Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Spiritual Growth Plan for 2015

Today, of course, is the last day of 2014 and it will soon give way to the first day of 2015. On the one hand, the movement into a new year is somewhat arbitrary as can be deduced from the fact that different cultures around the world have different ways of marking time. But on the other hand, in our culture this change of seasons does give us an opportunity to reflect on the fact that, in Christ, all thing are new, and that, in Christ, we are being transformed into his image from one degree of glory to another.

This work of transformation is Christ’s work, but he does assign us our part. As Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:5-8, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I apply this text at the beginning of every year by developing a spiritual growth plan that guides me along the way. What follows is my vision, the mandate and hope by which I live in Christ, and my overall objective for the year (I also have specific goals and an action plan, but I want to keep that to myself!).

Vision:
To be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. “29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:29-30).

Divine Mandate and Hope:
To make my calling and election sure so that I will never fall in this life and will enter into the eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ. “10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:10-11).

Objective for 2015:
To discern God’s will for the next season of my life in ministry, especially with regard to writing, and to apply what he reveals.

You may or may not want to develop something so specific as this, but however you go about articulating your vision and plan for the year, what is your vision and plan for the year? What is God calling you to shoot for? How will you go about doing that?

I’d love to hear your comments, suggestions, and plans. Let’s lift up one another in prayer as we seek to know and love Jesus Christ more and more this year.  


Monday, December 29, 2014

The Mutating Replicator - This the Evolutionary Worldview Cannot Explain

John Lennox brilliantly presents the two primary worldviews between which all must choose. It's worth seven minutes of your time. 


Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Joy of Memorizing the Bible

Today another year of memorizing the Bible via the Fighter Verse program comes to an end, and what an end it is! This week’s verses is John 11:25-26 where Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

There so much to meditate on here: (1) Jesus is our resurrection, the means by which we overcome death. This is not something he gives, it’s who he is. (2) The way we connect with the life he is, is through simple faith in him. And when we believe in him, even though we will likely endure physical death, yet we will live again because he always lives. Our body may die, but we ourselves can never die because through simple faith we are in him who is life. (3) To live and believe in Jesus are on-going actions. Day by day, moment by moment, we live in Jesus. We seek Jesus. We learn to know and love Jesus. We learn to submit to Jesus. We learn to do all things to the glory of Jesus. And day by day, moment by moment, we believe in Jesus. We put our faith in him. We put our hope in him. We wait expectantly for him because we know that he keeps all his promises and fulfills all his purposes.

All 52 weeks of the 2014 Fighter Verse program yielded this kind of rich insight for me, and helped me to love God and others more. I am deeply grateful to God for all he did, and I am deeply grateful to God for the fact that, although this year has come to an end, the next year of verses begins tomorrow.

And what a beginning it is! Next week’s verses are Daniel 2:20-21 where Daniel proclaimed, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding…”

How many insights can you draw out of these verses? How do your insights apply to life with God and others? Next week I’ll post my answers to these questions; I’d love to hear yours as well.

Thank you, Jesus, for a great year, and thank you that tomorrow a new year of Bible memory begins!


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Book Review: "The Cultural Intelligence Difference"

This week I’ve been reading a book by David Livermore entitled, The Cultural Intelligence Difference (New York: American Management Association, 2011). Cultural intelligence (CQ for short) is "the capability to function effectively across a variety of cultural contexts, such as ethnic, governmental, and organizational cultures” (5). CQ is comprised of four different capabilities, and this is what sets it apart from "cultural sensitivity" approaches. 

First, there is CQ Drive (motivation). This is one's "interest and confidence in functioning effectively in culturally diverse settings" (6). While organizations often send employees and representatives to sensitivity trainings, they often ignore the fundamental issue of desire. This means that most people go through the trainings because they have to, but they in fact have little desire to encounter, learn, and successfully interact with people different than themselves. Therefore, to increase CQ, one must address the fundamental issue of drive. 

Second, there is CQ Knowledge (cognition). This is one's "knowledge about how cultures are similar and different" from one's own (7). Most sensitivity training begins and ends here under the assumption that knowing the unique facets of a given culture will sufficiently prepare one for interacting with that culture. But while knowledge is an indispensable part of the equation, it must be set in a larger context of capabilities. 

Third, there is CQ Strategy (meta-cognition). This is one's ability to "make sense of culturally diverse experiences" (7). In other words, it's one's ability to apply knowledge to actual situations and to develop plans for successfully interacting with diverse people. 

Fourth, there is CQ Action (behavior). This is one's "capability to adapt your behavior appropriately for different cultures" (7). All the training and growth in the world is meaningless without wise application, and as it is with drive, this aspect of cultural interaction is often assumed. However, in order to have successful and fruitful cultural interactions, one must give direct thought to the application of knowledge via specific behaviors. 

The first two chapters of the book lay out these basics, and then demonstrate the scientific validity of this approach. With this as a basis, Livermore then encourages his readers to take a Cultural Intelligence Self-Assessment (on-line) which helps readers get the most out of the rest of the book. Reason being, the rest of the book presents numerous practical strategies for increasing one's CQ by improving drive, knowledge, strategy, and action. 

I found the test to be accurate, and the practical strategies to be useful. I plan to follow Livermore's action plan over the next several months and thus I look forward to improving my ability to relate with people of various cultural backgrounds and to increasing my joy as I see and value the image of God in  them. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again

I’ve lost it. Earlier this year I was exercising regularly and eating well. I was getting in good shape. Then I traveled to India and later threw out my back, and these things threw off my rhythm of life. These things were beyond my control, but from that time I’ve found one excuse and then another for not exercising and eating well.

Bottom line, I’ve packed on 25 pounds and it’s time to turn this boat around! About six years ago, I took off 40 pounds and did a good job of maintaining health and weight for several years, but the yo-yo has risen and it’s time to make it dip again!


So today I set up my bike in my family room and started the long march back toward health. Slow and steady will win the race, and that’s my game plan. It’s hard to be in this place again, but the alternative is to settle for mediocrity and that’s not okay with me. So I’m back in the saddle again – Lord have mercy! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Thankful for the Grace of God in Christ

Lord willing, this evening Kim, Rachel, and I will gather with Kim's family for our Christmas celebration. And as I contemplate what the Lord has done in and through us over the last two  and one-half decades, I feel so grateful for his grace toward us in Christ. Kim is a child of divorce (her parents split when she was 7), and without going into details, for many years this time of year was the hardest time of year for us. 

But God delights to redeem brokenness, and though our family is far from perfect he has brought us so far together. This morning it hit me that I'm actually excited about gathering with the fam for Christmas, when in years past both Kim and I would be feeling lots of stress and needing lots of prayer. 

And so I want to take this opportunity to simply say - thank you, Jesus, for humbling yourself and taking on flesh. Thank you for living the life you lived and dying the death you died. Thank you for overcoming death and rising to be at the right hand of the Father where you ever live to intercede for us. Thank you for being an actual Savior who makes an actual difference in this life and the one to come. 

As we remember the time of your birth, may we greatly exalt the reality of the redemption that is found in you. We love you, Jesus, and we long to love you more. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

White Horse Inn on the Trinity

Today I've been listening to several messages from the guys at White Horse Inn (an awesome radio and podcast ministry) on the doctrine of the Trinity. It's great stuff for beginners and non-beginners alike, so if you have some extra time or want to listen to something worth listening to while you're working on the house or something, here you go! You can check out the messages here

God bless you, and merry Christmas! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Deep Joy of 25 Years of Prayer

I came to know Jesus in October of 1986. A good friend of mine, more like a brother really, had suggested that I read 1 John because his brother-in-law encouraged him to read it, and he did. I read that powerful little letter a day or so later, and long story short, I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus. 

My friend Robert, on the other hand, continued in the path of drug abuse we'd been traveling since we were eleven years old. I shared the hope of Jesus with him at that time and he actually got baptized, but he didn't follow Christ and so I prayed for him, and prayed for him, and prayed for him. 

In the late 1990s, my wife and I were praying for him and the Lord gave her assurance that Robert would come to know Jesus. We believed the Lord's word to us but we kept praying because the years kept rolling by, that is, until Easter Sunday, 2011. 

I had just finished preaching and leading our Easter service, and was headed to the in-laws for Easter dinner. As we were stopped at a light, I received a text that read, "He is risen." When I noticed that it came from Robert, I started to cry. I couldn't believe my eyes. I said to my wife, "Kimmy, if this means what I think it means, I can die in peace because my life has been worth living." She understood. 

I drove as fast as I legally could, and when we reached our destination I gave him a call. "Robert, what happened?" He told me the story, and we cried and laughed and prayed together, and I went about my day in a kind of stunned joy that I find hard to explain. 

I had prayed for my dear friend for 25 years--25 years--and he had finally come to know the Lord of life. Some four years later, he's still walking with Jesus, in fact, I got to spend a day with him in early October and it was one of the most encouraging days of my life. 

Recently, Robert shared his testimony at his church. You can check out the video here. It's a bit long but it's worth watching. Some day Robert and I dream of sharing our stories together and inviting others to embrace Jesus. But for now, we give thanks to the Lord that we have become true brothers in Christ. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

100 Ways to Engage your Neighborhood (Part 5)

Several years ago, Josh Reeves, Pastor of Redeemer Church in Round Rock, Texas, developed a resource entitled, “100 Practical Ways to Engage your Neighborhood.” The idea behind this resource is to help Christians add gospel intentionality to everyday life, to help lovers of Christ live as missionaries in their own neighborhoods.

Several weeks ago I began the process of posting these ideas 10 at a time. Not every idea will work for everyone, but please pray over each list and ask the Lord to help you identify one thing you can do each week. And if none of the ideas on a given section of the list works for you, then let it inspire you to think of something else. Whatever the case may be, ask Jesus to enable and empower you to join him in the joy-producing, God-exalting quest of seeking and saving the lost in our neighborhoods.

Here’s the fifth part of the list:

Neighbors – Your Immediate Neighborhood (continued)
41. Start a sewing group
42. Go Christmas caroling in your neighborhood (invite neighbors to join in)
43. Throw a Fourth of July block party
44. Start a neighborhood Facebook/Twitter/Google + group
45. Ask longtime residents to help you learn about the neighborhood
46. Offer to babysit neighbor’s kids so they can have a date night
47. Find out your neighbors’ birthdays and take them cards and baked goods when they come
48. Setup a meet your neighbors night with drinks in your driveway/front yard
49. Ask your HOA or apartment complex if they need help with anything
50. Host a regular Saturday morning breakfast potluck

Lord Jesus, please give us hearts to join in your great quest to seek and save the lost, and please give us the power to do whatever you call us to do. In your great and gracious name we pray, amen.


Saturday, December 06, 2014

Broken Heroes: The Life and Ministry of Basil of Caesarea

Basil of Caesarea (ca. 330-379) was a fourth-century scholar, bishop, and leader who, along with several other prominent figures, shaped the life and thinking of the church for many generations. His father was a well-to-do lawyer but more importantly a passionate follower of Jesus. His mother was the daughter of a well-known Christian martyr, and thus her love for Jesus was neither theoretical nor superficial. She knew what it meant to suffer for the sake of Christ, and along with her husband, taught her many children to take up their cross in the cause of Christ. Basil’s family was wealthy, but more so, they were wealthy toward Christ.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Basil was well educated, studying in the most important academic centers of his day. He spent six years in Athens where he met life-long friend and ministry partner, Gregory of Nazianzus, and where he became unusually skilled in reason and rhetoric. On the one hand, his notable skill was an important part of his life’s work, but on the other hand, it was a thorn in the flesh because along with skill came intractable pride. But as we will see next week, God was faithful to provide people and circumstances that humbled Basil and prepared him to be greatly used of God.

When his time of preparation was complete, Basil began his public career as a professor at the University of Caesarea, but within a year Christ captured his heart in significant ways and he decided to forsake the academic world in favor of the monastic life. As he sought Christ, he grew in influence and then rose to prominence in 369 when the church sought to respond to a great famine. Basil’s great passion for the poor, and his ability to articulate the gospel, led him to be appointed Bishop of Caesarea, “and soon afterwards he started to build a charitable and medical center just outside the city, comprising a church, a hospital for the sick, a hospice for travelers, workshops, bishop’s residence and clerical quarters” (Nikolai Lipatov, Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, InterVarsity: 2007, page 168).

In the ten years that followed, Basil became “one of the most significant exegetes and church leaders during the period when Christian belief was being articulated and developing into its enduring forms. His contribution to these processes was unique both in terms of its scope and the authority it soon gained. Basil’s work helped give definitive shape to trinitarian theology, biblical exegesis, liturgy, ascetic life, canon law, homiletics, the relationship church and state and the social work of the church. Basil based all theological reflection on the inseparable conjunction of the study of Scripture, a life of sacraments and personal spirituality” (Lipatov, page 167).

As we will see next week, Basil had significant flaws that were confronted by God and others throughout his life. But he is a hero of the church for whom we should be deeply thankful to God.

Friday, December 05, 2014

100 Ways to Engage your Neighborhood (Part 4)

Several years ago, Josh Reeves, Pastor of Redeemer Church in Round Rock, Texas, developed a resource entitled, “100 Practical Ways to Engage your Neighborhood.” The idea behind this resource is to help Christians add gospel intentionality to everyday life, to help lovers of Christ live as missionaries in their own neighborhoods.

Several weeks ago I began the process of posting these ideas 10 at a time. Not every idea will work for everyone, but please pray over each list and ask the Lord to help you identify one thing you can do each week. And if none of the ideas on a given section of the list works for you, then let it inspire you to think of something else. Whatever the case may be, ask Jesus to enable and empower you to join him in the joy-producing, God-exalting quest of seeking and saving the lost in our neighborhoods.  

Here’s the fourth part of the list:

Neighbors – Your Immediate Neighborhood (continued)
31. Organize and host a ladies craft night
32. Organize an effort for neighbors to help take care of elderly an neighborhood
33. Become a regular at your neighborhood pool/park
34. If you have a skill, let neighbors know that you can use it to help them for free
35. Host a movie night and discussion afterwards
36. Start a walking/running group in the neighborhood
37. Start hosting a play date weekly for other stay at home parents
38. Organize a carpool for your neighborhood to help save gas
39. Collect good will store items and offer to take them to Goodwill
40. Have a front yard ice cream party in the summer


Lord Jesus, please give us hearts to join in your great quest to seek and save the lost, and please give us the power to do whatever you call us to do. In your great and gracious name we pray, amen.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

To Abide in Christ is to Intercede with Christ

In John 15:7-8 Jesus spoke these amazing words: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

To abide in Jesus is believe in Jesus, and his words, and to keep on believing (see John 8:31). This begins in a moment of time, with an initial life-transforming response of belief, but it continues throughout time. We listen to him and keep on listening. We believe his words and keep on believing. We cling to him and keep on clinging.

As we learn to live this life of worshipful dependence, we come to learn an amazing lesson: all along, it’s not so much that we have been abiding in Christ but this his saving and transforming and keeping words have been abiding in us. His words occupy our minds, capture our hearts, guide our actions, and prepare us for the day when we will see him face to face. This is a process. Our hearts are more and more captured by Christ over time. But the thing we must understand is that for his words to abide in us implies more than intellectual knowledge—it implies the kind of heartfelt embrace and submission that are born of Christ’s Spirit dwelling in us.

When these conditions are true of us—when we continually abide in Christ because his words are capturing our hearts—we are free to pray and ask whatever we wish in the utter confidence that he will grant it. Now, why does he give us such a carte blanche promise? Because when he is our only treasure, and our thinking and feeling and acting is shaped by his word and will, we pray according to his will. Jesus is very eager to give us the things he’s eager to give us, and the more we know him the more we are eager for what he wants to give us.

This process of seeking, savoring, and submitting to Christ is a life of prayerful dependence that glorifies God the Father and proves that we belong to Jesus. Many in this world acknowledge and even admire Jesus, but only those who believe in him call upon his name and depend upon him for everything. Only those who thus believe may ask for whatever they wish and receive it.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with asking Jesus to meet our own needs according to his will (see Phil 4:5-8, 19; 1 Pet 5:6-7). In fact, it would be a sin not to cast our cares upon him, for he is the only source of true life and provision. However, as we grow in Christ, we learn more and more to pray like Christ which means that we learn to draw from the eternal fountain and prayer for others. As Andrew Murray wrote in the little book entitled, Teach Me to Pray, “The more we abide in [Christ] and grow in His likeness, the more His priestly life will work in us, and the more our life will become what His is: one that intercedes for others” (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002, page 6).

There is deep joy in fellowship with Christ: praying for the sight of him; praising him with words of adoration and love; calling upon him to meet our every need; asking him to use our lives for his glory and the good of others. Indeed, Jesus’ own joy in the Father is beyond description and is the heart of his prayer life (see John 17). But there is also a great joy in overflowing with this deep communion and focusing on the needs of others. There is deep joy in spending fifteen minutes, then thirty, then sixty, then more lifting others up before our Father. And there is deep joy in this because there is abundant fruit. There’s deep joy in this because in praying for others we learn to pray with Christ for others, that is, we learn to discern his will for a given situation or person and then pray according to that will. There’s deep joy in this because through the process we become more like the Master Intercessor who saved us and prays for us without ceasing (see Hebrews 7:25).

Indeed, to abide in Christ means many things but one that’s often missed is this: to abide in Christ is to intercede with Christ. May we learn the art of this kind of intercession and the deep joy that comes with it.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

100 Ways to Engage your Neighborhood (Part 3)

Several years ago, Josh Reeves, Pastor of Redeemer Church in Round Rock, Texas, developed a resource entitled, “100 Practical Ways to Engage your Neighborhood.” The idea behind this resource is to help Christians add gospel intentionality to everyday life, to help lovers of Christ live as missionaries in their own neighborhoods.

Two weeks ago I began the process of posting these ideas 10 at a time. Not every idea will work for everyone, but please pray over each list and ask the Lord to help you identify one thing you can do each week. And if none of the ideas on a given section of the list works for you, then let it inspire you to think of something else. Whatever the case may be, ask Jesus to enable and empower you to join him in the joy-producing, God-exalting quest of seeking and saving the lost in our neighborhoods.

Here’s the third part of the list:

Neighbors – Your Immediate Neighborhood (continued)
21. Invite your neighbors to serve along with you for a local cause in your community
22. Organize a backyard movie night for kids on your block
23. Prayer walk and talk to people you come across
24. Jog outside instead of on the treadmill
25. Pull their trash back in when you notice its out
26. Cook an extra casserole and give it to a neighbor
27. Buy an extra dozen donuts and give them to a neighbor
28. Start a compost pile and allow neighbors to dump their compost and take what they need
29. Host a sports game watching party
30. Host a coffee and dessert night

Lord Jesus, please give us hearts to join in your great quest to seek and save the lost, and please give us the power to do whatever you call us to do. In your great and gracious name we pray, amen.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Giving Thanks to God in Everything

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (1 Chronicles 16:34). Thanksgiving is a time when we, as Americans, pause to reflect on our nation’s history and “give thanks” for a pilgrim people who dared to venture into a strange land, for a native people who had already lived here for centuries, and for a time when they peacefully gathered around a table and enjoyed a common feast. It is a time when we give thanks for a similar feast and family gatherings and football games and a four-day weekend.

It can also be a time when we pause to reflect on what life could be like if we lived with an attitude of thanksgiving. To help us develop this way of life, I want to address three questions today. First, what does the Bible mean when it instructs us to be thankful? Without going into the details of the original languages, when the Bible instructs us to be thankful, it is encouraging us to see and savor the glory and greatness and goodness of God, and to thank and praise Him for what we’ve seen. In short, to give thanks is to give glory to God. This leads us to the second question.

Why does the Bible instruct us to be thankful? Second Corinthians 4:15 perfectly summarizes the answer to this question: “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” In other words, all of the good gifts and graces of God are given to us for our benefit and satisfaction and joy, that we may thank and praise Him for who He is and what He does. The Bible instructs us to be thankful because God wants us to glorify Him by speaking of the joy we have in Him. This leads us to the third question.

For what does the Bible instruct us to be thankful? If you were to peruse the 150 or so verses in the Bible that speak of thanksgiving, you would find that the Bible mostly instructs us to thank God for who He is and what He does. For example, we are to thank Him for His power and might over creation (1 Chronicles 29:13), for His faithful defense and protection (Psalm 28:7), for His work of salvation (Romans 6:17), for the victory that He always brings to His people and will complete for them on that great and final day (2 Corinthians 2:14 & 1 Corinthians 15:57), and for his eternal lovingkindness (1 Chronicles 16:34).

Thanksgiving in the Bible is radically God-centered, and this helps us to interpret what the Bible means when it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “…in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In other words, learn to see and savor what God is doing in every circumstance and aspect of life and give Him thanks for what you see.

If we will have eyes to see and ears to hear, this Thanksgiving can be for us the beginning of a new way of life. And indeed, this is my prayer for us all.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Love God? You Must Hate the World

Hate is a strong word. Often we don’t know what to do with it, and we’d rather not talk about it. It’s more comfortable to talk about love, and to think that true love vaporizes hate. After all, even the Beatles taught us to sing, “All we need is love”!

But in order to love, we must hate that which destroys love. For example, if we love children, we must hate child abuse. If we love all people, we must hate bigotry and racially motivated injustice. If we as men love the women in our lives, we must hate rape and any form of abuse or suppression of women.

And if we love God, we must hate the world. This truth may not be comfortable, but it’s true. Let’s take a few minutes and meditate on 1 John 2:15-17 and see what the Bible has to say about this.

Having affirmed those he loved so deeply, the Apostle John completes his train of thought with these words: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

John is seeking to woo his beloved friends away from the love of the world and toward the love of God. And if you’ll take a few minutes to read from 2:7 onward, you’ll see that the verses before us do not represent a break in John’s thought, rather, they complete his thought. To love the world is to hate God and others because it is to prefer the world over them. Therefore, if we’re to submit our lives to God and learn to love one another, we must die to our love of the world. We must experience such a great love for God that it expels all other loves from our hearts and habits.

Thus, John begins in verse 15 by admonishing us not to love the world for the one who loves the world, or the things of the world, does not have the love of the Father in him. John makes this absolute statement because, as he helps us see in verse 16, all the things that are in the world are designed to put us at the center of our lives. Our fleshly desires are all about gratifying our own cravings. Our fleshly contemplations are all about grasping with our hands what we see with our eyes. Our pride in possessions is all about hoping in this world and using what we have to position ourselves above others.

Whatever the particulars of the things of the world and our affections toward them, one thing is for sure—they push God to the side, put us in the center, and therefore they cannot be from the Father. Since they are not from the Father, those who love him must reject them.

And besides this, because of what the Father has done for us in Christ, because the light has come and the darkness is passing away, the things of the world are on their way out and no matter how satisfying they are in the short-term, they will disappear in the long-term and thus they’re not worth investing ourselves in.

In contrast to this, the one who looks to the sacrifice of Christ, who submits his or her life to God, learns to love his brothers and sisters and do the will of her Father, that one will abide forever (verse 17)—nothing is able to ultimately destroy the one who clings to God in Christ, and thus we ought to prefer fellowship with him over the love of the world.

Love God? You must hate the world. You must choose, for no one can serve two Masters (Luke 16:13).

May the Lord give us eyes to see, and hearts to prefer the treasure of knowing God over all the deceitful pleasures of this world. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What Can We Learn from the Life of Gregory of Nazianzus?

Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 328-c. 390) was a fourth century pastor, bishop, and author who, along with several others, stood strong against the tide of Arian heresy. So far I have written briefly about his life and ministry, as well as some of his shortcomings and sufferings. This week I want to address the question, What can we learn from Gregory’s life?

First, God is in total control of the circumstances of our lives, and he works them together for his glory, the good of others, and the joy of our souls. Gregory was born into a pastor’s family who would one day press him to enter into the ministry. He was educated at the best schools in the world which prepared him to stand against the intellectual forces that arrayed against the gospel. While traveling to Greece by sea, was caught in a storm of God’s making and pledged himself to the service of the Lord. In Athens he met a man who would become a life-long friend and partner in ministry, Basil of Caesarea. Though he was resistant to almost every advance he made in ministry, God used people in his life to press him into doing what he was called to do. Few people will ever possess the level of influence that belongs to Gregory, but all who believe in Christ are recipients of the same sovereign grace that gives shape to every detail of our lives.

Second, Gregory teaches us that submission to authority is the path to Christ-exalting fruitfulness. Although he often resisted and even ran from the authority figures in his life, he eventually submitted at every turn, and because of this the church was strengthened, and perhaps even saved. Had he not humbled himself, God would surely have used somebody else, but the fact is that God called Gregory to play the roles he did, and God also granted him the grace to overcome his flesh and embrace his calling.

Third, Gregory teaches us that in order to follow Jesus and advance his purposes in the world, we must take up our cross daily and deny ourselves. What Gregory wanted most in life was to draw away with God, fast and pray, study the Bible, and write for the glory of God and the good of others. This pull upon his heart was so strong that he preferred to be around as few people as possible, but God called him instead to come out of his shell and play a significant role in destroying the heresies of his day. The scope of our lives will be much different than Gregory’s but this principle remains the same: in order to do the will of God, we must deny our natural tendencies and follow Jesus wherever he leads. Toward the end of his life, God gave Gregory the desire of his heart and allowed him to enjoy several years of solitude, seeking, and writing. But by then he was ready to receive this grace as the gift it was.

Fourth, God uses broken people. On paper, Gregory was not a likely candidate to play the roles he played, but this fact is what qualified him to be used by the God who uses the weak things of this world to shame the strong.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

100 Ways to Engage your Neighborhood - Part 2

Several years ago, Josh Reeves, Pastor of Redeemer Church in Round Rock, Texas, developed a resource entitled, “100 Practical Ways to Engage your Neighborhood.” The idea behind this resource is to help Christians add gospel intentionality to everyday life, to help lovers of Christ live as missionaries in their own neighborhoods.

Last week I began the process of posting these ideas 10 at a time. Not every idea will work for everyone, but please pray over each list and ask the Lord to help you identify one thing you can do each week. And if none of the ideas on a given section of the list works for you, then let it inspire you to think of something else. Whatever the case may be, ask Jesus to enable and empower you to join him in the joy-producing, God-exalting quest of seeking and saving the lost in our neighborhoods.

Here’s the second part of the list:

Neighbors – Your Immediate Neighborhood (continued)
11. Have a garage sale
12. Organize a tasting tour on your street (everyone sets up food and a table on front porch)
13. Cook Out with gate open, or even in the front yard and let neighbors know they are welcome to join
14. Have a game night (yard games outside, or board games inside)
15. Art swap night - bring out what you’re tired of and trade with neighbors
16. Grow a garden and give out extra produce to neighbors
17. Have an Easter egg hunt on your block and invite neighbors use their front yards
18. Start a weekly open meal night in your home
19. Do a summer BBQ every Friday night and invite others to contribute
20. Create a block/ street email and phone contact list for safety 


Lord Jesus, please give us hearts to join in your great quest to seek and save the lost, and please give us the power to do whatever you call us to do. In your great and gracious name we pray, amen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Apart from Christ Let Nothing Dazzle You" (Part 3)

“Apart from Christ, let nothing dazzle you.”

This oft quoted saying comes from Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50 – c. 117) who was discipled by the Apostle John himself. He later served the churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) after John’s death, and eventually wrote a number of letters to some of those churches. Two weeks ago I commented on what Ignatius meant by this now famous quote, and then last week I addressed the question, How can our souls be dazzled with Christ?  This week I want to address the question, Does this statement mean that we are not allowed to enjoy anything outside of Christ?

Briefly, my answer is this: to the degree that we are dazzled by Christ in someone or something, we are free to enjoy that person or thing. Let me offer two examples.

My wife Kim really enjoys gardening, or more accurately, growing and multiplying plants and bushes. She spends as much time as possible learning about seeds and soils and various processes that cause things to grow, and then experimenting with what she’s learned. But when you talk with her about her beloved hobby, you quickly discern that she’s actually not dazzled by gardening itself, rather, she’s dazzled by the glory of Christ revealed in nature. She loves to take various aspects of what she’s learning and use them as metaphors for Christ and life. If the day comes when gardening itself outshines the light of Christ in her heart, then gardening will have to go, at least for a season. But as long as she can behold and enjoy the glory of Christ in gardening she’s free to garden.

A few weeks ago my daughter Rachel and I saw Allen Stone in concert at the Fine Line Music CafĂ© in Minneapolis. He’s one of my favorite secular artists, and though I wouldn’t go to shows like this very often, I do enjoy high quality, live music from time to time. The atmosphere in the club was very tame, but at certain points in the show it was obvious that Allen and others are in open rebellion against God. However, as I experienced their performance, I saw the glory of God pouring through them.

First of all, life itself screams of the existence and glory of God so that the very voices denying God are in fact a testament to his presence. Further, it amazes me to think that God created creative beings. Our ability to hear melodies, craft lyrics, write complex arrangements, and play in harmony with one another are a fruit of the fact that God is, and that God is gracious in giving us such gifts. Finally, as I contemplated the architecture of the building, electricity, the variety of electronics, the lighting, the fashion, the food and drink, and the beauty contained in them all, I found myself in awe of God. If the day comes when I am no longer dazzled by Christ at a concert, I will stop going to concerts. But so long as I can see and savor the glory of Jesus in a concert, I am free to enjoy it.

Ignatius’ statement does not mean that Christians may not enjoy anything outside of Christ, rather, it means that we must learn to enjoy Christ in all things. And if we cannot enjoy Christ in a thing, we must either change or let that thing go.

I hope and pray that the outcome of this blog post will be that we are encouraged and equipped to think carefully about our enjoyment of Christ in all things. As we grow in this skill, may we submit to this ancient wisdom: “Apart from Christ, let nothing dazzle you.” 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Broken Heroes: Brokenness and Grace in the Life of Gregory of Nazianzus

Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 328-c. 390) was a fourth century pastor, bishop, and author who, along with several others, stood strong against the tide of Arian heresy. Last week I wrote briefly about his life and ministry, and this week I want to draw our attention to some of his shortcomings and sufferings. Gregory is indeed a hero of the church, but as we will soon see, he is a broken hero.

First, as for his physical appearance and condition, Gregory was a small, bald-headed man who sported a long red beard and matching red eyebrows. Due to constant fasting and other extreme spiritual exercises, he was rarely in good health and almost always in pain. While it is no sin to be less than good looking and healthy, these aspects of his life provided challenges to fulfilling the call of God upon his life.

Second, and more importantly, Gregory preferred solitude, prayer, and contemplation to the company of others. Christopher Hall notes that he was “quick-tempered, sullen, unhappy in the company of most people, strangely remote from the world” (Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, 65). He loved God, writing, and people—in that order—and thus hoped to spend his life in solitude, in the presence of God, and away from the demands of leadership. So strong was his desire for solitude that, upon being appointed as pastor of the church of Nazianzus, he fled to the remote town of Pontus and attempted to hide. As I noted last week, he soon broke under the weight of conviction and the force of his calling, but his desire to be alone with God and away from people and leadership remained until his dying day.

Third, personal deficiencies and difficulties aside, Gregory also suffered through periods of tremendous grief. In one brief period of time, he lost his father, his mother, two brothers, and his mentor and close friend, Basil. In those days he wrote to a friend, “You ask how my affairs are. Miserable” (Hall, 67).
And beyond personal tragedies, Gregory also carried a tremendous burden for the church which he felt was like a ship floating in a sea of darkness and danger. He knew that Christ was at ease, asleep on the bottom of the boat, but he himself was anxious. As he once wrote to a friend, “Good is destroyed, evil is naked” (Hall, 67). Such was the seriousness of the Arian controversy.

But despite his several shortcomings and sufferings, God made Gregory to be a beacon and pillar of the truth, especially with regard to the doctrine of the trinity. While in Constantinople, he preached four sermons that continue to influence the church to this day. The sermons are preserved in a book entitled, Theological Orations, in which he argues that the Arians were errant in their theology because they were errant in their love for Jesus. Gregory insisted that orthodox theology flows from reverent submission to God and his Word, and this is perhaps his most important contribution to the debates of his age.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

100 Ways to Engage Your Neighborhood (Part 1)

Several years ago, Josh Reeves, Pastor of Redeemer Church in Round Rock, Texas, developed a resource entitled, “100 Practical Ways to Engage your Neighborhood.” The idea behind this resource is to help Christians add gospel intentionality to everyday life, to help lovers of Christ live as missionaries in their own neighborhoods.

Over the next several weeks, I will be posting these 100 ideas 10 at a time. Not every idea will work for everyone, but please pray over each list and ask the Lord to help you identify one thing you can do each week. And if none of the ideas on a given section of the list works for you, then let them inspire you to think of something else. Whatever the case may be, ask Jesus to enable and empower you to join him in the joy-producing, God-exalting quest of seeking and saving the lost in our neighborhoods.

Here are the first ten ideas:

Neighbors – Your Immediate Neighborhood
1. Stay outside in the front yard longer while watering the yard
2. Walk your dog regularly around the same time in your neighborhood
3. Sit on the front porch and let your kids play in the front yard
4. Pass out baked goods (fresh bread, cookies, brownies, etc.)
5. Invite neighbors over for dinner
6. Attend and participate in HOA functions, or neighborhood events
7. Attend the parties invited to by neighbors
8. Do a food drive or coat drive in winter and get neighbors involved
9. Host a music share party in your home (everyone brings 5 favorite songs and discusses them)
10. Offer to mow someone’s yard who needs it on your street

Lord Jesus, please give us hearts to join in your great quest to seek and save the lost, and please give us the power to do whatever you call us to do. In your great and gracious name we pray, amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Apart from Christ, Let Nothing Dazzle You" (Part 2)

“Apart from Christ, let nothing dazzle you.”

This oft quoted saying comes from Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50 – c. 117) who was discipled by the Apostle John himself. He later served the churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) after John’s death, and eventually wrote a number of letters to some of those churches. Last week I provided you with the context of this quote, and then made a few comments about what Ignatius meant by it. This week I want to address the question, How can our souls be dazzled with Christ? I have four answers.

First, we dazzle our souls with Christ by meditating on his being and attributes. For example, Hebrews 1:1-4 provides us with at least seven claims about the being of Christ. Each claim is stunning in itself, but taken together they lead us to the inevitable conclusion that he is in fact God. Specifically, the author claims that (1) God the Father appointed Christ to be heir of all things, (2) God the Father created all things through Christ, (3) Christ is the radiance of the glory of God, (4) Christ is the exact imprint or re-presentation of the nature of God, (5) Christ upholds the universe by the word of his power, (6) Christ made purification for sins so that we can be forgiven by believing in him, and (7) Christ is forever seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, that is, he sits on the very throne of God.

In only 72 words, the author of Hebrews masterfully exalts the glory of Christ and our souls will be dazzled if we savor what he has said. So often we settle for a quick sample of the glory of Christ that’s revealed in the Bible, but true amazement is the fruit of deep meditation. To be dazzled with Christ is free but it is not cheap, so may we open our Bibles and savor the vision of the Savior that is found on every page. 

(Click here for a sermon I preached on Hebrews 1:1-4.)

Second, we dazzle our souls with Christ by meditating more specifically on the cross, for on the cross the manifold excellencies of Christ were most vividly displayed. And we meditate on the cross by opening to one of the Gospels, reading a portion of the passion narrative, and slowly meditating on it. As for me, I like to read carefully to ensure that I’m understanding the fine details of a particular portion, and then I close my eyes and prayerfully imagine myself being there. I try to see and hear and smell and feel and taste each scene, and I ask the Holy Spirit to give me insight as I do. After years of approaching biblical stories in this manner, I can testify that the Holy Spirit is always faithful to provide insight and impact when we sincerely seek to see our Savior.

Third, we dazzle our souls with Christ by seeing Christ in all of Scripture. Jesus saw himself in the Law, the prophets, and the writings (that is, the entire Old Testament; see Luke 24:27). The Apostles preached Christ from the Old Testament (see for example, Acts 17:2-3), and New Testament books like Acts and Hebrews are so full of Old Testament quotes and allusions that it is tempting to think of them as Christ-centered commentaries on the Old Testament. The more we gain the legitimate sight of Christ in all of Scripture, the more we will be dazzled with him who is the fulfillment all of the purposes, plans, and promises of God.

Fourth, we dazzle our souls with Christ by meditating on his glory as revealed in creation. John 1:3, Colossians 1:16, and Hebrews 1:2 teach us that God the Father created all things through Christ. The Father is the architect, Christ is the builder. The Father is the visionary, the Son is the implementer. When we look upon any aspect of creation, we are seeing the vision of the Father and the handiwork of the Son.

The more this reality sinks in, the more we will be dazzled with Christ when we look upon the sun and the stars, the lakes and the seas, the mountains and the trees, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea and the beasts of the field, the image of God that is beaming, however dimly, from every human being. In fact, Hebrews 11:3 teaches us that one of the functions of creation is to build our faith in the Creator. It is designed to capture our minds and hearts, and to cause us to bow before him who created and sustains all things with nothing more than his word of power.

Next week I plan to write one more blog addressing the question, Does Ignatius’ quote mean that we are not allowed to enjoy anything outside of Christ? But for now I want to challenge you to choose one of my four suggestions and do it. Learn the habit and art of contemplating the glory of Christ, for as you grow in this discipline you will discover that your soul will naturally be dazzled with Christ and the things of this world will strangely fade away.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Broken Heroes: The Life and Ministry of Gregory of Nazianzus

Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329-c. 390) was born into a family of moderate wealth and influence that resided in the Roman province of Cappadocia (eastern Turkey). His parents were ardent Christians, in fact, his father (also named Gregory) was bishop of the small town of Nazianzus where he built a church and served the Lord for some forty-five years.

The younger Gregory, born near the beginning of his father’s ministry, was the second of three children. Along with his younger brother, he was educated in several great centers of learning, including Cappadocian Caesarea, Palestinian Caesarea, Alexandria (Egypt), and Athens (Greece). While on the way to Athens, the ship on which Gregory traveled encountered a violent storm and thus he prayed that if the Lord would deliver him, he would devote his life to the service of the Lord. The Lord did indeed deliver Gregory, and he would eventually use him, along with several others, to protect and prosper the church.

At Athens, Gregory met, roomed, and studied with Basil of Caesarea who became a life-long friend and partner in ministry. He eventually completed his studies and returned to his home town to live a quiet, spiritual, and scholarly life. However, in the year 360, his father began to press him to become an ordained pastor so that he could help shepherd the church in Nazianzus. He was later appointed to this post against his wishes, but instead of embracing the position, he fled to the remote area of Pontus where he hoped to live a life of solitude.

But as is often the case with those who run from the call of God, he soon broke under the weight of conviction, embraced his calling, and wrote a treatise entitled, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus, which speaks of the weight of ministry and the valid reasons one might flee from it. The inner turmoil that drove him to Pontus, plagued him all the days of his life, but his sense of duty and his love for the body of Christ compelled him to press through the pain and fulfill his calling, his promise to the Lord.

In the course of time, Gregory’s friend Basil rose to prominence and persuaded him to be appointed bishop of Sasima so that he could help defend the church against the onslaught of Arianism. The Arians taught that Jesus was created from nothing by God the Father, but Gregory and others, following Athanasius, argued that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are of the same substance; that they are equally God though they differ in roles. They were right, and by the grace of God, they rose up to save the church from grievous error.

Gregory was later appointed Bishop of Constantinople against his wishes, but while there he turned the jurisdiction from Arianism to orthodox Christianity. He later resigned amidst much turmoil, and returned home to spend his remaining days in prayer, study, and writing. Gregory is a hero of the church for whom we should give thanks and praise to God.

"Apart from Christ Let Nothing Dazzle You" (Part 1)

“Apart from Christ, let nothing dazzle you.”

This oft quoted saying comes from Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50 – c. 117) who was discipled by the Apostle John himself. He later served the churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) after John’s death, and eventually wrote a number of letters to some those churches. One of those letters went to Ephesus, near the end of which Ignatius penned this famous line. Here is the full paragraph from which the quote comes, it’s worth reading carefully:

“These are the last times. Henceforth let us feel shame, let us stand in awe of the long-suffering of God, lest it turn to our judgment. For either let us fear the wrath to come, or let us love the grace which is present—either this or that; only be it ours to be found in Christ Jesus unto life which is life indeed. Apart from Him, let nothing dazzle you. For in Him I wear my bonds, my spiritual pearls, in which I pray that I may rise again by the help of your prayer—may it ever be mine to have a share in that—that I may be found among the band of those Ephesian Christians, who were, besides, continually of one accord with the Apostles in the power of Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Ephesians, chapter XI).

This context helps us to see that when Ignatius wrote the words, “Apart from Him, let nothing dazzle you,” he meant at least four things. First, he meant that we should be so captured by the glory of Christ that our sin appears to us as it is—shameful, dark, and deadly. The sight of Christ, and of our sin, should then compel us to turn away from our sin and toward Christ.

Second, Ignatius meant that we should be so gripped by the magnitude, power, and justice of Christ, that we fear the wrath he will pour out upon unrepentant sinners. And lest you think Christ is too meek, mild, and merciful to be a God who feels and dispenses wrath, consider the words of John in Revelation 6:15-17.

“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”

The rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak will one day prefer to be crushed by rocks rather than face Jesus Christ because in that day he will pour out his wrath upon all who have not turned from their sin. It is far better for us to see this, fear, and repent now, than to wait until it is too late. So again, to be dazzled by Christ is to fear him more than we love our sin.

Third, Ignatius meant that we should be so amazed by the grace of God in Christ that we cannot help but love and follow him all the days of our lives. It is good for us to be thrust toward God for fear of his righteous wrath; it is better to be drawn near to God out of awe for his magnetic mercy. The more we come to see the deep darkness of our sin and the stunning brilliance of his mercy, the more we will be dazzled with Christ and repelled by this world.

Finally, Ignatius meant that we should be so drawn to Christ as to seek our life in him alone. Recently I enjoyed a savory T-bone steak that cost more (even store bought) than I would like to admit. The succulent and satisfying flavors of that cut of beef make even the thought of a frozen steak dinner seem repulsive. How much more does the soul-satisfying glory of Christ ruin us for the lesser pleasures of this world? As the hymn-writer so eloquently wrote, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in his wonderful face / And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of his glory and grace.” Amen.

One sign that we are dazzled by nothing but Christ, is our willingness to suffer for him in this life. Did you notice that Ignatius referred to his prison chains as “spiritual pearls”? I find this description rather captivating, because pearls are normally signs of wealth, blessing, and honor, and for the one dazzled by Christ, they are. “Blessed are you,” Jesus said, “when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23). When we forsake the world for the glory of Christ and they revile and persecute us for it, they only succeed in amplifying our joy in the one we prefer over them.

Over the next two weeks, I plan to post two more blogs on this subject. The first will address the question, How can our souls be dazzled by Christ? The second will address the question, Does this statement mean that we are not allowed to enjoy anything outside of Christ?

For now, I want to close by encouraging you to join me in meditating on this precious phrase: “Apart from Christ, let nothing dazzle you.”


Friday, November 07, 2014

Jesus’ Ministry Extended through the Community Agape Meal

On December 13, our church is planning to host a meal to which we will invite our friends and neighbors, and especially the poor of our cities. The co-leader of the prayer team, Carmen Gunderson, recently wrote a devotional for our church which calls us to prayer. I hope it blesses you as it did me. 


After being baptized, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. He entered the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath and read the words from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:17-19).

Then Jesus announced – “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (v. 21). As Jesus’ ministry unfolds in the Gospel of Luke, we witness Him preaching the good news to the poor, healing the sick, and forgiving sin. Then, Jesus calls and empowers the disciples to follow Him in this same ministry. And He told them of the suffering that would come through this ministry. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:21). Then he said to them all: “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

Jesus weaves these truths through the parable He told while eating the Sabbath meal at the home of a prominent Pharisee. (Luke 14:1-14) After warning them against seeking the best place at the wedding banquet, He says: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Then Jesus spoke directly to the Pharisee hosting the Sabbath meal, telling him that when he gives a banquet to invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. 

As we prepare for the Community Agape Meal on December 13th, may Jesus’ teachings guide our prayers. We pray that we would deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus through this event. May we humble ourselves as Jesus teaches. By His Spirit, may the poor and sick be invited to our banquet. May Jesus’ ministry prevail through our humble efforts for the expansion of His Kingdom.