Big First Day

Today is the day I’ve been looking forward to and dreading equally for quite a while now.  It was the first day of kindergarten for our 5-year-old daughter, Alina.  I know she’s going to do great in school, but it is still hard for me to see this day come.  I guess this just feels a little bit like the end of an era, and time to move on to the next chapter of life.

It’s been nearly 4 years since we brought her home from Russia, and man, what a ride it’s been.  We’ve seen her grow from a quiet toddler that preferred to play by herself and wasn’t very keen to cuddle, into a little girl who always tries to entertain us and who won’t let us leave the house without a kiss and a hug.  I cherish every one of those, by the way, even when I am running late to get where I’m going.  The days I work from home will be a little quieter, and I’ll definitely have fewer interruptions, but I know I’ll look forward to taking a short break when she gets home from school.

It’s not like this is the first time she’s been in a school, per se.  She’s been in Mother’s Day Out at an area church for the past few years, and that has been good for her.   But being that it was at a church, only 5 hours a day, and only 2-3 days a week, it didn’t feel the same as school to me.  The public school she is going into now had 175 kindergartners last year.  ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIVE!  It probably won’t phase her too much that it’s a lot bigger.  I’m sure she’ll notice some differences, but she doesn’t realize how big a deal this is, I’m sure.  But we know.

You see, a big part of our faith in God is knowing that He is in control.  That doesn’t mean that He makes every move in the world happen, mind you, but you have to realize that He’s always there for you, and He’s always taking our mistakes and the events in this world and weaving them into a story of hope, redemption, love and grace.  That is usually pretty comforting for me, but there are still two things in my life that I worry about: my wife Brandon, and Alina.  Seems pretty good to have it down to two, but it’s still not enough.

About a year or so ago, I went into her room while she was sleeping, and I prayed over her and gave her back to God.  She was never not His, mind you, I just officially gave up trying to do this on my own. That was very, very hard for me.  My role, not just as Alina’s father, but as her adoptive father, tends to remind me that Brandon and I were entrusted by two governments (and a host of individuals) to care for her.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that, and it just adds a little extra something to the fact that her care and well-being are my responsibility.  Ultimately, we have to wait years to realize just how good we are doing, and honestly there are days when I feel like I am just winging it.

So last night, as I was driving home from a Bible class I am taking, I listened to songs that remind me of her and certain parts of our journey. I cried a bit, but just prayed aloud asking God that he look out for her, and put people in her life that will love her, care for her, and help teach her while she is at school.  I prayed for her to meet some friends who will not only make her laugh and enjoy her time in school, but who will also become part of her support network for years to come.  Essentially, I had to take another step to let her go so that she can become who God wants her to be.  It’s hard for a Dad to admit that he doesn’t want his daughter to see him when she looks at him, but if that means that instead of seeing me, she sees just a glimpse of God our Father, then I’ll strive for that every moment that I can.

Greater Love: Jesus or Chicken?

It’s been a long couple of weeks since the whole Chick-fil-a fiasco.  I’ve spent some time discussing it with people, both in person and online, and I’ve also read several news stories and blogs covering many aspects of the story.  I also have close friends and family whose opinions are across the spectrum on this issue, and some who are just fed up with it all and can’t wait for it to blow over.  Honestly, the only way I can now describe my feelings after seeing this whole thing unfold is simply to say that I am sad.  I’m saddened because I know people who are hurt by the backlash from one or both sides, and I’m saddened because I don’t believe our actions as Christians have glorified God through any of this.

I could spend a considerable amount of time debating the specifics of the issue, and still not convince anyone that I am right (nor could they convince me I am wrong).  So rather than going down that rat hole, I would like to challenge my fellow Christians to be better.  Let me start by asking this question: find a story in the Bible where Jesus lashed out at someone who was already marginalized by society at large?  Before you open your Bible or your browser to do some research, let me save you some time… won’t find one.

In everything that I read about Jesus, both in his actions and in his words, He never further marginalized anyone who already feels like a lesser human being than the rest of society.  In fact, the people that riled his anger the most were the religious elite or zealots (i.e. Pharisees and Sadduccees) who were more concerned about keeping the law than they were about showing compassion or love for their fellow man (Mark 7:6-8).  You will also find stories where Jesus reached out to outcasts like tax collectors (Matthew 9:9-11), Samaritans (John 4:1-26), and lepers (Matthew 26:6).

One of the most notable stories that is often discussed is when these pious men brought an adultress to Jesus (John 8:1-11) and wanted him to agree that she should be stoned, just as Mosaic law required (Leviticus 20:10).  Without saying a word, Jesus knelt down and began to write in the sand.  He then raised up and said that the person without sin should throw the first stone.  That ruled out everyone except for Him.  But what did He do at that point?  He knelt back down to continue writing in the sand, and the men left him one-by-one until only the woman was left standing there.  He then told her to go and sin no more.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate on trumped up charges, He didn’t fight back (Matthew 27:14).  He hardly said a word.  Instead of defending Himself, or pointing out that proper protocol was not being followed for His trial, He actually prayed for them (Luke 23:34).  He then allowed Roman soldiers to mock Him, spit on Him, beat Him, and eventually crucify Him (Mark 15:16-37).  This is our model, and the One who gave His life for us, for all of us who daily betray Him with our sinful actions.

Compare that example now to where we were the last few weeks when we felt not that we were going to be put to death, but only that our freedom of speech was being threatened.  What is our reaction?  We throw a big rallying party at fast food locations across the country and post on Facebook and Twitter with actions and words that largely are not meant to glorify Him, and in fact, further marginalize an already downtrodden group of people.

Not only did Christians pour out en masse that day, but our actions also served as a sort of safe haven for people who actually are full of hate, fear and bigotry.  Did you read any of the stories that interviewed homosexual employees of Chick-fil-a?  Many of them had to serve people who said they were glad that their company was against “perverted gays”.  Regardless of your opinion on the morality of homosexuality, the legality of same sex marriage, or whether or not this had anything to do with free speech, if you are a Christian, I hope you re-evaluate your response to this whole mess.  The minute we divide the people of this country into and “us vs. them” mentality, we have lost our witness.  Maybe some think it was justified, but honestly, I cannot find evidence in the Bible that would support that claim.

I get that we need to stand up for rights that we feel are being infringed upon, but I don’t think we can attach our religious beliefs to every single political movement out there.  Not once did Jesus make a stand on a political issue during His ministry, even though he was asked directly to do just that (Mark 12:14-17). We scream when we are being persecuted in arguably the country with the most freedoms in the world, but remember that freedom of speech guarantees only that we will not be arrested for speaking our mind, it does not guarantee that we can say whatever we want without someone disagreeing with us.  Not only that, why should we be surprised that people won’t like our values and what we stand for?  Jesus promised this would happen if we followed Him (John 15:20).

I guess if you fully realize that God poured out an endless amount of love, grace, and mercy onto people like me; a lying, thieving, prideful, hypocritical, envious, blasphemous, sinner; then it makes you think about how you should treat others.  Maybe if we are going to err on one side or the other we should do so on the side of showing too much love, grace, and mercy.  The truth of the matter is that no matter how much love, grace, and mercy we can muster it could never match the amount that God has shown to us.

In the end, I just don’t think this was the place to make our stand.  Where I think we should make our stand is in finding homes for orphans, or feeding the hungry, or not allowing someone to go through an illness alone, or any other of the countless social issues that the church has shown such a rich history of combating.  We are on this Earth to be a light, to offer hope, and to show people a glimpse of our Father in Heaven, and I don’t see how waiting in line for an hour for a chicken sandwich did any of that at all.  You’ve heard it said that to whom much is given, much shall be required (Luke 12:48): by being richly blessed to live in a country with freedom of speech, we’d be better served to use that freedom to speak out against real persecution around the world vs. using it to fuel the flames that have caused a great rift such as this.

In college I was in a fraternity that had no secrets and all our creeds, oaths, and principles were available for anyone to read them.  We used to say by doing so, we made it to where anyone could hold us accountable to them.  I believe it’s even more important that we, as Christians, hold ourselves accountable to what we claim we believe.  Given that the Bible is the best selling book in history, if we don’t hold ourselves accountable to it, we’ve already seen that others will.

May we think and rethink our positions both politically and morally so that when we deliver the truth, we do so out of love and we show that the reason we point it out is not because we want to be “right” but because we actually care about people (Romans 12:9-21).  We will never be able to control what people think about us or what will be said about us, but we can manage our reactions and show that we are His people by speaking with love in our words and compassion in our hearts (Philippians 4:5).

Heavenly Sundae

Today a good friend of mine, Alan Floyd left this world.

I met Alan in 1995 through a mutual friend, Gary.  I was working at a restaurant as a waiter and was finishing my last year in college.  There are some people that you just hit it off with from the start, and that is essentially how it was for me and Alan.  The three of us started hanging out quite a bit, and then Gary moved back to New Mexico a few months later to be close to family.  After I graduated, Alan and I never seemed to live on the same side of town.  We talked here and there, and would typically see each other at bigger events each year, like birthdays, holiday parties, or when Gary would come in town.  We actually traveled out to see Gary in New Mexico a handful of times as well.  No matter how long it had been since we’d seen one another – a week, a month, a year – we picked right up where we left off, and didn’t miss a beat.  In the span of about 3 years, Gary, Alan, and I each got married, and we were all in one another’s wedding.  I can recall each of those days very well, and how proud we were to be there for the other on their big day.  A few years later, we all started having kids, and we celebrated as our families grew.

Alan battled cancer for the last 18 months, and he did it with strength and dignity.  He never lost the light in his eye, he never gave up hope, and he never stopped being concerned more about those around him than he did for himself.  Anytime I talked to him, it was like I was the one who needed the pep talk.  He always remained so positive, and you just felt like he’d knock this thing out and it wouldn’t phase him a bit.  He’d send me texts on holidays to tell me he loved me and to enjoy my time with my family.  Seems like he beat me to that every time the last year or so.  He loved to tell stories, and he always had a new one for me anytime we saw each other.  He was just one of the most genuine, hard-working, self-sacrificing people I’ve ever known, and cancer never took that spark away from him.  I honestly cannot come up with the right words to describe him because he was simply one of the best individuals I have ever had the privilege to know.

He had a couple stays in the hospital over the last few weeks because he had caught pneumonia.  He got home last weekend, and when I returned from being out of town for a week, he wasn’t doing very well.  I went over to his house and his family was all around, as well as some folks from his church.  For the next few days, he spent much of his time sleeping due to the high amount of pain medication he was on, and those of us around him took turns being there to help in whatever small ways we could to ease the burden on his family.  I was able to spend a few nights there off and on, helping him get up a bit, and move from the bed to a chair, or vice versa.  At one point when he was in a lot of pain, he asked us to pray so we stood around his bed in a circle, held hands, and prayed for him, because it was hard for him to speak.  He said that he hated for us to see him like that, and that’s when I got choked up.  Not long after, when he needed to move positions, I helped him get back into bed.  After he laid down, he looked over at me and all I said was “I’m proud of you, bro”, and he said he was proud of me, too.  While cancer had made him weaker, I still saw all the things that I respected so much about Alan – his strength, his fight, and his determination.

One story that Alan liked to tell about me was when Gary had come in to town to visit and we all went out to eat to destroy some random restaurant buffet.  We were all fairly big guys and not afraid to put a hurting on some poor, unsuspecting restaurateur.  After successfully beating them into submission, we left and got in Alan’s station wagon (yes, he drove a huge station wagon, and the thing could sleep a small family of giants, so it was perfect for guys of our stature).  About 10 minutes down the road, we were passing a McDonald’s and I leaned up from the back seat in between the two of them in the front and asked “anybody want a sundae?”  They both busted out laughing because for once, they couldn’t eat another bite.  Fast forward to March of last year for my 40th birthday….I open the door to my house to see Alan standing there with a McDonald’s sundae in hand and he exclaimed “anybody want a sundae?”  I couldn’t stop laughing.

I know Alan is in Heaven because he put his trust and his life in the hands of God.  I’m so thankful that he not only built a great life in this world with his wife and two boys, but that he also prepared for his eternal life as well.  I’ve cried a lot today, not for Alan, but for those of us he left behind.  We already miss him greatly.  I know that in the grand scheme of eternity, this life will be but a moment, but it still hurts to be without him.  He’s left a little bit of himself in those of us around him that he loved and who loved him.  He finally beat cancer: maybe not in the way we wanted him to, but he did it with the help of our savior Jesus Christ, who conquered death so that those who believe and put there faith and trust in Him could also live with Him eternally.

But he’s in Heaven now, living pain free for the first time in a long time, rejoicing with friends and family that have gone before him, as well as our Lord.  Enjoy the party, my friend, because you have done well, faithful servant.  Make sure you save me a seat next to you at the ice cream counter, because when I get there, I expect you to have a sundae ready for me brother.  I love you.

For those that wish to help Alan’s family, here is a site for a 5k fun run for this weekend that is for their benefit.

Endless Saturday

I recently read the book “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Place” by Eugene Peterson.  If his name is unfamiliar to you, you might be familiar with one of his other works The Message, which is a paraphrase of the Bible, putting it into contemporary language.  In “Christ Plays…” he made a comparison of Holy Saturday (the day in between Good Friday and Easter) to the times that we live in today.

On Holy Saturday, things seemed dark and hopeless.  The disciples and Jesus’ followers had just seen their Messiah brutally beaten and murdered and they were reeling.  They believed that He was going to liberate Israel from Roman captivity, and become the King of a new kingdom on Earth in their day and time.  When that didn’t happened, they didn’t know what to do.  In today’s world, we find ourselves in a similar position, not knowing what to do until God’s kingdom is restored one day.  I thought Peterson’s comparison was brilliant, and it really put things into perspective for me.

Today, we can’t help but see the bad things that happen in this world, everything from accidents or illness happening to good people around us to travesties of justice that occur around the world.  At times, we can allow ourselves to think that hope is lost, and wonder where God is in all of this, as if he’s an absentee landlord.  Many Chrstians and non-Chrstians alike even ask how God can sit idly by and allow these kinds of things to happen time and time again.

But where we are today is not God’s doing, but man’s.  All the way back in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve chose to defy God, they brought about a curse on themselves, their descendants, and upon the Earth.  What has occurred since then is what happens in God’s creation, both men and the world, when it is apart from its creator.  Man and the world were both designed to live in a close relationship with God, walking and living among us, and when we chose to push Him away, we have since reaped what we sowed and found out the consequences of our actions.  Bad things happening to good people isn’t necessarily a direct result of a sin they personally committed, but it is a direct result of our collective sins as humans.

But the beautiful, wonderful, and amazing thing is remembering that today is just Saturday, it’s not Sunday yet.  The story is not finished, and God’s work in us and the world is not complete.  Things may seem bleak because with every passing day we are farther away from God than at any other time in human history.  After Jesus’ ressurection, he appeared to many of His followers and in those moments He reminded them, just as He had been telling them throughout His ministry, that his death was part of the plan all along.  He had to be made a sacrifice as payment for our sins so that we could re-establish our relationship with God, and one day commune with Him just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden.  Jesus’ death had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier, but the disciples needed to be reminded that the brutality of what they saw, the darkness that they felt, and the loss they were experiencing was part of the plan.

We do not have the ability to know God’s plans, thoughts or ideas, as they are simply too big for us.  Isaiah 55:8 tells us that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and that His ways are higher than ours.  To be honest, would you really want God or His way of doing things to be as limited as what we humans could come up with?  Just look around at the mess we have made around us, and you’ll quickly answer that question with an emphatic “no”.  We can’t agree on simple things like what we want to eat for dinner, much less things as big as right vs. wrong, or the best way to run our lives.

But as Psalm 145:17 tells us, the Lord is righteous in all His ways, so we need to take heart that He knows exactly what He is doing.  Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he told his disciples that it is not for them (and consequently us) to know the time when God’s plans will unfold (Acts 1:7).  So instead of worrying or concerning ourselves with what God is NOT doing, let’s busy ourselves with the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave us: love our God and love our neighbors (Mark 12 :30 & 31).  What would our world look like if those of us who call ourselves Christians actually lived out what we preached vs. just talking about or debating it?  What if we spoke in love vs. tearing down others?  What if instead of saying that the world is getting more and more corrupt by the day, we strived to make a difference?  What if we did as Andy Stanley has said and “did for one what we wished we could do for many”?

If we did these things, maybe we might finally say to ourselves that until the perfect timing of God’s return, we will follow what he told us to do and show His love on this Endless Saturday.  The story is not over….

Grander Scheme of Things

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I started a course at Denton Bible Church (DBC) back in January.  It’s called the Bible Training Center for Pastors (BTCP), and this course is used around the world to provide Bible education for missionaries and pastors.

Tonight, we had the privilege of hearing from a pastor from India.  He told us about how he is teaching BTCP in India, and how the country is likely more open now to the message of Christ than it has ever been before.  Not that there is a revival going on, per se, but he’s seeing some inroads that he has not seen before.  He also spoke of work that he and his counterparts are supporting in other countries such as Sri Lanka and Nepal.

We listened to story after story of people hearing the gospel for the first time. One man was a migrant worker from a village 20 hours away. He heard the gospel and believed, and within a couple weeks, had returned home and shared the Gospel with his friends who also believed. He had received a New Testament from a missionary, so he called the missionary to ask if his friends could get a New Testament as well, and of course, he said yes. Within a couple days, that missionary was visited by two men from that village, who traveled 20 hours one way just to get their New Testament in person.

Specifically in Nepal, he told the story of a couple that saw children with suitcases walking in the streets.  When they asked why these children had suitcases, they were told that the children were ophans, and that these bags carried anything and everything they owned.  They lived on what they were given from begging for money on the streets.  The couple asked what would happen if they asked these children to come home with them, and they were basically told that they children would just go home with them.  They ended up taking home 8 children at first, and now have more than 200 children in their care at 3 different locations.  They don’t call these places orphanages, they call them homes, and they consider these kids their children.

Hearing the story about the kids in Nepal, I could not help but get choked up because I thought of my daughter, Alina, who we adopted from Russia in 2008.  There are children around the world who are in need of care and love, and they will absolutely change your life for the better if someone will take the opportunity to open their hearts and take them in.  While there are hundreds of thousands of children in need, there is no excuse for us not to do our part.  As Andy Stanley so eloquently put it, “do for one, what you wish you could do for all.”

During our usual break during each class, I happened to check my work email with my phone.  I saw a couple of heated emails going back and forth about some expense allocations.  For those that are not familiar with what allocations are, it’s essentially expense shared between more than one part of a business.  The debate was about how much each business was paying for, not the TOTAL expense mind you, just who’s wallet it was coming out of.  I just had to laugh a little to myself.  Don’t get me wrong, I am just as irritated as anyone about the allocations, but in the grand scheme of things, this discussion meant so little compared to the care of children, and the eternal well being of many others.

It just reminded me that God wants us to make time in our lives caring for others and helping direct people to Him.  Many of us need a day job to help accomplish this work, and to help fund the work being done by others in countries around the world.  We all just need an occasional reminder, and tonight was certainly one for me.


100,000 Miles to God

6 years ago yesterday, my father passed away and went home to be with the Lord.  He was a pastor and evangelist for the better part of five decades.  He touched the lives of so many people along the way that it would be literally impossible to measure his impact for the Lord.  He had a significant impact on pastors and missionaries who have also faithfully served people all the way from the Navajo Nation in New Mexico all the way to Hong Kong, and numerous places in between.

Missions was always a ministry on which he led his churches to focus. He certainly took passages like Acts 1:8 to heart, surrenduring his talents to help stir people in places like Flint, Michigan and Whitsett, North Carolina, who will likely never see those mission fields in person, to become active participants in God’s service of bringing the lost to Him through giving and prayer.

I could go on and talk in more detail about my Dad, and how glad I am that God used him to serve others.  Instead, I want to tell you about another mission field that he was very effective in, and that is his own son…

Having grown up in church, I can’t remember any part of my childhood where it wasn’t an integral part of our lives.  I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t believe in God, although there have certainly been times I have questioned His methods.  When I was 13 years old, my father led me to the Lord and he baptized me a few weeks later on Father’s Day.  I suppose all of this falls right in line with what most people would expect given how I was raised.

As I got older, and started college, church and God became less important to me.  Again, I didn’t stop believing in Him, but I wasn’t making Him a priority either.  I started skipping church here and there and, eventually, only attended church here and there.  I graduated from college and began my career, making that my focus and pushing God to the furthermost edge of my life.  I went on and got a master’s degree, continuing to focus on my own agenda.  I got married and my father was the minister at our wedding (I know, not surprising).  Four years later, my father passed away.

About a year later, my wife and I decided it was time to try to start a family.  Long story short, with no success the old-fashioned way, we ended up adopting our daughter from Russia.  Not only was I a husband, but I had now become a father.  I felt that I should start working God back into my life, but He was still not a priority.  My career was clicking along, and now I was even going to get some international experience, with frequent trips to/from our London office in my near future.  The day before I was to come home from my first trip in London, I woke up feeling pretty sick.  I was able to make it  home and started feeling better, but that weekend the discomfort returned and I went to the hospital.  They told me that I had a heart attack, and I simply couldn’t believe what I had heard.

At that point, I was determined to make some changes for the better, but it would be a long time before that really clicked.  A couple years later, we decided to move closer to my brothers and their families in the DFW area, so we sold our house and built a new one  closer to them.  Once our move was complete, we started looking around for a church to call home.  The second church we visited was Fellowship of the Parks, and it ended up feeling like the place we were meant to be.

We started attending in early 2011, and got to know the pastor, church staff, and some of the members.  We really felt at ease and started attending faithfully every week.  I began to feel connected to God again, and started reading the Bible on my own – something I can honestly say I had never done my entire life.  Sure, I had read quite a bit of the Bible when I was younger, but it was always part of a school assignment or Sunday School lesson.  Being older now, and with more life experience, the words just spoke to me so much more clearly than ever before.  They really had meaning, and I could easily see the applications for it in my life.  I also started reading books about God and Christianity, which again was something I had never done.

As part of this growth, I started talking to my brother about a Bible class that he had begun at Denton Bible Church, which is where he and his family attend.  It is a two year program that is nearly the equivalent of a seminary education for people who want to learn more about the Bible and get involved in ministries in their church.  These classes are actually taught around the world in an effort to train pastors and missionaries who otherwise would have no access to Bible training, much less a seminary.  As I researched it, prayed about it, and met with the team at DBC, I felt that God wanted me to be part of their next class beginning in January of this year.

Last month, a fellow member of Fellowship of the Parks approached me about becoming part of a new ministry our church is trying to get off the ground this year.  We decided to meet for coffee one Monday morning, and on my way to meet him, my truck hit the 100,000 mile mark.  I pulled over into a parking lot to get a pic of the speedometer because I am a nerd that way, and it dawned on me….the bulk of the miles that I had driven on that truck had been to and from my office, or to and from the airport to leave for a business trip, and now I was on my way to discuss how I could serve God in my community.  I couldn’t help but think about how that was similar to how my life had gone.

I have spent so much time pursuing my career, or other things that I felt were more important than God, and now my life has finally come full circle.  It has been a long journey, and it’s certainly not over yet, but I am blown away by how incredibly patient He has been with me.  He has given me so much, and I am finally trying to be a better steward of those gifts and give back to Him.  I look forward to the day when I can see my Heavenly Father and my Earthly father, and thank them for investing their love and time into someone that took it for granted for so long.

2012 To Do List

I will start by saying I don’t like the idea of New Year’s Resolutions.  I have never really made any before, and they always seem a little trumped up to me.  Having said that, here I am on the cusp of a new year, and wanting to continue to make changes in my life for the better.  I’ll start with a little overview of what I’ve been through the last few years, where I am now, and where I am going (i.e. why I want to change).  Not only will this be a good check-in point for me now and give me something to look back on as I progress this next year, but it will also help my friends and family keep tabs on me.  I don’t think I can accomplish much on this list I am about to share without some encouragement along the way.

Where I Have Been

Back in 2009, I had some serious health issues.  My family and some of my friends know the details, but it’s not something that I am very comfortable sharing.  Let’s just say that I believe the catalyst was stress and not dealing with it properly.  It didn’t help that I was out-of-shape, overweight, and not exercising.  This really caused me to take stock on where my life was headed, and what kind of example I was being for my family.  Over the next year or so, there were opportunities for me to move with my job, but after careful consideration, and seeing how much Alina was blossoming around our family here in the area, we decided that it was best to stay put.  Not only did we decide to stay in the area, we decided to move closer to my brothers and their kids, as well as one of my wife’s cousins.

Where I Am Now

In looking at where to move, we wanted to find an area that seemed more like a community in a family-oriented neighborhood, and with good schools for Alina to attend.  Part of that was also to find a church nearby that had a heart for serving the area around it, as well as one that had a special calling for supporting adoption.  One thing I was really hoping for in our new church was a rekindling of my pursuit for Christ.  I’d say that we found all of this and more.  I’ve always been very dedicated to my family, but in the time we’ve been attending our church, I have found that what I was doing wasn’t enough.  I’m relearning how to essentially be “100% all-in” for my family, and learning that in all things, their well being should be my focus.  That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take care of myself.  Far from it.  In fact, I have realized now more than ever that I have to take care of myself so that I can be here as long as possible to care for my girls.

In the last six months, I have also developed a passion for reading that I have never had before.  If you had asked my wife how many books I had read before this year in the nearly 9 y ears we have been married, her answer would have been something like “maybe 2”.  I’ve just never been a voracious reader.  I’m not exactly sure why, but maybe it’s because my mind tends to wander when I read.  In the last 6 months, I have gotten some good recommendations through new friends at church, and I have read 8 books.  Before you cheer me on, note that most of them have been around 200 pages or less, so I am working my way up to ones that are a little “meatier”.  But given my starting point, I’d say that’s pretty good.

Where I Am Headed

I feel like I have finally built up some motivation on making changes for the better.  More properly stated, I think that I have gotten my head wrapped around where God wants me to be, and He is helping me to put a plan together to get me there.  So with that, below is my 2012 To Do List with a little description behind why each one is on there.

1) Read 1 book per month.  As I mentioned, I have never readlly been a reader.  The bad part about that is you can learn so much from reading, and I have always felt like I was missing out on something.  I want to continue to learn things througout my life and have my opinions challenged and my thoughts and ideas stretched and broadened.

2) Continue to get closer to God.  There are actually a few things or tasks that I am combining to achieve this particular goal.  They are to read half the Bible, pray daily, and continue to volunteer at church.  I was raised by Christian parents who both showed a consistent pursuit of God in their lives.  I became a Christian myself at the age of 13, but I can never point to a time in my life where I steadfastly pursued a deep relationship with God.  There have certainly been times where I have felt closer to God than others, and in those times I realized I lived with a greater joy in life than at any other time.  If I am to be the kind of role model for my daughter, my wife, and those I come in contact with, the best way to do that is to follow Christ’s teachings and his direction for my life.

3) Live a healthier lifestyle.  I will lose 50 pounds this year.  I am not going to do anyone, including myself, any good by putting myself into an early grave.  I’ve waited too long, and I need to get moving on this before I do any more irreversable damage to my body.  This is going to be a tough one, I already know it.  I am asking God to change my desires, cravings, and thoughts about how I use (and abuse) food.  I don’t know every single change that I am going to have to make yet to achieve this, but here are the ways that I will start.  I need to lower my intake of high glycemic carbs.  I need to exercise at least 3 times per week, even if its just talking a walk through our neighborhood.  I need to cut down on eating fast food (really I need to eliminate it all together, but if I can get down to twice per month, that will be a good start for this year).

4) Drink 8 glasses of water a day.  This is really part of living a healthier lifestyle, but I had so many smaller goals above that I decided to break it out.  If you read over the symptoms of dehydration (poor memory, muscle cramps, etc), I probably exhibit most of them almost every day.  Not only that, if you read anything about weight loss, they all say that you have to drink more water.  So not only do I need to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day, I need to eliminate regular soda (which has recently crept back into my diet), and I need to drink water when I eat out (as I typically drink 2-4 glasses of whatever my drink of choice is at each meal).

5) Volunteer to help the needy once a month.  I have felt more and more called to help others over the last year, and have volunteered on a couple of occasions, but I need to do more.  I want my daughter to have a heart for helping others and follow the call that Christ gives us to help those less fortunate.  In this day and age, poverty is only getting worse, it’s not getting better.  I’ve sat on the sidelines long enough feeling that I am in general a good and decent person, but unless I regularly follow through on helping others, what actual evidence do I have that I actually am as benevolent as I might think I am?


Well, that is a lot, I know.  But when I look over this list, I wonder how I can continue living my life without trying to do these things.  I also have a big advantage by having God in my corner.  I need to put all this on Him and ask Him to achieve this through me because for the first 40 years of my life, I haven’t achieved it on my own.  I need Him to do it for me by creating a change in my nature, I can’t do it.  I can also only ask my family and friends to prayerfully support me as I embark on the next step of my journey.  I’ll try to keep you posted on my progress at least once a month, but feel free to reach out to me personally if you want to know more.  I thank you all in advance for your continued help.

“Searching for God Knows What” by Donald Miller

Having really enjoyed “Blue Like Jazz”, I decided to move on to Donald Miller’s next book and was simply blown away.

Let me start by saying that I really like the way Miller writes because it almost seems like its his continuous thought process, straight from the heart, and put down on paper.  Sometimes he jumps around from one thought to another seemingly without a connection, which might make some people think he is taking a bit of a meandering road to lead up to his point.  But given that my thought process works in a very similar way, I like it quite a bit.

Miller also is great at explaining the evolution of his thoughts, in most cases using references to conversations or happenings in his life, and sometimes using creative metaphors.  I think this really shows how our faith and beliefs can also evolve over time as we investigate the subject matter more, or have conversations or interactions that move our ideas over the course of time.  Given that we will never know exactly what God’s true teachings and directions are until we meet Him in Heaven, I think Christians should always challenge what they believe and why in the relentless pursuit of following Him.  This is evident in Miller’s book, and it’s quite refreshing to see the honesty with which he writes about it.

There were a couple of discussions in the book that really put the ideas in a new light for me.  First, his discussion behind how both God felt after the Fall, as well as Adam and Eve.  I don’t want to spoil anything from the book, so I will just leave it at that.  I truly have never given as much thought about God’s feelings after this event, and it was humbling to say the least.

Second, was the concept of how men have reacted in the absence of God.  Again, without trying to give anything away from the book, it’s generally the idea that man does certain things and acts in certain ways because we have that void in our lives that will not be filled until we are reunited with God.

Both these discussions really brought me closer to God in that I started trying to see things from His perspective.  They even sparked other ideas for me about the very nature of God and just how much He loves His people – all of them.  Needless to say, I highly recommend giving this one a read.

How Much is Too Much Grace?

I had a great discussion this week with several folks regarding the plight of the poor, and our country’s social economic policies. It’s a topic that I have wrestled with quite a bit lately in an effort to determine where God is convicting and leading our family to help those less fortunate than us. With that in mind, it’s always interesting to get others’ viewpoints and challenge your own so long as you can maintain the proper level of respect for one another and your differences in opinion (which we did). For the most part, I understand the usual arguments on both sides of the discussion, and there are some merits of nearly every point with which I agree.  I decided to pull some of my points from that discussion, and expand on them a bit more in order to challenge people to actively determine where they fall on the issue and why.

When thinking of helping the poor, we sometimes shrug our shoulders and think “we can’t help them all”, so we do nothing.  But consider how much it means to the one person that you can help provide a meal for this week, or offer an encouraging word to them.

Other times we make broad generalizations that many people in need aren’t willing to help themselves, or they are lazy, or they don’t manage their money well.  That makes me wonder if we think we know better than what Jesus himself actually taught, since after all, He called upon people to help the poor.  In Luke 11:41, He told the Pharisees to “be generous to the poor”: do we think that somehow that message wasn’t meant for us as well?

Do we make these kinds of arguments as to why we shouldn’t help others because we believe that is truly part of being Christ-like, or are we doing it to provide ourselves an excuse to ignore God’s call to action?

It’s ironic that we will chide a poor person for how they choose to spend what little money they have, or assume they are lazy, but we will let rich people run companies like Lehman Brothers into the ground and we don’t speak of them with the same sort of disdain.  Wealth is destroyed all the time due to the greed of others, but we provide an excuse that says they are “job creators” and so we seem to give them some sort of untouchable status.

When we talk about the poor as if they are taking from the rich or that somehow they are unworthy of our help, even if those comments are directed only at those who abuse government programs, why should we expect any of the poor to accept a helping hand from Christians or our churches for us to lead them to Christ?  Why would they turn to people who seem to have distaste for them and ask for help?  The answer is simple – they won’t.

I’m not trying to divide us into the haves and have nots because the rest of the world has already done a fine job of that.  I also am not trying to say that we should increase the funding of entitlement programs in the United States.  I certainly don’t want to inadvertently create a larger group of people who are dependent on the government.  In my opinion, if a person is dependent on the government, they are less likely to take a stand against policies that are detrimental to the people and our nation. However, I am trying to challenge people to care for the poor and defenseless in America and the rest of the World.  I don’t believe that God will bless us for defending the rich as much as he will for trying to help the poor, and give them guidance on how to improve their situation vs. just sitting back and watching them continue to suffer or self-destruct.

Just to be clear, I’d prefer that people and charitable organizations provide these kinds of services as well, because then they can see the direct benefit of their actions and hopefully get the feeling that they are making a difference.  Unfortunately, it’s just not happening at the level that it needs to be. It’s time that we Christians step out of our glass houses en masse, and help the needy.  If more Christians and churches stepped up
their benevolence to those in need in this country, would we even need our current level of governmental assistance programs?  Until such time that we step up and provide that level of assistance, then it’s hard for us to argue that these programs are completely unnecessary.  If you continue to argue against these programs entirely, then I would like to see what you are doing about the gap other than complaining about it.  I’m referring to real, meaningful, active assistance, not just donating a few bucks here and there and allowing others to do it for you (including others in your own Church).

There are numerous points in Scripture that tell us that we are to help the poor. As you research this topic, it becomes quite evident that God isn’t making a suggestion; he’s directing us to do it.  We are to be examples of Christ and to be His hands reaching out to help the world around us.
What better way to be His witness than to share with others what He has blessed us with (i.e. some of our time on Earth, our wealth, and His gift of grace)?

Now, the question for all of us is, “what does this help look like”?  I believe that each of us has to answer that question in our own lives based on our convictions and where God is leading each of us.  God blesses every one of us in different ways and with different levels of material things. I don’t believe that a rich person is necessarily overly blessed by God, just as I don’t believe that poor people are not blessed enough. Blessings are not all counted in material possessions, in my opinion, but if we insist on using this as a measuring stick, consider this: those of us in the United States are far wealthier than the average citizen in the rest of the world.  If you would rather see the direct impact of your help, there are great
needs closer than we care to think about, as there are countless people in cities around us that are without a home, or without food.  How many of them are also in need of not just hearing but actually SEEING the love Christ has for them?

Is there such a thing as too much grace?  When we help others, God has not promised that we will never feel taken advantage of, or that our benevolence will automatically help a person up another rung on the ladder to self-sufficiency.  If we don’t offer love and grace in the name of God, then how can we expect that from Him when we ask forgiveness for our own sins knowing that because of our very nature we surely will sin
again?  Sometimes the change that God is after may not be in those we help, but in the attitude of those He has called to offer help?

There are two books that I would highly recommend for those looking to discover what God has called them to do in helping others.  One is “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, and the other is “Radical” by David Platt.  I’ve just recently read both of them, and found them not only challenging, but very interesting reads.  The takeaways from reading these for my family and I was to help the needy at least one time per month in 2012.  We’re already on the right track having volunteered at a food pantry last Saturday, and creating our own opportunity to offer meals to the needy before the end of the year.

The Love of Christ?

As Christians, we are to show the world the love of Christ.  That’s why I find it hard to see those who claim to be Christians and Christ-followers speak in hate toward others.  Are we really saying what God wants us to say, or are we just saying what we want to say, and attaching God’s name to it?  Are we speaking out to correct our fellow man to help guide them to Christ, or are we lashing out at them to point out their faults so that we can appear better than they are?  Or, to make it appear that we are closer to Christ than those we are bashing?

It’s no secret that God hates sin and cannot tolerate it.  In order to let us into Heaven, he can accept nothing less than perfection.  Man cannot be perfect, no matter how hard he tries.  It’s absolutely impossible.  Therefore, the only way that we can get into Heaven is by accepting God’s grace in the form of accepting Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.  His sacrifice washes away our sin so that we can be given the gift of eternal life.

Interestingly enough, none of us have ever met someone that Jesus did NOT die for. Not a single one. Think of the absolute embodiment of the worst person ever alive, and then realize this – Jesus died for that person just as he died for you.

The next time that you want to judge someone, or go to a rally with a sign that says “God Hates <insert name or sin here>”, just remember that you are talking about one of God’s creations, and someone that He loves so much, that he sent his Son to die in their place should they choose to follow him.  Maybe that will cause you to think twice about your motives?  I’m not saying that you should just accept their sin, but just maybe you need a little reminder that we are to show compassion and love toward them, just as Jesus showed compassion and love toward us.