Yesterday, I asked some questions that were challenging to me, as well as to the church I am privileged to lead.
Do you know God better at the end of 2017 than you did at the beginning?
How will you ensure that you know God better at the end of 2018 than you do today…Jan 1, 2018?
Almost too obvious to mention…recent studies show that the best spiritual development tool is the Bible. Those who read the Bible demonstrate greater spiritual maturity than those who don’t.
My challenge was to choose to grow by:
- Take 15 minutes to read God’s Word every day.
- Choose to attend YOUR CHURCH weekly if at all possible.
- Serve others in and through your church.
These three actions have produced greater growth in my life than nearly anything I can imagine. Of course, I’m not saying that walking through trials and loving people that drive me nuts sometimes are not also part of God’s growth plan. They are! But, I cannot choose my trials…only respond to them. I cannot manufacture opportunities to rub wings with people that God uses to refine me…only do it when they come into my orbit.
So, how will I intentionally grow in 2018?
Let me list a few resources that are part of my daily discipline for the year:
- F-260 by Replicate Ministry. This is a great discipleship tool for growth, community and accountability. https://replicate.org/f260-bible-reading-plan/. They have an app which is on my iPad and I timed it this morning- 25 minutes to read 2 chapters, write out memorization verses, and to reflect and journal on my reading. If you’re looking for a system, try this one. I will even connect with you for community and accountability if you message me.
- Devotionals. I find it helpful for me to read devo thoughts from others. Here are a couple of my daily reads- Solid Joys by Desiring God. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/solid-joys-daily-bible-devotional/id553049864?mt=8 ; Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, https://utmost.org/ ; Wisdom Hunters by Boyd Bailey, https://www.wisdomhunters.com/; Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Blackaby, http://www.blackaby.net/; and a print devotional I picked up from Johnny Hunt, Grace, Hope, and Love: My Daily Devotional. My devotional reading takes about 15 minutes a day. What I like? The different perspectives. God has a way of squeezing in truth when I wasn’t expecting it. I also like that all are on my phone or iPad through an App (except for Johnny Hunt’s devo, though I have Chambers downloaded (cost .99). Total cost is about $17/year.
- Proverbs. A chapter from Proverbs corresponding to the day of the month. 3-5 minutes
- Additional Bible reading for deeper study. Apart from preparation to teach and preach, it is part of my discipline to read slowly and research more deeply different books of the Bible. No rigid pace here. I like to Major and Minor prophets a lot, though I do cycle through the NT letters as well. 10 minutes.
- Prayer. Last but not least, some uninterrupted time of speaking to God and listening…allowing my mind to be directed as God leads it and speaks to me. I personally feel this is my weakest area…due to my own impatience. That’s why we call it a discipline. 10 minutes.
So if you add it up, about an hour and five minutes or so a day.
“Wait…you said, pastor, 15 minutes a day for God.” Sure! That’s a great place to start. Grab one devotional, and Proverbs and 2 chapters a day…or jump on the F-260 plan…or grab a bible reading plan from YouVersion. Start somewhere. God will guide you from there.
I’ll expand a little more later in the week on what this looks like…but NEW YEAR, NEW YOU! Start today and next year, you’ll be blown away at your answer to the question, “How do I know God better at the end of 2018 than at the beginning?”
Grace and Peace.
Recently, Jodi and I rented a paddleboard while spending a week together at the beach.
I must say that as someone who has never surfed or even successfully waterskied, my first try on the board was not very impressive. I had no idea what I was doing so those first rides lasted between 10-60 seconds. (Jodi, of course, owned it like a boss from the beginning). Honestly, it took me a couple of YouTube videos to get the basics down and day two was pretty good. Jodi and I both paddled a bit and had a good time. We also met some folks who seemed to have interest in our paddleboard “sea stories.” We thought they might want to give it a shot themselves so we offered up the use of the paddleboard for them to try.
Husband, “No I’d probably break something.”
Wife, “I can’t since I have a terrible fear of sharks.”
They were very interested in what it was like for us, but their fear of injury or “Jaws” kept them from even trying the board for themselves. This encounter made me think: I wonder how often we forsake “what could be” because of fear?
- Afraid of what they might say, we refuse to ask that special someone on a date.
- Afraid of getting lost we never leave the guided tour to experience the heart of a City.
- Afraid of what “might happen,” we never travel beyond our own country or even our state.
- Afraid of being “turned down” we simply don’t apply for a new job.
- Afraid of failure, we choose never to return to school and complete a degree.
- Afraid of rejection, we never share the gospel with others.
When we choose to allow fear to drive our actions, we acknowledge a (little g) god in our lives. It may be safety, security, control, or some other form of that false god, but, in our fear, we choose to serve it ahead of our goals, dreams, or even calling.
Fear is a non-negotiable in life. Everyone is afraid of something, sometimes. If you have no fear, you have a rare genetic condition called Urbach-Wiethe disease; or, you could be a run-of-the-mill psychopath who experiences fear but doesn’t recognize it. Otherwise…everyone experiences fear. Fear, though, is not the problem. What we do with fear determines our destiny and indicates Who or what we serve as our god/God.
Peter tells us to take our anxiousness/fear to Jesus (1 Peter 5:7). Paul says to seek God rather than serve anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7). Jesus tells us to believe (have faith)…because faith conquers fear.
Now, certainly Jesus did not direct me to go paddle boarding; however, the board serves as a good analogy to understand how to find victory over our fears. We pursue our objective with passion and refuse to quit.
Honestly, paddling was cool but what I really wanted was to get up close to some dolphins. On day 3… I did. The water was choppy but I had mastered how to use it like a kayak so when we saw them beginning to play about a half-mile out, I looked to Jodi for approval, grabbed the board and took off for the open water. It took a bit to get out there (since they did not exactly wait on me). I had to plot an intercept course on the open water, but it paid off. I came to within about 15 feet of three dolphins playing as they surfaced near me. It was amazing! (In fact, it is what I had prayed for earlier that morning when I sat a few hundred yards offshore scanning the horizon. I told the Lord that He was all I needed but that I would love to see some dolphins up close if He’d let me.
When the dolphins submerged again (not to return), I looked down and was well beyond the emerald green water we are known for on the Gulf coast. In fact, I could barely make out the spot of beach I had departed from…but I did it! I saw the dolphins up close, simply by getting on the board, paddling hard and not stopping until I go there.
Our new friends…they never broke anything and they were certainly not eaten by sharks…but they also didn’t see the dolphins.
Here is the question…do you want to see the dolphins the Lord has in store for you?
Recently, I received a precious note from a mom. I have been preaching on the subject of evangelism lately noting that ALL of God’s people are, by design, proclaimers of the gospel. In fact, I have been encouraging the church I lead to embrace a challenge to identify one person (#MyOne) and share the gospel with them using the “3 Circles” Conversation Guide. Sharing the gospel is more than a statement or conversation about Jesus; which necessarily makes it more than a Christian greeting (God bless you) or a Christian truth (Jesus loves you) but that it connects the brokenness of man with God’s redemptive story and points to the restoration that is possible when we repent and believe the gospel.
This mom shared the challenge of this. In essence, she wanted to know how her sharing with her children fit into this challenge. It is a GREAT QUESTION and, with her permission, I wanted to pass along some of my response because I imagine there are others who are in a similar situation. So, “does sharing the gospel with my children, who have my nearly complete attention every day, fulfill the great commission mandate?”
In short, my answer is Yes, this is the Great Commission, but, ALONE, it is incomplete. This mom is intentional about consistently connecting the gospel to her kids’ lives. This is the premier method of discipleship. In fact, I don’t know of any better outworking of Deuteronomy 6 than what this mom described.
At the same time, Jesus expressed a “going” aspect of the gospel enterprise. He called us to make disciples as we go (Matt 28:19) and to go and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).
These truths are not opposed to but complimentary of one another. We are to constantly rehearse, train and teach the gospel to those who are redeemed and exist within our circles of influence while at the same time, expanding the scope of our circle by building bridges to new people. Here is my response to this mom, in part:
My hope, and I think the biblical admonition, with the #MyOne promotion is to treat honestly the intent of the Lord in evangelizing. Jesus did this in every conversation. Sometimes more overt in some than others…but He always pointed to God’s redemption and man’s required response. The other NT writers did as well. I can hardly think of a teaching in the NT that is not focused on evangelizing or on living out the Gospel. They are never really separated from each other.
If we are to treat the Scriptures with honesty, we must also see that there is a “going” aspect of the gospel enterprise as well. It is never the intent that we would simply work within our “constant” circles of influence; rather, that we would be continually building bridges to reach new people INTENTIONALLY seeking to see how the Lord is working in those relationships so that we can join Him in His gospel work. Just as with your child, God loves our neighbors and desires their redemption even more than we do. He has, in these cases, commissioned us as instruments of redemption both in telling and applying the gospel in the lives of others.
So, reach your child and your neighbor. Praise God for that. Encourage other moms with the Gospel. Praise God for that. AND…intentionally grab that wife who is a HOT MESS and have her and her rowdy kid over for a play date…and get to know her and her crazy world. Then, prayerfully, build a gospel bridge. Then do it again!
There isn’t enough time to do it all, but we must continually press the limits of the circle outward…for Jesus’ sake.
So, what do you think? Can you relate to this mom? What would you add to what I shared?
The Internet is KILLING US! (Not really…but it makes a good scapegoat and illustration).
I know very few people who set out with elaborate plans to sin. Rarely do I find a person who thinks through the entire process and plans every detail along the way. Listen to the planning involved with the woman of Proverbs 7. “I went to the temple and prayed, cleaned the house, took a bath, made the bed, sent my husband off on a business trip…and now I am out here on the street looking for a young, good-looking man like you as the answer to my prayers! Let’s sin together!” Most often, we are like the man in the story who is naïve and foolish…we wander too far into the wrong environment and linger too long once we get there. We listen too agreeably to the enticement and, then suddenly, we SUBMIT to the temptation (Prov 7:22). At other times, we are like the fish at the bottom of the lake on a warm day. We are just there waiting to feed in a few hours when the sun goes down and suddenly…along comes a lure and we jump on it. No thought…and no impulse control. Just attack…and we are hooked.
The truth, if we can stand to hear it, is that we lack the “Self-control” Peter commanded us to ADD to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7). We are too impulsive! We see it, want it, get it…and worry about tomorrow when and if it gets here! YOLO (you only live once) …we might say! The truth is though…YOLO is a lie! We don’t only live once. We live (in this line of thinking) TWICE. We live life on this earth and then we live forever with the consequences of choices we make HERE…either in presence of God and His grace or in absence from God under His righteous condemnation.
Self-control is about choosing the best path for our lives. I can have chocolate cake today and cholesterol medication from now on…or I can skip the cake and be healthy. I can buy the new shiny thing through Amazon Prime now…or I can sleep on it and maybe realize why I have made it all these years without it so far and save my money for something better later. I can pursue sexual temptation in front of me and deal with the consequences from now on…or I can honor the vow to God and my mate and live under His blessing.
Self-control is about choice. It is about deciding to discipline ourselves to choose that which is best, that which offers real promise, that which serves the greater good. Anyone can choose ONE-CLICK PURCHASE on their Prime account…but wise people take a breath and make certain that the long-term results are worth the momentary action.
Are you impulsive? Choose to control it. Seek God’s help in doing so. Beg Him to make you mindful of the choice and the corresponding consequence. Listen to His voice and choose to obey…even against your impulsive instinct.
“There are boundaries that exist for our good.” These words are incredibly difficult for me to speak in my flesh, that is, when rising up from my humanity. I dislike the concept of boundaries. I recognize their inherent worth in principle, but, at times, the desires of man’s nature make those boundaries seem intrusive and even impossible.
Yet, if we comprehend the metanarrative of God’s purposeful design then we must acknowledge the value of boundaries. To reject boundaries or to resist their purpose is to subject ourselves to incalculable suffering. Early one morning, I scanned through the channels of the television and came upon a movie about transgressed boundaries. The full story line is inconsequential except for its value in illustrating my point. It was a story of forbidden love and how the draw of the heart brought two people together, even momentarily. Doing so damaged a marriage commitment. In fact, the commitment to marriage had been modified to become “open” so that the heart could wander and fulfill its passions. The storyline presented the case that casting off boundaries, while ultimately causing heartache, freed the heart to experience great and blissful happiness and fulfillment, even if it were only temporary. I was reminded of the gracious and loving gift of boundaries.
Some see God as “old fashioned” because He instructs people to avoid certain things. From the declaration to not eat from the “certain” tree in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), to the counsel of the writer of Proverbs about the foolishness of lustful naivety (Proverbs 7) and its magnetic draw toward adultery and death (Proverbs 5), Scripture gives us boundaries to guard us and guide us toward unspeakable joy. These boundaries, when tested by the heart, seem oppressive; however, when comprehended by the faithful Christian, are instruments that promote ultimate peace, pleasure, and satisfaction.
“Rules were made to be broken,” as the saying goes, is a recipe for disaster. Time will not allow me to unpack stories of those who have wept before me over adulterous relationships that began as unchecked flirtatiousness. There are not enough hours to detail the immense suffering that resulted from stealing from a trusted friend or family member. We cannot even begin to examine the costs of addiction that began as one pill or one beer to relax. In nearly every case, the grief-stricken person can detail the moment that the heart approached the biblical boundary for the final skirmish and transgressed it.
Truly, boundaries seem archaic at times and the draw of human nature (or you may call the heart) seems overwhelmingly strong; however, can we ever claim that this is unusual to us? Is this not the struggle in Genesis 4 in the heart of Cain? Is this not the allure that seized David’s heart when looking upon Bathsheba? IS this not the battle raging in Peter’s heart as he warmed himself over a stove in Caiaphas’ courtyard (Matthew 27:69ff)?
Dear friends, God always designed us to battle the pull of the heart toward rebellion…not because His ego was massive but because God desired to save us from the consequences of the morning after, and the one after that, and the one after that.
The storyline of the movie positioned the experience of forbidden love as something positive. The “adversary” convinced Cain that his happiness would follow the destruction of his brother Abel. The naïve young man of Proverbs 7 fell headlong into destruction, convinced that the beautiful woman would be his “ticket” to ultimate pleasure. Truthfully, the “enemy” has always packaged rebellion as the means to happiness but the consequences outlive the momentary pleasure. God’s boundaries promote joy over suffering, pleasure over pain, and holiness over dishonor. They are His gracious and loving gift.
“Love your enemies. do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28.
If you’re like me, you might have wished you had just scrolled past this short article.
What under heaven is Jesus thinking?
Is there a text more challenging, more piercing, more provoking in all of Scripture?
Is there a single statement that is more illuminating of the condition of our hearts?
We struggle truly loving those closest to us. I don’t mean that we don’t have a form of love for them; certainly, we do. What I am speaking of is the passionate conviction to apply ourselves to living for their good…to serving to their benefit. We struggle because there is often a part of us, deep down, that hopes to benefit from such loving displays. We love and (kind of) hope/expect to be recognized for it. In these cases, we demonstrate self-love.
Man’s greatest issue is his infatuation with Himself. We are self-seeking and self-serving at our core. We process most events in our lives through the filter of “how is this going to affect me? What is the implication on my life?”
Perhaps that is the Lord’s point. Maybe Jesus commands us to love those who hate us so that our selfish hearts will come to light. Perhaps he wants us to see our hearts as He sees them. Frankly, Jesus did not command us to love our enemies because He was concerned that they should live better. He is not seeking to make them more comfortable or more confident. The command, while it affects others, is like a searchlight aimed directly at our inner being. He is seeking to expose the self-centeredness that lurks within us so that we can wrestle it to the ground and diminish its control in our lives.
How can I be sure of this assessment? Because Jesus also presented a contrast for us in Himself and His own actions:
- He loved us while we were His enemies (Romans 5:8).
- He prayed for us while we were His enemies. Examples abound but do not gloss over His prayer from the cross- “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Today, as we consider that Jesus loved us from “enemies” to “family,” let’s not yield to the temptation to mitigate the weightiness of this command. Let’s not minimize it or make excuses about how “we are just not Jesus.” We are not Jesus, but He lives in us so let’s not proclaim how much less accountable we are. Instead, in light of His love toward us as enemies, let’s allow God to expose and transform our hearts to the place that we can love our enemies, bless them, and pray for them as Jesus did for us. Then, and not one second before, will we know what it is to be like Him.