The B-I-B-L-E

How important is the Bible, really? Isn’t it merely an ancient book of tall tales and fables and an outdated code of conduct? It is routinely asserted in our culture that the Bible is full of inconsistencies and errors. Certainly enlightened 21st century civilization no longer finds the scriptures to be a relevant source of wisdom or a reliable source of knowledge! 

What say you? 

Christians for two thousand years have embraced the scriptures as inerrant and essential, affirming that the Bible is the primary way we know God, know what he’s doing, and know what our response should be.  

Scripture itself is pretty darn confident about its own importance:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:7-8). 

Scripture says, “Look at me! I’m perfect, sure, right, and pure!” Scripture also claims to bring you: a restored soul (yes, please), wisdom, a joyful heart, and insight for living. What we most want, deep down, for ourselves, our children, our families—those things are promised to us as by-products of loving God’s word.

It’s easy to treat the Bible like the world treats it: as boring, or irrelevant or repressive. It’s easy to rush through life and forget to pause and enjoy the promises of God. It’s so easy to forget what a rich treasure God’s word is.

But as parents we can’t afford to forget. We have the privilege of modeling a life of rhythms that slow us down long enough to give God time to restore our soul, make us wise, fill our hearts with joy and give us some insight for this crazy life. It’s an honor to teach the next generation about how perfect, sure, right and pure God is, and His word is!

So I challenge you this week to have a conversation with your kids about how amazing the Bible is! Pull them near you and whisper the promises of God to them straight from scripture: He sees you. He loves you. He is for you. If you don’t have a copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible, I highly recommend it for all ages—even moms and dads. It says,

“No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back His lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!”

The LORD “commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:5-7).

Standing on the promises,

It’s gonna be okay.

You know that part of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when all hope seems lost and Lucy magically hears a comforting whisper that she just knows is Aslan? He said, “Courage, dear heart.” And after last week, that’s exactly what I need to hear whispered over me.

Maybe you do too. Please be encouraged. God is on His throne. Undaunted, unworried, and in complete control. Everything is going to be okay. Or as another of my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien, once said, “The birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus means that one day everything sad will come untrue.” And that’s why they call it the good news.

So for anyone out there struggling to make sense of the world, anyone overcome with anger or oppressed with anxiety, I pray like the apostle Paul that your,

“hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3).

Courage dear hearts!

Meditation: Hope

How thankful are you that we have an eternal, unchanging King?

As I write, our nation is in upheaval about a presidential election. Whatever your stance, it is disheartening and unsettling to see a cherished tradition of free and peaceful elections disintegrate before our eyes.

My quiet time and private rhythm of meditation this week had me in Psalm 146. Verse 3 says,“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings who cannot save.”  Can I get an Amen?

It goes on, “Blessed are those whose hope…is in the LORD their God.”  I spent some time in contemplation over these sweet words.

Hope in the LORD our God.
Hope in the LORD our God.

For better or worse, we have all learned in the past year to let go of our expectations. We can’t even depend on the reliable things that used to bring stability. And if I do not fight against it, that kind of chaos can make me feel insecure, it can make me feel downright hopeless.

Hope in the LORD our God.
Hope in the LORD our God.

Hope—not in a little “g” god. But in the one and only. There is no other candidate for God who might be a better option. He is awesome, beautiful, and perfect.

Our Awesome Almighty God. Niagra Falls, The Grand Canyon, our sun, a small star, burning at 15,000, 000 degrees Celsius? Do you think those are awesome? The LORD your God made those up.

Our Beautiful Creator God. Think of the most breathtaking sunset you’ve ever seen, the most magnificent mountain range, the most delicate flower petal. Do you think those are beautiful? The LORD your God imagined them.

Our Perfect Most High God. There is no one you can put on a higher pedestal. He is above all and better than all. In fact, everything good that we uphold in our hearts, are mere shadows of the good that He emanates. That coach who invested in you, that friend who was loyal through your darkest days, the parent who loved you unconditionally. All are just a small reflection of the perfect love of the LORD your God.

One day, in the fullness of the Kingdom of Christ, we will see our eternal, unchanging King. We will never get tired of His administration or wish for a new regime. We will never again fear the direction the government is leading or long for the “good old days.” We will no longer have to settle for a flawed human ruler, a prince, a human being who cannot save.

“Blessed are those whose hope…is in the LORD their God.”

All things new.

  1. Kick 2020 to the curb. Check.
  2. Ring in the new year. Check.
  3. Make new year’s resolutions. Check.
  4. Begin new endeavors: running, purging stuff, budgeting, clean eating, etc.. Check.

Fresh starts are great. We imagine a better version of ourselves, our families, our lives. We make lofty goals. We want to believe we will be different this year. Thankfully, as we mature in life and in Christ, we are different this year.

Would you mind sharing what’s on your mind this particular New Year’s Day?

  • What word would you use to describe 2020? It felt different to each of us. Was it painful, frightening? freeing? restful?
  • In what ways have you seen God mature you in 2020?
  • In what ways do you want to grow or improve in 2021?

I think the word I would use to describe 2020 is unpredictable. And not just in the events that occurred that we wouldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams or nightmares. Obviously no one predicted COVID-19, apocalyptic hail, or the Iowa derecho that devastated our community.

How different people responded so differently to those events was also extremely unpredictable. Including me. In addition to everything else, 2020 was also the year my twin daughters left home to go to college out of state, an event I had been dreading—for, well, 18 years. And I survived that loss and many others. God, in His mercy, allowed me to feel untethered from the people and things on which I used to rely for stability and significance. I’m pleased to say that by the grace of God this was a year for me of unpredictable peace and surprising resilience.

One way I want to improve in 2021 is in consistency. I want my spiritual rhythms and my growth in following Jesus to be consistent—not a series of starts and stops all year long. I want to consistently and creatively invest in the relationships that matter most to me, starting with my marriage and extending to my kids and the rest of my community. And although our family typically starts a new year doing Whole30, I want to be consistent throughout the year that in all things, even caring for our health we do it to the glory of God.

So how about you? How would you answer the above questions? I would love to hear your thoughts! And please take a few moments in your family to process these ideas. Even in a pandemic we are allowed to have hopes and dreams and aspirations. To ponder what the Lord has done and to prayerfully dedicate this next year to Him.

“And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:5).

May your family have a truly joyful New Year, whatever it may bring.

It’s not (just) about the baby.

It’s Christmas so it must be time for a message about sweet baby Jesus.

Imagine standing there beside Mary and Joseph and gazing down at the Babe in the Straw. Babies are so precious and lovely and full of promise…

But they’re also messy, demanding and helpless.

In stark contrast with us sophisticated grown-ups, right? Right?

Or could we be honest enough to admit that as adults:

  • Our messes get messier—and harder to clean up (think friends or family).
  • Our demanding hearts become more self-indulgent (think finances or addictions).
  • Our striving after lasting significance is helpless (think personal legacy or mortality).

It’s obviously more comfortable to live in constant distraction and denial than to meditate about such things. But deep down inside we know we are as messy, demanding, and helpless as babies.

Such happy Christmas thoughts!

But it’s not until we really understand the bad news about ourselves that we can fully appreciate the good news about our King Jesus.

He came, in the sweetness of an infant—but with a mission. He didn’t stay in the manger. He came to lead us out of our mess. He grew into the greatest man who ever breathed (the encouragement of a teacher, the grit of a general, the wisdom of a grandfather). Every man you ever admired is only a dim fraction of all that Jesus embodied.

And he’s not a historical character. He is alive and well in glory. Yet He is near to you. He sees you, knows you, likes you, cares about you. He is able to lead you through every single disappointment and burden this world throws at you. He is worth following through this life and into the next.

So Happy Birthday Jesus. But remember that we don’t just celebrate an infant in a manger. We worship much more than that. Jesus Christ entered into the messiness, demands, and helplessness of our world and by His all-surpassing might won for us a future that is precious and lovely and full of promise.

“… [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Wish lists.

I was surprised in my Bible reading this morning. I was reading in Psalm 20 where it says, 

“May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!…May the Lord fulfill all your petitions” (Psalm  20:4-5)!

I realize that I have Christmas on the brain, but that verse made me think about Wish Lists. Specifically, what would be on my own personal grown-up wish list? The more I thought about it, the more I became genuinely tearful that my loving Heavenly Father would care about what might be on such a list.

To be honest, I tend to think my heart’s desires are too silly for God to care about. I also tend to not be much of a “dreamer” for fear that the LORD’s plans will supercede mine anyway. But this morning, I took out my journal and I wrote down my heart’s desires. Nothing too spiritual or impressive. Just the sincere wishes I have for myself and my family in the new year and beyond. 

I thought this exercise would make me feel like a spoiled child leafing through the Sunday ads and circling all the things that I wanted to get. But the result was actually quite different. As I found myself expressing wishes and concerns for the people closest to me, I became extremely thankful for the many, many blessings the Father has already lavished on me. A deep sense of peace and contentment and gratitude overwhelmed me. 

So as we eagerly wrap up this calendar year and look ahead to 2021, what are your plans? What are your petitions? What are your hearts’ desires? I encourage you to express them honestly to your Father. He knows what you need before you ask anyway, but oh how He delights in His children coming close to Him and asking.

And as you discuss Christmas wish lists with your children, how can you leverage that conversation to teach them truths about their generous Heavenly Father? He is the true Giver of every good gift we have.

And speaking of Christmas, I want to invite your family to join us in worship at New Covenant Bible Church as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. We will be having three Christmas services from which to choose: December 23 at 6:00 and December 24 at 4:00 and 6:00.  There are a variety of ways you can celebrate with us!

  • In Person: If you have been looking for an opportunity to return to church services, we would love to see you for Christmas.
  • Livestream: If you are planning on staying home this year, please connect with us through our Livestream service.
  • GNNNN: Hey families: the third episode of the GNNNN Christmas Finale is now available for your family to view online. What a fun honor it has been partnering with an amazing team to bring you these videos in 2020.

I pray your family has a happy Christmas. May the Lord truly grant your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans.

Cheers!

Come, let’s be reasonable.

Ever feel like the entire world has lost its ever-loving mind? Me too. There was a time when a person could, as a last resort, move west. Escape the insanity and start over with a Conestoga wagon and a pair of oxen and find a fresh start in some little house on the prairie. But there’s no more final frontier into which we can retreat. Unless we’re signing up for a one-way trip on Mars One, we’re going to have to learn how to navigate our way around Crazy Town.

I was reading a familiar section of scripture today but not in the version on which I was raised. And some new wording jumped out at me.

I’m most familiar with Philippians 2:4-7 in the New International Version where verse five tells us to “let your gentleness be evident to all.” But today it really resonated with me in the English Standard Version.

“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”

Reasonableness. Talk about countercultural.

Can you think of anyone famous for being reasonable? Any politicians, journalists, or entertainers who are most known for how they “think, understand, and form judgments by a logical process”? Instead we all have people who come to mind who are quite the reverse.

But as believers in Christ we are taught to “let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” To be so reasonable that it is what we’re known for. The first thing people think of when they hear the word “Christian.” It’s supposed to be our brand. Like Taylor Swift’s red lips or Elton John’s sunglasses or Harry Styles’, um, dress.

Christians should be known as the number one force for reason in this mad, mad, mad, mad world. Unfortunately, I think our public reputation could use a little work. I think the world would be more apt to use labels like “hypocrite” and “bigot.”

Okay, so we can’t change the whole world’s perception all at once. But we ought to start someplace.

Consider my workplace and home. Among those who know me best…am I known as reasonable? If plans change or details get missed, or a dozen things go wrong all at once—how do I respond? Do I typically fly off the handle? Do I assume the worst about co-workers or supervisors? Do my children expect me to react with anger and impatience? Do I shoot first and ask questions later? What’s my reputation?

Or do I respond according to Christ’s Spirit alive in me? Am I becoming known as thoughtful, careful, gracious, patient, reasonable? Not overnight, of course, but am I progressing? Are you?

I pray for this world that our children will inherit. It can feel a little crazy sometimes. But I also pray for us in the church—that we would keep maturing until our “reasonableness is known by everyone.”

I hope this Christmas season brings sweet joy to your family.

Love,

In the flesh.

I love all things Christmas——especially the music. I have been humming “I love those J-I-N-G-L-E Bells” all day. But if I’m not careful, I can let my human preference for the fun and frolic of the holidays keep me from doing the hard work of meditating and reflecting on, “The Word became flesh.”

Christian celebration of Christmas is not about magical elves or flying reindeer or talking narwhals (IYKYK). For worshippers of Jesus, the Christmas celebration centers on something, if we’re honest, that’s even more challenging to believe. 

“…The real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us does not lie [with atonement or the resurrection or biblical miracles], but in the Christmas message of Incarnation” (J.I. Packer. Knowing God. Intervarsity Press 1993. Page 53).

Christians actually believe that the second person of the Trinity (already a divine enigma), the eternal Word of God, by whom all things were created and in whom are held together, took on human flesh, in the form of a baby, grew in Mary’s womb, and was born with all the limitations of a tiny infant boy.

The Word became flesh. The Word who created the heavens and the earth. The Word who knows the stars by name. The Word who told the oceans, “This far you may come and no farther, here is where your proud waves halt” (Job 38:11). The Word whose breath gave life to the first human flesh, clothed Himself with the same.

Creation needed saving and so Jesus our Savior came. To rescue us from these bodies of death. A salvation that would never be corrupted by sickness, pain, or decay was won for us through His Incarnation. He was born to die for us so that we could live through Him.

“…the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works…” (On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius).

I have heard all this before. I’d get it right on a test. I’m guessing you would too. But I never want to let doctrinal familiarity keep me from pausing to think about it deeply or to rob me of the worship this season requires.

“O come now, hail His arrival, the God of creation. Royalty robed in the flesh He created. Jesus the maker has made Himself known. All hail the infinite infant God” (“Arrival”. Hillsong Worship).

“Fragile fingers sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorns. Tiny heart whose blood would save us, unto us is born” (Chris Rice, “Welcome to Our World”).

Let us adore Him,

Do something.

Hey ya’ll! Fun fact: our college girls are home!

Lizzy mentioned to me how strange it was that after being gone so long and experiencing so many new adventures the thing she found herself talking about with the ones she loves is….COVID.

I want to turn the corner. COVID is here. I get it. But certainly there are some other and better things to occupy our minds and fuel our conversations and spur our actions?

A friend told me this week that when an outbreak of the bubonic plague closed theaters in London, William Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony & Cleopatra.

Sometimes when life gives us lemons, we need to get out of bed, take a shower, and get to work making lemonade.

Did you know:

  • Beethoven composed his greatest works, including the Ninth Symphony after going completely deaf.
  • Joseph Pilates developed a physical training regimen while imprisoned in an internment camp during World War 1.
  • And the Great Depression brought us inventions such as: Scotch Tape, the ball point pen,  chocolate chip cookies and the car stereo.

There’s no end of stories of heroes who made a positive impact on the world in spite of, or perhaps because of the challenging circumstances they faced. Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela. Or look to the scriptures: Moses. Joseph. Daniel.

Challenging times aren’t an excuse to disengage from life. They are actually times to let God use us to do something great. What amazing thing does God want for you right now? For your marriage, your family, your career, your prayer life, your gospel witness in your world?

Benjamin Franklin, another great hero borne out of adversity once said, “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.”

Let’s let God work in us and through us to do something great this week.

2020, Thanks.

Oh, brother, how to celebrate Thanksgiving?

And I don’t mean the great “Invite-Grandma-Or-Not Debate of 2020.”

I mean, if I’m honest, I’m much more apt to list my grievances than to count my blessings this year.

But did you know that giving thanks, actively practicing gratitude, brings amazing scientifically-proven benefits?

They include:

  • Improved psychological and physical health
  • Better sleep
  • More confidence
  • Stronger relationships
  • Greater resilience

To quote one gratitude expert: “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” David Steindl-Rast

Centuries before we had any scientific studies, or helpful websites like gratefulness.org encouraging gratitude, the Bible has been teaching us to be thankful. Over 100 times “give thanks” is mentioned in scripture. We are told, not only to be generally grateful—but to give a Name to the source of our blessings. To thank the One from whom all good gifts come.

“Give thanks to the LORD for He is good. For His steadfast love endures forever” Psalm 107:1 and elsewhere).

Give thanks—to whom? To the LORD. Why? He is good. His love is strong and forever.

He is good. He is never bad. He is never irritable, or impatient or unkind. He is never easily angered. He is not arrogant. He doesn’t mock you or look down on you. He is good. And wise and noble and gentle and honest and trustworthy and faithful and kind.

And not only that but while He is busy being good to you, He is busy loving you—with a love that is stronger than your greatest love. No one has ever loved you like the LORD. His is a forever love that never dies. A forever love that doesn’t diminish over time. He doesn’t fall out of love. He doesn’t move on. No parent, child, lover, or friend’s love comes close.

Our Creator knew that life would smack us around with all sorts of drama. Circumstances can overwhelm us like the ocean’s wave after wave after wave. And when it feels like all hope is lost and there is not one blessing left to count: There, even there, we have a precious gift to hold onto. A precious reason to give thanks.

The Lord is good. His steadfast love endures forever.

As you meditate on the heart of God this Thanksgiving, I pray it will create in you a gratitude so great you need a journal to capture all the goodness 2020 has brought.

Happy Thanksgiving!

You can read more about the science of Gratitude here:
Seven Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
The Neuroscience of Gratitude