Raising Kids

“Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

parentingThis verse about parenting, like many of the Proverbs, is a general principle, not a guaranteed promise. Raising kids, like any relationship, can’t be reduced to a rigid recipe. It requires grace.

Training children to become thriving adults requires constant exposure to the truth of God’s Word (loving boundaries) and consistent experiences of His grace (unconditional acceptance). And for better or worse, kids learn more from what they see in our actions than what they hear from our mouths.

The Hebrew word for “train” (noun, hanukkah) means “to dedicate.”  It carries the idea of “dedicate a child to God,” “prepare a child for future responsibilities,” or “equip a child for being an adult.” In the context of Proverbs, the verse encourages parents to direct a child in the way of wisdom to live in the fear of the LORD (trusting, worshiping, serving, obeying) and then trust the results to Him.

For our kids (and someday, future grandkids), I pray my words and actions will encourage them to follow me, as I follow Jesus Christ.

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What is the Meaning of Christmas?

MangerCaveEvery year, millions of people around the world celebrate Christmas. But what does it all mean? What difference does it really make in our lives? Why should we care? Why do we need Christmas? What is the meaning of it all? 

Over the years, I’ve heard countless explanations for the meaning of Christmas and the reason for the season. “Christmas is about spending time with family and friends,” some say, and others “Christmas is about giving back to others.”  It’s been said that Christmas is about, “love for others” and “peace on earth.” It’s been sung that Christmas is about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” The meaning of Christmas has been explained many times and many ways. While these are certainly some good things about Christmas, they fall well short of the true meaning of Christmas.

Our world has incredibly complex problems: wars, terrorism, famines, racism, loss, and catastrophes. People have complex problems: physical, emotional, and family problems. Sometimes we despair as we try to help others or to deal with our own problems. We fill our hearts with all kinds of choices, behaviors, stuff, or people only to find our lives empty of meaning.

Where do we go to find the meaning of Christmas? We go to the source of truth – God’s Word, the Bible. Listen to the angels as they announced Jesus’ birth:

“The angel said to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” Luke 2:10–11

StoneMangerChristmas is about a Savior who was born for you! The meaning of Christmas begins and ends with a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. In Jesus Christ, God provided the simplest solution for all of the complex problems we make and face in this world. In Jesus Christ, God sent a Savior whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

Some might scoff about the salvation of Jesus as a simplistic solution – one that really doesn’t work. Others might say that His incarnate birth a nice story, an interesting legend, harmless enough; but they would never consider it as a serious solution to any significant problems. But, God knows that the basic problem with the world is the sin of the human race. Sin, missing God’s standard for holiness and goodness in character and action, is what separates mankind from God and from each other. Any solutions that leave out dealing with our sin problem are the simplistic solutions. The only solution that offers true hope and real help to humanity’s complex problems is that which takes into account the sinful hearts of people and offers a practical solution to that universal, and yet, personal problem of sin.

The angels from heaven announced God’s provision of this Savior. The birth of Jesus is a fact of history: “Today…was born.” The birth of Jesus is a foundation for eternity: “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And, His birth is a fulfillment of prophecy: “in the city of David.”

The angels from heaven announced God’s purpose of a Savior (Luke 2:11)  The name, Savior, defines both His life and His death. If you’re simply looking for moral reformation or behavior modification, you might need a life coach, a cheerleading section, or a really good friend, but not a Savior. But if your life requires mortal resurrection (and it does because we are all sinners who sin), you’re going to need something beyond yourself. If your life of captivity to sin has resulted in spiritual death (which it has), you need someone who will raise dead people to life. If your sin has separated you from a Holy, Perfect God, then you need a Savior who died in your place to reconcile you to Him.

In Jesus, God provided what we needed the most, when we deserved it least, at the greatest personal cost to Him (see Isaiah 53). Jesus came to live as the perfect God-man who could die in our place for the forgiveness of our sin.

Jesus_candlesThe angels from heaven also introduced God’s promise of this Savior. The birth of Jesus was “good news of great joy for all the people.” Later, Jesus Himself clearly communicated the promise of His advent: “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) He had come to seek us out. Jesus came to earth as a rescue mission. When we think of someone being lost we think of helicopters hovering in the night sky, overboard sailors clinging to the wreckage of a ship, coal miners trapped beneath the earth, or children who cannot be found. But these temporal situations are transcended by the eternal tragedy of people who are lost in the rubble of their own sin, buried in the darkness of self-sufficiency, suffocating by loneliness, and crushed by personal pain.

Sometimes the solutions to life’s problems are simpler than we think. With the birth of Jesus which we celebrate at Christmas, God sought us out, rescued us, and saved us by His grace, mercy, and love (Titus 3:4-7).

There was a man who traveled a great distance for an interview with a distinguished scholar. He was ushered into the man’s study, where he said, “Doctor, I notice that the walls of your study are lined with books from the ceiling to the floor. No doubt you have read them all. I know you have written many yourself. You have traveled extensively, and doubtless you’ve had the privilege of conversing with some of the world’s most intelligent and wisest men. I’ve come a long way to ask you just one question. Tell, me, of all you’ve learned, what is the one thing most worth knowing?” Putting his hand on his guest’s shoulder, the scholar replied with emotion in his voice, “My dear sir, of all the things I have learned, only two are really worth knowing. The first is, I am a great sinner, and the second, Jesus Christ is a great Savior!” If you know those two things personally, you know the meaning of Christmas – that a Savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord!

That’s what Christmas is all about. A Savior, Christ the Lord, who was born for you. It really is that simple.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!

Racial Reconciliation

Achieving racial reconciliation is challenging and seemingly impossible — both in our country and within the church. The stipulations imposed on us because of our differences should not determine how we relate to one another, but sadly, it seems they do.

The most recent deaths of Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge, LA) and Philander Castile (St. Anthony, MN) by police and the deaths of 5 police officers (Dallas, TX) by Micah Johnson have once again ignited lingering embers of hatred and fear within our nation. We hear cries of “Black Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter”, “All Lives Matter,” and more — each with their own allegations, critics, and followers.

Reconciliation 6When it comes to racism in America, it seems like our country hasn’t learned from the past or grown up from its failures of slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and social bias. We can point fingers, blame politicians, scoff at social activists, and become hardened to the problems. We can remain ignorant to it or try to ignore it. But the problems of racism and the realities of its hatred are only increasing. Today, racism in America is no longer just a black and white issue.

Racism comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Racism isn’t just a southern problem, an urban problem, a Middle-East problem, or a American problem. Racism is a human problem. And it has always been a sin problem. It can be found in every culture but, it is most visible when cultures clash and inequities are felt.

At its core, racism begins with selfish pride and can be flamed into selfish hate when influenced over time with experience. Its siblings, classism and elitism, come from the same selfish, sinful, Satantic origins.  Racism won’t be eliminated from the world until sin is cleansed from our hearts and removed from the world in God’s time.

Human history, especially American history, demonstrates that diversity can too often complicate life and contradict holiness, but in Christ, a place where by grace we belong, we find unity. Lord help us, “above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Reconciliation 4With this prayer, may we who belong to God’s family by faith in Christ alone always celebrate and prioritize our Christian family identity in Christ above ALL else (including our view of police or our stance on politics) and find our unity in Christ as the truest definition of our lives regardless of our skin color, cultural differences, socio-economic backgrounds, family status, or political leanings.

We need to live the way Christ wants us to live— united in Him. Diversity within the body of Christ has been the DNA of Christianity from the first century, and especially of the church—and the Lord delights in it!

Our reconciliation with others will never happen by pursing unity – it will only come from pursuing Christ who reconciled us to God.

Consider the following Scriptures:

For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have now received this reconciliation through Him. (Romans 5:10-11)

In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19–20)

Only when we are reconciled with God through faith in Christ as our death substitute can we have hope of reconciling with others through life’s sojourn.
Reconciliation 1Since the shooting of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, our country has become a tinder box of racial tension, division, and fear. Over the last week of the latest racial conflicts in our country and here in our community, we’ve heard some rhetoric that seems way over the top. We’ve experienced the anger and fears between the black community and law enforcement. We’ve been horrified by the vengeance of misguided individuals. But, should the overreaction of some cause us to overreact or worse, not react at all?

What can I do?  What can you do? WHAT CAN WE DO?

Intercede through prayer. Ask God to soften our hardened hearts, reveal our racial blind spots, and heal the deep festering wounds. The Lord God is the only one who can do so (Psalm 139:23–24). We know that reconciliation is God’s will according to His Word (Romans 12, Ephesians 2, and 2 Corinthians 5), so let’s pray without ceasing that we will be His ambassadors of peace and ministers of reconciliation. Let’s pray for those who are grieving deeply today over the loss of lives and weep with them. Let’s pray that we will respond to God as we reach out in grace to others – even those who are different and see the world differently than we do. Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters who are living in fear because of the color of their skin. Let’s pray for our police officers and other first responders who are serving faithfully during days of intense scrutiny and pressure. Let’s pray for the Lord to give wisdom to our governing authorities as they lead our country, “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Instruct your own heart and mind through clear teaching of God’s Word under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We must recognize that the misinterpretation of the Bible has been utilized as a tool of prejudice and the misuse of Scripture as weapon of racism throughout American history, so we must approach Him in humility to learn from the Lord rather than reinforce our anger, justify our distrust, or rationalize our sinfulness. Let’s read more of the Bible to feed our souls with God’s heavenly perspective (could I suggest Ephesians?) than refreshing your newsfeed on social media which is filled with the vitriolic bias of humanity’s limited viewpoints.

Interact with others who are different. Let’s build intentional relationships (friendships), with neighbors, coworkers, classmates, and, especially, fellow members of God’s family who are different ethnically or racially. Let’s be those who are quick to listen to others who view the world differently because of their culture or their experiences, slow to speak our mind and share our opinions, and slow to become angry with those who are different than us. This starts with believing the best rather than assuming the worst of others who like us, bear God’s image. Verbally acknowledge the hurts and fears of others and seek reconciliation in Christ.

Reconciliation 5I confess, the outlook of this ongoing racial conflict which has been embedded in our nation since its beginnings and within our sinful hearts since the Garden (Genesis 3) looks hopeless. But, with God, nothing is impossible (Genesis 18:14; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37, 18:27).

Please, Lord Jesus, hear our prayers, transform our hearts, and reconcile our relationships.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Over the past few weeks, my heart has been breaking over the tragedies across our country and around the world. Closer to home, I have talked with friends whose lives and families are crumbling. I’ve got some fears and some doubts about things swirling around me, as well. We know that God is sovereign, but things, people, and life itself feels out of control.

Langford tornadoIf God is real, where is He? Why doesn’t He act? Why doesn’t He show up and make things right? Why doesn’t He change the hearts of people – including me? Right now!

 

As I was reading through the Bible (Joshua 21:1-22:9), I was reminded of the battles, both physical and spiritual, that the LORD required His people, Israel, as they entered the Promised Land.

While the Hebrews were still in Egypt, the LORD God led them out of slavery’s bondage and promised to give them possession of a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8, 17). After wandering in the wilderness  for 40 years because of their lack of faith and obedience, they finally crossed the Jordan river. But, even then, they had to take the physical land of Canaan and fight the people of Canaan by faith in God’s promises.

In Joshua 21 we are told, “the LORD gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side according to all He had sworn to their fathers. None of their enemies were able to stand against them, for the LORD handed over all their enemies to them.” (Joshua 21:43-44)

The complete fulfillment of God’s promise was inseparably connected with the faithfulness of His people.

None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:45)

God keeps His Promises. All of them. Every one of them.

The battles that Israel fought were real. The doubts they faced were great. The complaining was pandemic. But Joshua was faithful.

Joshua’s challenge to God’s people in view of His fulfilled promises remains the same: “love the Lord your God, walk in all His ways, keep His commands, remain faithful to Him, and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Joshua 22:5).

Langford RainbowThis morning, nothing of significance has changed around me. The storms are still raging. Terrorism is still rising. Political arguments are continuing. People are still suffering. The world is the same — maybe even worse. The deep, lonely hurts of my friends, my family, and my heart are still there.

But, I am reminded: God keeps His promises. Trust in Him. Rest in them.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

God keeps His promises

Life that is Real

Aslan and Lucy“This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” — Aslan in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” Chapter 16

The Bible explains that the reason humans were created in the image of God is to know Him and live with Him forever (Genesis 1:26-27; 3:8; 17:7; Exodus 6:7; 29:45; Leviticus 26:11–12; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 29:13; 2 Samuel 7:24; Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 34:24; 36:28; 37:23, 27; Zechariah 2:10; 8:8; John 14:1-6; John 17:3; 2 Corinthians 6:16, Revelation 21:3-4). As a Holy God, He alone knows what is good and not good for man, so He established boundaries for mankind’s good (Genesis 2:17), but Adam and Eve disobeyed Him. Their sin, repeated by every one of their descendants, resulted in both physical and spiritual death. Sin separated us from knowing God and living with Him forever (Genesis 3:5; Deuteronomy 30:15, 19–20; Romans 6:23; 1 Timothy 5:6; James 1:15). But since that first bite of forbidden fruit, God took the initiative in seeking out the sinners to restore a relationship with them (Genesis 3:8-9).

Lucy and Aslan IIIn order to reconcile sinful humanity to Himself as a Holy God, the Father sent His eternal Son, Jesus, to take on human flesh and live among us so that we would know God (John 1:14, 14:7-11). In fact, Jesus said clearly that knowing God is what eternity is all about: This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent —Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Not only did Jesus live among us; He died for us as our death substitute so that we could live with Him and for Him forever (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21).

One day, the apostle John tells us, the relationship between God and humankind that He has always wanted people to enjoy will be a reality in Heaven for those who believe in His Son: “Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).

We long to see God. We want to experience His presence. At times, we wonder where He is. We question what He’s doing. Or why He doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all…

One of my favorite descriptions of life with God is tucked away in one of Paul’s letters to his younger friends, Timothy:

Aslan and Lucy III“Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of the life that is real.” — 1 Timothy 6:17-19

I love that description of eternity: the life that is real. Life that is really living. The very reason we live on earth is that by knowing God here for a little while on earth, we will know Him better in eternity. Seek Him now so that one day you may see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:2).

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.


Aslan“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” Chapter 16

“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy. “Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon.”

“Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”

“Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.

“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

MVP

Stephen Curry MVPLast night, Stephen Curry became the first unanimous Most Valuable Player in the history of the National Basketball Association. Soon after receiving the recognition courtside, He put on an incredible display of athleticism and skill on the court. He’s one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen—and an even better person. He seems exactly like the kind of guy a kid (or middle-aged adult) could look up to. He exhibits personal faith in Jesus, demonstrates Christ-like character, and he highly values his family.

Plus, it’s just so much fun to watch him play ball! You gotta watch the video highlights from game 5 vs. the Portland Trailblazers below.

When Curry makes one of his long-range jump shots, he points his right finger upward, a practice he began in college at his mother’s suggestion. It’s an outward sign and internal reminder to give God the glory for his success. Curry says he plays the game “to use the stage I’m on . . . for a specific purpose: to be a witness and to share my testimony.”

Stephen Curry is changing how the game is played while remaining the same person he’s always been. He’s consistent, steady, and faithful rather than loud, proud, and obnoxious. He’s one of the good guys worth following on the court… and off.

Seeking Wisdom

Over the last twelve weeks, I’ve been walking through the Bible’s wisdom of Proverbs with some godly men who are also great friends. I’ve been encouraged and challenged to live life the “right way” with the Lord God and with others.

forest pathIn Proverbs we’re discussing God’s perspective on money, on love, on relationships, on business, on morality, on government (even politics)—on just about every aspect of life. In Proverbs we’re learning what God wants, what God thinks, who God is, how God responds, and what God expects. The proverbs contain truth about God and, more importantly, how we are to respond to Him in practical ways. In Proverbs we’re discovering the incomparable value of seeking wisdom.
 
To the ancient Jew, wisdom was much more than simply good advice or successful planning. Wisdom meant being skillful and successful in one’s relationships and responsibilities by observing and following our Creator’s principles of order in the moral universe. Biblical wisdom has little if any relationship to a person’s IQ or education, because it’s a matter of moral and spiritual understanding. Wisdom has to do with character and values. Wisdom means looking at the world through the grid of God’s truth as opposed to the fool whose way is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15).
 
mountain pathWisdom isn’t something theoretical, it’s something very practical that affects every area of life. It gives order and purpose to life; it gives discernment in making decisions; and it provides a sense of fulfillment in life to the glory of God.
 
There are at least eighteen references to “the fear of the Lord” in Proverbs (1:7, 29; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:2, 26–27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 24:21; 31:30). So it’s apparent that the fear of the Lord is a significant part of wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 may be the key verse:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning [main part] of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
This statement is amplified in Proverbs 9:10
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy [Holy One] is understanding.”
The six verses that precede Proverbs 1:7 explain why the book was written: to give us wisdom, instruction, understanding, prudence, knowledge, discretion, learning, and counsel. Everything depends on wisdom; the other seven words are practically synonymous with it. And wisdom begins and ends with knowing God personally by faith.
 
desert pathDuring this lifetime wisdom is reflected by how we live: either the right way of following the Lord or the foolish way of following the crowd. The Hebrew words in Proverbs that are translated “righteous,” “righteousness,” “upright,” and “uprightness” describe ethical conduct that conforms to God’s standards and moral character that comes from a right relationship with Him and to His Word. Righteousness is not living perfectly in Proverbs, but living the right way in dependence on the Lord.
 
The pages of history are filled with the names of brilliant and gifted people who were smart enough to become rich and famous but not wise enough to make a successful and satisfying life. It’s one thing to make a living, but something else to make a life.
“There is life in the path of righteousness, but another path leads to death.” – Proverbs 12:28
You don’t necessarily need godly character these days to be a success in the world; countless Hollywood celebrities, gifted athletes, dishonest businessmen, and deceptive politicians have proved that. But if you’re concerned with making a good life the right way before God, you must major on building godly character.
 
Those who follow the wisdom taught in God’s Word will become more skillful in handling the affairs of life. But we can’t think that this wisdom is a set of rules or a collection of “success formulas” that anyone can occasionally apply as he or she pleases. Following God’s wisdom is a full-time, eyes-open, hands-on pursuit. His Word must first work within our hearts and transform our character before we can become the kind of people God can guide and bless.
 
beach pathThe first step in gaining wisdom is to recognize at the beginning that we do not possess it ourselves. Ha!
 
If we are going to get wisdom, we will have to humble ourselves before God and ask Him for it. To that end, Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.” Being wise in one’s own eyes is consistently condemned in Scripture (Judges 21:25; Proverbs 12:15; 26:12; Isaiah 5:21; Romans 12:16). It makes little sense to be full of your own “wisdom” while asking God for His. We must come to God confessing our emptiness and relying upon Him to give us wisdom for the needs we have. Saying “I don’t know” is not a condition of ignorance but a confession of dependence. It is to agree with Jeremiah who says man should not glory in his wisdom, power, nor riches, but in the knowledge of God (Jeremiah 9:23–24).
 
In this age of information where everything can be Googled, this day of social media where everyone can openly express their opinion, and this world of political correctness where the morality of the majority rules, what we need more than ever before is wisdom. Where can we find it? It’s not a mystery. Wisdom comes from God who offers it freely if we look for it in His Word and listen for it by His Spirit:
 

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding; furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding, if you seek it like mining for silver and search for it like hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up success for the upright; He is a shield for those who live with integrity so that He may guard the paths of justice and protect the way of His loyal followers. Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and integrity—every good path. For wisdom will enter your mind, and knowledge will delight your heart. Proverbs 2:1-10

vineyard pathIn Proverbs, the words “path” and “way” (and their plurals) are found nearly 100 times. Wisdom is a path to walk with the emphasis on the blessings God’s people enjoy when they walk on wisdom’s path. The repeated counsel is that the path of wisdom leads to life, but the way of either active wickedness or passive foolishness leads to death.

Our path of life may not be an easy one, filled with both trouble and sorrow, but it will always be a fulfilling one as we walk in the will of the God by knowing His Word, trusting His providence, and guarding our hearts and minds. The counsel of an older father to his inexperienced son in Proverbs is this: whatever it takes and whatever it costs, find wisdom. Happy is the man who finds her and gains understanding.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

I’m thankful for the godly men the Lord Jesus has brought into my life to encourage me, counsel me, and point me to the path that leads to life with Him.
 
Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.