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Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Letter 2017

We hope this letter finds you warm and well this Christmas season.  At our house we took a vote and unanimously picked 2017 as our favorite year yet.  We had many exciting changes and experiences over the last 12 months that are pleased to share.

The biggest change was that Joshua was born on Mothers’ Day.  It was a Mothers’ Day we’ll never forget, but we think we’ll just go out for dinner in 2018.  Joshua is 7-months-old this month and is growing and learning so fast.  Having a child, as many of you know, is perhaps the most challenging and rewarding things God brings us. 

In August we took an amazing vacation.  We went to Europe for 10 days with Christine’s parents, her brother and his girlfriend.  And yes, we took 3-month-old Joshua and he did great.  We stayed near Christine’s cousins in Vevey, Switzerland and also spent a few days in Dublin, Ireland.  Being in Switzerland was like waking up in a postcard every day.  It is breathtakingly beautiful with Lake Geneva and the Alps both right there.  Ireland was spectacular as well mostly because the people are so friendly and there is so much to see.  We also loved our stop in Dublin because Christine’s brother Michael proposed to his girlfriend Becca.  She said yes and Joshua is pretty proud of his uncle for securing him another world-class aunt. 

Speaking of world travels.  Matt’s sister Maggie and brother-in-law Tom traveled to Iowa from Australia in November.  It was so great to see them and for them to meet their new nephew, too.

Christine had a slight job change this year.  She went from working full-time at the Waverly Health Center to working PRN.  PRN basically means she only has to work one night a week though she can get more hours if she wants.  She loves it because it is like being a stay-at-home-mom and still a nurse at the same time.

Matt began his 8th year at KWAY radio in April.  He is still hosting the morning show and doing sports play-by-play.  On top of that he’s currently in his 13th school year working with the youth at church.

2017 also saw us gain a nephew and a niece.  It’s so thrilling to see the family growing with new kids and in-laws, though the in-law increase is ending once Michael and Becca get married.

This year was a banner year in the Ray house and we thank God for it.  We also thank Him for all of you who make our lives so much better than we deserve.  At this time we’re also reminded to thank God for sending us Christ to be Emmanuel.  Knowing that God is with us gives us the strength and courage to celebrate 2017 and look forward eagerly for what He has in store for us in 2018.

May you have a blessed Christmas season.


Merry Christmas from the Rays: Matt, Christine and Joshua.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Wordless Word

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." John 1:14a


"Mary!  He's crying again and I have no idea why."

Joseph paced the floors trying to calm his son.  Mary had already tried to feed him and he wasn't having any of it.  So, Joseph paced and bounced and paced and pounced while attempting to sing a soothing lullaby over the increasingly loud sounds of his infant's cries.

"I can't wait until you can just tell me what you need, Son."

Joseph neared his wit's end when it happened.

"BURP!"

Silence.

"Jesus, was that it?  That's what you needed, little guy?"


The Apostle John calls Jesus the Word.  The Word who was from the beginning.  The Word who not only was with God, but the Word that was and always was and is and always will be God.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made Himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
and became 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,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:5-11

The humiliation of Jesus during His entire earthly life is incredible but let's just think about His infancy.  There are so many reasons to be captured by awe and wonder when we meditate on the birth of Jesus but tonight I'm struck by the fact that He humbled Himself so far as to be wordless.

Think about it.  The person of the Trinity that is called the Word was unable to tell Mary that He was hungry.  The One who spoke galaxies into being couldn't tell Joseph that He was bothersomely gassy.  Jesus, who sustains all things by His powerful word, couldn't communicate that He needed to be changed.  This is a lowering and a humiliation of supernatural proportions.  Jesus the Christ did all this to be Emmanuel, which means God with us.

There are many miracles to ponder during Advent and Christmas and I hope you do ponder many of them, but this is one I ponder as I pace and bounce my little baby boy.  That God so loved us that He would do that for us should make us lost in awe-filled worship of Him today.




Friday, November 17, 2017

Joshua

Some of you may have noticed that the frequency of my posting on this blog has decreased recently.  That is due to my work schedule being hectic and a beautiful little boy named Joshua who wants as much of Mom and Dad's time as he can get.  Sorry not sorry but I'm choosing time with him over blogging most every time.

Being a dad is a great thing and a scary thing all at the same time. 

On Monday I was having a Bible study in the book of Mark with a couple of Wartburg guys and Joshua was there with us for the last few minutes.  I have had this thought for longer than I've had Joshua but one of the guys asked what being a dad is like and I expressed to the guys that the scariest thing about being a father is that I can't give my boy salvation.  I can lead the horse to the Living Water but I can't make him drink.

Think of the story of Jesus as told by Mark, especially think about Judas. 

Judas saw Jesus calm a storm twice, saw Him drive a legion of demons out of a man, saw Him heal a woman who merely touched the hem of His clothes, saw Him raise a girl from the dead, saw Him feed 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish with leftovers to spare, saw Jesus heal scores of people, saw Jesus feed 4,000 men with seven loaves of bread with leftovers to spare, saw Jesus restore sight to a blind people, heard Jesus preach and teach every day and watched Jesus live a perfect life.  Yet with all this I can say with near certainty that Judas didn't get a saving faith.  Judas saw all sorts of miracles, heard the best teaching and preaching ever and had the best loving example to follow and still didn't get salvation.

This is a sobering thought.

I could walk on water while leading Joshua to the Living Water and he still might not drink from the fount of every blessing.  I could give the blind sight and he could still not see the Way, the Truth and the Life.  I could preach and teach with all the skill in the world and he could still not believe the Word.  I could live a perfect Christian life to follow and he could still choose the path of destruction.

Do I desire to live a good life in front of my boy?  Do I crave the words to say to share the Good News with him?  Do I want a demonstration of power to act as a sign for Joshua?  Absolutely, but the greatest miracle I need isn't walking on water or raising someone from the dead; the great miracle I need is for God to open the eyes of my son's heart so that he may see the glory of Jesus Christ.

"The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."  2 Corinthians 4:4-6

Joshua's name means "Yahweh is salvation."  I can and will try to do my best to lead Joshua to the Living Water, to show him the light of the glory of God in Christ Jesus, but I can't do it.  So every day I pray that God makes his name true for him.  That is my bedtime prayer every day and often my prayer as I hold him.  It's a short prayer but it's the only shot my boy has.  I've prayed for many a miracle.  I've prayed for the healing of a body, for the restoration of a marriage, for guidance, for wisdom, for strength; but the greatest and longest lasting miracle I pray for is the salvation of others, especially for my boy.

"God, I pray that you make Joshua's name true for him.  Show him your inexpressible beauty and worth.  Jesus don't let him waste any years living without you as his king, savior and friend."

I pray this for my boy and I hope that you'll pray for the awesome miracle of saving faith for someone you care about today.




Monday, October 30, 2017

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Imagine for me that you walk into a dark room.  I mean, it's pitch black.

You walk into the room and grope around to get your bearings until you find a chair.  You then sit in the chair and get comfortable when you feel a small furry creature hop on your lap.  You feel the little guy for a bit and then start petting it nicely.  You stroke it from head to back over and over.  After a while you end up liking this little creature and assume it must be a cat.  The furry animal then turns its backside to you in the manner a cat does when showing respect.  You continue to pet it nicely while smiling.

Then someone turns on the light and you see it is actually a skunk sitting on your lap. 

What would you do?

I know I would get away from that skunk as quickly as I could without getting sprayed.  I would not continue to pet that skunk as much as I may have liked it when the lights were off.

In 1 John chapter 1 we are told that God is light and that we should walk in the light.  I think the story of the skunk in the dark tells us some about how to walk in the light.

"If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth." 1 John 1:6

Jesus is the light, we're told in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the truth and 1 John equates light with truth.  So, I believe that much of walking in the light is a simple as walking in the truth.  Walking in reality, not as we conceive it to be with the lights off, but as we are shown it to be with the lights turned on.

If someone had the lights turned on and discovered that the truth was that the furry creature was not a cat but rather a skunk they would get rid of or get away from the skunk.  They would not try to convince the person who turned on the lights that the little animal was most definitely a cat and not a skunk.

Too often we live as if we preferred the way we thought things were in the dark.  We don't want to live according to what the light reveals because we liked the lifestyle in the dark room better.  We liked the comfort of what we thought was a cat and now we're shown that we have a potential stinker on our laps from which we must flee.

Too often we have a pet sin in our lives that hasn't hurt us yet but like that skunk will likely backfire on us stinking up our entire being.

Pet skunks in our lives might take the form of gossip, pornography, grudges, excessive drinking, social media inspired jealousy or other seeming harmless sins.  "Well, I see now that it's not a cat but it's never hurt me before.  In fact, I quite like it."  But sin is not a pet.  Sin is a skunk that will backfire, it is a shark dedicated to devouring us.  Sin can not and will not be tamed as a pet no matter how long you've lived with it without an attack; it is a dangerous thing that must be expelled, fled from or killed.

Walking in the light requires us to change.  Walking in the light requires that when light is shed in the darkness of our lives we rid ourselves of the evil exposed. 

But thanks be to God that He doesn't just expose sin but He also cures it.

"But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin." 1 John 1:7

Walk in the light.  When the light of Jesus exposes a pet sin we must act according to the knowledge of the truth and not the ignorance of the dark room today.


Monday, October 16, 2017

The Thrill of Being Liked

I work with youth at my church and I also do play-by-play for at least 125 high school sporting events each year.  I see young people interact quite a bit.

One of the common things you see in a high school setting is something we all remember well.  The male/female interaction.  Boys and girls figuring out what it looks like to be around each other.  Now, many of these boy-girl interactions are simply friendly and plutonic.  But sometimes you can see a bit of the song and dance.

Cute boy has some sort of interaction with cute girl then she begins to glow in excitement.  Boys do the same thing but their glow is more strategically hidden.  But both have a bit of a glow when this song and dance occurs because there is a thrill in being liked.  It reminds me of the movie "Mean Girls" when Lindsay Lohan's character is just thrilled to have her crush notice her enough to ask what day it is.  A small gesture that lets us know we're noticed or perhaps even liked excites us.



To have a crush is nice to to be crushed on is something completely different.  To be crushed on by an unwanted crush may be flattering yet annoying, but to be the one crushed on by someone you reciprocate that with is thrilling.

It's not just kids that have this feeling.

I remember the feeling when I noticed my future wife noticing me.  Oh, it was intoxicating.  It was heart-pounding to know that I was liked, I mean like-liked by someone that I was attracted to emotionally and physically. 

So, I see that glow from high schoolers at a distance and I remember it in my past.  There is an amazing thrill of being liked. 

Now let's meditate on the fact that the greatest being of all time, the most beautiful of all time likes you and me.  Not just likes, but loves.

Think about that and stoke the glow of excitement.  The God of the universe loves you enough to send His Son to die for you!

"The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:10

The thrill of being liked is a great feeling and you are not only liked, but you are loved by God Himself.  This should thrill us to the max.  This should send our spirits soaring more than some earthly crush ever could, even if they asked us what day it is. 

Remember who loves you with an endless love and feel that teenage-like excitement about it today.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Midnight in Oklahoma

Occasionally my Grandpa Ray would let my dad stay up until midnight.  That was, I'm sure, a big treat for my dad as a boy.  At midnight in Southern Oklahoma and many parts of the country in those days the TV shut off for the night.  Before signing off the station would play our National Anthem.

"Stand up.  Feet together.  Hand over your heart."  My Grandpa would instruct.



As a proud American and a veteran my Grandpa Ray taught his children to be patriotic and to respect his country's National Anthem and flag.  Dad passed that on to me.  I attend hundreds of sporting events a year and I stand with hand over heart during the anthem each time.  I remember one time in Tripoli, Iowa when the CD player that was supposed to play the anthem wouldn't work I broke out in song to lead the crowd in singing the Star Spangled Banner because it needed to happen before the game.

I say all this not to brag but so you know that I do have a love for this country, a profound thankfulness for the fact that God decided to have me born in the United States of America, a enduring gratitude for those who help make this nation what it is.

But can love for a good thing get in the way of loving God and people well?

"Another time He went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath.  Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, 'Stand up in front of everyone.'

Then Jesus asked them, 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?' But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.'  He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.  Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus."  Mark 3:1-6

Respecting and honoring the Sabbath was a good thing.  Dads taught this to their boys and their boys taught it to their children.  In fact, God had commanded it.  However, Jesus showed in this story that God desires mercy  and justice over religious activity.

I can almost hear the Pharisees in the story shouting, "What you are doing may be good but you're doing it the wrong way!  Couldn't you heal this man another time?  Couldn't you wait for a more respectful moment to be merciful?"

The Pharisees loved the Sabbath more than the Lord of the Sabbath!

This whole kneeling during the National Anthem thing feels similar to me.  I respect what the flag stands for and what the anthem represents, but do I  love God's ways more?  Do I desire to be merciful more than ceremonially respectful?

I'd prefer a different method of protest, I truly would, but many of us have turned a deaf ear to our brothers and sisters for too long.  Their cries for justice have been raised many times before but we didn't notice until one of our golden calves was threatened.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

Our black brothers and sisters are shouting for justice, they are crying out for mercy.  Can we at least give them the mercy of a listening ear?  Can we put ourselves in their shoes, not wear our shoes in their circumstance, but truly lend an empathetic ear?

Truly listening won't disrespect our nation or its troops just like Jesus healing on the Sabbath didn't disrespect the Sabbath.

Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God today.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Should I Comment?

Often on Facebook, Twitter or whatever social media you use you'll come across something and want to comment.  I'm not talking about comments like, "Good for you!" "Congrats" or "Praying for you."  I'm talking about those posts that lure you into a comment war.  The post you scroll by and feel that your voice must be heard in it.

Then it happens.

A comment war.

We've all been there.  We've all gotten into a comment war.  We've all thought, "I'll say this one thing and then I'm out" only to be caught in a seemingly infinite thread involving you and people you didn't even know before you're done.

So, does the Bible have anything to say about this?  I believe it does and I believe the book of Proverbs has the most to say.  Most of these proverbs can be boiled down to "when it doubt just shut up and keep scrolling."  That doesn't mean that there is never a time to enter a discussion, but it does mean that most of the time it's a bad idea... trust me, I've stupidly gotten into these messes.

"When words are many, sin is not absent,
but he who holds his tongue is wise." Proverbs 10:19

"A fool shows his annoyance at once,
but a prudent man overlooks an insult." Proverbs 12:16

"Reckless words pierce like a sword,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Proverbs 12:18

"A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself,
but the heart of fools bursts out folly." Proverbs 12:23

"A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1

"A fool finds no pleasure in understanding
but delights in airing his opinions." Proverbs 18:2

"He who answers before listening
that is his folly and his shame." Proverbs 18:13

"The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit." Proverbs 18:21

"He who guards his mouth and his tongue
keeps himself from calamity." Proverbs 21:23

There are times to comment, but the writers of the book of Proverbs say that there are more times to hold your tongue.  Facebook and Twitter and the like are great forums for many things.  However, in depth discussions on deep or touchy subjects are not these medias' best uses.  There are very few people that you will persuade via a Facebook comment but you will stir up dissension with many.  Proverbs 6:16-19 says God detests seven things and one of those is "a man who stirs up dissension among brothers."

So, when in doubt shut up and keep scrolling.

I know it's tough.  I know some discussions seem irresistible, but be wise and watch your digital tongue.  You may still contribute to the conversation perhaps but I'd argue from Scripture and from experience that more bad than good comes from entering the fray of internet anger.

Before you comment online think about whether that's a wise choice today.






Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Farewell Jim

"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." 1 Timothy 5:17

After just more than 11 years at Grace Baptist Church my friend and pastor Jim Lee is moving on.  Jim is going on to the next adventure in his life, not because he needed to leave the church but because an opportunity and God's calling met.  He will be missed.

Pastor Jim will be giving his farewell message at Grace Baptist Church this Sunday morning, September 3rd, at 10:00.  I encourage you to attend if Jim's had any impact in your life at all.  Whether he's influenced you as a pastor, chaplain of the fire department, as a fellow business owner or a friend.  I know he'd love to see you there.

I met Jim when he was in the process of being hired at Grace about 11 and a half years ago.  I had no idea then the impact he'd have on my life.  Through the years Jim has become a mentor, pastor and a friend.  He was there when I needed him for advice or simply someone to bounce an idea off.  He was there when I was at my wits end.  He was there when my wife was baptized and he did the dedication of Joshua and married Christine and I.  He even (multiple times) interrupted my first date with Christine by blowing up my phone trying to get ahold of me to watch Monday Night Football with him.

Jim is a dear friend of mine but he's more than that, too.  I have had two pastors in my life that have greatly impacted me: my Dad and Jim.  That's some rare air.

Not many pastors have time to devote to a young college student, but Jim did.  He poured time, energy and passion into my life.  He helped me navigate through my 20's and is one of the men that helped me become the man I am today and for that I am grateful.

Jim, I'm sure I'll see you around, though much less as time goes by.  But one of the great truths we Christians get to experience with other Christians in moving away or in death is this: there are no goodbyes, only see you laters.

Thank you for your service.  I know, even though you like me are not perfect, that you'll hear "well done good and faithful servant" when you give an account for your time here because you were faithful.  And I hope that you feel double honor from those of us at Grace today.

                                    (photo courtesy Jim's Facebook and the Leisinger wedding)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How Would Your Life Change?

If you saw God as He really is what would you do differently?

I'm rereading one of my favorite books, The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer and Tozer begins the book with a monster line.

"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

Studying the attributes of God is one of the most fruitful exercises in my faith life.  I am forced to ask myself what I would do if I really believed that God is as He says He is.  You can't think about and meditate on God's attributes, His self-existence, His self-sufficiency, His eternality, infinitude, immutability, omniscience, wisdom, omnipotence, omnipresence, faithfulness, His goodness, justice, mercy, love, grace, holiness and sovereignty and not be very practically and irrevocably affected.

Many will say this is the work of theologians and not the layman.  They will ask for three points and a poem and something practical for their week, but I say this is the most practical exercise for all Christians.  Seeing God as accurately as we can, as perfectly as He's revealed Himself to be, will change your life.

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Proverbs 9:10

Our wisdom, that is our skill for living life, is rooted in seeing God rightly and thinking about Him as Scripture reveals Him to be.  This is not for scholars alone, this is for the everyday Christian who wants to live life well.

If you saw God as He really is would your life look different?

Would His infinitude, self-sufficiency and omniscience cause you to tremble?  Would his omnipresence, justice and holiness cause you to act differently in His presence?  Would His mercy, love and grace cause you to be humble?  Would His omnipotence, wisdom and sovereignty make you actually trust Him?  How would your life be different?

The bottom line is that God is who He says He is and we must think about who He is.  We must "be transformed by the renewing of our minds" (Romans 12:2).  Yes, our minds.  All of us must be thinkers.  We as Christians must be ones who think critically and often about who our God is.

As A.W. Tozer says, "... because we are the handiwork of God, it follows that all our problems and their solutions are theological."  And by theological he means the study of who God is.  He continues, "Some knowledge of what kind of God it is that operates the universe is indispensable to a sound philosophy of life and a sane outlook on the world scene." On another page he writes, "It is morally imperative that we purge from our minds all ignoble concepts of the Deity and let Him be the God in our minds that He is in His universe."

If you saw God as He really is what would you do differently?

I challenge you to think and think deeply about who our God is and then in faith act accordingly today.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Peace With God

We've heard it said that sin is its own punishment, and there is a whole lot of truth to that statement.  Sin keeps us from living the best life we could live, it keeps us from enjoying the blessings that could be gained from a wise life.  Though like the psalmist in Psalm 73 we see sin sometimes seemingly working out for others but we trust that in the end righteousness works out best.

When Jesus died on the cross He died to set us free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:18).  We are no longer bound to a life of sin.  Sin is a punishment in and of itself and we are no longer subject to it.

But sin is not solely its own punishment.

Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God.  Before Christ's intervention we were by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).  We were enemies of God.  God's wrath was directed at us as cosmic insurrectionists who always attempt to force God to abdicate His rightful place of authority in our lives and in all of the universe.

"But God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life"  John 3:16

We were objects of wrath and enemies with Almighty God and God Himself extended the olive branch to offer us peace before we asked for it.  Christ died to free us from the bondage of sin and to save us from the wrath of God and make peace with God for us.  Christ absorbed the full wrath of God... "He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:26

See how Paul explains it in Romans:

"He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." Romans 4:25-5:2

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him!  For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!  Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Romans 5:6-11 (emphasis added)

See, sin is missing the mark, but it's more than just that.  As R. C. Sproul has said: "Sin is cosmic treason.  Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign."  It is treason that puts us at odds with God.  "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31b)  Well, if God is against us, what chance do we have?  But thanks be to God that God Himself, while we were still His enemies, made the terms of peace and made all the efforts necessary to secure that peace for us.

You can have peace with God and having that peace is necessary, it is the first problem we need fixed.  God is extending the olive branch of peace, a branch that cost His Son's life, to you.  Will you accept peace with God today?




Monday, July 24, 2017

Vows

My wife and I have never had a big fight.  We've never had a big blow out.  We've had our disagreements and we've raised our voices at moments but we've never had a big conflict.  I will tell you our secret.

We've not been married very long.

We are not so disillusioned to think that we will have a marriage completely full of happiness and free of conflict.  Our marriage is and I pray will overall be happy and hopefully be more peace filled than conflict ridden, but we are not naive enough to think we'll have a super long marriage that is all roses.

Christine and I are young and we go to a lot of weddings.  From friends and classmates, to former youth group kids and siblings we've been to a lot of weddings.

At weddings we notice the flowers, the DJ, the dresses and suits, the location, the colors, the groom's face as she walks down the aisle, the toasts, the first dances and all the things we thought about when we planned our wedding.

But the thing that matters most at a wedding and the thing I pay close attention to is the vows.

Vows are the solemn promises we make to each other and to God and before God and the congregation of witnesses.  These words we speak must be greater than a Hallmark card.

I've too often heard vows, especially self-written vows, that make promises that are unkeepable.  Promises to always make the other person happy, promises to keep a certain sense of adventure and wanderlust, promises to always be inspired to love by the other person; and while these promises seem lovely they are not doable.

I've not been married long, but I think there are only a few things we can really promise one another in our vows.  It seems being there and trying with God's help are the only two things we can really promise.

At our wedding Christine walked down the aisle to a song I recorded called "I Will Be Here" by Steven Curtis Chapman.  I will be here is one of the greatest promises we can make to our spouse.  I will be here: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer till death parts us.  This is a very difficult promise and one that only by the grace of God can we keep, but one I believe we can make and if you ask someone who has been married for 60 years it's a very romantic and loving promise.

Trying.  This is the other promises I think we can make on our wedding day.  While trying is nearly unnecessary on our wedding day and trying sounds pretty darn unromantic on day one, trying is a very necessary and loving promise.  So many marriages ultimately fail because the will to try has been lost.  In fact, divorce is impossible unless one or both people give up the will to try.  I don't know this experientially yet but there will be times in every marriage where the ability to keep trying needs to come from outside of ourselves.  There is a point when your spouse will not inspire you to try, no matter how good looking they are and how warm and fuzzy you felt on your wedding day.  At this point we must get our ability to even try from God.

If you're engaged or thinking about marriage someday I encourage you to, when the time comes, think soberly about the vows you will make.  On your wedding day your heart will be stirred to make many grand and lovely promises, but I implore you to make promises that you can actually keep.  I encourage you to promise to be there and to try.

And if you've made vows I encourage you, and myself for that matter, to stay true to the vows you made to your spouse and God today.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Joshua Needs a Better Father

Joshua is two months old tomorrow and is getting bigger and bigger and getting more and more personality by the day.

Before Joshua was born I was terrified about being a father.  I had very little confidence in what I could do in that realm.  I'll be honest, babies are nice but I'd never volunteered to change a diaper and, in fact, I managed to avoid all but one in my life before Joshua came.  I like babies but I'm not one for drool, pacifiers, general messiness or much babies do other than smile and sleep.  But when Joshua came I found fatherhood to be much more natural to me in many aspects than I feared.

Having been a father to a baby outside of a woman's body for two months now I know a few things for sure.  I know I love him so much and I know he needs a better father.

I'm much more confident in being a father now than I was two months ago and I'm much more keenly aware of how short I fall in providing what my son needs most.  My son needs God to be his father.

"He will not let your foot slip,
He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep." Psalm 121:3-4

Me.  I sleep.  I need to sleep.  I can't function without sleep.  In fact, I have not written on this blog in seventeen days, when I've written at least weekly for about seven years, because I've chosen sleep over writing.  Meanwhile, while Joshua sleeps God works.  While I sleep God works.  He never sleeps nor slumbers nor does He grow weary.

"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom." Isaiah 40:28

"The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love." Psalm 103:8

I'm not always compassionate or patient... especially when I'm tired.  While I am so lacking in the traits above, God is perfectly all of them.

One day Joshua will think I'm the strongest man in the world... and he'll be very wrong.  I'll rarely be the strongest guy in a room, let alone the world.  Now, while my strength is very limited God's is unlimited.

"Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you." Jeremiah 32:17

All that I am on my best days as a father God has me beat.  My efforts and skills may grow but God's infinite nature will always outdo my best and for that I'm thankful.

I'm thankful that God has entrusted me to care for my little boy.  I'm glad that I get to father this precious boy, but I pray every day that Joshua gets a better father than me.  He needs God to be his father.  Not that that excludes me, but I pray daily that Joshua has God as his father.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1a

If Christ is your savior then God is your father, so celebrate that.  And if you have children, cherish them and pray that God be their father today.



Monday, June 26, 2017

Divorce Isn't a Finish Line

My wife and I recently watched Grumpy Old Men because she had never seen it.  The movie is funny but one thing disturbed me in it and it's not Burgess Meredith's many one-liners.  The movie makes you cheer for a divorce.  You find yourself rooting for Melanie and Mike who have a child to split up so Melanie and Jacob can get together.  Now, Grumpy Old Men isn't anywhere near the only movie that does this nor is this the main point of the movie, but as a child of divorce and a Christian I find myself feeling a bit icky that I cheer for a divorce even in a movie.

In Hollywood divorce is pictured as some sort of a finish line.  I'm not here to condemn Hollywood for this.  However, I'm sad that many people in real life view divorce as the end of something that it just isn't.

If you have children and divorce your divorce isn't the end at all.

My parents divorced when I was in middle school.  My parents did, in a bad situation, the best they could following the divorce.  They did shared care, they treated each other with respect, they married people that are fantastic step-parents... they did their best following the divorce.

But divorce isn't the end and it wasn't the end for my parents' relationship.  If you have children your relationship with your spouse continues until the day you, them or your children die.

If you have children and are considering a divorce let me show you just a few of the ways that divorce isn't the end of the pain and struggle.  I'm not trying to guilt you.  I don't know the pains and struggles of your marriage.  I simply want to share some of the reality of post-divorced life.

Holidays
You only get up to 18 Christmases and Thanksgivings with your kids at home.  Now you get half of what's left.  You will spend some of those without your children and they will spend all of theirs without one of their parents on holidays.  Then when your children get married the half becomes a fourth when they rotate with their spouse and try to cram you into it; or it is a half with a speedily done celebration.

Vacations
You thought it was difficult planning around your work and Junior's little league season before?  This becomes doubly hard when your spouse is trying to do the same thing.  Having your children another state or country away is never easy.

Weddings
You and your ex will both be there at the wedding.  You and him/her will go back to talking about the fun subject of money as you try to get on the same page for what you're paying for.  If talking money was fun and exciting married wait until you talk it divorced.

Graduations
Will you throw two celebrations or will you let your graduate have the pleasure of having just one shindig with both of their parents there?  Once again, be ready to figure out how to communicate ideas and preferences and budget on this one.

Birthday Parties
Every year the tension of the two above comes together on this one.  Who gets to see your son/daughter first thing in the morning on their birthday?  Who gets to kiss them goodnight as an 8 year old for the first time?  Divorce will make you miss precious, unrecreatable moments.

Grandchildren
All the factors that steal time away from you being with your child will steal your time from your future grandchildren.

Sleepovers on Your Days
Remember that your kids are still kids.  They won't care as much as you do that it's been five days since you've seen them when they ask to stay the night at Jimmy's on your night.  My parents did a great job with shared care and I love them but there were many nights spent at friends' houses instead of theirs.

Parenting Together Apart
Divorce may end a marriage but it doesn't end the co-parent relationship.  What movies are okay to watch?  How late can they stay out?  How much junk food will they eat?  What words are off limits to say?  You will need near constant communication with your ex to parent well together apart.  You will need to restrain each other from parenting becoming a competition of whose house is the most fun.

Divorce is a Generational Sin
Divorce is 50% more likely for people whose parents were divorced.  Divorce is 91% more likely for people whose parents got divorced and then remarried (source).  If you get divorced there is a good chance that you'll pass on this generational sin and the mess that accompanies it.

If you have children and are considering divorce I implore you to think rightly.  I beg you to not believe the clichés of "at least we'll be done" and "the kids seem to be better off when we're not together."  No, divorce is not a finished line.  If you have kids it's simply a new kind of relationship you and your spouse will have.  No, the kids aren't better off.  Even if they get great step-parents out of the mess your children will likely be left trying to tiptoe around your mess for the rest of your life.

For those of you divorced already please know that God still loves you.  But for those of you that have not committed the sin of divorce yet I encourage you to keep fighting for your marriage.  You and your spouse reconciling is best for you, for your kids and most importantly for the glory of God.  Divorce is not the finished line, it is a messy detour.  Don't abandon the race you're running now because it's gotten hard.  Rather endure and when you feel you've reached your end, keep enduring.

Count the cost and fight with all you have and all that God will give you to make your marriage work today.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Remember Me

I just finished the book of Nehemiah.  For those who have never read the book I'd highly encourage you to read it.  It is, of many things, a great blueprint for Godly leadership and like all of the Bible it will magnify your view of God.

As I finished the book a line stuck out to me.

"Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services." Nehemiah 13:14

Often when I think about God's perfect memory I am filled with fear.  It is a fearsome thing to think that God knows and remembers everything I've done or ever will do.  I picture myself standing for the judgment giving an account for all I've done and left undone and it terrifies me at times because I know all the ways I've fallen short.

Yet, Nehemiah asks God to remember.  He asks God not to remember one of His promises, though I'm sure Nehemiah was glad that God remembers His promises.  No, Nehemiah asked God to remember something that Nehemiah had done.

Here is a truth we can take from this: God will remember what we've faithfully done in service of Him.

God will remember what I've faithfully done in His service.  God will remember and He won't blot out the record of it.  This is incredible.  God's memory is infinitely long and He will remember what I've done in His service.

How many of us remember something that our great-great-great-grandfather did?  I'll be honest, I don't even know any of their names, let alone their accomplishments.  King Solomon said it well when he said:

"For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
in the days to come both will be forgotten." Ecclesiastes 2:16a

Very few people in history are still remembered by mankind for the good that they've done.  Yet God has not and will not forget it.  God remembers it all.  The good we do will be remembered forever in God's glorious telling of history.  Our faithful service will live on.

Some of you may say, "But I've not accomplished anything of worth."  I know how you feel.  I often look at others and envy what God has done through them.  I recently read something that greatly encouraged me in this, Pastor Greg Laurie said, "In the end, God isn't going to say, 'Well done good and successful servant,' but 'well done good and faithful servant."

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58

Our faithful service of the Lord is not in vain, it is accomplishing something great.  God will remember our faithful service and it will not be blotted out of His grand history book.  So, if you want to be remembered, then aim to be remembered by God.  Be faithful, not necessarily flashy but be faithful to the work God has planned in advance for you to do and God will remember your efforts forever.

I love Nehemiah's prayer and I will tweak it just a bit as we pray it to close.  "Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for your Kingdom."  And as Nehemiah ended his book, "Remember me with favor, O my God" today.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Somebody's Prayin'

When Christine and I got married my Dad sang the Ricky Skaggs song, "Somebody's Prayin'"and then implored the witnesses of our wedding to pray for us.  I'm so appreciative of the prayers that many have lifted up for me over the years and this very day.

I'm buoyed by the knowledge that somebody's praying for me.  It lifts my soul and gives me endurance to know that people are asking the God of the universe to be good to me and my family.  There are few better things you can do than pray for one another.

But there's someone I'm more thankful to have praying for me than you, and that's no slight to you.

Jesus.

Often I'm strengthened and encouraged when a friend sends a text to let me know that they're praying for me, but I often take for granted that Jesus daily prays for me.

"...Christ Jesus, who died, more than that, who was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Romans 9:34b

"Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them." Hebrews 7:25

Jesus, the Son of God, is at the right hand of the Father praying for all believers personally and collectively.  This is fantastic news!

This good news doesn't mean that I should be nonchalant about the saints that pray for me; no, I should be thankful for the prayers of others but the prayers of Christ should thrill my soul the most.

My pastor has recently and often said to me and others that we Christians act as if more people praying for us gives us a better chance of giving us what we want.  This, he says, is a paganesque belief not rooted in reality.  It's not as if God says, "There's 50 people praying!  Well, I better change things and give them what they want.  I could say no to 49, but not 50!"  No, God sits in Heaven and does what He pleases and every thing He pleases to do is the best.

But our prayers do matter in some mysterious way.  As my pastor, Jim, said on Sunday, "our prayers our a means that God works but not a cause."  Our prayers don't cause things to happen as if He needs us to inform Him or convince Him to do His perfect, sovereign will but rather God wills our prayers to be a means through which He works.  In prayer we get to participate in the work of God.

So, pray for one another and know that God is working in your prayer to do His perfect will.  Appreciate the prayers of others because they are appealing to the One who can answer any request.  But above all reflect and rejoice in the fact that Jesus Himself prays for you and I.

"... The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." James 5:16b

Who is more righteous than the Righteous One?  Rejoice!  This Righteous One with the most effect prayers is praying for you today.

                       (Ricky makes the point of this blog at the end of his song)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Love That Requires Effort

I love my son so much.

Loving my son came naturally and instantly to my wife and I.  The moment he was born I looked at him and then I looked at my wife as she repeatedly with tears in her eyes shouted with joy, "My baby, my baby!"  I watched her eyes as she instantly fell madly in love with Joshua.

I fell for him almost as fast.

There is a love I have for my son that is deep and even though he's only three weeks old I know it's a lasting love.  I can't imagine ever not being in love with him.

Joshua does absolutely nothing to deserve this love.  All he does now is need.  He gives us nothing other than soft skin to kiss and big eyes to look into now.  He needs food every few hours and he shouts for it.  He needs to be held and shouts for it.  He needs God only knows what and he shouts for it.  He poops and pees and needs to be cleaned.  He wakes us up.  He keeps us up.  He worries us.  He changes our routine.  He does absolutely nothing to deserve the love we have for him.

Yet we love him immensely and couldn't stop even if we wanted.

Some of you may be thinking this post is an analogy for how God loves us and it very well could be, but it's not.

Love for my son comes to me so easily and that's a good thing, but it's made me realize that I need to put more effort into loving my wife.

I love Christine deeply and I've covenanted to love her up to the day I die and I intend to keep that promise; but I'll be honest and if you're honest you'll likely agree... love for my wife doesn't come as easily as love for my son.

Sadly, unlike my love for Joshua that comes with no strings attached and no requirements, I often have unpronounced requirements for my love for Christine.  I too often love Christine for what she does to deserve it and not just because she is my wife.

Christine and I have a good, healthy and happy marriage.  Being married to her is one of the greatest blessings and joys of my life.  But since the birth of Joshua I've been struck by the fact that unconditional love for my wife takes more effort to cultivate than love for my son.  Love for her will require effort because it doesn't come naturally despite what we feel on our great days.

My love for my son may remind you of God's love for us.  It does for me in a small way, too.  And that reminds me of this:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her..." Ephesians 5:25

Holding Joshua has shown me that my heart is capable of more unconditional love that I knew was possible.  My wife deserves that depth of love from me and I will need to work to give it to her, not because she deserves it but simply because she is my wife.

I challenge myself and you when I say, men, let's think of ways we can do the work required to love our wives with more stability, more longevity and more depth today.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Advice for Graduates

Congratulations graduates!  Here's some advice I have for high school graduates who will head to college in the Fall from a post written in 2014.

Practical Advice for Graduates

Graduation is here for many high school and college students.  Several students I've had to privilege to know and love are leaving for college in the Fall.  So, here's some practical advice for high school graduates.  This list isn't exhaustive, but in my experience it is very helpful.

1) Don't go home every weekend and especially not the first weekend.

Your parents might not like this advice, but it is good advice.  So much of what you learn at college will not be learned in a classroom.  You will learn from the experience of being around new people.  Weekends are so important for meeting people, especially the first weekend.  Some of those people you meet your first weekend will possibly be life-long friends.

2) Leave your door open.

When you're in your room just hanging out leave your door open.  This will give you an opportunity to bond with those students living on your floor.  Most, if not all, of those students are also scared freshmen and that common experience is a great catalyst for friendship.  People who close their doors all the time often miss this companionship in a shared living space.

3) Don't overlook the weird kids, they're often the nicest.

High school may have been about cliques but college doesn't have to be like that.  Those "weird kids" are often the most friendly people on campus.  If you want college to be cliquey like high school it will be; but if you befriend people of all walks of life you'll learn so much more and have deeper friendships that aren't based solely on your social strata.

4) Don't believe everything your professors say, but think about everything they say.

Newsflash: many professors have an agenda.  A great number of these men and women want to teach you the subject matter and share their opinions with you as if they were facts.  These professors range from the atheist to the extreme liberal to the libertarian to the feminist that will make you sorry if you were born male.  Not everything presented in your class will be strictly factual.  However, don't use that as an excuse to stop thinking.  Some of my best professors were the curmudgeon former Christians and passionate near communists because they forced me to think sharply enough to defend my own opinion.

5) Plug into a church.

This is my most useful and impactful piece of advice for a few reasons.  In college you will be surrounded by 18-22 year-olds who think they know it all; your church will give you a chance to learn from your elders and give you an opportunity to mentor those younger than you.  Your church will keep you rooted in your faith.  For so long you've probably gone to church because your parents did, college will be a chance for you to go to church because you want to.  Don't underestimate the power of this.

9 years ago I plugged myself into a church in my college town, Waverly.  I was a nervous freshman at Wartburg College and I can't say enough how awesome the decision to go to Grace Baptist was for me.  Grace gave me a chance to be my own adult in the congregation.  No longer was I Jack and Kathie's son, I was just Matt.  My faith became even more my own and being plugged into Grace helped that immensely.  I'm still a member of Grace and I can only begin to say what a difference my church has made in my life.

Seniors, congratulations on your graduation.  I'd advise you to consider all the advice I gave above but I implore you to plug into a local church above all the rest of the advice that was given.  You'll be glad you did.  Again, congratulations and consider this advice today.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Law and Love

Sometimes we juxtapose the law and love.  We often wonder whether we should be loving in a given situation or whether we should be obedient to a command.  We see love as something that exists best in freedom from regulation of any kind, something that can only be done with raw, unhinged emotion.  And we see obedience to the law and commands as devoid of the emotion of love, we see it as legalism.

The Bible makes no such juxtaposition.  Love and law are sisters not opposites.

"This is love for God: to obey His commands." 1 John 5:3a

John says that in order to love God we must obey His commands.  In fact, Jesus is recorded as saying a very similar thing in the book of John.  Obedience is love for God.  Obedience is not dry, empty servitude; no, obedience is an act of love and trust.

And obedience isn't only the benchmark for loving God, it also is the benchmark for loving people.

"One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.  Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?'

The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:28-31

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment He expertly condensed the whole of the law (613 laws by some historians' count by Jesus' day) into two laws: love God, love people.  The teachers of the law ranked commands so they could know what to do when two principles seemingly conflicted.  In ranking these two commands as greatest Jesus said that love for God and for others is the filter through which the whole of the law is to be run.

Pastor Tim Keller summarizes it well when he said: "Jesus shows us that love actually defines the lawful life, and He shows that us that the law actually defines the loving life."

To be obedient to God is to love and to love God and others is to be obedient to God.  The law is not dry and passionless, rather it is soaked in love.  Love is not wild and without direction, rather it is guided by the law.

Love and law are sisters that help us glorify God and benefit our neighbors. Next time you see a command of Scripture view it as a way to love God and others.  When you seek to love God and/or others well look for Biblical commands and principles to guide your love today.




Wednesday, May 17, 2017

God Is Good

As I write this my exhausted wife and newborn son are sleeping.  It is so good to be able to type that sentence for several reasons.  One being that neither did that last night on our first night together at home and secondly because Christine and I have prayed for that little guy for a long time.

In August I wrote a post called "The Glory of Infertility" that was picked up by Relevant Magazine's website, a magazine in Singapore called Trinitarian Magazine and was interviewed about it on a New Zealand radio program called The Forum.  Needless to say I was surprised by the response, but not overly surprised that of all the things I've written about that the topic of infertility struck a cord.

Infertility is something 1 in 8 couples deal with and it is heart-wrenching. So, as I sit in the room with my sleeping wife and little Joshua I am filled with joy.

God is good.

God is good, but He's not good because Christine and I now have a son.  No, God is good because that is what and who He is.  Father, Son and Spirit are just simply good.  They are good all the time.  God is the very definition of good.

The circumstance we were in while waiting for Joshua was hard and the gorgeous circumstance that I'm sitting in today is much more preferable to me, but God is no more good today nor was He any less good then.

God is good.

God's goodness does not hinge on circumstances.  He is immutable and eternal.  His goodness never changes and it will never end.  Often we view the immutable nature of God in the light of His goodness and love never decreasing, but His immutable attribute of goodness means that His goodness and love can never increase.  He is the acme of goodness at all times and always will be.

So, when people come up to us and say, "God is good" in response to seeing Joshua I will agree wholeheartedly.  God is good all the time!  When I hold my son I experience His goodness more tangibly, but His goodness was there when Joshua wasn't.  It was planning Joshua from before the foundations of the earth, it was giving my wife and I strength to wait and trust, it was helping us see the glory in our infertility and it was holding our very fibers together.

In the post I wrote about our infertility I said this:

There must be glory in infertility.

I don't know how but I trust that when I look back on this it will be like flipping a cross stitch over from back to front.  I trust that God not only knows what He's doing but that what He's doing will be glorious.

I trust that if and when Christine gets pregnant it will be with OUR child planned for us from before creation.  I trust that when we adopt we will adopt OUR child planned for us from eternity before eternity. 

Now, I see it, at least in part.  I see the egg and the sperm that God joined together in His perfect timing.  I see the financial stability that He got us to before Joshua came.  And most importantly I see the sanctification of my own faith the He brought about in our waiting on Him.

God is good all the time.  Your experience may be one of great joy or crippling pain and I know there are days when believing in God's goodness is easier than others so I pray you have the faith to trust that God is good, no matter what, today.