Sunday, December 7, 2014

To the Land I Will Show You

The Lord said to Abram:
Go out from your land,
your relatives,
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you.
Genesis 12:1

My wife and I are at an interesting crossroads. God has shown us recently that He wants us to move from where we are, as in leave the area. The thing is, He hasn't told us where we are going yet. This is not entirely unfamiliar territory. Six years ago, right around this time of year, God made it abundantly clear that I was to leave a job I had been at for less than a year. After applying to 80 different positions, a recruiter contacted me for a job I wasn't even looking for. We ended up moving 500 miles from "home", away from all that had been familiar for nearly 14 years.

This time is a little different. The skills I have in the field I want to work are in high demand right now. I literally could have my pick of any job I could want right now, so long as I am willing to go where the job is. Knowing that, my wife and I had decided on a few key areas that we wanted to look in, and I was turning down many requests from recruiters to consider positions outside of our ideal locations. That all changed for me this morning.

As I described my situation to a friend of mine at church, he likened my story to that of Abram as God called him out of his homeland to go where He would lead him. And like me, Abram didn't know where he was going either. But unlike my situation, God told Abram to move, and he got up and went. His every step was literally directed by God until he settled in the place God had for him. There was no bargaining with God, no "I will go but not there" kinds of conversations. Verses 1-3 of Genesis 12 has the command from God to go, and verse 4 says "So Abram went, as the Lord had told him." 

The weight of this was tremendous as I read these words this morning. In an attitude so subtle that I just simply did not see it, I had told God, "I will go as you lead, just so long as it is to a place that will be in my comfort zone." But over and over again He kept repeating His words to Abram in my mind: "Go out from your land ... the the land that *I* will show you."

I was convicted to the point of tears, and I asked God for forgiveness for my unwillingness to completely surrender to His leading. And as God often does to drive a point home, the last song in the church service today, which I heard after this revelation from Him, was "I Will Follow" by Chris Tomlin:

Where you go, I'll go
Where you stay, I'll stay
When you move, I'll move
I will follow you

Whom you love, I'll love
How you serve, I'll serve
If this life I lose, I will follow you
I will follow you

As Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, "If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." As followers of Jesus Christ, we don't have the luxury nor the right to say to Him, "I will go where You lead me, so long as it is not there." Rather, we must have the attitude that whatever we want for ourselves is completely secondary and subservient to the will of our Father in heaven. Being right in the middle of where God wants you is always the best place to be, even if you can't see that from where you are right now.

What that means for me and my job situation is two fold: One, I don't intend to apply for any other jobs from here on out unless they first invite me to apply. Two, I won't discount any invitation to consider a job simply because of where it is located. God led me and my family to where I am now through a recruiter that invited me to apply for a job I didn't know was there. I expect that He will make our path clear this time around through similar means. 

In the meantime, we are preparing to leave. We don't know when, and we don't know where, but when He says, "Go there", I want to be ready to say, "Yes, Lord." As my friend from church reminded me this morning, it's not about the job; it's about what God intends to do in me and through me where He leads me.

But I count my life of no value to myself,
so that I may finish my course and the ministry
I received from the Lord Jesus,
to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.
Acts 20:24

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Not just for eternity

3 His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 4 By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires. 2 Peter 1:3-4

Sometimes it is easy to forget that "eternal life" is not just for eternity. Here in Peter's second letter, he makes a profound statement about the nature of our life here on this earth: we "share in the divine nature". If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you. Literally, there is divinity inside of you. Through the mystery of salvation, we have been invited into the triune nature of God. 

It boggles my mind to think that we "share" in God's divine nature. What does that mean, really? This does not make us God, obviously, for there is only one God. Isaiah 43:10 makes that abundantly clear. So what is Peter saying here? 

The Greek word being translated here is koinonos (Strongs 2844). It means one who shares in or partners with someone in something. The ESV translates this as "partakers of the divine nature." Peter used this same word in 1 Peter 5:1 to describe himself as "a participant in the glory about to be revealed." I believe what Peter is talking about is the fellowship and relationship we now have with God through the Holy Spirit by the blood of Jesus Christ. We know God because He invited us to share in Himself.

As a child, I really hated the process of being chosen for teams on the playground. I was always one of the last few picked. As anyone else who experienced the same will tell you, it felt more like they were stuck with me rather than being invited to join their team. Some unwritten rule of 8-year old society told the choosers that they had to pick everyone that wanted to play. That's likely the only reason I was ever invited to play. It was a horrible feeling.

God not only invited you into fellowship with Himself, He also paid a price we can never fully understand to extend that invitation. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, know that you are valuable to God because of the precious blood of Jesus that was shed to establish fellowship with you.

But as I alluded to at the beginning, this doesn't just result in "eternal" life the way most of us think of eternity, that is, after we die. This section of verse 3-4 tells us that through this partaking of divinity, we have "everything required for life and godliness" so that we can escape "the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires." That's here and now. You have eternal life right now. That is an amazing thought.

As you go through this week and face all the consequences of a world filled with "evil desires", I encourage you to remember that you have everything required for life and godliness, right here, right now. That doesn't mean that you will never fall. However, it does mean that we are no longer slaves to sin. As Romans 8:1-2 says, we have been set free from sin and death. What a "very great and precious promise!"

This is eternal life:
that they may know You, the only true God,
and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ.
John 17:3

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Give thanks in everything

"Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Did you thank God today? For what, you may ask? For anything other than your last meal. Sometimes I can go an entire day without remembering God even once, much less thanking Him for His many gifts.

It is so easy to forget in the relative safety of the Western Church just how dependent on God we really are. No one is trying to kill or imprison us for our faith. Comfort can breed complacency. We need to combat this potential with the truth of God’s Word.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A spirit of fearfulness

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, 
but one of power, love, and sound judgment.
2 Timothy 1:7

I was on a camping trip recently learning wilderness survival skills. It's been a hobby/passion of mine for the last four years or so. There were four other guys there that I hadn't met before, and in between instructional sessions, we had a lot of down time to get to know one another. There was a lot of random conversation about typical guy stuff. But one conversation topic from one guy in particular kind of surprised me. He frequently brought up the topic of the recent Ebola infections in the US. Now, this in and of itself isn't all that surprising; Ebola is big news these days. It was his reaction to it that surprised me.

From other things he said over the weekend, I am pretty sure he is a believer. And yet, multiple times a day, he would pull out his cell phone to check the latest news on Ebola. He and his family are planning a big move sometime next year. But at one point, he said something like "If they have 10 reported cases of Ebola in Dallas, I'm packing up my family and moving them now." Another time while he was checking and relaying to us the latest news, he said in a nervous, sing-song kind of voice, "We're gonna get Ebola."

One believer is so concerned about a situation that he's ready to move his family hundreds or thousands of miles at a moment's notice. Another sits casually in front of a keyboard writing about it. What makes the difference? Do I just not understand how serious Ebola really is? Perhaps. But there is one thing I do understand that overrides any fear, concern, or anxiety about whatever way I may leave this life or face in this life while I am still here:

A man’s heart plans his way,
but the Lord determines his steps.
Proverbs 16:9

The Lord of Hosts has sworn:
As I have purposed, so it will be;
as I have planned it, so it will happen.
Isaiah 14:24

If God has ordained that I will die by Ebola, then there's nothing that I can do to alter that decree. I don't drive to Dallas, find the hospital where the infections are and bathe in the virus. But I also don't plan on moving my family hundreds of miles further away at a moment's notice. If you have read my thoughts on the Second Coming of Jesus, you understand that I believe that believers will be here to experience some pretty awful stuff before Jesus comes back. And though I had studied and started to implement several different strategies for preparing for when "all hell breaks loose," I don't do that now because I realized that I would be acting out of a spirit of fearfulness to do so.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I study and prepare for emergency survival scenarios. I do this because I am interested in acquiring the knowledge that I hope I will never have to use. But, and this is important, I am not driven by a spirit of fear in doing so. 

In whatever situation you may be currently facing or see potentially coming on the horizon, sometimes how you respond is not as important as why you respond the way you do. The guy I mentioned earlier, I don't know what his motivations are. God obviously has a different plan for his life than He does for mine, and it is not for me to judge God's servant (Romans 14:4). But one thing I do know that applies to him and me and all disciples of Jesus: 

You cannot trust God and fear the unknown at the same time.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, 
but you received the Spirit of adoption, 
by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”
Romans 8:15

Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow,
because tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

Thursday, September 25, 2014

I would have, if only

I would have cried the day we met
Held your hand as you kissed my face
Embraced the taste of love displayed
if only

I would have spoken words so sweet
To expectant hearts and attentive ears
With tears and cheers from those endeared
if only

I would have learned through labored trials
Enlightened by your wisdom shared
Declared prepared to face “out there”
if only

I would have soared to heights unknown
Changed the world and left my mark
Sparked to start a legacy embarked
if only

I would have held your eldered hand
When life’s end had come to pass
Expressed a lifelong love amassed
if only

I’m sorry I was inconvenient
I didn’t ask for life, but I wanted to keep it
I would have loved you until the day I died
if only you would have let me

In response to "A Moral Universe Torn Apart"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Unlikely beauty

This was a rough week. I caught a stomach bug from my son, and I spent Monday evening revisiting the buffalo wings I had eaten for lunch that day.

At one point, while I was lying on the bathroom floor, I looked over and saw this impossibly small spider crawling on the tile. It was 2, maybe 3 millimeters in length, including its legs. I just marveled at the intricacy that God had created in this tiny creature. Even my simple breathing affected its movement, it was so light and frail. While I was staring at it, it climbed over one of my wife's hairs lying on the floor like you or I would climb over a 3 foot diameter log on the ground. So tiny! I remember wondering about its miniscule brain and muscular system. In my mind I praised God for being able to create such a microscopic arachnid. It was such an unlikely thing to consider so beautiful, and such an unlikely time and place to find it.

And then I got up off the floor and continued puking my guts out. Good times.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Disciples will obey

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

2 This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. 3 For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands.  1 John 5:2-3a

I have been reading through 1 John recently, and I have been truly surprised at how pervasive this message is in John's letter:

If you know God, you will obey God.
If you don't obey God, then you don't know God.

Take at look at these verses:

But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

3 This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn't keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: 6 The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked. 1 John 2:3-6

The one who keeps His commands remains in Him, and He in him. And the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He has given us. 1 John 3:24

There are similar statements in 1 John 2:17, 2:24, 3:6, 3:17, and 5:18.

For some, the idea that obedience is so closely connected to our salvation can be uncomfortable. Salvation by grace through faith alone is a treasured, and biblical, doctrine. However, so many people memorize Ephesians 2:8-9 and completely ignore Ephesians 2:10. No, we are not saved by good works, but we are saved in order to do good works. Even more, one of the primary reasons why John wrote this letter is so that his readers could know they were in fact saved (1 John 5:13), and over and over again, he says that the evidence that you know God is that you obey Him. James goes so far as to say that we are "justified by works and not by faith alone" and that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:24,26). This is the culmination of an argument against those who "say" that they have faith but have no evidence of that in what they do (James 2:14). True, saving faith will demonstrate itself through obedience and good works.

For others, the very idea that we have to "obey" God is itself uncomfortable, perhaps even offensive. As an adult, I love my parents, but I don't "obey" them. That's no longer the nature of our relationship. However, I will always be a child needing to obey my Father in heaven. Moreover, when you confess Jesus as your Lord, your kurios in Greek, that means that you are His slave, His doulos in Greek. There is a lot of controversy around translating doulos as "slave". Most translations do not do that; they use the word "servant", or "bond-servant". It's one of the primary reasons why I use the HCSB; they translate doulos as slave. One of the reasons why others do not has to do with the historical baggage associated with the word in the minds of the modern reader. But Gerhard Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which is one of the most respected works on the meaning of each word in the Greek New Testament, says this of doulos:

“There is no need to trace the history of this word, there is no need to discuss the meaning of this word, it has never meant anything in any usage but slave.”

As slaves of our Lord and Master, we are not free to just do whatever we want. We are subject to a will other than our own, that of our Lord Jesus. His commands are not burdensome, but they are not optional either. If you want to read more on this topic of the relationship between kurios and doulos, I recommend John MacArthur's book, Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ.

As I wrote in a recent article on the teen ministry site, God takes obedience seriously. There is no foundation in Scripture for thinking you can have a belief in God that does not change who you are and what you do and then expecting that belief to save you. Romans 10:9 is absolutely true. All you have to do is confess Jesus as your Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved. But in that confession, you permanently and irrevocably pledge that your will, your life, your hopes and your dreams are no longer your own but are now subject to the will of your Lord and Master Jesus Christ. We do not work and obey in order to obtain our salvation, but true disciples do work and obey as a result of our salvation.

Disciples will obey, and those who claim to follow Christ and yet make a practice of regularly disobeying Him are deceiving themselves.

You are My friends if you do what I command you. John 15:14

Monday, September 8, 2014

Disciples will serve

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.  

For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. Galatians 5:13-14

In one sense, I have already covered this topic with Disciples will give. Giving encompasses time and talents as well as monetary wealth. But for many people, the personal nature of service is a hurdle even higher than that of giving money. Consider the following statements that I have heard about serving in the last few months:
  • "Can't we set a time limit on it, like three months or something? That way people don't feel like we're asking them to serve forever."
  • "So much focus on serving makes me feel like I'm just a warm body to fill a position."
  • "I feel like 10% of the people do 75% of the work in the church."
  • "We had eight people sign up, but when the first meeting came, only one person showed up."
  • "Just try something a couple of times, like a test drive. If you don't like it, you don't have to do it."
  • "Those people that are complaining the most about us not having that program anymore, they are usually the first ones to make up excuses when it's their turn to serve everyone else."
Why is serving so hard for so many Christians to embrace? Why are there some who "always make up excuses" when it is there turn to serve in a common program, while others think asking people to serve an hour a week for more than a few months is a completely unreasonable request? The end result in so many churches is that relatively few people end up doing most of the work and may have to fight back feelings of bitterness along the way. Obviously, everyone's situation is different, but I feel there are a few common factors in the American church that contribute to this mentality.

Sinful and unbiblical attitudes. Let's just get this one out the way up front. People are sinful, selfish creatures by nature, and in our flesh, we naturally default to whatever is best for us. We are busy all week, family comes first, and besides, we tithe every month. Why do they need our time as well?

We either forget or simply do not understand that of all the things that belong to God (Deuteronomy 10:14), perhaps the most valuable is our very lives. It is what Jesus shed His blood to purchase. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); we are literally owned by God. (1 Peter 2:9). Too many in the Western church dwell so much on God as our Father that they neglect entirely that Jesus is also our Lord and Master (Jude 1:4). We were set free from sin in order to become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:18). When our Lord and Master tells us to do something, we are to obey, and as Galatians 5:13-14 says, we are commanded to serve one another.

"Professional" Christians vs. "Lay" Christians. One of the most significant downsides of the tradition of paid church staff is that it fosters the idea that they are the only ones who really need to serve because "that's what they are paid to do." Many have this idea that the rest of us are only "part-time" servants in the kingdom, and as such they leave the heavy lifting of kingdom work to the "full-time professionals." In contrast, however, Ephesians 2:10 says that we were each created in Christ Jesus to do good works, and God prepared those works even before we were saved so we could "walk in them". 1 Corinthians 12:7 says every single believer has been given a spiritual gift, a "manifestation of the Spirit", for the "common good." Every single one of us has a job to do, and we are all full-time servants in the kingdom of God. That is and always will be our first priority while we here on this earth (Matthew 6:33).

Extremely low expectations. On the other side of the equation, we have many churches who have surrendered so much ground on this topic. They do not teach and preach the harder doctrines of what it truly means to live the life of a disciple. In the area of service, many have set the bar so low on what service really is that it creates a downward spiral of desperate churches having to beg immature believers to do the simplest of tasks. Like shopping for a new shirt at a department store, they tell their members to just try something out a time or two, and if they don't like it, they can take it back for a full refund, no questions asked.

I would imagine very few people in America aspired to be garbage collectors, dish washers, or toilet cleaners when they were eight. Yet these are things that every household has to do, and all members of that household, down to the smallest and most immature, should be doing their part. By the time I was 12, thanks to the wisdom of my parents, I was doing my own laundry, making my own breakfast and lunch, taking out the family's garbage and mowing the family's lawn every week during the summer. I do not remember if I got an allowance for that or not. If I did, it certainly was not significant enough to outweigh the memory of working in my family simply because I was a part of that family. Even at 2 1/2, my wife and I are teaching our son "when you make a mess, you clean it up." Every night before he goes to bed, we make him clean up the toddler tornado of gratuitous chaos that he creates.

Being part of a church family is just like being part of a regular family in this regard. In the last couple of days, I swept up potting soil off a classroom floor after a Sunday school craft, helped to move ridiculously heavy tables back into many classrooms, and plunged a stopped up toilet full of someone else's poop. I did not do this because it was my "ministry" or my "calling"; it needed to be done and I was there and able to do it. If you are part of a church family, and every believer should be (Hebrews 10:25), support your family by doing your part of the "grunt" work that virtually no one enjoys doing. And churches, if you are paying "professionals" to vacuum your buildings' floors, wash its windows, clean its toilets or mow its grass, you are only perpetuating the problem. Train your members in the importance of serving by communicating the expectation that everyone will share in the common "chores", and then stand firm and follow through.

However, beyond these "menial" tasks, there is another level of service to which disciples are called. As I mentioned before, every believer has been given a spiritual gift, and these gifts are given for "the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7) and to "build up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12). Like any given part of a physical body, we each have a vital role to play that God has equipped us specifically to fulfill. God has you in your church for a reason, and if you are not using your gift to serve your church, then that church is not as healthy as it could be. Service that is your calling or ministry happens when you use your gift to meet a genuine need. God has specific good works He intends for each of us to do. If you don't know what your spiritual gifts are, talk to your church leaders and ask them to help you figure that out. Once you know, find a way to use that gift that will build up the body of Christ, encouraging your brothers and sisters on to greater Christ-likeness.

Disciples will serve, both out of love and obedience to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and out of love for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord.
Romans 12:11

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Disciples will teach

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

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, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  
Matthew 28:19-20

I love the phrase "teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you." In this one statement, Jesus issues a self-replicating command to the disciples to tell others to do everything Jesus commanded, including the telling of others to do the same. Paul issues a similar command to Timothy:

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2

In 2 Timothy 2:24, Paul states that followers of Jesus must be "able to teach", and Peter tells his readers to always be ready to "give a defense" for what they believe (1 Peter 3:15), that is, to teach those who question the faith why it is true. In Colossians 3:16, Paul encourages believers there to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and the writer of Hebrews laments the fact that his readers are still struggling over basic doctrines and not already teachers themselves (Hebrews 5:12). Teaching others about Jesus and how to be like Him is at the very heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Probably the biggest obstacle for most people in embracing this idea to be teachers is thinking that they don't know enough to teach others. If this describes you, I would encourage you to spend some time looking at 1 Corinthians 2, especially verses 10-14. The essence of these verses is that no one understands the thoughts and ideas of God unless the Spirit reveals that understanding, and no one is able to speak in such a way to bring understanding about spiritual things except by the Spirit. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you meet the only qualification necessary to explain to someone else what God has revealed to you: being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 

This doesn't mean, however, that one can speak "by the Spirit" apart from or contrary to God's Word. God says He will be found by those who seek Him will all their hearts (Jeremiah 29:13) and that the spirit of the "prophets", that is those who claim to speak on God's behalf, must be in line with or subject to the Prophets, in context meaning the Word of God (1 Corinthians 14:32). You cannot teach what you do not know, so spending time in the Word and living out what you learn is an important prequisite to teaching your understanding to others. But from the moment you read and understand anything of the Bible, by God's Spirit you are qualified to teach that new understanding to someone else.

As you seek God in both Word and deed, under the guidance of an older brother or sister, don't be afraid to be an older brother or sister to those not as far down the path of life and faith as you are. Paul not only learned from Barnabas, he taught Titus and Timothy and countless others. Timothy not only learned from Paul, he taught many others as well. The life of a disciple is never meant to be lived in isolation, and your younger brothers and sisters need you to teach them about your faith journey, both to follow in your steps to joy and avoid the paths you took that lead to hardships.

Disciples will teach, both as an act of loving obedience to the Father and as an act love to their siblings in the faith.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. 
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Disciples will learn

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17

One thing that I have found it easy to fall prey to in my walk over the years is the idea that learning about God and the Bible solely for the purpose of having the knowledge and understanding is sufficient to make one Christlike. There was a time when I found it quite irritating when others did not share this passion, thinking their faith was somehow inferior because they only wanted the "practical application" of a given passage. Many years down the road of my faith journey, I understand now that there is great wisdom in always asking the question, "How should I change or respond based on what I have read here?" In fact, there is an entire book of the Bible (James) dedicated to this one simple truth:

If what you know and believe doesn't change who you are and what you do, 
then your faith is worthless and probably won't save you. 

A major theme in Paul's second letter to Timothy is holding fast to truth that changes you. At the beginning of chapter 3, Paul warns Timothy that in the last days, there will be those who "hold to the form of godliness but deny it's power." In other words, they conform externally without an internal change of heart and mind that only comes by the power of the Spirit. He also refers to women who are burdened with sin and led away by their own passions as ones who are "always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth."

In contrasting these people with Timothy, Paul encourages him in verse 10 by observing that he is one who "[has] followed [Paul's] teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance". Timothy not only learned knowledge from Paul, he applied that knowledge to change his behavior. And at the end of verse 17, Paul states that one of the main goals of learning and studying Scripture is to be "equipped for every good work." 

I had a conversation with my father-in-law last night about the high costs of seminary training. He graduated from his seminary with a Masters in Divinity, and stayed with a church for many years, eventually becoming the pastor. One comment he made that I have heard echoed in many other places is that there was so much lacking from his seminary training in the way of practical leadership and ministry in a church. In contrast, a former church of mine trains all of their leaders from within. The current teaching pastor was saved in college by the ministry of the very church he now teaches and trains leaders at some 20+ years later. 

That's how Jesus did it. He took twelve men under His care for three years, training them to take up the mantle of proclaiming the kingdom of God once He was gone. He taught them plainly what the needed to know (e.g. Matthew 13:36-43), and once empowered by the Holy Spirit, those around them marveled at the fact that these disciples had no "formal" education. Their training consisted of daily lessons at the feet of the Master teacher (Acts 4:13). And this was not simply knowledge transfer, but even more their training consisted of seeing and understanding this knowledge translated into the practical faith of caring for the poor, orphans, and widows that Jesus ministered to throughout His ministry.

As a follower of Jesus, I urge you to emulate the examples of the very first followers. Find someone who is further down the road of faith than you are and place yourself under that person's guidance and training. And as you search for this person, don't be content to only learn things about Jesus and His Word, but also seek to learn to be Jesus to those around you through the life of an older brother or sister who is doing the same.

Disciples will learn, not only for the sake of having the knowledge, but also to be equipped for every good work the Father has prepared for them.

For we are His creation, 
created in Christ Jesus for good works, 
which God prepared ahead of time 
so that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Disciples will give

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, 
and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith 
and pierced themselves with many pains. 
1 Timothy 6:10

The Church and money is a touchy topic for many people. The vocal and visible minority of money-driven "televangelists" and prosperity gospel preachers has combined itself with the inherent greed that many of us are predisposed to in our flesh to produce an idea in the minds of believers and unbelievers alike that "the Church is just after my money." Add to this the mountain of debt we are under as a nation and, for many of us, as individuals, and we see that money in general is a topic that if left unaddressed can skew, hamper, or even crush many people's faith.

Jesus understood this, and He talked a lot about money. Consider this quote from Howard Dayton:

Jesus talked much about money. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions. (quoted from

I am convinced that one change of attitude would positively impact so many people in this area. As I am fond of quoting, the way we are to be transformed in the likeness of Christ is by changing the way we think to be in line with how He thinks. That is the essence of Romans 12:2. And in this area of money, we desperately need to understand that nothing, nothing, we "own" actually belongs to us. It all belongs to God and comes from God.

The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the Lord your God, as does the earth and everything in it. Deuteronomy 10:14

No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. John 3:27

Just like the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, we are stewards over the wealth God has given us, not owners, and He expects us to use that wealth to advance His kingdom, not to pursue our own pleasures or to do nothing at all.

One question I have faced a bit of late is whether this giving should be to worthy causes or ministries or to one's own local church body. There can be a hesitancy to simply "dump" your gift into a large pool that may or may not be used for ministry. Many of today's churches have a *lot* of overhead associated with buildings and debt, and if they are anything like my previous church, those buildings are 90% full only 10% of the time. This can be discouraging from an individual Christian's perspective. 

Effective use of church facilities is a whole other topic that I feel very much needs to be addressed in many, many churches. I encourage those who read this to have those kinds of conversations with their leadership. But in the meantime, I would have you consider this about giving to your local church:

7 “Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Hosts. But you ask: “How can we return?” 8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me!” You ask: “How do we rob You?” “By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. 9 You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing Me. 10 Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the Lord of Hosts. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. Malachi 3:7-10

There is much more here than just an "Old Testament command" that we "don't have to obey" because we are "no longer under the law, but under grace". That is an unfortunate attitude that many in the Church possess, especially about this verse in particular. However, God gives a very specific reason as to why He wants the Israelites to bring the entire tithe: "so that there may be food in My house". Why was it important that there be food in God's house? Among other things, those who were called of God for full time service to Him (the Levites) were given this tithe as their inheritance. It's part of what God intended to help support His priests (Numbers 18:21, Joshua 14:4). The tithe was also the means by which the poor, orphans and widows were cared for in Israel (Deut. 14:29). Every three years, the Israelites were to contribute the tenth to a common fund within each city's gates for the purpose of caring for the priests and the poor.

We see both of these paralleled in the New Testament: elders and those "who preach the gospel" being supported by the church (1 Tim 5:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:1-14) as well as the poor and widows (Acts 6, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, Romans 15:25-28). A church cannot care for those that serve it full time and those who need to be served if its members are not contributing into a common fund administered by that church.

As a new friend of mine recently encouraged me, if you are struggling to give for this specific reason, or for any reason at all, I encourage you to be obedient to God and trust Him for the results.

Disciples will give where and when God leads them to give, trusting Him for the results, because they know that it all belongs to Him anyway.

Give to everyone who asks you,
and from one who takes your things
don’t ask for them back.
Luke 6:30

Honor the Lord with your possessions
and with the first produce of your entire harvest;
then your barns will be completely filled,
and your vats will overflow with new wine.
Proverbs 3:9-10

Monday, August 18, 2014

Disciples will love

This post is part of a series on what disciples of Jesus will look like.

12 This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14

Anyone who has spent any time in the Bible at all knows that love is a popular topic. Famous verses on the topic include John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:16, John 13:35 and of course 1 Corinthians 13. I wrote a series about this passage last year. But when I think about following Jesus Christ as a disciple in the area of love, or what it means to love like Christ loved, John 15:13 is at the top of my list.

I so enjoy gaining new insight when I study the Word, especially from passages I consider familiar. And in gathering my thoughts for this post, as is my custom when studying the Word, I pulled up the context for John 15:13 to see the broader thoughts surrounding this famous verse. What I noticed that I had not really seen before is that verse 12 frames an entire line of teaching that Jesus is giving to His disciples, stating that He is commanding them to not only love one another, but to do so specifically as He has loved them. And the way He loved them, and us, is summed up in one simple yet potent word: sacrifice.

To be honest, the topic of love is really hard for me, not in understanding it from the Word, but in applying that understanding in everyday life. In one sense, I feel like I have it down. Every time I try to encourage my brothers and sisters to greater Christ-likeness, I am doing so motivated by a deep love for each of them that really can only be explained as coming from God. And no matter how many times I am rebuffed for whatever reason, despite the pain and frustration that usually causes me, I continue to persist in hope that the next time with the next person will be different. That is a sacrifice for me, as it would be so much easier to give up and just leave people alone. But every once in a while, my hope is rewarded, and I find no greater joy in my walk with God than those times when I can help my brothers and sisters take a step further down the path of becoming like Christ.

But from another perspective, I don't understand how to love people at all. As I wrote earlier, I have only just recently begun to realize that my complete lack of insecurity about myself and my total, unwavering trust in God seems to be the exception, not the rule. Like a broken arm or bruised rib, touching the wounded parts of people's lives to exhort them on in their walk with Christ requires extreme gentleness, a level of gentleness that is almost unimaginable to me. And like a gorilla trying to care for a wounded butterfly, more often than not what I leave behind is broken wings and fractured souls. I cannot even begin to express how much anguish I have felt over knowing the pain that I have caused so many people.

But still I persist, trying to learn from every interaction, failed or otherwise, believing that God will complete the good work He has started in me, that one day the love He has placed in my heart for my brothers and sisters will not be overshadowed by my clumsy, fat gorilla hands.

I imagine that those who read this have experienced times of being called to love when it's not easy. When you face those times, look to the example of Jesus. With every lash of the whip, every thorn in His brow, every clang of the nail, every labored breath on the cross, and every sin He took upon His sinless body, He was literally screaming I LOVE YOU! No hardship any of us face in loving those around us can even begin to compare to what He went through.

Disciples will love, even when it hurts, because that's what Jesus did.

But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!
Romans 5:8

Friday, August 15, 2014

Disciples will ...

Something my pastor said to me a month or so ago has infused itself permanently into my spiritual consciousness, which is rare considering how poor my memory is. I had in mind two ideas for ministries in our church that I wanted to build. One is a discipleship framework by which those who want to be discipled and those who want to disciple can be easily connected with one another. The second is an upgrade to the methodology of our current Involvement ministry. The Involvement ministry is responsible for teaching people the purpose of spiritual gifts, helping them to discover what those gifts are in themselves, and connecting them with service opportunities. Considering where we are as a church right now (a long story not for public consumption), he felt that it wasn't the right time to begin a brand new ministry. But seeing that I was approaching these two ideas as separate entities, he said three words to me that I believe have permanently altered my understanding of how best to teach, train, and exhort those around me to greater Christ-likeness:

Disciples will serve.

It is simple and yet profound, and I believe in that moment God was speaking through him to me. The point I believe he was making is this: Serving is a natural outgrowth of being a disciple, but it does not make one a disciple of Jesus. You can serve without truly following Jesus in your heart and your mind, but if you do truly follow Jesus, you will serve.

Of course, this got me to thinking, what else will a disciple do? The following is a list of what comes to mind, in no particular order:

Disciples will love. (John 13:35)
Disciples will give. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Disciples will learn. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Disciples will teach. (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
Disciples will serve. (1 Peter 4:10)
Disciples will obey. (1 John 5:3)

I will be writing on each of these in the coming days and weeks. If I think of more, I will add them here as well.

For now, I do want to reiterate this point. It is possible to put on an outward approximation of each of these qualities and still not be one who is following Jesus. As you read through these, if you don't see one or more of these qualities in your life, pray and ask God to change your heart and mind to want to follow Jesus in that area. If your inward desire does not match your outward conformity, you will likely become discouraged and miserable very quickly. The goal is not to simply conform outwardly but to be transformed inwardly. If you truly submit yourself to Jesus in your heart and your mind, external conformity to His teachings will naturally follow and will be a joy, not a burden.

Do not be conformed to this age,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
so that you may discern
what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
Romans 12:2

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fasting, self-control, and useless knowledge

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:22b-27 (ESV)

A couple of months ago, the speaker at our monthly men's dinner said three things that significantly changed my understanding of the necessity of fasting in my walk. One, he mentioned at one point that he used to be addicted to food. He once sat and ate two half-gallons of Blue Bell ice cream in one setting. Two, he quoted 1 Corinthians 9:27. And three, he mentioned numerous times throughout his talk how he fasted on a regular basis. At one point, he even completed a prophet's fast, 40 full days with nothing but water!

I honestly don't remember the context in which he mentioned all these things, but God used those three things to form a coherent train of thought in my mind. God convicted me that I was addicted to food myself. There's no other way to describe the self-destructive behavior of knowing in my mind what I needed to do to be healthy but being unable or unwilling in my flesh to act on that knowledge. For reasons only God knows for sure, something clicked in my spirit that told me I had to start fasting on a regular basis, both as a matter of health and as a matter of spiritual discipline.

I had had a spotty history with fasting, well, more non-existent, really. At a church I used to attend several years ago, many of the leaders there fasted regularly, and they encouraged the congregation to do so. I tried it once, fasting through breakfast and lunch. It was extraordinarily difficult. I remember sitting down to dinner with my wife that night and announcing that dinner was the first meal that I had had that day. Being very proud of myself, I fell into the very trap that Jesus warned against in Matthew 6:16-18. Having "tried it", I decided that it "wasn't for me", and coupled with the fact that the Bible doesn't command us to fast, that was that.

Just last December was my second experience with fasting. As I was contemplating leaving my old church (a different one than the one above), I had asked the pastor a couple of questions, and I was waiting on his answers. I prayed that if God wanted me to stay, the pastor would answer one way, and if not, he would answer the other way. I wanted to fast as I was praying, as it was only going to be 2-3 days before he gave me an answer. But like a couch potato who tries to jump up and run a marathon, I wasn't prepared mentally or physically to rise to the task. I fasted through breakfast two days in a row, and by lunch each day, I felt like I was starving.

Paul describes our christian walk as a race we are competing in, and just like an athlete, our "competition" requires training. He tells us to run in such a way as to receive the prize, not running "aimlessly" or boxing "as one beating the air". The first part of verse 27 literally means "I pummel my body and make it a slave". Part of the training we need to be engaging in as believers is the discipline of denying ourselves.

Then He said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, 
he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
Luke 9:23

By God's grace, after that April men's dinner, I began fasting on a regular basis. Over the last 2 months, more often than not, I have abstained from at least one meal a day, sometimes two or three, and a couple of times as many as 5 or 6 meals in a row. And when here recently God prompted me to fast specifically to seek Him in prayer and in His Word over the course of two days, I was physically able to do so because of the training I had engaged in previously. God has grown the fruit of self-control tremendously in my life over these two months. And during that time, I have continued to meditate on 2 Peter 1:5-8.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, 6 knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, 7 godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I have written before, there is a logical progression in the characteristics Peter lists should be present in the believer's life. I have also written about this verse in the context of using the specific test that Peter lays out to measure growth in your walk, namely are these characteristics increasing in your life (i.e. Are you more Christlike today than you were yesterday?) Two more things bear mentioning, though, and God showed one of them to me within the context of fasting.

One, there is a danger in failing to pass the test that Peter outlines. Having these qualities will keep us from "being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ", and without them, we are "blind and shortsighted". And in this progression, Peter says we should seek to add to our knowledge self-control. My knowledge of how to be healthy was useless and lacking in any fruit because I did not seek to employ that knowledge to produce self-control in my life. More broadly applied, one of the major themes in James' letter is that if the faith that you claim to know in your mind does not change who you are in word and deed, then your faith is worthless and will not save you (James 2:14-26). Even for those of us who are true believers with a saving faith, to have knowledge of what we "should" do without actually doing it is in itself sinful. (James 4:17)

Two, Peter's progression tells us that the road from faith and good moral character to godly devotion and love is paved with knowledge, self-control, and endurance. It's not enough to simply know the Word in your mind. You must do what it says and stay the course when times get tough. That's what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

19 My dearly loved brothers, understand this: everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man's anger does not accomplish God's righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil excess, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. 22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror; 24 for he looks at himself, goes away, and right away forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who acts-this person will be blessed in what he does. James 1:19-25

Friday, May 23, 2014

Faith and Insecurity

This is kind of the other side of the coin to my last post. Maybe it should have been first, I don't know.

I have taken probably two dozen different spiritual gifts tests over the years, studied spiritual gifts extensively, and even written my own test to try and address common shortcomings I saw in the standard approach to testing. So when I took another one a couple of months ago at my new church, I wasn't expecting to be surprised by the results or really to learn anything new.

Like so many other tests, the gift of Faith was one of my top-scoring items. And like so many times before, I dismissed the finding as being the result of a common (and in my mind, erroneous) testing methodology. After all, 1 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV) says that spiritual gifts are given for "the common good", and Ephesians 4:12 says they are also for "the training of the saints in the work of ministry" and "to build up the body of Christ".

That certainly hasn't been my response when I encounter a lack of faith in someone. I haven't tried to train others to have more trust in God, apart from what I consider just general encouragement from the Word, and I would be hard pressed to demonstrate that I have used my faith for the common good or for building up the body of Christ. My most common responses to people's unbelief, sad to say, have been either frustration or dismissal. Here recently I have graduated to trusting that God will show them in time, if He intends to. That's a little better.

But three things have happened over the last couple of months that God has used to grow my understanding. One, after taking this test, I shared (and promptly dismissed) the faith result with our ministry leader who trains people in the area of spiritual gifts. I shared the same line of reasoning with him as I outlined above, and when I said that I most often respond to people's lack of faith with frustration, he very quickly responded, "That's because you have the gift of Faith." I again dismissed what he said because I "knew" better. To his credit, he didn't argue the point further. Rather, the Holy Spirit went to work on me for a while, and I have been reminded of this leader's words at least a half dozen times in the last two months.

Two, I a have friend with whom I share a common understanding of and very solid belief in the total, absolute sovereignty of God. In fact, I always just assumed that that was where my unshakable faith and trust in God came from. Naturally, I expected him to have the same. But a few weeks after that spiritual gifts test and subsequent conversation above, my friend had a crisis of faith. I won't share the details publicly, but it traumatized him a great deal, and only now, several weeks later, is God starting to bring some real healing and understanding to his heart and mind. But the entire time he was going through it, as I would share from the Word to try and encourage him, try as I might, I really couldn't even begin to understand why he was reacting the way he was. I kept thinking in the back of my mind, "There it is in black and white (and sometimes red). Why don't you just trust what God says?"

Three, and finally, my pastor shared this video with the congregation this past Sunday:

It was a powerful message for me, but for different reasons than most people, I'm sure. I welcome the chiseling, sometimes even craving it. But his portrayal of the level of insecurity, doubt, and feelings of low self-worth that most believers apparently struggle with to some degree brought me to tears. I can't imagine having to deal with even the smallest level of something like that. After church Sunday, I said to my wife, "I really have no concept of just how insecure most people are", to which she replied "No, you don't."

As I continued to replay this video in my mind and see and hear this man's anguish, in my mind I cried out to God, "Why? Why would You do this to people? How do people even get out of bed in the morning if deep down that's how they really feel?" As gently and firmly as His counterpart in the video above, God brought this word to my mind:

My grace is sufficient for them, for My power is made perfect in their weakness.
(2 Corinthians 12:9)

I am beginning to understand that my faith is a gift in *every* sense of the word. Not just that I have been rescued from sin and death, as if that weren't miraculous enough, but that I have also been spared the loneliness, fear, and self-doubt that plague so many. And to borrow a phrase from Stan Lee, I am also beginning to realize that with great faith comes great responsibility. I don't know yet what that will look like, but I trust that God will reveal it to me in His perfect timing.

God, forgive me for taking for granted the special measure of faith
You have given me. By Your Holy Spirit, teach me to harness this faith to build up
my brothers and sisters for their good, to prepare them for the work of ministry,
and most of all for bringing glory to Your Name.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How do you measure growth?

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, 6 knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, 7 godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8

My wife does raised-bed gardening in some cedar boxes I built for her. This year we are trying three such boxes with a variety of vegetables. She is a bit of a tomato aficionado, so we have a couple of different varieties planted, though not as many as last year. She got the last of her plants in the ground recently, so now it is just water and wait.

The end goal of planting these tomato plants is red, juicy fruit that she can enjoy. It has been just a few days since the tiny plants were planted, so they obviously aren't there yet. But every day I come home from work, I can see subtle changes in her garden: a new flower here, a new shoot there. I swear the beans are growing like an inch a day.

Imagine if I were to go home today and say to my wife, "Well, looks like you failed with your tomato plants. We don't have tomatoes." Just a few days after she had them planted, she'd likely look at me like I was crazy, and rightfully so. Producing fruit take time. Just because they don't measure up to the standard today doesn't mean there hasn't been progress, and whether or not they eventually produce tomatoes is entirely up to God.

We all recognize how ridiculous it would be to demand full-grown tomatoes from a newly-planted seedling, and yet so many times an exhortation to growth on my part has been received as a demand for perfection on their part. As I wrote a few posts ago, a pastor I know asked me a while back why I was "impatient with imperfection." I have mulled that question over quite a bit for the last few months, and this is the conclusion I have come to: I'm not. My goal for myself, my family, and for those around me that God brings across my path is not perfection, but rather continuous improvement.

12 Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 
Philippians 3:12-15

I can't even begin to count how many times I was certain some idea I had or some advice I gave was right on target only to find out later that I was completely off base. I have said more stupid, insensitive things than there are seconds in a day. But one thing I know and one thing I do: I know that, by God's grace, I am more Christlike today than I was 6 months ago, and by God's grace, I continually put my past mistakes behind me and press on towards the goal of being conformed to the image of Christ.

So the question remains, when I encourage others to do the same, to not be satisfied with where they are but to press on towards the goal, why does it come across as being "impatient with imperfection"? I ask this because, while this pastor was off in diagnosing my intent, he was spot on in identifying a very common response.

I am sure that some of that has been my methods. I am continually evaluating my interactions with others against the goal of gentleness. But I am also convinced that part of the "you're just demanding perfection" response is raging against a message that is pervasive in scripture: 

While God loved us enough to save us as we were, 
He also loves us enough not to leave us as we are. 

Being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) is a difficult and often painful process, and when God uses a brother or sister to highlight an area that needs to be addressed, sometimes it is just easier to condemn the messenger rather than consider the message. And for some, that may be because they condemn themselves for not having reached the goal already instead of rightly evaluating incremental growth that God has likely already produced. Jesus said that when a vine starts producing fruit, rather than just leaving it alone, He cuts off unnecessary parts to produce even more fruit. (John 15:2)

I used to be in a small group with a husband and wife team (J & N) several years ago. They are wonderfully giving and caring people. One phrase N used quite often to describe persistent difficult interactions with certain people is that these individuals were "sandpaper people" for her. It's a great way to look at those interactions. They may be rough, but if we are willing, God uses them to sand off the rough edges on us, scraping away our dead flesh so that the living light of Christ can shine through us.

When you encounter those individuals that take the time to exhort you to greater Christ-likeness, I urge you not to just see someone highlighting your faults. And I especially urge you not to slay the messenger. Rather, take the time to consider the message. Maybe it really is time to take another step down the path, to sprout a new leaf or produce a new tomato bud. Don't let satan condemn you in your flesh, for there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Instead, lay hold of the promise that God will complete what He started in you (Philippians 1:6). And I bet that, somewhere along the way, He's going to use a little sandpaper to do it.

Iron sharpens iron,
So one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17 (NASB)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Do unto others...

"I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves." - Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

The Ender series of books by OSC is by far my favorite fiction series. I reread the entire thing recently (some 8 or 9 books in all) in anticipation for the new movie that came out a few months ago. This is one of my favorite quotes. There is something about it that just feels true, and like a faint echo, I am always reminded of Jesus's words in Luke 6:31.

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31 (ESV)

I have spent some time thinking about this verse off and on over the last 9 months or so. Really, it has been a bit a paradox for me. One of the things I value most highly is truth. I seek, I uncover, I ponder, I want desperately to understand. One of the ways I apply that is that I want to know the truth about where my life doesn't measure up to the standard in God's Word, where my thoughts and actions do not honor Christ. So many times, it is extraordinarily difficult for me to see unChristlikeness in myself, and so I value immensely those around me having the courage to point it out to me. And therein lies the paradox for me.

Nearly every fellow believer I have ever known does not appreciate having their own failings exposed to the mirror of God's Word with the straightforwardness that I crave. No matter how true, no matter how necessary, no matter the intention of the messenger's heart, all they see and feel is the inevitable pain inherent in facing one's own shortcomings, and the messenger is proverbially slain. And so, for the longest time, I was left wondering "What do I do, then, with Luke 6:31? When I do for others what I want them to do for me, it nearly always turns out poorly, coming across as unloving and not gentle."

A pastor I met recently (a different one than the one I mentioned two posts ago) was able to see some things about me and relay that to me in a way that was exactly what I needed, and yet would have likely crushed and/or angered most people. I thanked him for it after the fact, and he shared an interesting bit of insight about his thought process behind it all. He said basically two things, one, that it felt unloving (in a general sense), but that two, he sensed that saying it as directly as he did was the best way he could show love to me, specifically.

There was a lot of Spirit-lead wisdom there, and it has helped me to see a bit more clearly a principle God has been working on in me from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

19 Although I am a free man and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. 21 To those who are without that law, like one without the law—not being without God’s law but within Christ’s law—to win those without the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. 23 Now I do all this because of the gospel, so I may become a partner in its benefits.

Paul is saying here that he made himself whatever other people needed him to be in order to present them a life-saving message, namely the gospel. He did not want there to be any obstacle to his message in his methods. He kept his eye on the goal of sharing the gospel and endured whatever process was necessary to make that happen.

In being so direct with me, this pastor, who admitted that such potentially hurtful directness is definitely not the norm for him, made himself what I needed him to be in order to convey a message he knew I needed to hear.

This paradox of Luke 6:31 is not so unclear any more. It will take some time to work it out in practice, but I am beginning to understand that its not about the method; it is about the message. What I want others to do for me is to love me enough to not leave me as I am. I would hope that all believers want this from others as well. The key as I see it at the moment is to know them well enough to understand how it is they receive love. For me, it is simple, direct truth: "This is what I see, this is what God's Word says, and this is how you need to change." For others, as I have "learned" the hard way, it is going to be different. I must learn to love others enough to become whatever they need me to be so that a life-changing message is not hindered by imperfect methods. 

3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Godly wisdom

1 Corinthians 1:26-31
26 Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. 27 Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one can boast in His presence. 30 But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.

Where is my wisdom?
Where is my understanding?
I despised the Lord and pursued my own glory.
I boasted in my strength.

What do I have that you have not given me?
Did I breathe life into my own lungs?
Did I fashion the thoughts of my mind?
My life has been a foolish pursuit of worldly gain.

But You have saved me from the depths!
You protected me from the wages of my folly.
My destruction was certain, but You are my rock, my shield.
I abandoned the God of my youth, but He searched and found me!

Praise be to the God of Israel; His wisdom reigns supreme.
His steadfast love endures to all generations!

- November 20th, 2008

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I want to want...

I want to want only what You want and only for the reason You want me to want it.

13 Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. 1 What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. James 3:13-4:3

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. 3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:1-4

After speaking with a pastor I met recently, one who has been teaching and shepherding for 50+ years, he asked me to consider this question about myself: "Why are you so impatient with imperfection?" He also asked me something to the effect of "What is it that you are striving for?" Both of those questions have been haunting me for nearly a week now.

I don't know that I fully understand the answer to either of those questions yet, but I have come to realize that distinguishing between that which is objectively wrong and that which is subjectively "sub-optimal" is a lot more difficult that I ever imagined, and far too often I place entirely too much in the first category when it belongs in the second, or even in a third category of "different, yet equally as good". And the ugly truth of the matter is that I have placed some of what I have in the first category because of an attitude of rivalry and conceit, of "you shouldn't do it that way because I can do it better."

In recognizing that God has given me gifts that He wants to use for His glory, I must also realize that when, where, and how they are used are up to Him as well, and even whether or not they are used at all.

God, give me a heart of true gentleness, wisdom, and humility. Teach me to truly submit to Your will whenever it may be, wherever it may lead, and however it may look.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Long time no write

The last half of 2013 was a rough time for me. A lot of small things and a couple of big things worked together to the point where my wife and I had to leave our church. It would be foolish for me to claim that my own actions did not play a significant part in how bad things had become, and now on the other side of it all I am left with a lingering question: What was the point of it all?

A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.
Proverbs 16:9

I know, Lord, that a man’s way of life is not his own; 
no one who walks determines his own steps. 
Jeremiah 10:23

Who is there who speaks and it happens, unless the Lord has ordained it?
Lamentations 3:37

What is it that God wants me to learn through all this? Why has He brought us through this season in our lives? 

God has been bringing this verse to mind often here of late: 

23 But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. 24 The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, 25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. 
2 Timothy 2:23-25

Something really stood out to me today, that from one perspective, "able to teach" seems out of place in verse 24. "Reject stupid disputes, they just bring about unnecessary arguments. Don't engage in these arguments, but be gentle and patient with everyone." That would seem to make more sense at first blush, so I really took notice of "able to teach" here, and I think the principle is this:

Teaching is not quarreling, and quarreling is not teaching.
They are mutually exclusive.

Anyone else who reads this may be thinking "Well, duh!", but really, it is rather humbling for me. I spent a lot of time quarreling the last 6 months I was at my former church, and honestly, at the time I really thought I was teaching.

In a sermon I heard recently, the pastor speaking said something to the effect of "Show me someone who is passionate about what he believes, and I will show you someone who has conviction in the face of hardships." He was drawing this from Peter's willingness to give God glory for his escape from prison even while knowing that he could be recaptured and probably killed at any moment (Acts 12). Even as I affirmed the truth of what the pastor was saying, God showed me something else as well: It is far too easy in my sinfulness for passion to become persecution and conviction to become condemnation.

God, please shut my mouth when all I want to do is quarrel.
Teach me to be patient and gentle with everyone I meet.