In the past week, we have enjoyed attending training camp practices for the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs, the two NFL teams for which we cheer.
During the first one – our trip to the Twin Cities – we were sitting in the stands of the TCO Performance Center (the Vikings’ amazing practice and training facility), when Marsha told Micah, “Okay, it’s almost time for their practice to start.”
Micah’s reply was priceless. He said with exasperation, “Practice?!” He was thinking that surely, with thousands of fans waiting in a packed house, we must have been waiting for something more than practice.
Still, it was fun, especially considering how close we were to the players. Everyone except Micah – not yet much of a football fan – really enjoyed the experience.
At Missouri Western State University, home of the Chiefs’ training camp, Zoe waited by a gate for 2.5 hours with the hopes of getting Patrick Mahomes’ autograph (it was QBs and RBs day for autographs). While she did not get Mahomes’ autograph, she did get a couple others, along with some great experiences, including Jody Fortson coming right up to Zoe, signing his gloves, and giving them to her. Needless to say, we are now huge Fortson fans, as well as bigger fans of Mercole Hardman (Zoe got his autograph on a jersey for Noah), Juan Thornhill, Justin Watson, and Austin Edwards, all who took a lot of time to come over, visit, and sign autographs.
Click HERE for some pictures of both training camps.
Also, HERE is the video of Fortson coming up to Zoe.
We have had a great week in Minnesota this week, even though we were in the Mall of America when an active shooter was there (Thursday afternoon). Praise God for His sovereign provision (I will have to share more someday about some of the things that happened)!
Below are some pictures of our time in Lanesboro, Chatfield, Rochester, and Minneapolis. You can see more pictures HERE.
While I do not watch as many movies as I would often like, I really enjoy movies. I enjoy watching movies in the theater, and I enjoy watching them at home. Top Gun: Maverick, which I watched with Noah and Levi a few weeks ago, might be the best movie I have seen in a theater since my all-time favorite movie, Saving Private Ryan, back in 1998. Thankfully, my wife and I usually enjoy the same kinds of movies – action, adventure, and suspense. My kids have a similar taste in movies, and we have also enjoyed some good family-friendly movies with all seven of us over the years.
One of the reasons people often enjoy movies is because of the escape from reality, right? You can immerse yourself in a movie, be entertained, and kind of forget about other things for a while. Although that is not necessarily a good thing, that is the reality for many.
Because of that, though, we tend to think that movies are movies, and life is life. “It’s a movie,” someone might say when explaining or even defending something ridiculous on the screen. Usually, we say life simply is not like the movies, but in a couple of very important ways, life really is like movies.
1. THEY TELL A STORY
Life is a story, and movies tell a story. You have a story. I have a story. Everyone has a story. History tells countless stories.
One of the primary features that makes great movies great is the great way in which they tell their stories. Your story is your life. Movies tell stories, sometimes about the lives of people like you and me. In that way, life is like movies (or movies are like life).
2. THEY FAIL TO SATISFY
Movies also fail to satisfy our deepest longings, as does life. Now, you might be thinking, “Wait a second, that’s not true. Life does satisfy my deepest longings.” Or, maybe you’re even thinking that movies satisfy your deepest longings. While I doubt the second is true, I am sure many think the first is.
Please understand, though, that we were created to find our satisfaction in so much more than just this life can offer. Yes, life can be great. There can be many fantastic people and things and experiences in this life, but no person or thing or experience can satisfy our deepest longings for lasting hope, joy, contentment, and peace. And so, life is like movies in this way.
Movies can help us escape, can deeply entertain us, can make us happy, can give us fulfillment, can give us hope, and can even – depending on the story – give us a sense of peace. None of that will remain, though, and so it is with the greatest pleasures of life. We can find so much good, and yet what happens when that person or that thing or that experience fades away? The satisfaction will fade away (or quickly vanish).
When I watched Top Gun: Maverick last month, I was deeply satisfied during the movie. I was reminded of my childhood, when the first Top Gun movie came out, and I got immersed in the story yet again, finding myself entertained and delighted. Even when I left the theater, I am pretty sure I had a smile on my face. Weeks later, I still enjoy reminiscing about the movie with other people who enjoyed it. Still, the benefits of that movie did not last. They are far less now than when I was sitting in the theater.
Top Gun: Maverick satisfied me for over two hours, and while I can get split-seconds of satisfaction with some reminiscing or maybe eventually if I watch it again, the satisfaction has greatly waned.
Life is like movies in this way. There are extremely satisfying moments in life, but then the satisfaction disappears. “Absolute futility,” as Ecclesiastes declares. Things can seem so great, and then everything can come crashing down, like a fighter jet in the sky. That is life. Life tells our story, but life fails to satisfy. We need more.
LONGING FOR SOMETHING MORE
You and I were given life by the Creator of the universe, but we were also created for much more than this life, much more than what this life can offer. This life, like the movies, fails us because life, like the movies, will end. We need more than this life. We need eternal life. We need to know and follow the God who created us and has the perfect plan for our lives – lives that will never end if we trust in His One and Only Son for our salvation.
Sure, enjoy some movies, as long as they have redeeming qualities and do not cause you to stumble into sins like lust, hate, rebellion, gossip, etc. Likewise, enjoy life, as long as you do so seeking the One who gave you life, and the One who is able to give you eternal life. Otherwise, you will never be satisfied, and you will eventually be horrified.
“So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
If you have not been “raised with the Messiah,” turn to Him today. Only then will your life (now and forever) be better than even the greatest of movies.
Perhaps the greatest visible devastation of the fall of mankind is the reality of broken relationships. Does anything hurt more than when a meaningful relationship is broken? How many of those relationships are broken because of a failure to ask for forgiveness and/or a refusal to offer forgiveness? The vast majority, I imagine.
Why is forgiveness so difficult?
In thinking through the devastating tragedy of unforgiveness recently, my heart has been hurting for those who are stuck in that horrific rut of unforgiveness. How many relationships could be healed by forgiveness? How many churches could be united once again by forgiveness? How many lives could be eternally changed by forgiveness?
While difficult to embrace and live, the need for forgiveness is simple. There are a few things we must do to experience the freeing joy of forgiveness. Together, these three things are essential and inseparable, I believe…
1. ASK FOR FORGIVENESS
Start by looking in the mirror and examining your own heart. We all need to do that and do so more often, do we not? From whom do you need to ask for forgiveness?
Prideful fools claim they do not need to be forgiven. We all need to be forgiven. We all make mistakes. We all sin against God and against others. We all need to ask for forgiveness.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Ask for forgiveness. You might be one of the very rare people who does not need to ask for forgiveness from another person (at this time – though you certainly will need to eventually), but there is no doubt you need God’s forgiveness. No broken relationship is more eternally devastating than a broken relationship with the God who created you. Start by asking for His forgiveness, as well as asking for His help to know whom else you need to ask for forgiveness.
Can you imagine how much better life would be if we were all better about asking for forgiveness?
2. OFFER FORGIVENESS
Ultimately, bitterness hurts the one who is bitter far more than it hurts anyone else. Do not hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness. Offer forgiveness to others and forgive them! I do not believe we will end up regretting having hearts of forgiveness. Sure, we might get burned, but who has ever said, “I sure am glad I refused to forgive and instead, held on to that bitterness!“? Plenty of people have held on to bitterness, but I have never met someone who was glad he or she did.
In the great words of Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame, “Turns out resentment is corrosive, and I hate it.“
More importantly, in the words of Jesus Christ, “If you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Matthew 6:15). To be clear, Jesus did not put conditions on that. He did not say that we have to forgive people who “earn” our forgiveness. Rather, He said that if we fail to forgive others, God will not forgive us.
Do you realize how big this is? Eternal life is not possible without forgiveness from our sins, and so, if you do not forgive others who sin against you, eternal damnation in hell is your only option. No exceptions.
Now, while God is perfect in His gracious forgiveness, we are not. People are not. Still, when we are humble enough to admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness, we can and will see the benefits of such behavior. How many of our broken or severed relationships could be restored?
Turn to the Lord to receive His forgiveness, and humble yourself enough to seek and receive the forgiveness of those you have wronged, even if it is not “all your fault.” God honors humility, and He expects it from those who know and follow Him.
You might be thinking, “What about the people who have sinned against me?” Well, if you are faithfully doing the three things above, only then can you rightly respond to those who have sinned against you. I would encourage you to check out Matthew 18:15-20 and follow Jesus’ advice on dealing with those who are sinning against you, sinning against the church, and/or simply living in clear, unrepentant sin.
In the meantime, though, first make sure that you are asking for forgiveness, that you are offering forgiveness to others, and that you are receiving forgiveness. To God be the glory!
Our dog, Lottie, spotted a turtle walking across our driveway yesterday morning and was immediately curious. After watching the turtle slowly advance toward the house, Lottie decided to check it out for a quick sniff. Then, as the turtle remained still, Lottie proceeded to lie down and rest in the turtle’s company.
This is not unusual behavior for our golden lab. She does not love isolation but rather is always interested in the company of others – humans, other dogs, other animals, etc. While she gets plenty of alone time when the kids are at school and Marsha and I are working (and Lottie is “guarding” our front yard), she never chooses alone time when opportunities for company are available. If anyone in our family is outside, whether paying attention to Lottie or not, she will be right there. Busy doing something else? No problem – Lottie will lie next to you.
I believe we can learn a lesson from a lab here. Yes, there are times when we need to be alone, and some people need more alone time than others. Even Jesus “often withdrew to deserted places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). We ought not love isolation, though, but rather should long for the company of others. This is especially true if you are a follower of Jesus, the One who created you to live in fellowship with Him and with His church (i.e. see Hebrews 10:19-25).
Labs love to be around others. This is one of their characteristics and one of the reasons, along with their loyalty, that dogs are traditionally called “man’s best friend.”
Christ-followers love fellowship and worship with other Christ-followers. Our care and concern for one another is what proves our relationship with Jesus, as He said, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Loving others requires relationships, and good, loving relationships require time together.
Do you love being with other Christ-followers? If you are a Christ-follower, the answer can only be yes. If you are quick to answer no to that question and/or you are trying to justify your lack of desire to be around other believers on a regular basis, please examine your heart and your faith to make sure you have truly surrendered your all to the Lord.
In Matthew 16, Jesus founded the church. In Matthew 18, Jesus established the church’s authority. In Matthew 28, Jesus commissioned the church. And, throughout the book of Acts and church history since then, Jesus has grown the church through the power of His Holy Spirit, the partnership of His people, their proclamation of His gospel, their perseverence in the midst of persecution, and His continued provision in keeping His promises.
Please understand, the church was and is Jesus’ idea, not our idea, and there is no plan B. Thus, it is not possible for a genuine follower of Jesus to lack in his or her desire to be in fellowship with a local church. Sure, circumstances will arise (sickness, military deployment, temporary work requirements, etc.) when involvement becomes inconsistent, but the desire will always be there. The commitment to return will be obvious. Otherwise, saving faith is surely missing, is it not?
John made this clear when he was talking about unbelievers who proved themselves so when they were no longer involved in local fellowship with believers in the church: “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us” (1 John 2:19).
Those who love Jesus love His church and thus love being with His church. Those who do not love the church and isolate themselves from her prove themselves to also not love Jesus.
Do not love isolation. Follow Jesus and love His church. If this is a struggle for you, pray for the Lord’s grace, mercy, and help. He desires that you walk with Him and find fulfillment in Him. The church is part of His plan for that to happen.
Learn a lesson from Lottie, and do not pursue isolation. Pursue the company of those who love Jesus and will thus love you and help you to grow closer to Him. All glory be to Christ!
Most people would agree that we should not boast about ourselves. Bragging about your own accomplishments is usually a turnoff and not something we would encourage of others. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth — a stranger, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).
Who do you brag about most, though, and what does such boasting say about you? We tend to brag about our spouses, our children, our favorite school, our favorite sports team, etc., and while none of that is necessarily wrong (when truthful and seeking to honor others’ worthy achievements), such boasting does say a lot about who we are and what we value.
I believe we would do well to take stock of our boasting. Whom we boast about most, after all, says a great deal about our commitments, priorities, loyalties, and devotion, right? If you love and care about your family, you will talk positively about your family. If you are a big sports fan, people will know what teams have your allegiance. Again, not necessarily anything wrong with that kind of boasting, unless, however, it progresses to worship.
Boasting is beautiful only if and when appropriate priorities are in line. And, God’s Word determines those priorities for us. Above all else, His glory is to be the priority. He alone is worthy of our greatest boasting – boasting that is worshipful and points others to Him.
When boasting is beautiful, God gets the glory.
What if we bragged about God as much as we bragged about ourselves or our children or our favorite teams or our favorite ________? You might say, “Well, I love my ______, and I’m not ashamed of them. I want the world to know it.” Hey, that might be just fine, but do you love God more? Do you love Him most? If so, should not your greatest amount of boasting and your only worship be about Him?
If you were to scroll through your social media feeds, who is getting the most glory? If you could listen to recordings of all of your conversations, who would get the most attention? If you could see a log of all your thoughts and ambitions, what would they say about your greatest devotion?
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Psalm 40 on “Turning the Page.” Do you prioritize turning the page of God’s Word in your everyday life? Are you seeking to grow in your commitment to Him and His Word? Do others see in you a contagious devotion to the Lord Almighty?
“I delight to do Your will, my God; Your instruction lives within me. I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; see, I do not keep my mouth closed — as You know, Lord” (Psalm 40:8-9).
Perhaps we are pretty good about not keeping our mouths closed when we brag about our children or sports teams, but the One about whom we should never keep our mouths closed is the King of kings. Boasting about Him and His provision and His faithfulness and His goodness – that boasting is beautiful!
Are you in His Word enough to know and meditate on how great He is? Are you devoted to Him enough to prioritize your relationship with Him above all else? Are you pointing others to Him?
Let us join David in declaring to the Lord, “Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let those who love Your salvation continually say, “The Lord is great!”” (Psalm 40:16). Praise and glory be to God!
A few weeks ago, I had the amazing privilege of baptizing Zoe and my sister Ashley. Praise be to God! Below, you can see their testimonies and baptisms (first video) and/or just watch Zoe’s testimony (second video).
Never have I been more proud to be Zoe’s dad and Ashley’s brother than when they publicly professed their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord by sharing their testimonies and being baptized. What a blessing and privilege it was to get to baptize them!
Five years ago today, Micah officially joined our family. It may seem hard to believe (for those who know him well), but Micah did not like me for the first several days after joining our family. And, that crushed me! 😦
He was also a wild child! Within the first few days of him joining our family, he bit Silas on the stomach, slapped JoAnn across the face, and knocked the glasses/hats off of anyone within an arm’s length of him! He also loved to run away, if given the chance.
I laid down in bed at our hotel one night in China and felt utter panic. I wondered how in the world I was going to handle a wild and independent kid, on top having four other wild hooligans to care for. He was lying right next to me in a baby bed when I looked over at him sleeping peacefully, and he looked absolutely precious. My heart just exploded at that moment, and all my fears and panic melted away. I reminded myself that Micah’s whole life had been turned upside down, and he needed to be shown lots of grace and patience. That night, I determined in my heart that I would work my tail off to win him over. During the next several days, I played on the floor with him a ton, read the same three books to him over and over, fed him, rocked him, etc. And by golly, by the time we landed in the United States, I officially became Micah’s favorite.
I will also never forget our first day with Micah back at our house. I was so excited for him to see his new toys, and especially for him to finally be able to run free in our yard, without me worrying about him getting hit by a car (as I continuously worried when we were in China). His behavior shocked me. He never wanted to be more than six feet away from me, and he also wanted to be held almost constantly. He was a completely different kid!
Over the next two years, Micah was my shadow. He never wanted to be far from his mama. On Micah’s second night in his new home, he was struggling to fall asleep, and he did not want me to leave the room. I laid on his floor until he fell asleep that night. Then, I proceeded to lay on his floor every single night until he fell asleep for the next 18 months! Yes, crazy, I know! I do wish I had not laid on his floor for quite that long ;-), but I am so glad I was there for him during those first days of him grieving. Our sweet boy had lived with a foster family for the first two years of his life, and I have no doubt that he experienced deep grief those first few months.
Those first two years with Micah were far from easy. Having a clingy kid at your hip 24/7 can be exhausting. Little by little though, Micah gained confidence and independence. His true personality slowly but surely emerged. He is nothing like the wild and unruly kid we met initially. He is also not the super clingy, needy kid that emerged right after we adopted him. He is now a calm, somewhat quiet and shy, happy, thriving kid who is well-loved by all who know him.
Micah’s deep love for me is still very evident. I get several hugs from him everyday, and he constantly tells me he loves me. We still read books every night before bed, too, but thankfully I can give him a hug and kiss and then be on my way. 😉
The decisions to adopt Micah and Zoe were hands-down two of the very best decisions Nick and I ever made. People are often apprehensive about adopting because they worry they will not love their adopted children as much as their biological children. I can tell you from personal experience, however, that my love for all five of my kiddos is equal. Even though Micah and Zoe did not come from my womb, they might as well have, as far as my love for them is concerned. It is hard to even remember life without them.
Not only are Micah and Zoe incredible gifts to Nick and me, they are also a treasure to their siblings, grandparents, cousins, and countless others. I do not talk a lot about adoption, but it is something that I am incredibly passionate about. I wish more people would open their eyes and hearts to the possibility of adopting, because there truly is not much in life that is more rewarding.
Years ago, I remember my father-in-law – Mr. Cox, as all four of his sons-in-law call him – giving Marsha and me excellent advice when he said very simply, “Don’t wish your life away.” We were going through a stressful time with our first two children and were dreaming about the days when such stress would be no more. Reminding us that we would one day cherish those days (and he was right) and that God was in control (and he was right), Mr. Cox told us not to wish our lives away.
Such advice is simple and yet powerful, to-the-point and yet sufficient. We ought not wish our lives away, as if life will be better when we are out of our current trials. Maybe life will be better. Maybe it will not. Regardless, God is sovereign over the present and the future. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Sure, there are injustices that will be made right. There are promises that will one day be fulfilled. There are hopes we can and should have for the future. And, it is good and right to look forward to those things. Yet, we are living in the present. Wishing only for the present to pass because of difficulty is misguided at best and unbelieving at worst. Trust God now, both in His sovereign purposes for the present and His perfect plan for your future. Do not wish your life away.
“Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
If you struggle with doubt and fear, which we all do to some extent, then “wishing your life” away can be a temptation at times (or, perhaps, often times). Do not give in to the temptation, though, to wish your life away. Do not doubt God’s plan and provision.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through John 20:19-29 on moving “From Doubt to Worship.” Like Thomas in that famous true story, may we experience Jesus and respond in worship. Rather than doubting God’s sovereign control and wishing our lives away, let us worship Him for who He is, for what He has done, for what He continues to do, and for what He will certainly do.
Yes, let us pray for things to be better, for hearts to be changed, for lives to be transformed, and for God to receive the glory. We are here today, though, so as we pray for the Lord’s will to be done, let us understand that His sovereign will is being done. He is in control. He does desire our contentment and satisfaction, but such contentment and satisfaction are found in Him, not in our circumstances. Praise the Lord!
Don’t wish your life away. Praise God in the present, and trust Him for your future. As you do, you can move from doubt to worship and live a life that pleases the Lord and points others to Him. Like Jesus said about trusting and worshiping Him, “Those who believe without seeing are blessed” (John 20:29). Are you blessed?