Category Archives: Family Lessons

Cultivating Beauty

Creative-beauty is lost in much of modern culture. The world we live in seems not to appreciate creative-beauty. To be fair, many people appreciate that which is creative and new. New fashion trends, shiny gadgets, and varieties of new styles of décor flood our senses. The old world beauty is recycled to give us a new world trend. These trends speak to a desire that is latent in the soul of humanity. There is a deep need to create, to invent, to engage the senses with something more than what merely be spoken. The soul needs to create. The soul NEEDS to create… something… something beautiful.

God created mankind in His image.

Consider that for a moment.

The infinitely creative God created man in His own likeness. You and me…. We were made to be creative. Creative: You were created to create. You were made to make. Humanity was designed to design. You were made in the image of an infinitely creative God so that you could display His infinite creative power.

Further, God is beautiful. No… not just beautiful. He is beauty and He creates beauty. Consider the canvas of the sky, painted anew each dawn and dusk. Think about the beauty of the mountains or a beach… The majesty of the spaces on this earth that remain untouched by humanity. The creative-beauty of God’s hand shouts forth His glory in every corner of creation! We were created to love beauty. To engage the world with what is beautiful and to create beauty in all areas of life.

The trouble we face in our world is that beauty has been marred by a rejection of the one who created beauty. Humanity has rejected God and, in doing so, has rejected beauty. Enter the mission of Christianity: to bring grace to a world dead in sin. Part of extending grace into a world of sin is the restoration of creative-beauty.

From the beginning, God has commissioned His people to tend the garden of this world. Adam was commissioned to work the garden of Eden, Abraham was to bless the world around Him, The Hebrews were charged with keeping the law as a testimony to God’s character, the prophets were to stand as navigators in a world of chaos, and Christians are to work to engage in a dark world, making the surrounding culture beautiful by infusing it with the radical love and grace of Jesus Christ.IMG_3200

Christians ought to strive to make the world a better place by delighting in the character of God and cultivating beauty, thereby improving our surroundings with His love and grace. The life of a believer is markedly different from that of a non-believer. The life of a believer should lead us to live in such a way that the world around us is improved by our involvement. One simple way to do this is to strive to make your spaces more beautiful.

When these truths first began to lay hold of my own life, I was at a loss of where to start. It seemed logical to me to produce artwork. In my utilitarian and pragmatic manner, I designed logos for work (see above), drew sketches of family, displayed great artworks in my office. Then, through the influence of some incredible works by Edith Shaffer, Devi Titus, Makoto Fujimura, and a few others, my wife and I began to strive to cultivate beauty in our everyday spaces. It was difficult to tune our hearts to be creators of beautiful spaces. Difficult, but so much fun! We repainted walls, added plants in weird places, created artworks to display, put phrases on walls and Scriptures on pictures, and embraced a conscious effort to surround ourselves with beauty.IMG_3201

Now, my wife and I strive to cultivate beauty in our lives. On a surface level, that means literally making areas of our home more beautiful. Beauty refreshes the soul and engages the mind. It is our desire that, when someone comes into our home or sits on our porch, they would encounter beauty. We long for our home to be a place where people can be refreshed by grace and love in the context of a creative and beautiful environment. We’ve tried to infuse life into our surroundings and create beautiful spaces.

IMG_3215The results of our efforts are myriad. Our lives are truly peaceful and our home is a place of respite and grace where we strive to engage in life-giving grace to each other and the world around us. Our kids are learning to create beautiful spaces too. Our oldest loves to create centerpieces for small group. Here’s her latest:

IMG_3212Even our children have fun trying to create spaces for respite, like this one:IMG_3217

Cultivating beauty is awesome. Being creative is fun. Having beauty around you is fantastic.

So, I’d like to encourage you. Find ways to make your world more beautiful.IMG_3213 Enjoy and display God’s creative-beauty. In this post are just a few pictures of what my family has done in an attempt to cultivate beautiful spaces. Creating spaces for beauty to thrive does not completely fulfill the commission to cultivate beauty and grace in this world… but it is a start. Get to work.

Cultivating beauty by delighting in God’s character is one of the core values at Sovereign Grace Fellowship. We strive together to cultivate beauty in the world around us and improve our surroundings. If this resonates with you, come check our church out. We meet in Brazoria, Tx at the Brazoria Heritage Foundation, 10:30 am Sunday mornings. A map and more information can be found here: www.sgfbrazoria.org

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6 Life-Lessons from Jo-Bits

jobitsanddaddyDaddy let Tooties compose one of these bloggy things. (here) So, I thought I should be allowed to compose such a work myself. So here are lessons from me, The Jo-Bitty! (aka, The Boy!)

RunRun. When there is nothing in your way and you have a straight path that is clear, run! Life rarely affords us the opportunity to run freely, unencumbered and unimpeded by circumstance or ability. Run when you see the opportunity. Finish the projects you’ve wanted to complete. Take the opportunity to race ahead with plans and efforts. Run! When there is a free and open path, run. Feeling the wind in your hair is amazing! Accomplishing tasks without deadlines is fun! Getting from point A to point B fast and free is exhilarating… When you’re able, run!

puddlesFind a good puddle to splash in. Find the place where you can jump in and make splashes! You old-people are far too concerned with getting water on your shoes or what others will think of your splash! Life is made for splashing! Puddles are made to splash. It is a still body of water that simply waits for your destructive force to splash in it. Make a splash! Get a little wet and laugh about it. When I jump in puddles next to my sister they squeal. They get some water on them and my splash bothers them a little bit. But, if I had never made the splash, they would have had an extremely boring walk. So make your splash! Jump in the puddles of this life and remember – your splash will make everyone else’s walk just a little more interesting. Splash splash splash!

PecanPickingDig in the dirt… you might find pecans! I live in south Texas. The trees here drop pecans every fall and we like to pick them. Mommy cooks with them, Daddy makes sugared pecans, and I like to eat them. The tricky thing about pecans is that they get pressed down into the dirt. You have to be willing to dig in the dirt to get the pecans. You have to get down on the ground and get a little messy. If you want to enjoy the pecans, you’ll get a little dirty picking them up.

Always be the knight! Be the hero of the story. Even if there is no story! Be the hero, save the day, be the good-guy. My sisters’ are always in danger! I am the knight! Sometimes I get confused and I hit my sisters… not a good idea. You see, God gave me hands to protect people. So I need to use those hands to take care of the people I love and to help those who cannot help themselves.

armor2When you go play, wear your armor! My big sisters and I go to a local playground a few times a week. We ride our bikes up there with mommy and daddy and we play. It’s fun. I keep my armor on while I play because I’m little and trip and fall sometimes. My armor makes me feel strong and protects me when I fall. It doesn’t block my sisters from wrestling with me or keep me from engaging the other kids on the playground, but it protects me when I fall. Daddy tells me I don’t have to keep my armor on, but I’m a knight! Knights wear armor because they are going to do things that are daring, and dangerous, and could hurt. I wear armor so I can do more, not to keep me from doing less. I build up my strength and protection so that I can be more daring and brave! Wear your armor and be daring!

JoBitsandTootiesTake care of the Tooties. I am the Jo-bitty and I have a little sister: Tooties [Toot-Tees]… perhaps you read her blog post! She’s a great writer. I love my Tooties, but she is small and doesn’t know everything yet. You have to be gentle with people who are little and don’t know better. Sometimes I forget to be gentle and Tooties cries. Sometimes I forget that she doesn’t know and my actions make her scream. (Then daddy talks in his big person voice and we all get sent to our beds). But sometimes I remember she is little and I’m big… that is when I sit with her and tell her I’m sorry. God made me to take care of smaller things. Tooties is smaller. I take care of her… when I remember. I show her the construction site and the bulldozers. I tell her stories and play games with her. I tell her she’s ok when she gets hurt. I take care of Tooties because Tooties is small.

I’m sure I could write more cool life-lessons, but it’s almost lunch time and I have to go make the macaroni and cheese. So… be good, buckle up, and wash behind your ears.

5 Lessons from Tooties

tooties6Hi, I’m Tooties! Daddy is alway writing these bloggy things, so I thought I’d try one!

Here are five lessons for you grown-up types!

 

  1. tooties4Leave your lovey laying around, that way you can stumble onto joy. I like to leave my lady-bug laying around the house. It is precious to me, so I take it everywhere I go. Sometimes I drop it on the floor and that is ok. Later, when I walk into the room, I’ll find it. Then I’ll be super stoked about finding my favorite thing in the world! You should try it. Leave loving things around you. Drop them in places that you frequent. They’ll be a source of joy when you come back to that space!
  2. Always carry a drink with you. tooties5Whenever I walk around I try to carry a drink. Something that refreshes me… even if it is not mine. You need refreshment in this life. As you go about your daily life, carry a drink… whatever that may be. Whatever it is that refreshes your soul, carry it with you and drink deeply in moments of need.
  3. When you fall down, you’ll be ok… Daddy’s right there. I’m small and unsure of my steps sometimes. I fall down and sometimes it hurts. But Daddy is HUGE and he doesn’t fall down!!! When I fall down, I know Daddy is right there and can easily pick me up. He loves me and he comforts me when I fall down. Isn’t great to know that The Father is there!?
  4. tooties2Yelling is a form of communication, but it is less effective than laughing, smiling, and pointing. All I wanted was the juice! Couldn’t they tell? I was yelling and grunting… I even did my best impression of a fish so they would make the connection that I needed liquid! As I was writhing on the floor yelling my best impression of a flounder out of water, it occurred to me, “they give me things quicker if I laugh and point.” Yelling and being angry communicates something, but it probably wont get you what you want. Smiling and pointing work much better.
  5. No matter what you loose, you’ll find something better soon. I lose stuff all the time! One second I’m waving it in the air, and the next it’s gone! tooties1It’s like someone magically removes it from my grasp while I’m distracted by something else. Whatever the reason for this mystery (Daddy), I know that I should not worry… in another moment I’m going to find something else to be excited about.

That’s all for now! Have a great day!!

Squeeze My Hand- Suffering pt. 3

squeezemyhandHer eyes filled with tears as she gripped my left-hand.

“Oh, I wish we were already on the ground!” she wept.

The take-off was a little bumpy, but not unusual. In the same manner as always, we lifted from the ground and immediately hit minor turbulence. The plane rocked and bumped a little left, then a little right as if finding its balance. My little girl silently whispered prayers for safety as she squeezed my left hand tighter.

A 7 year old should not be able to cause severe pain to a 35 year old man. Yet, my affliction is evident in my left hand. You see, I have scleroderma in my left foot and my left hand/arm. (pictured above) As a result, I only have about 75% mobility in my hand and it pretty much hurts all the time. Occasionally it will flair-up, turn a brighter color red, and my nerve endings will feel like they’re on fire if someone touches my hand or foot. This particular flight happened to be one of those times.

I know the anxiety my little girl deals with, she got it from me. Plane flights tend to heighten my already anxious state. While other people are able to sleep or think about plans for when they land, I find my mind drifting in and out of a state of panic thinking: “we’re all gonna die, God help!” and a state of extreme cynicism thinking: “If God intended me to fly through the air, I’d be a bird!” So when I see the tears in my daughters eyes and hear her pleas to be on the ground, it is not without sympathy. This anxiety can be crippling. Rational thought escapes us when we deal with anxiety. We must force ourselves to reason when we are anxious. No one can do it for us… no amount of information can stem the anxious feelings… when someone suffers anxiety, they must decide to reason through it. Sometimes that’s not possible.

So here I sit. My nerves on fire, in a state of internal panic, wishing I could comfort my little girl.

We hit more turbulence. She squeezes tighter. I lean down and say, “it’s alright baby, just squeeze daddy’s hand.”

Pain floods my arm… I wince, and tears begin to form in my eyes. I could not take away the anxious feeling my daughter struggled with. I couldn’t ease her fears with rational logic or profound thoughts of God. All I could do was let her squeeze my hand. This is what God does with me. In my own painful circumstances… He takes the pain on Himself, urging me to trust Him.

More turbulence… more squeezing.

In that moment I saw again the way Christ walks with us. Jesus does not merely walk next to you while you feel the pain. He has actually taken the pain on Himself. In His kindness, He has taken our pain upon Himself. Every pain and anxiety you suffer, He has walked through and is walking through with you. In those dark moments of the soul, feeling your every pain He urges you, “it’s alright… squeeze My hand.” No amount of pain is too great for Him.

You see, I held my daughter’s hand because I love her. The pain didn’t matter in that moment. In that moment all that mattered was her pain. Pain cannot trump the love I have for my child. Likewise, pain cannot overcome the love Christ has for you. Jesus went to the cross, bearing your every affliction and failure so that you could squeeze his hand, and now He walks through your pain with you! Pain in this world is bound to come, but you don’t have to walk through it alone. The Holy Spirit will comfort. Squeeze His hand.

It is when we recognize this reality as a community that we will start to see past our own pain to love others. You see, my pain in that flight was second to her anxiousness. She needed to squeeze my hand, unconsciously causing me pain. This is how we should love one another. In the church, we personify the love of Christ to one another. We squeeze each other’s hands, ignoring our own inconveniences. We offer up our time and resources to provide for each other in spite of our inability to bring resolution. We wade through the troubles and pains of life together no matter how painful our own suffering. So… learn to be squeezed by your community. In doing so, you will live a full life in the church.

I’m not always good at this. I still complain when someone else needs to squeeze my hand. I fail to love people well. But I have a group around me who let me squeeze their hands. (Romans 12:9-13)  Our church strives to embody the ideal of grace extended. If you do not have a community like this, we are working hard to build one where I live. Come join us at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria at 10:30 Sunday mornings. We meet in the Brazoria Civic Center Conference room (the old elementary school.)  There is a map on the important documents tab at the top of this page.  We all have struggles, let’s walk through them together.

This is part 3 of a series. Part 1 is here Part 2 is here

The Power of the Pulpit

What can stir the affections for Christ? What is it that brings the soul to the point of contrition? What brings the heart to an understanding of Salvation? What is it that draws people to Christ? What changes the condition of the soul, inspiring life change? What is the power of the pulpit?

Most pastors believe the power of the pulpit is their personal ability to persuade people to come forward at an altar call. Preachers tend to craft their sermons and even their services around an emotional appeal that leads into an invitation/altar call. In church history, this is a relatively new phenomenon.

For almost two thousand years of Christian history people turned to faith in Christ without an altar call. There is no example in Scripture of people being ushered or called to walk to the front of a crowd to make a declarative statement or decision. Sure, they were called to repent and believe, but that was done where they stood. They were called to turn from sin and trust in Jesus for their righteousness right where they stood. And they were called to make a meaningful choice to follow Jesus without the aid of music or an aisle to walk down.

Then a man named Charles Finney (1792-1875) established “the anxious bench.” Over time this has morphed into our modern altar calls. Finney believed that you could persuade the soul of man by creating a perfect setting. If you put the music in the right place, appeal to the emotions in the correct manner, ensure the lighting is properly set, and lay out the right words, then people will come forward. And, in a very practical since, Finney was correct. If you set the stage correctly, you’ll be able to manipulate many people into walking forward. (To be clear, I’m not questioning Finney’s motives… His heart was to see people become committed followers of Christ. He was simply extremely pragmatic and humanistic in his approach.)

It is true that one can set the atmosphere to convince people to walk forward. However, history and modern church demographics have called this methodology into question. In the last several years a slew of material has been written decrying the shallow, consumeristic Christianity that is so prevalent in American churches. Easy-believe-ism is often cited as a result of a kind of altar call faith.

So what are we to do? If we are not to focus our messages around an emotional appeal that calls people to walk to the front, then what is the power of the pulpit?

The answer is simple. It is so simple that it is simply assumed by most preachers… though rarely practiced.

The power of the pulpit comes from the Scripture. The Scripture is the power in our messages.

“Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Rom. 10:17

“All Scripture is breathed-out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:16-17

“…devote yourselves to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching.” 1 Tim. 4:13

“For what was written in former days (Scripture) was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of Scripture we might have hope!” Rom. 15:4

The Spirit of God through the Word of God is what changes the soul of man. It is not our clever methods or our well-crafted appeals that challenge the soul. It is the conviction that comes from hearing the Word read and proclaimed aloud. One of the most powerful things you can do as a teacher is read the Bible out loud!

So, I propose we change the way we approach our Sermonizing. It seems as though our message ought not to be crafted around an appeal to emotions, but rather, it should be the explanation of Scripture. Be clear, be plain, be honest.  If you will focus on teaching the Bible, you will see life-change in people. If you will focus on clearly explaining the Word of God and showing people the character and nature of God, you will find people living changed lives. Teach the Bible so that people see Christ! Engage the hearer in heart and in mind. Teach so that people better know Christ. Don’t try to manipulate the emotions to garner a response. Instead, focus on teaching the Bible clearly.

Further, structure your services around meeting with God. Show people Jesus, and then worship will follow. Let the climax of your service be knowing and meeting with God Himself! Make everything you do point to Jesus. He has promised that His Word will never return void.

 

Simple Helps in Battling Depression

Pastors get depressed. Such is the nature of ministry. I had a very wise pastor once tell me, “have the skin of a lion and the tenderness of a lamb, because you’re a shepherd and sheep bite.” That sentiment has always stuck in my heart. I know this statement well. It has become my friend. Anytime I am wounded I think, “sheep bite.” Knowing that and understanding that are two very different things. I had another very wise friend tell me that the greatest hurts he has ever endured have come from people in the church. This is the reality of the world we live in. Heaven has not come and darkness still exists on this earth.

With that in mind I’d like to share some things I do physically to aid in the combat of depression. These do not eliminate depression nor will they always work; but they do lighten the load a little.

LIGHT

Turn on lights! It is so easy when you are depressed to hide in a dark room. Make sure you are in bright places, if you have to go outside, then go outside. Depression likes darkness, throw a light on and try to chase it away.

CLEAN UP

This one is difficult for me. I am a notorious dumper. What I mean is that I am notorious for walking into a room with an arm full of stuff and piling it somewhere in the room. As a result my office looks like a small grenade went off. Order and cleanliness are the antithesis of chaos and confusion. Often depression can loom because there is extreme chaos and confusion over life events. If your surroundings echo that, it will only serve as a reminder of what you are struggling to forget. Clean up and organize and you’ll have one less thing the adversary can use to discourage your heart.

BEAUTIFUL THINGS

Surround yourself with beauty. If there is no beauty, then make some. Create something beautiful. Find a place of beauty that you can rest in and admire. Remind yourself that God is more beautiful than your troubles and is gracious to supply your every need. Let your heart be inspired by great music and great art! Perhaps you’ll be reminded of how small the things that depress you are.

FRIENDS AND FAMILY

Even introverts need people. Find people who love you and tell them you are troubled. Use the word troubled, its much less weird than depressed. Let them know what it is that troubles you and let your feelings be known clearly and concisely. They can love you in ways that can lift your spirit… let them do that.

DO SOMETHING YOU DO WELL

I played basketball in high school with intentions of playing in college, but that is a story for another day. I can usually sink about 80 percent of the free-throws I take. My all-time high was about 215 in a row before I missed.  The guy that beat me made two more than I did. So, I’m a decent free-throw shot. So when I get depressed or angry, I’ll go shoot some free-throws (some of you are reading this thinking, “ahhh now I see why you were in the gym that day!)  I’ll shoot for a bit, and then I’ll be able to think rationally. I feel better about myself and have a little bit more clarity of vision. I know how to shoot a free throw.  I know I can do it. I may not know how to handle everything in life, but I can shoot a free throw.  When you’re depressed, go shoot some free-throws. Find something you’re good at and make time to do it for an hour or so.

REMEMBER THIS IS TEMPORARY

As a believer, it is imperative that we remember that all of these troubles we face are temporary. There will be a day when there is no more struggle or pain… take the long view. Eternity is much greater than here and will last much longer! My brother and I like to remind ourselves of something Dad used to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff… and remember, if you back up far enough, everything is small stuff.” It is easy to say that when you’re not depressed. However, if you will look at something great and immense when you are depressed, perhaps you’ll remember.

My Children see Jesus Everywhere!

2006-08-22 - Road Trip - Day 30 - United States - Texas - Groom - Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries - Telephone Poles - Sepia

Riding in the car yesterday on the way to grandma’s house (granddad is just a resident there evidently), my two year old proclaimed loudly, “OOHHHH look!  Mommy!  A cross, that Jesus died on!  A cross that Jesus died on to save us from our sins!”  I was tremendously perplexed.  You see, we live in Texas, so it is not uncommon for us to pass some church sign or billboard with a cross on it.  However, it is also not unusual to be driving through vast open space with nothing but telephone poles and big Texas sky.  Had I missed the billboard?  Had I missed the church sign!?  Was the sign hiding under one of those large bushes we like to call trees in Texas?  I was truly shocked.  I never miss reading a good church sign!  Church signs are a staple of comedic entertainment to me! How could I have missed it!?

My wife shifted in her chair, took note of where the precious girl’s concentrated gaze was aimed, and exclaimed, “that’s right Ellie! The telephone poles look like crosses!”  My little 2 year old daughter saw the telephone pole with its exalted cross bar and connected that image to the image of the savior of the world dying on the cross!  I tell you this: children see Jesus everywhere!

My beloved children have taught me this one great maxim: if you are looking for Christ, He is easy to find.  In Romans 1:20 Paul explains that God is knowable through natural means.  In Deuteronomy 30:11-14 God explains that He has come down from the heavens and brought His law to your hands…  you need not accomplish great feats to reach God.  In Ephesians 4 Paul explains that Jesus has come down to the lowest parts of the earth.  The reason my children can see Jesus everywhere is because He IS everywhere.  It is not as though Jesus is silent.  In 66 books you can find the LORD of Heaven proclaiming loud and clear who He is!  Evidently you can also find him in telephone poles, grocery stores, bugs, play sets, bath tubs, and countless other places my children have proclaimed “that’s like Jesus!”

So why don’t I see Him as easily?  It is not as if our God is silent and hiding.  He has placed Himself where everyone can see Him.  For goodness sake, you can look outside and behold His glory and you can open a book (the Bible) and feast on His word!  He is constantly speaking.  I think the problem is that I don’t look for Him.  My children are always on the lookout for Jesus.  They want to talk about Him, they want to ask questions about His hair and feet, they want to know everything about Him and they want to see Him.  I, on the other hand, feel like I know Him already and perhaps that I have already seen Him.  So maybe I could learn from my children.  While I may know Jesus, He is still teaching me things about Himself.  Look for Jesus, He is always there and He is always telling you things about Himself.