This Easter will be like no other for some very good friends of mine. After years of infertility, God showed them that adoption was not His Plan B for them, but His Plan A. God led them to adopt two precious boys from Ethiopia in 2010, but they sensed that God was not done with His plan. This time they were led to adopt a young boy from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like many who walk this road, the adoption process was filled with many ups and downs. Unfortunately, after all the paperwork was done and the adoption legal, everything came to a halt. Because of corruption and unrest, the government stopped issuing Exit Letters for adopted children. For two long years my friends have been praying and working with the US and DRCongo governments to let their son come home. Weeks ago they finally received the Exit Letter and as I write this, they are in the DRCongo meeting their son for the first time. For this family, today was a day everything changed!
I am sure you can point to days in your life where everything changed. As we head into Good Friday and Easter Sunday, let’s keep in mind that both days changed everything for us. Good Friday is the day that Jesus defeated sin by taking on the full penalty of sin on the cross. Easter is the day that Jesus defeated death by breaking free from the grave. Let us join Paul as he shouts out in 1 Corinthians 15:15 (NLT), “Thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The truth is we are all like that orphan boy in DRCongo. We are all precious in God’s sight and it is God Himself who wants to adopt us into His family. Do you feel like a child of God? Do you live in the reality that God rescued you from sin and death? Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:5 (NLT), “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”
May your Easter season be filled with great joy as you remember that Good Friday and Easter Sunday were days that changed everything! He is risen; He is risen, indeed!
Are you traveling for Christmas? Many will be getting into cars, trains, and planes to be with the ones they love. Travel was also a big part of that very first Christmas – minus the cars, trains, and planes.
Mary and Joseph traveled nearly 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem and that journey would have taken 8-10 days. There are folks today that pay tourist companies around $1,500 to make that same hike. I doubt any of them are 9 months pregnant when they do. As long as that journey was, it was not the longest.
The magi, and we don’t know exactly how many there were, traveled a much longer distance. Many scholars believe they came from Persia which was over 1,000 miles away. They traveled on the backs of camels for many months. No matter how crammed you may feel on your long flight, it has to be better than sitting on camel’s hump for months. But this was still not the longest journey.
The longest and most difficult journey on that first Christmas was the journey Jesus embarked on. Philippians 2:6-7 tells us that, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” Jesus left the comforts of heaven and travelled to earth.
What would motivate such a journey? I propose that it is the same motivation that makes all of us travel for Christmas – love. Jesus didn’t just want to be with us for Christmas, but for all eternity. His journey was a rescue mission. Jesus tells us His purpose for coming to earth in John 6:38-40, “For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life.”
Have you ever met someone half-way in your travels? Jesus doesn’t ask this of us. He is called Immanuel which means, “God is with us”. Jesus traveled the full distance to be with us now and for all eternity. You can sense the earnestness in His words recorded in Revelation 3:20, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Jesus wants to be with you and He proved it by traveling from heaven to earth and then to the cross where He rescued us from the bondage of sin. There is joy when we finally arrive and are knocking on the door of our loved ones. Can you imagine not having the door opened?
Wherever your travels take you this Christmas, I pray that God will protect you and bring you safely back home. Our ultimate home is with Jesus and this is the very heart of Christmas. Jesus made the longest journey and now waits for us to open the door of our hearts. Godspeed!
Tis the season to be thankful! In the busyness of your Thanksgiving preparations, I hope you’ll take time to reflect on how good God has been to you and your family. I sometimes wonder how many of His blessings I overlook. As I was reflecting, I realized that I have not expressed how thankful I am for parents...especially the ones who bring their children to my children's ministry. BTW...after 18 years at the same church I recently moved churches...which explains why I have not blogged in a while.
Children's ministries across the country would not exist without faithful parents bringing their children. But my gratitude goes much deeper than that. Parenting is hard work and for many it is thankless work. They prepare meals, wash dishes, and provide a home and the countless necessities for raising kids today. They go above and beyond without applause or affirmation. They make many sacrifices along the way, putting their children’s needs and wants before their own. They invest in their school, sports, arts, and many other life-enriching experiences. Many parents even serve as volunteers in children's ministry...and for that I am especially grateful!
So, with all this heroic activity, you’d think parents would be treated like rock stars. Sadly, many parents feel beat-up and downright burned out. Even at church, parents could get the feeling that they are not doing enough. If you are a parent, relax for a moment and allow me to share with you two encouraging thoughts.
#1). Your tireless work is critically important! In a world that is quickly heading away from God, you are standing in the gap and directing your children towards truth, hope, and love. There is a real enemy focused on feeding our children lies and enticing them with lots of glitter and gold. You are still your child’s greatest influencer. Your children are listening and watching, so keep up the good work! Galatians 6:9 says, “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
#2). Your tireless work will be rewarded! One of the beautiful realities of God is that He is in control. God promises rewards for those who persevere. Even though parenting can seem like a losing battle, we know that goodness triumphs over evil in the end. God sees your hard work and sacrifice and he will bless you for not giving up. Psalms 112:1-2 says, “How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands. Their children will be successful everywhere; an entire generation of godly people will be blessed.”
As another Thanksgiving Day arrives, know that there are people ready to pray for you and partner with you in your parenting journey. As Thanksgiving Day passes and the shopping frenzy begins, look for a solid Christian Church to attend.
The Compass Church
My wife was recently gone for two weeks leading a group of runners from Team Oasis on a mission trip to Kenya to visit. They went to visit the children’s home under construction because of the money they raised. While there, they served the orphans and widows at three other locations, including the slums of Kibera. My job, other than to hold down the fort, was to keep everyone’s family and friends updated with daily e-mails. As I reflect on these, I am reminded how God uses our acts of service to not only bless others, but to change us. Here are just a few excerpts to give you a feel for their African adventure…
“Caleb and Eunice shared their early dream for a children’s home and how overwhelmed they are as it is finally being built in Migori.”
“They visited two widows’ homes, which were incredibly small. They listened to these amazing stories of God’s grace and provision. These women were complete outcasts after the deaths of their husbands and are now learning the skills needed to run their own jewelry making businesses. The team bought tons of jewelry from them!”
“Tiffany was able to spend time with the teachers and trained them in new math and reading techniques. They were so incredibly thankful for the new supplies and skills!”
“After church, they gave all the children backpacks filled with school supplies and other goodies. The children all immediately put the backpacks on their backs and walked around feeling so proud. No one took them off for the rest of the visit.”
“Jen decided to blow bubbles for the young children that were there. They curiously watched as she took out the wand, dipped it into the solution, and blew. Then, they all ran in terror as bubbles shot toward them! These children had never seen anything like this and it didn’t take long for them to realize that they were harmless.”
“Emily started asking questions about her favorite Bible story. She opened her Bible and they spent the next hour having an impromptu Bible study on Gideon.”
“The team brought glow sticks and they were a huge hit. Close your eyes and try to imagine a dark room filled with neon lights flashing around as beautiful voices of children sing worship songs.”
This month, my church's children’s ministry will be focusing on the environment of Serving. Based on Michelle Anthony’s book, “Spiritual Parenting,” we will be reinforcing a posture of the heart that asks the question, “What needs to be done?”
I personally don’t always want to ask that question because it may involve sacrifice on my part. Instead of focusing on my sacrifice, I wonder if I should focus on God’s blessing. Before the trip, there were some who were hesitant and fearful. Sacrifice was certainly going to be required – financial, physical, and emotional. When they return, none of them will focus on the sacrifice, but will tell with excitement what God did in them and through them.
The Apostle Peter encourages us to cultivate an others-centered lifestyle when he writes in 1 Peter 4:10 (NLT), “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” My prayer this month is that you and your family would wake up each day and enter each situation asking God to give you his eyes for what needs to be done. What a different world we would live in if we all did that!
I took my son and his friend to Wisconsin Dells for a couple days during their Spring Break. I warned them ahead of time that The Dells is full of cheesy attractions – pun intended. On top of the cheesy list is a place called Top Secret. Both boys wanted to check it out since it looks like an upside-down White House. Since there was special $5 admission that day, I decided to take them in. We were the only people in the place, which should have been a clue that I just wasted $15. Anyway, as we walked through the rooms, creepy music played. As we walked through a sewer drain area, my son’s friend demanded that he walk between me and my son. Then when we got to a dark passageway, he stopped and refused to go forward. I told him that he could walk right next to me. He hesitantly walked forward and I put my arm around him and pulled him in tight – mostly because I wanted to make sure he didn’t run off. We safely made it through after coming face to face with the top secret thing that was making all those creepy sounds. Sorry, I’m not going to tell you what it was, but I would strongly suggest that you spend your money on a good brat instead.
This month, my church's children’s ministry will be focusing on the environment of Out of the Comfort Zone. Based on Michelle Anthony’s book, “Spiritual Parenting,” we will be reinforcing the truth that: “God transforms me when I step out in faith.”
As we grow out of childhood fears, many parents are still troubled by fear of what’s ahead. I worry about my children’s safety. Will they be bullied at school or injured in an accident? Many worry about their children’s success. Will they do well in school or get a good college scholarship? Others fear that their children will struggle with sickness. Will they get a disease or will they fall into an unhealthy addiction? These are serious concerns and I do not want to minimize them. My family and those I know well are walking through some of these situations. However, we do not need to be overcome by fear, even during times like these! God told the Israelites as they walked into the Promised Land, that they would not be traveling alone. Deuteronomy 31:6 (NLT) says, “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid of them! The LORD your God will go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you."
Just like I provided comfort for my son’s friend by pulling him close, God wants to draw us closer to him during difficult times so we can personally experience his love, truth, and power. In fact, living in the environment of Out of the Comfort Zone is truly living exactly where God wants us to be – dependent on him.
This month, as we celebrate the victory over death that was purchased by Jesus on the cross, I pray that your home will experience the Holy Spirit’s transforming power as you live a life not bound by fear!