Category: Gospel-centered discipleship

Christmas Confession & Assurance


Lord God,

We praise you for sending your light and love—Jesus the Messiah—into this world.

We confess that we often live like the light did not defeat the darkness.

We confess that we often live as though Jesus is not returning in glorious light.

We sometimes confine Christ to parts of our lives and our faith becomes small.

We do not joyfully serve and expectantly worship.

Forgive us for ignoring Jesus’ light.

Prepare us for His return.

Help us rejoice in the light,

So your grace illumines the dark places of our hearts, our city and our world.



The God who promised never to leave us or forsake us,

has come to us in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

He binds up the broken-hearted,

heals all our infirmities,

and relieves our burden of sin.

While it is true that we have sinned,

It is a greater truth that, in Christ Jesus, we are forgiven.

God has shown his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died and rose for us.

Arise, shine; for his light has come,

And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

Thanks be to God!

*Taken from City Life Church Christmas Eve liturgy.

Insights on Prayer

In his new book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (if that subtitle doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will!), Tim Keller outlines a pattern for prayer. He suggests five elements to form a framework for prayer: evocation, meditation, Word prayer, free prayer, contemplation (240-262).

Keller is not saying this framework should be written in stone or practiced woodenly, but that does bring together necessary elements for a thriving relationship with God. If you’re a church leader, it would be wise to assess which of these elements need attention, not only in your own life but also in general in your own community.

I thought I’d share a few reflections on prayer that were triggered by this framework.

Prayers That Go for a Walk

A few years ago, I began praying the Lord’s Prayer every morning, personalizing each phrase. It has been wonderfully instructive. For instance, opening with “Our Father” has helped me ground prayer in relationship and not request. When my opening address to God is as “Father,” I am immediately reminded that I am “son,” his son. I haven’t earned my way into this relationship, nor can I disqualify myself from being heard by him.

However, I noticed over time, despite this rich sonship, I began to feel badly if I didn’t get all the way through Jesus’ pattern prayer. This would make me want to pray longer or, more likely, pray quicker. Keller reminds us that contemplation  is a time to sense God. Drawing on Luther, he notes that Luther described it as a time to “let his thoughts go for a walk” (251). When one thought stood out, Luther felt free to follow the Holy Spirit into it, and that here

the Holy Spirit himself is preaching and one word of his sermon is better than thousands of our own prayers…

This insight has brought me greater freedom when praying the Lord’s Prayer, but more importantly, encouraged me to follow the Holy Spirit more, to participate with him in prayer, and in freedom follow his leading in prayer. When our prayer is “on the clock,” it can be very difficult to get lost in God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. Allow yourself the freedom and joy of prayers that go for a walk.

Pray the Text

Before moving to free form prayer, Luther often found something in the biblical text as a basis for praising repenting, or resolving. People often struggle to know what to pray or what God’s will is. When we are moved to prayer with God’s word, we can have full confidence that we are praying his will (properly interpreted). Textual prayers are answered prayers. God loves to keep his word. When we “pray the text,” we not only gain confidence but also power. The Spirit works through God’s revealed word to accomplish his will in and through us.

Not too long ago I spent some time discussing public prayer with a group of elder candidates. Among other things, I encouraged them to pray the Word. It is important that our prayers are shaped by God’s word, and that God’s word shapes our church. I encouraged them to pray the Word into our church. If small groups and discipleship groups grasped this, it would unleash greater power in prayer. Why? Because God keeps his word, and delights to reveal his will through it. We are, after all, a Word-shaped people.

Experience What You Have

In Christ, we all have things–blessings–that we don’t experience (166-67). Prayer affords us the opportunity to experience those blessings, to encounter our theology so to speak. Keller points out that Paul frequently prays for churches to experience things they already have: “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” or “to know the love that surpasses knowledge” (see Eph. 3:14-19). There is knowing, and there is knowing. Prayer brings us into an intimate knowledge of God. Keller writes:

It is possible for Christians to live their lives with a high degree of phoniness, hollowness, and inauthenticity. The reason is because they have failed to move that truth into their hearts and therefore it has not actually changed who they are and how they live.

Prayer bridges the gap between knowledge and knowing. When we humbly seek God, and ask that we would experience what we already have, we begin to change, to encounter, to see the unseeable beauties of God and be floored. There are tremendous truths that need to be experienced such as: “fully loved, fully accepted” or “forgiven and free.” Ask God to allow you to experience what you already have in Christ Jesus.

For a brief time you can get Prayer at Westminster Bookstore cheaper than Amazon, plus your purchase supports a kingdom ministry instead of the Amazon behemoth. They also have one of my favorite books on sanctification on sale for 3.99.

What Parenting Method is Best? (Pt 1)

Every new mom or dad feels the daunting nature of the task—parenting. Questions fill your mind. Am I ready? What makes for a good dad or mom? How should we discipline? What kind of schedule should we follow? Is a schedule important? How do you raise an eternal soul? Nervous and excited, I piled up the books! I read everything on parenting from Psychology to Theology to Methodology. I also met with fathers whom I respected and asked them lots of questions on how to be a good dad. I even formed a group of other soon-to-be dads, so we could get together to pray for our kids and encourage one another.

There’s nothing like becoming a parent to freak you out. Expecting mothers freak out too. They get so freaked out, they devour blogs, join mom groups, buy lots of baby stuff they think their baby can’t live without. When we had our first child, we received a wet wipe warmer, seriously. All of a sudden all your conversations bend towards being a mom, raising kids, pregnancy. It’s easy for a lot of other stuff to get pushed out. Then there’s the birthing and parenting methods. In America, we get obsessed about this. We gravitate to books like What To Expect When you Are Expecting because we have to know what to expect! I wonder where faith is in all of this preparation?

Raising Kids is Hard & Great

I’m a seventeen-year-old parent (if you add my kids ages up), and I still don’t know what to expect. New stages bring new challenges. Diapers, potty training, schooling, friends, birds and the bees, puberty, culture, college, marriage, and so on. Working through education for our kids is one thing, but once they are in school its a whole different thing. Parenting can be daunting. Children require constant attention, even when they sleep! We watch them breathe at 2am. And even when they are not around, they are still in our thoughts. And for some reason they like doing the opposite of what we ask them to do! Raising kids is demanding, but it also delightful.

I love being a father. We get to experience unprecedented joy as we watch our children grow, change, eat, walk, talk, learn, sing, play, pray, and laugh. You get to roll around with them on the floor, and marvel at what they say. This week we were at the breakfast table and Owen just whipped out the Pledge of Allegiance, reciting it from memory. Ellie put on a black, curly, Halloween fro and, holding up her finger, said: “Don’t laugh!”.

6 Parenting Methods 

What methods do you follow? Some of us go for touchy-feely (Brazelton). Others lean into attachment parenting (Sears). You like the family bed. Others of you are freaked out by the idea of a family bed, so you schedule every second of your child’s life and then do it “God’s Way” (Ezzo) meanwhile abandoning worship, community, and mission (incredibly formative things for the soul). Or there’s Parenting by the Book (John Rosemond), who apparently figured out exactly how to raise children according to the Bible. It’s funny. In the midst of eternity, we clamor for temporal methods. Anxious about the safety, performance, health, and future of our children, we put faith in our methods, not in Christ.

Secular parents are realizing the futility of method-driven parenting. As a result, confessional parenting has become popular. Confessional parenting allows imperfect parents to be imperfect. Moms can confess to their various parental “sins” online, like faking an illness just to get some time alone. The problem with confessional parenting, is that while it might remove your guilt, it doesn’t raise your children.

Enter Slow Parenting, pretty popular in Austin. Slow Parenting replaces the experts, who told us what a good parent worries about, with experts who now tell us that a good parent doesn’t worry so much. Chill out. Take is easy. Don’t run your kids or yourself all over town to make sure they are in the right activities. Family, Family. Family. Do I detect a idol?

Attachment parenting, scheduled parenting, Christian parenting, and Slow parenting. We soothe our anxieties by staying up with the latest research and banking on our methods. But as a recent article in Time tells us, parents are wearing thin. Discouragement sets in. There’s a word for this. It’s called “nurture shock”, what happens when the mythical fountain of parenting knowledge fails us. We become over-informed, unsatisfied, anxious parents. Placing our faith in methods will drive us crazy, and kids don’t do so well with crazy parents.

3 Shortcomings of Method-Driven Parenting

In his foundational work God, Marriage, and Family, Andreas Kostenberger lists several shortcomings of methods-centered parenting:

1.     Method driven parenting focuses on practices not the person.

2.     It provides parents with a false sense of confidence.

3.     It is not sensitive enough to the uniqueness of each child.

I’m growing up with my kids, and I’m learning that that’s okay. God designed it like that, probably because he knows our kids need parents of faith more than parents of methods. Most parenting books miss the most important part of our children–their souls. Overwhelmed with the ordinary struggles, we can easily jettison eternity and latch onto the best crutch we can find, our parenting methods. If we keep a nap schedule, give them organic food, make sure they are having a “well-rounded” childhood (=putting your kids in everything imaginable and neglecting the most important things), then we can be confident. Maybe this methodology thing is more about us being confident and less about our kids being parented well. We can be so focused on finding the right parenting “method” or “educational philosophy” that we miss the most important part of parenting.

In the next post, we will consider a child-centered approach alongside gospel-centered parenting.

Could Every Day be Marvelous?

This morning I stumbled out of bed after waking up twice to the moans of two of my children. Our two year old is in a “climb out of her bed at midnight and get in mommy and daddy’s bed” phase. My eldest son woke up nauseated and dry-throated. By the afternoon, I was driving to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, that the doctor didn’t charge us to prescribe, and paid fifteen dollars for a ten day cure for my son’s strep throat.

After breakfast, I went for a walk in our neighborhood trails, tree covered and cool, with my wife and kids. My two year old repeatedly said “Hold you,” which means she wants me to hold her. I carried her tiny body around, taking in stretches of plant green, wide-bladed St. Augustine, splinter bark of junipers poking out and up, and guided her tired body through the crushed granite maze. Over a year ago, we received about thirty thousand dollars to make our home affordable.

After a few slices of pepperoni over lunch with an old friend, we walked over to his office, where I got to talk about the unbelievability and hope of the resurrection with the designers at Ptarmak, who are working on covers for my two new books. You just feel creative in their space. They took me on, not because of the profitability of my work but because they are genuinely excited about the projects. I walked away with every confidence that the great art will wrap up the great truths I’m trying to unpack.

I ate dinner with my family, and enjoyed their company, before heading out to teach a class on interpreting poetry to a community I know and love. Together, we got into, under, and around the word so that we can live the truly good life, the blessed life, as we delighted in God’s law and marveled at its wisdom and grace, manifested supremely in the faithful and true Psalm one Man.

Today was marvelous. Sometimes it didn’t seem like it. Interrupted sleep. Sick children. Suspense on cover art. Curious if my teaching would be clear, true, and most of all, carried by the Spirit into the hearts of our people.

Looking back, it was marvelous because Christ was sustaining the created order for me to enjoy, sustaining me to enjoy my kids, well ahead of me in lining up a design firm and a gospel opportunity, present as his word was taught, compelling us all to be fruitful trees planted in the life-giving counsel of Christ. I wish I saw every day like this, backwards, through the eyes of Jesus.