Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Fun Tradition

Last night, my family celebrated a tradition with my wife’s family.  Every time a cousin gets married, the family comes together to celebrate and have a family pantry shower.  Having lived away from Connecticut for 8 years now, it’s not often that we are able to be at these showers.  But it just so happened that the only time this shower could take place was just a few days before the wedding, which is Saturday.  So, we enjoyed the benefit of coming together as a family.

Eleven years ago next month, my wife and I were the first of the cousins on her dad’s side to get married.  Out of twelve cousins, five have gotten married.  Number six will be on Saturday and number seven will be in September.  This is the advantage to a big family, there’s always something going on and something to celebrate.  Eleven years later, the family looks very different as the five cousins who have gotten married have had kids of their own, adding another ten to the already large number.

There’s just nothing that compares to gathering together as a family.  Not only do all of the cousins get along well, but all of their kids play well together.  There’s a lot of laughter and joking, good food, and an overall great time of celebration.  Of course, this family isn’t like other families.  Over the years, these pantry showers have grown increasingly more embarrassing for the happy couple.  My wife and I felt somewhat relieved tonight that we were the first ones to have gone through this as we watched the soon to be newlyweds awkwardly reading through some cards and opening up gifts.

It’s so hard for me to believe that the wedding on Saturday and the one in September are kids that I’ve known for about 13 years.  In fact, it was through them that my wife and I got together.  My wife and I were friends first and her aunt got the crazy idea that we might develop into something more than that.  She was right.

This pantry shower was at my in-laws house on a deck that was originally built to be used for family gatherings such as this.  I think it started with an engagement party for me and my wife twelve years ago.  That deck has seen a lot of parties, a lot of good times and laughter.  We have celebrated out there and bonded together as a family and last night was no different.

I’ve heard it said that a person can choose their friends but they can’t choose their families.  With the families that we are born into, that’s true, but we certainly have the option of knowing the kind of family that we marry into.  Hopefully, that’s not the main reason we marry.  For me, it was just an added benefit.  I loved my wife first and it just so happened that her family was loving and lovable, so it was a win-win situation for me.

Never once have I felt like an outsider.  Never once have I felt like I was stockpiling mother-in-law jokes or waiting to get away so that I could vent to everyone about how horrible my mother-in-law is.  I can’t say the same for many of my friends, so I consider myself very blessed.

I was not fortunate to have had grandfathers in my life, but my kids have that fortunate pleasure.  It’s a pleasure that I hope we take advantage of as much as possible.  I know how much their grandfathers love them (grandmothers too).  Every time that they spend time with them, they are making memories that will last a lifetime.

My family is precious to me and I am so thankful for them.  I feel so blessed to be part of such a special group of people.  Family events are full of laughter and joy.  There’s no fighting or arguing.  There may be some awkward moments here or there, but that might be due to the presents being opened up at one of these pantry showers.  After all, if the recipients keep some of the things that they receive at these showers in their pantries or kitchens, they might get some strange looks.  Yup, we’re that kind of a family, but you know what?  I wouldn’t change it for the world. 

These are the things that our kids will carry with them for their whole lives.  These are the kinds of traditions that make memories.  I’ve gather a bunch in just twelve short years in the family.  I look forward to the many more that we will make together, loving each other, and laughing together.  I am a blessed man!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A New Beginning

Eight years ago, I began a new direction in my life.  After graduating from Lehigh University in 1995, getting a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering in 1999, and working in the engineering field for nearly 10 years, I felt God was calling me out of it and into full-time vocational ministry.  On May 30th, 2004, I was ordained into the ministry at my church in Asheville, North Carolina.

My parents and my brother had made the long trip to Asheville from Connecticut.  My father preached for the service, which was such a privilege for me.  When he was ordained, his uncle, Tucker, whom my second son is named after, preached at the service.  My parents were proud.

Eight years, three kids, two states, and a lost mom later, things look very different than they did that day.  I am approaching the end of my seminary studies and my faith and theology have become even more real to me.  Although I have experienced difficulties and storms, my anchor holds.  While I still maintain my engineering license in Connecticut, there are few days that I really contemplate a change back to things the way that they were.

The big joke with my father when I went off to school at Lehigh was that Jon the Baptist had gone to Bethlehem.  As I told some friends a few weeks ago, it was mildly humorous the first few times, but after exhausting it, as parents are sometimes known to do, it lost its edge.  When my wife and I moved away from Connecticut to North Carolina, we both kept in touch with our families on a regular basis.  I probably talked to my parents on an almost daily basis, always checking in to see how things were going and how they were doing.

Amidst my many phone conversations with my mom, she quoted a verse to me.  Although in my thirties at the time, I was still her baby and I think that I considered some of her doting unnecessary and probably glossed over the verse.  But after hearing it a number of times, I finally asked her what the reference was and she told me Luke 1:14.  It was the words of the angel to Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father.  The angel said, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.”  Shortly after I had inquired as to the verse, my mom gave me a small frame for my desk.  She was gifted in calligraphy and she had written up a verse. 

That framed verse still sits on my desk at the church.  It’s a constant reminder to me of all of this.  It’s a reminder to me of where I have come from, the journey that has brought me to the place where I am today.  It’s a reminder of what’s been left behind.  But more importantly, it’s a reminder to me of what’s ahead.  My mom was always proud of me and she never hesitated to tell me that.  She would mention it often enough that it was hard for me to forget it.  In many ways, the verse is a reminder to me of her as well.

But the verse also stands as a challenge to me.  I am not perfect, I make many mistakes, but this verse is a reminder to me of my calling, of my responsibility to the people that I come in contact with.  I hope and pray that people can say that I have been a joy and a delight to them, I know that my parents can and could.  The words of the verse are strong though, many will rejoice because of his birth.  I can think of a few people who probably wish that I had never been born, but I can think of many more who have encouraged me with kind words, thoughtful notes, and incredible gifts who I would like to think have been blessed by what God has offered through me.  Everyone’s got their haters, and I am no exception, but I also know that there are many people who are thankful that God has brought me into their life.

Once in a while, when I’m feeling full of myself, I’ll tell someone that everyone needs some Jon Gibson in their life.  While I’m usually saying it “tongue and cheek,” I hope and pray that what I can offer to people is something that will change them for the better, not because of who I am, but because of what God has done in me and through me.

My constant prayer is that God can use me to be a joy and a delight, not only to my parents, but to anyone who God puts in my path.  I pray that many will rejoice because of my birth, not because I am so wonderful, but because I serve a wonderful God who uses simple people to accomplish His will.  The words from Isaiah 61 that my mom had on her nightstand when she died are appropriate here.  Verse 3 ends with these words, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”  That is my prayer, may God use me to be just that.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


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I’m technically on vacation.  I’m not one who easily detaches from all of the things from which I should be vacating.  But I find that I really need to disengage sometimes, just sit still and wait.  It’s too easy to get caught up in rushing around, trying to get things done and thinking that I’m actually the one who’s controlling all of my circumstances.  It’s easy to be delusional.

As I sat out on my driveway last night, looking up into the sky, it was quiet and dark.  I couldn’t count the stars, there are too many of them for me to pursue such an undertaking.  I didn’t even try to imagine what they were made of or how far away they were.  I actually found myself thinking back to a passage in Isaiah 40.  Many people think of Isaiah 40 and it conjures up images of an eagle because there are verses from which many derive great comfort and hope as they imagine themselves as those who are waiting upon the Lord, being raised up with wings as eagles.

But that wasn’t the passage that I was thinking about.  I was actually thinking of the verses that fall earlier in the chapter, verses 25 and 26, which read, “To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.  Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

I find myself presuming that I understand more than I really do.  I can think that I have more wisdom and knowledge than I really do.  If I have learned anything during my time in seminary, it’s that I still have so much more to learn.  A friend said it well the other day, he has discovered just how much he doesn’t know as he has journeyed along through seminary.  And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that acknowledgement.

At the end of the movie “Grand Canyon,” a seemingly unrelated group of characters has come together through circumstances beyond their control.  They have traveled to the Grand Canyon and as the camera pans away, they all look down upon the vastness that is the Grand Canyon.  They seem so small as the camera slowly pulls away to reveal just how grand the Grand Canyon is.

The movie doesn’t necessarily end on a happy note, insinuating that we are simply cogs in a giant system that is far out of our control.  I think God’s word through Isaiah gives a clearer and more hopeful picture.  We may seem small, like cogs in a large machine, but each and every part is important and significant.  If any of those parts were missing, the machine would not be able to perform the function for which it was made.

God understands the inner workings of the machine; he knows each and every part.  He has placed each part there just as he has placed every part there just as he has placed each star in the sky.  While we may look up at the sky with awe, wonder, and amazement, overwhelmed at the vastness and expanse of it, God has not only hung each of the stars there, but he has called each of them by name.  Not one of them burns out or falls without his knowledge.  Aren’t we more important than the stars?  Aren’t we made in the very image of God?

Realizing the sheer immensity of the universe could easily cause one to dwell in doom and gloom, left to feel insignificant in comparison to such greatness, but God shows us a deeper sense of purpose, if we are willing to stop and listen.

I can make every effort and attempt to compare God to what I know, but I will come up short every time.  He is the one who hung the stars in the sky.  He is the one who has called them out by name.  Not one of them moves, fall, or burns out without his knowing about it.  I can barely remember the things that I need to do today and yet I presume that I know better than the One who holds all this in his hands.

Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, take time to look up at the night sky.  You will feel insignificant, but I hope and pray that you would eventually find purpose.  The God of the universe who created all things has hung stars and knows their every move, surely he cares about you and me as well.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Two weeks ago, we got served.  After being in our neighborhood for nearly five years, we received our second grievance during such time.  Our neighborhood has an association with rules and regulations which, if not obeyed, will result in such grievances being filed.  Both times we've received our notifications, it was for the same thing, weeds and lack of mulch.

The first time we got our notification, we had been in our house for less than a year.  My wife had just given birth to our second child and I had started seminary three months earlier.  Thankfully, some friends from church had come over to put an, "It's a boy!" balloon on our mailbox, clueing in everyone around us that we had a few things happening in our lives at the time.

Last year, in the midst of everything happening with my mom, the weeds began to pile up again.  A true friend from church came over and donated her time to rid our landscaped area of the weeds that had overcome it.  I was so grateful.  There was no way that I was going to find time to weed and mulch in the midst of all of that.  I wasn't even able to cut my lawn and was also grateful when someone donated some grass cutting to us until the end of the summer.

The funny thing is, I now have a reputation in my church for the weeds in my landscape beds.  Justified or not, I find great humor in it.  I am sure that there are people who don't find it as funny, but the way that I have always looked at it is that if I have the choice between weeding and making things pretty or spending time with my family doing something a little more meaningful, I'll choose my family every time.  The nice thing is that my kids are getting old enough now where they can actually be one in the same, the weeding and mulching can be a great bonding experience for our family.

And that's just what it was the other day.  I had mulch delivered, expecting a fairly decent week weather-wise.  I was greatly disappointed when the weather hardly cooperated, raining just about every day from the point that the mulch was delivered until it was actually laid.  As I continued looking at my windows at the rain, I tried to estimate the extra weight of the mulch as it became more and more saturated.

I finally realized that my time window was running out and I planned on getting home from work a little early so as to jump into the project.  My neighbors had some wheel barrows that they told me I could borrow, so I went over there to grab them and their boys started getting their stuff already to come help me.  They brought the wheel barrows and pitchforks to move the mulch, they started diligently to work as I began the arduous task of moving 8 yards of mulch.

The boys recruited another neighborhood girl and my youngest son and made an assembly line of sorts.  The system was pretty efficient, other than the fact that I was the only one actually spreading the mulch.  Before I knew it, the skies began to darken and the rain came.  At first, it was slow, but eventually, the skies opened up and I thought someone was standing above me with buckets of water, just pouring them over my head.

In a matter of hours, we have moved at least five of the eight yards.  Everyone began to retire for the evening and I wonder whether or not I would even be able to move the next day.  It's been a while since I had exerted myself to that extent.  I knew I still had two to three yards to move, but I was pretty proud of what I had accomplished.

As I thought about the whole situation, I was struck by a few different things.  First of all, someone had driven by my house, at some point, and noticed the weeds.  It annoyed them enough that they wanted something done about it, but they bypassed relationship to go for the "quick fix."  Instead of ringing our doorbell to see if everything was all right, they did the easy thing: they made a phone call and complained.  I guess ringing the doorbell would have taken too much time and it might have required them to actually give of themselves.  They might have had to pretend that they cared.

On the flipside of that was my neighbors.  They offered their help to us simply because they cared.  They weren't looking for anything, they hadn't complained about the weeds, if they had, they most likely would have called or rang the doorbell.  They just wanted to help out and lend a hand however they could.

Life moves too fast not to slow down and take notice of things once in a while.  Next time you see something and want to complain, maybe you should take the time to ask what else is going on beneath the surface.  If you take the time, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.  You might find that you have a lot to offer someone who has little.  You might find that someone just needed someone else to talk to.  You might find that taking the time leads to a long-lasting friendship and someone who has your back.  It's easy to look at the surface and make our own presumptions.  We could all stand to take the time to dig a little deeper to find out what's below the surface.  Who knows, we just might learn something and our lives might just be a little more relationally rich than they were before.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pre-School's Done...

Yesterday was the pre-school graduation for my oldest.  It was definitely one of those days when you try your best to slow everything down, take it all in, and hope that you’ll actually remember it.  Not the easiest thing to do when you’re trying to videotape, run sound, and pray an opening prayer.

It was kind of funny though, I kept hearing or reading about all of these moms who were starting to get teary in anticipation of their child’s pre-school graduation.  I snickered to myself, thinking that I wouldn’t really get choked up.  Then the day came.

It never helps your emotional state when you’re bordering on exhausted.  It’s been a long and tiresome week which was capped off by spreading 8 yards of mulch yesterday with the help of the neighborhood kids.  If those kids hadn’t helped me out, I think that I might still be out there trying to move and spread that mulch.  But that’s another story and another post.

I even had a chance to preview the video that had been put together for the program, but I think that a combination of my tiredness, my dad and aunt and uncle’s presence, as well as the raw emotion of just thinking about how much I wanted my mom to have seen this day led to me starting to choke up before the program even started.  I was scheduled to pray the invocation prayer at the beginning of the program and I frantically began to write stuff down in case I was unable to put my thoughts together on the fly like I normally do.

Other than the emotion of it all, it all went well.  We had a little party for family afterwards (including our adopted family who we’ve become close to since we moved here).  My oldest helped me pick out a cake for him the other night as we waited for his last minute haircut.  Props go out to Pamper Salon in Glen Allen for agreeing to cut his hair despite the fact that I showed up at the last minute.

As my wife and I were talking later, I told her that I couldn’t help but think about how my mom was supposed to have been here to witness the day.  She loved my son, he was the apple of her eye, and she would have been so proud of him.  After sharing this with her, I figured that I needed to take advantage of the opportunity to share it with my son. 

I took him on my knee, leaned into him, and whispered in his ear, “You know, Grandma would have been really proud to see you today, just like Mommy and Daddy are proud of you.  But I think that maybe she might have been looking down from heaven and that she was still able to see you today.”  My voice didn’t hold up and the tears began, but I was so grateful that he’s at the age where he humors his dad, not interrupting me, but hearing me out.

I fully expect that life might just begin to speed up now that we will have one in “real” school.  All the more reason to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way.  I joked with my sons before that they were turning into pizzas because we’ve had so many days in a row of pizza for dinner.  I picked them up, smelled them, and happily reported to them that they smelled like pepperoni and cheese and that they would have to be banned from pizza.  After my maniacal laugh, we all shared a laugh together.

I smiled at the fact that my senior year of high school yearbook quote is still true, “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid!”  Life’s too short to get too serious and I needed that reminder, the reminder that it’s really good to laugh.  The minute that I stop acting like a child in some ways is the minute that I’ve begun to take myself too seriously, and frankly, it’s these crazy moments that my kids are going to remember years from now. 

I know because it’s those moments of laughter that I remember most from growing up as well.  Not that there aren’t other memories in there, but the ones that bring smiles to my face are the ones filled with laughter.  Yes, pre-school’s over for my oldest and a new chapter of life is just beginning, but I can’t wait to see what’s right around the corner.  He’s only five years old and I’m so proud of him already, I’m looking forward to more opportunities to be a proud parent in the future.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Rules, Part II

What do we base our rules on?  When we come up with a system of guidelines, laws, or principles, how do we formulate them?  Many people will say that laws are based upon ethics and a system of ethics.  Generally, we can all come to some amount of agreement upon an ethical system, formulating rules which are workable.

The problem that I see with some ethical principles is that they can easily become relative.  We can easily move into a system of normative relativism which implies that even ethical beliefs that are contradictory may both be right.  There is also the concept of metaethical relativism which says that people legitimize their ethical principles based upon who they are, what their religious beliefs are, and what their culture is.

The ongoing question is whether or not there are moral absolutes or whether morals continue to be flexible and relative.  Moral relativism can easily slide down a slippery slope to become “mob mentality.”  We have seen the destructive nature of this throughout history.  Slavery seemed to have been a good idea to someone, once upon a time, and somehow, it caught hold and was embraced.

I go back again to the question of the normalization of our ethical and moral systems.  How do we keep things from becoming too relativistic?  We can probably all come up with examples in our heads of what things are morally acceptable and what things are not.  But what prevents those things that are currently unacceptable from becoming acceptable?

There is a place for moral absolutes, I believe that the Bible gives us a moral compass from which we can determine those absolutes.  But what do we do with those who don’t subscribe to the authority of Scripture?  Can we really mandate morality on people whose system of beliefs is in direct opposition to what the Word of God teaches?

This is where I get hung up.  I choose to live my life governed by a set of rules that are given to me by the One who created me.  Others choose not to do so.  If I tell them that they are wrong and implement a system by which they are forced to subscribe to my belief system, will they really be convinced that it’s a good idea simply because they are legislated to follow that system?  Or will they resent that system more because it is being forced upon them?  Would it be better to open up a dialogue to express our differences and viewpoints?

The problem with dialogue is that it takes time, and in a broken and fallen world, we are not always willing to commit to the time that it takes to generate dialogue and begin a conversation.  To me, dialogue implies that the conversation is ongoing, it continues as long as people feel as if there is movement or progression.  It needs to be filled more with wonderment than with dogmatism, otherwise, it’s not really a dialogue but a debate.

But there are times when people’s hands are forced, when they have no choice but to stand firm rather than entering into dialogue.  What happens when organizations that previously held to a system of moral absolutes devolve, holding instead to a system of moral relativism?  What happens when organizations that once held to a “True North” allow instead for their North to be magnetic, changing based upon the poles of a constantly evolving culture?

The definition of the word “conviction” is, “a fixed or firm belief.”  I wonder how many of us can articulate the convictions which we hold.  I wonder how many of us are really convinced of our convictions, instead embracing something that has been handed down to us rather than doing the difficult work of working it out for ourselves.  I wonder what our convictions are based upon: a constantly changing culture, our emotional state at the time, or something that remains constant, never-changing, always staying the same?

I didn’t fully appreciate that my convictions needed to be my own until I was in college.  The process of working them out was formative for me, allowing me to wrestle with difficult questions.  After that wrestling, I landed in a place where my convictions are based upon what I believe to be absolute Truth, unchanging, always the same.  While I hold to those convictions and that absolute Truth, I do my best to remain humble, admitting my own fallibility and brokenness.  But if I let my own fallibility and brokenness inform my convictions rather than allowing my convictions to inform my fallibility and brokenness, my system of beliefs will change constantly.

Paul said in Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”  We must work out what we believe and why we believe it.  We must work out our system of rules with a willingness to ask difficult questions and hold in tension certain things.  If we approach the formulation of our convictions with anything less than humility and grace, we will simply be dogmatic, leaving no room for transformation.  Is it possible to hold to convictions and still have some wonderment over mysteries that have yet to be revealed?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I have yet to find someone in life that likes rules.  Generally, if I find someone who claims that they like rules, I can always push them hard enough to find that there are some rules that they don't like.  There are some people who claim that rules were meant to be broken, the rebels among us who like nothing more than to buck the system and break as many rules as possible.  Others just love rules, they love the order that they bring to the chaos of their lives.  They love to have structure and routine.

Still, there are others who like to push right up against the rules, tiptoe along the edge of breaking them, and then begin pointing out the technicalities of the rule system to specify that they haven't indeed broken any rules, they've just "expanded the strike zone," so to speak.

It's hard to classify myself in a category in regards to rules.  I probably fit with the large majority of the population that says that there are certain rules that are just plain dumb, they don't make sense.  I honestly believe that rules are meant for protection, they're meant to provide some order and structure to life.  Without rules and systems, life would have the potential of turning into utter chaos.

The key to rules is determining exactly why they are in place.  Most teenagers believe that rules are put into place simply to make their lives more miserable.  They think that there is a conspiracy instigated by their parents and most other adults to use rules to make their lives anything but fun.  Sadly, there are adults who espouse the same beliefs and theories, they just simply never grow out of them.

But there may be something to those theories.  Sometimes, rules and systems can get in the wrong hands.  Sometimes, there are individuals who take rules which were intended for good and positive things and they misuse them to manipulate people and to lord their power over others.  Their intention isn't to protect people but instead to show how much control they can have over the lives of people who fall within the system of rules.

Each and every one of us is capable of taking rules and using them for our own self-interest.  Our motivations may differ, but it is possible for systems and rules which were intended for good to be abused.  We have seen this in communities, in states, in countries, in churches, and in other places throughout our world.  Dictators come in and make the rules as they go, becoming the adult equivalent of a three year old playing a game that he or she has made up with the only rule being that they will win no matter what.

Rules can be used to measure ourselves against others.  Generally, we can come out looking really good or really bad in comparison.  If we follow the rules, we may consider that we are deserving of something, that we have earned something.  If we don't follow the rules, we may not be surprised when there are consequences to breaking those rules, but it probably won't stop us from crying about the injustice of it all.

The best systems that I have experienced are the ones in which there are some sort of checks and balances, put in place for the protection of everyone involved.  While they certainly aren't foolproof, they may prevent some of the strong abuses that could easily become prevalent under broken and sinful people.

When Jesus walked the earth, there was a group of people who liked rules.  They liked to keep the rules and point out everybody who couldn't keep them.  Truth is, they were deluded in thinking that they could actually keep the rules.  Outwardly, they had kept the rules, but inwardly, they were in major violation of them.  Jesus reserved some of his strongest words for this group.

God knew that no one was capable of following and obeying all of the rules, that's why he sent Jesus.  He was the only one who could live perfectly, without breaking the rules, outside or inside.  Jesus' words in his teaching were that he had not come to do away with rules, but to fulfill them.  He had come to show that it was impossible to follow rules and that he had provided a way for us to still be okay despite the fact that we continue to break rules.

We all have to live by rules and we generally can't do anything about that.  What we can do is make sure that when we are the ones enforcing the rules, we can keep ourselves in check and have others do the same thing.  We can do our best to make sure that our own self-interest and selfish motivation doesn't take advantage and abuse a system that was put into place for the benefit and well-being of others.

There's more to say on this topic, but I'll reserve that for a Part II.