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My Tribute to Jerry Bridges
June 26, 2016

Shortly after I heard that Jerry Bridges had died, I sat down to write about the ways he had impacted me through his life and ministry. In a too-weak tribute, I outlined five big lessons I had learned from him. Recently I read his memoir God Took Me by the Hand: A Story of God’s Unusual Providence and came to a section where he outlines seven big lessons he learned over the course of his sixty-plus years of being a Christian. Not surprisingly, his lessons align nicely with mine, showing that he had, indeed, exerted significant influence on me. If you want a brief overview of Bridges’ books and speaking ministry, here it is in seven brief lessons:

Lesson One: The Bible is meant to be applied to specific life situations. This includes both God’s commands to be obeyed and His promises to be relied upon. Here, of course, is where Scripture memorization is so valuable. The Holy Spirit can bring to our minds specific Scriptures to apply to specific situations.

Lesson Two: All who trust in Christ as Savior are united to Him in a living way just as the branches are united to the vine (see John 15:1-5). This means that as we abide in Him—that is, depend on Him in faith—His very life will flow into and through us to enable us to be fruitful both in our own character and our ministry to others.

Lesson Three: The pursuit of holiness and godly character is neither by self-effort nor simply letting Christ “live His life through you.” Rather, it does involve our most diligent efforts but with a recognition that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to enable us and to bless those efforts. I call this “dependent responsibility.”

Lesson Four: The sudden understanding of the doctrine of election was a watershed event for me that significantly affected my entire Christian life. For example, it was the realization of God’s sovereignty in election that led me to study further the sovereignty of God in all of life. It also produced a deep sense of gratitude and, I trust, humility, of realizing salvation was entirely of Him.

Lesson Five: The representative union of Christ and the believer means that all that Christ did in both His perfect obedience and His death for our sins is credited to us. Or to say it another way, because Christ is our representative before the Father, it was just of God to charge our sins to Christ and to credit His righteousness to us. So we as believers stand before God perfectly cleansed from both the guilt and defilement of our sin, but also clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Lesson Six: The gospel is not just for unbelievers in their coming to Christ. Rather, all of us who are believers need the gospel every day because we are still practicing sinners. The gospel, embraced every day, helps keep us from self-righteousness because it frees us to see our sin for what it really is. Also, gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ should motivate us to want to pursue godly character and to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to Him.

Lesson Seven: We are dependent on the Holy Spirit to apply the life of Christ to our lives. Someone has said (and this is a paraphrase), God the Father purposes, Christ accomplishes what the Father has purposed, and the Holy Spirit applies to our lives what Christ accomplished. To do this, the Spirit works in us directly and He also enables us to work. All the spiritual strength that we need comes to us from Christ through the Holy Spirit.

These seven lessons are his ministry in a nutshell. And, that being true, he has left behind a legacy of great faithfulness.

June 25, 2016

I am enjoying my time out here on the west coast though, as usual, these trips are just a bit too short. Still, it’s always a joy to be with brothers in Christ and I’m looking forward to speaking today at Men for God. Of course I will also be glad to be home very late tonight… 

When Your Spiritual Gift Isn’t Changing Diapers

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to use our gifts to serve our church family. But then again, who would say they have the spiritual gift of changing diapers? Holding doors open? Setting up chairs?”

Seven Lessons from Europe

John Piper returns from several weeks in Europe having learned seven interesting lessons.

Caterpillar to Butterfly

Here, in 3 minutes, is a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. It never gets any less impressive, does it?

A Short History of Bible Clutter

Tony Reinke speaks with Glenn Paauw, the Executive Director of the Biblica Institute for Bible Reading, to discuss how our modern Bibles ended up being so cluttered.

Protecting Our Children

Randy Alcorn: “I wonder how many dads have failed to protect their daughters and sons because they craved their approval.” Too many parents make that very mistake.

This Day in 1865. 151 years ago today, English missionary J. Hudson Taylor formed the China Inland Mission (later known as OMF, Overseas Missionary Fellowship International). *

Portraits of Jesus: ‘God’s Only Son’

Andy Naselli walks through one of the best-known passages in the Bible to model proper interpretation.

Sexuality, Identity, Sin, and Denying Ourselves

Amy links to and summarizes an important talk by Sam Allberry. “He has much to say that is relevant to everyone (not just those with same-sex attractions) and relevant to all temptations and sin (not just those related to sexuality).”

Flashback: 7 Good Reasons to Stop Looking at Porn Right Now

My goal for today is simple: I want to give you 7 good reasons you need to stop looking at porn right now.

The Bible You Have in Your Hand

My thanks goes to 10ofThose for sponsoring the blog this week.

Thomas

There must be a radical destruction of sin. Kill it; strangle it; starve it of oxygen until it cannot breathe again. There is no other way. —Derek Thomas

Free Stuff Fridays Updated
June 24, 2016

This week's Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by 10ofthose which, as you know, also sponsored the blog this week. They are offering a prize package made up of some of their best products. There will be 5 winners this week and each of them will receive the following:

  • Daily Readings Through All Four Gospels by J.C. Ryle. "This edition of Daily Readings from all Four Gospels is a fresh presentation of Ryle’s classic Daily Readings. This high quality, soft touch, deluxe edition contains all 732 readings from the Ryle’s previous volumes and arranges them for the morning and evening of every day of any year."
  • Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth Taylor. "Help your child discover the wonder of God and His Word! Dr. Kenneth Taylor explains in child–friendly language the essential Bible truths you want your child to know. He tells children about God’s creation of the world, why Jesus came to earth, how the Holy Spirit helps us, and so much more!"
  • Evangelistic Preaching by Roger Carswell. "Clear, faithful proclamation of the gospel is needed more than ever, but the pressures of the age are often causing us to stay silent and withdraw. Roger defines biblical, evangelistic preaching as ‘proclaiming the gospel, to non–Christians, who are listening.’ He then helpfully, unpacks this and walks us through the Bible principles of sharing the good news. This is far from being just a theory book. With stories and examples, Roger applies what the Bible says, helps us think through how it will impact our preparation, prayers and preaching and excites us for what God can do through His word. If you’re a seasoned preacher or just starting out, this book is for you. It will help you think through both your message and method, how truth can be clearly communicated and manifested in love."
  • God and Politics by Mark Dever. "Mark Dever unpacks what the Bible has to say on this topic, and teaches how we can ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ without compromising on what we believe. We’ll see that our duty to God is comprehensive and that there isn’t an area of life that we can separate from His influence. This little book won’t take long to read, but its impact could last a lifetime."
  • Intentional by Paul Williams. "If we’re honest none of us find evangelism easy. We’re told we should do it, we might know that we should be doing it, but the reality is often too scary. Paul Williams is realistic about our fear and guilt, but with gentleness he shows us that the key to banishing our fear isn’t complex and clever answers, but rather to take our friends to the person of Jesus. He gives practical examples of how we can naturally and thoughtfully share how Jesus answers, and is the answer to commonly asked questions. Paul also shares how this simple model has led to greater confidence and joy in his own evangelism. This can be our joy too!"
  • Galatians by Peter Mead. "Be encouraged as Peter Mead takes us through 36 undated devotions; be reminded that Christ is everything, that the gospel is sufficient and that we have all we need for our lives now in Jesus. Helpful reflection questions will allow you to dwell on these great truths throughout the day."

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. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.

The Bestsellers
June 24, 2016

In this ongoing series of articles I am taking a look at books that have won the Platinum or Diamond Sales Awards from the Evangelical Christian Booksellers Association. The Platinum Award recognizes books that have achieved one million sales while the Diamond Award recognizes the few that have surpassed the ten million mark. Today we turn our attention to a bestseller meant to help men battle and overcome sexual temptation.

Every Man’s Battle by Steven Arterburn & Fred Stoeker

Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time lists three names on its front cover: Steven Arterburn and Fred Stoeker with Mike Yorkey. The story is that Stoeker wrote the book and passed it to Yorkey for a substantial edit. Yorkey’s editing led to the offer of a contract from Waterbrook Press, but the publisher believed it would thrive with the voice and name recognition of a respected counselor. For that reason they enlisted Arterburn who as founder and chairman of New Life Ministries had begun a chain of mental-health facilities, was hosting a nationally syndicated Christian counseling talk show, and had already authored more than thirty books. He was just the man they needed. In the introduction Stoeker explains that he had once been held captive by sexual sin and that he wrote the book to help other men liberate and cleanse themselves from it. “Are you anxious to get started? Good…so am I. We need real men around here—men of honor and decency, men with their hands where they belong and their eyes and minds focused on Christ. If roving eyes or sexually impure thoughts or even sexual addictions are issues in your life, Steve and I are hoping you’ll do something about it. Isn’t it time?”

Arterburn begins the book with an account of his own history with lust. He describes a time he let his eyes and imagination wander and ended up causing a car accident. This story has gained notoriety for its explicit detail about the woman he was ogling—her actions, her clothing, her shape, her desirability. “My eyes locked on this goddesslike blonde…” He tells that for the first ten years of his marriage he was held captive by this kind of lust. Stoeker follows with his own description of sexual sin, manifested through casual sex, addiction to pornography, and habitual self-gratification. In contrast to such sexual darkness the authors lay out a plan to recover sexual purity. “God offers you freedom from the slavery of sin through the cross of Christ, and He created your eyes and mind with an ability to be trained and controlled. We simply have to stand up and walk by His power in the right path.”

This path of self-control involves replacing old destructive habits with new and better ones. “While sexual impurity works like a bad habit, sexual purity works like a good habit.” The two-part habit they teach is bouncing and starving the eyes. “Your eyes have always bounced toward the sexual, and you’ve made no attempt to end this habit. To combat it, you need to build a reflex action by training your eyes to immediately bounce away from the sexual, like the jerk of your hand away from a hot stove.” The authors state that after six weeks of doing this it will become established as a habit and lust will lose its power, halting the cycle of sexual fantasy.

Sales & Lasting Impact

Every Man’s Battle released in July 2000. It sold briskly for the first few years and in 2004 was awarded the Gold Sales Award for selling a half million copies. Sales would slow but remain steady until by 2013 it sold its one millionth copy and was awarded the Platinum Sales Award.

The book was widely praised for its man-to-man tone and its practical advice. It put into words what many men had grappled with—the lust, the desires, the wandering eyes, the self-gratification. It was published at a time when Internet-based pornography was beginning to run rampant but before the problem had been widely acknowledged. Many men turned to this book in shame and despair and many of them found help in its pages.

However, the book has not been without its critiques, the foremost of which is its lascivious tone. Many readers and reviewers have despaired to find that their imaginations are fired rather than freed by the authors’ detailed descriptions of their lust and the objects of their lust.

Of greater concern is the book’s habit-based solution to sin in which the authors offer a behavior-modification approach instead of a gospel-grounded one. They teach the reader to deal with bad habits by replacing them with good ones, but they do not sufficiently explore the root of the sin of lust. The core of any sin is idolatry, a deep heart condition that replaces satisfaction in God with satisfaction in something else, worship of God with worship of something created by God. As Erik Raymond says, in the moment you look lustfully at pornography (or a woman who is not your wife) “you have just declared that these images are chiefly beautiful and worthy of your desire. You have elevated your selfish lust to a position of supremacy above what God has called beautiful. You have exchanged the beauty of God for the beauty of a fleeting image. Your sinful heart has just robbed the glory of God of what is due him by ascribing glory and beauty to this image.”

The Every Man’s Battle approach focuses too much on externals and too little on internals. In that way it offers a faulty and often short-lived approach. Bad habits need to be replaced with good ones to be sure! But habits without the gospel are an insufficient, works-based approach to holiness. So yes, bounce your eyes! Starve them, shut them, pluck them right out of your face if that’s what it takes! But don’t do any of this apart from a deep grounding in the gospel.

Since the Award

The book spawned a plethora of related titles including Every Young Man’s Battle, Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle, Every Man’s Challenge, Every Man God’s Man, Every Young Man God’s Man, Every Man’s Marriage, Every Single Man’s Battle. Then there were the similar books for women: Every Woman’s Battle, Every Young Woman’s Battle, Every Single Woman’s Battle, and so on. There are at least 16 books in “The Every Man” franchise. The books for men continued to list Arterburn, Stoeker, and Yorkey on the front cover while the books for women listed Shannon Ethridge with forewords and afterwords by Arterburn. In 2013 Every Young Man’s Battle and Every Young Woman’s Battle both surpassed 500,000 sales.

Both authors have continued to write books and both speak at conferences, though Arterburn has by far the bigger platform. Today he has some eight million books in print, his daily radio program is heard on more than 180 radio stations across American, and he founded the Women of Faith conferences which have now seen over 5 million women attend.

Perhaps the most unusual thing to happen since the book’s release was an article featured in a 2006 issue of GQ magazine. A journalist wrote about the evangelical abstinence movement and in doing so interviewed Arterburn. As he did that, he discovered a surprising fact: Arterburn had recently been divorced for the second time and married for the third. “As my meeting with Arterburn is winding down, I notice a photo on a desk of a fresh-faced blond knockout I take to be his daughter. He corrects this impression: She’s his third wife, Misty. She’s in her early thirties, he informs me; he met her a few years back at one of his seminars, they corresponded through e-mail for a while, and he’s been married to her for nine months. She’s also pregnant with their first child.” Arterburn expressed concern that this might impact his ministry, but his fears were unfounded.

A Personal Perspective

I read Every Man’s Battle in 2003 and offered just a short review. This was long before I had given substantial attention to sexual sin and purity, but even then I found myself dissatisfied with the habit-based approach. “Primarily I find I am disappointed that the authors have no better solution than bouncing the eyes. I would like to believe that God can truly free men from sexual sin rather than having them live their lives masking this sin.” Even then I knew that God must be able to do a deeper work than merely retraining a man’s habits. Can’t God actually deliver a man from the sin of lust? I need to believe God can do a deeper work in a man than merely training him to bounce his eyes.

A few years later I wrote a series of articles titled “Sexual Detox” and these turned into a book by the same title. In some ways that book was my own attempt to right some of the weaknesses of Every Man’s Battle. Far and away the most common feedback I have received is something like this: “Thank you for writing with dignity and not writing in such a way that you cause me to lust even more.” I know exactly what they mean.

With all of this said, I would not wish to deny that God used Every Man’s Battle to challenge and sanctify many of his people. God does not use only perfect books (which is good since there is only one of them). God does not change only those people who have a perfect understanding of sin and how to battle it. He saw fit to use this book. However, since 2000 hundreds of others books have been written that tackle issues of sexual sin and purity and many of them are far superior. Here are my recommendations.

June 24, 2016

Yesterday, right after I posted my daily article, my server experienced what the host described as “catastrophic hardware failure.” For that reason the site was unavailable most of the day. I believe the problem has now been fully fixed. Finally, after years of paying for backups, it was proven worth it!

And now some links, beginning with Westminster Books which has a great deal on the ESV Heirloom Bible.

TGCW16 Conference Media

The Gospel Coalition has just released the audio and video from the recent women’s conference. It is free for the taking.

Is Your Worship Service Upside Down?

Jared Wilson is right in his wheelhouse writing about things like this. “Our church worship gatherings ought to be welcoming and comprehensible to unbelievers who are present, but many churches actually structure the entire worship service around them. There is no real biblical precedent for this, and furthermore, it’s not the most effective way for your church to reach lost people, anyway.”

21 Questions With Barronelle Stutzman

“Barronelle Stutzman is the Washington florist sued by a gay man, a friend and client of almost a decade, who was outraged by her refusal to do the flowers for his same-sex wedding. Whatever you think you know about her case, I bet you don’t know a lot of things in that short three-minute video.”

How to Resist Sins of Conformity

“Sins of conformity happen when, because of the pressure to fit in, you adopt the sinful action or inaction of a group.” We are all prone to such sins.

Why the Trinitarian Controversy Was Inevitable

This is way above my pay grade, but still awfully interesting. “While others have covered the ins and outs of the controversy with some depth, I am more interested in why this clash is happening, and why it is happening now. Michael Bird has said that this is about to be a ‘miniature civil war’. While that may be an exaggeration, the clash was inevitable for several reasons.”

This Day in 64. 1,952 years ago today, Nero began the first Imperial persecution of Christians. *

On Anonymity

Courtney Reissig: “I’m no historian, but I wonder if there has ever been a time where a longing for significance and fame has been so present for all of us.” Can we be content to be anonymous in a world that wants us to try to make a name for ourselves?

The Orchid Mantis

It’s a pretty flower, right? No, wait, it’s munching on that bug…

What Happened to Beauty?

R.C. Sproul asks what happened to beauty when it comes to our places of worship.

Flashback: What It Takes To Be An Evangelical Leader

“In brief, an evangelical is a person who believes the ‘three rs’: ruin by the Fall, redemption through Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit. It follows that an ‘evangelical leader’ is a person who stands out in the advancement and defence of those truths.”

Ryle

I have often been told that “broad” views are wanted in the present day. I wish to be as broad as the Bible, neither less nor more. —J.C. Ryle

Why I Am Not Dispensational
June 23, 2016

As you know, I am well into a series that tells what I believe by discussing the things I do not believe. To this point I have told why I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, Arminian, or paedobaptist. That means we are hastening toward the end of the series with just three articles remaining. Today I will tell why I am not dispensational, and I warn you in advance, it may prove disappointing. Each of us has areas in which our theological convictions are deeply developed and others in which they are not quite so much. In this area I have not carried out the same level of study as, for example, the doctrines of salvation or scripture. My convictions are developed but not nearly as much as I might hope and, indeed, as you might hope.

If you are still reading after that warning we will move on to definitions. All Christians profess with the Apostle’s Creed that at some point in the future Christ will come “to judge the living and the dead.” But exactly how and when this will unfold are matters of intense and ongoing debate. This field of study is called eschatology which Greg Allison says “covers the return of Christ and its relationship to the millennium (amillennialism, postmillennialism, premillennialism) and the tribulation, the resurrection, the last judgment, the eternal blessing of the righteous and the eternal judgment of the wicked, and the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth.” In other words, eschatology is the study of what’s next and of what’s last.

Dispensationalism is a kind of framework for history that is organized around seven dispensations—seven orders or administrations. Particular to this framework is the eschatological position known as “premillennial dispensationalism” which holds that Christ will return prior to a literal one-thousand-year reign on earth. When I say I am not dispensational, this is primarily what I mean—I do not hold to premillennial dispensationalism. Allison points out “It differs from historic premillennialism by its belief that prior to the tribulation, Christ will remove the church from the earth (the rapture); thus, it is also called pretribulational premillennialism. Revelation 20:1-6 pictures Christ’s rule over the earth (while Satan is bound) for a thousand-year period, which is followed by Christ’s ultimate defeat of a released Satan, the last judgment, the resurrection of the wicked, and the new heaven and new earth.”

As I’ve mentioned before, most of my childhood was spent in Dutch Reformed churches and Dutch Reformed schools (despite, as I’ve also mentioned, my complete lack of Dutch heritage). This means I was raised on a steady diet of the Heidelberg Catechism which my parents supplemented with the Shorter Catechism. Neither one of these documents places much emphasis on the end times. For example, the Westminster simply asks, “In what does Christ’s exaltation consist?” and answers “Christ’s exaltation consists in his rising again from the dead on the third day; in ascending into heaven; in sitting at the right hand of God the Father; and in coming to judge the world at the last day.” There are no follow-up questions about that coming judgment. Most who treasure these catechisms adopt amillennialism or postmillennialism and, indeed, I was raised amillennial. It was my understanding that the world will continue roughly along its current tragic trajectory until, at last, Christ returns. (Allison: “With respect to eschatology, the position that there is no (a-) millennium, or no future thousand-year period of Christ’s reign on earth. … Key to this position is its nonliteral interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6: Satan’s binding is God’s current restraint of him, enabling the gospel to advance everywhere. Saints who rule are Christians who have died and are now with Christ in heaven. At the end of this present age, Christ will defeat a loosed Satan, ushering in the last judgment, the resurrection, and the new heaven and earth.”)

The first I ever heard of an alternative was through Christian music. In my teens I began to listen to Petra and though I discovered them in the Beyond Belief era, I eventually went back and bought their older albums. There I encountered songs like “Gonna Fly Away,” from their 1974 self-titled debut. It is hardly brilliant songwriting, but does discuss Christians being removed from the earth while non-Christians remain.

Dreamin’ about flyin’ since I was a boy
Never thought I’d see the real McCoy
I think it’s safe to say, I finally found a way

Gonna fly away
Gonna fly away

Every day I’ve been looking in the sky
Hope it’s not raining when I start to fly
I bet you think I’m strange, wait until I’m changed

Where you gonna be when the trumpet blows?
All that’s left of me is gonna be my clothes
I’d really like to see, you flyin’ next to me

It wasn’t until twelfth grade that I actually met someone who held to this position and could explain it to me. I heard her explanation—rather a good one, I think—but couldn’t reconcile it with my understanding of the Bible. I realized quickly that premillennial dispensationalism was going to have a long uphill climb if it was ever to displace my latent amillennialism. To this day it never has.

So why am I not dispensational? I’d like to say that I have studied the issue very closely, that I have read stacks of books on eschatology, and that I can thoroughly defend my position against every alternative. But that’s not the case. It’s more that my reading of the Bible, my years of listening to sermons, and my study of Christian theology has not been able to shake or displace the amillennialism of my youth. To the contrary, it has only strengthened it. Paul Martin’s recent sermon series through Revelation strengthened it all the more. The very framework of dispensationalism appears to me to fall into a similar category as paedobaptism in that they both, in the words of Tom Hicks, “wrongly allow the Old Testament to have priority over the New Testament.”

While I am not dispensational and do not hold to premillennial dispensationalism, I do wish to express my love and respect for many who hold this position and especially to John MacArthur who has been as important as anyone in forming and shaping so many of my convictions. I am thankful that this is one of those issues in which Christians can joyfully agree to disagree.

June 23, 2016

This evening I’ll be heading to Vancouver for the Men for God conference. I’d be grateful for your prayers that I would serve well as I speak on discipleship and gospel freedom. If you are going to be there, be sure to say hi.

Today’s Kindle deals include Christless Christianity by Michael Horton ($2.51); All the Names in the Bible ($3.49); The NIV Zondervan Study Bible edited by D.A. Carson ($3.99).

Defining Decency Down

“If a horrific act of murder happens somewhere in the world, but you don’t blog within minutes about it, or Tweet about What It All Means…do you still care?” This is the kind of question we need to ask in a social media world.

In the Shadow of the Valley

This episode of The Mortification of Spin deals with an ugly topic (sex trafficking) but in a very helpful way. I was both grieved and encouraged in listening to it.

Can We Trust the Gospels, Even If They Were Transmitted Orally?

J. Warner Wallace: “Even if the gospels were written early enough to have been authored by eyewitnesses, wouldn’t 15-20 years be enough time for the authors to forget something important or add something errant, especially if they were only retelling the story orally?”

Pulp Friction

“There’s more than a little irony to the impending collapse of Barnes & Noble. The mega-retailer that drove many small, independent booksellers out of business is now being done in by the rise of Amazon. But while many book lovers may be tempted to gloat, the death of Barnes & Noble would be catastrophic—not just for publishing houses and the writers they publish, but for American culture as a whole.”

When Your Child Dates an Unbeliever

Kim Shay: “I recently read a woman’s view that as long as one sheltered her children from unbelievers enough, she would never need to worry about kids dating unbelievers or dabbling in the world. I still squirm at the notion that our children’s spiritual development is simply a matter of controlling their environment. The reality is that good parents raise kids who do unwise things. When we’re young, we’re tempted to think our kids will never do that! Sometimes, they do. I hope this provides encouragement for some today.”

Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

Here is a great place to begin with Scripture memorization.

This Day in 1954. 62 years ago today, Randy Alcorn was born. Happy birthday, Randy!

How Waze Works

I guess it may be a bit of a commercial, but I really enjoyed this video on how the traffic app Waze works.

The Trinity Debate in 200 Words

Here’s another attempt to distil it down to its essence without using any of the Latin words.

Flashback: Why Making Decisions Is So Hard

“Why this fear? Why this agony? Why these sleepless nights? It is the uncertainty of it, I’m sure. It is the uncertainty of where our choices may lead.”

Horton

Nobody today seems to think that God is dangerous. And that is itself a dangerous oversight. —Michael Horton

How Will You Serve and Surprise This Week
June 22, 2016

I am a dutiful person who is usually happy enough to carry out life’s basic responsibilities. I am a husband with responsibilities toward my wife, a father with responsibilities toward my children, a pastor with responsibilities toward my congregation, a neighbor with responsibilities toward the people who live around me. My success as a husband, father, pastor, and neighbor is dependent upon being dutiful in all of these relationships.

Dutiful is good, but not good enough. Living well involves duty to be sure, but it also involves delight. Living well is made up of those things I must do, but also those things I get to do. For this reason I take time every week to consider each of life’s areas of responsibility and to ask not only how I can be dutiful in that area but also how I can express delight in it. I do this by asking a simple two-part question: How can I serve and how can I surprise? (I owe “serve and surprise” to a series of articles written by C.J. Mahaney.)

Like most people, I live within a kind of system that brings structure to my life. I spend a few minutes each morning getting my day organized, deciding which of the many things I could do today I actually will do—or at least attempt to do. Once each week I take a look at life in a broad way, and this is where I prayerfully pause to ask, “How must I serve this week and how can I surprise this week?” Or “What have I got to do this this week to fulfill duty and what do I get to do this week to express delight?”

The question of service is usually quite simple. To serve my wife I need to ensure I am present in body and mind, to serve my children I need to ask them about their friendships and to make sure they are completing their homework, to serve my church I need to be present at our services and to come well-prepared to lead them, to serve my neighbors I need to spend time with them. Those are all good and basic duties that fall to me, and I am happy enough to carry them out. But I want to be more than dutiful. I want to go beyond the basic duties of my life to also express delight. I don’t want to merely serve but also to surprise.

The question of surprise takes a little more thought and creativity. It requires me to know others and to understand what brings them joy and pleasure. How can I please Aileen and let her know that she is loved? How can I surprise my children and bring them joy? How can I express delight in my church? These are the kinds of questions I ask and then, in one way or another, I answer them by turning them into actions or plotting them into time. I may choose to take certain actions in the week ahead: Buy flowers for Aileen. Rent a movie with the kids. Send a gift to someone in the church. Or I may choose to reserve time on my calendar so we can do things together: Take Michaela out for breakfast. Have a family night of silly games and activities. Invite some church families over for Sunday lunch. These actions and activities go beyond basic service to pursue and express delight.

Do you see it? Life is never less than duty, but at its best it is so much more. Duty usually comes easily enough whereas delight requires thoughtfulness, effort, and creativity. Duty can be impersonal—the duty of one father toward his children may not differ very much from the duty of another father toward his children. But delight is customized and requires study, it requires personalized knowledge (another strength of Mahaney’s approach.)

If we are to live in such a way that we bring glory to God by doing good to others, we owe it to them to serve and surprise, to fulfill duty and express delight. So who do you need to serve and surprise in the week ahead?

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