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

Don’t Make Resolutions. Set Goals.

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For 2017, I’m suggesting that you forget about the resolutions and, instead, set goals. Why? Well, I have 5 reasons goals are better than resolutions.

  1. Goals are specific. Resolutions tend to be general, with direction but no particulars. Goals are specific. For example, if you want to improve your health this year, don’t make the resolution to get fit. Set the goal of going to the gym 3 times per week. Want to read the Bible? Set the goal of reading John’s Gospel. (You can break it up into 3 7’s since it’s 21 chapters.)
  2. Goals are measurable. Whenever you set a goal, you’re setting a measurable thing, because you’re moving toward a definite end. So, if you want to gain 5 pounds of muscle, or if you want to read the Bible by December, you can track and measure your progress. That’s important to keep you moving forward toward your goal. Small victories are important!
  3. Goals are reasonable. Oftentimes, resolutions are just too abstract. Goals are simple: if you can’t attain them, then they’re not reasonable. The goals that you set shouldn’t sabotage your potential for progress. If you’re not a reader, for instance, don’t set the goal of reading the Bible in a weekend!
  4. Goals are God-glorifying. Whatever goal you set should aim at making you a better person, a better Christian. If not, then why set it? Jim Rohn once said, “Set the kind of goals that will make something of you to achieve them.” Check out 1 Corinthians 10:31Romans 14:23, and 2 Corinthians 8:21.
  5. Goals are reviewable. This last point is important, because we need to be able to review our goals while we progress…to know whether or not we’re on course, need an adjustment, or are doing poorly. Write down your goals, place them in your closet door, on your bathroom mirror, or your car’s dashboard, and review them regularly.

I hope this helps you achieve great goals in 2017.

Pastor Joe

A Plea for Loving Unity and Theological Respect Within the SBC

I’m personally and professionally exasperated for being made to feel that I have to look a certain way, dress a certain way, believe certain theological positions, in order to be considered a Southern Baptist. What does that even mean anymore? Case in point, an article was recently written by Bob Allen for BaptistGlobalNews.com, in which he cites a well-known Baptist pastor arguing that Calvinism is a, and I quote, “trojan horse.” It pains me to see such rhetoric used on men and women within the SBC who have no greater joy that to see the Sovereign King glorified in the saving of the lost in the great name of Jesus Christ. In response, therefore, I have 3 thoughts that I’d like those involved to consider.

First, there should be room for theological diversity in our convention. Granted, I’m not here suggesting that liberalism be tolerated or encouraged, but I am saying that conservative Arminians and Calvinists (and all those in between) shouldn’t be made to feel like their status within the convention is questionable or unappreciated because they’re supralapsarian instead of infralapsarian.

Second, if a church, whether bent toward Arminian or Reformed theology, is an SBC church, then they’ve presumably put their tithe money where their theological mouth is. In other words, our support suggests that, although we may differ on “Ordo Salutis,” our goal is common—to reach people for Christ, nationally and internationally, to build and support our seminaries, and to plant more Gospel churches.

Finally, if the chapels in our seminaries are going to tolerate manipulative talk, then I’d like to know what exactly is being facilitated in the classes? We chastise the liberal public universities for teaching a single agenda, which incidentally leads away from traditional conservatism, but do we now have to be concerned with whether or not our seminaries are going to follow suit theologically, in teaching what they presumably prefer (Arminianism) over what is, dare I say, plausible (Calvinism)? Too often, I find the opponents of Calvinism guilty of the very thing they claim to bemoan in its adherents, namely, rudeness, lovelessness, and a calloused handling of the facts.

Obviously there are various nuances to this argument that should be addressed, but the main points are clear and undeniable. This kind of divisive language is wrong. I’m personally and professionally exasperated for being made to feel that I have to look, dress, and think a certain way in order to be accepted in the SBC. Perhaps we need to reconsider who we have speak at our chapels, teach in our seminaries, or lead our conventions. Just as error can spring from either the Arminian or Calvinist camps, so can the Truth spoken in love. We should be aiming at the latter. We may not all look the same or think the same, but one thing is certain—the same One King rules over us all. We should speak accordingly.

Joe Mira
New City Church

Christians for Kingdom and Country

How do we, as Christians, exist in the twofold status that we are afforded as both the adopted children of God through faith in Christ and simultaneously citizens of the United States of America? To put it simply, it’s not always easy. On the one hand, there are times when our faith and earthly citizenship seemingly get along. On the other hand, there are times when our faith and earthly citizenship couldn’t be made to be more aliens to each other. Nevertheless, the Bible has a word for us, and, in view of the recent election(s), it seems high time to address it, specifically from Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2. They teach us 2 simple principles that we are to abide by as Kingdom citizens.

We Are to Respect Authority
First, according to Romans 13:1-7, we are to respect authority, regardless of whether or not we completely and entirely agree with their policies and positions. Case in point, President Barak Obama. I may or may not be in agreement with him and the direction in which he’s been leading our country, but that isn’t the question that God is asking me in Romans 13. God commands me to respect authority (of course, as long as it isn’t in direct contravention with His Word), and therefore that’s what I’m supposed to do. From time to time, we can find it hard to respect our parents’ authority, our teachers’ authority, our employer’s authority, or even Obama as a president, but we can still respect the positions they hold and respect them as people made in God’s image. In the president’s case, we can respect him as one who holds the highest office in our country. (This would apply to President-elect Trump, too.)

One issue that I have with his point, Respect Authority, is the link that the Apostle Paul associates with those in authority and God Himself; thus, eventually all authority leads us back to God’s authority. With that said, the point is simple: if we can’t respect authority that we do see, how can we claim to respect the authority that we can’t see?

We Are to Pray for Authority
The second and perhaps more important point at this time in our country is, We Are to Pray for Authority. It’s clearly taught in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, but it’s easier to talk about than it is to actually do, Why? Well, if you’re anything like me, you err in 1 of 2 ways. You either:

  1. don’t pray for those in authority because you already agree with them (so why pray?); or
  2. don’t pray for those in authority because you don’t agree with them (so why pray?).

But what we learn from 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is something grander than our own personal policy preferences. We learn that God has a desire for “all” to be saved, not just those with whom we may agree. Therefore, we should pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We are Christians before we are anything else, and intercession for others is paramount to our daily practice and faith.

Ultimately, we can’t control what those in authority will or will not do, but what we can control is our own behavior and our representation of our Kingdom citizenship (Philippians 3:20). We’re afforded the right as citizens of the US to speak our minds, but we should do so respectfully and prayerfully. We’re afforded the right as citizens of the US to vote, but we should do so respectfully and prayerfully. We’re afforded the right to congregate, meet, and protest, but we should do so respectfully and prayerfully. After all, we should beware that we do not emphasize our rights as citizens of the US  while neglecting our foremost obligations as citizens of the Kingdom. Christ’s command was clear:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Blessings,

Joe