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My Prayer for Sandy Hook, Newtown, and My Hometown of Chardon

It’s taken some doing, but I’ve begun to share my thoughts on the massacre at Sandy Hook given my rather unique position as a former school principal and a resident of Chardon, site of a small-town school shooting earlier this year.

Click here to read my story and my prayer for them at Patheos. May it move you to pray, as well.

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See How to Create Lasting Memories with Your Children

They don’t just happen, you know. Lasting memories, that is. Parents need to be intentional about creating them. But how to do it?

My daughter creating lasting memories fishing with friends in South Carolina.

One of the best ways to create lasting memories is to do something with your children that is a unique experience — something out of the ordinary. It could be something as simple as going to a movie or to McDonald’s for breakfast one morning. The what doesn’t matter as much as the why. Children notice when parents go out of their way to spend time with them. They pay attention when we make the effort to carve out space to experience something new with them — something only we share with them.

Believe me, in a busy family of six children, it can be difficult to spend that one-on-one time with each of them. We do things together, of course, as you can see in my series Build a Family You Can Be Proud Of or Why Walt Disney World Is Our Favorite Place to Be a Family. We read together as I’ve written about here. We explore parks. Enjoy special family nights.

But there’s something to be said for a parent taking time to build the one-on-one relationship with each child to create lasting memories.

One method I have used as a dad to create lasting and unique memories with our children is to take road trips with each of them. I started last December when I took my oldest son on what was to be an eight-day road trip to Florida and back. It turned into a 9-day trip when we encountered a nasty ice-storm in Northern Kentucky and had to vacation an extra day in a hotel. But even the unexpected drama of skidding across the interstate only added to lasting memories of the trip.

Most recently, I took my oldest daughter on a week-long road trip to Atlanta, Ga, and South Carolina. The primary purpose of the trip was more professional and ministry-related, but a chance to spend time with my little girl (she just turned 12) one-on-one was right up there in making it a win-win trip.

The benefits of a taking a road trip

Here’s what I noted most about the benefits of taking a road trip with one child to create lasting memories:

  • You get to be quiet with the child. In our daily rush, we seldom get to be still, to sit in silence with each other and be Ok with it. In that environment, thoughts get shared as they come. Or not. It can make for a very authentic relationship building that sets the stage for future communication.
  • Older siblings get to enjoy being young again. Like it or not, older siblings tend to carry some of the load of helping with younger brothers and sisters. Some of that duty they take on themselves. But a road trip alone with mom or dad gives them a chance to relax and enjoy being a kid again.
  • You can do things that otherwise might not be possible as a family. Taking the entire family out to eat can be expensive. But a light snack for two might be doable. Stopping at a roadside attraction suddenly isn’t the logistical challenge it can be with the family when it’s just the two of you.
  • You can create lasting memories unique to that child. For my son, he is now the only child to have toured the USS Yorktown, seen Fort Sumter up close, and touched a Saturn V rocket. My daughter is now the only one to have caught a decent-sized fish (and then eaten it), gone clamming (a first for me, too), and visited the Atlanta Zoo. Oh, and she was also named honorary older-sister for our friends’ girls in Atlanta. Nobody else can say that. And that’s a good thing, provided each child gets a chance to carve out unique memories along the way.
  • You get to talk about life as it unfolds. For example, as we drove, we listened to Christmas music and discussed the lyrics at our leisure. We made new friends and discussed how people do things differently than our family and why we do what we do. It made for terrific opportunities to prepare her to think through life on her own in the coming years.

A few pictures from the trip with our friends: 

My daughter in her honorary role of Big Sister at the Atlanta Zoo.

Clamming with friends in South Carolina — a first for us both.

All of these reason only begin to scratch the surface. In short, road trips create lasting memories because they allow you to write a chapter in the story of a child’s life that is uniquely his or her own. And in a tight-knit family, it’s critical not to lose sight of each child as an individual, created in the image of God to be unlike anyone else.

Are you sensing some distance between yourself and one of your children? Maybe it’s time you fired up the car and took a road trip of your own to create some lasting memories with your child — before it’s too late to get intentional about life. Judging by the extra hugs I’ve received from her since our return, I can’t wait for the next trip with the next child.

Which of these reasons makes you want to take a trip with one of your children? Have you ever taken a road trip like ours? Share your story with a comment here to help us all grow.

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Rise of the Guardians an Enchanted Family Film

I thought I’d share my review of Rise of the Guardians with you in case you were considering taking the kids to see this enchanted DreamWorks film — or yourself.

Read the review at Patheos with a click here.

While you’re at it, you can check out my reviews of Lincoln and Skyfall, as well, if you’re interested.

A Thanksgiving Warning

Here’s a quick link to my post at Patheos for all you busy Bill in the Blank subscribers this weekend. A reminder of why we celebrate Thanksgiving and the danger of not being thankful.  Next week: our series continues on overcoming fear!

Click here to read Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation and God’s warning for us all.

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When God Takes You through a Life Tunnel

Life’s a lot like a road trip.

It’s got straight stretches of road on which everything seems pretty normal. You can set the cruise and almost forget you’re driving. It’s got other places that come at you fast, curve in and out, and dip up and down leaving you gripping the wheel with two sets of white knuckles. It has bridges that require faith but reward you with breathtaking views as you cross them.

And then there are the tunnels.

photo: sektorkind

On a recent road trip through the mountains of Virginia, my wife and I entered one such tunnel that took us deep under a mountain. As we cruised along, trying not to get dizzy in the dark as the walls rushed past or to think about the thousands of tons of rock hovering above us, she shared that she loves tunnels.

What’s So Great about Tunnels?

After a raised eyebrow from me, she explained that she really just loved not knowing what she would find on the other side.

I had to admit she had a point. Sometimes it can be sunny on one side and snowing on the other. Sometimes clear roads on one and congested traffic at the other end. Green trees on one and barren brown on the other. One thing is certain: you just can’t know with certainty what’s at the end of the tunnel when you’re still going through the tunnel.

But you can’t stop. Well, you could. But it’s dangerous – both for you and all those around you. And there are no U-turns in tunnels. I have yet to see one with optional turnarounds for those who chicken out halfway through. Once you’re in, the only option is to keep moving forward and trust that the road will eventually emerge one the other side.

Why We Need Life-Tunnels

Life has tunnels, too. Often God takes us through them for the same reasons road builders make them – to get us to someplace faster than we otherwise could have gone. That doesn’t mean we like them. But God uses adversity as a catalyst for greater growth. When we’re in those life-tunnels, we can feel as if we’re in the dark. We can sense the weight of everything that is riding on the outcome. They can test our faith as we wait to see what’s next.

We find ourselves in one of those tunnels now as I shift career gears and head into ministry full-speed. Our pending move to Atlanta is exciting and full of possibilities — yet also unknown and completely unpredictable. Sometimes I want to slam on the brakes, flick on the hazards, and dash for the nearest emergency exit. Knowing my luck, I’d trip on the way and get squashed beneath an 18-wheeler.

Maybe you recognize some of these life-tunnels God takes us through:

  • Early childhood parenting. Man, can it get dark and dizzying at times through those days!
  • Our college years. The uncertainty of what to do next can paralyze us.
  • The first six months of marriage. Right about then we realize why everyone warned that the honeymoon would –a t some point – be over.
  • A prolonged illness with an unclear diagnosis. My baby sister is living that right now as doctors shrug and try to look as if they know what they’re doing.
  • A blended family trying to get up on it’s feet and make something new out of what had been previously broken.

You can likely think of more. Life tunnels are seasons in which we know change is coming, but we can’t really see the end. Not yet.

Why Courage Is Needed

Truth be told, sometimes we want it all to come to a complete stop. Or make a U-turn. But it ain’t happening. Not without a lot of people getting hurt in a traffic pile-up scene worthy of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

Tunnels require courage. At the recent Catalyst Atlanta event, I heard Bryan Stevenson say that he did not pray for our comfort or convenience, but for our courage. I don’t know about you, but I could use that prayer.

Sometimes the most courageous thing we can do in life when God takes us through tunnels is to just keep moving. To those outside the tunnel, it doesn’t sound like much to simply stay the course. But the rest of us get it.

Pressing through the fear, pushing through the darkness and uncertainty is the only — and quickest — way out. It’s also the safest. Most wouldn’t think so. But most aren’t driving – or walking – by faith in the One who created the mountain, designed the tunnel, and empowered you to make the trip.

Guess it’s a good thing we are, huh?

What life-tunnels has God brought you through and what wisdom have you learned from them? Share your story with a comment to help us all walk – or drive – with more abundant faith today.

Catalyst Atlanta 2012: A Hot Date for Learning

When was the last time you went on a hot date that was all about learning together?

Thanks to the generosity of some Atlanta friends, both my wife and I were both able to attend the Catalyst Leadership Conference in Atlanta. Those unfamiliar with the conference can explore its history here. Brad Lomenick and the Catalyst team did a phenomenal job with an event that was both entertaining and intensely enlightening.

Our favorite part of Catalyst 2012? An unannounced and nonchalant appearance by Michael W. Smith to lead worship.

Trust me. That's Smitty on the keyboard beneath the giant K at Catalyst 2012.

Add to that an earth-harp. 

A marriage proposal. The Dan Deacon app (you have to see this one).

Connecting with other leaders and bloggers. Sharing Starbucks coffee across the street at Krogers. And cheap chinese food for lunch.

Most unexpected? A surprise appearance by Justin Bieber’s mother.

Oh, and the speakers were excellent. We went to Atlanta praying for God to give us some affirmation about our decision to relocate there ASAP to better position ourselves for ministry. I still think some of my Atlanta friends tipped off Andy Stanley about our faith walk because his opening talk seemed targeted directly at us.

Some of the Andy Stanley’s most memorable lines.

“Info and insight alone do not a leader make.”

Leadership is made by how we respond to:

  • Unexpected opportunity
  • Unavoidable adversity
  • Unquestionable calling

“When you tell your story, you’ll tell about a period of time when you had to wrestle [one of those three things] to the ground.”

“This needs to be a story worth telling!”

“The greatest thing you may do as a leader may not be what you do but who watches you do what you do.”

“It’s better to make a difference than to make a point.”

There was much more, of course, at Catalyst 2012 Atlanta that I hope to share in the coming weeks. But the best part was sharing it with my wife and hearing stuff that made us both laugh at how it seemed exactly what we needed.

Talk about a hot date! Learning AND loving!! Who could ask for anything more? Well, she did mention something about going to  Hawaii, but I don’t really recall what that was all about.

Have you had a hot date like we had at Catalyst 2012 in Atlanta where the two of you learned together? Share your story with a comment here so we can all grow. 

Is What You Are Attempting for God Too Big to Fail?

If what you are attempting for God failed, would anyone notice?

photo: saruwine

A few years ago, much political hay was made about the massive bailouts of financial institutions and various members of the auto industry. The argument then was that they were too big to fail. Whether or not we agree with those decisions, that thinking has left me wondering, what am I doing for God that is too big to fail?

Regular readers know of our journey away from the perception of safety and security as a Christian school leader to expand on God’s call to write, speak, and create resources to help Christians think, live, and lead with abundant faith.

It’s ironic, really, that God would call us to extreme steps of faith in order to help others live faith with faith beyond their imagination. But the reality of our situation is this:

If God doesn’t come through, we’re screwed.

Pardon the blunt vernacular. I’ll understand if you unsubscribe now. But that’s real life. And real life requires, not just prefers, real faith.

But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through. ~ Francis Chan Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

In a post not long ago, I asked the question, what if God wants me to fail? It’s possible that He might be planning to get greater glory from my failure than from my success. I wonder if Peter asked the same thing as he flung one leg over the side of that heaving boat on the turbulent sea and felt the chilly water first splash his toes. Or if it flashed through his mind as lightning ripped across the roiling Gallilean sky.

In that post, I concluded that we had to be OK with whatever result God chose — because He’s God. He can do that. Or not. His call. I should should quit trying to do His job.

After much reflection and counsel, however, I think we should add two more thoughts when facing this fear about doing something for God that’s too big to fail.

Two Key Thoughts

  1. It’s none of my business. “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” His plan, whatever it is, is His plan and not my own. It’s known only by Him. In case you hadn’t noticed, God functions on a need-to-know basis. And we usually don’t need to know. In fact, He often gets more glory when we obey without fully knowing what He’s up to. His decretive will — what He has chosen to happen — will happen for His glory. My worrying about it is really a subtle attempt to take some of God’s authority as my own. No wonder it’s such a crushing burden!
  2. My Father delights to give me every good gift. Though I may not know God’s decretive will, He has made one thing sure: He will supply all my needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. My Father loves me and gave His own Son for me. He has promised that if I seek first His Kingom, He’ll take care of the rest. As any decent father would:

If a son asks for bread  from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11: 10-13)

So why am I not — usually — concerned about whether what I am attempting for God is too big to fail?

Because it’s not my problem. It’s my Father’s problem. And He is too big to fail.

I trust Him more than I trust myself.

And isn’t that what walking by faith is all about?

What are you doing that will fail if God doesn’t come through? How has He come through for you in the past? Leave a comment to share your story so we can all grow.

See Why Location Matters: Choose Your Position of Influence

Location. Location. Location.

Anyone familiar with the retail or real estate industry knows that mantra well. Location matters both with brick-and-mortar and cyberspace endeavors. Perhaps a story from our recent family trip to Harper’s Ferry will help illustrate why we have decided to choose our position of influence for Christ by moving to Atlanta.

We recently visited Antietam, Maryland, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of that bloodiest of battles. But few recall the Southern victory at Harper’s Ferry a few days before that made Antietam such a pivotal moment in the conflict.

Although the North controlled Harper’s Ferry, Lee dispatched his army in three parts to surround it in a daring move led by General Stonewall Jackson. As I stood on grassy knoll of Bolivar Heights,  I understood clearly why Union forces finally surrendered there. In short, the South took all the high ground around them.

The view from Maryland Heights looking down onto historic Harper's Ferry.

First, the South claimed the highest vantage point overlooking Harper’s Ferry – the looming cliffs of Maryland Heights. From there, the domino effect began as Northern positions began to fall. The South could then fire on the next lowest point: Louden Heights to the east. Once they positioned artillery there, they overlooked the still lower point of Bolivar Heights to the south of the town. It was only a matter of time once the high ground was taken for the influence of the Southern guns to be felt everywhere.

Their strategic position cancelled out the other Northern advantages of superior firepower and numbers.

Location matters.

In my case, I’ve been praying fervently for wisdom as to where we should position our family for maximum Kingdom impact. Most readers have followed our prayerful walk of faith away from a safe and secure career in Christian education. God has called me to do what I have been doing successfully for the last fifteen years but on a broader platform. As we have been launched into what is essentially the full-time ministry of connecting real life with real faith, location matters. Where we live will dramatically affect our ability to influence the nation and the world for Christ.

My friend Hugh Hewitt devoted an entire chapter to this topic in In, But Not Of Revised & Updated: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World.  He encouraged young people to choose one of the big three cities and go to at least one of them to open doors of opportunity and learn lessons available nowhere else. His advice focused on New York City (business), Washington, DC (politics), and Los Angeles (culture).  But a new option has emerged for those focused on connecting faith and life.

Atlanta.

After much fervent prayer and wise counsel, we have decided to leave Cleveland, Ohio, our home for our entire lives, and move to Atlanta, Georgia. Our reasons sound a lot like the Harper’s Ferry example. We choose to position ourselves for maximum influence for the Kingdom of God, given the calling God has given me to write, speak, and create resources to help Christians think, live and lead, with abundant faith.

Three reasons for the move:

  1. Location.
  2. Location.
  3. Location.

A bustling ministry and travel hub, Atlanta is the Maryland Heights from which we can more effectively carry out our small role in fulfilling the Great Commission.

What about you?

You too should choose your position of influence. But your vision will be unique to you. Maybe it will require a major move — especially if you’re just emerging from college. Maybe it will mean settling down. It might will involve a move out of your social comfort zone — an equally scary thought for most of us — to engage your local community. Maybe your homeowner’s association, child’s PTA group, church life-group, a local non-profit, or any of the thousands of other opportunities out there will draw your gaze. Whatever it is, we should each be intentional and choose to position yourself for maximum influence for Christ.

Of course, choosing one direction means we must leave other options behind. I confess I won’t miss the Cleveland winters all that much. I can still complain about the Browns from anywhere. And I’ll be back fairly often to visit family, friends, and ministries in Cleveland. But as C.S. Lewis so famously said:

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.

That’s certainly true for eternity. And it’s true in this life when we are seeking first the Kingdom of God.

Then all these things will be added unto you. (Matt. 6:33)

It’s your call.

Choose to intentionally seek positions of influence for Christ. Pray diligently. Seek wise counsel. Then humbly commit your way to the Lord and get busy. You may want to consult my 5 Key Resources to Help You Discover Your Life Strengths first. But recall that in order for the Apostle Paul to dramatically influence Rome and all the known world, he had to actually go to Rome in the face of impossible obstacles and intense persecution.

So don’t expect it to be easy. Faith hurts.

Seth Godin once told me, “First, be loud.” In the Battle at Harper’s Ferry, the North had more troops, better artillery, and the advantage of being there first. But it was the South who spoke loudest once they had gained the high ground. At Antietam a few days later, the North took the high ground at key locations to alter the course of the war and our nation.

Location. Location. Location.

By God’s grace, our new location in Atlanta will position us for maximum influence for Christ to millions think, live, and lead, with abundant faith.

Prayers always welcome.

Where do you need to get intentional and choose your best location for effective influence? Leave a comment with a friendly click here.

5 Key Resources to Help You Discover Your Life Strengths

As most regular readers know, I’ve been on a journey — call it a quest – to discover my life strengths for the last five years. I’ve made quite a bit of progress, I think. The journey has caused my to take some pretty dramatic steps of faith into the unknown.

But I haven’t stepped completely into the unknown, thanks to five key resources that helped me discover my life strengths. On a recent stay with friends, I shared some of these resources with their sons. It reminded me that I have been sharing this list often of late and others might be helped by my sharing it here.

“First, know thyself.” Aristotle’s words ring more true today than ever when the wide array of options before us in Western culture can be paralyzing. For many years, I stood transfixed by the plethora of dishes at life’s buffet. Sure, I occasionally nibbled at leftovers on others’ plates while promising myself that someday I too would step up. Someday.

Uncertain of my own strengths, I waited, afraid I’d mess it up if I tried to figure out the direction my life should take. Maybe you can relate. Eventually I realized that I’m going to die whether I ever figure it out or not — so I’d best get busy.

The 5 resources I share below helped me to discover this as my life calling:

To write, speak, and create resources to help Christians think, live, and lead with abundant faith.

I just wish I had discovered them earlier in life. If you know any teens or twenty-somethings, do them a favor. Pass on this list.

My top 5 resources to help you discover your life strengths

  1. In, But Not Of Revised & Updated: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World by Hugh Hewitt. No, I’m not just listing this one because I wrote the Forward, Study Guide, and Group Leader’s Guide. I did those things because it is that good. Loaded with proven practical advice, my friend Hugh’s book started me thinking in a very intentional manner about how to use my gifts to get and use influence for Christ.
  2. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. Although not the most scientifically reliable tool out there, it is a great starting point to help you identify your strength themes. After reading the first 80 pages or so, take the on-line assessment to identify your areas of natural giftedness. Mine were ideation, intellection, input, responsibility, and belief. Out of that came my preliminary purpose of creatively questioning, connecting, and communicating in the context of my beliefs.
  3. The Truth About You: Your Secret to Success also by Marcus Buckingham. Especially targeting the twenty-something demographic, Buckingham included a DVD and exercises for drilling down into your strength themes. I found when I did the work of drilling down, I quickly identified both my strengths — those things I did well which energize me — and my weaknesses — those things that sucked the life out of me no matter how good I was at them.
  4. StandOut: The Groundbreaking New Strengths Assessment from the Leader of the Strengths Revolution I know. Again with the Marcus Buckingham! But his British accent is so cool! Sorry, can’t help it. He’s done some outstanding work. This latest one gets far more scientific in its results – and it is uncannily accurate in assessing what role you play when part of a team. The on-line assessment solidified much of what I had uncovered already, but gave me even clearer vocabulary with which I could talk about my contribution. By the way, I am what Stand Out describes as “The Hub at the Center.” Provider and Connector led the way on my results with Pioneer not far behind. In short, I am a catalyst who gets things moving and cares deeply about making everyone around me better.
  5. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will My most recent entry onto the list is from Kevin DeYoung. It is the straightforward antidote to that life direction paralysis that keeps so many of us standing still. His practical yet theologically sound advice speaks candidly to young and old alike but is especially targeted toward the young adult demographic.

I know I’ve left a lot of resources off the list, including a lot of books by John Maxwell that have dramatically influenced my life: Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, and  Put Your Dream to the Test: 10 Questions to Help You See It and Seize It.

Start with these five as a gift pack for any young person in your life — or for yourself. It’s never too late to discover who you were made to be and begin to walk in that direction by faith.

What other resources have you discovered have discovered to help you find your life direction? Share your suggestions with a comment here so we can all grow.

Are You Quick to Forgive — Like God?

You know you should. Forgive, that is. You know you should do it. And quick. You even know you should ask God to forgive you. Like, now.

Yet somehow sinful pride so often holds us back, making our lives even more of a complicated mess.

photo: seantoyer

My son models this call of being quick to forgive and to ask for forgiveness — for any perceived offense. Sometimes he’s too zealous in his request, even asking others to forgive him for thoughts he had about them but never shared with them. Awkward. But good.

I’d rather he be too quick to forgive and request forgiveness than become hardened to sin like most of the rest of us.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:32 NKJV)

We are called by God to imitate his lead on this forgiveness thing. As we look at His example, what do we see that might give us a plan for being quick to forgive?

  • God is eager to forgive. First, the facts: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (Ps. 103:8 NKJV) It’s as if it’s overflowing out of Him. So often we visualize God as a grudge-holding manipulator whose happy to finally have us at a disadvantage when we stumble — can you say “Projecting!” That’s what we do. But not God. In truth, He is always poised to pounce at the slightest opening to forgive all who ask. Is that the ready-and-waiting condition of your heart today?
  • God forgives quickly. “If we confess our sins…he will forgive our sins….” (1 John 1:9 NKJV) There’s no time-delay with God. There’s no committee to review the request. There’s no standing in line. No weighing of the leverage He has over us. Forgiveness is instant — like that powdered stuff they call coffee in a jar — only without the stirring. We ask. It’s gone. I wonder if we give it out as quickly as it’s given to us.
  • God takes offenses seriously but holds them loosely. As the just Judge of all men, He doesn’t look the other way or pretend it didn’t happen. He confronted Peter in a powerful way for his cowardly denial. Once forgiven though, Jesus never mentioned it again. We would do everyone around us a tremendous service if we would do take the same approach with those who wrong us.
  • We must be quick to ask. Instead of rationalizing away our failures in defense of our foolish pride, let’s treat them with the urgency they deserve. We wouldn’t hang around with radioactive waste arguing about just how radioactive it might be. Well, most of us wouldn’t. Why dilly-dally while a far more pernicious but equally invisible evil eats away at our soul? Note the priority Jesus places on it:

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.   (Matt. 5:23-24 NKJV)

Not even worship comes before our urgent need to forgive and seek forgiveness. Maybe it’s time we started un-complicating our lives by being like God — at least when it comes to forgiveness.

The rest of the mess might take us all a little time.

Do you find it easier to forgive those who offend you? What other truths have you found helpful to to ask for forgiveness before sin erodes our soul? Leave a comment here to share the growth.

What If God Wants Me to Fail?

It’s one of those thoughts we all have even though we’re pretty sure we shouldn’t. When we step out of the boat, it’s not that we believe God can’t answer our prayers. But what if, for reasons known only to Him, he chooses not to. What if God wants me to fail?

Job boldly put it out there: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)  I really don’t want to die. I don’t want to fail. Yet the Bible is full of faithful believers called to suffer: Job, Paul, Peter, Stephen — and countless millions of martyrs throughout history.

Now that I’m out of the boat, what if He chooses to let me drown for His greater glory? Will I be OK with that?

Would you?

There Is No Faith without the Risk of Failure

As most readers know, we’ve recently stepped out of the boat and into the unknown as we seek to build a life of ministry helping people grow by connecting real life with real faith.

It’s scary stuff. I start out pretty boldly each morning. But usually by lunch time, I’m feeling that anxious war within. And the one question that continues to nag at our souls as we pray for God to be glorified is this: I know He can but that doesn’t mean He will. After all, what makes me any better than all those other more faithful ones who perished in His service.

Now before some of you accuse me of being morose or depressed, we should also acknowledge the bountiful promises of God:

  • My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.   (Phil. 4:19)
  • Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.   (Matthew 6:31-33)
  • Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. (Matthew 11:24)

Both messages come from Scripture. God is good. Always. And sometimes he chooses to let us fail. So we’re left to reconcile these two as best we can. We pray boldly while we prepare our hearts for His sovereign answers.

A Few Tips to Keep Our Focus

Here are a few steps I’ve found while on this faith journey. Maybe they can be of help to you:

  • Seek God’s Glory Alone. It’s only when we truly desire His best that we can truly say, “He gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  When we reach that place of humility before Him, one is truly just as acceptable as the other. I’m not saying I have arrived, just that we should all be trying to get there.
  • Ask in Faith without Doubting. Why? We’re told to do it. ”Let him ask in faith, with no doubting.” (James 1:6)  The asking is our task. The answering is God’s. All too often we assume his role in the process then wonder why we feel overwhelmed. We forget too quickly that it is God’s glory on the line — not ours — when His people are in need.
  • Pray Big Prayers. My friend P. Andrew Sandlin keeps reminding me of this need, though I confess I struggle to understand all it means. I know it means to go boldly before the throne of grace and “claim the crown, through Christ, my own.” But it also means my prayers must be about the Big Kingdom picture and not just about my petty needs.
  • Train Yourself to Surrender. Paul warns us that we’ll get a good workout becoming godly. He wasn’t kidding. Often it’s laying down our own pride that takes the most diligent effort. Start by making it a morning habit to crucify yourself, take up your cross, and follow.
  • Ever Be Willing to Answer “Yes.” What if He does chooses to let you fail, will you still trust Him? That is the question He wants answered. Do you trust Him enough to lay your future on the altar and lift the knife in obedience to Him? What if he doesn’t provide a substitute? When the temptation comes to draw back in fear — for that is what it is — will you hold to who He is or flee to who you think you are?

I wonder sometimes if Abraham told Sara about God’s call to sacrifice Isaac — the future of their family. If he did, how did she handle it? I tend to think he kept it to himself. I understand why. It’s hard to let God strip us of who we think we are. But it’s only through the testing that we become as gold. The fires of faith make us jewels fit for the King. There is no other way to be found worthy of the high calling that is in Christ Jesus.

Maybe you’re trying to do too much. Stand down. And watch God step up — or not. It’s His glory. It’s His world. It’s His call.

And we must be OK with that.

Lest that stark reality tempt you to lose heart:

The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (2 Chron. 16:9 NKJV)

God is constantly on the prowl for the chance to show His power on behalf of those who are willing to answer simply: “Yes.”

No matter what.

Do you ever struggle with the fear of following Christ into the unknown? What thoughts do you have about this tension that comes from surrendering yourself completely to the outcome of God’s choosing? Share your story or comment here to help us all grow.

photo by: The 5th Ape

Do You Teach Your Kids to Do Hard Things?

When I came home tonight, my kids excitedly shared what they’d been up to all day – designing and then practicing on a ninja exercise course! 

They shared their breathless story of how difficult it had been both to think up and then execute the tough assignment. Apparently, they all took turns repeatedly crossing from swing-to-swing over gaping crocodiles, scaling the slippery pole of certain death, and plunging down the scary slide with reckless abandon!

Again and again. It also explained where all the spaghetti went at dinner.

It reminded me how important it is to teach kids to do hard things.

We parents tend to foolishly think that our job is to make life easy for our kids. Or make it safe. I suppose it is if we want them to learn that life is easy. But is it?

For anything worth having, one must pay the price.  ~ John Burroughs

I suppose that’s partly why we chose to read The Lord of the Rings as our story for family reading time. I’ve blogged about why you should read to your kids and how we have found ways to read to them and enjoy it. One of the reasons we chose to tackle the 1,000 page LOTR by Tolkien with six kids between the ages of 4 and 11 was to teach them — and us — to do hard things.

Instead of running from the challenge, we tackled it head on.

I recall my teacher and mentor from my high school years reminding me often that the brain is a muscle. It will grow if you exercise it. I told my first students the same thing on the first day of school so mnay years ago. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all four of our older kids are now tackling tougher reads all on their own.

And judging from the creative workout they’re getting on the playground, our strategy for cultivating greatness seems to be working.

Do you agree that we should teach children to tackle the tough stuff? What ways have you found to teach your kids to do hard things? Share a comment with a click here to share the growth.

 

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