stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

make a list

One of the many benefits of being a pastor’s kid is that you get to hear the message before most people, sometimes multiple times. How lucky are my kids? I often run through my message Saturday night and Sunday morning before church, just to make sure I’m familiar. Jakob asked if he could listen to me Sunday morning, and of course I let him. About halfway through, he got up and left. I heard him open the printer. I assumed he was getting a piece of paper to draw on, because he had gotten bored. I didn’t mind. I kept on going.

When I finished, he said, “that was good, Dad. I really liked it!” I laughed and said, “Well, you must not have liked it too much, since you left.” As I walked out of my office, I found him right outside using the cabinet between mine and Pastor Dave’s office. He was writing something. He said, “I wasn’t bored. I liked when you said we should have a prayer list, so I started making one before I forgot.”  Here is his list:

I was happy, and not just because I made it onto the prayer list. I was happy that he listened to what I was saying and immediately applied it. I’m happy that he wants to be in prayer, recognizes even at his age that he struggles to pray, and decided to do something about it. The things on his list are important enough to him that he wants to remember to regularly pray for them. He doesn’t want to forget. It’s easy to forget, even things we care about. That’s why I suggest making a list. Write down things to praise God for, things to pray for for others, and things to pray for for yourself. When you have that dedicated prayer time, pull out your list and pray over those items. And then keep going to God and asking Him, in faith, to provide. Don’t give up on praying for people or yourself.

Luke 11:5-13 (NLT)

“Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story:“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”” 

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mature Christians care

Romans 12 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Coming out of Romans 11, Paul instructs Christians to give themselves wholly to God. He tells us to be transformed by God, not conformed to what’s going on around us. He goes on to give some characteristics of the truly transformed, of the mature believer.

vs. 4 – We are all one body and belong to each other
vs. 9 – Don’t pretend to love others. Really love them.
vs. 10 – Love each other with a genuine affection
*vs. 11 – Don’t be lazy, but work hard in serving God.
*vs. 12 – Be patient in troubling times and continue praying
vs. 13 – When God’s people need you, be ready to be there for them and help you
vs. 15 – Be happy with those who are happy, but weep with those who weep

I put an asterisk next to three of those verses, because we tend to separate them from their context. But they were written in the context of loving other Christians. The verses surrounding them, written in the same paragraph, are clearly about loving other Christians well. So why do we separate them out? What if God wants us to not be lazy in our relationships with other Christians? What if He wants us to put in a full effort, knowing that loving and serving other Christians is loving and serving Him? What if He expects us to be patient and prayerful in times of trouble for other Christians, because they don’t always pass quickly? I believe He does want that from Christians, as Paul wraps up the section by telling us to be weep with those who weep. I believe these verses are all talking about loving other Christians well, because they were placed together, in the same paragraph, in the same context.

I think Christians have a long history of being really good at living out Romans 12:15a, but Romans 12:15b is much harder. Someone has a healthy baby? We love to rejoice with them. Two Christians get married and start their lives together? We love it. We celebrate it. Someone is in an extended time of pain and struggle, be it from mental illness, betrayals, other physical, long-term ailments? We’re not as good at that. We say pithy things, we offer “solutions,” and we hope to fix the situation. When the situation is ongoing and beyond our ability to fix it, a lot of us tire out. We slowly give up and walk away, telling ourselves, “well, I tried.” But we weren’t told to try at this point. We were told to weep with those who weep. There’s no talking in weeping. There’s no advice. There’s just loving someone so much that their hurt hurts you.

I had the opportunity to listen to Rick Warren speak last week. He shared about his grief and loss when his son Matthew took his own life. It was emotional, but it was also powerful. It was also life-giving and hope-inspiring to listen to a prominent Evangelical leader discuss depression and how to care for the hurting. I didn’t grow up hearing pastors and Christian leaders talk like that. I grew up hearing depression, anxiety, any other mental illness described as sins and a lack of faith. Although I haven’t heard anyone say that out loud in a long time, I have witnessed behaviors that reveal hearts that believe it. I’m encouraged that the truth of grief is being taught. Rick Warren made a number of salient points that I want to share, as one of my deepest desires for the church is that we would care for our hurting, not step over them when we cannot fix them.

  1.  The deeper the pain, the fewer the words.
    – Sometimes there isn’t anything you can say.
    – “Do you ever think that, sometimes the reason why you don’t have the words to say until after you leave someone is
    because God doesn’t want you to?”  Sarah Selph, not Rick Warren
    – Show up and shut up.
    – People need the ministry of your presence.
  2. There is no expiration on grief.
    – People’s grief shows up in different ways, in different amounts, for different amounts of time.
    – Don’t expect people to just get better.
    – Don’t talk someone out of an emotion. If you love them, feel it with them.

Mature believers care for others. The transformed believer hurts when other Christians hurt. Being happy with the happy is the easiest thing you’ll ever do. Even babies laugh and smile when others laugh and smile around them. It takes a mature person to sit silently in someone else’s pain and feel it with them regardless of how long it takes. That is being the body of Christ.

On Sunday, Pastor Dave asked an important question. “Have you had a conversation lately with God?”  If you didn’t consider it then, consider it now. When was the last time you spoke to your kids about God?

Having faith conversations with our children is key to their growth in their faith. In Deuteronomy 6, we instructed to tell our children about God’s commandments. We’re supposed to discuss God as they are getting up, laying down for the night, and when we’re just journeying throughout our day. Most of what I knew about God growing up came from my parents’ doing this. I did learn stuff at church, but I’m glad what I learned at church paled in comparison to what I learned at home. Teach your kids the Bible, because through that they’ll learn Who God is, His character, His great love, and His expectations.

I think we should have more God conversations with our kids than just these, though. It is obviously important to tell them Who God is, but I think it’s also critical that we tell our kids what God has done and what He is doing. This will shape and sharpen their faith in ways you never imagined. They will begin to see God beyond the lessons, beyond the academic knowledge, and they will begin to see His reality. They will be aware of His presence, His protection, and His power.

I recently shared in church that God healed my ankle. For time, the video was edited. What I didn’t share was that it was so bad that I needed surgery. My chiropractor, my other doctor, and a massage therapist all agreed: my ankle was shot. The tendon between my ankle and knee was way too stretched, I had no structural integrity to it, so my ankle couldn’t support me. I prayed about getting the surgery I needed on it earlier this year. God said no, and though I was frustrated, I didn’t have the surgery. Fast forward to June 30, and I got my answer as to why. He didn’t want me to get surgery, because He planned to heal it. And He did!

I talked to Jakob about this. He kept wanting to race me around his school, but I kept putting him off, because my ankle couldn’t take it. When I came home, I told him about what God had done, and that I could finally run around with him. He was shocked. He never considered God’s ability to perform miracles, because He’d only heard about ones done in the past, before his time. Well, we raced, and he beat me. I can beat him in a sprint, but I do have asthma and some excess baggage, so I wasn’t going to beat him in a longer distance race. That night, he came up to me and asked, “Dad, do you still have your asthma?” I told him I did and explained it to him (i.e. it’s not something that just goes away on its own over time). Then he asked, “Can I pray for you, that God would heal you from your asthma?” Why did he ask me that? Because I shared with him what God had done, which gave him the faith to believe God hears and can heal.  I still have asthma, by the way, but now I also have a son who’s faithfully praying for God to heal me of it, because He believes God can and will. I’m praying with him.

“I will exalt you, my God and King, and praise your name forever and ever. I will praise you every day; yes, I will praise you forever. Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness.” Psalms 145:1-4 

Our son Jakob has had a busy summer of learning.  He’s accomplished a few things he was afraid to learn.  He was afraid, because he’d been afraid of failure. In order to avoid failing, he would default to just avoiding some things.  I explained to him why these things were important for him and why quitting just because something was hard wasn’t going to benefit him later in life. I told him that avoiding trying in order to avoid failure was still failing to accomplish the goal, so for each obstacle, he could choose to be a failure or a conqueror. Either way, I told him he had to obey and go out and try. He assured me he wanted to be a conqueror, and he was. He mastered biking, swimming, and hitting a baseball off a pitch (as opposed to off a tee).

For Jakob to master these things, he had to surrender to me. Because he naturally wants to avoid failure, he didn’t really want to go outside and try these things. I insisted, not for me, but for him. These are good things for him. They are fun, good sources of exercise, and great ways to play with friends in the neighborhood. I wanted what was best for him, even if he didn’t see it was best. He had to trust that I was telling the truth that it was the best thing for him. He had to trust that even if it hurt when he fell, it would be okay, that even if he failed at swimming, he wouldn’t drown, because I wouldn’t let him. He had to trust that I would be right there to pick him up, hug him, and make sure he was okay. And he had to stay focused on me. Whenever he got nervous that he was about to fail, he’d look at me, and I would give him instructions: pedal harder, keep pedaling, sit up straight, kick your feet harder, make sure your feet are behind you and splashing. And they worked! He stopped crashing, and he didn’t drown.

When we follow after God, we need the same three concepts if we’re going to conquer. We need to surrender to Him, Trust Him, and stay focused on Him. I’ve been reading Psalms lately in my devotion time, and David repeats these themes consistently. He surrenders his life to God, he trusts God’s direction for his life, and he keeps focused on God in times of trouble. Earlier this week, I read Psalm 25.  It’s a Psalm written by David while he was in the midst of troubling times.  He begins this way:

Psalm 25:1 (NLT)

O Lord , I give my life to you.

He was surrendered to God. His life was God’s life to do with as He pleased. He follows immediately in verse two saying that he put his full trust in God. Whatever God’s plan was for his life, he was going to trust it. So:

Psalm 25:4-5 (NLT)

“Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow.” 

He wanted God to show him the right path to follow, because that path would be the right path. Sometimes the right path isn’t the path we would choose.  Sometimes it isn’t the path that makes sense. But we must trust that God’s path is what is best for us and follow His instruction.

Psalm 25:15 (NLT)

“My eyes are always on the LORD, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.” 

Regardless of what is going on, David was going to keep his eyes focused on God. There were enemies all around him. Failure and even death seemed imminently possible. He didn’t focus on that stuff. He didn’t focus on the pain or the struggle. He kept his eyes on God. Circumstances come and go, but the Lord is constant.

Whether you are in a struggle right now or not, as a Christian, you need to follow this plan. Surrender your life to God fully. Trust that His way for you is best, even when it doesn’t make sense. Keep your eyes on Him. This is how we conquer.

He wants to use us

My sons like to be outside with me whenever I’m working outside.  They like to “help me” rake leaves, paint, and grill. I like being with them, so I let them participate as much as I can.  Jax is a little young to be allowed near the grill, so I don’t actually let him help with that, but I do let Jakob flip stuff. Sometimes, I don’t have a lot of margin with time, so I don’t always let them help me.  Their helping me slows me down at this point, because they are young, and I have to stop and instruct, keep them on task, or watch out for them instead of just working quickly. But generally speaking, I want them to help me, not because I need their help, but because I love them.

God wants us to help Him, too.  He loves us and has invited us to participate in His plan.  He doesn’t need our help. He could certainly do anything that needed to be accomplished without us. But He wants to use us.  I’m reading Esther right now in my devotions, and something Mordecai said really struck this chord with me. King Xerxes had an official named Haman, and Haman hated Mordecai.  He didn’t want to just punish him, though. He wanted to really hurt his people, so he convinced the king to make a decree that all Jewish people should be killed in a single day throughout the kingdom. Esther, Mordecai’s cousin and adopted daughter, was Jewish, but she was also the Queen. Mordecai was urging her to speak up to the king, but she has some hesitance.  In chapter 4, verse 14, Mordecai says this:

If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”

He was right, too.  God had promised to preserve the Jewish people, so whether Esther stepped up or not was irrelevant to the big picture. But God had put her in a unique position to be used by Him for His great purpose.  She had been called to a specific task. Even though He could accomplish saving the Jews without her, God wanted to use her, not just anyone.

God also wants to use all of us to declare the Gospel, the truth that Jesus is God. In Luke 19, as Jesus was riding into Jerusalem, His disciples were praising Him.  The Pharisees asked Him to quiet His disciples and urge them not to speak that way about Him. Jesus replied in verse 40:

“If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

God calls us specifically to do something for His kingdom, and He also calls us all to some general tasks.  Whether it’s the general or the specific, it’s an honor to do what God wants me to do, because I know that He doesn’t need to ask me.  He can go get someone else to do whatever I choose not to do.  He can even make the rocks cry out and speak His name.  But He didn’t call the rocks, and He didn’t call someone else.  He called you, and He called me.  He wants to use us, not because He needs us specifically, but because He loves us.

I was raised in a Christian home. For this, I am grateful. I know that my parents’ faith strongly influenced my coming to faith. That is not to say that every Christian parents’ children will be a Christian, just as not everyone who is a Christian had Christian parents.  But the influence is strong.  I learned to worship God and have faith from a young age, just as my children are learning now. We talk about God, read and discuss the Bible, attend church together, etc.  It is my hope that my children see in me and learn enough from me about God to want to follow him into their adulthood, just as I did.

Reading through the books of the kings (1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles), there is a repeating theme.  Often times, it would say that a king pleased God with their lives just as their fathers did, or it would say that they did evil before the Lord, just as their fathers did.  There are times when the children swung the other way, from Godly fathers to being evil kings, or from having evil fathers to being Godly kings themselves. But time and time again, most of them were following the influence of their fathers.  One particular instance stood out to me when I was reading yesterday, because it demonstrates three important truths about being a Godly parent and leader:

Jotham did what was pleasing in the Lord ’s sight. He did everything his father, Uzziah, had done, except that Jotham did not sin by entering the Temple of the Lord . But the people continued in their corrupt ways. (2 Chronicles 27:2)

Jotham’s dad was king before him.  He was a Godly king who did most things right.  Uzziah saw his positive example and followed it.  However, his dad, in anger, did something stupid, too. He went into the temple where he was not allowed to go, and when confronted with this truth by the priests, he got angry and began to yell at them. Instead of heeding God’s instructions, he wanted to do what he wanted to do.  God struck him with leprosy, which he had until he died. Jotham also saw this, and instead of rising to his dad’s level, he learned from his mistakes and exceeded his dad’s example.  And yet, despite having two Godly kings in a row that sought to please God and have the people follow after God, Judah continued living sinful, corrupt lives. This, sadly, included Jotham’s son Ahaz, as you’d read in chapter 28. He did not follow God like his father and grandfather.

As I read this, I had three thoughts strike me:

  1.  Children learn to serve God from their parents, just as Jotham learned from Uzziah.
  2. Children can go on to walk more closely with God than their parents. You can exceed their example, just as Jotham did.
  3. You can lead well, as a Godly king, leader, and parent, and the people you lead – your children, people in your church, etc. – might still walk away.

Parents obviously have influence. What Jotham did that was pleasing was exactly what his father had done. He learned that.  Your children are watching and learning. But his dad didn’t control him. He was able to rise above his mistakes. Don’t limit yourself to what your parents did and didn’t do. If you need to, rise above the example and exceed expectations you’ve put on yourself based on your parents. On the other hand, some of you parents have done all you could. You followed God and taught your children to do the same, but your children have walked away from God. Don’t beat yourself up. All you can do is lead by example.  You can influence your children, but you cannot control them. If they’ve walked away from God, away from your example, don’t give up. Keep praying for them. Keep loving them. Keep demonstrating the love of God to them. Maintain your influence.

I love to celebrate.  I celebrate little victories and big victories.  I celebrate personal accomplishments and the accomplishments of others.  It doesn’t take much to get me to celebrate with you. If you’re excited, I’m usually excited (pastoral exclusion clause for excitement over sin; I can’t get excited about that). I especially love to celebrate church things. I am deeply moved when people accept Christ at church.  It never gets old.  I get excited for baptism Sundays, for baby dedications, for people joining the church, for students signing up to go on their first (or 8th) mission trip, for when an elementary kid brings his quiet time for the first time.  These things are worthy of celebration.

We all celebrate some of those things together in church, and I think we’re all excited for what God is doing, but not everyone is invested in it. Some have worked and fought hard with and for others to experience victory.  People have given their time, their abilities, their finances, their friendships, their wisdom, etc. to the church, to their neighbors, to their friends, to their families, because they are invested in the Kingdom, but not everyone is.  Some are just there to celebrate at the end. I was thinking about this dynamic as I was reading about David’s Mighty Men in my devotions last week.

“Next in rank among the Three was Eleazar son of Dodai, a descendant of Ahoah. Once Eleazar and David stood together against the Philistines when the entire Israelite army had fled. He killed Philistines until his hand was too tired to lift his sword, and the LORD gave him a great victory that day. The rest of the army did not return until it was time to collect the plunder!” 2 Samuel 23:9-10 https://www.bible.com/bible/116/2SA.23.9-10

Eleazar stayed to fight.  David was at war with the Philistines, and he wasn’t going anywhere.  Most of his soldiers left, but not Eleazar.  He was invested in the battle and the subsequent victory. The rest of the soldiers came back only when the battle was won to collect the plunder.  They returned for the celebration.  On that day, they were nothing more than party guests, while Eleazar was a mighty warrior.

In the context of the church, which are you?  Party guest or mighty warrior?  Are you standing in the trenches, pushing forward for the advancement of God’s kingdom?  When we celebrate at church, are you celebrating as someone who was invested, or are you celebrating as a party guest? Are you doing what you need to do to see victories for the kingdom: people coming to church for the first time, people accepting Jesus as Lord, baptisms, kids learning about Jesus, etc.? You can.  Even if you haven’t in the past, you can.  You can start investing in other people, inviting other people, serving in one of the many ministries in the church, investing your offering in the church.  You can get involved and fight for victories and advancements for the Kingdom of God.

Don’t be just a party guest. Be a mighty warrior.