Thinking Thankfully


Today is Thanksgiving and with all holidays, for some folks today brings joy and anticipation (can you say cranberry sauce and stuffing? Football? Seeing family, throwing around little nephews, and perhaps even a nap?) and for others it brings none of those things in parenthesis and maybe even sadness and despair.

Yet…God’s Word instructs us to be thankful always.  Always.  #Ow.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV)

How important is it to be thankful?

Erwin Lutzer writes that “Giving thanks changes everything…in fact, thanksgiving is a game changer.”  Why?  He provides two reasons:

  1. Being thankful honors God by reaffirming his sovereignty.  When we thank him in all things, we admit that he is really and truly in control of all things.  Yes, even the bad stuff, and he is able to redeem and restore by the power of the gospel.
  2. Being thankful changes us.  It builds faith in our hearts; the weight of our burdens are God’s not ours.  It gives us a new perspective, if frees us to see difficulties as a part of a larger purpose. It also frees us up to worship God, and reminds us of his goodness, love, and providence.

To echo Lutzer’s last point – thankfulness to God gets our eyes off of ourselves and onto God.  In this world we will all have hardship, but even in those times the answer is not to be full of self-pity and self-focus, but to cast our gaze outside of ourselves to the one who is able to redeem and restore all for his glory and our good.

In thankfulness, we make a conscious decision to thank God for all he has done for us in Christ – we take an axe to the root of unbelief that God isn’t truly good, or he isn’t truly for us, or truly not in control…and we find the strength to climb out of whatever hole we are in, and kill sin and it’s temptations with the grace of the gospel.




Dark Valleys

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It’s been one of those times where we see lots of suffering around us.  People passing away, marriages stuck in cycles of pain and disfunction, hopes and dreams not coming to fruition, chronic illness and pain not getting better, people reaping the consequences of very bad decisions, innocent children caught in the crossfire…the list goes on.

I found on my desk a copy of Be Still My Soul, Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering and have read through a few pages.  One in particular struck me it was Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter titled “Dark Valleys.”

We will all indeed go through dark valleys, but in those times we need to remember the truth is that if we are trusting in our Savior Jesus, he will lead us and he is there with us – even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)

What is the greatest evidence of this?  The gospel of course.

“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?” (Romans 8:31–32 ESV)

Ferguson writes – “I cannot imagine living the Christin life on any other basis that this. If the Father loves me so much that he did not spare his own Son but delivered him up to be crucified for me, no further guarantee is needed of his wholehearted and permanent commitment to me and to my blessing. 

Whatever happens to me must be seen in that light. Yes, my deepest fears may become realities. I may not be able to understand what God is doing in or to my life; he may seem to be hiding his face from me; my heart may be broken. But can I not trust the One who demonstrated his love for me? What I was helpless in my sin he sent Christ to die for me (Rom 5:8). If he has done that, will he not work all things together for my good? Will he withhold anything that is ultimately for the good of those who trust him?


Adoption and the Gospel

My family has been a licensed NJ Foster Home for a while now, in that time we have seen many kids come through our door.  Some only needing to stay a short time, others several months, and maybe one day (perhaps in the near future) we will be faced with the very real question of adoption. Will we consider making this child a permanent part of our family, we officially become “Mom” and “Dad,” our kids become “Brother” and “Sister,” and we get to call them our “Son” or “Daughter” – with all the rights and privileges therein.  Let’s be straight up – that is a big deal.  Huge.  Perhaps in this life there is no bigger commitment or responsibility than becoming a parent.

The concept of adoption is that a child who has been rejected or orphaned from their birth family can be fully accepted as a member of another family.  In that is actually a beautiful picture of the gospel. Let me explain.

Spiritually, we are all orphans – alienated from our Heavenly Father by sin.  Sin that is in us from the Fall and sin that we have willingly committed in rebellion against God’s authority in our lives.   Just like there is nothing a child can do to make themselves be adopted by another family, there is nothing that we can do spiritually to make us adopted by God.  It is an act of his jaw-dropping grace that he adopts us.  He pursues rebellious sinners and chooses to lavish his love on us in Jesus thru the cross.  Let’s look at a few elements of our spiritual adoption:

  1. God pays the full adoption price in Jesus.  Adoption is costly financially.  Those of you who have adopted internationally are well aware of this.  Then there is the normal expenses of providing for a child.  Adoption is also costly in other ways as well – we give a part everything we have with another child – our time, our emotional energy, our comfort…our sleep! Likewise, the price of our spiritual adoption is extremely high – it is the life of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins.  This is an infinitely high price, one that no one can pay except God alone.  He pays it, and we receive adoption. Galatians 4 helps us understand this more deeply – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5 ESV)  Theologian and author J.I. Packer wrote if he had to summarize the message of the New Testament in three words it would be “adoption through propitiation.”  God adopting us by providing a wrath-bearing sacrifice (“propitiation”) in Jesus.
  2. We are adopted with all the rights and privileges of God’s child.  When a child is adopted into a family, they assume the family name and everything that goes along with it. This is an astounding fact.  We become children of God.  I heard a Pastor say the other day “We are all God’s creation, but not all His children.” We become His children by faith in Jesus Christ.  John 1:12 tells us clearly – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12 ESV)  Becoming a part of our family is cool and all, but has limited rights and privileges (we aren’t all that famous or wealthy…)  BUT, when we place our faith in Jesus, God adopts us into His family!  Check out Ephesians 1:1-14 for a more detailed list of our blessings of being adopted.
  3. Through adoption, we have direct and intimate access to God as our Father.  Children have (or should have) unrestricted and continuous access to their parents. Kids should have that feeling that they are special and dearly loved by their moms and dads.  They do not need to go thru anyone else to be with mom or dad.  We do not need to go thru a priest, a prophet, or any kind of middle man.  We do not need to be at a certain spiritual level in order to be accepted by God. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”” (Galatians 4:6 ESV)  The great Dr. Ryan Boys said that there is no evidence of any ancient Jewish prayers where they called God “Father”  – now thru adoption by faith in Jesus we can!
  4. By adopting us, God makes us heirs to Himself and His kingdom.  Let’s pretend for a moment that my family had amassed a fortune worth billions of dollars, and I had no children.  By adopting a child, they would become heirs to everything I had as my “official” child.  Here’s the crazy thing – is there anything of more supreme worth than God himself?  This is mind blowing even more.  We will inherit God himself.  The joy of being with God is God himself.  Again, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is helpful in understanding this concept more:  “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:7 ESV)  Pastor and Author CJ Mahaney spent over an hour plunging the depths of this mystery at the 2015 Sovereign Grace WorshipGod conference, I would say that will be an hour worth your time.  (To see that message click here).

All of this is grace and all of it should amaze and astound us with the blessings that God provides in us.  When others notice that we are caring for the widows and orphans and praise us, it is an immediate opening to briefly share that this is the picture of our spiritual adoption in Jesus.  As we show grace to others, let us remember the grace of God in adopting us in Christ Jesus.  Dustin Kensrue sums things up well in his song “Grace Alone”  –

I was an orphan lost at the fall
Running away when I’d hear your call
But Father, you worked your will

I had no righteousness of my own
I had no right to draw near your throne
But Father, you loved me still

And in love before you laid the world’s foundation
You predestined to adopt me as your own
You have raised me up so high above my station
I’m a child of God by grace and grace alone

You left your home to seek out the lost
You knew the great and terrible cost
But Jesus, your face was set

I worked my fingers down to the bone
Nothing I did could ever atone
But Jesus, you paid my debt

By your blood I have redemption and salvation
Lord, you died that I might reap what you have sown
And you rose that I might be a new creation
I am born again by grace and grace alone

Haiti Day 5 = Chaos (and Bools)

So.  Yeah. Friday’s during Haiti VBS are nuts! Reason being…the kids all expect us to give them presents in the last day. We certainly has our share of soccer balls (about 50) and various other things…but when you have a couple hundred kids that doesn’t go very far.  Chaos is a good word to describe the atmosphere today. And shoving. Lots of shoving. With lots of yelling in CreoleEnglish telling us to “Give me bool.”  (Ball)

We did give away all of our “bools” via a contest where the kid lines up far away from the goal and gives it his best kick.  If he or she gets it in, they win the bool.  Here’s a pic of one of the attempts. I’m pretty proud of this shot, every once in a while I get a good one!


I had the opportunity to talk again with Alberto. He seems to be a legit follower of Jesus. I saw a man selling Bibles and bought one. After that Alberto asked me if that was a Creole Bible, which it was, and he told me that he didn’t have one. He only had a French one on his phone.  When I gave him the Bible his face lit up. He as so excited to have a Bible in his home language. Here is a shot of my bud and his new Creole Bible. 

Tonight we are going back to the town to hold a “crusade” – basically a church service. We will sing a few songs, and I am preaching from Luke 5. Please pray for the Word to go out and for it to penetrate hearts!

Haiti: Days 3 and 4 – All In It

I think it would be safe to say that we’ve all experienced a wide variety of emotions these last few days. Joy at seeing the smiles, laughter, and hi-jinks of the kids; bewilderment at how things got this bad and how we can best help; a dose of conflicted aggravation from being asked for money, clothes, shoes, wedding rings, candy, soccer balls, or water over and over and over again; waves of sorrow that can momentarily overwhelm you; and moments of seeing God move that can bring you to tears in an instant. 

The children are precious. They are so loving it knocks you over – sometimes literally. I’ve spent most of my time in the town square just playing with the kids in simple games like thumb wars, arm wrestling, and the ever popular “slaps.”

We can’t walk around outside without being mobbed with kids – such a great problem to have right?  Perhaps the only thing that rivals the beauty of the kids themselves is the beauty of seeing Jesus in the faces of our team as they show love to them.


The kids today (Wed) were pretty amped up. I tried to give away candy but had to bail when a near riot started.  They live to see pictures on my iPhone, and the really cool thing is I was able to show some kids pictures of us together from 2 years ago. Their faces were priceless!  This too I had to cut short as upwards of 15 kids would swarm me, with lots of pushing and shoving.  There is a ‘fight to survive’ mentality here.  There is never enough so they fight for everything. This is strange to us as Americans where we have such “order,” but we also have enough…more than enough, we have excess. I need to remind myself of this before I judge. 


We have had several very young children – like 2 or 3 years old – literally put into our arms by others. We hold them for long periods of time, some fall asleep in our arms. 

Then there are the young adults and adults. They hang back in the shadows and we try to engage them.  We try to seek them out to give them a smile, a touch, some food and water, or if the opportunity allows, to tell them about Jesus.  We gave this older woman some food and I was able to follow up and give her water, she thanked me profusely in Creole and the only thing I could think to say is “Jezi” (Jesus). He is the reason we are here, what we give you food and water, play with the kids, hold them, teach VBS. It’s all about Jesus, even if you don’t rmemenber us – remember why we came. 


And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭10‬:‭42‬ ESV)

PS: Be sure to follow our team via #GPBCHaiti2015 – there are some great pictures going around!

Haiti – Day 3 – It Begins

One of the things I am liking the most is the chance that we have every night to sing together, be in God’s word together, and share what is going on in our hearts. Last night Alex challenged us from Matthew 19 that we desire most of the time to be first in yet Jesus calls us to put others before our own needs. 

 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

(Matthew 19:30)

When we do VBS in Haiti, unfortunately the opposite of this verse is in effect. There is a great amount of clamoring, yelling, and pushing and shoving him to be at the first of the line to have a chance to get in. 

I had the opportunity to preach to the crowd this morning – telling them we are here because we love them very much and so does Jesus. We see brokenness and the effects of sin and evil all around us – in Haiti or America, and God has done something about it. He has supplied us the restoration and healing in Jesus. Ours is to live by faith in Him while remembering what he has done for us in securing our new identity. 

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Galatians 2:20)

Today we started VBS and while it was controlled chaos, it still was chaos.  I saw some of the kids that we saw 2 years ago. But even in the midst of chaos,  the warmth and the love of the children is just absolutely amazing.


After our VBS classes we fed the community as far as two giant pot of rice and beans could go.  One of our translators suggested that would be a good idea to take some plates of food into the street and find the people that of been hiding in the shadows and bring them to them. This turned out to be a great idea as many were doing just that received the food gladly. 

After that we spent some time in small groups with children who wanted to learn English.  

We spent time showing them pictures from our iPhones are pointing to drawings and the books teaching them the English word for many common objects. The Haitian children are very excited to learn English and it was a blessing to spend some one-on-one time with them. 

We’re looking forward to a nice time together tonight over dinner and more singing and time of sharing this evening. Lauren has volunteered to lead our studying the word tonight and we are excited to hear from her. 

So far everyone is doing great and no one has become sick. Please pray for our stamina to keep up in the punishing heat and most of all for God’s word to have an impact in the hearts and lives of these precious children. 

Haiti – Day 2: Orphanage, Churchnp, and…Oh yeah…the Citadel

Welp, after a time of worship and a word last night from Psalm 1, most of us slept pretty well. It is H-O-T. Personally I don’t think I’ve ever sleep-sweated like that before, unless I was breaking a fever. (Oversharing?) Still, with 3.5 hrs of sleep on Friday, a sweaty 8hrs felt great!

After breakfast (we have 2 Haiten cooks here who fix us yummy breakfast and dinner each day) we set off for the Children of the Promise Orphange. They have many kids there and a few house parents that raise them and care for them. They also have some children with special needs. This was particularly hard to see, but my brother Josh spurred us on to love and good works and suggested that we pray with each child. One boy who was very restless and noisy became silent when we touched him and prayed for him. Many of these children will not be adopted, but some will. Some also will be cared for by loving house parents. Perhaps you are being called to be one of them?

We also were able to worship with the staff there today. We sang some songs and the watched a video sermon from 1 Peter 3:3-12.  To sing worship after seeing the needs of some of the children was emotional, these lyrics hit hard: 

Heal my heart and make it clean, open up my eyes to the things unseen. Show me how to love how you have loved me. Break my heart for what breaks yours everything I am for your kingdom cause, as I walk from here into eternity.  (Hillsong United – “Hosanna”)

It was a solid message on video from Pastor Lee Cummings from Radiant Church– our feelings and reactions are wired to our hearts like buttons that get pushed. Will we be Christlike in our reactions and actions?

After the service and some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we got in our vehicles and headed off for a bouncy ride to the Citadel. (my wife actually managed to leave there without stealing any of the children.)

This was my second time to the citadel and I think I was even more impressed this time. The hike up is quite a workout, but once you get there the views and history behind the massive fortress are amazing. See below for a great shot of my dear friend Josh with some cannons. Josh loves cannons. 

After the Citadel workout, the team was very excited to get some relaxation by the pool. Tonight we are looking forward to a yummy dinner and then some VBS planning. And then a time of worship and sharing together.  We have given the challenge for some of the youth to lead in a devotion each night and for tonight Alex has taken up the challenge.  I’m always thankful and encouraged when youth take up the challenge to lead. 


  As you can see, our room (somehow dubbed the honeymoon suite) holds all the supplies for our week doing VBS. Tonight we will talk about how we are going to get things done, but also how we are going to share Jesus with the children there.  May we truly love God and love his children. More to come!