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the sinner’s prayer

As the parent of a three year-old, I have learned an awful lot more aboout myself than how to be a good parent.  And I guess that is how it goes.  Being a parent teaches us how selfish, stubborn, deceitful, and self-seeking we are…or at least that has been the case for me.  Now, my friends without kids, hang on and keep reading.  I share all of this because of a realization God has brought me to recently.

It is so hard for NB, my son, to trust my wife and I. He doesn’t want to listen or obey because he trusts more in what he wants or understands for himself. He doesn’t seem to get that “no” or “don’t” is usually for the purpose of safety or something better. I love him so much that I am willing to put off his “happiness” for the sake of something better. “No” and discipline come from a deep love and the want for him to have something greater down the road. He just sees it all as a denial of what he wants and perceives that he needs. There is a fustration on both sides…NB gets frustrated with us because we are not working within his realm of self, and we, as parents, get frustrated with his lack of trust that we are really working towards his good (especially when this is lived out over and over again and he sees that we do know what we are talking about sometimes).

Even while I type this, it is amazing to me how long it took me to get the lesson God is teaching me through the struggles of parenting. God is my Father. He loves me more than I will ever be able to comprehend on either side of Heaven. He is truly out for my good. In good times and bad, in times of plenty or in need, in closeness when I am obedient, or in distance and hard times of discipline…God is always after one thing: my heart. He wants me to love and trust him completely. And he is overwelmingly patient with me…even when I have to learn the same lesson over and over and over. God is out for my good. Always. Even when life isn’t working like I feel that it should.

“Okay, CoffeeJoe, that is a great story and lesson, but what in the world does it have to do with the sinner’s prayer?”

Don’t worry,the tie-in is huge…and it has even grown a bit since I hace started writing this post (it has taken me a couple of days to find the time to write completely). And for this reason, you will have to wait for part two. 🙂

I do want to leave you with some scripture, though. 1 John 3:1-3:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Father, Jesus, Spirit, please help me to trust you. Please help me to see your great love for me and just trust you. I love you. your son, joe

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The Marathon

I am not much of a runner.  I have tried many times in the past to become one, but I am not one.  I don’t know if it is my attention span or out-of-shapeness, but I just can’t stick with it very long.  All I can think about while I am running is the fact that I do not want to be running.  My one and only goal during a run is to not be running when it is over.  I think that mindset has a lot to do with why I am not much of a runner.

Unfortunately, that mindset is not confined to running and exercise.  I sometimes view parts of life that way.  Sometimes my job is that way…all I think about is not working.  Sometimes my homelife is that way…all I can think about is the chores being done so I don’t have to do them.  Sometimes I view parenting that way…all I can think about with parts of our newborn’s life at present (crying and constant diaper changes) is the time when that will be over.  Sometimes I even view my relationship with God that way…I think about being done with reading the Bible while reading it…not praying while praying…or lunch during worship at church.

As I sit here now, I have three days left with my students at school until the end of the year.  I can’t help but thinking about when this year will be over.  I am not concentrated on the time I have left with them.  All I can see is how hard this year has been and how ready I am for it to be done.

Not that doing something with the end in sight is necessarily wrong, but what am I missing when I live this way?  What joy in the moments could I be missing?

I know that it is cliche, but life is a marathon and not a sprint.  When I live only thinking about when something is over I am trying to sprint 26 miles.  I am not a runner, which has been established, so that will never work.  I can’t run that way…I would die.  I can’t live that way either.  God does not intend that.  When we view life this way, we are taking control back from God and we are missing what he is using in the here and now to grow us and give himself glory.  Everything is God’s…even every little moment that we live and breathe.  God intends to use them to grow us, others, and show who he is.

The Bible is full of examples of times God has given promises but waits to fulfill them.  People take matters in their own hands and try to make the promises happen now.  God had a reason for waiting.  People are impatient…and the consequences are usually dire and they are normally natural consequences for what was done or not done.

I live my life that way.  I miss the things that God want to use for me or use me through for other people.  As I start this third-to-last day with my students, I pray that I view every moment as an opportunity for God.  I pray that my focus is on him and that this allows the moments to change me and change others through me.  It is a big goal, but God is a big God.

I know it is only loosely connected to what I posted, but I leave you with Hebrews 12:1-4:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joyawaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;then you won’t become weary and give up.  After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

We are running the race of life.  It is a marathon.  We have a stadium full of those who have gone before us that have made it through.  If we keep our eyes on Jesus, who lived every moment for his Father, we can also see every moment as God’s and live each one for him.

Father, Jesus, Spirit, you want me to view every moment as an opportunity for you.  Please help me live my life slowly today.  Please help me to not waste the moments with my students and family this week.  Please help me to seek your glory in all that I do and say.  Please slow me down.  I love you.  Please help me to try.  your son, joe

 
 

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Call Me Israel…

Life has gotten busy.  My newborn and three year-old, time for my wife, and then work takes up most of my time.  It is hard to focus long enough on God everyday just in seeking him, let alone finding the time to put thoughts to virtual paper.

I have struggled to read the Bible every day as I had been for nearly a year.  When I do, I just don’t have the time to dig in and spend in it as I had been.  However, I am back on track, most days.

I am on my second time through the Bible.  I am not saying this to boast.  No, quite the opposite.  It is quite humbling.  I did not see the same things when I read before.  And what I am seeing is not good.

I am reading a chronological Bible this time through.  What this means is that this Bible puts everything in a time order of when they happened and/or were written.  Because of this, I am not getting the Old and New Testaments together each day (unless I do a seperate reading).  Spending this much time in the OT (Old Testament) has been eye-opening.

The first time through, I remember thinking, “Man, those Israelites just didn’t get it.  God was constantly taking care of them, providing for them, and protecting them, and all they do is run away from him.  How could they have done that?”

This time through, I am realizing that I am Israel.  Their lives as a nation mirror my life as a Christian.  I constantly run from God and what I know is right…all the while God keeps providing and protecting.  More than that, God gave the ultimate sacrafice of Jesus to pay for my sins (my turning from him) and to give me life with hm forever.  How could I keep turning away from him?

I am Israel.  I don’t trust God, even though he is trustworthy.

I am Israel.  I offer little as I ask for much.  God offers much and asks for little.

I am Israel.  I run away from God, and all he wants me to do is turn to him…even in my sin…so that his faithful love and mercy can change me and bring glory to his name.

Call me Israel.  That is my name.  We are one and the same.  The point is God’s mercy for the glory of his own name.  I just need to trust him, look to him, run to him, and know him as my source for everything.  This is when I will change.

Israel is the name God gave Jacob because of Jacob’s trust and faith in God.  Not the good that Jacob did, but because of faith and trust.  This is the other side of this coin.  The history of Israel is a mirror of my life…but the story of Israel (Jacob) should be the goal of my life.  To trust God and put my faith in him, even though I am clearly not deserving of it.

Call me Israel…I have nothing to trust or put my faith in but God.

Father, Jesus, and Spirit, please make this message clear to me today.  Please help me to trust you in every moment of the day.  Please help me to look to you.  Please help me to see everything as yours…even my time and energy.  Please use me to show your glory today.  Love, your son, joe.

 

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Number Two…Part Two

Now that ID (my second child) has been with us for almost two weeks, I thought I would write a follow-up to my post Number Two.  I have had a lot of time to think and reflect on the experience of going from the father of one to the father of two, albeit the thoughts are from a slightly sleep deprived mind.  Even though I now am in the process of potty training a toddler along with changing a bazillion newborn diapers, this is still not about that number two.  🙂

Here are a few of the things that I am learning:

  • Patience is hard at three in the morning.  I am trying hard not to get fustrated with LA and/or the baby when the ID is fussy and can’t be consoled, but it is hard.  I am being reminded time and time again that I do not have heavenly patience on my own.  It only comes from the Spirit.  I wish I could say I am doing really good at seeking the Spirit early in the AM, but I am not.  I just know what I need to work on.
  • Love can be equal and different.  I love both of my sons so much.  I love hanging out and playing with NB.  I love holding and cuddling with ID.  They are in two different phases of life, and the fathering skills are different for both.  Patience can be harder with the preschooler, especially when he is having trouble adjusting to not being the only one, but that goes back to my first point.  I do love them equally, and I love them differently.  They are different.  I will just stay in prayer that as they grow I will remember that and not compare them to each other.  I just want to love them for who they are individually.
  • I am still a selfish sinner in need of a Savior.  With to kids needing my love and attention, it is becoming even more apparent how selfish I am.  I am so prideful.  I want my time notched out for me as well as them.  I know rest time is important, but I use it as an excuse.  Even now, NB is watching TV when I probably should be playing with him.  I will play with him as soon as I am done, but it is an example of the problem.  I want to use tiredness and the need for a mental break as an excuse to worship at the throne of me.  I need to trust God to give me the energy, strength, and mental ability to do all I need to do for my sons and wife.  I need to admit to God that I am a selfish, prideful man.  I need to preach the Gospel to myself and remind myself that I am nothing without Jesus, and I can’t be the father and husband I need to be without Jesus and the Spirit.  I need the Gospel to be ever present.
  • I need the Bible more than ever.  In the last week and a half, I have found excuse after excuse not to read the Bible.  A week and a half is a long time to go without reading the Bible for me now.  I felt it.  I knew I needed to get back into it.  I finally did yesterday, and it was so refreshing.  I need to recommit to reading it everyday, meditating, and spending quality time with God.
  • God will provide.  I won’t go into all of the details, but God has seen our needs before we have known them and has provided.  It has been amazing.  God does not always meet our needs in the way we think they need to be met, and sometimes he does.  The thing we need to learn is that we can trust him.

Okay, there are a lot more things that I am forgetting, but maybe I can get to those later.  I just knew I needed to write a little.  It is something that burns in my heart until I do.  I need to go play with my son.  Hopefully you can glean something from what God is teaching me.

Has God taught you anything really cool, life-changing, or obvious but needed lately?

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The Sweetness of My Son

I am in the hospital with my wife and our second son.  ID was born two days ago.  This morning I just could not get over how awesome it was to just hold him in my arms.  I imagine that is when God is the most pleased with us.  When we are nestled in close and completely relient on him.  Like newborns, he wants us to know we need him for everything.

So often I am more like my almost-three-year-old.  I think I can do everything.  Even the things that I know I should look to God for help, I want to do on my own.  I get anxious and stubborn,  “I do it by myself,” to quote NB.  Though he still needs me, the independent streak is very obvious.

i live my life between the two attitudes.  Completely relient or rebelliously independent.  As I spend time with ID, my new boy, and get fustrated by NB, my firstborn, I hope I continue to analyze myself and my relationship to God.

Right now, with the sleep deprivation, I think I am closer to the newborn.  I know I can’t do this alone.

Okay, I hope this one made sense.  Just some random thoughts from fatherhood as I sit here looking at my newborn son.

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Christmas Thoughts: Jesus’ Stepdad

Before I start, if you have not read the post Christmas Thoughts: The Silence Has Broken and then come back to this one.  I am going to make a few references to what I wrote there.

I remember the first time that I heard the term “stepdad” in reference to Joseph.  It was in a Christmas song called What We Call Christmas by the band Bleach.  I was kind of offended.  Why refer to Joseph this way.  Eventually, I realized that it was an apt term. Joseph really was Jesus’ step-father. Jesus was/is God’s son…Joseph was, for lack of a better word, his custodial guardian.

There are two things about this that stand out to me. The first is that We can never be ready, truly ready, for how God is going to work things out. Jesus was/is the promised Messiah. No one expected him to be born into the family of a common construction worker and his wife, who got pregnant before she was married.

On top of that, imagine how Joseph was feeling. He is about to be married, following all of the Jewish laws of purity, and his fiance comes to him with, “I’m pregnant, but it’s not what you think…it is God’s son.”

I can just imagine what Joseph was thinking…not only was this girl cheating on him, she might be a bit crazy. Until recently, I have always forgotten the humanity of the people in this story. I guess I have always “holy-fied” them. I didn’t think about the human-ness of Joseph in how he must have felt when Mary gave him the news. But why would he believe what she said. I mean, come on, it is a little far-fetched. Remember, there had been a 400 year silence between God and the Jews, and on top of that, why would the Messiah come through an unwed mother? That is kind of far outside if Jewish law.

No wonder God had to send supernatural intervention to stop old Joe from ending the betroval quietly. Talk about a rude awakening. Joseph probably had trouble getting to sleep that night, and in the middle of his restless sleep, Gabriel, one of the head angels, pays him a visit. “Joseph, this is for real. You are going to name the boy Jesus, and you are going to raise him. You are going to raise the Messiah as your son.”

I don’t know about you, but I think I would have had to change my jammies…and not because of the heavenly visitor. He was just told that he is going to be the adoptive father to the Son of God and Savior of Israel. Gulp. Talk about a big pill to swallow.

What do you say to that? How do you deal with that? How do you prepare for that? How do you get ready to teach, discipline, and parent God’s son? Additionally, how do you explain this to your family and friends? I bet he could already hear them all, ” Suuuuuure, it’s not your baby. I am sure it is the ‘Son of God.’. Sure, Joe, we believe you.”

The story of Jesus’ coming as a baby is real, and it is a real story. The people are real. Joseph really was asked to raise a child that was not his. He was given the job of raising the Messiah. He really was to marry a pregnant Mary, no matter what anyone said. It is much easier to believe a real story, and this one is real and as full of the aspects of reality that we all know.

This brings me to the second thing that Joseph-the-Stepdad makes me realize. Jesus understands us. As Christians, we are adopted children of God. Jesus knows what this is like. He was the son of God adopted by a man…as we are the son of men adopted by God. He knows the learning curve. He understands. He is like us and we are like him.

And lastly, this brings me to one last point. Adoption is near and dear to God’s heart. Jesus was adopted, we are adopted, and he wants us to care for orphans. I will post more about this another day, but please think about doing something for children who don’t have parents to love and care for them. Adoption, fostering, or just reaching out to children in need is something God has called us to. Remembering Jesus’ adoption by Joseph should remind us about this.

I will end on that note. I think we have a lot to chew on.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Christmas Thoughts: Happy Holidays and the Kingdom of God

A few months ago, my friend and fellow blogger (the one who inspired me to start, actually), Bill Moore, got me thinking about the culture war.  In his post, Conscientiously Objecting to the Culture War, he talked about the American Christian war for the American Culture (which somehow adopted Bill O’Reilly as it’s mascot…or he adopted himself as the mascot…who knows?).  I used to be all about this.  Our need to claim moral authority on our society.  Bill (Moore) challenged me to rethink my focus.

What do we prove to the world at large with our letter writing campaigns to reality shows about questionable “stars”?  What do we gain by refusing to shop in stores that somehow, through the process of being guilty by association, may promote something we disagree with (not talking major things here)?  What do we gain by fighting against gay marriage (I know I may get some backlash on this one)?  What do we gain by only being willing to vote for a Christian into elected office?  What do we gain by waging war against “Happy Holidays” replacing “Merry Christmas?”  I know all of these have room for debate, but I am asking what do we gain by these?

Do we gain sinners realizing that their only hope for life and acceptance by God is through Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection?  Do we gain people battling their way out of poverty?  Do we gain a decrease in children without families?  Do we gain people taking care of other people?  Do we gain the Kingdom of God?  Do we?  These are what we have been called to find important as Christians.  These are the hills we should be choosing to “die on.”

Of these things, I am going to focus on the whole “Happy Holidays” thing…it is, afterall, Christmas.

Is it really that important that everyone says, “Merry Christmas?”  Is it really?  Is there a need for all people, Christian and nonChristian alike to wish everyone a happy Christ’s Mass?  I am not so sure.  Besides, it is being placed with a word that means “Holy Days,” isn’t that enough for us?

The Spirit has really led me to some new thoughts on this recently.  I have been thinking a lot about Christmas, the traditions, and the commericialization of it (thus the Christmas thoughts posts), and something occurred to me.  There really is a Christmas spirit…or Holiday spirit.  Now, I am not saying we should be caught up in the warm-fuzzy Christmas and forget the true meaning of it…another post for another day…but there really is a “spirit” about this time of year that most people get caught up in, no matter how religious or non-religious.

This “spirit” has a way of changing people…there is a reason why “A Christmas Carol” has been so popular for so very long.  It is a true change that people feel.  People become nicer.  They think of others first.  They help the needy.  They feed the poor.  They care for the orphans.  They look out for the widows.  They help the down and out.  Hey, this sounds a lot like the list of stuff that Christians are supposed to be doing!

Christians are supposed to be about the Kingdom of God.  Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology book, says that the Kingdom of God is when the reign and rule of God in the hearts and lives of people.  A part of this is how we care for others.  Jesus himself said that there are two commandments: Love God and love one another.  How we care for others is half of the job.

So, this Christmas/Holiday “spirit” has people all around us thinking and loving their “neighbors” as themselves.  In a way, we are seeing what God’s Kingdom here on Earth will look like, at least a little.  People are caring for each other.  This is important to God.  Look in either the Old or New Testaments.  God wants us to care for others like we are compelled to at Christmas.

I say whether you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” it doesn’t really matter.  The question is, “Are we taking care of each other, especially the down-and-out?”  Are we?  Where is our focus?  Ourselves?  Or is it on using this “Christmas spirit” as a way to reach out to others and help them see the true meaning of Christmas?  Are we living a life that shows Jesus, even at Christmas?  Or are we busy fighting a battle that should not be fought, while those saying “Happy Holidays” are living out what we are called to?

Happy holidays, everyone!!  Joe

Father, Jesus, Spirit, please help me to pick the right battles this year.  Help me to see that it is about loving you and loving others.  Thank you for allowing the “Christmas spirit” to show us your Kingdom.  Please help me to use this to reach out and tell other people about the source of this “spirit.”  I love you.  Your son and dependent, Joe

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