S3, Ep. 10: What does it mean to “grow down”?

Reading Writers

Reading Writers is back in the studio this week with a new episode. On this episode, Dave and I are joined by Michael Kelley, Director of Groups Ministry at LifeWay and author of the new book, Growing Down: Unlearning the Patterns of Adulthood that Keep Us from Jesus. Listen in as we discuss:

  • The heart behind Growing Down.
  • How we can recapture our youthful love of reading.
  • How Michael feels about Max Lucado.
  • Classic books we haven’t read (and a few no one should read).

Among the books highlighted in this episode:

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Grace for those struggling

field of wheat

This is a strange Easter for me. It’s not strange from the perspective that the details are foreign (certainly not). What makes it strange is how hard it is for me to focus. I want to be present, to fully prepare to celebrate the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection as we do every weekend at our church, but…

I’ll admit, it’s hard.

Right now, there are a lot of questions on my mind about the future—especially the question of what the future holds with our status in America. I know what I’m supposed to do with this, and I do it. I pray. I ask others to pray. I pray some more. I confess my own shortcomings in trusting God with the outcome for everything. But the anxiety is still there in the background, waiting to bubble up to the surface again.

Then I think about the struggles other people I know have. Struggles that make mine seem like nothing, and aren’t my business to share. And I can’t imagine how they’re holding everything together.

Then I read books like 1-2 Samuel, the Psalms, and Lamentations, and I’m reminded again that this experience isn’t new. But more than that, I’m reminded that we have an answer. That “casting our burdens” (Psalm 55:22) onto the Lord is a real option for us. We might think of it as a platitude, but it’s anything but. It is our hope.

Here’s the thing: those who encouraged us to do this were also the ones who needed it. They experienced the same kind of trials and anxieties we do. They experienced horrible tragedies (some of which were self-inflicted). They were not superheroes who never wavered in their trust and obedience. They struggled. But in their struggles they found grace.

This doesn’t make our struggles and suffering any less real They still exist. They are still ever present realities. But the grace offered through Christ is just as real. Just as ever-present. And it is here for all of us, right now.

Four books I’m excited about right now

Shelves of books

We’ve entered another season of new releases, with my desk at work becoming cluttered and the occasional book finding its way into my mailbox too. Here’s a look at four books I’m particularly excited about reading:

Growing Down by Michael Kelley. I love when Michael Kelley writes books. He writes like someone who means what he’s writing, which sound strange but isn’t. His new book is intended to remind us what it means to be a mature believer—which counterintuitively means shedding our tendencies toward self-reliance and independence and growing in our dependence upon Christ.

How to Ruin Your Life by Eric Geiger. This one is going to be solid, that much I am sure of. I’ve heard Eric speak on the concepts in this book before, and they hit that sweet spot of challenging, but hope-filled. I’ll share more as I dig in.

Cornerstones by Brian Dembowczyk. This one’s going to be a great resource to assist parents in discipling their kids. The parent guide is hefty, but looks accessible.

Eschatological Discipleship by Trevin Wax. Trevin has confirmed that this is not a book about the end times. Instead, he wants to help us grow our understanding of “eschatological” beyond questions of millennial views and who is/isn’t being left behind in order to embrace a broader view which shapes how we make disciples right now. Should be a fun one.


So those are a few that I’m excited for right now. What’ve you got on your plate that you’re looking forward to reading?

Christ’s tender care for his sheep

Sunrise

I was having a moment this weekend, just prior to hopping a plane and heading to Orlando for a conference, when I was spiraling. The what-ifs were coming to mind again and again, and there seemed to be no stopping it until Emily asked, “What are you most afraid of happening?”

So I shared them. And they were, quite frankly, actually quite small. They were what they were, but not the earth-shattering, life-ending things that my anxiety was growing them to be. In that moment, I received a tiny example of Christ’s care for me through one of his people, in this case my wife. And this is something that we need to remember is that Christ does care for each of us—and he demonstrates this through the acts of his people. As Richard Sibbes wrote, “Christ’s sheep are weak sheep, and lacking in something or other; he therefore applies himself to the necessities of every sheep.… His tenderest care is over the weakest.”

Whenever any of us have these moments, we need to not keep them to ourselves. We should not fear that anyone will think of us as less of a Christian for having pain and struggles, fears and doubts. Christ knows what we need, and he will provide—even if it’s something as simple as someone saying, “What are you most afraid of happening”. Our fears can often be great, but his tender care for us is greater still.

No one is too far gone to be saved

Sunrise

There’s this moment on the cross when Jesus is about to die that seems strange to me. It’s one that’s easy to gloss over, or ignore, or even turn into a debate: Jesus’ encounter with the thief on the cross. As he was crucified, two thieves jeered and mocked him. But as the day went on, one turned from being a scoffer to a believer and defender:

But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:40-42)

There’s so much to be said about this passage. Without question, it is a powerful challenge to those who behave as though our salvation is dependent upon our works. Without a doubt it is a glorious picture of justification by faith alone. But it is also a picture of hope. I love the way J.C. Ryle addressed this in his tract, “Christ and the Two Thieves”:

Reader, the Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save, as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that He was a strong deliverer. In the hour when His body was racked with pain, He showed that he could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, He conferred on a sinner eternal life.

Now, have I not a right to say, Christ is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him? Behold the proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked as a brand from the fire.

The thief on the cross should give us hope for those we know who are far from Christ. They may be caught up in the darkest of sins. They may be fully committed to their love of darkness. They may have scoffed and rejected Christ at every opportunity. But there is still hope. As long as they still have breath, there is an opportunity for their heart to be transformed by Jesus, and for them to turn from their sins in faith.

No one is too far gone for him.

So let’s not lose heart as we seek to share the gospel with all. Instead, let’s hold fast to our confidence in Christ. If he could save the thief on the cross, and if he could save people like me, then he can save anyone. And that is all the reason for hope we need.

The cost of being a Christian

hands open in prayer

About 100 years ago, GK Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” There is much wisdom in this. The Christian faith is not easy for the human mind to grasp in so many ways, and not just because we believe God became a man, and died for the sins of the world.

What is so hard to grasp is its cost. Not simply that which was paid by Christ himself, who set aside his glory to live among us, so that we might live forevermore with him. But what it requires of us—the cost of being a Christian. J. C. Ryle described this dilemma well when he wrote:

I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity, and will take us to heaven when we die, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!”

But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standards of the Bible. There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run. Conversion is not putting a man in an arm-chair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of “counting the cost.”[1. As published in J.I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle, p. 174]

The Christian faith will cost us something. It will require us to let go of old patterns of life, destructive behaviors, even good things that are not the best things for us. But in Christ, our self-denial and sacrifice are transformed into joy as we pursue greater things than the fleeting pleasures of the world. We all stumble in our pursuit of this joy, but may God grant us the strength to pursue still.

Should we teach kids about sin?

As part of my job, I am involved in a couple of Kids Ministry groups on Facebook. The conversations I see are fascinating. Usually they’re about best practices for discipling kids, occasionally folks are looking for different curriculum options… and then every so often there’s a question about what we should and shouldn’t be teaching kids.

Are sin too big for kids? Do we really need to teach them this or that story?

These are good questions, important questions. While some may disagree, it should be no surprise that I will say yes to each.

Yes, we need to teach kids about sin. We need to because they already know about it. They’ve experienced it in some way, but they should know how and why sin is in the world, what God has done to solve the problem of sin. So we teach them about sin to give them context and understanding of the world they live in.

And yes, that also means there aren’t really any stories from the Bible that are off-limits. You can (and should) teach kids about the nastier bits of Scripture, especially when it comes to the people we tend to portray as heroes (Abraham, Jacob, the Judges, David…). We don’t need to expose them to situations way too mature for them, of course, but in an age appropriate way, we should be helping kids see that the heroes of the Bible are people who needed God’s grace and forgiveness just like we do. That God was gracious to them, just as he is gracious to us. If all Scripture is inspired and profitable, then it’s inspired and profitable for all ages. Our responsibility is to teach it faithfully at an age-appropriate level (e.g., we don’t need to talk about adultery necessarily, but we do need to talk about David sinning).

Ultimately, we want kids to see that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and his gospel is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That Jesus’ goodness and righteousness is what we need to be in relationship with God. That Jesus is the one who paid for our sins. And Jesus is the one who we will spend eternity with by faith.

The call of Christ to us

An open Bible being read

One of the best moments in The Chronicles of Narnia is found in The Last Battle. As the survivors of the end of Narnia enter Aslan’s kingdom and begin to explore the call goes forth—first from Aslan, then echoed throughout the party: “Further up and further in!”

There is something stirring about these words, especially as I think about the Christian life. There’s the excitement of the day when we will enter into the presence of God, without question. But there’s also the immediacy of it, that echoes the call of Christ to us right now. “Come to me,” Jesus told his first disciples, and he continues to tell us today. And this call to come isn’t just at the beginning of our faith, but it continues until our final breath. Spurgeon described it well:

From the first moment of your spiritual life until you are ushered into glory, the language of Christ to you will be, “Come, come unto me.” As a mother puts out her finger to her little child and woos it to walk by saying, “Come,” even so does Jesus. He will always be ahead of you, bidding you follow him as the soldier follows his captain. He will always go before you to pave your way, and clear your path, and you shall hear his animating voice calling you after him all through life; while in the solemn hour of death, his sweet words with which he shall usher you into the heavenly world shall be—“Come, ye blessed of my Father.”

The strange blessing of sleepless nights

Feet in bed

I’ve not been sleeping well lately. Saturday and Sunday nights were rough, with a grand total of 8 hours of sleep over two nights. I went to bed at a reasonable time, but couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing as I dealt with two separate anxiety attacks.[1. These are the result of being under constant and extreme stress for more than two years due to everything involved with immigration.] I couldn’t will myself to sleep, so I did the only thing that made sense: I read my Bible and prayed.

This wasn’t the kind of prayer that was immediately answered. It wasn’t the kind of reading that was searching for a verse to answer my fears. It was just a desire to fill my mind with God’s word, even as I expressed my fears to God.

I’ve not felt like my life was in my own control for a long time, which isn’t really different than the reality: it’s always been under God’s control, but there has always been a sense of comfort, of familiarity that didn’t make anything unexpected seem so bad. Now, they feel a lot worse. The comfort and familiarity isn’t there. There’s no safety net, nor a safety blanket.

Admitting these things as I prayed I would be able to sleep, strangely, helped. The fears were still there. But the burden lessened because I knew (and know) that I’m not the one carrying all this. The things I’m afraid of are outside my control for the most part. But they’re never outside of God’s.

This seems like a strange thing to be writing about because there’s no resolve. There’s no lesson to be learned that I can discern for the moment. Only the reassurance that God is in control. He’s never not in control. He will continue to be in control long after I find new things to make me fearful.

That’s the strange blessing of a few sleepless nights. For me, at least.