Thorns

Daily Readings: Joshua 19-20, Mark 4, Psalm 64

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 

Mark 4:1-8, 13-19

9:30 PM: Check the current scores of a couple of games, respond to a text, check email one last time, click over to Facebook for two minutes, then Twitter, then back to ESPN. Put phone in airplane mode for the night.

4:30 AM: Out of airplane mode, check emails while getting a big glass of water. I would rather make sure nothing needs to be taken care of this morning before starting my God time that way I can maximize my time with God and with my kids once they wake up. I want to leave as late as possible for work knowing that there are no misc. things that need to be taken care of before my first concrete appointment. (Solid rationalization) Check final scores while here. Then Facebook briefly to see if there are any notifications…scroll down for 10 seconds while there before being mad at myself and stopping.

4:45 AM: Settle in for prayer, worship, and time in the word until 6:00 AM.

“Lord quiet my mind, help me focus on you…”

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain…

“I still need to get that project done today…and when I am going to finish my taxes that I already filed an extension on…and I really need to have that conversation with a coworker I have been putting off…”

“Lord quiet my mind, I want this time to be yours. Thank you so much for the incredible blessings you have put into my life that are so undeserved. Help me to be a light today…”

“I can’t believe my friend posted that on Facebook. Don’t they fact check anything? That is what is wrong with the world today…Lord help your world heal…Lord, quiet my mind. I want to be able to just enjoy your presence without feeling pulled in so many directions. Maybe I should write a post about that…”

Prayer…to do list…prayer…think about post…prayer…to do list…prayer…

“At some point I really need to fire off a few emails this morning before the day gets going. It is going to be a pretty full day. I have no idea when I am going to be able to call that person back…Lord quiet my mind.”

“I need to spend some time in worship.”

Pull out phone to cue up favorite worship music. Refresh email.

“Why the heck did I do that? It is 5:10 AM. There aren’t any new emails. I hate myself sometimes. I need to stop being such a slave to this thing.”

Attempt to worship along with playlist.

“God you are so good. Thank you for loving me and being patient even when I am being so silly. Your grace and love sustain me!”

To do list…worship…to do list…worship…to do list…worship…

Grab phone to do daily readings. Quick check of Twitter for 20-30 seconds to see reactions about the playoff game last night. Back to Bible Gateway app to start reading. Annoyed with myself…why did I do that?

“Lord, show me what you have for me today.”

Attempt to focus on reading the Bible and really taking in God’s word…

Thorn, thorn, thorn, thorn, thorn…

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain…

I imagine some of you can relate.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we cripple our own ability to be present whether with God, our family, or our friends? Why do we train our brains to desire anything other than what we are doing at the moment?

We live in a society where people don’t even allow themselves to relax and enjoy watching a basketball game, television show, etc. We need a second screen in front of us seeing what other people are saying about that shared social experience. We need a distraction from our distraction…wait, what?

The Lord said, “Be still and know that I am God.” –Psalm 46:10

And yet even when I carve out that beautiful time to be still, even when I wake up early, go with less sleep, and really strive to prioritize time to God, I frequently self sabotage for 30 seconds here and 30 seconds there. It is not the sum total of 5-10 minutes out of the first hour and a half of my day that I choose to spend on petty distractions that robs me of truly enjoying my time with God; it is the mental clutter I bring upon myself.

We fill our brains with an overwhelming amount of stimulus and then wonder why our minds feel full and why we feel overwhelmed. We spend the last 2 minutes before bed flipping between 6 apps, 4 websites, and 2 more apps, and wonder why we can’t seem to turn our brains off and fall to sleep well.

Thorn, thorn, thorn, thorn, thorn.

Some days, I am great about not doing this. Some evenings, I am as well. However, there are so many when I self sabotage and hate myself for it.

I want a change. I want to declutter mentally. I want to be fully present. At home, at work, with friends, and with God. I want to be where I am.

In life you always have to want better for yourself badly enough that it is worth the pain of change. That is why breaking any addiction is so hard.

I hate my cell phone. I am ready for a change. I wonder if anyone reading this is ready for a change as well?

30 day challenge.

  1. When you get home from work, put your phone on the charger in your room and just be present at home. Don’t check it every few minutes. There is nothing that can’t wait for at least an hour or two without the world burning down around us. Human beings used to survive somehow without cell phones.
  2. When you are at work, put it out of arms reach. Get that thing out of your pocket! If it rings, you can answer it, but put it far enough away that you don’t accidentally grab it as an OCD tendency to check something that does not need to be checked. Only pick it up when there is a specific productive purpose.
  3. Leave it on the charger throughout your entire morning routine. Use a different source for music. Read an actual physical Bible. Don’t come out of airplane mode until a preset time where you are actually going to begin work.
  4. Put it into airplane mode an hour before bed and don’t touch it from that point forward.

For 30 days.

I am ready to be good soil again, every day, not just some days. I am ready to ruthlessly weed out the thorns in my life and help my brain slow down so that I am able to appreciate the little things in life that go unnoticed frequently because of my addiction to technology.

Who is coming with me?

Thought to ponder

If it is not technology, what is my thorn? What in my life sometimes rises up and chokes the plant trying to grow when the seed falls on the soil? How can I remove those thorns from my life?

I think of you through the watches of the night

Daily Readings: Joshua 17-18, Mark 3, Psalm 63

Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Psalm 63:3-8 

Even since I left college, I have never been a good sleeper. I always marvel at the concept of sleeping through the entire night. I cannot remember the last time I didn’t wake up at least 3-4 times throughout the night and then roll around attempting to get comfortable.

If this last more than 20-30 minutes, now my mind starts wandering, responsibilities start flooding in, the to-do list for the day, week, or month begin to keep me up, and falling back to sleep seems an insurmountable task.

In the middle of last October God did a wonderful thing for me and asked me to stop fighting it. He asked me to just abide in him in these moments. He asked me to use that time in bed to spend time with him, thank him, lift others up, and just enjoy the presence of my heavenly father in the comfort of my bed.

There have been some nights since then where I have completely forgotten this prompting from God and failed miserably at this, but there have been many other nights where I have chosen to turn those seemingly frustrating moments of not being able to fall back asleep because of a sore back and active mind into beautiful time with my father.

I have imagined being curled up in his lap the way my children snuggle up to me around bedtime when we are reading books on the couch. I have imagined his smile as he puts his arm around me and enjoys the time we have together with no agenda other than being with his treasured child.

I don’t always fall back to sleep immediately when I shift the posture of my heart to one of abiding in these moments, but I wake up refreshed.

Psalm 63 was a great reminder this morning to choose to abide more often. It was a great re-centering of my heart on praising him on my bed and not just with my waking moments.

When I embrace that his love truly is better than life, as David writes today, and use those quiet moments to allow my heart to sing his praise, glorify his name, and cling to him; I leave fully satisfied.

Thought to ponder

When are moments throughout the day or night when I allow my mind to be cluttered and heart to stray from God, where I can actively choose to imagine this physical manifestation of God right there with me as a loving father looking down on his treasured child?

The Sabbath is for us

Daily Readings: Joshua 15-16, Mark 2, Psalm 62

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28

Throughout the entire gospel we see a running theme of religious leaders struggling to grapple with the faith they have grown up embracing that was based on black and white rules that needed to be followed at all cost and the type of faith that Jesus spoke of. Religious leaders were most comfortable with a concrete checklist of things to do and things to avoid. Jesus went after the heart. Jesus came with a message of relationship with God. Jesus came to help people understand that God did not simply desire legalism and a group of followers that followed the religious laws to perfection, but followers that understood God’s desires for their lives and what they were called to do with their time here on earth.

Almost the entirety of Mark 2 follows this theme. Jesus heals a paralyzed man, but the religious leaders feel he blasphemed by saying, “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus goes to eat with the sinners so that they may come to faith and the religious leaders grumble their disapproval. And finally they see Jesus and his followers simply picking a couple heads of grain as they walk and blow everything out of proportion.

I love the response Jesus gives.

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 

I chuckled when I read this passage this morning.

The Sabbath is for us.

The almighty God of the Universe, creator of everything that was, that is, and that is to come is not having his day ruined by us knocking out some work on a Sunday afternoon. The Sabbath is not for him. The Sabbath is for us.

I desperately need the Sabbath. I need a day every week where I unplug, spend time with family, friends, and the body of Christ. I need to reenergize, fill my cup back up, and re-center myself on God.

The Sabbath is for us.

I imagine this applies to a lot of God’s laws throughout the Bible. So often we think of God’s laws and view them as a list of things that are inconvenient to follow and resent that we are “unable, as a follower of God, to just do what we want!” like an immature teenager that thinks their parents are so stupid for all of the rules they put in place until they reach their mid-20’s and realize, “Maybe mom and dad knew a thing of two back then…”

God wants us to live a rich, full, and meaningful life throughout the time we are blessed with here on earth. God want the best for his children. When my wife and I set rules for our kids it is not to try to restrain their fun or make life less enjoyable, they are always made with their best interest at heart. We are imperfect human parents and may occasionally make decisions with our children that we look back on and wish we could have over. Our father in Heaven is perfect.

Following all of God’s word does not guarantee an easy life for us. That is not what we are promised as followers of Christ. However, if we truly seek after the father’s will through studying his word and seeking to live it out, it does draw us closer to him. It does give us peace and perspective. It does keep us away from self-created adversity!

We all have some commands from God that we find incredibly difficult to follow. We all have a portion of his law that we push back against over and over again despite knowing that we shouldn’t. We are flawed and fallen human beings, which is why Jesus came in the first place. However, when we acknowledge that God has so much more for us when we embrace that his laws are perfect and lead us to a better life in the present, not just for eternity, they do become easier to follow.

Start with the Sabbath. It is almost impossible to follow any of other of God’s decrees when burned out and not centered on God. Give yourself that recharge. Have a day that is actually devoted to God and not knocking out an endless to-do list and catching up on things you fell behind on this week.

The Sabbath was made for you.

Thought to ponder

How could I do a better job of guarding the Sabbath?

Shelter beneath his wings

Daily Readings: Joshua 13-14, Mark 1, Psalm 61

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

Psalm 61:1-4

Ever since our newest child, Andrew James, was born two and half months ago life his been a bit chaotic. The combination of bringing a fourth child into the world, 31 days in NICU, the normal lack of sleep that comes with having a new born after Andrew’s arrival home, and maintaining all of the normal family, ministry, and business obligations has left me stretched a bit thin.

There have definitely been many moments in the last couple of months where I felt like David when writing this Psalm and where my heart certainly felt faint.

God has been so good throughout and truly has been my refuge, but it has been a refuge I have not spent enough time turning to.

Earlier this week I had a moment when driving in my car that was not prompted by anything that had happened that morning where I just felt a deep sense of loss at how little time I had been spending with my heavenly father over the last two months. I began tearing up while driving and simply apologizing.

“I am so sorry that I have allowed ‘the season of life I am in with a new born’ to turn into an excuse to make my time with you cut short. I want more time with you father. I want more of you.”

When I read the last two verses above this morning, those same emotions welled up inside of me.

I want to dwell in his tent forever. I want to take shelter under his wings.

It is only by the grace of God that I have not completely collapsed the last two and a half months. I have been pulled in so many directions. It has only been because of those moments of prayer and worship where I remember to turn it all back over to him that I have had my strength maintained.

However, I have let my mornings slip away. I have allowed that private time every morning that had previously been devoted to our relationship to slip away in an effort to get a little more sleep or to self medicate by knocking one more item off of an ever growing to-do list, reading an article about the game the night before, or spending time on social media.

I have allowed sleep, work, and entertainment to dominate my mornings and take over the time formally reserved for God.

I want to go back to having my first and deepest desire of the day to dwell in his tent and seek shelter beneath his wings.

As human beings we are master rationalizers. It is easy for me to intellectually justify that this is simply a time of life where I need to keep my head above the water and may just need to spend a bit less time in God’s word and less time writing faithfully. I could tell you today that I have been spending time with God in other ways, which would be the truth, but would conveniently neglect the deeper truth. It would ignore the fact that my time in the word and writing is where I feel the most connected with God and where our relationship is at it’s fullest.

When life gets overwhelming, I want my default to be turning to MORE time with God, not less. I want my first response to be cutting out other items from my life, not allowing my time with God to be the first thing that is eliminated in busy times where I feel like there are not enough hours in the day.

I want my first desire to be for time beneath his wings. Today I will dwell in his tent.

Thought to ponder

When have you recently sacrificed your time with God because life got busy? What does true time with God look like for you and how can you guard that time better in this next week?

 

 

 

Through what lens should Christians view Trump?

Daily Readings: Joshua 11-12, Proverbs 11

If you love Trump and have even gotten this far to click on a link you saw, thank you! Before you read on, please take a few minutes to pray that God would allow you to spend the next three minutes reading with an open mind. Not an open mind towards what I have to say, but towards what scripture has to say. This isn’t a long read. If you aren’t going to take the full three minutes, feel free to just stop here. No worries!

We are in a world where not enough Christians spend time going back to the Bible for wisdom. We have a tendency to lean on cable news, talk radio and podcasts, social media, etc. As Christians, we have already been given the ultimate lens that we are called to return to over and over again to seek wisdom.

As a side note, I have voted for more Republicans over the last 18 years I have been able to vote than Democrats. I have some views aligned with each. This is not about that. This is not about tax policy, use of the military, health care, gun control, etc. You can be the most conservative person politically in the country. As a Christian, that does not mean you should blindly follow anyone who claims to be conservative as well. That does not mean that we should extol the virtues of anyone we feel is carrying the flag we align with.

I first wanted to write this post through a softer lens. I wanted to water everything down and not mention anyone by name in the spirit of not being seen as bias. I realized quickly that it would be far better to simply go to the Bible and let it speak for itself.

I am not going to tell you what to think of Donald Trump. I am simply imploring people to view Trump through the lens of what the Bible says and not through the lens of what Fox News, talk radio, or conservative social media says.

Let’s just look at a handful of passages from today’s readings alone. I will simply pose a question I would ask you to seriously consider instead of just brushing off after each verse. Come to your own conclusions.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2

I simply ask you to ignore all commentary from any other source than the President’s own words. Go scroll through the last 4 months of his Twitter feed and ask yourself if our leader is leading with humility.

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” Proverbs 11:3

Again, ignore all commentary and simply scroll through the last 18 months of his Twitter and see if this appears to be a man who leads his life with integrity as the cornerstone.

“Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.” Proverbs 11:12

Again, no commentary. Just Twitter.

“The Lord detests those whose hearts are perverse, but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.” Proverbs 11:20

Simply put, Trump cheated on a former wife with his current wife and then cheated on her with an adult film star while she was pregnant. Trump himself denies none of this. I am not saying we do not all have failings in our lives. We have all fallen short of the glory of God and that is why Christ came in the first place. However, if you are a Christian Trump advocator, I would simply ask you if you have ever heard him give the interview, read the quote in the magazine, etc. where he showed genuine remorse for these actions. Have you seen him express his brokenness and how thankful he is for a God that gives second chances?

No. In fact he brags about these things.

If you are a Trump supporter and a Christian, I have a serious question I beg for you to consider: If Barack Obama had been discovered to have had multiple affairs, a tape came out with him talking in his own voice about how he just starts kissing women without even asking, how you can simply “grab them by their…”, and how he paid hush money to an adult film star to keep their affair quiet during an election; would major evangelical leaders rush to Obama’s defense and say, “We have all fallen short! These attacks on Barack’s character are completely out of bounds?!”

“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” Proverbs 11:14

Here is a complete list of all of the advisors who Trump has either fired or who have resigned:

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/list-officials-left-trump-administration/story?id=49334453

If you are still reading, thank you. Sincerely, thank you.

We live in a society where we tend to ignore any opinions that do not mirror our own or we simply read them with a closed mind and allow ourselves to be sent into a righteous fury over “how wrong this is!” I really appreciate you sticking with me.

It is ok to be conservative. Lots of my views are conservative as well.

That is not what this is about.

I will close with this:

“Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.” Proverbs 11:6

The only man we should place our hope in is the man who went to the cross to pay the price for our sins.

In our time here on earth, political parties will rise and fall. Leaders will be exalted and then torn down. Our ability to reach others for Christ is so much more important than a single election cycle. Our allegiance to Christ is far more critical than throwing our allegiance behind a certain political figure.

Let’s not ruin our testimony.

Let’s spend less time with cable news and hearing what they have to say and more time with the Word of God seeking after true wisdom.

Thank you for reading today. This one was scary to write.

Thought to ponder

What have I allowed to shape my views recently other than the Bible and Christian community?

Are we the angry mob?

Daily Readings: Joshua 9-10, 2 Corinthians 13

Frequently when I get to the portion of Paul’s letters that serve as his final greeting, I find myself reading it quickly and not really taking it in. This morning I actually read it.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Whenever I write, I want to end with a bang! I want to end with the main takeaway that I hope the reader will hold onto from what they just read. And yet, with Paul’s letters, I have always treated these final few verses in the final chapter of his lengthy letters as simply a form of “good bye”.

There was so much internal turmoil going on in the church at Corinth at this time. In fighting was rampant, debates robust, and they were anything but “of one mind living in peace”. What was Paul’s final charge to them?

Rejoice!

Encourage!

We live in a society that currently does very little rejoicing and even less encouraging.

With Easter rapidly approaching, it struck me this morning how far the American church has gotten away from the vision that God had for us as a collection of believers. We have so much to rejoice about!

And yet, when we look around, it becomes increasingly evident that we spend far more time complaining, arguing on Facebook, etc. than we do rejoicing or encouraging. We have become like Corinth.

If God’s people made the decision that we would collectively be a group that never ceases to rejoice in the amazing gifts of the father and never stops encouraging one another, what an amazing change our world would see!

However, there will always be those who claim to be followers of Christ that seek to divide. There will always be those who seek to manipulate, control, and advance their own agenda to maintain power. The story of Easter is incomplete without remembering that most of God’s people blindly followed the religious leaders of the day to the point of becoming an angry mob crying out for the death of the very Messiah they had been waiting for.

All throughout the Bible there are stories of those who would seek to deceive and divide God’s people. We continuously see the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, and more often than not, we fall for it. Today in Joshua we read another of these stories.

However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgaland said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”

Joshua 9:3-6 

We frequently walk right into these traps because it is often more convenient to believe the deceiver. We want to believe that this person, or group of people, is on our side. When it seems like there are so many enemies seeking to destroy, it is an attractive thought to have an ally!

In Joshua we continue on and read that, “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.” 

When we decide to “sample their provisions” without inquiring of the Lord, bad things tend to happen. When we simply listen to talking heads, political figures, or outspoken religious leaders of the day without consulting God’s word; it is a dangerous game we play.

So, as Easter approaches, are we comfortable being the angry mob? Are we comfortable being riled up through those that would use fear and anger to divide and conquer? Or are we going to get back focused on Jesus and worship the only person in human history who has been truly worthy of worship?

Will we take to heart Paul’s final words to us in Corinthians when he said:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Read that one last time slowly and really let it sink in.

Let’s go live that out this week. This Easter season Christians have the ability to have a massive impact on the world that lasts for an eternity.

Let’s make it count!

Thought to ponder

How can I spend more time rejoicing, encouraging, and acting in such a way that helps expose people to the grace and love of God?

 

“My grace is sufficient”

Daily Readings: Joshua 7-8, 2 Corinthians 12, Psalm 60

But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

My grace I sufficient for you.

On Sunday February 11th at 7 PM our family had just wrapped up a birthday party celebrating our amazing daughter Sophie turning 4 years old. Sophie is a cancer survivor that was diagnosed at just 2 months old with a rare form of cancer and, at this moment, is nearing 3 years cancer free.

Praise God!

It wasn’t more than 30 minutes after the last guest left that my wife called me upstairs and said we needed to go to the hospital. At the time we were 7 months pregnant and she had started bleeding significantly. We quickly called my parents, who only live a mile away, to come stay with our other three kids as we rushed to the hospital. The bleeding stopped by the time we got their, but the doctors told us they would be needing to keep Naomi there for observation for 5-7 days, because if it started again Naomi’s life and our unborn son’s life would be at risk at that point, and they would do an emergency cesarean section.

After being their several hours, they told me to go home, but to leave my phone on just in case. 90 minutes later, shortly after I had fallen asleep, the phone call came that I was desperately hoping to avoid, and I was driving as fast as I could back to the hospital, running inside, putting on scrubs, nervously waiting in the hallway, and finally entering the operating room with my wife.

Needless to say, it was an emotional several hours. That second drive to the hospital at 1:30 AM was the most scared I have ever been.

I threw out a group text at 8:08 PM when we were first heading to the hospital to a group of men that I do life with. Christian brothers in arms ready to go to battle with me and for me. The prayers began.

These are the moments earlier in my life where I would have waited until I knew more before sharing what was happening with anyone in my life.

“No point in worrying everyone. What if it is nothing? How will I look if I am just scared over something minor? Besides, they are busy, and I don’t want to burden them with something that might ultimately be no big deal.”

Lies crafted by an enemy with centuries of practice.

Satan wants us to do life alone. He wants you to believe that you are a burden to others, that no one really cares, that you are strong enough in your own power, and the power of prayer isn’t real anyway.

It isn’t until those moments in life where you have a child diagnosed with cancer, a wife being rushed into an emergency surgery, an infant taken up to the NICU, or any other extreme life event completely out of your control; that you realize what a complete illusion “control” is.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God has blessed our family with a fair amount of worldly success. We have an amazing family, I run a successful company, we have incredible friends, and by lots of worldly standards, we are a success story.

Rarely has any of our worldly success given us the ability to minister to others and speak about God’s glory in the same way we have been able to because of Sophie’s cancer. Already, in just a short week and a half, I believe that the experience spanning February 11th-12th has already allowed us to give glory to God more than any career accomplishment ever could.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Naomi is recovering well from her surgery. Andrew, as of Feb 23rd, is still in the NICU and will most likely remain there for another week or two, but is moving in the right direction faster than we could have hoped for.

God is good.

However, God is not just good because of this individual result. When I sat outside the operating room while they prepped Naomi my prayer over and over again was, “You are a good God. You are a good good father. Regardless of the outcome, I know this to be true.” I prayed that same prayer when we first got the news with Sophie.

God already knows this. This prayer was necessary for my own heart.

In a perfect world, I would rather not have our newborn need to spend the first 3-4 weeks of his life in the NICU. I would rather that his sisters (who are super excited to meet their baby brother!) not have to wait a month to meet the newest addition to our family because kids under 18 are not allowed in the NICU. I would rather everything had gone beautifully according to plan.

Our plan.

However, Paul said it perfectly today:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  

We have always said as a family that we want to live out James 1:2-4 when James wrote, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

We decided about five months ago that our son’s middle name would be James in honor of this book in the Bible. We never expected he would live into his name so quickly!

However, we are considering it pure joy.

I know this trial will be far from the last we will face as a family as we journey through life, and this one is still not yet over, but his grace is sufficient and his power is made perfect in our weakness.

Faithfully marching around Jericho

Daily Readings: Joshua 5-6, 2 Corinthians 11, Psalm 59

“Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.’

When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there.

The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!”

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.”

Joshua 6:1-5, 8-11, 16, 20

One aspect of the story of Joshua and Jericho never really struck me until today when reading this story again; Joshua never told the Israelite army about the seventh day. He did not go to them saying, “Here is the plan…” and lay out for them exactly what God instructed him to do. In the minds of the army, there was no definite timeline. They were simply told to march.

When reading this morning it occurred to me that there must have been two distinct types of people in the Israelite army when Joshua told them to start marching around the city. There surely were those that trusted in God completely, along with Joshua’s leadership, and marched with full confidence that the city of Jericho would be delivered into their hands at some point.

However, there must have been some who were marching day after day, tension mounting, fear building, and patience growing thin. I have to imagine they were wondering what the plan was, feeling less and less confident the more time that went by, and getting a bit stir crazy, wanting to divert from the plan and take some other course of action.

There have been so many times in my life where I have existed in each of these groups. There have been times where I unconditionally believe in the path God has set me on, knowing that I am marching around the walls of Jericho and that they will eventually fall if only I have the patience to keep marching.

However, there are many times where I start to ask, “God, can’t these walls crumble already? How much longer must I continue to march dutifully before these walls begin to fall?”

There have been so many moments where I feel like I am running out of time, money, patience, stamina, love for others, emotional energy, etc. I am just not sure how much longer I can march around Jericho unless the walls fall soon.

I imagine we have all been there. I imagine we have all had jobs, ministry opportunities, friends we want to reach for Christ, people we are mentoring, or habits we are trying to form/break; where we are just not sure how much longer we are going to be able to march.

What is your Jericho right now? What is the path God has set you on, where it is day 4, 5, or 6, and you are starting to tire of the relentless marching?

In many cases we might be more like Moses wandering through the desert, as opposed to Joshua and the army marching around Jericho. The season we are in is not simply 7 days of patience, but years, even decades.

God is faithful.

We do not always have the luxury of being Joshua, knowing the exact timeline and waiting patiently for that beautiful seventh day. It is extremely rare that I have seen God put on my heart a concrete timeline for his promises.

More often than not, he simply wants me to march. He wants me to wake up day after day, put on my armor, pick up my spiritual weapons and shield, and go to battle against whatever comes my way.

Based on the entire rest of the old testament, I am assuming that God would not have been overwhelmingly pleased if the armies had decided to simply stop marching after day 4. I am guessing he would have burned with fury had they started grumbling and saying, “What is the point of all this marching God?” and simply sat back in their camp waiting for a different plan, looking for a different path.

God wants faithful servants willing to march. And when we remain faithful, whatever walls he intends to collapse, whatever metaphorical cities he intends to deliver into our hands will always be delivered. God’s plan is not always our plan and his timing is not always our timing, but it is always the right plan. It is always to right timing.

The question is, will we faithfully march?

Thought to ponder

What is my Jericho? Where is my patience growing thin where I have been tempted to just stop marching?

True Humility

Daily Readings: Joshua 3-4, 2 Corinthians 10, Psalm 58

By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

 You are judging by appearances.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 10:1-5, 7, 13-17

One of the biggest fears that hold most people back from fully living out the calling God has for all Christ followers is the fear of rejection. The fear of being judged, talked about, smirked at and dismissed. The fear of not being enough.

In 2 Corinthians today we see Paul dealing with this fear actually manifesting itself amongst the church he planted in Corinth. It is obvious from reading this portion of Paul’s letter that there has been some grumbling amongst the church about Paul. Certain people have been stirring up anti-Paul sentiments.

“Who does this Paul guy think he is anyway? His teaching is really pretty weak and timid. I didn’t find him all that compelling while he was here and now he is trying to be the ultimate authority? He sure is talking a big game now that he is gone!”

I know personally, this would be one of my greatest insecurities realized.

“This guy sure thinks highly of himself!”

It is a pretty tough critique to just shrug off, even for the most mature, grounded and centered follower of Jesus. None of us likes to feel judged and having our intentions be the very thing that is being picked apart is one of the worst feelings there is.

I don’t mind if someone wants to critique my knowledge, delivery, presence, etc. However, having my motives and integrity questioned, that stings…

I think we can all relate to how Paul probably felt when putting pen to paper at this moment. We have all been there at some point in our lives. In today’s world, the fear of coming off wrong in a world that is quick to label Christians as hypocrites, bigots, judgmental, etc. can be a bit overpowering.

“Maybe it is just safer to focus on my own relationship with Jesus, going deeper with friends who already know Christ, and just leave it at that!”

I love Paul’s response today.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I can almost see him shaking his head with a smile and saying, “Look, as you are all focused on my delivery, I am going to be over here absolutely DEMOLISHING STRONGHOLDS of the enemy. I am just going to continue helping people find freedom from the things that have held them captive through saving faith in Jesus. You keep worrying about worldly concerns, I am going to keep breaking chains and setting captives free!”

The way he closed this section of his letter really spoke to me as well.

But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

People in today’s world are always going to question motives.

“Are they just trying to build their own brand? Are they just trying to get their own following? Are they just using ‘Jesus’ to advance their own agenda?”

Sadly, there are many times where the answer is yes. However, even Christians with the purest of hearts will have their motives questioned if they are confidently speaking about their faith long enough. It is inevitable.

We can’t control the thoughts that others are going to have about us, but how we choose to respond is up to us.

Paul says, “This really isn’t about me.”

Paul wasn’t out there trying to build “Paul’s brand”. He wasn’t basking in his fame and notoriety. He was focused on continually building the kingdom. He was focused on the harvest.

If we let the opinions of other people build our confidence too much, it is easy to make sharing the good news all about us. And on the opposite side, if we care too much about those opinions, we frequently never even get started.

C.S. Lewis said that, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”

Striking that balance where we are unafraid to share about Jesus confidently, but not fall into the trap of making it all about ourselves is tough. However, true humility is not something we can obtain by chasing after it. In fact, if we are thinking about whether or not we are demonstrating enough confidence or enough humility, we should stop for a moment and laugh, realizing that we are still thinking too much about ourselves!

Both pride and under confidence are from the enemy. And he is incredibly good at his job!

We need to turn all of it back over to Christ, get out of our own heads, and just be in the present moment. The moment we are in is where the magic happens.

True peace comes from true humility, which only comes from completely turning our ego over to Jesus and focusing on his will instead of our own.

Paul demonstrates that for us today.

This is so incredibly challenging, but being self-aware enough to recognize when we are straying down the path of under confidence or pride, is the first step. When we are self aware, we can catch ourselves and immediately ask for God’s help at the moment it is happening, instead of asking for forgiveness later.

This true humility Paul models for us, and which C.S. Lewis so articulately describes, has immense power to impact others. An army of Christians demonstrating this true humility has the power to change the world.

Thought to ponder

What are warning signs I can be self-aware of that could signal to me that I am heading down the path of making things all about me? Knowing our typical triggers and what the first step down that path usually looks like has a huge impact on our ability to turn back to God in the moment when the enemy first starts to attack and tempt us to focus on ourselves!

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