Spiritual Birthdays: Should We Emphasize?

image courtesy of SEPpics via sxc.hu
Today is my spiritual birthday.

On July 31, 1995, at about 6AM, I told God, "I'm not really sure if you are real, but if you are, I invite you to come into my life and change me."

I had spent the summer reading, thinking, talking, and wrestling with the concept of Jesus. And when I prayed this weak prayer, nothing magical happened. But, this was (and still is) an important date for me.

Joanna doesn't have (or, more accurately, cannot remember) a specific date and time for her conversion experience.

I baptized Hannah in November of 2008. While, based on how the Holy Spirit was obviously working in her heart, we are sure that she is a believer in Jesus, we cannot pinpoint exactly when she was spiritually regenerated.

Joanna and I do not feel like we should emphasize and need to know exactly when and where our children start following Jesus. However, Pastor Tullian believes there must be a specific moment when God decisively gives new life.

But maybe we're wrong.

What do you think? Should Christians emphasize knowing when they became followers of Jesus? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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And More Favorite Things

I hope you haven't gotten tired of my weekly updates. But there has been so many great things going on in our Summer Camp! Here's what has excited and encouraged us this week.
  • Great food
    • A local resident made red velvet cupcakes on Monday
    • A mom of a kid made cupcakes on Tuesday
    • Fairfax First Baptist Church brought lunch for all the kids on Thursday. Chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, carrots, grapes, ice cream, and fruit drinks.
  • Great servants
  • Goldilocks sleeping in Hannah's bed?
    • Two college students from Grace Church came down for a day
    • Another college student from Grace came on Wednesday, and is staying with us through the weekend
    • An long-time friend and her niece came down to make jewelry with the kids and in the community
    • And yet another college student is coming down tomorrow
    • And these don't even include the 3 college and 2 high school students who have been a part of Allendale for the entire summer, including this past week
    • (We're in a span of 7 days where we'll have 8 different guests spend at least 1 night in our house)
  • Great programming
    • We had a week of Olympics-style events, from ping pong to basketball, and from javelin (made with straws) to logic problems. Lots of  good competition.
    • We divided kids up into 4 teams, mixing up ages and genders. Loved seeing some of the older kids step up as leaders, even saying things to their teams like, "Let's all eat lunch together."
    • Opening 7 x 20m relay race got the events off to a great start.
    • Giving out medals and other awards at the end.
  • Great conversations
    • The competitiveness brought out some attitudes. This led to many opportunities for discussions about leadership, dealing with hardships, and respecting others.
    • With some of the nice, not-so-athletic kids winning events, it was great to be able to see how encouraged they were. I asked one meek boy how he felt about winning a gold medal in table hockey, and he replied, "I feel really proud of myself."

We have one more week of camp coming up. Then, time for a break!

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Saturday Round-Up (July 30)

Tomorrow is a special day for me personally. Stay tuned.

Sin, Promises, and Spirit.  I need both the Spirit and the Word to clear away the mud of my unbelief.

Low Self-Esteem Is Not as Bad as Total Depravity.  "Somehow she felt as though she needed to be better in order to be accepted, approved, or significant. . . . If the other woman appeared to be 'more together' or better looking, or better 'built,' then she would feel worse about herself."

It Only Takes One Generation for a Church to Die.  "Today there are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities of time and energy in one issue or another: abortion, pornography, home schooling, . . . When such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?"

Baptism - July 23 & 24.  It was the first time in years that we missed the weekend services where folks were baptized at Grace Church. Had friends on all three campuses that followed Jesus in baptism. So glad that we could at least watch the testimonies!

Startling New Truth About Sugar.  Researchers just discovered that sugar doesn't melt; it decomposes. That's cool to me just for research purposes. But you should care, too. Why? "This discovery is important to food scientists and candy lovers because it will give them yummier caramel flavors and more tantalizing textures." Yummier.

Leaders Celebrate the Loudest.  A great reminder to publicly brag on those who are below you.

The Debt Limit: Made Simple.  This video is from 20 months ago, but it gives a very simple explanation to the debt limit situation that the US is dealing with now. If you are as confused as I have been, watch this. (On a related note, we could solve the debt limit problem by minting a $5 trillion coin.)

Listen to Them or Lose Them

My daughter, Hannah, has lots and lots and lots of things to say. Lots. Just last night, I put her to bed at 9PM, and she excitedly says, "I had a weird dream last night. We were in Greenville, and there was snow! Like, all the way up to the doors. And we had to . . ."

She talks to Joanna through the aisles at the grocery store. She talks to Elijah for hours on end when we go on long car trips. She talks to my mom on the phone, while pacing around her room.

To be honest, it's exhausting to listen to her. So what am I to do?

According to Barbara Challies, I must listen to her or risk losing her.

Anyone else have a chatty daughter?

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"Bad Things Are All Around Me"

Some people say that there is nothing to do in Allendale. Manuel would disagree.

I met Manuel (not his real name) in the middle of June. Earlier that day, he decided to go to his grandmother's house. He was in for an unexpected treat.

Soon after he got to grandma's, she told him that he was going to join her at a party, which she had been invited to go to. Having no other plans, he went along. That's where I and other folks from Grace Church met him, and he got to have a great catered dinner.

What would make a teenage boy decide to visit grandma on a Saturday? Nothing else to do. What would make a teenage boy accept grandma's invitation to party? Nothing else to do. What would make him allow a 35-year old man ask him a bunch of questions? Nothing else to do.

Keep reading on Mission: Allendale . . .

4 Moms, 11 Kids, 2 Minivans

Water balloon tossing in our yard

One of my favorite things the last week of June was the arrival of 15 friends (4 moms, 11 kids) from Greenville. I know it wasn't easy to drive all the way down, deal with the heat (and bugs), and drive back -- especially with really young kids in tow.

But I'm sure that it will be a great memory for them all, and our friend Molly wrote about this adventure in We Be Trippin'. She writes,
When I would tell people outside of Grace or our circle of friends we were going to Allendale, the reaction was always similar: "Oh, neat. Where?"

To answer one of her questions, yes, we completely enjoyed their visit. Not only were they a blessing to the kids in the summer camp, but their willingness to come down here was a manifestation of how much they care for our family. We were so encouraged!

She concludes,
I'm already scheming ways to get back down there again, this time with Ryan.

Looking forward to her return, and anyone else that wants to come down!

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Poll Results: Blog Gadgets

Thanks to everyone who took the recent poll about the gadgets on my blog. Based on your feedback, the most useful tools are the:
  • Subscriptions (both email and RSS)
  • Blog Archive

Conversely, it was obvious that some things I had on here just weren't useful. The bottom three things were:
  • Feedjit (least amount of votes)
  • My Profile (I assume the About Me page takes care of this)
  • Labels (someone told me months ago they didn't like this, but I stubbornly ignored them)

So here's what I've done. As promised, I have cleaned up the blog by removing the My Profile and Labels.

But I'm leaving Feedjit (at least for now). Why? Because I am a data-nerd, and this little tool fascinates me. Besides using regular Google Analytics, I can use Feedjit to see where people are coming from to check on the blog, including which search terms.

This stuff fascinates me. I can't figure out what's wrong with you that you don't like it. But considering I was out-voted like 20-to-1, could it be that I'm the oddball?


Modesty and the Heart

We've known Cristin Henry for several years now, as we connected with her in our Community Group. Since she always took notes and did her homework (ehh, "prep work"), other group members called her my teacher's pet. They were jealous.

They should also be jealous because she was the winner of a free meal in Allendale. We are waiting for her to come (back) down.

She is one of the best thinkers I know, and one of the few young single ladies that regularly listen to podcasts by pastors like Mark Driscoll. She also blogs at Along the Path, where she recently did a series on modesty. I asked her to write a summary guest post for me. I think you'll enjoy, and be challenged.

Modesty is an interesting word.  Depending on whom you are talking to, it may be a great, admirable word or it may be an outdated, repressive word.  I have had several conversations lately on the topic of modesty, and as a result have thought about my own life and view of modesty.

The more time I spend thinking and talking about modesty, the easier it is to see that it is a heart issue.  It’s not about where you shop or what you wear as much as it is about what your heart is inclined towards.  When your heart is inclined toward Christ, the rest of your life, including what you wear, will be an overflow of Christ in your life.

For women, I see two main heart issues when it comes to modesty:  identity/value and love of others.

image courtesy of biewoef via sxc.hu
We find value in the honor of attention from others.  Attention from others is not inherently bad because it is a part of community and relationship.  It becomes dangerous and negative when our value is corrupted by the need for attention; when our identity becomes rooted in how others see and define us.  When Christ defines our identity, though, we no longer look to others to define us.  When our desire for acceptance is met in Christ, we are free to be who He created us to be without looking to others for acceptance. When our identity and value come only from Christ, our clothing will be a non-issue.

The other heart issue for many women is how we love others, particularly our brothers.  There are struggles unique to men, namely the struggle with visual, sexual images.  We are called to love our brothers in Christ by being considerate of their struggles and seeking to put their interests above our own.  The way I dress is not a matter of my freedom or my rights.  When I choose to follow Christ, I lay down all rights to myself – that includes my right to wear anything I want.  Even if my clothing had nothing to do with my approval or identity (which is not the case), I am still called to a higher standard out of love and respect for my brothers and for Christ.

What do you think about modesty?  Do you spend much time thinking about it?  Do you think it’s an important or relevant topic?  Paul seemed to think it was important enough to address in his letter to Timothy:

“…women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control…” – 1 Timothy 2.9

I encourage you to spend time thinking about the topic of modesty and dialoging with others about it.  Consider how your words, dress, and actions affect not only you personally, but also your brothers and sisters around you, as well as the next generation of women you are influencing.

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Explaining Autism to My Son

"Why does he like little kid toys?"

This was the question from my son Elijah, as we brought a Cars toy to the cash register, to purchase for a friend. The kicker? That friend is a teenage boy, not who you would normally think would be interested in "little kid" stuff. But this boy is different. He likes Cars, Transformers, Lego, Batman, and Star Wars, and not just the movies, but the toys, too.

What makes him different than most teenagers? He has high-functioning autism.

Our kids know a few children who fall in various places along the autism spectrum disorder -- one in the family (who also is a teenager), a few from Grace Church, and several other friends. Therefore, this Q&A that we had walking through the mall was not the first time we talked about autism, but merely continuing a much bigger conversation.

Here are some basic principles that my son and I discussed about:
  • For people who have autism, their brains work a little differently. Not wrong or right, just different.
  • There are some things this boy is better at (like building toys) and some things he's not as good at (like reading your emotions). 
  • Since he's good at some things, we can engage and encourage him in those, like by playing Lego and Cars. 
  • We can also intentionally engage and help him in areas that he's not good at. For example, since he's not as good at understanding your emotions, we need to tell him specifically when you like something, or explain when something displeases you.

We kept walking as we talked, and Elijah was soaking it all in. He thought for a moment, and then said, "So, with autism, it's not that anything is wrong. Like, there is nothing that needs to be treated or fixed. Right?"

"Exactly," I replied, "It's just another way that God made us different. He created, loves, and sent His Son to die for each one of us."

How have you talked with children about other folks who have "special needs," like autism?

[Edit: A few weeks after we gave him this gift, we ran into the boy and his mom at an event. Our youngest, Sender, went up to him and asked, "Do you have the car?" Much to our kids' delight, their new friend pulled the toy out of his pocket.]

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Time to Dream, Discuss, and Plan

Savannah Cotton Exchange
Early on in our marriage, we were given counsel that we need to regularly get away by ourselves, without kids. We started this habit from the outset, and have tried to make it a 2-night get-away every year. Not only was it always a good chance to rest and relax, but we also took the time to discuss, dream, and plan.

Read about our recent get-away on Mission: Allendale . . .

10 Reasons Allendale Is Better Than Where You Live

Some would say that this is an under-resourced area. You be the judge.
  1. Book mobile.
  2. Fried chicken from Clara’s.
  3. Sunday afternoon activities could include loading the family up in the golf cart to go to Hardee’s for milkshakes.
This post has been moved to the blog Mission: Allendale. Be sure to read the rest of the list here.

Favorite Things From the Past Two Weeks

 Had some other things I wanted to share last Saturday, about Encouraging Reminders we received.  So here's some catching up:
Frisbee AND ice cream - a great combination
  • A boy at Camp asked me to pray for his mom. He's already had a conversation with Joanna where he asked if she believed in God. It's evident that good deeds (like just being here) lead to chances to communicate the Good News.
  • We taught the older kids how to play ultimate frisbee.
  • We had the representative from 4H lead an Animal Camp this week. It was a nice break and change of pace from our usual programming. The last day included making homemade ice cream.
  • Three high school boys from Grace Church came down to stay for the week. They were so eager to come back (they were all down with the Student Mission Trips in June), to continue building the relationships that had already been formed. On Thursday afternoon, I enjoyed seeing a student walk down the hall, see one of our members, and greet him by name.
  • Every day this week, our 3 kids have wanted to ride with me to open up. They turn on the air conditioners, check the bathrooms, and put out breakfast foods. Being here has been a great family ministry!

Only two more weeks of Summer Camp! We've had a great summer, but we're starting to look forward to the end.

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    Saturday Round-Up (July 23)

    Can't believe summer is almost over! (That relates to none of the articles below; just had to say it.)

    The Suburban Criminal Rap.  Not as good as his "The First World Problems Rap" video (which you can watch here), but this kid is really sharp.

    How Dairy Farms Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Emissions.  On a dairy farm in southern Idaho, here are the emissions per head of cattle each day: one-third of a pound of ammonia, three pounds of methane, and 0.04 pounds of nitrous oxide. Multiply that by 10,000 cows, and you have a lot of gas.

    Breastfeeding Difficulties and Depression.  There is a connection between difficulties in breastfeeding and depression. The study doesn't say which is the cause and which is the effect.

    A Young Man's Guide to Understanding Retirement Accounts: The 401(k).  I was 23, and only a week out of graduate school, when I started my first job. So thankful I had some older guys who pushed me to start putting money away for retirement. I never saw or missed the 10% that came right out of my paycheck, but I loved the idea of an additional 5% as a match from my employer.

    "Simon Says" Is Good for Preschoolers.  Regular participation in an activity similar to Simon Says may lead to good math and literacy skills down the road. Does that count even if I am victorious over those rug rats all the time?

    You Say It's Your Birthday.  Did you know that the song "Happy Birthday to You" is under copyright until 2030? Warner Music Group collects up to $2 million per year from film and TV fees.

    My Brain Made Me Do It.  "People who struggle with addiction have always said they feel out-of-control. The popular diagnosis of sin is that it is deliberate and intentional. Sin, however, is intentional and enslaving. Sin says that addicts do what they want, but they are also tragically bound to their despotic desires."

    The End of 140.  This guy thinks that Twitter should expand to 280 characters. I disagree; when I want a public conversation, I use Facebook. Whatever you believe, you should follow me. @EspinosaJoey

    Are You Subscribed to Email Updates?

    I just sent an email to all the folks who have signed up for email updates. If you didn't get it, it may be that you never signed up, you entered the wrong email address, or that you never verified your account.

    Either way, you can sign up using the gadget to the right called Stay Connected via Email. Let me know if you tried signing up but aren't getting daily updates, by sending me an email.

    Related Link:

    Poverty: Allendale, Bahamas, and the Gospel

    Stocking the Allendale food bank
    What would make a young lady earn money (by babysitting and selling jewelry) for the purpose of leaving one impoverished area and "vacationing" in another? That is exactly what Lydia Fastzkie did, coming to Allendale last month (this article was written by her mom, Shannan).

    Poverty Is the Same, and Different
    The culture of poverty in Eleuthera (Bahamas) is very similar to Allendale.

    Read the rest of the post on the Mission: Allendale blog . . . 

    Becoming an Adult

    Just today, I came across two very different perspectives of what it looks like for children to become men.

    The Desiring God blog gave a summary of an older article from 1999. Today's post is called How to Help Your Boys Become Christian Men, and it has a link to the original, full-length piece. In the original article, Vern Poythress outlines the plan and process that he and his wife used. It's intense, and includes such projects as:
    • Memorizing the books of the Bible
    • Knowing Greek and Hebrew (tailored to age)
    • Memorize a children's catechism
    • Day-long personal retreat of prayer and fasting (with Dad)
    • Serving the church and the needy
    • Apologetics
    Pretty sure that we won't go to the lengths that he did, but I like the intentionality of their plan. We need that. We need to make sure that our kids know that they are a man (or woman) -- to define and grow into that role. Among other things that I love about being Jewish, there is something special about being a Bar Mitzvah (or Bat Mitzvah for girls), besides getting a bunch of gifts. Imagine that, that Jews and many other cultures that have been around for thousands of years have a specific process about becoming an adult.

    On the other hand, sometimes we think that raising kids to adults is as easy as a push of a button.

    HT:  22Words

    I think we'll fall somewhere in between requiring knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and pushing a button.

    Related Link:

    Burning Questions

    One of the best ways for students to learn is not by merely teaching them, but giving them the chance to ask questions. When they ask the question, they are more likely to listen to and remember the answer.

    That's why I've been excited to see a number of questions from youth answered on the Grace Church Student Ministry Blog. You can check out that site, or this recent post on the Grace Church Pastors Blog, that has links to a handful of questions, about hell, the cross, fearing God, and idols.

    Also, don't miss the recent answer about being generous when you are a student with no income.

    Poll: Blog Gadgets

    I'm quite the pack rat. That can be difficult when you move (we're on our 4th house since we've been married).

    This last time packing up, I got rid of a bunch of my old trophies and plaques -- everything from chess trophies from my childhood, to academic awards in high school, to scout team (i.e., practice squad) "player of the week" plaques from college.

    Don't worry -- the memories live on, and I took pictures of them.

    I think the blog could use a little cleaning up, too. I've added a number of gadgets over the months, and I want to clean up the ones that are just in the way. Please take the poll to the right, and let me know which you like MOST (select up to three).

    Even the best trophies have a limited season.

    Hypocrisy in Parenting

    In Passing on Your Faith, I wrote that kids need more than theological teaching; they also need their parents (and/or other mentors) to model a dynamic life in Christ. "Our kids don't just need our preaching. They need us to continually pursue and submit to Christ."

    Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, Second Edition (Resources for Changing Lives)Similarly, in Age of Opportunity (chapter 10), author Paul Tripp asks why we a heart for God is often not passed on from parent to child. He gives some possible reasons:
    1. Familiarity. "Somehow we need to break through the ordinariness that characterizes Christianity for our teenagers."
    2. Lifestyle. "The word that captures modern family lifestyle is not togetherness but separation."
    3. Hypocrisy. "Children whose parents have vocalized a strong commitment to their faith but have not lived consistently with it will tend to despise that faith."

    Of course, living consistently does not mean living perfectly. But these words stung, as I consider how I am parenting my children, such as:
    • when I talk about the priority of knowing Christ, but then make a too-big-of-a-deal out of how many bites of oatmeal they need to eat; or,
    • when I talk about God's graciousness, and yet I riddle them with guilt over sin or childish mistakes; or, 
    • when I demand repentance and forgiveness for how they treat each other, and yet I treat them with begrudging anger.

    My children's salvation experiences are not my responsibility, but my faithfulness in being a model to them is. I have screwed up over and over.

    Have you messed up, too? Like me, have you felt like there is no hope? If so you may need to follow Tripp's advice and go to your child and confess something like this:
    "The way I have lived and responded to you has often been a contradiction of how I have taught you to live and how God has responded to me. I know that this has often discouraged you and made you angry. I know that I have been self-righteous, unloving, condemning, and unforgiving, and I am here to ask for your forgiveness. . . . I ask that you would pray for me, and I would welcome you to come to me whenever you think I have responded to you in a hypocritical or unloving manner."

    Related Link:

    Double-Jointed Tricks

    Elijah has a few things like this that he's figured out. This one doesn't look as impressive here, but the first time he did it, he was only holding a washcloth. He could reach up and all the way back without letting go.

    Don't watch this next one if you get queasy.

    He's got a few more, like touching his thumb to his forearm (on the same arm, of course). These "tricks" make my wife cringe, which actually makes Elijah want to do them more.

    Related Link:

    Our Family Weekend Get-Away

    Early on in the process of moving our family to Allendale, we were given counsel from several people to get out of town regularly, to remember what life can really be like. This past weekend, we obeyed that advice.

    First picture of the day. Off to a good start.
    We went to Six Flags Over Georgia! Even better, we had 4 tickets for $38 and free hotel stay (two nights), which made this normally-expensive trip very affordable. How did this happen?
    1. Joanna had signed up for and received three tickets through a reading program -- her (the teacher), Hannah, and Elijah.
    2. Then, a friend gave us another child's ticket for Sender. 
    3. Online, I was able to buy an adult ticket for myself at a child's price.
    4. Other friends -- a couple that we know from Grace Church -- heard that we were looking for a place to stay. They graciously booked a room for us at a Holiday Inn Express for two nights. Of course, the included breakfast allowed us to save even more money.

    We were nervous about the weather and the crowds. I usually like to vacation in the off-season (i.e., during the school year) and during the week, but with my current job, that is not easily done. We expected a crowded park on a hot Saturday in July. But we were in for a treat.

    An overcast -- and occasionally drizzly -- day meant that it was not too crowded. And the weather only got up to the low 80s, meaning it was warm enough to dry off after Thunder River, but it was never too hot.

    Joanna doesn't do big roller coasters, but one of the first things the kids and I did was the Scream Machine. Maybe too much too soon. We all survived.

    To settle us all down, we moved onto the carousel, which is one of only three in the world that has 5 rows of horses. Thrilling.

    We rode lots of rides -- small ones, not the big scary ones. We saw a science show (Joanna's idea, not mine), and then a funny western show while eating funnel cakes.

    Speaking of food, we had a "nutritious" Mexican lunch (burrito, taco salad, and nachos), but dinner consisted of snack foods spread out over several hours -- funnel cakes, Dipping Dots, and French fries. It was our second time in 10 weeks eating carnival food for dinner (the first was at the Cooter Fest).

    If you go to Six Flags, buy the souvenoir cup for $14. You get free refills all day. I think we filled it up 8 times. The next day, Sender saw the cup in the minivan and said, "Oh, no. We forgot to give the cup back!"

    We got completely soaked on Thunder River. It helped us re-spike the boys' mohawks.

    This Mine Coaster (I forget the real name) was Hannah's favorite. It was the biggest ride Joanna did all day.

    In the afternoon, Hannah said, "I want to do the Mindbender." It has two upside-down loops. As we headed up on the initial ascent, she said, "I think I can do this." I said, "Honey, it's too late. You will do this." She closed her eyes through the loop, but she did it! So proud of her!

    Soon after, Elijah and I rode it. Here's a video of the second loop. I love what he says at the end.

    I tried bribing Sender to do it with cotton candy. No dice.

    It was a great day! We were at the park for a full 12 hours. Even for the little that we had to spend, we definitely got our money's worth.

    Related Links:

    11 Reasons I Asked My Wife to Marry Me

    Twelve years ago, I proposed to Joanna at a picnic shelter that no longer exists, near the lake at Furman University. Here is what I saw in her that made me want to marry her:
    1. Christ-follower.
    2. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Hot. A Pretty Young Thing. (**See below)
    3. Hard-worker. 
    4. Servant heart. It bothers her when she can't figure out how to help someone.
    5. Steady. Not overly-emotional and dramatic. She did cry when I proposed.
    6. I never had a Baptist father-in-law before.
    7. Fun-loving. She doesn't have my great sense of humor, though.
    8. Loves and cares for children.
    9. Because she never thought she'd marry a Jewish Yankee.
    10. Honesty and integrity.
    11. She's my best friend.

    So glad that I have her on this adventure in life!

    **Pretty Young Thing

    Related Link:

    Encouraging Reminders

    Jesus didn't promise comfort to His followers; He said that there would be struggles, obstacles, and enemies. The road is tough. Sometimes, we feel alone and isolated. Often, we are worn out, and may forget why we are doing this.

    A couple of the guys who came down in June, with Sender
    In those times, we are thankful for how God uses others to deliver messages of hope, encouragement, and refreshment. This week, we received a stack of notes from Grace Church students who came to Allendale last month. Here are some excerpts from their notes to us:

    Y'all are such a blessing to be around! I pray one day I will be able to come hang out with you again.
    The kids [in the program] are so appreciative of you and your wife and everyone who volunteers. Without you running the [program], who knows what they would be doing now.

    I am writing this letter to thank you for the example you have shown me as a Godly husband and father, completely abandoned and surrendered to what God has called us all to be. 
    [The summer camp] has really opened my eyes to how much we have!

    I thank God for giving me a chance to come down there, and I hope he blesses all of your lives.
    (Written to our 4 year old) Sender - I almost had a few tears in my eyes when you asked if you could sit by me at lunch and that you wanted me to stay with you. That was awesome!

    When I get older, I would not mind helping you down there, because it was a lot of fun when I was there.

    Your family is an example of how every Christian should live. . . . Our topic of our trip was "Sent," and your family really showed me what it meant to give everything for Jesus.

    I pray that God continues to use your family to show Christ and shine BRIGHT for Him and His glory. Thankful to have had y'all in my life for a while. May God bless you for your ministry.

    We would love more visitors! If you would like to come down for a day or more, please let me know by leaving a comment, or sending me an email.

    Related Link:

    Saturday Round-Up (July 16)

    Hope you find at least one worthwhile.

    How to Use Batching to Become More Productive.  We all know (don't you?) that multi-tasking is horrible, horrible, horrible for productivity. I'm going to start using the technique proposed in this article, where you list your tasks and focus on one at a time for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break.

    Glasses That Expose What People Are Really Feeling.  These were originally designed for people with autism, who tend to have difficulty reading others' emotions.

    Loss of Motion After Knee Surgery.  I played football for 10 years with no major knee injuries. Then, just two months into marriage, I tore my ACL playing church league basketball. (Boasting Alert: I tore it landing after blocking a 3-point shot.) Since I probably only have 95% of my range of motion, I'm sure I have arthritis waiting for me down the road.

    India's Grassroots Revival.   "The Indian church is growing at a rate three times that of India's Hindu population." A long article, but worth looking through. 

    Warren Buffet on Ending the Deficit in 5 Minutes. So simple. (But it's a lack of true leadership -- on both sides -- that hinders the process.)

    Amazon Sales Tax.  I always thought that it was odd that you could avoid paying sales tax by ordering through the mail. But I do like paying less money!

    Lack of Sick Leave Creates Tough Choices for Rural Workers.   "Caring for their own health or that of a loved one should not cost rural workers a paycheck or a job."

    Lessons in Manliness from The Old Man and the Sea.  Love this review. Makes me want to go back and join Santiago on his adventure.

    The Decline of the Nuclear Family.  "In the face of the confusion, hopelessness, and lack of any answers from our culture, one of the most radical things the church can call Christians to is back to God’s design for men and women."

    Motherhood Is a Calling (And Where Do Your Children Rank).  "Live the gospel in the things that no one sees. Sacrifice for your children in places that only they will know about. Put their value ahead of yours. Grow them up in the clean air of gospel living. . . . If you tell them the gospel, but live to yourself, they will never believe it."

    What Is the Church?

    Members from two churches together for worship in Allendale

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about a breakfast I had -- which brought together a black guy, a white guy, and a Hispanic Jew. I thoroughly enjoyed connecting with two local pastors.

    One the the things that we discussed is the church, that is, what does "church" mean in Allendale, and what should it look like. It was a great discussion, but before I summarize that, here's a little theology and context.

    Basic Theology of "Church"
    Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical TruthI've consistently heard that the New Testament has two concepts for the local church -- the universal church and the local church. But Charles Ryrie, in Basic Theology, is more accurate as he breaks the concept down into three categories:
    1. Universal: The whole body of Christ, in the entire world.
    2. Regional: Group of Christians in a specific area, comprised of multiple local churches. (Ryrie uses the term "visible" church, but I think "regional" is more descriptive.)
    3. Local: A group of believers that gather together regularly.

    A Christ-follower is a part of all three of these categories of churches, but it's the "local" category that many neglect to be a part of (more on this below).

    I think that the idea of a "regional church" is important for God's Kingdom-work to be accomplished. The church is God's primary agent of redemption to the world, and churches need to work together. For example, in the "church of Allendale," there are lots of local churches that God has a purpose for, so that His message of the Gospel can be made known.

    Being a Part of "Church"
    There is debate among Christians in the post-modern culture about whether church membership is important. The purpose of this blog is NOT to give a defense of church membership (I do think it's important and biblical). But here are some good articles that explain why you should be a part of a local church:

    What This All Means for Us
    As followers of Jesus, we are all a part of His universal body (or, church), and we have a mandate to be a part of the local church. But let us not forget to think about multiple churches in an area working together as the regional church. It is easy for members of local churches to think about their own building, people, plans, and needs. But doing so leads us to being church-centered instead of Christ-centered.

    Image courtesy of DartVader via sxc.hu
    Here's an example from the world of chemistry. You know what happens when you add sugar or salt to water? It dissolves, right? But remember that the sugar (or salt) molecules don't go away. The molecules are still there in the water. If you remove the water, the sugar (salt) molecules are left.

    What has the sugar or salt done? Well, especially in the case of sugar, it made the water better!

    It's the same with different levels of the "church." The smaller (local) church adds flavor to the bigger level. Local churches must work together to improve the regional church. And the local and regional churches are what makes the universal church effective.

    I heard a local pastor say it best, as he told his congregation, "I am a Kingdom-person first, before I'm a Baptist." If you don't see how what he said is a big deal, then you didn't grow up in a small town, denominational church.

    "Become Less"
    We, the individuals and the local churches, must dissolve in order to become part of God's bigger plan. When Jesus began His ministry, others thought John the Baptist might feel threatened. But he rightly replied (as recorded in John 3:30),
    "He must become greater; I must become less."
    We must be willing to put our plans and desires aside, to make room for the work of the Holy Spirit. The local church is MORE important then some want to believe, and LESS important than others want to admit.

    When it comes to the tension between local and regional churches, there are two extremes:
    1. We should remain completely separate, and each local church do their own good things.
    2. We must become one body and do all things together the same way.

    Both are equally wrong. We need to come together for purposes and seasons, and not just to get things done, but to build relationships. After all, it's by how we love each other that the world will know that we are Jesus's disciples (13:35).

    We need to be individuals together. We need to work together as local churches in a region.
    Sugar on toast is good, and cinnamon on toast is good. But best is sugar and cinnamon on toast.

    Pray for Our Family
    We know that being a part of the local church is crucial for our own health, and to be a part of God's redemption plan. The local church is God's primary agent to reach a lost world, and it's His primary means for us to be cared for and nurtured.

    We are still in the midst of figuring out what it looks like to be involved in the local (and regional) church in Allendale. Please pray for us, that we will know where and how to plug in. We want to continue to be used by God, and to get connected in community.

    Related Links:

    Financial Support Page

    If you haven't noticed, I recently updated the tabs on the blog. Besides the regular Home tab, you can check out the others: Contact, Financial Support, Mission:Allendale, etc.

    The Financial Support page is the newest, and was a suggestion from a friend of mine, who knew that we needed to communicate our financial needs, as we live and serve in Allendale, SC.

    In particular, I'm thankful for another friend who made the image for the blog, that shows how many supporters we need versus how many supporters we already have on the team. Here's a hint: You can find out about his mission in Brazil

    We are thankful for the two dozen families and individuals who are supporting us with monthly support, and the many others who have also donated to the cause. If you want to learn more about financially supporting us, be sure the see the Financial Support page on this blog.

    Muppets Singing

    Of all the videos like this (especially the ones where the Muppets do gangsta' rap), this isn't the best or funniest. But it's one of the cleanest, and a real nifty song.

    Educational Success: What Age Should We Focus On?

    image courtesy of anissat via sxc.hu
    When I first started working with kids in the after school program in Allendale County, I noticed that many were behind in their education level. As I wrote previously, education is one of the three basic problems in Allendale, and schoolwork is a struggle especially for boys.

    At first I thought that we need to focus on elementary-age. After all, this is when children are receiving a foundation of educational knowledge and skills. It's most serious with reading (if you can't read, learning anything is difficult), but even math skills are key at an early age. After observing that many children are already far behind by 3rd or 4th grade, I started thinking that we need to focus on students when they are in kindergarten. But then (as I said in that post about the 3 Basic Problems), I started to see that even that can be a late.

    Read the rest of the article on the Mission: Allendale blog.

    The Power of a Snuggle

    A great reminder from Steve Rose, on the Family Matters blog.
    For all you dads of daughters out there, give in to the snuggle.  It just may be the one thing that prevents your daughter from snuggling with someone else at the wrong time…

    Read the entire article here.

    Related Links:

    Homemade Kites

    Fun craft that Joanna found. I don't do crafts, but leave a comment or email me if you want instructions.

    I think it requires:
    • Tissue paper
    • Plastic grocery bag (cut up for a tail)
    • Straws
    • String
    • Tape


    Humility and Wisdom

    My kids are smarter than yours. How do I know? Simple logic:
    1. Let A = my kids; B = me; C = your kids 
    2. Truth: My kids (A) are smarter than I am (B).
    3. Truth: I (B) am smarter than your kids (C).
    4. Since A > B, and B > C, then A must be > C.
    I might be generalizing a bit with point #3, but my kids are certain about point #2. While they don't say it, they constantly act like it is true.

    When we try to engage them, such as when they are frustrated with schoolwork, they put up a mental and emotional "wall," refusing to allow us to enter their world and help them. They act like they don't want or need our help, being full of pride.

    Based on the current teaching from Grace Church on Proverbs, I decided to start reading through this book with the kids. Chapter 1, verse 7 is really  pertinent to the pride issue:
    "Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction."

    What I tried to impress on them was the irony of how fools consider instruction. One would think that someone who is truly wise would not need instruction, while a foolish person would welcome it. But God teaches that it is the wise person who seeks wisdom, and the fool doesn't want anyone to speak truth into his life.

    That is, the one who we think doesn't need more instruction (the wise) is actually the one who tries to grow in knowledge. And the one who we think most needs instruction (the fool) is actually the one who rebuffs the help of others.

    When my children are full of pride and refuse our instruction, they think they are wise, but they are actually fools in God's eyes. When this happens, they need to repent of their pride, and put their faith in the One who gives wisdom and life.

    Related Link:

    13 Ways to Frustrate Your Boss

    This is a response to Michael Hyatt's Thirteen Ways to Frustrate Your Employees.
    1. Flood your boss's inbox with emails.
    2. Show up late to meetings.
    3. Be defiant towards him or her, especially in front of your co-workers.
    4. Be inflexible.
    5. Don't communicate your expectations.
    6. Don't come to meetings prepared.
    7. Focus on superficial things, rather than things of substance.
    8. Be unfaithful with work that is assigned.
    9. Do all the talking.
    10. Take all the credit.
    11. Only remember the mistakes he or she has made.
    12. Assume you know all the answers.
    13. Be moody.

    Which side is worse -- the boss being frustrated or the employees? Well, it depends if I'm the boss or not.

    Engaging Allendale

    I've already written about having another Hannah in the our home. (And, with the three Student Ministry mission trips, there was always another "Hannah" in Allendale.) We're so blessed to have Swoapie be a part of our family this summer!

    Be sure to read the latest post she wrote, about Engaging Allendale. She talks about the relationships that have been built, and the blessings that come out of them.

    The other college student living here this summer is Wes Johnson, and he wrote a great post about two high schoolers who are also here.

    Oh, and the kids in Summer Camp loved watching our two interns dance; one even referred to them as the "Happy Couple."

    Related Link:

    Saturday Round-Up (July 9)

    Here's another random set of articles I came across this past week:

    WiFi "Napping" Doubles Phone Battery Life.  A Duke grad student found away to extend the battery life of laptops and smartphones. My Android definitely needs this.

    Refocusing on the Family.   Jim Daly has been leading Focus on the Family to be more culturally-relevant. His own story is a great one of how God can redeem life from brokenness.

    Killing Mosquitoes and Saving Water in Rice Paddies.  A safe polymer has been shown to reduce adult malaria mosquitoes by 93%, while also reducing water evaporation from rice paddies.

    Extended Sleep Time Improves the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players.   So this is the reason I wasn't a stud athlete. Forget my lack of speed, size, or strength -- what was really holding me down was my lack of sleep. Regardless, this article is a great reminder that I need more sleep in order to be a better worker, husband, dad, etc.

    Does "Education" Expand or Limit Your Options?  When I was in college, a mentor gave me this advice (as I was considering graduate school), "Get all the formal education you need to do what you want to do. But don't go to more school just for the sake of going to more school."

    Tree Frogs Self-Cleaning Feet.  Turns out, the frog uses mucus. "If this can be translated into a human-made design it could provide a reusable, effective adhesive." Yeah, if they want some of my 4-year old's excretions, he produces enough for all of us.

    Summer Jobs for Teenagers.  Only 25% of American teens have summer jobs. Why? Summer school and unpaid internships are a couple of reasons. But, "forget the kids who don't want to work. Worry about the kids who do."

    Wife & Mother: Power to Grow or Destroy.   An encouraging word for women, who hold great potential, capacity, power. (And for more, read What Is Ezer?)

    Dirty Words of Counseling.  Instead of "should" and "just," remember Because and Therefore.  "The gospel alone empowers obedience."

    Reported Costs of Drug R&D Questioned.   Despite being an organic synthetic chemist at heart, I am not a big fan of the sales and marketing used by Big Pharma. Part of that is because "85% of new drugs exhibit few if any advantages over existing drugs." My latest case-in-point -- what is the big deal with Zyrtec, when Claritin (even the generic version) does the same thing?

    Flight Deck of the Space Shuttle Discovery.  I saw the Discovery take off in 1985. Was the technology on it's flight deck top-notch 26 years ago? Check out this panoramic view.

    Leaving Anger on the Field.  In a study of 649 children low socioeconomic backgrounds, sports participation helped improve self-control and lower aggression. Because the impact was greater among boys than girls, it seems to connect with what I wrote about boys needing help with emotional self-control.

    Proverbs Family

    I hate that we're missing the sermon series from Grace Church (Greenville, SC) this summer, on excerpts from the book of Proverbs. But are glad that we can get the teaching series online -- audio, video, and notes.

    In particular, the past two weekends have been great topics -- on parenting and Biblical femininity.

    Disciplined Parenting
    In a culture where 80% of Christians say they put their faith in Christ by age 14, and where 85% of Christians leave the church before their sophomore year in college, we know we have a problem. For Christian parents, Passing on Your Faith must be more than a one-day-per-week event and a bunch of knowledge about God. Information (about God) must lead to transformation. God has to be the biggest thing in our home, every day -- not just on Sundays and before meals.

    On the Grace Church Pastors Blog is a summary of the teaching. Besides some recommended resources, there is a list of 8 principles that disciplined parenting must include:
    1. Supremacy of God
    2. Intentionality
    3. Consistency
    4. Authority
    5. Community
    6. Centrality of the Gospel
    7. Practicality
    8. Individuality

    I highly recommend you listen to the full sermon, or watch it below:

    The Excellent Wife
    The previous week was a sermon by Bill White, on Proverbs 31, the most famous passage in women's Bible studies. One important principle to remember is that being married is only a season in a person's life. Marriage is not a woman's (or a man's) identity.

    The following teaching has been helpful for me to understand Joanna. She is my partner, and is a nurturer to the core. That is, she gives her power up for the sake of making others powerful. She is a nurturer for me, our kids, and (more recently) for the children in the after school program where I work and where she serves.

    Likewise, this teaching has been helpful for Joanna to understand her own identity in Christ.

    Now What?
    I need wisdom. I need to grow and learn. I need to read through Proverbs (again) for my own sake. After all, the message of the gospel is all throughout the book of Proverbs. God, in His graciousness, reveals the way that humanity should live.

    And I know that my kids need wisdom, and they need me to help them get it. So, I started reading through the book of Proverbs with my kids. You would think that's an obvious thing, but it took me hearing that from two or three people in the past month before I decided to heed that advice.

    Related Link: