When love is difficult

February: the month of love. Well, that and Black History Month…and the celebration of a couple of presidents’ birthdays… and of course Groundhog Day…. Ok, so it’s not really the month of love… but that’s the theme of all the greeting cards at Target so we’re sticking with it.

But what if thoughts of Valentine’s Day cards, celebrations, and even hard, chalk-like candy inscribed with likely semi-toxic red ink doesn’t inspire you to love?

For all the display of romantic red hearts, February is often a month where we’re reminded that the ability to love is sometimes difficult. Worse than that, in February we’re often smacked in the face with the reality that we’re not as loving as we should be. And we know we should be more loving.

Husbands know they should be more loving of their wives, and vice versa. Parents know they should be more loving of their kids. Kids (I think) know they should be more loving of each another. But what if you can’t? What if you and they just don’t have it? And what if you can’t even fake it? Because, let’s be honest, sometimes you just don’t want to fake it.

What if you’re there? In the month of February. Is it even possible to become more loving?

The short answer— no, no it’s not. At least not on your own in an authentic and long-term way.

Because, as Warren Wiersbe points out, “love is not something we work up; it is something that God does in us and through us.” Love for one another only grows “when we permit God to perform His ‘good work’ in us.”

Romans 5:5 tells us that, “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” In 1 John 4:19 we read, “We love because [God] first loved us.” And in Galatians 5:22 we see that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love…”

What does all this tell us? Real love, the kind of love we desire, dream about, and even long to give away, is only from God. When you and I feel unable to love it’s because at that moment we are not filled with the love of God. We’re empty.

Speaking of marriage, Timothy Keller puts it this way, “You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love ‘in the bank’ to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.”

Love between human beings is great. But Keller’s point is that our greater need is the love of God. God’s love sustains us when human love fails us. God’s love enables us to carry out acts of love to others even when others are not carrying out acts of love toward us.

So this February, before you try to be romantic with your spouse, before you try harder to love your kids, go to God and let him fill your love bank. Receive the love of your Heavenly Father. Take some time to reflect on all the ways God has shown his love to you. Let God pour out his love into your heart.

If we are willing to come to God and receive his love first, then maybe, just maybe, this February really will turn out to be a month of love.

 

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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.

Changing Our Christmas Message

It’s December. The month where we as Christians proclaim our sacred message of…outrage. Wait what!?  Yep, you read that right. Outrage.

Outrage, because some people won’t say, “Merry Christmas”. Instead, they’ll say “Happy Holidays” or (God-forbid) nothing at all. Outrage, because some people won’t even write out the word “CHRISTmas” but instead will use the dreaded substitute, “X-mas”. Outrage, because a secular company like Starbucks won’t even use Christian language or symbols on their cups. Oh the humanity!

What could be worse than living in a world where non-Christians don’t respect Christian traditions? How about a world where our message of outrage is the very thing keeping Hell-bound souls from hearing about Christ?

That would be worse.

So this December let’s stop the outrage. Let’s not fall into the Devil’s trap. Let’s not do anything that will take away from the beauty, the goodness, and the truth of the Christmas message. Let’s not do it.

We can, and should be, Christians who still say, “Merry Christmas” to others. Even if others won’t say it to us.

But let us also be Christians who listen to the Holy Spirit. Let us also be Christians who use our words and actions to reflect Jesus. Let us also be Christians who spread a message of hope (rather than outrage).

What might this look like?

In their own words, here’s how the Holy Spirit recently led three members of Fellowship to embody and spread a different message this season:

Carmen said: I was driving to Wendy’s for lunch and I passed the line of people waiting in camping chairs outside of Active Faith. My heart beat a little faster and the Holy Spirit said, “You should get something for them too.” So I added 10 cheeseburgers to my order and handed them out before continuing on my way.

Ben said: I was given by God an opportunity to share with a coworker about the importance of memorizing and meditating on Scripture, because good works can only be accomplished if I put good words into my mind.  What we put into us is what will come out.  This stuck with him.  He started asking more questions, because I explained how the Bible is divinely inspired, and is the best presentation of the one true God that I can examine for myself routinely.  He asked about justice and goodness, turning the other cheek, and why Jesus’ death was any different from other people who have been crucified.  I am sure that this was orchestrated by God, and that God can use this conversation to steer my friend’s life toward Him.  Amen!

Meredith said: I felt like God was calling me to reach out more to the moms of my daughters’ best friends. One thing led to another over the course of a couple of days, and now we’re all getting together at one of Cindi Jackson’s “Paint and Patter” classes for a girls night out. I’m looking forward to seeing where God takes me with this and how these relationships can strengthen and grow.

So how might the Holy Spirit want to lead you?

If we’re willing to give up our “right” to be outraged, I believe we can expect the Holy Spirit to lead us.

He’ll lead us to be Christ to others.

He’ll lead us to share Christ with others.

He’ll lead us to partake in and present the greatest message of all- the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This December, will you allow Him to lead you?

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.

 

Overcoming Election Anxieties

It’s very easy to say, Jesus is Lord. It’s not easy to live like Jesus is Lord.

Watching the presidential debate the other night reminded me of this. After it was over I felt anxious. And when I woke up the next morning I still felt residual anxiety.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

My feelings of anxiety were not bad in and of themselves, but they did point to something bad. Like a flashing “Check Engine” light in my car, these feelings signaled that something within me was broken and in need of repair.

That broken-something was my lost vision of Jesus. Specifically, that broken-something was my lost vision of Jesus as Lord.  I had lost sight of who Jesus really is.  And as a result, I was no longer living as if Jesus really is Lord.

The remedy was the God-breathed words of Psalm 97:

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.

His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory
.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!

Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O Lord.

For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods
.

O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
    he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

 

These divine words filled my heart and mind with a fresh vision of Jesus as Lord. That Jesus reigns. That his reign is built on righteousness and justice. That Jesus is exalted above all. That he preserves my life and is able to deliver me from the wicked. That because of all these things, I can “rejoice in the Lord” and “give thanks to his holy name.”

With fresh vision came fresh healing. As I reflected on the psalm my attention was taken away from the frustrations of the election and instead was transfixed on the goodness of Jesus. As a result, my feelings of anxiety faded away. I was left, like the people of Zion, feeling “glad.” I was now living like Jesus really is Lord.

If this election season has you feeling anxious, maybe it’s because your “Check Engine” light is flashing. Maybe something within you is broken. Maybe you too have lost sight of Jesus as Lord. Maybe you’re not living as if Jesus really is Lord.

If so, let Jesus heal you.

Come to God’s Word. Reflect on the words of Psalm 97. Then, take a moment to rejoice and to give thanks that Jesus is still the Lord. I promise you’ll feel better… I sure did.

 

Family Idols

Last month  I was invited to speak at a friend’s church. I spoke to a Men’s group and the topic was “Using Worship to Overcome Addiction.”

The gist of the talk was, all of us are tempted to worship things other than God that can’t fully satisfy us. When we pursue those things we find ourselves frustrated, stressed, anxious, depressed and hopeless…which leads to us engaging in sinful behaviors as a way to cope. But when we pursue and worship God we find the satisfaction we long for and the sinful behaviors begin to go away…because we don’t need to the sinful behaviors to cope anymore.

Now all this got me thinking about my own parenting. How so often I only focus on my kid’s sinful behavior. And how I rarely think about what is behind that behavior. I don’t think I have ever asked myself what are the idols of my kid’s heart? What are they pursing that is leaving them frustrated, stressed, anxious, depressed or hopeless? And how are their sins connected to these pursuits?

Now my kids are young and there is no way they could articulate any of this. But they still have sinful desires. They still have idols. I know this because if I asked them the question, “what could I give you that would make you happy?”…I am sure they wouldn’t respond, “more Jesus!”

And that’s is the problem. Not just for my kids and yours, but for all of us. If there is something we want more than Jesus, we are worshiping an idol– something that is leading us (and our families) to destruction. Idols lead to sin, sin leads to destruction. It’s just that simple.  If we believe there something that can satisfy us in a way Jesus cannot…then we are setting ourselves up for frustration, sin, and destruction.

Our kids are no different.

As we come into summer, a time when most of us will see more of our kids it’s a good time to ask ourselves do I know what idols my kids worship? Do I know what idols I worship? Do I know what idols our family worships? And how are these idols effecting our family?

As I outlined in my Men Ministry talk, freedom from sin comes when we take the following three steps:  We confess our idols, acknowledge how they harm us, and then ask God to help pursue and worship him. Because only faithful worship of God through Jesus Christ can free us from sin and bring us the satisfaction we long for—parents and kids alike.

May your family and mine continue to lay our idols at the cross of Jesus that we might grow in faithful worship of God. And may God alone satisfy our hearts and keep our homes evermore free from sin.

Saint Patrick’s Story

The story of Saint Patrick is a great story.

I think it’s one every Christian should know.

Because the story of Saint Patrick points us to the Gospel story.

Patrick lived in Britain in the 5th century A.D. He grew up in a Christian home, yet was not a believer.

At the age of sixteen Patrick was captured by a group of Irish pirates. He was taken to Ireland and enslaved.

Yet, it was in slavery that the Lord met Patrick.

In his book The Confessions, Patrick says that the Lord had mercy on him and gave him the opportunity to be forgiven of his sins.

Patrick received the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness and was forever changed. So changed, that he pursued God with a new passion.  In The Confessions he writes:

“The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was rosed, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn.

But that was only the beginning. After six years of slavery God gave Patrick a vision that led Patrick to freedom. Once free, Patrick returned to Britain and devoted his life to God.

He studied to become a priest and then a bishop. Then God gave Patrick a new vision–return to Ireland and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

Now is his twenties Patrick, returned to Ireland. For 40 years he shared the good news of Jesus with the Irish. He suffered and endured many hardships. Yet in the end, God used him to convert thousands of people and plant many churches all over Ireland.

It’s a great story. And it’s a Gospel story.

Patrick knew he needed a Savior. Patrick knew what he had been saved from. Patrick knew he had received God’s grace. And because of that Patrick responded to God’s call to share God’s grace with others.

The story of Saint Patrick reminds us that at one time we, like Patrick, were all slaves…slaves to sin. That it was in our slavery that Jesus met us.  Offered us forgiveness. Offered us freedom. And Jesus did all this so that we could pursue Him and help set others free.

So this Saint Patrick’s Day let us take a moment to meditate on Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and freedom. And let us take a moment to thank God for the grace he has shown us. Then maybe, just maybe, we might find our story becoming like Saint Patrick’s story. One that points others to the Gospel story.