Don’t Despise Small Beginnings

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” – Zechariah 4:10 (NLT)

In a world of instant gratification and overnight successes, we can easily become discouraged if we don’t see early signs of success. Is it worth it?

God called His exiled people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Zerubbabel was put in charge of the seemingly insurmountable task. It would take years of hard work, while facing stiff opposition and setbacks. And how could it ever have the same glory as the previous version?

When God calls us to do His good works, it will generally take time and hard work. We’ll face setbacks and opposition. Rebuilding a relationship. Parenting a difficult child. Starting a new career. Loving a neighbor. Forgiving a brother.

God already knows we’ll make mistakes, and at times our strength and courage will fail us. That’s why He repeatedly says to us, “Fear not.” He is assuring us that He will be with us and provide just what we need to obey.

Here was God’s word of encouragement to Zerubbabel for the overwhelming assignment:

“This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him! And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone of the Temple in place, the people will shout: ‘May God bless it! May God bless it!’” – Zechariah 4:6-7

Don’t despise the small and early steps of obeying God, when the results can’t be seen. God sees the day when you “will shout” His praises.

Making People Perfect(er)

img_1074

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. – Ephesians 5:25-27

The Apostle Paul gives husbands the ultimate example of love and selflessness and says, “There, love your wife just like that.” I confess that I’m still working on it. Later (v.33), Paul seems to give us a better chance by saying that a husband “must love his wife as he loves himself.” I’m still working on this too.

More than making me a better husband, this truth of Jesus’ sacrificial love reveals two important points:

1. By his love, Christ made his church spiritually perfect (holy, clean, radiant, stainless, wrinkle-free, blemish-free, blameless). That’s what Christ’s love made us through faith in him.

2. If I love Sweet Sue like Jesus, I will make her an even better (holier) wife and person in this world (I’m not saying she needs it). Loving her and others like Jesus provides them a sanctifying benefit. I can’t make my wife or anyone else perfect. But I can help them make headway by loving them like Jesus.

The gospel reminds us that Jesus made us spiritually holy for himself, by his amazing love. He calls us to help move others to holiness through the sanctifying power of our love.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8

Blessings,

Dave

Preparing Children for Adult Spiritual Health

5623F8F8-399C-4455-BFF1-C5410F860B23

A recent Lifeway Research survey of Christian parents of young adults (18-30) identified top factors that contributed to the spiritual health of their children. Children who did all five of the top practices (below, in order of influence) had a significantly higher (41%) spiritual health score as young adults.

  1. Regularly Reading the Bible: Are you teaching and encouraging your child to read God’s Word?

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” –Psalm 119:105

  1. Regularly Praying: How are you helping your child to pray consistently?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” –Philippians 4:6

  1. Regularly Serving in Church: Are you serving others AND helping your children to do the same?

“As I have loved you (by serving), so you must love (by serving) one another. —John 13:34

  1. Primarily Listening to Christian Music: What are the most repeated messages your child’s mind is taking in?

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” –Philippians 4:18

  1. Participating in Church Mission Trips/Projects: Is your family taking advantage of mission opportunities with the church?

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” –Matthew 28:19

This study reminds us that teaching and showing kids how to practice their faith makes a lifetime impact. For more great information on this study, read Lifeway’s article, How Parents Can Encourage Their Kids’ Spiritual Health.

Blessings,

Dave

Where Did All the Perfect Families Go?

Marsh Family Pic
 “I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.'” – Billy Graham

 

We all know there are no perfect families. Adam and Eve, the couple with the best opportunity to earn a perfect score, couldn’t do it. They wound up law breakers and evicted from their home. One of their sons eventually murdered his brother. Not even close to perfect. You’ll have a difficult time finding examples of any perfect families in the Bible.

With Billy Graham’s earthly journey now complete, there is rightly a lot of reflection and honor being given to his remarkable life. I consider Billy Graham one of the greatest men of all time, and personally put him up there near the Apostle Paul.

As great as God made Billy, he was far from perfect. As a husband and dad, he gave priority to his work and spent most of his time away from his wife and children. It took a toll on his family. Some of his children struggled with drugs and alcohol. Three of five children suffered through divorces. Understandably, plenty of imperfections.

Billy Graham’s life is a reminder to me of how God uses imperfect people with imperfect families for his perfect purpose. Billy gave his life to sharing the message of the saving grace of Jesus Christ because Jesus is the only One who can save and heal the world from its sin and imperfections. I’m glad God used and continues to use the less-than-perfect Graham family. And so are the millions of mothers, fathers and children that Billy reached for Christ.

Don’t be discouraged by your family’s faults. God can and will overcome those imperfections for his purpose as you continue to commit yourself and your family to him.

Taste and See—This is Really Good

Disney Pic

“Taste and see that the LORD is good… those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” –Psalm 34:8, 10

It’s difficult to teach children that they’re not lacking something good, particularly when comparing themselves against others or during times of suffering—especially since we struggle to grasp it ourselves. Nowhere does God teach us that those who seek him get everything they want or are exempt from the bad things that occur in the world. Jesus taught us that we will have trouble:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Despite the bad that afflicts every life, God is good and we have no lack of anything good, if we continue to seek him. (See Matthew 6:31-34)

God’s good character never changes during tragedy or heartbreak. There is never any deceit or evil inclination in him, his actions, or as we may perceive, his failure to act. Every evil or wrongdoing is from the evil one, not God. In fact, God has assured us that wherever evil works to do bad in this world, God works for the good of those who love him (seek him):

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” – Romans 8:28a.

God’s good character and purpose are always working on our behalf. Jesus is God’s proof of that to the world. God will always overrule evil because Jesus has overcome the world! For now, we accept this by faith. Someday Jesus will return and fully assume his rule over the world that he has already overcome. Until then, his good purpose is at work in us. We can know that because we know God is only good.

Teach your children to keep tasting and seeing (testing and experiencing) God’s goodness by seeking him. Those who seek him lack no good thing. Even in suffering? In illness?  In death? Yes. Yes. Yes. Those who seek him lack no good thing!

Where else can you find:

This and much more are found only in the One who is good. Keep tasting and seeking him.

Living Life in a Clay Jar

C814BC4C-0D91-4F0F-BD57-659250F50CC8

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. (2 Corinthians 5:1)

This past week, I’ve been reminded how frail life is. One of our sweetest families suddenly lost their daughter. Other dear friends will see their little girl endure yet another surgery as she continues her struggle with CP.  One of our faithful seniors who serves children has been in ICU battling cancer.  The flu and cold outbreak has knocked the strongest among us off their feet for days.  All jars of clay.

The weakness of our earthly bodies provides a teaching opportunity for children and adults about the temporary life versus the eternal.

The Bad News: Because of the curse of sin, this earthly life is temporary. The body we now have and the time in it is fleeting.  The Apostle Paul describes our temporary body as a jar of clay or earthly tent. These aren’t suitable for permanent living.  As much as we may try to keep our bodies safe from germs, disease and decline (and we should to a point), they still have an expiration date. That’s a big problem.

The Good News: God has solved this big problem because he loves us. He sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, to defeat the curse of sin and death’s power (Hebrews 2:14). Through faith in Christ, God gives life that will never end. By faith, we trust that someday God will swap our failing, mortal body for a completely whole and immortal one. One that will never fail.

What does that mean for us while we live in our weak, short-term housing?

  • Our fragile bodies remind us not to rely on ourselves but on God. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 4:7)
  • God has counted the number of days we will live in this earthly tent (Job 14:5, Psalm 139:16)
  • We can trust him to know exactly what is best for us, because he created us for just his perfect number of days and for his perfect purpose (Psalm 139:14, Colossians 1:16)
  • Every day is a gift made by God. We should thank him for every one he chooses to give us (Psalm 118:24)
  • We can’t take this perishable tent or clay jar to heaven. Heaven is reserved for the imperishable. (2 Corinthians 5:4)
  • By faith in Jesus, we can know that we have a new, forever body awaiting us with God (2 Corinthians 5:1)
  • Because of Jesus, we can look forward confidently to the day we trade our failing body for our forever unfailing one (2 Corinthians 5:6-8)
  • Our goal should be to please God with every numbered day he gives (2 Corinthians 5:9, Psalm 90:12)

The Bible says that our earthly life is like a mist that appears for a little while and then it’s gone (James 4:14). Teach your kids that our hope is not in this temporary life but in the life that lasts forever in Jesus.

Blessings,

Dave

How God Qualifies Us To Be His Comfort Agents

Sue and Dave with Masks

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”  – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

The Apostle Paul describes the Lord as “the God of all comfort.” Paul experienced more than his fair share of trouble (see 2 Corinthians 11:22-33), so he knew something about comfort.

When my comfortable state is disrupted by suffering, the first thing I want is immediate return to my comfortable state. I long for the relative ease of my previous condition. However a comfortable situation of feeling chilled out or kicked back on the beach is not the comfort that Paul is referring to.

“The comfort that Paul has in mind has nothing to do with a languorous feeling of contentment. It is not some tranquilizing dose of grace that only dulls pains but a stiffening agent that fortifies one in heart, mind, and soul. Comfort relates to encouragement, help, exhortation. God’s comfort strengthens weak knees and sustains sagging spirits so that one faces the troubles of life with unbending resolve and unending assurance.” – D. E. Garland

When Sue was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago, we experienced the fear and dread that everyone feels when given that news. Of course, we prayed and prayed that God would heal Sue and save her from our trouble. But equally important, we sought God’s comfort in our trouble.

God offers his comfort in two forms. He gives one level of comfort directly, and another from his qualified comfort agents. You and me.

How are his comforters qualified? Through experiencing trouble AND comfort. That’s why, in addition to calling on God directly, we called on our friends who lead the Cancer Care Ministry at Cottonwood Creek Church. They’ve been qualified by God—through cancer and comfort—to comfort others. As a result, they have been a great comfort to us during these past months.

So, through our trouble and God’s comfort, we are now qualified comforters tocomfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive(d) from God.” 

This is one of the great lessons for our children and grandchildren. God is qualifying us to be his comfort agents through our troubles and the comfort he provides, both directly (by calling and depending on him) and through his qualified comforters. Once we’re qualified, God expects to put our qualification into practice, by comforting others in their trouble.

Blessings,

Dave