From Aleppo to Arkansas, Little Boys are Precious

Perhaps you’ve seen the picture of Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old little boy pulled from the rubble and placed into an ambulance, following an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. I stared at the photo for a long time. And I watched the footage – just barely over a minute (before clicking, know that it’s graphic) – of the rescue worker placing him in that chair. Rather than crying in fear or from pain, he stared calmly at the cameras, likely disoriented and in shock.

Image via The Guardian

The photo reminded me of the face of my own three-year-old son, Drew. I swiped through photos from our recent vacation and stopped on this one, taken on a pontoon boat near Crab Island in Destin. That was a good day. Sam bounced on inflatables in waist-deep water while Drew munched on a snack under the canopy of the boat. Our biggest worry that day was that there were quite a few jellyfish in the water – the kind that sting like a wasp and not much more.

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I don’t ever want to grow cold. I don’t want to become so desensitized that I stop feeling the difference between the world I know and the world of those trying to survive the carnage of war. I want to remind myself that wherever little boys are, in Aleppo or in Arkansas, there is the image of God himself dwelling in precious little human form.

My Drew is precious. He can be obstinate. He can throw fits. He ignores our shouts to stop when running away from us down the aisle of a store. But he gives amazing hugs and kisses at night, laughs easily, and is bewildered to discover all the sights and sounds of the world around him as he grows up.

Omran is precious too. He’s grown up on the other side of the world in a predominantly Muslim, war-torn country. But Omran bears the image of his Creator as much as any other little boy in the world.

God made it clear that it would be better for us to have a giant stone tied to our necks and be cast into the sea than to harm one of these little ones and then face the judgment of the Almighty. Yet every day, all over the planet, terrorists victimize children.

They are killed, captured, and enslaved. They are used as human shields and brainwashed into carrying out violent jihad. Just a few hours away from my home in Northwest Arkansas, parents (or at least two people who biologically produced an offspring) were arrested for severely abusing and neglecting a little girl who literally thought her name was “Idiot” because she’d heard it far more than her actual name from this man and this woman.

The news is rife with stories of stings and busts where preteens are liberated from the horrors of sexual slavery. We’ve aborted millions of unborn, precious, human lives – each one bearing the image of the Creator.

What are we doing? These are precious kids. Every. Last. One. Of. Them. We’re responsible for leaving behind for them a world in better shape than we found it. And honestly, we’re blowing it.

I don’t have all the answers, and I feel as helpless as most of you who will read this about bringing down the global giants of war and violence, poverty and hunger, illiteracy and ignorance.

But I’m a firm believer that there is always hope for people, and that you and I can be at least a small part of the solution. How? Here are a few thoughts.

  • Tell everyone who will listen about King Jesus. Social change starts with spiritual change. Cultures are reborn as the individuals and leaders within them are reborn.
  • Value life. Remind yourself what it is to be human, to be made in God’s image. And then mentally label every person you meet or see: Human – Made In God’s Image.
  • Value kids. Protect the unborn. Fight for just laws against abortion. Help parents-to-be find alternatives. Foster. Adopt. Volunteer in kids’ ministry.
  • Follow the hard teachings of Jesus. While the Bible assigns the role of justice-keeping to government, Jesus challenged his followers to love their enemies.
  • Protect the environment. Soil erosion, rising sea levels, and a constantly warming climate are real issues with real humanitarian ramifications.
  • Speak peace to a world in chaos. Give encouragement and affirmation, love and value, even when politicians spew divisive rhetoric.
  • See the world. Go on a mission trip. Volunteer with a nonprofit or relief organization. Touch and be touched by the hurting and desperate.
  • Pray. Pray for a softened heart. Pray for deliverance for captives. Pray for workers in the harvest. Pray for mission fields to open.

There is more, I know. I’m scratching the surface. But for most of us, we simply need to move from feeling nothing to feeling the pain of others, from saying nothing to speaking peace to power, from doing nothing to doing whatever we can to help.

From Aleppo to Arkansas, all life is precious.

13 Words from a Father to His Daughter on Her 13th Birthday

Ella All Grown UpElla, you’re amazing! And you’re supposed to stay my little girl forever. You’ve grown up so much already and I’m tearing up in Starbuck’s as I write this just thinking about it. I hope it’s okay with you that this is public. I just thought of other Dads of future teenaged girls and the daughters who may need a bit of guidance too.

To me, while I rejoice in the young woman you’ve become and are becoming, I’m still going to have to hang on to you as the little baby we had to lay in the sunlight so you would grow. When that didn’t work, we put you in a special green-glowing box and finally, you grew. (Long story about a common medical thing… anyway…) Now there are moments I wish I could stop you.

I want to play with your dollhouse with you some more, and have tea and cake at the American Girl store in L. A. again, and rescue you from the deep end of the swimming pool in Florida (let’s ignore that I accidentally knocked you in to begin with…), and hike around shooting stuff in the yard with a slingshot and acorns… … sorry, really crying here… Okay! On to the point.

You’re thirteen. This is a big deal. I have more to dread, such as teaching you to drive, giving you away to the perfect guy, but those things are all at least a dozen years away still, so let me address today. I wanted you to hear, from my heart, thirteen big fatherly pieces of advice, and look back on them whenever you need to for a little encouragement. Here goes…

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5 Practices of a Peaceful Home

Family Laugh

Guitars sound nice because of stress. Great guitarists know how to turn the tuning pegs just enough that all six strings are in harmony with one another and on key. But too much stress, too much tension, can stretch or break a string.

In the same way, every family will experience stress and tension. It’s inevitable, and it’s possible to experience peace together even in the middle of tension. But too much stress can cause us to snap and lose our harmony.

Families are experiencing unprecedented stress today. It results from economic hardship, the rat race at work, global and cultural events, high educational standards, peer pressure, and much more. I’m convinced that home ought to be a little like a island – a safe place in a war zone. And the Bible gives us some simple wisdom about some valuable practices for peaceful homes.

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My Personal Reflections on 2013

In 2013, God was good. But that’s true every year, isn’t it? His good character never changes. Ever.

But life changes for us, and it changes in our world. And through that constant condition of change, God’s goodness carries us. I’m reflecting this morning on how our world has changed and how my life has changed in the last year, and it’s been a BIG year! Let me celebrate a few things…

DrewWe had a baby.

And he’s precious. I don’t mean to brag but… well, okay I DO mean to brag… Drew is probably the happiest baby I’ve ever seen. He smiles and laughs and lights up a room with his happy eyes. He goes days without crying, loves people, and has a contagious belly laugh that infects others with joy.

We have two other children who are awesome. Ella is smart, sweet, and loves Jesus. She tells everyone about her faith and her church and she’s growing up into a godly young woman! She’s the daughter of my dreams. Sam is, well, Sam. He’s cool, sweet, and funny. He’s hyper, dangerous, and wild. He’s all “boy.”

We finally got married.

Okay, that subheading was for shock purposes. We’ve been married 16 years and I think we’ve hit a stride and grown this past year in ways that make me feel like a newlywed. Angie is the love of my life. As I wrote in the dedication page of my new book, Angie is the love of my life, whom God has used to re-wire me in all the right ways.

Our marriage has gone through a lot of maturing. There were moments when Angie would say that “we’re in the fight of our lives.” We both saw that season as both the best and the hardest period of our lives as a couple. And in God’s grace, we’ve found a stride.

I adore my wife. And in 2013, I fell harder in love with her than ever. I feel as if I married her all over again. And if I could, I would!

We’ve continued planting a church.

We’re life-ers. In other words, we’ve been planting Grace Hills with the intention of retiring or dying while serving northwest Arkansas. So it’s time to officially announce my retirement!… tentatively effective in the summer of 2042.

In the last year, we’ve added Meredith (who leads our Kids’ ministry), Jorge (who leads in outreach and local missions), and Angie (who directs our operations and recovery ministry plans) to our staff along with Michael (who will be leaving in the summer to plant a Grace Hills daughter church). We’ve also witnessed the re-birth of a student ministry under Brian and Melissa, served hundreds of hours with local organizations, baptized a dozen new believers, and sent fifteen people to Honduras. And from leading the Honduras trip to being a really, really good friend, Neil continues to bless my soul! His co-leadership at Grace Hills is pretty cool to watch. He sings and plays, yes, but he personally disciples and leads too.

Though I’ll write more about 2014 elsewhere, I’ll just mention that in the upcoming year, we are launching a second weekend service, sending two families off to Papau New Guinea and another out in our region to plant churches, and officially beginning a Celebrate Recovery ministry.

I’ve written a book.

I was approached by Jevon, a talented Editor with Charisma House, asking if I would consider writing a book under their Passio label, which markets to young, creative types. I began and completed the marathon of book-writing and finished Rewired, which is set to release on February 4, 2014. You can read more about the book here.

I’ve met and ministered to church leaders.

In 2013, Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox grew by about 7,000 subscribers and’s traffic and reach soared. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. What’s really thrilling is what happens behind-the-scenes as Pastors are connected to other Pastors and people are helped.

Every day, I email new subscribers asking where they serve, what they’re passionate about, and how we can serve them. Out of those emails, we’ve helped church leaders break growth barriers, deal with depression and burnout, solve problems and crises in their churches, and reach more people for Jesus.

I’ve grown.

Writing a book, editing a website, and preaching sermons is the stuff I think about in terms of accomplishments. But the bigger story is that 2013 was a year of tremendous personal growth in my life. I discovered victory over some long-term struggles, came to see myself as a broken man in need of rescue and recovery, and re-discovered what intimacy with Jesus looks like all over again.

Has it been a good year? It depends on who you ask. It’s been a tough year for those who have lost jobs, lost loved ones, and lost their freedom in various parts of the world. It’s been a horrific year for those enduring persecution and genocide, for those who have remained in slavery and bondage, either literal or spiritual. And I suppose it’s been a good year for those who have made a buck, built a career, grown a family, etc.

I’m hesitant to call it a “good year.” What I will say, unequivocally, is that in the year 2013, God was very, very good. And I’m fully expecting Him to keep it up… forever.

If you don’t know Jesus, or if you don’t know if you know Jesus or not, please, please, reach out to me. I can’t promise you a good year, and God doesn’t do so either. I can, however, promise you that God is good. You can trust Him!

Three Things Kids Need to See In Their Parents

Old Family PhotoWe sometimes think that raising kids well is all about what we tell them. But what is even more important is what we show them. And if you want to do the best you can for the next generation’s sake, you’ll model at least these three traits in your home.

Security and Stability

Kids need to know that they’re safe, their basic needs are going to be provided for, and that they will be free to grow up in a stable environment. Selfishness often causes us to fight dirty, abandon, or neglect our spouse. Kids need to know that home is the safest place on the planet – the place to which we flee from a threatening world.

Oneness and Intimacy

Beyond merely keeping kids safe and letting them know that we’re stable in our marriage and as a family, we also need to go deep with each other. Getting up close and personal so that you know and are deeply known by your spouse really matters. It isn’t that Mom and Dad need to get along all the time perfectly or have it altogether, but that even when there is conflict, there is also love and commitment.

The Gospel!

Kids not only need to hear the story of Jesus from beginning to end – they also need to see a living picture of the effect and the nature of the gospel. And with the gospel, truth is truth even when it’s painful. God’s expectations aren’t lowered or compromised. But the other half of the gospel is the redemption offered to us when we’ve failed to follow the rules. Legalism and perfectionism show our kids a false or shallow gospel, and so does permissiveness. In between is the balance of truth and grace and the good news of redemption for all of us who have messed up… and that’s all of us.

What else do kids need to learn from us?

Last Night, 5,000 Children Died

Not in a flood.

Not in an earthquake.

Not in a wave of tornadoes or a political coups.

But from hunger.

Hunger. It’s that feeling that gnaws at our bellies in the morning because we haven’t had our cheerios yet. But for millions, hunger is a lifestyle with no hope. Today is World Food Day. It’s a good day to become aware of some things…

World Food Day Child Hunger
Via Save1.

And once you know, it’s time to do something. I leave it to your own conscience and God’s leading as to what your next step is, but here are four possibilities:

  • Pray for compassionate caregivers to be able to feed more hungry people.
  • Investigate what Save1 does. They’re for-profit, but they support nonprofit organizations in a way that uses business smarts for good.
  • Feed hungry people through great organizations like Samaritans PurseCompassion International, and World Vision (our family sponsors a little girl named Nana through World Vision).
  • Post the above infographic on your own blog today. Here’s the source link.
Now, go.