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A few weeks ago, I spoke to our men’s group at church about my testimony in the area of stewardship.  I talked about how I was raised in a family that taught Biblical principles of handling money—and how I saw stewardship as an end rather than a means for many years.

I spoke the next week on the top 10 things we can do to treasure Jesus more fully when it comes to handling money.  There were 12 items on the list.  Here’s the summary:

  1. Study the Bible for ourselves to see what God has to say about money.
  2. Make the connection between the gospel and our use of money (see 2 Cor 8:9, Phil 2:7-11).
  3. Make a budget…to the glory of God.
  4. Never make an emotional financial decision (see Luke 14:28-30).
  5. Limit, or eliminate, our exposure to debt (see Deut 28:1, 12-13, 15, 44, Prov 22:7, Rom 13:8).
  6. Learn, with Paul, to be content (see Phil 4:11-13).
  7. Work to the glory of God, and understand it is the Lord who prospers (see 1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:23-24, Gen 13:1-12).
  8. Teach our children to be good stewards (Prov 22:6).
  9. Give generously.
  10. Give wisely (see 2 Thess 3:10, Mt 5:42, 1 Tim 5:8, 1 John 3:17-18, 1 Tim 5:17-18, Lev 19:9-10).
  11. Be courageous when you encounter God’s teaching (see Ezra 7:10, 8:21-23).
  12. Use your money to make God look glorious (see 1 John 2:16, Mt 6:28-30, 33).

For the details, you can listen here.

Question:  With a new year approaching, what can you do with regards to money to treasure Jesus more fully?

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We Don’t Agree, But I Love You

Published on December 28, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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I recently heard two people say this: “I don’t get along with _____ because I don’t agree with him.”  You might find this to be entirely natural, and I can say there is a part of me that understands this well because I’ve thought it myself.  But just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good.

We might think that the basis for a friendship or a relationship of some kind should rest upon common experiences or common beliefs.  And to some degree, this is true.  We do tend to gather with others who are like-minded, which is how we get clusters of people in a religion, or a club, or a denomination,

There is something deep within us that brings us close to one another, and this same something gives rise to our greatest conflicts.  This something is our system of beliefs—beliefs about life, and God, and morality.  If none of us believed anything, then we’d probably get along more easily.  It’s the differences that separate us.

This brings us to the question I’d like for us to consider:  How, and when, should we get along?

At times, I’ve wondered why God didn’t make belief, and subsequently the getting along, easier on us.  The simplest model to govern a belief is one with a strong, central authority.  When a belief system can be controlled from the top, then internal alignment will naturally ensue.  This is the model for any number of cults today.

However, the Bible doesn’t set up the church in a command-and-control kind of structure, where leaders of the church act as the arbiters for belief.  Instead, the Scriptures make priests out of all believers, give leaders to shepherd and train and guide those believers, and set Jesus as king over all of us.  In structural terms, the church becomes flat.

The trouble with this, if you want to call it trouble at all, is that flatness leads to diversity.  If I get to read the Bible and tell you what it means, then we’re likely going to agree with one another because you don’t know any better.  But if you and I can both read the same Bible, and we can come up with different perspectives, then we’re going to be at odds on some things.

I don’t mean to make this an ecumenical or interfaith call. Protestants disagree with Catholics on the nature of justification.  Christians disagree with Muslims on the nature of Jesus.  Monotheists disagree with polytheists on the nature of God.  And theists disagree with atheists on the existence of God.

These differences are important, because they mean something vital.  If there is a God, and our sin separates us from Him, and this life is but a vapor, and there’s a way, but only one way, to be made right with Him, and He divides the world into those whom He is for and those whom He is against, then it’s vital that we know specifics about this God.  And it’s vital that we agree on these things.

But beyond these vital differences, the solid blacks and whites begin to gray to varying degrees.  There are other beliefs to die for, but they are smaller in number than we might believe.  There are others to debate over, but again, they are probably smaller in number than we might think.  And there are still others to forebear, which are probably far greater in number than we would like to admit.

God knows this.  He saw fit in His infinite wisdom to make it so.  By giving us a book and sending us His Spirit and commissioning His people to carry out His commandments, He is running the risk that we’re going to botch some things and fight a bit more than we should.  Which brings us back to our question:  How, and when, should we get along?

Paul gives us some help here:  “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Much can be said, but for the sake of this discussion, we can just say that the call to unity is predicated on the calling of God.  God calls us to be His own, and as His people, He commands us to eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit.  It’s interesting to see the how that follows the what of this command.

Be humble.

Be gentle.

Be patient.

Bear one another in love.

By these actions, we are to maintain unity with one another.  If we disagree with an enemy, Jesus tells us to love them and pray for them.  If we disagree with a brother or sister in Christ, the Spirit tells us to maintain unity with them in the bond of peace.

So when we’re tempted to say we don’t get along with someone because we disagree, it’s probably more accurate to say:  I don’t get along with him because I’m prideful; or I don’t get along with her because I’m not willing to love her.

Instead, let us be the kind of people who are humble, gentle, patient, and willing to bear with one another in love.

Question:  Why is it hard to maintain peace with someone with whom we disagree?

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Come to the Edge of the Canyon

Published on December 20, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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No other book, besides the Bible, has had a greater impact on my theology, faith, and life than Desiring God by John Piper.  Which is why I wrote the following essay for a book called Besides the Bible: 100 Books That Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture, which my friend Jordan co-authored.

Besides the Bible is a collection of essays from authors, bloggers, and filmmakers on the books they feel every Christian should read.  As the book states, you may not agree with every selection, but it may reignite your passion for reading.

Here is the essay, courtesy of Besides the Bible and its publisher, Biblica:

There is a way to think about God that is like rafting the Colorado along the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  The canyon’s interior seems close, while the river plays gently in spots, churning in others.  The immediacy of the surrounding world narrows perspective, as sightlines are crowded by walls and eyes drawn to the peculiarities of the landscape.  Life is spent busily navigating down the river, all with only a faint awareness of the greater beauty just beyond reach.

There is another way to think about God that is like standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Still air and awe fill this view.  Awareness of self fades into the silent blue hues that bathe the plateaus at dusk.  Time slows and perspectives enlarge.  One feels small at the edge, but immensely grateful.

I have spent most of my spiritual life at the bottom of the canyon.  I had heard of the canyon’s greatness, and I suspected there was more truth and beauty in the world than I could see. But the abundance of my thoughts and actions came in navigating and traversing and peeking at this greater beauty rather than beholding it.

Reading Desiring God by John Piper brought me breathlessly close to the edge of the canyon for the first time in my life.  The God of John Piper, C. S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Augustine, the apostle Paul, and hundreds of thousands of other saints, was a different God than mine—beautiful, terrifying, grand, intimate, passion-filled, full of grace and wrath, and eminently glorious.  The sight of this God was stunning and soul stirring.

But standing at the edge is meant to give us perspective so we can better maintain a place to live. This is where Piper shines—translating grand thoughts about God into our own spheres of living. He brings us to the canyon’s edge, telling us to come here often, but he tells us that we must step down into the canyon as well.

Piper begins this work by developing a case for Christian Hedonism, defining the term as a philosophy of life built upon five convictions. In summary, these convictions state that all humans long for happiness and pleasure, and that this impulse should be nurtured, not suppressed, toward finding our greatest happiness in God, with love being an outpouring from this place of joy. He goes on to apply this concept to various aspects of our faith, including worship, Scripture, love, prayer, mission, marriage, and money, all with an orientation toward how the Christian Hedonist should view or express faith in each of these various facets.

Piper’s core statement of Christian Hedonism, that “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever,” and its corollary, that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” saturate every word in Desiring God. The book’s theology is God centered and Christ exalting. Or to say it another way, its bias is theocentric rather than anthropocentric. Accordingly, Piper takes aim at the notion we are at the center of God’s affections, that God’s design is ultimately to redeem the world and save sinners, rather than saying God’s redemptive purposes are toward a greater end: the enjoyment he has in glorifying himself. So Piper says, “The bedrock foundation of Christian Hedonism is not God’s allegiance to us, but to Himself.”

These thoughts may sound strange to the postmodern, Western ear, and Desiring God has its share of critics. Proponents of a more liberal theology find the conservative undertones of this book to be too restrictive in our understanding of God. Others suggest Piper reads a staunchly Calvinistic theological bias into his source texts; after all, Christian Hedonism isn’t a framework explicitly taught in Scripture.

But Piper is an expository preacher, and he’s also an expository writer. The best way to read this book is with a Bible in the other hand; otherwise, the reader will fail to invite divine truth from God to shine on these statements of truth about God.

Ultimately, Desiring God is most appealing because it allows for deep thoughts about God to share space with deep affections for God, and it taps into a desire within each of us to search out the satisfaction for our soul’s deepest longings. Read Desiring God to learn why dour Calvinists miss the heart of their theology and why happy Calvinists are so enamored with the sovereignty and glory of God. Or read it because you find a deep longing in your own soul to behold and treasure God above all else and because you need a guide down into the canyon.

Question:  Have you read Desiring God, and if so, what were your thoughts?

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Being Content In Plenty

Published on November 30, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Have you ever read a passage in the Bible a hundred times and realize you missed half the point? This happened to me, again, this morning.  I’ve read and quoted Philippians 4:11-13 hundreds of times in my life.  Here’s the passage if you’re not immediately familiar with it:

“…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

I’ve always focused on two things in this passage.  First, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  Second, we should be content when we’re in need—particularly since Paul wrote this passage from prison.

And that was it.  Basically I thought that poor people should learn to be content.  If I were to lose my job, I should be content.  If I were to end up in jail, I should be content.  All because Christ would give me the strength to be content.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may know I have struggled a bit with the blessings (or prosperity) I see in my own life.  I’ve so often equated spirituality with poverty—or spirituality with having wealth and sacrificing it to become poor.  And I intellectually know that’s not the case, that God calls us all to be generous and only some to give all they have, but the struggle has remained in my heart.

But this morning, God showed me in this passage that contentment doesn’t relate to possessions.  Contentment relates to a heart attitude in spite of possessions, or in spite of a lack of possessions.  Pastor Mike said it this way:  “Contentment is the desire for nothing [more].”  It’s holding something, or nothing, in an open hand, and being satisfied with that.

Paul says something important for me, and maybe for you as well.  He says he has learned to be content—in any situation.  So if you’re wealthy, and we basically all are in the US, then we must learn to be content.  And if we find ourselves without, we must learn to be content.

I know God is the one who helps us learn.  And I know that we should strive for contentment, just as we work our salvation, all the while knowing it is God who is at work in us.  And I know that contentment, at its core, is a heart attitude relating to our ability to be satisfied with our circumstances.  But above all, being content is about what Christ does for us, and in us.

I can abound because Christ gives me strength.  I can do without because Christ gives me strength.  Either way, it is my weakness, in both blessing and loss, that needs the strength of Christ.

Question:  In what areas do you find it hard to be content?

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I’m Sorry I

Published on November 14, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Here are the hardest two-and-a-half words for me to say:  “I’m sorry.” Well, that’s not entirely true.  I say “I’m sorry” quickly.  But I find it hard to say “I’m sorry” and actually mean it.

I suspect this struggle is a common one; you may find recognizing and owning up to your own sin, humbling yourself to someone else, and verbalizing it to them to be one of the hardest things to do in life.  It’s just so much easier to blame someone else, or to ignore the conflict altogether, or to come up with reasons that explain our behavior, than it is to look someone in the eyes, admit we were wrong, and ask their forgiveness.

I’ve found there are three ways to begin an apology:

  1. I’m sorry we…
  2. I’m sorry you…
  3. I’m sorry I…

I’ve also found that two of these don’t seem to work.  Two of these are ways to say you are sorry without really saying you are sorry.  Or, to be more accurate, to say you are sorry while still justifying yourself.

Here we find the great temptation:  self-justification.  It may show up as pride or self-righteousness, but when we seek to justify ourselves, what we are really doing is entirely natural.  We’re thinking and feeling and living the way that people who are aware, whether we admit it or not, that we don’t measure up.  Measuring up to what, or to whom, is the question.

This is why the gospel is so unnatural—and so needed.  In the gospel, God justifies us because of Jesus, not because of what we do for Him.  Without the gospel, we try to justify ourselves because of what we do, not because of what Jesus did for us.

So the next time we find ourselves in a conflict or a broken relationship, and we’re tempted to do what comes natural, to justify our actions in our own minds, let us remember the gospel.  Let us remember that our broken relationships with each other echo the more pressing breach in our relationship with God.  And let us remember that recognizing our own sin, and owning up to it in front of another, and seeking and receiving forgiveness, is a testimony to others of the glories of the gospel.

Question:  Do you find it hard to apologize?

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An Update in Thoughts

Published on November 10, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Four weeks have passed since I last wrote. I suppose that is what new babies can sometimes do.  Here is what I have been learning since we last connected.

  1. Newborn babies are very small.
  2. Instant, God-like love doesn’t come to all new parents immediately; some need to fall in love with their kids.
  3. God is sovereign, even over cranky nurses.
  4. God-centered, strong relationships with family are a great blessing.
  5. Life challenges theology, and theology informs life.
  6. Cedar roots are softer than the trunk.
  7. There is wisdom in not changing a diaper too quickly.
  8. God will hound us in love until we relent.
  9. In the tension of our understanding of God that may seem to be at odds at times stretches the truth worth grasping.
  10. “When it comes to satisfying our spiritual appetites, there is no such thing as excess” (Storms).
  11. Language that helps today’s generation treasure Christ most deeply is of primary concern in a writing ministry.
  12. I suppose gazing into the face of Christ is the only joy greater than gazing into the face of a newborn daughter.
  13. I will read the Bible and pray over and sing to Avery years before she can understand me, so that somehow, God’s word will become the most natural thing to her.
  14. Moms should be revered as having one of life’s most noble roles.
  15. Meditation is not the emptying of the mind; it is the filling of the mind with thoughts of God.
  16. The prospect of yielding myself completely to God is both terrifying and appealing.
  17. My wife is a nurturing, caring, thoughtful, persistent, joy-filled, loving mom.
  18. Car seats are harder to figure out than they should be.
  19. I tend to think God changes me too quickly and others too slowly.
  20. God knows better than we do in how to deal with our kids’ sin.
  21. I’m not convinced that God’s foreknowledge invalidates the validity of his emotional responses to man’s sin.
  22. God’s word is truth, not simply true, because what God thinks and says defines what is truth, because His own nature defines truth.
  23. God’s word discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12) so that we might recognize we are exposed to Him (v.13) and so that we will see our need for His mercy (v. 16).
  24. It takes a tender heart to give and to serve; it perhaps requires an even more tender to heart to receive and be served.
  25. God is good, faithful, patient, loving, merciful, wise, and completely in control.

Question:  What have you been learning recently?

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Anniversary

Published on October 10, 2010 by CT in Blog, News

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Pause is a lost virtue these days, one I find fruitful but too often missing in my life.  And pause with reflection is even better.  Being creatures hurried along by time, we run the risk of failing to pause and reflect, to learn from ourselves and from others, and we live our lives in peril when we fail to remember.

We just passed the one year anniversary of Crave Something More, and as I reflect on the past year, I am deeply grateful to God for His faithfulness in my life.  To revisit blog posts or pictures or journal entries is to walk with warm memories.  I can remember feelings of elation or pain that stoked my writing fires on certain nights, or I can recall comments you wrote that touched me in ways you will never know this side of eternity.  These memories are good, and I am thankful you have been a part of them, in reading, in sharing, and in praying.

We tend to remember the events of our past as better than the originals, but there’s no great harm in that.  What does imperil us is our failure to see God’s working in us, through His grace, for our good, in both blessing and loss.  Without these times of reflection, whether daily, or monthly, or yearly, we trade a larger perspective for a smaller one.

As one means of reflection, I’ve pulled together several lists of posts from the past year that I hope will prove to be encouraging to you in your own journeys.  Perhaps there’s a post that you’ll want to revisit as you might an old friend, or there may be one you missed that nudges your heart even now.  So here they are:

Your Favorites (Most Read)

  1. Can We Overemphasize the Gospel?
  2. I Just Lost My Job, And God Is Good
  3. I Hate to Read…Well, Then, Here’s a Book
  4. He Didn’t Even Notice
  5. I’ve Given Up Everything For This

Your Favorites (Most Commented, Not Above)

  1. To Will Or Not To Will
  2. 7 Reasons To Not Care About Blog Traffic
  3. Unseen Fruit Of Obedience
  4. What Advice Would You Give New Parents?
  5. A Jew, A Muslim, An Agnostic, And Pizza

My Favorites

  1. Why The Cross Matters Most
  2. Dear Kayli Anneke
  3. I Am A Thief
  4. God Spoke To Me This Very Morning
  5. I Almost Sold My Integrity for $2.25

In all this, my hope is that Jesus is being proclaimed as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings, because He is superior in every way to all else life can offer.  I hope and pray you are finding Him to be your all-satisfying treasure, and I look forward to many more occasions to delight in Him with you.

Question:  As you reflect on the last year of your own life, what do you see?

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The Greatest of Feats

Published on October 6, 2010 by CT in Blog, Stories

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The UPS man has been coming to our door a good deal lately. I’m not sure why.  Perhaps we’ve been ordering more than usual during this season as we prepare for our first home.  Perhaps there has just been a confluence of gifts from friends and family as we prepare for our first child.  Whatever the reason, it seems he’s here on almost a daily basis.

Typically, I have been a little embarrassed to see him.  Our dog, Bear, usually goes nuts when someone knocks on the door.  We’ve been training her to be calm, but Yorkiepoos vibrate like hummingbird wings unless it’s mid-morning or late evening.  So I would be working in the kitchen, perhaps on the phone, when the knock came.  I would have a phone on one shoulder, a barking tornado at my ankle, and I would be trying to crack the door open far enough to get the package through the door but narrow enough to keep out a small dog’s head.  I’m sure our delivery man sees all kinds on his routes, but I’m embarrassed just the same.

So it was our good fortune yesterday to see the big, brown truck parked outside our building as we walked down to our car.  Anna wondered aloud whether her latest package had come, and I asked her if she’d like me to check.  Before she said yes, I saw the UPS driver point at me and nod.  I thought he might have just told someone, “There’s this guy with this little yipping dog with a pink collar who jumps eight feet in the air when I knock,” and then saw me, and pointed.  But he was simply letting me know he had a package for us.

I was impressed by his memory, that he could associate my face with our apartment number.  So I walked up to him, introduced myself, and asked him his name.  He told me, we shook hands, I took the package, and thanked him again as I walked back to our car.  I had a moment’s pause to consider why the hand of Providence had moved in this way, and I wouldn’t know for another day.

This morning, another knock came at the door.  I opened the door to find my new friend, holding still another package in his hand.  I signed for the package and thanked him by name.  He left, calling me by name as well.  We were like old friends.

At the time, I had been reading A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, which incidentally is a really beautiful book, and I had been moved by some of the inspirational passages in the story.  As I went back into my house and resumed my reading, I felt a small prompting from God to give this man a copy of Crave.  I already feel a little awkward when people ask me about the book, because I haven’t yet learned to give God all the glory for this gift, so I felt even more awkward bringing the book up in conversation with him.  But I was in the mood to be inspired, and I wanted to be obedient, so I took one of the last copies I had been saving and vanished out the front door, hoping to find the UPS truck still below.

I should add at this point that I also hoped the truck wouldn’t be there.  It seems just as well to act in obedience with the hope that I won’t actually have to follow through. But the truck was still in the parking lot, in front of the building to my right.  So I took the long slow walk down the stairs, with a new copy of this book swinging in my hand, wondering what I would say.  What I did say is not that important, and he took the book, thanking me with a look that intimated gratitude for a gesture outside his routine.  But what I found even more important were the emotion I felt and the thought I had as I walked back upstairs.

As I climbed the first flight of stairs, I held a moment of self-congratulatory applause within my soul.  I had been obedient to God, and I had done something a little strange in extending myself to a stranger in this way, so I felt I deserved a little credit for my action.  But by the second flight of stairs, I had this thought, which I soon recorded in my journal:  “God, it is no great feat that I give to a man a Christian book or a word from the gospel, but it is the greatest of feats that you may do in a man with a book or through the gospel.”

This was a humbling thought, but an exhilarating one all the same.  What reason have I to boast in myself if my actions, however hard they may seem, are truly no great feats?  The greatest of feats is not a mountain climbed, or a company conquered, or a nation ruled, or a stone lifted.  The greatest of feats is the changing of a sinner’s heart, the regeneration of a person’s soul.  I cannot save a man’s soul.  I cannot give my life as payment in his place.  I cannot give him my righteousness.

But Jesus can do this, and has done this, for all who believe.  I pray my new friend will believe one day, that perhaps what he may read will spurn him to hear and respond to the gospel, that he will find so much more of God in the process, and that what C.S. Lewis wrote about Vanauken would be true about this man:  “I think you are in the meshes of the net!  The Holy Spirit is after you.  I doubt if you’re get away!”

In all this, I rest in the knowledge that the greatest of feats has been accomplished, and that the fruit of the Son’s obedience continues to have effect in this sinner’s life and the lives of sinners all around the world.  We are called to a noble, great, and dangerous work—following this crucified Savior—but we need not summon our own courage and strength to get it done.  He is sufficient, and we are all safely in the meshes of the net, being chased, and now led, by His Holy Spirit, and are forever His.

Question:  What feats have you been tempted to claim credit for?

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The Seeking of Fame: God’s, Not Ours

Published on October 5, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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At this past weekend’s Desiring God National Conference, Sam Storms and Justin Taylor introduced a book that was written in secret, in honor of a man, as a means to proclaim the fame of God’s name.  This book, For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, was well conceived and well received, as would be fitting for a man and a community of people who are enraptured by the supremacy of God in all things and the fame of His glorious name among the nations.

This book will age like a fine painting, one that rivets the eyes as it honors the beauty of the subject, but one with such a glory that the spirit is lifted up towards reflection upon Higher Things.  And I suspect Piper would have it no other way.  It is undoubtedly the providence of God that delivered a book of honor during a time of well-publicized sabbatical in the public ministry of a man who is battling pride, the kind of pride that festers at the feet of a world renowned minister intent on proclaiming the glory and fame of God’s name.  What tension must Piper feel in the affirmation of his identity as a man, and a pastor, and a writer, in balance with his desire to see the name of God magnified in all of his life, and at war with the self-glorifying pride that plagues his own heart.

I don’t know what John Piper thought and felt as he looked at the book’s cover, and felt its weight, and glanced through the contents, and smelled the pages.  I suspect he felt a deep sense of humility, and gratitude, and love, and most importantly, a soul-deep longing to glorify and honor his beloved God and Savior.  Whatever he might have felt is not our concern so much as what each of us may feel as we imagine ourselves in his place.

Many of us are pastors, or authors, or bloggers, or businessmen and women, or stay-at-home moms, or a thousand other kinds of ministers of the gospel in all areas of life.  And despite the diversity of our ministries, we likely all share something in common to some degree: the desire to make ourselves look glorious.  I don’t say this lightly, or flippantly, and I don’t mean to assume too much about you.  But I know my own heart, and this desire is present down deep.  If the chief end of man is to glorify God, then the chief sin of man is to glorify self.  So I suspect we all might war against this common enemy.

To preach or to write or to sing or to paint in order to magnify the name of Jesus is to do dangerous work.  Standing on a stage, or seeing your name on the cover of a book, or hearing the poetry of your heart sung on the radio, or gathering with friends at a gallery of your work, is an invitation to dine with all manner of pride.  We may feast on the respect we feel we have achieved, or get drunk on the adoration of others.   But it doesn’t have to be this way.

There is a justifying grace that frees us from our compulsion to sin and glorify self.  “Sin will have no dominion over [us], since [we] are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).  And there is a sanctifying grace that is given to the humble (1 Peter 5:5), a grace that restores us, and confirms us, and strengthens us, and establishes us in the eternal glory of Christ (1 Peter 5:10).  This kind of grace enables us to make much of God instead of making much of ourselves.

This brings us back to the conference stage this past weekend.  What would we feel if the name on the book was ours?  Would we feel our life’s work finally had merit?  Would we rest in the promise of a distinguished legacy?  Would we revel in the idea that we had achieved status with the greats of Christian history?

Perhaps we would feel these kinds of things, and we would also feel a longing to reflect this praise back to God.  Perhaps we would also feel a sense of exposure, that our false humility that we didn’t even know was false had been laid bare at the feet of a deeper, truer humility.  Undoubtedly, we would sense a mixture of emotions, a warring between the desires of our flesh and the longings of our spirit, and God willing, a deepening conviction to see the name of Christ magnified at any cost.

All of this is the scenic route of getting to this question:  do I care more about the fame of my name or the fame of God’s name?  I confess that far too much of my own ministry is aimed towards increasing the fame of my name.  I find it clings to me like mud, and I try to shake it off as I run towards God, but I am tainted with its smell and its presence.  My sin runs deep, but God is deeper still, and I sense a profound desire to orient more and more of my being and my work around the gospel, the person of Jesus.  In this desire, I pray God’s Spirit will continue His cleansing work in my life and ministry.

As we reflect on this question, whether we care most about the fame of our name or God’s, we should acknowledge that a man like John Piper should be honored.  And a pastor like you, or a writer like you, or a colleague like you, should be honored as well, insofar as you have labored in the work of Christ.  The ministry of the gospel to parishioners and readers and co-workers is noble, and our souls are deeply satisfied in the expression of our God-given gifts, so the feelings of joy and affirmation we might have are not our foes.  We corrupt the gift not when we receive the praise, but when we rest in it without seeing it ultimately as the praise of God.

So let us join with Paul, who “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  Let us join with John Piper as he seeks to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.  And let us follow with the wholeness of our heart, and mind, and spirit, the crucified Son of God, who humbled Himself, and is now exalted with a name that is above every other name, so that the fame of His name would bring every knee to earth, and that God would be glorified.

Question:  Whose fame do you seek?

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Loss

Published on October 1, 2010 by CT in Blog, News

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I love my dog.  She’s small, annoying, cute, hops like a deer when excited, the perfect lap dog when she’s tired, and a brand new swimmer.  I know I’m probably misusing the word “love” here, that we don’t really understand what we’re saying when we say we love hamburgers, our wives, God, and our dogs.  I know there are four kinds of love in Scripture.  And that’s all good.  But I still love my dog.

Many of us do, and that is a good thing, so long as we keep a God-centered perspective about it.  One of my closest friends just put his dog down—a dog he has had for many, many years, and a dog that meant a lot to his family.  Here’s what he wrote to a few of us:

Brothers,

Just thought I would send an e-mail from my heart.  Today was a tough day.   Our dog had really slowed down in the last two weeks and stopped eating about 3 or 4 days ago and for the last two days could not even stand up anymore.   It was finally his time.   I took him to the vet this morning and I made the decision to put him down.  We had prepared the boys last night that he would probably be put down today.   They said their goodbyes last night and again before they went to school today.   I slept by his side last night (well until about midnight when the baby woke up wanting a drink).  He was a great dog and will be missed.  I was thankful to our Creator today for making such a great creation and letting our family enjoy him for 10+ years.  Big dogs like ours tend to only live about 9 years but he made it almost 12.5 years.  In some ways we were sad that it kind of happened quickly but we are also thankful that he didn’t suffer for years.   He had greatly slowed down over this last year and I thank God for the times that He prepared my heart and soul over this last year that our dog would go soon and that I should enjoy the time with him.

He was such a great dog to our boys and the bond that the boys and he had was very special.  We took him to the property that we are building on and buried him in the back corner.   (Thank goodness for the bobcat because he was a big dog and needed a big hole).  We built a cool berm and placed a big rock (“Dog rock”)—it kind of looks like a dog.  When the boys got home from school we took them over there and talked to them about him, the stories they remembered, the great times with their dog.   We also talked about death and what happens when we die.   That God gave us a soul that is eternal and that Jesus allows us to have our soul be with God for eternity.   It was a great talk.   We also talked about animals and the role that they play, that the Bible is pretty silent about if animals go to heaven.   But we all decided that God created a great dog for us, and that God loved his creation, and that if any dog happens to get to go to heaven then ours would be one of them.

Losing a beloved dog, or any pet, is a shadow of losing a beloved spouse or friend or family member, which is a shadow of the kind of loss that will be no more in the age to come.  The pleasure we feel in the simple things in life, like a warm body next to us on the floor, or a big paw on our knee, echoes the infinitely greater pleasure we will know in the presence of Jesus.

I’m thankful for my friend, and his dog, simply because I love them both, in a different way of course, but mainly because the pleasure I feel in this relationship points me to a greater pleasure that is ours to have in Christ.

Question:  Who has been your favorite pet, and what have you learned from loving that pet?

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Use Your Storehouse

Published on September 30, 2010 by CT in Blog, Devotion

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I love questions, and I hope you love them as well. Questions are the ingredients of learning; if we ask them, we may find answers that season our minds, and our hearts, and our spirits in such a way that God and life can be savored more deeply.  If we don’t ask questions, then we may find our taste buds soon become dull to the pleasures of life.

In Psalm 119:9, the Psalmist asks:  How can a young man keep his way pure? This is an important question—one we’d all do well to consider.  And the question is interesting in that the young are called out in particular.  The assumption almost seems to be that the path we take early in life is often the path we continue later in life.  And this is true, isn’t it?  Many of us live out our youths and then spend the rest of our lives dealing with the consequences, whether positive or negative.  School experiences, the absence of a mother, the abuse of a father, the training of loving parents, the presence of a dear friend—all of these affect us deeply in ways that are lasting.

The answer to this question, and the answer to the question of how an old man can keep his way pure, is the same:  by guarding, storing, seeking, and using the word of God.

We might imagine our lives as a walk along a path. As we become young men and women, there are many paths we can take, like spokes on a wheel, and as we choose one and walk along it, we find there are many things that would pull us off this path.  Detours, obstacles, ruts, holes, calls from others to join their paths—all these distract us from the simple task of walking forward each and every day.

What keeps us on the path of faith is the word of God.  His word protects this path, and it directs the path itself.  But using it in this way is intentional—the Psalmist says we “guard” or “keep” the path according to His word.  So as the path is to be walked daily, the guarding or keeping must be daily as well.

Also along these paths are storehouses.  Storehouses, as you know, are meant to store things.  And we store things not for the sake of storing them, but so that we might use them one day.  The Psalmist says he has “stored up [God’s] word in [his] heart [so] that [he] might not sin against [Him]” (v. 11).  If the storehouses are empty, then we may be out of luck.  And if they’re full and we don’t use them, then we may be out of luck.  So storing up His word is crucial, and going into the storehouse to use the word is crucial, if we’re to remain on our path of faith.

Finally, we can never keep to this path alone. The Psalmist cries out, “With my whole heart I seek you,” (v. 10) which is odd in that he just lamented his lack of steadfastness in v. 5.  So he must be expressing a heart desire, rather than a statement of fact.  And we do find him on his path, crying out for help, saying, “Let me not wander from your commandments!” (v. 10).  He knew what we know—that we walk our paths of life alone at our peril.  The best path, the path of purity, the path of joy, is a path walked with God.

This God, who is the Word, who gave us His word, who reminds us of His word, is our faithful companion.  May we grow in our understanding that He is there with us, that His word will guard our paths, so that we might not sin against Him, and so that we might experience the fullness of joy in walking each day by His side.

Question:  When you read Scripture, do you think of it as storing up for use, either now or later, or something else altogether?

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Be A Boulder, Not A Pebble

Published on September 29, 2010 by CT in Blog, Devotion

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Some of you are blog writers; others are blog readers; still others are both. For the writers, you will undoubtedly know that your particular forum is often about something in particular.  You could call it your mission statement, or your brand, or your purpose for writing.  And for the readers, you will certainly recognize this kind of central message in the different blogs you read.  They are helpful because, as readers, we can get a feel for what the writer is about, and how we can be helped, by participating in the ministry of writing, reading, and engaging.

This site exists to proclaim Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings, specifically by pointing to His superior worth compared to other things we seek to satisfy us.  Over time, I have found that what I write tends to be story-driven, or thought-reflective, or question-based.  I hope that it serves towards the end of making Jesus look glorious.  What this style of writing has meant is that posts tend to be a bit longer, and a bit less frequent, than you might find elsewhere.  And that has been good for me, and I pray, good for you as well.

For years now, I have sensed God’s invitation to me to come know Him more intimately—not to know more about Him, or to serve Him more readily, but to know Him more deeply.  So I’ve recently begun a discipleship course that focuses on the daily devotional habits of reading, reflection, meditation, and prayer.  And I want this process to be a means towards the end of my knowing God more intimately.

I have decided to be more intentional about finding out what God is revealing to me in my daily reading—and to know how it deepens my affections for Him and reveals more about my heart attitude towards Him.  We are starting with Psalm 119, and I intend to share with you what God shows to me in the hopes that you will be encouraged to see and savor Him more deeply as well.  Practically, this means posts that are a bit shorter (though not this one), and a bit more frequent, than you might be used to.  We can perhaps see in the next week or so if they have value to you as a reader or if they would be best served to stay in my journal.  Either way, if you find yourself lacking in your relationship with God, be encouraged to go and seek Him in His Word.

Here are a few observations about Psalm 119:1-8:

  1. To be blessed by God, to know Him more fully and to experience His joy more deeply, comes through seeking Him with a fervency that will lead to obedience.  Why?  His ways are perfect and righteous (vss. 1-4).  We may know this intellectually, but to know deeply the law of the Lord, and to know Him who fulfilled the law, compels the heart to seek and to obey.
  2. The Psalmist prays for steadfastness because he does not have it (vs. 5).  You and I are likely no different—desiring obedience, but falling short.  We are too often pebbles that move with the wind.  But the reason he prays this kind of prayer is because obedience is a gift from God to be sought.  This grace to remain steadfast does not come from within ourselves, but from God, and is then meant to be worked out in steadfastness.  Our pebble-like obedience grows with the weight of grace until it becomes an unwavering boulder.
  3. The steadfastness of obedience leads to honor (v. 6), praise (v. 7), perseverance (v. 8), and a continued dependence on God (v. 8).  This sounds theologically fine enough, but how is this practical?  Perhaps in this truth we find a picture of the gospel-centered life.  The heart, given by God towards obedience, seeking after Him, sustained by Him in perseverance, depends more and more on His grace.  Knowing Him more deeply in this process will lead to our praise of Him and His honoring of us—not for ourselves, but that we would not be put to shame in Him, so that His name, and His law, and the Christ who fulfilled that law, might be known as glorious.

Question:  What do you think of when you consider being blessed by God?

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I Just Lost My Job, And God Is Good

Published on September 23, 2010 by CT in Blog, News

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My wife is 8 months pregnant, we are halfway through building our first home, and I just lost my job. The news came suddenly last Thursday evening.  A short phone call with a senior partner in our firm, and quick call with HR on Friday, and I was done.  My salary, our health coverage, and a core part of my identity slipped away with the passing of the seconds from Friday to Saturday.

Having reflected on this turn of events for a few days, I am now convinced even more that God is good.  Blessing and loss exist for the glory of God, but sometimes, trials bear the greatest means for remembering the time-tested, rock-solid promises of God.  In the midst of loss, here is what I remember about my God and His word:

  1. Work is a gift from God.  God is the giver of great gifts, and one of the first gifts He gave to man was work (Genesis 2:15).  Losing a job can turn a “have to” into a “get to” in a moment, and nothing reminds us of the value of something until it is gone.
  2. His promises are true.  God commends the ant for storing up provisions in the summer (Proverbs 6:6-8).  When we follow His word, as our family has done, then we find we are not lacking during this time of winter.  God’s provision may come when there are no stores, but it may also come as the fruit of obedience.  Both are means of grace.
  3. He brings rain on the just and the unjust.  The sun and the rain rise and fall on the good and the evil (Matthew 5:45).  God extends His common grace as a gift to all His creation, so my sense of entitlement about the prosperity and stature of my work is shown to be a liar.  We are gifted and placed by the Lord for work that will bring His glory, not bring us comfort and pride.
  4. He tells us this life is a vapor.  Careers are built brick by brick.  We invest hours, and sweat, and passion, and we do well when we build them to the glory of God.  But careers are like family, and prosperity, and suffering, and fame, and success—they are all but vapors (James 4:14).  We grasp at mist when we hold too tight to anything but the firm reality of Christ.
  5. He gives and He takes away, but blessed be His name.  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return,” says Job (Job 1:21).  The covers of life that bookend our work and our passions and our pursuits have one central theme—whatever happens, whether success or failure, whether blessing or loss, comes from the hand of God, for our good, and His name is worthy to be praised.
  6. Trials heat the furnaces of our joy.  We can only “count it all joy when [we] face various trials” (James 1:2) if we value joy in God more than joy in this world.  Losing a job may be a trial, but it is also an occasion for joy because of the lasting value of what is produced in us.
  7. The testing of our faith produces endurance.  Is endurance better than a salary?  Only if we desire to “lack in nothing” (James 1:4).  Faith steps out of the stands and onto the track during times of trial, and the labor of testing produces a steadfastness that works and stretches and grows up into the powerful gait of perfection.
  8. His power is made perfect in weakness.  The shame felt in losing a job can cripple and weaken the soul.  But Christ’s power is made perfect in this kind of soul, testifying to the sufficiency of His grace.  Wherever there is loss, there also stands grace, and in this grace lies the power to boast in weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  9. He abundantly supplies our every need.  God provides, not my employer or my own strength.  God feeds my family, not my employer or my own strength.  God prepares our home, not my employer of my own strength.  In Christ are infinite riches in glory, and from them, God will meet our every need (Philippians 4:19).
  10. Contentment is better than cash.  We do well to be brought low, and to abound, to face plenty, and to face hunger, to live in abundance, or to live in need.  For all of these provide a training ground in which we learn to be content, so that we might know the power of Christ through whom we can do all things (Philippians 4:11-13).
  11. Loss of a job is the battlefield for an anxious heart.  “Do not be anxious,” Jesus tells us, because “life is more than food and clothing” (Matthew 6:25).  Seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness is a fight of faith—believing God that He knows that we need these things, and that He will add them unto us, as we pursue Him above all else.
  12. Everything is to be counted as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus.  The “surpassing worth of knowing Jesus” makes the greatest career to be rubbish (Philippians 3:8).  When God strips things from our lives, we find out what we have left, and having Jesus, and knowing Him, is worth suffering loss of any kind.
  13. The cross is weightier still.  Our work, our families, and our ministries are the fields of our lives in which we toil.  And they are good, as gifts from God, to be used to further His kingdom and bring renown to His name.  But even our greatest work doesn’t tip the scale of significance when compared to the work of Christ on the cross.  Our labor reminds us of His labor; our loss reminds us of His loss, for our gain.

I am also reminded that my loss is but a fraction of the suffering in this world, and that billions of others would call me immeasurably rich, even now.  And they would be right.  My story is no sob story of destitution, and our family will be provisioned for a time by my previous employer and our emergency funds.

But the riches I want to rest in and taste at this moment are those that can only be found in the glory of Christ.  I want to count this trial as joy, to sit in the reality of my weakness, so that I might know the strength of Christ.  And I want to proclaim to the world that God is good, that He gives and takes away, and in all this, blessed be His name!

Question:  Have you lost a job before, and how have you seen in it that God is good?

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Spiritual Botany

Published on September 7, 2010 by CT in Blog, Stories

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I attended a dying church this past Sunday.  My father was asked to preach at their service, and I decided to come hear the old man address this country church.  I knew it was a small church, but I was surprised to walk in and see about 15 people singing from the bright red hymnals in their hands.

A man in a gray suit greeted me at the door with a smile.  He said, “Are you new here?”  I thought to myself, “You know all 15 people here, right?”  But he was just being kind, and I was not, so I told him “yes,” took a bulletin, and walked in the room.

The rows of chairs were bundled into three sections.  To my right, on row 3, sat two women in their late 70s, one of whom would drift in and out of sleep throughout the service.  No one sat to my left.  In the center section, another 10 or so people were scattered among the seats.  The worship leader sat by himself on stage in front of a synthesizer.

As the service went on, I began to wonder why these people were there.  They were of very different ages, the youngest being in her early 30s and the oldest being in his 80s.  They were of different races, and they seemed to be of different backgrounds and social status.  They seemed to know each other; during the announcements, several of them talked about upcoming events with each other and the leader on stage.  But they also didn’t sit together, and I couldn’t help but wonder what draws them back week after week.

This church may or may not be dying.  But I was more struck by the metaphor to our own lives of faith.  Our faith is a growing one, where God is continually conforming us into the image of His Son.  And if we are to be growing kinds of people, then we need to understand a few things about our spiritual botany:

  1. God gives the growth.  Someone once planted the gospel seed in our life, and someone else watered, but God is the one who gives the growth.  We can, and should, plead with Him to grant us the grace each day to grow, but we must continue to put our faith in a God who is accomplishing the good work He started in each of us.
  2. Ritual can destroy growth.  Gardeners will tell us that the ground must be tilled at times, and replanted at times, and laid bare at times.  Planting and watering in the same way over and over may work for a while, but it will eventually destroy the ground.  Sometimes, dying churches slowly fade away because they cling to their rituals rather than Jesus.  And sometimes, dying souls slowly fade away because they cling to their rituals rather than Jesus.
  3. Isolation inhibits growth.  We are like plants that wither alone but flourish together.  The Christian life was never meant to be lived in isolation; we are a body that works together under the head of Christ.  If our experience at church is limited to coming and sitting and never engaging with the body around us, we will likely wither over time.

May we be a people who understand the botany of our souls, who look to the creator and giver of spiritual nourishment, so that we might grow up into Him, bearing much fruit for His glory and our joy.

Question:  Where is God growing you at this moment?

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