Book Review – Anger and Stress Management God’s Way

So, my knee jerk reaction upon seeing this book was probably reflective of 99% of other Americans.  “Yes, please.”  We all battle our sinful emotions – probably the top offenders are stress and anger…and it’s cousins: fear, worry, and anxiety.  We all probably can relate a little too easilydownload. That’s why Dr. Wayne Mack has written “Anger and Stress Management God’s Way.” (P&R, 2017).   Being a proponent of biblical counseling, I’ve found Dr. Mack’s writing to be consistently helpful and challenging.  (Take “Strengthening Your Marriage” for example…)

Mack splits the book into the two subject areas – anger and stress.  To kick things off, Mack asks “Is it always a sin to be angry?” and then delves into the details.  Our anger is sinful when we become angry for the wrong reasons [13], when we allow it to control us [19], and when it becomes the dominant feature of our lives [21].  Our anger is sinful when it involves brooding or fretting [25], when we keep a running record of how we have been mistreated [27], when we pretend to not be angry, prolonging the problem with our unbiblical response [30], when we return evil with evil [34], or when we attack or hurt a substitute [37].

Getting convicted yet?  Yeah…me too.

Mack then teaches how to be good and angry.  First, we are commanded in Ephesians 4:26 to deal with our problems on a regular, daily basis. This takes courage and intentionality.  Likewise, we need  to have the self-discipline to realize that we actually can control and restrain the expression of our anger.  Third, we need to take time to examine the reasons for our anger.  Pointedly, he writes “the bottom line reason for much of our sinful anger is because we have an agenda and someone or something is standing in the way of our fulfilling that agenda.” [51] Fourth, we need to learn to harness the energy created by our anger.

Mack provides even more practical steps by giving us six questions that can make the difference.  (1) What is happening? (2) How am I interpreting it? (3) What am I wanting? (4) What am I being tempted to do? (5) What is the biblical, God-honoring thing to do? (6) Will I chose to obey God or self?  We all will get angry – and we all need to therefore have a plan to deal with it properly when it comes up.

The author then moves on to the topic of stress.  One that is very near and dear to my heart, as currently my church is moving into a new building.  (What, me worry?!) Where does stress come from?  Our limitations and deficiencies, other people and situations.  How do we typically respond?  Debilitating fear or anxiety, worry, bitterness, anger, resentment, depression, discouragement, envy and jealousy, annoyance, irritability, and impatience, and denial…just to name a few.

Are the consequences?  You betcha.  It affects our relationships.  It affects our spiritual growth – sin stalls sanctification!  It affects our spiritual usefulness- we can be very busy in the church, but have you ever stopped in the midst of the stress to ask if you are actually bearing any fruit?  Here, have a stinger from Dr. Mack – “If you don’t handle stress differently than believers do, don’t expect to make an impact for Christ.” [95] It also affects our jobs and education, and finally one that I have noticed a lot is the affect that stress has on our health.

Have we ever thought that we are sick because we are not responding biblically to stress?  Christians overall, we need to do a much better job of caring diligently for our bodies and that includes obeying what the Bible says about stress.  One doctor told him that at least 65% of the people he operated on wouldn’t need the operations he performed if they would only learn how to handle their stressors in a biblical way! [98]  Another physician friend was so convinced of this that he was tempted to abandon the medical field to do full time biblical counseling because he thought it would do more good!  [98]  Aptly quoting Smith, “The real problem is not your counselee’s problems, but their response to those problems.” [100]

Dr. Mack then gives us a two part way of escape and biblically dealing with stress.  How can we properly overcome?  He gives us a few factors – first we must deliberately choose to see everything that happens to us within the framework of the sovereignty of God – see Ephesians 1:11.  [Oh…yes, I said the S word…] Second, we must also deliberately chose to give God thanks in the mist of everything and for everything. [1 Thes 5:18; Eph 5:20].  Third, we should seek to discover God’s purpose for each stressful situation – realizing that it may not be immediately clear to us. This calls for more biblical research – the answers to God’s will are in God’s word.  He provides some helpful examples from Scripture on the biblical principles at work here. One of the main reasons, that we love to discount…is that God uses the trials we encounter to help us identify pockets of immaturity and our areas of incompleteness. After we see them, we confess (acknowledge), seek God’s help, commit to discipline, and develop a plan for making that godliness more of a reality in our lives!

Fourth, we must seek to discover what God wants you to do in the midst of the stressful situation – again he gives us the answers in His word!  How can we glorify God in the midst of stress?  We CAN!  Fifth, we must avoid unnecessarily putting ourselves in stressful situations! Some people have a drama magnet…why?

Last, we need to look at ourselves in light of our great God.  Mack points out that “sometimes we become annoyed, angry, and resentful because we think that some right of ours is being denied.”   God has shown us incredible mercy and grace by providing us forgiveness, restoration and healing in Jesus.  Our calling is to “fulfill your Biblical responsibilities and leave your ‘rights’ to God.” [136]  Amen!

 

 

 

Book Review – The Curious Christian

Barnabas Piper is a curious dude.  I’ve recently become more acquainted with him via the Happy Rant podcast he co-hosts.  He has a position on just about everything.  Which, occasionally is irritating, but most of the time it makes me realize that he knows a lot of stuff.  People know a lot of stuff because they learn stuff.  They read, they research, they investigate. They ask questions.  They are curious.  Let’s face it.  I’d like to know more stuff, especially as it relates to maturing as a Christian.

Enter The Curious Christian515d3fl4iNL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.  (Lifeway/B&H 2017)  This was my first foray into “Son of John Piper’s” writing, having read boatloads of Papa Piper.  Definitely different writing style, definitely has a bit of an opinionated edge to it, definitely not a theology book – but overall, very readable and very challenging.

When first digging into the book, I thought the thesis might be a bit of a stretch, but quickly realized that it was very applicable and accessible. Piper diligently gathers many quotes from well known people pointing to the value of curiosity.

By curiosity, he means the quest for more – more knowledge, more depth, more understanding.  We should do this by digging, asking questions, seeking answers.  The opposite of curiosity is “uncuriosity” and Piper asserts that Christians can fall into this trap and “miss the wonders God has for us” – we settle for “flannel graph depictions of God instead of relentlessly and eagerly seeking to know Him.”  This struck a chord with me, and I’m sure with many others. [Plus, anytime you mock the flannel graph, it’s bonus points in my book.] It is far too easy to become stale and stagnant.  God calls us to grow and mature [Ephesians 4:15] in our knowledge of Him, in our growth in maturity as a believer, and in our love for one another. [Phil 1:9].  If we are lazy, content with where we are, “uncurious” – we will not be living in line with God’s word.

Piper points out that children are naturally curious, but “somewhere in the midst of aging and “maturing,” nurture defeated nature, locked it in the dungeon of history, and left it to die It started in junior high school when we realized being a bright-eyed question asker wasn’t cool…”  Ain’t that the truth.  I remember the kids who asked the most questions in class were mocked, but usually they were some of the brightest academically. (I mean…that’s not as important as being cool…right?!)  Later in life,  when I was deep in the heart of the corporate world I noticed something else along those lines.  The “Big Dogs” – the executive brass – always asked questions.  Constantly.  Why do we do it that way?  What does that mean? Why not? So what?  Countless project status presentations made me anticipate their questions.  Piper’s point is one that I have witnessed myself – smart people are smart because they ask a ton of  questions…because they are curious.

So when talking about the most important thing – the gospel of Jesus Christ and our growth in that – why would Christians not be the most curious people on the planet?  Piper points out that curiosity seeks answers – truth.  God’s word is the ultimate truth. [John 17:17] Shouldn’t Christians then be more curious?  Um….Yes.

So why not?  Piper nails this with ouch-like conviction.  “Most things don’t cross most peoples minds or spark a question. Most people’s minds are stupefied by comfort and overwhelmed by business. The structure and pace of life leaves little room or motivation for asking questions or noticing anything new.”  I told you.  #Ouch.  Once again – our American prosperity and comfort is a blessing and a curse.

Christians are called to swim against this tide.  To not be lulled to sleep by the comforts of our culture.  To set our minds on the things above, [Col 3:2] to be striving with all of His strength as He powerfully works in us. [Col 1:28].  “Curiosity enlarges God in our minds…without the desire to see and understand and experience – without curiosity – we are content with a God-loves-me-so-I’m-all-good ‘relationship.’ That is barely a relationship at all.”

The implications that flow from this are many.  God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge – we should be seeking Him in His word daily, in prayer, in community with the church.  But we should be pressing the boundaries of our comfort zones for his glory.  Talking to your neighbors or people (strangers?) in line at the checkout (seriously?); digging deeper in our relationships that the usual “How are you doing?”  “Good, you know…staying out of trouble. Keeping busy”  smalltalk.  Even boldly stepping out in things like leading Bible studies, leading our families, fostering children, biblically counseling others, planting churches.  None of this happens without a curiosity for God and to see His glory made known.  (This is starting to sound more like Papa Piper after all…)

Piper is grounded in keeping God central in the quest for curiosity.  I appreciated this, and honestly I was concerned going in to this book that there would be no anchoring in the centrality of God in the thesis.  I was happy to see him include continual references to the fact that it is not curiosity for curiosity sake.

The author leads the reader into a practical application section in the 2nd half of the book.  Pushing on spiritually content and asking “So what?” and seeking to put the knowledge to use.  Piper calls us to take “advantage of every movie, every conversation, every book every everything to see how it might be something worth curating to connect people to the truth that saves.”  AMEN!  I’m a child of the 80’s where “everything in the world is bad and we must flee it!”  was the prevailing attitude. Nonsense.  All that did was raise a generation of Pharisees who didn’t know why we believed what we believed because were never were exposed to questions that tested it.  [I’m really not bitter anymore.]    This is not a license to sin [Romans 6:1…], but rather the call to engage curiously in this world and develop a biblical filter to which all things pass thru as we sift them – why?  To connect people to the truth that saves.

Piper develops this and it is appreciated.  Good parenting is hard, it’s scary – but we must let our kids learn and grow.  The temptation is to just say “no” but good parents don’t just say no – they teach their kids to ask questions.  “Why do you want to do this?”  “What are the implications?”  “How will this cause you go grow?” “What is biblically true about this and what isn’t?”  These are curiosity fueled growth questions, not legalistic management.

Again, he goes deeper and probes that theme with questions like “How does this shape my life?”  “What is this taking from me?”  “What is it giving me?” “What worldview is this espousing?” “How do I know this is trustworthy?” “Do I see God’s world better because of this?”  His point is well taken – embracing curiosity deepens us spiritually and God uses this pursuit to make us more effective and fruitful.  [2 Peter 1:8cf]  Shutting the door to curiosity our of laziness, or fear of the world can stifle us.

We should foster a culture of God-honoring curiosity.  Piper nails this in my favorite quote of the book —  “Of course, if asking questions is forbidden, most people stop thinking altogether. They just muddle ahead in whatever theological or biblical framework they were handed until life drunkenly runs a red light and smashes into them crushing the framework and leaving them with nothing but questions.”  Will all become curious, either voluntarily or not.

Overall, he points us back to the main goal of a believer (Papa would be proud) – glorifying God.  Well, he doesn’t say it like that, but that’s what it is.  He writes “One thing determines whether something is out of bounds for a Christian’s curiosity: does it honor God?”   That is the main reason to be curious – to honor God by submitting to him, growing as a believer, finding those “gospel intersection points” with others and sharing the hope of Christ, learning more from his word, more effectively serving him in his church.

As children of the God who created all things and works all things for his glory, Christians should perhaps be the most curious people indeed!

 

Book Review – The Essential Trinity

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The Essential Trinity (P&R, North American Edition, 2017) is a collection of chapters by various contributors, edited by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman.

This book is definitely on the theologically academic side of the spectrum and that is appropriate given the nature of the subject matter.  The trinity needs to be explored at a good depth – our God is unmatched in his depth and complexity.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33 ESV)

This book is very solid and thoroughly researched, while not being too deep so as to make for tough sledding.   It’s divided up into two parts – (1) New Testament Foundations – which essentially is a trinity-centric commentary of the NT books and (2) Practical Relevance – which, as titled, provides practical application of the doctrine of the trinity for personal and church contexts.

In Part 1, the various contributors diligently mine the Scriptures to shed light on their overall trinitarian structure.  As a pastor preaching through the gospel of John at the moment, I perhaps most enjoyed the chapter from Bauckman – “The Trinity and the Gospel of John,” though he does get a bit bogged down in the eternal existence of the Son nuances.  As Bauckman writes “The Gospel of John has played a hugely important role in the formation of classical Christian doctrine and in continued reflection on the Trinity” [91], and he solidly expounds that for us.

As one would expect, the letters of Paul are highlighted “alongside the Gospel of John as containing the richest vein of trinitarian theology in the New Testament.” [118] I appreciate the depth in which Brian Rosner wove together the trinitarian construct from various Pauline writings, with a particular focus on salvation.  Highlighting the perfect harmony of our three in one God and each role in salvation he writes “salvation is the narrative of the saving Trinity’s acting on behalf of human beings.” [122] I found myself welling up in worship and gratitude (with a healthy bit of awe) as “nothing magnifies the grace like appreciating the triune God’s work in salvation. And nothing gives believers more confidence that they are known and loved by God than pointing out the collaborative activity of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and God’s Spirit.” [125]  AMEN!

The book has an appropriate balance of theological practicality in Part 1, touching on how the trinity impacts good works and conformity to Christ, and upholding the divinity of Christ and substitutionary atonement. As “some have argued (Gungor anyone?) that the Father’s sending of the Son to die amounts to an abusive, tyrannical act. However this misguided view severely misunderstands the trinitarian works of God.” [168]

Part 2 is really where the book powerfully shines in it’s application of the doctrine of the Trinity.  “Not only does the doctrine of the Trinity identify God; it also illumines all of God’d works, enabling us to perceive more clearly the wonders of the Father’s purpose in creation , of Christ’s incarnation and of the Spirt’s indwelling.” [213] This impacts prayer, revelation, worship, and preaching and each are thoroughly addressed in their own chapters in Part 2.

What we believe about God affects our prayer life – “a healthy, vibrant prayer life depends to a large extent upon a good understanding of trinitarian doctrine.” [228]  I was more than slightly convicted to remain diligent in promoting a robust understanding of the trinity from the pulpit, as was written – “not as an abstract truth, but as something with obvious, vital, practical significance.”  [239]

Our three-in-one God speaks to us, through His word and as he reveals himself to us – as “the goal of revelation is not just knowledge about God, but the knowledge of God” [257] and the “centerpiece of God’s revelation is the gospel.” [262]  We see the roles of the Trinity front and center as God the Father plans the redemption, God the Son fulfills the plan, and God the Spirit impresses the truths of the gospel on human hearts. [“Initiated by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit – 270]

The basis of church worship must be an accurate knowledge of who God is and what he has done, according to His Word. Letham reviews key passages relating the doctrine of the Trinity and worship.  [Eph 2:18; John 4:23-24]  “Since Christian worship is determined, initiated and shaped by, and directed to, the holy Trinity, we worship the three with one undivided act of adoration.” [274]  There was an air of opposition to an “anti-liturgical movement” in this chapter, which came off as having an axe to grind, but the points of intentionality in Trinitarian worship were well taken.  However, getting real practical, a properly informed Trinitarian worship perspective should affect the way we treat people – specifically, it should unite, not divide.

Finally, the chapter on the Trinity and Preaching was the one that I found the most helpful.  It encouraged me in the importance of proclaiming God’s word where our three-in-one God actually speaks to us. “Without God’s word we simply would not know God.” [292]  There seems to be a frustrating increase in preachers and authors claiming direct revelation from God, and this chapter clearly reinforces the power and uniqueness of God speaking through His Word. “The fact that God is triune, and always speaks in a trinitarian way, should inform both the content and the intent of Christian preaching.” [298]  As Reeves writes, “preaching should foster sincere worship” [307] and this book as a whole strikes a good balance between the academic and the inspirational.

 

 

Signs of the Spirit – Book Review

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Jonathan EdwardsReligious Affections is one of the most foundational books on the life of a believer ever written. But reading Edwards can be a bit…challenging, shall we say?Henceforth – in Signs of the Spirit, Sam Storms takes on the massive task of recasting and commenting the treasure trove that is sometimes buried within his writing style.

Edwards wrote Religious Affections as a response to the controversy surrounding the Great Awakening, particularly answering the questions “What is the nature of true religion/conversion?” and “How can we tell between authentic and spurious holiness?”

What is the evidence of a genuine saving encounter with the Spirit of God?

Storms sets a foundation from Edwards and then he goes on to explain and apply Edwards’ 12 signs of genuine religious affections.

First, per 1 Peter 1:8, we see that love for Jesus and joy in Jesus are the essence of true spirituality. This love and joy should endure through trials and pain, knowing that God is working within us, like a sculptor who “chips away in us anything from our lives that doesn’t look like Jesus.” This then is no ordinary, temporary emotion, but more of an “inclination of the will,” or as Edwards puts it an “affection” of the heart.

Inclinations and affections should therefore not be half-hearted or lukewarm, but intense and vibrant – ultimately giving way to outward actions that are pleasing to God. As anyone knows, affections cannot (most of the time) be self-generated, we are thus dependent on God to bring them, and that’s where prayer comes in. Storms powerfully writes/summarizes “We are not to pray as if our petitions inform God of what he doesn’t know or change his mind or prevail on him to bestow mercy that he was otherwise disinclined to give. Rather we pray “to affect our own hearts with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask.” In fact, virtually all external expressions of worship “can be of no further use, than as they have some tendency to affect our own hearts, or the hearts of others.”

Likewise, our singing should be vibrant and stir our affections. Our preaching should aim to affect hearts, not just inform minds. Our enemy, Satan, is quite happy to see Christians fall into a zone of lifeless religious ceremony, stoicism, and routine. “There is no true religion where there is no religious affection, because if the great things of religion are understood, they will affect the heart.” Chief among these great things is the gospel of Jesus Christ! There should be our greatest joy, delight and affection.

The controversy therein is which are genuine, biblical affections and which are not. Sometimes people can appeal to affections which in actuality prove nothing of genuine spirituality. In Edwards day, as in today, there is a school of thought that would put all the weight on a “spiritual experience” rather than the fruit of genuine faith. We cannot rely on outward expressions, but rather something much more deep. This has everything to do with assurance of faith and Storms/Edwards is right in saying that there is no assurance of salvation in any other way, than by mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it.

This then sets the stage for an analysis of the twelve signs of authentic affections that Edwards provides. I’ll try to quickly list and comment on each.

  1. Authentic religious affections arise from supernatural influences on the heart. God, in response to our hearing of the gospel, through the power of His Holy Spirit, gives us new life – which includes new perspectives, feelings, desires, and appetites.
  2. An awareness that divine things are not for self-benefit. In short, it’s not about us. It’s about God and we are drawn then for more of God. The hypocrite rejoices in self, the child of God rejoices in God. Our primary joy must be of God Himself, and not in even in any perceived “experience” of God. I unfortunately see this all over the church today, primarily in the false gospels of prosperity and charismatics. We don’t come to God for what he can do for us, period.
  3. Affections that are founded on a belief of the goodness, sweetness, and beauty of divine things. Do we really believe that God is good, that his word is true and sweet, that prayer is joyful dependance, that the church is our spiritual family? Or do we consider other things more valuable, when they are in actuality pale substitutes.
  4. Affections that result from the mind being divinely enlightened about spiritual things. When God’s word is read, preached, spoken of – it becomes understood by us through the Holy Spirit. Subsequently, per the last point, spiritual things aren’t merely intellectually appreciated, they are savored in the heart.
  5. Affections that come with a level of conviction about the seriousness, judgement and reality of the gospel. These again, are not a mere intellectual belief, but a deeper conviction that spiritual things are indeed truth.
  6. Affections must be accompanied by humility. An awareness of one’s sinfulness and the gift of God in Jesus. Not to mention, deep pain at the signs of sin and the lack of deeper affections for God Himself.
  7. A change of nature must be visible. True conversion includes a gradual renovation of the thoughts, impulses, and actions.
  8. A reflection of the character of Jesus in love, humility, forgiveness, mercy…and many other things.
  9. A tenderness of spirit and a sensitivity toward sin. If we are claiming to be Christians, are we more inclined to determine what is sin and act on it?
  10. A symmetry and pervasiveness in Godly affections. It is a characteristic of the hypocrite to pick and choose where Christlikeness applies in their lives. This is still alive and well in the church in legalism. We pick and choose our pet issues and are willing to die for them, but then subsequently express an inconsistency and imbalance in applying sanctification in other areas of our lives.
  11. True religious affections want more. False affections are satisfied in spiritual complacency. We are called to grow (Eph 4:15) and to give ourselves to seeking God and applying his likeness in “ever increasing measures” so that we will not be ineffective or unfruitful. (2 Peter 1:3-8)
  12. Straight up – we bear the fruit of holiness in our actual lives. This is the most important of the signs. True Christians are never content with the presence of sin in their lives. True Christians will sin, but never completely forsake righteousness. Always fight, by the grace of the gospel, to be more consistent with their spiritual new life in Christ. As Edwards wrote “holy affections have a governing power in the course of a man’s life.” Then we have come full circle, because holiness fuels Godly affections.

Storms includes an additional part of the book about the personal spirituality of Edwards. If you haven’t read a biography on a saint like Edwards that has gone before, please do so. (PS:  Here is a good one on Edwards if you’d like.) They are tremendous soul building exercises. Storms includes a mini-biography in the final part of the book that explains in transparency how much Edwards believed and lived by his faith. We see a mini-tour of his confessions, struggles, and aspirations and it should encourage and give hope for us.

We have much to learn from the saints that have gone before us, your soul will benefit from getting to know Jonathan Edwards.  Thank you, Sam Storms for making these deep truths even more accessible.

Lessons from the Spartan Race

Moomer_Dad_SpartanYesterday, I ran a Spartan Sprint race with my daughter Morgan. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a Spartan race is…this is the “Intro” one called a “Sprint.” It was 5.2 miles with 20 obstacles…not the least of which were crawling under barbed wire in the dust and rocks for what seemed like 10 miles, carrying a 40lb bag of sand up hill (did I mention this was a ski mountain?), rope climbs, more walls than I care to remember, sporadic mud and very smelly water, and just generally enduring the punishing, unrelenting Summer sun.

Yes, we paid to do this, and I’m glad we did.  Here are some lessons and thoughts:

  1. Training.  It cannot be overstated the importance of being ready for this race.  It was punishing.  I was very happy I had been diligent in training.  Still.  It. Was. Hard.  Makes me think – are we prepared for trials and suffering in our lives?  We are preaching thru 1 Peter right now at Highlands and suffering is unavoidable. Am I ready?
  2. Military.  I grew in appreciation for our military in not only how hard they train, but also the danger they face.  As I said to one fellow Spartan as we were crawling under the barbed wire – “Hey.  At least we aren’t getting shot at.”
  3. Team Work.  There is a generally good sense of team work at these races.  Morgan and I definitely cheered each other on, helped each other, and celebrated overcoming the obstacles.  Are we helping each other run our “life races” well?
  4. Goals.  Straight up – it’s awesome to set goals and then accomplish them, even in the face of suffering and resistance.  We were walking up our final hill and one woman said “Keep your head up. One foot in front of the other and don’t stop.”  It was so simple, yet true – each step we took literally got us closer to the end.  Set goals, get going, push yourself past where you think you can go and don’t stop.
  5. Stewardship.  This wasn’t about us, it was about the challenge, but it made me think of being a good steward of what God has given us in our health and the gospel. I think of 1 Timothy 4 – for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV).  Am I giving enough dedicated, diligent attention to growing in Godliness and living daily in the gospel?  Our bodies will pass away, we need to be healthy and diligent stewards of them, but ultimately we exist not for our own glory but for the glory of God!

Ignoring God = Idolatry?

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For the last few years, idolatry has been a big buzz word in chruchy circles.  As a Pastor, I have even thought to myself sometimes: “Oh boy, here I go again…beating on the same idolatry drum.”

It is still true, that anything we hold higher than God in our affections and priority is an idol and all the usually illustrated suspects come into play – money, status, relationship, sex, comfort, substances, etc.  How can you tell if something is an idol?  If we sin in order to get it, or if we sin when we don’t get it.

But something dawned on me, as when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed my default mode is to go turtle.  I withdraw into myself.  It dawned on me that when I don’t turn to God for comfort, identity, help…I’m essentially ignoring God and my idol is me.  Not that I think too highly of myself, but instead I don’t look outside myself to God for redemption.  The answer (as Shane and Shane so well put) is never more of me.

This concept is not foreign to the Scriptures.  Many Psalms are “lament” Psalms that are not complaining into thin air, or withdrawing into a turtle shell, it is a directed lament at the all powerful God who alone can help.  There is usually a turning point in the Psalm where the author snaps himself back inline to realize the greatness of God, the great salvation he offers by faith in the Messiah that nothing can take away, and the futileness of turning only to himself.  It would be a soul-building exercise for me (and perhaps I’m not alone) to soak in some Psalms and remember that I’m not the answer.

I’ll leave you with a great example in Psalm 13:

O THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID.  How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. [Editorial note: turning point ahead!]

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

(Psalms 13:0–6 ESV)

 

2016 Is Here – What’s Your Reading Plan?

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2016 is nearly upon us!  With each new year, it is a great chance to start fresh – make positive changes.  (For one, I resolve to be nicer to the cat.) One of the best things you can do is have a plan to read the Bible.  Like…the WHOLE Bible in a year. You can do it. Why should you?  Glad you asked. I can think of a few really awesome reasons.

  1. It builds understanding. Bad thinking starts with a partial understanding of Scripture.  We have all seen verses ripped out of context and misapplied.  Building a view of God around a verse (or a handful of verses) plucked out of context is super bad.  When we read all of the Bible it brings balance and interpretation.
  2. It builds self-discipline.  Have a plan.  Have a time that you read, pray, and meditate every day.  Build it into your routine…make it a habit.  Use the common grace of God found in good coffee. You might have to make little adjustments to protect it.  For example, my wife and I this year are printing out our reading plans and using paper Bibles to be away from our iDevices so that we do not get sucked into social media distractions.
  3. It spills out into other people’s lives.  The more you read and seek to understand Scripture, the better you are able to be an instrument of blessing in other peoples lives.  One of my mini-“resolutions” is to try to use Scripture more in every day conversations.  I can’t do that if I’m not reading it.
  4. It causes you to grow in Godliness and wisdom and character and strength…and a zillion other ways.  One of the things that I find very hard to hear is when someone says “I just wish God would speak to me.”  HE. HAS.  God speaks in His word and we come to understand more of who God is and how we are to live by reading, meditating, and applying His Word.
  5. It’s EASY to find a plan.  You can find them EVERYWHERE.  If you are disciplined enough to be able to use your phone/tablet to read the Bible without being distracted by other stuff you have a plethora of options that serve up the Word right to your screen.  You an also find a treasure trove of other plans on the InterWebs.  For example – here’s a great list.

However you chose to do it…please…let me go “Nike” for a second and “Just Do It.”  Many people gave their lives so that we can have access to God’s Word and many other believers still do not have access to a Bible in their language.  God speaks through His word, let us listen and be changed!

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105 ESV)