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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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My Son is My Brother

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I read Romans 8 in my quiet time this morning. And prayed. I’ve been praying for you for some time now. In more ways than I could ever share in just this note. You’ve had a handful of other Godly men praying for you for over a month now. An army of believers has prayed for you…and today I write this and etch into history the account of how those prayers have been answered.

A SINGLE PRAYER CHANGES EVERYTHING…

It was just over a month ago that we were sitting in church listening to the message when out of the corner of my eye I saw you clasp your hands, close your eyes and subtly move your lips as if whispering. Fifteen seconds later, you opened your eyes smiled like only you smile and whispered in your mom’s ear. As she smiled and whispered something back, motioning my direction, you leaned over and whispered,

“Guess what I just did?”
“What?”
“I ‘axeded’ Jesus into my heart.”
Heart knowledge…you first received it that day over a month ago.

FROM HEART TO HEAD…

As I mentioned earlier, I’d been praying for your faith to grow to the point of understanding and acceptance of the free gift of salvation through Christ for long before this moment. Now, as your heart became filled with the Spirit of God, it became time to begin praying for the understanding of what that means for your life and how to apply it. Over the course of a month of more in depth conversations…lots of questions. You’re so analytical and inquisitive. Finding ways to explain it in ways you can understand was a fun challenge. And then it finally sunk in.

FROM HEAD BACK TO HEART…

I read Romans 8 in my quiet time this morning. And prayed. God’s timing then to arrive at church this morning and have you tell me you were ready. Who am I to stop the Spirit from moving a person to action? 🙂

A NEW BROTHER…

I read Romans 8 in my quiet time this morning. And I read it again this afternoon. In a whole new light. The light of the joy found in having a new brother in Christ. And I share a part of it here now as my prayer over your new walk of faith (with emphasis and underlining added by me for effect.)

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bod(y) by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” – Romans 8:1-17 (NLT, NIV)

SECURE FOR ETERNITY…

God answers prayers son. You are evidence of that truth. You are, now, not only my son, but now also my brother! My brother in Christ. My fellow co-heir to God’s glory! We have a date with eternity, you and I, that can never be snatched from us.

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.’ No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39

I’m going to “carry my cross” (Luke 9:23) and embrace my responsibility to live my life raising you as my son, and I’ll see you in heaven brother!

Love,

Dad, and fellow co-heir

Call Me Louder

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“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

Two things stick out for me in this verse today:

1. We have the power and strength living within us (through the Holy Spirit) to bear any temptation we’re faced with. ANY. We can bank on that because He’s promised us here in this verse that “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” So, it doesn’t matter what temptation we’re fighting right now, we have the power to resist it.

2. This promise does not allow us to continue sinning. While we can rest on the promise that “he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it“, this verse is certainly not a blank check payable to “a way out” for us to use at our pleasure. First, God will provide the “way out“; but we have to be in close fellowship with Him to recognize the “way out” as a “way out“, not simply an annoyance that delays us from the gratification and pleasure we find in our sin. Second, if we continue to ignore His attempts to help us “out” of our temptation, He will eventually stop helping…or harden our hearts so that we don’t see the “way out“…or both.

Take the story of the man trapped on a deserted island. He prayed and believed that God would save him. Hours later, a passing boat came to the rescue, but the man told them not to worry about him because God would save him. Some time later, a helicopter flew over but again the man told them he was fine…that God would save him. Several days later, a plane flew overhead but again the man refused help, saying God would save him. When he died of dehydration, he went before God and was upset because he felt God had failed to save him. To which God replied, ‘I tried. Three times I sent you help, but you refused to be helped. All you had to do was grab my outstretched arm, and you would have been saved.’

In my addiction, I can look back at each time I was ever tempted to slide into that sinful behavior and see that God provided an “out“. Many times, I recognized it and succeeded in resisting the temptation. Unfortunately, more times than I care to admit, I willfully ignored it and went right down that sinful path. And every time I ignored it to continue in my sinful pleasure, it got easier and easier to ignore His voice the next time…to the point that I was so far out of fellowship with God that I stopped seeing the signs He was giving me.

For me…right now in this moment…I’ve been fighting my temptation all day, and simply writing this note is my “way out“. Temptation sucks, and it knows no bounds. Except one…that that Satan and his ability to tempt us has no authority in the life of the believer who calls on the name of God. The temptation will always be there, but we can have success in it…through the power of the Spirit in our lives.

What sinful temptation are you facing today? Does it feel like more than you can bear? Rest on the promise that God will provide you a way out. And then open your heart to see it and stick your hand out to grab it.

“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:12

Love,

Dad

Gracious Abba Father, I come to you with a burdened heart. Burdened with the temptation to walk down a path I don’t want to follow…a path I know leads to my destruction, yet calls me with so loud a voice that I cannot help but turn my head its direction. As I stand here tonight on the edge, I pray. Holy Lord, I pray. Call me with a louder voice and draw my attention away from this temptation, and instead to You. For I know that when I am looking at You, I am walking toward You…and with You. Call me louder God. Please, I beseech you. Call me louder.

Praying in Boldness

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As I first saw this picture, it resonated with me. On the surface, it inspires and encourages us to be bold in our prayers…to claim the promise in Romans 8:31…“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

On further inspection of the picture, though, I see it differently than I first did. Take a closer look…do you see it? Do you see the thousand yard stare…the battle weary face…the depth of the scar on his eye? I believe the quote to be very true, that a praying man has no need to fear any demon in hell…because James 5:16 confirms it… “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Yet that battle-scarred face is evidence that just because we believe, pray and have our faith in God we will still face adversity and battles and be scarred. Paul warned Timothy of this…

“But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days….You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” – 2 Tim 3:1,10-13

Don’t be lulled into the false belief that as believers we are immune to the things of this world…things like attack, oppression, heartache, struggle, difficult times, hardship, persecution, affliction, loss, pain. But find your strength in knowing that He hears our prayers and is working all things in our life for our good. Even when we don’t see the endgame, God does.

You will be hurt in this life, and it’s in that hurt that God is refining you. As you experience that pain and are scarred as a result, wear your battle scars with boldness and confidence. Be bold in your faith…and be bold in your prayers…humble in all that we seek and in how we speak to Him, but bold and confident in the promise found in Phillippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Love,

Dad

It’s a Good Plan

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Conversation with a 3 year old on the drive to preschool:

“Dad, why is dat pweece man parked dare?”

“He’s waiting there to see if people are driving too fast, and then he will tell them to slow down.”

“And he will take dem to jail?”

“No, he’ll give them a ticket for speeding because driving too fast is breaking the law.”

“Were you breaking da law when the pweece man gabe you a ticket too?”

“Yes. I was breaking the law.”

“But if you bwake da law, you will go to jail?”

“Sometimes, yes. But when you get a ticket, you don’t have to go to jail. You just have to pay the money.”

“If you will pay the money, den you will go to jail?”

“No, if you don’t pay the money you will go jail.”

“Did you pay your money?”

“Yes.”

“Cuz if you go to jail den we won’t have a daddy anymore. And den I would be sad.”

“I’m not going to jail son. But you will always have a daddy because no matter where I am, I’ll always be your daddy.”

“Even if you die?”

“Yes, I will always be your daddy, but if I die I won’t be here to see you.”

“Cuz you will be in heaven?”

“Yes.”

“With Jesus?”

“Yes.”

“Can I have ice cream after school?”

“I don’t think so. We’ll see.”

“But it’s a good plan!!”

“Hahaha!”

Where’s Your Vision?

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Way back in my teens, I was driving the car one day, with dad beside me as a passenger. I don’t know what caused him to say what he said, but it’s been a driving force in who I am today. I don’t believe when he said it he had any idea how it would shape the rest of my life, or that it would have farther-stretching meaning to me than he intended…but it certainly did. It took many years for what he said that day to fully sink in for me, but somewhere in the back of my mind that single statement has been lingering ever since they crossed his lips.

Driving wherever we were going that day, I remember only that we were on a 4-lane divided highway, with moderate traffic ahead of us. I’m sure this is hard to imagine, but back in my younger years, I was not the safest young man on the road. I had a bad habit of following too closely and driving over the speed limit (okay, yes…I’ll admit…I still struggle with this sometimes…just ask my wife). On that day many years ago, I was doing just that…following too closely…when dad had had enough…”your problem, son, is that you’re not looking far enough down the road. I think your bad vision has you watching right in front of you, but you have to be looking down the road at what the drivers who are in front of the car right in front of you are doing.”

Do you do that too? Pay more attention to what’s going on right in front of you than what’s going on down the road? Is your vision focused on your immediate future, not the long term? Are you more concerned with your next two moves than the ten that follow those? The mark of any great chess player is that he has the vision to see every move played out before the game even starts. He can anticipate how his move will affect his opponent’s move, and so on throughout the entire game. His vision is not focused on the next two moves…it’s constantly ten (or more) moves ahead.

In every aspect of our lives, our vision has to be on what’s down the road…what’s the bigger picture? If we’re only focused on the car right in front of us, we’ll never see that up the road, cars are swerving to miss a hazard in the road…and by the time that hazard is right in front of us, it’s too late for us to avoid it. While we must certainly be aware of what’s going on right here and now in front of us, our vision has to be focused down the road…on the bigger picture. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 4:18 that “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Our decisions are a reflection of where our vision is focused…where our eyes look, our body follows.

God has a vision for you…and for me. If we’re so wrapped up in our lives that we’re focused on the daily tasks of survival, we’ll never see the vision He has for us. It’s not until we open our eyes to the bigger picture of what’s going on around us and ahead of us that we’ll see He has a plan for our lives that takes us out of the moment…the temporary, and moves us into the future…the eternal.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.'” – Jeremiah 29:11-12

So where is your vision? Where is your focus? Are you constantly looking behind you…living in the past? Are you looking around you at what others are doing and following the crowd…just blending in? Are you looking right in front of you at what lies only immediately in front of you? Or is your vision focused on the bigger picture?

Where has God placed you on this great big planet? In all the history of the Earth, He placed you and I right here…right now. We’re all right where we are in this moment in all of time for a purpose. What’s yours? If you don’t know…there’s one way to find out. Ask Him to reveal it to you. He might…He might not. If He doesn’t right away, it’s not because He doesn’t have a plan for you…it’s because you’re not ready for it. Ask Him to help you prepare for it…so that when He’s ready to reveal it to you, you have the capacity to see the bigger picture…to better grasp how great His vision for you really is…so you’re able to see clearly the vision He has for you.

Love,

Dad

Gracious Abba Father, may you find favor on your humble servant, though I have nothing of me to offer that you require to complete your will. I am but a speck of dust in this life in the here and now, and yet you have found favor on me and placed me here to serve and honor you. For that, I thank you. I believe I have at least a glimpse of the vision you have for me, and yet I know I’m human…that my vision is not yours…what I see is not what you see. Open my eyes, Lord, that I might see more clearly the vision you have for me and my life.

Amen

It Stings a Little When I Eat the Word

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“My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” – Proverbs 4:20-27

I’m sitting here tonight eating a snack before bed, and my mouth is sore. When I bit it last night, I really bit it hard. It’s hard to chew without feeling pain, and putting any food in my mouth aggravates the pain even more…like putting salt in an open wound. Even putting the nourishing food I need for survival in my mouth right now hurts. (Okay, so I could live without this cookie, but you get the point) 🙂

And so it is with our sin. When we fall back into the habits of addiction, regardless of what that addiction is, a scar is left. Each time we sin, our relationship with God is damaged…our fellowship with Him is broken. And a scar remains. The emotional and psychological damage we bring upon ourselves when we are sexually immoral can be devastating and long lasting.

So much so that even when we turn from our sin toward God…to feed our hearts, souls and minds the nourishment they require, the Word of God…it stings. It stings when we get back into the Word. As the Spirit leads us through the Word, He convicts us of our wrongdoing and sinful nature…and that’s not always an easy pill to swallow. We need the Word, but the sore that’s left from our sin takes time to heal…that healing can only come through fellowship with Jesus, and repentance from the cause of the pain.

“The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” – 1 Cor 6:12-20.

We must turn and run from what tempts us. In running from our sin, we are running toward the Son. In running from the darkness, we are running toward the Light. We can only head one direction at a time. Whichever direction we are facing, our bodies will follow. What our eyes are fixed upon is where we will head.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Cor 4:18

Love,

Dad

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