A Father’s Heart

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By Tom Chase

There have been many things this past year in life that have helped me get a better idea of God’s relationship to us as fallen beings. God reveals himself to us as a Father, all to give us a better idea of who He is. (I know that this metaphor gives many individuals problems due to failed relationship and connectedness with their own fathers.) Yet Scripture is clear about His “Fathership.” He loves us very much.

He loves me!

He loves you!

We take this by faith, but we also have His actions toward us as seen in history, as recorded in the Bible, and over time within our own lives.

I have seen the belligerent attitude that comes from children who are headstrong, defiant, unwilling to do what has been asked . . . oh, how it make a father’s heart sad. If the child wins in this, then the child loses. So discipline is needed, required, and necessary for a change in heart. I really don’t want to write about discipline today, but I am compelled. The Bible tells us,

“The Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes everyone he accepts as his child.” Hebrews 12:6b (CEV)

and

“For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:12 (NLT)

Can you hear His heart for us in the following phrases?

“those He loves”

“in whom He delights”

“accepts as His child”

As I sat with my back to a little one in time out who was raging belligerently, full of anger and defiance, a few thoughts came to me. We had been here before; the little one knows how to resolve this, knows what the right response is, but, at this moment, just does not want to do it. I am present but cannot give validation to the misbehavior and heart attitude. So I sit and ignore and wait and long for repentance. At the end of this prolonged time, there is an attitude change. The sound of the cries change. The anger is gone. What this dad has been waiting for has happened: there is a change in heart. Through a small, crying voice, I hear, “Daddy?” “Yes little one,” is my reply. An explanation of why we ended up here occurs, the call to do what is right remains, and the joy of this dad is realized in a full embrace, hugs, and restoration. *Sigh* 🙂 I think, oh, I wish we wouldn’t have to go through the discipline thing in the first place.

It was in the middle of the raging defiance and prolonged waiting when I began thinking about God and us!

When we are raging or frustrated with all that is going on, and we wonder where God is, He is there and He is present! While not all hardship is discipline from the Lord, if you’re feeling alone, this could simply be a chance to check your heart. He may be waiting patiently for us to respond with a small cry, “Daddy, help?”

But if we confess our sins to him,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” I John 1:9 (NLT)

We confess. He forgives . . . *sigh* 🙂 Wow!

God disciplines us, just like our earthly fathers are supposed to. Even though I am fallen and I don’t always get this fathering thing right, I think a dim reflection of God’s heart for us can be seen in this. He does love us. He wants what is best for us.

My prayer for me and you as we begin this new year is that we might find our hearts changed and be found in the embrace of the Father who loves us!

Let’s walk together with Him!

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The Most Valuable Thing My Minivan Taught Me

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By Nate Champneys

When your minivan has 265,000 miles on it, you can be grateful for anything that works!My minivan has 265,000 miles on it and, as you would expect, it has many things wrong with it. One thing that I have taken for granted for years and that has stopped working in the last year or so is the heat controls. The heat controls are digital, and the control panel has completely stopped working, so the only thing I can control now is the fan speed. But intermittently the control will come back to life. Most of the time we get into our car and we just expect things to work and we forget the blessing that a simple thing like heat can be until it’s gone. But when my heat control works in my car occasionally, it is a cause for celebration and thanksgiving.

I have lived with my heat control the way it is for about a year, but this past summer, when the weather turned hot, it was not fun to live without A/C. Here is a crazy story—on the first day of the summer heat, I turned on my car and, lo and behold, everything worked, and I had some relief from the heat. My A/C continued to work all summer long, until the days turned cool and then, just as it had come to life, all the lights went dark, and I was back to only having fan control. But let me tell you, every day through the summer when I turned on my car and had wonderful cool air came out the vents, I thanked God for the gift of A/C. In the same way now that winter has come, although my heat control is not working, the system is “stuck” on heat. So, I can turn on the fan and have heat. It’s funny, now, every time I turn on my car and the heat comes on I thank God for the heat in my car.

It’s funny how such a stupid little thing, when taken a way and then restored, can be such a cause for thanksgiving. I began to think, why wait until something is taken away and then returned before thanking God for it? This has caused me to look around my life the last few months for the many little gifts God gives to me every day that I take for granted. When we look around at our lives through the lens of looking for the thousands of blessings God has given us, it really changes our perspective when we complain or worry about the things that we don’t have. God has given us a thousand and one gifts every day that we don’t even thank Him for.

In this Christmas season of giving, we give gifts because of the amazing gift God gave us through His Son, Jesus. But do we take time to recognize all the other gifts he is giving us right now? The clothes you are wearing right now. The laundry soap and water you used to wash them. The dresser you keep them in. The computer or smartphone you are reading this blog post on. The roof over your head right now. The light on the ceiling with electricity making it turn on. The heater that is heating the room where you currently sit. We are not owed any of these things, yet He has provided all of them to us while many people across the world do not have any of these things.

The Christmas season for many is a time of worrying about what gift to get for each person we care about and how we are going to pay for it. I encourage us all to take a moment and look around for the gifts that He is giving to you as you go throughout your day.

James 1:17—“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

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What If …

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By Martin Schlomer

This morning, the wind was knocked out of me! Not literally, but it felt like it. I found an unread email sent to me a few weeks ago with a comment regarding my sermon on worry from Matthew 6:19-34. It read:

When my heart was hardened against God, it was believers at peace despite real troubles that began to crack the shell of my heart and make me say, “This is real, God is real.” And when my mother’s heart was hardened, it was believers proclaiming Christ but consumed with worry that made her say, “Their God is not real, they have no confidence in Him.” We are always witnessing, for better or worse.

The outcomes for others of how we handle worry can be hopeful or sobering!

For whatever reason, this fall, I’ve had several short seasons during which worry has crept into my heart. They have revealed chinks in my faith, places where I have felt alone, exposed, unprotected, and vulnerable to failure. Why would I feel this way? Looking at the circumstances of my life, things are good, solid, seemingly secure.

In these seasons, worry didn’t just walk in full force. Worry crept in one little “what if” thought at a time. These “what if” thoughts are less threatening and easier to entertain when they are welcomed one at a time. They present themselves in a much less threatening manner. However, when one is entertained for any length of time, the word gets out! Soon, I’m entertaining an entire squad of “what if” thoughts, and they can overtake my mind and my heart. It’s as if I have no confidence in my Father. It’s as if He isn’t real. The sad thing is, these thoughts take over without needing to fire a single shot. Game over! I’m a prisoner in the penitentiary of worry and fear. Thoughts of shame are like prison guards shouting at me, “I’m not enough!” “I’m a failure!” “I’ll never succeed!” “Don’t let anyone know!” Do these sound familiar? Are there any you might add?

“What if” thoughts are dangerous! They’re like ticks. When there is only one or two, they’re a nuisance — bothersome, but simple to deal with. But when there are a lot of them, they will suck a lot of blood and transmit a lot of fear. They can take us down some very dark rabbit holes.

How do we deal with “what if” thoughts? For myself, I must deal with them one at a time as they enter my mind. I lean into the reality that I have a Father who cares deeply for my well-being. He reminds me that I am not an orphan responsible to conquer life on my own. But I don’t lean into my Father alone. I invite others to share this journey with me. People walking with Jesus give me courage! Exposing and praying through worry with others — and the shame that often accompanies it — is freeing. While worry and fear will always be a part of the rhythm of our lives through various seasons of our lives, we must battle together.

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The Right Question at the Right Time

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question-markBy Brian Sharpe

Have you ever been in a situation as a parent, boss, coworker, or friend where you didn’t know what to say or do when giving advice? You knew what the person should do, but you were sure they weren’t going to do what you thought they should. As a parent, as a friend, as a leader, and as a mentor, I have been in that situation so many times. My modus operandi is to just tell people what to do. The problem is, that usually ends up not going the way I think it should go.

I don’t know if you are like me, but I often think that if the world just did things the way I think they should be done, it would be a better, more functional place. I know that is arrogant, and most likely not true, but it is a thought I have.

I was recently in a situation where I was in conflict with someone that I respect. We both had different ideas of how something should be done. During this meeting, it was obvious that we weren’t seeing eye to eye. Martin was at this meeting, and he brought me and this man together to talk through and figure out what was going on. Before this meeting, I wanted to spend some time alone in prayer, seeking God and asking for understanding on why this other leader and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. As I prayed, I wasn’t getting any clarity to what was going on in this relationship. I could understand where I was coming from, and I thought I understood where the other man was coming from … but boy, was I wrong!!!

While praying, I called a mentor of mine, Jim. We usually meet once a month, but I needed his advice and his outside perspective. While on the phone with Jim, I explained the situation. I explained the reason for the meeting. Jim’s first response wasn’t to tell me what he thought I should do. His first response was to empathize, then to asking questions. He has a framework that he works though in situations like this, and the first thing is seeking to understand by asking questions. As he asked questions, he better understood the situation.

At this point, if I were Jim, I would have moved into telling me what to do. Instead, he started asking more questions about why I was responding the way I was. By the end of our conversation, it was clear to me all the ways I needed to own my improper leadership. I thought I knew what was going on, but I was blinded by my own biases. Jim was not; he was able to help me understand the blind spots in my life. He did this by asking questions, not by making statements.

I really am learning that this is the best way to help people. We need to become master question-askers. As a pastor, I see this. As a parent, I see this. As a husband, I see this. How often could an argument (I mean if Tomina and I argued . . . which of course we never do! JK) have been stopped if I would had asked a good question instead of making a statement? Asking good questions means you are seeking to understand, not make a point. This takes humility and intentionality. But in the end, I think it leads us down the path we want to go down, and that is to help others.

I have seen where someone asking good questions has helped me. I have seen where good questions have helped others. Leading through questions is hard, but worth the time it takes. In the future, when people are seeking your help or you are trying to help a family member or a friend, stop, think, and ask yourself what question needs to be asked, instead of what statement needs to be made.

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What’s Your Exploitation Quotient?

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By Larry Short

In recent days I’ve felt particularly vulnerable to the possibility of exploitation. This wasn’t something I considered when I got laid off in early August from my 22-year job with World Vision. But being jobless, and the prospect of approaching a time (in the near future) when our income may be considerably smaller than it is today, leaves one with certain feelings of vulnerability.

And the thing that has been a shock to me, which I didn’t expect at all, is all the people and organizations “out there” who seek to exploit that vulnerability for their own ends.

My first real taste of this came about two months ago. I was looking for a new job, hard and fast, and, using a legitimate employment site, I was contacted by a company in San Francisco that was supposedly looking for a social media director. The job seemed a good fit. After an hour-long interview (which I felt went well), the hiring manager offered me a job. The bad news is, it turned out to be a total scam. The good news is, I got suspicious before I actually lost anything. (Read more about this story on my blog.)

I reported the scam to the FBI, but never even got a call back. Someone told me these type of scams were so common they don’t even, apparently, get investigated.

This was just the first of many attempts to exploit my current vulnerability. I receive multiple emails daily from insurance companies, employment sites, and others offering me work-at-home “jobs” that are too good to be true. I now realize the vast majority of these are attempts to exploit people who are in a vulnerable position because they have been laid off.

I’ve had lots of time to think about why this happens. People seek to exploit us daily. Sometimes it’s obvious; other times it’s very subtle. Sometimes strangers are the culprits; other times it’s people we know, trust, and love.

Yes, it’s true — we often seek to exploit each other. Even in the Church, sometimes I think we fall victim to this. It might come in the form of trying to “guilt” someone into serving or fulfilling a particular ministry need. Or perhaps it might come in the form of pressuring someone to give to a specific financial need, for reasons other than their best interest.

Or sometimes we might attend worship services or other church events, or participate in small groups or ministries for what WE will get out of it, how it will benefit us, rather than engaging from the core motivation that others might be blessed by our presence, service, and participation.

Upon reflection, I also realize that, inter-personally, we often seek to exploit the people we love, even perhaps without really thinking about it. We might manipulate a spouse or a child or a parent or a friend into doing something we want them to do for us, that isn’t necessarily in their best interest. But because WE want it, we attempt to manipulate the relationship, sometimes without even thinking about it, to exploit their vulnerability in order to make what WE want happen. Or we might treat them in such a way as to make them feel “smaller,” so that we can magnify ourselves by comparison and “feel better about our self.”

In 2 Peter 2:3, the Apostle had strong words for those who would exploit others:

And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

You’ve heard the saying: “Don’t use people and love stuff — love people and use stuff!” One of the remarkable things about Jesus’ life is that there was no trace of exploitation in it. While others frequently sought to use Him for their own personal ends, His every thought, word, and deed was for the ultimate good of the people whom He loved and was sent to serve. 1 John 4:10 says:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

This verse acknowledges the stark reality that we are lousy at loving. And God is very, very good at it! So much so, that it is said of Him, “God is love.” (Sadly, I am not aware that anyone has ever said, “Larry is love!”)

So my question and my conviction is, “How can we get better at loving others?”

I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Christ urged His disciples: “… love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Not a word about exploiting one another in any of that, is there?

So, I guess I will leave you (and me) with this challenge: What’s your exploitation quotient? Are you (perhaps unintentionally) acting in such a way that exploits those around you, even those you love, rather than loving them unconditionally and seeking to build them up?

If you need help loving others the way Jesus loves us, you’re not alone. I think it’s a challenge that confronts all of us. Let’s seek to prayerfully and honestly “stir up one another to love and good works,” as Scripture commands.

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