I sinned again recently, willingly even.
As I processed how, yet again, I fell short of God's plan for my life, something strange happened, I started to thank God for my sin.
Why would I do that???
Because this time I am reminded how weak I am against sin.
And as I grieved the sin I became desperate for forgiveness. Pleaded to God even.
As I felt God's love again I was astonished that he forgave me so quickly.
My mind is blown as I consider that I am fully reconciled to God in all His holiness over and over again because of one man, Jesus.
Going through this has made me more aware of my depravity. It reminds me that nobody is holy before God, nobody is good. Not your pastor, not your Mom, not your favorite Christian blogger.
I'm more inclined to look around at "sinful people," the sexual perverts, thieves and murderers, liars and cheats, and realize that I'm one of them.
As a beggar myself I'm less likely to try to tell them how to make something for themselves, and more likely to just point to the one who gives daily bread.
As I stand in awe of the life of Jesus and the holiness of God, the fear that accepting my sin condition will make me calloused to sin is fading away. The pressure to perform to please God easing up.
I also have this growing sense that the more I stand in awe of God, worship, and fall in love, the less likely I am to sin as a secondary effect.
If it took sin to remind me of my condition, humble me, put me in my place before God, increase my reverence for Him, and out of that see greater obedience and shedding of sin in my life, well then, thank you Jesus for my sin.
p.s. I've been having this image in my head the last couple days about the chasm between God and the rest of us, so much so I decided to draw it up for y'all.
I'm a fan of April Fools Day pranks. The fake product launches out of Silicon Valley, baby announcements from friends (usually twins), and the like--I enjoy a good "shucks, ya got me!"
And I've pulled a few myself. I launched a fake performance dashboard at Geneva Global, assigned impossible projects to staff on 4/1, and I've peddled fake news amongst family each Spring.
This year was going to be no different.
But how to pull something off on Easter? Easy, I thought, build up to it over the course of a week so nobody sees it coming.
Yes folks, if you're catching on, the book cover announcement isn't real. The problem is, I got confronted with something uncomfortable while doing this.
Maybe it had to do with today being Easter, and the fact that I've been enamored all week that Jesus actually rose from the dead just like he said he would. I'm stunned God would do that for us and I'm "getting" more and more the magnitude of forgiveness that's played out in Jesus.
And my little joke started to feel more and more...lame.
I also had a major oversight in my scheme. Whitney. She was perplexed as to why she didn't know about this book cover, publisher, and all kinds of other details.
Eventually I had to tell her it was all a joke. She smiled, then 24 hours later she told me she'd prayed and felt the Holy Spirit nudging her to nudge me to pray about this too.
Long story short, this trick I was going to pull isn't honoring to God, and so I'm calling it off.
First, I confess to y'all that it was a big lie. There is no book cover, no publisher, barely even conversations around publishing. I'm sorry for lying.
I'm also sorry that once in awhile I find it humorous to mislead people. It's a heart issue and something I'll be watching and asking God to help fix.
In conclusion, I'm going to share the fake book cover anyway since you've taken the time to read all of this (see below).
And, well, my joke book cover alluded to the fact that if you think there's anything good about me the truth is there is someone behind me kicking my butt who rarely get's any visibility or credit.
Case in point.
Love you guys, and when the book cover REALLY is done, I won't play any games about it, I promise.
Happy Easter, God bless you, and may the spirit of the risen Christ move in, around, and through you mightily.
Can you believe it?
That man, Jesus,
he picked his team,
put enemies together
a tax collector & a Zealot
the latter killed the former
in any other context.
That's more striking
than KKK + BLM.
It's like a donkey
& elephant fight.
Don't think he didn't
have a point;
His Kingdom is
a man cleansed
by God's word;
soaked in prayer.
Holy, holy, holy is he!
Bringing enemies together.
And as far as we know
the hatchet was buried.
Blessed be peacemakers!
they inherit the Kingdom
I want to walk like that.
Who is my enemy?
Not with this force.
doesn't allow for
hate, divisions, walls.
Watch them fall.
Over and over again.
they cannot stand
in the presence of
love like that
not when the King
the Great I Am
crawls into the flesh
a glutton for fools
get's hung out to dry
literally, he dies
for the least of us.
To make peace with us.
Makes me want to run
to my neighbors
Conservative + LGBTQ
Boomer + Millennial
NRA + Parkland kids
Pro-life & Pro-choice
The poor, the grieving
ISIS, Al-Shabbab, all I got
Anyone w/ a voice
Dine at my table
What would I say?
I don't even know
Doesn't even matter
Such is my trust in
this man Jesus
With our 2nd, Lukas, I simply asked God for a name and got a wild vision and a name.
So with baby #3, we figured we'd ask God and get a name. And we did.
However, this time He brought us face to face with our sin and tested our faith like never before. Here's what went down...
Months before conception, Whitney asked God why she has a strong desire to have a baby girl. She sensed God saying, "I made you and I put that desire there."
Then, she asked if God would name the child, and He said yes.
Scarlet popped into mind, she'd never considered it. When she looked up the meaning and saw "fine cloth" she got chills--or years she's had a vision of God wrapping her in fine cloth.
Could we really know we'd have a girl named Scarlet before we had conceived? This was hard to believe because we badly wanted a girl and feared being disappointed.
We started to see the name Scarlet everywhere, over 40 times in 6 months, here are a few examples:
August 31, 2016
I was on a business trip in San Francisco, and Whitney called to tell me about a sense she had that we were going to have a baby girl named Scarlet. I was staying in the Hotel Scarlet.
October 7, 2016
I was at a meeting in Atlanta and realized I was in the Scarlet Oak Room.
At our Church, mid-sermon I sensed Whitney was upset so I prayed, “God please comfort my wife and speak to her right now.”
Just then the pastor said the word “scarlet” three times in a row. Whitney later explained that she was feeling bummed, but when she heard the pastor say Scarlet she was reminded of God’s immense love for her and the vision of being wrapped in fine cloth.
Whitney was praying in bed and asking God for comfort when I song started to play, with the lyrics:
Though our sins are scarlet
You have made us white as snow
I had a pastor friend say to me, unprompted, "I have news for you...you and Whitney are going to have a girl." We hadn't even told anyone we were pregnant yet.
We asked a friend to pray about the baby and name, and she became so convinced this was from the Lord that she went out and bought us red girls baby clothes!
Even our closest counsel was in agreement with us, we'd have a girl named Scarlet.
A correction from God
With sooo many Scarlet's popping up, Whitney and I asked, "are we being hypersensitive to this name?" But wondered why this didn't happen with the first two when we got their names in advance?
I prayed for more clarity on the baby gender and name and felt God saying:
God's name is above all names, above ours, above Scarlet. Remember, I am God =)
Whitney prayed and asked God “What if I’m disappointed? What if we don’t have a girl?" and heard God whisper:
My love is never disappointing.
The big reveal
We finally got THE email with the test results that included all kinds of health indicators, including the gender. Would we have our little Scarlet??? We expected that to be the case.
Drumroll. We opened the email...and. it. said. BOY
We were stunned.
Disappointment and confusion followed, there were tears.
Visions of a mother-daughter relationship, of perhaps a softer more gentler addition to the brood, all fell away...
The very next day Whitney had a health scare involving blood loss. Everything turned out fine but going through it made her realize that, above all, she just wanted a healthy baby.
Slowly her attitude changed, she even felt guilty about having lamented over the baby God had given us instead of celebrating, and at once she became more thankful and excited.
Getting to Finley
Even with improved attitudes, Whitney and I didn't feel like praying for a new name. Months went by and we'd ask each other, "Have you prayed about the baby name?" We hadn't.
In the fall I started to pray for the baby again. I prayed for hours one day and got a strong sense that this baby would be:
- a gift to his mother
- very strong
- able to absorb scripture quickly
- tall and holding a large sword
Then we had a confluence of events that, in short order, confirmed a name for us:
First, we realized Whitney's grandfather's name, Finley, means "White Warrior"
Then, we saw that the verse we had drawn on our kitchen blackboard, Isaiah 1:18, included both the word "scarlet" and "white" in bold.
We began to feel a connection to Whitney's maternal grandfather Finley (and great grandfather too, also named Finley). His nickname was "Whit," a reference to his surname, Whitfield, and the same nickname Whitney's closest friends call her.
We requested 12/27 for the c-section, but it wasn't available. Instead, the hospital confirmed December 29th, which we later learned was Whitney's grandfathers birthdate.
Discovering this gave us goosebumps!
And exactly 105 years after his great grandfather, Finley Kennedy Whitfield, one Finley Everett Derfler was born as a blanket of snow fell outside.
Focus on Redemption
A simple petition to God for a name became a journey of doubts and confusion. Old ways of thinking about our family deconstructed and rebuilt. God whispered and guided us gently all the while.
We had to confront the verses that say:
- God's ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9),
- He knows how to give good gifts (Matthew 7:11), and,
- nothing, not even our children, must get ahead of God in our life (Luke 14:26), in new ways.
If we're honest, going through this process wasn't fun. We still want a girl but trust God for the outcome.
As we worked through our "stuff," this season taught us to constantly look to God, trust him, and celebrate what he gives us.
Speaking of having a girl or another baby at all, we'll end with this "Praise Report."
After Lukas was born, we were told Whitney shouldn't give birth again. Our doctor later refuted that, but doubts lingered about her reproductive health.
So, going into this labor and delivery much of our prayer centered around her health and safety.
We count it as praise, then, that the doctor's report this time is that Whitney looks great and can "have 5 more kids if she wants!"
So hey, who knows if we'll have a fourth child or not?
And we will truly, genuinely, be thankful for any outcome.
I had only a few hours of sleep ahead of my 07:05a flight to Atlanta, and wasn't in the mood to talk. When the woman sat down next to me and joked that she was "a whole lotta woman" and that we'd "become close on this flight", I smiled politely then closed my eyes and fell asleep.
When I awoke 45 minutes later, I was surprised when this same woman turned to me and said this..
"What kind of work do you do?"
I said with some hesitation, knowing this makes sense to almost nobody, "consulting...in the Church."
She replied, "You're about to have an increase. I see a lot of progress coming on deals that you have been working on."
"Wow, interesting that you should say that, especially now," was my retort. Then I asked, "Why did you just say that?"
"Because I've been praying, and I feel strongly God wants me to tell you that. I'm a seer, when I pray I see things."
Then I thanked her, and I told her that it meant a lot to me. As we deplaned, I gave her a big hug as I marveled to her that we, strangers who'd never met, could have this kind of exchange and even call each other brother and sister.
She agreed, hugged me, and we went our separate ways.
I share this because:
- These kind of occurrences, this deeply moving “Intel” and encouragement just didn’t happen to me prior to following Jesus
- It happens now, increasingly so, as I grow in my faith
- Following Jesus is full of surprises, often from complete strangers who can quickly become your "brother or sister," your family, in Christ.
When was the shotgun start
Who started the rat race
Where are we headed
When will it stop?
Here at the
Tip of the spear
I question this faster ideal
Wheel to the hyperloop
Race to fill every niche
Tripping steam engines
With a side of quiche
Ingenuity fuel, or a
Desire to run away
Somewhere not here
Do not be still, I pray
Lean startup A/B test
Productivity or regress
Polyphasic sleep rest
UBI for all but the best
Chasing that USA dream
I’ve been to their mecca
It’s not what it seems
Digital global infection
Tech company affection
Never been more dejection
Can’t discern text inflection
Corrupt system election
Home is now abroad
Hacking social webs
Subvert flows and ebbs
Modern stories we tell
Time lapse traffic b-roll
Crosswalk people scurry
That chopper rap flurry
News cycles spinning
Not sure who’s winning
Fact check for integrity
They are dead to me
Friends in the hundreds
Nobody here now though
How am I missed?
Stomach this FB feed
A toxic baby formula
Science diet suicide
Bitten apple of pride
To go far go together
Go fast go alone
How are we so far from
That naked start in a garden
30,000 foot view here
Next time you jet set
See cities touch the sky
Wonder with me why
Babel didn’t fly?
It started with Miss Piggy and her pretty pink curves at age three.
Then our baby sitter, then Debbie Gibson, a girl in my 4th grade class. I’ve got a list of crushes into the hundreds. From my earliest memories I was strongly attracted to many different women.
I was not born a "one woman man."
Maybe its genetic, I'm not sure, I just know my attractions, should I follow through on them, is not God's plan for me.
I was born in "original sin."
In high school I wrote poems about women. In college, I took philosophy of art, beauty, and aesthetics courses and a figure drawing class where I'd sit for hours drawing naked women three years in a row.
I waxed poetic about the lusts of my flesh as justified, natural, productive, a celebration of God's penultimate creation.
Despite my parents stern warnings against sex before marriage, the allure of women was too much, my roots in the gospel too weak, and I not only succumbed to a life of sexual sin, I dove in proudly.
My world got ugly fast.
Deception in relationships, broken hearts, barely dodging pregnancy and disease, embarrassment and walks of shame, all as I slid into a pattern of companionship that left me ever lonelier.
I often self medicated to enable myself to do what, in the depths of my heart, I knew was wrong. It was a raucous and wicked downward spiral.
I had no idea that with each woman I slept with an imprint was being left on my soul that would not easily be washed away.
By society's standards I was a stud, playboy, lady killer, the character many men aspire to be. I fed on the attention.
My sin was about to be exposed.
Then I found a Godly woman.
The high of meeting a good woman, one who seemed to emanate light and goodness, was quickly followed by dread. As I learned of her strong faith and remembered what I knew about the tenants of my own, I felt like a stained rag.
"What was I thinking?!?" I lamented. The gravity of it all hit me at once.
A long road of pulling myself out of the pit of doing sex my own way instead of God's way was before me.
Hard conversations. Shock by her at how calloused I had become. The effects of so many tangled relationships constantly popping up in photos, old social media posts, phone calls and texts I didn't want to get.
It was a terribly painful process.
I had trouble not resorting to deception or half truths. It was hard to discern what to reveal and when. I subconsciously wondered how I could let the depths of my depravity be known.
We worked through it--this Godly woman and I--as she showed me unending grace.
Marriage = doing sex God's way! (or so I thought)
Once I entered into the freedom of the marriage covenant with a woman I was wildly attracted to, I finally had sexual freedom! But the twisted tentacles of sexual sin began to pull at my new marriage in unexpected ways.
As I drove home from work one day, knowing my wife would want to be intimate, I dreaded that I would not respond appropriately.
How could this happen? Never in a million years! This is a curse!
I gripped the steering wheel and pleaded to God, "Lord, please reinvent my sexuality!" Right away I heard God whisper, "Ryan, be selfless and make this about her, not you."
I was learning how to love in a very different way, my very sexuality being reprogrammed from that of a predator on an unending hunt to someone willing to love unconditionally and sacrificially.
Paying for my past.
My old life reared its head with certain triggers, like staying in hotel rooms while traveling, staying up late drinking, seeing old flames around town or online.
They were all major challenges that I've had to attack in repentance, prayer, talking with Whitney and other men who hold me accountable.
A thousand times I've asked God to wipe clean my memory, to delete the images that are stored in the depths where I no longer want them. Over time, he seems to be hearing my plea.
I've also found myself incredibly sad for the woman I was with. Many probably have deep wounds I can never fix. Even as I know I'm forgiven, it grieves me to know what I did to these young women who are made in God's image.
Further, I've come to realize that in my sin my whole way of thinking about sex had become warped, self-centered, and in need of a complete overhaul.
An awful nightmare woke me up.
The good news is that, as I battle to do sex God's way, the trajectory of my sex life has moved closer and closer to His plan. There was one instance, however, that resulted in a giant leap forward.
I had dabbled in sin, I can't remember what it was, probably looking at porn online.
One night I had an awful dream. I was being seduced by a woman and as I eagerly pursued her I was also aware of my wife calling out in search of me nearby.
I awoke terrified at what I was doing and in that moment God exposed my patterns of deceit, bitterness when I don't get what I want, bartering and manipulation for sex, game playing, all the effects of separation of sex from God's plan.
I had a wave of fear hit me--fear of the coming wrath of God. So much so that confessing to my wife seemed like the easy thing to do!
The next day, while at work I texted my wife that we needed to talk so I couldn’t chicken out later.
I repented and asked for her forgiveness, and it led to a several week long conversation that was uncomfortable, and yet freeing.
Something changed in our marriage, I couldn't put my finger on it, something spiritual and good and necessary. This ugly sin that was confronted and lifted before God had somehow drawn us closer.
It's a lesson I haven't forgotten.
Stopping sexual sin in my family.
I take this sin seriously now, especially since as a society we openly invite sexual sin into our eyes and hearts, and we drift further from God's plan for sex and marriage.
King David, a man after God's own heart, saw his sexual sin wreak havoc in his family. So I pray over my boys weekly, "Lord, please don't let my sins in this area affect them, please protect them."
I'm much more open about this issue now than ever before (this blog as a case in point). I talk regularly to other guys about this, a community that has bolstered my defenses.
My wife and I actively work to guard my heart, for example, we don't watch racy movies, and she thumbs through magazine's I get and tears out the soft porn that now comes in health, technology, even cooking publications.
Regular immersion in God's word and in prayer is a hedge of protection. I also avoid the circumstances where I know I am weak and tempted, such as drinking too much, exhaustion, or mindless web surfing late at night.
Victory is possible.
I wish I could tell you God wiped away my whole past, but He hasn't. The pictures in my mind and perversions in my thinking have regularly eaten away at our intimacy.
I have a daily battle to take captive every thought and hold it up against God's plan for my life. Often after months of victory the ugly sin of lust will rear up from out of the darkness to try to devour me. I've had to learn to be vigilant and ready to do battle at any moment.
And yet, I feel increasingly that I'm no longer a slave to my physical urges. I've become mostly rewired to recognize that sex, even in marriage, is not about me, but is as is described in 1 Corinthians 7, where we learn that our bodies are not our own, but are given to each other.
I yearn for the day when I have complete victory, when the thought of sex outside of God's plan repulses me, and when I see women not as objects for my own pleasure but as wonderfully made daughters worthy of love and respect.
Even the fact that I can write that last sentence as a goal for myself, and not be so blind to the err of my ways, is a testament to what God has done in my life, and what he can do in yours too.
And wildly, as God is apt to do, he's taken this weakness of mine and redeemed it as men now seek me out for counsel for sexual sin. Sadly there are so many who are lost.
A quick guide + a sermon packed with truth.
After talking to lots of men about this very issue I created this short guide on what's worked for me to overcome sexual sin.
If you want a biblically sound eloquent dive into this topic, watch this sermon by my pastor, Paul Anderson, of Grace Valley Fellowship, framed by his conversations with a gay Texas millionaire.
When I first started to get serious about my faith, I remember hearing that some of the guys at church didn’t even masturbate, and I remember thinking, “I don’t think that’s even healthy!”
I never imagined that one day I would earnestly seek to save all sexual energy for my wife alone. And if someone had told me I needed to do that to be a Christian, I might have turned and run.
The point is, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Start by reading the Bible, and pray and ask God to reshape your thinking. Ask him to put people in your life you can talk to about this, someone with a Godly perspective. He answers when we knock.
Over time, through Christ alone, victory over sexual sin is possible.
Other posts on sex...
When I left home for two weeks to visit Uganda, my wife Whitney and I spent a week planning to help her manage the house and two toddlers. We had to because, point blank, we're largely on our own.
To be clear, our parents drive the hour or so to come help if we ask. Our siblings are glad to provide a meal. Whitney is part of several women's groups at church and they do sweet things for her.
It's not near enough.
When I rolled into one village after another in Uganda I saw the women work together, pass babies, watch after the kids, even breastfeed the hungry together.
I'm not writing this to throw anyone under the bus, but to highlight an ill of our way of life in the United States. And provide a few solutions.
Look, my Mom and Mother-in-law can't help much, they work 9-5's, live an hour away, their pet's need care, and they have busy lives of their own. Most of our church family is a 15-minute drive, and they too work or have multiple kids of their own.
Despite living in a dense neighborhood, there aren't many stay-at-home Mom's within a walk of our house, in fact, there aren't any. Whitney mostly meets nanny's and grandparents at the park. And when she does meet a stay-at-home mom, they typically have an impenetrable routine of activities.
I don't know of any mom's who simply join each other in the monotony and mess of everyday life at each other's homes on a regular basis.
And that makes me really sad.
We work hard (both parents) to be wealthy, we're spread out, we've got all the gear, the activities, the outsourced child care--but @@we don't have the rich and authentic community with our neighbors that African's have.@@
As a result, I believe, we're eroding quality of life, especially for Mom's who bear an overwhelming burden, who dip in and out of loneliness, who have few places they can go without feeling like they have to "get ready."
I'm also saddened by how many people lack empathy for these mom's. Especially a generation of mom's who raised their own children in isolation as a single mom or as a result of living far from family.
The unspoken message is that moms need to suck it up and pull it off like they did it, largely alone. Their @@hearts have been hardened over years of separation from the type of community the Church is supposed to have@@ (read the book of Acts).
Now look, my blog is all about building up the Church, about solutions; here's what I've got:
- Family, make time. Do you really have to work, or can you make a lifestyle change to be with your family? Can you move closer, even for a week, a month, 6 months? It was a game-changer when my Mom came to California for two weeks when we had our 2nd. This will be one of the greatest mutually life-giving investments you can make.
- Learn a Mom's schedule. It can feel like everything revolves around mom's. Most just keep their head above water and a tight nap and feeding schedule greatly helps with child behavior. You've got to ask questions to understand their schedule and how you can help within it. And be flexible for changes.
- A regular presence is gold. Given that Mom's have tight schedules, its a great boost when you committing to some regular, a couple hours every Wednesday, for example. We just had a friend offer to take the boys every couple Friday's, now we plan on getting caught up on that day. It's HUGE for us.
- Give a Mom permission to be herself. In our society, Mom's often feel like they've got to meet a certain standard to even leave the house. The reality at home is much messier, and often they don't want to let others in. Let a mom know you're okay with her and her home, in any state, in advance.
- Look around your neighborhood. Proximity is EVERYTHING, that's why African's can be so available to each other, their village is small and they don't have to load up the car for a visit. Want to bless a mom? Look right in your own neighborhood to ensure you can truly be available.
- Look around your church. In my own church, I'm texting with a few other men who's wives are in the same boat as my own. If you see a young family with their hands full, ask how you can bless them.
- Be encouraging, and don't give unsolicited advice. It seems like where help is hard to come by, advice is aplenty! And for a mom who is struggling, the last thing they want to hear is how you were able to figure it out, or about some mom who has it harder. Best to say, "I think you're doing a great job!" or to just keep quiet if you can't actually help.
- Prayer and notes go a long way. Maybe you're too far away to help and can't move. I know Whitney has been incredibly blessed to get a text from a friend saying they're praying for her that day. One time, her own Mom sent a card saying she's doing a great job and when we read it we both teared up. It's still on our fridge a year later as an encouragement to us.
- Be a proactive servant. A lot of Mom's are afraid to ask for help. So initiate and stick with it. We have had two friends recently offer to watch the boys once a week. One came over and jumped in to take the boys to play and later asked if she could fold laundry. Such a simple act, but Whitney and I will never forget her desire to serve us in that way.
- Often help = holding a baby. Most baby's want to be held by a human, which is awesome, but it's hard to do other stuff like discipline kids, make a meal, etc. Holding a baby is one of the most peaceful, calming, quiet joys one can have in this frenetic world. I LOVE holding babies now, and I guess I'm just a little surprised there isn't a line of people at our door wanting to hold ours too. In summary, go hold someone's baby (just make sure you're not sick).
I wish someone told me before I got married there would be periods where for very good reasons my wife and I cannot have sex.
I'm in one of those periods right now... it happens for every husband and wife after they have a C-section (and many other types of procedures). Here is Whitney's hospital discharge note stating very clearly, no sex:
Now, as a Christian man, I've contemplated what to do about these trials. In the wake of my 3rd C-section, I feel like God is giving me some wisdom worth sharing.
- Biblical love in marriage is about giving, not receiving. As I serve my wife through her physical and emotional healing, I find empathy and my desire for my own pleasure dissipates.
- Just praying for my wife has a way of deepening my empathy for her as well as my own resolve not to sin.
- I guard against moments of weakness, like when I'm really tired or have an abundance of energy that would normally find a sexual outlet. The top 7 tips that work for me to beat lust are in this little guide.
Think its impossible to not have sex with your wife for prolonged periods of time?
Consider wise counsel I received from an older man a few years back. He shared with me how his own wife had a condition that made it impossible for him to have sex with her for over a year. I asked how he was able to do that, to which he responded, "I learned to love her like Jesus, without sex."
A challenging lesson, but rooted in Biblical love, I'm convinced.
As a high school three sport athlete and captain, and college wrestler, in my 20's I was in the gym a lot. This muscle foundation lasts to this day; people guess that I work out regularly (I don't).
I'm living on past muscle gains.
Those years of conditioning were valuable, but at 36 I can feel my muscle starting to atrophy. I have to do more to not just maintain my strength, but handle new challenges I face (like child rearing and travel).
For most of December I've been reflecting on my spiritual training and how in various ways, it's not unlike my physical body.
In Silicon Valley, newly married, working for a ministry, for a few years I did spiritual heavy lifting. Bible studies at work, regular fasting and prayer alone on a mountain and corporately. The gains were rapid and opened my eyes to a new capabilities in the faith.
Since then I've let up in my conditioning quite a bit. Sure, the taste for fellowship with God has lured me back for "weekend warrior" workouts, but the hunger to be ready to compete has not been the same.
What does it look like for me in top form? While not a formula, it's typically a regimen of:
- daily Bible reading on a plan and checking in for context and problem solving
- prayer throughout the day alone, with family, and close guys
- fasting one day every week or two
- retreats to nature to listen for God
- immersion into Christian community in its many facets
- quiet time, prayer, and study with my wife
If I have a resolution this year, its to get back into fighting form spiritually. I don't want to live on the big gains I had 3 or 4 years ago, or the little wins I've accrued as a weekend warrior, I want to run this race hard with my face on the ground before Jesus anew.
My sons are 4.5 and 2.5 years old, and have a limited attention span. They're also drawn to experiences more than stories. After trying to truncate devotionals to appeal to them, I realized these boys need something more visceral and hands on.
So here are 7 lessons I've created for Advent...
The Hard Donkey Ride
A donkey ride
Courtesy of their PopPop
Load the kids on your back for a donkey ride. Have them hold on as long as they can as you travel the house. When they can't anymore, break to tell them how before Jesus was born, his Mom, Mary, had to take a ride to Bethlehem on a donkey. It took 5 whole days to get there--that must have been very hard as a pregnant lady!
Read this verse:
Joseph went to Bethlehem with Mary, his wife, who was pregnant with Jesus.
Pray this prayer:
God, thank you for helping us do hard things like ride a donkey. And thank you for protecting Jesus' parents, Mary and Joseph, when he was born. Amen.
The Stars Point to Jesus
To see stars God placed
Take the kids outside with binoculars or a telescope at night. Lay on your back and look at the stars in the sky. Then tell them how when Jesus was born, God put stars to show people that he had come. And that's why many people put stars on their Christmas tree and decorate with lights. When we see the stars it reminds us of Jesus.
Read this verse:
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men came saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star, and have come to worship him.
Pray this prayer:
God thank you for putting a star in the sky for Jesus. Please put light in our life so that we can find Jesus. Amen.
Jesus is the Light of the World
My son Lukas
Feeling the light.
Turn off all the lights in your house so it's pitch black. Light a small candle and let the kids hold it as you tell them that before Jesus came, the world was dark, but Jesus brought light from Heaven.
Read this verse:
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
Pray this prayer:
Jesus, help me have you in my life so that I have light in my life, and that my life is not dark. Amen.
Lost Sheep, Found by Jesus
Hiding and being found
Play a game of hide-and-seek, but this time in your whole house. Encourage your kids to hide really really well. Then take an extra long time to go find them, until the point when they will be antsy. Then go find them and talk about how Jesus came to the world to find us.
Read this verse:
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.
Pray this prayer:
God, thank you for sending Jesus to this world to find us and rescue us since we were like lost sheep. Amen.
Jesus Was A Different Kind of Baby
Holding his baby cousin
Tell your kids to look for someone who is different at school, church, the grocery store, anywhere. Look for different hair, accent, skin color, disability, anything they notice. Tell them when they find someone different, don't say anything, just come squeeze your hand. When they do that, at the soonest opportunity in private say there is someone else who was born different too, Jesus. He was different because he was holy, he was part baby and part God.
Read this verse:
God became a person and lived with us as Jesus. Jesus came from God and was full of grace and truth.
Pray this prayer:
God, thank you for making us all so different. Thank you for this person my child noticed, and help us to be kind to those who are different. And thank you for making Jesus a person who was Holy and part God. Amen.
Jesus Is The Greatest Gift Ever
Grows all week.
Cutout the shape of a man and put it in a box with a couple of sweet treats. Wrap the box and put it under the tree weeks before Christmas so excitement will build. Tell your kids that inside the box is the Greatest Gift Ever. One night gather the family around to open it, make it a big deal with popcorn and hot cocoa. Then let them open it and give them their treat and tell them that the Greatest Gift ever was Jesus, because Jesus was a gift from God to save us. And that's why we give gifts to other people on Christmas.
Read this verse:
God gave us the gift of grace and righteousness through one man, Jesus Christ!
Pray this prayer:
Dear God, thank you for loving us so much that you keep helping us. And thank you for sending Jesus to us. Amen.
Jesus the Servant
About being a servant
Start asking your kids to do things for other people, for their siblings, for you, anyone that comes up. "Please take this drink to your brother. Please take the newspaper to the neighbors door. Please help clean up this spill that I made." Really overdo it for a few days, and do whatever is needed to get them to help. After a few days, tell them that doing all of these things is like being a servant. And even though he is the King of Kings, Jesus was born to be a servant.
Read this verse:
Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for many.
Pray this prayer:
Jesus, thank you for doing so much to serve other people. Thank you for even dying to help us. Help me to care about other people too. Amen.
Church for me now includes:
Dozens of friends in the YouVersion Bible app. We encourage each other when we see one another highlight verses or finish reading plans. I get to passively look over their shoulder, and seeing them in the Word encourages me.
A conference line prayer call with a small group of guys every Thursday at 6:30a.
Two email chains with dozens of Christian brothers on them who I know will pray for me or direct me to good counsel when I need it.
A Slack channel with brothers in the SF Bay Area in regular dialogue, sharing ideas, job leads, Scripture verses, and more.
A Google Group of guys from across the USA for an 8 week study on "Love that Overcomes" so we can work on our marriages.
A Facebook group of guys called Holy Smokes that love to smoke stogies and talk Jesus.
Regular phone and Zoom videoconference calls with my mentors and advisors in Dallas, San Jose, Boston, Colorado, places other than my home of Philadelphia.
What's my point?
Church to me is now at least nation-wide, sometimes international, aided by technology.
This is not at the expense of my involvement in my local church, the place I go most Sundays. Rather, the two compliment each other as a network of Christians with different gifts and roles.
And, with each example from above, the group often moves from digital to analog aka real life meetups, and when we do, we're more familiar with where we're at, where we've been, and how to move forward together.
This is deeply encouraging to me.
I hope it is for you too!
As told by my 2 and 4 year old sons.
When I felt God nudging me to share stories about what He was doing in my life, I thought, "does the world really need another Christian blogger?"
God changed my heart to realize that, yes, it does; in fact, there should be many more. However, something about the rise of Christians stepping out with an online presence has troubled me.
And it looks like this: blog posts, email newsletters, and special alerts that, for the most part, bear the picture of the person doing the writing.
Like, what you see is primarily pictures of them.
This happens a lot, and, over time I wonder how the person can both do this and keep the emphasis more on the Creator than the created, and not grow a (sometimes unconscious) sense of pride.
Surely it's a fine line--one I've danced close to myself. 11 out of 30 posts on my homepage right now bear my face as the thumbnail image. And more than one Silicon Valley tech tycoon has remarked that our social networking is powerfully driven by deadly sins.
Here are 5 ways I keep the story more about about God, and less about me:
- I look at post history, is it a lot of pictures of me, or other stuff too? Point blank, I don't think it should always be me, not even 50% of the time, so I go out of my way to find other images.
- I ask someone who will be honest with me. Usually its my wife, Whitney, or another guy in my life I pick for their brutal honesty. I ask if what I'm posting is done in the right spirit.
- I consider the tone of the message. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 the Apostle Paul wrote that he boasts in his weakness, because when he is weak, Christ is strong. Am I writing about how great I am, or God? I try to do only the latter.
- I do a Strategy Check. Is my online approach centered more on what the world says is necessary to be effective, or what I'm hearing from God in the Word and in prayer?
- I pray. Often before a post that feels more "out there" for one reason or another, I'll pray and sometimes fast for a few days (or even months) before posting it. God has a way of using the Holy Spirit to self-correct.
In closing, what's been very telling to me is that, consistently over the past few years, the posts that get the most interest and have the greatest spiritual fruits, by far, are those where I'm either making a fool of myself for Christ, or where I'm focused completely on someone or something other than me.
Over the past three months my parents and parents-in-law gave Whitney and I an amazing gift. Several mentors have advised me to do this to keep my marriage healthy, so I have to share.
Each time, our parents watched our kids and gave us two nights away. One night is great, but two nights lets you sleep in twice in a row, and somehow enables a quick recharge that lasts for weeks.
Drop the kids off Friday afternoon, head home or to a B&B, then pick them up Sunday afternoon.
Twice we used the weekend to clean the house and prep for baby #3. We worked 10 hour days each Saturday and its amazing how much we got done without the kids around.
Another time we simply checked into a B&B and watched movies, had a big breakfast, did a little shopping without being rushed, took naps, watched movies. It was glorious, and gave us a chance to talk about all kinds of things and we felt like we were dating again.
So my advice is this, find someone who can do this for you.
- If you have grandparents or other family nearby, approach them about it.
- If you are a grandparent, aunt / uncle, or other friend or relative, consider giving this as a gift. I've even made one you can print out below!
- If you don't have family nearby, think through who in your church or neighborhood might be able to do this for you, and bring it up, maybe consider doing a swap for them to do it as well.
- If you don't have anyone you trust with your kids or that you an ask, get intentional about building a relationship with some family in your life to get there within the next 6-12 months.
- BONUS: If you want to really bless a couple that needs refreshment, and have the money to do it, consider throwing in a B&B stay like my parents did as a gift to us, which is an incredible gift.
Marriage Time Away Gift Certificate (click to view and print or order professional print)