The In Between


Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Selah – Psalms 61:1-4 (NIV)

It is hard to be in between.  Feeling unsettled, un-rooted, unfamiliar.  Being in that place that fills in the space from where you’ve been and where you are going.  Between now and then, here and there and what is and what shall be we find ourselves realizing how much we need God.  David was a man who understood the time and place in between.

David learned the hard way that the only thing that could fill the in between was God.  It was God alone who made sense of the in between, revealing it as the connective tissue in a life of purpose and meaning.  Instead of the in between being a place of isolation and disorientation, God uses it to reconnect and reorient.  But it is easy for us to get lost in the in between.

If we are not ready for the in between, it can overwhelm us and leave us wandering, hovering in a holding pattern with no place to land in sight.  God uses everything to transform His children, even the in between.  I need to show my children how valuable the in between is before they become professionals at distraction busyness.

It is a common habit to keep children occupied, but I think the better discipline – and the harder to teach – is to teach our children to be content when they are not occupied.  Our society has made whole industries based on distraction for the in between.  We don’t enjoy the quiet of a drive on mountain roads; we pop in a CD or show a movie to keep the kids from tearing each other apart.  But maybe we are missing something.  Maybe our kids will benefit more from seeking what is profitable during their in betweens rather than finding ways to waste time.

Will our children run to the Wii or to the Word?  Do they seek comfort in the still small voice or the next track on the CD?  Are they following friends on Facebook or following Jesus?  Are they filling the empty space of in between with distractions or with the things of God?  What do my children see me do with the in between? (That one stings!)

I want the in between in my life and lives of my children to be rich and meaningful and time well spent.  I want to look back and see how the in between connected the crisis and celebrations and calms of our life together into a storyline of purpose and power and meaning.  I want to see what the time of longing for God’s refuge and being securely in the midst of His refuge looks like.

Lord, help me to live fully in the in between.   May I lead my children well in making use of the time instead of wasting it.  Show our family how You move in the in between and let us linger as long as You need us to. Amen.

Facing Sin


Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. – Psalms 51:1-6 (NIV)

Sin has become a passé term.  Dysfunction, emotional baggage, flaws, psychological scars are all real, but they are symptoms of the root problem – sin.  Instead of treating the infection, we treat the symptoms and wonder why people stay sick. In fact, sin tries to convince us that we are not sick at all.  We portray vibrant and energized lives to the world, but we are wasting away on the inside, dead men with candy coated shells.

We need to face our sin.  This is more than admitting that we are sinners.  Most people get that they sin and understand that they can’t fix it themselves, but there are too many cures for the symptoms that just worsen the disease.  Instead of facing sin and seeking healing from the only one who can provide it to them, they turn their eyes to temporary balms and hopeless remedies.

I don’t want my children to head down that road.  If they are going to have a relationship with God that transforms and matures them, they will have to be honest about the sin in their life.  They will need to understand that sin at every level is against God first and then others.  Their hearts will need to be well lit by the process of confession and repentance.  I want them to have hope that the love of God can bring them from where they shouldn’t be to where they should be so they can be who they should be.  I want them to experience what it is to overcome sin through the power of God.

Lord, help me lead my children into a godly understanding of sin and the way out.  May my children grow to know how to handle the sin in their lives and experience victory through Jesus Christ.  Amen.  .

A Thirst for God


As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. – Psalm 42:1-5 (NIV)

I wonder sometimes if I am doing enough as a father to instill a thirst for God in my children.  Do I set an example of dependence on God day after day?  Have I planted the idea in them that sometimes the only way to appreciate a cool drink is to know what it is like to be really thirsty?  I have to admit that I don’t know.  While I am certainly working on moving closer to Christ, I can’t give you a measurement of how far I have to go.  I am stilling learning what it is to thirst for God.

That isn’t such a bad place to be, I guess.  Maybe it is okay for my girls to see that I’m not perfect and that I am still working on what it is to follow Jesus.  Or maybe it is okay for me to be okay with them seeing my imperfection.  That is one of the most notable characteristics of the Psalms; their transparent honesty.  Yet that honesty is always tempered with truth.  It is why the downcast soul can put its hope in God.

So I will live imperfectly with my children, transparent and honest about my life with God, but always rooted in the truth.  That sounds like a good way to instill a thirst for God in all of us.

Lord, help us to live honestly together as a family.  Give us a thirst for You above all other things.  Amen.

Do Not Fret


Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. – Psalms 37:1-6 (NIV)

There is a lot in this world to get frustrated and angry about.  We see injustice, greed, meanness and a general sense of selfishness that can get us down. All of these have influences on how we perceive life.  We can get cynical and pessimistic about the world, but it can bleed over into how we see everything.  We can turn into sour and surly saints.

This keeps us from shining the light of God.  If we lose sight of God’s goodness, we become more defined by our surroundings instead of God transforming our surroundings through us.  We cannot look to the world for our happiness and contentment; we will be disappointed.  We must look to God, always God.

The Psalmist puts forth a great argument here: live life on God’s terms and let others live life on their terms and God will deal with us accordingly.  This less about worrying who is being bad and more about how we can be good.  If we keep our eyes on the Lord, we won’t have the time or inclination to monitor the fairness of life.

It leaves us with a choice between being fretting frowners or faithful followers.  Will we live life moving toward the love, light and beauty of God or will we wallow in the misperception of thinking we don’t have all we deserve?  God is all we really need, so I know what the answer should be, but there are days where I act like a wallower.  I want something better for myself and my children.

Lord, help me not to wallow in my self-made misery.  Give me the wisdom and opportunity to teach my children the importance of following after You alone.  Amen.

Strength


You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.  With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. – Psalms 18:28-29 (NIV)

If you go into any gas station mini mart you will find a large section of the cooler contains energy drinks.  Some give you wings, others make you feel like a monster and some turn you into a rock star.  None of them give you strength.  They can hype your mind, but they cannot up your talent or ability.  The Psalmist indicates something different is available from God.

It is one thing to be perkier for a few hours and another entirely to be empowered beyond our own abilities.  God can strengthen us against all that assails us in ways that nothing else can.  But it is easy for Christians to go for the quick bursts of energy.  We can get ourselves pumped up by reading a book or listening to a song, but our strength is in the Lord.

Protecting my children from the mentality of getting fixes of fake energy with a pill or a drink will be difficult.  The marketers want to get them hooked young and keep them hooked.  They promise much and deliver too little.  God promises Himself and He is more than enough.  So I must live that promise out in front of my children.  God’s empowering grace needs to shine through my words and deeds.

This will require second guessing myself when I am feeling weak or wounded.  I will need to question what I reach for first when I am feeling inadequate.  The discipline of allowing God to keep my lamp burning needs to be in the front of my mind each day.  I want to be empowered by Him so that my children will seek to be empowered by Him.

Lord, strengthen me with Your grace and love.  Help me to stand strong for You in the trials of this life.  May my children learn of Your empowering presence through me.  Amen.

Security


I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. – Psalms 18:1-2 (NIV)

We live in a time of insecurity and uncertainty.  Many have come on difficult circumstances through no fault of their own, and most of us are wondering what changes we will need to make to make ends meet.  It can be easy to look for our comfort and security in all the wrong places during a season such as this.

God grants us security that fluctuating markets and political turmoil cannot affect.  This security is rooted in who He is, not what happens to us in this life.  God loves us when we are poor and when we are rich.  God cares for us when we are wounded and when we are healed.  God is unchanging.  He is the rock and the fortress that holds our hope.

I want to face this life without fear or faltering because of what is happening around or to me.  It takes a daily reminder that the rock that can hold me safe above the stormy waves will not fail; that the fortress that shields me from a wayward heart and mind will persist forever.  This gives me the strength to face each day with hope and perseverance and be a fortress and shield to my children.

Lord, help me rest in Your in the safety and security of Your presence.  Shield and protect me from the ways of the world, even if they are in me.  Give me the strength to watch over my children and guard them for Your sake. Amen.

In the End, God


But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. – Psalms 13:5-6 (NIV)

Psalm 13 has a number of bad things going on: loneliness, abandonment, evil overcoming good and internal conflict.  David is in a bad place.  These are the dark nights of the soul that most of us will face in our lives.  It really does not matter how we get there, but the way out is essential.  David keys in on this way out – trust in God.

This is an overwhelming theme in the Psalms.  The idea that no matter what circumstance the writer finds himself in, God is still loving, trustworthy and righteous. The Psalmist testifies time after time that salvation is still found in God and that He is still deserving of worship.

In the end, God is always God, though we may not feel it in the moment.  We may struggle, strain and twist in this life, burdened with pain and sorrow, but we must hold onto this truth.  Everything else changes, but God doesn’t.  No matter how we start, or where we go, or where we end up, God’s love is there welcoming the prodigal child home.

I desperately need to believe this in my life.  This truth needs to define me more every day, not only so I can see my way through the pain and sorrow, but so I can begin to live this out with my children.  I need to exemplify this steadfastness to them.  They need a father who does not change in his love for them, no matter what circumstances the choices take them to.

Lord, help me to live with the truth of Your unchanging character deep in my heart.  May I learn to love my children with integrity and grace. Amen.

Temper, Temper


In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Selah – Psalms 4:4 (NIV)

There can be a lot to be angry about in this life – injustice, greed, hate, bigotry and other symptoms of that hideous disease called sin.  There really isn’t a problem with the anger itself, but where it comes from and where it leads us.  This is what the psalmist is warning us about.  He is not asking us to guard against anger, but to have the right relationship with it.

I have a temper.  If I had been irradiated with gamma rays instead of Dr. Bruce Banner, the Hulk would have been around a lot more often.  That being said, God is patient and works on this with me with gentleness and persistence.  He has worked on this most effectively through my children.

It isn’t so much that they give me all sorts of opportunities to get mad; they are wonderful girls and have blessed me more than I can say.  But they do have their fallen moments.  My love for them has created a new lens for me to see my anger through.  When I feel that heat rising from my neck to my ears and my jaw clenches, I have to ask, “Is this really worth getting angry about?”

God knows exactly what to get angry about.  His anger is always righteous and always deserved.  I cannot say the same for mine.  I have questionable motives.  I have pet peeves which reveal more about my flaws than the object of my peeving.  I would like my anger to reflect God’s anger, but unfortunately anger tends to be a door to stupid and not saintliness.  So comes the warning from the psalmist.  We have to be leery of our anger.

I have heard plenty of teachings on anger and too often they will look at God’s anger, or Jesus casting the moneychangers out of the temple and use that as a rationalization for angry Christianity.  I even bought that for a while, but it doesn’t getting you anywhere good.  This passage warns us to be wary when anger begins to rise in us and I think that is excellent advice.  I don’t want to get angry at my children just because God got angry with His.  I want my anger to be like God’s anger so that means I have to question it every time.

I know that I will get angry at my children again in the future (probably sooner than I’d like), and I want to be ready for that moment.  I want to make sure that my anger does not lead me hurtful words, or misplaced blame.  My children deserve the same patience, grace and compassion that God has given me, so anger has to be watched for and controlled.  My kids don’t need the Hulk, they need Jesus, and that means anger has to get out of His way in my life.

Lord, help me to control and understand my anger.  Help me to know where my anger is coming from and how to handle it when it rises.  Give me a peaceable spirit, especially in disciplining my children. Amen.

The Challenge of Pain


At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. – Job 1:20-22 (NIV)

Loss is a part of life, but for some the loss is greater.  I have never had a Job moment.  The losses I have experienced were painful, but the extreme nature of Job’s misery has never visited my doorstep.  However, I cannot live with the misguided notion that misery will never darken my door.  There may come a time where grief could overwhelm me and pain makes its home in my heart.   I hope not, but that day may come.  Am I prepared for loss? Am I ready for the pain?

The true but uncomfortable answer to both those reasons is no.  It is not as if I can manufacture loss and pain to practice, nor do I want to.  I can read of other’s experiences, but they are different personalities with different strengths and weaknesses.  What is to come is unknown to everyone except God and therein lays the hope for us.  God knows.  He knows what we will face, what we will need to face it and what will bring us through.

This is somewhat of a relief and a challenge.  It is a relief because we do not have to spend our lives preparing for our best guess of what might happen.  We do not have to live with the anxiety that question marks induce.  As a father, this is a great comfort, but also a challenge.  We must work diligently to be in step with God.  We have the advantage of the Holy Spirit that was not available to Job.  Through Him we have everything we need, but that does not mean we utilize all that has been given.  The challenge is to pursue a walk with God that leads through every step of every circumstance as He desires.

I don’t know if I will ever have a Job-like experience, but I am beginning to not worry about it.  I am more and more becoming concerned with God shaping me into the husband and father I need to be to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Lord, help me to be the man You desire me to be and the husband and father I need to be for my family.  Help me refuse the anxiety and worry that so easily plague my mind and heart.  Give me a faith that is strengthened every day by Your presence in my life.  Amen.

Following Through


So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. – Nehemiah 6:15 (NIV)

It is good advice in baseball, football and basketball.  It is key in a golf swing and sought after in valued employees.  Follow through; the discipline of finishing what is started.  Nehemiah had follow through.  Not once did he see any challenge as an excuse to end his run at completing the task God had set before him.  In fact, it seems Nehemiah saw them as opportunities for God to reveal Himself to His people and those who would stand in their way.

We seem to have lost our sense of follow through in our post-modern sentiments.  Shows are cancelled part way through their season, people quit jobs because they don’t “like” their boss and we change our opinions more often than our clothes.  We hop churches, jump fences and switch allegiances.  Our steady drift toward the importance of the individual has eroded the emotional strength and mental maturity required to make sacrifices and hard choices.  We don’t follow through.  I don’t follow through.

I want my children to finish what they start and I want them to finish well, so it is incumbent on me to stick with those things I have committed to with tenacity and toughness.  I need to develop the disciplines and determination Nehemiah brought to bear on his work.  I need to know what it is I am about and be about it without hesitation.  Prayer, time in the Word and time in community will need to be where I live each day with eyes and ears ready to see and hear what the Lord has set before me.  I will need to develop a heart and mind intent on following through.

What is it the stops us from see the finish line?  Why do we find ourselves making excuses instead of making plans?  I will start with the mirror and say that it is easier to stay where I am comfortable.  Thank God that He does not leave us alone in our comfort.  He chastises us to pursue something more – the abundant life – by speaking conviction and encouragement into our hearts.  He brings others into our lives to spur us on.  He points us to the story of Nehemiah and shows us the value of follow through.  God brings everything we need each day to finish well, but He has left it to us to make choices that get us there or not.  I want to get to the finish line at the end of each day.

Lord, help me to follow through in life.  Help follow through in work, in play, in relationships and in pursuing You every day.  May I finish well in everything I do each day.  Give me the discipline and desire to pursue the finish line with passion, integrity and hope. Amen.