Living in Light of the Gospel

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).

With these words, the Apostle Paul challenges his young protégé, Timothy, not to grow weary or weak as he endures for the sake of the gospel and the church in Ephesus. The church at this time was experiencing heavy persecution from the Ephesian culture around it, which had little interest in the gospel. But the church was also facing pressure from inside in the form of false teachers. The church, and Timothy, was pressed on all sides.

Put yourself in Timothy’s shoes. Your mentor, who happens to be the Apostle Paul, is in prison and about to be executed for the sake of the gospel. You’re about thirty years old, which was when you would begin ministry in those days. You’re being asked to guard the true gospel, to reason against false teachers, and to teach the people of the church in patience and wisdom, even when they don’t want to hear from you.

A couple of weeks of that and most of us would want to quit; just walk away and let someone else deal with it.

Paul knew Timothy would face this temptation, so he told him to draw strength from the only lasting source—the grace of Jesus.

Read the read of my devotional at

How Books Are Helping Incarcerated Dads Start a New Chapter with Their Kids

Books with well-written stories have the power to unlock a child’s God-given imagination and create deep bonds between the child and their parent—even if that parent is behind bars.

In Prison Fellowship’s Storybook Dads program at the Carol S. Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas, incarcerated men have the opportunity to connect with their children by recording and sending audio of them reading aloud to their children. The program started in 2008 as part of the Prison Fellowship Academy. Prisoners operate the program with the oversight of staff and volunteers.

Here’s how Storybook Dads works. Men enter a recording studio inside the prison at a scheduled time, choose from one of the many donated children’s books, then sit down in front of a microphone and read with enthusiasm. The dads are coached when necessary and encouraged often. Volunteer prisoners man the sound equipment and later enhance the recordings with sound effects.

Read the rest of my article at Prison Fellowship’s blog

Let The Holy Spirit Change Your Personality

Believers seem to get that the Spirit wants to renew our hearts and minds. But I’m afraid we aren’t allowing the Spirit to do his work on our personalities.

We say we want to be changed from the inside out, but we cling so tightly to our personalities that we squeeze out the Spirit, keeping him to the periphery of our inner beings.

A Christian’s personality is meant to be changed by the Holy Spirit. Once a person is filled with the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit begins his work of renewing their personality. With the Spirit’s help, they are meant to become kind, gentle, faithful, peaceable, joyful, and so on (see Gal. 5:22-23).

Personality is a prized possession in our individualized society. We take tests to understand who we are. We read books to learn what makes us tick. And we’re told that God crafted each of us into unique creations.

That’s all well and true. But we don’t often separate out the good and bad parts of our personalities. If we’re not careful, we’ll conflate “introvert” with “impatient,” or “extrovert” with “abrasive,” and end up affirming both.

This is a mistake. While some parts of our personality describe who we are (introvert, extrovert, etc.), other parts of our personality describe how we are (impatient, abrasive, encouraging, helpful, etc.).

God wants to affirm who you are, but he wants to change how you are.

We must understand that God formed each of us with specific personalities, but my personality—just like our fallen world—is not as it ought to be. I am not patient, kind, peaceful, and encouraging like Jesus. I can say that’s “just how I am,” but to do so misses the point of the Spirit’s sanctifying work. And it undersells his power.

The Holy Spirit wants to make me like Jesus—unhurried, loving, tender—but he won’t do so without my participation. This is simply how he works.

I’m afraid too many of us have resigned ourselves to thinking that how we are is how we’ll always be. But I beg you to reconsider.

There are specific aspects of your personality (and mine) that are not the way they ought to be. There are parts of your personality that need to die, just as surely as there are parts that need to grow into full maturity.

But we will never walk in the fullness of Christ if we are not convinced that the Holy Spirit can and will change our personalities if we allow him to do so.

God Healed My Back

For the last two months, I’ve been sitting down to put my socks on because of back pain. I’m 31.

I don’t know why it started hurting, but I could barely bend over or lift anything over 20 pounds, including my kids. I stopped running for fear of exacerbating the issue.

After two rounds of muscle relaxers, Prednisone, and a physical therapy session, it still hurt.

At the end of one particularly excruciating day of pain, I laid down for the night and did something I’ve never done before: I asked God to heal me*.

I told him that healing my back was nothing for the God who upholds the universe. That I was in pain and didn’t want to be any longer. That I wanted to wrestle my kids. And that if he chose not to heal me, I would be OK with that, too.

Then I said one more thing (and I think this was the most important part of the prayer): I told God that if he healed my back, I would glorify him by telling people he did it.

So, here we go: God healed my back.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. So let me answer the “Yeah, but’s…”

“God didn’t have to heal you to be glorified.” That’s true. Healing is not the only way that God gets glory. He is also be glorified through suffering. Those who point to Christ in the midst of chronic pain bring glory to God in powerful ways. I think that’s the method of glorification God most often works through. I don’t expect God to heal me from every headache or virus. But in this case, he chose to heal me.

“You were on medication. Wasn’t it just the drugs doing their job?” Maybe. God certainly could have worked through the medicine I was taking. His methods are up to him. All I know is that I had been on the drugs for close to two weeks with no change until I prayed. Maybe the medicine started working simultaneously with my prayer, but even that takes a leap of faith to believe.

“What if the pain comes back?” I’ve thought about this. The day I woke up and realized the pain was gone, I thanked God for relieving me of it, even if it was for one day. It doesn’t really matter if the pain comes back today or tomorrow. That doesn’t change the fact that God heard my prayer and responded with mercy and kindness.

One of my favorite devices is my Garmin running watch. It’s equipped with GPS, which means it tracks my exact mileage and pace, among other things. As you probably know, GPS stands for “Global Positioning Satellite”. When we use GPS on a phone, watch, or another device, it sends a signal to a satellite orbiting the earth, notifying it to turn in the direction of the device. It does this to register your location.

One morning, I pushed the start button on my watch to track my run. As I started galloping up to speed, I was reminded of Psalm 144, which I had read just minutes earlier:

Lord, what is man that you regard him,
    or the son of man that you think of him?

Just like the tiny device on my wrist triggered a satellite thousands of miles away to take notice of me, the God of the universe turns his attention to his children when they pray. That reality is confounding, mysterious, incredible, and tender.

I’m so insignificant in the scheme of the universe. As the same psalm says, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” Yet the God of all creation still stops, looks, and listens to me when I call on him.

I tell my kids that the difference between our God and the false gods of the world is that when we pray to our God, he hears us. And not only does he hear us, he answers.

*My prayer was not the only one God heard. My family and coworkers had also been praying for God to heal my back. Their prayers were also answered. And I’m certain that their prayers in some way amplified my request to the Father.

On Reading, Food-Borne Allergies, and (Potentially) Ruining the Next Generation

Alan Jacobs:

“Those who once might have been readers are all shouting at one another on Twitter. One could argue that social media are not an extension of the public sphere but the antithesis of it. … You can’t have genuine public intellectuals if you don’t have a sizable class of people who are able to read—who can understand arguments and assess them shrewdly and fairly. But anyone has been on social media knows how rare such ability is, how regularly (almost unerringly) people respond to what others have written without having, in any meaningful sense, read it.

So maybe one of the most important questions we who are concerned about our common culture can ask ourselves is this: How do we bring reading back?”

Reading, at least the deep reading Jacobs is referring to, won’t make a comeback until we learn to curb our voracious media diets. The internet makes it possible for people to create more distractions than ever, but really, we’ve always been good at distracting ourselves. The difference in today’s world is that our devices give us easy-everywhere access to those distractions. On top of that, hardware and software companies are leveraging their vast reserves to engineer products that take advantage of our physiology and keep us glued to our screens.

My wife and I were talking about my son’s peanut allergy, and we agreed that the number of food-borne allergies these days must (at least in part) be a result of the tidal wave of marketing that swept over America in our parents’ generation (I’m a millennial). There has been a slow but steady reaction against processed foods as we’ve seen the detrimental effects of eating lasagna from a box—diabetes, food allergies, heart disease, etc. Those reactions include things like the slow food movement, the rise of farmer’s markets, grocers like Whole Foods and Earthfare, and a focus on organic and non-GMO foods.

I wonder if something similar will happen with our devices. We’re in the widespread adoption phase where everyone is mystified and captivated by the newfound power their screens give them. Instead of a trip to the library, a phone call to a friend, or waiting for something (I know, the horror!), we can reach into our pocket and have what we want in a few seconds. Of course we’re excited about that! Of course we’re going to binge Netflix and keep up with old buddies from school on Facebook. Because we can! And because it used to be so hard, or, in some cases, impossible.

But once the euphoria fades and we realize we’ve ceded too much of our humanity to a room full of engineers with very different ideas about what it means to be human, we might just wake up and start to change how we “eat” information and entertainment. To some extent, I think this is happening now.

What worries me, though, are the consequences our children will face because of our ridiculous digital habits. Will iGen/Gen. Z have digital-borne allergies? Impaired social skills that take years to address? What will constant connection, a documentable online history, and egos heavily influenced by what others think and say do to our children?

We’re starting to find out—and it ain’t pretty.

If we want to bring reading back, we have to start by reclaiming our time and attention. Critical thinking simply cannot happen without both.

We won’t reclaim our time and attention until we decide that the cost of a life lived through and for screens is too high. Unfortunately, that time might not come until the next generation says it cost them dearly.