Faith and Work

Every new quarter (much better than a semester format) at Furman University, I felt a pit in my stomach. I would look at all the work listed on my class syllabuses, and feel overwhelmed.

This was the life of a chemistry major (it was kinda' tough) at a liberal arts college (that part was really tough).

Especially my last couple of years, when I had my hardest classes, I realized that I couldn't do it. I knew that I could not make the grades I wanted, while also playing football, all by myself.

It was a time to pray and trust God. And that's what I did. As soon as I saw my syllabus, I would pray for God to help me through the term.

And then was a time to buckle down and get to work.

My New Job

I'm in a similar situation now. Yes, I'm back at Furman, but not as a student. I now work for the university, in a part-time job at the Shi Center for Sustainability. I am the Program Coordinator for the Community Conservation Corps.

The short description is that I help low-income families get free assistance with weatherization for their homes. The shorter description is that I'm a project manager, a set of responsibilities that's completely new to me.

And that's why I'm praying. I have had a lot to learn, in my two weeks of overlap with the previous coordinator (whose last day is today). So that leaves me, and a student worker (who will be done in a few weeks), and my boss (who is on maternity leave).

So that leaves me. And God. (And, of course, a great team of folks at Furman who will do everything they can to help me succeed in this role.)

I'm thankful to be in this role. And I see how my skills and experiences (especially community connections) will add value to this program.

But I almost turned this job down.

The Job Before Me

I applied for the job last month, and was invited for an interview. I was pretty surprised when I received a call a few days later offering me the position. During the interview, I didn't think they were impressed by what I could offer, for what the job needed.

But they made an offer, and I asked for the weekend to talk with my wife and think about it. And I very nearly said "no." I reasoned that . . .
  • Project management wasn't what I wanted to do. I thought God was drawing me to work with kids and youth. 
  • The 20-hour work week would limit my time with my job with Elevate Youth, and other youth-related opportunities that would come up. 
  • The job didn't pay as much as I thought it would.

But by Monday, I knew I needed to take it, and I'm glad I did. And that weekend's sermon from Grace Church was a key part in my decision (Coincidental timing? I think not.)



In hearing this sermon on the miracle of God providing manna, God showed me:
  • This was the job He put before me. He might use it to open new opportunities down the road (and of course, He may not). 
  • I need to trust God enough to work diligently
  • I need to be willing to work in a job that I don't necessarily enjoy.  
  • I need to look for ways to meet the needs of those around me. And this job is such an opportunity to do that. 
Above all that, God has created a world where faith is required (Hebrews 11:6). This job at Furman, like my years of schooling at Furman, is a way for God to drive me to trust in Him.

As with my teaching job at Lead Academy, God can do a great thing, and it will be all because of His grace.

My Other New Job

In September, I will be starting another new job. I will be teaching a 6th grade math class at Upstate Homeschool Co-Op, where our kids have attended. It's a new class for this co-op, and I'll teach two days per week, for an hour each day, for 24 weeks.

I've got some work to do, if I want to make this class engaging and helpful for 6th graders.

Again, I'll be depending on God for His grace and help.

More Great Teaching 

I've also been learning a lot about work through some other great teaching from Grace Church. A group of eight of us guys are meeting weekly to discuss the material called A Man and His Work. Like the above-mentioned sermon on manna, these teachings come at just the right time.

Here are some of my take-aways:
  • God is a worker, and in my work I reflect His image
  • I need to make money to provide for my family (as I wrote here).
  • Skillful and excellent work glorifies God.
  • I should provide something or some service that makes the world better
  • Work shapes character
  • I need to take Jesus to work, especially by praying through the day.


I look forward to growing in my new jobs (and my "old" one), and for seeing how God works through them, and in me.

WHY and HOW the Church Should Equip Parents


My wife and I are deeply connected and committed to family ministries at Grace Church.

For years, Joanna and I volunteered in Children's Ministry. Then, in 2007, I came on staff as the Pastor of Children and Families. It was during that time that we came up with our family mission (or "adventure"):

Through exhortation and serving, to equip the next generation
including in our family, our church, our community, and our world.

After living out this adventure in Allendale, we moved back to Greenville to launch Elevate Youth. That ministry focuses on children in our community, but we are still involved in family ministries at church. I serve in Fusion (for 5th and 6th graders), while my wife and daughter serve in Preschool Big Group.

So, from our perspectives as parents and church members, we are always thinking about how we can help other parents. We wonder: What do parents need? Do they want more events, or are they overbooked as it is? What are parents' biggest struggles and concerns? 

Timothy Paul Jones shared some great thoughts about how a church can engage families. First, he gives three truths:
  1. Most parents in the church know their responsibility. 
  2. Most parents are not intentionally discipling their children.  
  3. Most parents are not being trained, but are willing to be.
Do you agree? If so, what do we need to do to help parents?

I'd love to hear your ideas: What does your church do to help engage and equip parents? Or, what do you wish your church would do to equip you as a parent?

Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter or Facebook.


Related Links:

Marriage Is Not about Fairness

Tomorrow is a special day for my wife and I. Only July 18, 1999 I asked Joanna to marry me (I was serious), and she said "Yes," of course.

I could give lots of reasons for why I asked her to marry me (here's 11), and many more for why I'm glad she did.

We have learned a lot over the past 16 years -- about each other, about our gracious God, and about ourselves. We've learned how selfish we can be, and we've learned that God can transform our minds and hearts. Even more, He transforms our hearts to want to be changed.

If there is one thing we have learned, and are still learning, it's that marriage is not about "fairness." Marriage is about sacrificially putting your spouse first. Marriage is about truly knowing that you are "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

Marriage is not 50/50. It's 100/100. It flourishes when both spouses give 100% of who they are, regardless of how they feel and irrespective of return expectations.

Here's what others have to say on this topic:

Jen Pollock Michel (Is This What Love Looks Like?):  "Fairness cannot be demanded in marriage. Unfortunately, many refuse this advice, entering marriage today like collective bargaining. . . . The only biblical model for marriage we have isn't equity; it's self-sacrifice." 

Philip Holmes (She Is Me):  "Refusing to nourish my wife by providing for her is more foolish than not feeding myself. . . . God empowers me to see that she is me, and to love selflessly and sacrificially as I have been loved."

Matt Chandler (The Importance of Marriage):  A 12-minute video, worthy of your time. My main take-away: If you want your marriage to stand out in this culture, make sure it's covenantal, not contractual. Here's the video:




Brett and Kate McKay (The Surprising Benefits of Marrying Young): A little off-topic, but applicable since I was 23 when I got married, and Joanna had just turned 25. "My goal with this article is to simply provide some reassurance to the young gents out there who are in their early to mid-twenties, have already met the right person, and feel like they’re ready to get hitched, but are scared to pull the trigger because they’ve heard the constant drumbeat of “Marry young and you’ll regret it!”"

Of course, we should always listen to Paul's words, in his letter to the Ephesian church
 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.  

For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.


Finally, I highly recommend What Did You Expect??, the best marriage book I've ever read.


Happy engagement anniversary, Joanna!

The Wisdom of Atticus Finch


". . . but remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

My daughter read To Kill a Mockingbird last month, and immediately told me, "Dad, you have to read this." Since her last recommended book was The Giver, I knew I had to listen to her.

It was my first time ever reading this American classic. I'm glad. I don't think I could have appreciated it as much as I did had I read it 10 years ago. And much, much more than if I read it 20 years ago.

Atticus Finch taught me a lot of things:
On justice: "This case, Tom Robinson's case, is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience -- Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man." 

On persecution: "It's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you."

On sin:  "This is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not a person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, . . . ."

On protecting others:  "If spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I'd rather it be me than that houseful of children out there."

Of course, other characters had just as much wisdom. Miss Maudie explains Atticus's protective love for mockingbirds.
"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. . . . They don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

Have you read this book recently? If not, maybe you should pick it back up again soon.

Warning: Your local library probably has a waiting list. You can buy the e-book here.

Double Warning:  Don't even try to get on the waiting list to borrow Harper Lee's follow up novel, Go Set a Watchman, which arrives in stores next week.

100 Happy Days

Can't you tell how happy we are?
Do you remember earlier this year, when I did a 13-week Ben Franklin journalling challenge? Following Franklin's example, I focused on a specific virtue each week, and noting when I failed in that virtue.

Do you remember how it made me feel? It was a depressing burden to carry (although it did help me to better appreciate the Good News that I don't have to make myself a virtuous person).

If you follow me on Instagram (@JoeyEspinosa), you've seen some recent posts tagged #100HappyDays. I don't know why other people have attempted this challenge, but I've done it to make myself recognize and appreciate small but enjoyable moments in my everyday life.

If you are like me, most of your days are in monotonous and tedious routines. Hey, life is difficult, and work is frustrating, and parenting is very hard and frustrating. I need to be reminded to enjoy the everyday happy moments.

Does this mean that every single day is overwhelmingly joyful? Not at all! But it does make me recognize that I have a choice of whether or not to look for joy, and it makes me realize that God constantly gives me "every good and perfect gift" (James 1:17).

Gifts like . . .

My students making superb grades

 

A sweet note from the boy I mentor



Teaching chess to kids at summer camp




My sons enjoying Star Wars and each other's company



Realizing I have a twin  (see above)

Free pizza



If you need a reminder of God's goodness in your life, maybe you should take the 100 Happy Days challenge. Every day, you can experience His good grace. Whether you do this challenge or not, look for it.

Related Links:

Becoming a Better Parent, from the Inside Out

Can a movie help you become a better parent? Even more, can a kids movie help you?
Movies have helped me other times, such as with Toy Story 3 and Willy Wonka. And it happened again recently, when I took my sons to see Inside Out, the latest Pixar movie.
(Disclaimer and shout-out: We rarely go to movies, but this movie was provided for free for us, and for all the patients of Palmetto Family Orthodontics.) 
How did this movie help me, and help me lead my family? We've started a new "tradition" -- sharing our feelings from the day, each evening at the dinner table.
(2nd disclaimer and shout out: This idea is also influenced by one of my favorite books I read this year, The Giver.)
Want to learn more about how God is helping me be a better parent, and what we are doing based on this movie? Check out my latest guest post on the Family Matters blog, How "Inside Out" Made Me a Better Parent.


Related Links:

Forgiveness, Patriotism, Heritage, and the Gospel


I love our family meal times. Not every meal time involves a serious discussion, but almost every Saturday morning I have been trying to focus my family on the Bible.

One of the themes that we've focused in on this past year is "Love God, Love Others." Some recent current events presented a great opportunity to explain Biblical forgiveness.

A few weeks ago, as I'm sure you know, Dylan Roof shot and killed nine people at a prayer meeting in Charleston, SC. Unfortunately, senseless murder is not too uncommon nowadays.

However the response by the remaining family members was striking. They offered forgiveness and prayed for God's mercy on him.



As a family, we discussed how we would feel if someone killed one of us. Sad. Angry. Upset. And those feelings are all valid.

Then I read Ephesians 4:32:
"Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." 

Paul makes it clear that our actions should not be dependent on our feelings. Our actions should flow out of our relationship with Christ. That is, our love for God is directly connected with our love for others. And love for others should know no bounds, even if those bounds involve hate-filled murder.

More Thoughts on the Charleston Shooting

Brandon Smith writes in Reflect Christ, Deflect Satan:
"The gospel frees us from our own interests. Christians have an obligation to love God and love others well precisely because of the cross."
And my friend Jim Taylor, before he preached a sermon that I really needed to hear, shared thoughts on the Charleston shooting:



 

On a Related Topic . . . 

If you've been following the story of this shooting (and probably even if you haven't), you know that our country is awash in a Confederate Flag controversy. Again. (Yes, I know that the flag is technically the Confederate Battle Flag.)

A few days after it began, I tweeted this late one night:

And then I followed up a few days later with a 1500-word expansion on that thought.

Now, as we are about to celebrate our nation's independence, I want to expand on that thought even more. It's not just "Southern Heritage" that Christians need to be careful of. We can put any other identity issue in that tweet as well.

Here are a few other variations you can try on for size:
Any Christian who puts his Patriotism over our identity and unity in Christ, tramples on the gospel.

Any Christian who puts his family ancestry over our identity and unity in Christ, tramples on the gospel.

Any Christian who puts his work or ministry over our identity and unity in Christ, tramples on the gospel.

Any Christian who puts his ethnic group over our identity and unity in Christ, tramples on the gospel.

Any Christian who puts his hobby over our identity and unity in Christ, tramples on the gospel.

Any Christian who puts his (________) over our identity and unity in Christ, tramples on the gospel.

Examine your heart. What could you fill in this blank with?

Remember, Christian, any freedom you have in your heritage is trivial compared to the freedom Christ brought for you.

These posts may help you think through why our Christian identity should matter so much:

Final Thoughts and Related Links

I encourage you to spend some time reading one or more of these links:

**image courtesy of melodi2 via rgbstock