I would not call myself a prayer warrior. I do pray…often…daily…regularly. I even have a prayer list. I pull it out at least once a week, read over it, add to it and highlight prayers that have been answered. But, I’m no prayer warrior. You know the person who exercises regularly but will never be a professional athlete or body builder? That’s the kind of prayer person I am. I strive to keep my praying in shape, but I don’t think I’ll ever be elite.
I’m okay with this. I don’t feel guilty about it all. However, in my efforts to keep my prayers in shape I am always looking for ways to pray more effectively. I don’t mean that I am trying to be more eloquent or even spend more time. I just want to do it better…fine-tune my prayers. Especially when it comes to praying for my boys. I call them boys, but three of them are closer to manhood than they are to boyhood. I guess that is why I feel the urgency to pray more effectively for them.
The pull in my mind is to pray for their situational challenges. Things like success in school, activities with friends, protection when they are driving or good attitudes. My tendency is to gravitate toward the hardships they are encountering that are making their relative comfortable lives uncomfortable. The normal teenage, young adult challenges that in 10 years will mean nothing. Although these things are not insignificant, I’m not sure these requests are the most effective prayers. Here’s why: even if all of my prayers for their current challenges were answered today, they would wake up tomorrow with a new set of problems. I can’t pray their troubles away because life on this planet will always be laced with trouble. Jesus said that. He wasn’t kidding.
So really, how effective is it for me to spend my time praying for their normal challenges to end when there is another round of problems just waiting to take their place. Am I really helping them by asking for their adolescent discomforts to go away? Maybe there is a better way to pray. Prayers that will help them learn from their troubles, grow through their obstacles, and even be used of God while they persevere.
Fine-tuning my prayers happens best when I use Scripture. I recently came across this prayer the Apostle Paul prayed for his friends in the city of Philippi:
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”
Paul does not pray for their challenges to change or cease to exist. He prays for their love to grow implying that love is needed more than easier circumstances. Notice these key words in his prayer and their meanings:
Love – their love for God and others
Abound more and more – their love for God and others would be a growing and controlling influence in their lives
Knowledge – they would learn to love God and others the best way
Discern – they would learn to love what is best…choosing best over what is good
Pure – a sincere love with selfish motives filtered out
Blameless – a love that will not cause others to stumble
As I came across this prayer I thought, What if I prayed this way for my boys? What if, instead of praying for their troubles to cease, I began to pray for their love to grow? What if I prayed for them to have a knowledgeable love, a discerning love, a pure and blameless love? I can’t pray all their challenges away, but I can pray their love for God and others will increase. In the long run this prayer may help them more than praying for their immediate discomforts to go away.
It is possible that God is using pain, disappointment and struggles to make them better people. If that is the case, when I pray for their discomfort to go away I am actually praying against what God is trying to accomplish. However, I can’t go wrong by asking God to give them a better, stronger, more intense love for Him and the people He wants to reach through them. This is a fine-tuned prayer.
Let me give you an example of how I might do this. Without specifically naming one of my sons, I might use Paul’s prayer as a model to pray for my son:
Father, please teach my son to love You more in the challenges he is facing at school and in sports. I ask his love for You would be so strong that it would influence the way he acts around his girlfriend, his teachers and our family. Let his love for You not be boring or routine. Instead let it grow. Let this love give him discernment in his choices. Let it root out selfishness in his heart. Let it help others find you as walks the halls of his school. Father, let him love, follow and share Jesus so that on the day of our Lord’s return he will be found faithfully living for You. I pray this in Jesus’ name.
We can pray this way for anyone. It doesn’t just have to be our kids, but I think I will start with them. I think they need me praying fine-tuned prayers.
“Don’t interrupt me!” That is what I wanted to say. I was busy. I was in my zone. I was finishing a sermon outline. Others needed me to get it done. I needed to get it done. Yet, here was this person standing in my office pleading for my attention.
We all have to deal with interruptions. They bring information forcing us into a decision. The first decision is the most important one: Is the information contained in the interruption worthy of my attention? If not, we blow off the interruption and get back to what we were doing. However, if the information grabs us our life is set on a new course.
Interruptions are one of God’s favorite tools. He uses them to give us a choice. Will we listen to Him or ignore Him? Will we shrug off the interruption or will it set us on a new course? Interruptions are a door to faith.
Christmas is an interruption. It just ended. Right now we are all getting back to what we normally do because the interruption of Christmas is over. But ever since the birth of Jesus, we have an annual interruption from God. He interrupts our lives to give us an opportunity to respond in faith to Him. This is not a new tactic. He did it first with the shepherds.
I am reminded of God’s ability to interrupt each time I see a Nativity scene. Joseph and Mary, the shepherds and a small cluster of farm animals all gazing at the infant Savior lying in a manger. Joseph and Mary knew the Savior was coming. They had insider information. The shepherds had no idea that Jesus was being born that night. Someone had to tell them. If you want to know how God uses interruptions, pay attention to what happened to the shepherds.
The shepherds were minding their own business that night. They had no idea something special was happening within walking distance of their routine lives. All of sudden God interrupted their comfortable existence. He sent them a messenger.
We don’t get to choose when or how God gets our attention. The shepherds’ calendars failed to point out their divine appointment. They had no idea God would rattle their cage and they certainly did not know the messenger would be an angel followed by a heavenly parade of angelic beings.
The angel announced the birth of Jesus. The announcement reminds us we don’t get to choose what God brings to our attention. We all have questions we would like God to answer, but God interrupts and speaks to us about what we need to know not what we would like to know.
God still interrupts our lives. We don’t get to choose when He does it. We don’t get to choose how He does it, and we don’t get to choose the content of the message. He interrupts our lives and tells us what we need to hear. Without these interruptions, we would never know faith is an option.
We are told they felt “frightened.” It is an interesting word. It means fear, alarmed, uncertain. In others words, God’s interruption scared them. We would like to think God uses pleasant tactics when getting our attention, but that is not always the case. God doesn’t always give us a warm fuzzy. In fact, I would say God’s interruptions are going to make us feel unpleasant before we feel safe and for many of us that is the problem.
The shepherds felt fear not comfort. What would they do with that? Would it motivate them to listen and respond? Or would they be offended?
Because God interrupts us with what we need to know instead of what we want to know and since His interruption will create an unpleasant feeling instead of tingly goose bumps, it becomes easy for us to ignore the interruption or worse be offended by it. This is critical. If we ignore the interruption, we will miss out on what God wants to pull us into. If we are offended by it, we begin to think God is rude, inconsiderate and out of touch.
The shepherds had a choice: Would they obey their feelings or would they push against what they felt and listen to what they heard? We are presented with the same choice every time God interrupts our cozy existence.
After the angels left, we are told the shepherds decided to go see what the Lord had told them about. They pushed against their fears and responded to what they had been told. This is faith. Faith is not just believing information. Faith is believing and acting on information. The information from the angel gave them the option to move in faith. Before the interruption and before they felt unpleasant, faith was not an option.
Humans don’t get to choose when faith is an option. God creates that option when He interrupts our lives. That’s why the interruptions are so important. It is at His discretion when He calls to us. His interruption may feel rude or inconsiderate or simply not what we want to hear, but it is God. Give Him some space. He probably knows something we don’t know. If we can get past how it makes us feel, we will be swept off our feet into the wonder of God’s power and love. That is what happened to the shepherds and it can happen to us too. (Fact-check what I’m sharing. Please read Luke 2:1-20.)
Christmas is over. The nativity scenes will be put away this week. We won’t see the shepherd figurines for another 365 days. This year’s interruption has ended. How did you respond?
If you don’t think you did to well, don’t be discouraged. As long as you are breathing, God will be interrupting. He’s not being rude or inconsiderate. He just wants you to see what He is doing.
The only reason I am sharing this is because I’ve had so many people ask. They did not start asking until about 6 weeks ago. Before then, no one seemed to notice; but over the last 6 weeks I think I’ve been frequently asked this question: “Have you lost some weight?” The observation is correct. I have lost 25 pounds.
The next question is “How did you do it?” Before I share the answer let me cover my legal obligations by stating that I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. I’ve had no training in the proper or healthy techniques of weight loss. By all means, if I share something that you think will help you, then please try it. However, if you have an existing medical condition or are taking medications, please contact your physician before trying these weight loss methods (see…I do pay attention to legal disclaimers).
It was last March. I went for my annual physical. The doctor weighed me, examined me, poked, prodded and then questioned me about my overall health. He then looked at me and said, “You are a healthy 40 something.” If his comments had stopped there I would have walked away with a smile, but he didn’t stop. He looked at me with no emotion and said, “You need to lose 30 lbs. I’ll see you next year.” He turned and walked out of the room. I think he said, “Call me if you need me” as he walked away. That was it. No explanation. No motivational speech.
My inner voice yelled, “If I’m healthy then why do I need to lose 30 lbs.?” I might have actually said something with my real voice, but he was gone as if he knew I would object. The next day I shared this encounter with a trusted partner at the church. This person is a friend. An advisor. A confidant. I thought he would tell me the doctor had lost his mind, but instead he looked at me said, “Yeah, you probably need to lose some weight.” I couldn’t believe it. I was looking for sympathy and found validation. It was on! I decided I was going to lose some weight.
Being a product of the 21st Century, I did what any reasonable person would do. I searched “weight loss” in the App Store. If you like options this is the way to go. I found a weight loss app for every day of the month. Apparently my desire to lose weight was not an isolated situation. I did not let the options overwhelm me. I began to read through the descriptions and finally landed on MyFitnessPal.
MyFinessPal is a calorie counting app with a huge food calorie database, but it goes one step further. It also counts how many calories I burn each day by counting my steps each day. The app notifies me when I’m not reaching my goal. It is free app.
After I plugged in my information, stated my weight loss goal and the rate at which I wanted to reach that goal, I simply started following the personal notifications (you do have to type in what you eat each day). After about 3 days of using the app I realized something needed to change. I could not burn enough calories just walking around the church and to the frig.
I have always exercised, but this app was notifying me every day with bright red letters that I was not exercising enough. I could eat less, but when I tried lowering my calorie intake enough to make the red letters go away, it would notify me that I was starving. I realized I had to start exercising and lower my calorie intake at the same time.
I started jogging. I have jogged on and off for years, but I’ve never really done it consistently. Here is the shocker: I don’t really like jogging. I do it because it is free. I jog 3 times a week…Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I have a love hate relationship with it. Listening to music and audio books is what keeps me sane.
One upside to this commitment of burning more calories is that I also started walking with Cherry. When the weather is nice, we walk. It is one my favorite things to do. Before the cold of winter showed up, it was not uncommon for me to walk and jog over 25 miles a week. During winter this will be hard to maintain. I will jog at the YMCA and walking will resume in the spring.
Even though I became more active, I still needed to reduce my calorie intake. I cut out snacks, getting seconds and closely watched my portions, but it was still not enough. One morning while eating cardboard that I called cereal, I discovered how many calories I was consuming. It dawned on me the “healthy” cereal I was shoveling into my mouth was secretly thwarting my calorie goals. I decided I did not need breakfast.
I know everyone says breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but honestly I haven’t missed it. Instead of eating breakfast, I drink water; and to change it up, some days I go crazy and drink a diet green tea. By the time lunch rolls around, I am hungry, but I’m not famished. I realize this might not work for you, but it seems to work for me. On the days I have a breakfast appointment, I skip lunch and drink water.
I told you at the beginning. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. And I was serious; if you’re thinking about trying what I’ve been doing and you take medications or have an ongoing medical condition, please speak to your doctor first.
I’ve been following this routine for 9 months and I’ve lost 25 pounds. Winter will be a challenge and the holidays will require some extra discipline. I’m going to keep going until I reach my goal of 30 pounds. Here are three things I learned:
1) It takes time to lose weight. I’ve been doing this for 9 months. With the app, I chose a moderately aggressive weight loss goal and it has still taken almost 40 weeks to lose 25 pounds.
2) No one actually said anything to me about my weight loss for 7 months. That means there were no outside voices of encouragement. Be prepared for that.
3) The first 3 months are the hardest. I practiced my new habits 3 months before I actually started feeling better and having more energy. Don’t give up too quickly when starting new habits.
I don’t remember when it happened. I don’t recall any out of the ordinary events. I do remember I was a teenager. I remember I was in my bedroom. Apart from that I don’t really recall anything else. I was reading my Bible. Again, I don’t really know why. I had spurts through my teenage years when I would read it. I guess this was one of those spurts.
I was reading about Solomon. His father, King David had died, and the throne of Israel was being passed to him. Soon after his coronation God came to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want for me to give you.” Wow! I remember thinking: Really? God does that kind of thing? God was giving Solomon a blank check. He could ask for anything: a long life, personal wealth, military victories, or political success. Needless to say I was impressed and puzzled when he asked for the ability to make good choices. Yep…he took his blank check from God and cashed it in for wisdom. Check out 1 Kings 3:5-12 to fact check me.
God goes on to share with Solomon that He will give him everything he needs to be the greatest political leader in all of history. He does this because Solomon asked for wisdom instead of success. I was so intrigued by the story (and maybe hoping God would make me awesome too) that I decided at that moment to start asking God for wisdom.
It is not as easy to define as one might think. Just Google the question and you’ll see there are over 59 million Internet answers. The most generally agreed upon definition includes one’s ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, insight and good judgment. Neither a college degree nor an AARP membership is required.
To complicate things there are two kinds of wisdom. The first and most common kind is what the Bible calls human wisdom. Human wisdom has one glaring weakness. It is human. We can’t see the future, the whole picture or even our own motivations when making decisions. We try to understand as much as we can, but we are just limited. Therefore, human wisdom can only be as wise as humans. It’s tricky because human wisdom cannot separate itself from human selfishness. That’s why the Bible describes human wisdom as earthly, unspiritual and in some cases even demonic.
The second kind of wisdom is called God’s wisdom or heavenly wisdom. It comes from God and is bound to His character. It is not of this world and it comes from One who can see the future, all the pieces of the past and even the desires of our hearts. We cannot generate this wisdom. We must receive it. It is not common, but it is easily accessible; that is, if you believe the Bible.
God’s wisdom is available to any person who asks for it. You would think something this precious would be hard to get, but it is not. The Bible is emphatically clear: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” All we have to do to receive God’s wisdom is to ask for it. But asking Him requires two things from us. First, we must believe that God exists and that He cares about our personal decisions. Second, we must humble ourselves and acknowledge that we need His wisdom for the decisions we have to make. If we can get over these two hurdles we are in a good position to ask.
Once we’ve got the asking part down, the Bible then informs us of what we must NOT do for the wisdom to be effective in our lives.
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
The greatest tragedy that occurs when asking God for wisdom is when we doubt His answer. Imagine a patient asking a doctor for medical advice. The doctor prescribes a medicine and a plan to bring about health. The patient listens but immediately begins to doubt the advice and the intentions of the doctor. The prescription is expensive and comes with side effects. The plan requires a diet change, routine exercise and regular check-ups. The patient begins to think: Does this doctor really have my best interests in mind? What he is asking me to do is costly, time-consuming, uncomfortable and intrusive? THERE HAS GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY!!!! The doctor assures the patient the advice will work and bring health, but the patient has heard enough. He is committed to getting a second opinion.
Many times we are the above patient and God is the doctor. We ask Him for wisdom and He gives us an action plan, but it is not what we wanted to hear. Why?
God’s wisdom is not like human wisdom. It is higher and purer. It loves peace and is way more considerate than human wisdom. God’s wisdom encourages humble choices, keeps the greater good in mind and will promote mercy over justice. It will cling to what is good and hate what is evil…every time. It has no hint of prejudice toward others. In essence, the thoughts and ideas we receive as a result of God’s wisdom will not be conventional. They will not be thoughts and ideas we would think on our own.
God’s wisdom will encourage you to forgive when human wisdom will push you to hold a grudge. God’s wisdom may nudge you to slow down and respond to someone else’s pain when human wisdom is screaming you don’t have time. God’s wisdom will direct you to do the good thing when human wisdom tells you it’s reasonable to be selfish. God’s wisdom will admonish you to shut up and listen when every fiber in you wants to lash out. Don’t doubt God’s wisdom because it is unconventional. Don’t doubt God’s wisdom because it feels out-of-place. It is it’s unusual quality of being abnormal that makes it not of this world.
The danger of doubting God’s wisdom is that we are left with nothing. We have no rudder for the storms of life. No GPS for the turns ahead. No compass pointing true. We end up just getting tossed around by the latest fads, morning talk shows or pop psychology. All generated by human wisdom.
It is simple. Ask God for wisdom and He will give it. But hang on, the ideas you will have as a result of His wisdom will not look like your normal way of reasoning. I try to remember this when I pray for wisdom so I can resist the temptation to doubt His answer.
Start with the biggest question in your life right now. Does God care? Will He help if you ask? If you don’t believe He will then your search for God’s wisdom is over. Your only option is human wisdom. However, if you believe He cares and will answer your request for wisdom, ask Him for it…right now.
Now…wait. Listen. Relax. His wisdom will come. Help is on the way.
The week of Thanksgiving…what a great week! Football, food, family (not in that order)—all good things. I have celebrated over 40 (getting close to 50) Thanksgivings in my life. I can’t remember a bad one. Even though all of my memories are good, I must admit Thanksgiving has changed through the years. The holiday looks different as an adult than it did as a kid or teen. Let me explain.
My family would load up and go to my grandparent’s house in what was then the rural town of Albertville, AL. My grandparents (on my dad’s side) lived on a farm that had cows, a couple of horses, a cornfield and a 40-acre Pecan orchard. There was plenty of open space to roam, play football or have a dirt clod battle in the barn (some of those dirt clods smelled suspicious). At these gatherings I remember seeing more food than could possibly be eaten, having days I wish would not end and sometimes laughing so hard that my face and stomach hurt.
Both of my parents are from this town so my aunts, uncles and cousins from both sides of the family would be there. My mom’s family was smaller than my dad’s so most of the time they would join us on the farm. My grandmother (on my mom’s side) was a sweet, quiet lady who constantly smiled. Thanksgiving for her was different than it was for the rest of us. She had lost her husband to heart disease many years earlier, outlived some of her children and experienced many disappointments in life. Thanksgiving to her was a reminder of who was not there. Even though she laughed and celebrated with all of us, I can still remember seeing sadness in her eyes. I saw in her that it is possible to be thankful even when life has been hard.
When I got married, my family grew. I could no longer just go to Albertville and celebrate. My wife’s parents became a part of my family. They live in Clearwater, FL. Cherry’s parents are lovely people, but they are unique. They march to their own drum and rarely change the beat for anyone else. We love them and enjoy being with them, but it is not always easy. In spite of this, we wanted to spend the holiday with them.
For the first several years of our marriage, the years prior to kids, Thanksgiving turned into a road trip to Clearwater. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for those trips. Even though I missed my family in Albertville, I was having a blast with Cherry and her family. I learned as life changes we gain more people to be thankful for even when those people are different than us. That became abundantly clear when we had kids; and Thanksgiving changed again. With kids, road trips became more challenging and expensive. Thanksgiving began turning into grandparents coming to us.
In 2007, Cherry and I shared with our parents that God had opened a door for us to move to California. We were excited about the opportunity and even though our parents were very supportive, they were also sad. It was our first Thanksgiving in CA when their sadness caught up to me. It would be the first time we would not be with any extended family. We would be alone. I’ll never forget Cherry crying in bed on Thanksgiving morning. I’ll always remember telling the boys that we were not going to AL or FL and that no one was coming to us. I can still see their blank stares that silently screamed, “What are we going to do?”
That first year was rough, but it got better. God gave us new friends and even though they were not family, the friends became like family. For a couple of years one family in particular, the Hernandez clan always invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them. One year we spent the holiday at one of the prettiest places on the planet: Lake Tahoe. Cherry had a co-worker who let us use her cabin. To this day that Thanksgiving weekend has been one of my favorites.
We now live in Ohio. Our kids are teenagers. It is next to impossible to go to AL or FL for a holiday weekend. Grandparents come to us some years, but we never see any extended family. We have now made our own traditions, invited others to join us in our celebration and learned that God’s faithfulness endures no matter where we are, whom we are with or who is missing.
The holiday season is a happy and sad time at the Duckett home. We are happy because God has been so good, given us so much and been faithful to us in ways we cannot fully describe. We are sad because in spite of what we do have, what we don’t have is the large family gathering of the past. To follow the Lord we have made sacrifices and endured separations. We would do it again, but to follow Him costs something. The cost is small when we filter it through the eyes of eternity. I believe whatever sacrifice we make or separation we endure for Christ will be richly rewarded on earth and in Heaven, but while on earth we will always feel the scar of the cost.
Thanksgiving changed again in 2015. In fact, Cherry and I were not even in the country. We were in Colombia. We had gone there to bring home two brothers we were in the process of adopting. We desperately tried to jump through all the necessary hoops to have them home for Thanksgiving. It just was not meant to be.
On that day we ate our Thanksgiving meal at a food court at a mall in Bogotá with our adoptive sons. As happy as we were, the moment was awkward. Neither one of them could speak English, turkey and stuffing was on no menu and our biological sons, who we missed terribly, were back in the States waiting for us to all return. To make the moment even more awkward, Colombia does not observe Thanksgiving. No one knew what Cherry and I were celebrating, and no one would understand us if we tried to explain it. It truly was a wonderful, awkward day.
Much has changed in two years. The boys are speaking English now (sometimes too much) and they are growing in their understanding of the holiday. They have discovered what green bean casserole and pecan pie is, but they don’t care for either of them. Some things have not changed; we are still experiencing some awkward family moments. One thing no one tells you when you adopt is that your family will never again be what it was. That one fact is both wonderful and sad at the same time. I can’t explain it. I just know that’s how it is. I do know I am thankful for my family. I love them all; the ones I’m with and the ones that are miles away. As the years unfold Thanksgiving will continue to change. I accept this and I look forward to it because my God, like a master chef, knows how to mix the ingredients of life to make something wonderful and tasty.
What is your greatest possession? Take your time. Think a little bit about this before rushing to the next paragraph. I would guess your answer is probably influenced by the season of life you are going through. For instance, a child might say their greatest possession is a $5 toy. A teenager might grab their smart phone. For a young adult, it might be their car. A family man might say it is his paycheck. A person recovering from cancer might be more philosophical and say it is their health. A happily married person might claim it is their relationship and the person approaching retirement is certain it is their 401(k). It’s funny how things gain and lose value as we journey through life.
What if there was something we could possess that never lost its value or its usefulness? A possession that remained important and relevant through every season of life. I think I have discovered this item. I think it may be my greatest possession. It’s odd, but I have not always thought so highly of this item. At times I have ignored it, even abhorred it. On some days I have seen it as a distraction I wished would go away and at other times I have found it to be exactly what I needed. There have been times I’ve used this item thinking, “It is outdated, not relevant, not helpful.” And yet, because I keep going back to it, I have had some defining moments with it. It has given me inspiration, guidance and even hope. Honestly, I have experienced both love and estrangement with this item. It is the Bible.
Before you tune me out, please give me a chance to explain. I’ve always felt the Bible contains important information, but just because something is important doesn’t mean it will be useful in everyday life. I at times have viewed the information in the Bible like I viewed the Pythagorean Theorem. It was useful. I needed it to graduate from high school (so did you…even if you don’t remember what it is), but really? How often do I use the Pythagorean Theorem? How relevant is that bit of mathematical information to me today in this season of life?
As I continue to make my way through life, I am discovering the words in the Bible is not like other information. Other information may be useful for a season, but it loses its relevance as time passes. What is it about the Bible that makes it useful and relevant for every season of life?
As the world continues its moral slide, God’s Word just keeps speaking truth. Society values what is commonly known as relative truth (meaning truth changes to adapt to a situation). However, the Bible speaks absolute truth. It is constant and can be applied to whatever situation we find ourselves experiencing.
Speaking truth makes the Bible both precious and disdained at the same time. It is precious because truth is rare in our world. What organization or person do you know that only speaks truth? Congress? The media? Educational systems? Neighbors? Spouses? Children? Heck, we even lie to ourselves. Hopefully the people closest to you lie the least to you, but God’s Word never lies. It only speaks truth and that is precious when everyone else has the capacity to speak lies. Unfortunately, the Bible is disdained for the same reason it is precious. Because it only speaks truth, it can be abrasive. It will not speak what we want to hear even if all of humanity claims its information is wrong or backwards or exclusive. For this reason, people claim the Bible is no longer relevant. Or, they twist it’s words to make them more palatable. Often people have reduced the Scriptures to an archaic suggestion that less intelligent people hold as truth.
The Bible is a “faith” book more than a “logic” book. Because of this, its truth will not always seem or feel normal. Our human nature will push back. If we don’t use faith when reading the Bible we will never accept that it only speaks truth. One of the greatest dangers people make with God’s Word is to treat it like one of those huge buffet restaurants. At a buffet we choose the food we think or know will taste good. We leave behind what we think or know tastes bad. The Bible cannot be treated this way. It is an all or nothing acceptance. If we treat it like a buffet then we are assuming we have the wisdom to know what is true and what is not. Obviously, that is above humanity’s pay grade. Truth can leave a bad taste in our mouth (especially if someone is misusing it for personal gain), but just because something tastes bad doesn’t mean it’s not good for us.
I don’t know what you think of the Bible, but I can tell you it helps me weekly and sometimes even daily. It helps me be a better husband, father and leader. It has become my most valuable possession. If you approach it with faith and humility (like letting someone give you something from the buffet you wouldn’t choose) and trust that it only speaks truth, it may become your greatest possession too.
“I love Pastor Stephen!” Those were the first words I heard when I got in the car with my son. We had just finished helping Stephen and his family move into their new home. You know how it is…moving is not the most fun thing in the world to do. It had been a long day. We started packing (and then unpacking) the truck at 4pm. It was now a little after 9. I thought my son might be a little grumpy. He had spent his afternoon and most of the evening lifting and pushing and carrying; but that was not the case.
With a rapid fire of words he began to explain this outburst about Stephen. “He is easy to talk to…he is funny…he listens to me…he is just a good guy to be around.” I can’t tell you how much I appreciated what my son was saying. I am thrilled that Pastor Stephen is having a positive influence in his life.
As I listened to him, I was reminded of the relationships I had when I was a teenager at church. I am fortunate. My mind is filled with positive memories from that part of my past. During my teenage years the church I attended had two different youth pastors; and while I had a positive relationship with both men, it was the relationships I developed with other adults and peers that impacted me the most. While growing into a young man it was the adult leaders (Bible study leaders, chaperones and my friend’s parents) and my peers at church that taught me and challenged me to hear and follow God’s voice. I had coaches. I had teachers. I had other adults that taught me many important life skills, but it was only at church that I was challenged to be a Godly person.
It saddens me to think how many teens today do not have the exposure to God’s people I had while growing up. I realize the times are different. I understand that social surveys and cultural shifts all point to people (including teenagers) spending less time at church. I know there are many successful and educated individuals that are challenging the next generation to be kind, good and responsible citizens. Boatloads of resources are available to prepare teenagers for a career. Teachers, counselors, mentors and coaches stand ready to share the wisdom needed for a stable life. Millions of dollars are being used to develop educational tools, social awareness curriculums and community programs to help the next generation be better people. But, I have one question: Who is challenging them to love, follow and share Jesus?
One reason I want my boys to be exposed to the influences of a church is because of the people they will meet and the friendships they will develop. The activities at a church teach us things about the bible and God, but that knowledge is left wanting without the influence of the people who are there putting into practice what is being taught. My boys need the voices of men, women and peers who are actively trying to pursue God (honestly, I need those voices to). It brings clarity to all the other voices they are hearing.
When I was growing up the forces of culture and my own selfish nature constantly pulled at me. They were vying to shape my worldview and establish my values. The pursuit of integrity, the value of human life, my self-worth, the importance of hard work, my respect for others, and my stance on drugs, sexuality and social justice where all being formed. Only at church, among imperfect people, was I being challenged to view the world as God sees it. I think the same holds true for my boys today.
Many people will challenge what I am saying with the horror stories of people at church behaving badly. It’s true. The church has had and will continue to have a handful of people in it who are bad, wrong, mean and maybe even evil. I wish this were not true, but I can tell you those individuals are the exception and not the norm. Parents who hold flawed individuals up as their reason for not involving their families in a local church have missed the point of the Church. The purpose of the Church (this includes all people who follow Jesus in various local churches) is not to create perfect individuals. The Church exists to help people pursue, love and follow God in a world that does whatever is right in its own eyes. A few people in our local churches will miss this mark badly, but that does not mean the Church is a waste of time or lost its relevance. It just means the Church is imperfect people learning how to pursue a loving God who transforms us as we pursue Him. No one would call a half-baked cake horrible. Instead, they would point out that it is only half-baked and needs to finish baking before it can be properly judged. People who are pursuing Jesus in the local church are all half-baked individuals. God is not through with them yet. Don’t judge them too quickly.
My heart was encouraged when my son told me a Godly man (not a perfect man) is having a positive influence in his life. It is one of the reasons I encourage all of my boys to go to church. I want my sons to have people in their lives who love the Lord. People who will help them pursue a Godly life.