When God Says “No”

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This past Monday, my daughter, Avonlea, turned 1 year old. ONE! It’s crazy how quickly this last year flew by. And it’s been too. much. fun!

I’ve held her.

Changed her diaper.

Given her baths.

Fed her.

Tickled her.

Read to her.

Prayed with her.

Laughed with her.

Cheered her on as she learned to crawl.

Tried to keep up with her as she’s learned to walk.

Picked her up after she’s fallen and bumped her head.

Said the phrase “Say _________” hundreds of times as we are teaching her words.

Been amazed by her HUGE personality!

Cleaned up after her mischievous adventures (the picture above shows that quite well).

And I’ve fallen more and more in love with her as each day passes.

She’s my “Avie Rose.”

The last couple of weeks I’ve noticed 2 new things.

First, I’ve repeated a tiny, 2-letter word more than any other time in my life. Every parent knows which word I’m talking about.

“No.”

And the funny thing is, I’ve had to say “No” in connection with other words I rarely had to before.

Toilet. Toilet paper. Outside. Leaves. Eat. Mouth. Etc.

You get the picture.

Second, Avonlea isn’t just developing mentally and physically, she’s developing her will. That precious gift given to us by God to freely use. That ability to make choices. To act and react. Yup. She’s learning that quickly. And I knew it would come, although I, like every naive first-time parent, thought it wouldn’t be as pronounced with my child. Ha!

With those 2 things in mind, get this story. It was dinner time and we had all 3 sat down at the table. Rachel and I began to eat, but Avonlea’s food was still a bit too hot. As Avonlea reached for her food, I pulled it back and said to her “Not yet, Avonlea. It’s too hot.” She got distracted by something and maybe 15 seconds later reached for it again. It was out of her reach this time and she was growing frustrated as she strained for it. I looked at her and said in a serious, slightly raised and concerned voice, “No.” She immediately started crying and then made a face that I’m pretty sure had we been filming could have won her an Oscar. It was dramatic to say the least!

I was shocked by her ridiculous reaction to that 2-letter word. Rachel and I both laughed a bit, as we watched Avonlea transform into a drama queen. And then I quickly became bothered by it all. I thought, “I know she’s only 1, but shouldn’t she be obeying me when I ask her to do something? I mean doesn’t she love me? And not only doesn’t she obey me, but she gets upset at me for just saying ‘No.’ And not just upset, but in tears. I’m not even mad at her. What’s going on?” 

As I began to rationalize with my 1 year old, I was immediately confronted by how I react when God says “No” to me.

Have you ever been there?

Maybe you’ve prayed for something and the answer, by way of the prayer not going your way, seems to be “No.”

Maybe you see what everyone else is doing around you and you want to do it, but it goes against a verse in the Bible where God has said “No” to doing that very thing, and you get angry.

Maybe it “feels right” to do what you are being enticed to do, but you know God has said “No” to doing it. Maybe you give in.

Maybe you feel stuck in this season of life and there is a shortcut you could say “yes” to, but God is saying “no.”

Maybe you want to do something right now, in the moment, but God is saying “No. Later is better. Wait. Be patient”

Maybe you are tired of even considering following God, because you feel he’s all about the rules. He’s judgmental. And the answer is always “no.”

Let’s be real: maybe you’re done feeling guilty for doing what everyone else seems perfectly content doing. And if God would just get out of your conscience life would be much easier. You could watch porn, have pre-marital sex, lie, cheat, steal, etc. with no worries.

If any of these describe you, I’m with you. I’ve been there. But hold on, take a deep breath and keep reading.

In each moment we all ideally want all of our desires to be answered “yes” and for that “yes” to not be delayed. We want what we want right now. Immediate gratification is the name of the game. And daily we are marketed to in countless ways with messages that reinforce our desires: “You deserve it. Take all you want. Enjoy it. No boundaries. Don’t wait. Do it now. The answer is ‘yes.'” 

The scary things is there are obvious consequences to this way of thinking and living.

The scarier thing is since God doesn’t at all operate like this, we often get upset with him, see his answers as irrelevant and irrational, and in the end, see no need for him at all.

What we are really doing is distrusting God’s character. And we are missing out on a much better life.

What if the next time God says “No” to your desire, you stopped and considered that maybe he knows something that you don’t? Maybe he knows what’s best for you and a “No” answer is exactly what you need.

When I was in seminary, one of my professor’s said this: “God’s commandments are to keep us from something bad and to save us for something better.”

That has stuck with me to this day. And I believe it always will.

When God says “No,” he is not trying to make your life miserable. He is not trying to make you miss out on what everyone else is doing. He is not punishing you. He is not trying to put fear in you. He is not mad at you. He is not trying to give you unattainable standards. He is not all about rules.

He actually cares about your life more than you or I ever will.

When I said “No” to Avonlea eating the hot food it was because at my core, I wanted what was best for her. I didn’t want her to get burnt and I wanted her to enjoy her food at the right time. It was an act of grace for me to warn her and give her boundaries.

Have you ever considered it’s the same way with God?

It is.

So, the next time God says “No” to something in your life, remind yourself of 3 things:

1. God wants what’s best for me.

2. God wants to keep me from something bad.

3. God wants to save me for something better.

Then obey his “No” and see how that works out for you. I’m betting it goes better than obeying your own “yes.”

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Don’t Wait Until Next Easter

It included the Easter bunny,

peeps,

Easter baskets,

hiding and dying eggs and

dressing up nice for family pictures and get-togethers.

And for millions of people it also included going to a church service.

Why?

Well, Easter is a day each year that is honored as “special” by most people. Believers and non-believers alike pour in to church services because there is still, although it’s fading quickly, an engrained conviction that going to church matters on Easter. It’s a day that honors a man named Jesus, who, 2,000 years ago lived and claimed to be God, died, and then proved it by rising from the dead. His resurrection is what is specifically celebrated on Easter.

It is a day to celebrate because this event in history is what the Christian faith is founded upon. The Apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament said it best in 1 Corinthians 15:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third dayaccording to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born….And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

The resurrection is what it’s all about. It’s the whole reason to even believe. It’s what validates the Christian faith. And it’s worth celebrating, not just on Easter, but every day!

It reminds us that we serve a God who has the power over death. He is not dead. And we have hope for the future.

I was reminded last Saturday night as I listened to Lee Strobel, a former atheist turned Christian author and speaker, that if you are a skeptic to not give up on examining the resurrection of Jesus. He went through a 2 year investigation of the historical evidence for Jesus living, dying and rising from the dead. You know what he found after his journey? That it would take more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian. The historical evidence was too strong.

If you’re reading this, I don’t know what you believe. I don’t know what you’ve been through. I don’t know where you were on Easter Sunday. But what I do know is this: Jesus’ resurrection is no more true and no more worth celebrating on Easter than any other day of the year.

So if you’re skeptical about Jesus, don’t wait until next year to check out the claims of the resurrection. Check it out right now! If he really did rise from the dead then that means Jesus was not just an ordinary man. He was far more than that. He would be…well…God. And that would mean that what he said would be truth and have authority. And that reality would have huge implications for your life. Don’t worry about the other questions you have about faith and religion. Just focus on one question: Did Jesus rise from the dead? In the end, it’s the only question that matters.

To read more on this, check out: Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection.

And for followers of Christ, let’s not wait until next Easter to celebrate. Let’s live each day as if Jesus really is alive and his resurrection has changed everything. How could we live any other way?

5 Things My 5-Month-Old Daughter Has Taught Me About God

avonlea smile pictureI’ve often heard it said that you can’t fully understand your own parents love for you until you have a child of your own. As I’ve loved on my baby girl, Avonlea, for the past 5 months, I’ve come to realize that statement is truer than I could have ever imagined. It’s not that I didn’t believe my parents loved me before having a child. I always knew they did. They’ve shown me thousands of times through their actions, words and sacrifices. But now, more than ever before, I get it. And it’s because I’m a parent, just like them. I’ve loved someone else like they’ve loved me all along. It’s not something that you can understand in theory. It has to be experienced. And now I have.

In a similar way, becoming a parent helps you better understand God. For example, before becoming a dad I missed the significance of God self-identifying himself in Scripture as “Father.” Beyond the theological meanings, he undoubtedly knew that we—people he created for relationship with himself—would understand that parent title. We all have parents. Most people will one day become parents. And “God as our Father” clearly tells us something about how he sees us. He sees us as his children. He sees us as his sons and daughters.

Now that I’m a dad with a baby girl I’m starting to get it. I’m starting to understand in a new way his actions, his character and his interactions with me. He’s my perfect, heavenly father and I’m his son.

Over the past 5 months I’ve had an absolute blast learning how to become a dad to my beautiful Avie Rose! There are many lessons I’ve learned and many more to come, but here are 5 things my 5-month-old daughter has taught me about God.

1. Struggling doesn’t mean God is absent.
Recently Avonlea started rolling over from her back to her stomach. As she rolled over, one of her arms would always get stuck underneath her body. She would pull as hard as she could until she got it out from under her. It was quite the struggle for her. Now I could have helped her. I could have pulled her arm out as soon as she began to struggle. But I didn’t. I would get down on her level and tell her, “You can do it. Pull it out!” I don’t think she understood what I was saying to her, but she understood I was right there beside her.
Often times during our struggles we get angry and think God is absent. But what if there is something to be learned in our struggles? What if growth can best come through them? Maybe God could rescue us when we are struggling, but he doesn’t. And that’s okay. He is right there with us cheering us on.

2. God wants to lead us.
Avonlea is dependent on us, her parents, for just about everything. We dress her, bathe her, feed her, etc. And I know that in just a few years she will become “Miss. Independent” and think she can do life on her own. But she will still need mom and dad’s leadership because we know things she doesn’t. We have the ability to help her.
In the same way we need God’s leadership. He desires to help us through life and give us wisdom for each day. He wants to help us make wise choices. He wants to keep us from the bad things of life and show us the good. But independent, know-it-all people like me, and maybe you, often miss it. We don’t think we need to surrender to his leadership. But we do. And he is willing to lead us.

3. God hurts when we hurt.
I’ve empathized with others before and I really do care about people. I’ve occasionally cried when I’m sad for others. I’ve heard things on TV that make me sick and break my heart. But I’ve never truly hurt for another person like I have with Avonlea. When she hurts I hurt. Whether it’s her screaming when she gets her vaccines or her crying from bumping her head, I hurt. I feel her pain.
The cross of Christ was the ultimate pain. The ultimate suffering. The ultimate hurt. We serve a God who knows what it means to hurt. He isn’t indifferent. He isn’t causing our pain. He cares. And he hurts when we hurt.

4. God wants a relationship with us.
I’m so excited every time I come home because I know I’m about to see my baby girl. She smiles at me when I smile at her. She reacts when she hears my voice. She enjoys being with me. She knows me. She likes me. She can’t talk. She can’t do anything for me. But that doesn’t matter at all. I just want to be with her, because I love her.
God doesn’t just want a relationship with you to save you from Hell. He doesn’t just want a relationship with you so you will honor him in your life. He wants a relationship with you because he loves you. You are one of the precious people he created. You are one of his sons or daughters. He likes you. He enjoys you. He wants to be with you.

5. God loved his son more than I’ll ever love my daughter. And I am called to love his son more than my daughter.
This is by far the most difficult truth I’ve learned. At the end of the day, my love for my daughter is imperfect. It falls short. It’s selfish at times. And it’s incomplete. But God the Father’s love for his son, Jesus, is perfect. And in his love for his son, I benefited (John 3:16).
Also, Jesus said we had to love our family less than him if we were to follow him. I’m realizing now more than ever how difficult that is to swallow as a dad. But what it’s revealing in me is not that loving my daughter is wrong. It’s showing that I don’t love Jesus like I need to. I don’t love him the way he deserves. He is God after all. The creator of the universe. The savior of the world. He died for me. He is the picture of true love. And he is worthy of being my greatest love.

Welp, there ya go. 5 things my 5-month-old daughter has taught me about God.

Which truth did you need to hear the most today? What would you add to this list?

It’s Okay to ask questions about God

Confused-Figure-with-Question-Marks-300x249Have you ever had a question or a doubt about God? Ever felt like you couldn’t ask it? You’re not alone. And guess what?

“It’s okay to ask questions about God.”

This is a statement I made several weeks ago to our students as we began a new series called “Unshaken.” (You can click here to listen to those messages).

When I made that statement the look on many of our students’ faces was shock. Others seemed encouraged to hear me say it, but acted as if they had never been explicitly told that before. Others seemed to already know it was okay. I’m thankful that at Bell Shoals it’s okay to ask questions. But unfortunately, the majority of local churches communicate—by what they say and/or the atmosphere they create—that asking questions really isn’t okay. And sadly, this anti question-asking stance is currently, and has for many years, been turning people away from having faith.

Two events in my life have taught me the value of asking questions and giving others permission to do the same.

First, when I was in middle school I learned that an adult I had assumed believed in God, in fact, did not. In her teenage years she started having doubts about God. She began questioning things that as a good, Christian girl growing up in the South she was simply supposed to believe. After years of asking genuine questions and searching she gave up on her faith. I remember being confused as to why nobody helped her with her questions.

Second, fast-forward to my freshman year of college when I’m struggling with my own faith. I’m invited to Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck)and after visiting for a few weeks the pastor makes the same statement I did above: “It’s okay to ask questions about God.” I was shocked! And then, weeks later, there was an entire Sunday morning dedicated to answering people’s questions. As biblical answers were given to questions, I was relieved that I could believe, released from not having to believe certain “cultural Christian” things and strengthened in my overall belief in the Christian faith.

Since my time at Meck I’ve had the opportunity to lead students. From the youth at Red Bud Baptist church in North Carolina to the youth at Bell Shoals Baptist church in Florida and other people in between, I’ve been giving permission to ask questions. And then, pointing to biblical answers, though at times admitting “I don’t know.” And the growth in people has been incredible to watch!

The cool thing is that letting people ask questions is not just something that was modeled for me by a church. Jesus himself modeled this all throughout the gospels! One of the greatest examples is in John 20:24-29 as Jesus interacts with one of his disciples, Thomas, after the resurrection. Check it out.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him,   “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now, we could talk about how Jesus appeared in a room even though the doors were locked (WHOA?!?!), but did you notice Jesus’ response to Thomas’ doubt?

Jesus didn’t give him a hard time.

Jesus didn’t avoid his doubt.

Jesus didn’t say “just believe.”

Jesus acknowledged it and helped him believe.

He engaged with Thomas’ doubt head on. And it even got a little bit messy. Thomas put his fingers in Jesus’ side and his hands!

It’s more difficult today than ever before for people to believe with so many conflicting messages coming at them. And in order to help people believe like Jesus did, we have to be willing to get a little bit messy. We have to get involved with people and listen to their doubts and questions. Be honest with them. And point them to answers.

Thomas doubted THE most foundational aspect of the Christian faith—the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15)—and yet Jesus did not condemn him or shy away from graciously helping him believe.

So here’s a couple questions:
If Jesus was okay with doubt and questions, shouldn’t Jesus’ followers today be okay with them too?
And if Thomas doubted THE most crucial aspect of the faith, is there any question that should be “off limits” for those trying to believe?
I think you know the right answers to those two questions.

There are many days that I still doubt and have questions about my faith. I don’t have it all together. And I never will. I’m a mess. And I’m thankful Jesus doesn’t condemn me. He doesn’t ignore me. He embraces me where I am. Just like he did Thomas.

It’s certainly not about encouraging people to question. And it’s definitely not about having all the right answers. But when church leaders start letting people ask questions—the questions our culture is asking—an important message is sent. That God is big enough to handle your questions. That Christianity can stand under any amount of intellectual scrutiny. That the church has nothing to hide. And just maybe, that Jesus himself is open to people like you and me who have doubts and questions.

If you or someone you know has questions about faith, below are several resources I highly recommend.

“The Reason for God” – Tim Keller
“Mere Christianity” – C.S. Lewis
“I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” – Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek
“Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” and “Can We Believe in God?” – James Emery White

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