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At War with the Weeds

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There was a time when I had a gorgeous yard.  Not that I put a lot of time, work or effort into keeping it well groomed, mind you.  When we bought the house, the previous owners had apparently done a great job of investing time, sweat and effort into meticulously keeping it well groomed.  The grass was lush and full…not a single bare patch to be found.  There were no dandelions…no crabgrass…no weeds…it was golf course quality grass, that’s for sure.

When I took over as the primary groundskeeper, I put in a valiant effort at keeping it groomed to that standard.  Within a year, as SD made friends with all the neighborhood kids, it became painfully obvious that I was in for a battle of epic proportions.  We bought the playground, and almost instantly our yard became *the* yard to hang out in.  The following year, the trampoline followed, and so did the circle of dead grass under it…and all the socks and shoes left behind from your friends in the neighborhood!  Then came the pool…two years with an 18′ pop-up pool gave us another “crop circle” in the back.  The pool didn’t survive past the second season, and the grass around it has never been the same.  I’m not sure at what point I gave up, but certainly by the time NE and SI came along, I had resigned myself to the notion that I could either raise a yard or raise kids…but not both.

So for several years, I neglected it…only mowing it.  No watering…no over-seeding…no aerating…no weeding…no fertilizing…nothing but the weekly mow.   Within about three summers, my yard had gone from a beautiful landscape of plush, vibrant green to a hodgepodge of barren spots, crabgrass and dandelions…with some good grass mixed in every so often.  My neglect had tarnished what was once a sight to behold.

Fatherhood is like that isn’t it.  I can spend (and certainly will) years, even decades of time, sweat and tears pouring love into you, showing you the love of Christ.  I will devote all my efforts in the next 18 years to bringing you to Christ and helping you strengthen your relationship with Him.  I’ll do so because I have no greater commandment from God but to love Him and love others.  It’s my love for Him…and for you…that drives my passion to live with you on the over side of eternity.  However, once you’re out of my care, I have no control over the person you will become…the choices you will make…the life you will live.  Like the homeowner before me who dutifully tended to my yard when it was in his care, leaving it to me to carry on its care…or neglect…I too must face the day that you are responsible for your own walk of faith.  I will soon face the day that I have to sit back and watch as you continue to flourish in your faith…or allow weeds to grow along your path.

Weeds.  I’ve let the weeds in the yard take over in the past few years, so this year I’ve struck out anew…on a mission to reclaim my little plush plot of land.   Like any good warrior, I spent time learning about my enemy…its tactics…its survival instincts…its strengths…its weaknesses.  I learned all that I could because it’s not until we know our enemy that we can overcome him.  Did you know that the root of the dandelion can grow 10″ deep?  I didn’t…until now.  Had I not known that important piece of information, my methods would not have worked, because I would have simply pulled the visible part of the weed out of the ground…fruitless!  Turns out they also thrive better when there are patches of dead grass.  They seek out and thrive in those areas because there is less competition for sunlight, water and nutrients in the soil.  Makes sense really, but not something I’d given much thought to before now.  Which is how I came to one of the lessons I’ve learned in all of this…that it’s okay for a guy to read the instruction manual from time to time.  Yeah, I know.  I’ll catch all kinds of grief for admitting that.  Guys are notorious for not reading directions.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve read the instructions when assembling a new project…or read the owner’s manual on a new electronics purchase.  It’s our thing…guys just know how to fix things…without being told or shown, we know.  However, I’ll openly admit that it’s okay to read the owner’s manual every now and then.

Yeah, just this month I broke down and resorted to reading the owner’s manual.  I bought a new trimmer last season.  It came with a spool of line that ran out earlier this month.  It also came with some shorter 10″ lengths of line that are supposed to fit into the head of the trimmer differently, so that once they’re loaded they lock in place…and are used in place of the longer spool of line.  I struggled for days trying to figure out how to lock those little suckers into the head.  I’d work on it for awhile one day and get frustrated to the point that all I wanted to do was throw the whole stupid trimmer away!  Aagghh!!  So I’d set it down and forget it.  The following day, I’d pick it up again and work diligently to figure it out on my own.  I reasoned that “it can’t be that hard…I don’t need to read the book.”  After days of frustration, I finally broke down and pulled out the book, and within only 10 minutes of reading, I was able to figure out how to accomplish what I wanted.  Ten minutes!  Really?  Had I just read the stupid book two days ago, how much time and frustration would I have saved?  By the way…it wasn’t that hard to figure out.  In fact, the solution was right before my eyes the whole time, but I was too blinded by pride and frustration to see it.  Ssshhh.  Don’t tell your mom that, okay?

So, back to the weeds.  Once I’d done my research, and my recon was complete, I launched my offensive.  I meticulously sprayed every one of those pesky little dandelions.  I kept them mowed down before they could sprout and spread their seed to propagate their species.  I over-seeded, laying down new seed, and have kept it watered.  I’ve spread fertilizer at just the right time, and I’ll continue fertilizing every 2-3 months as scheduled.  I’ve kept vigil throughout the last month, not letting down my guard and quickly jumping on any of those little suckers that have sprouted up…yep, I’ve waged an all-out war to turn the tide in favor of healthy grass.  So far, it’s looking good for Team Dad, but only time will tell if my efforts will prove successful.  Certainly as next season approaches, some will return, but hopefully not in such large mass.  Hopefully, what I’ve done this year has laid some good groundwork to reducing their numbers as the years pass.

Weeds.  There are some eery similarities to the weeds in our yard and the weeds in our lives.  The weeds that grow in our yard lurk just below the surface, out of sight…until just the right conditions are present to strike.  When they attack, they spring up with little warning.  Left untreated, they spread their seed so that even more come up the following year.  Even one weed left untreated can quickly spread out of control before you know it.  They can very quickly drown out the good grass, suffocating it as they compete for nutrients, water and sunlight.  The root of these weeds can grow deep down into the soil, making it difficult to uproot.  Simply attacking what is above the surface is not sufficient to kill it, because the root remains and will certainly re-sprout the following year.  Yep.  Unattended, these weeds will quickly take control of a yard so that no sign of the good healthy grass even exists.

The weeds in our spiritual lives are exactly the same!  So many things compete for our attention and affection that when left unattended, our relationship with God can quickly be suffocated by the world.  The weeds in our spiritual life come in many forms.  Work.  Money.  Pride.  Greed.  Selfishness.  Anger.  Resentment.  Family.  Friends.  Ministry.  Yes, even family and ministry can be weeds if we allow.  Anything that competes with our attention and affection for God has the potential to be a weed.  God is to be our number one love…above family and above ministry.  One of the things I’ve learned through three seasons of leading the Upward Sports ministry at our church is that even service to the Lord can distract us from the Lord.  You wouldn’t think that would be possible, but trust me…it is!  We can get so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we forget to take time to connect and grow with God.

So what is the plan of attack for the weeds in our spiritual life?  First, and foremost, we need the intel.  Just like the time I put into learning about the weeds in the yard, we need to read up on the enemy…his tactics…his methods…his strengths…his weaknesses.  Who is the enemy?  Satan.  The devil will use anything possible to win his war for our soul.  He will even use our relationships with family to pull our attention and focus away from God.  In Upward, he has used my love for children, my attention to detail and my commitment to serve in a way that exceeds expectations… to pull me further from God.   So, take time to read the Owner’s Manual.  Where can we find such a manual?  Not on Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo, Britannica, or any other worldly source that may come about between now and the time you’re old enough to read this.  Nope, the Owner’s Manual for life is God’s Word.  It’s the best-selling book of all time, the beginning and the end:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.John 1:1

The Bible is the Owner’s Manual for life.  It has all the answers for everything you’ll ever need to know.  It’s in reading the Word of God that we learn more about Him and learn about how He wants us to live.  It’s not simply enough to read it though.  To truly know God, we have to be able to hide His Word in our hearts so that we can draw upon Him in our time of temptations and suffering:

  • “Then he taught me, and he said to me, “Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live.” – Proverbs 4:4
  • “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” – Pslam 119:11
  • “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” – Deuteronomy 11:18

I find that I struggle most when I fail to read God’s Word consistently.  When I roll out of bed and get my day on…without taking time to read what God has prepared for me in His Word for that day, I find that I’m more susceptible to temptation, and I wander from the path that points toward Him.  I have also found that in reading the Word in the morning, my mind and heart are better equipped and prepared to deal with the specific problems I will face that day.  I can’t count how many times I’ve done my morning devotion, and at some point in my day have faced a spiritual, emotional or physical battle that God prepared me for through that morning’s devotion.  That’s not a coincidence…that’s God knowing all…and working it all through His plan…for His glory!

One of the other major components in our battle against the weeds in our life goes hand-in-hand with Bible study.  Prayer is our direct pipeline to God.  It is our opportunity to praise God for all He is and all He’s done, to ask Him to meet our needs, to ask Him to meet the needs of others, to tell him the desires of our heart.  He knows the desires of our hearts already, but He wants to hear us…He wants to communicate with us…not just to listen to us, but for us to hear Him.  Praying is as much about talking as it is about listening.  In your prayers, take time to simply sit and listen for Him.  His voice comes as the soft, gentle whispers on the heart. ..as the breeze blows through the trees, His voice comes to our heart.  If we don’t stop to listen, we won’t hear Him.  Prayer comes in many shapes and sizes.  It can be aloud with family.  It can be alone in our fear.  It can be silent as we face an obstacle.  It can be a short sentence…even one word.  Or a lengthy conversation.  It should be an opportunity to praise Him for being God and acknowledging that we’re not.  However you pray, pray often.

  • “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:12
  • “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:4-6
  • “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:24
  • “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” – Ephesians 6:18
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6

I’ve also learned that in our time of hurting, we rely on our relationships.  While God’s grace carries us, it’s our relationships within the body of Christ that He uses to strengthen us.  It’s the accountability I have within my circle of believers that helps to keep me from veering into sin.  It’s fellowship with like-minded people…people that are strong in their faith… that encourages me to continue the fight.  I can call upon them for help in finding scripture to address the specific weed I’m dealing with at the time.  Even with all the Bible study I can do, I have encountered times I can’t find the answers I need right away.  It’s fellow believers who can point me in the right direction.  It is in “over-seeding” my relationships with the good seed that the lush, green grass of my faith grows and drowns out the weeds.

  • For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:20
  • ” Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down,  one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
  • “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Obedience is also important in fighting off the weeds.  That word can sound scary, but it’s not if you look at it in the right context.  Practice makes perfect.   In my job in the fire service we practice like we intend to work, or in other words, we play like we work.  The theory is that if you practice how you intend to perform in the heat of the moment, it becomes habit so much so that you don’t have to think about it when you’re in the moment…instinct.  When we’re obedient in small things, it becomes instinct to be obedient in bigger things…not because we have to be, but because we want to be…instinct.  God gives us free will, so it’s up to us…because it’s His desire that we’re obedient because we want to be. Mind you, it’s not that I particularly enjoy going out and being obedient to the work it takes to stay ahead of the weeds in the yard.  I am obedient to the work, though, because I want to be.  If I don’t want to go out and do the work, I don’t have to…no one is going to make me do it.  I want to though…because I know the reward will be worth it in the end.  And once I’ve turned the tide in my favor in the yard, I know that if I spend a little time each day and week to stay ahead and deal with each weed that sprouts up immediately, the work is easier than it is when I’m starting off with a yard full of weeds.  It’s not much different spiritually really.

And, lest we forget that even Christ himself was obedient.  Mark 14 tells us that as the time was drawing near that Jesus was to be arrested and crucified, He prayed to the Father that He might “Take this cup from me.” and continued on, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Obedience at its finest hour…

  • “rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” – Philippians 2:7-9
  • “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” – 1 Peter 1:13-15

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower.  There are similarities to what He is saying there and what I’m trying to say here.  Rather than try to bring the two together, I encourage you to do as I pointed out above.  Do your own research.  Gather your own intel.  Go read it for yourself and allow God to talk to you through it.  Gather from it what He would have you to know.

And so, it is my prayer that as you grow, your relationship with Christ is solid and set deep in the soil of your heart and soul.  Because the weeds will come for you.  We each have our own weeds to face…and yours will come.  It might be a day…a week…a year after you’ve left my care, but they will come, and you will be faced with your own war.  It’s my intent and goal in the coming years to help you foster a lush, green yard of faith and to equip you with the tools to battle the weeds in your spiritual life.  Because, just like the homeowner before me cared for our yard, it was up to me to continue to care for it…or to neglect it.  The same is true for you.  Your walk is not mine to make.  It is for you to decide who you will become.  I’ll struggle with that when the time comes to let you go, and I’ll continue to pray that when that day comes God will strengthen me to face it.  But for now, you’re mine to groom.  I’ll start by waging an all out war with the weeds in my own spiritual life so that they are not an obstacle for you in yours.

Love,

Dad

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A Tank for Christ

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SI,

Let me first say that while I address this note specifically to SI, it is applicable to all of you, my children.  There are lessons in each of these letters that each of you can apply in your own life, regardless of who I am specifically addressing.  I chose to address SI for this one, simply because basketball is on my mind lately…

Yesterday was the final game day for the third season of Upward Basketball & Cheerleading at church.  Eight weeks of games, preceded by 3 weeks of practices and another 5 months of planning, preparation and work to lay the groundwork for a sports league that would minister to over 500 children and their families.  Eight months of basketball tends to mean that basketball is on my mind a lot, especially during the season.

SI, although you’re not yet two years old, I’m starting to see in you a God-given ability.  A talent.  A skill.  A gift.  I will sit here now and predict that you’ll be a natural athlete.  You’re built like a stud and have a strength like no other twenty-one month old child I’ve ever seen.  You’re all muscle and meat.  I’ve watched you pick up and move items that others almost twice your age struggle with.  You love to come underneath me while I’m standing and stick your head between my legs.  With your arms wrapped around my legs, your shoulders are in the back of my legs and you push.  You push with such strength and determination that you have knocked me off balance several times.  At 21 months of age, you’ve knocked a 37 year old man off balance, simply in your strength and determination to do so.  We walk around the house like that, you and I.  You pushing me like you’re giving ME a piggy-back ride around the house.  Sure, I could stand there and not walk with you, and you would only be leaning into me trying to push me.  But what fun is that?  Truth be told, I love it.  It’s our thing right now…you giving me piggy-back rides.  Tank.  Your newest nickname is now Tank.  Not sure if it will ever stick, but for now you are either Bubba or Tank.  I wonder if we’ll ever call you by your given name.

And it’s not just me.  Friends and family have commented on how well-built you are.  You’re heavy for your age…not overweight…heavy.  Like I said, all muscle.  If memory serves me correctly, your last checkup at the doctor was at the same time as NE.  He’s two years older than you, and you weighed only 6 pounds less than him.  I can’t tell you how many friends from church have told me how strong you are, and that your new nickname fits you well.  It was those friends who started confirming for me the athletic gift I started to see in you myself.

“Ball.”  If we put you in a room with two toys, a ball and any other toy in the world, you will almost always go straight to the ball.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a baseball, football, golf ball, soccer ball, basketball, tennis ball, or hackey sack.  Ninety nine percent of the time, you will go for the ball.  I love playing catch with you…unless we’re playing catch with a golf ball in the house…you’re dangerous at close quarters catch with a hard ball.  🙂

I haven’t personally seen this, but I’m told that in the nursery at church or at preschool, there is a shelf about six feet off the ground with bins of toys.  There are several Styrofoam balls from which to choose, and you generally walk in and go straight to that shelf and stand there pointing up at the toys saying, “Baw.  Baw.  Baw.” over and over again until someone comes over to get you the ball.  You then step back and start throwing.  And you keep throwing until you get the ball back into one of those bins, at which point you stand there pointing up saying, “Baw.  Baw.  Baw.”  over and over again until someone gets you the ball again.  And so the cycle repeats.  I’m told that there are days you spend hours doing this.  They say your arm motion and follow through is spot-on for the proper form for shooting a basketball.  I’ve seen it on occasion at the house, although we don’t really have anything set up at the house to help develop this skill.  That will soon change, and we will work to encourage you and help to develop this God-given gift.

While it is my prayer that I get to see you grow into a man and spend many years with you into your forties and beyond, when God takes me home is not up to me.  I started this series of letters to you all for a reason…with a purpose…that you would have some encouragement and wisdom from me should I be taken from this life before you’re ready…before I’ve imparted to you all the knowledge I would have you know to prepare you for adulthood and life outside the walls and security of our home, on your own.  Let me first remind you that regardless of whether or not you ever become an athlete, or are able to use this gift I see in you at this young age for God or not…I am proud of you, and I love you.  Not because of what  you do, but because of who you are.  There is nothing you could ever do to win or lose my love.  So, with that…

Michael Jordan.  By the time you’re old enough to read this and apply it, you’ll need to Google him to see who he is.  I’ve never cared much for basketball.  Never cared to watch it or follow it.  March Madness to me is just another month.  I can sleep to a basketball game on the tube as easily as if I were watching golf.  I’ll say this about Michael Jordan, though.  I liked watching him play.  He changed the sport.  He was unarguably among the best players of my generation and quite possibly among the best of all time.  He changed the game.  He made basketball look easy.

I saw a commercial today with Michael Jordan, and it’s what inspired me to write this to you today.  I want you to know that regardless of any natural ability or God-given gift you’ve been blessed with, to be the best at anything takes work.  No amount of natural ability alone will ever be enough to take you to the top of the class or the top of your career.  To be the best at what you do, regardless of what it is, takes work.  It takes practice…lots and lots of practice.  It takes sweat, pain, blood, tears, drive, commitment to work at it even when you don’t really want to.  It takes sacrifice.  Excellence always requires a sacrifice.  There will be days you want to play.  Days you want to sleep in.  Afternoons you’d rather nap.  Nights you’d rather eat junk food instead of healthy.  Days you would rather hang out with friends than practice.  Excellence requires sacrifice.

Excuses never lead to success.  Failure leads to success.  In your failures, you will learn.  In your failures, you will overcome.  It’s when you fail that you grow and improve.  You persevere through your failures.  Our mistakes help to shape our future.  I’ve been asked many times over the years, “if you could go back in time and change one thing…right one wrong…do one thing differently, what would it be?”  My answer has always been, “nothing.”  Who I am today, in all my good and bad is because of the mistakes I’ve made and the failures I’ve overcome.  Having the option to go back and change something takes away the life lesson and learning experience obtained through that failure.

I’m adding the video here so you can watch it.  Before you do, though, watch some of Michael Jordan’s highlights.  Research him and learn about him as a player and what he did to change the game.  See for yourself how he changed the game.  It’s only after  you do that that you’ll understand the purpose and meaning of this video…and the purpose of this note to you.

If you desire to be the best at what you do, prepare yourself for the sacrifice it will take.  And when you do, ground yourself in the Lord.  Stay close to His word and don’t forget that it’s not about you.  Use what you’ve been given for His glory…to reach others for the Kingdom of Christ.  Don’t forget who you are.  You’re a child of God.  Don’t forget what and who are important to you.  Don’t work so hard at something that you sacrifice the love of those closest to you.  Don’t make your passion to be the best your “idol.”  God always comes first, because God is still God, and God is still good.  He’s the Creator of the universe and the Giver of your life.  What He gives, He also takes away.  Don’t lose sight of the grace He showed others through His sacrifice on the cross.  Seek to show others that same grace…in all that you do.  And then, go for it!  Be the best you can be…in all that you do.  Be a Tank for Christ!

Love,

Dad

Feeding the Right Nature

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Originally written December 7, 2010

Within every believer dwells two natures: the flesh and the spirit. they share the same environment, same body, same eyes, ears and other senses. Each of these natures wants to rule our heart and mind. The one that eats best is the one that thrives. As I write this, God has started a new work in me within the last few years. Even within the last month or so, He has started to bring me closer to Him. I used to watch some of the goriest movies and TV shows, and they actually really interested me. I was never appalled at the graphic images I was placing in front of my eyes. And I called myself a Christian, a follower, a believer in the One and only God the Father of Jesus Christ…the man who stepped down from His rightful place at the side of God to stand in my place at the cross…to take my punishment and offer me a way to eternity with God in heaven.

As I write this, you are now 10, 3 and 1 respectively. God has convicted my heart of what I’ve been doing…of the sin in my life. How can I abhor the thought of Christ’s crucifixion and yet subject my flesh…my mind…my heart…to all that He stood to denounce? The very nature of sin is that it corrupts the heart and mind. All sin is equal in the eyes of the Father. He views murder as equally as He does hatred…adultery as equally as lustful thoughts. All sin is equal in His eyes, and His eyes are so divine and perfect that He can’t look upon sin, so much so that He turned His eyes away from His own Son, Jesus Christ, as He died on the cross for the very sin that put Him there in the first place.

Each nature is fueled by very different “foods”. The spirit is fed by Bible study, prayer, fellowship with other Christians and service to others. The flesh craves things like violent video games, TV shows filled with casual sex, movies of a graphic nature and songs celebrating recreational drug use, laziness, greed, and pride. Both natures are in constant battle with each other within Christians, fighting for control of our heart and mind. As one flourishes, the other is deprived of its fuel and eventually decays. It is the constant struggle of Christians, and of me, to see to it that the Spirit prevails. Our goal is to become more like Christ. We will never be perfect while on this earth, but it is our hope to one day be perfect as we join Him in heaven. For as long as we are on this earth, we should be working to be more like Christ. It is not until God has deemed us ready to enter into His kingdom that He calls us home.

I have been guilty of segmenting my life…separating my church life from my TV and movie life, and even my work life. And for a long time, I carried on as though this wasn’t a problem…as though this wasn’t a conflict of interest. I would go to church on Sunday morning and by Sunday night be watching TV that I would never even consider watching in church, having conversations I would never have with Jesus. By Monday, God would be on the back burner as I carried on with work and my relationships outside of church. I wonder if there are other Christians brave enough to admit the same?

I am working to bring these compartmentalized parts of our life back together and let God be the God of everything I consume. Americans are so obsessed with what we eat, but in many cases completely ignorant of what we consume in media. I have been…until now. At this young age in your lives, I am taking great effort to control what nature we are feeding within you. The time will come when I have less and less ability to help shape your lives…you will have matured into young adults who seek to discover yourselves without my support or input. It is my prayer and hope that between now and that day, I have instilled in you a deeply-rooted foundation that is fed through the Spirit, and not the flesh. You will surely have strong desire to feed the flesh, and it is my goal to have the Spirit so deeply rooted in your lives that the flesh is drowned out by the Spirit.

As you mature into adults and seek to discover yourself, feast your eyes, ears, minds and hearts upon what is lasting. The trends and fads of this world are ever-changing. They come and go as quickly as the seasons change…as quickly as you have grown from infants to the young children you are now as I type this. Not one to just tell you what to do, I want to provide you with HOW to feed your spirit. Learn from my mistakes and feed your Spirit with the following four things:

1. God’s Word – How can we know the things of God but to read His word. He’s given us His inerrant, infallible, perfectly written word.  Psalm 1: 1-3 says: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

What an encouragement this passage is to us…to know that by reading and meditating on God’s word, we prosper and bear fruit.  We can find His will for our lives throughout the Bible. Every aspect of our lives is covered in the Bible. Everything from finances to sex…from peer pressure to death. It’s all covered in there. It is a guide for how we should live…HOW we seek to be more Christlike. He doesn’t expect you to be perfect…because He knows you can’t be…only Christ was sinless. The Bible is your handbook for life. To know how to respond in any situation…when faced with temptations, you have to know the Bible. When you hide Scripture in your heart, you don’t always need to have it in your mind where to find it exactly. When it’s in your heart, you know right from wrong. When it’s in your heart, you can rely on what He has given you to be able to discern right from wrong…your conscience. It is your conscience that will help to guide you along the path He has laid out for you. When something doesn’t “feel quite right”…when you get a “funny feeling” in the pit of your stomach, THAT is God talking to you through your conscience. Listen to it…it is seldom wrong. You don’t always have to know exactly where in the Bible to find it, but if you hide it in your heart, it will come to you when you need it. That’s the Holy Spirit working in your life. You hide scripture in your heart by reading it regularly and by studying it. Studying requires more effort than simply reading it. To study it means you need to research it…to find supporting and correlating scripture. To read the context of whatever favorite verse you’re quoting, so that you know in what context it was used and given to us. While it’s nice to take just a verse out and apply it to our life, to be responsible to God’s word, we need to understand why it was written and what was occurring beforehand and afterward. Read the verses before and after each of your favorite verses. I can’t remember the location of half of the verses I know by heart. But I know them, and I rely upon them when I need them, even though I can’t always find them in the Bible easily.

2. Prayer – Prayer comes in many shapes and sizes. It comes in the daily kneeling at bedtime. It comes in the moments lying in bed as you fall asleep. It comes in the quick “shout up” as you hear a friend’s prayer request. It comes as the desperate plea in your times of suffering. It comes at the table as you say grace for your meal. It comes in the car as you’re driving and think of a need. It comes in the deliberate time of fervent pleading with God for the protection of your family when they’re hurting. God has been convicting me recently that my prayer life is not as healthy as it should be, as indicated in another note, FIRST FOUR MINUTES. Make time in you life for active conversation with God, a time when you not only pray TO Him, but a time when you sit quietly and LISTEN to Him. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with God have come when I simply sit with closed eyes and allow Him to open my heart. It’s all good to ask Him to meet your needs. But do you take time to listen for the answer? My father, your Papa, once (several times) told me “you’ve got one mouth and two ears for a reason. Shut your mouth and listen up.” Over the years, I’ve discovered for myself how true that really is. We should spend twice as much time listening as we do talking (not just in our prayer life, but in our relationships too). It’s in those listening moments that we HEAR God. Take time to listen.

3. Fellowship with Fellow Christians – Earlier when I was talking about how when you hide God’s word in your heart, you don’t always have to know exactly where to find it. Fellowship with other believers helps you with this. Just the other day, I was looking to provide encouragement to a fellow Christian and dear friend. I had scripture in mind that I wanted to provide him. I was able to quote it almost word for word. But I couldn’t remember where it is found in the Bible, and I really wanted to provide the location so that brother could go find it for himself. Thank God for modern technology, because in the day of instant communication across country, I was able to find a Christian friend online. When I asked him if he knew where to find the verse I was thinking of, he not only gave me the one I was looking for, he found me another that complimented it. Wow! That is what fellowship with fellow believers is for…to help us bounce our problems and concerns off one another…to lean on each other in our times of need.

NE, when you were about 18 months old you found your way into some prescription medicine and swallowed several pills intended for adult treatment. Without knowing the circumstances of how many you took, and as you were becoming very lethargic, we rushed you to the hospital via ambulance. I had the horror of taking that call from your mother while actually working the 911 dispatch center. It was all I could do to keep from breaking down and crying as I dispatched the ambulance to our home for you. That in itself is something I hope to never experience again. When I met you and your mother at the hospital, you came off that ambulance, and I knew right away that something wasn’t right…you were not yourself. As the medical staff worked to determine how serious the situation was, the doctors told us we were in for a long night as they monitored your condition…that the medicine you took could cause you to go into cardiac arrest. It was then that I knew what we were dealing with was far beyond what we could face alone as your mother and father. We needed help…not only from God, but in support from friends. I made one phone call to a dear friend and simply asked for his prayer. Within 30 minutes the hospital room was filled with friends coming to our side…in prayer for you and in support for us. Even people I did not personally know felt called to come to our side at the hospital. I am so deeply touched by that moment that I am moved to tears even as I write this out. This occurred on a Wednesday night, and I learned later that over 50 members of our church were actively praying for you at the same time. Fellowship with fellow Christians…this is what you get when you have Christian fellowship in your life…a support system like no other.

4. Service to Others – I have been blessed with the calling to serve as League Director for the Upward Sports ministry for three years as of this writing. In addition, I help with several ministries within the church. It is through these opportunities to serve others that I have found true joy. God calls us to serve others. Jesus Christ himself washed the feet of His disciples. Can you picture that for a moment? Jesus Christ, the Most Holy Son of God left his throne…left Heaven…to come down to a sin-filled world to wash feet…to serve others. It is my hope that over the years I have instilled in you a passion and desire to help those who need it…to serve others. Not out of a sense of obedience or because you know you should. But because you want to. I enjoy serving others…more so now as I’ve matured. It is in the moments I’m serving others, that I fell closest to God. God blesses us with the earthly treasures we have so that me might share them with Him…with those less fortunate…to bring glory to Him. Use what God has given you for others. Your Time. Your Talents. Your Treasures. All were given to you by God. He gives and He takes away. Honor God by giving of your 3 T’s sacrificially. I saw a short movie clip in church once. A man brings a gift of a dozen donuts to a friend. After giving him the donuts, he asks for one back. The recipient of the donuts doesn’t want to give one back. He pleads his case, “I need all ten of these.” While we all know he doesn’t need them, in fact he didn’t even know he had them coming to him until he was presented with the gift. Yet he is too selfish to share one back to the person who so kindly and generously gave them to him in the first place. How often do we do that with our Time, Talent and Treasures? All that we have is God’s, on loan to us to use for His glory…to bring honor and glory to Him. It’s not mine to share. I am just the broker for his “stuff”, charged with the responsibility for its care while I’m here. I know I’ve been guilty of hoarding onto what God has given me for myself, and it’s my prayer and hope that I continue to let go of all that I have so that you can grow up with an example of what true giving and service is.

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” – Galatians 5:17

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” – Colossians 2:8

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8

Remember that I love you no matter the situation. You can never do anything to take that love away. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. It’s yours freely.

Father God, please continue your work in me and convict my heart when I am presented with opportunities to feed the flesh. Convict me, oh Lord, and help me to turn away from it so that I may feed my Spirit. Continue your work in me that I may be who you’ve called me to be, so that my children may learn from my mistakes and fellowship in the Spirit with you.

Love,

Dad

Image vs. Character

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Originally composed on July 21, 2010

My time here on this Earth always has the potential to be cut shorter than I hope and plan, and my fear is that I will either not have the opportunity or not take full advantage of my opportunity to communicate to you what I want to teach you as you grow into adulthood. My hope in leaving you these notes is that if I am called to be with the Lord before I am ready, you will have some record of the life lessons I hope to have taught you before my departure. The following was posted on a blog and Facebook by Randy Alcorn. I found it on July 21, 2010. While the words below are not my own, they echo what I would want to say about this topic. While reading it, all I kept thinking to myself was, “if I could communicate the difference between image and character to my kids, this is what I would want to say.” I love you more than I could ever say!

Love,

Dad

Randy Alcorn –

With the recent allegations against actor Mel Gibson, there’s been a number of responses to his situation that cry out for an eternal perspective. (When Gibson released his movie The Passion of the Christ in 2004, I wrote a review of the movie for our quarterly newsletter, and a follow-up response based on some of the things I said in my first article about Gibson. In both articles, I wrote, “Pray for him, absolutely, selectively agree with and support him, yes, but don’t make him—or anyone else—Christianity’s poster boy or spokesperson…Every time Christians get mesmerized by and try to capitalize on fame and celebrity, it ends up hurting them, biting us and undermines rather than elevates our Lord.”)Although these following principles about image and character are pulled from an article I wrote years ago about O.J. Simpson, they still prove just as true today as they did then.

The difference between image and character.
Image is what you are on a football field, in a movie, and in Hertz commercials. Character is what you are in the dark, when no one but God is looking. What are the traits it takes to get and stay famous? In many cases the answer includes a mammoth ego, self-absorption, and an impassioned craving for public approval. These very traits that compel one to pursue fame both reflect and produce a private inner life lacking in substance and integrity.

Anyone can look good in front of an audience, or even in front of their friends. It’s an entirely different thing to stand naked before God, to be known as you truly are on the inside. “Do not consider his appearance or his height . . . The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

The difference between a hero and a celebrity.
Fame is one thing. Virtue is another. The two aren’t even remotely related. In fact, the more famous you become the harder it is to cultivate and retain virtue. Being a hero is something entirely different than being a celebrity. Celebrities are just people with good looks, talent, money, and the ability to draw attention to themselves. Heroes are people who stand courageously for what is right, often against the tide of public opinion, and at great cost to themselves.

Many public figures have proven long on image and short on character, just as many faithful servants of God have been short on image and long on character. Politicians are celebrities. But if they steal from the country, cheat on their wives, and promote the ruthless killing of unborn children, no one in their right mind can consider them heroes. (That many do so simply demonstrates our society is not in its right mind.)

When you and I stand before God and give an account of our lives, the ability to run with a football or manage a company or write a newsletter article will mean nothing. Our dependence on Christ to cleanse us of our sins and empower us to a new way of living will mean everything.

The difference between a self-made man and a God-made man.
We value a man who is independent. God values a man who is dependent on Him. We value a man who marches to his own beat. God values a man who marches to His beat. We value a man who is his own authority, who makes up the rules as he goes. God values a man who submits, who follows those unbending ancient rules made by Another. We value a man who believes in himself, who makes himself great. God values a man who believes in Him, recognizing He alone is truly great.

The difference between high self-esteem and accurate self-esteem.
People often say, “I can’t believe that [insert name of a person in the news] is capable of such evil.” Of course he is. So are you. So am I. We’ve fallen for the old lie, propagated by secular humanism and modern psychology, that man is basically good. But we’re terribly arrogant and naive to believe this. Read Romans 1-3 and see what God says about the human condition. Look at human history. Look around you. We’re all capable of horrendous evil. The man who thinks he is incapable of adultery and crimes of hatred and passion is not on guard against them, and does not call upon Christ to save him from them.

Years ago I read a fascinating and chilling book by Robert Lifton, The Nazi Doctors. As a psychologist interviewing former Nazi doctors and their surviving victims, he hoped to discover what made these “monsters” tick. What he discovered was much more frightening—the fact that these were in fact quite ordinary men who, given the opportunity, did horribly evil things. As long as we consider the Nazis monsters, we can separate ourselves from them. It’s only when we realize that we ourselves are of the same stock that we can come to terms with our capacity for evil and our need for Jesus.

The difference between Hollywood values and values that really matter.
Years ago, on the day after O.J. Simpson’s “chase” on the L. A. freeways, I was attending Promise Keepers in Portland, with nearly 30,000 other men. (Another 5,000 were turned away—there just wasn’t room.) Here, like the quarter of a million other men attending Promise Keepers gatherings that year, were men gathered to uplift the very values and power for righteous living that O. J. Simpson so desperately lacked. Men were learning about God, about taking responsibility, about loving and serving their wives and children.

The event went by in Portland largely unnoticed by television news that night. All those men at civic stadium did was commit themselves to being faithful in their homes and churches and communities and society, to keeping sacred promises in the daily grind of life. These men wanted to cumulatively build a track record of faithfulness to God and family. They wished to become heroes, if to no one else, to their own children. Small acts of daily faithfulness don’t make the news. But they matter much more than what does.

Commitments like the ones those men made that night will give our children, our churches, and our society an example to follow unmatched by that of any celebrity. A life enthusiastically applauded in the final day by the only audience that ultimately matters…the Audience of One.