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Boy (7-9) with hands covering eyes playing hide and seek in park, hiding from friends behind tree
Aug 27, 2015

Hide and Seek

“Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Romans 10:11

When my oldest daughter was two years old, she and I were playing hide and seek in the walled back yard of our Edinburgh, Scotland home. It was her turn to hide, and she couldn’t find a hiding place as my counting wound down to “ready or not, here I come.” Panicking, she dropped to her knees completely in the open, right in the middle of the enclosed yard, and covered her eyes with her small hands. I have never forgotten that precious sight 41 years ago. Yet it will be much the same for many, many people when the trumpet from heaven sounds throughout the world, in every living ear, ears from every tribe, nation, and language, and the greatest lightning bolt ever will flash from one horizon to the other, around the globe, as Jesus Christ returns, fulfilling his Father’s  promise. Only then the stakes will be infinitely greater than a child’s game of hide and seek.
But I am persuaded of a different outcome for you at Jesus’ return. I expect you are ready and will be in welcome anticipation of it, for this very Savior you personally know by your faith. Yet, if you know and believe him, why do you live now as though he hasn’t covered you from guilt and shame? One of the most telling characteristics of fallen human nature is the overwhelming need to “cover” ourselves so the world of people around cannot see all we think, do, or have done, and all which we consider our weaknesses, failures, and warts. We feel the self-appointed pressure to cover the unvarnished truth about ourselves because what we feel we must cover is something we think does not present us in the best light. We are endlessly concerned about how our world or select others see us. What is more, we seek to cover ourselves from the Divine Judge, as if we could; ironically, this is true even of those who think He doesn’t exist or are not really sure He does. There is a drivenness in human nature to “cover up” by our own machinations.
Consequently, we weave a web as our cover, our outward “clothing” to hide things we think will bring shame or embarrassment upon us; Sir Walter Scott saw this when he wrote, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive,” taken right out of the words of Isaiah 59.
Is there a better way to live our lives than always seeking to cover ourselves? A way which eschews all fears of being “found out?” A way to stop the charade of weaving webs of our own making (Isaiah 59:6)?  Living in the freedom of not needing to hide, or cover, or appear other than the truth of the moment ought to be that for which we hunger. What does it take for you to live in such unusual freedom?
I am not talking about the appropriate use of makeup to cover wrinkles, or the proper use of clothes to disguise the waistline, et cetera, but I am speaking of the attempts we make to cover ourselves from embarrassment or shame, embellishing a story to make ourselves look better, fudging the truth to get attention, telling a lie to cover a mistake or failure, searching for an explanation when we simply did not follow through on doing what we said we would.
We are all too aware of our tendencies and of our fear of being embarrassed, put to shame, or appearing less in the eyes of our peers when we desperately want to be thought well of. We have forgotten the benefits of our salvation. The Lord has let us know clearly that he covers us with his righteousness by faith, that his blood atones for our sins, that we are forgiven, we are covered, even those sins yet to be committed. But we do not live as though we believe him. Romans 10:11 reads, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Or Isaiah 54:4, “Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth.”
Too often this is interpreted as referring only to the great Day of Judgment, but it refers as well to your life in Christ today. The truth cannot hurt you when you trust in the Lord, when you walk in the light as he is in the light. God sees you and knows you; why not let the world see you as God sees you? His sight counts, theirs doesn’t. But we do not live this way. Living in the integrity of Christ gives us the perspective of truth’s importance and attractiveness. It is the way of genuine humility, not thinking of ourselves as more important than others, and living out Philippians 2 as not only who we ought to be, but who we want to be. A life lived before others in such truth and humility will draw others to our Savior unlike the way of pride.
This is living in the freedom for which we hunger, if only unconsciously. It is what Jesus died to give you.  By not accepting what he accomplished for you, your faith is not at work as it ought to be. You are not trusting his promises, those promises he made to all for whom he died, by which you have been adopted into his family.
There is no need to hide when you hear or imagine the confrontation from others of “ready or not, here I come.” The truth will suffice, humility will be your clothing, and if you trust in the Lord, you will not be put to shame speaking the truth. Take full use of your salvation in Christ; you do not need to hide under a covering of your own making. It’s worthless; you are covered by him. Walk humbly in his truth and blossom in the freedom.

“For it is my deep desire and my hope is eagerly that I not be put away to shame at all, but that with perfect boldness, just as I’ve been trying to do, so his honor, so his honor, so his honor may be seen in my body, so his honor may remain in my body, so his honor may be seen in me. For to me to live is Jesus Christ and to die would be so much better, for to me to live is Jesus Christ and to die would be so much better. I may even have to die, so his honor, so his honor, so his honor may be seen in me.”
(Lyrics and music by James Ward)

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Happy family together, parents with their little child at sunset
Aug 20, 2015

Allowing Them to Fail So They Can Win

It’s not always easy to talk about parenting.   It’s a lot like religion or politics—people prefer to avoid the topic in an effort not to offend someone.  We fear we will appear judgmental or too opinionated.  The common thought is that how you parent is a matter of personal preference.  Is it?
I am of the opinion that parenting “takes a village.  I have seen it in my life and the lives of those around me.  We should share our opinions, major wins, and epic failures with one another to help each other, not to judge.  That being said, I am no expert.  I’m learning as I go, epic fails and all.  The awesome part is that with every fail, I also win because I learn something.  The question is, however, am I giving my children the space to do the same?
Am I allowing them to fail so they can win?
When our children are young, it is our job to protect them.  There is a multibillion dollar industry built on a parent’s need to protect their child.  (Really, what did our parents use to cover up electrical sockets?)  Just as we should, we protect our toddlers from dangerous objects, falling, or running out in the road.  Their needs are great at young ages because they do not have the ability to protect themselves.
But what do we do once our children do have the ability to protect themselves?  Our little babies turn into little people who are very capable of doing things on their own, yet as parents we still desire to do for them and protect them.  However, my job as a parent is not only to protect, but to teach.  There comes a point when my child must learn on his own.
The best way to learn is to do.  One of the most important things I can teach my children is that they have the power of choice.  It is vital for them to understand that the choices they make every day have an immediate effect on them and their circumstances.
How do I teach my child that the choices they make now impact them both immediately and in the future?  Baby steps.  We must give our children the ability to make choices early in life so that they have a safe place to fail.
Whether we realize it or not, when we provide a massive safety net for our children, we often give them no room for error.  Their need to be rescued lessens as they get older, just as their choices get bigger and have larger impact.  Of course we have to cover the electrical outlet for a one-year-old, but at some point we have to teach them why the outlet is covered.  A preschooler needs to learn that when they hit a child and the child hits them back, they are experiencing an immediate result of their choice.
We tend to push the phrase, “Obey your parents!  It certainly makes a parent’s life easier if they can get a child to obey everything they say.  We make the consequences of disobedience very clear and ride that rule as long as we can.  But what happens when we are not there?   What happens when my child is given the opportunity to make fun of someone, go to the party, have just one drink, take a hit, or pop a pill?  Will he look to his dad and me (who are not there with him) to give him the answer and just obey?  Or will he know, because he learned at a young age, that he has the power to choose and that every choice he makes has an effect on not only him, but also those around him?
Parents, I urge you to think about what your child can handle at their current age.  As they get older, the number of choices they make and things they are responsible for will grow.  So while we are still standing beside them to pick them up when they fall, let’s give them space to fail.  We can be there to teach them and show them what they could have done differently.  Then, when they get the wins, we can be there too.  We can celebrate their right choices with them.
The best way to learn is to do.  Let them do.

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Aug 20, 2015

Redemptive Observation

“The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or knowledge where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the world, their words to the end of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

You were made to be an observer of the Creation. God’s voice is there, but many fail to hear and respond. The Creation teaches who God is and who you are in relation to him. In observation you can converse with him as you delight in what he has given for the purpose of your delight and glory. His glory is manifest through its magnificence.
As a combat infantry platoon leader in the jungles of Vietnam, I very much relied on my powers of observation; apart from God’s providence, the life of my men and my own life rested on astute observation. The potential ambush seen in little markers in the landscape, the slight change in jungle foliage, and changes to the normal all required experienced observation. The deceptive placement of lethal booby-traps within the way soldiers would choose to move through and on the jungle floor called for sharp observation, or a quick death. Not all observation in life is weighed on a physical death and life scale as is the immediacy of a combat zone where human enemies seek your imminent demise. In this instance, the observation was for the purposes of redeeming life, but so is the everyday calling for you to observe the Creation in which you live and move and have your being. Not so much as to detect an enemy, but to observe the work and craftsmanship of a friend; for in your observation and consideration you will learn about that friend what is redemptive to your heart and mind. We miss his voice when we fail to observe how amazingly he has constructed the Creation which has a voice. Do you agree with the Psalmist who tells you the Creation POURS forth speech? Not a paltry dribble, but a flood of redeeming and romantic language.
Moving through life oblivious to essential and visible truths while allowing your mind to be non-curious about the meaning of life in a non-mute Creation in which ears are kept plugged is the height of absurdity. I have often heard the moniker that someone appears to be “as dumb as a post.” Unfortunately, there are too many marvelously made human creatures meandering through life like so many “dumb posts.” The truth is that God is, and He is definitely not silent! Yet the unobservant move through life robotically unhearing, unaware of being a superbly made creature, crowned with glory and honor, and appointed a ruler, unlike any but the angels, over the work of God’s hands (Psalm 8).
Will Rogers once said, “People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.” True, but the obstacle is first getting people to thoughtfully observe, rather than obstinately fighting to retain blinders to avoid the obvious. The young men at the PAYH work on its beautiful campus with busy hands, eyes, and minds in the midst of his Creation; too many of them never thoughtfully consider its origin, meaning, or Maker, apparently deaf to his voice. That our visible Cosmos has in time, hundreds of billions of years it is presumed, materialized from nothing with no defined reason or initiator is one projected idea with missing links to logic and observable sense; or another possibility, the Creation displaying logic and sense in its design and sustainment manifests an intelligent designer and creator possessing infinitely diverse creativity. Observe the ant, the bird, the deer, the entire animal, fish, insect, and amoeba worlds; observe the myriad shapes and variety of color and structure in leaves, trees, flowers, sky, rock, dirt, elements molded together, not monochromatically, but in a kaleidoscope of unique differences and color; observe the nature, mind, and makeup of yourself and all humanity. Can a non-thoughtful, mechanistic, unguided “force” produce what we observe today? The odds are infinitely astronomical against such a proposal. There is no greater leap of blind faith than falling into the pit of such absurdity. Yet an increasing number capitulate to the propaganda.
You are designed to observe the Creation of which you are a part and where you live, to hear its revelation of the Maker and of you in relationship to it and to him, and generously benefit from the praise of God which its magnificence inspires in heart and mind. If this called-for “act of true living” is missing in your life, you are truly to be pitied, and deserve the loss of its treasure of joy and blessing; it would have been better for you to have been born in darkness and isolation so as not to waste the beauty in which you have been graciously placed while manifesting unthankfulness to the One who gave it.
As Psalm 19 naturally connects the word of Creation and the word of Scripture, hear them both. Observe thoughtfully what he has made and given for your pleasure. The Creation has a voice always speaking to receptive ears. Read and listen with humility and obedience to his voice in the words of the Bible. God is speaking to you through his Creation and through his chosen revelation in the books of Genesis to Revelation. Ignore neither. Praise-inducing observation and conversation with God is what you are made and called to do; it is your reason for being. From the joy of Adam and Eve walking and conversing with God in the Garden of his Creation, then devastatingly interrupted by sin, to the renewed fellowship of walking in the light as Jesus is in the light (1 John 1), being purified from sin, our whole reason for being comes before our eyes in perfect clarity: satisfying fellowship with our Triune God. As a foretaste of this eternal fellowship, now whetting your appetite, observe him in his Creation and observe him in his Word. Both are speaking to you, every moment. Use the observational skills you have in being made in his image.
Focusing today on your observation of his Creation alone, approach it with as much seriousness as I once did in the jungles of Vietnam to save lives. Why? Because the Creator says it is good and will increase your personal knowledge of him, as well as your love for and nearness to him. He says, “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10) Jesus said, “Consider the birds of the air…Consider the flowers of the field…” (Matthew 6) because observing them teaches you how God cares for you and what constitutes his character and intentions toward you. Throughout the Bible, the believer is pointed to observe and consider the Creation of God for the purpose of knowing him and drawing near to him in such engagement with his work.
The Scriptures reveal that God is a person, as is his Spirit, and his Son. As persons ourselves, we know we can relate to him, and we know he can relate to us. As a person who designed and made you, we know he knows what beauty and love is; he knows what it is to be fully satisfied and that there is nothing better than this Creation which he has made your home, except for the Creation restored without sin yet to come.
We discount greatly the voice of God in his work of Creation. Become a more focused observer with the purpose of drawing closer to the One who graciously surrounded you with its wonders. Every “oooh and “ahhh at an amazing sunset or observing the intricacy of an alpine flower ought to elicit thanks to its Maker and consideration of who he is and what he is teaching us about himself and about us. We often do not take these occurrences to their most revelatory heights. You ask, “Where is God?” He is near, and he speaks in his word and in his glorious Creation. Open your eyes and your ears and converse with him.

“In the stars His handiwork I see, on the wind He speaks with majesty, tho’ He ruleth over land and sea, What is that to me?  ‘Til by faith I met Him face to face, and I felt the wonder of his grace, then I knew that He was more than just a God who didn’t care, that lived away out there, and now He walks beside me day by day, ever watching o’er me lest I stray, helping me to find that narrow way, He’s Everything to me.”
(Song written by Ralph Carmichael in 1960’s)

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Young plant
Aug 13, 2015

Time of Youth, a Sieve?

“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” Ecclesiastes 12:1

Youth passes all too quickly! “Sieve” and “youth” seem to be two words often well-matched. Time slips away in youth like sand through a sieve. It is not that time is any different for youth than for adults in say midlife; it moves inexorably forward in every stage of life. Nothing causes time to actually slow down or speed up. It is as consistent as sunrise and sunset, every 24 hours, for as long as creation remains as it is. The sieve of youth is time passing with nothing to show for it in terms of character formation, being ill-influenced by peers on the same frivolous track, allowing the marvels of youth to be stolen by illusions, being thrust into life decisions without the benefit of a foundation strong enough to withstand storms, and facing the rest of your life with the bags of immature behavior hanging round your shoulders. Not a great picture, but all too familiar, and all too repetitive.
Still the Bible doesn’t refer to any other time of life as it does this “magical” one, where it strongly reminds youth to remember their Creator when their minds and bodies are fresh. Why? Very probably because the time of youth is so often frittered away with little to show for it, and because youth is the time necessary for the laying of foundations in preparation for the immediate and most seminal decisions and acts of life. Too often those decisions and acts are made with very little, if any, foundation of gained knowledge and its essential twin, wisdom. Yet these decisions and acts which come when youth are still youth are so far-reaching in the lives, fortune, and future of many people beyond themselves. It is ironic that God has designed these decisions and acts to be invested in those too often unprepared to make them. How often have we heard in later regrets the words, “I was just too young!”?  But it wasn’t the age; it was the lack of wise preparation. Ecclesiastes 12 reminds us of what youth is, before the later natural course of life comes to pass. Youth is a time of unbounded energy, the vigor of a young and healthy body, the opposite of all the maladies that come with age once youth is gone. Procrastination in youth is encouraged by the wrong assumption that there is lots of time yet to be productive and now is the time for “fun”; this assumption rests on a destructively false definition of what truly constitutes fun. The enticing picture of what “fun” is, ill-defined, turns sour in the blink of an eye.
It is only due to the forbearance and mercy of God that civilization has not devolved into complete disrepair and total chaos considering that so many critical decisions are made without any essential character foundation in place.
Youth’s unique strengths and blessings are multiplied when this fleeting time is recognized as a blessing and a gift for a relatively brief segment of an entire life. The foundations sought and laid in youth impact the course of life all the way to the grave; and not only your course of life, but also the lives of your spouse, children, grandchildren and beyond. You are never an isolated island alone to yourself; your decisions impact many, many others for good or for ill; a fact you can never remove. The most effective and powerful check on a failure to recognize the blessing of youth is the knowledge of Who made you and a hunger to know Him as the only way to truly know who you are. Whether your life is constrained to five more years or 80, it will only be satisfying if you really know who you are and not who you falsely think you are. Apart from your Maker, you are swimming in a sea of lies. Don’t end up drowning in it.
In your youth, find out who you are and will be by remembering your Creator. The decisions you will soon typically make need to be made with Him in view. The best preparation to make quality decisions of love, sex, parenting, and career is knowing the Architect because He is also their Maker, these human beings with whom you have to do. He defines and creates the pieces which make up praiseworthy character. Your youth is the best time to put yours together. It is not congenital. It doesn’t come with your human body born from your mother’s womb, like your skin, face, or feet. Character is the clothing of your personality being woven in your youth; it is the mold in which your heart incubates and sets when you are still young, your heart in the making, which is increasingly and outwardly observed in your youth through your affections, emotions, and choices. Who do others who have good insight say you are now? What will they say in a year or two from now?
Character produces the blueprint of your entire life. Whatever is left of the time of your youth, get rid of the sieve in your heart and mind quickly. A sieve lets the good and valuable slide through its holes, not allowing you to hold on to them and become a part of who you are and will be. What you are inside eventually comes out, allowing others to see and know who you really are. Make your time of youth not a sieve, but be an avid nurturer of those values which sustain you when the storms of life beat on you one after another. Constant storms are the guaranteed nature of every life. Youth with solid character, well described in Psalm 1, are those standing when the storms pass. The first 3 verses of Psalm 1 are a picture of permanent character at work; the last 3 are of those who chose the sieve of youth as a necklace throughout a life characterized as chaff.

“Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that thou art; Thou my best thought by day or by night. Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.”
(1st verse of Dallan Forgail’s hymn, “Be Thou My Vision”, 1905)

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Grunge wood boards of a pier over ocean with rippling waves
Aug 06, 2015

Defining God

“Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

If you do not believe in God, the exercise of defining him is useless, at least to an unbeliever’s mind; possibly, if only to defend unbelief. Although I still think it a worthwhile use of their time, if they pursue it with some degree of thoughtful endeavor. After all, tens of millions of people from every tribe, nation, and language for well over 40 centuries have professed belief in God. This fact in itself invites intellectual curiosity and a consideration of how so many could be so wrong for so long. Considering those massive numbers through the centuries with most giving testimony of how their lives were dramatically transformed by the God they believed in, and that their accomplishments were inspired and guided by Him, complete indifference to this irrefutable history is certainly as irrational as atheists claim believers are.
Defining God with some earnest attempt is not a useless endeavor, even for atheists. And it certainly is not a useless activity for believers, to be continued until you see him face to face. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).  Capturing a definitive definition of the one true God has been difficult for a diverse church through the centuries, and that is still very true today. If you compare the consistent revelation of Scripture to the definition of God arising from people’s minds and opinions, you get a varying idea of who He is, like the old game show “Would the real God please stand up?”
Jesus asked twelve men, his disciples, who were with him most every day, close friends and confidants, men who could see, hear, touch, and observe him daily, “Who do people say that I am?” And He followed with the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Even they needed help defining who this man was who actually walked with them, spoke to them, spoke in their presence to many others, performed miracles they could see, and was their friend. They observed him daily, a man who claimed to them to be God and the son of God.
Can this same approach be taken with God in defining who he is, this one Jesus called his Father? When the Bible tells us that God is a spirit and does not have a body like us, how do you then determine who he is? And if an invisible spirit as he tells us, how does one evaluate the invisible? How important is it to you now and for your future to define him with accuracy? Or, on the other hand, for atheists or agnostics to know positively he doesn’t exist? Is it possible that God is just a figment of imagination to millions of followers for over 40 centuries? Does it even ring a bell in your mind if I say this: It is more important to define God than anything else in your life.  For those who struggle with whether God really exists and whether there is any necessity to find out if he does, their problem surely begins with a failure to see the importance and relevance of God to their own well-being; to define him to some degree of reality will determine what you are going to do with him, and also have some understanding of what he is going to do with you. I can promise you that there is no one who can say with absolute certainty that God isn’t; if they do, they are denying the thread of doubt running through their innermost created being. However, if God is, as the creation literally shouts his intelligent handprint on everything visible, then who he is and what he has to do with you is something you really want to know.
Jesus, God in the flesh, cuts through this dilemma of defining the invisible. No one can define God apart from Jesus. It is why he said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. I and the Father are one.”  How do we today know and define Jesus, one to whom the disciples were eyewitnesses?  We know him because Jesus ensured they would write their eyewitness testimony down without deviation from what actually took place or what Jesus spoke. Jesus trusted explicitly the Word already written, and he promised the same trustworthiness of what would be written by these eyewitnesses. You can define God through the life and teaching of Jesus.
The problem in us, however, is the same as the first human beings, Adam and Eve; we have our own minds, and we have a desire to make God in our image. We want to decide if what he tells us is really true. As the Apostle Paul said about this conflict in all of our thinking, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” In other words, our tendency is just the opposite, to accept ourselves as true and make God the liar when our instinct and his revelation clash. As Satan suggested to Eve, “Has God really said?” This is what is happening today in judging and justifying the behavior of man. “Has God really said …?” The bent of our mind is to put ourselves in the place of God and say to ourselves, “I must be right, and God must be wrong because all my instincts tell me I’m right, and what is in his Word in this instance must be outdated, or misinterpreted, or for some reason wrong.” We do this both consciously and unconsciously, thinking God is my consultant and I can take or leave his “advice.” You are, in all practical terms, in the driver’s seat and God is along for the ride when and if he is needed. In other words, he isn’t really God; you are. In your behavior and defense of it or of others, your definition of God is inconsistent with his revelation, if indeed you trust your instincts over his Word.
In our present culture this is the dilemma for the believer. Our culture is largely defined by unbelief; No God? Well, then, no written commandment from God to obey. The construct of laws are severed from God when there is no belief in him, and hence no authoritative revelation from a non-existent God. The believer lives in a culture and under laws which spring out of an absence of the knowledge of God. If your definition of God does not rely upon the authority of his Word, you are floating in the relativity of flawed instinct and opinion. Much of the conversation concerning the rapid changes in our current culture concerns believers wrestling with the advice of Paul when our instinct within the culture is confounded by the neighbors with whom we rub shoulders. Why would Paul say, “Let God be true and every man a liar” if it were not true that our cultural instinct would be to question God’s commands?
God is there, and he is not silent!  Many aren’t listening, or not accepting what they hear. There is a great necessity to define him as the God revealed in the Scriptures because there is no authority in any other quarter and certainly not according to instinct. I am dismayed, but not surprised, that so many believers are relying on their own instincts in the face of rampant social change. Do your due diligence in defining the one true God for yourself, the God revealed and defined by his own Word. Trust it and Him even as your instincts send you elsewhere.

“Jesus loves me–this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
(Anna Warner-written in 1860)

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