The Appeal of Joy

November 15 marks the opening day of firearms deer season in Michigan.  I used to celebrate this day by sitting for endless hours on a 5-gallon bucket while my toes froze or rain dripped from the brim of my hat.  I don’t have the chance to participate in this Michigan tradition any longer.  I miss the venison being in the freezer from my own natural inclinations, and I miss the black-capped chickadees.
Chickadees have the God-given ability to turn the most frigid, lifeless morning into a time of praise and worship.  They also have the ability to turn the end of a luckless day into a bright expectation for tomorrow.  The chickadee isn’t colorful.  In fact, its plumage is downright plain.  But what the bird lacks in visual pizazz, it makes up for in its joyful social interaction and song.  Many is the time a chickadee has perched on my knee or hat and looked into my face as if to say, “Isn’t this day great!”  The “chickadee-dee-dee” song of this bird inspires life in a leafless, still, woods.  As I would watch this bird and listen to its joyful notes, I remembered that those whose life of service is filled with joy often have their life’s appeals listened to and answered to their highest-good.  (Pause for Thought:  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:4-7.  How joyful has been your service to the Lord lately?  How joyful has your attitude been in the parenting of your children?  How joyful is the attitude of your children while they are serving the Lord?  Is it time for an attitude check in your family?)
While I don’t have chickadees, anymore, to remind me of my heart condition and attitude, God has given me a family to be a reflection of my very soul, and, at times, inspire and point my soul’s outlook to something much higher than our current circumstances.  (Pause for Thought:  “Children, obey your parents IN THE LORD, for this is right, ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’.  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction OF THE LORD.”—Ephesians 6:1-4.  Who do you rely on to be a “reflection” of your attitude?  How often do your children approach you with a joyful spirit?  How often do they approach you with a complaining spirit?  Have you instructed them in and about God’s goodness and grace and their responsibilities in loving Him?)
If the black-capped chickadee is the opening day cheerleader, the red squirrel is the harbinger of gloom and doom.  I would always try and beat the awakenings of the red squirrels in getting to my deer blind in the morning.  Once I was set and still, the red squirrel’s complaining bark and guttural hiss would indicate the approach of anything moving near me.  It never seemed joyful in regards to another’s presence or its current circumstances.  The last deer I shot on opening day was due to the bitter oversight of a red squirrel in the tree under which I was sitting (sleeping).  If that squirrel were to have been gracious, like a chickadee, I wouldn’t have awoken, and the buck sneaking around me wouldn’t have died.  (Pause for Thought:  “Do not be misled:  ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’  Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.”—I Corinthians 15:33-34.  How does the relationship you have with others influence your joy?  What relationships are affecting the attitude of your children today?)


The Umbrella of Authority

Once there was a man who witnessed great injustice and found himself in a unique position to do something about it.  His miraculous birth and life during an awful time of persecution, not to mention his subsequent education and rise to authority, placed him in a special place and time to come along his earthly authority to fulfill his Heavenly Authority’s will to free an entire people.
Unfortunately for Moses, he placed himself outside of the umbrella of his authorities, took matters in his own hands, and started a precedent of death and destruction.  (Pause for Thought:  Read Exodus 2:11-15.  What precipitated Moses to think it was all right to kill the Egyptian?  How could have Moses appealed to his earthly (Pharaoh) and Heavenly (God) authority regarding the situation, so a person wouldn’t have to die?  How do you want your children to appeal to you in their time of distress?  When and where will you hear them out?  Will you explain your expectations and reasoning to them?)
Moses would once again, under God’s grace and authority, find himself in a position to free his people.  God’s timing and preparation of not only Moses, but also Pharaoh, would have to take place, so God’s ultimate authority and might could be on display for an entire people.  The Israelites, from day one, would never get over Moses’s original willfulness to place himself outside of God’s Heavenly authority and the earthly authority He established.  Even Moses’ own family questioned his ability to be an authority over them for a generation.  (Pause for Thought:  Read Exodus 14:10-12; Numbers 12:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:27-29.   What authority(ies) do you find yourself under?  How do your responses to their instruction influence the way your children view authority?  How well do you appeal to your earthly authority? Heavenly authority?  Do your responses to those you are “under” meet the expectations you have for your children’s responses to you?)
Ultimately, Moses found himself at the threshold of God’s promised land.  A generation of those who started to follow Moses authority would perish in the wilderness due to their inability to appeal to their earthly and Heavenly authorities and remain under God’s umbrella.  Even Moses was denied entrance into the Promise Land because he had withdrawn himself from under God’s authority throughout his life’s journey.  Joshua, filled by God’s spirit, would be the authority God used to build a nation.  (Pause for Thought:  Read Deuteronomy 33:51-52; 34:4,9)

I often wonder how this story might have ended for Moses and the Israelites who first left Egypt had Moses remained under his authorities’ umbrella, and not killed the Egyptian out of his own arrogance.  I often wonder about our children’s journey and ending in this life as they serve their authorities, including the Most-High Authority—God our Father.  (Pause for Thought:  Is there something or someone causing your children distress?  Have you given your children a time and place to appeal to you for advice, and if appropriate, your correction/solution to the matter?  What/Who will you pray about with your children this week?)


The Endurance of the Like-Minded

One of the most fascinating displays in nature, to me, is the phenomenon of the bait-ball.  A bait-ball is a group of small, open-water roaming fish that will synchronize their movements around a center, so they appear to be a large single organism to predators.  I become mesmerized by each fish’s ability to move exactly in the same time and space the other fish are moving.  I often wonder how a species as simple as an alewife or sardine, can be so like-minded in their group, they can elude a complex predator, such as a salmon or shark.
God knew, for groups of small fish and Christ following families, it would be necessary to be of like-mind for endurance and prosperity. (Pause for Thought:  “Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the Lord.”—II Chronicles 30:12.  How “in-sync” are the members of your family right now?  What do you want for your family’s center?  Is this the center your family members are moving and thinking around?  How able to withstand the stresses of life is your center?)
One thing alone can break up a bait-ball—fear.  If a predator fish causes stress from without the group, a fish or two may decide it would be better for their self-preservation to abandon the center and others for open water.  This fish is often pursued and eaten which causes the bait-ball to lose their like-mindedness for fear’s sake.  Chaos ensues and the group is whittled down in size by those wishing to harm it.  (Pause for Thought:  “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may not be divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  I Corinthians 1:10, 13, 17.  Have you witnessed a family and/or group of families moving around a center in harmony of thinking and behavior?  Do you suppose they experience little to no stress?  Have you asked them what, if any, stresses they encounter?  Will you ask them what the center of their like-mindedness is and if you can join their thinking?)
The church needs to be and is the place where individuals and families can look for the peace and endurance of the like-minded.  (Pause for Thought:  “Finally brothers, good-by.  Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.”   II Corinthians 13:11.  What dishonest or unreasonable thinking is keeping you and your family from moving in coordination with Christ and Christ-following families?  Will you address this fear this week?  How will you address it?  If left unaddressed what, do you think, will be the outcome for you and your family?) 


First Things First

First Things First

The cowbird does something unique to the avian world.  In order to shirk its duties as a parent, the female cowbird will remove an egg from the nest of another bird species, destroy the egg, and return the following day to lay her egg with the other eggs in the nest.  The cowbird then leaves the egg to retain and maintain her previous lifestyle while leaving the builder of the nest the responsibility of rearing the cowbird chick.
Our Father in Heaven knew, because of our sinful nature, we would be tempted to leave the “first things” to others while looking to our own self-interests.  (Pause for Thought:  “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  I Timothy 5:8.  Knowing we are made up of spirit, soul, and body, and knowing we relate to our Heavenly Father in spirit—“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”  John 4:23-24—what must we make a priority in our lives to be fully complete and approved by God?  Who has God chosen to be our children’s primary spiritual care-giver?)
A wise and judicious institution or government will always see the family as the cornerstone of community, and it will not place anything above the family’s spiritual, soulful, or physical welfare.  Godly parents/children will not sacrifice their family’s welfare for personal gain.  (Pause for Thought:  “The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies.”  Esther 8:11.  “A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live.”  Proverbs 15:27.  In what ways has the family been under attack by Satan?  In what ways has Satan “bribed” you to be fearful about making your family’s spiritual welfare a priority?  Has he bribed you with financial security?  Ministry?  Self-peace=lack of internal/external conflict? Time?)

The tragic story of the cowbird doesn’t end with the destruction of just one egg.  Most nest builders will accept the cowbird egg and try to raise the chick as their own.  However, the cowbird grows fast and large to the point it will out compete the other chicks for food until they die.  A few birds, like the robin, will recognize the intruding cowbird egg, and its parent’s selfish intent.  The egg will either be destroyed or covered up with the rest of the eggs in hopes a second nest will not be invaded.  (Pause for Thought:  “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.  If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”  I Timothy 3:4-5.  How will you make the spiritual welfare of your family a priority this week?  Is there something you have to give up to make this so?  How will you do it?) 


For Crying Out Loud

I just learned this week the euphemism for “For Christ’s Sake!” is “For Crying Out Loud!”  I have said “for crying out loud” many times in my desperation and exasperation, but had no idea I was invoking the name, power, and expectations of my Lord and Savior.  It caused me to think about those who consciously called on the Name of the Lord and were saved.  My first thought was of David the shepherd boy who would be King of Israel.
As a tender of sheep, David cried unto God to save him and his family’s welfare from marauding lions.  David, the young warrior, would invoke his Savior’s name to defeat giants.  As the spiritual, military, and political leader of Israel, he cried out loud the name of the Most High to overcome evil enemy kings. (Pause for Thought:  “I cry out to God Most High, To God, who vindicates me.  He sends from Heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me—God sends forth His love and His faithfulness.”  Psalms 57:2-3.  David wrote this as King Saul pursued his life into a cave.  David had this sung to a tune called, “Do Not Destroy”.  Have you ever cried out loud to God, “Lord Save Me!”?  If so what was the result?  Why don’t people call on the name of the Lord in their initial distress?)
Based on the many times David cried out to God for salvation, and based on the different Hebrew words used for “cry out”, David was vocal in his pleas—some were murmurs and some were shrieks from terror. (Pause for Thought:  “In my distress, I called upon the Lord, and cried out (shava=high pitched shout for help) to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry (shava) came before Him, even to His ears.”  Psalm 18:6; “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry (shava).”  Psalm 34:15.  Why does a vocal response to our danger invoke such power from God?  Have you been vocal in your distress in front of your children?  Who or what have you called upon to save you?)
I’ve read and heard how the name of Jesus has stopped gunmen in their tracks, stalled the motors of machinery poised to do damage, and even thwarted kidnappers and carjackers.  David is proof of how a life lived consciously in the presence of our Lord and Savior can manifest that presence by crying out loud for rescue.  Unfortunately for David, he did not pass this beautiful truth and skill on to his daughter, Tamar.  (Pause for Thought:  Read II Samuel 13:1-22.  During her pleading with Amnon, why, do you suppose, Tamar didn’t voice out a cry for help to God?  Based on what we know concerning David’s crying out, what could have been the results of Tamar’s crying out to God?)
As parents, we tell our children, “I’ll always be there for you” and, “I’ll never let anything happen to you” all in front of a backdrop of Stranger-Danger, ALICE training, and JUST SAY NO.  Are the promises we’re making true? (Pause for Thought:  As it concerns the privilege of voicing our cry to ABBA FATHER, what can you tell and teach your children about danger and alertness?  Are you willing to practice crying out to the Lord with them this week?  What fear is stopping you from crying out or teaching your children to do so?)


The Rigidity of Bitterness

Forced, under threat of physical harm, we freshmen boys were made to serve our senior masters by waiting on them and their tables.  We considered how our first week of high school misery might play out for the remainder of our tenure.  During one of our brood sessions, one of my fellow sufferers offered “hope” to us in his statement he couldn’t wait to be a senior, so he could impose his oppressive authority on some unsuspecting freshmen boy.  This kind of hope for justice didn’t seem right to me, nor did getting “even” with my senior tormentors seem righteous.
The rigid cycle of bitterness and the foolishness it brings rages on in our lives no matter our age or circumstance.  (Pause for Thought:  A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him. – Proverbs 17:25; Read the story of Amaziah – II Chronicles 25; How did Amaziah’s foolish quest to get “even” cost him his authority and integrity?  How should have Amaziah dealt with his bitterness over his father’s life and death and the circumstances in his own rule over Judah?)
Bitterness’s vicious cycle is founded in the pride that leads to a fall.  Unfortunately, after we fall, the bitterness can be, and often is, picked up by our children for them to repeat the same mistakes and display the same foolishness.  Jesus’ ways of getting even and providing hope through bitter times is much different from the world’s ways.  (Pause for Thought:  But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:44; Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  – Romans 12:14. What enemy is causing your bitterness today?  In what ways has the bitterness impacted you, your family, your children?  How will you choose to deal with the bitterness if front of your family this week?)
We freshmen boys decided we did not want to perpetuate the bitter tradition we were suffering through and leave a legacy of foolishness.  I’ll never forget the disbelieving, but joyful, faces on the freshmen boys as we served them and their tables at lunch for the first week of their high school lives.  (Pause for Thought:  How can you get “even” by abolishing a rigidly bitter tradition/cycle by your service to your family or children this week?  Why does service result in our ability to be flexible and less rigid?  Can you name examples of how Jesus’ service to another lessened bitter rigidity and brought flexibility?  If you can think of some examples, share them with your children this week.)


The Simplicity of Greatness

G.O.A.T—Greatest of all Time.  It took me a while to figure out the meaning of the acronym GOAT.  I was shocked to find it means “greatest of all time”.  To be “the goat” meant something totally different when I was growing up.  Today, arguments rage on sports news and talk shows as to who is the greatest and what makes one great.  Is it LeBron or Jordan, Ruth or Cobb, Ford or Edison?  What weighs heaviest in the “great” debate?  Is it the number of titles, accumulation of stats, total awards?  If we can make greatness complex, we will do it.
Fortunately, Jesus made greatness very simple for his disciples and those who would follow in his great footsteps and sit at his wonderful feet.  He said, “You want to be great, then you must serve.” (Pause for Thought:  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.  “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  John 13:12-17)

The Institute in Basic Life Principles explains greatness this way, “Greatness is not a goal to be sought after but a by-product of learning how to serve.”  As people created by God in His image, we do desire greatness in our visions for ourselves, our children, our church, etc.  It stands to reason, since we were created with a purpose by our great Father God.  However, knowing greatness is a by-product of serving changes my expectations and measurements as a Christian and a parent.  As a parent, the skills I want to see my son develop and the opportunities I want to seize upon for his practice and maturity are a lot different when I adhere to Jesus’ definition of greatness and not the world’s.  (Pause for Thought:  Does knowing “greatness” is from our serving and not from being served force you to rethink the parenting skills and emphasis you are practicing?  If so, how?) I’ve had to concentrate upon the attitude, motive, desire, and passion in my service to my son and rethink what I see as greatness in my son.  If you desire a change of heart in regards to visualizing and securing greatness in your children, join us at 9:45 Sunday mornings for small group discussions on “Parenting Greatness”.  (Pause for Thought: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms–I Peter 4:10;  The greatest among you will be your servant–Matthew 23:11)


Live It

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Jame 2:22-25
Knowledge is so deceptive.  We can watch, listen and even read about a topic to be knowledgeable.  Yet, when we leave the knowledge acquired on the page without putting it into practice, we have gained little, but we become bloated.  How will you listen and read the Word of God to gain the freedom it can give by living it?  What are small practices that will assist you to remember the truth implanted to put it into practice? 
memorizing it
reflecting on it 
gathering & reading it with others (accountability)
You’re blessed living it. 


Quick to Listen

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” James 1:19-21
James points out that scattered and under persecution may have had the right (in their eyes) to respond with anger, but it did not and would not reflect God’s deposit within them. By reflecting on the words ‘quick to listen’ and ‘slow speak’, what can you do to honor God in your interactions as followers of Jesus today?


No Mere Mortals

In the beginning the earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep. In these dark and ancient times there were no selfies. Yes, once upon a long ago, camera technology had not advanced enough to be able to turn a phone around to take of picture of oneself. Thankfully, we live now in an enlightened age.


What are we really doing when we take a selfie? What are we trying to capture? A moment in time? Our essence as an individual? An image we’d like to represent us? For better or worse, our selfies do capture some part of us.


Once upon a time when there truly was nothing, the immortal, invisible, and incalculable God of the universe chose to create mankind in His own image; to capture a sliver of His nature in frail, fallible, flesh. In the midst of creating hedgehogs and eagles and platypi (or is it platypuses?) God set about to create a creature that represented some essential elements of His character. In doing so, He made something different, something unique from all the other forms of life.


The Hebrew word used to describe humankind being created in the image of God is tselem and is used elsewhere to talk about stone and wooden idols made to represent false gods. While Jesus represents the nature of God fully, in some mysterious and completely undeserved way, we also represent the character of the Lord. Understanding this, author C.S. Lewis wrote: “There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal.” 


This unique status has a litany of implications but perhaps the primary is that we are not mere accidents of biology or simply the most intelligent of animals but rather purposefully designed creations mysteriously molded after the fashion of our Creator. This fact alone should give weight and purpose to our being and a great deal of responsibility as well. In the same passage in which God describes His intention to create humans in His image, He also decrees that they would have dominion over the earth.


While we most often think of the word ‘dominion’ in the context of abuse (think domineering) or as an excuse to mishandle the resources given to us, a fuller understanding is one of authority AND responsibility. A king presides over a kingdom but he is also responsible for what goes on within. The Lord has dominion over every aspect of the universe. Similarly, we are to have dominion over the earth. 


Our dominion is not limited only to earth’s physical resources (for which we are both entrusted and accountable) but also in creation, innovation, and progress. All humans are the product of an infinitely creative God. We express this imbued creativity when we create are (which author J.R.R. Tolkien called ‘imaginative sub-creation’), express skills, and develop technology which seeks the betterment of the human race.


Our status as image-bearers gives our life a divinely defined purpose and authority. We exist not by chance but by design and are entrusted to rule with wisdom over the resources, both physical and spiritual, not for ourselves with selfish intent but for the betterment of all. In doing so, we reflect the creative nature of our most excellent and boundless Creator.