New Creation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Questions for Personal Reflection; Family or Small Group Discussion

• Read Ephesians 2:1-22. As you read, make two lists. One list of what we “were” and one list for who we “are”.

• Compare both lists. Which is more descriptive of how you actually live?

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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!

What is More Important? Actions or the Desires that Drive Them?

What is More Important? Actions or the Desires that Drive Them?

frustrated manIt is 11:59 PM. You’re exhausted. But the conversation with your teenager (or spouse) has now drug on for 48 harried minutes. Despite your generous investment of time and attention, it is clear that the issue on the table is about as clear as a London fog.

We know that these conversations are an inevitable part of life in a fallen world. It is easy to grow weary of them and tune out or avoid them altogether. But they can be part of good relationship development. We learn a lot about others and most especially—ourselves—through them.

Wouldn’t it be nice to figure out a way to burn through the fog? Refocusing our attention on the cause of the issue or conflict (whichever) that lies beneath these conversations can help reduce the duration and frequency of these conversations so that they are more redemptive. Here’s how.

To begin, there is no formula. I apologize if you thought I was going to give you one! (Faith is not a formula but it doesn’t stop us from hedonistically searching for formulas, does it?) What I’m going to share with you is something more fundamental that cannot be replaced with a mere on-demand formula although it can also be helpful in the moment.

Desires Drive Life

The issues of our lives—that cause conflicts and those squirrely conversations!—are the passions, or desires that are idolatrous and rule our hearts. Luke 6:55 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

“Evil treasure” can also be described as deceitful desire or evil desires as we see in Ephesians 4:22 and Colossians 3:5 (respectively). “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry.”

Desires Can Become Demands

Most desires are not inherently sinful but become idolatrous when they depend on something or someone other than God for fulfillment. For example, a desire for the delicious taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream is not a bad thing in itself. But what happens if you go to the store and they are out—or worse, they don’t have green mint chocolate chip but only the white kind? Do you get angry about it? Getting angry is a sign that the desire has indeed become idolatrous.  Another example could be a desire for a secure future. You have diligently saved and invested wisely. But there’s a market correction and your portfolio loses 40% of its value. How do you respond? Ultimately, our response reveals where our trust really is. If it is really in the portfolio then fear and anxiety will overcome us. If however it is really looking to God, then amid the conflicting emotions will emerge obedient rest in God despite the loss.

The issues of life are fundamentally desire-driven. This represents a challenge for us, especially as parents. Are we merely training our children to “do what is right?” Or, are we getting to the real heart of the issue which is the often stealthy desires that have driven those actions? Actions are merely the flower, the desires are the root. Based on how we parent, would our kids say that doing the right thing is more important than doing it for the right reason?

If desires are the problem, then what are doing about them? First, desires are always directing us. They never rest. Perhaps putting it that way is enlightening? If desires are always at work, then it is appropriate to discuss them at any time. We rarely evaluate ourselves or discuss desires with others this intently. The second thing we can do then is to get into the habit of discussing desires.

Talk More About Desires

One day a few weeks ago, I took one of my teenage sons on some errands. Actually, now that I think about it, it was—his—errand! Anyway, he was talking quite passionately about a particular interest of his. (If my van were electric, I could have plugged him into the engine and saved a lot of gas.) At the end of what was at least an 8-minute monolog, I simply said, “WOW. You have strong desires!” Then we had a good discussion about desires. Nothing my son said that day was sinful. He did nothing wrong. But in the moment, the opportunity presented itself simply to draw attention to this fact.

It is good that—especially in normal, non-confrontational conversation—that we talk about our desires so that we can begin to be more attentive to their presence, identify them, and connect them to our behavior more readily. In normal and stressed conversations asking the question, “Why?” is a great tool that allows you to cut through the fog and reach the desire level.

Dealing With Actions on the Desire Level Provides Hope

Talking about desires prepares us to be able to deal more effectively with those issues especially when they come up at midnight and you are not in the mood for a 48 minute game of mental hopscotch. This is not hard to understand. However, the things that are simple to understand can sometimes be the hardest to do because they require intentionality and usually more of our time. But we must remember that our investiture pays off because this is what God has said is our core problem. Addressing the core problem as God defines it gives us tremendous hope that better days are ahead and confidence that we, in all of our weakness, can be God’s instruments in each other’s lives!

It’s Okay to be Happy

It’s Okay to be Happy

As we drove away from a series of four doctor appointments—all in one week, thoughts flooded my mind. Although emotionally spent, it was a very satisfied feeling. I just couldn’t believe it. This was something that seemed like it would never come: Good news!

But now I had a new, unexpected feeling brewing in my heart… GUILT.  Many know our family has had many years of health challenges with our daughter Taylor. In July, she was finally able to get surgery to repair her severely damaged shoulder.

Recovery is progressing well.  So, why the guilt? In part, it is because I have very dear people around me who are not receiving good news.  One friend is learning to live again without her husband as he went to be with Jesus last Christmas Eve. Another is facing the unknowns of brain cancer. Still another is in the grip of mental illness. These sisters are dear to me and they are suffering. I find it hard to rejoice in my good news in the midst of it all.  My heart is heavy for them but also, I feel like I have somehow betrayed my fellow suffering club members. Perhaps being in a similar position as me, you have felt the same? So, before I share the rest of my good news, I’d like to share some thoughts as I work through this struggle.

First. Press on!—Thankfully.  I am so thankful for the treasures I have found in the dark places of suffering (Is. 45:3). Suffering is part of our sanctification and there is no question that we will face it until we see Jesus face to face. If you find yourself in reprieve, love and give out of a grateful heart. Continue to stay in touch with your fellow sufferer. The walk of faith is like a hospital where the doctors are patients and the patients are doctors.  We press on playing whatever part God has for us. “God is good all the time and all the time, God is good”. That is what Taylor quoted from the movie God’s Not Dead as the nurse rolled her out of the O.R. after her surgery.  It was a rough time. She was feeling sick from the anesthesia and wrapped up with bandages that made her look like a football player. Those words were true then and they are just as true now when she is recovering and feeling much better.

Second, don’t allow yourself to be the victim. It might feel easier to stay in the shadow of hard times, looking for ways that things still are not right. I have been tempted to do this myself. Victim status is not a healthy place to be. When we fall on this side of things, we lose our saltiness. Our hearts end up becoming hard and less pliable. It may be compared to a pie.  When you make a pie, one of the key elements is the crust.  It can be tricky, there is a perfect balance of mixing the ingredients and squeezing them together to make the perfectly light and flaky crust that pie-lovers drool over (trust me on this one, I am married to one such pie-lover). If you knead that dough just a little too long it gets stiff, falls apart and generally frustrates the baker.  Yes, I am speaking from experience! We do well to ensure that our hearts are staying pliable and fresh. We can only do this when we remember the gospel and stay grounded in our identity in Christ no matter what the circumstances are, good or bad.

With that said, I am going to step out in faith and share the rest of some very good news in hopes that you can rejoice with us. We are humbled to be sharing this.

Last week, I took Taylor to her annual eye doctor appointment to check on the cataract she has had since birth. The main point of this annual check-up is to ensure that it does not get bigger. This year, as in previous years, the cataract stayed the same size. But Taylor baffled the doctor by having her best exam yet.  She saw better out of that eye than she ever has her entire life! There is no rhyme or reason for it, other than God’s mercy.

Also last week, we saw the orthopedic doctor who performed her shoulder surgery.  Everything looked good and she will be starting physical therapy in September. Taylor asked the doctor once she is healed what she will not be able to do. His answer was astounding! He said, “Nothing! I expect you to have a full recovery and to be able to do everything.”

Finally, today we met with the neurologist for a follow-up.  Everything is good with her meds. He said this break of five months without any seizures is a good sign and that she may eventually be healed and therefore able to get off of the medication altogether! I am in awe of God’s goodness. Thank you for praying!

Introducing: Hope

Today’s headlines are downright scary but they might not concern you as much what is going on in your own home. Maybe you are emotionally and physically exhausted from a lifestyle that seems mostly out-of-control? Perhaps you find yourself thinking, “I just can’t take it anymore!” Welcome to family life in the 21st Century. Is there any real hope?

I would like to introduce you to hope. Real hope. This is not wishful thinking but confident assurance that despite circumstances, four things can still be true of you and your family.

First, a day will come when sin, death, pain, and suffering will end. These painful challenges will not last forever (Rev. 21:4). They will come to an end. Far better days rare still ahead. Living faithfully today involves remembering this important truth in the midst of the battle and allowing it, rather than our raw emotions, to shape our response to it. I admit that I do not dwell enough upon this important truth. How about you?

Second, God is using even awful circumstances to accomplish his will in your life. In Romans 8:28-29, Paul reminds us that all things, not just the good things, work together for our good. Although we prefer it when things are going great, the truth is, we don’t grow much in those times. We grow better through challenges because they help us see how we are not like Jesus. God’s will is that we grow to live more like who we already are in Christ. This brings God glory and provides us with joy.

Many readers know that one of my children suffers with seizures. I’ll never forget what she said to me one day. “Dad. I’d rather have the seizures and have what I have with Jesus than to not have the seizures and not have what I have with Jesus.” That is 100% real, pure hope talking.

God uses even the bad things in our lives to accomplish good in us even though pain is often involved in the process.  This gives us incredible hope!

Third, there can be “joy” in the midst of suffering. In Hebrews 12:1-2, we read that even Jesus endured the unspeakable shame and suffering of the cross… with joy. How can that be possible? First of all, “Joy” can be but is not necessarily “happiness” or the euphoric feeling when everything is going our way. Jesus was not happy about the excruciating pain of crucifixion. When Peter and John went away rejoicing after being flogged it wasn’t because they enjoyed it. Rather, in each case the joy at its core was a simple yet enduring satisfaction in God alone; doing his will despite the excruciating circumstances that carried them through the suffering.

Fourth, our peace does not depend on our circumstances but on Jesus’ promise. Jesus says in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled. Neither let them be afraid.” Note that there is no qualification on the peace he has given. By faith, we simply need to receive it.

If Jesus has given us peace then we should live in light of that. His peace is lasting and withstands circumstances. The world’s peace is different. It depends upon circumstances and can therefore be taken away when threatening situations arise.

To be clear: we should prayerfully seek to relieve suffering. God does heal! God does restore! Our faith in Christ, built on hope, is powerful enough to do that if God wills. But circumstances don’t always change. Hard-hearted family members only grow more embittered. Financial ends do not meet. The loved one dies. These are the harsh realities of life in a fallen world that often blind us to the hope we need to shun despair or bitterness. Instead, we would do well to exercise a resilient faith that chooses hope.

This is the hope offered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you are losing the battle. Fear, anger, and despair have a grip on you. Have you ever considered a relationship with Jesus Christ? He holds the keys of hope! Perhaps you already know Jesus but are losing the battle. Whatever the case, it is only through the gospel’s message of grace, mercy, and forgiveness that we find the hope needed not merely to hang on but to flourish.