Favorite Tweets for June

Though I have had a Twitter account (@EspinosaJoey) since October 2009, I only started using it a few months ago. Social media like Twitter has helped me stay connected, especially since being in Allendale can feel isolating and lonely.

For those who don't follow me on Twitter (yet), here are some of my top tweets for the past month (chronological order, from oldest to newest):
  1. Eating less + a job where I run around with dozens of kids everyday = I look much better in a bathing suit.
  2. Congratulations to Subway. Voted Best Franchise in . They beat out Hardee's and ... well, that's the only other franchise.
  3. Conversation with an resident at the Barn Party: "My dad says I have 21 siblings, but I've only met 14." 
  4. The opportunity to be a part of God's kingdom is ALWAYS connected to sacrifice.
  5. "We are seeing here a manifestation of Ephesians 4. We are God's coat of many colors." Joe Mole at Vision Ministries
  6. Talking about at lunch. Our 4 year old says: "I pass gas on the toilet."
  7. I like that (Hannah Swoap) just referred to our house in as "home."
  8. Loved having 2 extra guests stay with us last night. That makes 8 people in our 3-bed, 1-bath home in .
  9. Book Mobile in #AllendaleSC!! http://twitpic.com/5ez5re 
  10. Storefront worship with members from Vision Ministries and students from .
  11. the of . The community gathering spot for the morning. / That's why I love it here!
  12. With Fairfax Baptist for ICMP workshop. They are thinking about the direction they need to take for the next 5 years and more. Exciting! 
  13. Today, I lost my first footrace at the Boys & Girls Club, to a barefoot 15-year-old boy.
  14. 14 kids and 6 adults in our house in . They (and at least 3 others) are staying for dinner. Party!!  
  15. Worker at dinner told me that I look like I'm good at math. She's working on her GED. Long story short, I wound up checking her HW.

Which is your favorite?

      Big Opus in Brazil

      I have known Lee Cunningham for close to 15 years now. He was working for a campus ministry that I got involved with when I was at Furman. I've enjoyed his friendship, and I've enjoyed being able to worship with him.

      He taught me to wake-board. We've played ultimate frisbee together. He's better than me at both these things.

      We've eaten at Cracker Barrel after being on the lake all day. I'm better at eating than he is.

      I'm very excited about his next step in ministry; he's about to move to Brazil to help with a new church and a campus ministry. Watch this video to learn more:

      You can find out more information on his FAQ page. Then, consider supporting him financially. As you can see on his financial info page, he would love to have you on his team, and I believe you would be making a worthwhile investment.

      Recommended: Age of Opportunity

      Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, Second Edition (Resources for Changing Lives)Though I have had Paul Tripp's book Age of Opportunity on my shelf for years, I have put off reading it. After all, the subtitle for the book is "A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens," and I am years away from having a teenager, right?

      But, then it hit me that Hannah will soon turn 10, and the teen years are not that far off. Even more, preparing for the teen years is not about just flipping a switch one night. Helping our kids transition (and going through that transition ourselves) requires years, not months or days.

      Time to get cracking.

      The premise of the book is that whereas the culture teaches us that the teen years are to be dreaded, where all you can do is hold on and try to make it past by without killing each other, God wants us to have a vastly different perspective. Tripp writes that these teen years give us incredible opportunity to point our children to the sufficiency and power of Jesus and the message of the gospel. It's not a time to throw our hands up in despair, but to get on our knees in praise and prayer.

      As a primer to you reading this book, here is what the Bible teaches about children, as Tripp explains in Chapter 3 "What is a family? A Definition" --
      1. Children Are Covenantal Beings.  Children are made for a relationship with God, but ill choose to either worship and serve God, or other idols.The question is not if a child will worship, but what he will worship.
      2. Children Are Social Beings.  Not only are children created for a relationship with God, but they are created for relationships with others. (And we all have an innate need to be connected to others.) But because of sin, loving others (such as friends and siblings) seems like a radical idea.
      3. Children Are Interpreters.  "We need to teach them to see life from God's perspective." We help shape their worldviews not from rare and long lectures, but in the mundane moments of life. As Tripp also wrote, "Parenting: it's never an interruption."
      4. Children Behave Out of the Heart.  Parents must move beyond getting their children to just do what is right. While this is crucial at young ages, it cannot be our goal when they are teenagers. What they do, say, and think are overflows of what it is their heart (Luke 6:43-45). This is a key difference between Biblical parenting and Gospel parenting.

      This book will not only help you expose and deal with the idols in your child's heart, but it will also help you see and repent of the idols that you have in your heart. Don't pass up the opportunity to buy and read Age of Opportunity!

      Related Links:

      Rules for Debate

      image courtesy of Andrew Carpenter via Picasa
      While I am always up for a good discussion and debate, I need to remember to come to the table with humility and gentleness. As Tripp Crosby states in New Rules for Debate, I need to spend more energy trying to understand others' perspectives than in making my own point. It's a great application of Philippians 2:3-4,
      "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."

      He gives three good principles that I need to carry into debates:
      1. Assume others have valid reasons for their positions.
      2. When listening, really listen (and ask questions), instead of using that time to formulate my own statements.
      3. Go into the moments hoping to learn.

      Related Link:

      The Phases of Raising Boys

      They wrote and performed a play.
      I am so thankful to have two great boys, Elijah and Sender, who will be 8 and 5, respectively, this December. It's amazing how two boys could be so opposite. They are special in their own ways, each created in God's image:
      • Elijah is usually serious; Sender is a walking party.
      • Elijah has the most fair complexion in our family; Sender is the 2nd darkest (after me).
      • Elijah looks like Joanna's side of the family; Sender is my Mini-Me.
      • Elijah is a sharp student, especially in math; Sender -- well, this one is TBD.

      But at least one thing is the same for both of them -- God has given me the role of helping them become men. This responsibility won't happen overnight, or even over a year. It will be years of relating, observing, training, adjusting, etc.

      For those of you who are also raising sons, here are a couple of resources that you may find helpful. They provide a mindset that there are certain phases or seasons in bringing up the next generation of men.

      Four Phases of Raising Boys.  Pastor Scott Thomas (Mars Hill Church) shares his insight from raising two boys, now ages 22 and 18. He outlines four basic parenting styles that he used.
      1. Commander. High structure and discipline, with "an abundance of love, adoration, and encouragement."
      2. Coach. Giving the child more freedom to make principle-based decisions, while providing  encouragement and feedback. 
      3. Counselor.  Lots of support, but less direction. Monitoring and help, but more hands-off.
      4. Consultant.  Final phase of empowering your son.

      Future Men - Stages of Manhood.   This was from an event that we did at Grace Church in October 2009. Pastor Bill White walked an audience of almost 400 people through three main stages of going from boys to men.
      1. Authority.  (From birth through about ages 5 or 6) The child must learn to execute the decisions of the parent (or other leader) quickly, happily, and completely. One cannot lead unless he first learns to follow.
      2. Responsibility.  (From age 6 through around 11-13) Your son needs to learn to "handle his own deal." In this stage, they need to be challenged and respected.
      3. Partnership. (From age 13 - 18) Coming alongside my son, not standing over him.
      Additionally, a handful of videos were created as a follow-up, to answer specific questions. Here is the first one, which also gives a summary of the stages:

      As an additional resource, let me suggest The 5 Switches of Manliness: Provide.  Being a provider is not just about bringing home the bacon. It's about looking ahead, foreseeing the future, and creating and carrying out a plan. Men are to be scouts.

      It is my role as a provider and scout to look ahead, and to help my sons become providers and scouts as well.

      Related Links:

      6 Coffee Brews That I Like, and 1 That I Hate

      Here are my favorite types of coffee.
      1. Java House.  It's what turned Joanna and I into coffee snobs. Strong and flavorful, but not harsh on your stomach. They don't ship internationally (a friend of mine asked), so I have to remember to ask friends who go over there on mission trips to bring me back some.
      2. Some kind of Nicaraguan blend.  I forget the name, but it's a kind that friends who go there bring me back.
      3. Dunkin Donuts.  Buying it from the store and brewing it at home is better than getting it at the store. Sometimes you can get it on sale at their stores for $20 for four full pounds (not the 10-12 oz bags that grocery stores sell it in). Well, you can get it. The nearest one to us is 43 miles away.
      4. McDonald's.  Good coffee, especially for a dollar. Beats Starbuck's in many taste-tests.
      5. Hardee's.  Just on this list because I love Hardee's.
      6. Gas Station. I once bought coffee at the Allendale BP, which at the time had a "B" food safety rating. I survived.

      Notice that Starbuck's didn't make my list.  Nasty, bitter, acidic. Would have been a great solvent to use when I was a chemist.

      Sunday Shorts

      Starting today, but maybe not every Sunday, I will be posting a very short blog. The topics will vary -- from things I like, to something I read, to tips, to ... whatever. Hope you enjoy.

      Success Stories from This Week

      It was a good 2nd week of our summer camp. We hit 30 kids in attendance for two of those days, and on Tuesday over half of our group went to Savannah with other children from Allendale, and students and leaders from Grace Church. They went to the beach (most got soaked in the only clothes they brought), on a dolphin tour (the first boat ride for some kids), and had Chick-fil-A for dinner in a park (again, the first time eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich for some).

      Here are some other great moments from this past week:
      • The Book Mobile came to the Club, and will return a few more times this summer. Kids took home library card applications, and 15 of them brought them back so far. Hopefully, getting their first library cards will encourage them to use them! 
      • Loved, loved, loved having students and leaders from Greenville around. They were so helpful -- from reading with kids to helping with activities, from cleaning bathrooms to preparing craft materials. We are going to miss them next week! And it was great for our family to reconnect with some kids that we've know for years.
      • Fun activities that the kids got into, including making kites, African masks, and their own books of maps and flags from different countries.
      • A resident of Fairfax offered to bring snacks several times this summer. Yesterday, she made brownies with marshmallows, and also brought fruit punch for the kids. Too bad I missed it because of a meeting I had in Barnwell.
      • Getting to know Travis and Gerome more. They even asked to stay at our house one week. (We think we'll put all 4 boys in one room, and our Hannah with Hannah Swoap.) I think they really like Sender. But who doesn't?
      Ryley, Sender, and Andrew inside the Book Mobile

      Saturday Round-Up

      Like last week, here's a list of articles that I found interesting and helpful. I hope you enjoy at least one or two. If not? Well, I guess I just wasted my time.

      How to Remember a Person's Name (And What to Do When You Can't).  Written by . . . ummm . . . Mr. . . . ummmmmm . . . . You know who I'm talking about.

      Growing Up Colt.  A review of the new book by Brad & Colt McCoy. I love the principle "Prepare your children for the path, not the path for your children." Our culture teaches that parents are supposed to make life easy for their kids. And here is Colt's video testimony:

      Education: It Must Begin and End With Virtue.  An encouragement to focus on reading, writing, and art.

      Low Fertility in Europe Reversed.  A population needs to between 2.1 and 2.2 children per women in order to maintain or grow its numbers. Since World War II, most countries in the European Union have seen their birth rate decrease. Some of this has stabilized, but currently zero of the 27 EU nations met this fertility rate, and over half have a rate below 1.5.

      Six Truths on Christian Involvement in Society.  Notes from a John Piper sermon from 2000. Similar (but a more theological case) to what I wrote about Why Christians Should Serve Outside of the Church.

      5 Pieces of Art by Children with Autism.  You'll want to see these, and read the descriptions from the artists. Here's one example:

      Why Are Air Conditioners So Heavy?   Not a complicated answer -- it's the copper in it. But this title caught my attention because we've had 100 degree whether, and our building (for our summer camp) is cooled by five window-AC units.

      Why Do I Keep Doing the Same Sin Over & Over Again?   The core problem is that I think I am stronger than my sin. I need the power of Jesus working in me, and this happens best in community.

      Fairfax Friday: How Does One Lose Hope?

      image courtesy of siewlian via sxc.hu
      I've always wondered how the how my people the Israelites let the Egyptians enslave them and keep them enslaved (Exodus 1). And I wonder how people today can lose hope.

      Do you wonder about the same?

      Read How Does One Lose Hope? on the Mission: Allendale blog.

      Guardians ad Litem: A Different Way to Make a Difference

      Thanks to Cherie Walker, Public Awareness Supervisor from the South Carolina Guardian ad Litem program, for writing this guest post. You can learn more about this program by visiting their website or by calling the statewide number (800-277-0113).

      A Different Way to Make a Difference
      Have you ever worried who cares about the children who have been abused or neglected in Allendale County? What about the children who are now in foster care? Well, there is a group of people in Allendale County who make a difference for these children. These people are called Guardians ad Litem.

      Guardians ad Litem are ordinary people who volunteer a few hours a month to make a difference for abused and neglected children. In 2010, nine volunteers made a difference in the lives of 37 children in Allendale County. One of those children was Yolanda Sanders.

      Yolanda entered foster care when she was 13 years old. Being a teenager in foster care has its own challenges. "I moved to 10 different places in the last 5 years," says Yolanda. "It was horrible; I hated to move. It seemed like I moved every three months. It was hard for me to make friends, and when I did, I ended up moving. Having to start over in all those new schools, I couldn't get what I needed to finish high school. So I just went and got my GED."

      But through all the moves, one person was always there for Yolanda: her Guardian ad Litem, Jan Bellinger. "Ms. Jan has been a part of my life since the first month I was in care. She helped me when I got frustrated, and didn't want to talk. There were so many people coming in and out of my life. Other people where walking out, or giving up on me. But Ms. Jan was always very nice and willing. She didn't try to force me not to feel what I was feeling."

      What would Yolanda say to someone who was thinking of becoming a Guardian ad Litem? "Do it, because you'll love it! You'll meet some great kids, with great talents. They just need that extra person to speak up for them, because they can't speak up for themselves. I think that Guardians ad Litem are very special, loving people."

      If you would like to learn more about the Guardian ad Litem program, call the Allendale County office at (803) 625-2450 or visit www.allendale.scgal.org. You can also stay connected with the program through Facebook.com/GALVolunteersSC or Twitter @GALvolunteersSC.

      Student Mission Trips

      Last week, about 30 high school students (plus leaders) from Grace Church (see the Student Ministry website) spent 7 days in Allendale. Now we are in between 2 four-day mission trips, in which several dozen middle schoolers will be here as well.

      These students have worked at our summer camp, did yard work, visited a nursing home, and went on trips with Allendale students. And besides all that they did, it was the relationships that were built that will have the biggest long-term impact. They brought a ton of energy and excitement, which was noted in this video from last year's trips.

      One thing was encouraging for Joanna and I is how we've had long-term relationships with many of these students and their parents. For example:
      • We had more than a handful of these students in our classes when they were in nursery or preschool, including some we've known since they were born.
      • One girl told us that her sister (who we taught when she was 4), still talks about us, though that was 9 years ago.
      • We were in Small Group with one girl's parents when they had two kids born 13 months apart.
      • One boy was the son of a woman that discipled Joanna in college, whom she last saw when he was about 2 or 3.
      • One of the college interns was a girl that I first met when she was 9, and her parents later did our premarital counseling.

      These past two weeks have been a reminder that we have the opportunity to pour into others, including the next generation. And God often uses that down the road to return the blessing back to us.

      Related Links:

      Why Discipleship

      While there are many forms of discipleship, the function is the same -- spiritual growth. Grace accepts us where we are; discipleship helps us get to where we need to be. Additionally, if you want to have an bigger impact in others' lives, you need to grow. 

      Ways to be be discipled:
      • Read the Bible daily (let God disciple you)
      • Be active in a local church
      • Share a meal with a friend regularly (at least once per month)
      • Be in a community group (or small group, or home group)
      • Take a bible study (especially in a same-gender setting)
      • Find a mentor
      • Be a mentor to someone else
      • Read non-fiction books

      Are there more that you can add to this list? You don't need to do all of these at once, but you need to do more than one.

      Related Link:

      Parenting: It's Never an Interruption

      Parents, do you ever get frustrated with your child's actions? Yeah, me too. Most often, their foolishness and childishness becomes an interruption to my plans. I worship the idols of peace, comfort, and rest.

      Paul Tripp reminds us that God has a different perspective on these situations:
      The sin, weakness, rebellion, or failure of your children is never an imposition on your parenting. It is never an interruption. It is never a hassle.  It is always grace. God loves your children. He has put them in a family of faith, and in relentless grace he will reveal their need to you again and again so that you can be his tool of awareness, conviction, repentance, faith, and change. And because in these moments he asks you to forsake your agenda for his, this opportunity of grace is not just for your children, it’s for you as well.

      In other words, God uses these moments to expose the hearts of my child and myself. He wants these moments to cause me to draw near to His grace.

      Read the full article.

      Related Links:

      All or Nothing

      My Utmost for His Highest, Updated EditionI have been reading from My Utmost for His Highest. The other day, the selection was about giving everything to God. What does it mean to do this? Can you really give all or nothing?

      Giving my life over to Jesus is a matter of internal commitment, not external things and emotions. Chambers writes, "The giving up of only external things may actually be an indication of your being in total bondage." You see that Peter, upon seeing the resurrected Jesus, immediately jumps in the water to get near Him (John 21:7). He wanted to be with Jesus, and wasn't thinking about anything else.

      I also read in Exodus 36:1-5, where the Israelites gave more than what was needed for the construction of the tabernacle. Here's the thing -- everyone doesn't have to give 100% of the need. Giving all or nothing isn't about the external amount, but about the will of the heart.

      If a body of people would just give faithfully -- and maybe a little sacrificially -- God could do so much.

      My Favorite Things from This Week

      It was the first week of our summer programming. We had up to 30 kids each day, from 8 AM to 5 PM. It was a great start to the summer. Here's some memorable moments:

      • Having so much help! The high schoolers and leaders from Grace Church were playing sports and activities, reading with kids, cleaning, serving meals, putting together an indoor basketball goal, coming up with arts and crafts projects, and more.
      • Having a fun with water on Friday, with water guns, plus slip-n-slide and bubbles that were donated.
      • A high school student from Frazee who talked to a bad-attitude-filled middle schooler about respecting the leaders. He did this on his own initiative, and from what I could observe he was good.
      • A young boy telling Swoap, "I used to not like reading, but now I do!" (We do educational activities everyday.)
      • Some high schoolers talking about coming back later this summer. It would be a great opportunity to continue building relationships. We would love to have them back!
      • Our daughter Hannah socializing and playing games with three other girls her age. As I watched her, my eyes started watering up. One of the college interns asked me, "Are you proud of her?" I said, "Mostly, I'm really excited for her." Hannah has friends with dark skin who live in apartments in poverty, and friends with light skin who live in really nice houses.  

      Looking forward to a little rest this weekend, and getting ready for week #2!

      Related Link:

        Saturday Round-Up

        I often come across a number of articles that seem interesting to me, but I don't always have time to analyze each one. Plus, you may not have an interest in the same topics I do. So what I plan to do each Saturday is have a handful of links on a variety of topics. If they are intriguing to you, click through; if not, fuhggetaboutit.

        Parenting: Are Your Kids Bored This Summer?  A couple of dozen ideas, most of which are inexpensive or free.

        Concubines.  Making a case that a couple living together before marriage is a step back towards primitive culture. Do you agree?

        Voting in Early Primaries.  Voters in states with early primaries can have up to five times more influence than voters in later-voting states. Doesn't seem fair, does it?

        Google Kids.  "Google should create Google Kids, a search engine that filters the Web for children." (And there is a follow-up article, called Google Kids: The Sequel.)

        Will Smith A Capella Medley.  As with the video from Mike Tompkins, you can tell that I'm a big fan of this genre. I wasn't that impressed at first with this video, but it got better. Love the background dancer at 2:45 (lower right). Can't figure out the monkey ventriloquism at 3:29.

        Anatomy of a team.  What do you need for a good team? Sam Luce gives 6 things, from having a common goal, to trust, to mutual submission.

        When Children Don't Have Enough to Eat.  Would you be shocked if I said that 1 in 4 children live in a home that has trouble providing food for all family members? What if I said that that statistic was for the United States? (I'm glad that the children's program where I work will be an open feeding site in Allendale County, meaning that any child up to age 18 can walk up and receive lunch.)

        Accountability Groups: the Tyranny of Do More, Try Harder.  "Christian growth . . . does not happen first by behaving better, but believing better."

        How to Use Family Meetings.  Something we (my family) definitely need to do more of.

        Seven Rules for More Effective Meetings.  Ever been at work in one of those meetings, that drag on and on? Yep. Here's how to avoid that next time.

        Income Disparity Makes People Unhappy.  But the richest 20% of people aren't sad about income disparity. No duh.

        A Black Guy, a White Guy, and a Hispanic Jew Walk Into a Restaurant . . .

        [Note: You can read this article on the new blog -- Mission: Allendale.]

        No, it's not the start of an offensive joke. This was a breakfast that happened a couple of weeks ago, in a restaurant called Flavor.

        The Players
        The black guy is Joe Mole, whom I've written about several times (including being in community with him and what I'm learning from him). He works for the county, and is the pastor at Vision Ministries.

        The white guy is Larry Sizemore, pastor of Fairfax First Baptist Church. He and his family moved here less than a year ago from a much larger church in South Carolina. From our several conversations and meals, it is obvious that he wants to engage the community. His church (who hired him with the task of helping the church grow) is in the midst of a process of evaluating their background, their strengths and gifts, and the area's demographics. In a week or so, they will have a six-hour workshop to iron out the results from a survey and to brainstorm ideas. Me being a data-nerd, I begged Pastor Sizemore to let me sit in. He agreed.

        For those who don't know, I'm the Hispanic Jew.

        The three of us have completely different backgrounds (from seminary to chemistry), but a similar story of winding up in Allendale County -- we all say, "How in the world did God lead us HERE?!" And we all know that God is up to something, and that we are privileged to be a part of it.

        The Church Culture
        Here's the truth: churches are dying in Allendale County. At the least, there are none (ok, maybe 1 or 2) that are growing. And this growth is on the order of a few percentage points each year, as opposed to the 15% per year growth for Grace Church and many other churches in Greenville. But what else would you expect in a county that shrunk between the 2000 and 2010 censuses?

        The church culture of the Low Country of South Carolina (which Allendale is a part of) includes a history of "separate but equal," if not outright racism. Of course, this is not true for every church, but a dominating theme. Even good folks who have been a part of churches for decades have explained to me, "Churches say that they want to reach out to the community and include people of the opposite race. But once you have some of those people (including kids) show up, the church members can't wait to get them out."

        The Conversation
        Of course, with these two great guys, I was not concerned at all with any hints of racism or division. I knew from private conversations that these men have hearts that want to honor God and love others. But I still had concerns about whether the breakfast would be comfortable, or completely awkward. And then, as it took forever for me to pay for my meal, these two guys were already sitting down. I worried how they were doing.

        Turns out, they were having great time connecting. (Imagine that -- the world doesn't need my awesome talents to make things right.) By the time I got to the table they had figured out that God had spoken to each of them at almost the same time the previous Sunday morning, about the same topic regarding shepherding and praying for people in their church. Although these two guys had already known each other (after all, it IS a small town), a deeper connection was being formed.

        We talked about church life, about our families, about about what God might be doing. We ate. We talked about what church is about in this culture. We ate some more. We shared our hearts. And we finished eating. But can you imagine what the other customers thought when they saw the three of us (black, white, Hispanic Jew) holding hands and praying before we left?

        As I said, we believe that God is at work in Allendale. For example, here are three guys who are different but united, who do ministry within a couple of hundred yards from each other on the same road.

        God is powerful, and His desire is to redeem the people in this area. We, like many others, have been assigned and deployed by God. It's not about any one church; it's about God's kingdom.

        Comedians Talking About Babies

        Here are insights from three guys on babies, including how "No More Tears" shampoo was probably developed.

        But my favorite line is, "The definition of a good baby is the same definition of a crummy husband."

        Related Links:

        What's the Best Bible Translation?

        I've used a handful of different Bible translations over the years. Here's a run-down of the ones that I can remember using, and why I liked it:
        1. New Revised Standard Version. I used an NRSV Bible for a couple of years because it was the first Bible I had. It was given to me even before I became a Christ-follower.
        2. New International Version. My first devotional Bible was NIV. I liked the easy readability, and have primarily used this translation for my Bible memorization.
        3. New American Standard Bible.  This was my first study Bible, and the version that we used at my church on Sunday mornings for many years. The NASB is a more accurate word-for-word translation than the NIV. As a scientist, I like things to be precise.
        4. New King James Version. I still use this translation occasionally. It is much more accurate than the King James Version.
        5. New Living Translation. The NLT is a great "phrase-for-phrase" translation, catching context and subtleties really well. 
        6. The Message. I never thought I'd be caught dead reading this version. But a few years ago, I realized that I needed to read the Bible as a story -- God's story -- more. When I read the NASB, I tend to get caught up breaking down sentence structure and such. Reading a few chapters per day out the message (a few days per week) was a great change of pace.
        7. English Standard Version. A newer version that I've come across. So friends (former co-workers) bought this for me last year as I transitioned off staff. Obviously, it has great sentimental value for me.

        Those translations have all worked well for me, but deciding which is best is another matter. My friends Jeremy Keever and Chrystie Cole answered this question on the Grace Church Pastors Blog.

        In that article, they go through a little bit of the history of how the Bible has been translated into English. The concluding thought is that "there is much to be gained by reading and studying various translations."

        Another key point to remember is that all these versions are translations of copies of the originals -- and more likely they are translations of copies of copies of copies.
        Scholars today have more resources available than they did many years ago, which make better, truer translations possible. Nevertheless, the fact remains that no translation is infallible. Errors in translation are inevitable. That does not, however, negate the fact that Scripture, in its original form, is without error. Though our translations today may have errors, readers can be confident that these errors are cosmetic in nature, not doctrinal.

        This idea of the accuracy of our Bible was part of my point in The Inerrant, Infallible, Inspired Word of God . . . Or Not?  But even with the many variants and translations, the core message of the Scriptures is the same -- that a holy God has shown us grace and mercy by His redemption through Jesus Christ.

        Related Links:

        Poll Results: Summer Vacation

        Thanks for everyone who took the poll about summer vacation plans. Hands down, the beach will be the number one vacation spot this summer, though I am most intrigued by the few of you who will be out of the country and in Allendale! (And those two are pretty similar.)

        Whether you are taking one week or two weeks of vacation (which were the highest responses), or just a day or two, I hope you have a great summer!

        Summer Mohawks

        A few weeks ago, I got a haircut at Nubian Image in Fairfax, SC, the first time I paid for a haircut in years. But I was due for another trim. And the boys needed a buzz as well. We went back to the basics, cutting hair with a pair of clippers at our house.

        They both wanted mohawks, and I was happy to oblige. Elijah was first.

        Sender was next. He's got a big cowlick so he was a bit more tricky (and it took longer), but he perked up when I said that he could cut my hair afterwards.

        But no mohawk for me. I am a working professional, you know.

        Related Link:

        Love Them Into the Middle Class

        A Framework for Understanding PovertyIn A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Ruby Payne describes the unique skills required to live (and survive) in different socioeconomic environments. (Confession, I haven't read this entire book yet; but I have skimmed through parts, and Joanna has read it already.)

        Hidden Rules Among Classes
        There are some "hidden rules" for each class that you are expected to know (and you probably do know them if you live in that class). For example, people of wealth are expected to serve on boards, read menus in French, buy the works of a particular artist, and hire decorators for the holidays. Not my life for sure.

        Keep reading on Mission: Allendale . . .

        Will You Be Here in the Fall?

        image courtesy of hugoslv via sxc.hu
        The last day of the school year (and after school programming) was June 2. It was a half-day for the schools, so we had kids arriving around 11:30 AM, with some staying until close to 7 PM. This 7+ hours with about 30 kids gave us a taste of our upcoming all-day programming through the summer.

        At some point on that last day, while I was talking about our summer programming, one child raised his hand and asked, "Are you going to be here in the fall?"

        I thought about his question, and the reality sunk in. For this child (and most of the other kids), having consistent adults in their lives is not common. It could be a disconnected dad, or the after school programming and leaders that went away a few years ago, or high turnover of school teachers and administrators. Whatever it is, many youth here have been let down and neglected by adults. Therefore, his question about whether I'd still be around was legitimate.

        I've seen this before when folks come in to volunteer in this program. When someone comes back for a second time, the kids really take notice. They start to cling to those leaders. We've had volunteers that come in once per week, and the kids come to me and ask, "Is she going to come back every week?"

        The children in this area have a need for love and attention, much like my kids or any others. But for many of them, that need is not being fully met, or even close to it.

        When that boy asked if I would be back in the fall, I replied that I sure was planning to. We don't know how long we'll live in Allendale. It may be two more years, or six, or twelve. But we will continue to pour ourselves out for the next generation, and trust that God will guide our next steps.

        By the way, today is the first day of our summer programming. We were off last week, so I'm not sure about our numbers to start off -- maybe 25, but probably somewhere around 30-35. It will be a long day (8AM - 5PM). Please pray for us as we minister to these kids.

        I am so glad to have other part-time staff, plus students from Grace Church (over the next 2 weeks), college interns (all summer), and other volunteers.

        And I'm especially glad that Joanna and I get to serve together. From educational instruction, to fun activities, to organizing, she is so much better than me at what this program needs. This organization got a bargain for sure -- paying me part-time and getting her for free!

        Related Link:

        Do You Browse the Internet on Your Phone?

        If you check this blog via your phone, you may like a feature that Blogger just added. There is a template that is specifically geared towards people who read blogs via their mobile devices.

        Take a moment and check it out via your phone, iPad, etc. Let me know what you think. If you don't like it, turning it off is just a click away.

        Moralistic Parenting vs Heart Change

        A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Passing on Your Faith to children. Parents and other leaders must do more than just pass on head knowledge; they also need to model what it looks like to live a sacrificial life. Being a disciple of Christ and living for His Kingdom is always a call to sacrifice.

        Additionally, Dale Hudson (yes, it's the second link to his blog this week) reminds us that It's About the Heart . . . Not Just the Head. Watch the video below to here his message:

        Elyse Fitzpatrick also gives insight into The Danger of Moralistic Parenting.  We (as a Christian culture) have taught our kids that good behavior is what pleases God. We are "teaching good manners instead of salvation."

        Of course, there is nothing innately wrong about teaching moral behavior, but to stop there (or even to make that too high of a focus) is one way that parents, churches, and other leaders can fall short of God's purpose. Either the child will become arrogant ("I keep the rules much better than others do.") or they will make Christianity about good behavior (and say either, "I'm tired of keeping those rules" or "I tried keeping them and failed, so I'm giving up on Christianity").

        When you discipline your child (formatively and correctively), be sure to point him to the sufficiency of the gospel, and not his own ability or desire to change his behavior. Don't merely reach his head with knowledge; reach his heart with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

        Related Link:

        Two Hannah's in the House

        There are thousands of girls named "Hannah" in Greenville County. But so far, I only know of two in Allendale -- our daughter and Hannah Swoap. (Most kids' names here have either a z, q, or an apostrophe.)

        To lessen the confusion, I just call the older one "Swoap" or (more recently) "Swoapie." Sender is more formal, calling her "Hannah Swoap."

        Hannah (Swoap) was one of the college students that spent her last spring break in Allendale. Though we've known her family for about 10 years, we barely knew her before a few months ago. Nevertheless, she had already been planning to spend the summer in Allendale, and we made plans for her to live with us.

        She's been a great blessing to our own family. Her first full day in Allendale she babysat for 12 hours, as Joanna and I went to a wedding in Charleston. She played "animals" with Sender, paper dolls with Hannah, and Wii with Elijah. That afternoon, she tie-dyed shirts for all the kids, took them to Subway for dinner, found a park for the kids to play in, and more. We figured we needed to break her in quickly.

        And she hit the ground running in Allendale, too. She's made connections with people and organizations, as part of her role of being an intern for Grace Church this summer. And she has spent significant portions of each day at the after school program, loving on kids and helping us figure out a plan for the full-day summer programming.

        She wrote a post for the Grace Student Ministry blog, called Engaging Allendale. You can read her thoughts about:
        1. Living with us. She's very complimentary, so pay attention.
        2. The depth of the problems in Allendale. (I already wrote about three basic problems.)
        3. Loving kids in the after school program.
        4. Building partnerships in Allendale.

        We're so thankful to have Swoapie living with us, and Allendale is, too!

        PS -- We are also looking forward to two weeks of Student Ministry mission trips, starting tomorrow! There will be a lot of energy around here.

        Related Link:

        More About Non-Profits

        I wrote last week about why missionaries ask for support. The point is that we are not asking for ourselves, but for the people that we are ministering to.

        I want to highlight more charities and missionaries. I have a few that we've supported in the past, and some that we still do. I will talk about some of these over the next few weeks.

        For starters, check out The Culturally Engaged Daily, which has been giving a wrap-up of articles related to having an impact in society.

        Do you have any charities that you currently support or have supported in the past?

        A Ministry That Doesn't Care

        Dale Hudson reminds us:

        "When faced with a choice about what to do...
        always do the most caring thing."

        We must always choose people over processes and procedures (and you are reading this from a guy who loves processes). Policies and plans are great, but in ministry they are not the goal.

        The goal is to love others (out of a motivation to glorify God). Procedures are tools to help us reach that goal, but we must lead with practical love, not with the policies.

        Golf Cart Driving

        Not only does Camille Nairn help out at the after school program and is letting us live in her rental house (and fix it up as we please), but she also got her golf cart fixed up for the sole purpose of letting us enjoy it. And she's right -- the kids have had a blast riding in and driving.

        We are working on stopping gently, and we are pretty sure Elijah killed a small tree in a crash. If this isn't bad enough, she may reconsider after seeing how Sender drives. It's either full speed or stop with him. And usually it's the former.

        Here's an example of me trying to help him while recording at the same time. We hit a bump.

        Related Links:

        Great Britain, United Kingdom, England, and More

        Joanna and I have had semi-regular conversations trying to clear this up. This video sure helps:

        Then again, I may be more confused now.

        Home, Public, and Christian School

        I know it's summer, but in light of our series on education options (you can start with Why Public School, and follow the links to the others posts), I thought it would be worthwhile to include a link to a similar series.

        Sam Luce not only gave his pros and cons on each choice, but also gives five tips to remember as you discern what is best for your family:
        1. Pray.
        2. Take the educational process one kid at a time one year at a time.
        3. Openly and honestly consider the positives and negatives.
        4. Why you do what you do matters.
        5. Never assume what you are doing is the ONLY way.

        This last point can be a particular hot topic among Christian families. After comparing the options we have decided to home school our children (which has been beneficial for us in this season), but I would not say that this is the best choice for all families. That is the case I presented in A Response to "A Case for Homeschooling." And even more, we are not even sure how many years we'll home school (to go along with Luce's point #2).

        Let's here from you:  Are you making any new educational choices for your children this coming school? A new school, or new curriculum?

        Family Time

        At a great playground in Beaufort, SC

        A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts about the Sabbath, and outlined an idea about spending time on Sunday afternoons (or Saturdays) together as a family, with each person getting a chance to pick the event of the weekend. Here's a recap of what we've done:

        Week 1:  After a Saturday of Cooter Fest fun (and me taking a quick trip back to Greenville to pick up some furniture), we laid low on Sunday afternoon. Lunch at Clara's, including eating ice cream cones in a nearby park. Then, some family Wii time in the afternoon. Yep, my wife had a great (at least unique) Mother's Day.

        Week 2:  Hannah's pick was to go to Beaufort. (Of course, we helped her with this, as she had never been there before. Now she wants to go back every weekend.) Walking by the waterfront, eating ice cream, playground, and dinner. Oh, and picking up a snack (and the next day's breakfast) at Dunkin Donuts on the way home.

        Week 3:  Laid low again, since Joanna and I had a trip to and from Charleston for a wedding on Saturday. Lunch after church services, and games in the afternoon. This was also the first weekend that we had another housemate, as we have a college student staying with us this summer. The more the merrier!

        Week 4:  Sender's pick. We let him skip his nap, which he thinks is a big deal, though he rarely sleeps during "nap time" anymore. We drove a golf-cart to Hardee's for milkshakes. Perfect for a hot Sunday afternoon.

        As you may notice, much of our family time centers around food. You could say that eating is my favorite hobby, or maybe that gluttony is my favorite of the seven deadly sins. But meal time is a great time to connect and share. At the least, it's been shown that frequent family dinners decrease substance abuse in children. At the most, we have a captive audience where our kids can be a part of gospel- and family-oriented conversations.

        What do we talk about? Sometimes it's just listening to their fun and wild thoughts and ideas. Sometimes, we tell them what God is teaching us. Sometimes I use resources that provide questions as prompters, like this from All Pro Dad.

        Mentors with older kids repeatedly remind me that family time (including meals) gets harder and harder as the kids get older. That's why we are trying to lay the foundation now when they are young.

        Lessons Learned from Having 3 Kids

        image courtesy of softerlogi via sxc.hu
        For the first 7 years of our marriage, Joanna and I seldom drank coffee. We'd drink it on social occasions, or maybe once every 10-12 weeks with breakfast. But that all was about to change.

        We had a lot of life change in a seven-week span between December 2006 and February 2007. We sold our house, bought a house, fixed up the new house, moved, and I started a new job. But the biggest and best event (and the one that we blame for our current coffee habit) is that our third child, Sender, was born on December 23.

        As with most families who have multiple kids, we were much less uptight in our parenting style. This is good in the sense that we are not stressed over so many things like we were with Hannah. This is bad in the sense that Sender gets away with a lot more than he should be. Our discipline style usually consists of one of us correcting Sender while our spouse tries to stifle his or her laughter.

        Some good friends of ours, Ryan & Molly Burns, also have three kids. Over the years, we have received so much encouragement and support from them. We have learned a lot from how well they have parented, including why they chose to be a Santa Family.

        The Burns just celebrated year one of having three kids, and in Year 1 With 3, Molly shares some lessons she learned. If you have kids, especially three or more, you can appreciate the topics that she hits on, including:
        • Shredded cheese
        • The time it takes to get dinner ready
        • How long it takes to get ready to leave the house
        • Laundry
        • Why she might call you at 11PM

        For the record -- Molly is one of the best thinkers and writers I know, and I wish she had time to blog more. But with three kids, I know it's hard. I mean, look at her blog. She doesn't even keep up with it enough to take off the link to the blog of "My Dear Husband," even though he hasn't written on it in over 18 months.

        Oh, well, check out her latest post anyway. And maybe you can share what lessons she could expect in year 2.

        Related Link:

        The End of the School Year

        He's soooo done.

        Yesterday was our last day of the after school program. We now have about a week off, before starting our full-day summer day camp on June 13. We have been together as a family since mid-April, and we have settled in some more in our Allendale home. We will be in Greenville for a few days. Besides appointments, meetings, and being with friends and family, we will need to clear out our house so renters (so excited for the old friends who will be caring for our place!) can move in.

        Joanna finished up school with the kids the Friday before Memorial Day. She worked hard for the past few months, even doing school on regular holidays, knowing that we would need some flexibility with the move. She has been awesome, of course, at the after school program -- doing everything from helping with homework, leading games, loving on kids, and doing major reorganization and inventory. I have a great Ezer in Joanna!

        Hannah is enjoying the time here, at home and at the after school program. But she's also looking forward to seeing friends in Greenville next week, and for Grace Church's Elementary Camp in the end of June. And it looks like a girl from Allendale will be going to camp, too!

        Elijah has become friends with a couple of boys in the program, and has done things like make them paper airplanes, do a good magic trick with cards, and do weird things with his double-jointed-self. All of these are great ways for boys to connect with each other. At one point, he mentioned that he wanted to get a tan so he wouldn't be the lightest kid there. But then I explained that it was good that he was the lightest; after all, if he wasn't then another kid would have to be! Understanding that he was providing "protection" for another child helped him be OK with it.

        Sender is pretty much our "mascot." All the kids love him, and even the middle schoolers go along with whatever he tells them. We might be giving him a little too much freedom, but also we understand that with late nights and little to no afternoon nap, he's got a long, long day.

        Looking forward to being together in the Upstate!

        Related Link:

        Why Ask for Financial Support?

        image courtesy of hisks via sxc.hu
        I had a great conversation last week with my friend Joseph Osborn. As you may recall from a previous link I had to their website (Osborn Mission), they are headed to Papua New Guinea this summer in order to live with, love on, and teach the gospel to an unreached people group.

        Without a doubt their level of commitment to the gospel dwarf ours. Their mission will require more sacrifice, more time, and more money than I can imagine.

        Read the rest of this post here.

        How to Honor Your Wife

        Here's a great article from Resurgence for both men and women. The article is specifically written to men. However, married women can use this information to encourage and support their husbands, and single women can use a lot of the principles as they discern what kind of men should rightly pursue them.

        We need to give our wives security, not fear, and here are some categories for how we can honor them:
        1. Maritally.  "Being sorry is not enough; being Christ-like is what is necessary."
        2. Physically.  Do not use force or threat of force to get what you want.
        3. Emotionally.  "Men and women have the same emotions; they express them in masculine and feminine ways."
        4. Verbally.  "Speak honestly respectfully, lovingly to her and about her."
        5. Financially.  Men and women each have roles to fulfill. One of ours is to provide.
        6. Practically.  Have a budget, schedule, plan, and life.
        7. Parentally.  "It's your job to love your kids. It's your job to pray with your kids. It's your job to teach the Bible to your kids. It's your job to encourage your kids. It's your job to discipline your kids."
        8. Spiritually.  "Leading spiritually is the foundation of everything else."

        Be sure to read the full article for more explanations on each point. And leave a comment here answering one of these questions:
        • Husbands -- which area do you need to work on most?
        • Wives -- where is your husband succeeding?

        I'll go first in the comments.

        Poll: Summer Vacation

        Whether it's a family vacation, a ManTrip, or a get-away with your spouse, I hope you are planning some time out-of-town this summer. Please take the polls to the right and let us know:
        • About how many days you plan on vacationing
        • Where you plan to go (you can select more than 1)

        Have a wonderful summer!