Gospel Sandcastles

Sundrenched mornings, filled with days at the pool, barefoot picnics with neighbors in the backyard, and refreshing time with family – this is what the best summers are made of. Have you considered how to redeem these priceless moments for the kingdom?

John Stott reminds us, “Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it.” As you bring your daydreams of the perfect summer to life, consider how you can preserve what God’s Word commands us to live out in a radical way in your neighborhood, on the summertime road trip and at the local park this summer. Imagine what God can do as you lead your family to live radically for Jesus!

Set Realistic Expectations

Trevin Wax reminds us that “seeking first the kingdom comes after we have been sought by the King. The root cause of worry is not misplaced priorities. It’s misplaced faith. It’s a failure to grasp the gospel of a God worthy of our trust.” Consider how you can trust God to order your summer activities so that they bring Him Glory and lead your kids and neighbors closer in a relationship with our Savior. Welcome impromptu invites to summer suppers and rejoice at cul-de-sac meet ups. The dishes can wait – eternity is at stake. A simple pile of sidewalk chalk and a driveway can provide the perfect template for sharing the gospel story.

Be Christ Centered

Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” We have been entrusted to train up our kids in God’s Word. Consider how doing simple things such as driving to grandma’s house can be an opportunity to model Christ to your kids. Will there be unbelieving family there? Pray for them on the trip. Each time you see a new city name pass by on the highway, challenge your kids to pray for the kids in that city! Grasp summertime moments as an invitation to point to the Savior.

Have Fun!

Learning to love Jesus should be fun! There are countless ways to help the scriptures to come alive to your kids. Consider what your kids love. For our little one, he loves to sit next to me and watch me draw out the storyline of the Gospels. His eyes get wide as he watches my untrained hand draw two fish and five loaves of bread. He squeals with delight and says “again, mommy!” Find ways to help them love and treasure God’s word this summer in fun and unique ways. Sandcastles quickly beg for an epic tale – and what better epic tale could you share than truth adventures of our King Jesus?

18 short summers is all we get. Consider how you can use those 1674 summer filled days with your kids to win them and your neighbors to the Kingdom.

Loving the Bible (Even the Poetry!)

Recently, I had the chance to participate in the “Wisdom Forum” on a Friday night at SEBTS.  It featured a handful of short 10 minute TED talks on a variety of topics centered about the theme of “The Good Life.”

Several of the talks seemed especially helpful to me and I wanted to pass several of the talks along to you for your encouragement.  (All of the talks were helpful and can be found at the Intersect website at the link below.)

Here’s one by Matt Mullins on loving the Bible (even the poetry parts!):

Matthew Mullins: Reading, Education and the Good Life

Enjoy!
Larry

 

When Vacation Isn’t Easy

“Are you going anywhere this summer?” We ask each other this question to know each other better. With school out, many students and families take time to travel and get away.

In August 2012, I had a tough time starting a family vacation to a wooded cabin near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. My wife packed everything we’d need for our small children, while I strained to get my mind off my work projects. If a customer heard I was going on vacation while they had a need, they would sometimes get upset. (Though I had five colleagues who were eager to help.)

I was a huge grump. Transitioning from billable-hours-Mark to at-ease-Mark was hard on everybody. Who wants to make banana boats with a guy still struggling to get into vacation mode?

Vacation should be easy, right? When we get away, we stop the daily grind of packing lunch, waiting at red lights, pushing to meet deadlines, and grading papers. But for many of us vacation can incredibly stressful. We’ve been pushing throughout the week nonstop to be responsible, productive, and keep up with our demands. Suddenly pausing that — and enjoying it! — can be a difficult burden. On top of that we have the shame of not enjoying an activity that I’m supposed to enjoy.

Is my work the problem?

Our jobs aren’t designed for vacation. The folks I know are not alone — Huffington Post reports that a quarter of Americans find vacation time stressful. Often this is because the vast majority of us are already stressed about work, and taking time off isn’t an easy option. Even if you’re blessed with a job that allows time off, work may pile up for us while we’re away. Some have to get ahead make up for the vacation before we even leave. And our employers and coworkers may resent our absences because of the additional strain it causes them.

Tip 1: Make Vacation Better for your Company and Coworkers. If you help run your business you know this is tough. But if you’re an employee, be patient with your managers and try to find ways to make everybody’s vacation easier. One Raleigh company with strong Christian influence, Bandwidth, goes to extreme measures to protect and defend their workers’ vacation. They have written rules against contacting your coworkers when they’re on vacation. Even if your company doesn’t have such rules you can try to support your coworkers in their time off.

We work to please people. This strain might help us see where we’re looking for acceptance and satisfaction. Do you work to primarily to stay out of trouble — avoid conflict and controversy? Colossians 3:22 advises everyone with a boss work “not only when their [the employer’s] eye is on you, and to curry their favor” (NIV). There’s a real risk that we are primarily trying to curry favor — get people to like us.

Tip 2: Identify your True Boss. We’re offered such a great alternative in Colossians 3:23-24 —

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

So you’ve got two options to work for:

  • Favor — from your boss, your coworkers, your customers
  • Inheritance — from the Lord Jesus

Work for Jesus, and you get much more than a happy boss.

We work to avoid trouble. You’re not going to make everybody happy — even if you’re doing everything right. So it’s not logical to only judge yourself by the standard of whether coworkers and customers are happy with you.

Tip 3: Endure the resentment and criticism mindful of God. Peter warns us to expect trouble — and lean on God when we’re criticized for doing good. In 1 Peter 2:18-20:

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. . . . But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

In our context, a “master” might be a formal manager — or it could be our customers. They want the project done right now!

Going on vacation, getting rest, may be the right thing to do. Even when you’re doing the right thing you will be criticized. But it is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. Our reliance on God during this unjust accusation and abuse brings us grace — His love, his nearness.

Am I my own problem?

I’m more comfortable at home. Most of us have found ways to be a little bit comfortable: a minute in the morning; our favorite coffee; a good chair; a favorite show at night. And on vacation our personal comforts are disrupted: the kids wake up earlier than usual; all they have is tea; the chairs are all wet from sitting outside in the rain; Netflix doesn’t work at this hotel.

On vacation, I really hope I get to. Perhaps you’re going on vacation hoping to get time with a book, but then your family wants to go to the amusement park. All you hoped to do was take a nap — but you find yourself driving endlessly to reach somebody’s favorite restaurant.

I’d rather just stay and get this done. Or perhaps you’re going on vacation because vacation is what people do and you’ve got tons you’d like to do at home. You’d love to clean out the garage, or start a garden, or wash the car, or learn to code, or put together that project you bought.

In all these cases, vacation is just in the way of your comfort. I’ve definitely been there: while I like the idea of vacation, and the pleasantness of being with my family and seeing new sites, I really have a long to-do list I’d rather get through, and books I’d rather read. And book-reading is not a family activity. So I was resentful.

Isn’t rest laziness? God created us to work (Genesis 1-2) — so should we really be gaps from it? The principle of Sabbath given by God in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) focuses on six days of work and one mandatory day of vacation each week. But too few of us are willing to accept from God even one day of rest per week even though this pattern was created for us by God himself. John Piper writes:

The rhythm of work six, rest one, work six, rest one, work six, rest one would probably spare a lot of heart attacks and give longevity to many lives prematurely taken because they never unwind the spring. They always working. They are working at home and they are working at work and they are working in their play and they can’t stop working.

Tip 4: Spot the pride and agree it’s wrong. Pride is my problem. In the church, and in our families, in humility we should look for the interests of others.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)

My to-do list? My reading list? Those are called “selfish ambition”.

My unwillingness to take any rest at all? This could be rejection of a gift God offers (James 1:17), reliance on my own strength instead of His (Colossians 1:29), and trusting my own wisdom ahead of His (Proverbs 3:5).

My resentment that the coffee isn’t good out the chairs are uncomfortable? That’s conceit. Jesus, my Messiah who is in me, calls me to humility — counting the interests of others more significant. And Christ enables me with His strength (1 Peter 4:11) to serve the weaker ones. (If you’re in charge of the vacation, everybody else following your plan are the weaker ones.)

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.

Romans 15:1-3a (CSB)

Family Vacation

For many parents, vacation doesn’t feel restful. Like all good things, Vacation is a gift from God (James 1:17), and I should fight to use is well. Vacation can sometimes include rest from certain labors, and rest is a gift from God. Not only is rest a gift — children are a gift!

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Psalm 127:2-3 (ESV)

Parents. We who are parents, during the short time they live with us, traveling with children is primarily not our vacation: we are taking our children on vacation. The way you handle vacation teaches them what you think of rest God provides, and what you think of the children.

It also instructs your children in how to use your spare time — what you value. If you want to teach your kids to love the outdoors, vacation gives you a chance to show them yourself outdoors. If you want to demonstrate that husbands and wives like to spend time with one another, then remember to seek out time with your spouse.

Finally, vacation creates moments for getting to know your children, and caring for them, that you won’t have elsewhere. You’ll see your kids enjoying different things they’ve never seen before, or have a few minutes just to have non-programmed fun with no digital screens involved. Those moments are gifts to your and your children to enjoy and to show love to one another.

Adults.If you’re an adult traveling with friends, Vacation can give you rare opportunities for conversation with others, and moments for reflection. (Romans 5:15) For spouses, we have the opportunity to understand each other in new ways and contexts (1 Peter 3:7).

Children. If you’re a child family, vacation is gifted to you, provided by God through your parents. The family needs your help to be fun to everybody; find things to be thankful for, even if they’re not the things you hoped to do.

Tip 5: Pray for your vacation. God can use vacation to show you your pride, cause you to lean on Himself, to grow your bonds with your family, and sometimes to give you rest. Pray for God to make these things happen. If you can’t presume to make profit in your work (James 4:13-15), then you definitely cannot presume that going on vacation will bring you relaxation and happiness. Ask God to prepare your heart and bring you these blessings.

God used that August 2012 trip to Blowing Rock to help me tremendously. My children were a gift, and while my kids were small, they took naps. During their naps, God taught me through the book Desiring God (Piper) [Free Ebook]. He woke me up to the problem of pride, of my priorities; that I was demanding too much of my vacation and my career. I know God used the vacation to help me value Him more, and better evaluate my work, and family, and hobbies and — yes, my vacation.

Nowadays I prepare for vacation differently. I plan ahead at work to cooperate with my coworkers. With God’s help, I fight the temptations of my personal aspirations for vacation. I know I’m naturally tempted to pride and conceit, which shows up as grumpiness. But I believe vacations are gifts; that time with family is a blessing; that willingness stop producing can help me start trusting.


Other resources:

Thanks to Jerry Lassetter for the initial inspiration for this piece.

My Father is Shockingly Happy with Me

denys-nevozhai-185408-unsplashWhen you and I, Christians, look to our Heavenly Father, he doesn’t look back with eyes that remember our shameful moments. My “history,” as far as God is concerned, is Jesus’ perfect life.

Even as he [God the father] chose us in him [Jesus, his Son] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…
Ephesians 1:4

He who knows my heart only sees His Son’s perfect heart in mine. We trust God, the one who is capable of this miracle:

To the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. — Romans 4:5

That sin — the angry thought or the harsh text message — is still real evil and horrible before God. My sin, even secret sin, is great. But Jesus the Sin-bearer is magnificent.

We can be really sure God looks on us happily, without thought of that sin, because Jesus’ bloody death already paid for it. What a glorious God — who has the ability and the desire! — to forgive every sin, every fault.

My garments stained with sin and guilt,
I came to Christ, his peace I felt;
And now my heart with love doth glow,
His blood — it washes white as snow.

I do not doubt, nor will I say,
“I hope,” “I guess,” I’m clean today;
For in God’s word, I read it so,
His blood doth wash us white as snow.

Barney Elliott Warren, “My garments stained with sin and guilt”

Paint Your Treasure in Hues of Gold and Purple. (Wear Out That Highlighter.)

pexels-photo-272337.jpegIn the Survey of God’s Goodness in Joshua 1-5, Pastor Larry Trotter described himself as a treasure hunter:

When you open your Bible, look for God. [Among] lots of fascinating, wonderful, delightful things in the Bible — God’s will, Geography, Culture, Language, Poetry, Literature, all kinds of things you can learn about, but I want to suggest right at the center of it all, we should open our Bibles to look for God.

I look for insights into who God is, to what he’s like. I’m looking for what the pages of scripture show me is good and beautiful about my God. I look for that intentionally. I’m on a treasure hunt of sorts — and God is that treasure.

So, even above looking for God’s will and God’s guidance, I find it helpful to look for glimpses of God himself. (Larry Trotter sermon, BOUGHT, April 15, 2018)

Author and Pastor Robert Morgan wrote:

When I was a college student, I had the privilege of being taught by Ruth Bell Graham, who opened her home to me on several occasions; and I was impressed by her personal “collection” of memorized verses. “Some people collect paintings and some collect coins,” she said, in effect, “but I collect Bible verses.”

Treasure collections concentrate value in a single place. Most coin collections are small, so you could easily see and examine them. A collection of family recipes may be bulky, but could be precious and highly useful.

I, too, have made a collection in my Bible study, similar to Larry’s and Mrs. Graham’s. I’m searching for passages that tell us just about God himself using clear statements. I just highlight these passages purple. My “oldest” treasure in the collection is:

Psalms 3:3 — But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.

God is a shield. God is my glory. God uses his power to lift my head. This tells me a great deal!

Another in this collection is from Nehemiah:

Nehemiah 1:5 — And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments,…

And another from Luke:

Luke 1:68-69 — Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,

Every passage asserts something direct and specific about God. I pull them out in prayer and reflect on the God I’m praying to. I use these to open LifeChange Fellowship; if we’re to be Mature & Ministering Worshipers of God, these scriptures are a straight line to worship. After 6 years I’ve found over 300 direct statements that are eternally true about God. I’m proud of my collection.

And because I have highlighted them, I see them as I’m reading. These bright, clear statements occur in unexpected places, like:

Malachi 1:11 — For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.

So go on your own treasure hunt. Buy a highlighter, and go searching. Wear out your highlighter, and treasure your collection.

iPhone6_TextHighlight
Highlighting in the OliveTree Bible Study app. Other apps provide similar functionality that allow you to save and access your highlights anywhere.

Full disclosure — I don’t actually use a paper highlighter. Instead, I highlight in my Bible Reading app, Olive Tree Bible Reader. My highlights are automatically visible on my phone, my iPad, and my desk computer, and in every Bible translation I use. But beware: some apps won’t keep your highlights. For example, Amazon Kindle will delete your old highlights — don’t let that happen to your collection!

By Mark Lindsey