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November 20, 2014

I would pay good money to watch a debate between John Owen and Joel Osteen. Wouldn’t you? I have read John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation many times now, and have benefited with every reading. It just never gets old and it just never stops sounding so counter-cultural, countering both the wider culture and even the going Christian culture.

This week I read a chapter that teaches the value of self-examination and self-abasement. I was immediately struck by the difference between the heart of Owen’s understanding of the Christian life and what passes for Christian living today. I don’t mean to pick on an easy target, but it makes a fascinating contrast to compare Owen’s books with, say, Joel Osteen’s. I am not exaggerating when I say that they really are polar opposites in just about every way. Though both pass as Christian books, they could hardly be more different.

Where Joel Osteen writes about how we are to accept the unfortunate reality that we have made mistakes, his solution is that we should just press on and determine that we will not do bad things again. Owen, though, calls our mistakes “sin” and assures us that this sin has eternally distanced us from God. He allows sin no quarter and would never stoop to calling it a mere mistake. Where Osteen teaches that we are fundamentally good and that we should think highly of ourselves, Owen teaches that we are fundamentally sinners and need to fill our minds with self-abasement and thoughts of our own vileness.

Yet these low thoughts of ourselves have an important purpose and an important qualification. We are not to think low thoughts about ourselves in isolation. Instead, such thoughts are to be the natural consequence of pondering the majesty and the “otherness” of God. Do you want to see yourself accurately? Then see God accurately first. As we ponder God we are led to see the inconceivable distance between him and us. Once we see that distance, all we can really do is accept and ponder his greatness and our comparable vileness. I am sure there are those who read this and quickly picture dour Puritans who enjoy thinking of how awful they are, as if beating up on themselves is a form of holiness. But this is not what Owen says at all. Instead he teaches that proper thoughts of God and of humanity are of critical importance because only through abasement of ourselves before God can we experience humility of spirit. It is like a balance. As our thoughts of God increase, our view of ourselves naturally decreases accordingly. As that view of ourselves decreases, our love for God swells.

Osteen and so many of today’s other popular authors could never arrive at such conclusions because there is too little difference between their view of humanity and their view of God. In their way of thinking, we are not so far removed from him. They think of God too seldom and themselves too much; with every great thought of themselves, they lower God.

Here are a few of Owen’s best quotes from this chapter:

  • “Our further progress consists more in knowing what he is not, than what he is.”
  • “The intention of all gospel revelation is not to unveil God’s essential glory that we should see him as he is, but merely to declare so much of him as he knows sufficient to be a [foundation] of our faith, love, obedience, and coming to him—that is, of the faith which here he expects from us; such services as beseem poor creatures in the midst of temptations.”
  • “Know that your very nature is too narrow to bear apprehensions suitable to his glory.”

Next Time

For those reading Overcoming Sin and Temptation with me, well, I know that I took some liberties this week by looking beyond the one chapter. I couldn’t help myself! Next Thursday we will continue with the thirteenth chapter of the book—we are nearing the end! You can still get the book and read along if that is of interest to you.

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.

November 20, 2014

I’ve got a few new Kindle deals for you today: Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Greg Koukl & Francis Beckwith ($2.99); The Problem of Evil by Jeremy Evans ($2.99); Nothing Is Impossible With God by Rose Miller (free); The Illustrated Life of Paul by Charles Quarles ($4.99). New from GLH Publishing is A Church in the House by Matthew Henry ($0.99).

True Things In a True Way - I appreciate what Darryl says here: “I’ve noticed a trend. In many of our settings, we tend to say things that are true as far as they go, but the way we say them contradicts what’s being said.”

The Case for Face-to-Face Meetings - There’s much more that could be said, but here are some good opening arguments on the value of face-to-face meetings.

Gospel-Centered - John Piper explains what it means to be gospel-centered or cross-centered.

The Band-Aid of the Future - Here’s a potential medical breakthrough. (Note for those with weak stomachs: the video display a small amount of blood.)

You Are Cured of MS - Does God heal today? Yup.

Four Reasons Time Management Is More Difficult - Matt Heerema offers 4 reasons that time management is more difficult today than in times past.

Airspace - Here’s a great video showing UK airspace over a day. Watching the overnight flights arrive from North America is incredible.

The cross of Christ is in itself an offence to the world; let us take heed that we add no offence of our own. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

November 19, 2014

This series on productivity is beginning to reach its end. But before it winds down, I have just a couple more topics to cover, and one of them is the all-important weekly review. I have written at length about the value of a system. Systems are wonderful and powerful, but require some maintenance in order to continue functioning smoothly. The weekly review is one of the primarily means through which you can maintain your system. Today I will tell you about my weekly review, and also tell you about some of the unique features of my system.

A Weekly Review

If the daily review [part 6] is tactical, the weekly review is more strategic. The purpose of this review is to set new plans into motion, to restart projects that have stalled, and to course-correct plans that are drifting. Where the daily coram deo takes only a couple of minutes, the weekly review requires a little bit more time—I find that I need to block off around 30 minutes for it. I schedule it for each Friday afternoon so that when a new week begins on Sunday, the week is already set and organized.

This weekly review is a work in progress and I occasionally add a step or remove a step. But on the whole it is comprised of these actions:

  • [Get Focused] Pray
  • [Get Clear] Bring: Email Inbox to 0
  • [Get Clear] Bring: Evernote Inbox to 0
  • [Get Clear] Bring: OmniFocus Inbox to 0
  • [Get Clear] Tidy: Desk
  • [Get Clear] Tidy: Desktop
  • [Get Current] Review: Calendar for Next 30 Days
  • [Get Current] Review: OmniFocus Forecast for Next 7 Days
  • [Get Current] Review: Evernote Notebooks
  • [Get Current] Review: All Projects
  • [Get Set] Review: Mission & Principles
  • [Get Going] Decide: Next Week’s Deadlines, Deliverables, and Priorities

I will give you a brief overview of what I do in each step.

[Get Focused] Pray. I pause to pray, asking wisdom to know what I ought to do, and for grace to do it well.

[Get Clear] Bring: Email Inbox to 0. [Get Clear] Bring: Evernote Inbox to 0. [Get Clear] Bring: OmniFocus Inbox to 0. I tidy up all 3 inboxes to ensure that my system is clean and running smoothly. All emails are replied to or filed, all information in Evernote is placed in its proper notebook, and all my tasks are filed in their appropriate projects.

[Get Clear] Tidy: Desk. I clean up my physical workspace, filing any papers, putting away any books, and so on. This step actually extends a little beyond my desk to any other place that paper, books or other bits and pieces tend to accumulate. It is not a total cleaning of my office, but a gathering of anything that could contain information I may need when looking ahead.

[Get Clear] Tidy: Desktop. I clear up any files that have ended up on my computer’s desktop.

By the time all my [Get Clear] steps are complete, everything is where it ought to be as per the familar maxim a home for everything, and like goes with like. Now that I am clear, I can get current—I am going to look at my tools to familiarize myself with all the items I could take action on in the week ahead.

[Get Current] Review: Calendar for Next 30 Days. I look over my calendar to see if there are any major events coming up that I ought to be aware of. I rarely need to take action on things that are more than 30 days ahead, so a month is plenty of time for me.

[Get Current] Review: Evernote Notebooks. There are certain notebooks in Evernote that contain crucial information and that need to regularly reviewed. Let me give you an example. If I am an account manager, I might have a notebook in Evernote that contains information about each of my clients. At the end of the week I would go through that notebook and see if there are any notes that have not been updated in a long time (which would indicate that I have not been in touch with that client for a long time). Where I see that kind of information, I can create tasks to check in with those clients or to take other appropriate actions. To be clear, I do not review all of my notebooks—only the few that contain especially important and actionable information.

[Get Current] Review: All Projects. Now it is time to review every single one of the projects in my task management system. One of the best features of OmniFocus is its automated review functionality which automatically prompts me to review each of my projects on a regular basis. At this time I have it set so I review each of my projects on Friday afternoon. Depending on the software you use, you may need to do this step manually. It involves little more than a glance at each project to ensure I have a next action assigned to each, to ensure items have due dates, to see if I have missed or overlooked anything, or to see if I completed anything but neglected to mark it as complete. I will also see if any of these projects has a pending deadline. If I see anything that needs to be adjusted or prioritized, I can set an appropriate due date. I can’t overstate the importance of this step to the functioning of the system.

[Get Current] Review: OmniFocus Forecast for Next 7 Days. I open the forecast perspective in OmniFocus and run through the next 7 days, reminding myself of any pending deadlines.

At the end of these [Get Current] steps I have gathered all the information I need and I know which of my tasks I could take action on in the week ahead. But I still need to decide which I actually will take action on. However, there is one step I need to complete before that.

[Get Set] Review: Mission & Principles. I go to Evernote where I keep a note containing my mission statements for each of my areas of responsibility, and where I keep a list of productivity principles I attempt to live by. I read my mission statements and principles every single week. Where my mission statements tend to stay static, I often find myself making minor adjustment to my principles. (See below for more on these principles.)

At the end of [Get Set] I have put everything in its place. I have gotten all the information I need. I have considered my mission and principles. Now, at last, I can get going.

[Get Going] Decide: Next Week’s Deadlines, Deliverables, and Priorities. At the end of it all, I decide what I mean to focus on in the next week or weeks, and assign due or defer dates as appropriate. Example: In my review of the Evening Service project I see that I will be preaching the next part of my series on the following Sunday evening. Therefore I set the due date on that task for the Friday, and the defer date for Tuesday. Next week Tuesday, when I do my daily coram deo, I will see it as an option for that day and flag it as one of that day’s top tasks. And on Friday I will receive a reminder that it needs to be complete before I leave the office for the day.

And that is my weekly review. It takes about a half hour at most, but offers a very important reset to my productivity system.

Mission and Principles

I mentioned under [Get Set] that every week I review my mission and principles. In a previous article I wrote about mission statements [part 3], so now let me tell you about principles.

November 19, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: What Did You Expect? by Paul Tripp ($0.99); Introduction to Global Missions by Zane Pratt ($4.99); Forgotten Songs by Richard Wells & Ray Van Neste ($2.99); Bonhoeffer Speaks Today by Mark Devine ($2.99); Truth in a Culture of Doubt by Andreas Kostenberger ($3.99); 1 Peter ($3.99) and James ($2.99) in B&H’s Exegetical Guide to the New Testament series; The Christian Husband by Bob Lepine ($0.99); A Theology for the Church by Daniel Akin ($5.99); 1 Corinthians by Mark Taylor ($2.99). Today only the Kindle Fire HD 7 is $20 off at just $119.

Man, Woman, and the Mystery of Christ - Here’s the (PDF) text of Russell Moore’s address at the Vatican earlier this week. 

Interpretive Dance - WORLD magazine covers BioLogos. “The BioLogos Foundation is making a major, well-funded push to change the way Christians read Genesis and think about Adam and Eve.”

Daily Devotionals - I’m often asked to recommend daily devotionals, but rarely know which to suggest. Here are a few that are bundled and on sale at Westminster Books; they all look excellent. (Peace by Stephen Nichols, New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp, Saving Grace by C. John Miller.)

A Proud Calvinist - “A proud Calvinist is a combination of two terms that have opposite meanings. A true Calvinist is one who humbly submits to God’s sovereignty.” And yet…

Mothering in the Internet Age - Instead of googling that question about mothering, why don’t you ask one of the older women in your church?

What’s Wrong with Reparative Therapy? - Heath Lambert addresses the much-maligned reparative therapy.

In closing…one of the new ways I am jealous of Americans is that they get access to all of Amazon; we can get ebooks, but not a whole lot else unless we’re willing to pay crazy shipping costs and taxes. But if I was in the US, I’d be all over today’s Gold Box deal, since we’ve had our pots and pans forever and a day.

What makes a leader is character. What makes a non-leader is ego. —Ray Ortlund

Ortlund

November 18, 2014

As a pastor, I regularly meet with people who are intent on overcoming a serious sin in their lives. Yet, as you well know, those serious sins rarely yield easily. Far more often than not they demand a long and intense battle.

To help in this battle I have put together what I call Battle Plan. Battle Plan is a worksheet that is primarily meant to be used with the assistance of a mentor or pastor (though it can be used individually as well). It is heavily dependent upon John Owen and his instructions on overcoming sin. It begins by identifying and understanding a sin and its consequences, and then progresses to a plan to overcome that sin. There is also a weekly sheet that is used to track progress.

I suggest spending a significant amount of time on Part 1: Assessment. Here you will do what John Owen refers to as “loading your conscience with the guilt of the sin.” You will understand the sin, the ways it behaves, and the effects it has had in your life and faith. Then progress to Part 2: Action, which will guide you as you put off old patterns, attitudes, behaviors, and habits and put on new patterns, attitudes, behaviors, and habits. You will also consider what actions are appropriate as you battle against the sin. Finally, use the tracking sheet with a mentor or accountability partner to track the sin’s ebb and flow in your life and to measure your progress.

You can download Battle Plan right here. You are free to print it, copy it, or reproduce it as you see fit. (Note: Due to the grey background, you probably don’t want to print it on an inkjet printer.)

Battle Plan

Battle Plan

Battle Plan is a work in progress and I am very happy to receive your feedback. Also, a handful of the questions were drawn from a list I found in various locations but was unable to track to its source; if you recognize those questions, please let me know and I will give credit where credit is due.

Image credit: Shutterstock

November 18, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Christian Beliefs by Wayne Grudem ($2.99); Theology in the Context of World Christianity by Timothy Tennet ($4.99); The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves ($2.99); Jesus and the Gospels by Craig Blomberg ($2.99). Zondervan has lowered the price on all the volumes of their Counterpoints series ($2.99 each—the lowest I’ve seen). These are helpful books in orienting yourself in various theological dialogues: Baptism, Inerrancy, The Historical Adam, Creation and EvolutionMiraculous GiftsRemarriage After Divorce, Sanctification, The Church Growth Movement, Salvation in a Pluralistic World, Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, Church Government, Women in Ministry, Lord’s Supper, Apologetics, Christian Spirituality, Divine Providence, The Worship Spectrum, The New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Hell, The Millennium, Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology, Law and Gospel, The Book of Revelation, The Apostle Paul, The Canaanite Genocide.

200 Calories - I’m kind of jealous that Americans get to celebrate Thanksgiving soon, so I thought I’d ruin it by sharing what 200 calories of many different foods looks like.

Count to Three in Hebrew - Was Jesus in the tomb for 3 days, or for 1 and half?

Technology and the Glory of God - If you’re in or near Ames, Iowa, why don’t you consider coming to this conference coming up in a couple of weeks.

Atheist Kids’ Songs - Tim Hawkins proposes kids’ songs for atheists. (HT)

What Kills Us - Here is a chart displaying what kills us. (See “200 Calories” above to explain the #1 killer.)

Don’t Adopt - Russell Moore tells you why you shouldn’t adopt. Kind of.

10 Things About Evangelicals - Warren Cole Smith lists ten things he wishes everyone knew about Evangelicals.

Beware of those who feed your ego. Befriend those who feed your soul. —Lecrae

Lecrae

November 17, 2014

Like so many other people, I have a love-hate relationship with money. I love what money can do and accomplish, and I hate how money is so fleeting. It seems like every dollar is hard-earned and easily-spent. Every dollar can be used in a million different ways and so much of life’s anxiety comes from determining how to use too little money to address too many possibilities.

When Aileen and I got married we were just twenty-one (me) and twenty-two (she) years old and earning less than $30,000 between the two of us—and this in one of the most expensive cities in North America. Since then, like most families, we have seen slow but steady increases to our income. Of course, our expenses have increased at just about the same pace as we have gone from renting a home to buying, from driving compact sedans to minivans, and from having no kids to three kids. As I look back on my life and financial history, I see a long list of mistakes Aileen and I made and a list of mistakes we managed to avoid. Here are a few of each.

Mistake Avoided: Credit Cards

There is always someone willing to extend credit to the young and foolish. Thankfully Aileen and I avoided using credit cards when we were young, and for many years either paid cash or debit for all of our purchases. Recently we have taken the opposite approach: We now buy everything on credit cards in order to maximize our points and cash-back. However, we are careful to always pay off the full balance every month. What we did well was migrating to using credit cards only when we had the finances and the self-discipline to avoid high-interest debt. We’ve never once carried a balance on our cards. Impact: Major. Advice: Avoid credit card debt at all costs.

Mistake Made: Learned Too Late

I was never formally taught how to budget or how to manage money. No school I attended offered courses or even classes on financial management. No one ever sat down with me and showed me how to draw up a budget. I had to learn it on my own. Eventually I read books by Dave Ramsey and Randy Alcorn and developed both a theology and theory of finances. Unfortunately, we had already been married for several years and had made more than a few sloppy and ignorant mistakes. Impact: Moderate. Advice: Develop that theory and theology of money as early in life as you can.

Mistake Avoided: Small House

When we were first married we spent several years renting houses while waiting for my career to advance and my salary to reach a level that would allow us to think about a mortgage (Canada has more stringent borrowing and lending standards than in the USA). Eventually we got to the point where we could think about buying a house of our own. We bought the cheapest starter home we could find in a good neighborhood in a great town—a 1,000 square-foot townhouse. At the time the location was ideal because I was working just down the road and we attended a neighborhood church. However, shortly after we bought that house I was laid off and began working much farther afield; around that same time we found a church almost a half hour away. But we have decided to stay put, even though it means a longer commute to work and church. We have owned only this one house and at this point have no plans to leave, even though it is quite crowded at times (and we haven’t yet dealt with the drama of three teenagers and only one shower). Our mortgage payments are low and we should have the house paid off years early. Impact: Major. Advice: Do not buy more house than you need, and once you buy, stay there as long as possible.