Letter from a hospital bed to my children on the eve of open heart surgery

I had open heart surgery a few years ago to fix a leaky mitral valve that was damaged by a serious infection in my heart. I had already experienced a very small stroke and was in congestive heart failure when they discovered the root issue. I went in for a test to try and figure out why I was so sick and ended up being admitted to the hospital facing serious heart surgery. All this before I had ever turned 40.

I was warned that there was a very slight risk of complications that my surgery could end in a catastrophic stroke and or death. This really struck a nerve because my dad has a stroke in his early 40’s and it had really impacted me in a negative way. I was anxious that something could happen and that it would have a negative impact on my children.

I wrote each of my kids a letter, and I wrote this as a journal article for them to read as they grew older (I’ve edited it slightly to help it read better):

“Today I sit down to acquaint myself with all the things that could go wrong. To be honest, “wrong” on this is just my perspective. I really want to avoid hurt and pain, but they are at my doorstep knocking.They won’t let up until they enter my life like never before.

I write this now so you know my state of mind as I open the door.
There may be consequences for you that I never intended. Should things go “wrong,” it will be grief that comes knocking on your door.

Our scariest moments are the ones where we recognize we have no control. We either run to God or we run away from Him. We either call Him Evil, or we call Him Good. In those moments, there is no middle ground to practice a modified religion.

I didn’t choose this road. But it is the road that is set before me. In a thousand lifetimes I would not pick this pain. But I firmly believe that God has chosen me to endure it and so I will walk it, and you must know that I do not walk alone.

You must know that it is because of suffering that I cling to Him now, more than ever. I find that even in the darkness, and in the quiet, He remains true. So while this is not that path I would have chosen. It is the path that has led me closest to Him and for that I am grateful.

So I have to confess that when I ponder, “what might go ‘wrong’?” I say with confidence, that in some way, whatever happens, it will have also gone “right.” God is still in control.

It can be hard to imagine God is in control when we feel so out of control. I imagine the disciples were completely unnerved at the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps they thought all was lost. But three days later he rose from the dead! And the most tragic day in all of history became the greatest day in all of history. The resurrection changed everything. And this is where I place my hope that after whatever darkness may come we will experience the Light of God’s amazing grace.

This trial brought me closer to the Lord and that was a purpose greater than my own personal comfort could have ever been. I pray you press into the Lord no matter what comes your way. He has a way of taking the hardest circumstances and using them for his glory. It took me decades, but looking back and see how he used my dad’s stroke to work in my life. You may not see it or feel it now, but never lose the hope and true optimism that comes with trusting in the promises of God. – DAD”

I am grateful that my kids didn’t need to read that letter/journal entry. But I’m glad I wrote it for them. It helped me process some of my own feelings about my dad’s stroke (for the curious, he survived and I’ve written more about it elsewhere). I swore I’d never go into the ministry because of his stroke and the surrounding story, but as I look back, I’m probably in ministry because of it.

To this day we don’t know the cause of the infection in my heart. We probably won’t ever know. I’ve had to make peace that some things in life aren’t meant for us to understand on this side of eternity.

In Need Of A Savior (part 2)

What are some of the things that have been passed down in your family?  Families pass down all kinds of stuff. We pass down our genetics; you might have your grandfather’s hair or your grandmother’s eyes. We pass down possessions; my grandmother handmade quilts and each of the grandkids have one now. We have traditions. We are Auburn football fans. I’m an Auburn football fan because my dad was an Auburn football fan. He’s one because his dad was an Auburn football fan. It goes back generations in my family.

Your family probably looks different, but there are things that are being passed down. It may be something like a desire to serving your country through military service, or it may be a watch from your grandfather, or it may just be your dimples, but you have something that has been passed down to you.

Sometimes what we inherit isn’t always good. My grandfather was an alcoholic. Fortunately, my dad decided he wanted his life to be different and so he avoided alcohol. I on the other hand found out at an early age just how easy it was to become an alcoholic when it’s in your family tree

But what happens if something really important doesn’t get handed down? What happens when something vital never crosses the generational divide? What happens when parents love God, but their children never develop a real relationship with Him? We are forced to look back and ask…Why? What went wrong?

We see exactly that scenario unfold in the book of Judges. The people of Joshua’s generation loved God. It was Joshua who stood up and made a decree to the people of the Land, “choose you this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). It really seemed like Joshua had long term plans for serving God to be a part of his family’s heritage for generations to come.  The book of Judges even tells us that even while there were elders living after Joshua that all the land served the Lord (Judges 2:7).  When the people were taking over the land it was men like Caleb who went through some means to ensure that his daughter would marry a God serving and brave young man (Judges 1:12-13).

Read Judges chapter 2

It’s hard to imagine how there would come a generation that didn’t love and serve the Lord like their parents did. We have plenty of evidence that this was something that was designed to be left in the family legacy. Certainly each person has to make their own decisions to follow the Lord, but it’s not like the parents were negligent about teaching their kids about God.

Continue reading “In Need Of A Savior (part 2)”

Nehemiah 4:9

Nehemiah 4:9

I love what the book of Nehemiah teaches us about prayer. Some folks believe that when we pray and ask God for something that it ends there. So they will pray and ask God for a job, but they won’t put a resume out, attend a job fair, or even tell their friends they are looking. They expect the job to fall out of the sky. Granted sometimes God does work in incredibly miraculous ways, but most often prayer is a partnership. We pray and ask in faith and then we act in faith that God will do what He said He would do. So for the guy looking for the job, he prays and asks God for a job. Then acting in faith that God will provide, he goes and looks for the job that God is going to provide! Or the girl who prays for rain; She asks God for rain and then takes an umbrella with her. Both of these requests were in faith that God would answer, and both had a faith step to take.


But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. (Nehemiah 4:7-9 ESV)

When things get turned up around Jerusalem and the idle trash talk all the sudden turns into a serious threat Nehemiah and his people are prepared. The very first thing they do is pray. The next thing they do is set up a guard. This is where faith and action meet. They ask for God’s protection and then they diligently set up an alert system should they need to defend themselves. This is like bringing out the umbrella after asking for rain or putting in a job application after asking God for a job. This is faith that God will act.

Raising Kids Who Don’t Remember Jesus

BibleRead-2They have heard about him. They know his stories. They know what he’s done for us. They sing songs about him. They have asked him to forgive their sins. They have been baptized in his name. They have memorized his words. They have done good works in his name. They have more information about him at their fingertips than any other generation, yet they don’t remember him. How does someone so saturated with Christianity loose the very essence of the one they call Savior? How do you claim a sense of what it is to be Christ-like, but have no memory Christ?

What am I talking about? It’s the Lord’s Supper. The essential part of church life that emphasizes the gospel, what it means to trust Christ, and most of all where we REMEMBER him. It’s a common meal where we all participate by receiving elements that represent the blood and body of Jesus and in doing so we ALL TOGETHER acknowledge his sacrifice and eminent return.

I see lots of believers, especially believers with children skipping out on this thing that Jesus actually said to do in rememberance of him. Is it possible to teach our children about Jesus, but to not remember him? Can we have them sit for a family devotional and prayer, sit in Children’s Church, sit close by as we go and minister, and somehow not teach them to sit for a moment to examine their life and remember Jesus?

I get it. There is a long list of excuses on why not to get the kids our of children’s church or return for a special evening service. They haven’t made a profession of faith yet – (They need to see that they are left out and apart from Christ. This physical illustration of restricting your kids from taking the Lord’s Supper will do more to teach them this reality than you words alone). Kids are really hard to keep still and quiet in church (It’s always been this way, but there are very few things in life they learn from lack of experience and this isn’t one of them).  They are in children’s church, I don’t want to interrupt the lesson.  (Can you make a children’s lesson more profound than the experiential, tangible, visible, and tastable lesson set before us in the elements of the Lord’s Supper? First as an outsider observing everyone else and then prayerfully as a believer who also professes faith in Christ.) Think about it, with the Lord’s Supper you see with your own eyes all your brothers and sisters professing that their hope is in Christ alone for salvation? We see that God provided the ultimate bread from heaven, and that we don’t live by bread alone, but by his very Word! We see that Jesus truly is the vine and we are the branches, that he is the head and we are united as the body! We see that it is only through his brokenness that we can be made whole.

Perhaps a more sober thought is, “What do I implicitly teach my kids by not participating in the Lord’s Supper myself and not bringing them in to join me?” I think the answer is clear. You teach with your actions (which speaks louder than words) that you don’t have to obey every request command of Christ and you teach that they don’t have to shouldn’t remember Jesus in this way because it’s not important.

We do a lot for our kids, everything from organic food to baseball practice. We sit through dance recitals and agonize with them over homework. We do our best to teach them about our faith and to honor God, Why wouldn’t we prioritize the Lord’s Supper?

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  – (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV)

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Philippians 3:12-16 (Devotional Thought)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  (Philippians 3:12-16 ESV)

The Apostle Paul wanted the believers of this church to know that he was not perfect. He was still growing in his knowledge of Jesus and his relationship with the Lord. I imagine that there were still things that God called Paul to do, that Paul wasn’t comfortable with at first. He still had to get out of his “comfort zone” to grow. Sometimes we can think that one day it will all be easy. We’ll be older maybe wiser and we’ll just know what to do or we’ll be so used to doing the right thing that it has become easy for us. Paul reminds us that isn’t the case. In fact real maturity is the ability to press on to what God has next without stopping to stare at our belly button along the way. He says it with three distinct lines.

“Forgetting what Lies behind.” Don’t get caught up in the past he says. Some folks are content to hang out and remember what happened last year or ten years ago or whenever the last significant event in their life was. Paul reminds us, don’t sit back and dream of the good ole days. If you’re alive you not only have a past but you have a future. You can’t change where you come from or where you’ve been, but you can change where you are going.
“Straining forward to what lies ahead.” He reminds us to press on that God has great things in store for us. He didn’t just act in the past and forget about us. He’s still got great plans for us. No matter what our circumstance, no matter what our situation there is a way forward, when we trust in Jesus. We were not created to just talk about the things that have happened in the past. He’s also called us to be involved in good works of the future.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” There is a way to lose at life and think you’re winning. Imagine playing a video game where you get to battle trolls to fill your backpack with all kinds of useful items for a long journey. Ultimately the point of the game is to rescue a princess and that’s why you need the items, but what if you just went around battling trolls collecting items and you never took the journey to rescue the princess? You’d fail to meet the requirements to win the game! The Apostle Paul reminds us that life isn’t about stacking up possessions (who has the coolest MP3 player, video game system, etc.), social status, or takes the most trips to Disney Land… Ultimately life is about bringing glory to God.

Today as you pray, pray through this formula. You might say something like: “God help me not to be held back by my past, but help me to be excited for what you have in store for me. I don’t want anything to compete with my desire to worship you and tell others about you.”

Philippians 3:9-11 (Devotional Thought)

and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:9-11 ESV)

We live in a day and age that tries to redefine the word faith. Some folks use the word faith to mean to believe in something that is not true. So that when they say that if you have enough faith, something that is not true now, will be true later. You kind of “wish” it into existence. For example an individual may be sick or have a physical handicap and these folks will say that if you just have enough “faith” you will get better. This is NOT what the bible teaches when it talks about faith.

Other people try to make the word faith something more like blindly accepting something to be true without checking the facts or thinking about what your doing. They think of faith as something like an assumption. This is also NOT what the bible teaches about faith.

Still other people think of faith more like a feeling. They would say that it doesn’t matter what it true, it matters how you feel and so they would say that faith is a feeling you have when you pray or at a worship service or something like that. Again, this is NOT what the bible teaches us about faith.

The kind of faith found in the Bible can be described as a belief that moves you to action. Or maybe put more simply, “Active trust.” So when you have faith you believe something based on good evidence and then act on it. Like ridding on a school bus. You look carefully to see which bus has the markings that is supposed to take you to your bus stop. You also look for your bus driver and maybe the other kids you know who are on your bus. When you see all of these things coming together on one bus you get on the bus, in good faith, because this bus will take you to your bus stop.

Paul says that real righteousness (being good in God’s eyes) comes from faith. We know that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, was buried and rose again from the dead and then we act in faith by asking God to forgive us of our sin and for Jesus to be Lord (leader) of our lives. Where we act to embrace what Jesus has done is where faith is… its like knowing that’s your bus number, your bus driver, and all the people with whom you ride the bus , you still need to get on the bus in order for it to take you to your bus stop. Just knowing it was the right bus isn’t enough. In the same way saving faith requires us to not just know these things about Jesus but to act on them.

Have you done that? Have you responded to God and asked him to forgive you of your sins and asked JESUS to be the Lord (Leader) of your life? YOU can do that right now. Tell someone if you do.

Paul is so confident that he has been made right with God through what Jesus has done that he is willing to die for his faith in Christ. He knows that just like Jesus was raised from the dead, so he too will be raised from the dead one day as well. He doesn’t know when He’ll die, or what method, that’s why he says “by any means possible” but he’s confident of one thing, He will be raised from the dead in the resurrection.

James 2:14-26 (Devotional Thought)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26 ESV)

I like fruit. I especially like blueberries (My all time favorite fruit). So I planted a blueberry tree in my back yard. I put fertilizer around it. I water it. I made sure that I planted it in a place where it can get plenty of sunshine and when it gets cold outside, it is the only plant in my yard that I put a blanket or sheet on to keep it from getting damaged by the frost. I cannot wait to taste the blueberries that it produces. You see that is the point. Blueberry trees produce blueberries.

Faith and works look like that. Faith is what we believe about God to be true. True faith produces the fruit of works. Just like a blueberry tree produces blueberries. James says that if you believe that everyone is made in the image of God and then you respect them by taking care of people who do not have the basic necessities of life (food, clothing, etc.). The evidence of our faith is how we respond (works).

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James 1:5-8 (Devotional)

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8 ESV)

I love the beach. One of my favorite things to do is take my children out into the shallow water, pick up my feet and let the waves gently rock us. That is what waves do. They pick you up and let you down. They go from high to low. I remember one day several years ago my wife and I went to the beach before we had kids and the waves were particularly strong that day. They would knock us down and throw us toward the shore and slowly pull on us back into the water. The force of the wave was powerful. We would wade out into the tide and try and stand against the waves as they would come rushing in toward shore.

The writer, James, warns us that when we ask God for wisdom we are not supposed to be like waves. Waves are never steady. They go from highpoint to low point in just a few moments. A person who is like a wave asks God for wisdom and then immediately doubts that God will even answer their prayer. They are unsteady. James says they are double minded. One moment they have faith that God will answer. The next moment they are uncertain if God could even care for them. James says that God is not like that. God is generous and he gives wisdom to those who ask. God gives wisdom “without reproach,” which means that God is not there waiting to tell you how dumb you are or to make fun of you for being weak. He just simply gives you wisdom… when you ask. Faith in the bible is not blindly believing that something will happen. Faith is trusting God to be exactly who God is and not doubting His character.

The God Puzzle

THe God PuzzleThe God Puzzle: How the Bible fits together to reveal God as Your Greatest Treasure by Valerie Ackermann is a workbook that seeks to engage children with the rich truths of God’s Word. I’ve been working through it with my 7-year-old daughter as part of a morning devotional time. I’ll cook breakfast while she works in the book on the bar behind me. She has a hunger to learn about God, loves any kind of homework and is eager to work on any project we do together so this format is right up her ally.

I don’t know how well the format will work with my son when he is old enough to work through something like this. His personality is different and I don’t see him having enough patience to complete a lesson without diligent supervision. We’ll see when he gets there.

The book leads readers to look up scripture to answer questions and has a host of different exercises like matching, crossword puzzles, etc. It’s great for someone who already has a basic grasp on how to look things up in the bible, but will require help if you child is still learning the books of the bible, etc.

Over all I think this is a great tool but probably used best as a parent-child project. I wouldn’t just hand this to my daughter and ask her to work through it out (though I might if she were at the top end of this age range). I can see it being a great conversation starter, devotional material, and even home school teaching aid. For more information about this book and what others are saying about it check out this link from the Litfuse Group: http://litfusegroup.com/author/vackermann

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse as part of their Blog Tour. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

“Will He Find Faith on the Earth?” (Lk. 18:8)

Why don’t we ask God for more?  Why do we give up on our prayers?  Is it because we doubt Him?

You see as much as we try and make faith an action that we take, it has it’s root in the confidence that God has already or will act on our behalf.  Faith at it’s core is believing God.  Faith is taking God at His Word.  Faith is trusting God.

We can try and make faith about us, but it really isn’t.  Faith is not something you conger up.  You don’t psych yourself out about faith.  You see if you have faith or not, God is still God.  If you have faith or not, God is still good.  If you have faith or not, God has acted on our behalf in Jesus Christ.  If you have faith or not, God will bring all things to a conclusion in Jesus Christ.

So our faith, or should I say lack there of, doesn’t really have a bearing on the matter.  What does matter is that God has acted.  God has moved.  God is good.  God is just.  Our right response to who God is and what he has done is called faith.

So when we pray, we should have faith that God will do whatever He said He will do.  (And we should also be careful not to put words in His mouth.)  So if we know about injustice in the world and we know that God hates all injustice, then we should pray that He will bring justice to the world and we should pray knowing that God will bring justice to the world.  We should also note that when His justice comes it may look different than what I might have pictured in my head.  You see God is God and by definition He doesn’t seek my approval on anything.


I ask that today I would simply trust you.  Where I am weak I ask that you would increase my faith.  Renew my mind and transform the way I think.  I want all my confidence in you and not in my own flesh.