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July 03, 2015

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by a first-time sponsor: Founders Ministries. “Founders Ministries is a ministry of teaching and encouragement promoting both doctrine and devotion expressed in the Doctrines of Grace and their experiential application to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness. Founders Ministries takes as its theological framework the first recognized confession of faith that Southern Baptists produced, The Abstract of Principles.”

Founders is offering an interesting prize package this week. There will be 5 winners and each of them will receive:

Enter Here

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

July 03, 2015

I imagine you have read Douglas Adams’ quip before: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” It’s funny because we can all identify with it. We all know the panic of approaching deadlines, the pain of watching them fly on by, the guilt of explaining why we missed again. We all the know problem of procrastination that leads to so many of those misses.

Procrastination is a tricky little problem that can take different and even opposite forms. Procrastination can come in the form of laziness or the form of busyness. We procrastinate lazily when we neglect productivity in favor of entertainment—getting lost in a novel instead of cleaning the house, or watching Netflix instead of writing that report. We procrastinate busily when we neglect the most urgent and important tasks in favor of ones that are less important but a whole lot easier—we answer emails instead of working on the sermon, or we sweep the house when we should be painting it. Procrastination can take a million different forms.

There was a time in my life where I was awfully good at procrastination. Or awfully bad, depending on your perspective. I still can be if I don’t watch it. But along the way I learned how to (mostly) beat it (most of the time). Today I am going to offer you 2 big-picture tips and follow them with 2 very practical ones. These are the very things that I have found so helpful in my own life.

First, I had to see this: Procrastination is a problem of spirituality before it is a problem of productivity. I came to understand that God has put me on this earth to bring glory to him by doing good for others. If that is the case, then procrastination hinders my ability to carry out my purpose. It is downright evil. Whether I am avoiding the most urgent tasks by being very busy or very lazy, procrastination stems from sin and leads to sin. I had to learn that of all the things I could do on a given day or in a given moment, I was responsible to focus on the one or the few that I should do. And the way to do this was to begin my day with prayer, to commit all of my tasks to the Lord, and to remind myself each day that the best and highest kind of productivity is to effectively steward my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. I formally remind myself of this each and every day.

Second, I had to learn a very important lesson: Not all procrastination is bad. At least, not if we allow God to define it on his terms. In the Old Testament God set a pattern that we are wise to follow: a pattern of work and rest. God worked for 6 days and then rested for 1. And later he commanded his people to do the same, to work for 6 days and then to stop their labor for the 7th. While our relationship to the Law is not the same as it was for the theocracy of Israel, and while the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ, the pattern is ingrained and enduring. We are wise to deliberately put off all of our tasks for 1 day out of every 7, to deliberately leave them for another time. When I take 1 day out of every 7 to focus on worship, fellowship, and rest, I am far more capable and motivated in the 6 that remain. I suffer no drop in productivity when I carefully and deliberately take a 24-hour period of rest each week.

Now, let me give two practical tips that have been especially important for me.

The first is to do the hardest thing on your list first. As I said earlier, we can masquerade as efficient people by doing many things, but still neglect the most important things. At the end of the day, it is far more important that I prepare my sermon than complete those 11 other small tasks. But it is easier and can feel far more fulfilling to go after the list and start crossing them off. After all, there is a feeling of accomplishment that comes when I can say at 11 AM that I have already accomplished 11 out of 12 things. But what I have actually done is used my best, most focused, and most productive hours of the day to avoid the task that takes the most focus and creative energy. So I always try to force myself to do the hardest thing first. I need to use the best of my day to do the single most important thing. It is a hard discipline, but a very important one.

My second tip is to break big tasks into small ones. Sometimes I find myself procrastinating because the task before me is daunting in its sheer size. “Write a book” is an overwhelming task. “Write chapter 1” is far more attainable, and “Write 1,000 words” even more so. I can overcome task paralysis by making my tasks much more reasonable in their size. Sure, it’s all really a mind trick, but it is an effective one that can motivate action.

There is much more I could say on the subject, of course. I have read many books and many articles on procrastination, but do believe that these 4 tips are the ones that have most helped me in overcoming what was once a losing battle. I hope they prove valuable to you.

Image credit: Shutterstock

July 03, 2015

There haven’t been a lot of notable Kindle deals this week, but you may want to take a look at Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas which is just $1.99—it’s a solid biography of the always-fascinating William Wilberforce.

The Afternoon Slump - You can’t avoid that afternoon slump, so you may as well learn to work around it.

Distinguishing the Spirit from the Serpent - Sinclair Ferguson: “How do we distinguish the promptings of the Spirit of grace in His guiding and governing of our lives from the delusions of the spirit of the world and of our own sinful heart?”

Three Scenes - How will you and your church contribute to the ministry of adoption? This article may help get started.

How Dangerous Is Turbulence? - How dangerous is the turbulence your plane experiences? Not very, it turns out, as long as you wear your seatbelt.

Calling to Ministry - The question of whether you are called to ministry should really become “Has God called me to be a leader in the church?” or “Does God want my specific ministry to be helping other people to minister?”

Mark it down—your progress in holiness will never exceed your relationship with the holy Word of God. —Nancy Leigh DeMoss

DeMoss

 

July 02, 2015

There are times in the Christian’s life where we wait upon God, where we wait for relief from some kind of afflication, and where we wait for a long time for God to answer prayer. I am certain that you have experienced times like these, and know that the temptation in such times is to despair and to demand, to grow angry and impatient. But in The Mystery of Providence John Flavel warns: Though God means to give you the comfort or mercy you long for, he usually first exercises your patience by making you wait. He does that for these 3 reasons:

  1. Because this is not the right time for you to receive that mercy. Simply stated, God does not judge time as you do. You are in a hurry, but God is not, and he knows the perfect time to dispense his mercy. “For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18). Will you wait for his timing?
  2. These difficult circumstances have not accomplished in your heart what God means for them to accomplish. Though you may be earnest and impatient in your desire for what you believe are better circumstances, God will wait until the trial has accomplished his purposes.
  3. The more you pray and the more you search your heart, the sweeter the relief will be when it comes. God means to overwhelm you with his grace, and it may take fervent prayer and humble patience for you to respond to his mercy in the right way. “It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’ (Isaiah 25:9 ESV).”

As a sinful human being you are prone to judge your circumstances by your senses and observations. Always consider that God’s heart can be toward you even while his hand appears to be against you. If your circumstances continue unabated you may be tempted to think that your prayers have been useless and that you are without hope in the world. You may even go so far as to conclude that God is angry with you and has closed his ears to your prayers. But the God who has saved you will never turn his back on you.

Instead of believing such lies, consider these 6 things:

  1. God is delaying his mercy for your benefit. God is waiting so that he may extend grace to you at the perfect moment. Right now you are in the time of preparation where God is readying the comfort he means to give you. A foolish child plucks an apple while it is green. But when that apple is ripe, it drops off of its own accord and is far more delicious and wholesome. Wait with wisdom and patience. It will be worth the wait.
  2. A heart that trusts in God is far more precious than any comfort. It is a greater mercy to have a heart that trusts in God than to enjoy the comfort you are sure you need. Flavel says, “a frame is better than a fruition.” A heart oriented toward God is much more precious and enduring than any peaceful or comfortable circumstance.
  3. Mercy is never nearer than when your heart and hope is lowest. Light shines the brightest when you are sure that only darkness remains. God’s mercy will be all the brighter when your heart is in its darkest state.
  4. God delays his mercy because you are unfit to receive it. God’s mercy may be waiting for you to become ready to receive it. God may holding it back for your own good, even while you grumble and complain about his lack of haste.
  5. Remember that any mercy you desire is only and entirely a gift of grace. You do not deserve God’s mercy and have no claim to it. Because of this, the only proper way to wait for it is with patience and gratitude. You are waiting for a gift, not for your just reward.
  6. Consider how many people are forever cut off from all hope of mercy. Consider those who are perishing without grace and how for them all that remains is the further expectation of wrath. This might have been you if not for the grace of God. So wait for God’s mercy with patient humility.

Next Week

We will continue our reading next week with chapter 10: “Motives of Reflecting on God’s Providence.” Read it by next Thursday and check in to see what I (and others) have to say about it.

Your Turn

The purpose of this project is to read classics together. So do feel free to leave a comment if you have something you would like to say. Alternatively, you may leave a link to your blog or Facebook or anywhere else you have reflected on what you have read.

If you would like to read along with us, you are free to do so (though you’ve got some catching up to do). Simply get a copy of the book and start reading…

July 02, 2015

Today’s Kindle deals include: Reckless Abandon and Hard Fighting Soldier by David Sitton ($0.99 each); Raised? by Jonathan Dodson & Brad Watson ($1.99); The Little Handbook to Perfecting the Art of Christian Writing by Don Aycock ($0.99); Walking with Lincoln by Thomas Freiling ($1.99).

Everhard Jabach and His Family - I think you will enjoy watching this 5-minute film on the repair and restoration of Charles Le Brun’s painting Everhard Jabach and His Family.

Apple Music - Apple is offering 3 months of free access to their new streaming service which competes directly with Spotify and its alternatives. If you sign up, you may want to follow these steps to make sure you won’t be charged at the end of your trial.

Four Appeals to Christians - Gavin Ortlund offers 4 appeals to Christians who are embracing gay marriage. Here’s a great line: “Panic and pessimism are out of order for a worldview anchored in belief in an omnipotent God, irresistible grace, and an eternal heaven.”

Baptism and a Theology of Children - There has been a bit of interesting blog-based discussion of baptism over the past few days. Jonathan Leeman has a round-up and reply.

You’re Not a Leader If… - This one hurts a little bit: “You are not a good leader if you never tell people you are sorry.”

Sin corrupts even our good deeds. We injure our shoulder trying to pat ourselves on the back. —D.A. Carson

Carson

 

July 01, 2015

You don’t really know who your friends are until their relationship with you becomes a liability instead of a benefit. Many celebrities, and even Christian celebrities, have learned this lesson the hard way. In the blink of an eye, or the release of a news story, they went from fêted to ignored, from celebrated to invisible. They learned quickly that many of their so-called friends had actually not been friends at all, but people thriving on a kind of symbiotic relationship where each benefited the other. When the relationship become a liability, their friends were suddenly nowhere to be found.

This happened to Jesus. When he was performing miracles and laying verbal beatings on the Pharisees and healing men who had been born blind, his friends were only too happy to ally themselves with him. They were proud to know him, to be known in relation to him, and to be in his inner circle. But when he became a hated criminal, when he was dragged before the courts and accused of crimes, his friends quickly made themselves scarce. They disappeared into the night, leaving him to fend for himself.

For as long as you and I have lived, at least if you have lived in this Western, first-world culture, friendship with Jesus has been beneficial. At worst this friendship has been neutral so the benefits have balanced the drawbacks. And while I am no prognosticator of doom, it seems increasingly clear that a relationship with Jesus will soon be more and a more of a liability before this watching, judging world.

Looking at the people around me who have professed faith in Christ, and looking at many of the Christians I know through social media, I see two kinds of concerning reaction.

Some are denying him and rejecting him. They have determined that the cost of associating with Jesus is too high, and they have walked away from him altogether. Any association with Jesus typecasts them as bigoted, as intolerant, as judgmental, as trapped in an appallingly outmoded system of morality. They have chosen to leave him behind.

Many more are redefining the terms of their friendship by redefining their friend. They are creating a new version of their friend Jesus, rewriting him in their own image, or in the image of the culture around them, making him into a figure who has been misunderstood and who is far more tolerant, far more accepting, far more palatable. This inoffensive Jesus loves without judgment, he gives without expectation, he proudly waves a rainbow flag.

But, of course, Jesus is unchanged and unchanging. He will not bow to the changing culture, he will not cede to the rising tide. Jesus will only ever be who he is and who he has always been. And each of us has a choice to make.

You don’t really know who your friends are until their relationship with you becomes a liability instead of a benefit. We don’t really know who Jesus’ friends are until a relationship with him becomes a liability instead of a benefit. We know that Jesus is proud to be the friend of sinners, and in the days to come, we will discover which sinners are truly proud to be friends with him.

Image credit: Shutterstock

July 01, 2015

Happy Canada Day! I know that each of you is celebrating in your own way. To celebrate the day (and the start of a new month), here are a few freebies and deals. Free from Logos is a pair of books, including one by Tom Schreiner. You’ll need to visit the main page of Logos.com and click the link to Free Book of the Month. Meanwhile, this month’s free book from Christian Audio is Ian & Larissa Murphy’s Eight Twenty Eight. It’s a good one, and it’s there for the taking! Finally, and as always, Amazon begins the new month with a selection of Kindle deals that cover most genres.

Earth View - Earth View is a collection of especially interesting shots from Google Earth. (If you are a Chrome user, grab the extension.) I love it!

Face Death Defiantly - There is a lot to be said for this: “Within the bounds of the gospel, defiance against death can be holy, cleansing, and constructive.”

Apologetics Resources - Westminster Books has some good apologetics resources on sale this week.

Colors - I enjoyed this short celebration of color. Of course I probably would have enjoyed it even more if not for the fact that I’m red/green color-blind.

The New F-Word - This article discusses how swearing and profanity inevitably change over time. (Note: Obviously there are offensive words in the article since, well, it’s about offensive words.)

You Will Be Perescuted with Words - Tom Schreiner: “It isn’t right to say that Christians in the United States are free from persecution. We should be more precise: we are free from physical persecution.”

It takes more than clicking like for a good cause to change the world. —Michael Oh

Oh

 

June 30, 2015

A couple of days ago Aileen and I were at the gym, alternating between lifting heavy stuff off the floor and then putting it right back down again (with a bit of running to nowhere in the mix as well). This kind of activity often leaves us rather sore, and, as it happens, there was a chiropractor working the floor that day, offering to show how she could soothe some of that soreness. It was a free sampling of sorts, the health club equivalent to Costco’s little samples of crackers or pizza.

I tell you what: This place has it figured out. They work you hard so you get hungry and, wouldn’t you know it, they’ve got a nice little café to feed you. They push you to your limits so you get sore and, once again, they’ve got a chiropractic and physiotherapy clinic to serve you. It’s a perfect little cycle. But I digress.

Aileen was particularly sore that day, and is a little bit less self-conscious than I am about getting professionally twisted and kneaded in a public space. So she told the chiropractor about her sore knee and lay face-down on the table. The chiropractor pretty much ignored Aileen’s knee and instead began to work her hamstring. She protested a little, explaining again that it was not her hamstring but her knee that was bothering her. But the doctor kept on working the hamstring while explaining that the knee was not the problem. In reality, the hamstring was tight and this was putting abnormal strain on the knee, causing it to get inflamed. The problem with the knee was not actually with the knee at all. And, sure enough, after a few minutes of work the pain eased and disappeared.

As I watched the chiropractor doing what chiropractors do, I realized that I invariably become a better pastor when I observe doctors and other medical professionals. Physicians of the soul are not too different from physicians of the body. And in some ways these doctors are more adept than pastors at seeking problems and in solving them.

The chiropractor that day reminded me of the importance of careful observation. Her temptation might be to go straight to the knee—to hear the words “knee pain” and to immediately start work right there. But instead, she asked Aileen to do a few simple tasks, to move in certain ways, to describe the kind of pain she was experiencing. As Aileen did this, the doctor was feeling her muscles, feeling her ligaments, and observing it all. That careful observation led to a surprising but accurate diagnosis. And as a pastor, I know that I am tempted to neglect scrutinizing a spiritual issue and to make a quick and trite diagnosis of the problem. When I see someone believing what is wrong or living in a way that dishonors God, I need to resist the temptation to offer the quick fix and instead to talk, to pray, to observe, and to trace that sin to its root.

The chiropractor that day reminded me of a second and related issue. She reminded me that the presenting problems—the marital disputes, the explosive anger, the addictions, the deep sadness—are not always the thing. We can go right after that problem, find some Bible verses that speak to it, and try to memorize them together. But a careful examination through good conversation will often lead us to see that these sins are actually only symptoms of a much deeper problem. It may expose a deeper sin, it may expose the pain of past victimization, it may expose simple immaturity. But sometimes sin’s causes are much harder to discover than sin’s symptoms.

It is not just pastors who are to be adept at seeing and diagnosing spiritual problems. This is true of every Christian, to all of us who are called “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12). We are all responsible before God to be involved, to observe carefully, to diagnose accurately, and to treat patiently. Are you caring for the souls of others?

Image credit: Shutterstock