5 Years Ago…

Happy Birthday Kai!  I cannot believe it’s been 5 years since God took you home.  In some ways it feels like 10 years.  In other ways it feels like it was just yesterday.  I can easily imagine what you’d look like.  All your siblings look alike!  SO, it’s not too hard to picture your face at 5.  If you were still with us this would be your last summer before starting kindergarten.  That’s hard to imagine!  I guess you’d want a Spiderman backpack…maybe Thor…maybe Batman.

We’re at the beach again this year.  It seems to be good for our family to spend this week out of town, together, with each other, without the busyness of life.  It gives us time to focus on how precious our family is.  It is a reminder of how unpredictable life can be.  We miss you.  Our family never feels complete.  When we’re out somewhere and we do a head count before leaving, it always feels like we’re missing one.  We are.  We are missing you.  You’re not with us.

We know God’s Word is true.  We know God is faithful.  We know we will see you once again.  We know you are doing just fine.  But wow, we sure miss you!  Our whole family misses you.  Your older siblings talk about you often.  We’re glad for that.  We don’t want them to ever forget you.  Your little sister, Karis Lynn, doesn’t know about you.  It’s strange to think that if you were still with us, she wouldn’t be here.  That brings up a mixed bag of emotions.  There’s sorrow and joy combined.  She’s not you.  You are you.  As strange as it sounds, I’m glad she wasn’t a boy.  It would be too tempting to feel like she replaced you.

It’s been a whirlwind of a year.  We’ve moved to Pell City.  We’re now at Cropwell Baptist Church.  You would LOVE IT!  There are so many kids your age!  There are some amazing folks here that love on your siblings and would do the same to you.  We’re thankful to be with this group of people.

Happy Birthday little man!  Since becoming a Christian, I have always looked forward to Heaven.  After losing you, I look forward SO MUCH more!  I wonder what you’ll look like when I see you.  A newborn baby, a grown man…I’m not sure.  Right now I can only picture you as a 5 year-old.

Enjoy your day.  We’ll hopefully be letting off balloons like we do each year.  It is meaningful for all of us.  It helps us feel connected to you.  The kids each write a note to you.  It helps all of us in our healing.

I love you.  I miss you.

Dad

22 Years Old

It was 22 years ago, March 15th 1997.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was sitting in my dorm room Radford University.  I was on the 8th floor.  The building had over 1000 residents.  I may have been about the only one in there that Saturday night.  Everyone else was out doing what college students do on a Saturday night.  For me, I’d had enough of that.  In fact I’d had enough of everything.  I had tried everything and nothing helped.

Life was hopeless.  I had spend the better part of the past 3 years drinking daily and smoking pot.  That didn’t numb the pain.  It didn’t help the hopeless feeling I had.  A good friend suggested I try something I hadn’t tried yet.  He said I should read my Bible.  I thought I’d give it a shot…after all, I’d tried everything else.  I asked him if I should start at the beginning.  He said it’d be best to start in the New Testament, in Matthew.  So I did.  I told my roommate that I wasn’t going out that night, I was staying in.  He asked if I was ok, I assured him I was fine.

There I was all alone in that dorm room.  The radiator was blasting out heat, I had the window raised to help balance the temperature.  Cold air blew in over the heat.  In the midst of the hot and cold air, I found I had read to chapter 16 in the book of Matthew.  In that chapter Jesus said the following words, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul?”  I couldn’t read any further.  I couldn’t get beyond those words.  I had to stop and answer this question.

What’s more, I was a Business Major.  I was studying economics and accounting. Jesus was speaking my language.  Profit and loss.  You have a profit when the amount earned is greater than the amount spent.  Jesus wasn’t really asking a question.  He knew the answer.  The answer is in the question…in God’s economy, there is no profit when you have the whole world but lose your soul.  In other words, to God – the Creator of all things- my soul is of more value than EVERYTHING in the world.  It finally made sense.  I had always believed that Jesus Christ died on a cross and rose from the grave.  Now, it finally made sense.  He did that because my soul is more valuable than the whole world.  The trouble was that I didn’t think my soul had any value.  I certainly didn’t live like it had value.

I prayed that night and asked God to forgive me for living for myself instead of living as He would have me.  I understood for the first time that God loved me.  I understood that He loved me so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for me.  I understood one more thing.  I knew that if God gave me what I deserved, He’d kill me on the spot and I’d spend eternity separated from Him.  That makes sense.  I lived like I didn’t want Him, so He would allow me to spend eternity without Him…giving me what I wanted!  However, the fact that He didn’t kill me on the spot meant that he had shown mercy and grace to me.  Every day of life that He gave me is an expression of His grace and mercy to me.  I told Him that I wanted to live every day for Him.  It made sense.  He gave me my life, so it really belongs to Him.

I didn’t know then that I was expressing Romans 12:1-2, “therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

I understood that God had a plan for my life.  A “will” for me.  Starting that night, I wanted to know what it was.  I kept reading my Bible.  I stayed up very late that night reading and praying.  I couldn’t wait to get to church at the first opportunity.  I wanted to be around other people who had come to understand these truths about God and about themselves.

That was 22 years ago.  Jesus uses the phrase “born again.”  That’s what happened to me.  I was born again March 15, 1997.  Have you been born again?  Whether you feel like it or not, your soul is more valuable to God than EVERYTHING in this world.  He loves you.  He offers forgiveness for sins.  He pours out grace and mercy to all who call on Him.

happy 22nd

Thanksgiving

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is only a week away!  This year it falls on the earliest possible date, November 22nd.

As we look to Thanksgiving Day next week, it’s a wonderful time to celebrate with family and friends.  Each family has their own traditions and customs, but they often include a time of sharing what one is thankful for.  Life moves quickly and we can easily overlook the things we have that should bring about a spirit and attitude of thankfulness.

I am reminded of the story in Luke 17:11-19.  In this story, Jesus was met by 10 lepers.  They kept their distance but cried out to Jesus for healing.  They knew He could heal them.  He had a simple instruction for them.  They were to go and show themselves to the priest.  This goes back to God’s instruction in Leviticus 13 and 14.  The priest was the one who could declare the leper “clean.”  Jesus instructed these lepers to go to the priest for that declaration.  They obeyed Jesus and as they headed to see the priest, they were all cleansed!

The Bible tells us that only one of the ten lepers came back to thank Jesus.  Only one was praising God for what had been done.  Each of the lepers had their lives changed in an instant.  Yet only one demonstrated gratitude to Jesus.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  If we’re not careful, we can easily respond with a sense of entitlement and arrogance than with a sense of gratitude.  It is the humble person who gives thanks for the work of the Lord.  It is the humble person who recognizes they don’t deserve anything good from the Lord.  It is the humble person who receives His work with thankfulness.

Next week as you reflect on all that you have…be thankful.  Take time to slow down and think about all Jesus has done for you.  He has given you eternal life!  He offers peace, freedom, and salvation.  Sometimes we can receive so much from the Lord we overlook all that He has done for us.  Johnson Oatman wrote these words in 1897 “Count your many blessings, name them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”  May God’s richest blessings be on you and your family this Thanksgiving season!

Rejoice!

God’s Word tells us to have joy in the Lord.  I’m thankful it doesn’t say to be happy in the Lord.  Happiness too often depends on what is happening.  It can be fleeting.  Joy however, lasts.  We can have joy even when what is happening is not pleasant.

Read 1 Peter 1:3-9.  The Apostle Peter writes in verse 6 that we are to rejoice.  In the preceding verses he speaks of God’s mercy that causes us to be born again.  He says we have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus.  He reminds us that we have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.  Peter says that we are guarded by God’s power in our salvation and when the end comes, all will be revealed.  Then, he says, “in this you rejoice.”

Our rejoicing isn’t based on our present situation.  Our rejoicing is based on who God is and what God has done for us through His Son Jesus.  Therefore, we rejoice.  This is how we can rejoice.  The good news is nothing can change the character of God, nothing can change what Christ has done for us.  When you don’t feel like rejoicing reflect on the character of God.  Let your thoughts dwell on what God has done for you through Jesus.  That’ll give you reason to rejoice.

Peter acknowledges that adversity comes.  After he tells us to rejoice in verse 6, he says that we have various trials that bring grief.  Peter goes on to say that those trials test our faith and result in more praise to the Lord.  He reminds us that we love Jesus, even though we haven’t seen Him.  In our trials it’s good to remember that we haven’t seen Jesus, but we walk by faith.  It is this faith in Jesus that that brings about the salvation of our souls, according to verse 9.

The more we keep our eyes on the Lord…on His character…on the work of Jesus…the more we can rejoice.  As the words of the hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” remind us:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace

God is Bigger Than Our Obstacles

Recently I was reading the story of the 12 spies sent into the Promised Land.  You know the story in Numbers 13.  God had Promised the land of Canaan to the Israelites.  He told them it would be theirs to inhabit.  He miraculously led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and gave them the 10 Commandments.  The people witnessed many miracles in the span of a few months.  Now they are finally at the edge of the Promised Land, ready to go in.  They decide to send in 12 men to search out the land.  One man from each tribe.  They are to spend 40 days in the land and come back with a report.

Moses sent them in with instructions to find out if the people were strong or weak, few or many.  They were to see if the land was good or bad, whether the cities were fortified or not.  The men went into the land, spent 40 days, and came back with their report.

The men returned with a divided vote.  They reported that the inhabitants were strong, the cities fortified, and the inhabitants looked like giants.  The Israelites responded by saying, “we can’t go.  We will fight and lose.”  10 spies agreed.  2 disagreed.  Caleb and Joshua said, “God has promised this land, He will be our victory.”  The people rose up and tried to kill Caleb and Joshua for suggesting that they go into the land!  The Lord showed up and was about to destroy the whole nation.  As punishment the Lord said the Israelites must wander in the desert for 40 years before they could enter the land.

When the spies went into the land they were looking at what their human eyes could see.  They were evaluating their situation.  They failed to consider the fact that God had promised to give them victory.  They looked at their man-made weapons and man-made resources and were afraid they’d lose it all if they tried to enter the land.  They did not take into account that God keeps His promises!  They did not act on faith that God would do what He said He would do.

You and I face the same struggle.  Will we merely look at the man-made tools and resources and fail to put God in the equation.  Jesus promised His children that He would never leave us nor forsake us.  He promised to give us His Holy Spirit to guide, teach, empower, and lead us.  He has promised that His Kingdom would grow on this earth.  Jesus promised to give us abundant life.  Let’s hold on to God’s promises and not just look at the challenges around us.  Let’s rise up in His power and be the people God has called us to be.

Happy 4th Birthday

Kai, happy 4th Birthday in Heaven! I sure do miss you! Since June 20, 2014, you’ve been exploring Heaven. How I wish you’d be exploring this world. You be fascinated with sharks and dinosaurs and baseball. I can see you running around the yard with endless energy. Your sister and 3 brothers would spoil the heck out of you. I know that in Heaven you don’t have scraped knees, scary dreams, mosquito bites, ear infections, or a broken heart. All those things belong to this world. This world is broken and sinful, not the way God created it.

4 years ago today your mom and I came face to face with that reality. The world isn’t the way God made it. Your life has helped us see that more clearly than ever before. It’s a stark reminder of God’s love that He sent His Son Jesus to die for the sins of the world. He did this to put the broken back together again. I’ve always been amazed at that. After you died, it took on even more meaning…that God willingly let His Son die. He did it to pay for my sins. Wow!

Your family is doing ok down here. We miss you everyday! Your brothers and sister talk about you a lot. Mom and I do too. Your younger sister, who doesn’t know about you yet, is growing like crazy. Her life reminds me that God can bring something beautiful after something so devastating. He doesn’t have to and He doesn’t promise it, but sometimes He does.

I’m writing this to you from the same condo at Fernandina Beach where we stayed on your first birthday. It helps us to go out of town to celebrate your birthday. It’s good for our family to get away together. It also reminds us that we’re missing you. We still sometimes answer that we have 6 children…because we do.

This year has been busy in our family. Katherine got accepted to the Alabama School of Fine Arts. You should hear her sing. Honestly, I’m sure you can. Carter started middle school. He plays drums in the band and just started football. Caleb finished 4th grade and is one of the most compassionate people I know. Christian played soccer this year and is really excelling in school. You’d be starting Kindergarten next August. I know that’s going to be hard for us next year. Karis Lynn is a beautiful petite lady full of personality. She’s exploring her world and improving everyday in her talking. She just turned 19 months last week.

Mom started writing again. In February she started blogging again and is ministering to people through her writing. She writes a lot about what she has learned of the character of God during these 4 years since you passed. She says it better than me, but suffering and grief help us to see God more clearly…if we decide to do so. She’s so happy to help others grow and learn. In fact, just last week, she got word that a publisher is going to publish her first book!! It’s a devotional on the character of God. Notice I called it her first book. She’s really amazing!

Mom and I started running almost a year ago. We were motivated by your Papa B. We worked hard, ran a few 5Ks and a 10K. All of that was to be ready for the Half-Marathon we ran in February. It was so much fun. It’s helped us to see that we can do more than we think we can.

I’m doing ok too. I think. Mom and I just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. What an adventure it’s been. I’ll tell you, I wish I’d been a better husband earlier on. Your life drew me closer to God and made me work to be a better husband and dad. Thank you for that. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather you be here…but I’m glad I decided to grow closer to God instead of getting angry at Him. God doesn’t promise us a life without pain, in fact He says to expect it. He does say that He will walk with us through the pain. I’ve seen it firsthand, my son. I study the Bible and preach and teach the Bible, but I wonder what you could tell me about the character of God. You’ve seen Him

I can’t wait to see you. I wonder how you’ll look…like a baby, a child, teenager, fully grown… Today, I see you as a little 4 year-old. Full of energy and excitement. I’m sure you look like ALL your siblings at 4. All of y’all look alike!

Well, I better get about the day. Your brothers and sisters want to get down to the beach. They’re looking forward to releasing balloons today in your memory. We do that every year and I think it helps all of us. I love you. I miss you.

Dad.

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God is Good

As I write this we are preparing for Easter weekend!  What a wonderful time to reflect on all that God has done for us in and through His Son Jesus!  We see His goodness on display at the cross and the empty tomb.  In fact, He is good all the time.

Christians often say to each other “God is good.”  This is true about the character of God.  Psalm 100:5 says “The Lord is good, His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.”  This is powerful.  This tells us that God doesn’t just do good things.  He IS good.  When we say, “God is good”, we are making a true statement.  I worry that when and how we say this statement might actually confuse us about God’s character.  Let me explain.

When some good fortune comes to a fellow believer, they get a promotion at work, a good report from the doctor, unexpected cash, etc., we might say “God is good!”  Scroll through your Facebook news feed and read the comments when someone posts some really great news.  You’ll see this phrase from people.  Since God is good all the time (remember He IS good, He doesn’t just DO good), do we ever use this phrase when bad news happens?  When someone says or posts online, “I have cancer”, “I got laid off”,” my spouse passed away”, etc., no one replies with “God is good.”  We could.  God is good all the time.

The danger in saying “God is good” when good things happen and not saying it when bad things happen is that we begin to think that God is bad when bad things happen.  What we’re really saying is that His character depends on what’s happening to me at any given moment.  That’s dangerous.  That means that we, those He has created, get to define His character based on how good or bad our life is going.  If we’re not careful we can send the message to people that God exists to give us good things and make life more pleasant for His followers.  We seem to say that when bad things happen, God is somehow not in control.  This is not the God we see in the Scriptures.  He is far less concerned with our comfort than we are.  He showed His glory and character more often through “bad” circumstances.

Should we ever say, “God is good”?  That depends.  Have the right perspective.  God can take any situation (good or bad) and use it to glorify Himself, use it to draw people closer to Him, or any number of things.  It is my experience that more often He uses the bad things in our lives to do this.  In hindsight we can see His goodness.  Be careful the message you send when you say, “God is good” when good things happen.  You may be communicating that He is not good when bad things happen.  Events in our lives may not look good by themselves.  God can display His goodness even in those times.  After all, we refer to the day His Son died as “Good Friday.”