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just hearing is enough for me

I was in Philadelphia last week with our youth group for a mission trip. As always, it was a great time. We’ll share a lot more on that in an upcoming service. I just want to share a small thing that happened. It’s small in content, but not in significance.

Every evening, we have church group devotions. It is by far my favorite part of each day on the trip. I get to hear everyone’s one big thing (favorite moment they’d like to share from their day), and then I get to lead our students and leaders in a devotion. It does put some pressure on me, since I’m busy all day but have to write a devotion at some point. God’s always been faithful to lead me, though. I had never missed one or even come close to not getting one done. I always end up with something to say, and it’s always applicable to what our group is experiencing.

I did come close to not getting one done this year. It was Friday night. I had a topic picked that I thought was what God wanted. But every time I tried to write it, nothing would happen. My mind couldn’t even grapple with it. We got to evening worship, which immediately preceded our church group devotions. Fortunately for me, there were a mix up, and there weren’t enough seats. I was left without one. I went to the lobby to just write. I still couldn’t get anywhere, though. I was frustrated. I lamented my lack of progress to Isaac, who was also left without a seat and had joined me in the hall. I don’t remember what he said back to me, but I do remember realizing a short time later that I hadn’t really prayed about it. I had a good idea. Three other people on the trip had mentioned the same topic to me. I assumed that was God affirming it. I never asked, though.

I stopped what I was doing to pray. I asked God to either open my mind to be able to write on that topic, or if I was supposed to be talking about something else, please tell me right away. I sat there for a moment, and I heard God. He said, “Psalm 23.” He said only two words. I immediately flipped to Psalm 23, read it, and started writing. I didn’t stop writing until it was done two pages later. No breaks, no struggles, and no distractions. It was one of the more profound moments on the trip for me, not because of any lesson I learned from it – which I did – but because God spoke to me. He didn’t say a lot. He didn’t say anything that revolutionized the way I live my life. That doesn’t matter to me, though. Just to have reaffirmed that God still speaks, and that He would deign to speak to me, was enough for me.

God does still speak. It won’t always be loud. It won’t always turn your world upside down. But it should always change you. There’s something special about a God that speaks to people that don’t even deserve to be in a relationship with Him in the first place. I hope you’re giving yourself time to listen.

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how much grace do we have?

You’ve probably noticed that we do not live in a very gracious society. A lot of people are leaning towards hating people just for having differences in ideological positions. Spouses have left each other, families have become estranged, and friends have become strangers over political differences. In the church, a lot of people take shots at each other for having different convictions and assume the worst intentions of fellow believers in disagreements. Why are we behaving this way? The best I can come up with is that people tend to view people that have different core beliefs as them as the enemy. They certainly don’t consider them friends and family. We can’t make that claim with the way we sometimes treat each other.

Now, let’s suppose that they really are our enemies. As an example, let’s imagine that the number one enemy of Christian Democrats is Christian Republicans, and visa versa. How should you treat them? How do you image God views your treatment of your enemies? The answer isn’t ambiguous. Jesus states the answer plainly.

Luke 6:27-28 (ESV): “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Sometimes we justify our mistreatment of others based on their actions. “Well, he started it!” It never worked for me growing up, and it’s not working for us with God now. He’s explicitly telling us to be good to those that mistreat you. Bless them, not curse them in return. Later in the same conversation, Jesus asks rhetorically what the big deal is if you love and treat well those that love you and treat you well. Seriously, what’s the big deal? Even the worst of the worst usually do that. He reiterates that we ought to love those that are terrible to us and to show mercy to those who are undeserving, just as God has done for us.

Jesus isn’t calling us to something He wasn’t going to do. Of course, we can point to Romans 5:8 to back that up, but there’s actually a great story in the Bible that demonstrates just how gracious Jesus was with His enemies. In John 13, Jesus is having His last supper with His disciples. Judas is there, just like the rest, only he’s not truly one of them. He is at that moment the enemy of Jesus, having already decided to betray Him. Jesus knew it, too. What does Jesus do? He doesn’t kick him out. He lets him stay and eat with the rest of them, and then He goes a step further.

John 13:2-5 (ESV): During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. He did the job of a servant. He did it for all of them, including Judas Iscariot. He knew Judas was getting ready to betray Him. He knew the pain that would bring Him. He was still gracious. He was still loving. He still served Judas and demonstrated tremendous kindness towards him. This is our example, the one we’re supposed to follow and be like. He’s showing us how to treat other people, including our enemies: love them, serve them, and be gracious towards them. I’m not there all the way yet, but that’s how I want to be. How are you doing? How gracious are you towards the undeserving, to the unnerving, and to your enemies?

take responsibility

When I have passed blame in the past, it was always to keep myself out of trouble. Sometimes that meant someone else getting in trouble for things I had done. Growing up, that was usually my brother Dan. He took a lot of my punishments. Sorry, Dan! It wasn’t right. It was childish behavior to pass blame. Unfortunately, there will always be a temptation to do so. A lot of Christian adults pass blame as surely as they breathe. But we shouldn’t do that. First, because passing blame really is just lying by another name. But also, the Bible teaches us to take responsibility for ourselves. It’s what Godly men and women do.

There are different ways of taking responsibility. A Godly person will take responsibility for his own decisions, for the words he says, and for the things with which God has entrusted him.

A Godly individual does take responsibility for his decisions and actions, even when they are mistakes. Taking responsibility means admitting fault and accepting any consequences that may come because of your decision. Don’t look for someone else to take the blame for you. Don’t say things like, “he started it!” Take ownership for your actions. We must admit our faults and confess our sins to God first and foremost, according to 1 John 1:9. We cannot confess our sin if we do not acknowledge it. We must also admit our faults to other Godly men and women, who will in turn hold us accountable and pray with and for us, according to James 5:16.

A Godly person also take responsibility for the words they say. Matthew 12:36 says that we will give an account to God for every word we’ve spoken. Keep that in mind, because it may keep you from saying things you might want to say but will regret. Now, a lot of people will tell you that you are only responsible for what you say, not for how people respond to what you say. In some cases, that is true, but often times, it is just an excuse for being rude under the guise of “telling the truth.” Ephesians 4:15 says that we must tell the truth in love.

Finally, a Godly person will take responsibility for his work. The level of work you do should not be based on what others are doing around you. If others are not working hard, that is between them and their boss boss and between them and God. You are supposed to work hard at everything you do, because working hard at your work honors God. Galatians 6:4-5 says that we must make sure the work we are doing is satisfactory to God, without any concern for what someone else is doing. Don’t slack off or goof off, because it feels like everyone else is. Take responsibility for your work, and do what is expected of you, and so shine the light of Jesus into your workplace. Colossians 3:22 says that we need to work hard, as though we are working for God. We want to please God with what we do, not do just enough to make our human bosses happy with us.

Taking responsibility doesn’t mean you can never have fun. You can have a lot of fun in life, even if you take responsibility seriously. It just means you know when it’s time to have fun and when it’s time to work hard. It means working hard, to the best of the abilities God has given you, so you can honor Him for the gifts and talents He has given you. It also doesn’t mean every problem is always your fault, but when something is your fault, you accept it instead of trying to get out of it at someone else’s expense. Always look at yourself first and ask what you did to contribute to the problem before thinking about how it is someone else’s fault.

________________________

Do you know anyone to whom you can confess when you make mistakes that will pray for you and help you make right choices?

What are some areas where you are good at taking responsibility? In what areas do you need a little work?

How can you balance telling the truth and doing so lovingly? Do you think there are some things you should not say, even if you believe them to be true, because it’s impossible to say them lovingly?

chasing full physical life

I’ve not written or posted much about my full physical life journey publicly, not because I’m embarrassed, but because it felt weird to share it. I’ve  been happy to talk about it, especially as people have asked me about it, but posting pictures and stats, if you will, felt odd. Pastor Dave asked me to write a blog about what I’ve been doing and what motivated me to do it, though, both as an encouragement and because finding your why for something is even more important than figuring out what to do. So first, I’ll give you stats and a couple pictures, then I’ll explain my journey, and how God called me to it and has kept me on it. On October 1, 2017, I clocked in at 5’5″ and 251 pounds. I’m still 5’5″, sadly, but I now weigh 181 pounds. I’ve had a lot of people ask me what my trick or secret was lately. There isn’t a secret or trick. Through diet (made possible with Sarah’s help) and exercise, I’ve lost 70 pounds so far, and I’m shooting for another 11 at least, at which point, I’ll evaluate myself again. Below is my face last Summer, followed by last Friday. I’ll spare you the full-body, shirtless before and afters that seem to be popular.

At the end of September last year, I went to a youth pastor conference. One of the sessions was on physical health. I thought, “here we go again.” Pastor Dave had talked a lot about it, but I just wasn’t seeming to get it fully. I believed it in general, but I didn’t believe it was possible for me. I felt this would be more of the same. First up was a crossfit coach. He was funny, but I found myself dismissing his message. I didn’t dismiss it, because it wasn’t true, but because he’d never been as big as me. What would he know about getting someone like me in shape? (Probably a lot, but excuses are easy to believe when they let you remain lazy.) Next up was a guy from Saddleback. He was really fit looking. I was ready to dismiss him, too, but then he showed us a picture of himself a year prior. He was almost as big as I was! But on stage, he was trim and fit. He motivated me, because for the first time, I saw weight loss as possible.

Just before the end of September, I saw a couple pictures of myself from the conference. It was embarrassing how big I was. That was the last straw. I started dieting. I went high protein, low carb. I don’t do no carb, because I need energy to exercise. I only drank (and currently only drink) water. I cut out fast food completely for a long time, and now if I have it, it’s in small portions and only once a month. Most of my food is prepared at home, but I’ve also gotten smart about where I go out to eat and what I order when I’m there. From January 2 until April 1, I exercised 6 days a week without exception. The diet and exercise routine was grueling. There were days I wanted to quit. I didn’t, though. I still haven’t, either. I have tapered back my exercise routine to 4 days per week, but I am still maintaining my diet with a goal in mind.

Why did I start and how did I keep going? I felt convicted that my issue wasn’t weight; it was self-control. I was overweight, because I never said no to myself. Whatever I wanted to eat and drink, I ate and drank, and I ate and drank a lot of it. I consumed everything in excess. God has worked on me in different areas of my life regarding self control in the past. I know it’s something He desires from believers (it’s also part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit). Once I was able to see my weight issues through that lens, I knew I had to do something about it. That’s why I started. I wanted to honor God, exercise self-control, and honor the Holy Spirit in me.

Three things kept me going. First, The reason I made a commitment to God, my wife, and men’s group. I don’t like backing out of commitments I’ve made. Our men’s group did that Transform series, and at the end of each chapter, we had to write SMART goals. My 3-month goals for physical life were to go to the gym 6 days per week and get under 200 pounds by Easter, which I made to God and my group. The second thing that kept me going was getting into accountability relationships. I had both a huge group of youth pastors and my men’s group. I weighed in every Monday for my youth pastor group, and I met with my men’s group every two weeks. Every men’s group, they asked how it was going, if I was staying strong, and if I was on track. I never wanted to show up and admit failure, so I chose to not fail. Third, I set personal goals, so I could have my eye on specific, measurable things by which I could gauge success and be encouraged. I knew what I was shooting for, and I wasn’t going to quit until I got there (or even further).

You know how Pastor Dave always says that each area of full life mingles in with and affects other areas? I’ve always believed him, but I’m really seeing it, too. My physical life has improved (losing weight, aches, and pains), but so has financial life. I’m not wasting a bunch of money going out to eat or on drinks. My work life is better. I have more energy, so I’m able to focus longer and get more done. My spiritual life has benefitted as I’ve exercised the fruit of the Spirit (self-control) in my life more. Even my friends and family relationships are better, as I’ve made new friends and accountability partners along the way. My life, on many levels, is fuller right now than it’s ever been.

If you took the full life survey and found that fitness was an area you needed to focus, you can do it, too. I know it’s difficult, and it’s discouraging. It can be done, though. It’ll take time. I’m 8 months in so far, but it’s not as grueling as you might think. It may have been at first, but I’ve been able to build new habits and get used to different things. You will, too. If God’s calling you to it, make a commitment to Him, make a commitment to some people whose opinion of you matters to you, and get some accountability. Chase full life, and you’ll catch it.

Never Stop Learning

There’s never a good time to stop learning. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found out there are important things I needed to know to be a good husband, a good dad, good at your job, etc. that I never got a chance to learn. If you have the mindset that you can quit learning when you’re done with high school, graduate from college, or get to a certain age, you may be unprepared for what is expected of you. At various times, I have found that I wasn’t prepared for a big part of my life or my job just because I had a degree that said I was. That’s a big reason for why I went back to school several years ago. Being almost good enough wasn’t good enough for me. I want to always be ready to do what God asked me to do, so I’m committed to learning what I need to learn.

Going to school isn’t the only way to learn, though. You don’t have to go back to college every time you want to learn something. You can read, too. You can read your Bible, other books about God’s character, about marriage, about parenting, about walking with God, about being a better leader, and so many other things. I want to continue learning, so I can continue growing, so I can be the very best me I can be. I want you to be the very best you, too, but you’ll only get there by continuing to learn. You can be better every day by choosing to grow.

The Bible actually tells us to continue growing and learning, especially in the things of God. It’s dangerous to stop learning, assuming you already know enough to make it, especially as a Christian. A good way to stop being a Christian is to stop learning. Do you know why? If you only take what others have told you about God, and you never study it for yourself, you can be easily tricked into believing other things. 2 Peter 3:17-18 says, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” Peter spends a lot of time warning Christians to beware. There are false teachers, people who don’t believe the right things about God, and people who don’t believe in God at all that were trying to pull them away from their faith in God. He said that since they knew about this, because he had warned them, they needed to be careful to not get fooled by people that teach the wrong things. They needed to be careful to not lose their stability. How were they going to be careful to not get pulled away or fall? Yes, they were going to continue to grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus.

You will probably be tempted to think that you know more than you need at some point. You’ll be tempted to think you don’t need to learn, because you know so much already. You may be tempted to not read the Bible again and again, because you already know what’s in there. You may be tempted to give up on church, because you already know everything the church teaches. You just may get to the point where you feel like you know enough already. That’ll never be true. In fact, the smarter you are, the more you’ll desire to learn. Proverbs 1:5 says that wise people hear and increases in learning, and those who understand a lot know to continue getting advice and guidance. In Proverbs 18:15, it says that the intelligent and wise seek out knowledge.

 

Giving up on learning doesn’t make a good case for your intelligence. The smartest thing a smart person could ever do is try to become smarter.

make sure your voice is heard

If you are a parent, you have to know that there are a lot of influences in your kids’ lives. Their friends, their teachers, the church, the media, and more. They’re always hearing messages that either reinforce or subvert your beliefs. It can be tempting to not broach certain subjects with your kids, because you know they’re not going to enjoy talking about them. You also know that you’re not going to enjoy the conversation. You need to make sure your voice is heard, though. It’s up to you to make sure that your children hear whatever you believe is important. As a Christian parent, part of that means making sure they develop a Biblical worldview, through which they can filter different things in life. You want them to know what the Bible says about different areas of life, and maybe you’re tempted to think they’ll just learn that stuff in children’s ministry or youth group, but it’s your job to make your voice heard.

Jakob and I recently went on vacation. It was supposed to be all four of us until Sarah’s school schedule got in the way. We talked about what we should do: cancel, me take both boys, or me take just Jakob. We both prayed about it and decided it would be good for me to take Jakob and use the time to speak into his life. So, on the way there, we had six separate talks. He put down his book or the iPad and focused on our conversation. We didn’t rush through the talks. I gave him time to think and respond. For the most part, he liked it. He didn’t enjoy one talk, though. Talk 5 of 6 was about marriage, sex, and purity. Neither of us liked that one, to be honest. It was awkward for both of us. I knew pretty quickly that I was right to be talking to him about it, though. I told him the topic of each talk towards the beginning each time. As we started this one, I mentioned that we would talk a little bit about sex. He responded, “Oh, I’ve heard about that.” Imagine my surprise! I asked him to explain what he had heard, and he gave a very G-rated response that actually had nothing to do with sex. What a relief! But it brings up the point: 3rd grade boys are talking about it with each other, and none of them know what they’re talking about. I don’t want him to learn about that or a lot of things from his friends first. I want him to learn from me first and constantly as he grows, so he can learn the Biblical approach to thinking through them and how to come to Godly decisions. I want him to be ready to respond if a friend asks him if he wants to see something he shouldn’t see. I want him to be ready to act and leave if a friend shows him something he shouldn’t see without his permission. I wanted him to know what God says about all of that stuff before anyone else can give their input.

That wasn’t the only talk, though it was one of the more important ones. I wanted him to know what it means to follow God, to be a Godly husband and father, how to study the Bible, and so much more. We made a big deal out of it, too. He got special treatment during the talks, he got a gift at the end, and he was told that after he sat through all six, he could then ask me anything he wanted to ask me. Not just then, but going forward, he’s free to ask me anything, and I will answer him to the best of my ability. Though he is young, he would begin being treated a little more like a man.

He will be influenced from all sides on a lot of these topics throughout his life. I believe it’s my job to make sure he hears God’s side of things. I don’t want to wait until I’m having to catch up or play defense. I wanted to talk to him and lay a foundation before any of that was needed. It’s your job as a parent, too. You don’t have to do what I did, but you’ve got to do something. You have to make sure you’re having regular conversations with your kids about the things of God, about the Bible, establishing a Christian worldview. It’s a call that is given in both the Old and New Testaments. So what are you doing, or what can you start doing, to make sure you are bringing up your kids to know God? How can you begin teaching them to think Biblically?

Ephesians 6:4

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again 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.

 

 

Put it to the test

It’s easy to make claims about anything. You can claim to be a certain level of intelligence, incredibly athletic, able to dunk a basketball, etc. you can say anything, but a time may come when someone challenges you to prove it. Show the world what you’ve got. If you are not prepared or are not what you claim, this is an awful moment. You will suddenly be exposed and left embarrassed. I’ve been there. I have made claims throughout my life that I was unable to prove, because I may have exaggerated a little (or a lot). None of the stories I remember about this are particularly unique or interesting, but when I recall them, I sometimes feel embarrassed all over again. It’s embarrassing to have people find out you’re a bit of a fraud.

One area I have been exposed in the past is in my walk with God. I’d always viewed myself as a good Christian. I did a quiet time, I studied, I memorized Scripture, went to church, and did good things. I was impressed with myself and wasn’t shy about wanting others to be impressed with me. I was exposed often, though, proving myself to not be what I claimed to be. I wasn’t as Godly as I claimed, continually shown when my faith was put to the test.

Your faith is put to the test often, as is mine. You don’t have to put it to the test on your own. Other people will do it for you. The test is in how you speak of people and how you treat people. Your initial thought is probably that you speak of and treat people well. Most of us do treat most people well. The people we treat well and speak well of are usually people we like, people that treat us well, and people with whom we agree, though. That’s not the test. How do you treat and speak of people with whom you disagree, even vehemently disagree?

Luke‬ ‭6:32-36‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“”If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

‭‭This has been a struggle for me. I imagine it is for many of you. I see a lot of posts lately condemning high school students for speaking up and walking out of schools over gun control issues. You may not agree with them, but I see a lot of adults speaking down to them, telling them maybe they should be nice to others instead of asking for gun control. I agree that students need to be kind to other students. Where, though, do you suppose many have learned to speak down to others, to insult people with whom they do not agree, and to speak with hostility? Probably their parents, right? Probably adults in their lives who are always complaining about people of other ideologies, adults that insult politicians and people of other political parties constantly, adults who never let an opportunity for an evil word to pass without speaking it. If students are the issue (I don’t think they are), it’s because they’re surrounded by adults that are teaching them that’s how you treat people.

How’s your heart? Is it as good as you think or would say it is? It’s being put to the test every day. You can try to hide it, but the proof is there. Next time a light turns green and the car in front of you doesn’t go, you’ll get a good indication. Next time someone insults you, you’ll find out. Next time someone posts something or a politician says something with which you disagree, you’ll take a test. Whatever is in your heart – for better or for worse – will come out and reveal the truth to you. You need to prepare for those tests by letting God transform your heart.