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.

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.

God of all Creation


The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. – Psalms 24:1-2 (NIV)

We hear in the news about the extravagantly rich, the exorbitantly wealthy, but even they have limits.  In history, kings and kingdoms have expanded across the globe, but all of them have come to ruin sooner or later.  The fights over what belongs to who eat away at our communities, neighborhoods and families.  Ownership is a funny thing, for it can help or hinder us depending on our perspective.

The world sees ownership almost solely in the context of rights. Scripture, however, sees ownership as stewardship. The one who owns something is responsible for how he handles that something.  The parable of the talents comes to mind.  The Psalmist understands this in the greater context and states it clearly, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it.”

We are in a constant conflict with the world as it tries to convince our children that they have rights to certain things.  We will be hard pressed to instill in them a sense of responsibility and gratitude for everything they have.  Our lives will be marked not be spent in seeking ways to make more money, but investing more in our children and their life with God.  If we can plant in their hearts the seeds of truth about everything belonging to God, we will help them have much happier lives.

Lord, help me avoid the consumerism and greed in the world around me.  Keep me from striving after things that fade and rust.  Let me live my life with the knowledge that everything belongs to You and help me teach that truth to my children.  Amen.

Provider


He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.  He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.  You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.  You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn. – Psalms 18:33-36 (NIV)

The father has been in the role of provider in most cultures during the course of human history.  Whether that was carried out by hunting, gathering, commerce or trade, he was responsible for supplying his family with the means to barter for goods and services that supported an acceptable lifestyle.  This has slowly become more about money.

It is an easy trap to fall into.  We can get too focused on our earning power and lose sight of our providing power. They are two very different things.  While our responsibility to care for the needs of our children is clear, the way to do so can be muddied by cultural pressures.  God put us in the lives of our children to love them, encourage them and build them up in the same way He does for His children.  He does not put us in our children’s lives to earn more money to buy them more stuff.

The Psalmist found comfort and safety in serving a God who cared for him in ways he could not care for himself.  He took joy in belonging to a God who fends for him, empowers him and takes action on his behalf.  God provides exactly what we need and we have the privilege to pass that along to our children.

Lord, help me to keep my eyes on providing what my children truly need and not on what the world tries to bait me with.  Give me a heart that trusts wholly in Your love and grace.

Amen.

How to Build Community


The third chapter of Nehemiah has the phrase “next to” twenty-one times.  This chapter describes in detail the families and locations that they were responsible for in rebuilding the wall.  That is a powerful phrase when you are in a difficult situation: next to.  It is a source of courage and solace to know that you have help at your side in the face of adversity and struggle.  It is a blessing to be next to others as they face the struggles of rebuilding what has been broken.

Families should be about that phrase.  They should be next to each other in facing this life.  They should be next to each other in overcoming obstacles and facing challenges.  They should be next to each other when the world is against them.  The strength and solidity of community begins at home.  If we learn to be next to one another in our families, it prepares and equips us to be next to our extended family in the church.

Our children need be the kind of people who stand next to others, who face challenges with others.  They can learn so much from seeing the space next to others as a place of privilege and blessing instead a place of burden duty.  For Nehemiah it wasn’t just about rebuilding the wall, it was about rebuilding his people, God’s people.  He wanted those community ties to be reconnected and tied even tighter.  Every day they worked on the wall, the families of Israel were reminded that they could not do it alone.

We should not be in this alone.  We need to have others come and stand next to us when the walls are crumbling and the enemy is threatening to attack.  Let’s be families that are next to others in the life of God’s people.

Lord, help me to be a man that is next to my wife and children.  Help me lead my children into an understanding of the privilege and blessing of living our lives next to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Amen.

The Blessing of Family


Family is an incredible institution.  The connections through blood and marriage are many and varied, each one carrying the possibility of friendship, fellowship and blessing.  This past weekend was one of those moments where I was reminded of this complex and beautiful blessing.  Nanas, papas, aunts, uncles, cousins gathered to give thanks and remind one another that, while the world may assail us, family gives us strength.

God has also given us a family that offers of friendship, fellowship and blessing.  The relationships we experience can remind us that the world holds no fear for us.  Together we give strength to each other and spur one another on to the good deeds of our good God.  It is good to have family.

I hope that you had time this Thanksgiving to consider the blessing of family, both the natural one and the spiritual one.  God has blessed us with both and has called us to be a blessing to both.  This year I hope that the way I live is reason for someone else to give thanks.  I hope I love my families with gratitude and grace.  I hope I don’t forget in the busyness and distractions of life in this world that family is a blessing and that I am to be a blessing to my family.  Lord help me to be mindful of these truths.  Amen.

Pagan Kings and the Will of God


“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.  Anyone of his people among you–may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.  And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.'” – Ezra 1:2-4 (NIV)

I think there is an assumption among Christians that the only place our kids can get shaped by God is in and by the church.  We can work towards insulating them in a cocoon of church activities and groups because we think that will protect them from sin.  This view, however, makes God less powerful and providential than His omnipotence would suggest.  God used numerous situations to shape His people that were outside the community of faith.  In the passage above, God is using a pagan king to replant His people in the promised land.  A pagan king.

The world is a scary, treacherous and sometimes dangerous place, but it is small compared to God.  If He chooses to work through a pagan king to bring His children home, who are we to question?  When I consider the different choices that face our family, I have to remind myself that fear is not a factor.  We are His children and He will bring us safely to His side, but we don’t get to decide who or what He uses to get us there.

I want my children to be safe.  I want them to be protected, but more than that, I want them to walk the road that God has set before them.  This is going to be a challenge, because I may have to trust people and situations that seem “unsafe” for my children.  I don’t relish those moments of decision where God is calling my child to be in a worldly place under worldly people.  I pray that I will be ready when those moments come.  I hope that I will see God’s hand at work in those situations and trust in His will and wisdom rather than my own.

Lord, help me to trust You with my children.  Give me the strength to let them go into the world, trusting that you can use even the things of this world to shape them for Your glory and honor.  Remind me of Your faithfulness and mercy when those moments arise.  Amen.