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“What is This?” | Everyday Manna from Heaven

The Old Testament is all about God preparing His people for the Messiah. It’s a people longing for people and the story of a God of salvation and deliverance. This is so clear as God, through 10 plagues, delivers His people from slavery in Egypt and takes them on a journey, through the desert, to the Promised Land. Along the way, God teaches His people to trust Him.

Now, sustaining a million-plus people in a desert for 40 years is not a small undertaking. But, God. God supplies their every need. He gives them “manna” (this bread-like substance from heaven for their food and nourishment), quail and even water from a rock. Manna literally means “what is this?” for when the manna showed up, the people were surprised and had no idea what it was. Yet, God sustained His people with manna, and He grew their faith in Him.

Exodus is the most powerful book on salvation in the Old Testament.

Now, fast forward to the New Testament.

Mark begins his gospel not with the birth narrative, but he immediately moves to Jesus’s earthly ministry. In Mark 1, Jesus is teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum. It says, “The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22) During His teaching time, Jesus heals a man from an evil spirit. Then it says, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this?’ A new teaching – and one with authority!” (Mark 1:27)

“The Torah” – the first five books of the Old Testament – does not simply mean “The Law,” but is better understood as “The Teaching.” Jesus came and taught in a different way than the “teachers of the law.” Jesus was concerned about the people – physically and spiritually. He came not only to bring deeper insights into the Law, but to bring life to the people through the Teaching. Salvation. Life-sustaining and transforming salvation.

The contrast was so evident that the people realized this was different. “What is this?” – this is what they longed for. This was what the entire Old Testament journey was preparing them for. This is life that was truly life. Not religion (the Law) but a relationship (the Teaching and the Teacher). The One who came to fulfill the law and to bring life – physical and spiritual.

Our story mirrors the journey of the Israelites.

We all stand in need of salvation. We long for physical sustenance and spiritual life. Jesus told the people in John 6:34, “I am the bread of life. he who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.” Jesus meets our deepest needs. When we were slaves to sin, Jesus brought deliverance. He sustains physically in the wilderness while He leads us to the Promised Land. He is the “author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Are we still amazed at His goodness in our lives? Do we thank God every day for the bread He gives us to eat that sustains us physically? Jesus even teaches us in the model prayer to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Everything we have comes from Him – daily He meets our physical needs. And, are we still amazed at His Teaching? Are we hungry for God’s Word and are we growing spiritually? Jesus came to teach not simply for knowledge, but that we might have life. His teaching is meant to draw us to the heart of a God who provides healing and salvation for us. How amazing that the Israelites waited for the Messiah and Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The name Bethlehem literally means, “House of Bread.” Jesus meets our deepest physical and spiritual needs. He truly is “the bread of life.”

Never lose the wonder of what God is doing in you. Just as the Israelites were surprised and overjoyed for the manna, and the people of Capernaum were amazed and overwhelmed by His Teaching. So, let’s be a people who never lose the sense of awe that comes when we realize that the God of all Creation sent His Son into the world to save us. Stay hungry for His teaching and see your life sustained, but also transformed.

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Is God Enough?

There are times in life when we find ourselves in the midst of waiting. Now, we don’t like to wait. In fact, we live in an instant gratification society – fast food, microwaves, faster downloads, faster & faster communication through cell phones and social media – which makes waiting even more challenging. Yet, there are times in our lives when we find ourselves waiting. Maybe it is waiting on a marriage or a re-marriage, waiting on a child, waiting on a job or our dream job, or even waiting on God. So, what we do in the waiting?

There is an Old Testament book that is not widely known, but actually speaks to this idea of waiting – Habakkuk. Habakkuk is one of the 12 Minor Prophets in the Old Testament (not minor because they are less important, but minor because their books are shorter than the Major Prophets). Habakkuk’s name literally means, “to wrestle,” and there is a lot of rich content that resides in three short chapters. As you mine the depths of this book written 2,600 years ago, you find some solid truths that are incredibly relevant to the world we live in today.

Habakkuk calls out to God with two prayer requests (called “complaints”). The first centers around how the children of God in his day (the nation of Judah) have gone away from God. They were neglecting the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), there was violence and injustice in the land, and the leadership of the nation was corrupt. So, Habakkuk calls out to God and asks God to do something. Essentially, Habakkuk cries out to God, “Do you see what is happening here? Do you even care?” God answers Habakkuk’s prayer and says, “Yes, I do see, and I am sending the Babylonians to do something about it.”

Habakkuk doesn’t like God’s answer (sound familiar?), so he calls out to God again saying, “God, this isn’t fair. The Babylonians are worse than us, Your people, who you are punishing.” Again, God answers – Habakkuk 2:2-4, “Then the Lord replied: ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith…”

God tells Habakkuk (and us) three things: Write, Wait and Live by faith.

First, it is so important to write down what God says to you. Studies show we forget 95% of what we hear within 24 hours. If we don’t write down when God speaks to us through His Word, a song, a prayer, a sermon or even a friend, then we will likely forget it and be right back in the same spot looking for an answer. Keep a journal, write a blog, have a notebook by your bed at night. God will speak to us – will we listen and will we remember? Think about this – maybe God was telling Habakkuk to “write down the revelation” as much for him as for us? When God speaks to you, maybe God is telling you to write down what He says as much for you as for your children or others who will one day read your words. There are many Christ-followers who have walked through tough times – like miscarriages, cancer and the like – and yet they have written blogs and books that have ministered to so many others. Write down what God is saying to you.

Second, God tells Habakkuk to wait. All Habakkuk could see is that Babylonians were coming and it looked bad (and it was). But, what Habakkuk didn’t know is that God (just like Habakkuk’s contemporary, Jeremiah, prophesied) was putting Judah in “time-out” (exile) for 70 years, and that He would return a “remnant” to the land. This “remnant” would rebuild the Temple and would prepare the way for the coming Messiah. God was writing a bigger story than Habakkuk could see.

God is writing a bigger story than you can see. God has not left you or given up on you. There is still breath in your lungs for a reason. God has a bigger plan and purpose for your life as well as for the world. Therefore, God says, “wait.” He is not finished yet. Don’t give up on God because He will never give up on you.

Finally, God says, “the righteous will live by his faith.” In the midst of the waiting, God is telling Habakkuk (and us) to trust Him. God is about a relationship, not religion. The Christian walk is about faith in God and God alone. Many times it is in the midst of the waiting that our faith grows the most.

The book of Habakkuk was written over a span of 60 years. Habakkuk learned to wait on God – not a “passive” waiting where you sit around, but an “active” waiting where you are about your Father’s business. Habakkuk prayed, read God’s Word and served the people in his day and generation. We are called to do the same in our day and generation. Be active in making a difference for His Kingdom in the present while you wait for God to fulfill His specific promises in the future.

After waiting on God, Habakkuk makes this incredible statement of faith: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18.

Essentially, Habakkuk comes to this conclusion – God is enough. If everything was taken away, God is enough. Is God enough for you? If everything else in this commercialized world in which we live was taken away, can we still rejoice because of our relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ? We must learn to wait on God – not simply for what we want Him to do for us, but because of what He has already done for us. As we live by faith, we fall more in love with God in the good times as well as in the hard times. We understand that God is for us and He will take care of us.

At the end, Habakkuk closes with this verse, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.” Habakkuk 3:19. It is in the prayer and waiting on God that our strength grows. It is in the faith of a Sovereign Lord where we learn to go to new heights in our spiritual life. God wants us to reach our full potential in Him. More than making money, success in our career or even having a family, growing deeper and stronger in our relationship with God is what enables us to accomplish all God desires. God used Habakkuk, in some tough circumstances, to impact others. God is drawing us close to His heart. He is telling us to “write, wait and live by faith.” In the process, we will grow stronger spiritually and we will impact others for His glory.

 

“She turned to the sunlight And shook her yellow head,And whispered to her neighbor_ %22Winter is dead.”

Spiritual Discernment – Inviting God Into Your Decisions

We make decisions every day – some are little and some are big. Deciding what clothes we wear, what food we eat, the music we listen to or even what we watch on Netflix are little decisions, but over time they make an impact on our life. In addition, there are some big decisions that we make – who we marry, what job we take, what house or car we buy and where we live that have huge implications. In fact, if you think about it, our life is pretty much comprised of the decisions we make – the little and the big. Discernment is important in every decision we make. Spiritual discernment is essential in our lives. God is sovereign and He has a great plan for our lives. Romans 12:2 says, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” This means that God has a “perfect will” for your life. However, by the decisions we make, we can end up settling for merely God’s “pleasing will” or even God’s “good will.” Yet, God wants the very best for us!

Knowing what God wants us to do and where God wants us to go is at the heart of every Christ-follower. But, how? How do we know what God wants us to do? This is discernment. Discerning God’s will in every decision we make. People often ask me for prayers or advice on decisions in their lives. Most of the time, this centers around the bigger decisions such as a job or even career change, a person they are dating and trying to decide if they are the one to marry, a decision about which college to attend or a large financial expenditure, like buying a house. I count it an honor to pray with them and for them in whatever they are facing and although their discernment process is their own journey, they are certainly starting at the right place. Here’s my 5-step process for gaining and growing in discernment with every decision:

  1. Pray about it – I believe in the power of prayer. God tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) God wants us to ask! Praying invites God into the decision. So often we set out to solve the problem thinking we don’t need God. But, God wants to be involved in every area of our life. No decision is too small or too big for God.
  2. How does it align with Scripture – God will not call you to do something outside of His Word. For instance, if buying a new car means you will take on too much debt, then it is probably not the right decision. Maybe you need to save more before buying the car, or you need to buy a cheaper car. Also, God’s Word teaches us not to be “unequally yoked;” therefore, you should not marry someone who is not a Christ-follower. They don’t have to agree with you on every doctrinal issue, but this foundation must be right. God gives us His Word to reveal His character and His will for us. Make sure that every decision lines up with His Word.
  3. Make a list of pros and cons – This is a part of spiritual discernment that many people skip. God gave us a brain, and He wants us to use it. Jesus said, “Be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” Does the decision make common sense? Do the pros outweigh the cons. Maybe it is a new job – does your decision take into account the impact on your family, community, health benefits, personal growth – it is not always the job offer with the most money that wins. This even comes back to the food you eat and the things you watch. As the apostle Paul writes, “Everything is permissable (because of grace), but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. However, sometimes God calls us to steps of faith that defy logic. Be discerning.
  4. Seek wise counsel – We all have blindspots. We need others to look at decisions from a different perspective as well as to take the personal emotion out of it. Proverbs 10:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Don’t be afraid, or too prideful, to ask for help or advice. Ask people who you know will be honest with you. Also, be willing to go to a Christian Counselor who can help you discern. The most important part is making the right decision, not that you are right. Be willing to listen. Many times God speaks to you through others.
  5. Fast – When I have big decisions to make, many times I invest in some kind of fast. Fasting is when you give up food, social media or something else for a certain period of time (sun up to sun down, or even three days, a week, etc.) in order to not be distracted by the things of this world and focus on listening to God. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” God wants you to know what He wants you to do. Ask Him. And, then make the commitment to put yourself in a posture to receive from Him.

The Christian life is a journey of faith – and that is what makes it so exciting. It is learning to be dependent on God. Growing in your love for Him and your ability to hear His voice. This is discernment, and this leads to spiritual depth and greater impact for the Kingdom. Commit every decision to the Lord. God wants you to succeed. He wants you to know His perfect will for your life. Understand the importance of discernment in every decision you make. Follow this 5-step process, and I guarantee you will make wise decisions. And, now, let’s live it all for the glory of our great God!

 

Big Rocks First

Big Rocks First

I remember the first time I saw it, and I was mesmerized. There were five big rocks and a jar full of beans. His name was Hamp Pitts – a graduate of MIT and an inventor. He was the smartest man I knew (and maybe still is). He was a scientist and a Christ-follower. He took some beans and poured them into a jar. They came very close to filling up the entire jar. Then he asked, “Now, do you think I can get these five big rocks into the jar and close the lid?” No way. It was impossible. The jar was almost full already. There was no way he could add the rocks. All of us were perplexed, but Hamp was fully confident.

After a few moments of silence, letting the dilemma fully sink in, Hamp emptied the jar of the beans and placed the big rocks in first. Without saying a word, he began to pour the beans back into the jar over the rocks. As the last beans fell in, they came right up to the top. Hamp calmly took the lid and put it on the jar with the big rocks and the beans all inside. He simply said, “Put the big things in first.”

What a life-impacting principle. What we all do, especially this time of the year, is we cave to the little things. “The tyranny of the urgent” as some have called it. We fill our lives with the little things, and then we don’t have time for the things that really matter. Our schedules are packed with little things that are not that important, but that take our time, energy and attention away from the big things that do matter. At the end of the day, there is a difference between activity and accomplishment.

The solution? Put the big things in first. Don’t let your schedule run your life. We must prioritize what is truly important and put that into our life first. I believe our top five priorities must be:

  1. God – you need to spend time with your Heavenly Father. No one ever drifts into a closer relationship with God. You must be intentional. You must commit the first 15-30 minutes in the morning, or at night, to be with the One who is Sovereign over it all. If you don’t prioritize this, then you will never find the time. The little things will consume you; yet, this is your most important priority.
  2. Family – how much time do you actually spend with those you love the most? Think about it. Again, if you don’t schedule the time, the little things will keep you from truly experiencing the best things of life. You need to schedule date nights with your spouse. You need to schedule vacations with your family. You need “Family Fun Nights” and other times to just sit, talk and laugh. If you don’t schedule it, then homework, sports, tv, social media and all the other little things will consume your life.
  3. Church – you need the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ needs you. Prioritize Sunday morning services, Community Group, Wednesday nights at church for your kids, etc. Church keeps you grounded and focused on God, His Word and His people – the three things that are eternal; everything else will fade away. Prioritize what will last.
  4. People – people matter. Don’t let your schedule consume you so much that you miss out on making a difference in the lives of others. Make time for your friends. You and I need godly people around us. As Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” Having great friends takes time. And, make time to help others. Schedule a mission trip or commit to sponsoring a child. Put this big rock named “People” into your jar; otherwise, you’ll never get around to it.
  5. Your potential – God created you, and He wants you to fulfill your full potential in Him. Always be moving toward the goal God has for your life. Carve out time to read, pray, write and dream. Don’t let the urgent drown out your deep desires. God created you to do and be your best. Refuse to settle for the excuses of “I can’t” or “there’s not enough time” to keep you from fulfilling your dreams. God is with you, and He is for you. Even if it is only 15-30 minutes a day, make sure that every day you are moving forward to accomplishing your God-given potential.

Truth is – we all have the same amount of time; it is just how we use it. We all have big rocks and little beans. It really comes down to how we put them into the jar of our life. It is not about more time – we don’t get any more time – only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. The people who achieve the true great things in life are the ones who prioritize the big rocks first.

A dad recently told me, “We let gymnastics rule our lives, and we forgot the things that were really important. We stopped coming to church, and we were not spending time with God or with our family. We were taking our daughter to gymnastics five nights a week, and we were stressed-out and falling apart. We had to make the decision of what is really important.” We all have to make that decision of what is really important. And, what you will find is that if you put the big rocks in first, then all the other little things find a way to fit in. You establish the priorities, and all the little things get done as well (or, the ones that don’t matter fall away).

Take time to look at your schedule. Evaluate it and be honest. Seasons in life change, so you need to take an inventory at the beginning of each new calendar year as well as at the beginning of every new school year. Do you have the five big rocks in your jar? Have you established the priorities of your life? If not, then take the time to make the change. You will be glad you did, and you might be surprised – but, everything will fit in the jar.

The Very Best You

I listened as a friend shared stories after just returning from a mission trip to the Amazon. He was passionate and excitedly talking, flowing from one story to the next. Then, he said something that really caught me. He said, “When you are on a mission trip, I think you are the very best you.” He went on to elaborate, “You get up in the morning without any distractions, you open your Bible, you get your coffee, you spend time just with the Lord. Then, throughout the day, you are focused on what God has called you to that day. You see people differently. You love well and want the best for those on your team. It is just the very best you.”

As I have pondered his statement, I think he is right. I know this guy well. I have seen God transform him from someone who was on the sidelines spiritually – just sitting back and watching – to someone God is using today to make a huge impact for the Kingdom. It has been amazing to see his growth and leadership, and I believe that missions has been a huge part of God’s story in him. Moving from this life of fear to a life of faith on mission trips has translated and impacted every area of his life. He is more bold and passionate about the things of God in his every day.

This is why I am so passionate about everyone going on an international mission trip at some point in their spiritual journey. You simply can’t come back and live the same. You see the way the rest of the world lives, and you realize that God has blessed you, not simply for you to accumulate more and more stuff, but so that you can be a blessing to others. You go to help people – and you do. But, in the process, you discover so much about you – the very best you. And, what living as the very best you can do in your life every day.

Imagine waking up each day and starting the day off with the Lord. Imagine the impact of filling your mind and heart with prayer and Scripture before you fill your mind with social media. Imagine committing your day to God and asking Him to accomplish His will through you, and not just your own agenda. Imagine seeing people around you and your first response being to love them. Imagine encouraging your teammates – family, co-workers, friends and helping them experience the best. Imagine being the very best you.

After my recent mission trip to Moldova, we landed in the States. My first reaction was to turn on my phone. Immediately my social media feed filled up with posts about the election. I felt my mind shift from seeing God working to being concerned about, as the Bible calls it, “the cares of this world.” I felt the shift from faith back to fear and concern. I had just experienced this incredible time of seeing God transform lives, and I had a decision to make – do I leave the very best me on the mission field or do I choose to live that way every day?

What if we started to live our lives on mission? What if we made every day count for God’s goodness and His glory? What if we started our day in the Word and in prayer, then committed to live His agenda for the day and not our own, if we loved everyone we met with the love of Christ and we helped bring out the best in those around us? Think about the impact. Think about the difference in the lives of others, but in our life as well. This is the way Jesus lived, and this is why the Bible tells us, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son…” Romans 8:29.

Yes, we are surrounded by distractions – we have an enemy who doesn’t want us to succeed, we have social media that can be a blessing, yet also a curse, we have jobs to do, bills to pay, and errands to run. However, if we begin to live our life, each and every day, on mission, I know we start to truly experience the very best you and me. We become more at peace with ourselves, our strivings and others. We experience fullness and purpose. We draw closer to the heart of God and His love simply overflows out of us. This is “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27.

This is: The very best you.

 

Our actions and decisions today will shape the way we will be living in the future.

Why I am So Passionate About The Church

I love Christ and his church. I am more convinced today than ever before, that the local church is how God will truly transform the world. The world is changed one life at a time, and God uses his church to accomplish his will. In his divine sovereignty, He designed the church to be the vehicle of his love and grace to a world in need.

Recently, we walked through the first part of Acts in a series called “Unstoppable.” As we went through this series, I was reminded how deeply I love Christ and his church. He died for us, and then He gave us his church so that we would not have to go and grow through Christian life by ourselves. I am so thankful. Because of Christ and his church, our lives and our world has never been the same.

God’s church is more than a bible study, community group, house gathering or any other small group setting. It is more than a group of friends sharing a meal together and talking about spiritual things. These all have their place, but it exists within the larger context of the church. These all tend to be inward focused – which is a part of, but far from the whole of the church. Church, as someone once said, is the only organization that exists for those who are not members – the least, the last, the lost. The church exists to give glory to God, grow Christ-like disciples and to share His love with a world in need.

As you study, you will realize there are five core elements of God’s church:

  1. Worship – the importance of turning our attention from the things of this world, and putting our focus on God. Corporate worship has always been essential to God’s people as they gathered at the Tabernacle, the Temple and today in local churches.
  2. Discipleship – the goal of our lives is to “be conformed to the image of Jesus” (Romans 8:29) This happens in the context of community. Jesus discipled 12. We need people to teach us God’s Word, challenge us and hold us accountable.
  3. Evangelism – the church must be reaching out. Jesus’ last words were a commission to his disciples to “go and make disciples.” A group of people that is simply inward focused is not a church. We must always be reaching out to share the love of Christ with others by inviting people to church and sharing our faith.
  4. Fellowship – praise God that we do not have to go through life alone. God, in his sovereignty, gave us Christ and other believers to encourage us and pray for us. This is why being part of a community group is so important as a part of the larger context of the body.
  5. Ministry – the church exists to take care of the poor, the orphaned and the forgotten. We minister to one another within the body, but we must always be ministering to others in our community and the world. All of these elements must be present to be a church, and as a Christ-follower, we must be involved in all of these (not simply the ones we like the most).

Christ and his church go together. It is a package deal. Now, the church is not perfect – it is full of sinful people, but they are loved and redeemed by Christ, himself. Jesus loves his church, and so should we. People who say they are Christians, but are not a part of a church are not living as God calls them. In fact, I don’t think you can be mature disciple of Christ and not be a part of a local church. Jesus established the Church. He said, “Upon this rock (the confession of Peter’s faith), I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) The church is the body & bride of Christ Jesus. Followers of Christ united by the confession of our faith, “Jesus is Lord.” It is all of  us united in God’s love, redeemed by his grace and joined in his call.

We are better together. This is why God established His Church because He knows this. He knows we need a place to belong, but we also need a place from which to make a difference. When God’s Church is functioning properly, there is nothing like it! Fueled by the Holy Spirit, the church is alive! It is not an organization, but an organism – the hands and feet of Christ Jesus himself. We can serve individually, but imagine what can happen, when we join in our confession of Christ, and serve together. Tomorrow, I leave on a mission trip to Moldova and it is incredible what God has done in the lives of precious orphan children through his church over the years. This is not an individual or a small group, this is God using His church.

The fact is, we need each other. And, this is so evident to me this year, 2016. The church has been there with me through the tough time of the death of my father, and through the great time of baptizing my daughter. We lock arms and serve together, grow together and reach other together, but we also lock arms and “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” I am thankful for the difference God’s church has made in my life and in my family. I am thankful for the the faithful men and women who have taught me, helped me grow deeper in my own faith journey and allowed me to serve alongside them. I am thankful for so many passionate churches today who are impacting people for Christ across our community, our country and the world. I love being joined to a greater story!

And, today, we are the Church. We have been entrusted by the God of this Universe with his heart and love. Therefore, let’s give our best! Let’s lock arms together and go forward. No more small living or self-centered inward focus. God’s Church is not a country club or a social gathering, but we are ambassadors of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Therefore, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and open our arms to a world in need. Christ is for us, and He loves his church! May He find us faithful.

Love must be sincere. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

Praying for Orlando

Yesterday, our hearts were broken over the mass shooting that took place in Orlando that left 50 people dead and 53 hospitalized. All of these people were created in the image of God – those in the night club and the one who committed this heinous act. As Christ-followers, we pray for the families of those tragically killed and injured. In addition, we pray for all the churches in the Orlando area that are ministering to their community right now. May Christ bring peace to our nation and to our world that is so desperately searching for answers.

In 164 days so far this year, there have already been 133 mass shootings – hard to fathom, isn’t it? The fact is, we live in a world of hate. Our world seems to scream, “hate those who are not like you.” Yet, as Christ-followers, we are called to love all people. “For God so loved the world…John 3:16 tells us. “If anyone loves, he is like God because God is love.1 John 4 tells us. Regardless of people’s behavior or beliefs, God loves them, and we should as well. God is the only hope in this world of hate. The more hate rules, the more people die. But, in the end, love will triumph. As we love like Christ, hearts are changed – and our world is changed.

When something like this happens, our immediate reaction is anger. Many people lash out. In a case like this, people can turn against all Muslims, even though the radical Islam only characterizes a small number. Instead of responding with hate toward the hate we experience, we must learn to respond with grace and love. We should not stereotype our neighbor, but we should love our neighbor. As Romans 12:9 says, “Love must be sincere. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”  We are called to abhor the evil and we do this by bringing it to God. We must allow God to administer justice and redemption. We cannot fall prey to the same hate that we see around us. Instead, we must reach out to those who are different from us and respond in love.

While our government struggles with how to battle terrorism and other mass shootings, as Christ-followers, we must pray and support our leaders. In addition to prayer, we should be willing to engage by being active in our community, state and country. It matters who we vote for. It matters what we stand for. Being informed and active is important. Living for Christ and engaging in civil affairs can help protect and instill values that impact the world in which we live. We cannot isolate ourselves, but this should be a calling for us to become even more engaged and outspoken.

In addition, we cannot fall prey to fear. As mass shootings become more and more commonplace, we must never grow numb to the threat around us; yet, we must not allow fear to rule our lives. We live in a growing world of fear, and we can become paralyzed in this. But, our faith is not in the people of this world, but in our Sovereign God who is in control. Our children are growing up in a world of fear. Helping them process and understand this is so important. Recent studies show children today are experiencing more anxiety than ever before. Teaching our kids about Christ and pointing them to Jesus is essential. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-discipline.2 Timothy 1:7 For them, and for us, abiding in Christ and allowing His Spirit to fill us is the only way to stay steadfast in this world of hate and fear.

Unfortunately, these tragedies will continue to be a reality. We live in a fallen world. And, as much as we pray for peace, the truth is that we have an enemy who wants to “steal, kill and destroy.John 10:10 The influence of darkness and sin will be an eternal battle until our Savior returns putting an end to it all. Thus, for now, we must continue to pray and share Christ with those around us. Regardless of life-style behaviors or religious backgrounds, we must love all people. In the process, we will see our God change this world one life at a time.

Overall, we must not run from times like these. We must not bury our heads in the sand, and act like nothing happened. As Christ-followers, this is our time. We must pray – “the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.James 5:16; we must love, and we must engage. In the power of God’s Sovereignty and filled with the love of our Savior who died for all, we must run to the darkness. We must stand with those hurting in times of crisis and point people to Jesus, so that all men will know that there is Hope, and there is a better way. Instead of giving in to this world of hate, we can hold out Christ and see God transform lives and bring peace. And, isn’t this what our country and world so desperately need right now – love and peace? Where else will they find this? Only in Christ Jesus.

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15 Lessons in 15 Years of Marriage

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This past Thursday, Cinco de Mayo’, Lisa and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. We had a great time thanking God for all He has done in our life as well as simply being together. I love my wife. We have a great marriage, and I feel so blessed. It doesn’t mean we are perfect, but our marriage has definitely grown through the years.

Here are 15 lessons I have learned along the way:

  1. Say the words, “I love you” often. These words are not implied. They must be said, written and lived. There is power in these words to stir the heart.
  2. A great marriage takes time. Spending time together is essential. The importance of scheduling “date nights,” vacations, and even lunch dates. Life is busy, and if we are not careful, we can fail to invest our time in the one we love the most.
  3. Christ must remain at the center of your marriage. When we take our eyes off of Christ, we become frustrated with each other. Christ teaches us to love and to forgive. We must see our spouse through the lens of Christ and serve our spouse as Christ served others.
  4. Grow in your own personal relationship with the Lord. Think about your marriage as a triangle with God at the top. As you grow personally closer to God, then you will grow closer to one another.
  5. Learn your spouse’s love language. Gary Chapman wrote a book called “The Five Love Languages.” Read it. Every person gives and receives love in a certain way. Discovering this made a huge impact in our marriage.
  6. Your priorities must remain in this order – God, spouse, children, career. Guys often put career first and women often put children first. Keeping your spouse after God, but before children and career impacts everything. Your kids need to see this as well.
  7. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. We learn this in Ecclesiastes, but it is so true in marriage. God, the couple and then the family and friends around you. You need other godly couples who are pursuing Christ. You need church and community.
  8. Praying together and playing together keeps you together. We don’t pray together every night, but we do pray together often. Big decisions and as a family, we hold hands and pray. Then, we laugh a lot. There is a lot of joy in our house. Prayer and play matters.
  9. Never say anything bad about your spouse publicly. Only say good things about your spouse. There may be an argument or a disagreement at home, but you must be your spouse’s biggest fan and advocate. What you say publicly flows out of who you are privately.
  10. Ask for help. Most couples ask for help when it is too late. Be proactive and ask for help if there are struggles in your marriage. Counseling is so important to help you. Be willing to ask for mentors, counselors or even just a third party. Invest the time in making your marriage great.
  11. Don’t let the small things become big things. Most marital arguments start over something small. If you are frustrated, don’t let it stir inside of you and bring bitterness, but talk about it before it becomes a big deal.
  12. A great marriage takes work. Investing time, prayer, focus and energy is important to help a marriage grow. Just like a garden, you can plant it (say “I do”), but you have to put the work in to make it and keep it flourishing.
  13. Pray privately for your spouse. It is hard to be angry or upset when you are praying for someone. Bring your spouse before the Lord, and let Him work in their heart – and in yours.
  14. God gave us marriage not to make us happy, but to make us holy. This is from the book Sacred Marriage, and it has been a great impact on us. Yes, we are happy! But, we realize that God uses us to refine the rough edges in our lives. We need this.
  15. Never give up. With God, there is always hope. Your marriage is too important. Fight for your marriage, pray for your marriage, prioritize your marriage. Your marriage impacts generations. The best of your marriage and your life is still ahead.

God wants you to have a great marriage. I am so blessed to be married to Lisa. And, I am so blessed to have parents who were married 58 1/2 years. We have a long way to go, but we want to have an awesome marriage that demonstrates to the world how Christ loves the Church and shows our kids what a godly marriage can be like.

Just know I am praying for you and your marriage! Let’s love well and make a lasting impact for Christ through our marriage and family.

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Twelve Lessons in Twelve Years

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My oldest daughter, Grace, turns 12 today. I love her, and I am so proud of her! As I reflect back on the past 12 years with her in our lives, I am reminded of 12 lessons I have learned being her dad:

  1. Time goes fast, so embrace each moment. The time of feeding baby Grace in the middle of the night and wishing the time would pass, has now passed – and it did so very quickly. Each stage feels like you will never make it through, but you will, and it is important to learn to enjoy and embrace each moment, because you will miss it when it’s over.
  2. Hearts are tender – handle with care. When she came home from the hospital, I was concerned with the physical – can I take care of this baby? Will she eat? What will she eat? What if something happens? But, as parents, we figure that part out quickly. The bigger concern should be our kids’ spiritual and emotional development – holding her heart with love and care.
  3. The power of prayer. Praying with her and for her are some of the sweetest times I can remember. Hearing her pray still brings tears to my eyes. Pray with your kids. Even the simplest prayer shows you value God and you value them. Hold hands, snuggle up and point them to Jesus.
  4. Read the Bible together. When Grace was born, my childhood pastor gave us a Rhyme Bible. We read it with Grace until we had it memorized. Then, we moved to the Storybook Bible. Now, she reads her own Bible every night before she goes to sleep. Teach your kids the importance of God’s Word.
  5. Reading together is a blessing. Growing up, Grace always wanted for me to read her all sorts of books. We read the same books over and over and over and over… Now, I miss that. The books she reads now are chapter books, and she reads them on her own. Set a strong foundation in reading – it lasts a lifetime.
  6. Church is not only important, it is essential. The role of the church is massive in a child’s development. Where will they learn about morals, grace, putting others before themselves, generosity and Christ besides the church? Not from school, the government, Disney or online. It is the Church, and I am so thankful for a great church surrounding and loving my children.
  7. Their friends matter. The more my Grace and her sisters grow up, the more I see the influence of friends. Kids are constantly learning from others. Who they sit with at school, play with at recess and attend parties with, all impact them. (Again, see number 6!)
  8. Your friends matter. As a parent, the people who surround me, influence my children. Kids are always watching and listening. They are learning about marriage, parenting and values from watching the people around me. Thank You, Father, for surrounding me with incredible friends who love my kids and model Christ.
  9. Be patient – don’t make big deals out of small deals. As I reflect, I realize that most of the times I was frustrated with Grace were more about me than they were about her. The times when I was emotionally spent from work, had a long day or was simply being impatient were the times that I escalated the situation. Be patient. Your response carries weight.
  10. You are always modeling – you are always “on” as a parent. You are always teaching. What do you want your kids to learn? As a parent, I am always teaching. The saying, “Don’t do as I do, but do as I say” is completely false. They will do what you do. As your kids get older, you see them mimic you in their vocabulary and actions. This is scary, but always a great reminder.
  11. You have to grow as a parent – each stage of life is different. I only have six years with Grace left at home. Six years of doing homework, driving her to school or plays. Six Spring Breaks, six summers – only six! Will she be ready to go to college? Spiritually? Emotionally? While you never stop being their parent, your role will change, and you have to keep growing.
  12. Above all, love! Make sure your kids know you love them. Above their grades, performances and their responses, make sure they feel that they are loved. Raising Grace is a joy and a blessing. I want her to have the confidence that she is loved regardless. She is loved by God and loved by me. Say and live it. Love.

Happy Birthday, Grace! I love you!

Here’s a birthday song to Grace from Lily. Lily is one of our closest friends from church, and an absolute treasure.

 

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What You Celebrate Shows What You Value

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If you want to know what someone values, just look at what they celebrate. This is true for any company or organization as well. Think about it, what do you see your company celebrate? Do they celebrate their employees or their stock price? By looking at what a company celebrates, you can quickly determine if this is a place you want to work. Along with this, think about organizations – what do they celebrate? Schools, many times, will celebrate test scores more than character development. It may be easier to focus on test scores, but celebrating when a student does something that reflects integrity and character goes much farther. As a country, we celebrate freedom. We have holidays and celebrations built around this value.

So, how about you? What do you celebrate? As an individual or as a family, what are the things that you celebrate together? Think about your past year…

Do you celebrate birthdays? Good. This means you value the person – their growth and development. But, are you truly celebrating the person or do you simply mark the day. Do you write notes, letters or cards to emphasize the good things you see in this person or is it simply another day to get through?

What about anniversaries? Sometimes? I hear men say, “We don’t need to celebrate this anniversary, she knows I love her.” “Or, it’s only three years or seven years. Not one of the big ones.” Fact is, every anniversary is a big one. You need to celebrate your marriage. You need to make it a big deal because it represents what you value.

How about this – spiritual birthdays. Do you celebrate these? It is important to celebrate your own spiritual birthday as a marker of your spiritual growth in the Lord. It is important to celebrate the spiritual birthdays of your children as this represents something that will last for eternity. Our physical bodies will eventually wear out, but our spiritual birth means our life with Christ will go on forever.

In our country, many of our biggest parties center around sporting events like the Super Bowl. We love to celebrate the Super Bowl because, as a country, we value sports. Now, it is not bad to have a Super Bowl party, but if this is your biggest party of the year, then you need to think about what this says about what you value. Again, halloween. It is fine to go out with your kids. But, if this is a bigger celebration, taking more time and money than Easter, then watch out – because this reveals what you value.

Our God loves a party. In fact, He created celebrations. In the Old Testament, God instituted three major feasts a year in order to help His people celebrate. These feasts were all held at the Temple and showed the people that God values His relationship with them, His people. God values worship and praise; therefore, every Sunday should be a celebration for us as we value our relationship with Him.

In Luke 15, Jesus gave us three parables, The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Lost Son, in order to show us that there is “more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7) God celebrates salvation coming into a person’s life because He values spiritual transformation. Life change in all people. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) This was Jesus’ mission, and this is what Jesus values. Therefore, this is what heaven celebrates.

Take time to look at your life and the rhythm of your family. What are your biggest celebrations of the year? Do these accurately reflect what you value? If not, do you need to change your celebrations? Maybe you need to emphasize anniversaries more? Maybe it is character and integrity – celebrating with your kids when you see them do something that represents Christ-likeness. Maybe there is something you need to add – spiritual birthdays, or when someone takes a Next Step in their spiritual growth. Baptisms should be a huge celebration! When someone in your family is baptized, go all out! Make this a big deal because this shows what you value and what God values.

Take time to look at what you celebrate. If you need to make adjustments, then make them. Always remember, “What you celebrate shows what you value.” So, if someone were to look at your party schedule for the year, what would they say you value?