Unfinished Conquering


When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, “You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over. – Joshua 13:1 (NIV)

During Joshua’s leadership over the Israelites, the northern and southern kings were routed and the land of promise was being claimed.  Armies and lands were overcome with the power of God through His people.  Miraculous interventions, like the Sun standing still in the sky, were signs of God’s hand aiding the twelve
tribes.  And yet God tells Joshua, “there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.”  Unfinished conquering lay ahead.

Raising our children in the wilderness that is the fallen world will require an understanding of unfinished
conquering.  If we want our children to be land wholly devoted to God’s purposes, they will need to be prepared to
conquer the land.  As they grow and mature, our children will face new enemies; enemies that will disguise
themselves as friends or as harmless.  These enemies will try to conquer spiritual territory in the hearts and
minds of our children.  They need to be conquerors.

God’s promise to Joshua before entering into a life of conquest was, “Be strong and courageous.”  That promise holds for us and our children.  If we are intent on conquering the land God has given us – our time, talents and treasures – He will be with us.  But we will need to stay faithful to God’s commands.  Each of our children are
children of promise.  Through Christ they have the potential to conquer the world for God, but first they must be conquered by God.

Lord, give me a conquering spirit.  Help me to raise my children to be more than conquerors for Your kingdom.  May they grow in strength, courage and faith each day. Amen

With God There are No Giants


They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land.  They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.  But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.  The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”  And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.  We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” – Numbers 13:26-33 (NIV)

It is hard to be a true believer.  It is difficult to trust what you have been told when everyone else seems to be turning a deaf ear to the truth.  No one said following God would take us through friendly territory, just that He would take us through.  Joshua and Caleb were true believers.  Apparently, they were a very small minority.

Teaching our children to stick to their faith, to follow through with their commitment to God, is critical.  We live in a culture of shifting beliefs and smorgasbord spirituality.  When we don’t like something, we go to a philosophical grab bag and pick out the ideology en vogue at the time.  This nonsensical atmosphere can seem like a land of giants, but with God there are no giants.  There is nothing, no one bigger than our God.

I want my daughters to be like Joshua and Caleb.  I want them to walk into their friendships, schools, groups and gatherings unafraid of the giants they may meet there.  My hope for them is based on the command and promise that God gave to Joshua later in his life: “Be strong and courageous … for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)  I want my daughters to be brave.

Lord, make me into a giant killer.  Help me to be brave when giants are in the land.  Give me the strength and will to overcome and the faith to believe.  Let me show my children that You are above all things. Amen.

Rules Are Not Made to Be Broken, the Broken Need to Be Ruled


And God spoke all these words:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Exodus 20:1-6 (NIV)

Everyone has a ruler.  We all have something that defines our thoughts and actions.  There is a power or presence or person that holds sway over us in a way that nothing else does.  For the believer, our ruler is God.  This does not mean that we always act as if God rules us, but that we have chosen God as our ruler.  For others, it is their career.  For some, it is their relationships.  Still others are ruled by their passions.  Children have a ruler from the moment they are born: self-interest.

This may seem harsh, but it is reality.  Children are interested in their needs and their needs alone.  They have to learn to share.  They have to learn to consider others.   They need a ruler.  In the home, fathers and mothers are that ruler, setting the tone for their children to understand and accept God as their ruler later on in life.  The people of Israel needed a ruler, and rules, but they were ruled by self-interest.  God had sent them the Ten Commandments, but they wanted a God they could define and rules they could follow without any effort.

God’s rules create boundaries and give shape to things.  They help us make decisions that honor Him and bless those around us.  They bring focus and definition to the fuzziness of a confused and contradictory world.  Rules give us a language that explains the motivation and meaning of our actions.  God’s rules help shape us into the image of His Son.  God’s rules mold us into creatures fit for heaven.

Teaching our children rules helps prepare them for a ruler.  When we teach them how to share, not to lie, or clean up their own mess we are preparing them for God’s commands.  Rules are not to be broken.  Rules mend.  Rules make us whole.  Rules allow us to experience a freedom we can never experience in anarchy and rebellion.

Lord, help me teach your rules to my children in grace and love.  Give me the wisdom to define the boundaries of righteousness to my children as they grow and mature.  Let me set and example by living within your rules each day. Amen.

Manna and Quail


That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.  When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.  This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.'”

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little.  And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.

Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.  On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much–two omers for each person–and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses.  He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'”

So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.

“Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today.  Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”  Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?  Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.”  So the people rested on the seventh day. – Exodus 16:13-30 (NIV)

Getting your children to trust you can be an epic chore sometimes.  They can be very sure of their perception of things and be very unsure of what mommy and daddy try to tell them.  The process of earning their trust is one we will go through numerous times, but it would be good for us to keep in mind that God goes through the same process with us.  The passage above is a clear indication of how stubborn humanity can be even in the face of God’s goodness and providence.

We are going to have manna and quail moments with our children.  We are going to be frustrated that they still behave as if we are not on their side, or don’t care about them or don’t want them to succeed.  They will say hurtful and uninformed things about us and our motivations.  They will act in ways that seem disconnected from the way we treat them day after day after day.  In the midst of all this, God is going through the same frustration with His children.

For God and us, this process of trust sits entirely with us.  There is nothing God needs to prove, there is nothing He needs to change and there is nothing He owes us.  However, as parents we need to empathize with our children and approach their growth and struggles with humility.  We aren’t perfect and therefore have no right to expect it from anyone else, especially our children.

Next time I am about to nitpick one of my children, I hope God brings the manna and quail to mind.  When the time comes and I am about to enter into a diatribe on respect and obedience, I pray that God will cause me to pause and re-evaluate the situation.  Lord, help me to be a voice of patience, grace and wisdom into my children’s lives. Amen.

Growing from Season to Season


There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

My daughter and I have grown to love the stream where we live, even as it changes throughout the year.  Whether it is sitting on the beach skipping rocks with dragonflies perched on the cattails in the spring, or the mist rising off the water into the crisp morning air of fall, it has become a place of community and celebration for us.  In each season, we have experienced beauty and pain, either in our own lives or by observing the changes experienced by the landscape itself.  I have come to appreciate the seasons equally for their amazing differences and subtle commonalities.

It has been fascinating watching the trees next to the stream, especially a large mimosa, as the seasons pass by.  There are several other mimosas on the property, but only one next to the stream.  It is definitely larger and tends to get leaves earlier and lose them later.  In other words, its proximity to the stream helps it handle the seasons better, but it does not eliminate the seasons.   So the tree grows stronger, produces more fruit and sinks its roots deep into fertile soil, but the world around it is still the same.

We are in the same situation.  We may grow strong in our understanding of God and His Word.  We may produce good and plentiful fruit through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  We may sink our roots into the rich soil of God’s love, mercy and grace.  But the world around us remains the same; the seasons still change, the weeds still grow and the storms still rage.  The difference is not in what we experience in this life, it is how we experience it.

For those who root themselves in Christ, each season is a time to grow stronger for the season to come.  This is why we can come to cherish each of the seasons of life.  We are no longer defined by those seasons as they come and go, but by the One who gives us a life abundantly in the midst of every season.    In Him the winter is as rich and full of purpose as the summer, and the shedding of leaves just as meaningful as their bursting forth in spring.  This, however, is not an easy reality to grasp in a world that values change for its own sake.  The question we need to ask ourselves is “Am I handling the inconsistencies of life better today than I did last week, last month or last year?”  If not, it may be a matter of moving closer to the stream and sinking your roots deeper and deeper.  If so, don’t settle for where you are; keep digging deeper.  If we don’t look just like Jesus, there’s still room to grow.

Growing Up by Digging Deep


I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

Most of us have seen a sidewalk mistreated by the roots of a tree; as it grows the concrete buckles and cracks and another contractor finds gainful employment.  The power to do such damage is one of the unsung miracles of trees (a mature Oak can pump 50 gallons of water a day out of the ground).  The root structures of most trees are incredibly powerful, tough and extremely efficient at transporting nutrients and water from the ground to the highest branches.  Roots are crucial for healthy growth and act as an anchor for the tree in extreme weather. As believers we also must have strong roots that dig deep into the soil of God’s love so we can weather the storms of a fallen world.

There are several trees near our stream whose roots have been exposed by the slow erosion of soil by the water flowing in its course.  The exposed parts of the roots are just a fraction of the actual length and breadth of the total root system.  It is curious that the part of the tree that makes it grow and gives it stability is the one that is least seen by most observers.  This leads me to think that some of the most important ways for us to stay connected with the life of God take place where others do not see.

The life that Paul is praying for the Ephesians is a life that is “rooted and established in love” because having roots is not the same as being established.  In order for us to be established trees, we must be difficult to uproot.  This can only happen if the roots sink deep and wide and draw the life-giving water to the life that others see.  Trees are steadfast in this regard, growing their roots slowly but firmly to reach the source.

The roots are like the various spiritual disciplines – meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship & celebration – reaching into the depths of God’s immeasurable mercy and grace.  They are the means by which the Holy Spirit flows from Heaven into our branches to produce good fruit.  They are the strong ties to the soil of God’s love that hold us fast when the winds buffet and rages. A tree by itself does not produce fruit; a tree that is receiving all the nutrients it needs will produce fruit.  If we want to produce fruit, we have to sink the roots.

In our world, we have been told to take care of the outside so people will like what they see.  In another of God’s reversals of conventional wisdom, He has told us to develop the inner life so that it informs and transforms the outer.  So many have beautiful looking trees, with lush branches and thick trunks, but the slightest wind will uproot them.  Others have plentiful fruit at first glance, but it is only decorative and has nothing to nourish those who might try to eat what is offered.

Let me ask you a question: when you have just bitten into a juicy, flavorful apple, do you wonder if the tree it came from is attractive or impressive?  Probably not.  More than likely you pined at the possibility of having a tree like the one your apple came from in your back yard.  What makes a tree a blessing to others is its ability to produce good fruit season after season.

As Christians we do not grow fruit on our branches for our own sake.  No tree does.  We sink roots deep, grow our branches strong and thicken up our trunk to hold fruit out to those who need to eat.  It is interesting to note that each of the disciplines require a certain characteristic – stillness.  We must be still by the stream and sink our roots deep to allow God’s love to flow through us, producing fruit in its season for a hungry world.

Skipping Rocks: Getting Life from the Source


This is the second in a series this week on spiritual growth.  May we help our children sink their roots deep into the truth of God’s word and way.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. – Psalms 1:1-3 (NIV)

Trees depend on two critical sources of energy and life; water and sunlight.  Having one without the other can be devastating to a tree and an absence of both is deadly. I believe this is why so many passages in scripture are clear about trees growing near streams. God has seen fit to give us all life, but He has also made eternal life available to us as well.

The life that is given to all of us is like the sunlight to a tree.  It is readily available and there are no pre-requisites – if you are a tree, you get sunlight.  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians  1:15-17 NIV) This doesn’t require belief in God anymore than a tree has to believe in the Sun.  The Sun provides light to the tree because that is what the Sun does and God creates living things because that’s what God does.

The tree that is planted by the stream, however, has another source of life that it must be connected to in order to grow even stronger.  Just as the water in the stream brings life and strength to the tree, so the living water brings newness and strength to our souls as it flows from the Father.  If we want to grow strong, we must stay connected to the source of water. It is ridiculous to picture a dry and weary tree making its way from a barren land to the stream for a quick drink, only to return to the barren land.  And yet that is exactly what we do in our own lives.

Too often we live in the dry places and difficult landscapes because that’s where the other trees are hanging out.  From time to time we grow thirsty and edge ourselves near the stream to rejuvenate, but we never truly connect to the source.  This makes for fragile trees that do not bear the burden of seasons very well and produce little fruit.  It is the tree that sinks its roots into moist soil of the banks that will thicken its trunk and strengthen its limbs.

Our relationship with God has been compared to being plugged in, like a cord into a wall socket, but that breeds the idea that we only need to have the connection when we need a charge.  The truth is that we need a constant connection with God like the tree has with the stream.  It is the life that is rooted in God rather than the infrequent religious jolts that will grow strong, weather the seasons and bear much fruit. The question for all of us is where are your roots sinking?  Are they digging into the rich soil of the stream bank or tangled up in the dry soil of a dead forest with other lamenting trees?  I may not be at the stream just yet, but I’m certainly going to try and get there because the stream is calling.

Stuff to Do With Your Kids: Tell Them a Story


Once a week I will be trying to post something I am doing with my children or something I have read about and want to do with my children.  Hopefully they will inspire you to find different ways to connect with your child(ren) make memories.  Below is the first foray in Stuff to Do With Your Kids.  Blessings!

 

Even with the steady flow of information coming from the internet, TV and books, it is hard to find a good story.  I think part of the problem is that our society has slowly become more adept at soaking up stories than creating them.    There is nothing wrong with appreciating creativity, but if it is done without inspiring creativity, shallow and hollow living can soon follow.  Children need to be storytellers.

I am getting in the habit of telling my daughters stories made up as we go.  There are some repeated characters or worlds, but the storyline is spontaneous and often serendipitous.  During some of these story times, I include my girls in the story telling.  I ask for ideas on what to call a character or what a location looks like. They love the freedom to come up with silly and fantastic things without being criticized.  They are stretching their creative muscles and getting stronger every day.  They are even beginning to tell their own stories and we all have fun.

So be a storyteller.  Be creative even if it is silly and fantastic.  Join your children on adventures that no theater could contain or screen could express.  Help them learn the power and wonder of a good story not just as spectators, but as participants. Remind them that there is one who is writing their story and He wants them to help with the details.  Guide them to the intersection of imagination, inspiration and transformation and you will give them a gift that will last a lifetime.

Uncommon Wisdom


The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. – Psalms 19:7 (NIV)

Most of us have heard the euphemism “Common sense isn’t so common.”  We laugh or snicker, but the truth of the saying pricks just a bit.  As a culture, we share the same sensibilities with our neighbors less and less.  We have become diverse not just in the characteristics closer to the surface of who we are, but deep down in the core.

Cultures go through these eras of tumult and transition and they are rarely without difficulty.  In theUSAwe have gone through our share – the Revolution, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement – where combating groups held their sensibilities to those which were common.  Christians took their stance on both sides of all these issues, so even we did not hold things in common all the time.

There is something common for all of us.  We can take our opinions or feelings and use them to define reality, to determine what is true.  Maturity is no longer allowing our weaknesses to define the world around us, but to allow the truth of God’s word to define the way we see ourselves and the world.  His law is perfect and allows us to see things perfectly, but we must see the world through that lens.

We need to begin this with our children before they are increasingly exposed to the worldliness around them.  We need to expose them to the truths of God well before they are inundated with the lies of the world.  This means that we and our children will be at odds with our culture, even at odds with our family and neighbors.  The hope is that standing our ground will turn others to look at that perfect law.

Lord, help us to live according to Your word and not according to our will.  Help me to increase in wisdom and knowledge of Your statutes.  May my children be prepared to meet the foolishness of the world with Your wisdom.  Amen.

A Father’s Resume


LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?  He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken. – Psalms 15:1-5 (NIV)

I have turned in my resume for different jobs several times over the last two decades.  It has changed because my experiences, skills and technical knowledge have changed.  The resume reflected what I had already lived up to and it was my hope that those hiring would have like what they read.  Father’s have a different kind of resume.

Our children are the living resumes for the world to see. The way they live their lives will reflect how well we are living up to God’s commands.  The psalm above is a description of who we are to be as men, and therefore, fathers.  I have to ask myself if my children’s lives are beginning to reflect the characteristics listed.  Am I striving daily to live up to that kind of standard, or am I satisfied with just getting by?  Do I live a life that cannot be shaken?

My children need a father who seeks God above all else; a father who abides in the sanctuary of His love and righteousness.  They don’t need a best friend or a cool dad. They need someone who will lead them to that sanctuary of God’s love and righteousness.  I have to have more than me in mind in the choices I make, the actions I take and the words that I speak.  They need a Godly man.

Lord, help me be more and more like you every day.  May I be an example of integrity to my children.  Let me lead them to the sanctuary of Your love, grace and righteousness. Amen.