The Gospel and the Cultural Moment(s)

It seems that virtually every day there is a cultural event, even an act of horrific violence, that needs a pastoral response. Quite frankly, I struggle with what my role as your pastor should be in responding to such events. Should I take the time every Sunday to say something about racism, terror attacks, threat of nuclear war, etc…? Should I write an article and give my assessment of every cultural moment that we experience? I’m struggling with this.  I ask for your prayers that I can discern when and how to respond.

Though I’m wrestling with specific cultural events mentioned above, one thing is becoming crystal clear to me more and more every day.  The only solution to the problems of our world, the only thing that is worth commenting on and lauding everyday is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As the author of Hebrews implores us, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV)  Regardless of the chaos before us, we do have a daily mission before us as Jesus has called us in Matthew 24:14 – to spread the Gospel of Christ’s kingdom coming. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  (Matthew 24:14 ESV)

The Gospel really is the answer to everything.  The light of the Scriptures shines good news onto any and every situation or cultural moment that comes our way. What is the solution to racism? It is more Gospel – more preaching with crystal clarity that we are all made in God’s image and have inherent value as created beings.

What is the solution to hate? It is the more Gospel that teaches we are called to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31–32 ESV)

What is the solution to fear and terror? “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” (Ephesians 6:10 ESV)

What is to be our response to politics gone wild? “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1 ESV)  Yet this must be balanced with the Bible’s instruction to beware of those who would lead us astray (Matthew 24:11).

I heard someone say the other day, “The solution to our problems is not necessarily a Bible verse.” I disagree with this sentiment. Certainly, not one single Bible verse fixes all our problems and solves all the issues of the world; however, there is abundant wisdom from God that teaches us how to live, how to think and how to respond to our cultural moments. Here are a few:

  • “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, 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, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2 ESV)
  • “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 ESV)
  • “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV)

May God help us to think more of Christ and His Gospel. May God help us to think Biblically about our cultural moments. May God strengthen us so that we may stand firm in Him.



“There are so many people trying to diagnose the human situation; and they come to the conclusion that man is sick, man is unhappy, man is a the victim of circumstances. They believe therefore that his primary need is to have these things dealt with, that he must be delivered from them. But I suggest that that is too superficial a diagnosis of the condition of man, and that man’s real trouble is that he is a rebel against God and consequently under the wrath of God.” ~ D. Martin Llyod-Jones (Preaching and Preachers, p.38)

A New Journey for the Shirleys

Dear Friends,

Below is a letter that went out to my congregation over a week ago.  I wanted to share it here as well as update that I have accepted a call to be the first pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, AL.

Dear Highlands Family,

It is with mixed emotions that I write this letter to you.  After much prayer and consideration the Lord has shown Laura and me that He is calling our family to walk with Him on a new journey.  It will be ten years this spring that I have served at Highlands in various ministry capacities. During this time, Laura and I have been tremendously blessed as we have grown in our love for the Lord and for you.  Also during this time we were blessed with four children all of whom are covenant children of our sweet congregation.  We are so thankful for how you have helped disciple and nurture our children and lead them to a deeper love of their Savior.  What a blessing it has been for us to serve in a church that truly has been our family.

As it stands now, I have been selected as the nominee by the Search Committee and Session of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, AL to be their pastor. On Sunday, January 19th the congregation will vote to extend me a call, and Lord willing, I will appear before the Providence Presbytery in North Alabama for transfer on Tuesday, February 11th.

This is a big step of faith for the Shirleys. We are very saddened to leave Highlands, a church that we call home and a place where our dearest friends are. However, we are sensitive to the Lord’s leading and we know that He is calling us to be a part of His kingdom work in Huntsville.  Cornerstone is a sweet congregation that I hope and pray will have deep bonds with Highlands.

One of the greatest joys of my time at Highlands has been serving with such a wonderful and gifted staff which makes it more difficult to leave. We are praying for Highlands, for her future and her ministry.  Please pray for us as we transition to Huntsville in late February to early March.  We look forward to fellowship with you in our remaining time in Mississippi.  May God bless you and your family.


He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:24, ESV)


By His grace and to His praise,



I have the privilege of being one of the preaching and teaching pastors at Highlands Presbyterian Church. I love it! I sometimes can’t believe I get to do this for a living.  One of the teaching opportunities that I get to have is the privilege of equipping parents to disciple their children according to the principles laid out in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  This Fall I will be teaching a six-week class called PARENT UNIVERSITY.  Please don’t be wowed by the name because I borrowed it from my dear friends at Perimeter Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

This class is designed for parents of teens and pre-teens. During our time together we will learn to help navigate your teen in today’s culture through this six-week class.  We will deal biblically and intentionally with topics like:

  • Should I let my child date?
  • How do I know if my child is a Christian?
  • How do I parent in this “high-tech” world?
  • Am I doing everything to protect my child from pornography?
  • And other challenges that parents face during the teen years.

I believe, as my friend Paul David Tripp wrote, that the teenage years are not years for parents to just survive – but to thrive. The teenage years are an age of opportunity.  Please join me.

From a Father to a Son: Proverbs 1

The book of Proverbs is a discipleship manual for parenting. Here are some key instructions from a father to a son from Proverbs 1.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7, ESV)

Get wisdom! Heed instruction from the LORD! (v.7)

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:29-33, ESV)

Son, if you choose to hate knowledge and to despise the fear of the LORD, you will be destroyed by your sin. This destruction will come by going your own way and not the LORD’s way.  Listen to the LORD’s instruction and you will be secure on a firm foundation. (vv.29-33)


But if justification is a declaration of a God who never changes, it is as secure as God is faithful. Salvation was accomplished in the past, is experienced in the present, and guaranteed in the future. Because it was not earned, it cannot be unearned. Because it was not deserved, it cannot be undeserved. Our justification [salvation in Christ] is a past event, anchored in eternity, accomplished at the cross, declared in time, presently possessed, and which cannot be lost.


Quote from Terry L. Johnson, The Case for Traditional Protestantism: The Solas of the Reformation

Teaching My Children to Pray

One of the most over-whelming yet joyful responsibilities we have as parents is teaching our children how to pray.  I suspect that most parents struggle at teaching their children to pray because they themselves feel that they are not very good at praying.  I know I’ve felt this way and hey, I’m a pastor! I mean I’m the guy at all the family functions that has to say the blessing because “it’s my job.”

But I’m hear to tell you that consistent, daily, simple prayer with your children is one of the most profound things you can do to impact your child’s heart.  Just the other day one of my children asked if he could say the blessing at our evening meal.  I was glad to let him take leadership in doing this (after all, I’m trying to teach him how to lead a family one day).  I was moved by his prayer.  I was encouraging to see how he was able to articulate grace and thanksgiving all in a few sentences.  That evening it was his turn to pray for whatever was on his heart and some other requests that were made.  Again, I was blessed by the heart of his prayer.  Thank you Lord that from the “mouths of babes” you teach us and declare Your praise!

What was so encouraging about his prayers were not just that he was able to articulate praise and thanksgiving – it was that we believe he was truly praying out of a converted heart.  This is only something that God the Spirit can do and we are thankful for that.

As I have reflected on his prayers I realized that he did not learn this over night. He learned it in several different ways:

  1. He learned it from his parents.  When Ephesians 6:4 says that parents are to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord this certainly includes prayer.  How do parents train their children to pray?  Is their a curriculum? Do they have to take a special class on prayer at church? NO! Parents teach their children to pray by simply praying with them.  It is that simple. Pray with your children.  If this is overwhelming to you, start by saying simple blessings at meal times, then move on to a season of prayer with your children before bed. The important thing to do is to do it. Give them a chance to pray and show them how to do it.
  2. He learned it from his Sunday School teachers.  I’m very thankful to work and belong to a Bible-believing, Gospel-loving church. Because of this blessing our children are around godly men and women teaching them the scriptures and teaching them how to pray. I’m thankful to those at church that pour time, energy, and love into my children to help disciple them. In the matter of prayer, my children have learned to pray because they have had the benefit of other dear believers pouring into their lives and modeling prayer for them. Do your children have this added blessing each week of being involved in a Sunday School?
  3. He learned it from school.  I’m not advocating any form of schooling for your family, that is up to each individual family, but my children have the blessing of attending a Christian school. This school is not only Christian by name but Christian in practice. What I mean by this is that everything the school does is intentional in pointing them to Christ. Part of this intentionality is prayer. Everything they do at the school is covered in prayer. Think about this, every day, before my child begins an activity or a lesson, they begin with prayer. Again, I’m thankful that while I’m away from my children, I know they are being prayed for and are seeing prayer modeled by their teachers. Maybe your child is not at a Christian school, how can prayer be cultivated throughout the day in their life? I’m thankful for the youth workers at my church who 3-4 times a week lead students in prayer over a prayer breakfast at a local eatery before school. Maybe you could think of something like that for your child.
  4. He learned it from worship. It’s the age-old debate of when should our children join us in worship. I’m not here to bind any families conscience on this matter but certainly when your child is old enough to follow your instruction and sit still for at least 30 minutes, they should join you in corporate worship. Bible-based corporate worship should consist of regular, God-centered prayers. At our church there are at least 3 key prayers through the service from different pastors and leaders. I want my child to hear these prayers. By watching, listening, and participating in corporate worship my child has been exposed to Christ-exalting prayer that I know are changing and cultivating his heart – thereby teaching him how to pray. Is it time for your child to join you in a worship service to pray with other believers?
  5. He learned it from his church family. Much of what I have just written explains this point but learning to pray is not all about programs at church. You see our church family is much like our real family. We do life with these people. Our kids interact with each other outside the church walls. My wife and I made a covenant to assist these families in raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Likewise these families have covenanted to do the same with my children. Therefore I want my children around these families because they are being prayed for and prayed over. Do your children have other families that are praying with and for them?
May the Father help us as we as parents impress the holy religion of Jesus Christ upon their hearts.
[5] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [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.

(Deuteronomy 6:5-7 ESV)


A New Favorite

For years I have been a huge proponent of Sally Lloyd-Jones work The Jesus Storybook Bible, and now her new work, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing is another to add to my recommended list of resources for families.

I just finished previewing the book and here are some of my initials thoughts:

  • This book would be GREAT for children learning to do a personal devotion with God on their own.
  • This book would be a GREAT supplement to family devotions – perhaps a quick “thought” to read at breakfast before everyone goes their separate ways for the day.
  • Great tool to use one-on-one with a child – perhaps during “man-time” with your son or a daddy/daughter date.
  • This books is perfect for the family that wants to spend more time talking about God’s Word and discussing the magnificent truths and promises of the Bible.

I highly encourage you to pick up a copy.

Halloween and the Reformation

I had a parent ask me a great question today that I want to post to you:

Is there a good book that would explain the Presbyterian beliefs on Reformation versus Halloween?  I want to be able to discuss with the kids and have some true facts that make sense. Wikipedia has a lot of information, much to sort through and try to make basic sense of.  What do you suggest?


I’m glad you asked!  Great question!  No books that I’m aware of but some good articles and other resources:

Hope this helps!