Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bookend the Day for Your Kids

I firmly believe that the influence I have as a parent is the greatest influence I have as a man.  Never in my life will influence come easier than it does with my children.  It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of my role as a parent because parents are pivotal figures in the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual development of children.

One of the things my wife and I try to do as parents is something we describe as “bookending” our kids.  We want to “bookend” their day with love, smiles, enjoyment, and a sense of security in our home.  So, as best as we can, we try to be there every morning for them greeting them with smiles, sitting down to breakfast together, and sending them off in to their day knowing that they are loved by mom and dad.  And, at night, we try to spend time with them before bed … talking, laughing, and reading … we pray over them, tuck them in, and try to send them off to bed knowing that mom and dad love them.  So, we do our best to “bookend” their day.

As with every part of life, there are ups and downs with this.  Some days it goes amazingly well … other days, not so much.  As parents we always need to rest in the grace of God and remember that His grace enables us to continue on when we'd rather quit and engage when we'd rather walk away.  But, again, influence will never come easier than it does with our kids and, as a dad, I want to leverage every bit of influence I have with my kids in as many ways as I possibly can.  “Bookending” their day is one way to do that.

Why Pray for Others?

I was a senior in high school.  While riding the bus home one day, several of the “rowdies” on the bus were really giving a friend of mine a hard time.  Let’s just say the names they were calling him were anything but encouraging and several threats were being thrown his direction.  This was going on all the way up until our stop.  My friend and I got off at the same bus stop and as we were getting off the bus, one of the hooligans lunged toward my friend.  I caught this happening out of the corner of my eye and instinctively stepped between the bully and my friend.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  I was hoping my white belt in Kenpo would be enough to protect both of us.  Well, to be honest, I didn’t have a white belt in Kenpo.  I had only watched a Steven Segal movie and he made it all look easy enough.  How hard could it be?  Anyway, the point is, I instinctively wanted to step in to help and to protect, even though I had no idea what that would look like at the time.

Our prayers for each other can be used in the same way. If I am genuinely concerned and interested in the work of God in a person’s life, I simply cannot neglect praying for them.  The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:1: “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” (NLT)  To “intercede” simply means: “to make a request or petition on behalf of or for the benefit of another person or persons.”  In other words, prayer will draw us out of ourselves and in to the life of another.  Prayer puts us right in the middle of the action that God is doing in someone else’s life. And, prayer brings more to the fight than a white belt in Kenpo.  Prayer brings the infinitely, self-sufficient God in to our relationships and invites Him to do what only He can do in another’s life. 

In his book A Gospel Primer, Milton Vincent writes, “Prayer is not simply something I am allowed to do as a Christian; prayer is actually one of the great purposes for which God chose to save me.  I find this to be true because, not only is prayer my ongoing conversation with God, but prayer is a way to serve others as well.  Yes, I want to get my hands dirty by helping others, but I must get my knees dirty as well by kneeling before the Father and praying that out of His glorious riches, others would be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith … that they may be rooted and established in love and may have supernatural power from God to grasp and experience the love of Christ, even though it is too great to understand fully. (Ephesians 3:14 – 19)  Yes, I am called to help and my help can make a difference.  But, only God can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” therefore, we must pray. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Twenty Things I Wish I Had Known in My 20's Part 2

Here are 10 more things I wish I had known in my 20's.  You can read the first 10 right here, if you missed it.

11. Your Character is Always More Important Than Your Accomplishments … this is true because who you are will always show up in what you do. It’s easy to set the goals and think about how much money you’d like to make, how far you’d like to get in your career, what you’d like to accomplish 5, 10, 15 years down the road.  It’s not wrong to have those dreams and goals, but it’s always more important to focus first on who you want to be instead of what you want to do.  If you allow accomplishments to get ahead of your character, that’s when you get in trouble.

12. Guard Your Heart … Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  What that tells me is every word, every action, every thought … all of what we do highlights what is in our heart because whatever is in control of our heart will direct our actions.  What needs to be transformed in our lives is not so much our situation or our relationships.  What really needs to be transformed is our hearts. Long-term transformation always travels the path of the heart. We need grace to transform what we love, what we crave, and what we serve. And, that’s the beauty of the Gospel!  Even though I've given myself over and over to an endless list of God substitutes, even though I've loved myself more than I’ve shown love to others, God comes to me in grace offered through Jesus Christ and begins a process that will result in the total transformation of my heart. (Tripp) Which is why a prayer like David’s in Psalm 52 … “Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord” … is one of the most powerful prayers we could pray. As I allow the Holy Spirit to work on my heart, He will always lead my heart to Jesus.

13. It Really Is Better to Give Than to Receive … Jesus said it Himself … “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”  I’m no certainly no brain surgeon or rocket scientist, but given the option of choosing to be more blessed or less blessed … I’m probably going to choose to be more blessed.  And, in God’s economy, the way I can choose to be more blessed is simply by choosing to be more generous.

14. It’s OK to Be Single … singleness is not a sickness.  For some the scariest thing in the world is to NOT have a boyfriend or not to have a girlfriend.  And, the reason it’s so scary for is because it’s easy to wrap your identity around someone of the opposite sex.  Singleness is not a sickness.  Moving from guy to guy or from girl to girl … that’s the sickness.  That’s unhealthy.  You are not defined by who you date.

15. Don’t Get Involved with the Wrong Person or at the Wrong Time … nothing will derail a life faster than getting romantically involved with the wrong person or getting involved with someone at the wrong time.  Be patient when it comes to relationships.  Don’t rush in to them.  Rushing now usually leads to regrets later and you’ll find yourself saying a few years down the road, “I wish I would have handled that differently.”  If you rush in to something, you’ll usually do it with the wrong person or you’ll be stepping in to something at the wrong time … which can be just as damaging.  Be patient.  Wait on God’s timing and be strong enough to walk away from the wrong person and to wait for the right time.

16. I Will Not Just End Up Where I Want to Be … you can hope and you can dream and you can have the best intentions … but if you do not deliberately set yourself on a path that leads to where you want to be, you’ll end up somewhere else. 

17. Stay in Touch with People … it doesn’t take long to lose contact with some of your closest friends.  Life happens.  Things get busy.  And, the reality is that some people are only meant to be a part of your life for a certain part of your life.  But, if there are friends you do not want to lose contact with, you’ll have to be intentional about that.  If you’re not, don’t expect to stay in touch with them except for the annual Christmas card.

18. Live on a Budget … money has a funny way of getting spent.  If you don’t keep track of it, you’ll never know where it’s going.  A budget helps your take control of your money and allows you to make your money work for you.

19. Don’t Hold Grudges … you never win when you hold a grudge because the grudge ends up holding you.  Life is short.  Move on.

20. What You’re Doing Now Matters … if you’re looking at pornography now, that will matter somewhere down the road.  If you’re having sex now, that will matter somewhere down the road.  If you’re going in to debt now, that will matter somewhere down the road.  Your past doesn’t just go away.  What you’re doing now has a funny way of following you around later.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Twenty Things I Wish I Had Known in My 20's Part 1

I know it may be hard to believe, but I’m no longer in my 20’s.  But, if I could go back to the 90’s and have a conversation with myself, I’d take off the headphones to that Sony Discman and start to tell myself a few things.  Here’s "Part 1" of what I’d say:

1. Don’t Waste Your Freedom … unless you get married very early, you’ll never have this much freedom for the rest of your life.  Soon, a full-time job, a spouse, and children will hopefully become your priority.  So, make the most of this freedom while you can.  Have fun.  Take risks. Drive across the country.  Go see something you’ve only read about. Be spontaneous because in a few years, all that freedom will be gone.

2. Don’t Be Selfish with Your Freedom …it’s true that you’ll never have this much freedom for the rest of your life.  Just don’t use all of that freedom on yourself.  Give it away. Be a servant.  Help others.  Be generous with your time.

3. Following Jesus is Not About the Rules … for years my Christian experience revolved around trying to be sure that God was happy with me.  And, making God happy meant following all the rules.  I thought that if I could just spiritually discipline myself enough then I could straighten myself out and keep the rules and then I could manipulate God into being happy with me. So, my relationship with God became a checklist of behavioral duties that, instead of setting me free, became a prison. The focus of my relationship with God was either do, do, do or don’t, don’t, don’t.  If I was doing, doing, doing … God was happy.  If I was don’ting, don’ting don’ting … God … not so happy.  And, it’s a strange thing because there’s nothing wrong with more right behavior.  That’s a good thing.  There’s nothing wrong with less wrong behavior.  That’s a good thing too.  But something … or better yet … Someone was missing from that equation:  Jesus.

4. God Enjoys Me … for the longest time I believed that God loved me, but I wasn’t so sure he enjoyed me.  How could He possibly enjoy someone who continually messed up and couldn’t get it together?  I felt like a total disappointment to Him.  I know He loved me, but I thought He’d enjoy me more if I did “better.”  What I wish I would have known is that He doesn’t enjoy the future version of me more than the current version of me.  When He looks at me, He sees Jesus and all He has done on my behalf.

5. Prayer is Not About Prayer, It’s About God … I had always thought of prayer as a way of getting what I wanted or what someone else wanted.  When prayers were getting answered, I found myself praying more in order to get more.  When prayers were not being answered, I found myself praying less because … ‘eh … what’s the point.  I was pursuing what I wanted from God more than God Himself. 

6. Be a Servant and Do More Than is Expected of You … a good reputation is worth more than gold.  My character and work ethic can help establish a good reputation with others.  There will never a traffic jam on the extra mile.  Be known as someone willing to work hard and do more than is expected.

7. Give Generously … guilt may motivate you to give, but it will never motivate you to be generous.  Only grace does that.  No one is more generous than a person who understands how much they have received from God. 

8. Live Below Your Means … just because you can buy it doesn’t mean you should buy it.  One day you’ll be thankful for the extra money in the bank, like on a day you go to put a down payment on a house.

9. Read … read for school, read for enjoyment, read to build character and self-discipline, read to engage your imagination, read to become a better conversationalist.  Reading truly does open up your mind to new worlds and new possibilities.

10. Eat Healthfully … enjoy that rabbit-like metabolism while it lasts, because you will not have it forever.  You will not regret starting those healthy habits early on in life. 

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