My Three Totoros

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These are my three gifts from God.

These are the three that Jesus are using to break off my hard edges.

These are the three that bring so much joy and pain to my life.

I spend a lot of my time crying. (Great start to a post…don’t worry it gets better) I wonder half the time what in heaven’s name God was thinking to give me three kids so close together. I overheard someone at church tell a mom that one of my friends was smart for spacing her children. I thought well I don’t really feel like I had a choice in the matter. Seriously, both my second and third child were not planned and are a result of one night not being careful. We were not going after having more babies. Not that we don’t want more children but I could really use a break. When Micah was born we had three under 3.

My kids are crazy! For real! I think I spend half my day just trying to keep them from hurting themselves. I have three reasons we celebrate birthdays :

  1. They outlived themselves another year
  2. They outlived us another year
  3. We outlived them another year.

One example of their creative intelligence that we went “oh dear Lord help”: I had gone to the OB for a checkup and Lily figured out that if she brought a chair from the kitchen to the living room she could stand on it and open the door. My husband had to run outside and save Anastasia who was playing in the middle of the driveway. (Thank God she didn’t go any further!) He was like “I wasn’t mad, just scared.” I’m like “I have those moments almost all the time during the day. If they don’t follow me to the bathroom or another room when I leave to put something away or use the restroom. I will pray that I find my kids alive when I get back in there.”

I continuously ask moms at our church what they did with their kids at this age and I found that one thing is common: no one can remember! We have done a lot more tv than I would like to admit. I’m trying to get on a schedule and figure out things we can do. The problem with this age is every activity lasts about 5 mins before they want to dash to the next thing. I feel like I do not have the brain power to do it. They color on the walls, pee on the floor, try to “help”, and other things that I start freaking out about and get angry and yell. Knowing I have to find time to clean up another mess and not knowing when I will get to it. Jesus, keeps reminding me I can not do it on my own.  One truth I am coming to know so well :

Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10)

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I fight with the fact my house is not clean. Matter of fact, I just remembered I have food on the table I have to clean off at 1am. I have come to the point that if I can get just one thing done a day I’m doing well. Sometimes I have the ability to get an entire room cleaned up and others I’m lucky to get my one thing done.

The reason I write this is because I want other moms who are in the same boat to know:

  1. You are not alone.
  2. It’s ok to cry.
  3. Call out to Jesus. It’s ok for the kids to see it. They need to know you are human too.
  4. You will screw up and that’s ok. Be humble and admit your mistakes to your kids.
  5. Remember you are being molded in the tantrums of your children.
  6. One day they won’t be on your lap and you will no longer have them this small.
  7. This is only a season.

Read if you can find 5 or 10 minutes. Two books I love and the second one I will mention I am still reading but so far in love with it are. Mom Enough edited Tony & Karalee Reinke and the second is Give them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick. These two books are helping me figure out this mom thing. As two kids are screaming, my phone is ringing and my oldest just spilled her potty all over the living room, there can still be calm.

I’ve found that if I can start letting the mess go and focus on my children, I do so much better. It’s not enough to be in the same room with them. It’s taking the time to sit with them and play, read, dance or whatever. Find other mom’s who will encourage you. The women in my church have been so supportive in giving me ideas, praying with me, and just loving on my babies. It really does take a village to raise your children. Just make sure you are in the right village.

Rethink: The Power of Words

In this series, we will take a closer look at sayings and doctrines that are common place in streams of the church and talk about the truth and error of these sayings and doctrines.

The issue.

I’ve noticed a troubling trend among some charismatic Christians. There has been more and more talk about the power of our words and how they affect our situations. Usually it occurs in sermons where the people are encouraged to speak positive words into the air about their lives and situations. They are also told that much of what ails them (whether physically, financially, emotionally, etc) is coming from the negative words that they are speaking over their lives. The preacher will say “The reason you are sick is because you keep claiming you are sick instead of saying that you’re healed” or “Wake up and speak to the airways that you are blessed and all your bills will be paid.”

Why does this matter?

The verse used most often when people talk about the power of words is:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21 ESV)

Many have taken this scripture and used it exclusively to make a theology that states our circumstances are created by what our mouth speaks. The problem is that the Bible never mentions this. The closest we get to the power of words again is in the book of  James.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:1-12 ESV)

James talks about our words as righteousness or sin, not life-altering positive or negative powers.

Now the Bible does mention people speaking to themselves and stirring themselves up to hope and believe. David is a great example of this.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (Psalm 42:5-6 ESV)

Did you catch what David did though? Yes he talked to himself, but He used memories of what God had done to change his mood.

Still, changing moods (going from anxiousness to hope, or sorrow to joy) is one thing. Believing your words can change your physical circumstances or can bring in extra finances is another. In fact, it’s unbiblical.

I stumbled on this tweet the other day and thought it summed up this point well. Nowhere in scripture is a person reprimanded for a sickness simply for “not speaking healing over their life”. What most people forget about healing is that we don’t heal anyone. God does and He needs nothing to do it. While faith is usually present where there is healing, it is still something that God does according to His sovereign will. Our words have little if nothing to do with it.

My biggest problem with the power of words thinking is that it is rooted is a few horrible things. First, it is rooted in Word of Faith theology that claims that we have whatever we ask and so if something is not what we like, we have the power to change it. This is prosperity gospel at its core and goes against the sovereign nature of God, the depravity of man, and God’s way of bringing maturity through suffering.

UnknownPower of words thinking also has deep roots into the same philosophy as the book “The Secret.” Here is a quote from this book:

“As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the universe and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to the source. And that source is you.”

Christianity Today has a great review of it.

This book and its thinking as been held high by people like Oprah and sadly the same kind of thinking has kept into many Christian’s theology.

Now I believe in faith. I believe in healing and I also believe in reminding ourselves that God is faithful to provide and that He wants to heal (and purchased our healing). I also admit that,particularly with emotional states, there is scientific data regarding the placebo effect, that what we believe can help us feel better, especially for issues and pains that are mainly mental. Most of what I’m speaking against though falls under “hyper-faith”, the belief that anything we see as negative is not God’s will and therefore can be changed if we have enough faith and do the right things (ex. if we pray enough, give enough, serve enough, obey enough, etc).

But remember what Jesus said:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV)

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25-27 ESV)

Little branches, I encourage all of us when I say: stop being anxious. Stop worrying whether your bills will get paid because you didn’t speak enough positive words over your life. Stop feeling the shame about your child because you did declare “you’re an overcomer” over their life everyday. Our anxiousness, worry, and negative words can only produce one thing: sin. Quit reading books that focus on the power of what we can do for ourselves through our words. Let us stop all the self-talk and using the power of suggestion on ourselves and start looking to our Father who knows what we need and is good to give them as they line up with His will.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19 ESV)

Old Dogs and New Tricks

“Old dogs can’t learn new tricks.”

I’ve heard that phrase my whole life. Why do we associate this with people? Why do we use this term so we don’t have to change?

We as human beings hate change. But instead of resisting change shouldn’t we be heading towards change, constantly trying to get better and make better choices? I’ve had several older people tell me, “This is just the way I am. I can’t change” or “She’s not going to change and you aren’t going to change.”

Forgive me but I think that’s a bunch of nonsense. Becoming unteachable and unchangeable means nothing more than we have become “old and crusty”. I pray that I don’t become old and crusty but that I will be ever changing and heading towards my Jesus.

Now Jesus is a gentleman and doesn’t make me change all at once because that would be an overwhelming suicide mission. But He gives me little bit by little bit to work on. I will continue to work until the day I walk into His arms and wake in death to the after life with Him.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18

 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Favorite

A lunch with friends or family at Cracker Barrel.

A quiet afternoon floating in the pool.

Back to back (to back to back to back, etc) episodes of NCIS.

As Maria sung in The Sound of Music,
“These [were] just few of [your] favorite things.”

A 64oz cup of Coke (or later, Sprite) filled to the brim with ice.

A Florida Gators or a Miami Dolphins football game.

Getting your nails painted and your hair colored.

These were just few of your favorite things.

The family trip to Lake Tahoe.

Seeing the birth of both of your granddaughters.

Watching all your kids graduate high school.

These were just few of your favorite things.

Every time your tumor markers went down.

When you heard one of your kids (or your husband) come home.

When we sung of His faithfulness at church.

These were just few of your favorite things.

No longer held in a body wrecked by horrible pain.

Being able to run, breathe, jump, shout, and dance.

Seeing clearly with no need of contacts or glasses.

These are just few of your favorite things.

Seeing your dad, brother, and sister again.

Meeting the child, the one before me, who died in your womb for the first time.

Receiving the crown that was laid up for you for a race well ran.

These are just few of your favorite things.

Seeing the worship in the throne room with your eyes, no longer just a vision.

Casting your crown at His feet and worshiping with the multitudes.

Being overwhelmed with light and love all while being in His presence.

These are just few of your favorite things.

But after all of these things…

One thing overshadows them all….

Seeing Jesus, the One you loved for decades, face-to-face.

This is your favorite thing.

And when the dog bites and when the bees sting

When life gets hard, and the times seem cruel

When I’m feeling sad

Or mad

Or doubtful

Or weary

I simply remember your favorite things

And your favorite thing

And then I don’t feel so bad

Because I’ll be there, with you, one day too.

Until then mom, Happy Mother’s Day.

How To Help A Family Who Lost Someone

This past December, my mom died. I had the honor of doing her eulogy. The weeks and months that have followed since then have been a mix of heartbrokenness and yet of sameness. The lost of my mother still pains me and I remember her often, but I have not been left immobilized by it. While life is certainly different, our routines continue and life moves us on.

During this season, my friends and church family have been amazing supports. They have served and encouraged us more than I could of ever dreamed. They have cried with us and also have caused us to laugh. I could not think of better people (or pastors) than the ones at First Assembly DeLand.

As I was meditating on how blessed I have been to have such a strong church around me, I realized that there isn’t a guide or any helpful hints for people to help a family/friend through the loss of a loved one. I have read plenty of articles solacing the griever, but none about how others can help (and not hurt or frustrate) the grieving party. I thought that I would write this for people who will need it in the future. I am glad to say that for the most part (99%), my church was spectacular and nothing in this post is directed at them. It is written to help people understand how to best comfort friends and church family who are grieving due to a death.

Note: I am a ministry leader in my church, so much of what I write will have that in mind. Some of the things I will address are not so much personal help, but ministry help.

Paint a bigger picture of heaven.

In scripture we are told that our hope in this life is our home/life in the next. The apostles continually focus the Christian’s gaze to the glories that await us after this life. The problem lies when our view of the afterlife gets dumbed down to a heavenly playground where our loved ones are just chatting waiting for us. That doesn’t produce hope. That doesn’t satisfy our hearts that our loved ones are better than we can imagine. Neither do unbiblical, error-filled comments about loved ones turning into angels. Let me state this clearly: no human has become an angel after death. None. Not one. Though the comments may be mentioned as a sincere sort of comfort, they truly offer none.

Instead of focusing on the angels, or mansions, or gold in heaven, focus on Jesus. Focus on that their loved one is now completely satisfied worshiping their heart’s Desire. Focus on that their earthly struggle is over and that they are now pain-free, sin-free, depression-free, never more to hurt and never more to die. Talk about the joy they must be experiencing because of the beauty and goodness of God. That’s how the Bible talks about heaven, and that’s how it gives us hope.

Keep your grieving in check.

When my mom passed, there were one or two people who made a scene at her funeral. In truth, these people barely knew my mom. My thoughts about them were “I’m not grieving that bad, and she’s my mother.”

I understand that people all grieve differently and they are entitled to that. However, do it “in secret” (Matthew 6) and not in front of the family. Do you best to hold it together when you are with them. If the family is comforting you instead of you comforting them, then maybe there is an issue there.

Note: I understand that there are some cases where the family is estranged from the deceased and there are friends that were truly closer to the deceased than the family. I still repeat, keep your grieving in check. You may have lost a friend, but they have lost a blood member of their family and even if they are estranged, death has a way of bringing clarity to past issues.

Put a pause on your personal issues.

Much like the last point, the best way to comfort and help a family that is grieving is to not draw attention to you. Blessings and cursings can’t come from the same mouth. You can’t tell the family all about the positive and life-changing impact the deceased has had on your life and then the next day go all Jerry Springer on Facebook. That doesn’t encourage the family. If you are going to come forth as a testimony to their legacy, then make sure that you don’t act out during that time. Keep your issues in check. I understand that we all sin, but we can help and honor the grieving family by making right choices that show the positive impact that the deceased loved one has had on our life.

Also on a ministry side, be discerning. I understand that there can be “dark nights of the soul” and times of severe struggle in a Christian’s life as the Lord is refining them by separating the dross from the gold by using intense trials. I also understand that those times can’t be planned. However, I know that there is grace in those times to not be burdensome to another who is grieving. I know, personally, as a leader that the last thing I want to deal with is strife or bitterness in my ministry team while I’m grieving. In the midst of our personal issues and sin, press to get along and apply grace to overcome them instead of being a burden.

Do your job.

This one is almost solely a ministry-focused point. I have people often say that good leadership is when things don’t require you to be around in order to keep going. I agree with this. However, due to choice and our personal issues, the flow of ministry can start breaking down if people aren’t doing their job.

I had many people, particularly in our worship team, ask me if there was anything they could do to help out me and my family during our grieving. My mom’s death fell two weeks before Christmas and 10 days before our department’s Christmas production. What I wanted to tell everyone was that the best way you can help me, as a leader, is to simply do your job. Show up at practice. Be prepared. Have a good attitude. Be in unity with everyone else on the team. These things may not seem like much, but they kept me from dealing with issues and problems and instead allowed to process my mom’s death (and continue writing her eulogy).

Help with the basics.

That said, helping with the basics is a great way to practically help and bring comfort to the family. Offer to wash and fold their laundry. Offer to help clean and organize their house. If they have kids, offer to babysit during the day so that they can help plan the funeral, or offer to babysit a night or two so that they can get out of town to breathe. Many of my co-workers started a PTO donation. This was a big help for my wife and me. Yet, the best practical thing you can do is arrange meals for the family. Our family was a wreck before and after mom passed and not having to spend 1-2 hours each night preparing food was a blessing. We found the site “Take Them A Meal” to be quite helpful. It allows the family to give instructions and give directions without having to focus on organizing it. We were able to view a list and knew who was bringing dinner and what they were bringing. I can’t express how big of a blessing that was.

Don’t ask many questions. Give encouragements instead.

Finally, give encouragements more than you ask questions. Don’t ask a family member whose loved one just died “how are you doing?”. Rather, encourage them. Share funny stories and good memories about the loved one. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Remember with them. Remind the family of the loved one’s legacy, of how much they loved each member of the family, of the impact they made in other’s lives. This will not just help them at that moment, but months and years down the road.

Why We Fast

In the past I’ve written articles on how to better fast and how to end a fast, but I have never talked about why we fast. I know from personal experience that I can be fasting and not know why. I can be focusing on all the wrong things instead of what fasting is truly accomplishing.

I should start by saying: fasting earns us nothing.

We don’t fast to get more favor from the Lord or to be “more pleasing” to Him. We can’t do anything that would add to what Jesus did on the cross. Our righteousness, goodness, and deservedness starts and ends at the cross. God doesn’t listen to our prayers more just because we’re fasting. We don’t get any access to God while fasting that we wouldn’t of had without it. We need to shake free from asceticism, the belief that we can reach a higher spiritual level by our works, and rest in the finished work of the cross.

I should also say: fasting informs God of nothing.

Often over-zealous Christians believe that fasting shows God the urgency of a situation they’re praying for. They believe if they toil for hours in prayer and fasting God will hear their request and answer. But those people often forget that He’s God. He knows everything. No one can tell Him something that He doesn’t already know. Unlike us, He realizes the importance (or lack thereof) of every situation. He knew about every circumstance before time began, and He knew His response to each and every prayer before any circumstance came to pass or before any prayer was prayed.

So we then do we fast? We fast for us.

When I say that we fast “for us”, I do not mean to say that we are the end to which we are fasting. Rather, we fast because we are constantly trying to substitute ourselves for God as the true end. We fast because our flesh hates God and wants nothing to do with Him. We fast because our desires are not for Him. We fast to create hunger for God by intentional weakness. The weaker our flesh and its desires become, the greater our spirit (and His Spirit’s influence) starts ruling our lives.

In past fasts, I’ve looked for one thing that I could give up, whether media, food, etc. I’ve treated fasting like I was offering a great sacrifice to God. In hindsight, I was looking for the very least I could do. The point of fasting is about becoming as weak as you can be. Again, it’s intentional weakness. I tell people that if your flesh isn’t terribly uncomfortable, agonizingly so, you’re not fasting right. I’m not talking about food either. It’s amazing how I can go without food for a week but I can’t go without reading the news for a day; that to leave my iPhone off all day is such a struggle and that my flesh longs for it. My flesh agonizes without it.

We often substitute what we are fasting with something else. I may fast lunch but I replace that time I’m eating with surfing the internet instead. I should be using the time I would normally eat lunch with to spend time with God. That’s how fasting is supposed to work. We strip (aka “fast”) all the meaningless things we can, making our flesh intentionally weak, so that we can draw near to God. 

I remember one day when God said, “Crumbs.” I asked “What are crumbs? What do you mean?” He responded, “Crumbs are all the little things in your life you eat that fill you up so that you’re not hungry for Me. You snack all day on crumbs so you never come to the feast I’ve prepared for you.”

Our lives are full of trivial things. We spend so much time on our phones, checking our social networks, watching the news, surfing the internet, and goofing off. While these things aren’t evil, they are crumbs that tend to feed our flesh and strengthen it to the point that we don’t desire God. There’s a feast of glory that God has prepared for us. Yet we rather eat the crumbs of our flesh and maybe a little food that comes from the table when we hear a sermon, but we never take a seat at the table. We never feast on God when we’re alone.

There is a feast in the Bible. Let us fast so we may partake at the table.

Goals For 2014

I started stating my goals on this blog last year. I liked the motivation and accountability it gave me so I decided to do it again. I changed most of my goals this year. I feel it’s really important to have changing goals every year. If our goals don’t change, then we either aren’t reaching high enough or not trying hard enough. All of my goals last year are ones I will continue to do. These goals are more about building habits and long-term practices in my life, instead of just being things I do for only twelve months.

Learn people skills

This past year, I have realized that I’m quite a polarizing person. Most people either like me or hate me. Very few are in the middle, and they are usually drifting to one of those two sides. There are things I do that turn people off to me, and I don’t even notice it. It’s clear on their faces and in their body language, but I don’t see it. It’s time I learn those things and learn how to curb the negative polarizing side of me. My work leadership is taking the charge in this (per my request and their knowledge of it) since many of these things exist in my workplace. It will be a good testing floor for my progress. Since leadership is about buy-in, listening, trust, and team, I must learn these things and make them a natural part of my life. I’m sure there are many core things in my heart (like rejection issues from 20 years ago) that I will have to face, but God is good and sovereign. He will cause me to come out of this acting more like Christ.

Theological training

Las year, I wanted to grow theologically, meaning “knowledge”. I felt I didn’t do that well enough or at least not intentionally enough. This year I plan on starting actual ministry schooling through my church through the Global Church Learning Center. I’m excited to begin working on my BA-E. I’m sure it will be a lot of work but I’m grateful that I won’t be just learning knowledge, but also how to apply it and how to network.

I also desire to continue reading deeper theological books. I want to read my first systematic theology book this year. I really want to read Wanye Grudem’s Systematic Theology or the one written by John Frame.  I also want to read a longer and deep book on some theological point. Currently I’m looking at reading (the brand new) From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective.

I’m also excited to buy my first commentary next year. I’m looking forward to studying the Bible deeper than I ever have next year.

Write new songs

Last year was the first year that I didn’t have “write new songs” on my list of goals, and I didn’t write any (although I wrote parts of a few). I could go another year without writing. I’m not going to lie, writing songs for my church is one of the hardest things I do, yet one of the most rewarding. I decided that I wanted to focus on writing this year. I want there to be a set time every week that I write for a couple hours or so. I feel that is achievable with my busy schedule. However, I want to focus on what kind of songs I want to write.

  1. Congregational worship songs
    By the end of the year, I want to have written 2-3 songs that are melodic and memorable that my church loves to sing, while keeping the lyrical content fresh and highly theological and scriptural. I want to write songs that help people engage in worship but will also encourage them.
  2. Christmas songs
    It is my experience that most of our church members don’t fully engage in worship with traditional Christmas carols. I think that they may be too seasonal and familiar. I want to write songs this year for Advent 2014. Whether these songs are used in a Christmas production or just as worship songs during that season, I think it would help our church to have more Christmas songs that they can use to engage with God.

Currently, the worship ministry is planning on doing a songwriting workshop in the summer and also participating in the local (original song) music festival in November. I think these are going to be great helps and motivations for me to pursue songwriting with more focus and care than I have ever given it.

Lose weight

My wife will love this one. Thanks to some medical problems in 2013, I’ve lost almost 40 pounds, yet it will be easy to put it back on. After what I’m sure is years of my wife praying, I feel the Lord moving me to take better care of my body, so that I can do all He has called me to do with my family, work, and church.

Currently, I am planning on getting a few friends to join me and read/work through Rick Warren’s new book, The Daniel Plan. I have heard great things about it and I think it will be a good place to start. Thanks to the medical issues I’ve had, my diet has changed a good bit, but it needs to change more and I need to be more active. These are the two big things I look at changing early in the year.