By / Dec 16

In April of 2021, we found out that my 37-year-old-husband had a tumor in his small intestine that indicated the presence of a very rare cancer. The diagnosis and surgery to remove it took place this year. But he was sick for most of 2020, undergoing tests, scans, and blood work that mostly provided no answers.

As we began to visit a cancer center in our city and acclimate ourselves within this new community, I realized that I was assuming a new identity at the same time that my husband had become a cancer patient. In addition to my other roles, I was now a caregiver. As the illness progressed and he underwent surgery, I began to assist and care for my husband in unprecedented ways, along with assuming more responsibilities in our home. We have three boys, now ages 10, 7, and 3, and I found myself feeling like a single parent.

As we enter the Christmas season, I think of all the men and women who find themselves caring for someone who in years past would have been shoulder to shoulder with them, or maybe even leading, through these weeks that are supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” I think of those looking at the busy calendar, the Christmas menu, or the bank account, wondering how they will manage it all. I think of those with young children who are blissfully content with the presents under the tree and the older kids who are searching their parents’ eyes for comfort and peace. If that’s you, I want to share a word of encouragement from the scriptures. 

Finding hope in the minor prophets 

In the spring of 2021, an amazing and diverse group of women studied the minor prophets together at my church. It was a wonderful anchor for me in this season, keeping me in the scriptures, as well as giving me a group of women who encouraged and prayed for me. To the surprise of some of the attendees who were less than thrilled about looking at these books with strange names and even stranger language, we loved our study of the minor prophets. 

My greatest encouragement through my husband’s diagnosis and surgery was found in an unlikely place: the book of Nahum. I’m not sharing this with you as a biblical scholar, but as someone who went to the Word for manna on the hardest days of my life. If you are a caregiver at Christmas, I want to share the hope I found in this little book of the Bible.

Nahum 1:15 states: “Look to the mountains — the feet of the herald, who proclaims peace. Celebrate your festivals, Judah; fulfill your vows. For the wicked one will never again march through you; he will be entirely wiped out.” There are five things I clung to in this passage, and I pray you will, too. 

1. “Look to the mountains”: Suffering reminds us of our humanity. In seasons of immense difficulty, the challenges around you can feel insurmountable. More than that, if you look only to yourself, you will quickly run into your very human limitations. A diagnosis doesn’t usually come with clear answers for the questions of “how” or “why,” and that shatters the false ideas of strength and being untouchable that tend to creep up in lighter seasons.  

You must, “set your eyes on things above,” as Colossians 3:2 says, and remember, as Isaiah 55 proclaims, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so [God’s] ways are higher than your ways, and [God’s] thoughts than your thoughts.” As we “look up,” we can trust in his good purposes, even when they don’t make sense in our present circumstances.

2. “The feet of the herald, who proclaims peace”: We must look to the one who comes “to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (Isa. 61 and Luke 4). Ephesians 2 reminds us that Jesus “is our peace.” Jesus proclaims peace to you! The image of him found in Nahum, coming down from the high places — even the mention of his human feet — reminds me of how he left heaven to come to earth as a baby. He did not leave us alone in our suffering. He embodied his love and came into our reality for the purpose of making peace with God. The only way to have peace in your heart when fear threatens to steal the joy from this Christmas season is to remember Christ.

3. “Celebrate your festivals, Judah”: This obscure verse of Scripture became my meditation and gave me purpose for the way I was leading my family through this season. Because of Jesus, we still had reason to celebrate — Easter, the end of the school year, birthdays, the Fourth of July, and now, Christmas. I was determined that cancer would not cast its long shadow over every area of my children’s lives. A dear friend always tells me to “choose joy,” and we fought for every ounce.

4. “Fulfill your vows”: Nahum was obviously not reminding the Israelites of their marriage vows, but I could not read those words without remembering my own pledge to care for my husband, “in sickness and in health.” Like so many elements of our faith, the true tests come in private and in suffering. It was ironic to consider how the words I said in my very expensive dress and in our beautifully orchestrated wedding ceremony were truly coming to life in a tiny hospital room, when neither of us had slept or showered, and no one was watching. 

5. “For the wicked one will never again march through you; he will be entirely wiped out”: I know cancer is the result of our broken and wicked world. It is not as God intended. I also know that one day sickness and suffering will be done away with. I also know that my husband will be perfectly healed eventually, and it was and is my prayer that his surgery “entirely wiped out” the cancer from his body. I know that God is able to do so, by whatever means he choses, and we give him glory. 

In this Advent season, we remember how God fulfilled his promises and gave us the Messiah as a baby 2,000 years ago. Emmanuel, God with us, has come. You are not alone. No matter what you are facing and the burdens you are carrying, our righteous King will sustain you. And he will prove faithful once again when he returns: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21). 

By / Jun 7

Can you remember the most discouraging month of your life? I can. September 2014 quickly became one of the most disheartening months of my life as I received hate mail from across the country because of a disagreement over the promotion of a sermon series. What baffled me more than anything, though, was the amount of animosity coming from religious people — many who were professing followers of Jesus. 

The need to reverse Christian critic culture

While some of the critiques I received were valid, many of the responses broke my heart because they revealed a very serious problem in American Christianity at-large. The sheer amount of hostility from fellow believers was stunning. One example was, “Get a refund on your seminary degree because you obviously don’t know what the gospel is.” 

But in the middle of this messy month, God gave me some beautiful insight and perspective on what has now become a major calling for my life and ministry. Someone in my life was initially upset, and when we talked in person the tension between us only got worse. But early the next morning, this person called to read me a long apology letter. I’ll never forget one of the most powerful lines from that letter: “Dan, you’re on the mission field trying to reach people for Jesus. We should be cheering you on, not tearing you down.” Not only did that letter provide healing for our friendship; it also gave me hope that reversing Christian critic culture is possible.

Believe it or not, criticism is not a spiritual gift, nor should it be a hobby for followers of Jesus. My friend Jan Gebert says, “Finding fault is no great accomplishment.” But if you’ve spent any time on social media this past year, you’d think Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by your critiques of each other.” While discernment, critical thinking, and warning others well are certainly important aspects of the Christian life, tearing each other down in the process makes Satan smile. Our Christian critic culture needs an antidote, and biblical encouragement is just that.  

Fighting critic culture by embracing encouragement 

Love is Christianity 401, not 101. In 1 Corinthians 13, God tells us that nothing we know, do, or say in the Christian life matters if love is absent. Love is for every Christian — but especially the strong and mature Christian. Love is the epitome of living “grace and truth” together because that’s who Jesus is (John 1:14; 1 John 4:10). Love is not void of truth. Instead, it uses truth to serve and sacrifice, just like our Savior (Mark 10:45). 

Without love, we cannot become more like Jesus, and we cannot show a watching world that living for Jesus is actually worth it. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”1John 13:34-35 Without love, we cannot practice the one-anothers of Scripture. And one of these most neglected yet most powerful one-anothers is biblical encouragement.

Encouragement requires effort

Biblical encouragement is coming alongside someone else, pointing them to Jesus, and giving them the courage to walk with God. Love is the only soil where this spiritual discipline takes root and bears fruit. Biblical encouragement is not naïve, utopian idealism or cotton-candy Christianity. On the contrary, it requires far more strength than the knee-jerk rhythms of our Christian critic culture that take the easy road of tearing others down rather than building them up. 

Our tendencies toward petty jealousies, ministry competitiveness, splintering divisions, and lack of collaboration reveal the reality that we are consistently missing the mark of God’s love. Many believers today are known far more by what they oppose rather than who and what they are for. And even if we are identified by what we positively support, it tends to be a large laundry list before getting to loving like Jesus does. 

Biblical encouragement is the antidote God has placed in our hands to live out both comfort (grace) and exhortation (truth) together. We can flip the script on Christian critic culture by paving the way forward through our words and our walk in tandem. Every follower of Jesus has the honor and privilege of representing him to a world that desperately needs hope. In order to effectively represent Jesus, though, believers must rise to their responsibility of loving rather than destroying one another. 

We need to spur one another on

While America rapidly secularizes, we need to build one another up and spur one another on in faithful witness. When gossip goes unchecked, assuming the worst becomes common, and using our thumbs and fingers to type what we would never say with our mouths is the “new normal,” we have a problem. Sadly, we often say more encouraging words in our eulogies once people have died than we do while they’re alive. But all of this does not have to continue if we’re willing to give and receive biblical encouragement: to come alongside someone else, point them to Jesus, and give them the courage to faithfully follow our Lord in the various ways he has called us.

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    John 13:34-35
By / Feb 11

Andrew Hebert, a pastor in Amarillo, Texas, gives an encouragement about God’s work during the disruptions of COVID-19.

By / Feb 4

Chris Martin, from the Hawaiian Pacific Baptist Convention, encourages pastors to rest, stay focused, and be creative during the pandemic.

By / Dec 29

Afshin Ziafat, a pastor in Frisco, Texas, offers encouragement to pastors.

By / Nov 12

2020 has been a challenging year for almost every person in the world. Like many pastors during the pandemic, I was looking for ways to encourage my congregation during this season. I felt it was my responsibility to be encouraging to them in as many ways as possible.

Something very unique happened in this process, however. As I encouraged our congregation, time and time again, I walked away as the one being encouraged. Let me share with you three ways that the people of Plymouth Park Baptist Church in Irving, Texas, have encouraged me during a global pandemic and strengthened my love for the local church.

1. Authentic support

One of the first things we did as a staff was to divide the membership among us to reach out and call those in our church. We wanted to make sure they knew how to remain connected to the church as we moved primarily online, check that their needs were being met (spiritually and physically), and find out how we could serve them. As I made my phone calls, I was constantly the one receiving the encouragement. Members were thanking me for everything we were doing. 

There are no less than 50 handwritten notes that I have received during the pandemic on my desk at work—simple words of encouragement from the flock that God has entrusted to me. After preaching 63 out of 64 weeks and having two trips canceled due to the pandemic, the church allowed me to take two consecutive weeks off on vacation. One member graciously paid for my family’s gas. My birthday came during the pandemic, and our members led a 50+ car birthday parade through my neighborhood to show their support. Yes, I have been the one who has been greatly encouraged.

2. Extravagant generosity 

Another way my church has encouraged me during this time is in the way they have sacrificially given their resources. Like many churches during the pandemic, we had no idea what giving would look like during this time. We pushed online giving and encouraged those who did not want to do that to mail their offering to the church. The leadership figured out a minimum number we needed to pay people and keep the lights on, and prayed that we would receive it. The people of our church once again encouraged their pastor by their giving.

 I often believe pastors feel like they have to be everywhere for everyone, but sometimes we need to sit back and see that our people are there for us.

May ended being one of the highest giving months that we have had on record in a long time. In fact, to date, we have received 98% of our budget goal through 2020. Because of this, we were able to do more than pay people and bills. We upgraded our cameras in the sanctuary to stream our services, we were able to divert money to help support the local school system in feeding families in our community, and we sent $5,000 to a partner of the gospel in East Asia who has 14 foster children when the father suddenly passed away due to COVID-19.

Our deacons went grocery shopping for older members, they ran meal trains for members who were in quarantine because they contracted COVID-19, and did work around the church building we normally wouldn’t be able to do when meeting in person. Our people used their finances and talents to give back tremendously to our church. It showed me over and over again that they love PPBC, not the building but the people. As a pastor, that left me inspired me and encouraged me during a time where it would be easy to get down.

3. Bleeding for the mission

We desire to have a tangible, transferrable excitement so that everyone interacting with us walks away thinking, “Wow, they really care about us.” Our church’s mission statement is, “To see the people of Irving forever changed by the Gospel of Jesus and holding dear to Him as their source of all joy and worth.” When people have been cautious about meeting other people, our church has found ways to fulfill this and be a light in our community.

Our student ministry team packed over 400 bags of snacks and treats for local middle school students on the first day of classes. Several church members built an outdoor “Free Library” as a resource in our community for kids and adults to have access to free books. Our members flooded the church with books for the library, so it was stocked and ready to go once construction was complete. Other members went door to door, leaving invitations to church and a letter explaining the hope we have in Jesus during these times. Another group wrote handwritten notes to our homebound members who were the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and were driven into isolation. Then, one of our deacons built a prayer-walk map around our campus so members could walk around our property and pray for our church and community.

These are just a few of the things the people of Plymouth Park did, and all of it has encouraged me. I often believe pastors feel like they have to be everywhere for everyone, but sometimes we need to sit back and see that our people are there for us. During a time when ministry has been different and challenging, I have felt the most encouraged and privileged to pastor this church. 

By / Mar 14
By / Aug 26

As parents, the love we have for our children is completely unconditional. There is nothing our children could do that could sever the bond of love between us and them.

When our children are young we have many hopes and dreams for their lives, don’t we? We pray that they’ll be happy and healthy, that they’ll walk in integrity and pursue justice, that they’ll develop their gifts, that they’ll have a fulfilling vocation, that they’ll marry someone who loves them, and that they’ll know the blessing of children of their own.  

But above all this, we pray they’ll be saved and made new in Christ.

We long for their salvation because we know it matters more than anything else. All those other things—good as they are—are temporary; their souls are eternal.

Though the path a child chooses doesn’t change or erode a parent’s love one bit, when the path they choose isn’t following Christ, the parent’s heart aches for God to come along and, in His grace and mercy, make that child’s path straight.

When their children aren’t saved

When talking with Christian parents who have unsaved adult children, it doesn’t take long to discern the heaviness that can press in on a parent’s heart when their beloved children don’t have the one thing that matters most.

A heavy-hearted parent can be tempted to recite the same old guilt-laden, heart-aching questions again and again: Where did we go wrong? Why my kids? Where is God in this? Why has it turned out this way?

For many parents, the guilt they feel is utterly misplaced. They had gospel-centred homes and raised their children with grace, with love, and in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In other words, they did everything ‘right.’ Yes, like everyone else, they weren’t a perfect parent. Yes, like everyone else, they sinned and fell short in small and big ways. But God is bigger than any parent’s shortcomings, and God’s grace covers all our sin.

If this is you, if you are a parent of older children whose heart is heavy with discouragement, remember that there is every reason to have hope.

1. Remember that God is the One who gives life.

When writing about some of the trials of family life, and specifically about when the children of Christian parents aren’t following Jesus, JC Ryle writes this:

We may use all means, by but we cannot command success. We may teach, but we cannot convert. We may show those around us the bread and water of life, but we cannot make them eat and drink it. We may point out the way to eternal life, but we cannot make others walk in it. ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth.’ Life is that one thing which the cleverest man of science cannot create or impart. It comes ‘not of blood, nor of the will of man’ (John 1:13). To give life is the grand prerogative of God.

Heavy-hearted parent, the new life you long for your child to have is not something within your power to give. It’s not your burden to carry. So give this burden to Him because God, not you, is the One with the power to soften hearts of stone and turn them into hearts of flesh.

2. Remember that God’s timing is different than our timing.

If we had the power to plan the days of children’s lives, there would not be a day they lived without Christ, would there? But we don’t ordain their lives any more than we ordain our own. God does. And God’s timing is often different than ours.

In the wonderful little book, Grace in Winter, Faith Cook brings the reader through some of the letters Samuel Rutherford wrote to friends. Faith writes about the letter Rutherford wrote to a godly woman, Lady Culross, when she was discouraged because of her children’s lack of faith:

Lady Culross was often deeply distressed in her family circumstances for, in spite of her rare godliness, most of her children grew up in unbelief. In heaviness of heart she writes: ‘Guiltiness in me and mine is my greatest cross. I would, if it were the Lord’s will, choose affliction rather than iniquity.’ Rutherford deals sympathetically with her problem: ‘As for your son, who is your grief, your Lord waited on you and me, till we were ripe, and brought us in. It is your part to pray and wait upon Him’ (Letter 222).

What a hopeful picture of God at work. With each one of us who knows Christ, God chose, in His time, when to bring us to Himself.       

3. Remember that your child’s story is not yet fully told.

Sometimes when we look at the path a person has chosen, our hearts fail and we lack faith that God will ever reach down, pick them up, and set them on the pathway of life. And while God’s word never promises the Christian parent that their child will be saved, God’s word gives the Christian parent every reason to have hope.

Just because salvation may seem unlikely today does not mean God will not grant it tomorrow. Don’t lose heart. Don’t lose hope. Your beloved child’s story is not yet fully told. As long as they have breath, there is every reason to persist in the prayer that God will breathe new life into them.

It could be in the concluding pages of your child’s story, perhaps long after you’re dead and gone, when the Gospel seeds you planted in their childhood will spring up in wondrous new life.