Quick Thoughts: The Discipline of God

​The discipline of both God and parents must include more than instruction. Teaching provides knowledge but knowledge by itself is nothing without application. As in school, it is insufficient for the chemistry teacher to only lecture. He must also include a lab so that the objective truth of what he taught can be subjectively observed and verified. It is the lab that tests and proves the student’s understanding of and ability to apply the truth he has learned. Without such personal interaction with the truth, the teacher’s words fail to transform the seed of knowledge into a thriving, fruit-bearing tree. 

Most students view knowledge as malleable, subject to change, and constantly evolving; therefore, the knowledge they hear is often dismissed as either irrelevant, incomplete, or inapplicable and effects little to no change in their life. But the student who has wrestled with the teacher’s words, tested them in the lab of life, and has seen them proven true knows that these lessons are not mere words. They are more than that. For now they have been internalized. No longer are they part of an ever-changing body of knowledge. Now, they resonate within the student as transforming, eternal truths.

Therefore, “Count it all joy, my brethren, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3) Mere words cannot produce such a response. Nor can “a good talking to.” The only discipline that produces the proper response is the one that provides a test. 

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Quick Thoughts: The Problem with -ed

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It happens to the best of us. At some point, we recognize the need for self-improvement. We make a plan, buy the clothes or equipment needed, and gin up as much passion and enthusiasm as we can muster.

At first, everything is fine. And the results, though small, are churning out baby endorphins for our brain’s enjoyment. But then one day when the alarm goes off, we take a deep breath, stretch, and sigh heavily.

“How much longer do I have to do this,” we wonder. Continue reading

Sitting on the Stool

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“There are two spiritual activities which are to be unceasingly part of a believer’s life, two great pillars that hold up the believer in the matter of daily living.  One is the study of the Word of God.  Two, prayer.”

— John MacArthur

I’m not one to usually criticize John MacArthur, who some would argue is the best exegetical preacher alive today, but when I was listening to his sermon “The Paternity of Prayer” on my way to work the other day, the above quote popped out at me.

Immediately, I thought: Wait a minute. What about service?

I do not disagree that study and prayer are two essential aspects of the Christian life, but if we forget or minimize the necessity of service, we fail to put legs to what our study and praying have revealed. This is why I have often thought of Christianity like a three-legged stool that must continually be in balance, where one leg is study, one is prayer, and one is service.

You cannot neglect one or two of these legs without toppling over. For instance, a person that is great at study but does not pray, he only has head knowledge and can get filled up with the arrogance of much learning. Or if he has a passion for prayer so as to see great miracles occur but does not study or serve, he will not produce anything meaningful. This is why Solomon warns us:

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecc. 12:12-14)

And it is why Paul says:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2)

In both situations, Solomon and Paul emphasize that the most important thing is not knowledge or faith by itself, but it is adding both of these things to what you do. As Paul later wrote in Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (NIV)

Service, then, is a necessary leg of the Christian existence. If it was not, James would not have argued that it is our deeds that prove our faith (Ja. 2:17-18) Jesus would not have said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn. 13:35) And the disciples in Acts would not have delegated the work of distributing food to the widows to seven godly men so that The 12 would not neglect “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:1-4)

I understand that it is safer to remain in one’s study, surrounded by books and excavating truths never before understood. I respect that it feels more comfortable, and at times it feels more spiritual, to pray for a person or a situation, rather than get involved. But God calls us out of our safe places and asks us to leave our comfort zones. This is why Jesus tells us “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Because we are to be a going people. We are to be an engaging people. We are revolutionaries who are on a mission to change the culture of our homes, communities, and nations. We are a people who are to serve “by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11)

We are not to be cowardly or sluggish or foolish. Those are mistakes the anxious. We are not to be arrogant, doubting, or disbelieving. Those are the mistakes of the inactive. We are to be doing, going, and serving. Giving our bodies up as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), which is “your spiritual worship” (or, “your rational service“).

Neglect not this third leg of Christianity. It is where you get to see the truth you’ve studied in action, and where you witness your prayers become weapons of warfare. It is where you are allowed to join the holy, sovereign, creating God in the redemptive work He is doing. To reject such an honor is disrespectful. To refuse such a privilege is unthinkable. No man is remembered who does not add service to his study and prayer.

Quick Thoughts: Wisdom and Understanding

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Then he saw it and declared it;
    he established it, and searched it out. And he said to man,

‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
    and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:27-28)

God saw and declared wisdom. He established it and searched it out. He knows its depths. No part is a mystery to Him. But to help Man in his limitations understand, God reduces it totwo instructions: 1) the fear of the LORD and 2) turn away from evil.

But if the truth is that “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10), how then do we turn from evil? The answer is provided in Matthew 7:11, which says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

In this verse we learn:

  1. We are all evil.
  2. Evil people can do good things, even  in the midst of their depravity. In other words, depravity may exclude a person from saving himself but it does not exclude one from doing good acts. The conscience is still intact and able to choose between right and wrong. We are like the schizophrenic whose condition does not preclude him from hearing real (or right) voices, but it also doesn’t dampen the unreal (or wrong) voices that influence their decisions.  Evil can be compelling, but it can also be turned away from.
  3. Turning away from evil is a discipline one must continually practice in order to understand or have discernment. Just as repeatedly turning towards evil breeds more evil and corruption of mind (Romans 1) so turning away from evil removes the scales and increases the ability to do more good deeds (1 Cor. 9:25-27)
  4. Turning from evil provides discernment but it does not remove the stain evil has left on us. The more we turn from evil, the more we realize how hopeless our condition is without God. Self-improvement through continual washing never wholly absolves us of the need to bathe again. We can never be whole or perfect without God.
  5. That is why the fear of the LORD is wisdom. We must fear God, both in trepidation and respect, to approach Him in boldness and to ask Him to do what we cannot accomplish, i.e. to cleanse our soul and lead us into the deepest depths of wisdom that only the pure can travel.

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The Star Trek Life

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In 1966 (a full eleven years before George Lucas reinvented the movie industry), Gene Roddenberry pitched an idea to t.v. execs that was so unusual in the day of Andy Griffith and Bonanza that he wound up describing it as the “Wagon Train of space.” In retrospect, that wasn’t a bad description as characters moved from one adventure to the next each week, but never really got anywhere. But that was okay. These people, even the strange one with the pointy ears, were relatable.

They embraced the pioneering spirit that made America great and used technology, ingenuity, and a utopian worldview in a futuristic era “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” But their lives weren’t perfect. They still struggled with the same character defects of all humans, and much like the viewers who tuned in each week, they seemed to always be teetering on the brink of war with their arch-rival, the Klingons. Ironically, after only 79 episodes, they were canceled one month before America’s pioneering spirit and advanced technology helped Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. However, when the show hit syndication in 1970 it quickly developed a rabid fan base and became a cult classic, laying the foundation for movies, animated series, and spin-offs that would so capture the imagination that in 1976 NASA eventually named its first space shuttle Enterprise.

This year Star Trek should be getting its AARP card any day as it hits the half-century mark. As a writer, I cannot overstate how impressive this is to me. To have a television series ingrain itself so firmly into the psyche of a culture and a genre that it persists to 50 years old is not just hitting a home run. It is tantamount to hitting the ball out of the ballpark and across the parking lot. Granted, it doesn’t hold a candle to the longevity of Shakespeare (who recently celebrated his 400th birthday), but come on. We’re talking about television here.

Still, Star Trek has left such an indelible mark on us science fiction fans that filtering our lives through the following phrases is futile to resist (see what I did there?) :

1.

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When I was a child my father always emphasized to me that one choice, even a minor one, can forever change the course of a man’s life. At the time, I thought he was being melodramatic so that I would incorporate wisdom into my daily decisions. But as I have aged and have become a father of two sons myself, I realized that this is not melodrama at all. The true measure of a man lies not only in the wisdom he exercises but also in the boldness that follows that wisdom. Unfortunately, most people opt for comfort, sameness, and the familiar because they are unwilling to let go of what they know so that they can exchange it for the possibility and freedom of the unknown. Unless it is immoral or illegal, do yourself a favor: count the cost that your decision will demand of you, clip the cord of fear that holds the “what” and the “if” together, and boldly go where you have never gone before.

2.

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We like to think of ourselves as the heroes of our own stories. The indefatigable survivors who through luck and ingenuity escape each successive trial and eventually overcome the evil that is facing us.

But that is not always the case.

Sometimes when we boldly go we must be willing to admit that we may never return. We may not be the Kirk, or the McCoy, or the Picard. We may be … a Redshirt. You know who I’m talking about. Like all members of the Enterprise, the Redshirts also boldly went where no man has gone before. But his was always a tragic end. He was that inevitably expendable member of the landing party whose death exposed the present danger and paved the way for success in the lives of his companions.

As we boldly go, we must ask: Am I willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so that the cause may be accomplished or that others may be protected?

We must realize that not all of us will see the end of the journey. But we are no less a valuable member of the team. Even Spock, one of the most beloved characters of the franchise, once sacrificed himself because “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.”

You must ask yourself: Am I willing to do the same? Or am I just boldly going for the glory?

3.

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Leonard Nimoy made no secret of the fact that he tweaked a Hebrew blessing he had learned from his childhood to give us this popular Vulcan saying. But whether one is boldly going in this world or in another, it is important to always remember to bless those who share the journey with you.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in what we are doing we forget to nurture the relationships around us. To look out for who they are. To have their best interests at heart.  To make their priorities our own. And, if we are in a position in which we cannot do anything physical or material for them, then we ought to pray daily for them, interceding on their behalf.

May we use “Live long and prosper” not only as a blessing but also as a way of reminding those with whom we share our journey that long life and prosperity are often more about quality than quantity. This is not an injunction to extend life or wealth. It is an encouragement to seek wisdom, practice selflessness, and live a life worth emulating. May we provide such a powerful example of all these characteristics and more that others will understand how to pass this blessing on to those who come after us.

4.

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No plan is a good one unless we put it into action. That is why we must all follow the advice of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and continually give the command to “Engage!” We cannot be thinkers only. We must be doers as well.

It is too easy to procrastinate because of fear. But the command to “Engage!” or “Make it so!” (another Picard favorite) are not the words of the most clever, best prepared, or least fearful person. Rather, they are the words of someone unafraid to risk maintaining the status quo. They understand that if given time a better plan may develop, but right now is not the time for thinking. Now is the time for doing so that great things can be accomplished.

Make your life full of engagement. Do not hold back, wondering, craving, or hoping that something will change. That is a passive approach to living, an unwillingness to accept responsibility for your own self and a hope that someone will fix your problems for you. Engage life! You may not have the best solution, but that’s okay. An active approach to your problems is always better than waiting for the current to change. Put your plans into action. Set your course. Activate the warp drive, and accelerate towards a future of unimaginable adventures. Make it so!

Hypocrite with a Thousand Faces

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When you think about it there are only two questions that a therapist usually has to help his client answer: 1) “Who am I?” and 2) “Who do I want to be?” Trust me, after almost 20 years of professionally helping people, almost every situation has eventually boiled down into one, if not both, of these two issues. Whether they are a perpetrator or victim, alcoholic or codependent, philanderer or faithful, depressed or anxious, everyone who has genuinely sought help has realized prior to calling for an appointment that they do not know (or do not like) the answer to the first question, and they need help with the second. Continue reading

Living?

I started this blog about 6-8 weeks ago at the encouragement of my wife. For most of my life I have wanted to be a writer, but work, responsibilities, and fear of failure intercepted my dreams on a regular basis. This venue, though, allows me to write regularly and begin the discipline that I have so long excused away.

As you know, I named my blog “Living in the Tent.” The idea was to write entries that highlighted how to live in dependency upon God in the various areas of our lives. Continue reading