Give Thanks! — My Wife

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Today I want to rejoice in the great gift that the Lord has given me in my wife. Just over ten years ago my grandmother played match-maker and introduced me to Stephanie. Granny told me there was a woman in her Sunday school class that she wanted me to meet and was convinced that she would be my wife. Not knowing what that meant I dodged my grandmothers request for a whole week and did everything I could to avoid meeting Steph. I was an utter idiot.

We’ve been married almost ten years now and the Lord’s grace to me in Stephanie has been evident over and over again. What a faithful friend and companion. She has never ceased to stand by me and encourage me. Even through the trials of this last year, she has been a friend, lover, and blessing. When Psalm 103 talks about the Lord satisfying us with good things, she is my “great thing.”

I have seen her walk through trials of her own this year, and have been moved by the way she grew deeper and deeper in Christ. Her devotion to the Lord is evident is all she does. As a mother I can think of few better. Her love, care, and direction towards our children is a blessing to me and them. She would balk at believing this, but Proverbs 31 is a excellent description of who she is.

I cannot thank the Lord enough for his grace in giving me Stephanie. He is good and always give us what we need. His kindness to me in Stephanie is something that daily humbles me. In no ways am I worthy of such a gift as her. In every way she is a blessing and strength to me. As I reflect on God’s kindness to me one of the greatest gifts of his grace is my wife and best friend Stephanie. I love her with all my heart. 

Give Thanks! — My Parents

Today I simply want to give thanks for my mom and dad. Often, it is easy for us to over look or take for granted our parents. We’ve known them all our lives and have been privy to their instruction, discipline, encouragement, and counsel all along the way. I suppose I am not any different in that regard myself. God has used the events of our lives in this last year to remind me of his grace that he has given to me in my parents.

More than anything I am thankful for the ways that my parents have remained faithful to the gospel all throughout my life. Dad prayed with me nightly before I’d go to bed, all the way up until I was eighteen. He presented the gospel to me as a four year old in the back of our station wagon when I asked for a story. Mom would pray privately every day for my brother and I that we would be strong men of the faith and useful for the Kingdom of God. She encouraged us to be students of the Word and to hide the Scriptures in our hearts. My parents weren’t about just the externals of religion, they wanted to see the gospel transform our hearts.

Their love for Christ was evident beyond just their desire to see their two sons know and love Christ, they wanted to make a difference with their lives for the sake of the gospel. The love of Christ was the compelling force for them that caused them to give up their lives and go overseas to work with those in need. They keep showing us, even after we’ve left the house, what it looks like to lay down your life for others.

You are probably familiar with my mom’s story that has unfolded over this last summer. God’s grace in saving her life is another display of his kindness to us. I am so grateful that my mom is alive. I am thankful that I can still glean wisdom from my dad. I am thankful for God’s grace in giving me two incredible people as my parents, who love me unconditionally, and more than anything love Christ and desire to glorify him with all that they are. I am especially thankful for the grace of my parents this year. 

Give Thanks! — The In-Laws

I don’t know what it is about two families being joined together because of marriage, but it seems that there is often difficulty. Two upbringings, two ways of doing things, maybe even two distinct set of values. Spending time with the “in-laws” is often the butt of many jokes, and the frequent reason for many awkward family gatherings.

But I don’t have that issue. My in-laws are simply fantastic. I’ve never been anything but accepted, loved, and included with them. I’ve never not enjoyed being with them. For me being the son-in-law of Ed & Debbie has been another movement of God’s grace in my life. Their home has been a refuge for me and my family time and time again. Christ’s love radiates from this house, even by the way they serve and take in strangers. I was one of of those stranger/drifters strolling through town eleven years ago. As I met and won their daughters heart they welcomed me with open arms. They demonstrate the real meaning of Biblical hospitality.

Over the years I have seen them love, give, serve, support and encourage not just my family but so many others. Ever since I’ve known them they have served in their local church, “adopted” international college students, and given of themselves over and over again. Their love for one another as a couple is obvious and real. Their love for their family, and those beyond their family is tangible and seen.

I’m thankful today (and this weekend) for my in-laws, Ed and Debbie Love. They truly exemplify the love of Christ and are gifts of grace and kindness from the Lord to me. 

Give Thanks! — Gospel-Centered Discipleship

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Just over two years ago I received an email that piqued my curiosity. Somehow or another I had been put on a email list for an organization called “Gospel-Centered Discipleship” which I knew was an Internet resource committed to producing long-form articles to help “make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus.” Jonathan Dodson was the founder of the organization and his book by the same title had been profoundly helpful to me in my ministry.

When I got the email asking for article submissions and even book pitches I was intrigued. I liked to write, and I wanted to use my gifting to serve the church. Here was an open invitation to produce some materials that would benefit not only my local church but hopefully many others. I decided to respond and run a few ideas around to the editors for some articles. They were eager and excited that I would be willing to share and began to dialog with me about my ideas. Ben Roberts and Brad Watson began to encourage me to write more. They encouraged me to write a book. 

As I wrote, they began to provide helpful and more concrete edits for everPresentAfter completing the initial manuscript and sending it in, Jonathan Dodson jumped back into the process and gave some helpful and strong critiques to my first attempts. The book needed more focus and he challenged me to go back and rewrite most of it to make it a stronger book. Brad encouraged me to learn to “write tight” and make my manuscript as strong as I could.

As I labored in the late nights and during parts of my family vacations I was encouraged by the team that was very excited about the project. A new executive director, Brandon Smith hopped into the process towards the end along with Mathew Sims and began to help in the promotion and final editing of the book. As we worked together I saw they encouraged and cheered me and the project along. Launch day came and the book was met with an encouraging reception.

More than anything though, it wasn’t my idea or my execution of the idea that brought the project along or made it what it is. It was the team of editors, thinkers, and encouragers that walked along with me in the process. I am grateful for Jonathan’s push back on initial manuscript to make it a better book. Brad, Brandon, Mathew at the others at GCD have been strong supporters and encouragers. I’ve learned a lot, and grown to become a better writer because of their help.

Beyond my book, GCD produces a new long-form article three times each week from men and women all over the world who are committed to “making, maturing, and multiplying disciples of Jesus.” These articles have been wonderfully helpful to me at many different points along the way. In fact the book Make, Mature, and Multiply is a wonderful “best-of” compilation that serves those who will learn well.

Today I want to give thanks to God for GCD and all the editors, writers, and friends there who have glorified Christ by their work and helped me become a better writer as a result. I am in no way a great writer, but I’ve advanced mainly because of their support and encouragement. I hope that you will put GCD’s website in your queue of regular reads on the web and learn and grow as I have.

For more visit Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Give Thanks! — Emory University Hospital

This team of nurses at Emory (pictured with Matt Lauer) were an incredible group of servants. 

This team of nurses at Emory (pictured with Matt Lauer) were an incredible group of servants. 

Three months ago today my mom quietly walked out of Emory University Hospital. As I sat on a hotel room floor and watched the news anchor give commentary on my mom being wheeled into the special isolation unit I was very unsure if she would walk out of that hospital. Two weeks later she left, virus free, on a strong road to recovery, and rejoicing at God’s grace in her life.

We are often asked what the specific treatment was that saved her life. Was it the special Zmapp “serum”? Was it a transfusion or other technique that made her well? Was it her faith? Certainly, we know that the ultimate source of her healing was the Lord. But God uses means to accomplish his ends. He uses people. He uses medical treatments. He uses what he has created for his glory and our good.

One of the means that God used to save my mom was the team of doctors, nurses, and staff at Emory University Hospital. Not only were they working overtime in a serious and very unique situation with two patients, but they were also working with two families through our concerns, fears, and struggle. Every single doctor, nurse, and staff member was incredibly helpful to our family. As we walked through the struggle of this disease and mom’s fight in it they became a support team for us in all our emotional highs and lows.

Earlier this week Time Magazine ran an article on “America’s Top Ebola Doctor”, Dr. Bruce Ribner. My first encounter with Dr. Ribner was him walking into our waiting room on the first day mom was there to explain what was going on with mom. I had seen him on television earlier in the week explaining to the press why Emory was ready to receive and care for Ebola patients. I was impressed with him already. As he walked into our waiting room I told him how thankful I was that they would take my mom and care of her. He gave me an incredulous look and said, “Of course, I’m a doctor! That’s what we do.”

As he continued explaining what was going on with my mom and the care they were giving her he stopped to ask why my vocation was. I mentioned to him that I was a pastor. He smiled and said, “Good! You do what you do well [pray] and will do what I do well [doctor].” I agreed to the arrangement and even though I knew I couldn’t do what he was doing, I was pretty sure he was doing a little of what I do too.

The Emory doctors talking with NBC. 

The Emory doctors talking with NBC. 

Dr. Ribner is in no way the exception to this group. Every other member of the team, including the security officers, treated us in the same way. When we would go and see mom they helped us, encouraged us, even stopped everything we were doing as we prayed with mom. They prayed with us. Nurses checked in on us. The public relations team at the hospital made sure help us navigate some media requests. I’ve rarely seen an entire team, in a unique and high profile situation, respond as well and graciously as this team did.

Three months to the day after my mom walked out of Emory, I am giving thanks to God for putting in place not just a hospital, but a team of people for just this time. If God calls my daughter or son to pursue a career in serving others in the medical field, the first place I will encourage them to go is Emory. 

Images provided courtesy of Lexi Rudolph.