Favorite Tweets for January

I've been using a journal from Art of Manliness, trying to follow Ben Franklin's model of strengthening my virtues.

Yes, it's quite depressing. That is, I realize I'd be completely hopeless in life if I had to rely on my own ability to be a moral person.

Well, at least I had these tweets from the past month.

From Others:

@PlatoQuote Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.

@JeffGoinsWhen you seek out criticism are you genuinely wanting to grow or are you just looking to confirm your insecurities?

@MarkMerrill:  One of the best things you can do for your children is to love your wife. 

@theresaromero87:  To devalue any human being is to deny their intrinsic worth as a fellow image-bearer of the Creator. 

@plonkertonsFor the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining

@PaulTrippThere's a lot of failure in your track record, but your security isn't in your success, but in the successes that Jesus achieved for you.

@follymiscreantA great part of wisdom is figuring out which people are best left ignored.

@StudentsFirstSCRecruiting teachers to areas is critical for improving student performance.


From Me:

Black lives matter because black people are persons, made in God's image.

I do NOT regret eating at Jack in the Box tonight. Only because I witnessed a near-fight between a customer and an employee.

Almost done with week 1 of my Ben Franklin virtues journal, from . 12 wee...

I'm all for raising the minimum wage to help working families. But I don't think a teenager MUST make $15/hour.

You know you're out of shape when you get sore just by being a substitute teacher in PE for 2 days.

Through , 477 adults are serving as in ! But 293 more are needed. Will you be a part?

Teaching Theology to Your Children

Aaron Earls gives 5 Simple Ways to Teach Your Kids Theology:
  1. Read the Bible 
  2. Read other books together 
  3. Pray intentionally 
  4. Talk about entertainment  
  5. Model it

Be sure to read the full article. As Earls writes:
"It is our job as parents to teach our children theology. It can be intimidating, but it doesn’t require a seminary degree. You can help your kids know and love Jesus more."

Of course, teaching truth is one thing. But we must go a step further. Randy Alcorn writes,
"Teaching our children the truth is absolutely necessary, but it is not sufficient. The solid foundation for a life is not just hearing the words of God, but doing them (Matthew 7:24-27). By our own example as their parents, we must teach our children God’s truth, demonstrating it in application and obedience."

In this article, Alcorn uses the framework of Micah 6:8, to guide us in teaching our children how to act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly before God. And then he gives a practical idea using the book of Proverbs.

So, Parents, be sure that you are teaching theology to your children, in word and in action.

And for more reading on this topic, check out:

Book Review: Real Marriage

Real Marriage (by Mark & Grace Driscoll) was the best book on marriage that I read in 2014.

It was the only marriage book I read last year.

This book has been highly controversial in Christian circles, but I can't help but think that it also has been very helpful to so many. And I was personally challenged and encouraged with some new thoughts.

Intrigued? Check out my guest post on Brave Reviews

Will Our Children Resent Our Ministry?

On Monday, we are starting a new after school program in our community. Engaging and helping children has been a significant part of lives over the past four years. In fact, this will be the third after school program we've helped launch in that time. (You can read about the first and second, both in Allendale, SC).

While we are excited about this starting up, we know it won't always be easy for our family. This two-day-a-week program will occur on the busiest days of the week for our family. (We chose those days because they were best for the community). I know there will be times when we (me, my wife, and our kids) just won't feel energized about it.

When it comes to ministry, I think that's a common feeling. If you are never worn out and stretched by ministry, then it probably means you aren't sacrificing enough.

Of course, you could feel stretched and still not be sacrificing enough, but that may mean that you have things in your life that need to go, so that you can do more ministry (inside and outside of the church). We have had to say "no" to some good opportunities for our children, since they might distract us from our core calling to serve others.

If you are a parent, you know that time is a precious resource. You probably ask questions like . . .
How do I balance my time between family and ministry? 
What do I do with my kids? Should they be involved in my ministry? 
How will all my ministry affect my children? Will they become bitter and resentful?

How should we answer these valid concerns? 

Biblical Principles

Before I give the benefits of letting your children suffer and struggle in ministry, let me make a couple of over-arching statements:
  1. Jesus (or Paul or any New Testament writer, for that matter) never taught us to balance our time. Jesus asks for 100% of our life. Yes, we should get rest and downtime, but that has more to do with pursuing God than it does with our family's recreation. 
  2. Family does trump ministry, to an extent. This may seem contradictory to the first point. But the issue here is motive. You need to ask why you are involved in a certain ministry? Is it because of self-satisfaction or praise from others? Or maybe it's a fear of man issue (as I struggle with), so that I labor because I don't want others to think less of me. When I was on staff at our church, the leaders regularly emphasized that our work as pastors was subordinate to our roles as husbands and fathers.

The Blessings in the Struggle

That being said, let me outline a few ways that your children will benefit for having to sacrifice and struggle.
  1. They will be able to obey God's call, in that we are to serve others. Jesus models the perfect example of serving (Mark 10:45) and being sent by God (John 6:57). By following His example, our children get the opportunity to be God's image-bearers.
  2. They will begin to discover and utilize the gifts that God has given them. By us working with children, our daughter has realized how much she enjoys the same. She has become more skilled and nurturing in this process. Now, as she uses these gifts, she can show others how she is God's masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10).
  3. They will learn that life doesn't revolve around them. Every time our children sacrifice, we remind them that their lives are to be about Jesus, not about themselves. They learn that working hard and blessing others is reward enough.
  4. They will be able to serve alongside us, or at least see us serve. When we were in Allendale, the Best Part of My Job was that our family was together all the time at my job, at our ministry. And even if you must serve without your children, it's good for them to miss you some.
  5. They will have the chance to build their own relationships. They will get to be someone else's friend, and they will give others the chance to be their friend. When we told our kids that we would be leaving Allendale, they were deeply sad, because of the friends they made. They truly engaged and connected with their community.

Ministry is a discipleship issue. In sacrificial service, we are able to help our children know Christ more and grow more like Him.

And along the way, we parents get the same blessings.

Your Turn . . .

I’d love to hear your comments or questions, on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments section.  

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Top Books I Read in 2014

Last year was a good reading year for me. I started reading 27 books, and finished 24 of them. (Two were in progress, and I had to quit a terrible devotional -- odd for me, since I can endure a lot.)

Of the 24 books I finished, 4 were re-reads. Years ago, someone explained to me the power in mastering a few books, as opposed to reading widely but shallowly. I don't go to that extreme, but I try to temper a breadth of knowledge with a depth of knowledge.

Old Favorites

The four books that I re-read were:

New Fodder

Of the 20 books that I read for the first time, 9 were fiction. I can't remember the last time I read 9 fiction books in one year. I really enjoyed reading books for the pure story of it. A couple of these books -- Frankenstein (Shelley) and Cannery Row (Steinbeck)-- were classic works for adults, and the other seven were children's books. (More on this below.)

Well, that narrows down the remaining eleven books to non-fiction that I read for the first time. Of those eleven, here are my favorite, all of which I highly recommend:
  1. The Weight of Mercy (Deb Richardson-Moore). Changed my views of this church in Greenville, and about ministry to homeless people.
  2. United (Trillia Newbell). Provoked me to think about diversity in the church, or the lack thereof.
  3. Transformed (Caesar Kalinowski). You can't read this and not be challenged to live more missionally.
  4. Through Gates of Splendor (Elisabeth Elliot). I read this because a respected mentor said, "Every Christian needs to read this book." He was right. I was inspired by her story, and by another mission biography I read, a student's version about Corrie Ten Boom.
  5. The War to End All Wars (Russell Freedman). For the first time ever, I understand World War I.

A Great Story for Kids, and for You

Years ago, I read some of the Chronicles of Narnia books to my kids, my third time reading them. And a couple of years ago I read The Hobbit to them, also for the third time. (Wow -- I just realized how many times I've read books three times.)

Since I was their age, I have been captivating by the power of a good story, especially when that story involves a fantasy world. And this interest has been rekindled in me by their own enjoyment of those types of stories.

Based on a strong recommendation from a friend, I started reading the Wingfeather Saga, a 4-part series by Andrew Peterson. I loved it, and my older two children devoured them, too. It has been fun to connect with them over the stories in these books.

What's so great about it? Imagine the Chronicles of Narnia, but easier to read and with giggle-inducing moments on every page. If your children enjoy adventure stories, you must get these books into their hands! And do yourself a favor, and read this series for yourself, too.

Get lost in this adventure.

Do You Have a Reading Plan for 2015? 

One obstacle to reading goals (like any goals) is the failure to have a plan. Jon Acuff explains why he only read a dozen books in 2014, and gives 4 Ways to Read More Books. Additionally, in another post he explains that reading isn't enough. We need to engage with and be changed by the books we read.

Do you have a reading plan for this coming year? Based on a suggestion from Darcy Kimmel, I have a spreadsheet to track my progress. I have 10 columns, each headed with a different genre of books, plus one column to track my re-reads. I will read at least one book from each of these categories, and plan to read at least 20 books in 2015.
  1. Parenting
  2. Marriage
  3. Theology
  4. Spiritual Growth / Gospel
  5. Missional / Evangelism / Church
  6. Leadership
  7. Culture / Education
  8. Biography/ History
  9. Classic Fiction
  10. Modern Fiction / Children's Fiction

Let's hear from you:

What great book(s) did you read in 2014? What is on your list for 2015?

I’d love to hear your comments or questions, on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the comments section.  

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Loving My Family

Two questions have been dominating my mind over the past few months:
  1. How do I love God more? 
  2. How do I love others more?
I have been thinking and communicating about these two goals for 2015. I already wrote about how I'm working to know and love God more. I started with that because my love of others must flow out of my love of God.

"Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other."  (I John 4:11)

While this seems simple enough, I really struggle with it. Being a task-oriented person, I am constantly striving to get stuff done. And who do I fail to love more than any other group of people? My family.

I take my family for granted. I am selfish and lazy. I am unkind and impatient. 

Do you ever feel the same way? Maybe not. If you love your family well, you won't need to read my latest articles on the Family Matters blog

But if you struggle to show love to those closest to you, you may want to click over and read. I had a lot to confess and say -- so much so, that it had to be split up. 

Click over to read Part 1 and Part 2. I'd love it if you did.

Loving God in 2015: Bible and Prayer

Last week, I wrote about my non-specific goals for 2015: to love God and to love others more. Sounds vague, but I have a semblance of a plan to grow in both of these areas.

And as Logan Gentry writes in The One Thing You Need for a Missional 2015, loving God (such as through a Bible reading plan) must come before loving others.

Loving God More 

"He who does not long to know more of Christ, knows nothing of him yet."  Charles Spurgeon 
To love God more, I have to know Him more. And to know Him more, I need to pursue Him through reading the Bible and praying. It's not complicated.

Bible Reading

Many Christians focus on plans that help you finish reading the Bible in a year. I've done this a handful of times in my life. I'm glad I've done it, and may do it again in the future, but I have found that the drive to finish this task distracts me from the main purpose: to know God more.

So, I've also done modified these 1-year plans, to read the Bible over 2 or 3 years. (I've done each of those a few times each, so that I've read through the Bible at least 8 or 9 times in the past 19 years since I've been a Christian.)

If you want one of these plans, Justin Taylor gives some good suggestions. Over the past two years, I read through the Bible chronologically, which has been my favorite way to read it. It has helped me see the Bible as God's unfolding story of redemption.

Not wanting to get in a rut (yes, I can get in a rut with my ritual Bible reading), I wanted to do something different his year. I'm not going to work through the entire Bible this year, but will focus on specific books and readings.

Here's the new plan, of what I'll work through this year:
  • I've bought each of my kids a Bible, and will continue writing in each one. In this, I get to study for myself, and to pass on my insights to them over the next 5 or 10 years. Here's what I'm currently working on:
    • Hannah: The Gospel of John. I've already finished Philippians and Esther in her Bible. After John, I'll go back to the Old Testament book of Ruth. 
    • Elijah:  I recently finished Galatians in his Bible. I'm working on Daniel, and then plan to work through Matthew. 
    • Sender:  I just started his Bible, by reading and writing in Genesis. Then, I plan to tackle Revelation. He's our little warrior, and this is one of his favorite books. 
  • In an effort to deepen my familiarity of different books, I'm also going to try this idea: read a book of the Bible 20 times. Of course, depending on the length of the book, this could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks (or months!). I will start with the three letters of John, and see how it goes. If you are looking for something different, this could be a growth-causing exercise for you.
  • Also for myself, I've been studying the book of Hebrews over the past couple of years, reading and re-reading it with different focuses and perspectives. As I have time, I'll keep studying this book. 
  • Last year, I engaged in the sermons from our church by using the provided weekly reading plans. I'm not sure if I'll have the margin to follow this as well, but I recommend trying it if you never have. 
  • I also bought a copy of The Story. Not sure when I'll squeeze this in to my morning readings, so I may make it just one of the books I read this year.

As you can see, I have more than enough ideas to keep me busy. How will I work through it all? I'll read each one for a few days (such as one of my kid's Bibles), and then switch Bibles. I think this will help keep God's word fresh for me.

It's not the most regimented plan I've ever had, but I think it will be a good change of pace for me.

More than anything, I need to remember that the goal isn't to work through the Bible, or through a book of the Bible. The goal is to know my Lord more intimately.

David Mathis writes that Bible Reading is an Art, not just a method or science. This is a great reminder, especially if you feel overwhelmed or have already fallen behind in your Bible reading plan.

The point is just to read the Bible. Don't focus on how much or how fast. Focus on the pleasure and art of knowing God more.
"So, here at the outset of a new year, if you feel uncomfortable in the Scriptures, and inadequate in the art of Bible reading, the single most important thing you can do is make a regular practice of reading the Bible for yourself. There is no substitute for a few focused minutes each day in the text. You may be surprised how much the little bits add up in the long haul."
Do you want more in depth study? Check out this resource which provides a summary for all 66 books of the Bible.


Bible reading is easy for me. It's a habit that I developed over the years. Getting up and reading my Bible first thing in the morning is a no-brainer (and because it's often a "no-brainer," I get into those undesirable ruts).

Prayer, on the other hand, is a struggle for me. And that's not good. I don't want to be content being a non-pray-er. My independence from God is a sin against Him, as it shows my arrogance and self-sufficiency.

I don't think I'm alone in this. As Jonathan Parnell writes, "Every Christian wants a deeper life of prayer in this new year." Do you agree?

The question is, "How will we get there?" Or maybe it's, "Will I be committed to prayer?"

I will. Or, I'll try. I'll probably fail, but the God who loves me will keep reminding me, and pursuing me.

So what will I do?
  • Do the ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) method at least 3 days a week during my morning quiet times.
  • Pray with my wife more. Considering how little I did this last year, this goal should be easy. 
  • I may use the PrayerMate app. However, I try to avoid relying on my smartphone for my spiritual formation, since I usually wind up getting distracted. You may find it helpful, though.

Loving Others More

"If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing."  I Corinthians 13:2
As far as my second goal for 2015, to love others, I don't have any specific ideas. Well, I have some ideas for loving my family, and I will write about those later in the week.

But on this note, and at the risk of referring to another article by Desiring God, here are some great thoughts from Jon Bloom, in Seven Resolutions to Pursue Love in 2015:
  1. Resolve to remember the power of the evil one. 
  2. Resolve to assume the best in others. 
  3. Resolve to pursue reconciliation quickly. 
  4. Resolve to not gossip. 
  5. Resolve to forgive. 
  6. Resolve to kill resentment. 
  7. Resolve to remember the gospel. 
We would all do well to make these resolutions.

I'm trying something new . . . 
I’d love to hear your comments or questions, on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the comments section.  

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**image by David Ball (Original work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Our Top Family Moments from 2014

My daughter, Hannah, has a gut feeling that 2015 won't be that great. This is odd for her, since she's such an optimist.

We'll have to come back to this post in 11 or 12 months, to see if my daughter's hunch was accurate. But for the record, she may be correct. Compared to a wonderful year we had in 2014, this next year may not seem special.

Don't agree? Well, here is just a small sample of our family's favorite memories from last year (in chronological order):

Allendale Robotics Team qualifying for the State Championship.

Two weeks of ice storms, the first of which led my sons and I to play chess and eat dinner with our Chinese friends.

State FLL Robotics Tournament. We didn't win anything, but it was a great experience for all the students.

Our family's third year performing in Salkehatchie Stew. (The 2nd year for Sender. Still zero for me.)

Our third annual Elevate Spring Break Camp.

Family trip to Washington, DC.

STEAM Camp in Allendale (all our kids), and Elijah (and other Allendale students) going to Camp Grace camp in Greenville.

Our final field trip (to Charleston) with students from Allendale and Grace Church. I've lived in South Carolina for 27 years and it was my first time ever on the USS Yorktown.

Leaving Allendale to move to Greenville. It was a moment of Sweet Sorrow.

Hannah's Greenville Mission Trip.

A trip back to Allendale.
Hannah becoming a teenager!!!!

Family vacation to Dollywood / Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg.

Celebrating Joanna's 40th birthday.

Getting away with Joanna for our 15th anniversary (at a bed-and-breakfast outside of Asheville).

Hannah getting her ears pierced.

Celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas (and Hanukkah, for that matter) without having to travel to Greenville.

End of year trip to Savannah to see family and friends. 

Yes, 2015 has a lot to live up to!

Goals for 2015

I love accomplishing tasks. At the end of the day, I feel good when I have knocked out all most of my to-do list. You may be like me, and I assume I'm not much different than most people in this area.

I am rarely satisfied with my performance or with how I view the world around me. This is good in that I am driven to work and to make things better. This is bad in that my heart struggles to rest and find contentment.

That being said, my list of goals / resolutions for 2015 will be . . . nothing.

Well, not really nothing. But close enough for me.

Putting Aside Myself

I was all set to make some new goals for 2015. I had a list of ideas that I pulled from other blogs that I follow. If you knew my Small Things goal (2013) and my New Skills goal (2014), you would not be surprised.

I am not turning anti-goals. I think goals and resolutions are helpful. As Christina Fox wrote, "We ought to be purposeful, intentional, and determined in the way we live." And in 2015, I will continue to aim to live intentionally and purposefully.

However, I noticed over the past couple of years that my goals have become too much of a focus for me. I don't regret what I've done, as my goals have stretched me in new ways (and have provided fodder for discussion among my family and friends).

I just feel like I need to get my focus off myself.

My Goals

It's not like I am giving up on goals. I expect that next year (or the following), my pendulum will swing the other direction and I'll get full blast back into specific, measurable, and challenging goals.

And it's not like I'll be doing nothing at all. I will, in fact, work on two things in my life, stemming off of my desire to focus my family on the Bible. I will strive to love God and love others.

I'll write more about this in the future, of how I plan to live out love. But here is the sneak preview of what I'm thinking:
  • Love God:  This will be focused on my Bible reading plan, and on prayer
  • Love Others:  More than anything, I have been realizing that I need to love my family (my wife and kids) more. And I also need to grow in my love for my church, my neighborhood, and my community.

That's it. That's my focus for 2015: Love God and Love Others. Simple for me, and powerful by the grace of God.
"And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself."   (Mark 12:30-31)

One More Tool 

This isn't really a goal, but I wanted to try something else to challenge me. I will be be using a journal (from the Art of Manliness) that will mimic Benjamin Franklin's pursuit of the virtuous life. Of course, I disagree with Franklin's philosophy that we can make ourselves to be morally-perfect people purely by our own efforts. But I also know that we are called to aim for holiness (Matthew 5:48; I Peter 1:16).

I bought the journal inserts (not the leatherbound version), and will follow this 13-week plan. Please feel free to ask me how it's going, since we all need encouragement and accountability.

What about you? Do you have any goals / resolutions / plans for 2015? I'd love to hear in the comments below.

Photo credit: Lυвαιв / iW / CC BY-NC-SA

Top Posts in 2014

Happy New Year!

I'm easing my way back into blogging, after a nice blogging break. To get myself (and you) ramped back up, here's a quick recap of the past year of blogging. Did you miss any of these posts?

Here are my top 5 posts from this blog in 2014:

#5.  Roe v Wade: Do Your Really Believe What You Say You Believe?  Years ago, a man in our church shocked me when he said, "Most people who say they are pro-life really aren't. They are just anti-abortion." I was challenged by his assertion, and I hope you are, too.

#4.  Celebrating Passover as a Messianic JewCan you be Jewish and a follower of Jesus? Of course! And here is one reason it is meaningful to me.

#3.  Common Core Is NOT the Common ProblemTo some, this was controversial. But I also received a lot of support about this post. For more thoughts on politics and education, check out My Thoughts on the Upcoming Elections.

#2. "How Do You Know that Jesus Is Real?"  A question one of my sons asked me a couple of years ago.

#1.  Teaching Preschoolers About the Crucifixion?  Another archived post (from 2011), I think this one (along with the above post) gets a lot of interest because evangelical parents are looking for ideas to communicate theological issues to their young children. 

Another Blog

And though my Mission: Allendale blog has been static since August, I still get some traffic there, as I close in on a not-too-shabby 50,000 page views there. On that note, here are the 5 most popular posts on that blog over the past year:

#5.  How Would You Define (and Solve) Poverty?  Like with #1 (see below), I go back to this post and this book over and over. Have you read it?

#4.  Financial Demise in AllendaleA sad story, not just about an institution, but about a mindset.

#3.  Does Poverty Affect Life Expectancy?  A post from 2013, it still brings up an important truth: “Living in a high-poverty area often means a lifetime of struggle with underperforming public schools, limited job opportunities, higher crime rates, and poor nutrition, health care and housing — all of which can add up to a shorter, sicker retirement.”

#2.  The Big AnnouncementOur family spent months wrestling over the next step that God had for us. And apparently, other people wanted to know, too; when I published this, it was the highest ever single-day traffic on this blog. (In January, I tried to answer the FAQ: Where Are You Going Next?)

#1.  Feeling the Pain of a Fatherless Generation: Angry BoysSince I wrote this 2.5 years ago, it's been the most popular post. I go back to these thoughts (and the book I stole them from) over and over.

Happy reading!

**image courtesy of rkirbycom via rgbstock.com