Monday, May 27, 2013

Rejecting Mediocrity: A Mandate for the Men of God

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)

I’m prone to mediocrity. Looking back over the years, I realize that I have been often content with only giving half-hearted efforts in many areas of life. For example, in grade school, I quit both the violin and clarinet because I didn’t practice. In middle school, I did the bare minimum in collecting my paper route money from customers. In high school, I was satisfied with B’s and C’s. Today I realized that I’ve only been giving a mediocre effort in my physical fitness. Lately at the gym, I would only run on the treadmill for a few minutes and then walk the remaining time so I could read my Kindle. I have been satisfied that I “ran” but haven’t pushed myself to get into better shape. Mediocrity has also influenced my Christian walk and how I have “set the bar” for other men of God in disciple-making and mentoring relationships. 

My good friend Jeremy described the current condition of the typical male superbly over at his blog Muffin-Tops and Green Tea a couple weeks ago. After reflecting on his post and looking at my life and ministry as described above, I believe a root cause is that as men, we have set the bar too low personally and with each other in our Christian walks. This needs to change.

The Apostle Paul compares the Christian life to an intense race, on par with an Olympic competition- “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  Paul didn’t say to aim for a participation ribbon…..he said run to win by putting forth all the effort and concentration required! We must have the same mindset in the Christian life, but we can’t do it alone. 

Consider Paul’s words to Timothy: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). The pursuit of righteousness, faith, love, and peace is best done with other Christians pursuing the same goal.

I’m not an athlete, but I know it is essential for teammates to challenge and encourage one another toward greater performance. As Christ-followers, and specifically as men, we need to do the same as we challenge and encourage each other to deeper holiness and greater obedience in our Christian lives. We need to raise the bar and challenge each other to win the race- not just complete it. Mediocrity is not a biblical option for the men of God! I love the following scene from the movie Facing the Giants. Imagine what the church would look like if men would take the same approach with each other in following Jesus Christ. 

I do not yet know how exactly this will look practically in my life and ministry, but I know that the bar has to be raised in the days ahead.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
-Proverbs 27:17

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Footprints on the Sands of Time

“It's about the journey--mine and yours--and the lives we can touch, the legacy we can leave, and the world we can change for the better.”
― Tony Dungy

What are the names of your great-grandparents? Can you name all eight without asking anybody? I can only name one. How about great-great-grandparents? I don’t have a clue. If we can’t remember the names of our family members just a couple generations ago, our forbearers will probably not know our names within a hundred years either.

Scripture describes our lives as a mist, a hand breadth, a breath, smoke, and a shadow. Even if we are to live 100 years, it is but a moment compared to eternity. Moses wrote “so teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). The brevity of life begs the question, are we numbering our days by setting the right priorities to live for the “long tomorrow” rather than the “short today”? 

Determined to make the most out of my remaining days, I intend to intentionally focus on cultivating several areas of life:

  •  Prayer. In conjunction with a devotion to the Word, I want my life to be marked with a dependence/desperation on prayer; knowing the Lord will respond in mighty ways.
  • Time. I desire to use the time for studying the Word, serving the Lord in ministry, and building relationships with others. I want to avoid wasting my days with frivolous pastimes and pursuits. 
  •  Money. I will use the resources entrusted to me to further the Kingdom, investing in His work in the local church and around the world. 
  •  People. I will love my wife and train my child(ren) to follow the Lord. I will strive to make disciples who make disciples. I will love my neighbors and engage those apart from Christ with the hope of sharing the good news.

The world is rapidly changing but our mission as the church is not. Individually and corporately we must stay focused on eternal pursuits. After giving the Ephesian church specific instructions on holy living, the Apostle Paul said “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15). This is just as critical in 2013 as it was in the 1st century.

I don’t mind if my name is forgotten within a couple generations after I have died, but I pray that my life will have been lived well and that a legacy for Christ will be left behind. May I make this prayer my own- O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Psalm 78:17-18). 

Life is short. Eternity is long. Let us live accordingly.

"Let us be banded together as one man; let us contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; let us pray with fervor, let us live in holiness, let us preach constantly, and preach with fire, and let us so live, that we may impress our age, and leave our footprints on the sands of time."
 - Charles Spurgeon

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Worthy to Suffer

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12)

The New Testament authors write about suffering and persecution in the Christian’s life over 60 times. Moreover, the Apostle Paul sets the expectation for persecution in an obedient Christ-follower’s life (2 Timothy 3:12). While I do not believe Scripture teaches that we are to seek out suffering and persecution, I am currently wrestling with the following question: What am I doing in my life today to prevent suffering for Jesus Christ?
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (Galatians 6:12)

The godly life that brings persecution is one that identifies with Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 1:8, Hebrews 13:12-13), puts sin to death (Colossians 3:5-10, 1 Peter 4:3-4), strives for holiness (Colossians 3:12-17, 1 Peter3:16-17), and proclaims the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10-12a) while holding fast to Scripture (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

Therefore, the specific questions I am currently prayerfully wrestling through:

  • Am I striving to be a man pleaser, rather than a God pleaser? (Galatians 1:10) 
  •  Am I silent about Jesus Christ or am I making an effort to share the gospel with a lost world? (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Corinthians 5:20)
  • Am I enticed by the things of this world or am I denying myself while pursuing Jesus Christ as His disciple? (Luke 9:23, 14:25-33, 1 John 2:15-16) 
  •  Am I tolerating sin in my life and being entertained by it in society, rather than putting it to death and being repulsed? (Romans 6:11, 12:9b)

I am convinced that more outright and frequent persecution of Christ-followers is upon us as America’s cultural landscape changes. This can serve as a litmus test for our faithfulness to Christ and His Word. 20th century Bible teacher Dr. Harry Ironside powerfully stated, “if to some extent we are not the objects of the world’s hatred, if we do not have the disapproval of those who despise Christianity, if we are not evil spoken of as were the prophets of God of old, then we may very well raise the question as to whether we are living godly lives or not. Persecution is inevitable for those who are faithful to God in a world like this, where evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” 

I pray that we all strive to live godly lives leading to persecution; and rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer dishonor for His Name (Acts 5:41).

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Christian's Essential Library

Every industry has certain tools of the trade. Saws and hammers for the carpenter, gun and handcuffs for the police officer, and a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff for the nurse. A diverse resource library is a tool for the Christian to grow in his or her knowledge and understanding of Scripture. In this posting I will highlight the books which I believe are essential for a Christian’s library.

  • A plain text Bible with wide margins for note taking, such as the ESV Legacy Bible. I appreciate my study Bibles, but realize that the notes can perform the thinking for me, rather than allowing me to initially wrestle with the text on my own. 
  • Living by the Book by Dr. Howard Hendricks. Most of us don’t really know how to study the Bible. This book teaches the art and science of reading the Bible through observation, interpretation, and application. Very readable and full of exercises, it should be a staple for every collection. 
  •  A systematic theology book to take us deeper into doctrinal studies. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is an excellent volume which treats varying viewpoints accurately and fairly.
  •   A concise one or two volume commentary for both the Old and New Testaments. The two volume Bible Knowledge Commentary (Walvoord and Zuck) and John MacArthur’s one volume Bible Commentary are excellent resources which I have used for many years. 
  •  A Bible dictionary to define terms and provide additional background. I use the New Bible Dictionary (Marshall, Millard, Packer, and Wiseman). 
  •  A Bible Handbook such as Halley’s Bible Handbook, Zondervan’s Handbook to the Bible, or The MacArthur Bible Handbook to provide additional book background and themes.
  • An exhaustive concordance to look up specific words within the text of your preferred translation. While words can be searched using Bible websites today, I prefer a physical book for easier and more robust searching.
  • A concise book on church history. I like the book Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. 
  •  The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This rich and robust classic allegory of the Christian faith will provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of our life in Christ. I read it annually.

This library will cost approximately $300 and may take months or years to build. The money invested will pale in comparison to the richer understanding of Scripture gained through enhanced study using the resources.

These books are only my suggestions, what resources have you found helpful or believe are essential for a library?