"When Jesus said, "You are the light of the world," this you in the Greek language is plural — meaning "all of you." Light-bearing is not an individual project. Following Christ in our urban generation is done together. Just as the first-century church met in the temple and from house to house (Acts 5:42), Christians in our cities must gather regularly (Acts 2:46; 20:20; Heb. 10:24-25). Elsewhere the Scriptures refer to the Lord's people as "one body" (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 4:4)... It's very easy in the press and busyness of urban living or isolation of city culture to succumb to "urban drift" —a movement away from relationship, away from the burden-bearing, supportive, illuminating community of Christ. But it's among God's people, as we gather around his light-giving Word, that the flames of our faith are renewed."
—Jon Dennis, Christ and City (page 150-151).
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I love books.
Even as I write this I am surrounded by books. Books on people, God, culture, history, finances, productivity, on and on the list goes. However, I not only love books, I love to read books. I love to learn and discover new things. I love to have my mind stretched and typical thinking challenged over the ideas I consume while reading books. In some ways, reading is intellectual candy to me. The more I read, the more I want to read. Because of this, last year (for the first time ever) I decided to set a "reading goal" — a number of books I would read in one year’s time. I found this incredibly helpful. I became more disciplined in how I used my leisure time and even found creative ways I could read while doing other activities (like listening to audiobooks while driving or working out — and yes, I consider that reading). Overall, it was one of the best decisions I've ever made for my personal development.
Yet perhaps the greatest thing I gained from that endeavor was not something I learned, but something I discovered. While attempting to be a disciplined reader and rigorous academic, I discovered that my affections were changing. Jonathan Edwards defined the affections as "the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul" (see p.96 of The Religious Affections). In other words, the affections are a part of your soul that move you towards or away from something. An example of this would-be music. There are some songs that you hear that leave you indifferent and stagnant while there are other songs that you hear that leave you passionate and moved. The affections are the sails of the soul. They direct and stir your heart to or away from things.
It was while I was striving to reach my reading goal that I discovered my affections, the sails of my soul, had changed. This discovery came late in the year when I had sat down like I had most mornings that year to open my Bible and read. I read my Bible (like any other day), shut my Bible, got up from my chair, and began to get ready for my day. It was shortly after this that it hit me: I just read God's Word like a syllabus.
Over time, without me realizing it, I had developed a greater desire for books than the Bible. I was more excited to sit down and read a book than I was to read the Word of the Living God.
If you have ever read a syllabus before, you know what I mean. When you read a syllabus, you don't read it with high expectations. You aren't expecting to encounter anything that will inevitably transform your life. In fact, most people (I'm guilty) just skim the syllabus for "necessary information" and then put it back in a folder. This was how I was reading the Bible. I wasn't reading the Bible with heart-filled expectancy and longing to see the glory of Christ and be changed, I was reading the Bible to check a box and move on to what I considered practically helpful reading — books. Over time, without me realizing it, I had developed a greater desire for books than the Bible. I was more excited to sit down and read a book than I was to read the Word of the Living God.
It is easy to become well-versed in knowing about the Bible while never actually reading the Bible.
I have a feeling I'm not alone.
This change in affections is a dangerous, subtle slide for all Christians who love the Bible and love reading. It is dangerous because it is easy to become well-versed in knowing about the Bible while never actually reading the Bible. It is subtle because you can deceive yourself into thinking that because you know so much about the Bible it's okay that you never read the Bible. And as we learn from Psalm 1, when you begin to neglect the Bible your soul shrivels. So, what do you we do? How can we change the affections of our hearts so that we love the Bible while we read books? Three things:
1. Remember the gospel.
Have you ever considered that if it weren't for God saving your soul the Bible would be rubbish to you? In fact, without God you can't even read the Bible correctly because "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4). If it weren't for Jesus dying and rising for our soul, you would never be able to say with the Psalmist, "Oh, how I love Your law!" (Psalm 119:97). Remember that God saved your soul, and gave you the Holy Spirit, so that when you read the Bible you "with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18).
2. Understand books to be a tool and the Bible to be a treasure.
The Bible is a treasure. Not because it is an instruction manual that helps us live a better life, but because it shows us the glory of Christ — who He is, what He has done, and what He will do (John 5:39). Books are a gift of God. Even the thought that God created us in such a way that we can formulate thoughts and articulate them so that other people understand them should lead us to worship because we are made in His image (Ge. 1:27). But like any gift of God, they can be turned into an idol when we expect them to give to us what only God can give. When we look to books to change us, comfort us, and give us meaning we will always be left wanting. But if we look to the Bible to change us, comfort us, and give us meaning (ultimately in Christ) we are then freed to enjoy God's gift of books with a right heart framework. Books can be a tool that God uses to instill joy into our hearts, but they will always pale in comparison to the joy-filled, Christ-exalting Holy Scriptures. Never forget that.
When we look to books to change us, comfort us, and give us meaning we will always be left wanting.
3. Remind yourself daily that one day all books but one will cease to exist.
C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.
John Piper's Desiring God.
Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections.
A.W. Tozer's Knowledge of the Holy.
What do these books have in common? All are classics and all will one day cease to exist. The only book that will stand the test of time and will last forever and ever (amen!) is the Bible. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8). When you sit down and open your Bible, silently remind yourself that the Book you are holding will still be around when you, your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren pass. Why? Because the Bible is more than a book. The Bible is the very Word of God. And that, friends, is worth reading and rejoicing in forevermore.
2017 is an important year in the life of the church as we celebrate and remember the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that was sparked by Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Castle in Wittenberg, Germany. To remember the Reformation and the events that took place, I am planning on reading several books that highlight the life of Martin Luther, Reformation theology, and the "Five Solas." Here are five I'm planning to dive into in 2017:
1. Luther on the Christian Life
2. Why the Reformation Still Matters
3. The Unfinished Reformation
4. The Legacy of Luther
5. Rescuing the Gospel
As 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to highlight ten of the best books I read thoughout the year. While there were around 65 books I've read to this point (on pace for 67-70 for the year), I've added books that have been 1) enjoyable 2) helpful 3) impactful. Click on the link below the title of the book to purchase the book on Amazon for a friend this Christmas and help support this blog!
10. The Productivity Project
Chris Bailey did an excellent job of helping the reader understand what productivity is and how you can achieve it by taking practical measures. After reading this, I started charting my energy levels to determine when my "peak" producitivity hours were on any given day. My schedule/productivity hasn't been the same since (in a GREAT way)!
9. Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus
In typical Mark Dever fashion, this book is simple and incredibly helpful. He helps the reader understand what it means to make disciples and how you can go about doing it. My favorite part of the book was the end where Jonathan Leeman talks about what he has personally learned from Mark about discipling. Very helpful.
8. Knowing Christ
This book helped me love Jesus more.
7. Rejoicing In Christ
This book helped me enjoy Jesus more.
6. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism
Why share the gospel? How do you share the gospel? Mark Dever answers both of these questions well and encourages readers to sell out their lives to share the love of Jesus with neighbors, friends, and family.
5. The Forgotten Spurgeon
Ian Murray does an excellent job taking you "behind the scenes" in the life of the Prince of Preachers, C.H. Spurgeon. Learn about Spurgeon's struggles, personal development, and marriage all in this short book published by the Banner of Truth.
4. What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of MArriage
THIS IS THE BEST BOOK ON RELATIONSHIPS I'VE EVER READ. I hope me putting that statement in all caps stops some of you "non-marrieds" from just scrolling past this book because it's about marriage. Tripp offers practical advice to all people about how to have relationships with people in a real, authentic, Christ-exalting way. Please buy this book. You'll thank me later!
3. The Secret Of Contentment
Barcley breaks down the whole book of Philippians in this short and simple book on contentment. I learned more from this book about contentment than any other book I've ever read (besides the Bible of course)!
2. Supernatural Living for Natural People: The Life-Giving MEssage of Romans 8
Earlier this year I read through Romans 8 for one month during my morning devotions. This book warmed my soul by pointing me to the love of God for me in Christ. Buy this book and take a month to rest in Romans 8. You won't regret it.
This was EASILY the best book I read all year and EASILY makes the top three books I've read list. Ryle points the reader to living out "practical holiness" in everyday life and shows how holiness is the most beautiful thing in all the world.
"Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love" (Prov. 5:19) emphasizes two things: the quality of lovemaking ("fill... with delight" and "be intoxicated") and the quantity of lovemaking ("at all times" and "always"). The wisdom of God is saying, "When you get married, drop your inhibitions, and go for it." Back in the days of the Puritans, when a New England wife complained, first to her pastor and then to the whole congregation, that her husband was neglecting their sex life, the church removed him as a member. Why? Because the Bible is clear: "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another" (1 Cor. 7:4-5). And Proverbs 5 is wisely adding, "Make it fun and frequent!" The word translated "be intoxicated" is used elsewhere in the Old Testament for a man staggering down the street in drunkenness (Isa. 28:7). The point is for a man to be crazy in love with his wife. This counsel is not trivial. It is the serious wisdom of God, because, as we shall see later in the Bible, marriage points ultimately to the love of Christ and our joy in him. And the striking thing about this wisdom here in Proverbs, coming from ancient times as it does, is that marriages back then could be arranged for economic or political reasons. But the Bible sweeps all of that aside and calls husbands and wives to be head-over-heels in love with each other."
—Ray Ortlund Jr., Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel (page 67).
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With great sadness I must report that my dear sister in Christ, Julie Cain, passed from death to life after her long battle with cancer. In an article I posted April of 2015 I wrote, "God is able to use this trial to prove His faithfulness through Julie's life so that all might know the joy one can have in Christ. God is able to use the Cain family testimony to reach people who want nothing to do with God, but in seeing the joy in the Cain family, they are drawn by God's lovingkindness and are united with Christ in salvation. God is able to use this trial in Julie's life to do so much."
I stand behind these words today and can attest the faithfulness of God in using Julie's short life to put on full display His glory and grace. Julie had a joy about her that was so evident to all that knew her. Her faithfulness to love her Husband, children, family, and friends was apparent and visible. Her eagerness to know Christ and bring Him glory was seen in her faithfulness to His church and gospel witness to everyone she met.
Julie died physically today, but because of Christ, she has never been more alive.
While all of these things are true about Julie, we must understand that what made Julie's life exemplary was not found in her. Rather, what made Julie's life exemplary was and is Jesus Christ. It was Jesus Christ who sought her and bought her with His own blood (Gal. 3:13-15). It was Jesus Christ who was molding her into His own image, teaching her that she must decrease and He must increase (John 3:30). It was Jesus Christ who was teaching her, guiding her, and providing for her day by day as she sought to bring Him glory (Col. 1:17). It was Jesus Christ who was with her when she found out that she had the dreaded disease of cancer and it was Jesus Christ who comforted and ministered to her in the final moments of her life here on Earth (Ps. 23:4; Rom. 8:38-39).
And it is Jesus Christ that she will worship today, tomorrow, and forevermore. Unhindered by sin, she will sing His praises for all eternity because He is the Lamb that was slain and to Him belongs glory, honor, and power (Rev. 4:11). So dear friends of Julie Cain, do not be deceived. When Christ said "It is finished!" He ripped out death's fangs so that we might not feel the sting of death eternally when we place our faith in Him. Dear friends, don't miss the point here: Christ has eternally defeated death. And because He has defeated death, all those who place their faith in Him will too. Julie died physically today, but because of Christ, she has never been more alive.
Recently I was in a discussion with a man from my church who said to me, "I feel like I don't have any friends at church. I don't understand why! I come to Sunday morning services weekly and try to say hello to as many people I can see. What do I need to do?"
What a great question! Essentially he was asking the question, how can I build relationships with other people in the church? To answer this, I like to point people to the five "V's" of building relationships:
1. View of Self.
You and I desperately need to understand that we are sinners who have been shown grace in Christ. When we place our faith in Jesus, He graciously forgives us of our sins (see Eph. 2:8). When we remind ourselves of the gospel we are reminding ourselves that there is nothing good in us and that we are not better than anyone else. Therefore we don't walk around thinking that others are 'below us' in the sense that they have less worth than us. Instead we walk in humility with others knowing that there is nothing in us that is good and that all that we are alive because of Christ.
2. Vacuous (Empty).
Because we have a proper view of self in the gospel, we must be empty ourselves of any pride. As I heard a dear friend once say, "Being full of oneself is a formula for pushing others away from us." Proud people do not attract people. People who think that they know better than everyone will find themselves disliked by everyone. Instead, we should remind ourselves of the gospel moment-by-moment so that we might "in humility count others more significant than ourselves" (Phil. 2:3).
I'm convinced some people do not have deep, meaningful relationships simply because they are not vulnerable. They do not open up about what they are thinking, how they are feeling, or even how they struggle with sin. Instead, they put on a stoic image of self-sufficiency. Afraid to reveal their wounds, they hide behind their layers of insecurity and pride. We should be people who can easily be approached by people about our sin as well as a source of comfort and care where people know that you listen to them and genuinely want the best for them (Pro. 18:2).
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver" (Prov. 25:11). People that build relationships well are those who speak the right words at the right time. They don't talk for the purpose of hearing themselves talk. Instead, they seek to lace their words with truth and love so that their hearers might be encouraged (see Eph. 4:15). Are you someone who seeks out people for the purpose of encouraging them and getting to know them? Or are you someone who expects people to do that for you while never budging yourself?
This is key. If we desire to build relationships with people, we must be visible. In other words, we need to unveil ourselves to gatherings. Rather this is a worship service, social gatherings outside of church, or another form of people meeting together, you must make these a priority.
For a long time I found it hard to keep a consistent prayer list. I tried so many different things. I used note cards, post-it notes, the ‘notes’ app on my iPhone, and a whole host of other things all to no avail. I would either lose track of my lists or not use them because I couldn’t carry them around with me everywhere. So I started to ask myself the question, “How can I create a prayer list that is simple to use, easy to update, and with me everywhere?” This blog post is the answer to that question. Since switching to the prayer list method I describe in this post I have found my prayer life to be more intentional, refreshing, and focused. I think you will too. Here is how you can set up your prayer lists like mine in four steps:
1. Create An Evernote Account
Evernote is a free note-taking app for both Android and Apple users. If you don’t have a smartphone you can still get an Evernote account for free at www.evernote.com. Evernote gives you the ability to create notebooks, notes, and a million other things I don’t even use on a regular basis. The use of notebooks and notes will be all you need to create a prayer list like I use.
2. Create A Notebook
Once you have an Evernote account, you will want to create a ‘notebook.’ This is easy to do. Just click on the ‘create a notebook’ button that will appear at the top of your screen on Evernote (see image below).
3. Create A Note For Each Category of Prayer
This is where I found Evernote so helpful. After creating a notebook, you can create notes within the notebook to section off different categories. As you can see in my prayer notebook (below) I have several categories: family, marriage, personal, salvation, ministry, and missions. Feel free to create your own categories that fit your life and influence currently.
4. Write Prayer Requests In Each Note
After you have created a note for each category you will need to fill in prayer requests in them. I do this by having different headings in the note. As you can see below, I have in my ‘ministry’ note headings like pastors & staff, college ministry, and my church’s Thursday night bible study. This enables me to update them as I pray through each heading every week easily.
I hope you will be able to use this method and see your prayer life grow as you bring before the Lord specific, intentional, and focused requests.
About six months ago I was told about a new little book by Christopher Ash titled Zeal Without Burnout. The book was helpful, practical, and easy to read. Reading the book was like sitting down with a wise counselor applying the truths of God's Word to your own heart. You can purchase the book by clicking here.
Christopher Ash spoke on this topic at the Basics Pastors Conference in 2014 at Parkside Church. Watch it here:
"Precious, no doubt, are these little ones in your eyes; but if you love them, think often of their souls. No interest should weigh with you so much as their eternal interests. No part of them should be so dear to you as that part which will never die. The world, with all its glory, shall pass away; the hills shall melt; the heavens shall be wrapped together as a scroll; the sun shall cease to shine. But the spirit which dwells in those little creatures, whom you love so well, shall outlive them all, and whether in happiness or misery (to speak as a man) will depend on you. This is the thought that should be uppermost on your mind in all you do for your children. In every step you take about them, in every plan, and scheme, and arrangement that concerns them, do not leave out that mighty question, "How will this affect their souls?"
I am a Husband to Clarissa, Lead Pastor Resident at College Park Church in Indianapolis, 'Tweeter' at @brad_merchant, and avid reader of books.