Resolved, To Rest In The Lord In 2014

New-Year_Resolutions_list

Tomorrow is the big day to start your New Years Resolutions! Have you made any? There are definitely some goals I want to accomplish over the next year but, to be perfectly honest, I started working on those a couple of weeks ago… Is that cheating?

I did, however, make one resolution for 2014:

Resolved, To Rest In The Lord

Most resolutions are made with this mindset – “I need to do _______________ differently over the next year to feel better about myself.” As believers, we may couch it in spiritual terms but most of our resolutions are focused on improving our perception of ourselves or improving how others view us.

Let me be the first to say that I have made numerous resolutions in past years with this mindset. I wanted to lose weight, read more books, write a book, learn to play the guitar, run a half-marathon etc. Yet, when I searched my motives behind these resolutions…well, I quickly realized they were all about me. I was busy, busy, busy trying to measure up to the arbitrary standard I had set for myself.

After some time of intense and purposeful reflection I came to the conclusion that what I needed to do was rest in the Lord. Here are some things that led me to make this resolution:

1. God already sees the best me possible. We should never forget the fact that, as believers, God sees Christ’s righteousness covering us (Romans 3:24-26). To him, we look like Jesus! Sure he knows the depths of our soul, our sin patterns, our faults and our failings but the blood of his Son covers all those things. We may spend our entire lives trying to impress other people while forgetting how God see us…and, in reality; his opinion is the only one that matters. We need to rest in the beautiful truth that we already measure up in God’s eyes!

2. We are all works in progress. The Holy Spirit of God is at work in every believer conforming us to the “image of Christ” (Romans 8:28-29). Too often we try to take on the role of the Holy Spirit – we want to be self-made! Though we play a part in the sanctification process (we can inhibit the Spirit’s work in our lives – quench the Spirit [1 Thessalonians 5:19], grieve the Spirit [Ephesians 4:30], fail to yield to the Spirit’s work [Ephesians 5:18]), the true power for transformation comes from the Spirit of God at work within us. We need to rest in the promise “that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ!”

3. Jesus promised rest and peace for those who followed Him. Several times Jesus told his disciples that they should experience great peace and rest in following him. Paul echoed this truth throughout his letters. Consider these verses:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1)

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

The Christian life should not be exhausting and yet, for many this is what they experience. They try to live the Christian life in their own power (a “pick myself up by my own spiritual bootstraps” mentality). Following Jesus should bring ultimate rest and peace in our lives!

I am not saying resolutions are bad but I would encourage you to make this next year one in which you rest in the Lord. Rest in who he says you are. Rest in the freedom of knowing the Holy Spirit is at work in you at this very moment conforming you to the image of Christ. My prayer for you and me is that we find ultimate peace and rest as we follow Jesus in 2014!

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9 Things I’ve Learned In 9 Years Of Marriage

Today, my wife and I celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary. On December 18, 2004 I watched a beautiful lady walk down the aisle at my home church and we promised to love, honor, serve and cherish one other until death do us part.

wedding

Over the past 9 years I have learned a ton about marriage (yes, I know I have a lot more to learn) and thought I would share 9 specific things that jump out to me as I reflect over the past 9 years:

1. A Great Marriage Takes Work. I know this does not sound romantic but it is reality. If you want a great marriage you must work for it! Professional athletes become great because they put in the work it takes to get there. Successful professionals do well in their business endeavors because they work hard to make it happen. Every fairy tale might end with, “And they lived happily ever after” but the only way this can be true is for the couple to work their tales off to make it happen. Great marriages take work!

2. Allow Room For Growth In Your Spouse. One piece of advice I was given by my father-in-law, before he passed away, was to allow space for Janie and I to change and grow through the years. I married Janie when I was 21. I still had one semester of college to complete and I was playing baseball, which took me away from home every other weekend. Janie was 23 and had a full-time job.  From there we went to seminary where, again, she worked full-time while I worked part-time and was in school. Fast forward to today and I am the one working full-time outside the home while she is working as a stay-at-home mom and part-time accountant. Our lives are much different today than when we first married. We have changed and grown over those years. Give your spouse room to change and grow through the years!

3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!!! If you want a great marriage you must communicate about everything; kids, church, jobs, finances, taking out the trash – everything. Turn off the TV and talk to your spouse. Stop checking your Facebook account and listen to your spouse. Effective communication requires both spouses to talk to one another and listen to one another. Janie and I have found it helpful to set aside a night every few months to sit out on the deck by the fire pit and communicate with one another. We talk about our dreams and our concerns. We listen to one another’s fears and failures. We communicate and this must be a priority in every marriage!

4. Spend Quality Time Together. Find out what each other likes to do and spend time together doing those things. I know Janie loves to shop (especially for clothes for her and the girls) and I make it my aim to help her as much as I can. Also, since I am off on Fridays and both our girls are in school, we go to breakfast each Friday morning. This gives us uninterrupted time together to talk about various things. Let’s just be honest – quality time does not happen in front of the TV or when kids are running around the house. You must make an intentional effort to spend quality time with you spouse without your kids! Set aside a weekly or monthly date night. Schedule a weekend to be away with just your spouse. Spend quality time together!

5. Forgive & Move On. When your spouse hurts you, and they will (intentionally or unintentionally), be quick to forgive and move on. We must always remember, as believers, that we married a sinner and the Holy Spirit is still conforming them into the image of Christ. We are going to make mistakes. We are going to say mean things. We are going to hurt one another. But we can control our response when we are hurt. We can do exactly as Jesus did to those involved in his crucifixion – forgive. Be quick to forgive your spouse and then move on!

6. Apologize. When you are wrong say, “I’m sorry” – not “I’m sorry…but if you would have…” Just say, “I’m sorry.” You may not even feel like you are in the wrong but apologize anyway. This goes a long way with your spouse. They realize you are less interested in defending yourself (which is a sneaky way of saying “I am right”) and more interested in their feelings and concerns. I’m still working on this one! J

7. Make Life Fun. Life is difficult and every day is definitely not Friday. But you can choose your attitude and the way you approach your spouse and family. Choose to be happy and to make life fun. There are days when it will take more effort than others but do everything within your power to make life fun. Often, we will take spontaneous trips just to communicate to our family that we want life to be fun. Go to the park; make a visit to the local pet store and pet the puppies; head out for ice-cream. Making life fun makes Janie happy – she loves to see smiles on her little girls’ faces

8. Pray For & With Your Spouse. I pray for Janie daily and I know she prays for me. I treasure this – my wife is truly a prayer warrior! We pray together during family worship and let our kids see us pray for one another. The old adage is “The couple that prays together stays together.” I truly believe this. Pray for and with your spouse!

9. I Am Blessed Beyond Measure. The Bible says, “He who finds a wife finds a good things and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). In God’s providence he brought Janie and I together and for that I am blessed. I thank the Lord daily for this good and precious gift he has given – I truly have obtained “favor from the Lord!” Thank God for your spouse and tell your spouse you believe they are a blessing from the Lord!

**There are tons of other things I have learned over the past 9 years of marriage but I would love to hear what you have learned in your marriage. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section!

A Bank Trip With My Girls

My wife is off working at the Operation Christmas Child Distribution Center and I am spending some quality time with my girls today! One thing we have been talking about doing for quite some time is emptying their piggy banks and heading over to the bank to make a deposit into their savings account.

This is one of the best memories I have growing up – my dad and I would load up in his truck and head over to the bank to make a deposit. My dad worked in sales and always carried cash. As a result he always had change in his pocket and this change made it into my piggy bank! As we have been working Dave Ramsey’s plan, we use cash for our monthly eating out money. And…you guessed it; we put the leftover change in our girls’ piggy banks.

After picking up Anna from school, we headed over to our local Wells Fargo to make the deposit. The teller let us know that they had no way to count the change so we made a quick trip to Kroger to use the Coinstar machine. Here is the ticket we received after putting all the change in the machine:

photo 1As you can see, the girls were having a blast. The machine charges 10.9 cents/dollar (a bit high but we did not have to roll the change) and we ended up with $35.02 after paying the fee. I am amazed how much change you can gather over time if you just drop it into the piggy bank! We took our ticket to the nearest register and turned it in for cold, hard cash:

photo 3I added 50 cents in rolled pennies and a $2 bill I had laying around and we headed back to the bank with $37.52. After filling out the deposit slip we handed over the money and they gave us two lollipops (or as Leah calls them – “hollipops”). To be honest, this was the most exciting part of the experience for the girls! Here is a pic of them after the successful deposit:

photo 4I remember the bank trips with my dad and I hope they will remember this too. After a number of years of doing this with my dad, he gave me the money (about $1000) when I was 14 and encouraged me to invest it into the stock market. We have already begun investing for our girls and my hope is to use this extra “change” money along with money they receive at birthdays and Christmas and add to these investments over time. I plan to do this throughout their growing up years so that one day they can have a nest egg that they can use for a downpayment on a home or some other worthy expense. Compounding interest is beautiful thing especially when you are 5 and 3!

 

 

 

“Train Up A Child” – Focusing On Christ During Christmas

christmas-cross

I love Christmas! I love the smells and the sounds. I love being with family. I love the overall “cheery” attitude that most people have during this season (outside of the Black Thursday/Friday “I will trample you for this toy or electronic gadget” mindset).

Our society is growing more secular by the day. Things that were once held as sacred have become commonplace and ordinary. Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, has been hijacked and commercialized along with other religious holidays (Thanksgiving and Easter come to mind).

As Christians, we must guard against blindly following the culture. My greatest concern for our children is that story of Santa Clause is the antithesis of the story of Jesus Christ and his gospel. Before I offer my reasoning on this, let me say that I grew up believing in Santa Clause. I do not think I was scarred nor deceived. I do not believe my parents were wrong in allowing this to happen. But, our family does approach it in a different way.

We do not go out of our way to destroy the concept of Santa Clause in the minds of our two girls (age 3 & 5). They still watch TV shows that talk about Santa Clause. They color pictures of him. But we do try to help our girls understand why people celebrate him while also putting it into perspective as we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. I’m not telling you that you have to do what we do but this is what we do. Let me offer a couple of reasons why:

1. We have a biblical responsibility to disciple our children. Parents are called to train their children in the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4). We take this very seriously because we recognize that we will have to give an account for our faithfulness in this area. We seek to take every opportunity to point our girls to Christ. The culture (movies, TV shows, books, other well meaning people) bombards them with tons of things during the Christmas season and we must diligently direct their attention to Christ. This is one of the reasons I wrote a Christmas Devotional for families to use during the month of December. The time I have with my girls is short and I want to make every day (and holiday) count for the cause of Jesus Christ and his gospel.

2. The popular/secular story of Santa Clause is the antithesis of the story of Jesus Christ and the gospel. If you think deeply about the story of Santa Clause you will begin to see that this is true. Santa is portrayed as an all-knowing, all-present being who is watching kids throughout the year to see whether they have been good or bad. The reality is that these things (all-knowing and all-present) are reserved for God alone. I don’t want my kids to mix this up. Our culture also portrays the idea that Santa only gives presents to kids who are good throughout the year. Basically, children earn their presents by good behavior. The message of the gospel is the opposite. We do not earn salvation by our good works but by the grace of God. I really don’t want my kids to mix this up!

**Every Christian family has to make a decision concerning how they will approach the culture in which we live – a culture that grows increasingly hostile to the Christ of Christmas. Seek the Lord diligently and ask him how you should lead your family this time of year. You may come up with a different approach, which is completely fine. I just thought it would be helpful to offer our perspective!

I Am A Church Member (Free Small Group Outlines)

The small groups at our church recently worked through Thom Rainer‘s book I Am A Church Member. It was a great study for our groups and I would encourage you to utilize this resource in your small groups or Sunday School classes. I wrote a review of the book here. Rainer does a true service to the church in providing this resource!

As we prepared to work through the book in our small groups, several leaders asked if there were teaching outlines based on each chapter. While the book offers helpful discussion questions at the end of each chapter, there is not a teaching outline available that covers each chapter. As a service to our small group leaders, I prepared 6 outlines which cover each chapter in the book. These outlines are provided below for your use:

I Am A Church Member (Session 1)

I Am A Church Member (Session 2)

I Am A Church Member (Session 3)

I Am A Church Member (Session 4)

I Am A Church Member (Session 5)

I Am A Church Member (Session 6)

My Thoughts On Ergun Caner Being Elected President Of Brewton-Parker College

Yesterday, a press release came from Brewton-Parker College (Mt. Vernon, GA) announcing that Dr. Ergun Caner was unanimously elected as the 16th President of this Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) institution. Dr. Caner has advanced degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv & ThM) and the University of South Africa (ThD). He previously served as the Dean of the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (2004-2011) and, most recently, as the Provost and Academic Dean at Arlington Baptist College (2011-2013).

If you are familiar with Dr. Caner’s story, you know that he has been involved in some controversy concerning his background and testimony (Dr. James White has gone to great lengths to “expose” Dr. Caner) as well as legal battles that are ongoing. This controversy led to Dr. Caner being removed as the dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, though he remained on faculty as a professor.

Before I offer some thoughts, let me lay my cards on the table. I serve on the Education Commission for the Georgia Baptist Convention which is a group of GBC pastors who act as liaisons between our 3 GBC colleges/universities and our GBC churches. I have tremendous respect for our college/university presidents and love that these schools are championing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

With that said, here are some thoughts I have on Dr. Caner being named President of Brewton-Parker College:

1. It is clear Dr. Ergun Caner is a Christ follower. We should never forget that Dr. Caner is a fellow brother in Christ.

2. It is clear Dr. Ergun Caner preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have watched numerous sermons delivered by Dr. Caner and he preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ unapologetically. This is encouraging for Georgia Baptists – we can be certain that the gospel will be proclaimed at BPC and the institution will continue to stand on the authority of Scripture.

3. We should pray for Dr. Caner and Brewton-Parker College. Dr. Mike Simoneaux, the outgoing president of BPC, has done a great job stabilizing the school (improving finances, enrollment, etc.) but there is still much to be done. This will not be easy and the weight of that responsibility will be great for Dr. Caner as he steps into this position.

4. It makes sense that the BPC trustees would move in this direction. Dr. Caner’s track record at both Arlington Baptist College and Liberty Baptist Seminary offers great hope for BPC. While at both institutions, enrollment grew tremendously and this is what BPC needs to continue moving forward. Dr. Caner’s high profile personality should bring excitement to the school, which should, in turn, help the school’s reputation. It also does not hurt that Dr. Caner’s brother (Dr. Emir Caner) has done exceptional things at Truett-McConnell College.

5. Some will not be pleased with this decision. I have already heard from pastors who are not pleased with Dr. Caner’s appointment as president of BPC. Most cite the controversy over his background, followed by a lack of repentance on Dr. Caner’s part, as grounds for their concern. I do believe it would be helpful for Dr. Caner to address this issue in a public, humble, and clear way. This could certainly go a long way in repairing his image in the minds of many of his detractors.

6. We should expect attacks. Attacks on Dr. Caner and BPC will come, both from inside our own camp and from outside. Above all, we need to unite as followers of Christ and Georgia Baptists behind BPC’s new president. Regardless of the way you feel about Dr. Caner or BPC, recognize he and the school need our prayers, encouragement, and support.

**Dr. Caner – if you happen to read this post come on over to Dublin and I will buy you a cup of coffee!

A Contemporary Baptist Catechism

catechismSeveral years back (2009 I believe), I put together a little book to help parents teach their children the truths of Scripture. I had forgotten about this little book until I came across some files I had on my computer this past week. Wouldn’t you know it – the book is still available for purchase either as a pdf file or in paperback. If you are interested in something like this check it out! Here is what I wrote for the back cover:

Are you prepared? Do you have a plan to teach your children the things of the Lord? Has the thought even crossed your mind?

Parents, God holds you accountable for the special task of raising your children. Included in this task is the responsibility of teaching them the things of the Lord. This contemporary Baptist catechism will aid you as you seek to teach your children the truths of Scripture. It will also help as you begin to cultivate a godly atmosphere in your home.

Why not start today?

It will matter for eternity!