Turkey Time

I love this country because I love the people, love the culture, love the food, and love the history! Over the past several days, I have really enjoyed my time here with friends. We have had some great conversations about Jesus, and we have enjoyed Turkish hospitality.

Of course, I am greatly looking forward to being reunited with my family and, Lord willing, will be on my way home when this post is published.

Still, I wanted to share some pictures from my trip…

Breakfast at the hotel in Istanbul
Turkish flag
Çamlıca (overlooking Istanbul)
Asian side of Istanbul looking to the European side
Overlooking Istanbul
My dear friend Umut
On a walk to get some Magnum bars
Sea of Marmara
Riding on a ferry in Istanbul
Crossing from the European side to the Asian side
European side of Istanbul (old city)
Coming over to the Asian side
My good friend Necdet
First Bosphorous Bridge (connecting Europe and Asia)
Muş
1100-year-old church building in Muş
Old bridge outside Muş
Night lights
Van Lake
Enjoyed visiting Akdamar Church
Akdamar Church outside Van
The church building is on an island.
The Fortress of Van
Castle entrance
This castle is around 3,000 years old.
Looking down from the castle
The castle with Van in the background

Memories in Minnesota

Our family cherishes the memories from vacation, and our trip to Minnesota was no exception. We had a great time with my side of the family. Praise the Lord for family and the time we have together! Here are just a few of the highlights (click on any picture for the full view)…

Vacation with Creation

When I go on vacation, I love to enjoy God’s amazing creation. I like to spend a lot of time outside, doing active things with my family. We did a lot of that last month during our annual vacation with Marsha’s family, and we had a blast.

Here are just some of the pictures from our trip to southeast Missouri, although there were a lot of moments we did not get pictures of because of jumping off cliffs and climbing rocks…

Family Time in Illinois

Last month, we had a great time hanging out at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Illinois and doing a day trip to Chicago. We do not see our nieces, my sister Stephanie, and my brother-in-law nearly as often as we would like, so times like this are sweet. Here are just a few pictures from our trip…

Fall, here we come!

Fall has arrived, and this is my favorite part of the year because the weather is great, football is fun, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. Here are some pictures from the last couple of weeks…

We hope you are having a good start to your fall, too. Are there any ways we can pray for you? If so, please let us know. May God bless you as you seek to honor and live for Him!

Family Idolatry

I love my family! Over the past six weeks, we have had the great pleasure of going on vacation with Marsha’s side of the family one week and with my side of the family another week. Both vacations were a blast, and I praise God for them (and more importantly, for family).

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be continuing our short sermon series – The Red and The Blue – preaching through Psalm 146 and challenging those listening to be careful not to make politics an idol. The same can be said about anything, though, including family. Idolatry consists of placing anything or anyone other than God on the throne of your heart. Bad, evil things can be idolized, but so can good things. Please realize – this does not mean that, in order to avoid idolatry of family, for example, we ignore or neglect our families. That would clearly be sinful and dishonoring God and His Word (i.e. see 1 Timothy 5:8). Rather, what this means is that we should not ignore or neglect God and our relationship with Him in order to prioritize as ultimate (worship) someone or something else. That is idolatry.

Of all the things in this world that I am probably most tempted to idolize, family – along with my own selfish comfort and security – is probably at the top of the list. Whether you are like me or not, there are certainly things you too are tempted to put before God. Thus, you can replace the word “family” with anything that might be a temptation for you. To keep with the theme of family, though, I am going to ask you (and myself) some questions to consider if you are making an idol of your family…

1. DO YOU NEGLECT TIME WITH GOD AND BLAME FAMILY?

We prioritize what we believe to be important. Are you prioritizing daily time with God in His Word and in prayer? If you believe your relationship with God is important, you will surely prioritize seeking Him and learning better how to follow Him, right? Do not hide behind your family and blame them for a failure to commit yourself to God and His Word. Make time for what is important.

I used to get up at 6:00 or 6:30 each morning to spend time reading my Bible and praying. Typically, though, at least one of my kids was getting up by 6:15 or 6:30, and I found myself getting annoyed by their distractions, even losing my patience with them while reading my Bible. What a sad, ironic contradiction for me to lose it with my kids while claiming to seek after God. Pathetic, really. So, I decided to change my routine and get up at 5:30 each morning. Now, I typically get an hour of uninterrupted time with the Lord before any of my kids are awake, not to mention they are old enough now that they distract me less in the early hours of the morning. This change, although hard at first, has been well worth it.

Let not your family be an excuse for neglecting daily time with God. Make time for what is important.

2. DO YOU LOOK TO FAMILY BEFORE GOD WHEN YOU ARE HURTING?

Whether it be discouragement, sorrow, physical suffering, or all of the above, do you cry out to God first, or is family your default for hope and comfort? Do not get me wrong – we certainly do need one another, and we are called to bear one another’s burdens. We certainly should pray for one another and ask for help when we are down, but not in place of giving our worries and cares to God. He must always be the One we turn to first and turn to continually, even while also turning to one another. Yet, so often we might be tempted to turn to the Lord only after all other options have failed us. He is the only One who never fails, though. Seek Him first.

3. DO YOU “VENT” TO FAMILY RATHER THAN PRAYING TO GOD?

Gossip is a temptation for all of us, I believe, but gossip is a sin, even if we call it “venting.” Simply put, gossip is saying behind someone’s back what you would not say and have not said to that person’s face. Instead of gossiping about someone when you are frustrated, what if you brought your concerns to God in prayer? You will not be gossiping then (He already knows everything), and God can use your prayers to bring about healing, including healing in your own heart toward people with whom you might be upset.

When you “vent” to your family rather than go to the Lord, you are pushing the Lord off the throne of your heart and falling into the trap of prideful idolatry. Beware and ask for God’s help. He knows we all need it.

4. DO YOU NEGLECT ACTIVE CHURCH COMMITMENT UNDER THE LIE OF COMMITMENT TO FAMILY?

I say “the lie of commitment to family” because for a self-professing Christian to claim commitment to family while not being faithful to the local church is a lie from the pits of hell. The best way we can be committed to family so that they are loved now and impacted for eternity is to put God first. And, putting God first includes prioritizing active church membership and service (see 1 Corinthians 12; 1 John 2:19; Romans 12; Philippians 2:1-11; Hebrews 10:23-25; Ephesians 4; the Book of Acts; etc.).

Yet, so often people neglect the local church to “spend time with family.” Why not do both? Serve God’s church with your family. Attend worship services with your family. Set a godly example for unbelieving family members by being faithful to your church. No one ever regrets faithful church involvement because God created us to need one another, serve one another, worship alongside one another, and grow together.

Love your family by loving God and loving His church.

5. DO YOU MOST LONG FOR YOUR FAMILY TO BE PLEASED WITH YOU?

Whose approval do you most treasure? If God’s approval is not the answer, then you have not (or are not) surrendering to His Lordship over your life. His honor and glory are what matter above all else, so why would we ever dare seek another’s approval above His?

Let us declare with the Psalmist, “Hallelujah! My soul, praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing to my God as long as I live” (Psalm 146:1-2). This will only happen, though, if you desire to serve and please Him above all else. And, that desire only comes when He changes your heart and life forever through the transformational truth of the gospel. Has He changed you? Are you seeking to bring glory to Him above all?

Again, I want to be clear – love your family! Take care of your family. Spend time with your family. Serve your family. Just do not idolize your family (or anything else). Include your family in your commitment to God and His church.

I sure do love my family and pray for them daily. Here are a few more pictures of our time together last week…

Fun with Family

We have had a great time with family in Illinois this week. I love my job and can think of no other job that I would want more. But, I am beyond grateful to the Lord for vacation, as it allows me to spend uninterrupted time with family that I never get otherwise. Praise the Lord for my church and for my family!

Summer Time before Summer

Summer officially began this past Saturday, but because of COVID-19 and our kids being home from school since mid-March, summer already feels half-over. Here are just a few pictures of us enjoying summer before real summer even arrived…

Spring Picture Highlights

Well, this has certainly been a unique spring season. While we obviously pray for a quick end to this pandemic, we praise God for the time we have been able to spend together as a family. He has been gracious to us, so we are grateful for His love and provision, our health, our family, our church family, and much more.

Here are some picture highlights from the past couple of months, followed by a video the kids did in reflecting on our adoption of Micah three years ago…

“Shelter in Place” – Blessings and Curses

During these strange times in the midst of the current pandemic, we can learn a lot. Of course, every situation in which we find ourselves can be an opportunity to learn. A good question to ask ourselves is, “What is God trying to teach us?” How can we grow closer to Him and closer to one another, even when circumstances are not ideal?

COVID-19 has changed our lives, at least for now. Will the changes lead to blessings or curses, though? How can we experience the former and not the latter? While I certainly do not have all the answers and realize we are all are different, I do think there are some ways we can see (and experience) blessings in the midst of the chaos. “Shelter in place” offers at least four unique opportunities that God can use for our good.

1. TIME WITH FAMILY

For the vast majority of us who do not live alone but rather live at home with our families (or at least with our spouses), most of us are obviously seeing our families more than usual. For my wife, this includes a lot more reading and schooling (like in the picture above) than she is accustomed to, and I praise God for her efforts! She is doing a great job, and our kids are blessed to have a stay-at-home mom who is adjusting well to the recent changes.

Are you enjoying extra time with your family?

The blessing – If we have the right attitude, recognizing that family is a gift from God, then we will be blessed. Let us use this time to have fun together, to play together, to pray together, to read God’s Word together, to say nice things to one another, and to build up one another. Sure, there will be times we get sick of one another and lose our patience with one another. Will we pray for God’s help, though, that He will use our increased time together to bless our family?

The curse – If we do not receive God’s favor and seek God’s help in honoring him through our families, then this additional time together can certainly become a curse. Rather than doing the above, we might find ourselves saying things we regret and acting like idiots who do not deserve our families. Beware, be careful, be wise, and be loving.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

2. TIME WITH SELF

This is obvious if you live alone and are practicing self-distancing right now. Even if you live with others, though, you might have more time alone than you typically do. Again, this can be a blessing, or it can be a curse.

The blessing – If we use the extra time with self to develop healthy habits (consistent exercise, healthy eating, regular prayer and Bible study, reading more, etc.), then this increased time alone can be a huge blessing. Furthermore, perhaps you will have even more time than usual to keep up with others via your phone and the internet. This has certainly been the case for me. While I do not have my usual meetings, visits, church services, etc., I have found myself to be even more busy over the past two weeks just trying to keep up with phone calls, text messages, emails, etc. This can be a blessing if we seek to honor God in the time He gives us.

The curse – If we allow the time alone to discourage us, rather than lead us to seek God more and maintain regular contact with others, then this time with self will quickly become a curse. We need God, and we need one another. Be careful, therefore, not to develop habits of self-distancing that will continue when the shelter-in-place orders are lifted. That would be a curse for you and for those who know you.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

3. TIME APART

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, my family and others throughout our church family will be alone in our homes watching my sermon on our church’s YouTube channel. Physically, we are spending time apart as a church family because of the current directives given for the purpose of limiting the further spread of COVID-19.

Of course, this time apart not only affects churches; it affects nearly all of our relationships outside of our households.

The blessing – If we pray that God will use this time apart to give us a greater longing to be together, He can certainly use this time apart as a blessing. God is always in control, and COVID-19 has not surprised Him. Perhaps He will use this to strengthen and grow His church. Perhaps we will have a greater appreciation for corporate worship and fellowship. Perhaps we will not take our need for one another for granted, but instead will become more committed to our church family. With that perspective and a proper response, our time apart can be a blessing. This can be true with all relationships, and I pray that it will be especially true for our commitment to our church.

The curse – If we allow this time apart to discourage us, it can be a curse. If we take isolation too far and fail to keep in touch with one another via phone, email, social media, etc., it can be a curse. If we do not pray for a longing to be back with family, friends, church family, and other Christ-honoring communities, this time apart can be a curse. If you do not have a community you long to return to when the distancing orders are lifted, you truly are cursed.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

4. TIME WITH GOD

Possibly the greatest gift that this sheltering in place can offer is more time with God. With the right attitude and intentional actions, God can use this in mighty ways.

The blessing – Maybe you have struggled to be consistent in your commitment to seeking God through His Word and through prayer. If so, what a better time to develop good habits of daily Bible study and ongoing prayer! Even if you are faithful in doing these things each day, what a blessing it could be to have even more time in the Bible and prayer! None of us is where we need to be in our relationship with God, and we will not be on this side of eternity. Thus, this extra time with God can be a huge blessing to seek Him more faithfully and know Him more fully. What changes can you make in your daily schedule to better prioritize your relationship with God? What can you do with your family to better seek after God together? How can you encourage others in their relationship with God via online meetings, phone calls, text messages, emails, and prayer?

Do not use this additional time at home to sleep in later. Go to bed on time, get a good night’s sleep, and start your day off with the blessing of prayer and Bible engagement.

The curse – If you fail to take advantage of this opportunity to spend more time with God, what a travesty that would be! If you refuse to develop consistent, godly habits that afford you the opportunity to grow in your relationship with God, you will surely regret your actions. Of course, the greatest curse in all of this is not being able to spend more time with God because of not having a relationship with Him. Do not wait if you have yet to call on Jesus Christ for eternal life. He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead to defeat sin and death for everyone who surrenders to Him. You can experience the blessing (both now and eternally) of a relationship with God by placing your faith in Jesus.

Let us seek and pray for the blessing and not allow our bad attitudes and habits to promote the curse.

ARE YOU BLESSED OR CURSED?

Depending on our attitude and actions, our current situation can be used for good or used for evil. What are you experiencing? What changes can you make in your daily routine to better facilitate good? Pray for God’s help, and maintain healthy relationships with those who will hold you accountable. Let us experience the blessings in the midst of the pandemic!