How would you respond to the Rich Young Ruler?

A couple of weeks ago, at Mercyview Church (the church of which I am a member in Tulsa, OK), one of our Elders, Brad Andrews, challenged us with God’s Word.  We’re walking through a series called No Other Gods in which we’re exploring the common idols of the heart prevalent in our culture and even in the Church, particularly in the West.  In a sermon called The Idol of Success and the Supremacy of Jesus, Brad did a fantastic job unpacking the difference between two “succesful” men: The Rich Young Man/Ruler (RYR) and Zacchaeus whose stories are told by Luke in chapters 18 and 19 of his gospel.  Go listen to it, you’ll be glad you did.

That sermon got me thinking, though, about the beauty and wisdom of Christ’s response to the RYR.  In Mark’s version of the story, in Mark 10, we see that Jesus looked at this man “and loved him.”  That’s beautiful and remarkable!  What Jesus is about to say to this man flows out of His deep love for him.  So, what does love do when it encounters a man whose idols include his many possessions?

Well, you probably know the story.  Jesus, out of love, said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  I find that amazing.  Remember, this man is an upstanding member of society.  He had lived an outwardly moral life.  If he found his way into your church, you likely would assume that he was a believer, a good man, a follower of Jesus.  But, let’s say one day he comes to your office and says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  How do you respond?  Let’s look at ways some may respond, and see if you can find yourself on this continuum.

A preacher of prosperity theology may respond by saying something like this: Do you believe in God?  Do you really believe…is your faith strong?  You need more faith because it is the energizing principle of reality.  If you have enough faith, you can have whatever you want.  You just have to name it and claim it in Jesus’ name.  So, claim eternal life, by faith, in the name of Jesus.  And, remember, if you want something from the Lord, you’ve got to give something to Him.  You have great wealth, young man.  Why don’t you give a faith gift of $1,000,000 to our ministry here as a sign to God that you’re serious about this.  And when you do that, He will open the gates of Heaven and give you what you’ve asked for.  He’ll have to.

A pastor of an independent, evangelical church might respond this way: Let’s revisit the Gospel.  Remember John 3.16 says that whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life.  Do you believe in Jesus?  If so, then you already have eternal life.  There’s nothing else you need to do.  I wonder if perhaps God might be stirring up these sorts of questions in you because He’s inviting you to take your faith more seriously.  You’ve accepted Jesus as savior, but maybe you haven’t accepted Him as Lord.  Maybe one way you could do that is invest $1,000,000 in our upcoming building campaign.

I wonder if the pastor of a Reformed (thinking broad category here) church might approach the RYR this way: Brother, the work of redemption isn’t something that we do, neither by having enough faith or simply praying a prayer.  No, conversion is wholly a work of the Spirit of God.  Throughout history, one way Biblical Christians have sought assurance is to look at the work of sanctification the Spirit has done in them.  When you look at your life, you can see fruit.  That’s why you can say that you’ve been able to keep the law.  That’s not your own doing.  You know, maybe you should consider enrolling in some theology classes.  Our church partners with the School of Reformed Theology here in town.  In fact, I’m on their board, and maybe we can talk about you investing some of the Lord’s resources he’s entrusted to you, say $1,000,000, into the school.

Besides the first answer, you may find helpful pieces in the 2nd and 3rd responses.  Yes, these are caricatures, but when I wrestle with how I would have responded, my question was this: how can I even lead this conversation in such a way as to land where Jesus landed.  He had the advantage of knowing the heart of this man.  How do we counsel in such a way as to be able to respond as Jesus would?  I think it is by focusing on the heart.  At some point we have to be able to say something like the following:

Tell me about your walk with Jesus?  What does He think of you?  When you think of your relationship with Him, what feelings come to mind?  Do you love Him?  Not just a vague love or a gratitude, but are you increasingly finding Him delightful?  Do you thrill at His trustworthiness and His affection towards you?  Do you find that, increasingly, the things you use to depend on or delight in are fading into the background as Jesus becomes sweeter and sweeter to you?  If not, where do you go to find your identity?  To find fulfillment and security?  When life is hard, how do you respond?  What’s your go-to for comfort?

When we are examining the HEART, only then do we really know where they may stand with Jesus as well as what idols are lodging in their hearts where Christ is meant to dwell.  Only then can we talk about the expulsive power of a new affection.  Only then, when we know that this RYR is addicted to wealth, can we challenge him to surrender his idol. Today that might look like a radical break with his career, or it may look like radical boundaries for this brother in the area of finances.  It will also include a good deal of discipleship to help him grow to value Christ above all, to get excited by Christian generosity, and to live simply and humbly.

But notice this, you Christian leaders: Jesus didn’t ask him to invest in His ministry, church, or institution.  His only concern was the heart of this man.  He told him to give it away and then to come and follow/love/fellowship with Him.  Jesus said, “I don’t want your wealth, and you’ll die if you don’t get rid of it.”  That is pure love.  Does that mean this RYR today couldn’t give his wealth to wonderful Christian institutions?  No, but it may reveal the idols in our own hearts if that’s our first inclination.  We should want him to be free, not to become a donor.

Why You Should Love Sin

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I was thinking today about sin.  I think for most of us, whether Christian or not, we don’t like sin.  By that, I mean we don’t like the idea of sin.  We don’t like it that there is a word that means what sin means.  We don’t like being told that we sin, have sinned, are sinners.  Particularly in our age, the idea of sin, we are told, is outdated, it’s oppressive, it’s harmful, hurtful, and abusive.

But God uses the word.  He, too, hates sin.  But He loves the truth about sin.  And, I think, if we thought about it, we would too.  Bear with me.

The truth about sin – that is, the reality of sin’s existence, meaning, and purpose – tells us, at least, four glorious truths.

First, the reality of Sin tells us that we were made for glory and goodness.  Having some behavior, thoughts, and deeds labeled as sin reminds us that there is good and evil, wrong and right, and we were actually created for good, for glory, for beauty, for righteousness.  Being called a sinner reminds me that my purpose is something amazing which I’m transgressing against…when I sin, I am living for something less, something harmful.  When I think of MY sin, I should be reminded of why God made me!  Not for sin, but for joy and righteousness.

Second, the reality of Sin tells us that we need help.  When someone confronts my sin (and the number of people willing and brave enough and love me enough to do that is too, too few) OR when the Lord, by the Holy Spirit, convicts me of sin, what a LOVING thing that is.  I NEED this.  In my sin, I hurt myself, I hurt others, I run away from God.  But when my sin is exposed, the book of Ephesus 5.13-14 says:

13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Anything exposed becomes visible and then, catch this, it “becomes light.”  Even our sin, when exposed can become something that shows the truth, that enlightens us and others.  God can even turn our sin into something that shows His glorious grace as we expose the sin. My sin can become light in my life with Christ.  This is a gracious thing!

Think, too, about Matthew 7.1-5, that famous passage that begins with “Do not judge, lest you be judged,” and discusses logs in your eye and splinters in the eye of others.  Of course, Jesus isn’t saying to never confront sin or call something sinful.  He’s saying that He alone is the one who ultimately condemns sin and the sinner.  What then is our response if we see the sin of another?  I mean, think about this for a second, why would God even let you see someone else’s sin?  He doesn’t have to!  What’s it for?  I believe, in the Sermon on the Mount, in context, the radical answer is so that, first, I would be confronted with my own sinful heart (Is my heart or behavior like that?  Or are their other hidden sins that I’m not aware of that are sticking out of my eye?  Do I SEE the world wrongly, from my own fleshly viewpoint instead of from the worldview of the Bible?), and, only then I might be useful enough to be a compassionate help for the person whose sin I have observed.    The sin of another can be clarifying and exposing of sin in my own life…this, too, is gracious!   You can hear me preach on this passage here.

Third, the reality of Sin explains why I do what I don’t want to and don’t do what I want to.  It explains why I often feel like a slave to thoughts, attitudes, and actions that I loathe.  Have you felt this?  It’s at least as old as the New Testament.  The world, today, might just say that you’re crazy.  That you need to loosen up.  You need to accept yourself.  Maybe you’ve just got a leftover guilt-complex from your fundamentalist upbringing.  Don’t be fooled.  You and I know that this feeling of guilt and shame is real.  It is there for a reason.  Because, it is true.  Only when we know this truth are we able to be rescued from it. That’s 100% grace!  What if God left us in the dark on this?

Fourth, the reality of Sin urges us towards the one who loves us more than we could ever imagine…who happens to be the one who has, for us, conquered Satan, sin, and death.  The Holy Spirit, and even sometimes our consciences, convict us of sin.  That’s a good and gracious thing!  And it’s meant to drive us to Jesus. Psalm 45 says that Grace was on his lips!  Grace! He came to us with grace.  We are so broken, but he has healing.  We are vicious to each other, but he’s tender.  We get angry, defensive, and mean at the drop of a hat, but he is patient.  Notice what the Gospels say:

And all spoke well of Jesus and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.  LUKE 4.22

And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth, for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. JOHN 1.14, 17

He wasn’t just being nice, saying, “it’s ok, just keep doing whatever you want no matter the damage to your life, your soul, your relationships”…he was bringing the very goodness of God, the word and presence of God to us.  He was the very embodiment of the grace of God.  The kindness and tender compassion of God. Children ran to him, prostitutes found him to be the safest place they’ve ever known, people wanted to be with him.  Men felt comfortable leaning on him like they would a good father.  Women met, in Him, perhaps the first man to ever look at them and love them without expecting anything in return.  They all found in him the answers to their deepest longings: how can I be right with God?  Can I be clean?  How can I know peace?  How can I have God as my very own?

Even if, on the surface, we hate the idea of sin, that is, the label of sin, I think that if we reflect a little more, we might find our minds changed.  On the one hand, we think we’re independent beings, autonomous and self-defined.  When we think like that, we just want to be affirmed in all our actions, attitudes, ideas.  “Just tell me to be true to myself!”  On the other hand, we know we’re wrong.  We know we’re not alright.  We know we need help.  Friends, Jesus is our helper.  He came to save, not righteous people, not the fundamentalists, but sinners!  That’s us.  He’s the friend of sinners.  Christ died for our sins!  Hallelujah, thank you Jesus!

Ambition for Christian Leaders

We are hearing much recently of the negative impact of ungodly ambition in Christian leaders.  It is so disheartening.  I was reflecting this morning, however, that this is not new in any way.  It’s as old as Eden.  We want to be like God.  Even wonderful Christian men can wake up and find that they have drifted from their first love, have slid into pragmatism and manipulation, “for the sake of the mission.”

Aaron and Miriam were not happy with Moses’ authority (Numbers 12).  “Why did God choose you?  Do we not hear from Him as well?”  I had a friend a couple of years ago ask, “Why doesn’t the leadership of the CROSS for the Nations conference invite X to speak?”  Now, X is a terrific speaker and has made his life’s mission the mobilization of Christ’s people.  Indeed, X might be a great speaker for that conference.  But, that’s not the point.  God hasn’t chosen that for X.  God hasn’t chosen X for that conference, either.  We want (for ourselves or others) something that God has given to someone else.  That’s bad ambition…that’s covetousness.

Korah, too, didn’t like Moses’ authority (Numbers 16).  He felt all are equal before God.  On the one hand, he was right.  We all are one in Christ, in terms of our salvation.  Yet, God appoints leaders…God grants authority.  It’s not to be taken for our own, as we saw with Aaron and Miriam.  It’s also not to be rejected.  We are not all equal in spiritual authority.  Today, we might say, anyone should be able to lead the church, regardless of age, sex, gender orientation, experience, gifting.  This is drinking from the well of this fallen world, where any Joe with a blog thinks he knows more about topic A than the guy with the PhD in the same topic.  Or where every comment-er on Twitter feels that their view is just as “right” as the next guy, in fact, it’s right-er and you’re power hungry if you try to argue otherwise.

A few years ago, at an international leadership conference, some of the speakers were older men and women.  They had given their years and tears to the Church…some had been beaten and imprisoned for their faith.  You can imagine how shocking it was to hear a younger leader there, probably late 20s, say, “Why should I listen to these speakers.  They need to get out of the way so we can lead now.”  At least Simon, the magician, wanted to pay for power from the Apostles (Acts 8).  But, it’s not just younger leaders.  Many churches are filled with older saints, leading committees, who hoard power in their little sphere of influence.  If the tales are true, perhaps deacons, meant to be SERVANTS of all, those who wait tables and wash feet, are the ones most often hungry to make a church after their own image.  Deliver us, Lord, from ourselves.

What do all of these have in common?  It is nothing less than Unbelief.  We don’t trust God and the way He distributes authority and influence.  I should have more OR my organization should have more.  I’m not content to just bring my desire for service and impact to the Lord in prayer and trust the Lord of all the earth to do what is right.  So, we find ways to take power, one tweet at a time, one snide remark about the pastor at a time.  We don’t really believe Jesus when He says that the last shall be first, that greatness comes through serving others.

It reminds me of my kids.  My son once said, “Daddy, I want to be in charge.”  I love his honesty.  I responded, “Well, buddy, let’s think about that.  What does it mean to be in charge?  It means Daddy’s responsible to work, to earn money, so that I can pay our bills.  It means that when someone is sick, the person in charge makes sure they are cared for.  They make sure we have breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They make sure the clothes are washed, dried, and folder.  They mow the lawn and mop the floor.  Being in charge means you serve everyone else first.  Is that what you want, buddy?”  His response, “Umm, is it OK if I watch TV now?”  My son, knowing what authority if for, wisely, did not want to lead yet.

What about us?  What about you?  Are you SURE you want to lead?  Are you willing to go low, to serve EVERYONE else, in order to lead the way Jesus has asked?  If that’s not what you want, to empty yourself so that others might live, then you are not fit to lead.  If you find yourself thinking, “I want to lead.  I want to influence,” instead of, “I wonder how I can serve my church, my wife, my kids?” then you are not ready to lead.  People who are ready to lead aren’t talking about it…they are just serving.  We need more of them.  Let’s fight for faith – God dispenses wisely authority and influence.  Let’s move towards humility – choosing what is lower and baser for us so that other might be lifted up.  Let’s invite the Spirit to weave faith, patience, humility, self-control, and love above all into the fabric of our lives.

Three Sides of Suffering

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Friends, it’s been a couple of weeks since a post on my sabbatical reflections.  There are many ah-ha moments from the sabbatical that are noteworthy, but I’m not sure how to write about many of them.  Frankly, some of them probably are meant to stay between me and the Lord.  Having said that, I do feel that I learned something about suffering, and my understanding of it, that might help someone out there.

There are probably more than 3 sides to suffering, to a Biblical understanding of suffering, a theology of suffering, you might say.  But, I recognize three.  First, God is sovereign.  That means He’s not surprised by your suffering.  He’s not unaware.  Suffering isn’t coming at you unbeknownst to God.  On the contrary, He has determined it for you.  It had to pass His desk before coming your way.  And that’s why we can, first, take hope that nothing will befall us that our good Father hasn’t brought about.  Second, it means that the end of the suffering is planned and it will be for our good, and it will bring Him glory.  We can be 100% certain of that.

This is the part of suffering that I’ve understood for years.  I’ve held to it as our little family has walked through a few years of hardship.  Passages like Lamentation 3.37-38 and Romans 8.28 are starting points, as is the story of Joseph in Genesis, but you can find this truth throughout Scripture.  It’s actually a powerful elixir of hope for us – our Father has all of this in His hands, and He is trustworthy.

There are, however, two other sides to suffering.  The first is this truth: God may ordain your suffering, but you are responsible for/to it.  Or said another way, whether you sin in response to your suffering OR you trust God in the midst of your suffering will determine in large part the intensity of your suffering.  It’s one thing to say, as Ed Welch shares about, “God, you’ve let this happen to me.  I’m so angry at you for making me an alcoholic!”*  It’s another thing to recognize your role, your responsibility, your sin in your journey of suffering.  That you bought the bottle and emptied it.  Emma Scrivener (books and blog) has been so helpful in this, showing that, even in mental illness, our sin plays a part.  Of course, Satan would want to increase our suffering and our flesh wants to run from it, ignore it, numb it.  Let me give you a personal example.

My family has experienced a slew of health challenges over the last 7 years.  They weren’t our fault in that we didn’t choose them or do something to contract these things…so, in a sense, we can only receive them as from God (even if Satan is the means of our suffering).  So, how did I respond?  By isolating myself, trying to comfort myself, or throwing a pity party for myself…in doing this, I made my suffering worse.  I was disconnected from community which could have been a real help.  I put my hope in sleep, food, TV, etc. expecting they would comfort me.  More than all, I isolated from God, the God of all comfort.  I turned in on myself and become infected.  Instead of being able to learn the deep wisdom of that suffering, I wallowed.  So, this second side of suffering is that sin compounds our suffering while faith teaches us and comforts us through suffering.

Now to the third side, which is related to that last statement.  Before I share it, let me say that I knew the first side well.  I believed it, but I didn’t understand this third side.  And without this third side, much of what God wanted to do in my life was stymied.  Here’s the third side: God isn’t just in control of your suffering; His desire is to walk with you through your suffering.  Side one doesn’t tell us to just “grin and bear it” until God somehow makes it all OK and we learn the lesson of suffering and then move on.  No!  He isn’t only the God over our suffering, but He’s also the God who is near to the brokenhearted.  Just as Jesus (who understood all that was about to happen in the lives of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) said to Mary, “Where have you laid him?,” goes to the place of suffering to weep with Mary, so also He does this with us…He says:

Show me your suffering.

Let’s go there together.

I want to be there with you.

He’s not asking us to be fatalists – waiting for the bad to simply stop – or dualists – waiting for the good to balance out the bad.  Suffering is an invitation to intimacy – messy, tear-filled, full of outbursts intimacy.  This is actually part of the secret to all the GOOD that the Lord wants to bring about in our suffering (Rom 8.28) as we saw in side 1, and it also guards us against falling into the traps we saw in side 2.  Our ultimate good is that our suffering is preparing us for eternity with Jesus, but even in this life, He’s bringing out fruit that lasts as we press into Him in our suffering.  Read Job, read Habbakkuk, read the Psalms.  This is the pattern –

  1. suffer
  2. go to God
  3. wrestle/rest/plead/argue/collapse with Him in the place of suffering
  4. start to see Him more clearly
  5. allow faith to grow
  6. experience renewal
  7. and wait peacefully with Him until suffering ends, whether in this life or the next.

Friends, that transforms suffering.  That turns suffering into a supper table, where we sit with Jesus, and we get a foretaste of the Heavenly feast!  I’m learning, I think, to turn to Him more quickly in suffering.  Whether it’s small suffering like an argument with a friend, or big like chronic illness.


*Ed Welch, A Letter to an Alcoholic, CCEF Journal, volume 16.3

Parachurch Leaders – Rethinking Our Spiritual Authority

Tim was a part of a group of passionate young believers on campus.  He was being discipled by a Christian just a couple of years older than he was.  One day, Tim’s discipler came to him and said, “we’ve all decided that we’re moving to California.  Get ready, we’re leaving in a week.”  The assumption that this older Christian made was that he was the spiritual authority for Tim, so he expected him to simply submit to that authority.

Similar stories could be repeated:

  • A campus ministry leader tells a student that she’s not allowed to get a tattoo, and she needs to obey their spiritual authority.
  • A mission team leader tells a team member he can’t vacation in country X, and he should obey this spiritual authority.
  • Ministry staff are told who they can and cannot date, or even whether they can date.
  • Students involved in parachurch organization Y are told where they are allowed to go to church or what conference to go to or what to do with their summer.
  • A staff of ministry Z is afraid of letting their leader know that they are taking a new position with another organization or moving into the marketplace.

Now, we could argue about what areas of life spiritual authority should speak into, but for now let’s ask whether a leader in the parachurch has spiritual authority over those they lead.

First, what about the staff serving under a leader.  If I am a missionary team leader, a campus director, or CEO for a Christian non-profit, what sort of authority do I have over those serving under me?  The answer is simply organizational authority.  You can hold them accountable to doing their job.  You are their boss, NOT their pastor.  And the parachurch gets in major trouble when they begin to assume authority over their staff that is reserved for the local church.  So, other than the professional authority related to the job description of my staff, I only have soft power in their lives. They work for me, they do not submit to me.

Will I try to encourage them in their faith?  Will I speak up when it seems they are making unwise decisions?  Might I suggest avenues for growth or good places for vacation?  Likely, I will do all of those things, but not as their spiritual leader.  No, I am simply being a friend and a brother in Christ.

Second, what about the people we serve.  Do Intervarsity, Stumo, Cru, or Navs staff have spiritual authority over students in their ministries?  Do World Vision, Samaritans Purse, OMF, or PIONEERS staff have authority over the men and women they serve?  Again, the answer is no.  They are NOT the church, even though some will eventually plant new churches.  It will be the elders appointed over those churches who carry the weight, responsibility, and therefore, authority over God’s people.  I don’t make anyone give, serve, lead, submit.  I have no spiritual authority.  I only have responsibility for my role within my organization.

Does that mean I won’t rebuke sin in the life of another?  No – but I do that as a brother in Christ, not as their spiritual authority.

So, friends in the parachurch, we are NOT the Church.  We are only scaffolding for the Church.  We serve her!  We love her!  We support her!  We SUMBIT to her!  The leaders of the Church have been granted authority that they wield as servant, as under-shepherds to Jesus.  Let’s remember that.  And let’s, instead, seek simply to serve, to wait tables, to wash feet, and to submit even our parachurch work to the authority of the local church.

Single Men – Manage Your Household Well

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In 1 Timothy 3, Paul writes of (potential) elders in the church: “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”  At first blush, we might think that this is only to do with child-rearing and, perhaps, marriage, but is that right?  Is this instruction only applicable to the man, married with children?  I think not.  Here’s why.

First, remember who is writing.  Paul, himself, seemed after all, to be an elder of the church in Antioch (Acts 13.1-3).  Paul was single and yet exercised oversight for the Church.  As did Christ himself.  Further, no one assumes that as long as an elder is happily married and has children who behave, that they have fulfilled all that is expected in managing his own “household.”  If his finances are a mess, he’s not managing well.  If the physical structure of his home is collapsing and he does nothing about it.  If the activity of the home in unhealthy, even if the people in it, somehow, remained healthy, he would not be managing well.

Finally, in case my previous points weren’t strong enough, to be someone who mishandles his household requires lacking other characteristics clearly required of an elder: self-controlled, sober-minded, respectable, hospitable.  What do those characteristics mean when it comes to managing the affairs of your home, whether that’s a home full of kiddos with lots of rooms or it’s the one-bedroom apartment of a Christian bachelor?  It means stewardship.  So, what does such a stewardship look like for single men in the body of Christ?

If you are a single man, perhaps in testing for the role of an elder at your local church, you can’t simply look past these verses.  Instead, press into them.  How you manage your finances may be a place to start.  Are you piling up debt or are you increasingly able to use your finances for the Kingdom?  If you have college debt, are you paying it off quickly?  Are you tithing?  What will you do with the church’s finances when you’ve shown no ability to manage your own?

What about your time?  Are you redeeming the time, using it for things that matter, for things that are eternal?  Are you wasting it on things that don’t matter, managing your fantasy football team, role playing campaign, and social media accounts, but failing to manage your household?  Both Jesus and Paul are united behind the idea that you, single brother, should be the most fruitful member of Christ’s body.  Here’s Jesus in Matthew 19:

But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

The implications are that those who choose a celibate life (make themselves eunuchs), ultimately, do so for the Kingdom!  For Christ’s cause.  Paul is even more explicit in 1 Corinthians 7.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am…To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Why better to remain single, we may ask?  Paul answers later in the chapter.  It’s for service, for focus on the work of Christ!

The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided…So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.  

Single brothers, you have more time than if you had a wife and children.  I remember in my first year of marriage, I began to grow anxious about getting everything done that was on my plate.  I realized how much time I was giving to my wife and it was just dawning on me the impact that was having.  I was feeling Paul’s words here.  It was good to give time to my wife.  As her husband, I must do this.  For those unmarried, however, Paul says you don’t have that anxiety because you have the better situation.  You can focus on Christ.  Your time is undivided.

What about your home? Is it well cleaned and in good order?  Are you able to host friends, family, strangers, Bible study because you are taking care of your “personal” space?  Or, is it filthy?  Brothers, does the cleanliness of your home resemble the bedroom of a 13-year old boy?  Cleanliness is NOT next to godliness, and yet, how you manage your household says much about your faith and maturity.

Finally, what about your ministry?  Are you discipling men?  Are you investing in other singles?  Are you investing in married men?  The household of God is made up of both…how will you manage His household?  As mentioned above, is your time given to eternal things?  Is your focus undivided as it should be – focused on the Lord and His work?  Are you cultivating skills that will serve the Church in new ways?  Can you lead a Bible study, train in evangelism, preach the Word, organize an outreach or service?  Why not?  Your time, which is NOT your own, is undivided.

So, single brothers, if you aspire to the office of elder, are you managing your household well?  Even if you don’t aspire to it (and I believe Paul would say, “you should”), these characteristics should still be true of ALL believers – married and single, male and female.  The call to a household well managed is a universal call for Christians because our lives are not our own, our time is now our own, our home is not our own.  No, they are given for stewardship, and as we steward well these lesser things, the Lord will then give us the greater.  Don’t waste your singleness.  Don’t waste your household.  The Lord is near!

Seven Times a Day do I Praise You

During my sabbatical, I wanted to try a new spiritual discipline, and I chose fixed-hour prayer.  Fixed-hour prayer can mean many things depending on person/group, but what they all have in common is that at specific times during the day, you stop what you are doing and pray.  Here are some variations on that:

  • Folks may have 1 time fixed (in some ways this is what a daily quiet time is), while at points in Church history, you’ll find people stopping as many as 7 times throughout the day/night.  Seems like the most common is a morning, midday, afternoon, and/or evening, so 3-4 times each day.
  • Some people will use a prayer book or perhaps a breviary of some kind to guide their times of prayer.  Others will use their daily Bible reading plan to direct their prayers.  Others will simply pray about what has happened in their day and what is still ahead, using the fixed-hour as a chance, simply, to reconnect with the Lord throughout the day.
  • While many who practice fixed-hour prayer are Catholic, many protestants are now using it as a tool for growth.  Some call fixed-hour prayer, when done at certain standard times, “the divine office.”
  • All versions seem to try and make the time no longer than 10 minutes.  It’s not a time of Bible study OR over covering your entire prayer request list, but really a chance to turn to the Lord and commune with him.

As a protestant, from the Reformed tradition, this was a new practice for me.  I find that many of the guides/helps out there are either Catholic or very influenced by the Catholic tradition.  This means, for me (and those who may share my convictions), that I had to do some sifting whenever trying to use a help.  Some of the most popular “protestant” options would be Phyllis Tickle’s series The Divine Hours (free live online version here) and Reuben P. Job’s series of Guides to Prayer.  If you do really want to use something like these, there are things in each of them that I’m not 100% happy with, but there’s also a lot of help in them, and you can simply skip the bits that are unhelpful.

In the end, the habit that has stuck with me and that I have brought into my daily routine is fixed-hour prayer at midday, in addition to my morning devotions.  When my alarm goes off, I simply stop whatever I’m doing.  That may mean in the middle of writing an email OR halfway through lunch.  I take just a few minutes to pray about what has already happened in the day, pray about what I’m currently in the middle of, and pray for what remains on my schedule for the day.  Though, first, I’m asking for growth in intimacy and joy in the Lord, and only then asking for wisdom, help, blessing, fruit in my work and relationships.

I’d like to add one other fixed-hour…likely mid to late-afternoon.  In the evening, I’m often with God’s people or perhaps having family devotions at the dinner table, so it serves in many ways like a fixed-hour, though I’ve not been as consistent with that as I’d like.

It has been a meaningful practice.  I do believe it’s kept me prayerful throughout the day, even as I work and go about life.  It’s been FUN to just stop whatever I’m doing and turn to the Lord, to recognize His presence, goodness, sovereignty, and to spend a few moments focused on Him.

What about you?  Want to try it out?

Opportunity Cost – Focus + Time

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So, yesterday, I talked about multitasking and how I’m leaving it behind.  Well, this post will be short because I’m piggy backing off of yesterday’s in order to say that you can waste time in two ways.  As we saw yesterday, you can multitask it and lose it by not being available, attentive, present to what you’re doing.  But, and this shouldn’t be news to anyone, you can also waste it by simply doing worthless things with it.

What I don’t want is to tell you what you can and can’t do with you time, but I am telling you that you need to figure out what you ought to be doing with your time.  My 3-month sabbatical flew by.  Life is flying by.  It’s a blip on the radar of eternity.  You are grass that is here today and gone tomorrow.  You will give an account for how you spend your time!  Don’t waste your life!  So, for reflection, here are things that I’ve faced recently.

  • I love baseball.  My Nationals won the World Series this year.  They play 162 games (averaging 3.5 hours) from April-October.  That’s a lot of time.
  • There was a day that you could watch everything worth watching on TV and still have a little time left over.  That day died two decades ago.  My shows might be different than yours, but if we’re serious about our lives, then most, if not all, of them have to go.
  • I’ve had friends say, “I’d like to be more involved in church, but I’m just too busy.”  These are the same friends that have literally watched 40+ seasons of shows on Netflix, etc.
  • Whatever time I spend watching shows, that’s time I can’t get back.  I can’t use for my family.  I can’t use to minister to others.  I can’t use for quiet and rest and sleep.  It’s gone.

Look at your smart phone, go to the screen time page…how much have you been on your phone this week?  Go to your profile page on Hulu or whatever…how much time of you given to being entertained?  Does something need to change?  Pray for strength.  Ask for help.  Shut down some accounts and give that money away to something eternal.

I’ve not arrived on this issue…but I’m on the journey.  Join me!

Killing it at Multitasking OR Being Killed by Multitasking

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Well, I promised that I would be sharing lessons learned from my sabbatical with you.  You’ll notice as we walk through these over the following days/weeks, that some will be pretty basic lessons (perhaps that I should have learned years ago) while others will be deeper waters.  Some spiritual, some habitual (though with spiritual ramifications).  Some for how I work, some for how I worship.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on each!  And so let’s jump into the first lesson.

I have given up multitasking.  If you didn’t know already, there are now an infinite number of studies showing how unhelpful multitasking is.  Apparantly, it’s not even multitasking so much as it is shifting from task to task for, often, no real reason other than it has popped in your head or vision.  Some even have shown at least some moderate connection between multitasking and a decrease in brain density.  It may be turning people into literal air heads.

I knew this going into my sabbatical, yet I was still making no change to my behavior.  If a text popped up, I interrupted the email I was writing to read it.  If a new email came in, I’d put down the article I was studying in order to read it.  Increasingly, random thoughts of what could be done would pop in my head and I’d feel almost an inner compulsion to do it right then instead of a more reasonable time.  I was getting things done, if in a scattered sort of way.

During my sabbatical, I left email and social media behind.  As I reflected on how this was affecting me during my sabbatical, I began to make some more helpful connections.  I remembered an old public service announcement that compared your brain to an egg, and the effects of drugs on your brain as frying that egg.

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That’s how my brain felt on multitasking.  I started to realize that much of my mounting anxiety in the year before my sabbatical was being caused by my multitasking behavior.  I was training my brain to be distracted and distractable.  I was training my brain to think “What am I missing?  What else could I be doing right now? Squirrel!”  The studies back up this theory that I was forming from my own experience.  Multitasking has a very strong connection to the feelings of being distracted, overwhelmed, and scattered.  It’s depressing us, worrying us, and, in fact, killing us.

As this was dawning, I began to realize some of the spiritual ramifications.  First, I am called to be a hard worker.  By multitasking, I actually am less productive.  That matters.  Second, multitasking can be a sure sign of a lack of faith, trust in the Lord.  Your fear of missing out OR your unhealthy drive to do more are often signs that your belief in the sovereign and good hand of God is weak.  It’s hard to multitask all week and then engage in sabbath rest.  You’ve made it that much harder to slow down, let go, and trust that the universe actually doesn’t need you.

Third, my relationships were suffering, partially because I was tired from the frantic pace of multitasking, but also because I was treating my wife, kids, friends, church as if they were simply new texts or emails to be included in my work.  I was multitasking my family and my faith.  Lastly, it was stealing my joy.  Not only the joy that is clear from what I’ve already said, but simply the ability to enjoy anything without interruption.  I couldn’t even enjoy movies because I was scrolling facebook the whole time.  I tested a theory.  I went back and watched a movie that I had previously “media multitasked” and watched it with my full attention, and you know what, it was 10x better that way.  Sports games are more exciting when I’m not ignoring them half the time.  What I’m reading or praying about or reflecting on bring greater pleasure, creativity, and insight when they aren’t having to vie for my attention.

This idea of attention came up quite a bit in my sabbatical.  I heard someone (I think Mark Sayers, but he may have been quoting someone) say “attention leads to adoration.”  What we give our attention to, we can guarantee will have our affections as well.  I believe it was Sayers who said that the most important commodity we have as humans in the 21st century is our focus.  Marketers are spending billions of dollars to get you to look at, focus on something – a page, a picture, an ad…  And where our treasure is, our heart will be also.  Let’s stop throwing around, throwing away our focus.  Let’s give that precious attention to the few things that deserve it.  Join me in leaving multitasking behind.

It won’t happen over night.  I still find myself slipping back into the old ruts, but little by little, it’s happening.  And I’m feeling less anxious and more fulfilled as it happens!