Thanksgiving: Understanding Two Sides of Giving Thanks

Recently I went with a couple of friends to the Starbucks Reserve in downtown Chicago. What an experience—especially as a coffee connoisseur! I couldn’t wait to order a flight of coffees to try. After ordering, I respond to the barista who took my order, “Thank you so much!” I made my way down to watch another barista prepare my coffees in this siphon almost chemistry-like contraption. When he finished and handed me the coffees I said, “Thank you!”  

As I sat there sipping on my flight of Hawaiian, Guatemalan, and Pantheon blends of coffee, these exchanges got me thinking about this whole idea of thanks, thanksgiving, or giving thanks.

My “thanks” was a cultural mannerism that I and others use to be polite. But I got to thinking, was I really giving her thanks for my coffee? Was I really thankful for someone doing what I was entitled for them to do? The coffee was mine! I paid for it… in fact, I paid a lot of money for it. Therefore, subconsciously I felt entitled to the coffee that I thanked the barista for.

Such an exchange got me thinking about this whole idea of thanks, thanksgiving, or giving thanks on Thanksgiving. 

Here’s a question that comes to my mind:

Are you truly giving thanks if you believe you are entitled to what you “give thanks” for?

In other words, if you believe you are entitled to something, have earned something, or paid for something, can you truly be thankful for it?

It seems we live in an entitlement culture. [To be clear: the entitlement culture is not just reserved for millennials. This type of culture spans generations.] 

People think they are entitled and owed certain things. Take kids for instance. Many believe they are entitled to play the gaming system as long as they want. Many believe they are owed a smart phone like all their friends. Many believe dinner at the house should be menu-style as opposed to what momma is cooking. They want bedtimes to be optional.

When parents allow them two hours for gaming, cook them a nice homecooked meal, or send them to a bedroom with a bed, mattress, covers, and pillows they aren’t grateful nor thankful because they feel owed or entitled to these things.

This brings me to the meaning of thanksgiving or giving thanks—something that Thanksgiving is all about. 

To truly understand what thanksgiving or giving thanks means, we have to understand its two sides—particularly from the biblical viewpoint. 

If we fail to understand the two sides, then our thanksgiving will either be missing, misdirected, or misunderstood.

Two Sides of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving (or giving thanks) in the bible has at least two sides: confession and praise. 

In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are two words that are translated into English as “thanks.” First, the word “Yadah”—not to be confused with Yoda—is expressive as it is mostly associated with praise; second, the word “Towdah” (which comes from Yadah) is confessional as it is mostly connected with offerings (sacrifices) of thanksgiving.

Here are some examples of Yadah and Towdah:

Psalm 47:17—“I will perpetuate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise [yadah] you for ever and ever.” (NIV)

Psalm 75:1—“We give thanks [yadah] to you, O God, we give thanks [yadah] for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds.” (NIV)

Isaiah 12:4—“In that day you will say: Give thanks [yadah] to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.” (NIV)

Psalm 95:1–2—”Come, let us sing or joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving [towdah] and extol him with music and song.” (NIV)

Psalm 116:17—“I will sacrifice a thank [towdah] offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.” (NIV)

Jonah 2:9—“But I, with a song of thanksgiving [towdah], will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.”

Thanksgiving, giving thanks, or being thankful, in short, is both expressive and confessional. 

To help apply these concepts to our lives, when we think of thanksgiving as “confessional” it may be helpful think about who we are and what we deserve.

When we think of thanksgiving or giving thanks as “expressive” it may be helpful to think about what we have received and how we should respond. 

Both the “confessional” and “expressive” elements of thanksgiving are inextricably linked to mercy and grace. 

Maybe you’ve heard mercy described as God withholding what we DO deserve, and grace being described as “Gods…Riches…At…Christ’s…Expense”—or God giving us what we DO NOT deserve.

We believe the Bible teaches humans are rebels who committed treason against the King of Glory. Mankind attempted to rob God of His glory and of His throne. As a result of sin, humanity shattered God’s image on their life and damaged the created order. What God created good, man ruined. As such, mankind deserves to be judged, sentenced, and executed. In short, as depraved, rebellious, and sinful human beings, we deserve, we are entitled to, we are owed no good thing. That’s the foundation of our confession…our thanksgiving. 

If we are going to practice true thanksgiving (or giving thanks) we must realize who we are and what we deserve.

However, God did not give man what he deserved. He did not order a judgement, a sentence, or an execution—punishments and consequences yes; but not a condemning sentence or execution. Rather, He lavished them with a Father’s love! He pursued them, promised them redemption, and properly clothed them. What God gave man and continues to give man—both through general and specific revelation—is grace!

Every good thing we have in life has been generously dispensed from the gracious hand of the Father. And the ultimate good that has been lavished on us is the sacrificial, atoning, and substitutional death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

However, our praise is that in God’s mercy and grace—which is ultimately realized in Jesus Christ—we have something to praise, worship, and supremely THANK God for. We have received something that constitutes offering our bodies as living sacrifices, and thus living in a constant state of praise and thanksgiving. It isn’t something we have earned, nor are entitled to. 

TRUE THANKSGIVING flows from a heart that has experienced GREAT GRACE. 

My prayer this Thanksgiving is that those who follow Jesus will truly give thanks to the Lord for every good thing that we have for we deserve no good thing! However, in Jesus, the Father has given us the treasure of heaven! 

As the psalmist says:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving (towdah); go into his courts with praise. Give thanks (yadah) to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation (Ps 100:4–5).

“God’s Life for You” App: The Essence of the Christian Life

I’m sure most of us have entered into the App store, found the app we wanted, and then proceeded to download it.

As most know, every app has a description of what the app is and what it does. Like for instance, the “Waze” app provides the following description, “Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. Join drivers in your area who share real-time traffic and road info to save time, gas money, and improve daily commuting for all.” There’s some other information under the “Description” but you get the idea. So in short, the “Description” provides information on what the app is and what it does.

What if “God’s Life for You” was an app? What would the description be? In other words, what is the essence of the Christian life? Here’s what I believe the “Description” would be, thus what the essence of the Christian life is:

God’s Life for You (The Christian Life) is about God creating a people for Himself. With the sole purpose of creating a people for Himself, the Christian life (in the power of the Spirit) is about:

1) God repairing you to reflect His image

2) God leading you to participate in His mission

3) God moving you to live in His kingdom.

When God saves you by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, the life He saves us to is one where he repairs His image in our life, leads us to participate in His mission on earth, and moves us in or makes us part of His kingdom in the world.

Image

In the very first chapter of Genesis we read that God creates man in His image. Image denotes reflection and representation. Thus, mankind was created in the imago Dei (the image of God) to reflect and represent God’s glory—His characteristics, attributes, nature, rule, and reign—to the created order.

More specifically, God’s image would be reflected and represented in mankind in three ways: socially, culturally, and spiritually.

Socially, mankind would reflect God in their relationships—how they engage other people. From marriages to neighborly engagement and every type of relationship in between, humans are to reflect the nature and attributes of how God relates to Himself—as He is the Triune God existing in community with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

If you think about how God relates to Himself, He does so in a mutual, respectable, honoring, caring, and loving way. In addition, think about how God related to humanity who had sinned against Him. Romans 5 describes how God engaged wicked humanity. While mankind was at enmity towards Him, God demonstrated love for sinful humanity by sending Christ to die for us. Moreover, Paul describes the kind of relationship Jesus has with His church in Ephesians 5:25–27, which is a model for how husbands are to relate to their wives.

Culturally, mankind would reflect God in the world—what they do in the world and how they do it. In other words, as mankind works the ground, takes the raw materials of creation to bring about culture and civilization, they are to do so in a way that brings honor and glory to God. For instance, when someone creates a musical instrument and begins to put rhythm and harmony—accompanied by words—they image God; when a beautician or a stylist takes a nappy, chaotic hair-do and cuts and styles it, they image God; when an engineer takes raw data and raw materials and puts them together to construct something, they image God; when an English professor teaches students vocabulary words and sentence structure and helps them put it all together, they image God.

Not only do our careers and vocations fit within the cultural realm, but our recreation (hobbies), civic duties, and any other cultural practices fit within the realm of cultural activity. Thus, how we view, engage, and carry out such cultural practices are to reflect God’s image—His characteristics, attributes, nature, rule and reign—in our life.

Spiritually, mankind would reflect God in the world—how they relate to God. Humanity was created to rule under the lordship, under the sovereignty of God. In other words, they were to see themselves as stewards of God’s creation and of God’s life for them.

Although God created mankind in His image to reflect His glory in the ways described, Adam and Eve’s sin and rebellion shattered God’s image in humanity. So rather than reflecting His radiant and stunning glory—His characteristics, attributes, nature, rule, and reign—mankind would reflect a distorted and damaged image of their own glory. The image man would project would be sinful, dark, and broken.

Thus, part of God’s work in salvation is repairing His image. Through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the believer, God is repairing His image within us so that we can relate to Him, others, and the world (our work, hobbies, and cultural participation) in a way that images Him and brings Him glory.

The Christian life is much more than saving people from their sins. It is about God reconstructing us, repairing His damaged image in us so that we can become the person, the people He envisioned from the very beginning.

Mission

It’s very easy to automatically go to Matthew 28:18–20 when thinking about a passage that describes God’s mission. However, I want the church (believers) to understand that God’s mission is clearly seen at the very beginning of time.

God’s mission was to fill the earth with worshippers who reflected His glory.

As worshippers would multiply and fill the earth, God would cover the earth with image-bearers who reflected His glory—signifying that He rules planet earth.

Adam and Eve usurped the rule and reign of God, desirous of becoming their own god. As a result, God’s mission to fill the earth with worshippers was temporarily thwarted. However, mankind continued to multiply and fill the earth with image-bearers who reflected a sinful, dark, and broken image. But God, who was rich in mercy, with such a great love for His prized image-bearers, initiated a global mission through one man, namely Abram.

Through Abram, God would begin a global mission of saving a people for Himself from all peoples on planet earth. In other words, through Abram and his descendants—through their declaration of God’s salvation, which many times was set up by their demonstration of His life in them—God would pursue and save people from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people group.

What will be the result of God’s global redemptive pursuit? Saving and repairing image-bearers who reflect and represent God’s glory—thereby who would signify that God rules planet earth. In other words, the result is completing the mission for which God created humanity—to multiply and fill the earth with worshippers who reflect His glory.

Kingdom

So far, the essence of the Christian life is about God repairing His image-bearers to reflect Him as they participate in His global mission of repairing image-bearers from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people group. The last description that is included in the essence of the Christian life is kingdom. A kingdom is comprised of a people ruled by a king. In other words, a kingdom is the corporate body or entity that a king rules.

When we think about the kingdom theme throughout Scripture, God’s intention has always been to create a people (a kingdom) for himself to reflect His image in the world as they participate in His mission.

Therefore, since the focus throughout Scripture has been on God’s (corporate) people and how He is conforming them into His image and using them to accomplish His purpose, it is impossible to fully “BE” who God is creating you to be without “BELONGING” to the people God.

In conclusion, putting these descriptions together, the essence of the Christian life is for believers to exist in a covenant community (part of the people of God) who reflects God’s glory as the community participates in God’s global mission.

This is the essence of the Christian life. Thus, it is the framework by which believers download the latest version of themselves as well as the framework by which churches structure their ministries.

Gospel-Centered Parenting Made Easy

In our culture we are constantly looking for something to make life easier. We are looking for a communication device that makes communication easier. We are looking for a car that makes transportation easier. We are looking for a self-help book that gives counsel and advice that makes life—in a particular area—easier. And so when it comes to parenting or the functionality of family, there are people that are looking for a way to make it easier. In fact, a book that comes to mind is Kevin Leman’s book, Have a New Kid by Friday. Wow, any book whose title promises to give you a new child by Friday (especially when it’s already Tuesday afternoon) must have some principles that can be easily applied to make parenting easier J.

This past Sunday at Springdale we addressed gospel-centered parenting (or families) from Deuteronomy 6. (You can view the message here). Now I admit, the title of this blog is a little bit confusing and misleading because gospel-centered parenting, as we learned this past Sunday, is anything but easy. In fact, in our own power it is impossible. Studying for the message on gospel-centered parenting made it quite clear that I often fail miserably.

Although it is impossible to be a gospel-centered person, parent, or family without daily surrendering to King Jesus and asking the Spirt of God to fill us, there are some things we can practically do that can make the pursuit of gospel centrality easier.

  1. Give yourselves grace, because God does. I think many parents put so much pressure on themselves to be a perfect parent that when they fail they beat themselves up. Maybe they let their anger get the best of them and go off on their child, and then for the rest of the day (or week) they constantly tell themselves that they’re such a horrible parent. Joannie and I call these times, Parent-Fail—times where we just blow it. And here’s the truth parents—and this goes for those who aren’t even parents—we will blow it! It’s a given. Although “positionally” in Christ, God sees us as perfect, practically (in practice) we are in the sanctification process of being conformed in the image of Christ. Also, I want to give a quick word to those parents who may have grown children. I know there are many parents with grown children who may not have known Christ when their child(ren) were under their roof, or who may not have been the gospel-centered parent they should have been. If that’s you, please know that God loves you and that His grace is sufficient for not only you, but your children. No matter how bad you blow it, or think you blow it, God loves you! He loves you despite your faults, failures, and imperfections. So, don’t beat yourself up over something that it is in the past. As Paul shares with believers in Philippians, “[forget] what lies behind and [strain] forward to what lies ahead…” (Phil 3:13). You cannot go back in time and change what is done. Thus, allow God’s grace to cover you.
  2. Give Him your worry or concern. The Bible teaches us not to worry (Matt 6:25). Obviously that’s easier said than done—especially with regards to our children. We constantly worry. Parents worry about their child’s health; their friends; their academics; bullies (or them being a bully); their future; the [chaotic] world and them living in it; and their safety and security. In short, parents can be the quintessential worry wort. And I get it since I am a parent of three. However, here is a freeing truth: Jesus loves your children even more than you do! I know there are difficult situations, circumstances, issues, and tragedies that parents and children go through. But in all things, God loves you extravagantly and He is in the process of recreating and renewing the world and your life. And one day God will wipe away every tear from your eyes for He will finally and completely make all things new (Rev 21:5). Thus, in the meantime you can trust God supremely—even with your children—for He loves you extravagantly; and not only because He loves you, but because He is the sovereign King over the universe.
  3. Give yourselves to making Jesus the hero of the home. James 1:16–17 states, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” The Bible teaches that every good thing that you have—your family, your spouse, your children, your health, your energy, your talents and abilities, your job, your paycheck, your house, your clothes, your food, your friends, your day offs, the vacations you take, creation, etc.—are gifts from God. As such, its important to be very quick to ingrain into your children that all the blessings of life that they enjoy have been gifted to them from their heavenly Father, their gracious King. For instance, Joannie and I have some pretty smart children. They do very well in school. I joke around and say they get their smarts from me. But, truthfully and biblically, their academic and intellectually abilities do not come from me (or even their mom who is wicked smart), they come from God. Thus, I constantly remind Caleb and Ellie that it is God who gives them the ability to do well in school. In addition, I make it a daily prayer with them that they turn around and use the gifts that God has given them to glorify and reflect His goodness and grace in their lives to those around them. Why? Because I want Jesus to be their hero! To make Jesus the hero of the home, is to (1) make much of him throughout the day and in all things, and (2) make sure your world lovingly revolves around His glory, His mission, and His word.
  4. Give yourselves to living out an alternative reality of what it means to be human, to be a family, and to be a parent. In other words, constantly ask Christ, is this how You want us to live? Is this how You want us to respond? React? Do we need to say no to this? Say yes to that? Am I pleasing You with how I’m leading my family? Am I trusting You in this area? Are there any idols (smaller gods) I’m struggling with? What gospel-centered community (i.e., church) do You want us to be devoted and committed to? The truth is that gospel centrality is countercultural to the ways of the world—it’s a life that’s an alternative reality to that of the world. Gospel-centered parenting will be, according to those who do not know Christ, a whole different reality. As the world looks at the way you lead and shepherd your family, God desires that you become a window by which they get a glimpse of the kingdom of God. By asking yourselves these questions and more, you’ll keep God in the forefront of your lives and live in a manner where He takes up the preeminent place in your life, thereby allowing people to see what it means to live life centered around King Jesus.

In conclusion, gospel-centered living and parenting is impossible! Once again, the only way to be a gospel-centered person (and parent) is to love Jesus with all your heart, soul, and might. When you love Jesus as such, Jesus takes up residence as the centerpiece of your life by which all facets and areas of your life revolve. When this happens, through the power of the Spirit, Jesus lives both in you and through you. The four thoughts above—giving yourself to God’s grace, being worry-free because of your trust in Christ, making Jesus the hero of your home, and living an alternative reality—are meant to be reminders and aids for how you can surrender your life to King Jesus and allow him to do through you what He wants to do and what He alone can do.

What’s So Special About the Church?

Over my life there have been “special” things that have meant a lot to me. There have been special toys like my Teddy Ruxpin. [My mom swears I took that bear everywhere.] I’ve had special friends and mentors in my life like Shane Harchfield that have played a huge influential role that has helped shape me into the man I am today. I’ve had special moments in my life like the day I came to know Christ, the days I proposed and married my sweet wife, and the days all my children came into the world (although I was half asleep when Ellie came into the world). For many of these special things they continue to hold a special place in my heart.

As I was reflecting on the message this past Sunday—A Picture of a Revolutionary Church—I couldn’t help but think about the uniqueness of the church and how she is one of those special things in life. But what’s so special about the church one may ask? I can think of at least seven things that make the church special and unique.

  1. The Church is the bride of Christ.

The New Testament likens the church, followers of Jesus, to a bride (see Rev 19:7). Jesus is the bridegroom and we, the church, are His bride. Now, I’m no expert on marriage—having been married for only twelve years—but if you don’t view or treat your spouse as special there’s a serious problem. Likewise, the church should be viewed as something special because she is the bride of Christ. I’ve heard many say that they love Jesus, but don’t necessarily care for the church. The problem with this is that if you love Jesus, you will love what he loves—and the truth is He loves His bride.

  1. The Church is the people of God and the body of Christ.

Where the church is present, God is present. In the Old Testament, God chose to take up residence in the tabernacle and later the temple where He would be present among His people. In the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, Jesus was God incarnate who “tabernacled” with and among His people. When one saw Jesus, they saw God. Prior to His resurrection and then ascension, Jesus promised to send His disciples His Spirit to indwell them. When the Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost, filling the followers of Jesus, the church became the dwelling place of God. No longer was a temple needed to house the presence of God; now because of the finished work of Christ His people became the spiritual house whereby God’s presence dwells.

The church, therefore, is special because she literally is the locale where the presence of Jesus is manifested. When one sees the church—whether gathered or scattered—they are gazing upon the presence of Christ.

  1. The Church is the vehicle that advances God’s mission in the world.

God, throughout Scripture, has aimed to create a people for Himself who would advance His mission of making Him known throughout the created order by reflecting His glory in all spheres of their life. However, Adam and Eve failed in the mission when they succumbed to the serpent’s deceptive temptation. In addition, Israel failed to be the God’s glorious light to the nations as they continued to chase after false gods. But it is through the church, because of the finished work of Christ and the Spirit’s indwelling, that the mission of God advances throughout the world in every nation.

The church is special because she is God’s chosen vehicle by which He moves through the world inviting people (through verbally sharing the gospel) to repent of their sin and idolatry and to surrender to and confess Christ as their Lord, God, King, and Savior—thereby becoming part of His people, the church.

To be part of the church is to participate in God’s mission of making Him known.

  1. The Church is the window by which people look to see the kingdom of God.

I love shopping! I know it’s weird for a man to like shopping, but I can’t help it. When it comes to shopping, I’m more of a window shopper. I like peering through the window to see if there’s something good to be had—especially a good deal! The nice big windows are the lenses by which I see whether or not something good is to be had.

Just as department stores use big windows and displays to catch the attention of those passing by, God uses the church as large windows for people to catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

Being the windows that give people a glimpse of God’s kingdom makes the church special. As the church (both individually and corporately) lives under the rule and reign of God in all areas of life—personal, emotional, marital, familial, relational, vocational, financial, and cultural—she reflects what life in the kingdom of God looks like.

  1. The Church is a loving, supportive, caring, and encouraging family.

As Americans, we are some of the most individualized and isolated people on planet earth. Yet, at the same time, we are some of the most lonely and depressed people who long for true community and connection. If you don’t think we long for community and connection, look no further than Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. People want community and connection. But the truth is, it’s hard to find the type of connection and community we were made for.

The church is so special for she is the community, connection, and family we are longing for, and not only that, but she’s the community, connection, and family we were made for.

Biblically speaking, the church is suppose to be the most loving, forgiving, supportive, caring, gracious, kind, and encouraging family and community in the world. When you find this kind of family, you have truly found something special.

  1. The Church is a selfless, sacrificial organism that enhances life.

My grandma is one of the most selfless and sacrificial people in the world. She is constantly putting others before herself. When she goes to the store it’s not to look for her, but for others. My grandma pours her life into the cups of others. The church is special because, like my grandma, instead of sucking life out of a community, city, or the world, the church breathes life into them. Instead of seeking or receiving glory, the church seeks to give it. Just as Jesus gave His life for the glory of God and for the good of the dying world, the church (in a similar manner) is to do likewise. As the church lives a selfless and sacrificial life she pours her life into others thereby enhancing life and bringing flourishing to the cities and communities where she resides.

  1. The Church is a transformative agent.

I’m grateful for laundry detergent. Why, you ask? The simply answer is laundry detergent is the transformative agent that cleans my clothes and allows me to wear my clothes again without the fear of having a fowl smell exude from my body.

In a similar manner, the presence of the church in the world is a transformative agent that gives off the sweet aroma of Christ in a fowl and putrid world.

In addition, the church acts like salt and light providing taste, preservation, and exposure to a tasteless, decaying, and dark world. Therefore the church is special because as she is empowered by the Spirit, God works through her to bring transformation to people, families, communities, and cities around the world.

In conclusion, the church is special because she is special to God. The church holds a near and dear place in the heart of God. Therefore, the church is special to me, and holds a near and dear place in my heart. In all honesty, I can’t help but love the church and be devoted to her—regardless of her imperfections. My prayer is that every believer would see the uniqueness and the specialness of the church, and how God is using her to glorify Himself, advance His mission to every nation, reflect His kingdom, work for the good of the world, and conform His people into the image of Jesus.

Budgeting Grace

I’m so glad it’s finally March. Why, you ask? Because it’s a new budget cycle. You see, Joannie and I have a monthly budget where we allot a certain amount of money for giving, groceries, gas, bills, personal expenditures, entertainment, and miscellaneous expenses. By the end of the month our spending budget is slimmer than a shoestring French fry on hydroxycut. As a result, I have to wait until the first of the month to go back to Starbucks, buy some more milk for my Fruitloops, and have a breakfast date with my wife (which we did yesterday morning J).

This budget thing got my wheels turning this morning. What if God gave us a grace budget each month? How soon would we spend through that budget? Sixty-minutes? One day? A week? Could we make it a whole month? Just think about the amount of grace that would need to be available in the account to cover our dirty minds; to cover the times when we act under the influence of selfish pretenses; to cover when we yell at our children for not flushing the toilet; to cover our greediness when we fail to be generous; to cover the California howdy that we give our fellow traveler that cuts us off in rush hour traffic; to cover our self-glorifying good deeds; and to cover the countless times we fail to give thanks, to give praise to the King of Glory. I’m sure you get the picture.

If there was such thing as a grace budget, I’m sure we would all agree that it would need to be extravagantly substantial to cover all our faults and failures, and sins of omission and commission. Great news, there’s no such thing as a grace budget. In fact, the Bible teaches that those who confess their sin and place their faith in Christ as Lord (King) and Savior are forgiven of their past, their present, and their future faults and failures, and sins of omission and commission. In other words, their sin-debt has been paid in full, and they—through the deposit of the Spirit—have been bestowed a never-ending budget of grace. I love the way John puts it, “For from his (Jesus’) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

It is because of Jesus we have a stockpile of grace!

In light of Jesus’ never-ending, everlasting, overflowing, and extravagantly abundant account of grace that he has provided us, how should our lives be impacted?

1. We should live in light of grace. Paul states in his theological treatise (which is Romans), “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2). In the context, Paul explains how the law exposes and increases sin, but grace comes in, and in abundance trumps law. Paul understood that some might understand the marvelous and extravagant presence of grace as a license to continue to sin, to continue living any way they wanted to.

However, that is not at all what the presence of grace does in one’s life.

Those who understand the measure and meaning of grace realize that grace transforms and serves as another law by which people live.

As a result, rather than living by the law of Moses that served as a means to expose and increase sin, Jesus’ grace serves as a means to forgive sin and incite a life of sanctification—a life that, through grace and the power of the Spirit, is [being] transformed into the image of Jesus.

Understanding that we have been saved by grace, and are being sustained and sanctified by a relentless and never-ending account of divine grace, we live a faithful life that exuberates—in every area —a gratefulness and thankfulness to our gracious King. Thus, no matter how much month or how little month is left, God’s abundant grace is readily available to encourage us and exhort us onward in faithful obedience.

2. We should show others the grace that has been shown us. In other words, we should provide the same type of grace account to others that Jesus has provided us. Think about it; the same unmerited favor and love shown us—stinky, slimy, sinners of planet earth—is the same kind of favor and love we should show others.

I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking the same thing: “I’m not Jesus!” I get it. It’s hard to show grace to others—especially those who wrong and hurt us, to those who annoy and disturb us, to those who disregard and dismiss us, to those who are mean and hateful, and to those who are different and unlike us. Yet, in showing these people unmerited favor and unconditional love we image Jesus. For it was Jesus who showed us—people who had wronged, hurt, annoyed, disturbed, disregarded, dismissed, and who were completely different and unlike him—grace!

I believe what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3 is helpful for us here. He writes,

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. . . . Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. . . . To me…this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Paul basically explains that God showed him (who according to himself was the chief of all sinners) grace so that he can share and show grace to others, especially Gentiles! We know through the New Testament that Paul’s grace account towards others never ran dry. He persisted, even in much suffering and pain, to share and show God’s amazing grace. Paul’s persistence in being a geyser of grace to others finds it origin in the never-ending spring of God’s amazing grace that had been shown him.

You may be reading this and going through a tough time. Maybe you feel as though you haven’t been yourself. Maybe you feel as though you’ve been short with others—your spouse, your children, or possibly your co-workers. Maybe you haven’t been as giving or generous as you would like. Or maybe you are struggling with a sin, an addiction. And your struggles have left you pretty flat, downcast, and frustrated with yourself. What you really need now is to know that there’s some extra grace in your account!

In God’s economy, grace is abundant and always available.

So, withdraw some grace and apply it to your life. But remember, don’t apply it so that you can go right back to the pattern of living that robs you of the joy of God’s grace.

Some may be reading this and realize that your grace budget for others isn’t where it needs to be—it isn’t imaging Jesus’ grace account for you. In fact, there may be someone that you are having a difficult time showing any grace because they already (from your perspective) emptied the grace account. And what you need today is a little reminder of Christ’s grace account for you. Is it painful? Absolutely. Is it humbling? Totally. Is it worth it? Let me ask you a question back: Was Christ’s display of grace to you worth it? Of course it was.

I can speak from my own life and say that I am extremely grateful that God’s budget of grace never fails, never runs out, and is always readily available—24/7/365 days a year. So while my financial budget may struggle at the end of the month, I know that “through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. Tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” And this same grace that is readily available for me is the same grace I need to make readily available to others.

Prayer and Politics: Four Things I’m Praying for During this Political Season

Seasons have a way of shaping the content of our prayers. If in a season of crisis, our prayers typically include asking the Lord to either avert the crisis or walk with us through it. If in a season of tragedy or grief, we usually pray that the Lord provide comfort and peace. If in a season of bliss, our prayers typically are rich in thanksgiving and praise. But what about a political season like the one we are in now?

What kind of prayers do you think people, especially Christians, are lifting up? Obviously, I cannot say with certainty what people are or aren’t praying. I can, through browsing the pages of social media and media outlets, make an educated guess. There are some believers praying for their particular candidate to win. Some are quoting the Psalms, asking the Lord to comfort them in their distress. Some are praying that voters—especially those of a Christian persuasion—have a change in hearts and minds of whom they will vote for.

In all honesty—although I would classify myself as a politically engaged person—I find myself crestfallen (deflated) and heartbroken in this political season. Our country has collided with the present future teeming with ethnic, racial, political, religious, moral, ideological, philosophical, and political diversity. As a result, the collision leaves our United States not so united, but rather fragmented, fractured, and fearful.

But if this wasn’t disheartening enough, I’m afraid that the American church may be no different.

Instead of serving as a doctor suturing the national wound of division, the disunity and fragmentation within the American church (especially Evangelicalism) has sliced open the divisive wound even more.

In other words, instead of serving as the bonding agent that enters into the brokenness and pain bringing healing and restoration, many believers and sects of Christianity—by their words and posture towards others—have, from my perspective, intensified the brokenness and pain that exists from division and fragmentation.

This leads me to four things I am praying for during this political season. Here they are:

1) Unity. For my fellow believers, think about it, if we find it difficult to agree on secondary and tertiary theological matters, what makes us think we can agree on political parties, politicians, and policies? Yet we are called to be unified. In fact, Jesus prayed in John 17, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17: 11). We must remember that unity is not uniformity. When believers attempt to create uniformity they usually incite division and cause disunity.

So my prayer is that believers would seek to be unified and remember that while there may be multiple parties, politicians, and policy positions, “There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4–6). I also pray that believers will work towards unity by speaking wholesome words of encouragement not fracturing ones of division, and will embody a disposition that can agree to disagree and yet worship side by side in complete harmony.

2) Witness. When Christians enter the muck and mire—the mudslinging—of American politics they become part of the dirty laundry in a dirty world that desperately wants to be clean. Participation in such behavior is off-putting not attractive. In addition, when we fail to love and show grace, even in an arena where I don’t know if those two words exists, we distort our gospel witness. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about American politics (and I’m sure global politics) that brings out the worst in people, even Christians.

So my prayer is that the church would be salt and light in a world filled with tastelessness and darkness; that Christians would radiate the eternal light of the glory of King Jesus even as they engage in the temporal realm of politics; and rather than engaging in behavior or activism that builds barriers to effective gospel witness, believers would engage in such a way that builds bridges to those who are far from God. 

3) Peace. At some point in this political season many people will be disappointed and discouraged. Why? Because their person or party will lose. As believers, while you may be disappointed or discouraged that your man (or woman) didn’t win, hopefully you will not be downcast or depressed—or better yet angry and bitter. Why? Because your hope isn’t in politicians, politics, policies, or government, but in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Jesus Christ—the King of Glory—purchased our hope through his shed blood and resurrected life, and has sent His ambassadors (the church) to preach the good news that brings great peace!

So my prayer is that believers will be at peace with whatever happens because they trust in the Lord and His sovereignty, and that they will seek to be people of peace who share and show the good news of Jesus Christ.

4) Dignity and Respect for All. Dignity and respect for others is conceived from a love for God and a love for others. Once birthed, dignity and respect is manifested in our words and our behavior towards others. The Apostle Paul encourages believers:

  • “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another and tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:29–32).
  • “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col 4:6).

So my prayer is that the words, social media posts, and engagement with opposing political views from Christians will be wholesome and holy—displaying a dignity and respect for all. I pray that believers will not succumb to the temptation to mudsling or repost mudslinging posts or articles that tear down rather than build up.

As you can see I’m praying more for a faithful presence in the lives of believers and in the corporate life of the church. The reality is, I’m not as concerned for the personal vote one casts as I am for a gospel-centered life one lives. Sure, I want people to make an informed, educated, and prayerful decision about the candidate they will vote for and the direction of our country.

However, for me, the most important thing is that Christians live a life that displays the greatest decision they have ever made—namely to follow King Jesus, the God who ransomed and redeemed them—and a life that demonstrates the belief and hope that America is not their final destination but the consummated Kingdom of God.

In closing, as we walk through this heated, nasty, and divisive political season, may the church, the people of God, rise above the fragmented fray of American politics and endorse unity rather than uniformity; may believers give radiant witness to their Rescuer and Redeemer rather than their political hero or their national savior; may believers rest in Christ’s sovereignty and seek to be at peace with whatever happens and to be peace by sharing and showing the gospel; and may those who profess Christ treat all people (regardless of party or policy) with dignity and respect—even if you think the person or persons don’t possess dignity and respect for others, and are your opponent, enemy, and a dirty, rotten scoundrel.

In doing these things, I truly believe the church will have a greater potential of being a blessing to all regardless of one’s political party, class, ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, religious belief, or ideology. In short, may the Lord be glorified and people be blessed by our politicking.

F.A.M.I.L.Y. Devotions

Parents, how many of you are intimidated at the thought of leading your family in daily devotions? And just so that we are on the same page, daily devotions are a time set aside for you to read a passage of Scripture with your family, discuss it, and end in prayer.

If I had to go out on a limb (a strong one so that I didn’t break it and fall), I would assume that many parents have an overwhelming feeling at the thought of leading their family through such a time. Maybe apprehension sets in because you may think, “I don’t know a lot about the Bible myself,” “I don’t have the time,” “I don’t really know what to do,” “I don’t have it together myself,” “I’ve really never taught kids the bible,” or “My kids can’t sit still long enough for me to do one.” Or you may have questions like: a) Where do I begin? b) What passage of Scripture do I read? c) What do I say? Or d) Is there a good family devotional book that I could buy and use?

These anxieties and questions are very real, and ones that I, as a pastor, have had at one time or another.

To hopefully bring some aid to both you and me in the area of daily devotionals, I think it is important that we answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of family devotions?
  • When and how long should they be?
  • What do I want my kids to learn during that time?

What is the purpose of family devotions? The purpose is simple: to draw your family into a corporate time, as a family unit, to focus upon the glory and centrality of Jesus and to remind everyone that Jesus is the hero of the family.

Regardless of whether or not you have a three year old or a seventeen year old, this (or something similar) should be the purpose of your family devotional time.

As believers, when our children leave our home, they should know that the hero of their family continues to be the hero of their lives, namely Jesus!

When and how long should family devotions be? I think the issue of time may be one of the biggest questions or even obstacles that [busy] families have. Parents’ workload, their long workdays, and the children’s busy extra circular schedules, seems to suction all the time out of families’ schedules.

I understand the time restraints. But, let me be somewhat bold and vulnerable here. I think family devotions are too important to neglect. And, in all honesty, I have neglected that time far too much as a father.

The truth is, I don’t think family devotions are neglected because of busyness, but because of a lack of discipline.

What we value, what’s important, is what we invest in. When family devotions become an important, even an essential, time for families, parents will build the margin to see that they are done.

For Joannie and I, we have built in that time during their bedtime routine. After their pjs are on and their teeth are brushed, we all gather in one of the bedrooms. I’m not going to lie, sometimes they file into the bedroom like little good soldiers armed and ready to listen and participate; other times, they come in like little wrestle-mania wrestlers body slamming one another; and still, other times, they come in trying to find their missing Legos they weren’t worried about for the last 72 hours.

As many of you can attest, family devotionals not only require discipline, they require patience. [I don’t want to yell and threaten them that they are about to meet Jesus when I am about to share Jesus with them.]

Once settled, we spend anywhere from five to fifteen minutes reading, discussing, and praying. Yes, that’s it. Family devotions do not have to be a long drawn out ordeal. Sure, it may feel like a long drawn out ordeal as you settle-down your younger children. But once they are settled, it doesn’t have to be long. [And Joannie would add, there may be times that it seems that all hell breaks loose—that their attention span is that of a gnat, one child is swinging of the bunkbed like a monkey, and the other one is slapping at fleas jumping off from the dog—and the best thing to do is simply close the time in prayer. And that’s o.k.]

Family devotions are not about quantity of time but quality of time.

What do I want my kids to learn during that time? This is an important question, and one that builds on the first. So, if we want the family to concentrate on the glory and centrality of Jesus, how do we go about that? To help our family concentrate of the greatness and glory of Jesus (even to a 9, 7, and 4 year old) I created the acronym F.A.M.I.L.Y.:

  • F- Faith
  • A- Adoration
  • M- Mission
  • I- Intimacy
  • L- Lost condition (sin)
  • Y- You

As of now, our family is going through the Storybook Bible, which is a great resource! [If you don’t have the Storybook Bible, I would encourage you to download it (it’s on Amazon for $3.99) or purchase it.] After reading a passage, Joannie and I methodically walk through F.A.M.I.L.Y. asking the following questions:

  • Does this passage/story teach us about Faith in God? Faith simply means trust, belief, or confidence in God—who He is, what He says, and what He promises. Scripture is full of men and women who trusted and believed in God.
  • Does this passage/story teach us about Adoring God? In other words is there anyone in this passage that responds to God in worship, praise, thankfulness, or gratefulness? Or is there something that God does here in this passage that you would respond in worship, praise, gratefulness, or thankfulness?
  • Does this passage/story teach us anything about God’s Mission? For me, I have communicated to my children that God is on mission to create (to save) a people for himself from all peoples (nations, languages, people groups, and types of people). Thus, I ask them if the passage we are reading communicates anything about God creating a people for himself? I am trying to engrain in my children that God’s mission includes far more than solely evangelism; it also includes how we live, work, go to school, and treat others.
  • Does this passage/story teach us anything about Intimacy with God? Here I want them to see what it means for people to have a relationship with God. I also want them to see that those who have an intimate relationship with God—those who know God—live differently from those who don’t. A relationship with God is transforming!
  • Does this passage/story teach us anything about the Lost Condition (the sinfulness) of man? In asking this question, my goal is for them to see how man— whether they know God or not—struggles with sin and how sin is demonstrated and manifested in a person’s life. What has become clear, especially through observing Jesus’ disciples, is that man not only needs Jesus for salvation—to be saved from the penalty of sin—but for sanctification—to continue to be saved from the ongoing presence of sin in our life.
  • Does anything in this passage/story stand out to You? Here we give our children a chance to share with us something that stands out to them, or a chance to ask a question that they may have.

Some may be wondering if every story or passage of Scripture has every element that I have just listed? Some do, some don’t. Some may be wondering if we ask every question, every night? Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. Again, it isn’t the quantity—it is the quality. There are some passages and stories where it may be more advantageous to concentrate on the mission of God, and others where it might be more advantageous to discuss adoration and the lost condition (sinfulness) of man. I would encourage you to let the Spirit of God lead you in those moments.

In short, if you are parent and do not have a family devotional time, I would encourage you to start. If you have young children under the age of 12, I would encourage you to use the Storybook Bible and walk through the F.A.M.I.L.Y. acronym. Or, if you don’t have the Storybook Bible, I encourage you to grab a child-friendly bible version and start in one of the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John—and walk through the F.A.M.I.L.Y. acronym.

Family devotions do not have to be overwhelming or intimidating, they can be short, simple, and sweet. And if done consistently, over time, parents will find that family devotions will be an investment that shapes both the heart of your child(ren) and you.