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! 

 

 

Tis The Season For a Moon Pie

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This past year Joy and I had the privilege of teaching missions at VBS. Each day we taught on a significant missionary. One of my favorite missionaries is Lottie Moon, who served in China for 39 years after the Civil War. On the day we taught about Lottie and her impact, we gave out over 120 Moon Pies! We reminded each class that every time they saw a Moon Pie they were to pray for and think about Lottie Moon. I know that sounds corny, but Joy and I had sooooo many parents stop us during the next week and share how their children recounted our teaching on Lottie Moon.

Traditionally December is the month where Southern Baptist take up the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. If you have not already prepared your church to do so, you still have time. The IMB has put together some great resources that can be found here. This offering goes directly to funding missionaries around the world.  

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Every December Joy and I take the opportunity in our home to teach about and celebrate the life of Lottie Moon. We intentionally teach our children about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and together as a family pray about what sacrificial amount we will give for this offering. I have close friends who serve overseas as missionaries, we talk about how this offering provides resources for their ministries and families. What better time to talk about Kingdom sacrificial giving than during Christmas, when we are often consumed with what we are getting. Joy and I want to encourage you to lead your family and your church to participate in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this December. 

Here are two great resources for learning more about Lottie Moon. Danny Akin's book, "The 10 Who Changed The World", and the Lottie Moon, "Heart of a Rebel" video. I love history and I especially love the history of Southern Baptists in missions. Our prayer for our children is that when they hear stories like Lottie Moon's, they will be motivated to live for the Kingdom. 

 In Judges we have a clear warning about what happen's when we forget to pass on history and truth…we forget.

   “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10, ESV)  

Don't forget this December is Tis The Season….to give to Lottie Moon:)

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