Seeking and Finding

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13

Ugly Houses

Yesterday was a perfect morning for walking. I started out about 7:15, just as the sun was starting to peek through the darkness of the night. I’ve been walking a new route through the neighborhood some, and yesterday’s walk was less about getting finished, and more about just being outside and talking to God. As I rounded a corner, I noticed an unusual house in the back part of the neighborhood. And by unusual, I mean it was ugly. There weren’t many windows, and it seemed like something was just missing. Walking a little farther. I noticed another ugly house, and then another one. It made me a little sad for all of these people who lived these houses, and also a little glad that at least these houses were hidden in the back of the neighborhood.

Then, just over the top of a hill, I caught a glimpse of it through the trees; sunlight glimmering on the surface. It was the lake. I’m a little slow, so it took me a few minutes before I realized the connection between the lake and the ugly houses. Every one of these neighbors had chosen to build their homes with the back toward the street, and the front toward the lake. The faces of their homes were turned away from the ordinary, the noisy, the chaotic, and turned toward the beauty of the lake.

God spoke to me there. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” The writer of Hebrews tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ. I’m done in by the word dwell from Philippians and the word fix from Hebrews 12. My problem is that I look at Jesus when I remember to, or when I’m worshiping, but far too often I let my gaze fall back on the everyday and the mundane. Or even worse for me, I begin to look at the waves of the storm all around me. But the command is there. I’m not just supposed to dwell on these things when I think about it or when I feel like it. I need to build my house facing the true, the honorable, the right, the pure, and the lovely. Ultimately that is all realized in Jesus. I want to be like those houses with my face turned toward the beauty of my Savior, and my back to the world–moving forward in the light of His goodness, His grace, and His mercy.

Advertisements

Thirsty

It’s over. After nearly a year of waiting, it’s finally come and gone. Last year, we bought our younger daughter tickets to see One Direction in concert…this year. We downloaded and listened to music, bought t-shirts, and kept a countdown of the days left. And it finally came, and went. After the concert was over, and it was just me and my daughter in the car, we talked a little. It was a good concert. The video, lights, and fireworks were pretty amazing. The arena was packed, but something was lacking. My daughter told me it was just hard to believe it was all over, and in the afterglow of the night, she also told me that as good as it was, there was something a little unfulfilling about it being finished.

Andrew Peterson (the best songwriter on the planet) uses the phrase, drinking deeply from the shallow well. I think it fits here. What we did last night was fun, entertaining, exhilarating, and in the end left us no fuller than we were when we went. That’s what happens when we drink from shallow wells. They fill us up for the right now, but that kind of water can’t sustain. It will always come up lacking.

Jesus had this same kind of conversation with the Samaritan woman that he met. She’d spent a lifetime drinking from shallow wells. One empty relationship after another had left her empty, dry, and outcast. But on that day, she met a man who offered her living water. Water that once you drank it, you would never be thirsty again. And she drank. And she was satisfied; probably more than satisfied.

It would be easy to assume that I regret taking my daughter to the concert, but I don’t. Shallow water in and of itself isn’t always bad. I mean, I love classic 70’s rock and some great 80’s music. Listening to that stuff energizes me, makes me remember when I was a kid, puts a smile on my face…but it never fills me. It never speaks to my soul. I have to drink the deeper water for that. The danger with shallow water is that we think that if we just keep drinking more of it that somehow this time will different; somehow it will work. It never does.

At the end of the night, we made a memory that we’ll never forget. I saw excitement and joy on my daughter’s face that I wouldn’t trade for the world. And, if we’re being honest, we both learned a little something about shallow water.

Weakness

Ever had a problem that you just can’t seem to get rid of? Maybe it’s a bad habit that you can’t kick, or a lack of resources or ability that you just can’t overcome. We’ve all been there, and unfortunately, this is not a post about how to overcome those things. In fact, in many ways it’s just the opposite.

It seems that in my line of work, the obstacle is the norm. Let’s just call the obstacle what it is, weakness. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said or thought, “If I only had all the budget I need… If that person would just volunteer… If I could just overcome this struggle in my life…” In fact, when I look back over my life, it seems like it’s plagued by one sort of weakness or another.

Now, don’t misunderstand. Certainly there are plenty of successes. God has brought me through dark times. We’ve overcome obstacles, prayed through trials, and won some battles along the way. There is plenty of victory to be had. But often, it’s victory in spite of weakness, not victory over it.

The Biblical understanding is summed up for me in Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 12:9. “Power is perfected in weakness.” Paul had a thorn in the flesh—something that plagued him. He prayed that God would relieve him of it, but God instead told Paul to trust in His strength. Not His strength to remove the thorn (whatever it was), but His strength to use Paul for His glory—not Paul’s.

So that brings me to the place where I wonder if some of the parts of me that are broken, lacking, weak, will ever be completely whole. What would I do if I didn’t have any more struggles with sin? What if all of the resources I needed were there? Would I rely on God for each breath, each step, each moment? Or would I trust in the sufficiency of my own resources? The question is really rhetorical, I know the answer, because I know me all too well. But God does too.

So I am weak. I struggle with sin. I don’t have even close to everything I need to do the tasks that God has called me to do. He is strong. He is perfect. He is the creator of the universe, and He has no lack. So today I choose to trust in His strength, His righteousness, His resources, and not my own.

Big Things

Lately I’ve heard a lot about doing big things for the kingdom of God; dreaming big dreams, having a God-sized vision, not limiting God to things that you do on your own. I’ve been thinking about these things because there are some unfulfilled dreams in my life. I’m sure those of you who are around 40 like I am can identify. It makes me wonder if maybe I missed some of the big things I was supposed to do. But as always, God has a way of redirecting my vision. Hebrews 12 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. When I fix my eyes on Him, earthly things usually come into perspective.

It’s really by the grace of God that I’m even serving in a church today. My mother grew up in a non-Christian home. She had good, honest, working class parents, but neither of them knew Jesus. She also had a neighbor who loved the Lord and didn’t mind taking a couple of extra kids to church on Sunday. So my mom went to church. She went to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. She learned John 3:16, and sang the B.I.B.L.E. She also met Jesus there, and He changed her. When my parents married, they travelled a lot. My dad was in the army, so three years was the longest we lived in one place, but wherever we were, my mom was teaching Sunday school, leading VBS, or working in some way with kids. She was also at home with us, teaching us the same truths of scripture. My mom loved to read to us, and our house was full of great books. I’m sure it was no accident that many of them were Bible stories.

I’m 42 years old. I’ve been working with kids professionally for 20 years. Before that I helped wherever a teenager could at our church. My older sister has worked with children and teenagers at her church. My younger sister is a teacher and has been on staff in children’s ministry at her church. And my mom? She’s still teaching. She teaches second grade Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and even teaches kids on mission trips. Over the years who knows how many hundreds of kids have heard the gospel just from my mother alone?

Now how does that tie into big things? I think when we look at doing big things for God, too often we examine it through worldly lenses. It might be that the greatest thing my mom’s neighbors did was invite a little girl to come to church. And it might be the same way for you. Maybe your big thing is deciding to stay home instead of go back to work—even though things will be tight. It might be turning down the promotion or the higher paying job because spending time with your family is more important.  Or maybe it’s just putting a filter on your computer so that you won’t go to that website one more time, or staying when you really just want to walk out and leave it all.

We’ve fooled ourselves into believing that we have to be great by human standards to somehow impress God. 1 Corinthians 1:27 says that God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise…the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. Sometimes the bigness of the things we do for the kingdom of God can only be seen by the One who sees the end from the beginning, and His power is made perfect in your weakness.

A Confession

I have a confession to make. It will probably come as no surprise to those of you who know me well. Here it is—I love stuff. I’ve always loved stuff; ever since I was a little boy. I remember going shopping with my mom just so that I could get a chance to go the toy department and look at all of the stuff that I didn’t have, but wished that I did. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve dealt with God and have often repented of my materialistic ways. I’ve gone through seasons where I’ve been perfectly content with the things that I have and have even been ready to give it all away. Then there are the other times. The times when I secretly shop online, looking at bigger TV’s, shinier cell phones, tablets, cars, houses, and of course, Lego. It can suck me in at a moment’s notice and keep me focused on all the things I don’t have but wished that I did for hours. Modern advertising hasn’t helped. My Facebook page has ads tailored to my specific shopping habits. My email inbox has subject lines like, “25% off all orders over $100—today only.” And all too often I bite. Not necessarily actually buying anything, but I look…more than once. It seems like just when I’ve gotten this thing under control it rears its ugly head again and there I am looking at the ads for a new phone when mine is only 18 months old. I’ve tried to change. I’ve read books and blogs that tell me how I should be. I know that I need to avoid contact with my eyes. Pray. Read my Bible. Give instead of receive. I get it. But theory is always easier than practice, and this year Lego is going to come out with something new that my heart is going to tell me I have to have. I know that heart. It’s led me astray many times. I read somewhere that it was deceitful and desperately wicked—I concur. Sometimes I’m just at a loss as to what to do to fix the problem. That’s where the power of the Word of God comes to the rescue in my life. A verse that I memorized when I was in high school has helped me to bring this issue and many others that I’ve dealt with over the years into proper perspective. Jeremiah 29:13 says this, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Now I know that some of you are going to look at this verse and shake your heads because, “this is a promise that God was giving to the Israelites specifically about returning to the land of Israel.” Trust me. I’ve already heard that one. Here’s my take on that.  Paul says that all scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, training, etc. I also know that God never changes. So if both of those things are true, then there’s a simple principle here that I can rely on—simple to understand, not simple to practice. It’s the principle of seeking. In all of my struggles to lay down my love of the material, or any other sin for that matter, I am wasting my time if I’m just trying to stop doing something. The goal of my life is not self-improvement. It’s to glorify God. So then the answer to defeating the sin in my life isn’t the 10 steps or the 5 keys or whatever else is out there this month. It’s simply seeking Him. Wholeheartedly. Turn off the phone. Shut down the email. Grab a cup of coffee and seek. Be like Jacob and cry out, “I won’t let you go until you bless me!” Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. Our God likes persistence. It reveals the true character that lies within. The root of my problem isn’t that I love stuff too much. It’s that I love God too little. The answer isn’t out there in the web somewhere, it’s in that old NASB Bible with the worn cover and the dangerously thin pages. If I want more of Him all I have to do is look for Him with an undivided heart.

Young Man/Old Man

Young Man/Old Man

When I was a kid, we liked to watch the Muppet Show. I think my two least favorite characters on the show were Statler and Waldorf. They were two old men who sat in the balcony while the show was going on and made fun of everything as it happened. They were sarcastic and never satisfied with anything. There was nothing they couldn’t poke holes in or make fun of. I’m not sure what it was about them that I didn’t like; maybe they offended the wide-eyed optimism of my youth, or maybe they were just mean and nasty. All I knew is that I didn’t like them.

Fast forward thirty-five (or so) years and I’m discovering that to some degree I’ve become what I didn’t like as a child. Sometimes I hear myself complaining or comparing, and I can hear Statler and Waldorf in my head; laughing, poking fun, looking down on the hopeful dreams of the next generation. I don’t mean to be this way, sometimes it just sort of comes out. I remember thinking as a child that there certain things I would never say to my children and then when theory becomes practice, I sometimes find those very words coming out of my mouth. Like it or not, I sometimes feel myself becoming the old curmudgeon who sees the flaws in everything, but doesn’t see the promise of the future.

Now here’s where things get really confusing. I see myself as somewhat of a creative personality. I do lots of creative writing for my job. I’m always trying to come up with new and inventive ways to do things. One of my mottos is, “If it ain’t broke, what would happen if I broke it?” I like turning things upside down and seeing what happens. After all, you’ll never know if you never try, right? That’s the kind of thinking that led me to follow God’s call out of the classroom and into ministry. Now, ten years later, I find myself strangely battling between these two parts of me. Like the proverbial angel on one shoulder and demon on the other, I have Statler and Waldorf on my left, and a crazy little kid on my right. It’s a strange mix and a recipe for disaster or greatness.

One of the things I’m learning as I get older is that there’s something to learn from both of the voices I hear. Proverbs 4:1 says, “Hear, O sons the instruction of a father, and give attention that you may gain understanding.” I’m coming to understand that hearing my dad’s voice in my head isn’t always a bad thing. There’s just a wisdom that comes from living life…from having been there and done that. It’s why I have older men in my life to speak wisdom to me as a forty-something year old man. It’s why I build relationships with men who are younger than me. That voice that speaks caution, that voice that knows what’s going to work, that voice that knows what’s not going to work; it’s not a bad thing to listen to that voice.

The problem comes when I let that voice drown out the young man calling out inside me. Paul told Timothy not to let anyone look down on his youthfulness. We can’t forget that youth carries a certain vitality that is just as necessary as the wisdom that age brings. Youth gives us the courage to climb mountains and defeat dragons. It’s full of spark and imagination. When we ignore that voice we become Statler and Waldorf—always making fun; always saying that it can’t be done. We trample the dreams of the next generation.

What I’m learning is that there has to be a balance. Either of these in isolation runs the risk of becoming something ugly. But when we find the middle ground here, I think we find something that looks more like the body of Christ should look. We should always have those men who are older than us who speak truth into our lives. We also should have men who are younger than us that we are speaking to, but in then end none of it matters if we don’t listen. Young men can’t be afraid of the voices of their fathers when they hear them in their heads. I’m discovering that the voice of my dad is often the voice of wisdom telling me to step back, to re-evaluate, look at it from all sides. However, old men can’t be afraid of the little boy still inside of them. That’s the voice that challenges us to keep trying new things; to not be afraid of new ideas; to be willing to see what would happen if… And here I stand strangely in the middle, trying to balance those two voices in my life and hopeful for the future that God brings in this new year.

Loving My Wife

First Post. I guess this one should be about me, but it’s not going to be. If you’re reading this, you probably already know me, and if you don’t, then hopefully as you read this you’ll begin to see my heart and get to know me a little better.
This year marks my twentieth wedding anniversary. I hardly feel old enough to have been married twenty years, but nevertheless, here I am. A couple of months ago, I thought it would be fun and a little romantic to begin twenty days before my actual anniversary and do twenty things for my wife–One thing each day. I have to say that some of the stuff I’ve done has been great. She loved the new kitchen table (we hadn’t had one in nearly a year); I’m sure cleaning the refrigerator was a big hit; and the night spent watching old Christmas shows on TV probably ranks up there too. There have also been some misses and some times where I’ve barely gotten something in before the day was over. And now, tomorrow is the big day. The end of the twenty days. I’m not much of a philosopher, but the past twenty days has caused me to do some reflecting and led me to some conclusions about how I love my wife.
When I get the opportunity to teach adult men, I often tell them that the standard for loving our wives is to love them like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her). What that means in practical terms is that when we disagree, argue, or fight with our wives if our goal is to be right, or to win, or any other thing besides loving our wives like Christ loved the church, then we’re wrong—even if we’re factually right. In theory, I’ve got this one down. I think my wife would testify that in practice, I could use some work.
Over the past twenty days God’s led me to an even better understanding of this. If I’m really loving my wife the way I should, I shouldn’t choose only twenty days out of one year to show her. I should be loving her every day. I remember an old joke that my dad probably told me (because he’s the king of cheesy jokes). There’s a guy whose wife complains that he never tells her he loves her anymore. He says, “The day we got married, I told you that I loved you. If I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.” Telling your wife that you love her is all well and good. I’m told that women need to hear it from time to time. I’ve learned that showing your wife that you love her is even better. When I look at the New Testament to see how Jesus loves the church, I don’t see a sentimental, wishy-washy kind of love. I see the kind of love John was talking about when he said, “Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” His love was active. It meets us where we are. It challenges us. It comforts us. It sacrifices for us. I think any man I know would say that he would willingly die for his wife. My question is, “Would you willingly give up the living part of your life for her?”
Jesus’s death on the cross was the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us, but leading up to that was an entire life of sacrifice on our behalf. If my love for my wife is a picture of Christ’s love for the church, how does that play out in my marriage? Does it mean that I cut off a meeting at 5:00 so that I can be home at the time she’s expecting me? Does it mean that I do the dishes after dinner or help the kids with their homework? I’m still exploring what it looks like, but I know this. The challenge for me now is not to come up with twenty ways to show my love for my wife. It’s to come up with a lifetime of ways to show her how much I love her.