For Now We Live

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 3:8).

When you read 1 Thessalonians 3, you can see the heart of Paul was anxious as he thought about the brethren in Thessalonica. He was really concerned about them and how they were doing spiritually, now that he was gone.

Two times in chapter 3 the phrase, “When we could bear it no longer” is used. They couldn’t take it anymore. Paul sent Timothy over to Thessalonica to see how they were doing and bring back a report.

You can read chapter 3 to see a noticeable change in tone. Once Timothy came back with good news, Paul’s whole demeanor changed.

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
(1 Thessalonians 3:6-10)

Paul was in the middle of being persecuted for preaching the gospel, but now he could endure the trials and afflictions? Why? Because he heard good news about how his brethren the Thessalonians were doing. It gave him some more gas in his tank. His statement says it all, “for now we live if you are standing fast in the Lord.”

Grown kids need to remember this. Your stand for faith will give life to your parents. College students, remember this. When you stand for Jesus, even when your parents are not there, you cause your parents to live! You put gas in their tank. It’s amazing what we can endure when we know that others we love dearly are living strong for Jesus.

The way of the Lord is not just?

Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? (Ezekiel 18:25,29).

The people of Israel accused God of not being fair. God turned it around on them. It was their ways that were not fair. Just read Ezekiel 34 to see how the Jewish leadership was treating people. That was injustice to put it mildly. God is always just.

Look in Ezekiel 18 to see the “just” nature of God. God doesn’t want anyone to die in his sins. He wants the wicked to repent and turn from his wickedness. God wants the righteous person to stay on the right path.

Here are six examples in Ezekiel 18 to show that God is just.

  1. If a man lives by God’s word and is a righteous person, he will live (Ezekiel 18:5-9).
  2. If a righteous man raises a wicked son, the wicked son doesn’t get extra credit points for being a righteous man’s son. He will be punished by God for his wickedness, even if his daddy was godly (Ezekiel 18:10-13).
  3. If a wicked man raises a righteous son, the righteous son is not going to be held accountable to God for the sins of his wicked father (Ezekiel 18:14-20).
  4. If a wicked man turns from his wickedness and chooses a godly path, God will save him and he will live (Ezekiel 18:21-23,27-29).
  5. If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and decides to live a wicked life, God will judge him for his wickedness (Ezekiel 18:24-26).
  6. God will judge everyone according to his ways and deeds – That is fair and just (Ezekiel 18:30).

Think about this! How much more “fair” can you get? You are judged by your own deeds. It is not a rigged system that exists in so many places, like politics and business. God doesn’t judge you by other’s deeds and words, He judges you by your own. If your parents are evil, you don’t lose your relationship with God. If your parents are righteous, you don’t get to ride into heaven on their coattails. God is fair – He judges you by what you say and do and how you respond to His word. It’s not anymore complicated than that.

Called to Bless

We are called by God to bless others. Multiple passages in the Bible talk about how we are to bless others with our mouths. But what does that mean?

Psalm 20 – This is a Psalm of Blessing. Read this Psalm and consider David’s desire and prayer for those he is “blessing.” His desire is for the best things to happen to others. Notice verse 5, when David writes, “May we shout for joy over your salvation.” David’s blessing included the salvation of their souls.

This is the emphasis of God’s blessing that He brought through Abraham. He promised Abraham that through him all nations would be “blessed.” Peter’s commentary on this blessing tell us that God’s blessing was intended for us to “turn away from our sins” (Acts 3:25-26). We are only truly blessed when we are in a right relationship with God. And by by blessing others, including our enemies, our hope and prayer is for them to be turned away from their sins as well.

When the priesthood was set up by Moses, God through Moses gave the priests a blessing that they were to say to the people. Reading this blessing will help us to see what it means to bless people and what kinds of things we are hoping for those we are blessing.

Numbers 6:23-27
“Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, the LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

This “blessing” of others especially includes our enemies. Do we only wish good for those who are kind to us? Do we only speak well of those who speak well of us? Do we only want the people we like to go to heaven? Let’s read a few passages about blessing our enemies.

Romans 12:14 – Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Luke 6:27-28
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

1 Peter 3:8-11
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it (Peter is quoting Psalm 34:12-16 here).”

1 Corinthians 4:11-14
To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.

In fact, God tells us that when blessings and curses come out of our mouths, we are living a contradiction.

James 3:7-12
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Today, let us use our mouths to bless others. That means in our hearts we are wishing the absolute best for them. If we are praying and wishing for the very best for others, that will be reflected in how we talk to them and about them.

Case Makers Academy

Earlier this year I posted about the Cold Case Christianity books for kids, but I thought I would do it again. Since the kids are home from school, and a lot of parents are home too right now, this would be a great time to take advantage of online resources to strengthen all of our faith.

The kids at our congregation are meeting virtually this Saturday to continue our study of Cold-Case Christianity for Kids. If you are not already doing something like this, you could start this week. Find ways to take advantage of the technology of our time to reach out to encourage others. I really appreciate my friends, Nathan and Shane, for their leadership and vision in making sure our church family is staying connected during this time.

Here is the link for J. Warner Wallace’s Case Maker’s Academy, which goes through each of his three books for kids.

Here are the three books for kids by J. Warner Wallace:
Cold-Case Christianity for Kids
God’s Crime Scene for Kids
Forensic Faith for Kids

You can purchase these books on Amazon. here’s the link:
https://www.amazon.com/s?k=cold+case+christianity+for+kids&crid=3S8R3OF7UCW4K&sprefix=cold+case+chris%2Caps%2C188&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_15

Heritage from the Lord

1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127; NKJV)

The Psalms and Proverbs continue to reveal themselves in my life as I grow older and my kids grow up.  My oldest son turned 18 yesterday…wow!  At some point in the day, I found myself looking through pictures of him throughout the years and it was a weird feeling…a soup of longing, happy, sad…

This is new ground for me as he prepares to finish up high school and move onto college and fully stepping out on his own.  As I reflected on his life and the tremendous blessing he is to me and everyone he comes into contact with, the above Psalm came to mind and I wanted to share today.

What I also realized as I went through the pictures of the different years of his life, I thought about all the work and worry that went into raising him.  There were some really hard times and some times I didn’t like him very much.  What I realized as I looked at the pictures was the fact the fear or stress that might have been there during that phase of his life had melted away and I could see him for who he was and the tremendous joy he brings.  It made me a little sad and worried that I  missed something.  Maybe not, but it made me think that I need to be careful and ensure that I am putting my trust in God to help me be a good dad and my kids to grow and flourish so that I don’t miss the blessing He has put before me and that I enjoy my heritage at all phases of life.  I love my kids and thank God for them and take great comfort knowing the best Father is their Father and He loves them more than I ever could.  I am so thankful for my God and the power He brings into my life and the lives of my children.  I am especially thankful for my God and my children today.

Still Sitting on the Porch

I am recycling here…a post from 2017.  It is something that came to mind yesterday and I needed the lesson again so I thought I would offer it to you too.

A favorite parable of Jesus for me can be found in Luke 15:11-32 telling the story of the lost son or the prodigal son. There are many lessons in the parable but for today’s discussion lets focus on the teaching of God’s grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and restoration of hope for His children and the application as we work to better love and lead our children.

I have long thought about this parable and what has always struck me is how awesome it was to see the father running from the porch and going out to greet his returning son. His son had taken his inheritance, moved out of the house, gone to a faraway place and blown all that his father had given him on a lifestyle I am sure did not make his dad proud or happy. I imagine it was known to the father just how bad his son was behaving and I am sure it grieved him tremendously. There are a lot of emotions that might apply…anger, pain, embarrassment, regret, fear…I am sure there were some long nights for this dad. This dad could have just become bitter and wrote his son off…that would have been an understandable ending to this story. Still, knowing how wicked the son had been and the grief he had caused, the father still gets up as he sees his son returning and runs to welcome him home. What we see are the foundational blessings of God being expressed to this wayward son who wants nothing more than to come home. What a great image and lesson.

As time has passed and my children are getting older, this parable is starting to take on a different shape for me. With teenagers now roaming my home, I have learned that “bigger kids=bigger problems”. Further, as they grow and begin to shape their own lives, we allow them more freedom and there become more times when they are away from us with their friends and you hope and trust they are making good decisions and respecting the boundaries you have taught and modeled in their lives. And guess what, they don’t! They make stupid decisions. They get themselves into situations you know they know are dangerous. The wonders of the teenage brain ceases to amaze me and quite frankly disappointment me.

So what do I do? What is God teaching me here in His word? He is teaching me the tremendous heart of the father in his getting up off the porch to run to his son. However, what I am learning now is that as remarkable as this act is, what is even harder and equally important as a father is to stay on the porch. Our children have to spread their wings and as they do they are not going to make the right choices every time and the older they get the more dangerous wrong choices become. No matter how much we want them to listen to every word we teach them, to trust us (and God) in shaping their hearts and minds, to learn from our mistakes so they don’t have to suffer as we have…no matter how much we want that they are going to have to figure some of it out themselves…and that can really hurt and cause some sleepless nights for dad.

So we sit on the porch. What does that mean? Does that mean we wash our hands of the responsibility for our children? Does it mean we bury the fear and hurt and just write them off with a “they will get what they deserve” or “I told you not to…”? Does it mean that we resign ourselves to a position of abdication and just move on with whatever else is going on in our lives? Of course not.

What we do is remember we operate from a position of strength and draw upon the peace of God. We are confident in that God will not forsake us and He loves our children too. We have a voice in prayer and we take our worries and concerns for our children to Him and we trust He is working. We accept his grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, and hope and let it fill us up so that we are strengthened…both while sitting on the porch and so that we might get up and grab a hold of our children in the biggest bear hug out there when they come home and say “I am sorry”.

Even more, you don’t have to sit on the porch alone. There are brothers in Christ out there who will sit with you. We are a family. We all want each other to go to Heaven. We all, however, are not always going to take the easiest route. This is especially true of our children but our God is faithful and He will fight for them too…praise Him in that, be thankful, hold fast dad.

Singing with Libby

Last night, my daughter and I had our bibles open and were discussing a host of topics.  What I love about Libby is when we are having these discussions she will ask “does it say that in the bible?” or “where can we find that?”.   So we were  jumping around to different verses from spying out the promised land to what it will be like being in heaven with God for eternity.

At some point she asked me “what’s a psalm” and my simple answer was a bible song.  She wanted to take a look so we landed in Psalm 19.  I began reading and got to verse 7 and the words became familiar to Libby and by verse 8 we were singing.  It was so awesome to see her smile, the recognition of the words, the clear joy on her face and that I got to share in it.  Libby makes me a better man in so many ways and I am always at my best when I am present and participating in her life.  She leads to me to Jesus and invites Him into our relationship…and she’s only 10…thank God for her and for all of our children.  In my children, I find great understanding of my Abba Father’s desire for me and having me as a child.  I thank Him for that too.

Draw your children near.  Be present.  Participate in their lives.  Sing a song…why not this one?

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

Daniel – They, their children, and their wives

Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.
(Daniel 6:23-24)

Today’s passage from Daniel is a sobering reminder of the consequences of our actions as men and how it affects our children and our wives.

These men had “maliciously accused Daniel.” They wanted him out of the way and even if that meant he was killed, the ends justified the means. Because of their hatred for Daniel, they even went to great lengths to manipulate the king into making a law that would be adverse to Daniel’s faith. They set the king up and used him like a pawn so they could dispense with Daniel. Once the king was wise to all of this, he was full of righteous wrath and threw every one of these men and their families into the den of lions.

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.
(Proverbs 26:27)

It is a serious warning for us today that our envy, pride, anger, lust and hatred can wreak serious havoc on our families. That was a horrible day for all of those families. Imagine how awful the sight would have been to see those wives and little kids being thrown into the very mouths of lions. And this was all because hubby/daddy had a malicious heart that craved power.

I got a Christmas card in the mail this week. It made me so sad for that family. Here is another woman now without her husband having Christmas pictures taken with her kids. Where’s daddy? He’s not there anymore because other things/ladies took his heart away from them.

Take your role seriously, guys. Where you lead as men will either take your family to green pastures or to the lion’s den. It’s your choice.

Experience Jesus and Pass It On

1“Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3 Therefore hear, O Israel, and [a]be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you—‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’  4 “Hear, O Israel: [b]The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  (Deuteronomy 6:1-9; NKJV)

What do we teach our children with how we live, or what we say, or what we choose not to say or do?  It matters!  In the above verses, God is calling us to love Him with our whole being.  Jesus had similar words when he answered about which commandment was the greatest.  Jesus said…“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Jesus also said, if we were going to love Him, we needed to follow His commandments (John 14:15) which is not different than what is being taught in Deuteronomy.

So what do we teach our children and do we understand those lessons first come to us to learn and share?  We learn about and teach our children the Nature of God…that is He is True and Living.  We learn about and teach our children the Character of God…that He is Love.  We learn about and teach our children the Will of God…that He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to save us…that our God is concerned about our good.

We learn about our God by “knowing” Him.  That isn’t a word that describes being able to pick Him out of a line up, knowing some facts, or remembering some stories.  That word, “knowing”, means “to experience”.  That definition implies that it is an on-going, everyday activity with Jesus and our Heavenly Father.

To “know” Him is to love Him.

To love Him is to obey Him.

That is a lifelong endeavor and in our knowing God we share our experience of Him with our children and they can then also know Him.  What a great connection and what a great Person to ensure our children know.

Take some time today and really consider if you are “experiencing Jesus” today.  With that in mind, think of ways you might better teach your children about Him…to introduce Him into their experience.  I encourage you to find ways to help the children in your life to Know God, Love God, and Obey God.

Now that is an experience of a lifetime!

Household Idols

“So Michal let David down through the window, and he went out and fled and escaped.  Michal took the household idol and laid it on the bed, and put a quilt of goats’ hair at its head, and covered it with clothes.”  I Samuel 19:12-13

This is one of the many occasions when King Saul is trying to kill David.  Michal helps David escape and uses the “household idol” to deceive her father.  It must have been a fairly large object for it to pass as a full grown man.  This is one of those passages that is frustrating in its lack of detail and generates more questions than answers.

What is this thing?  Is it supposed to represent Yahweh or some false pagan deity?

Why does God’s anointed King have a household idol?

Why does godly David allow this thing to exist?

Is this household idol evidence of the extent of Saul’s departure from God?

I don’t have the answers but this passage got me thinking about my family.  Do we have any household idols?  Are there things that we prop up and put on a pedestal, knocking God out of His proper place in our home?  Entertainment, hobbies, a comfortable lifestyle are always a focus in my home.  These are things that might be harmless on the surface but can quickly start to suck up our time and resources and pull us away from God.

The scary thing is that even family its self can become a household idol.  We have all seen the destruction that a broken home causes and the culture around us bears witness that there is a great need for fathers to be more involved.  But what is the focus of our involvement?

I spend time with my wife and kids.  I’m involved in their lives and their interests.  I support their dreams and provide the foundation and skills so that they can be successful and become productive members of society.  But to what end?  Is all my time and attention and effort simply so they can be good citizens, secure a good living, and continue in the lifestyle that I have provided for them?  Is my goal to love them so that they are psychologically healthy and don’t have to spend a fortune on therapy in the future?

“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.”  Psalm 127:3-4

When a warrior shoots an arrow, where does it go?  Exactly where the warrior wants it to!  What am I aiming at with children?  What are my goals for my family?

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  Ephesians 6:4

“Bring them up” means to nourish, to nurture, to “feed to the desired outcome”.  What am I feeding my kids?  What is my family growing up to become?

The solution is not to cut all the entertainment, recreational, educational, and sports related activities out of your family life and replace them with around the clock bible study.  The solution is to more fully understand our purpose.  We were created to bring glory to our God.  That purpose should be reflected in everything we do.  Every family activity can focus on who God is and what He has done for us.

The ride to baseball practice can be a discussion about the wisdom of God and how he designed such an amazing body.  The family vacation can involve the power of God reflected in creation and the importance of rest as we remember the story of creation.  Cleaning up and doing chores can focus on the blessing of being able to work and satisfaction of doing all our work for the Lord.  Struggling over school work can be combined with a short bible study to emphasize the education with eternal rewards.  Dealing with the heartbreak of boyfriends/girlfriends and broken relationships is an opportunity to show God’s comfort.  Waiting at the bus stop is the perfect opportunity to thank God for the goodnight of sleep and pray for a productive day.  And showing love to our wives and our children in so many different ways should be a reflection of the love the Father has shown to us.  In all things we can bring glory to God.

“You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”  Deuteronomy 6:7

Out of all the gifts and blessings that God has bestowed on me, my family is one of the only things that I can take with me into eternity.