How to make 2017 a better year

“2016 has been the worst year ever,” a friend posted on Facebook.

I personally think that’s a little extreme,…2016 may have had its ups and downs, but worst year ever?

Have they seen all the other years?

I kid. I kid.

As parents, we know what it is like to see the year turn from good to bad, even to “the worst year ever.” School doesn’t go how you or your child thought it would go. Your child’s team doesn’t do as well as she wanted. There’s unexpected injuries, sicknesses, relationship problems, drama of all kinds, and a never-ending list of things that can frustrate your family’s year.

As we step into 2017 you may wonder, is it even possible to have a good year?

I think it is.

If we fill our year with good things.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Did Jesus just call us evil?

Yes. Yes, he did.

But that’s not his main point. His main point is, even if evil parents (like you and me) know how to give our children good gifts, how much more able is our perfect heavenly Father to give good gifts to his children. Which means, if you and I want good things for our families from God our Father, all we have to do is ask.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “I have asked. And nothing happened.”

Yeah, I’ve been there. It stinks.

But in that stinky disposition I’ve found it helpful to ask God another question, “What do you (God) consider a good gift?” Because, let’s face it, God may be giving us good gifts, but we just don’t recognize them.

So what does God consider a good gift?

Not surprisingly, Himself.

We see this in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus says the same thing (likely to a different audience) as he did in the Gospel of Matthew, but this time there is a slight difference.

Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Did you catch it?

In Luke, Jesus said, the good gift the Father will give to his children who ask, is the Holy Spirit. Why is that a good thing?

The Apostle Paul tells us, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 3:22-23)

Imagine 2017 being a year where your family is filled with more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and more self- control.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty good year to me. And all we have to do is ask.

2017 will be filled with up and downs for our families but it doesn’t have to be the worst year ever.

Parents, ask your heavenly Father to give you and your family good gifts. No matter the time or the situation. No matter the drama at home, at work, or at school. Just ask.

He promises to give you a very good gift, his Holy Spirit. And a year filled with the Holy Spirit is a year filled with many good things.

Blessings,

One of the best gifts for children

When I was young I wanted to learn one skill—wiggling my ears.

My dad could do it. In fact, he enjoyed teaching others to do it too. He once taught every boy in my Cub Scout Den to do it—that is, every boy except me.

It wasn’t his fault, he tried. He instructed me the same way he did everyone else. Physically, I just couldn’t do it.

Thankfully, wiggling my ears turned out not to be an important skill for life. But of course, some skills are very important.

As a parent, we have the very difficult job of determining what skills are the most important to pass on to our children.

And often it’s not easy to choose.

What skills will help them to cope with pain and loss? What skills will help them succeed at school, or work, or just life? What skills will help them with relationships? What skills will prepare them for life as an adult in this crazy and broken world?

But what if it didn’t have to be this way?

What if, there is an easier way? What if, instead of stressing about all the skills we could or should teach our kids, God wants us to simply focus on teaching our children just one very important skill?

In the Bible one skill stands out above the rest:

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18-20)

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect… for obedience to Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:1-2)

Did you notice a theme?

From God’s point of view, the most important skill any person could learn is to obey God. This is our “whole duty”.

But of course, we can’t obey someone we can’t hear. So unless we can also hear from God we’ll never be able to obey him. So the most important skill turns out to actually be two skills- the ability to hear God and the ability to obey God.

Hear. And obey. That is it.

Now, take a moment and think about how learning these skills would change your children’s life.

Just think for a moment about all the “big” decisions your children will make throughout life. Decisions like: What sport or club should I join? What classes should I take? Should I go to college? Where should I go to college? What job should I pursue? Should I date so and so? Should I marry so and so?  Or even just what should I wear today?

Now think about how much easier all these (and many more) “big” decisions become if our children know how to hear and obey God.

No more worrying about what activity or class they’re in, or what college they did or did not attend. No more worrying about what relationship did or did not work out, or what job they did or did not get. No more worrying about even what they did or did not wear today.

Rather, despite limitations or challenging life circumstances, they could know the peace of walking in and resting in God’s perfect will. They could experience the joy of knowing that they are right where God wants them to be.

Think about that for a moment.

Think about what a gift that would be for your children.

Do you want to give your children that gift?

If so, then take the first step by simply praying.

Pray and ask God to first give you the desire to hear and obey him.

Then, pray and ask God to help you show your children what he is showing you.

God will answer your prayers. He loves you. He loves your children.

And God knows, one of the very best gifts he could give you and your children, is the skill of learning to hear and obey his will.

Today I am grateful for the Holy Spirit

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:14)

 

Today I am grateful for the Holy Spirit.

I am grateful the Holy Spirit lives in me.

I am grateful that as a child of God I can trust the Holy Spirit to lead me.

 

I don’t have to have this world figured out.

I don’t have to know how the future will turn out.

I don’t have to navigate this life on my own.

 

I have a Leader.

I have a Guide.

I have God inside me.

 

All I need to do is sit with him.

All I need to do is rest in him.

All I need to do is be still before him.

 

All I need to do is listen to him.

All I need to do is delight in him.

All I need to do is trust him.

 

All I have to do is give myself over to him.

All I need to do is follow him.

 

I don’t have to know what lies ahead.

I know where the Spirit of God will lead me.

He will lead me to my Savior Jesus Christ.

He will lead me to the love of God my Abba Father.

He will lead me to the Grace of God.

He will lead me to do the works of God.

 

He will lead me to acts of repentance, acts of reconciliation, acts of forgiveness, acts of compassion, acts of service, acts of proclamation, acts of peacemaking, acts of power, and ultimately acts of love.

I don’t need to know where I am going.

I just need to know the One who is leading me.

 

Thank God, for the Spirit of God!

Thank you, Holy Spirit for making your home in me.

 

Finding Freedom In This Election

I love the Psalms.

Monday morning I opened my ESV app to read a morning Psalm. The text, Psalm 1:

1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

With the previous night’s presidential debate still in my head I couldn’t help but think about politics as I read the text. Like you, this election I’ve struggled to know how to vote. But here, it seemed God had made His vote pretty clear:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

Easier said than done in a political season where “wicked,” “sinner,” and “scoffer” apply to both major party candidates.

Yet, verses two, three, and six stood out.

In verse two we see the “blessed man” is the one whose “delight is in the Law of the Lord.” In verse three, it is this man, who, like a tree, “yields its fruit in its season” and, “In all that he does, he prospers.” And in verse six, we’re told it is this man who is the one the “Lord knows” [literally– the one the Lord watches over with care].

The Lord was reminding me that I am free. Specifically, I (and all His people) am free from the shackles of our current political system.

Free, because the Lord’s blessings for His people are not based on our politics. His blessings are not contingent on what political party wins. Nor are his blessings dependent on what policies are made law. His blessings do not even hinge on who is appointed to the Supreme Court.

No, the Lord is sovereign over all of that. At any moment the Lord could change any policy, any appointment, and any presidency. And though he often works through people to do His will, He is certainly not calling us to “walk with the wicked” to do so. Certainly the Lord is not saying through this Psalm, “Blessed is the man who walks not [with] the wicked…unless it helps him politically.”

Therefore you and I are free. We are free to look for and vote for the “righteous” person whoever that might be… third party, write-in, or otherwise. We are also free to vote for no one if no “righteous” person can be found. Sure, it’s not what our political parties want, nor what our culture wants. But the Lord’s blessings are not dependent on what is pleasing to our political parties or our culture.

The Lord blesses the one who delights in Him.

For the Lord is the one who will prosper His people. The Lord is the one who will care for His people. And ultimately the Lord is the one who will save His people.

Therefore, blessed are the people who delight in the Lord!

 

May you and I delight in the Lord. May we be free from walking with the wicked. May we trust in the care of the Lord. And may we vote trusting that the Lord is sovereign over all, and that His blessings are not given to those who “win” but to those who delight themselves in Him.

 

The Secret of Strong Families

I have to hand it to Facebook. They finally figured me out.

For the longest time the ads in my feed were useless and annoying. But last month there was an ad from Crossway Publishing promoting a free five day email course on Family Worship.

I clicked on it, signed up, read the emails and watch the videos for each of the five days. And to my surprise the videos were all very helpful. So I bought the book the videos were promoting.

The book is called Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and In Your Home by Donald S. Whitney. And it really is a great book…so great, I wrote the following review on Amazon:

Every Christian family should read this book. Clear, simple, short but very informative, and very practical. This book will be helpful for any family interested in family worship…especially for those that have never done it before. As a pastor I will be recommending this book to every family in our church.

The book is really that great. So here I am recommending it to every family in our church.

One thing that has become clear to me over the years is, families who worship together flourish together.

Worshiping families are closer. Their kids do better in school, and they make better choices with their friends. Their kids don’t leave their faith in college and they tend do better after college.

Worshiping families flourish because they make Jesus the foundation of the family…and that’s a foundation that doesn’t break.

But here’s the thing,  if you’re like me, maybe you’re not sure how to do family worship. Growing up my family was a Christian family. But we never spent time as a family reading the Bible, praying, or singing. Those were things we did “at church”…not at home.

So when I wanted to start family worship in my own home I didn’t have a clue what to do. It was awkward. It was frustrating. It often felt forced.

I needed help.

Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and In Your Home has been that help.

My hope is that every Christian family will buy this book. Not because I want to add one more thing to your to-do list. But because it is my prayer that every Christian family will commit to worshiping as a family throughout the week. Because I want every Christian family to be a strong family…built on the strong foundation of Jesus Christ.

If your family does not worship together, consider getting a copy of Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and In Your Home. If you want to preview things before you buy here’s the link to the five day video course. And if you just need someone to talk to (or vent to) about family worship leave a comment, I’d be happy to help in any way I can.

May God bless your family!

Answers to Middle School Questions

How do you know for sure that God is real?

There are at least three ways we can know God is real.

First we know God is real through the Bible. The first words of the Bible are, ”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1) The Bible is a book all about God–who he is, and what he has done. The Bible is also God’s Word to us (2 Timothy 3:16). Through the Bible God speaks to us. So if we want to know God’s is real, the first and best place to go is the book that is all about him and full of his words.

Second we know God is real through nature. Romans 1:20 tells us that God’s has made himself known in nature “since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” We when we study nature we discover that much of creation is full of beauty, order, and design. And that tell us there must have been someone who created, order, and designed in all. [1] Would you believe someone if they told you that your bike built itself? Of course not, because things as complex as bikes have to be designed and built by someone. It is the same way with nature. Complex things don’t just build themselves. They need a builder (like in Minecraft). So nature points to the great builder God himself.

Finally the third way we can know God is real is through experience. In John 14:21 Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” When we obey and love Jesus, we get to experience the love of God. And Jesus makes himself known to us (that’s what manifest means). I can tell you the longer I have walked with God and done my best to obey and love him, the more I know for sure that he is real. How do I know he is real? We’ll because I am in a relationship with him. So I know he is real like I know my mom or dad is real. I talk to him, he talks to me. I’ve seen him help me. And I’ve felt his love his love for me.

So if you want to know God is real, I encourage you to spend a lot time with God’s Word, then spend a lot of time with God in creation, and finally do your best to obey and love God. There will still be times of doubts (and that’s okay). But the longer you do these three things, the more you’ll know for sure that God is real.

 


 

[1] Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks. When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences. Baker Books. 1990. p.16

Help For The Frustrated

Where do we find words for the frustrations that we feel?

I don’t know about you but when I hear about another mass shooting I feel frustrated. Part of my frustration comes from feeling an inability to communicate appropriately about the situation. There’s a struggle to communicate the mix of emotions and thoughts that are stirring inside me.

Maybe you feel that frustration too. So what can we do about it?

As Christians we have a wonderful resource to deal with and communicate those feelings of frustrations. It’s the book of Psalms.

Over the last year I have read at least one Psalm every day. And I can honestly say, the Psalms are a true balm for the soul. They provide a way to communicate about every emotion and every frustration of life.

For example there are seventy-one references to evil alone in the Psalms. One of my favorites is Psalm 10:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.

In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them.

He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.

He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.

His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.

The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.

He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.

Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.

Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.

The Lord is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.

O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

 

The early church father Athanasius once wrote, “Whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book [the psalms] you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you…learn the way to remedy your ill.”

The world is a frustrating place to live in sometimes. But thankfully God has given us a tremendous resource to help us live and communicate in these times of frustration.

If you are feeling frustrated, I encourage you to take advantage of this resource.


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