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.”

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?

Going for a Run

Tomorrow I’ll be doing something I never thought I’d do. I’ll be running in the Gasparilla Distance Classic 15k in Tampa.

I know. It’s not a marathon or even a half. But it is 9.3 miles.

And that’s about 9.3 more than I ever thought I’d sign up to run.

I’m not sure how well I’ll do.

I’ve only been training since the New Year.

Eating healthy is still a work in progress.

I’ve battled blisters and bleeding.

And a conversation with a college student a few weeks ago makes me a bit nervous. It went like this:

Her: “Hey, I saw you running yesterday.”

Me: “Yeah? Awesome. I’m running in the Gasparilla. How did I look?”

Her: “You looked like you were about to die.”

Me: “Ha. Thanks! What about the guy I was with?”

Her: “Oh, he looked great!”

HA! I love her honesty. We have laughed about that conversation since. And I probably did look like I was about to die. 🙂

Regardless of how I look tomorrow, training for this race has reminded me of three things:

1) There is nothing like setting a goal and going for it. My time may be terrible tomorrow. I may pull a muscle and have to walk a couple of miles. But it’s the “going for it,” the journey, that matters. It’s being able to look back on where you started and see how far you’ve come. The journey propels you to carry on in this and in other areas of your life. It shows you how much you really can accomplish when you decide to discipline yourself.

2) Life is better when you do it with others. We weren’t created to do life alone. And that includes training for a race. That guy that “looked great” when I looked like death has encouraged me tremendously. He’s given me tips on running. Texted me to check and see how I’m doing. And we’ve become closer through this process. Thanks, Joe!

3) Your spiritual life is like a race. Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” You and I are on a journey with our faith in God. We haven’t arrived. We may have doubts. Setbacks. Lows. Highs. Some days we are closer to Him than others. That’s okay. Just don’t give up. Keep pursuing Jesus. Keep Jesus as your focus. Look to Him to know how it is you are to run this race called life. And one day you will arrive at the finish line. You will see face to face who it was you were trusting in all along. Jesus.

7 Things God Has Used To Grow My Faith

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The past two weeks I wrote about how you can grow in your personal relationship with God. I focused exclusively on having a “quiet time” and shared how that has been the single greatest factor in my spiritual growth. It’s what I tell students to focus on as well. Nothing will grow their faith as much as personally owning it on a daily basis through getting alone with God.

While I believe this wholeheartedly, after I finished those posts it got me thinking. What else grows our faith?

What else has been pivotal in growing mine? Because even if having a quiet time is the foundation, there have to be other things that have helped, right?

Yes.

In the same way lifting weights is foundational for muscle growth, doing that alone won’t give you maximum results. There are other factors that contribute to it happening. Good genes, right diet, drinking enough fluids, rest between workouts, proper sleep, etc.

So what are some of those other factors for growing your faith? Here are 7 things God has used, and continues to use, to grow mine.

 1)      Daily Quiet Time.

This is relationally connecting with God through prayer and reading the Bible. Last week I did a whole post devoted to this called “Have a Quiet Time.” You can check it out here.

2)      Relationships.

We were not created to be alone. We were created for relationship. If we are going to grow in our faith we must be in relationship with others because God often speaks in and through them.

Other than having Christian friends, two other strategic relationships have grown my faith tremendously.

Small Group: Gathering together with a small group of people allows for accountability, encouragement and conversation about faith.

Mentor: Finding someone who has been following Jesus longer than you to pour into you makes a major impact on your faith. I currently have a couple of people I consider mentors that I regularly talk and meet with. I’m so thankful for their influence in my life!

3)      Church worship services.

There is something special about coming together with a large group of people to worship through music and learn about how to follow Jesus through teaching. When everyone stands to sing truths about God, that collective “song” is a reminder of the faith you have. And when the pastor brings a message from the Bible, your faith is engaged. Find a church with practical teaching that focuses on Jesus in all it does.

4)      Application, application, application!

Learning a whole lot of stuff is great. But if you do nothing with it, it’s just knowledge that makes you spiritually fat. Growth comes when you apply what you’ve learned. If you don’t, you are deceiving yourself into thinking you are doing okay. (James 1:22) Take what you learn and put it into practice. You’ll always know more than you do, but working to shrink that gap has been pivotal for my faith.

5)      Serving others.

I heard it said a while back that we are never more like Jesus than when we are serving. And it’s so true. More than that, it grows your faith. I’ve experienced some of my greatest times of growth through serving others on mission trips, volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, serving in a nursery at church, feeding people at a homeless shelter, etc.

Also, serving in the way God has gifted me has been an even greater catalyst for my faith. God has gifted each of us in unique ways to serve others. Have you ever taken the time to figure out your gifting and served in that way?

6)      Reading and Listening.

I regularly read books and blogs and listen to sermons and podcasts of influential people. By doing this it allows for other people to speak into my life and help me grow in my faith. I may never meet them. I may disagree with them on certain points. But it stretches my faith and challenges me with a real-life example to follow.

7)      Sharing with Others.

If you want to remember something you’ve been trying to learn, teach it to someone else. The preparation and delivery solidifies it inside of you. It’s the same way with your faith. Since I teach publicly on a weekly basis on matters of faith this is an easy one that God has used. But there are two other ways I can share that grow my faith. I can share with others  what God is teaching me and I can share the gospel with non-believers. When you share the gospel with someone it increases your trust in God and reminds you of what it is you believe.

I’m sure there are more things, but these are the 7 that are most obvious to me that God has used to grow my faith.

What are some other things God has used to grow your faith?

PIC credit here

Grace and Tacos

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Several months ago I went out to lunch with a friend of mine to a tasty Mexican restaurant.
As we sat there talking and eating chips and salsa I had the thought that I should pay for his lunch. He had enough money to buy his own and he wasn’t expecting me to buy his, but I’ve had my lunch bought dozens of times by others and I wanted to “pay it forward.” So I decided I would buy, but I didn’t tell him. When the checks came at the end of lunch I was going to just pick up both checks and pay. You know, the smooth way.

Shortly after deciding I was going to buy, the waitress came to take our orders. I ordered some cheap lunch special. But my friend didn’t. He ordered one of the most expensive combination platters on the entire menu. Then I went in to “have-a-conversation-with-yourself-mode.”

It went something like this:

“I can’t believe it! Here I was about to be nice and generous to this guy and he goes and orders that!? Oh well. He can kiss his free lunch goodbye. I can’t pay for his now. It’s going to cost me way more than I had planned on spending. Good thing I never told him I was paying. He can just pay this time. Maybe next time I’ll buy his if he stays within a reasonable price range.”

After having the very normal, silent conversation with myself I immediately had a new thought—“I don’t like myself right now.”

Why?

Because my heart had just been fully exposed.

In that moment I was full of pride.

In that moment I was extremely selfish.

In that moment I loved my money more than my friend.

While pride, selfishness and greed are enough to make you feel bad about yourself, I realized there was a deeper issue.

In that moment I had forgotten grace.

Grace.

It’s at the center of the heart of God. It’s what separates Christianity from all other world religions. It’s beautiful to those who need it and offensive to those who don’t. It exposes the self-righteous and makes them mad. It’s living water to the broken sinner and makes them glad.

When we make a mistake in life we want it. It’s so easy to receive.
But when others make a mistake we don’t want to give it. It’s difficult to give away.

Grace is getting something good that you don’t deserve. It’s unearned by the one receiving it. And unconditional by the one giving it.

Jesus is the embodiment of grace. “While we all were still sinners He died for us.” Jesus didn’t wait to see how much we were going to sin and then decide if he would pay for it. He knew how much it was going to cost him and didn’t turn away. Even though we didn’t deserve it, he died in our place. That’s true love. That’s grace.

Maybe more than anything else, followers of Jesus should be known for showing people grace because we ourselves have been shown an immeasurable amount of it.

Currently I have a losing record showing it. I struggle at it. But I want to get better. I have a feeling you do too.

So the next time you’re cut off in line.

The next time somebody says something to hurt you.

The next time a waitress gets your order wrong.

Or the next time you have an opportunity to buy someone’s lunch…show grace.

And when you struggle to show it, remind yourself again of the immeasurable grace Jesus has shown you. And then show grace again. And again. And again.

It’s going to cost you. (Maybe even the price of a couple tacos).

And the other person won’t deserve it.

But that’s just fine.

That’s what grace is all about.

Do you struggle showing people grace?

Pic credit Here

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?