Experiencing God’s sovereignty

There are some experiences in life that are difficult to put into words, but I’m going to do my best with this one.

My wife and I recently found out that we were expecting our first child and have since discovered that we’ll be having a baby girl. I am over-the-moon excited about it. For some reason, I think I’ve always known that I was going to be a “girl dad” one day. So when we got the news that our child was going to be a girl, I was elated.

It’s funny how some things hit you during the process of finding out that you’re having your first child and some things don’t. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when my wife called me and told me about a positive pregnancy test. It was right around Thanksgiving and I think both of us were in disbelief for a while.

As time has gone on and the weeks and months have gone by, it’s started to slowly sink in with me that “Hey dude, you’re going to be a dad.” We’re so blessed to have extremely supportive family members and friends that have made this period of our lives so much fun while we wait on our little girl to get here.

This past Monday we got to experience our 20-week ultrasound with our little girl, which is essentially an anatomy scan that checks to see whether or not things are developing properly with her body. I’ll admit, it can be pretty nerve-racking heading into it.

We got settled in with the ultrasound technician and then, boom……all the sudden, there she was. We could see her head. We could see her spine. We could see all of her little parts coming together. She was moving around in there, almost as if she knew we were watching her and was showing off. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.

It just so happened that we were reading Psalm 139:13-14 in church the day before this ultrasound took place. As I sat and watched our daughter on the screen twist and turn and saw her heart beating and her hands and feet moving, Psalm 139 was at the forefront of my mind.

“For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made.” Psalm 139:13-14

I was getting a live picture of what that verse was describing. There she was right in front of me, being knit together by the Lord before my very eyes. I could feel the presence of Jesus in that room in such a palpable way. It almost felt like he was standing right beside my wife and I as we were watching our daughter on the screen.

Between that, the worship music that was on in the room and watching my rockstar of a wife laying there and soaking in our daughter, it was a very emotional experience. I’m not usually someone who is overly emotional but I couldn’t help it. It was just overwhelming. I’ve never felt more in love with my wife than I was in that moment. I’ve never felt more in love with my daughter than I was in that moment. And I’ve never been more thankful for God’s sovereign hand that I was in that moment.

My wife finally asked the ultrasound technician about the worship music and thanked her for having it on in the room. Her response quickly put things even more into perspective.

“It just makes me happy,” she said. “Some days in here can be pretty rough.”

Man, what a sobering reality check for me. My mind and heart couldn’t help but think about parents sitting in that room and getting bad news about their child or having that excitement of an ultrasound turn into an overwhelming since of fear. My heart ached for them.

As the ultrasound went on and we went through the different areas of her body to monitor, the same phrase kept coming from the ultrasound technician: “Looks really good.” Every time that phrase was uttered, my response was always the same: “Thank you, Lord.”

We finally got done with the ultrasound and got a plethora of pictures to take home with us of our little girl. Everything looked good with her according to them and now we continue to pray for her as we wait until early August when we get to meet her.

In the days since the ultrasound, I’ve found myself constantly thinking about our daughter. It’s almost like for the first time, it really hit me squarely in the face that she’s ours and she’s coming very soon. I’ve thought about what she’s going to look like, which is hopefully way more like her mother than it is me. I’ve thought about just…….her. What will she be like? What will she grow up to do? What kind of example am I going to be for her? Am I loving my wife well enough to show her what love is supposed to look like? There have been a million different thoughts rolling through my mind.

But mostly, I’ve thought about God. I’ve thought about the real-life picture I got of his awesome power, knitting my daughter together. I’ve thought about how comforting it is that my wife and I don’t have to parent our child alone: He is with us, always. And I’ve thought about what his love for us truly means. I can’t fathom it. I fell head-over-heels in love with my daughter this past Monday. And to know that he loves each one of us way more than that is just so powerful. And he LOVES his Son and sent him to die in our place when we deserved that punishment because of our sin.

I’ll never truly know the depths of how much the Lord loves us and how deep his sacrifice runs for us in this lifetime. But I know this….I’m so thankful for it. And I want others to experience that love and that life for us as well.

I know that my wife and I won’t be close to perfect as parents. We’re going to make thousands of mistakes and there will be times where we ask ourselves if we have any clue what we’re doing. But I hope our daughter grows up in a house that, while imperfect and flawed, points her to Christ and the abundant life that he calls her to live. If we can do that, I’ll live with everything else.

To my daughter: Your mother and I love you and we can’t wait for you to be here with us. Who knows, maybe you’ll even read this one day. If so, I hope you know how much prayer has covered you and how much you are loved.

Lots of people have asked me since Monday what experiencing that ultrasound was like. I’ve struggled to really come up with the words to adequately describe it. I’m not really even sure that I’ve done it now, but I hope it has at least somewhat put it in perspective.

“My bones were not hidden from you when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in your book and planned before a single one of them began.” – Psalm 139:15-16

Overwhelming goodness of God

It’s been an overwhelming time for me as of late to take a step back and appreciate the goodness of God.

I know for my own life, that has been something that I have overlooked or taken for granted far too often, even if not intentionally. It can be easy to appreciate God’s faithfulness and goodness when He does “big” stuff for us, right? But what about the “little” things that we don’t even think about?

Each moment we get with our loved ones is a blessing from God. Each day we get with our good health is a blessing. Each time we’re able to wake up and go work a job and help provide for our families is a blessing. And yet, those have been some of the things that most of the time I don’t even think about.

God has done some pretty amazing stuff in the life of my wife and I over the course of the past seven days. We closed on our first house last week after a complicated process where it looked like there was going to be no way to get it done on multiple occasions. And yet He provided for us when it looked like there was no way.

We found out last week that our little dog had a cancerous tumor on her chest that was going to require surgery to try and remove it. She had that surgery today and there were no visible signs of the cancer spreading throughout her body and the tumor was completely removed. We’re still waiting to hear back from the lab results, but today’s portion of that battle could not have gone much better.

I’m so grateful to God for those things. He did not have to provide a way for us to get our house. But He did. He did not have to guide our dog through surgery and come out of things looking great on the other side. But He did.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize more and more that it’s not all about me. God can do great things regardless of anything that I bring to the table. He doesn’t need me in order to do those things. And yet, He also is gracious enough to allow us to be an active part of His plan.

One thing I’ve also come to know is that sometimes it’s really hard to understand what God’s plan is. There are just simply things that we’re not going to understand on this side of heaven. And you know what, that’s OK because He’s God and we’re not.

The comfort from those situations, though, is that God is always in total and complete control. He is working all things together for your good if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ.

I came across a radio program recently that highlighted a pretty good example of God being totally in control that I had previously never considered. In the book of Genesis, Joseph has been sold into slavery and has ended up in prison in Egypt.

After this, the king of Egypt’s cupbearer and baker offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guards in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guards assigned Joseph to them as their personal attendant, and they were in custody for some time.” – Genesis 40:1-4

This is, at first glance, a seemingly meaningless detail in the story. We don’t know exactly what the cupbearer and baker did to offend Pharaoh, but whatever happened was significant enough to land them in prison with Joseph. While in there, they both have dreams that Joseph is able to correctly interpret through God’s help. That later leads to him interpreting Pharaoh’s dream and becoming basically second in command in all of Egypt.

It was God’s sovereignty that put the cupbearer and baker in prison. If they weren’t in there, Joseph would’ve never interpreted their dreams. If he never interpreted their dreams, he would have never been summoned by Pharaoh to interpret his. And then he would never have risen to power and ultimately have been reunited with his brothers and father.

It’s a simple yet effective reminder that God is always working. Sometimes seemingly meaningless details can be God weaving together a beautiful tapestry.

I hope you will always remember to thank God for what He does in your life on a daily basis. He is so, so good.

May I have your attention, please?

God is trying to get the attention of our nation. The question we all must answer on an individual basis is: Has he gotten your attention yet through this pandemic?

As I sit here and gather my thoughts on what we’ve witnessed in the United States since the outbreak of COVID-19, my brain drifts back to the sovereignty of God. It drifts to the illusion that all of us fall victim to in our own lives….the illusion of having control.

Think about what’s been happening. Many of the things that have consumed our daily lives in America for years have been uprooted during the past few months.

That job that occupies so much time, energy and devotion in our lives? Many have lost that job. Trust me, I know.

Those sporting events, teams and athletes that we idolize? Totally put on hold.

Even something as seemingly simple as gathering together to worship the Lord in a singular location with other believers, something that we in the United States take for granted in a big way, was stripped away for many of us.

Some of us haven’t even been able to spend time with loved ones in months because we don’t want to potentially endanger those who may be vulnerable.

All of these things that were once a routine part of our lives that we didn’t even think about have been drastically changed almost instantaneously. Aren’t you grateful that we serve a God who never changes? Could it be that God is trying to teach us something through this pandemic?

This isn’t the first time a pandemic has swept the globe and it probably won’t be the last time. The loss of life that has been inflicted by COVID-19 has been tragic. But even if you haven’t known anyone who has contracted the disease or you haven’t experienced it yourself, this should be a time for deep introspection into your own life.

Have your priorities shifted at all through this? What has the Lord shown you during this time? I think about those two questions in my own life, and I come back to the word “control.”

As Christians, we always say that we believe God is in control. If you’re like me, you believe those words but are still guilty on almost a daily basis of trying to control as much as you can in your own life. I want the best for myself in my career. I want the best marriage that I can possibly have. I want to be able to make decisions that control which direction my life is headed.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’m learning — and I mean truly learning — is that when it really boils down to it, I don’t have control of much of anything. I’ve often been guilty of moving too fast in life, not taking the time to slow down and appreciate the many blessings that the Lord has given me in my life.

I hope that as we continue to move forward through this pandemic that I’ll grow in my appreciation of what the Lord has given me in my life and also realize that his grace is what sustains me. And he is the one who is truly in the driver’s seat in my life. All that we need to do is follow his lead.

What is the Lord showing you during this pandemic? If you don’t have an answer for that, maybe it’s time to slow down and shift your perspective. Ask God to make clear to you the message that he has for you.

Don’t let it be said of us that we got to the other side of this pandemic and remained unchanged.

Hamhuis not defined by his career but by his identity in Christ

For Nashville Predators defenseman and 16-year NHL veteran Dan Hamhuis, discovering what it meant to have a true relationship with Jesus Christ has laid the foundation for every aspect of his life.

Hamhuis grew up in a Christian home and regularly attended church throughout his childhood. Even when he left home to continue his hockey career at the junior level in Prince George, church was still a normal part of his life.

After being drafted by the Predators and beginning his first year of professional hockey with the Milwaukee Admirals in the 2002-03 season, Hamhuis found himself at a point of deep spiritual introspection. He had more freedom than he’d ever had before, being on his own in a new city that was far away from where he grew up. That presented challenges that allowed him to grow in his faith.

“The biggest transition for me was when I went to play pro hockey my first year in Milwaukee,” Hamhuis said. “That’s when it really struck me. Now I was living on my own far away. No one was going to know if I went to church or not. Up to that point, I would say I was religious in the fact that I thought going to church was what was important. I think it was in that year in Milwaukee I started to question like ‘Hey, no one will know if I don’t go.’ And I started to asking myself questions, important questions like ‘Why do I go? Why is this important to me? Is it important to me?’ And it was a perfect combination of a lot of self reflection and asking big questions. What’s my life purpose? Why would I want to believe in these things?

“Having our chaplain, his name was Iggy Cofaro, in Milwaukee kind of led me through those questions. He was patient but also direct with me in that, knowing how I grew up and that I needed to decide and understand this for myself. It was a year that really was transitional in my faith where I took it upon myself. That’s where my faith became my own, not something that I did because we just go to church every Sunday and that’s what my parents brought me to. I think it was in that year that I developed that personal relationship with God and understood more of what that looks like. I’m still trying to understand that more today, but that was really making it less religious and more of a relationship where things really changed for me.”

When you peel back the layers of what it means to be a professional hockey player, particularly at the highest level, it’s easy to see the outer layers of the fame and money that comes with the territory. However, there is more to it than that.

There’s lots of pressure in a win-at-all-costs type of business where the stakes and money are so high. And the swing in emotions throughout an NHL season can range from utter euphoria to complete devastation and everywhere in between.

Hamhuis believes his faith has helped him stay grounded through it all and has constantly reminded him of his identity in Christ.

“It’s been huge for me, and I think it’s helped me to actually play better too,” Hamhuis said. “Knowing that hockey is what I do and doesn’t define who I am. My Christian faith, my relationship with God, who I am in that defines who I am. That just takes a lot of the pressure off. Living and dying, the ups and downs of the hockey world, especially at the NHL level, the ups and downs are very high and very low. To be able to understand that I’m not defined by those things, I’m defined by a bigger thing out there, I think it allowed me to not get too high in the success and not get too low when things weren’t going well. It allowed me to play better. It took a burden off my shoulders. And it’s easy to say that. I still get caught up in focusing too much on results and what people are thinking, opinions of others. And when I do that, I just feel a burden growing on my shoulders. To play when I could find that balance of knowing that that’s not all it was about, I played free. I played light. I played my best hockey.”

We all struggle with different things in our lives, sometimes without even fully recognizing the depth of our struggles. One of the most challenging parts of staying spiritually engaged while being an NHL player is simply time…..or more specifically, the lack of it.

“There’s so many distractions, and not just the ones that you typically think of like road trips and bars, girls and that stuff,” Hamhuis said. “I feel like the distractions are more subtle and trickier to stay in the right mindset spiritually. Being busy. Being busy staring at your phone all day, not allowing time for that stillness is such an easy trap to fall into. I like to be productive. I find myself that that’s sometimes where I get wrapped up. It’s not a terrible thing, but it takes my mind. I find I lose my time for stillness and that reflection period for perspective.

“We’re fortunate to have really good chapel programs throughout the NHL. Hockey Ministries does a fantastic job, Professional Athletes Outreach, Athletes in Action…..there’s so many great resources for athletes that allow us to find a spiritual connection out there because they adapt to our schedule. Sundays don’t mean a lot in the NHL. We play games at any time of the day and any day of the week and any holiday so we have to find other times. Nashville has such a fantastic chapel program here with Pike Williams leading it since its inception in 1998. It’s great as an individual to connect and learn and be reminded of what the Bible teaches and what God is teaching us, but also it’s really encouraging to do that with other guys and understand that other guys are also Christians and have struggles and share in high moments, too. And then understand that there’s other guys on other teams that are also Christians. I find that that whole program is really encouraging.”

Our world today is a challenging one for many of us, particularly with the Covid-19 pandemic that has basically shut down the world as we’ve known it. However, Hamhuis is reminded that as followers of Jesus Christ, we can rest in the knowledge that God has a plan for it all and, most importantly, is still in control of it all. Just as he always has been.

“There is a lot of tough situations out there,” Hamhuis said. “We’re not doing what we’re usually doing and our routines, and I’ve really enjoyed the time to have time to be still and reflect. I think being a Christian throughout this has given me a sense of peace, a sense of comfort. When things aren’t going well, those type of words are kind of what you’re wanting and looking for. The Christian story and the relationship with Jesus, that’s what it is. I think it’s given me the ability to have a bigger-picture perspective of where we are going, not just the steps ahead of us. I like the idea of these times in this [pandemic] of maybe God is preparing and challenging and getting us ready for something that could be ahead.

“Just to have that confidence that He’s in control and He has a plan and whether it’s going to be through some difficulties, as Christians God has promises in the Bible that He’s always working on our behalf for good. Our definition of good is sometimes interesting. It’s not always material things. Sometimes it’s maybe restoring a relationship or building patience in us or building some sort of quality or fruit of a spirit that wouldn’t happen otherwise in our busyness. It’s certainly not always material blessings. Sometimes it’s the blessing of peace or a relationship or something that maybe is a little more unexpected or growth, mental toughness, resiliency. I think to have that perspective as a Christian, you start to look for those growth opportunities in the struggles because you have that trust that God has a bigger, better picture for us.”

Hamhuis trusts in that bigger and better picture. While realizing that being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to bad things happening in life, there’s a comfort level and a reassurance that this life is not the end of the story. There’s hope for tomorrow because we know who is in control of tomorrow.

So when things get tough, trust the Lord. When things are going well, trust the Lord. In all things, trust the Lord. And you’ll be amazed at where he will take you.

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m always fascinated when I come across things in the Bible that are connected. I’ve come to find out, with the more that I read, learn and study, that pretty much the entire Bible is connected.

We’re going through a “Bible study” at Long Hollow Baptist Church with pastor Robby Gallaty that is essentially focusing in on how to read and interpret the Bible from an Eastern perspective. As Western, American citizens, we learn, read and interpret things much differently than people did in Jesus’ time.

There are all sorts of connections made, particularly by Jesus, to the Old Testament in much of his words in the gospels. We often fail to realize this because we don’t know the Old Testament like we should, and we also don’t really understand the culture or customs of the Jewish world that Jesus lived in. Those connections are called a “remez” and there are many of them that can be found in the Bible.

Matthew 27 is a very familiar passage for many of us. Jesus has been beaten, has made the journey to Calvary and is on the cross. Matthew 27:45 reads:

“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. At about three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

If you’re like me, for years you’ve just thought that Jesus was crying out to the Father on the cross because he who knew no sin had become sin for all of us. While that is certainly true and accurate, there was a deeper meaning to that phrase that his followers and other Jewish people around the cross at that time should have picked up on.

To understand that connection, you must first understand how the Jewish culture learned Scripture. Remember, there were no numbered verses of the Bible or even books back in those days. They learned Scripture in school and were so well-versed in it that they knew much of it from memory.

They would memorize Scripture by the teacher reciting a line of Scripture and then they would recite the remainder of that set of Scripture from memory based off of that. When Jesus said on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, He was also making a connection back to Scripture.

If you go to Psalm 22, you’ll find that the first line of the chapter written by David reads: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”

Pretty interesting, huh?

Remember, Jewish leaders would teach by reciting a line from Scripture and the students would recite the rest from memory based off of that first line. If you read the rest of Psalm 22, I think you’ll be blown away.

It essentially describes the Messiah and what he’s to deal with in suffering on the cross. In Psalm 22:6-8, it reads:

“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by people. Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads: ‘He relies on the Lord; let Him rescue him; let the Lord deliver him, since He takes pleasure in him.”

Isn’t it interesting how that’s describing being “scorned by men and despised by people.” It describes the Messiah being mocked, just as Jesus was on the cross when he was told: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”

In Matthew 27:42, the chief priests are mocking Jesus by saying “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself! He is the King of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.”

There are descriptions and connections to Jesus’ crucifixion all throughout Psalm 22, including in verses 14-16 that read:

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed; my heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength is dried up like baked clay; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You put me into the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet.”

I would encourage all of you to read the entirety of Psalm 22 yourselves and make the connections with what is happening to Jesus in Matthew 27. It’s truly one of those things that will absolutely blow your mind. The Bible is the living Word of God. Jesus knew it so  well because he was the Word.

There are so many of these connections throughout the New Testament. I look forward to sharing more with you!

Who is Jesus?

Have you ever heard people talking about Jesus and wondered to yourself “Who is he? What’s the big deal?”

That’s ok. You’re not alone in that by any stretch of the imagination. When you hear people talking about the “gospel”, here’s the basic gist of what that means:

In the beginning, God created everything in the universe, including the earth and all that inhabits the earth. Adam and Eve were the first humans created by God and ultimately disobeyed God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is significant because it introduced sin into the world.

Because of that, everyone after that had to deal with sin. In order to live a perfect life and avoid the punishment of sin, which is death and exile from God, one would have to live a flawless life in accordance with God’s Law. However, no human ever could or will be able to do that.

That’s a pretty big problem, huh?

That’s where Jesus enters into the equation. He came to earth and was born in Bethlehem to a virgin named Mary. The Holy Spirit moved in her and Jesus was born. That’s what is celebrated at Christmas time.

Jesus came and lived a perfect life. He performed many miracles, including raising people from the dead, healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind and walking on water. He was the epitome of righteousness. He is the Son of God and he ultimately was betrayed by one of his disciples named Judas Iscariot to the Sanhedrin and was given to the Romans to be crucified on a cross.

He had done nothing wrong but willingly sacrificed himself after living a perfect life. Because of that, he took the place on the cross for you and I and died for our sins. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. He lived a life you and I could never live and because of his sacrifice, he provided a way for us to have a real relationship with God through him.

And because he is Lord, he rose from the dead three days later and came back to life. Shortly after that, Jesus ascended into heaven and he will come back to earth one day!

If you put your faith in Jesus and admit to and repent from your sins and confess them and your need for Christ, believe that he died for your sins and was raised from the dead and is Lord of all, you will be saved.

That means you will be a child of God and will be able to serve his will while you’re on earth and take the gospel to all nations. You will not be separated from God when your life is over in a place called Hell. You will spend eternity with him in heaven! It doesn’t get any better than that.

So hopefully this has helped some of you discover who Jesus is and why Christians believe what they believe. The most popular verse in the Bible, John 3:16, reads:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

God seeking man; man seeking God

I was in church this morning at Long Hollow Baptist and pastor Robby Gallaty illustrated two connecting passages in the Bible that I had never thought about before.

And once you see it and fully connect the dots…..it sure has a nice way of summing everything up.

What was the first question God asked in the Bible? Most of us know the story of Adam and Eve in the beginning of time in the Garden of Eden. God had instructed Adam and Eve not to eat anything from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Of course, we know that Adam and Eve eventually did eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After this happened, God was walking in the garden looking for Adam and Eve.

Genesis 3:8-9 reads:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 

The first question God asks in Genesis is “Where are you?” In other words, it’s an illustration of God seeking out his people that he has created.

Fast forward to the book of Matthew in the New Testament. Jesus had been born and the Wise Men, or Magi, had seen the star and were seeking to find Jesus and worship him. They came to Jerusalem, where King Herod was, and asked where to find Jesus.

Matthew 2:1-2 says:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him?” 

The first question asked in the New Testament basically boils down to “Where is Jesus?”

God’s first question in the Old Testament was “Where are you?” Man’s first question in the New Testament is “Where is God?”

That’s a powerful way to sum up and illustrate the foundations of living a life following Jesus. God has been seeking out man since the creation of the earth. In turn, he wants man to seek him out as well through Jesus, who made a sacrifice for every person.

That’s what the Wise Men did. They went after God by seeking out Jesus.

God has been seeking you out ever since he created you. If you haven’t made the decision to seek him out, what’s been stopping you? I encourage you to listen to him and make the decision to pursue Jesus today.