Curiosity

For as long as I can remember, I have been a curious person.

Seriously.

My earliest memory is getting out of our car and walking over a huge berm that separated the gravel church parking lot (okay maybe it wasn’t huge but I was just a young boy so to me it was). My brothers were really annoyed with me because I kept asking my dad all sorts of questions about why or how and so on. I vividly remember one of them telling me to “shut up.” I don’t remember exactly how my father responded but essentially it was “leave him be, we learn by asking lots of questions.” This, of course, led me to ask even more questions both because I was curious and because I saw it annoyed my siblings!

I think curiosity is an important discipline that stops life from being boring or mundane. It fills life with wonder and excitement. Someone who is curious can never be apathetic and if you know me, I am anything but apathetic. Curiosity drives me. I want to know why and how and so what.

For that reason alone I really enjoyed The Curious Christian by Barnabas Piper. This book challenges you to be curious about everything and anything and make the most of your God-given life.  Throughout the book, he challenges us to beware of just knowledge for the sake of knowledge or facts for the sake of facts. Instead, we must lean into what we see, hear, read, and learn and turn it upside down and inside out and really consider “so what?” He writes, “It is a sad, even sinful, thing to waste knowledge of any kind, but it is infinitely more sad and sinful to collect knowledge of the living God and for it to have no impact on us.” (pg. 71-72). Or again, “My greatest risk in reading is that I will collect knowledge but do not act on it, that I will become a card catalog of knowledge instead of being intent on bringing my curiosity to bear in the world” (pg. 87). And again, “We have an almost immeasurable capacity to take right beliefs and turn them into no actions. we are superheroes at knowing exactly what to do and not doing it.” (pg. 132).

That’s challenging stuff. But what really intrigued me was a connection Piper draws between curiosity and discipleship that I have never considered before. He writes:

“Jesus calls his followers to be in the world as he was, but not of the world. We are to be of his kingdom, defined by it and living according to its standards.

We are called to go into all the world and make disciples.

We are called to be all things to all people.

We are called to be shrewd as serpents and harmless as doves.

We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But how in the world can we do these things if we are not in the world? How can we know our neighbors unless we move into the neighborhood? Or connect with people or learn cultures or be shrewd or be all things without being close enough and invested enough to learn what those things are? We cannot without being curious. Curiosity is a primary tool for fulfilling the mission of Christ. Without it we are distant from and clueless about those who need Jesus most. – pg. 115

What a great thought!

I love it!

So often Christians resemble thick-walled castles with deep, crocodile-infested moats surrounding them. Curiosity gets us out of our cloistered lives. It lets the drawbridge down. It helps us connect with those God has placed in our lives. It turns us outward. It opens up lines of communication. It enables us to get to know our neighbors and love them with the love of Christ. It helps us be “in the world but not of it.” Like Barnabas writes, “Curiosity is a primary tool for fulling the mission of Christ.”

So Christian friend, let’s use this tool. Cultivate it. Sharpen it. Faithfully employ it to get to know your neighbors and love them. Let’s use it to multiply disciples of Jesus Christ all around the world!

 

Why Are You Fearful?

Here are ten reasons I came across in my Scripture reading today why you, my Christian friends, have no reason to fear:

  1. Jesus commands all things – “…Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea. And there was a great calm.” – Matthew 8:26
  2. We have received the Spirit of adoption – “All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!'” – Romans 8:14-15
  3. Our suffering is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory – “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” – Romans 8:18
  4. God works all things together for our good, i.e. – our conformity to Christ – “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” – Romans 8:28-29
  5. God is for us – “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31
  6. God will give us all that is necessary for life and godliness – “He did not even spare HIs own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?”
  7. God has chosen us, justified us, and Christ Jesus intercedes for us – “Who can bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.”
  8. Nothing can separate us from God’s unconquerable, all-satisfying love – “No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us.” – Romans 8:37
  9. God is faithful – “But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen and guard you from the evil one.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:3
  10. God is with us so God commands us – “Do not be afraid or discouraged” – Joshua 8:1 and Joshua 1:9.

“You are to regard only the LORD of Hosts as holy.

Only He should be feared;

only He should be held in awe.” 

Isaiah 8:13

 

New Year Resolutions

I know. I know. We are 11 days into 2018 and I am just now posting about new year resolutions? But, hey, better late than never, right? The truth is, my schedule has been so full that I didn’t have a chance to do much reflection until just about a week ago. Before I share them with you, let me ask you, have you made any yet? Or maybe I should ask, how many have you broken already?

It seems people have a love/hate relationship with them. I personally am a very goal oriented kind of person so I naturally gravitate toward them. I also think they are valuable because they keep us from drifting and just bumping along day to day but not really going anywhere or accomplishing anything. However, I also think a strong case can be made for them Biblically.

  • God calls to Israel, “Give careful thought to your ways” (Haggai 1:5).
  • Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
  • And my all-time favorite (and which I preached on this past Sunday morning), “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28-29).

That last reference is dripping with resolve and determination. It has shaped my ministry and lifestyle more than any other verse in the Bible. I want to spend every last ounce of God-given energy I have not on making a new and improved version of myself but on being increasingly transformed into the person of Jesus Christ. I want to become increasingly Christ-like in my words, thoughts, actions, and attitudes. I want to talk like Christ, look like Christ, think like Christ, serve like Christ, love like Christ, etc. But that is not all. I want to help others do the same! I want to help others be fully developed followers of Jesus Christ. You see that in the verse when it repeatedly says, “everyone.” This is why the overall mission of my life is making more and better disciples of Jesus Christ. It is surrendering my entire being to God that I might intentionally develop others into spiritual maturity.

With all of that being said, here is what Colossians 1:28-29 looks like in my life this year:

  • Redeeming the Time
    • Wake up every morning at 5:30am so I can have a good 90 minutes of personal Bible study and prayer and also time to read some other good Christian books.
    • My Bible reading plan is Professor Grant Horner’s plan. I have used it before and really benefited from it.
    • I will memorize the entire book of Ephesians using the plan by Andy Davis.
    • This ties into Colossians 1:28-29 in a number of ways. For starters, how can I intentionally help others mature in Christ when I myself am not intentionally growing in Christ? Furthermore, it is God’s Word and prayer that is going to energize me to do this work.
  • Exercise
    • I will limit myself to 1500 calories a day
    • I will exercise 20 minutes a day
    • I will do all of this because my body is not my own and because I want to live on this earth as long as I can so I can have that much more time to encourage others. Also, proper food and exercise is a way God energizes us to do his work!
  • Writing
    • Publish at least one blog post every week.
    • It should be easy to see how this ties into Colossians 1:28-29 – I can proclaim Christ, teach about Christ, admonish others in Christ, etc. through blogging and hopefully help others in doing so.
  • Reading
    • It is my aim to read no less than one book a week. For the most part I already do this but I want to be more intentional about it. I plan on reading a smattering of good Christian and non-Christian books.
    • Again, doing so will help me understand God and others more. It iwll help me proclaim Christ with more wisdom. Also, reading energizes me. It provokes my thinking and challenges me in lots of ways.
  • Counseling
    • I want to complete my A.C.B.C. certification this year. I need to finish phase 2 exams and phase 3 supervision.
    • The connection this has with Colossians 1:28-29 is very obvious. The word for “admonishing” is the Biblical word for counseling. It means to “put into the mind” or “to lay to the heart.” It is implanting God’s truth into the heart of another so as to guide, correct, and instruct them toward Christlikeness.

There you have it! Now let me encourage you to do the same. Just like Colossians 1:28-29 has shaped the mission of my life I think it can and should shape yours. Obviously, it will look different in your life than in mine but if you are a Christian, your aim should always be spiritual maturity in Christ. How could it be any less? So have you made any resolutions for 2018 yet? Is spiritual maturity at the heart of them? If not, why not? How can you change them to reflect this mission? If you are not a Christian and have kept reading this far anyways then I would encourage you to recognize God’s desire for your life is that you be mature in Christ also! The first step toward that happening is you turn from your sin and trust in Jesus Christ who can give you life eternal and life abundant.

 

 

 

 

Some Practical Advice for Christians

Do you use or have you ever heard of D.A. Carson’s Bible devotional called, For the Love of God? If not, I strongly recommend it. It is very simple to use. It has daily Bible readings and some very practical insights from Bible scholar D.A. Carson on a portion of that day’s reading. It is designed to assist you in discovering the riches of God’s Word and thereby deepen your love of God. So you can get an idea of what it is like, I have copied and pasted today’s devotional below:

SOME PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR Christians (Phil. 4:4-9):

(1) Always rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 4:4). This command is so important that Paul repeats it. Our responsibility to obey it is independent of circumstances, for regardless of how utterly miserable our situation is, the Christian always has the most profound reasons for rejoicing in Christ Jesus: sins forgiven and the prospect of resurrection life in the new heaven and the new earth–not to mention the consolation of the Spirit even now, and much more. Practically speaking, Paul well knows that the believer who is truly rejoicing in the Lord cannot possibly be a back-biter, a cheat, a whiner, a thief, or lazy, bitter, and filled with hate.

(2) Be known for gentleness (Phil. 4:5). That is almost a delicious oxymoron. So much in our culture wants us to be known for aggressiveness, or for some intrinsic strength or superiority. The gentle person does not usually think in terms of being known. But Paul wants us so to focus on gentleness that eventually we become known for gentleness. The ground Paul offers is that the Lord is “near.” In this context, probably Paul does not mean that the Lord’s coming is near, but that the Lord himself is never far from his people: he is near, and is watching us, as he watches over us, all the time. That becomes our motivation for acting as he wishes us to act.

(3) Stop worrying (Phil. 4:6-7). Paul is not advocating irresponsible escapism, still less a Pollyanna-like optimism. Moreover, strictly speaking he is not telling us to stop worrying and nothing more, but rather he tells us how to stop worrying–by replacing this constant fretting with something else: “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving [there’s the praise theme again], present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6). Paul does not deny the agony and sorrow of many human experiences. How could he? His letters show that he suffered his share of the worst. But he knows the solution. Either worrying drives out prayer, or prayer drives out worrying. Moreover, Paul insists, this disciplined, thankful, intercessory prayer brings with it “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

(4) Think holy thoughts (Phil. 4:8-9). Garbage in, garbage out. We are renewed by the transforming of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). So watch what you feed your mind; watch what you think; determine to drive your mind into good and healthy channels, not those characterized by bitterness, resentments, lust, hate, or jealousy. Reflect on all the kinds of things Paul includes in his diverse list of verse 8. Moreover, here too Paul serves as an important example (Phil. 4:9): he is not telling us to do anything he does not practice himself.

Pretty good stuff, eh? You can buy it in book format (it is in 2 volumes) or you can just click here and read it for free in a blog/digital format!

When is the last time you prayed for persecuted Christians?

Today I was reminded of the need to be praying for our brothers and sisters who are in chains for Christ. It is reported that in North Korea Christians are being used for chemical experimentation and having their heads crushed by steamrollers in front of their families. This is distressing and compelled me to pray for them and others all around the world. Here are some things I brought to the throne of grace that I thought I would share with you to encourage you in your prayers:

  1. That they would not be surprised by such suffering – 1 Peter 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:12
  2. That they would remember that suffering is a privilege and they will be wonderfully rewarded – Matthew 5:11-12; Matthew 25:23
  3. That God would flood their hearts and minds with his promises and his character not the least of which is that God is forming Christ in them – Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 4:13
  4. That God would use their sacrifice to strengthen and advance His church – Read the whole book of Acts but at least Acts 8:1-8.

There you have it, four ways to pray for our persecuted church family. Now start praying!

John Calvin On The Christian Life

I just read this and had to share it. It resonates deeply with my soul. After quoting Romans 12:1-2, Calvin writes:

This is a marvelous thing – we are consecrated and dedicated to God to the end that we might not think, speak, meditate, or act unless it be to His glory. The sacred can’t be put to profane use without injustice to God. If we are not our own but the Lord’s, it’s clear what errors we must flee, and what we must direct our whole lives toward. We are not our own; therefore, neither our reason nor our will should dominate our plans and actions. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make the gratification of our flesh our end. We are not our own; therefore, let us forget ourselves and our own interests. Rather, we are God’s. Therefore, let us live and die to Him. We are God’s. Therefore, let His wisdom and His will govern all our actions. We are God’s. Therefore, let us – in every way in all our lives – run to Him as our only proper end. How far has he progressed who’s been taught that he is not his own – who’s taken rule and dominion away from his own reason and entrusted them to God. For the plague of submitting to our own rule leads us straight to ruin, but the surest way to safety is neither to know nor to want anything on our own, but simply to follow the leading of the Lord. – John Calvin, A Little Book On The Christian Life, pages 22-23.

Admittedly, some days my progress in the Christian life is little more than staggering, limping, and crawling but I press on and praise Him for any and all success!Let us all who name the name of the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ fix our eyes on the goal of being wholly and solely committed to God’s glory. May it be our sole pursuit!

The Most Powerful Platform In America

For my pastoral ministry class I recently completed reading The New Guidebook for Pastors by James W. Bryant and Mac Brunson. Although there are a few things I would quibble over, all in all I profited spiritually and practically from it. One of my favorite chapters was chapter 3, “The Pastor and His Preaching.” Below are a few quotes from it that encouraged me and I hope will encourage you.

All through the Word of God and down through the annals of history, when God has moved it has almost always been attended by the preaching of the Word. There is no task more important, no calling any higher, and no work more noble than preaching the Word of God. – page 31

 

Too often our desire to reach numbers, people, and crowds has caused us to sacrifice the Word of God on the altar of drama, theatrics, and entertainment. While there is nothing wrong with skits, great music, PowerPoint presentations, and even appropriate videos, there is something tragically wrong when we do anything other than make preaching the Word of God central in the service. You cannot separate the Word from worship. – page 34

 

John Albert Bengel, speaking of the Word of God in preaching, said, ‘When the pulpit is in strong health, the light of Scripture shine bright; when the church is sick Scripture is corroded by neglect, and thus it happens that the outward form of Scripture and that of the church usually seem to exhibit simultaneously either health or else sickness; and as a rule the way in which Scripture is being treated is in exact correspondence with the condition of the church.'” – page 35

 

The centrality of the Word of God is of utmost importance. Whenever a preacher steps into the pulpit, what he does with the text influences the health of the church. If there is any hope of winning the lost to Jesus Christ, if there is any hope of maturing the vast majority of those in the pews who are in desperate need of growing, then the preacher must preach the Word! The only thing that twill relieve the famine in our land is commitment to content. Preach the Word!

 

The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them” (Jer. 5:14 NASB). Think about that for a moment. When you preach the Word of God, it is like fire that sets people aflame. No U.S. president in any state-of-the-union speech can claim that. No Hollywood writer, actor, or producer can do anything like that. No athlete in any winner’s circle can make a speech that sets the audience on fire. But the man of God has the promise of God that when he speaks the Word of God, it is like fire that burns and like a hammer that shatters rock (Jer. 23:29).

The pulpit that is on fire with the Word of God is the most powerful platform in America and all over the world. Pastor, is your pulpit aflame with the truth of God’s Word? Is your heart still on fire for God?

1 Timothy 4:13 – “Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.”