Archive for the ‘Life’ Category


On Halloween, Don’t Be That Parent

So it’s Halloween and parents everywhere are finalizing their plans for next week. Candy is purchased and placed in the requisite pumpkin bucket near the front door. Costumes are selected and purchased. And evangelical car trunks stand ready to be decorated for the church parking lot. It’s go time.

But before you venture out at the end of this week, make sure you are ready, as a parent, for the holiday. To get you ready I’m here with some important things not to do.

1) Don’t Be That Parent Who Judges What the Other Parents Do. 

Regardless of your parenting posture on Halloween (and if you need help, here’s a helpful guide from Russell Moore), don’t be the parent who either self-righteously talks about how you shield your kids from the devil’s holiday or how you are so much more enlightened than the parents who shield their kids from the devil’s holiday. Follow 1 Corinthians 8.

2) Don’t Be a Candy Killjoy

There are several ways to be a candy killjoy. Maybe you are the healthy parent (not that there’s anything wrong with that) who will only accept gluten-free, free-range, grass-fed, no-hormone candy. I’m exempting here parents who have kids with allergies. Those are serious and we should do whatever we can to make those kids get candy they can enjoy that doesn’t make them sick. But with that caveat out of the way, don’t be the parent who lectures on “all the chemicals in the candy” and “how kids are so obese these days.” Those are important discussions, but can we let the kids have some fun and save those discussion for another day? And, for the sake of all that is good and holy, don’t put carrot sticks in some poor kid’s candy bag. Just don’t do it.

The other way to be a Halloween candy killjoy is to not allow your kids to indulge the candy on the first night. Our rule of thumb is that we allow them to go a little bit crazy the night of collection, then my wife Angela rations the candy like the food rationing during World War II. This allows them to enjoy candy in moderation the rest of the year.

3) Don’t Be a Gospel Killjoy

When we grew up, we didn’t trick or treat–that was my parent’s conviction–but we did give candy to the kids who did. We also handed out gospel tracts. I think gospel tracts are great evangelism tools during this season. I know of several people who came to faith in Christ after receiving a gospel tract. However, don’t make the really big evangelistic fail of handing out tracts without candy. Don’t do this. First of all it’s cruel and unusual punishment for kids who are coming to the door for candy and not pamphlets. Secondly, it says all kinds of unintentional things about the God whose love you are trying to communicate.

Another way to be a gospel killjoy is to work a “light and darkness” Bible reference into every other sentence when you are trick or treating with your kids or discussing Halloween with friends. Yes, this is a great moment to talk about spiritual warfare, light and darkness. Yes, yes. We do this with our kids every year at this time. But don’t be obnoxious. Don’t be a killjoy. Have fun and let your kids have fun.

4) Don’t let your daughters wear sexy costumes 

Somewhere along the line Halloween grew from a holiday where kids dress up and go get candy from neighbors to a holiday where adults dress up in increasingly inappropriate and creepy costumes. I’m amazed when I look at the sales fliers at how these sexy costumes are increasingly being marketed to young girls. I have three young girls and this disturbs me on many levels. As parents, we need to resist the culture and make sure we practice modesty give our kids a young and wholesome time on Halloween. As a father I feel a weighty responsibility to protect my kids’ innocence.

5) Don’t be too cool for your church’s events. 

I’ve noticed a kind of elitism when it comes to church’s attempts to do outreach on Halloween. Ok, Judgement Houses are a colossally bad idea. But don’t be too cool for your church’s Trunk or Treat or Harvest Fest. Yes, you are missional and will do trick or treating to meet your neighbors for gospel conversations, but you can also do your church’s events as well. Participate, encourage the body of Christ and, if you are smart, set up two nights of candy for your kid’s consumption.

6) Don’t be too churchy to not use Halloween to build relationships in your community. 

On the flipside, I think Halloween presents a wonderful opportunity to get to know your neighbors. It’s hard to reach people with the gospel if you don’t actually know them. And you should attempt to get to know them in a long-term friendship kind of way, not in a “I’m being nice to you so I can get you to my church” kind of way. Be genuine. Be friendly. Be human. Your unchurched neighbor probably doesn’t really need to hear about the supposed Satanic origins of Halloween the first time you meet him.

7) Don’t forget the 10% Daddy tax

I saved my best tip for last. A universal rule of parenting is the 10% Daddy tax. In exchange for your wandering around dark streets with plastic pumpkin buckets with your kids, you have the right to skim at least 10% of the candy they collect. The best time to do this is after they are in bed and will not notice a few missing 100 Grand bars or Kit Kats. You shouldn’t feel bad about this. This is how the world works. Your parents took 10% of the candy you collected when you were a kid and now this is you completing the cycle. Plus, they really aren’t old enough to appreciate the rich chocolate and caramel of a Rolo.


On Losing a Close Friend


I just found out that my close friend and mentor, Bill Swanger, went to be with the Lord this morning at around 6:00 am. It’s really hard to put into words how much I loved Bill and how much he helped me in my ministry and in growing as a husband and father.

I met Bill almost by chance. In 2007, I accepted a volunteer position as a youth pastor at Gages Lake Bible Church, a small church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The church was in a transition. It’s last -full-time pastor had retired a few years earlier and the last interim pastor left to go to the mission field. Bill was a retired pastor who was close friends with one of the key families at GLBC. This was a season of interim pastorates for him and so he agreed to serve.

I really didn’t have to get to know Bill. My instructions were to simply see what I could do with a floundering youth group, to help give a small church a ministry for some of its young people. But I had the idea that it might not be a bad idea to meet the interim senior pastor and see where we could work together. So I got his email and we agreed to meet at one of his favorite fast-food places: Burger King.

I was also in a period of transition myself, rethinking my ministry philosophy and theological positions. I was looking for mentors, leaders who could show me a better style of leadership than I had experienced. What I didn’t know was that my lunch date with this man I didn’t know would be used by God to dramatically shape my life and ministry.

I saw something in Bill that was refreshing. He was a pastor really took the idea of pastoring seriously, but didn’t take himself too seriously. He was gentle, kind, and wanting to teach young guys like me about ministry. I had always questioned my leadership abilities only because I was never the kind of frenetic, Type-A type guy I thought I had to be. Meeting Bill, whose personality was much like mine, gave me the confidence to know God could use me with the gifts He gave me.

Bill and I quickly became good friends. What’s more, he looked at me and told me that I could be a good pastor. He encouraged the church at Gages Lake to pursue me for the senior pastorate, even though I was young and unproven. He also coached me on pastoral ministry, sharing me things that I’d never heard or seen.

Early in my pastorate, there were several confrontations that he helped me to navigate. Actually, he saved me from myself more times than not. I can’t remember how many times he would say, over the phone, “You can’t say things that way.” or “Here’s how you need to handle this.” or “Here’s what I would say.” Any time I encountered something difficult in the ministry, I would call him up and ask him what to do. Any time I had a critical decision to make, Bill was my first counsel.

Bill navigated me through many crises, both in my family, professionally, and in other areas. When my character and leadership were attached once, it was Bill who stood up beside me and with me, who assured me that this was part of leadership and that God would get me through it. I distinctly remember one afternoon when I was completely and totally discouraged. My wife was out of town with the kids and I had just been unfairly attacked. I remember eating dinner with Bill and his wife, Donna on their porch and being loved and cared for by them.

He was unafraid to share from his own failures and successes, sharing rich detail about so much of his life and ministry. I relished our regular, early morning breakfasts. He told me his story of finding Christ through the ministry of Billy Graham and his calling into ministry, first enrolling at Moody Bible Institute in the 1950’s and meeting his wife Donna there. He shared insights from his pastorates. In the last part of his ministry career, Bill become somewhat of a specialist for hurting churches. He would come in and serve as an interim, healing divisions, preaching the Word, and setting them up for their next season in life. He was a master at this. He could diffuse tensions and bring peace where few could. And he tried his best to teach me to lead like this as well.

Bill was also so proud of me. Every time I got published somewhere. Every book, every media interview, every accomplishment–he cheered me on.

In early August, we heard about Bill’s diagnosis of esophageal cancer. I was shocked and stunned, really. Bill was in his early eighties, but was as healthy as someone half his age. You didn’t even think he was eighty years old. I wasn’t sure how much longer Bill had, but I knew I had to see him. I’m so thankful that I had a chance to visit him last week, to hear him whisper to me, from his hospital bed, “I love you. I’m so proud of you.”

Bill was a man of grit and grace, a kind soul, who loved Jesus, love the Word of God and was especially gifted at mentoring and teaching.

I will always miss this man, Bill Swanger. I know Heaven is richer, though, because of his presence.

More about Bill: 

A profile in Decision Magazine (published by Billy Graham Association)

My article about him for Leadership Journal





My Favorite Podcasts

I’ve got about a 20 minute (sometimes 30 during school season) commute to work. I like to redeem my commute by listening to podcasts. I generally subscribe to about ten or twelve of them so I have a wide range of options when I get in the car. My moods change and my needs change and my interests change, so I like to have some variety. Currently this are the podcasts on my iPhone:

Fresh Air (NPR). Yes, I’m a conservative who loves NPR. I love Fresh Air because there is such a variety of interesting content. Terri Gross interviews a wide range of guests, from historians to jazz musicians to athletes. I don’t listen to all of them and I don’t always agree, but I find that I learn much. For instance, there was a recent episode with a journalist who just returned from Iraq and Syria and gave a detailed account of ISIS. Another one returned from Nigeria and reported on Boko Haram.

Morning Joe Podcast. I’m a huge fan of Morning Joe, but I don’t always have time, in fact, I rarely have time to catch the show in the mornings. I find their podcasts, which condense all of the content, commercial free, into 40 minutes or so, is well worth my time. I get an update on the latest news with some incisive commentary. And no, I don’t watch the video while I’m driving, in case you were wondering!

The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons. I’m a huge sports fan and, for me, there is no better sports columnist/interviewer/fan than Bill Simmons, founder of the terrific site, Grantland. I don’t listen to all the podcasts, because sometimes he gets into niche pop culture stuff that I have no interest in. But during the NBA free agency period this summer, there was no better listening than this.

Canon and Culture Podcast. A little shout-out here to one of our new ERLC podcasts. This is based from our DC office and always has informative and good guests. The latest one about North Korea is really good. Check it out.

Family Life Today. This is always on my podcast. Like the others, I can’t catch everyone, but as a father of four children, I need this podcast. Bob Lepine and Dennis Rainey interview parenting and family experts and offer their own sage, Bible wisdom. Highly recommended.

Brook Hills Church. I love the preaching of David Platt. His rich, biblical exegesis and passion for Christ helps me grow as a Christian.

First Baptist Mount Juliet. My pastor, Andy Hale, is a terrific preacher. I podcast this for the weekends that I’m speaking or traveling so I don’t miss what God is teaching us as a body of believers.

City Church. This is my buddy, Dean Inserra, a terrific preacher in Tallahassee. Highly recommended.

Mere Fidelity. Matt Anderson, Derrick Rishmaway and others host a podcast on theological philosophical ideas. This is a new podcast that I really, really enjoy. Helps me understand some hard-to-understand concepts.

The Rich Eisen Podcast. Rich is a host on the NFL Network. This is for football junkies. During NFL season, this is a must-listen. Rich is engaging and witty and features great guests from the pop culture and sporting world.

Rainer on Leadership. My friend, Jonathan Howe hosts this with the CEO of Lifeway, Thom Rainer. This always has great insights on leadership and good interviews.


Potshots Are Not a Spiritual Gift

It’s a bit morose and probably an exercise in ego-massaging to consider what one would wanted inscribed on his tombstone (if indeed one has left his family enough money to buy a tombstone). But indulge me for a moment. This can be a good exercise for us in that it requires us to think through just what our lives are made of–what will the one or two sentences in the first lines of our obituaries say when we pass? I’m not sure what that would be for me, but I can tell you what I wouldn’t want it to be.

I don’t want to be known as the guy who takes potshots at other people.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but in our social media age, it’s not a given. In fact, I think if more people considered their reputations, the weight of their words, the impact they are having on the people who follow their activity, they’d reconsider what they type or tap into the blank spaces on Twitter.

Twitter makes taking potshots pretty easy. It’s not that it’s Twitter’s fault. It’s that this medium–instant, fast, and rewarding of sharp wit–dredges up from the heart the worst kinds of things. What’s more, the safe distance it gives you from keyboard to flesh-and-blood gives the illusion of courage behind a veil of insecurity.

I say all that to say this: a lifetime of worthy work can be erased in a short amount of time if you’re someone who uses Twitter to continually sound off, take potshots, and be the self-appointed watchdog for the masses you think have made you their leader. This is especially true and sadly prevalent in the evangelical world. You can easily take potshots–that have all of your tribe saying comatose amens–pretty easily. You can skewer the theological tribes with whom you disagree and make a living pointing out their blind spots, hash tagging their crimes, and gathering a willing lynch mob. You can create narratives, half-true, half-false, about movements you despise and be successful, even drawing in the news media and other organizations interested mainly in eyeballs on their web ads. You can be an online bully, going after people with relentlessness and fake courage because you don’t have to see them in person, shake their hand, and realize they are humans and not avatars. You can do all of this and do it well.

But again, is this what you want said about you at your funeral? Is this what you want inscribed on your tombstone? Is the thing, the one thing, you want your children to say is your most significant contribution during the years you were given, as a stewardship, by God?

This is the conversation we have to have with ourselves almost daily as we fight the carnal tendencies to react and overreact. I certainly haven’t always gotten it right. I’ve made mistakes, said things, tweeted things, blogged things that I regret. But lately it’s been this long view of life that has held me back. Because when I look at the list of spiritual gifts in the Bible, I see a lot of things, but I don’t see a ministry of potshots as one of them.


What Dad taught Me: 5 Invaluable Principles I Use Every Day

My dad is a quiet man, more comfortable working with his hands than delivering a speech or writing an essay. But this doesn’t mean Dad wasn’t a teacher. Dad’s life spoke to me in ways that I still think of today. Most of these lessons were simply by following his example.

My father grew up in a broken home. He didn’t know his real father until he was fourteen years old. He dealt with the devastating effects of alcoholism and was forced to grow up fast. While still in high-school, he got up early to work at a bakery, using this income to support his mother (my grandmother) as she helped raise six children with my father’s step-dad.

While in his late teens, my father came to faith in Christ through the ministry of Billy Graham. He later met my mother, a Jewish girl who converted to Christianity, and they got married. I’m the oldest of three children.

Dad was a blue-collar guy, a licensed plumber, who has always been known for the quality of his work. It wasn’t the specific job he did but the way Dad carried himself that taught me the most about life, about manhood, and about living out the gospel. These five lessons are ones I’ve adopted as I seek to honor the Lord with my life:

1. A real man acknowledges his dependence on God. Even though my father is a rugged, hardworking, “man’s man”, he has always been unafraid to admit his weakness and need for Christ. I remember getting up every morning and seeing my father, up early, reading his Bible.

Now to be sure, I’m not a morning person, so my sons don’t find me up early reading the Bible. I do my Bible reading at other times, mostly at night. But I have tried to carry Dad’s dependence on the Word with me. Dad taught me the value of making Scripture the center of a family’s life. I think this is why all three of his children are actively following Christ to this day.

2. A real man takes his family to church every week. I guess I didn’t realize the importance of this until I became a father and had my own children. It was just assumed that every Sunday we went to church. There was never a question. No matter what was going on that week, no matter how tired Dad was, no matter who was playing whom that Sunday, we were in church. Dad had a pretty iron-clad policy: if you stayed home sick, then you were sick that whole day. You didn’t play hooky, pretend to be sick, and then play outside on Sunday.

For a young man, this is an important visual statement. Kids need to see their fathers faithfully leading them to church every week. This tells the family that worship of the risen Christ matters so much so that we voluntarily set aside a day each week in worship. What’s more, a real man invests and is involved in the work of a Bible-believing church. Dad gave himself, his time, his money, and his talents to the work of the Kingdom. I hope that one day my kids will say the same thing about me.

3. A real man works hard to provide for his family. Again, I didn’t realize how rare this is until I grew older and observed the sad lack of purpose and vision among contemporary men. Dad modeled what it looks like to get up every day, whether he liked it or not, and go to work for the family. Plumbing is a hard job. It’s physically demanding and requires focus and discipline. But Dad never wavered in his commitment to provide for us.

I remember asking Dad, “Dad, do you ever get tired of doing this every single day?” His reply, “Son, yes. I do. But then I remember that I don’t get tired of eating. I don’t get tired of having a house. I don’t get tired of seeing my kids’ needs taken care of. So I quickly get ‘untired’ of working.”

Great answer. Not every day at work, even in your chosen vocation where you are working in your giftedness, is a day at the beach. Many days are mundane. Some are frustrating. Some days you want to quit, even in the best of jobs. But a real man, a man of God, labors to provide for the ones God has called him to love and serve. By God’s grace, I’ve tried to carry on this work ethic, and it will benefit me my entire life.

4. A real man loves his wife unconditionally, in good times and bad. My parents have been married for thirty eight years. There have been many hardships along the way. My mother endured seven miscarriages. She’s been afflicted by illness. Dad has seen his own share of health challenges and, lately, unemployment struggles as the housing industry in the Chicago area has suffered. Dad has taught me, through it all, the value of simple, everyday faithfulness. Not all of life is easy. Many seasons are hard and difficult and make you want to get up and walk away. Dad’s faithfulness in good and bad seasons has shown me what a real man does: he endures.

I pray it’s said of me that I have the same character and faithfulness Dad exhibited. He isn’t perfect and neither am I. We are both in need of God’s amazing grace to cover our many sins. But if I could be half the man Dad has been in his life, that would be enough for me.

5. A real man is a living witness of the gospel in the daily grind of life. This is related to point #3. Dad not only worked hard, he took pride in his work. I remember asking Dad when I was working alongside him at 14 years old why he cared that the drain pipes we were installing inside the walls had to be so straight. “Nobody will see them,” I said. “But, Son, I will see them. God sees them. That matters.” Dad did his work with excellence, even staying an extra hour to get that one thing right that didn’t much matter to me. But it does matter, because the work we do with our hands reflects the Creator. He’s given us a job to do, and we should do it well–to His glory.

Dad’s work was his witness to an unsaved and watching world. The construction trades are not exactly a haven of clean-living. Dad never heard of the words missional and incarnational. He just got up every day and did the very best job he could. And this work was a witness. He was unafraid to vocally share his faith on the job, even though those opportunities were rare. I can tell you, however, that everyone who worked with my father knew he was a Christian, mostly because of the quality work he did.

Too many people in our day and age don’t know the treasure of a great father. I’m grateful, by God’s grace, that I do. In fact, my father is one of my heroes because he showed me what it looks like for a Christian man to live out his faith in the nitty-gritty, daily grind of life, among a lost and sinful people. And I’ll never, ever forget it.


Psalm 139 and The Miracle of Life

If you’ve followed my writing and speaking and blogging, you’ll know that one of my passions is the sanctity of life. When I pastored, I was proud to set aside a Sunday in January for the sanctity of life. We had the privilege of cooperating with a local Pregnancy Resource Center in our town. We raised money, volunteered, and championed the heroic work of the center. In my book, Activist FaithI detail the amazing, effective, gospel-motivated work of these types of centers all across America. In my view, this is the front lines of the prolife cause. This is where faithful followers of Jesus apply the gospel to young women in crisis.

In my new role with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, I am so excited to be a part of one of our long-standing initiatives: The Psalm 139 Project. This is a program that grants an ultrasound machine to a pregnancy resource center. Every year pro-life advocates donate money to Psalm 139, enough to place an ultrasound machine.

This year we are placing our ninth machine, to the CareNet clinics in northern Virginia. I’ve had the chance to meet with the executive director of CareNet, Karen Snuffer and was impressed by the professionalism, grace, and heart of her and her entire team. There is much need for this kind of ministry in the Washington DC area and it’s encouraging to see CareNet fill this need and to see the nearly 200 area evangelical churches who support and champion this work.

This Sunday I will be speaking at the First Baptist Church of Woodbridge as we make this presentation to CareNet. My prayer is that God will use this partnership to save many unborn lives and to bring many young girls from the edge of despair to hope in Christ.


Our Snarky Eye-Rolling Might Actually Be Sinful

My pastor has been preaching thru 1 Corinthians. He’s a terrific expositor, always providing the nuance and thrust of the text at hand. Lately we’ve come upon 1 Corinthians 8, the well-known “meat offered to idols” text that helps inform the way we treat each other when disagreeing over the gray areas of the Christian life. (By gray areas, I mean areas of liberty not clearly outlined in the text of Scripture, not fake gray areas brought about about newer, suspect interpretations of Scripture).

Andy took this in three installments, first giving an overview of this and what it is saying. This series of messages ministered to my soul in so many ways, but I learned three important things:

Legalism and self-righteousness is not a sign of holiness, but a sign of weak faith. 

Flaunting freedom and wounding consciences of our brothers and sisters in the Lord is a sin. 

We shouldn’t value our preferences or our spiritual freedom more than we value our fellow believers. 

It’s this last one that really got to me. You see, I’ve been in both extremely legalistic environments and I’ve been in extremely permissive environments. One thing that is identical to both is a kind of Phariseeism that sees one’s own view of the gray areas as sacrosanct and the biblical position.

Today there are many addressing legalism and the way it suffocates the soul. Even for those who don’t have this biography need to be reminded of John Newton’s words, “Grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” For the recovering legalist, there are few passages better than 1 Corinthians 8.

And yet, Paul doesn’t end this chapter with his rebuke to legalists. He then turns toward those who delight in their spiritual freedom. There is, among those who understand the freedom found in the gospel, an easy temptation to wound the consciences of our brothers and sisters by mocking their choices in the gray areas. Paul said that to compel someone to violate conscience, to belittle the rules they have set for themselves, is to sin, against Christ. 

As I sat hearing this sermon, my heart was convicted. I wonder if this is the sin of our generation of evangelicals. We consider ourselves more enlightened than our parents, we’ve thrown off the shackles of their legalism. We can now feel the freedom to engage in activities they considered sinful. In many of these cases, most of these cases, we’re probably right. A previous generation may have erred on the side of rules, equating preference with orthodoxy and making it seem that the Bible said things it didn’t say.

But our sins may be an eye-rolling, snickering, elitism. I see it every day online and offline. There is a whole cottage industry within evangelicalism that exists to mock their fellow believers. Over the last year I’ve had numerous conversations with youngish Christian leaders who are so proud of their Christian liberty, they used it as a cudgel against someone who disagreed with them. This, Paul says, is a sin. To value our freedom so much so, to hang on to our right to indulge certain activities so much so that we offend and wound others who don’t see it our way–this is not the way of love.

Paul thought eating meat offered to idols was no big deal. But Paul also said he’d never eat another piece of meat for the sake of loving his brothers and sisters in the Lord. Paul would put down his steak for unity and gospel advance. And so should we.

Let’s not be so quick to identify as “not that kind of Christian who is legalistic” that we sin by not loving our brothers and sisters, fellow believers for whom Christ died. Let’s not let our zeal to love the world in which we serve, the lost neighbors and friends and coworkers that we end up not loving the Bride of Christ. After all, we are called to “do good, especially to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).”


Mother’s Day and the Three Women Who Have Shaped Me

I’m writing this from an airport in NY, waiting for a plane that is delayed back to Nashville. I’m reminded by my iPhone that Sunday is Mother’s Day. It seems these holidays continue to sneak up on me. In a way, its sad we need Hallmark to remind us to think of the contribution of our mothers. We should do this naturally and more than once a year. But the calendar beckons and so I remember fondly the three women in my life whom God has used to shape me.

I first think of my own mother. Mom, born into to a second-generation Jewish family on the North Shore of Chicago, converted to Christianity in late teens. She fell in love with my father, who grew up in a broken home and became a believer thanks to the ministry of Billy Graham. Mom and Dad built a life together. Dad is a skilled plumber and Mom a homemaker, a teacher, and helped Dad run his business. When I think of her life, I think of how much she has had to endure: multiple miscarriages, a life of mostly being sick, and the hardships of seeing her parents, my grandparents, pass away.

Mom has taught me so many things and shaped me in many ways. For one thing, I think I have her sense of humor, her keen eye for getting a good deal (nobody is better at negotiating, nobody), and most of all, how to love those close to you. Mom taught us kids how to be thankful, to never, ever enjoy a meal, a gift, or a favor without expressing gratitude. To this day this is something we try to instill in our own four children. Most of all, though, Mom, a Jewish girl who found Jesus, led me to Jesus when I was young. She was driving and I was riding in the backseat of our red Chevy Malibu.

I think the reason we need Mother’s Day is because we sometimes forget–us adult children with our own busy lives and families–to thank our parents. And it is precisely when our parents have gotten older that we need to thank them. It seems that after your children are grown is when you begin to doubt yourself, to wonder if you did everything right. You have regrets–some genuine, many mostly made up because the devil loves to sow doubt–about the job you did as a parent. Our parents need us to look back and tell them how well they did. In spite of their mistakes. I had the privilege of growing up in a wonderful, Christ-filled home. But many didn’t. I know some of you reading this grew up in horrific, hard, sad homes. Still I urge you to prevail upon the Lord to help you summon the courage to forgive and to bless your parents. To bring a child in the world, to care for a child, to parent is difficult, hard, challenging work (I’m finding that out now). If you here, breathing, you have at least some kindnesses to send to your mother. So do that.

My wife. The first year I was a father and Angela was a mother, I didn’t realize the significance of Mother’s Day for my wife. I assumed (quite wrongly) that if I took care of my mother and she took care of hers, that I’d be good. Wrong. Guys, don’t do that. I was careless.

The truth is that God has used Angela to sanctify me in ways I didn’t even know I needed. I married Angela because she is beautiful, loves Christ and loves people, but it was motherhood that brought out her finest qualities. The way she thoughtfully cares for each of our children, her blend of discipline and love, grace and truth. She’s thorough, kind, thoughtful, and works harder than any woman I know. A mother has to be so selfless in those early years of raising children. There are so many days and nights of pushing through sickness and fatigue to be there for the little ones. What’s more, Angela has taught me how to love more fully, how to forgive those who have wronged me, and how to care for the poor and marginalized, and forgotten.

The home is the place where the gospel is lived out in living color. Where repentance, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are exercised daily. It is here where God allows us to shape and be shaped. I’m grateful that I go to work every day knowing my children are immersed in the Word of God, are taught the daily, practical things of life, and are challenged to use their gifts for the glory of God. Angela has been at the center of this ongoing endeavor. I’m grateful for her almost 12 years by my side. What a gift.

My mother-in-law. In January of 2012, we lost my mother-in-law, Linda Sullivan. A lot of guys joke (with a hint of truth) about their mother-in-laws, but mine fit none of those stereotypes. Linda was one of the sweetest humans on the planet. A single mom, she raised three children on her own. She was very devout in her Christian faith, faithfully attending church and bringing the kids her whole life. But more importantly, Linda exuded the love of Christ. She was dealt some pretty tough blows and yet never showed a hint of bitterness. She was an encourager, a relentless note-writer, and cheerleader. In fact, she was my biggest fan as my writing and ministry career took off. She’d save every byline and she’d take my books and shove them into the hands of everyone at her church. Mostly, she was always there whenever Angela or I grew discouraged and wanted to quit. I tear up even as I write this, because we miss her so deeply. She leaves a hole in our lives that won’t be filled until we see her again in Heaven. I’m deeply grateful for her investment in my life. (If you are interested, I wrote a tribute here to her after she passed.)