Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jesus vs. Satan

From "Big Truths for Young Hearts" (p. 134-135):

"Satan's power over sinners is tied directly to their guilt through sin. His hold on them is because of their sinful rebellion against God. But remove the guilt through Christ's payment for their sin, and you remove the basis for Satan's hold on them. . . . Forgiveness of sin's penalty and freedom from Satan's prison go together. Remove the guilt, and you remove the bondage. As Christ bought the former -- forgiveness of the guilt of our sin -- he won also the latter -- victory over the bondage of our sin. Praise be to our Savior for his gracious and complete forgiveness that accomplishes also this glorious and powerful deliverance from Satan's dominion, bondage, and death (Colossians 1:13-14)."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Favorites of 2009

It was our first year of blogging. Never would have thought that we would have over 100 posts. Here are my some of our favorites (in no particular order):

  1. A summary to the introduction of "Shepherding a Child's Heart." Was it one of our favorites because of how central the principles of this book have been to our ministry and our parenting? Was it because it was our third post coming off the Intentional Parenting Conference? No and no. It was because this post had the most number of comments. A whopping 7! (Disclaimer: 2 of those comments were from Joey Espinosa. But 5 comments is still the highest number of comments to one post.)
  2. What do you do with Santa? It was the single most widely-viewed post.
  3. Bill White's response to the common parenting question, "How do I know when a young child is ready to accept Christ?" As we parents are feeling the burden of leading our children, we must remember that only the Holy Spirit can make this issue clear.
  4. In the spring, we put together iMix's of songs we use in Preschool and Camp Grace (and updated in the fall). Finally, we had an easy (and legal) way to equip families with some regular songs that we've done in our Big Group times.
  5. Our first posted video. Alyssa Rogers (then a 4th grader) gave a anchorwoman-style announcement about our Elementary Camp.
  6. Mike & Cindy Chibbaro's thoughts on developing good communication with children. Not only was the content insightful and practical, but they gave us a bullet point list (love it!) with a one-day response time (really love it!).
  7. A comparison of parenting goals from two different books -- "Shepherding a Child's Heart" (Tripp) and "Parenting by the Book" (Rosemond). I was proud of myself for reading two books at the same time and being able to make a connection between them.
  8. Another video, this time about how NOT to raise Future Men.
  9. Is it too broad of a category to say "anything under the label of Shepherding"? But, we feel we need to include this, since the book review was the original purpose of the blog. There were 26 posts under this label.
  10. Thoughts on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Would have said "Why I Celebrate Hanukkah," but technically that article was posted on the Grace Church Pastor's Blog.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Seeking God with $10 - Final Tally

Last month, I gave my older kids each $10, with the instructions for them to ask God about what they should do with it. (Read about it here.) Here's what they each did:

  • $5 for Adopt-A-Child
  • $5 to buy a Christmas gift for her friend that lives across the street (a Littlest Pet Shop monkey, since her friend "really, really likes monkeys")

  • $1 for a general tithe to our church
  • $6 for Adopt-A-Child (He explained, "If I didn't get anything for Christmas, I would be sad.")
  • $1 to his piggy bank
  • $2 for Osborn Mission (As part of their school curriculum, the kids have been learning about how so much of the world doesn't have access to a Bible in their native language. Our friends Philly & Elizabeth Osborn feel called by God to plant a church to a people group who have never heard the Gospel. You should check out their website.)

-- Joey Espinosa

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Greatest Gift

From "Big Truths for Young Hearts" (pp. 178-179):

"How can God view sinners as righteous? Answer: because they have been credited with the righteousness of Christ, a righteousness that is not their own, a righteousness that is complete and perfect. . . . [T]he ungodly person has been declared righteous by faith. . . . Justified by faith, not by works -- this is the heart of what the story of God's salvation plan is all about."

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

More Christmas Traditions

Earlier this week, I shared some of our family's Christmas traditions. Here are some from Tyler Stanton's childhood.

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas - Part 2

Compare this article to yesterday's post. It's another viewpoint on the phrase "Merry Christmas." As someone who did not believe in Christ for most of my life, I can resonate with much of what Jon Acuff says. As an agnostic, I was never offended by people who said "Merry Christmas," but I always thought it was ridiculous for people to insist that their "Christian" ideas HAD to be the norm.

-- Joey Espinosa

Saying "Thank You"

One of the best instructions that we've received is that a key to parenting is being proactive. As much as possible, parents need to anticipate situations and give guidance and direction, before the children encounter those moments, as opposed to constantly living in a state of reaction. In that line, here is some parenting advice from the National Center for Biblical parenting:

"Begin now [before gifts are exchanged] to prepare your children for receiving gifts. Talk about the importance of the giver, not just the gift. . . . Play a "what if" game with children to help them anticipate how they might say thank you. . . ."

We recently got the opportunity to do this with Elijah's 6th birthday. Knowing he would receive gifts from friends and relatives, my wife played this "what if" game with him several times -- instructing him to look the giver in the eye, say "thank you," and then say something positive about the gift. And for good measure, we practiced the night before his party. For example, we asked him what he would say if he got a green Match Box car; he replied, "I really like cars and the color green." Later, as a joke, I asked him what he would say if someone gave him a baby doll. He hesitated, so I suggested he say something like, "Thank you for the doll. I'll really enjoy sharing this with my sister." He laughed at that idea.

The next day at the party, things seemed to be working well. He opened one gift and said, "Thank you. I saw this toy at the store and I really wanted it." After receiving a Sea Monkeys kit, he said, "Thank you. I never had a pet and I've always wanted one."

Much to my and my wife's amusement, he opened an apparently-not-as-desirable gift, and politely said, "Thank you. I'll really enjoy sharing this with my sister." And he did.

-- Joey Espinosa

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas

"[We must] remember that the reason for the Christmas celebration is rooted in the gospel message. Why should Christmas be merry? Why should the world be joyful? Because Christ has come to earth to save his people from their sins. Talk to your children about this, about the real reason Christmas is merry."

Read the rest of the article on Shepherd Press Blog.

We hope your family has a wonderful and very merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Camp Grace Christmas Play

This past weekend, we had our 2nd Annual Camp Grace Christmas play. We love giving kids the opportunity to participate in the telling of the Christmas story. None of the 4 "performances" were anywhere close to Broadway quality, but the kids seemed to really enjoy it. Plus, we think it's great that we don't take a month of practice and dress rehearsals to put this program on. We definitely do not want to add one more thing to busy calendars at this time of the year.

Thanks for the volunteers who wrote this program last year, and for everyone who took part this year!

Did you have a child participate? What did he or she think?

Advent Readings - Week 4

This week's suggested readings are now on our Pastor's Blog. Merry Christmas!

More about Family Tensions

Similar to the post from two days ago, Russell Moore shares some thoughts on how a Christ follower can remember and live out his faith. Namely, we need to bear the spiritual fruit of:
  • peace
  • honor
  • humility
  • maturity
  • perspective
If you have moderate or severe family tensions, most of these 5 things will seem impossible. But it's in the "impossible" that we learn to depend on Christ, where we can pray for the message of the Gospel to rule in our hearts.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Tradition

This will be our (Joanna and I) 11th Christmas together. We're really not great on making and keeping traditions, but there are a couple of Christmas traditions that we've had that have been meaningful for us. First, every Christmas morning we've woken up in our own home. We might have traveled back on Christmas Eve, or leave to see family on Christmas Day, but we have enjoyed being together as a family on Christmas morning.

Second, ever since Hannah (now age 8) was 3 months old, we read the Christmas story in bed before we get up to do anything else. It makes for a calm, reflective time for us. Usually, we read a traditional account, like Matthew 1:18-25 or Luke 2:1-20). However, based on this suggestion from Jay Younts (Shepherd Press Blog), I think I may use John 1:1-14 as our text this year.

What Christmas traditions do you have?

Have a great week preparing for Christmas!

-- Joey Espinosa

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sharing Christ Over Christmas

Spending time with family over the next couple of weeks? Does that have the potential to be tense or unpleasant? Wondering what it looks like to be a light for the Gospel in those situations? Here's an article from I especially love the idea of planting seeds to help people move one step closer to Christ. Discipleship is not about sporadic and large leaps of growth, but it's a process that requires time and energy.

Sharing Christ over Christmas

Many of us approach Christmas dinner brimming with fear. Such anxiety doesn’t come from Aunt Mary’s liver sausage pate or her sour-apple fruitcake so much as our sense of the challenge of trying to direct conversation toward the gospel. After all, last year’s attempt was a proverbial train wreck. How can this year be any different?

If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to understand what evangelism is, and what it is not. The following definition and subsequent explication are intended to provide this sort of perspective, to help us approach Christmas dinner with a greater measure of optimism and hope.

“Evangelism is the activity in which the entire Church prayerfully and intentionally relies on God in sharing gospel love and truth, in order to bring people one step closer to Jesus Christ.”

The entire Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. As such, we extend hope to the world by communicating the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Gospel outreach is not simply one ministry option among many—something that only a gifted evangelist does. Rather, sharing Christ strikes at the heart of who we are. Just as Jesus was the Light of the world, who in his very being shined the hope of salvation, so we, in Christ, are the same. In this way, gospel activity is central to our identity, much as heat is a natural extension of the sun’s rays. This evangelistic call applies to every Christian, from the youngest to the oldest.

Prayerfully. Talking to God in prayer relates to every facet of the evangelistic enterprise. Prayer provides wisdom to the evangelist; it appropriates power for its proclamation; and, in some mysterious way, it is used by God to accomplish His redemptive purposes. Prayer is also a common denominator to every renewal movement in the history of Christ’s Church.

Intentionally. Evangelism happens with intentionality. Having been inspired, equipped, and mobilized by Church leaders, the congregation is positioned to actively seize gospel opportunities. For example, at a nearby mall, I recently observed a young girl walking up a downward moving escalator. As soon as the child stopped walking, she immediately began heading downward. With additional steps, however, she continued moving up. This illustration helps me think about the challenge to maintain proactive gospel outreach. The busyness of life and the gravity of selfishness draw us downward. To the extent that we are intentional, evangelism has potential to make progress.

Relying on God. Psalm 18:2 says, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” The Psalmist is intent on exalting God as the foundation of his salvation and does so by choosing eight different ways to say it. In the Hebrew language, indeed in any language, this manner of repetition emphatically underscores the point: salvation is of God! Because of this great truth, we can joyfully and confidentially rely on Him.

In revealing gospel love and truth. Being a Christian is more than being a friendly person. I have the privilege of knowing some nice people. My colleague Jay Thomas for instance, always appears happy. What’s more, his joy is contagious. If you asked him, he would tell you that his positive attitude is an outgrowth of his faith. However, I suspect that no one has ever looked at Jay and concluded “Wow, he is a nice guy! I’ll bet Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead to provide me with forgiveness and eternal life.” This kind of inference doesn’t come from abstract deduction; it requires specific explanation. In other words, in order for outreach to be more than “friendly service,” we must communicate gospel content.

To bring people. Notice, it doesn’t say “to bring unbelievers,” but “people.” As I explained earlier, evangelism—the activity of sharing the gospel—is bigger than just conversion. After initially coming to Christ we still need the gospel to liberate us from sin and establish us in righteousness. Thus, to say that we “evangelize” someone doesn’t mean that the recipient is necessarily without faith.

At the same time, those outside of Christ are in dire need of the gospel. This need provides much of the motivation for doing evangelistic outreach. Consequently, we who have been in the Church for a while must break out from our holy huddles. Like Jesus—the friend of tax collectors and sinners—we must forge meaningful relationships with nonbelievers. In Jesus’ words, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14).

One step closer to Christ. Of all the points I’ve made so far, this is the one about which I am most passionate. Sometimes when we think about evangelism, we define it by a particular method. For many of us, it’s the crusade approach made popular by D.L. Moody or, more recently, Billy Graham. Accordingly, we think of evangelism as a full-blown gospel presentation that begins by explaining the human problem of sin and culminates in an invitation for one to receive Christ.

I don’t know about you, but most of my gospel encounters don’t allow for a full-orbed sermon. In a crusade, the goal of the evangelist is to clearly present the entire message and urge someone to make a decision. (It’s probably not an accident that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s magazine is named Decision.) However, if you define all of evangelism in that way, what happens when you only have two minutes to talk to a colleague beside the water cooler during break? How do you witness to the checkout person in the supermarket, or to a family member who knows what you believe and is utterly disinterested in hearing any more sermons? The answer is—you don’t. You don’t say a thing. We can’t share in that kind of way without completely alienating ourselves; therefore, we don’t share at all. The outcome is the same as hiding our lamp beneath the proverbial table. What we need to learn is how to gradually plant seeds of gospel truth that help people incrementally move one step closer to Christ. Therefore, instead of defining evangelism strictly as a comprehensive presentation of the “full delmonte” (i.e., everything there is to say about salvation) culminating into a Billy-Graham-like invitation, we need to view the incremental efforts of seed planting, which we perform in the course of natural relationships, as not only a legitimate form of evangelism but also a critical method among our loved ones.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Free Christmas Songs

With Christmas Eve just 1 week away, here are some early gifts for you:

1. On The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor provides 2 songs from Sojourn Music.

2. Two other songs on this same blog are also available for download, courtesy of Sovereign Grace Musis.

3. You can download a full album of Christmas songs from iTunes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Adopt-A-Child Summary

The final numbers are in. God raised up over $1000 through Children's Ministry for the Adopt-A-Child initiative. Praise Him! It amazes us to think that this much money came through the hands of kids. We hope that hundreds of children were able to feel love towards other children, even those they have never met. We see that if everyone does a little, we can have a big impact for the sake of Christ. If you missed it, watch this video.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Readings - Week 3

This week's readings and discussion questions are now posted here. The focus this week is on the announcement of Christ's birth.

Have a great week!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Nativity Story

Here is an opinion on the movie "The Nativity Story," along the trailer, and some links to purchase it at discounted prices. We enjoyed it ourselves, and would recommend you watching it, though it may not be appropriate for most young children.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas: A Time for Make-Believe?

Here's a recent parenting tip from the National Center for Biblical Parenting. You can see their website and sign up for emails at

Christmas: A Time for Make-Believe?

What will your family do with Santa Claus, reindeer, elves, and a sleigh? Will you make them part of your Christmas tradition or not?

Some families choose to make this one of those examples of ways that we, as Christians, are different from the world and we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas instead of the secular version.

Other families weave the fun of these traditions into their family life, but emphasize to children the true meaning of Christmas.

If you choose to make Santa a part of your Christmas tradition, be sure to teach children the difference between make-believe and reality. You might say, "Santa isn't real but we like to play the Santa game at Christmas."

Some children who come to the shocking discovery that Santa isn't real, question whether their parents are telling them the truth in other areas of life. Some even think, "Is Jesus real? Or is he another thing my parents made up for me?"

Christmas traditions can be a lot of fun. Just be careful what you're teaching and how children are putting it all together in their heads. And be sure to remind your children often about the true meaning of Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why I Celebrate Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight. You can see my thoughts about this holiday on our Pastor's Blog.

-- Joey Espinosa

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Explaining the Incarnation

I'm always hesitant to use physical illustrations to explain hard things about the Bible. You know, like how the Trinity is like water (ice, liquid, vapor) or an egg (shell, yolk, white part) or Neapolitan ice cream (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry). I'm torn because I want some way to try to help my kids understand, but then they take things so literally. And no physical example can ever fully explain a spiritual truth about the Lord. Everything falls short.

Whenever I do try to explain things like this to my kids, I always preface it by saying something like, "You know, kids, what I'm going to say really isn't going to make complete sense, and I can't explain it fully, and it's not a perfect example. But it's a good thing that I can't understand and explain God completely. Because if I could understand everything about Him, then He wouldn't be so special, would He?" I think it's OK to not give a perfect answer or explanation, to let my children wrestle with who He is. THAT is where faith comes in.

Well, during the last few weeks, we've been talking about the Incarnation a lot, as a way to know and worship Christ during this season. We can never fully understand how Jesus is fully God and fully man, and that's OK. But I used an illustration that I read in "Big Truths for Young Hearts." I suggested that what if we think about Jesus divinity as a glass of water, and His humanity as a glass of juice. Somehow, in Jesus, you could mix those and they would be in one Person but both would be completely separate (which of course is not true for mixing juice and water).

Elijah, my 6 year old, came up with an illustration right there. He ran to get an oil-and-water mixture that he made a few months ago. If you shake it vigorously, you can get both the oil and water to mix, but they would still be separate. Again, it's not a perfect illustration, but I loved how his brain was trying to grasp the idea.

Any illustrations that you use to demonstrate spiritual truths?

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Adopt-A-Child Video

Check out this video that shows the importance of engaging our culture. While we do need to preach the Gospel with words, Jesus also commands us to show love for His sake as well, through our actions. In fact, although salvation is based on faith alone and not works, there is a level of judgment that we will receive based on what we do or don't do to love others (Matthew 25:33-40). What we do with our God-given resources is actually a reflection of how we feel about and worship the Lord.

Our Children's Ministry is "adopting" 11 children this Christmas. (For more details, read this.) If you worship at Grace Church, and your preschool- or elementary-age child has not brought money in yet, or if he or she wants to bring in additional money, please do so by this Sunday, December 13th. Thanks for your support!

Long-Term Effect of Being a Part of The Church

The Barna group released a report of their recent study that shows a connection between childhood and adult religious participation. They concluded that "those who attended Sunday school or other religious programs as children or as teens were much more likely . . . to have an active faith as adults."

David Kinnaman, the president of Barna Group, cautions that "the research does not prove that spiritual activity as a young person causes spiritual engagement as an adult." In fact, as a whole, students disengage from faith as they get older, but "the odds of sticking with faith over a lifetime are enhanced in a positive direction by spiritual activity under the age of 18."

Does this mean that bringing your kids to church is the main element in them knowing Christ and following Him their entire lives? I do not think that's true at all. What I, as a pastor, tell parents is that while we want to make the most of the few hours we have with their children each week, nothing can take the place of how THEY are modeling a life of discipleship in their family.

But I think this research does show the importance of a being a part of a local church body. And being a part of His body is more than being in attendance. It involves regular worship, sacrificial service and giving, personal growth, and being in community and fellowship with each other. Not just a couple of these areas, but ALL of them, and more. The discipleship that Jesus calls His followers to requires our entire lives to be turned over to Him.

Yes, that seems like a lot, but the fruit born in our children's lives is well worth it, right?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What do YOU do with Santa?

A couple of weeks ago, I gave my thoughts in about Christmas in this post. Included in that was a link to an article from The Village Church; one of the authors comments was an encouragement to not lie to your children about the myth of Santa Claus.

Jonathan Acuff shares his thoughts about Santa on his blog "Stuff Christians Like." He outlines 3 basic choices of what Christians (especially parents) can do about Santa:
  1. Go all-in with the Santa Claus myth (I think he leans in this direction);
  2. Kill Santa (I'm not quite to this extreme, but I lean in this direction); or
  3. Combine Jesus and Santa (pretty dangerous ground here).
For me, it is mainly about speaking to my children with integrity. It's hard enough for me to believe some difficult things that God's word clearly speaks of (Jesus being both man & God, the Trinity, God's omnipresence, how Jesus' sacrifice actually atones for my sins, etc), and having faith in a real but invisible God. And if I struggle to understand these things, then it's that much harder for me to teach them to my children. Why would I risk muddling that with a myth?

As Jon Acuff warns, I do have to be cautious to not be judgmental towards others. After all, this is not an overtly moral issue, and I know that Christ gives us much freedom in this an other areas.

All that being said, we DO talk about Santa Claus, but from the perspective of make-believe. They really do enjoy seeing him at the mall, reading books about Santa, and watching "Rudolph" on TV. I've been pleased and amazed at how much excitement there can be over these stories even without them believing in this fairy tale.

And we have strongly stressed the importance of them not telling other boys and girls the truth about this topic, along with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. (I remember Elijah coming to me in tears last year, confessing that he accidentally told a neighborhood friend that Santa Claus wasn't real; fortunately, the friend either didn't pay attention or she didn't believe in Santa herself.)

I'd love to hear other thoughts about this topic.

-- Joey Espinosa

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Story of the Bible in Four Minutes

You won't regret checking out this video. Entertaining, and great theology.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent Readings - Week 2

Don't miss the suggested readings for this week of the Advent season, found on our Pastor's Blog.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Recommended Books for Kids

Do you have a voracious reader in your family? Here are a few recommended titles. Has anyone read these, or even heard of them?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jesus Storybook Bible

Scott Mozingo recommends the "Jesus Storybook Bible," and let's us know about a great bargain for anyone in the Greenville area. I think this is a good resource for parents of children who are preschool or young elementary.

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Adopt-A-Child for Christmas

This Christmas season, Grace Children's Ministry is "adopting" 11 children from nearby schools, in conjunction with our church as a whole who are looking to "adopt" over 200 children. Most of the children are from families from Monaview Elementary School, a local Title I school that Grace Church has partnered with. We are also working with elementary schools in the Powdersville community, and in Allendale county.

The goal is to show the love of Christ to our neighbors, and to help the children in our own body understand that our neighbors are not just the people who live near us. Since God has given us so much, and since He owns it all, it should be natural for us to share with others. If everyone contributes a little, we can have a huge impact, so we are asking each Camp Grace child (1st - 4th grade) to bring $2, and each preschool child (2 years old - 5k) to bring $1. The money will be collected during their Big Group times, and then volunteers will shop for each child.

We are off to a great start. We have collected around $600 so far, with a goal of $900. The last day that we will be collecting money is December 13th. Any additional money over the goal will be added to the amount that Grace Church sends to Allendale.

We are excited about this opportunity to have an engage our culture. Thanks for everyone who is partnering with us. If you have any questions about this, please contact us at