Creating a Gospel Life Plan for 2018

It is that time of year, time to reflect on and evaluate the passing year and look forward toward the new year. December is the month where my family and I take our yearly Gospel Life Plan retreat. These are some of the sweetest times we know as a family. Over the course of a few days, we look back at our goals and plans for loving God, leading well, and living the gospel. Joy and I are blessed to spend time individually with our kids reflecting on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This time is also an opportunity for our family to separately and corporately set new goals for the coming year. Gospel Life Plan retreats have allowed us to grow closer as a family, see God's gracious fruit of the gospel, and challenged us to pursue Jesus with greater passion and affection. 

You can download the Gospel Life Plan Worksheet and resources by clicking the link below. Don't miss out on an oppurtunity to commit your life and year to loving God, leading well, and living the gospel as you and your family manifest God's kingdom here on earth. 

Gospel Life Plan Resources

Cultivating and Maintaining Good HABITS

Leadership experts tell us that it takes between 45-66 days to cultivate a habit. The dictionary defines a habit as a "settled or regular tendency or practice". Over time we all develop habits in our life, some good, some bad. Habits are the fruit of what you love the most. Here are few thoughts and resources for developing good habits in your life.

1. Live in Reality.

Your habits will impact your life. Sure there are those stories about someone's grandmother that drank, smoked, and ate bacon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day her whole life and lived to be a hundred and ten, but that is the exception, not the norm. Every person has a pattern of daily habits that influence and shape their life. Live in reality and see the future impact your habits will have on your life.

2. Develop Good Habits.

Many people struggle with developing good habits, believing it is impossible to change. This lie is contrary to the transforming work of the gospel. Stop feeling your stuck because of long term bad habits. Many years ago, I went through a season of not wanting to get up early. I began praying a simple prayer that God answered, "Lord, if the Holy Spirit can raise me from the dead, He can raise me from the bed." Start praying today that God would give you the grace and power to change.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
— Romans 8:11

3. Be Accountable.

Accountability is essential in cultivating and maintaining good habits. Having a spouse or friend that holds you accountable can be the difference on those days you need that extra motivation and encouragement. Authentic accountability will give someone permission to challenge you in cultivating and maintaining good habits. Do not go it "alone" find a partner to share your struggles and goals as you seek to lay a solid foundation of good habits in your life.

4. Leverage Tech.

There is an "App" for everything these days. Leveraging technology is helpful when cultivating and maintaining good habits in your life. Just do a Google search for "Best Habit Apps", there are numerous free and inexpensive apps. Here are a two apps that I find helpful in tracking and recording habits. Do not spend more time than necessary researching and experimenting with every app out there, find something that works and stick with it. Consistent use of effective technology can be very useful in cultivating good habits in your life.

1. Strides

2. Evernote

5. Evaluate, Adapt, Overcome.

Evaluation is essential, is what you are doing working? For the last fourteen months, our family of four has been on the incredible journey of fostering a two-year-old and three-year-old! Being OCD about calendars and schedules, this new reality threw a wrench in our family and personal routines, to say the least. Many of my previous routines had to change; I had to re-evaluate, adapt, and overcome to maintain consistent habits in this new seasons of life.

Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

POD Coaching: Disciplines of a Godly Family- Part 2

This semester of POD Coaching will focus on Family and Community. We will be using "Disciplines of a Godly Family" by Kent and Barbara Hughes, and "Life in Community" by Dustin Willis as resources.

As a way to help anyone who has a desire to coach and disciple, I am posting my Coaching Scripts download links below, I pray it is valuable to your ministry.

Disciplines of a Godly Family-Part 2 Coaching Script

POD Coaching: Disciplines of a Godly Family- Part 1

This semester of POD Coaching will focus on Family and Community. We will be using "Disciplines of a Godly Family" by Kent and Barbara Hughes, and "Life in Community" by Dustin Willis as resources.

As a way to help anyone who has a desire to coach and disciple, I am posting my Coaching Scripts. I pray it is valuable to your ministry. 

Download Disciplines of a Godly Family Part 1- Coaching Script

Part 2- Creating a Gospel Life Plan: GOAL Setting

Over the next few weeks Joy and I will be sharing something near and dear to our heart. "How to Create a Gospel Life Plan." We are both in agreement the last six years of our marriage and life have been the most intentional and fruitful of our fourteen years of marriage. The main reason for this, is our commitment to create and evaluate a yearly gospel life plan. In the upcoming posts we will share different aspects of exactly how this is done and hopefully encourage you and your family to practice the same. Feel free to email me with any questions you may have at gross@namb.net and everyone is invited to our Gospel Life Plan Workshop on Nov 21st in New Orleans, this will be a great jump start to your year, we hope to see you!

S.M.A.R.T GOALS

If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.
— Yogi Berra

Scott Thomas once said, "living life without goals is like playing football with no end zone." Needless to say, playing football without an end zone would be meaningless, which is also true when we live life with no goals. Cultivating a discipline of setting gospel-centered goals radically changed my life and the life of my family. Our lives went from being all over the map to missionally focused, resulting in gospel fruitfulness. 

The following are ground rules we use as a family for goal setting in our gospel life plan. We pray they are helpful as you as you seek to love God, lead well, and live the gospel for glory of God. 

S – (Specific/Strategic)


Prayer is the starting point for setting clear and strategic goals. Goals are then set and steps of action are developed in order to achieve the goal. We set specific goals when we ask why, who, what, when, where, and how? Prioritizing your life helps inform you concerning strategic initiatives in goal setting. 

M- (Measurable)


What good is a goal that you can't measure? If your goals are not measurable, you never know whether you are making progress toward successful completion. You will not know if you are growing if you cannot measure. Written goals are a means to evaluate and measure growth. 

A- (Attainable) 


Goals must be realistic and attainable. The best goals require a person to stretch a bit to achieve them, but they are not so difficult that they are unattainable. Goals should create a meaningful challenge for the individual. Making un-realistic goals will lead to discouragement and defeat. However, sanctification will involve times of crucifying our flesh in order to grow. 

R- (Relevant)


The foundation for Christian goal setting is; are they relevant to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Make sure you don't confuse goal setting with performance. Your goals are not to define your value and worth, your identity is in Christ. There is no way we can set a "goal" for God to love us any more than He already does. We do not perform our way into pleasing God. Personal and family goals are a way to grow in Christ and manifest His kingdom here on earth, as you LOVE God, LEAD well, and LIVE the gospel. 

T- (Time Bound)


Goals should have starting points, ending points, and fixed durations. Commitment to deadlines helps individuals to focus their efforts on completion. Goals without deadlines or schedules for completion tend to be overtaken by the day-to-day responsibilities and difficulties in life. 

“So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:26, ESV)

No Shave November: Facial Hair For Foster Care

No Shave November is almost here, which means “Facial Hair for Foster Care” in New Orleans! Joy and I have been privileged to be foster parents for the last seven months, and would like to share a few thoughts about our foster care journey and encourage you to participate in helping and serving the foster care community.

1.     Prayerfully consider being a foster care parent.

Let me be clear, being a foster parent is not for everyone. Without question, the last seven months have been the hardest and most sanctifying of our life. Going from four kids to six kids, with the youngest two in diapers will turn your world upside down; not to mention meetings, court dates, and the upheaval of your daily routine. Three years ago, we wrote  in our Gospel Life Plan to begin faithfully praying about adoption and fostering. The empty bedroom and two empty car seats were our consistent answers, we were compelled to open up our lives, home, and resources.

2.     Take the initiative and Involve your church.

There really should be no question about involving your church in adoption and foster care, the Bible is pretty clear (James 1:27, Ps 82:3-4). At some level everyone should support and participate in adoption and foster care. Not everyone is called to be a parent, but everyone can participate in support.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
— James 1:27

There have been two specific times in our journey, that if it were not for our church family at Edgewater Baptist Church and church planters here in NOLA, we would have thrown in the towel. There is a great ministry in providing support to foster parents. We cannot express how grateful we are for prayer, respite, meals, and even a surprise house cleaning from our wonderful faith family. Do not miss the opportunities you have to join in the ministry of foster support (see the links below for ways to lead your church to participate)! This may be exactly how God wants to involve your family and church.

3.     Educate yourself on the needs in your community and region.

Joy and I have been impressed to engage missionally within our zip code. As we looked for opportunities within our community, the need for foster parents was absolutely overwhelming. How could we preach missional living and not help? Currently in New Orleans there are approximately 400+ children in the foster care, this is certainly high, but in many cities and states the numbers are much higher. I would challenge everyone to research the foster needs in their community and region. The facts will surprise you and hopefully compel you, to take action for the sake of the gospel.

Here are some Foster Care resources and information about “Facial Hair for Foster Care.”

Crossroads NOLA "Facial Hair for Foster Care"

NAMB Foster Care Resources

Practical Ways to Support Foster Parents

Foster Care Statistics

 

Part 1- Creating A Gospel Life Plan: Planning 101

 

Over the next few weeks Joy and I will be sharing something near and dear to our heart. "How to Create a Gospel Life Plan." We are both in agreement the last six years of our marriage and life have been the most intentional and fruitful of our fourteen years of marriage. The main reason for this, is our commitment to create and evaluate a yearly gospel life plan. In the upcoming posts we will share different aspects of exactly how this is done and hopefully encourage you and your family to practice the same. Feel free to email me with any questions you may have at gross@namb.net and everyone is invited to our Gospel Life Plan Workshop on Nov 21st in New Orleans, this will be a great jump start to your year, we hope to see you!

Planning 101


Cultivating a healthy habit of planning is essential in creating a gospel life plan. Joy and I consistently implement times of planning, calendaring, and evaluation. Here are some of our notes when considering how to effectively plan. 

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.
— Luke 14:28–30

Ground Rules:


1. Rhythms over rigidness.


Life does not stand still, even if you do. Things are always changing with family, work, and schedules. One critical key to planning is to realize what rhythms of life you are in. You will plan differently with two infants than you will with two teenagers. Creating a plan so rigid that it is impossible to implement will only lead to defeat. Learn to roll with the seasons of life you find yourself in and plan accordingly.

2. Consistency over compulsory.


Planning with a list of mandatory accomplishments each week will soon become drudgery, which inevitable results in failure. Planning should always aim for unchanging achievement over a period of time (consistency) in contrast to metrics which you are obligated to perform (compulsory). Joy and I keep the word consistent in front of our children, this is what we pray they see modeled in us and embrace as their own. 

3. Grace over law.  


We cannot plan our way into pleasing God. Gospel-centered planning keeps the finished work of Christ in view for all that we plan to do and that we planned and failed to do. Our worth and value are in Christ, not our plans, therefore we are free to plan and live by that plan with and in grace. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
— Ephesians 2:8

4. Long -term lifestyle over short-term fix.


Our current culture is fixated on the short-term fix. We want to lose 50 lb. in 10 days and are mad when we do not get our desired results. Cultivating a healthy habit of planning is a powerful tool in bringing about long-term lifestyle change personally and spiritually. Don't believe the lie, there are no quick fixes in this life. 

Why Plan?


1. Direction determines destination.
2. Drifting is a result of poor planning.
3. Discipline is a means of sanctification.

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train (discipline) yourself for godliness;
— 1 Timothy 4:7

4. Discipleship happens when we plan for it.
There are 168 hours in a week. If you sleep 8 hours a day that leaves you 112. What are your priorities? You will either AGONIZE or PRIORITIZE! 

  • Everything cannot be a priority. You can’t have it all.
  • Everything should not be a priority. All things are not created equal.
  • Some activities and investments are more important than others.
  • Some activities and investments are more lasting than others. 

You will either master time or time will master you.

5. Planning is an act of obedience.
6. Planning is an act of stewardship.
7. Planning manifests the kingdom.

How to begin planning:


1. Identify your priorities.
2. Address your conflict. (laziness, idleness, over commitment, what keeps you from planning and living by a plan?)
3. Develop a process.
4. Implement and evaluate the process.

Do not get stuck!


1. Some people are stuck because they fail to get perspective. They are afraid to acknowledge their current condition.
2. Some people are stuck because they don’t put their plan into action. They are unwilling to do the hard work of being disciplined and monitoring their progress.
3. Some people are stuck because they fail to plan. They assume if they hope and pray for a better future, they can cling to past practices and still find success.

When it comes to life, most people are spectators. They watch events unfold a day at a time. They may plan their careers, the building of a new home, or even a vacation, but it never occurs to them to plan their life. As a result, they drift along, often to destinations they would have never consciously chosen: failing health, a broken marriage, or a stalled career. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
— Michael Hyatt

 

Ministry With Your Kids

I love being with my family, I absolutely love it! Are our children perfect? Just come spend a day in the Ross home as we fuss, yell, whine, and cry; your perfect social media family will be shattered. There are occasions our sinfulness is on full display and Joy and I want to go on a parenting sabbatical. But we still love being with and investing in our children, we live for it! 

Over the years I have made it a priority to include my children in my ministry. When I was pastoring a local church, my children would consistently participate in local and global mission trips, join me making hospital visits, travel with me to preach, spend time at the office,  make prospect visits, and a number of other ministry activities. Joy and I had a calendar and a plan. We were committed to leveraging our ministry and having focused intentionality in leading our children. 

Investing in your children if you are a pastor or in ministry can be a tricky undertaking. The demands of ministry at times seem insurmountable, inserting your children could feel overwhelming and unwise. But let me encourage you, If God has called you to shepherd the flock do not forfeit the opportunity to include your children in your ministry.

I am making two huge assumptions:

1. Everyone has commons sense and will use it when taking their kids:) Are there times you should not include your children? Absolutely, I would never take my kids into conflict, counseling, abuse, or tragedies.  

2. You will make it "worthwhile". I was going to use the word "fun", but praying over someone who has terminal cancer is not fun, however it can be a teachable moment. If you are Big Chief "No Fun" and make everything over the top serious, don't take your kids.

Although I could write many reasons for involving your kids in ministry, here are three that stick out for Joy and I:

1. You are modeling a love for your kids. 

Involving your children in ministry clearly models that you love them. Ministers should be doing ministry, enough of this I cannot neglect my family as an excuse for being lazy. If God called you to ministry he called you to unexpected hours, unplanned meetings and difficult people, it is part of the call. Ministry will and has to happen. Be intentional, when possible take your children with you every chance you can. They will love spending time with you and you will model love for them. Involving your children in ministry is a declaration of your love and commitment for them. 

2. You are teaching them discipline. 

"My kids would never act right if I took them with me?" That statement deserves an entire response, in a later post. Nevertheless it is the calling of a pastor to manage his household well, your children should be able to participate in ministry at an age appropriate level. My 6, 8, 9, & 11 year old will be disciplined enough to sit in someones home or a hospital room for thirty minutes while I minister, visit and pray. In our cultural climate of catering to our children, our expectations for how our children should behave have fallen to an all time low. 

3. You are encouraging them in the faith. 

Allowing your children to participate in ministry encourages them in their faith journey. Whenever my children are allowed to pray, serve, or share it is an opportunity for them to own their faith. As I model servant leadership through ministry I am informally discipling my children to hopefully do the same when I am not around. Over the years I have seen first hand how involving my children in ministry has played a part their conversion and growth as a christian. 

Don't waste your ministry and don't waste your parenting, leverage God's call in your life and share it with your children for their good and God's glory. 

 

3 Reasons Coaching Is Essential

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There is much talk these days about “Christian Coaching” and from my perspective, rightfully so. Coaching can be a valuable resource for any pastor/planter to grow personally, spiritually, and missionally.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
— Acts 20:28

Here are three reasons I believe coaching is essential:

1. Discovery. A pastor friend said it best; “There is a criminal lack of self-awareness in pastoral ministry.” Although there has been much written on self-awareness, the reality remains, we see ourselves better than we really are. Coaching provides insight and input into how others see us. It is difficult to lead effectively when those you lead perceive you differently, than you perceive yourself. Who has permission to adjust your self-perception?

2. Development. Years ago while living in Helena, MT., I met a cowboy who said  profoundly, “If you are not green and growing, you are dead and rotten.” Simple and ever so true! We are all in one of three places: We are growing and moving forward, we are losing ground and going backwards, or the most dangerous, we are stagnant and don’t even realize it. Coaching is not magic, only you can be responsible for you, but more often than not coaching is a catalyst for development and growth in the life of the leader.

3. Discernment. Impulsive decisions were one of my greatest leadership deficiencies during my first four years as a lead pastor. I am convinced that had I been coached, the experience would have enabled me to be a far more effective leader and decision maker. Coaching provides a listening ear and sounding board during critical times of ministry and life. Good coaching helps the leader by asking questions, listening, and giving input.

Entering into a coaching relationship is one of the most strategic decisions a leader will make. Through self-discovery, leadership development, and godly discernment a leader begins a journey of lasting and fruitful ministry. Stop lamenting your current circumstances; enlist a coach for your good and God’s glory. 

Ten Milestones For Our Children

As my children grow older I see the day quickly approaching where they will leave my home and be thrust into the world. Intentionality becomes paramount when you calculate the time you have with your children. Nevertheless, many parents have no intentional plan for parenting and families are left to experience the law of unintended consequences.

There is an ocean of regret among parents who in hindsight realize the consequences of not investing in their kids spiritually when they were young. Do not waste your parenting! 

Isaac (11 yrs old) and I just finished a Manhood Retreat in the Black Creek Wilderness of South Mississippi where we covered two of our five Manhood Axioms:

1. BIBLICAL MANHOOD RECOGNIZES THE BREVITY OF LIFE
AND REFUSES TO WASTE IT.

2. BIBLICAL MANHOOD IS A JOURNEY TO A DESTINATION. 
 

Milestones are an action or event marking a significant change or stage in development. Our Ten Miliestones start at birth and end at independence. Generally, they are progressive in order and age, although some milestones may come before others depending on the development of the child. 

Joy and I have milestones to teach our boys about biblical manhood and our daughters about biblical womanhood in an age appropriate way. This would not happen with intentionality if we did not have a plan to implement. 

Here are ten milestones we aim for in shaping and sharpening our sons and daughters. I am not suggesting you aim for our ten, but am suggesting you aim for something. 


Don' t Waste Your Vacation

The dictionary defines vacation as: a break, time off, recess, leave, leave of absence, furlough, sabbatical. 

Unfortunately far too many families do not experience this reality and even less leverage vacation as a part of family growth and discipleship. Personally, I separate vacation and break. There is only so much time you can strategically invest in your kids, for me family vacations are key times to do just that. Therefore my primary goal on family vacation is not rest it is family. This does not mean rest is not important, over the course of the year we implement strategic "breaks" to ensure personal and family health. I have even been known to take a nap or two on vacation.

Here are 4 practical ways to not waste your vacation:

1. Make Family Vacation A Priority

I can remember as a child getting a shark tooth necklace in Destin, FL. and catching trout in the mountains of Arkansas. These times are a cherished and vivid memory. It is not surprising how many adults can recall their family trips and vacation(s) when they were young. 

Every family has different resources and circumstances that will impact where and what you do for family vacation. Nevertheless, families should be as proactive, creative and resourceful as possible to prioritize a family vacation. One of our family's most memorable vacations was a week stay in a farm house of a friend of a friend, 30 miles from civilization. It was cheap, memorable, and fun.  

2. Prepare For Family Vacation Creatively. 

The Dollar Tree is my best friend before family vacation. I can spend $40 and buy some of the craziest games, toys, and food you can imagine. My kids look forward to getting something crazy from Dollar Tree each afternoon/evening after family worship. 

We always look for free parks and trails within driving distance wherever we go on family vacation. These are not only great opportunities to enjoy God's creation, but ways to enjoy time together without being locked into the phone, t.v., or computer. Make it fun! 

For those with limited resources, there are always inexpensive or free activities to be found in most cities if you just spend some time on Google. Live within your means, but make every effort to do something fun and memorable, it only takes a little planning and research. 

3. Record Family Vacation Faithfully.

I record every family vacation in my Evernote family vacation journal. Included are brief highlights, our family worship acrostic of the week, and some of our favorite pics. Thirty minutes maximum and I have a short record of a family memory. This has become a treasure for Joy and I to read and gift for us to pass down. You can read more here about the benefits of journaling and an example here of our last family vacation. 

4. Leverage Family Vacation Intentionally. 

Family vacations are a great time of discipleship. I am not talking about doing a study out of Leviticus, but leveraging the gospel as you manifest the rule and reign of Jesus on vacation. Each year I take a tradition from my father-in-law and create an acrostic for the week of family vacation. This year our word was G.R.A.C.E. Family worship is always a part of our vacation that my kids love. I give them a letter a night with a word for the day and a corresponding verse. After a 10-15 minute time together, we load up on Dollar Tree junk and play high/low for the day. 

I was reminded this Spring about the impact you can have leveraging family vacation when I took my son and his friend with me to preach. During the drive they talked about vacations, my son out of no where began to talk about what he learned about praying at family vacation that previous summer. I listened in amazement. Our word for the week was A.C.T.S...Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. He remembered the first three, and I helped him out with Supplication:) I am always shocked at what my kids really remember. 

Don't waste your vacation! 

5 Benefits of Journaling

Journaling has at times been a very seasonal discipline. I have a row of journals in my office that span almost 12 years of consistent journaling. Then came a very sporadic time of journaling that lasted nearly 7 years.

Each time I review written notes from my grandmother, I am reminded that the written word is jewel to be treasured. Consistent journaling is a discipline that has great value. Numbers 33:1-2, has always been an encouraging word when it comes to keeping a record of my life's journey.

These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places.
— (Numbers 33:1–2, ESV)

Here are 5 benefits I have found in journaling. 

1. Journaling keeps you sharp. 

Research reveals that writing stimulates your brain. I find that consistent journaling keeps me focused, strengthens my memory, and causes me to think and process at a higher level. The older I get, the more this becomes a reality. 

2. Journaling provides a written record. 

Reading the journals of others can have a profound impact on your life. Some of my favorite non-religious reading has come from Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as they recount their epic round trip journey up the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast. Our lives may not be that adventurous, but our journey with Christ is worthy to record. 

3. Journaling acknowledges God's activity. 

Reviewing old journals has brought me incredible encouragement. From reflecting on God's past faithfulness, to rejoicing in God's patient sanctification and discipline. It is an easy thing, to forget all God has done. Journaling is a discipline that wages war against our forgetfulness. 

4. Journaling allows you to process. 

When I write, I am forced to think. The thoughts from my head and heart have to make it to my pen and paper. There have been many occasions, that had I not been journaling, a significant truth would have been missed or an emotion would never have been articulated. 

5. Journaling informs your posterity. 

The dictionary defines posterity- all future generations of people. I have 2 categories of journaling. A personal journal that includes my daily devotional, prayers, and personal current events. A family journal with entries for each person in my family, that includes milestones, special moments, and family vacations. I pray these journals will impact with my children and their children for generations to come. 

Journaling is not a tool that gives you greater value, worth, or standing with God, but another means of sanctification. I stress to myself that daily journaling is not the goal, consistent journaling is the goal. 

 

Kingdom Families Are Joyful

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Joy is manifestation of the rule and reign of Jesus in the life of a Christian. A kingdom family should manifest joy. Peter writes, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” (1 Peter 1:8, ESV) Peter’s audience was discouraged by the persecution they were encountering, but he challenges them to manifest inexpressible joy in spite of their circumstances.

Inexpressible joy does not describe many of the Christian families I encounter these days. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “We have given the impression that to be a Christian means to be miserable."  Christians should be the most joyful people on the planet. When we are joyless we harm our witness to the world and impact our legacy with our family. Demonstrating joy in a fallen world is one of the greatest testimonies of Christ living in you. Here are 4 practical applications for leaving a legacy of joy.

1. Prioritize your passion.

When we have misguided passions and misplaced priorities we find ourselves void of joy. Families become whirlwinds of busyness trying to find their joy in the pursuit of empty idols. Scott Thomas writes, “We discover what our idols are by asking what gives our life meaning, worth, and value.” What do your priorities and passions say about where you get meaning, worth, and value? Many families are joyless because they have misguided passions and misplaced priorities.  Prioritize wisely.

2. Choose love. 

Bitterness, hurt, anger, hate, and the like, steal our joy and infect our families. Sometimes we just have to make up our mind that the most Christ-like action we can take in a circumstance is to choose to love. When we choose love we are crucifying our flesh and relying on the Spirit. We manifest joy when we are walking in the Spirit and choose love.

3. Cultivate contentment.

When I reflect on my marriage over the last 12 years, some of the most miserable times occurred when we were not practicing contentment. Because we allowed all our wants to become needs it affected our finances. My wife would agree we were not a joy filled family. Today our family is totally debt-free, we are renting and do not even have a house payment! There is a marked difference in the joyfulness we exhibit and experience as a family, when we are practicing contentment.

4. Grow in the gospel.

Paul celebrates the Christians in Colossae’s growth in the gospel, Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,” (Colossians 1:5–6, ESV) You are growing in the gospel when you are repenting and bearing fruit. A fruit of growing in the gospel will be the manifestation of joy as we lead our families.

Prioritizing our passions, choosing love, cultivating contentment, and growing in the gospel will lay a strong foundation for a legacy of joy in your family. 

2014 Reading List

I remember reading a biography on Fredrick Douglass, the slave turned abolitionist, and learning about how he was taught to read. As a young boy he knew that his freedom and life hinged on being able to read. As a slave in Maryland, he would bribe white kids to teach him, and taught himself from a Webster's dictionary. Douglass would write in his autobiography, "he who does not improve himself by the motives and opportunities afforded by this world gives the best evidence that he would not improve in any other world." Fredrick Douglass would become one of the greatest orators and public readers of the 19th Century. He not only received his freedom, he was appointed United States Minister to Haiti before his death in 1895. His story has always been an inspiration for me to be a consistent reader, never taking for granted the wonderful privilege of reading.

I will be starting my Doctor of Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Seminary this year, so my reading list is certainly subject to change. This is the largest reading list I have set as a goal since seminary, this will be a real challenge for me in 2014! A major focus for reading reflects our transition to New Orleans and assuming the role as a NAMB Missionary. Although I am aware of most of these authors I have only read one of the books, Andrew Murray's The Prayer Life, which was over 10 years ago. The list is not an endorsement of content, but a goal to read through. The reading list is broken down by categories and you can click on any book to purchase it from Amazon. The Kindle versions are much less expensive than the hardcover or paperback. 

Missional Ministry

Preaching & Communication

Marriage & Family

Spiritual Formation

Church Planting, Church Growth, & Discipleship

History & Biography

Resources:

1. Douglass, Frederick. Autobiography. New York: Bonanza Books, 1962.

Kingdom Family: Christmas and Tradition

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As parents we have one of the most awesome privileges in the world, discipling our children! If you do not already let me encourage you to make the most of family traditions and use them as a means to disciple and shape your children. Gospel-centered traditions can have profound influence and lasting impact on your children for generations to come. Here are several thoughts I have found helpful in creating gospel-centered traditions in the Ross home.

1. Teach The Gospel.

The gospel is the grand story of how sinners who were made in the image of God can be saved from their sin through the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Making memories and establishing traditions are discipling opportunities that allow us to take a specific calendared time to teach on the gospel. Gospel-centered families realize that traditions will always make much of Jesus. When the story of the gospel is the centerpiece of our traditions we say loudly the gospel is greater than…..!

2. Make Memories.

Here are a few of the upcoming Ross family traditions: 

  • A few days before Christmas we have pajama night and watch "The Nativity Story." Our kids start asking to watch this movie around the first of December. Yes, I know for the legalistic there are a couple of parts not so accurate, but it is a beautiful picture of the Incarnation. 
  • We have a "Lord of the Rings" marathon! What better way to talk about the war announced against sin, death, and the grave, than Sauron vs. Frodo? Nothing say's Christmas like epic Middle Earth battles and the ultimate victory of good over evil! 
  • We celebrate missions. It is a tradition for us to teach on and give to the "Lottie Moon Christmas Offering" every December. This offering goes to resource the over 4000 Southern Baptist Missionaries around the world. Also, joining your local church in ministering to the community is a great way to be missional as you manifest the gospel to those who are truly in need.
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  • We load up as a family and go the best place around to look at Christmas lights.  There is never a shortage of teaching opportunities about being "light" in the midst of "darkness." Since we moved to New Orleans in October, we had to find a new place to look at lights. This year we went to "Celebration In The Oaks" in City Park, which was a pretty amazing. 
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3. Incorporate Family Worship.

Each year we begin an Advent devotion on December 1st for our Family Worship. Advent is defined as: arrival, appearance,  dawn, birth, or coming . As a family we use this time of Family Worship to draw close to the greatest story ever, God becoming man. C.S. Lewis wrote, "The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation.  They say that God became Man.  Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. . . ."  Use Christmas time traditions to teach your family the incredible doctrine of the Incarnation. 

The birth of Jesus is the grandest light of history, the sun in the heavens of all time. It is the pole-star of human destiny, the hinge of chronology, the meeting-place of the waters of the past and the future.
— Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). Christ's Incarnation: The foundation of Christianity (23–24). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

4. Record Your Journey. 

I just finished organizing some of our photos from past holidays. We have so many incredible resources at our fingertips for capturing our traditions. Take time to take pictures, make a video, or just journal some thoughts down about your family. I try to journal after as many of our family traditions as possible. This affords me an opportunity to share my heart through writing, but to also pass down our legacy of traditions. In past years I have used journal entries and photos to create an album of the years family traditions to give to Joy as a gift, which she loves! 

5. Be A Kingdom Family.

Creating gospel-centered traditions in your home involves a kingdom mindset. Jesus came to inaugurate His Kingdom, we are here to manifest His Kingdom, and He is returning to consummate His Kingdom. A Kingdom Family embodies the character of Christ, intentionally lives out the mission of Christ, through the Spirit of Christ, for the glory of Christ; manifesting His kingdom here on earth. Family traditions should always reflect the Kingdom of God, not the American dream. 

Family Traditions can be some incredible times of discipleship for your family. As you love God, lead your family, and live the gospel you manifest what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. 

Thoughts On Thanksgiving

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A few weeks ago Joy and I took the kids to see "Free Birds". which was a pretty funny movie apparently made by a vegan! The time traveling turkey's went back in history to change the menu at the first Thanksgiving feast. The underlying message of the movie will not have many people trading in Turkey for Tofu this week. Come Thursday people will travel for miles and begin that traditional time of feasting, football, and family

Here are some some quick thoughts for enjoying Thanksgiving:

1. Cultivate Thankfulness. 

Thankfulness and bitterness are contradictory. Bitterness is the absence of thankfulness; thankfulness is the absence of bitterness. Being thankful and enjoying life reflects the goodness of the gospel in your life. Thanksgiving should be a time to express gratitude for all Christ has done for us. Because of Jesus and in spite of our circumstances we can be thankful, it is God's will, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV) 

2. Unite Your Family.

The first four year of marriage for Joy and I were constant fights over where we would be during the holiday's. It was not because we didn't like each others families, sadly it was because of sinful selfishness. In our second year of marriage Joy went to her family and I went to my family; which was terrible leadership on my part. If there is one piece of advice I could give, it would be this, keep your family together during the holidays. Yes you will have to plan, you may have to rotate where you go yearly, it might require laying down your rights; but never separate your family during the holidays. 

3. Enjoy Your Family.

Extended families could make your question the sovereignty of God…but resist the thought and enjoy your family:) It is just a waste of life and time to not enjoy your family. Holidays are not a burden to be under, but a celebration to be cherished. I tell young couples repeatedly, God gave you the family you have, enjoy your family. When we manifest joy we manifest God's kingdom here on earth, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17, ESV). Circumstances should not determine your joy, enjoy the family you have they are a gift from God. 

4. Manifest Jesus.

Holidays are great opportunities to witness as we manifest the gospel in our families and marriages. Gossip, bitterness, complaining, selfishness, arguing, anger, etc….is not the salt we need to flavor the food around the table. Christians should be the most hopeful and thankful people on the planet, don't miss out on the opportunity to be salt and light this Thanksgiving.  “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13, ESV)

Jesus reminds us in the story of Healing The Ten Lepers how easy it is for us to take blessings and goodness for granted. Jesus affirmed the one leper who returned to express gratitude, “Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17–19, ESV) May we all cultivate thankfulness, love our families, and manifest Jesus as we feast on Turkey and watch my Bulldogs beat the Webels at this years Egg Bowl! 

 

 

Kingdom Families And Goal Setting (Part 2)

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In part one of goal setting, I gave some basic thoughts on the importance of setting goals individually and as a family. There are three primary areas I believe every christian should set goals in; loving God, leading your family (or leading well if you are un-married), and living the gospel. Each year Joy and I set goals that flow out of these three spheres of life. This is a great way for us to stay focused on spiritual disciplines, cultivate a healthy family, and live out the kingdom mission. This has become one of the most beneficial ways Joy and I have grown together in marriage. Joy has said, that for us, it has been the difference between "surviving" and "thriving".

Here are three results of goal setting we have identified:

1. Communication- Joy and I have cultivated some great communication during these times. I am amazed at how much closer we become when we stop long enough to listen and talk to each other about our family and life. 

2. Prioritizing- There are 168 hours in a week. If you sleep 8 hours a day that leaves you 112. What are your priorities? You will either AGONIZE or PRIORITIZE! Joy and I finally realized we simply could not do everything. Prioritizing our values and time changed our lives. 

  • Everything cannot be a priority. You can’t have it all.
  • Everything should not be a priority. All things are not created equal.
  • Some activities and investments are more important than others.
  • Some activities and investments are more lasting than others.

3. Growth- Joy and I will celebrate twelve years of marriage at the end of December. Unlike many marriages, we did not start out well and we certainly were not growing in Christ or our marriage. Over the last five years however, we have seen our greatest growth. It was during this time Joy and I began intentionally setting goals for ourselves and family in the area of loving God, leading our family, and living the gospel. 

Here is a short explanation of each life sphere:

1. Love God- These goals should focus on spiritual disciplines, identifying idols, repentance, fruit, and community.

Mark 12:30 (ESV)
30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Spiritual Disciplines are a means of sanctification and our sanctification is the will of God. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 (ESV) 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification…As Christians we should set goals to read and memorize the Word, examine our lives, and pray earnestly. Without spiritual disciplines we will not grow in Christ-likeness and we will not deepen our love for God. 

Idols in our life are the primary reason we fail to love God. As you identify idols and demonstrate godly repentance, God graciously allows us to see fruit in our lives. How do you know you have truly repented of an idol? You will have a corresponding fruit! 

“If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol.” - Tim Keller

“We discover what our idols are by asking what gives our life meaning, worth, and value.” Scott Thomas

Part of loving God and Christ is loving the Church. Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is His Bride, Jesus loves His Bride. Part of loving God and growing in our relationship with Christ is loving His Church. Don't forget that corporate body life is a spiritual discipline, along with reading the Bible, praying, fasting, and scripture memorization. 

2. Lead Your Family- These goals should focus on your marriage, your role as a parent, managing finances, relationships in your immediate family, discipling your children, and your physical health. 

Deuteronomy 6:6–7 (ESV)
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Marriages are under attack and one of the most missional things we can do as christians is to model a Christ-honoring, covenant keeping marriage. Christ Centered marriages are endangered species in our culture. We can never discount the impact and witness this has to a lost world. Because marriage is so important and is a primary picture of God's love to the world, we must maintain our marriages at all cost. May it be your goal to have a marriage that thriving and not just surviving. 

Father's (head of household) are called to shepherd their family. This means you have to know, lead, feed, and protect your family. Every home should have goals for family worship and intentional discipleship that focuses on biblical manhood and womanhood. The Bible say's that children are like arrows; may we shape, sharpen, and send them for the glory of God!

3. Live The Gospel- These goals should focus on disciple making, personal evangelism and missional living. 

Matthew 28:19–20 (ESV)
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Mark 12:31 (ESV)
31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark Dever says, "If you tell me your a follower of Jesus and your not helping other people follow Jesus, I just don't know what you mean." If you are Christian you are called to make disciples, this is not optional. I cannot count how many christian men over 35 I have encountered that say one of two things: 1. I have never been discipled, 2. I have never discipled another person. What a tragedy! It should be the goal of every christian to be intentionally discipling others to follow after Christ. 

Personal evangelism is an intentional explanation of the Gospel and genuine appeal to repent and believe. Pray earnestly for God to cultivate a brokenness for lostness in your life and challenge yourself to be intentional about sharing the Gospel. Some of the greatest growth I have experienced in the area of personal evangelism has been when I am around someone who has a heart for the lost and is intentional about sharing the Gospel. Your faithfulness in this will impact others and advance the Kingdom of God. 

Missional living is where we embody the character of Christ and the mission of Christ through the Spirit of Christ, for the glory of Christ. We see the world through the eyes of Christ. Setting missional living goals will mean getting involved with the least of these. The broken, hurting, poor, abused, used, orphaned, and oppressed are not only around the world, they are across the street. Missional living is an intentional way to be the hands and feet of Jesus for the glory of God. 

Click here for an example of my Gospel Centered Life Plan from 2013 and some detailed notes on goal setting. 

Kingdom Families And Goal Setting (Part 1)

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Isaac and I were privileged watch a young man from our home town in MS play last week in the Dallas vs. New Orleans game. It was incredible to see the dreams and goals of a teenager I saw play high school football, achieved in a Dallas Cowboys uniform. And if you have never been in the Superdome, it is a surreal experience. Some of the greatest sporting events and athletes, were a part of what I grew up calling the "Sugar Bowl." The Stadium and our young NFL friend are a reminder of what it means to set goals and reach those goals.  

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Sadly, when our playing days are over and youth has passed us by, we stop reaching and striving in life. We get more settled and complacent, and become the very person, that lives vicariously through someone or in something else. It is easier to live off the goals and desires of others than give the sacrifice and discipline required to meet those goals. After years of apathy and the idea that we have very little to accomplish, setting goals in life are forgotten.

In our current culture of Gospel-Centeredness (which you will see I am all for below) achievement and goals are almost frowned upon. Some have co-opted a do-nothing, lazy, and passionless phrase "resting" or "trusting" in the Gospel for an active, courageous, and passionate biblical Gospel-Centeredness. Jonathan Edwards was known for his 70 resolutions, but his own words remind us that they were not by his strength or for his glory...

“Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake." -Jonathan Edwards

During the first week of December my family and I will take our annual goal setting and planning retreat. This year we are taking three days to reflect, repent, and refocus. Joy and I will reflect on our goals and plans from 2013 and set goals individually and as a family for 2014. This will be the fourth year we have made a commitment to set goals as a family, and to say it has changed our marriage and life would be an understatement. 

First, I want to encourage you to read a book that really transformed my thoughts about what it meant to love God, lead my family, and live the Gospel. The premise in this book has become the foundation and filter for so much of my life. It would be well worth your time to pick up a copy and read Gospel Coach by Scott Thomas and Tom Wood. 

Second, spend some time reflecting on how you are evaluating growth for yourself and your family. How do you measure what you can't manage? Is there a tangible way to see the fruit of the Gospel in your life and leadership? Paul talked about how the Gospel was productive, proficient, and powerful in the life of believers, Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,” -(Colossians 1:5–6, ESV)  If you are in Christ, you should be bearing and increasing in the fruit of the Gospel. In Part 2 of this series I will share practical ways to set goals and offers some tools to manage those goals. 

Living life with no goals, is like playing football with no end zone.
— Scott Thomas

Finally, make sure you don't confuse goal setting with performance. Goal setting should be Gospel-Centered. Your goals are not to define your value and worth, your identity is in Christ. If you are in Christ you are already approved, forgiven, and accepted. There is no way we can set a "goal" for God to love us any more than He already does. We do not perform our way into pleasing God. Personal and family goals are a way to grow in Christ and manifest His kingdom here on earth, in your life and the life of your family. Through Gospel-Centered goals we aim to display the rule and reign of Christ in and through our lives. 

The gospel-centered life is a life where a Christian experiences a growing personal reliance on the gospel that protects him from depending on his own religious performance and being seduced and overwhelmed by idols....Gospel-Centered People-They are driven by a love for Jesus and his work on our behalf. Gospel-centered people are focused on Jesus His Finished work, His Present Work, and His Future Work.
— Joe Thorn

What is a Kingdom Family?

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Joy and I have been discussing and praying about how we live intentionally as a kingdom family over the last year. In the New Testament Jesus speaks often about the kingdom of God (Heaven), it would seem that manifesting His kingdom should be a priority for my family. Not only does Jesus devote incredible amounts of teaching to the kingdom of God, the book of Acts opens and closes with teaching about the Kingdom of God. I have alway's said, the Gospels are "who to know" and Acts is about "what to do". 

He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the  kingdom of God.  - Acts 1:3

He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. -Acts 28:30-31

In the New Testament the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are one and the same concept. The two names are used interchangeably by Jesus Christ and the writers of the New Testament. The Lord’s Prayer itself makes this link. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven.” The Kingdom of God is the progressive implementation of God’s rule “on earth, as it is in heaven,” to be completed when He judges mankind finally into Heaven or Hell. It is the rule of Christ manifested on earth through the Church (believers) among all nations, who bring a portion of heaven (peace and joy) to earth by their rule and example of righteousness (ethics/worldview). The Kingdom of God is the new world-order brought about through the Gospel; Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. 

The kingdom means the reign of God in the lives of HIs people, enabling them to serve Him wholeheartedly and to live the kind of life Jesus died to give us. In other words, the kingdom of God, in its simplest form, is the reign of Jesus Christ as Lord and King in our lives. It is His Holy Spirt working in us, through us, and around us in such a way that we actually live and do the will of God.
— Gene Mims

The kingdom of God is both not yet and here now . Although it has been inaugurated with the advent of Jesus, it has yet to be consummated with the return of Jesus. We are living in the day of kingdom manifestation. Until the Lord Jesus returns we are living here on earth testifying to the reality of His kingdom in and through our lives.

Several years ago I was in Bethlehem teaching on the Incarnation of Christ. While there I was challenged by what it meant to manifest Christ and His kingdom on earth. As a believer, shouldn't every area of my life manifest Christ and His kingdom?

Absolutely yes! Our life should reflect the transforming work of the Gospel. It is the power of the Gospel through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that allows us to manifest His kingdom here on earth. With that as a background here is my definition of a kingdom family: 

A Kingdom Family embodies the character of Christ, intentionally lives out the mission of Christ, through the Spirit of Christ, for the glory of Christ; manifesting His kingdom here on earth. 

What a privilege we have as believers to be ambassador's for God's Kingdom here on earth. As we demonstrate Christ's rule and reign through our families we put the gospel on display for the world to see. 

 

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:20

Greetings NOLA!

The church at Antioch in Acts 13 reminds us that there is no greater kingdom testimony than intentionally participating in church planting. Through the faithfulness of one church and a few individuals the Gospel was rapidly advanced, people redeemed, and culture was impacted. For the last 9 years I have been privileged to plant and pastor a multiplying church.  During this time I have experienced first hand what God can do when we are willing to advance His Kingdom through planting churches, making disciples, and sending out missionaries. I am prayerful my background in planting and directing a church planting network will be an asset to planters already here and those who have yet come.

My journey to New Orleans has been incredible. I first came to New Orleans on a mission trip in 2000 with Mission Lab at NOBTS. I was leading a group of 52 students and we worked all week in the Florida Housing Project teaching VBS. That trip along with several others stirred my heart and gave me a passion for this city. After our first visit this summer, Joy and I left overwhelmed with the vision, passion, and partnership the local pastors communicated and expressed about the opportunity for planting. There is no doubt that God used the people we met here in NOLA as part of the confirmation for our move and new season of ministry with the North American Mission Board as the Send City Missionary for New Orleans.

I have already had the privilege to meet and visit some of the outstanding planters here in the city. Many of these men with their families are stepping out on faith and following God’s call to make disciples in a very hard and demanding context.  Because of our own personal experience and hardship in the early years of planting Joy and I have a heart for planters and their families. There is always a need to coach, minister, pray for and serve the families laboring in church planting and we are privileged to make this investment. We are praying already that they would love God, lead their family, and live the gospel.

There is no doubt the church planting context and culture here in New Orleans create a formidable barrier, but there is no stopping God’s Kingdom and there is nothing more powerful than the Gospel. With the current group of planters, established pastors and a growing network of supporting churches, there is real potential to see a church planting movement.  Joy, Isaac, Hannah-Ruth, Abigail, Jeremiah and I are blessed to be here!

Expanding God’s Kingdom,

George Ross

NAMB Send Missionary New Orleans