Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Plan Your Spiritual Diet For 2014

Matthew 4:4
[Jesus] answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Do you have a plan yet to feed your soul in 2014? Here is a great list of really helpful options. This is not a box-checking, belt-notching issue. This is not a earn-brownie-points-with-God issue. This is a soul health issue. This is a "Will I live a barren, chaff-like existence or fruitful tree-like existence in 2014?" issue.

If you're not a big reader, there are plenty of audio options available. Biblegateway.com is a good one, with audio available on several versions. You can even subscribe to your daily Bible reading in podcast form (see again this link to learn how to do it). You can really leverage the audio option if you've got any kind of commute above 5 minutes.

Believe it or not, it only takes 75 hours to listen to the entire Bible! In other words, if your commute is 15 minutes one way, you could listen to the entire Bible...in one year...listening on only the inbound or outbound leg of the journey! Or, how long does it take for you to make the coffee and eat breakfast? 15 minutes? One year. The whole Bible. Over breakfast. The news can wait.

Isaiah 55:1-3:
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I Heard the Bells

Love this song:

Merry Christmas! Through JESUS there is and can be PEACE on earth!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

McGarvey Christmas Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

I don't know who "they" are, but they say a picture is worth a thousands words. We're going for a serious "word count" this year by letting a slug of pictures tell our 2013 story.

It all started by ringing in the New Year (no, our kids are not wine-bibbers...that's grape juice):

So, what did 2013 look like for us?

I don't know about your house, but oftentimes our kids are literally bouncing off the walls:

If you visited the kitchen, you might see this (thankfully, Ben has yet to have his evening bath via the rinse cycle!):

Or this:

Speaking of the McGarvey kitchen:

Okay, that was totally unfair. Beth is a great cook. And can you really trust this guy's taste buds? He's been known to have a propensity for pigskin! And toe jam! And garden tools!

Seriously, God provided our daily bread EVERY DAY in 2013! How easy it is to take that for granted! To simply take it as a given, as if it is a right and not a gift. Every meal is a gift. What grace to be able to say grace 3 times a day 365 days a year! We are grateful!

Ben started walking in early 2013:

We had TONS of interesting visitors in 2013.

Batman flew in...er, on.
Spiderman swung by.
It took awhile to clean up what the Webslinger's slung.
Sticky stuff. Goo Gone is the trick.

Darth Vader darkened our door.
He's much shorter in person.
This is Stan. He's a starfish. He's Italian (with a pretty strong accent). He's quite the globetrotter, but he periodically visits our kids on Saturday mornings if he's on the East Coast.

The Janho's came all the way from Seattle so Steve could get some Chick-fil-A.

Grandparents came to visit (YEAH!):
Ben typically plays pretty nice...

The kids love playing card games with Ama!

But here's what happens if you try to take his yellow truck. He flipped Papa Judo-style and pinned him in no time flat. Notice that Papa is no longer holding the yellow truck. Ben would like you all to know - Papa never tried that "Can I see your truck?" trick again.
Nana with the girls, when we visited Longwood Gardens
Enjoying a coffee date with my sweet momma

There were dance parties:

There were injuries:
Hannah. Bike chain.

Mommy's eye got a little too close to Ben's finger.

Be careful around the treadmill - esp when your 6 yr old brother is using it when he shouldn't be (we've got to give him credit though - he thought enough to shut the thing off before running to get us).

There were fortuitous discoveries:

Ben, Do you like beef jerky?

"Mmmm...Beef jerky!"
There were house projects:

Sam learned a little plumbing, and in the process started a new dance craze. It's all the rage.

There were epic battles and fell deeds:

There were arts and crafts:

Caption contest! What is Sam thinking and saying in this moment?

Beth is my "excellent wife [whose] lamp does not go out at night." In addition to trying to keep up with the perpetually rolling foothills of laundry and the incessant culinary demands of this growing brood, she has, among other things, enjoyed hosting her ladies Bible study group and coaching Hannah's basketball team.

Hannah is now in (and enjoying) youth group, loves volleyball, basketball, a variety of other athletic activities, as well as arts and crafts of all sorts. Along with all the other kids, summer vacation in Grand Haven, MI topped the "favorites" chart. She loves racing down the dune and all the fun on the beach. She did not love the deer tick we found one day on the base of her skull!

Sam is...Batman (see above). He loves action movies and Lego's and has grown in his appreciation for weapons and munitions of all sorts (he would LOVE to get his hunting license). For you Duck Dynasty fans out there, he'd love to hang out with Uncle Si sometime.

Lily is still our sweet, energetic, athletic flower. She can be found climbing a tree, planting flowers and garden varieties or tending the flora, role-playing the teacher in "school," roller blading, jumping, bounding, and smiling. She had been begging for awhile to play the violin, and finally got her wish this year!

Jono can oft be found sporting camo attire, gloves (we're not sure what that fixation is all about), and/or a superhero suit. In his own words, he likes "the Steelers (I did not prompt him!), Lego's, Sunday ('Why, buddy?' 'You know, cuz church!'), Jesus, candy, Christmas. Yeah, that's about it." I believe that was a stream of consciousness answer, not in order of priority.

Ben is a two year old, one man wrecking crew. He loves dirt, sand (esp in MI on vacation - his words were, "feels good...touch it...toes"), John Deere, cha-lock-a-late, big tractors, trains, and trucks.

All that and we've just scratched the surface! There was so much more in 2013. There have been lots of ups and downs and challenges and heartaches, but most of all there have been megatons of the mercy and grace and faithfulness of God!

It's hard to believe we've already been in DE four and half years. We are very grateful to God for moving us here. We love our church family. Chris is so thankful for the sobering privilege of being a pastor here. In that role, and in all we are and do, we've seen more clearly than ever our great need for the all-sufficient grace of our God.

We are SO thankful for the Lord Jesus! He is the only reason God's all-sufficient grace is ours for the taking. We have no right to it apart from his life and death and resurrection. He is everything to us, and so we love to celebrate the Advent (coming) of our Savior!

Why did he come?
John 10:10-11:
... I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Why did he lay down his life?
Isaiah 53:6:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--everyone--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Why did the LORD lay our sin on him?
1 Peter 2:24-25:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
What happens when we return to the Good Shepherd?
Psalm 23:1-6:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
THAT is "good news of great joy...for all the people!"

With much love,
The McGarveys
Chris, Beth, Hannah (13), Sam (11), Lily (9), Jono (6), Ben (2)

Monday, December 9, 2013


Celebrate motherhood. Honor mothers. It's incessant, hard, wonderful work. This is a beautiful tribute.

Proverbs 31:15-31
She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household... Her lamp does not go out at night. ... She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Husbands: How to Come Home

You've had a long day. You're on your way home. You're probably tired and hungry and want some food and peace and quiet. You might want to veg out in front of the TV and not have to think about or respond to or deal with anything. 


...If you're married, your wife probably wants to talk. She may have had a bad day, or she may have some concerns she needs to talk out, or she may "just" have a honey-do list and some attendant expectations. She may not have gotten to everything in the house and it's not the perfectly ordered kingdom you want it to (always) be.

...If you've got kids that are still in the home, they may want dad for one thing or and another. They may want to spit up on or climb on or play with or read with or throw the ball to or talk to you. They may want to show you their latest Lego creation or art project. Or, they may be a little older and want to be left alone in their room or in their earbuds. 

Should you come in and bark at the little ones nipping at your heels so that they will quietly heel at your heels? Should you ignore your wife, maybe covertly by saying "uh huh" periodically even though you haven't heard a word she's said? Should you retreat to the man cave or the bathroom or the garage? 

Husbands (and fathers), we will very naturally come home empty and spring-loaded to selfishness. How do we fight that selfish set of the sails? How do we tack into the wind of needs in our homes? How do we come home set to serve and help and lead and protect? And how to do we do it from the heart, not with a "I'm such a sacrificial martyr" and "you need to know how much this is costing me" huff and puff?

You want "peace" and comfort.
You should serve and help and lead and protect.

Let me suggest a simple two 'R's' strategy. In the moment of temptation to selfish, save-your-life retreat and avoidance:  

1. Recognize that Jesus IS your peace and comfort (not food or TV or newspaper or porn or whatever)

There's nothing wrong with being hungry and wanting food. It's a good gift from God. But it's not a good god or source of peace and comfort.

There's nothing wrong with watching some sports or the news (though most TV is a waste of life at best and more often like a steady drip of intravenous worldliness that anesthetizes your soul) or reading the newspaper. But it's not a good god or source of peace and comfort. It will actually make you more restless.

There's everything wrong with porn. If you don't recognize that Jesus IS your peace and comfort and your soul is groping for peace and comfort, you're going to be extremely vulnerable to the deceitful lies that our sensate culture sells. You'll sit lifeless in front of the TV, grunt something in response when your wife tells you she's going to bed, and then heap burning coals into your lap as you channel surf "out of curiosity" or surf the web, hoodwinking yourself into thinking that you're not trolling for some titillation.

None of these things will ever BE your peace and comfort. They simply can't. They aren't able to deliver. Only Jesus IS or can be your peace and comfort. You need to recognize that IN THE MOMENT OF TEMPTATION. 

2. Run to Jesus AS your peace and comfort (not to food or TV or newspaper or porn or whatever)

You ARE going to run to SOMETHING when you're troubled or restless or irritated or angry or frustrated or anxious or disappointed. What do you tend to run to? Alcohol? Food? TV? Your phone? Movies? Work? What you run to is what you believe will deliver peace and comfort. And none of the above ever will. You need to, you must!, run to Jesus AS your peace and comfort.

In the moment of temptation, when you turn FROM Jesus to other functional deliverers, you will also turn FROM those in your home that you are called to love and serve and lead and protect. When you run TO Jesus as your peace and comfort (and strength and joy, etc.), his grace will fill you and empower you to run TO those in your home that need your love and service and leadership and protection. And you'll be running in the strength He supplies (sans huffing and puffing).

Here's the summary: 
* Spring-loaded to selfishness.
* Strong winds of family need blowing.
* You want to sail away.
* Stop and recognize that Jesus is your comfort and peace. No fleeing. There is grace for this.
* Run to Jesus as your comfort and peace. Sometimes this is as simple as praying in the car on the way home. Sometimes it's as simple as throwing up brief prayers for grace as the needs come your way and you want to fight or flee.
* Start tacking into the wind of needs.
* The Spirit will blow and fill those sails.
* And the peace of Christ will begin to rule your heart...and begin to fill your home.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

You Can't Please Everyone

It's been said a million times, "You can't please everyone." And yet many of us try, often over-committing and running ourselves into the ground, or compromising our integrity to keep people happy. Everyday the desire to please will drive you. How do you decide who to please, when you can't please everyone?

The Bible has a lot to say about the matter, but let me simply suggest two texts to hold onto - one for each hand - as you walk this treacherous road.

1) Galatians 1:10
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
2) 1 Corinthians 10:33
just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
Ray Ortlund, Jr. wisely puts these two texts together like this (emphasis added):
[H]ere is now [the Apostle Paul] reconciled his desire to please people, on the one hand, with his deeper desire to please God, on the other. When Paul faced a choice between pleasing himself and pleasing others, he pleased others. When he faced a choice between pleasing others and pleasing God, he pleased God.
From his seminar given at the 2011 Gospel Coalition National Conference entitled, "Justification versus Self-justification."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Crazy Busy Quotes

A few months ago, Crossway sent a pre-publication copy of Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. The book became available on Monday.

I know you might feel like you don't have time for another book, but let me encourage you to check out this one.

First, by means of a fun little promo video:

Crazy Busy - Kids' Edition from Crossway on Vimeo.

Second, a dozen quotes to coax you to make time in your crazy busy schedule to read the rest of this helpful little book:
"The presence of extreme busyness in our lives may point to deeper problems--a pervasive people-pleasing, a restless ambition, a malaise of meaninglessness. 'Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness,' writes Tim Kreidel in his viral article, "The 'Busy' Trap," for the New York Times. 'Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.' The greatest danger with busyness is that there may be greater dangers you never have time to consider." (32)
 "...the truth is, you're only indispensable until you say no. You are unique. Your gifts are important. ... But you're not irreplaceable." (36)
"Let's face it: people feel sorry for us when we're busy. If we get our lives under control, we won't seem nearly so impressive and people won't ooh and aah over our burdens. Many of us feel proud to be so busy, and we enjoy the sympathy we receive for enduring such heroic responsibilities." (37)
"As I try to discern what's people-pleasing, self-aggrandizing pride, and what's genuine service to others, I try to keep in mind this simple question: Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good?" (39)
"What's important...is to think about what really ought to matter compared to what really is mattering. ... We will have to work hard to rest. ... We will have to make it our mission to stay on mission." (57)
"Rather than figure out what to do with our spare minutes and hours, we are content to swim in the shallows and pass our time with passing the time." (82)
"Peter Kreeft is right: 'We want to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hole in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.'" (83)
"The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We cannot be any of these things. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance--and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free." (88)
"Many of us are less busy than we think, but life feels constantly overwhelming because our days and weeks and years have no rhythm. ...one of the dangers of technology is that work and rest blend together in a confusing mush. We never quite leave work when we're at home, so the next day we have a hard time getting back to work when we're at work. We have no routine, no order to our days. We are never completely 'on' and never totally 'off.' So we dawdle on YouTube for twenty minutes at the office and then catch up on emails for forty minutes in front of the TV at home." (92)
"When thinking about busyness, people talk as if hard work is the problem. But we're not actually in danger of working too hard. We simply work hard at things in the wrong proportions. If you work eighty hours a week and never see your kids and never talk to your wife, people may call you a workaholic. And no doubt you're putting a lot of effort into your career. But you may not be working very hard at being a dad or being a husband or being a man after God's own heart." (98)
 "Effective love is rarely efficient. People take time. Relationships are messy. If we love others, how can we not be busy and burdened at least some of the time?" (105)
"Like many of you, I can look at my busy life and not know where to start. I wish I exercised more, and ate better, and kept track of my receipts, and programmed the presets in my car, and had my files in order, and knew where those little thingies for the basketball pump were, and in general didn't feel like I was walking the knife edge of craziness all the time. My temptation is to tackle everything at once. Or nothing at all. But the best plan is to start with Jesus' plan. ... We won't say no to more craziness until we can say yes to more Jesus. We will keep choosing dinner rolls over the bread of life. We will choose the fanfare of the world over the feet of Jesus. We will choose busyness over blessing. (114, 118)

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Question Is Not Whether You Will Die

I recently listened to John Piper's biographical message on the life of Adonirum Judson. It is a powerful message and I highly recommend the whole thing. His closing line is ringing in my ears and I hope it rings in yours. It begs for prayerful pondering.
The question is not whether you will die, but whether the death you die will bear much fruit.
John 12:24-25
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Personal Testimony To What We Need When We Suffer

R.C. Sproul, Jr. recently lost both his wife and his daughter within 10 months of each other. In the midst of our series on suffering, this 20 minute interview is a worthwhile and very moving testimony to what we need when we suffer.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Racism And A Cross-Shaped Dagger

I read this excellent quote this morning in the devotional booklet we'll be giving out at our upcoming Men's Retreat.

Chris Anderson quotes J.D. Crowley on "Day 26" entitled "The Gospel Precludes Prejudice":
"The gospel drives a cross-shaped dagger into the heart of racism."
Amen! May King Jesus, killer of racism, continue to plunge this dagger into the heart of his church and raise blood-bought unity to life!

You Need to Know Why You Otherwise May Have Never Known Chris Norman

Let me highly recommend that you watch this video by Desiring God. It recounts how Michigan State star linebacker Chris Norman turned his back on a promising NFL career to follow Jesus. It is SO encouraging!

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Jim Elliot


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

John Barros - Proverbs 24:10-12

This video found here made me weep with sorrow and shame and encouragement and conviction. Do you doubt that standing outside of an abortion clinic can do any good? Meet John Barros. God has used him to rescue 1,000 babies, and minister to countless women in crisis. What honor is due a man who willingly embraces such shame, to rescue souls from death. How like our Savior!

Monday, August 19, 2013

When You Don't Like Your Job

Recently we've been studying the book of Job on Sunday mornings in our series on suffering. The catalytic question of the book is found on the lips of Satan in mocking challenge of God's assessment of his servant Job:
Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." (Job 1:9-11)
Satan is saying that Job is an religious mercenary. He claims that Job "fears" and "trusts" and "loves" and "worships" God because God has given him so many gifts. Were God to take them away, Job's fair weather faith would be exposed and he would curse God. His fear of God is suspect precisely because his life is so circumstantially blessed. How can it be clear that Job wants God for God when he has it so good?

So the challenge begins. Is God worthy of fear and trust and love and worship "for nothing," that is, for who he is in himself alone -- even if all else is taken away?

If you've read this far, you're probably wondering what in the world this could have to do with advice for someone who doesn't like his or her job (yes, you read the title correctly the first time - this post is not about not liking the man from Uz). Here is the connection.

The main reason you are in your present place of employment is to glorify God (because that is the main reason for existence, and everything in it! 1 Cor. 10:31). So, how do you magnify the glory and worth and goodness of God in your job? There are lots of ways. Doing your work with excellence. Refusing to be a slave of expedience and the bottom line and genuinely striving for good goods and services that really do have your clients' good in mind. And on and on. But the one I want to focus on is your attitude - of heart, in speech (what you say and don't say), in body language, etc.

If you had your dream job surrounded by a bunch of people who thought you walked on water and with whom you just loved to work, if the compensation was more than you could ask for and the benefits were great, if the work environment was always healthy and positive and growth was always up, up, up, then guess what? Your contentment and joy and gratitude would be suspect. Is he or she so happy because of God or because of enviable employ? Who needs grace to be gracious in an environment like that? Who needs supernatural support to stay away from slander and the gossip mill when there is no temptation? Who needs grace to be content and patient and grateful and joyful when the world is your oyster? Who needs grace to keep from complaining when there's nothing to complain about?

Job's faith was not mercenary. And yet God tested him sorely in order to make that fact abundantly clear (and to purify him to make him shine even more like gold). Job's life magnified the worth of God precisely because he didn't curse God when everything was taken away.

If you don't like your job, Job would like you to know that you have a unique opportunity to magnify the worth of your God. You can show even more clearly that your joy and contentment and gratitude and peace and hope and life are not dependent on a dream job. They are dependent on the God of Job.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Conveyer Belt of Time

The conveyor belt of time is moving. We're all on it. It slows for no one. It's either moving you away from the glory days and the good (ol') days, or it's moving you toward The Glory Days and the best is yet to come.

Trying to make heaven on earth is a futile business. You will drive yourself into the ground in disappointment. You will resent the sand-through-your-fingers slipperiness of the tastes and glimpses you do obtain (but can't retain). And you will keep buying the lie that your ultimate happiness is just around the next consumer or relational (or whatever) corner.

There is so much good in this life, but it is never going to fully satisfy you, and it most certainly never lasts forever. But fullness and forever satisfaction is what we long for, and we know so much discontent and dissatisfaction and frustration and emptiness because we keep falling short of it. But that is not a bad thing. In fact, it's an intentional thing. A divinely intentional thing. We long for fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore because we were made by God, for God. Only in him is that quality and quantity of joy ever really found.

Psalm 16:11
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Hebrews 10:34
For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
A place at the right hand of God is only obtained as a gracious gift, by faith in the Savior Son of God who sits now at his Father's right hand. The better and lasting possession is only inherited by the children of God, adopted by the grace of God, purchased on the cross by the Son of God. Fullness of joy and pleasures forever only come through Jesus; it's only found in Jesus.

John 6:35
Jesus said ... "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
Revelation 7:15-17
Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
The conveyor belt is moving. For those who stop trying to make heaven on earth, counting all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus, each day on the conveyor belt is lived with their Treasure, moving closer to their Treasure.

Their lives echo Paul's from Philippians 1:21 & 3:7-8
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. ... [because] whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Their lips echo Asaph in Psalm 73:23-28
...I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
God is at the end of the conveyor belt for every person. He will be there -- as glorious Treasure or awful Judge. You can travel the conveyor alone, trying to fight its indomitable control, and will you arrive alone at the foot of the Treasure you've "said" is not worth your time. Or, you can travel the conveyor with Jesus, glad for his indomitable control over your present and your future, and you arrive with him to enjoy fullness of joy, forever, in God's immediate presence.

You can't make heaven on earth. But when you know God through Jesus Christ, it's heaven on earth (John 17:3), until heaven comes to earth (Revelation 21:1-7).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Action Plan For Anxiety

We all face anxiety. We don't all face it with a good game plan. No wonder we lose the battle so often. 

Justin Taylor summarizes a game plan for dealing with anxiety that was written by CCEF counselor David Powlison. His advice is sage and practical. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Steve Saint's Definition of Suffering

I quoted Steve Saint's definition of suffering this past Sunday as we looked at Job chapter 2 in our Suffering Series. Here it is, along with the link to the message in which it is found (which I highly recommend):
"Suffering is our expectation divided by our experience."
And then he said,
"As I was thinking about that, I thought, that's exactly the same definition for blessing. Both suffering and blessing are relative to what we expect."

There is profundity bound up in the simplicity of those definitions. I think they are worth pondering. In case you have trouble wrapping your mind around those definitions, I gave a little primer for the thought pump on Sunday in the form of four simple questions. 
  • Why are there extremely poor people who are extremely content and happy?
  • Why are there extremely rich people who are extremely discontent and unhappy?
  • Why are there people who suffer extreme physical pain or limitation who are extremely joyful?
  • Why are there people who are the picture of healthy and vitality who are mad at the world?
Why are these things the case? Because suffering is our expectation divided by our experience. And so is blessing. May the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ continue to inform and shape our expectations.

Philippians 4:12-13 
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Together For Adoption

Have you heard of this online resource for adoption? If you have adopted or are thinking and praying about adoption, you may want to consider attending their upcoming conference. It's the weekend of October 4-5 in Louisville, KY. They've extended their early bird rate ($79) until next Friday (8/16).


Parents: Think About What "Just Wait" Means

You've heard it before -- especially if you're a parent of young children. You've had a tough day or you've shared a challenging parental moment with a parent of older children (or more children). What happy, hope-filled word of gospel-saturated encouragement do you hear?
"Just wait."
 "It only gets harder from here."
"I remember the days when I only..."
Mother Lindsey Carlson writes wisely about "The Phrase That Enslaves Moms In Every Season." It's applicable to dads as well. Please read it and then cut "Just wait," with all it's condescending, "That's nothing!" unhelpfulness, from your parent-to-parent conversations. Or, just wait...maybe you should read to the end of her post and find out how we can redefine and reuse "just wait" in a way to give grace to those who hear.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Steve Saint's Accident...and One Year Update

Last June (a week after the accident):

Last July (shortly after the surgery his accident required):

One year later:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Steve Saint's Story of His Daughter's Death

Yesterday, in the first message on the book of Job in our series on suffering, I struggled to make it through reading the story Steve Saint tells of his daughter's death. Here's the link, for those of you who asked. For those of you who weren't there yesterday, here's enough to encourage you to go and read the whole thing.

Saint said:
I believe God planned my daughter’s death. ... 
We have an idea that if we do what God wants us to do, then he owes us to take the suffering away. I believed that; I don’t believe that anymore. ...
...Grandfather Mincaye...saw her at the hospital, lying on a gurney with a tube down her throat and needles in her arm, and he grabbed me and said, “Who did this to her?”...
I didn’t know what to say. “I don’t know, Mincaye. Nobody is doing this.” 
And just like that, this savage from the jungles grabbed me again and said, “Babae, don’t you see?” 
No, I didn’t see. My heart was absolutely tearing apart; I didn’t know what was going on. 
He said, “Babae, Babae, now I see it well. Don’t you see? God himself is doing this.” 
And I thought, what are you saying? ...
Why is it that we want every chapter to be good when God promises only that in the last chapter he will make all the other chapters make sense, and he doesn’t promise we’ll see that last chapter here?

Job 1:20-22 (ESV, emphasis added)
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
If you want to listen to the message where he told the story, you can find it here.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Archer and the Arrow

Psalm 127:4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.

Speaking of children and arrows…

Lily shot an arrow through our downstairs bathroom window not long ago. I was giving Ben a bath in the tub that sits just below said window. Yes, glass crashed into the tub. I extracted Ben very quickly. No harm done. Threw open the curtain and my eyes soon focused on the metal point, followed by the blaze orange shaft, now held fast by the screen it had first penetrated.

As my eyes focused out from the window to ten or fifteen feet outside the window, there was Lily. She was just slowing down, having hurried toward the window after her mistake. She looked horrified. The tears and apologies started immediately. I told her to go inside and wait for me in our room. I yelled for Beth and passed off the naked bather Ben so that I could attend to my little archer.

Now, first off, let me say that Sam’s “Little Bear” bow and arrow set is normally only used by him after parental permission has been granted. I’ve been with him enough that he is allowed to shoot it on his own, as long as his target is situated wisely and he is careful. Lily, on the other hand, has not yet been granted this privilege. I have no idea what thought process convinced her it would be okay. Probably there was no substantive thought process. But, hey, she’s a kid. I did some really dumb things when I was a kid. A lot of dumb things, actually. Like the time when I tried to puncture a pressurized aerosol can (there was still a lot of that fun spray stuff swishing around inside!) or the time I accidentally threw a baseball through one of the stained glass windows at our church or the time that I tried to do an “endo” (a.k.a. "stoppie") on my bike when I was traveling downhill way too fast. Anyway, setting up the target on the ground about 10 feet from the house, directly below the bathroom window, is probably not going to be a problem for an experienced archer. But Lily isn’t exactly Susan Penvensie…yet.

So, how do you respond as a parent? How do you deal with your little arrow when she shoots one through your window? How do you take advantage of this opportunity to straighten your precious little arrow, and not snap her spirit?

Did she need to be disciplined? Yes. But not so much for breaking the glass. She didn’t mean to do that. The real problem was that she took up arrows and bow without asking permission. She knew better. Zinging an arrow WAY over her target is, in a way, a problem (I want my girls to be crack shots, of course!). But I know she wasn’t cackling as she nocked that arrow, “I know what I’ll do to Dad! Give him another DIY project! Let’s see how he is at window replacement! Hahahahaha!”

Was it a costly mistake? Yes. Do I feel like paying that cost? No. Does she need to know, in a gentle and clear way, that mistakes have costly consequences? Yes. But what she didn’t need was me to “make her pay” in an angry, hold-it-over-her-head sort of way. What we parents tend to do, when our children make costly mistakes, is load the cost to us into the punishment. It’s why a dad angrily yells at his young son when he accidentally spills his milk at the dinner table. The dad has had a long day and wants a peaceful dinner. And no one better threaten that. He doesn’t want anyone else to take even another ounce, let alone a pound of flesh. So, 6 ounces of milk on the table means the child has “taken” comfort and peace from dad. And the dad is going to make him pay. Usually with interest.  So, the reaction goes something like this. “What in the world???!!! What are you THINKING?! C’mon!!! UHHHHHH! Don’t just sit there! It’s spilling over the edge of the table! Grab your napkin and stop it! (slams down fork on plate, stands up angrily in a huff and leers down on child who is now frozen in fear and filling with shame) C’MON! UHHHH! Why can’t we just sit down and eat dinner in peace?! Why can’t you be more careful?!”

He’s tired of the demands made on him through the day and he’s empty. He didn’t come home full of gospel grace and peace and truth. He came home empty, so he’s going to be on the take. He’s going to bite and devour. He’s got nothing to give and no strength or desire to serve.

The exchange could be simple. “It’s okay, buddy. I know you didn’t mean to spill it. Can you run and grab the paper towels and help me clean it up? Just try to be careful when you reach for the food in the middle of the table. It’s really easy to forget about your milk glass when you pull your arm back toward you plate.” Instead, it turns into a tantrum – Dad’s.

I’ve been guilty of such paternal tirades. To my shame, it wasn’t all that hard to write the “hypothetical” verbal reaction of the father. And yet, by God’s grace, I’ve been repenting and seeking more grace to come home full of grace and peace and truth to love and serve my family.

Back to Lily. So, how do you respond? How do you take advantage of this opportunity to sharpen your precious little arrow, and not snap her spirit?

One of the pieces of parenting wisdom we have been thankful for is the principle that discipline should be the result of rebellion and/or clear disobedience to parental authority, not for accidents or mistakes you haven’t yet prohibited. If your toddler opens your cabinet and distributes the contents of your flour container around your kitchen like a budding Jackson Pollock, don’t discipline him. Should you tell him, “No” with clarity and firmness? Of course. But this first act of flour art wasn’t necessarily borne of rebellion. He was curious and having multisensory fun, not sinisterly scheming against you. That being said, after that first fun event, and your clear flour flinging prohibition, you should most certainly discipline Billy for any further flour forays. He’s willingly disobeyed your clear command.

I can guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lily was not thinking of breaking windows, threatening the chubby flesh of her beloved baby brother when she took up bow and arrows. She had no intention of costing me a couple hundred dollars, or the time spent on another house project. She apparently wanted to show the neighbor kids her brother’s archery equipment and (presumably) her archery skills.

So, with Ben safely in Mommy’s care, I walked up to our bedroom to talk to my little archer, praying all the way for wisdom. I know she loves dearly her little brother. She was a wreck over the thought of harming him. She had already paid dearly. She did need to be disciplined, but I wanted it to be clear to her what for.

I told her first off that I loved her and gave her a big hug and kissed her head. I told her that I knew that she didn’t mean to break the window or endanger Ben. I did tell her what could have happened; not to turn the knife, but to reinforce the potential seriousness of such mistakes. I told her that God had protected her little brother, for which we can all be thankful. I told her that the window would have to be replaced and that she couldn’t afford to pay for it. I didn’t say this with a sneer, but calmly and clearly in order to reinforce the grace and truth of the gospel. We have all sinned and made mistakes and we can’t pay the cost of our sin. Jesus came and paid our debt for us. I wanted my fatherhood in that moment to reflect the willing love of our Heavenly Father. He didn’t send his Son and deal with our debt begrudgingly or bitterly. He did it willingly, with all his heart.

After all that, I did then tell her I needed to discipline her, but again made it very clear that it was because she had taken and shot the bow and arrows without asking me. In that regard, she did know better. After disciplining her, I hugged her and told her again I loved her. I held her face in my hands and looked her in the eyes and told her that it was over. She could be at peace and turn the page.

I want her to know, in times like this, that she doesn’t have to work her way back into my favor by being extra nice for awhile. She is not loved based on her performance – loved more if she’s a help and not a bother. She is loved because she is my daughter. My love is not fickle or something she has to work for. It’s just as clear and strong when she’s done something costly and dumb as when she’s done something cute or helpful.

Oh, how I long to faithfully reflect my/her Heavenly Father, and raise her in a home with gospel grace and truth pervading the atmosphere. We fail at this all the time. And we pray all the time that we will grow to do it better.

Her wheels were turning through all of this. She listened to all I had to say. She pondered it. And I watched her walk out freed and happy. I know she doesn’t fully grasp the cost to me, but she doesn’t need to know it all.

The will of my little Lily arrow needed bent and straightened that day, but I sure didn’t want to break her spirit. One day all too soon I’m going to have to nock her and shoot her out into this dangerous world. I can’t guarantee her flight path and destination, but I sure want to do all I can to shape and sharpen and set her trajectory. I’m so thankful for this little moment. I’d replace a hundred windows if it meant a hundred more times the kind of gospel grace and truth investment this situation afforded.

Psalm 127:4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Is is possible to have too much of a good thing?

Steve DeWitt, in Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (pp 36-37), writes:
How does the infinity of God relate to our cravings? Our longings seem insatiable to us. We have even made the situation into a self-evident law, the law of diminishing returns. This law says that the more we do something or own something, the less and less we enjoy it. Might it be that our insatiable longings also relate to an infinite God? Might the unending nature of our desires point to the unending nature of his infinity? Who but an infinite Person can gratify seemingly infinite longings?
Take chocolate for instance. I love dark chocolate. But I can only consume it in relatively small quantities for it to be truly enjoyable. If I go over that line, my body protests and I experience the guilt of gluttony and the "gross" feeling of over-indulgence.

Dark chocolate might not be your thing, but you have probably experienced that dynamic of diminishing returns. Have you ever wished that didn't happen? Have you ever wished you could eat all the chocolate you want and not experience the guilt or the gross? Have you ever wished the waverunner was as cool on the 10th run as the 1st? Have you ever wished that song didn't "get old?" Etc., etc., etc.

What if there is wisdom in wiring the world this way? What if God wants to open our eyes when we want too much of a good thing?

Rather than wishing that line away, give thanks to God for that line. One, that line is gracious. We would all go nuts in overindulgence without it -- like the laboratory rat that stimulates itself to death. Two, that line actually preserves the real pleasure of a good in moderation. Three, that line is a signpost. A signpost, let's say, with inscriptions like these (compliments of Augustine).

On the front:

The sum of all our goods, and our perfect good, is God. We must not fall short of this, nor seek anything beyond it; the first is dangerous, the other impossible.
On the back:
You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until till they find their rest in you.
The more we seek a good to be godlike in its power to satisfy, the more the veil is pulled back on its inability. The more we seek created goods to be godlike in greatness, the more their smallness is exposed. This goes for money and sex, food and alcohol, decorating and dessert. It even goes for friendship and children.

What a loving way to wire the universe! The God who alone is great enough and satisfying enough to fill our deepest cravings is the one who made consequences to kick in when we look elsewhere for what only he can give. 

Jeremiah Burroughs said it so well in his The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:
My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them. That is not the reason. But the reason is because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself. Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment, it is because they have but a little in the world, and if they had more then they would be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind. No, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach.
How cruel it would be if there were never any immediate consequences for trading down ultimate satisfaction in God for cheap, imitation satisfaction in created things! We'd just go on happily making mudpies in the slums. It's really good that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. But we are not so quick to believe it.

One of the reasons we're slow to on the uptake is because we usually can't have all we want when we want it. And therefore the lie holds. Rather than believing the object of our desire isn't suitable, we think the problem is the amount or frequency. We think the reason we're not satisfied is because we haven't gotten enough (a little more money, a little more sex, a little more respect, a little better job, a little better body, a little bigger house, etc., etc., etc.). As a result, the lie remains unmasked in our experience. We refuse to learn by anything but the trial and error of personal experience. C.S. Lewis wrote of why this illusion can hold for awhile in his essay, "First and Second Things":

The woman who makes a dog the center of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels... It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman – glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens? Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of a small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made… You can’t get second things by putting them first. You can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, What things are first? is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone.
God made it a world where too much of a good thing will plague you, so that you will learn that He is the only Good you can never get too much of.  

If God is your Good, there's never too much of a good thing.