Stop and Think

I am a deliberate person by nature. I have often told my wife, my family, that I am a unitasker — that is, I do one thing at a time. I always thought this was a character flaw, but only recently I’ve discovered it’s really how we all are.

I’ve been slowly reading through Matt Perman’s great book What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done. What I’ve learned is that being a multitasker is not ideal because you end up doing everything just a little less than your best. What we think of as being more efficient has the opposite effect — we become less so. In fact, Perman says, the only one who’s truly a multitasker is God. He does all things well, all at the same time. What we need to do, rather than a bunch of things at the same time, is do what we need to do well. This is not only better but more glorifying to God.

In light of that, I’ve been thinking of my own way of doing things. As I’ve said, I’m deliberate but that doesn’t mean I’ve been as efficient as I could be. What I’ve come to see is that I need to take a look at the bigger picture — my goals, my motivations, my purposes — and see where I’m headed and where I want to go. This isn’t just a worldly ideal, it’s a spiritual consideration as well. God does not want us to do less than our best. That certainly doesn’t bring him glory when we are careless or lazy about how we live our lives.

So, before I plunge into another new year I’ve been taking stock of where I am and the habits I’ve formed. I am looking at my purposes and motivations. What are my goals? Are they what they should be, in light of what God desires me to be? God is gracious and he is able to continually work in us his will. It is a good thing to stop and think about where I am headed. John Piper talks about drifting leaves that do a great deal of moving but accomplish nothing. God did not create us to be aimless, but to live with a purpose. If there is a advantage of a calendar it’s that it gives us the opportunity to take stock of our situations on a regular basis and, hopefully, make corrections to our course.

God willing, that is my plan for 2016. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity as well.

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It can get much better, and does, with God

Wesley Hill has written an insightful essay at The Gospel Coalition’s blog called “With God, It Gets Much Better” as a response to the new campaign to reach out to LBGTQ kids called “It Gets Better.” The campaign looks to encourage those in this group who have been abused verbally and physically.

Hill, who authored the recently published “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality,” commends the effort but says that it doesn’t go far enough. He cites his own experience growing up and what he learned from it:

What I ended up discovering instead was a community of Christians who told me the story of the gospel and, energized by its hope, reached out to me in love.

My Christian friends told me that God is a good creator, explaining that he made humanity male and female and designed marriage, a covenant union between one man and one woman, as the place for human sexual desire to flourish (see Genesis 2:20-25 read together with Matthew 19:4-5). But they also described creation’s subsequent fall into sin and death. The biblical narrative of an originally pristine world gone horribly awry on account of human rebellion made sense of the fact that, through no conscious choice of my own, as an inheritor of Adam’s sin, I found myself experiencing desires for what seemed, in Christian terms, to be the wrong objects (see Romans 1:24-27). East of Eden, even our bodies are in need of redemption, my friends pointed out (see Romans 8:23).

Above all, the Christians I got to know pointed me to Jesus. Single, celibate, with no place to lay his head, Jesus understood my feeling of being broken and the loneliness that came with it. More than that, he died and was raised to secure for me eternal life with his Father in their Spirit—a life in which all bullying, sadness, and self-harm have no place. Trusting in him, I could count on God to see me not as a damnable failure but as an adopted son, a fellow heir with Jesus, a justified sinner. And I could look forward to a bodily resurrection patterned after Jesus’ own.

And while the theological “it gets better” message leaves hope, Hill said his friends didn’t just leave it there but demonstrated true love:

The Christians I got to know committed themselves, through the unity secured by the Holy Spirit rather than through biological ties, to being my family if I never experienced marriage firsthand. They invited me into their homes, took me on vacation with them, and encouraged me to consider myself an older sibling to their children. And they recruited me to join them in causes of hospitality, in making room for bullied kids—and bullies—at our dinner tables.

Such a message, surely, is more powerful than an optimistic forecast of a future in which love and acceptance may be found—but also, perhaps, may not. The Christian gospel heralds a God who does not leave us to our sinful desires, our broken selves and sexualities.

 

Worship fully. Spend less.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

It is Christmas season. While we may lament the encroachment of a hectic, rushed season that seems to come earlier and earlier, let us not forget that it is a time to be joyous for what those who believe. If we have been made a new creation through Jesus Christ, then we are to actively seek good for those around us, for His sake. I’ve just become aware of Advent Conspiracy, which is a way of putting Ephesians 2:10 into practice during this wonderful time of year.

If we really believe that we are not to be conformed to the image of this world, then we need to rethink how we celebrate Christmas. The idea that we spend less and worship fully is something we can all do well to put into practice.

Free online books from John Piper: A great resource from Desiring God

I’ve been meaning to share this for some time because it’s been a great help to me. Did you know that you can go online and find several of John Piper’s books for free to read online (or download and read later)? It’s true. Desiring God, which is a great ministry seeking to “spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ,” offers the books. You can find them here. New books are being added all the time, and often there are books in languages other than English if you want to use them to minister in that way. One of the ways I use them is I read them online and then bookmark that link so I can go back to them in a web browser without having to go to the home page first.

Thank you, John Piper, for the many inspiring, encouraging, challenging, informative books you have written. And thank you, too, Desiring God for making them available.

You don’t play around with the devil’s work

The Boundless Webzine has a good column by Matt Kaufman discussing a recent report on the effects of pornography. Unfortunately, this addiction is everywhere in our society and hold many in its clutches. According to the report, it promises much but offers a declining level of satisfaction that, in the end, leaves its abusers depressed and unfulfilled. The dangers of the addict are one thing, but even dabbling in it is dangerous. That is because it creates a place in our brains that needs to be fed:

The second pleasure system [in our brains] has to do with the satisfaction, or consummatory pleasure, that attends actually having sex or having that meal, a calming, fulfilling pleasure. Its neurochemistry is based on the release of endorphins, which are related to opiates and give a peaceful, euphoric bliss. Pornography, by offering an endless harem of sexual objects, hyper-activates the appetitive system. Porn viewers develop new maps in their brains, based on the photos and videos they see.

Because it is a use-it-or-lose-it brain, when we develop a map area, we long to keep it activated. Just as our muscles become impatient for exercise if we’ve been sitting all day, so too our senses hunger to be stimulated. The men at their computers [addicted to] looking at porn [are] uncannily like the rats in the cages of the NIH [National Institutes of Health], pressing the bar to get a shot of dopamine or its equivalent. Though they [don’t] know it, they [have] been seduced into pornographic training sessions that [meet] all the conditions required for plastic change of brain maps.

So, it’s not a take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing. The beast that we create demands to be fed. As Kaufman points out, we need to realize that we are in a battle. As Christians, we realize it is a spiritual battle and the Devil is using pornography as a powerful tool against us. However, we know that every temptation we face is one that Christ experienced as well while he was on earth. (I Cor. 10:13; Hebrews 4:15). But, we must be wise and not play in the Devil’s toolbox.

Helpful resources from Boundless:

Pure intimacy

Costly forgiveness

“All should be forgiven, and the thoughtless especially.” — Leo Tolstoy, Where Love Is (New York, 1915), page 20.

From Ray Ortlund, at The Gospel Coalition blog:

The Lord taught us to forgive at two levels.

Deep in our hearts, forgiveness is unconditional, since God has forgiven us: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). This forgiveness is absolute, before God.

At the level of our relationships, forgiveness is conditional: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). After all, how can one forgive a sin that hasn’t been confessed? For the relationship to be restored, the sinning brother must repent.

But what if he doesn’t repent? Or doesn’t even realize the harm he has done? Sadly, the relationship remains broken. But deep within, “. . . and the thoughtless especially.” This is the most costly forgiveness, because it is unseen, unthanked.

But God sees. As in everything else, all that ultimately matters is who God is, what God says, how God works.

Mark Driscoll tells the Washington Post about heaven

Mark Driscoll, pastor at Mars Hills Church, has written a guest editorial in today’s Washington Post about heaven:

Everyone believes in a heaven.

The next time you are standing in line at a store, take a moment to look at the covers of the magazines on the rack. Each cover presents a picture of some sort of heavenly life. There is vacation heaven, fishing heaven, hunting heaven, pet heaven, entertainment heaven, sex heaven, bridal heaven, nicely organized home heaven, baby heaven, and so on. The articles in the magazines speak of life in hellish terms but offer functional saviors to take us from our hellish life to our heavenly one if we just obey the steps and buy the products.

The question persists, however, why? Why do we live for the endless pursuit of heavenly perfection on earth, and spend our hard-earned money relentlessly pursuing that perfect place, perfect thing, perfect person, or that perfect day? Perhaps all of our toys, hobbies, home improvement projects, festivals, parties, toys, joys, and vacations are simply our way of looking for paradise and practicing for heaven.

But practice does not make perfect because we are not able to reach that ideal, no matter how hard we try.

According to the Bible, God kicked us out of paradise because of our rebellion, much like we would do to a roommate who declared war on us in our own home. Subsequently, ever since then we have all been booking airline flights, gassing up our cars, hiking in the woods, buying junk, logging on, and walking on the beach searching for paradise. Deep down we all feel homeless and restless.

Our pernicious problem is that paradise is lost. No matter how close we get to that perfect day in that perfect place, we are continually disappointed because sin is there too and things are not as perfect as we had hoped. Subsequently, we get sunburned, food poisoning, seasick, or bumped off our flight home from the search for paradise and are left to wander through the airport, which is perhaps the best illustration of hell that earth has to offer.

As we progress toward Easter, we should think about what heaven is and how we may be trying to recreate it here on earth. Whatever we think is good about this life, heaven is much better. Of course we are eager to leave behind the pains and disappointments of this world, but we need to look into our hearts and ask if we are treasuring the things we love more than heaven.

The favor you didn’t ask for but God gave you anyway

I was reading the blog of a friend who is living overseas and this story really struck me as some kind of providence that God had provided (although I don’t exactly know why, but that’s what it seemed like). Perhaps I could be accused of overspiritualizing everything, but I know that there are no such things as coincidences. It would be better that we teach ourselves not to shrug off every occurrence in our days and think about how God has his hand on every moment of our lives. How would your life change? How about your attitude?

Today, as I think about it, I would pray that my eyes be opened to see that God is working in the details of my life. When the Bible says in 2 Chronicles 16:9 that the Lord “run(s) to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” that encourages me. It is good to know that God is working in ways that I haven’t even thought of yet. So, it’s a good thing every once in awhile to stop and look around you. There are amazing things happening.

God is still God. And He is still good. To God be the glory

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! — Matthew 7:11

From Zac Smith: God cannot give me a bad gift … If God chooses to heal me, then God is God and he is good. If God chooses not to heal me, then God is still God, and he is still Good. To God be the glory.”

HT: John Piper