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The Parable of a Trash Bag

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Some days, these notes are as much more to encourage me than you…a reference point for me to use in recalling something later in life as my memory fails me. This is one of those notes.

Last night, while changing the trash, my nine year old NE stops halfway through the task, turns to me and this is what followed:

NE: “Dad, I’m going to tell you a parable.”
Me: “Cool! I like parables. Whatcha got?”

NE: “This trash bag is us. Well, it’s like us, cuz we’re not really trash…”

Me: 😗😉

NE: “And the wind is Jesus. When I open the new bag to let the air in, it fills up. It’s like our hearts…when we open our heart and life to Jesus, He comes in and fills us up.”

Me: “Yeah man! That is SO true! I love it!”

NE: “See there, I just told you a parable, because parables are stories about things that are the same. I really like parables.”

Me: “Me too buddy. Where’d you learn that one?”

NE: “I didn’t. I just thought of it myself while I was changing the trash. It just came into my mind so I told you.” (Walks out of the room carrying the trash to the dumpster)

(Mic drop…like, literally! I’m left standing there in silence with my mouth wide open in awe.)

It was one of those Eight-Second Bull Rides, where I’m left standing in the dust wondering what just happened.

You have no idea the depths to which my mind had taken that parable in the 45 seconds that our conversation lasted.

No, really! I mean I could’ve done a full 40 minute Sunday sermon on that baby right there on the spot… in the middle of the kitchen, tripping over spilled trash, dirty dishes still in my hand…stopped everything and called the family in for some impromptu, down right deep bible study that would’ve touched the souls of most biblical scholars type-stuff. Yowza, baby!

He doesn’t know it yet, but I think he just found the Upward game day half-time devotion he wants to write and share himself this season. 😉🙌

I literally just never cease to be amazed at how and when God uses His children to work in the lives of others. Like…seriously! Awesome!

And, even more, I just totally adore watching my boys mature in their understanding of who God is and who they are in Christ.

Love you boys! Keep on keepin’ on!

Dad

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for making yourself known to these two precious little ones you’ve entrusted me with. Please keep working in their lives to guide and lead them along the path you’ve set apart for each of them. Would you please just continue setting a firm foundation in their lives of who they are in you so that they can withstand the trials they’ll surely face without me. Please, speak to them in a way that they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they will ALWAYS have you. Lord, bless these little hearts and keep them in your arms. Oh…and if you could just take my mistakes and shortcomings as their daddy…you know, all the things about me that I’d toss to the curb with the trash…and maybe just overlook those and use them for something good in their lives, that’d be like.just.really.amazing. I know you got my back. 😉👍

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Pre-Plan for the Day of Battle

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Have you been in a battle of your will recently…struggling to flee evil and run toward God? Maybe you’re in that battle now?

I confess that in my weakest moments, I sometimes give in to the temptations of my flesh. I am human, after all. But all too often, I think we tend to use that as our “out”…an excuse to sin. At least I know I do anyway.

It’s as if the argument I have with the devil in my head seems to start like this, “you’re only human; what’s He expect of you? You can’t be perfect. Just give in this one time, and you can seek forgiveness afterward because He is always faithful to give it.

Then when I do fail and succumb to the tempting of the devil, he keeps going by shaming me with my guilt, “you’re not good enough for God. He’ll never accept you back, look what you just did!”

And when I give in to that conversation, I forget what follows one of my favorite verses, Galatians 2:20, in verse 21.

I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

Oh, how often I have treated the grace of God as “meaningless”. For you see, when we I return to our my sin like a dog to its own vomit, that is precisely what we I do. We I cheapen the grace…degrade the sacrifice…minimize the offering…undervalue and render worthless the gift that forgives and cleanses us me in His eyes.

As a dad, if I were to freely give my 6 year old son to die in the place of another person, I would expect the person he saved to live differently…not because he knew I expected it, but because he recognized the gift as meaningful…and as a natural outpouring of his appreciation for the love he was shown first.

Doesn’t God deserve the same from us me?!

A battle for our soul rages within us! We win the battle when we claim Galatians 2:20 as our own personal experience, crucifying our flesh and allowing Christ to live in us.

Speaking for myself here, I often…too often…fail Him in choosing poorly. When I fail to apply Phil 4:13 to my daily experiences during temptations, I take for granted and render meaningless the grace of God. I step off the path He has set out for me…even if only for a moment…and that first step is ALWAYS a slippery one.

When we take that first slippery step off the narrow path during a personal battle, we allow the flesh to succumb to temptation. It’s like we use Paul’s illustration of the battle against the sin within us (found in Romans 7:13-25) as an excuse to sin rather than applying it in claiming victory OVER sin through Christ in us.

Convicted of a recent failure of my own, this verse from Proverbs jumped leaped off the page at me:

Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin. By fearing the LORD, people avoid evil.” – Proverbs 16:6

Wait what?! How do an unfailing love and faithfulness atone for my sin, and more importantly, how do I achieve those two qualities in my character?

In having captured my attention, He hit me with this one five verses later:

The LORD demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standard for fairness.” – Proverbs 16:11

And then again five verses later with this:

The path of the virtuous leads away from evil; whoever follows that path is safe.” – Proverbs 16:17

Which led to a bit of a word study that in summation looks like this

Confused? Yeah, me too. But bare with me for a few more thoughts, and we shall indeed be one blind beggar leading another to a morsel of nourishment.
Let’s dissect verse 6 word by word:

  • Unfailing – constant; everlasting; never-ending; inexhaustible. We see God’s unfailing love for His people defined throughout Scripture, particularly in Psalm 117:2 and Isaiah 55:3.
  • Love – love is so many different qualities that it is a book all its own really. Quickly defined for today’s purpose,
    • Love is obedience (John 14:15, John 14:23-24, 1 John 2:3-6).
    • It is NOT an emotion we feel or express; rather it is a choice me make (John 3:16).
    • Love is God…and God is love (1 John 4:7-8).
    • Because God is love, love is also confident and fearless (1 John 4:16-19).
  • Faithfulness
    • a steadfast loyalty (2 Thessalonians 3:3 and 2 Timothy 4:7)
    • a firm adherence to promises (John 14:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, 2 Timothy 2:13)
  • Atonementforgiveness, reconciliation, cleansing (Col 1:20 and 1 John 2:2)
  • Sin – an offense against God

Simply translated, verse 6 of Proverbs 16 says this…an obedience and steadfast loyalty in adhering to our commitment to sin no more cleanse us of our offenses against God and that people who fear the LORD will avoid evil.

Simple enough…until we question why we should fear the LORD.

Simply put, the answer comes five verses later in verse 11,

The LORD demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standard for fairness. – Proverbs 16:11

We should fear Him because He is a fair and just Judge…handing down discipline to those He loves for breaking His commands. His justness requires atonement for sin, and His standards are fair and balanced…we are all held to the same standard. When we are continually disobedient, we demonstrate that we don’t love Him.

My sin deserves a punishment. I cannot accept the gift of grace and forgiveness and continue in my sin. What just judge would allow that? My debt is paid, but it does not give me free reign to continue breaking the law.

Our hope can be found again five verses later in verse 17,

The path of the virtuous leads away from evil; whoever follows that path is safe. – Proverbs 16:17

  • Virtuousmorally excellent; righteous (Philippians 4:8 and 2 Peter 1:5-7)

But how do we “follow the path” when the temptations come?

When we turn from that which seeks to destroy us and instead seek Him, we keep our feet on the path. When we flee from Satan and draw near to God (in prayer and studying Scripture) Satan will flee us and God will draw near to us, filling us with His Spirit (see also 2 Timothy 2:20-22 about running from anything that stimulates youthful lusts, a study all its own but worthy of honorable mention here).

So the next natural question is, how do we do that…follow the path of the virtuous?

Success in this endeavor comes through proper pre-planning. God tells us to plan, then instructs us throughout the Proverbs that while we make our plans it is He who guides our steps and directs our path.

I’m a planner. I believe in planning for success…not just because God calls us to it, but because I’ve seen firsthand how planning well works in real-life applications.

In the fire service, we pre-plan everything.  I mean…EVERY. THING. In particular, we pre-plan what we call our “target hazards”, our high hazard incidents and locations. Our pre-planning process involves the following:

  • A Goal. What are our mission priorities? What’s the end game? The mission objective? The measure for success?
  • A Response Plan How will we respond? What route will we take to get there? What alternate routes are available if our primary one is not available? What resources will we deploy to assist us in mitigating the problem?
  • An Action Plan  What are the steps we will take to achieve success? What actions will we implement to achieve the goal? What is the back-up plan when the first plan isn’t successful?
  • Hazards. What dangers are out there waiting to entrap and entangle us? Where could we get side-tracked? Murphy says what CAN go wrong WILL go wrong, so how do we avoid those unnecessary dangers and pitfalls?

The saying rings true that “when we fail to plan, we plan to fail.”

Much like our efforts to pre-plan in the fire service pay off, God rewards us when we plan to avoid evil.

Which brings us full circle to find the answer in Proverbs 14:22:

If you plan to do evil, you will be lost; if you plan to do good, you will receive unfailing love and faithfulness.

There are those two qualities again…unfailing love and faithfulness! And it bears repeating because those two words started me on this day-long study.

Proverbs 16:6 says,

Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin…

and when we question how to achieve those two qualities, we come right back to Proverbs 14:22 for the answer,

…if you plan to do good, you will receive unfailing love and faithfulness.

In planning “to do good” we need to develop a plan that:

  • Identifies our goal.
  • Identities how we will respond when temptation comes and what resources we will deploy to assist us in achieving success.
  • Identifies our Action Plan…what steps we will take to achieve the goal.
  • Identifies what hazards Satan has lurking around the corner to ensnare an trip us up.

I encourage you to write your plan out.

Honestly, the entire process of typing this note out was as much for me as for anyone else. I followed the flow and bouncing back and forth of my hand written study because I wrote it out, but in taking the additional time to explain it to you, I better understand it myself. And in better understanding it, I can better apply it when I need it. I pray you can too.

Now, stop reading what I have to say about it and get to studying for yourself what God has to say about it.

Love,

Dad

Have you pre-planned your next response to temptation? I’d love to hear what practical steps you’ve put in place to ensure success in your faith journey.

A Post-It Note From God

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As I rushed out of the house at 9:00pm last night on the way to the hospital, I didn’t think to take a Bible with me.  By the time it crossed my mind, it was too late to turn back for it.  How could I not grab my Bible!?  Ugh!

Stopping to fill the car with gas and grab a coffee for the long night, I sent a text to some brothers in the faith asking for prayer.  My phone almost dead and my access to a digital Bible thus limited, I had no written Word of God to take with me so I also asked for some Scripture to share.

Praying for the 45 minute drive downtown to comfort a friend in his hour of need, I asked God to reveal to me what to say.  I asked for SO much in that time.  I asked…and asked…and asked some more.  I praised, and I glorified.  I sought Him, and I sought His Word.  I sought to recall it, knowing I would have to rely on my weak memory alone to speak Truth into the lives of a family hurting in the dark hours of the night. 

Stepping out of the car at the hospital, I looked at my phone, on its last minutes of battery life, to see the texts from the brothers praying for the situation and the various Scripture references they pointed me toward.  And I prayed, “if only I had a Bible with me.” In that instant, it’s as if God whispered directly in my ear “look in the back seat.” Finding NE’s children’s Bible, I laughed and praised God for it…and then walked inside.
Isn’t it awesome how He provides exactly what we need when we need it!

Hours later, as midnight approached, I opened it and read through some Psalms.  In turning to find what I was searching for, I turned too far and landed right dab on Proverbs 15, and this.  
Proverbs 15 This.  A post-it note written by my son in his newfound faith, as he seeks to know his God better…seeks to know the Jesus that died for him in a deeper, more intimate way.  This was the calming voice I needed to remind me that I don’t have to have all the answers when life happens.  

Because I don’t.  And I never will.  But I know who does.  He’s the Jesus/God of the Bible.  And I love Him …and His Bible!  Thank you, Lord, for speaking to me through my son.  And thank you, son, for being faithful in your quest for Him.  In your youth, you are witnessing to those around you (i.e. me) more than you know.

Love,

Dad

Lord, help me lead him and his brother in YOUR ways.  Help me to die to self so that I may live for you.  Guide me as I guide them.  Let them see you in me, and let them follow you, not me.

Amen

I Thought About You Today

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 I thought about you today. I can’t help but wonder what your parents are doing today. How they’re coping  on this, their first Thanksgiving without you. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day we give thanks for the blessings God has bestowed upon us. It’s supposed to be filled with family, friends, food and fellowship. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be to be thankful for only three months. 

My day is filled with all those things Thanksgiving is supposed to be. Surrounded by family, we’ve been eating for two straight days. We’ve eaten more food in two days than we could ever need in a full week. We’ve been fellowshipping and making memories that I pray will carry this tired, weary mind well into old age. I’ve been calling and texting friends to remind them I’m thankful for them, and been encouraged in receiving their words of love in kind. It really is a picturesque Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Yes, I thought about you today. As I sit here on the couch, my daughter is snuggled up beside me, my boys are running around playing cheerfully with their cousins, my wife and other daughter niece are in the kitchen putting the final touches on another meal fit for royalty, my brothers and father are sitting around telling stories, other family and loved ones are milling about enjoying each other’s company, and the youngest in the family sits in her momma’s lap across from me. At only eighteen months, she’s a full year older than you would have been today. As I watch her, I can’t help but think of you.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember walking through the front door and laying my eyes on you for the first time. My heart literally skipped a beat and fell out of my chest when I first saw you. I remember scooping your lifeless body off the floor, cradling your limp body in my arm as I leaned down to place my lips over yours. In twenty years on the job, I’ve used a BVM to perform manual respirations on the old and the young dozens of times, but I’d yet to find myself literally breathing my own breath into someone else’s lungs. As I did, your cold lips on mine startled me. I wasn’t prepared for that. No amount of training on a mannequin could have prepared me for that.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember wrapping my hands around your little torso. As my hands fully encircled your chest, my thumbs over your sternum, I squeezed, trying desperately to pump life into your veins. I’ve performed chest compressions on lifeless patients for more than twenty years, but you. You. At just three months, squeezing your chest…I can’t even describe. There just are…No. Words.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember the fast walk to meet the ambulance at the street, jumping up in the back and saying, “we gotta go. Now.” I remember every second of the drive to the hospital, the longest ride of my life. I remember every squeeze. Every breath. Never before that day have I actively prayed over someone as I tried desperately to save their life, and here I was, praying out loud as we worked to bring you back. I remember every word. Every plea. Every cry to God for His healing touch and breath of life.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember the concerned looks on the faces of the ED staff as we walked in the room. Their frantic efforts to revive you. Their defeat an hour later as they also conceded to the reality that it was not up to us to choose life for you. I remember your parents and the desperation in their faces as they struggled to let go of you. Oh, how they loved you…it was so evident in that moment.

It’s all etched so deeply in my psyche that it’s just there now. Always. It’s just become part of who I am now. Every. Single. Bit. Every time I remember you, I relive it. Not part of it, or bits and pieces of it, but every single moment…from the second I walked through the door all the way through the long drive back to the firehouse, four grown men…completely silent…knowing nothing could be said.

Yes, I thought about you today. Again today, for the umpteenth time I questioned what we could have done different, how we could have been faster, worked harder, prayed stronger, believed more. I know. I know in my heart we did all we could, that it wasn’t up to us to choose life for you on that afternoon. But it doesn’t stop the interrogation I face in my own mind…every. single. day. I force myself to find my own portion of peace in knowing we did all we could…that it wasn’t for me to decide. But the memory of that afternoon will haunt me until I, too, take my last breath. 

Yes, I thought about you today. Although the memory of that day will haunt me a lifetime, I have it easy. I can’t help but wonder what life for your family must be like in your absence. This first Thanksgiving without you must be unbearable. As I give thanks today for all that God has given me, I pray your parents either already have, or will one day soon, come to a place of peace in their lives. I pray they will come to a point where they are thankful for the three months they had with you, not resentful for the lifetime they didn’t. It’s unlikely they’ll ever read this, but if by chance they come across these words some day, I pray they can forgive me. Please know you are in my prayers every time I think of your precious baby girl.

Yes, I thought about you today. I think about you every day. May the God of peace and mercy be with your family this day and the next.

Slow Down

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Coming off a 72 hour firehouse shift, I’m headed from one job to the next…go go go. Gotta get my laundry cleaned. The trash needs changed. The carpets need cleaned. The yard needs mowed. Need to clean and organize the garage. It’s time to start closing the pool for the winter. Gotta pack for a mission trip. Need to make sure the ministry team is equipped and ready to keep rolling on while I’m gone. The tags on the truck expired last month; can’t find the paperwork I need I renew them, so I’m off to spend the morning downtown getting all that in order before I spend another full day at the office…answering emails, returning phone calls, scheduling, budgeting, shuffling equipment.

Gonna run home this afternoon and get there just in time to meet the school bus and cram some food down their throats on the way to practice…gotta shuffle Kenpo and soccer practice into one night and still find time to do some homework with them. When it’s all said and done, maybe bath time will go smoothly enough to get some lap time with their favorite book before bedtime prayers.

When it’s all said and done, I’ll crash in a heap of exhaustion on the bed and lay there letting the frustration build as the boys are restlessly up and down, in and out of bed. Just. Fall. Asleep already. As exhausted as I am, my body and mind are telling me to sleep for a week. Yet, I’m restlessly running tomorrow’s to-do list through my mind, wondering how I can jam just one more thing into the schedule. No wonder the boys won’t fall alseep. They can’t. Can I blame them? Neither can I. Ugh.

Go. Go. Go. Seems like day after day we’re rushing from one activity to the next. Even as I type this, I’m thinking “you don’t have time to be doing this today…you got WAY too much to get done, and writing some silly little blog post is not on the list.”
Yet here I am. Unable to shut the flow words off. God simply saying to me, “Slow. Down. Just. Stop. Be. Still.”
 
So here I am. Sitting on the side of a busy street, intermittently looking up from my typing to watch the world go by. Three guys just walked past me. The first was talking on the phone, the second was reading some papers as he walked, and the third was shuffling through a binder filled with papers, literally tripping over the sidewalk as he continued on without slowing down or taking his eyes off his paperwork. Busy busy busy. Nonstop really.

Wondering when the last time I sat still and just let God talk to me…and simply listened, I open the Word to hear what He wants to say to me. Right here on the side of the road, in this moment, what do You want to say to me, Lord? And He leads me ‘The Message’ translation of Jeremiah 2:25

“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? But you say, ‘I can’t help it. I’m addicted to alien gods. I can’t quit.'”

And I stop. “Woah, there, Lord! I’m not addicted to ‘alien gods.’ What’s that even mean? That’s not me. That’s ‘The Message’ version anyway. Let’s see what another translations says, one I like better.”

“When will you stop running? When will you stop panting after other gods? But you say, ‘Save your breath. I’m in love with these foreign gods,and I can’t stop loving them now!” (NLT)

Well, alright then, Lord. But surely that’s not me. Let’s put in context. I’ll read on:

“When will you stop running? When will you stop panting after other gods? But you say, ‘Save your breath.  I’m in love with these foreign gods, and I can’t stop loving them now!’

“Israel is like a thief who feels shame only when he gets caught. They, their kings, officials, priests, and prophets— all are alike in this. To an image carved from a piece of wood they say, ‘You are my father.’ To an idol chiseled from a block of stone they say, ‘You are my mother.’ They turn their backs on me, but in times of trouble they cry out to me, ‘Come and save us!’

But why not call on these gods you have made? When trouble comes, let them save you if they can! For you have as many gods as there are towns in Judah. Why do you accuse me of doing wrong? You are the ones who have rebelled,” says the Lord.

“I have punished your children, but they did not respond to my discipline. You yourselves have killed your prophets as a lion kills its prey.

“O my people, listen to the words of the Lord! Have I been like a desert to Israel? Have I been to them a land of darkness? Why then do my people say, ‘At last we are free from God! We don’t need him anymore!’

Does a young woman forget her jewelry, or a bride her wedding dress? Yet for years on end my people have forgotten me.

“How you plot and scheme to win your lovers. Even an experienced prostitute could learn from you. Your clothing is stained with the blood of the innocent and the poor, though you didn’t catch them breaking into your houses!

And yet you say, ‘I have done nothing wrong. Surely God isn’t angry with me!’ But now I will punish you severely because you claim you have not sinned.

First here, then there—you flit from one ally to another asking for help. But your new friends in Egypt will let you down, just as Assyria did before. In despair, you will be led into exile with your hands on your heads, for the Lord has rejected the nations you trust. They will not help you at all.” Jeremiah 25-37 (NLT)

While this passage was directed at Isreal, it certainly hits home for me and the busyness I’ve allowed to creep into my life…my family’s lives. My words and heart say I don’t chase other gods, but my actions often say otherwise. God says. Just slow down.

“It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” – Psalm 127:2

Lord, I’m sorry. I turn from the gods I chase after here and toward You. Draw me in, oh Lord my God, and quiet my soul. Draw near to me and fill me with Your presence so that I can rest in You and lay the toil of this life down at the cross. Abba Father, thank you for never giving up on me…for bringing my shortfalls to my attention and allowing me the opportunity to continually come back to You. I’m a work in progress, Lord, and as long as You give me breath to live I will seek to become more like You everyday. Though I fall woefully short, You pick me up time and time again and bring me into Your arms. For that I only know to cry into Your shoulder and weep aloud, “thank you.” Thank you, Lord, thank you. Amen.

That’s my prayer for you as well. Prayerfully, there’s still time in this life to show you better how to slow down and rest in God.

Love,

Dad

A Week’s Prayer Covering – Day 2

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Heavenly Father, thank you for the blessing of these two boys. To be chosen by you as their Earthly father is the pinnacle of the joy this life has brought me, and I am richly blessed. I stand in awe at your creation, for they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Imperfectly perfect creations made in your image.  
I’m grateful you brought them to us together, in the timing you did. As I watch them play and grow together, I see they will be close their whole lives, and I pray that to be your will. It’s my prayer that the memories they’re making and the experiences they’re sharing together throughout childhood will forge an unbreakable bond that will carry them through their entire lives. Grow within them a love for family and a responsibility to always care and provide for family. Instill in them the importance of working together toward common goals.

Develop in them humility, grace, honor, respect, courage, love, compassion, joy, kindness, forgiveness, honesty and mercy. Basically, Lord, please build them into the leaders of their generation, who will stand up against oppression and immorality and defend the defenseless. Raise them as your own children, Lord. For they are. I commend them unto you, oh Lord. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit I pray. Amen

Love,

Their dad, your son

A Week’s Prayer Covering – Day 1

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 Oh gracious Lord, my God, as I watch them play, I know you’re watching them too. So young and innocent…clueless to the horrors and atrocities that await them in the adult world. Abba Father, shelter their minds and their hearts for as long as You can. I beseech you to only expose them to the pain and the hurt and the suffering this world will offer them as You see need to prepare them for worse to come. As difficult as it is for me to see them hurting, Lord, I pray it be in Your will to do so while I’m here to help them navigate it.

  As their little minds grow with each rock skipped, every stick tossed, each ball thrown, every bubble popped and every frog caught, please continue expanding their minds to explore a world outside their own…to live outside their comfort zone…to never settle for the first answer (unless it’s from me and their mom) 🙂 Ignite a passion in their hearts to live life to the fullest…to seek You with all their heart, mind, soul and body. To never stop searching for Truth…to seek You without ceasing.

  Thank you for blessing me and their mother in choosing us as their parents. What an awesome responsibility you’ve laid at our feet. Oh, but what a greater joy you’ve placed in our hearts. Lead us in leading them, Father. Thank you for the road we’ve already travelled, the smooth and the bumpy. Prepare us for the journey that still lies ahead, and walk with us as we share with them a love like no other…the love of their eternal Father and Creator…the love of your Son. Lord God, it’s in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, I pray these things. In all things may your will be done and to you be the glory and the praise forever. Amen.

Love,

A child of the One True King

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