By / Jul 9

Adorning the Dark isn’t a book about just writing, or singing, or any of the things you might associate with Andrew Peterson. It’s a book about creating—something which Peterson says every one of us was created to do. Through a collection of honest stories and personal reflections, this beautifully written memoir will open your eyes to the wonder of God’s creation so that you might, with this wonder, be moved to create as an act of worship.

Peterson highlights the roles of story, place, community, and beauty as not merely ends in themselves, but as windows into our deepest longings, pointing us back to our Creator. It’s in this yearning where true creativity emerges, from “the most intimate chambers of [the] heart,” to “lead the audience . . . to the Ultimate Self, the Word that made the world. In that grand chamber alone will art find it’s best end, as an avenue to lead the audience Home” (44-45).

By / Jul 9

As the coronavirus pandemic stretched across the globe, no one could ignore the reality of suffering. But recognizing the reality of suffering is not the same as knowing what to do with our pain, fear, and grief. 

Mark Vroegop has learned, both from his own life and the lives of those he pastors, that the best way to handle our suffering is to turn to God in lament. In his award-winning book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, he shares that after his daughter’s stillborn death, most people did not know how to meet his wife and him in their sadness. Even many of the books he read on grief fell short as they tried to explain the purpose of suffering and the stages of the grieving process, but didn’t tell him what to do with his pain and questions. As he walked a road he would have never chosen, he began to discover “an untapped reservoir of God’s grace” in lament and found that God was redeeming his suffering. Broken into three parts, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy teaches readers how to lament, what we learn from lament, and how to live with lament.

Psalms of lament

Vroegop teaches us how to lament by walking readers through several of the psalms of lament in part one. Most biblical laments have four key elements: an address to God, a complaint, a request, and an expression of trust and praise. We begin our lament by turning toward God in prayer. In our suffering, the resolve to pray is an act of faith. As we lament, there is a tension between the painful reality of our circumstances and who we know God to be. Humble, not angry, complaints reorient our thinking and help us see ourselves and our feelings as we ask God questions. But voicing our complaint is not the ending point. While it is helpful—and even biblical—it alone is not the goal. Our faith should enable us to move on from complaint to bold request. As we request something from God, we can do so in confidence because of who we know God to be.

Learning from Lamentations

But lament is not a magic formula that leads to the end of our suffering; instead, lament will help us draw closer to God as we are honest about our sorrows. Walking through Lamentations in part
two, Vroegop shows how lament is turning to God as we wrestle with our hardships. When we speak from our hearts, we can see the chasm between what we are believing and what is true. As we question God, lament helps us remember what God has done and who he is. Our suffering is a reminder of not just the fallen state of the world, but also our redemption through Christ. Lament helps us process pain while still resting in the truth of God’s sovereignty, goodness, and salvation. 

Practicing lament 

We should learn how to pray in lament, not just for our own souls, but also to minister to others. Part three offers many suggestions for practicing lament personally as well as leading others in lament corporately. In addition to identifying many passages of the Bible where we can study lament, Vroegop also names settings and circumstances where lament is helpful. While this part focuses on the more practical application of lament in the Christian life, it is a reminder that “under the dark clouds of brokenness, God offers mercy” through Jesus Christ. This part is also a reminder of the importance of Christian community. When someone is suffering and has weak faith, our ability to pray with them or for them will help strengthen their faith.

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy does not promise to resolve your problems. But it offers something so much greater than a formulaic quick fix. It offers a reminder of God’s goodness even in our worst times. Instead of lamenting, many choose to bottle their sadness and give God the silent treatment. They feel their prayers are unanswered. We need to learn that lament “invites us to pray boldly even when we are bruised badly.” There are many dark clouds in this life, but the wells of God’s mercy are indeed deep.

By / Jul 9

Now that schools, churches, and businesses have closed due to COVID-19, most parents and caregivers have their children at home. In the first few days of closures, I saw the online jokes: ”the whole nation is learning what it means to homeschool.” Then, I received some frantic texts from parents. But as the number of cases climbs, the sadness and trouble beneath the surface is beginning to set in. Some of the griefs seem relatively minor: kids missing the end of the school year, perhaps the last year of their middle or high school experience. Some of the griefs will be felt for years: a girl who is immunocompromised living in constant fear or a grandson grieving the loss of his grandmother.

I’m thankful for all of the articles that have come out in recent days encouraging an emphasis on family discipleship in the midst of the pandemic. The articles I’ve read have cited the classic family discipleship passages: God’s command to impress his commands on the hearts of our children (Deut. 6:4–9); Asaph’s beautiful song about celebrating God’s praiseworthy deeds before the next generation (Ps. 78:1–10); Solomon’s psalm about building your house on a foundation of faith (Ps. 127); and the new covenant command to bring up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). 

But, today, I want to invite you to look a little further back in biblical history—to the priorities God revealed and instructions he gave to his oppressed people just before the Exodus. Let’s journey back to a time when believing families huddled together, isolated in their homes while trouble and death reigned around them.

Now there are big differences between what is happening in our time and what occurred in Egypt. As Christians, we believe COVID-19—and every great evil—is a result of the fall, but we must avoid thinking this pandemic has come as a judgment against some particular evil in our world; Jesus was absolutely clear about this when he warned those who felt self-righteous when the tower of Siloam fell (Luke 13:1–5). The plagues—which were given as specific judgments against Pharaoh’s hard-hearted oppression—were unique events in redemptive history. It is inappropriate to say COVID-19 is a judgement from God. But having clearly stated that, there are some lessons we can learn from the time of locusts and lambs—encouragements that will serve our households today. 

What can Christian parents learn from God’s instructions to the Israelites under Pharaoh? Consider these four truths:

1. In the midst of the pandemic, we have a story to tell (Ex. 10:1–2). 

Exodus chapter 10 introduces the eighth plague: the plague of locusts. The chapter begins with these words: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren . . . and that you may know that I am the LORD.” Throughout the Exodus narrative, in the midst of oppression—through every plague and disaster—God had a plan. God was giving a story to tell for generations.

Even though we don’t know what God’s doing right now, we can tell our children the great story of what he has done for us in the past. Each time you pick up a Bible storybook or download and work through one of those free Sunday School lessons the Christian publishers are giving away, you’re reminding your kids that we have a God who made us, who loved us by sending the Savior, and who will one day return to heal this broken world.  When preaching on Exodus 10, pastor Marty Machowski once remarked, “Isn’t it kind of God that he would allow us to tell his story?” It certainly is! The great story reminds us that our troubles and sufferings are taking us somewhere. Just as God had a purpose for the children of Israel when they were under oppression, we get to remind our kids that he has a purpose for us too.

2. In the midst of the pandemic, we wage spiritual war (Ex. 10:8–9). 

After the plague of locusts, Pharaoh nearly gave into Moses and Aaron’s pleas to let God’s people go. He called them into his throne room and said, “Go, worship the LORD your God . . . but tell me, who will be going with you?” The first eight plagues made enough of an impression with the hard-hearted king that he was willing to let the men of the nation take a sabbatical from forced labor. But when Israel’s leaders informed the king that all of the people—young and old, sons and daughters, flocks and herds—would go and worship the LORD, he balked: “The LORD be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil!” Pharaoh received God’s call for his people’s wholehearted devotion as a declaration of war.

Even though we don’t know what God’s doing right now, we can tell our children the great story of what he has done for us in the past.

It was. In the midst of COVID-19, we have an enemy too. He wants to divide our children’s hearts so that they turn away from our good God. I loved Megan Hill’s article recently at The Gospel Coalition about family prayer. She wrote, “The invisibility of a virus (at least to those of us without scientific instruments at our disposal) is a reminder to Christians that we have concerns beyond the visible world.” There is a whole world  beyond what our eyes can see—a real battle raging in the spiritual realm for the souls of our children. When we bow our heads to pray and lift our children’s griefs and fears to God, we’re appealing to him to do invisible work in their hearts. When we pray that he would protect their bodies and also protect them from Satan and his schemes, we’re waging war.

3. In the midst of pandemic, we need the household of faith (Ex. 12:1–2, 24–28). 

When the last plague came, God gave Israel the Passover ceremony. Each family and perhaps a few neighbors—enough to eat one roasted lamb—gathered together for a family meal. Those family meals should remind us of the importance of the household in God’s economy, and they should also point us forward to the reality that the primary household in the New Covenant era is the household of God (Matt. 19:29; Eph. 2:19). I love what Andy Crouch has written about this recently: “In the history of the church, over and over it has been local ‘households’ extended-family-size outposts of the Kingdom of God, that have been able to most effectively mobilize care of the vulnerable in their midst, and to reach out and care for the vulnerable around them.”

In other words, your family needs your church community. So, gather your kids around the television on Sunday morning for that livestream worship service. But don’t stop there. Connect with your church community personally. Dial into that small group video chat, or FaceTime with your accountability partners. Set up video chats for your kids as well. Help them to see that even when we’re secluded, we need the household of faith.

4. Finally, in the midst of pandemic, we must hope in Jesus (Ex. 12:21–28). 

When God gave the Passover ceremony, he anticipated the fact that kids would ask questions. In Exodus 12:26–28, we find these words: “When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt, when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.” God made kids with a sense of wonder. He knew they would ask questions.

Often they ask simply because they’re curious. In a time of crisis, they’ll also ask questions because they’re afraid. When the kids asked, God wanted Israelite parents to be prepared to give a reason for their hope. So, he gave them that little script in verses 26–28 to put to memory; it was one that connected the kids’ active faith to his redemptive plan. In season and out of season, we must be ready to give our kids an answer about our hope as well. Parents, I’d encourage you to write out a simple one-sentence reason for why you have hope in Jesus so that you can tell that personal testimony to your kids. If that’s difficult for you, you might consider adopting question one of the Heidelberg catechism as your answer: “What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” 

When God sent his angel throughout Egypt, what kept their firstborn sons safe from death was the blood of the lamb over their doors. God hasn’t promised that he will keep us safe from sickness and death in the same way, but the Passover lamb does point us to the One who will keep us safe through death—to our Savior, Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). As your kids’ griefs and questions about COVID-19 come, remember the Israelites before the Exodus: Tell the story; wage war on your knees; connect with the household of faith; and, most importantly, model hope in our faithful Savior who holds us through the storm.

By / Feb 19

It's visiting the widow down the street

Or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs

These simple moments change the world

Of course, there's nothing wrong with bigger dreams

Just don't miss the minutes on your way, your bigger things, no

'Cause these simple moments change the world.

So dream small.

“Dream Small” by Josh Wilson

Dream Small. A profound challenge amidst a culture that screams at us to dream big, defining success and happiness by metrics of power and significance. When I heard these lyrics by my friend and neighbor Josh Wilson for the first time, I was struck by what a balm they were to my weary soul. I so often unconsciously buy into the lie that I should be discontented with the day in, day out, ordinary life I live. But Josh’s words are the essence of the gospel message. God doesn’t ask us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and achieve big dreams in order to be loved and saved. Quite the opposite. He asks us to admit our lowly position, our need for a savior, and watch as he brings significance from our insignificant lives.  

What I love most about Josh’s lyrics is how well they describe the life that he and his wife, Becca, lead. They live out Jesus’ call to love your neighbor in simple yet profound ways everyday. I asked my friends to share a little bit about what “dreaming small” looks like to them and how they do that in their day-to-day lives. 

Palmer Williams: Josh, you sing about “Dreaming Small,” a powerful and countercultural sentiment today. What practical ways does this work itself out in your marriage and family?

Josh Wilson: When I sat down to write what became “Dream Small,” I intended to write about a big idea. The more I thought about my own life, though, the more I realized that there wasn’t anything particularly extraordinary about my life. I’m just a normal person, but I began to realize that normal isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even our ordinary lives can be extraordinary if we love intentionally, even in the little moments.  

With my wife, I try and delight her with small acts of love and kindness. Whether it’s an impromptu lunch date, an unexpected sticky note on the mirror, or simply cleaning the house so she doesn’t have to, I’ve found that those small things go a long way.

With our son, we do our best to remind him how much we love him and how proud he makes us, just by being himself. We love spending time together as a family, so we frequent the zoo, the Adventure Science Center, and of course the ice cream shop. We also try to be intentional about teaching our son that every person we meet has value and dignity. We spend a lot of time with our friends with special needs and learn so much from them. Our neighbor Jay is a wonderful friend of ours, who happens to have Asperger’s and Cerebral Palsy. He’s at our house so often that Asher calls him “Uncle Jay.”

PW: Josh, as a musician in an industry that is often about self-promotion and trying to become famous, how do you ground yourself in your faith? In what ways in your career, big or small, do you try to shine a light on human dignity?

JW: It is certainly tricky to balance faith and business, and I’m not convinced there’s a great way to do that. I try to spend the first moments of each day reading and praying, reminding myself of who I am in Christ. God loves me, not because of anything I’ve done, but simply because I’m his child. When I think about God’s love for me, and how little I’ve earned it, that certainly helps me stay grounded. Because we’re all created by God in his image, we all have value. And because I am loved by God, I am free to give that love away to all of his image-bearers, which just so happens to be all of humanity.

PW: Becca, you two are both leaders in a ministry here in Tennessee called The Ascent. Why have you decided to do that?

Becca Wilson: We were first introduced to the special needs community in Nashville in 2010 when we met our neighbor, Jay, who is more like family to us, as Josh mentioned. Through Jay, I learned about Young Life Capernaum, which is a branch of Young Life specifically for students with disabilities. I immediately fell in love with the ministry and the people of Capernaum. It is precious to look back on my life and see a thread where God was evidently and consistently turning my heart and sight to people with special needs—in every season of my life since I was in elementary school, I have had a dear friend with a disability. It has been since I became involved with Young Life Capernaum that I have realized that the special needs community is a group of people I forever want to be walking alongside. 

The Ascent grew out of our local Young Life Capernaum club. We were outgrowing our space, and most of our attendees were well into adulthood. We had the desire to continue to be a community with this group of friends with special needs, and, with the wonderful leadership and support of Young Life Capernaum staff, a group of churches from Nashville, and a few other willing hearts, we are continuing to grow and thrive. It is the sweetest joy to have my friends from the Ascent be just that—my friends. We are all adults, equal but unique in our many abilities, bearing with one another in love, seeking Jesus and learning how to show his love to one another. I have been humbled by the way this community has loved me. 

PW: Becca, as a mom to a little boy, what are some practical ways that you have found to begin to teach him about human dignity? 

BW: Mr. Fred Rogers told children, “I like you just the way you are,” and said that we don’t tell people that enough. I have lovingly stolen that from Mr. Rogers and tell my son daily, “I love you just the way you are.” I do my best to help Asher see people—to look up, look out, and appreciate every person we come in contact with, although there are many times where he does a much better job of teaching me this than vice versa. When our pastor at church dedicates babies, he prays for courage and compassion for them. I have also adopted this, and I pray over Asher daily that he will have courage to do what is right and what honors the Lord, and compassion for everyone around him. It is the best reward when I not only hear Asher repeat those words back to me, but when I see him truly have compassion for every person. Asher is with us at every gathering for The Ascent, when we get to be a part of Capernaum camp, and he hangs out with “Uncle Jay” regularly. I know without a doubt that living daily life with our friends with special needs is teaching him that every person matters, every person has a beautiful role to play in this world, and everyone is deserving to be loved just the way they are—as image bearers of our Creator. 

God has always used ordinary men and women in the midst of their mundane lives to bring about his work of salvation; to represent him to others, and to honor the dignity of those who have been overlooked and pushed aside. 

It is a privilege to walk alongside friends like Becca and Josh as they “dream small.” It is through these faithful small dreams that God shows his glory and begins to push the darkness back with his light.  

By / Jan 28

Ben Mandrell shares how we can use creativity and technology in discipleship. 

By / Jun 18

Discipleship is essential to the Christian life, so churches should be seeking out ways to do this effectively. Jen Wilkin speaks to this in her talk “The Gospel and The Future of Bible-Centered Discipleship.”

By / Nov 3

Lindsay Nicolet moderates a panel discussion at the 2018 ERLC National Conference between Jenny Kisner, Adam Griffin, Matt McCauley, and Julie Wilding on creating a practical plan for family discipleship. 

By / Nov 3

B.J. Thompson gives a brief talk on Equipping Churches to Strengthen Marriages at the 2018 ERLC National Conference. 

By / Nov 3

Todd Wagner speaks at the 2018 ERLC National Conference on Marriage, Parenting, and Discipleship. 

By / Nov 3

Jen Wilkin speaks on Building Community in the Home at the 2018 ERLC National Conference.