Category Archives: Spiritual

Recent Readings and Reflections…

I have don’t a lot of writing recently, but I have been doing a little more reading. So, I wanted to share some articles that I’ve been reading recently. Warning: many of these are hot topics in the Christian world today, and some are uncomfortable, but in order to preach the full counsel of God, we are forced to deal with the hard topics too.

My friend Holly Stratton recently wrote, “The world is changing fast, and we need God to fill us with a love for Christ that is strong enough not to be left in the dust w/ our petty preferences. We need ministry leaders who are too driven by gospel conviction & Spirit power to be hindered by fear that they’re not honoring the preferences of others. Not leaders who don’t care what others think, but leaders who care deeply what others think. Humble leaders who care enough to boldly & confidently call for a self-forgetfulness that doesn’t allow the demanding of one’s own way. We may not like change, but we’ll dislike irrelevance even more. For the glory of God, let’s move.” (Author’s Note: “Relevant: related, pertinent, connected, applicable. The gospel is always relevant. Always. Ministries & people, however, are continually faced with decisions within the bounds of sound doctrine & biblical authority that can needlessly render them irrelevant.”)

One interesting article, along those lines, that a friend shared was “Keeping Young Fundamentalists in the Camp” by Jeff Amsbaugh. Amsbaugh writes, “My heart is not to eradicate the fundamental movement but to correct the abuses of it. These words are offered as a friend from within, not an enemy from without. But if the caricature of fundamentalism that we have presented is not replaced with an authentic model, my fear is that we will lose even more young preachers in the coming days. And though part of it may be attributable to the ‘coming apostasy,’ a good portion of it may be because of the raging lunacy. God help us to keep the baby but get rid of the bath water, for the bath water is indeed dirty.”

One of the more difficult topics I’ve been studying is homosexuality. It’s been a taboo topic for too long, and lots of young people, especially, are struggling with same sex attraction. It’s time we came alongside them, empathized as fellow sinners, and showed grace and hope for change by conformity to the Word of God. Here’s an article that gives one perspective: “When Two Lesbians Walk into a Church Seeking Trouble” (an excerpt from John Burke’s book, Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself and Others Through the Eyes of Jesus). Burke says, “Do you realize that Jesus is not shocked by the shocking things people do?” He gives examples of Christ dealing with Zaccheus, the Samaritan woman, and Simon the Pharisee, and goes on to say, “It’s all about love! Don’t miss this very critical point Jesus makes to us all: If you truly recognize how much it cost God to forgive you, it will flood your heart with love for God and others who need more of the same;” and again, “It’s all about love! Not a love that ignores the mud and the damage that destroys God’s Masterpiece, but a love that recognizes how much loving mercy God has given a messed-up person like me! … That great love brings grace and truth together to give hope to a broken world in need of forgiveness and restoration.”

Another topic is modesty, and Jefferson Bethke wrote an interesting articled called “The Idolatry of Modesty.” Regardless of what you might think of Bethke, he makes some good points in this article. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Above that though, bring glory to God through your clothes. Dress in such a way that points to your Savior and Creator, not yourself. … Remember that clothes (and the attitude that puts on those clothes) are simply an outflow of what’s in the heart. … So, ladies, let our Savior’s grace, rather than your righteousness, be exalted through your dress.”

And yet another topic I’ve been thinking about is marriage.  I read an article called, “What You Really Need in Marriage” by Mark Altrogge. Altrogge says, “Our culture is extremely self-oriented. We are continually bombarded by messages that tell us we need greater self-esteem. We begin to think, I need to do this for me, I need to be validated, I need to feel good about myself, I need to think about my desires for a change, etc.”

Often we convince ourselves that our desires, wishes, wants, and even lusts are actually needs. It’s an easy error to make, especially in an “It’s-all-about-you” culture. But it’s important to constantly go back to the word…ground yourself…intentionally…to know what God says is really a need.

Speaking of intentionality and marriage, one couple had a brilliant idea that I read about in an article by Sarah Lang, called “A Slower Cup“: “A couple reflects on the slow and methodical brewing technique [of coffee] that allows them to spend time together and offers a relaxed start to their day.” What a great way to start the day…slow, intentional, and calm! Lang writes, “A beverage as alluring, delicious and influential as coffee should be savored.” I couldn’t agree more. And whether you take time to savor a quiet, slow cup of coffee (or tea) with your spouse or your Savior or both, make it intentional and enjoy the moment.

Photographs by Chantelle Grady

And while we’re on the topic of slowing down and being intentional, I read two articles by Leslie Ludy called, “Running on Empty and Refueling Our Souls” and “When Your Soul Needs Rest.” I’m working on being more intentional about refreshing and refueling my otherwise empty soul. Ludy says, “Taking time away to refresh and refuel should flow from a motive of becoming even stronger and more equipped to serve Jesus Christ—not simply to ‘escape’ from the responsibilities of serving and godly living. … Instead of looking to the empty allurements of the world to find the refreshment we seek, may we remember that He alone is the One who can fulfill us, revive us, and meet our every need.”

Sometimes we allow our culture to dictate our beliefs, instead of the other way around. And sometimes we allow lies to creep in. Other times, we make excuses for our sin, or expect perfection instead of the process of sanctification. I’ve been reminded over and over again recently of Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NKJV). And the prayer of my heart is that I would focus on those three things. That I would be intentional about doing the next right thing. That I would love mercy and grace and love and truth. And that above all, I would walk humbly…not in conceit or pride or biting or devouring (Galatians 5, again), but that I would walk in reality of my depravity and the greatness of God’s saving grace that is both humbling and awe-inspiring.

Finally, I want to share two songs that have meant a lot to me recently. The first is one of my favorite songs, “Before the Throne of God Above.” It was a special part of our Baltic Musical Mission Team in 2003! Guitar, flute, and a bunch of crazy Americans singing their lungs out for Jesus on street corners and buses, in churches, schools, and hospitals, in Poland and Latvia. And it’s as powerful today as it was then.
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me
 
[Verse 2 from "Before the Throne of God Above"; Original Words by Charitie Lees Bancroft (1841-1892), Alternate Words and Music by Vikki Cook]

And the second song is a new favorite “Across the Lands” (Townend/Getty):

May God give you grace to live intentionally, loving Him, loving others, doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God. Enjoy the journey, friends, and find rest in God alone along the way.

“What’s Next?!” Might Not Be the Best Question to Ask…

I recently read an article called “26, Unmarried, and Childless.” I’m 32 and married, but I can still relate. My favorite part of this article is the following quote: “…instead of asking me what’s next, ask me what’s now. Ask me what God is teaching me, ask me what I’m struggling with, or what brings me joy. I am learning, I am growing, and I am happy. I would love to tell you all about it.”

The above article was written with a female’s perspective, but since then, another article has been posted to their site. It’s called “29, A Guy, and Single.” Yes, guys struggle with singleness too, but the point made in this article that resonates the loudest with me is to not isolate others when they’re not in the same stage of life as you.

I got married just before I turned 25. We’ve been married almost 8 years now and  still don’t have children. And we’re okay with that. It’s what God has for us right now (obviously). For the first three or four years, we got lots of questions about kids–even accusations and hurtful comments from some. Fortunately, we’re past that “stage” (if you will). Do we want kids? Sure, if that’s how we can best be conformed to Christ and glorify God. Will we have kids? I don’t know (and please don’t ask me–if you really want us to, tell God and let Him decide if and when). Do we love the next generation? Absolutely! If we didn’t, we wouldn’t serve in the Children’s Ministry at our church and hang out with the teens at church suppers and ski trips and help the junior high-ers bake cupcakes for a church wide shindig. Will we have biological kids? Foster? Adopt? I don’t know. (Is that question even relevant?)

Not everyone is meant to follow the same path. Not everyone fits in a fixed pattern or norm. It’s okay to not be in the same stage as your peers. God’s plan for each of us is unique…just like the gifts He’s given us. (Not to mention that certain personal questions just ought not be asked by casual acquaintances in the first place.)

Bryan and I have plenty of friends who are married with kids…one, two, three, four…or even nine or more! Some are new parents, others are parents of teens, and then there’s the empty nesters–not to mention every stage in between. We also have lots of “DINK” friends (Dual Income No Kids–yes, it’s a real thing), some by choice and others because of infertility or miscarriage. And we have lots of single friends–guys and girls, men and women, anywhere from high school into their retirement years–some who desperately want a romantic relationship and others who are fine with their current status. Some who are dating, others who are widowed, and some who have experienced the pain of divorce. But regardless of the status, gender, age, ethnicity, career path, or number of kids, one thing is constant: we all need God! And we need each other to point each other to Him.

Did you catch that?! We need each other, folks. The church wasn’t built of any one particular  demographic–or it would’ve been rendered extinct a long time ago. We need to stop letting our gender or stage in life define us and starting letting the name “Christian” define us. As Christians, we are all called to be followers of Christ and members united in Him. There is beauty in diversity, and there’s no reason we can’t share diverse backgrounds and still delight in unity.

Sometimes I wish we would go back to the days of calling other believers “brother” and “sister.” Many cultures still do, but it’s fallen out of common use in our American culture. It’s sad, really. Maybe if we started seeing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ again, we wouldn’t care so much about status and we’d focus more on loving one another and caring for one another and sacrificing for one another–like we do for our blood relatives. After all, it’s the blood of Christ our Savior that bonds us–isn’t that a greater connection than even familial bloodlines? If we would love our biological siblings despite their flaws and faults and “let love cover it” and even defend them “to the death” when others speak ill of them, should we not treat our heavenly siblings in a similar manner?

One of the saddest things to me is when a friend tells me that they had a “best friend” but that best friend got married and now they don’t hang out because the other friend is “still single” and “that’s just life” or “it’s only natural.” Or when one friend has kids earlier than another friend and they no longer interact because of nap schedules and early bed times. There are ways around this. We just have to be flexible–on both sides. I understand that there are certain things that can’t flex–babies have to be fed and cared for, and parents get tired, especially new parents, and we do need to rest. I just want to encourage you not to give up on a relationship because part of your situation changed. Relationships take work, and they’re worth the effort.

There’s no reason to not ask someone in a different stage of life than you to come over for dinner…or meet up for coffee…or host a game night. If they have kids, you might have to plan further in advance so they can schedule a babysitter, or better yet…just get together at the house with the youngest children, so the kids can still go to bed and the adults can stay up and talk. It works. Trust me. The perfect example of this is our Shepherding Group–we have 16 people when we’re all together, and we range from infant to senior saint. The backgrounds of where we grew up, where we went to school, whether or not we have kids, etc., are SO diverse, yet God has done something really cool by bringing such a random group of individuals together into a tightly knit group.

Maybe it is “natural” to fall into easy conversation with people in your same stage of life, but we are called to live “supernaturally” by the power of the Almighty God! So, fight what’s “natural” and choose to branch out of your comfort zone. Make friends with someone in a different age group than you. Or rekindle a friendship that’s fallen by the wayside because of different career paths or life choices. Mentor a younger brother or sister in Christ. Seek out a more mature brother or sister to mentor you. Share with them what God is teaching you…and ask them, “What’s God teaching you right now?” instead of “What’s Next?” And rejoice together in our Amazing, Unifying God!

Random Musings from My Snow Days…

Yesterday and today have been official snow days for us. It’s been beautiful! And we’re loving sitting in the new room we finished this fall and staring out the big windows at the squirrels and cardinals, bluebirds and tufted titmouses, gathering food and playing in the winter wonderland that is South Carolina right now. And they’re not the only ones playing; the neighborhood children have been sledding on any flat surface they can get their hands on. And since no one’s driving out there, they’re sledding right down the middle of the road, giggling and guffawing.

My Snow Day Spot

My Snow Day Spot

Yesterday, we started the day by making Eggs Benedict–Bryan’s practicing his Hollandaise Sauce for his mid-terms. I read An Introduction to the Chinese Mainland Soul. It’s a short book, but worth the read, and a fascinating cultural insight into the Asian culture and mindset.  Today I’m reading Teaching in a Distant Classroom: Crossing Borders for Global Transformation. And while I don’t plan on teaching overseas anytime soon, it’s always good to open your eyes to other cultures and how to relate to people who see the world differently than you might.

We made a batch of tomato soup and griddled sandwiches for supper last night. And I did take a slight break from my television fast yesterday, but only after having read for several hours and listening to music with Bryan for a while too.  In addition to the books, here are a few of the articles I’ve read recently:

  • Listening to Lies by FancyNonsense.com (Such a practical and convicting article; and it’s for everyone–married or not. It talks about listening to what people are saying–not what you think they’re saying; and repenting of being a “me monster”–in a culture that tells you to believe “It’s all about me.”
  • Friendship and Marriage by Jay Younts (“Romance that flows from friendship will have a sure foundation.” This article mentions Timothy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage; and it reminds me of Gary Inrig’s Quality Friendship, a book that Bryan and I read while we were dating that talks about being friends first and then deciding to be friends forever.)
  • To Live or Die (a new hymn by Chris Anderson of ChurchWorksMedia.com)

Now, it’s back to reading for me. Enjoy these last few hours of glorious white powder, as I hear the sun is coming out today to melt it all away. And maybe read one of the articles listed above–you won’t regret it.

My Christmas Prayer

This Christmas, as I contemplate the true meaning of the holiday, I am brought back not just to the birth of my Savior, but to the reason for His coming–to save me and my fellow sinners from our sins. So, this Christmas I think through not just the nativity but all the way to Calvary and beyond.

Speaking of beyond, I think of so many of my friends who have lost loved ones this year–spouses, siblings, children, grandparents, parents, unborn children, close friends. On one side, I can almost see them singing with the choir of angels, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” Then I started thinking, at this time of year when we celebrate the birth of our baby King, the very miracle of His birth means that God Himself gave up His Son from the glories of heaven for a while too. And I pray for those who have a painful glimpse into the glories of God’s great Sacrifice.

Dear God,
This Christmas, help me to focus on Christ and not get caught up in the hustle and bustle of this holiday season. Let me show those I come in contact with the glories of your mercy and grace and love–whether it be family or friends, or those in the grocery store or shopping mall, or even on the roads–let me be an example of your patience and peace, and forgive me of my own impatience and selfishness. Whether there be snow or sunshine, whether we be near our loved ones or far away, whether we have great sorrow or great joy, great wealth or great need, may Christ shine His light and likeness into our lives–a light that is greater than even the star that shone over Bethlehem many years ago. And may I cling to the cross where King Jesus shed his blood on my behalf to save me from my sins to the glory of His great grace.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

“Lessons in Limitations” – Pastor Tim Chaddick, Reality LA

Pastor Tim Chaddick,    Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Reality LA

My brother and sister in law went to this church in L.A. when they lived out there. The few sermons by Tim Chaddick that I’ve had the privilege to listen to have been outstanding! This one entitled “Lessons in Limitations” was particularly convicting and refreshing.

Pastor Chaddick was on sabbatical this summer, and this was his first sermon back after his time of rest and renewal. It’s packed full of practical theological truths. There’s some intro comments, then the sermon starts right around 5 minutes in. Sermon from II Corinthians 10:11-18. Definitely worth listening to! I can’t get the video to embed, but you can listen to it here: http://realityla.com/teachings/lessons-in-limitations/.

Here’s the basic gist and some of the comments that really stuck out to me:

II Corinthians 10 was written to a church who was influenced by “self-proclaimed leaders who did not live in reality but in fantasy, and whose influence was damaging the church. His portrait of them is not painted with the exaggerated illusions they used for themselves, but with sober words rooted in reality…living a life that went beyond the truth, a life that went beyond boundaries, a life that went beyond God-given limits, and they were talking as though they were. What they needed was a lesson in limitation.” “These arrogant and errant teachers started creeping their way into the community, and they were corrupting sound doctrine. And one of the reasons many people fell for it was because they looked so impressive. In an attempt to establish their credentials, they talked a big game…but their mouths were writing checks that their lives couldn’t cash.”

Imagine this passage was written not only to these teachers but also to us. We are “constantly tempted to go beyond God-given limits. Holy Scripture tells the truth about us…about humanity, exposes our temptation towards illusion, image management, and half-truths, and pushes us towards Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, others-oriented, healthy and humble living.”

  • Recognize Your Limits.
    • Social media–”illusion” and “distraction” and “disconnection” and “overloaded”; “We feel this constant need to be up-to-date, but the reality is in our world today, to be up-to-date all the time would mean you would have to be unemployed.”
    • Overwork–trying to go beyond our God-given limits; often because “we need to feel needed” or our “need to be successful” or “need to be known” or “need to avoid what’s in front of you right now”…
    • Exaggeration–hide our weaknesses and then constantly live in “image management” mode; symptoms: “falsely lifting yourself up,” “playing up your abilities and strengths,” “putting other people down,” “taking credit for other people’s work,” “only looking at ‘what if’ not ‘what is,’” “constant comparison to other people…cycle of arrogance and insecurity…starving for the praise of men, you boast”

“When we go beyond God’s limits, we are not advancing His cause–we are advancing our own cause;” “Limits can have a profound way of teaching us to reflect on our motives.”

Recognizing limits “cultivates humility…For in recognizing noble limits, we are essentially recognizing God is Creator and we are creature. We are His creation. …it’s a prerequisite to worship, recognizing that God is God.”

  • Learn to Receive Limits.
    • “Though we do not choose the times in which we  live, we do choose how we live within those times.”
    • “Receiving limits means choosing to live within God’s boundaries.
      • “…a matter of living according to Scripture…God has given all of us moral, ethical, and spiritual boundaries. The doctrine that we learn from Scripture shapes our lives….Scripture is our authority.”
      • “…living within your sphere of influence and responsibility.”
    • Physical Body–”God is not bummed out in heaven right now that you are not in five places….God gave you a physical body…your finiteness does not equal sinfulness.”
    • 24-Hour Days–”We must make a decision: How am I going to live today?”
    • Your Work–”What does it mean to be faithful in the job that God has given you right now?”
    • Marital and Family Status–”That is a season of life that God has allowed you to enter into.” How are you glorifying God in your current status?
  • Learn to Set Up Proper Boundaries
    • Spirit-Led Discipline vs. Laziness–”Most things that are good for you in your life actually take some work to put into place. Like nobody just accidentally started exercising.”
    • Benefits: Focus on what God has given to us right now, Freedom from living without comparison to the callings of others, a way to be Faithful and Fruitful
  • Rejoicing in Limits
    • The commendation from God becomes the only commendation that matters.
    • “It is Christ’s glory not ours that matters….This is a radical change in our definition of success. What if we went into every situation being not thinking like, ‘What can I get out of this?’ but ‘Will God get glory? How can Christ get glory in this situation?’”
    • “The truth is this morning you woke up to a world you did not create in need of a salvation you could not accomplish. That is the truth. God does not need you, but in His grace He loves you, He saves you, and He gives you meaning, and He gives you purpose, and He gives you work in life.”
    • “Jesus came in humility, and He limited Himself to the path of the cross….to rescue us…”

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord’ (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

“You can’t do everything, you can’t know everything and be everywhere with everyone, and confessing this honors God, who alone is wise, who alone is all powerful, who alone is omniscient, who alone is compassionate….by recognizing that Jesus is the one who accomplishes your salvation alone, receiving Him as your Savior, and rejoicing in the salvation that He gives you freely as a gift of  His grace. See, you can rejoice in limitations when you know you have God’s commendation. God’s calling us to pause, to stop, and to pay attention to Him. Where are we going beyond noble limits?…”

[from "Lessons in Limitations" sermon by Tim Chaddick at Reality LA, preached on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013]

Interesting Articles and Tips for College-Age Students

It’s back to school and the blogosphere is flooded with tons of helpful tips, advice, and info about heading back to college…or jumping in for the first time.

First, I read two articles specifically addressing “20-somethings.” The first was “The 20 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me at 20” by Dr. Karin L. Smithson on HuffingtonPost.com. It has some good reminders worth reading as so many head back to school…about picking friends, staying healthy, the importance of family and faith, etc.

The second was “20 Things 20 Year Olds Don’t Get” by Jason Nazar on Forbes.com. For all my friends heading back to college…or just out of college…or just trying to build traction in your careers, this article contains some fairly sound advice. It’s not necessarily that young people “don’t get it” but rather some good career tips that they “should get,” or maybe “don’t get yet,” or “what to strive for.” From productivity to professionalism, online etiquette to face to face communication, reputation and fiscal responsibility, this article hits the key topics that are crucial for young people to grasp early on if they desire to be successful.

Also, I’m noticing lots of college-age or recent post-college grads struggling with “discerning God’s will for their lives.” One book I recently read that I wish I had read when I started college is Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something. See my recent book review here. Also, remember that you don’t have to read every spiritual self-help book known to man; if you have a Bible and read it regularly, seek godly counsel, and prayer, those three things are more valuable than any “how to” book or article out there.

In regards to what to major in, I read “The Decline and Fall of the English Major” by Verlyn Klinkenborg on NYTimes.com. It is sad to hear that the number of students majoring in English is declining. I could have majored in a great number of things, but I am continually thankful that I majored in English. It has been invaluable in every aspect of my life–personally, professionally, socially, even spiritually. The most beneficial classes I took were probably Critical Writing with Dr. Horton and Philosophy of Education with Dr. Salter (both should be required by every major, in my humble opinion). To think clearly and logically and to be able to write concisely and coherently are two of the most precious yet neglected treasures in this culture. Klinkenborg writes: “Writing well used to be a fundamental principle of the humanities, as essential as the knowledge of mathematics and statistics in the sciences. But writing well isn’t merely a utilitarian skill. It is about developing a rational grace and energy in your conversation with the world around you.” and “No one has found a way to put a dollar sign on this kind of literacy, and I doubt anyone ever will. But everyone who possesses it — no matter how or when it was acquired — knows that it is a rare and precious inheritance.” Well said, Verlyn.

Finally, it’s important in your college years to stay healthy in this fast-paced, stress-filled season of life. Here’s a fun “Cheat Sheet for Healthy School Lunches” from The Honest Co.:

Book Review: “Just Do Something” by Kevin DeYoung

DeYoung, Kevin. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will. Chicago: Moody, 2009. 128 pages.

The “alternate” title to this book is How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc. As humorous as that may sound, so many young people have been taught that one or a combination of those things is exactly how they should be “finding” God’s will for their lives. Just Do Something debunks so many of the “Christian” myths that have been tossed around over the last several decades (or centuries). My reaction after reading this book is “Amen and Amen!” I wish I had read this in my early 20s. What a freeing sense of faithful living instead of fearful and futile “searching”!

Our lives are filled with so many questions and decisions. It’s easy to wonder if we’re making the right choices. We want to please God, but we’re not always exactly sure how. DeYoung provides a Gospel-centered, refreshing perspective that frees us from guilt (and laziness), and tells us to “Just Do Something.”

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“As the crafters of the Heidelberg Catechism put it so eloquently back in the sixteenth century, ‘Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty–all things, in fact, come to us not by chance, but from his fatherly hand’” (pp. 20-21).

“God is not a Magic 8-Ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks for Him. We know God has a plan for our lives. That’s wonderful. The problem is we think He’s going to tell us the wonderful plan before it unfolds. We feel like we can know–and need to know–what God wants every step of the way. But such preoccupation with finding God’s will, as well-intentioned as the desire may be, is more folly than freedom” (p. 26).

“We may have the best of intentions in trying to discern God’s will, but we should really stop putting ourselves through the misery of overspiritualizing every decision. Our misdirected piety makes following God more mysterious than it was meant to be” (p. 28).

“…God’s plans can include risk–and an opportunity to show courage” (p. 38). “Many of us–men and women–are extremely passive and cowardly. We don’t take risks for God because we are obsessed with safety, security, and most of all, with the future. That’s why most of our prayers fall into one of two categories. Either we ask that everything would be fine or we ask to know that everything will be fine. We pray for health, travel, jobs–and we should pray for these things. But a lot of prayers boil down to, ‘God, don’t let anything unpleasant happen to anyone. Make everything in the world nice for everyone.’ And when we aren’t praying this kind of prayer, we are praying for God to tell us that everything will turn out fine” (p. 40). “Obsessing over the future is not how God wants us to live, because showing us the future is not God’s way. ” and “Because we have confidence in God’s will of decree, we can radically commit ourselves to His will of desire, without fretting over a hidden will of direction” (p. 41).

“God certainly cares about these decisions [re: school, where you live, job] insofar as He cares for us and every detail of our lives. But in another sense, …these are not the most important issues in God’s book. The most important issues for God are moral purity, theological fidelity, compassion, joy, our witness, faithfulness, hospitality, love, worship, and faith. These are His big concerns. The problem is that we tend to focus most of our attention on everything else. We obsess over the things God has not mentioned and may never mention, while, by contrast, we spend little time on all the things God has already revealed to us in the Bible” (pp. 44-45). “My point is that we should spend more time trying to figure out how to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (as instructed in Micah 6:8) as a [fill in occupation] and less time worrying about whether God wants us to be a [fill in said occupation]” (p.45).

“Our fascination with the will of God often betrays our lack of trust in God’s promises and provisions.” and “We don’t have to say ‘If the Lord wills’ after every sentence, but it must be in our heads and hearts. We must live our lives believing that all of our plans and strategies are subject to the immutable will of God” (p. 47).

“Worry and anxiety are not merely bad habits or idiosyncrasies. They are sinful fruits that blossom from the root of unbelief. Jesus doesn’t treat obsession with the future as a personal quirk, but as evidence of little faith ([Matt. 6]v. 30). Worry and anxiety reflect our hearts’ distrust in the goodness and sovereignty of God. Worry is a spiritual issue and must be fought with faith” (pp. 56-57).

“…after you’ve prayed and studied and sought advice, make a decision and don’t hyper-spiritualize it. Do what seems best. Sometimes you won’t have time to pray and read and seek counsel for a month. That’s why the way of wisdom is about more than getting a decisive word about one or two big decisions in life. The way of wisdom is a way of life. And when it’s a way of life, you are freer than you realize. If you are drinking deeply of godliness in the Word and from others and in your prayer life, then you’ll probably make God-honoring decisions. In fact, if you are a person of prayer, full of regular good counsel from others, and steeped in the truth of the Word, you should begin to make many important decisions instinctively, and some of them even quickly. For most Christians, agonizing over decisions is the only sure thing we know to do, the only thing that feels safe and truly spiritual. But sometimes, oftentimes actually, it’s okay to just decide” (pp. 96-97).

“…the last thing I want to do is discourage people from praying. …But isn’t it possible that if we are walking with God in daily prayer, and we have some sanctified common sense, that we should be able to make decisions on the spot once in a while?” (p. 98).

Make a decision. Don’t over-spiritualize. You can serve the Lord in a thousand different jobs. …don’t ever think you are a second-class citizen in the kingdom of God if you aren’t in full-time ministry. You can honor the Lord as a teacher, mother, doctor, lawyer, loan officer, or social worker; you can work in retail, fast food, politics, or big business; you can be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker. You can be just about anything you want as long as you aren’t lazy (Proverb 6:6-11; 26:13-16), and whatever you do you perform to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)” (pp. 102-3).

“Sometimes you feel a sense of calling to your job and, you know what, sometimes you don’t. …But we’ve taken this notion of calling and turned it upside down, so instead of finding purpose in every kind of work, we are madly looking for the one job that will fulfill our purpose in life” (p. 103). “God can be pleased with your work so long as you are taking pleasure in Him as you do it” (p. 104).

“…while I’m jumping on toes, let me explode the myth of ‘the one.’ …don’t think that there is only one person on the whole planet to whom you could be happily married. You’re not looking for that one puzzle piece that will interlock with yours. ‘You complete me’ may sound magically romantic, but it’s not true. Yes, men and women are designed to rely on one another in marriage. However, the biblical formula for marriage is not half a person plus half a person equals one completed puzzle of a person. Genesis math says one plus one equals one (Genesis 2:4)” (p. 109).

“…instead of ‘letting go and letting God,’ we need to make every effort to grow up in our faith (2 Peter 1:5ff).” and “…I encourage older Christians to set a good example of steady, faithful responsibility; to model Christ-centered consistency and risky decision making for the glory of God; and to be honest with the rest of us about when you have failed and where you are struggling to live up to the good example you want to set” (p. 112).

“It would be bad enough if we were just restless, meandering through life, and a little cowardly. But we’ve spiritualized restless and meandering cowardice, making it feel like piety instead of passivity. … If you are going to be anxious about one thing, be anxious to keep His commandments. If we must fear something–and we all do–fear God, not the future. The will of God isn’t a special direction here or a bit of secret knowledge there. God doesn’t put us in a maze, turn out the lights, and tell us, ‘Get out and good luck.’ In one sense, we trust in the will of God as His sovereign plan for our future. In another sense, we obey the will of God as His good word for our lives. In no sense should we be scrambling around trying to turn to the right page in our personal choose-your-own-adventure novel” (p. 121).

“So the end of the matter is this: Life for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God” (p. 122).

Book Review: “The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence” by Stephen Altrogge

Altrogge, Stephen. The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence. Illinois: Crossway, 2011. 143 pages.

Review: I picked this book up on sale at WTS Books a couple of months ago. It’s on sale for only about $6, and worth far more than that! The Greener Grass Conspiracy is one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time…and VERY convicting! With 12 short chapters, each ending with thought provoking questions, this book would make a perfect Bible study discussion guide! Altrogge is fresh, relevant, current, insightful–and, most of all, biblically grounded. He quotes from modern theologians and saints of old, and backs each of his points up with Scripture and Gospel Truth. This book was challenging and encouraging, convicting and refreshing, all at the same time.

So, what is the conspiracy? “This grand conspiracy of the world, Satan, and my heart is…[t]o have me always believing that the grass is greener somewhere else, always wishing that things were different, always dreaming of a brighter tomorrow without ever enjoying where God has me today” (pp. 13-14).

Here are a few quotes that stuck out specifically to me:

“Circumstances aren’t to blame. There’s something much more sinister at work. That something is my sinful, discontented heart. …The problem is me. I am my own worst enemy. The raging, covetous, discontented desires come from within. They’re not the product of my circumstances, and the desires won’t be satisfied when circumstances change” (p. 17).

“If you follow Jesus, you will have every spiritual need met. Forgiveness, adoption, spiritual strength, everything. And if we have all our spiritual needs met and are content with what we have, that is great gain” (p. 20).

“We were created for God’s glory. In other words, God put you and me on this planet to bring him glory. I exist to display his worth to the world and to show how great God really is. God is at the center of all things, and we exist for him. Not the other way around. Life is not about my ultimate happiness and self-fulfillment. Does God love me? Yes, absolutely. But he doesn’t exist for me. Everything exists by God and for God. The universe orbits around God.” and “Discontentment happens when I attempt to displace God from his rightful place at the center of the universe” (p. 24).

“Our goal isn’t contentment in and of itself. We’re not after a mystical state of Zen. Our goal is to be content for the glory and honor of God” (p. 25).

“Discontentment is the result of misplaced worship. It’s the result of giving our heart to someone or something that should never have it. When we stake our happiness on anything other than God, we’re going to be miserable. Why? Because we were made to worship God and find all our joy in him. Creation worships God (Ps. 19). The angels worship God (Isa. 6). When we worship something other than God, we’re out of sync with the universe” (p. 37).

“When we complain, we’re loudly saying that the blessings of the gospel aren’t enough. We’re saying that the death of Christ isn’t enough. We’re saying that the eternal fellowship with God, purchased at great cost to God, isn’t enough to satisfy our souls. We’re saying that forgiveness of sins and peace with God is nice, but not that nice. …We’re saying that God himself, who is the very definition of goodness, isn’t good enough. We would like a little something more, if you don’t mind. …Do you see the utter sinfulness of complaining? …God has emptied his pockets for us, and yet we complain.” and “The only way to cut the nerve of complaining is to regularly and actively remember and savor and apply the gospel” (p. 72).

“The only way to satisfy our thirsty souls is to find our satisfaction and strength in Christ” (p. 88).

“If we’re going to escape the Greener Grass Conspiracy, we must keep our eyes fixed on heaven. We can be content now because we know that very soon all of our longings will be satisfied. We can find happiness in the little we have on earth because we know of the riches that await us in heaven. We can contentedly endure suffering now because we know that soon Jesus will wipe away every tear” (p. 138).

Conclusion: Maybe you have a friend who is struggling with discontentment. Maybe you’re struggling with it even now. Maybe you don’t even realize that your responses and reactions are rooted in discontentment. Or maybe your small group is just looking for what book to study next. Regardless, this book is a must read. Pointing to Christ and His Gospel as our soul’s deepest satisfaction, this book will encourage, rebuke, exhort, uplift, and free your spirit into forsaking the misplaced worship of self and worshiping God, while rejoicing in the truth of the glory of Christ alone.

Are You a Fisher of Men?

This was a compelling clip. As a Christian, am I actively sharing Christ? Or am I just part of a religious club? Am I more concerned about discussing Christianity or about seeing souls saved and lives changed for the glory of Christ? Do I focus on the fellowship or on Christ and His Mission? When was the last time I shared the Gospel of Christ with someone–a neighbor, a classmate, a coworker, a friend, the restaurant server, or grocery cashier? This video is thought provoking and worth the watch…

Here are some more thoughts: Do I attend church to “get” something or to “feel good” about myself, or is church a place to worship Christ together with other believers, to encourage one another, and to edify one another (which may also mean the occasional rebuking in love with a spirit of truth and grace) so that we might grow together in Christ and that Christ might be glorified? Am I living out the Gospel or just being another “consumerist Christian”–showing up to church on Sundays…and even on Wednesdays, making sure I make an appearance at church suppers and special activities; but then walking out the door as if I’d never been inside? When I leave the church doors, am I forgetting the body of Christ? Or are they a part of my day-to-day life? Do I go about my  life–at work, at home, on vacation, running errands, whatever–as if I am in the same rat race that the rest of the world seems to be in? Am I too busy bickering and debating with my brothers and sisters in Christ to realize there’s a spiritual war going on all around us? Am I allowing my heart and mind to be changed by the Word? Am I impacting others around me for Christlikeness? I have one life to live–how am I using it for Christ? Am I using it for Christ? Just some food for thought.

“Oceans Will Part”

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2a, ESV).

Along with this passage of Scripture, here’s another song I’ve meditating on recently, as I learn to “be still” and thirst after God:

“If my heart has grown cold,
There Your love will unfold, …
When I’m blind to my way,
There Your Spirit will pray,
As You open my eyes to the work of Your hand…

“Oceans will part, nations come,
At the whisper of Your call;
Hope will rise, glory shown;
In my life, Your will be done.

“Present suffering may pass;
Lord, Your mercy will last, …
And my heart will find praise;
I’ll delight in Your way,
As You open my eyes to the work of Your hand…”

(Orig. by: Ben Fielding, Hillsong United; Pianist: Lucas Piano.)