Archives For Growth

Unnecessarily Generous

June 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

Recently I had the opportunity to attend my nieces’ birthday party. Their birthdays are close together and because they are only two years apart and share a lot of the same friends, their celebrations tend to be at the same time Along with making it convenient for their family and other loved ones, this also means that you can pack more into the get together than you might normally do for just one kid’s birthday. Along with crafts and games, my sister and brother-in-law almost always get them a piñata.  After all – what kid doesn’t like permission to take a large bat and destroy an animated character only to be rewarded by candy?

In order to ensure that each child gets the thrill of experiencing the joys of the piñata, there are certain guidelines that are instituted. First, the youngest child (who can effectively walk and hold a blunt instrument) gets to go first and the subsequent order proceeds up the age chart until the oldest child swings the bat last. Secondly, when the piñata is cracked open, the children have to wait until they are given permission from a selected adult to get the candy. This (hopefully) prevents any injury from a wayward bat and helps ensure equal opportunity for kids to enjoy the bounty.

At the most recent party, my child happened to be first in line to take the turn at the piñata and while she surely enjoyed hitting the stuffed snowman, I am not sure she quite understood why she was doing so. Even after the candy spilled forth, she was a little perplexed at what she was supposed to do. She happily followed the other kids to where the treasures laid, but the whole concept of gathering them as fast as she could before the competition seized her share was not something she was familiar with. Likely she would have been content watching the action and puttering around with her daddy to pick up the things on the outskirts that the other, more experienced piñata hitters had missed. While her treasure trove would have been limited with this approach, I’m not sure she would have been aware of the difference.

However, I didn’t have time to even think through all of these things before my oldest niece reached into the pile of candy and trinkets and promptly looked around for my daughter to place it in her bag. As the tears begin to form in my eyes as I watched her generosity,  as well as her care and concern for her younger cousin, I was reminded of a wonderful lesson. While my daughter would have likely been unaware if she had missed out on this blessing, my niece was intent on making sure she did not. My daughter’s awareness of her deprivation (and any subsequent feelings of disappointment that might have been exhibited) was not necessary before my niece purposed to cheerfully give to her. In other words, she did not give because she had to, or because she was trying to quell feelings of despair. Even before the “loss” was known, she sacrificially gave of what was rightly hers to display kindness to someone else.

As a mom, this episode touched my heart. What parent doesn’t like knowing that their kid is being looked out for and blessed? As a Christian, though, the lesson was even more powerful. Too often, my generosity is limited to those who have an identified and serious need. The busyness of life prevents me from being as proactive as my niece in seeking out how I can give to those who – while they may not need it – may be encouraged by an “unnecessary” gift. I may be quick to respond to tragedy and yet slow to give in the day-to-day course of things. Yet the rush of the throng did not inhibit my niece’s concern for her younger cousin; neither should the hectic pace of my daily schedule inhibit my generosity towards those whose path God causes to intersect with mine.

The ultimate example of this “unnecessary generosity” is of course God Himself (see Mt. 5:45). He regularly gives us blessings that we too often don’t take the time to even acknowledge, let alone for which we take a moment to give Him thanks.  However, as we strive to be more like Christ may we seek to exhibit the same kind of cheerful giving. May we give not only to meet an identified need, but may we give out of the abundance of blessings that we ourselves have received.

Telling Tales

September 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

One of the things I appreciated most about my dad was the fact that he was a great storyteller. It helped that he had an exceptional memory so for almost every occasion he could recall something that was appropriate to share. It wasn’t uncommon to find him holding court, capturing people’s attention with his latest anecdote.  It often surprised me because my dad was actually kind of a shy guy. But when he had something to share, people listened.

This wasn’t a practice that my dad reserved for entertaining others; it was habit that he adopted in interacting with his family too. He told us tales of his childhood and he would share what happened at work. We weren’t ancillary to his life; through his stories he invited us to know about his past and his present. He was careful never to burden us with anything that was beyond what our young hearts could handle, but as the years progressed, so did what he shared.  Now that I think about, his stories were one of his most used instructional tools. As God taught him things, he taught them to us.

Some of my dad’s favorite stories to tell were the ones that demonstrated the pattern of God’s faithfulness in our family’s life. He would share how my mom got a job offer for a teaching job when we were supposed to be on vacation. That may not seem significant in and of itself, except the reason that we weren’t on our scheduled trip was because he had been laid off. Additionally my mom had applied for the job two years previously so the call was unexpected to say the least. Another favorite story was how how God prepared him for his eventual career by taking him through various twists and “detours,” and only in retrospect did he realize that each step along the way, he was learning new skills that would equip him for the work that lay ahead.  He would talk about how God directed him to the Naval Academy or how He orchestrated our move to California. Through every phase of our family’s life my dad was keen to learn what God was teaching him. And by sharing with us, he made sure we learned those lessons as well.

Even now, when the way forward seems uncertain I reflect on the stories that my dad shared. The pattern of God’s faithfulness in my dad’s life gives me confidence that God will prove to be faithful in my life as well. The history of His provision reminds me that He will give me all that I need. And from my dad I learned the importance of making sure that I too am telling the tales of what God is doing. Not only to make sure that I am taking note of His work, but so that others too may know of it too, and give Him praise.

Trusted Provision

August 7, 2013 — 2 Comments

I have never once forgotten to feed my child.

Seriously. 

In the time that she has been in this world I have faithfully, and sometimes at the expense of sleep, given her the nourishment she needs.

I consider her feeding routine when planning my day and I prepare for her consumption needs before I leave the house. My husband and I talk about her schedule when we are making plans. Ensuring she doesn’t go hungry is a priority.

Yet despite all this care and attention. there are times that if you listened to my child when I place her in the high chair, you’d be convinced that something quite different was going on.

You may be tempted to think that food is only provided at special occasions and therefore she has to hurriedly scoop it up with rapid inefficiency.

You may be inclined to believe that she only eats when she loudly cajoles me to give her what she desires.

You may even think that I purposefully test her patience – waiting until she is miserable and upset until providing her relief.

None of these are the case.

Yet, as a friend recently reminded me, sometimes my child’s response at the dining table is similar to our response to Christ.

When my daughter gets antsy my faithfulness of the past seems to be obliterated from memory, much like when I worry about the future, forgetting about God’s steadfast provision.

I grow impatient when God’s plan doesn’t align with mine and can throw a temper tantrum that, while unseen, would put a hungry kid’s to shame.

I complain about what I lack, consuming the gifts God has given me with selfishness, entitlement and little appreciation, believing I have to protect what is “mine” lest anyone take it away.

I convince myself I am figuratively starved, when all the evidence suggest I’m well-fed.

My response and that of my kid are eerily the same.

Yet just as I desire to do good to my child, my Heavenly Father delights to do good to me (Mt. 7:11). 

And much like I shake my head at my kid’s antics, God must similarly look at us and marvel at our lack of faith.

After all, He’s always provided in the past. He promises He always will (Mt. 6:25-34).

And while I wish my child would have confidence in the moments between when I place her in the chair and the first bites enter her mouth, I’m grateful for the revealing, if painful, lesson it affords. In my own times of uncertainty, I can look back at all God has done before, and trust that wherever He has placed me now, He will continue to do the same.

Being Moved

August 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

When we hear a great piece of music or watch a compelling movie, we often talk about how we were “moved.” It’s an interesting choice of words since there was probably very little actual progression on our part. Our emotions may have been stirred, our thoughts may have been captivated, but it is likely that any migration was theoretical in nature. Our physical position presumably remained stagnant.

Christians often talk about those who don’t know Christ in much the same way. We ask that God would move in our hearts to reach the lost so that our motivation for spreading the Good News would increase. These petitions not withstanding, our attempts to manufacture a sense of urgency portends that we have little appreciation for how critical the subject is. After all, people don’t have to request a feeling of compulsion for leaving a fiery building. It’s a natural reaction to recognizing the exigency of the circumstance. Similarly, our stated desire to reach the lost shouldn’t only result in our emotions be heightened. Our feelings shouldn’t just move; our feet should. As Christians we are commanded to love God and to love our neighbor (Mk. 12:28-31). Both of these things will result in us telling others about what God has done in our lives, and what He desires to do in theirs. Both of them will result in us sharing the Gospel with those who don’t believe.

The danger is that if we are only concerned with our feelings, they won’t result in the requisite actions. We may be content with a heart that wishes for others to be saved, without doing anything to help ensure that this happens. People do not respond to the Good News of Christ because someone wishes that they would. They respond because the message of the Gospel was shared. God has the ability to do this without our help, but as children beloved by Him and desiring to serve Him, He graciously grants us the privilege of participating in this mission. If are satisfied with only feeling for those who don’t know Christ, we miss out on the joy that comes from watching others reptant and put their faith in Him.

It’s one thing to feel saddened for those who don’t know Christ; it’s another thing altogether to be willing to sacrifice our friendships and reputation so that they may hear of their need for a Savior. However this awareness (and hopefully a repentant response) will not develop simply because we are sorrowful that there are those who don’t know Jesus. We must be wiling to go to them, talk to them, and be intentional about displaying Him in their lives. It is fine if we ask that our hearts would be moved, but we should also make sure that we do.

“but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and lthe wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
- I Cor. 1:23-25

Tracked Time

June 4, 2013 — Leave a comment
©iStockphoto.com/Devonyu

©iStockphoto.com/Devonyu

As a fan of organization it would come as no surprise to those who know me that I like systems. However, when you become a parent having a system to manage all of the ins and outs becomes a necessity, not a preference. Your child’s doctor, babysitter, grandmother, or concerned friend will all want to do what is “normal” for your kid. Because so much changes so quickly, “normal” is a shifting definition. The only logical solution is to note and record what happens during the day.

Because of the need to keep such records, I have become astute at tracking how much time I spend doing various activities with my kid. On any given day I can give you a fairly precise review of what happened the day or week before. I can report how much time my child spent eating, how long she slept, and at what times these events occurred. I have a detailed understanding of how the day has been invested, and based on my recorded schedule, I can give you a pretty good indication of whether the day was a “good” one or not.

Recently, I wondered what would happen if I did something similar with the time I invested in my relationship with God. What would the record look like if I noted when I prayed, at what frequency, and at what length? Would my daily schedule reflect a commitment to ingest and digest the Word of God? Would the resulting report show that I spend as much or more time pursuing Him as I do going after many lesser things?  If I stood before the Great Physician and reviewed the daily details of my life, would the diagnosis of any soul troubles be readily apparent?

I’m concerned that if I were to do such a thing, I would quickly be aghast at how I spend my time. When I realized how many hours in any given day my child spends intaking nutrition I was astonished, yet I wonder if my investment in my spiritual growth can be even slightly compared to the investment in her physical maturing. The moments and the minutes of the day can pass by so quickly and it is easy for our focus to wander from the things that are primary and be distracted by that which eternity will find futile. If we kept track of what we spent our time doing, perhaps our tendency towards diversion would dissipate.

The danger, of course, is that we would measure the value of our relationship merely by the time that we spent investing in godly activities. Or perhaps that we would spend a perfunctory amount of time seemingly investing in our relationship with our Father only to cross the to-do off our list. Just like my child doesn’t keep a timecard to assess my feelings towards her, neither should a simple count of minutes be the sole determinant in our evaluation of our love for our Father. However, the way we invest our time is at least one indication of what we value and treasure. It would be good to consider whether our moments, as well as our days, are spent pursuing things of eternity.

Defining Terms

May 13, 2013 — 2 Comments

When I teach, it is not uncommon for me to ask my class for a definition. Sometimes this is because we are learning new concepts, but often it is because I have found that there are some words that we use frequently without having a clear grasp of what we mean when we say them. Words like “strategic,” “segment,” and “objectives” sound very sophisticated, but if we lack clarity regarding our intentions when we use them, they become pretty pointless. Defining our terms helps ensure that we know what we mean by the words that we say; it helps ensure that our purpose is clear.

In a similar way, it may be helpful for us to define our terms when we pray. We often use phrases like “travel mercies” or “bless this food” without even really thinking about what we mean when we say them. We may ask God for “success” in a particular venture without considering whether we mean success by worldly standards or Kingdom ones. We should be clear about what we are petitioning for from God, not because He is unsure of what our intentions are (He knows our hearts (Lk. 16:15), after all) but because it helps us determine whether our hearts are aligned with His will. If we are clear that when we ask for blessing we are asking for God to use a circumstance for His glory then that becomes the basis upon which we evaluate whether our petition is granted. If, instead, we are asking for God to take a circumstance and orchestrate it according to our desires, not only do we risk asking God for something that is not accordance with His good plan, but this becomes our point of comparison for whether God has responded affirmatively to our prayer. Consequently we evaluate the effect of our prayers based on their temporal impact, not their eternal one.

It is good to go to God and ask for His hand on our lives. However, perhaps our prayer life would be even further enriched if we stopped to think about our definitions for what we are asking. It would be good to compare what we mean with what Scripture promises. In doing so, not only may we gain clarity regarding the intention of our prayers, but we can help ensure that our heart’s desires are aligned with His.

Friendship & Fear

April 23, 2013 — Leave a comment

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,

and he makes known to them his covenant. (Psalm 25:14)

The fear of the Lord is an oft-discussed, and debated, topic of the Christian life. Perhaps this is because we tend to think of love and fear as dichotomous. The fact that we serve a loving God is taught to us from a young age. John 3:16 and “Jesus Loves Me” are staples of a young child’s church experience. The topic of fearing God is usually left to much later in their Christian education. By that time many in the church have begun to think of God as a caring grandfather who simply shakes His head at His children’s missteps. It is no wonder that it is difficult to reconcile the concept of fearing God with this caricature that they have created. Their concept of God has been stripped of His awesome power and startling majesty, and they can’t figure out why they should fear a God who, in their minds, is known for His affability.

Yet throughout Scripture, we are commanded to fear the Lord. This doesn’t make God any less loving. In fact, as we grow in our understanding of the awesome power of God it can help us see that His love for us is all the more remarkable. He didn’t need us; yet He choose us. However, just because He choose us doesn’t mean that He is not the King of Creation to Whom all glory, honor, praise and respect is rightly given. We are to fear Him because we are to understand Who He is. And as Isaiah experienced when he encountered God, who He is should drive us to our knees.

As the the Psalm quoted above makes clear, fearing God is the basis of our friendship with Him. This is interesting because if asked, we would likely respond that it is His love that is the foundation of our relationship. And it is true that we can only love God because He first loved us (I John 4:19). Fearing God, however, accomplishes something in our hearts that simply responding back in love does not. When we referentially defer to God, we recognize our dependence on Him. This helps give us the proper perspective of Who God is, and why we should humbly submit our lives to Him. Friendship with the Lord is for those who fear Him, because it is those who fear Him who rightfully acknowledge His rule in their lives and who subjugate their lives to Him and His Will. We realize that is it only through Him that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), that He alone is sustaining our lives (Acts 17:25), and that we are utterly dependent upon Him. The friend of God is the one who cast themselves completely upon His care, trusting in His good provision.

So the next time that we read a Scripture or we hear a sermon about how we are to fear God, let us fight the desire to bristle at this biblical command. Those who are friends with God will fear Him, because those who are friends with God rightfully acknowledge who He is.

Anytime

April 8, 2013 — 2 Comments

I will cast all my cares upon You.

I will lay all of my burdens down at Your feet. 

And anytime I don’t know what to do - 

I will cast all my cares upon You. 

The above words are lyrics to a song that I learned when I was a child. Although the song used to be part of a regular rotation in my church experience, I haven’t sung it with a congregation in years. Regardless of that fact, it has been on repeat in my head over the past week. Late at night, early in the morning, and at all times in between, the words reverberate inside my head.

As I sing these familiar lyrics again, I have been concentrating on the third line. When your a child it seems so easy to sing that anytime I don’t know what to do, I will turn to Jesus. Yet as we grow up, we are quick to think we have things under control. “Anytime” becomes “whenever I think I need Your help.” Instead of turning to Him the moment I don’t know what to do, I’m quick to try to figure it out on my own. I consider the possibilities, I weigh the options, and I try to discern what I think the best thing to do is. Of course, somewhere in there, usually when I’m stuck and can’t figure out the right alternative, then I turn to Jesus. My commitment to turn to Him when I’m unsure of what to do is pushed aside by my pride and self-determination. He becomes my last resort, instead of my first recourse.

Yet this is not what Christ desires. He is eager to hear our prayers and is in fact advocating on our behalf to the Heavenly Father (see I John 2:1). As the incarnate God He not only knows what it is like to deal with the struggles of this life, He has the perspective of Heaven to guide and direct us in our way. Despite this, I often choose to duke it out on my own instead of turning to Him at the first hint of uncertainty. I imagine He shakes His head in disappointment with my tendencies. He is eager to help, yet I vainly try to do it by myself.

As God has brought these words to my mind time and time again in recent days, I’m been concentrating on fighting my prideful inclinations. When I start to be concerned with some piece of my uncertain future, I am trying to train myself to go to Him first – to tell Him of my concerns instead of dissecting them in my head. I remind myself that while I don’t know what to do, He does, and I trust that whatever He provides will be far better than what I would have conjured up on my own. I give Him the situation – and ask Him to work in it  - to reveal the solution He desires rather than asking Him what He thinks of my plans. As I do so – as I turn to Him first and early – I find the weight of whatever burden I’m bearing is quickly lifted. I have given it to the One who can carry it further and better than I. And because I have placed it in His hands, I can have confidence that He will work within the circumstance to bring Himself glory.

Anytime. It is such a simple yet profound word. And as I trust God with each moments of the day – both the present ones and the ones that are to come – I find that He is there to handle them, at any time.

Where Credit Is Due

March 22, 2013 — 4 Comments

We all probably know people who can’t take a compliment. You say something nice to them and they immediately brush it aside. Any positive observation about their behavior or their character is attributed to something else. Instead of a receiving a “thank you” when a kind word is spoken, they are apt to turn it around and compliment you in return.

While this self-deprecating behavior may seem godly and right, we can observe from Scripture an even better way to respond. Namely, when we receive a compliment we should recognize the commendable quality that has been observed in us is not due to our own inclinations. Instead, like any good thing, it comes from the Father above (James 1:17). Therefore it is He, and not us, that deserve the praise.

Daniel provides a wonderful example of this behavior. In Daniel 2, the king has had a dream that no one can interpret. Daniel prays that God would reveal the mystery of the dream to him and graciously, God does just that. (It is worthwhile noting that Daniel did not keep this prayer request to himself but he shared it with friends. Perhaps that is a post for another time.) When he goes to the king to interpret the dream Daniel had every opportunity to take credit for revealing what the king was desperate to know. Instead, he repeatedly and consistently gives God the acclaim. He realizes that God did not reveal the meaning of the dream to him so that Daniel would look good. Instead, God did so in order that Daniel may be a witness for Him and glorify Him in the land. The amazing thing is, when the king heard the interpretation and listened to Whom Daniel gave credit to, he also began to praise the Lord.

We may look at this story and think that it is obvious that God deserved the recognition; after all, He answered a specific request that Daniel and his friends made. However, what we should be careful to observe is that Daniel didn’t simply praise God privately for granting his petition. In a situation where he would have been honored and exalted for the work that he had done, he purposefully pointed the attention away from him and onto God. Before there was even the opportunity for him to take the recognition, he made sure that credit was given to the One to whom it was due.

Similarly, we would do well to give God praise for how He uses us for His purposes. Just like Daniel, this attribution shouldn’t be reserved for moments of quiet contemplation, but it should infiltrate even the very act for which we may receive commendation. In doing so we aren’t simply brushing aside any compliment, we are turning people’s attention away from us and what we did and onto the One who enables us to accomplish anything (see John 15:5). We are giving credit where it is due and just like Daniel and King Nebuchadnezzar, our hope should be that as a result, other people will also praise our King.

Look and See

March 20, 2013 — Leave a comment
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©iStockphoto.com/Waynerd

One of the chief “charges” that people bring against God is all the evil that they witness in the world. The logic is that a good God would eliminate any bad and therefore everything from the consequences that we face for our poor choices to the atrocities that men inflict on other men would be obliterated if God were real. While it is right to acknowledge that there are things in this world that are difficult, painful, and downright cruel, it is wrong to think that because these things exist God does not. In fact, as many philosophers have argued,  it is because we recognize these things as evil that we can know that there is good. God is the ultimate standard of goodness that we are all familiar with even if we choose not to acknowledge so.

Scripture is replete with reminders that things in this life are not as they should be (e.g. John 16:33, James 1:2, Romans 8:18). In other words, God’s Word does not ignore the fact that in this life people will contend with many difficult things. God’s children are not given immunity from life’s challenges. Scripture in fact warns us to expect them (1 Peter 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:12). However, the difficulties of life should not overwhelm those who place their trust in Christ because they know that their true treasure is not in this life but in the next. They are looking towards the better things that Christ has promised for them and because of this, they can be content even in the most dreadful, yet temporal, of circumstances.

Cultivating this eternal mindset is important for Christians and it is one that I have spent a considerable time trying to develop. Perhaps due to my introspective nature, it is easy for me to be all too aware of the evil that befalls many people and spending too much time dwelling on such things is apt to lead to despair. However, in acknowledging that for God’s children this world is not our home, things may be difficult but they are not insurmountable. When the worse life has to offer you is considered gain (Phil. 1:21), you can be prepared for anything that may come your way. Focusing on what is to come in this next life equips you to contend with what this world has to offer in this one.

In seeking to develop an eternal perspective, I have to be careful that I don’t lose track of the fact that not only does God promise good for us in eternity, He promises that we will see evidence of His goodness here as well. As I have written about before, I need to train myself to see the good that He brings into my life especially when I’m prone to look elsewhere. Like David, I can be confident that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, and with this confidence I can expect that if I’m going through a difficult time now, His good will be coming.

However, what I’ve also realized is that I need to purpose to see the good that God brings into others’ lives as well. After all, the words of the Psalm do not say that you will “have good in the land of the living.” Instead, it states that the Psalmist will “look upon the goodness of the Lord.” We can not only see how the Lord is good to us, but we should actively look to see how He has been gracious in the lives of others. This requires getting the focus off of what entangles us in order to witness God’s faithfulness, generosity and love in the lives of His children. We should be praising God not only for what He has done and is doing in our own lives, but also for what He has done and is doing in the rest of His Church.

The challenge is that while seeing the good in the midst of the bad may be difficult in our own lives, we are even less inclined to do it as bystanders in the lives of others. However, when we refuse to practice this we miss out on learning more about how God works and in celebrating what He has given to our brothers and sisters in Him. When our eyes are so focused on what God is doing with us that we fail to see what He has given others, we are likely missing out on the opportunity to witness some of His goodness that He has positioned us to see. We miss the chance to praise and worship Him for the specific work He is doing in the lives of those we know and love.

It is good to have an eternal perspective and it is also good to have confidence that God will bring His goodness to us in the land of the living. However, as we embrace both of these things let us also remember that we can observe God’s graciousness not only in how He treats us, but in His generosity to His other children. Let us look for these things, and let us thank Him for them. Knowing that as we see His goodness in the lives of others, we are better able to worship Him to the fullest extent which He so richly deserves.