How Do I Live Out Radical Discipleship with a Wife and 3 Kids?

radical pictureOur Pastor has been preaching on Mark 8:34-38 over the last two Sundays, and it sounds so radical to our comfortable American Christian ears.  I have had plenty of time to think through what the implications of Jesus’ words are for my life, and to realize that Jesus’ “radical” call to discipleship may not be so radical after all, but rather simply counter-cultural.  So, how do I live out radical discipleship with a wife and 3 kids?

Listen to what Christ calls us all to:  “And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Christ bids me come and die.  This is not new.  “I am crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)  It won’t always be flashy.  It might be putting my 19 month old daughter to bed and singing “Jesus Loves Me” with her.  It might be talking with my 5 year old about Jesus and why He died for us as we read a Bible bed time story.  It might be letting my 5 month old boy know that He is a blessing and loved by changing his diaper with joy.  It might be putting on a towel and pulling out a basin and serving my wife when I get home from a long day at work instead of serving myself, however that looks at any point in our marriage.  This is impossible in my flesh, but easy in the Spirit.

I may not be a foreign missionary.  I may not be a martyr.  I may or may not ever be put in jail for preaching the Gospel.  I may even own a home someday.  But I can still be a radical disciple for Jesus Christ.  If my life is poured out for Christ, if my family knows that I love God, love them, and love our neighbors and the nations more than I love myself, that is radical discipleship.  I do this so imperfectly, but  I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness.

Jesus, draw me nearer to the cross.  Help me to pour out myself and my family in losing our lives for Your sake and the Gospel’s.

“And in Despair I Bowed My Head: ‘There is No Peace on Earth,’ I Said”?

picture 16Last Sunday night, just two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in which 27 people were murdered including 20 six to seven year olds, our church had a Christmas program.  As a ladies’ choir sang, “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, For hate is strong and mocks the song, Of peace on earth, good will to men,” it suddenly grew exceptionally quiet.  I think that everybody who was listening to the words was thinking of the families and children in Connecticut.  Many Christians have been struggling with seeing the depth of this evil and reconciling it with their view of God.

Not surprisingly, the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” were born out of personal tragedy and national mourning.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famous American poet, lost his second wife Fanny in 1861 (his first wife died in 1835) through a horrible burning accident.  She was using sealing wax to preserve the locks of their little girls’ hair that she had just cut when her dress caught on fire.  She ran into the room where Longfellow was and when a throw rug that he used failed to put out the fire, he put out the flames using his own body and was badly burnt as well.  Fanny died the next day and Longfellow was too injured to be able to attend the funeral.  At the same time, the Civil War was raging and two years after the death of his wife Longfellow received news that his son, a Union soldier, was severely wounded.

Asaph who wrote Psalm 73 struggled with similar feelings of despair in seeing evil and experiencing deep personal suffering.  Instead of writing, “in despair I bowed my head,” he wrote, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped,” (Psalm 73:2) as he tried to reconcile the evil in the world with his view of God.

But I am so glad that Asaph did not end the Psalm with those words.  He explained, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Psalm 73:16-17)  When he went to worship and to focus on what is true about God, then he could exclaim, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.” (Psalm 73:23-24)

Longellow did not end his poem in despair either:  “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;’  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”  Our hope is not that there will never be another tragedy on this sin-riddled earth, but our hope is in the longing of Advent.  Not only did Christ come as a baby, but He also will return to earth as our victorious King.  Every wrong will fail and true righteousness will prevail.

Tragedies like Newtown should make us weep as Christians.  It should also make us pine with hope for the day when “‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’  And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” (Revelation 21:4-5)

For a moving video of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” with Civil War pictures, click here.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” Words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Give Your Teenager a Gift that Can Have an Eternal Impact

If you are the parent of a teenager or are a grandparent of a teenager, I encourage you to consider giving them one of these Bibles or books that can have an eternal impact in their life.  Just as the Apostle John had “no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth,” (3 John 4) speaking of his spiritual children, if you are a Christian parent I know that you will have no greater joy than to know that your children are walking in the truth of God’s Word.  These resources can help.  I have written a brief review of two study Bibles for teens and four carefully chosen books.

I simply ask you to consider something before you choose one of these Bibles:  think deeply about where your child or grandchild is in his or her walk with the Lord before choosing a new Bible.  Which would be the most helpful to him or her?

I have purposefully chosen books that stand alone if a teenager is motivated to read them, but that could also be easily used for parent-teenager discipleship.  Any one of these four books would be perfect for planning a time to discuss a chapter after each of you have read it.  If you have never done this, start with once a month–for example, if you chose Growing Up Christian, it has twelve chapters, so you could plan to meet with your teen the first Saturday morning of every month for one year.  Feel free to comment below if you have ever done something like this with your teenager before!

The ESV Student Study Bible is a great Study Bible for a teenager.  I love my own ESV Study Bible, and the difference between a normal Study Bible and a “Student” version is that it explains things more clearly at times for those who have not studied the Bible for as many years.  For example, at Genesis 1:26 my ESV Study Bible and the ESV Student Study Bible have essentially the same study note.  But the ESV Student Study Bible also has a graphically appealing “Did You Know?” box that explains God’s plural use of “us” in that verse.  See a video here that explains the idea behind the ESV Student Study Bible and if you’re thinking of purchasing it check out the different cover color options available.  I also recommend The MacArthur Student Bible for the same reasons as above, but it only comes in the NKJV.  If your teen is not currently reading and understanding the NKJV well, then I would stick with the ESV (if you have an older teenager, the regular MacArthur Study Bible is available in ESV and has an appealing layout with excellent study notes).

The book Growing Up Christian by Karl Graustein is the best book I have seen for teenagers who have grown up in the church.  Joshua Harris explains, “[the author] wants to see them transformed by Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross–not merely living off the religion of their dads and moms.”  It is easy to read but has great depth and includes questions that you could use for a friendly discipleship discussion with your teen.

Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper is a life-changing book that challenges young people to live solely for the glory of God.  He begins by writing, “The Bible says, ‘You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body’ (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  I have written this book to help you taste those words as sweet instead of bitter or boring.”  I can’t recommend this book more for the teens and twenty-somethings in your life.  It was influential in my own call to ministry.

Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris is subtitled, “A teenage rebellion against low expectations.”  They assault the “myth of adolescence” by challenging fellow teens to live for God now rather than later.  Here is a helpful review of this book by my friend Jesse Johnson.  This is the only book recommended here that I have not read yet myself, but it strikes me as being in the same vein as Don’t Waste Your Life but maybe better for younger teens.

Bitesize Theology: an ABC of the Christian Faith by Peter Jeffery is the perfect book for your teen if you know that what they need right now more than a challenge to live fully for Christ,  is a better understanding of the basics of God’s Word.  I have never seen another book that can explain terms like “justification” and “sanctification” in 3 easy to understand pages.  Unless you have a highly motivated teen, this would definitely be one to do together with them (there are also study questions at the end of each chapter) and it would be well worth your time!

Is Your Hope in the Government?

George Lawson, a fellow graduate of The Master’s Seminary, reminds us Who our hope is in as the elections draw near.  You can find the entire article here:  Reliable Source Reveals November’s Election is Already Fixed.  Lawson’s closing lines realign our focus:  “But don’t place your hope in a ballot box or lose your hope in a ballot box either.  The election has already been fixed and a reliable source reveals that God wins!”

***

… The next president of the United States will not be determined by hanging chads and dimples on the ballots in Florida.  It won’t even be decided by the elite electoral college (regardless of what you may have heard).  A reliable source reveals that this year’s election has already been fixed.

What is this reliable source?  — the Bible.  And no, I am not advocating some secret code contained in Scripture.  I’m sure if you rearranged the letters in some verse in the book of Revelation, you could spell Mitt Romney, Barack Obama or Cap’n Crunch!  No, the Bible does not reveal who the next president will be, but it does reveal that the outcome has already been fixed by a sovereign God.

Psalm 115:3 says it this way, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 103:19 adds this thought, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all.”

And then we learn this in the book of Daniel…

“The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes, And sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17)

God’s sovereignty, or unopposed rule, will be the true deciding factor in November’s election, just as God decided who would govern the ancient kingdoms in the Near East.

In the book of Daniel, the Jewish people in captivity were encouraged to place their hope, not in their rulers, but in the God who ruled over their rulers.  And that’s not to say that their rulers were godly (I’m sure that Nebuchadnezzar would not receive the nomination in any party).  Rather, Daniel encouraged the Jewish people who were in captivity, by reminding them that the powers that exist will not have the final say, God will…

…Now all of this is not to say, you should not exercise your right to vote. Get informed, get involved and get in line to vote for the candidate that best represents biblical values.  But don’t place your hope in a ballot box or lose your hope in a ballot box either.  The election has already been fixed and a reliable source reveals that God wins!

***

[HT: George Lawson]

Sickness

image

Almost 3 years ago I was forced to think about sickness in a much deeper way than I ever had before.  As a 30 year old I began to suffer from a condition rare for men my age that first sent me to the emergency room, gave me pain every day for well over a year, other medical issues & infections, forced me to purchase expensive medication to experience some relief, and that although not life threatening, could be something I will have to deal with the rest of my life.  God was gracious to me.  I found a cheap herb that takes away 90% of the symptoms for now. I realize that some reading this may be walking through deep, dark valleys of sickness, some life threatening. I don’t share this to compare, but rather thinking of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” May the Lord Himself encourage and comfort you. I found great comfort from God meditating on the twin truths that He is sovereign and good. If you are not passing through sickness now, remember that until Heaven our bodies are in a sin cursed world and you must be ready.

J.C. Ryle wrote a booklet entitled “Sickness” that I would encourage you to read for its’ helpfulness. There are 3 special duties associated with sickness that he writes about:

1) One supreme duty which the prevalence of sickness places on us is that of living always prepared to meet God. Sickness is a reminder of death. Death is the door through which we must all pass to judgement. Judgement is the time when we must at last see God face to face. Surely the first lesson which the inhabitant of a sick and dying world should learn, should be to prepare to meet their God.

2) Another supreme duty which the prevalence of sickness requires of us, is that of always being ready to bear it patiently. Sickness is no doubt a trying thing to flesh and blood. To feel our nerves unstrung, and our natural energy reduced, to be obliged to sit still and be cut off from all our usual activities, to see our plans broken off and our purposes disappointed, to endure long hours, and days, and nights of weariness and pain–all this is a severe strain on poor sinful human nature. What wonder if bad temper and impatience are brought out by disease! Surely in such a dying world as this we should study patience.

How shall we learn to bear sickness patiently, when sickness comes to our turn? We must lay up stores of grace in the time of health. We must seek for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit over our unruly moods and attitudes. We must make a real business of our prayers, and regularly ask for strength to endure God’s will as well as to do it. Such strength is to be had for the asking: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14)

…Never do these graces [the fruit of the Spirit] shine so brightly as in the sick room. They enable many a sick person to preach a silent sermon, which those around him never forget…

3) One more supreme duty which sickness places on us, is that of always being ready to feel with and help your fellow men. Sickness is never very far from us…But wherever there is sickness, there is a call to duty. A little timely assistance in some cases, a kindly visit in others, a friendly enquiry, a mere expression of sympathy, may do a vast good…These things, I dare say, may appear to some people little and trifling. They would rather be doing something great, and grand, and striking, and heroic! But conscientious attention to these little acts of brotherly kindness is one of the clearest evidences of having “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). They are acts in which our blessed Master himself was abundant. “He went about doing good” to the sick and sorrowful (Acts 10:38). They are acts to which he attaches great importance in the most solemn passage of Scripture, the description of the last judgement. He says there: “I was sick and you visited me” (Matt 25:36).

Why I Am Glad I Took My Son With Me to the Mechanic

I could tell you about so many times that I have not been as patient as I should as a parent, or times that I have had to ask my son forgiveness for getting angry, but today I don’t think that would be very edifying for you.  But I would like to tell you about a recent trip to the mechanic with my son that God turned into a Gospel moment.  I hope that this may encourage you to pursue more of these types of opportunities with your children.

I almost didn’t bring my son with me to the mechanic this week because I had some studying to do, but I realized that he needed to get out of the apartment and that it would be good to have some time together, so I brought him along.  We had a great time.  He got to watch a few kids’ shows while we were waiting, I got a little studying done, we bought a bag of chips from the man that pushes the little cart down the street, and we talked about the area as we walked around a bit.

After spending 3 1/2 hours together, we were sitting outside on a bench waiting for the car to pull out of the shop when for some reason he asked me to tell him the story “about your fish that you used to carry around in a bottle.”  So I told him the story of my pet goldfish that I brought back from Israel again, but I was sure to make it dramatic since we had time.  At the end of the story Tobias asked, “And then he died?”  I told him that the goldfish did die about a year after he came with me on the airplane from Israel.  I explained to him that goldfish don’t live as long as cats, knowing that he was thinking of our pet cat that recently passed away.  “I guess everything dies,” Tobias concluded.

For the next three minutes, my four and a half year old listened intently as I explained to him as simply as I could that although everything dies, Jesus died so that everything can be made new.  And that we can live after we die–live eternally.  He even listened closely as I explained briefly about sin, repentance and asking Christ to save us.  I would have missed that Gospel moment if I had not brought Tobias with me to the mechanic.  Although he does listen and probably catches more than we think when we are purposefully teaching him about the Bible, his ears were especially open that day because it was something that he was thinking and asking about as we went through our day together.  The Bible and the Gospel were connecting with his life.

I am thankful that the Lord gave me that Gospel moment with Tobias that day.  As parents we need to be actively looking for those opportunities.  Sometimes we teach and teach our kids and make sure they are in Sunday School, but we also need to be looking more for those teachable moments that God naturally gives us which is when we often get a “window into their soul.”  Another way of saying this is shepherding their hearts, all day.  This is what God commanded the Israelite parents in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, a principle that is just as much of a command for us with our children today: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Moms, be encouraged because statistically speaking you probably get more of these everyday Gospel opportunities.  Look for them, and use them to teach your kids about God and the Gospel.  Dads, are you spending enough time with your kids so that you have these opportunities?  Take advantage of every one of them, even if it is because you took your child to the mechanic.

Let the Race Begin!

My Wife Melanie & I
My Son Tobias & I


 

 

 

 

 

 

I graduated from The Master’s Seminary on Sunday night, and it was a thrilling time for my family and I. The last 4 1/2 years have been a time I will always thank God for. Studying at TMS has changed me and will impact how I view ministry and think of God’s Word for the rest of my life. It was also a very trying time as we went through many trials (see my post, My Senior Testimony in Chapel at TMS), and especially tiring as I worked almost 40 hours a week, attended classes, studied, carved out precious family time together, and made time for ministry. This made Sunday night sweet (even though I finished classes in December), as it brought finality and joyous celebration to what God had done in bringing us to TMS and sustaining us.

Even though there was a great solemnity to the Graduation and the realization that I had been equipped and now needed to be a steward of what I had been given, I was smiling almost the whole time thinking of God’s goodness. My heart was overflowing with gratitude for this opportunity, knowing that it was all of God’s grace, and with thanksgiving for my supportive wife and family. What caught me off guard and brought tears to my eyes was when the last Diploma had been handed out and the crowd of over 2,500 was told it could now applaud. The Worship Center erupted into a standing ovation with cheers and shouts of joy. Once our friends and family had sat back down, I heard more than one man around me trying to hold back tears. I immediately thought of Hebrews 12:1-2:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Those witnesses cheering us on Sunday night as we arrived at the finish line were not the faithful martyrs mentioned in Hebrews 11, but they had encouraged us along our “race”. I then thought of how in a very real sense, even though the race of seminary was now over, the race of ministry was just beginning. In fact, each of us, you included, have been running the race of the Christian life (including being active in ministry) since the moment we were saved. We in the Body of Christ are to be cheering each other on and encouraging each other to keep our eyes on Jesus. One of my primary jobs as a pastor will be to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). This means that I want my life to be poured out in ministry, but a large part of that is preparing and encouraging others to fully take hold of the ministries God has given them. If only the pastor was a “minister,” hardly any ministry would happen from any given church. But if every member understands they have a ministry, then that church will have a great impact for Christ.

Is your ministry hosting a Bible Study? Helping in Children’s ministry? Hospital visitation? Leadership? Missions? Worship music? Organizing meals for those who are sick or just had a baby? Planning outreach activities or VBS? Discipling somebody by going through a book with them? Maybe focusing on ministering to your husband and children right now? It could be anything that God has gifted you in which brings glory to Him and furthers His Kingdom. What is your ministry?? I would love to hear from you if you would like to comment below. Let the race begin!

(Although I want this to be primarily a ministry and devotional-related blog, I know that many of you are family and friends and that you would love to see pictures so I am including several pictures from the Graduation.)

My Daughter Gracie & I
John MacArthur & I
We Were So Blessed by Family & Friends at an Amazing Reception

My Senior Testimony in Chapel at TMS

My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…as for me, the nearness of God is my good;  I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.

Psalm 73:26, 28

I was thrilled to give my Senior Testimony in Chapel at The Master’s Seminary on April 3rd, 2012.  I pray that you will be encouraged and I invite you to give glory to the Lord with us for what He has done in our lives.  Great is His faithfulness!

Thank You, Lord, for Your sovereignty and goodness in my life and for how You have blessed our family over the last 4 1/2 years of seminary.  Thank You for Your grace in allowing me to attend The Master’s Seminary.  May You truly receive ALL the glory!!

Are You Making the Best Use of Your Time??

I turned 33 this week, and turning the same age that Jesus was when He had completely fulfilled His earthly ministry caused me to pause and think about what I am accomplishing with my life.

John Paton was 33 when he and his wife sailed to the New Hebrides islands to be missionaries to cannibals.  Adoniram Judson was 24 when he and his wife moved to Burma (now Myanmar) to be missionaries to what was then a “closed” country.  David Brainerd died at the age of 29 from tuberculosis after being sick and discouraged much of his adult life–yet his hope in God and zeal for ministry led hundreds of Native Americans to faith in Christ, and his diaries continue to have an impact today.  Robert Murray McCheyne was 29 when he died of typhus, yet his ministry continues through his biography, writings, and Bible reading plan that is popular even today.  Jim Elliott, who said “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose,” proved it by dying as a martyr at the age of 28 trying to evangelize Indians in Ecuador.  His wife, Elizabeth Elliott, was 32 when she and her 3 year old daughter went to live with the tribe that had killed her husband, so that they could teach them about Jesus.  Amy Carmichael was 33 when she began rescuing girls from prostitution in India and giving them the hope of the Gospel as well as a home.

I don’t write this to make either you or myself simply feel bad about what we are accomplishing right now as compared to others, but to ask ourselves, “Am I making the best use of my time?”  I don’t need to be a missionary or the Son of God to obey Ephesians 5:15-16, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”  But  am I fulfilling the ministry that the Lord has for me right now, and am I doing it in light of eternity?  Am I making purposeful choices, realizing that how I choose to spend my days will turn into how I lived my life?

By God’s great grace I plan to be a Pastor, but tomorrow I will put on a black polo shirt and go sell phones at Sprint.  The all-important question that faces all of us everyday no matter where we find ourselves tomorrow is, “Am I glorifying Christ in how I live?”  Am I choosing to be a light for Christ wherever I am?  Am I pursuing holiness in my day to day life?  Am I further along now in my understanding of God’s Word and His will than I was 1 year ago?  Am I praying and asking God how my family and I could better serve Him where we are at now?  Am I looking to the future, realizing that the decisions I make now will shape my life for the next 33 years?  Am I investing in my wife and children, knowing that quantity time really is better than quality time in the long haul?

As Moses prayed thousands of years ago, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).  Lord, teach me to number my days so that if you bless me with another 33 years You will be more glorified in my life, family, and ministry than You are now.  Lord, teach me to number my days so that if I died tomorrow as some of Your faithful servants died at a young age, that others would be encouraged to live for You by my memory.  Oh, may we not look back at the end of our lives and say that we wasted them!  Are you making the best use of your time?