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Inaugural Observations

inauguration-celebration-american-flag-capitol-in-backgroundI had to grab a few things late last night at one of those 24-hour grocery stores. That concept seemed strange to me until I found myself roaming the aisles close to midnight.

I grabbed what I needed and was heading to the checkout when I noticed a man about my age shopping with his son. His son, I guessed, was roughly the age of my youngest son and all seemed normal at first. Then it became apparent the son had handicaps which required constant attention and care. I suspected the father was purposefully shopping with his son late at night to avoid crowds.

I couldn’t help but just observe from a distance. Their walk down the grocery store aisle was extremely slow. Every few steps, the father would have to stop and adjust his son’s position so they could keep walking down the aisle. With each adjustment, he would gently reposition his son and smile. Then they would slowly move forward again. I was amazed at the father’s tenderness and patience.

I suspect the very last thing they were concerned about was the inauguration. Certainly decisions made by government officials could impact their lives. Regardless, this father seemed committed to tenderly care for his son, no matter what comes out of Washington or anywhere else.

As I observed, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my Heavenly Father’s love and care for me. I often feel so spiritually handicapped, so lost, and in constant need of adjustments. You would think the Father would be completely exasperated and worn out caring for me. But He’s not. “See how very much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

The presidential inauguration is tomorrow. To say the least, it’s going to be very interesting. But our trust and confidence is not in governments. Our trust and hope is in our Heavenly Father. And just like the son being tenderly led through the grocery store by a patient and loving father, “You, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).

Inaugurations will come and go until the end of the age. But God’s faithful love endures forever. Take a moment and read Psalm 136 and be reminded. It will help put concerns into proper perspective.

Writing Stories

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View from the outdoor cafe

I’m sitting at an outdoor coffee bar that serves a lot more than just coffee. It overlooks a sports arena, downtown buildings, and a commuter train railway. There is also an airport close by. A few minutes ago an airplane flew past while at the same time a train and a bus rolled along. Everyone is going someplace.

It’s interesting to observe the mix of people in this place. There are all shapes and sizes and I count at least six different nationalities. Most seem quite happy. I suspect the median age is late 30’s and I suddenly realize I’m pulling the curve up instead of down.

Most conversations I overhear seem pretty light. If I had to guess, I would say there is one budding romance across the way. They are all smiles and laugh even if what was said may not have been particularly funny. A trio of ladies have gathered for drinks and are swapping stories about their respective “crazy” day. An elderly man is by himself staring into his glass deep in thought.

I wonder what their stories are?

We all have them. We’re all on a journey. All of us are hopeful our story comes to a happy and peaceful conclusion. We’re all writing stories.

I can’t help but wonder how God’s eternal and perfect plan—His story for us—is possibly taking place at this exact moment in each one of our lives. There just seems to be too much going on, too many  details, too many people, too many possible outcomes. How can it be that God is in control and that “…every day of my life was recorded in His book and every moment laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:16)? How can this be true right now, right here in this coffee bar?

I know God lives in eternity and is outside all of nature’s laws regarding time and space. It is difficult to try and comprehend. My Dad loved to tell me that this meant “God has all the ‘time’ in the world to focus on me and me alone for my entire life—every moment of every day.” That both thrills and terrifies me. But I do believe that in some mysterious God-ordained-free–will way, we write our story with uncoerced choices which fit exactly into God’s eternal plan. 

Maybe David was sitting in a coffee bar (circa 1000 BC) drinking a strong black coffee (no way King David drank lattés) thinking about some of these things. Why does the Almighty God–with that kind of power and ability–unconditionally love and care for someone like me? Why would he even care about my story and even desire that “through his mighty power at work within me, accomplish infinitely more than I might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)? It’s too outlandish to imagine.

But He does. And so David had to say what I’m feeling at this moment, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:6).

I need another strong black coffee.

Award Winning Book

Fun summer reading. “Monkeys In My Coconut Tree” by Ed Thompson, is a compilation of fun, easy-to-read stories of fun, family, and faith. It was a Reader’s Favorite 2016 Silver Medal Winner. So come on, check it out. Read some of the reviews and download your copy by clicking HERE. (Also available at Amazon.com, iTunes and others.)

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Moses & Baseball

 

IMG_1312“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”  —Yogi Berra

Realizing my youngest son, David (then 9), was excelling at baseball, I decided to move him to a more challenging baseball park in Miami called Tamiami. Instead of the popular “draft” where the talented players are spread out over the various teams, coaches handpick their young baseball players and bring them to the park to battle it out.  

David was the only “American” on the Tamiami All-Star team filled with second and third generation Hispanics. To be fair, all the boys on his 10-and-under All-Star team were  born in America. They embraced their Hispanic heritage and cultural diversity, but were proud Americans grateful to live in the USA and the wonderfully diverse city of Miami.

Tamiami baseball is well known for being “over-the-top” competitive. And just to prove it, in our very first Tamiami game, the team mom from our team got into a fist fight with the team mom from the other team. I knew right then and there it was going to be a very exciting season of baseball.

And it was. Despite all the fist fights (and there were many), the constant heated quarrels over the “real” age of some of the kids (just about every game), and some umpires who performed their own little dance move with every strike-three call (one umpire called himself Michael Jackson), it was a great experience. David’s final game that year was played on TV as the Tamiami All-Star team won the Pony League World Series in Dallas.

David learned the fundamentals of the game of baseball from passionate Hispanic dads. Lessons he is no doubt taking with him now in his first full professional year in the NY Mets farm system. Not only that, but his Spanish improved dramatically.

In many ways, the passion David’s Hispanic coaches used for teaching him the fundamentals of baseball is what Moses was getting at when he said, “Teach [God’s commands] to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up…so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 11:19-21).

And who doesn’t want to flourish?

Most of us have a hard time truly believing God gave us the Ten Commandments for our benefit. But unlike baseball where breaking the rules may cost you the game, we are all in the middle of the great “game” of life where the stakes are so very much higher. So if you’d like to know why Moses said obeying them will help your life flourish, my Dad just so happened to write a short book explaining just that.

You can find it here at Amazon or on our ministry website at LOGOI.  

Doubts

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Doubt.
1. to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.
2. to distrust
3. a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of the something

I have a lot of doubts. I doubt, for example, I will ever win a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, I don’t think the committee is even opening my letters anymore. I doubt I will ever purposefully swim with sharks and doubt I will ever toss a game winning touchdown pass in an NFL game.

Okay, but what about real doubts? Doubts that keep you awake at night and troubled during the day. Like whether someone really does love you or if you really do love them back? Do you ever doubt if your dreams will come true, or if you’re good enough, doing enough, working hard enough, or praying enough? And what about the really big, ultimate doubts? Is there really a God and if so, does He care about me?

Sometimes I struggle with doubt; even those really big questions. I’m very much like the father Jesus encounters in Mark 9: 14-29. The father is desperate for his son to be made well and says to Jesus, “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”

Jesus answered, “What do you mean, “If I can?” The desperate father than cries out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

That’s me. I believe, but please God, help me overcome my unbelief. Maybe it’s you, too. If so, I invite you to invest 27 minutes of your time and listen to a powerful message from my big brother, Dan. He’s quite an excellent Bible teacher and this particular message may just be what you need to hear: http://www.christcommunitytitusville.org/sermons.html.

The message is from 9/7/14 and is titled, “Doubt is Everybody’s Problem.” Last time I checked, I was part of that “everyone.” No doubt, you are, too.

Short Term Mission Sanity

Summer is over which mercifully means, the end of family and friends asking for money so they can go on a paid vacation — I mean, short-term mission trip.

Ok, there are short-term mission trips that are impactful and meaningful. But come on. I’ve seen the itineraries, looked at the pictures and videos, and listened to the stories reported back in church. Everyone had a great time, returned with killer tans, enjoyed trying new foods, felt bad about how other people are living, were glad they helped (with their project), and oh yeah, got to share a testimony or two.

Can you imagine if the short term mission trip organizers were to ask those they were going to serve, “What would help you more, a group of well meaning North Americans coming to your place to work for a week…or the cash equivalent?”

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I love short term missions

It is difficult to find a week long short term mission trip overseas for less than $1,200 per person with most costing upwards of $3,000 (which enables the trip organizers to go for “free”). Then, when you consider most short-term mission trips have a dozen or so travelers, the money spent on one weeklong short-term mission trip is more than most whom they are going to serve will earn in 10 years.

This past year I received roughly a dozen please-help-pay-for-my-short-term-mission-trip-and-or-vacation letters. The least expensive was $1,850 for one week and the most expensive was over $8,000 for the entire summer abroad. In my mind I’m saying, “Hey, I like exotic vacations too, but why are you asking me to pay for yours?” But of course, I bite my tongue, try to think positively, and sometimes even write a check. But I confess, in most of those circumstances when I write a check, I am not a joyful giver.

There is certainly a place for short-term mission trips. Medical missions will always be needed. Disaster relief and projects that need specialization are powerful. But should we really be sending a bunch of North Americans to run vacation Bible schools and music camps? I’ve talked to national pastors who watch well meaning North Americans build or fix up a church building while capable people in their congregations are desperate for that very work. “It’s the only way we can get it done,” they lament. I know of several churches whose single largest annual mission budget item is to send a group of their families to a lovely Caribbean island for a week or two to “help” with the local vacation Bible schools. The matching t-shirts are cute, too.

It’s time for some short term mission sanity. Can we really claim our short term mission trips are resulting in “making disciples of all nations?” Can we really “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” in our seven day trip less two days of travel? Can it happen? Sure. But if all you have is a few days, it’s a lot easier to help fix a roof or hand out food and clothing to those in need. Disciplemaking takes time…and a relationship.

Short term “mercy” trips to help meet physical needs are just fine. But call them what they are: mercy mission trips to do good deeds for our fellow man while helping our travelers see how good they’ve got it living in North America. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s also be honest and admit that few short term mission trips accomplish much in the way of fulfilling the Great Commission. For that, you need to empower “national missionaries:” men and women who love the Lord, already live there, understand their cultures, and see the spiritual need in others. They are the ones establishing relationships and doing the hard work of making disciples. They are the ones helping others in their communities discover the love, grace, and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every time I receive one of those well meaning short term mission trip letters asking me to help cover the costs of their exotic vacation, I think of the thousands of national missionaries who are already there not only meeting physical needs but more importantly, making disciples. The cost to do that? $5 per month per national missionary (see FiveDollarMission.com).

If my math is right, for the cost of one $1,200 short term mission trip traveler, on-the-job Bible training, resources, and encouragement could be provided for 20 national missionaries focused on making disciples…all year long.

But of course, I could use a paid vacation.

Enjoying Life

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Our dog, Bentley, has fallen deeply in love with my wife, Jenn. He has also become rather protective of her. I found this out the hard way when I leaned over to give Jenn a kiss while Bentley was lying beside her. Instead of the nice soft embrace of my wife’s lips, I got a face full of Bentley, who with amazing quickness and agility, sprang between my face and hers and pushed me away with his long, wet nose.

I jumped back with a start and stared at this crazy dog who was now suffocating my laughing wife under his protective paws. Not one to easily give up when it comes to getting a kiss from my wife, I leaned over once again searching for her lips. This time, Bentley started barking and positioned his long body completely over Jenn’s head.

By this time, Jenn was laughing hysterically and Bentley-the-Protector was barking madly to keep me away. The battle was on. Man versus beast. Passion versus protection. Crazy dog versus desperate husband wanting a kiss.

I cautiously circled the sofa. Bentley stared at me with his big, black eyes with Jenn safely secured under his paws. Tail wagging, he watched my every move. When the moment was just right, I jumped in, scooped Bentley up in my arms, ran the yapping dog into the other room with the tile floor. I put the frantic dog on the tile floor, held him back from running, and took off for the sofa to retrieve my kiss. As I ran toward Jenn, I could here the clatter of Bentley’s toenails flailing wildly on the tile floor desperately trying to get traction so he could beat me to the couch. His spinning legs gave me just enough time to race back to Jenn and win my kiss.

Man had won over beast once again.

Oh, the simple pleasures of life. Playing with a dog. Working hard for a kiss. Laughter. The list of ways to enjoy life is truly endless.

I am amazed by the entire concept of joy. It’s interesting, for example, that “joy” is both a noun and a verb. My dictionary defines joy—the noun—as, “intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.” Joy—the verb—is defined as, “to take great pleasure; rejoice” as well as, “to fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.”

I recently heard a wonderful message on creation. I was enthralled when the pastor suggested that God may have “sung” the world into existence. Of course, we have no idea if this is the case, but I love that imagery. Just imagine the beauty and joy of God’s voice singing as he creates stars, galaxies, and you and me…into existence.

Like love, joy is a part of God’s very essence. “God is love” as much as “God is joy.” The two are inseparable. The Tyndale Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains that joy is a “quality, and not simply an emotion, grounded upon God himself and indeed derived from Him.” Perhaps that is why famed author and professor, C.S. Lewis, described his conversion and ultimate belief in Christ, by simply saying, “joy.”

I have a friend who is battling cancer. Through emails, he keeps me up-to-date on what is going on through the various stages of treatment. He has endured many surgeries, medications with terrible side effects, long hospital stays, difficult setbacks, and endless doctor visits. Watching him fight this terrible disease is a reminder that none of us are immune from trials, sorrows, disappointments, and frustrations. “What a blessing,” he says, “that I have a basis for which I can experience God’s love, joy, and peace regardless of my situation.”

The famous preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “When you speak of heaven, let your face light up with heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell—well, then your usual face will do.”

So, here’s hoping more and more faces “light up with a heavenly gleam.” After all, there are far too many walking around with their “usual face.”

Baby That’s Love

I admit it, I need a kleenex every time I watch one of those “soldier comes home” videos where they surprise their family. I’m reminded of the sacrifice made not only from the soldier, but of all the family and friends. I wrote a ballad a few years back with my friend, Don Koch, which seemed a nice fit for some of my favorite “soldier reunited with family” clips. It was also fun to include clips from my son and daughter’s engagements.

The idea behind “Baby That’s Love” is enduring love–love that survives through thick and thin even when it comes to saying goodbye. The song is on my “Beautiful Feet” CD which is available, of course, on iTunes. Hope you enjoy it, too…with or without a kleenex.

A Father’s Restraint: An Easter Message

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hospital room in Miami looking over my son. He’s trying to sleep but the pain keeps waking him up. Parents absolutely hate seeing our children suffer. We would willingly take their place in an instant if possible. Of course, we are often helpless to do anything but pray.

Some TLC from Grandma

Some TLC from Grandma

A blood clot was discovered in his upper right arm after it swelled twice its size. The skilled doctors moved quickly to remove the clot but with obvious concern. Most healthy 20-year-olds do not develop blood clots. “Venous Thoracic Outlet Syndrome” was found to be the culprit and surgery to remove his first rib was the solution. It was a shock to all of us and the reality hit hard. Dave was playing well for the University of Miami baseball team. He was leading his team with an amazing .579 batting average in ACC conference play (.328 overall) and was just starting to hit his stride. The last place he wanted to be was in the hospital…again.

Now, before I go any further, let me quickly say that David is expected to have a full recovery and return to baseball in due time. While scary and disheartening, there are countless others facing far more devastating issues. We thank the Lord this did not result in a far greater tragedy.

A few days before David’s six-hour surgery, I had finished reading Bill O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Jesus: A History.” It is not a religious book, but was helpful in better understanding the political and religious climate amidst the events leading to Christ’s crucifixion. As I sat watching David struggle through pain, my thoughts wandered to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Biblical accounts explain Jesus went with his disciples to the Garden to pray. As O’Reilly explains, Jesus knew full well the terrifying suffering he would endure at the hands of a professional Roman crucifixion death squad. The account in Matthew 26:36-46 (NLT) says Jesus was anguished and distressed. Verse 38 reads, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” Three times he prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

As a father, I would do anything to protect my son. If I had the power, I would have cured his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome before a scalpel ever pierced his skin. If I had the power and my son was in anguish and asked me to take away the cup of suffering he was facing, I would not have hesitated.

The Bible says God the Father had that power — but did not use it. That blows me away.

Several days have now passed since I started this article. David was in the hospital for eleven long days and is now on the road to recovery. He can hardly wait to once again pick up a baseball bat and start swinging for the fences. We pray he has many days ahead to enjoy the game he loves and I will gratefully resume my place in the stands to cheer him on.

It’s Easter, and I’ve thought a lot about God the Father’s restraint as He watched His one and only Son being crucified. Of course, He knew that death could not hold his Son. And He knew His Son, the perfect lamb, had come to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

As I discussed these things with Al Valdes, LOGOI’s professor of biblical studies, he simply smiled and quoted John 3:16:

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Thank God for Easter!

Thompson Family Christmas Letter 2013

Jenn and I will be spending this Christmas somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. I’ll admit that as a hobby, I like to study quantum physics because like you, I think discrete, indivisible units of energy are just fun. But I still can’t figure out how we leave from Los Angeles on December 24th and arrive in Fiji on the 26th…since the flight is only 12 hours long. While I try to figure it out, here’s a quick family update:

ABBY: The reason we’re missing Christmas this year is because of Abby. She graduated from FSU, moved back home, looked around…and quickly signed up as an au pair and moved to Australia. She is the nanny for two cute little Aussies and appears to be having the time of her life. Unfortunately, she has completely disregarded my orders: “Do not speak to or even look at any Australian men.” Which reminds me, if you have any good mafia connections Down Under, please let me know. I may need to make a phone call.

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Fortunately, her work visa mandates she return to her daddy before a full year has passed. I have already heard rumors, however, that she may want to return to the land of cricket and rugby matches, which reminds me; if you have any good mafia connections here in the U.S., let me know. I may need to make a phone call.

Abby has always wanted to see the world and she is certainly doing just that. We will be expanding her world a bit more with a quick trip to the Great Barrier Reef while there. I have always hoped, you see, to come face-to-face with a hungry Great White Shark while snorkeling.

We can’t help but wonder what the Lord has in store for Abby. And while the A&E Network may not like it, we really do want God’s clear guidance and to Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take (Proverbs 3:5,6).

DAVID: If I had to do college over again, I’d be a Division 1 athlete like David. The nice people at the University of Miami sign him up for classes, get him his books, and even pay for his education. It’s really nice. All he has to do is get good grades and hit a few home runs. How easy is that?

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Of course, Dave has complicated a few things. His first day of college as a freshman was spent in the hospital getting labrum surgery on his throwing shoulder. He enjoyed that experience so much that as soon as baseball season ended, he had a second surgery to “clean things up.” So, for the second straight year, he was not able to play football. The jury is still out regarding his future as a Hurricane quarterback.

On the baseball field, however, he managed to lead his team in RBI, home runs, and a few other categories. His hard work resulted in being named a 2013 Freshman All-American, Louisville Regional All-Tournament Team, and UM’s Rookie of the Year. The new baseball season starts in mid-February and our third baseman tells us his shoulder (finally) feels, “fantastico.” We’re praying for a healthy season.

A 2013 highlight for David was traveling to Cuba on a LOGOI mission trip in December. He loves sharing his testimony, providing much needed gifts of baseball equipment, and seeing the hope and joy only Jesus can bring. He’s been invited to travel back in July and possibly play in a baseball tournament with a Cuban team. Now that would be fun!

MATT & LAURA: Life in Silicon Valley is amazingly scenic, active, and much better looking since Matt and Laura are making their home in San Jose. The only issue is, they are not living next door to me in Miami which I thought was part of the dowry. While I know they miss family and friends in their hometown, they have made close friends, are part of a great church, and seem to have a constant flow of out-of-town visitors.

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They also get offered new job opportunities every other week. As I write this letter, Matt is a very creative marketing executive with a well respected marketing firm working with some big name-brands and clients. Laura is with a large corporate travel agency. By the time you receive this, however, all that may have changed. It must be nice to be young, talented, and good looking. And despite living on the left-coast, they are somehow surviving both global-warming and Obamacare. They have good Republican roots.

We were able to spend a wonderful Thanksgiving week with them, meet some of their good friends, and check out their new rental house. We also were able to experience life with their large German Short-Hair Pointer who likes to eat rocks and thinks he’s a lap dog.

Business meetings, weddings, holidays, and hopefully a few UM baseball games will keep bringing us together for short visits. They always remind us of how much we love being together. We’re very proud of how they are making their own way in this big world and how much they want their lives to honor Christ. Big things are always just around the corner for them making life exciting and keeping them (and us) on our knees.

ED & JENN: To help us avoid the quiet empty-nester feeling most couples experience when their children move out, Abby left her dog Bentley with us as she galavants around Australia. So, Bentley, who happens to be the world’s largest miniature Dachshund, barks at anything that moves, breathes, or stands still. We have to attend a Miami Marlin’s baseball game to get some peace and quiet.

ImageJenn completed an unheard of re-building project at Westminster Christian: demolishing and then erecting a brand new, state-of-the-art elementary school in one-year. The new facility is beautiful and we all marvel at Jenn’s talent and ability. A few UM football and baseball players have also been able to experience some of her culinary skills. And while we wonder if cookies and cakes violate some NCAA rule, we love getting to know these Hurricanes. It gives us great encouragement about the next generation.

With the exception of game days, you’ll find me busy at LOGOI. In 2014 we’ll be talking a lot about our Five Dollar National Missionaries scattered all over the Spanish world. We have some 7,500 of them at this point but, Lord willing, have room for many thousands more. And yes, it really does cost just $5 per month to support one of our national missionaries. I just may ask you to help spread the word, so…cuidado. And by the way, a fun way to stay connected is right here on BlogEd, so come on, just click that little “follow” button.

There is a short video on the homepage of our LOGOI website called, “The Christmas Scale.” I’ve heard it’s been around for a while, but it was new to me. The caption reads, “It’s hard to believe that the greatest message the world will ever hear is contained in one simple scale.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth taking a couple minutes and checking it out. It beautifully says exactly what all us Thompson’s want to say: Joy to the World, the Lord has come!

Merry Christmas,

The Thompsons

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