Enjoying Life

Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil- this is the gift of God. ESV Ecclesiastes 5:19

Yesterday I wrote of some of the ways I am different. Ways that God has led my family to sacrifice for His kingdom. I tried to stress these things alone don’t make us spiritual; neither does God expect others to make these same sacrifices. In an attempt to balance things, today I wanted to share some of the ways I enjoy life.

I am blessed. We have season passes to Six Flags, which we really enjoy with our kids. My wife and I watch Netflix together nearly every night. We have chosen not to have cable (to save money), but we do choose to enjoy watching shows. I enjoy a $4 coffee from Starbucks or Panera usually about once a week. I can’t justify it daily, but I don’t boycott the institutions. I have more shoes than my wife (embarrassing :-)…and have asked for more for Christmas). We bought a newer Nissan NV rather than an older Ford F150 passenger van because we could afford it (a lot of it was the safety rating of the Nissan, but still we could have bought something cheaper). We enjoy our pool every summer, and nearly every Sabbath finds me lounging under the umbrella reading while I watch the kids play. We have more laptops, phones, tablets and screens than we have people in our home (x2).

God has been good to us, and we try to enjoy the gifts He has given us. Yes, in many ways we save and sacrifice to invest in the kingdom, but in other ways we relish the life He has so graciously provided for us. Herein lies the beauty of spiritual formation. The Holy Spirit in each of us will lead us in the ways we are to walk. This includes sacrifice at times and enjoyment at times. We just follow where God leads.

How about you? Are you enjoying the life God has given you? He calls us to enjoy the fruit of our labor, and every good thing we have comes from Him. If we are sacrificing in the ways God calls us to, we can rejoice and enjoy the things He gives us. We seek to keep these things in balance as we serve our great God.

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I am Different

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. ESV 1 Peter 2:11

Riding the carousel with my daughters today, I realized something: I am different. By choice. I was at Six Flags, surrounded by people in North Face jackets (or so it seemed). I really want a lightweight, black, North Face jacket. But I’ll never buy one. My wife bought me a perfectly functional black jacket on Amazon for $30. It looks good, keeps me warm and dry, and saved me $100 that we have invested in God’s kingdom. During that carousel ride, I also realized we rarely go out to eat as a family, only take “vacations” to our parent’s homes (or to a friend’s condo in the off-season). My car has a fading/chipping paint job and I really can’t stand it. But it drives well and has 150k miles. I’m not interested in paying $1,000 for a paint job just to have a shiny car.

I pray you hear the heart of this post. The point is not that I think any of the above things are sinful, or that I’m any better off because I don’t do them. What I’m trying to communicate is that in these areas, God has convicted me to live differently for His glory. These are ways we save money to divert into His kingdom. In no way do I expect everyone to live this way. We have chosen for my wife to stay home with the kids. We home school. We have five kids and are adopting 2-3 more. We have people into our home a lot…so much so that it impacts our food budget. I’ve chosen not to float my resume to get a bigger church, but rather to pour into the place God has me. Each of these are conscious, strategic choices we feel God has called us to make. They make us different.

We are very careful with our money, and God has blessed. I remarked to my wife yesterday that if everything breaks right in the next few years, we could possibly sell our house, move some things around, and build the dream home we both would love…large, new, stone/stucco front…classic $650,000 home in Calvert County. Then we looked at each other and said, “Who are we kidding…if we had that kind of money, we would probably adopt 3 more kids…” It’s just not what we are called to do. Again, in no way am I saying I think it’s wrong for people to have a nice home. In fact, tomorrow I hope to write about all the ways I splurge and the worldly things I engage in and enjoy with God’s blessing. God calls us to enjoy these things. For today, I just wanted to share that I’m slowly becoming comfortable with who I am…the guy that would rather wear a $30 jacket from China than a $130 North Face jacket so I can sponsor a Compassion child for three more months. There is a tension in my soul–it’s not always easy to live this way. Some days I regret the choices I’ve made. But most of the time I’m content with the calling God has given me. I’m slowly learning to embrace that calling and acknowledge my differences.

What about you? How has God called you to be different? Perhaps God has called you to maximize your career. Perhaps He has asked you to intentionally limit your family size to free you to pursue other kingdom things. Perhaps wearing a North Face jacket allows you to connect to people I’ll never connect to (I already run most people off with my 5 kids and pastor job–nothing kills a conversation faster than answering the “so what do you do?” question, or by introducing my kids as “all mine…and we are adopting more”). The only point I’m trying to make is that God calls us each to be different in various ways, and we need to embrace those unique callings. How are you different?

Christ’s Return

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence- ESV Isaiah 64:1

It’s been a wild week. Matt Lauer’s firing, Kim Jong-Un’s missile launch, the Senate’s passing of a tax bill that will make us all rich or destroy us all (depending on which side you listen to), Sean Suiter’s funeral…the world is a mess. I heard this past week as well of a mom who taught her six year old how to recognize when she overdoses and call 911 (and he did…saving her life…but should any six year old be expected to do this?). Today marks the first Sunday in Advent. But are our hearts really there? We often confuse Advent with Christmas. We wrestle with how the baby in the manger can make a difference in the crazy world in which we live. How do we reconcile awesome things like the North Beach Christmas parade with the 134 overdose deaths in Anne Arundel county this year?

Advent, however, doesn’t focus on the first coming of Jesus…it looks forward to His second coming. Throughout Scripture, the saints have desired God to send His anointed one to save the world. Isaiah joins this cry as well, begging God to come down and set things straight. If we have ever needed God to do so, now is the time for sure. During the Advent season, we earnestly look forward to Christ’s return when He will set all things straight. Of course, this raises two other challenges. First, we have to consider our own holiness or lack thereof. In my devotions this morning I read 2 Peter 3 where he also mentions the return of Christ, while reminding us we ought to live holy and righteous lives as we await Him. He will come to bring judgment; are we ready? Secondly, when He does return, it’s game over for those who aren’t His own. For this reason alone He is delaying His coming–that others might come to repentance and embrace the gospel in faith.

How are you responding to these two truths? Are you living holy and righteously? Would you be ashamed if Christ showed up today? Secondly, are you passionately working to bring others to the knowledge of the truth–Christ died and rose again so they can be forgiven freely and have life to the full. The world is a mess, but Christ will set it straight. Let’s live in earnest expectation.

False Maturity

…Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

Thinking out loud here. I’m beginning to wonder if at times apparent spiritual maturity can actually lead us into deeper sin or deeper heartbreak. For instance, we think of love and forgiveness as a virtue, but could it be that someone who thinks they are acting like Christ in forgiving someone could actually be enabling that person to live in sin? Submitting to our authorities is a Biblical command. But when those authorities act in sin, and we continue to submit to them without raising a charge, does it actually hurt us more than help us? It’s a glory to overlook an offense, but could that open us up to greater pain?

I think the Biblical answer involves balancing all the Biblical teaching. Too often we learn the principles we like and ignore the ones we don’t. For instance, people-pleasers like myself tend to cling to the “overlook an offense” passages and ignore the “better is open rebuke than hidden love” passages. Then we grow concerned the Bible doesn’t work as our relationships struggle. More confrontational people refuse to embrace the “overlook an offense” passages as they feel everything needs to be addressed. Both sides feel mature because they are applying Scripture. However, they are failing to accurately apply all of Scripture. For this reason, we must do our best to study all God has to say on an issue and balance our application of it well. While I’m still working through this in my own life, I think it will be a very helpful principle for people.

Some application of this passage. How many marriages struggle because a wife continues to try to submit to her husband when God is actually calling her to challenge him in love on an issue? How many marriages struggle because a wife continues to challenge her husband rather than submit to him? How many men need to step up and lead their homes instead of cowering behind their wives? Then again, how many men are running over their wives and failing to recognize them as the weaker vessels? In each instance, people feel they are acting in a spiritually mature way (as did the Pharisees). Spiritual formation requires constant humility as we seek to balance Scripture.

Choosing Distraction

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Exodus 32:1

Netflix, Facebook, Snapchat, Drudge, Pinterest, Youtube, Twitter. I wonder how many hours a day we waste on these? My internet accountability software includes a feature that tracks how much time I spend on each app, and the results can be embarassing. I’m not the only one though. So many of my friends who also seemed cramped for time also keep up with all the latest news, shows, videos and trends via a slew of social media and entertainment apps. How does this impact our spiritual formation?

When life grows challenging (as it often is), we often choose distraction and escape rather than dealing with the situation in front of us. It’s easier to browse Drudge than tackle a work project. It’s more fun to scroll through Facebook than to discipline the kids. And it’s always better to watch Netflix at night rather than clean the house or fold laundry. Of course, at some point, we do need to rest, but I wonder if perhaps we jump to our distractions a bit too soon. In the verse above, the nation of Israel seemed to do just that. Moses was on the mountain receiving the law. The people waited for a while, but then concluded he wasn’t coming back. They needed a new God, something to make them feel better, so they created a golden calf. How quickly they turned aside from following the living God to serving an idol. All because they didn’t want to wait for Moses to reappear.

How often do we do the same thing? The true and living God has called us to a vocation, has given us children to raise, a house to maintain. We have neighbors to reach with the gospel. We have projects to accomplish at work. But we grow weary because we don’t sense God’s presence each moment. We turn aside to distraction. May we instead turn to God. Spend a moment in prayer, in His word. Stay focused on what He has called you to. He will be faithful.

Changing Friendships

Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. ESV 2 Timothy 4:11

Relationships change over time. I’ve noticed that certain people I was incredibly close to years ago, I rarely speak to now. Other people I’ve known casually for years are now becoming good friends. Today I reconnected with a seminary acquaintance. We chatted for an hour over coffee…probably more total time than we ever spent talking in several years of seminary together. A very few relationships have soured, but even some of those have been moderately restored over time. When I was younger, I struggled with the change in relationships, but as I age, I’m embracing them as a natural part of life in this world–a life that includes both sin and the sovereign plan of God.

Paul also watched relationships change. At one point John Mark accompanied him and Barnabas in ministry. For some reason, he bailed. We don’t know why, but his actions convinced Paul he wasn’t worth taking on the next mission trip. This led to a split between Paul and Barnabas (who really stood up for John Mark…and it should be noted had originally stood up for Paul). In my theological days, I used to question whether Paul or Barnabas was “right.” While I’m sure God will have something to say to each of them, I’m not sure discerning who was “right” and who was “wrong” is the point. The reality is that God used that parting of ways to stretch the gospel to multiple areas. God obviously continued to work in John Mark’s life, because at the end of Paul’s life, he specifically asked for Mark to visit, noting “he is useful for the ministry.” Had Paul softened in his stance? Had Mark matured? Perhaps a bit of both? Does it even matter? The reality is that God brought the two of them back together in ministry, perhaps stronger than ever.

How have relationships changed in your life over the years? Is God perhaps calling you to reconnect to an old friend? Did you just lose contact, or did you perhaps part ways less than amicably? Perhaps God has grown them, and perhaps God has grown you. While we need to stand on conviction, the gospel leads us to believe in radical change–in us and others. Be prepared to accept changes in your relationships as well.

Dragging it into the Light

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. ESV 1 Peter 2:9

I read an article once about some young couples involved in campus ministry. They had all gone to school together, dated together, and recently gotten married, and they were all close friends. They continued to minister together, and on occasion would find two of them (unmarried, opposite gender friends) jumping in the car together to go to the store. An older mentor in the campus organization confronted them that it wasn’t acceptable to pair off this way (though they did it all the time before they were married). The person writing the article was asking if this was appropriate. On the other extreme, a pastor friend of mine tells of a woman in his church who won’t allow her husband to come into the church building on Sunday morning because she’s afraid he will lust after the cute young women. He has to stay outside in the van while the family attends church. I think both extremes are wrong, but what would the Bible say?

Rather than pick a side on this issue, I think it’s more important to talk about stepping into the light into which God has called us. Once we lived in darkness because our lives were full of evil. We didn’t want people to see our hearts, to know our actions. If we had unhealthy relationships with members of the opposite gender we didn’t want people to know about it (both relationships that were too strong to be healthy, and/or the inability to have any kind of a relationship). We guard our marriage best not necessarily by making rules about what we will or won’t do with the opposite gender, but by being completely open with our spouse about our feelings, tendencies, and so forth. My wife and I have a policy of always telling the other one if we ever have any kind of chemistry with someone of the opposite gender. This brings potential dangers to light and allows us to flee from them without focusing on rules or regulations.

May I encourage you to walk in the light in your marriage. Confess your weaknesses to your spouse. Support each other. Trust each other. Enjoy the freedom walking in the light brings.

Difficult Children

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. ESV Proverbs 23:13

I write this blog as one of my children screams in the background. I think she wants the Christmas lights off in her room. Or maybe she wants them on (it’s whatever the opposite of the situation is). Her mother is calmly dealing with her and firmly and gently reminding her it’s bedtime. Earlier tonight in our growth group, some others shared of their difficult child and the constant push back they receive from her. Parenting isn’t for wimps!

While I’m not advocating “striking kids with the rod,” the point of the Proverb above calls us to firmly administer appropriate discipline. Our children won’t die if they are grounded or sent to time out (though they will loudly protest that their life is ruined forever, and they may believe time out will kill them). In those times it can be tempting to keep the peace and not hold to the necessary discipline. However, we need to remember the next verse reminds us discipline is actually what delivers our children from death. If we fail to discipline them in the little things, they will continue to push back on bigger and bigger things until they ultimately are endangering their life. I’ve seen this all too often. As challenging as it may be, we must stand firm and administer appropriate discipline as needed.

In encouragement, at our growth group tonight, my friend remarked that he was really impressed with my most difficult child. He sees a lot of positive in my child and that really encouraged me. I affirmed to him that his difficult child is our favorite babysitter. For both him and me, administering daily discipline can be challenging, and we don’t often see the fruits of our labor. However, God is faithful, and others are seeing positive change. Be encouraged. Don’t give up. Parenting is worth it.

 

God’s Work

…God finished his work that He had done… ESV Genesis 2:2

It’s been a nice holiday weekend. Like many of you, I took off a few extra days and really enjoyed the time with my family. Now I’m preparing to go back to work, to tackle some heavy projects before the end of the year. When I think of work, I generally think of my own work and the things God has called me to. However, when I study Scripture, it begins with God’s work, and continues to discuss His work throughout. When I realized this it made me wonder what this does to my spiritual formation.

An important principle in Bible study is called the “Law of First Mention.” Whenever God introduces a new concept in the Bible, He often defines it, or frames it, and gives an understanding for it’s further uses. As such, it’s interesting to note God is the first person who works, not man. Yes, we are called to work, even created to work, but our work should mimic God’s original work. We also note throughout the Psalms (and throughout the entire Bible), so much is positively noted about God’s work. The works of His hands, His saving work, His wondrous works. Yes, God began working and continues working, demonstrating to us the nature of our call. Our work is not something to be endured or dreaded. Instead, work is deeply rooted in the character of God. Recognizing the unique vocation of our work enables us to embrace how God wants us to glorify Him. He not only created the universe, but He continues to work to sustain it and to accomplish the salvation of those who trust in His Son Jesus. By continually working, He gives us an example of our calling.

I hope this encourages you to embrace the work to which you are called. As an engineer, teacher, mother, doctor, government employee, member of the military, politician, law enforcement officer, lawyer, contractor, receptionist or mechanic, your work is rooted in God’s work. Take time this week to reflect on His work, and use His example to fuel your work. Determine to join God in His work, and watch Him work through you in powerful ways. Yes, God works and continues to work, and you can join Him. That’s powerful spiritual formation.

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