Treasured Possessions

Christian Identity, Christian Living, Hope, Leaving a Mark

blankieI am almost ashamed of all of the things I have accumulated over my lifetime. As I look around my office, filling the shelves are lots of books that I love. Also, pictures hang on the walls, sports figures and toys have stepped out of my old toy box onto the shelves to constantly remind me of my childhood. I believe I could make it if they were destroyed (as I just wrote that I am not quite sure that I am ready to test that theory). However, I have a two-year old son who has a possession that he treasures. He cannot survive without it (I take that back. I imagine that he could survive, but he would make survival difficult for everyone else in our family).

His possession is dingy. It is dirty. It often smells. It is pink. It’s his blankie, but it doesn’t look like it belongs to him.

I can’t exactly remember when he first became attached to it. When he was born, we had been given several smaller security blankets (one with taggies all over it and another that had a sock monkey head). He never really took to them. Then one day, it seemed that he had to have the pink blanket. This wasn’t a hassle at all. I mean it was bigger than he was, so it was almost impossible for him to take it anywhere when he was crawling around. It had one small tag on one side that is almost always impossible to find. No big deal.

When he finally learned to walked, he started to drag that blanket around everywhere – across the yard, across the floor, across the carport. It got dirtier and dirtier. Sometimes it gets so bad that we have to strategically plan times for the blankie to get a wash.

In all of his two years of existence, it is still his most prized possession. He has to have it – in the car, in his backpack at school, during his naptime, as he goes “night night” it is there. It is stained, cumbersome, and impractical, but it is his. And don’t you even act like you are going to take it from him. He will only cling tighter and give you a look that could quite possibly kill you.

It is pink with hearts because it belonged to his older sister at one point in time. Of all the blankets in all the house, he chose that one. His sister hardly used it, so he chose it. He redeemed it from the pile of under used blankets. He gave it purpose.

Many times over the last several years, my kids have been great illustrations to me about the love of Christ. As I watched my son carry around that blanket and treasure that blanket, I began to realize that I was like that blanket in the hand of God. God chose me. He redeemed me. He gave me purpose. Though I am dirty, dingy, and broken, God has called me his treasured possession.

Those who believe in Christ and follow him are like that blanket. You are God’s possession as we read in 1 Peter 2:9. God loves you. God treasures. God has redeemed you and given you purpose. You are his. He will never let you go.

Sometimes I forget who I am. I am sure you do too. I don’t forget my name or anything like that. But, I do forget my identity in Christ. There are many voices in my head and in the world that try to compete for my attention. They try to identify me and tell me who I am and who I am not. I am quick to succumb to every one of these voices instead of the voice of God. I need to hear his voice – His word. This is why it is important for Christians to read the scripture. Not just to check it off of a to do list. Read the scripture because it speaks the truth. It tells you who God is, who Christ is, and who you are.

Some days I feel like an old dirty blanket. That’s okay, because I also know that I am God’s dirty blanket.

I preached a sermon on our identity as followers of Christ. You can listen to it here if you like.

Just Give it Time

Hope, Leaving a Mark, Parent

I was sitting in High School Bible Study and the teacher asked this question: “Who do you turn to when things are going crazy in your life? When you need advice?” Some students answered friends, adults, or Google. Then the teacher asked, “What about your parents? Do you ever go to your parents?” There was some muttering in the room so I raised my hand and said, “Yes, I turn to my parents.” Everyone over the age of twenty in the room was in full agreement with me. We all had reached an age where we know something that our teenage friends haven’t learned yet.

It seems that somewhere between the age of twelve and fourteen, aliens come and abduct our children. They implant an inhibitor chip deep within their brains. For the next five to seven years teenagers think that their parents are embarrassing, stupid, and absolutely out of touch with reality. Most think that anyone else in the entire world has more skill, more wisdom, and better answers than their parents.

Parents, in the middle of those teenage years there will likely come a time when you may be convinced that you are dumb. You might even catch yourself thinking,”Maybe all the teenagers are right. Maybe it isn’t them. Maybe it is me who lost my mind. Maybe I have lost my grip on reality. Maybe I don’t really understand what it is like.” Fight that temptation. Slap yourself in the face or get someone else to do it for you. Don’t fall for that trickery. Just pull out an old journal or think back on your high school days. You will remember quickly that you were a teenager and that you do understand.

Then somewhere around age twenty to twenty-two, that inhibitor chip miraculously disappears or is somehow reabsorbed into the bloodstream. All of a sudden, parents have all the answers. They know what to do when you get in a wreck or the car breaks down. They know what to do when your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you. They know what to say to calm your nerves when you have a big interview for your dream job. They know how to help you cope with a child who will not sleep and they even take that child for a night or two so that you can sleep. They know how to have a good conversation. They have wisdom and good words of advice. They are still parents, but they are much more than that.

But for now, the struggle is real. I want to encourage you to stay the course. Continue to love your children. Care for them. Seek what is best for them. Don’t mortgage your child’s future because you want to be their best friend. Discipline them if they need it. Encourage them when they need it. Laugh with them when they need it. Cry with them when they need it. Pray with them and for them because they will always need that.

Don’t just batten down the hatches and weather the storm of the teenage years. Step on deck, look that storm in the face, and say give me all you’ve got. Be that stalwart consistency that your son or daughter needs when the turbulent winds of Middle School assail them. Be that safe haven of refuge they need in High School when they feel like everyone is out to get them. Love them with the love that only Christ can give you.

Teach them His word and his statutes. Rebuke them when they sin. Correct them when they have strayed off of the path. Teach them how to follow Christ. Train them in righteousness. So that as they grow they will be servants of God who are thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

And always remember this: It is only time that separates them from turning to you for help, answers, and friendship.

God is Able. God is Good

Christian Living, Hope, Leaving a Mark

Tonight I am teaching on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You know the famous story of the three young men who would not bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image. This story in Daniel 3 along with the other narratives in Daniel tend to get mashed together in a “Dare to be…” series. It is true that Daniel and his friends had great resolve and great faith. But, when we focus on them alone we miss what the Bible is teaching us about God. In Daniel 3:1-30 we see that God is able and God is good.

In verse 15, Nebuchadnezzar makes a statement and asks a question.  He says, “If you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” At the end of the story, we know that God proves himself able to deliver the three young men out of the hands of the king and out of the fiery furnace. He is God who is able to deliver in a way that the gods of the Babylonians cannot deliver. He is a living and active God who meets his people in the midst of trial – in the midst of a furnace. This is great news for those who follow him. No matter what trial you are going through, no matter what you are suffering, no matter what uncertainty you are facing – our God is able to deliver you.

However, if you are like me, questions begin to creep into your mind in the midst of trial, suffering, and uncertainty: “Will he deliver me?” “Will I make it through this okay?” “Is everything going to work out?”

I ask these questions and then I immediately regret it. I never want anyone to know that those thoughts even crossed my mind. It is not good to doubt, right? If I even think of asking these questions then that must be a sign that my faith is weak. If my faith is weak, then the Lord will not do what I ask. The Lord will not deliver me because I do not have enough faith.

How prideful and selfish is this kind of thinking?

Should I doubt the fact that God can deliver us? Absolutely not. Should I doubt that God will work things out exactly to my guidelines and specifications? Absolutely.

When I pray for certain outcomes to situations, is it my lack of faith that causes them to turn out differently? It can’t be. That would imply that the strength of my faith determines God’s actions. The God of the Bible is the God who, “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him (Daniel 2:21-22).” He alone is in control.

What is true faith then? Is true faith believing that God will make pleasurable outcomes for me? Or, is true faith believing that God will make things work out for my good? I believe that it is the latter.

Surely Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not want to go into the fire. They probably even prayed that God would deliver them from the fire. God could have arranged it so they would not have to go into the fire. Then the deliverance from the fire could have easily been passed off as a coincidence. By meeting them in the fire, God shows everyone that he is the answer to Nebuchadnezzar’s question. He is the God who is able to deliver the three young men out of the king’s hand.

Similarly, Jesus did not want to go to the cross. He prayed for God to remove the cup from him if there was another way. He prayed for God’s will to be done and not his (Luke 22:42). Jesus, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, trusted in the goodness of God though it meant his suffering. Praise God for that suffering!

Even though God is able, sometimes he does not give us what we ask for. He sometimes sends us into the fire to be tested (1 Peter 1:6-7). Therefore, the measure of our faith cannot be determined by the outcomes in our life. Our faith must be settled in knowing that the God who is able is the God who is working things for our good. I believe this is the reason that we see no struggle from the three Hebrews. They did not want to go into the fire, but they knew that God was working things out for his glory and their good. They knew that he was worth the sacrifice.

We trust in God who is sovereign. He is in control. In your life you will have trials. You will have sufferings. You will walk through flames. At times, he may rescue you from the flames. Praise Him greatly for that. However, if he does not rescue you from the flames, you can rest assured that he will meet you in the midst of them.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2 ESV)

Waking Up Free

Faith, Hope, Leaving a Mark

IBR-1113189When I woke up this morning, I was frustrated.  It was 5:04 am and I was up in order to go workout. My little girl cried and asked where I was going.  I lay back down with her and waited as patiently as I could until her breathing went rhythmic. I really enjoy my morning workout and when that routine gets thrown off, I get frustrated.  It’s selfish I know. I’m working on it.

In another part of the country, several other girls were waking up free for the first time in a decade. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michele Knight all disappeared in 2003, 2004, and 2002 respectively. They vanished in three separate incidents nearly a decade ago, and they all turned up in the same house last night. What are the odds?

The story is one of heroism on the part of the girls and a neighbor who was in the right place at the right time. It is amazing to hear Charles Ramsey, the neighbor who discovered the girls sharing how he had lived in the neighborhood for a year with no clue that one of his neighbors had girls captive in his house.  Ramsey spoke of having barbeques with this man.  He said the man was uninteresting. It turned out that this “ordinary” neighbor was a key player in an exceptionally interesting turn of events.

Found and Rescued
Amanda Berry was frantically trying to get out of the house when Charles Ramsey heard her.  She escaped and phoned 911.  The police rescue operation freed several other girls from the house. Imagine the excitement of stepping out into the world for the first time in a painfully long time. How overjoyed the young ladies must be to know that they will not have to spend another night held captive by a maniac? They were set free from the terror that had reigned over them and controlled them for the better part of a decade.

Never give up hope
It is safe to assume that many people had written these girls off. Surely, they were dead. Why would anyone have any reason to believe otherwise? There are plenty of missing persons stories that do not end like this. Instead they end with a memorial service and maybe a few unrecognizable remains. We are accustomed to tragic endings to these stories.  We have been programmed to expect the worse. And in the sin-sickened and depraved world in which we leave, I think we should expect the worse.

But, there was something hopeful about waking up this morning and hearing of the rescue of these young ladies. It is doubtful that there were many people on the planet who went to bed last night thinking of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, or Michele Knight.  But, this morning anyone with access to a TV, internet, radio, or newspaper were thinking about them.

The cases of these missing girls is but a faint and distant memory in my mind, but the hopefulness that was brought on by reading, hearing, and watching interviews is almost overwhelming, even to me so far removed. It is proof that we should never give up hope. Even in the midst of horrible and overwhelming circumstances, there is hope.

As my thoughts drifted away from this miraculous rescue, I could not help but think of God’s marvelous rescue of his people. 1 Peter 2:9-10 speaks of this saying, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (italics added).” The God of the Universe, a God who is a loving father, has called people out of darkness into his marvelous light. He rescues the ones who believe in him, call upon his name, and confess him as Lord.

All people are sinners who are enslaved in sin and enemies of God. In our sin, we are under the tyrannical rule of sin, death, and darkness. But, God in his loving mercy, rescued his people from that slavery, the domain of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of his Son Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13-14).

The story of every Christian is that of enemies of Christ and slaves of sin who have been redeemed through the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.  We were oppressed and God freed us. We were hopeless in sin, and God gave us hope. We were dead, and God made us alive in Christ.

When I think about this in light of the breaking news of the rescued girls, I almost weep.  For the first time in a long time, these girls are experiencing freedom. I guarantee they are rejoicing in the fact that they have been rescued. Many days the remembrance of my rescue from darkness to light takes a backseat in my mind. It shouldn’t.

I am also reminded to not give up hope.  Many times I have talked to people who struggle because one of their family members does not follow Christ. Maybe it is a wayward child, a confused peer, or a sibling who is blatantly opposed to the gospel.  At certain times, it feels as though there is no hope. But, this story reminds me that there is hope. Jesus Christ is a great savior and will wait patiently with people far longer than I ever will.  There may be times when you seem to have lost all hope that they will ever put their trust in Christ as their savior and follow him. You wonder if they will continue down the path of enmity. Some may, but there is hope that they will be rescued from the domain of darkness and delivered into the kingdom of light. Don’t give up hope. Proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to them and wait patiently for the Lord’s timing. Weep, but never give up hope.

This world is dark, cold, and evil. There are likely more girls who will go to bed tonight with tears on their pillows and bruises on their faces confined in houses that are not their own in darkness that will never seem to go away.  There will undoubtedly be more stories like this that end in sorrow, murder, and destruction. That is the world we live in. But, in the midst of this crooked and depraved world it is always good to remember the stories of hope like this one of Amanda Berry, Gine DeJesus, and Michele Knight.  Remember that a little bit of light can go a long way in a dark place.  In this world there will always be night to remind us of darkness, sin, and death. But, as long as the sun breaks through in the dawn we know there is hope! There is hope for a better today. There is hope for a better tomorrow. And through Jesus Christ’s resurrection there is hope for life beyond this life. A new life where girls don’t have to go to bed locked in corners of dirty houses. A new life where children do not have to cry themselves to sleep because their stomachs hurt so much from lack of food. A new life where there will be no more tears, no more hunger, no more slavery, no more sin, no more death, and no more darkness.

So, in the morning when the sun comes up, remember not to give up hope. In the Spring, when the world emerges from its cold winter slumber, remember not to give up hope. When your son, daughter, mother, father, friend, or enemy continues to rebel against the loving Father and King of the Universe remember not to give up hope.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,

‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

Lamentations 3:22-23

 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

1 Peter 3-9