A Thought on Proximity

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Proximity–We should all dwell in proximity to what—or who—we believe will keep us the most safe, healthy, and happy. For example, children dwell in PROXIMITY to their parents. Spouses (should) create an environment in which they feel safe to dwell in PROXIMITY to each other.

In like fashion, Christians should dwell in PROXIMITY to the Father—in prayer, in meditation and thought, in the Word, and in fellowship with others who are dwelling in PROXIMITY to Him, too. “Stay close” isn’t only a word our parents used to say when we were children playing in the park. “Stay close” is also a Word from our Heavenly Father while we’re living in the world!

Why is this important? Practically speaking, it’s important because dwelling in PROXIMITY to the Father brings us close to His holiness, His wisdom, His forgiveness, His love and daily grace. We can’t dwell close to God and simultaneously continue to harbor those things that God has redeemed us from. The closer we are to God, the further we are from our past!

Yet, how many people do we know, people who claim to know and love God, dwelling in proximity to jealousy instead of Jesus, greed instead of God, unforgiveness instead of the Father, laziness instead of the Lord? We have too many soldiers in the Kingdom who are living like distracted civilians.

We should all dwell in PROXIMITY to what—or who—we believe will keep us the most safe, healthy, and happy. What are you in proximity to today?

Blessings,

Joe

4 Things I’ve Learned About Forgiveness

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Recently, I’ve been working on a project that’s required me to look into forgiveness, not only as a topic, theoretical and aloof, but also as an action, practical and personal. As you might suspect, it hasn’t been a simple task. As I’ve reflected on it, and considered what the Bible teaches (both in theory and in practice), I thought I’d jot a few things down, in the hopes that it’ll help you along your way, too.

Forgiveness is almost unbelievable

When I consider forgiveness, something so tantamount to Christianity, I honestly find it unbelievable. Every world religion has some form of forgiveness, but the weight of perspectives leans on merit. In other words, world religions are founded on a person’s ability to earn for themselves the very thing that Christianity admits no person could ever earn–namely, God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. That’s why the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf is so potent: because He didn’t need to do it for Himself, but voluntarily did it for us, so that we might enjoy a relationship with the Father as He does. In other words, the forgiveness that we could never earn for all of our moral failings is freely available to us in Christ. That, my friends, is almost unbelievable. As the apostle John so famously wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Forgiveness is harder than I thought

I’m sure that when the apostle Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” he thought he was presenting a really sound theological question. As Jesus answered, however, forgiveness isn’t quantifiable. It can’t be measured or gauged, like mileage on the heart and soul.  In other words, you are either forgiving or you aren’t. This makes the issue of forgiveness harder than I thought. When a person has been forgiven, the Bible teaches them to, in turn, be forgiving (e.g., here and here). This is harder than I thought. It’s hard, because 1) we like to hoard the feeling that we’re right, and 2) we like to remind people they’ve been wrong. Forgiveness is, at least in part, a release of these 2 things.

Forgiveness is costly

There are some things that simply cost you…I don’t mean your finances or your time…I mean YOU, as a person, as a soul. Forgiveness is one of those things. It’s costs your soul. It costs your soul, because it’s personal, intimate, and, whether we like it or not, includes our emotions, our pride, and how we feel about something or someone. Forgiveness leaves you, well–to look at Jesus on the cross–wounded. When I think of Jesus on the cross, I understand the costliness of forgiveness. It’s a painful, gut-wrenching, self-swallowing, ego-denying process that should hurt, because in forgiveness we choose to accept God’s grace for a situation rather than the universe’s insistence on a downward spiral (Col. 3:13). And every time we choose God’s way while here, we feel the tension behind, “Thy Kingdom come… They will be done.”

Forgiveness opens possibilities again

In the end, regardless of whether or not forgiveness is believable, harder than we think, or even costly, the truth is, without forgiveness the future is closed to us. Forgiveness opens possibilities. Forgiveness builds bridges. Forgiveness paves routes that otherwise would remain grown over by the weeds of resentment, bitterness, and insincerity. If you want a future, if you want to live a life of joy and peace in Christ, regardless of the outcome here on earth, then you have to forgive. Forgiveness is God’s door to a future of possibilities–with Him, with ourselves, and with others.

Forgiveness is simple to study. It’s difficult to practice. But in view of God’s mercy (Romans 12:1-2), we have been called and commanded to exercise the very graces that have been bestowed upon us, one of which is forgiveness.

Blessings,

Joe

Balance vs Seasons

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Today, William Vanderbloemen, writing for Forbes.com, put out an article titled “There is No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance.” I felt vindicated. I felt satisfied. This is something that I’ve been proposing for a long, long time. In fact, I share the thought fairly regularly at New City Church, where I pastor. Whereas balance is based on an Eastern mysticism type of thinking, seasons, on the other hand, are biblical and an experiential reality. (Just read Ecclesiastes 3:1). There will inevitably be times in our lives when we’re working more (or less), when we’re playing more (or less), when we’re saving more (or less), when we’re spending more (or less), but these facts don’t necessarily mean we’re individuals who are out of balance. We are, in truth, just experiencing different seasons in our lives. There are a number of things that can lead to changes in season: marriage, parenthood, a career change, an injury or illness, even spiritual growth! The important this is this: in each and every season, God has a purpose for us…and it is for His glory and our ultimate good.

Anyway, I wanted to share the above article with you. I hope you find it interesting and helpful.

PS–Care to share what season you’re in???

Blessings,
Joe

Making Room for the Word

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Acts 19 details Paul’s experience in the ancient city of Ephesus, the city after which the epistle is named. The Apostle Paul met a number of challenges while he was there, but he also witnessed God’s gracious work, in both miracles (Acts 19:11) and redemption (Acts 19:17). However, I want to focus on the conclusion of a specific event: the episode in which the redeemed Ephesians burned their books containing magic formulae and incantations, the sum of which, Luke records, amounted to 50,000 pieces of silver.

Following that event, something remarkable is stated. Luke writes, “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

It isn’t accidental or without purpose that verse 20 (“So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily”) occurs immediately after the converted Ephesians burned their books. The consecutive nature of this text teaches us that, practically speaking, the Word of God flourishes and grows where room is made for it. With this in mind, let me as a few questions:

How much time do you spend watching television? Or Netflix? 

How much time do you spend messaging?

How much time do you spend having unnecessary conversations on the phone? 

How much time do you spend on apps (you can verify this by checking the battery usage under Settings)?

Where can you make cuts? Spend more time on Bible apps, like this one. Download a devotion, like this one for men or this one for women. It may cost you to make room for God’s Word in your life (it certainly cost the Ephesians!). But when we make room for God’s Word, the fruit and goodness that the Word brings always follow. My contention is that the Word of God will not grow in our lives, and the fruit of it will not appear, until we make room for it.

Blessings,

Joe

Praying and Journaling: The Perfect Pairing

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I recently led a 2-part Bible study on the Spiritual Disciples. It was helpful and productive. Here, I want to share 2 disciplines in particular, because I believe they work extremely well together when one is trying to grow stronger in the disciplines. Personally, I’ve found that exercising the spiritual disciples in tandem helps immensely, because focusing on one particular discipline at a time can often become monotonous and boring.  The 2 that I’d like to recommend are prayer and journal writing. Here’s how it’s done.

First, find a journal you like. (For me, the journal is almost as important as the discipline itself. If you don’t like the journal, you won’t like the discipline.) Also, find a good pen or pencil, whichever you prefer, to keep with the journal for convenience’s sake. Name it. Date it. Keep loose notes tucked in the back fold. When finished, this journal will be a record of grace and providence.

Next, spend your prayer time writing out your prayers in the journal. This has a number of benefits. For one, you can think more clearly about what you’re praying. You also have a record, a record that you can conveniently return to, of what you’ve prayed for (and why). This will help you keep record of God’s answers, too (cf. Psalms 77:11-12; 116:1-2).

When we pray without journaling, we can become distracted and even forget what or who we should be praying for. Journaling helps keep our prayer life focused, disciplined, and orderly.

Finally, expand on your prayer time (as it’s being journaled) by praying in 4 distinct categories. They are:

  • supplication — this is a prayer of request, as in “let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6). We all “make the ask” with God, because He cares for us (Psalm 55:22). When we do, it’s called supplication.
  • intercession — this is a prayer made on behalf of someone else. When we pray for someone’s wisdom, health, or especially salvation we’re making intercession for them. Colossians 1:3 says, “We always thank God . . . when we pray for you” (italics added).
  • praise and adoration — this is a prayer that acknowledges the attributes and praiseworthiness of God. Sadly, this category of prayer often suffers, because we don’t know God as we ought. But the Bible tells us that He is good, holy, wise, and powerful. These are just a few attributes worth praising Him for.
  • thanksgiving — this, finally, is a category that speaks for itself–thanksgiving. It’s about expressing to God the gratitude that we have for our lives, our salvation, our forgiveness, our family, our friends, our employment, and the myriad of other things for which we should be thankful. “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” the Psalmist said, “and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).

I hope that practicing these disciples in tandem helps you grow spiritually. For me, it’s a nonissue. I nearly always couple these 2 together, and it has helped me immensely. I hope that it helps you, too.

Blessings,

Joe

 

The Pastor and the Prophet Pt 2

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As was stated in Pt 1, there are similarities and differences between the two offices of pastor and prophet. In this second part, the differences will be further considered.

First, the office of pastor is unique, because, unlike the office of prophet which is primarily verbal in nature, the office of pastor is multifaceted: it’s verbal, it’s physical, it’s, in a word, soul work. Preaching the Word is merely one aspect of the work. A pastor is expected to meet numerous needs, and not only the need of an audience to hear the Word.

Second, the prophets had a national and cultural responsibility that led them to prophesy to the Israelites at large. “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God., ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins'” (Isaiah 40:1-2). The pastors of the New Testament, however, are seemingly more focused on the local church and local cultural, which means that the church’s spiritual temperature is more important to a pastor than the nation’s. True, pastors are compelled to pray for all people, king’s included (“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior”). But a pastor’s first priority is not the nation in which he pastors but the church over which he holds his charge (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

These are just a couple of ways in which the offices of pastor and prophet differ. Each hold a unique and important role in the providence of God. And as such, we should be grateful to God for the prophets of old and the pastors of new.

Blessings,

Joe

The Pastor and the Prophet Pt 1

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I find it more and more common today for people to either be ignorant of the pastoral office, the prophetic office, or the distinction between the two. True, the mistake may be made in naiveté, but nevertheless the distinction is overlooked and often untaught, and I personally think it’s to the harm and detriment of the church. Here are some thoughts, both on the definitions and the differences.

First, the pastor (who preaches a previously revealed Word) is not a prophet (who reveals a the Word originally), at least not in the technical sense of the word. True, many people use the word prophet in a diluted sense, to describe the job and function of the pastor. However, E. J. Young writes, “The prophets were recipients of Divine revelation and not merely religious leaders with gifted insight” (My Servants the Prophets, 153). Thus, a pastor preaches a previously revealed Word, and a prophet is the one who originally relayed the revelation from God. Both the Old and New Testament prophets received the Word of God directly from Him (examples are here and here), and subsequently spoke that word with introductory formulas indicating that the world they were speaking didn’t originate with them (see, e.g., Ezekiel 34:1 and Amos 5:4).

Next, the pastor and the prophet both have intended audiences, but they are and were quit different. Pastor’s preach to flocks of God’s people, local churches, whom they also care for on a day-to-day basis, while prophets were (essentially) entrusted with the responsibility of revealing God’s Word exclusively. Thus, the pastor’s work is far from done once he has finished preaching, but the prophet’s work is done once he has faithfully delivered God’s revelation. This brings the final point.

Finally, the pastor and the prophet do have this in common–the gauge by which God measures their work is faithfulness, not the acceptance of or popularity with the people to whom they are preaching.  Jeremiah, as they say, didn’t have one convert before Jerusalem’s capture and exile. Ezekiel was a prophet in the exile. Timothy didn’t receive respect as a pastor, because he was considered too young.

These offices will be further explored in part 2.

Blessings,

Joe