Sloop John B

The Beach Boys have a song called Sloop John B. As best I can tell, it’s about a sailing trip gone bad. Not Gilligan’s Island bad but bad. I think Charles Manson was somehow involved.

Shortly after graduating from high school, my life was that song. I spent a week on a cruise. But this was no giant cruise ship that we were on. It was a tiny boat. As the week went on, that boat got small and smaller.

More than a few times on that trip I sang the words to Sloop John B to myself.

“Why don’t they let me go home?

This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.”

Our captain spent the week in his bathing suit. By bathing suit, I mean bikini. His first mate was a Russian who liked to drink. It was my first time out on the open seas and my life was in the hands of a partially clothed man and his drunken assistant.

On one of our stops, a few people went into a casino. One guy got really drunk and the captain tried to have the alcohol beaten out of him. Another guy, the Russian first mate to be exact, got really drunk and lost all of the money that he was saving for a trip back to Russia. I can still remember him riding around in circles on a bicycle mumbling his miseries in Russian.

We had responsibilities on this tiny boat. One night, it was my responsibility to drive the boat. The partially clothed captain’s instructions were simple.

“Don’t worry about looking out the window. Watch the screen and make sure the red dot doesn’t hit the yellow dot.”

And off he went.

I was scared to death.

That night, surrounded by a dark sky and an even darker ocean, the world seemed to be really big and really small at the same time. I had never even thought about being a boat man but that night made it clear that it wasn’t my calling. I hated the pressure and the responsibility. When my shift was over, for once, I was really happy to see our partially clothed captain.

My lesson had been learned.

I was a better passenger than a pilot.

But I still forget that lesson a lot. If I had to honestly read Psalm 23, there are plenty of times when I would say, “I am my own shepherd because I don’t trust the real shepherd.”

And then the Real Shepherd reminds me that I make a better sheep than I do a shepherd.

I’m a control freak. I don’t really care about controlling what other people say or do. I’m more concerned with controlling the future. I want to ensure that things go well for my family and my church. I want good health for me and the ones I love. While there are certainly things that can be done to make those things more likely, there are no guarantees.

Things happen.

Sometimes really bad things happen.

And that scares me.

Handing over control of the ship really scares me.

That’s because I’m prone to forget the character of the Captain. He’s nothing like the one I had on that boat all of those years ago. This Captain is faithful and true and all-powerful.

And loving.

He never promised that the ride would always be smooth but he did promise to deliver us safely home.

Two big reasons for the anxieties we face are our constant effort to sit in the Captain’s seat and the ease with which we forget how good and loving that Captain is.

Christian, stop fighting for that seat.

Instead, sit back and trust that the Captain is good, that he is in control and that he loves you.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

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Good News For People Who Doubt

I wasn’t blessed with the best of nicknames.

Jaybird.

That’s what people called me when I was a kid. I know guys named Cornbread, Turk and Bubba. Those are all solid nicknames. Each one tells you that the guy with the nickname either has a cool story to tell or is not one to be messed with. Not so much for Jaybird. There are no linebackers in the NFL named Jaybird. Well, maybe with the Cleveland Browns but you get my point.

I’m much better off than a guy named Thomas. No one ever calls me Jaybird these days. But Thomas has the misfortune of being called Thomas the Doubter for several hundred years now. Why are we so hard on Thomas? No one ever says Peter the Denier or Paul the Murderer. And there’s certainly more to Thomas than his doubts. Of all the disciples, he seemed to be the one of the ones most concerned with going where Jesus was going (John 11:16; John 14:5).

But we don’t talk to much about those moments. Thomas is better know for his doubt that led him to make a bold, misguided statement but also helped him to see his Master like never before.

Jesus had just risen from the grave and word was getting out. The disciples had locked themselves in a room and, no doubt, were trying to process what the empty tomb meant. And then Jesus walked in (John 20:19-23). By the time he left, all of the disciples were sold on his resurrection. Well, all of the disciples who were there. Judas Iscariot was dead. And Thomas, well, we don’t know where he was. But he wasn’t in that room (John 20:24).

The disciples had to tell Thomas the news. They told him that they had seen Jesus. Not experienced Jesus. Not felt Jesus. They saw him. He talked to them. He showed them his wounds. This was no rumor and it certainly wasn’t a ghost. But Thomas wasn’t impressed. That’s when he made his bold, misguided statement.

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” John 20:25 (ESV)

Never.

Jesus took the challenge. But he waited. For eight days he allowed Thomas to marinate in his doubt.

The disciples were inside, back behind the security of locked doors. This time, for whatever reason, Thomas was with them. And Jesus showed up again.

Guess whose name Jesus called out first when he walked in.

He didn’t say the name of  Peter, the Rock. He didn’t ask for John, the Beloved Disciple. He called for Thomas, the Doubter.

The grave could not hold Jesus down. The locked doors could not keep him out. And Thomas’ doubts could not keep him away. Jesus came and met the Doubter where he needed him most – right in the middle of his cynicism and unbelief.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” John 20:27 (ESV)

Thomas responded by making another bold statement. But this one was anything but misguided.

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:28 (ESV)

Doubt is one of the sacraments of our age. Even in some churches, doubting seems to be a mark of spiritual enlightenment. So we have pastors who doubt the virgin birth, professors of religion who aren’t quite sure if Jesus ever even lived and an entire generation of church goers who are only sure about one thing – that it’s wrong to be sure about anything.

On the other end of the spectrum, there have always been those Christian leaders who have all of the answers. They know the answers to the questions that haven’t been asked yet. Even on issues not addressed in the Bible, they are absolutely certain that they are right and you are wrong – on everything.

And then there’s Thomas. Yes, he had his doubts. But the answers he didn’t even know he was looking for weren’t found in more evidence or a deeper knowledge. They were found in Jesus. That is where we must look. And as we do, we must echo what the father of a sick child said to Jesus. “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

The Christian’s identity is not found in his doubts. It’s found in his Savior. But it is through repentance and moving beyond those doubts that the Christian grows closer to his Savior.

History tells us that Thomas likely went on to India to share the good news of Jesus. It is also likely that he was martyred for his devotion to what he vowed that he would never believe. Thomas marinated in his doubts for eight days. He spent the rest of his life taking them to Jesus and serving him.

We all have our doubts from time to time. Perhaps for you it’s some part of the Bible that you find just too hard to believe. Or maybe you check all of the right boxes when it comes to believing the Bible but it’s the future that makes you doubt. You’re all on board with the virgin birth being real, it’s God’s sovereign and loving control over tomorrow that’s giving you second thoughts.

Either way, remember that Jesus is big enough for your doubts. Don’t cling to them. Cling to him. Right where you need him the most, right where your faith is the weakest is right where he meets you.

Do not disbelieve, but believe.

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Four Things To Remember Before Fear Consumes You

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Christians are not immune to frightening situations. But we do not have to be consumed with fear. If you are in Christ, here are four things that are true for you. They were true on the day that you became a Christian. They’ll be true the day after the elections.

Your reasons to trust in God are greater than your reasons to fear man. 

To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.
When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?

Psalm 56:1-4 (ESV)

God’s justice is greater than man’s schemes.

All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

Psalm 56:5-7 (ESV)

The one who is for you is greater than the one who is against you.

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

Psalm 56:8-11 (ESV)

The God who lifts you up is greater than the grave that holds you down. 

I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

Psalm 56:12-13 (ESV)

When you feel overwhelmed by the evil schemes of man, just look to the character of God.

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Be Careful What You Fear

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Fear can make you do some crazy things. It can physically shut your body down. It can convince you to make decisions that you’ll later regret. It can convince you to buy some products and get rid of others. As followers of Christ, we have to be very careful of what we fear.

None of us are taught how to fear. At varying degrees, we just enter the world that way. And to make it all better, our parents lie to us. They tell us, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” As we get older, we realize that they were lying to us. There’s plenty to be afraid of. It might not be under our bed but it’s certainly outside our door. If not, we tell ourselves, why do we have security systems on our cars and homes? But then we get even older and we tell the same lie to our kids. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Go back to sleep.”

Jesus doesn’t work this way.

Consider the story of Ananias. Ananias doesn’t get much attention. I don’t know of any VBS themes devoted to him. But if you’re a Christian, it’s very likely that the story of your salvation could be traced back to Ananias. All by God’s grace, of course.

God came to Ananias in a vision one day. Ananias responded like any good follower of Christ. “Here I am, Lord.”

By the time Ananias found out what God was requesting, perhaps Ananias was wishing that he wouldn’t have answered so quickly.

There was a man named Saul. He was well known among Christians for all the wrong reasons. He wanted to kill them. And God wanted Ananias to meet Saul.

Ananias was afraid. So afraid that he felt compelled to talk the Sovereign God of the universe out of his plan.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

As if God would say, “Oh. Good point. I didn’t think about that. Scratch that. My bad.”

When I read this, I picture God laughing when a frightened Ananias talks about the “authority from the chief priests.” Do you remember one of the last things that Jesus told his disciples after his resurrection? In Matthew 28 he told them that, “All authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to him. All authority. Ananias had either forgotten that or hadn’t learned it yet. And the same seems to be true of us.

In this age of fear over elections and Supreme Court appointments and terror strikes it is important for us to remember who the authority really belongs to.

It’s not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

It’s not ISIS.

It’s not the Supreme Court.

It’s Jesus. And any authority anyone on this earth has ultimately rests under his authority. He gives it. He takes it away. All for the good of his Church.

When the Lord responded to Ananias, he didn’t say what parents usually say. He didn’t say, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” And he didn’t even promise that Ananias would be safe. He just said, in so many words, “Go, because I’ve got a plan for Saul and you play a part in the beginning of it.”

So Ananias went. He wasn’t given the assurance that his going would be free of difficulty or danger. But he wasn’t going alone. He was going with the presence of his Lord. And he was going in the fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord is different from the fear of man. The fear of man sees man as ultimate and leads to paralysis. The fear of God sees God as ultimate and leads to worship and obedience and joy.

It’s a scary world that we live in. There is plenty to be afraid of but we must be careful what we fear. It is impossible to simultaneously live our lives in fear of man and obedience to God. Our only hope is to fear God.

If we allow the fear of man to consume us we will eventually embrace evil. Our fears will convince us that evil is our only option. But if we fear God, that is, stand before him in reverential awe and obedience, we will see the world in a whole new way.

Yes, the world will still be a frightening place when we fear God.

But the terrors of this world will have no control over us.

That’s because our eyes will be fixed on the Authority that is over this world.

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A Word From Jesus That You’ve Probably Never Noticed But Really Need To Hear

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It’s far from the most popular phrase that Jesus ever spoke. It never shows up in any of the movies. We don’t repeat it today. In fact, even if you’ve spent your whole life in a really good church, there’s a chance that you’ve missed this phrase.

Jesus was getting away. His confrontations with the religious elites had been intense and, no doubt, draining. On top of that, someone had just told him about the death of John the Baptist. So Jesus got in a boat to get away from the noise. But something was waiting for him on the other side of his getaway. Another crowd.

Imagine how you would feel if you went on vacation and when you showed up to your condo on the first day all of the people at work were waiting on you. Jesus didn’t feel that way. Rather than turning back around or telling the people to go away or calling down fire from heaven, the Bible says that Jesus “had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14).

At some point, Jesus’ disciples decided that there had been enough compassion for one day.

Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Matthew 14:15 (ESV)

The disciples were clear. They were ready for the people to move along and start taking care of themselves. Jesus wasn’t.

But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:16 (ESV)

Jesus was asking his disciples to do the impossible. Buying food for this many people would cost well over half of a laborer’s yearly salary. And no one happened to have that kind of food packed away in a bag. The best the disciples could come up with was a few fish and some bread. That’s when Jesus spoke the phrase that all of us need to hear but few of us have ever noticed.

And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Matthew 14:18 (ESV)

Not, “That’s it?!”

Not, “Oh, you of little faith.”

Just that one simple command. Bring them here to me.

Jesus knew what he was doing. He wasn’t chewing his finger nails and giving himself a stomach ulcer along with the disciples as they tried to figure out what to do with the crowd. Instead, he was intentionally putting them in a situation where all of their resources had run out. There was nothing that they could do. They couldn’t send the crowd home. They couldn’t afford to buy food for everyone there. And they couldn’t just make food appear out of nowhere.

But Jesus could. And he did. Over ten thousand people were fed that day. And the plotting, planning and administrating of the disciples had absolutely nothing to do with it. It was all the result of the God who remained God when the disciples had come to the end of their rope.

Sometimes the best place we can be is in the place where all of our talent, resources and knowledge has run out. It’s in that place where we really begin to understand the lordship of Jesus Christ over all things.

He is Lord over the hurts the people brought to him that day.

He is Lord over the worries that you have today.

He is Lord over the seemingly impossible.

And he looks at the handfuls of nothing you have to offer him and says, “Bring them here to me.” Instead of allowing your worries to consume you, bring them to Jesus.

Parenting is difficult and overwhelming. Bring your inadequacies and failures to Jesus and trust him with the results.

The temptation you face is much more than you can handle on your own. Bring your compromises and sins to Jesus.

Fears about what will happen tomorrow have a way of keeping you up at night. Bring those fears to Jesus, trusting that the same God who has been Lord for all eternity will still be Lord over your tomorrow.

You might find yourself in a tight spot today. And the miracle required to get you out of it may never come in this life. But remember, Christian, that Jesus is with you. And he has one simple command for what you should do with your insufficient funds.

“Bring them here to me.”

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Time Tells A Story

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A kid my age wasn’t supposed to like that sort of thing. I was captivated. I couldn’t help it.

My grandfather was a storyteller. He could tell a story better than anyone I’ve ever heard. On Sunday afternoons, after eating the massive lunch that my grandmother had prepared, we would all find a chair and listen to the master do his work.

He told stories about haints. A haint, in case you’re not from the south, is a ghost. I used to think that there was no such thing as haints but I’ve visited a few churches that cause me to have my doubts. His haint stories were the perfect balance of scary and funny.

He told stories about his time fighting in the South Pacific during the second World War. There were friends who died just after finding out that they’d be going home soon. There were crazy soldiers walking around with the ears of the men they had killed. There were enemy soldiers who came way too close to putting an end to my grandfather and his stories. Again, there was balance. These stories were part patriotic masterpieces and part horror. There was no humor.

And he told stories about quitting school as a kid to take care of his family after his father died. In spite of the hardships, these stories made us laugh. No matter how often we heard them.

The stories all had one thing in common. Each one highlighted the faithfulness of God. My grandfather was no theologian but, in his own way, he was doing more than just telling stories. He was preaching sermons. His sermons told of a God who is trustworthy. Even while bullets are flying in the South Pacific. Even when fathers die. And even when something called a haint appears to be walking in the middle of the road.

When the stories ended, my mom, my sister and I climbed back into our wood paneled station wagon for the hour long trip up Interstate 75 back to our south Atlanta home. Mom drove, my sister sat up front and I was always in the very back, where the party is.

My grandparents hated that. They would always remind us of some kid they saw on the news who had to have his spleen removed because he was riding in the back of a station wagon when it wrecked. As we drove off, the look of worry on their faces made it seem like they were shipping us off to the South Pacific to fight another war.

After being taken care of in a war, provided for through childhood and comforted from supposed southern ghosts, my grandparents were still consumed with worry.

This is exactly how worry works for all of us.

Time tells a story. The past, if we take the time to notice, always tells the truth. It tells of a faithful God who rules over all things for the ultimate good of his people. But the present can be a liar. Much like the diet that always begins tomorrow, the present sometimes tells us that the unraveling will begin tomorrow. Sure, maybe God was in control yesterday but tomorrow will be a different story. You will be on your own. You are in trouble.

Jesus speaks a word of truth to counteract the lies the present likes to tell us about the future.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34 (ESV)

For a minute, that doesn’t look too comforting. It sort of reads like Jesus is saying, “Why are you worried about tomorrow? Worry about today. That’s where the real trouble is.”

Thankfully, he’s not saying that.

Each day has sufficient trouble. But that’s not all that it has. Read what Jesus told a suffering Paul about sufficiency.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

The present likes to tell you a story about troubles coming in the future. That part isn’t a lie. You will have troubles in the future. But it’s only a half truth. Along with those troubles, God will give you grace. His grace. Sufficient grace. And it will be enough.

The Christian’s source of hope is never the absence of trouble. Rather, it is the presence of Jesus in the trouble.

If you listen carefully to the stories of your past, no matter how tragic they may be, you will be reminded of Jesus’ presence and the sufficient grace that comes along with it.

There is plenty to worry about. But Christian, there is no need to worry. That’s because the Author of your story is in complete control.

 

And he loves you.

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Nine Things That Will Never Happen To You

You could get cancer.

You could get Ebola.

You could get into a car wreck tomorrow afternoon.

A representative from ISIS could remove your head from your body.

Happy Thursday!

There are a few ways to respond to such possibilities. One is the Happy Thursday Approach. This is the favored approach of many television preachers. They like to tell us that we can claim away bad things. One such preacher told my mother that her sickness didn’t leave her after he tried to make it go away because, “She didn’t have enough faith.” A five-year-old can easily determine that these types of preachers are more concerned with financial gain and popularity than they are truth and compassion.

The other approach is fear and worry. Deep down inside, we all know that we could get sick. We know that terrible things could happen to us or the ones we love. So we let fear consume us. Instead of living life while we still can, we wash our hands hundreds of times a day, we obsess over the news, we worry that maybe that sharp pain in our ankle is actually the beginning stages of some horrific new disease that will eventually be the end of us.

There’s another response. A more biblical one. It helps us to turn our attention away from what could possibly maybe perhaps happen to what can never happen because of what has already happened. How’s that for a wordy sentence? Here’s another way to put it.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians can face troubled times with hope, confidence and even joy because we know that whatever may happen to us, there are some things, worse things, that will never happen to us.

1. Christian, you will never be condemned by God.

It might seem like everyone is against you. Maybe they really are. Maybe you know opposition like few people do. Perhaps you’ve endured the wrath of an angry boss, a cunning enemy or even the federal government. God never said that you would’t experience those things. But he did promise this much. You will never experience the wrath of God. Jesus took your place on that one.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 (ESV)

2. Christian, death will never get the best of you.

Eat all the organic lettuce your stomach can hold. Just know this. One day your body will stop functioning. But that won’t really be the end of life for you, only the end of suffering. Life will just be getting started.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:9-11 (ESV)

3. Christian, you will never be orphaned.

A few times a year we hear stories about babies being abandoned at dumpsters, emergency rooms and fire stations. If you believe that a true follow of Christ can somehow become a non-follow of Christ, you are forced to admit that God essentially does the same thing to his children. He doesn’t. The God who sovereignly adopted you is the same God who eternally keeps you.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:12-17 (ESV)

4. Christian, you will never be hopeless.

Your life might resemble a George Jones song. Your marriage is in shambles. Your truck won’t crank. Your job is no good and your dog died. Through it all, there is a hope that will not perish or fade away. Your retirement plan can go down the drain. Your eternal inheritance cannot.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25 (ESV)

5. Christian, you will never be ignored.

All of my life I’ve heard people critiquing prayers. Some criticize the way that a person says, “Dear Lord” too many times during the prayer. Others don’t like the way that a person asks Jesus to “be with” someone. All of the critiques can leave us a bit intimidated with prayer, especially prayer in public. But here’s the good news. No one, even the most educated among us, really knows how to pray. And that’s okay. The Holy Spirit picks up our slack. Our slack is great. He is greater.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26 (ESV)

6. Christian, you will never be beyond God’s good plan.

We have to be careful when trying to explain why some tragic event happened. The fact is that usually we don’t have a clue. We would be wise to remain silent and only speak on what we do know. Here’s what we do know. God, in his own way and time, takes bad things and uses them for his glory and the good of his people.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (ESV)

7. Christian, you will never know what it’s like to be in hell.

You are a Christian, not because of your denominational affiliation, family background or award winning smile but because God chose you. The theological term for that is predestination. Another word for it is grace. And God’s grace always runs its course through until the end. The called will be saved. The saved will be glorified. That means that you will enjoy eternal life with a new body in an new heaven and earth with Jesus. Wherever life takes you, Christian, God won’t allow hell to be a stop on your journey.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:29-30 (ESV)

8. Christian, God will never be against you.

The rest of the world might be against you. Sometimes you will be tempted to think that God is too. You have to be careful to never mistake God’s wrath for his discipline (Hebrews 12:3-17). God’s wrath is reserved for his enemies. His discipline, like any loving father, is for the ultimate good of his children. Christian, you will never again know God as your enemy, only as your Father.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:31-34 (ESV)

9. You will never be separated from God’s love.

God loves you.

Nothing will ever change that.

You really don’t have anything to worry about.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 (ESV)

Helping Kids Question Their Faith

 

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My day is consumed with questions. I guess that’s what happens when you get an 820 on your SAT. People just want you to share some of your knowledge. Or maybe not. But either way, I get a lot of questions.

Most of them are from my kids.

“What is gluten?”

“When are the Falcons going to win?”

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed by now, I don’t always have the answers. Most of the time I just say something like, “Just keep watching and you’ll see.” So, with the Falcons for example, my kids keep watching and see that Matt Ryan has trouble completing passes near the end of games and most of the guys on defense would rather be doing something else. Question answered.

And with gluten, well, I guess we’re all still trying to figure out exactly what gluten is.

A while back my seven-year-old came to me with a more complex question.

“Dad, I know that the Bible claims to be the word of God but how can we trust what the Bible says?”

I wasn’t expecting that one. So I answered the question like any father who also happens to be a highly respected pastor would answer it.

“Quiet, kid! The Falcons game is on. Now pass me the gluten.”

Not really.

I pointed him to some of the evidence. We talked about the eyewitnesses and authors who willingly gave their lives for what they wrote and believed. And for Christmas, I bought him a book. It was really cool watching him go to bed at night and using his flashlight to read his new book, Case for Christ for Kids by Lee Strobel. It was even better talking to him about it the next morning.

He told me that the book answered his questions and helped him to understand that the Bible was God’s true word. His mind, his heart, and his faith were growing right before my eyes.

His growth isn’t happening because he has a dad who knows all of the answers. He doesn’t. But he does have a dad that points him in the right direction.

There was another question after church last Sunday. It was from a kid just a little younger than my son.

“How old is God?”

This time there was no Falcons game to rescue me. Again, I answered the question as best as I could.

“Forever.”

Or something like that.

I explained to the boy about God always existing as God. I told him that God has no beginning or end. It was one of those answers that leaves you more in awe than merely more informed. I could see the awe on his face. It was on mine too. There was no specific number I could tell this little boy who wanted to know the age of the eternal God. All I could do was point him to the majesty and supremacy of the One who made him. He doesn’t have a pastor with all of the answers. Just one that knows how to point him in the right direction.

The next day there was another question from a guy in my church. A teenager. So of course, the question came in the form of a text message. He was asking what it means to obey Jesus. Some people at his school tell him that if a Christian forgets to floss his teeth, he’s automatically on the hell train. Others believe that simply praying a prayer is enough. He wanted to know the truth about following Jesus.

I get these kind of text messages from him a lot. I love them. They serve as evidence of his growth in Christ. So that day I pointed him to the book of James and showed him how obedience is always the result of genuine faith. He’ll have more questions. And I won’t always have every answer he’s looking for. But at least I can point him in the right direction.

A few years ago when my son was just learning how to walk, we were playing outside. He was overwhelmed by everything around him. Especially the airplanes that flew over. Whenever he heard one he would stop what he was doing and look up.

One day he heard an airplane so he stopped and looked to the sky. But he couldn’t find what he was looking for. The airplane was higher than he was looking.

I could have given him coordinates to help him with his search.

“Son, go to longitudinal point 34 and latitude quadrant 75. When you find x look three paces to the left and you’ll see the plane.”

Instead, I went with a more simplistic approach. I put both of my hands on his head and gently directed his eyes up to the point in the sky where the airplane was.

I pointed him in the right direction.

Being a parent, pastor or any kind of a leader can be intimidating. We need to have answers. Truth really does matter. But we will never have all of the answers for the inquiring people we lead.

And that’s okay.

Because we can still point them in the right direction.

Besides, what good is an answer if all we get out of it is a little information? The best answers leave us with more than that. They point us in the direction of the unfathomable God of the universe.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.  Romans 11:33-36 (ESV)