Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Year to Remember

2011 is a year we’ll always remember. It was filled with the many joys and struggles of this life. We laughed, went to ER, cried, went to ER, travelled, went to ER, and through it all grew “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18)!
Here are some of this year’s highlights… 

Abigail. Our third child, Abigail Adelle Jones, was born on February 10, 2011. She is cuddly and playful and such a sweetheart. She cut her first two teeth at 3 1/2 months, and now at ten months she has 14 teeth! Just like her Grandpa.

 Abby was born right on time, after teasing us with 16 weeks of false labor. The delivery went quite smoothly. But unbeknownst to us, a small piece of placenta was not expelled from Natalie’s uterus. Which leads us to our next memory...

Hospitals. After delivery, Natalie endured severe cramping and heavy bleeding for five hours. It took a D&C, four units of blood, four days in the hospital, and a lot of prayer to nurse her back to health. She had intermittent cramping and bleeding for another five weeks until a second D&C that removed more embedded placental tissue.

Before she was born, doctors noticed that Abigail had a kidney condition called hydronephrosis (fluid on the kidney). At first we weren’t sure if she would lose her right kidney altogether, but further testing revealed only a small defect where the ureter and kidney attach. A repair surgery took place in September at Loma Linda (where Dylan had his heart surgery in 2007). It went very well...until that night when Abby had internal bleeding.

What should have been an overnight stay turned into almost a weeklong stay with time in ICU. But again, God was kind to give us excellent doctors and nurses who knew just how to help. And He gave Mommy and Daddy the strength to endure. Once over that hump, she’s been doing great! We’ll get an ultrasound done in January, and follow-ups as she grows older, but it appears at this point that she is doing just fine and should have two perfectly healthy kidneys. Praise God!

In August, Natalie began to experience chest pains. It felt like a heart attack but, thankfully, turned out to be a gall stone attack. She had emergency surgery to remove the gall bladder, but then did not recover well. Her blood pressure dropped and she had internal bleeding. (Which, by the way, the Lord healed. When the doctor took her back into surgery the next day, he saw the old blood, but found no new bleeding. It stopped even before the doctor got inside!) Natalie’s mom stayed for a full month to help with kids and chores while Natalie regained her strength. Stephen’s mom also came to help after Abby’s surgery. Thank you, family, for your sacrifice this year!

From September 2010 through October 2011 we counted ten ER visits for our family, four operations for Natalie, one operation for Abigail, and constant doctor visits and intense moments. We’re very thankful for a window of rest the past couple months! But we’re also thankful for the trials God brought us through and the lessons He taught us. We’ve never felt so helpless, so dependent on God, so thankful for His love, and so mindful of the power of prayer. Thank you all who served us and prayed for us this year.

Arizona. 2011 was not all drama. We enjoyed some fun moments too. In June, we rented a house along with Stephen’s parents in Flagstaff, AZ for a week. This was such a great way to meet up with them. We spent a full day at the Grand Canyon, visited some caverns, and got to look at the sun and Saturn through special telescopes at the Lowell Observatory.

On departure, our family headed south to Phoenix and the Southern Baptist Convention. The kids had a blast riding the light rail train each day to the Convention Center!

Family. On July 15th, we celebrated 11 years of marriage by heading up the Palm Springs Tram for dinner and a hike in the gorgeous mountain scenery. Thank you, Lord, for best friends in each other!

Heidi turned three on February 20th. (She still talks about her princess birthday cake!) Dylan turned six on November 17 and started first grade this fall. He is reading well and really enjoys science. Natalie is teaching the kids at home and does a great job. Dylan recently lost his fourth tooth, just in time to sing All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth!

Camping. In August, Stephen took the older kids camping for two nights in Idyllwild. Heidi was so excited to go this year! They arrived late, so they had to scramble to find a good site and set up camp in the dark. When they awoke in the morning, they discovered a rock nearby that the kids loved climbing on. With a little imagination, that rock became a pirate ship, a castle, and a hideout for bad guys.

Ministry. This was an encouraging year as we saw the Lord work in many lives. More and more families are coming to the church and getting involved. We had good attendance at VBS with two girls accepting Christ. We also did outreach at a local parade, a fair booth, a car show, at Halloween, and by donating money to our local high school to help renovate their faculty lounge.

We shared the gospel with many visitors at our Christmas service, and Stephen had the opportunity to lead a man to Christ just a few weeks ago. We also enjoyed many guest missionaries this year including Mikko Sivonen, Tim Kunkel, Philippe Viguier, and Jeff Thomas.

Stephen had the opportunity to serve on the California Southern Baptist Focus 21 Task Force. He also enjoyed teaching as a Course Administrator for The Master’s College Online program and as an Adjunct Professor at California Baptist University.

We were blessed by the group Majesty from The Master’s College who came out to sing in October. Plus they were able to stay a few extra days and help paint our sanctuary, hallway, remodel Stephen’s church office, organize the library, and help with outreach. They were a tremendous encouragement!

God provided for us to re-roof our sanctuary before the winter rains arrive. This was an enormous amount of money for our little church. Several times, money came from people we didn’t even know and once from over a hundred miles away. Praise God!

Yes, it’s been quite a year. But we serve quite a God --One who promises never to give us more than we can handle with His Spirit, His Word, and loving friends like all of you. We love and pray for you. Happy New Year!

Stephen, Natalie, Dylan, Heidi, & Abigail Jones

Friday, December 23, 2011

Books, books, books

It’s hard to overstate the importance of books in the Christian life. C.J. Mahaney shares how his salvation and a love for reading went hand-in-hand:
“Before that evening when Bob told me the gospel, I literally knew nothing of God or His Word. I’d never cracked open a Bible. But from the day of my conversion I couldn’t get enough of Scripture or Christian books. Not long after my conversion, I got a job at a Christian bookstore just so I could read as much as possible” (Living the Cross-Centered Life, p. 148).

Donald Whitney observes, “I’ve always found it to be true that growing Christians are reading Christians. For some it’s a habit they find hard to develop…But let me encourage you to find some time to read anyway, even if it’s no more than one page per day and one book per year” (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, p. 221).

Here’s a list of books I read in 2011. Some were deeply convicting or comforting; others were purely amusing and relaxing.

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Kindle Edition by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (in progress)

The Bible by God (I’m currently reading through the New Testament)

The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha

“But God…”: The Two Words at the Heart of the Gospel by Casey Lute

The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck, Kevin Balfe and Jason Wright

Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life by Jimmy Davis

Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding by Joel Beeke (in progress)

The Evangelicals: What They Believe, Where They Are, and Their Politics by Christopher Catherwood

Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure by Craig Robinson

Heaven Revealed: What is it Like? What will we Do? … And 11 Other Things You’ve Wondered About by Paul Enns

How to Meet the Enemy: Arming Yourself for Spiritual Warfare by John MacArthur (in progress)

Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design by Tad Thompson

Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin by Brian Hedges

Living by God’s Promises by Joel Beeke (a couple chapters)

Navajo Code Talkers by Nathan Aaseng

The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion by Tim Challies

Presentations in Action: 80 Memorable Presentation Lessons from the Masters by Jerry Weismann

The Organized Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Conquering Chaos by Staci Eastin

Pujols: More than the Game by Scott Lamb & Tim Ellsworth

Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys who are Sick of Porn by Tim Challies

The Sword: A Novel by Bryan Liftin (just started this one)

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges

What Every Body is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People by Joe Navarro

What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (in progress)

Each of these books had a unique role to play and shaped my thinking in new areas. It’s hard to know which influenced me the most. Apart from the bible, I think it’s a three-way tie between A Praying Life, Trusting God, and Heaven Revealed. All of them ministered to me deeply as my family went through so much suffering this year. They really became dear friends that brought comfort and food to my soul, and helped me better care for my wife and others.

So what have you been reading lately? What was your “Book of the Year”? Do you have any books you plan to read in 2012?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A fickle crowd?

It seems funny to bring up Palm Sunday just a few days before Christmas. But a student in one of my classes recently asked a great question about the crowd on Palm Sunday versus Good Friday:

"I read a blog post by Kevin DeYoung that argued that it was two different groups of people. The ones shouting "Hosanna" were Galilean pilgrims and the ones shouting "Crucify Him" were the Jerusalem crowd. What are your thoughts on this?"

Here was my reply:

You've raised a really interesting question about the crowd in Jerusalem during the Passion Week. David Hazard vividly captures the traditional view:

In all probability, the same people who shouted "Crucify Him!" were still hoarse from shouting, "Hosanna!" ("Seeing More of God," Discipleship Journal, Jan-Feb 1995, p. )

But many scholars, as Kevin DeYoung pointed out, dispute this fact. Thus R. T. France writes,

The location is still outside Jerusalem (v. 1), and Jesus will not in fact enter the city until v. 11. The traditional description of this scene as the ‘Triumphal Entry’ is therefore inaccurate: it describes Jesus’ approach to the city, not his entry. The shouting crowd are therefore the pilgrim group to whom we have already been introduced, and Mark puts their identity beyond doubt by using the phrase οἱ προάγοντες καὶ οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες (v. 9). This is not yet, then, the Jerusalem crowd, but the pilgrims, probably mostly like Jesus Galileans, who are accompanying him and his disciples to the city for the festival. (See on 15:40–41 for some comments on the composition of this crowd.) They are already predisposed, after the event at Jericho, to favour Jesus and to echo Bartimaeus’ evaluation of him as υἱὸς Δαυίδ. Those who react with enthusiasm to the arrival of the Galilean Messiah are thus Jesus’ Galilean supporters rather than the potentially more sceptical Jerusalem crowd whom he has not yet encountered. Matthew adds a note to make this contrast explicit in 21:10–11, but even in Mark the point is clear. There is no warrant here for the preacher’s favourite comment on the fickleness of a crowd which could shout ‘Hosanna’ one day and ‘Crucify him’ a few days later. They are not the same crowd. The Galilean pilgrims shouted ‘Hosanna’ as they approached the city; the Jerusalem crowd shouted, ‘Crucify him’. (New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark, p. 430)

Yet others remain convinced. William Hendriksen says,

Unbiased reading of the Triumphal Entry accounts (Matt. 21:8–11; Mark 11:7–10; Luke 19:36–38; and John 12:9–18) does not leave one with the impression that all these Sunday enthusiasts were Galilean pilgrims. See, for example, John 12:17. Though we must make allowance for the figure of speech called hyperbole, we will probably have to agree with the conclusion of the Pharisees, “Look, the world has gone after him!” (John 12:19). Similarly, it would be difficult to defend the proposition that on the following Friday none but Pilate’s subjects were screaming “Crucify him.” Admittedly many of them may well have been exactly that. But to exclude from Calvary a goodly number of people who, in order to participate in the feast, had come from elsewhere, including Galilee, would amount to doing injustice to the probabilities. As well as there were Galilean women in that crowd (Mark 15:40, 41) there must have been Galilean men also. With respect to variety of visitors, Passover probably resembled Pentecost. See Acts 2:5–11. Eagerness to see what was going on at Calvary must have been widespread. Curiosity does not recognize ethnic boundaries. And as concerns the attitude of the people, including the Jerusalemites, toward Jesus during the days intervening between the Triumphal Entry and Good Friday, “the huge crowd [regardless of where they came from] enjoyed listening to him” (Mark 12:37). It would seem therefore that the only logical conclusion is that on the part of many a change of attitude had actually taken place.

How must we account for this? The fickleness or instability of the human heart and mind apart from regenerating grace enters into the answer. Other factors deserving consideration are:
  • The pressure exerted upon the crowd by the chief priests. We are distinctly told, “But the chief priests stirred up the mob to get him [Pilate] to release to them Barabbas instead (of Jesus).” Read Mark 15:11; cf. Matt. 27:20. It was hard to resist such pressure. See John 9:22; 12:42; cf. 20:19.
  • The fact that in the end Jesus did not prove to be the kind of Messiah the people desired and were expecting.
  • Sinful ignorance of Scripture. With increasing clarity the Old Testament draws the picture of the coming Redeemer: Gen. 3:15; II Sam. 7:12, 13; Ps. 72; 118:22, 23; Isa. 7:14; 9:6; 11:1–10; 35:5, 6; 42:1–4; 53; 60:1–3; Jer. 23:6; 31:31–34; Mic. 4:1–5; 5:2; 7:18–20; Hag. 2:1–9; Zech. 3:8; 6:9–13; 9:9, 10; 13:1; Mal. 3:1–4, to mention only a few of the many messianic prophecies. These predictions associate with Messiah: peace, pardon, healing, righteousness, vicarious suffering, spiritual cleansing.
The lesson is obvious: Do not neglect the prayerful study of the Scriptures! And do not neglect to take the Bible’s precious truths to heart! (New Testament Commentary: Mark, p. 638)

In all likelihood, there was some overlap between the two groups. The Triumphal Entry probably did include some Judeans coming out to greet and praise Jesus. (After all, Jesus' local teaching, healing, and raising of Lazarus had not been done in a corner.) And the Crucifixion probably did include some Galileeans who had been influenced and corrupted by the religious leaders. This would not be the first time that Galileeans turned their backs on the Lord. (Just recall the feeding of the 5,000, where scores chased after Jesus to make Him king but soon turned back and no longer walked with Him. Jn. 6:15, 24, 66).

What do you think? Whose viewpoint do you find more convincing? And does this have any significance in our understanding of the overall gospel narrative?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Growing in Christ

Our Wednesday night Bible Study on Spiritual Warfare is winding down. So starting January 4, we’ll be starting a new series called “Growing in Christ.” It’s actually a three-year program I’m developing to help produce mature, fruitful believers in Jesus Christ.

I’ve long had a burden for nurturing new Christians, training up mentors, and equipping busy Marines. But I was never quite sure how to pull it off. Though still early in the early planning phase, I think this program will help fill the gap in our discipleship ministry. Here’s an overview:

Growing in Christ

GOAL: To produce mature, fruitful believers in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

STRATEGY: three themes discussed in three years:

1. SERVE HIM (the hands of a disciple)

  • Spiritual Disciplines
  • Evangelismclip_image002
  • Family
  • Counseling
  • Spiritual Gifts

2. KNOW HIM (the head of a disciple)

  • Christian Beliefs
  • Bible Overview
  • Church History
  • Apologetics/Worldview

3. LOVE HIM (the heart of a disciple)

  • Am I Really a Christian?
  • Bearing Fruit of the Spirit
  • What if I Backslide?

Our salvation and union with Christ is the root of all growth and fruitfulness, so we’ll start with “Am I Really a Christian?” From there, we’ll rotate between themes. The full three-year cycle looks like this:



2013 2014


Am I Really a Christian?




Spiritual Disciplines

Fruit of the Spirit

Spiritual Gifts


Christian Beliefs




Overview of the Bible

Church History

Apologetics/ Worldviews

By the end, Lord willing, a Christian would be trained in the fundamentals of the faith and would have all the basic tools for a lifetime of continued learning.

Our format on Wednesday nights would be primarily lecture, some discussion, and a small amount of homework each week. I also hope to record these lessons and upload them to our podcast so that others can follow along. Those who have successfully completed a course will have opportunity to guide one or two others through the study in the future.

What do you think? Is this something that would interest you? Anything else we should add or change in a beginning discipleship program? In my next post, I’ll share a more detailed listing of what specific topics we’ll cover each quarter.

Please pray for this new discipleship program, and consider joining us on Wednesday nights!

New Blog

Today I'm closing up shop and launching a new blog called Pinch of Clay. You can visit it by clicking here . Please stop by and...