Archives For Family

Christmas_LaughterNOTE: It has been far too long since I have posted. Launching a new church kept me busy in 2013. Hope and plan to write more in 2014. Thanks for your patience and for following my blog. This post is modified from something I wrote for our church, but I think it’ll encourage you as well.

Christmas is one of my favorite seasons. This week I’ve laughed with family around the table remembering old times (good and bad), old movies (good and bad), old haircuts (also good and bad). It is rare we all get together, but it is always fun to yuck it up when we can. Christmas gives us an excuse to get together, and that itself is a gift.

I pray that we will be people that laugh. I hope we laugh deeply the big belly laughs of people who know they are free. Martin Luther said, “You have as much laughter as you have faith,” and from the stories that are told about the way Luther lived, he was a man of large faith (and laughs). Those of us who take the Bible, sin, and salvation seriously sometimes seem to forget that the gospel of Jesus is “good news.”

Christmas should be a reminder that God is for us. He wants our good. One man has said that Jesus’ incarnation is God saying YES to the human race. He chose us. He wants us. He became one of us so that he could enjoy us forever.

God Made Us to Laugh

We are creatures designed by a Creator. He might have made us laughless creatures, but he chose to make us laugh. God made people with lungs that push air over vocal cords so that they can sound like Santa. Who taught you how to laugh? No one. Kids laugh without training. They laugh a lot, even when you want them to stop. No kindergarten has ever had a course on laughter to prepare kids for further laugh development. Face it, we were made to LOL (even if we don’t like the overused short-hand abbreviation).

Consider this: God made giraffes. That’s funny all by itself. He made the lady bug and the roly poly. The porcupine and the platypus. He made daffodils and daisies. He made the Alps to rise up and the water of Niagara to fall down. He made tiny turtles to peak out from their hiding place, and enormous elephants that could not find a place to hide. The moose: who can’t laugh at a moose with its overlong legs and awkward oversized horse head that seems to grin at you? I believe God wanted us to laugh with him and all the crazy things he created for us to enjoy.

God Laughs

In Isaiah 65:18-19, God says: “But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people…”

God’s Grace Gives Laughter

Let me give you two more passages that speak to God’s laughter. These are two of my favorite sections in all the Bible, and I think they will radically alter your life if you internalize the important truth they offer to us. I’ve bolded a few of the key statements. The first verses are from Zephaniah 3. I’d love to elaborate extensively on these, but for the sake of brevity, let me just say a couple of things. Can you imagine God himself rejoicing over you with gladness? Can you imagine God exulting over you with loud singing? This is not an unhappy crank of a grandpa disappointed in who you are and tolerating your presence in the house. No, this is a God that loves and laughs over his children. Read the verses for yourself, and ask, “Do I believe these verses to be true? Do I believe God could feel this way towards me?”

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

I can imagine no news that we need to hear more than this: God loves you, and laughs over you with great joy. If this sinks deep into your heart, it will revolutionize the way you view your life with God.

The second passage is from Luke 15. Jesus himself told this story to a group of religious types to show them how they were getting God all wrong. One of the messages Jesus made loud and clear is that our gracious God laughs uproariously when his children come home to him. Jesus leaves absolutely no doubt about it. His grace toward broken and sinful people should always lead to celebration of the most extravagant kind. Again, I’ve highlighted a few phrases to make sure you see them.

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ 

Jesus tells us what our God is like: A father running to greet his son, a giant bear hug, over-the-top gift giving, new clothes, custom jewelry, a perfectly prepared meal, music, dancing, and the loud laughter of loved ones celebrating together. Sounds like a perfect family Christmas to me. The older son missed out because he would not laugh with the Father’s grace. He was too proud for laughter. I pray we laugh freely at the grace of God.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, may you truly celebrate. May you laugh deep laughs at God’s grace and goodness toward you. God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. You can’t hear it enough. Never stop laughing at how good that news is.


“This is harder than I thought it would be.” We’ve all thought it at one time or another. Difficult tasks that require long seasons of effort can be exhausting. If we lose sight of the goal, we can face discouragement, depression or burnout. Many will veer off course before reaching the finish line. If we are going to persevere, we need to remember five keys to help us along the way.

Most great rewards demand long diligence before they can be seized. This is true in nearly every area of life. Family, work, sport, or cause: all require great patience and long toil before they yield results. In my current role, I am constantly reminding myself of these things and adjusting both my heart and my routine as needed. I hope you find these helpful as you engage in the battle to persevere.

As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. 80 hour weeks don’t pay off in the long run. Get plenty of rest. For me, this means avoiding late night diversions that keep me from getting to bed on time. The Bible speaks of a time of sabbath rest, where we set everything aside for a day to recoup and refocus spiritually. When I say “set everything aside,” that likely includes cell phone, tablet and laptop. This is not easy, but God himself set this pattern of rest in order. In Genesis, after six days of creating, God rested from all the work he had done. And just in case you were wondering, God never tires. God did not need a siesta. No, this was an object lesson for our benefit. We need to incorporate this pattern into our weekly schedule. What 24 hour period per week have you marked on your calendar for sabbath rest? When I’m at my best, this rhythm of rest is a part of my routine.

Ever sprinted through a week or two on a project and suddenly realized you’ve barely connected with Jesus or your spouse? Have you started calling your kids by the names of your co-workers? Not good. The busier you become, the more important it is to prioritize your schedule.

In college, I read an article called “The Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles E. Hummel. I’ve never forgotten the simple distinction it made between the truly important things in life and the urgent tasks that clamor for our minutes, hours and days. Hummel writes:

We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the impor­tant task rarely must be done today or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait. But the urgent tasks call for instant action—endless demands pressure every hour and day.

Like the busy, distracted priest in Jesus’ story of good Samaritan, we become so busy with the urgent tasks at hand that we often miss the truly important stuff. If we are to weave perseverance into our lives, we must prioritize the important stuff so that we thrive over the long haul.

Trying to live as a Christian without prayer is like trying to live without air. You aren’t going to make it very far. Martin Luther famously said, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” Prayer confesses for us our dependence on God. Prayer sustains us during difficulties. Prayer provides strength to take the next step. Prayer humbles us in success, and prayer comforts us in failure. Prayer emboldens us to take risks. Prayer offers friendship with our most loyal companion. As we travel the road of life, prayer centers us on what, or who, is most important.

Have some fun. Find a hobby. Play some golf. Go to a movie (by yourself). Go fishing. Build something. Shoot something (but not someone). Go to a concert. During a season of life transition, a wise woman said to my wife, “Stop doing so much, and go read some fiction.” Pastor Tommy Nelson used to tell us to”go get some rocky road, and be sure you get two scoops.” Do whatever it is that you do when you are having fun.

A counselor friend once gave me an assignment to carve out an undisturbed three hour block each week to do something I enjoyed. This was harder than I thought it would be. In my college years, three hours of play would have been cutting back, but at this stage of life finding three free hours in a week meant saying a firm “no” to other things. For some, this may feel impossible or even selfish, but I’m learning that self-care is critical to staying power. Play promotes perseverance.

This last key will require a little more explanation, but I am currently finding this to be incredibly helpful. In a letter to a younger leader, the Apostle Paul wrote:

It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Let me shoot straight with you: I’m a city boy, not a farmer. But I have been thinking lots about what Paul said, so I’m going to offer a few thoughts about it anyway. Farming itself is an act of faith. A farmer works long hours for a long period of time before he reaps any benefits from his labor. He shows up day after day and puts in a good day’s work trusting that it will all eventually produce an abundant crop. This requires a unique combination of diligence and patience.

There are two things I will point out about the farmer. First, stuff grows when it grows, and the farmer must trust his crops to appear when the timing is right. Second, there is nothing he can do to speed up the process. Working harder or faster or longer will not change the rate of growth.

What’s the point for us? When I remind myself to “plow,” it is a reminder to work hard and to trust the growth process, no matter how long and slow it seems. Show up like a farmer and do work, and then put your head on the pillow at night trusting something good will eventually grow. When I start to get overwhelmed with all that I have to get done, I find myself saying out loud “just plow the field today.” I can’t control the outcome, so I try to “do a good days work and leave the results to God.” Perseverance requires that we balance diligence with patience.


It is said that “in comedy, timing is everything.” The same is true of perseverance. Reminding yourself of these things before you are at the end of your rope makes all the difference. Otherwise, you will learn a life lesson the hard way. The athlete who becomes dehydrated during the match will find it impossible to rehydrate until after the game is over.

Personally, I am learning that the more my responsibilities expand, the more I must narrow my focus on these key areas. For me, these are not annual check-ins. They are daily and weekly reminders that help me persevere as I fight to fulfill my calling.

If you practice these five keys — pace, prioritize, pray, play, and plow, you will be more likely to persevere in the days ahead.

Which of the five keys grabs your attention? Which of the five keys do you find most difficult? Would you add anything to this list? What is your favorite quote about perseverance?


Nineteen years ago today, I married my college sweetheart. When we wed, we had dated for most of three years. I say “most of” because she occasionally got the jitters, but we worked that out (and the making up was always fun). Love grew deep roots in our hearts, and I tired of driving her home at night. She was a beautiful woman who loved Jesus, served others, liked to laugh, and challenged me more than anyone I had known. She still is.

I looked through some old pictures this morning, and I laughed when I saw this one. We are holding on for dear life, like the winds are going to blow us off the mountain if we let go of one another. Through nineteen years, our life journey has led us over beautiful mountaintops and through dark valleys. We have soaked up the sun and laughed some days away. We have weathered the winds and storms when they have come. Through it all, we still hold on to one another for dear life. I think that’s how marriage should be. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

JeffandNan_Wyoming1992Taken near Sheridan, Wyoming, where I served as a student minister during two college summers.


AMNOTE: This post originally appeared at I have contributed to their men’s curriculum called 33 The Series. If you aren’t familiar with 33, I hope you will check it out at If you want a discount code, email me at By way of transparency, I get a small cut if you use my discount code when you purchase the curriculum, but I’d promote it even if I didn’t.

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Most of us struggle to find the balance between work and home. We feel like we are stuck in the middle of a tug-of-war between the office and the house, and we can only win at one or the other. Many live with a constant low-grade guilt about the lack of time with their kids. This struggle seems especially strong for those that travel.

Iʼm not a normal business traveler. In fact, my routine typically keeps me busy but close to home. Over the last few months, Iʼve found myself in a pattern of traveling every other week. This new rhythm of life has got me thinking. What does it mean to reject passivity and accept responsibility as a father who is on the road?

First, know this: your work matters. We often overlook the spiritual value of hard work, but we are called to provide for our families, to make a positive contribution to the world, to honor God by doing our jobs well. Just donʼt allow work to matter too much. When your job consistently limits your investment with your children, it might be time to recalibrate.

Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.” With that in mind, I hope you will consider this post more of a digital roundtable on this topic. These are ideas Iʼve had. Iʼve tried some of them. Iʼve failed to try some of them. Some of you have traveled with greater regularity, and you will have even better ideas. I would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Seven ideas for fathers who travel…

    1. Prioritize focused time with your kid(s). Wise men proactively organize their schedules around what is most important. They fight the temptation to live under the “tyranny of the urgent,” refusing to allow pressing matters to crowd out the most important things. So, prioritize an hour with your kids before or after a trip. Shoot some hoops or take your kid(s) to breakfast on days before you leave town.
    2. Manage the transitions well – For some, this is difficult. My natural tendency is to procrastinate with making my travel plans, but Iʼve found that it is critical to plan and organize my departure and return so that things are not crazy and stressful (for me or for my family). When these times are frantic, it multiplies the impact of being gone.
    3. Write a note to be opened while you are gone. I know, I know. Some of you donʼt think you are a “writer,” but it doesnʼt have to be that hard. Think of one thing that your kid does well, and let him or her know how proud you are. Think of the unique way that God has made your child. Is your kid thoughtful or hilarious or competitive or caring? Highlight one attribute you see in them. Say I love you. Donʼt be afraid to share your heart. Let them know you are happy that God put them in your life.
    4. Find an app or internet game to play. With so many apps and games available, find one that you can play. My 10 year old and I played Words with Friends for a few weeks. He could take his turn after school, and I could take my turn at night so that it was his turn again the next day. Iʼm guessing there are other apps that would allow for these easy touch points to stay connected.
    5. Facetime, skype or call. This seems easy, but Iʼve found it more difficult than I thought. When my kids are available to talk during the afternoon, Iʼm usually pounding away at work or in meetings. When Iʼm available to talk during the evening, my kids are usually in the middle of the dinner, bath, bedtime routine. If itʼs too late, I can hardly get them to answer two questions. I tend to get batter responses if I can sneak in a call before dinner time.
    6. Record a video reading your childʼs favorite book – If your child is small, itʼs hard to beat reading books at bedtime. With phones, Ipads and computers having built-in video devices, itʼs never been easier to record a video. Take five minutes one evening before you leave and record a video of yourself reading his or her favorite book. Your spouse can play it for your child while you are out of town.
    7. Guard your weekends – When you are regularly on the road, you need to especially guard your calendar on the days when you are home. As much as possible, try not to let loose ends linger around on your projects so that they demand your attention later. Discipline yourself to work hard on the road so that you can be fully present when you are home. Donʼt just be home; be engaged at home.

It can be difficult to balance family and work when you are on the road. It will require intentionality. Hopefully, something here got you thinking about your role as a traveling father. Maybe it sparked an idea for you. Iʼd love to read your thoughts.

Any ideas you would share with us? What has worked well for you? What do you find difficult? How do you manage to balance family with life on the road?

Share your ideas in the comment section below.


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year. I love everything about it. I love the food, the weather, the family, the food, the football, the food, the fun. I love the pace, which always seems slower and less hurried than Christmas. I love that we stop to say what are thankful for.

We should enjoy these things. And we need to enjoy the one that gave them to us. I want to offer a quick reminder that we need to remember the God that we are thankful to.

We say “I am thankful for __________” a lot, but the more important sentence to complete is this: “I am thankful to __________.” If you scan your twitter feed or facebook feed, I bet you’ll find “I am thankful for __________” repeated over and over, but you will rarely see a mention of who people are thankful to.

A “thank you” does not terminate on itself or vanish into the Autumn breeze. It is not intended to stop with us. A thank you is intended to go somewhere. It has a destination. Our thanks need to be offered to a particular recipient.

Let me illustrate. A letter is mailed from a father to a daughter. A football is passed between quarterback and receiver. A kiss is blown from one lover to another. Each is a great example of something offered and something received.

But each of these becomes meaningless if there is no one to receive that which is offered.

A letter mailed without an address indicated is marked “Return to Sender.” A football with no receiver bounces crookedly in the grass and must be retrieved. Someone walking the city streets blowing kisses to nobody is eventually invited to the psych wing of the local hospital.

If we offer our thanks generically, without intending them for someone specific, they lose their power. Yet far too many of us, maybe even most of us, fail to think about this most important question: To whom are we saying our “thank yous”?

Let’s remember that Thanksgiving is about the one to whom we offer thanks: God.

The bible points out our human tendency to enjoy God’s creation without showing gratitude to our Creator (Romans 1). This is our habitual way of acting in this great world of ours. We become so swept up in its beauty and tastiness and laughter and love that we fail to look beyond them to the Great Giver of All Good Things.

In some way, when we find ourselves continually saying “I’m thankful for ________” without ever saying “I’m thankful to   G O D ,” we are repeating the harmful pattern of those who “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom 1:21).

The joy of Thanksgiving is in celebrating all of the good that we’ve been given.  It is a time when we set aside worry and heartache and achievement and striving to pause and give thanks for our many blessings. We soak turkey in rivers from the gravy boat, stuff ourselves with stuffing, pretend we are interested in an oversized Snoopy bouncing off towers in NYC, sneak an (second) piece of pumpkin pie. We remember that we love our children more than we love the Dallas Cowboys, even when the kids keep running between us and the TV. We make the most of the life we’ve been given. And it is good.

These are days to be remembered.

These are days to be thankful for.

And these are also days to be thankful to.

May we celebrate life to the fullest today,
and may we be “abounding in thanksgiving”
to the one who gives us life to enjoy.


For the past 20 years, I’ve sought to help people discover what it means to live for Jesus. The mission of Jesus has allowed me the privilege of connecting with many great people in many great places, and we want to let you know what’s next for the Lawrence family.

In God’s grace, we are planting a new church in the great state of Oklahoma! While details are still to be determined, we will locate in the Edmond / Oklahoma City area. Having grown up in Edmond, this is a return to a place I love dearly. With family and friends in the area, Nan and our kids are very excited about the move. We can’t wait to be there!

Oklahoma City is a great city with thriving churches. We are humbled to join that movement of God, doing what we can to help many people in the area experience life and hope in Christ.

Every life tells a story, and each of us need to encounter God in a way that rescues our story, restores our soul, and relaunches us to live for Jesus. I believe many people long for a authentic connection with Jesus and the life he dreams for us. We can’t wait to see who God brings to our community to walk with us in this journey.

We hope that many of you will jump in with us to help make this dream a reality. Like any start-up venture, we need to raise a significant amount of money in the initial stages of our launch. Would you be willing to partner with us?

I’ve included a description of ways you can help below, as well as links to our partner organizations who oversee our ministry and finances. We would love to meet with you to tell you more about the vision God is calling us to accomplish.

If you subscribe to my blog, I’ll send you updates so that you can stay engaged with our journey.

We can’t wait to see what God has in store for us all,
Jeff, Nan, Mike, Luke, Jake and Kate

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Please pray: (1) our house to sell in Chapel Hill, NC, (2) a smooth transition for our family, (3) a fantastic ministry team to come together, (4) hundreds of financial partners who catch the vision, (5) God’s glory to be made known every step of the way.

We are trying to raise three years worth of salaries and ministry budget so that we can do the hard work of missionaries. Please consider supporting us monthly for one to three years, or supporting us with a one-time gift.


We believe that God will lead many who already live in Oklahoma to join our new movement, and we also believe that he may prompt some people to move to Oklahoma to join us as missionaries on the ground. If this is you, email me at

Do you know anyone who would be interested in our work? We would like to make as many connections as possible with pastors, Christians and non-Christians, so please let us know if you think of someone who would enjoy a cup of coffee or a meal with us. Also, please share this news with your friends and followers via Facebook, Twitter, Email, and more.

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We are partnering with Fellowship Associates as I join their Church Planting Residency Program in August. This will provide us with great coaches and partners from fantastic churches like Fellowship Bible Church of Little Rock, The Village Church, The Austin Stone Community Church, Fellowship Church of Memphis, and Fellowship Church of Denver. Fellowship Associates will also oversee our finances.

We are partnering with the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. Part of our dream is to be a church planting church. By this I mean that we are committed to helping other new churches get started in the future. Acts 29 provides church planters with training, resources and a network of gospel-centered, missional churches across denominational lines.



February 7, 2012 — Leave a comment

I was editing a video recently and came across the predictable “Romantic Effect” video editing tool. You know the one. It puts a dreamy blurry weepy air around the person in the shot. The effect tries to give the impression that you are viewing the world through tears of joy. It’s the look that you (you, not me) see on Hallmark movies in the middle of the day when you are sick and no one else is home.

Confession: The video I was editing was a short clip of me talking into the camera, so I put the Romantic filter on myself just to see what it looked like. Creepy.

But the “Romantic” special effect annoyed me for another reason. A more important reason. The very fact that we’ve created such this special effect and given it the title “Romantic” is bothersome. Romance is not a fuzzy fluffy furry moment of spontaneous affection. Our definition of romance needs an upgrade.

Romance isn’t a Relational Special Effect

One of the reasons that so many relationships fail is that they are built upon the “The Romantic Effect.” When a relationship begins, a couple strings together a series of “romantic” moments: first date, first kiss, first birthday gift, first time to watch Gladiator together, first Christmas. As long as they have a fuzzy film moment once a month or so without major interruption, things are good. Or seem to be.

Adolescent relationships are built on this stuff. That’s why we call it teenage romance. In those years, your life is filled with open spaces and open calendars. You have time to unintentionally wander into romantic moments.

The problem with teenage romance is that you have to keep the romantic effect moments happening in new and fresh and different ways. But life just doesn’t allow for a never-ending number of these types of experiences. Far too often, when the newness wears off and the “romantic” moments slow, people trade one partner in for another. Then, they start the romantic filter cycle all over again.

Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean growing up. We find ourselves in a nation of adult adolescents, growing older but still seeking teenage romance.

Fast-forward a few years into marriage for those who make that commitment. If we are lucky (and disciplined), we manage a long weekend away each year where we can create a few moments that are truly special moments as a couple. But there are 361 other days in the year. Try simply adding the Romantic Filter to the picture once you’ve added a few kids, a few sleepless nights, and a few budget line items that are way out of whack. It is going to take more than spontaneous sweetness to maintain the romance as you move through the seasons of life.

We need a stronger love, a more rugged romance.

Fighting for a More Rugged Romance

This is a blog post and not a book, so I don’t have time to go into all the complexities of relationships and marriage. I’m not trying to cover it all. For the sake of this post, I want to offer a single encouragement to you: be tenacious.

Ephesians 5 instructs us about marriage: “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife” (italics mine).

I love the phrase “hold fast.” To hold fast means to secure a thing in place.* It is to bolt something in place so tightly that it can’t be loosened. We are told to make our wives secure in their relationship to us, so secure that you can never be separated from them.

If we are to hold fast to our spouses, we must fight for our togetherness. When I conduct a wedding ceremony, I always tell the couple to “guard the oneness of their relationship.” We go to battle to protect the union we were intended to enjoy.

Or, at least we should.

John Piper wrote, “When historians list the character traits of America in the last third of the twentieth century, commitment, constancy, tenacity, endurance, patience, resolve, and perseverance will not be on the list…We all need help here. We are surrounded by, and are part of, a society of emotionally fragile quitters.”**

We are now a decade into the next century, and we are no better off. In fact, I think the pace of rapid fire technology and constant digital play has further deteriorated our ability to focus on the important things and deliver day-in and day-out with determination. When we face difficultly, we assume “there’s an app for that” and hope the problem takes care of itself. And our marriages suffer for it.

That is why tenacity has become an increasingly important part of the conversations I have about marriage. In fact, I would list it as the number two requirement behind the gospel.*** Communication is important. Learning to appreciate differences is helpful. Being able to work out a budget makes a big difference. But tenacity trumps technique. Tenacious couples stick it out when things stink. They work on things when things aren’t working. Tenacious couples find romance in both the peaks and valleys of life.

Men, we are called to love our wives as Jesus loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). That means that we should love with the strongest, most tenacious love imaginable.

One of the most profound and most comforting statements in all the Bible, speaks of the  tenacious love of Jesus:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

Let me restate these verses and relate them to marriage…

Since we are called to love like Jesus, let me ask you: what shall separate you from loving your wife? Shall success or debt or dishes or laundry or hobbies or television or hardship or unemployment or cancer or kids or lust or anger? I am sure that none of these things, past or present or future, nor anything else in all creation should be able to separate you from loving your wife.

Husband, hold fast to your wife. Do not let anything separate you from her. Be tenacious about togetherness.

Our world does not need more short-lived scenes with romantic filters applied. But we do need more couples holding fast to one another with a rugged romance that lasts.

What God has joined together, let no one separate.

Is there anything that is driving a wedge between you and your spouse? Is there anything you need to repent of and confess to your spouse? Is there any activity you need to initiate to foster togetherness? Is there a routine of dating and time together that you need to protect as vital?


* Random House Unabridged Dictionary

** John Piper, The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Willberforce

*** By gospel, I mean the acute awareness and belief that you are broken and in need of God’s love and forgiveness that is only available through the finished work of Jesus’ death and resurrection.


January 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

My preference is fast. I like to drive fast. I like fast internet connections. I like to work fast. I wish I could read fast. But fast isn’t always best. Sometimes, slow wins.

For someone who prefers to go fast, this reality is a necessary realization (even if it annoys my go-fast preferences). Slow is important in lots of ways, but let me first give you an example of why slow sometimes wins.

A Cutting Reminder That Faster Isn’t Always Better

I’m learning to shave again. It was one of my new year’s resolutions. I know, I know. That’s not very ambitious, right? But for a go-fast guy, this was a way to remind myself that slow wins. So, I got rid of my disposable junk, and invested in a new safety razor. The old school kind like my grandfather used. Metal, not plastic, so it’s got some weight to it. It holds double edged razor blades. I’m told that the classic wet shave is better for the environment and that it’s cheaper in the long run. But the real deal is that it’s just a much better shave.*

Fact: fast shavers end up with little patches of bloody toilet paper on their chins. On average, my new way of shaving takes about twice as long as my old way. But it’s twice as enjoyable and twice as good a shave. And my wife likes it (which is a very good thing).

Shaving is a relatively insignificant change in the big picture of my life, but it serves as a daily reminder that sometimes slow wins.

You may not be sold on a shaving upgrade, but what about the rest of your life?

When Slow Wins in Parenting

I know that none of you struggle with this, but sometimes my children act up. Of course, “act up” is a socially acceptable way of saying that they are depraved little people that disobey God and deserve to be disciplined. Meaning, they are a lot like their parents. We all agree that parents must discipline children. Otherwise, the monkeys are running the zoo. The only question is how we should discipline.

I don’t want to give a complete how to guide for parenting here, but I do want to suggest that discipline of children is one of the areas where slow wins.

Here is what normally happens in fast discipline. Your kid runs through the house with muddy shoes or screams while his sister is napping or dumps her milk on the floor. Clearly, these are things that would happen in your house, not mine (ahem…wink, wink).   When said criminal activity occurs, mom yells for kid to stop. Again, note that I said mom rather than dad, because dads don’t do this stuff (ahem…). But the parent yells stop at the child, the kid freezes in his or her tracks, and then the parent hurriedly threatens an unrealistic consequence like “clean that up or you’ll never eat dessert again” (which we know isn’t going to happen because dad likes hot chocolate chip cookies and it’s too much work to refuse a child a cookie on a regular basis).

What’s the point? Fast discipline involves only two steps: name the issue, name the consequence. Those are both necessary steps, but they are not enough. Fast discipline focuses on behavior modification but neglects the heart. It’s efficient in the short run, but deficient over the long haul. If you discipline fast, you end up skipping the most important stuff.

I’m trying to remind myself that, when it comes to discipline, slow wins. I want to shape my kid’s character, not just his or her behavior. I want them to love Jesus, not just love a clean house. This takes time. It takes time to talk things through. It takes time to talk about disobedience against God and repentance. It takes time to train your child how to talk to his siblings and ask forgiveness. It takes time to celebrate the grace and forgiveness that awaits them in Jesus.

I don’t always do this the right way, and there are moments (like rushing out the door on the way to school) when it seems almost impossible. So, we may have to be creative in those instances (delay the real conversation until later but then follow-up and talk things though). It takes at least twice as much time to discipline slow, but the benefits are infinitely greater.

When Slow Wins in Technology

Another way that I’m trying to slow down is in my use of technology. I live connected. Between twitter, facebook, email, and phone, it is easy to be connected all the time. The problem is that being connected to technology may mean that you are disconnected from everything else. Sometimes, our tech toys cause us to miss opportunities to connect with God, connect with our spouses, connect with nature.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dumping all of that stuff. I’m just managing it better. I’m turning it off sometimes. I’m creating a routine of leaving it behind in certain sections of my calendar (if you check yours regularly at family dinners, your wife should drop it in your chili).

For example, we got a puppy at Christmas. Puppies have to be walked. A lot. Sometimes in the middle of the night. One way I’m slowing down is to leave my cell phone inside when I walk the dog. I feel silly saying it, but it’s amazing to me how hard it is. But when I do, I enjoy the puppy more, and I notice the beauty of creation all around me. Without the light of my cell phone, I see the light of the night stars that God put in place to remind me of his glory and greatness. When I slow down to recognize that I have so many messages from God all around me, my twitter messages can wait a little while.

When Slow Wins in Ministry

I won’t take a lot of time to expound on this one, but two recent conversations also reminded me of how this applies to ministry. In one phone call with a fellow pastor, my friend said, “We’re growing, but I wish it was faster.” I know this friend well, and he’s an evangelist who loves to see people meet Jesus for the first time. He believes in a big God who can bring 3,000 people to faith in a single day, and he longs to see that happen. We have a world full of people who don’t know Jesus, so I hope it happens too. I pray that God moves in a remarkable way to bring people to Jesus through his church’s ministry. But I know that there are some seasons of ministry where slow wins.

In another conversation, some friends encouraged me to slow down. In my passion to see ministry happen, I wanted to get moving as quickly as possible. My friends wanted me to “move slow, go deep, dream big.” That stuck with me.  It takes time to build the right foundation, to instill the right DNA in the church, to get the right people on the team. You can start a ministry fast, but it takes time to launch a movement. When you are building something to make a significant impact over the next 25-30 years, there are some important areas where slow wins.

A Concluding Thought

For people who like to go fast, going slow is an act of faith. It can lead to a more rewarding life, a more significant life, and a greater enjoyment of the life God gave you–a life made up of fast and slow moments strung together to make up days and weeks and years. May we make the most of all our moments, and may we make some of those moments slow ones.

What are some other ways that slow wins? What helps you slow down in disciplining your children? Is it as hard for you to turn the cell phone off as it is for me? Any of you dudes enjoying the glory of a classic wet shave?


* For a great guide to a classic wet shave, see “How to Shave Like Your Grandpa.”

As a father of a little girl who will have her second birthday in January, I was interested in the recent article titled “How to Talk to Little Girls.” The excellent Huffington Post piece by Lisa Bloom has created a buzz, with nearly 400,000 people “liking” the article on Facebook.

Bloom points out the dangers of highlighting a little girl’s physical beauty before or above other things. This is typified by the normal practice of strangers, or friends, who lead off a meeting with a little girl by saying something along the lines of “aren’t you the cutest thing ever?”

Kate, at the Beach this Summer

My daughter, Kate, is beautiful. I’m completely biased and entirely certain that she is adorable by any standard. When people meet her for the first time, I can affirm that they generally comment on how cute she is. Of course, I wouldn’t argue with their assessment at all, but I also see how this emphasis on her external beauty could shape her thinking over time. I would never want Kate’s joy in life or sense of self-worth to be dependent on man’s praise of her outward beauty.

We are a visually obsessed culture. I also have three boys, and I find myself flinching routinely during televised football games at the flaunting of female beauty on the sidelines and in the commercials. While I believe God created physical beauty to be enjoyed (God made female and male bodies unique for a reason), our society has obviously over-indulged the physical. This is a serious problem that most pastors and churches hesitate to address, usually because church-going folks are just as influenced by beauty-worship as non-church people.

The Bible signals a warning to us about overemphasizing physical attractiveness. Proverbs 31:30 warns, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.” One of more blunt verses in Scripture, Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” These warnings tell us that this is not just an issue for American women of the 21st century. There is something universal in this struggle that isn’t going away in our time.

I am thankful that Lisa Bloom sounds the alarm for us about how our words impress unhealthy values on our littlest ladies. But I also want to issue a warning of my own about Bloom’s solution to this problem.

The Mind is Not Better than the Body

Bloom’s answer to our beauty-obsession appears to swap physical beauty for intellectual capacity. She writes:

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

While this sounds like a helpful corrective, I think it introduces a new problem. Notice what is important to Bloom? She directs us to the life she values more: ideas and books and thoughts and accomplishments.

Here is my question: Are these really better than beauty?

Perhaps they might make one more financially secure or more independent or more academically successful. It is certainly true that the life of the mind tends to outlast youthful beauty which inevitably sags with time. So, maybe it is better to some small extent.

But it is not enough.

Beauty and Intelligence and Performance and Morality Are Not Enough

So, here is my problem with Bloom’s solution to the beauty-worship problem: the mind-worship problem isn’t any better. A little girl does not need to hear that her value is determined by her boob size, but neither does she does need to hear that her value is determined by her brain size.  Intelligence and success and independence do not meet our deepest needs.

In fact, when we seek to find our value in our performance, it may be even more dangerous. It’s easy for someone who has accomplished much to take pride in their intellect or ingenuity or toughness or determination. A person who performs well may even demean beauty as “something you are born with” as opposed to accomplishments which they have “earned.” Dependence on performance can be just as crippling as dependence on beauty.

Of course, Religious people have their own spin on the performance problem. Rather than stressing beauty or intelligence or success, they put the emphasis on morality. Girls are taught that their value or goodness depends on their ability to keep the rules. This may be the most insidious kind of performance idol. Religious types construct their performance idols on the foundation of Scripture, which makes them even harder to detect. To the religious person, this moral performance trap feels righteous.

Why Little Girls (And Boys) Need the Gospel of Jesus Above All Else

I must recognize that I cannot control all of the voices that my daughter will hear. She will always live in a world that overvalues her beauty. She will also have to deal with pressures to measure up intellectually and educationally and financially. Countless voices will praise, or criticize, her according to unhealthy standards.

I cannot control all of the voices that my daughter will hear, but I do know which one I want to be the loudest in her ears. It is not the voice of her boyfriend, or the academic advisor at her college, or the CEO of her company, or even my voice as her father. It is the voice of Jesus.

Her deepest longing is not to be loved for her beauty, praised for her intelligence, or admired for her performance. No, the deepest longing of the human heart is to be loved, and this longing is so deep that only God can fill it.

The gospel, or good news, of Jesus says to us, “You are loved as you are. Regardless of how beautiful and smart and successful you feel, you are so broken that life on your own merits will never be enough. And regardless of how ugly or dumb or unsuccessful you feel, you are so loved that Jesus gave his life so that he could be with you forever.”

Most of us spend our lives working to prove ourselves. We exhaust ourselves as we try and try to convince people that we deserve to be accepted.* There is a cost to this kind of acceptance. It takes something out of us in the process and must be continually earned. The gospel frees us from this compulsion. When we operate from a place of gospel-security that is grounded in the love of God rather than in her own ability to measure up, we are truly free. Only then can we enjoy beauty and intellect and performance in freedom rather than compulsion.

I think that is part of what the Bible means when it says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17).

If you find yourself thirsty, come as you are to Jesus who offers you acceptance and love and life at no cost to yourself. He gave his life to free you from the beauty trap and the intelligence trap and the performance trap. It cost Jesus everything, but you were worth it.

So, how should we talk to little girls?

When I talk to Kate, I will say:

“I love you. I love the way your hair rolls into ringlets and falls into your eyes. I love the way you read yourself books, even though you can’t read. I love the way you dance and twirl around the kitchen. I love the way you wave at cars that pass on our walks. I love the way you scream “Dad” in the middle of the night. I love the way you  say “do it again” when we do something fun. I even love the permanent marker custom design you put on my new Mac. But as much as I love you, Jesus loves you more. I sacrifice a lot because I love you, but Jesus sacrificed everything because he loves you. So if somewhere along the way you fail a test or love a boy who does not love you back or have a mastectomy or develop Alzheimers or gain some weight or lose a job, you will still hold infinite value because Jesus loves you. No matter what. You are loved exactly as you are. Always.”

I’d love to read your comments…
What in this post resonates with you? Do you find yourself fighting against the beauty trap or intelligence trap or performance trap? How do you talk to your little girls about these things?


* Thanks to Tim Keller for this thought, which I once jotted down and then was unable to find as I wrote this post.

As Thanksgiving nears, I was thinking about things I’m thankful for. The first thing that came to mind was the men that God has used to sharpen my life over the years. We are shaped by those around us, and I have been blessed with great relationships with great men. Scripture says, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” I have been given much, and that privilege brings a weightiness to life that is a joy to carry.

A few observations as I surveyed the list of men:

  • Many people have a role to play in our lives–some big, some small but all are significant.
  • God uses different kinds of people in different times of life.
  • Dudes need other dudes to invest in them. Positive masculine influence is essential in the development of men. Iron sharpens iron.

At the end of this post, I included several questions for you to reflect on personally.

Homer Duane Lawrence
My Dad inhabits one of the coolest names possible and likes to fancy himself a rapper named HomerDee. He taught me what it means to laugh and to love and to live. From throwing footballs to bike rides to ski trips, he made growing up fun. I know of no man more faithful in doing the right thing in the right way at the right time. He taught me how to have a backbone and do what is best, even if nobody sees. He showed me that loving people means sacrifice. I’ve never heard a bad word spoken about my father.

Kenneth Lay
Pastor Lay was the pastor that prayed with me when I first trusted Jesus. He baptized me and welcomed me into Christ’s church. I was young, but I remember a gracious man who loved God and loved people.

John Lanata
John was a leader in our youth group. Lanata was a 5’8” inch cannonball of a man who lived like he was set on fire. He would shake your hand like a meat grinder and then slap you on the back with the force of mule kick. In my memory, he weighed 220 and ran 7 miles a day. He was an F.B.I agent. You heard that right – F-B-I. When I was 16, he told me I had what it took to be FBI too. I don’t know if he was just a dad with a slew of daughters looking for ways to escape a household of estrogen or not, but he invested in me and believed in me. Some days, I still want to be an FBI guy.

Ken Surritte
Ken was a youth pastor who showed me what it was to invest relationally as a shepherd. He loved kids. At 3 A.M in the morning, he still loved kids. He let us do stupid stuff like have Nerf gun fights in the church late at night when things tend to spontaneously break. He let students learn to lead in ministry, even though it got messy (figuratively and literally). Ken let me get my first taste of using my gifts to serve Jesus in the local church.

Kim Bearden
Kim was my youth minister and the first guy to hire me for a ministry job (which he paid for out of his own pocket). Kim made hard decisions to buck tradition in order to create the best ministry for reaching and teaching students. I learned from Kim about spending time with the Lord, telling my friends about Jesus, and listening to the preaching of the Word as though it was the key to life.

Terral Bearden (For those that were wondering…yes, they are brothers)
Terral looked like Grizzly Adams, filled his own bullets with powder, and ate things like bear and elk. He didn’t shoot deer from a stand positioned 25 yards from a corn feeder either; he trekked up snow covered mountains and picked them off at great distances. We once shot 96 prairie dogs in about 90 minutes, and I’m still proud of the fact that I got three with a single bullet. He pastored a small church that paid him very little. He often installed carpet to make ends meet. I had the honor of living in his basement and serving his church as youth minister for two summers during college. I got to see how he loved his wife and his kids. My time with him marked me so much that I asked him to be the minister at my wedding.

Louie Giglio
Louie taught me how to worship. In my college years, 1000+ sudents would gather on Monday nights to experience passionate worship and great teaching. Louie repeatedly told us that if we could only make a part of the event, we should come to the worship rather than the talk. As a pre-med student studying long hours in the library, I would run from the library for the worship time and then, often before Louie preached, return to the library. Worship was the most important part of the night because Louie was not the focus, God was.

Tommy Nelson
I first got to know Tommy via cassette tape sermons that his church mailed every other week in packets of two. I listened to more than 500 sermons on tape. After college, I invested a year in Tommy’s “Young Guns” discipleship program, which met each morning at 6 AM. We started Day 1 in Genesis 1:1 and went verse-by-verse as far as we could go each day. Tommy had memorized the entire New Testament. On drives in his car, we would play “stump the preacher”: we’d read a verse, and he’d quote the verse before and after it from memory. His teaching through the Song of Solomon changed my dating and marriage. Lessons from Tommy about life, theology and ministry continue to direct my steps.

John Hannah
Dr. Hannah helped me laugh deeply and think deeply, usually at the same time. We’d sing a hymn before each class, and he’d intro the song with “here’s a horrible little ditty with awful theology, let’s sing it with all our hearts.” He would rub his hand through his unkempt hair and offer humble wisdom like: “the best of us are only right eighty percent of the time.” His willingness to keep things real in a class of uptight seminarians was a salve for my soul. He taught me that the Reformed doctrines of depravity and grace give us the freedom to laugh and the confidence to rest in God’s sovereignty. He introduced me to John Owen, Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans.

Bob Pyne
Before I ever met Dr. Pyne, a close friend told me, “If you were ever a professor, you would be like Bob Pyne.” Bob taught me how to think. He demonstrated fairness and honesty and balance in theology. I graded for Bob at the seminary, and was given the privilege of teaching for him when he was gone. We co-taught a class on Science and Theology in Kiev, Ukraine. When we were there, we filled large jugs of water and tied them to a pole so that we could lift weights in our dorm room (and on the last day or our trip discovered that the school had a legit weight room that we could have used). Bob helped me to see God’s love for the poor, the handicapped, the suffering and the overlooked of this world.

Jeff Bingham
Dr. Bingham was a tall man with a small head that rested on broad shoulders from which protruded long arms that culminiated in skinny fingers. God created Dr. Bingham to be a professor. Even though he insisted, I struggled dropping the “Dr.” from his name. I can’t do it in writing as a type this notation. I never use the word notation either, but I feel like I must when speaking of Dr. Bingham. I purposely took more classes from him in seminary than anyone else. His “Life and Worship in the Early Church” was my favorite course. Classes in Church History, History of Doctrine, Augustine, Barth, and more were foundational for me. He was first reader on my Masters Thesis, which I turned in a day late because I wanted to get it right. His passion for the the Word of God expressed theologically still lights my path.

Mike Monroe
My father-in-law, Mike, is a master of one-liner wit delivered at unexpected moments. He is steady-as-they-come no matter what happens in the course of a day. Mike has taught me a lot about relationships lived without pressure or guilt. He’s a fair-minded man, who treats people well. He’s an open-handed man, who gives freely. I’m grateful for the ways he loves his daughter and loves his grandchildren.

Neil Tomba & David Fletcher
Neil and David offered me a job at the church I was attending while in seminary. Then, they offered me more responsibility to lead on the team just a few months later. These men invested finances, time, energy and relationship in my development. They trusted me, challenged me, and encouraged me as a young pastor and friend. Under their watch, I grew as a preacher, leader and servant during our years together.

Brian McCurry
Brian is a faithful friend and partner in the gospel. McCurry is a “get ‘er done” servant-leader who loves Jesus. He was a great teammate, whose strengths often made up for my weaknesses. Brian makes disciples of Jesus and may be the best small group leader I know. He was willing to do what was right in a tough time at great personal sacrifice. That is true character.

Yancey Arrington, Jason Ganze, Craig Hasselbach, Scott James, Andy Kerckhoff, & Mitch Kramer
Six friends that began as an accountability group meeting Wednesdays at 11pm at a dock on the Brazos River near Baylor University. These guys are my “Fandango” guys, named after the movie and the time capsule we once buried and returned to dig up up ten years later. We still get together each year to share laughs and life. I won’t take time here to tell you about them individually, but I cannot imagine a group of higher quality men with whom I could walk through life. These guys have my back, no matter what. My wife has full permission to call these men if I ever stop loving Jesus, loving her, or loving our kids. Three pastors, a social entrepreneur, a junior high school teacher, and a dentist who will be pall bearers at my funeral, unless they beat me to the finish line.  [You can read more about how to develop friendships like this here.]

What men or women have influenced you? How can you express your gratitude to them this week? Who is God calling you to pour your life and influence into this year?