What Do You Celebrate In Your Children?

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. ESV 3 John 1:4

Throughout their lives, we celebrate birthdays, graduations, sports achievements and music recitals. We celebrate first steps, first days of school, first sleepover. We celebrate good report cards, finishing chores, and making the team. These are all good things to celebrate and make part of the parenting experience. However, perhaps the greatest thing we should celebrate, the thing that should bring us the most joy, is the knowledge our children are walking in the truth. Do you celebrate these things?

My three oldest are just starting their attempts at daily time in God’s Word. They are also beginning to pray themselves when scared rather than first coming to me for prayer. These baby steps indicate God’s Spirit is drawing them into His truth. As much as I celebrate their ongoing academic, sports, and social development, I can’t help but be most thrilled that God appears to be grabbing their hearts. Since their birth, this has been my continual prayer. Not for success or health or popularity, or even to “turn out well” (whatever that means). Rather, each night, I beg God to grab their hearts, to keep them in His way, to guide them into His truth. As such, I’m slowly learning to resonate with John and acknowledge I truly have no other joy than to hear my children are walking in the truth. Sometimes this means they come to me convicted of sin. Other times it means they take new steps toward the Lord Jesus. Regardless, walking in the truth is the best measure of success in our children.

If you have young children, I encourage you to consider this measure of parenting. Ask yourself where you get your joy. Are you obsessed with your child’s grades? His social skills? Her athletic performance? Even worse, are you obsessed with their morality (that they stay off drugs, away from sex, and away from the bad crowd). Remember, the law only exposes our sin. The goal is not to raise “good kids” but rather to take our bad kids and introduce them to the truth that’s found in Jesus. Only He can change their hearts, convict them when they sin, and lead them into His truth and righteousness. Make that your prayer and your measure of success–then rejoice!

 

Celebrate!

 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. ESV Luke 15:10

I had lunch with a man who has recently been attending our church. We connected with him through a ministry outreach God called us to. As I sat there, his story eagerly tumbled out…a tough past, lots of pain, God’s grace, finding joy among those he met at our church, and finally a desire to be baptized and follow Christ. I just listened. I really didn’t lead him to Christ…I just affirmed what Christ had already done in his life. It was incredibly exhilarating to sit and watch God’s grace unfold before my eyes in this man’s life. For me, this is a huge win. Even better, this is part of my job…not as a pastor, but as a Christian.

On Mondays we usually reflect on how God uses our careers in our spiritual formation. Today, I’d like to draw your attention to your spiritual calling…that of making disciples. This calling surpasses our careers, and is something we can often do to an extent in our careers. While I pray you are successful in your career (and that truly is a way to glorify God), being successful in your call to make disciples is so much more rewarding. I pray you have had opportunity to nudge others to Christ and to perhaps watch the working of the Holy Spirit. I know in the case of this man, it involved our entire church approving a significant financial investment in a new ministry. It involved numerous people pouring into this man. I didn’t really do anything but hear his story and affirm God’s work in his life. Most likely, one of the men involved in his life will do the actual baptism. I didn’t do much, but I definitely join in celebrating God’s work.

My prayer for you is that you might be able to celebrate God’s work as well. In your work this week, look for opportunities to make disciples. It may only be a word or two here or there, or perhaps showing compassion on a hurting coworker or client. Perhaps your attitude in a stressful environment will give glory to God and draw others to follow Him. Regardless, as others see your light and respond, make sure you celebrate and enjoy God’s work through you.

Listening Prayer

Be still, and know that I am God. ESV Psalm 46:10

I’m reading A Guide to Listening and Inner-Healing Prayer by Rusty Rustenbach and really enjoying every bit of it. While prayer has been a part of my spiritual development for some time now, the idea of listening to God instead of constantly talking to Him is a new idea for me. Throughout the book, Rustenbach stresses that Jesus wants to speak to us, wants to heal us, if only we will be still long enough to hear from Him.

This idea that prayer goes both ways excites me. While I don’t have any major hurts or hangups from my past, several areas of my life do challenge me and consistently fight against being brought under the control of the Spirit. Through listening prayer, I can begin to ask Jesus to speak to me regarding these areas. Why do they have such a hold on me? Where did they first get their power? How has His cross destroyed the hold they have on me? What does He think of me in the midst of these struggles? Hearing His response to each of these questions can set me free from the struggles I face and deepen my fellowship with Him in wonderful ways.

What about you? What sins and struggles continue to hold sway over you? What spiritual battles do you feel you always lose? What would Jesus say to you if you took the time to listen? Perhaps God is calling you to be still and know that He is God. Perhaps if you set aside time today to be still, He will speak His truth to you. His truth is always powerful and encouraging. Remember, He gave His own Son for us, so we can be confident He will continue to give us everything we need for our spiritual formation. May you hear from God today and be confident in His love and provision for you.

Content?

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment. ESV 1 Timothy 6:6

The strangest thing happened at dinner. We just finished a wonderful week of sports camp, and for dinner instead of my regular “news of the day” feature, I asked all the kids to share what they liked best about sports camp and one way we could make it better next year. They all had great things to share about what they enjoyed, and their ideas to improve it were interesting, though generally beyond the realm of possibility (turning it into an overnight camp was the favorite suggestion). What shocked me the most was that I didn’t have any ideas of ways to improve it next year.

You have to understand I love doing the post-event write-ups. I’m always thinking of ways that things can be bigger and better, and usually before something in my life is over, I’ve already dreamed up 20 ways to make it better next time. Overall it’s exhausting because I’m never good enough for myself. It’s nearly impossible to enjoy things because they could always be better. While this does drive me to continually improve, it’s not exactly the healthiest way to live spiritually. By God’s grace, He has slowly been teaching me contentment. Yes, things can generally be improved, but there is also a place to just enjoy the things God has given us. Sometimes things get as good as they need to be. God blesses to a certain level, and we need to simply rest in that.

This year at sports camp, registration was smooth, a great number of kids came out, the sports were great and people had a great time. More importantly, the kids listened attentively to the gospel presentations, we recruited a strong daily prayer team, and numerous kids responded to the gospel. It doesn’t get much better than that! As such, I’m thankful for the power of God at work in that ministry, and for the night at least, am content with what He has done. What about you? Are you finding the presence of God in your life? More importantly, are you able to be content in Him? Can you say that your cup overflows and simply enjoy it without asking for a bigger cup? In our spiritual formation, we can be sure God will fill our cup and ask us to be content with Him.

Where Will Time Take You?

In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. ESV Genesis 4:3-4

In the course of time… Time went on and Cain became the man he was and Abel became the man he was. Both brought respective offerings. God was pleased with Abel’s offering, but not with Cain’s offering. Cain refused God’s admonition and chose to kill Abel. Why did Cain turn out the way he did? Why did Abel offer an offering that pleased God? Apparently, they made choices along their life journeys that eventually led them to become the men they were…in the course of time.

Andy Stanley writes in The Principle of the Path, that the path we are on is designed to take us to the destination that it leads to. If we want to arrive at another destination, we have to choose a different path. Time doesn’t change things, it only advances us down the path we are currently on. Cain chose a path, and in the course of time, he arrived at that path’s destination. As did Abel. The question for our spiritual formation is what will the course of time bring about in our life? Naturally, each path has unknown curves, but each path generally reaches the destination advertised at the beginning. If you are headed down a self-centered path, don’t be surprised when you end up thinking only of yourself. If you choose to flirt with women, browse porn, and let your lusts wander, don’t be surprised when you reap a broken marriage. If you never read God’s Word, fail to invest financially in the kingdom, and only pray in times of crisis, you can expect your spiritual life to wither. Time doesn’t make things better, it only solidifies and confirms our current actions.

So what path are you on? What will happen in the course of time? It shouldn’t be a hard question to answer. Generally, you will become more of what you are now. Are you pleased with what you are now? Are you as close to the Lord as you want to be? Are you moving closer or further away. Time will most likely magnify your current track. Do you need to make some changes?

Facebook and Spiritual Formation

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. ESV Colossians 4:5-6

On Thursdays we reflect on our relationships with others. My friends in my growth group asked some great questions the other night and together we looked in Scripture and gleaned some great principles that should guide our social media interactions as followers of Christ.

1- Conduct yourself wisely toward outsiders. Hopefully not all of your Facebook (or Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat) followers are believers. As such, be careful what you post. Overly religious posts, especially judgmental or “in your face” kind of posts will not be well received by non-believers. You may think you are taking a stand for Christ when you are actually pushing people away from Jesus.

2- Make the best use of the time. Scrolling Facebook for 45 minutes in the morning before you complete your devotions is not a good use of time. An hour a day on Twitter is not worth it. Forget your Snapchat streaks. You have better things to do with your time. Sometimes the best thing for your spiritual formation is to get off social media.

3- Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt. Salt preserves. Our social media interactions should preserve what good can be saved in a fallen world. Secondly, salt makes thirsty. Our posts should be worded in such a way that they encourage people to interact with our message. Attacking sinners, making fun of political positions we disagree with, judgmental comments…these hardly entice others to listen. Finally, salt makes things taste good. Our posts, shares and comments should make the gospel enticing to others. We never compromise the gospel, but we work to make it as contextual and practical as possible.

4- Ask the Spirit for wisdom on how you ought to answer each person. Each of us will post different things. For some of us, posting only Christian stuff will seem hypocritical. Others of us need to post more about our faith. Sometimes we need to post about our family, our garden, our hobbies in order to build relationships and credibility. Other times we need to boldly share our faith. Each interaction is different and we must trust the Holy Spirit’s leading.

I hope these ideas from Colossians might enhance your impact on social media.

The Secret to a Great Marriage

…in humility count others more significant than yourselves. ESV Philippians 2:3

I entered marriage with a lot of pride. Somehow, I was convinced my wife was lucky to have landed me as a husband. It’s embarrassing to write, but that’s the truth. Of course, this attitude led to a lot of tension in our marriage. When I always felt I was more important and better than my wife, it naturally led me to not support her or care for her as much as I should have. By God’s grace, He slowly and painfully made me aware of my arrogance, so that I began to treasure my wife and realize how awesome she really is. I now know I married way outside my league as I see her thriving in so many ways. This transformation in my spiritual formation has richly blessed me and brought numerous benefits to my life (including a much happier marriage!).

It’s worth noting that some people struggle with low self-esteem, and as such consider everyone better than themselves. You should note the verse above does not say “in self loathing consider others better…” but “in humility consider others better…” What’s the difference between humility and self-loathing? Humility recognizes your strengths and weaknesses and chooses to consider others better. It’s like when you pay a game with your kids and hold yourself back so they enjoy the game. It’s not that you believe that you are horrible, but rather that you want to build up the child. (Isn’t it sad to see someone who struggles with their ego crush a kid just so they feel good about themselves?) In the same way, when we have low-self esteem, we aren’t acting out of humility, but rather out of a sinful view of ourselves. We need to be reminded we were made in God’s image, and as such are blessed in many ways. Humility calls us to recognize other’s strengths and affirm those.

I pray you affirm your spouse’s strengths. Recognize the unique way God designed them and rejoice in that. Thank God for them. Tell them how awesome they are. Consider them much more significant than yourself. Not only will you build a strong marriage, and reap personal benefits, but you will grow in your spiritual formation. That’s a goal worth striving for.

The Most Important Step…

My son, fear the LORD… ESV Proverbs 24:21

I remember my preteen years and the feeling in my heart that I really needed to start reading the Bible every day. I would try for a few days, then forget for a week, then try again, then forget again. I don’t remember exactly how old I was or for how long it went on, but I do remember that sometime around my tweens I began more-or-less regular time in God’s word each day. After my wife and I met, we compared notes, and discovered that she too began regular time in God’s word at that point in her life. As we further discussed our spiritual lives and what God had done, we realized this transition to daily time in His Word played a formidable role in our spiritual formation. Perhaps above all other factors this contributed to our developing our own faith and no longer relying on our parents’ faith. As I move a generation, my burden grows for my children to take similar steps.

Throughout Proverbs Solomon begs Rehoboam to fear the Lord, to find wisdom, to seek understanding. Time and again, Solomon realizes his son will have to embrace faith for himself. Rehoboam will have to seek the Lord on his own…he can’t just have Solomon always do it for him. For several years now I have been praying regularly that my children will begin to spend time with the Lord on their own. It’s a tricky challenge. On the one hand, I need to encourage it and do so. On the other hand, it has to come from within. God has to grab their heart and lead them into His Word. The goal of daily time with God is to cement our own faith, and I can’t force this on my kids.

By God’s grace, the three oldest are beginning this journey. Of course they miss a lot of days, and may even have seasons in the future when they aren’t regularly reading. I just know I rejoice in what God is doing. I continue to pray daily He will grab their hearts and draw them after Him. My encouragement for you is to do the same. Regardless of the age of your children or grandchildren, pray God grabs their hearts. He will. We can’t force it. We can only trust Him and wait. He is faithful.

Right Where God Wants You

…who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? ESV Esther 4:14

Esther’s story begins its build to a climax in the verse above. Up to this point, her “professional” life had been quite challenging. She had been forced into the king’s harem, chosen to be queen, and then left for at least a month. We can assume parts of being queen were wonderful, but it also had to be quite a stretch for a Jewish orphan to be living as queen of Persia. Perhaps your job parallels Esther on some level.

Maybe you work in a career field you never anticipated. Perhaps you feel as though you didn’t get to choose it…it was the only option available. While Esther had a “high” position, it may not nearly have been fulfilling as being married to a common Jewish man where she could have had a deep and meaningful marriage and family. Perhaps she felt as though those dreams had died and she was now serving as queen. Perhaps you feel your career dreams have been crushed, and you are working in an area where God could never use you. Or, perhaps you have an influential position, but lately seem to have lost your influence. Consider the questions going through Esther’s mind when she realized the king hadn’t requested her presence in over a month. Had he found someone more satisfying? Perhaps also, you feel out of place as Esther did. She cared for her people, the Jews. No doubt those around her cared for the Persians, the things of the world–wine, sex, money and power. Like Esther, maybe you are feeling forgotten by God, wondering what He expects of you in your job (because you certainly can’t figure it out).

However, like Esther, perhaps there comes a day when God clearly reveals His purpose for you in that job. Perhaps you find yourself thrust into an incredibly difficult position, but one in which God’s glory may clearly be revealed. The risks will be great, but the God who placed you there will be greater. The fear may be overwhelming, but the peace and power of the Holy Spirit will sustain you. In that moment, all will make sense. Until then, serve faithfully. Prepare your heart. Stay close to the Lord. Faithful is He who called you who also will do it.

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