It Takes A Child To Raise A Village

Today, I have a rockstar guest posting here on Abraham Chronicles. In fact, she is such the star that she will be contributing once a month! Mark your calendars ladies and ‘gents, Jen Valencia is bringing the heat on a monthly basis. She is a SAHM who loves reading, writing, and making a mean Arroz Con Pollo dish–not to mention that she is my stunningly beautiful better half! Show her some love in the comments!

In our house, the end of winter signals a steady hum of anticipation. Like worker bees, we begin making our preparations for the warmer months: the garden is planted, patio furniture cleaned, garage (or the “abyss” as we refer to it) is excavated, and we find ourselves content to look out on our small patch of backyard, and smile at the sidewalk chalk, bubble wands, and other trappings of a house full of children. Like a long sip of sweet tea, spring brings us a comfort and hope that goes beyond simple weather patterns.

As soon as the weather hits a steady 65 degrees, the park becomes our second home. I open the door in the mornings to find my three year old half-dressed in shorts and her pink Crocs, already talking about taking a ride on the swings. We enjoy meeting up with friends, but if I’m really honest, a lot of times I just enjoy taking them by myself, and getting lost in thought while the girls laugh at each other and run in circles. As we pull into the parking lot, Sophia always asks, “Mommy, the friends are here? We play with the friends?”. To her, everyone is a friend — she is all-inclusive to gender, age, and ethnic backgrounds. She will play with anyone, talk to anyone, and thinks of people enough to pray for those she has only met for a moment.

There are times when that pessimistic side gets the best of me, and I wonder when that innocent view of people will change– when will she begin to question other’s motives? Recoil at those who act differently from her? Make judgements without a first glance? Keep her heart at a distance?

Surely it does take a child to raise a village. You heard me right, a child raises a village. It takes the heart of a child to build true community amongst ourselves — relationships that are transparent and vulnerable at the core, a view of others that looks beyond the surface of circumstance, upbringing, and physical appearance, and sees the heart, a way of relating that values people because they were created in the image of our Father God, and for no other reason that that. If we lose sight of these things, than our villages are nothing more than groups of strangers living in close proximity, clusters of homes built on a foundation of sticks, easily knocked down by life’s trials and circumstances.

How easy it is for us to love the loveable, to accept those who are worthy in our own sight, to invest in those friendships that yield a profit, to help those who can return the favor. Yet, how often do we find ourselves willing to open up our lives, our homes, and our finances to others with no expectation of anything in return?

In what ways do you need to see others as the Father does?
How have children taught you to view people differently?

Who Will Vouch For Me?

Today I have the honor of having Ben Nunes guest post on Abraham Chronicles. He is the epitome of a family man and I even had the excellent privilege of meeting him for a cup of ‘joe last week. Ben blogs and tweets his heart on his sleeve. He hangs with middle schoolers, loves his wife and kids, and apparently makes a mean hamburger. Be sure to show him some love in the comments!

I loved the show Friday Night Lights. It’s a good wholesome TV show about the life of Coach Taylor and football in the semi-fictitious city of Dillon, Texas. Honestly, I can say it will be a TV series that will be one of my forever favorites. Along with 24 and Lost.

One of the episodes in its final season depicted a young man “Riggins” who was up for parole. The reason why he was in jail is an entirely different story in itself, but let’s just say he didn’t deserve to be where he was. So Riggins had Coach Taylor, and a family friend testify on Riggins behalf, so that he could get paroled. A third person, his brother, who happened to be the reason why he was locked away to begin with, gave a pretty shaky testimony as well.

Long story short, it was enough to get him paroled.

This episode, along with many others places a tension within the viewer that seemed to almost always hit pretty close to home. Here was Riggins, not even knowing if anybody was going to show up to vouch for his character so that he could end his sentence.

Although I’m very glad I will (hopefully) never be in a position like Riggins here on earth, I’m even more glad I won’t have to worry about The One who will vouch for me when it comes to Heaven.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

While we were still sinners. What the…

We didn’t have to do anything for God to send His Son down for our salvation, and we are most certainly not going to get into Heaven on good behavior.

He sent His Son, in spite of our actions, because He loved us. Get that?

Out of Love.

His Love.

His most perfect, unconditional, Love.

Do you have anybody this side of Heaven that you would vouch for?

Do you like Friday Night Lights?

Zone Defense

Last Wednesday, we had a new addition to the Valencia clan. At 7:17 PM we welcomed Harper Louise into the world with open arms. We didn’t know the gender, so everyone was anxiously awaiting the “It’s a…..” announcement. One of my favorite things is capturing that announcement on video of all the family and friends waiting at the hospital. From that moment on I have been a ‘Proud Papa’, grinningly letting the world know about this precious little addition to our family. It’s been 6 days since then and Mommy and Baby have been doing great!

Cuteness defined.

From that moment on we went from man-to-man to zone-defense. And, our family is changing for the better!

If you have kids, did you wait to find out the gender? Do you have a favorite “surprise moment” in your life?

 

Marked By a Life of Change

Today’s post concludes a short 3-part series on wholehearted commitment– what it looks like, what the Bible says, and how we can go “all in” with our faith. Last Monday, we explored the WIIFM mentality and how it’s so seductive in today’s society. On Wednesday, we touched on lukewarm faith. Today, we’re concluding with the “what’s next”. Hope you enjoy reading!

My life has gone through a bit of change lately: new job, new child, etc. Those two alone are pretty big! As we conclude this mini-series today, I wanted to touch on exactly that: change. With regards to our relationship with God, I believe the following statement to be true:

Wholehearted commitment is marked by a life of change.

Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live? Do you see evidence of God’s kingdom in your life? Or are you choking it out slowly by spending too much time, energy, money, and thought on things of this world. Some pretty bold questions that challenge the best of us.

A great example of someone in the Bible whose life was marked by change is Paul. Before his conversion experience, Paul (went by Saul) was a mean dude. He was uber-religious, knew his stuff, and persecuted the early church. In fact, he was there when the first martyr (Stephen) was stoned. Then God came into the picture. On a trip to Damascus, God met Saul where he was and changed his life. He changed his name to Paul and later became one of the principal figures in the early church. Here is an example of that change he experienced:

At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 9:20-22)

Paul didn’t just stop killing people, he changed. He acted. His faith was real.

At times sometimes I believe that change only involves the elimination of a certain action in my life (“I’ll stop being selfish”, “I’ll put away my iPhone at night when I’m with the family”), but most of the time it is characterized by what happens next (“Instead of stopping selfishness, I’m going to chose to prefer this person.”, “Instead of just putting away my phone, I’m going to intentionally engage my family”).

What area needs to be marked by change in my life? My relationships with others? My discipline to spend time with God? My bad habits?

Without holding back punches, Jesus wasn’t interested in those who “fake it”. Many times He addressed Pharisees who behaved like this (Matthew 23) and, like we mentioned last Wednesday, a lukewarm faith claims to know God but doesn’t live like He exists.

Like myself, it may be time to examine and search our hearts so that we can truly give God wholehearted commitment.

Have you seen a powerful example of change in someone’s life?

Photo credit: dunkind

What Does Your Love Look Like?

This week we’re talking about wholehearted commitment– what it looks like, what the Bible says, and how we can go “all in” with our faith. I’m going to touch on three areas which specifically highlight why God desires this for our lives. On Monday, we explored the WIIFM mentality and how it’s so seductive in today’s society. Today, Part 2. Hope you enjoy reading!

Most of us want a balanced life that we can control, that is safe, and that does not involve suffering. Would you describe yourself as totally in love with Jesus Christ? Or do the words half-hearted, lukewarm, and partially committed fit better? Lukewarm faith is prevalent, no doubt. I’ve been in that boat (head faith vs. faith lived out) and don’t want to get back in. In fact, John talks about “lukewarm” when he speaks about the church in Laodicea:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Rev 3:15-16)

Let’s put it this way: have you ever sipped lukewarm coffee? It’s nasty. Most of the time it is spit-it-from-your-mouth nasty! That is the picture that is painted in the above passage. Like the coffee, God feels that way about being lukewarm. Instead of this lackluster, tepid and half-hearted living, He wants lives that are radical, unbalanced, and overboard. Those three words characterize what wholehearted commitment looks like.

In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan challenges the lukewarm person with the some of the following questions:

  • Do you find yourself more often than not, choosing what is popular over what is right?
  • Do you desire to fit in both at church and outside of church?
  • Do you care more about what people think of your actions than what God thinks of your hearts and lives?
  • Are you moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet you don’t act?
  • Do you think doing what God says in His word is for “extreme” Christians, not average ones?
  • Do you rarely share your faith with your neighbors and friends because you don’t want to be rejected or make people feel uncomfortable?

I’ll be honest: I am a people-pleaser. It’s hard for me to say no when people ask things of me. So caring what people think of my actions (rather than what God thinks of my heart) is something that challenges me the most.

Lukewarm people call “radical” what Jesus expected of all His followers. Chances are, at times you may feel lukewarm. We are all flawed human beings, but there is a difference between a life that is characterized by these sorts of habits and a life that is in the process of being radically transformed. I want the latter!

What does your love look like? Instead of a complacent existence, let’s chose to be radical. Let’s chose to live an unbalanced and overboard life for Christ.

Which one of Chan’s questions resonates with you the most?

 

What’s In It For Me?

This week we’re talking about wholehearted commitment– what it looks like, what the Bible says, and how we can go “all in” with our faith. I’m going to touch on three areas which specifically highlight why God desires this for our lives. Hope you enjoy reading!

If you’re like me, sometimes your love and appreciation of others is driven by the “WIIFM” mentality. You’ve heard it before: “What’s In It For Me?” Businesses and organizations have used it for motivating and persuading employees for years. The underlying theme behind it is that people are best motivated by self-interest. I can be that way at times also in my relationships.

  • You don’t have any money for lunch? (WIIFM: Sure, I’ll cover you today. You will be buying me lunch next week, right?)
  • You need me to wake up early and run a few errands? (WIIFM: Sure, as long as I get to sleep in tomorrow with no interruptions!)
  • You need me to lead that small group at church?  (WIIFM: I’d be happy to, as long as we follow my agenda and study the topics I’m interested in.)

We’re all looking out for numero uno: a mentality that feeds on self-service, thrives on covetousness, and breeds isolation. With God on the other hand, I believe that wholehearted commitment is what He is after. The first part of living that out is loving God for who He is and not what He can do for us. Before we can fully experience God’s love, we have to properly understand who God is.

Isaiah 6: 1-5 reminds us of what our only response to such a God should be:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

The amazing thing about this passage is that Isaiah’s first and only response to such a holy God was to say, “You are holy. I am unworthy.” Instead of responding with requests, petitions, and personal stories, Isaiah made it completely about God.

So, we know about God. We know who He is (holy, perfect, mighty, etc.). Why do we flip things around and, in turn, make it about us?

My self-interest meter seems to hit 100% quite often. I expect a little blessing from God from time to time. I mean, surely good things will come to someone who serves at church multiple hours every Sunday, tithes regularly, prays for his family, and pretty much does all the “right” things. I even have this tattered little “Christian card” that I pull out of my back pocket that reads, “Dustin: Christian” (okay–not really, but you get the point). Don’t all those things matter?

Sure, they are good things. They serve and encourage other believers. They serve God. When doing those things, however, get to the point where my love and desire for God is divided by my own self interests, I need to have a little heart check.

Have you had a WIIFM mentality recently?


Content is the Conversation

I was at a kickoff meeting for work last week, where they highlighted ECM, Open Source, and all the future industry collaboration trends and tools that will come about with social content management. Being new to the company, I learned a lot and met a ton of people. One key phrase kept coming up over and over, and seemed to stick in my mind:

Content is the conversation.

Part of the central offering of my company revolves around the tracking and storing of electronic documents (pieces of content). What those four words are saying is that the content that enterprises will soon want to manage is actually the conversation that revolves around those specific documents (an article, picture, file, blog post, etc.). Without saying, these content-pieces have become the central placeholders in what drive conversation.

I felt that is completely translatable to this blog. Conversation flows, for the most part, by means of a specific piece of content–a story, an experience, a verse, a quote, a video. Around the interwebs, we continue to hear buzzwords like community, collaboration, and connectivity. These drivers deliver some of the core messages that are central to our blogs.

We focus our conversations around the prestige of a conference, the namesake of a popular church, or the controversial themes of an upcoming book. As Christians, however, our central piece of content is and should be the Cross. All conversation flows because of it. Because the cross, we are…

…free.
…accepted.
…redeemed.
…drawn near.
…adopted as sons.

In today’s day and age, internet content changes by the day. Videos are becoming accessible. Podcasts can be streamed from across the country. Pictures can be emailed and downloaded within seconds across the world. The relevance of the internet and blogs is so different than it was 5 years ago.

What blows my mind, however, is that even 2000 years later the Cross is still relevant. It is still so divinely complex, yet incredibly simple. People are still being redeemed. Lives are still being renewed. Relationships are still being restored. Hearts are still being transformed. Today I am thankful that because of the cross, I am adopted as a son — no expectation of perfection, no struggle with complacency, no fear of failure, can separate me from His relentless love.

Fill in the blank: Because of the cross, I am ____________.

Leverage, Risk, and A Little Poker

On Monday we talked about the risk-failure-success combo and Bear Grylls’ take on the matter. I wanted to continue the thought-stream and touch on something that is near and dear to my heart…

POKER.

I’m just going to go out and say it: I’m good. Borderline cocky. Maybe not, outwardly cocky, but completely confident on the inside. I know how to hold a straight face. I feel like I’m judicious, calculated, and very reasonable when it comes to the risk/reward of certain bets. Part of that is my personality, but the other part rests on past successes and experiences.

On a side note: years back before we had kids, I was a part of a weekly game with some coworkers. My wife decided she wanted to come along and play with us. While she had never played before (I briefed her on the rules on the ride there), she dove in and swindled away all our our money and man-pride.


Part of the lure of playing poker for me falls back to the Risk vs. Reward. Do I fold my hand? Should I be reading my opponent differently? Will my next bet put me “all-in”? While I can’t completely control the outcome, I do have options when it comes to percentages and the risks involved.

While there is wisdom in being cautious and calculated in our decision making, I am learning that when it comes to my relationship with God, wholehearted commitment is preceded by going “all in”. What does this look like? I want to persevere like Noah, who continued to build an ark despite the ridicule and doubts from others. I want to lead with conviction like Moses, who stood up and demonstrated what a life of conviction looks like. I want to stand for God’s people like Esther, who knew her position would be leveraged for justice and truth. I want to be all-in.

Being all in for Him means being all out for me. Will that mean I’ll need to use certain things for the glory of God? Probably so. My influence, my family, my time, my resources – I want to be one characterized my willingness to leverage all that I have for the purposes of bringing glory to God’s name.

Do you play poker? What can be leveraged in your life to bring God glory?

Photo credit: maor-x

If You Risk Nothing, You Gain Nothing

Undoubtedly, in the above clip Bear Grylls proves he is 124% more of a man than I am:  fearless, a calm demeanor, and a wicked-cool accent. What resonates in that video, however, is his composed response, “If you risk nothing, you gain nothing.”

Isn’t that true? Whether in business, personal choice, or in our faith, there always a level of risk involved. Late last year, I read similar thoughts in Erwin McManus’ book “Chasing Daylight”.

“You cannot fail without risking. If you have never failed, it might be just possible that you have never risked.”

What McManus wrote resonated with me. Oftentimes my first reaction to a situation tends be cautious and risk-averse. My thoughts are calculated and my pragmatic thinking tends to be very cafeful and guarded. That hit me in the gut, of course, because my “fear of failure” tends to affect my decision making at times–not so much in my business/professional life, but certainly in my family and friend relationships.

With regards to our faith, McManus goes on to write, “Our pop theology has eliminated the place for risk and insulated us with a comfort-and-security theology.” Bam! Do I make decisions, remain silent, or stand action-less because I want to do the “safe thing”? My answer in one word–Yes. Instead of chasing opportunities, I get caught up in managing the risk. Instead of confidently trusting in God’s character, l rely on trying to control things myself.

I was encouraged how McManus went on to close the book, “You know where to begin: take initiative. You know who God is, so embrace life’s uncertainty.”

How to you react to uncertainty? Do you watch Man vs. Wild?

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper, He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Words and Music by Martin Luther
A.D. 1529

I love to listen to hymns from time to time. The words are strong, moving, and full of meaning.

Do you have a favorite? Do you prefer traditional or modern?