Some times God rescues you from the mouths of lions. Some times he lets you be beheaded.

In our home, from time to time we like to tell Bible stories to our kids before bed. It doesn’t happen all the time, and there’s definitely A LOT of nights we’re just doing whatever we can to get them in bed. However, if the story is right, we occasionally try to act it out together, be goofy and fun, and still communicate a point the kids can walk out when they wake up in the morning.

Tonight, we told them the story of the time Saul took a dump in the cave. David, his enemy, was already hiding in the cave unbeknownst to Saul, and he could have evened the score in that (awkward) moment. Such a good story…

And it made me think.

There’s a lot of stories we like to tell (like this one) – ones that have a happy ending, ones that always work out the way we expect them to.

And then there are other stories that we don’t tell as often. Not intentionally I don’t think. They just don’t come to mind much because we haven’t thought much about them. They’re uncomfortable. They don’t end anywhere close to the ways we think they should. Even more disconcerting, they push the boundaries of the God we thought we knew. Frankly, some of them push God right off the page.

For instance, we love to tell the story of how God rescued Daniel from the mouths of the lions. But we skip the story of how God allowed John to be beheaded.

Both individuals were faithful, humble, selfless people. They had morals, and stood up for truth. They lived with an internal conviction we all deeply long to have. And as far as we can see, their character was one we all want to emulate.

For the one, he was granted life when death was pretty much a guarantee. The other was granted death when life was a hope still on the horizon.

If you’re bumping into stories and shades of God that don’t seem like God, maybe it’s time to take a closer look, instead of skipping over those narratives. It’s ok to have your categories questioned. It’s ok to doubt the God you thought you knew. We can’t let our understanding of God up until this point in life define who God is for us for the rest of our lives. It’s a journey of understanding that will continue to grow and develop and be shaped over time. And that’s ok.

I believe God is calling his followers to a deeper faith, a solid trust in a God who exists outside the confines we grew up thinking he lived within. A God that doesn’t always make sense. A God that often leaves us with more questions than solutions.

And it’s ok to read those stories and wonder how they all fit together.

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How To Affair-Proof Your Marriage

Nobody wakes up one day and says to themselves, “Hmm… I wanna go get an affair today.” It just doesn’t happen like that. Affairs are always the result of a long, gradual process, many times without those involved even being fully aware of the destination they’re being taken to.

What if I pass on to you something that others have passed on to me: one, simple practice – a practice that when continually applied, will keep your marriage secure and keep potential landmines away?

Ready?

Publicly talk about how much you love your spouse.

All the time.

It’s so simple, and yah – it can get awkward sometimes. I’ve got one guy on my newsfeed who takes this principle a little too far. Weird. You don’t need to do it in a way that needlessly makes those in your social feed feel jealous (or worse, gross)… but you do want to let them know you’re taken… that you’re committed… that you’re seriously not open to another option.

Faithfulness is something we all long for, no matter who you are. We longed for it from our parents, even though we may not have admitted it at the time. We long for it from our employers and our coworkers on the job. And we long for it in our own relationships.

The problem is, we don’t often believe it’s possible.

So we stop trying.

We stop saying the things we used to say when we fell in love.

And instead we start saying the negatives or the whatever’s or the frustrations. And that’s the message that gets heard.

And while we do that… slowly, the vultures outside the home circle the air over our heads a little bit closer. A little bit closer. A little bit closer… Eventually, they’ll be close enough to see that the front door isn’t fully shut, and before long they’ll invite themselves in.

couple

 

2 Callings, 1 Marriage

our marriage is not perfect. we love each other deeply and are committed to one another no matter what. but it’s messy. and, like anybody, if you look at the pictures we post on social media and assume that represents our every moment, you’d be sadly mistaken. in fact, we had such a good fight the other day (2 days ago) that i finally had to just leave the house and throw some things. (it actually turned into me throwing a lot of things in a pile in our back yard and setting the whole thing on fire, nearly torching the whole friggin’ forest behind our house, but that’s a post for a different day…)

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amidst all that, there’s something i think we’re actually starting to get right. at least conceptually.
it’s still messy, though.
and we still have A LOT to figure out with it all.

2 callings, 1 marriage.

i watched this video by shauna niequist a year or so ago, and then promptly passed it along to shanna. that video, along with a couple formative books and blogposts that we had read, drew us to something we had somehow missed all of our years growing up in the church and learning about ministry and marriage.
here’s the script we inherited and lived from for 10 years, the one we now are questioning:
  • man gets called into ministry
  • man finds a wife
  • wife drops what she’s doing (or planned to do) and follows him
  • wife helps husband by cleaning the house and writing notes to women in the church
  • if and when the kids come along (cuz, of course they will, right?) her help shifts to taking care of the kids full time and continuing to clean the house
  • meanwhile, he pursues his calling 100%, and she supports it
of course these are generalizations, but you get the idea:

HIS calling trumps her calling. end of story.

but what this video did for us was simply beckoned us to ask a different question:

is it possible to create space for TWO callings in ONE marriage?

 we didn’t know… but if there was, we wanted to find out!
again, it’s messy… but here’s where we are right now:
while we continue loving and leading our kids together, and while i continue pursuing the calling God gave to me for the church, shanna is pursuing a completely different and equally important calling. and it has helped her come ALIVE! her purpose bucket is much more full, and it’s so fun to watch her passionately lead.
what does she do?
she’s serving as an advocate for children’s relief international, an organization we’ve fallen in love with over the years, one filled with great people doing some great work for some of the world’s poorest. she spends her days identifying stateside donors and vision casting to them the role they could play in meeting the needs of those in deep poverty by…
  • providing college scholarships for young people graduating high school with a vision to reach their community for the common good
  • spreading awareness about a fantastic work called spark of hope
  • helping new ministries for AIDS orphans get off the ground with the proper resources and funding
  • interfacing with national leaders and CRI staff
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she was even able to jump on a plane this past summer to spend 10 days in mozambique while i took some time off and finagled my schedule to catch up on work while also keeping the house and kids going.
again, it’s messy. and every day seems to present a new challenge with this dynamic.
it’s definitely not the easier path.
but it’s so refreshing.

and it just feels right.

 

 

Today We Groan

the world we walk and the air we breathe today is not what was intended. this was not the reality God envisioned for us when he created this place. we groan from the depths of our being for the day when all things will be restored, when all tears will be wiped away, all injustice and all oppression silenced.

today we groan

i consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

for the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.

for the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 

we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 

not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 

for in this hope we were saved. but hope that is seen is no hope at all. who hopes for what they already have? 

but if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

 

He’s A Good, Good Father

this past june, due to the generosity of others, shanna and i had the opportunity to head to puerto rico for a week to celebrate our 10th anniversary. for those of us who live in the polar vortex that is the northeastern US, this was a significant upgrade!

for months prior to the trip shanna had been praying we’d get a specific room at the resort we stayed at. we had booked the cheapest room/package, and it was all set… so i honestly couldn’t understand why she was praying for this at all.

but she prayed nonetheless. and she prayed for the room next to the ocean, with the jacuzzi tub, and all the extras.

might as well go for it.

when we landed in PR and checked into the resort, i could see her nervously fidgeting as the receptionist rang us up. then, sure enough, the person helping us told us they had space and had decided to upgrade our room to an ocean-side suite, with the jacuzzi tub, and all the extras.

shanna just smiled and walked towards our room.

this may sound like a small thing, but for a pastor often jaded because i’m sometimes too close to the work of God in the lives of others… this was a profound and very special moment i won’t forget.

i believe the God of heaven intervened to give us a message i had long lost sight of:

he’s a good, good father who loves to give good, good gifts to his children.

“which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? if you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (matthew 7:9-11)

here’s why this kind of a truth is hard for me to sometimes accept:

we live in an extraordinarily, unbelievably, broken world.

we all are well-aware of our own brokenness. and we can just turn on the news to see the rest of humanity’s brokenness. however, on top of that, i often get to see the brokenness that doesn’t make the news. i have wrestling matches with God where i peg him with questions wondering why the h*** he didn’t step in and keep something horrible from happening? or why a newborn baby had to pass away at 2 weeks old to that family? or why so many dear and close to me struggle with relentless hurts, pain, and temptations with no promise of relief this side of heaven. i interact and engage with a level of brokenness every week that most of the world tries to ignore or sweep under the rug.

many times i wonder why God doesn’t just end it all, if in fact he truly is a good, good father.

it’s like a friend of mine recently stated after describing a situation illustrating an acute example of our brokenness:

“all i could do was lament that christ has not come back to heal all this already.”

fast-forward to this week.

this song has been playing in our home all week in the background.

there was nobody in the house wednesday morning when it first came on, and this song turned my busy morning into an impromptu worship session for me. tears flooded my eyes and i couldn’t get them to stop.

to my friends reading: you may not be there yet, and i want you to know that that is ok. though i’m here right now, i may not be here next week either.

today i believe he’s a good, good father. there is a coming a day when he will make all things right. and we hope for that day. we expect it to occur. and we groan for it.

“i consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. for the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18-23)

so right now, we groan. but we groan with hope.

he’s a good, good father.

Discipline Demonstrates Love

i felt this article on discipline (disciplining your kids) was especially helpful. here’s a portion of it; head here for the rest!

At some level, most parents fear the possibility that using discipline with their kids might drive them away. Yet the reality is that discipline is needed, and (for most kids) it works.

Many kids aren’t mature enough to realize that if their parents don’t ground them; if they don’t attach consequences to actions that are outside the established boundaries, their parents are not acting in love toward them.

Healthy discipline is a sign that parents love their children. Let’s think about God for a moment. The Scriptures tell us that He disciplines us because He loves us: “My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” –Proverbs 3:11-12 (NLT) This passage in Proverbs ties God’s discipline to the human discipline a parent provides to his or her child, and this is how we know that discipline (provided in a healthy way) is a demonstration of love.

I believe the healthiest and most effective way to discipline teenagers is to set up consequences for violating boundaries ahead of time. When consequences are set ahead of time, you set up the dynamic where it’s not you versus your child, but rather you and your child versus the consequences. continue reading…

The Lesson I Learned When My Son Wouldn’t Fall Asleep

last night was supposed to be a night where i got caught up. or, at the very least, it was supposed to be a night where several items on my “get it done or you’re screwed” list got checked off.
a little background: bedtime routines for us have been a tad difficult lately. they seem to last longer than they should and the stall techniques coming out of our 3 year old right now are impressive. i swear sometimes it feels like she’s collaborating with her little 3-year-old friends at MOPS on how to outsmart me after 8pm.
but for some reason… and we’re still trying to figure this out… adelina decided to put herself to bed last night. and quite a bit earlier at that. once we discovered that she was already out and sound asleep, and after we got over the shock of it all, shanna and i agreed i’d put cooper down while she went to Starbucks to enjoy some downtime without the kids. he’s the easy one at bedtime right now. piece of cake.

this was a very rare night, and i was very excited.

[now hold on – don’t judge…]
if you have little kids in your house, you know that you can love them to infinity and back and enjoy spending hours upon hours upon hours with them. in fact when you’re at work away from them you crave that time with them more than anything. but at the same time, stuff has to still get done. the reality is that having little kids means there’s MORE to do and LESS time to do it in. so, on those rare nights when the kids happen to go to bed early, there’s a party happening inside you.
[thanks for letting me clear that up.]
as i was saying, this was supposed to be the night to get crap done.

except it wasn’t.

he wasn’t going down. it was like someone slipped about 54 coffee beans in his apple juice. i sang. i rocked him. i cranked the sound machine up. but the stinkin kid just wanted to smile, laugh, and show me how many things he could climb.

i should have seen this time with him as an opportunity.

an opportunity…
…to connect together with no one else to distract
…to play legos
…to listen to him jabber and watch him learn
…to shape his character
…to influence his heart
…to love more deeply
but i didn’t see it that way in the moment.

i saw him as an obstacle, not an opportunity.

i didn’t engage or interact with him; i kept him from getting into my stuff. i didn’t sit on his level; i sat on mine. i didn’t see it as an opportunity to connect deeper than normal, but as an obstacle to get around.
finally, about an hour and a half later, as i’m finally rocking him to sleep for real, it all hit me.

i don’t want to treat people like obstacles.

i definitely don’t want to treat my family as obstacles.
i want to see every person i interact with, whether it’s planned or whether it’s spontaneous, as an opportunity. if they’re on my calendar, it’s certainly easier to do this… but what about the people that just “drop by”?
i guess the thing i’m thinking today is this: maybe God allows certain people to interrupt our plans because he knew we wouldn’t ever “plan” to connect with them on our own. will we see them as a person to love on and build into simply because they’re there, or will we see them as an obstacle to get around so we can get back to our list?

Dinner Table Game: Good Choice, Bad Choice

yesterday i talked about how we’re trying to make dinner a meaningful point of connection for our family. with little kids that leak everywhere and spill almost everything, it’s easy to find our focus during the entire meal zeroed in on keeping every kid in their seat and every piece of food heading in the right direction.
so how do we make it meaningful?
here’s something we’ve been trying lately that’s been working for us:
kids love games. so we made one up.
(really, it’s just 2 questions that we all ask each other… but since we called it a game, that’s what adelina thinks it is.)
the rules of this “game” are quite simple:
  1. everyone has to answer.
  2. and everyone has to be honest.

when it’s your turn, you have to share one BAD choice you made that day, and then you have to share one GOOD choice you made that day.

 

shanna has been really great about helping our kids focus on choices as either good or bad. we’ve been trying to avoid referring to people and ourselves as good or bad (the theological component of that will come later when they’re older), but rather, as people who either made a good choice or a bad choice, at a point in time.
on top of that, it’s important for our kids to see that we as parents blow it too from time to time. every day actually. and there is something powerful in the faith development of children and teens when they know they’re being led by people who are real and transparent about their shortcomings.

let’s face it… we all know they know we’re not perfect. and us telling them isn’t giving them license to do it, if it’s framed and explained in the right way.

these 2 simple questions have given us many great in-roads to celebrating and praising good behavior, as well as conversations (without being in the heat of the moment) where we can explain why certain behaviors are bad and not something we want to continue. some nights, apologies are given and moods are turned completely around.
what do you do around your table to make the conversation meaningful? i’d love to hear what’s working for you in the comments!

Becoming People of the Table

as a family we try to eat dinner at the table most nights. but if you think for a minute we’re batting a hundred at that each week, you’re quite wrong. some nights the table is too full of junk-that-needs-a-home, and it’s easier to just eat in the living room while watching one of our favorite shows. other nights the schedule just doesn’t allow for it. but, it’s something we’re aiming for and a strike in the “win” column when it happens.
both shanna and i were fortunate to grow up with great memories from times around the dinner table as a family. spontaneous laughter, conversations about faith, and moments of realness were all things we came to expect over the years. of course, the meals often included emotions as thick as the meatloaf in front of us, and there were many nights where we couldn’t wait to get out of each other’s presence and back to our own little corners of the house. in our hurried lives, especially with 2 little ones right now, the dinner table is becoming for us an important point of reconnection.
the mess is another story…

cooper mess

tomorrow i’ll share a simple game we’ve been playing at the table lately to keep the conversation real.

The One Thing I (Almost) Always Pray For Each Night

with 2 kids under age 4, every evening is an ordeal getting the packages securely into bed. we would love to be the parents with always-consistent-routines and self-discipline that never allows for deviations, but those kinds of nights rarely happen for us. most nights, shanna and i look at each other and without words say “i don’t care how you do it, just get this one into bed, and get them into bed quick.” to be honest, many nights we feel like a struggling high school football team just trying to get something on the scoreboard… it doesn’t have to be pretty, just get the ball across the goal line.

whether they brushed their teeth or not, whether i remembered to change his diaper or get her in pajamas, whether they got  2 songs and a story or neither… i try really hard to be consistent with one thing: i try to always pray in front of them before they go to sleep.

the prayer changes from day to day. often we thank God for something we got to experience during the day, or someone we got to share some time with. we sometimes pray for the people we plan to interact with tomorrow, and we even include knock-knock jokes from time to time to see if Jesus will laugh. most everything we pray about changes from one night to the next, but there’s one thing that almost always stays the same. 

with rare exceptions, i pray every night that my kids grow up walking closely with Jesus.

Watch-and-pray

here’s what i know: as parents, we all have dreams for our kids.

and none of them are bad…

  • we want them to be successful,
  • and athletic,
  • and musical,
  • and good looking,
  • with good people skills,
  • and a hard work-ethic.
  • we want them to have just enough self-esteem,
  • but not too much arrogance.
  • we want them to have good jobs,
  • have good friends,
  • be good friends,
  • have a sense of humor,
  • get good grades,
  • go to a good college,
  • and go there with a full scholarship.
  • we want them to not be interested in dating until they’re 30,
  • and eventually marry the right person (that we select ourselves),
  • avoiding every form of pain and hardship,
  • and be self-sufficient enough to support us in our later years.

but to me, the most important thing – more important than anything on the list above – is simply that they get to a point where they understand that life only makes sense through an authentic relationship with Jesus, and that that relationship isn’t the side show in their life, or the thing they do on the weekend, but that it is the life-blood of everything they are.

maybe it’s because pastor’s kids get it rough, and many times come out the other end jaded by the church. and maybe i’m paranoid that my own kids will someday interpret what i do for a living as a job rather than a calling. but i just want them to know the Jesus i know, not because they “inherited” this faith or because they want to please their parents, but because they honestly searched it out themselves and came to the same conclusion that i did one day.

there are many things down the road that will affect this dream, for better or for worse, and more of it is out of my control than i’d like to admit. but i can pray about it. and i can pray about it every night.