This morning during my devotional I was reminded about sacrificial giving. My lesson came from the very end of 2 Samuel. The story goes that king David was going to offer a sacrifice to God and he needed to do it in a certain place. So the owner of the place (the threshing-floor) was going to give it to David for free along with the oxen. But David replies in 2 Samuel 24:24 “No, I insist on buying it from you at a price. I refuse to offer to Adonai my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” Then David goes on to purchase the threshing floor and oxen for a fair price. David insisted on offering something that had value to him. He wouldn’t offer something to God that cost him nothing. I think there’s a real lesson here, a reminder of how our giving should be.

Jesus tells us a similar story of the poor widow in the temple. She deposits just a mite into the temple treasury (a fraction of a penny) and Jesus declares that she gave MORE that everybody else. She gave sacrificially to God whereas everybody else gave out of their surplus. Like David, her giving cost her something.

I don’t think God wants us to give stoically to him. It should mean something to us. We should feel it. In God’s economy when we give sacrificially to Him the value is greater. Dollar amount doesn’t matter. God counts in what it costs to give. God looks at our heart. I think when we give like this we in turn get closer to His heart.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

I’ve been meaning to write a post about Christmas for a while. I’ve hesitated because a) we’ve been busy moving into a new apartment, and b) I just haven’t known how to encapsulate my thoughts. I have to really guard myself against cynicism, during the holidays more than ever. I know my experiences overseas really shape my perspective. And it’s been a while since I’ve experienced a ‘normal’ American Christmas. I’m sure this influences how I feel about it now. But now that we’re settling back into American life (for the first time in about seven years) we have an opportunity to start new traditions, and let old ones end.

I have to admit that Christmas in America is a bit of a struggle for me. I’m not really into the whole Santa thing. It’s so sad how Santa has become such a distraction from the true meaning of the holiday. Santa has hijacked Christmas away from Christ. Yes, this sounds harsh. And I bet that most people don’t see it this way. But it really is true. I know this because while overseas I got a very different view of Christmas, one that didn’t involve Santa.. In Indonesia Christmas is strictly a religious holidays. You see, in Indonesia Christmas was the holiday for Christians. Every religion got a holiday. The Muslims got Ramadan, Buddhists got Waisak (Buddha’s birthday), etc. Everybody got their fair share. Christmas was for the Christians. There really was no Santa Claus, no reindeer, no presents under the tree. Everybody knew it was for the Christians because it was Jesus’ birthday, and naturally Christians would want to celebrate that. And due to this simplicity and national nod of the head, we were able to celebrate Christmas as Christians, without any of the distractions you find in the west. It was a simple and surprisingly meaningful Christmas, and an experience I’ll never forget.

So when I see Christmas in America it’s first shocking and then disheartening. When Santa and reindeer enter the picture I just shake my head and ask “why?” I can’t help but think how confusing we’ve made this holiday. How on earth are we supposed to teach our kids and family about Jesus’ birth, angels, and God’s miracles when we get so wrapped up with reindeer and Santa Claus? Perhaps it can be done, but again, why? It seems incredibly dangerous to allow children to believe a lie about Santa and then expect them to believe the truth about Jesus. This holiday is about Jesus, period. Not Santa. When we mix the two together we encourage belief in something that isn’t real while jeopardizing and minimizing something that is! I for one am not willing to confuse this important event. We don’t need Santa for Christmas.

We plan on doing Christmas a little different. It won’t be about Santa. It won’t be about being good or getting presents. We want to keep it simple, get to the heart of the matter, and throw away everything else that’s not. Instead of buying a million presents we plan on just buying ONE for each member of our family. God didn’t flood the world with a million presents. He gave His best and most special gift on Christmas. So our family celebrates Best Gift Christmas. And we will give one gift to each other to honor and remember what God did. This is our way of keeping Christmas about Christ.

We don’t want to be distracted this holiday season.  It takes some guts to go against the grain. But by taking little steps we can make this season religious again, a true celebration.

Here’s another good article about Santa Claus called What To Do About Santa. Check it out and pass it along.

It’s been almost a week since I’ve seen my family. Kim’s been in Indiana with Eli and I’ve been up in Wisconsin for a few interviews. It’s only been about five days and I’ve really been missing them. It’ll be hard when I finally get a ‘normal’ job and have to be away from them ALL day. It’ll be quite the transition.

I’ve been so blessed these last several years to spend so much time with my family. That’s one of the unexpected side benefits of doing missionary work overseas. Sure, your job description may be a bit confusing at times, as well as the language, culture, and just about everything else. It’s a pressure cooker experience. But going through it with those closest to you, ie. your family, bonds you in unique and special ways. I’ve really enjoyed the bond that’s developed between us. I hope we never lose that.

But I realize this is not the norm. Most people GO to work. Having a 9-5 job will be a fairly large transition for us as a family. We’ve already gone through so many! In the first seven years of our marriage Kim and I have lived in four different states, two different countries, and eight cities. We’ve been to some truly wild places. We’ve adjusted to foreign cultures and customs, lived in rather rugged conditions. Eaten some strange foods. But something tells me the biggest transitions have yet to come, now that we’re finally trying to ‘settle down’. I think being apart from Kim and Eli will be the biggest one yet. How ironic that now when we’re most normal, it feels the most strange.

We face this new challenge as we’ve faced so many in the past- with boldness, a little bit of fear, and trust as we step into the unknown, one more time. We’re trusting the Lord to lead us through, as He has so many times in the past.

It’s amazing how restorative quietness can be. We’re experiencing new levels of this in our new apartment here in Orlando. I forgot how healing to the mind and spirit peace and quiet can be. My thoughts are more free flowing, and contemplative. There are fewer distractions to disrupt a train of thought.

And now that we’re back I’m finding that we have so much more time on our hands than what we’re used to. This is a fresh start for us. So far we have no obligations, no appointments, no schedule. Think about it. How many times in life do you get to be anonymous? This is a special time that God has given us. I know it doesn’t last long. But for now I want to treat this time as a gift. God knows we’ve been in need of it for a while.

I hope that the peace and quiet of our time here will be restorative to our mind and soul. And we’ll learn how to connect better as a family and connect better with God.

“Lord, fill our time with good things. Fill our time with peace, rest and comfort. May we be restored in You and through You. Be near, oh God. Amen.”

“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good. I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.” -Psalm 73:28

Creation / Evolution debates excite and frustrate me. They both entertain and annoy. They excite me because I enjoy the topic. I remember the first time I was exposed to the young earth / creation viewpoint. I had grown up in the church but had never heard a clear presentation of a 6,000 year old earth before. A friend invited me over to his house and told me about this guy on a video who was talking about dinosaurs and the age of the earth, etc. So I went and watched. And what I heard was amazing. It was something that I had wanted to believe but I just didn’t know I could, and couldn’t articulate properly. In short, it just made so much sense.

And it still does. That’s why I get so excited to see these creation/evolution debates. Ken Ham is a trusted source, a reputable creation scientist, and he does a good job presenting the arguments. When I watch my heart cheers. The points connect. And I’m reminded all over again why I believe the Bible, how science actually confirms it, and why it’s so fun to be a Christian. My mind is engaged, and my heart screams ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ It’s validation of a core belief.

Evidence doesn’t speak. We speak for it. We mold and shape it to fit our own unique worldview.

But creation / evolution debates are also very frustrating to me. It’s frustrating because neither side is a winner, ever. No one ever WINS these kind of debates. That’s because each side is fully entrenched before the debate even begins. Which brings up a much larger issue. Ultimately, these debates aren’t about creation or science. They’re not really even about the age of the earth. They’re about God. They’re about worldview. We all come to the table with our own presuppositions. Our world is colored by the kind of glasses we wear. The evidence is the same. But how we see it, how we interpret it, is different. Evidence doesn’t speak. We speak for it. We mold and shape it to fit our own unique worldview. This is something that is fundamental to each one of us, buried deep down in our psyche. Worldview is what we believe to be true. And boy is that hard to change! No amount of evidence can dislodge it.

People believe in evolution and billions of years not because of the evidence or because it makes sense, but because the alternative is unthinkable.

The thing about a young earth and intelligent design that is so abhorrent to evolutionists is that it acknowledges that  God is in charge. They would rather believe that random impersonal forces created the universe instead of an all-powerful God. I personally think people believe in evolution and billions of years not because of the evidence or because it makes sense, but because the alternative is unthinkable. People don’t want to admit that God is the ultimate authority. People don’t want to admit that they’re sinners and will be judged one day for their sins. That is why people embrace evolution. It’s a way out. It’s a way to escape judgement, at least in their mind.

And that’s the thing I find frustrating. I want debates like this to change people but they really don’t. Even though my own heart cheers and I find new reasons to delight in and praise God, most people aren’t moved. This debate isn’t about science, or who has the better argument. Ultimately it’s about us and what we believe. It’s about the human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Yes, who indeed? A mountain of evidence won’t change it. A debate can’t penetrate it. It takes God to change a heart. It takes a miracle. My prayer is that God would work miracles, that people would ‘see and believe’, and come to faith in Him. And then they too could look at the world with new eyes, see the miracle of creation all around them, and rejoice in it.

I’m making a more concentrated effort this week to turn off my devices an hour or two before I go to bed at night. By devices here I’m specifically talking about things with a screen, including but not limited to- laptop, iPod touch, games, etc. Instead I want to spend that time reading and reflecting. I’ve been convicted a little that I don’t get enough time to wind down at night, clear my thoughts, or give my thoughts some room to breathe. It’s hard to take stock of the day or make meaningful connections in my brain if that space is filled up with other things.

Reflective thinking makes me more grounded while letting me take off all at the same time.

John Maxwell says “reflective thinking has three main values- it gives me perspective within context; it allows me to continually connect with my journey; and it provides counsel and direction concerning my future.” Being able to continually connect with my journey is something I want to do more of and be better at. I confess that I don’t spend as much time as I’d like meditating on where I’ve been, where I am, and how it all fits together to the larger story, the larger journey. As a single college student I used to be quite good at this. But now with a family the time and space that used to be so abundant and taken for granted is filled in with other good things. And so you have to work at it. You have to set it aside. Margin doesn’t come freely anymore. But it’s important for me to set time aside to wonder, to imagine, to let my thoughts wander. Reflective thinking makes me more grounded while letting me take off all at the same time. It accomplishes both. And a good way to start is by making concrete steps to remove the margin munchers, the things that eat up that time. It might sound a little boring at first, but I know it will be worth it.

Kim and I were meditating and reflecting on Jesus’s parable of the House Upon the Rock from Matt 7:24-27. I’ll quote it here just so we’re on the same page:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

This story reminds me of one of the best and greatest things about being a Christian. Namely, that we have something solid to put our feet on. Sure, it’s comforting to know that I won’t go to hell for my sins. It’s comforting to know that I get to spend eternity with my Lord and Savior. But it’s also nice to have something on which to base my life, here and now. Some people call Christianity a crutch. I call it a FOUNDATION. And, really, don’t we all need a foundation? The fact of the matter is that we all have storms in life. We get faced with things at work, temptations, difficult decisions. Crisis’s at home. Sickness. Loss of a loved one or friend. These things have a way of rocking our world, and if we’re not careful we can get irrevocably capsized by them.

Some people call Christianity a crutch. I call it a FOUNDATION.

For me having Christ in my life is my grounding. He is my ‘foundation’. When faced with difficult decisions, or unsure of the path ahead, or how to respond to such and such I see in the news. . . I know I can always go back to the Word of God, the Bible, and get a bearing on what is right. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

We live in a confusing world. It offers us so many choices, and so many conflicting belief systems. I for one choose to believe the God of the Bible. He has never let me down, and I know that His word will never change and always be true and right for me in whatever situation I’m in. Planting my two feet firmly on Him I know I’ll be able to weather any storm this life has to throw at me. Amen!

I really appreciate this blog post and reminder from Pastor John Piper about how smartphones and the internet can threaten our focus on God. I think this is a message that needs to be repeated again and again as it is an increasingly relevant struggle in our high tech, busy society. This is one of the reasons why I’m starting to prefer what I call ‘dumb devices’ laying around instead of smart ones. I find that the less complicated a device is, the less connected, the more I’ll be able to enjoy it. See my blog post: The KISS principle. Why dumb devices are the smart choice.

I’ll try to take Piper’s advice. I don’t want to be distracted by technology. Instead of firing up some app on my iPod I’ll resolve today to fire up my Bible app, or better yet, grab my good ole fashioned Bible. The Bible is still the best.

I’ve been thinking and praying about darkness a lot lately. Now that Ramadan is just about over I’ve had a fresh look at what this looks like. Darkness isn’t so much the presence of something, but the lack of something else. All around me I see people who are lacking something. They go through their religious routine. They pay they respects to God in the form of scheduled prayer, attendance, and fasting. But it’s a lack of God’s spirit that keeps them from finding the Truth. The darkness is palpable here.

But my heart breaks for these people to be set free- to be free to see Jesus for who he really is- the savior, the redeemer, the Light of the world. The hard part about darkness is that is never moves. Darkness sits in one spot. It’s heavy. It can’t travel. Light though is different. Light can move. Light travels. Light enters a room and fills it. There’s a speed to light. So until Light penetrates a space the darkness will remain. Light must come from the outside to fill a darkness within.

I think one thing that is required for the Light to come in is a supple heart, a pliable heart. A heart that hasn’t closed all the windows, but rather is open and hopeful, waiting for the light to come in. John Piper said recently, “Whether you see what the Bible says about your salvation as good news depends in large measure on how hopelessly lost you think you are.” If you’re not aware that you’re lost, you won’t want to be saved. But for those who are aware, Christ is precious and valuable- a treasure to savor your whole life. We’re praying that people would be aware and put their faith in Him.

There are some other verses that talk about this darkness.

2 Cor 4:3-5 says
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
We’re asking that the veil would be removed from the eyes of the people around us- that they would no longer be blinded, but SEEING.

Also Acts 26:17-18
“I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
This was God’s message to Paul. It’s our appeal for our Cousin friends and neighbors.

Please Lord, let your light shine in dark places. Open the eyes of the people around us so that they may see you as beautiful and precious. Remove the veil Lord in front of their hearts. Give them the ability to treasure you as you deserve and our hearts desire. Amen!

Jesus says in John 6:44-45 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘They will all be taught be God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me.”

I heard this sermon from Pastor John Piper recently that really put in perspective just WHO and HOW a person comes to a saving relationship with God- not everyone, but only those who are DRAWN to him. And those who are drawn to Him have to be taught or told about Him first. This concept has tremendous implications all the way from the Sunday school classroom to the mission field. Only those who are being drawn and taught will come. I was really blessed by these insights.