New Children’s Book: Help My Friend Get The Everywhere God into Print!

A close friend of mine is self-publishing a children’s book based on a poem written by her late father, Bob Nelson. Bob was a pastor with a passion for telling people about God’s undying love for them. In 1994, he wrote a poem, The Everywhere God, for his then four-year-old granddaughter who was going through a difficult time after her parent’s divorce.
Bob wanted to make sure his granddaughter knew that no matter what was going on around her, God was there and she wasn’t alone. After the poem was complete, he realized it was something special and desired for it to be published as a book for children everywhere.
Bob passed away in 2008 and the project was never completed … until now. My friend, Cricket Nelson Hater, never forgot about this special story and is bringing it to life as her father desired.
With the help of local artist, Robin Tillman, the poem has been illustrated in bright and colorful watercolor images depicting the lively ideas in the book.
Over and over again in the book is the message of God’s never-ending love for us. Using fantastical situations, appealing to a child, such as flying “to the moon on a black-eyed raccoon” or living in a “lake with a long purple snake,” the story talks about a God who “never leaves or forsakes us.”
This book will be a real blessing to children of ALL ages and I hope you’ll consider giving the project’s Kickstarter campaign a look. There is just one week left to support the project, which ends October 30, 2014.
Please go to the Kickstarter page HERE to support this cool project for my friend. 

When Your Picture of Your Daddy Has Been Twisted – Cinda’s Story

I first met Cinda (not her real name) in the apartment building laundry room. I learned quickly that she lived with her boyfriend, Nick, and was taking classes at the University of Cincinnati. My wife, Heidi, and I got to know Cinda and Nick over the next couple years, hanging out with them at the apartment-building pool, playing cards, and just sitting around chatting.

When we began an investigative study of the Bible, Nick responded quickly. I had the opportunity of helping him accept Jesus as his Savior and Lord and I baptized him in the chilly waters of our pool early one Sunday morning.

Cinda was not so quick to respond. For a long time, I wondered if she ever would. It’s not that she didn’t believe what Nick, Heidi, and I believed; she did. It’s not that she had reservations about the Bible, Jesus, or living as a Christ-follower. She was fine with all that. She saw the changes God was bringing about in Nick, and she liked that–she liked it a lot!–and she wanted God to do the same for her.

Cinda’s problem–her roadblock–was this image of God the Father.

This week I’ve been writing about this irresistible image of God stooping down to listen to his children (Psalm 116:2). (See previous posts in this series: #1, #2, #3.) Our God, the Creator of the universe, the all-powerful, all-knowing King, is also our Daddy–a Daddy who bends down to look each of us in the eyes and listen attentively to us.

Cinda could neither understand nor accept this picture of God. Her earthly father abused her and her sisters. I’ll hold back on the lurid details.

I hurt for Cinda. I prayed that God would replace her image of him– an image her dad had twisted–with the truth. We read the Bible together, passages like Jesus’ parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). Heidi, who had more in common with Cinda that I, talked and prayed with her. Finally, we backed off; we didn’t want to be in the way of the Holy Spirit working in Cinda’s life. A year went by, and one day Cinda announced that she was ready to accept Jesus.

God had not given up on her. He kept reaching out to her, bending down to her, wooing her, until she could see him as he is. She fell into his embrace.

The Bible paints a captivating picture of a Daddy who lovingly bends down to our level so he can place his strong yet tender hands on our shoulders, look us in the eyes, and listen to us. If you are like Cinda, perhaps this picture is difficult for you to understand or accept, because someone has contorted what a Daddy is supposed to be like. Those Daddy’s hands look strong, but not at all tender to you. Those Daddy’s eyes look not with compassion, but cruelty  I pray for you if that’s your case. I pray God will do in your life what only he can do, and that you’ll see what Cinda now sees in her heavenly Daddy.

I see this picture in my mind of God stooping down to my level to listen to me! I can’t get over that image,  and I don’t want to. That’s the same image I want my own children to have of me. A daddy who bends down and listens. A very imperfect model of what our Heavenly Daddy is like.

What Our Daddy’s Stooping Down to Us Requires from Us

God is a Daddy who lovingly stoops down to us, and that requires something of us. Yesterday, I blogged about this irresistible image of our almighty God bending down to look us in the eyes and listen to us (Psalm 116:2). Our Father does not expect us to do the impossible–to climb our way up to him; the unholy to strive to the holy, the weak to struggle up to the all-powerful. So he comes down to our level, a Daddy stooping down to a little child–his child.

Does that sound like a paradox? How can it be that God does not expect us to work our way to earn his love, and yet his stooping does require something of us? It’s simple:

God’s stooping down to his children requires us to be his children.

Look at what God says about this:

  • “The Lord protects those of childlike faith” (Psalm 116:6). 
  • “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). 
  • “Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these'” (Matthew 19:14).
  • “Then Jesus prayed this prayer: ‘O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!'” (Matthew 11:25-26). 

What is “childlike faith”? It is complete trust in our Daddy, even when it does not make logical sense in the mind of a wise and clever grown-up!

When our kids were small they had this kind of faith in me and Heidi. As they grew into adolescents, they began to question us more and trust us less. Now that they are teens and young adults, we want them to grow up, but sometimes we just need them to return to that childlike faith in us, to trust us. That takes maturity.

Did you catch that? It takes maturity to have childlike faith.

Childlike faith takes surrender of my own ideas of self-sufficiency and wisdom. More than anything else, it takes humility. I’ll talk more about this tomorrow!

My God, help me to humbly surrender myself to you today. You are my Daddy! I simply want to do what you tell me to do. Nothing more and nothing less. You know better than I do! 

A Daddy Who Stoops Down

A dad stops what he is doing to bend down and really listen to his child. It’s not that the dad doesn’t have other things on his mind; he certainly does. This dad is making a statement: My child is important. I may have the positional power and persuasion of a parent, but I will stoop down to my child’s level because I love this kid. I want to look into my child’s eyes and really listen.

This is a picture of our heavenly Daddy.

Because he bends down and listens, I will pray as long as I have breath! (Psalm 116:2, New Living Translation)

He loves us so much that he makes us his priority. He bends down. He cares. He listens. He acts.

I love this imagery, this personification of God. He is the Creator of the Universe, all-powerful, all-knowing, the Alpha and the Omega, and he bends down to look his precious child in the eyes and listen attentively. (The New International Version translates the phrase as “he turned his ear to me,” which is not nearly as picturesque; the Revised Standard Version and others translate it as “he inclined his ear to me,” which pictures God bending over to listen, either because he cares enough for me to do so or because my voice is so weak that he must — or both!)

This is exactly what the Father did when he sent Jesus down to us. He humbly stooped down to our level so he could look us in the eyes and feel our pain. He stooped down to wash his follower’s feet. He stooped down to serve us, especially in the ultimate act of service and self-sacrifice when he took on our sins as if they were his own and died on the cross so we could be forgiven.

God the Father stoops down to us. We don’t–we can’t–reach up to him by our own wisdom and work. I’ll come back to this thought tomorrow … because God’s stooping down to us requires something from us, and it’s not working harder or trying to measure up. It’s something so easy and yet it’s something so many of us have so much trouble doing.

For today, just pray, knowing that your Daddy is stooping down to you. He’s listening.

What Do You Do When Life Sucks?

What do you do when life sucks? What do you do when it seems everyone and everything is against you? What do you do when your marriage isn’t what you want it to be or you are struggling with your kids? What do you do when your pile of bills is way bigger than you can pay? What do you do when you’re trying to lead but things are not going as you expect and hope? What do you do when you feel totally discouraged, hurt, and afraid?

Have you been here lately? Are you here now?

I want to encourage you–and myself–today. God is working, regardless of what you have done or are doing. He is at work, regardless of how you feel or the circumstances you are in. He cares for you and has a plan for your life no matter how long you’ve been asking and waiting.

In Psalm, 69, David tells God about his dire circumstances and opens up about how he is feeling. He said he was exhausted from crying for help (v. 3). Have you been there? I have.

After sharing all this for 12 verses, David says an important word: “But.”

“But,” he says, “I keep right on praying to you, Lord, hoping this time you will show me favor.”

  • When life sucks … keep right on praying.
  • When your circumstances are bad … keep right on praying (see Philippians 4:12-13). 
  • When you feel depressed, hurt, mad, confused, or whatever … keep right on praying.
  • When you’re not hearing any answers … keep right on praying.
  • When you’ve been praying a long, long time … keep right on praying (trusting in God’s, not your own, timetable).
And one more thing: as you keep on praying, keep delighting yourself in the Lord, as well. Worship him. Put him and his kingdom and his righteousness first. Trust him, regardless of how things seem or how you feel. Take a walk outside and delight in God’s creation. Hold a baby and delight in God’s miracles. Read the Bible and delight yourself in God’s Word. Care for a friend and delight in the opportunity to serve. God promises that when you delight yourself in him, he will give you the desires (favor) of your heart … in his timing, for his glory. (As you delight yourself in him, I believe his desires become your desires, and he is glad to to give you those!) 
How will you respond when life sucks? 
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Birthday Blog: Bitterness or Blessings

This morning I’m thanking God for all the things in this life he has given me so far. Like anyone else who has lived 52 years, I have things in life I could be bitter about today. I know that while my specific circumstances are unique, the hurts and pain I feel are common to all. But I have a God who is in control of all that. I have a forgiving Savior who draws me near to himself to comfort me and give me a peace that I can’t even understand, much less explain. I have a Shepherd who is teaching me how to walk with him and follow him, even across the treacherous parts of this journey. I have a Lord who is patient with me and ever faithful. I have a Creator who loves me as I am but continues to transform me into what he wants me to be. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity in my life to have a relationship with such an amazing, awesome God.

I am also thankful to God for providing me with a family–not perfect, but a gift to me just the same. I had a dad who loved me enough to make sure my physical needs were taken care of. I’m thankful to God that my dad came to know him more as he aged and knew his Savior and Lord before he died. I am so thankful for my mom today, and I miss her today more than ever. What an incredible faithful woman who persevered through so many hurts and pains in her life; she never gave up. She’s my role model. I’m also thankful for my brother and sisters who have walked by my side through thick and thin; they have believed in me no matter what.

I’m thankful for friends who have encouraged me, spurred me on, loved me, and often carried me and my burdens. Each is a gift from God.

I thank God for my wife today. She has truly been God’s gift to me for the last 22 years. I would not be the man I am today without her presence in my life along the way.

I am blessed by my four children today. I don’t need any birthday gifts other than what God has given to me in them. My prayer is that I can continue to have the wisdom to teach them God’s ways and that they too may choose to live by grace rather than bitterness.

Today, on my birthday, I’m thanking God that I have the privilege to be his child, to be his friend, and to be his servant. He gets the honor today.

Back to School … Attitudes and Choices

Today: Proverbs 15

Summer break is over for my three younger kids. This year, our youngest, Anna, starts high school. She is excited and anxious (worried she’ll get lost in the hallways). Sarah is a junior this year, and Dru is a senior. Both are focused on “what’s next” after they graduate: colleges and careers.

I woke up early and before waking them up, I read Proverbs 15. I immediately knew what today’s verse of the day would be:

The wise person makes learning a joy; fools spout only foolishness (Proverbs 15:2, NLT).

As we sat together at the kitchen table and they ate chocolate chip muffins and drank their Starbucks frappuccinos (special treat for the first day of school), I shared this verse with them and encouraged them to think about it today.

My hope is that learning will be a joy for each of our kids this year! But this verse is not based on my hope. It’s based on their attitudes and choices. “The wise person makes learning a joy.” This will be a choice each of them will make each day. They can choose to say: “I hate school. I don’t like my algebra teacher. I don’t understand chemistry (Oops, that’s what I said in high school!). I’m bad in math. I’m going to get lost in the hallways……” Or they can choose to say: “My algebra teacher has some personality flaws, but I’ll have grace on her and focus on completing my assignments. Chemistry isn’t easy, but I’ll find a way to get this! I’ll find my way through the halls and there are plenty of people to help me if I need them.” You get what I mean.

This is not just about our kids, of course. As adults, our attitudes will often determine our outcomes. Maybe we need to go “back to school” to learn how to make better choices! Maybe we need to have other people, wise counselors, in our lives to show us the way and encourage us. Who are those people? How will I choose to respond to my challenges today?

What challenges are you facing today? How will you choose to respond? Do you need any attitude adjustments? Who will you talk to about this?

7 Secrets of Being a Great Parent: Day 4 of Proverbs

Today: Proverbs 4

Do you want to know the secrets to being a great parent? This chapter has them! 

Solomon begins the chapter by talking to his own son about his father David, the man after God’s own heart:

My children, listen to me. Listen to your father’s instruction. Pay attention and grow wise, for I am giving you good guidance. Don’t turn away from my teaching. For I, too, was once my father’s son, tenderly loved by my mother as an only child (Proverbs 4:1-3, NLT).

I wish I had a father who did this, but unfortunately my dad did not have this in him. Neither did his dad for him. But this is the kind of dad I desire to be for my kids, and I hope they can someday look back and say these words to their children about their relationship with me and their mom. Here’s the first secret: Desire to be a great parent, regardless of your past.

Solomon continues,

My father told me, “Take my words to heart. Follow my instructions and you will live. Learn to be wise, and develop good judgment. Don’t forget or turn away from my words (Proverbs 4:4-5, NLT).

What did Solomon want for his children? What do all great parents want? We want them to learn to make their own wise decisions in life. Those decisions include the friends they chose and what they do with them, what books and movies they choose to let their eyes look at, who they date, and lots more! But the most vital of all the wise decisions we want them to make is to follow God. They must make that decision, but what they see in mom and dad will impact that decision greatly. The second secret: Desire something good for your children.
Solomon talks a lot to his children here about doing what he says, but the more important thing is for them to see what we as parents do and who we are–what decisions we make in life, what is first in our lives, how we prioritize our lives. You can only do those things well if you are growing in your own relationship with God, putting him first, trusting and obeying him more each day. Secret #3: Be the person you want your children to become. By the way, that does not mean perfection! Have grace on yourself as well as others.
Our children will learn most from our attitudes and actions, but those are dictated by the condition of our hearts! That’s why Solomon warns his children, as well as you and me to, “above all else [this is most important!] guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The NASB translates this last part as “for from it flow the springs of life.”
Your heart is important. What you allow to flow into your heart will eventually flow out of it and into the lives of your children and others closest to you. What are you allowing to flow into your heart today? Think about movies, books, web sites, TV shows, and friends you choose. I spend time with God every morning because I want to grow in my relationship with him. But I also want his life to flow into me (John 10:10) so that it may naturally overflow into the lives of people around me. I hope it does. Secret #4: Allow God to flow into you so you can overflow!
Your heart is critical because it is the wellspring of your life–from it flows springs of life. So be sure you guard it like a city would guard its water supply against the enemy. Because the Enemy does want to pollute it! Secret #5: Guard your heart against the enemy’s pollutants!
Solomon, like any great parent, wanted his kids to stay on the right path of life:

Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; then stick to the path and stay safe. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil (Proverbs 4:25-27, NLT).

I’m sure King Solomon knew that he could only do what he could do as a parent and that perhaps, like in the story of the prodigal son, his children might choose the wrong way; they may wander off the path God has set for them. In that case, I believe that Solomon was wise enough to let them go, pray like crazy, and wait for their repentant return. It is so hard for a parent to see his child’s back as he or she walks away, but there aren’t many better feelings than seeing them running back with their arms open wide! Secret #6: Entrust God with your children and have his grace with them.

It’s so easy for any of us–kids and adults alike–to get sidetracked in life and get off God’s good path for us. It’s easy to take a shortcut that looks really good at first, but leads to a dead end and ultimate destruction of our lives. God encourages us to stick to the path he has laid out for us. It’s a good path that leads to light, not darkness (see vv. 18-19, John 3:19-21; 1 John 1:5-10). Secret #7: Stay on God’s path for you, and if you’ve wondered off of it, come back to his ways.
This last secret is one of the major themes of the book of Proverbs–and of the entire Bible! God’s ways–his path– are best for us. Trust him with all your heart as you walk faithfully with him, and he will make your path–and the paths of your children–straight.

What do you think of these 7 Secrets from Proverbs 4? Did I miss any? Would you add anything?

How are you doing on these 7? Which do you do best? Which do you need to work on today?