turtle

Sometimes I feel like a turtle.

Sometimes I get frustrated with my turtle-paced sanctification.

I have a desire to be more like Jesus because God deserves followers who are Christlike. But, turns out, transforming a sinful human into the likeness of Christ isn’t an overnight process.

(I wonder why that is… God is sovereign. He designed this whole system. He could have made us instantly fully sanctified at the moment of our conversion, but He chose not to. He thinks it is better for us and brings Him more glory if He ever so slowly makes us over instead of doing it in one fell swoop. I suppose He sees value in the journey…)

When I’m in a pattern of self-loathing, I think of Paul’s similar frustration with himself: “…what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing,” (Romans 7:15-19).

We know God is worthy of our perfect obedience and our undivided worship…but we struggle to discipline our sinful natures to those ends. In fact, Paul says we can’t.

Paul is so frustrated with himself, he exclaims, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Good ol’ Paul. He has just a touch of melodramatic flare, and I appreciate that because so do I. I feel just as terrible about myself as Paul does about himself.

When we long to be making more spiritual headway than we actually are, our views of ourselves and of our circumstances become characterized by hopelessness. We consider ourselves “wretched” and helplessly trapped in a body that simply will not stop sinning!

But we can’t stay there.

God did not call us to lives of hopelessness. Instead, He extends the most generous offer of all time–an offer to rescue us.

Paul answers his own question, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” with “Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Who will rescue us? God Himself! Because the truth is we are hopelessly addicted to sin unless God intervenes.

And the way God chooses to rescue us from the curse of our own sinfulness is through Jesus. (Hence Jesus’ statement, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6).)

When we understand the extent of our sin, that we cannot correct it or eliminate it in our own power, and that sinless Jesus’ substitutionary atonement is the preferred (and only) way to make amends between us and God, we become Christians.

And when we become Christians, the Holy Spirit comes and exists inside of us. And while He is in there, He continually leads us into all truth, convicts us of sin, and empowers us to do righteous things we cannot do under our own power.

In a word, He is sanctifying us.

This is a life-long process, much to my chagrin, but this blessing from Paul brings me joy: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it,” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

Other translations read sanctify you completely, entirely, and wholly.

Paul believes our perfect sanctification is going to happen. We can count on it. We will get there. It may seem like we’re moving at a snail’s pace right now, but God is faithful, and–this is the best part–He will do it!

Our total sanctification depends upon God, not us. We don’t have to work to conjure up righteous attributes. That would be depending on our own strength, which Paul established in Romans is fruitless.

We simply invite God to continue to sanctify us through the Spirit that lives inside us on account of our faith in Jesus. (It’s a trinitarian endeavor.) And when we get frustrated with the pace of our sanctification, let us remind ourselves we will get there. One day. In His timing.

And let that hope give our minds rest from any and all self-loathing thoughts. He is faithful; He will do it.

Do you live near Nashville?

If not, stop reading now.
If so, please, keep reading!
December 5th-9th I’m coming to Nashville!
What’s that have to do with you? Glad you asked.

Last week I sent out an email detailing how I’m making my big push to jump start my speaking/Bible teaching/itinerant preaching ministry. Much to my chagrin, that means networking.

The fact is I am 1,942 times more likely to be asked to speak at a conference or retreat if someone personally recommends me to an event organizer. 

(I haven’t done the math or anything, but I feel like that’s probably accurate.)

Here’s where you come in:

Is there ANYONE in your spheres of influence who might need a speaker at some point in life who you’d be willing to introduce me to while I’m in town?

Pastors, ministry leaders, church staff members, lay leaders, Christian school leaders, Christian college administrators, Christian celebrities (don’t you have a lot of those in Nashville?)–ANYONE? I’d love to meet some people face to face to get on their radars while I’m in town. You’ll even get a free cup of coffee out of it! (The good kind.) 

If you can think of someone, please contact me ASAP.

Back of business card
Thanks, friends!

eternal life

What is eternal life?

Perhaps the most famous Bible verse is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus said this during a conversation with a higher-up Jewish leader, Nicodemus. He believed Jesus was a teacher especially empowered by God to perform miracles (John 3:2).

Jesus informed Nic he needed to believe a lot more than that if he wanted to “enter the kingdom of God” and have “eternal life” (John 3:5, 15). Namely, Nicodemus must be “born again” and “believe in [Jesus]” (John 3:3, 15).

Nicodemus didn’t understand the born again reference isn’t a physical rebirth but a spiritual birth the Holy Spirit enables (John 3:4-6). When we are born again by the Spirit, we are enabled to believe Jesus is more than a teacher and a miracle worker; we are enabled to understand Jesus is God’s Son, given on our behalves to save us from the eternal condemnation our sins have earned us (John 3:16-18).

Given the context, then, it is right to interpret “eternal life” in John 3:16 as most of us typically do: heaven, a never-ending, blessed existence in the presence of God with all the other believers who have finished their earthly lives.

It is right, but it is incomplete.

Unfortunately, a lot of Christians who believe Jesus is God’s Son and has saved us from our sins understand that to mean the only real difference between us and non-believers is we have the hope of heaven one day.

A lot of Christians’ day-to-day lives remain largely unaffected by the fact that we are saved. Salvation is more of a future thing for us; when we die and are judged, we won’t have to pay for our sins because Jesus already did that.

Don’t get me wrong, that is a huge deal for which we are thankful, but, for most of us, that doesn’t particularly influence our here and now.

Why?

Because we don’t understand “eternal life” is much more than a blessed future in heaven.

Jesus didn’t just use the phrase in John 3:16; He expanded on the concept in 17:3, which reads, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Jesus didn’t say, “Now this is eternal life: that they may go to heaven one day.” No, eternal life is more than that for Jesus. Eternal life includes going to heaven one day, but it doesn’t start then.

Jesus also didn’t say eternal life is that they will know God and Jesus or that they may know God and Jesus one day. No, eternal life proper is knowing God and Jesus now AND forever in heaven.

Eternal life, then, starts the moment we are born again and believe Jesus is God’s Son who saves us from our sins.

Every day we can know God and Jesus more and more. And because they are infinite, we can live eternally in heaven with them, continuously learning more about them, and never exhaust the subjects!

That’s an exciting prospect–forever learning more and more about God and Jesus–but the whole point of this post is WE CAN START NOW!

How?

You guessed it: by reading the Bible.

Jesus goes on to say in the same chapter that God’s Word is truth (17:17). When we read about God and Jesus in the scriptures, we can trust we are learning the truth about them. And by doing so, we know them more and more.

Forget about living your best life now. Open your Bible and live your eternal life now. (Which just so happens to be your best life, FYI).

OK

How to Not be Wrong

I hate being wrong. Hate. HATE. HAAAAAAAAATE!

(My counselor can give you all the reasons why, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Lucky for me, Jesus tells me how to not be wrong!

Surely, if I employ His little formula, I’ll never be wrong again! Muhahaha!

(Of course, no one can perfectly obey Jesus’ commands all the time because sin. But, man, if I could follow His strategy for not being wrong just some of the time, I could cut out a whole lot of being wrong in my life, and, I gotta tell ya, that sounds good!)

The way to not be wrong, straight from Jesus’ mouth, is to “know the Scriptures and the power of God,” (Mark 12:24).

That’s it!

That’s it?

That almost seems attainable!

Here’s some context for you.

Not everyone liked Jesus, turns out.

There was this group of Jews back in the day, the Sadducees, who didn’t like Jesus because He taught something they didn’t believe in. Namely, Jesus taught there would be a bodily resurrection of the dead one day. The Sadducees didn’t buy that at all.

So one day the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus to make Him look stupid to His followers and other onlookers. They asked Jesus a question based on a false premise and gave Him seven possible answers to choose from, none of which were right.

Trap.

It seemed to be an impossible question to answer in the Sadducees minds, but, if Jesus didn’t produce an answer, it would appear He was admitting there is no resurrection of the dead. Thus, Jesus would prove to be a phony teacher who couldn’t be trusted, and, hopefully, His followers would stop following Him.

Jesus saw through this strategy, and, instead of choosing one of the multiple choices the Sadducees gave Him, Jesus replied to their question this way: “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (12:24).

Daaaaaaaaaaaaang!

(I’m imagining this intense school yard scenario like in all kids’ movies ever. The group of Sadducees stands across from Jesus and His disciples. Everyone has his arms crossed as the rival posses throw death stares at each other. And Head Sadducee Guy steps forward, sets this trap, stands nose to nose with Jesus, and snarkily challenges Jesus to answer this crafty question he’s so proud of. (Yeah, I made “snarkily” up…what even is your point?) And Jesus mic drops the dude by basically saying, “You’re wrong to even ask me that because you don’t know anything about the scriptures OR God!” And everyone’s eyes get big like Jesus has just laid down the worst “Your mama…” insult. And dudes on both sides can’t help but let out loud, “Oooooooooooooo!” sounds (or, as the kids today say, “Buuuuuuuuurn!”). And Head Sadducee Guy turns bright red and two-hand shoves Jesus. And Peter jumps in and punches Head Sadducee Guy right in the mouth. And they all get sent to detention. Except Jesus. Because obviously.)

Back to reality…

After Jesus posed the rhetorical question that told the Sadducees they were wrong because they were ignorant of the scriptures (which, in fact, teach the resurrection of the dead [Daniel 12:1-2, Isaiah 26:19]), and the power of God (God is, in fact, powerful enough to resurrect people [Job 42:2, Jeremiah 32:17]), Jesus proceeded to explain why the question was invalid: it was based on the false premise that people will be married in heaven.

If they had read the scriptures, the Sadducees would’ve known there is such a thing as a bodily resurrection of the dead, and this whole silly scenario would’ve been avoided.

Then Jesus did them one better and dismantled their belief that the resurrection of the dead is not a thing in a matter of 2 sentences (Mark 12:26-27). It’s beautiful.

I’ve been a believer for 20 years. And, from the beginning of my relationship with Jesus, by the grace of God, I’ve been drawn to and felt the importance of knowing the Word.

Today, I am more convinced than ever, and increasingly so with every passing day, that if we are going to be the mature believers God wants us to be, we. must. know. His. Word.

We will never “arrive”. The Bible is not something we can master. It may look like a finite book with dimensions and a first page and a last page, but, it is really an unlimited trove of knowledge of an infinite God.

There is no exhausting it! The Holy Spirit always has more to show us. Always. ALWAYS! God can continue to reveal more things to us about Himself every single time we read it.

And, here in Mark, Jesus is not just telling the Sadducees, but He is also telling us: if you don’t know the scriptures, you won’t know the truth! Another translation says you will be in error.

I don’t want to be in error! Ever!

Partly because I am a prideful schmuck who hates being wrong. God is working on changing that part of me…

But I also don’t want to be in error because I cannot properly understand and serve God if I don’t know the truth. About Him. About me. About the world. About the Word. About how life works. About how eternity works. About everything.

And if I am not properly understanding and serving God due to my lack of knowledge of the truth, I am failing to give God the glory and honor and praise He is worthy of.

In other words, I’m sinning.

If we don’t want to be wrong, Jesus says we have to know the scriptures.

(Caveat: it’s possible to know the scriptures and still be wrong. Knowing and obeying are two different things.)

And there’s no better time to start knowing the scriptures than now. (Seriously, you’re reading a blog post. Go read the Word!)

(Also, thanks for reading this blog post! Please come again….you know, when you’re not reading the Word…)

oreos

The key aspect of effective discipleship. (Spoiler alert: Oreos ARE involved.)

I’ve been co-teaching a three-semester Systematic Theology class at my church for the last 18 months. (And it has been a BLAST! If you’re in the area, I highly recommend joining us the next time we teach it.) Our class is coming to an end in a couple of weeks, and one of our students asked, “So, what’s next?”

While we do have some ideas on classes we want to offer in January, my mind keeps coming back to discipleship.

Kandi Gallaty defines discipleship this way:

Discipleship is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.

The reason we teach scripture and theology (and are students of them ourselves) is not just so our students will know everything Jesus has commanded us to do. That’s not the Great Commission. We teach the Bible so our students will obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do. That is the Great Commission.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:18-20

Specifically, we need to teach our students to obey Jesus’ command to go and make disciples (that’s the “replicate” part in the definition of discipleship).

Some of our students are already discipling others, praise the Lord! But some aren’t. For a myriad of reasons that no longer include, “I don’t know enough about the Bible to disciple someone else.”

It kills me that many of us teach the Word but never get around to lovingly, but insistently, pushing our people to obey it!

Sure, when we speak to a class of 30 or a group of 80 we hope they will take away a truth that they will then apply to their lives that week, but we can’t know that they do… Because groups that large don’t lend themselves to accountability.

In other words, we are only capable of partial discipleship in large group settings. We can intentionally equip believers with the Word of God in large groups…but we can’t have effective accountable relationships, without which our students might, but probably won’t, replicate faithful followers of Christ.

The essential accountability factor is only consistently possible in one-on-one or very small groups (3-5ish people). This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where we can teach them to obey all Jesus has commanded us. Including, but not limited to, them discipling others, eventually.

It’s not rocket science. But it’s also not easy.

Discipling and being discipled on a small scale require vulnerability, commitment, a teachable heart, dependence upon the Holy Spirit for direction and sanctification, and, oh, yeah, TIME.

These are all legitimate concerns people raise in the form of excuses for why they aren’t discipling others or being discipled by someone. (And I say that as someone who has used all of them on many occasions.)

The actual reasons we don’t participate in real discipleship are because we are afraid, and we are just a tad self-centered. (These are the same reasons we don’t evangelize.)

We don’t really want to spend our precious Netflix and Oreos time on other people! Especially if it is going to get uncomfortable.

But if we don’t prioritize discipling people who will disciple other people, we are in direct disobedience of Jesus Christ.

Let that sink in a minute.

The shock of that statement ought to make all of our excuses for not participating in discipleship fade away faster than I can eat ten Double Stuf Oreos (I don’t even know why they still make Single Stuf).

Are you scared? That’s fine, Jesus didn’t say you have to be fearless.

Do you not have time? Uh, yeah, you do. Find it. Start by looking in the Netflix directory.

Do you not know how? Ask someone who does. Read a book on the subject.

Do you not have anyone to disciple or to disciple you? Uh, yeah, you do. Ask God to bring you people. Sit back. Eat some Oreos. Pay attention.

Even if you’ve never read the Bible, you qualify to be discipled by someone. There are, in fact, no pre-requisites at all.

Even if you’ve never taken Systematic Theology, if you have a general grasp on the Bible and a general understanding that it’s better to obey God than to not obey God, you qualify to disciple someone.

Stop waiting. Start now.

Staying Free

Being free is hard.

It sounds easy…being rid of the metaphorical chains that bind you to literal misery…having the ability to move about, run away, make your own choices…

But being free is hard.

Because it takes intentional effort and vigilance to remain free.

The Israelites are a good case study. (Aren’t they always?)

They were enslaved in Egypt, worked ragged, abused, and then God/Moses led them to freedom. Pharaoh decided to let the Israelites go, granting them the ability to trudge out into the desert, move around as they wished, run away from the oppression, and make their own choices…they left with tons of goods, and the Lord Himself showed them the way they should go.

They were finally free.

About one month after they were set free, the Israelites were out of water and low on food. Because they were free, it was up to them to provide for themselves…maybe they didn’t know how since they never had to do so previously…or maybe the nomadic existence made it difficult to have reliable, regular sources of food and water…or maybe the unforgiving desert is to blame for their lack of resources.

Whatever the reasons, Exodus 16:2-3 reads, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'”

The gnawing hunger and parched mouths led the Israelites to long for the days when they were enslaved in Egypt. Their unmet physical needs actually made them think they would prefer beatings and unreasonable work loads to being free from the inhumane abuse to which they were accustomed if that meant they’d get an all-you-can-eat buffet each day.

This wouldn’t be the only time the Israelites grumbled against Moses, despising him for taking them out of their Egyptian slavery. Many times, in fact, the group said they’d prefer being enslaved again to having their freedom, as long as their stomachs were filled.

Not many of us are the kind of slaves the Israelites were in Egypt. But we all have our own masters, nonetheless.

Sometimes we let people control us…sometimes it’s food or exercise or shopping or alcohol or tobacco or prescription drugs or illegal drugs or lust or greed or ambition or achievement or money or recognition or work or ministry or volunteerism or love for our children or spouse that relentlessly drives us to unhealthy ends.

We humans can make masters out of anything. Literally.

God designed us to serve Him…to be ruled by Him…to submit to His will…to worship Him…and if we don’t, we take our service-oriented natures and our default tendencies to worship elsewhere.

We all enslave ourselves to someone or something.

(And if you’re thinking, “I don’t…you’re probably enslaved to yourself. You probably do whatever you want to satisfy you. In essence, you are your own god.)

We all become enslaved to things that aren’t God at some point.

The good news is we can gain our freedom.

If we pursue breaking free from that master, we can often learn how to gain control over our “issue”. Which is great!

To no longer be controlled by what someone else thinks or by an addiction of any kind is true freedomAnd it is an amazing, healthy place to be.

But.

Being free is hard.

Because it takes intentional effort and vigilance to remain free.

Whatever controlled us before will pop up again, and, just like the Israelites, there will be times we long to return to our former masters, cruel and unhealthy as they may be.

We will be tempted to willingly return to our unhealthy behaviors that were so easy and so comfortable in the past. When our old masters seem to beckon us, we have to work to maintain our freedom from them.

How?

By reminding ourselves of the truth. Any master who is not God will not satisfy us. They can’t.

By remembering how miserable we were when we were enslaved to ________. The grass is not greener on the other side, and nostalgia is more akin to fantasy than historical biography.

By reminding ourselves of the joy we experience when we make God our Master. Recall times you’ve been satisfied in Him worshiping, reading scripture, serving, ministering…

By asking the Holy Spirit to empower us to resist the lure of former masters. The Spirit is real and He really can enable us to resist temptation and see through lies.

By talking through our desires to return to unhealthy masters with encouraging friends and family. Don’t let shame that you even have the thought to sin keep you from opening up to someone about your struggle. Because guess what…we all think about sinning every single day. It’s called being human. And when we try to fight our impulses on our own, our success rate is dramatically lower than when we call on our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us.

Getting free is hard.

And staying free is hard.

Lord, help us make an intentional effort to remain free so we may serve You only, our one true Master.