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Monday, October 28, 2013

The King's Arrows

Psalm 127:3-4Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. 
A wise King has entrusted to me a beautiful gift. A quiver He’s given me, and there are seven arrows inside. He tells me to see that the arrows are well tended; one day I will return them to Him to use as He will. If I am faithful in this, He promises they will not miss their mark. I hold them with reverence, for though drab in appearance, with splintered wooden shafts and dull, uneven tips, I glimpse in them the glory of the One who fashioned them. With care these arrows may be wrought straight and true; a perfect fit to whatever purpose they are aimed. Treasuring them, I always consult the wise King in order to better understand their makeup and the skills necessary to their keeping. Being their Maker, He alone knows what is needed to ensure their great success. Keeping my whetstone close at hand, I sharpen the arrowheads and oil the shafts each day, cutting and grinding them to remove even the slightest degree of curve. An imperceptibly curved shaft, though it begin its journey from the bow with promise, will slowly leave the intended path over the course of flight and so never find the target. 
There comes a day when I awake tired. The diligent keeping of the arrows has become a drudgery as day after day I tend them with no thought to my own comfort. My neighbours have also been given arrows by the King. Observing them, I compare their many comforts to my own meagre supply. It is a wonder they have time to so look to their own desires. Curious, I enquire of them what method they employ in the tending of their arrows. It is then that I learn of the Keepers, a noble group who hire themselves out to the tending of the King’s arrows. The Keepers claim that arrows in their care will turn out truer than could ever be attained without their aid. Insisting that their help is necessary to the arrows’ proper development, they say they care for each arrow as though it was their own. The thought excites me; perhaps with the Keepers I can continue to shape my arrows yet still have time to devote to my own pursuits. I would gladly hand over my arrows to their willing hands but one thing stops me; almost have I forgotten to consult the wise King. At His prompting I gather my arrows, journeying to the land where the Keepers’ arrows are made ready for release. Here I might observe the fruit of all their labour.
I see here arrows beyond number, drawn by hired bowmen. Beautifully formed they are straight and true, with tips razor sharp. I rejoice at the sight but the joyful shout dies upon my lips as I see their dreadful target! Running from bowman to bowman I shout for them to lower their bows. Unheeding, they await the signal to release the terrible arrows and send them swiftly to their mark. I rush to the Keepers, imploring them to stay this madness, but they perceive not the arrows’ true goal, believing them to be aimed at noble targets. My eyes, however, are not so unseeing - they are aimed at the wise King Himself! Clearly these arrows have been fashioned for a single purpose which even the Keepers have not understood. Here I can see a force of evil, hidden and undetected, which drives Keeper and bowman alke. It is plain the Keepers have not consulted with the wise King in the keeping of the arrows. Denying His very existence they have preferred instead to consult their own wisdom. Thus they have created arrows whose sole purpose is to pierce the heart of the One who first formed them. This I know brings great sorrow to the King for He knows that once released the arrows will perish and be lost forever. This fact alone grieves Him most.

I begin to weep as a Keeper turns to me. Espying my seven arrows he asks if I will give them over to him. I hold tightly to that which only moments before I had been ready to release into hostile hands. With great resolve I determine never to allow any hand save mine, and that under the King’s great guidance, to prepare my arrows for their ultimate release. Their goal, too, will be the heart of the King, but their purpose lies with Him and none other. In that great purpose my precious arrows will never perish.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Under My Thumb!


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

Psalm 127:4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.

I had a dream about my son Evan, who is rapidly expanding his boundaries as our most social child. He's an extrovert to be sure. In my dream I was at a house party with some other people from Awana, a Bible club we bring our kids to each week, and there were a whole lot of kids there. It was late, around midnight, and Evan wanted to go outside with a friend to play for a bit. The atmosphere was quite free and there wouldn't be any danger, but I didn't want to allow him outdoors at that hour of the night so I said no. When he asked why, (he does this often), I could only tell him it was too late. An Awana leader who’s walk with God I admire was there and sort of pulled me aside to let me know there was no harm in allowing him and his friend to hang out at the front of the house for bit. I wasn't convinced, but couldn't think of a good reason to stick to my decision, so I told Evan to go ahead, but only for a half-hour. I woke up and after the spider webs cleared, I found myself with an object lesson to depict what can happen when we try to hold our children back beyond what is reasonable. 

Picture yourself with a little Risk™ soldier under your thumb on a table. As you push harder on the Soldier, one or more of three things will likely happen: 1.) The Risk™ piece will slip out from under your thumb and skitter away from you, 2) The Risk™ piece will be crushed under your thumb and be unfit for use with the game anymore, or 3) The Risk™ piece will withstand the pressure until it punctures your skin and injures you.

Our children are like that Risk™ piece. As they get older, they want -  they need - to branch out and spread their wings a bit, enjoy some freedoms and be allowed to make mistakes. We can tend to put our thumb down on them to keep them under our control, thinking that we're helping them by saving them from making bad decisions. If we’re honest, sometimes we’re just saying ‘no’ out of sheer laziness, not wanting to deal with the possible fall out of a ‘yes’ answer. If we're not careful though, we can push too hard. At that point our children can be like that Risk™ piece, doing one or more of those three things: 1.) Slip out from under our control and distance themselves from us, 2.) Have their wills crushed thereby injuring them and hampering their emotional and spiritual health, or 3.) Totally rebel, resulting in much emotional pain both for themselves and for us as their parents.

In looking back over my upbringing I realize that I was one whose father pushed too hard. The thumb came down and this Risk™piece had all 3 reactions. I shudder to think of where I'd be were it not for God's grace and mercy! Now decades later, I’m finding the same pattern wanting to repeat itself in my own parenting. The two big differences are that my heart is soft toward God, and I’m happily, no - ecstatically married. I adore and respect this woman. I know God has given her wisdom, and I try to listen to her, sometimes unsuccessfully. I’m not saying she’s always right and, thankfully, she’s not the sort of woman who would say that about herself. What I am saying is that this parenting thing sure becomes easier in the context of a loving marriage where both spouses are looking in the same direction. Where I falter, she excels and vice versa. In addition, where we both falter God is there to pick up the pieces, brush off our clothes, and set us upright again. 

It’s a noble thing to want to shield your children from pain; we have been called to protect, nurture and equip our children under God. But there is a point where that God-built program in us can cross over into fear. When fear takes over, wisdom is out the window, and faith is only a memory. That’s when our children reap an ill harvest. 

So I will pray. Pray for my kids, and pray for my wife. I will ask God for wisdom to navigate parenthood as he designed it to be navigated and when all is said and done I’ll have seven straight Risk™soldiers, sharp arrows that will fly true and hit the mark.


Friday, October 11, 2013

He-Man, Sin, and Temptation


 1Corinthians 10:13
 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

When I was a boy, I loved He-Man. I may be dating myself here, so if you haven’t heard of He-Man, get with it man!  Just kidding - you can find him on YouTube of course, where you can find anything. But what boy wouldn’t like He-Man? I mean, this guy had a magic sword that could transform him into a muscle bound bundle of invincibility! I would get chills every time he made that transformation and would hold up his sword and proclaim, “I have the power!” I wanted to be able to say that, I wanted that sword, that power, and that cool tiger to ride!  When I thought no one was looking, I’d transform my backyard into that mystical landscape and pretend I was him, with a real live apple tree branch for a sword. Yep! I was all-powerful until my mother called me in for lunch. 

Recently, I was chatting with a co-worker who is going through a hard time. She told me that to encourage herself, she wanted to find the bible verse that explains that God will not allow us to go through a trial that is too much for us to bear. The verse she was thinking about is 1Corinthians 10:13. When she found it she wasn’t sure it applied to her situation because it says that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, not that God will not allow us to face a trial that is beyond what we can bear. To further confuse the issue, a friend had also told her that God does allow trials in our lives that are too great for us to bear so that we will lean on Him to make it through them. So what had been a potentially encouraging passage of scripture to her was rendered not so because she was interpreting the word ‘temptation’ too narrowly.

I was a bit surprised at her conclusion that this verse did not really apply to her situation, and wondered if there may be other believers out there who might come to the same conclusion and pass over that scripture when going through a trial. So here’s my attempt at a cursory definition of terms, namely - what is tempation and what is sin?  The bible tells us in James 1:14-15,

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death”

It also tells us in Romans 14:23

“But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin”.

So maybe we’ll start with sin, and use a classic example: alcohol consumption. I’d say that Christians are quite fairly divided on this issue. Some believe drinking in moderation is okay, others believe any consumption of alcohol is wrong. The Word clearly tells us not to become drunk. If you’re one who believes any consumption of alcohol is wrong and find yourself in the company of others who have no problem with having an occasional drink and a drink is offered you which you take against your better judgement, it is sin to you. It doesn’t matter if the people drinking around you are the most spiritual people around. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only one who doesn’t think this is okay; if you drink it, you’ve sinned. This is the essence of what Paul teaches in Romans 14. It is sin to you because you defile your conscience in the drinking of it; your drinking of it is not done in faith, and since whatever is not of faith is sin, your drinking of it is sin to you. Paul further teaches in this passage that enjoying your liberty in the things you allow is also secondary to loving your brother. So, in the same situation, if you are one of those who has no problem with an occasional drink, and you’re in the company of one whom you know does, then for that person’s sake, so as not to put a stumbling block in their path, don’t take the drink. 

Now you could go to extremes and apply this teaching to drugs, drunkenness, sexual immorality and the like, saying that if you engage in these activities in faith, then it’s okay - you’re not in sin, but that would be a mistake. First, the Word is very clear about these things, that those who practice them will by no means inherit the kingdom of heaven. Secondly, (and this is something we don’t always consider), the Holy Spirit alive on the inside of us is constantly guiding us into all truth (John 16:13). He won’t be silent when we’re in error, but will reveal God’s perfect will for us so we can know when we’re about to engage in anything that doesn’t please God and which goes contrary to the new nature we’ve been given in Christ. At that point we’ll have a clear choice either to ignore the Spirit of God and suppress the truth in unrighteousness, or to obey and find the blessing of His presence. So sin is anything that is not of faith. Good rule of thumb, if you’re not sure, don’t do it, pray about it.

Temptation therefore would be an enticement to us to follow our natural desires and make a decision that is not of faith. I explained to my co-worker that in this trial she’s facing, she could be tempted to worry, tempted not to trust God, tempted to act in fear, or to despair and give up or any number of things that don’t proceed from faith. These are real temptations that hit us every time we face a trial in life. So God’s promise to us to not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear most definitely applies to trials in our lives. The trials can be huge, and the temptations that come with them equally so, but never more than we can bear. God will provide for us the way out. This is a promise we can hold on to, and know that God will help us to stand up under whatever temptation, during whatever trial. Thank God for His great and precious promises! 

So in the words of my childhood hero, He-Man, “I HAVE THE POWERRRR!” and I’ll add a little subscript “IN CHRIST!” Thanks for lunch, mom! Now, where’s my sword? 



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Eh-Eh-Eh-Endure



2 Corinthians 11:23-28 
 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one--I am talking like a madman--with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches

When I was in high school I absolutely hated long-distance running. Football, basketball, soccer, bring it on! But long distance running... ugh. If I had to, I could run the track during football or basketball training; once or twice around was doable, but it was long distance running that I avoided like the plague. Why was that? Truth be told, I couldn’t get into the prize. The goal just didn’t warrant the pain. The end did not justify the means. A ribbon? A medal? Bragging rights? Come on. “Not worth the pain”, I reasoned, and besides, I wasn't very good at it anyway.  At some point along the run, every runner experiences the sense that if they continue for much longer, they just might die. That's the point where those who endure would push through and find their second or third wind and those who don't, like me, would give up. It was an attitude that coursed throughout every vein in my life at that time and one which, if I'm going to be honest, I still fight with now. Since I hated to be pushed beyond my limitations, hated to have to work at anything in order to gain mastery of it, it shouldn't come as a surprise that my life was characterized by the path of least resistance. I eventually dropped out of college and became the quintessential prodigal. At this point I think it expedient to make the observation that endurance is a character trait; it both produces and is a product of good character. I thank God He arrested me when He did.

In 1998 I made a commitment to Jesus Christ, asking him to be Lord of my life.  Embracing again the God of my youth, I gave my life to Him and told Him He could use me as He would. Little did I know then, (I thought I knew, but I really didn’t and likely still don’t), how much of a long-distance run the Christian life really is. In 1999 I met my wife, Candice, and in 2000 we were married. Again, though I thought I knew, I really had no idea what a long-distance run it is to commit to love someone for the rest of your life. So we were married and began to have children right away. In fact, 9 months later our first child came along. We had made the decision not to use birth-control, but to trust God even with our family size.  A noble decision to be sure, but again - not a clue how much endurance that decision would require of me. Now, seven children later and physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted, I wonder what on earth I was thinking!

Well do I remember the words of a friend, a man with seven children who I met when I only had one, “Get into the Word now Joe”, he said, “Fill yourself with the Word while you can, because the day is coming when you won’t have time and you’ll need what you’ve stored up just to get you through.” So did I heed his warning?  Perhaps not as well as I could have, but I’m so glad for what I hid in my heart during those early years with God. Though I can’t be sure, God's grace is supernatural, I don’t think I would be standing today were it not for that time. In Proverbs 24:16 we read that "a righteous man stumbles seven times and rises again..." Thank God.  

Several times in the Bible, God tells us to stand. He tells us in Hebrews 12:1 to run with endurance the race that is set before us and for someone who hates long-distance running, this is a challenge of epic proportions. We're told to consider Jesus, who suffered and resisted and stood firm, and didn’t give up, but allowed Himself, God in the flesh, who had at his disposal more than 12 legions of angels just waiting to rescue Him should he have but spoken the word, to be brutally tortured and murdered by godless people in a Satanic display of hatred. Why? He had His eyes on the prize, the "joy that was set before him."

So when my children are sick, or I’m tired, or my wife is emotional (come on men), or I have to repair drywall, paint a room, stain a deck, sell a house, buy a car, pay my bills, lead worship, minister to children, wear wrinkled clothes, deal with nasty neighbours and unbelieving family members, talk to someone I don’t like, deal with conflict among church members, take a stand for Christ at work or any number of other lovely, real life quarter-miles, will I endure in God? As long as my life is my own, I won’t. I’ll throw in the towel and say, “this is too hard Lord, I need to think about me here!” This is why Jesus says in Mark 8:35, "For whoever would save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." It's the glorious second and third wind. Then there's Paul’s list in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28; did he go through all that for a gold medal? No medal in all the world could motivate someone to endure what he endured. His second and third wind came from the Holy Spirit, which is a whole other topic - the all-sufficiency of Christ in us. 

So, I’m somewhere along the 5th mile in a 100 mile run. Only God can bring me through, and only if my eyes are fixed on Jesus. This I know, and though I still hate long-distance running - I'm in good company and I can see the prize, and that makes all the difference. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Conversations on the After-Life


1 Peter 2:11 "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles, to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.


Here's a snippet of conversation from around the table as our family had lunch the other day:

"Dad, I know exactly what I want to do for my birthday party". (Our eldest son goes on to explain his plans. His birthday is in January... it's the beginning of August.)  

So I say... "What if we go to be with Jesus tomorrow, and never make it to your birthday?"

Child: Well then I will try to convince God to let me have my birthday party in heaven.

Another Child: I don't think that you'll be able to watch The Hobbit in heaven. (This apparently is part of the birthday party plan)

My Wife, Candy: I don't think you'll really want to.

Still Another Child: Will I be able to run really fast in Heaven?

Yet Another Child: Why would you want to run when you're going to be able to fly?!

And Still Another, eyes gleaming with excitement: When I get to heaven, I'm going to the store to buy turbo boosters!

Lots of laughter around the table  

Then, finally...

"Daddy, what's on top of outer space?"

I love children!  There's nothing quite so endearing to me as a conversation with a 6 year old about God. But as hilarious as that episode around the table was for us, I noticed something in all that talk that concerned me just a little; the substance of heaven, the draw and the hope of it, revolved around temporal things. We had movies, parties, and turbo boosters along with the ability to fly... but no God. Now I understand that we're talking about children here, children with the full package of  unbridled imagination and innocent wonder and as such I don't expect a theological exposition on the heaven revealed to us in scripture after which, with hands folded smartly in his lap, our 3 year old would bow his head and say, "Now, let us pray", but this whole exchange begs the question, what are we teaching our children about God and the after-life? What kind of hope are our children carrying? Better yet, what kind of hope are our children seeing us hold out for? If it remains turbo boosters and space flight, then I think we're missing the point. Are we as parents seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, or are we zeroed in on material things and the cares of this life?

Almost daily I'm faced with the reality that my kids are going to value the same things I do, and that only a small fraction of that will be communicated to them with words. The better part of it they'll learn simply by watching what I spend my time doing.  Now, I like a good movie as much as the next guy, and if I'm going to be honest I think attaching turbo boosters to an immortal, invincible body would be super cool! I just think that if Candy and I can communicate through our lives more than our words that God's Kingdom and righteousness are our primary pursuit, then we will have given our kids something to which The Hobbit pales in comparison; a real hope that will follow them through life, and finally find it's fulfillment when they meet Jesus face to face.





Thursday, July 25, 2013

Nobody's Heart Has a PhD



The other day my wife and I were having a conversation with a friend who was telling us how amazed and thankful they were that the Lord has been using them to minister to people in places of influence. Despite the fact this friend doesn’t boast a high level of education, still they find themselves in the company of and able to minister spiritual things to people with very high degrees of education. During the course of the conversation the thought came out that wherever you go, people are people.  Though someone may have attained high levels of education, still the needs of the heart are the same. Nobody’s heart has a PhD!

Acts 17:26-27 says, And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us”. 
When I read this I see that people are people, each one created and set in their place with the express purpose of seeking God and finding Him. With this universal purpose for each individual, God has placed the desire in our hearts to know Him. When I cross paths with an individual who does not yet know Him, I can be certain that this desire to know God is hidden in their heart, regardless of social status. Not only this, but the Holy Spirit in me is calling out to this person’s heart and if I’m sensitive to that, I may just find myself with an opportunity to share Christ with them.
John 16:8 says, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”.
The Holy Spirit does the same thing in everyone’s heart. Though the path He takes will vary with each individual, His ministry is the same. If I am allowing Him to use me as He wills, my very presence in the life of an unbeliever will be a source of conviction. This is one reason why He tells us that all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12). Some people don’t respond too favorably to conviction! But maybe that’s a topic for another day.
I think the main thing I came away with in our conversation that day was that I shouldn’t be intimidated by a person’s attainments in life.  I should simply be available - and understand that God can use the most unlikely people to be the catalyst that changes a person’s heart and leads them to Life. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Building Lethal Attachments



The thought struck me as I sat around our backyard firepit after roasting hot dogs and marshmallows with our kids. My wife and I watched as our children went from racing eachother across the acre that is our property, to playing soccer, to having a badminton game.  The day’s earlier activities boasted a bike ride, a swim in the pool, shooting hoops in our driveway, and just all around enjoying eachother’s company (for the most part), and the freedom that characterizes our lives. We are truly blessed. Who doesn’t want to provide these comforts and freedoms for their children? I heard somewhere that people like us, people in North America, are among the most affluent people in the world; that we make up the richest 2% of the world’s population in terms of material wealth. But this wasn’t the question that struck me as I sat there.

What kind of attachments am I building in my children? In encouraging them to enjoy these things, am I unwittingly tying their heartstrings to the comforts and pleasures of this life? In so doing, might I be contributing to the formation of a generation “whose god is their belly... who set their minds on earthly things”*, so to speak? I might be able (and that is a BIG “might”),  to look at these things as temporal - here today gone tomorrow, but what about my children?  Can they so easily make that distinction? 

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the comforts of this life. I’m not wanting to bring condemnation or judgement on anyone. God created all things to be enjoyed by us, stewarded by us. The problem comes when we as believers forget about His kingdom and make the end our comfort, rather than God’s glory. Can we take the context of our little country paradise, and within that serve God faithfully, giving of ourselves and through hospitality spread the love of God? Can we hold the comforts and pleasures of this life at arms length, and teach our children to do the same, so that we can remain sensitive to God’s purposes and plans for each day of our lives? Can we avoid the plague of comfort that brought Israel of old to their knees, as it turned their hearts from their God? The world is waiting - are we willing?  

*Portion of Scripture taken from the Bible, Philippians 3:19