Stop! Hammered Time

Sometimes, I feel like Christians should get drunk more. Remember those verses in the Bible where God told people to get wasted? They slip up on you, but they’re in there. Most of the time, we think of ones like this…

Proverbs 23:29
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
 Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
  Who has redness of eyes?
Those who tarry long over wine…

There’s no denying it. Scripture shows us that alcohol abuse is not only sinful, it’s foolish. But there are two places where God actually commands a kind of drunkenness.

  1. With The Holy Spirit
    Ephesians 5:18
    Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  2. With Your Spouse
    Proverbs 5:19
    Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. She is a loving deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight. Be intoxicated always in her love.

Don’t ever believe that the Bible is a buzzkill. In case you didn’t catch the context of that second passage, the entire chapter is about sex. How should you remain faithful to your spouse? Have a lot of fun in the bedroom…which is a much more “PG” version of what the actual verse says to do.

Alcohol is a cheap substitute for the Holy Spirit. One incapacitates where the Other empowers. And adultery is a cheap substitute for covenantal love. One destroys where the other protects. God commands us to never settle for less.

So,  yeah, I feel like some Christians should get drunk more.

Deaf People Don’t Hear Zombies

Most historians agree that Benjamin Franklin never used Snapchat. So when you get a friend request from Ben_Franklin1776, it’s probably a fake account. But what if the real Benjamin Franklin sent you a snap? The dog-mask one that licks everywhere. He thinks it’s hilarious. He loves dogs I bet.

That’s ridiculous. Benjamin Franklin is dead, and dead people can’t Snapchat dog videos.

We’d listen to him if he came back to life though…right? If the real Benjamin Franklin showed up in your living room, and said, “Greeeeetings! I have a message betwixt us fellow knaves.” You wouldn’t shush him and say, “They’re about to do the rose ceremony! I know Justin’s going to pick Samantha. She’s perfect for him. And he’s willing to move from Atlanta so she can keep her job. They’re going to make it. I know they will. After the rose ceremony, Ben.”

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You think we’d all listen to someone who came back from the dead, but you’d be wrong. Jesus told a much more serious story about it in Luke 16. There were some men who claimed they were quite religious. They even looked so on the outside, but Jesus knew their hearts.

The men worshipped money and fame rather than the God of love and grace. In Jesus’ story, one of the men looked an awful lot like them. His name was “rich man.” Not much of a name, really. The other was named Lazarus. He loved God and God’s Word.

When the men died, Lazarus went to be with Abraham in Heaven and the rich man was separated from them in a place of torment. He realized how wicked his life had been and said this across the chasm,

“I beg you, Abraham, send Lazarus to my father’s house— for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”

But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”

And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”

Abraham said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Spiritually deaf people won’t listen.  They heard the Bible (Moses and The Prophets) for years, but hadn’t obeyed it. His story was a mirror in their face. But like the five other brothers, it wouldn’t bring repentance.

A life of hearing and a lack of faith are the two markers of spiritual deafness. Nothing – not even a Man rising from the dead – can convince those who have stopped up their ears with disobedience. May it not be so with us. By the grace of God, let us hear Moses and the Prophets testifying about the One who would set us free (John 5:39-40).

A Meeting in the Bog

Until the Blue Planet, I had never seen a place where something other existed. There were cosmic worlds suspended in darkness and nomadic chunks of iron, like myself, barreling along waiting to be pulled into one of their orbits. That was it. Gas and metal and rock and speed.

I’d seen a few of us get close enough to collide and disintegrate into some of these distant worlds. Even so, after the enormous amount of energy was released, not much changed. Gas and metal and rock smashing into more gas and metal and rock for billions of light years in every direction.

But when I saw the Blue Planet, it was filled with…life.

Massive life. Strange life. Life much different than after our collision. Life with fangs and tusks and scales. They were equal parts majesty and terror, and I would soon disintegrate with them. It’s the reason The Mover redirected me towards it in the first place. He knew an object of my size and speed would modify The Blue Planet without destroying her.

It was a magnificent place. There were steep mountains with glowing rivers, thick patches of vegetation, and black swamps that breathed steam. They sat waiting to swallow up the creatures. Those that dared to cross a swamp became trapped in its sludge.

A few days before contact, my eyes happened upon such a pit and noticed two creatures caught in the tar. The tree-like one must have submerged some time ago leaving only her tall, slender neck sticking out in the air. She seemed to know that death was imminent in the bog. It was also hurtling six miles closer each second.

“My name’s Agnes,” she said. “But that doesn’t matter anymore.” The anguish on her face was both deep and kind, as if her insides were boiling but she didn’t want the other creature to know. A tree behind them had been laid down in the bog. Its trunk stretched all the way back to land. I wondered if she knew about it. There was little doubt it could support her weight.

“Maybe you’re wrong, Agnes,” the other said. He was a stumpy brute with three horns protruding from his head. There was an innocence in his voice, but not the naive kind. His skin cracked with age. The ooze crept in his pores. “There’s always a way out.”

“I’m sure many have said that.” Her lips were somewhere between a snarl and quiver. “It’s ignorance. No one knows how to get out of the mire. I’ve been here for weeks, and each minute the bog swallows me more. I’m tired of thinking. Everything’s a dead end.”

“Weeks?” he replied. “I’ve been in one before but only for a few days. It must be agonizing.”

“More unfair, really.” she said.

I couldn’t believe it. Had she not been listening? Freedom wasn’t impossible. He’d found a way out once before. Perhaps she didn’t believe him. It was hard to tell. To be sure, these creatures were mysterious.

The tree sat half-submerged listening to their conversation.

“I know it’s dreadful,” the brute said. “But if you would be willing to stay uncomfortable for five minutes longer, we might see the way out.” The thought almost convinced her. She could tell that he, too, was uncomfortable. The crisis would have driven anyone to their breaking point.

They were silent for some time. “Even if you’re right,” she straightened her neck, “we’ll all die soon enough. One way or another.”

“Yes,” he said. “Death will meet us all.” There was more silence.

The brute took a long, calculated breath. “But when he looks at my eyes, they will be filled with hope,” he said.

“Good luck with your hope,” Agnes replied. There was despair and contempt in her words. She was angry. Not at him, but at hope itself and the notion of purpose. She could see no meaning in life and, therefore, no meaning in death. It must have been more unpleasant than the awful bog.

The Blue Planet turned away before I could see the end of their encounter. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw the tarry swamp again. Neither creature was visible, but over by the tree there was one set of black footprints trailing away from the mire.

Time had come to enter the atmosphere. I would soon become part of this world forever. As its surface cradled the impact and sent my DNA burning across the land, my eyes raced to find the one who got out. After a moment, I saw him. He was easy to see. It wasn’t his size or beauty that caught my eye as I rushed towards him. The brute’s face was what separated him from the others.

He was the only one smiling at me.

This Made Everything Simpler

We’re able to picture superheroes that can fly or bend time. But our minds can only stretch so far. There are powers that go beyond our mental capacity. Things like:

  • Being everywhere at once
  • Existing eternally without a beginning
  • Having command of every molecule

Our imagination wasn’t built to contain all the complexities of God, and yet…

I get Jesus.

That’s what so crazy. By understanding Jesus, I do understand God. He said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12:44-45).

You and I can’t plumb the depths of the universe for the answers to why some things are the way they are. I don’t get why a hurricane the size of North America rages on Jupiter and never stops. I don’t fully get eternality, or why other kids in the oncology clinic had life-threatening cancers when I didn’t.

But I get Jesus.

And by seeing Him, I can see the Good Father who holds all the answers.

“For we don’t preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake; seeing it is God who said, ‘Light will shine out of darkness’ who has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2 Corinthians 4:5-6

You CAN Fix Stupid

“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” – Mark Noll

When pressed, many Christians have difficulty explaining their worldview in a questioning culture. My aim, however, isn’t to talk about the problem, but offer a solution. How can Christians become more intellectually equipped? What lens should we use to filter the countless bits of information that float around at any given moment?

I don’t believe the answer is found in a diploma or IQ score. The problem is not that we are stupid, but that we are lazy. And that’s good news. You can fix lazy.

It’s easier to binge-watch Netflix than read a philosophical argument for the existence of God (or the end of this post). Don’t get me wrong. Binge watching has its place, but learning shapes society.

Before you go sailing off on a guilt trip, know this- with a tiny bit of effort, you will be shocked at how much you can learn. And doing so won’t require cancelling your Hulu subscription.

If my theory is true, then reruns of The Office aren’t what’s keeping the evangelical mind stagnant anyway. Two factors increase our gravitation towards laziness:

  1. People don’t have a grid to filter all the information that’s available to them.
  2. People don’t know where to start.

Here’s how I combat intellectual complacency. It may help you as well.

There’s a grid I use to gather, filter, and process information. Both fall under the categories of reading and listening. There’s an old saying that, “Leaders are readers.” Some people, though, have trouble reading. So, perhaps a better way to say it would be, “Leaders are learners.” Reading and listening help you learn.

The Reading Grid

There is a hierarchy when it comes to reading:

BIBLE > BOOKS > BLOGS

Because God holds ultimate authority, the BIBLE (God’s Word) holds ultimate authority for our lives. Everything we say, think or do bends its knee to what God has spoken.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). We know God through His Word. It is sufficient for all of life. Always start with the Bible.

BOOKS, for that matter, are a very distant second. They can be insightful, though, and should be sought after. Men and women spend months or even years writing them. Their thoughts are analyzed and polished. They take time to read because they took time to write.

Think of it this way. The authors have spent years thinking, rethinking and researching a certain subject. Then they took the time to fold it neatly between 200 pages. Years of work for them take you 10 hours to read. That’s a gift. Start by reading Biblically sound, intellectually honest and culturally relevant authors. Here are some I recommend:

  • AW Tozer
  • Francis Schaeffer
  • Paul David Tripp
  • Greg Gilbert
  • CS Lewis
  • Bruce Ware
  • John Frame
  • Wayne Grudem

BLOGS have their place, and it trails at the bottom. They don’t take as long to read, but lack the thoroughness of books. It’s hard to expound on an idea in a short amount of space. Good blogs, though, can at least get your mind heading in the right direction. Here are some I recommend:

Blogs are a great place to find book recommendations as well. In fact, there is a growing section in my archives called “Interesting Books.”

You should spend most of your time reading (or listening to) the Bible, followed by books, and ending in blogs.

The Listening Grid

 The hierarchy is similar:

SERMONS > PODCASTS > CLIPS

            There are thousands of SERMONS available online for free that can stir your heart and equip you for ministry. It’s important to find men who stand on the authority of God’s Word. Here are some I recommend: 

  • Tim Keller
  • Alistair Begg
  • Russell Moore
  • John Piper
  • Chris Hodges
  • Rick Warren

 The two most influential ones in my life, however, are Kyle Reno and Bill Elliff. They are my pastors. No pastor should be heard more than the one(s) overseeing your local church.

PODCASTS are great because they’re concise and can usually be listened to on the morning or afternoon commute.  Here are some I recommend:

  • The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview (Al Mohler)
  • Thinking in Public (Al Mohler)
  • Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast (Andy Stanley)
  • Systematic Theology (Wayne Grudem)
  • Renewing Your Mind (RC Sproul)
  • Signposts (Russell Moore)

CLIPS work similarly to blog posts in that they are usually short (< 5 minute) videos that scroll across social media. They are thought provoking, but are usually meant to get your mind going in a certain direction. Spend your time listening to good sermons, then a podcast or two. Don’t build much of your thinking on sound bites.

We can’t be lazy and expect to know how to engage polarizing topics with grace and truth. Remember, the evangelical mind isn’t stupid. It just needs to drink a protein shake and get to the gym more often.

Winner or Winsome – Which One Are You?

When having a conversation, it’s easy to sniff out which of the two you’re engaging. One seeks to be right. The other persuades one to think rightly. Our focus tends to drift toward becoming winners rather than winsome.

Winners don’t want to talk. They want to tell. And, unless we happen to share their soapbox, we don’t care to listen. A lot gets said, but little changes.

Winsome people, on the other hand, have a way of thinking rightly and helping others to do the same. These people shape culture and change the world. It’s not because they are better communicators. Winsomeness is not the same as eloquence. Instead, it’s a matter of the heart.

Words reveal our heart. Each one, however articulate it may be, separates the winners from the winsome. I’ve found it helps to check my heart often to see which one I’m becoming.

There are three qualities that define the winsome:

  1. SECURITY
    This is not the same as confidence. It’s easy to fake confidence. Be aggressive or loud or demeaning. Don’t budge an inch and people can justify it as “confidence.” Security speaks in softer tones. There’s no battle to prove her intelligence (partly because she doesn’t claim to know everything). Hurl all the questions or criticism you want. Security knows that, if what she believes is true, it can withstand them.
  2. LOVE
    Ideas change the world. As a pastor who is convinced that the Gospel of Jesus has the power to save, I am passionate about truth. But it is never to be divorced from love. Paul told the church that, even if they had a martyr’s passion, it is useless without love (1 Corinthians 13:3). Before every conversation, comment or tweet, we should ask ourselves, “Is what I’m about to say coming out of love?” If you’re unsure, read 1 Corinthians 13 or John 15. Both are helpful passages on how to love people well. Loving people are winsome people.
  3. LEARNING
    It requires humility, patience, and hard work to learn. This sort of wisdom is described in Scripture as “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). Winsome people are able to simplify or expound upon their worldview appropriately. Because they are diligent to learn, they can give clear and respectful answers for the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15).

You will never be able to win everyone. That’s why the Apostle Paul said he became “all things to all people” in order to win some (1 Corinthians 9:22). That’s the essence of winsomeness. Doing whatever possible to help others think rightly.

This world has enough winners. So, stand secure. Love people like Christ. Stay teachable.

In other words, be winsome.

What They Teach You in Seminary

Isn’t it just a bunch of old buildings and stale pages filled with jargon? Suits droning on and on – detached from the “real world.” Why would anybody in their right mind want to go to seminary? 

The stereotypes are sterile…and rampant.

My first visit to Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky wasn’t anything like that. Every corridor was alive. After a couple days on campus, I realized that the Godly scholars walking them were not only brilliant, but many were more connected to culture than I was. 

Six months later, there was a “For Sale” sign in our front yard and my eyes were set on the Bluegrass State. I couldn’t wait to learn as much as possible.
“They don’t teach you that in seminary,” has become a popular saying in ministry circles. Sure, it’s partly true. Most theological degrees take 3-4 years to complete. You’re not going to learn everything about the Eternal God and how to navigate the choppy waters of ministry in that amount of time.

Theological education, however, equipped me far beyond expectations (which were high).  Here’s why I wouldn’t trade my time at seminary for anything:

  • It matured me as a father and husband. Being away from my home church, family, and friends stretched me. There was no definite plan after seminary. Sure, we had ideas…but church planting in central Arkansas wasn’t one of them. Packing our family and moving to another state was a leap that grew us.
  • It connected me with scholars, pastors and theologians who sharpened me spiritually. I’ve heard Southern’s President, Albert Mohler, say many times, “If learning theology doesn’t stir in your heart a love for Christ, you’re doing it wrong.”
  • It forced me to wrestle through ethics, history, and Biblical scrutiny for the first time. Did I figure out my stance on every sticky moral situation? Of course not. But I learned how to go about studying for the answers, and there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have taken the time to do so otherwise.

Seminary is less like a comprehensive training program and more like peddling through an art museum on a bicycle. You may not have time to stop at each portrait and study the brush strokes, but you get the gist. You can see the layout of the whole museum. The most helpful thing is finding your bearings so you know where to go back for further study.

My experience deepened a love for the Artist who filled those galleries. It set me up for decades of future ministry.

Divine Amnesia

At times, I have a better memory than God. Well…in one specific area that is. He can create the cosmos from nothing, but He’s forgetful. In fact, He does it on purpose. Read it for yourself:

“For I will be merciful toward their iniquitiesAnd I will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:12

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west,  so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12

God forgives sin and chooses to never remember. It almost seems unjust. I can barely wrap my head around that sort of grace. It’s downright scandalous.

HOW IT’S POSSIBLE:

Make no mistake about it. What happened on Calvary was as scandalous as it gets. The Son of God absorbing the wrath of God so that your sin, which defies God, would be blotted out outshines any love on Earth. The 19th century hymn, “Before the Throne of God Above” says it perfectly:

When Satan tempts me to despair,

And tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there

Who made an end to 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.

The sight of Christ’s scars gives my Heavenly Father divine amnesia. So, why do we choose to remember something that God purposefully removes from His mind? What makes us shackled in guilt to the sin of our past?

WHY IT’S HARD TO EMBRACE:

It’s the same reason we talk about our scars without mentioning His. We have not yet grasped the height and depth and breadth of God’s love. Instead, we choose to replay our sin over and over again believing the guilt will make us more lovable in God’s sight. But the cross was enough.

Know this. If you are paralyzed by your past, the cross was enough. If you feel defeated by sin, the cross was enough. If you feel like God could never forgive your lifetime of rebellion, the cross was enough. If you feel trapped in your struggle, the cross was enough. Christ on the cross was and will always be enough.

Confess your sin, turn away from it, believe on Christ and move forward. If you’ve hurt others, ask their forgiveness and remember His scars. Nobody had to do this more than the Apostle Paul.

EVEN STRONG CHRISTIANS STRUGGLE:

He spent his life hurting Christians, dragging them to prison, and holding people’s coats as others crushed them with stones (Acts 22:20). Then Paul met Jesus, the Plot Twist. Everything changed after that. God used him to write the majority of the New Testament and bring the Gospel to untold numbers. He suffered intense persecution for the name of Christ. And yet, Paul probably dealt with more guilt than you ever will.

Think about all the memories he had swirling around at any given moment. The coats, the voices of children screaming as their parents were ripped away, they sat in his mind waiting to reappear in a quiet moment along the road or late at night. He had to preach the Gospel to himself more than others.

“Stop it Paul,” he would say. “Leave it at the cross. The cross was enough.  God makes all things work together for good for those that love Him and are called to His purpose.” His only hope was trusting in the God who is merciful toward our iniquities and remembers our sin no more. It kept him moving forward. He wrote,

“Not that I have obtained [completion] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” Philippians 3:12-15

Forgetting wasn’t passive for Paul. Like God, it was something he chose to do. And it enabled him to press on. You, too, have a choice to make. Remember what lies behind and be paralyzed in guilt or bitterness. Or choose to believe that the cross was enough, and take the next step toward the goal.

Your life isn’t over yet, and the God of divine amnesia has made a way for you to live it abundantly (John 10:10). Leave your past at the cross, and experience how He can make sinful scars a beautiful reminder of the scars that healed us.

Summer Reading: Grab (at least) One of These

Summer makes a book better. Maybe it’s the weather…or the beach…or the years of counting down those final, creeping seconds before school let out.

When making a “to-read” list, it’s helpful to have recommendations. Mine is ever growing. Good readers don’t waste their time with dull books, and I’m always curious as to which ones they have found worthy of the list. Of the dozens on that lineup, here are 5 that grabbed my interest until the end.

Non-Fiction

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

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Have you ever been sad after eating a sundae? Not “eat your emotions” sad. More like “this was the best sundae I’ve ever had and now I want more sundae” sad. That’s what it felt like when I finished Wolfe’s version of the Gemini space saga.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

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If this one doesn’t make your list, get the cliff notes in this post: “Phone Smart- How to Live Untethered (Realistically)”.

The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer

God-who-is-there1

He ranks with the brightest evangelical minds of the 20th century. His approachable writing style both sharpens the faith of Christians and helps with the philosophical hang-ups of others.

Fiction

Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline

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If an ’80s arcade and The Hunger Games had a kid together, it would look like this. And it looks awesome.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

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Do you enjoy Civil War history, but want more vampires? You’re in luck. The book is nothing like the movie. But it’s exactly like the 16th President- unique, battle torn, and sort of weird looking. Beach reading was made for this one.

What’s another book I need to add to my list?

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Prayers

It’s curious how many well-meaning Christians have said something along these lines:

“Be careful what you ask God to do. He just might do it!” 

What’s even stranger are the prayers to which they’re referring. Ones like, “Use me however You will,” or, “Teach me __________ (humility, to pray, evangelize, etc.).” But why are these prayers considered, in any way, “dangerous?”

God is not out to ruin your life plans, but to redeem them. Praying for the Holy Spirit to move and work in your life is the safest prayer possible. God’s will is to conform you into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28-30). That’s not dangerous. It’s the one thing that brings us life and joy! (John 10:10; John 15:11)

So, don’t be afraid of your prayers. God is a fortress and refuge. (Psalm 18:2; 25:8-10; 46:1-3; 91:2; Deuteronomy 33:27; Proverbs 14:26; Matthew 7:24-27) The last time I checked, those were pretty safe places to live.

Instead, learn to pray as the sons of Korah did:

“Let me hear what the LORD will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” Psalm 85:8

Will He ask us to step out on faith at times? Yes. Will we be stretched in trials or circumstances? Of course. But never apart from the comfort and peace of our Refuge. I pray this poem weekly as a reminder:

Faithful fortress for the weak,

Sustainer of the tried,

Hope of Heaven, Christ in me,

You’re where my trust abides.

Ruling, reigning King of Glory,

Matchless is Your love!

Victory is now my story,

Freedom- through your blood.

Pray for God to do big things in and through you. It’s anything but a “dangerous” prayer.