A Common Mistake in our Search for Meaning

Meaninglessness does not come from too much pain in life. It comes from finding too much pleasure in meaningless things. We are prone to get things backward. We attribute fulfillment with achievement. We perceive meaning in accomplishment. We look at the person with the accolades and convince ourselves that they have won! We tell ourselves the lie that if only we could achieve the same success, then we would be happy. If we could win like them, then we would be content.

Life continues to feel meaningless. We lack fulfillment. This is not a new problem:

"Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
     vanity of vanities! All is vanity
What does man gain by all the toil
     at which he toils under the sun? (Eccl 1:2-3)."

"I said in my heart, 'Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.' But behold, this also was vanity (Eccl 2:1)."

It does not matter the arena of life, if you attribute fulfillment with achievement, you will remain unfulfilled. If you equate meaning with pleasure in meaningless things, you will find yourself always searching for more. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

An example

There are countless examples of men and women who have reached the pinnacle of worldly success in their respective arena and found themselves feeling like there must be more. One notable example is Tom Brady. After winning his third super bowl and only the age of 30, he did an interview with 60 minutes. In a moment of intense transparency, as he reflected on his own life, he said, "Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and... and still think there is something greater out there for me? ... There has got to be more than this..."

Since that interview, Brady has added two Super Bowl rings and is widely considered the greatest QB to ever play in the NFL. But I don't think his answer would change. There has got to be more than this...

Brady's comments are not unique. We could find countless stories from other domains of life. Business leaders who make millions and are not satisfied, politicians who reach the highest levels and discover they are not fulfilled. People throughout all generations in all professions among all cultures have discovered this same truth. It is not a new revelation. With the preacher in Ecclesiastes we repeat the refrain, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

C.S. Lewis

What article about meaning and pleasure is complete without a quote from the old sage:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

and another from Lewis:

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

We are looking in the wrong places

We are all pleasure seekers, we are just prone to look in the wrong places. Pleasure is not the problem. Our problem is not that we seek too much pleasure, but that we seek it in the wrong places. We are far too easily pleased. Meaninglessness does not come from too much pain, it comes from seeking too much pleasure in meaningless things.

Our Scriptures argue that trials are not antithetical to meaning, but can actually bring meaning. We can be made complete through the steadfastness that trials produce:

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4)."

Meaning is found in none other than God himself. Whether we are walking through the valley of trial or soaring on the mountaintop of success, we are only ever made complete through Jesus. When we see the world through the lens of the gospel, when we see our meaning through what Jesus has done and is doing to transform us, only then do we find the joy of contentment. Only then does meaning come.

It is no empty word for you, but your very life...

How do you view God's Word? As God transitions Israel's leadership from Moses to Joshua, we read these words.

"He said to them, 'Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess."

- Deuteronomy 32:46-47

For it is no empty word for you, but your very life...

Do you view God's Word in that way? Does it have that sort of priority in your life? Psalm 119 is a lengthy psalm, dedicated to magnifying God's Word. It is filled with passages that tell us about the importance and necessity of the Scriptures in our lives. At one point the author writes, "My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law (Ps 119:36)." Does God's Word have that sort of value in your mind? Do you weep at the thought of so many who disregard the very words of God?

Know your Bible. Read your Bible. Pass it on to your kids. Be careful to do all the words you read. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life.

If only I could write like C.S. Lewis...

In his book The Last Battle, Lewis gives a vivid picture of what it is like to pass from death to eternal life:

"'The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.'
And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for
us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them, it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at least they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

This short passage nearly brings tears to my eyes. Not of sorrow, but of expectant joy, looking forward to Chapter One of the Great Story.

Lewis is masterful at his craft. If only I could write like him... Not as a parrot, but with the depth and imagery he employs. 

The Books our Intern Cohort Read Together

I wrote a couple weeks go about why we hire interns at First. There are many reasons, but I included three. We hire interns because we want to develop leaders, we want to prioritize The Kingdom and because we want to do excellent work together. Throughout the year, our intern cohort met together weekly, met with me weekly for a 1:1 check-in and spent the rest of their time engaged in ministry.

During our weekly cohort meetings, we had a rhythm that went like this:

  1. We updated one another on our week (shared highs and lows)

  2. We shared a devotional together

  3. We spent time praying together

  4. We sang the Doxology together

  5. We discussed books we read together

As I reflect on our year, the books we read were very good. Each of them helped us grow in different ways, and I want to share the books with you. Links are provided, so you can jump over to Amazon and order yourself a copy. Each of them would be well worth your time.

How People Change

If you want to have lasting change in your life, this book is a great guide. It is thoroughly Biblical and eminently practical. Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp provide a model for change that is rooted in the gospel. They push us to consider the source of our sin, our idols and the lies we believe. They also give us a remedy. This book provided some great discussion for our cohort and built a great foundation for the rest of our year.

Habits of Grace

This is the best book I have read on spiritual disciplines. David Mathis always points us toward the goal of our spiritual disciplines - enjoying Jesus. In the book, Mathis helps to give a simple model and groups the disciplines (habits of grace) into three primary groups (means of grace). The three means of grace are God's Word, Prayer and Fellowship. He then delineates various habits in each group which help us to enjoy Jesus. My heart was encouraged by this book, and it was a very good launching point for our cohort to discuss spiritual disciplines.

Mortification of Sin

A classic. I had not read this prior to reading it with our cohort. John Owen's style of writing can be difficult for contemporary readers, but we found a great edition of the book which helped. John Owen has great insight into the need for Christians to wage war on their sin. "Be killing sin, or it will be killing you," is a well known line from the book. In an age when we take our sin too lightly, Owen reminds us that we need to fight sin. And that fighting sin does not need to equate with legalism. If you are going to buy this, purchase the copy edited by Kapic and Taylor. It has three different books in the one volume, and also some great helps in understanding Owen's writing.

Life Together

I may not have our cohort read this next year. Not because it wasn't a great book, but because it wasn't the right book for our intern cohort. Bonhoeffer's perspective on what it means to live the Christian life together is challenging and encouraging. It challenged me in my own habits and disciplines, and it made me think differently about how my family structures our days. It was harder to translate into how we live together as Christians today. It is a short book, and well worth reading. It will challenge you. It will convict you. It will encourage you. It provides some great theological and philosophical thoughts about life together as Christians, but it does take some work to apply it to our context.

Accepting Applications

We are still accepting applications for next year's cohort of interns. If you or someone you know would like to apply, please take a look the information regarding our intern program found on our website.

Three Reasons We Hire Interns at First

We are wrapping up our inaugural intern cohort at First Baptist. It has been a privilege this year to lead our cohort of five interns as they have grown together and done excellent work on behalf of our congregation. We set out to hire a cohort last spring and we were not sure what we would get. When you begin a process to hire five interns, you never know who might apply. We were fortunate to not only have five great individual interns, but they were a great team together as well. As I was talking with my wife last week, I mentioned to her that the intern cohort has been one of my highlights of ministry this past year.

Over the year, we have sought to invest in our intern cohort. Interns can sometimes be seen as only cheap labor, but that is a serious disservice to what an internship should be. Someone asked me about leading a cohort of interns and what I have learned, I told them that unless you are prepared to invest in people, don't hire interns. The jokes are too common - interns are seen as cheap labor. This is absolutely not the case. Our cohort has done excellent work together this year, and they have served our congregation well. This requires a serious investment on the part of a congregation - one we were happy to make.

There are many reasons to hire interns. The list could grow quite long, but here are three reasons we hire interns at First.

We want to Develop Leaders

We want to develop leaders. Plain and simple. We are working to create a culture at First Baptist that recognizes growth and multiplication as Biblical values which must necessarily be expressed in our congregation. We want to help people grow, whether it is in the area of spiritual disciplines, care for others or leadership skills. An essential part of growing as a disciple of Jesus is multiplying ourselves into others. Paul exhorts Timothy, "What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:2)."

As our congregation makes a commitment to invest resources into developing leaders through our intern cohort, we also communicate a commitment to growing leaders all over our church. As we seek to make growth and multiplication part of the culture at First, our investment into a cohort of interns moves us in the right direction. One of the reasons we hire interns at First is because we value leadership development and our intern cohort is a natural result of that value.

We want to Prioritize The Kingdom

We want our church to prioritize God's Kingdom over our own kingdom. Churches are unfortunately prone to be territorial and only care about their own agenda. We want to fight against that tendency in every way we can. When we hire a cohort of interns, we prioritize The Kingdom. On day one, we tell each of our interns that we want them to invest fully into our church throughout the year of their internship. Once the year is over, we do not place any expectation that they remain a part of our church. We want to release them for Kingdom work, whether that is in another church or another city.

As this cohort year ends, multiple of our interns have expressed a desire to remain a part of our congregation. We do hope this is the case, because it is a sign that these young leaders are excited to continue investing in our church. Whether they remain for just their internship or a few years after, it is likely they will move away at some point, and our prayer is that the investment we made is multiplied ten, twenty or even a hundred fold for God's Kingdom. We hire interns at First, because we want to prioritize The Kingdom.

We want to Do Excellent Work Together

We hire interns at First, because we want to do excellent work together. It is our intention to provide an environment that facilitates growth in each of our interns, and along the way, it is our expectation that we will do excellent work together on behalf of our congregation. I am not interested in having our cohort simply execute menial tasks in a mediocre fashion. As I work with our cohort, we want to complete meaningful work on behalf of our church, for the good of God's Kingdom, the glory of God's name and the joy of all peoples, and we want to do it in excellent ways.

It would be impossible for me to outline all the excellent work our cohort has done this year. They have supported our partnerships with our 26 missionaries, they have provided necessary leadership for our youth ministry, they have led retreats, they have led worship, they have invested in congregation members, they have served the needs of our downtown community, they have supported one another, they have prayed for one another, they have loved our church and they have done excellent work together. We hire interns because we want to do excellent work together.

We are hiring another cohort

Based on our experience with our inaugural intern cohort, we are hiring another cohort of interns for next year. We will continue to improve our program, so we can continue to grow leaders and do excellent work together. If you or someone you know might be interested in being part of our cohort, please consider applying for one of our six intern positions. Our application deadline is June 11th. Contact me with questions.

Joyfully Discontent

How do you balance joy in Christ with discontentment toward sin? As Christians, we are called to the paradoxical life of joyful discontent. Following Jesus means we have been transformed from death to life, we were once in darkness and now walk in the light, we were orphans in the world and are now sons and daughters of the King. Pondering these realities leads us to rejoice. "Rejoice in the Lord always!" we are told. "Give thanks in all circumstances," we are exhorted. We are called to joy.

And yet, there ought to be a righteous dissatisfaction with our lives. In our new life, it is as though we are growing a beautiful garden as followers of Jesus, but weeds remain that want to choke out our fruit. Even as we rejoice in the Lord, we are discontent with the weeds of sin that are yet to be fully removed. Like weeds, sin grows when unattended and left to its own devices. Like weeds, sin is fought in both the growth of good vegetation and the direct attack upon its roots.

You cannot truly have one without the other. You cannot be rightly discontent over sin without joy in Christ. And our satisfaction in our savior is severely undermined if we are not actively fighting the sin that lurks in our hearts. This is one of the paradoxes of following Jesus. As his followers, until he returns, we will always be joyfully discontent. Joyful in Christ. Discontent with our sin.

Joyful in Christ

As we abide in Christ, we have peace in our hearts. There is nothing more satisfying to our spirits than fixing our gaze upon our savior. He who came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. He who was made to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. He who brought life to my dead heart by nailing my stained record of debt to his pure hand on the cross. He who, though he was clothed in righteousness, wore the sins of mankind, so we can be clothed in a pure white robe. There is nothing more satisfying to my soul than fixing my eyes upon him.

What is at stake if we do not find our joy in Christ? More than I can outline here, but in this regard, if we are not finding our joy in Christ, but are discontent with our sin, we will constantly swing back and forth between pride and shame. Pride when we feel successful in our fight. Timid and ashamed when we are failing. When our joy is not in Christ, it will be in our own ability to conquer sin. When our joy is not in Christ, sin will always win.

Discontent With Our Sin

There is a poisonous attitude that creeps into our churches, which positions discontentment with sin against joy in Christ. It's as if people see them as opposite forces when in reality they work together. Out of a fear of being legalistic, we fail to fight sin and end up ignoring its dark devices. Rather than implement strategies and means to wage war on sin, we allow it to grow. What we fail to see is that picking the weeds of sin out of the garden does not undermine the beauty of the flowers, it enhances their beauty. Being discontent with sin, and employing strategies to fight sin does not undermine our joy in the grace of Jesus, it clears a path for us to enjoy the grace more.

If we are unwilling to see our sin and be discontent with our lack of holiness, we will undermine our joy in Christ. Sin will eventually choke out our joy, and we will constantly search for something new to bring us joy. We will wind up discontent either way - because we are unhappy with our sin, or because we are unhappy with what we lack by way of the world. One form of discontentment will actually lead to joy, the other will lead to depression.

Not Paralyzing Self-Condemnation

Like a novice at the grill, who overcooks his steak out of fear that he will serve raw meat, we have a nasty habit of overcompensating. You may find yourself either entirely discontent with no joy, paralyzingly self-condemning, or respond too far in the opposite direction, embracing the grace of God but failing to take seriously the sin of your former self. This is not paralyzing self-condemnation, nor is it a cheap grace alternative which excuses sin. We have joy because we have all we need in the gospel. We are discontent, not because we need to do more, but because the gospel compels us to grow in our sanctification and never be satisfied to let sin lurk in our heart.

Finding that perfect middle is not simple, joyful discontent is only found in continually preaching the gospel to yourself, continually reminding yourself of the joy to be found in the gospel of Jesus and continually reminding yourself to fight the sin that wants to choke out the fruit of your new life. Like grilling the perfect steak, we learn through continual training and practice. As we are trained by the Scriptures and reminded of the gospel, we find the right balance between joy and discontentment.

 

Two Reasons We Drift from Community

We have a conflicted relationship with relationships. We lament our lack of community and express a desire to be known, feeling deep pain when we notice its absence, yet our genuine desire for community is unknowingly undermined by our own habits. We drift away from community. We see it. We want it. Yet we drift away from it like an unanchored boat drifting from shore, pulled by the winds and waves of selfishness and shame.

In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve to be in community. God saw Adam's lack of human relationships and said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18)." When Adam saw Eve, he sang, declaring the goodness of the companion God made for him. God, existing in perfect relationship within the Trinity, created man to know and be known by another human. We were made for relationship.

In the fall, our relationships were broken. Our relationship with God and our relationship with others. Adam and Eve saw their nakedness and covered themselves with fig leaves. When they heard God walking in the garden, they hid from His presence. We were created for relationship, but because of the fall, we drift from community.

If we want genuine community, it will not happen without initiative and intentionality. We do not drift toward relationship with others, but away from relationship with others and toward isolation. We see it in Adam and Eve's response to the fall, and we see it in our own lives. If we want to fight the drift, we must know why we drift. Here are two reasons:

Selfishness

The selfishness of Adam and Eve is displayed in their first sin and also their response. They selfishly disobeyed the commandment of their loving creator. They pleased themselves and questioned the truth of God. In response, they selfishly passed the blame and took no responsibility.

Selfishness continues to undermine our relationships today. First, we sabotage community when we are selfish with our time and with our lives. Real relationships require us to seek the good of the other. Genuine community requires we consider their needs above our own. We undermine relationships when we fail to adjust our schedules to make it happen. Selfishly, we don't want community if it imposes on our lives. We only want relationships if they fit conveniently into our busy schedule.

Selfishness also causes us to drift from community because we put unfair expectations on relationships. We impose our own needs, desires and ideals on the relationship we want, and fail to see that we have made it all about us. We fail to see that it isn't real community. When we want relationships to fulfill our own needs, without a desire to meet the needs of others, we sabotage community. We drift away because unmet expectations lead us to question whether we want those relationships at all - and we end up blaming the other person, when it was us that created the problems all along.

If you want community, you must fight the selfishness that will make you want it on your own terms. You must fight the selfishness that will only take community if it is convenient. It isn't always convenient. And it won't always go as planned.

Shame

In response to their first sin, shame also led to a breakdown in the relationship between Adam and Eve. They saw their nakedness and felt a need to cover up with fig leaves. They heard God in the garden and felt a need to hide. Shame makes us want to hide. Shame makes us feel unworthy. Shame leads us to drift from community because it makes us afraid someone will see our sin.

Christian community is meant to be a safe place for us to confess sin and be reminded of the gospel. Of all people, our fellow Christians should know what it means to be forgiven, and God calls us to offer forgiveness to others. When we feel shame, that is precisely when we need community the most. When we feel unable to speak the gospel to ourselves, it is then that we need our fellow Christian to speak it to us. The words of our brother or sister remind our weary hearts of the truth of God's word. The words of our fellow Christian are a potent potion for the wound in our heart.

We drift from community because of shame. In our shame, we fear what others might say when we are "found out." If we want genuine community, we must fight our fear and walk in the light with our fellow believers. And we must affirm one another in the gospel, so we know where to find fresh water when our soul is parched. In your shame, if you find yourself drifting from community, do whatever you can to fight your way back.

Actively Waiting for Christ's Return

Waiting for Christ's return is not a passive activity. We are not simply hanging out with nothing to do. Our waiting is not like pulling out a phone and playing meaningless games while waiting for our friends to show up for the movie. It is more like a limo driver, waiting for passengers to arrive. The hired driver isn't waiting aimlessly, because he has a job to do. They have been commissioned for a task and are actively waiting for their passengers.

When it comes to the topic of Christ's return, people spend a great deal of time concerned with predicting when Christ will return, when we should really be thinking more about how we wait. Like a hired driver, it is an active waiting. We are not simply hanging out on this large rock with nothing to do. We have been commissioned by our savior and he has given us a job to do. In teaching his disciples, Jesus seems less concerned with telling people when he will return and more about what sort of posture they should take in their waiting. It's less about when and more about how.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mk 13:32-37).

No one knows the time or the hour. Not even the son. It would be unwise to claim knowledge about something Jesus says you cannot know - something he says he didn't know himself. Jesus says we should not spend so much time trying to figure out exactly when, but we should spend our time considering how.

He tells us to wait like a servant, waiting for their master to return. What does that mean? How does a servant wait? Here are a few ways that a servant waits, which can inform our own manner of waiting. 

Know your task

It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work (Mk 13:34)

When the master leaves, he puts his servants in charge, and gives them work to do. Servants are not hired without an awareness of what they are being asked to do. Jesus has given us clear commands about our work as his followers. It is helpful for me to think about my call as a disciple to grow in my love for Jesus in three primary ways.

First, to treasure Jesus. Loving Jesus means finding our joy in him above all else. This happens as we treasure Jesus in the gospel and pursue habits that raise our affections for him. Second, to live consistent. Loving Jesus means living with character that is consistent with our love for him. As followers of Jesus, we are called to a new set of behaviors in our lives. And third, to make disciples. Loving Jesus means we participate in the glorious task of making new disciples. This means we live with intentional mission to multiply our faith into others.

Be active not passive

When we, like a servant waiting for their master, know our task, we must be active and not passive. The parable of the master and servants points to an active waiting. While their master is away, servants do not simply gather each morning to give one another a pep talk, discussing how great their master is and how excited they are to complete their day's work. Then leave that morning meeting only to spend the rest of their day playing meaningless games, rocking a chair on the porch or continuing to talk with one another about the work they should be doing.

God has called us to be active in our waiting. Our gatherings on Sunday morning are meant to be a catalyst to send us out into the world. We are not intended to gather each week in order to feel good about ourselves but then see no meaningful result. God has given us work to do. We are called to treasure him and actively grow in our love for Jesus. We are called to live with character consistent to our commitment to Jesus. This means we fight sin, we serve others, we seek the good of our city, we care for our family, we treat people with respect, put on love and joy and peace and patience and the list could go on. It also means we are actively making new disciples through sharing the good news with those around us.

Waiting for Jesus means we are actively engaged in the work he has called us to do as his followers.

Be ready at all times

Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. (Mk 13:35-36)

We need to always be ready for Christ's return. We don't know when, but we need to be ready. Are you ready?

What does it mean to be ready? It doesn't mean you are perfect. It doesn't mean you have arrived. We have not obtained perfection, but we press on toward holiness (Phil 3:12). In order to be ready for Christ's return, we don't need to achieve perfection, we simply need to be growing as his disciples. Faithfully committed to him and actively engaged in his Kingdom.

We are not sitting on the porch step, doing nothing but staring down the road. Although, we may look to the horizon every once and again, looking with excitement to see if the master's silhouette can be seen in the setting sun. We are not compelled to work hard in our waiting because we feel a need to impress him. We labor in our waiting, because we are grateful for our master, and we look with hope at the horizon, because of the joy we have in anticipating his return.

Four Questions to Ask Before you Post

Have you ever posted something to Facebook and then wished you hadn't? Or tweeted 140 characters you later decided to delete? Social media can be a minefield and Christians aren't always walking through unscathed. We are often the ones setting off the unseen bombs. Like most tools or technologies, social media itself is morally neutral - it can be used for good or ill. But how do we use it well?

Here are four questions you can ask before you post, comment, share, retweet, like... The next time you see your friend share a quote that offends you, stop and ask these questions before you comment. The next time you want to share an article or video, stop and ask a few questions. The next time you want to post that picture or personal update, take a moment and ask yourself these four questions.

What is my motivation for sharing?

Of all the questions, this is the most central and necessary. It gets at the heart of the matter. We can often engage in social media in response to a deeper heart issue. Rather than deal with the real garbage going on in our our lives, we cover it up through the facade of a perfect life, but no matter how many pictures we share or positive reports we give, our reality will find its way to the surface.

We can also use social media as a weapon. We wield it in defense of a cause or perspective, without care or concern for who we hurt or ostracize. We attack and we berate and never consider why. What is our motivation?

The public personas on social media are numerous and what motivates our desire to share or post varies as much as our personalities. I cannot possibly provide an example for each. But it is a necessary question for you to ask. Why am I posting? What is my motivation?

Is this intended to build God's Kingdom or my kingdom?

This question gets at a very particular motivation. Am I posting this to build God's Kingdom? Or am I trying to build my own? Platform building is its own industry today, with books written, podcasts recorded, seminars delivered and resources given, all in the name of teaching people how to build a platform. Pastors, churches, authors, business owners and more are using social media to make a name for themselves.

Not everyone using social media to build a platform is interested primarily in building their own kingdom, but it can be a narrow path to walk. Even if we are not interested in building a platform, we can so often use social media to draw attention to ourselves. We are constantly looking for the red dot to pop because we want, we need, to see the new like, the new comment, the new share, or the new retweet. All in the interest of helping us feel a little better about ourselves.

Let me be clear, sharing a picture of your son because you want to celebrate a new milestone and share it with your friends and family is not personal kingdom building. It is one of the joys of social media. Knowing and sharing in the lives of our friends and family is beautiful, but if you are constantly playing the game of choosing which life event you want to share, because you know it will garner the most engagement from others, it is a dangerous arena to play in.

Is this unnecessarily controversial?

Controversy is inevitable. If you want to say anything of substance in the world, you will likely offend someone along the way. In asking this question, I am not suggesting you live a life in which you do nothing but please the people around you. That is a different sort of problem. I use the word unnecessarily because sometimes we do choose controversy for controversy's sake. There are bloggers, public figures, articles and news sites who build their following on the knowledge that rabble-rousing draws a crowd.

The question you and I need to ask before we post or share on social media is whether it is unnecessarily controversial. The gospel can be offensive, and sharing something about the gospel which causes a stir does not fit into this category. The gospel is necessarily controversial at times because it is unavoidably controversial at times.

If you find two or three articles which represent your thoughts on recent public events, and you feel you must share one, choose the one that is not out to pick a fight. You can tell by the tone of the article. You can tell by the way its creator treats people who disagree. Don't create strife where it isn't needed.

Have I read, watched or listened before I respond or share?

This question should go without saying, but unfortunately it must be said. If you are going to share an article, read it first. If you are going to respond to a video someone else posted, watch it first. I see so many people share something for its headline, without reading its contents. Or I see a string of comments arguing a point the article never attempts to make. This is a simple question, but too few people are asking it before they post. Have I read, watched or listened before I post, share, comment or tweet?

Final Thoughts

The tone of this article is somewhat serious, but social medial doesn't always need to be so serious. You can have fun with it. Whether it is a funny comment, a late show clip, a satire article or a comical meme, you can enjoy yourself on social media. Don't take yourself too seriously, but be thoughtful about what you share. 

When Intermediary Goals Undermine the True Goal

The story is all too common. Someone has a vision for their ministry, their church or their community group and somewhere along the way they find they are no longer moving toward their initial goal. Unknowingly, their attention has shifted and their path has diverged from its original direction. I am not talking about someone committing an egregious sin which disqualifies them from ministry, although that can certainly have a derailing effect. This isn't about the person who falls into sin, but more about the person who gets distracted and realizes they are no longer heading toward their goal.

We set out to pursue a great aim, and along the way, we get caught up in pursuing intermediary goals -what was intended to be a step along the path becomes a perch on which we sit. Stuck on a ridge, we fail to see the precipice we had set out to climb because these intermediary goals actually begin to undermine the true goal. This is never intentional and often goes unnoticed.

When intermediate goals undermine THE goal

When intermediary goals become THE goal, our tactics can begin to undermine the ultimate goal we originally set out to accomplish. The potential scenarios are innumerable, but allow me to illustrate a few.

If we want to help more and more people become mature followers of Jesus, we might set an intermediate goal of getting people into our church building. This is based on the conviction that true Christian fellowship is an important way God draws people to Himself. Eventually, we might work so hard to get people into the building, the strategies we use to accomplish that goal undermines the true goal of creating mature followers of Jesus.

Here is another scenario. We want to expand our ministry in order to bring glory to God and help others grow, so we set an intermediary goal of developing a social media presence. We begin to post, share, like and more, but eventually, the intermediary goal of getting more followers becomes THE goal, and along the way the strategies we employ undermine the ultimate goal of growing our ministry in order to bring glory to God.

A third example comes when we want to know God more, so we endeavor to increase our Bible reading. The goal of reading our Bible more is in the interest of the greater aim, knowing God more. In order to do that, we develop a plan designed to help us read more. Along the way, we become a slave to the plan. Our goal has become checking off the box more than knowing God. There is no discernible fruit produced or joy experienced. The true aim of knowing God was undermined by our slavery to the plan.

Safeguard the true goal

You have likely experienced or observed one of the three examples used to illustrate the problem. You might be in the middle of one right now. Here are five ways you can safeguard the true goal from being held captive by the intermediate goal.

 

1. Remind yourself of the true goal

Simple. Have a clearly stated vision and then remind yourself often. When considering church ministry, we really all have the same goal - to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them (Mt 28:19-20). Like Paul, we want to present our people mature in Christ (Col 1:28). As we toil after this aim, we must always continue to remind ourselves of that primary goal. We might state the goal differently, we might bring our own contextual nuance to how we communicate this aim, but every church should have the same ultimate goal. In the interest of not being led astray by the mile markers on the way to our destination, we must always continue to remind ourselves of the ultimate aim.

2. Ensure intermediary goals align

Like markers on the bowling lane, our intermediate goals need to be aligned with the final aim. If they are not going to serve the ultimate purpose, then we should not allow these short-term goals to get in the way. Ask yourself, does this actually move me forward in the direction I want to go? If so, how? Further, we need to be aware of how our intermediate goals can get us off the rails. Where are the potential pitfalls? If we want to always be moving toward the true aim of making mature disciples, then we need to ensure that everything we do serves that ultimate goal.

3. Don't fall prey to analysis paralysis

In an effort to develop the most sophisticated strategies and ministry plans, we can bury ourselves under a mountain of complexity. As we over analyze, we can paralyze our work and limit our momentum. Planning is good. Intentionality is good. Strategy and models and analytics are all great, but only when they are actually serving the goal. Don't fall prey to analysis paralysis.

4. Don't fix the problem with the same problem

Commonly, we fix problems using the same strategies that got us into trouble in the first place. When you become aware of how you might have gotten sidetracked with some of your intermediate goals, don't try to remedy the problem with a quick fix. You may find yourself in the same place six months later. Rarely do quick fixes and easy solutions make a situation better. Step back and do it right. Patiently pursue the true goal.

5. Remember who actually accomplishes the goal

In the end, we need to know who is the author of our lives. You and I have the great privilege of participating in God's mission to draw worshipers to Himself, but we need to remember that we are participants, and he is the great mission-accomplisher. Rather than begin with your own plans, begin with prayer. Acknowledge that God is in control. God accomplishes the mission. We get to participate. Once we get that correct in our heads and hearts, then we can pursue our work with excellence, remembering that it is all done by God's poet and for God's glory.

Reflections and Updates on my Costa Rica/Panama Trip

I'm back. Our team of 31 spent ten days (Dec 27 - Jan 5) in Central America, beginning in Costa Rica and ending in Panama. Our primary purpose was to support the work God is doing through our missionary partners, Marvin and Vielka Cabrera. It was an extremely fruitful trip, and I was highly encouraged by our church's important partnership with the Cabreras. You can read more about the background in my pre-trip updates, found here. The team did well overall - we had some illness, one hospital visit for a broken arm and some sore bodies from all the hard work, but the team was flexible and grew in maturity and grace together.

As I return, I have a few reflections and updates to share. I write these reflections for a few purposes. One, to share them with you, because many of you have prayed for our team, supported our work financially or are simply interested in what went on in Costa Rica and Panama. Second, writing my reflections is helpful for me to process my experiences. I write for me as much as I do for you. Third, I hope you and I can learn something together. Whether it is an immediate application or possibly a lesson that comes in reading this a year or more in the future, the documentation of my reflections may serve a purpose entirely unknown to me at this time. So, here are six updates and reflections on my missions trip to Costa Rica and Panama.

Costa Rica Reflections and Update.png

I am grateful for our partnership with the Cabreras

Prior to this trip, I only had a few brief interactions with Marvin and Vielka, but after spending a week with them, I am even more grateful for our partnership with them. They are hospitable, hard-working, patient, kind and joyful people who love Jesus and want to help others know and love Jesus as well. They are highly committed to their work, and it is a privilege for our church to partner with them.

Short-term missions is done best when it occurs in partnership with local, long-term missionaries. I would go so far as to say that unless this is the case, it probably should not be done at all. Over the past three years, we have sent teams of 26, 27 and 31 on three different trips to support God's work in partnership with the Cabreras. That requires a significant amount of resources - time, people, energy, finances, etc. People might question whether this is a good use of those resources. A valid question, which requires an honest answer.

I feel confident in saying yes - it is absolutely worth our resources. If it were not for our partnership with the Cabreras and the work God is doing through them, I would be far less sure. In partnering with the Cabreras, we are working with high-quality people, who remain on the field, and are engaged in work that aligns with our own mission and vision. I am grateful for them and excited for the future.

The need for Biblical Literacy and Leadership Development

The Ngäbe (Guaymi) are considered a "reached" people group, in the sense that there is an established and indigenously led church that exists among the Ngäbe. There are still needs and we are excited to partner with Marvin to help meet those needs. While there is an established church, there are still many who do not know Jesus as savior, and we are excited about seeing more and more hear the gospel message and respond in worship.

Marvin helps to mentor six different pastors who are leading Ngäbe churches, many of which have no place to meet. Homes are too small to host gatherings, so they often meet outside wherever they can find some shelter under trees. One way we can help is to assist in funding and building structures that can be used as a gathering place for local churches.

In conversation with Marvin and other missionaries working with the Ngäbe, there is also a need for ongoing discipleship, Biblical literacy and leadership development. In George Patterson's article, The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches, he lists four simple things anyone can do to promote the multiplication and growth of disciples and local churches.

  1. Know and love the people you disciple.

  2. Mobilize your disciples to immediately edify those they are discipling

  3. Teach and practice obedience to Jesus' basic commands in love, before and above all else

  4. Build loving, edifying accountability relationships between disciples and churches in order to reproduce churches.

This is a great summary of what is needed. An increasing understanding of the Bible and obedience to its commands, while reproducing loving and intentional disciples who can help to reproduce loving and intentional churches. In many ways, the needs of the Ngäbe (Guaymi) church are simple, and quite similar to what is needed among our churches in the United States as well.

It's hard to be away from my family

Without question, the most challenging aspect of the trip for me was being away from my family. Leaving Megan home for ten days with three children four and under is not something I want to do lightly. I do not regret going on the the trip, and I am grateful for Megan's sacrifice to help make it happen, but it was hard - for them and for me. I love my family dearly, and have long been committed to being a present and intentional husband and father. I have seen or heard about too many pastors who sacrifice their family on the altar of ministry, and wind up with wives and children who grow to resent the local church.

Megan and I spoke with the kids often about the importance of daddy's trip. We told them that I was not "leaving them," they were "sending me." We prayed together with the kids on the last night I was home, helping them to see the importance of the work.

The communication was difficult, because the wifi was very poor at the location our team was lodging. Megan and I did our best to communicate, but it was hard to be away and have little opportunity to communicate. As I return, I am thankful for God's goodness toward my family while I was away. Overall, things went well at home. I am also thankful for our community - there were many family and friends who helped make things a little easier on Megan.

Getting to know other team members was invaluable

I loved the many conversations I had with team members throughout the trip. Whether over a meal, on the trail hauling blocks, sipping a ginger ale at the end of the night or playing a card game, it was invaluable to connect with other team members. As a pastor, I struggle with the challenge it is to not know everyone in our congregation in a deep way. I recognize it is not possible to know everyone well, and it is not the job to which I am called. I am called to equip the body, so we can all know and care for one another, because it isn't possible for any single person to know and care for everyone well. But it doesn't change my desire to know our congregation better. This trip was a great chance to deepen those relationships. 

As a small bonus, we also had two young men from Cities Church join us. Our church is in conversations and prayer about the possibility of two churches becoming one. As we look at the possibility of "marriage" with Cities Church, it was great to spend extra time with two of their young leaders. 

Shared experience, especially when it is in service to God's mission, plays an extremely important role in deepening relationships. I was able to do that with all sorts of different team members. As I reflect on my trip, this is one of the many great aspects I had the joy of experiencing.

It felt good to use my body to do hard work

My daily work is not physical. Whether I am reading, writing, meeting with someone, doing administrative work or planning for future ministry opportunities, I spend most of that time sitting. It felt amazing to use my body to do hard physical work. I grew up doing physical labor, and our bodies were made to be used, so I was grateful for the chance to get sore for the glory of God.

Don't get me wrong - it was exhausting. Hauling cinder blocks 1/4 of a mile through mountainous hiking trails was not easy. It took a toll on my body. I was blistered, tired, scraped, bruised and sore from the work. Each day, our team would end our work and be exhausted. It was not easy, but it felt so good!

Excited for the future

I left Panama excited for the future of our partnership with Marvin and Vielka. There is so much opportunity to continue serving God's mission together with the Cabreras. There many possibilities, but I wanted to mention a few specific ways I am excited to continue partnering.

First, there are multiple locations that still need a building for their church to meet. We are not at a loss for work projects that would be meaningful and help support the churches Marvin is mentoring. There is opportunity near where Marvin lives in Paso Canoas, Costa Rica. There is also opportunity near the area we spent time working in Panama. Prayer and discernment is needed for our church's leadership as we continue to plan intentional short-term trips to partner with God's work in Costa Rica and Panama.

Second, Marvin and Vielka are great to partner with. I am excited about the future, because I am excited about continuing to work with the Cabreras. Who knows what God might be kind enough to do through this partnership. I pray He continues to exceed our expecations with what He can do.

Third, last year's team helped construct a dorm building, so that Ngäbe kids in Costa Rica could live there and have access to schools. Currently, children need to travel multiple hours, by foot, just to make it to school. During the rainy season, this journey is often impossible to make. Because of the challenge that exists in getting to school, many end their education early in life. The dorm building would help up to eight kids live there and get an education, while being cared for by Christian dorm parents. There is a need for funds to be raised in order to make this vision become reality. Pray with me about how you, our church and I might be able to help support the hopes Marvin has for this dorm building

Want to hear more?

Maybe this short update peaked your interest? If so, send me an email and I would love to talk with you more - whether it be over coffee, email, lunch, phone, or whatever we can figure out.

A short lull on the blog - here's why

Costa Rica / Panama Update

I will be taking a short break from blogging - just a few weeks - because I am heading to Costa Rica on December 27th with a team of 31. First Baptist Church has a beautiful partnership with our Sister-Church in Paso Canoas, Costa Rica and I am helping to lead aspects of the trip. If you want to read more about our trip, please check out my Costa Rica / Panama Updates.

Additional Reading

In the meantime, I want to encourage you to read about the three primary categories that inform my writing on jeremyadelman.net. At the bottom of each page, there are three suggested articles to read. This should give you plenty to read for awhile.

Free E-Book

Finally, if you haven't already gotten my e-book, I want to encourage you to download it today. It is short (only about 15 pages), but it is designed to help kickstart your Bible reading. With the new year coming, people are usually motivated to read their Bibles more. This small resource can help. Click on the image below to download the book.

Music Monday: God with Us

Music is beautiful. It stirs our hearts and alters our gaze. If we are intentional about the music we feed our souls, it can be a powerful conduit to increase our affections for our savior. Each Monday, I plan to share a new song which I find to serve this exact purpose - songs with beautiful melodies and rich lyrics, songs that stir our affections, songs that make our hearts sing, not just our mouths. My hope is that these songs do the same for you. My desire is that these songs strengthen your love for Jesus and increase your joy in him.

Lyrics for God with Us

The people had read of this rescue that was coming through the bloodline of Abraham
And they had seen where Micah proclaimed about a ruler to be born in Bethlehem
And Daniel prophecied about the restoration of Jerusalem
Isaiah’s cry about the Son of God coming to them
So for them—it was anticipation
This groaning was growing, generation after generation
Knowing He was holy, no matter what the situation
But they longed for Him
They yearned for Him
They waited for Him on the edge of their seat
On the edge of where excitement and containment meet
They waited
Like a child watches out the window for their father to return from work—they waited
Like a groom stares at the double doors at the back of the church—they waited

And in their waiting, they had hope
Hope that was fully pledged to a God they had not seen
To a God who had promised a King
A King who would reign over the enemy - Over Satan’s tyranny
They waited
And so it was centuries of expectations, with various combinations of differing schools of thought
Some people expecting a political king who would rise to the throne through the wars that he fought
While others expecting a priest who would restore peace through the penetration of the Pharisee’s façade
Yet a baby—100% human, 100% God
And so the Word became flesh and was here to dwell among us
In his fullness, grace upon grace, Jesus

You see, through Him and for Him, all things were created
And in Him all things are sustained
God had made Himself known for the glory of His name
And this child would one day rise as King
But it would not be by the sword or an insurgent regime
It would be by His life
A life that would revolutionize everything the world knew
He would endure temptation and persecution, all while staying true
Humbly healing the broken, the sick and hurting too
Ministering reconciliation, turning the old to new

A life that would be the very definition of what life really costs
Saying—if you desire life, then your current one must be lost
And He would portray that with His own life as His Father would pour out and exhaust
And He would be obedient to the point of death, even death upon a cross
And so just 33 years after the day that He laid swaddled in the hay
He hung on a tree suffocating, dying in our place
Absorbing wrath that is rightly ours, but we could never bear the weight
And so He took that punishment and he put it in the grave
And He died
And when I say that He died, what I mean is that He died
There's no breath, there's no heartbeat, there's no sign of life
You see, God is a God of justice, and the penalty for our sin equals death
That’s what Christ did on the cross

And then… Just three days later, in accordance with Scriptures, He was raised from the grave
And when I say that He was raised, what I mean is that He was raised
Lungs breathing, heart pumping, blood pulsing through His veins
The things that He promised were true
He is the risen Son of God, offering life to me and you
Turning our mourning into dancing
Our weeping into laughing
Our sadness into joy
By His mercy, we are called His own
By His grace, we will never be left alone
By His love, He is preparing our home
By His blood, we sing before His throne, that...

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

So now we, as His bride, are the ones waiting
Like the saints that came before us, we’re anticipating
He has shown us that this world is fading
And He has caused our desire to be for Him
And so church, stay ready
Keep your heart focused and your eyes steady
Worship Him freely, never forgetting
His great love for you

Immanuel, God with us

Get the song on Bandcamp: https://folkangel.bandcamp.com/track/god-with-us-feat-isaac-wimberley

There is a Person Behind that Question

When we are open with those around us about our love for Jesus, we are bound to end up in conversations about faith. At times we might be responding to antagonistic barbs, other times it might be someone who is genuinely interested or we might find ourselves explaining our commitment to someone who is skeptical about Jesus. Whether the conversation excites us or scares us, whether it is with someone who is impolite or gracious, we need to recognize there is more to their questions than simply the words.

It can be easy to get into a debate, utilizing all the apologetic arguments we have accumulated over the years and forget there is a person behind the question. It's like continually treating the symptoms of recurring stomach pain, but never taking the time to figure out the root cause. When we are only focused on winning the argument, we only treat the symptom. In order to deal with the root, we must get to know the person behind the question. Jesus did not come to simply win apologetic arguments, he came to love and save people - real, living and breathing people.

Answer the question

I am not suggesting you do not need to answer their questions, though. It is not enough to only answer the question but we do still need to give an answer. The first step to answering their question is to make sure you have understood what they are asking. Have you actually listened to their objection? Or do you assume you know what they meant and launch into your reply? Take the time to clarify what they are asking through the use of reflective listening skills, repeating their question back to them, ensuring you have a clear understanding so you can respond to their actual question.

Then provide a coherent and thoughtful answer. There are a ton of great resources out there to help answer objections to faith. I have really enjoyed Timothy Keller's book, The Reason for God, which is a very helpful read. He has also written a newer book that serves as a prequel of sorts to his first book. I have not read the newest book, Making Sense of God, but I have seen some great reviews. Keller's books are only a couple examples and there are more great ways you can learn how to provide quality answers to their questions.

In the end, don't make something up. If you don't know the answer, then admit you don't know, and then do the hard work to find an answer and follow-up later.

Answer the person

As you engage in the conversation, don't forget there is a person behind the question. You are not simply answering an intellectual appeal, you are answering a person. Every question has a context because every person has a context. No question is asked in a vacuum. Each person brings with them different experiences, fears, hopes, dreams, doubts, hurts and more. We must remember that when we are answering a question, we are actually answering a person.

It is not uncommon that the question they asked is not the true question they want to be answered. Their question is like stomach pain, it is felt and it is surfacy, but it is only a symptom. There is a deeper root that is holding them back from following Jesus. Take the time to ask them some questions and drill down into what are their true objections. These are often deeply personal and unknown to the person asking the question, so be gentle and kind. The goal is not to expose them, it is to introduce them to your savior.

As you begin to answer the person and not only the question, you can find ways to show them how Jesus is the true answer to their deepest pain and fear. Consider how you can provide a Christocentric answer that captures their heart and not a stale answer that, while true, is not beautiful in the least. It can be easy to win an argument even while failing to help them see how the gospel answers their deepest needs. You can give a true answer that actually clouds the gospel rather than illuminates. This can happen when we answer a question, but forget that there is a person behind the question.

Music Monday: All Glory Be to Christ

Music is beautiful. It stirs our hearts and alters our gaze. If we are intentional about the music we feed our souls, it can be a powerful conduit to increase our affections for our savior. Each Monday, I plan to share a new song which I find to serve this exact purpose - songs with beautiful melodies and rich lyrics, songs that stir our affections, songs that make our hearts sing, not just our mouths. My hope is that these songs do the same for you. My desire is that these songs strengthen your love for Jesus and increase your joy in him.

Music Monday - All Glory Be to Christ.png

Lyrics for All Glory Be to Christ

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders striveTo you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

His will be done
His kingdom come
On earth as is above
Who is Himself our daily bread
Praise Him the Lord of love

Let living water satisfy
The thirsty without price
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

When on the day the great I Am
The faithful and the true
The Lamb who was for sinners slain
Is making all things new.

Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light
And we shall ere his people be
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

credits

from Joy Has Dawned, released 27 November 2012
Words by Dustin Kensrue, arrangement by Kings Kaleidoscope / © Dead Bird Theology (ASCAP), It’s All About Jesus Music (ASCAP)

How does wisdom deter a quick temper?

Do you know someone who has a reputation for being quick to anger? When you think about your interactions with them, you get the feeling you are always walking on eggshells. Everything in us wants to avoid them whenever possible - even if it requires extra work, we don't want to incur the wrath of their sensitive and irritable disposition. An even more penetrating question - are you that person? Are you the angry person whom others avoid?

Even if you are not known as an "angry person," you do get angry at times. Every one is liable to a temper. I never thought of myself as an angry person before, but as I feel the weight of more and more responsibility in life, it is like an amplifier to my sin. Under the pressures of pastoring, parenting, husbanding, home-owning, and more, I can be a bit quicker to anger than I ought. Even if you and I do not have reputations as angry people, we must admit that at times we can be too quick to anger.

There is a proverb which says that "good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11)." This makes me ask the question, how does good sense make one slow to anger? How does wisdom deter a quick temper? As I have pondered this question, here are some of my conclusions.

Quick tempers assume two things

The first assumption of a quick temper is that we are somehow better than the person on the receiving end of our anger. Our pride tells us that we are smarter than them, they are an inconvenience to us and they are not worthy of our patience. A quick temper assumes we are better than we actually are. This is a false assumption. This is foolishness. In the end, this leads to a quick temper.

The second assumption of being quick to anger is that we know the other person's motives, and assume the worst. We do not stop to understand the other person's situation or what has led them to do whatever it is that has rubbed us the wrong way. We assume we know before asking or understanding. This leads us to justify our anger, because we tell ourselves we have been wronged in some way and therefore, they deserve of our wrath. This also is foolishness and is the opposite of wisdom. It is foolish to assume we know another's motives, what has happened in their day or the intention of their heart.

Jesus corrections these two assumptions

In many ways, quick tempers assume the best about ourselves and the worst about the other. Jesus tells us to assume the worst about our own motives and the best about theirs. Jesus said it was hypocritical to look for the speck in our brother's eye without seeing the log in our own (Mt. 7:1-5). Good sense reminds us to consider our own sin first and do the hard work of pulling out the log before going after their speck. Quick tempers are prideful and ignorant of our own sin.

A person who is fast to anger walks around the world assuming everyone else has a plank in their eye, and is reluctant to even consider they might have a speck in their own, let alone a log. This is foolishness. Jesus reverses these assumptions. He says, deal with the log in your own eye first, then discuss the speck in your brother's. Jesus doesn't say to ignore the speck, he just says deal with your log first. He tell us to evaluate ourselves first and then confront them. The Bible does not say anger is foolish, only getting there too quickly.  

Music Monday: Who Would Have Dreamed?

Music is beautiful. It stirs our hearts and alters our gaze. If we are intentional about the music we feed our souls, it can be a powerful conduit to increase our affections for our savior. Each Monday, I plan to share a new song which I find to serve this exact purpose - songs with beautiful melodies and rich lyrics, songs that stir our affections, songs that make our hearts sing, not just our mouths. My hope is that these songs do the same for you. My desire is that these songs strengthen your love for Jesus and increase your joy in him.

Lyrics for Who Would Have Dreamed?

VERSE 1
On a starlit hillside, shepherds watched their sheep
Slowly, David’s city drifted off to sleep
But to this little town of no great renown
The Lord had a promise to keep 

VERSE 2
Prophets had foretold it, a mighty King would come
Long awaited Ruler, God’s Anointed One
But the Sovereign of all looked helpless and small
As God gave the world His own Son 

CHORUS
And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world 

VERSE 3
Wondrous gift of heaven: the Father sends the Son
Planned from time eternal, moved by holy love
He will carry our curse and death
He’ll reverse So we can be daughters and sons 

[source: https://sovereigngracemusic.bandcamp.com/track/who-would-have-dreamed]

Three Marks of a Mature Church

"I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another." (Romans 15:14 ESV)

We are inclined to complicate that which needs no complicating. Toward the end of Paul's letter to the Romans, he offers a brief encouragement to his readers, commending them in three different ways. He writes that he is satisfied with them, and then tells them why. We would do well to note the three reasons he is pleased with his audience. In them, we see three marks of a mature community of faith. Hardly an exhaustive list, but it is an instructive one.

I say we are inclined to complicate matters because we can turn ourselves in circles asking what our church community "should" look like. We develop extensive plans and programs, creating rules and regulations. All the while, we have a nice simple list at the end of Romans. Again, not an exhaustive list, but if these three qualities are true of our church, then we can be confident we are in a good place. As you read these three marks of a mature faith community, ask yourself if they are true of your church.

Full of goodness

A mature church treats one another with kindness, goodness and respect. Being full of goodness (agathosyne) is a fruit of God's Spirit (Gal 5:22) working in a person's heart. As we become more like Christ, we grow in goodness. What does this look like in a congregation? A church that is full of goodness is a church that seeks reconciliation over quarreling. It is a church that serves one another sacrificially. A church that cares for one another. A church that is marked by kindness and grace. Unity. Love. Patience. These are the virtues that inhabit a mature community of faith.

How can you be an agent of goodness in your church? Do not allow dissension, discord, backbiting and gossip to gain a foothold in your church. Do not contribute to it, and as you are able, put a stop to it in others. Fight for goodness by pursuing kindness toward others, patience in disagreement and forgiveness when wronged. Pick someone up who needs a ride to church, provide a meal for someone who just had a baby, check-in on those who have lost a loved one to death - in short, be good to others.

Filled with all knowledge

A mature church is filled with all knowledge (gnosis). Much is wrapped up in this little phrase, but very simply, it means that the church has a clear understanding of the Christian faith, which means they have a clear understanding of God's Word. This requires godly leaders who are qualified to teach, and faithful members who are attentive to learn and grow. In the words of the psalmist, "I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:15-16 ESV)." In them, we find knowledge.

Is your church community filled with all knowledge? Do you have a good understanding of God's Word? I don't just mean a good understanding of some theological concepts and church traditions - I mean the very Scriptures themselves. Does someone get up on Sunday and teach from God's Word? Are people bringing their Bibles and testing that teaching like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11)? A church that is not anchored to God's Word is liable to drift unaware from the true faith. Culture and context will gain more and more influence, and the church will be tossed by every wind or wave that exerts its influence. A mature faith community is filled with all knowledge, which means they are rooted and anchored on God's Word.

Able to instruct one another

The third mark of a mature faith community, the ability to instruct (noutheteo) one another, is a natural result of the first two. Not only does it flow from the prior two, but it requires the initial marks in order to be done well. The word for instruct here is not simply to teach, but has a sense of exhortation, admonishment or warning. This is instruction with a mind toward growth and correction. The soil of goodness is necessary for the seed of instruction to take root. The nourishment of knowledge waters that seed and helps it grow. 

This sort of instruction is done from the pulpit on Sundays and also in homes throughout the week. Exhortation comes from our elders at times and from fellow congregates at others. No matter the source, a mature faith community is able and willing to instruct one another out of its goodness and knowledge.

As mentioned earlier, this list is not exhaustive - but it is informative. There are other essential elements to a healthy church body, but these three marks give us a good sense of a mature community of faith. Use this litmus test to examine your church and ask yourself whether you are contributing to the goodness, knowledge and instruction in your own congregation.

Donald Trump is Our Next President - Now, What?

Donald Trump has won the election and will be the 45th president of the United States. His victory culminates one of the most divided election cycles in recent history, with two of the least liked candidates we have seen secure their party's nomination. Trump's unfavorable rating was at about 58% going into election day and Hillary Clinton's was in the same ballpark. Suffice it to say, Trump will take office with more than half the country unhappy about him being their president.

It is very possible you are one of the people who is less than excited about who will soon take over the presidency. You may not only be disappointed, but even in despair. Let me encourage you, all is not lost. A year ago, I wrote that this is election is important, but it isn't "that important." Those words remain true, even today. Even in the wake of our most recent election.

Or you might be thoroughly excited about Trump winning the presidency. You might believe that he is exactly what the country needs right now. And I pray that is true. I was one of the #nevertrump advocates. I was not unwilling to express that opinion, although I was not overly vocal. I have concerns about his character, his competence and some of the cultural threads he was willing to pull in order to motivate his base. I have been told that he is growing - that he has surrounded himself with good and wise people, who will have his ear, who will advise and constrain him when needed.

I hope this is true. I am hopeful that he will rise to the office, and take on a tenor of humility that unifies rather than arrogance which divides. I am hopeful that he will fight for the sanctity of life. I am hopeful that he will be honorable and fight for a peaceful nation. I am hopeful. But I must admit, I am also a bit fearful. I am concerned that some of what has characterized his campaign will be seen in his presidency - a short temper, crude demeanor, disrespect for others, racist overtones and more. I am uneasy about what his victory will mean for the perpetuation of lust for political power among evangelicals, especially white evangelicals.

I am genuinely torn. Because I am hopeful that he will lead well. But I am also fearful that he will not. Let me be clear, I was also not excited about the prospect of a Clinton presidency - I could not, in good conscience, vote for either of them. I had actually started this post before the election, and based on all the "experts," I fully expected it would be her victory to which I was responding. Much of the sentiments have remained the same, but with a few differences. 

So, I have been asking myself, what are we to do? What now? I want to encourage you with four important ways God calls us to respond.

Pray for him

In the midst of a highly unfavorable political situation, Paul penned one of his letters to Timothy, which we know today as 1 Timothy. Paul was writing to instruct Timothy on how to lead the church in Ephesus. In this short letter, we read about many practical ways the church is called to live and function. After some introductory and general remarks, Paul begins with some very straight forward instruction at the beginning of the second chapter. And what are the first words he writes?

Pray.

He urges "that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim 2:1)."

Then Paul gets specific. He tells Timothy, and the church in Ephesus, to pray for "kings and all who are in high positions (1 Tim 2:2)."

Do you know who was the emperor of Rome at this time? Nero. He was a nasty dude. Historically, he has a reputation as one of the first and worst persecutors of Christians. And there were likely no Christians in any high political positions at that time. Yet, Paul calls the church to pray for their political leaders. You may love Donald Trump. Or you may not like him at all, but you would be hard-pressed to make an argument that Trump is worse than Nero, or even in the same category. He isn't.

If God called the early church to pray for Nero, we must also take up that command and pray for our leaders. No matter how you feel about Donald Trump being our president, are you going to pray for him? God calls us to pray for him. If you are asking, what now? Pray.

Honor him

As Christians, we are called to honor and respect the ruling authorities which God appoints. "For there is no authority except from God, and those who exist have been instituted by God (Rom 13:1)." Governments are not perfect, and they do not always do what is right and good. But God instituted them to be a terror to bad conduct, not good (Rom 13:3). God is in charge.

God calls us to honor our ruling authorities (Rom 13:7). This is different than silently watching as our government promotes and approves evil. We are not called to be silent and sit idol. We are called to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, whether that be the unborn or underprivileged. We are called to speak for babies in the womb, immigrants in our cities, infants in our homes, elderly in our communities, and anyone else who has a hard time speaking for themselves. We are called to advocate for what is good and right.

But we are called to do it with honor. Do you honor Donald Trump in the way you speak about him? If you are wondering, what now? How do we respond? Honor him as our future president.

Seek the good of the city [nation]

As Jeremiah (and the rest of God's people) are being hauled off to exile in Babylon, God gives them a command that is not intuitive. God says, "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7)." Like Jeremiah, we are called to seek the good of our city and nation. Not in a nationalistic way. We are not nation-building. This isn't about power.

We are called to be agents of good in the cities, states, nations and world in which we live. God wants us to care about the communities in which we reside - no matter who our elected officials are, whether you like your president or not. So, if you are wondering, now what? Seek the good of your city. Invest yourself into your community and work for its good.

Have perspective; have hope

In the end, we must always remember who is on the throne. The world has existed for a long time, and our young nation has played a small part in world history. Trump was elected to a four-year term. That is but a vapor in the history of the world, and less when compared to eternity. God remains on the throne, and He will still be there when Trump's term is over. Unless Christ returns first, the sun will rise tomorrow, as it always does. The world will not stop spinning.

Whether you like Trump or not, we need to have perspective. He is not our savior. He cannot fix all your problems. Don't put your trust in him or your government. He is also not pure evil, as some want to suggest. He is but a man. He cannot do anything God does not allow. Just as God used the Babylonian ruler, Cyrus, nearly 3,000 years ago to "subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings (Isaiah 45:1)," Trump cannot do that which God does not allow. God's mission will still be accomplished. He is still on the throne. One day, God will set all things right in the world. He will wipe away all tears. As Sam asked Gandalf, "Is everything sad going to come untrue?" Our God's answer is, "yes, but not yet... someday soon. Be ready." Trump has not changed that plan.

So while we are here on this earth - let's have perspective and let's have hope. Pray for president-elect Donald Trump. Honor president-elect Donald Trump. Seek the good of our cities and nation. And have hope.

Sharing our Faith is like Picking Apples

We hosted some of our missionaries in town recently, and one of them shared an analogy with me and the missions committee. He explained that sharing our faith is a lot like picking apples. When you go apple picking and find an apple that looks tasty, a great way to know if it is ready is by turning the apple slightly. As you turn the apple in your hand, if it easily falls off the tree then it is ripe and ready to be take home. But if you twist the apple and it stays firmly attached to the tree, then you leave it for someone else to enjoy later.

Sharing our faith is a bit like picking apples. God calls us to be faithful to share the message of the gospel, but we are not responsible for the response. It is our job to communicate the good news, not to force someone into conversion. We won't always know if they are ready to respond, so we try, and wait to see. If they are not ready, we don't beat ourselves up, or them, we move on with our days and share it with the next person too.

Like the watchman

The prophet Ezekiel was given the responsibility from God to be like the watchman on the tower. It was said that the watchman's job and was to warn the city's inhabitants about the impending danger that he saw coming. If anyone heard the warning but did not heed the trumpet, it was no longer the watchman's responsibility. It was on them for not listening. But if the watchman failed to give the warning, then they held responsibility for those in the city (Ezekiel 33).

We are meant to be like watchmen to our world. We have the words of life, and we know the impending doom that comes to those who fail to trust in Jesus. It is our job to sound the trumpet, to share the message of salvation. If anyone hears our warning and does not heed the message, it is not our responsibility. But as followers of Jesus, we do bear the responsibility to communicate the good news.

Be my witnesses

Following the resurrection, Jesus exhorted his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We cannot control the response of those around us, but we can be witnesses to the message of the Scriptures and the new life Jesus has created in us. We cannot know whether the apple will be ripe, but we are called to twist the apple none the less. We cannot know whether the hearer will heed our message, but like watchmen, we are called to send out the warning all the same.

Our job is to be faithful; Jesus does the rest

In all this, our job is to be faithful. We are called to be faithful messengers of the good news, witnesses to the coming Kingdom. We are called to communicate the gospel, and leave the rest up to Jesus. We see this happen in Acts. Paul faithfully communicates the gospel repeatedly throughout the book. In Acts 16 we see a story of Paul in Philippi, witnessing to the good news. It says that "One who heard us was a woman named Lydia... The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (Acts 16:14)." Paul was faithful, and God opened Lydia's heart.

We don't now which apples are ripe. We are just called to give them a twist. Our job is to be faithful, and then we let Jesus take care of the rest. Be faithful today. Twist some apples.