came to our house for the first time after school.  All he could do was stand frozen at the door with his eyes and mouth wide open as pandemonium ensued… it was loud... backpacks and shoes had been dropped like landmines from the door to the pantry, in spite of their mother’s instruction to put everything in their “cubbies.”  The tyranny of the urgent need to get a snack had reduced them to hypoglycemic little gremlins racing for the snack box.  Eventually some semblance of  order returned after they had been revived by fruit rollups ( at the time it was a “healthy snack choice” now, we are not sure).

As parents, my wife and I heard different messages about how best to parent our children according to the latest trend. There was always a plethora of material out there, some of it was good, but some of it was modified puppy training. If we expect Pavlovian responses in our kids when they are small we can’t be surprised if they dog us when they are teens. Parenting is about healthy relationships, not just behavior modification. Though our little angels definitely needed behavior modification, we hoped do it in the context of a loving relationship with Jesus.

When my son was in college, we were a little worried if we had done our job with this human being God had placed in our lives.  His mother asked him if he was behaving.  He said, “Mom, trust your parenting!” We took a little guarded optimism about not ruining them completely. By God’s grace they are all still “in the faith.”

Parenting can be treacherous and confusing. But in the end when you pray a lot, stay in His Word and love them well you will train up your children in the way they should go and they will not depart from it.  

Friday, September 1, 2017

Falling In Love at UT.

In February 2013, The Torchbearer Magazine ran a story about Falling in Love at UT.  I submitted this article. You can see all the articles here.

Living only five minutes from UT, I was raised a Vol….When my college years came around, I went to another university for undergrad but later enrolled in UT seeking a master’s degree in communications. My faculty advisor required leveling classes in communications before I could begin the master’s program. I ended up in class with a great group of undergraduate communications students in the Alpha Epsilon Rho communications honors program. We had classes together, spent time writing stories and working “on the air” at WUTK. We traveled together to New York, Cincinnati, and other places to experience great broadcast entertainment and news outlets.
In one of those early classes, a beautiful blonde with big ’80s hair turned my head. After a couple of weeks in the program, I noticed Anita Grossmann and her friend Amy McLemore sitting on my row in a broadcast news class. This was my chance; I was going to talk to Anita. As class dismissed, I put my plan into motion. As the two girls walked past my desk, I stepped out between them. Anita didn’t notice that I was now walking right behind her. She asked Amy, without looking back, “When are we going to see that movie?” Without missing a beat, I replied, “I thought you’d never ask.” She turned around, startled to hear a male voice, and said something like, “I wasn’t talking to you.” But in spite of my awkward start, our conversation continued for the next several weeks.
Eventually, both of us were sent to cover the same news story for the class and it involved traveling across town. I eagerly volunteered to drive us. Our assignment was to cover an event called “Great Communication in Marriage.” Afterwards I took her to what used to be Grady’s Restaurant for dinner, and the rest, as we say, was history. I was in love. We went through some bumps and rattles those dating years—even survived a broken engagement—but we have been married for twenty-two wonderful years, and have four children, ages twelve to eighteen.
I am currently a pastor in Chattanooga, and Anita is a Christian communicator and full-time mom. We still make it back to Rocky Top, and the memories of friends, hanging out on Circle Park Drive, deejaying for WUTK, and yelling for our Vols flood our minds. Our kids, though they act bored with our stories, actually enjoy hearing of those great days “on a hallowed hill in Tennessee.” We both have unforgettable memories of our time at UT; it was great to be young and in love at UT!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

This is My Story: A Eulogy for my Mother

Reba loved a good story. She loved to read them. She loved to hear them. And she loved to tell them, but she didn’t always get the details just right.

My mother’s life was a classic story with some themes that we love. Certain themes speak to our souls.  And my mother’s story includes several of the themes we truly enjoy hearing.

These themes include:
Rags to Riches
A Hero on a White Horse
The Story of an Everyday Heroine
A Story of a Great Adventure
A Story of Revenge
A Most Epic Story of Eternal Love
The first theme is a rags to riches story of a little girl who grew up with no shoes on her feet, who became a woman who had enough to help others who needed help.

She was born in Murphy, NC and moved to Granny Lee Swamp in Englewood, TN. Picture the house on Dolly Parton story from the television special last year. She shared the house with 10 siblings. Her mother was an amazing woman who loved her children well and her father was an alcoholic who was unable to escape his demons. Young Reba and several of her siblings were determined to rise above the poverty and shame. The house had no running water and in the winter they would gather around a small stove to stay warm sleeping close.  She used to walk to school with no shoes. The teacher would sit her next to the wood stove and rub her feet until they were warm again.  It is a wonder she didn’t have frostbite. Apparently, at some point she had gotten so sick with an untreated throat infection that she no longer had tonsils. A doctor asked her as an adult when she had her tonsils removed and she said “never.” He said “well, they are gone”.
Her father would promise his kids if they would work in the fields he would take the money from the crops and buy her shoes.  They would anticipate new shoes, but he would come home drunk instead with no shoes.  He never made it past the liquor store to go to the shoe store. How my mother turned out to be so trusting after being lied to time after time by her own father is a testimony to God’s grace. All of her siblings are wonderful loving people, you can ask any of my cousins. There were many other stories of the humiliation she suffered as a child, but we won’t get into them.  
Reba was determined to escape the poverty that seemed to define her. She went to Chattanooga to work for an uncle, she went to live with her sister Irene in Knoxville and went to school for a year at Bearden High School... remember that. She eventually graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in education and became a school teacher. This young lady had not only escaped the poverty, but was determined to help others get an education to change their situations too.

This is where the story changes a bit, and we see a hero ride into her life on a white horse, make that a 1950 pale blue chevy truck. Young Carroll McGinnis noticed a new girl at Bearden High School in Knoxville. She only attended her Junior year, but that was enough for this young man to have his sight set on this beautiful young woman named Reba.  The next school year Reba went back to Englewood to go to High School. My dad showed up one day at her house in Granny Lee Swamps unannounced. When he pulled up she was just coming from the swamp where they got their water from the springs.  She was in overalls and no shoes carrying two five gallon buckets of water. One in each hand.  He was in love. He chased her for a while and she finally said "yes."

Once she complained to her mother that Carroll hunted too much, but her mother said, “Reba, as long as he is only hunting 4 legged animals, then let him.” So she did. He hunted and hunted. And she would make delicious meals from the harvest.

These two have done life together and in love. She has loved him well for 59 years last Saturday and He has never been anything but madly in love with her since he first laid eyes on her. He has been faithful to his vows for 6 decades to love her “in sickness and in health” and “til death do us part.”  These last 2 decades he has loved her so well through Alzheimer’s and I know that if the tables were turned, she would have done the same for him.

Some say that we lost mom a while back when she could no longer converse or recognize us, but for my dad she has been right here with him until her last breath on Thursday. They have a love that will last throughout eternity.

(see related post from several years ago: )

So we have had rags to riches, we have had the hero in the Chevy Truck

But we also have her story as a heroine. Reba was determined not to let her humble beginnings define her. She would use her God given gifts to help other people and her community. She volunteered for the Helen Ross McNabb Mental Health Center, She was president of the Knoxville Medical Auxiliary and started the Garcia Tennis Tournament Benefit, she worked with the Friends of the Knox County Library, she was the chairperson for the Knoxville Dogwood Arts Festival and worked with the Lakemoore Hills Garden Club. She volunteered for mission trips. She volunteered at church. She volunteered to teach kids to read.   There were a whole bunch of other volunteer positions over the years and in 1989, she became the Beta Sigma Phi First Lady of Knoxville, recognizing her volunteer investments.

She is quoted in the Knoxville News Sentinel after she won that honor saying,
“People have always been more important than things to me. I guess that’s why I don’t have any interesting and unique collections, why our house will never make the pages of “Southern Living” magazine, the reason I am not an expert on any particular subject.

Reba said, “When there was a job going unfilled because no one else wanted to do it, or a job out there I felt I could handle better than most, I simply volunteered.”

Reba’s story was one of great adventure
She has travelled the world. All those places she read about as a child, she went to see. She and her true love have travelled to Alaska... in a truck! And all over the US.  She and dad have been to over 30 foreign mission trips together to places like Africa, Europe, South America, and Mexico. They have wintered at a fishing village in Florida, been to the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and many other exotic places. This girl’s life was a true adventure.  

She always loved her traveling companion and those friends and family she travelled with.

One of her proudest adventures was one we might call a simple pleasure.  My mother never learned to ride a bike as a kid, but she always wanted to. So, at age 40 she bought herself a bike and learned to ride it. Once she checked that adventure off the bucket list she was on to the next adventure.

Mom always wanted to learn a sport. So, she took tennis lessons, got a league together and played until she couldn’t play any more. She loved the competition and the company that she played with.

Mom wanted her kids to write their own story of adventure.

Mom always wanted 3 things for us. Reba wanted us to have a good education, have something to do and she wanted us to know Jesus. She would always make sure school work was done and done correctly. The english teacher never fully let go of that role and often corrected our grammar... mid sentence.

She made sure that Angela was in a piano or dance class of some sort. I’m not sure it helped her rhythm, but she still enjoys teaching her Zoomba class. Sounds like a 1970’s show on PBS doesn’t it? Zooooombah!

Mom was always involved in our school activities. We once had a school play that needed fog on stage; so they needed some dry ice to pour some water over. She volunteered to get the dry ice and promptly went home and called the dry ice company in Knoxville. When they asked her how much she needed. She said,  “oh I don’t know, a green cooler full?”  Well the man thought it was so funny that she had described a cooler rather than telling him a number of pounds, he started telling his co workers and they were all laughing too. The 1970’s fog machine was great and the elementary school play came off without a hitch... if that is possible.

Mom made sure we were active. She got us into swimming, which occupied our summers for several years.

Mom signed me up for football and baseball and church basketball. I know what you are thinking, I must have been a natural. With all this height and athletic ability… Okay not so much. I was always about a foot shorter than all my peers and they outweighed me by 20-30 lbs.  But mom was all about character building.

She once got us a job as tomato pickers on a huge farm. “It will give you character,” she said. “It will be a learning experience,” she said. It was also how we discovered that I was red, green colorblind. They asked who is picking these green tomatoes. Of course, I had no idea that I was colorblind until they traced the buckets back to me, so I was the one who had to grow my character by carrying 5 gallon buckets full of tomatoes from the other itinerant workers to the truck.

Mom always made sure we were in church. She made it clear that her family went to church. And almost everytime the doors were open, we were there. As they say, when we were kids we had a “drug problem”, Mom “drug” us to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night and every revival, every VBS, every teen mission trip… Mom made sure we knew Jesus and went to worship God and learn His Word. One Sunday when I came home from college with a friend, we slept in and didn’t make it to church. She said only one word and I knew I was in trouble. She pointed her finger at me and said “Kid!” and that was all it took.

Mom was always our best cheerleader and biggest fan.  Although, we did drive her crazy sometimes. Her favorite expression was “You two could give an aspirin a headache.” Angela loves to tell the story of the time Mom was disciplining us and said, “I better not hear another peep out of you” and my sister thought she would test Reba and responded with “peep”, she quickly learned that mom was very serious about discipline.

Mom always told us we could do anything and she did everything she could to let us try. She even signed us up for sailing lessons on the Tennessee river.
She loved us well. She always had a warm and welcoming home with good nourishing food... A hot meal every night and breakfast everyday before school. She even fixed my dad a warm lunch every day when he came home from work at noon for food and a short siesta before returning to the office to see several more patients.

My mom also wanted to be a part of the story for her extended family and friends too. We often had house guests, farm guests, houseboat guests, RV guests.  Basically anywhere Mom was, she was a hostess. This was even true when she was in Williamsburg Alzheimer’s facility. She would help the kitchen staff set the tables and make sure everything was in the right place.   Mom always made sure you had plenty to eat and a comfortable place to sit, sleep or have conversation.

Now my mother could talk.  As a matter of fact she was known as “that little blonde haired Price girl who loved to talk.” As a young girl she would sometimes jump up on a stump and start preaching to anyone who would listen or no one in particular.  She was never at a loss for words. Conversation was important to her because she loved people and wanted to know their story.

I remember going with Mom often to a nursing home to encourage a friend or family.  She helped take care of those who were homebound. She took food to those who needed it.  She always took care of “the least of these.”

She loved her grandkids and was always bragging about them and showing them off. She took in her son-in-law and daughter-in-law as her own. As I prepared this message, I asked the family about the things Reba loved and my Brother-in-law said "she loved me!" That's a lot to love.

She was also a heroine to her church.  We don’t really call people heroines in the church, we call them deacons and Sunday School teachers and servants of all kinds...Those who live out their faith inside and outside the church. It was her love for conversation and her love for reading and learning and her love for Jesus that led her to teach. She taught about every age group at church from children in VBS to teens to adults. She also served on several committees and teams. She was among the first women deacons elected to serve at Central Baptist Church of Bearden and among the first in Knoxville, TN.

Mom’s story is now a classic story of Revenge, but there is a spiritual twist. God said, don’t take your own revenge because He says, “vengeance is mine.”

The first thing I want to say is… Where oh alzheimer’s is your victory? Where oh alzheimer’s is your sting? My mother is free from you and in the arms of her Jesus, who has saved her and rescued her from your grip. She will be in heaven for an eternity. These 17 years you held her and all of us captive on this earth is nothing.  You could not separate her from the great love of Jesus Christ, because it is wide and long and it is high and deep and it overcomes all evil. Reba Price McGinnis has been restored, she has finished the race, she has fought the good fight. She has won the victory in Jesus. She is more than a conqueror in her savior Jesus Christ.

And Finally the most epic story of all! The Story of God’s Amazing Grace.

Revelation 3:20 (NASB)says, 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”

What a Savior! Perfect for this woman who loves to host people and open doors for them...  This woman, with the gift of hospitality invited him into her life.  One day at the age of 13 she answered the door.

Look in your memorial bulletin.  In Reba’s own writing you can read, “ I was converted Wednesday, April 30, 1947 at 10:25 a.m. I gave up everything and turned my life over God. Love, Reba." She wrote this in a little signature book that a teacher had given her in school. It is displayed with her pictures in the visitation room here at the funeral home.

That is amazing! How many of us have such a record of the event of our salvation down to the minute.

Today’s story is a celebration because Reba is in heaven with Jesus now. This story is an adventure, it is a victory. It is no tragedy. She invited Jesus to take over her life.

Jesus changed Reba's story from a tragedy to one of victory. Jesus saved her from sin and death and she now has eternal life.

Reba loved her Jesus
From age 13 until she could no longer communicate, my mother loved to be a witness for Jesus. She lived her faith, she taught her faith, and now she is living with the One who is always faithful. He loves people more than things too. Jesus is about relationships... He loves people.

My Mother always urged people on, moved them further, desired for them to grow. She was a disciple and a discipler.

I believe she would be asking all of us today,  “What is your story?”  
She would want to make sure your story includes the most epic story of all time.  

Sing with us now “Blessed Assurance” with the refrain, “This is My Story.”

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. 

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.