Taking a Walk with Jesus

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Recently I was reading through 1 John and was struck by the phrase “walk in the light as He is in the light” from verse 7. My mind immediately jumped to Ephesians 4:1 in which Paul instructs Christians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” and then to 5:1-2 he says to “be imitators of God…and walk in love.”

As I began to reflect on these passages about walking, I recalled a time earlier on in my life when my wife and I would take walks together.

As I reflected, I realized that these are some of my fondest memories of our early days of being married. My wife and I first moved to Texas to go to Southwestern Seminary in 2002. We had been married for about two and a half years and it was before we had kids. It was a much simpler time. :-)

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has a beautiful campus that encompasses several city blocks, and my wife and I would often take long, quiet walks around campus. Just talking. As I look back, I think of how close we became during these walks. How our relationship grew. Sometimes these walks were filled with vibrant conversation; other times, we walked silently enjoying each other’s company. I learned a great deal about her, myself, and our relationship during these walks. Sometimes we talked about the future: wondering what life would look like for us after I graduated or after we had children. What I realized now, though, is that even though we often discussed the future, what was really happening, in those moments, with each step and each conversation is that we were growing close as couple. God was knitting our heart together in ways that we could not see.

As I think about these memories, an old phrase we don’t often use anymore comes to mind: “your walk with the Lord.” Many of you will remember when that was common vocabulary in the church. Personally, I miss this terminology because, at least to me, it conveys a slow, steady pace and investing time in the relationship. Sadly, this phrase might be lost today in our busy day-in-and-day-out lifestyle. In fact, one of my sons asked me recently, “Dad, do you think there will ever be a time when we won’t have to walk anywhere?” I fear many see walking as a necessary evil.

This scene comes to mind:

original from: http://cdn.screenrant.com/wp-content/uploads/Best-Movie-Chairs-Wall-E.jpg

Back on track…

When the Bible talks of our relationship with Jesus & our Christian life, I believe this is what Jesus wants for us (the slow, steady walk; not the Wall-E picture above). He wants us to set aside time each day to read His Word. Not in preparation for teaching or just to check it off a list of things to do, but to He wants us to hear Him… to get to know Him. Talking (praying), yes, but listening.      Listening to the truth of His Word… how He loves us. So I want to encourage you to pause during your busy week and “take a walk with Jesus” (sometimes it helps to even literally take a walk).

As parents (and teachers), the most important gift we can give our children is investing time in our own relationship with Jesus. We cannot merely teach kids into loving Jesus; we must lead them into loving Jesus.

Stay Alert Lest We Drift Away

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Hebrews 2 warns us to pay close attention to what we have heard so that we will not drift away. The thing about drifting is that it happens so subtly we often do not even know it is happening at all.

I think of floating out in the ocean just off the beach. The waves roll around me. I am tossed ever so gently. Unless I keep my eyes on the beach and exert effort, before I know it I’ll be further into the water than I planned and further away from where I left my things.

Paul paints the same picture in Ephesians 4 when he says that, as we mature in our faith, “we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” In this context, Paul describes some of the things we must do (our own efforts) as we grow in Christ. He commands us to “walk worthy of our calling… with all humility and gentleness with patience accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.” He goes on to explain that we are to utilize our spiritual gifts for the edification of the church (active service).

As parents, we must remember that spiritual maturity takes intentional effort. We have to guard our own hearts so that we do not drift away from those foundational teachings of Scripture. Guarding our hearts is a defensive strategy. We must also actively learn from those who authentically teach the Bible and serve the Body of Christ, which is an offensive strategy. If we are going to be equipped to teach our children, we must first pay close attention to ourselves.

Final caution: It is too common that, as adults, we think “Oh. I know that Bible story.” or “I’ve been in church my entire life.” And we allow pride and complacency to be our excuse for laziness. Let us put away pride and admit that we too must daily abide in Jesus, even as adults. Speaking specifically of temptation but applicable across our lives, Paul says “whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Too often, we drift and are not even aware of it because of our pride.

Final encouragement: In a different illustration, the author of Hebrews says in chapter 12let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus.” Back to our original example on the beach, we must fix our eyes on where we want to stay (Jesus & sound doctrine) and intentionally put forth effort so that we do not unintentionally end up somewhere we do not want to be. 

Note: This discussion of work and effort is not meant to imply we are working to earn salvation. We work to serve the church and to not be carried away by teaching that is contrary to the Word of God.

The Gospel

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img from: http://davemiers.com/what-is-the-gospel-by-greg-gilbert

Sometimes as pastors we say things like “When is the last time your shared the gospel?” or “Are you living a gospel-centered life?” But often times we forget or neglect that there are many who, though born again or saved, do not understand what the term “the gospel” entails. This is especially important for parents who want to make sure that their children hear “the gospel,” but don’t really know what to say or how to say it. Sometimes it’s because parents have heard it so many times that their memories (hearing it over and over again years ago) cloud the simplicity of the gospel, and sometimes it’s because parents are just learning it themselves. In any case, “the gospel” is “good news,” and as Jeffery Reed (lifeway.com/kidsministry/author/jeffreyreed) recently said “The gospel is good news, not a good recommendation or suggestion.”

The most explicit place in the New Testament in which the gospel is laid out is in 1 Corinthians 15:1,3-8 —

I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed…
For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time; 
most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep.
Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me.
This is a great place for adults to start as it lays out the outline or foundation of what Jesus actually did. This is the basics.
However, it is often necessary to take a step back from this outline (especially when talking with children) because there are a few critical questions that must be answered. For example, “why did Christ need to die for my sins?” or “what is sin?” The following was taken from 9marks.org/answers/what-gospel which helps walk through some of these questions in a clear way:

A good way to summarize this good news is to biblically unpack the words God, Man, Christ, Response.

  1. God. God is the creator of all things (Gen. 1:1). He is perfectly holy, worthy of all worship, and will punish sin (1 John 1:5Rev. 4:11Rom. 2:5-8).
  2. Man. All people, though created good, have become sinful by nature (Gen. 1:26-28Ps. 51:5Rom. 3:23). From birth, all people are alienated from God, hostile to God, and subject to the wrath of God (Eph. 2:1-3).
  3. Christ. Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to bear God’s wrath in the place of all who would believe in him, and rose from the grave in order to give his people eternal life (John 1:11 Tim. 2:5Heb. 7:26Rom. 3:21-262 Cor. 5:211 Cor. 15:20-22).
  4. Response. God calls everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and trust in Christ in order to be saved (Mark 1:15Acts 20:21Rom. 10:9-10).
If you have questions regarding this post, please, reach out to me or to a local pastor in your area.

Cell Phone Safety (a helpful book)

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My wife and 8 year old son picked up a book from the public library last weekend that, as it turns out, is quite helpful and informative. It is a short little book called “Cell Phone Safety” by Kathy Allen.

Most parents will have to deal with the issue of their children having and using a cell phone. Many parents want to help their children learn to use their cell phones responsibly but don’t know where to begin in talking with them. I believe this book gives parents a good track on which to start. For children, it asks the right questions to help children begin thinking for themselves about this responsibility

The book is written directly to children, most likely younger teenagers (older teens might find it “immature”). While it’s certainly not perfect nor comprehensive, I believe there are several good things to note about it. Addressing topics like “Phones are not toys,” “Public v. Private Info,” “Identity Theft and Dangers,” “Cyberbullying,” “Think Before You Send,” and “Screens Taking Time Away from Real Life” makes this a book from which both parents and children/teenagers can benefit.

A few notable points:

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“Cell Phone Safety” encourages open, honest communication between child and parent. On several pages the statement is made “Talk to a parent or trusted adult.” The book elaborates a “trusted adult” to be a teacher or someone similar. Parents definitely need to be intentional about keeping the lines of communication open, but children need to be reminded often (from outside the home helps tremendously) that their parents are not the enemy.

While cell phones certainly enable fun aspects of social life, they are not toys. Owners/users of cell phones, regardless of age, must remember that these devices are a tool for sending and receiving information, and that’s not a game. This book doesn’t gloss over or minimize the reality of the dangers of sharing private information publicly.

In light of the “it’s not a toy” point, “Cell Phone Safety” encourages and emphasizes responsibility on the part of the child, not just the parent.

Dealing with questions like “What’s the harm in telling posting about where I am?” and “What’s the harm in responding to a number I don’t know?” undergirds the serious nature of information sharing and helps children understand the risks.

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Similarly, kids and adults alike should adhere to the point of “think before you post/share” and in many cases, you simply cannot “un-send.”

Kids and adults alike can, also, benefit from periodically and intentionally unplugging; I know I can.

Boundaries are not a means to end fun but a means to ensure safety, just like crosswalks and traffic lights are on the road. Working with your child to set and understand boundaries will go a long way toward cell phone and online safety.

 

All in all, if you are struggling with how to help your child understand the importance of online/cell phone safety, this little book is a pretty good place to start. If you are just beginning crossing into the territory, as we are, of adding an additional cell phone in your home, this book will give you a path to walk on as you begin.

 

 

Note: This is simply a short review of a book I read. I have no affiliation with the author, publisher, or anyone else associated with this book. I have found its contents helpful; perhaps you can, too.

14 Years of Marriage, #Blessed & #Thankful

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CarrollssEach day when my soul awakes
I bow my head and, to God, I pray
For He has blessed my heart & soul
His grace abundantly bestowed
A family beyond my wildest dreams
A wife whose heart, so esteemed
For each day my heart doth know
Undeserved, unworthy of this love

Today, I celebrate 14 years of married life with my beautiful bride. She means more to me…she does more for me…she gives more for me, than I could ever understand or express. Having known each other for nearly 20 years, she has loved me when I was completely unlovable. She has supported me through selfish, childish decisions. She has sacrificed (and continues to sacrifice) much. In the name of Christ, she dies to herself each day out of love and for the betterment of her family.

To say I am blessed is a vast understatement. I am truly honored to know such love. I am truly humbled to be the recipient of and in covenant with such Christlikeness.

To my bride, I know that I have not always shown my love for you the way I should, but your love inspires me to continue to try. I love you! Happy anniversary!!

2013 Family Christmas Eve Service

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Due to family circumstances our Family Pastor was unable to attend our 4pm Family Christmas Eve service. He asked me to fill in for him. So I had the tremendous privilege of teaching a lesson on The Gifts of God. The lesson turned out to be longer than I had hoped.

http://youtu.be/RhC3IDyB5fg

When God Chooses

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Due to icy road conditions, we were unable to gather for worship and Bible study with our First Baptist Keller family on Sunday, 12-8-13. Since our church uses The Gospel Project curriculum, I took the kids’ lesson for Sunday and adapted it for our use at home. Click here to read the plan.

The lesson covered Luke 1:26-56 when Gabriel spoke to Mary about God’s plan for her life.

One of my favorite things about The Gospel Project is that it provides a “Discussion Starter” video to be used to help children think more deeply about the lesson and ask questions. This lesson’s Discussion Starter dealt with the topic of choosing, specifically God choosing Mary and Joseph: “Why did God choose Mary and Joseph to be the earthly parents of Jesus?” The thinking question to pose was “What criteria would you use in choosing a team?”

Naturally…this moved into the world of soccer for me and my kids. So I asked them, “If you were choosing some of your friends to be on your team for soccer, how would you pick your team?” Right on queue, they responded, “I’d want my friends who are good at soccer.”

So…”what about me, as coach, how do you think I would choose a team?”

The 10 year old: “You’d want girls who are good at soccer.”

“True. What about how I choose who plays each position? Say I ask, ‘Who wants to play goalie?’ and everyone but you, raises a hand, but as the coach, I’ve watched YOU play. I’ve seen your speed and skill. I know that with some direction and training from me, you would make an excellent goalie. So I choose you to play goalie. Why would I do that?”

A “short” thoughtful silence.

“Because you think I can do it even if I don’t think I can. (pause) You know us better than we know ourselves, maybe.”

“That’s right!! I know you have potential to be more than what you are or what you think you can be. In some way, this is kind of what was happening when God chose Mary and Joseph. It was not because they were perfect or sinless. It wasn’t because they were already great parents; because they didn’t even have kids, yet. It was because God saw in them their potential, what they could become. He knew them better than they knew themselves…because He created them. He knew that they wouldn’t be perfect parents, but with His help, they would be the perfect parents for Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God.”

Ok, so I know that it’s not a great analogy, but I think it helped make the point: When God chooses us for a task or role in life, we can trust Him. We can trust that, with His help, we are the right one for the job because He created us and knows us better than we know ourselves. We can trust that He knows the full potential of what we can accomplish and who we can be if we trust and follow Him. So whatever God has chosen, whatever God chooses, trust Him.

Children: A Tangible Blessing from God

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Last Thursday evening, my wife and I welcomed a new child into our family. Here are a few thoughts I’ve had over the past week as I watched my daughter’s birth, bonding with her mother, and her enthusiastic reception by the other children…

Disclaimer: I realize that there is a negative side and more to this conversation than what is here, but during this week, my heart and mind have been focused primarily on the positives.

Although there are definitely some who try, I find it hard to believe that anyone who gives any amount of serious intellectual thought can truly say that the creation and birth of another life is anything short of a miracle. Certainly we can read and understand the scientific descriptions of what is going on, but there is just so much taking place in a relatively short amount of time with precise detail that, in my opinion, the reproductive design speaks for itself.

Recently a pastor friend of mine posted a blog about blessings from God. (It can be read here.) His overall point is that the blessing of God originates and is most clearly expressed in the grace of God, specifically in the gospel of Jesus. As a parent . . . as a father, I know of no more tangible expression of the grace of God in my life than the birth of my children. Yes, you read that correctly: I believe my children, each one and all of them, to be a product of the grace of God.

Now, I’m not totally naive. I’ve been a parent long enough to know that parenting comes with heartbreak. Sometimes my children simply do not do what I wish or what I think is best, but compliance and obedience are not the key to blessing. Grace is. So when the psalmist says in the 127th Psalm that children are a gift from God, there is a truth here that deserves meditation: gift from God = blessing = grace. My children bring me great joy. Not always happiness, mind you, but great joy. I have done nothing to earn this joy; it is manifestation of God’s grace in my heart. I am amazed when I sit back and observe my kids, when I hear them talk, when I think about how different they all are, yet possess so many similarities. I see 5 little ones created uniquely in the image of God, wonderfully made into His likeness (Psalm 139). I recognize the blessing of God in my life through these little ones.

On the other hand, when my children are being difficult, it is not necessarily related to an epic parental failure. (Note: It is possible, perhaps likely, that I have failed my kids in some way, but this is not always a cause/effect relationship.) A final thought: Good (well-behaved, obedient) children are no more the result of my efforts than bad (disobedient, obstinate) children are the result of my lack of parental expertise. But regardless of good behavior or not-so-good behavior or even downright disobedience, the blessing of God remains.

So I have asked the question (perhaps you have, too): why did God bless me with the children that I have? I can only respond: Grace. Since a common definition of grace is God’s unmerited or unearned favor, I believe children fall into this category. When I look at each of my kids, I am forced to come face-to-face with the fact that, for good or otherwise, I have done nothing nor could have done anything to deserve these blessings. The fact of the matter is that God is the author of life. He creates life according to His will. He designed these children to be under the care of me and my wife at this point in history.

For me and my wife, this is a weighty matter because having this view of children defines our approach to parenting. Believing/Realizing/Knowing that our children are gifts from God, given in His grace, enables us to parent under His grace, as well. We can rely on His grace to sustain our strength, provide our wisdom, and guide our instruction as we seek to train our children to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

One final note: I don’t want to paint a picture that I think we are perfect parents. We aren’t. Far from it. Relying on God’s grace doesn’t equal not messing up and making mistakes. It simply humbles us with a peace of mind that God can use us in spite of our failures . . . because that is grace.

She’s a girl: Emalyn Faith

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New pics added: 10/19/13, 10:15am

 

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with Papa Joe (the 5 year old tries to photo bomb all pics)

 

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Mimi & Emalyn

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Memaw & Emalyn

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 Even Kenzi is enthralled by her

 

Ready to go home! Praise the Lord; both mom and baby are healthy and doing great!!

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The whole gang

 

My wife has a tendency to amaze Labor & Delivery staff with her deliveries. She’s quite amazing!

Emalyn Faith was born at 9:44pm weighing in a 6lb 4oz and 19 3/4″ long.

Mom and baby are doing great!IMG_7776IMG_0344IMG_0346

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Boy or girl?

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Many of you know that we decided not to find out the sex of this baby. The two names we’ve been going with are Emalyn and Austin. So what’ll it be? What do you think?

If the Lord wills, we’ll know in a few hours…

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