At 21 She's a 10

God gave Brenda and me a boy, a Mary Poppins “practically perfect” toddler who made parenting easy. Days before he turned three, God gave us a girl – the polar opposite of her older brother in many ways. She climbed and cut and cried, complicated daily life and convinced me that two children would complete our little household.

Brenda and I each have one sister. Like our homes growing up, our home would have two kids – a boy and girl, the perfect little family. When I expressed to older friends the difficult time we were having with two kids, they laughed and said, “Wait until you have three!” On the way home, I told Brenda I did not want any more children. Two was enough.

Apparently, I protested the idea of more than two children so much that when Brenda became pregnant with our third child, my expectant wife didn’t tell me about the pregnancy for weeks. When Emily was born, 21 years ago today, God changed our family and changed my bad attitude about his gift of another child. The child I didn’t want is the young woman I can’t imagine being a family without.

From her youngest days, Emily brightened nearly every room she entered. As a tot, her blonde ringlets drew a great deal of attention. As a young woman, she makes everyone in the room feel like they are the most important person. In reality the person Emily is talking to at any single moment is the most important person in the world to her. It’s no wonder people are naturally drawn to her.

The reality is she cares about people without regard to how they might contribute to her. When she was in middle school and a budding pianist, she joined me at the local senior living center for our Thursdaychurch service. She accompanied me and the older residents as we sang their favorite hymns. When I stood to preach, she’d sit next to an elderly woman and flash her inviting smile. Since she’s been away from home, she no longer accompanies me, but the residents still want to know how Emily is doing at college.

I laugh when I recall our entrances into the room. I’d offer a general “Good morning” to those assembled in wheelchairs or sitting slightly slumped as age has made good posture impossible. They’d respond, “Hi, Emily!” as if I was invisible now that Emily entered the room.

She was probably 14 when we left the room after one Thursdayworship. We closed the doors on the truck, and I said, “Remember Mrs. Jones? She wasn’t here today because she died last week.” Emily’s eyes flooded with tears. She knew Mrs. Jones only from the Thursday gatherings, but Mrs. Jones was the most important person in the world on Thursdays when Emily was talking to Mrs. Jones.

The little girls in our church flock to Emily when she’s home from college. They show her their dresses and tell her their stories from school or volleyball or soccer or dance. They gravitate to her because each of them is the most important person in the world at that very moment.

Emily exudes joy and happiness. Laughter comes naturally to her. She laughs at herself and the funny moments of life Providence brings her way. It wasn’t long into her toddler years that I began to call her, “the child with more personality than one child should be allowed to have.” And she shares that happiness with others. I cannot be in her presence long without feeling happy. I don’t know what spiritual gift that falls under, but it’s a rare one. God gave it to Emily, and she uses it every day to bless the people God brings her way.

Everyone knows Emily plays volleyball at a very high level. She’s good – really good. God gave her hand-eye coordination that makes some volleyball moves second nature for her. He also gave her a competitive streak that rivals Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, or Lindsey Vonn. She is tenacious on the court and will grin ear-to-ear when she delivers a set to teammate whose swing knocks over an opponent across the net. If you can’t serve receive, ask for a substitute when she walks back to the line because she will find you, and she will make you look bad. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve laughed out loud at a play she’s made wondering how she did it.

What few people see is how she got to this level of play. God blessed her with good hands, above average athleticism, and a keen mind, but he didn’t make her six feet tall. What she’s achieved has come as a result of thousands of hours honing her skills. Most boys I know could not complete her summer workout routine. She may get beat by an opponent, but it won’t be because she didn’t prepare. She works as hard as any athlete I’ve ever known to be the best she can be at what she does. You won’t hear from her what she’s doing because that’s not how she rolls. She simply works and gets better.

The same tenacious quality on the volleyball court is true in her Christian life. Her commitment to the Christian disciplines of Bible reading and prayer remain unseen to most. The fruit her time with God produces is seen by all. She possesses her grandmother’s evangelistic zeal and readily shares the gospel with peers, faculty, and anyone in Superior, Wisconsin, or Duluth, Minnesota, who will listen to her.

Today, God’s gift to me of Emily turns 21. I am ashamed to admit I did not want any more children before she was born. I am humbled by God that he gave me a priceless, beautiful, joy-giving girl when I thought another child would be anything but good for me. I was so foolish, but God is so wise.

The years will march on for Emily and me as they do for everyone. She no longer sits on my lap though she still calls me daddy. Someday a young man will be the recipient of her joy-giving on a much more frequent basis than I am. But I do not wish time would rewind so she could be little again, nor do I wish for time to stand still so she can stay just like she is. I thought I knew what was best before she was born, and I could not have been more wrong. I’ve learned my lesson and will receive with thanksgiving what God gives to me. And I am thankful he gave me another girl who calls me daddy.

Happy Birthday, Emilou! I love you.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.


Favorite Reads from 2017

Pastor Sam Brown is a loving husband, a great dad, and an avid reader. Sam served with us for two years as a part of his training for vocational ministry. He know serves a church in Ohio. In his guest post he shares with us some of the 65 books he read this year. Hopefully, his love for written words will ignite a desire to read in you.

Do you enjoy reading? I hope you do. We live in the golden age of Christian publishing with excellent books being published by Crossway, Baker, New Growth Press, and others. In 2017, there were many books that I enjoyed, but here are my top seven. Maybe one of these will catch your interest and make it on your list for 2018.

  1. God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts. From Genesis to Revelation, God is accomplishing His eternal plan. God’s Big Picture serves as an introduction to the study of the “grand narrative” of Scripture (otherwise known as Biblical Theology). This short book not only helped me understand the unity of Scripture, but also encouraged me to read large chunks of the Bible at a time. A short and helpful book.
  2. Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors by Voddie Baucham Jr. How do the events that occur during Joseph’s life fit within the larger framework of the Bible? That’s what Baucham is seeking to answer. This book helped me see more clearly God’s redemptive plan at work through Genesis 37-50. More than being a favorite Sunday School story, this portion of Scripture teaches us eternal truth, and points forward to the rest of Scripture.
  3. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared C. Wilson. Jared Wilson wrote this book to encourage believers who feel that discipleship isn’t for them. Rather than being a book full of spiritual slogans (or memes, if you will), The Imperfect Disciple lays out what discipleship looks like for the rest of us: clinging to Christ with the full assurance that Christ is holding us fast. With just the right balance of Bible teaching and personal testimony, this book is a healing agent to the worn-out soul. My copy is covered with highlights and notes. If you read any of the books on this list, read this one.
  4. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke. Our ever-present smartphones are life-changing tools. Yet many of us have adopted these gadgets without considering the affect they will have on us. In this book, Reinke seeks to draw out biblical instruction for us in our use of mobile technology. Reinke isn’t a technophobe, but he does challenge readers to think carefully about the use of mobile technology. As Christians, we need to rule over our devices and use them for God’s glory which is our greatest good. Take your time with this book.
  5. The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience by Jeremy Pierre. The Dynamic Heart is the most academic on this list. If we are going to understand what the Bible says about sin, salvation, and sanctification we must understand the Bible’s teaching on the heart. Jeremy Pierre not only demonstrates an expert understanding of biblical counseling, but also a masterful understanding of God’s Word. There are many valuable books on the heart, but The Dynamic Heart may be the best.
  6. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In 2017 I finally read through C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece. In these books, Lewis uses the mythical world of Narnia to present many Christian beliefs about Christ, creation, mankind, sin, salvation, and more. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle were my favorites. If you have never read through The Chronicles of Narnia, you really need to. And by the way, read them in the order they were written (start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). You can thank me later.
  7. The Fellowship: the Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski. I have read few biographies that are as well written as The Fellowship. In the book, the authors present the lives of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams: friends and members of the literary club, the Inklings. Whether a fan of their writing or not, all readers will benefit from learning how these men were shaped by the world events around them, and how they went on to shape the lives of millions more. A lengthy book, but brilliant.

So there are my favorite books from 2017. What were some of yours?

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Just Five More Minutes

Thad Yessa is a new dad, a weary seminary student, and an employee at a package delivery company whose busiest time of the year is now, and he's on our church staff where he supports all our church ministries. He writes from the viewpoint of a tired, often overworked, but joyful man.

The alarm clock goes off and immediately you start thinking of what a laborious day you are about to face. Perhaps, even before your feet hit the cold floor, your mind is racing about a project you have to complete at work, all of the bills that you need to pay, a meeting with a boss that you are less than enthusiastic to attend, or perhaps the amount of laundry that has been piling up for over a week. You may find yourself putting your pillow over your face exclaiming, “I just can’t even!” I am sure many of you can resonate with some aspect of the situation described. You wake up in the morning and feel defeated and discontent even before you get out of bed!

Take comfort, my friends--you are not alone. We live in a world that makes it very easy for even the smallest things to draw us away from being content. We're constantly surrounded by media that seems to promote a lifestyle that is better than our current one and will always bring contentment. They cause us to desire something more than we currently have. We have a longing for something better. We start finding ourselves making statements like, “If I only had a better job...” “If only my children would behave better…” “If only my house weren't falling apart...”

The world is onto something. They're right that we should want something better, but it's not anything they can offer us. The truth is we don't belong here. As sons and daughters of the King, we belong with Him. We long to dwell in His kingdom worshipping before Him, but for now are pilgrims serving our King here on earth until He brings us home.

You may be thinking, “How is this supposed to help me now, today?” We should turn to our buddy Paul.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11–13).

If you know anything about the life of Paul, you know that when “every circumstance” is stated, he means every single one. The life of Paul we often praise was not a life of comfort. Paul was beaten, mocked, thrown in jail, and shipwrecked. If anyone had a right to be discontent, it was this guy. How could Paul write these words? Paul could say he was content because he knew he was saved through Jesus Christ. Paul knew through Christ that he had been brought into the family of God, and the privileges he has been given transcends any hardship this world can give or any treasure this world can offer.

Paul understood that no matter what trial we face it isn’t a waste. He knew that the affliction he faced on this earth was momentary in comparison to eternity. Every moment of hardship that we face has meaning.

As John Piper says, “Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature of the fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory that you will get because of that.” The difficulty is that we can’t see what it is producing.

My friend, what we need is to preach to ourselves that we are children of God! Our Father doesn’t allow for waste in our lives. Yes, I mean even paying the bills or folding laundry. God is using those moments to help us grow and find our contentment in Christ!! Life in Christ is not something we will only enjoy in heaven. If we have embraced Jesus and all he has done for us, we get that joy now!

Now when the alarm goes off or you are having a terrible day at work or you see a commercial offering a better life, remember the riches you have in Christ are better than any life you could imagine for yourself.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

A Thank You List

For the last seventeen years my privilege in service to our Lord has been ministering as a pastor to the people of First Calvary Baptist Church. Here’s my not all-inclusive Thanksgiving list.

  1. I thank the Lord for the honor that is mine to preach to a people hungry to hear God’s Word. I stand before kind and humble persons who return week after week knowing I am the one in the pulpit. They open their Bibles expecting to hear from God and trust me to deliver it.
  2. I thank the Lord for a church that welcomes to our assembly people from every skin tone, social status, and walk of life. Our church sees people made in the image of God, loved by the Father, and saved by the blood of Jesus. All differences fade into the background as we worship, learn, and live together.
  3. I thank the Lord for a church comprised of generational Christianity. When we gather together for worship, you will find believers who measure their years in single digits, teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. All believing the same gospel, worshipping the same God, and pursuing the same Christlikeness.
  4. I thank the Lord for a church that loves to sing, and since I love to sing, I love to sing with you. Our church embraces old hymns and new texts and tunes. Our church sings with passion and anticipates lifting our voices together toward heaven and toward each other in help and hope.
  5. I thank the Lord for nursery staff, ushers, technicians, and administrative personnel who function mostly behind the scenes. We rarely notice them when their jobs are done well, but we quickly discover the significant void when we are without them.
  6. I thank the Lord for Bible teachers at every level. God has given our church teachers who instruct all across the spectrum, from two-year-olds to our eldest members. Our teachers range from those just learning the craft to those who have taught the Word of God for seventy years. We are blessed.
  7. I thank the Lord for small group leaders. These precious servants of our Lord open their homes week after week to welcome brothers and sisters-in-Christ to gather together to connect, care, converse, and chase so that individual Christians in our church might grow in their discipleship.
  8. I thank the Lord for the rich heritage and solid foundation on which our church stands. We have our challenges, but our challenges are not doctrinal. We continue in the same direction the believers before us were headed, and by God’s grace, the same direction those who follow us will head.
  9. I thank the Lord for the ministry in our church that I know nothing about - phone calls and text messages made to a Christian sister, coffee with a Christian brother, meals shared with the lonely, gospel conversations with unsaved family or friends, and acts of kindness that prompt our Lord to smile when he sees.
  10. I thank the Lord for a church that prays for me. So many say to me, “Pastor, I pray for you.” I believe you, and I thank the Lord for you. You love me enough to know I am incapable on my own, so you ask our Lord to do what I cannot do.

As Paul wrote, “we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Hollywood's Immorality Problem

Maybe they were right.

My home church preached the Bible without apology. On occasion my home church preached a little more than the Bible. The result was my mom and my sister, my girlfriend and her sister, my friends’ sisters and mothers didn’t wear pants. We guys had tapered haircuts that prompted a state trooper (who wanted to talk to me one night on the shoulder of an interstate highway) to ask me if I was in the military. We didn’t dance, and card playing was out though Uno and Rook were in.

And we didn’t go to “Hollywood movies.”

In the 1970s and 80s the pastors at my home church and the traveling evangelists who visited us for a week of revival meetings and the preachers at the summer camps I attended railed against going to the theatre to watch any and all of the recent releases. The last movie my mom and dad took me to see was the Walt Disney film Escape to Witch Mountain, a G-rated flick about two kids with special powers. I was ten-years-old. My parents never took me back and restricted me from going ever again.

I missed the release of Star WarsThe Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi. I did not see Close Encounters of the Third Kind on the big screen. Raiders of the Lost Ark looked really cool, but I’d have to wait for its VHS release. I wouldn’t be calling Ghostbusters to rid my creepy dungeon basement of things that go bump in the night, and Marty McFly would have to go Back to the Future without me. And while my mom made me an E.T. costume for a party, I had no frame of reference for Elliott’s alien friend because I never saw the movie.

Hollywood movies were off-limits to my family and most of my friends because my pastors preached against it and the rules at my Christian school forbad students from attending. I never took a girl on a date to a movie, never spent a Saturday morning at a matinee, and have no frame of reference for a double feature. One of my buddies did sneak out and see Star Wars with some friends. He was suspended for two weeks from my Christian high school.

The nearly universal response from my friends to preaching against the evils of the theatre and Hollywood movies was mocking and debate. We demanded they justify to us the difference between watching a movie in a theatre and watching it at home later on a video tape or cable movie channel. Frankly, they had trouble answering some of our attacks, but they stuck to their guns. They told us Hollywood was a cesspool. They told us we might find good, even wholesome, entertainment every now and then, but the collection of filth far outweighed the singular examples we might offer. They told us the money we spent on “good” movies only supported the making of “bad” movies. We scoffed at their exaggerated and hysterical explanations of the Hollywood lifestyle. Most flatly rejected their warnings.

Fast forward to 2017. The #MeToo movement is naming names, and some of the biggest names in Hollywood find themselves in the crosshairs of angry victims. Megastars are telling stories of what they had to do to get a job on the screen or what was done to them. People you’ve never heard of are coming out against Hollywood kingpins, and the kingpins aren’t denying the charges. The wannabe stars could have said no but at the risk of forfeiting their careers.

Who is surprised by this…Bueller? Bueller?

The six main characters on the sitcom Friends had a total of 85 sexual partners over 236 episodes. Followers of Grey’s Anatomy offer a “sex chart” to keep track of who is hooking up with whom. A Seinfeldepisode shows Jerry and George, two characters in their 30s, discussing and rubbernecking at the cleavage of a 15-year-old. Sexual violence is an expected feature on Game of Thrones. The Lifetime Movie Network is in love with the “babysitter becomes the married man’s obsession” theme or the “high school hunk becomes the play toy of the frustrated housewife.”

Can we agree, Hollywood is a swamp?

To quote Darrell Harrison, “So, um, lemme get this straight. Hollywood generates billions of dollars in revenue, from films and other media, that glorify and promote sexual deviancy, yet is collectively horrified to learn of the real-life sexual deviancy of the individuals who produce such media?”

I am not advocating we kick any kids out of their Christian schools if they go see The Last Jedi over Christmas break. Further, I won’t judge you if plan to see Justice League or if you got your latest Marvel Comics rush over Thor: Ragnarok. I think this falls under your Christian liberty. I will say this to you – the people who made these films do not share the values of our Savior. Intentionally or not, their Christless, humanistic, shifting morals message comes through loud and clear. You will be impacted. The only question is to what extent and in what way. You can’t sit through thirty minutes of The Big Bang Theory or two hours of Wonder Woman and not have the muck from the swamp left on you. It is naïve to think otherwise. You will need to exercise the full range of your Christian discernment every time you walk into a theatre or every time you plop on the couch for the next episode of your favorite series. To do anything less puts your conscience and your holiness at risk.

My Christian friends, remember the instruction of the apostle, Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse (Philippians 4:8 MSG).

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.