All Good Things Must Come to an End. Really?

All Good Things Must Come to an End. Really?

the endHave you considered that every good thing in this life must come to an end? Whether it is:

  • a great movie,
  • a vacation,
  • an outstanding glass of wine,
  • a perfectly grilled steak,
  • double digit gains on a 401(k),
  • a youthful physique,
  • good health,
  • a holiday celebration,
  • a kiss,
  • or a sunny day…

Nothing, absolutely nothing, lasts forever. Well, except for one thing. There is one good thing that does last forever. One good thing that:

  • it never loses its flavor,
  • never leaves us in debt or loses its beauty,
  • it never lets us down,
  • never comes up empty,
  • it never loses its ability to make us happy and joyful even in the worst of times.

It is 100% dependable. It. Never. Ends.

The “It” that I speak of is actually He: none other than God himself! Have we considered that our constant search for happiness and joy in this life comes up short because we are too focused on what we can touch, taste, see, and smell, rather than what is unseen: God himself? By Holy Spirit-empowered faith, God can be experienced and known in a way that gives us joy that changes us and changes how we respond to our challenges.

Colossians 3:1-3 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden in Christ in God.”

As I meditated on this passage, it was like a list of earthly joys rolled through my mind and it struck me again just how fleeting each one is. But then the Holy Spirit drew my attention to the fact that God IS. He never changes. Even though the times are ominous, he never changes.

The joy we have in God was C.S. Lewis’ focus during the dark days of World War II. He cut through the temporal joys and struck right to the heart: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Lewis’ “Infinite joy” is an echo of what God has already told us in Psalm 16:11. In referring to Himself, He says through the Psalmist, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

In times of persecution, the writer of Hebrews does not lament the loss of happiness nor does he try to gin-up suffering people with promises or plans for how to restore earthly joys. Instead, he brings his readers’ attention back to foundational joy: Jesus and all that he has done for them.

Let us not exchange what is true joy for what is temporary happiness.

What has God done for you? Is it more than forgiveness? Although forgiveness is essential—yes!  There is much more to be joyful about. Take a quick look by downloading Your Identity from A to Z. Or, consider Real Hope for Your Home! This short, practical book will help you see how all that God has done for you in Christ gives us enduring joy that changes us and restores relationships.

Are We Missing Out on this Incredible Resource?

Are We Missing Out on this Incredible Resource?

comfortWhen was the last time you stopped and really thanked God for your church family?

A few weeks ago, Leslee, our children and I joined my extended and previous church family to celebrate the baptism and fifth birthday of my nephew, Luca.  As some of you know, Luca is dying of brain cancer (please pray for him!)  The time featured a conflicting blend of emotions: sadness, brotherly love, concern, and even joy.

One of the pastors, retired, sat down next to Luca and tenderly shared about God’s love by weaving together two similar but different threads; my sister’s preparation of a special breakfast just the day before and then the pastor’s own story of his wife’s care when he himself suffered from five strokes that he described as “boo-boos in his head” (which is the way little Luca describes the wrenching pain in his head).

What a blessing it was to be with people with whom I had known for over 40 years.  Some, I had served with in the trenches.  While I have not been at that church for 13 years, the mettle of their love has been demonstrated in so many ways to my extended family… always bringing a meal, a gift, providing care, praying, and showing up in hospitals at all hours.

On the lighter side, I reminisced with a couple who helped me grill about 100 pounds of steak and chicken one blazing hot summer day as part of an annual thank you party for our ministry volunteers.  I think we each sweated off 15 pounds that day.

  • My brother-in-law’s sister, a Disney employee, who flew up from Florida just for this event, shared some tricks for doing Disney more affordably.
  • Three of Luca’s grandparents were there. Just the presence of grandparents in distressing times imbues one with confidence, doesn’t it? When all we see is darkness, they remind us, “You will make it through”.
  • A loud mix of teenagers on the porch all so close that you just think of them as family whether they really are or not. Just weeks ago, three of those teens visited my house to watch the Super Bowl with us.
  • This is a group I have seen over and over at birthday celebrations, Fourth of July, Easter, Thanksgiving, at the hospitals, it is a group that ministers faithfully and powerfully. I think it is probably unusual. I know people who attend church but do not have these kinds of enduring relationships.

I stop to think, how would any of us get through this life without the love and support of church family—like this?

And then there’s the pained smile of little Luca, clinging tightly to his mother and who would trade being the center of attention to simply be able to walk to his toy box.  All of these people –I imagine around 75 in total—all there for him but we all benefitted in simple yet profound ways from the bond that is.

As we made the two-hour drive home, Leslee and the kids shared their little conversations, moments, and experiences, and it struck me again how much of a privilege it is to live in the body of Christ.  How often do we take our relationships at church for granted?

Did I Get the Job Done?

Did I Get the Job Done?

moving day

In January, my 21 year old daughter was the first to fly the coop.  Strike up Barbara Streisand singing “Memories” and pass the tissues.  While it has been quite an adjustment for all of us, it has not been too bad thanks to (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) the wonders of texting and the Marco Polo app.

On the morning her brother and I drove her to her new home in another state, I wrote a note to her that I planned to leave in her apartment for her to find after we had left.  (It’s the writer in me).  As I was writing, I was partially successful in holding back tears as my mind ran through 21 years of very precious memories.  I kept reminding myself, “She’s not dying or even getting married.  Get a grip!”

As I wrote, I couldn’t help but think about all the things I failed to do well or at all.  My perfectionistic flesh was really whipping me good.  Hindsight is always 20/20.

I imagine that some of you reading this have already had a child leave home through work, education, marriage, or some other reason.  As we wrestle with the changing seasons in family life, we can take encouragement from some principles in the Bible that address our performance as parents.

We are ambassadors, not saviors.

If I could do everything right, then I would not need Jesus.  It was never God’s intension to share his glory with us by making it so we could do a perfect parenting job.  2 Corinthians 5:20 says we are plain ambassadors with a powerful message.  The Holy Spirit is the only One who is able to call and change our children and he does the changing on his perfect timetable.

God’s plan takes into account our failures.

Paul says in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”  All things includes bad things.  God is able to use even our worst moments in his work of conforming us and our children into the image of his Son.  It’s never too late to confess our failures and ask forgiveness!  Sometimes, it takes many years, decades even, before we see how God has worked/is working through our good and bad moments—but he is working!

God restores the years that the locust has eaten.

Our failures do not define us as Christians.  God is all about redemption.  Joel 2 says that “he restores the years that the locust has eaten.”  Recognizing what I could have done better strengthens me not to repeat the same failures with my other children who are still at home.  My failures do not have to remain failures!  We can learn from them and change how we disciple our other children and grandchildren.  I can also share what I have learned with other parents, thus helping them avoid our mistakes.

We serve a God of grace and mercy.  He delights in showing mercy.  Micah 7:18 says, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.”  I am most grateful that my God—our God—is like this.  It gives us great hope and confidence as we move through the different but challenging seasons of parenthood.

 

Empty Prayers

Empty Prayers

empty prayers“Asking someone, ‘How Can I Pray for You’ is Bull *&%^ !”

These words were spoken to me with blunt frustration by a man after I had just taught a class on being intentional in relationships. Praying for one another was one of several practical exhortations I had made in the class. (There was more to what I said on prayer which I will get to later.) This brother in Christ had been wounded by some bad experiences.

As we talked, I was struck by what I suspect is probably the ugly and embarrassing truth about our prayer lives as Christians: we often take it for granted and become careless and lazy in our prayer habits.

Prayer for one another is an essential habit in our Christian walk. Yet, we can all relate to saying, “I will pray for you”—only to forget. Sometimes we ask for prayer without really thinking about it. It’s an easy (and expected) part of our Christian talk.

How seriously do we really take prayer? Following are three practical ideas to help us be more intentional in our prayer life.

  1. Write Down Prayer Requests

Studies show that we remember 90% of what we write down. Why not write down what people ask us to pray for? It forces clarity and helps us remember to pray. Along this line, one of the ideas I gave my Sunday school class that morning involved writing prayer requests on 3×5 index cards. Index cards are a cheap and wonderful tool. You can keep them in your pocket or tuck them in your Bible.

Make a card for each person we pray for. Put the person’s name on the top line. Beneath their name, write the date and then the request next to it. When the prayer is no longer needed, write down the date and the answer or resolution. Keep the card to add future prayer requests for that person. As you add cards for each person, you develop a powerful story; a tool for recounting God’s work through your prayers in other’s lives.

  1. Ask People to Pray For You Rather Than Telling Them to Pray For You

Have you ever had someone just say, “Pray for me” or “You can pray for me about …“. We’ve probably all done it at some point, however, without a “will you please” in front, it can come across a bit presumptuous or even demanding.  This is not so much an issue of manners as it is not taking prayer for granted. We all should remember to be mindful of the privilege prayer is. It is a gift to be able to minister to each other through prayer. It is also a comfort to know that we can ask our brothers and sisters to pray for us in times of need which in effect allows them to help us carry our burdens.

Consider that if we ask and the person says, “yes” then there is a greater possibility of them following-through which also means their prayers will likely be more intentional and effective.

Following is not so much a literal suggestion as it is a way to expose our own attitudes and expectations about asking others to pray for us. Would it ever be right to say, “No, I’m sorry but I cannot/will not be able pray for you”? The thought of that seems almost unconscionable. But consider: can we realistically pray for every request that comes our way either directly or indirectly? How many more can we add to a long and probably dusty list? At what point are we just being disingenuous?

Here’s an idea. If we’re having trouble being faithful with our current list, maybe a good alternative when asked to pray is to just stop and pray with the person for the need at that moment rather than to say we will pray later –and never do it.

  1. Report Back to People Who Have Agreed to Pray for You

For the person who is being intentional about following through on praying for our request it can be disheartening to pray especially over a long period of time and never get an update on what is going on in that situation. When no report is given, it can convey little regard for the time others invest in praying for us. Write down the names of those we ask to pray for us so that we remember to report back.

A simple report is very encouraging to see how God is working through our prayers. It builds our faith. We keep praying for the specific need. It encourages us to pray for others. It builds our unity in Christ. Frankly, it also helps us to be more serious about asking others to pray for us. We realize there is a cost to them: their time that we should seek to honor.

Evaluate Our Prayer Habits

Prayer is a powerful and effective weapon. God instructs us to pray. He promises to hear our prayers and to answer them. It is good therefore to evaluate our prayer habits and to try to correct areas where we have waxed lazy and unintentional.

Whether we’re asking for prayer or agreeing to pray—it is a sacred privilege; a treasured part of our identity as members of God’s family that helps to build our oneness in Christ.

 

Jesus: The Ultimate Blockchain

Jesus: The Ultimate Blockchain

“What in the world is blockchain?” I asked the Barnes and Noble employee as he somewhat unceremoniously plopped a stack of magazines with “blockchain” written on the cover on the rack. He said, “It is a technology that is being used to help protect our identity and personal information.” I grabbed a copy and was quickly hooked by the article’s title which began with the huge block letters: “Identity Crisis…”

“Identity” regularly occupies the headlines. We are so much more aware of it. Protection of our personal information has become a minimal expectation for doing business. In some cases, it even represents a competitive edge. Politically and culturally, debate surges over the most basic definition of identity: male and female.

All of the attention given to identity these days makes for some wonderful opportunities to grow in Christ.

First, it presents an opportunity to think about our own identity, in Christ.“Identity” is a simple one-word summary of what Jesus has done for us. Who are you? If you are in Christ, then you are a new creation. We tend not to think much about this new identity and all that it entails. Instead, we favor thinking about what we should do. Marinating in all that Jesus has fully accomplished not only instructs us in how to live, it motivates us, too.

Second, it reminds us how fragile, needy, and dependent we all really are. The fact that there is such concern over our SSN and credit cards numbers is evidence just how little control we actually have. We are vulnerable. Much of the media attention preys on and stokes our fears. None of us are in control.

But Godisin control. He is our refuge, strength, and protector. No matter how compromised my personal information is on the internet, God protects me through the end of my life on this earth—and beyond. My identity is completely, irrevocably secure in Jesus Christ.

Third, it provides a great entry point to share the good news with nonbelievers. It is not hard to imagine why people get so hysterical about their identity being stolen. This world really doesn’t offer much in the way of security. It is another reason why people without Jesus Christ have reason to be afraid.

When my family goes to visit an elderly neighbor in a local care facility, we often find the neighbor watching the news. He sometimes makes fearful, even angry comments about the future when the stories involve healthcare and social security. In those moments, I remind him that God cares for his own and that he can rest in that. Before leaving we usually pray with him and for him to rest in God’s sovereign care. Over the years we have had many deep spiritual conversations but we are still uncertain about his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Still, I can say that when I remind him of God’s care for his people in those moments it brings peace. I trust that a deeper work is taking place.

We all need the peace that only God offers because he is the only one in control of all that is happening everywhere and all of the time. If we are marinating in all that Jesus has done for us, we will be more attentive to the fearful, anxious cry of those around us who desperately need the security only Jesus can give. Jesus is the ultimate blockchain.

Helping our Children Face Difficult Circumstances

Helping our Children Face Difficult Circumstances

Have you seen this before? If you look at it one way, you see an old woman looking down. If you look at it another way, you see the profile of a beautiful young woman looking away. You can look at the same picture and see two entirely different things. It’s all about perspective.

Our Children Need a Change of Perspective

This is a perfect analogy for understanding one of the most essential truths that our children need to grasp: how to look at life, especially the circumstances we don’t like, from God’s perspective. (Be sure to grab the PDF printable to use with your children at the end of this article!)

As parents, we are familiar with long, late-night conversations that often boil down to a child’s struggle with a particular circumstance. Some circumstances are of their own making, such as waiting until the 11thhour to complete a school assignment, maybe a Facebook post that backfired, or the fallout from poor spending choices. Other circumstances might be out of their control, such as a sibling who continues to push their buttons, the fact that they do not have a car to drive, or a chronic health condition. Either way, circumstances usually present emotional pain that we as parents are called upon to remove—and quickly!

How do we help our children see what happens to them in life from God’s perspective?

Usually, my instinct as a father is to simply fix their problem by immediately telling them what to do. While that response is understandable, and even appropriate in certain cases, alone it falls short because it misses the point of what God might be trying to do in the situation.

The perspective that says, “Okay, God. What are you doing here?” needs attention in all of our conversations with our children, but especially during the challenging moments.

Two Things to Say to Our Children to Help Them Change Their Perspective

Here are two thoughts we can share with our children as they are trying to reconcile their view of how life should be with the circumstances they are facing.

First, we might not grow as much when things are going well for us. In fact, things going great may simply mean our idols are working for us. Or perhaps, God in his kindness may indeed bless us with a season of reprieve. Either way, it usually isn’t very long before adversity returns. She breaks a nail, he is asked to clean up his room, or a much more serious event occurs and the emotional roller coaster begins again. This is where what they believe about God is tested and—if they’re looking—they can grow in their relationship with him.

Second, discomfort, emotional distress, and even physical suffering is often the crucible God uses to help us grow in Christ. Personally, I wish there were another way but this is why perspective is so important.

Think of Jonah. The circumstances he was in were in one sense of his own making because of his sin, but in another sense they were very clearly of God’s doing in response to his sin. Scripture says that God sent the fish to swallow Jonah.

By using Jonah as an example, I am not suggesting that every bad situation is God’s discipline for something we have done wrong—it isn’t. There was mercy even in how God dealt with Jonah. Through Jonah we also see how God deals with one man’s sin within the much larger context of his redemptive plan which only deepens our awe of God’s power and wisdom and compels greater love for God.

You don’t need to use your imagination very long to appreciate how hard that must have been for Jonah. But God was with him through those circumstances. God used adversity to do a great work in Jonah that resulted in Jonah being used by God in an incredibly powerful way.

God Is Working Through Our Circumstances to Do Good—We Can Be Assured

In Romans 8:28, we learn God works all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Do we often forget verse 29? What is his purpose? His purpose is to conform us to his image.

As we guide our children through their circumstances, we do well to help them look for God’s message to them through those circumstances. What is this teaching you about yourself? What sin is God exposing? How is God proving himself faithful? Are the judgements you are making demonstrating a belief in what God says is true, or belief in a lie by the Evil One?

While we often can’t control what happens to us, we can control our response. We are not victims in the sense that what happens has to be determinative. Toward that end, it is far more helpful to realize that God is sovereignly in control and can use our circumstances, most especially those we do not like, for good when our children look at them from that perspective.

This does not justify harm done or necessarily remove the real pain they endure in this life. But this change in perspective enables them to proceed with real hope, confidence, and the resolve that God is working through it, ultimately, for His glory and our child(ren’s) ultimate good and joy.

Please download this PDF guide to help you work through circumstances with your children!