Garden of God’s

So my family and I recently got back from vacation in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  We were out there for about 10 days visiting family.  If you have never been to Colorado Springs, it is one of the most beautiful places in the country.  It is nestled right at the base of Pikes Peak in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  One of the main attractions in the area is Garden of the Gods Park.  It is a registered National Natural Landmark and is known for it’s breathtaking red rock formations.  You can check it out at http://www.gardenofgods.com/home/index.cfm

Colorado Springs is the city where my wife and I were married and since my family still live there we get back to visit every couple of years.  One of the traditions that my son and I have established is that every time we get back for a visit, we go for a hike at Garden of the Gods. 

Now if you have ever been to Garden of the Gods you know that there are several rock formations that are tourist favorites like “The Kissing Camels”, or “Balanced Rock.”  But for Jacob and I, our favorite place to visit is the “Siamese Twins.”  It is a little bit off the beaten path, and if you didn’t know it was there  you might easily miss it.  But each time we visit, that is one of the places we like to go.  I believe it offers the most wonderful view in the park.  There are two giant rock towers that are connected together in such a way as to form a window right in the middle that allows you to look through the formation and see Pike’s Peak off in the distance.  It is an amazing view that I marvel at everytime I visit the “Twins.”

This year Jacob and I took the entire family back to our special place.  It is not a long hike and not too difficult.  Our 2-year old, Makenna, even made the hike holding on to my hand.  But while it is not a hard hike it is still not a place that is visited by many.  Actually I have never been there when there have been more than 2 or three other families visiting it at the same time.  And many times Jacob and I have been there all by ourselves.  Maybe that is part of the reason I like it so much.  It is quiter and less distracting than some of the other overcrowded areas in the park.  Which gives you an opportunity to stop and really enjoy the beauty that surrounds you.

I love this park, and I look forward to visiting everytime we get back to Colorado Springs, but one thing that I have always struggled with is the name.  You see, I know that there are not many gods, but only One.  And this park is not a playground for man-made gods to roam, it is a testament to the One True God, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.

We are reminded in Deuteronomy 4:39, “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below.  There is no other.”

Garden of the Gods Park should more accurately be called Garden of God’s, because there is only One God and He made that amazing park with all of it’s breathtaking views as well as the rest of this incredible universe in which we live. 

If you ever get out to visit Colorado Springs I encourage you to visit this Garden of God’s and hike back up to the Siamese Twins, take a moment and gaze through the window of the towers at the beautiful Peak in the background and I trust that you, like me, will be reminded of the awesome, amazing, infinite power of our Creator!

That’s My Boy!

So I wanted to take just a moment and brag on my son.   Jacob played baseball this year for the first time since his kindergarten year.  He has focused on basketball and soccer lately, but decided to try baseball again.  His team this year was The Ironbirds in the 9-10 year-old Chaska League. 

Jacob had a decent season in which he learned and grew a lot.  His team showed a lot of promise throughout the season, but kept coming up short and managed to only win one game all season long.  On Tuesday we started the season-ending playoff tournament.  It is a double-elimination tournament, so we were guaranteed at least 2 games.  We kicked things off on Tuesday with a one-run loss, which put us in the loser’s portion of the bracket with a need for a win on Thursday to move on to Saturday’s games. 

The Thursday game was back and forth, but we came into the bottom of the 6th inning down by only 1.  Our first guy got on  base and then eventually made it home when the next hitter also got on base.  That left us tied with the winning run on third.  Our next two batters struck out, leaving us tied with 2 outs and my son Jacob coming up to the plate, and the winning run still on third.  As a father I had some mixed emotions at this point.  I was excited for my son to have a chance to win the game, but also a little nervous for him to be up to bat with such a crucial game situation on the line.  An out would mean the end of the season for the Ironbirds, and a hit would mean a run and a win and the opportunity to keep playing in the playoffs.

So I was a nervous wreck, but Jacob was smooth and calm.  He went up to the plate and hit a line drive up the middle past the pitcher and the 2nd baseman for a single, the game-winning RBI, and a walk off hit!  The entire team and all the parents erupted with wild cheers.  It was the most exciting game of the season and I was jumping up and down and cheering like a little kid. 

That game proved to be the impetus we needed to continue on.  We turned around and played inspired baseball on Saturday, winning the next two games by large margins.  We finally lost in the championship game, after playing 3 straight games on Saturday.  It was an exciting finish to a difficult season.  After winning only 1 game all season long, we finished on a high note and came away with 2nd place for the year.  And my son was one of the heroes of the playoffs.

I told him after the game that he will always remember that hit.  And it should provide extra confidence for him the next time he gets in an important situation like that.  He can always know that he came through in the clutch.  Needless to say I was very proud of him.  Of course, I always love my son, not because of what he does, but just because he is my son.  But I am also watching his life, and there are times, like this past Thursday, when he does something special and while it doesn’t make me love him more, it does cause me to take a moment and point to him and say, “that’s my boy!”

And that got me started thinking.  I can imagine God watching my life like I watch my son.  He always loves me, not because of what I do, but simply because I am His son.  But I would imagine there are those times in life, when I do something special, something that brings Him glory, and He points at me and says, “that’s my boy!”  I hope there are plenty of times like that for Him.

Open Wide Your Mouth

Today in my devotions I came across Psalm 81:10, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”  That is a beautiful and powerful verse.  When I think of it, I get the picture of a nest of baby birds with their mouths wide open toward the sky waiting for their mother to feed them.  They have their mouths so wide open that you can’t even see their face.  They are hungry and they know that food is coming.  So they are straining with every ounce of muscle they have to be ready to receive that food.

Today I had a conversation with a woman whose husband has been out of work for several months and they are not able to pay for this month’s rent.  She has been trusting God and knowing that He has a plan, but she is tired.  She is ready for this to be over.  She is ready for God to come swooping in and give them what they need.  She is waiting and wondering where God is in the midst of this.

And I don’t blame her.  I understand how she feels.  How do those two pictures go together?  God says “open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”  So what’s the deal?  Is her mouth not wide open enough?  Where is the filling?

Have you ever felt like that?  Have you ever wondered where God is in the midst of what you are going through?  Have you ever wondered what God is doing and when He is going to come along and provide what you are hungry for and in need of?  Those are tough times, are they not?  So how do we wait for feeding time?  How do we hang on for God?

Let’s consider this verse from Psalm 81 a little closer.  Notice that first we see a reminder of who God is.  That God is faithful and more than capable of providing for our every need.  We have seen God at work over and over again and we can know that He is able to care for our needs today just like He did for the Israelites so many years ago.

So the first place we need to start is with trust.  We need to trust God.  He knows our needs and actually knows even better than we do what is best for us.  And He is fully capable of meeting those needs.  He has proved Himself faithful time and again and we can trust in Him.  But I believe the second part of that verse carries this concept to a whole new level.  Opening wide our mouths is an action for us to take.  It is us saying that we know that God is powerful, and faithful, and that He will provide, and us actively putting ourselves in the position for God to pour out whatever we need from Him.

Now along with that goes an understanding that we are vulnerable in that position.  Think of the birds for a moment.  They opened their mouths so wide that they couldn’t possibly see what was coming.  They trusted their mother to not only feed them, but to give them what would be good for them.  The mother bird could put anything into their mouths at that moment and they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.  Opening our mouths wide in expectation puts us in a position of vulnerability before the Lord.  And I believe that vulnerability is key.

When we are in that position we are saying to God, fill me Lord, I trust in you to give me whatever you choose to give me.  When we get to that position we are abandoning our plans and putting ourselves completely in His hands, trusting that whatever He gives us will be exactly what we need. 

Many times we want God to feed us or help us, but only as long as His plan comes into line with what we want for ourselves.  We want Him to feed us, but we want to choose the menu.  But God wants us in this position we see in Psalm 81:10, with our mouths so far wide open that we are completely trusting Him to give us what we need.

I know some of you out there are hurting and hungry.  I want to invite you to open wide your mouths to the Lord.  Remember His faithfulness and power, and trust Him to give you exactly what you need.  Open wide your mouth to the Lord and let Him fill it.

Noah’s Ark?

You may have heard the reports that  a group, called Noah’s Ark Ministries International, are claiming that they have found Noah’s Ark.  This combined Turkish/Chinese group have stated that they believe with 99.9% accuracy, that they have found the remnants of the ark encased in a glacier on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey.  They claim to have carbon dated some of the wood at 4,800 years old. 

If you are interested in finding out more about this story, you can check out the news article from the perspective of ABC News at http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/finding-noahs-ark-filmmaker-found-pieces-biblical-treausure/story?id=10495740

I don’t know if what they found is really the ark that we read about in the Bible, or not, but when it comes right down to it, it really doesn’t matter.  Our faith does not rest on what is found or not found by archaeologists, geologists, anthropologists, and other scientists.  Our faith is not based on what we can and can’t prove.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  That doesn’t mean that as Christians we have to turn our brains off, but ultimately our faith is not based on what scientists prove, it is based on God as He reveals Himself to us in His Word.

There are some great scientists out there who are pursuing their fields of study from a Biblical perspective and I greatly appreciate their work.  One of my favorite museums is The Creation Museum, which is located just outside of Cincinatti. A good portion of the museum is dedicated to the great flood and Noah’s ark and how the impact of a worldwide cataclysmic event, like the flood, would have changed the earth’s landscape and could account for the reason scientists claim that the earth is billions of years old.  You can find out more about The Creation Museum at, http://creationmuseum.org/

I enjoy The Creation Museum, I have taken several classes in geology and physical geography, I even had a subscription to Biblical Archaeology for awhile, so I enjoy the intellectual pursuit of answers about how this earth came to be and how we can understand it better.  But ultimately I begin with the Bible and everything else must be interpreted by what I read there.  And what is found or not found by archaeologists over the years is not going to dictate what I believe.  Hebrews 11 goes on to say in verse 3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” 

As we walk through this world and examine the universe around us we need to start with faith.

Tebow or not Tebow, That Is The Question!

So this weekend was the NFL Draft.  I am a Redskins fan and I also root for the Colts and the Vikings (based on where I used to live and where I live now).  So I followed all three of those teams along with some of my favorite college players to see what happened.

If you are unfamliar with the NFL Draft, here is how it works.  Each NFL team gets assigned a draft number based on how they did in the previous season.  The worst teams pick first and the better teams pick later.  Then the draft is divided into rounds and each team, one at a time, selects a player from the college ranks to join their team. 

The teams make their picks based on a number of criteria.  Obviously, they have watched how those players did in their college careers.  They also have an event, called the NFL Combine, each year before the draft where the players get measured and weighed and then perform a number of drills that are meant to measure their speed and strength and other physical factors.  There are also other criteria like IQ tests and personal interviews that go into the mix and eventually each team ranks the players available based on how they have interpreted all those criteria.

Going into the draft the player that caused the most debate was QB Tim Tebow from Florida.  First of all let me just say that I have always liked Tebow.  He is a strong Christian man with excellent character.  There was a phenomenal interview with him in ESPN the magazine back in the fall of 2009, where he basically shared the plan of salvation and they included it in the article.  

The reason there was so much debate about Tebow before the draft was because although he is considered one of the greatest college football players to have ever played the game, some question whether or not he will be able to transfer that success into the NFL.  His detractors question his size, his physical ability, his throwing style, and the offense that he played in during college.

The highlight of the NFL Draft this weekend was the selection of Tim Tebow by the Denver Broncos with the 25th pick of the first round.  Immediately the debate raged on by the announcers who said that he didn’t have what it takes to be a great NFL quarterback.  But the Broncos chose not to focus on his physical qualities, and his throwing motion and instead focused on his leadership ability, his strong work ethic, his character, and his passion and commitment for the game.  And for that reason, they chose him earlier than most experts had him going.

It remains to be seen as to whether Tebow ends up having a great NFL career or not, but this got me thinking about something the Bible tells us about how God looks at man.  In the book of I Samuel, chapter 16, we see that God has told Samuel to go and annoint a new king for Israel.  He sends him to Bethlehem to the home of Jesse.  When Samuel arrives Jesse has his sons parade in front of him one at a time.  The first son comes up and he is a great physical specimen, and Samuel assumes that this is who the Lord wants him to anoint, but God tells Samuel this in verse 7, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

God then leads Samuel to pass on all of Jesse’s sons until he arrives at David, who is the youngest brother and God chooses him to be the king of Israel.  And of course David turns out to be, “a man after God’s own heart” and a great king of Israel. 

I am not saying that the Broncos measured Tebow the way that God measured David, but I do appreciate they way they focused more on his heart and character, than on his physical characteristics.  Maybe if we had more teams focusing on heart and character when drafting players we might have less issues like what we see happening with Ben Roethlisburger, and so many other professional athletes these days.

Flood Stages

flood-stages-13So yesterday my family and I went downtown and parked our van near Dunn Bros.  Then we walked over to the bridge heading out of town and joined the throng of people checking out the river.  The bridge was blocked off to traffic because 41 was flooded heading out of town, and there were hundreds of people taking advantage of the beautiful weather to get a look at the river at flood stage.  It was a lot of fun and we ran into several people from the church and also made some new friends.

The river itself is not expected to crest until Wednesday and appears to be rising at a steady rate thanks to all the snow we enjoyed this winter.  Thanks to the work of the town leaders in building up the dike over the last few years, there does not seem to be any danger of Chaska flooding, but the river is definitely at flood stage and it was interesting to stand on the bridge and watch the strong currents of the river as it stretched over it’s banks submerging fields, forests, walkways, and even the local baseball park. 

Speaking of flooding, the Lord gives us a powerful promise in Malachi 3:10, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.'” 

Isn’t that a beautiful picture?  God pouring out such a river of blessing that it overflows the river banks and floods the countryside of our lives.  God is more than capable of meeting our every need and nothing is impossible with Him.  This idea of tithing to the Lord even when we are struggling financially is counterintuitive, but we need to remember that we can never outgive God.  He loves us more than we can imagine and He delights in giving us good gifts.  As we are faithful in giving back to Him from the firstfruits of what He has given to us, He takes care of us in ways that we never could have even imagined.  We need to recognize that we can fully trust in God to take care of us, even when our balance sheet is upside down.  We need to give back to Him first, and trust Him to do what seems impossible.  Then take a walk down to the riverbank and watch His river of blessing flood the countryside of our lives.

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Underlines Revisited

Back in January, I wrote about how I am reading through the Bible this year in my devotions and for each chapter I read, I am choosing one verse to underline.  I thought it might be good for me to revisit that thought by sharing a few of the verses that I am choosing to underline.  So here it goes…

Understand, today is Wednesday so I have underlined a total of 12 verses this week from Numbers 19-30.  I will share with you just 4 of those 12 verses. 

On Sunday I underlined Numbers 19:22, “Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.”  That is not a verse that I would normally have underlined, but since I was choosing to underline one verse from each chapter, this is the one that I chose from chapter 19.  The reason I chose it is because it reminds me of the holiness of God.  In order for us to understand God’s grace and love we also need to understand His holiness and justice.  We need to grasp the concept that our sin, and anything that is unclean, separate us from a holy God.  It is only when we grasp that separation that we can understand our need for the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

On Monday I underlined Numbers 22:18, “But, Balaam answered them, ‘Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.'”  If you were at The River on Super Bowl Sunday, you would have heard me preach on the story of Balaam.  But I focused on Nubmers 23:19 and not on this verse.  But this verse is a great reminder to us as well.  In a world that is all about compromise, this is the attitude we need to take.  All the time we get opportunities to compromise in our faith.  But we need to take a stand.  We need to recognize that nothing is worth turning away from what God has called us to do.  That means being true to God first in our workplace, being men of integrity in our marriages, and being bold with our testimony.  We need to be willing to do and say only what God commands of us.  We need to be right in the center of His will at all times.

On Tuesday, one of the verses I underlined was Numbers 25:13, “He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”  This is an interesting verse with an interesting context.  In Numbers 25 we see Israel is being seduced by Moab.  The men are falling into sexual immorality with the Moabite women and that is leading them to idolatry as well.  And we see that God is angry with this and sends a plague against Israel.  At one point we see an Israelite man blatantly falling into sexual immorality with a Midianite woman right in front of the whole assembly and Phinehas the grandson of Aaron the priest, grabs a spear and drives the spear through both the man and the woman and the plague that was against the Israelites stopped.  Then the Lord commends Phinehas and we see in verse 13 that God commends him for being zealous for the honor of his God.  How often are we zealous for God?  How often do we stand up for God?  People all around us blaspheme God.  I am obviously not saying that we should pick up a spear and drive it through them, but how often do we ever even simply stand up for God?  Where’s the zeal?

Then finally, today one of the verses that I underlined was Numbers 30:2, “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.”  That is a great challenge for us.  We treat our word so casually.  How often do we keep our promises.  When we say something, we should be willing to stand by it, or we shouldn’t say it.  I know the term is overused, but we really should be “promise keepers.”

So that is a little taste of some of the verses that I have underlined this past week.  I will plan to do more of this in the weeks ahead.  I would commit to blogging everday about one of the verses that I chose to underline that day, for those who would like to follow along, but then I would probably find myself not keeping my word and that would not be good.

Digging Deeper

So you know how you go to church on Sunday and you hear the message from the pastor and you go home thinking about how awesome the sermon was?  Okay so maybe awesome is too strong of a word.  Anyway, a sermon is not so much a public speech as it is a challenge, or a call to respond.  The sermon that we hear on Sunday is meant to inspire us or challenge us or encourage us in our walk with the Lord.  It is part of our discipleship process.  But what happens after you leave the church on Sunday morning?  Do you ever spend anymore time considering the topic of discussion? 

I was thinking that it might be nice for us to have a tool to use on Monday to help us focus a little more on what was said on Sunday.  Wouldn’t that be great?  What if on Monday we could go online and find a Scripture reference to turn to that deals with what we learned on Sunday, or maybe some questions that we could consider or points for us to ponder as we go through our week.  We could use those as part of our regular devotions to help us dig a little deeper into the material that the pastor was talking about in the sermon. 

For instance this past Sunday I spoke from Numbers 23:19 and talked about how God keeps His promises.  What if you could go online this week and find some Scripture references that would help you explore God’s promises a little bit deeper and give you some questions to reflect on?  Would that be helpful?  Would you use it?  You could tune in to the website on Monday or any other day for that matter, and see a blog in which there would be some materials for digging deeper.  Some tools for your own personal study time on the topic that was discussed.  I am willing to do that each week if there are those out there that would find it helpful. 

I will bring this up this coming Sunday at The River as well, but please feel free to let me know your comments.  Thanks!

Is Anyone Out There?

You know one of the problems with writing a blog is that you wonder if anyone actually is reading it. I mean, what if I spend all this time sharing my thoughts and really nobody is interested? I guess it is kind of that, “if a tree falls in the forest…” kind of question. Blogging allows you to put your thoughts out there for anyone to see, but you don’t really know if anyone is actually listening. Ultimately it is not a big deal if 3 people or 300 people read the blog, but still it is nice to know that someone is actually listening.

Now, I have heard from some of you from time to time, so I know that at least a few people are listening, and I appreciate when you make comments to let me know that you are there. But believe it or not, I am not writing this blog just to elicit more response, I actually have a point. And the point has to do with prayer.

I think sometimes we approach prayer with the same mindset that I sometimes approach blogging. Like I am going to throw this out there, and maybe someone will be listening and maybe they won’t. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever approached prayer that way? Like you have something to say, and you hope that you are being heard, but you are not entirely sure?

Well, I want to remind us today, that we can be sure that God hears us. The Psalmist writes about this in Psalm 55:18, “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” What a great reminder. Whether morning, noon or night, God hears us. We don’t have to worry that He might be asleep, or busy, or that He won’t have His cell phone with Him, or that He will be on the other line, or that He is screening His calls. We don’t have to worry that He doesn’t care or isn’t interested in what we have to say. He is right there, waiting for us to call on Him.

That is a great promise. We don’t need to wonder, “is anyone out there? Is anyone listening?” We know God hears, He listens, and He cares. Being a dad I am interested in what my kids have to say, not so much because it is important to me, but because it is important to them. I listen because they are my children and I love them.

God loves me even more than I love my kids. And He has the amazing ability to pay attention to me, even when I am saying something that is really not all that interesting, or when I am not really making any sense, or when I don’t even know what I want. God loves to hear from me. Not because He needs what I have to say, or because it is interesting to Him, but simply because I am His child and He loves me. Is anyone out there? Yes He is!

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