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Christian Character Holiness

Don’t Try Back Handsprings Without Training

Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. (Proverbs 19:2 ESV)

This Proverb really struck me today, firstly because its meaning isn’t as obvious as other Proverbs (it isn’t for me, anyway). In other translations the Hebrew word for “desire” is instead rendered “soul.” After looking more closely, I noticed that the Hebrew word is actually nephesh, which is one of the most basic words in the Hebrew vocabulary and often used to define the total summation of an individual’s will, desires, appetites–everything within them that drives and leads a person to be who he is and make the decisions that he makes. To give a little context, this is the same word used in Genesis where the creation of man is described: “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7 ESV) The word “creature” here is also translated from nephesh. Interestingly, the KJV version translates nephesh as “soul.” English translations seem to differ in their conclusions about whether nephesh should translate to “soul” or “creature,” depending on the context. Either way, nephesh is clearly used to describe the will and desires that motivate living things to do the things they do. So if you asked me, what is my nephesh, I would describe to you my beliefs, hopes, dreams, appetites, preferences, and desires. Then after hearing my description, you would be able to predict, at least in part, the kinds of things I might do. Perhaps no better illustration of this truth is the famous verse in Deuteronomy 6:5,

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV)

I highlight “soul” here because that is the same Hebrew word nephesh which is also used in the Proverbs and Genesis verses. But the Deuteronomy passage is even more emphatic because there is a common prepositional phrase there (b-col) which is translated “in (or with) all.” “Heart” means “innermost being” and “might” means “abundantly and exceedingly.” So the literal translation of this verse is “… love the LORD your God with absolutely everything in your innermost being and absolutely everything that defines who you are, your will, and your desires, and do this exceedingly, abundantly, and mightily.” Understanding the verse this way is deeply convicting to me. It is very unfortunate that this verse has lost so much of its force in English due to the cheapening definitions of “heart” and “soul” in our language today. But to the Hebrews, this passage would have been unquestionably clear to them that God desired the complete and total submission to Him of every thought, word, and deed.

So in linking nephesh back to the verse in Proverbs, I think the author is saying that if one’s nephesh is not influenced and shaped by knowledge, then in his haste to accomplish his goal, he will fail. It’s like someone who has strong ambitions to be a surgeon but doesn’t want to learn the knowledge required to be successful in that role, then as a result causes harm to his patients. Or it’s like a child who has a strong desire to ride a bicycle but stubbornly refuses the knowledge and instruction of his parents, then promptly proceeds to crash into the wall. Or maybe it’s like when I was about eight or nine years old, after being amazed by Olympic gymnasts on television, I promptly attempted a back handspring and nearly broke my neck. Hastily exercised desire without knowledge was certainly a painful experience for me on that day, and for the rest of the week!

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Christian Character Technology

The Battle For Careful Speech In The World Of Facebook And Other Social Media

One thing the Lord has really been working on in my own heart is the issue of careful speech. American Christians in particular face extra challenges due to living in a culture that encourages self-expression and individuality. One of the products of this culture I believe is the explosion of blogging, Facebook, and other forms of social media, which are intentionally designed as tools for sharing anything and potentially everything about our lives. As a result, the Christian Church faces some new challenges with helping local church bodies to remain pure and blameless as ambassadors of Christ.  Since Christians are imperfect and prone to make mistakes too, the ability to instantly communicate our thoughts to the entire world may require extra caution and self-control, especially if we become frustrated or angry at times with the communication of others.

Fortunately God has already spoken to this issue of speech control in many places throughout Scripture. I’ve been particularly convicted by several relevant verses in Proverbs, which I quote and review below,

“The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” (Proverbs 15:2 ESV)

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”  (Proverbs 18:13 ESV)

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2 ESV)

 

Speak as one who finds knowledge beautiful

If we look a little deeper into the words of Proverbs 15:2, the author explains that evidence of wisdom is marked by a nature inclined to gain knowledge but disinclined to speak one’s opinion. “Commend knowledge” could also be interpreted from the Hebrew as “a love of knowledge” or “to find knowledge beautiful.” It is the sense in which a person searches out a matter deeply before he feels confident to express his opinion. In contrast, the fool is prone to “pour out folly.” The Hebrew word literally means “to pour out” or “to gush.” In fact the word is translated as a “flowing brook” in Proverbs 18:4. So it’s the idea that fools are quick to freely gush or spout their opinion while lacking the substance to really support their statements.

 

Wait to give an answer

This same theme is further supported in Proverbs 18:13, where the author focuses specifically on the moment at which it is proper to answer. The fool answers confidently before he has searched out the matter on all sides. The wise man, however, hears out the matter fully before giving a confident answer. “Hearing” in this sense means the “listening to and applying of knowledge.” It’s used often throughout the Old Testament in the hearing and obeying of the law. So it’s more than merely receiving information, but rather a thoughtful consideration based on being well informed. We see this same theme in Proverbs 18:17 which says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” It’s the idea that the wise consider all sides of an issue and are reluctant to speak confidently at length about a matter, if at all, until they have studied all sides of the issue at hand.

 

Don’t babble like a fool

To help us further understand, the author states in Proverbs 18:2 that a fool in fact “takes no pleasure” in knowledge. He does not delight in it or care for it as the Hebrew connotes, and despite his lack thereof, he would rather continue “expressing his opinion,” in which he delights greatly. The wise man however greatly values knowledge and takes no delight in babbling on and on about his opinions.

 

Conclusion

These Proverbs have definitely caused me to pause and reflect on past mistakes made using social media, and by the grace of God I hope to continue improving the speech of my lips so that my words are winsome and seasoned with grace. Facebook and other social media give us the opportunity to share the abundance of our hearts instantly, whether we are currently controlled by the Spirit or by our flesh. I personally find that when I am led by an impulsive, defensive, or retaliatory spirit, my heart is almost always not being led by the Spirit of God. In seeking to prevent these pitfalls, I hope to use these Proverbs and other similar Scriptures to search my heart carefully and think about what I write, dying to the sinful desire to speak carelessly and submit to Christ, asking myself if I am honoring God, if I am acting wisely, if I am communicating thoughtfully, if my words are seasoned with grace, and if I have searched out all sides of the matter, or if I am babbling on about my own opinion. May God give us grace in these things.

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Christian Character Holiness

How To Acquire Christian Zeal: Holiness, Part 2

In continuing the series discussing the holiness that produces Christian zeal, I want to take a look at following passage from Paul to the church in Corinth.

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God,and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6:16-18. 2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV)

I struggled for many years with the question of how the Christian can promote a true spiritual zeal, the kind of zeal that is marked by an overwhelming sense of passion and affection for the Lord–the kind of zeal that engulfs one’s heart and mind with desire for spiritual food while finding everything else to be like unseasoned tofu. And the whole time during my struggle, verses like these stared me right in the face. Here is God telling us exactly what we must do to be close to Him, and even beyond these prerequisite actions, more importantly this closeness occurs in a very real supernatural sense. You see, those that profess to know Him are much more than followers of a religion. Christians are much more than adherents to a philosophical or religious worldview. Christianity is much more than an occupation or a set of beliefs that guide our lives, but in fact we are temples of a living God Who is mighty and has redeemed us and bought us and is spiritually transforming us into the image of his Son, and He means to dwell in the tent of our hearts, enlarging and drawing and holding our consciences close to Him, using us for every good work that He has prepared before the very foundation of the world. We are a temple–a temple of holiness and purity. God cannot dwell in a filthy defiled temple, and if we would have God dwell closely in our hearts and fill us with the Spirit, we must not touch unclean things. If we want to be passionate and zealous for God and abound in our love for Him, we must prepare a place for Him to dwell. We must pursue holiness with all of our heart and all of our minds. Every defilement of body and spirit must be cut off. If anything holds and entangles our consciences in bondage, we must cut it off. It must die. If we desire to be perfected in the Spirit, we must pursue holiness. We must set ourselves apart so that the Lord might make his dwelling within us. Do we want zeal? Do we want to be close to God? Then let us pursue holiness with all our might, and let us not think about doing it, but let us DO it and never turn back. When we are discouraged about our lack of passion but are still beset by lingering sins, we should not wonder about our state and feelings of separation from God. Then let us cast aside our sin at all costs, refuse to be controlled by it, and flee to Christ. Prepare your temple for the LORD and He will dwell closely with you.

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Christian Character Holiness

How To Acquire Christian Zeal: Holiness, Part 1

Haven’t had time to write today, but wanted to share this challenging and convicting quote by J.C. Ryle from his great book Holiness which I’m currently reading:

You may say, “It was never meant that all Christians should be holy, and that holiness, such as I have described, is only for great saints, and people of uncommon gifts.” I answer, “I cannot see that in Scripture. I read that every man who hath hope in Christ purifieth himself.” (1 John 3:3)—“Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

You may say, “It is impossible to be so holy and to do our duty in this life at the same time: the thing cannot be done.” I answer, “You are mistaken. It can be done. With Christ on your side nothing is impossible. It has been done by many. David, and Obadiah, and Daniel, and the servants of Nero’s household, are all examples that go to prove it.”

You may say, “If I were so holy I would be unlike other people.” I answer, “I know it well. It is just what you ought to be. Christ’s true servants always were unlike the world around them—a separate nation, a peculiar people;—and you must be so too, if you would be saved!”

You may say, “At this rate very few will be saved.” I answer, “I know it. It is precisely what we are told in the Sermon on the Mount.” The Lord Jesus said so 1,900 years ago. “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14.) Few will be saved, because few will take the trouble to seek salvation. Men will not deny themselves the pleasures of sin and their own way for a little season. They turn their backs on an “inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” “Ye will not come unto Me,” says Jesus, “that ye might have life.” (John 5:40.)

You may say, “These are hard sayings: the way is very narrow.” I answer, “I know it. So says the Sermon on the Mount.” The Lord Jesus said so 1,900 years ago. He always said that men must take up the cross daily, and that they must be ready to cut off hand or foot, if they would be His disciples. It is in religion as it is in other things, “there are no gains without pains.” That which costs nothing is worth nothing.

Whatever we may think fit to say, we must be holy, if we would see the Lord. Where is our Christianity if we are not? We must not merely have a Christian name, and Christian knowledge, we must have a Christian character also. We must be saints on earth, if ever we mean to be saints in heaven. God has said it, and He will not go back: “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

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Christian Character Holiness

Christians, We Are Commanded To Be Zealous For Christ

Did you know that Christians are commanded to be zealous for the Lord? It’s not just a recommendation or a goal. Christians (and not just full-time ministers) are expected to be fervent in spirit. I find this incredibly self-convicting, and I hope to convict you as well. Let me explain.

Paul said to the church at Rome, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:11 ESV) The Greek word for “fervent” is “zeó,” which was commonly used by famous Greek author Homer to describe boiling water. Authors like Plato and Plutarch also used this word metaphorically to describe the boiling over of emotions such as anger and love, or a strong desire to do good or evil. The technical Greek meaning is literally to bubble over in boiling and also figuratively boiling with interest or desire.

Do we understand what this means? It means all Christians are expected to be boiling hot for Christ. Why? Because God is glorified when we give Him our whole hearts. He wants all of us. He wants our entire wills. He wants our heart, soul, and mind. He wants us to say with Paul that we count all things as loss compared to the priceless privilege of knowing Christ. Read what Paul says similarly to the church at Corinth.

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them.
(2 Corinthians 9:1-2 ESV)

Paul says that the Corinthian church as a whole was boiling hot for Christ, and many were “stirred” as a result. He makes no distinction of rank in the church, but addresses the church as a collective whole. He praises the whole church for her boiling hot affections for Christ, which erupted in service toward the church in Macedonia. In fact this same expectation is illustrated in Revelation when the church in Laodicea is addressed, as quoted in the passage below.

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
(Revelation 3:15-19 ESV)

The Laodicean church was rebuked for their lack of boiling hot affection for God. They were lukewarm. They were neither cold nor hot. God wanted them to be boiling hot. Lukewarm was not good enough. They forgot that they were “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” They were satisfied with the work of their hands. They thought they needed nothing; their hearts for God were cold and dim. They were to repent of their pride, humble themselves before God, and burn in their hearts with flaming hot affection for Christ, or they would be reproved and disciplined by God.

So we must ask ourselves, are we doing all that we can to be boiling hot for Christ? If not, why? If our hearts are not burning hot for Christ, then we need to ask God to help us figure out the cause. We need to determine what is holding our affections captive. Once we do that, we must repent (stop) . We must cut off any affections that divert our hearts away from God, stop quenching the Spirit, and be “fervent (boiling hot) in spirit, serving the LORD.”

How do we do this? I will write more on this in the next post, but it can be summarized in one word: holiness.

Categories
Christian Character

Christians Do Not Fear Men

Lately I have been thinking and praying a lot about taking on more active responsibility as a Christian. I’m asking God to help me with the fears of the unknown–you know, those intimidating “what if’s” concerning matters we have little or no experience with? According to Scripture, there is nothing we should ultimately fear except God, and when we are called to take brave steps, we should answer that call. When God called Paul He said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you…” (Acts 18:9-10 ESV). David also wrote, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6 ESV).

There is however a sense in which we do fear men. The familiar biblical phrase “fear and trembling” is used a number of times by Paul, and in one of those instances it refers to the servant-master relationship. Let’s look at the text below:

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. (Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV)

If viewed independently, the phrase “obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” could be applied in a strictly horizontal relationship. By “horizontal” I mean the relationship pertains only to servant and master. No other parties are involved. God is absent. But Paul clarifies his statement by explaining the present and more important vertical relationship. Don’t fear your master as a “people-pleaser,” says Paul, but fear your master as a bondservant to Christ. Christ is the ultimate focal point for the servant in the servant-master relationship. Servants do not fear their masters to impress “by way of eye service”; servants fear their masters to impress and glorify Christ. We only fear men in authority over us “as unto the Lord.” We do not fear men in and of themselves. We recognize men’s authority, but we only respect and submit to that authority as much as that authority is subject to and inferior to the authority of God’s Word and His glory.

Categories
Grace and Law

More On The Burden Of Spiritual Disciplines

When our zeal for Christ is glowing hot, spiritual disciplines are never a duty. Why? Because increasing our zeal is the equivalent to increasing our appetite for food. When we focus on dying to ourselves, putting away our sin, thirsting for righteousness, our appetite for spiritual food increases. By pursuing holiness, we are inevitably drawn toward talking with God and meditating on His Word. We naturally want to feed more on the food that our appetites are suited for. I firmly believe that this is why the New Testament does not focus on rigorous spiritual duty. In fact Paul warns against actions without love (1 Corinthians 13). Christ talks about meaningless prayers with false motives (Matthew 6).

What the Scriptures emphasize is holiness, which in the Greek means sanctification of heart and life. God wants us to set ourselves apart within our hearts and minds and dedicate our entire will to Him. When we do this, our desire for spiritual communion with God happens naturally (Galatians 5:16). Our natural desires for the world become supernatural desires for God. This is why the author of Hebrews said,

Strive for […] the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14 ESV).

If we find ourselves struggling to desire prayer and His Word, it is less likely a matter of discipline and more likely a lack of pursuing holiness and consecration of our hearts for the LORD.

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Children

Can We Idolize Our Children? A Biblical Response

A few days ago my four-year old asked my wife why Sunday was called “Sunday.” My wife went on to explain about how some pagan peoples named days of the week after pagan gods, and that some of those pagan peoples worshiped the sun as a deity. My daughter thought it was strange to worship the sun, and further curiosity led to discussion about God being the only one deserving our worship. It was a challenging but important conversation.

Being the father of four children age four and under, I consider it one of my highest callings to raise my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Obeying this command requires an enormous sacrifice of time, mental energy, and physical stamina so that we, as imperfect parents, are equipped to answer these tough questions.

But in our efforts to obey this command, can we fall into idolatry? Recently I have heard an increasing number of Christians make comments about how easy it is to worship our children. In this post I want to address this issue by looking at what idolatry actually is and how idolatry might look when it comes to parenting.

The short answer is, “yes,” we can absolutely idolize our children. In fact we can idolize anything–sports, video games, self-appearance, sex, money, food, etc.. Our sinful tendencies to elevate creation above the Creator are boundless. Before we look specifically at what idolatry of children might look like, let’s review the basic definition of idolatry.

What Is Idolatry?

Let’s define idolatry first by looking at two good biblical examples. First, in Deuteronomy 4,

Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. (Deuteronomy 4:15-19 ESV)

Here God tells the people of Israel, “Don’t be drawn away from me by anything that I have made. Don’t serve anyone or anything other than your God. Don’t bow down to anything in creation other than the Creator.”

Sound familiar? That’s because similar language is used in Romans 1,

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
(Romans 1:24-25 ESV)

So in simplest terms, idolatry is worshiping and serving anything in creation other than the Creator, who is God.

What does “worship” mean in this context? The Greek word is defined as “to fear” or “show reverence and awe.” Interestingly, the root word for “worship” in this verse is the same word used for the title of the Roman emperor, Augustus (e.g., Acts 25:21, 25:25, 27:1).

What does “serve” mean in this context? The Greek word is defined as “to serve for hire” and more often as “to render religious service or homage.” We can think in terms of “servant” or “slave.”

So any time we replace God as the object of our reverence and awe, any time we replace God as the object of our service, we commit idolatry. Paul says in Colossians 3:5 that covetousness is idolatry. In the Greek, to covet means to have greedy desire for something else. Idolatry is to replace one’s desire for the Creator with a greedy desire for the created.

The idea of greedy desire is an important distinction, because it helps us determine the difference between good and bad desire. It also helps us determine if our desires are God-given, or if they are rooted in sin. How do we know if our desires are idolatrous? Can we desire things within creation without committing idolatry?

I think the answer is in the passage from Romans quoted earlier. Do you see how Paul ties idolatry to lust? God gave these people up “in the lusts of their heart.” Why? Because in doing so they “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” They committed idolatry because they greedily desired, served, and craved earthly things rather than the Creator.

This is how we know whether or not our God-given natural desires for things like sex, food, love, and rest are idolatrous. If we desire any of these things in the sense that we are consumed by them, our mind is bent on them, our focus on God is replaced by them, and we seek our fulfillment of happiness through them, THEN we are committing idolatry.

So let’s say I am sitting at work and suddenly I fill hungry for my wife’s spaghetti. I start thinking about that perfect combination of spaghetti noodles and pasta sauce with mildly spicy sausage meatballs and the aroma of oregano. My mouth begins to water. Am I committing idolatry?

If my desire for spaghetti begins to consume me and control me in such a way that I am enslaved to that desire, if that desire becomes my master and overtakes me with a craving and a lusting so that my will is controlled by the thought of attaining that spaghetti, then I am committing idolatry.

However, if my desire prompts me to call up my wife and say, “Honey, you make great spaghetti, could we have some tonight?,” and I then proceed to look forward to that spaghetti and anticipate that spaghetti while being thankful to God for the delicious food I am about to receive, then I am not committing idolatry.

So in short, idolatry is a greedy, will-controlling, mind-enslaving lust for something other than God.

Application To Parenting

How do we apply the Bible’s teaching about idolatry to parenting?

Well, most parents aren’t bowing down and worshiping their children in a literal sense so this can be difficult to spot. Unlike cars or sports, we have a God-given duty to our children–to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). To the dismay of some, God does not require any attention to cars or sports.

Like many sins, idolatry of children probably looks different with different parents, depending on a parent’s own personal weaknesses. For example, someone who struggles with craving affection from others might become enslaved with idolatrous desire for the affection of their children. Additionally, this would probably result in the parent subjecting themselves to the desires and wishes of their child, rather than subjecting their child to training in Godliness.

Another possibility is the parent who seeks their own happiness through the happiness of their child. Instead of the parent living for God and the happiness that comes from knowing Him, they live for the happiness of their child. When their child is happy, they are happy. When their child is sad, they are sad. Their identity is found not in God, but in their child. I think this would also be idolatry.

So idolatry of children might be summarized in (but not limited to) the following points:

  • Parents sinfully crave their child’s favor.
  • Parents are enslaved to their child’s desires and wishes.
  • Parents depend on the happiness of their child for their own happiness.
  • Parents live vicariously through the lives of their children.

Conclusion

Raising a child up in the admonition of the Lord takes a tremendous amount of work by dedicated parents who will make a lot of mistakes along the way. Christian parents are responsible, by command of the LORD, to train their children into Godliness.

As a side-note,  it is profound that this is one of the only commands given to Christian parents. In contrast, parents are not commanded to “box out” time for themselves away from their children. Parents are not commanded to have date nights. Parents are not commanded to ensure time for daily devotions.

Unchecked desire for these things I believe can also lead to idolatry of self.

We should be on guard in our hearts for resistance against God’s command. Are we constantly longing for a break from the often hectic life of parenting? Are we using devotion time as a secret excuse to get away from our children? There’s nothing inherently wrong with breaks or devotion time. We need them often. In fact Proverbs 4:26 says, “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.” Careful thinking  and meditation are difficult to do in the midst of chaos. And frankly, sometimes we just need a break for our own sanity, but as parents we need to constantly evaluate the true intent of our hearts. We must continually ask ourselves, are we submitting to God’s command to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the LORD? Or, are we committing idolatry by seeking happiness in being away from them or through them? May we all as parents seek wisdom in these things.

Categories
Grace and Law

The Burden Of Daily Devotions

These are my thoughts on why I gave up the traditional “daily devotion.” If you have a busy unpredictable schedule and struggle with devotion time, I think you will be encouraged, while at the same time challenged.

The Alternate View

Several years ago I asked a pastor who I greatly admired what his daily devotions were like. I’ll never forget what he said, “I don’t really have daily devotions.” My mind reeled with confusion. How could a man so caught up in the Spirit NOT have a daily devotion? Seriously, the man was a spiritual and theological giant. He went on to explain. “I don’t have a scheduled time where I sit down to read and pray. Any devotional time occurs as I’m going about my day to day life,” he said. I didn’t argue, but I disagreed. “This cannot be right,” I thought to myself.

“How can one be spiritual and not start the day with Bible reading and prayer?”

Despite the pastor’s confession, I did not change my routine. That night I set my alarm for 7 AM. My Bible, journal, and pen waited by my bedside, as always.

The Dilemma

A few years later, my devotional schedule was severely disrupted — it was besieged with an onslaught of strange people living with me and new responsibilities. How did this happen?

First, I got married. “Someone is in the house right now? All the time? But she is making noises. Doesn’t she know it’s called ‘quiet time’ for a reason?” With all the unfamiliar distractions of married life, my mental state declined to a robotic brain from a 1950’s movie: “Cannot compute. Cannot compute. Must.Have.Quiet.Time.” (Queue the exploding robot head). KABOOM!

Second, I had kids. “So just a minute. There’s now yet another person in the house at all times? She demands constant attention? I can’t rebuke her for it? (Telling a baby to stop being selfish doesn’t seem to be very effective) And she wakes up throughout the night, robbing me of sleep night after night and before my 7 AM daily devotional deadline?”

Oh no. This is not happening!

Third, I got a job. No, not a job continuing as the highly experienced full-time student that I was, but a real job in the cruel fallen world with evil troll bosses and their performance objectives. As a full-time seminary student I hadn’t realized all the associated privileges, like catching naps between classes, reading Scripture and theology books whenever I wanted, catching more naps, and so on.

In a short period of time, my life changed dramatically. It went from self-paced structure to fast-paced randomness. Scheduling anything at this point became an exercise of epic proportions. Even remembering to eat sometimes proved comedic. And along the way, my scheduled morning devotions were lost – completely.

For years, I struggled with guilt and confusion over the lack of devotions. I prayed to God continuously. Over and over I asked Him to help me understand what I was supposed to do. I also sought the advice of numerous friends.

Nothing seemed to work.

I was caught in an unending cycle. When I had time, I was too tired; when I wasn’t too tired, I had no time. Sleeping and working took 16 hours of my day before I could schedule ANYTHING. The mornings, though my most productive time, were filled with the needs of my early rising children and getting ready for work. I couldn’t get up any earlier because I needed all the sleep I could get. The evenings had potential, but my mind decomposed into soggy bran flakes after a day of pleasing the troll boss and performing the nightly “ceremony-of-kids-who-don’t-want-to-go-to-bed-ever.” What was I to do?

The Acceptance

Then I started thinking more about what the pastor had told me. Maybe he was trying to drop a hint. “Any devotional time occurs as I’m about my day to day life,” he said. So I started looking for opportunities where biblical study, meditation, and prayer could intersect in stride with the randomness of my life.  Then I realized: That time I spend teaching my kids catechism? Yeah, that’s a type of devotion. That time I spend talking with them about Scripture and the things of God? Yeah, that’s a type of devotion too. Those little prayers and Scripture memory on the way to work? Yep, devotion. And so I started seeing more of these little devotions in my life. Then, almost effortlessly, I just let go. I stopped fighting.

Don’t be mistaken. I held fast to my passion for God’s Word and communion with Him, but I stopped battling for “devotion time.” I felt free, and ironically found myself studying and meditating on God’s Word more than I had in a long long time.

The Take Away

Practically speaking, there are a few points of encouragement I would like to share with those who are in a similar situation:

God does not command us to have a “devotion time.” He does command us to love His Word and keep His commandments (e.g., 1 John 2:4). He commands us to pray without ceasing. David commends us to meditate on His Word day and night (e.g., Psalm 1:2). You can do this with or without aids like books, personal journals, or even a physical copy of the Bible. We are not commanded to have devotions at certain times of the day. Instead, we are encouraged to meditate on God’s Word all day, every day.

David remarked in numerous places about meditation in the morning. He also remarked about the evening. He remarked about the entire day as well. Apparently David had “devotions” all the time. Similarly, in God’s commission of Joshua He said, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8 ESV).

The point is, we are to commune with God and His Word throughout the entire day, not necessarily a particular time. In fact, I have found time and time again that following a strict schedule can sometimes lead to an unhealthy ritualism. This isn’t always the case. In certain scenarios, some Christians have highly rewarding devotion times on schedule.  But for those who can’t, they shouldn’t punish themselves.

Whatever our situation, our goal should be to find a routine that leads us into a deeper holiness, a deeper knowledge of His Word, and a deeper fellowship with Christ, and we should follow that routine and never look back. Do you grow by keeping a journal? Do that. Do you grow by reading intellectual theology books? Do that too. Do you grow by having sweet one-minute intervals of prayer? Do it! Still find traditional daily devotions helpful? Then by all means continue them, but let’s be careful not to burden ourselves or others with guilt over non-biblical requirements. Let’s free ourselves from any modern-day Pharisaism.

The Conclusion

In case there is any confusion, let me clarify by saying that no Christian can grow without studying, living, and loving the Word of God on a daily basis. In this post I have sought to address what I feel are unhelpful cultural pressures within (and certainly without) my own sphere of Christianity regarding the topic of Bible study. In no way do I intend on diminishing its necessity. If that is the lesson conveyed, then I have failed. What I have attempted to do is encourage all of us in a way that demands much more of our hearts and minds for God; that we should avoid unhealthy forms of religious ritual and instead be in the Word all day and every day.

Categories
Missions

The Problem With Invisible Children

I’ve continued thinking a great deal about Invisible Children and their philosophy as a whole. I am not out to criticize them or bash them, but I am deeply concerned about their ideologies on Christian social justice that is becoming popular throughout mainstream Christianity. Invisible Children purposely portrays themselves as a secular organization to the world at large, yet in the inner circle of their group, they are deeply rooted in Christian religion. In the case of the Kony campaign, this has largely served to backfire, as the secular world is angered to find that what they thought was a neutral charity fighting a good cause is actually at least a semi-Christian organization. And many feel that they were duped by the apparent lack of transparency by Invisible Children. To the world, it looks like Invisible Children is playing the role of an opportunist by using an emotionally-driven campaign to save children as a vehicle to fund their “secret” Christian organization.

But the truth I believe is that Jason Russell and crew are not in this for fame or fortune, but that they honestly mean well and believe they are doing a great thing. The problem is not with their intentions or sincerity, it’s with their doctrine and understanding of the role of Christians and the gospel in this world. They are attempting to appeal both to the world and to Christianity, and as a result they are angering non-Christians and causing great confusion in Christian circles. They are trying to play both sides. This is not possible without great consequence. What is most worrisome about their organization is that they truly believe they are spreading Christ through their cause of social justice, and that somehow without speaking a word about sin, redemption, or faith, that they are fulfilling the mission of Christ. In fact, even though staff like Jason Russell profess to be Christian, they claim that it is not their job to share Christ with others, as Russell states,

<blockquote>I think that, there’s been a lot of criticism that we’ve had over the years, but when it comes down to it, we are not afraid to say ‘I as an individual am this.’ But Invisible Children, it’s not its mission to bring Christ’s message to the invisible children. And when people say, ‘well why don’t you bring Christ to those children in Uganda?’ And my answer has always been, because they know Christ far more than I or anyone in Western world or in the Christian church knows Christ, because it’s truly all that they’ve ever had. […]” Source</blockquote>

This is very troubling. Russell seems to be saying that not only is it not his mission to bring Christ to people, but if I’m interpreting him correctly, he also seems to assume that all of these Ugandan children already know Christ. How can he know this? Was the fact that 85% of Uganda professes to be Christian in the back of his mind, even though only about 1% even claim to be evangelical? Should anyone refer to an entire people group as “knowing” Christ? I hope that I am misinterpreting his quote, but even if I am, I’m not sure anyone with a biblical understanding of the role of Christ and the gospel would say what Russell said. Had he said something like, “Well yes, of course we want them to come to Christ, but you see many of them by and large already know Christ…”, that would be different. But instead he seems to make a very general statement about all Ugandans knowing Christ. I am mystified. At best, this is a dangerous approach to missions. The purpose of Christ is to save sinners like you and me. The Bible is absolutely crystal clear on that point, as Paul wrote, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16) God’s Word is clear. Christ came to save sinners. He did not come to bring justice to African children,  no matter how noble a cause that may be.

Jason Russell and crew would do well to remind themselves of Jesus’s words in Mark 8, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Invisible Children seem to have forgotten that even if you give these children the entire world, but fail to share with them Christ who can save what is most important….their souls, they will have nothing in the end.