Who and Why of Thanksgiving

This week family and friends will gather and feast. They will celebrate the holiday known as Thanksgiving. Yet, how many families truly spend the time of reflecting on thankfulness? Consider your own life: Do you approach this season by thinking who you are thankful for? Do you stop to think why you are even thankful in the first place? My concern is that we do not, but I think we should. Reflecting on Psalm 136, I believe we can begin to let our hearts be softened to the who and why of thanksgiving. From the first three verses it is clear the One who deserves the most thanks is God. In that short span of three verses, the phrase “Give thanks to the Lord” is repeated three times. Surely, God is worthy of our praise. Moving from the ‘who’ to the ‘why’, the rest of Psalm 136 explain why God is to be thanked. A few instances reveal the multifaceted thankfulness of our hearts to God. God is to be thanked because…

  • He does great wonders and works (v. 4)
  • He is the Creator of the world (v. 5-9)
  • He brought Israel out of the land of Egypt (v. 10-22)
  • He remembers us and rescues us (v. 23-26)

The one true God has done great things in the world, creating it and coming into it. Most profoundly, though, we come to God, especially in this season of thankfulness, with joy because of His rescuing us and redeeming us through the gospel of Christ. Because Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, came to live the life we couldn’t and died the death we deserved, we can have the forgiveness of sins. Because He rose again and is now ascended, we can have the hope of eternal life. This is because “His steadfast love endures forever”. Will you thank God for who He is and what He has done as you reflect on His Person, words, and acts?

Reflection Time:

  • As you spend time together, what can you share with family and friends on how God has worked in your life this year? Be sure to share what that has revealed to you about God’s character.

Bear Witness to the Truth, Not Fake News

I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.

These words not only signify one of the most crucial moments in a courtroom scene but also find a primary place in the Christian life. Just as in a court case when witnesses take an oath to assure they will tell the truth, so we as Christians must realize the utmost importance of knowing the truth and telling the truth. This is especially the case when it comes to social media. In an era declaring fake news, we must follow the lead of our Lord and live out and share the truth on our Facebook timelines and our Twitter feeds.

Prior to the 2016 presidential race, I admit I was unaware of how severe the crisis of truth was within our churches. To be sure, the need to speak truth is nothing new, and I understood this need to teach truth in the face of false teaching. Yet, what I witnessed in 2016 was the markdown of truth’s value for those who profess to know the Truth. On social media, I began to see Christians defend positions, not because it was a matter of right and wrong, but because it was held by the right or left. I saw feeds filled with shared posts that were not concerned with the facts but with what fit their preconceived notions. Instead of prioritizing the Good News, I witnessed too many Christians’ profiles proclaiming fake news with skeptical statistics and questionable quotes. They gave no regard to the sources of what they shared. This trend has only continued in the years following.

As Christians, you and I must do better. We must check our sources and follow the example of the Bereans who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). These believers examined the Scriptures to see even if the faithful teaching of the Apostle Paul lined up with the rest of Scripture. They were a people concerned with biblical truth, because they knew the Word of God spoke absolute truth (Ps 19:9Prov 30:5). As followers of the Way, they knew to follow Jesus was to follow the very embodiment of truth (Jn 8:31-3214:6). For they and us, the ultimate source of truth is the Word of God and the truth we hold is in Jesus Christ.

This has specific application for us as Christians when it comes to our social media use. As believers, we have not been out called of this world in order to serve as a representative for our political party, tirelessly promoting its policies and defending its leaders at all costs. Instead, we are called to be representatives for Jesus Christ before a watching world, proclaiming his gospel and discerning truth from his Word. This call is laid out for us in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

In order to fulfill this call, we need to take note what it means to be an ambassador. The term ambassador describes someone sent by a country to act as its official representative in a foreign country, often with a specific task in mind. While it is ironically most often used in the political sphere, the Apostle Paul makes clear this is a higher call. Elsewhere he reminds us, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). Our role as ambassadors for Christ is not merely about our earthly citizenship but our heavenly one. The purpose for posting on Facebook and tweeting out on Twitter should not be to pass along our political party’s agenda. Our task is to pass along and point others to the truth of Jesus Christ. As his representatives, this is our high calling.

Heeding this call ought to reorient our approach to social media. We are witnesses for Christ before a watching world, and many on social media are watching. As we log into our social media accounts, we should be asking ourselves the question, “How can I be a representative for Jesus Christ on social media today?” Before we share that quote or comment on that news headline, we should be questioning, “How does this impact my witness for Jesus Christ?” “Is this Scriptural?” And even when we engage in disagreements on Facebook, we ought to be pondering, “Am I more concerned with winning the argument or being charitable?”

Brothers and sisters, the credibility of our witness is at stake with what we share on social media. May we pay careful attention to the sources of what we share, consider what is worthy of sharing, and point people to the source of truth in Jesus Christ.

Quick Reads for Anxious People (Book Review)

Welch, Edward T. A Small Book for the Anxious Heart: Meditations on Fear, Worry, and Trust. New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC. 2019. 192 pages.

During this time of a global pandemic, many are anxious. They fear they may test positive for the coronavirus. They worry what impact this may have on the economy and to their own bank account. The antidote to addressing these concerns is to look with trust to the One who is sovereign over it all. That is exactly what A Small Book for the Anxious Heart: Meditations on Fear, Worry, and Trust by Edward T. Welch is about.

Practical Counsel for the Fearful and Anxious

A Small Book for the Anxious Heart is filled with 50 daily meditations that are only a few pages each in length. The book is set up where the reader can read straight through from Day 1 to Day 50 or choose from the collection of meditations. While there is no particular order to the set of meditations, readers can gauge from the title which may pertain to them on a given day. There is a response at the end of each meditation for the reader to reflect on how they can apply what they have read.

Many of the meditations give practical counsel to help the reader in their struggle as the author shares about his own. One of the best examples of practical counsel in this book is the meditation for Day 21 on asking for prayer. The book is comprehensive in nature as Welch takes Days 22 and 23 to provide insight on the impact fear and worry have on the physical body. Of course, the topic of money is given attention in the book as well. Throughout the 50 meditations, though, Welch reiterates fear and faith are linked in this struggle. The reality is fear will not be fully eliminated but that Christians should meditate on what will build their faith and trust in the Lord.

A Critique of Concern

I appreciated the practical counsel and the comprehensive work found in these meditations. I was thankful for defining terms upfront (see Welch pp. 6-8). Yet, while the definitions may have clarified some terms, one word was left wanting: worry. Moreover, how Welch seems to handle worry is built on a faulty foundation. He pointedly says, “know that there are good reasons to worry” (Welch 29). I disagree because the testimony of Scripture defines worry as sin as it reveals a lack of trust in God. Counselor Timothy Lane, in his book Living Without Worry, distinguishes worry from concern and references Bible scholar Dick France in saying worry is not merely concern but that worry is over-concern. Therefore, Welch wants to comfort readers there are good reasons to “worry”, a more appropriate term would be concern. For what it is worth, too, I would be wary of referring to The Message as a translation, as the book does, and use more of the language of a commentary.

Quick Reads for Anxious People

If you are not a big reader but find yourself needing to meditate on biblical truth during this anxious and fearful time, consider purchasing and gleaning from the meditations in A Small Book for the Anxious Heart. If you are looking for a quick read that will remind you where your trust needs to be as you worry and who you need to place your faith in while you face fears, then check out this book by Edward Welch.

I received this book from New Growth Press in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

A Call to Stir Teens’s Affections for Christ (Book Review)

Barratt, Sara. Love Riot: A Teenage Call to Live with Relentless Abandon for Christ. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI. 2020. 208 pages.

When I entered vocational ministry as a youth pastor, I intentionally set out to not be all about pizza parties and silly stories. While my youth group has enjoyed a nice slice of pizza and laughed at tales told, that has not been the focus of their time with the church. Their time under my teaching and in our conversations has centered on what it means to follow Christ. My goal has been and is to challenge these young people to know the cost of following Christ, not going along to live complacent lives. Yet, I know as a youth pastor, teenagers need to hear from more than just the voice of another adult; they would benefit to hear from a fellow teenager who has walked with biblical conviction in a compromising culture. That is why I am glad to introduce you to Sara Barratt and her first book, Love Riot: A Teenage Call to Live with Relentless Abandon for Christ.

Fight for a Generation with Love

Sara is someone who has experienced the teenage years at the time of her writing this book. She is aware of the particular temptations and tests that occur during that stage of life. Within Christian circles specifically, she has witnessed the apathy among teenagers. She wants to face that head-on and fight for her generation. Fight for them with love. To share with them the love of Christ and to call a generation to love others with the love of Christ.

Sara sections her book into five parts: (1) The Call, (2) The Change, (3) The Challenge, (4) The Crux, and (5) The Commission. She addresses the problem upfront and then spends the bulk of the book talking about falling in love with Jesus and following Him even when it is uncomfortable and unpopular. Yet, the vision is much bigger than individual application; a movement is in view. A riot of sharing and showing the love of Christ!

A Counter-Cultural Approach

In the discussion on media in chapter 12, Barratt emphasizes the applications she puts forth are not meant to be done legalistically but as a counter-cultural approach to the compromise and conformity we see in our culture. Her discussion in that chapter is characteristic of the whole book. Sara encourages teenagers to not treat Jesus like they handle Facebook, and she pinpoints their comforts, like free Wi-Fi, to challenge them to step outside of their comfort zones for Jesus. The practicality of the book, too, shines brightly at the end of each chapter with “Going Deeper” questions. She calls for this application in a way that does not come across as a checklist but something done out of love for Jesus Christ. This is seen clearly in chapters 8 and 9 as Sara exhorts and equips teenagers what it means to spend time with Jesus and how to dig into God’s Word. All the practical applications from Sara flow out a love for Christ.

 A Little Clarity

Sara does a tremendous job clarifying for teenagers what it means to follow Christ. Yet, there is one statement she makes on following Christ that needs greater clarification. As she discusses the call Jesus gives to His disciples in Mark 8, she remarks, “He was asking them to follow Him in all ways, no matter what, event to the point of dying the same death for Him that He would die for them” (Barratt 75). While I believe I understand what she is getting at, if the reader is not discerning, they could incorrectly interpret her statement that the disciples could die for the exact same purpose as Jesus did for them. Jesus’ death for His followers was as a substitutionary sacrifice in the place of sinners. Jesus died for their (and our) sins. Therefore, while His followers can die for the sake of Christ, they cannot die for anyone’s salvation. To be sure, I don’t believe Barratt is making any such assertion, but if someone is not careful, then they could incorrectly read it in that wrong way.

Stirring Affections and Igniting a Movement

The minor critique aside, Love Riot by Sara Barratt is a book to stir teens’s affections for Christ. As hearts are stirred in stepping out of comfort zones and living for Christ, this book has the potential of igniting the movement of a love riot, the very point of the book! If you are a teenager who is tired of complacency and wants to commit to following Christ, then this is the book for you! Likewise, if you are a parent or youth pastor who wants to encourage young people to leave behind apathy and grow in their affections for Christ, then pick up a copy of this book for your teenager!

I received this book from Baker Books on behalf of the author in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

A Valuable Resource for Special Needs Children (Book Review)

Joni and Friends. God Made Me Unique: Helping Children See Value in Every Person. New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC. 2019. 32 pages.

The statistics are staggering and saddening. Not many churches are known for being autism and special needs friendly. Some churches, although they may not say it, see families and children with special needs as an obstacle to ministry, not an opportunity for ministry. This must change! Churches need to see the value of every unique individual and family that comes through their doors. That is what makes me excited for Joni and Friends’ new resource, God Made Me Unique: Helping Children See Value in Every Person.

A Special Story

With a foreword by Joni Eareckson Tada and the story written by Chonda Ralston, the scene is appropriately set in a children’s class on a Sunday morning at church. The colorful illustrations by Trish Mahoney will invite the children’s attention. Written in rhyme, the story introduces a new kid to the class who has special needs. This gives the teacher, Ms. Campbell, the opportunity to share about special needs, how some disabilities are clear and others are not as evident. Wyatt plays with a toy to help him focus and keep his hands to himself. Jamal is in a wheelchair but is included in activities because “we should never exclude based on a disability”. Along the way, the children learn in passages like Psalm 139 God made each of them with great care and disabilities are not germs but a part of creation. The lesson reminds each kid their value as 1 Corinthians 12 highlights “Every member has value and a part to play”.

A Significant Lesson

There is no way to state the significance of the story of God Made Me Unique. This is as much a book for the church as it is for children. Church leaders should read this book to see the value of all people, particularly special needs children, in their congregations. Children’s Bible teachers should glean from this resource how they can be more sensitive and strategic in their lessons. All adults would do well to read the back section of the book titled “Four Ways to Help Your Child Understand Disability as Part of God’s Plan”. Children are invited to ask questions and gain an understanding on what disability means and how it can be used to serve and minister. If you know a special needs child who could use the encouragement that God has created and gifted them with value, then check out this book. If you know a church leader who could benefit and learn how to better shepherd as a result of this book, then consider getting them God Made Me Unique. It is of the utmost value!

I received this book from New Growth Press in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

A Gift of a Book for Boys and Girls (Book Review)

Machowski, Marty. God Made Boys and Girls: Helping Children Understand the Gift of Gender. New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC. 2019. 32 pages.

In our culture, there is a lot of confusion. One of the places this is currently most evident is with the gender debate. From a young age, the world is telling kids they can trust their feelings and choose their gender. Yet, for Christians who hold to a biblical worldview, we know feelings are not the most reliable guide and we are stewards over the bodies God has entrusted to us. Knowing the biblical truth and being made aware of the world’s philosophy, how can Christians teach their young ones the truth about God’s gift of gender in a way these children can understand? By reading to them Marty Machowksi’s new book, God Made Boys and Girls: Helping Children Understand the Gift of Gender.

Story Set at School

The book opens with a scene of kids at recess during the school day. Maya likes playing football, but Lucas teases her that liking and playing football will turn her into a boy. This leads to a conversation in class by Mr. Ramirez on God’s design for gender. The class of children learn being a boy or girl is in your blood (it is biological), sin has messed with and mixed up God’s plan and truth for human hearts and bodies, but God has sent Jesus who redeems us. The kids learn the biblical truth about gender and also how to love those who disagree or are confused.

Handled with Care

Marty Machowski handles a touchy topic in our culture today with great care. God Made Boys and Girls stands firm on the biblical conviction God created you and me male or female according to His plan—not based on personality, preference, but your parents and their makeup as God chooses your code—while emphasizing to show compassion by loving those who disagree on this truth or are confused about their gender. The book has a word on stereotypes, encouraging kids not to buy into them and also telling them not to make fun of those who don’t fit into such stereotypes. The structure of the book opens and closes with counsel for parents and caregivers as they speak with their children on this matter, and the story teaches children to understand gender through a biblical framework of creation, fall, and redemption.

Gift of a Book

God Made Boys and Girls: Helping Children Understand the Gift of Gender by Marty Machowski is a gift of a book for boys and girls to hear about the beautiful and wonderful design that God has created them as their biological gender all according to His plan. This gift of a book extends to others as children are equipped to show love and kindness to those who may disagree with them on these very points or may be confused about their own gender. Parents will want to have this resource on their bookshelf to read to their preschool and young elementary children, especially as the need arises (and the need is certainly there)!

I received this book from New Growth Press in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

A Good Book to Tell Your Kids “Good Night” (Book Review)

Thornton, Champ. Why Do We Say Good Night? New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC. 2019. 32 pages.

As a kid, I was afraid of the dark. More than that, though, I remember what my caring parents did in response to comfort me. They shared with me Scripture. They pointed me to passages to ensure me the Lord was with me and watching over me. I still recall the piece of paper my parents wrote a Bible verse on for me to read anytime fear started to creep in my mind and heart. That piece of paper was the encouragement I needed to overcome my fear and to look to the Lord in faith, trusting in His care. What that piece of paper did for me is what Champ Thornton’s new book Why Do We Say Good Night? will do for children of today who are scared of the dark and afraid of nighttime.

A Good God and A Good Night

With colorful illustrations by Rommel Ruiz, Why Do We Say Good Night? reminds children as they head to bed that they have no reason to fear because God is near. Through rhyme, the book shows a mother teaching her child why we say good night. She starts with the truth the Lord made day and night. With God creating night, everything is good and right. When kids may fear, God comforts and is near. A section of the book sums it well when it says, “with perfect sight—our God is watching through the night.” Because there is a good God there can be a good night.

A Good Book for Saying Good Night

Why Do We Say Good Night? engages children’s nighttime fears and encourages them with the comfort that the Creator of life and Shepherd of their soul is watching over and caring for them. The topic for this book will interest children and parents into reading it, and the rhyming in the book will capture their attention. Rather than shaming children for their feelings of fear, Thornton helps kids understand their fear and why they can look to someone bigger in faith than their fears. If you know a child who is scared of the dark and struggling with nighttime fears, then you will want to comfort them with this book by Champ Thornton. Get this good book so children can be comforted about a good God as you tell them “Good night!”

I received this book from New Growth Press in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

A Relatable Story for Children Feeling Lonely (Book Review)

Clark, Jane V. (ed). Tori Comes Out of Her Shell: When You Are Lonely. New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC. 2019. 32 pages.

Have you ever been to an event where you did not really know anyone? Did you just dive into conversation with those people or did you stand there, feeling awkward and lonely in the midst of a crowd of people? I know for me, it usually has been the latter. As a youth pastor, I have seen and heard this is sometimes the same case for youth. Whether it is moving to a new house and school or being around a bunch of people you do not know or are not friends with, the feeling of loneliness can set in for youth, both younger and older. What counsel can one give to a child who is faced with such a circumstance? The sought-after words of wisdom may be contained in the story Tori Comes Out of Her Shell: When You Are Lonely, another addition in the “Good News for Little Hearts” series.

An Inviting and Relatable Story

Edited by Jayne V. Clark and illustrated by Joe Hox, Tori Comes Out of Her Shell invites the child to relate to the experience of Tori Turtle. As the turtle family moves from one meadow to the next, Tori finds herself at a new school with no friends. Although her brothers have already made friends, she has not. Spending much of the day by herself, Tori decides to hide inside her shell. That only lasts until her teacher, Miss Minnick, comes over to encourage her to not feel so lonely and to let her know Jesus is with her, giving her a verse card from the Great Book. Knowing the fear of embarrassment before others, Miss Minnick relates to Tori and shares how when she was a student in school, she had an embarrassing moment herself. Later on, Tori Turtle meets Gertie Gecko who struggles with some of the same things and they quickly become friends, both finding out God is with them when they are lonely and becoming friends in the process.

Encouraging Counsel

Tori Comes Out of Her Shell is a relatable story for children who are experiencing loneliness. For parents who are struggling what to say or how to help their kids through such a time, the section in the back of the book entitled “Helping Your Child with Loneliness” will give them great counsel. The Back Pocket Bible Verses in the very back of the book can be cut-out and given to the children who need that reminder from the story. If you know or parent a child dealing with feelings of loneliness, especially facing this issue at school, then offer them the encouragement by reading them Tori Comes Out of Her Shell: When You Are Lonely.

I received this book from New Growth Press in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.

Go-To Counsel for Children with the “Wantsies” (Book Review)

Powlison, David (ed). Gus Loses His Grip: When You Want Something Too Much. New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC. 2019. 32 pages.

My toddler nephew loves his snacks. In our home’s pantry, he will find his way to the door, alerting us to the fact he wants a treat. The problem is not too much after his first snack bag, he is up and at it again. One is not enough; he wants more. When he doesn’t get it, his want quickly turns into a command with his foot-stomping the floor. At that moment, what is there to say? What lesson can help him see why maybe having just one more snack is not a good idea? After reading Gus Loses His Grip: When You Want Something Too Much, I can say the words said and lessons learned can be found in this book.

A Gripping Tale

Edited by the late David Powlison and illustrated by the artistic Joe Hox, this tale features Gus Raccoon and the grips sweets have on him. The rule of no sweets in the bedroom is broken by Gus (and eaten all in one night). While his Papa reads the Easter story, Gus’s focus is on the treats in his Easter gift. When his family shops at the market, Mr. Hogster is kind enough to allow Gus and his friend to sample his treats. Gus cannot help himself and stuffs his cheeks and paws full. Upon leaving the market, Papa reaches for Gus’s paw and his son’s problem is found out as the sweets fall to the ground. This leads to a conversation between Gus and Papa, who can relate, about always wanting more. Gus learns that even good gifts can become an issue when they are sought after and loved too much, having a grip on him.

A Go-To Guide

Gus Loses His Grip is go-to counsel for parenting and helping young children to think through what has a hold on their hearts. The section in the back entitled “Helping Your Child with the ‘I Wantsies’” equips parents in dealing with the issue, and the Back Pocket Bible Verses will encourage the kids with this particular truth of Scripture. Whether it is a toddler asking for more food or a preschool and elementary child wanting more and more time playing games and watching videos, this book will helps kids see how problems can arise, namely that whatever it is that has a grip on the child rather than the child having a grip on it. If you are a parent who wants your young child to not be controlled by things but compelled by the love of Christ, then Gus Loses His Grip: When You Want Something Too Much edited by David Powlison is a good place to start.

I received this book from New Growth Press in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own and are my honest review of the book.