This is my first summer since 2004 without VOICE. Even without VOICE this year, many of us past VOICE staff gathered in Saint Louis for a wonderful reunion hosted by Luke and Karen. Part of each day was spent sharing about the lessons God has been teaching us, and through it, I noticed a surprising common denominator: the shadow of a little friend lurking, nagging for our attention, gnawing away at our emotions. You may not yet be aware of it’s presence, but trust me, it can creep upon you in surprising ways.
I’m leading a team of kids at the Vacation Bible School this week at our church, and my two oldest children are on my team. The organizers said they put my kids with me on purpose, and at first I thought, “Oh, ok, that makes sense.”
But throughout the morning I was treated to my kids constantly trying to assert their privileged relationship for attention that took away from the team. Asking to be allowed to sit out of activities. Yelling at me while I was trying to teach a Bible verse: “Daddy! Daddy!!! DADDY!!!” I happen to know that if they were on a different team, they would follow along very well with their teacher and happily take part in everything.
So my initial reaction was to think that my kids would learn better on another team, and I’d have an easier time teaching, so…why not that? They expect favoritism from me, and even if I don’t give it, that expectation makes them act and talk in ways that seem to take away from the team experience. And of course they do get better treatment some of the time: even if nothing else, there’s my being much more familiar with their names and the different meaning it has when I use their names as opposed to what it means to one of the other students. But doubtless there’s plenty more than that.
But then I thought…maybe God does play favorites with us. After all, God certainly cares about everyone in the world, even affirming that it’s legitimate to say that we’re all God’s children (Jonah 4:11; Acts 17:28). But he then gives a special relationship to those of us who accept Christ, complete with special grace, favors, attention…favoritism! (I won’t list out those special privileges here, but I trust you can easily find a full page or two mentioned in the Bible. Email me if you can’t!) My relationship with God is not all that different from how my kids treat me on the VBS team – “God, don’t you think I’m special? Listen to me! Look at me! I need, I need, I need!!!” And as near as I can tell, God says “ok” quite a bit!
Not to say that I’m planning to have a double standard with some of my students this week, but it does seem a bit more like the organizers might have had a good idea after all. My relationship with my kids is different from my other students, so the way I love them should be different. I think I’m seeing that this doesn’t take away from my ability to appropriately love and care for all of my students. After all, if it’s good enough for God, who am I to judge?
For thirty years, I didn’t have a Valentine. Guys had to ask my father for permission to date me. Dad was strict, few guys tried, so I gave up hope that I would ever have a Valentine.
But this post isn’t about what you may not have. This Valentine’s Day, I want to remind us all of what we do have.
Ephesians 5:31 is a verse we commonly hear at weddings: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Now why would the passage talk about the man leaving his father and mother, when in most cultures, the woman leaves her family? To answer this question, I’d like to share a story.
When Arianna was two, she started having nightmares. One night, she woke up crying that a fox was out to get her. After several nights of her crying for us in the middle of the night, we decided to set up a little bed for her in our room. It was easier.
One night, I woke up hearing her whimpering. I went to comfort her, only to discover that she was still asleep. She was having another nightmare. Even though I was exhausted, my mother’s heart hurt for her. I wanted her to keep sleeping, but I also wanted to wake her up and assure her that everything was going to be ok—that her dream wasn’t real.
That is what Christ did for us. Ephesians 5:32 says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Marriage is a picture of God’s love for us. Jesus left His home in Heaven, His Father who loved Him, and all His glory to enter into our world—to assure us that our nightmare will one day pass away.
That’s not all. When it says that a man will hold fast to his wife, it’s telling us that Jesus came to pursue people who not only didn’t love Him in return but instead sought after other gods. We love romantic love, because it’s the feeling of being completely known and accepted by another person—but Jesus came to love people who ultimately rejected and crucified Him. I can’t fathom a love like that.
The last part talks about the two becoming one flesh—because Jesus loves us, He lived for us, suffered for us, died and rose again for us—He joined Himself to us, so that when God looks at us, He sees His beloved Son, so that we who were doomed to death might be saved and loved and accepted and completely known. This is the love of God—He became poor so that we might be rich. He took on our sickness that we might be healed. He bore all of our sorrows so that we might have joy. And the Bible tells us that not even death can separate us from the love of Christ.
So this Valentine’s Day, remember what you have—the extravagant love of God.
I had never really considered it before.
Even when I lived alone, half-a-world away from family, I’ve been blessed with a sense of security & protection all of my life. With safety a seemingly natural thing, I never really considered what it would be like to feel UN-safe, UN-secure, UN-assured. UN-protected.
Then I began a relationship… with someone who made me feel completely safe. Even safer than ever before! So I still didn’t notice it.
As I began preparing for our wedding, I ran across a few blogs, snippets of books, etc that talked about marriage and relationships. They talked about how to overcome common threats to deepening relationships: Anxiety. Insecurities. Inadequacy. Fears.
Suddenly, I began to realize what a precious gift I did have, by understanding what I didn’t have. I was so grateful to my parents, grateful to my fiancé, grateful to God! Moreover, I’ve begun to feel the beautiful weight of how our relationship with our earthly spouse is a mirror of our identity in Christ. (Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d heard that all my life… but I didn’t KNOW it.)
For those who are 2nd or 3rd generation Christians, we take Salvation through Christ for granted. It’s hard to imagine life without Him. We obviously don’t want to turn back time and live a more sin-filled life in order to drink more deeply of His grace, but… we don’t know what it means to return to our first love, because we scarcely remember that far back! (Except maybe what our favorite toy was!)
And yet… it’s HUGE! It’s such a HUGE THING to be Saved. Washed clean. Redeemed. Uncondemned. Pursued. Loved. Secure. Accepted. Adopted. Wanted. Cherished. Completely whole in Christ. Made new. Safe.
“Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.” —Psalm 32:7 (KJV)
I searched the Bible for character qualities my future wife should have…and some I should have.
I made commitments to “courtship” when I was 12. I had crushes, accompanied by prayer and journaling. I read blog posts about “being the right one” rather than “finding the right one.” I looked for more character qualities I should have.
If I did what was right, I wouldn’t hurt others or be hurt myself, right?
Then I tried to “court” someone.
That’s when I discovered well-intentioned people treat one another shabbily, even when—maybe especially when—they’re trying to do everything right.
Along the way, I heard lots of advice. There were admonitions to be “serious” about relationships. But being “serious” didn’t guarantee I wasn’t also selfish.
There were admonitions to “pursue” relationship, that relationships take work. This idea pointed out where I focus on myself rather than another person. But my initiative and effort did not guarantee relationship success.
The shame became the hardest part.
While my friends were getting married and then having kids, I wondered why my relationships would last a while…and not work out.
In the two and a half years before I met my wife, Tina, at VOICE 2013, two 8-month relationships came and went—one mostly on Skype that couldn’t survive meeting in person, one relationship I ended for reasons I still struggle to articulate.
Even my good desires were all mixed up with something else. I’d think myself in the right…and realize how self-righteous that thought meant I was. I would decide my life direction didn’t match someone else’s…and then I would realize how much fear was influencing my decisions.
So when I met Tina, I didn’t experience it as answered prayer. I hadn’t thought to pray…although the guys on my team at VOICE did.
I didn’t “love Jesus more,” or receive a “rhema,” or get myself to a place where I had “no will of my own,” though those sound like good things.
Knowing Tina has been more like a sudden rain than like turning on a faucet, more like being forgiven than like “clearing my conscience,” more like grace than anything else.
Now that we’re married we need each other’s forgiveness even more. And the other’s forgiveness makes God’s promised forgiveness feel more real.
Maybe that’s the point.
Maybe grace is not “the desire and power to do what is right” but the work we discover God was doing all along. Maybe what we’re meant to know isn’t “how to live the Christian life” but to behold our Savior.
I sat on the floor crying.
Earlier that day we met my parents and sister and boarded The Lady of the Lake for the four-and-a-half hour cruise up Lake Chelan to the Stehekin, Wash.
It was a beautiful day. And I thought briefly about the opportunity this was to spend time with family.
Then I got all wrapped up in photographing the lake and the mountains.
We had an hour and a half in Stehekin before heading down lake again, and I determined to get a picture of Rainbow Falls. My wife, Tina, persuaded me to stay at the foot of the falls where Mom and Dad were headed. But not to be entirely thwarted, I climbed down to make a picture of the stream.
It wasn’t until we were back on the bus that I realized I’d lost my wedding ring.
Then just before parting ways at the home pier, we had a fellow passenger take our family picture using my phone.
Mom wanted a picture on her camera too. But somehow I ignored her.
As we headed home, it hit me. I remembered the last time we took that cruise, 27ish years ago, with extended family, and grandpa and grandma who are no longer with us. I might have other opportunities to love my wife, my parents, my sister, but the opportunities of that day were gone.
Sitting on the floor at home, I felt helpless to fix it. My efforts in the present or what I planned to do in the future could not recover what was lost that day.
For a Christian, called specifically in the Bible to love God and love others, these missed opportunities are not unfortunate misses along the road to a nice life but failures of my heart to take shape. I wanted to punish myself and hide like Adam and Eve did, even from God.
But this is also when the promise of “beauty for ashes” means the most. This is when God comes and finds us. This is when the sin-destroying love and mercy of God in Christ yanks us from the shadows and exposes the sinfulness even of our efforts to improve. And when all else is burned away, the promises of God remain.
Love is [patient]
Love is [kind]
Love is [not jealous]
Love is [not proud, and does not boast]
Love [does not demand it’s own way]
Love [is not irritable & keeps no record of being wronged]
Love [does not rejoice about injustice]
Love [rejoices whenever truth wins out]
Love [never gives up]
Love [never loses faith]
Love [is always hopeful]
Love [endures through every circumstance]
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT
I’ve really been thinking about these verses lately, and their current presence in my life. I want more & others need more, so I proposed a challenge to myself. The “1 Corinthians 13, Love Challenge.” Yes. After thinking about it some more – I’m sure someone else has already taken my idea and has probably written a book about it, but really, I didn’t steal the idea! 🙂 Regardless of it’s originality, it’s still a tough challenge for me. I’ve committed to specifically focus on an aspect of love every week and integrate it more into my thinking, the way I live life, and more importantly- the way I approach God. It’s more of a challenge than you’d originally think too. Wow. Sometimes it’s reaaaallly hard. To be patient with myself, others & God. Not just in my actions, or my words – but my attitude. A patient person is someone who isn’t as much concerned about their agenda & time frame, but towards others. Someone who is patient won’t become irritated when stuck behind some really slow person on the freeway.
I need patience in approaching God. Not coming to Him with my “10 minutes before I have to leave for work” mentality, squeezing Him into my schedule and expecting Him to refresh, teach, and give guidance; but, it is necessary to give Him time to speak, and move in my life. Time for me to be still, and not be thinking about where I need to be, or when I need to be there. God’s timing is often way different from ours. I know because I’ve seen this & experienced it firsthand. But you know what? His timing is ALWAYS better than the timeline I’ve set for Him or myself.
While attending a car race last week at the nearby Route 66 Raceway, I learned a little bit about patience that day just by watching it all! Those race cars are ready. They’re filled with fuel, and the driver is at the start line waiting for the light to turn from Red, to Yellow, and finally to Green. If they move too soon, they’re disqualified from the race. [Which did happen to a couple cars that night! 🙁 ] I’m so grateful that God hasn’t disqualified me because I’ve moved ahead of His perfect time. Each day is a new day – and another chance to be at the starting line – waiting for His hand to display the green light.
A patient love needs to be such a bigger part of me, along with the other 11 on the list. So here it goes to 12 weeks of learning more of Christ’s love & passing it on to others!
A man ran through a pitch dark room shouting, “I hate you, darkness! Go away! Stop being dark!”
Silence. The darkness didn’t go away. In fact, it didn’t even budge. For hours the man ranted and raved against the darkness in the room, but the darkness never wavered.
Finally another man walked into the room. He did not scream and curse the darkness. Instead, he walked resolutely across the room and turned on the light. The darkness was gone.
Sometimes I get so frustrated with the evil in the world that all I do is complain about how dark the darkness is. There are so many issues that I can get upset about, but there is only one solution: Jesus, the Light of the world.
A few days ago, as I was reading in the Gospel of John, I was excited to find Jesus’ description of how He “turned the light on” for the world.
“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.
“If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin…” John 15:22, 24a
Jesus spoke and lived in a way that set Him apart from everyone else. However, Jesus was not just trying to be unique. The purpose of His set apart life was so people would know that they had sin. Unless light shines into a room, there is no way to tell what is in the room. Similarly, unless the light of Christ shines into a person’s life, that person will never know the true state of their heart or see their need.
Think back to the day you accepted Jesus as your Savior. Think about how different your life would be now if you had never done that. I remember what I was like. I remember feeling miserably hopeless – and I grew up in a Christian family! I would never have had peace, I would never have gone to VOICE, and my life would be a wreck right now if it weren’t for Jesus in me.
“But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared” (Titus 3:4). No one becomes a Christian without the kindness and love of God “appearing” to him. That’s “turning the light on!”
As we learn to see unsaved people the way God sees them (see Joel’s post for more on this), let’s look for ways to “turn the light on” for them. How can we speak and live in a way that will shine Jesus, the Light of the world, into the lives of others?
In this part of the world, Central Wisconsin, winter brings cold and a blanket of snow to cover the earth. The only vegetation that seems to be alive are evergreen trees and indoor plants. It is sometimes depressing to look out at a forest and see trees that were once green and covered with leaves now bare and grey. From all outward appearances, the trees look as if they have all suddenly died. And yet, once all the snow has melted and the warmth of spring comes, they seem to come to life again and grow beautiful.
I was recently meditating on how the Lord sees our hearts, and the hearts of our friends that do not yet have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Before we knew Him, we were dead. There was nothing beautiful or valuable about our lives. And yet, within each one of us is the potential for new life through Jesus. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross provided a way for each one of us to change from something cold and dead to something new and living.
In our interactions with unsaved friends and coworkers, how do we see them? Are they simply part of our world that we interact with? As Christians, we have the responsibility from the Lord to tell others about Him and what He as done for us. We should see those around us they way that God sees them; Souls in need of salvation. In our everyday lives, our words and actions should lead others to the knowledge of Christ.
When I look out at the world, and see how so many reject Christ and what He has done for us, I am tempted to see a ‘forest’ of dead people. The Lord looks at the same people and continues to make His love available to them, and commands us to do the same. In our everyday lives, our words and actions should lead others to the knowledge of Christ.
Be bold in proclaiming the word of the Lord, and the love that Jesus has made available for all!
|team 5, VOICE 2009|
I currently work as the associate youth director at a church in Hong Kong. I love being in ministry, including past and current involvement with Children’s Institute and VOICE. It’s meaningful work to invest in people whether it’s each week or in just one conversation.
Being in ministry though, also means you’re usually on the giving end of relationships. After all, that is the nature of your job – serving others. I have been taught me to have a “ministry mindset” which basically is to always be on the outlook for outreach. Initiate questions, find out about their interests, care about them.
Maybe even in some friendships, it feels like you are the one who does the listening, you know more about them, and are a part of their life more than they are a part of yours.
Giving is often very rewarding, but I’ve realized that you can’t expect or depend on those you serve (or your friends) to fulfill your needs. If your relationships are fueled only by what the other gives you in return, you may run out of energy to continue or have less to offer.
Well, God is not only real but very well-acquainted with you. In THAT relationship, you are the recipient – the receiver of His love and His understanding of you. Refreshed in the truth that God delights in you, you become fulfilled. Enough to keep giving when little comes back.
“I pray that you may…know this love [of Christ] that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19
“..for the Lord delights in you..” Isaiah 62:4
Remember your identity as His beloved! And with that confidence, take on a ministry mindset, whatever your job is.