Kids Can Handle More Than You Think

One of my favorite moves of all time is UP by Pixar. Up always reminds me that kids can handle hard things. In the course of the two hours this “kids” movie addresses, death, miscarriage, and divorce. How does Pixar tackle those topics? With story. The story of UP is simple but powerful. Up is really fun and most of all it’s incredibly moving. I think as parents or leaders we tend to protect kids from difficult topics or shelter them from the hard stories of the Bible. To avoid the temptation to skip hard conversation because kids aren’t ready.

How do you handle hard truths for kids?

  1. Start by not avoiding hard truths because they are hard.
  2. Tell them the truth in a story – Jesus did this before Pixar did.
  3. Tell them with humor – Use appropriate humor to disarm and protect the kids you are speaking to.
  4. Be truthful – Don’t lie to make it easier, don’t skip parts of the Bible. The idea that certain parts of the Bible are not appropriate for kids isn’t true. The question isn’t appropriateness but rather “How can I teach this truth in an age-appropriate way.”
  5. Show kids Jesus – teach kids that when we don’t fully understand everything which we won’t because we are finite. What we do know about Jesus allows us to trust what we can never know to Jesus.
  6. Lastly, tell them – tell them of the hard stuff you have been through and how Jesus has been faithful in the middle of it all.

How We Stop Short in the Debate on Christians and Alcohol

I came across this article on Facebook a few years back “Can a Christian drink alcohol?” It did an excellent job of warning people of the very real dangers of alcohol. It’s important. People need to hear those dangers loud and clear. Alcohol, when abused, causes much pain. My grandfather was an alcoholic and was apart of AA his whole life. I understand.

The problem with the debate of alcohol is every person I have heard preach against it has stopped short of the real problem alcohol represents. In stopping short, they make alcohol out to be evil when there is nothing in scripture or in 2000 years of church writing that would show alcohol as evil. Alcohol is not evil; the abuse of it is. The excessive reliance on it is. Alcohol does not ruin marriages as the author of the above link purports. It’s something far more sinister that ruins marriages. Just talking about the adverse side effects of alcohol as he does isn’t even intellectually honest.

I grew up in a church culture that, through proof-texting and liberal interpretation of the scripture taught that Jesus never drank wine, he only drank grape juice. I have also been in situations where I have been teased by Christians because I was not drinking alcohol. Both are wrong. We stop short in the debate over the consumption of alcohol when we fail to communicate and that the problem is not fermented grapes; the problem is you and me. We hammer on the symptom but fail to address the cancer far below.

Love how Tim Keller, in his commentary on Romans, addresses the Idols of our hearts.

In the book of Romans, Paul develops a profound anatomy of sin. He shows us that sin goes much deeper than mere behavioral violations; it begins at the motivational level. This is why, as he will go on to explain in Romans 8, sin cannot be resisted through mere willpower. The only cure to sin through the application of gospel truth by the Holy Spirit, at the motivational level.

1. Our root problem is our unwillingness to glorify Godto give him the centrality that is his due

2. Therefore, we choose to create things to be our “gods.” In order to deny God control of our lives, each of us chooses a created thing (or things) to live for and worship instead.

3. Therefore, each life is distorted by a life lie. At the base of all our life choices, our emotional structure, and our personality is a false belief system centered on an idol—the belief that something besides God can give us the life and joy that only God can give. We have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (1:25). We look to something besides Jesus to be our “savior,” our “righteousness,” the thing that makes us good and acceptable.

4. But each life is a kind of bondage. No one is actually “free,” for we must serve whatever it is we have decided to live for—so people have “worshiped and served created things” (1:25). Since every human being must have an ultimate “good” by which all other choices are made, and values are judged, we all “offer [our]selves” to something (6:16). Therefore, every human being is in “covenant service” to a “lord” that works out its will through our bodies (6:16-19).

5. Even after conversion, our old, false saviors/lords and their attendant false belief systems still distort our lives—unless the power of the Holy Spirit continually renews our minds and hearts (7:14-25).

6. The key to freedom is the application of the gospel of grace. “Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (6:14).

The debate we rarely have in Christian circles is what we are clinging to more than Jesus. Why, when we feel scared or lonely, do we turn to the abuse of alcohol to numb our pain. The cancer below the symptom of alcohol abuse is sin. Pure and simple. I have counseled many many marriages, and you know what destroys far more marriages than alcohol? iPhones, iPads, and computers. I don’t see people tearing up Facebook to ban and demonize those. Lets bring the debate back to what the whole of scriptures are trying to get at and that is the idols we have lodged in our hearts, enthroned were Christ alone should be. When we understand what Christ has done for us, we are free not to drink because having a beer doesn’t make you godly, cool,or relevant, and we are free to drink because Christ is our treasure.

Anxiety and Digital Minimalism

Why Digital Minimalism

This year was one of the more challenging years for me and many I know. In twenty-plus years of ministry, I have never had to meet with a therapist. I am not against them; I just have never felt the need. I never feel lonely, rarely get upset, and have never been depressed. I have experienced loss and have walked others through loss, but none of it has ever brought me to a place of anxiety. This year all that changed.

This year I felt like I failed. I felt like I was unable to protect the people God by his providence place in my care. That feeling started as a panic attack and grew into anxiety in a way I have never experienced in my life. I wasn’t prepared for how it made me feel and for how it affected me on an emotional level. It got to the point I had to see a professional counselor. We talked through it. He told me that what I had been through was traumatic. We talked about boundaries relationally and interestingly enough electronically. I took some steps to minimize my exposure to certain groups on social media, and I was surprised by how much it helped.

I didn’t realize why limiting my exposure to social media helped until I picked up a book I had heard a lot about called Digital Minimalism. In his book Cal Newport describes Digital Minimalism this way:

“Digital Minimalism A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

Cal Newport

Studies show that I’m not alone. In the Preventative Medicine Reports, they have done studies that have shown associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents. High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Fourteen to 17-year-olds spending 7+ h/day with screens (vs. 1 h/day) were more than twice as likely ever to have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety. High users of screens were also more likely to have seen or needed to have been seen by a mental health professional, and more likely to have taken medication for a psychological issue in the last 12 months.

The problem with most young people and many of us not so young people is that we fill every spare moment digesting digital information. The cracks in our lives are filled in, we have lost the art of solitude. We no longer remember how to be alone with ourselves. We fill our lives with the airbrushed curated moments of the lives of our digital friends and wonder why we are filled with anxiety.

It’s now possible to completely banish solitude from your life. Thoreau and Storr worried about people enjoying less solitude. We must now wonder if people might forget this state of being altogether.

Cal Newport

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,”

Blase Pascal

Over the years, I have taken some steps towards Digital minimalism. I rarely post pictures of my kids online; if I do, I never use their names. I also frequently delete the iPhone apps for social media sites off of my phone. This year however I plan to try and take more drastic steps to be a lifelong digital minimalist.

I have to regain the ability to be present with myself and those I love. I have to allow my mind to wander to process the truly painful things in my life rather than stuff them by mindlessly scrolling Instagram. When I am off screens, I come up with new ideas new thoughts. When I am on screens, I see what others are doing and say why didn’t I think of that. Envy replaces wonder.

I need to minimize the hold that my phone in general and social media, in particular, has on my life. Am I going to become a digital hermit? No. The ship has sailed on that. I have come up with a plan to minimize the hold that social media has on me. So that I am freer to enjoy the world around me, create more, and have hobbies, I appreciate that I can look at later and say, “I made that.”

My Plan

  1. Delete all social media apps and games on my phone. Block all access to social media even though the browser on my phone.
  2. No longer click likes or post comments on other people’s posts. I have had several “Facebook fights,” and at the end of the day, they are still wrong (lol), and I’m upset over what they said or how I said something.
  3. I still plan on using social media to post blog posts (which I hope to post more of not being on Instagram so much) and to pass on information and posts I found helpful.
  4. Use my phone to listen to books on my commute, text, call, and write blog posts and start working on a book remotely.
  5. Use my computer exclusively to check social media a few times a week.
  6. I will still use social media for work-related issues just not as an anesthetic for the boredom that makes life….life.
  7. I am going to remove the news app from my phone and all notifications. I will now get my news from Allsides.com free of ads and partisan nonsense.

A foundational theme in digital minimalism is that new technology, when used with care and intention, creates a better life than either Luddism or mindless adoption.

Cal Newport

My Hope

I don’t think everyone should do this. I am telling you all this, so you know why I may not like your pictures or posts. It’s not that I don’t want to connect with you that I want to try and regain the time to really connect with you, not just pretend that I am. Please text me or call me but know that if you send me things through Instagram or Facebook, it may be a while before I get back to you.

I don’t know if this will work, but from what I have seen from the electronic boundaries I have set already, I think it will be okay. This isn’t “goodbye” it’s just “I’ll get back to you just not really quickly.”

Top 10 Books of 2019

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson
Eugene does what few modern theologians can do he weaves theology and poetry and finishes each thought with pastoral application. I found Ten Thousand Places challenges to live what you believe. The challenge in the evangelical church is there is much theological understanding without application and on the other side pragmatic seeker strategies striped of theological distinction. Peterson pushes us towards a more gracious orthodoxy as well as a more theological deep approach to reaching those far from God. “Spiritual theology is the attention we give to lived theology — prayed and lived, for if it is not prayed sooner or later it will not be lived from the inside out and in continuity with the Lord of life. Spiritual theology is the attention that we give to living what we know and believe about God. It is the thoughtful and obedient cultivation of life as worship on our knees before God the Father, of life as sacrifice on our feet following God the Son, and of life as love embracing and being embraced by the community of God the Spirit.”
– Eugene Peterson

Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
Digital Minimalism was a reminder of how much of a chokehold our cell phones in general and social media, in particular, has on us. “Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools.” Many of Newport’s suggestions I will be implementing in the new year. His approach was powerful as he built the case against digital extremism and then offered solutions that were not based on fear but in proper proportion. Does this technology help my higher values of family, faith, and friends? If so then how specifically if no then let it go.

The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Brothers K is the story of three brothers who each represent a part of the tripartite Plutonic soul. Dostoevsky uses the story of their suffering to show the nature of happiness and the road of redemption no matter how God has uniquely wired you. Very few authors have the combination of poetic imagination, philosophic tradition, and theological persuasion. I found the story compelling and his understanding of grace convicting. It is a book I want to read again and now having read it once I am ready to read it again for the first time.

The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Cron
The enneagram is controversial in the fact that so many of it’s founders are mystics. I don’t feel that it is witchcraft or a culturally acceptable way to blame shift my sinful tendencies on a system. I found the Road Back to You at a crucial time in my life this year. This year has been one of the more personally challenging years I have faced in over a decade. The Road Back to You helped me see something that I have always known to be true, we think everyone is like us so we talk to them that way. The Road Back to You helped to remind me God made each of us uniquely and if I am to honor that design and work better with those around me I need to learn how to talk to them in a way they understand rather than only communication in a style I prefer

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts – James K. A. Smith
This book was not what I expected but was exactly what I needed. I am a huge fan of both Augustine and James Smith. When this project was announced I couldn’t wait to read it. I was not disappointed. Smith distills the essence of Augustine’s work in the Confessions and applies it to Post-everything America with such skill that the 1600 year gap is nearly seamless. Smith cuts to the heart of the perennial issues Augustine address that allows us in our modern setting to reorient our faith and to see our need for rightly ordered love. Such a powerful book. His chapter on fatherlessness was profound, personal and prophetic I have been reflecting on it often since reading it earlier this month.

The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
This book was easy to read and yet theologically profound. Bridges has a gift of making theologically deep truths accessible and challenging to any level reader. This is not to say that his content is simplistic but rather that he is a thoughtful and talented writer. The topic of holiness is so misunderstood in the evangelical church and because it is too often a topic that is neglected. This is the first book I read by Bridges but it won’t be my last.

The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis
This is my second time reading Screwtape. I read it this year for a Seminary class I took on Lewis. This book is genius. It is a book that could have only been written by Lewis. His command of the English language, his understanding of both mid-evil literature and theology make this book the classic it deserves to be.


A Gospel Primer – Milton Vincent
There are few things more important to do for a Christian than to “Preach the Gospel” to yourself daily. Vincent’s short work helps you do just that in such profound ways. The first part of this book is a 30 devotional that walks you through a daily application of the gospel. The next section is “prose” a telling of the gospel is story form. The final section is a poetic proclamation of the gospel. This book is simple, short, beautiful and convicting. We leak and need to be reminded of the truth the gospel proclaims this small book is a beautiful way to do just that.

A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems – Jim Scott Orrick
I don’t read enough fiction or poetry. This is something I used to view as a waste I now see as a weakness in me. I need to develop my poetic imagination, I am not just a thinking thing I am the refection of the loves of my life. In my renewed pursuit of poetry, a few standouts have immerged because they have a poetic imagination and a passion for the gospel. Out of the group, Herbert is my favorite. He was a pastor whose poems were published posthumously. His pastoral heart and passion for the gospel seep from every line he writes. This book is a great introduction to his larger body of work.

  • A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems – Jim Scott Orrick
  • On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts – James K. A. Smith
  • The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
  • Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell
  • Enemy of the State – Vince Flynn
  • The Survivor – Vince Flynn
  • The Wisdom of Eachother – Eugene Peterson
  • An Introduction to the Old Testament – Tremper Longman 
  • Irresitible – Andy Stanley
  • Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  • The Common Rule – Justin Earley
  • Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes – E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
  • Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
  • The Path Between Us – Suzanne Stabile
  • The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb – Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
  • Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity – Eugene Peterson
  • Chasing Francis – Ian Morgan Cron
  • The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Cron
  • Tell it Slant – Eugene Peterson
  • The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
  • Letters to the Church – Francis Chan
  • Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson
  • The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture – Brevard Childs
  • The Prophecy of Isaiah – Alec Motyer
  • Openness Unhindered – Rosaria Butterfield
  • ReSet – David Murray
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  • Andy Catlett – Wendell Berry
  • Be a Writing Machine – M.L. Ronn
  • Letters to Children – C. S. Lewis
  • Sex, Dating, And Relationships – Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas
  • Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
  • The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis
  • One to One Bible Reading – David Helm
  • The Problem of Pain – C. S. Lewis
  • Romans 8-16 For You – Timothy Keller
  • A Gospel Primer – Milton Vincent
  • On the Incarnation – St. Athanasius
  • Befriend – Scott Sauls
  • On the Apostolic Preaching – Irenaeus of Lyons
  • The Great Divorce – C. S. Lewis
  • The Duties of Parents: Parenting Your Children God’s Way – J. C. Ryle
  • Women of the Word – Jen Wilken

Death by One Thousand Cuts

This July marked 22 years of pastoral ministry for me in the same church. Growing up, I moved often and rarely lived more than three to five years in an any given location. Two decades in the same place has been surreal and filled with its joys and pains.

Pastoral ministry is not easy and not for the faint of heart. In pastoral ministry you get to see the good the bad and the ugly of society in general and of your congregation in particular. There is more difficult jobs than being a pastor but few require the combination of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual engagement around the clock.

The pain that a pastor feels is unique because you can not prevent your heart from exposure to pain that you can in other lines of work the exposure of your heart is the very thing your people need to see as it points them to God’s heart. Pastors don’t burn up and burn out overnight they die a death from one thousand cuts over time.

Few people in our society ever face death or deal with it regularly, as a pastor, you walk multiple families a year through the darkest valley of their lives. Some people have been ghosted by a friend or loved one for pastors; this is not just a once in a lifetime event but a constant reality. Few people know the emotional and relational pain of baptizing families, rejoicing with them in their successes, the birth of their babies and walk with them in the darkest valleys only to have those people one Sunday not show up. One person did this to me I called to see if they were ok they answered the phone and when I said hello and they heard my voice they hung up. I still to this day have no idea why they left and how I must have hurt them without even knowing I did. One thousand cuts.

To have people that have come to your church since they were kids who you have spent hours praying with, crying with, and laughing with turn and blast you personally on social media or through text message is incredibly personal. One thousand cuts.

To watch families you have served, families you love, families who you thought would be together forever instead suffer losses that you can’t stop. It feels like a personal failure from which you can’t separate yourself, thinking you could have done something more to help them or point them more clearly to Christ.

I have found that the way I can keep showing up and what keeps me from giving up is the reapplication of what I offer to others. The tender mercy of God. I have to find a confessor on earth that I can share my sin and sorrows. I have to reapply the gospel to a heart bent on excusing sin and earning favor. I have to learn to hate my pride and clothe myself in Christ’s humility every day.

One of the ways I remind myself as a follower of Christ I need Gods help is through a Puritan prayer book called the Valley of Vision I often pray I hope it works as an ointment on the one thousand cuts on your soul and brings you back to your real home in Christ.

A MINISTERS STRENGTH

UNCHANGEABLE JEHOVAH
When I am discouraged in my ministry
        and full of doubts of my self,
  fasten me upon the rock of thy eternal election,
    then my hands will not hang down,
    and I shall have hope for myself and others.
Thou dost know thy people by name,
  and wilt at the appointed season
    lead them out of a natural to a gracious state
      by thy effectual calling.
This is the ground of my salvation,
  the object of my desire,
  the motive of my ministry.
Keep me from high thoughts of myself
    or my work,
  for I am nothing but sin and weakness;
    in me no good dwells,
    and my best works are but sin.
Humble me to the dust before thee.
Root and tear out the poisonous weed
    of self-righteousness,
  and show me my utter nothingness;
Keep me sensible of my sinnership;
Sink me deeper into penitence and self-abhorrence;
Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
    before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
    and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls
    of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.
I am a poor, feeble creature when faith
    is not in exercise,
  like an eagle with pinioned wings;
Grant me to rest on thy power and faithfulness,
  and to know that there are two things
    worth living for:
  to further thy cause in the world,
  and to do good to the souls and bodies of men;
This is my ministry, my life, my prayer, my end.
Grant me grace that I shall not fail.

So profound:

Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.

For us, as ministers, our strength does not come from being what our people need at the moment they need it. It comes from our own experience with the grace and mercy of God and the overflow of that mercy. Our work is heart work. It is to apply the reality of the gospel to the hearts of our people in every season in every situation of life. Never forgetting that the person who needs the message we spread most is us.

Father remind us of your saving grace, your empowering grace and grant me grace that I may not fail at last.