Stop saying “I’m fine!”

We have all heard it before. You pass someone you know and ask them, “how’s it going?” or “how ya doing?” Answer: “fine.”  Or….. “I’m fine thanks.” There are other go-to responses to that question, but “I’m fine” tends to be among the most popular. Steph and I had the opportunity to attend a pastors conference this past week and one of the speakers made an offhand remark about the meaning of “fine.” He said that it really stands for:

Fouled up, Insecure, Neurotic, Exhausted

We all laughed, but we also recognized the truth that he was hinting at. Fine really doesn’t mean fine. It often means I could be doing a lot better…… I’m struggling…… I have a lot of problems that seem insurmountable, etc, etc. Now, just to give a little disclaimer, often when someone asks how we are doing, they are not looking for us to unload all of our troubles on them. Nor are we. But you would admit that we have the tendency at times to be dishonest in our assessment of ourselves. It is human nature to want to put on a good front and project a stoic, “got it all together” image of ourselves. But one of the things that should characterize us as Christians is our desire to be real and transparent and genuine.

One of the major themes in the Bible is that of loving and caring for one another. God never designed the Christian life to be an individual, lone-ranger kind of thing. God designed the Christian life to be a community project where we share one another’s burdens and constantly point one another to the power of the Gospel. The Church of Christ is a wonderful gift! Brothers and sisters in Christ are a wonderful gift! But in order for this gift to work, we must be real with one another.

The next time someone asks how you are doing, don’t feel like you have to tell them how fouled us, insecure, neurotic, and exhausted you are. Simply do your best to answer honestly and accurately. Along with that, remember what an amazing gift God has given us in the Body of Christ and seek to attach yourself to that Body. Find people that you can minister to and people that can minister to you.

“And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:4-25)  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

 

Why Time Seems to Speed Up As You Get Older

Ever feel like the older you get, the faster the time goes by? If so, you are not alone. I often catch myself saying things like…..I can’t believe it’s April! Or….I can’t believe it’s 2018! Given the broad consensus on this sentiment, there has been a good deal of scientific research done in order to makes sense of this. Feel free to probe deeper on your own, however, I did want to share what my friend Chris Hackman had to say on the matter. Chris told me that the older you get the smaller the percentage of time each successive year makes up of your life. For example, when you turn 4 years old, the upcoming year will represent a quarter of your life! However, when you turn 50, the upcoming year will only make up 2% of your life…..a big difference to be sure. Chris went on to say that this reality (each successive year making up a smaller percentage of your life), contributes to our feeling that time goes by faster and faster. You can agree with Chris or not, but I thought his idea was pretty clever.

 

Ephesians 5:15-16 reads as follows: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Whether you feel like time seems to speed up as you age or not, the one thing we know for sure is that our time here on earth is short and I touched on this in my last blog post. We as Christians must redeem the time knowing that today could be our very last. We can take comfort in knowing that the Creator God has numbered our days (Psalm 39:4-6, 139:16) but we must also remember that our Lord and Savior has work for us that remains to be completed. It is of particular importance that we “spend and be spent” (2 Corinthians 12:15) in service to King Jesus.

 

I recently stumbled across a prayer that I found to be quite edifying and instructive. It’s from a little book called Spurgeon’s Prayers and it reads as follows:

 “O Saviour, let thy kingdom come. Oh! That thou wouldest reign, and thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. We pray thee, use every one of us according as we have ability to be used. Take us, and let no talent lie to canker in the treasure house, but may every pound of thine be put out in trading for thee in the blessed market of soul-winning. Oh! Give us success. Increase the gifts and graces of those that are saved. Bind us in closer unity to one another than ever. Let peace reign; let holiness adorn us.”

 

Friends, let us resolve to make the best use of the time God has graciously given us. Indeed, the days are evil and countless souls need to hear the gospel message. May we run well and run with endurance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:2) knowing that if we are faithful, we will be richly rewarded by our Master (2 Timothy 4:8).

Celebrating the New Birth

 

August is a big month for our family when it comes to birthdays. Our 3 oldest were born in August and it also happens to be Steph’s birthday. The kids are already telling us what they want even though we still have another 6 months before our big birthday month comes around again.

I got to thinking…..why are birthdays such a big deal? Most people and most cultures all over the world tend to recognize and celebrate the day of our birth – but why? I think it is because we recognize that life is special and that each year (even each day) is a gift – something we can be thankful for. As Christians we know that God is the giver of life and that remarkably, He numbers our days (Psalm 139:16).

 

If you are like most people in terms of recognizing and celebrating birthdays, that’s awesome! Keep it up. But I also want to remind you that if you are a Christian, that means you have another birthday that is infinitely more important. The Bible says that believers have been “born again to a living hope!” (1 Peter 1:3). Perhaps you don’t know the exact day of your salvation, but if you are truly in Christ, then you, my friend, have reason to celebrate! I live and minister in Pennsylvania and as most of you are aware the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl last Sunday night. People here in Pennsylvania got pretty excited about it. People in Philly got really excited about it! To be sure, it was a great game, but in the whole scheme of things, it’s not that important. 50 years from now few people will remember or care that the Eagles won the Super bowl. In contrast to that, the new birth is truly worth celebrating. Consider the following verses:

 

“my soul will rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his salvation.” Psalm 35:9

“This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

“I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:18

“do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20

“Just so, I (Jesus) tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents that over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

 

Salvation, as you can see, is a big deal. One day these mortal bodies of ours will die and be no more. There will be no more birthday parties, no more birthday cakes, and no more opening birthday gifts. But if you have been “born again” (see John 3:3) that means you have been forgiven of your sins, justified before God, granted eternal life, and been given the indwelling Holy Spirit. More than that, you have fellowship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ – you are a friend of God! If you want a reason to celebrate…..then celebrate the new life you have in Christ. Praise God for sending us a Savior and praise God for the miracle of salvation!

 

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7

 

My Visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame

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Back in March of 2015, I travelled up to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (near Boston) to complete my thesis defense for my doctoral program. After 3 years of work, I now had to stand before my professors and defend my thesis. That sounds scary, but my professors were really great and it was a fun experience (and I did actually pass). On my drive up to Gordon Conwell, I remembered from earlier trips that the road I was travelling on (I-88) was pretty close to Cooperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I debated in my head whether or not to stop, but in the end, I opted to go and visit the famous town and its museum.

 

Growing up I was a huge fan of baseball. I watched game after game of my beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Over the years I also become familiar with the history of the game. This all combined to make my experience at the Baseball Hall of Fame a memorial one for sure. I will never forget visiting the Babe Ruth exhibit. The amount of newspaper clippings and relics and memorabilia to do with “the Babe” was staggering.

 

But as I think back on my experience of visiting the Hall of Fame, I was struck by just how quiet and low key it was. Cooperstown is a sleepy little town and the day I visited, there weren’t many people there. Things no doubt pick up in the summer, but it was kind of dead that day with barely any visitors. The other thing was, I didn’t actually meet any Hall of Famers. Of course, many of them (like Babe Ruth) are dead and gone, but many are still alive and they don’t visit too often. They have lives of their own and probably only come back on special occasions. I enjoyed myself and I am glad I went, but frankly, the place was kind of dead and lifeless. It is really just a hall filled with memorabilia and plaques and things of that sort.

 

For the past several weeks, I’ve had the great privilege of taking our church through Hebrews 11. This Faith Hall of Fame is in fact much different than any earthly Hall of Fame. The very first person mentioned in Hebrews 11 is a man by the name of Abel. I won’t go into the full story of Cain and Abel, but it does say in Hebrews 11:4, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” So even though his brother brutally murdered him and his life ended prematurely, he left a powerful legacy….a legacy of faith. This is a legacy that even murder could not stamp out.

 

As a pastor, people often ask me what heaven will be like. And while Scripture does tell us much, there are a lot of unknown details when it comes to heaven. However, I will say this. Heaven is a world of love and a world of life. It is just the opposite of hell. Hell is a dead and dreary and lifeless place whereas heaven is a world of love and happiness and life. This is exactly what we would expect from our Creator God. The very first verse in the bible tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Over the course of 6 days, God created everything in the universe, including Adam and Eve. In the time since then, God has never stopped creating and forming and as Romans 4:17 puts it, He “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” In fact, God’s greatest work of creating is regeneration. Regeneration is God’s work of salvation through faith whereby He brings life to dead sinners. Peter puts it this way: “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3)

 

All that to say that when the redeemed of the Lord get to heaven, they will find it to be a place filled with life. Unlike the Hall of Fame, they will meet person after person who is alive like never before. Paul writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). The lesson being, don’t get too fixated upon this earthly life. Rather, we should long for our heavenly dwelling. We should fix our eyes upon Jesus and seek the things that are above. Jesus puts it best in Matthew 6:20: “lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.”

 

 

Loneliness and the New Year

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to attend the Urbana Student Missions conference in Urbana, Illinois (now held in St. Louis). Urbana is a tri-annual conference that hosts thousands of students from around the world. This was a great experience and I look back on it with fond memories, however I will never forget how it ended for me. The conference takes place over the last 5 days of December and on the last night, as the conference concludes, attenders bring in the new year together. Depending on your personality, being in an arena with 20000 people bringing in the new year sounds kind of exciting, don’t you think? But I will never forget the feeling of loneliness that swept over me as the clock struck 12 and people started hugging and high-fiving. I had come to the conference by myself and didn’t know anyone else around me, so I naturally felt alone at this moment where normally you are surrounded by friends and family. The whole conference I was totally fine being alone (I’m more of an introvert), but at that moment, even though I was surrounded by thousands of people, I felt alone.

 

I had to chuckle to myself when I thought about how different this past new year was compared to the one I described back in 2003. Steph and I put the kids down at 8:30, we were in bed by 10:30, and we slept our way into the new year. In the morning I told the family…..Happy New Year! All that to say, at this stage of our lives, we don’t feel the need to be part of a big shindig to bring in the new year.

 

Remembering my Urbana experience was a reminder to me, however, that loneliness is a real problem for many, especially around the holiday season. Just last week a friend of mine confessed that as he took inventory of his own life, he realized that he didn’t have many close friends. He has a lot of acquaintances, but not many real, genuine friendships. Without question, he is not alone (forgive the pun). I’m sure there are a number of reasons that people (including Christians), struggle with loneliness and I believe that social media is one of those reasons. For example, we can have hundreds, and even thousands of Facebook “friends” but still struggle with friendship. Often, we are more comfortable communicating with someone through the medium of a screen rather than in person. It’s a crazy new world that we live in, and one that is not necessarily conducive to fostering genuine, meaningful relationships.

 

One of the Proverbs tells us: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). These bosom-buddy, kindred-spirit, blood brother type of friendships are a rare commodity today. Sometimes the “man of many companions” scenario looks attractive, but if we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that we would rather have a few close friendships than dozens of superficial friendships. Deep down in our hearts, I think most of us long for a “David and Jonathan” kind of relationship (see 1 Samuel 18:1-4) that goes deep and stands the test of time. These relationships can be tough and messy at times, but everyone would agree they are worth it.

 

In this new year of 2018, let me encourage you to fight loneliness in four ways:

 

  1. Draw near to God (Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:22) and grow in your relationship with the One who is a friend of sinners (John 15:15).
  2. Work hard to invest in a few close, meaningful friendships. Identify these true friends and then strive to serve them, bless them, and love them (John 13:34-35).
  3. Ask God to help you appreciate and invest more in your family. Truly, “family” is a wonderful gift of God and as Satan tries to rip our families apart, we must grow stronger and closer together.
  4. Get plugged into the Body of Christ – the family of God here on earth. The Church often gets a bad rap these days, but it is the institution that God created to represent Christ to the watching world (Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Peter 2:9-10). We would do well to attach ourselves to what God is doing in this world through His Church.

 

Happy New Year!

Like Father, Like Son: How God Uses Parenting to Teach Us

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Being a father has been a big learning experience for me. Seven years ago when the Lord blessed Steph and I with twin daughters, I never dreamed all that God would teach us. Indeed, children are a wonderful blessing in many ways, but one of the surprises was that I have learned much about God and our relationship with Him just through being a parent. Here are a couple lessons.

 

One of the things I often hear around our home are the words, “Daddy play with me!” It used to just be our older son John, but now that Jeremiah has started to talk, I hear it from both of them. Obviously, I enjoy playing with my kids, but at times is can be a tad overwhelming. For example, in the mornings when I am trying to get off to work and the boys want to play, I often feel torn. I want to play with them, but I know I have responsibilities to attend to. Not long ago, I was reflecting on this and I asked myself, “why do they want to play with me so much? Can’t they just play by themselves?” As I thought about this, it occurred to me that it is only natural for sons to want to be with and play with their father. Families that are healthy naturally want to spend time together – that’s just how it works (see Malachi 4:6). Parents are going to want to spend time with their kids, and kids are going to want to spend time with their parents.

 

The lesson that I learned from this (and continue to learn) is that it is only natural for Christians to desire to spend time with their heavenly Father. It is unfortunate that even as Christians we often we get distracted with other lesser things, and frankly, don’t desire to be with our Father. These distractions can be a huge hindrance to our growing closer to God. Another thing to keep in mind are the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” In the same way that children are master imitators, so too should we strive to imitate God and His Son Jesus Christ.

 

Let me share with you another lesson. When you look at your kids, you can’t help but see lots of similarities. When I look at all four of our kids, I see things that mirror myself and Steph in them. Of course, there are differences, but there are resemblances and similarities that I marvel at. These include physical, emotional, and personality characteristics that indicate a definite family resemblance. I remember one time when we still lived in New York state and my parents were visiting for the first time. My Dad and I were attending our monthly men’s breakfast and as all the guys saw my Dad and I come in, their faces said it all. It was kind of like, “Wow, they really look alike!” I am sure you are not at all surprised by this. It has always been true that the closer parents and children look, the more similarities they are going to see.

 

In the very first chapter in the Bible, we are told that man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This astounding truth is often glossed over by readers, but think about it for a minute. The Creator God, the One who is Lord of Heaven and Earth…..has made us in His own image! Now, we need to keep in mind that after the Fall of man (Genesis 3), our status as image-bearers has been marred because of sin. That’s not to say it is gone for good, but the Fall had devastating, far-reaching consequences. The good news is that for those who are in Christ, the image of God is being restored and remade in us. Let me quote from Paul once again: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10). Ask yourself, are you growing in grace? Are you growing in godliness? In other words, if you are a Christian, is there a clear family resemblance between you and your Heavenly Father? Scripture tells us that God is working to make his children “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4), and conform us more and more to the image of Christ. In this we rejoice.

 

I could share with you more lessons that I have learned or had reinforced just through being a parent. No doubt the lessons will continue. Even though child rearing is tough at times, children are a huge blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3) and God uses this relationship to teach us about Himself. May we be ever more attentive.

 

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

 

The Not So Hidden Treasure That Is Christ

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A couple weeks ago, our family vacationed at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and of course, we had a great time. One morning, Steph and I up were up early doing devotions and enjoying a spectacular sunrise when we saw a funny sight. A guy with a metal detector was walking very slowly and was clearly searching for treasure on the beach. If you are a beach-goer, you will know that seeing that kind of thing on the beach is not out of the ordinary. It’s pretty common actually, but what struck me was that he was headed in the direction of the rising sun. Now, anytime you can see a sunrise, it is amazing (see Psalm 19:4b-6). We often take it for granted, but it is even more amazing when you see it rising over the ocean, like we did that morning. We had a most remarkable backdrop, but it was almost as if he missed it. He was searching for little gadgets and trinkets that might be worth something, but missed something truly priceless.

 

Now, if you are one of those people who like to use your metal detector to find hidden treasure, don’t hear me the wrong way. Don’t give up your hobby. Keep enjoying what you do and maybe you will strike it rich some day….lol. There is obviously nothing wrong with what that guy on the beach was doing. It is just a hobby that he (along with thousands of other people) does and enjoys. But for me this served as an illustration pertaining to our value system. We all have values. There are things that we value greatly while there are other things we don’t value at all. You have heard the saying, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” I’ve said to people before, “why would you spent that much money on that thing?” I’ve had other people say the same to me. In the study of economics, this is called “The Subjective Theory of Value.” That is a fancy title but it has to do with a rather simple concept – values are subjective and not objective. In other words, one person places more value on certain things than another person and vice versa.

 

As Christians, however, we recognize that there values that are beyond the category of subjective. As we study the Scriptures, we come to see that we must align our value system with God’s value system. We must love the things He loves and hate the things He hates. We must treasure what He treasures and forsake what He forsakes. The apostle Paul wrote, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10). What this tells us is that not everything is subjective. There is an objective value system that is beyond question. It’s not about – I like this and you like that. No, it is more like – God values this and therefore, that trumps our subjective opinions. Just like that, we have moved from a subjective value system to an objective value system and that transition happens through Holy Scripture. God’s word shows us what is truly valuable, excellent, praiseworthy, lovely, commendable, etc (see Philippians 4:8).

 

In the gospels, there are a couple of short parables that illustrate what I am saying. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46). In the ancient world, there weren’t banks like we have today. Often people would gather up their treasures and valuables, dig a hole, and leave them there for safekeeping. Eventually, they would go the way of the world and die, with no one knowing where the buried treasure lay. Fast forward a few decades or even centuries later, and perhaps someone would be working in the field, planting their crops when….you guessed it….they stumble upon the buried treasure. That is the basic idea with the first parable and the second is related.

 

Friend, if you knew the secret of hidden treasure what would you do to acquire it? What lengths would you go in order to lay claim to that treasure? I want you to know that the greatest treasure in all the world is the Lord Jesus Christ. To find Him is to find life itself (John 14:6). What is so amazing is that Jesus has not hid himself from us (Romans 10:6-13) but has revealed himself in a most remarkable way. He has made Himself available to all who would call upon His name.

 

Getting back to my opening illustration, the sun serves as a pointer to the Son – the Son of Righteousness. How sad to think that there are scores of people who are searching for treasure in this world when the greatest treasure is right there in front of them – the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

 

We live in a world with a very skewed value system. We value and treasure the things of the world (what the Bible calls transient and passing away), while laying aside that which is of infinite value, namely Christ Himself. Like the sun rising over the ocean, Christ is in no way hiding himself from us. Through His spoken Word and through the created world, God has revealed Himself most clearly and unmistakably. The question is, do we have eyes to see and hearts that are willing to receive the One who is more beautiful, more glorious, more excellent than anyone or anything? Of course, that question remains to be answered.

 

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).