My son, if your…

My son, if your heart is wise,
then my heart will be glad indeed;
my inmost being will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.
Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.
There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.
Listen, my son, and be wise,
and set your heart on the right path.

Proverbs 23:15-19

The Best Prayer Ever.

This song is such a great prayer to the God who saves. And it was written and performed in this video by two of my favorite songwriters, Matt Maher and Audrey Assad. I hope you enjoy and pass it along.

“Let us never forget that our prayers are heard, not because we are in earnest, not because we suffer, but because Jesus suffered. Because our Lord Jesus Christ went through the depths of agony to the last ebb in the Garden of Gethsemane, because He went through Calvary, we have “boldness to enter the Holiest” (Hebrews 10:19).” – Oswald Chambers

Where do I belong? – Some New Zealand Adventures

Imagine being born in city in a faraway country, leaving it to move to another country across the world before you are one year old, and then returning to your birth place as a young adult, decades later. That was the situation I was in a couple weeks ago when I flew over the Pacific ocean to visit the beautiful country of New Zealand.

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I was born in this country’s largest city, Auckland, a harbor city (harbor and skyline shown at right) with a diverse population of around 1.5 million residents, sky scrapers, the tallest free-standing tower in the southern hemisphere, sail boats, great food, dormant volcanoes, and even sheep. While walking around the city with my brothers one morning, I got a taste of what it might be like to live in a populous city with mass public transport and tall buildings and a fast-paced life style.

I had to keep reminding myself that this foreign city is my birthplace as well. From

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looking at all the wandering, aimless people around me as I walked through the city, I couldn’t help think about what my life would be like had I permanently stayed in New Zealand after I was born. It reminded me of all the shepherd-less sheep I had seen while driving through New Zealand farmland, somewhat purposeless, not knowing a reason for existence, feeling lonely in the huge expanse of hills (see Matthew 9:35-26)

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Though there were times that it was difficult to know how to feel about the “home country” that I have never lived in, I somehow still felt very welcomed and comfortable in New Zealand, as if there was a special reason for me to go visit. My parents and brothers and I spent a lot of time with my dad’s parents during our stay. This really impacted me. Both of my grandparents have many siblings, so there were a lot of my dad’s aunts, uncles and cousins to visit, as well as my Aunts and Uncles (including my dad’s two sisters, shown at right) and cousins. There were many “limbs” of the family tree to go see and get to know. We really hit it off – with many of them it felt as if I could have known my whole life.

My grandad and his siblings published a book about their family history and legacy a couple years ago. After

IMG_2098IMG_2721reading it on my own, it was great to come see my grandad and some of his siblings and their children in order to put names to the faces and hear about their lives in person. They certainly did not seem aimless, and their passion to share their stories caught my attention. It was really neat what I experienced by spending time with them and listening to them.

Both of my grandad’s parents became Christians before they started a family, and so they passed down to their children the message of redemption and eternal hope that they found in trusting and following Jesus in their lives. My grandad and his siblings have all continued in the Christian faith and have shared this with their children, who have in turn shared it with their children, like me.

IMG_2432It’s like passing the baton in a race. Hebrews 11:6 says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” You can’t make someone have faith. But you can model it for them, and you can pray for them, that God would open their eyes to Him. You can give your life away to the God who has revealed himself by sending His only Son Jesus, the first and only perfect human, to earth to tell us in person about his Kingdom and bridge the gap between us and Him. I believe that humbly showing the people around you (your kids, your coworkers and friends) what it looks like to invite God into your life to be at the center is what Jesus meant by: “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)

Yes, we all make mistakes. There are blots on every family tree. This is not from just a few “rotten apples;” we’re all to blame to some extent because of the brokenness, selfishness, pride and sin that we each contribute to our familylunch with Nana_grandad. As my grandad told me, “you can either get better or bitter.” That is why I praise my God, the God of my parents and grandparents, the Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, who has saved so many of my family members from eternal death and hell without knowing God. He has brought healing and second chances and equipped so many of my great Aunts and Uncles and my parents and grandparents to both share the story of what Jesus has done for us and show with their lives why it really matters.

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While in New Zealand, I loved and appreciated all the prayers, the games, the encouragement, the bible lessons, church gatherings and games and laughs and stories and meals. These interactions – the “passing of the baton” as it were – greatly challenged me to assess my own life, to treat my younger cousins with love and my elders with respect and to ask them questions. I am moved to humbly offer myself up to Jesus, warts and all, so that HIS message would continue to be made known through my life.

I have not have grown up in the country that I was born in, and this does cause some confusion about where I truly belong when I go back “home” to visit. But maybe I had to move to the other side of the world to see that where I truly belong is not on this world at all. Spiritually speaking, I started out one way: without God. And the “old me” without God and who I was on the inside and where I was headed was not pretty. I was in love with (and with God’s help am still being weaned off of) the world and its culture and ways and was therefore corrupt along with it. But now by faith in Jesus I am headed to the place where I truly belong – heaven, the place where all God’s family, those purchased by the death and resurrection of God’s precious Son Jesus, will live with Him forever.

family_one tree hillFamily gathering 2013

Kiwi-isms: Only in New Zealand

I had a great time with my brothers and parents as we traveled “Down Under” to Australia and New Zealand. It was a whirl-wind of a trip, chock full of some good times and memories.

We spent the majority of the time in New Zealand, the country my dad is from and also the country in which I was born. This was a really impactful trip for me, because it was my first time being there as an adult, and to learn and about and see in person more of my family and family history gave me great insight into who I am and what God has for me.

New Zealand is a very interesting country, to say the least. It has the most beautiful landscapes, and it was one of the last lands in which people settled because of its remoteness. In more modern culture, although there are cultural similarities to Britain or Australia, or even the United States in recent years, New Zealand is all its own in that they have their own sayings, foods, animals and interests. People from New Zealand call themselves “Kiwis”, after the flightless, nocturnal, brown bird exclusive to New Zealand.

The land of the Kiwis has many quirks. As I share below in some photos from my 18 days there, you’ll find that every day living in New Zealand is unique, from the people you live with, the surroundings, what you eat and drink and the way you talk. It was very enjoyable to get reacquainted with my second home and delve right into “being a kiwi.”

You can even take a second to visit the New Zealand Wikipedia page and listen to the nation anthem and see some more pictures and facts.

More later about my family and other adventures!

A beautiful yet mild winter day in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, was the perfect opportunity to walk down to the harbor and see the sights.

The Moari people are the native people of New Zealand. The arrived before the Europeans, who arrived in the 1800s. When we visited the Auckland Museum we saw the inside of a traditional Moari meeting place, filled with these type of carvings. Sticking your tongue out like this is a sign of war and aggression against enemies.

The New Zealand All Blacks are the national rugby team; they are two-time international champions. You’ve gotta watch them do the Haka: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdMCAV6Yd0Y

When we visited my cousin and his wife, we had some traditional Kiwi treats and desserts, including (from top down) toffee pops, bananas, the left over chips from our fish and chips dinner, oranges, cadbury marvelous creations, kiwi fruit, anzac biscuits, lemon and paeroa Whittikers chocolate, and apples. Another really good dessert is the pavlova! http://www.joyofbaking.com/Pavlova.html

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Giant Lemon & Paeroa bottle landmark in Paeroa, New Zealand, a city known for its valuable mineral water which is used in its “Famous in New Zealand” soft drink, which has become an icon. It’s a slightly lemon-flavored ginger ale-type soda.

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Meat pies are awesome, google them. I don’t know why they are not popular in the states. A meat pie can be chicken and vegetables or steak and cheese or other ingredients baked in a fresh, crispy pastry and sold in their own stores. Mmm. They’re like what hot pockets were trying to be.

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When its not raining outside, most Kiwis dry their laundry in their yard on contraptions like these. This one was at my cousins house, and when the breeze comes through it spins the rack with drying clothes around and around.

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When we were traveling to and from New Zealand, I really enjoyed flying with Air New Zealand. They have great service and food and TV’s in the back of every chair. The flight attendants have awesome uniforms. This is the back of the guys’ vest. It was a collage of kiwis, meat pies, sayings, Maori words and symbols and other New Zealand icons. I asked my Nana if she could make me something like this, but I haven’t got one yet!

I’m Headed to the Land of my Father!

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I’ll be headed to New Zealand after visiting Sydney, Australia for a few days. It’s been seven years since I’ve seen the country I was born in, so I’m looking forward to seeing family and some beautiful scenery.

Here are some “did you know’s” about my home away from home!

Keep checking in here to see some sights and hear some stories that I’ll be sharing along the way!

Don’t Build Your House on a Sinkhole

I always loved playing in the sand box as a kid, making tiny rivers and mud holes in the backyard with a hose, and playing with those percolation experiments where you pour water into a box filled with different types of soils and gravel to test how long it takes the water to soak into and then pass through the material.

As we grow up, though, we may no longer enjoy playing in the sand, but if our house begins slowly sinking, we may suddenly again be interested in what is in the ground beneath us.

There are layers and layers of materials below our feet right now, such as in the “Soil Layers” picture at left. Depending on where you live on earth, if you begin digging a hole in your yard you will find a unique variety of soils, clay, sand, and rock. There may be a thick layer of limestone formed from dead shellfish and crustaceans. There may be volcanic rocks and hardened ash from a history of volcanic activity. There may be ancient civilizations buried beneath you, complete with ruins of old structures and fossils of extinct animal species. All of these layers can degrade and get weaker and collapse depending on what is above them.

This interests me as a civil engineer. If you want to build anything on a piece of land or find a source of water for a well, it is essential to know what is beneath you. If you start digging immediately, you may strike a pipe or electric cable. Or if you build your house on top of a sinkhole, it may begin sinking gradually or collapse unexpectedly such as in the picture above.

It may seem obvious, but whatever is underneath a structure is going to affect its stability. Said differently, a foundation is incredibly important and determines the success and durability of whatever is built on top of it.

Perhaps you’ve never thought of the foundation on which your house or school is built. This could have major consequences. Similarly, this thinking process has had a big impact on me as I’ve thought about what beliefs and ideas my LIFE is built on. Who am I? What should I be doing with my life? What brings me joy and how should I live. How do I deal with this and that? I really want this to change, but how? All these questions are based on a foundation of some sort.

As a Jesus-follower, my whole life has been changed by the hope of a do-over, a new life and purpose and meaning in being obedient to Jesus and the joy and forgiveness that he offers, so I’ll share something he said since it impacts me:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit?” I have found that it is a NEED, a DESPERATION and a “this-is-not-going-to-work-unless-you-come-through” attitude toward him. And He loves showing Himself to us in those times because that’s when we’re actually ABLE to see and notice what He is doing in and around us. I need Jesus to be more than just a teacher in my life. He is not just a teacher. He is the Son of God. And if I think I can just learn from some of the things that he said and not let Him be the foundation of my life, it will be as if I built my life on a sinkhole that is bound to collapse beneath me.

Instead, by surrendering myself to God’s will I want the foundation of everything that my life is built on to be a poverty of spirit – a need for God and a hunger to be satisfied in Him and bring Him praise in everything I do. I’m so thankful for the daily help He offers to give and for the second chances and power He gives in our weakness and need so that we can stand strong in Him.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from “My Utmost for His Highest,” a daily devotional reading by Oswald Chambers. This one is from July 21st:

“Beware of thinking of our Lord as only a teacher. If Jesus Christ is only a teacher, then all He can do is frustrate me by setting a standard before me I cannot attain… But when I am born again by the Spirit of God, I know that Jesus Christ did not come only to teachHe came to make me what He teaches I should be. The redemption means that Jesus Christ can place within anyone the same nature that ruled His own life, and all the standards God gives us are based on that nature.

…The underlying foundation of Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty, not possessions; not making decisions for Jesus, but having such a sense of absolute futility that we finally admit, “Lord, I cannot even begin to do it.” Then Jesus says, “Blessed are you . . .” (Matthew 5:11). This is the doorway to the kingdom, and yet it takes us so long to believe that we are actually poor! The knowledge of our own poverty is what brings us to the proper place where Jesus Christ accomplishes His work.”

A Star you won’t find in the tabloids…

Hubble picture of nebula NGC 5189

We interact with stars by watching their movies, listening to their music, or watching them lead their team to victory. The papers and news channels tell us about their personal lives and we may even get their tweets sent to our phones. We all to some extent have a “hero” or two that we follow because their lives and what they live for amaze us.

The last few months, however, I’ve been growing in amazement at a different group of stars. Walking into the house when I get home at night gives me a chance to just look up into the inky blackness above me and see the glimmering dots of light hanging in the sky. These stars are huge and very far away. Their light takes years to get to us. And many of these stars are much bigger than our own Sun.

Most amazing to me was reading about how stars die. This is incredible because dying stars display some of the most beautiful images known to man. An article on the Hubble Space Telescope website describes the image above, which is an eruption of the dying star that is now nebula NGC 5189. If you give the post on the website a quick read, you’ll discover that the last amount of energy that fueled this star all its life is now used to create this stunning, color-filled explosion as it dies. It’s almost like the last bit of gas you have left in your tank as you’re trying to find the nearest gas station to refuel. Except, this last ounce of star-life is used to make a magnificent display for all the universe to see.

On a similar note, when I was reading the book “Indescribable” by Matt Redman and Louie Giglio, I discovered this eloquent explanation of star deaths, and how they can relate to our own lives:

…in the stars, we find beauty in dying. And in their Maker, we see the most glorious death of all. Christ [Jesus] made everything and owns everything, yet He chose to give Himself away as a peace offering for all humanity.

…those who cling to life with clenched fists, as though it is theirs to do with as they choose, will in the end have nothing but a brief and momentary existence. But those who get over themselves, shed their self-centeredness and self-absorption like the gas and dust shrugged off by a fading star, will find themselves on the doorstep of something more.

…In the end, dying is simply less of me and more of Jesus. Less trying. Less striving. Less strutting. And more trusting. More surrender. More of His power, doing in and through us what only He can do.

So, I hope you’ll join me in thinking about this.  The universe does not revolve around us. Yet we have a ringside seat to a universe filled with beauty and also emptiness and death that can lead us to asking some big questions. And though death seems like a scary black hole of uncertainly, this God that created the universe can apparently make something beautiful out of it. Let’s look UP a little more often.

A Life of Waiting Tables

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I have waited tables for a few years of my life now. I’ve heard the complaints, experienced the rude treatment from customers, received the requests for every type of drink and sauce and extra portion that has had me running in circles and often apologizing for the wait. But thankfully I’ve also gotten many compliments and even genuine interest from customers who have asked about my life and gotten to know me as a person.

However, as much as I have enjoyed many aspects of being a waiter, I cannot imagine spending the rest of my life waiting tables. Especially in our culture, it is usually a last-resort job to pay the bills; the kind of job that belongs to only college students and the older ladies at local diners. It is hard work submitting to every beck and call and having to put on a smile and give people what they ask for, even when you don’t feel like it. Serving means doing things for people that they don’t want to do for themselves. It is taking time out to do the “dirty work” for others.

Not only is it sacrificial, serving is even embarrassing. I remember times when I’ve had food on my shirt while serving a table, when I’ve spilled drinks on customers, or when a meal is taking a long time to come out of the kitchen and you are stuck having to keep the guests patient and explain why the food is taking so long.

Just recently I learned a new word for a waiter: the Greek word Diakonos. According to Biblestudytools.com, the English translation refers to “running errands,” “one who executes the commands of another,” and “a waiter, one who distributes food or drink.”

I found out that this word is the original Greek word used for “servant” in Mark 10:43. A couple of Jesus’ disciples figured that he had a lot of power and wanted to sit at his right hand when they got to heaven. This had the other disciples jealous and angry. This is how Jesus responded:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

When you get a glimpse of the life of service that Jesus calls his followers to, it can be very frustrating to understand how and why we must live this out. My own pride and bitterness says, “NO! I just want to do what I want. Other people do not deserve that I serve them 24/7. I can get by with serving the people that are nice to me and those that say ‘thank you,’ but even still I won’t go out of my way if it is too difficult.”

This is simply not how I should respond. Jesus wants to live through me (Gal. 2:20), for me to be in relationship with Him and to trust and reflect Him. He laid his life down for me. He became less so that I could be free from the slavery of my sin and shame and uncleanness before God. He humbled himself to put on human flesh and then be unjustly killed to become a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), even those who tortured and crucified Him!

If the one who calls Himself the “Son of God” (John 12) and the Savior of all peoples (John 4) can humble Himself  from his deserved high position to serve those beneath him, He truly has called us to do something that He has already done Himself. After being crucified, Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father. If we follow Him in his service, surely we will also follow Him toward being with Our Father in Heaven forever as well.

Surely us serving people is in itself telling a story to those we serve that God loves them and they are important to Him.

I will hopefully not be a waiter in a restaurant for the rest of my life. But with God’s help, I will take what he teaches me from my current job as a waiter so that I can best serve others for the rest of my life.

Please come along! Let’s go wait on people hand and foot with genuine love and selflessness. They often don’t deserve it. But they really need it.

Children Are So Important.

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Whether we liked it or not, we were all children once. And our childhood was incredibly important in forming the people we are today.

The smiles, the good memories, learning the ABCs, the bed time stories, climbing trees, going to the beach, birthday presents, the first day at school, losing teeth, gaining friends, growing up and having crushes and sports practices and school projects.

The fears, the break downs, the mistakes and struggles, loneliness, family issues and losing loved ones, bad grades and detentions, all of the tears and hurts and band-aids. 

This thought really hit me just now: children are really important. Just as looking back on childhood can be both sweet and bitter, looking ahead to the children of the future can be a mixture of both hope and uncertainty. I don’t have any children, but lately I have become more and more aware of just how joyful, sobering, and maybe scary it is to raise a kid (or multiple).

In the break room at work, some coworkers were discussing how they did not want to get married for a long time. One guy mentioned he would wait until 50 so that he could get the most out of his life until then. Although we try to hide it, most of us get a glimpse of the weight of our decisions when we think about how they could affect a future spouse or family down the line. And for me, I think I have become a lot more governed by fear than hope recently. I want that to change.

I think currently our world has become increasingly unimpressed and too busy to be focused on children. But they are our future. Just as my generation will be dealing for the next few decades with the issues left to us by our parents, so our children will be dealing with our failures and hang-ups.

Here’s a look at how many children are being born nowadays and where: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Countriesbyfertilityrate.svg

I think that to some extent we are all children who have not fully grown up. We have a difficult time getting over things that we dealt with as children, and we are afraid that our children will have to deal with that same pain.

But remember that beautifully child-ish nature you had when you were younger? The world was brighter and you were more curious, but not in order to prove things wrong but just to discover new things. You were so ready to learn and so hungry for love and attention.

Yes, we were and still are prone to fear and anxiety, but as we grew up we were much more likely to settle with accepting the fears and hiding behind masks to ignore them.

I am grateful to have a hope past this seemingly dim outlook. There is good news for us, and for children both now and in the future. I want to fall more in love with the one who said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” (Matthew 19:14)

Apparently God’s kingdom “belongs to such as these.”

Jesus called a little child to him, and placed the child among [his disciples, who were with him]. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:2-5)

I really believe this Jesus is our hope. Both for us “children who have not fully grown up”, and the ones who will come after us. God was not afraid to have children and to call us his own. So I don’t want to be afraid to be his child, and to follow his example by taking care of the children he puts in my life.

I hope you’ll join me. Because children are so important.

Redemption

Redemption. One of my favorite things!

Mike Patz

Ruth_BackgroundReligion without redemption is dangerous.

Futile.

Exhausting.

Frustrating.

Disillusioning.

Crippling.

I need more than a code of ethics; I need redemption. You need more than improved morality; you need redemption. We need more than a cause to keep us busy; we need redemption.

I can’t quite put into words how deeply this word is marking me.

Redemption.

It’s music to my ears. It’s light at the end of my tunnel. It’s when you’re watching a movie and the dark music in a minor key subtly makes it’s shift. And you somehow know. Things are about to change.

All these other no-redemption talking heads have mastered the art of saying nothing. It’s time we did something about that. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”

Redemption is healing. Redemption is a soul-resurrection. Redemption calls things forth that did not previously exist. With people who do not deserve it. With…

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