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!).

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.