Writing As a Ministry

Published on June 1, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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My friend Ed Cyzewski recently wrote a blog series on Writing As a Ministry, and he asked me if I would share a few thoughts on this well, which I’m more than happy to oblige.  As a reader, you may also be a writer, or you may be a mom, or a pastor, or in business, or a carpenter, or a student, or any number of occupations.  But I invite you to consider why you do what you do and whether you consider what you do as a ministry or not.

I would love to say that I write books and this blog purely as a ministry.  I would love to say that because I desire for this to be my heart’s deepest desire.  What I can honestly say is that I write in order to:

  • Be affirmed
  • Express a gift
  • Force myself to think more deeply about daily life
  • Prove I have something worth saying, or prove I am valuable because of what I do
  • Attempt to know more of God
  • Share ways in which the gospel touches our daily lives
  • Satisfy my ego
  • Proclaim Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings
  • Feel important or impactful

You will notice a mix of pride-filled motives and grace-filled motives in this list.  My confession to God is that I am not ready to fully submit my writing to Him and His purposes alone, and my prayer is that He will help me remove my own selfish motives and replace them with His motives instead.

With that being said, writing (or _____) as a ministry is a worthy pursuit.  We probably shouldn’t go much further in this before understanding what the Scriptures have to say about ministry in general.  What follow are a few examples from God’s word:

  • The apostles viewed their primary ministry as ministers of the word (Acts 6:4)
  • Paul considers us as ambassadors for Christ, or ministers with a message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18, 20)
  • God gave gifts to His people in order to equip them for the work of ministry, for building up His church (Ephesians 4:11-12)
  • Paul assumed Timothy had a ministry which needed to be “fulfilled” (2 Timothy 4:5)
  • Jesus obtained a ministry of His own which he appeared once for all at the end of the ages as a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 8:6, 9:26)

So what can we say about ministry, and how does this impact our own ministries in turn?

  1. Ministry is others-oriented.  The apostles ministered the word to others, the saints are equipped for ministry to others, and Christ’s ministry saves sinners.  Our ministry must continually be self-denying and others-focused.
  2. Ministry comes with a gift.  God is the giver of gifts to His people in order that they may use them to build up His church.  Finding our ministry means discovering and using these gifts in order to build up the body in love and grow in maturity in Christ.
  3. Ministry is a call.  Timothy had a ministry which he needed to fulfill.  God had prepared good works for Timothy to walk in, and He has done the same for us as well.  Being an effective minister means asking God to lead us into these good works.
  4. Ministry requires prioritization. We may be able to minister in many ways, but we should follow the example of the apostles and consider before God where our gifts may bear the most fruit.
  5. Ministry is sacrificial.  Ministry means giving, and giving means sacrificing.  Jesus gave of Himself to obtain His ministry of mediation, and we must give of ourselves in order to obtain the fruit of our own ministries.  We don’t minister to gain; we minister to give.
  6. Ministry exists to glorify God. Jesus’ ministry on the earth, on the cross, and in the Father’s presence exists in order to bring glory to Himself and to the Father (John 17:1-5).  As all things exist for Him (Colossians 1:16), and since we are to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), let us embrace the sacrificial, others-oriented ministries of our gifts in order to magnify the glory of our God.

Question:  How do you think about your own ministry?

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To Will or Not to Will

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

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I love books.  Books allow us to enter the hearts and minds of others with different experiences in different times and think our own thoughts through theirs.  Sometimes we find words that we’ve felt but could not describe; other times we’re faced with thoughts we’ve never thought before.

I’ve been reading The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink (1886-1952), and the book is giving me a lot to think about.  Pink speaks with the royal, editorial “we,” which is always a good time.  But he is also diving deep into the nature of God as revealed within the Bible and painting a portrait of the way man respond to this sort of revelation.

Here’s one section I’ve been wrestling with:

“What is the human Will?  Is it a self-determining agent, or is it, in turn, determined by something else?  Is it sovereign or servant?  Is the will superior to every other faculty of our being so that it governs them, or is it moved by their impulses and subject to their pleasure?  Does the will rule the mind, or the mind control the will?  Is the will free to do as it pleases, or is it under the necessity of rending obedience to something outside of itself.”

He goes on to say:

“The will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action…In every act of will, there is preference—the desiring of one thing rather than another…To will is to choose, and to choose is to decide between alternatives.  But there is something which influences the choice; something which determines the decision.”

Ultimately, Pink says it is the heart which is at the core of humans and that the heart is inclined towards good or evil.  This inclination, or tendency, drives the impulse which guides the will in choosing what it chooses.  He builds on the notion that the will is bound, either by sin, or by righteousness.

So what do you think about all this?  And should we care?

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As Prejudice Gives Way

Published on May 24, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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I recently watched this video from a generation past about prejudice.  Teacher Jane Elliot used a simple experiment with the students in her classroom to teach them about the nature and consequence of bias, and the results of her experiment were shocking in one sense and not surprising in another.  You will watch this video and be stunned by the speed with which the prejudice of the human heart is revealed.

This is a video worth watching for a number of reasons:

  1. It makes its point in parable, and powerfully so, which delivers the message straight to the heart.
  2. It awakens hearts that are numb to bias in all its perilous forms.
  3. It begs for a resolution (racial reconciliation) which points us to a greater reality (spiritual reconciliation)

I find it helpful to remember this video was shot during a different time in a different culture.  But I also know the prejudice we see released within these kids is the kind of prejudice that persists even to today.

Being part of the majority culture must certainly obscure my view of the continuing racial divide that exists in our country and around the world.  And racial prejudice is not the only kind of prejudice that plagues our people today.  We are a people of bias, and we seem to seek out any opportunity to create division where unity should exist.  We categorize others in our minds based on gender, denomination, theology, religion, race, intelligence, economic status, or national affinity.  Put simply, we are a divided people.

Our hearts may cry for unity across all of humanity—to see divides between color and creed and class to fall by the wayside and be replaced by a highway of harmony that cross all nations and all barriers.  And in one sense, we should seek for unity and pray for peace when we see them fall victim to the evils of prejudice.  But in another sense, we strive in vain when we try to build bridges that don’t acknowledge the very work of division God is bringing about in our world.

When Jesus says, “Do you think I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division,” we find Him revealing a part of His core mission:  to redeem a people for Himself from out of every family, community, and nation.  God’s redemptive purposes are not confined to a nation, or a color, or anything we as humans can touch or see.  God’s redemptive purposes are predicated by His own counsel and the “secrets of men” (Romans 2:16)—namely, the condition of their hearts.

God means for unity to exist within His church at the cost of discord within the world.  But God’s kind of discord is not our kind of discord.  God does not judge men based on the color of their skin, but rather on the condition of their heart.

Since God does not judge men based on the color of their skin, neither should we.  Since God shows “no partiality” (Romans 2:11), neither should we.  When Paul says God shows no partiality, he reinforces what Moses wrote in Genesis 1:27 and what Luke wrote in Acts 17:26:  That all men, irrespective of ethnicity, are made in the image of God.  This should immediately put to rest any notion that the value of a human can be determined by something other than their humanity.

This is not to say distinctives are not necessary, or even good, particularly as we strive to preserve the purity of the gospel in a world that would cloud it with all kinds of debris.  We do not serve God well when we act as if truth should be comprised as a result of our own inclination towards sin.  But where we allow our distinctives to influence our view of the inherent worth of others, we go too far.

In all this, I’m reminded of a few important truths:

  1. It is not ours to judge others, even as we judge righteously (see John 7:24).
  2. Reconciliation begins with humility, and humility begins with submission to God.
  3. God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.
  4. All things, including racial discord, racial harmony, spiritual division, and spiritual unity exist for Jesus to make manifest His glory.

So we should strive for racial reconciliation and denominational reconciliation and ethnic reconciliation where we see the division created by men and not God.  But these goals are penultimate, not ultimate.  What is ultimate is the glory God receives when we demonstrate the ultimate value and worth of Christ in how we love others irrespective of color or class or creed and when we carry forward His great gospel to every color, class, and creed.

Question:  What impact have you seen bias have in your own life?

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Have you ever practiced something for 24 years before realizing you’re still not very good at it? If it were golf, I would have sold the clubs in a garage sale for $15 years ago.  If it were guitar, I would have long since burned my Takamine in a men’s retreat campfire.  Yet I’ve been practicing prayer for more than two decades, and I’m amazed at how little I still know of this discipline.

We can think of this kind of practicing from another perspective. Can you imagine being a coach of someone for 24 years who remains woefully ineffective at your craft?  Suppose you were the golf or guitar instructor—how many years could you endure with a student who could never seem to get it right?

Prayer is God’s kind of craft, because prayer only happens when God is involved.  Speaking to the air is not prayer if the speaking is not directed the God who listens for the prayers of His people.  Listening to the silence is not prayer if the listening is not tuned to hear the voice of a God who speaks in the quiet places.

So while my slice is still in place, and my bar chords are still not strong, and my prayer life still lacks discipline, our God has been gracious to teach me the baby steps of prayer with the patience and care of a doting father and a devoted coach.  Another lesson came this morning through Hebrews 4.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us to “draw near [with confidence] to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  Here are 7 observations to encourage us to persevere in our practice of prayer.

  1. Drawing near means actively coming before God.  If we were to enter the throne room of a king, we would have to deliberately and physically bring our bodies before the king because we had a request to make of him.  I can’t say how many times I lament my ineffective prayer life without failing to see how many times I fail to physically bring my body before God in prayer.
  2. Drawing near with confidence is no small matter.  For subjects of the kings of old, to approach the throne without being summoned was to invite certain death.  You may recall Queen Esther’s boldness:  “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).  Of course, Esther’s confidence came from her trust in the sovereignty of God over life and death, and our confidence comes because we rest in the advocacy of a great High Priest who is perfect and is sovereign over life and death.
  3. Drawing near with confidence to the throne means drawing near a throne.  Where God is seated.  God.  Who created and upholds all things by the power of His word.  And we are approaching His throne to stand in the immediacy of His glory-filled presence, and all of His attention is on our lips to hear a request He already knows.  This is stunning.
  4. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace means this throne is unlike any other kind of throne.  Many kings have been vicious tyrants; some others have been benefactors.  But there is no throne upon which a mortal king has sat that can be called a throne of grace.  Our God is so bent towards grace that He seats Himself upon it and surrounds Himself by it.  His throne alone is a throne of grace.
  5. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy may seem a paradox.  A guilty man coming before a king to beg for mercy does not come with confidence; he comes with wobbly knees and a trembling voice.  But the promise we have in drawing near the throne of grace with the advocacy of our perfect High Priest allows us the freedom to expect mercy when we come.
  6. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace means the God who seats himself upon a throne of grace offers grace to us as well.  He is the source of this grace but does not hoard it.  He means not only to give us grace but for us to find it as well.  When we seek at the throne of grace, we find what we are seeking.
  7. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need means the grace we find when we approach the throne of God, with confidence, finding mercy, is the kind of grace that is meant to help us.  His grace not only forgives; it enables.  It not only absolves sin; it sustains.  And this kind of grace is the kind of grace that addresses all kinds of needs because it is a grace from a God who is sovereign over all things.

Praise be to God for the instruction of his word and the patience with which He teaches us! And let us continue to practice prayer, with steadfastness and perseverance, because we serve a great Coach and a mighty King who invites us to enter His throne room with confidence wrought by faith in the God-man who perfected prayer:  Jesus.

Question:  What has God taught you about the practice of prayer?

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Board Games Make Me Sin

Published on May 3, 2010 by CT in Blog, Stories

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This past weekend was my wife’s birthday.  Her favorite kind of birthday party is one in which she hosts her friends, so that’s what we did on Saturday.  We held the party at my brother’s house, and Anna cooked her amazing enchiladas, and many of our friends, mostly married couples, came over to celebrate.

Christian, married couples play games; I think that’s part of being married.  I think these games must be social lubricant for a bunch of couples that don’t go out and party anymore.  We brought Apples to Apples and Taboo, and both saw a little action.  Apples to Apples is essentially an individual game, and for Taboo, we went guys vs. girls.

Everyone had a good time, and the night ended well, with my brother emerging as the victor in A2A and the girls triumphing in Taboo.  But it was interesting to notice the hearts on display throughout the night:  Lying, cheating, accusing, over-competitiveness, self-justifying, holding grudges, incredulity, boasting.  And that was just me.  The list makes it sounds much worse than it seemed.  Most of these were masked in laughter or sarcasm and seemed harmless at the time.

Here’s what the people in the room may have seen from me that night:

  • Playfully making a case to bend the rules in my favor but not others
  • Mock indignation told through jokes
  • A friendly sense of competition

Here’s what God saw in my heart:

  • Hypocrisy
  • Pride
  • Desire to exalt myself

We know that the inward workings of the heart are the source for the outward workings of our bodies.  Or to say this another way:  our motives drive our actions.  When we sin, we often focus on the external sin itself rather than considering the heart motive that led us into sin.  We see the fruit, whether good or bad, without considering the root.  But we’re blind to these motives and impotent at uprooting the dead roots on our own.

Fortunately, God does see and God does show.  “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  His word pierces and discerns and reveals the thoughts and intentions of the heart that we would never see.  Our only chance to sever the root of sin is to see our hearts as God sees them and put our faith in His power to destroy the evil He reveals.

This is not a passive action; the writer to the Hebrews says we should “strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11), which is consistent with “work[ing] out our salvation (Philippians 2:12).  And putting our faith in God is active as well.  But Paul gives us the key to actively persevering in righteousness:  “…for it is God who works in you” (Philippians 2:13).

So games are mirrors for our hearts, as are relationships, as are many other things in our lives.  But the best mirror is the word of God which penetrates the impenetrable, making known to us what is seen by the God who sees all things, so we can repent and He can purify a heart that is already free from condemnation but one which needs regular cleansing.

Ultimately, we’re not quitting games; there’s nothing wrong with the games themselves.  But next time, I will put my faith in a God who will reveal the thoughts and intentions of my heart so that they, and my actions, might honor Him.

Question:  What sins do you see surfacing when you compete?

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Something For Nothing

Published on April 26, 2010 by CT in Blog, Theology

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What shall I do to inherit eternal life?

This is the kind of question that is a primary question.  We have many questions in life, but only a few are primary.  This is one of those questions.

If our lives are but vapors, and if the choices we make in this life—the primary kind of choices related to the primary kinds of questions—have eternal consequences, then above all else, we need to be firmly settled in what we believe, and how we relate, to these kinds of questions.

You may be like me, and at some point in the past, you’ve said to your friend or spouse or parent that you have a question for God.  Maybe it’s a question to settle an argument, or a question about life’s purpose, or a question about why God did or did not do something in your life.  And you imagine yourself standing before God with the chance to ask your question.

A lawyer in the first century got to do just that.  His question was:  “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25).  And Jesus answered him, in so many words, by saying he must love God and love his neighbor perfectly.

This answer presented a huge problem for the lawyer—and presents a huge problem for us today—because none of us love God or love our neighbors perfectly.  Here is where we desperately need the gospel.  But the lawyer’s response didn’t probe Jesus’ words to find the gospel.  He instead sought to justify himself (vs. 29), asking who his neighbor was, and in doing so, fell short of gospel soil.

Jesus, as He did with the woman at the well, met this man where he was, inviting him further into the conversation.  And He told this amazing story of the good Samaritan in response to the man’s question (vss. 30-37).

As we read this story, we should keep in mind that Jesus is answering the question:  “Who is my neighbor?” But more specifically, he is answering the question:  “What does it mean to love my neighbor?”  Or to say it another way, “How is the sacrificial, giving nature of love put on display towards others?”

When we see the question posed in this way, we will find that there are at least four different kinds of exchanges going on—the kind where love is properly or improperly used as the basis for the exchange.

  1. Nothing for something.  The thieves on the road to Jericho befall this man, beat him, strip him, and leave him for dead.  They give nothing and take something from the traveler.  They do not love him in the way that consuming does not love.
  2. Nothing for nothing.  The priest and the Levite pass by the man on the road.  They may have felt they had good reasons for not stopping, but they give nothing and take nothing from the traveler.  They do not love in the way that ignoring does not love.
  3. Something for something.  The innkeeper cares for the injured traveler, likely nursing him back to health.  There is a sense of compassion in this act, but he does so because he is asked, and paid, to do so.  He gives something to the traveler because he receives something in return.  He does not love in the way that bartering does not love.
  4. Something for nothing.  The good Samaritan stops, dresses the man’s wounds, takes him to safety, and pays for his care.  He gives something to the traveler but receives nothing in return.  He loves in the way that freely giving loves.

Jesus commends the good Samaritan because of the way he loved his neighbor—the traveler he had never met and did not know.  He teaches us to love in this kind of way because this is a love that freely gives without expectation of return.  We shouldn’t draw from this that we never receive blessing back from God when we freely give this kind of love, but we should see the others-oriented, freely-given kind of love that is put on display as a model for the kind of love that, in fact, gains us eternal life, although it may not be our love by which we profit.

We recognize this when we see the story is not entirely about the good Samaritan, nor is it entirely about giving.  It is also about the traveler, and it is also about receiving.  This man was as good as dead but received mercy and life from a man he did not know.  The traveler himself received something for nothing.

This is grace, is it not? This is the gospel.  We receive something—a glorious something, a glorious everything—for nothing.  We owe God nothing as payment for grace.

So, in light of the glory of the gospel, may we be good Samaritans, not only to those in need on the side of the road, but to everyone we encounter each day, with an others-orientation that seeks to give freely without an expectation of due payment.  And may we also recognize we are the traveler, having received a gift of grace from a God who gives freely, and liberally, without demanding payment in return.  When we truly, deeply receive this kind of grace, we will find our hearts transformed so that we in turn give freely and offer all we have, and all we are, to the One who stopped by the roadside for each of us.

*I have borrowed the framework (i.e. something, nothing) for looking at each character in this parable from Pastor Mike Minter.

Question:  Which kind of exchange do you find yourself making most often?

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What Advice Would You Give To New Parents?

Published on April 19, 2010 by CT in Blog, Questions

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I am a father, but I have yet to meet my child. I almost wrote “I am going to be a father,” because that is how I tend to think about my wife’s pregnancy.  My wife, Anna, is 12 weeks along, and we’ve just announced this great news to our friends and family.  You are part of that extended network, so I wanted you to know as well and to ask for your help.

When I say I tend to think about my wife’s pregnancy a certain way, I mean to say that I find it hard to put my mind around this miracle before I can put my hands around this miracle.  Fatherhood is not yet part of my identity, and I wonder at this great act of God:  How can nothing become something?  Or to ask the question another way:  How can it be that God would use us in His very act of creating something from nothing?

Our child, who was once nothing, is now an immortal soul who will spend eternity in or out of God’s blessed presence.  And that is a life-changing, mind-blowing, soul-stunning reality.  This new person has been made for the glory of God, and we pray already that this child will be formed into a vessel for God’s mercy.  By God’s grace, we will raise this child in a covenant community that is committed to instruction in the way of the Lord, and we recognize that we may plant or water, but God will give the growth.

Since all of life exists for Jesus, we can see the picture being painted over this chapter of our lives.  God is now working by grace to prepare this child for the day of birth; so too does God’s Spirit work to prepare our hearts for spiritual birth.  In six months, this child’s eyes will be opened to the bright wonders of a new reality; so too are our eyes opened to the brilliance of new life in Christ.  So we embrace the wonder of the deeper meaning behind the joy of this present reality.

Anna and I have all of the questions new parents must have as well as all the insecurities.  We don’t feel prepared and know we likely never feel ready for this great stewardship.  But we are unabashedly overjoyed about meeting this new soul God deemed fit to create and lend to our care while we have breath.

We also both recognize we are part of a global community of believers who worship the one true God, and we join with the untold millions who have walked before us in life and faith and raised children to bring glory to our God.  Would that we had the ability to weigh all of the collective wisdom of this great remnant to prepare our hearts, souls, and minds for this great undertaking.  So we thought we would start with you.

My question for you is simple:  What advice would you offer us in raising this child to love the Lord?

Please pass this question along to others as well.  May God grant us great measures of wisdom through all who respond!

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7 Reasons To Love Tax Week

Published on April 12, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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This is a week which has loomed large each year since 1955, when Congress moved the filing deadline for tax returns to its current date.  April 15 holds a prominent place on our calendars, but this day is not always the highlight of our year.  The conscientious among us filed their taxes months ago and think nothing of this week.  But for the procrastinators in our midst, this week promises late nights, scores of Google searches, and more than a few “can you believe…” questions to our husbands and wives.

But “all things were created for [Jesus]…that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:16, 18).  This “everything” includes our money, and the IRS, and Tax Week, which means that even this week exists to make Jesus look glorious.

So here are seven reasons to love Tax Week, for His glory and our great joy:

  1. We’re reminded to render to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar and to God what belongs to God.  Proverbs 3:9 tells us to “honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce,” so paying our taxes reminds us we should be giving to God first.  But Jesus would have us consider a more important question—what belongs to God that we should render unto Him?  When we realize the answer is “everything,” we can then see that submitting a portion of our income to our government reminds us to submit all we have, and all we are, to our King.
  2. We’re reminded that God places rules and authorities over us for our good.  Paul instructs us in this way:  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God…therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God” (Romans 13:1, 5-6).  So when we pay taxes, we acknowledge God’s ultimate authority over all things.
  3. We’re reminded that the government blesses generosity—but God blesses it more.  “Give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).  The government doesn’t tax the money we give away, so we end up getting a return on our charity.  But God’s return, whether material or spiritual in nature, is far greater—packed tightly, running over, with liberal abundance, echoing His dispensation of grace to His beloved children.
  4. We’re reminded that integrity pays dividends. God tells us that “wealth gained by fraud will dwindle” (Proverbs 13:11), and “whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household” (Proverbs 15:27).  Most of us have the opportunity to cheat on our taxes.  We may not be involved in a large, devious scheme; we may just find the chance to not report some income or overstate some deduction.  But what price will we place on our integrity?  The way that is right before God is the way that will bear the most fruit.
  5. We’re reminded that money is the smallest of things.  Jesus tells us:  “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much…if then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Luke 16:10-11).  As disciples of Jesus, our desire is for the true riches of heaven, and we recognize two things about our money:  our money itself is temporal in nature, but our use of it has eternal consequences.
  6. We’re reminded of where our treasure is.  We know Jesus’ words:  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  But we may find ourselves forgetting this truth at tax time, when owing additional money can be cause for anxiousness and getting a refund can be cause for unhealthy celebration.  We do well to imitate Paul’s heart of contentment when he says:  “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound…I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).  Whether facing the temptation to not trust God to provide in a time of need or to not depend on God in a time of abundance, Christ alone is our strength.
  7. We’re reminded that Jesus loves tax collectors.  “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).  Let’s be honest—we’ve all thought at some point that the IRS is a group of heartless mercenaries bent on sapping the country dry of its money.  But Jesus called Matthew from his tax booth, and He went into the home of a notorious tax collector, Zacchaeus, bringing salvation with Him.  If Jesus loves tax collectors, we should as well.

So Tax Week is fruitful for remembering.  Instead of spending our week as reluctant tax-paying malcontents, let us embrace this time as an opportunity to demonstrate the sufficient worth and all-satisfying treasure that Jesus is to us, and in doing so, we will reflect back the glory of His preeminence over all things.

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Now What?

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

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Good Friday and Easter combine to create an emotional roller coaster of faith packed into a single weekend. Reflection upon Good Friday can bring darkness, conviction, grief, introspection, gratitude, and worship. And reflection upon Easter can bring wonder, fear, faith, hope, exhilaration, trembling, and deep joy. These days are two sides of a single coin of faith, one rooted in belief in a God who holds power over sin and death, for our sake and His glory.

But the depths and heights of these emotions cannot be sustained over life’s journey; there are plains among the valleys and peaks. This is why we remember these things regularly in communion, preaching, and days of remembrance. So we may find ourselves wondering how we should continue in Christian living following a weekend of such magnitude.

But we don’t need to wonder for long when we have God’s word to guide us. As disciples of Jesus today, we can always look back to His first disciples as examples of what to do, and what not to do, in the weeks following Holy Week. Although we have the benefit of hindsight to know how the story ends, we can still find ourselves in their sandals in many ways. As we consider their example, we may find ourselves:

1. Worshipping Jesus“And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him” (Matthew 28:9).

Truly understanding and believing that Jesus rose from dead will lead to worship, for there is no one in heaven or on earth like Him.

2. Dealing with slander“[The elders] said, ‘Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’’” (Matthew 28:13).

Easter may arouse worship among followers of Jesus, but it may also arouse ridicule from scoffers and skeptics. We are a strange people, orienting ourselves around a God-man who is said to have risen from the dead, and the folly of the cross creates disbelief in the power of the resurrection. Sometimes, even those closest to us may grieve our hearts as they mock the roots and object of our faith.

3. Doubting “So the other disciples told [Thomas], ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails…and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).

Faith doesn’t erase all doubts; it erases our penalty for sin. We are not a perfect people when we first believe, and God will grow us into Christ-likeness in a thousand different ways. Those among us who are skeptics at heart may find ourselves reflecting on Holy Week and asking ourselves, “Do I really, actually, truly believe this story?” When we encounter these kinds of questions, it’s good to ask Jesus to meet us in our moments of doubt. After all, He did not scold Thomas; he came wounded, inviting him to believe.

4. Finding wonder in the word“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” (Luke 24:32).

The Scriptures are a limitless mine for amazement at the majesty of God in weaving a narrative across geography, people, time, and genre into a tapestry that reveals a detailed portrait of Jesus. Studying this word, meditating on it, memorizing it, hiding it in our hearts are gateways to wonder.

5. Receiving a commission from Jesus “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

“[Jesus] said to [Peter], “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep…follow me” (John 21:15-17, 19).

The Great Commission is for the Church, and as members of that Church, it is for us. But we’re also part of one body, and each of us has a specific role to play, so our means for fulfilling the Great Commission may look different from one another. Being close to Jesus will bring us our own small commissions to do this or that and follow Him.

6. Going back to work “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing…’ When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord…he threw himself into the sea [and swam to shore]” (John 21:3, 7).

There’s a kind of joy that comes from the brokenness of Good Friday and a kind of joy that comes from the hope-filled wonder of Easter. But then there is Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and the next week, and the week after that. The routine of life soon reemerges to confront our time of reflection. But Jesus will show up in the midst of our daily routines, and we do well to throw ourselves into His presence as He reveals Himself to us.

So what do we do after Holy Week? We continue our mission of being and making disciples of Jesus, living in community with one another, confronting our fears and doubts with the power of the word, being firmly rooted in faith that is made possible by God’s work on the cross, in hope made possible by God’s work in the tomb, and in love that is expressed by daily obedience to the word of Christ. We honor the glory of Christ in celebrating His death on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday, but we also honor Him in our daily steps of obedience on Monday.

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I Am A Thief

Published on April 2, 2010 by CT in Blog, Poetry

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A meditation in poem on Good Friday (Matthew 27, Luke 23).

The morning came before sleep,
My eyes held open in hazy fear,
Body tense, and spirit quenched,
Fists holding tightly to nothing,
As if time could be restrained in the palm of my hand.

Death was in the air, and coming for me.
My sentence ringing in my ears,
As the bell of my fate chimed clear within,
The loneliness that filled my heart surpassed only by
The anger I felt for my lot in life.

“You are a thief,” came a voice from inside,
“But you don’t deserve this,” and I believed the voice.
I stole, but I am more than a thief. I am a man,
A good man, not perfect, but good,
And not deserving of this fate.

The voice grew quieter, whispering in faint tones,
But vanished as the locks cracked,
And the guards came to bring us into the light,
Where we would begin the long, slow walk,
Into the dawn that would end with our dusk.

We joined the procession behind the man,
Who was always surrounded by crowds,
Pressing ‘round to see or to touch.
Some watching, some shouting,
Others mocking, others weeping.

He first, another behind,
And me, watching and wondering at this strange scene.
A man of God, this prophet, this teacher,
Now condemned to die
Like a common criminal.

We came to the place they had prepared
For three criminals to be hung,
As symbols of justice,
And targets for insult,
And warnings to all who would see and would hear.

I watched as they laid him upon the wood,
My eyes turning as they readied his hands,
And listened as the hammer struck nail,
Piercing silence and flesh, the sound mixing
With the groan that arose from the crowd.

My eyes followed his as they raised him high
His, never rising, mine, never blinking
And the voice inside whispered softly
To pity him, no, to despise him,
Though I know not why.

I looked aside to see the cross
That would ferry me through final breaths
To the end that had filled my thoughts for days.
I felt hands moving me forward,
My steps and my heart both pounding in fear.

Time seemed to stop, or moved quickly forward,
Interrupted by pain that should have been sharp,
But one dulled by the daze
Of heat and sweat and tears
And sounds of the ropes and the groans of the soldiers below.

Then sky turned to horizon, and horizon to earth,
And earth to the eyes I could see
Now fixed on the man hanging at my side.
And I heard them whisper in one another’s ears,
The murmuring broke finally by a shout.

“Come down,” one cried, “If you are God’s Son.”
And the silence that held court that morning,
Became laughter and spite as their boldness grew firm.
“He saved others, but he can’t save himself,”
Nails meant to pierce not hands but his soul.

Their words met my heart in an angry embrace,
And the voice inside became words on my tongue
As I joined in the chorus that continued to rise,
To his right, to his left, and below,
Whilst above, there was but silence.

We mocked and we spit and we cried,
Because of how it made us feel:
Powerful, whole, and right.
This man who claimed things no man should claim,
Now no better than a thief.

But then darkness came,
First to the sky, then to my soul,
As my waning thoughts and breath,
Were quickened by the fear and dread,
Not of death, but of my sin.

I saw my own soul, dead, in the ground,
The reward of my deeds was mine.
And this man I had mocked by my side,
Reaching to take my hand,
Leaning down to breathe upon my face.

I turned my gaze anew to this man.
“Jesus,” I cried. “Remember me!”
And He turned His head as my soul arose,
His gaze meeting mine as new light poured like living water,
Giving strength within as my body grew weak.

There was now something different, marvelously different.
I thought He may have changed,
Or perhaps it was me,
Once seeing a man upon a cross,
And now seeing my sin upon this cross.

I watched Him dying, and I heard Him cry out,
Not like the sound of a man or a beast,
But an anguish that could come only
From the throat of a god whose very soul
Bends beneath the weight of the world.

This was a cry that changes the world,
Where dead men are raised and rocks are split,
Where mortal earth cries out
As the divine tears in two for the briefest of moments,
When sinners are made right with a holy God.

My own darkness soon came, but before it did,
I saw the truth that my eyes had not seen.
I am a thief, but one loved.
And darkness came, and then light,
And I saw Him again, now forever His.

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God Spoke To Me This Very Morning

Published on March 29, 2010 by CT in Blog, Stories

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Do you believe God can speak to you today—actually speak directly to you? I have a lot of questions for God, and I’ve been waiting to hear from Him for a while now, so I have had my doubts.  There’s even some deeper theology in this question in whether or not the canon of Scripture, which is closed, sufficiently speaks for God today.

You may have had a similar experience of wanting to hear from God, or wanting to know God’s will for your life in a certain situations, all the while experiencing the loneliness and doubt of His great silence.

I think I would have said that God has spoken to me before; in fact, I’ve written about the time I felt as if God called my cell phone at 4:30am and another time when I felt as if He woke me up in the middle of the night because He had a job for me to do.  But I also had some doubts about those experiences, wondering if I was reading too much into what might have been simple coincidences.

God spoke to John Piper on March 19, 2007.  Piper wrote about this experience two days later, and I just read through it a few weeks ago.  His testimony has been ringing in my head since I first read it—the reason being that I have been waiting to hear from God for years, and I figured if He’s speaking to Piper and others, then why not me?

Then came this morning.  God spoke to me—clearly, unequivocally, personally—and I want to share the story with you.

Here’s a little context first.  My wife and I recently moved to Northern Virginia to be near family and discover our mission in this region.  We have also been making plans to build our first home on a large conservancy lot in the area, a lot that happens to be next door to where my brother and parents will be building their homes.  This may all sound great, and it is, but I’ve been wrestling with these plans for a year and a half now.

I have been budgeting and saving for a house since I was 12 years old.  My wife and I have also committed to try to give generously to God and live debt-free in the process, even for a house.  But we’re now finally in a position to be able to buy a home.  We’ve seen God lead us to move clear across the country when we didn’t expect to do so.  We’ve also been gifted the land for the home, which is one of the reasons our plan is even possible.  My occupation has uniquely allowed us to be in a position to make these plans a reality.  So there are all sorts of good reasons for us to look at this situation and say that God’s hand has been guiding it.

But to be honest, I’ve been struggling with it.  I tend to equate spirituality with poverty or generosity, such that giving is always necessarily better than saving or spending.  I acknowledge God owns all we have, and that He can direct us to use His money as He sees fit, and that He can bless good stewards both spiritually and materially, and that He means for us to use what He’s given us to meet the needs of our families and the needs of others, but I just couldn’t believe God would want us to drop the amount of cash needed to build a home in this area of the country.

I’ve even wondered if God was giving me the opportunity to build this house, or to not build this house, and the former was good while the latter was better.  I imagined coming before God in eternity and discovering that I could have summoned my own courage to go against the conventional wisdom, to ignore the circumstances in our life, to go against the counsel of my wife and my parents, and to make a decision to be sacrificial in spite of it all.  And this was my greatest fear—that I would let the chance to do something great for God slip by.

I recently had another conversation with my parents about all of this, and I found myself struggling with these thoughts more deeply.  So last night, just before I fell asleep, I begged Jesus:  Please tell me what you want us to do with this house.

All this brings us back to this morning, when my phone rang at 3:30am.  I woke up disoriented, finally reaching for the phone but answering it too late.  My first thought was to wonder if God was trying to get my attention.  So I sat up for a moment, looked down at my phone, and wondered who it was that had called.

That’s when I heard God’s voice.  Not audibly.  But clearly.  “If my people humble themselves and pray…”

That’s all God said to me.  It was clear and crisp, as if the breaking sunlight at dawn could speak.  It sounded out of still darkness, and I felt as if these words were familiar.  I suspected it was a passage from Scripture, but I didn’t know where to find it or what the context was.  I thought about these words for a moment—perhaps God meant for me to pray.  I know I have been avoiding any meaningful sort of prayer for over a year now, so I thought God was encouraging me to pray more.  I considered getting up to go pray in the other room, but then the skeptic within me awoke.

I glanced back at my phone, wondering who might have been calling, and redialed the number.  It was Delta Airlines.  So I checked my flight status and found out my morning flight was going to be delayed.  There it was—a completely rational explanation.  I thought I was overanalyzing this whole God-speaking-to-me thing, and I realized I could lay back down and perhaps pray quietly to myself while I went back to sleep.

But the moment my head hit the pillow and my eyelids shut, the phone rang again.  I accepted the hint this time to get my lazy body out of bed.  So I got up quietly, grabbed my Bible, sat on the couch, and tried to find out whether or not the thought that came to mind was actually from Scripture.

That’s when I came across 2 Chronicles 7.

Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land…For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there…“But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight… (vss. 12a, 14, 16, 19, 20a)

These words were alive.  “I have heard your prayer.”  “I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there.”  They leapt off the page and went deep within my spirit to awaken a sense of wonder.  I wasn’t aware of time passing; only joy.  The God of the Bible, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of David and Solomon, the God of Peter, and John, and Paul, this same God was answering my prayer, and He was speaking His word to do it.  I’ve always heard the word is alive, but I can now testify that this is true.  Gloriously true!

But there was a sense of fear in the midst of the joy.  “If you turn aside and forsake my commandments, I will pluck you from the land I have given you.”  God was telling me in no uncertain terms:  I have chosen this house, but do not turn aside from me.  Never, Lord; may it never be so!  But far greater men have failed to keep these sorts of vows to God, so who am I to consider myself worthy to remain faithful?

I know God speaks to us today.  I feel silly even making a big deal out of this, because buying a house is a small matter in His great story, but this was an issue deep within my spirit that He needed to address.  I also understand the need for contextual interpretation, and you may want to point out that 2 Chronicles is talking about the temple of the living God, not a house in Northern Virginia, and that the temple of the living God today is actually the believer, not a house in Northern Virginia.  Some may even want to say that even Satan has used Scripture to speak to God’s people.  But context is primarily concerned with interpretation, not illumination, and Satan used Scripture in opposition to God’s word, not to encourage faithfulness.

I suspect God communicates extra-Biblically as well, but I now know the primacy He has placed on his written word.  The Bible is not simply a book anymore—like all the others on my shelf—something that is worth reading at times.  It is God’s book, and He means to speak to us, truly speak to us, through it.

I figure if God and I are now talking, then I’m going to get all my questions answered.  But I suspect this will not be the case, and that a time will soon come where I feel God is silent and distant once more.  But I hope to look at this passage that will go on my wall and remember that God still does speak today—personally, vividly—through His word, and that I can go there to meet with Him whenever I want.

When we have questions for God, may we find ourselves on our knees, patiently asking Him for answers, buried deep within His word, where His Spirit will reveal to us the deep things of God—deep things that will speak of His character and nature and great love for us, but also deep things that sometimes answer the small, silly questions that grip us so tightly.

Question:  Do you believe God still speaks today?

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10 Questions About Love

Published on March 26, 2010 by CT in Blog, Questions

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My wife and I are part of this great community group in Nova through our church.  Tomorrow night, we’ll be facilitating the group’s study and discussion of 1 Corinthians 13–the famous love chapter in the Bible.  I’ve posed the following questions to the group.  But then I remembered this whole online thing is about community in a different way, so I thought I’d pose these to you as well.

If you will, pick a question, ask God for guidance, and give us your best answer!

  1. What is a Biblical definition of love?
  2. What is important about the Bible saying “God is love?”
  3. Is it our job to love others, or is it the Spirit’s job to others through us?  Or neither, or both?
  4. Is it loving to think of others as more important than us, or as important than us?
  5. Why does God go to such lengths to define the attributes of love?
  6. What’s the significance of the similarities between the characteristics of love in 1 Cor 13 and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23?
  7. Is there a difference in how men and women should respond to the command: “Love one another”?  Or does obedience in this way look the same regardless of gender?
  8. What does this verse mean:  “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19)?
  9. Why is love the “greatest of these” (1 Cor 13:13)?
  10. Is it possible to overemphasize love?  If so, how?

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What Is Sanctification?

Published on March 22, 2010 by CT in Blog, Questions

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Words without definitions are not worth much.  Perhaps they might have some artistic value in form, but they fail to convey any meaningful information unless we actually know what the words mean.  Words with definitions, however, hold great potential.  They can be the means to change our thoughts which in turn can change our actions.  Words forming ideas can be means to change the world—or even the destiny of a man’s soul.

One word I’ve heard many times is the word sanctification.  And I thought I knew what it meant.  I was talking with my dad recently about this word, and he said something I found interesting.  He said that he had always heard sanctification taught as meaning “to be set apart or holy,” but that over the years, he’s hearing more and more is being referred to as a “process of growing in our faith.”  So this question has been stuck in my mind recently:  What does sanctification really mean?

I asked this question on Twitter, and a number of kind souls weighed in.  Each response had similar elements, but there were some nuanced differences to each.  So this makes me wonder how others understand this important truth about our faith.  I’ll weigh in later this week in an effort to understand how the Bible addresses this concept in full, but for now, I’ll ask you:

What is sanctification?  And why does it matter?

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The Devotion of Devotions

Published on March 19, 2010 by CT in Blog, News

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I just realized the reason we call our devotions devotions is because we’re expressing devotion to God when we do our devotions.  This is the kind of brilliance you should come to expect here at Crave Something More.

This all makes sense.  Setting aside a part of our day to focus on our relationship with God, to read His word, to hear from Him, to confess to Him, to share with Him, are all expressions of a loyal, affectionate commitment to God.  We’re telling Him:  You are important to me, and I want to spend time with you.

Of course, active devotion to God, the kind where we pick up our cross to follow after Jesus, is far more than the part of our day we set aside to focus on our relationship with God.  This kind of devotion consumes and permeates the fullness of our lives.  We live and breathe His word as we walk each step in His presence.

Renee Johnson figured all of this out a while back.  She started writing devotions seven years ago, and she now has compiled these daily thoughts into a new release called Faithbook of Jesus (NavPress).  I had the chance to get her thoughts on the role devotions should play in our daily walks with God.  Enjoy!

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Renee, you write for your own generation—the “twenty-something” generation.  Why is that?

Why follow everyone else?  I’ve read devotionals daily for the past 14 years, and I’ve read the same ones over and over for the past 7 years.  Where are all the relevant devotionals for my generation?  I know there are specific devotionals written for teenagers, or men/women only, but the ones written for women assume you’re married with children, which I’m not!  Seriously though, I love encouraging other 20-somethings to read the Word daily.  It’s the single most important thing you can do in your life!

Why is being in the Word on a regular basis so important?

Being in the Word daily helps establish a foundation for right living.  It helps us line up our actions, behavior, and intentions when we otherwise might not have a clue.  It encourages, saves, sharpens—there are so many benefits to being in the Word.  I know when I miss out on being in the Word I find myself doing what I want, when I want it, which is not always good for me (pride).  For instance, I speed more, spend more money, and am more impatient.  Help me fill in the blank =).

What do you see as the differences between recreational reading of Scripture, devotional reading, and Biblical study, and why are those differences important?

On my nightstand I have a devotional book, One-Year Bible, journal, and other books I’m reading.  For recreational reading, I’m enjoying your book Crave and 66 Love Letters.  For devotional reading, I’m reading Streams in the Desert this year, and for Biblical study I enjoy reading the One-Year Bible.  I can tell that when I spend more time reading recreationally, my mood doesn’t change, and I still find myself living the way I want.  However, when I’m spending time in the Word and reading more in depth study of it, it’s different.

Where can devotionals serve the body and where can they hinder?

Devotionals can serve the body by expounding upon a Scripture, and the commentary is often encouraging and/or challenging.  But they hinder when we use them as an excuse to not read the Word itself.

There’s a recurring theme in Faithbook of Jesus:  one of a struggle to find our purpose or calling.  Why do you feel this struggle is so prevalent in this age group?

I read the following in 66 Love Letters, where it says, “No matter how great your pain or how confusing and intense your suffering, live in the mystery of My love.  Struggle to trust Me.”  I think the struggle to find our purpose and calling is the greatest between ages 20-29.  It is in those years that we take giant leaps of faith to move away from our parents, choose our career, and find the person with whom we’ll spend the rest of our life.  I certainly hope that all of those decisions will not be made in haste and that the struggle to find our calling in Jesus is made carefully through being in the Word daily.  This is my goal with Faithbook.

You draw on Psalm 27, saying that seeking and dwelling in the presence of the Lord and gazing upon His beauty is “worship in its purest form.”  How do you see these devotionals as serving that end?

When we take time out of our busy schedule to practice the presence of Jesus by worshiping him through reading the Word, we transform our Sunday Christianity into daily growth.  We don’t just worship corporately in a church with four walls, but rather in the comfort of our own home where we pray, and when we read the Scriptures, or when we spend time in community amongst our friends, or when we are in nature on a hike.

You end each devotional with a prayer to Jesus.  In doing so, it seems you use Scripture as a prism to see Jesus in a different light each day.  Why is that?

I love using Scripture as a prayer.  When we personalize Scripture, it no longer becomes dead, boring, and lifeless, but rather a living double-edged sword with which to pierce the darkness of fear, hopelessness, and desperation in our lives.

What does Faithbook of Jesus exist to do?  Or to say it another way, what is your mission with this book?

Faithbook of Jesus exists to help lead others into spending daily time with God.  My mission is Hebrews 10:24, which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” When we are no longer focused on ourselves, but are instead living the Word daily, our lives become a catalyst into spurring others forward!

Besides Faithbook of Jesus, what are two other devotionals you recommend to people?

Streams in the Desert and Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby.

You can find more info about Renee at Faithbook of Jesus.

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Question:  Do you read devotionals, and if so, why?

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