Casual Meditation: Who Is It For?

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Leading up to the release of my new book, Casual Meditation: Recovering the Art of Christian Meditation for the 21st Century, I’ve decided to write a series of short blog posts answering some questions about the book itself. Last week I answered the question, "What is casual meditation?"

Today, I’m going to discuss whom I wrote Casual Meditation for.

I wrote Casual Meditation for busy people. I wrote it for stay at home moms, for pastors, businessmen, businesswomen, and students. Honestly, I wrote it with every type of person in mind because in the 21st Century, it feels like we’re always filling our time with something.

I wrote it for you.

Whether you’re busy with the same monotonous work, day in and day out, or whether you’re catching flights to a new city every other day, I wrote Casual Meditation to meet you where you are, wherever that may be, at any given moment.

My hope and prayer for you is that you’ll learn how to stay connected to Jesus in the everyday stuff of life through the practices that I’ve laid out for you in Casual Meditation.   

I’m praying for you, Reader.

- James

Casual Meditation: What Is It?

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In anticipation of my new book, Casual Meditation: Recovering the Art of Christian Meditation for the 21st Century, I’m going to write a series of short posts highlighting this important topic.

The concept of meditation has mixed reviews, especially among Christians today. However, as you understand meditation, it’s important to remember that Christian meditation isn’t like new age meditation that’s resurfaced in recent years. Rather, Christian meditation is the biblical discipline of filling your mind with God’s word, Jesus Christ, and his gospel.  

Casual meditation, which is the focus of my book, is simply Christian meditation in the midst of the everyday stuff of life. It’s the practice of filling your mind with God’s word, Jesus Christ, and his gospel while driving to work, feeding your kids, attending class, and participating in the countless other tasks the Lord has called you to do. It meets you where you’re at.   

In both the humdrum and the hurry of life in the 21st century, casual meditation is a convenient and conscious way for Christians to stay connected with God throughout the day.

From both scripture’s teaching and personal experience, I know that you’ll find deeper communion with God in everyday life through your own casual meditations.

I’m praying for you, Reader.

- James

Casual Meditation: The Crux of Faithful Work

Casual meditation

Has Jesus changed the way you think about work?

According to the apostle Paul, whether you’re at the top or bottom rung of a company, your work performance should flow from the phrase, “as you would Christ.”

Today, I’ll focus on the “bottom rung.”

Employees (Bondservants)

The word “bondservant” in scripture is the Greek word, “doulos,” otherwise rendered slave. When you see the word “bondservant,” consider it to be the lowest level of work one can do, the real grimy stuff. Though I personally dislike the terms “subordinate”, or “peon,” and would never use them to refer to co-workers of mine, I’m going to employ them here so you get the picture.

No matter what you think about your position in the workplace, whether you think you’re a “peon”, a “nobody”, or some other word you frequent to describe your position; no Christian has an excuse to say, “This doesn’t apply to me.”

“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)

“But, my boss is a (fill in the blank).”

Notice that Paul isn’t clamoring for bondservants to obey “perfect” masters with fear and trembling and a sincere heart. He’s not even conditioning bondservants to obey “Christian” masters with fear and trembling and a sincere heart. Paul says, “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart…” 

“Earthly,” or in other words, human.

Technically Paul doesn’t even need to add the word “earthly” here because it’s an obvious statement. “Obey your masters” would have done just fine. Still, he adds this quasi-condition in order that bondservants would get the picture that their master, employer, boss, etc. won’t be perfect and that the only grounds for obedience to him or her is that he or she is a living, breathing person.

Your boss’s attitude, tone of voice, or indifference to your work doesn’t change the fact that you’re called to obey them, and obey them as you would God.

Obeying your boss

“…with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart…”

Don’t those descriptors sound like they should only be attributed to your service towards God?

When we follow Paul’s train of thought to the next plank on the track, we see that obedience to earthly masters looks an awful lot like obedience to God. Personally, I never would have attributed the terms “fear and trembling” to my work. Still, the ink dried on this mandate nearly 2,000 years ago. 

You aren’t above any job your boss asks you to do. Neither am I. There is no “above” according to the Bible. There is no, “I don’t get paid enough to do this” according to the Bible either. Obeying your boss with fear and trembling casts that type of thinking into the garbage.

According to the apostle Paul, we should respect our bosses (obey), respect the work that our bosses ask us to do out of respect for them (fear and trembling), and also do that work respectfully, with a sincere heart.  

A grumbling heart will never be a sincere heart. Rolling the mind’s eyes is as unacceptable to God as rolling them at your boss when he or she assigns you a tedious job.

In fact, when we continue to follow Paul’s thought, ultimately rolling your eyes at your boss would mean to roll them at Christ.   

Casually meditate on Christ

“…as you would Christ…”

Casually meditating on Christ is the crux of faithful work.

When you’re at work, on any rung, on any corporate ladder, setting your mind on Jesus, even briefly, will cause you to become a faithful worker.

What if Paul had said, “Bondservants, obey Christ with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart?”

You wouldn’t object to that. But when Paul adds the condition, “as you would Christ,” he is making that exact point.

When you mop floors, do so as you would for Christ, cheerfully and purposefully. When you feel undervalued by your team leader, remember your value in Christ and work for him, the perfect Master. When your manager loads you with a big project and a small timeframe, work sincerely, prayerfully, and faithfully on it as you would for Christ.

Jesus transforms the way we think about work, by first, thinking about him.

Christian, I hope you’re encouraged to step into work with this same mind about you. Know that I write with my own personal peaks and valleys in the workplace, having fallen short many times in meditating on Christ.

However, I also know the peaks very well, and it’s much better to work on the peak of, “as you would Christ,” than the valley of bitterness and division.

I’m praying for you, Reader.

- James

 

  

The Good Place: An Entertaining Reality Check

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Recently, my wife and I started watching a new comedy television show called The Good Place.

Without spoiling its twists and turns, the show begins with the main character, Eleanor, waking up in “the good place,” or what many would consider to be heaven. Entrance into the good place is based strictly on merit, a literal point system in which only the most notoriously noble men and women would get to enjoy their eternal paradise; house, soul-mate and frozen yogurt included.  

The other day while I was watching the show, I couldn’t help but wonder if The Good Place viewers consider how they would fare with a merit based “good place.” Do they think their lives would be good enough to garner entrance into a “good place”? Or do they think they would go to “the bad place?” Who decides what a good life looks like? Who develops the point totals?

The Good Place should be a reality check. An entertaining reality check, but a reality check nonetheless. Apart from an objective, biblical lens by which we view our lives, all of life is a subjective, fearful attempt to tally-up enough points to enter paradise. The gospel of Jesus Christ however clears the fog off a cloudy lens of opinion and gives us the truth on the matter.  

So what does the gospel tell us about point totals, and “the good place?”

Our Point Totals

We all have a point total. A negative one. Antithetical to the witty world of The Good Place, we’re all prime candidates for the bad place.

And when I say everyone, I mean literally everyone: You, me, Ghandi, Mother Teresa and the sweet old lady down the street. We’re all what the Bible calls sinners and sin earns us eternal death.

The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23), and, “…the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)

In other words, we all deserve “the bad place,” or what the bible calls, hell. 

Notice the bolded word there. Deserve. Hell isn’t an unjust place created by a cruel God. It’s a fair place created by a holy God, originally intended for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), but fit for us who have followed in their ways rather than God’s, which again, is all of us.

But the gospel offers us good news, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  

Jesus’s Point Totals

Jesus wasn’t merely a good man that killed it in the positive point total category. Jesus was the only perfect man to ever walk on the face of the earth. He is the only man that actually deserves “the good place.” In fact, Jesus the Son of God, stepped down from “the good place”, put on human flesh, and lived among sinners like you and me 2,000 years ago.

But he didn’t only live among sinners like you and me. He died for sinners like you and me.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

As we saw in the last section, the gospel is abundantly clear that you and I cannot earn our way to heaven through a point total. And this is one reason why God the Son became man: to live the perfect life that you and I could never live and to die in our place for our sin. On the cross, God poured out his wrath on Jesus Christ so that you and I wouldn’t have to know his wrath, but rather we would know his mercy.

But there is a condition to these gospel promises.

The apostle Paul writes, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 10:10-11)

Reader, you must trust in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of your life. In other words, you believe by faith that Jesus Christ has made you right with God through his death on the cross. As a result, true belief will cause you to love him, serve him, and follow him for the rest of your life.

Jesus’s Point Total Given To You

Alluding back to The Good Place, you’re probably asking yourself, “How does this affect my point total?”

This is how: Through faith in Jesus, you receive his perfect “point total.”

The apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church, “For our sake he made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus took your sin on the cross, and he gives you his righteousness as a gift, through faith in him. It’s a gift from God beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations; that he would choose to save sinners, not through making us work and work and work in hollow attempts to earn our salvation, but rather, by giving us a gift, Jesus Christ.

Reader, there are many things in life that you give time and attention to that simply aren’t worth your thought. Where you’ll spend your eternity is not one of those things. In fact, considering where you’ll spend your eternity is the most important question you can ask yourself.

Jesus says himself that he is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him. (John 14:6)

He has made a way to “the good place.” Even more beautiful than that, Jesus has made a way for you to truly know and enjoy God forever. Reader, if you haven’t trusted Jesus by faith, I hope and pray that today will be the day of salvation for you.

- James  

 

The Simplest Bible Reading Plan for 2018

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I know it sounds a little cliché, but I really have no idea where time has gone in 2017. I’ve blinked and found myself on the cusp of a new year; resolutions sketched out in sand, and a typed-up plan of action to keep the tide away.

January 1st is the western world’s day of new beginnings. Because of this, many Christians will begin 2018 with the goal to read their Bibles consistently this year, and personally, I can’t think of a better resolution than to spend more time communing with God through reading his word. It’s a choice to know God more, to better understand how to live for him in the ordinary revolving door of calendar days, to feed your soul spiritual food, and to set Christ as the King and Contentment of your heart.

However, when it comes to opening up the Bible, many get stuck on where to start. They aren’t sure what Bible reading plan best suits their needs. Reader, if this is you, I want to remind you that getting stuck on where to start isn’t a struggle to be ashamed of. Still, I want to help you out by making your 2018 Bible reading plan simple.

 

1.     Pick a book of the Bible.

2.     Read through it at your own pace (days, weeks, even months for larger books).

3.     Repeat.

 

This isn’t a “Read the Bible in 1-year” plan. It’s simply devoting yourself to reading God’s word, one book at a time, believing what God says about his word.

He says, through the apostle Paul that, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, emphasis mine).

The author of Hebrews reminds us of scripture’s necessity as we strive for eternal rest in Christ. He likens the word of God to a scalpel that is, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, he asks his eternal Father in heaven to set his people apart from the world. How does he ask the Father to do this? By his Spirit working through the scriptures, saying, “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth” (John 17:17, emphasis mine).

Each book of the Bible is a jewel on the crown of God’s word. There are 66 of them, sparkling and shining to bring glory to the whole of scripture. Reader, I want to encourage you to believe what God has said about his word. Don’t get flustered about what Bible reading plan will fit just right. Instead, pick a book of the Bible and read it slowly and prayerfully. Grab a highlighter and pen and write in your Bible. You could even consider journaling your thoughts as you read.

Don’t get stuck on a plan this year. Dive into your Bible. Believe what God says about his word and you’ll find its depth is enough to enrapture you for a thousand eternities. 

 

Warmly, in Christ,

- James

Covenantal Confidence in the Life of the Christian

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Since I’ve gotten married, I’ve contemplated the far-reaching implications of my sin in general, and my struggle with selfishness in particular: How it could affect my relationship with my daughters immediately and in the future, strain it causes in my marriage, how it could negatively impact my family’s view of Jesus, and so forth.  

Honestly, it’s been an overwhelming meditation for me.

On some mornings, this fear of myself has me clutching to my bedroom mattress, wrapped in momentary paralysis, briefly considering if it’d be more advantageous to my family if I became fonder of the snooze button, which, ironically, would be a selfish act in itself. 

However, as I’ve communed with God through 1 Samuel 17 over the last few days, the Spirit has confronted me about my perpetual conundrum of sin and fear of sin. He’s uncovered misguided fears, misplaced faith and wrapped me with a warm reminder of Christ’s covenant.   

 

Covenantal Sign

“And David said to the men who stood by him, ‘What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?’”

(1 Samuel 17:26)

I remember when I first heard this text preached in youth group. David’s slack-jawed “diss” towards Goliath, calling him an uncircumcised Philistine was taught merely as a zinger for the ages. If this event were to occur in 2017, David’s use of uncircumcised would be a modern-day, dab-worthy insult.

But David isn’t ribbing Goliath, here. In fact, he’s not even speaking to Goliath.

He’s speaking to the Israelites huddled up behind their battle lines, fearful of this behemoth from Gath.

David is reminding himself and his Hebrew brothers of the covenant that God made with Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6-11), the covenant sealed by the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17:1-14). In essence David is rallying up the troops, saying, “The living God has chosen us to be his people! He’s given us the sign of the covenant! But this beast? He has no sign. None can defy our God! Take heart, brothers, for we have the living God on our side and he will deliver this enemy into our hand!”

While the entire Israelite army was fearful of Goliath, David was drawing his courage and his confidence from God’s covenant with his chosen people as his fuel to defeat Goliath.

 

Covenant of Redemption

Christ acted on our behalf with covenantal confidence just as David did for Israel, and even more so. Christ’s guaranteed victory against our enemies was rooted in the covenant of redemption, an eternal agreement that Christ, the Son of God had entered into with the God the Father for the salvation of sinners (John 6:35-35-40) and the glory of the Trinity (Philippians 2:5-11).

Being fashioned in the precursors of time, Puritan Edmund Calamy (1600-1666) said of the covenant of redemption, that it, “was made with Jesus Christ from all eternity, being a contract or plot (or “masterpiece” per Thomas Goodwin) of God the Father with God the Son from all eternity as mediator for the salvation of the Elect.”

The covenant of redemption was the basis of Christ’s obedience on earth (John 12:44-50). All that he embarked upon was in direct obedience to the covenant stipulations that he and the Father set forth in eternity past. All of Christ’s actions were accomplished with the Spirit’s help and with an unshakable faith that the success of this masterful plan would reach fruition through obedience to the stipulations of the covenant.

Per the covenant (Acts 2:23), Christ Jesus became incarnate and lived on earth (John 1:14), resisted all temptation (Hebrews 4:15), was betrayed (Luke 22:47-48), crucified (Luke 23:18-46), buried (Luke 23:50-53) was resurrected (Luke 24:5-6) and ascended to the right hand of the Father (Luke 24:51). Jesus Christ single-handedly went to war against the great enemies of God’s people with the covenantal promises of the Father constantly in his mind and at his disposal.

 

Christ, the Greater David

Just as in any traditional type of warfare, when David went to battle against Goliath, he would kill Goliath in victory or be killed by Goliath in defeat. David’s victory would mean salvation for God’s people, or his defeat would mean slavery for God’s people.

However, God the Son came to earth with a different plan: To taste death as victory (Hebrews 2:9).

Though David’s faith in the God of the covenant was colossal, Christ’s faith in the Father of the covenant was supreme even over David’s. Christ would trust the promises of the covenant of redemption as nails were driven into his hands and feet, as he was mocked by the very people he came to save, as he suffocated on the cross, and as he bore the Father’s wrath for our disobedience. The Son of Man bore God’s wrath as a covenant breaker (Deuteronomy 28), though he perfectly fulfilled every aspect of the covenant of works for our sakes (Matthew 5:17-18).

Faith for victory is laudable. But faith for victory in death is worthy of highest attention and praise. David wasn’t ordered to attain victory through the sting of death. Christ was. In him, glorious victory shone through the translucent glass of defeat. Christ Jesus deserves our utmost awe. His faith and obedience is worthy our unbroken meditations.

 

Confidence in the New Covenant

Christ, because of his obedience to the Father in the covenant of redemption and his fulfillment on our behalf of the covenant of works, enacted, for God’s people, the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:19-20).

Over the last week, as I’ve studied 1 Samuel 17, the Spirit has shown me that this covenant is where to draw strength when I feel weak, where to glean confidence when I feel fear.

David drew confidence from the covenant that God entered into with Israel. Jesus drew confidence from the covenant that God entered into with him in eternity past. So I will draw confidence in my Christian life from the covenant that God has entered into with me, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   

In the New Covenant, I’ve been forgiven of all of my sins, past, present and future by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7). I am free from fear of sin because Christ has condemned sin in the flesh so that I could walk in obedience (Romans 8:3-4). I can overcome temptation because Christ perfectly overcame temptation (Hebrews 2:18). Indeed, I can kill sin that lurks in my flesh because I have died and been raised with Christ (Colossians 3:1-5). There is no room for fear of sin in the life of a Christian for Christ has conquered it, condemned it, and given you and me the ability to kill the sin that seeks to kill us.

For all of this that he has done for me, Christ is my greatest joy and his covenant is my greatest confidence.

  

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not the angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

(Hebrews 2:14-18)

 

For further reading on the Covenant of Redemption:

The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption by John V. Fesko

A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-covenant-redemption/   

Meditations on Space, Sin, and Credited Righteousness

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Lately the night sky has been a conduit of careful thought for me.

Maybe it’s the blend of dark surroundings and twinkling lights that causes me to sit in meditative wonder. It could be that I merely stumbled into an ordained mingling of opportunity and stillness and decided to take advantage of it. Whatever the case, again, the night sky has been to me a reflection of the Christian life.

Last night’s particular meditation came on the heels of a skirmish with my own sin.

My contention was with selfishness, a sin that I once considered to be “small” but has proved substantial since my wedding day.

For two years I’ve come face to face with selfishness so often that I could describe it to a criminal sketch artist if I needed to. It’s ugly. It’s deadly. It’s damning. And it’s alive. Though blind to it in years past, God has used marriage to bring help me recognize this evil in my heart. In fact, throughout my Christian life God has and will continue to unveil the “small” sin in my heart and show me how big it is, and that there is no category for “small” evil in his holy company. This perspective of sin is similar to that of the stars.

See, from where we stand, the stars that fill the night sky look small, twinkling harmlessly with a light gleam. But if God were to elevate us to the star’s presence we would see its enormity, terribly burning, blinding and dangerous.

God shows us our sin in the same way. There is no “small” sin to him. And there should be no “small” sin to us. He shows us its scale and we agree to its seriousness.

God commands us to mortify our sin (Colossians 3:5), that is, to kill sin in our lives. Any sin, even that which could seem small, should cause us to mourn (James 4:9) and repent (James 4:8). It should cause us to look to Christ, who was tempted as we are, yet, who slayed every temptation before it could touch him (Hebrews 4:15); who slew even specks of sin kicked in his direction.  

This Jesus is whom we follow and there is nothing more humbling than following this conquering Christ. Simply, we can’t follow a perfect Man without realizing our imperfections. We can’t stand proud of our performance when the bar of perfection is well beyond our reach, to say the least. The only way our feeble selves can even recognize perfection is because Perfection graciously chose to walk among imperfection 2,000 years ago.  

According to God’s merciful design, the longer we follow this perfect Jesus and study his word, the more we’ll discover our imperfections, our sins. Again, consider space. The longer humankind searches out the depths of the universe, the more endless it seems to be. The same is true of our sin. Throughout the Christian life, as the Spirit of God convicts each of us through his word, we’ll often have days of questioning if existence is merely an endless discovery of sinful matter.  

But there is good news for us in days of discouragement. Just like the universe has an endpoint, sin does also have an end point. However, Christ’s perfection actually does not. His purity has no end. It’s eternal. The Son of God has dazzled in flawless beauty within the Godhead forever, and if you believe by faith in this Jesus as your Savior, God credits his perfection to you (Romans 4:5). His sinlessness replaces your sinfulness. His purity washes away your impurity. And you follow him because he’s done this work for you and in you.

As we follow Jesus, we realize how badly we need his credited righteousness, and in turn, this becomes the joy of the Christian life in the midst of daily contention with sin: To know that my performance does not and cannot change Christ’s performance. Because Christ perfectly atoned for the sins of every believer, particularly and actually, we can strive for holiness without becoming discouraged when we fail (Hebrews 2:9-18).

His grace soars beyond a universe of sin and carries us with it!

The joy of redemption in Christ is not of this world and this redemption is our means of painful yet joyful repentance. It’s the channel by which God’s discipline towards us remains true yet becomes tender, for good and not for condemnation, urging us to holiness yet catching us in the net of grace when we fall. Because of this we can rejoice at the apostle John’s words,

 

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”

(1 John 2:1-3)

 

As receivers of Christ’s credited righteousness, we confidently repent of every sin, even when our repentance is a struggle, and when sin feels as small yet as large as the stars. Christian, rejoice in this with me today!

In Christ,

- James

Expository Snippets: Adoption and Exile

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“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit…”

(1 Peter 1:1-2b)

 

As we saw in the last post, Peter comforted persecuted Christians who were scattered throughout Asia Minor with the blanket of the Father’s foreknowledge. They knew that God’s foreknowledge isn’t simply a fore-knowing of predestined events but a fore-loving of a predestined people.  

This regenerating love is attached to God’s sanctifying Spirit. You cannot have one without the other. Or in other words, God’s adopting love in Christ, changes you.

Just as a son who spends quality time with his father becomes more like him, so the same is true of the children of God. The more time I spend with my heavenly Father who has adopted me into his family, the more I will, by the mercy of the Spirit, grow in godliness. I won’t desire old ways of living, or be content with even the slightest sin, but will earnestly desire to be more like my Father whom I admire, adore, and obey.  

This sanctification is one of the great evidences of a believer’s adoption within the backdrop of exile. It sets God’s people apart while living in a foreign land. The Spirit’s sanctification makes selfish people into sacrificial people, fearful people into faithful people, and rebellious people into repentant people, all for the glory of God and for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christian, sanctification of the Spirit sets you apart. No matter where you find yourself scattered throughout the world, you are made distinct by the sanctifying power of the Spirit that flows from the love of the Father, through the washing of Christ’s blood.

Take heart and walk with him.

- James

Expository Snippets: Fore-Loved for Trial

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“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”

 (1 Peter 1:1-2a)

 

Probably the most encouraging feeling you can have when going through a trial is to know that you are loved in the midst of it; to have your church, family and friends affectionately surround you out of the genuineness of their hearts.

As wonderfully encouraging as these relationships are, there is an even greater encouragement in knowing that the God of the universe, who ordains the entire order and outworking of all things, loves you.

While the early church saw many trials, Peter wanted to remind them of God’s love for them. He does this by reminding them of God’s foreknowledge.

In the Bible, the term foreknowledge isn’t a word to describe God’s knowledge of everything that will happen in the world, though we know that he is omniscient, or “all knowing”. As Israelites would have understood it, the term foreknowledge isn’t merely God’s fore-knowing all events, but is his fore-loving of a particular people.

So Peter, in essence, is urging his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to be emboldened by God’s election and fore-loving of them in the midst of trials and persecution. His hope would have been that his readers breathe a sigh of relief as they see, “To those who are elect exiles… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” in the opening paragraph.

Peter was carrying a large message to them with a few words:

“Remember that you have been elected, chosen by God to receive his great love,” he says. “Chosen for salvation in Christ from before the foundations of the world. You didn’t do anything to deserve his love, yet he loved you as his own child before you were born! He sent his Son to live, die, and rise from the dead for you! Because he did all of that you can be sure that he is with you and he loves you no matter what trial you face!”

As Christians, we are fore-loved by God, not for comfort, but for trial: Saved by grace and for good works, to walk as Christ walked in joyful obedience to God the Father, bearing a cross in anticipation of a crown.

In his trials and suffering, Jesus had a perfect knowledge of the Father’s love for him. In fact, Peter uses the same word, foreknowledge, to describe the Father’s relationship with Jesus in verse 20. This was Jesus’ comfort, it’s the early church’s comfort and this should be our comfort, too.

 For the glory of God alone,

- James 

Expository Snippets: Texan Exile

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“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…” (1 Peter 1:1)

 

When I moved from Illinois to Texas five years ago, I was intrigued by the state pride that runs through the veins of the locals. Sure, I’d heard of phrases like, “Don’t mess with Texas,” and “Texas is God’s country”, but I didn’t expect to see the Lone Star State flag waving at every gas station, school, and public building. Ironically, as I’m writing this, Miley, my seven-year old daughter, brought me a picture of an American flag and Texas flag she colored at school. Down here, you can’t have one without the other.

But even though Texas pride caught me off guard initially, I’ve grown to love this element of living here. It’s even rubbed off on me in some ways.

However, as a Christian, my Texas pride needs to be kept in check by God’s word.

Though Texas is a great state, it isn’t my home. I’m merely a traveler, an exile in a foreign land. My home is with my Triune God in heaven.

This was the apostle Peter’s encouraging reminder to first century Christians who were scattered abroad in places they wouldn’t consider “home”. He reminded them with the term “exile” that as chosen children of God who have been adopted through the blood of Jesus Christ, their hopes and comforts shouldn’t be placed in this world, but rather in the imperishable reward of eternal life that Jesus purchased for them.

God’s timeless word calls all believers to the same exile attitude today. The natural disposition of an exile is longing to be home. Christians long to be at home with Christ. Our hopes and comforts don’t live and die here on earth, but they live with Christ in heaven.

With that said, we need to keep in mind that an exile attitude isn’t an indifferent attitude. It’s actually the opposite. Because we’re only passing through on earth for a short time, we should passionately proclaim the gospel with our lips and our lives, seeking to bring others into the inheritance of eternal life that Jesus won for sinners through his life, death and resurrection. Our great Missionary-God calls us, elect exiles, to the task of making disciples of Jesus Christ while in this foreign land.

Illinois wasn’t my home. Texas is not my home. Heaven is my home. And I long to bring others there with me.

Christian, wherever you’re reading this, I hope you’re encouraged that you’re reading as an exile. I hope that you’ll use your time on earth to know Christ and to make him known, and look forward to seeing your Savior face to face and by his grace, bring others to see his face as well.

 

For the glory of God alone,

-James  

6 Thoughts About God While Staring Into Space

The night sky has a way of pulling me into a trance. It always has.

Growing up, I loved fall nights because the sky seemed to be the darkest this time of year. Before bed in my quiet Illinois home, I would close my bedroom door, shut off my lamp and open up my window so that the fall breeze would tickle my neck and permeate my room with the smell of red, yellow, and orange leaves. The only sound was the occasional rolling gust of wind and rustling trees across our yard. 

And in those quiet moments, I would stare, stare into the night sky.    

The sea of black speckled with twinkling stars and the glowing, neon moon would take my attention captive.  

It’s like the sky’s mystery would wrap me into stillness.

I’m sure you’ve felt this way also, while marveling at the grandeur that seems to be on display just for you.

Last night, I appreciated the night sky, space, for the first time in a long while. I was listening to a new spin-off podcast on my way to work called, “Calvinist Batman Reads Systematic Theology” (I know, awesome name), in which the host of the show (Perhaps, Bruce Wayne) is simply reading through “Reformed Dogmatics” by Geerhardus Vos. Towards the end of my commute, Vos was quoted saying,

“Behind the finite we comprehend, the infinite exists. It is with the infinite God as it is with space. However far we proceed in our imagination, we know that we have not yet arrived at the end, that we could still take one more step.” 

So for the rest of the night I thought about God, space, why he created it, and what he wants us to know about himself through it. I jotted down a more extensive list, but here are a few, simple, thoughts about God while staring into space.

 

1)   Space is knowable, but only in part. God is knowable, but only in part.

We know some facts about space, sure. But to have an extensive knowledge of space would require us to travel from one end to the other, from north to south, east to west. Astronomists can study details of the space they have access to, but there’s no telling how large it is.

The same is true of God. We know about God what he, in his condescension, has revealed to us about himself. But we can’t know anything more than what he reveals to us in his Word, in nature, and in his Son, Jesus. As limited, finite beings, to quote Vos, “…we cannot give a definition of God, but only a description,” because if we were able to define God it would be as to say we are the higher knowledge and power than God himself. He is God and we are human. If we could stand on our puny planet and know everything about God, he wouldn’t be worth worshipping.

“Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable.” (Job 36:26)

 

2)   Space is vast. How much more vast it’s Creator must be.

We cannot begin to comprehend the immense depths of space. When we look into the night sky we know that beyond our view are bursting stars, massive planets, and swirling galaxies. Even that is just a pinch of what space holds. Its vastness is beyond comprehension.

God is the artist of space. There are depths to space that no human eye can see and yet he’s created it for his glory. He doesn’t need creatures like you and I to gawk at his work and give it approval. No, he takes pleasure in the work of his hand. The depths of space are further than even a computable hypothesis, so then the Creator of this space must be larger than space itself.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

 

3)   We can’t comprehend space, yet we study it. We can’t comprehend God, but we must study his Word.

 We’ve been learning about space since we were in elementary school. Really, all throughout our education we study space in some way, shape or form. Even now, we’re excited to hear of new discoveries from scientists who unearth new information in our universe. Even though we know that space can’t be fully known, we still study it.

We should have the same attitude in our study of God, particularly through his Word, the Bible. I’ve heard many Christians and non-Christians say that we can’t understand God, so there is no point to trying to understand him. We might as well just leave him be. I’m just going to say it bluntly. You’re wrong. It’s true that we cannot fully comprehend God. Having a full understanding of God isn’t the call of Christians, but having a growing understanding of God is. Ultimately, to know God, in part yet in truth, is to know his Son, Jesus Christ whom he sent into the world to bring finite beings like you and me into a real, personal relationship with himself.  

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

 

4)   Space is a creative masterpiece. God is the Originator and Supplier of creativity.

We’re all just a quick Google search away from planets, galaxies, shooting stars and supernovas (wait, don’t leave the page yet!). Outer space is a creative masterpiece. When we look at beautiful paintings, we don’t hesitate to attribute the creativity to a creative mind.

God is the Creator of creativity. He is the Originator. Our God is a creative God. Who would dream up such a beautiful and terrifying universe as the one we live in where massive planets are spinning and rotating around a giant star? Who could be so thoughtful to color the galaxies when yet there was no color in the world? Our God is the master Creator through whom all creativity flows.

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4) 

 

5)   Space is an avenue that God uses to meet man with his beauty. Jesus Christ is the fullness of our beautiful God in human flesh, and lived among us.

The features of space capture our attention. The night sky is a beautiful sight to behold. In fact, we don’t know what it’s like to be without its magnificence every night. Oftentimes we take for granted the beauty that constantly surrounds us.  

God has displayed his eternal beauty in the stars and the sky so that we would know that he is far more beautiful than we could imagine. Yet, our beautiful God humbled himself and stepped into human history to become a servant to all people. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the image of the invisible God, was beaten, torn, spit on, mocked and nailed to a cross for the sins of those who love him. God chose, in his mercy to save sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Treasure of all existence. All of creation, the sun, moon, and galaxies glorify the Jewel around which they swing and sing, that lovely Jewel, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him… that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-16, 18b-20)

 

6)   The stars in the sky are countless. God uses the stars as a picture of the great number of sinners that God has saved from his wrath.

We’ve all made trips away from the city lights just so we could get an idea of how many stars the sky holds. If you’re like me, you’re amazed every time you stand under the clusters of twinkling lights. The number of stars in the sky goes well beyond what we can fathom. They seem countless.

In the Bible, God uses the great number of stars in the sky as a metaphor for the number of sinners he would shower his mercy upon. All people are sinners. All people rebel against God, break his commandments, and want to live their own lives separate from him. The wages of sin is death meaning that the moment you first sinned, you earned death for yourself. Because of this, God, who is holy and perfect will rightfully judge your life based on his justice. And if we are left to ourselves, all of us will spend eternity in torment, being punished for our sins.

But there is good news. God, in his mercy and grace, sent his Son Jesus Christ to live a perfect life for us, and to die a death that he didn’t deserve in our place, for our sin. He took God’s righteous wrath for sin on himself while hanging on the cross. But this isn’t the end. God rose Jesus from the dead three days later as a proclamation that Jesus is victorious over Satan, sin and death and he is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.

Jesus has accomplished the work of salvation for sinners. It is finished. But in order to receive the free gift of grace that is held out to you in Jesus Christ, you must turn from your sins and believe that he died on the cross so that your sins, past, present and future are wiped away from your record. If you haven’t done this, I beg of you to do so now, to plead for God’s mercy, repent and make Jesus the Treasure of your life by believing him and living for him. Ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can give you a heart that trusts that Jesus laid his life down for you. He makes blind sinners see the light of the gospel, and he never fails in doing so for those that God shows mercy to. Every one he has chosen to save has and will be saved.

Reader, I want to encourage you to read the New Testament book of John, which was written so that you would believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pray and ask God daily to give you a new heart that loves him, and spend time reading about the person and work of Jesus.    

From before the foundations of the beautiful universe that we live in, with all of its complexities and wonders, God mercifully chose to save sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ, which is the greatest wonder of all, and will be the mystery that we marvel at for all eternity.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundations of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)

 

The night sky, space, the vast depth of beauty that we see each night is God’s creation for his glory. He uses it to tell us about himself and what he has done for us. The next time you glance out at the night sky, think about its Creator. Think about our wonderful God who wants us to know him and then, join with all of creation in singing his praises.

All glory be to God alone.

- James

Christian Parent : Apologist

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“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” – 1 Peter 3:13-16

 

It’s become my conviction as a father of two elementary age girls that Christian parents must become apologists.

I know what you’re thinking.

“What (the heck) is an apologist?”   

Despite what the term “apologist” sounds like, this post isn’t about us parents stepping up our apology game when we sin against our children (though I could probably write a manifesto on that topic based on my own experience). An apologist is one who makes a defense for what they believe. For the Christian, to be an apologist is to take up your shield as a defender of the Christian faith. 

Better yet, a good Christian apologist isn’t only going to defend the faith. They’re also going to pierce the attacking worldview with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

Becoming more learned in apologetics is beneficial, and I’d say, necessary for all Christians. However, I believe it’s especially important, for those of us who are raising up little disciples under our roofs, to have a basic apologetic foundation to stand on.

As Christian parents, we have the privilege of teaching our children to love and trust Jesus Christ in the everyday stuff of life. We get the honor of opening up God’s Word and speaking his truth in our homes. We get the pleasure of hearing our kids offer up their prayers to Almighty God every night. We’re also the primary targets for onslaughts of questions regarding these things. 

One trait I love about my daughters is their curiosity. They always seem to have a bottomless barrel of questions for my wife and I to answer during family devotions at the dinner table. Several of the questions deal with what many apologists have to work through. A portion of what they ask is simply drawn out of their own curiosity. For instance:

 

“Why did God put Adam and Eve in the Garden when he knew they would sin?”

 

“Why does God allow bad things to happen?”

 

Other questions are formed from outside influences:  

 

“How do we know that our God is the only true God?”

 

“Why do we believe in God but other people don’t?”

 

These are important moments in our home. Our daughters are asking us questions that a critical culture is asking them. They’re asking us questions their closest friends ask them. And they’re asking us questions that they’re struggling to reconcile themselves. For their sake, we should be prepared so that these questions don’t leave us shaken, and scrambling for answers.

It’s important for disciple-making parents to offer a defense for what we believe under our roof. It’s important for our children to know the reason as to why we say, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). It’s important because appropriately handling apologetic questions will influence the types of disciples our children become. Here are three ways the Parent-Apologist will influence their children in discipleship:

 

1) Our children will be fearless disciples.

A couple of years ago, my older daughter was convinced that there were monsters in her closet. Every now and again she’d have me check to make sure there was nothing lurking in the dark, 3-foot (tops) abyss. Oddly enough, I’m finding it pretty easy to draw parallels between the monster in the closet to the child and the monster of Atheism, or Mormonism, or Islam to the Christian. We have this hanging fear that when the opposing worldview comes out from the closet it’s going to eat us alive.

If that’s you, don’t feel bad. I think all Christians, including myself, have been at that place at some point in our lives. But be encouraged! What you’ll notice as you learn apologetics is that the biblical worldview can’t be broken. There will be moments where a skeptical question will get your heart racing a bit, but a Christian apologetic that begins with God’s Word as a pre-suppositional truth will always provide an answer because God’s Word is truth (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17).

How does this relate to your kids? Imagine a time when your child comes home from school and asks whether or not the Egyptian gods are real. Then, you take them to Isaiah 46 and provide a biblical based apologetic for them. They’re encouraged and head back to school stronger in their Christian faith. A couple of months later, the science teacher says the world began by a process of evolution, and your child asks why they hadn’t heard that in church. Then, you open up Genesis 1 and walk through the creation account with them, reminding them that God’s Word is truth. Maybe you even add in some apologetic material that you’ve studied on your own, pointing to Intelligent Design. Your child is encouraged and they head back to school.

Do you see the pattern? If Christian parents can be apologists in our own homes, we can provide answers to our children’s questions that encourage them in their faith. They’ll learn that they don’t need to be fearful of skeptical worldviews. Rather they can be confident in the Word of God.

 

2) Our children will be friendly disciples. 

Have you ever noticed that when you feel confident defending a position, you’re able to have peaceful conversations with people of different opinions?

I grew up in Chicago during the legendary Chicago Bulls basketball dynasty in the 90’s. I have no problem saying that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. However, not everyone agrees on this. At one point, hearing arguments in favor of guys like Lebron James, or Kevin Durant, would annoy me. I’d raise my voice a little bit, get agitated, etc. But the more comfortable I became with my position against a variety of arguments, the more friendly I became in conversation.  

That is what we want for our children. We want them to be friendly disciples of Jesus Christ. We want them to defend the faith with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Now, for them, defending the faith may start as simple as, “Well, I believe in God because the Bible tells me that he is real.” Though they haven’t learned the many defenses for the existence of God, they have kindly defended belief in God, and given a reason for their belief in God, which is through his revelation in the Bible. I hope as parents we would celebrate those bold moments with our kids!

The kindness they show to unbelievers will, in part, be a result of our apologetic approach to these questions at home. Our children will be confident in God’s Word, and friendlier disciples because of it.

 

3) Our children will be faithful disciples.

Christian parents, our duty is to raise our children as disciples of Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Ephesians 5:4). As tender hearted as Christ is towards our little ones (ultimately, his little ones), the truth is that they are still disciples of Jesus. Every disciple of Jesus has the call to, “deny [themselves], take up [their] cross, and follow [Jesus]” (Matthew 16:24). In short, this means that we treasure Jesus more than anything else in our lives including our friends, our comfort, our popularity, and ourselves.

As Christians, we want to teach our children to strive for peace with their peers. But when peace and truth conflict, we must choose Christ, and fall on the side of truth, speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Faithfulness to Christ isn’t always easy. It definitely won’t get easier for your children as they grow up from elementary school, to middle school, to high school, and to college. That’s why it’s important to start teaching them now how to defend the Christian faith. We do this most effectively by being defenders of the faith ourselves.

The more often we lead our children back to the Bible in skeptical scenarios, the more likely they’ll begin to do it on their own.

 

In an age of skepticism, our kids need us to be apologists. It’s a tall task. It can feel overwhelming if you’ve never looked into apologetics before. But there are easy ways you can become familiar with apologetic conversations. I began a few years ago by listening to a topical debate everyday on my drive to and from work. If you’re a stay at home parent, listen to a podcast while you’re doing laundry or dishes. There are many resources out there to help. I’ve listed a few that I highly recommend that are Biblically based and great for both starters and seasoned parent apologists.

 

To God be the glory.

 

-James  

 

Christian Apologetic resources I’ve found helpful:

https://answersingenesis.org

http://apologiaradio.com

https://www.premierchristianradio.com

https://www.aomin.org

Step-Dads and the Sovereignty of God

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,

the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

Are the children of one’s youth.

Blessed is the man

Who fills his quiver with them!

He shall not be put to shame

When he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

- Psalm 127:3-5

 

I have two beautiful daughters who are six and ten years old.

I’ve been their daddy for 14 months.

When Cortni and I got married, I knew that I would spend my life loving her. I knew that I’d spend my life loving her daughters, who are now my daughters. But I never knew that my heart would burst in my chest every time they smile at me across the dinner table, or say, “Jesus, thank you,” when we pray before bed, or when I think about them getting married one day.  

They have a special flame that melts my heart in a unique way.

But, I have to admit that the last 14 months have brought difficult moments for me.

Since getting married, Cortni and I have been through a whirlwind of lifestyle changes. Early on, we looked into the process of adoption so that the girls can legally take my last name, but we’ve both agreed that to move forward in the adoption process right now could be a little chaotic and unhealthy for our family. So we’re patiently waiting for God to give us clear direction in the decision to move forward.

This means that for the time being, I’m (legally speaking) my daughters’ step-dad.

And to be honest, I’m not too fond with the “step” before the dad.

The title itself makes me feel like less of a father. In fact, if you don’t know our family, you wouldn’t see a single trace of me in my daughters. They don’t have my DNA. I am absent from their biological makeup. They don’t have my last name. They have, however, inherited my fascination with werewolves but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  

Anyways, the “step-dad” title has been a cause of insecurity for me. It’s made me wonder what people think of me. Do they think of me as less of a dad? Do my girls know that I love them just like any other good parent loves their biological children? Does my wife ever see me as less of parent?

Personally, I have no ground to base those thoughts on. They’re built solely on the sand of insecurity. I am thankful, however, that each time my insecurities cause me to sink, my heavenly Father pulls me up and sets me on the foundation of his sovereignty.

No, I’m not my daughters’ biological father, yet from before the foundations of the world, God ordained that I would be their daddy. I’m not a plan-B dad. I’m plan-A. I wasn’t God’s second option for our family. I was his first. He’s given me the gift of being daddy to two wonderful girls. And even though I wouldn’t coin myself as “a gift” to my daughters, God has given me to them as a gift, as well.

God has sovereignly called me to be my girls’ father. This is just as true for you and your children as it is for me, and should move us in three ways: In humility, in responsibility, and in enjoyment.

 

How God’s Sovereignty Addresses Step-Dads

  

1) God’s sovereignty requires humility

When Cortni and I got married, I had a lovely picture in my mind of a family of four laughing, loving, and growing in the Lord together. Honestly, I thought the transition from single guy, to husband and father would be a relatively smooth one.

 

2 teaspoons of daughter

1 tablespoon of mother

Stir.

Add 1 tablespoon of husband/father

Stir.

Bake in oven 15 minutes

Pull out of oven and enjoy your big, happy family.

(Yes, this is how I thought baking worked also.)

 

The changeover seemed simple to me. And though God has been abundantly gracious to us over the last 14 months, I was incredibly misinformed in my thinking.

Early on, as many selfish single guys are prone to do, I thought mostly about myself. I was wrapped up in my transition from being single to married with children. Because of that, I didn’t think much about how the transition from “James” to “Daddy” would affect my daughters. I also failed to think about how the transition would affect my wife. I thought about myself first, when I should have, as Christ commands in the Scriptures, thought about myself last.

I realize now (a little late) that one of the most profound ways I could have served my family would’ve been by understanding how difficult even a good transition can be. This requires humility.

A step-dad is not a savior.

I say that as someone whose pride has been beaten to a pulp by God’s rod of discipline.

If you think you’re a solution, you’ll find yourself to be a problem, real quick. 

Yes, God, in his perfect plan has called me to be my daughters’ father, but not to step into the gap of fatherhood to “solve everything” with my presence. Rather, he called me to step into the gap of fatherhood to serve them. He’s done the same for you as well.

I want to encourage you to take time to study how Christ, God in flesh, the only Savior of the world, stepped into humanity and served you through his death. He’s filled the gap of Savior by becoming a servant. Step-dads, we fill the gap of fatherhood by becoming servants, in order to point our children to the only true Savior.  

 

2) God’s sovereignty demands responsibility

Step-dads don’t have less responsibility as a parent because of a prefix before “dad”. Since God has called you to be the father of your children, you have the same responsibility to love them, play with them, get to know them, provide for them, and teach them, as any other parent does.

However, I would say that this requires a little more work at the beginning of your parenting than that of a biological parent who’s involved from birth.

My girls became my daughters when they were five years old and nine years old. I missed some years. On some days I feel like I’m trying to play catch-up, not only as a parent but also as a dad who wants to have a relationship with his daughters.

As a step-parent, I have plenty to learn about my daughters and it’s my responsibility, not theirs, to engage them so that our relationship can grow. I should be the conversation starter, the date initiator, and the first one to say, “I love you.” Being a father is a wonderful privilege that God has graciously given to me; one that I didn’t have 14 months ago. It’s my responsibility to create space for my daughters’ and my relationship to flourish, and trust, that as a result, God will do the flourishing.

Step-dads, pursuing your children relationally will be the key to unlocking your influence spiritually and authoritatively. In order for us to teach our children about Christ’s love, we must model that love to them. Also, we should make it easy for our children to respect us as the Scriptures say (Ephesians 6:1-2), by being parents that deserve respect, as the Scriptures also say (Ephesians 6:4).

God has sovereignly given us the joyous responsibility of pursuing, loving, and teaching our children. Let us work at it with all of our hearts.

 

3) God’s sovereignty creates enjoyment  

Step parenting has a unique set of challenges. I’m not sure if a week has gone by in the last 14 months that I haven’t felt inadequate as a father in some way, shape or form.

But in those moments I have to remind myself to cast my burdens on to the Lord, and he will sustain me (Psalm 55:22). He carries me from grace to grace.

God hasn’t chosen me to be the father of my girls just so I can ultimately fail my family. There have been and there will be times when I do fail them, or sin against them, or try my best and fall short. But God hasn’t given me a deadline to be a perfect dad. In fact, he’s never put that burden on me, even though I tend to put it on myself. 

This is where all of the challenges of being a step-dad can become enjoyments.

I have a gracious heavenly Father who is pleased with the work he is completing in me, even when I fail. As a parent, I can also be pleased with the work God is doing in my girls even when they fail. As a family, we can enjoy the short time we have on this earth together, being molded into the image of Christ. God has sovereignly given us to one another so that we would grow in grace together and show grace to one another. And in this, we can relax and enjoy God’s providence.

Step-dad, have you enjoyed being daddy to your children?

Have you played with them before you’ve had a chance to do anything else in your morning? Have you had silly “would you rather” conversations with them? Have you read to them in British accents? Have you taken them out for ice cream? Have you laughed with them after having to discipline them? Have you kissed them before bed after a button-pushing type of day? Have you thanked God for them before your head hits the pillow?

Have you enjoyed the gift of being a step-dad?

If you haven’t, start today. Make memories with them. Enjoy your children that God has given you to love.

Step dads, God builds families. Though he hasn’t built your family “traditionally”, he’s built your family intentionally. He’s decreed you as the head of your family in the eternal council of his will. He’s done so for the good of those that love him and for his glory. Be humble. Take responsibility. And enjoy it.

 

Side Note) A Quick Word to Wives

Wives, your husband needs to know that you’re his biggest fan as he steps into the daddy role. He needs to know that you trust him to help you raise your children. He needs to know that you’re proud of him. He needs to know that you’re there for him.

I can’t tell you how wonderful my wife has been in my 14 months of being a dad to her girls. She’s been patient with me and patient with them. She’s been a support system for me and a support system for them. She’s been my greatest ally, and our daughters’ greatest ally, also. Cortni has been the glue of our family, bonding us together as a unit.

When we said our, “I do’s” Cortni vowed herself to me, and her daughters to me as well. I can’t imagine how difficult that was for her, even though she’s only shown confidence in me. Cortni has prayed for me, cared for me, challenged me, and loved me at my worst. She’s taught me how our girls need to be loved, spoken to, and disciplined. She’s been my rock and I love her for it.

-James

When a Sinner Makes a Sandwich

When dealing with food, I may have the pickiest daughters this side of Fort Worth.

Well, at least this side of the kitchen.

The other day, my six year old daughter, Miley, asked me to start cutting off the “outsides” of the peanut butter and jelly I make for her lunch everyday.

When she made this request, my head cocked to the side like my Golden Lab used to do when I’d make barking noises. Partnered with a mumbled, “Yeah, babe,” was the thought, “Really, honey? You can’t deal with the crust on the sandwich? Just start eating it in the center like you always do.”

I continued a dialogue with myself as she ran in her room to play with her toys.

“Do you know what that means for me? That means I will spend about ten seconds of my day, five days a week, for the rest of the school year cutting off the edges of a sandwich. That’s fifty seconds a week (Except when Cortni makes the lunches, then it’s slightly shorter)!”

After a few moments went by, and I cooled down, I was pretty disturbed by how quickly my selfish nature moved from my heart to my head. It was as if I had no barrier whatsoever. In the blink of an eye, I went from being a thoughtful daddy to a selfish jerk.

“I’ll have a better attitude next time,” I told myself. But just as I was ready to move on from that pitiful moment, the Holy Spirit pressed grief into my heart (2 Corinthians 7:10). Surrendering to His tension, I stopped what I was doing and allowed Him to dig around in the deep well of my heart. As He worked, I was reminded of Christ’s pleasure, Christ’s pain, and Christ’s promise, all for a broken sinner.

1) Christ’s pleasure to show me my sin through my daughter.

Though Christ isn’t pleased with our sin, He is pleased to use our sin to lead us to repentance. Paralyzed in the kitchen and convicted of my selfish attitude, I began to think about Christ. And as I thought about Him, I felt the warmth of His smile melt the cold of my sin. I felt His pleasure. He was pleased to show me where I failed so that I could repent.

My sinful attitude towards Miley was deplorable and indeed pathetic. But, graciously, Christ employed my selfish attitude as the finger that turned on the light switch to illuminate the deep tunnels of my sin. My daughter didn’t ask me to help pick up her toys. She didn’t ask me to cook her a meal. She asked me to cut the edges off of her sandwich for lunch… While I was making it.

There was such little sacrifice but such great hesitation.  Such a small task to serve her. Such a great sin against her and my Savior. 

2) Christ’s painful sacrifice for a petty sinner.

The sheer pathetic nature of this sin is enough to be worthy of spending eternity in hell. But also, the hesitation to serve my daughter in such a simple way is evidence of how horribly depraved I am, and how absolutely hell bound I would be apart from Jesus Christ. Yet, because God has been merciful to me, and saved me in Christ, I was reminded and thankful for Colossians 2:13-14:

“And you, who were dead in the trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

No sin is excusable before God. No sin is too petty for eternal punishment. But for those that trust Christ by faith, as the one who bled and died for sinners, God extends mercy, now and forevermore.    

3) Christ’s promise to make me perfect as He is.

As I stood in the kitchen, reminded of Christ, I was confident that I would be able to move from this moment with a new attitude towards serving my family. But this confidence doesn’t come from a pep talk and my own effort. My confidence is in Christ’s perfect obedience to His Father, and His promise to complete His work in me. Paul says in Philippians 1:6:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”   

As I strive to lay my life down for my family through various types of sacrifice, I know without a question that Christ will enable me to do so. And in moments when I still struggle to serve my family, friends, and neighbors, I am comforted by this reminder from sixteenth century Puritan, Richard Sibbes, “Christ looks more at the good in [me] which he means to cherish than the ill in [me] which he means to abolish.”

Christ promises that He is making me like Him, and so, like Him, I will be.

Hopefully, by God’s grace, in the future I won’t need to be challenged on my sin while making lunch for my daughter, but I’ll be an abundantly blessed man if every time I cut crusts off of her sandwich I’m reminded of Christ’s goodness towards me. 

What My Daughters Have Taught Me About Teaching Them

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

Dad’s, we are commanded to teach our children about God.

Think about that for a moment.

Our puny minds, full of football stats, grilling menus, and hunting gear are also translators of the eternal Word of God to our 6 year olds’ ears.

This seems like a daunting task, and indeed it’s one that requires careful words and thoughtful explanations, but it’s also one that is drenched in God’s grace towards us. God honors our obedience to teach our children His Word, sometimes in-spite of our stumbling efforts, but that’s what we need to do: Put forth effort.

I have two daughters, a six year old and a nine year old. Here are three things they’ve taught me about teaching them:

1) Teaching my daughters won’t always go as expected.

My daughters always like to brag about how they’ve learned “the whole Bible” (aka Jonah and the “whale”, Noah’s ark, and some stuff about Jesus) in Sunday school. So my wife, Cortni and I decided that we would study a new question from The Westminster Shorter Catechism at dinner each night. The beauty of catechizing the kids is that catechisms teach more than Bible stories. They teach children about doctrine, with questions like “What is sin?” “How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?” and “What is repentance unto life?”

A couple of weeks ago, I opened up the Westminster Shorter for the first time at dinner, and threw the curveball at my oldest daughter. “Layla, what is the chief end of man? What is the purpose that God created us for?” She refused to swing at the pitch and rather threw a knuckle ball back at me. “Why did God create Satan when He knew that Satan would do so many bad things?”

Soon enough there was an onslaught of “why” questions, raised voices, a cloud of dust, and tears of reconciliation. The night didn’t go as expected, but hey, we got to hear our daughter’s struggles to understand a question that many adults would rather ignore. In the end, God’s grace was abundant to bless the conversation with both of our girls that night.

Naturally, from this point, I’ve learned another point:

2) Teaching my daughters is harder than I thought it would be.

“Heck, I’ve taught adults the Bible before,” was my (ignorant) thought. Sure, children might be less stubborn to teach than adults, but they aren’t easier to teach.  

Trying to communicate the things of God to the mind of a child in a clear and truthful way is not an easy task. This week I’ve spent about as much time studying how to teach my kids about the Trinity as I have formerly preparing sermons to preach. Even if I chop the doctrine of the Trinity into a bite-sized chunk for the girls to chew on, they’ll be chewing on it for all eternity, just like the rest of us.

As “this side of heaven” folks, we’re trying to grasp onto truths that we can’t fully grasp ourselves and set them before our children in ways that will help them to see how beautiful these truths are. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to do this. After much trial and error, in order to help my girls understand beautiful doctrines, I’ve drawn some not so beautiful illustrations. To help them understand the seamless story of the redemption of man in Christ, I’ve written some cringe-worthy stories (not intentional of course) featuring werewolves and woodland creatures.  

Teaching children requires interaction, illustration, and most importantly it requires the illumination from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter when trying to teach our kids about doctrine. Just as He is the one that illuminates my mind to see Christ’s beauty in the Scriptures, I am confident that He is doing the same for my girls. When His Word is opened and taught, His will is accomplished. 

That leads to the next lesson I’ve learned from teaching my girls God’s Word:

3) Teaching my daughters doesn’t require me to have all the answers.

I can’t tell you how freeing it was for me to say to my nine year old, “I’m not sure honey, but I’ll do some reading and look for the answer.”

I love studying God’s Word. Every morning I wake up and open my Bible, I am blessed with the undeserved promise that He is there to meet with me, a wretched sinner, and speak to me through His Spirit – to show me Christ on every page and to convict me of my sin. I also thoroughly enjoy reading books that emphasize the doctrines found in Scripture. Some of my favorite moments of the day consist of dissecting a Reformed Confession, taking notes on Puritan thought, or underlining my way through a book from my wife about applying gospel truths to my life.

Even with all of this study, I still get the privilege of confessing to my daughters that I am merely a man that will always be learning about my God that I love. When I say, “I don’t know how to answer that right now, but I’ll check my Bible” I’m telling her that I care more about her having the correct view of God rather than the false notion that her dad is a super genius that can flippantly spout off theological answers to tough questions. And as long as she’s asking me, “Daddy, what does this mean?” my heart will burst into praise because God, in His grace, has allowed me to teach His daughter about Him, even though I don’t always do so perfectly.

Dads, we are responsible for what our children know about God more so than the youth pastor, the children’s pastor, and the pre-K volunteer. We must humbly rise to this task with confidence in our heavenly Father who teaches us to teach, as we fall under the fountain of grace that flows from Christ.  

 

A Thank You Letter to the Layperson

Phoebe, Prisca, Aquila, Epaenetus, Andronicus, Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus, Tryphanea, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus, Rufus’ mom, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, Julia, Nereus, Olympas. (Romans 16:1-16)

These people fascinate me.

At the end of Paul’s letters he greets his brothers and sisters in Christ, brothers and sisters that many of us don’t think twice about. But lately they’ve been on my mind.

Recently I’ve thought that if I could spend one day with either the apostle Paul, or one of these almost unknowns, I would choose a name from Paul’s greetings that is mentioned and then lost in the flipping to the next Pauline letter. I would put on a pot of coffee, pull out two chairs, and chat with Prisca, Andronicus, or Persis, or Patrobas, or Julia.

See, I’ve read Paul’s heart. I’ve studied Paul’s heart. I at least have an inkling of an idea of what Paul’s heart for the Lord is, what his relationship with Jesus is like, and what calling God had given him from before the foundations of the world. But I haven’t heard any of Prisca or Aquila’s heart as they risked their lives for the spreading of the gospel. I haven’t heard how Epaenetus was saved, and how his salvation affected his friends and family in Asia. I haven’t gotten to read Junia, who was following Christ before Paul was even converted. I know only one thing about these people: They loved Jesus.

And they didn’t just “love” Jesus on Sunday mornings. Every day, in professing love for Christ, they risked their lives for His Name’s sake. They held onto the letters of Paul and the testimonies of Christ like their life depended on them, because their lives did depend on these things. Their lives were consumed with cries of, “Take the world, but give me Jesus!”

Tragically this love for Christ has become lost in the Church today. These days many families go to church on Sunday morning to see someone passionately teach the Word of God, yet they think this passion is reserved for the pastor.

But in the midst of a sea of Sunday morning faces, there are a few that unknowingly challenge me in my devotion to Christ. There are a few that saturate their lives in God’s Word on a daily basis. There are a few that have a heart that burns for those that have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are a few that serve and serve and serve without expecting a single thing in return. There are a few that I can sit down and intelligently discuss Theology with. There are a few that are more passionate about Sola Scriptura than half of the pastors in this country.

To these people I want to say, Thank you.

Thank you for challenging me to grow in my understanding of God’s Word. Thank you for rebuking me when I don’t have a passion for the salvation of my co-workers and family like I should. Thank you for helping me to consider the genuineness of my love for Jesus. Thank you for reminding me to serve Christ for the sake of His glory alone. Thank you for being a model of what it looks like to passionately pursue Jesus, simply because you love Jesus. Thank you for doing these things, even if you don’t realize you’ve done them.

I love that God inspired Paul’s pen to write out the names of the non-pastors in his letters. I love it because those names, names of Christians that just wanted to serve Jesus in any way that they were able, are in Scripture. It’s God’s confirmation that He sees all hearts. He cares about every act of service done in the name of Jesus. He is pleased with His children beyond measure. And what is most beautiful of all is that just like the names written in Paul’s letters, our names are written in the Book that God has written of us – the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 13:8). I’m blessed to serve Jesus with you from now until He takes us home. To Him alone be the glory.

“For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (Romans 16:19-20)

Understanding the T(ulip) in the Garden

Genesis 2:9 “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

Genesis 2:16 “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”

Romans 5:18-19 “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

The Garden of Eden is a world that fallen man, thousands of years removed, cannot comprehend. The closest paintings in our minds are sure to be a gross distortion of what really was. But it’s not our fault. We can blame our first parents for that. Because of Adam’s disobedience, every part of our being has been tainted in some way with sin. This has left our human abilities with two options. We are able to sin, and unable not to sin, or to put it another way, when given the choice between God and sin, left to our natural desires we will only ever choose sin.

Adam and Eve, however, had options that neither you, nor I, have. They were able to sin just as you and I are. But the distinct difference they received, was the ability to not sin. Perfection was possible.

There was one command that God gave to the first humans: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God gave Adam and Eve the option to eat from every tree in the garden to satisfy their taste buds except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

But we’re missing something here.

Many times when we read through this portion of Scripture, we are so quick to be dumbfounded at all of the trees that Adam and Eve could have chose from that we miss one that Scripture mentions specifically.

The tree of life. 

Genesis 2:16 contrasts two trees. Not one tree and a hundred others. Two. “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

We know what happens next to Adam and Eve. They counted equality with God a thing to be grasped. They worshipped the fruit on the forbidden tree. They listened to the seductive serpent rather than the glorious God. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Genesis 3:6-7)

Adam and Eve chose death.

Formerly perfect. Suddenly, tainted.

They refused the tree of life, the tree that would have offered sweet communion with the all-loving God of the universe who graciously brought one from the dust and another from a rib, a holy God who got His hands dirty as He formed the first of earth’s population. Instead they chose the tree that God had promised would breed death. Our first parents chose death.

As of late, I’ve had many conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ about the T in the reformer’s tulip, total depravity. Each conversation is built on agreement in the doctrine of man’s depravity. That is, until we unpack what the extent of that depravity actually involves, namely that man cannot choose Christ unless first regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

I’m not going to explain the differences in these conversations but I will go ahead and explain briefly why the Genesis account of Adam (Adam, being the representative of man, Romans 5:12) and Eve can provide great insight for us into the true nature of our depravity.

Adam, the perfect man (before the fall), with the true opportunity to live a sinless life and to enjoy God for eternity, chose instead, disobedience and death. Adam had a pure human nature. He didn’t enter into the world tainted by another’s sin like you and I have. He wasn’t born into brokenness like you and I were. But he still chose to hate God and to love sin.

And yet, non-reformed folks think that we, natural sinners, still have the ability in our human flesh to choose God?

You only need to get a page and a half into your Bible to see this simply cannot be the case.

We have in Genesis 2-3 a clear picture that even our “best” selves would still reject God and choose the world. This Scripture portrays man’s representative, even as his purest self, choosing sin. The fall of man doesn’t just tell us how sin entered the world. It tells us we will never choose God on our own. We will choose death one hundred percent of the time, from beginning to end, especially as fallen creatures from the womb. That is, unless God intervenes through regeneration.

How does regeneration change us? Simply put, in regeneration, God plants a desire for Himself in the human heart that otherwise would not be there. God gives His elect the ability to choose Him and therefore they choose Him. We still have the ability to sin, but we also have the ability not to sin. Death, once imputed in Adam has become life, imputed in Christ for all who believe.  

 

Regeneration by the Spirit

“Not all the outward forms on earth,

Nor rites that God has given,

Nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth,

Can raise a soul to heaven.

The sovereign will of God alone

Creates us heirs of grace,

Born in the image of his Son,

A new, peculiar race.

The Spirit, like some heavenly wind,

Breathes on the sons of flesh,

Creates anew the carnal mind,

And forms the man afresh.

Our quickened souls awake and rise

From their long sleep of death;

On heavenly things we fix our eyes,

And praise employs our breath.”

-Isaac Watts

 

Resources:

R.C. Sproul. “Chosen by God”

A.W. Pink. “The Sovereignty of God”

 

How to be a “cool” youth leader without listening to Taylor Swift

A few months ago I attended a conference that held a youth group workshop. Hundreds of eager youth pastors and small group leaders attended the event with the anticipation of taking the “success” stories of a ministry network and applying these principles to their youth groups. Myself included.

I listened intently as one of the speakers went through a list of ten staples to implement amongst your small group leaders. I jotted down his suggestions and considered how I could bring some of these ideas into play. As we headed toward the end of the list, the speaker mentioned something along the lines of “have one of your small group leaders keep up with what the kids are into.” Or in other words, “stay relevant so the youth will think you’re cool.” He then insisted that the youth pastor should delegate small group leaders to research what the kids are into and “when the next T-Swift album is going to drop.”

This next part is embarrassing…

I started to write the point down, and may have nodded my head a little bit with enlightenment.

Then one of our high school small group leaders, who was sitting next to me, laughed to herself and said, “If you did something like that we wouldn’t think you were cool.”

“Oh, thank you, Lord!” I thought to myself.

I understand that the intention behind the speaker’s suggestion was for good. He wants the kids to feel as though they can talk about pop culture, gaming, etc. with their leaders. I agree that the youth should feel comfortable enough with their small group leaders and youth pastor to be able to share what they enjoy with them. But here’s where I differ:

This doesn’t start with the small group leader. This starts with the youth.

“Cool” to the youth isn’t when the leader is trying to be trendy by keeping up with pop culture. “Cool” to the youth is when the youth leader takes time to listen to their interests despite having no idea what they’re talking about. I spent HOURS listening to one of the students tell me about how much he loves playing Kingdom Hearts, even though I had no idea what the game was about. But that’s why I let HIM explain it to me. I listened, so he could teach me. As a result, he let me teach him, and now we meet regularly to study our Bibles together and he leads one of our youth Bible study groups.

Also, I’d consider this: Burying your face in internet articles about Hollywood rather than burying your face in your Bible won’t produce any fruit in your life. Therefore, it will not produce any fruit in the lives of the youth in which you’re ministering to. Our calling as youth leaders is a heavy one! When they graduate from our youth group they’ll remember our devotion to Christ, our love for the gospel, and our genuine love for them as we preach the full gospel, offense and all.

One passage of Scripture I love to remind our team of is 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the lights of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

God is the one who has graciously called us to lead youth. He’s given us the first stab at speaking truth into their lives. He’s called us to shape the way they view the importance of Christ crucified, for themselves and those around them. We are servants for Jesus’ sake, to win souls to Himself, souls of youth who are being bombarded with lies and temptations at every turn. How gracious God is to allow sinners to speak the Truth of salvation in His perfect Son! 

Let me say this to close out this post. We all want to be liked. I’m no exception. I want the youth in my group to like me. It’s convicting to think that even pastors can get so caught up in trying to be liked that we lose sight of the gospel for ourselves, a gospel that grants us identity and mission. But in His mercy God hasn’t swiped the ministry from us when we’ve failed to exalt Him above all else. He’s left us room to repent and shepherd our students unto the great Shepherd’s flock. Let’s be faithful youth leaders, and by God’s grace see our students forget about what’s “cool”, and treasure Christ. 


Separation Anxiety: Man's Deepest Dread Satisfied Through Faith in Jesus

Separation anxiety: Anxiety provoked in a young child by separation, or the threat of separation from their mother. 

I don’t remember much from my early childhood as a young boy, but I vividly remember the day that I thought I’d never see my mother again.  

My twin brother and I decided to stay in our mom’s mini van at the Dominick’s parking lot while she went in to get groceries. Surely it would be a short trip. She’d run in and out and we’d be on the road headed back home in no time. Early minutes ticked by quickly as we waited for her to return. However, after a long and anxious ten minutes my brother and I began to get nervous. Then to add to the drama, God decided it would thunderstorm that afternoon. And so it did. Hearing the thunder crash and seeing the lightening streak across the sky, while rain struck violently on our mangled maroon-colored minivan, we created only the worst thoughts of our mother never coming back to us again. So we cried and mourned and panicked in wait for her. Our very insides were hysterical.

This is a picture of what our souls go through apart from God, our Creator.

We were created for relationship with God. However, because of sin and our distance between heaven and earth we don't have the type of relationship that we were meant to have with Him. This creates in us a type of spiritual separation anxiety.

Paul attests to this in his letter to the church at Rome. 

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:19-22)

A few weeks ago, I was preparing a sermon through Jesus’ words about anxiety recorded in Matthew 6:25-34. In verse 26 Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

When I read this I felt as though the Holy Spirit was pressing into my mind the words “your” and “them”. Jesus was comparing the relationship that God has with the birds to the relationship He has with His children. The birds are God’s creation. They aren’t His children. Therefore, we are of more value than they. Encouraging news. But as encouraging as that is, I decided to take after Luther’s plea to, “Pause at every verse of Scripture and shake, as it were, every bough of it, that if possible some fruit may drop down.”

And drop down it did.

The fruit was this: God’s relationship with His children isn’t just unique to His relationship with nature. His relationship with His children is unique compared to His relationship with unbelievers as well. There is no place in Scripture that you’ll find an unbeliever called a “child of God.” In fact if you aren’t a child of God, you are a child of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3).  

In Romans 8 Paul seems to be making a similar comparison as Jesus did.

He is setting apart two groups:

Creation (as mentioned in verses 19 and 20).

The creation is a group inclusive of all living things. This includes unbelievers, those that have not trusted that Jesus, the Son of God, stepped into human history 2,000 years ago to give His life for their sins and rose from the dead three days later to give them everlasting life.

Children (as mentioned in verse 21).

The children of God are a group inclusive of only those that have put their faith in the finished work of Jesus for their salvation. He came to this earth to lay His life down on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and to apply redemption to our souls through His resurrection. If God were to ask us the question, “Why should I let you into heaven?” we would have no answer but to point to the Lamb slain that stands before us, crying, “Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to Thy cross I cling!” 

As we see here there are two types of souls in the same condition. They are both anxious to be reunited with God and live inside of God’s redemptive plan for the whole of creation. Yet, they have drastically different cries. One group of souls, namely the creation, is riddled with fear (even if unaware to the unbeliever) at the return of the Harvester. Meanwhile, the other (much smaller) group of souls, the children of God, is longing with excitement for community with the Harvester, community that was corrupted through the fall of the first man, Adam.

If you’re reading this and you aren’t a believer in Christ, let me say this: Your soul is in a state of anxious terror. You are in danger of spending eternity apart from the One you were created to have a relationship with in a very real hell that wasn’t created for you, but is the destination of all sinners that choose not to lean on Jesus as their Savior.  

The good news is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is extended to all people.

God made a way for the deepest anxiety of our souls to be satisfied through Christ’s blood.

In this necessary sacrifice, Jesus experienced the ultimate separation anxiety on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to. While His hands and feet were nailed into the splintering wood that held Him above the earth, Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” translated, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Being a holy and perfect God, the Father had to painfully separate Himself from the sin that His Son bore on the cross. God looked away from Jesus in disgust because Jesus was covered in the filth and toxicity of our sin. Meanwhile He poured out His wrath because of our disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68) onto His perfect Son, creating not only separation but also the crushing weight that lead to His death. At His final breath, Christ bridged the gap between eternity and humanity that we can freely cross through faith in Him.

This cross changes everything for us! My hope and my prayer for those reading that can’t identify as a child of God is that you would put your faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for you. Receive the free gift of salvation and relationship with your Creator that is held out to you in this moment.

No more separation.

No more anxiety for your soul.

In Christ we have the joy of the salvation He has earned for us.

What greater relief is there than knowing that our souls will inhabit eternity? 

How The Cross Deals With Our Father Wounds

Father wounds.

Abuse. Rejection. Displeasure. Abandonment.

From dad.

It seems that recently the topic of father wounds has garnered much attention amongst men in the Church. Men are finally seeking counsel to reconcile a painful disconnect with their fathers; forming “fight clubs”, sitting down for one on one meetings, and teaming up in men’s ministries to combat the broken influence of their earthly father. These days it’s almost sexy to acknowledge father wounds from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. The subject is finally being recognized by a thread of “me too’s” in church communities.  

I’m thankful for this. By the grace of God the cold daddy will no longer be confused as to why he’s been burning bridges with his children.

However, I’m afraid that as men open up their closet doors, unveiling skeletons to trusted pastors and comrades, they ‘re finding comfort in a pat on the back for vulnerability, but continue to neglect repairing broken strands in their own household.  

Acknowledging father wounds as a factor in a broken father-child relationship is worthless unless it leads to repentance. Without repentance, it’s just an excuse.

There is only one way men can repent of living as a result of their father wounds: By clinging to the bloody cross of Christ; The scene of the ultimate Father wound.

A couple of months ago I had joined a men’s group at the church I serve at. Through God’s ordinance, I could feel the Holy Spirit pressing onto my heart the topic of “father wounds”. At that time I was reading in both the Old Testament book of Numbers and the New Testament book of John. I had also just finished reading a challenging book by D.A. Carson titled, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”.  

In John chapter 8, God the Son describes in depth the nature of His relationship with God the Father.

·      “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8:18-19)

·      “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” (John 8:28)

·      “And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:29)

 

In Carson’s book, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”, Dr. Carson describes the unique Father-Son relationship of God the Father and God the Son; that they have always existed in a perfect loving relationship in communion with one another. In an exposition of John, chapter 5, he writes, “Jesus is so uniquely and unqualifiedly the Son of God that the Father shows him all he does, out of sheer love for him, and the Son, however dependent on his Father, does everything the Father does.”

He goes on to mention John 8:29 and says, “Because the Son always does the things that please him, the Father has not left him alone (8:29). Indeed, the perfection of the Son’s obedience (he always does what the Father has commanded him, 14:31) is grounded in his love for the Father (14:31).”

As I read through John chapter 8, the focus of my quiet time was Jesus doing everything to please the Father. It’s not difficult for him to do so, and he does it out of love for God, who is completely pleased in his Son and in his Son’s obedience. This is a perfect harmonious Father-Son relationship that I’m sure cuts to the heart of any man that has sought to please his dad (which is probably all of us).

A few days after reading this in John, my daily reading brought me to the book of Numbers, chapter 14. In this chapter, God is speaking judgment over the nation of Israel because they have been grumbling against the Lord, though the Lord has been a faithful Deliverer. God says this in verse 34:

·     “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” (Numbers 14:34)

The word that the Holy Spirit pressed into my heart was displeasure. God isn’t pleased with Israel. He shouldn’t be pleased with Israel. But, as men, we can’t disassociate ourselves with the sins of Israel, because we’ve all struggled to trust the Lord in the same way they had. We’ve all committed sin that displeases God.

Yet, through faith in Jesus, we don’t experience God’s displeasure.

Jesus does.

The blameless Son of God that does EVERYTHING to please the Father, and PERFECTLY accomplishes that task is the One that experienced the Father’s displeasure on the cross. As Jesus was lifted up before sinners, the Father looked away from his Son, abandoned him, leaving the Son confused and crying out for his Dad as his Father poured out wrath upon him, due to his displeasure with OUR sin.

Jesus experienced the ultimate Father wound on the cross.

He was perfect yet He was punished. Everything He did, He did to please the Father. Even going to the cross for us was an act of obedience (with the joy set before Him being our salvation, Hebrews 12:2). Yet that obedience involved displeasure due to our disobedience. 

How painful for the Son to be punished without deserving punishment. How painful for the Father to punish the one he is perfectly pleased with because his Son chose to step in to take on the punishment due to a wretch.

As husbands and fathers, we need to CLING to the cross of Jesus. Oftentimes we overlook that Jesus can sympathize with us in the pain of our father wounds. He’s experienced the deepest Father wound, which had the wrath of God poured into it, for our sake. Through Jesus alone, we’ve received the pleasure of the Father when we deserve displeasure. We should marvel at our wonderful God and Savior.

My hope is that leaning on Christ’s sacrifice will bring about healing in our lives, and repentance in our hearts as we struggle not to carry our father wounds with us into our marriage or parenting.

However, chances are that all of us already have. The good news is that the work of Christ on the cross is finished. Our debt has been paid. We are redeemed through His blood, and we can move forward without guilt or shame as the Holy Spirit uncovers areas of sinfulness in our lives due to past hurt. But I pray for all of the men reading this that we repent of using father wounds as an excuse for discord in our families. Repent and allow the healing of the Holy Spirit to come into your heart and know in the ups and downs of your journey, your heavenly Father is pleased with you.   

Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to Thy cross I cling.

James