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 recently started reading an excerpt from a letter Dr. J.W. Alexander wrote to young ministers in the early 1800's. The letter was based solely on the topic, 'Ministerial Study.' In the letter Dr. Alexander pleas with ministers of the Gospel to "observe that the ministerial learning which I am recommending is solely the discipline and accomplishment whereby you shall be better fitted for your work." He exhorts them to "regard your mental powers as given you to be kept in continual working order, and continual improvement, and this with reference to the work of preaching and teaching." His honest and firm encouragement and exhortation is founded upon a central thought that was swirling in his head that life is short. Or as he puts it, "The day is near when you whole ministerial life will seem to you very short in retrospect." As the letter continues, he offers five tips for teachers of the Bible to consider when thinking about studying and learning.
1. Love the Bible.
He reminds his readers that all learning should be for one purpose: a deeper love and understanding of the Bible. "All your discipline and your acquisition are only so many means for learning God's Word, and for teaching it." Great teachers and preachers of the Bible keep their eyes in books and their hearts in the Bible. In other words, study and learn from many books, but set your heart on the Bible. Read the your Bible and read other books for the sake of knowing the Bible better. How do you do this practically? Alexander say, "devote the first and last part of every day to the persual of the Bible." Begin and end everyday with the Bible.
2. Don't Waste Time On Other Things.
"Be determined to be ignorant of many things in which men take pride." Ask yourself the question, what is robbing me of time throughout my day? For Alexander, it was bad literature. For us, it might be social media, technology, or other things. Find what is robbing you of time and "disregard the perishing nothings of the hour."
3. Don't Take Shortcuts.
"Observe the evils which attend the lack of thorough preparation." Don't rely on your giftedness to preach or teach. Prepare. Do the hard work of study. Set a time everyday to read a book, even if for five minutes. Alexander exhorts, "If he (the teacher or preacher) has begun this slovenly way while still young, and before he has laid up stores of knowledge, he will, in nine cases out of ten, be a shallow, rambling sermonizer as long as he lives." Study the Bible, read books. Learn.
4. Have a Place to Study.
Alexander argues that having a place to study and "labor" as he puts it, is a great benefit to the teacher or preacher. "A prevalent sense of this will do more than anything to procure and redeem time for research, and will cause you to learn more in an hour, than otherwise in a day." For some, that means having an office space. For others, it means having a chair or favorite coffee shop to sit at. Either way, have a place to study and learn.
5. Plan to Study.
Alexander suggests, "Propose questions to yourself: what part of the week do I devote to study? What head of theology has lately been under investigation? What is my plan of study for the coming day?" In asking these questions, you are intentionally setting in your mind the intent and sim to study. Do you set aside time to read and learn every week? Is there a time that you can use or redeem to labor in study?
Alexander ends his letter by saying, "Tell me how you spend your time in your early ministry, and I shall be better able to predict how you preach (or teach)." In other words, if you are not investing your life in pursuing more knowledge of the Bible and the world around you, don't expect to grow in your ability to preach and teach. Study hard and aim to learn everyday.
"An epidemic of Asiatic cholera at that time began to rage in London, particularly in the area south of the Thames. Spurgeon cancelled all out-of-town engagements and gave his time to visiting the sick. The disease entered numerous homes. Almost everywhere there was suffering, and often there was death. 'Family after family', he says, 'summoned me to the bedside of the smitten and almost every day I was called to visit the grave.' With lovingkindness to the sick and in heart-felt sympathy with the bereaved he conducted this labour, and at any hour of the night he might be awakened with an urgent request to come and pray with someone who seemed about to pass into eternity."
-Arnold A. Dallimore, Spurgeon: A Biography (page 51)
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"One of the marks of revival is not just high-octane worship, which costs us no self-denial and might even reinforce our selfishness. True revival awakens a new sense of our responsibility to one another, which is contrary to our selfishness and therefore a more revealing indicator of the presence of the Holy Spirit. When John the Baptist was announcing the coming of God's kingdom, the people asked him what they should do. He told them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise" (Luke 3:11). If we love God's presence, we will not say, "The poor aren't my responsibility." We will help them. And those of us who lead should exert this influence. In our personalities and lifestyles, we should be life-enrichers, not life-depleters."
-Ray Ortlund Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (page 60)
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"No individual, not even the whole world together, can rob God of his glory. The Bible says, "The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!" (Psalm 113:4). You and I are no threat to him. He isn't insecure when he insists upon the triumph of his glory alone. The problem is that we think that his glory and our joy do not lie together in the depths of his heart. We think we have to compete with his will to fulfill our own potential. That is pride. We think too well of ourselves and too poorly of God to believe that his love for his glory and his love for us are one love, drawing him on to that final day when we will be forever happy with his glory alone. But how could it be otherwise? Human fulfillment is union with God."
-Ray Ortlund Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (page 53)
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Good friends are hard to come by. Why? Because many people aren't sure what it means to be a good friend! God has given us His Word to shine wisdom on this issue. Namely, in Proverbs we find much wisdom about relationships including six marks of a good friend:
1. A Good Friend is Faithful.
"Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?" Proverbs 20:6
At the end of the day, a good friend is faithful. They will not abandon you when things get tough or bail out on you when you need them most. They are constant, present, and reliable.
2. A Good Friend is a Listener.
"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." Proverbs 18:2
Bad friends talk more than they listen. They love for you to hear about everything going on in their life, but give little time to listening to what is going on in yours. "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding" is the opposite of what a good friend does. A good friend takes pleasure in listening and seeks to never make you feel unheard.
A good friend takes pleasure in listening and seeks to never make you feel unheard.
3. A Good Friend Helps you Grow.
"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17
Good friends stretch you. They are constantly pushing you to grow and change. Some of the best friends I have are those that tell me what they are learning and teach me things I didn't know. Are you helping your friends grow?
4. A Good Friend is Honest.
"Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy." Proverbs 27:6
No one likes a liar. Yet, often times we fail to be honest with those we love most. Why? Because we love comfort. We love peace-filled relationships that are undaunted with conflict and disagreement. Good friends don't shy away from being honest for the sake of comfort. In fact, they love you enough to be honest with you. Even if they suffer the consequences.
5. A Good Friend Is Gracious.
"Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends." Proverbs 17:9
A good friend is not easily annoyed or offended. They are gracious with you. The look at your weaknesses and cover them with love. They don't allow them to become hindrances in your friendship. Gracious friends are those who are willing to walk with you as you grow. They pray for their friends instead of criticize or gossip about them.
Friends need time together and friends need time not together.
6. A Good Friend is Not Clingy.
"Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you." Proverbs 25:17
Benjamin Franklin said, “Guests, like fish, stink after three days.” Friends need time together and friends need time not together. A good friend realizes this and doesn't attach themselves to their friends. They give them space. They don't constantly inquire when they can spend time together. Instead, they live life and let the friendship take it's course. Bad friends choose to center their lives, happiness, and well-being around other people. So they think that every day, week, or month they need face time with their friends. Good friends understand the wisdom of giving space to those around them.
Recently my wife and I had our bank accounts hacked into by someone pretending to be me. Obviously the situation was scary, frustrating, and upsetting. Why? Because my identity, my wife's identity, and your identity are unique to who we are. When someone steals your identity, they are stealing something that is unique to you and you alone because your identity is the makeup of who you are. For Christians, our identity is no longer in who we are but in who Christ is (John 1:12). Because of the person and work of Jesus Christ, we place our faith in Him and are called "the children of God." This means that we are all that God says we are. What a wonderful reality!
However, we are constantly in an identity crisis. Like a thief trying to steal another's identity, we can try to find our identity in someone other than Christ. How can you know if you are in an identity crisis? Here are three warning signs:
1. You Determine your value and worth on someone else's thoughts and actions.
One of the sure fire ways to find out if you are in an identity crisis is when you begin determine your worth by looking to what someone else thinks or says about you. This is subtle. We don't wake up in the morning and think, 'I wonder what so-and-so thinks about me today.' Instead, we live in such a way that we are fearful of upsetting others because we want them to carry an honorable opinion of us. When we sin, instead of pursuing a person to confess and find help, you hide your sin because you are afraid of them having a low view of you. Are you finding your worth in what other's think about you?
For Christians, our identity is no longer in who we are but in who Christ is (John 1:12).
2. You Seek to Find in someone else what you can only find in God.
God has given His people the gift of community. We can find comfort, help, and encouragement in other believers (2 Cor. 1, Eph. 4:29-30). However, this is merely to be an aid in our sanctification process. The moment you try to find all of your comfort, joy, peace, and love in a person is a sure sign that you have an identity crisis. Are you looking for someone else to give you what only God can give you?
3. Your greatest hopes and desires are found in a person, not god.
God, by His grace, saves us and gives us new desires in our hearts to seek Him and do His will (see Psalm 37). The problem is that we often drift into placing our greatest desires and hopes in people. We desire someone so much that if they were taken from us or we can't have a relationship with them like we had hoped, we despair and turn away from God. We place our hope in someone so that when they fail us or sin against us, we are in utter agony and subtly drift away from God. Are you placing your hope and desires in another person?
The moment you try to find all of your comfort, joy, peace, and love in a person is a sure sign that you have an identity crisis.
Here is the truth: we are often guilty of identity theft. We attempt to take someone else's identity and try to function through it. But the reality of the gospel is that Christ has bought us with His own blood so that, by His grace, we might be called the children of God. And that, my friends, is an identity that brings the greatest comfort, rest, and joy that can be had.
Reading. What a wonderful gift God has given us in books and most of all, in THE Book. I love to read. I love to read books on theology, productivity, history, biographies, and on and on. This love for books has lead to me reading and collecting a great amount of books to this point in my life. Because of this, I often have people in my church or outside of my church contact me and ask me some pointers on how to read more, what books to read, etc. So I thought I would collect some thoughts on reading as a whole here in this post for those who want some wisdom on reading.
Buying a Book is Easy, Reading It Isn't.
Chances are that if you are reading this you know exactly what I mean. It is a lot easier to buy a book from Amazon or your favorite book distributor than to actually read it. So here is my encouragement: only buy books you are going to read within a month of the purchase. The reason I keep this principle is because it is easy to grow discouraged in having a big stack of books 'to read' that never get read and only keep increasing in number. Don't discourage yourself. Instead, buy a book that you are committed to finishing within a month. I find this practice invigorating. I finish books faster because I want to move on to other books on my 'wish list!'
It is easy to grow discouraged in having a big stack of books 'to read' that never get read and only keep increasing in number.
Reading is a Discipline.
Just like exercise, working out, or writing, reading takes discipline. You must make time to do it. I fear that many set out to read with a great desire, but never really read much because they lack discipline. Facebook, Twitter, and television distract the well-meaning 'wanttobe' reader and they never end up reading much. I find that I am far too easily distracted, so I shut off my screens when I read. I turn off my phone, computer, and whatever else could grab my attention. This helps me to stay focused and think better as I read.
Reading Must Be Planned.
Reading doesn't just happen. It must be planned. Take your schedule and find a block of time (even if it's only 15 minutes!) to read. I usually read around lunch time, middle of the afternoon, and for an extended period of time before bedtime. Find what works for you and plan it!
I fear much reading doesn't happen because it is never planned to happen.
Buy Authors, Not Titles.
I always recommend people to buy books by an author they like, not according to titles. Some of the best books I have read were about subjects I wasn't very interested in at the time, but I read the book because it was by an author I had previously enjoyed.
These are my spontaneous thoughts on reading. I hope they have been helpful and have at least served to spur you on to more and better reading!
Perhaps you've heard the old adage, "The grass isn't greener on the other side." The point is that things aren't always better somewhere else compared to where you are currently at. I have found that this is true in regards to church.
Many in the church today seem to point a finger at all that is 'wrong' but fail to recognize their own contribution to that wrong (we are all guilty). In fact, I think church members (me included) need to be reminded on a daily basis that the reason their church isn't perfect is because of two reasons:
1. You Go There.
How easy it is to functionally forget this! I say 'functionally' because I think every Christian theologically believes they are a sinner (or at least they should!). Yet, in the moments when we see shortcomings in the church and in the lives of other people, we become theological amnesiacs. We forget what we believe! Self-righteous people have their Ph.D in this. They are quick to point their fingers at others while forgetting what they themselves contribute to the problem! See, self-righteousness begins when we think that the sin outside of us is greater than the sin inside of us. We are all guilty of this and we need to constantly be reminded that our churches are not perfect because we attend!
Self-righteousness begins when we think that the sin outside of us is greater than the sin inside of us.
2. People Like You Go There.
Your church isn't perfect because people just like you attend there: sinners in need of grace. But yet, how easy it is to view others as problems instead of as sinners in need of grace. That problem woman in the church who always gossips can be viewed as a mere problem instead of as a fellow image bearer in desperate need of grace just like you and me. The hyper-critical man who always critiques everything can be viewed as a cancer of the church when in reality he is just a fallen man in need of the rescuing grace of God. Friends, we would do well to remind ourselves that we are not much different from those we look down upon. We are sinners in need of grace who make up an imperfect church. But praise be to God that He readily offers grace to undeserving sinners like you and me.
We would do well to remind ourselves that we are not much different from those we look down upon.
I am a Husband to Clarissa, Lead Pastor Resident at College Park Church in Indianapolis, 'Tweeter' at @brad_merchant, and avid reader of books.