Time Out: Tips & Tricks

(Guest post by Pastor Brandon)

clockGod has created all of us with unique personalities and propensities.  It’s not surprising then that when it comes to planning our schedules, some of us prefer to use a monthly planner and some of us prefer to use a pen and the palm of our hand.

Fortunately, the Scriptures do not prescribe only one way to manage our schedules.  We are free to employ whatever strategy fits our unique design and helps us honor God and love others.

Through this Time Out Series, some of us have recognized the need to improve out scheduling system, but we may not know where to begin.  Rather than recommend a single method to stay organized within the workbook, we’ve decided to open up the conversation to the entire congregation.

If God has given you wisdom that has helped you manage your own schedule, this is an opportunity for you to be a good steward of that insight and bless others with what’s worked for you.  Not every system will work for everyone, but if enough people share their own tips and tricks, you may find some technique that works for you.

Let us know what you think in the comment section beneath this post.  How do you schedule your life?  How do you keep a synced calendar?  What tools do you recommend?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

The Devil Lies about Marriage

Yesterday at the church’s Welcome Luncheon for new people, I introduced my wife and  said we’ve been married 40 years.  The person next to me said that in today’s world that’s really saying something.  “Thanks for setting an example.”va beach 041I still fumble with compliments so instead of saying thank you I pointed to my wife, the real hero of our relationship.  And she is.  But both of us absolutely love being married, and being married to each other.  In fact, I might go so far as to say that our marriage is euphoric.

I’m having trouble stopping right there.  I’m tempted to add all kinds of qualifiers like “we have our problems too,” or “it’s not a perfect marriage,” or “we’re human”.  But those are not what conveys the general nature of our relationship, nor how we think of it.  I want unmarried people taunted by an endless drumbeat of bad news and bad reviews of marriage to grasp that in the natural world, NOTHING CAN COMPARE to marriage.  The fact that marriage can produce such devastating sorrow when it’s breaking or broken, is only more proof that its potential to offer couples delirious joy, is boundless.

I was thrilled to read Biola professor Rick Langer’s magnificent defense of–and elevation of marriage in the current issue of EFCA’s online ‘zine “EFCA TODAY”.  Click here.

American Center of the Christian Universe

A “Lucky Dipper” is someone who opens his/her Bible at random in hopes of finding something that will help for the moment–whether pages of Isaiah, Philippians, or 1 Peter.  I once heard someone call it the “Plunk” method; plunk it down on the table and read what it opens to.  There’s a certain laziness to it but the thinking is that God in His mercy will give the reader a sentence or two of assurance, of comfort, or provide a personal plan where there is none currently.  I’ve done it, you probably have too.  But if this is a regular practice in private worship, could it suggest a self-centered faith that expects the Giver of an orderly Word in 66 distinct books, to stand at attention as a butler to serve a disordered or indolent mind preoccupied with self.  And that kind of faith is pandered to not just by American culture, but also American religion.

The Prosperity Gospel is a misbegotten and particularly American scheme.  What I mean is that there are few other places in the world where it’s distortions could have taken such root–or found such an avid following.  I suspect it’s only succeeded in poor places around the world when the listening audience credits the Health and Wealth pottage for making Americans rich.

We Americans have been accused of being ethnocentric–probably fairly: we think our race is the most important.  (Although American’s don’t really comprise a “race” since the two early ethnic strains of Europeans and those from first nations have been well-diluted by an amalgam of races from around the world.)  Look at any map published in America: the US is smack dab in the center of the world.  We’re frequently panned as spoiled people who by our sometimes clumsy–sometimes brutal–economic and geopolitical steps, show we couldn’t care less about the other people sharing the planet; it’s all about us.

Perhaps this group self-preoccupation helps explain a virulent self-centered American form of Christianity.  Jesus died for me (OK, what about the world: 2 Cor.5:19?).  In the wake of rising gas prices, disease, divorce, even a flat tire, we are appalled that God lets something bad happen to us (what about the millions of people–even billions who have also endured that–and more than once, maybe often?  And, when was the last time you or I went hungry?).  Let’s say in a 6 month period we took a child to the emergency room, found out we owed $3000 in taxes, had the boss ream us out at work, had the flu twice, had to have the transmission rebuilt, and had to ground our 14 year-old son for the first time.  In exasperation we demand of God, “When is it my turn (to have something good happen to me, to make sure this bad finally comes to an end)?”

The me-ism that seems rampant in the American Church is hardly biblical Christianity.  Take the Bible: it’s not primarily a book about us; it’s about God.  It’s not primarily a teddy bear to make me feel better; in fact, it’s first job was to make me feel bad about my sinful heart.  The Bible’s not even a manual of how to do this or that; it’s a portrayal of God’s glory.  When we minister in His name, it’s not to get a pat on the back.  Jesus said,  “…when you have done all that you were commanded, say, We are unworthy servants;we have only done what was our duty.'” (Lk.17:10)

We are recipients of blessing upon blessing, but Him blessing us is not God’s chief aim.  We are forgiven, embraced, beloved, but He didn’t fashion us from clay chiefly to be happy with our lives, he made us to be happy in Him.  He made us for His glory: everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.  (Is.43:7).  When we eat a satisfying meal, or enjoy a vacation, or make love to our spouse, or create something, it is to be done to the glory of God (1 Cor.10:31).  The Westminster Catechism got it right: the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  AMEN.

Dr. Howard Hendricks With Jesus

I still remember listening to Dr. Hendricks speak on discipleship at Lancaster Bible College in 1983.  I purchased the (casette!) tape series and listened to them so often over the next 15 years that I almost had memorized them.  I often loaned them out to men and women interested in helping young Christians grow up in faith.

In the late 90’s, the Walters and us were at Word of Life for a week and again I was impacted by Dr. Hendricks who was one of the speakers.  What a man of God with a heart for people!  He will be greatly missed.  For a full biography, see Justin Taylor’s blog.

Far Enough to Steer Clear, Near Enough to Help

How can Christians be choosy about their friends, and still missionary heartmaintain a mission heart for lost people?  In yesterday’s sermon I mentioned that God warns His people that “bad company” ruins good morals” (1 Cor.15:33).  But aren’t bad company kinds of folks in need Jesus too?  How can you take the gospel to anybody that you keep your distance from?

When Betty and I pray for our grandchildren, we ask that their closest friends will either be Christians, moving that direction, or least come from Christian homes.  We want the peers with the most clout in their lives to endorse God’s call to faith in Jesus Christ, or since some of those peers are still too young to have faith, at least influence them to good morals.  But we also pray that they will show concern for, and be kind to, peers and fellow students who need Jesus.

Without rigorously embracing and maintaining this tension–which seems to me to be biblical, we inevitably end up tacking to one extreme or the other.  Well-meaning parents cling to the notion that if they limit who their children interact with, they will turn out a certain way.  They might…, or might not.  Children are people and not machines so even a precise formula tried five time could produce 5 different results.  Although the Bible is full of promises, sometimes we make up ones that aren’t there.

But let’s say that it works as hoped and parents do successfully keep away all evil influence.  If they’re never around lost people, what are the chances that these children will obediently adopt God’s missionary heart for lost people–either in their youth, or adulthood?

There is also a danger in the other direction if this tension is not maintained.  A person can so immerse himself in the world of lost sinners that he gets tarnished by the corruption.  In my sermon I mentioned Samson–one of Israel’s judges, a man who ended up nearly indistinguishable from the pagan Philistines–at least when it came to his morals.  Elimilech and Naomi’s sons went ahead and married idol-worshiping women who–after all, were the only women around since Dad and Mom had the bad judgment to move the family into a pagan land.  Lot was able to keep his head on straight despite living in Sodom (2 Peter 2:7-8), but his wife was not unaffected (Gen.19:26).

On a related note, over the last 10 years one of the factors that appears to have led some Christian leaders to abandon biblical truth on matters like homosexuality and hell, is a desirable missionary instinct to see lost people be more receptive to the gospel.  There is no doubt that when we get to know lost people, first concern and then love makes us want them to know our Savior; a love only eclipsed by love for the One who got dirtier by sinners than anyone ever did, yet never once compromised His Father’s love or holiness.

For best friends we need strong, solid Christians who will refresh and check our faith.  We also need to frequently check if we have so rid ourselves of lost people that we don’t even feel the Father’s pain at their lost condition anymore.

What Voices Shape Your Thinking?

wolf in sheepNo believer desiring to grow in faith has ever had as many opportunities for input as today’s Christians.  Ubiquitous technology delivers countless preachers, authors, teachers, musicians and bloggers around the clock: a podcast on a laptop, a smartphone app, iPod music in the car…  50 years ago the selection was much more limited with considerably fewer people gaining a national or international stage.  But today anybody with a computer can gain a worldwide audience.  My blog has readers in Russia, India, China, and Germany.  No longer must fledgling authors gain the approval of a publishing house, but with a modest investment can self-publish their own book whether it’s rich and worthwhile, or best used for starting fires.

How do you decide who to listen to?  Oratorical skills, popularity, recommendation by a friend?  The early church had few golden-tongued orators with the exception of Apollos.  Apparently Paul wasn’t all that riveting as a preacher.  He put Eutychus so soundly to sleep that the man fell out of a window and was killed.  People Paul had led to Christ and discipled complained to each other “He’s a good writer but not much of a preacher” (2 Cor.10:10; 11:6).

After Paul left town, his former fans in Corinth had become disillusioned with him after hearing new teachers who’d arrived in town.  They were so impressed that they either called them “super-apostles”, or described them in such glowing terms to Paul that he named them that sarcastically.  Lurking behind their popularity and impressive speaking was a sinister darkness.  They were not super-apostles, but false apostles (2 Cor.11:13) who skillfully preached a false gospel (2 Cor.11:4).

There are many good teachers and authors today.  And when it comes to side issues that believers used to go to war over with each other, I’m glad many have abandoned the shrill name-calling and finger-pointing at brothers and sisters that should be reserved for heretics.  But Satan is as active and scheming as ever.  We need to remain on a war footing against him.  Never assume what you’re getting from your favorite preacher or blogger or author is right.  There’s only one way to make sure that you’re getting the truth from someone: check him/her against God’s Word.