From time to time I will hear someone say (or see someone write) this is “why theology matters.” Generally, the person is pointing to an example of someone whom they believe to be a “messed up” or confused person, and they are concluding that the person’s views of God necessarily lead to the mistakes the person has made. From that perspective, if only the person believed all the “right” things about God – had “good” theology – then they would not lead such a questionable life.

AW Tozer gives us great wisdom when he writes that what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. There is great truth to the fact that what we believe impacts how we live. And what we believe about God has tremendous impact on how we act, speak, and live. If it doesn’t, then there really is no point to having any faith in a god or in the nonexistence of a god. And, we can see in all aspects of humanity that one’s beliefs give birth to one’s values and these give birth to one’s actions.

Because of all of this, people often conclude “theology matters.” Theology, the study of God, is a huge topic. Theology often is discussed in terms of one’s doctrinal views on such topics as soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), eschatology (the doctrine of end times), pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), and various other “-ologies.” And, for many, the idea of keeping sound doctrine (Titus 1:9; Titus 2:1) becomes a premise-based understanding of what comports with the bible and such “-ologies.” There becomes a set of facts and concepts one must agree with about God to be a “good” Christian and to lead a good life. Theology itself isn’t a biblical term and I personally wonder what God thinks of when He thinks of theology. I definitely think it is worth asking Him.

I think a view of theology that looks to facts, reasoning, and theories alone misses God’s heart. First, I’ve known many people, including myself and many biblical heroes, who seemed to have “sound doctrine,” yet they lived messy lives. Second, as soon as we think we have God all figured out, both in our lives and in biblical accounts, God throws us curve balls. Because God’s ways are different and higher than our own, I believe that as soon as we place God in a tidy factual box we are in danger of making ourselves gods who have God fully figured out. Many great theologians have quite different perspectives on how God works and they all typically have sound biblical reasoning for their disagreements. Third, concluding that great faith is based upon one’s intellectual or factual grasp of Who God Is has the potential of leaving out the less studied, the less academically inclined, and those whose personality gives a greater focus on feelings and intuition. I don’t think God judges his children based on their intellect or intellectual understanding (alone) of Who God Is.

Finally, God is always inviting us to know Him intimately and personally (yada in the Hebrew and ginosko in the Greek). This isn’t an invitation solely to know facts or premises about God; rather, we are invited into an intimate relationship with God (facts, experience, feeling, and intuition), in whose image we were created. He seems to long for us to know His character of goodness, kindness, gentleness, patience, love, mercy, wrath, justice, and more. It’s like God wants us to know Him like I long for my wife to know me – not just my measurements and preferences, but how I feel and think in a variety of circumstances and settings and how I experience life and love and liberty. God created us not only to know, but also to be known, and He longs to be known intimately as well.

Is it possible a focus on how God saves or a list of facts about God as derived from Scripture is not at all what God is asking us to “know”; instead, is he longing for for us to know the love and kindness that compels him to save? Is He hoping we will capture his parental heart to see His children ask Him for advice and help? Does God really care if we have a perfect understanding of His sovereignty, or is HIs heart yearning for us to be more like Him in his compassion for all creatures? And, when we do this, will we be truly studying and knowing God – having a good theology – that will manifest in a more godly life? Is this the basis of knowledge that will lead to godliness (and greater discipleship of the nations)? The answer seems somewhat obvious to me.

Come join the fun with your whole family at the University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii, a large and exciting missionary training base with Youth With A Mission.

Family Discipleship Training School (April 2015) or April 2016

26th Feb, 2015

I’m Selfish?!

In my last post I began this series about things I am learning through leaving “normal life” in 2006 to do mission work with my family as a full-time “job.” Here’s the list:

1. I am selfish.
2. God provides.
3. My wife needs me.
4. My kids need me.
5. I should say “yes” more often.
6. Saying “yes” often requires dying to self and I’d rather not.
7. There is a limit to how many people I can be in community with.
8. Prayer is powerful and I often fail to believe it.
9. God has a lot to say and I often don’t really want to hear it.
10. Moving is unbelievably hard.
11. I nearly always think I’m right but “going” often proves me wrong.
12. God redeems.

I want to begin unpacking each of these in separate posts. One of the hardest revelations that continues to hit me is that I am so selfish. There is hardly a moment that passes where I am not tempted to serve myself first in whatever I choose to do.

I remember sitting at a dining table at The King’s Lodge in England in 2007. There we ate together in community with everyone on the base as we attended our Crossroads Discipleship Training School. Because food is expensive in England and the base tried to maximize each dollar toward training and ministry, we often had simple meals served to each table “family style.” The meal might be one-half of a baked potato (in England it was called a “jacket potato), and a bowl of canned baked beans for everyone to share. I am a large human being and that always seemed insufficient to me, but I also continue to learn I am a spoiled American used to eating large portions and thus maintaining my XL wardrobe.

At the time my kids were only 8, 5, and 3, so, if no one else sat at our table, I might get extra portions, especially if it was food my children didn’t like (think cauliflower and cheese casserole or look up ploughman’s lunch). I would find myself, the wonderful compassionate Christian I am, hoping that no one would join us, so that I could monopolize any extra portions. What I’m saying is that I was more concerned about eating a larger portion than I was about enjoying time breaking bread with another child of God. I was willing to forgo increased relationship for a few crusts of bread. And I am an extrovert who loves talking with people. I might as well have been the rat who runs through a kitchen snagging whatever morsels he can but avoiding people at all costs.

Another example? Well, how about when I am driving somewhere and am completely unwilling to stop at a scenic overlook or drive a more scenic way (even when every member of my family begs to do so), simply because it would be inconvenient for me to do? Or what about the times I am feeling exhausted so I put the kids to bed early or just crawl in bed myself and leave it to Tara? One off times of seeking out a bit of personal comfort might not be so bad, but when I think about how I go through each day I discover that so many of my decisions are self-motivated and designed to comfort me. Moreover, they really are never decisions I make to be alone to pray or seek more of God. 1 Corinthians 7:5.

Jesus was human like us and we see him on occasion going off alone. I really think those were moments where he recognized he was being tempted to act selfishly or to seek personal comfort. The good news is that when he had those temptations he went to the Father to find his strength and comfort. It was after time alone with his daddy that Jesus had the strength to come back to the disciples or the throngs of people and serve them further. He demonstrated that it was possible to be human and not submit to the god of self.

My selfish ways are strong. Going on mission with my family has helped me see how often I choose my own comfort over the needs of other people. Simply living lavishly in America with toilets that flush, showers and hot water, hot meals every day (often three and any of those at restaurants, too), more than one pair of shoes or underwear, and so much more, while others eke out a life on two dollars a day – something that working internationally has helped me realize – reminds me constantly of how I still pamper myself at the cost of others in nearly limitless ways (consider Amos 2:6-8). By God’s grace I will continue to grow more like Jesus and learn to be less selfish. Romans 8:29.

25th Feb, 2015

Things I’m Learning

Since July of 2006 I’ve walked what may seem to be a slightly different path. Because of both positive and negative things happening in my life at that time, I quit my job as a corporate attorney. My wife, three kids (ages 7, 5, and 2 then), and I began pursuing missions and family ministry as a “career.” We had to ask others for help to accomplish this (fundraising, prayer requests, sharing more of what he had considered “private” lives than we were used to doing), and we pursued a way of life built on the idea that we could hear God’s voice and follow it. We also recognized we were called to live our lives together as a family. We hoped to be more intentional about being a husband, wife, mom, and dad.

I want to start unpacking this journey again in written form here. I really haven’t written regularly in a few years. This initial post will summarize a few of the things I’ve learned through this process, and then I will follow it up with an explanation of each of the points I list here.

What have I learned and am I learning through this slightly unconventional journey? Here’s a sample:

1. I am selfish.
2. God provides.
3. My wife needs me.
4. My kids need me.
5. I should say “yes” more often.
6. Saying “yes” often requires dying to self and I’d rather not.
7. There is a limit to how many people I can be in community with.
8. Prayer is powerful and I often fail to believe it.
9. God has a lot to say and I often don’t really want to hear it.
10. Moving is unbelievably hard.
11. I nearly always think I’m right but “going” often proves me wrong.
12. God redeems.

Here’s a video of the training school we lead each April in Kona, Hawaii.

Family DTS from YWAM Kona – UofN on Vimeo.

This morning I stumbled across some blogs where people were writing about the dangers of Youth With A Mission (YWAM). It was hard to read because it is painful to see others’ pain and because I am a part of YWAM and appreciate many things about YWAM. There are no perfect organizations or perfect people. Leaders often disappoint and everyone has probably found themselves in the middle of a great trial because of disappointment in someone or some thing we once trusted.

I remember finding myself at the end of my rope in every way when fellow church members were sending me emails telling me how disgusting I was and how it was surprising I could face myself in a mirror due to a decision made by a committee on which I was a member. I remember my father in law reading them and concluding that one of the emails was designed to encourage me to commit suicide. There definitely were days when I faced the choice of continuing to place my hope in Christ or placing my faith in something else.

What pulled me through was God’s gentle reminder to fix my eyes on Jesus and to desire God above all else. When I focused on my own hurt or on the “evil” perpetrated by others, I remained in a place where I could not see Truth or Grace. I found myself spinning in a fog of self-pity, judgment, fear, and a desire to strike back rather than being free in God’s spirit of power, love and a sound mind. As I am able to forgive myself and others in my life, just as Jesus did, I can walk freely as Jesus did in love and grace. Whereas our theological notions of truth in Scripture can get quite convoluted, who Jesus is doesn’t change.

Let us pursue the one who is Truth and who calls us friend rather than pursue a life that tries to define other people as enemy. Let us think on those things that are excellent and praiseworthy, being anxious about nothing and thankful for the life God’s given us, as we pray and live in the reality of our friendship with, and adoption by, the One who made us.

13th Jan, 2013

God is Good, All the Time

My oldest son, Tanner, and I are studying with a fellow believer and professional actor (Bruce Kuhn) to prepare an entire gospel (in our case, the Gospel of Mark), and present it by memory as though we were there when the events took place. It is amazing how beginning the process of internalizing the stories brings it to life. It also is great fun, as a dad, to see Tanner (who is 14 years old) really dig into the Word.

Yesterday, as he was reading the Passion (Mark 14-16), he was troubled by Mark 14:27, where it says this:

On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

What he noticed that he had never considered before was that it said “God will strike the Shepherd.” By overlaying his judgment of what is good on the thought of God always doing good, he couldn’t comprehend how God could be the one striking Jesus or intending for the sheep to be scattered. And this opened up for both of us a great discussion on some deep theology of how God works, our difficulties in judging good and evil, and how we must allow God to be God – the ultimate judge of truth, good, and evil – and sometimes trust in spite of our judgments.

Jesus, God, laid down his life for us. God took his own life so that we may live. The Cross is not the action of Satan, even though Satan thought he was taking authority over God. No, this was God, all the way, doing whatever it takes to restore relationship with His creation. By laying down his own life, Jesus, the God-man, presents to us a gift by which we can once again live in the Father’s great love. It is this revelation, that God gave Himself up for us, that truly demonstrates the unfathomable depths of His love. The fact that He is God – all powerful and infinite – makes this even more incredible.

As we begin to recognize that anything God does is truly good and loving, no matter how it looks to us, we can begin to live more freely and full of faith, trusting that whatever circumstances come our way will lead us to a deeper relationship with God if we accept His gifts of love.

Ask just about anyone how they are and they will answer one of two ways: “Fine,” or “Busy.”

Busy. That has become the socially acceptable answer. In fact, I think most people would react very negatively if instead of saying “Busy,” I said something like, “I spend most of my time with my wife and kids, meditating on the goodness of God and Who He Is, and find it all very restful.”

When I answer with “Busy” it provides me an escape route, not only from further questions (because I am too busy to consider this conversation), but also from any relational intimacy (again because I am too busy). It is socially acceptable code that allows us to evade deep conversation.

For many if not most of us, it is what we believe to be true as well. We feel busy. We often feel overwhelmed at the amount of things we need to do. We find it hard to rest, and even when we are supposed to be sleeping, some of us find sleep evasive, too.

I find it ironic that busyness seems to be the “norm.” We live in a world where technology has advanced to where we don’t have to leave our home to pay our bills, do our banking, or even send our mail. We also can carry our phones (and even computers) with us. We can do our Christmas shopping while sitting in a restroom. Meals can be bought ready to eat from the grocery (or we can even have groceries delivered to our home). With all these advances in productivity it should give us more time to do the things we long to do, including rest. Yet, we feel more harried than ever before.

The same technologies that are designed to free up our time also become our chains: to work, to school, to any and every thing that would keep our attention for 15 seconds or so. We can literally occupy our minds with disconnected bits of data for 5 seconds at a time all day long and rarely if ever let our minds rest or meditate on things like God’s goodness and grace.

It is with that in mind that I came upon a beautiful scripture in Isaiah 63:14. There God says, “Like cattle that go down to the plain, they were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord.” Yes. Cattle on a plain filled with grass do not have to do much to fulfill their needs. Food is readily available and there is no need to walk for miles to accomplish a filling meal. And, where there is much grass there also is a water supply nearby. Ahhh, to be in a place where all our needs are met results in rest.

In contrast, when we fail to recognize that all our needs are met, we cannot rest. And, even though those of us blessed to live in America generally have all our needs and even our wants, we often are caught looking for the “next best thing.” We see someone else with something different than we have and we covet it. We find a reason to complain and not be grateful. We always need yet another new distraction. And, it is from that place of seeking more – “Mammon” – that we feel empty, like a cattle stuck up in the mountains with little food or water. So we wander about, looking for satisfaction.

God gives us rest by His Spirit. Oh that we would be filled with His Spirit and not with the things of this world. If you are finding rest evasive, ask God to fill you with His Spirit and that the fruits of the Spirit would be abundant in your life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In these things there is much rest. Stop trusting in more to satisfy your soul and start trusting in the Lord.

Rileys at the Plaza of the Nations
I first posted the below in 2009. It seemed good to post it again, slightly edited.

It is the rage to talk about advancing God’s Kingdom, building the Kingdom, sharing the gospel of the Kingdom, being missional, being Kingdom minded; and it should be. The gospel of the Kingdom is what Jesus taught. Read the gospel of Matthew and even have a little fun watching the musical Godspell, a fanciful modern look at Matthew.

The question is: How did God intend to build His Kingdom?

As with most things, the answers are found in the beginning. God’s plans are laid out simply in Genesis 1.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [b] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

God created man and woman and told them to have babies, fill the earth, and rule it. RULE the earth. Be Kings and Queens over it. God asked us to represent Him and His authority and rule. Translation: Build my Kingdom.

Here’s the eye-opener: God is creating the institution of the family and then telling the families he created to fill the earth (go) as families to build Kingdom. Godly families are the original intent of our “FATHER” for the establishment of His Kingdom on earth!

Not only is this God’s intent, but it also is clear that the way to walk out Matthew 28:18-20 and disciple nations, what we often call the Great Commission, is to begin by discipling families. Thus, family ministries and discipleship is the foundational building block for fulfilling the Great Commission. In fact, one could say that the seeds of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 are found in the first commission God gives humankind in Genesis 1!

God clearly gives parents the responsibility to train up their children in His ways and love. When this is done generationally and through family, one can quickly begin to see how one would build the Kingdom here on earth. Just as our heavenly Father shows us how to live and loves us unconditionally, we should disciple our children in how to live and love unconditionally. Since “love never fails,” doing these things will necessarily succeed and result in the building of God’s Kingdom and godly rule over the earth. If each family would pursue God wholeheartedly, we would raise up godly children who, in turn, would raise up godly children, populating the earth with men and women who know God and make Him known.

Many of us grow up wanting to save the world. Well, let’s get started by saving the family. Is your own family whole? If not, get busy. Let’s be intentional about our call to be husbands, wives, mommies and daddies! It’s no wonder that Satan attacks the family so strongly. Let’s end the cycles of abuse and conflict by loving our families. Let’s join together in going to our Father and pray that His Kingdom will come to earth, beginning with our family.

On my run this morning I was listening to a variety of Broadway show songs. The fourth song that popped up was “No One Mourns the Wicked” from Wicked. In the song Glinda, the good witch, after everyone sees and rejoices that the wicked witch is dead, asks this question: “Are people born Wicked? Or do they have Wickedness thrust upon them?” The resulting musical production provides answers to those questions in a fun and lovely way.

Philosopher John Locke gave us “tabula rasa” – blank slate – to frame up his theory that “nurture” and environment is the key influencing factor over a human being, who they are, what they learn, and their moral compass. John B. Watson said the following in furtherance of the nurture point of view, “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.” Plato and Descartes were philosophers that argued that nature determined who a person would be – that genetic factors were the key. Studies of twins have shown evidence that genetics do play a huge role in many characteristics of individuals.

Most thinkers and scientists today see a role for both nature and nurture. Emilie Buchwald, children’s stories author, says this: “A child is born with the potential ability to learn Chinese or Swahili, play a kazoo, climb a tree, make a strudel or a birdhouse, take pleasure in finding the coordinates of a star. Genetic inheritance determines a child’s abilities and weaknesses. But those who raise a child call forth from that matrix the traits and talents they consider important.”

When we talk about religion, morality, and faith, there also tends to be a nature versus nurture debate. There is the concept of original sin in most traditional forms of Christianity. In contrast, others would say a child is not born evil but learns evil from the world in which they live. In modern society, for many, the concept of sin, let alone original sin, is seen as antiquated and unhelpful. Because it would seem the argument over how human morality goes awry can distract us from what really matters, I began to question whether the ultimate conclusion to the problem or nature versus nature really impacts our search for love and truth.

Here is what I mean. Let’s say the modern cynic who says original sin is outdated and improbable is correct. As a result, if a bent nature is not simply a part of human nature with which we are born, then one must look at any unloving action, word, or decision as being made as a result of being taught by others who made similar unloving actions, words, or decisions. In other words, all of the “evil” in the world is taught and caught, not an inherent part of anyone.

If that is the case, then the opposite would also be true. To make good, loving, kind decisions, and to speak encouraging words, one must be taught how to do it. The problem with this in the big picture then is who is the ideal teacher? To whom should we look to learn how to love perfectly, consistently and eternally? It would seem that no matter where we look, there is no one who can be the perfect example of Love in every area of life and character…. except Jesus.

As to the other side of the debate, if original sin is a true concept, then regardless of what we are taught or do throughout our lives, we are inherently bent and broken and need someone to fix us so that we can love perfectly. The only One who has ever demonstrated any ability to heal completely anyone of their human nature is the One who lived a human life perfectly, again Jesus.

So, regardless of where you come out in this debate, the only appropriate plumbline and Savior for all of humanity is Jesus Christ. If you have ever fallen short of perfect Love, and all have, whether one says it is from conception or something done along the journey of life, then you need to look to the one who lived Love perfectly as your example, as your teacher, and as your Savior. You cannot fix yourself; he alone can. Most importantly, if you are letting the debate distract you from being able to see Jesus more clearly, love others more dearly, and to experience His grace gift of salvation, faith, love, and life more nearly, then it’s time to lay down the theology and to take up Jesus. He really is all you need.

This absolutely wrecks me (compels me to stop everything I am doing and simply worship the One who made me):

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:9-17

No matter what comes against me, feelings of inadequacy, accusations of sins and past sins, fear, worry, physical illness, weakness, fatigue, sadness, anxiety, I can know that I am loved. Love truly does conquer fear. I am adequate – else I would not be loved. And, in this incredible place of glorious love, in this place of knowing that the God of all Creation calls me his friend, I recognize that I can love others. I can fulfill the one command – to love each other – because I am full of his love.

As we begin the journey of leaving the place we call home once again, I am torn between feelings of excitement and loss. We are leaving so many new and amazing friends. We will once again be several plane rides away from our parents. And we are going into a lifestyle that leaves more questions than answers. We will not have any paychecks or contingency plans in the event of major medical issues, loss of supporters, or catastrophe. We can only place our trust in the One who promises to feed us as He feeds the birds of the air and to clothe us as He clothes the flowers of the field.

We also know what Dorothy learned on her trip to Oz. Although there is much around the corner that looks glamorous from afar, there really is no place like home. So we endeavor to define home as the place where we are as a family. But it is difficult to replace the homes we know in Northwest Arkansas and Enid, Oklahoma. The ones Jesus has given us to love in these places have become “home” to us. And, although we are going over the ocean to a land of rainbows, we know (having done this before) that our hearts will face brokenness. We can only rejoice in the fact that we also know that God doesn’t leave our hearts broken; instead, He expands them and opens them up to even more friends, families, and nations. But that knowledge now doesn’t lessen the impact of the pain we are experiencing now as we pack, say goodbyes, and leave the things with which we have become so familiar.

Interestingly, often we see God telling people to leave places of comfort. Noah had to leave his home to go into the Ark – even before it ever rained; Abraham had to leave his father’s house to go to an unknown place; Joseph was sold into slavery and sent to Egypt and then brought his whole family there; the nation of Israel had to travel through the wilderness to return to the promised land and found themselves often captured and exiled as they grew in their understanding of God; many prophets were called to go to areas far away from their homes; Jesus travelled away from Nazareth and seemed unaccepted in his home country; and nearly all of the first disciples were pushed from Jerusalem to places all over the world. Jesus even tells us to go and teach his commands – “love each other” – to all the nations of the earth. Through all of this we see God’s followers grow, strengthen, and learn to live love.

We hope we can honestly cry out from our hearts like David did –

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

Given those patterns and truths throughout Scripture and understanding we can do nothing apart from God, we will go. Yet our hearts are torn. We covet your prayers, words of encouragement, and hope you will remain in touch with us. We will value every email, letter, phone call, and prayer you lift us. We need you to be Jesus in our lives.

Thank you for your love.

4207 Legacy

4207 Legacy

This blogpost is so worth the short amount of time it takes to read it. Please go read it.

A Corner On God’s Goodness by Amber Haines

16th Aug, 2012

Crags and Clay

While running I was listening to a Gungor song, and the lyric that captivated me was “All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful.” As I imagined Jesus, coming to earth, I considered what it meant that he found everything beautiful. We all see things in creation that we consider terrible, ugly, even horrifying. But Jesus knew the truth that God had made everything perfectly and never doubted that truth. No matter what he witnessed of the impact of sinful choices by his fellow humans, he saw God’s truth and purpose and believed. He was grateful for all that there was and all that he experienced just as God tells us to be.

It was as I meditated on that in my last mile of running that I wondered if sin was nothing more than simply doubting the beauty of God’s creation and the truth of God’s purposes. Sin is simply believing a lie – any lie that falls short of God’s glory – the truth of Who He IS.

Isn’t that what Adam and Eve did? They doubted God’s word to them about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and decided that He must have been mistaken or that God was trying to trick them. They decided they must know better than God, or at least that Satan must know better than God. They doubted God at His word.

I began to think about areas of my life where I don’t see beauty. I began to think about things for which I was not grateful. And I asked God if there were areas where I doubted Him at His word.

Are there areas in your life where you don’t find beauty? God saw all that He made and saw that it was good. And when He created you and me He saw that it was very good. Do you doubt God’s goodness? Where? Why? Are there areas where you do not believe that what He has said is true? Ask Him to show you places where you fail to see beauty or doubt God’s faithfulness and ask Him for new vision! Ask God to show you His Kingdom – that it would come to your life and your home just as it is in Heaven.

Enjoy Crags and Clay.

After Tara read through my post last night, she suggested I add something about how hard it is to disciple a child unless you spend time with the child. She knows what happens when busy-ness and business get in the way of time together. And, Tara definitely would say, and I agree, that there really is no such thing as “quality time” without “quantity time.”

This took my mind to Jesus. Jesus gave us an example of how to disciple. He discipled twelve young men and a number of women. He didn’t do so by spending one hour a week with them on Sundays. He didn’t do so even by committing himself to eating at least one meal a day with them. He didn’t make sure that he attended all their sporting events. Jesus lived, ate, and worked with his disciples 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for three years.

You may be in a situation with your work where you only have an hour or two a day with your family. You may even be in a situation where you are only with your family on the weekends. If your priority is your career, I understand why you may believe this is what you have to do. But if you believe that your priorities should be God, marriage and family before any occupation, then perhaps some changes should be considered. Most Christians are quick to say that their top priorities are (1) God, (2) family, and (3) their job. But what do their lives and the investment of their time demonstrate?

What do your kids see in you and what you value if the vast majority of your time is spent centered around your job, especially if such time always takes you physically away from your family? How many times do you need to hear the song, “The Cat’s in the Cradle,” thinking about your own experiences with your dad? Even when you do have time away from work are you so tired that your value to your family is minimal? Many people think these are impossible questions because work necessarily takes one away from family, but if family is a priority, and raising up kids to have a lasting faith is a priority, then isn’t it worth asking the question whether there is some way to feed and clothe one’s family that doesn’t require as many hours as you may currently invest in your work? Do you really need to make as much money as you do? Is there a way for you to earn a living alongside your spouse and children? If not, is there a way to do so that provides more time with them regardless?

I know these are difficult questions. I’m sure some people might think – it’s easy for him to say or that’s pie in the sky thinking. I suppose my main point is that we can always ask such questions and should do so, reassessing where we are in life in accordance with the priorities established by the Word of God. All too often we let other things dictate what is true in our lives or think that we cannot make changes. Jesus taught us that the truth will set us free. The lies of the world (and the huge lie of the promise of the security of money and work) bind us. We can make changes, and we should if our lives do not reflect the glory of God, His ways and word.

My family was blessed this morning to have the opportunity of sharing God’s story in our lives. We were sharing in a Sunday School class of young married couples, and they have just begun a study about how to raise their children in the faith. After we shared our story about doing missions as a family, we were asked specifically this question:

“What if you aren’t called to do ministry and missions full-time? What then? How can those of us who are here in Northwest Arkansas raise our kids not only to have faith now, but to keep their faith once they are adults?”

Isn’t that one of the burning questions every Christian parent has? We have all seen kids who have walked away from the faith. In fact, a recent study was released about how a large majority of kids raised in church walk away from the faith in college and as young adults. It is something that raises serious doubts and fears for many parents.

As I reflected on our time of teaching this afternoon, I didn’t feel like I answered the question very well, so, as I was driving four hours back to my home tonight I prayed about it and pondered it. Here is the result of that exercise.

I don’t have any great wisdom with which to answer the question. I can share about what we are doing as a family – even all the practical things we do each day – but my wisdom and experience doesn’t truly answer the question with certainty. My kids are still growing up, and I can’t predict the future. I can’t give any formulas or predict anyone else’s future with certainty either. Does this mean I have to say I do not know or that no one can no for sure?

Absolutely not.

Instead of looking to myself, I have to look to God. What does he say about living? What does he say about being a husband or a wife? What does he say about being a parent? Who is God to me – and how does He parent me? He is my Father; what has He shown me? And, most importantly, how can I help someone else ask these questions for him- or herself and make changes in his or her life based on the answers God gives?

Some of God’s first directions to parents in the Scripture include multiple occasions in Deuteronomy where he tells parents this:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Thus, God tells us, as parents, to teach our children His ways, not once or twice, or simply through reciting scripture to them, but through our lives every day, in word and actions, with integrity through and through. He repeats this instruction to parents at least four times in Deuteronomy alone, and God does not waste time repeating Himself unless the words are critical.

So, the first question must be, what are God’s ways?

The first thing that comes to mind is “God is love.” 1 John 4:8. His way is the way of love. And, he says in 1 John that we will be known to be true to Him by our love – by whether our words and deeds reflect the love of God.

How do we know what God’s love is? Through the life of Jesus. Jesus was the human who lived out everything God commanded.

So, if we are to raise our children in the faith, we must ask ourselves whether, when our children look at our lives (and they are always watching and see our lives way more clearly than any one else other than perhaps our spouse), do they see lives that are being lived in love and lived as Jesus lived? If not, then we can teach them until we are blue in the face that they need to ask Jesus into their hearts, but they will always have reason to doubt what we say because our lives do not reflect Jesus living and loving in and through our hearts.

Next, I think it is important to think about what Jesus did and taught. What were his words, and do our lives reflect an absolute trust that Jesus’ words were true?

For example, Jesus said to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us. When the guy next to us in traffic determines that our driving is not to his liking, and he honks, yells, or flips us off, what reaction do our kids see from the back seat? Do our words and actions reflect a life of love and a blessing of those who curse us?

When we have a falling out with our brother or sister, or still struggle with the way we were treated by a friend, a co-worker, or a parent, do our words at home reflect Jesus’ command to forgive others, just as God forgave us? Do we demonstrate a consistent attitude of forgiveness in front of our kids?

When Jesus said not to worry about what we wear or what we eat because the flowers neither toil nor spin and are well-dressed and the birds are well fed, do our closets and cupboards reflect these words well? Do we store up treasures on earth? Do we maintain a closet full of clothes while seeing a homeless person on the street in winter? Do we have two, three or more pairs of shoes all the while knowing that there are huge percentages of people around the earth who walk barefooted every day? When Jesus said to give to anyone who asks of us, because we have a giving Heavenly Father who will provide all we need, do our kids see us turn away? Have our kids heard us say, I can’t give him money because he will just go buy alcohol with it, whether we know such a statement to be true or not?

Does our pursuit of security, safety, and comfort in the form of bank and retirement accounts require so much time at work that we rarely have time to teach our kids anything other than to work hard and make sure you can buy a big house and multiple cars? Do our lives reflect that some of our first call as children of God is to be godly husbands and wives and godly parents, moreso than successful Americans? Are we teaching our kids to follow Jesus and his life or are we teaching our kids to be good and successful Americans?

I think we must ask ourselves if we are truly raising our kids in the faith if we cannot say that we are living by faith and not by sight. I think we must ask ourselves if we are truly raising our kids in the faith if we cannot say that we are living our lives by the very words of the one we say we are following. I think we must ask ourselves is some of our children are walking away from the faith because they aren’t seeing faith at all or because they are seeing a life that reflects “in my wallet I trust” rather than “in God I trust.”

Do our lives reflect lives that are consistent with trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, leaning not on our own understanding? Do we truly acknowledge God in ALL our ways? Do we truly acknowledge God in our work lives, in our home lives, in our driving lives, in our vacation lives, in our getting ready for church lives, in our golfing lives, in our work travel lives, in all of our ways??

So, it would seem the answer to the question is this – allow God to search our hearts, just as David prayed in Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

We should ask God if our way of living reflects His ways to our kids. And, if it doesn’t, in any of our ways, we then need to pray that God will give us the wisdom to make the necessary changes so that we can raise our kids to live by faith. It isn’t being a missionary or a pastor or a doctor or any other “occupation” that will best teach our kids to walk by faith. The only way to raise our children to have faith is to be a parent who has faith and who lives by faith every day, no matter our calling or occupation. And, if we begin to awaken to the fact that we are not truly following all of God’s words to us – that we truly are not believing Him at all of His words – then we must pray for grace to begin to do so, taking that first step toward “living a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesians 4:1.

We will be leading a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Discipleship Training School beginning April 4, 2013. Check it out and pray about joining us. It will be an adventure you will never forget and you will not be able to come away from it without discovering your family’s God-given mission. If you are tired of doing the same thing over and over, this will definitely bring a refreshing change to your family and life.

The entire program is 20 weeks. However, we will be advertising one- to two-week opportunities to join the school for family ministry and/or family discipleship.

Check it out at the University of the Nations website.

Rileys on Mission

Over the past five years I have grown my hair out and cut it off on more than one occasion. And, like yesterday, when it is long I sometimes get asked, “What is the deal with your hair?”

My normal response is that my wife likes it, which is a true statement and one part of the motivation. In fact, it was most of the motivation initially. Whereas I, once upon a time, would not have considered my wife’s preferences about such things important (because I would weigh business demands and the like as more important), I have learned in the past 7 years how much I lacked respect for my wife. I often failed to let her desires influence my decisions. Thankfully, I have learned how foolish and unloving I was in this. God didn’t give me an amazing and godly wife for me to ignore her heart and opinions.

Even having said that, I have learned another reason why my hair is long.

The first time I grew it out I was overseas. It was already ponytail length by the time I returned to the United States. When I came back, for the first time in my life I had a tangible awareness that many people who did not know me at all received me in a different way. I saw people walk further away from me if we were meeting on a sidewalk. I was more often asked for identification, stopped in the airport for patdowns, and even people who knew me asked me why I had such long hair. It seemed to impact my influence with many.

In that place God spoke to me about my own prejudices. I began to recognize more quickly when I made a judgment about someone. I even realized that sometimes I looked down on a person with long or oddly colored hair! I saw where I had subtle, repeat thoughts about individuals with tattoos, piercings, extra weight, what I considered to be odd clothes, and more.

I’m not sure I would have been as quick to see my judgmental heart had I not been the recipient of judgment based on something as trivial as my hair length. I wholeheartedly believe God led me to grow my hair out so that I would be reminded of the deceitfulness of my own heart in this area. Honestly, because I am too quick to want to please people and fit in, I often would much rather just cut my hair and not even think about the issue. And, I recognize that some of the issue is simply me thinking I know what others are thinking. Nevertheless, I am thankful to have a reminder of how much prejudice hurts and how it can prevent me from loving someone from the very first moment they walk into my life.

I don’t know when I will cut my hair again, but even in such a “small” matter I hope I listen not to the world or my pride, but to the Lord.

27th Apr, 2012

Transforming Grace

Oh the beautiful way God has with us – He is taking us from where we are into the very image of Jesus. No matter what we see today; no matter how dark things appear or even seem to disappear; God will not leave us as orphans, unable to grow. No, God will gloriously complete what He has begun in us.

Just when I grow hopeless, Hope appears. Just when I feel faint with fear, Love conquers. My spirit is weak and poorly, but oh how precious is His great grace for me.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

Romans 8:26-30 (MSG).

My heart aches to see the dreams He has planted in Tara’s and my heart come to be. They will.

I cannot wait! Thank you, Lord, for helping me wait on you.

Bobby Petrino post-accidentWow, the below paragraph regarding Bobby Petrino’s mistakes from a story on ESPN says quite a bit about men and husbands with very few words. Jeff MacGregor, its author, pulls no punches. Bobby Petrino is the former Head Coach of the Arkansas Razorback football team, a husband, and a father of four children, fired for numerous lies and schemes related to a girlfriend he hired to work for the football program and who was half his age.

If Bobby Petrino had spent as much time scheming conference defenses as he did scheming marital offenses, he’d be the King of Football. And if he’d put as much effort into being married as he put into committing adultery; if he’d spent just half the ingenuity and energy and money on his wife that he lavished on his mistress, he’d be the first man in history to do so. Rather, he’s a punch line, a cliché, a red-faced midlife Electra Glide cautionary tale for every horny orthodontist who ever wandered the floor of his local Harley dealership looking to buy back his youth. And for this, deep down in his lightless heart, you know he blames his wife for not giving him what “he needs.”

Lord, help me invest my life not only in my marriage and family, but also into seeing healthy marriages and families everywhere! Forgive me for the numerous times I’ve failed as a husband and daddy! Thank you for grace.

I saw these statistics published in a blog by Bryan and Shannon Miles:

43% of US children live without their father [US Department of Census]
90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes. [Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, pp. 403-26, 1978]
71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, Friday, March 26, 1999]
63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes. [Center for Disease Control]
90% of adolescent repeat arsonists live with only their mother. [Wray Herbert, “Dousing the Kindlers,” Psychology Today, January, 1985, p. 28]
71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. [National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools]
75% of adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes. [Rainbows for all God’s Children]
70% of juveniles in state operated institutions have no father. [US Department of Justice, Special Report, Sept. 1988]
85% of youths in prisons grew up in a fatherless home. [Fulton County Georgia jail populations, Texas Department of Corrections, 1992]
Fatherless boys and girls are: twice as likely to drop out of high school; twice as likely to end up in jail; four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems. [US D.H.H.S. news release, March 26, 1999]

This is why I am absolutely committed to doing whatever I can to see families made whole. Just as some are called to combat homelessness or poverty or the sex slave trade, I see God moving my heart and passion to combat anything that would destroy the family. And, as I see things like this, I see more and more that I must focus on my heart as a husband and a daddy so that I can also help other men do the same. I have failed in this area enough; let it begin with me as I submit to Jesus and He strengthens me.

9th Feb, 2012

Deposing God in Marriage

Last night we had a lovely dinner with a younger couple we have been blessed to get to know. They are preparing to leave for Germany, as the husband is a pilot in the military. They too have spent quite a bit of time doing international missions, meeting and falling in love along the way. We shared stories about how we met as couples, and they asked us a number of questions about our 17-plus years of marriage.

At one point, in response to a question about something Tara had learned that really helped her in our marriage, Tara began sharing about how she had to learn that she was not responsible for my actions and that she could not control what I did. (I’m unfortunately really good at helping her figure that one out.) She said that she had to learn that the main thing she could do is pray. As she said it, I realized that one of the main things we must learn, as we navigate marriage and all of the other relationships in our lives, is that we are not God – in other words, we must learn humility. We must let God be God and we must live within the authority we have. We must humbly walk out the responsibilities God has given us and not try to usurp authority we have not been given. We must also trust God (through prayer) to be the loving, good, and kind God He is who promises to complete the good work He has begun in each one of us.

According to scripture my main function as a husband is to love my wife and to submit to her in love. There is nothing in those scriptural admonitions that tells me to control, boss, or discipline Tara; likewise, Tara is not given authority to control or discipline me. We must both submit to one another and to the Lord and trust God to continue his good work in us. To do anything else is to question whether God is really doing a good job. In essence, when we try to exercise authority we are not given, we are judging that God has been ineffective, removing God from the throne, and setting ourselves up in His place. The end results are never good, in marriage or otherwise.

The next time you are tempted to judge your spouse or friend and try to “save” them from all the bad things you’ve determined they do, step back, give it all to God, and pray earnestly for yourself and for them. He is much more interested in working with you on your own heart and relationship with Him than He is in you fixing someone else.