Author: joshuapegram

Christian. Husband. Dad. Pastor. Son. Brother. Friend. I root for Braves Baseball, Clemson Football, and Duke Basketball, and I'm a big fan of sweet tea and cookies dunked in milk.

Responding to Political Turmoil

1. Model humble repentance.
Christians should be humbly honest about our sin. There’s too much handwringing over the state of our nation and too little honest examination of how the church has drifted from submission to God’s Word as supreme. We scream across the fence about the rusty car in our neighbor’s backyard while the ceiling in our kitchen is caving in. We tend to feel more in common with non-Christians who share our politics than with fellow Christians who view this political moment differently than we do. While Christians decry identity politics, far too many of us identify by our politics. 

2. Anchor your identity in Christ, and don’t let go.
Identity is a struggle for all of us at some point, and identity is a combination of who we are and our framework for understanding who we are. A person who succeeds in almost every area of life yet has a failed marriage can feel like a failure—because his identity is anchored in his family. Alternatively someone who fails in almost every area of life—dad, husband, church member, friend—yet succeeds at work can feel fulfilled because he identifies with his work. A right orientation to life comes from being rightly oriented to God through Jesus Christ. We must identify ourselves primarily as children of God through Jesus Christ. The gospel becomes the primary orienting reality in our lives because we’re children of God loved by a Heavenly Father, declared righteous through the perfectly lived life and sacrificial death of Christ.  

3. Lean into the faithfulness of Christ, and pray.
Hebrews 4 tells us how to approach God: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens … Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. When we lean into the faithfulness of Christ, we can be bold, even fearless. We can grab ahold of the legs of our Heavenly Father and plead with him. And he will hear us, because Jesus has gone before us.

4. Commit to grace-fueled, white-hot spirituality.
The so-called casual Christian is increasingly just a non-Christian. In my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, people walked away from Jesus’ church but said they still knew Jesus. My generation doesn’t even pretend to hold onto Jesus. The cultural Christianity of our parents has given birth to non-Christians—what statisticians call the “nones.” I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:1–2). Pursue God with your whole heart and life. The greatest threat to our world isn’t a virus or a political party. It’s that millions of people are dying and entering an eternity in hell without Christ. And our most urgent mission is people filled with the good news of Jesus telling the people going to hell that they don’t have to. 

5. Remember the King of kings still reigns!
No matter who the president is, we know who our King is. And he is King of kings and Lord of lords.

  • Proverbs 21:1: Our God holds the king’s heart in his hand.
  • Isaiah 45:7: Our God forms light and creates darkness.
  • Job 42:2: Our God can do all things, and no purpose of his can be thwarted.
  • Lamentations 3:37: Our God speaks, and it comes to pass, and it can’t come to pass, unless he commands it. 
  • Colossians 1:17: Our God is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
  • Revelation 19:11–16: Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True … His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many crowns … On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Our God is the eternal king. Our King reigns, and our King is coming back!

Conversations in Mentoring

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This is a (long overdue) follow up to the post “Rhythms from Mentors.” John and Doc took an interest in me early in ministry and greatly influenced the years ahead. Both engaged in formal and informal mentoring that blended into diverse areas of life. This post highlights some characteristics that made their mentoring effective.

Regular conversations
Both men established a regular rhythm of meeting with me. It was occasionally weekly but more often monthly. Their lives were full (as was mine), but both made an effort to connect regularly. The regular connection allowed us to build trust and a depth of relationship that enabled meaningful, “rubber-meets-the-road” conversations.

Direct communication
Neither John nor Doc is a “beat around the bush” kind of a guy. Both men lay their cards on the table; you don’t have to wonder what they’re thinking. There’s no pretense in their interpersonal relationships, and both men are willing to be direct. Maybe it was the maturity of their years (both have a few decades on me), but neither was hasty or impatient while being direct. Clarity is a high value for me—so I thrived in an environment where both men had the courage to offer direct feedback. Passive-aggressive is no way to go. John and Doc modeled good conflict and healthy, direct communication.

Loving correction
A “woodshed” conversation is when you get taken to the proverbial woodshed for correction/discipline. A good woodshed conversation is correction done in love. John and Doc excelled in loving correction. As you can deduce from the previous paragraph, both men had woodshed conversations with me. Doc coached me in administrative leadership: “Make a decision. If it’s wrong, fix it.” John once took me to lunch and gently but directly told me, “I’ve never met someone with so many strong opinions about so many things. You need to learn to sit back and listen.” His loving feedback that first year in pastoral ministry enabled me to grow in patience, humility, and maturity … though life keeps teaching me I have a long way to go.

Confident risk-taking
You can’t have tough conversations if you’re insecure about the relationship. John and Doc were secure enough to be lovingly direct without worrying about what I thought of them. If they’d related to me out of a hope that I’d like them or approve of their leadership, I’d have lost much of the benefit of their loving correction. I’ve thanked both men over the years for their investment in me—particularly their willingness to risk the relationship for the sake of loving correction. They weren’t afraid of losing the relationship, and that somehow made the relationship more secure and their love more evident.

Kind affirmation
Neither John nor Doc is a man of many words. Yet both have taken time over the years to demonstrate their desire for an ongoing relationship. They’ve affirmed personal growth, encouraged me, and prayed for me and my family. They’ve always taken an interest in me as a person, not a project. While both men are a number of years my senior, they relate to me as a peer. Some mentors are “hey-let-me-take-you-under-my-wing, little guy” kind of mentors while others are “pull-up-a-seat-at-the-table, young gun” kind of mentors. John and Doc were the latter, and that has been such a gift. They gave me the freedom to make mistakes and lovingly came alongside me when I needed help.

Trustworthy friendship
John and Doc are just downright consistent people. You know what you’re going to get from them. Though I in no way deserve to be their peer—I am far their inferior in maturity, wisdom, learning, age, etc.—they have welcomed me as a friend. And it’s not only I who am the beneficiary of their friendship. Each placed I’ve served has gotten to enjoy my being a *little* less of a knucklehead because of their influence.

A Prayer for Today

Father, our world is broken, and we’ve proven time and time again that we’re unable to fix it ourselves. We weep with those who weep and hurt with those who are hurting. We pray for peace and justice for the family of George Floyd, and we pray for peace and justice in communities of color. These protests are an expression of pain. Help us respond with appropriate repentance—individually and corporately.

We also pray for justice for all lawlessness, and for the restoration of property and the peace of our cities. And we ask for the peace and protection of law enforcement, national guard, and other folks who are placing their lives on the line to stem the tide of evil. Would you give government officials wisdom to balance the need for justice, security, due process, and freedom of speech?

We intercede for African American members of our congregation that you would grant them peace of mind and grace in Christ. For men, women, and families who put their lives on the line each day in service—that you will give them courage and wisdom. These are such perilous times.

And, Lord, may the church of Christ be a beacon of repentance, hope, and love, and a model for the kind of courageous peace and unity that we see in your Word. May our lives be marked by clear, compelling love for each other and the community around us. And give us opportunities to speak the hope of the gospel into the darkness around us. We ask that you would bring people into the family of God in this time of chaos.

Jesus, you are a Man of Sorrows, well acquainted with grief, and today is a reminder of that grief. You were broken, so that we might be whole; your blood was shed so we might be forgiven. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus the Savior who rose to conquer sin, death, and hell. Amen.

Rhythms from Mentors

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John and Doc (see “Mentors“) had distinctive patterns in their relationship with me. Both engaged in formal and informal mentoring that blended into diverse areas of life. They demonstrated interest in my family and in me personally, outside the projects we worked on together.

Time together with John and Doc generally looked like lunch together, a cup of coffee, a “third place” of some sort. Neither ever made reference to the fact that he was mentoring me or taking me under his wing. I don’t think I was ever able to pay for my own meal (even when I’d insist), and both men were generous with their time and money to a fault.

Learning with John centered around conversation and reading—especially books and articles. John had us reading a book per month on leadership, management, and finance. Leadership and management learning has been a lifelong (adult) pursuit of mine, but my rate of reading definitely trended up as a result of John’s influence. John still sends articles and food for thought every week. Our reading together was occasionally Christian but was more often common grace wisdom that we embraced together from a Christian perspective.

Doc’s and my relationship grew as a result of several key projects we worked on together. I learned the importance of strategic intentionality and willingness to proceed on a course of action, even if it’s difficult or unpopular—as long as it was a wise course of action. We approached a bloated, outdated ministry program together and were tasked with bringing it into health and sustainability. Doc designed an excellent tool that helped us evaluate decisions and make them about the process and health of the organization as a whole, rather than personalities.

Both men combined a unique love for people with a direct style of communication. We’ll next examine what made their communication so effective.

 

Mentors

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Mentors. Everybody needs one. Smart people want one. Wise people know they’re hard to come by.

God has blessed me with good friends and mentors throughout my life. My dad was my first consistent mentor, and no one’s filled the gaping hole created by his passing in 2005. Yet God has graciously and consistently brought men into my life at each step along the way. Sometimes those men have been peers who have become close friends, but others have been older … more seasoned … men who have been close friends too.

Two of these “seasoned” men—Doc and John—played a vital role in my early ministry that continues to impact my life today. I refer to one or both of them regularly in conversations with other people, though it’s been several years since we’ve been able to spend much time together, due to geographical distance. Neither spent the bulk of his life in pastoral ministry (one was primarily in education, the other in finance), yet both exercised remarkable influence in my growth and development as a person, as a Christian, and as a pastor. Since both men turned 80 in the past year, I’ve recently begun reflecting on mortality and how fast relationships go.

John’s and Doc’s relationship with me didn’t exactly mirror each other’s. Yet both demonstrated consistent initiative in seeking a relationship with me. I try to reach out to them periodically to say thank you, but that’s a rather paltry way to attempt to repay such a debt. So I wanted to take a chance to reflect on their impact and what made them so influential in my life.

Having a mentor isn’t as simple as looking for one, and being a mentor isn’t as simple as trying to be one. So I’d like reflect on the legacies of these two men over the next few weeks and see what lessons we might be able to draw from them. Maybe God will use their lives to encourage someone else.

 

Transitions: Our Family’s Future

BannerIt’s been some time since I’ve blogged at all, let alone share any updates. Life has been a bit on the crazy side, and it’s been difficult to do anything beyond what I must do each day.

Since June of 2014, our family has ministered at Morning Star Church in Rockford, IL, where I’ve served as lead pastor. It has been an amazing joy to serve the Lord in Rockford. Hebrews 13:17 tells the church to allow leaders to serve with joy, not with groaning. Serving at Morning Star has been so much joy. What an amazing gift.

Some of our favorite things about Rockford:

  • Morning Star Church (it’s hard to put into words what a gift Morning Star has been to us)
  • The people (such a welcoming community, and we’ve made such dear friends inside and outside our church family)
  • Our home (God gave us a beautiful home in an amazing neighborhood, right by the Rock River)
  • Anderson Japanese Gardens (a Rockford gem)
  • Beef-a-Roo (if you don’t know Rockford, you won’t get it, but just trust us)

Yesterday was our final day at Morning Star. We are headed to serve at Ashley River Baptist Church in Charleston, SC, where I’ll be senior pastor. The Lord has answered so many specific prayers and directed in remarkable ways to bring us to this point. We are so thankful for the Lord’s leading and pumped to serve in a congregation and community to which God has so clearly led us. He’s already begun to give us good relationships there and answered our prayers for a home that would allow our family to love and serve our church and community. Ashley River, we’re thankful for you and looking forward to serving together.

So, Rockford, goodbye. It has been sweet. Charleston, look out—here we come!

Photo Credit: Figment Photography

Tips for Engaging Family Worship

What are some things you can do to get and keep your family engaged?

Build on Your Corporate Worship
Use the worship of your local church as a way to connect family worship to your weekly corporate worship. The weekly sermon passage can make a great starting point for Bible reading. You can either prepare for the upcoming Sunday or read and remember the text from last Sunday. Family worship is a great time to teach your family to sing, to sit still (start small!), and pray together.

Keep It Brief
Gyms are full on January 1 each year. By February 1? Not so much. Don’t make the mistake of trying to get too big or too serious. Take just a few minutes to read and pray together. Five minutes five days a week is 1300 minutes at the end of a year. 10 minutes? Double the fun. You get the idea—don’t make it long and laborious. Conscientious people may unwittingly teach their children to dread something that doesn’t have to be dreadful. If your kids are young, keep in mind that they have a short attention span. If they’re older, work to make family worship a refreshing time, not an overwhelming burden that sits like a brick in their stomachs when they hear it’s time to get together.

Mix It Up
Work hard to find things to keep family worship interesting. Mix things up from time to time. Get creative. Have your kids act out a Bible story—or have mom and dad act it out! Draw something to illustrate what you’re reading. Ask questions, and seek to be as interactive as possible. Talk about life, and then connect life to what you’re reading, singing, and praying about.

Know Your Family
Every family is different, and every kid in every family is different. For that matter, each child is different at different stages of life. Ask God for wisdom, don’t make it too much of a burden, and throw yourself into it! It helps to find a time when you’re already together (family meals, the beginning of the day, or the end of the day). “Baby steps” is the name of the game. The fruit is worth it in the end.

Trust the Lord
No matter how much time and intentionality you give to leading your family, you’ll find that you fail … a lot. In those moments, let these words encourage you to trust that God’s grace is big enough for your failures: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Then get back up and give it another shot!

The Content of Family Worship

What kinds of things should you do to lead your family in worship at home? Hopefully, you attend a good church that models what Christ-centered worship looks like. In many ways, worship at home simply builds off of what your church does and works it out in a way that works for your family at home.

Bible
Read the Bible—one person (or more) reading aloud. When you read Scripture together, it gets God’s words into your ears and hearts. When you build worship around the Word, it ensures that God’s wisdom, not merely some good ideas that you (or others) might have, is guiding you. This can also be a good time to memorize Scripture together, talk about the Word, and see it seep down into the hearts of your family.

Prayer
Take some time to pray together. Perhaps you could pray for particular things on particular days of the week. For example, you could pray for extended family on Mondays, church family on Tuesday, friends on Wednesdays, etc. There may be some requests or people that you pray for every day. Have your kids take turns praying too. This is a great time to teach them to thank God, praise God, and confess sin to God. As you pray, you can model how to pray and then give your kids a chance to pray in a comfortable setting. This will help them in their personal prayer life and also aid them as they have opportunities to pray with and for others.

Songs
Singing together can be the most engaging (and fun!) part of family worship. Use this as an opportunity to teach your children to sing and to sing good hymns and songs. As a teacher used to tell me, “Things learned in song are remembered long.” This is a great way to prepare your kids to worship in church too, as they can learn “church songs” even before they can read. Let kids choose a favorite song to have the family sing, and it will give you a chance to learn which hymns really connect with them and also a good opportunity to sing children’s songs—which can have great truth for adults too.

Books
There are a number of good devotional books designed for family use. Some are children’s story Bibles for young children, while others are for older children. We’ve used various family devotional books from time to time, although we also like to use the Bible itself. If you have multiple kids, try to find something that engages children of different ages. It’s ok to mix it up, to roll with what works well at one stage, and then move on to something that works well for a different stage of life.

Benefits of Family Worship

Though it can be difficult to make family worship happen, it’s worth the effort. Consider the following benefits of taking a few minutes to worship together in your home.

Discipleship
One of the greatest benefits of family worship is discipleship that happens in the home. “Discipleship” is simply helping someone take one step closer to Jesus. When parents take the time to read the Bible and pray with each other and with their kids, they’re modeling (in a small way) what it looks like to help someone follow Jesus. Not only is this great for your family, it’s also a helpful model for understanding how to disciple someone that’s not in your family!

Family unity
With life today being scheduled so full and often being chaotic, it’s good to have a time when the family sits down and spends time together face-to-face—no phones, no TV, no screens at all. While it may feel awkward at first, this time and effort will lead to a greater sense of togetherness, as you learn to enjoy spending time together in the Word—and it may spill over into other areas of life as well.

Memories
One day, you’ll be left with memories of today. Time spent in family worship is one of the most valuable memories to enjoy and pass on to your children. Beyond the good feelings of having good memories, these times together will form a foundation for your children to appreciate the value of the Word and prayer in their own lives and in the lives of their future relationships.

Worship as the center of life
Discipleship is all about calling people from every corner of the globe to worship Jesus. Worshiping the Triune God is the point of our existence, and discipleship is all about calling each other to engage in true worship. By making family worship a central part of life in your home, you’re living out the ultimate point of our existence:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

(Revelation 5:13)

What the Bible Says about Family Worship

While it might seem like a given that families should pursue Christ together at home, it’s also easy to dismiss an idea like this as too burdensome. But not only is family worship at home a good idea, it’s commanded and modeled in Scripture.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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. 

It doesn’t get a whole lot clearer than this, does it? Teach your children at home, when you’re out, when it’s bedtime, and when it’s time to get up.

Psalm 78
Tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

This psalm highlights the importance of family worship by telling us again that it’s commanded for parents to teach children, and it’s through parents teaching children that the next generation learns about God’s greatness.

2 Timothy 1:5
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Paul tells us about the important role that Timothy’s mom and grandmother played in leading him to Christ. The faithfulness of parents and grandparents plays a vital role in passing on the faith to succeeding generations.

Conclusion
These are just three texts of many in Scripture that highlight the importance of passing on our faith to others. In these instances, the ones receiving the benefits are children in the home of believing parents. If you don’t have kids, you could pass along your faith to someone else—your spouse or some friends:  What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).