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.
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.
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.”
Do you know the story of Jonah? The one about the guy and the whale? Most people are familiar with Jonah’s story found in the Old Testament book of the same name. However, our familiarity with this story can make us miss the point.
I am a huge fan of teaching the Bible to children. Jonah is one of those stories we teach them. Why wouldn’t we? It involved a boat, water, sailors, a whale, a miraculous story…These things capture the imagination of kids. They need to know the story of Jonah. The danger is when this story becomes a tale about a whale and we miss the heart of God.
God called Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh. This was a huge city full of people who did not follow or honor God. God told Jonah to go and preach so that they would turn to God and escape destruction. Jonah didn’t want to do it. He knew it was an evil city and he decided that they didn’t deserve God’s mercy. They deserved judgment.
Jonah responds to God’s command by going the opposite direction and getting on a boat to head even farther away. While on the boat God sends a terrible storm. The sailors cry out to their gods begging for relief. The storm intensifies. They begin to throw their possessions and the cargo overboard in hopes of easing the ships turbulence. All the while Jonah is asleep in the hull. They wake him so he can pray to his God since he had already told them he was fleeing God’s presence.
Jonah says if they throw him into the sea, the storm will stop. They didn’t do it. They valued Jonah’s life more than he valued his life! Jonah had run from God and would rather commit suicide than get his heart right with the Lord! Had he repented in his heart, the storm would have ceased. We don’t say it this way when we teach this story to the kids. Jonah’s disobedience had caused these sailors to lose their possessions and fear for their own lives. His sin, like our sin, always hurts other people. We think we are only hurting ourselves, but we always hurt others too.
Eventually the sailors throw him overboard. The storm ends. God sends a whale, or large fish, to swallow Jonah. He remains in the belly of the fish for 3 days. You can translate the text as “whale” or “large fish”. When we get caught up in the debate over the miracle of the fish, or the miracle that he is unharmed, we miss the biggest miracle of the story. It is the miracle of God’s patience. God could have ended Jonah’s life at any point. We see in this story that God was patient with him throughout his sinful behavior. He is patient with all of us. This isn’t a story about God’s fish swallowing a man. This is a story about God’s patient pursuit of a sinner.
After 3 days Jonah prays and ask God’s forgiveness. He repents of his disobedience and promises to obey the Lord. God directs the fish to spit Jonah up onto the shore. God tells him a second time to go to Nineveh and preach. This time he obeys. The people repent. They praise the Lord. God doesn’t destroy the city. At this point, Jonah gets depressed. He wanted the Ninevites to be destroyed because they didn’t deserve God’s mercy. We’re susceptible to that as well. We can look at others and think they don’t deserve God’s mercy…we miss the fact that we don’t deserve it either! How ironic. Jonah had received God’s mercy but didn’t think others should be so fortunate.
Take a fresh look at the story of Jonah. Look past the fish and see the glorious, loving, patient, and merciful God who pursued a man like Jonah. He will do that for you too.
Last June I told Matthea that I wanted to start running. I realized that I was approaching my 41st birthday and I’d like at least 41 more. I know I have to be proactive to stay healthy. Health doesn’t happen on its own. Over these past 8 months I have learned so many spiritual lessons through this new hobby. I want to share some of them with you.
Our adopted Dad, Dave Black, began running a few years ago at the ripe young age of 62. Within 2 years he had run his first marathon. 7 months later he had just completed his 8th marathon! He is an example to us. I thought, “If Dad can do this, so can I.” I decided I’d run the Birmingham half-marathon.
My very first run was in our neighborhood. There’s a simple 1 mile loop with some elevation, but not too bad. Here’s a tip…if you live in Alabama and want to start running, DON’T START IN JUNE. It’s hot. We had to run early in the morning when the temps were only 80 and just 90% humidity. I wanted to run 25 minutes, it was awful. But isn’t every new routine difficult? How many New Years Resolutions don’t make it to February?
Before long, Matthea and I started to run together. She was happy to join me in this challenge. We found a level, shaded spot a few miles from home. Running together was great fun and provided accountability. Some days she pushed me to run, other days I pushed her to run.
After a few weeks we needed a goal so we signed up for the Shake and Bake 5K. It is run every year in August. Did I mention this is Alabama? It was HOT! We needed a goal to keep pushing and working hard. Paul says in Philippians 3 that he presses on towards the goal of knowing Jesus better. Goals motivate us.
After reaching that milestone…an actual race…it was time to push ahead and cover more miles. After all, we can’t run 13.1 miles after only ever running 3.1! I would have never dreamed I would run 5 miles! In fact I used to say to people “I’ve never run on purpose before.” If we are to grow, we have to stretch ourselves. We have to set new goals, otherwise we grow stagnant.
By this point my time was improving. But I’m no young kid. I’m only racing myself. I have found that running is about 90% mental. I have come to realize that the hardest part of running is getting out the front door. I have to say that there has not been a time after running that I regretted having run. It’s mental. Such is life. We can defeat ourselves before we ever try something. It was time to set a new goal. To be ready for a half-marathon, we needed a good 10K race in our training. The 5K we ran in August was a “fun run”. This 10K was a race. Our goal was to complete it. We decided to run the Vulcan Run 10K. Its a great race in downtown Birmingham.
After this race we continued adding some distance. It was hard to run in November due to the colder weather. I didn’t have the clothing for it. It was tough to run in the evenings because it got dark so early. We have to be prepared for whatever situation we may face. I think about Paul’s words in Ephesians 6…be ready. A few weeks before Christmas I knew I had to get in a good longer run. I decided to run 7 miles and not quite early. I was determined to cover that distance, even it meant dragging myself to my car!
Just after Christmas I went on a trip to South East Asia. It was a great time. My half marathon was coming up soon so I had to run some while I was over there. I don’t know if that qualifies me as an “International Runner” or not. Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 that he is to be ready in season and out of season. We must always be ready to do what needs to be done. I couldn’t take a 2 week break from my training.
After returning I dealt with some sickness. I was dealing with intestinal issues from the trip and then the flu swept through our house. 2 weeks before the half-marathon I had to get a longer training run in. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty, but I did it. ne step at a time. Isn’t that life? One step at a time!
Finally race weekend had arrived! Dad flew down from Virginia to run with us. He was such a cheerleader the whole time. We needed that. His example let us know we could do it too. Who is watching your life? Who are you an example to?
Just prior to the start we lined up with our group. We’re in the back, in the 12+ minute/mile group. We were no less enthusiastic than the 6 minute/mile group. Again we weren’t running to beat anyone…we were running for ourselves.
Just before we began, a great friend from church found us. Wendell had to stop running a few years back, but not before he completed 108 marathons! He has been a constant encouragement for us as we have trained. He came out in the rain to see us off at 7 AM. He also appeared along the course every couple of miles and cheered for Matthea and me as if we were in 1st place! Every one of us needs encouragers along life’s race. Who encourages you? Who do you encourage?
Finally, after 13.1 miles. After 3 hours and 20 minutes, we crossed the finish line. We crossed the line together. In the last mile, Matthea got focused. She became the cheerleader for about a dozen of us running together. At one point she said, “let’s do this! I had a C-Section 15 months ago and I’m getting ready to finish a half-marathon!!’ Some around us who had stopped running were motivated to run this last mile along with us. It was a beautiful sight.
We didn’t get a medal because we beat anyone. Every finisher gets the medal. Each of the 5200 runners was running their own race. 8 months of work for us has paid off. The feeling is indescribable! We had decided before the race that when we were done we’d have 2 options. We could either never run again, or this would be the first of many half-marathons hopefully leading to a full marathon soon. I have to say we’ve been checking the race calendars to schedule our next races. We crossed that line having taken one step at a time. Such is life.
Who are you? I don’t mean your name, I mean your identity. Do you identify yourself as a wife, a husband, a mother, or father? Do you identify yourself as a businessperson, or nurse? Are you a retiree? We often identify ourselves with these terms. These words shape our identity and we make decisions from that identity. Who we are affects what we do.
As important as those words are to our identity, those things can change. Every one of them. When that happens, we may go through an identity crisis. We don’t know who we are or how we are to live. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have a different identity. As a follower of Jesus, you have an identity that never changes. This new identity when you come to Christ should affect how you live and the decisions you make.
In Ephesians chapter 1 the Apostle Paul writes about our identity in Christ. This chapter is packed full of words to describe this new identity. They tell us the truth of who we are in Jesus. It is so important for us to know who we are at all times. We have an enemy that wants to confuse and distort our identity. But we must know the truth and find freedom in the truth of our identity.
In this chapter the Bible uses words like, “saints, blessed, chosen, holy, blameless, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, knowledgeable, wise, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and recipients of God’s power.” This tells us who we are in Jesus. What an incredible list!! Take time to read this chapter and soak in the truth of who you are as a follower of Jesus.
In the final chapter of this letter Paul will remind us that we have an enemy who lies to us to destroy our lives. We must stand with the truth of who we are so that we live the lives God has called us to live!
“Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” Eph. 1:18-19
Have you ever sat in silence? I mean for more than a few minutes. If you’ve done this with someone nearby it might feel awkward, maybe even rude. Of course, if you know the person well it doesn’t feel as awkward. How about sitting for 7 solid days with someone without saying a word?! That would feel like years!
In the book of Job, we have an account of 3 men doing just that. They sat with their friend for 7 days in total silence. If you’ve been around church any length of time you know parts of the story of Job. You at least know that he lost all his children, all his livestock, and all his servants in one day. You also know that he was struck from his head to his feet with infected boils and blisters. You know that his three friends showed up and talked to him, a lot. Their words were of no comfort to Job. In fact, they had the audacity to blame Job for this turn of events! The Bible says that Job experienced these things because God allowed Satan to bring this into his life. God knew that Job would still praise God amid tragedy.
There are many lessons we learn in this story. I want to focus on 2 little verses that we often overlook. In chapter 2:12-13, Job’s friends have arrived at his home, they wept, tore their robes, and put ashes on their heads. This was a sign of mourning. Then, they sat down with Job in silence for 7 days. No talking for 7 days. Just sitting quietly. Why did they do this? The Bible says they were silent because they saw his suffering was very great.
In Romans 12:15 we are told to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We get the rejoicing part. We do that very well. The mourning part is harder for us. After all, who enjoys being sad. We are usually no good at mourning with others. But God created us to live with one another. We need each other. We need to share joy and we need to share sorrow. Too often our response to someone’s tragedy is, “I don’t know what to say…” Then we go on to talk while saying nothing helpful. Instead, we could simply be quiet. We could say, “I don’t know what to say” and then just sit in silence with the one who is hurting. Is it an uncomfortable silence? It sure is! Is it difficult? Usually. Those who are suffering tragedy don’t need to be instructed. In fact, there is nothing you can say that can ease their pain. We see that in the next few dozen chapters of Job as his friends have very unhelpful advice.
After the 7 days of silence, Job began to speak. He started by wishing he had never been born. Did he really feel that way? At that moment, he did. But he was really just lamenting. If you are with someone who is in deep pain, let them lament. You don’t have to respond to their every statement. You don’t have to try and fix them. You don’t have to help them get over it. You just need to be there. Sometimes in silence. Mourn with those who mourn. Just show up.