The Discipline of Christian Disciplines

I’ve been a martial artist for as long as I can remember.

Raised by a family of Black Belts, I’ve been told that I started kicking before walking. By four years old, my very first white belt was tied around my waist and I’ve been training ever since.

A few years ago, after training for a few decades and through a few pregnancies, I was preparing for a competition at the same time my body was readjusting to only feeding myself after my pregnancy.

When I consulted a nutritionist for help and admitted my intense late night sweet tooth, she taught me this important principle:

The last thing you eat is the next thing you crave.

Her principle has stuck with me and I’ve found it to be true for so much more than just nutrition.

When I choose encouragement over gossip, I crave genuine friendships. When I choose to be present with my family over multitasking, I crave those close connections.  This is true in my spiritual life, too.  The more I study the Bible, the more I crave meeting with God. The more I pray, the more I crave communicating with him.

These spiritual disciplines—studying the Bible and spending focused time in prayer—are not things I naturally want to do.

I don’t always feel like studying my Bible.

I don’t always want to pray.

Certain Sundays, I’d really rather stay in my pajamas and watch the game than serve others in the corporate gathering.

But I want to want them.

If the last thing I eat (spiritually) is the next thing I’ll crave, that means I’ll have to start before I feel like it.

That’s where discipline comes in.

The New Oxford American Dictionary definition of discipline is “to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.”

This definition rings true for me. To be disciplined is to make a choice regardless of what our feelings may be prompting us to do. As believers who have placed our faith in Christ, his Holy Spirit dwells in us and empowers us to overcome our sinful desires.

In Romans 7, Paul talks about our conflicting desires this way:

 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

Although in our fallen condition, we may feel the pull to chase after the things the world deems urgent and important, the Holy Spirit offers us a wiser path forward: to engage in spiritual disciplines in order to grow a deeper relationship with Christ and ultimately become more like him.

In 1 Timothy 4:7, Paul reminds his apprentice Timothy that we can “discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness.”

You see, the purpose of prioritizing spiritual disciplines is to become more godly.

To feel the disconnect between what we should want to do and what we actually want to do doesn’t mean we’re less-than Christians, it means we’re sin-affected humans. In the same way, we aren’t first-class disciples when we do participate in them. There is no earning God’s favor by marking off tasks from a good Christian checklist.

Our right standing with God was won entirely by the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is a gift of grace that we cannot earn but are invited to freely accept.

Spiritual disciplines then, are a vehicle to godliness; an overflow of love from a heart that belongs to God.

We don’t have to pray and study the Bible, we get to speak to and hear from our Savior, the Creator of the Universe!

And because of our human condition, we may have to start before we feel like it.

We may have to feed our souls spiritually nourishing food so that we crave them.


As we navigate our way through a world that begs us to set our attention and affections on ever-changing causes, let’s devote ourselves to the eternal cause of Christ. Let’s discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness and in turn extend his love to the world for the sake of the gospel.


Nothing to Lose

Telling people about Jesus can be weird and awkward.

No one wants to be approached by that person in line, or that guy with a pamphlet at your door, or that neighbor who, on the very first conversation, blasts you with “Have you accepted Jesus?”  Even if we have, we cringe. No one likes being blasted.

Perhaps that is why we are sensitive to being the blaster.

Those of us who are committed to Christ are called to share the love of Christ. We believe the gospel. We know the freedom, joy, peace, and hope that it gives. We think eternally, and this makes evangelism one of the most important parts of our existence on earth. But we still don’t want to be “that” person. The topic of Jesus and the gospel is difficult to broach, and in many situations we don’t know how the recipient will respond. So, sometimes we steer so clear of blasting that we don’t approach the topic of Christ at all.

There must be an alternative to blasting and not speaking of Christ at all. 

My small group leader recently observed that evangelism is a two-part process: creating opportunities for Christ, and then seizing those opportunities. The creating aspect is developing relationships with neighbors, friends, or family that don’t know Jesus.

Instead of blasting, we are truly making efforts to know them, invest time with them, and making an effort to love them. When we are in relationship with others, opportunities are naturally created to share the gospel. Then, when the name of Jesus comes out of our mouth, because it eventually will, it is not blasting. We are simply seizing the moment to share an important part of our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, it may still feel weird. 

Our small group acquired a relationship with a man named Greg, who is homebound with health issues. Greg needed help getting groceries, but more importantly, he needed love. We began sharing costs for groceries and delivering them to him every other week, but the groceries were incidental – they really created an opportunity to share the love of Jesus.

Greg had recently undergone intensive surgery on his foot and was having to work through a long rehab in the hospital. One of our small group ladies suggested we write him some cards of encouragement for his hospital stay. So, I sat there, pen in hand, knowing I should seize this opportunity to write Greg a note of encouragement.

It felt weird. I had not even met the man!  And, in light of what I said earlier, I did not want to be “that” Christian chick. I was ready to write but unsure what to say.

I thought for a minute, prayed, and wrote down a few words of encouragement. It took a grand total of 5 minutes. I thought, There. I did it. That was weird and he may find it weird. But, I knew I was seizing this opportunity to share love and hope, maybe even creating an opportunity to eventually share the gospel.

To my surprise, Greg did not find it weird. In fact, he was quite encouraged and excited to get a blessing like this from someone he didn’t even know. He received another card from someone else in the group, and he called our two cards “fan mail.” I loved it and immediately wanted to write to him again. I had no idea the card would mean so much. It had cost me so little – 5 minutes and a little weirdness.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

Romans 1:16

We must all learn to do what we are called to do: love people with the intent of sharing Christ, and then trust God with the rest.

If we try to talk about Christ with someone and it doesn’t go well, we really have lost nothing. But if we follow our fear of losing respect, it can inhibit the opportunities we have to share the gospel.

Respect is worth losing, but the message of Christ is not. Are you willing to risk feeling a little weird, for the amazing reward of being used by God in changing someone’s entire life and eternal trajectory?

If we believe the gospel, the answer should be clear.

Let us take heart, be courageous and learn how to create and seize opportunities for Jesus.



Saved and Sent

Hundreds of times in the Bible, God either is called Savior or speaks of saving his people. What do we need to be saved from? In Matthew 1:21, Joseph heard an angel proclaim, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The cross was God’s plan to sacrifice his son to rescue us from the penalty and consequences of our sins. The work of God through his son redeems us because sin enslaved us, reconciles us because sin separated us, justifies us because sin condemned us, and restores us because sin shattered our lives.

Titus 3:4-6 reads:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.

God’s act of grace in response to our sin is the heart of the gospel. It’s the essential truth all our beliefs are founded upon. But it isn’t the end of the story.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples following his resurrection, he didn’t just enjoy their company, he gave them a mission.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20:21

God sent Jesus to be our Savior, but God was not finished sending. As disciples of Jesus, we also are sent into the world to proclaim that God has come to redeem and restore his creation. Do you know what we call sent people?

We call them missionaries.

This is your new gospel identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. You are a missionary. You might think, I’m not a missionary. Missionaries take their families to remote areas of Africa to evangelize natives you might see in National Geographic – then you never hear from them again. That’s a missionary. I’m not a missionary! However, if you look up “missionary” in the dictionary, it just means “one sent on a mission.”

We are sent as missionaries to our family, neighborhood, workplace, schools, and every other sphere of life. In other words, we’re given a mission to reach the people around us, wherever we are.

Some may question whether this truly applies to every follower of Jesus or only those sent to remote corners of the world – people who chose mission work as their full-time job. But Scripture answers this question without reservation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Everyone God saves, God sends. The result of our reconciliation is we are also entrusted with the mission to implore others to be reconciled to God. Where have you been sent?

The Christian faith is a viral movement. You heard the message of the gospel from someone. They heard it from someone too. When the gospel came to you, it was on its way to someone else. Therefore, it must not stop with us. As missionaries, going and multiplying becomes our new purpose for living.

This isn’t only important because of the potential impact on other people. When we don’t live as missionaries, we are short-circuiting God’s plan for our lives, choosing a lesser story that will not ultimately satisfy our hearts. God wrote eternity in our hearts. But we easily get intoxicated with smaller stories. The apostle Paul warns against this kind of distraction.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:5

You are a missionary. If you don’t see yourself with that gospel identity, go back to the fact that God sent you. If you don’t see yourself as sent by God, go back to the gospel truth of God as Savior. When we see God as the Savior who, in Christ, rescued us from sin, we understand better that everyone who God saves, God sends. And if we are sent, that makes us missionaries. And if we are missionaries, then our new purpose in life is to go and multiply.

(This article adapted from Go & Multiply: Sharing the Gospel in Word and Deed)


It’s a Myth! Paul Wasn’t Saul’s Christian Name

This article was originally published on September 2, 2020 at and posted here by permission. You can read the original article here.

Let’s make this short and sweet. God didn’t change the apostle’s name from Saul to Paul when the man from Tarsus became a Christian. That’s a myth far too many Christians believe and, more unfortunately, far too many pastors have taught Christians to believe. The truth is Saul and Paul were both the apostle’s names well before his conversion to Christianity on the Damascus road.

Like Jews living in the Roman empire, Paul had two names. His Hebrew name was Saul. His Roman name (a Latinized version of Saul) was Paul. Paul likely deferred to his Roman name (e.g., in his letters) because he primarily ministered to the Roman world which included both Gentiles and Hellenistic Jews.1  He was just being a good missionary. If a Jewish name might be a potential hangup for some of his audience, then he would merely refer to himself by his other name.2 It was as simple as that.

In his commentary on Acts 13 concerning the Saul/Paul element, Dr. John B. Polhill, professor of New Testament at Southern Seminary, writes:

In v. 9 Luke identified Saul by his Roman name, “who was also called Paul.” From this point on in Acts, the name Paul appears, whereas before it had been “Saul.” The only exceptions hereafter are Paul’s recounting his conversion experience when he repeated the call of Jesus to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Why did Luke change the designation at this point?…Paul was now entering Greco-Roman territory as he worked on Cyprus, no longer working primarily among Palestinian Jews. He almost certainly had both names. Paul was his Roman cognomen, and every Roman citizen had such a name. It would be the name natural to every Greek and Roman who crossed his path. Paul also had a Hebrew name, called a signum, an additional name used within his own community. It was Saul, the same name as the ancient Jewish king who was also a Benjamite. This signum “Saul” was surely that used of him in Jewish circles. Luke’s switch at this point is thus natural and quite observant of the situation. Moving into Greco-Roman territory, Paul would be the name primarily used to address him.3

Polhill clearly doesn’t say God changed Paul’s name. Why? Because Paul already was his name! Indeed, the professor points out that the author Luke is the one who changes the designation in the Acts narrative and subsequently offers the likely reason why. That’s it. The issue is fairly straightforward.

Sorry to ruin all those “New Life, New Name” sermons that get preached to unsuspecting congregations, but to say that Saul changed his name to Paul because of his coming to Jesus is attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole. It’s doesn’t work. It’s inaccurate. It’s also sloppy with the text and, frankly, a lesson in either shoddy preparation or eisegesis, both of which pastors do well to avoid.

  1. Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora born outside Judea. Contrast them with native born Palestinian Jews who spoke Aramaic. Acts 6:1-7 highlights a tension between the two groups.
  2. Scholar E. Randolph Richards points out that the word saulos translates into a pejorative term in Greek and thus, offers one more reason why the apostle might have chosen Paul over Saul in Greek or Roman settings. See Richards’ First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection, pp. 128-129. Richards also notes on p. 128, “Paul did not change his name from Saul to Paul when he began working with Gentiles. Rather, he stopped using Saul, his first name, and began using his surname when he moved into the Gentile world.” Hat tip to my friend Matt Davis for sharing this reference with me.
  3. Polhill,  Acts: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), pp. 295–296.


Whose Fault is the Hurricane?

When natural disasters occur and lives are lost or destroyed, everyone begins searching for answers. The pain is so great and the suffering is so consuming that we feel a need to make sense of the chaos. Some people do that by searching their Bible for connections between the current disasters and the end-times, while others look for someone to blame.

Is a city or nation’s sin at fault for this tragedy?

Is it a result of God’s judgment?

Why did this happen to them—or to us?

A similar question was posed to Jesus during his ministry. In the midst of a conversation about the final judgment, someone asked how this connected with some recent tragedies. Were these two unexpected events—eighteen people dying in the collapse of a tower and the killing of innocent bystanders by soldiers in the Temple—a punishment on those who suffered? Jesus responded:

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

– Luke 13:1-5

Jesus knows what they are really asking: Did these people deserve what came? Are they particularly bad? His words remind us that suffering is a result of sin, but it is not our neighbors’ sin that should worry us, but rather our own. What can Jesus’ answer teach us about how we should respond to hurricanes, pandemics, or any other suffering in this world?



In the beginning, God’s creation was completely good, but Adam and Eve’s rebellion changed everything. And their sin is our sin too—it is the sin of all mankind. This is the broken world that we have created, in which we constantly feel the consequences of our corporate and individual sin.

In our fallen world, the redeemed suffer alongside the enemies of God, as both his common grace—sunshine, rain, science, art—and the brokenness of the world are experienced by us all.  The world is full of goodness, but we still must reckon with the impact of our sin on the world. And beyond our day-to-day difficulties, a judgment is coming that will bring greater destruction than anything we have experienced. The full wrath of God will be revealed.

Disaster of all kinds should lead us to repentance, not because we live in a city that is particularly bad, but because we are all sinners. Humanity has rejected God and determined to live our lives outside of his authority and presence, to disastrous results.

We all must repent. This is not merely a call to the lost. Repentance should be a defining mark of the Christian life. To follow Jesus is to acknowledge to God, ourselves, and the world around us that we fall short constantly, even as we continually turn toward Jesus in trust and obedience.



We still live in a fallen world, but there is hope amid the brokenness, even as storms rage in our minds, our families, and creation itself. We will see suffering in this age, but Jesus descended into our suffering world to rescue us from the destruction of our sin. Christians should understand more than any others the deep pain of a paradise lost, but we also know the hope of Jesus.

Jesus confirms the reality of judgment for our sins, but he also offers a solution—himself. The one through whom and for whom the world was made, the sovereign King of all, has descended from his throne to redeem us and all of creation. Not only has he saved us from judgment, but he is making all things new and will return to rule his people in the restored creation, made perfect once again.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

– Revelation 21:4



Suffering provokes believers and unbelievers alike to seek answers. When disasters strike—natural or personal—we should grieve with those who grieve, acknowledging the terrible reality sin has wrecked upon the world. Let us then offer an answer of hope and trust in Christ, both proclaiming and embodying the gospel of redemption. We ourselves are new creations, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and our response is the best testimony of the promises of restoration found in Jesus.

How we offer this tangible, sacrificial hope to others is unique to each of us: a meal for someone in pain, giving up weekend rest to clear debris, offering shelter to a family without a home. There are a myriad of ways to love and serve others, but we all have the responsibility and opportunity to participate in the missional work of Christ to draw others to himself and set the world right.

Disasters remind us that although judgment is coming, there is a solution: faith in Jesus. We might not always understand why suffering occurs, but we do know who gives us redemption and hope, walking beside us in the face of it all.


May suffering and pain always lead us to repent of our own sin, remember the work of Jesus to redeem and restore his creation, and respond with missional love to a lost and broken world.


When you look around and wonder whether God cares,

you must always hurry to the cross

and you must see him there.

– Martin Luther


Focused on God

Filling out my children’s back-to-school forms this year has been anything but normal.

In the week leading up to the deadline, I was bouncing between choices for our girls’ elementary schooling. My husband and I talked over our options so many times, and I even consulted with friends and listened to their reasoning.

Parents, this is one of the most difficult back-to-school season we have ever faced.

Usually at this time of year we are gearing up to get back to dependable routines. We look forward to beloved pastimes at our kids’ schools and the sense of belonging in those communities.

Instead, we’re grappling with sending our kids into unfamiliar and likely ever-changing environments at school, embarking on a new online academy, or choosing to dive into teaching our children ourselves at home.

Though the circumstances are indeed unique this time around, we’ve all faced our fair share of difficult choices in life.

Years ago, my husband and I made drastic changes to our lifestyle in order to get out of debt on one income. Part of the changes involved downsizing our house, and we were faced with two choices at the beginning of our journey — one seemed safe while the other was more a leap of faith. Either choice was fraught with difficulty, and I remember feeling that we had to make the right choice or be doomed.

We made our choice, and I was humbled by how quickly doubt and uncertainty sprang up. I thought we had made the “right” choice, but I battled uncertainty for several months. It would be years before we learned the ultimate fruit of that one decision. But the lesson I learned in the midst of uncertainty was that I had to cling to God for any hope of steadiness. When I wasn’t able to hold it together, God did it for me.

I look back to that time because it was a personal primer for what we are dealing with now on a macro level. We hear people talking about doing “the next right thing,” but sometimes that next thing just isn’t clear.

The good news is that this isn’t about making the right decision. There is no right decision. It’s about trusting God with the decision we have made.

This notion can be hard. Often, I want someone to just tell me in plain black and white what exactly I need to do. But that kind of living does little good in producing strong faith. Trust isn’t about emotions but obedience.

As Christ-followers we ask for peace in the midst of uncertainty. We seek him in Scripture and in our biblical community. And then, in faith, we trust God with what we can’t predict or control.

Ultimately, this is what Christians should do with every decision, every day, pandemic or no pandemic.

God is the same. Always.

Listen to what Isaiah tells us about God:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

– Isaiah 26:3

I love the circular idea of this. God keeps me in peace as I look to him. I trust him because he sustains me in peace and because he is everlasting. This shows a connection between God and me. It’s only when I pull away from God that this circle is broken and my peace falters.

But God does not pull away. He is the one who sustains me. My job is to go back to him when I have gone astray.

The answer is right there in black and white.

Though current circumstances are more challenging than usual, our God has not changed. He will give us the same measures of peace, faith, and trust as he has always done when we ask. He will give us direction as we make difficult choices.

So, let’s continue the dialogue with him in prayer, asking him for these intangible gifts.

Let’s seek to understand more of his everlasting nature in the pages of Scripture, building our faith in him.

Let’s lean on our biblical community for encouragement and camaraderie when doubt darkens our minds.

And let us not abandon our ultimate hope in Christ who has paid our penalty at the cross so that we can have this peace that God so freely and abundantly wishes to give us.

God is there, unchanging, for the one who keeps his mind on him.


One Thing You Can Do Every Day to Improve Your Marriage

I wish I could take credit for what I’m about to tell you. It is the best marriage advice I know to give. It is simple and profound and, if you do it, will improve your marriage in ways nothing else can. This advice is so elementary that you’ll be tempted to dismiss this article altogether. Here it is…

Pray for your spouse every day.

I am embarrassed to admit that I was married for ten years before I stumbled into this advice. For as long as I’ve been part of the church and following Jesus, it seems I should have known to do this. Actually, I knew I should pray for Donya every day, but up to that point I hadn’t made it a priority. Then, in 2013 I saw an article called “Ten Ways to Pray for Your Wife” that prompted me to take daily prayer for her seriously. It’s the best thing I’ve done for our marriage, and I’ve shared this with every married guy I’ve been in small group with for the past seven years.

Here are three reasons why.


When you pray for your spouse every day, you’re spending time with God every day.

There is nothing better for your life than to be with the Father. A thousand things compete for our attention every day, exerting their influence on our hearts and minds, shaping us as husbands and wives. Time with the Father shapes us into the image of the Son, preparing us for our greatest responsibility as husbands and wives, reflecting Jesus to our spouse (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Praying for your spouse every day can be part of an intentional rhythm of being with God through Scripture reading and contemplation. Your spouse needs you to be with God, to hear his voice and be shaped by it.


When you pray for your spouse every day, you will begin to see them as God does.

Marriage has its ebbs and flows. Spouses see the best and worst of each other. When you primarily view your husband or wife through your daily experiences with them, it can be easy to let frustration or contempt set in.

As weird as it sounds, in a Christian marriage, your spouse is also your brother or sister. Like your other brothers and sisters in Christ, they need your grace. If you find it easier to give grace to others than to your spouse, praying for them can help.

Something will happen in your heart when you pray for the person you’re married to. You’ll be reminded of their humanity. You’ll be reminded of their need for God. You’ll be reminded that experiencing God’s grace is the best thing for them.

Asking God to lavish his grace on your spouse will motivate you to join in with him. You’ll grow as an agent of grace, learning to look for opportunities to shape your husband or wife through grace.


When you pray for your spouse every day, God will work in your marriage.

Some TV preachers advertise God like a Sham-Wow infomercial. They promise that for an amazingly small price, God will make all your dreams come true and life will have never been better.

I’m not trying to sell you that deal. Sometimes life stinks. Marriage is hard. People sin. Wounds hurt. I’m not promising that if you pray for your spouse every day things will be instantly better and always improving. That’s not what the Bible teaches about life, prayer, or God.

Jesus did teach, however, that we should ask God for good things, and that God will give us good things!

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7:7-11

There is mystery here, for sure. Prayer is not a token to a cosmic vending machine. Prayer is a conversation with our Father. He uses it to shape us and to work in our lives.


Your spouse is worth praying for.

Every day.

When will you start?


Earned Wisdom in Parenting

I have seen a lot of parenting styles in the almost 40 years I have been in children’s ministry or teaching public school. I have seen parenting victories and fails and have experienced both myself as a parent of three grown children. All of these observations have led me to think about things parents need to know, but maybe haven’t been told.

There are things you should do, things you should avoid, and most importantly, things you should become.

I Hope You:  

  • Laugh. Enjoy the little quirky moments with your children. Sometimes things your children do are just funny! Relax and laugh.
  • Pray Continuously. Praying quietly comes naturally to a parent. But remember your child needs to hear their name prayed out loud. So pray for them in front of them, also. Pray that your children love God more every day. Pray for every stage they wander through. Pray for their health. Pray that they will learn and grow even in their mistakes. And don’t forget to pray for their spouses even when they are little. Pray for protection for that spouse as they grow as well.
  • Depend on God. Remember that God is the protector of your children. He gave them to you to raise, but they are his. Depend on the loving Father that he is and relax some of your control issues.
  • Value Experience over Schedules. Give your children different experiences, memories, and time with different people. Experiences almost always should trump schedules!
  • Raise the Bar. As your child grows, raise your expectations. Challenge your child instead of enabling them.
  • Teach Obedience. Train your child to stop, listen, and obey when they hear your voice. When they are running toward the street, you do not have time to count to three or reason with them.
  • Teach Service. Teach your children to serve others at an early age and encourage them to keep doing it all their life.
  • Teach Generosity. Help your children give generously to the church and others early in his/her life. Be a generous family and let your children be part of that generosity.
  • Have Family Meetings. Family Meetings are great for making decisions on rules and consequences, discussing family finances, planning ways to be generous and serve others, celebrating victories, and supporting each other in hard times.
  • Write letters. Write to your children at milestones in their lives and save these letters to give to them as an adult. It will mean a lot for them to see how you prayed for them, or what characteristics you saw in them at an early age.


I Hope You Avoid:

  • Delayed Obedience. Don’t teach your child to procrastinate by counting instead of expecting immediate acknowledgement and obedience. Delayed obedience is disobedience.
  • Reasoning with a Toddler. It just doesn’t work! Use less words and physically show them expected behavior.
  • Children as Idols. Our sinful nature makes us idol makers. Don’t allow your child to become your idol. Remember, idols are made when we turn something good into the ultimate.
  • Creating Idols. Children are also sinful and will struggle with making idols for themselves. Don’t create idols for them by taking something good (like sports, education, talents, recreation, etc.) and making it into the ultimate thing of their life, by letting it take all of your family’s time and treasures.
  • Stubborn Pride. You will make many mistakes as you parent your kids. Learn to apologize quickly.
  • Words Instead of Tools. Give your children tools to use instead of words of excuse like “bored” or “fair.” Teach your child to create, dream, or read, and help them to understand the reality of an unfair world. Give them tools to survive and thrive.
  • Staying on the Sidelines. Get in the game! Parenting is an active sport and you can’t just sit on the couch and yell.


I Hope You Remember to Be:

  • Surprised. Sometimes we have too high of expectations and feel discouraged as new parents. Be surprised and then thankful for gifts like a good night’s rest, or even a nap. Your life will never be the same after kids. Embrace it, and then be thankful and surprised when you get a good gift.
  • A Good Model. Model how to be a Christ follower, a good citizen, a loving friend, and a generous person.
  • A Team. Make a plan together with your spouse to disciple and discipline your children, and always stay united with your spouse in how to raise them. Never show any disunity in front of the kids.
  • A Storyteller. Tell your child your story of coming to faith and let them watch the story of your faith play out every day.
  • A Worshiper. Give your child experiences worshiping with you corporately. Embrace the moments they can worship with you; don’t be afraid of them.
  • In Community. We all need community — people to walk with us as we parent. Mark and I were blessed with friends along the way and a special couple that walked with us because their journey looked a lot like ours. We learned together and survived together. We picked each other up and encouraged each other along the way. We grew as parents and followers of Christ together.


So, now I’ve said it — I’ve told you things you may not have ever been told. Hopefully though, I just reinforced things you already knew, and encouraged you. Parenting is a mighty adventure. The trip can seem long at times, but when you look back it only seems to take a moment. So, seize all those moments and enjoy the gifts that your children truly are.


In, But Not Of

If you’ve spent enough time in church circles, you’ve probably heard the saying, “Live in the world, but not of the world.”

But is this just a cliché or is this actually something Christians can and should do?

How do we live in a world that is broken among those who reject God, but still love our neighbors and remain faithful to Christ?

Let’s look at a story from the Old Testament to help us understand what living in the world, but not of the world can actually look like for followers of Jesus in today’s world.

After the city of Jerusalem was brutally attacked by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army, thousands of Jewish people were forced to relocate to a foreign land. Among them was a young man named Daniel. Every aspect of his life was changed quickly and completely as he walked through these dark days.

Daniel was relocated to Babylon, a majestic city and home to over 50 temples dedicated to various gods – a new world where the freedom might have appeared to be endless. Babylon provided abundant opportunity for sexual indulgence, extravagant food and drinks, lavish comforts and the prospect of wealth and success. In the book of Daniel, we read that Daniel was recruited to work for the king, but faced a tough choice: he could completely give in and embrace every pleasure the culture seemed to offer, or he could try to maintain his loyalty to God in this specific place and time.

Daniel was taken into the king’s service. He learned the language and literature of the Babylonians and was given royal food and wine. But, Daniel was convicted, as one of God’s chosen people, to live differently than those around him and honor God in every aspect of his life.

In Daniel 1:8, we see that “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.”

He made up his mind and purposed in his heart that he was not going to compromise his wholehearted faithfulness to the Lord.

Being far from home, he could have easily come up with excuses for his behavior.

“No one will ever know.”

“Everyone else is doing it, it would be weird for me not to join in.”

“It’s not really that big of a deal.”

“Just this one time.”

But it was never worth it to him. What can Daniel’s story teach us about living in, loving, and serving the world, but not being conformed to it?

The pleasures of this world always battle for our time, money, attention and heart, but when we pull back the curtain we find they often offer empty promises that can’t deliver.

They promise life, but give death.

They promise freedom, but make us feel more enslaved.

They promise happiness, but leave us feeling empty.

The freedom we yearn for and the satisfaction we chase will never be found in the fleeting pleasures of the world. Seeking the approval of man pales in comparison to the fullness to joy that is found in a life with God. Daniel remained obedient to God in the temptation of sinful pleasures. Staying close to God and continuing to obey him meant peace in the chaos and light in the darkness.

So, is to “live in the world, but not of the world,” merely a cliché?

It can be. It can also be used as an excuse to reject God’s good creation or stay away from those who don’t know Christ. But a deeper understanding of how God calls us to obey him and love others can transform this much used and simplified phrase into a mission.

We are called to be missionaries in this world without letting the pleasures of the world sink their distracting and deadly fangs into our hearts. Instead, we are called to live in a way that shows that our identity, hope, joy, and peace come from God alone. Becoming a follower of Jesus means we live the rest of our lives fighting the darkness of sin and sharing the hope we have in Christ with others.

Just like Daniel, God has called us to live in this specific time and place, with our own unique opportunities to love those around us.

As citizens of his kingdom, we must listen to and obey Jesus – the true king, who loves us, protects us and has already accomplished everything necessary to make us right with God.

In a world that is still broken, may our allegiance to Christ be a light that breaks through the darkness.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

– Matthew 5:14-16


Remember When: Worship Songs and Wistful Longings

The other day as I was driving, I was flipping through my presets on the radio (yes, some people still let fate decide their music) when the song “When I See You Smile” by Bad English came on.

As I listened, something happened to me!

I was no longer crossing under I-45, I was crossing under the home field football stands, hands interlocked with my 6th grade girlfriend with our heads together leaning in to share one pair of headphones. To a hormonal 6th grade boy it was love. But now, so many years later, the melody being pushed through my car speakers carried my mind through time and space, like some sort of emotional Delorian.

It was an ache – “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.”

It was nostalgia.

But here’s the thing: nostalgia can be dangerous. 

It isn’t always bad, of course. It can serve to remind us of things we’ve forgotten, or even awaken a soft spot in our hearts. So you can probably imagine how that can be a really good thing when it comes to worshiping God through song.

Music is an innate language that harmoniously connects – from our 206 bones to the 86 billion neurons in our brains. Music in all forms is powerful.

That’s why in the Bible, we are commanded to have music as a part of our worship to God, and why I’m pretty sure we worship leaders will have job security in heaven. In fact, we are commanded over 100 times in the Bible to sing. So how we think about music and singing as a church obviously matters to God.

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song;

sing to the LORD, all the earth!”

– Psalm 96:1

Music is good. Music is necessary. It takes us back, connects us presently, and gives us hope for the future.

So, how can nostalgia in music be dangerous?

When the church is gathered, music is a tool of relationship with one another and with God. But nostalgia takes our hearts by the hand and says, “hey let’s get out of here and go back.”

The problem is that we can’t go back. Nostalgia cannot transport us to our old pews where we sat as children next to our godly grandmothers. It can’t let her voice ring in your ears as she belts out over the volume of the organ the rare third verse of the “Old Rugged Cross”. Nostalgia can’t really put us back into the sweaty teen-filled auditorium from the summer between our sophomore and junior years at camp when we had tears streaming down our faces and our hands raised, crooning the lyrics to “The Stand.”

There is power in remembering our past and the spiritual milestones that God orchestrated in our lives. A blessing of music is that we can encapsulate pieces of our story in songs, and in doing so, remember and give thanks.

Remembrance is good, but the danger of nostalgia comes in when we begin to live for that feeling like a drug to experience an emotion and close our hearts to the fresh and present movement of the Holy Spirit.

When we allow nostalgia to take the wheel in worship we can become skeptical of change, agents of disunity, dissatisfied grumblers.

When I was in the 8th grade my parents divorced.

My mom moved out and our house, and what was once the epicenter of a thriving family became a tomb to memorialize it. Stacks of books sat gathering dust. Plates remained where they had always been, and so did the same pictures, the same sheets, the same rug, and the same lamp, frozen and preserved like a cold body. But it all began to deteriorate. Dust gathered. Paint faded. Piles grew.

What began as an inadvertent attempt to hold onto the past ultimately stunted the growth of the future. 

Nostalgia can do the same thing in worship at church when we long for the “good old days.” We must fight vehemently against it, not just for ourselves but for those who would come behind us. We must build a flourishing rich vibrant relationship through transcendent worship that is always growing and fulfilling the words of Jesus that he is making all things new.

If music in song is designed to be a part of a flourishing relationship between God and his bride then we must have forward emotions and experiences even as we sing about the gospel—what God has done for us in Christ, his grace for us today, and all he is continuing to do in Christ.

Nostalgia isn’t the enemy. 

After I heard that Bad English song I pulled up Spotify and added a whole 80s ballads playlist, not because I’m a glutton for heartache, but because I can look back with nostalgia and trace the story of God’s grace to see his work in bringing me to where I am today.

Nostalgia is one player in the game, valuable in its role to connect us to our past. We must know, respect, and remember the power it can have on our hearts and then look forward.