Category Archives: Faith

God, hope, struggle, perspective, the Bible, church, love.

Hitting the Reset Button With Your Kids In Time for Fall

Last week at our Life is Vapor study we talked about the priority of enjoying God as a family.  Our own family was already thinking along the lines of starting fresh this fall to break bad habits and establish a new family vision.  After picking up our eldest son from camp, we wanted to take some time to talk through a family covenant — what are we aiming for?  What boundaries do we need to enforce (especially regarding technology)?  Here’s the deal:  we have a pretty darn good family, but as we’ve transitioned into the teenage years, the crabbiness and snapping is ramping up.  The ever-present internet is encroaching on our family culture.  And the stakes are higher than ever.

The minutes tick down until the day our kiddos leave home.  This is it, our one shot to love, our one long road trip to make memories, to laugh, to raise up world-changers.  How can we guard this treasure of time?

We decided to walk the kids through some of the classic “one another” passages of the Bible to set the stage, then read through and commit to a family-wide promise to love each other well and enjoy God together.  We do realize a shortcoming of our core values list is the lack of outward-flowing service and mission.  That probably deserves a whole page to itself!  Since this is something we already do a lot of, being in ministry, we didn’t include it (but maybe we should have.)  Our need at the moment is more along the lines of love within the four walls.  (Why is it often harder to love on your own family??)

For those of you who have a similar desire to unleash the love at a new level in your home, here’s what we came up with.  Since you no doubt know the Bible verses we chose really well, you might fly past that part to get to the new info, but talking through them on the front end with our kids “primed the pump,” so to speak, for being able to hear the heart behind the rest of it.

Setting the Stage

I Corinthians 13: 4-8  “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”Print

Ephesians 5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Matthew 5:1-16  “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’”

 II Peter 1:5-10  “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

I John 2:15-17  “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

I John 4:7-8, 20  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love….If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

Family Covenant

Because it is our family’s highest priority to glorify God by enjoying Him together, we commit to strive towards the following ideals out of love for Jesus and each other:

Grace

  • We recognize that we are forgiven, so we will extend forgiveness.
  • We will try hard to keep no record of wrongs.
  • We will make every effort to be kind.
  • We know that we have been given much more than we deserve, and we will not demand our “rights.”

image3Gratitude

  • We will actively count our blessings.
  • We will verbally express thankfulness.
  • We won’t whine, complain, or grumble.  Instead we will encourage, rejoice, pitch in, and be cheerful.

Humility

  • We will consider others better than ourselves, and seek to outdo one another in love.
  • We will look for ways to serve one another.
  • In our house we will not worry about the opinion of others, but only seek to please God.

Unselfishness

  • Our gratitude will overflow in generosity as we put others first.  We will share, take turns, and refuse to be greedy with our time and money.
  • We will work hard not to make more work for others.  If we get it out, we’ll put it away.  If we get it dirty, we’ll clean it up.  If we borrow it, we’ll return it.

Purity

  • We do not welcome the pollution of the world in our home.  Like Job, we covenant to set no vile thing before our eyes.
  • If we see something inappropriate, we will turn away, and take steps to prevent seeing it again.
  • We will not keep secrets out of shame, but confess our struggles to one another, welcome accountability, and bring everything into the light.

Responsibility

  • We agree to function as a team, each with our own strengths, roles and responsibilities.
  • We recognize that we must finish what we start, work diligently and with excellence at our tasks, and not shirk our duties in laziness.
  • We will approach our work with a sense of honor, not half-heartedly; with optimism, not dread; and with a merry heart, not a grumpy spirit.

Integrity

  • We will always tell the truth.
  • We will be true to our word and do what we promise.
  • We will accept consequences without seeking to justify our sin.
  • We will obey.

Joy

  • We will do our best to have fun, lighten one another’s loads, affirm one another, and laugh often.
  • We will happily join in games, family outings, social events, outdoor recreation, trips, and holiday activities, making our own traditions as we go and creating our own zany family culture.
  • We will happily participate in family prayer time or devotions and point each other to Jesus however we can.

Screen Time Rules

Because computers and other forms of entertainment technology can become so addictive and so isolating, we agree to the following rules in order to keep screen time in check:

  • Family time takes priority over screen time (including phones, tablets, computers, TV, etc.). e14713c0fac02d07a2d75c532d7e1dc1--acadia-maine-wpa-posters
  • Outside of school or work, I agree not to spend more than two hours per day alone in front of a screen.  This includes surfing the internet, watching a show, playing a game, Garage Band, Skype, email, etc.
  • I will not use the internet alone behind closed doors (for instance, alone in my room at bedtime or in the bathroom).
  • I will not bring devices to the dinner table or family outings.
  • I will not wear headphones in the car (except sometimes on road trips).
  • I will not post photos or videos without permission.
  • I will never post personal information (address, birthday, contact information) on a public forum.
  • I will not develop online friendships with strangers.  If a stranger reaches out and I would like to chat, I will ask first.  I promise to alert my parents if I receive inappropriate or alarming communication from anyone.
  • I agree that screen time is a privilege that may be revoked, reduced, or suspended as a consequence or simply to prioritize other things.
  • Schoolwork and chores will come before screen time.  If a parent needs my help or involvement in any way, I will pause whatever I was doing without complaint.
  • I agree not to hog family devices or borrow equipment without asking.
  • I will take care of my own devices — being careful where I put them, how I carry them, how I operate them, and being careful not to waste energy or resources.
  • I will use good etiquette (for example, turning off noisy notifications in public or turning off my device to engage in conversation).  I will follow rules external to our house (no texting while driving, no internet during class).
  • Parents reserve the right to read incoming emails, but will try to respect everyone’s privacy.
  • I understand that disregarding these rules will result in my devices being taken away or my privileges being suspended.

DIY Degrees: 18 Books for a Year of Thinking Christianly

If wishes were horses, beggars could go to Denver Seminary.  Alas, my horsiest wishes have not given me a wallet of fat cash to go back to school at the moment, but if I could, I would love to take classes on Christ and culture, philosophy, apologetics, and theology.  I’d take classes on Christianity and the arts, poetry, worldview, the Inklings.  In point of fact, I have listened to master’s level classes while I do the dishes, free classes provided by Gordon Conwell or lectures on Youtube.  Ryan Reeves has posted a wealth of material, entire courses on Lewis and Tolkien, Reformation history, and historical theology, enough intellectual stimulation to make the chores fly.  But as I watch my husband buckle down and tackle a Ph.D., I’m amazed at his tenacity, his focus.  Without the accountability, I’d never make myself read the challenging stuff, the brain-stretchers.

Why not?  Why can’t I make a decision, flip a switch, go to the library?  Well, I know me.  I know how I battle laziness and perpetual distraction.  I know how deadlines and threats motivate me in a way lofty dreams never seem to do.  But I also know that it’s silly on some level, childish, really, to wait to fork over vast sums of money to study books that are available largely for free.

One of the great wonders of the internet is the availability of other people’s must-read, must-see, must-do bucket lists.  You can hop on Goodreads and find out what your mentors want to read.  You can peek at Tim Challies’s book reading resolutions, the syllabus of any class at any school.  What a treasure!  A Do-It-Yourself degree!  Well, maybe not quite.  But a good place to start.

Here’s my thought:  even though I never quite accomplish all the things I hope to do, all of the goal-setting and dreaming has a way of changing me.  It’s like those prayers that God never answers in the way I want — the act of praying still changes my heart.  Thinking through what I want to read, what I want to learn, has a way of raising my sights.  Even if I get through only half of what I hope to do, that’s still a lot more progress than I’d make watching Gilmore Girl re-runs on Netflix.

As Challies has pointed out, lots of fantastic books (usually current bestsellers and classics) are available in audio format, and I can usually find a good audio book to download from my local library.  While I was thinking through my Thinking Christianly gotta-read list, I chose the first one I found available for download to start with.  I’m halfway through Tim Keller’s Reason for God, taking it up whenever I’m in the car or scrubbing pots.  I doubt very many of my theologically-heavy books will be possible to find that way, but the good news is that most of my just-for-fun books are.  That means I can listen to novels while I sort laundry and save the seminary stuff for actual feet-up-in-the-evening paper book reading or morning quiet times.

So here’s the beginning of my list — we’ll call it Year One.  I’ll aim for about a book and a half per month.  I’ll never finish!  But that’s no reason not to start.  I tried to balance old and new, exciting and daunting, theological (by which I mean theology in the academic sense — what do I really believe about the person of God) and cultural.

  1. Reason for God, Tim Keller
  2. Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon
  3. Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves
  4. Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson
  5. How Should We Then Live?, Francis Schaeffer
  6. Let the Nations be Glad, John Piper
  7. Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr
  8. Christ and Culture Revisited, D. A. Carson
  9. This Day, Wendell Berry
  10. Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  11. Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers
  12. The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis
  13. Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness
  14. The Only Wise God, William Lane Craig
  15. Wisdom and Wonder, Abraham Kuyper
  16. Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor
  17. Valley of Vision
  18. Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance

What’s on your list?

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Perspective Podcast

Blessed to be a guest on Chris Arnzen’s “Iron Sharpens Iron” show this week!  Loved the opportunity to linger in conversation a while, and I hope it will give you some food for thought while you jog/do the dishes/drive a bus/bathe a dog.  (Does anyone do anything without multi-tasking any more?)    

Whatever Comes (a devotional for the day)

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us…”  (II Peter 1:3)

Everything I need.  Every little blessed thing I ever needed, or ever will– that’s what God gives me?  Then hiding behind what I think I need there must be a deeper need, not a bigger house, but contentment; not a squabble to end, but love.  And posted on that closet full of goodness is a sign:  “Free for the Taking.”

Do I need hope?  He is my living hope.  Do I need light?  The Lord is my light and my salvation.  Whether the deep need of my soul today is rest and healing, shelter and peace, or I need strength for battle, a sword and a shield, God is my fortress.  There is no lack in my life he cannot provide–wisdom, friendship, joy, or love.  There is no moment his eye is not upon me, no place his arms cannot reach, no depths to which he will not go to find me.  There is no calamity which takes him by surprise, no situation out of his gracious good will.  He is warmth and kindness.  He is unassailable in power, matchless in beauty, victorious over every enemy, gentle as a shepherd.

Why are you downcast, o my soul?  For I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “the Lord seems to say, ‘I am yours, soul; come and make use of me as you will.  You may freely come to my store, and the more you come, the more welcome you will be.’  It is our own fault if we do not enjoy the riches of our God…. Never be wanting while you have a God to go to; never fear or faint while you have God to help you; go to your treasure and take whatever you need– there is all that you can ever want.”

Lord, whatever comes, make me steadfast, make me rooted.

When you want to trade Little for Big.

They are still small, mini-people, with that baby fine hair and the imperfect use of pronouns.  But every single one already has strong opinions, big plans.  “Mine,” says one. “I want purple.”  She snatches a block, fierce and determined.  Her tower is prodigious (maybe six inches tall).  She guards it with a look that means trouble is coming; the boy next to her grins and his arm swings.  Purple blocks go flying.

She has built her little masterpiece with great care, but doesn’t yet know the rules of the game.  Nothing built under the sun will last.

Ecclesiastes says it loud and clear:  “I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.   And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless!  So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world.” (Ecc. 2:18-20, NLT)  

It’s a knowledge that can drive you mad or set you free depending on your perspective.  Howard Hughes?  Crazy as a loon.  Ernest Hemingway?  Despondent to the point of death.  It was Hemingway who once wrote, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”  It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that life is short and work is hard.

Still, tilt your head another way and it’s a beauty that will knock you down.  Sometimes artists grab onto this, chiseling their sculptures in sand or ice or melting candles.  Even the medium they choose testifies to the truth:  life is so, so very short.  Like a fabulous sunset or a towering stormcloud, we live for a brief, incandescent moment, and then we are gone.  It's the blink-and-you'll-miss-it quality of life that makes it so precious.

But we little people like to do big things.  We want to build the Taj Majal, the Great Wall — but even those are an earthquake away from oblivion.  Our best efforts are more like the ancient mosaic archaeologists uncovered last year:  a happy skeleton with his wine bottle proclaiming, “Be cheerful, enjoy your life.”  Yep.  Chew on that irony for a minute.

So we squirm, we scorn our little lives.  We miss things of eternal value because they are small and transient, and we are reaching for grand and magnificent.  But what if the things that really last, that really matter, are intangible?  We see “through a glass darkly,” a wobbly, cloudy image of what’s real.  But one day we’ll step into the light and see clearly.

In an absolutely fascinating BBC video you can watch a Japanese pufferfish on the ocean floor–happy little guy, living his fishy little life far from Hollywood.  He seems to have found the secret of joy “under the sun,” embracing his momentary existence with verve.  He is just like us, small and insignificant, committed to projects that will soon wash away.  And yet in his own little way he whispers his winsome secret in his quiet corner of the sea.  It really is a marvel (you have to see it to believe it), but this engaging creature went undetected through all of history until just now.  The BBC comments, “Its fragility has no doubt played a role in this undiscovered secret. The structure has no permanence, or any need for permanence. Perhaps its simplicity has rendered previous witnesses confused or merely unimpressed.”  Think of it, such a wonder happening year after year, never seen or celebrated by the likes of us.  What kind of God bothers to make such crazy spectacles, only to keep them hidden for millennia?

My small son commented that our fishy friend has painted the sun, just as it would look from a rippling under-the-sea perspective.  I would like to say to Solomon that even “under the sun” there is beauty.

A fish that makes God smile.  A sandcastle that will soon erode away.  A life that flashes by, but touches other lives that touch other lives that touch other lives…

A diaper changed.  A nursing home visit.  A cup of hot chocolate for cold, homeless hands.  A field plowed and sown, weeded and fertilized, not just the once, but year after year after year.  Choosing joy when your heart aches and it would be so easy to just give up, choosing to serve when you’d rather sleep.  These little things are slow, unseen, difficult, and generally monotonous.  They remind us that we have more in common with strange, small fish than Michelangelo, and even Michelangelo is more fishy than forever.

Don’t be too quick to exchange Little for Big.  Maybe in the end, a little love is all that lasts.

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photo credit:  BBC

Glory in the Grilled Cheese

What’s a good career path for a girl who just wants to change the world?  Stay at home mom, right?  Wait…

I’m a person who feels strongly what Courtney Reissig calls the “pull of the spectacular.”  I want my short life to count.  I want to do eternal things with the days I’ve been given.  I wanna imitate the disciples, 12 ordinary guys who turned the world upside down.  And the world needs changing.  It’s so broken!  There is so much injustice, so much poverty; it breaks my heart.  In college, I studied great writers, great thinkers, great teachers and revolutionaries.  I studied the lives of missionaries and politicians, and I wanted to be one of them.

I’m all about doing big things.  If I help to plan an event, I want 1,000 people to show up.  If I write a book, I want 1,000,000 to buy it.  I want to do big things for God, but that’s not the commission He has given me.  Evidently, He wants me to do small things with great love.  He wants to take center stage, not to shine a spotlight on me.

So I’m a stay at home mom.  I don’t even have a dozen children to boast of, just three.  I spend my days assigning books to read, catching up on a sinkful of dirty dishes, and cooking.  I don’t even cook amazing gourmet meals — we eat a lot of cereal.  My house is always in need of a good scrub, and I’m perpetually behind on school with the kids.  So what does it mean to be faithful in exile as a mom?  It’s what my husband calls “the peculiar glory of humble circumstances.”

First, I think being faithful means having faith.  Having faith, as we teach our little ones, that “God is great,” and “God is good.”  He is mighty, He is thoughtful, and He is sovereign over all of the little details of my life.  He doesn’t need me to accomplish great things; He’s got “great” covered.  Just as I can trust Him for my salvation, I can trust Him to make all things beautiful in His time—including all the little details of my life.  And little things can be eternally significant, like little mustard seeds that grow up into towering trees.

I think being faithful means loving God—ridiculously.  It means worshipping Him with a glad, full heart, day in and day out, even when my days kinda start to look the same from one to the next.  My primary contribution to the world is to adore and enjoy Jesus with my husband, with my children, with all of y’all.  It’s not about me at all.

I think being faithful means loving my neighbor extravagantly.  In this case, my most obvious neighbors are Michael, Josh, Abbey, and Patrick.  When I wash a pan that somebody made a grilled cheese in, I am loving my neighbor.  When I do the bills, I am loving my neighbor.  It’s not glamorous, but it is God-honoring.  And frankly I don’t even do it for my family, I do it for Jesus.  Whenever we give a cup of cold water in His name, He receives it as a gift to Himself.

And finally, I think being faithful in exile means remembering that what matters eternally far outweighs what matters for a fleeting moment.  Love is significant, because it plants seeds that bloom in eternity.  Our lives are really, really short, but every moment that we dedicate to the Lord will have long-lasting impact.

We are in exile here, in a broken and fallen world.  There are “thorns and thistles” — obstacles and tediousness and heartache galore.  As a stay at home mom, I experience this exile as a long wait, a wait for Home.  And whenever I can serve with humility and love, I am reminded of Jesus’ exile here on earth.  He did not seek fame and fortune; He came to love extravagantly, to serve ceaselessly, and to lay down His life for you and me.  Any frustration I feel at being mired in little chores is swallowed up by awe when I consider the God who came to our little earth out of a great, great love.

This post was written for a quick testimony at church.  We’ve been walking through the book of Daniel (check it out!) and considering what it means to be faithful in exile.  Each week someone from the congregation has shared what faithfulness looks like in their unique context.  This was me taking a stab at it.