Treasured Possessions

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

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.

New Music: The Burning Edge of Dawn by Andrew Peterson

The Burning Edge of Dawn

In the summer of 2000, I first heard Andrew Peterson when I listened to his second album, Carried Along. In 2002, I first saw Andrew Peterson in concert not long after his third album, Clear to Venus, was released. Joined by Laura Story and Gabe Scott, he opened that concert with “Land of My Sojourn” by Rich Mullins from his A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band. I had just finished a biography about Rich Mullins. At the same time, I had also discover and I was in the middle of completed my Rich Mullins CD collection.

Andrew Peterson’s music and storytelling struck a chord with me then and it still does now. So, when I hear that he is releasing a new album I immediately pre-order it. The Burning Edge of Dawn is Andrew Peterson’s first full length album since 2012.

I have been listening to three of the songs from the album since early September, and I have had a quick listen through the album this morning since the full download was available. His thoughtful lyrics have already encouraged me.

While I am sure that all of these songs will be my favorite at one point or another, here are a few tracks that have grabbed me so far.

#3 “We Will Survive” – We have all been in a place of cloudy uncertainty. In those times, we need someone to remind us of God’s goodness – to tell us the story we need to hear. We need a voice of clarity to call out above the many voices within us and tell us ” there is nothing left to fear and nothing left to hide.” We all need someone to look us “in the eye and say we will survive.”

#8 “Be Kind to Yourself” – This is a song that he wrote for his daughter. An encouragement for us all to be kind to ourselves, even “when the voices in your mind are anything but kind.” While the love from a father for his daughter shines through, the message of God’s love for his children is crystal clear.

#10 “The Sower’s Song” – This is a powerful song from Isaiah 55 and John 15 with images of God as a gardener who will bring about his purposes.

I am looking forward to many more listens through this album. Listen, download, and buy this album here

Also read Andrew Peterson’s interview at the Gospel Coalition here


Tell the Story

When I have exciting news to tell, I cannot keep it in. I have to tell somebody or it feels like my inside will explode. I am sure that most of you are like me. When something fantastic happens to you, you cannot wait to tell it. When you have good news you have to tell someone. Our instatwittersnapface culture has pushed people into a new realm of pressure that says we must find new and creative ways to share news. Our news feeds and pages are cluttered with newly engaged couples, newly expectant couples, and others who just have to tell their stories. We have a motivation to share our good news because we want our friends and family to experience the joy and live in the moment with us.

You will likely never receive a text from someone that says, “Hey, the most amazing thing happened to me, but I’m not going to tell you about it.” There are two reasons you probably will never receive a text like that. One, the grammar is correct, and it is written in a complete sentence. Two, no one has a life changing event and keeps it to themselves.

In Daniel chapter 4, King Nebuchadnezzar has a life-changing event. This man of great power makes a proclamation about the God of the Universe to the entire world. He declares this message “to all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all earth (Daniel 4:1).” As we continue to read in chapter 4, we see a man who has been personally affected by the almighty God of the Universe. He is humbled, and God reveals to Nebuchadnezzar who he really is – a powerful, mighty, great God whose kingdom is everlasting and whose dominion endures from generation to generation.

As a followers of Christ, we have been changed by a personal God. Jesus Christ came to this earth as a man, went to the cross, and stood in our place. He carried the weight of our sin and in exchange he gave us his righteousness. In Christ we have the guarantee of a new life and a hope of a resurrection. This is the best news ever. This is life changing. This is a story that has to be told.

The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a story that must be told “to all peoples, nations, and languages.” This is the greatest story ever told.  The almighty God of the universe, the greatest author of all time, has written us into His grand story. And he has privileged us to be his storytellers.

Book Recommendation: My Father’s Dragon

This week, my son Knox and I read a fabulous book called My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. The narrator tells a fun tale about her father, a young boy named Elmer Elevator. Elmer travels to Wild Island at the recommendation of an old alley cat for the purpose of rescuing a baby dragon. Laughs and giggles from you and your family are sure to follow as you tag along with this clever boy on his journey.

Our intention was to read the book over several weeks by reading a chapter each night. However, Knox and I were so enthralled that we read the book in two sittings. He could not wait until we had time to sit down and read it. I must admit that I worked a little faster at putting the dishes away to have more time to finish the book (okay a lot faster!).

If you have little ones and love to read out loud to them, this is definitely a book that you will want to pick up. The story is witty, and the dialogue is perfect for reading with children (giving unique voices to each character of course!).

Pick up a copy here  or check with you local library.

God is Able. God is Good

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)

Coming Home

“Home is not as much of a place as it is somewhere that you belong, somewhere that you are accepted.” Tim Keller

Over the past several years left the country to go on a mission trip. Our church has been very involved in missions over the last decade, and I decided to try to go to as many places that I could in order to share the gospel, encourage believers, and do whatever was needed.

There are two things that I like about traveling. Enjoying the journey and going home. I have been blessed to travel to many great places in the world. Over the last several years, I have fallen in love with all kinds of people. Some of them were specific people who are now very dear to my heart. But, generally I have come to a place that I just love people. I am amazed and intrigued by the differences and similarities of cultures that I have visited. There are things that are quite different such as languages, dress, gestures, and food. Yet there are similarities such as friendship, laughter, affection, and need for Christ. I love seeing the beauty of the world that God has made. I love exploring new places (new to me anyway). I enjoy trying new foods and drinks (this is something that I especially like to do. I think it all started with my first trip overseas to Japan in 1994. I even brought back a lot of soda cans with me because I was so intrigued by the exotic sodas.).

As much as I love the journey, I love coming home. Tim Keller says that home is not as much of a place as it is somewhere that you belong, somewhere that you are accepted. Within the past seven years, I have gotten married and been blessed with three wonderful children. Every day since my wedding has been an adventure of new things and a deepening of my understanding of home.  So whether I am coming home form a long trip or just a day at work, one of my favorite parts of coming home is the outpouring of hugs from three little people and a beautiful, loving wife who make the return home as good as the exploration of a new place.

Help My Unbelief

There are things that I believe and yet often times I doubt them.

I believe that God will provide everything I need.  I believe that he will meet all of my needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). And yet when money is tight at the end of the month, the car needs repair, the house is falling apart, or you are pregnant with child number four those creeping doubts begin to rise up.

I believe that God is the great protector.  He is a fortress, a strong tower, and a shield (Psalm 18:2, 10). And yet, I get scared for my life or the lives of my wife and children.

I believe that God loves me (Ephesians 2:4-5). Yet, when my sin is apparent and I cannot find a single ounce of love for myself, I wonder how God could look upon me with love.

I believe that in Christ I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet, when I do the same things over and over again it is hard to see any shiny newness or difference from the old man.

I believe that the scripture is sufficient for life and salvation (2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:23). Yet, when I know I am supposed to sit down and read and study I find any distraction in the world.

I believe that the gospel has power to change lives, to rescue people from darkness and bring them into light (Colossians 1:13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18), to give life to those who are dead (Ephesians 2:1-10). Yet, I am reluctant to share the good news of Jesus.

My doubts do not drive me away from God or the scripture. They drive me to it.  Without God, I cannot have the faith that I need. Without him giving me faith, I cannot believe as I should believe. I must cry out in times of doubt like the father of the boy with seizures in Mark 9.

The man’s son had an unclean spirit that was causing him to convulse and seize.  The father says that it has been going on for a long while and it often led to injuries of the boy.  He looks at Jesus and he says, “But, if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  I imagine that the man is at his wits end. His son has been suffering since childhood.  He has probably taken his son to see some religious leaders for prayer, healers for healing, and whoever else may offer any advice or help.  The disciples have even tried to help and failed. Now, he stands before Jesus. No one has been able to help.  The man’s hopes have been dashed, and he is tired.  He simply looks at Jesus and says, “If you can do anything, have compassion and help us.” His faith is all but gone.

Jesus responds to the man and says, “If you can! All things are possible for the one who believes.” Jesus’ response is nothing short of cutting. “If you can!” – as if to say, do you realize who you are talking to? Do you realize who I am? Do you realize what I can do?

Immediately, the man cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” As if to say that he has a little bit of belief, but he acknowledges that it is not enough (Mark 9:24).

That is where I often find myself. I have a little bit of belief, but I know it is not enough. That man’s prayer is great in times when I do not feel worthy, when I feel helpless, when I want to control everything, when I think the gospel is powerless.  I know I need Jesus to give me faith to believe.

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. Give me the faith I need to believe you. Strengthen my faith, grow my faith, that I may trust in you as I should. Give me faith to glorify you in all my thoughts, words, and actions.”

Wherever You Are, Be All There

Jim Elliot was an American evangelical missionary who was killed in Ecuador while participating in a mission to one of the local people groups. Jim Elliot, along with four other men, are motivation for modern Christians and missionaries.  I would venture to say that the death of Elliot along with the others did much to greatly enhance the modern missionary movement among evangelicals.

Known for his death, Jim Elliot’s life and words have been remembered and delivered to us by his wife Elisabeth.  She did much in the year’s following her husbands death to tell their story.  An incredible thing that is available to us now is some of Jim’s journals.  These give real insight into Jim’s inner life with Christ.

I was backhanded last week by one of Jim’s entries.  Before I go any further, please know that I am writing this post primarily for myself.  If you get something out of this, great, but I am simply preaching to myself first.

The entry said this, “Wherever you are, be all there!” It was brought to my attention as the word of the day for a morning workout group that I have been participating in (that in itself is another story that I hope to visit soon).

These words continued to ring in my ears for the next several days and weeks. The ringing turned to a digging and a prodding.  You see there is a trait that I often hate about myself, that is when I notice that I am doing it. It is not being all there.  I think I have programed myself to always be thinking about the next “thing.”  For the past eight years, I have been working as a Youth Pastor.  These have been some of the most rewarding, trying, memorable, and blessed times of my life. My first six years as a Youth Pastor, I was also enrolled in a Masters program. On top of this, I got married and had became the daddy of two children. As you can imagine, this took up a pretty good chunk of my time. So as my schedule became busier and more crowded it became necessary to continually look forward to what was coming up next. This week I have a theology paper due, a class to attend, a retreat to chaperone, Bible study to plan, and so on. I think this kind of schedule added to an already introspective personality. I tend to internalize and think through things that I have to do.  Sometimes this happens in inopportune time (such as conversations with people). This is not a quality that I particularly like about myself.

Other things distract me as well. And if you honestly ask yourself, they probably distract you too. How many times have you had a conversation with your spouse, friend, or child and had a situation from work on your mind. Sometimes it is hard to leave work at the office. And if you are like me and have a job that never stays at the office, it is even harder.

Facebook, twitter, sports updates, emails, worthless quizzes, and such are a huge distraction. Have you ever sat in a room of people who constantly check there phones? If you have sat in a room with me you probably have experienced this.  I’m sorry.

I’m still a work in progress. I am setting up boundaries for myself – times, limits, no phone zones, etc. But, from now on, I am seeking to make this one of my life goals: “Wherever you are, be all there.”

He Knows What We Need

I am blessed with wonderful children.  Some days I think I am a great dad. Other days, I’m okay. And then there are days when I am simply lousy.

Sometimes my children need things, and I can provide for them quickly. Sometimes I can figure it out before they ask. Other times, I get lucky and guess the very thing they need. Most times, I have no clue. I do my best to give them what they need, but I often fall short (according to their standards at least).

This morning my son needed something. I didn’t know what. I could not motivate him to get going or to get dressed. Nothing was right. His clothes did not fit, his shoes, hurt his feet, he did not want anything to eat. He probably needed compassion at that moment, but I had none to give. I was pretty lousy in showing love and compassion. I wanted him to wipe off his tears, deal with it and get going. He couldn’t.

After I dropped him off at school, I was pretty hard on myself about being a dad. When my shortcomings were about to wipe me out, I was reminded that I have a perfect Father. My son has a perfect Father who knows exactly what we need.

Jesus tells us, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:31-32)”

We have a Father who knows what we need and when we need it. We do not have to worry about things in this life. He have a God who knows what we need and desires to give us those things.

I know I am going to miss the mark again for my son. I am going to let him down. I am going to discipline him when I should have shown him grace. I am going to let him get away with things that he should not get away with. I am going to fail him and disappoint him.

But, in the midst of all of this, I am going to do my best to point him to the Father that will never disappoint him. The one who will never fail him.The one who will never leave him or forsake him. The one that will give him exactly what he needs when he needs it.

Today, I urge you to trust in the Father who knows exactly what you need and desires to give it to you.

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