people-influencers not debate-winners

Newton cared more about influencing people with truth for their good than winning debates. William Jay recounts how Newton described the place of his Calvinism. He was having tea one day with Newton. Newton said, "'I am more of a Calvinist than anything else; but I use my Calvinism in my writings and my preaching as I use this sugar'—taking a lump, and putting it into his tea-cup, and stirring it, adding, 'I do not give it alone, and whole; but mixed and diluted.'" In other words, his Calvinism permeates all that he writes and teaches and serves to sweeten everything. Few people like to eat sugar cubes, but they like the effect of sugar when it permeates it right proportion.
- John Piper of John Newton


of sweat and solitude: lesson four

Lesson Four: Talk to the One You Love

I was speaking one Wednesday to the youth at Glendive Alliance Church and, as introduction, spent a few minutes answering questions about myself. A question that came up went something like this: "What's one thing you would change about your walk with Jesus?" And my answer came quickly: "I want to be a better pray-er."

Quite simply, I have an easy time praying at "prayer times" or for specific requests, but a hard time praying all the time about all things--great and small--in my life. And that should not be so.

Very shortly after I admitted this desire, I was listening to a sermon by Francis Chan who used an illustration to communicate a simple truth that got me:

Imagine with me that I'm married, and that I have a simply wonderful day at work--I got a promotion, a trophy, had free lunch, and Stumptown coffee was the office brew. It was a good day. Who is the first person I call? My wife. I want to talk to the one I love!

Imagine with me that I'm married, and that I have a terrible day at work--I got fired, ate no lunch, and my coworkers poured coffee on me. It was a bad day. Who is the first person I call? My wife. I want to talk to the one I love!

My love for my wife makes me desire to talk to her about the events of my day. And the fact that the first person I call is my wife demonstrates that I love her. She is the first person I want to talk to!

Prayer, as simply talking to God, works in a similar way. If I love God, I will want to talk to Him! If I talk to Him, I am living out my love for Him. If my day is good, and I experience grace upon grace, then I talk to Him praising and thanking Him! And if my day is bad, and I experience pain and trouble, then I talk to Him pouring my heart out and begging for grace and help tomorrow! But regardless, I talk to the one I love!

So, the simple conclusion is this: if you love someone, you will talk to them. So, talk to the One you love.


of sweat and solitude: lesson three

Lesson Three: God Works God's Plan In God's Time

God used three men to remind me of a spectacular truth: God will work God's plan in God's time. My practical application, then, is: be patient. If I aim to keep in step with the Spirit and gain knowledge to act upon, then I am allowing God to lead and act, but if I am so locked-in on my 5-year or 10-year plan for my life that I don't follow the Ghost, then I am a fool. Listen to how this idea even worked its way into my mind:

Mark Driscoll didn't want anything to do with Jesus until God radically opened his eyes to the gospel when he was 19 years old. At age 25 he began a small Bible study in Seattle with his wife Grace. And in the last 14 years, Driscoll has become one of the most influential men in America, and his church, Mars Hill, is one of the largest and fastest-growing. The crazy thing: at my age, Driscoll didn't have any life ambition to be a pastor and serve Jesus with his life, but God worked God's plan in God's time.

John Piper believed firmly in the doctrines of Free Will throughout his college and seminary and teaching days. But in the fall of 1979, at age 33, while on sabbatical from teaching at Bethel College and just prior to beginning his tenure as senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, he set out to study and understand Romans 9, and God saw fit to radically reverse his misunderstood doctrine of the Sovereignty of God. John Piper was a self-declared Arminian, who, when he studied the scriptures and was led by the Spirit, has become perhaps the most prominent and proficient Calvinist today. God worked God's plan in God's time.

John Calvin was a 23 year old law school dropout when he wrote his first book: A Commentary on Seneca. He was more interested in the classics than law, which his father had forced him to study after "running afoul" the church. It was shortly after the publication of this book, in 1532, that Calvin began to encounter the teaching and witness of the Reformation. And in 1533, at the age of 24, Calvin miraculously experienced salvation. Immediately after his conversion, he committed himself to studying Hebrew and published his Institutes in 1536. Calvin played a major role in the Reformation and his doctrines of Sovereign Grace bear his name. People remember John Calvin today, because God worked God's plan in God's time.

I could draw the same conclusion about every person and event in history, but these were the three examples that were marinating in my mind. As I was hearing the stories of these men, I realized a few things that made me almost cringe at the road I was taking.

Let me preface, I think my plan for my life is grace: God has given me a passion, and blessed me with opportunity and gifts to pursue that passion. And therefore, I believe it is a God-honoring endeavor, and for that I am grateful and pumped. Yet at the same time, I am learning that the plan is simply a means to an end, and not the end in itself. Therefore the plan is flexible, so I must be ready to forgo it if the Spirit leads elsewhere.
This is my plan as I see it:
1. Attend Portland State for a Marketing B.S. (2 years)
2. Attend Western Seminary for Masters of Divinity. (3+ years)
3. Plant a church or pastor in an established church. (5-10 years)
4. And I'd really like to get married while in Seminary. I think that would be cool. (someday)
My father and some other godly men in my life have encouraged me to have vision and a plan for my life, and that is good! There's something, however, about the fact that God works God's plan in God's time that makes me feel uneasy about such a scheduled plan.

I have a tendency to trust my plan or my ability to stick to it and fulfill it. I have a tendency to lock-in on a plan so firmly, that I simply don't recognize alternate routes. I have a tendency to live in the future rather than for the future. And I want those tendencies to fade, because I know that any successes are grace! And I know that any failures are...grace! I'm not the master of my own destiny. I'm not the captain of my ship.

It's an interesting dichotomy, considering the last two lessons I had learned at this point.

How do I weigh, in this situation, the leading of the Spirit versus acting upon what I know? I ask, because I know that I'm supposed to be doing what I've planned to do, but I also know that God works God's plan in God's time, and He leads by His Spirit.

And this is a lesson I can't really say I've fully learned at this point in my life, because I am not yet done learning. But the practical conclusion I drew this summer is this: I will work to be patient with my plan, to be content with where I am in life, to trust God to use me as He deems best, and to be willing to put my plan on hold should the Spirit lead another direction.

My plan for my life is foolishness and all-for-naught if I neglect the Spirit, for God works God's plan in God's time.


You don't believe me? Check out: Psalm 115:3 and 135:6; Proverbs 16:1, 16:9, and 19:21. That will get you started.


of sweat and solitude: lesson two

Lesson Two: Knowledge Mandates Action

Having already spent a summer in Montana, I was more familiar with the work schedule and came better prepared this year: I packed fewer books. One book I badly wanted to read was "Knowing God" by J.I. Packer. Honestly, I read it nearly every day during every free moment, and I still only read 100 pages - this was no vacation!

I had plans to read this book to fill my head with knowledge, somehow making it easier to "keep in step with the Spirit." Listen closely to the quick, sharp lessons I learned when I first opened this book:
We need to ask ourselves: what is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have got it? For the fact that we have to face is this: that if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject-matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate, and dismiss them as very poor specimens...[1 Cor. 8:1]...To be preoccupied with theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception...[The psalmist] wanted to understand God's truth in order that his heart might respond to it and his life be conformed to it. [pp. 17-18]
Knowledge mandates action. Shoot. I wanted to fill myself with knowledge, and change nothing about the way I lived! I wanted to just get smarter! But it's fitting to learn lesson two immediately after lesson one. Consider: the Spirit is leading, and I know it. And if I know it, then I am mandated to act on it, by keeping in step with Him!

James succinctly writes, "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves," [1:22] and concludes, "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, to him it is sin." [4:17]

This lesson rocked me. No longer did I attempt to fill myself in order to satisfy my self-righteous, self-deceptive need to know about God. I genuinely wanted to act upon my meager, but hungry knowledge of God. And that changed everything...

Looking back, I am surprised and amazed that God was teaching me these lessons in this order...because He wasn't done with me yet.


of sweat and solitude: lesson one

Lesson One: Keep In Step

Prior to leaving for Montana, I had pushed through the end of a book that radically changed the way I view the work of the Holy Spirit, and in fact, even His person: "Forgotten God" by Francis Chan.

I have heard the Spirit preached, and even memorized the fruit of the Spirit and the verse that immediately follows: "If we live by the Spirit, then let us keep in step with the Spirit..." (Gal. 5) But I had never actually thought about what it might mean to "keep in step." Nor had I understood why I got irritated when people would talk about "God's will for my life" or delay action, because they were waiting for God's 10-year-plan to be revealed. I just knew it didn't feel...right. And now I know why that way of thinking aggravates me, and I understand a little more what it means to "keep in step."

Two things.

1. Keeping in step is complete and immediate obedience. God doesn't show people his whole plan for their life. He just doesn't work that way. If I kept waiting for "God's will for my life" to be revealed before I ever acted or did anything I deemed "risky," I would never do anything. Consider the life of Abraham. God told him to pack up and move-that was it. What did Abraham do? He packed up and moved. And he did so without sitting in his tent waiting to be shown: where he was going, how long he must travel, where he would sleep, how he would survive, what the costs/benefits would be, what would happen to his retirement, etc. To keep in step means to follow completely and immediately. Abraham moved all-the-way, and did so right away. If you are in step with the Spirit, don't worry about God's will for your life-you are automatically doing God's will! Don't use God's will as a cop out: keep in step.

2. Keeping in step is synchronized and supernatural. Have you ever followed someone on the beach, and tried to put your feet in their footprints, though you are so close behind you're filling the footprint they just made? It's hard. But it's synchronized. The same foot. The same place. The same stride. The same time their next foot lands. Your movements should be the same. The way your body even sways should be the same. In keeping in step with the Spirit, you're not the leader-you're the follower. But you're not a mile behind hopping around, hoping that you're running in the right set of footprints. You're completely and immediately following his every move. [That is probably sufficient labor on that illustration. Just one of my thoughts.]

But there is something supernatural about keeping in step with the Spirit. When you are acting in the Spirit's power, in the Spirit's timing, people cannot explain the supernatural results. The success of the endeavor no longer is attributed to the character or charisma of you, but rather, is all directly pointed to God. Because it just doesn't make sense! (Acts 4:13.) If people can rationally explain away successes by your virtue or valor, then the glory is yours, not God's, and it's not a God-honoring endeavor. But, if, by faith to follow and grace to keep in step, the Spirit acts supernaturally and you get to be a part, then the glory is all his, and God is honored.

My conclusion, then, was this: if the Spirit leads, then I must follow. If I really live by the Spirit, I will keep in step.

That freaked me out. How do I know where He's leading, and if it's even Him?! Well, I wasn't too worried, because I brought lots of sermons, and some killer books. And then I began to learn lesson number two.


of sweat and solitude: introduction

Two words came to mind when I thought of the lessons learned and the two months spent on the ranch in Eastern Montana this summer: sweat and solitude. I couldn't employ one without the other, for it would tell only half the story.

This summer was drenched in sweat. Summer in Wibaux, MT is hot and the labor is heavy. I have now spent two full summers ranching with my granddad, and have grown to appreciate hard work. Eight am to eight pm every day, all day. Hot, dirty, long, busy. Overheating tractors. Broken air-conditioner. Shadeless, cloudless afternoons. Alone, this element to my ranching experience would suggest that there would be no time or energy to do anything other than work [and the work never ends.] However, that is only half the story.

This summer was soaked in solitude. The opportunity to steal away from populated busy-ness is rare, but God blessed me with that this summer. Though working long hours every day, many of those hours were spent without speaking a word. Many of those hours were spent without hearing a word. Many of those hours were spent without seeing a single soul. Many of those hours were spent listening to God's Word proclaimed through wise, godly men. Many of those hours were spent in prayer begging for grace. Many of those hours were spent examining my life. Alone, this other element to my ranching experience would suggest that I got no work done at all. But this, too, is only half the story.

By grace, in sweat was solitude.

There are 4 discreet and simultaneous lessons I learned this summer, each of which earns its own exposition. And these lessons were wrought by time spent saturated in sweat and solitude.

old iron

On one occasion when Samuel Brengle was introduced as "the great Doctor Brengle," he noted in his diary:
"If I appear great in their eyes, the Lord is most graciously helping me to see how absolutely nothing I am without Him, and helping me to keep little in my own eyes. He does use me. But I am so concerned that He uses me and that it is not of me the work is done. The axe cannot boast of the tress it has cut down. It could do nothing but for the woodsman. He made it, he sharpened it, and he used it. The moment he throws it aside; it becomes only old iron. O that I may never lose sight of this."
O may I have perspective like this, attacking the roots of pride! Everything I am is because of Jesus. Jesus is everything.

death is gain

Does my life demonstrate that I am ready and willing to die for the sake of Jesus?
A true Christian must be willing to say, "I will not renounce Christ, even if it costs my life." But as soon as we say that, it makes a whole lot of things in our lives look ridiculous. I will die for you, but I can't find time to sit and read your teaching each day. I will die for you, but prayer doesn't seem real. I will die for you, but I can't talk to Jim about you at work. I will die for you, but I can't support your cause with more than 10% of my income. One of the best ways to bring wonderful Christ-honoring changes into your life is to measure your way of life by your willingness to die for Jesus.
John Piper
May I not be ashamed of the gospel! May I not forget the gospel! May Jesus be everything! May I not only be able to say, "I will not renounce Christ, even if it costs my life," but also "To live is Christ; to die is gain!"



i must die

As I was reading part of a book titled, "The Gospel Primer" tonight, there were a few things I read that were so rich that I couldn't not share them.
"The gospel is not simply the story of 'Christ, and Him crucified'; it is also the story of my own crucifixion...Truly, Christ's death and my death are so intertwined as to be inseparable."
"Crucifixion hurts. In fact, its heart-wrenching brutality can numb the senses. It is a gasping and bloody affair, and there is nothing nice, pretty, or easy about it. It is not merely death, but excruciating death. Nevertheless, I must set my face like a flint toward the cross and embrace this crucifixion in everything I do...I must seize upon every God-given opportunity to be conformed more fully to Christ's death, no matter the pain involved."
"When my flesh yearns for some prohibited thing, I must die. When called to do something I don't want to do, I must die. When I wish to be selfish and serve no one, I must die. When shattered by hardships that I despise, I must die. When wanting to cling to wrongs done against me, I must die. When enticed by allurements of the world, I must die. When wishing to to keep besetting sins secret, I must die. When wants that are borderline needs are left unmet, I must die. When dreams that are good seem shoved aside, I must die."
It's so easy and comfortable to live with no dying. It's so typical and American to refuse to willingly suffer and deny self. It's so unchristian and Christ-belittling to imagine that we can look to the Lamb who bore the cross and not take up our own.
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me..." Galatians 2:20
Just as we have been crucified with Christ, and we are to die to ourselves, we have come alive with Christ, and are to live to and through Him! The good news of the gospel is not only that Christ died, but that He also rose again!

Oh that I may learn to "take up my cross" and die to myself, that I may live to Christ!


an invitation

"If we are faithless, He remains faithful." :: 2 Timothy 2:13
O me of little faith! :: Me
I must preach the gospel to myself daily. That I may ever be mindful of Christ, trusting His promises, walking in His footsteps, and fixing my eyes on Him.

You must preach the gospel to me daily. That I may always rest in its sufficiency and act in its power; that, in preaching to me, you are reminded of the character and work of God in the gospel.

This is a public invitation. Please send me a message anytime you think about it, reminding me that Jesus has atoned for my sin, justified me, and is forever my Great High Priest and King; reminding me that the Father is faithful, sovereign, holy, and gracious; reminding me that the Spirit is active, leading, teaching, sanctifying, and present within me.


the pursuit of wisdom (part 3)

Amid three portions of the Word dedicated to protecting a young man from the adultress (Proverbs 5-7,) Solomon seems to step away from that idea and sets aside a seemingly "random" section of proverbs entitled: "Practical Warnings." O take heed to his advice! (Proverbs 6:1-19)

There are a two simple things in this section that slap me across the face:

1. Be like an ant.
...Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise...(6-8)
Notice, first, the word used: "sluggard." Not "unemployed." Not "gamers." Not "leeches." Not "facebookers." Not "movie-gurus." And so, as we read the Word, we only read "sluggards" and we think, "Welp. That's not me! Verse 7...I'm so busy! All the time!" But, my guess is that the word "sluggard" encompasses all of those other words...and more.

This verse is a slap across my face, not because I consider myself a sluggard, but because I am one. Hours of my week are spent on facebook. Hours of my week are spent eating alone. Hours of my week are spent sleeping past my alarm and showing up late to class/work/etc. ("Hours" might be a slight exaggeration.) My point is this: it's SO easy to read the Word and think of your neighbor, and sibling, and coworker, and not yourself. I am a sluggard. And I must look to the ant as my example.

The second interesting thing about that verse, though, is the example: the ant. I laugh at this, because I am WAY bigger than an ant. I can squish an ant. No problem. I can kick over an ant hill. (In fact one time I did and they got me...anyways...) The point isn't the size or "greatness" of the ant. I don't really want to be like an ant in every respect. That would be lame. But, do look at the way the ant works. All of her time is spent working-investing in things that will benefit her in the long run. She has the big picture in mind while she works; she knows that winter is around the corner. O that I may be humble enough to learn from a small insect.

2. Don't argue just to argue.
...There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (16-19)
Again, don't hastily remove yourself from "the list." Haughty eyes...just haughty eyes? "Well I don't even know how to have haughty I'm good..." Do you honestly think the problem is the shape of the eyes? Or could it be that pride might be the root issue? I am a proud person (and by the grace of God, fighting it,) though I don't think I've ever made "haughty eyes." God doesn't just hate haughty eyes...He hates pride. Be slow to defend yourself against the Word. Be humble, and (not to be seen and judged/applauded by others) admit that you are proud.

I don't want to write about each of those things: you get the point. (Plus, that would be too awesome of a blog post to even be a blog post!) But one of the things that I've learned a lot about, from experience, is the last in the list: "and one who sows discord among brothers." Sowing discord is very basically disagreeing just to disagree, destroying peace, or arguing just to argue. And God hates it.

This is a slap across my face. I must say, I like to argue. (I blame my experience in debate league for that.) But, by grace, I've come to the realization that arguing just to argue causes division (discord) that is stupid, tears apart friendships, makes people on edge with you just by virtue of your consistent, persistent, foolish argumentation. What am I accomplishing by arguing like a constant dripping? By sowing discord like Chinese torture? Nothing beneficial at all!

Of course, there will be some of you who read this and say, "It says not to argue! Well, that can't be right, we'll be indoctrinated by our culture and government and propaganda!" Don't be foolish. Read the Word. It says "among brothers." We are to resist the devil, to fight against flesh and blood, rulers and authorities of this dark world. But we are to live at peace with our brothers (ultimately, as far as it depends on you, with all people,) loving them, thinking of them above ourselves.

Of course, there will be some of you who read this and say, "Arguing is how I process my thoughts and respond to the propagation of lies in my world." Don't be foolish. Practice alone or in a setting where people are there to specifically coach/critique/help your argumentation. Don't sow discord among brothers, even if you're trying to strengthen yourself in your opposition of the enemy. You can accomplish that preparation elsewhere. Don't take yourself so seriously.

Of course, there will be some of you who say "I don't sow discord by arguing." Let me say, as one who sits on the objective outside, "You do." Don't be foolish. Stop arguing. Stop defending yourself and making doing so, you are sowing discord. Don't take yourself so seriously.

Of course, there will be some of you who will say "Every criticism/confrontation is, in a sense, a form of 'discord.' Therefore, I will be tolerant of all things and love all people regardless." Don't be foolish. Speak the truth in love. Pastors, in particular. Mark Driscoll preached a sermon that very boldly addressed the issue of how to relate the sheep (the brothers) the wolves (the enemy) the sheep (the hypocritical brothers) and the dogs (the brothers who sow discord.) Lend your ear, if you can find the time: click here to listen.

Don't be foolish. Get your face slapped. Go to the ant. Love the brothers.

the pursuit of wisdom (part 2)

If I didn't notice a proverb the first time around, I ought to notice it the third. Chapters 5-7 are divided into 4 sections, and 3 of those sections are warnings to a young man against adultery. Turns out this post only walks through some of my observations in chapter 5. PAY ATTENTION!

1. Hunger for wisdom.
"Incline your ear to my understanding..." 5:1
Refer to tpow (part 1) to be reminded of the necessity to pursue and hunger for wisdom. If we sit around hoping to pick up a nugget here and there, we will be grossly disappointed. We must offensively, proactively beg for wisdom and understanding.

2. Learn wisdom audibly, rather than experientially.
"[The forbidden woman's] feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol..." 5:5
This is a very elementary idea. I want NOT to experience death or wallow in Sheol in order to understand the severity of playing with the adultress. I want to be spared that! Not everything in life must be experienced. It's true. You can (apparently) learn other ways than experientially. Take special care, with regard to the "forbidden woman," to learn by listening and believing, rather than doubting and experiencing the real horrors of adultery. These horrors are only described in more detail in the following verses.

3. Do not play with fire.
"Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house..." 5:8
Do. Not. Go. Close. Instead of walking by the house of the adulteress, find a route that goes the opposite direction. Instead of hating discipline and reproof, willingly listen to the voice of wisdom. It will not go well with you to play with fire. If there is a line that should not be crossed, don't get near enough to see the other side. If there is a marshmallow that shouldn't be eaten, don't touch it or smell it! FLEE!

4. See the big picture.
"...lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and your body are consumed..." 5:9-11
If I were to sit on my deathbed and think back on my life, I certainly would have done some things differently. Here, the idea is to picture yourself on your deathbed and think about the things you wish you would have changed, and then live your life making those changes day by day. In essence, have the bigger picture of your life always in the forefront of your mind. Don't get so caught up in present comfort and pleasures that you sit on your deathbed on your last day, and wish you'd lived differently. You will have regrets if you fail to see the big picture.

5. Drink from your own well.
"Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you." 5:15-17
I'm a selfish guy, honestly, and I don't like other people drinking from my cup. At all. Other people don't like me drinking from their cups, either. It is common sense to say, "If no one likes sharing backwash, don't drink from their cup!" In the same way, a woman is not yours, lest she be your wife. I'm not a married man, but I am very jealous that my wife be mine, and I don't like the idea other people taking pieces of her. At all. Nearly every woman I see will be someone's wife. There will be a lot of jealous husbands who don't want other random, stupid dudes drinking from their cisterns. Drink from your own. And she's only yours when she's your wife.

What good is a well when the water is spilled all over the street? You can no longer drink cool, clean water, but it is now dirty and lukewarm and disgusting. As I do not want to sleep around, I do not want my wife to have slept all over the place. It ruins the water! There is something about pure water that makes it more attractive. Sweeter. Clearer. Cleaner. I want that. O for faith to fight!

6. Hide nothing.
"For a man's ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths." 5:21
Dave Matthews once sang "What's the use in hiding?" Not in relation to this verse. But it still works. What's the point?! A private sin is not a secret sin. The thoughts and heart and mind and intentions of man are seen plainly by God. Be terrified. Hide nothing. Have nothing to hide.

7. Deny self.
"...he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray." 5:22-23
My friend Aeric and I were talking about this very thing early in the week: we want to be in the habit of saying "no" to things we want, just to practice saying "no."

For example, today was a nice day, and I was working outside. I really, really wanted a slurpee. I could easily have driven for a minute, dropped $1.09 and filled my 64oz. slurpee jug and been satisfied. But I said "no." Just because.

We want to be men of discipline. We want to practice self-denial, that we may not die for lack of discipline in the things that really do matter. Take up that challenge, and once a day, say "no" to some thing that would be pleasing and enjoyable, simply to practice saying "no" and denying yourself. Do not die for lack of discipline. Be very much alive!

O for faith to fight! O for grace to conquer!


the pursuit of wisdom (part 1)

It's been awhile since my last post. But that doesn't mean nothing's been running through my fact, that's part of the reason why it's been awhile.
I began reading Proverbs this week, and was reminded of the gravity and indispensability of wisdom. I have been especially impressed this time around with how fervently I ought to long and hunger for wisdom. Consider this:
"My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." 2:1-5
"The complacency of fools destroys them." 1:32
Oh how hard it is for me to heed the warnings:
"Be not wise in your own eyes..." 3:7
"My son, do not forget my teaching..." 3:1
"My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent." 1:10
Oh how easy it is to be a fool:
"Fools despise wisdom and instruction..." 1:7
Fools worry, despite their self-confidence and self-esteem... 3:5
Fools are more concerned with their self-sufficiency and independency than with honoring the Lord with their possessions and finances... 3:9
Fools read verses 3:9-10 and worship the god of the prosperity gospel.
Fools are "greedy for unjust gain"... 1:19
Oh how easy it is to forget the blessings accompanied with wisdom and the horrors accompanied with folly:
The wise will "dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster." 1:33
The fool will "call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me." 1:28
The wise will "be delivered from the adultress with her smooth words." 2:16
The fool will fall in with the adultress and "never come back, nor regain the paths of life." 2:19
The wise will "inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it." 2:21
The fool will "be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it." 2:22
"The wise will inherit honor..." 3:35
The fool "gets disgrace." 3:35
The wise "will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man." 3:4
Wisdom is "crying aloud!"

Am I listening? Or do I ignore her?
Do I listen to people older and wiser than me? Or am I wise in my own eyes?
Do I seek hard after wisdom? Or am I complacent?
Do I trust in the Lord? Or do I trust in me?

This rant was developed only from the first 3 chapters of Proverbs. Twenty-eight chapters to go. Pray that I may hunger and thirst for wisdom, humility, and righteousness.


which mount?

This is a portion of the text I'm studying preparing for re:Generation Sunday night. This week I'm teaching on worship, and want to see how Jesus teaches about worship:
"Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am he."
John 4:20-26

"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."
Isaiah 29:13, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 15:8-9
Who do I worship?


omnivorous attentiveness

O that I may be a man of omnivorous attentiveness!

Lewis’s keen penetrating sense of his own heart’s aching for Joy, combined with his utter amazement at the sheer, objective realness of things other than himself, has over and over awakened me from the slumbers of self-absorption to see and savor the world and through the world, the Maker of the world. And this sense of wonder at what is—really is—has carried over into doctrine, and the gospel in particular.

Lewis gave me, and continues to give me, an intense sense of the astonishing “realness? of things. He had the ability to see and feel what most of us see and do not see. He had what Alan Jacobs called “omnivorous attentiveness.” 40 I love that phrase. What this has done for me is hard to communicate. To wake up in the morning and to be aware of the firmness of the mattress, the warmth of the sun’s rays, the sound of the clock ticking, the coldness of the wooden floor, the wetness of the water in the sink, the sheer being of things (quiddity as he called it). And not just to be aware but to wonder. To be amazed that the water is wet. It did not have to be wet. If there were no such thing as water, and one day some one showed it to you, you would simply be astonished.

He helped me become alive to life. To look at the sunrise and with say with an amazed smile, “God did it again!” He helped me to see what is there in the world—things which if we didn’t have them, we would pay a million dollars to have, but having them, ignore. He convicts me of my callous inability to enjoy God’s daily gifts. He helps me to awaken my dazed soul so that the realities of life and of God and heaven and hell are seen and felt. I could go on about the good effect of this on preaching, and the power of communication. But it has been precious mainly just for living.

John Piper, in his sermon "Lessons From and Inconsolable Soul" (a biography of C.S. Lewis)

Take time to smell the roses...and be amazed!


do i really love jesus?

As I was standing in church yesterday, singing of the blessings that I experience because of Christ, something grabbed at me.

Do I love Jesus because of His benefits or because of His person?

So often, we do a good job of acknowledging and talking about Christ, but only in conjunction with specific blessing or enhanced experiences of common grace.

How often do I talk about and enjoy Jesus simply because Jesus is radiantly glorious in His very person and essence?

Do I love the gift or do I love the Giver?

Do I love to be saved or do I love the Savior?

Do I love joy or do I love the Object and Source and Author of joy?

If the benefits of having Christ were removed, would I be content and overjoyed to just have Christ?


music matters

In a recent article, Pastor Andy Stanley challenged and encouraged me in a profound way. As a musician and worship leader, it is so easy to err on the side of musical conservatism, thinking that good, interesting music detracts (and distracts) from real "worship." So often I focus on theological content and lyrical creativity and sing-ability, before I think of the music quality. And while I think this is a healthy and appropriate approach to take when choosing worship music to be used in the church, Stanley made me take a deeper look at the issue of the music itself. He writes:
As a performer, as a listener, as a visitor who might end up in a most unexpected place on a Sunday morning, music has a transformational power. And it moves people in ways that even the best communicator cannot.

Music matters.
To neglect the art of music, is to exclude from musical worship one of the most important elements. Music catalyzes the release of the affections.

At New Life, we have labored to ground music in the truth of who God is and what He has done, but also integrate music that is pleasing to the most critical or easy-going listener.

I must be careful to communicate that music is not the paramount element in musical worship. Clearly, Jesus was concerned that He be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth rather than in a certain place or form. If, by achieving quality music, you sacrifice theological integrity and God-honoring, Christ-centered praise, then worship is no longer in Truth. If, by achieving quality music and theological soundness, you quench the affections made alive by the Spirit, then you have erred on the opposite side. These three components work best when working together, because music is the key to unlocking the affections implanted by the Spirit in response to the Truth of God revealed in the Gospel.

Music matters.

Makoto Fujimura, an influential Christian artist, once said something that absolutely gripped me when I heard it a couple weeks ago:
Though the church may have left the arts, God has not...
We left culture to people who do not know Christ--
we are reaping the natural consequences of that vacuum...
Christians need to be seen as "creative artists"...
Music, invented and designed by God to bring Him glory, has been nearly entirely tarnished by culture. So much so that drums, for a long period of time (and to an extent, today) were viewed as instruments of the devil. We are reaping the natural consequences of believing that (good) music and (good) art has no place in the church: oh how wrong we are!

God is doing work to re-capture the arts. Good music must be continually reinstated and retaught to churches, that God may again use church music--worship music--to reach the lost for Christ.

Music matters.




be still

God commands His servant, David, to "Be still and know" that He is God. I've been paying more and more attention to the fact that in this life, we spend so little time being still and silent. We try to "know" without being still. It is so often because of our noisy busyness that we set "knowing God" aside.

This song is a conversation between a man, who is trying to preach to Himself the faithfulness and character of God, and God, who is responding by telling the man to be still-to be quiet and listen. At the end of the song, the man realizes that the reason He does not "know" God is no fault of God's: it is his own noise and ignorance.

Be still my soul, be quiet and wait
In silence rest, for God shall save
You troubled heart, why do you weep
Do you know God, do you know peace

Be still and know that I am God
Be quiet for hope is not lost
Be silent for still I hear your cry
Be still for I am on your side

Amid the waves, amid the flood
Your hand is stretched and Your promise good
Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief
And let me hear You-hear You speak

Why do I worry? Why do I fear?
'Cause I am so noisy that I cannot hear
Your voice in the whisper: "Do not be afraid
For I am still faithful and mighty to save"


the best short story

I've been reading through Mark Dever's book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, and just read something that I found helpful in communicating God's story.
In our church in Washington (D.C.) I always ask our prospective members to tell me the gospel in one minute or less. How would you do that? What would you say the message is? Here's what I understand the good news to be:

The good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in His image to know Him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from Him. In His great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law Himself and taking on Himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust Him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ's sacrifice and that God's wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.
That story is 138 words long.

A few observations:

1. Time is of the essence. Attention spans are short. People are not by nature "listeners." You do not often have all-day to sit down with a friend and talk about the gospel in detail. This is, of course merely a tool to help, it is not a rule; it is not a law; it is not the right way to share the gospel. But I think it will help.

2. Evangelize in bullet points. As I read the story quoted above, I felt like I was reading bullet list, and that a lot of meat was missing. Funny--but that was the case! With a bullet point list, it does leave the door open for question--for further conversation. I have something else to talk about if a question is asked--something meaningful. This will help in your discourse with a non-believer.

3. Write it out. Writing something will really put your thoughts and word choice under a microscope. You will notice things as you write, that otherwise would fly under the radar. It will help your conciseness and your clarity.

Just a thought...


the fight of our lives

Fighting to see the light
With a mask over my eyes
My world seems oh so frail
Behind this shallow veil
There is something still
At odds against my will
Warring to do right
On a battlefield of night

Quietly a thorn is growing in the recess of my heart
Jesus, please remove it and remind me of who You are
That I may see Your beauty and the wonder of Your grace
And remember why I'm fighting for the One who took my place

Whom have I in heaven or earth besides You?
My flesh, my heart may fail but You are strong!
The kingdom, the power, the glory are only Your due, God
The victory belongs to You, O Warrior

Fighting for the King
I give my everything
But all I am is Yours
To You I look for more
Grace in every station
I place my expectation
Trusting You to conquer
My feeble heart grows stronger


the pursuit

At a Jonah Ministries winter camp, my thinking was challenged in a great way.
I'd heard the familiar verse before:
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace,
Along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
2 Timothy 2:22
But I had never considered the coherence of the two admonitions: flee and pursue. What Paul is saying is one and the same.

By fleeing one thing, you are inherently pursuing another. When I was a child, I would often flee the "big tickle monster" and run to my mom, who would save me. In this one action I was fleeing the thing I feared, and pursuing (running toward) safety and comfort.

In this life, nothing is different. When you are called to flee youthful passions/sin, you are called to pursue righteousness/Christ and vice versa. Stop trying so hard to flee sin. Pursue Christ.

this is. the pursuit.



re:Generātion exists to engage young adults in gospel-centered community focused on worship, mission and leadership development.

re:Generātion exists to catalyze a response to God’s person, work and word that affects and penetrates every aspect of life.

re:Generātion exists to equip and send its members—as individuals and communities—into the world around them to “seek and save the lost."

re:Generātion exists not to replace the local church but to embrace and support it by providing both small and large group gatherings committed to propelling their members into full participation within the body of Christ.

re:Generātion exists to convey and communicate the centrality of Christ to the gospel and the gospel to all of life.

For more information on the ministry of re:Generation, visit re:Generation's blog.


god's plans for you aren't about you

One of the beauties of Christ that I often forget is His persistence and steadfastness and action in my life. Here's what I read the other day:
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You preserve my life;
You stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
And Your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me;
Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of Your hands.
Psalm 138:7-8
That is crazy! To think that the God who sits in heaven and does as He pleases would take a personal interest in my life-enough to preserve it and deliver it-is astounding. But then to read the last part and understand that God saves my life, because He has a plan for it, and that His plan will come to pass, is so glorious!

It's so glorious because it's ALL about JESUS! The hope of God remembering the plans He has for man is fulfilled in Christ. All of God's business is about His Son. His plans for you and me are centered around His plans for Christ. All the purposes He has for us are summed, and completed and lead up to the glorious return of Christ:
I am sure of this: that He who began a good work in you
will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.
Philippians 1:6
God is using every moment of every day to do "good work." Though the work may seem painful, unpleasant, dirty, or just boring, it is good! And that work will be finished at the final, ultimate exaltation of Christ.

As I'm pondering these things, I'm overwhelmed at how Christ-centered God is! He acts in us to magnify Christ. He began a good work in us so that Christ might be the final exclamation point! He has plans for us that revolve around Christ. How beautifully and rightly selfish He is!

O Lord, do not forsake the work of Your hands!
But through my life reveal and magnify Christ!


don't stop praying

I was recently able to spend some good, rich time in the Psalms, and observed something that I'd never noticed before.
To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God till He has mercy upon us.
Psalm 123:1-2
I learned a few things about myself and how I pray in this passage. I realize that I don't pray enough. I pray. But I pray for something a couple times and call it good, as though God is able to act because I merely asked Him for a favor. But clearly there are two conclusions to be drawn from this text that contradict the form of prayer I'm accustomed to, and challenge me to pray differently.


1. God is merciful.

If we can only grasp the fact that yes, God is just, and yes, God is majestic, and yes, God is sovereign, and yes, God is above all things, and yes, God is omnipotent, but yes, God is merciful, that ought to radically change the way we pray. 157 times the word "mercy" is used in the Bible. Most of these references are people of faith begging to God to have mercy or to show His mercy to them. The beauty of the mercy of God is that it is not weak. His mercy displays His strength. We often associate mercy with weakness in emotion or weakness in will, but God, in his justice and strength chooses to display mercy to the sons of men. God is merciful and is interested in the affairs and struggles and troubles of your life, but He is not lacking power to save.

2. Pray until God acts.

The fact that God is merciful ought to drive us to beg Him to show His mercy, as it did the psalmist. But how does this work? Does God pay special attention to people who pray more than others? Does God hear louder the prayers the people who talk more than others? Does God give more consideration to the prayers of those who pray instead of sleep or eat?

My initial response would be to say "no" to each of those, because God hated the prayers of the Pharisees. I am, however, confident in saying that the more prayers (the more expressions of dependence and pleas for salvation) the more glory God receives. The restlessness and humility and ferocity and faithfulness in prayer motivates God to act. It's as though the psalmist is saying "God, we will not stop begging You to act until You do!"


I recently asked several friends "Why do you pray?" A lot of the answers were surprising to me. Some went along the lines of: "because it makes me feel good." True. Others: "because it's a chance for me to just let everything go." True. But it's so much more. John Piper summarizes prayer like this in His book Desiring God:
Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.
You see that prayer does much more than make you feel good. Prayer is the avenue of God's glory being released, revealed, and reveled in. It is both a means and product of His glory. Prayer is all about God.

As you pray, beg of God to act. Beg God to show mercy for the sake of His name and reputation. And don't stop until He does. And when He does, don't stop then either.

Additional Reading: John 14:13, John 15:5-7, Psalm 123, Psalm 119, John 4:9-10, Desiring God pp. 137-156


the preaching is easy. the practicing is hard.

James Emery White on his blog "Serious Times" writes a challenging post about practicing what you preach.

“How much life insurance do you have?”

According to a recent blog by Seth Godin, Zig Ziglar liked to say that -with that one question, you could tell if someone was a successful life insurance agent. “If they’re not willing to buy it with their own money, how can they honestly persuade someone else to do so?”

Godin went on to note that if you are in the music business, but you never buy tickets or downloads, can you really empathize with the people you’re selling to?

His favorite: If you work for a non-profit and you don’t give money to charity, what exactly are you doing in this job? “And the shame of it,” Godin adds, “is that this inaction on their part keeps them from experiencing the very emotion that they try so hard to sell.”...

Godin is on to something here. Something that runs much deeper than business. Namely, how easy it is to embrace an ideal, a value, even a mission, and not participate in it yourself; to exhort others to do what you yourself do not...

For example, I interact with a good number of church leaders, and I am sensing a breakdown precisely along these lines.
They attempt to lead a church that reaches the unchurched, and admonish their folk to reach out to their unchurched friends and invite them to attend, but they could not name a single unchurched person that they have personally invited.
They desire to start churches filled with people who will die to themselves for the sake of the kingdom, but neither they nor their family seems to be willing to serve in the bowels of the ministry, whether mopping a floor or tending a child...

Result? Ministry becomes little more than a way to create a platform for our own fulfillment and ambition. And then, as Godin insightfully notes, we do not experience the life we so energetically try to sell.
And the more that disconnect grows, the less we will succeed.

I am far from immune from such temptations. So let me put myself into the mix with every other leader and say that for many of us, here’s a great New Year’s question to ask:

“How much life insurance do we have?”