“When you sit in your house” (a family advent Christmas post)

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses tells God’s people to teach their children about God “When you sit in your house.”

That is a loaded statement for times have changed quite a bit. Do parents and children “sit” in their house together anymore?

If so, do they do it with the TV turned off?  And if the TV is turned off, do they do it without their cellphones?

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It seems as if the idea of parents and children actually sitting down together to talk about God rarely happens these days. But let me encourage you to not give up on aiming for that. Let me encourage you to keep desiring that home-life.

The Christmas season is the ideal time to be casually talking with people about God. 

Our family devotional is at its best during the Advent season. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about what our Advent Family devotionals look like.

Each evening we turn all of our attention toward this special time. We turn the TV off, and we all gather together on the couch. As our children are growing up (JJ is about to turn 6. Eli is 4. And Noah is 3.), they are understanding the Gospel message and the Christmas story better and better each time they hear it.

It is so enjoyable as a dad to sit unhurried with my wife and children and take our time reading and discussing God.

Let me tell one great story from our experience:  The other night we were reading about the 10 Plagues and the Passover, in the book of Exodus. When the angel of death came, my middle son Eli asked “is that real?”

I said, “Yes, it is real.” Noah, my youngest, then speaks up and says “Thats scary!”

Then Eli again speaks up asking “Is that in our city?” (what a question!)

I quickly comforted them by explaining why the angel of death was there. And I reminded them that there was a simple and clear way to be safe.

That then led into a great discussion about how God never punishes anyone without first giving them opportunity to be saved and forgiven.

It was fascinating. They were seeing how good God is. He is nice. He always does what is best and right. He loves us.

Trust God, and you will be safe!

I am thankful that God taught me to sit in my house with my family to talk about Him.

Campus Involvement in Student Ministry

I recently was asked to come speak to a college class (in the Youth Ministry department) about being involved on the school campuses near our church. In other words, they wanted to know how did I and how do I approach getting into and being at the middle schools and high schools in our area.

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Let me first say that I really enjoy this topic. Some of the biggest and best ministry opportunities of our day are the public schools. However, I do not claim to be an expert. Not at all. I just enjoy it. And in my 10+ years of doing student ministry among the same schools in the same area, here is what I have learned. These 4 points are what I taught the class:

  1. VISIBLE
    -Are you visible to the students? Do the students at the school know who you are? Do they know you? Do they see you? Is your face or voice familiar to them? Are you on campus long enough to be seen? Do they ever see you at outside extracurricular activities and connect you with your involvement at their school? Would they recognize you if they ran into you at Wal-Mart?
    -Knowing who you are is the first step to the student being able to connect with you.
    -If you are just dropping by and not staying long, then chances are, most of the students do not even see you. Your campus involvement is accomplishing nothing in the area of outreach.
  2. VIBRANT
    -Are you vibrant to the students? Once the students know who you are, do they like who you are? Do they like you? Do you go to school to try and meet students and notice that kids do not want you around? Lets be honest, someone doing student ministry that does not connect with students is going to struggle.
    -Let me clarify, by VIBRANT I do not mean you need to be big, or cool, or young, or good-looking, or Mr. personality. Not at all.  Vibrant with students is not that difficult. Students like adults sometimes. Are you helpful to them? Are you understanding to them? Are you interested in their world? I have found that buying some students some Polar Pops (32 oz fountain drinks at the Circle K) or attending their soccer game some evening is more than enough to make yourself vibrant to them. What student doesn’t like a free drink? Or what student doesn’t like fans at his or her varsity games?
    -If you want to make an impact in some students lives, especially lost, lonely and looking students lives, then start helping their lives.
    -Along those lines, Jesus’ very ministry teaches that being “able” to get into people’s lives is not at all about possessing the “cool” factor. (Although many student ministries these days place so much emphasis on coolness) Student ministry on campuses will thrive if it is like Jesus’s ministry = being humble servants. There is not a public middle school or high school that I have ever seen that is not in need of some volunteers. Most schools are desperate, even dependent  for community involvement. They would gladly welcome you being there.  Just a few weeks ago, I dropped by to see a coach. Within minutes, I was painting lines on the football field and then moving the soccer goals too.  Jesus’ willingness to wash people’s feet is also what enabled him to speak to their hearts.
    -Being vibrant is not so much about being cool to students. It is more about being helpful to students.
  3. ‘VAILABLE (as in “Available”)
    -Are you available to the students? Can they find you if they need to? Have you been Visible enough and Vibrant enough that they can find you? Do they know where your church is? Do they know when your services are? Do they know when and where you will be on their campus next? Do they have your contact info? Your cell #? Your e-mail? Can they find you on social media? Are you Available to them?
    -There are so many students out there who are suffering. When they decide to turn to someone for help or guidance, will it be you?
    -In the last month, we have had 7 kids contact us through twitter asking what time our worship service began. We answered them. They were there in worship.
    -How busy are you? Are you so busy that you do not have time to be available? How about leaving open some free time for students? Most students do not plan. So if you want to be available to them, you have to be available to them on their timing.
    -One day I was walking out of the school after a meeting inside the school when I ran into 5 African players on the soccer team. I began talking to them and found out that they had 3 hours to burn before their game that night. I asked them if they wanted some food. All 5 loaded up in my car, and I took them to Wendys for a burger, fries and a drink. We talked about Jesus and Islam on the drive. They loved it. I loved it.  It would not have happened were I not available.
    -Being available to students is not something that just happens. Availability must be a priority.
  4. VOCAL
    -Do the students hear you? What do they hear from you? Do they know what you are about? Are they confused about it? Do they question your motives? Do they wonder why you are around? Are there any integrity issues? Do they see you as an Adult? A pastor? Do they know that you are not just their friend?
    -Trying to be their friend will not accomplish your purpose. It will not help them. They need your mentorship and leadership way, way, way more than they need your friendship. The students know that and feel that, please make sure that you know that too.
    -There are too many bad stories out there of adults messing up with students. Don’t let that happen. Be Vocal. Communicate up front who you are; what you stand for, and why you are there. It will not ruin things!

These 4 points (Visible, Vibrant, ‘Vailable, & Vocal)  should be helpful to you as you attempt to make a difference on the middle & high school campuses around you! May God give us grace and favor to get into people’s lives and make a difference the way we see Jesus doing this in his earthly ministry. “For the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Mark 10:45

Kevin DeYoung’s book “Crazy Busy”

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Kevin DeYoung, with his newest book Crazy Busyhas hit a homerun!

Being busy is not even worth mentioning anymore. Most people these days are busy. Many people are way too busy. Perhaps worst of all, even more people tell you they are busy. Its a problem! Its a big problem, and it really seems to have no solution. But in the midst of all the busyness, DeYoung (known as @RevKevDeYoung on twitter) supplies us with a great book to get our minds focused on this problem.

There is not a more applicable book for the countless busy people of our day!

I would like to comment on the book in a few different ways. First, I will list what I really liked about the book. Then, I will give a few of the quotes I liked from each chapter.

 

  1. You want to read it! Without knowing any of the content inside the book, Crazy Busy makes you want to read it. As soon as I saw it, I could not wait to read it. It has an attractive pull to it.
    1) It is small. It is only 118 pages. That is very appealing to a busy person.
    2) It is green with a very catchy logo. The stick-figure-man who resembles a yellow street crossing sign with an exclamation point for his head really connects with the reader. This is how we feel. We are busy because everything seems so important.
    3) “Crazy Busy” is a brilliant title.  Saying “I’m busy” is so 15 years ago. It carries no weight or burden. So now busy people say “I’m crazy busy!” for emphasis.
    4) The most interesting part of the appeal to read it is that DeYoung doesn’t necessarily want to tell you how to fix your “being busy” problem. He merely wants to point out the big problem, and then he wants us to recognize the big problem.  The reader recognizes this from the sub-title “A Mercifully Short Book About a Really Big Problem.” This approach is genius. For these four reasons, I think the book itself causes people to want to read it!
  2. He has this problem too! Chapter one is titled “Hello, My Name is Busy.” The 8 page opening chapter is all about how crazy busy the author Kevin DeYoung is. He does not hide from this fact. He admits it. So the book is not intended to make you feel guilty about being busy. It is intended to get you to see this problem. His first sentence is “I am the worst possible person to write this book.”
  3. I loved chapters 5 and 6! Chapter 5 discusses something that I have never read about or heard someone speak on before = Jesus being busy. I found this topic fascinating and very intriguing. Chapter 6 is about parenting.  I wish every parent I know could read this chapter. Very informative and encouraging!
  4. What an ending!! DeYoung’s closing chapter is powerful! He does not offer any solutions. No steps to become less busy. Instead, he just highlights Jesus. And he ends this short quick-read book by emphasizing how important it is to be focused on Jesus. To the busy person, the books ending is precisely refreshing!

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Now let me provide some of my favorite quotes from the book.

Chapter 1

“I’m writing this book to figure out things I don’t know and to work on change I have not yet seen. More than any other book I’ve worked on, this one is for me.” (page 14)

Chapter 2

“We have more opportunity than ever before. The ability to cheaply go anywhere is a recent development. The ability to get information from anywhere is, too. Even the ability to easily stay up past sundown is relatively new. The result, then, is simple but true: because we can do so much, we do do so much. Our lives have no limits.” (page 24)

“When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk.” (page 27)

“When busyness goes after joy, it goes after everyone’s joy.” (page 28)

Chapter 3

“Here’s the bottom line: of all the possible problems contributing to our busyness, it’s a pretty good bet that one of the most pervasive is pride.” (page 38

“It’s ok to be busy at times. You can’t love and serve others without giving of your time. So work hard; work long; work often. Just remember it’s not supposed to be about you. Feed people, not your pride.” (page 41)

Chapter 4

“The church– gathered in worship on Sunday and scattered through its members throughout the week– is able to do exponentially more than any one of us alone.” (page 50)

“Its a cross that says I’ll do anything to follow Jesus, not a cross that says I have to do everything for Jesus.” (page 51)

Chapter 5

“Jesus was a very busy man.” (page 54)

“He was busy, but never in a way that made him frantic, anxious, irritable, proud, envious, or distracted by lesser things.” (page 55)

“Time may be our scarcest and most precious resource. And we will begin to use it well only when we realize we do not have an infinite supply to use.” (page 58)

Chapter 6

“I cold be wrong. My kids are still young. Maybe this no-theory is a theory of its own. I just know that the longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too worked up about everything else. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say “sorry” when I mess up, and pray a ton. I want them to look back and think, “I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me, and I knew they loved Jesus.” (page 74)

Chapter 7

“We cannot have meaningful relationships with thousands of people.” (page 88)

Chapter 8

“He made us to spend almost a third of our lives not doing anything except depending on him. Going to sleep is our way of saying, “I trust you, God. You’ll be okay without me.” (page 95)

“If we really paid attention, we’d be surprised to see what we do and don’t do from eight to twelve o’clock every night.” (page 97)

Chapter 9

“If you have creativity, ambition, and love, you will be busy.” (page 102)

“If you love God and serve others, you will be busy too.” (page 107)

Chapter 10

“But a man seldom goes into his closet, and pours out his soul before God in secret, unless he is serious.” (page 114)

“Maybe devotion to Christ really is the one thing that is necessary.” (page 116)

“The only thing more important than ministry is being ministered to.” (page 117)

He is set in His ways!

He has his ways!

Have you ever heard anyone say that about someone? I have. Actually, people say that frequently. And when they say it, they are almost always referring to someone’s “ways” that are not admirable.

In many households you can sometimes here the wife or children make that comment when referring to the father or grandfather of the family. And its humorous.

But do you know that God has “His ways”?

That’s right! The Bible says in Psalm 128 “How happy is everyone who walks in His ways!”

You can be certain that God has His ways, and His ways are completely admirable. God’s ways are good and right! God’s ways are for us to know and follow. God’s ways are the way that we can live for Him and bring glory and honor to Him.

In Proverbs 8:32 God says “Blessed are those who keep my ways.”

Let me ask you 2 questions:

  1. Are you happy?
  2. Do you walk in God’s ways?

 

God wants us to be happy, and that happiness can only be found in Him. It makes sense. The unhappy person is the person who is distant from God or running from God.

Would you consider the fact that your walking in God’s ways and your happiness are linked?

Often we are frustrated or discouraged by someone who is set in his ways. But with God this is not the case. God does not frustrate us or discourage us. Not at all. We frustrate and discourage ourselves. And why is that? Because we have abandoned God’s ways. His ways are right! His ways are good for us.

Back during the summer while out of town for a wedding, we stayed in the home of this godly elderly couple. They were so sweet and serving. Above their kitchen sink hung a little plaque that said “If you are feeling distant from God, Guess who moved?”

Remember Jesus’ words in John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow me.”

Let us ask ourselves what ways are we going? Whose ways are we following? And lets be blessed! Blessed are those who keep God’s ways.

he made her heart sing for joy

Guys sure do have the ability to make girls’ hearts sing! Just the thought of that blissful moment can make you smile and laugh.

Like when I surprise my wife with flowers and then a dinner date. And then we end the date with a nice walk downtown. I know that makes Valeria’s heart sing for joy.

Or when a young son excels in school and gets good grades along with a nice report from his teacher. You know the mother rejoices in her heart over that proud moment.

Or what about when a father is focused on quality time with his daughter. Like when I play on the floor with my daughter Carolina. And while laying on my back,  I lift her up on my feet and do “superman” with her so that she lights up smiling. That “kooing” sound she makes is her singing. I made her happy.

There are many scenarios we can think of where a guy has caused a girl’s heart to sing for joy. This is one of life’s great thrills.

But let me share one scenario with you that you may have never considered. A God-centered self-less others-focused scenario where a male caused a female’s heart to sing for joy = That is a man to a widow.

This is the occasion we read about in Job 29. Job is recalling how his life was before the tragedies. And in verse 13 of chapter 29 Job says “I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.”

Praise God! What a man! Most of us never even think of widows. If we do, we don’t do much for them. At best, we may write to them or visit them. But do we ever love on them so much that we cause their hearts to sing for joy?

This verse struck me as so strong. Job is the real deal. He loves God and wants his life to be used to show God’s love. Job made people see God. Job made peoples’ lives better. Even widows, single, lonely and often forgotten widows, are singing for joy because of Job.

I wanna live like that!

Whose heart could use some rejoicing today? Why don’t you be the one to cause it to sing?

“buts” that stick out

As I was hard at work today in my office trying to catch up on many things that I missed while on a short-term mission trip last week, God kindly ran me into some important “buts.”

I am in the process right now of preparing several upcoming sermons. As I was trekking through my Bible today, I noticed all these “buts” sticking out at me.

The word “but” is a conjunction. Which means it connects two different phrases, thoughts or sentences. For instance, you say one thing and then you want to say another. You can connect, or conjunct, the two statements with the word “but.”

The actual meaning of the word “but” is = on the contrary. I like that definition, especially seeing how God uses the word “but” so precisely.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

1 Corinthians 15:20  But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us

Titus 3:4 But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our savior appeared, he saved us

Praise God for the work He does in overcoming the way things are. It may have been one way, but on the contrary God has made it another way. That is certainly the case with me and my life. And I am humbled by that.

These are just four of the “buts” that stick out to me.

If you know of any other, or if you run across any other in the word of God, I would love to have you share them with me.

Ecuador update 2013

This year’s trip has been a blast. We have been working a lot. We have been on the road a lot.

We spent our first few days touring the country. We were in awe of the beautiful snow-covered Mount Cotopaxi. We spent 3 hours on the side of the road due to our bus breaking down. We spent some time in the capitol city Quito.

Then we spent Sunday worshiping with La Victoria Baptist Church in Ambato, Ecuador. I had the blessed opportunity to preach there. We spent some time bonding with the other group who is here from Grandview Baptist Church in Texas.

We woke up Sunday morning to the loudest thing that I have ever experienced. Mount Tunghurua which is an active volcano erupted. It was wild. We saw smoke bellowing. We saw hot burning lava on the mountain. It is one of the neatest things I have ever experienced.

 

Then Monday came and we have been busy working all day ever since. We worked each morning in the Quechua Indigenous community of Apatug. This was a special time serving the church there because this is where we were last year too. It is so high and so cold there, but we were so happy to serve the believers there. We spent 3 days cleaning up their property and doing some minor construction work. It was foggy, rainy, and cold, but we enjoyed working hard together.

We did that each morning until lunch time. Then we traveled each day back into Ambato to work with La Victoria. We did VBS there. It was the first time ever that this church has had a VBS done at their church. WOW! What a blessing it was to do this. Both of our groups worked so well together. We had about 150 kids today, the final day. It was awesome!

April and Ashley worked with kids in the craft station. Imagine trying to lead a craft with about 50 kids in the group and they do not speak English. We are proud of April and Ashley for the great work they did. Drew and Luke H. worked with the games. They had so much fun running around with all those kids. They were perfect for it. Jon and Luke and myself worked with the Bible story. I taught with a translator while Jon and Luke and others acted out the story. God really used our entire group this week.

We ended the VBS today by inviting all of the parents inside the church, and then I shared the gospel to them and explained to the adults what we have been teaching the children all week. That being, that Jesus died to bring us to God.

Now we are all finished. We are exhausted. It has been incredible! I am already looking forward to next year. I hope that many of you will consider to go with us.

Tomorrow we will sight-see a little bit, and then worship in the evening with the church in Apatug. Then we are coming home Friday night.

I thank God for a church who is committed to the Great Commission. And I thank God that I have had this great opportunity to go again.

5 steps to falling into sin

In preparation for this past week’s sermon from Luke 22 and Peter’s denying of Jesus, I was reading from J.C. Ryle’s “Expository Thoughts on the Gospels.” Here is a treasure I found. 5 steps to falling into sin.

Ryle warns us to watch out and learn from these 5 steps we see in Peter’s life.

Ryle begins with “The story of Peter’s fall teaches us, firstly, how small and gradual are the steps by which men may go down into great sins.” 

  1. The first step is proud self-confidence.
  2. The second step was indolent neglect of prayer
  3. The third step was vacillating indecision.
  4. The fourth step was mingling with bad company.
  5. The fifth and last step was the natural consequence of the preceding four.

Ryle concludes:

Let us beware of the beginnings of backsliding, however small. We never know what we may come to, if we once leave the king’s high-way. The professing Christian who begins to say of any sin or evil habit, “it is but a little one,” is in imminent danger.

 

“But I still have my sins.”

One of my goals in being a father is to instill confidence in my children. I heard a successful man once say “My parents built so much confidence in me that I thought I could do anything.”

Isn’t it such a blessing to think of parents doing everything they can to put their children in position to be as successful as possible? Isn’t it kind of a given that parents want what is best for their children?

Well in many ways I am still learning and growing on how to do this most effectively, but one thing I am focused on is complimenting them and praising them. I want my children to know that I am watching. I want my children to feel that I care about what they are doing. I want my children to experience me celebrating their accomplishments with them. So in big things and small things, I let them know when I am proud of them.

When JJ catches the ball with his hands. When Eli writes his name well. When Noah stays in bed without getting up. Or when JJ rides his bike well. Or when Eli learns to jump off something. Or when Noah climbs up the slide. All of these things are to be celebrated. And our children gain confidence and courage when they know we are proud of them. Some of the biggest smiles and “cheeses” I have ever seen as a parent, have been when I have jumped up cheering because I am so proud of their growth and success.

Well, a while back, Eli and I were walking together. And I was telling him how proud I was of him. I had a list of things. He is doing great. His running and throwing and climbing and jumping are all improving. (Eli is only 3 yet he is as big as his 5 year old brother. So he often feels bad about not being as agile as JJ. ) Not only those things, but I was also praising Eli for how obedient he had been lately. He is indeed growing up and minding me and Valeria better. And we have recognized that. So as we were walking, I took the time and was intentional about telling him how proud I am of him. He turned and looked up at me and smiled that awesome-Eli-grin like only Eli can do. As if to say, it means the whole world to me to know you are proud of me. We kept walking.

Then about 20 seconds later, Eli said something that stopped me. He said, “yeah Daddy, but I still have my sins.”

My whole mind raced as I bounced through many thoughts, both good and bad: Bible Answer: “yes you do son, we all sin.” Prideful -Ignorant-Parent Answer: “No, you don’t son. You’re an angel.” Pointless-Unhealthy Answer: “Don’t say that son! Its alright. Don’t worry about  it.” Reality-Check-I-want-to-be-a-good-godly-parent-answer: “uhh, well.”

Then as I gathered myself and was ready to handle this memorable-parenting-moment, I realized that Eli is right on target. I was reminded of 1 John 1:8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” And John 8:7 “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” And Psalm 130:3 “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” There is that balance to life. Eli is doing a lot of things well. But he also has some things he needs to improve on. And regardless of how good you get at many things, you best not neglect your sins.

So here is how I responded to Eli: “You’re right Eli. You do still have your sins. But remember, we will never be finished sinning. And that is why we need Jesus. Remember, why did He die?”

 Eli replied: “He died for my sins.”

I continued: “Thats right! We do still have our sins. But we trust in Jesus. He died for our sins. And He forgives us of our sins when we believe in Him. But remember, I am still proud of you. You are doing well in many areas.”

Eli smiled again and shook his head in agreement.

And while I am working hard to encourage, build up, and instill confidence in my children. They are doing well at teaching me the basic truths of life. “But I still have my sins.”