Favorite Tweets from December

@BuzzFeed: Well played, Florida

It's the last day of 2013, and I'm thinking about my blog. And the warm weather I enjoyed in Florida. And these Tweets.

You should think about them, too.

Tweets From Others:

@LeeClampYou know what's worse than getting beat 5 years in a row by USC? Walking back to your car after watching it happen...wearing orange.

@PaulTrippThankfully God's commitment to us is based on his character and not on ours.

@RheTelBrianDough my bread, my uncooked bread. Ray, the guy that cooked the eggs. Me, the guy that cleaned my plate.  

@plonkertonsDon't listen to disagree or agree... Listen to Understand

@Rev_NoRespectA recent study shows that 0% of people repent because they were rebuked for saying "Happy Holidays!"

@LeadersServe: Focus on the pursuit not the outcome. 

@mbspannSC:  The Christian life is a perpetual state of dying to yourself so that your heart will flourish.  

@Gospel_Project“Cut the Bible anywhere, and it will bleed. The blood of Jesus stains every page.”

@JohnSowers:  The nativity scene is only part of the Advent vision. The cross also lies in the manger, alongside the scandalous Hope of redemption.

@ClintArcher The 9 words of Christmas: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1Tm1:15

Tweets From Me:

: "We should have more programs in the synagogue."

My main message for about 80 students: "Get up and do something."

15 minutes late & I'm still the first one here.  

"A man's responsibility in any environment should be to make it better." Bill White

"Inside the Box" // We don't value innovation as much as we say we do.

My 6 year old: "Those hash browns tasted like potatoes."

Little Guy, Big Mind

Today, my son Sender turns 7. It's funny to think that when we moved to Allendale, that Elijah was his age, while Sender was only 4. He was just a little dude!

Like Elijah, Sender reminds me of myself when I was his age. We look alike, he loves games (including video games). But he's better at sports than I was, and he works harder at household responsibilities than I did. Plus, he knows lots more about Jesus and God than I did until I was way older.

A few weeks ago, he wrote a song, probably during his afternoon rest time, where he reads and plays by himself. While the theology has room to grow, I love that he was thinking deeply about God during that time. And I thought the general message was a great reminder for us at Christmas.

Give all your strength and all your wealth
And you'll have Someone beside you.
Who is that? Jesus Christ!
He'll always be inside you.
He'll give you strength, he'll give you faith
So don't be afraid of anything.
Because Jesus is inside you.
So don't be afraid of anything.
Don't be afraid of anything.

To Sender -- I look forward to more of your fun (and your thinking) over the next year!

Related Links:

My Christmas Gift to Myself . . . and to My Family

Next week, I have one post scheduled for this blog, on Monday (for my birthday boy). Other than that, I'm taking a week off from blogging. This break is a gift to myself, and to my family.

Have a great weekend, a great week, and a very merry Christmas!

PS -- I trust that you are ok with this decision. I hope I didn't make you faint, like Mary did in this manger scene.

7 Inspiring Articles on Christmas

Unpacking treasures stored away for a year.

Now's the time of the year where every blogger writes about Christmas. And I'm no exception.

I'm sure you have seen and read plenty of Christmas articles over the past couple of weeks. But here are some more great articles (some from last year, and some from this year) that have helped me worship Jesus this Christmas.

The Scandal of the Incarnation.  "I’m glad that the Almighty God of the universe loved his people so much that he was willing to come in obscurity, to live in humility, and die shamefully so that we might be forgiven and have life to the full."

Christmas in a Cold Prison.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent the Christmas of 1943 in prison, and again in 1944. Commenting on this fact, Tony Reinke writes, "We can miss this meaning of Christmas if our celebration is only wrapped up in comfortable warm fires and the fellowship of friends and family. We can miss the memory of our desperation that required the Son of God to suffer for us. We can miss the personal desperation met in the manger. And we can miss out on the fellowship of his sufferings."

The Incarnation.  Not an article, but a beautiful 3-minute video by Odd Thomas. You can click on the link, or just watch it here:

3 Tips for Sharing Jesus with Others This Christmas.  Adam Ramsey reminds us that we are surrounded with opportunities to share the gift of the gospel. "Freely we have received. This Christmas, let’s freely give."

Five Things to Teach Your Children This Christmas.  "Christmas provides a wonderful opportunity to pour the truths of the gospel into the hearts of our children. It’s an ideal time to show them the greatest gift they could ever receive, the gift of Jesus Christ."

Why Jesus Came.  From an Advent devotion from John Piper, it's the entire mission of Jesus in two verses.

Jesus in Prison.  An excerpt of a sermon that a friend of mine gave in a young offender's prison. The gospel could not have been made more relevant.

Santa Is Not a Salvation Issue

A few days ago, a 5th grade boy told me that he was going on a diet. I asked him why, since he's an average-sized child. He said that a pastor told him and his mom, "You have to go on a diet for three days if you want to be in the presence of God."

I asked him a series of questions, trying to get him to think through this issue:
  • Does the Bible say that you have to diet in order to be near God? But the pastor said so.
  • What does the Bible say you have to do in order to be with God? Believe and do good works. (I ignored this last point, and emphasized the first part of the answer.)
  • So if a person says one thing, but the Bible says another, who or what should we trust? The Bible, but the pastor said that God has spoken to him.
  • How do you know that God has spoken to him? Because he can heal people.
  • Have you seen him heal people? No, but he's been all over the world healing people.
  • Can he heal my eyes so I won't need glasses any more? Or what about my fingers that were broken and healed crookedly? I don't know. I just know that he says I need to go on a diet so I can be in the presence of God.

Realizing that I had reached a limit in my questioning, and running out of time to talk with him, I very clearly explained that that "pastor" was contradicting the Bible. God would never give someone a message that goes against what He has given us in His word.

The boy's mom wasn't around, or I would have talked to her, too. I don't like to correct someone without giving them a chance to explain. But in this conversation about salvation, I felt compelled to contract lies and false teaching, and to preach the truth.

I used to see every topic as black-and-white, right-versus-wrong. But over the years, I've learned that not all issues are equally important to argue.

Is Santa a Lie?

Last year, Clint Archer outlined his case that parents should not lie about Santa Claus. I agree that we as parents must always be careful in the truths that we teach our children, and to say what we mean and mean what we say.

But I believe that the things we say are not nearly as important as the reasons we say them. The motive is more important than our method.

Lying is condemned in the Bible not merely for the act in itself, but for what that action usually represents -- a failure to trust God, and/or an unhealthy fear of others. In the case of Santa Claus, I think it's a sin to use the story of Santa to try to get kids to behave in a certain way.  ("Be good, or you won't get any presents!")

But what if a parent just uses the story of Santa just for the fun of it? Or even as a way to point to Jesus (see below for a link to a pro-Santa family's handling of Santa). Whether that is a good or poor decision is up for discussion, but at the least we could make a case that it does not encompass sinful motives (that is, a failure to trust God or an unhealthy fear of others).

And for all you anti-Santa families, please don't tell others that lies make baby Jesus cry, or that Santa is linked with Satan.

Our Method: No Santa

My wife and I have never "done Santa" -- not in the context of him coming down the chimney to deliver presents. That has been our choice, and I'm glad that we went that way.

But we must be clear that this is not a heaven-or-hell issue. We must be careful to not become arrogant, judgmental, and condescending in how we act towards others in the church (and definitely towards those who are not followers of Jesus). I know I've made this mistake in the past, responding to questions with a flat out, "We don't lie to our kids." Groan....

While we have made this choice, we have also been sure to teach our children that it is not their role to tell other children that Santa isn't real. (You can read more in Don't Kill Santa Claus.) For a young child, the parent is the spiritual authority, and I need to trust (and help, if possible) that the parent is leading his or her children.

(Note that when I corrected that 5th grade boy about how you get into the presence of God, I felt that was OK because that is a salvation issue.)

Friends Who Have "Done" Santa

Even though we never taught our kids that Santa was real, we have some great, Jesus-loving friends who have made the opposite choice. And do you know what I have noticed? That their kids are turning out fine. They are not scarred because "Mommy and Daddy lied to them," as many of us no-Santa families would have everyone believe would happen.

For more on how a Christian family has incorporated Santa into their traditions, check out Questions for a Santa Family -- Part 1 and Part 2.

Of First Importance 

The most important thing we need to do as Christian parents is help our kids believe in Jesus. But I haven't seen any evidence to support that teaching kids about Santa makes them more likely to doubt the truth about Jesus. It's an unfounded fear that us no-Santa people have.

If kids grow up in a home that is full of love, and where they see parents seeking and growing in Christ, they will overlook any of our sins -- lying, laziness, or whatever. At the least, they'll be able to view our choices and shortcomings in the view of the Gospel.

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,"
(I Corinthians 15:3-4)

Just Like Me

Introducing him to one of my favorite childhood games
Today is my older son Elijah's 10th birthday. Double-digits is big time.

What I've been thinking about lately is how much he reminds me of myself when I was his age:
  • enjoys reading
  • enjoys and is refreshed by sitting on his bed and reading a book
  • loves games, including chess and video games
  • probably plays video games too much (though I was worse)
  • loves (and is good at) science and math

He also has some advantages over me. I think he is definitely smarter than I was at his age. He and works harder than I did with household responsibilities.

We also have the same struggle with pride and self-focus. I am sure that I was much worse, and I still am.

When I see Elijah struggle with pride and selfishness, I am concerned because I've seen the damage it has done in my life and in the lives of those around me. When I see him struggle with this, I feel compelled to call him out, and to call him back to the gospel. I am teaching him truths (as I preach to myself), such as Proverbs 12:23.
"A prudent man conceals knowledge, 
But the heart of fools proclaims folly."

One other way that we are both alike. . . . As a child, I know I was loved, and he is loved as well. I love him enough to accept him unconditionally, just as he is (strengths and shortcomings and all), and I love him enough to help him become all that God wants him to be. I try to love him in this way, just as the Father loves me.

In giving me a son that is just like me in many ways, my heavenly Father has once again revealed Himself to me.

Does God Ordain Specific Roles in the Family?

Recently, I've come across some questionable teaching on what the Bible teaches about family (marriage and parenting). Most of the teaching has centered on what Paul wrote in his epistles, particularly in Colossians and Ephesians. I've heard these ideas from more than one source, and it led me to deeper reflection and study.

Like so much else on this blog, the following post is not so much intended to teach others some great truths, but a way for me to process and learn. Nonetheless, I hope this post can be helpful to some.

As I've dissected the questionable teachings / writings, I could categorize the principles in a four mis-truths, some of which you have probably heard, either in the church or in the culture. They are:
  1. The concept of specific roles is outdated and man-centered.
  2. We are called to mutually submit to each other.
  3. The key problem within families is that the individuals are shallowly connected to each other. 
  4. Our sin leads our kids to sin.
Having reflected on these ideas, below are my counter-arguments. For the purpose of this study, we will focus on Colossians 3:18-21.

18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

Roles Are Not Outdated, But Are God's Ideas

One person attempted to explain away the gender- and age-specific commands by pointing to verses 3:22 - 4:1. "This passage talks about slaves, and since we know that slavery is not a good thing, we have to reinterpret this passage."

Of course, such a cursory view of this passage's mention of slaves and masters involves unsound bible exegesis. The scope of this post is not to explain what slavery was like in biblical times, but let's at least agree that we can't brush it aside in a few seconds.

Furthermore, roles are not man-originated. Look at the Trinity -- the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. There are roles in the Trinitarian model of God: the Father sent the Son, and the Son obeys the Father, and the Spirit is sent out by both the Father and the Son. God puts a high value on roles, because roles are an essential part of who He is.

Family Members Are Not Called to Mutually Submit

In Ephesians 5, just before Paul writes to wives, husbands, children, and slaves (similar to his teachings in Colossians), he says to "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (v. 21). Some translations use submit in the place of be subject. Therefore, goes the false-teaching, the idea to submit to each other (Eph. 5:21) supersedes the idea of a wife submitting to her husband (v. 22).

The problem with this deduction is that the context before verse 22 is the church, not the family. Paul clearly teaches that there is a head to the family, and it is the father. The wife is commanded to submit to him.

This headship has been abused for centuries, and still is today. But that does not make it less of a command and ordination by God. Let's be clear that biblical headship (one role of a husband) is about responsibility, not tyrannical authority. However, it surely does include authority. In a two-person organization (such as a marriage), someone's vote logically has to carry more weight.

And let's be clear what the command to submit entails. This does not mean that the husband can command the wife to submit, or make the wife submit. The Greek word for submit is in a verb tense which means "wives, submit yourselves." When Paul (under the direction of the Holy Spirit) tells the wife to submit to her husband, he is speaking to her and her alone. 

Even worse is the attempt to try to explain that parents are called to be subject to their children. Parents are the God-ordained authorities over their children.

The Core Problem Is Vertical, Not Horizontal

When you look at families, especially families that are struggling (and aren't we all to an extent?), the main problem isn't that we fail to respect each other. The main problem is how we view Jesus and how we respond to Him.

Our motivation should not be to have better relationships or to have people treat us like we want to be treated. Our motivation should be to obey and trust Jesus, no matter how others treat us in return.

In the nine verses from Colossians 3:18 - 4:1, the "Lord" is pointed to at least seven times. Paul centers this passage in the perspective that how I treat my family and others is rooted in my relationship with the Lord, not in how I want them to respond.

Kids Sin Because They Are Sinners

Some say that our families are dysfunctional because parents are sinning against God, and this leads their children to rebel against God. This point is true, to an extent.

Does my sin affect my children, and model wrong behavior to them? Absolutely! But does my sin cause my kids to sin? No, they are sinners regardless of what I do. Their own sin nature causes them to sin.

This is a good thing for my kids. I am glad that their hope and salvation is not based on how well I parent, or they'd be in deep trouble!

Their hope (and mine) is based on a perfect Savior who made us (Genesis 1:27), who died for our sins (Romans 5:8), who was raised again to conquer sin and death (I Corinthians 15), and who sent His Spirit to live in all those who put their faith in Him (John 14:16-17).

What would you add to the idea of roles in the family?

Related Links:

**image courtesy of maddox74 via pixabay

Small Things in 2013

Sneak preview of my book

I'd like to say that I wrote a novel last month. But the truth is that I still have at least 10,000 words to go. The best laid plans of mice and men . . . .

Then again, even if I don't finish this book, or even if I limp across the finish line with "completed" book that never gets published, I'm better off for having attempted this goal. I'm a better person for having to focus on this task, for processing thoughts and for disciplining myself to do this. As author Max Lucado told Michael Hyatt, "You wanna' write? Then put your butt in that chair and sit there a long, long time."

I will put my butt in that chair this month and finish this book. Just so you know, it's a fictional story about a couple of young men (one black, one white) growing up in Allendale, SC. It's a story of hope and redemption, as their separate lives become intertwined. I'm calling it "A Companion of Fools."

There. Now that you know that much, I feel the pressure to complete it.

I'm not going to have any other "1 small thing" goal this month. I'm going to use that time to:
  • finish this book,
  • rest from 11 months of goals (see below),
  • plan my goals for 2014. 

Here's a quick review of what I did (or tried to do) each month in 2013, and how it affected me in the long-term:
  1. No sugar.  Made me more aware of my calorie intake, and how many foods have added sugar.
  2. Photo-a-day.  Kick-started my Instagram (@JoeyEspinosa) usage habit.
  3. 5000 pushups.  Finished with 5200. Was the first of several exercise-related goals.
  4. Lego-a-day.  My kids' favorite.
  5. Exercise every day in May.  My second exercise-related goal, which helped show me that I need to be taking better care of my body.
  6. 10 mindful minutes.  Complete failure. Let's keep moving . . . .
  7. Running a "marathon."  For someone who hates running, this was big. I still hate running, but I still am averaging 6-8 miles per week.
  8. Expand my taste palate. Better than my "no sugar" goal. But I'm fine with eating the same thing things as a routine.
  9. Washing dishes every day.  I've kept up this goal, just not every day. I will do more now that football is over.
  10. Positive reflections.  A good exercise for me to remind myself of.
  11. Writing a novel.  See above.

And for the record, we were 99% successful to keep our family goal of using no pennies. (I cheated some, but my wife cheated more.) We kept them in a tin container, and then rolled them up with our kids. We got a whopping $7. Our kids want to use that windfall (combined with $5 they won at Bingo the other night) to buy a gift for someone.

How did your goals for 2013 come along? Are you thinking of anything for 2014? Would love to hear from you in the comments.

Related Link: