The Good Book Company has some really good deals for the entire week—including some good Advent resources!
Reformation Heritage is one of my favorite publishers, and they've got some awesome deals!
WTS Bookstore has deals up to 80% off including study bibles, children's books, and theological resources.
Banner of Truth has a limited list of Black Friday specials, but their Christmas deals are phenomenal!
New Growth Press has some excellent deals on several good biblical counseling books including God Made Me and You by Shai Linne. Get 50% off Black Friday deals using BLACK50.
Gentle and Lowly (Paid Link) by Dane Ortlund
This is one of those must-read books on my list this year. Several of my closest friends and mentors have recommended it, and it has definitely lived up to the hype! It feels as though I'm reading a modern Puritan who is cross referencing the original Puritans to bring even more depth and rich biblical teaching on the heart of Christ. I dabbled in the Kindle version for way too long before I just had to purchase the hard copy to make it my own. If you're looking for a heart-stirring, Christ-focused read to stoke the fire of your love for God and your experience of His love for you, get this book.
Reading While Black by Esau McCaulley
In a year of racial turmoil and political chaos, Esau McCaulley's Reading While Black offers a biblical, exegetical, and theological insights into how the African American Christian has found hope in such racially tumultuous times, both past and present. Esau is scholar who writes at the popular level. His bibliography and citations coupled with his compelling prose are evidence of this. Whether you're black or white, woke or anti-woke, you will benefit from McCaulley's rich study of God's Word as he seeks to show the hope of God in the life of the African American experience.
Anyone But Me (Paid Link) by Ray Comfort
Ray Comfort is a masterful evangelist who has reached thousands of people through his evangelism ministry. In addition to his own evangelism, he has trained perhaps thousands more who have also gone out to share their faith. Regardless of how you feel about his evangelism methods, this book is worth the read. He shows that he's not a super-Christian who can just evangelize without apprehension. He is a real guy with a real heart, and he's experienced a lot of hardship in his gospel work. However, he has learned numerous lessons and led many souls to trust in the Savior for eternity. Read my review of Anyone But Me.
Advent is coming soon! In a turbulent and chaotic year, it's often difficult to keep our gaze focused on what's most important. Advent is as good time to prepare your heart to celebrate the birth of Jesus with your loved ones—even if it's socially-distant or limited in capacity. Here are a few Advent reads that have caught my eye this year!*
A Better Than Anything Christmas (Paid Link) by Barbara Reaoch*
After enjoying Barbara Reaoch's A Jesus Christmas (Paid Link) last year, I was excited to check out her latest Advent devotional! Just like her previous work, each chapter includes:
Reaoch doesn't bring cheap theology to the table. This Advent devotional allows us to teach our families about faith, freedom in Christ, forgiveness, salvation, atonement, union with Christ, true righteousness, etc. The best part is that it's in kid-friendly language and anchored in the actual text of Scripture!
There's a Lion in my Nativity (Paid Link) by Lizzie Laferton and Kim Barnes*
This captivating little book will remind our busy little ones that Christmas is not about us at all! With the Christmas play coming up, a little actress wants to be the star of the show. As she lets everyone know who she thinks the play is about, all sort of confusing and frustrating things keep popping up in the play.
Each element proves to be more than some silly hijinks or distraction, and our little Mary finds out what Christmas is really all about! In the end, we get to understand why all of these random little items and characters show up on the scene. And I think you'll really enjoy why there's a lion in the nativity!
I'm a sucker for good illustration and rhyming books, so I have had a blast reading through this book with my little ones. If you want to help your children focus on the star of the show this Christmas, you'll surely want to let them know why there's a lion in Mary's nativity! The spotlight is always on Jesus!
The Christmas We Didn't Expect (Paid Link) by David Mathis
I haven't read this one yet, but I'm really looking forward to digging into this one. I have been blessed by Mathis' Habits of Grace (Paid Link), and with endorsements by Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Challies, and Julius Kim, I'm expecting it to be a good one. Mathis' aim is to point out some surprises and turns along the way to Jesus' arrival. If you're looking for an Advent devotional, I'd say this will be a good one to check out!
What are paid links? I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Evangelism doesn't seem to come easy for most of the believers I know. Perhaps that's a Western problem, I'm not sure. If I were to ask you, "How have you been growing in evangelism?", you might get a little uncomfortable. I know I would. For much of my Christian life, it has been difficult to share the gospel with strangers and unbelievers I don't have a strong relationship with.
The temptation is to think, "People who me know I'm a Christian, and they'll see my life and wonder what makes such a difference". This may be true in a tiny percent of cases, but most people never just randomly ask me to share the gospel with them. Part of the reason for this passivity is fear. Part of it is unpreparedness. Ultimately, my flesh is crying out, "Anyone but me!".
Have you ever felt that way? If you have, you're not alone. Ray Comfort, a well-known evangelist and Bible teacher, recently published a new book titled Anyone But Me*. This is a book for people like us—people who struggle to with fear or feel unprepared to share the gospel. Filled with personal examples and anecdotes, Comfort walks us through 10 ways to overcome our fear and grow in our confidence to share the gospel:
In each of these 10 points, Ray paints vivid pictures and gives a biblical foundation for sharing the gospel. He is a man whose heart is moved with compassion when he encounters unbelievers. He doesn't let his convictions end with simply feeling sorry for them. Rather, he gives them the only news that is powerful enough to change their hearts. He is a man who practices what he preaches.
I'll leave with this quote, which sums up much of what is shared throughout this book:
"If you become addicted to winning souls, you are being wise with your time. The world is filled with brilliant people who are spending their precious lives doing great things that only matter in this life." (p. 166).
I don't know about you, but I want to be addicted to the Great Commission. Perhaps this book can be a catalyst for reaching the lost and making disciples of all nations.
*I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Gravity illustrates a glorious paradox.
In the beginning, there was goodness and bliss. There were trees ripe with delicious fruit, unrivaled by the grandest of orchards. The vegetation was lush, unlike any garden we've ever been in. It was teeming with life, and it was good.
But something was missing.
From the dirt, God formed something he called "Adam". This man was unlike anything else in the garden. He wasn't a plant. He wasn't just an animal. God talked with him, walked with him, and gave him authority over everything around. God even made a beautiful woman from Adam's flesh. Eve was her name.
Things were very good.
One day, Eve felt a strange tug while talking to the serpent. She decided to eat the forbidden fruit. Adam ate it, too. Sin came in. Death came with it. Now they were rolling down a hill, hitting every rock and branch as they tumbled toward death.
Things were very bad. They took us with them as they fell.
Down, down, down. It’s a rapid descent as we spiral downward. At times, there’s the feeling that our stomachs are in our throats as we plummet so fast. We lament. We grab our fig leaves and try cover up. But God sees us.
Down, down, down. It’s a long way down as we float along the lazy river of ungodliness, feeling weightless. We see a few trout swimming upstream and wonder to ourselves, “What's their problem?”. As we enjoy the warm sunbeams of sinfulness, we don’t realize that rough waters are soon to destroy us.
As we nosedive toward death, by the mercy of God, the sinfulness of sin begins to take on an odious smell, like that of rotting flesh. Everywhere we go, there’s a faint stench that grows more and more foul until we can’t stand it anymore.
We are the ones rotting. The stench is coming from us, and this a grave situation. The gravity of our condition becomes unbearable. If we don't get help soon, we'll be lost forever! It feels like someone turned the gravity up a few notches, and we need a way out of this heaviness!
Then, suddenly our eyes are opened to a different sort of gravity. As we lament our depravity, crying “Woe is me! I am undone!”, the gravity of God’s glory is within our gaze. Suddenly, there's hope for us. The burning coal of God’s grace is placed on our tongues, and the glorious Son is revealed. He says, "Come to me, you who are heavy laden. I will give you rest."
The weight of sin is lifted.
Now the weight of God’s glory becomes our all-consuming passion. Our eyes are set where He is, in His abode. And yet He abides with us and in us until we get there. Day-by-day, moment-by-moment, we are becoming more like the One who opened our eyes and shined bright in our darkened, heavy-laden souls.
The gravity of this paradox compels us to share it with the world.
Do you ever read the Bible and feel like God purposely led you there so He could share His heart for you in a certain situation? Have you ever read a book that was so good you just couldn't put it down? What about a sermon that convicted you deeply and drove you to make resolutions to change? Has a conversation ever stirred you so much that you just want to get up and go do something?
This happens to me pretty often. I often read blog posts that pique my interest or stir up my heart about some biblical truth or experiential reality. Sometimes I read a game-changing sentence about the goodness of God toward His people. Other times I read a moving biographical sketch of a saint that makes me want to imitate them as they imitate Christ. Many weeks at community group, a sister will share how God has been at work in her heart as she meditates in the Word during the chaos of motherhood.
More often than not, the stirring ends there. But why? Why is it so easy to be hot one moment and ice cold the next? How can I have zeal for the Word during the sermon and then be apathetic by the time lunch is over? It's not that I care less about God or His Word when I've just finished my lunch after church. It's not that I know less of the Bible when my belly is full and my kids are winding down for nap time. What is it, then?
We Need To Slow Down and Keep Coming Back
For me, it is a lack of meditation. If that sounds too new-age for you, it’s actually a biblical principle. Meditation is slowing down to think deeply and apply truth to our hearts. Whether it's a rousing quote from a good book, a deeply moving blog post, or a verse that sets my soul on fire, without meditation, it seems to stop as soon as I move on to the next sentence.
It's like getting only a teaspoon of my favorite thanksgiving food--my mom's corn pudding. I'll enjoy every bite of the other food, but I'm showing up for Momma's corn pudding. I need more than a bite to really enjoy it. In fact, I need some leftovers for Black Friday, too! This is how it is with Scripture, sermons, good books, and quotes, too.
James Ussher wrote that meditation is “worth more than a thousand sermons, and this is no debasing of the Word, but an honour to it.” If we want to get the most out of reading the Word, hearing sermons, talking with friends, or reading good books, we will have to slow down and let our minds dwell on what we've just encountered.
30 seconds may be all it takes.
Why 30 seconds? Honestly, it's an arbitrary number. But in 30 seconds, I can pull out my prayer journal and jot down a quick prayer. In 30 seconds, I can jot some thoughts into my notebook about what I've just read or heard. In 30 seconds, I can stop what I'm doing and ponder what I've just heard. In 30 seconds, I can think of at least one way to put into practice what God is revealing. In 30 seconds, I can pray.
God Can Do A Lot With A Little
Tweaking a John Piper quote, God can do more with our 30 seconds of prayerful meditation than we can do in 30 hours of information intake. This article is an example. I was reading Blogging For God's Glory in a Clickbait World when the authors asked if I would be willing to keep writing if my page views were zero and only God read my writing. This resonated with some recent thoughts and struggles I've had about writing and making music.
Normally, I would've just kept reading, but this time I stopped. It might've been 30 seconds. It could've been less. Regardless, I paused. I pondered. I prayed. I wrote a simple, short sentence in my prayer journal: "Lord, give me a desire to write and rap regardless of the applause".
I've never prayed this specific prayer, though the thoughts have crossed my mind plenty of times. This 30 seconds could shape the rest of my life and ministry, whatever God may allow. It could be that God prevents anyone from reading this post or anything else I ever write. It could be that God uses my writing to bless a multitude of saints. Either way, I am hopeful that He will continue to shape my heart to write for the right reasons.
From the Head to the Heart
I share this not to boast in my own piety. The Lord knows how weak I am! Rather, I'm sharing this to show how quickly we can move from information to transformation. When we take our head knowledge and bring it to the Lord in meditation and prayer, He makes it heart knowledge.
The implications for this are boundless. For example, if we read the "one anothers" of Scripture and take them to the Lord in prayer, we will begin to have gospel-centered, biblical unity and reconciliation stamped on our hearts in a time when we desperately need it. We won't be heady, puffed up, theological snobs seeking to devour everyone who disagrees with us.
Paul said it best when writing to the Philippian Church:
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
By grace, our right thinking will lead to right doing. If we want the God of peace to dwell in and among us, we must fight to slow down and meditate on the right things. If we are in the presence of God seeking the power of God, we will know the peace of God that surpasses understanding.
Year after year, I start a lot of books. Some are worth finishing. Others aren't. Regardless of whether I finish them or not, I highlight and take plenty of marginal notes as I read. I make plans to use the highlights and notes, but I often never get back around to it. This is especially true for my digital books. It's bittersweet that I love reading and learning because there's usually another book on my radar before I've even finished the one I'm reading now. I take in a lot of information, but it often seems like it's in one ear and out the other.
Sometimes I wonder if retaining books is worth my time and effort when there's so much to learn directly from God's Word. to be sure, I want to hide Scripture in my heart (Psalm 119:11). This is the most important book for me to remember, retain, and apply to my life. However, I also want to use the insights of godly men and women who have been impacted by God's Word in their lives. He has given them insights and experiences that have greatly benefited saints throughout history. I want to glean from them the best that I can.
Review What You Read
One of the best ways to do this is to review what I know. Recalling information makes it stick—especially when that recall is active. Think about it. When you were in high school or college, few of us could read something once, memorize it on the spot, and use it on a test or a paper. We at least had to memorize a study guide, meet at the library for a study session, or quiz ourselves over relevant topics in our class notes. In the busyness of life, this not always so easy, though. We have full time jobs, children, ministries, and real life!
Tim Challies, an avid reader, daily blogger, and pastor shared that he hires someone to enter his notes and highlights into a database for him. There are options for us, too. If you're diving deep into a good book right now, perhaps you could stop at the end of each chapter and type out all of your notes and highlights. Maybe you're the type who tries to read a book every month or two. If so, you could devote a week to typing out and updating your quotes and notes at the end of each new book. It would definitely take a lot of work, but if you're willing to take the time and effort to do this, the payoff would certainly be worthwhile.
If you read digital books, highlighting and note-taking are pretty simple, depending on your device. If you use a Kindle or Scribd, you can look up your notes and highlights for each book with relative ease and add them to your favorite note-taking app, Bible software, etc. There's still a time commitment required after you finish reading, but it's significantly less than looking back through a physical book and typing out everything.
3 Tools For Remembering Books
Books Summaries. Companies like Accelerate Books produce high-quality summaries of Christian books for leaders and readers pressed for time. While I love reading a book for myself, Accelerate Books has helped me review the key insights and quotes from a book while also providing application questions and short chapter summaries. Whether it's a book you want to read or a book you've already read, book summaries help you review books quickly. These summaries do a good job of distilling the book down for easy review.
Book Databases. My friends over at Homeschool Happens have created a book database development tool using Air Table and Google Forms. If you're reading more physical books, this database can be used on a smartphone in conjunction with an OCR app to quickly grab quotes and add them to your database. For digital readers, you can grab your highlights and notes to copy and paste into your database. This tool is not free, but it is very helpful for devoted readers who want a long-term solution.
Readwise. Tim Challies recently wrote about a new app that resurfaces quotes and notes from books that would have been otherwise long-forgotten. Readwise has proven to be a game-changer for me in this season of life. It links to Amazon (for Kindle highlights), Instapaper, Pocket, Goodreads, etc. to grab your highlights as well as popular highlights from books you've read but haven't highlighted. It features a daily list of quotes as well as an endless newsfeed of quotes from books you've read (repurposed scrolling, anyone?). You can also add your own quotes to their system. It's not free, but the convenience may be well worth the cost.
Regardless of the tools you use, reviewing what you've read is vital in the process of remembering what you read. Most books are worth reading once or twice. Few books are worth reading and rereading once every few years. If you're going to invest the amount of time it takes to read through a whole book, it's at least worth recalling what kept you reading.
What are some ways you review and remember the books you've read?
Presidents come and go. Whether or not your candidate wins, one thing is for certain: he won't be there forever. Even the greatest presidents have come and gone. Some have been assassinated while others simply finished their term and gracefully drifted into old age. Some people may still say, "President Obama" or "President Bush", but their leadership is obsolete because they are no longer in office. They may have some cultural and political sway, but they have no more authority.
Jesus Will Reign Forever
Jesus is different. Isaiah says, "...of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end" (Isaiah 9:7). His rule and dominion will increase. He will continue to bring peace. His government will never end. Ever. Jesus has no term limits. Many weeks at corporate worship, I have been reminded of this reality as we sing: "You will reign forever, let your glory fill the earth". His reign is forever, and it is globally expansive.
Jesus’ Rule Knows No Bounds
Jesus has no national borders. Though some erroneously claim exclusive ethnic or national ownership of Jesus, they are dead wrong. It's not as if He only owns a small plot of land in the Middle East. His Word is clear: "the whole earth is full of His glory" (Isaiah 6:3). Jesus is not bound by national boundaries or man made walls. His Kingdom spans the globe. Men and women, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and free from every land have been grafted into Jesus Christ, the True Vine (Galatians 3:28 and John 15:1-17).
Jesus Never Changes
Unlike government leaders who change over time, Jesus is remains infinitely great and matchless forever. Jesus' people grow more fond of Him every day. He is infinitely glorious and He never changes with the times. Christians submit to His lordship and His reign every day, giving more and more allegiance as each moment passes by. Why? Because He rules with love and peace over those whose hearts have been shaped and molded by His Words (Hebrews 1:1-2). Even when we fail Him and violate His commands, He disciplines us in His loving care rather than wrathful vengeance. He joyfully laid down His life for us and He intercedes on our behalf to His Father (Hebrews 12:1-17). We who are His subjects have new hearts, new citizenship, and a new aim in life. This is the work of His Spirit (Titus 3:5).
Jesus Rules With Infinite Joy
Jesus rules and reigns with great joy. He takes joy to reign over the people who trust in Him. For His joy and ours, He died on the cross. In His kingly presence, there is fullness of joy for us (Psalm 16:11). When we dwell with Him, His joy is in us and our joy is made full. When we abide in Him and He in us, we bear much fruit—including joy.
Lift Your Drooping Head!
Lift your drooping and fearful head! There is still hope and joy for us today!
What earthly government can compare to Jesus' reign? Do we long to see Christ's government increase? Surely, we do! Do we wish our government could better reflect His government. Of course! But even if it doesn't, none can stop what He has been doing since before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). He could run against any candidate on any platform and utterly dominate. There is no smear campaign that could truly malign His character. No candidate can have better character, competence, or policies. Yet He chose a cross and a heavenly throne over an earthly one.
Remind yourself of this as you either lament a political loss, celebrate an election victory, or soberly ponder the future of our nation. Jesus is worthy of your thoughts. Give yourself to meditating on our great King. He is worthy of your affections. Give Him your joyful and zealous thoughts and emotions. The Lord is worthy of your obedience. Offer your life as a living sacrifice and a pleasing aroma in the nostrils of God (Romans 12:1). Do all of this by the grace supplied to you by the love of the Father, death of the Son, and power of the Spirit.
Let Christ's governance change how you lead the people in your life. Whether it's in your church, your office, or your home. Lead with joy, love, and peace. Put off unnecessary harshness and anger, knowing that the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Remove unreasonable burdens and expectations while offering the grace and forgiveness we find by faith in the Great King, Jesus.
Pray for our nation. Pray that you and I would long to obey Christ and cherish His commands. Pray that your neighbors who don't know Jesus would come to love Him. Pray for unity with Christian brothers and sisters who think differently about American politics. Pray that people around the globe can see the glory of God in His people this day.
The world will go on until Christ returns. Nations will rise and fall. But Jesus is King. Never forget that "of the increase of His government and of peace, there will be no end."
Note: This was written before a winner was announced in the 2020 election. These truths transcend American political parties.
Image Credit: Pixabay
I have a love-hate relationship with sleep. I love how great it feels to get a good night of sleep and how it reminds me of the goodness of the Lord who "gives to His beloved sleep" (Psalm 127:2)*. Even when I'm asleep, God is still at work upholding the universe, and He keeping the world moving according to His plan (Hebrews 1:3). Sleep is a time that I can let go of control and fully trust God to do His work—that's literally something I can do nothing about.
Yet this lack of control is why I also struggle with sleep. There are nights where sleep eludes me, and I fight with everything inside me to get some rest. I can't solve my problems while I'm laying there, but it seems impossible to shut my brain off. The stress of desiring to relax is exhausting! Yet I lay awake, tossing and turning, longing to get comfortable. This reminds me that I'm not in control—even of sleep itself. Those nights I cry out, "Lord, help me sleep. You can take care of my problems... but I can't seem to trust you enough!".
Sleep is deeply spiritual. There's no doubt about it. But it's also is heavily impacted by our physical environment and life choices. Since we aren't disembodied souls, we need to think about sleep. Consider what Scripture says:
"It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil"
Chasing vanity is spiritual, but it has physical consequences—rising early, going to sleep late, and toiling anxiously. We need to cast our anxieties on the Lord, and that's something we all know (1 Peter 5:7). However, we may also need to change our habits and take practical steps to get the rest we desperately need.
What Hinders Our Sleep?
Anxiety and vanity aren't the only reasons we aren't getting enough shut-eye. Some sleep hindrances are easy fixes, while others are going to require major changes—changes like a job change or waiting for your babies to grow up and sleep better! However, getting more and better sleep is something that most of us could probably benefit from. So we should learn what else could be keeping us awake at night.
Why Does This Even Matter?
For me, this matters tremendously. When I don't get enough sleep, I struggle in every aspect of life. I'm usually irritable, impulsive, and I have a hard time focusing. Worse, when I don't get good sleep, it's a struggle for me to wake up and spend time with the Lord. There are many days where I get an extra 15 or 20 minutes of sleep instead of getting up to spend time with the Lord. The day isn't a total loss, but I can definitely feel a fatigue in my soul that seems to match my body. Maybe it's just me, but when my sleep suffers, my soul suffers too.
You may not be as sensitive to changes in your sleep habits as I am, but sleep is still important. Perhaps better sleep could help you think more clearly or give you more energy to spend with your children. Surely a sharper mind could help you memorize more Scripture or teach with more clarity. Maybe you'd be more fun to be around because you have more energy and aren't moping around like Eeyore. I know my wife and children are thankful for the days that I get good rest!
What about you?
Are you getting enough sleep? What will you change to improve your sleep quality? How does gospel give you hope even if you can't make drastic improvements to your sleep?
*Your translation may say that God gives to His beloved even in his sleep. This rendering reminds us that God gives to us even as we sleep. He never stops providing and caring for us.
Photo by Julien Bachelet from Pexels
As phones get smarter, people are getting dumber—so it seems.
There may be some hyperbole in such a statement, but Cal Newport shared some valuable thoughts on a 2017 study discussing the impact of smartphones on our memory and overall mental capacity. In his short article, one section really captured my attention:
"The mere presence of the device... sapped cognitive resources. The effect was particularly pronounced in those who self-reported to be heavy phone users."
Who Wants Brain Fog?
This is alarming on many levels. I am concerned with mental clarity and reducing the brain fog I have often felt over the years. Most of us don't want to lose our ability to learn and retain our fondest memories and new information. We hate the hazy afternoon brain fog that overcomes us. We desire to watch and pray without falling asleep (Matthew 26:41). The process of sanctification involves learning and applying wisdom from God's Word, and I desire to think as clearly and deeply as possible. Don't you want to memorize more Scripture, retain more of God's Word, and be more present with God and His people?
Let us not forget that distractions—like our smartphones—hinder us from the focus needed to meditate on God's Word and pray. J.C. Ryle famously stated in A Call To Prayer:
"Faith is to the soul what life is to the body. Prayer is to faith what breath is to life. How a man can live and not breathe is past my comprehension, and how a man can believe and not pray is past my comprehension too."
In other words, we are not bodiless souls going about our spiritual disciplines for the next 20 or 30 years. Rather, our bodies impact our spiritual lives and vice versa. This is important because we need to be good stewards of the bodies God has given us.
On countless mornings I have peeled open my eyes with a desire to spend time with the Lord before getting wrapped in the chaos of everyday life. Before I slid our of the sheets and placed my feet on the cold hardwood floor, I reached for the nightstand to grab my iPhone. Five minutes became fifteen. Fifteen minutes became thirty. Then, I'd hop out of bed in an adrenaline-packed flurry to get ready for work, leaving my Bible on the shelf.
No time was left for my Lord. The Savior of my soul is on the backburner as I go about real life and leave my spiritual life behind for the day. I'm not saying I wasn't saved or didn't care about God the rest of the day. That's not the case. It's just much harder to get my mind and soul focused on Christ if I don't meet with Him early in the day. If I don't speak to my Father in the morning, it's much more challenging to walk by His Spirit in the afternoon.
"The mere presence" of my device has kept my mind from taking in God's Word. You've been there before. You try to focus, but you find yourself going back over a verse 5 or 10 times because you can't seem to stop your wandering mind from drifting to the tasks awaiting you later that day. As a "heavy user", I've seen that forbidden fruit light up and grab my attention away from prayer only to never return. I told myself, "This might be important. I better take a quick glance". Soon after that quick glance, my already "sapped cognitive resources" didn't improve. I got up from prayer feeling like a dried leaf on a brisk afternoon in late autumn.
What should we do about our phones?
We're spiritual people, but God has also given us bodies with our souls. Cognitive impairment matters. We are called to be "sober-minded and alert". We have a real enemy who "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Our minds and thoughts are inseparable from our souls. Our thoughts reflect the heart beneath the surface (Matthew 15:19).
1. Recognize the importance of your mind. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). This points to more than just the brain and its cognitive abilities, but it doesn't call for less. Remember this and live in light of it every day of your life. Many people lament the loss of their brains, and we should make the most of ours while we are still able.
2. Evaluate your phone usage. Is your phone a tool or a toy? Do you use it for education or entertainment? Does it aid your devotion or add to your distraction? When do you pick it up for the first time? When do you put it down for the night? Are you enslaved to your phone (1 Cor. 6:12)? How you use your phone says more about your relationship with God and others than you could ever realize.
3. Confess or celebrate. For most of us, excessive phone use will be a catalyst to confession. Whether it's escaping to your phone to cope with a rough day or furiously tapping out your angry thoughts and emotions in the comments of Facebook and Twitter, confess the sin in your heart. God is faithful and just to forgive His children because He poured out His just wrath on His innocent and righteous Son instead of you and I—the ones who deserved it (1 John 1:9).
4. Pray and plan. Pray for God's grace and make a plan on how to use your phone more cautiously. Caution may seem to be an excessive word, but our spiritual health can be endangered by our uncontrolled phone use. Smartphone addiction and overuse are symptoms of a grander problem of distractedness from our souls and the God who can transform them (Romans 12:1-2). The present world is passing away, so what sort of people ought we to be in lives of holiness and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)? We need to be diligent to pursue godliness in every area of life—especially our smartphones.
Who's In Control?
We don't have to be enslaved to our smartphones. Nor do we have to fear that we can never get past our smartphone addictions. The key is not simply to use your phone less. Anyone with a little bit of self-discipline can do that. As a Christian, our desires come from a much deeper motive than just wanting better brain health. You are a child of God, and God calls you to consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). You are more than a shiny piece of metal glued to your palm. Remind yourself of this every day.
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
- 2 John 1:9-11
Would you give your Social Security information and your credit card number to a person pretending to be the IRS? Would you let a person convince you that your identity has been mistaken and your whole life is a lie? I sure wouldn’t! It may happen to us once, but we would be foolish to let it happen again.
As much as you value your money and identity, you should value your soul much more than that. If you wouldn’t be negligent with your vital, personal information, neither should you ever let a lying, Christ-denying deceiver into your home or your church with a hearty greeting.
Imagine letting a thief enter your home and steal everything you own while smiling in your face and promising they’re doing everything in your best interest. That would be insane.
The apostle John’s stark warning is “watch yourselves!” (2 John 8). Today, there are many lies and heresies that abound as liars attack the church. One such heresy is that Jesus was not and is not God in human form. Some Christian cults have denied the deity of Jesus in favor of a Unitarian—God in one person—view of Father, Son, and Spirit. Others have denied that Jesus really took on a human body—they imply that He is God but not man. Many of them may be earnest, knowing that God is one (Deut. 6:4). However, they fail to take the Bible and it’s full teaching about Jesus into consideration.
Paul clearly refutes such nonsense, saying that Jesus “was in the form of God“ and had “equality with God“. He is wholly God. In becoming human, Jesus “emptied himself“. He did this not by giving up his divine nature, but by taking on a human nature (Phil 2:5-8). If a King puts on street clothes to rescue someone from a ditch, he is no less a king with his street clothes than he was with his kingly apparel. Neither is Jesus, in the flesh, any less God than he was before he took on flesh. To say otherwise is to clearly deny passages of the Bible in the old and new testaments.
Falling into such a mess of denying Jesus’ human and divine natures will cost the full reward of the apostles works (2 John 8). It will render the apostles’ work in vain (Phil. 2:16). To have a human-only Jesus, God-only Jesus, black Jesus, white Jesus, republican Jesus, democrat Jesus, or any fill-in-the-blank Jesus will lead you to eternal separation from the real Jesus. It is eternal to know Him—the real Jesus (John 17:3).
Our Necessary Response
First, let us go on ahead and abide in the teaching of Christ (2 John 9). Stick with the basics. Remember the truth that has been preached from the beginning. Church history is replete with documents and statements about the plain and clear doctrines of Scripture. Many modern heresies are just old heresies dressed in new clothes. Let the word of God and the witness of church history be your guide as you seek to discern truth from lies. You don’t need any other Jesus. If you abide in another, you will not have God. If you stay with the teaching, you will have father and son (2 John 9).
Second, keep false teaching far from you, your family, and your church! “Many deceivers” have gone out into the world (2 John 7). They need to be met with fierce rejection. They shouldn’t enter our homes or our house churches. They shouldn’t be allowed into our congregations with open arms. If they show up, they should be met with solemn warnings and exhortations to repent and renounce their repulsive rhetoric. They need to be sharply rebuked (Titus 1:9-14).
This response is necessary because “whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” John isn’t mincing words, here. We can’t keep letting political, ethnic, or any unbiblical versions of Jesus into their homes without a fuss. Too often, we don’t take Jesus serious because we won’t take the time to read the Word and see who He says He is! He has a lot to say!
Know the Real Jesus!
We must all commit to seeing Jesus as he really is! If we aren’t careful and rigorously biblical, we may be swept away into deception and lies. I don’t mean that a true believer can lose salvation. That is not possible! However, many people in churches today are not in the faith and are not safe from these lies. However, the true believer shouldn’t be overly fearful. The God who started a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Christ. He can’t be stopped! The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will not only reveal the truths of Christ to us, He will make us more like Christ as we behold Him!
Do you know the real Jesus? Or have you been settling for a cheap deception? Don’t receive a false Christ. If you do, you won’t have God. It’s a matter of life and death.
In 2007 I was fresh out of high school and new to the faith. An upperclassman football player at Centre College invited me to hang out and study the Bible and watch football. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe I found some Christian friends with the first few weeks of college. I immediately said yes and got my copy of The Cross-Centered Life. I never could have imagined how that Bible study would shape my views on discipleship and the Christian life.
In early 2012, I stumbled upon a community group that was having meals together, walking through books of the Bible, and living their lives together. As a single, 23-year-old bachelor, I was always at John’s house sipping coffee, talking Scripture and theology, and watching him love and lead his family. One night, he handed the teaching portion of the group to me. It was a game-changer. From that night on, I had a hunger to teach God’s word that would eventually come to fruition in a call to preach.
Later that year, when moved away to Knoxville in 2012, I didn’t know anyone except my wife—we were engaged at the time, and she was in college. As I got intensely lonely and depression was starting to set in, a couple of guys from Legacy Church invited me to their community group. We’d grab a meal, spend some time discussing Scripture, and hang out for a few hours afterward. Those were some amazing times.
In 2016, shortly after I moved back to KY, two friends from high school invited me to Dairy Queen once a week to sip coffee and eat the 3 Buck Breakfast. We’d whip out our ESVs and talk about Scripture and life before heading off to work. Those conversations eventually led me to being called and affirmed as an elder.
The common denominator in each of these scenarios is time and proximity. If we want to be discipled and make disciples, we need to find Christians close to us and we need to spend time with them. As we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, we will need other believers to walk with us along the way.
Your local church—and your extended network of believers—are here to help you persevere and to build you up as you walk with God and do the work of the ministry. But what does this actually look like in real life?
I could share hundreds of examples of how God has used the lives of other believers to shape me. We are called to bear one another’s burdens while also carrying our own load. It’s not a contradiction because we work out our salvation by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
God is working in us to will and work for His good pleasure, so we can rest assured that discipling others is pleasing to Him and helpful for them. As is commanded in the Great Commission, we don’t just evangelize, we make disciples. This is a picture of the Christian life that I can see and rejoice in.
The University of Kentucky basketball program has become the emblem of one-and-done college basketball. We grab high school athletes from the highest tier of basketball greatness, bring them in for a season, teach them the Coach Cal way, and get them to the NCAA tournament. The season-opening blue and white game looks like an all-star weekend dunk contest. The high-scoring, double-digit preseason victories stir up buzz about March Madness before college football has even played their bowl games. If you want to watch freshman phenoms year after year, tune into UK basketball.
By the time they play against the big shots, they are usually a top ten team, and with the exception of some major freshman slip-ups, we always feel one step closer to another national championship banner. As March comes and goes, we watch these young men earn their first round draft picks as they rally to the Elite Eight, Final Four, or the national championship.
They reach the pinnacle and then they’re gone. As quick as they came, they vanish. As soon as they announce their draft status and their agent, we say our goodbyes. Another year of one-and-done basketball. We see them off to their first round NBA glory and they make a life somewhere out there on an NBA team.
We watch them from afar, but we're not nearly invested. We've got eight-graders and blue chip seniors to keep our eyes on! Have you heard about next year's draft class?! We have to watch them early because we know they'll be gone soon.
Following Jesus Is Costly
We need to beware of a "one-and-done" Christianity. Too often, it's right in front of our eyes. It may even be in our living rooms. We invest in some top-tier church prospects—the ones we think can really make an impact for the Kingdom. We tell them we are Christians, invite them to a Bible study, and get them to visit our churches. After some good book studies or a convicting Bible conference, they get all the way to the point of confessing Jesus as their Lord and Savior. After their baptism, we celebrate like we just won the NCAA national championship.
Then we see them off to the rest of Christian lives, rooting for them from afar, hoping they look more like Lebron James than Greg Oden (just do a Google search if you don't know what I mean!). Of course, we still want to see them on Sunday morning. We make sure they're in a Sunday School class or weekly small group. We want them to be plugged in to a local church!
However, seeing people saved and attending a local church is not the end. It's only the beginning. For most Christians, following Jesus is long journey of perseverance and suffering. This is why Paul told the Philippians, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Getting into the faith is a glorious miracle! There is no doubt that "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). But we can't stop there. If our ultimate aim is to merely see people baptized and showing up on Sunday mornings, we have settled for a weak, unbiblical Christianity. We have chosen to side-step the path of discipleship for an easier route.
Work It Out
Just as UK's one-and-done freshmen move on to a much more mature game of basketball, so new converts are called to move from "milk to meat" (1 Cor. 3:2). Those young men work with strength trainers, dietitians, sleep coaches, chiropractors, and many more professional specialists in order to grow and thrive in the NBA. Failing to disciple new believers is like an NBA team leaving it up to the players to train themselves for game day. However, God gave the Church gifts to build up His people after they get saved:
"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood..."
The aim is much further than conversion. God desires saints who move on to maturity. Together, the church does the work of ministry. Sunday morning is a piece of the preparation. The church leaders are here to equip the saints to do the work of ministry in everyday life.
It is for this very reason that Paul says, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). If we want people to mature in their faith, we must continually point them to the Savior who is at work in them "both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). We exhort them to live obedient lives because God is at work in them! We walk with them and urge them to pursue spiritual maturity!
Preach the gospel. Urge people to confess and believe in Christ. Baptize people of all nations. But please don't fail to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded them (Matthew 28:18-20). There is no one-and-done Christianity. New converts aren't just banners to put in our sanctuaries or hall-of-fame rosters. They are eternal souls awaiting the day of Christ.
I recently came across a Ligonier article titled "Congregational Discourse". I highly recommend that you read it and ponder the conversations in your local church.
How are you contributing to the discussions that happen there? Are your conversations just shooting the breeze, talking about sports, discussing politics and the pandemic, and complaining? Are you intentionally speaking to encourage and edify the believers around you?
As you're reading these questions you may be tempted to bristle and think, "This guy's being legalistic! The Bible doesn't say we can't fellowship and talk about real life at church!". I’m not saying we shouldn't be able to have open and honest conversations about life. It's not a sin to talk about high school football or the Kentucky Derby. However, do you ever spend time "teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom" (Col. 3:16)?
It's easy to think this is the pastor's job, but "one another" puts the ball in your court, too. It’s the responsibility of every believer to contribute to the good of the church through godly conversation and encouragement.
If you're spending time with other believers outside of the corporate gathering on Sunday morning, then you're probably talking about the Word of God and how it intersects everyday life. That would allow for some casual talk on Sunday morning. It may also stir you to more godly conversation about the events of the previous week.
But imagine the impact we could have on an unbeliever if they heard us rejoicing about Jesus’ work in our lives and sharing the Word with one another on Sunday morning. They'd be able to truly look in and say, "Wow! They really love Jesus! He's all they can talk about!". Instead of simply being wowed by the pastor’s handling of the Word, they’d be encouraged by “normal” Christians, too.
Imagine our children or a new Christian hearing us talk about Jesus week after week. They would see us living out what we are teaching them! It has been said that more is caught than taught. While there may be some flaws in that statement, we should strive to be Christians worth imitating—especially in our conversations.
This godly discourse could also be preparing our hearts for the songs we are about to sing, the sermon we are about to hear, the Lord's Supper we are about to take, or the week we are about to live.
As a younger man, I would love to have an older believer drop a practical nugget of wisdom on me moments before corporate worship or just after hearing the sermon. It would be a blessing to hear an older woman drop a gem of parenting knowledge on my wife and I. I'd love to hear a zealous young believer share how God is using the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan to shape his days throughout the week.
In the words of Dr. Mark E. Ross: "This is the 'buzz' that should be heard in our congregational discourse. Will it be heard in your church this coming Lord's Day? Will the word of Christ be dwelling among you richly, or just barely?"
Social media is destroying us. I don’t say that lightly, either. We are losing our ability to sympathize with people. We've replaced the virtue of compassion with crassness. Instead of using caution, we share click-bait before we check the sources—sometimes before we've even read it! In these hyper-political days, it’s easy for us to treat every post as an opportunity to be a bastion for our own political stance.
We bite at our opponents—if we can really call them that—with our memes about the mask mandate. We share our hot displeasure about whether the country should have ever been reopened in the first place. We wage war about whether or not athletes should kneel during the national anthem or schools should reopen.
You wouldn’t talk to people that way in person. But “those idiots” aren’t face-to-face with you, they’re behind a phone just like you are. Those spoiled brat athletes have the same constitutional rights to peacefully protest at their jobs as the school teachers who chose to participate in sick-outs to protest against the government leaders. But it didn’t fit your agenda, so you shared a meme.
You say those gun-toting conservatives should leave their guns at home when they go to their “rallies”, but you turn a blind eye when black men show up fully-loaded to protest on behalf of black lives. Both groups have a constitutional right to protest and bear arms, but one group fit your agenda and the other didn’t.
So we continue. I talk to my friends about how dumb your view is. You talk to yours about how stupid my view is. We never talk face-to-face, but we @ one another in the comments and make sure everyone knows where we stand. We screen shot it and send it to other friends, and the gossip ensues. All of this because we don’t think before we post.
We are like conditioned animals who hear a bell or see a red notification pop-up and respond. We ask Google to provide us with wisdom—and it gives us knowledge without reproach. Can a search engine get mad at you? Nope. But it can cheer you on using algorithms that feed you the narrative you crave. So you find it and you post it.
Jesus has a word for us, and obedience isn’t optional. Even if your church doesn’t discipline you for your words, you should read this and tremble:
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak... -Matthew 12:36
Every careless word.
This includes the memes we share, the comment wars we get in, and the private conversations we have about “those” people. You know.. the “idiot liberals” and the “Republican morons“. Every time we falsely label someone a racist or a cultural Marxist counts, too. Anytime we speak slander and spread lies, we are guilty.
Every careless word.
Most of us are guilty of this. Some of us are sinning like this several times a day. It needs to stop. We must not sit back and let sin reign. The Bible calls us to examine ourselves and put sin to death. If we walk by the Spirit, we will live. But if we walk by the flesh, we are on the path to death. God takes even our little “careless” words seriously. If He does, why would we do otherwise?
What does this look like in practice?
Do you think before you post? Maybe it's time to give up social media for a season until you can build up self-control. That's what the Lord has stirred me to do lately.
God the Father has loved His Son for all eternity. As students of the Bible, we know that God’s love for Jesus didn’t begin (John 1:1). God is eternal. The fellowship between the Son and the Father transcends time, and the idea of Jesus being created is a heresy long refuted by Scripture and the Church.
Our eternal God has been in an eternal, living relationship.
That takes me back to something Jesus said in John 17:24. He said, “You loved me before the foundation of the world.” That immediately takes us back to the unimaginable time before there was a universe or even empty space. Empty air is still something! There was not even empty space because the fullness of God simply was.
We can’t even fathom that.
Yet there it is. The love of God the Father being poured out on His Son and the Son reciprocating His love for the Father. The Holy Spirit, too, was in this loving relationship too great for our minds to fathom. This is a sight too glorious for eyes. It’s too vast for the likes of Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, or even Augustine. Some things are worth pondering, but they are still too deep. We must be careful (Psalm 131:1).
Even As Jesus Is Loved
As we ponder the depth of the love of the Father and the Son, let us take a long glance at another word Jesus has to say about the love of God. For those who are in Christ through faith, Jesus prays, “You...loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23). Again, He prays that “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
Don’t hurry past that. Reread it. Slow down and think about what you just read.
God the Father loved Jesus perfectly and beyond measure (1 John 4:8). He loved Jesus before the foundation of the world for eternity past. And somehow He loves me even as He loved—and still loves—Jesus.
To say I’m unworthy is a gross understatement. I’m a sinner saved by grace. Amazing grace! Matchless grace! Infinite grace! Grace that is greater than all my sin! And by that grace, I am immeasurably loved by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
I'm looking at the moon as I write this. It’s 238,900 miles away and it’s massive in the night sky. The sun that is 92.96 million miles away warmed my skin today as I played outside with my family. And the God who made these and everything else loves me as much as He loves Jesus, His perfect, holy Son.
I’m moved to tears. I hope this can rock your soul, too. This is the beauty of the gospel. Sin-stained sons and daughters of Adam are adopted into the household of God by faith, through the Spirit because God loves us as much as He loves His Son. We see it when we read “in love, He predestined us for adoption to Himself” (Ephesians 1:4-5).
Not New, But Amazing
This isn’t anything new. It’s not something I’ve never read. But it’s the most amazing verse I’ve read today. It’s the most wonderful truth I’ve pondered tonight. It’s the greatest message I can share with my wife tonight before we drift off to sleep.
If you’re in Christ, through faith in Jesus, you are infinitely loved by the infinite three-in-one God of heaven. Walk in that love. Be one with everyone else God loves. Let your manner of life be worthy of this gospel message. Ponder this love and bask it in for the rest of eternity.
In Christ alone, we are deeply loved by God. In Christ alone, we can press on til tomorrow. In Christ alone, the love of God will compel us to glorify and enjoy God forever.
As of today, July 10th, 2020, Andy Beshear (Kentucky) will require masks to be worn in public spaces for at least the next 30 days. Some think such a requirement is government overreach and unconstitutional. Others consider this mandate to be a simple rule to follow. My aim is not to argue politics or the constitution. I am not an expert in either of those topics, and I think politicizing every issue often misses the point.
Regardless of your political opinions on the matter, should you wear a mask or not? What if a judge has ordered a block on pandemic executive orders coming from the governor? Here's where the issue gets a little sticky. Who do we follow? What does the Bible teach on the matter? How do we move forward for the next 30 or even 60 days?
1. Is it loving or unloving to wear a mask?
A good place to start is Matthew 22:36-40:
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.
Does wearing a mask help us love God or our neighbor? To put it differently, does wearing a mask hinder me from loving God or loving my neighbor? These questions should drive us to think deeply about the health and social implications of such a mandate. Does my wearing or refusal to wear a mask display a political stance more than a biblical one? Does my wearing or refusal to wear a mask portray an unbiblical measure of fear or anxiety? Does my wearing or refusal to wear a mask shout, "I trust (or reject) the government!"?
2. Is it sinful to wear a mask?
In Philippians, we are called to "approve of what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:10-11). Let's break that down in light of wearing masks. Does wearing a mask stop you from:
If you can biblically answer "no" to these questions, then it is not sinful to wear a mask. If you can biblically answer "yes" to these questions, you shouldn't wear a mask because it is sinful either in omission or commission of sin. Further, if your conscience does or does not allow you to wear a mask, you need to heed Romans 14:23: "For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin".
Be warned, doing Bible gymnastics to twist Scripture to fit your opinions is dangerous business! If you're willing to do it for a mask, you'll probably be willing to bend over backwards to make more serious and spiritually deadly decisions in the future.
3. Is this a situation where civil disobedience is necessary?
There are times, as in the case of Daniel, where civil disobedience glorifies God—he was told to worship a god other than the God of Scripture (see Daniel 6). The high officials knew that Daniel lived a godly, upright life and would obey the government unless it pertained to the "the law of his God" (Daniel 6:5). This begs for our attention! There are situations where the world and corrupt governments will try to bait us into sinning against God. We must resist the temptation to sin.
However, we need to use the Word of God to discern when and how to resist governing authorities in such cases. We also ought to reflect on how the Bible calls us to relate to the governing authorities in our cities, nations, and states. This doesn't mean reading the Bible through your political (or anti-political lens). It means striving to take the Word of God as it is and applying it to the situation in front of you.
Romans 13:1-7 calls us to "be subject to the governing authorities" and not do wrong because "rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad." Paul refers to God's sovereignty over the rulers of the nations and calls us to "do what is good." We do this not only to guard against "God's wrath", but also for the sake of our consciences.
1 Peter 2:11-17 is similar to Romans 13. Peter calls Christians to "keep [our] conduct among the Gentiles honorable" and to "be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution" because "this is the will of God". He continues, "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor." Peter reasons that living godly lives and being subject to governing authorities:
After reading these two passages, are masks inherently sinful? Does wearing or not wearing a mask keep us from being subject to the governing authorities? Are we following the revealed will of God if we decide to wear or not wear a mask? Who are we honoring if we do or don't wear a mask?
Let the Word of God Lead the Way
At the end of the day, you must let the Word of God dictate how you'll respond to the mask mandates—and any other government policies we meet in this lifelong journey. Here are three reasons I'll be wearing a mask in public:
I am not prescribing a policy for whether you should wear a mask or not, but it seems that this shouldn't be a hill to die on. This isn't a specific or direct attack on churches or religious liberty, so I don't see the need to buck against the system. You may disagree, but we must all strive to have the mind of Christ and "do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves" (Phil. 2:3).
Cry Out, Don't Complain
This is a hard time for us all, but especially pastors and church leaders. Before you criticize or complain, cry out to God on their behalf. You may not like the governor's or pastor's decision on masks, but remember that they are striving to make decisions based on Scripture and the flock God has called them to shepherd.
If you’re looking for a family friendly resource to get your kids learning about the Bible and having fun at the same time, this is it!
The book has several Bible stories to choose from:
Each of these stories has scripture and a brief summary of the Biblical text. In addition to the Scripture is a seek-and-find that is sure to keep kids and parents searching together while talking about the Bible stories. Each page contains at least 50 objects to count, which helps with math skills as well as attention to detail and memorization.
As a guy who loves bonuses and special features in books, I was excited to see some extra goodies tucked into the first page. This is a book full of surprises and fun finds for our children, and it is especially good for younger children who may not be able to focus very well on longer Bible stories.
I recommend Seek and Find Old Testament Stories to families with young children who want to get them involved in Bible time and family worship. It’s a great starting point, and is tied directly to the biblical text for those who want to use it in family devotional time.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Theological Bobble Heads
Bobble heads are some of the funniest decorations I’ve ever seen. The heads are so big that they wobble with every move. They are especially funny when they are on the dashboard of someone’s vehicle. I haven’t seen one in quite a while, but it reminds me of a spiritual problem that I’ve seen in my own heart and in people around me.
I have noticed a tendency to be fat-headed when it comes to theology. When I go to someone’s house, the first thing I look for is their bookshelf. One reason is to see if we stand on the same theological ground and read the same authors. Another reason is simple: I want to see how well-read they are.
By All Means, Read
Reading good books and studying the Bible is not inherently sinful. In fact, Paul tells Timothy to study (or be diligent) to show himself approved (2 Timothy 2:15). However, he also tells Timothy to continue in what he learned from Paul, including his conduct, aim of life, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, and more (2 Timothy 3:10-11).
In the same chapter, Paul says that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for a host of reasons including “training in righteousness.. that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Don’t Just Learn
For the more academically oriented Christians, we read of studying and get excited. We envision ourselves with books strewn across the table as we dive deep into the meaning of a Greek term or theological concept. We hear the words “study”, and “teaching” loud and clear. We often feel that we are “equipped” simply by our learning.
This can be a dangerous way of thinking, if we are not careful. Very dangerous.
In some Christian circles, learning is where we stop. As our heads swell with doctrinal knowledge, our desires to love and listen to others seem to wane. We are quick to quote scripture, our favorite theologians, or our confessional statements while we are slow to practice the principles and commands found in those same documents.
Notice that I said “we”. I’m a fat head too, sometimes. Just ask my wife and close friends.
Commit To Obedience
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine about how challenging it is to discuss and discern tone—especially in writing. What I mean is this: there is a way to speak truth that is loving, and there is a way to speak truth that is unloving. It is hard to figure out, sometimes, when a person is trying to be loving or unloving.
This is where we must search our own hearts and discern our true motives. As quickly as we study, we must also be willing to apply that learning through loving. That is what Paul speaks of in Philippians 1:9 when he says “and it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment”.
The clear way forward is to commit to applying and obeying everything we read and study in scripture. We are not to be hearers of the word only but also doers. We can’t settle for just being bobble heads who have minds full of knowledge and hearts dulled by the pride and arrogance that comes with unapplied excessive learning.
Are you a Christian bobble head? What would your friends and family say? What is your social media saying?
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
As we scan the horizon of American church history, we would be foolish to pretend that racism or ethnic partiality has not been and is not an issue. We know that the stain of racism has soiled the garments of the Church in this nation. As John Perkins stated in Welcoming Justice, the church allowed the culture to pervade their thinking.
However, the bride of Christ is always being made pure by her Bridegroom. We are a people being sanctified day by day as we behold our glorious Savior. Her sin-stained garment is being made white as snow by the blood of Jesus, and we must never forget that. The gospel is radically powerful no matter what culture or what sin issues may abound.
The Prophetic Work of the Church
Reconciliation starts with us... well, sort of.
Reconciliation starts with God who first extended His electing love to a people who were hell-bound and deserving of eternal death. Yet, after He saved us, He sent us to all nations to proclaim His glorious message of reconciliation. Our ultimate problem is enmity with God, and politics won’t fix that. Only the gospel can.
Since we have been reconciled to and sent out by God, reconciliation in America starts with us—the ambassadors of Christ.
As I have looked at the issues of racism and injustice in this nation, I have shared a similar sentiment with many friends and family: the church needs to be at the forefront of reconciliation efforts. In fact, I believe the church will lead the cause of racial unity and equality in America. The far-left agenda of organizations like Antifa and Black Lives Matter won’t sustain it. The alt-right groups like bro-confederates and the KKK want nothing to do with it. Partisan politics is only fuel for the fire.
This doesn’t mean we don’t need reforms in the justice system. It also doesn’t mean that fighting for the rights of the oppressed is a waste (see Isaiah 1:17). But it does mean we need more than than that. We need the gospel. We need a biblical worldview. Our foundation is Christ, and our strength lies in the power of God.
Christians are called to hate all evil (Psalm 97:10). As we deal with the evil in our own hearts, we will become more Christlike, and that Christlikeness will be put on display for the world to see. The gospel is a powerful message, and those who have new hearts also have the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwelling within us. We are mystically, and yet actually, in union with Christ. He is our power for a change!
This Is Church Work
The work of the Church in reconciling with one another is prophetic. I am not speaking of institutional religiosity and buildings. The church is the universal assembly of grace-filled believers who join together in local assemblies—churches—to worship and work together for the glory of God.
Our message and mission will speak volumes to the culture around us. The church has always been called to love one another and do good to everyone, though we do this imperfectly. Today, I see Christians throughout this nation rising up and listening and loving one another. I see Christians of every ethnicity studying the Bible in order to grow in their knowledge of the truth as well as their application of it.
I am hopeful! Jesus said that nobody can come to the Father except through Him. He has invited the world to come to Him, and He uses the church to do it. As the world sees Christians love one another, they will know we are His. We are living pictures of the reconciling work of the gospel!
What Is Your Part?
We each have a part to play. What is yours?
As we desire and strive to see reconciliation In this nation, it is going to take far more than more policies and diversity training. Those things are indeed helpful, but they don’t change hearts. We have seen that with the Civil Rights movement and laws that followed it. As disciplemakers, we are in the unique position to both teach and model biblical diversity.
Are you a parent? Teach your children the Bible. Share the gospel with your children as often as you can. And as you’re teaching them the gospel, show them what it looks like to be Christlike toward people to all people, even those who don’t look like them. Teach them to respond to racism or ethnocentrism in ways that glorify God.
Do you have a job? Grab lunch with a coworker that you’ve been meaning to connect with. Speak to them about these issues from a biblical worldview, and share the gospel as you speak on these matters. Reach to friends of other ethnicities and get to know them. Even if you don’t have many opportunities for that, speak to people of your own ethnicities about the issues and show them the biblical response. We don’t have to live in diverse areas to make a difference.,
Do you go to church? If you’re in a predominantly black or predominantly white church, you can still make an impact in the discussion of reconciliation. We should be willing to discuss our struggles and point one another to the gospel. Perhaps there are racist tendencies and mindsets within our own hearts. The church is the place to discuss that, because we have the Scriptures and the gospel to change those things. If you are in a diverse church, share your struggles while carrying the burdens of the Saints around you. This is exactly what the church is here for.
Will you buy in?
For some of us, reconciliation has been a way of life already. There may not be much for you to change at all. As a black man with a white wife and mixed children, reconciliation is part of the fabric of my life. I am in predominantly white churches, but I am striving to stay connected with the black culture in my community as well as connecting my church to the people I love and grew up with. Sometimes it is tough to balance because I feel stuck in the middle of two groups of people I love. For years I’ve been praying for God to send me as a laborer in the harvest of my community, and now I’m seeing some of the answers unfold.
For others of us, reconciliation may feel like a foreign task. It may be scary. It may even be offensive to think that you need to pursue diversity in your life. I challenge you with this: if heaven will be multicultural and multi ethnic, don’t you want a taste of that today? I don’t believe that you have to befriend every black person or every white person you meet. I am not saying that pursuing relationships with Latinos or people from other nations should be your only focus. But could it at least be one of them?
As I look at the world around me, reconciliation is bigger than just race. There are people in poverty from all races. There are people who have faced injustice from all walks of life. There are people everywhere looking for the hope of the gospel. The bigger picture of reconciliation is that we desire to see all people as image bearers of God who desperately need to be connected with the Savior—Jesus Christ. Will you grab them by the hand and take them to the foot of the cross?
Reconciliation starts with us.
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I’m tired right now.
I’m tired of having to witness another unarmed—this time subdued—black man killed by some bad police officers.
I’m tired of saying that most black people aren’t “thugs” and that there are “good” blacks everywhere.
I’m tired of saying that not all cops are bad.
I’m tired of people thinking that I’m a “white” black dude who only wants to talk about how bad the looting is and not about the racial tension that caused it.
I’m tired of having to remind people that not every black protestor desires to see riots and destruction of business in their own community.
I’m tired of my white friends having to ask me how I’m doing because it’s happened again.
I’m tired of being told that since it didn’t happen to me, it shouldn’t affect me.
But I’m thankful.
I’m thankful for all the peaceful protestors who are using their freedom to speak out against injustice and evil.
I’m thankful for the black Christian voices that can keep me encouraged and remind me that I need to speak up and use my voice as well.
I’m thankful for the white Christian voices who are truly concerned and desirous to be there for us.
Im thankful for the white pastors who are literally taking action to help their churches be catalysts in reconciliation, even if they’re called social justice warriors or lose credibility with some in their theological camp.
I’m thankful that there are good police officers of all races—including white!—out to serve and protect the people of this country.
I’m thankful that many police officers and government officials have spoken out on the atrocity we witnessed this week.
I’m thankful most of all for the gospel which saves the souls of all who call on the name of Jesus.
I’m hopeful knowing that this will all be over some day.
I’m hopeful that God will use circumstances like these to strengthen and unite Christians all across this country.
I’m hopeful because Christ will come back and God will wipe every tear from the eyes of His children regardless of what their skin looks like.
I’m hopeful because the Holy Spirit is crying out with groanings too deep for words on the behalf of many speechless and hurting Christians.
I’m hopeful because Christ has given me rest and is interceding for me as well as my brothers and sisters in Him.
And I’m hopeful because I’ve read Revelation. I know the end already because God revealed it and promised to make all things new.
If you don’t know Christ. Get to know Him now. It’s not too late to trust in Him and His finished work. It is through the cross that Jesus paid for sin and broke down the dividing wall of hostility between all of His people. He died to make us all one in Him. He rose again so we could have life. If you want to see true change, seek the Lord and watch Him change you first. Then come join us as we fight together for justice.
An Array Of Emotions
We've seen a plethora of responses to COVID-19 and the worldwide fallout over the past several weeks. We've all been impacted and may even feel like we're on a roller coaster, shifting up and down with each new and seemingly contradictory piece of information thrown at us. While there is a lot to be joyful about in times of trial, sometimes we just don't feel the way we should.
Thankfully, God knows that intimately. Jesus took on flesh and felt more suffering than we could ever imagine. He is a brother (Hebrews 2:11) who sympathizes with our weakness and suffering, though He never fell into sin (Hebrews 4:15). The Holy Spirit is in His people and intercedes for us when we are too weak and unable to pray as we ought (Romans 8:26).
Are you angry? You may be angry at the governor or with the church leaders for how the worship service will look this week. Maybe you’re angry at God that He allowed this virus get out of hand. Maybe you’re angry because you feel that we’re being duped in a global conspiracy. Perhaps you're angry because you lost your job or the economy is being crushed. You might even feel angry because we're opening sooner than you think is wise.
Are you fearful? Perhaps you're anxious about your health. Maybe you have an immunocompromised loved one. Maybe you have a newborn or young baby and you fear what this virus could do to them. Perhaps you're nervous because others aren't wearing masks or don't seem to be taking this as seriously as we have been advised.
Are you overwhelmed? You might be caring for several young children. You could be the parent of older children who want to break free from the government restrictions. Perhaps you have an elderly parent or family member to care for. Maybe your job has drastically changed and you're doing difficult and confusing work. Maybe life was already overwhelming and this virus has thrown it completely off kilter.
Whatever the case, let the glory of God minster to your soul today.
God is Worthy of Our Worship
Pray earnestly right now that God would reorient your heart toward Him. Ask Him to open your eyes to His glory in the midst of this frustration. Psalm 33 is a call for His people to worship and praise Him—even in the midst of suffering. Praise "befits" those who have trusted in Christ for righteousness (v. 1-2). For this reason we can "sing to Him a new song" as we take a fresh look at glorious, ancient truths that have blessed us through the years and continue to bring us great joy (v.3).
God Word is upright and faithful (v. 4-5), powerful to create the universe (v. 6-9), powerful to restrain sinners (v. 10), and forever beneficial to those who are His (v.11-12). God's Word is worthy of our adoration and we need to let it draw us to a place of deep worship in our hearts and in our churches.
God is Still Here, Hope in Him
God doesn't stand far off as a distant watchmaker who set things in motion and just let it go. He "looks down from heaven" as He sits on His heavenly throne (v. 13-14). He sees the wicked and their vain trust in themselves and their inventions (v. 15-17). They technology and weaponry won't save them in last day. His caring and watchful eye is "on those who fear Him" and He delivers our souls from death (v. 18-19).
If you're struggling today, tell it to God and wait for Him. Long for the day that He returns and fixes all of this mess. It's coming! Remember, too, that right now "He is our help and our shield" (v. 20). He can help you repent of unrighteous emotions and use your righteous emotions in ways that will do good and not evil. Pray that your heart can be glad in Him because you trust in Him (v. 21).
Ultimately, pray that God's steadfast love could be upon all of His people as we hope in Him (v.22). God is bigger than COVID-19, corrupt governments, potential vaccines, media outlets, social media opinions, and anything else we can find. If we set our minds and souls on Christ and remember that in Him we are righteous and upright (v. 1-2), He will be our help and our hope (v. 20-22).
We all need the gospel right now. We must not take our eyes off Jesus, especially in the most challenging and stressful moments. How are you feeling? Where are you looking?
A Stroll Through the Neighborhood
As I walk down the street this morning, I see an empty neighborhood. There aren't a lot of cars out driving, and there aren’t a lot of people out having fun together. No cookouts, no yard sales, no birthday parties, and not much of anything else. Spring doesn’t normally feel like this, but the COVID-19 lockdown has us all stuck at home and waiting for some relief. It seems that many states are opening things back up, which has many people jumping for joy.
As I think personally about this whole situation, the thing I miss most is fellowship with other Christians. I miss the corporate gatherings each Sunday. I also miss the impromptu get-togethers with brothers and sisters in Christ. Right now I can’t have a bonfire and invite my friends over for scripture reading and discussion. Kim and I can’t invite another family over for dinner after Sunday morning worship. I can't meet with Jeremy on Tuesday at the Hub or pray with Joe on Wednesday morning.
Some have been quick to remind me that, technically, I can do all of these things. They're right. But out of love for others, respect for the government, and our own health, my family has decided to stay in.
Loving My Neighbors
While many people allow their Christian faith to be Sunday and Wednesday only, I hope this lockdown gives us a greater longing to spend time with people. Humans are not meant to be isolated. I think about God speaking that Adam was not meant to be alone (Genesis 2:18). While many of us have a spouse or children, several do not. I feel for our single Christian brothers and sisters out there who have lost many of the avenues of social connection in this tough season.
I've been thinking a lot about the command to love my neighbor, and how radically different that looks right now (Mark 12:31). I guess I could still go visit my neighbors and bring them food, but I could also be introducing them to a virus that I don’t even know if I have. Our church could set up a block party, give away food, hand out tracts, and preach the gospel, but that size gathering could spread the virus without proper social distancing. And who knows when the government will say it is wise to host such a gathering.
The reality is, I haven't visited my neighbors enough in the past few years, and it took being locked down to realize that. It took being locked down to get me to recognize the numerous families in my neighborhood who need to see the love of God. It took a global pandemic to open my eyes to the people I've been ignoring for the past five years while praying for God to send me somewhere with the gospel.
It may sound crazy, but coming out of this Coronavirus in the coming weeks is going to be a bitter time for many. Did I just say that? What could possibly be bitter about local businesses and restaurants opening back up? What could be bitter about getting back to grilling out and watching the kids play in the backyard? What could be bitter about our local churches and small groups gathering again?
Some people will face great anxiety. It is clear from the protests and social media clamor that many people are ready to get back to life as usual. Along with these people, there are plenty of others who feel the need to be cautious about opening things back up. And no, they haven't "bought in" on some government or media conspiracy to keep everyone afraid until the mark of the beast comes in the form of vaccinations. They simply see the nature of a deadly disease that has continued to spread even in the face of global lockdowns.
To think about life as normal in the midst of this pandemic can be terrifying for some people, setting their anxiety on edge. They may not be ready to get back to church as much as they deeply miss it. The immunocompromised and at-risk Christians get to watch everyone else get back to life while they continue to shelter in place. Pray for them. Pray that they wouldn't be overcome with anxious thoughts and fears of contracting the virus. Pray that they don't become angry or bitter about their circumstances. Instead of mocking them for being illogical or speaking as though they don't matter in the grand scheme of things, pray that they would cast their anxieties on the Lord who cares for them (1 Peter 5:7).
Some people will act recklessly. From skepticism to outright anger, some will refuse to wear masks or keep social distance. Others will go out of their way to reject anything that government recommends regarding social distancing. By law, they are totally free to do so in stores and in churches. We are a free nation governed by a constitution for a reason. However, as Christians, we need to remember the principle of Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24:
"'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor."
While we may think it's silly to wear a mask to Walmart or to church, we must be cognizant of the needs and desires of our neighbor. It may sound stupid to stand 6 feet away from people or not shake hands at church, but it could be what is good for our neighbor. It might be annoying to not sip that cup of coffee before corporate worship on Sunday, but it could be beneficial to others.
People don't wear signs saying, "cancer patient", "immunocompromised", or "lung issues". Also, seasonal allergies and asthma make some people more prone to coughing, sneezing, and getting respiratory issues during the next 5 months or so. We need to focus less on what's lawful and more on what builds up. In these days, it is especially important to live out Philippians 2 as we seek to live like Christ and count others as more significant than ourselves. Let us pray that Christians would reflect the love and kindness of Christ in the coming days.
In light of the bitter, however, there is so much sweetness.
We get to gather on Sunday mornings again. We will soon get to see many of our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ as we gather to worship with one another. No more Zoom burnout—we hope! No more preaching sermons to an empty room. No more watching the sermon from home and being distracted by the million things going on around us. No more singing into a camera with everyone muted so that we can only hear our own voices at home. No more internet connection issues making us look and sound like pixelated Super Mario using autotune. And no more blacked out screens with silent mics! (We know you're hiding!) Even if behind masks, we get the joys of being physically present.
I hope we don't ever take gathering together for granted again. It has been almost 8 weeks since we last did this, and I hope it has created a longing for more than just mere social interaction. I hope we are excited about more than just getting out of the house. I hope that we are overjoyed about the fact that the we get to be back together doing what the church does—gathering and going. While the going has never stopped, the gathering won't be paused (or Zoomed) anymore!
We get to gather in small groups again. We get to start having meals and get-togethers in our homes again. We get to send up prayers of worship, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication together. We can sip coffee—iced, whipped, or hot—while discussing work, parenting, marriage, and every other aspect of life from a Christian perspective. We get to open our Bible and start dwelling again on how we can reach our communities with the gospel that Jesus has commissioned us to share with the world. We get to be together.
Whether your local church has formal small groups or not, I hope you've missed being among other believers. I hope that you've grown a hunger for more than just consuming a Sunday sermon and a Wednesday night Bible study. I hope we've all developed a zeal to reach the lost in ways that have always been simple but often taken for granted. I hope you're ready to get back to living out the numerous "one another" passages with a renewed joy and vigor.
I know I am.
Are you ready to reopen? What are you most excited about? Are you nervous or fearful about anything? How are you praying in these times?
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God's Glory Revealed in Christ: Essays on Biblical Theology in Honor of Thomas R. Schreiner is not for the faint of heart. I say that jokingly because there is plenty of Greek and Hebrew in this book. However, if you are a pastor or a student of biblical theology, this will be a great addition to your library. The contributors include scholars and pastors like Albert Mohler, Jr., D.A. Carson, James Hamilton, John Piper, Robert Plummer, and more. To say this volume is meaty is an understatement.
God's Glory Revealed in Christ is divided into 4 helpful categories:
1. Whole Bible approaches to biblical theology: This section is packed with helpful information, especially for those considering the various approaches to biblical theology and how they interpret the scripture to form their theology. These chapters provide overviews of the various forms of and systems of biblical theology such progressive dispensationalism, new covenant theology, etc.
2. Major themes and issues in biblical theology: These chapters help understand some of the broader themes in Schreiner’s work. The essays also expand on some of the issues and qualms facing biblical theology today. It was helpful to see how biblical theology helps interpretive challenges in the Bible, especially in the New Testament as it relates to the Old Testament and complex doctrines such as the Trinity. The chapter on pastoral ministry was golden. It definitely changed my perspective on pastoral visitation and the importance of ministering the word beyond just the pulpit.
3. Background issues and biblical theology: This was probably the most technical section of the book. It Is valuable in teaching the importance of background information with regard to biblical theology and New Testament interpretation. For most lay level readers, much of this will be outside of our scope at first. However, it is beneficial to be acquainted with these issues as we read and study theology. Jarvis William’s chapter on second temple Judaism was brilliant (though jam-packed with Greek!). It was great to see some of the connections he made, I certainly look forward to reading that chapter again!
4. Applications: Of course, this section is very practical and accessible even to those who don’t have a strong grasp of previous technical material. This section addressed transgenderism , the great commission, pastors as theologians, academic ministry, and the kingdom in today’s public square. I was further reminded that pastors and church leaders need to be well-equipped to teach the Word in season and out. We must never fail to see how our biblical theology will shape the preaching and practical ministry of our churches.
While all of this valuable information lies in the first 268 pages, my favorite chapter was on Schreiner as a father. His son's word echo those stated by his students and colleagues in previous chapters. Throughout the book, it is made clear that he is a scholar of scholars, and yet he is often described as humble, approachable, loving, and pastoral. Tom Schreiner is a family man who is sinner who has flaws just like everyone else, but he has an admirable life worthy of his work as a pastor theologian.
If biblical theology is your niche (like it is mine!), I heartily recommend this book. I especially recommend it to pastors who are seeking to grow theologically and become pastor theologians. God's Glory Revealed in Christ has given me a strong desire to check out more of Tom Schreiner's writings, especially on biblical theology.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to leave a positive review.
What would life be like if we said phone use was our greatest priority? Let's look at such a day...
What if we planned to use our phones for the first 15 to 30 minutes in the early morning? Instead of sleeping in, what if we set our alarms and resolved to rise early to be alone with our phones? Instead of waking up, though, we keep hitting snooze until the kids get up or it's time to get ready for work. By then, we scramble to make coffee, grab a shower, throw a shirt in the dryer, and hit the door. We're frustrated that we couldn't get up, so we promise ourselves that tomorrow morning will be different! Plus we have time to spend time on our phones later. It's only 7:15 for crying out loud!
What if we decided that since we hadn't used our phones before work that we'll wait til lunch? We'll have a half-hour of quiet time, and we can give full attention to our phones. Instead, we get interrupted by a coworker for 15 minutes and don't want to be rude, so we scarf down our meal and run to the restroom. Now lunch is over. Oh well, we'll just get around to it later when we can get a chance to sit down and be alone with it. It's only noon and there's plenty of the day left. Surely the afternoon will be better than the day has started out.
What if we got home after a busy and exhausting day only to find that our children needed our attention and our responsibilities demanded our focus, time, and energy for the next 4 or 5 hours? We planned family phone time at dinner, but decided last-minute that it would just be easier to eat and get the kids to bed. There was no time to plan it, and we haven't even had phone time alone. We know that our children would greatly benefit from the screen time, and we convince ourselves that they know we care a LOT about our phones, even if we don't really use them very much. Since tomorrow's always more convenient, we'll just wait.
What if we were so tired at bedtime that we decided to veg out and watch the latest episode of TV, hang out with our spouse, or just crash and get an extra bit of shut-eye—we all need more sleep, especially when there are little ones at home! Perhaps we even planned to have phone time together with our spouse, but just weren't feeling it tonight. We reluctantly grab our phone after waiting all day to use it knowing that we'll get drowsy and fall asleep within a few minutes, but we reassure ourselves that some phone time is better than none. Plus, we know that tomorrow will definitely be better than today was.
What if we planned to meet up with a friend tomorrow for coffee to talk about life and our phones? Instead of any real phone conversation, though, we spent most of the time joking around, catching up, and talking about current events. We do talk about phones, but it's mainly about how frustrating American life can be with all the busyness and struggles that keep us from really enjoying our phones like we want to. We're tempted and we struggle with all kinds of distractions that keep us from living the life our phones promise us. By the time we glance at our watches, it's time to go, and we didn't really do much more than shallow chit chat. We'll do a better job next week, for sure!
What if we only planned to be with friends and family once a week for an hour to engage with our phones together? Some of us get to hear a nice Ted Talk that tells us how to do better and think differently based on a blend of the speaker's ideas and some of the information gathered from his phone. Others get a really good message from our phones about how to enjoy more phone time and connect with the maker of the phone. However, rather than enjoying the time together and focusing on our phones, we get sidetracked by the craziness of the morning, our to-do list at home, and the cookout we are going to enjoy afterward. Since we had plenty of phone time in the morning, we'll just put our phones up and enjoy a day off today. This morning's pick-me-up will be just the boost we need for the week.
A Parable Explained
In a culture that spends upwards of 5 hours a day on our phones, this doesn't sound like devotion, does it? In a scenario like this, there are certainly priorities, but it's not phones. From the outside looking in, it wouldn't seem that we even cared much about our phones. Phones would probably end up becoming dusty relics of a bygone era in less than a generation. If nothing else, people would keep buying phones and using them sporadically enough to be familiar with them, but there would be few people whose lives are marked by devotion to a glowing screen.
So it is with our Bibles and our devotional lives. The scenes painted are from my life and the lives of countless people around me. We claim to be devoted to God. We plan and "prioritize" our devotional lives, but it seems that so many things crowd out our priorities. The irony of this parable is that such a “struggle” to prioritize phone use is rarely a struggle for many of us. There are very few people who need to work hard at getting their 5 hours of phone time in. Yet most of us know the struggle to get even 15 minutes of solid Bible time each day.
This isn't meant to guilt you into Bible reading. It occurred to me as I was listening to Jerry Bridges' True Community that my priorities are often out of sync with Scripture. Theoretically, I prioritize communion with God. I've read books on the topic, I write about it often, and I preach about it in my sermons quite a bit. However, this quote from Bridges hit me like a ton of bricks:
"Most of us do not experience this continual communion and corresponding delight in God that the Bible talks about. Worse yet, we do not even long for it. We are content to use God — to seek His help in our jobs, our studies, our marriages, and, yes, even our ministries."
Do we experience communion and delight in God as the Scriptures reveal it? Or do we constantly chase communion with God while being tripped up and distracted from seeking Him? Do we long for time with God in reading, meditating on, and praying through His Word? Are we content to use God like a genie who is sovereign over the universe? These are all questions we need to ask ourselves.
In light of these questions, the answer is not to get up tomorrow and try harder in our own abilities. Rather, we need to strive with all His energy to seek and find Him (Colossians 1:29). The reward of secret communion with and devotion to God is God Himself (Matthew 6:4). Those who seek God with their full heart will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 7:7). Yet we know that none seek after God until they've been born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3; Romans 3:11). Will you give everything in you to seek and find the Lord? There's not a more rewarding life than the one that lives in communion with the triune God.
When you hear the word theologian what comes to mind? When you think about doctrine do you picture scholars in suits and ties studying 2000 page books full of 15-letter -isms and -ologies? Do you picture them solving problems and writing page after page on issues that have no little to no practical bearing on the lives of everyday, average people like us? As much as I hate to admit it, I have often felt that way as I've waded into depths of theological conundrums caused by the translation (or mis-translation) of a single Greek word.
I used to think John Calvin was one of these ivory tower theologians with all head and no heart. However, the more I read what he wrote and not what people say he wrote, I see that he had the heart of a lover of God and pastor. He was a man of strong devotion and zeal for God, and he puts this on display with the numerous prayers and references to seeking God in writings. Contrary to popular belief, he wrote more on other topics than did on election or predestination.
Everyday Prayer with John Calvin is one such example of his passion for God. It isn't a book that Calvin wrote, but it's jam-packed with quotes and excerpts of his writings on dwelling with Christ through prayer. Donald McKim has done an excellent job of pulling excerpts from Calvin's magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion, as well as his numerous commentaries on the Old and New Testaments.
McKim suggests four steps to using this book in your prayer life:
1. Read the passage of Scripture at the top of each page. (Yes, this book is about the Word and the God Calvin wrote about, not Calvin himself!)
2. Meditate on the teaching and instruction from the passage and devotional writings of Calvin.
3. Pray in reflection on the Scripture and the devotional..
4. Act in light of what you've read and prayed about.
In the strange and scary days we are walking in right now, here is an excerpt of how Everyday Prayer with John Calvin and helps us pray in light of God's Word. In his writing on Psalm 18:1-6, Calvin said:
"It was a very evident proof of uncommon faith in David, when, being almost plunged into the gulf of death, he lifted up his heart to heaven by prayer. Let us therefore learn, that such an example is set before our eyes, that no calamities, however great and oppressive, may hinder us from praying, or create an aversion to it." (p. 27; emphasis added)
With prayer points and reflection questions each day, Everyday Prayer with John Calvin is an excellent supplement to your devotional life. Whether you're looking for a quick and simple tool for your quiet times or you're planning to spend time with a friend, spouse, or family member, this is a great option for you!
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to leave a positive review.
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Unexpected and life-altering changes are the icy cold bucket of water that instantly jars us awake on a cozy morning. It seems that life went from normal to chaos in only a couple of days. Of course, history is full of pandemics and mass hysteria, but it is unprecedented—as the media has often said—for us in the 21st century with our advanced medical technology and interconnected systems of communication and information.
Yet here we are. A tiny band of parasites is threatening to undo us. A microscopic organism is lurking at the grocery store or in the breath of a loved one. These evil minions are rubbing their sheisty hands together as they wait to embed their genetic material into our bodies and try to take us down. Most of the time, they don't win. But that doesn't mean they'll give up without a fight.
Back To The Old Paths
Every generation is faced with some circumstance that can seem to pull the rug right out from beneath their feet. From the Black Death of the 1300s to the Spanish flu of the 1900s to the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, we all face circumstances that can leave us feeling undone. Yet in these challenging times, we would do well to remember the words of Jeremiah 6 when Jerusalem was facing great destruction:
"...Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."
While our circumstances are quite different than the Israelites Jeremiah was speaking to, the principle is still very applicable to Christians today. In the face of what appears to be a new reality for us in coming months, we have the choice to either respond in faith a follow the good path or say to God, "we will not walk in it." I hope and pray for myself as well as this generation that we will respond by going back to the ancient paths.
A Side Note
Before we go further, I'm not one of those gloomy Christians who starts every sentence off with, "the modern church has got it wrong because of...". There are many Christians around the world who are striving, with 2000 years of tradition behind them, to live out a biblical faith. It brings me great joy to see Christians around the world rallying to worship God together in these days of global lockdowns and quarantines. Praise God for technology that lets us worship and receive His Word together in these days of "social distancing".
My focus is what we do with the other 167 hours of the week. After my first seven days of social isolation, I was ready to go insane! It wasn't because I have a house full of little kids or even that I'm stuck and can't have the social interaction I desperately desire. Rather, my problem is that my devotional life was so intimately tied to the routines of my life that when things changed, so did my time with the Lord.
I've got to keep focused on the old paths or I'll be led by the media's mirage that solace is found in having more knowledge of the world around me.
What are the old paths?
What are the "ancient paths"? What is "the good way" where we can find rest for our souls? The first and most obvious answer is Christ alone. He calls us to come to Him and find rest (Matthew 11:28). But what are the means He has given us to do this? How do we seek and find Christ in the midst of all the noise and chaos that seems be closing in from all sides?
I'll be forthright. This is not an impressive or exhaustive list. I don't have a secret path or formula that will guarantee instant devotional success. If you have it, please share it early in the COVID-19 social isolation phase so we can master it! In all seriousness, I just want to recommend 3 basic spiritual practices that can help anchor our souls during such a time as this.
Spend Time In God's Word
This may be the most boring and unoriginal tip you've read all week. But in the barrage of free books, free lectures, free courses, and a host other free resources, we can lose sight of the richness of God's Word. While starving our souls on supplements and junk food, we forget that there's an infinite supply of manna right before our eyes. We need God's Word in these times.
Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, says "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Will we be like the Israelites who detested God's food (Numbers 21:5)? Will we frown at the Scriptures like children do a plate Brussels sprouts or will we heartily agree that God's Words are "sweeter than honey" (Psalm 119:103)? Whether it's your physical Bible, an audio Bible, or an app on your phone, it's important that we spend time reading and hearing God's word alone, with our families, and even with friends (get creative!). Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Meditate on Scripture
I once heard of dieters who put tasty food in their mouths, chewed it up for a few seconds, and then spit it out. This gave them the taste of the food without adding all the calories, sugar, and fat from the foods they loved. While it sounds like something for the birds, we often do this with the Bible as we plow through our reading plans or knock out our chapter for the day.
Just as people who don't actually eat their food would wither away to almost nothing, so our souls will be desperately malnourished without meditation. The 19th century writer, Nathanael Ranew said that, "little meditating makes lean Christians, of little life, little strength, little growth, and of little usefulness to others." This doesn't mean we need to be monks or mystics, but it does mean that we need to commit to slowing down and thinking deeply about God and His Word. If Joshua and David were both men of meditation and great leaders in Israel (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2), then we can "find" the time during our time away from work and social life to meditate. The blessed path of meditation is available for all of us.
Once again, nothing new here! We know we ought to pray, but do we actually pray? Do we delight in our time with God? There used to be a slang phrase called the "Blackberry prayer" before smartphones took over. You've seen it. People have their phones in their lap, looking down in what could either be deep agonizing, solemn prayer, or simple scrolling. I wonder how many hours we will spend in "Android prayer" or "iPhone prayer" during these COVID-19 days with our live news and infinitely scrolling newsfeeds. I get easily sucked in.
It is during these days that we must remember to "continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2). Watchful, thankful prayer, like meditation, is a continual command, but it is especially needful as we are isolated and waiting out this storm. As valuable as it is to connect with people during these socially isolated days, it is infinitely more valuable to connect with God. We must prioritize our time with the Lord.
Spiritual Paths for Spiritual People
These old paths have been blessing believers for millennia, but it's not merely the doing that brings change. Without the Holy Spirit's help, our reading, meditating, and praying will be vain and powerless. We are needy people! Without the blood of Jesus, we can't come boldly to the throne of the gracious Father, nor can we understand the aim of all the Scriptures—Jesus. Without the love of the Father, we would be left to our sin and lost for eternity! Never forget who and whose you are while you're doing these spiritual duties, for that will put you on the path to legalism and burnout. But also don't neglect these important duties which God has given for our good.