How do you wake up to that?

Yesterday two couples awoke in Atenas to a harsh reality. On Saturday they buried their boys, ages 12 and 14, after they drowned in a flash flood on Friday. It wasn’t the weekend they imagined. And waking up on Sunday brought no relief.

Some of you know this kind of pain.

I don’t. And I pray I never do. It doesn’t change my hurt for those who have experienced it. I just don’t want to know how to survive something like that.

My theology tells me that God will provide Grace. And I understand that although we may never have answers to the sorrows of this life, God is still in control.

But how do you wake up to that?

I don’t have an answer. But I do have two requests:

  1. Say a prayer for those who know this pain.
  2. Check your perspective against such suffering. Maybe the problems stressing you are not all that stressful. Give thanks, and help someone with genuine pain.

Always a choice

thinkstockphotos-178557214_570x300Yesterday I had two good activities that were competing for the same time slot. One had been on the calendar for quite some time, and the other appeared rather suddenly. Both were good opportunities. I was faced with a choice.

We all have choices. Every day, all day long. Life is a collection of choices.

Sometimes we choose between good and bad. It shouldn’t feel like a choice. Bad is never a good option. But it is a choice, because we have to decide whether to be obedient or disobedient. “The devil made me do it,” is not a theologically sound argument. We choose.

Other times we choose between good and good. These are the tough ones. Which university to attend? What job to take? Where to eat dinner? Whether trivial or momentous, our choices are just that–our choices. We decide, and we need to be willing to live with the decision, and the consequences that result.

Weight the pros and cons, get good counsel, pray about it, and do what you must. But in the end, you must decide. Own it.

No Neutrality

Yesterday evening at church I continued teaching from the gospel of Matthew, leading up to the “unpardonable sin” in 12:31-32. But of more interest to me last night was verse 30.

30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Jesus was making it clear that there is no neutrality in one’s relationship to Him. The Pharisees did not side with Jesus, and so by implication He made it clear that they were working for the enemy.

Of course, since I was 15 years old, I considered myself to be “with” Jesus. I wasn’t neutral at all. I had crossed the line of faith and asked Jesus to be my Savior. I line-in-sand-700x452was on His side, and I knew that was eternal.

But as I look at it again, the context of Matthew 12 was not as much about identity as behavior. And this is much tougher. Sure, my identity is in Christ and I’m officially and eternally “with” Him. But what about my behavior?

Consider this: If my behavior is not “with” Christ, can I legitimately say I’m not against Him. Or can my behavior be neutral. As much as I’d like to argue for some middle ground here to justify my own weaknesses and shortcomings, I have to admit that behavior is what is being addressed here.

The behavior of the Pharisees–both in their accusations against Him of working with the Devil, and their intentionally scattering Jesus’ followers–was decidedly not “with” Him, and by Jesus’ declaration, they were against Him.

And so am I when my behavior does not promote the cause of Christ, or at the very least honor the values and principles for which He stands. Either my words or my life (or both) need to be a testimony to the fact that I am “with” Him. And when they are not, it doesn’t mean I’m just on the sidelines. It means I’m helping the other side. And I just can’t bear the thought of that.



(c) Maciej Bogus Photography

Yesterday I talked with a Christian woman who was worried about the future. No, it wasn’t about politics, thankfully. It was life stuff. She couldn’t turn her brain off from all of the possibilities that she feared would happen in the coming days. And the more she talked, the more I began to fear those same things.

Worry paralyzes. It consumes. It feeds on every ounce of faith we have, chewing it up and leaving only gut-wrenching pain as refuse. Worry demands our attention. It is the annoying friend who points out every dreadful possibility in our lives.

Worry is also the natural condition. It is reflexive to life–an automatic response. That’s why so many times in Scripture we are told not to worry. Because we do.

Is worry sin? Sometimes. But often times I think it rises from a predisposition to think about the wrong things. When we focus on the negative possibilities we give them life and strength. Conversely, when we focus on God and the things He told us to fix our minds on, we find that faith grows strong, and chokes out worry.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

Life has trouble.

Life will always have trouble.

No need to worry about it. It comes when it comes. But imagine now that the next time trouble comes your way, you are a woman or man of faith, galvanized by the Spirit of God, strengthened by the experience of surviving the last trouble. Imagine yourself as an overcomer, a victor–hand-in-hand with the Almighty. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

Now, don’t worry about it.


Lifestyle or chore

mac_4022Yesterday I made it to fitness class after a five-day period of zero exercise. I could make excuses as to why I didn’t exercise for five days, but it wouldn’t matter. Excuses and opinions on such things never matter. The net effect is the impact it had on my body. And that is something I’m not happy about.

Exercise, like any other positive habit in your life, is about lifestyle. It must be an every day hunger or it will quickly become a chore. And once it is a chore, it can devolve into an activity that you are looking for an excuse to avoid. By the time you are in that mindset, you have already given up.

Prayer, meditation on Scripture, kindness, generosity — these are all lifestyle choices that work like exercise. Either it is a daily practice, or it is something you battle.

Forget the excuses.

Forget the past.

Get up right now and do something. Pray. Run. Give. Serve. Laugh. Love. Live.


You sit on a throne of lies.

enhanced-buzz-16355-1383852301-39Yesterday Angela and I started making plans for Christmas. It may be the last time we get David and Stephanie in the same room at the same time–and for a holiday–so we want to make it special. (David and Stephanie, if you are reading this, you might as well stop now. There are no spoilers. Ok, maybe a few.) And of course, we will get to see Flora and Cristopher and their kids, and hopefully Skype with Carmen and Cristian and their precious babies.

There are three things that go into making a holiday family time special. Here they are in ascending order:

#3 – Traditions. Traditions help build an identity around intentional family time. For us, there are several Christmas traditions. The foods we eat, the music we listen to, and even the movies we watch. For years, “A Christmas Story” was the one we had to see. Then a few years back we added “Elf” to the list. (Please don’t get me and David started quoting lines from our favorite movies. The title of this blog is of course from “Elf.” Feel free to comment on this article with your favorite Elf quote. There are so many good ones!

But traditions can also be managed for maximum benefit. We used to decorate our tree a week after Stephanie’s birthday. But now, with David and Stephanie arriving within a few minutes of each other on December 16, we will be pushing our tree decoration back until the seventeenth. This way everyone gets in on the action. So let traditions give your family time structure, but don’t be so married to the traditions that you lose sight of the goal.

#2 – Time. Speaking of movies, the made-for-TV holiday movies all follow the same formula. Everyone gets together for Christmas but stays focused on their own lives. No one connects. Some are distracted, some are angry. Then something bad happens, and everyone has to pitch in together to save Christmas. And by doing that they all realize how selfish they have been and so Christmas is saved (usually at a church watching children re-enact the Christmas story.)

Yeah, right. So much truth to that except for the happy ending. People don’t usually snap out of selfishness. You either go to visit family and focus on them, or you don’t. So make sure you plan to leave the cell phones in the other room, and turn the TV off. Put on nice music, pull out the board games, or mix a hot drink and share stories from your lives.

Be intentional about your time together.

#1 – Anticipation. Start talking about it now. Do you realize we are just 10 weeks away from Christmas? Yeah. Let that sink in. I know we still have Thanksgiving, but trust me you better get serious. You haven’t even started shopping yet. And more importantly, you haven’t even started teasing your kids about how great it is going to be this year.

So get busy. Build some anticipation. It makes the event that much more fun.

[SPOILER] Kids? Want to know what I have planned? “First we’ll make snow angels for two hours, then we’ll go ice skating, then we’ll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookie dough as fast as we can, and then we’ll snuggle.” (Buddy, the Elf)


Drawing on the Grace of God Now


(c) Maciej Bogusz Photography 

Sometimes I can’t say it any better. So I quote.

This is from Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest.”

The grace you had yesterday will not be sufficient for today. Grace is the overflowing favor of God, and you can always count on it being available to draw upon as needed. “…in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses”— that is where our patience is tested (2 Corinthians 6:4). Are you failing to rely on the grace of God there? Are you saying to yourself, “Oh well, I won’t count this time”? It is not a question of praying and asking God to help you— it is taking the grace of God now. We tend to make prayer the preparation for our service, yet it is never that in the Bible. Prayer is the practice of drawing on the grace of God. Don’t say, “I will endure this until I can get away and pray.” Pray now — draw on the grace of God in your moment of need. Prayer is the most normal and useful thing; it is not simply a reflex action of your devotion to God. We are very slow to learn to draw on God’s grace through prayer.

“…in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors…” (2 Corinthians 6:5)— in all these things, display in your life a drawing on the grace of God, which will show evidence to yourself and to others that you are a miracle of His. Draw on His grace now, not later. The primary word in the spiritual vocabulary is now. Let circumstances take you where they will, but keep drawing on the grace of God in whatever condition you may find yourself. One of the greatest proofs that you are drawing on the grace of God is that you can be totally humiliated before others without displaying even the slightest trace of anything but His grace.

“…having nothing….” Never hold anything in reserve. Pour yourself out, giving the best that you have, and always be poor. Never be diplomatic and careful with the treasure God gives you. “…and yet possessing all things”— this is poverty triumphant (2 Corinthians 6:10).