Family Devotions

I’m a bit sheepish to write about family devotions because I’m still not excellent at it (which maybe explains why it took me so long to write this post). Even as a Family Pastor, I find that the practice of Family Discipleship is still daunting. For years, I simply didn’t practice any form of family devotions or family worship because the idea seemed impossible. This is because, for some reason, I had this idea that family devotions had to be something like this: Sitting around a table with my wife and four-year old, opening the Bible to the book of Leviticus, and expounding on the vivid details of animal sacrifices while they listened intently (because why not do family devotions out of Leviticus) and then following it up with a skillful playing of Christ Alone on guitar. If this is your family, I commend you and you need to write a book for the rest of us struggling through!

But for many, this is not the reality you experience when practicing family devotions. Instead, the kid(s) are often staring at a wall, trying to get your attention, or hitting each other. You might try to quiet them down or get their attention, but often they return to doing the exact same thing they were doing before. You and your spouse might carry in the frustrations of the day, so your mind is often elsewhere. Maybe you’ve been fighting with each other. In any case, family discipleship and family devotions are messy more often than not. So why practice them? Is it really worth it?

If Scripture didn’t point to the overwhelming importance of family devotions, I honestly wouldn’t practice it. I’d leave my son’s spiritual development up to the nursery I place him in once a week at church or the private Christian school. But one such Scripture reminds me of just how important Biblical study is to the family. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (ESV)

I’ve posted a sermon I preached through this text a couple of weeks back, so I won’t go too far into the details of this text. Instead, I want to focus on the beginning of verse 7. It says, “You shall teach them [these words I command you today (vs. 6)] diligently to your children.” Devotions and spending time in God’s Word with our families is, therefore, not a job for the pastor, or the children’s pastor, or the youth pastor, but a command for the family. The family takes the primary role for teaching their children God’s Word.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a daunting task. But thankfully, there have been many who have produced an abundance of resources to help struggling parents like myself. I thought I’d just share a couple of my favorites:

  1. Family Worship by Donald Whitney – It is a short and rather excellent book on the biblical basis of family worship and also gives some practical advice on how to implement it in your own family. I love this book because it is so short and written by a man who has practiced Family Devotions or Family Worship for many years with his own family.
  2. New City Catechism – I was a bit skeptical when I first started this with my four-year old son. Would he be able to remember the questions and answers to fifty-two questions? We’ve been using these questions for about 7 weeks now and we’ve done just under a question a week and my wife, son, and I love them. We take time to answer them right before we go to bed, in the car, or when we are at home. What makes these even better is the Spotify Playlist which has a song for each of the question. The songs make the questions and answers easy to memorize and a fun way to end our evenings with Wyatt.
  3. Jesus Storybook Bible – I am a Bible snob which also makes me a children’s Bible snob. Too many Bibles my wife and I have been given for Wyatt are either very shallow or downright heretical in the way they tell the biblical narrative. This is why, when I heard there was children’s bible that looked at many of the stories and used those stories to point to Christ, I knew this would be the one that we would use with our son. The Jesus Storybook Bible does exactly this. It doesn’t make heroes out of the patriarchs or prophets or judges or kings of the Old Testament, but uses their stories to point to the true Hero, and Prophet, and King, Jesus. We’ve read through it once and it continues to be a Bible we go back to time and time again.
  4. Tiny Theologian’s ABC Cards – These cards are simple, but effective tool to use with your child. I mean, they have to learn their ABC’s anyway. Why not also teach them the ABC Names of God, or ABC’s of Theology, or the ABC Attributes of God? That is exactly what these cards do. Now, we are a little bit early in implementing these, even though we’ve had them for some time. But so far, Wyatt will pull these out when he wants to run through his ABC’s. It allows Taylor and I to read through the words associated with the cards. On the back, there is also a definition of each of the terms for those kids that are a bit older.

I know Family Devotions and teaching the Bible to your children is a constant challenge, but I’m hoping that the list above will help in some way that maybe you hadn’t thought of before. All I know is that I’m extremely thankful that we serve a God who speaks to the hearts of children, using flawed and sinful parents like myself. And that alone is enough to keep trying, to keep pursuing, and to keep learning how to best teach my children God’s Word.

Continue On!

Why Family Discipleship?

“Raising kids is an endlessly challenging adventure, and it comes with a never-ending list of responsibilities. One of the grandest of those responsibilities is the call to all parents to be disciple-makers in their homes. A disciple-maker is a follower of Christ helping others to follow Christ. No matter what your household looks like, your family is the primary instrument and environment for discipleship in all the fantastic and flawed ways that it might be worked out.” This is how Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin begin their book on family discipleship. These two pastors clearly believe that family discipleship is vital to the life of the family. They believe this because God believes this and makes it clear in His Word. The primary disciple-makers of their children are their parents. 

It’s for this reason, I want to spend the next couple of weeks promoting resources I have personally found helpful to disciple my son, Wyatt. No, I’m not being sponsored by any of these resources (although, if anyone wants to…just kidding, but seriously), but I personally know the struggle to disciple my own family and my hope is that someone might find these resources useful. 

For today, I want to post a sermon I preached last year around this time about family discipleship. The text is from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. I pray this might give you a foundation for why family discipleship is important. 

God Bless! 

He Will Hold Me Fast

I was woken up by a huge ‘gasp’ from my wife, Taylor. “Eric, my water just broke!”

I looked over at the clock. 1:10 am.

“You need to go and wake up my parents,” she says.

We should be happy about this moment. We should be rejoicing about meeting our son. But all I feel is dread. I run upstairs to her parents and knock on their door. I hear stirring. “Taylor’s water broke,” I say loud enough so they can hear me, but quiet enough not to wake my son in the next room.

I go back down the stairs, into the room, and enter the bathroom. Taylor is standing, crying. “Today is Wyatt’s birthday,” she cries. I can see the pain on her face. Another feeling of dread washes over me.

We quickly pack up our stuff, get in a car, and make the twenty minute drive to the hospital.

What would follow would be the hardest moments we have ever experienced in our marriage, in our parenting, and in our entire lives. We arrived at the hospital around 2 am. The nurse used an ultrasound to locate a heartbeat. Still there. We were moved to another room where routine tests were done to ensure Taylor’s water had actually broke. There was no doubt. By 5am we were moved into yet another room, where we would remain for the next nineteen hours. In that room we would discover our son’s heart had stopped beating. Twelve hours later, Taylor gave birth to our stillborn son, Finley Samuel.

People have asked me throughout these past couple of months one repeated question: “How are you doing?” And while my answers to people have consisted of a number of responses such as, “We’re sad” or “We doing as well as we can.” I’ve spared most people from the answer I’ve wanted to say. Since finding out Finley had Trisomy 18 back in early June, I have been living out my worst nightmare.

Trisomy 18 is a chromosomal abnormality (1 in 5000) which leads to three copies of chromosome 18 instead of the normal, two. In many cases Trisomy 18 babies are lost in the second or third trimester or are stillborn as was the cases with Finley. Only about ten percent make it past their first birthday.

Knowing these statistics, Taylor and I lived with the dreaded prospect of never being able to hold our son. We spent twenty plus weeks grasping what it might look like to never hear him ‘coo,’ never to watch him roll over, craw, or take his first steps. Never to celebrate his first birthday, first day of school, or his first practice. All things that we have experienced with our eldest. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. As Christians, we had hoped for better. We had hoped God was going to heal. But he chose not to.

My greatest nightmare had become my reality. Taylor and I were in a situation in which we could do nothing. Doctor visit after doctor visit we discovered that Finley’s body showed more signs of Trisomy 18 and further signs that his little body would not tolerate a life outside the womb. My wife, my son, and my family were grieving a life that had not even left us yet. And yet, in spite of the nightmare I was now living daily, something was happening that I had not expected.

The last time I’ve felt this much heartbreak was November of 2019 due to a miscarriage. Even thinking about it now conjures feelings of loneliness. But there is another event in my family that has haunted me just as much. I wrote about it back in 2018 in my post When Head and Heart Don’t Match. At that point in my life, I was a new dad. My son wasn’t growing. We had been given a child, but my wife and I worried that he wouldn’t make it. My first inclination was to blame God for His failure to provide. I thought He was simply heartless and didn’t care what happened. I thought I was receiving a punishment I didn’t deserve. I had lived faithfully, desiring to serve Him in ministry, so why wasn’t He doing what I wanted Him to do?

I certainly thought the above response might be repeated in this very hard season we were experiencing. I thought worse might happen. I thought my faith would be torn in two. I thought there was no way my faith could last. My faith certainly wasn’t strong enough to ‘make it’ through another lost child.

But I was wrong. Or at least I was partially wrong.

I was right about my own ability to keep faith through an event as tragic as losing a child. I would have crumbled if it were based on my own ability, my own faith to hold fast to Christ. What I was wrong about was Christ’s willingness to hold on to me. I’m reminded of the words Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:10-12,

All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost”

The Lord has done exactly for me what He has done for All His people. He has kept me in His Name. He is the Good Shepherd who does not lose any of His sheep but goes after they when they attempt to flee. It is not because I am deserving. It is not because He knows I can handle the lot that has been given to me. It is simply because I am His and He is faithful to keep His promises. He is faithful to hold on to me even when I have doubted and been unfaithful. He holds on to me in spite of the bitterness I harbored in my heart in the past. He holds on to me because it is His pleasure to do so. And I trust that He will continue to hold on to me because He is faithful and changes not. Through heartbreak and sorrow, He will draw near to my brokenheartedness because He is good and merciful (Ps. 34:18).

I may never know the reasons why God has allowed our son to have Trisomy 18. It may provide opportunities to minister to others who have suffered the same pain, but it may not. It may be that God has used this experience to draw me nearer to Him. None of this is for me to know. But in spite of all the unknowns, I know one thing for sure: Christ will hold me fast. This hardship has put new meaning to one of my favorite hymns, Christ will Hold Me Fast. The lyrics read:

When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path
For my love is often cold
He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast
He will hold me fast
For my Savior loves me so
He will hold me fast

Those He saves are His delight
Christ will hold me fast
Precious in His holy sight
He will hold me fast
He’ll not let my soul be lost
His promises shall last
Bought by Him at such a cost
He will hold me fast

He will hold me fast
He will hold me fast

For my Savior loves me so
He will hold me fast

For my life He bled and died
Christ will hold me fast
Justice has been satisfied
He will hold me fast

Raised with Him to endless life
He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight
When He comes at last!

He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast;
For my Savior loves me so
He will hold me fast.

The day after Finley’s birth, we were discharged from the hospital. I remember vividly the last moments holding Finley’s body. Taylor and I cried. We said our goodbyes. We watched as the nurse wheeled away his body. More crying. We would never hold him again on this side of eternity. But even as I type these words, I’m reminded that Finley is the same hands as I am. He is being held fast by the Lord. And there is no better place to be.

A Needed Advent for All of Us

I love the Advent season! Since I was shown the wonders of this liturgical season, I believe I have uttered the word “Advent” more in the last three years than I had the entirety of my life. This year is the first year that I have taught through the meaning of Advent in my several years of serving in ministry and I have to confess: The season of Advent has been more refreshing this year than it has ever been in my life.

I think there are many reason for this. First, teaching through the four words which typically represent Advent (hope, peace, joy, and faith) have helped me gain a more appreciative perspective of how they are represented in the Bible and how they relate to the current season. Second, and this is what I would like to focus on, given the mess of a year which has been 2020, the season of Advent reminds me that we not only celebrate the Son of God coming to this earth as a baby, but also that we wait for His second coming in which He will vanquish sin, disease, and death forever.

As I think further about this second reason for my immense love for Advent this year, I am reminded about how early Christmas lights went up this year. These two topics might seem completely unrelated, so let me explain. The day after Halloween this year, I saw many of the houses in my neighborhood setting up their Christmas lights. It was to the point in which these lights were up by the 2nd of November. I thought it might have just been the families in my neighborhood, but apparently this has been a common pattern in other neighborhoods as well. To me, its a further reminder that this season, Christmas to some and Advent to others, is a reminder of hope and peace and joy and faith. Our non-Christian neighbors may never express it exactly like this, but there is something awe inspiring about this season even if you don’t celebrate the coming of Christ.

This year has only exacerbated that feeling. In the dread and dreary year of 2020, people want something to hope for. They want something to put their faith in. They need something that brings them joy. They desire peace from the never-ending news cycle of the election and Covid. They need only what Jesus can bring! Again, they cannot express their need for Christ, but they do know that they are looking for all those things above which only Christ can bring. It all points to a resounding truth: We need the message of Advent!

If you are a Christian and reading this, maybe this year has been a real struggle for you. Maybe you have lost a job, lost a loved one, or have been terribly depressed. I pray that you would take hope in the fact that you have placed your faith in One who has come to this earth, lived a perfect life according to the law, died on a cross taking your sin, and then rose again and ascended to the Father. 2020 will end. This virus will end. Your job loss will end. Your depression will end. But your Lord and Savior will reign forever! He will return and set all things right. Advent is a promise of that!

Maybe you’re reading this and you don’t know Christ. You have heard of Him. You know that at it’s origin, this season is a celebration of Christ’s birth. But the Gospel message, that is the message that God sent His Son to live a life we could not live,die a death on a cross that we deserved and be raised from the dead so that those who place their faith in Him can have eternal life, has eluded you. You may have a hard time believing something so wonderful can be true. In 2020, you are just trying to make it to tomorrow. I pray that you would ponder how faith in Christ might bring you hope, peace, and joy not only in this season but for the rest of your life.

Perhaps in 2020 we need the season of Advent more than we have in previous years. If anything 2020 has reminded all of us who are in Christ that this world is not our home. Life in Christ is incalculably better! This Advent season, may we cry what many have before: Come O’ Come, Immanuel.

Criticism is Always Easier

I winced a little as I wrote the title of this post because I know that I’m guilty. It’s is far easier for me to criticize what others are doing than to look at how I can encourage them. It’s far easier for me to poke holes than it is for me to help build up. Let me say, before I get too far, there are times in which criticism is necessary. Criticism, if used correctly, can lead to some positive change in a Christian’s life. For example, I have been helped immensely by criticisms my wife has given me in the times she has heard me preach. If I take these valid criticisms and apply them to my preaching, they will only make me better preacher and communicator.

But this is not the sort of criticism I am writing about. The criticism I’m concerned about is the overall critical spirit that I have seen on social media among Christians (some of you reading are already criticizing this post because once again I am calling for charitable living and love of neighbor). This pandemic season has not been an easy one for most. Loss of job, loss of social interaction, and loss of life have plagued us all. The stressful situations around us have created a natural breeding ground for discontentment and complaint. Unfortunately, this has manifested itself in criticism which goes far beyond matters of discerning between right and wrong. Social media has been filled with overly-critical posts on a variety of issues, but one such incident has bugged me more than any other. I will try to tread lightly as I mention this because I know that I can easily display the same overly-critical spirit.

When the pandemic began, churches closed rather quickly in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. The hope was that if churches stopped gathering, they could best slow the spread of the virus and protect those in the congregation, especially those who were most vulnerable. As the spread of the virus slowed and it became safe to gather again, some churches began to meet again at half or less than half capacity. Some churches were creative in the ways they could meet which included outdoor services, drive-in services, and a combination of indoor and outdoor services. Some requiring masks, some did not. Other churches chose to continue to meet online. Fast forward to mid-to-late July and the Coronavirus is still raging through the country, over a hundred thousand people have died, and churches are still asking similar questions about regathering. This has forced church leaders to make difficult decisions impacting the spiritual and physical health of their congregation..

Two weeks ago now, Grace Community Church issued a statement from their elders which stated that they “cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings” even though the state of California passed an order which mandated churches to limit or suspend their church services. Their statement is well written and filled with Scripture, containing many points that pastors should honestly think through. I have no qualms or quarrels with John MacArthur or Grace Community Church for deciding to continue to gather. It was rather what has been said or written by some other Christians who zealously support JM and GCC. A number of tweets and status updates from this group have criticized other churches for “bowing to Caesar” because they are not following in GCC’s footsteps. This is a problem.

I will repeat what I wrote above (with more emphasis): Church leaders in this pandemic have a nearly impossible job. It is hard enough trying to sift through the confusing and contradictory information that is floating through the internet. It’s even harder to make a decision with all of this contradictory information when they are being criticized for their decisions. Christians, instead of criticizing the leaders of other churches or the leaders of their own church, should be in constant prayer for them. Given the debate over whether churches should gather or not, I find it a bit ironic that one of the places this word encouragement shows up is in the same passage that promotes gathering as a church

Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

The gathering of believers is important. Scripture is clear on this. But its the reason for gathering that should draw our attention. We are to consider one another to provoke love and good works. We are to encourage one another. We aren’t gathering (physically or digitally) in order to criticize them for their incorrect response.We are gathering for the purpose of spurring one another up in love. We are gathering in order to encourage those who need encouragement.

First Thessalonians relays a similar message:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we exhort you, brothers and sisters: warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:11-14)

The commandment is once again very clear. We are to encourage and build each other up. This is what the family of God is supposed to look like! Yes, we call out sin as sin. Yes, we condemn false doctrine. But we should still always be defined by how we love each other! We should always be looking for ways to encourage our brothers and sisters in this time! This is how the church will be attractive to a world who doesn’t know Christ. We must ask ourselves: How can we expect the world to desire being a part of our churches if we are constantly complaining and criticizing those who are in them?

I want to reiterate that this is not a post to criticize the decision JM and GCC have made. That being said, I don’t necessarily believe that churches are bowing to Caesar if they are restricting their services or changing their normal formatting during this pandemic. There have been several great articles (linked at the bottom) written addressing the decision by GCC. I think they are worth reading and considering for anyone who wants another godly perspective. My hope after reading this is that you and I won’t be so quick to criticize those God has placed over us. Instead, may we devote ourselves to prayer for these men who lead our churches. May we find ways to encourage them in this tough season. It may be a letter, a text or simply a status update/tweet stating your appreciation for them. Seek to build up, not tear down. May God be glorified by our love for neighbor and for Him!

A Time for Civil Disobedience? – Jonathan Leeman

Should Churches in Government Defy Government Restrictions? – Gavin Ortlund

The Briefing (August 3, 2020) Part 3 – Albert Mohler

Two Year Hiatus (Sort of)

Hiatus – A pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process.

Year – The time taken by the earth to make one revolution around the sun.

It feels like it was just yesterday when I had grand aspirations for this blog. I was going to post roughly two times per month. I was going to write, as I saw it, the connection between Christ and culture. I was going to stick with it and develop my writing chops slaving away at a keyboard or something like that.

But here I am, two years later. I wrote above that it feels like yesterday, but these last two years…

these last two years…

You know when people describe periods of time as if they ‘lasted ages.’ They describe it as time ‘having slowed down.’ They describe it as ‘painful and fraught with worry and panic.’ The last two years, in my life and many of my friends lives, could be described in this very same manner.

You may be looking up at the definitions above and wondering why I defined both of those words. Defining hiatus makes sense. It’s not a word that we use all that often..but year? Why did I define year? It’s because if you were to ask me what these last two years have been like, since my last post, I would have to double check to make sure it hasn’t been four or five or ten years (ok, ten might be an exaggeration, but you understand my point). Two years have passed and with it I have experienced or witnessed the following: a church split, my son’s hospital visit, personal mistrust of character, destruction of another church, backbiting, bitterness, anger, frustration, a miscarriage, more mistrust of character, a pandemic, political polarization, racial injustice and on and on the list goes. Who would imagine two revolutions around the sun could contain all of this?

Before I start throwing a pity party for myself, I want to reassure people that good things have happened, dispersed in among the bad. I’ve celebrated two anniversaries to my lovely wife, this year making our sixth. My son is healthy and will turn three later this year. I watched one of my best friends get married. God continues to be faithful to me and my family in spite of my severe shortcomings. Friendships have grown and new friendships have blossomed.

This leads to that first word up there, hiatus. While there has been a hiatus from writing these past two years, there is never really been a hiatus in seeing culture intersect with Christ. No pause button has been pushed on my life which has allowed me to simply stay where I was two years ago. Wisdom has been gained through experiences (I hope). God has revealed His immense and wonderful grace through each of these circumstances, good and bad. He has been Faithful and Present in each of these things, just as He will continue to be Present and Faithful because that is Who He is.

So the two-year writing hiatus is over, but the hiatus of observing and trying to makes sense of what God is actively doing, has never actually, really ever happened.

What I’ve Learned Thus Far: Halfway Through My Bible Reading Plan

img_1587I challenged myself at the beginning of the year, much like I always do, to read through the Bible  within the year. For someone looking at vocational ministry in their future (Lord willing, of course), I figured this would be a worthwhile endeavor. I’ll be completely honest here, this is not the first time I have set out to accomplish this goal. I have tried to do this nearly three or four time before and have found myself behind within the first couple of months…ok, maybe weeks…or was it days? In falling so far behind, it became discouraging. So discouraging in fact, I just gave up. This year, I fully expected it to be similar. My title says otherwise. Yes, I have made it halfway through the year and as a result, read halfway through the Bible. I am not using this post to pat myself on the back or show just how holy I am (trust me, I’m nowhere near most if not all the people who will read this post). This post instead is a couple of things I have learned in reading the Bible for half of the year.

1. Reading the Bible daily is not as hard as I thought. 

The bible reading plan I use requires me to read one section from the Gospels, one section from the New Testament, a psalm/proverb, and a passage from the Old Testament. Upon reading this, you may find yourself struggling to imagine yourself reading that much in one sitting. The great thing is that you don’t have to. While it is ideal for me to sit down and read all of my reading plan in one sitting, I sometimes find myself reading part of it in the morning and the rest of it in the evening. This has made it much easier to digest all of it. The plan I use is on the YouVersion Bible app which makes it easy to go from passage to passage without flipping through your physical Bible to do it. I have also printed out a copy of it and placed it at my desk at work as a reminder of the passages I need to read that day. Each day on the app and on the printed copy have a box which is checked off after reading the assigned passages for each day. This, as a person who likes to see progress, is an encouragement to me as I read the passage and then check off the boxes as I go. All of this has made it much easier for me to be in the Word daily rather than sporadically throughout the week.

I should also mention that the YouVerson app has streaks (much like Snapchat) which record the number of days in a row you have been reading in the app. Again, this helps me to stay motivated and “keep the streak.”

2. Reading the Bible daily is more difficult that I thought. 

Yes, this sounds like a contradiction from the point I just made. In a way, it certainly is. While I have found myself successfully completed half of the year of my Bible reading plan, I have discovered what things in my life often get in the way of reading the Bible. I can tell you that while I have enjoy spending time in God’s Word, there are often things I would rather do. There have been nights in which I have been up late reading my passages for the day because I didn’t use the free time I had during the day to do it. I have discovered, through this process, just how much time I spend on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram when I could be reading my passages for the day. I do not use all the time I have as I should. I do not spend enough time focusing/meditating on God’s Word. It is a work of God’s grace that I have made it this far. God has given me the time I need to be in His Word. I simply need to use the time He has given me well.

3. The Bible does not have to always be studied deeply to experience intimacy with God.

Before all the Reformed people jump all over me for making this point, let me first clarify. As a seminarian, I value my deep study of doctrine (I am currently studying Union with Christ). I am a strong believer in reading deeply and focusing on specific passages, verses, etc. and mining the depths that they contain. But, through this half a year, I have gathered valuable insight and a greater love for Christ simply by reading through His Word. There are times in which I have read and reread a passage several times because it was so meaningful, but I have discovered the God’s deep faithfulness in preserving a line of David among the evil kings in 2 Kings. I have admired the emotion shown in psalms I have never read before. I have reread passages in the Gospels I never understood and now understand them. All of this is not because I have spent extensive time looking at the Greek and Hebrew, but because God has revealed in in reading His Word daily.

4. The Bible is completely about Christ’s work of redemption.

There is far too much to explain here, but I will try to do my best in brief fashion. I have been taught that the above point is true. I believed this truth when I heard it back in my sophomore year of college. As I have read half the narrative of the Bible, I can surely say that I have experienced for myself. The fall in Genesis points to a Savior who will come and make all things new. The sacrificial system described in Leviticus points to the need of a Perfect Sacrifice who will come and cleanse humanity of their sins. The Gospels are filled with the work of Christ which culminates in the His death on a cross and his resurrection. The epistles point to the completed work of Christ and how, therefore, we should live because of His completed work. All of Scripture points to Christ. Look for it!

Now What?

I’m currently in the second half of my Bible reading plan. I’m in some unfamiliar territory in the Old Testament or at least, less familiar territory (I mean, who reads 1 & 2 Chronicles for devotionals). My ultimate hope is that I can finish well and complete my reading plan. I can attest to the good that reading through the Bible has had on my life. I have discovered things I have never noticed in reading some of these passages again. I have started to understand passages I did not understand the first couple of time I had read them. Most importantly, each day of reading gives me the potential to become more like Christ. It gives me a better understanding of who I am and Who God is. It gives me a better understanding of my need to repent of my sin. It gives me a love for God’s Word and for Christ. It is a daily acknowledgement that I need Christ.

Bible Reading Plan: The Discipleship Journal Reading Plan

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Online Reading Plan

 

Are We Too Cynical?

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It caught me off guard. I was sitting with a student I have been discipling for nearly 4 years now. We were catching up with each other over a bowl of chips and salsa which sat before us. Our interchange began with some fairly general questions about my job, his future endeavors, and what we had missed in the last months since meeting. As we were talking over whether or not a lawn business or college would make a better career, he pauses and says, “You are the most sarcastic person I know.” I wasn’t surprised. Generally, I see comments like these as complements. I tend to be rather sarcastic and enjoy the witty banter that often follows. I then pushed further, saying, “Well, I am sarcastic, but at least I’m not cynical about it.” I waited for him to agree with me. Unfortunately, the words I heard out of his mouth did not echo what I imagined him saying in my head. “Well” he said, “Actually, much of what you say can tend to be quite cynical.” This was a comment I could not ignore.

Sarcasm, cynicism, and pessimism are not unique to me or my generation (Note: I’ll use these words somewhat interchangeably although I am aware of the nuances with each of these words).  These are all ultimately heart issues which have been within the human race since the beginning of time. It is certainly not something that we find to be simply a generational trend, but a multi-generational trend. But where have these attitudes, which I would argue has turned mainly into cynicism, come from? Why do I see in my own language and attitudes, a sense that I am far more pessimistic than previous generations? Why am I seeing this in others while those older than us speak words which are far more positive and encouraging? More importantly, how do I and others actually live out and speak with the joy we are supposed to have as people who have been saved from sin and death?

Why Are we So Pessimistic/Cynical? 

I stated above that pessimism, cynicism, and sarcasm are heart issues. While they can be linked to outside circumstances, these outside circumstances are not the reason for our cynicism or pessimism. Nevertheless, here some reasons I see as to why we are so pessimistic/cynical:

First, Millennials and beyond will never quite live with the same financial wealth of our parents. If you want evidence of this, you can simply google search the topic. When you do, you will find that Millennials, in particular, make less now than their parents did when they were the same age. The economy is not what it once was. Many children of the Boomers will never quite live with the same comforts financially that their parents had or that they had growing up. In a world with an ever increasing cost of living, Millennials and I-Gen’s find themselves asking themselves how they can possibly pay the cost to live while paying of student loans as well.  I see this constantly on Facebook where people complain that the cost of living is higher than what a minimum wage job pays.  I see this in my own life with student loans. Some will argue that spending on hobbies has also increased. While I believe this is true and that many Millennials and (I believe the data says otherwise for I-Gen’s) spend beyond their means, student debt and cost of living have certainly made it easier for these generations to be quite cynical and more pessimistic  about their future.

Second, smart phones and social media have created a comparison culture. Nothing makes you pessimistic quite like comparison. In a day where we can see instant updates and pictures of the house our friends just bought or the vacation they are currently on, it is easy to become cynical of them. It is easy to ask the all-too common questions of why you can’t afford a house or can’t afford a vacation. It is easy to be discontent with where you are which often turns into jealousy which turns into a cynical attitude. Recent studies have shown that more time on a smart phone and social media is linked to unhappiness as well as depression. With the amount of time Millennials and I-Gen spend on their phones, it is not difficult to see why they are so unhappy. Instead of living our own lives, we are constantly comparing our lives with others on social media. We associate other’s lives with what they post rather than what they actually are. We start to believe that the pictures posted of the “perfect moments” describe their lives at all times. This, of course, is not the case. There are hardships, disappointments and challenges in their lives just like our own. Our lives are more similar than they are different even though our social media pages may say otherwise. The comparisons we make with others only cause us to question why we have not been given the same things they have.

Third, our worldview is filled with pessimism and our media reflects this. Have you watched the news lately? Read the latest headline? We are coming off of a week in which two celebrities who seemed to have their lives put together committed suicide. Within the last couple of months we’ve seen headlines which include several more instances of individuals being accused of sexual misconduct which spurred the #metoo movement inside and outside the church. Politics divide the country more than at any other time in the nation’s history.  Law enforcement, who should be protecting all people, have been accused and found guilty of crimes which were unspeakable. Not surprisingly, due to these events, people are cynical of Hollywood, government and any other authority. In our eyes, the world does not seem to be getting any better but much worse. More and more, it looks as if people only do anything for their own pleasure, no matter how diabolical that act may be. Any good that may be done in this world is overshadowed by evil. Millennials and I-Gen’s have caught on to this as streams of news hits their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. The result is less trust of others and less hope for the future.

So…Now What?

Is it biblical to have an attitude of pessimism and cynicism? The answer is a resounding no. People who have the hope of the Gospel understand that their life if more than what is lived on this earth. Christians have a future hope which is far greater than the trials and tribulations they will face here. The suffering Christians will face or feel like they are facing because of their economic situation, the sorrow experienced in this life or the grind of day-to-day living in a fallen world “is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).  How can we possibly live a life of pessimism when we compare it to what we will one day receive?

If we understand the Gospel and its effects on our daily lives, we know we have been called to something more. Christians have been called to a life that is separate from the attitudes and the actions we see in this world. They are called to be a holy people who desire to live out the Gospel in their daily lives. They understand that they have been called to be salt and light in a culture that is in constant decay and in darkness (Matt. 5:13-16). Our attitudes and our words must be different because we are different people. We are ambassadors, not of a Kingdom which evokes sorrow, but of a Kingdom which one day promises no more tears or sorrow (Rev. 21:4). We have a Savior who has given us life to the full (Jn. 10:10b). This is worth celebrating. It is worth living our lives filled with joy. We can wholeheartedly live joyful lives because we know Who is in control. We know we serve the One who holds everything together (Col. 1:17).

What About Sarcasm?

I realize I’ve spent no space on the issue of sarcasm. Here is my brief take on it (maybe I’ll post more on the subject later). I’m sure some older and much wiser saints may disagree with me and at some point I may disagree with younger, less mature self. I am under the opinion that sarcasm can be used well if it is used sparingly. While I understand that it can and is often used for the belittling of others, it can also be used in a self-deflating way. This is the best way I have seen sarcasm used. While the Bible uses sarcasm, I am hesitant to promote either Paul’s use of it in 1 Corinthian 4:8 or Elijah’s use of it in 1 Kings 18:27 as reasons to use it because I know my heart. I know that I have a tendency to use sarcasm to promote myself and how funny I can be rather than using it to deflate my ego. I know I can use sarcasm to poke fun at institutions and authority when I should simply keep my mouth shut and be in prayer for them. There are good uses of sarcasm, but if I’m honest, I rarely use sarcasm as I should. My sarcasm can easily become cynicism and pessimism. As a Christ follower, I am looking to honor him in my words and at this point in my life the way to do that is to use it sparingly. Perhaps your heart is better than mine and your sarcasm never has a cynical bent to it. As for me, I know myself well enough to know that I must refrain from using it far more than I currently do.

 

 

To Those Who Have Left…

img_1535All I have are questions. I don’t expect any answers. I can’t imagine the pain that you went through to make these decisions. I know it was a struggle.

But I do have questions for those who have left…

When did you decide that it was no longer worth it? That what you believed wasn’t real? That what you believed wasn’t worth pursuing?

When did you stop believing in the satisfaction you once found in God and start believing the lies this world tells you?

When did you decide that finding satisfaction in what you wanted to do was far more satisfying than what God wanted?

When did retreat from the life you had once lived seem like a better option than the life you live now?

Was any of it ever something real to you? The hours spent worshiping? The moments spend in His Word? The time spent working together for the Gospel? The time spent in prayer?

Was living a life for Christ ever something that brought you joy? Was it a burden on you soul to live this way? Did it not bring you satisfaction?

Are you far happier now than where you were?

Who do you now run to when you are in pain? When you feel shame? When you fell helpless?

Do you ever feel like the part of you life lived for God was ever a mistake? Like it wasn’t worth it? Like it was a waste of time?

How has this affected the relationships you may have once had with those who still follow Christ?

Do you find yourself ever wanting to pursue the Person you claimed to follow? Or is a distant memory? Is it a fading late? Is it something you wish you could forget?

What is truth? If it is not in Christ, then where is it found? If God’s Word does not provide the answers to life, then where do we find them?

Can you honestly look at the brokenness in this world and think we can find the answers amidst this chaos?

Do you think God mad at you? Will He take you back?

Do you think God will have you?

Do you think God loves you?

Do you think Christ died for your sin?

Do you find yourself asking these questions?

 

He will have you.

He still loves you.

He died for your sin.

He is still pursuing.

Even when you are not.

He is faithful.

He is closer than you believe…

You’re not too far…

 

 

 

You are What You Tweet

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Social media is fascinating. Take time to think about it and you realize that social media is made up of large number of people interacting in one space who may or may not ever interact with each other other than the interactions they have online. It is at our fingertips. In the United States, we have the capability of posting just about anything without restriction. We can post our most personal feelings about the politics, the movies we are watching and life in general. We state our opinions. We start discussions. We debate various topics, sometimes until fury ensues. And we do this all from behind our mobile devices. Perhaps this is why we feel we post whatever we want when we want.

Now I understand that I am certainly not the first nor will I be the last to blog about how Christians use social media, but this is something that has been on my mind for the past several months. What is really worth posting on social media? Are there guidelines for Christians to follow when posting something. I’ve certainly posted statuses that are no belaboring and embarrassing to read. I’ve tweeted things which really did not need to be tweeted. I’ve posted pictures on Instagram that benefited no one but myself. Some of this is simply growing up in a digital world. Some of this is lack of maturity. Some of this was simply to grab attention or point out how clever I think I am.

But as Christians how should we use social media? Or what questions should we ask before we post something? Here’s a list of a couple of questions I’ve come up with.

1. Is what I am going to post wholesome? 

As a Christian, I think this one is a given. I’ve made the mistake before of re-posting a video which used the Lord’s Name in vain before. Rightfully so, I received a nice message from someone chastising me for reposting the video. What we post on social media should be devoid from sin. Since we are called to be a holy people and ambassadors for Christ, what we post should ultimately not allow unbelievers and other Christians to question what we confess with our lips. I am reminded of what Jesus says in Mark 7, “What comes out of a person defiles him.” Couple what Jesus says with Proverbs 4:23 which states the heart is a “wellspring of life,” and we can quickly begin to understand that our thoughts and words indicate more about our heart than we may realize. I believe the same idea can be applied to what we post. What we post is a litmus test of where our hearts are at the time. If we are posting anything which is unwholesome, it is more than likely that our hearts are not where they should be.

2. Is what I am going to post God-honoring or beneficial to others?

This second question takes us out of the category of asking whether or not a post is sinful to asking whether or not something posted on social media is honoring to God and/or beneficial to those who read it. Will all of our status updates, tweets, Instagram posts be like this? No, of course not. This should always be a consideration though. Will what we post build someone up or tear them down? If we are truly living by the two greatest commandments of loving God and loving each other then what we post should follow those two commandments as well.

3. Is what we post meant for self-glorification or for attention? 

I can without a doubt assure you that most posts made on social media are made for this reason: attention and self-glorification. I understand why. Whether or not we know it, we have a platform. Those several followers I had on Vine (R.I.P) was my platform. The friends/followers you have is your platform. And generally what are posting: anything that will get us the most views, the most retweets, the most ‘likes.’ As Christians, we have become clever about how we do this. Rather than just posting something to draw attention to ourselves, we will disguise our posts in religious language. I call this ‘holy tweeting’ (I use Twitter because this is where I often see this). Generally these are tweets which on the surface look like they are edifying and bring glory to God, they ultimately are used to show just how ‘holy’ the person tweeting actually is. I have been known to do this. When I am tempted to do this, I remind myself of what Jesus says in Matthew 6 about the pharisees who practice their righteousness to be seen. Their reward is in the affirmation of man. Christ says rather to pray/fast in secret so that the Father rewards you. We can use this same concept for our posts on social media. Is our heart motive when we post the bible verse on Instagram over the cool graphic for God’s glory or for ours? Is the quote you just posted by John Calvin edifying to those who will read it or were you hoping people would just know that you were well read?

4. Will someone really care if I post this? 

This is by far the most subjective question on the list. Even still, I think this eliminates half of the posts people make on social media. Because really, ten plus posts a day is a little overboard, don’t you think? I ask this question before I post something because generally the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ Does that mean I won’t post it? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. What this question is intended to do is to limit how much I actually post on social media. Maybe this will offend someone, but I think it should be said: Some of our posts have no need to be posted because no one really cares. This is reminiscent to  early Facebook statuses. You probably know what I am talking about…the times when everyone would put their name is… If we are honest, no one really, truly cared if we were hanging with our friends or watching a movie or were bored. (This is also true of the weird part of everyone’s lives when all they posted were song lyrics…yes, we have heard that song) We posted those things because we were hoping for the ‘like.’ We posted those things for what seems like no apparent reason at all. I still post things like this. Heck, I will probably post several things which no one will care about in the next year. I can assure you, though, that this question will be in the back of my mind before I do.

I don’t expect anyone to ask these questions before they update their status, tweet, or post a picture on Instagram. What I do hope this post might do, is to help Christians ask their own questions about the content they are about to upload. What we post may not be who we are, but it certainly says quite a bit about what we love and adore. We must bear in mind that we will be held responsible by what we say and do. I can only imagine that this will also be true for for what we have said and done on social media as well.