Gardens of Home and Church


From J.D. Greear, God Uses Two Gardens to Grow Our Children --

The Home

"The home is the place where our kids will see the gospel lived out. It is where they see the unconditional love and forgiveness that flows from hearts touched by grace. It is as we do everyday life with our kids—cleaning the garage, driving in the car, going to bed—that we have the opportunities to apply the gospel to brokenness, pain, or conflict."

The Church

"Our kids need a “second family” to have a full sense of belonging and identity. They need mentors other than their parents to speak into their lives or for them to confide in. 

The church can’t make up for what isn’t happening in the home, but it can complement it."

I encourage you to read the full article.

Then read this book review of Connecting Church and Home.

**image courtesy of Tacluda via

The Gospel for Middle Schoolers (and You)

Last week, I talked about the importance of the "why" of the gospel. But because I'm a parent of a middle-schooler, and an almost-middle-schooler, and because I lead a group of 6th grade boys in my church's student ministry, I am still thinking about this issue.

In fact, it's on my mind so much, I wrote another guest post for Family Matters. I hope you'll check it out.

It's called Helping Middle School Students Understand the Gospel.

In this post, I break down the gospel message into three parts (and I think much more clearly than in last week's post), and talk about why we tend to gloss over two-thirds of that message.

By the time you finish, I hope that you'll come to a deeper understanding of why your child (or student) needs the gospel, and why you need it, too.

Read the article, and I'd love to hear your feedback and questions (either here, or on the Family Matters blog).

Related Links:

Parenting Articles and Resources

Harvard-bound? Not on his own, or even with only my help.
A list of resources for you. I think you'll find at least one or two to be interesting and helpful.

Earth-Bound Parenting (Paul Tripp). "In fact, if left to your own willpower and “righteousness”, you would choose earth-bound parenting 10 times out of 10. But don’t be discouraged by that statistic; the God who is speaking these words in Matthew 6 is speaking them with two feet on the ground. He left Heaven and came to earth to die for selfish, impatient and idolatrous parents like you and me."

It Takes a Village to Raise Kids (Jamie Ivey). Yes, fatherless children need mentors to be involved in their lives. But my children (and all children) need the same. "The more people in our kids’ lives that they trust and that are telling them the same truths we are, the better."

Using Guilt to Lead Kids to God (Jayson Bradley). Guilt may get short-term results, but it doesn't mean it should be a tool for long-term discipleship.

#HowToDad (General Mills). Yes, they are trying to sell you their product. But I still like this because of the positive message it portrays.

Don't Just Talk the Talk (Casey Lewis).  The author explains what it looks like to shepherd your family, and adds this exhortation: "Being a believer means we live according to God’s will; it means we walk the walk. So it doesn’t matter what you say. What matters is what you do."

Biblical Parenting: The Call to Formative Instruction (Tedd Tripp). The first of a three-part series. Tripp starts with the big picture, and then moves on to practical tips and ideas.

Cultivating Wonder in Our Children (Hannah Anderson). "We tend to believe discipleship happens through the accumulation of religious knowledge. A quick Google search for “children’s discipleship” brings back resource after resource — everything from catechisms to Bible memory systems to pint-sized devotional books – all promising to produce faith in the next generation of believers. What I rarely hear discussed is the necessity of discipling our children through “natural revelation.”"

Missing the "Why" of the Gospel

I have two questions for you: What is the gospel, and Why do we need to focus on the gospel?

The first question is probably the easier of the two, though not as easy as you may think. A couple of years ago, The Christian Century tried to see if the gospel message can be summarized in seven words or less. That wasn't conclusive, as you can imagine.

You could write an entire blog post about the definition of "gospel," and you'd still not be 100% complete and clear. In fact, the Gospel Coalition blog even had a series called Gospel Definitions

But for the purpose of this post, let's agree (I hope) that the gospel includes these points:
  • It's the good news (literally) of God's story of redeeming this broken world
  • The central act of God's story is the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah promised in the Hebrew scriptures.
  • It is an invitation for all people to put their trust in God for the forgiveness of sins.

Here is a great five-minute video that explains God's story in a simple framework of 3-2-1, and with a cool accent...

We could say so much more, . . . . Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

A Wrong Gospel

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time with children and students in church settings. For most children who have grown up in church, there is a problem of true gospel understanding. Many children (especially at a young age) equate the Christian life with a list of things to do and not do. And they measure their acceptance by God according to their keeping of the "rules."

This trust in a false gospel generally leads to one of three paths:
  1. Rejection of all the "trappings" of religion once they have the freedom to choose, such as when they go off to college. 
  2. Continual frustration and stress as they work harder and harder to earn the favor of God and of others.
  3. Repentance of their trust in this false gospel or works, and understanding that their acceptance by God is based on His grace. (Yes, I know we can argue God's sovereignty versus man's freewill, but let's not go there today.)
I pray that my children would embrace the third path. And I have to help them do so.

Want more? Check out these two short sermon snippets from Jeff Vanderstelt: How to Make Disciples and Everyone Is an Unbeliever.

So What?

As Christian parents, we spend a lot of time teaching the what of the gospel, but how much are we focusing on the "So what?" We often miss the question of why the gospel is so important.

Our children in preschool and grade school (and beyond?) can tell you all about what Jesus did, and what God calls us to do in response -- "go to church," "read the Bible," "pray," etc. But do they understand why that is so important?

(Of course, I'm counting my kids in the group as well. These are the questions that weigh on my soul.)

Our understanding and trust in the gospel must go beyond the facts about Jesus. They must lead us to pursuing and trusting in Jesus Himself. We don't just need to embrace the good news about Jesus, but we need to embrace what is so good about that news. The good news is only good when we understand how bad we are.

Pastor and theologian Thabiti Anyabwile gives a mild rant about this issue, and concludes with this,
I wonder if the cliff notes references to “the gospel” doesn’t blunt our understanding, meditation, application, and enjoyment of the incredible realities accomplished for us through the Son of God.  Are we inoculating people against the actual gospel with our frequent but unexplained references to “the gospel”?

Speaker and author Sally Lloyd-Jones reminds us,
"How do we give hope to children? When we take the focus on them and put it back on God where it belongs. . . .

Children don’t need to be told to try harder, believe more, do it better. That just leaves them in despair. The moral code always does.

We don’t need a moral code. We need a Rescuer."
Contrary to all our fix-it-now, formulaic approaches, the best we can do for our children (in our homes and our churches, in our communities and our world) is to simply tell the story of Jesus. Proclaim how great He is, and even as we invite them to trust and follow Him, they must understand that their lives are not about them, but about God. It's His Story, and there is only one Hero in the Story -- Jesus.

So what is the why of the gospel? The whole point of this good news is to make me realize how great Jesus is, and to make me realize how much I need Him.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."  Romans 1:16


If you are like me, you'll want to add "be gospel-centered" to the list of things we need to do, as if it were a formula towards spiritual success. Just because we label something with the "gospel" doesn't mean it really is, and just because something isn't labeled with that term doesn't me it isn't.

For more about the concerns and benefits of the gospel label, read Tim Challies' excellent article The Gospel-Centered Everything.

But on a positive note, I'll conclude with these words from John Piper
“Parents teach your kids the gospel is not just something that begins the Christian life but empowers it, shapes it and sustains it. Pray, love, correct and demonstrate the love of God to your kids until he draws them they respond and He becomes their treasure and their great reward.”

Related Links:

**image courtesy of Phaewilk via morgueFile

Wild at Heart [Book Review]

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
Thus read, according to legend, Ernest Shackleton's recruiting pitch when he was looking for men to join and expedition to transverse Antarctica.  
Whether or not this story is true, I believe that men want an adventure. They are designed and called to pursueprovide, and protect (as I wrote in Men Must Pursue). 
Or as he framed it in his book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge says that men innately have the desires for: 
  1. A battle to fight
  2. An adventure to live
  3. A beauty to rescue
An older book which I had on my shelf for years, I had heard some negative comments about this book. But even though I disagreed with some of Eldredge’s ideas, Wild at Heart challenged my thinking and my actions about manhood.

First Impressions

My initial hesitations about this book began even before I read it, based on feedback I received from friends. And from the first few pages (and throughout), I was turned off by how Eldredge stretches (or even twists) Biblical truths.
Here are a few examples:
  • Men should love the wilderness because Adam was created in the wilderness (pp. 3-4). I’m not sure Genesis 1-2 supports this.
  • Turning the other cheek can’t be done if you don’t fight back (pp. 78-79). I’m not opposed to fighting to defend oneself or others. But Eldredge uses human reasoning (and not great logic, at that), instead of biblical exegesis, to support this idea.
  • God was disappointed with Bathsheba (p. 190). Eldredge bases this merely on the fact that her name isn’t listed in Matthew 1.
So, I wouldn’t take Eldredge’s words as “the bible,” because 1) it’s not, and 2) he misuses the Bible. Nonetheless, found this book incredibly helpful for me in my growth as a man – as a husband, father, friend, and minister.

Spurred On
“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:24
The word stimulate in this verse can also be translated provoke or irritate . Basically, we are called to spur each other on to great things, much as a cowboy used his spurs to make his horse run faster. Wild at Heart was definitely a spur in my side.
As I read this book, I had to get past how much it caused me to bristle. As Eldredge talks about his adventures in the wilderness, I wanted to shout out, “But I hate camping! I hate roughing it. Does this make me less of a man? Is manhood measured by fishing and hunting and the number of nights spent in a sleeping bag?”
Of course, not. And it is only later in the book that Eldredge is clear about this. At the least, I am glad that I had these provoking ideas. My passive and fearful nature wanted to get defensive. But I had to calm down, and ask myself a lot of questions. I realized that I don’t get to define manhood, any more than Eldredge does.
Only God gets to define manhood. My identity must rest in Him alone.

The Gospel and Manhood
The turning point for my connection with this book came in chapter 6, “The Father’s Voice.” Here, Eldredge points the reader to the big picture of God’s story. God created the world, and He is actively redeeming and sustaining it. And as we live our lives, He is working to crush our false sense of self. We cannot achieve the fullness of manhood unless we accept and trust in our identity in Him.
“The history of man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out, takes him on a journey and gives him his true name.” (p. 103)
Any encouragement I received in chapter 6 vanished in chapter 7, “Healing the Wound.” Don’t get me wrong – I thought this chapter was solid theologically. But really, who likes thinking about their past wounds and hurts?
I realize that I have wounds that I have not fully dealt with. They still hold me back and hurt me. I realize that I am often full of emptiness, and the fear of failure, and the shame of past failure. I still struggle with admitting that I am weak and needy, such as when I nearly drowned when I was on a mission trip, because I was too ashamed to ask for help. (And afterwards, I felt ashamed for needing help, and then ashamed for being ashamed. Grrrrr.)

The Conclusion
Maybe wilderness-averse guys like me need to be a little more wild at heart . And maybe some naturally-wild guys need to take the advice of Jeremy Whitebol (in Wisdom in Manhood) and “be quiet, grow up, listen up, and get to work.”
No matter how much (or how little) I agree with Eldredge about his ideas about biblical manhood, I am glad I read this book. By bristling against my own notions, and by digging into some unhealed wounds, Wild at Heart has done the greatest thing I could have asked for. . . .
This book has helped me realize how much I need Jesus and the Holy Spirit to change me, so that I can be the complete man – and husband, father, friend, and minister – that God has called me to be.
**image courtesy of tpsdave via pixabay

Favorite Tweets from August

About 8 years ago, we had this picture taken for our church photo directory. Our third child, Sender, was only a few months from being born.

Due to the church growth -- both in the number of new families and in the number of babies being born -- this directory was very quickly out-of-date.

Here's to great memories!

And here's to some of my favorite tweets from the past month:

From Others:

@TolkienProverb"A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it." - J.R.R. Tolkien - The Children of Húrin

@mitchmillermeGive everything 100%. Except when you donate blood.

@RaviZachariasIs there enough evidence to believe in the existence of God, or is it too much of a stretch?

@MikeGlennJesus left us no loopholes. Obedience to Him is total -- no exceptions, no excuses... 

@PaulTrippYes, you are called to worship God above all else. No, God will not reject you in that moment when an idol grips your heart.

@HomesofHopeSCBig thanks to the 6th graders from 1st Presbyterian helping us do some landscaping at Chicora Crest!

@ASCDRegardless of what you teach, try beginning each lesson like with some sort of attention-getting statement:

@MarkMerrillParenting requires prayer, patience, and perseverance.


From Me:

"The great irony of minimalism is ... it still makes stuff the focus of your life!"

Had a good morning working with neighbors in a neighborhood yard day. And met some cool folks from @HomesofHopeSC

"I will pray that my heart will mourn with , & that I will be broken for the things that break God’s heart."

God used this mission trip to help her grow in Christ and in community.  

Do Your Children Labor?

Earlier this month, government officials in Canada ordered a farm to stop using child labor. But this isn't your typical case of exploitation.

The children in question were the children of the farm owners. That's right -- what may be considered household responsibilities or chores, was now deemed illegal.

(After a large public outcry, the decision was reversed.)

Here's a great commentary on Canada's child labour pandemic. (It's a joke! And you'll love it.)

For more on responsibilities (and allowances), check out this post.

I hope you have a restful Labor Day weekend!