“What do you saaaaay?”

Now, after the birthday party at your friend’s house, make sure you do not say, ‘Thank you,’ or express any kind of gratitude. Take things like this for granted. I don’t want you to be known as someone who’s well-mannered and appreciative,” said no parent ever.

We all want our kids to be thankful for what they have. We want them to have good manners, saying things like please and thank you. If they do not, we are naturally disappointed and are usually quick to correct them. When a child says, “I want some,” we are quick to reply, “What do you say?” When a child receives something with no words of appreciation, we are quick to chide him, “What do you say?

Yet, how are our attitudes? How thankful and appreciative are we? Parents (and everyone), we need to practice what we preach.

Sure, you might have very good manners and might be very good about saying please and thank you to others. How is your attitude toward God, though? How grateful are you to God? How often do you take Him and His blessings for granted?

THANKS AND GIVING

Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a short new sermon series on how we can develop a heart of gratitude to God and what that then looks like in our daily lives. We have so much for which to be thankful, no matter our lot in life, and at the top of that list of gratitude, of course, is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I cannot help but wonder – if we really thought deeply about the truth of the gospel throughout each day, how much better would our attitudes be? How much more joy would we have? How much less complaining would we do?

THANKS AND GOSPEL

If all this sounds unrealistic to you, my first question is, have you truly believed the gospel and surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? Having given my life to Jesus as a young adult, I remember very clearly the difference between gratitude from my relationship with God and temporary gratitude from the things of the world. There is a huge difference, a life-changing difference.

While we are all sinners who obviously fail at times to have the proper perspective of gratitude, those who have the Holy Spirit are unable to continuously live with an ungrateful heart. Instead, we will regularly respond to God’s goodness just like the Samaritan man in Luke 17:11-19, who “seeing that he was healed, returned and, with a loud voice, gave glory to God. He fell facedown at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him” (verses 15-16).

Are you grateful to God for what He has done in your life? Do you have both inward and outward gratitude? If not, will you turn to the Lord today and ask Him to change your heart and your life?

I am grateful for THIS view from my office window, and Micah is grateful when he gets to kill flies (what he was on a mission to do when this picture was taken).

To WHOM is your thanksgiving?

No doubt the vast majority of Americans are, in some way or another, celebrating Thanksgiving today. We are giving thanks for various people and various blessings, whether we talk about them while we sit around the table together, share about them through social media, or remind ourselves of them in our own hearts and minds.

When you “give thanks,” though, to whom is your thanksgiving? Sure, you might be thankful for your spouse, for your family, for your friends, etc., but to whom are you thankful?

Generally, we give thanks to someone who has done something beneficial for us. For example, on a typical evening I certainly ought to give thanks to my wife for a delicious supper, for a clean house, and for the seemingly constant care she provides for our children. All of us ought to be able to think of people not only for whom we are thankful but also to whom we give thanks.

Most importantly for followers of Jesus Christ, of course, is our thanksgiving to God. Everything good we have is from Him and for His glory.

On Thanksgiving (and always) we ought not only to say, “I am thankful for ________.” We also ought to be saying, “Thanks be to God for ________.” And, at the top of that list should be resurrection life.

Lord willing, during our worship service with Richland Baptist Church Sunday morning, I will be preaching on “The Victory of Discipleship” from Mark 16:1-8. As I have been studying this passage of Scripture this week, I cannot help but think we do not rejoice and give thanks to God nearly enough for the victory that was and is won by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

If not for this victory of discipleship, my grief over the physical death of my dad (seen in the picture above teaching my sister Steph how to cut the turkey in 2013) would be too much to bear. If not for this victory, our lives would be hopeless. If not for this victory, we would ultimately have nothing for which to be thankful.

The victory over sin and death is the most important thing that has ever happened, and so God is the most important One to whom we need to give thanks.

Is your mind set on truly seeking and thanking Him, or are you more set on yourself? Are you intent about honoring Him, or are you more concerned about getting honored?

Seems like I have heard multiple people say (and I agree completely): the more life is all about you, the more miserable you are. May the Lord help us have the right focus and the right thanksgiving!

One Less Orphan

one-less-orphanGreat news! The world is one step closer to having ONE LESS ORPHAN in China, as we have been matched with a little boy! If all goes as planned over the next several months, he will be our son! He is 20 months old, and we’ll share pictures and his name when we are closer to finding out if this is going to be official. Will you please continue to pray for our adoption process? Lord willing, we’ll be going to pick him up sometime this coming summer. Praise God!

Summer Fun & Pictures-a-Plenty

feeding the goatsWow! This summer is flying by with plenty of travel, plenty of fun, plenty of exhaustion and plenty of pictures. If you want to see a bunch of pics, particularly of our kids, please click HERE.

The most recent highlight of our summer has been Levi learning how to ride a bike. I gave him one push on it yesterday, and he told me he could do it on his own. A few minutes later, he was riding all over the place. That is basically all he and Noah have wanted to do the last two days.

Being outside has been the desire of all four kids, and we are beyond thankful for all the land on which they have to play, all the time they’ve had to play and the awesome weather we’ve had. We are enjoying God’s beautiful creation, loving our time with family and trying not to let our abundant travel wear us out.

Even though the travel has been tiring, though, it has been an incredible blessing. This past weekend we had an amazing time with our Missouri Valley Baptist Church and Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church families. They are such amazing people and a tremendous encouragement to our family and many others. Before that we spent a week up north with my family, both in Iowa and in Minnesota. Fun was had by all!

Please continue to pray for us as we seek the Lord’s wisdom and direction for our lives. We want to follow His leading and obey His Word, but I’ll admit that our future is still uncertain at this point. Of course, it’s not uncertain for the Lord, as He knows all things and has His perfect plan in place. The foolish people we are, though – we don’t always follow Him as we should and don’t always discern His direction for our lives. This might simply be a time He is teaching us patience and dependence on Him (something we always need to grow in), or He might be in the process of leading us exactly where He wants us. We’re not sure.

Our hearts long to be back in Istanbul, but they also long to be with family here in the U.S. God’s plan is best, and we trust His wisdom. Thank you for praying and for being such an encouragement!

Religion and the most meaningful gift

God's Grace
DrakeCity tends to be more of a family Website than a blog where I share my thoughts, opinions and convictions. Tonight, though, I’m shifting the pattern and sharing, of all things, an essay I was asked to write this weekend. A local university student working on a project with English speakers asked me to answer the two questions below, and I decided to share my answers with the world…or the few people who follow DrakeCity.

1. During a Turkish religious holiday, what procedures are done? What did you feel during this time?

The religious holiday that stands out most to me in Turkey is the Kurban Bayram? (Sacrifice Holiday). During this holiday, Muslim people sacrifice an animal, such as a sheep, goat or cow, and they keep a portion of the meat for themselves, give a portion to their friends and neighbors, and then give a portion to the poor. Remembering when God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of his son, the sacrifice holiday is a very special holiday for Muslim people.

Having lived in Turkey more than five years now, I’ve experienced five of these holidays and learned many things about religion and culture as a result of them. What I first understood to be a “sacrifice” for right-standing before God and forgiveness of sins, I later learned from most of my Muslim friends is really more of an offering to others. In other words, the word “sacrifice” means something different in this context than what I first thought. Whereas the ram God provided Abraham was a replacement sacrifice to take the place of Abraham’s son on the mountain, the “sacrifices” done during the Sacrifice Holiday for Muslims is a way for people to show their devotion to God and to help others.

In fact, I was surprised to learn that many of my friends don’t even really consider the religious implications behind the holiday. Rather, they do it more as a cultural tradition. Many of my friends even said that although they used to do it, they don’t purchase a sacrifice anymore because they just don’t have the time, the money and/or the desire to participate.

Yes, the first sacrifice holiday I experienced while living in Adana, Turkey, was definitely a bit of a culture shock for me. For a few weeks leading up to the holiday, we saw sheep being gathered in a parking lot across the street from our apartment building. My sons enjoyed watching the sheep out the window and talking about them. On the first day of the holiday, though, the sheep were led out to the street where a butcher slit their throats and prepared the bodies for edible meat and delicacies. This was definitely a new cultural experience for us WesternersJ!

I also had the opportunity to go along with my neighbors to another field a few blocks away, where the sheep they had purchased was sacrificed and butchered. Walking through the bloody field with sheep and goat legs scattered everywhere and doing my best to avoid stepping in piles of sheep dung and guts, I will admit I struggled to understand the reality of all of this.

Honestly, though, my biggest struggle was that the people around me didn’t accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who freely gave Himself to die on the cross for our sins, so that if we call on and trust in His name, we could be saved. This continues to be what I feel every year during the Sacrifice Holiday and every day when I talk about my faith with Muslim people. Do I look down on them for what they believe or do? Absolutely not! I do hope and pray, though, that they will one day believe in the most amazing and gracious sacrifice ever given. I am no better than them or anyone else. We are all sinners in need of God’s sacrificial love.

2. What is a meaningful gift you have given or received?

The most meaningful gift that comes to mind is what I believe to be the most meaningful gift ever given in all of history – the gift of salvation. Of course, only God can give this gift, and it will not be fully realized and understood until Jesus Christ returns to earth to judge the living and the dead.

I am beyond grateful to share, though, that I have received this gift. During my sophomore year of college, when I was 20 years old, I came to the realization that I had been living my life only for myself. Although I claimed to love God, I really only cared about girls and sports and becoming successful in life. Frankly, I was on the path to hell and did not to that point realize it.

Thankfully, though, God opened my eyes and my heart to understand His Truth. I began studying the Bible like never before, began asking many questions to my friends and others, and was continually praying for God to reveal the Truth to me. Well, He did just that when through reading His Word and talking to a Christian pastor, I realized that I was a sinner in need of a savior. There was no hope for me, even though I had lived a “good life.” No, I didn’t do drugs; I didn’t drink alcohol; I didn’t smoke; I didn’t sleep around; I didn’t steal; I didn’t kill anyone; I went to church; I tried to be nice to others; I believed in God; etc.

BUT, none of that erased the fact that I was still a sinner. I was (and still am) a sinner, and God is perfect and holy. There is no way for a wretched sinner like myself to spend eternity with a holy God in heaven. Well, there is no human way possible. God, though, made a way for us. He sent his One and only Son to live a perfect life, die on the cross for our sins and rise from the dead, so that anyone who believes in Him as Savior and Lord will not spend eternity in hell but will instead spend eternity in heaven.

When I came to that realization in November 4, 1998, it was the best day of my life. I had been given the greatest gift any person could ever possibly receive – the removal of all my sin debt and eternal life with Christ Jesus my Lord. Wow!

Sometimes when we receive gifts, we say things like, “Thanks! This is perfect!” In reality, though, nothing is perfect. Nothing, of course, except for the love of God given through His Son Jesus Christ. This perfect gift of endless love is said so well in Paul’s letter to the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this – while we were still sinner, Christ died for us.”

Do we deserve this perfect gift of love and sacrifice? No, we deserve wrath and damnation. Can we earn this amazing gift? No, it’s a gift that cannot be earned. The only thing we have earned is eternal death and separation from our holy God. Can we buy this precious gift? No, a gift this amazing cannot be purchased with money. It was already purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ. It was sealed with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, it will one day be fully realized by those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Praise God for this perfect gift!

Happy birthday to my amazing wife!

Today is Marsha’s birthday! As she gets her beauty sleep (it’s 12:20 a.m. here), I want to tell the world how much I love and appreciate my amazing woman. She’s a SUPER wife, a SUPER mom and a SUPER person. And, when I say “super,” I mean SUPERHERO-like. If she is apart from our family for just one day, we do well to just survive. Marsha keeps us strong and keeps us together, and I praise God for her!

Over the past couple weeks, our sleep has been anything but regular. In fact, we haven’t had a decent night of sleep for nearly a month. Yet, Marsha’s love, patience, compassion and kindness are beyond incredible. Lately, I find myself feeling like we’re barely surviving, and Marsha can look at our lives and say, “Things are going really well.” While I’m sometimes not sure what she sees that I don’t, I find great encouragement and joy in my wife’s attitude and outlook. Furthermore, I’m reminded of how much we have to be thankful for and how much God’s goodness is evident in our lives. Praise the Lord for my amazing wife!

Marsha, happy birthday! I hope you have a great day and realize how much you are loved and appreciated by our children and me!

Adoption Update

We are thankful and blessed to report that we have now received over $7,500 in donations to help with the adoption of our sweet little girl from Ethiopia! Thank you to all of you who have given thus far, as we are grateful for your kindness and generosity.

Although we are still waiting for an official court date, we did learn recently that we will likely be going to Ethiopia for our court date and to meet our daughter in late June or early July. Nothing will be certain, though, for another 4-6 weeks. We will continue posting updates here on DrakeCity, and you can keep up with specifics on our Adoption page, too.

As always, thank you for praying for our baby girl – for her health, her development and God’s shaping of her little heart. To HIM be the glory!