the strength of Christians

I recently began re-reading The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. It is outstanding! Here is a very strong, insightful & inspiring quote about the strength of Christians. I pray that God would make us like this:

“The strength of Christians is the honor of the church. When they are inflamed with the love of God, and live by a lively working faith, and set light by the profits and honors of the world, and love one another with a pure heart fervently, and can bear and heartily forgive a wrong, and suffer joyfully for the cause of Christ, and study to do good, and walk inoffensively and harmlessly in the world, are ready to be servants to all men for their good, becoming all things to all men in order to win them to Christ, and yet abstaining from the appearance of evil, and seasoning all their actions with a sweet mixture of prudence, humility, zeal and heavenly mindedness – oh, what an honor are such to their profession! What an ornament to the church; and how serviceable to God and man!”


3 Characteristics of a Good Friend

Everyone needs a good friend. I hope this post will help you recognize good friendship – both in others and in yourself.

One of the keys to having good friends is being a good friend. So, I want to share with you 3 Characteristics of a Good Friend.


(Before you start examining whether or not you have anyone like this in your life, I think it best to ask yourself if you possess these characteristics. In other words, does anyone have you as this type of friend toward them?)

I recently preached a sermon at our church FBC Fairdale on the book of Philemon. The book is a letter written by Paul to his dear friend Philemon, and these 3 characteristics help outline the story of the letter. You can listen to my sermon on Philemon and friendship here.

Three Characteristics of a Good Friend

  1. REFRESHING – Good friends are refreshing!  Simply put, a good friend is someone who makes you a better person. In verse 7 of Philemon Paul says to his friend “I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Philemon brought joy and comfort to Paul and other people. This was refreshing. A good friend does not bring you down. A good friend is a joy to be around. A good friend is someone whom you were glad you spent some time with. When was the last time you said ‘Now that was refreshing!”
    I recently when out of town to visit some friends. After having dinner and breakfast with two friends I had not seen in years, I was so refreshed. As I was driving home from that trip, I found myself thinking ‘I love those guys. It is so refreshing to spend time with them.” In verse 20, Paul directly asks Philemon to ‘refresh my heart.” Now thats a good friend – someone you can go to to be refreshed!
    We need more refreshing people in our lives. Let me ask, is there anyone out there who has you a refreshing friend?
  2. USEFUL – Good friends are useful! Simply put, a good friend is someone who helps you. A good friend is someone who is good to you. In verse 11 of Philemon Paul is telling his friend of a new common friend of theirs “who is now indeed useful to you and to me.” Paul saw this new friend, Onesimus, as useful and beneficial. When was the last time you said ‘I am so thankful for so & so. I don’t know what I would do without them.” That is a good and useful friend! Back over Christmas break I became quite sick with a stomach bug. And one of my dear friends went out of his way to bring me some cans of chicken noodle soup and some bottles of Gatorade. That is a good friend. He helped me. He is useful to me. Let me ask, is there anyone out there who has you as a useful friend?
  3. CONFIDENCE – Good friends give you confidence! Simply put, a good friend is someone you can count on. Not just count on to help you (that was my 2nd point). But count on to be faithful. In verse 21 of Philemon Paul tells his friend “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” Paul had confidence in his friendship with Onesimus. When was the last time you were needing a friend to come through with something and they did? Just think about how much worry and anxiety would be eliminated if you had confidence that your friend would handle drama and gossip the right way. We need more friendships that give us confidence! Let me ask, is there anyone out there who has confidence in you as a dear friend to them?

As I said earlier, everyone needs a good friend. I think better said- everyone needs to be a good friend. And I think these 3 characteristics will help you be a better friend.

Finally, in the book of Philemon the key to any of those 3 guys (Paul, Philemon & Onesimus) being a good friend was their faith in Christ. Christ so humbles a man that his desire then is to do good to others. A true Christian should be a good friend!

It could happen in 2016!

Happy New Year!

2016  is a new year and with a new year comes expectation.  We are expecting God to use us for His glory this year. And while that is our prayer and heart’s desire,  we must humbly admit that we do not know how God will do it. We do not know what this year will bring. James teaches us “you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life?” (James 4:14)  And if we do not know about tomorrow, then we surely do not know about the upcoming year.

Not only do we not know what this year will be like for us, we do not know much at all about what this year will be like in regards to anything or anyone. There is always a bit of uncertainty about the future.

This thought has me thinking about what could happen in 2016. The Carolina Panthers could win the Super Bowl. I could lose some weight and try to get in shape. Valeria and I could have another baby. The church could get upset with me and fire me. Only some of the church could get upset with me and then start some drama and split the church.  God could bless our church so much this year that we see many lives changed.  We could see people believing and repenting. Many saved. Families restored. Lots of baptisms. God may very well do that! Or, I could die. It could happen. Honestly, any of that could happen. It may not, but it could.  We have to trust God. Only He knows!

But you know what else could happen in 2016?

Jesus could come back!!!

He really could. I hope he does! So many people have not even considered that possibility.  He really could come back this year. Do you remember how he ended His word?  In Revelation 22:20 He says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

So while we do not know what will happen in 2016, we can be prepared for the possibilities. And if our Lord does return, may He find us ready and waiting for him.


The Often Forgotten Aspect of Shepherding

The Shepherd analogy is nothing new to most people.  The Old Testament prophets use the analogy. Jesus used the analogy. Peter used the analogy. In fact, in First Peter, Peter called Jesus the “Chief Shepherd” while instructing the church elders to “Shepherd the flock of God.” The Shepherd is the leader of the sheep. That is true and good.


But there is one aspect of Shepherding that is often forgotten.The Shepherd is to lead, teach and protect the sheep at all cost. The Bible teaches that the Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

In the most familiar “Shepherd” passage in the New Testament, John 10, Jesus says this four times. The entire passage is only 18 verses, and Jesus says the Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep four different times. Remarkable!

In John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

In John 10:15 “…and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

In John 10:17 “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life …”

In John 10:18 “No one takes it from me, But I lay it down of my own accord.”

People are eager to refer to the Shepherd analogy in leadership contexts and conversations. The aspect that is not discussed as often is the laying down of one’s life for the sheep.

Laying down your life for the sheep is true shepherding. Shepherding without laying down one’s life is not true shepherding. This is why in John 10:12-13 Jesus said “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

Caring for the sheep; Being wholly committed to the sheep; Laying down one’s life for the sheep is the only kind of true Shepherding. Jesus knows no other kind. Jesus does not recognize a Shepherd who leaves the sheep.

This is what King David meant in Psalm 23 when he said “The Lord is my Shepherd … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” David believes that his Shepherd (the Lord) will protect him at all costs.

Shepherding is a good analogy. May we continue to use it. But lets not forget the best part = The laying down of one’s life for the sake of the sheep!


thinking about my grandkids

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

“that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son…”

I must admit that I have rarely, if ever, thought about my grandchildren. For clarity, I do not have any grandkids. And I do not know if I ever will have any. I feel like I just became a father, and I have yet to figure out how to parent well. And besides that, I am having a hard enough time with being 35 years old and dealing with these new gray hairs.

But the other day I was reading again that family-focused-super-rich passage in Deuteronomy 6. I am in awe of the heart, diligence and focus God has for parents in verse 7 of chapter 6: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Every time I read that passage, my heart is stirred to love and lead my kids well. Again, my kids.

But as I was preparing to lead our parenting community group for church, I was struck by verse 2: “that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son…” Wow! That stopped me! God is thinking about my grandchildren! God is teaching me to think about my grandchildren. God is saying that who I am now will impact my grandchildren. God is saying that how I teach and lead my son will impact my grandson. God is saying that how I teach and lead my son will influence how my son teaches and leads his son, my grandson.

Incredible! That hit me hard. As I learn the word of God and by faith obey it, I am growing in my love and fear of my Lord & Savior. And that in turn will carry over into my parenting and therefore my son’s life and faith. And that in turn will carry over into my son’s parenting and therefore my grandson’s life and faith.

God is mindful of my grandkids!  And now I am too. May God be gracious to us and our family.  For my sake, my sons’ sakes, and my grandsons’ sakes! To God be the glory!

3 Characteristics of Winners

1 Corinthians 15:57

“But thanks be to God who gives us the VICTORY through our Lord Jesus Christ”

  1. Winners are thankful!
    This verse begins with giving thanks. Thanks to God for the victory- the win! People who are thankful are winners. People who are not thankful are ungrateful.  All of us know some teenagers who are spoiled and ungrateful. About a month ago as school was about to begin, there were some wild scenes in the mall as parents were looking to get their children new school shoes. I saw kids getting mad at their moms or dads because they couldn’t get the $275 Nike Lebrons. Their parents were willing to buy them some shoes that were only $100, but the kids were so ungrateful (not thankful) that they responded with getting upset. They were ungrateful. Winners are thankful!
    I like to pay close attention to post-game interviews. I am curious to see how the winners talk and how the losers talk. Winners are those that thank their coaches and teammates.  Very rarely will you ever hear a loser give thanks. When Kevin Durant won the NBA MVP award at the end of the 2014 season, he thanked his mom for everything in a famous speech in which he said “Mom, you the real MVP!” Winners are thankful.
    In this verse, Paul is thankful that he has the victory. He is a winner because God has given him the victory through Jesus. Winning at life cannot be earned. Winning in life is a gift from God. That is reason to be thankful!
  2. Winners are aware of losing!
    You cannot have a winner without a loser. Winners know this! If everyone on both teams gets the same trophy, then there is nothing special or significant or rewarding about the trophy. Recently pro football player James Harrison made headlines trying to teach this to his sons. Why did he do this? Because he wants them to be winners!
    When I was a teenager, I had the Michael Jordan poster in my room that said “I have failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Winners are aware of losing. I am not saying that all winners are losers at some point. But I am saying that at least, they are familiar with losing.
    People do not like to say it, but it is possible to lose at life. Some people are losing at life! Some people are losers.  The wages of sin is death. The devil comes to kill and destroy us. And sadly, many lose. We need to be aware of losing. Winners are those who know what losing looks like. They are aware of losing, and therefore they are winners!
  3. Winners know how they get the victory!
    Winners know how to get it. They know what it takes. You cannot just go through the motions and up winning. The winning team is the one who knew how to win. They had to be better than the opponent. They had to score more points. They had to keep the opponent from scoring more points. They had to have a strategy. They had to execute the game-plan. Winners know what it takes to win! I enjoy watching tennis on TV, and I especially like watching the finals of majors. Whenever the championship match is finished, tennis does something that no other sport does. They ask each player to give a speech there on the court. It is fascinating to watch! The runner-up (the loser) has to give a speech. And then the champion (the winner) has to give a speech as well. But you can tell a lot about the competitors when they talk. They are often very gracious toward their opponent. And they always speak about how tough the match was, and what it took to get the win! This is true! Winners know all that goes into becoming a winner!
    In this verse, Paul tells us how we get the win in life. It is through Jesus Christ. There is no victory in life apart from Him. There is salvation found in no one else. Jesus is the only one who died for our sins. Jesus is the only one who can bring us to God. God forgives sinners, and He does it through Jesus. And if you are forgiven through Jesus, then you have the victory. You are a winner!

3 Characteristics of winners: They are thankful! They are aware of losing! And they know how to get the victory!

a stone, a sure foundation

Recently, I was teaching our college group from Isaiah 28.


Verse 16 of Isaiah 28 says this:

“therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.'””

God, speaking through his prophet Isaiah there, is assuring his people of stability, safety and certainty in the midst of their unstable, unsafe and uncertain times. The key though is that God’s stone & foundation is not in a deed or even a system. It is in a man. Salvation is not something we do. Salvation is someone we believe in! The preciousness of life and the foundation of life is in trusting in Jesus Christ for forgiveness.

That is what this passage in Isaiah 28 is about.

But if that is not clear enough for you, then check this out. Look at all these other passages in God’s Word that point to what Isaiah was talking about.

Psalm 118:22 “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Acts 4:11-12 “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

1 Peter 2:4-7 “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture ‘Behold I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’  So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’ 

Matthew 21:42  “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’

Romans 9:32b-33 “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’

I wish you could have been there that night to see that room full of young adults as they saw the beauty, power and continuity of the Word of God in our Bible study. The Word was coming alive to them!

Certainly the Bible was written by many different men, but it truly has God as its author! Just from this short study we see that Isaiah, Luke, Peter, David, Matthew, Paul and Jesus all affirm and believe that when Isaiah talked about the stone and sure foundation, he was referring to the Lord Jesus. That is remarkable!


4 Reflections on Graduations

graduation pic

I have already been to four graduations, and I have several more to attend in the next week. Also, Valeria and I have received in the mail many other graduation announcements. It is the season for graduations!

Graduations are monumental! It is possibly the biggest rite-of-passage we have in America in the life of a teenager! It is the end of your mandatory education. In many ways, it is the beginning of adulthood. Graduations are special!

I still clearly remember my high school graduation from 1998, my college graduation from 2002, and my seminary graduation from 2006. Those were big events in my life, and I am thankful to be able to look back at those meaningful milestones.

Attending someone else’s graduation is a lot different than participating in your own graduation. Yet still, I have recently found myself reflecting on graduation. These reflections have helped me grow as an adult and a Christian.

Here are 4 Reflections on Graduations:

  1. Thankful for Teachers! As I was sitting there the other night and reading through the Graduation Program, I was looking at the list of teachers names. There were a lot of teachers listed. And I did not know many of them at all. I did not know most of the teachers. I realized then that there are a lot of people working in schools and working in students lives that the average person never knows or thinks about. They contribute to the growth and education of so many kids. It takes a lot of people working hard to make a school function. There is a lot that goes into a kid getting an education. I thank God for teachers and administrators that work in schools!
  2. Life Goes By Fast! Every graduation I attend, I find myself in awe of some of the kids who are graduating. I thought they were freshmen last year! My second son, Eli, graduated from Kindergarten last week. It seems he just learned to walk. There are kids graduating this week from high school that were in Elementary school when I became their youth pastor. That doesn’t seem that long ago. The Bible says “you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) Graduation is clear reminder of how quickly life passes us by! Don’t always be hurrying to the next thing in life. Enjoy today!
  3. Schools aren’t that Bad! Students have a tendency to complain about their schools, their teachers, and their administrators. But at graduation there is a sense that it was worthwhile. There is an appreciation for those who have taught you. There is an admiration for those who have put up with students and their complaining.  During the school year, we may think the worst of schools, but typically at graduation we think the best of our school, teachers and administrators. Graduations help us see that schools aren’t that bad!
  4. Young People are Awesome! My life has been so blessed by the graduations I have attended. Even when I do not know many of the kids, I enjoy going. I attend 5-10 graduations each Spring. And I like going. I like going because young people are great! Yes, they have their issues. But they are special. From the Valedictorian speeches – to the tossing of the caps – to the awards passed out – to the scholarships received – to their families defiantly cheering from the crowd – to the outfits underneath their caps & gowns – young people are special! There are a lot of kids out there who are doing well. Lots of kids have overcome the odds. Many are going to flourish after high school. Many will become great moms and dads. Many will be the next leaders of those very schools. Graduations have reminded me that Young people are awesome! They indeed are the future!

As you get set to attend an upcoming graduation, be prepared to reflect on some of these things! Graduation has a lot teach us.


7 Characteristics of Christians and Suffering

Life is hard. Most people know this. It is not always hard. But hard times eventually come to almost everybody. And when we do find ourselves in the midst of suffering, we need to have a good strong understanding from God about our suffering.

Yesterday I preached on Christians and suffering. You can listen to that sermon here.  The sermon is from 1 Peter 3:8-17

Here were my 7 points: 7 Characteristics of Christians and Suffering

  1. Christians have an identity that is stronger than their suffering circumstances (v.8)
    -Brotherly Love
    -Tender Heart
    -Humble Mind
  2. Christians do not react defensively toward suffering/afflictions/wrong doing (v.9)
    -Instead, Christians bless people.
  3. Christians live life to the fullest (enjoying life) because they know God (vv.10-12)
    -These verses are a quote from Psalm 34.
  4. Christians do not always face suffering for doing good (v.13)
    -Some people are recognized and honored for the good they do.
  5. Christians are ready to explain why they have such hope (v.15)
    -People will recognize our hope in our suffering, and they will ask us where that hope comes from. Christians are ready to tell them!
  6. Christians have a good/clear conscience (v.16)
    -Many people live with a guilty conscience. They have fear, guilt, shame, anxiety, etc. God removes that and gives a good conscience to those who trust Him.
  7. Christians think it is better to suffer for doing good rather than to do evil. (v.17)
    -Because of the hope that Christians have in their Great God and Savior, they are willing to suffer to the glory of God.

Lullaby for my daughter


When our first son, Joshua Jr., was born on January 2, 2008, I wrote him a lullaby. I was overcome with God’s goodness to me. I couldn’t then and I cannot now believe that I am a father and daddy. I most certainly do not deserve all the blessing in my life. God is good to me. I don’t deserve it. I have memorized that lullaby, and I sing it now to all of our children. I had thought that I would be able to write each of them a lullaby, but I have just adapted this one to fit each of them. It is pretty much the same lullaby, but I did have to change more this time since she is a girl. Either way, it expresses my heart in life and fatherhood.


Hush little Liliana don’t you cry
Daddy’s gonna sing you a lullaby
I hate to see you crying red-faced with tears
Let me tell you ‘bout us in the coming years
The joy of rearing you can make this grown man weap
Right here in my arms you can fall asleep
I’ll stare at your face & kiss your chubby cheeks
Watch you start to grow in the coming weeks
God gave you a great mother who takes care of you
In love together we will teach you what’s true
four bigger older siblings you can look up to
You become like them, yes I hope you do
It’s a simple lullaby about what matters in life
Like trusting in God & being a faithful wife
Like serving other people in devotion to the sword
The Word of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord

Baby girl, I wanna teach you to throw and catch a ball
& I can hardly wait until you learn to crawl
We can walk to the park & I can push you on the swings
Raise you up right so you’ll appreciate things
I wanna teach you about pets like cats and dogs
And how to catch lizards, turtles, & frogs
I’ll show ya how to catch fish & how to bait a hook
how a boy should treat a girl and how to read a book
And how to play with kids and not be weak
Playing outdoor games like hide and seek
I wanna teach you about bruises, scabs and scars
take you on a walk at night to look at stars
I’ll teach you how to ride a bike & how to climb trees
I‘ll teach you about caterpillars, birds, & bees
I wanna pick you up when you fall & scrape your knees
Teach you how to pray, and say “yes sir” & “Please”
we can walk to the creek, I’ll show you how to skip a rock
I’ll show you how to play sports & how to speed walk
I wanna teach you how to not get upset by jokes
& how to be grateful & respect your folks
Liliana, I wanna teach you how to love your mom
& how to read the Bible, a daily Proverb & Psalm
It’s a simple lullaby about what matters in life
Like trusting in God & being a faithful wife
Like serving other people & devotion to the sword
The Word of Jesus Christ our Savior & Lord

Little girl, I wanna teach you how to be a lady
How to look ‘em in the eye & not be shady
How to keep your word & always work real hard
How to pay your bills on time & how to mow the yard
I’ll teach you how to keep a job & not be lazy
How to speak the truth in love and not be hazy
I wanna show you how to love & how to be a friend
And when to compromise and when to take a stand
And how to apologize and also how to forgive
Liliana, these are simple lessons on how to live
And life is not easy, it can be quite hard
Keep your eyes on Christ & don’t be caught off guard
It’s a simple lullaby about what matters in life
Like trusting in God & being a faithful wife
Like serving other people & devotion to the sword
The Word of Jesus Christ our Savior & Lord